Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Social Networks for Writers

A lot of writers have recently discovered social networks, flocking to not only Facebook but also online writers’ communities such as WeBook. I’ve joined the FB stampede. From the first, I’ve had two goals: to learn as much as possible about the craft and business of writing from other people in the profession, and to build a network of book lovers who might help generate some buzz when I get ready to publish.

Learning about the craft & business of writing:

I’ve kept a small, personal account for family and personal friends, plus those who know me through soccer, Toastmasters, and other activities. For my “Dixon Rice Novelist” FB account, I’ve sought out writers, poets, illustrators, editors, literary agents, and other book lovers. On occasion I notice people in my network ranting about religion, politics, social issues and the popular culture. They certainly have a right to their opinions and often I inwardly applaud their activism. However, I strive to keep my network focused on the business of getting published; if non-writing rants are frequent, I bid farewell to these folks.

Many of the FB writers’ communities try to cover the entire spectrum. “The Novelist” is one that emphasizes improving the writing craft. “Writers Etc” seems more oriented to the business of publication: getting an agent or editor, becoming self-published or e-published, and building a platform for oneself as an author. With both types, I attempt to soak up as much knowledge as possible. I also keep my eyes out for interesting blogs and websites, and post links to them in order to make the page more helpful to others. At the same time, hopefully I’m establishing a reputation for myself as helpful, knowledgeable and motivated.

Building a network of book lovers:

Each day, I try to add at least five new friends to my network. Most are writers although others are readers or those involved in the business end – agents, editors, publicists, and so on. I’ve noticed many other writers who are also busy building their own FB network; when they add a friend, they immediately try to sell some books. I’m more interested in the long term. My intention is to distribute free excerpts and podcasts throughout my network, and encourage my friends to share them with their other friends. If the quality is there, this approach should lead to paid sales.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

World's Best Job

A Facebook friend of mine, author Jami Gold, recently blogged about "Writers: One Big Happy Family" at http://jamigold.com/blog/

No, she wasn't being sarcastic. Jami echoed a sentiment I've felt for a long time. Although there are fruitcakes and wingnuts in every occupation or hobby, I've found the writing profession to be remarkably supportive of struggling beginners. It's not cutthroat competitive. There's not the feeling that "if I help you get in print, that might mean I won't get published."

Former UCLA writing instructor Dennis Foley currently lives in Whitefish, Montana. He has been a successful writer and producer on motion pictures and TV shows such as CHINA BEACH, CAGNEY & LACEY, and MacGUYVER, as well as having several Vietnam novels published. When he was a lowly staff writer in Hollywood (the equivalent of a cub reporter on a major newspaper), an experienced screenwriter took Dennis under his wing and helped him avoid lots of rookie mistakes. Dennis asked how he could repay the veteran and was told, "Help other writers." And he has, many times over.

The only exception I've seen to this attitude has been in critique groups, mainly online. For some reason, normally sweet, kindly people who would never kick a puppy - folks who would give their last quarter to a hungry stranger - can be vicious in pointing out examples of poor writing. I have a friend who's in some of these groups, and she keeps explaining to me how busy these people are, and how it's sort of "tough love."

I don't think it takes much more time to point out strengths at the same time we correct errors. I believe a measure of tact is always appropriate when dealing with folks who are obviously rank beginners. I feel some of us have forgotten about the first word in "constructive criticism."

So I agree, writing is the world's best profession, but there's still room for improvement.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Showing "A Typical Day"

At the first writers conference I ever attended, I had the opportunity to have a literary agent critique the first 50 pages of my premier novel. It started with action, just as a hundred other writers had suggested, but the agent didn't like that. I needed to show what a typical day was for the protagonist, she said, and do a better job establishing the setting. So I went back to the computer and did exactly that.

Ever since, everybody who's looked at my story says the same thing: start with action and knock off all the description.

Okay, okay, back to the opening scene where the flawed detective is sitting in the bank lobby when a meth-fueled robber walks in. But when you buy Montana is Burning, this is the descriptive, textured opening you will miss:

An Indian kid was dead, and nobody seemed to care except a lawyer barely old enough to shave.

Detective Paul Longo looked across the street at a storefront law office. Main Street in Kintla stretched all of ten blocks, and nothing much moved in either direction this autumn afternoon. Just dust and a dry wind. Paint blisters pockmarked the brooding gray edifice opposite Paul, revealing previous incarnations of chocolate brown and light blue.

The town straddled both banks of a river on the floor of a narrow valley, so the cigar box building stood stark against lodge pole pine and western larch that swept up the foothills from a mere three blocks away. Years ago, somebody had removed the large letters that ran across the second story of the stucco facade but hadn’t bothered to repaint, so the outline was still clear: Woolworth’s. On the right side of the building, a sign said Kowboy Kafe, but that door had been boarded up for years. On the left, amateurish gold lettering on the plate-glass frontage proclaimed the law office of Kevin Waagel, Esquire, the attorney retained by the tribe to look into violent or suspicious deaths, on or off the nearby reservation.

Paul pushed back the new Stetson and wiped his forehead dry. He liked the hat, a present his first day on the job from Sheriff Clyde Frye. The only nice thing anyone in Mullen County had done for him so far.

He sighed, wondering again at the wisdom of his move to Montana. A glance at his watch -- twenty minutes early for his deposition. He decided to take care of some business he’d been putting off for a month. The office of Kevin Waagel, Esquire, would still be there when he finished.

A Mullen County patrol car pulled up to the curb across the street. A deputy sheriff climbed out and nailed a sign to a telephone pole reading Re-elect Sheriff Frye. One block north, another deputy rounded the corner and stopped to pound a Holland for Sheriff sign into the library’s front lawn.

Paul shook his head and started toward Kintla State Bank.

Five minutes later, he eased into a chair at the New Accounts desk and waited for the statuesque blonde to notice him. It took awhile, what with her chatting on the phone while she rasped an emery board across a fingernail. Her shimmering emerald dress clung to all the right places. Paul didn’t mind the wait.

The tempo in these small towns, he mused, took some getting used to. Back in Phoenix, a bank would pink-slip any employee that didn’t handle the required number of transactions in the requisite time with fewer than the allowable amount of errors. This quiet valley in northwest Montana ran at a different pace than Paul had grown up with. The important things got done but with fewer ulcers in the process.

The blonde ended her conversation. Blue eyes sparkled as she pasted on her best customer service smile, but it seemed a shade brittle. I save my warmth for people who don’t sit down uninvited, the smile said.

“Elizabeth, I’d like to open a checking account.”

“Do I know you?” She wrinkled her nose. “I think I’d remember someone as tall as you and--”

“And with a nose like a hatchet, I’m not so easy to forget.” He pointed at the nameplate on her desk.


“Anyway, I’m getting paid next week and figured I should put my check someplace safe. A bank came to mind.” He reached past the shoulder holster into his blazer’s inside breast pocket and pulled out a fifty. “This can start things off, until I get my first paycheck.”

Elizabeth tried her smile again. “New to the valley?”

“Been here long enough to get all my clothes out of cardboard boxes. About four weeks.”

“Goodness, how ever did you last that long without a checking account?”

Paul shrugged. “Mostly use cash.”

Her brows bunched together.

"I work for the Sheriff, Elizabeth. Believe me, cash is perfectly legal.”

“You’re that new detective, aren’t you?” The pleasure of discovery lit her face yet a shadow lurked in her eyes. Paul wondered what she’d heard. The new detective with all the big-city ideas? The one who acted too good for the local cops? The square peg?

She tapped a couple times on her computer keyboard and began taking Paul’s vital statistics, seemingly glad to be in safe territory. He answered automatically as he glanced around the historic building. With a pressed-tin ceiling, the bank must have been at least seventy-five years old, maybe a hundred. Some of the windows had the bluish, dimpled look of antique glass. The main doors were sheathed in copper both inside and out, maybe from the mines in Butte, and Paul guessed the appearance of Old-World craftsmanship was authentic.

Then a man walked through those same doors. He didn’t look one bit authentic.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

First Lines

Michelle McLean, one of the fine ladies blogging for Operation Awesome, recently had a post about how first lines can captivate us:

I recently finished reading Rick Riordan’s The Lost Hero. Aside from really enjoying the book, I was struck by how many awesome first lines he had. The first line of the book was amazing:

Even before he got electrocuted, Jason was having a rotten day.

My inner editor immediately stopped to admire that incredible bit of writing. As first lines go, that is made of total win (at least imo).

But it didn’t stop there. Several times throughout the book, I’d turn the page to start a new chapter and got blown away by that chapter’s first line. Here are a few of my favorites.

1. Leo wished the dragon hadn’t landed on the toilets.
2. As soon as Jason saw the house, he knew he was a dead man.
3. Leo’s tour was going great until he learned about the dragon.
4. After a morning of storm spirits, goat men, and flying boyfriends, Piper should’ve been losing her mind.
5. Jason would have died five times on the way to the front door if not for Leo.
6. When Leo saw how well Piper and Hedge were being treated, he was thoroughly offended.
7. The plan went wrong almost immediately.
8. Leo hadn’t felt this jumpy since he’d offered tofu burgers to the werewolves.

In my work in progress, Assassin’s Club – Doing Good by Being Bad, the first sentence doesn’t exactly slap you in the face, but I’m pretty proud of the first 20 lines.

The man fights his way through the surf. A giant wave crashes over his back, knocking the air from his lungs.

He struggles to stand upright, his arms and legs heavy as lead. He doesn’t remember much. He vaguely recalls thrashing around in the cold water and turning around in time to see the stern of a sailing ship as it glided toward the horizon, jaunty carnival tunes in its wake.

Did I fall from that? Or get pushed?

The water tugs at his legs like a needy lover. Finally he finds himself on hot, dry sand and falls to his knees. He has a pounding headache and blood on his hand from when he touches the throbbing knot on the back of his scalp.

Where the hell am I? Who am I?

The voices in his head provide no answers.

A hazy figure appears far up the beach and so he walks in that direction. The sun feels good on his back. Overhead, seagulls circle and chatter in their private language. After a few minutes he can make out some details of the approaching figure – a tall woman in a flowing white gown with sunflower-gold hair. She walks with her head down as if overwhelmed by a great sadness. Or maybe just looking for pretty shells.

A terrible fear jolts his heart.

She’s in mortal danger. Something awful is about to befall her.

Close now, she looks up and laughs at him. “Jesus, you’re naked!”

So that’s who I am.

The first line of chapter two (which was originally chapter one, until I decided my serial killer needed a friend to play with) was more successful, I believe:

Tyler Goode didn’t know the man’s real name until he read the obituary three days later.

Writers can engage the reader without needing an exploding helicopter in the first paragraph, but the opening should at least raise the reader’s curiosity about the dramatic, humorous or informative material to follow.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Opening Chapter

Nate Bransford is a literary agent in California, and is both a brilliant and dedicated blogger. This week he has a guest blogger, Valerie Kemp, who did an insightful post on the characteristics of a novel's first chapter. Here's an excerpt from that post:

The Hunger Games - In the first chapter of The Hunger Games we get to see Katniss' everyday world. We learn about the Hunger Games and the Reaping and the high chance that Gale and Katniss will be picked. We see that Katniss is responsible and protective of her sister, Prim, whose name is in the Reaping for the first time. And in the very last sentence of the chapter there's a shock as Prim's name is called.

This is a GREAT end of a first chapter. As a reader we're left with a sense of dread. We know what Katniss must do, and we know that we're in for an exciting ride because we're going to experience the Hunger Games with Katniss. We're also introduced to the mechanics of Collin's writing - cliffhanger chapters. Both with story and with structure, she has shown us what to expect, and how to read her book. And she delivers.

Now imagine if The Hunger Games started differently. What if the first chapter was an ordinary day at school for Katniss, followed by time at home with her family, and hanging out with Gale. Suzanne Collins could've started there and gone into greater detail about Katniss' troubled relationship with her mom, given us more history on the District, how life in The Seam works, etc. She could've had the Reaping happen in chapter 3. By then we might be expecting the book to be a family drama or something else completely unrelated to a reality show about teens fighting to the death. If Collins had started her book this way, she probably would've lost a lot of readers. I know I would've been flipping back to the cover over and over again, wondering when these supposedly awesome Hunger Games were going to start. I probably would've put the book down before the action started and picked up something else.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Old Farts Club excerpt from "Montana is Burning"

At the 2010 Flathead River Writers Conference, I had a very encouraging talk with Gordon Warnock from Andrea Hurst Literary Management. However, he informed me that my (supposedly) completed novel is about 30,000 words too long for a first-time author. Ouch. So I must say goodbye to some (in my opinion) wonderful chunks of verbiage that develop characterization, establish mood, and plant clues. I need to do those things with greater brevity, it appears. So here's a chapter that's being lopped out:

Ole’s CafĂ©, Kintla, Montana

Saturday – 10:00 a.m. (The morning after a nearby abortion clinic was firebombed)

Surely every coffee shop on the planet has one, a large table where the Old Farts Club gathers each morning to complain about the world going to hell in a hand basket. The round table in Ole's Cafe in Kintla had eight oak chairs.

Ralph Morrissey, the town's funeral director, walked into Ole's and saw several reporters forced to stand at the counter, even though there was still an empty chair at the big table. It was gratifying, he thought, to see that some things in this world could still be depended upon.

He took the vacant seat between banker James Otto and rancher Duke Overbeek. Everybody nodded at the mortician and Otto flipped over a clean cup for him. As usual, at least three different conversations were going on, with some fellows jumping from one to another depending on which topic caught their interest. Morrissey jumped in with the group discussing last night’s firebombing and was immediately interrupted by Huz Brandt, the local accountant.

“You missed a couple great jokes, Digger," Brandt said. "You know what you get when you cross a Mormon with an Indian?"

“A basement full of stolen canned goods," blurted insurance agent Jay Aster.

Despite having heard the joke minutes earlier, the table erupted in laughter. Morrissey, who had both LDS and Native American friends, sat stony-faced. He noticed Bobby Jones looked like he'd gotten a whiff of something rancid.

Jones spoke before Morrissey could think of a comeback. "I heard there's no humor without an element of truth. Maybe we oughta change that to humiliation."

"Lighten up, Bobby," Brandt said. "Don't tell me you didn't bust up some prairie niggers off the Rez when you were carrying a badge down in Missoula."

A muscle twitched on the retired deputy's square jaw. "Naw, I was too busy writing DUI's for members of the Chamber of Commerce."

Brandt's cheeks turned crimson. Everybody at the table knew the CPA had recently picked up his third drunk-driving ticket. They all looked around at nothing in particular, hoping somebody would change the subject before things got even more unpleasant.

Bobby Jones jumped in again to change the subject. "I almost made my first taxi trip yesterday. This college kid got busted at St. Joseph and the Border Patrol confiscated his daddy's Mercedes. He hitched a ride into town, then showed up on my porch with his sad story. 'Just some seeds, Man. Just some seeds,' he says."

"What happened?" Brandt asked. "No money?"

"Naw, he showed me more'n enough for the trip. I told him to come back at six and we'd go to Edgerton after supper. Musta got another ride, because he never showed."

Overbeek leaned forward. "Speaking of no-shows, did you hear Chief Holland ducked out of the limelight and put that new detective in charge of the arson investigation? You know, the religious nut.”

"Paul Longo is his name," Jones said. "I bumped into him at the courthouse last week. Didn't seem like a nut to me."

Huz Brandt sneered. "There's a lot of local boys coulda done the job just as well. They know the valley better than some kid just rolled into town."

"He’s no kid, Huz," Jones laughed. "Trouble is, you think anyone not drawing Social Security is still in diapers. And just because he doesn't swear every fifth word, that doesn't make him a Jesus freak."

"It's all just politics," Overbeek said. "Frye probably hoped Holland would stub his toe on this abortion clinic thing, so Holland put one of the Sheriff’s boys in charge of solving it.”

"Then the Chief’s got the wrong guy," Jones said. "Longo's no politician. Hell, he’s the only one on the force who’s not up to his butt in the election.”

Meanwhile, a discussion across the table about forest fires had evolved into a diatribe against government is general and Congress in particular. Jay Aster, the coffee klatch’s token Democrat, was taking a merciless ribbing from the other men. He turned to Morrissey after a few minutes of this abuse.

"Hey, Digger, I've never seen you this quiet before. Business can't be all that bad, I hear people are just dying to get into your place."

"Oh, I'm busy enough but the cremations are killing my bottom line. The only bright spot is the folks who choose a box-and-burn job are usually cheapskates like you who’d stiff me on the bill anyway."

James Otto, the banker sitting next to him, cleared his throat. “Wake up on the wrong side of the embalming table?”

"I’m fried over those nuts that bombed the clinic," Morrissey said. "What with them and this new militia group people are whispering about, plus the morons we send to the legislature, I'm ashamed to call myself a Montanan."

"Didn't you move here from Oregon?" Brandt needled.

"I'm serious here," Morrissey said. "The more I think about it, the more steamed I get. There's not one Montanan in a thousand who thinks murder is the way to win a political argument."

"Damn right," Overbeek said.

The funeral director brought his fist down on the table, rattling coffee cups and saucers. “The rest of us have to stand up to the pinheads responsible for this terrorist act and let them know we won't tolerate such an outrage.”

“I'm with you a hundred percent so far,” Jones said. "You got something in mind?"

Morrissey stood up. “You bet I do. Come over to the mortuary chapel at one o'clock and bring a couple friends.”

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Writer Conference-ing

I'm excited about attending the 20th annual Flathead River Writers Conference this weekend (Oct 2-3) in Kalispell, Montana. I had a conflict and couldn't attend last year. When I've attended in the past, I've always enjoyed meeting new people, learning new "tricks of the trade," and storing up enough enthusiasm to keep writing for another 11 or 12 months.

I was recently involved in a discussion thread for the Writers Etc group (on Facebook) and was asked for advice on what to do at a conference. I surprise myself (and everybody else, no doubt) by coming up with something fairly coherent, which is as follows:

Try to develop a 2-3 sentence "elevator pitch" in case you get some time with an agent or editor, for example at lunch or in a workshop, and if it's appropriate to mention what you're working on. If time allows, ask them how you could improve your pitch. This can be a good way to create a favorable impression.

Conferences are great for making contacts, but don't try to make a deal then and there. After you get home, mail or email a nice letter saying how nice it was to meet him/her at ABC writers conference and you appreciated their guidance on your pitch for "XYZ" work in progress. Then ask if you can send them your first few chapters.

Good luck and have fun.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Critique Danger

One of the best things I’ve done in my journey as a writer was to form a local critique group.

There were a couple of groups in the area, loosely affiliated with the Authors of the Flathead, but they weren’t taking new members. I twisted a couple arms and soon we had three regulars. We decided five or six was an optimal number, and over the last decade we’ve gone through a dozen or more in the last few seats. Now we’ve got five regular contributors plus one guy who’s a talented editor but not writing at the moment.

The critique group gives me the regular deadline I need to keep me on task. The members are great at catching the stupid mistakes I can’t see because I’m too close to my work, and are experts at asking pesky questions like “Why not do XYZ instead?” Because we mostly work in different genres – thrillers, YA, women’s fiction, memoir and who-knows-how-to-classify-Nick – they keep me open to possibilities. More than that, they’re a fantastic support group.

But I have learned to take some comments with a grain of salt. If I hear a criticism from one member, maybe that person’s just having a bad hair day, or doesn’t get my particular genre. If several of the members make the same observation, then obviously I’ve got to seriously evaluate their concern.

One danger is the tendency of members to try nudging a WIP in a different direction because of our preconceived ideas of how it should be written. In editing and making suggestions, it’s critical that we not alter the voice and tone of our fellow writers.

It’s what makes us unique.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fear of Heights

I used to have a terrible fear of heights. Whether standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon or looking out a window on a skyscraper, I’d get a queasy feeling deep in my gut and a lightheaded sensation between my ears. Don’t even talk to me about airliner takeoffs and landings. But I finally overcame it.

You see, I volunteered for airborne training in the U.S. Army. Jumping out of perfectly good airplanes and all that.

As writers, we all have aspects of our craft that are stronger and weaker than others. Writing dialogue was a real problem for me when I first tried my hand at fiction. Terribly stilted and everybody sounded the same. My critique group pointed this out. Their suggestions: study good dialogue writers and practice a lot.

So I read a lot of Elmore “Dutch” Leonard, Robert B. Parker, Walter Mosley, Carl Hiaasen, Max Barry and Richard Price. Also, I took my faithful yellow pad out to coffee in the morning, and wouldn’t leave the coffee house until I’d written at least a couple pages of dialogue. No narrative. No attributions. Just pure dialogue.

Gradually, I improved Maybe I’m wrong, but now I feel that dialogue has become one of my strengths.

Because I worked at it.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Making a Decision

A friend on Facebook is struggling with identity. Is this writer “a gay author” or “an author who happens to be gay?” There’s a world of difference in terms of context, audience, marketing, and on and on.

For this writer, there’s no right or wrong answer. But a decision needs to be made.

Similarly, when someone in my critique group has a scene that just doesn’t work, often it’s because the author is reluctant to make a decision or doesn’t see the need to do so.

You’re reading about the feds interrogating a suspect at the downtown FBI office. They’re in a private room and there’s mention of a desk and chairs. There’s a telephone somewhere. That’s it. It could be the same cubbyhole of an interrogation room we’ve seen in a thousand Law and Order episodes, or the ultra-modern, high tech rooms shown in CSI. Or it could be something else entirely. Maybe all the other interview rooms are occupied, and the Captain ‘s office is the only available space. Maybe the agent wants to put the suspect at ease, and uses the employee lounge (I think Richard Price did this). We’ll never know, because the author doesn’t think it’s important to establish a sense of place. A decision was not made.

In the room with the agent in charge is a young guy, an unnamed junior agent. He asks a couple questions but doesn’t contribute much. So much could be done with this minor character. One of his buddies might have been wounded or killed in the crime being investigated, and he’s seething with anger. Maybe he thinks the senior agent is an old fashioned fuddy-duddy who’s about to screw up the investigation with his obsolete methods. Maybe he was awakened after a late night at a bar, and he’s hungover. Maybe he was arguing furiously with his girlfriend (or boyfriend) when the phone rang. Maybe he’d been smoking dope, and can’t quite focus on who did what to whom. His character could change the dynamics in the interrogation room in myriad ways, but it didn’t happen. Because a decision was not made.

Sometimes you have colorful, edgy characters in a scene but it never really takes off. Chances are, the author didn’t scratch his head before writing the scene to decide what each character’s goals would be, and to make sure they conflict with one another. Mary wants a loan so she can help her secret lover, John, who she’s determined to be faithful to. She swallows her disgust to ask Peter, her repellent landlord. Peter can afford to make the loan but wants to get Mary into bed with him as a willing partner. If one wins, the other loses.

It can be an exciting scene – if a decision is made.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wolf and Eagle

This ties together two earlier posts - "Eagle" and "Wolf," and may or may not be included in my novel "Montana is Burning."

The golden eagle sliced through the air, miles from where scattered rain drenched a small clearing and the stream that ran through it. She spiraled upward with little effort, riding a thermal current as she waited for the storm to break up.

The eagle was the perfect aerial predator, with cruel talons and a beak that could disembowel an adult sheep. She was death from the sky. Lacking an owl’s night vision, she couldn’t hunt after dark, even though high winds had kept her pinned to her aerie for more than a week and starvation threatened.

She circled and watched. In a valley far below, dry lightning struck a large snag and it burst into flames. Since no animals fled from the fire, the eagle quickly lost interest. She flew on.

The isolated storm finished venting its fury on the clearing and sped east. Dim memories drew the eagle above a stream where salmon returned each summer’s end and trout grew fat and pink on the helpless spawn – ancestral memories of hunts and feasts by eagles long dead but memories no less real. The raptor smelled blood and tasted flesh as if the kills had been her own.

The great bird spotted the glitter of whitewater skittering across rocks made smooth by eons of glacial runoff, and saw dark shapes carving their way beneath the surface.

She dipped a chocolate-brown wing and dropped below the air current. The eagle descended slowly at first, then folded her wings next to her body to plunge like lightning drawn to earth.

Her freefall lasted hundreds of feet before she spread wide her wings, pulling out of the meteoric dive. With hardly an eddy on the water’s surface, she ripped a trout from the icy stream and started back to her craggy perch, blood on her talons and savagery in her cry.

As she climbed through the warm air, the golden eagle spotted the valley where lightning struck a snag earlier. Flames burned greedily and jumped to neighboring scrub pine. Only the eagle saw.

In the great bird’s wake, a wolf erupted into the opening and sprang across the stream, but the whitetail he had been stalking already bounded far down the slope, startled by the exultant screech from above. Stopping at the edge of the clearing, the wolf listened to the doe’s flight.

The wolf turned from the fading sound of escape. He jogged toward remembered cattle.

The world, after all, was full of prey.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


This section is tied to "Wolf" two posts ago. Not sure whether or not it'll end up being part of my first novel, "Montana is Burning." It takes place in NW Montana in modern times.

The golden eagle circled high over a remote valley twenty miles west of Kintla.

A burning snag sent a faint column of smoke aloft. The eagle knew fire usually flushes small animals from their hiding places but not this time. A pine beetle infestation had devastated the valley, leaving behind mostly rotten stumps and scarcely any healthy trees. Despite a huge insect population, there were almost no green branches and so hardly any rodents, birds or small game lived there. Above the size of centipedes, the valley was practically lifeless.

The great bird found a sturdy branch high in an ancient pine. She waited.

Like waves rippling out from a pebble dropped in a fiery lake, a circle of flame spread around the snag, painting the pale underbelly of the clouds an angry red. The lower branches of several nearby spruce caught fire. The expanding poo1 lapped across the matted carpet of pine needles, burning into the forest floor until it ran out of air.

A dark cloud passed overhead, so heavy with water vapor that it began to condense. A shower doused the valley and the eagle sought shelter on a lower branch.

Flames hissed and wavered and then finally failed. As if to signal the fire's defeat, the blackened snag teetered and fell. A cloud of ash rose into the damp air then pelted back to earth with the rain.

The snag lay on its side like some grotesque wounded beast. Sheltered from the rain, its underside reflected a dim glow against the ruined forest floor. The fire lived.

The golden eagle took wing and continued her hunt.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Back to Blogging

I've been writing like crazy for the past year. Finished novel #1 - a thriller titled "Montana is Burning" - and queried it for a few months, and got a few "positive rejections" from literary agents, saying the writing was good but my Voice wasn't quite compelling enough. So I put it on a shelf while the publishing industry is in the toilet, and decided to work on a more powerful Voice in novel #2.

Surprise, surprise, novel #2 started being about a serial killer in 1970, but another one horned in as well. So now "Assassin's Club - Doing Good by Being Bad" has two serial killers. One is a twenty-something guy in NW Montana who became a murderer "by accident" and is struggling to reconcile himself with his deadly new hobby.

The other is a 30ish man who walks out of the ocean near Ensenada, Mexico, with no memory of who he is, or how he got there. He is christened Jesus by the first person he meets (and murders), and walks up the West Coast toward Seattle, picking up a Manson Family assortment of losers along the way, and leaving behind a trail of corpses.

Obviously, these two will eventually meet, and only one will like to kill again. At about 200 pages, I'm roughly two-thirds of the way through.

Unfortunately, I've let the passion for my novels divert me from blogging. I'm sure my imaginary fan has been quite distressed and so I am determined to climb back on the horse and re-start my blog.