Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Why Stories Fail

A list of reasons short stories fail.

1-the story is an idea, not a story.
2-the ending is telegraphed too early.
3-the ending is abrupt and unsatisfying.
4-the story is aimless, wandering, and wordy.
5-the writing is too stiff and impersonal.
6-half the story is all backstory.
7-logic is thrown to the wind so readers don't buy it.
8-the plot is old, overused, and boring.
9-the pacing is screwed--either too fast, not fast enough, no variety in the pacing.
10-the writing is too precious, too pedantic, or riddled with cliche.

That's the top ten. I know we can all think of ten or fifty more.  They say the short story is easy to write. It is if you know what you're doing. It's a disaster if you wing it and have never practiced the form. The short story is an age-old part of storytelling and those who are best at it are marvelous. We have to take the writing of short stories serious. I will call it an art form, for it is. It's as artful as a poem or a novel without being either.

When short stories fail, we all lose. Be a Bradbury. A Poe. Be marvelous.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

LITERARY AGENTS-Good, Bad, and Ugly

It was always difficult for a writer to get a good literary agent. My first one, I suspect, didn't even submit my novel. It wasn't a very good novel anyway, so maybe he did me a favor. And then I fired him.

My second literary agent tried to talk me out of finishing my novel, WIREMAN. Write something like THE THORN BIRDS, he said. I tried to explain that wasn't the kind of fiction I wrote. The suspense of WIREMAN is what I wanted to write.

Once off the phone I wrote him a letter and fired him. What good was he if he didn't realize I was already writing in the area I should? I knew it, why didn't he know it?

I was without an agent for almost a year and then I heard of a new agent hired on at the William Morris Literary Agency in NYC. I was too shy to approach him, even by mail. My husband, an audacious man, called the agency from work (I didn't know) and someway got through to the agent. He proceeded to tell him his wife was the best writer in Texas and she'd just finished a new novel. The agent said this was highly irregular, but my husband was to tell me to send it in, he'd take a look. He warned, "We only take the cream of the crop, you know." My husband told him that's exactly what he was going to get.

When he came home that afternoon and told me what he'd done I was shocked and embarrassed. You didn't call them! You didn't say that about me being the best writer in Texas!

But he had and it paid off and I had to mail out the manuscript to the most prestigious agency on earth. Within two days of receiving the manuscript the agent called me. "I want to sell this book," he said. "I like it a lot, it's great."

My husband Lyle got me in the door and the book cinched the deal. Within a couple of weeks it was sold and they offered an advance for my first litle novel of $3500. I told my agent I had to have more. The computer I wanted for writing cost $5000. (Imagine that!) He said, wait, let me go back, see what I can do. He came back in less than hour to say they'd raised the advance to $5000.

I, of course, was ecstatic. I'd reached a dream. I'd sold a novel. And now I could afford a computer. It was 1984 and the only persnal computers in my area of Houston for sale was a big, clunky CPM operating system machine with a green cursor and it cost almost $5000. I bought it. CPM was before DOS, even, and I had to put a big floppy in with a word processor on it, take it out, and put in another floppy for the word processor to write a file to. Oh God, I loved it. No more white-out. No more typewriters. No more carbon copies. It was heaven.

Now today I don't know it's any harder to get an agent as it was in 1984. If it's harder, that's bad. It was hard enough, despite how it worked out for me in a serendippity way, that no one else in my novel writing club was able to get an agent for years more.

I was with the Wm. Morris Agency until I stopped writing in the mid-90s (more on that some other time). They sold all the novels I wrote. They believed in me and when my novel, NIGHT CRUISE, didn't bring home the Edgar, my agent was livid. He believed so strongly there was no contender.

I loved my agents there. I had two, the first one who became Vice President of Wm. Morris, then another agent who is still my friend today, though he's moved on to another agency. The treatment and care of a good agent is to always treat him with respect. If  you disagree over something, do it politely. He wants the best for you because if you do well, he does well.

The moral of this true story may be that being brave and audacious might work. But the product has to stand on its own. No amount of charming banter will save a bad manuscript from being rejected.

You never know when you'll find the right agent, but don't be afraid to fire one if the fit is bad. When you do luck into a good one, hang on tight and do good work.  A career can last for years, for your lifetime, if you know how to nurture it and do most of the right things. Or at least a few of the right things. None of us can be perfect.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

FROM THE TRENCHES: Top 10 List of Advice on Battling Cancer

This will be a joyous and life-affirming blog. Don't get depressed, not for a minute.

I thought today of how nifty my short, thick hair is compared to when I was bald. I remember one picture of me when my hair was almost all fallen out due to chemo, and there was one strand still stuck to the top of my skull. I looked like a concentration camp victim.

Don't look like a concentration camp victim.

Here's some of my advice from having lung cancer and going through 33 targeted radiations to my lung, 10 full brain prophylactic radiations, and 5 months of intravenous chemotherapy.

1. If your hair begins to fall out, go ahead and shave it smooth. Don't wait until you end up with a picture like I have.

2. I lost my hair twice. Be brave about this. It's just hair. Wear wigs and headgear, scarves and hats and such if you like. If you don't mind the coolness of being bald, go bald. Whatever you do rock it. Rock it good.

3. Don't think negative thoughts. If one comes to mind, imagine grabbing it with your hand, the whole thought, and throwing it away from you. Preferably into a corner never to be thought again. The truth is we think bad things when we fight cancer. That's natural. Just don't think it long. Throw it away. If you've thought about a dreadful future for more than five minutes, that's too long. Throw it all away.

4. Think beyond this situation to the future. See yourself on the other side of it. Make plans. Be forward thinking. Don't look back.

5. When people want to tell you about their experiences with cancer in their families or themselves, listen with an open heart. This disease touches at least one out of every five people and we're all together in this. Be kind and loving.

6. If you believe in a higher power, call on it now. And believe you're heard. If you do not believe in a higher power, call on your strongest inner self and believe you'll make it. We have to grow a backbone for this experience and like my mom once said, "Dip your backbone in cement."

7. See this as a chance to tally your positive characteristics and what you need to improve about yourself. I had a problem letting go of resentments over perceived wrongdoings on the part of others. I didn't try to get revenge, I just disengaged. Now I make an effort to let those old resentments go and engage again with people. Who appointed me judge, right? You can change. Now's the time. It's never too late. Tell those you love that you do love them. Forgive those who wronged you. Be understanding of the foolish, the liars, the hardened, the envious, and the horrid. Step away if they invade your territory and make you unhappy, but otherwise stop judging. Repair yourself by fixing what's wrong with you, or what is imperfect. Get happy.

8. This is a chance to see if you've done enough. Done enough loving and forgiving. Done enough of your life's work.  Done enough soul-searching.  Take the time now to do what you didn't have to do before.

9.  Stand tall. Take your treatments without complaint. Face the facts, but never let them dominate you into thinking you can't make it. If you have a doctor who is morose over your condition and chances, CHANGE DOCTORS NOW. I did. It made a big difference. Once you hear a terrible prognosis, you can't unhear it. Try to surround yourself with positive caretakers.

10. Don't give up. I saw a woman on the news recently who fought cancer nine times. She's still kicking. I had a 20% chance of survival. I'm in remission. I knew a woman who had cancer four times in different places on her body and survived every one. If it takes you, then there's nothing you can do about it but feel acceptance for a good life given you. If you beat it, then you too can write a blog like this and tell people good advice about living through cancer. Either way, do it with at least some joy still left in your spirit. No point in bringing others down or making your loved ones and friends suffer with you. Be strong. It's the only way.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Strange Ideas

There's something exquisite about short stories that you can't say for the novel. I suppose a novel could be exquisite, but it would be quite rare. I can think of a few novels that reach that pinnacle, but there certainly aren't many in all of literature.

However, many short stories do reflect that kind of perfection you don't often see in art. I believe it's because one small ant-like idea can become of such importance that it's a whale. The story is a complete package unto itself. If done correctly the reader should sit back after reading a successful short story and say, Wow, that was something. Then the story should linger, like a fine wine on the tongue. 

If it sounds like I love short stories, you'd be right. I began writing them first, before novels, and I practice the form all year, every year. Ellen Datlow doesn't pick them to honor and they've won no awards, but I know what I've done and I pronounce it...a pod of whales. Sometimes work gets overlooked. Perhaps that's my status with the short story, and that doesn't slow me in the least. My whales swim and a lot of readers like them. That's what matters in the end, my friends.

I wrote a short story this past week that I like very much. I just published it as a little e-book on Amazon with a great cover by my cover artist, Jeffrey Kosh. I could have submitted it to an anthology or magazine, but I just couldn't do it. I wanted this one as my own, share it personally, and get it to readers as quickly as possible. It's called THE PEOPLE OF THE TOWER. I'll try to explain how it came about.

I was sitting on my sofa, the TV on, my laptop on the coffee table in front of me. Into my head came this, truly out of the blue yonder: Tower. Big castle-like gray granite building. Someone is put there and not let out. The people who put him or her there never speaks. It's a little town.

I sat in surprise, the idea twirling around in my head. A castle tower. Really? That sounds Gothic, I thought. But why are people put there and what happens to them and who does it and why? All the story questions came to me and I knew I couldn't answer those questions unless I wrote the story. I wrote it like a suspense tale, despite I knew from the first it would be a supernatural horror story. I get an idea and I just follow to see where it leads. I know, I know, writing advice books tell you not to do that. You could end up in a big empty pasture of words and no where to go. That's not been my experience, so I trust the Muse to lead me forward, knowing whatever tale waits I want to read it so I have to write it. Writing advice is fine for most people. It doesn't work for me.

Then the denouement came finally and not more than two pages before I got there I knew what it was. I saw it coming, though readers shouldn't, and so far it appears they don't see it coming, which pleases me. I hate letting an ending get to the reader before its time. It's like comedy. It's all in the timing. You have a knack for it or you don't, there's no maybe about it. 

You may ask:

How do you know the idea that comes to you is worth pursuing? I don't know. I trust. Creativity is an instinct. I accept the idea because it came out of the ether and it tapped my shoulder and I am at its service the amount of time it takes to write the story. Nothing makes me happier than to read a new story, one that I wrote, one that gave me such pleasure writing. 

Have you ever taken an idea that came to you and it failed, you didn't complete the story? Yes, that happens, but seldom. If it doesn't work out, it wasn't strong enough, it didn't have "legs." That rarely happens for me, though, thank goodness or I'd have a hard drive filled with partially completed short stories and I don't.

Do you suggest other writers do what you do? Hell no! I wouldn't try to tell anyone else how to write. If this is the way it works for the writer, as it does for me, then fine. If it doesn't, if the writer has to outline a story, take notes, study details of character or setting before starting, that's simply the way it works for the writer and who am I to say it isn't the correct way. Because it is the correct way for THAT writer, not this one.

If you want to see how my out-of-the-blue-yonder idea came out, you can pick up PEOPLE OF THE TOWER. If you want to know why anyone is in a castle tower in a small Southern town the way I did, here's your chance. It's $.99 and I won't make much money from it, but sometimes that's not the point. That's not the point at all.

People of the Tower
To buy click here: PEOPLE OF THE TOWER

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Travel Bug Strikes Again!

Many years ago my husband Lyle drove big rigs for a big company and I often went on the road with him, traveling cross-country. From those first trips on the road a novel came into creation titled NIGHT CRUISE. (On Amazon now as Night Cruising.) Cruise was an unsuspected serial killer driving a Chrysler across country, killing as he went. Then he decides he needs a witness to his crimes, someone to take note of his actions, and picks up a teen hitchhiker running away from home. I used truck stops I'd been to, people I'd met, even dialogue I heard on the CB in the book that gave it a feeling of truth beyond fiction. The book went on to garner the prestigious Edgar Award nomination. The book lost that year to an Alaskan detective book that was part of a series--well, that's all I'll say about that. It would be rude to say more.

Travel infused a novel. The night lights, the long empty roads, the truck stops, the movement of strangers past one another on the road and in the cafes and stops held a sort of romance for me that has never dimmed. Off and on I would ride with my husband and we'd be in Northern California one week and in North Carolina the next. Every day a new view, every minute the landscape changing, and stimulating my creative juices. I'd always liked traveling, but this was like traveling on steroids, day after day a new city, a new part of the country. In the end, over the years, we drove through and enjoyed 48 of the states, from coast to coast and into Canada.

It gets in the blood. Sitting still at home gets boring for us now, Lyle and I. Over twenty years, off and on, we'd take off in a big rig and roll over the land, having the time of our lives. Whether in snow or storm or tornado, whether a blizzard raged or the rivers ran high, we rolled on through to the other side of it, often into sunshine.

We were traveling this way last December when in California I had to go to an Emergency Room and was diagnosed with lung cancer. That stopped the travel for the foreseeable future, if not forever. But I got a reprieve and went into remission. Now we may be going on the road again, Lyle maneuvering the big rig, me in the jump seat taking photos, and feeling the joy of a sunset in a new place. I can't tell you how happy that makes me.

Some are home people, loving only being at home. I like to COME BACK home, but if I can just get a few miles under my feet, I'm never more content. My grandfather said of my wish to travel that I had "sand in my shoes." He said that to me when I was a teenager pining for a way to go somewhere, anywhere. He was so right.

The experiences you can gain by travel are worth millions. It's a tough job, the food on the road is bad, sometimes the traffic is horrendous, but then you walk over to a cafe for dinner in some state and get the most marvelous meal or you see a sunset behind mountains that you know you'd mourn if you'd missed it, or you see a rushing stream over boulders shining in the morning light and your soul is lifted. Clouds drift above you in one place and five hundred miles distant those clouds are different, the world is changing, the planet is twirling, and the wheels are rolling taking you on to the next view and next adventure.

I hope I get to do that again in a few days. When inspired by the travel I'll write blogs about it and see if I learn anything new. I hope you'll follow along. The next best thing to travel for me has been armchair traveling. When not on the road I read dozens and dozens of travel books just to feel in touch with those, like me, who take to the road when life is too routine, too the same.

As my grandfather predicted so many years ago, I still have to shake this sand from my shoes.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Five Days left to SINISTER Launch

It's December 10th and on December 15th SINISTER-Tales of Dread 2014 can be ordered as an e-book on Amazon. Today and for five more days you can pre-order it for the ridiculous price of $.99. When published it will go back up to the normal price of $3.99.

I'm doing a Thunderclap campaign for the book too and I hope you can support me. No cash involved. Just share it with Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr. Here's the link:


I've read recently where famous writers and movie stars (William Shatner) are doing Kickstarter campaigns to fund their projects. Shatner wants donations for his book about living successfully after fifty. Well, someone had to write that, I guess. I often wonder if I should try a Kickstarter. For instance, I'd like to create an anthology of horror and also a new noir suspense novel. I suppose it wouldn't hurt to try.  You don't know what you can do until you try.

I've made a couple of memes today with quotes from my own writing. Here they are for your amusement.

HE WAS BORN OF AIR AND HATE AND FIRE. Billie Sue Mosiman, from her story opening of "The Monster Waiting Above."

I saw my fictional monster looking a little like this, but bloodier.

This is a quote that I used in my novel, THE GREY MATTER. I know it's macabre, but looking around at the state of the world this is how it often feels to me.  We're bringing it.

A word about "extreme" horror. I think much of it today is taken too far. I never write it--until I wrote my latest short story, "The Monster Living Above."  I didn't mean to do it. I'd really not done it before. But this demon came from Hell on a mission and performed it. It had to be extreme. I hope it didn't go too far and I don't think it did. It's when we go to the extreme with close-ups of rape and molestation that I say it has gone too far. I don't like it, I don't write it, and I am sad anyone else would. That's just my take on extreme horror fiction. It has to have control or it's just horror porn, don't kid yourself.

So I hope you will support the debut of my story collection (without an extreme horror story in sight in it) and support it at Thunderclap. The more people know about the collection the more readers might read and review it. I do appreciate anyone who supports, buys, or reviews my work. It's just dark love poems from me to you.  Get it for the holidays as an e-book or paperback, and soon as an audiobook. SINISTER 2014

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Lock in The Goodness-A Sinister $.99 Proposition

It's difficult for writers to promote themselves. Some go overboard and hit every Facebook group available, tweet the thing a thousand times, and give away prizes if people will only pay attention. Other authors today have bowed out and said to hell with it, I'm no shill. Is there a sweet spot? Can we let our dear readers and maybe new readers know we have a book out without appearing to be egotistical and desperate?

I can't even answer that. It's really become a conundrum for every author, including me. I don't want to browbeat people, annoy them, or beg them. I'm not a publisher's publicist. I haven't been trained in marketing. Few authors have. The truth is we spend our lives, mainly, in a hermit like existence doing our work. Hours that stack up to days and, then to years, are spent alone with our imagination, creating other worlds and other people. We simply aren't equipped to step out into the limelight and say to you, the reader, we have the best thing for you to read, the best book to spend your money and time upon, and here it is. In some cases it makes us feel so badly we do finally give up and go silent.

If we do that, however, we've orphaned the book. We've crippled it and sent it packing into a dark corner. Even publishers don't promote our works and we're expected to do it on our own, with very little help. If we want to pay for promotion, it's going to come out of our pockets. If anyone mentions it on Facebook or Twitter or Linked In, we have to do it. 

I'm using my blog today to announce to you the Pre-Order availability of my latest fiction, SINISTER-Tales of Dread 2014. Yes, you can go ahead and order it now at the lower price of only $.99,  lock it in, and you'll have it delivered on the first day available, December 15th. Later it will return to full price. This is my small way of announcing the book, just so you'll know. If you care to know. No harm done if you aren't interested, I suppose. Don't hold it against me. I'm just a writer.

SINISTER 2014 is a collection of stories I've written in the past year. I began this series of collected stories last year and that, too, is titled Sinister-Tales of Dread 2013--the years and covers change. Not every story I wrote is in this year's collection as a couple of them didn't have the rights returned yet, but nearly every story I wrote is in it. Compared to last year's collection, this one contains more realistic suspense and psychological fiction compared to horror. It just worked out that way, though there are some horror tales in there (vampire! contagion! killer apps for a smartphone!) that should disturb the reader and make him check the locks on the doors. 

As the author, I can't tell you if this is the best collection of stories out there. That would be foolish. I can't tell you your life will be better, your hair will turn from gray to brunette, your children will become angels in their comportment, and your friends will lavish you with gifts on your birthday. All I can promise is you'll get Mosiman stories written at the apex of my ability. Weird, strange, odd, and in a case or two, there are stories that are emotional rollercoasters. 

As I stated in an earlier blog, the short story is my love letter to the world--no matter how dark it might be. I write them at full-force, head-on, and barreling down the freeway at a hundred-forty miles per hour. I hold nothing back. I don't second-guess the characters and their decisions. Like some other authors have claimed, I really take down dictation and the stories write themselves. There must be a reason for this. If I'm given stories, then they're meant to be shared, to be read, and if I did my job right, they will be enjoyed. 

Therefore, that's my pitch. I have done my promotion thing, the thing we all despise because it isn't really our job and we aren't trained in it. I hope you will go to the link, look at the cover and the listed stories and decide to put in a pre-order. Sort of a little early Christmas present to yourself--and to me. I'll know you're out there and you're interested in my storytelling. Nothing encourages a writer more than to sell copies of her work and to receive reviews from readers who liked it. If you want the paperback copy instead, that too will be available soon on Amazon.

Thanks for your attention to this blog post. It had to be done, you know it did. And something else, though it's not December yet, I hope you have the Happiest Holidays ever--with my book or without it! That's more important than anything else.