Detail Oriented

“Excuse me.”

Malcolm glanced up from his book to see a young man in a business suit standing in front of his desk. Early twenties. Clean-cut. All-American good looks. Perfect teeth that no doubt bought an orthodontist a beach house. His suit was expensive, but he wore it sloppily. His fake grin was just short of a condescending smirk.

“May I help you?” Malcolm asked. Continue reading

Writing Goals for the New Year

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, because I don’t think they’re particularly useful. When you think of typical resolutions, vague notions come to mind like, “lose weight” or “get a new job” or “write that book.” While these are all good intentions, you know where good intentions lead. And the reason most people fail at their resolutions is because they are these nebulous things, and they never get beyond that point.

This year, I did something a little different. I sat down, and I wrote out my writing goals for 2013. In doing so, I followed two rules. My goals had to be achievable, and they had to be measurable. That way, I’ll know when I’m making progress, and when I’m not, and I’ll have an end in sight. By pulling my goals out of the “someday” and the “somehow” and making them more concrete, they suddenly seem much less daunting. That right there is incentive to work. The more I believe I can make it, the less likely I am to give up.

So what are my writing goals for 2013? This is the easiest part. I have three general ones:

  1. Two novels in various states of revision I want to finish and send out into the world.
  2. Writing several short stories.
  3. Network with other writers, both online and in the real world more.

Now the harder part. How do I make these goals concrete?

First, as far as the novels go, I have my plans for both broken down into stages. I have a timeline for when I want various revisions done down to the chapter level. I also have a target date for when I want my query letters and my synopses written, and for when I want to start my process for researching and identifying potential agents. Note I didn’t say anything about getting an agent in my goals. I don’t have any control over that part. My goals include only what I can do, and I can make these novels the best they can be.

The plan for the short stories is similar. I have target dates for when I want each done, and also for when I want to start researching appropriate markets for each.

For my third goal, I’ve identified specific events I want to attend and/or participate in throughout the year where I’m most likely to have opportunities to talk to other writers and generally creative people. I also plan to blog more. Given my dismal track record there, we’re going to start with two posts a month. It may get more frequent.

And that last part is important. I don’t know what 2013 is going to bring, and I can’t anticipate everything, so there is some flexibility in my plans.

The last part is the hardest–doing it. But now I feel like I’m at least a part of the way there. So, what are everyone else’s writing goals for 2013?

“A Different Kind of Devil” Free for Kindle July 19-20

There should be more blood, thinks Enver Karadag, inspector with Istanbul’s Special Crimes Division, as he stands over the mutilated body. It unsettles him, too, that the wounds on the man’s neck seem to have been made by something other than a human. But most disturbing of all is the look of horror frozen on the victim’s face…

Just a quick note to announce that my short story “A Different Kind of Devil” is free today and tomorrow (July 19-20, 2012) for Kindle. Check it out.

So… You Got a Kindle for Christmas

Need something to put on that shiny new gizmo? If you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed some small changes to the blog, not the least of which is the addition of a new cover over to the right.

Don’t Look at Her: Two Twisted Tales of Lost Love is a compilation of two of my previously published short stories, “Blood Brothers” and “Virgil’s Refuge.” It’s available at Amazon.com for download on Kindle. Just click on the title to find out more and to purchase your very own electronic copy for $0.99, if you’re so inclined.

By the way, if you’re on Facebook, why don’t you go on over and “like” my author page, The Writing of J. Matthew Saunders. That way you’ll be sure to get updates on things as they happen, and I’m expecting things to happen in 2012 (good things, not Armageddony things).

Five Ways Being a Lawyer Made Me a Better Fiction Writer

It seems counter-intuitive at first. Legal writing and fiction writing are two very different animals, and I’ve heard a number of literary agents and editors say they groan whenever they get a query from someone who identifies him- or herself as an attorney, because attorneys (with a few exceptions) write fiction like they write legal briefs–organized, logical, dry, and boring. However, I truly believe that being a lawyer has made me a better fiction writer, and I think there are certain lessons all writers can take from the legal world. You can thank me later for saving you the law school tuition.

1. Be ruthless.

Not in a Shark kind of way. When writing legal briefs, you have to be ruthless with your editing, because there are hard page limits, and when you have a complex legal argument, ten double-spaced pages is a tight squeeze. Usually a judge won’t accept a brief if it’s even a line over. You learn to eliminate most instances of the word that and all adverbs. You learn three adjectives are not better than one. You learn to rephrase things so there are fewer words (e.g. using the active voice instead of the passive voice or using verbs instead of noun phrases with nominalized verbs). I don’t fear the red pen anymore when I’m editing my fiction writing, and it’s led to much tighter, more compelling prose.

2. Choose your words wisely.

Mark Twain had it right when he said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” People make  jokes, but when Bill Clinton argued over the definition of the word is, it wasn’t all that absurd. Remember, he was a lawyer. I had an argument with another lawyer once over the definition of the word truth, and any attorney will tell you there’s a huge difference between should and shall. Writing fiction isn’t all that different. When talking about someone walking down the street, it makes a difference whether they’re “strolling,” “marching,” “sauntering,” “trudging,” or “slouching.” The same goes for describing a woman as “skinny,” “thin,” “slender,” or “svelte.”

3. Know your audience.

When you’re writing a legal brief meant for a judge, you’re going to use a different tone and language than if you’re writing a letter to a non-lawyer client or to opposing counsel. When writing fiction, you also have to keep your audience in mind. Are your writing for adults, teenagers, preteens? Are you writing primarily for men or for women? If you’re writing novel-length prose, what shelf in the bookstore would your book go on? Agents and publishers especially are going to want to know the answer to that last question, and sometimes the categories can be very specific. Up until about a week ago, I didn’t even know there was a category called “literary horror,” but my novel The Brides fits it perfectly. If you’re writing shorter fiction, what magazines or anthologies specialize in the type of story you’re writing? Again, it can be very specific, and knowing will give you story a much better chance of being accepted.

4. Characters create conflict.

Conflict is of course integral to litigation. The parties on either side have opposing or outright mutually exclusive goals, but very rarely is either side truly evil (sometimes petty, passive-aggressive, or unprofessional, but rarely evil). Remembering to give your antagonist desires, goals, and motivations just as realistic as your protagonist, and having those clashing goals form the basis of the plot, is the key to creating a compelling story.

5. Be confident in your writing.

Nothing predicts a losing case like a halfway argued legal motion. A judge knows when he or she reads a brief full of hedging phrases like, “somewhat” or, “It is our belief that…” the lawyer who wrote it doesn’t have much faith in winning. You have to argue with conviction, even if deep down you think the other side is right. Fiction writing is not for the faint-of-heart. When you write, you have to be willing to do bad things to your characters. You have to be willing to let your protagonists be less than perfect. Sometimes you have to be willing to listen to your characters and let them take the story in a direction you hadn’t intended. When you let others read what you’ve written, you have to be ready for criticism and rejection, and when it happens, you have to be willing to learn from it, pick yourself up, and keep moving forward.

There you have it. I’m not saying doing these things will make you the next John Grisham, but they made me a better fiction writer, and they’ll work for a lot of others, too. Trust me. I’m a lawyer.

Halloween Book Signing

Join me, Darin Kennedy, and Eden Royce as we sign copies of Flesh and Bone: Rise of the Necromancers. The dark fantasy/horror anthology contains stories from each of us, including my story “Blood Brothers.” We’ll be at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Charlotte, NC on Halloween, Sunday October 31, 2010 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Danger: Flailing Writer

Overall, it’s been a good year for me. My novel is finished. I’m poised to query agents. I’ve had three short stories published. I should be very satisfied with myself. So why do I feel so restless?

I know what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to keep writing while I try to find an agent. I even know what I should write next, the novel I had always planned to write next. I have character sketches. I have a rough outline. What I don’t have is even an ounce of motivation to actually write it.

Other novels, other stories are in the forefront of my mind all day: characters, plot points, even snippets of dialogue. They won’t go away, no matter how hard I try. Sure, I’ll open up a Word file, jot down a name, maybe make a few notes, but I can’t seem to appease these stories screaming to be written.

So what do I do? Do I write the story that makes sense to write next? Or do I give in and write these other stories?