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Real Life Inspiration


It has once been said that real life is stranger than fiction, and it is a fact I believe adamantly. Many mornings I can be found at a local coffee shop engrossed on my laptop. Or am I? I admit, I am not the most imaginative writer in the world. It is hard for me to sit in a sealed room and pull great works and awe inspiring pieces from the vastness of my mind. For me it doesn’t happen that way. I draw my inspiration from the world around me. To me imagination is sparked by the life stories of people that walk by me on their way for a morning cup of joe or just going through the motions of life.

A few years ago I found myself at a gas station while refueling my work-truck. As the neighborhood was questionable, I remained in the cab while the tank filled. Across the parking lot walked an older black man with dread locks falling midway down his back. He wore jeans, untied combat boots, and his untucked shirt was only half buttoned, exposing a bare chest and a gold chain that would make Mr. T envious. The man talked non-stop — not to people but everything else. The pile of firewood, the garbage can, advertisements, until finally he got into a heated discussion with a tree. I pulled out my lap top and began sketching a character that would eventually become the March Hare in my novel.

Everyone has a tale to tell, though not every tale is worth telling. For me inspiration comes in many forms and at any time. I have found inspiration at a gas station, an overflowing river, and even at church. When I do have inspiration I pull out my iPhone or lap top and jot down the first three things that caught my attention, then briefly what the sight inspired. Some ideas I have used, other’s I add to a file with hundreds of others I’ve collected. It is a practice I try to hone every chance I get; fine tuning my observations, and improve my writing efficiency. My laptop is always with me and I’m always expanding my collection of inspirations.

Just curious… Where do you find inspiration and how have you used that inspiration?


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Parenting of Writing

This morning I sat at the local Starbuck’s, freezing to death, while trying to clear my head enough to come up with a snaggy (that’s snappy and engaging) blog post. Most of the ideas coming to mind dealt with conferences or writing. All of which, I dismissed. Seriously, just about everything on the craft of writing has been done and by those a whole lot more experienced than myself. So what can I offer? In desperation I sent out a tweet (here’s another use of social media for you) and got a response from a fellow tweeter and workshop member @tex_maam.

“I’d be interested in [knowing] what parenting and writing actually do have in common, since everybody calls their book their baby.”

The idea resonated strongly with me due to two recent milestones in my life. First, my book, RABBIT SLAYER, was given to the care my agent. Secondly, my only daughter graduated high school. The similarities in raising my only child and getting her off to college has countless parallels to getting my book published. Here are just a few.

Writing Intercourse…

Sorry to be offensive, but writing is a lot like sex. Some love it, others not so much. And almost everyone has tried it at one point in their life. Either can be done for the pure enjoyment of it, and it can be done in hopes of producing something tangible. There are short episodes and their can be long passionate ones. We play around and practice (A LOT), but at some point we ask ourselves, “Where is this taking us”. At that point and idea forms and we have conception. At that point our whole lives change.

First Steps…

Birth is an exciting and overwhelming time. We spend the next few days, weeks, and months watching it grow. We are in awe with each movement and development. We oh and ah with each little step. We brag and we are proud. In no time a personality forms and we start to see (and smell) a few not so good points. But they are dismissed, we can handle it. It’s our baby and nothing can dissuade us. Until…

Terrible (and doubtful) twos…

As our baby grows into a toddler our paternal instincts to protect and isolate slacken ever so slightly. We share our toddler with others and we give it space to explore. Without restrictions it gets into everything: the cabinets, the clothes, and even their own poo. Turn your back for one second, and all hell breaks loose. We begin to doubt our abilities. We start hearing criticism, and not all of it is good. We are strong so we change and adjust. It is our baby and we will see it to the end. So help us God.

Teenage Revisions…

And so our baby continues to grow. We nurture it along the way, we protect it, we dress it up, and we go through the emotional roller-coaster with it. Then it gets to the teenage years and we realize that we need to shift our role. The child is grown and the book is complete, both are in raw form and needs to be refined. Play time is over and the real work begins. It must be ready to face competition and adversity. We must focus and revise, so that it can stand on its own. We won’t be there forever and the world does not revolve around it.


Blood, sweat, and tears pays off on the day our baby graduates. Our emotions run high as it sits out there with all the other hopefuls. We are excited and saddened as she takes her spot in line at the stage. Tears fall as her name is called out and she walks across that stage. We are happy for her and sad at the same time. We love our baby, but now the next steps are all hers.

Next Steps…

Honestly, I don’t know those next steps. My daughter is a high school graduate and college is only a few months away. RABBIT SLAYER is with my agent and a list of publishers await. I hope and pray that I have given my best so they can thrive. I know that they will face hard times, and I know that I will come to their rescue when needed. I want them both to succeed, because they are both my babies.


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The first draft of anything…

You’ve done it! After months, or even years, of toiling and long hours at the keyboard you finally have that next bestseller sitting on the screen in front of you. It’s printed and the acrid smell of an over worked printer fills the air. You’ve jumped online and registered for the amazing DFW Writer’s Conference. You’ve even selected the top three choice of the agents you want to pitch your book to…

Hold on there cowboy, oh siblings of the pen, masters of wordsmith — not so fast. Have you even read it? What about getting it critiqued by someone you trust? And I’m not talking about a spouse, parent, or your best friend since the third grade. I’m talking about someone you know that will give you an honest to goodness, give it to me until I bleed, type of critique. Why?

Well my old pal Hemingway said it best, “The first draft of anything is shit.” He really did — Google it.

Anyway, that may give us a license to write our novel, but it doesn’t give us permission to pawn our sh… stuff off on agents. Think about it, for an agent this is business, they’re not there to stroke your ego. They make money by representing a story that will sell, and quickly. They aren’t going to waste time on a premise that is still three or four revisions away from even being close to finished. Would you buy a car that was still missing the tires and an engine? “Well they will be in next month,” the salesman says. Your response? “Then call me next month and I might consider it.” Or even better. Would you even want to do business with him or would you move on to the next lot?

This year I am responsible for the pitch sessions at the DFW Writer’s Conference and have been monitoring the tweets from those planning on attending. Quite a few of them out there are tweeting how they only have so many chapters to write before the book is finished. Write? As in not done yet? Like the first draft?

For those not in the know or have just started writing, let me debunk a popular misconception. Writing a novel does NOT happen over night — or over even in a single weekend. This is real life people, not a movie. Hollywood may have someone scribbling out their memoirs overnight and deliver it to a publisher the next morning, but that isn’t the way it’s going to happen. Writing a novel or book is a long journey of passion and love. And when that first draft is done, the work has only begun.

That first draft is just that — a draft. A prototype for a product that you may, or may not, intend to sell. Not all concepts work well and not all stories will develop into a publishable product. So enjoy the process of writing. Feel the words flow from you brain to the screen, but remember ‘The End’ isn’t always the end.

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An Agent for Rabbit Slayer

This post was originally written late last summer. Since then life, work, and writing took priority. Now, with a little bit of time at my disposal I have gone back through some old drafts. God its amazing how much my writing has changed over the past year. Most are being deleted but this one I thought was worth editing and revisal. With the 2012 DFW Writer’s Conference coming up I thought it would be an opportune time to post.

The Friday before the 2011 DFW Writer’s Conference is a day that will live in my memory for years to come. That was the day I first saw my future agent. Of course I didn’t know it at the time. Seriously, how many times have you walked into Starbucks and watched two women walk in and say “One of those two will one day be my agent.” For my first conference I volunteered to be a Wrangler (a sort of assistant for an agent). I had stopped in at Starbucks before going to pick up my assigned agent.  That was when I first saw Dawn, a lithe quirky brunette.  Later that night we made our introductions among a throng of other writers and agents. Throughout the weekend we talked on and off, but it wasn’t until the “pitch” session that our business relationship started.

Dawn wasn’t my first pitch of the weekend, and wasn’t my last, but she was the most surprising. I walked into the session expecting to talk about Man-lit, a non-fiction that inspired this blog. I pitched it and she promptly turned it down. She had valid reasons, much made sense to me. With five minutes left in the session I began some idle conversation. “Wait, what about RABBIT SLAYER?” She asks. Unprepared, I stumbled over my tongue as my brain tried to shift gears. “But you don’t rep fiction,” I said. “I rep only select fiction,” she replied. SWEET! In the little time left I rambled off my pitch. She asked a few questions and I gave immediate responses. As Jason sounded the gong announcing the end of the session Dawn asks for the first 100 pages.

After the conference I sent out all the samples that had been requested. I was stoked with so much interest, but I had to wonder if many of the agents were just being nice to the coffee runner. Granted, some were, but I think some had genuine interest. As time went on I began to receive my rejections. “Good idea, but not for me,” was the general response. I did have two very constructive rejections and offers to resubmit after revising. One agent though did come back and request the full. Seems that my vision of the Tweedle Twins freaked her out enough to ask. I sent the rest of the MS and sat waiting. And waiting….

Just a word of advice to others out there, BE PATIENT. One thing I am learning about this industry is that NOTHING happens quickly. Patience is a virtue that I’m hoping will take me a long way. I’m sure Dawn would disagree, but I did try.

A few weeks later, Dawn sent back an email asking for some revisions, book proposal and few other pointers. I worked on her requests and shot off a reply. And then more waiting. I secretly stalked her on FaceBook and Twitter and learned she was buried to her eyeballs. One hot day in June I got an email asking me to call her. Excited as can be, I gave her a call. We talked for an hour or so on weather, current events, and RABBIT SLAYER.

The result of the conversation would mean a massive amount of work, a complete rewrite, and some trying days. But all I was willing to do. A few weeks later a contract arrived in the mail. While I frantically searched for a pen my wife – the cooler head – grabbed the contract. Before I could put ink to paper she asked “Who is Melissa….” Huh? Well, seems that there was a mistake on the paperwork. A phone call to Dawn and we had everything settled. The contract finally signed, the work began.

The past few months haven’t been easy. The rewrite wore on. A wayward cup of tea found its way into my laptop – destroying everything. And life still continues to interrupt me. Even when I got down and doubt began to creep in, I only had to remember one thing.


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Becoming a Better Writer

Another revision is complete and sent off to editors and readers. I sit back, stretch, then read the manuscript over once more. Years it hasn’t taken me to get to this point. In a drawer beside my desk lay copies of the past six attempts to get it right. At the bottom of that stack is that very first draft, the one I remembering being so proud of, the one that declared that ‘I’ve done it – I’ve written a novel”. But when I pull it out and read just the first few lines, I cringe. God that was awful. What was I thinking?

I get an email from one of my beta readers. “Oh this is so good,” she says. “So much better. Your writing has improved so much.”

Yeah, I laugh, glancing at the first draft before me. You think?

Her email goes on to ask me how I did it. How did I improve my writing so much? It’s a good question, so much of myself goes into writing. How can I nail it down? How to make an appropriate response?

Well, I’m in an adventurous mood and feel ready to tackle this discussion. Besides, there isn’t much else for me to do until my editor finishes her red lines (come on already MH!!) Let’s take this in typical Letterman fashion. The top 5 things to help a writer improve their writing.

Number 5: Live Life

Yeah, I know – you wake up, go through your daily routine, then off to bed. Another day gone and another paycheck to get by with, until the next crisis. My friend, that is not living – that is surviving. I think that good writers experience life. They just don’t go through the motions, they observe and pay attention. They use all their senses to record everything of every moment – locked away for safe keeping. Then, when it comes time to write, they have a vast wealth of memories to recall. They know the thrill of riding the open roads on a motorcycle; they remember the fragrance of fresh cut grass; and they can muse upon the eclectic personalities at the local coffee shop. Intimate knowledge of experiencing life is number five on my list writers can use to improve writing.

Number 4: Read…. A lot

I know a number of writers that wont read anything while they are working on a piece. Some say that they don’t want others to influence their own ‘voice’. A few, honestly, worry that it takes away from the precious time they have to write. However, reading is one of the best things to help a writer. Even one of today’s most prolific writers admits to reading up to four hours a day. Reading helps to relax the mind and sets the imagination loose. All of this helps when it comes time to do your own writing. But don’t read just for the entertainment value, writers should view reading as research. In your hands is a finished PUBLISHED piece. Study the way the story is constructed, the way plots are developed, even the way sentences are put together and which words are used can help. The more a writer reads the stronger the prose.

Number 3: Self-edit

Today’s writers must wear two hats — especially those aspiring writers wanting to be published. Being a writer and being an editor. Once the writer has completed a piece he or she needs to take a break — step away from the story for a few days or a week. Then ‘read’ what they wrote, but with an editors mind. The writer must read the piece critically, as a reader would do. Always asking “is this good enough”. Often the answer is “no”. In fact a MS will go through countless revisions. In fact I have gone through six major revisions and dozens of edited revisions. The good news is that with each pass and knowing what works and what doesn’t helps the writer write it better the first time. Learning to self-edit is a valuable tool, but there are two more…

Number 2: Listen

This, I think, is the most under utilized, the easiest to do, and the hardest to master. Anyone can listen, we do it all the time. But do we actually use what we hear constructively? Two years ago I read my opening chapter in a writer’s workshop for the first time. It took me weeks to build up the courage and I was terrified during the read. Once done the critiques started rolling in. Five minutes of hell. I was crushed. Devastated! I put on my MAN face (insert sarcasm here) and showed no emotion when inside I wanted to ball. I guess my facade wasn’t good enough, because one of the writer’s pulled me aside during break and told me how to listen. Since then I’ve taken it to a new level. I listen to everything being said about everything. Assessing trends, likes and dislikes, what works and what doesn’t, I even listen to what ISN’T being said. I then make my OWN decision. I reject that which I don’t agree with and selfishly use what I do.

Number 1: Write…

A. Lee Martinez is one of the most imaginative published author I know. The stuff this guy comes up with boggles the mind. (I’m so glad he doesn’t read blogs, because I’d never admit that to him.) I once asked him how he does it. You would figure he would come up with a long explanation. A life story. I mean — he’s an author! But his reply was a single word. “Write”. So after pressing him for more he explained that to be a good writer you have to write… and write… and write… Think of this as a sport (man analogy) or walking in high heels (woman analogy). Both are relatively easy, but to mastery requires lots and LOTS of practice. The more you do it, the more natural it becomes, and the better at it you become.

So there you have it. Kirk von der Heydt’s top five ways of becoming a better writer. Keep in mind though, that being a better writer doesn’t mean you are going to get published. THAT is a topic for another post — once I’ve got it figured out myself.

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