06 May 2018

Manuscript Mechanics II

by Leigh Lundin


Inspired by a conversation last evening and John’s article yesterday, a few additional thoughts struck me. John’s article explained what do do, I’ll explain how to handle a handful of circumstances.

As John mentioned, use whatever font an editor requests, typically Courier or Times. Why? Your publisher will almost certainly choose a different type face, but these fonts, especially Courier, allow an experienced editor to eyeball the text and quickly estimate how much room a story will take in the pages of their publication.

Some authors write extremely dense manuscripts jammed with lengthy sentences and thick paragraphs, word crammers who begrudge a pica of paper uncovered with ink. Others split verbiage into many short paragraphs populated with digestible sentences, profligates seemingly unaware of trees that died to donate beautiful white space. I’m afraid I belong to the latter category.

In cases like these, simple word counts won’t provide an accurate estimate of the number of pages consumed by a story. On the other hand, a good editor can glance at a page and rapidly calculate where to fit a story in.

Old Dogs, New Tricks

A number of would-be writers and even some established authors have complained of age discrimination. I can’t do much about that, but I can offer suggestions that don’t signal publishers and agents that, like Velma, you’re of ‘a certain age’.
  1. Avoid using double spaces after sentences. From audible groans in the audience, I hear some of you harbor a couple of hundred-thousand word novels containing sentences carefully demarcated with two precious spaces. If you were born in 1939 or 1959 or 1979 before the age of the personal computer, your touch-typing muscle memory drops in two spaces without a second thought.
  2. Avoid double hyphens. Let me guess, your 100k opus contains more than a few of those. Worse, at least a sentence or two breaks between those hyphens, leaving one at the end of one line and another starting the line below.
  3. Understand ellipsis, the … showing a break in thought or missing words. Perhaps you depart from the three-dots to four philosophy or you prefer dot-space-dot-space-dot. However, if you’re old enough to know what a telegraph is, you’re probably telegraphing your age to the world.
No problem, Grasshopper. Let’s deal with them one by one.
Those Double Spaces
You’ll find this so easy: Use Find/Replace under the Edit menu to search for two spaces and replace with one. You just hacked twenty years off your perceived age.

      Edit ➧ Find ➧ Replace…

— (hyphens)
Mac users can type variations of option - (hyphen). To obtain a medium length n-dash, enter option –. To create a long m-dash, try shift option —. (Stop gloating, you Mac users.)

option
optionshift

Windows users can type alt 0150 for an n-dash and alt 0151 to obtain an m-dash. Within MS Word, writers will find them a bit easier if they have a numeric keypad. Type cntrl num - for n-dash and cntrl alt num - for m-dash, where ‘num -‘ refers to the minus sign on the numeric keypad.

cntrlnum-pad minusalt0150
cntrlaltnum-pad minusalt0151

If you have a laptop or other keyboard without a numeric keypad, use the Insert menu to find the appropriate characters:

      Insert ➧ Symbols ➧ More Symbols ➧ Special Characters
            — or —
      Insert ➧ Advanced Symbol ➧ Special Characters
            — or —
      Insert ➧ (varies by version)

Note: None of the above are typographical minus signs (−), slightly longer than a hyphen but shorter than a dash. Similarly, an ordinary x is not a true typological multiplication sign (×).

… (ellipsis)
Macs have had the advantage of typographical symbols at their fingertips. The option key on the Macintosh turns many characters into other, often related symbols. For example, option : generates an ellipsis …

optioncolon

When Windows came around to allowing keyboard entry of characters, it allowed users to type alt 0133. If you use newer versions of MS Word, it gets easier: Type cntrl alt . (dot, fullstop, period) Some word processors will convert three typed dots in a row to ellipsis.

cntrlaltdot, period, fullstopalt0133
Blank Line Separators

But wait, there’s more! John mentioned on-line publishers who prefer single-spaced paragraphs separated by blank lines. Sadly, our SleuthSayers program works that way, a typological mess. But dealing with it is a must. I’ll teach two methods depending upon your needs.
Simple Space
Replacing one paragraph separator with two works for straightforward manuscripts. If you’re not using MS Word, place your cursor at the end of any paragraph (except the last), hold down the shift key, tap the right arrow once and then copy. This puts a carriage return in your clipboard.

shiftright arrow

In your Find field, paste once. In your Replace field, paste twice. Depending upon your word processor, you may not be able to see anything, but if you then execute the Find/Replace command, extra spacing should appear between your paragraphs.

carriage return MS Word offers an additional variation. In the Find field type ^p and in the replace field enter ^p^p, and then run Find/Replace.

Complex Space
What if you’ve used blank lines to separate recipes or pages of jokes or stanzas of poetry? It simply takes a little forethought, especially if you wish to use blank space to separate your poems or rave reviews or whatever. In the following, I’ll use MS Word’s ^p to mean one paragraph marker, but you can copy and paste paragraph separators as above.
  1. In the Find field, enter ^p^p. This will select any blank line already separating paragraphs.
  2. If you now wish use a different separator, say three asterisks, type ^p***^p into the Replace box.
  3. If you wish to retain extra spacing, enter an unlikely character combination, say $$, into the Replace field.
  4. Run Find/Replace. Those blank lines will temporarily disappear.
  5. Now enter ^p in the Find field and ^p^p in Replace.
  6. Run Find/Replace.
  7. If you chose extra spacing using $$ above, then you need one last step. Enter $$ in the Find box and ^p in the Replace field.
  8. Find/Replace will now give you one blank line between paragraphs and extra lines where you want them.

“Larry, Moe, and …”
Another mark of professionalism is to use so-called ‘curly quotes’, inward curving quotation marks and apostrophes. What if you prepared an entire manuscript without them?

Step one is to turn on ‘curly quotes’. You may have to run a series of thought out Find/Replaces to fix manuscripts. I’ve done that, but if you’re using MS Word, the oft maligned Microsoft product contains a clever feature.

Bring up Find/Replace:

      Edit ➧ Find ➧ Replace…
            — or —
      Edit ➧ Find ➧ Advanced Replace

Type a ' (single quote) into both the Find and Replace boxes. Execute the Find/Replace. All of your single ' quotation marks have magically turned ‘curly’.

Type a " (double quote) into both the Find and Replace boxes. Execute the Find/Replace. All of your double " quotation marks have magically turned “curly”.
Next Time

In two weeks, international tips.

05 May 2018

Manuscript Mechanics


by John M. Floyd



I don't like change. I'm sure part of that's because of my age, but also it's just inconvenient. I have certain ways I like to do things, and I'm reluctant to budge from my comfort zone.

One of the things I have changed, though--because I felt I had to--is the way I format the submissions of my short stories.

Old-school

First, a bit of background. When I started sending my work off to editors, back in the mid-nineties, I obeyed the following rules, for my manuscripts:


- Use Courier font
- Double space
- Underline text that needs emphasis
- Use two hyphens for a dash
- Space twice after a period


Those were the marching orders for almost everyone, with minor variations, because computers were still new enough that a lot of manuscripts were being created on typewriters, and all the above tasks could be performed without a word-processing program.

New-school


Now, I do the following:


- Use 12-point Times New Roman font
- Double space
- Italicize text that needs emphasis
- Use em-dashes
- Space once after a period


Alternative-school

Sometimes there are exceptions. Several places to which I regularly submit manucrtipts specify in their guidelines that they still prefer underlining instead of italics. Why? I'm not certain, but I suspect they find underlined text easier to spot than italics when they prepare the manuscript for publication. Whatever the reason, if they want it, I'll do it.

Some places, believe it or not, still prefer Courier font. And when I convert a manuscript to Courier before submitting to those markets, I usually also plug in two spaces after every period. That's a personal preference: I think only one space after a period in Courier makes the words look a little too crowded together. Is that just me, or do any of you agree?

I also submit regularly to a market that prefers two hyphens for a dash (rather than the automatically substituted em dash). Their wish is my command. It's easy to go back through a manuscript and change those dashes.

That same market likes submissions single-spaced except for a double-space between paragraphs, and no indentions at the beginnings of paragraphs. Again, it's pretty easy to comply with this. I just "select all," then hit "single-space" and go back through the manuscript adding one extra space between paragraphs and removing the indentions.

Occasionally, of course, there'll be other specific things editors want you to do: put only your name and page number in the header, put only your story title and page number in the header, type three asterisks to indicate a scene break, don't use the tab key to indent paragraphs, use strange fonts, center a special symbol at the end of the story, etc. Some of these can seem a little nitpicking, and I often suspect they put such demands into their guidelines just to make sure the writer has done his/her homework and has taken the trouble to read the guidelines.

Basic training

Other things I always do, with regard to manuscripts (unless guidelines tell me not to):

- I use standard white 8 1/2-by-11 copy paper
- I use one-inch margins all around
- I put name/address/phone/email info at the top left of the first page
- I put an approximate wordcount at the top right of the first page
- I center the title in all caps about a third of the way down the first page
- I double-space once and type my byline (and center it also)
- I double-space twice after the byline and begin typing the story
- I indent all paragraphs and don't have extra spacing between paragraphs
- I suppress widow/orphan control (allowing widows/orphans)
- I turn off grammar-checking
- I put a header at the top right of every page except page one (Last name / TITLE / Page#)
- I use a centered pound sign (#) to indicate scene breaks
- I double-space three times after the final line of the story and center the words THE END


This isn't saying you have to do the above. It's just what I do.


Everything I've mentioned so far assumes a manuscript that'll be either (1) attached as a file (word.doc, usually) to an emailed cover letter, (2) attached and submitted via a market's website, or (3) printed and snailmailed to an editor. Manuscripts copied/pasted into the body of an email are formatted differently: they'll be plugged in as a .txt file, which--after conversion--is in 10-point Courier font and ignores any special characters, including italicized text. To indicate emphasis in one of these manuscripts, I always type an underscore character just before and just after whatever text I'd like them to italicize in the published version. (Example: I saw it in _The New York Times_.) Most manuscripts pasted into the body of an email should also be single-spaced, with unindented paragraphs and a double space between paragraphs.

Q&A

That's all the information I can think of. How do your submissions differ from these? What are some of the weirdest formatting requirements you've seen, in writers' guidelines? Do you ever submit anything via regular mail anymore? Do you ever use anything except Courier and TNR? Do you use em-dashes or two hyphens? Do you type anything at the very end of your manuscript? How do you indicate a scene break? Do you space once or twice after a period? Main thing is, if what you're doing works, keep doing it.

In two weeks I plan to follow up with several hints and shortcuts to save time when preparing your manuscripts. Meanwhile, keep typing and keep submitting. Best to everyone!

04 May 2018

Bittersweet Goodbyes

By Art Taylor

Yesterday was the last day of my classes this semester at George Mason University. Though plenty of grading still lies ahead, the final face-to-face meeting with students—more than the ultimate posting of the grades themselves—always feels like the actual close of a course.

I've often used the word bittersweet to talk about this time of year. The sweet part is easy: No doubt it's a thrill and a relief to have gotten through all the classes and lesson prep and grading and everything; as I'm writing this, one fellow professor passed by my office, and when I asked how things were going, she said, "Well, we're almost there, so... great!" But all endings arrive with a persistent sense of something lost—and mixed in with the "Whew, glad that's over!" the end of the semester has often left me with anxious little questions and small bits of... pensiveness? melancholy?

Was the course a success? What didn't we cover well? Did the students learn anything? These questions linger.

And deeper than any academic second-guessing: Because my classes are often workshops, because of the intimacy of the workshop setting, because of the connections that are built between all of us, some sense of loss regularly rears its head in early May, as we all take that step of saying goodbye to one another after months of sharing not just our time and our work but also little bits of ourselves.

This semester, that feeling has hit me particularly hard.

One of the students in my class has taken at least one course with me every semester for the past three-and-a-half years—with the exception of his first semester, basically his entire college career. When he landed in my fiction workshop the spring of his freshmen year, he was already distinguishing himself as a careful, thoughtful craftsman in his own right and as a leader in workshop discussions too—able to zero in on problems with his fellow students' drafts, to offer helpful suggestions to improve those drafts, and also to celebrate others' accomplishments, to praise what was working well. Semester after semester, he has honed those skills further—across the board. Here at the end, he's proven himself a top-notch writer and clear-eyed thinker about craft—working on a novel that I feel certain will find publication somewhere down the road.

It's been a joy to see his talents evolve. I'm proud to have shared somehow in his accomplishments. I'm going to miss having him in the classroom. I feel that loss.

Along the way, he has also become part of a core of fine creative writing students—maybe has been central to the formation of that group, in fact. Over time, another of his writer friends joined my classes, and then another, and another. Very often they've signed up again the next semester for some class I'm teaching, and then the next as well. Together this cadre of writers has displayed tremendous talent in their individual works and such extraordinary support and encouragement for one another.... They've become the closest of friends together, and in many ways they've become my friends as well. My latest workshop—Advanced Creative Nonfiction—has surely been one of the most exciting and energetic courses I've ever led, and that's thanks not to me but to the high caliber of the writers sitting in the circle around the room and to the intensity of those friendships and that support.

And now, they're all graduating.

So multiply those sentences above ten-fold:

It's been a joy to see their talents evolve—and soar. I'm proud to have shared somehow in their accomplishments, the hard-earned brilliance, the stunning breadth. I'm going to miss having them in the classroom—all of them. I feel that personal loss—profoundly—even as I celebrate all the great things ahead for this group.

Some fine writers are finding their way out into the wider world this month.

Keep a watch for what they do next.


03 May 2018

The Fine Art of M.S.U.

by Brian Thornton

No, this is not a guided tour of the fine arts program at Michigan State University. or of the art school at Montana State University. And it sure ain't a discussion of the pros and cons of attending the fine arts program at Minot State University.

Today I'm talking about the Fine Art of Making Shit Up.

Recently I've been enjoying the RCN series of novels by science fiction author David Drake. Drake, a fan of the Aubrey/Maturin nautical adventure novels of the late Patrick O'Brian, has based this series on O'Brian's work, setting it in a far future where the space-faring navy of the planetary "Republic of Cinnabar" (A thinly veiled avatar for late 18th/early 19th century Great Britain) finds itself locked in a life or death struggle with a cosmic avatar of Bonapartist France called "The Alliance of Free Stars" (which, it turns out, is neither an "alliance," nor "free." Discuss!).

It's all great fun.

One of the things I enjoy most about Drake's work in this series is his tapping the existing record of past human history and using it as source material for the dramatic twists and turns his narratives take.

And Drake is sanguine about the limitations under which he operates. Writing in the forward for Some Golden Harbor, he addresses the existence of the English and metric measuring systems whole cloth in a far future on which two millennia of human development ought to have worked to make them unrecognizable to our 21st century eyes:

"The scattered human societies I postulate for this series would have many systems of weights and measures. Rather that try to duplicate that reality and thereby confuse readers without advancing my story, I've simply put Cinnabar on the English system while the Alliance is metric. I don't believe either system will be in use two millennia from now, but regardless: my business is storytelling, not prediction."

I like that last line especially. my business is storytelling, not prediction.

This is a sentiment he has expressed elsewhere in slightly different form. In an author's note for an earlier work in the series (When the Tide Rises), he writes: "I write to entertain readers, not to advance a personal or political philosophy (I don't have a political philosophy); nonetheless, my fiction is almost always based on historical models."

Note the use of the word "almost" in that final sentence.

Boy, do I connect with that sentiment.

But I don't write futuristic fiction.

I write historical fiction.

And there's this strain of thought concerning historical fiction these days that flies in the face of what I've quoted above.

We historical fiction writers are supposed to make it realistic. Believable. Authentic.

I hear that in nearly every conversation where two or more historical fiction writers are part of of the back-and-forth.

And I think it's nonsense.

I'm not saying that historical fiction should not be realistic, believable and authentic.

I'm saying that "realistic" is not the same thing as "real." That "believable" is not the same thing as "true." That reading "authentic" is not the same thing as the actuality of "authenticity."

I have fellow travelers among the historical mystery writers I know and love. I've heard it said many times and more succinctly than what I managed above: "We're writing historical fiction, not history."

I have a Master's degree in history. I understand and practice historical analysis on a daily basis in my day gig (I teach history). I have also written and published in the field.

The two are not the same thing.

I hear you saying, "No kidding, Brian!"

Bear with me.

There are fans out there who will hold a fiction writer's feet to the fire over getting a detail about the workings of the brake system of a Pullman car wrong (I know this from experience). For some people it seems almost a point of perverse pride to try to catch out an author making a mistake.

And I can see their point.

Mostly.

When you're reading fiction you don't want to read something that's going to take you out of the story. For example, I was reading a historical mystery set in ancient Rome by an author who shall remain nameless (I will say that the author in question has advanced degrees in ancient history, and has taught classics at the university level for a number of years).

This author had an annoying habit of writing ancient Romans speaking Latin as if they were speaking cockney slang. When one character told another not to "get your knickers in a twist," it did jar me out of the story.

Much easier to take is an author  such as the late, great Philip Kerr, who wrote early 20th century German characters using translations of German slang: a gun was a "lighter," for example. A cigarette, a "nail." And so on.

But was Kerr being "authentic," or was he just a damned good writer with the uncanny ability to make what he was writing feel "authentic"?

I have no idea. I don't speak enough German to fact check him.

But with historical fiction, it is all about feel. You paint a portrait. You do your level best to evoke a certain lost time and place, while hopefully not neglecting the unchanging nature of the human condition, regardless of time period.

I have read historical authors whose prose reads like the pages of a Sears catalogue: laying out historically accurate inventories of this sitting room, or that dining room.

Frankly, this type of writing always calls to mind the writing of thriller master Tom Clancy to me. Remember Tom Clancy?

The guy who camped out in the Library of the Congress and researched and researched until he could write with authority on a host of military/espionage fronts, including discussing over the course of many pages in books such as his breakthrough novel The Hunt For Red October the technical details of Russian torpedoes and American antisubmarine warfare.

That kind of writing is: Accurate. Real. Authentic.

And it absolutely bores the crap out of me.

Give me a story which evokes an age: and populates it with memorable characters who don't step on their feet, historically speaking, and I will read that before I read another tech-manual-cum-thriller every single time.

The bottom line is that people who write that sort of thing are good writers. They excel at "Making Shit Up."

By the way: that guy Clancy? In The Hunt For Red October, he hung his hat on the accuracy of what he wrote. Made a career out of it. Good for him.

And yet...

In that book, he discusses the American navy's use of an auxiliary submarine rescue ship called the U.S.S. Pigeon during the hunt for the titular Russian sub.

One problem with that.

The Hunt For Red October takes place in the Atlantic Ocean.

The U.S.S. Pigeon was homeported out of San Diego, and served exclusively in the Pacific, along the West Coast of the United States.

How do I know?

The Pigeon was my first ship when I was in the navy back in the 1980s. In fact, I was serving onboard her when I read about her in The Hunt For Red October.

See? It only takes getting one thing wrong.

Better to write the best damned story you can  and not sweat every single detail.

That's the real art of making shit up!

That sure ain't the Atlantic she's sailing through!

02 May 2018

A Close Shave

by Robert Lopresti

I'm going to ramble a bit today on the subject of logic. (We will see how often I can tie it to the subject of crime fiction.) I am doing this because I just heard, for the millionth time, someone define Occam's razor incorrectly. Specifically, the person claimed that Occam's razor says that the simplest explanation is probably correct.

It doesn't say that.

Occam's razor is, of course, a principle for scientific research, and it is usually attributed to a thirteenth century monk named William of Ockham (Ockham is an English village. Occam comes from the Latin translation). Actually, we owe the most famous famous version of the rule ("entitles must not be multiplied beyond necessity") to John Punch, several centuries later. The principle, in one form or another, goes back at least to Aristotle. I recently realized that it also hides within one of my favorite quotes of Albert Einstein: "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." (And speaking of things, not being simple, Einstein apparently never said that.)

One of Ockham's more distinguished, if fictional, students.
In his famous quote above John Punch (what a great name!) warned us to watch out for unnecessary entities, as in someone or something that played an active part in causing an action. Punch means that if you walk outside and something knocks your hat off, you don't start out by assuming there is  a malevolent invisible demon in the vicinity. It might have just been a breeze.

But my point is that Punch/Occam is not saying that the simpler explanation is the most likely one. It is simply the one you should examine first. Not because it is the most likely to be correct, but because examining it is the fastest way to reach the truth.

Let's take an example from our own field. The police are called to a building. They find that the store on the ground floor has been robbed, and that a man has been murdered on the third floor. Should the robbery squad be called to one crime scene and the homicide team to the other? Or are we looking at a single event?

Brother William made no specific recommendations about police personnel matters, but his principle advises treating this as the "simpler" situation, i.e. one event. If the cops do that, and if they do their job properly, they are more likely to find something wrong with their solution, than if they start at the other end. 

Perhaps the two crimes happened at the same time, or maybe the robber was right-handed and the killer was a southpaw. But if instead they begin by assuming there were two separate criminals - and there was only one - it is going to be harder for them to realize that one of their proposed culprits is imaginary (an unnecessary entity).

You may remember the TV series House, MD, which was a medical detective show, about a diagnostician (whose name was a tribute to Sherlock Holmes, by the way). In an episode called (surprise!) "Occam's Razor," the physicians are unable to explain all of a patient's symptoms with one disease, so House suggests that there are two illnesses present. His team is not buying it.

Foreman: Occam's Razor. The simplest explanation is always the best.

House: And you think one is simpler than two.

Cameron: Pretty sure it is, yeah.

House: Baby shows up. Chase tells you that two people exchanged fluids to create this being. I tell you that one stork dropped the little tyke off in a diaper. You going to go with the two or the one?

Foreman: I think your argument is specious.

House: I think your tie is ugly.

Leaving aside House's maturity issues, he is making a point about Dr. Foreman's misunderstanding of the 'ol razor. And that brings us, naturally, to Asimov's elephant.

Isaac Asimov was, of course, a great science fiction writer. He also wrote devilishly clever mystery stories, and was a brilliant explainer of science. One of his contributions was the concept of unexplaining. He said that pseudoscience typically unexplained more than it explained. Consider his little parable:

Imagine you are strolling through a park and see a tall tree split right down the middle. Cut asunder. You begin to seek an explanation.

So you could say: there was this elephant, flying through the sky, whistling a happy tune. It decides to have a little rest and lands SHEBANG! onto the poor tree, which breaks in two. The elephant falls to the ground, swears 'Oy vay!' and flies off again.

Now that is one explanation of why the tree is broken. Trouble is it unexplains everything you previously thought you knew about elephants. So, instead, using Ockham's Razor, you say simply, the tree was hit by lightning!*

I love that 'Oy vay!' Clearly a Jewish elephant.  Of course, Asimov has pointed out the problem with Dr. House's obstetrical stork.

So one issue about the razor is that people will disagree as to which explanation is simpler, and what 
is left unexplained. Therefore I am going to end with my favorite quotation from the philosopher 
Ludwig Wittgenstein. (And by the way, Ludwig was a huge fan of crime fiction; not the logic puzzles of the golden age, but the messy thinking of hardboiled tales.)

Supposedly he asked a friend: "Why do people always say it was natural for man to assume that the Sun went round the earth rather than that the earth was rotating?"

"Well, obviously because it just looks as though the Sun is going around the Earth."

"Well, what would it have looked like if it had looked as though the Earth was rotating?"

*I found this parable in Asimov's Elephant, edited by Robyn Williams. It is a collection of essays from an Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio program called, yup, Ockham's Razor.

01 May 2018

The Buddy System


by Michael Bracken

Over the course of a writing career, we develop business relationships, gain acquaintances, make friends, and acquire critique partners, but how often do we find that one writer who becomes our writing buddy?

If I attempted to list all the writers I consider friends, I fear I would fail to mention someone, so forgive me in advance for naming only a few writers whose friendships have colored my writing career before I describe what qualities define the writing buddy relationship and introduce my writing buddy.

BEST FRIEND

Joe Walter was my first writer friend. By no coincidence, Joe was also my best friend in high school. We enjoyed reading science fiction, dreamed of careers as science fiction writers, and co-founded a science fiction fanzine when we were high school juniors as a way to see our stories in print.

We read and critiqued each other’s work, collaborated on a few projects, and goaded each other into submitting our stories to the professional science fiction and fantasy publications of the day. Joe broke through first, selling a story to Vertex. Unfortunately, Vertex ceased publication before ever publishing Joe’s story.

We lost contact after high school, reconnected briefly several years ago, and then lost contact again. To the best of my knowledge, Joe never pursued a writing career beyond high school.

WRITER FRIENDS

Knights, the science fiction fanzine Joe and I co-founded, brought me into contact with real writers, several of whom wrote articles and letters of comment for Knights once it outgrew its earliest incarnation as a place for Joe and me to publish our short stories. Three of those writers—Charles L. Grant, Thomas F. Monteleone, and Grant Carrington—became columnists and, by extension, writer friends. In a variety of ways, both implicit and explicit, they taught me what it means to be a writer.

All three read some of my work and gave me feedback. Charlie published one of my stories in his anthology Midnight; Tom rejected a story for an early edition of his Borderlands anthology series, but provided feedback that helped me place the story elsewhere; and Grant actually read and provided feedback on one of my earliest novel attempts. More than that, though, they demonstrated, through their generosity of time and by example, how writers pay it forward.

Our lives and careers took us in different directions following the demise of Knights, in part because Charlie, Tom, and Grant were well into their careers, while I was in the early stage of mine and did not understand the value of maintaining relationships with other writers.

Charlie has since passed away; Tom and I are Facebook friends; and Grant spent an evening with Temple and me a few years ago when he was passing through Central Texas on a multi-state road trip.

As the years passed, other writing acquaintances and friendships developed—some were short-term, some have lasted years, and the length of a few friendships can be measured in decades.

WRITING BUDDY

Laird Long
Finding a writing buddy, though, was like learning the secret handshake that we all deny exists. The relationship provides a second line of access into the world of publishing and a second perspective about the writing life from someone traveling the same writing path.

A writing buddy is not a business acquaintance, a friend, or a critique partner, though the relationship may develop from such inauspicious beginnings.

A writing buddy is a writer with whom you share inside information, complain about low pay and long response times, celebrate each other’s successes, and commiserate about each other’s failures. You write in the same genre or genres, place work in many of the same publications, and owe more than one sale to a tip provided by the other. You don’t read one another’s work until it is in print because neither of you needs the other’s approval nor wants the other’s writing advice. Perhaps most importantly, you know each other’s closely guarded pseudonyms.

My writing buddy is Laird Long, a Canadian writer half a dozen years younger than me.

Mystery readers may recognize Laird’s name from stories in Cricket Magazine, The Forensic Examiner, Mystery Weekly, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Woman’s World, and various anthologies. (And look for one of his stories in an upcoming issue of Black Cat Mystery Magazine.)

Unlike some of us who tout our productivity through websites, blogs, Facebook posts, and Twitter tweets, Laird avoids the limelight, preferring to let his work stand on its own, and he makes those of us who think we’re prolific look like slackers. Since his first short story sale—“Dirty Work” (Blue Murder #19, Summer 2001)—Laird has sold more than 1,700 short stories, and for more than 16 years he’s supported himself primarily by writing short fiction. He supplements his short story income by writing greeting cards, and in 2013, PageTurnerEditions released his only novel to date, No Accounting for Danger.

Laird and I have never met and have never spoken. In the early 2000s, we encountered one another through posts on the Short Mystery Fiction Society Yahoo group, and in 2005 he contributed a story to one of three anthologies I edited that never reached publication.

Though our initial contact was via the Short Mystery Fiction Society, our relationship developed and is maintained entirely via email. Rarely does more than a week pass without contact, and some days we exchange several emails. Our discussions are rarely about writing, but often about the business of writing—who’s buying, what they’re buying, what they’re paying; which publishers pay promptly, which ones have started dragging payments, and which ones have stopped paying; which anthologies and publications are open to submissions only to those in the know and how to become a writer in the know.

I’m not certain how or when our relationship morphed from writing friends to writing buddies, but it came with the dawning realization that our writing paths are similar, our writing goals are similar, our willingness to explore a diversity of genres is similar, and that while neither needs the other, we benefit in ways that we do in no other writing relationship.

While trying to explain the nature of this relationship to my wife Temple, she wondered if other writers have writing buddies. I felt certain they must—though they may have different terms for the relationship—but as I pondered her question during the following days, I began to doubt my conclusion.

A writing buddy is a rare gift, something found rather than something sought, and it transcends all other writing relationships. I don’t write better because of my relationship with Laird, but I’m a better writer because of it.

WRITING COMMUNITY

Whether we touch base once a week or once a year, I cherish all my writing friendships. We swap emails, connect via Facebook and Twitter, respond to one another’s blog posts, hang out together at conferences and conventions, and sometimes even visit one another’s homes. Though the act of writing is often a solitary event, the writing community will embrace us if we let it.

So, cherish your writing friends, and if you’re lucky enough to have a writing buddy, realize that you’ve received a gift. Don’t squander it.

Speaking of writing friends: Fellow SleuthSayer and long-time writing friend John M. Floyd and I will be among the speakers and workshop leaders at A Bridge to Publication, a one-day writing conference October 13, 2018, in Lake Charles, LA.

In other news, my alternative history mystery story “Harlot Road” appears in Weirdbook #38.