Tag Archive | #amwriting

Digging Into Ghost Mine

After a minor delay, GHOST MINE is only two weeks away. Formerly known as Hell Hole, my little weird western has just about everything you can imagine within its pages. Cowboys, Teddy Roosevelt, Rough Riders, ghost towns, abandoned mines, a love story, mystery, Bigfoot, Black-Eyes kids, ghosts, demons and so much more.

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I haven’t written anything like it before or since. What was the inspiration behind this bizarre tale? I opened up about reasons why I chose to head west over at DARK READS . Check it out to get a little behind the scenes insight into how many books come to be.

Click here to read the Ghost Mine origin story! 

 

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Fu** Your MFA

This isn’t me crapping on MFA (a Master of Fine Arts) degrees or everyone who has worked hard to get one. I know quite a few damn good people who have one they can add to their resume. This is about elitism and misguided entitlement. You can expand this from the microcosm of writing to all things great and small in our society.

For years, I’ve heard select MFA holders put down writers who they believe don’t possess such a degree, referring to them as hacks or worse. To them, only he or she who wears the MFA crown has the necessary skills to put words to paper. The rest of us are here to be dazzled by their command of the English language and storytelling prowess. I came across such a troll recently who lambasted my writing on Goodreads, basically saying I didn’t have the skills to be a good writer because it was apparent I never received the proper education to do the very thing I’ve been working at for over a decade. I read it and laughed, then looked up their name to find their writing credits. I wasn’t surprised to find zippo. (By the way, I’m a college graduate who never scored less than a 90 in English my entire life.)

Truth be told, the review didn’t make me angry. My skin is thicker than an elephant’s hide. If you’re going to do this for a living, you can’t let the bad or even the good reviews get to your head. What does make my blood boil is when I see a trend that deeply hurts earnest, honest writers.

An MFA degree doesn’t make you a writer, just as going to astronaut camp doesn’t qualify you for a stint on the ISS. In many cases, an MFA degree does put you in some serious debt, hoping to strike it rich in an industry that is pretty darn parsimonious when it comes to paychecks. As an author friend once said, better to learn a trade and be a fucking plumber.

I learned all I needed to know about becoming a writer from a chance meeting with the great Elmore Leonard. It was the late 90s and I was at a two day writers conference in New York City. I’d spent money I didn’t have to be there, hoping to learn from those who had scaled the mountain. I was in a classroom, sitting in the back because I had a hard time finding it and was almost late. A famous thriller author was giving a talk about the publishing process, but it was really an examination of the neurosis of a writer who never felt as if his stuff was good enough.

A small, older man sat next to me during the class. At one point, he leaned over and asked if I’d spent a lot of money to be there. I gave a quick answer, wishing he’d leave me be. He then said, “You see all these people? None of them will ever be writers. Don’t waste your money. You really want to be a writer?” Slightly annoyed, I said, “Of course.”

He said, “Then go home. Read a ton. Then write a ton. That’s all there is to it.”

I thanked him for the advice and shifted my attention back to the real author in the front of the room. When the class ended, the old man shuffled out and I headed for the next session. When lunch came, I grabbed a table by the podium, chatting with a world famous bestseller. Imagine my surprise when they brought that older man up to be the key speaker. It was Elmore Leonard!

I realized in that moment that I’d just gotten invaluable wisdom from a man who’d published more books than every writer at the conference combined. Who the hell was I not to listen to him? I vowed that day to never attend a writing conference. I was already a voracious reader, but I stepped up my writing game. Read a ton. Write a ton. I could do this.

And I did. As have so many others, all without the benefit of an MFA. You don’t need any high falutin’ qualifications to be a writer, other than a command of your native language, imagination, and limitless passion. I don’t care what degrees you have and don’t have, and neither do editors. Tell a damn good story they think will sell.

If you think your MFA makes you a better writer than someone who gets paid to write and publishes book after book, it’s time to dispel yourself of that delusion. That degree, especially if you’re not writing and publishing, is worth as much as the paper it was printed on. You are not entitled to a damn thing. You need to earn it. That means get off your high horse and get down in the mud and muck and write. Then go bust your hump finding someone to publish your work. Stop criticizing those who have accomplished the very thing that inspired you to get that degree. You are not the elite. You’re just a regular person who spent more on school.

Over the years, I’ve found that writers rarely criticize other writers because we all share the same story, the same grind. We not only know how the sausage is made – our hands are in it day after day. So next time you want to use your MFA to tear down another person, take a good, hard look at yourself and like most opinions, keep it to yourself. Writing is a great equalizer. You’d know it if you did it.

Top 10 Ways To Increase Your Writing Productivity

As I struggle today with getting my butt in gear to hit my own writing goal, I thought, why not share some of the things that have helped me write 24 books over the past 7 years? No one ever said writing is easy. Okay, this guy I call Three Chins said it once, but he’s full of beans. So, Three Chins, this one is not for you.

10. READ – Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know reading isn’t writing, but it is essential. I’ve said it time and time again. You cannot be a writer if you’re not an avid reader. The act of reading both educates and inspires. You might come across a book and declare with your fist raised above your head, “I can write better than that!” Renew your love of the written word every day and your need to create will follow.

9. TURN OFF YOUR WIFI – If you write on a laptop or computer, disable your wifi the moment you sit down to write. Doing that will prevent you from falling down time suck rabbit holes like checking Facebook or reading the latest rant against Trump. All of that mindless chatter is a distraction, and you need to avoid distractions. I do recommend that you go old school and have print copies of a dictionary and thesaurus on hand. The online versions are great, but then again, you need wifi to access them.

8. LOOK AWAY FROM THE TV! – There is no bigger time suck than television. Whether it’s network programming, Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime, you need to limit the hours spent melting your brain. This is a tough one, especially now with so many quality shows turning up almost daily. Sorry, you’re not going to be able to watch all of them. Pick and choose, and make sure your TV time doesn’t gobble up your writing time. Baseball season is especially hard for me. If I had my way, I’d watch every Mets game. But my desire to be a writer far outweighs my need to let the Mets both elevate and crush my dreams.

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7. MAKE  YOURSELF ACCOUNTABLE – How do you do this? Tell everyone that you’re going to be a writer come hell or high water. Have a good friend who will put the screws to you if they see you veering away from your declared ambition. Now that you’ve declared your goal to everyone around you, the pressure is on. As Woody Harrelson says in Zombieland, “It’s time to nut up or shut up.”

6. SET WORD COUNT GOALS – Writers judge their progress by word count, not number of pages. So why not set a daily word count in your mind? A typical novel is 90,000 words. If you made it a point to write 1,000 words a day, your first draft will be done in three months.If 1,000 words seems too lofty, cut it in half. The key is to have a fixed word target. I know that life sometimes gets in the way and most people can’t write every day. So take your daily number and multiply it by seven for your weekly number. That way, if you miss a day or two, you know exactly how many extra words you need to pump out on the days you do write to hit your weekly quota.

5. LEAVE YOUR PHONE IN ANOTHER ROOM – I never, ever have my phone nearby when I sit down to write. It’s too easy to pick it up and get lost in messages and calls and apps. We’ve become little Pavlov’s dogs, instantly responding to every ding and chime our phones produce to let us know there’s something waiting to tear our attention away from our writing. Put that sucker in silent mode and leave it in a closet in the room down the hall. It’ll be there when you’re done. Plus, it’s good for the body, mind and soul to unplug for a while each day.

4. FIND YOUR BEST TIME TO WRITE – No two biorhythms are the same. My creative peak most likely won’t be close to yours. Experiment by writing at different times in the day to find your sweet spot. I remember hearing John Grisham talk about how he wrote at five in the morning before he had to go to court. I used to think I could never function that early. At the time, I was a seven PM writer. Well, cut to a decade later, and I’m now a six am writer. Your creative peaks change as you age, so if suddenly your noon schedule isn’t working, switch it up.

3. SET A DEADLINE – This ties in nicely with point 6 and 7. If you’re a first time writer, you’re not going to have an editor’s deadline hanging over your head. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have one. Set a deadline in stone. Write the date on a sticky note and paste it where you write. Tell everyone the date. Fixate on that date. If it gives you night sweats, good. Nothing inspires a writer more than a deadline. Tailor your word count goals so you can meet your deadline head-on.

2. HAVE MORE THAN ONE PROJECT TO WORK ON – Tackling a spy novel set in Bulgaria? Try your hand at romance novella or a series of articles on bee keeping. Create projects that match your experience or interests, or take on something new and challenging. You should always work on multiple projects. Why? Some days, that spy novel is going to hit a wall. You need your subconscious to work things out so you can go through or around that wall. To do that, you need to focus on something else, something completely different. That’s when you set to working on your side project. I guarantee, when you sit down the next day, you’ll be ready to jump back into your spy novel. Heck, that’s why I wrote this blog post! **Here’s a pro tip – If your first book lands a publishing deal, the next thing an editor will ask is, “So, what else do you have?” Don’t stand there with your mouth open. Tell your editor all about the other novel you’ve been working on (or if you’ve been really productive, send them the finished manuscript). Having more than one book in hand puts you head and shoulders above the competition.

1. DRIVE – Ernest Hemingway famously advised would be writers to Never think about the story when you’re not working. Remember what I said about your subconscious working things out for you? That soft and silent part of your brain is where everything comes from. You need to let it do its thing. The best way to do that is to drive. Get behind the wheel and let your conscious mind worry about getting from here to there. Most of my big aha moments have hit me in the car. I used to keep a voice recorder in the car so I could dictate the gold nuggets my subconscious allowed to float to the top. Now I use the app in my phone. If you don’t drive, walk. There’s something about being in motion that encourages ideas to generate. Just remember, while driving or walking, don’t think about your work in progress. Concentrate on not hitting that hybrid car in front of you or the scenery in the park you’re ambling about. Believe me, the rest will come to you.

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Looking For An Editor Or Writing Coach?

The new year, with all its resolutions, is just a few weeks away. I’m going to tick one of my resolutions off the list right now with this announcement that I’m starting an editing and writing coach business. If your goal is to have a completed manuscript or get published in 2018, we can kick some resolution butt together.

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Writing is a lonely endeavor. Writers need support and encouragement (along with a stiff drink every now and then). Getting to THE END isn’t always easy. Neither is polishing that manuscript into a diamond. All successful writers have a stable of people with critical eyes dissecting their work well before you ever see it in print.

The big question is, why me? Well, aside from having written and traditionally published over 20 books in the past decade, I’ve also been senior editor for a trade magazine, have coached and edited several books for struggling authors and secured their first book deals.

I may have railed against the nuns in school who drilled grammar, spelling, reading, and writing into my thick head, but I thank them now. And so can you.

So, what kind of services am I offering?

  • Setting goals and accountability to meet them
  • Sounding board for ideas and turning them into action plans
  • Feedback and editing
  • Deciding whether to publish traditionally or self-publishing
  • Agent and publisher searches
  • Writing query letters
  • Building author platforms across social media and blogs
  • Creating fresh and consistent content
  • Creating mail lists and vital newsletters
  • Finding reviewers
  • Curating sources of inspiration to keep you writing

If your goal is to become a working writer, you want help from someone who’s not only been there and done that, but is still doing it. My advice and expertise is current, which is vital in publishing since it has changed dramatically over the past five years alone!

Ready to take that next step? Let’s do it together. Contact me at huntershea1@gmail.com for a free 30 minute consultation and let’s make those writing dreams come true. 

The 4 Keys to Writing Success

I used to say there were 2 central keys to becoming a writer, with a lot of little caveats that add up to a big ball of wax. But without those 2 keys, you can’t unlock the door to publishing. In fact, I wrote a whole book about it and how to get published.

I was just sitting in my car waiting for traffic to unsnarl when it hit me that there are actually 4 keys to writing. The other keys were always there, just not in the forefront of my mind and advice.

“Dude, why do you keep prattling on about keys? Are you a valet or locksmith?”

Valid point.

I’ve been many things (and called many more), but those professions have so far eluded me.

What are these keys? Let’s dive right in. I’ll start with my first 2 tried and true.

READ – I’ll keep preaching this until I’m blue in the face and my tongue falls out of my mouth. You cannot expect to become a writer if you’re not a reader. It’s the equivalent of saying you want to be a baker but you have never tasted a baked good or know what goes into them. Every book you read, and you should read a wide and varied lot, is a vital part of your education and maturation as a writer. You’ll learn the art of writing and storytelling both consciously and subconsciously. I read over 100 books a year and still feel as if I’ve come up short. Read every chance you get. Read great writing. Read bad writing. Read shampoo bottles and fine print. Just read.

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WRITE – Pretty self-explanatory. You can talk the talk, but eventually, you need to walk the walk. Or, more accurately, sit the sit. If you’ve found a way to walk and write, call me so I can learn from a master. Writers have to write, either to satisfy their inner need to write or an impatient editor. You have to get the words all the way to THE END. Then you have to go back and edit and polish and submit.

Once you’re done with one project, start the next. Or do several at once. Remember, ABW – Always Be Writing. That’s not to say you can’t have days where you goof off or fall down the Netflix rabbit hole. That’s life. But you have to make writing a priority.

SUPPORT – Writing is a very solitary experience. It’s not natural. You can spend years toiling away, missing out on family events, trips, parties, never knowing if anyone will ever read, or better yet, buy your work. There are times you’ll feel like giving up. That’s where you need to have someone at your back. It can be a spouse, friend, fellow struggling writer, established writer who has become your mentor, even a stranger on a train who for some reason believes in you, writer dude.

Your support team needs to be there to run interference so you can concentrate on writing, pick you up when you’re down, and be honest with you when you need feedback. It’s a tough role for someone to fill, but absolutely necessary. I’ve been lucky. My wife has fully supported my dream from the start, even when it looked like I was spinning my wheels for nothing. She told me to never give up. I didn’t. I even tattooed it on my arm as a constant reminder. Find your rock, and avoid others who want to derail your efforts or mock you for even trying like the plague they are.

TALENT – I’ve read a lot of books on writing/publishing, and not many come right out and say you need talent to make a go of this. I don’t believe that if you lock a bunch of monkeys in a room with laptops that they will eventually write Shakespeare. I think you’ll get an eternity of monkey gibberish.

Talent is hard to define and impossible to create from thin air. You can fine tune and polish your talent (because it will be in very raw form at the start), but you can’t make it magically appear. You either got it or you don’t. That’s where your support system comes in. If they’re truly honest and good, they will tell you if your book is worth its weight in ink and paper.

Elicit the opinions of others that you trust and get their feedback. Hire a professional editor who will be blunt and impartial. Compare your writing to others in the genre. I know we writers can be poor judges of our own writing, but doing a little side by side can shed light on whether or not you’ve got the chops. So, feel free to tattoo Never Give Up if you have the talent. If you don’t, it’s perfectly fine to give up and find where your talents lie.

 

There you have it, my updated and revised 4 keys to writing. If you took the time to read this whole post, you can check off key #1 for the day. Now get back in your chair and start writing. I’ll be waiting for you at the finish line.

Loglines to the Rescue – Writing Aid

Elevator pitches are for more than just trying to sell a completed work. They’re also handier than a pocket on a shirt for boiling down the essence of your story, pointing you toward the heart of your tale.

Crafting the perfect elevator pitch isn’t easy. I mean, how can you boil a 100,000 word book into a single sentence (or at most, two sentences)? Better yet, you’re standing at the foot of your next big project with all these loose threads bandying about your brain. What magic incantation do you devise to make sense of it all?

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I have to give huge props to one of my editors who pointed me to an article by professional screenwriter Noam Kroll. He gives a step by step process for writing what is called a logline for your story. Now for him, he was talking about screenplays, but you can use it for anything. It’s given me laser focus for several projects I’ve been working on, and has also dramatically improved my ability to convey new ideas to my editors. Loglines eliminate all of the hemming and hawing and cut to the heart of your story.

They’re not simple to write, but with practice, you’ll soon be a master. And you’ll wonder how you wrote without them.

To read Noam’s article, click here.

Now nail that logline down and get to writing!

Pre-order Extension for WE ARE ALWAYS WATCHING

Today is a good day.

Because of popular demand, Sinister Grin Press has extended the pre-order phase for the limited edition hardcover of We Are Always Watching until the end of the month. They want to make sure everyone gets a copy, rather than stick to the hard cutoff of Feb 15th. So if you were on the fence and worried that you missed the boat (I know, what the heck does a fence have to do with a boat?), there’s still time! We’re limited to 150 copies, but let’s, as the Eagles once sang, ‘take it to the limit!’

Because I’m so over the moon about this, I’m also going to Skype folks who order the hardcover and personally thank them. So, if you’ve placed your order, email me at huntershea1@gmail.com and I’ll set up a day and time for us to shoot the bull. I always wanted to jump in an RV and visit my readers, so this is the next best thing. The RV may come next. 

Aaand, you can also now pre-order the ebook on that fledgling book site, Amazon. Click here to reserve your ebook.

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The signature sheets have been signed, sealed and delivered. Now they just need to be woven into the books themselves.

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Starting March 1st,  you’ll be able to order the trade paperback as well.

And stay tuned, because I’m going to have some exciting news about one of my most popular, best selling Samhain books. It’s coming back, better than ever! More on that very soon.

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