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I try not to complain in my live journal or on my Facebook page or anywhere else I post messages but I must admit that I've reached my limit today. I just finished deleting around 25 spam posts from French, German, Danish, and a host of other people, These hackers insisted on sending me junk emails, filled with all sorts of gibberish about Cialis and big business deals and other topics I have no interest or connection with. In other words, a waste of my time, and if you accidentally stumble across them, a waste of yours.

Now, I understand that the world is not filled with friendly, pleasant people and that some characters get a big charge from posting such annoying messages. It is a price we pay for the freedom of the internet. But, let's be honest friends. I am in kidney failure stage 5. It is a terminal illness. I survive by undergoing dialysis three times a week. The average lifespan of a person on dialysis is four years. Frankly, it sucks. But I intend to live life as best I can for as long as I last (and some dialysis folks live 10-20 years!). Whatever. I do not intend to spend any valuable time of my life deleting junk emails!
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Dear Friends, Family, and Fellow Travelers:

As we come to the end of 2012, I must admit it is a year that won’t be missed. I spent much of it in emergency rooms, in ICU quarters, and in hospitals in general. My arms had so many needle marks that nurses were forced to draw blood from my hands. It was a heck of a wild ride and one that I hope to avoid in the future. As 2013 approaches, I am struggling through a maze of kidney dialysis treatments, an irregular heartbeat, and a large tumor on my pituitary gland. I’ve survived these adventures with the love and support of my wonderful wife and son.

Worth mentioning in the non-life-threatening category, I was awarded an honorary lifetime achievement award by the 2012 World Science Fiction Convention for my many contributions to the SF field. I must thank my friends Alex and Phyllis Eisenstein who suggested my name to the awards committee. It was an honor that I was quite pleased to receive.

And now I turn this letter over to my lovely wife, Phyllis:

It has been a very trying year. I even ended up in the ER with dehydration. The hospital staff knew us quite well by that time. We’ve spent countless hours in waiting rooms and doctors offices.

Bob looks a lot better since July after settling into the dialysis routine. He still has had numerous health issues that keep us busy with appointments. I look forward to every morning, making him his breakfast sandwich.

Happy news – Matt got a job in October with the new Whole Foods that opened in Orland Park. Work is hard and hectic. The store had a very successful opening on Nov. 2nd and busy holiday season. We’ve benefited from some wonderful food he has brought home.

We hope to have more time to socialize this coming year with friends who we haven’t seen in a while. Please keep in touch. You are in our thoughts.

Bob & Phyllis Weinberg

Current Location: home
Current Music: Tubthumping

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Mailed on 2/22/12: Bob's kidney disease unexpectedly got suddenly worse the past week. He has been preparing for dialysis to start late this year. However, the last few weeks he had gained 25 pounds of water weight. Monday, his doctors had him brought to the hospital. Tuesday, 2/21, Bob had emergency surgery to put in a stent and had dialysis for the first time. He tolerated the procedure very well, loosing 3 liters of fluid. Doctors are concerned about a possible blood clot in the leg which could break off and go to the lung. Your prayers and support are appreciated.If you want to contact us, please use E-mail rather than phone. Thanks again. Phyllis

mailed 3/1/12
Bob undergoes kidney dialysis three times a week. It takes 4 hours for his blood to recirculate through a machine and get clean. bad fluids are filtered out. So far, Bob has lost 40 (forty!) pounds on dialysis. He is tired after each session but he feels much better in general. He needs to adjust his life to it, as he will undergoing treatment for the rest of his days.

Bob Update for 3/14/12

dear friends and family-

well, life goes on. Bob is adjusting as well as can be expected to dialysis. As mentioned, he goes in for sessions three times a week for four hour sessions each time. It takes another half hour to hook him up to the machinery that cleans his blood. With the help of some friendly nurses and social workers, Bob got transferred to a site in Orland Park, which is only ten minutes away from us. So the drive is much shorter and in a somewhat nicer neighborhood. At least there are some nice restaurants around, including one of our favorite Mexican places!

On Monday, Bob had corrective fistula surgery on his right arm. He now has a six inch long tube in his upper arm with a long scar there on the muscle. Blood will be transferred through the end of this tube in and out of Bob's veins, as it is cleaned. At present, this is being done by a tube through Bob's chest! While it might sound gruesome, it is quite painless, other than the fact that the tube hangs down onto your chest and itches! Bob is planning to put some stick-on tattoos (if they are allowed) on his arm. At present, he is hoping to find ones featuring the Penguins of Madagascar. At 65, he figures anything he likes is okay.
Bob's diet is extremely limited. He can use no salt (or just a pinch!), and only drink 32 oz. of liquid a day -- and that includes soup, ice cream, and water as a liquid! and this is for a guy who often drank an entire 64 oz. diet soda in a day. no processed food and nothing with potassium, which means no potatoes or tomatoes. My weight seems to have settled at around 217 pounds. I've lost fifty pounds since going in the hospital February 24.

meanwhile, I must mention that Phyllis and Matt have been working on saint status as they have been driving me all over the place at crazy hours. My surgery Monday was scheduled for 5:15 in the morning and Phyllis got up at 4:30 to take me there! 4:30, even the birds were still asleep in Chicago. I've been eating supper at 9 pm three nights a week, and my wife has been eating with me, even though she is near starving. she deserves a medal for putting up with my crazy antics!

Like I said, life goes on. And life is very strange.

your emails are always welcome. Bob can talk on the phone but he does loose his voice pretty fast. remember, he is only available, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. He is looking forward to seeing lots of old friends at the Windy City Pulp and Paperback Show in Chicago at the end of April. And he and Phyllis and Matt all hope to attend World SF Convention in downtown Chicago this Labor Day weekend.

"Good friends and thoughtful relatives are god's gifts."

Bob, Phyllis & Matt

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Current Location: home
Current Mood: calm calm
Current Music: new Meatloaf album

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Essay 14 - In Conclusion:

Thanks to all those who read these articles on how to write a novel. I hope these essays helped. Let me close with some basic truths I've learned over the past 40 years of writing:

1: the best advice I ever read on how to sell fiction appeared in a short article by Robert A. Heinlein. His advice -
a) write
b) finish what you write
c) submit what you write
d) keep doing a) through c).

2: Write for money. Do not worry about exposure, or fame, or getting well known. All else will follow if you keep selling your work. Submit to the best paying markets and work your way down. Never let your work be published for free. Never.

3: Once you are well-known, if you want to give away your work to literary magazines or small-press magazines run by friends, okay. But not until you are able to sell anything you write. That's when giving your stuff away for free means something.

4: Don't waste time arguing with
a) editors
b) agents
c) publishers
no matter what you think, in the end, you are only wasting your valuable time, and theirs. And they won't forget that you wasted their time.

5: Aim high. This isn't baseball where singles can win a ball game. Try to hit a home run every time at bat. Make sure every story you send out is your best effort. Publishing a bunch of stories that pay nothing (or next to it) is not worth as much as selling one for a professional rate.

That's it. Good luck. Sell stuff.

Bob Weinberg
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Essay 13 – Putting it All Together

Finishing your book should be the easiest chapter of your novel to write. After all, you’ve described the main characters and supporting characters in action, you’ve set up a mystery and planted the clues throughout the novel. You’ve spent a good deal of your time making sure all the locations fit the scenes and all the dialogue makes sense to your reader. You’ve written a story where the characters search and find clues and are pointed in a certain direction. That pointing becomes more and more fixed as the book goes along. Your group of major characters comes together and the stakes rise higher and higher. You’re all ready for the conclusion. So what do you do?
Too many writers panic. The number one reason people do not finish books is that they cannot come up with an ending that explains what happened in the rest of the book and still make sense at the conclusion. Which is why, I will repeat again my basic rule of writing a novel - Be sure you have the ending worked out when you start your book. That way, as you write your book, you are always aiming for a goal which has already been decided. It might seem simple, but it's the difference between why some people finish their work and many many others do not.

The reason most writers don’t finish their novels is that they don’t have an ending that works for their book. Too many different things happen all at the same time and none of them weave together to form a satisfying conclusion. Too many characters don’t know the proper villain by the end of the story. Plus, there’s no dramatic tension if there’s not some sort of confrontation between good and devil. A good climax has the gates of Hell beginning to open, and the hero is very close by. Or cliffs might be falling down, or an airplane is spinning in a crash dive. Tension begets terror begets conclusion.

Some writers like to end their novel two or three chapters before the end of the book. The last few chapters tie up lose ends and turns everything back to normal, or as close as that can be.

Many novelists follow Dean Koontz’s outline for finishing a novel. Near the end of the book, have your hero fight a deadly battle with one of the deadliest foes in the book. The hero wins, but just barely. He’s exhausted from his big fight and needs some rest. That’s the moment when the true menace, the secret menace that the hero has feared the whole length of the story finally makes an appearance. And he’s looking for trouble! For a Koontz horror book to have a satisfying ending, the hero must fight to his last gasp of energy, and even then that might not be enough.

Turn your endings into huge events. Don’t have them take place at a bar when Shea Stadium is nearby. Bigger and wilder is better. Always go for the explosions and fireworks! Make your hero fight through hell and back to win his quest, and make sure your readers know it.

Don’t end a horror novel (unless the entire book has been working in this direction) with the hero entering his car, turning on the ignition, and the car blows up, killing him. It can happen but don’t expect a lot of happy readers – and remember that every book you write serves as an advertisement for your next one. If you think your readers want downbeat endings, then go for it. I must admit that I usually try to end my books on a somewhat more upbeat tone.
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Essay 12 - Backgrounds and Descriptions – Too Much or Not Enough?

Books are blank sheets of paper you fill up with word pictures. The only difference between a novel and a coloring book is that you work with a keyboard instead of a box of paints (or crayons, if your artistic talent matches mine).

A picture, we are told, is worth a thousand words, but a good novel is usually too complicated to describe in a thousand pictures. What makes for fine art doesn’t always work for a fine book. Books and paintings both have unexpected depths and subtle shadings, but a painting for all of its beauty and imagination, is static. A book changes with every line.

Description and background are the paints of books, where the plot and characters are the line drawings. You sketch in the people in your novel and by animating the pictures, you make them move and follow the story. However, it’s the colors that keep your book fresh and alive. A painting without color is still an illustration, but paint without lines rarely amounts to anything more than doodles.

Let’s once again think of a novel as a human body. The central theme of the book (the one line that sums up the plot) is the heart. The end of the book, which we know before writing, is the brain. The plot that holds the book together is the skeleton. Everything is connected and every bone has a purpose (though some might not be terribly obvious, like the little toe). The characters are your circulation system and muscles. They're connected to the plot but they also give your story strength and keeps things moving. A novel without blood or muscles is merely a skeleton, just bare bones, and interests no one. A novel without a skeleton is a blob. It doesn't move, can't reach out and grab the reader. A body without a heart is dead, but a body without a brain is a story without intelligence. The only thing missing is the rest of the stuff that covers a body, the fat and tissue and skin. The stuff that makes us look human, that defines our features. In book terms, the background of our story and the descriptions of our characters, places and things.

This is the age of understatement and concise sentences. Flowery, long passages are no longer in favor. Nor are full page descriptions of outfits that the heroine is wearing. Noir doesn't just mean a type of story, it also refers to the description in stories - the hardboiled, stark background that is favored in writing today. Long, complicated, extended sentences are out. Short, snappy sentences are in. Give the reader what he needs to know, and not much more. Be sharp and swift, without dwelling too long on any one description.

Obviously, that's not the case for romance novel. It's definitely not the right way to write the massive fantasy novels, where sometimes an entire chapter is devoted to someone starting to cry. But, we're not discussing fantasy or romance. Horror can contain romance and even some fantasy, but basically horror is closer to noir mysteries than anything else. Horror is dark and brooding and your descriptions need to be the same. Horror works just as well in sunshine as it does in darkness, but the sunshine shouldn't be cheerful and bright. It's a hot, sweating sun that drives men crazy with the heat.

Short sentences - how short? After writing a paragraph or page, read it aloud. How long does it take to read a sentence? If you can read a sentence in one breath, it's fine. If you need to take a breath before finishing a sentence, then it's too long. Now, not every sentence has to be short. But a good percentage of them need to be. And, in a tight situation, short sentences make a plot quicken. Short and terse move a book. Long sentences slow a novel down. In horror, you want to keep sentence length down.

Describing a location, a building, a room? Give it plenty of thought. Don't fill a page with words that won't mean anything later. Paint a picture but don't paint in every leaf in the forest, don't describe every brick in the castle. Don't mention the half-eaten food on the plate on the table unless it plays into your story. Or it sets the scene for something terrible to happen. Don't crowd the reader's mind with too much information that's not important.

Make sure the body you are creating isn't fat. Let it be lean and muscular, with just enough description and background to give it character and expression without telling your readers too much. Modern horror isn't a lot of gore and ichor. It's situations and revelations and horrifying events. There's only so many ways to describe a decapitated head. There's no question that description and background is important in a horror novel, but they should be used wisely. Less is more when done right.
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Essay 11 – Clues

Not all horror novels are mysteries, nor should they be. Horror novels should be all sorts of books, from westerns to mysteries to science fiction to humorous adventures. There’s no reason a good horror story can’t be funny. It’s been done with a fair degree of success in the SCREAM films. More important, there have been some tremendously funny (and usually pretty nasty) horror short stories. Horror can be anything you want it, if you try hard enough.

I do believe, however, that one of the underlying motifs in most horror novels is revelation. That the biggest and best climax scenes come as a total and complete surprise near the end of the book. Knowing who the villain is early on is okay if you don’t know his motive or how he is committing his crimes. Many horror novels depend on the identity of the killer, but many do not. What they ALL do is set up a suspenseful situation with questions you want answered. And, to do that best, you need to provide your reader with clues.

Writing a mystery requires an unspoken bargain between a writer and reader. As an author, for you to play fair with your readers, you can’t reveal information to the hero that the audience doesn’t learn at the same time. That’s like the infamous movie scene where the hero opens a letter and reads it to himself, but doesn’t show the contents to the audience. He then turns to his friend or girlfriend and says, “Now I know the identity of the killer and why he did it!” Baah, humbug!!!!!!
Thus, at the end of your novel the big tough cop can’t arrest a criminal and say, “I know you’re the murderer because you stupidly left your fingerprints on the victim’s clothing,” unless the readership has know this fact for as long as the hero. Nor can the hero say to the butler on the next-to-last page of the novel, when all the suspects are gathered in a hotel room, “I remember seeing YOU kill someone ten years ago on a boat trip, so I know you are secretly a homicidal maniac.” Not fair, unless the reading audience knows the same thing. In other words, whatever clues the hero discovers or learns about the crime that is central to your novel, must be learned by both him and you (the reader) at the same time. However, the reader can learn something (when we are in the viewpoint of another character) that the hero does not know). Thus, the reader can be ahead of the crime solver in your story, but not reverse.

The reader of any mystery should always have ALL the facts of the crime for the book to play fair. How then does the mystery end up with a surprise? You need a smart hero, a hero who can spot clues that are hopefully in plain sight but that your reader is going to miss. The brain of our detective must always be working, deducing learning from every small snippet of information he receives in the book. Put them all together, assemble the clues in the right order and the mystery is solved. The hero is a deductive genius and you’ve done a good job with the book. That’s your goal. Now how do you make it work?

First and foremost, as mentioned again and again, you know the end of your novel in advance. Knowing the truth is a powerful weapon. You can slip in small bits of information in the book in the most innocent of paces that taken separately don’t amount to much, but when all put together form an important clue. For example, as mentioned before, I knew that the secret of the Black Lodge was that members had to kill their eldest child during a ritual to gain admission to the Order. So, in chapter 2, Angel mentions to Taine that her mother and older brother are dead. One line, in the course of causal conversation. A fact that most likely went unnoted by most readers. Just as the deaths of Willis Royce’s son and Janet’s brother were downplayed when told. Brief bits of information not emphasized work wonders. If you, as the author, pay little attention to the deaths, then the reader won’t either. Nothing is more glaring than a clue that stands out from the rest of the story.

In Scott Turow’s otherwise excellent mystery novel, PRESUMED INNOCENT, in the first chapter, the hero is visited by one of his friends who reveals that police records show that a phone call was made earlier that night from the hero’s house to the apartment of a girl who was killed. The hero tells the friend to bury those records and the call is never mentioned again. Unfortunately, it is such an obvious clue in a murder mystery, the reader can’t forget it. Since, we are led to believe the hero is innocent, we wonder who else was in the house that night? We soon learn the only person there was the hero’s wife! The hero is put on trial for murdering the girl who was his lover, but he gets off on a technicality. At the end of the novel he confronts his wife and she confesses to him that she was the real killer. Sorry folks. A good story, well told, but ruined for me by a clue left in plain view in the first chapter.

It’s the same with THE SIXTH SENSE. Watching the movie, it’s obvious that during the break in the action after Bruce Willis is shot that he dies. The actions of everyone he encounters from then on makes it clear that no one sees him. He is ignored and no one hears a thing he says or responds to his questions. I guessed it in a minute, it was so obvious. Again, the clues were there but pretty obvious.

The best way to plant a clue is to put it in plain sight and don’t call any attention to it. The most important thing about a clue is that it should not seem important. In THE BLACK LODGE, the death of Angel’s brother is treated like a throwaway line. The death of Janet’s brother seems totally disconnected from the rest of her problems. That’s because the main focus in the Janet chapters is always on her crazy husband. Both deaths seem to have nothing to do with the main plot.

Nor does Taine’s use of the tarot deck seem important. By having the villain deal the same run of cards and puzzle over their meaning, Taine’s thoughts about the cards are never revealed. In this case, the clue of who will attend the final meeting of the Black Lodge is left right out in the open. Readers tend to ignore it since Sangmeister’s offered an explanation, though not a very good one, for the card’s message.

Clues can also mislead if done right. Knowing your ending, you can also build up the story towards a false ending, a possible ending that is not going to happen, just to keep suspicion off your main trail. The one rule to remember in planting false clues is that they have to have a purpose other than for deceiving the reader – i.e. they need to be events that happen in the plot – and they have to make sense in the general scheme of things. At the end of the story, or near the end, the false clues should be explained so as they are not just left dangling with no explanation. Again, something like the hero suspected the old man of committing the crimes, but he was just a crazy old coot using spiritualism to contact his dead wife.

What matters the most in using clues is to remember that in a novel, every word, every paragraph, every section, every chapter must contribute to the plot and development of the novel. A novel is NOT like real life. Things don’t happen in novels that are never explained or that just disappear. In a book, you are constructing a jigsaw puzzle. Every piece must fit in the correct space for the picture to be complete. You can’t have any pictures left when you are done with the puzzle, nor can you have any holes in the picture. It has to be done just right. The same is true for any novel, especially a horror one.
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Once I've completed the outline of my novel and I know what characters I am going to need to fill the main roles of the story, I try to spend a little time developing short biographies for each of those characters. In this novel, dealing with a closely knit brotherhood of evil magicians, I felt it was important to make sure relationships, odd as they might be, needed to be well laid out, so that there were no questions later on concerning why one person did something or why another person had to die, etc. etc.

As with anything written beforehand, these cast bios were not etched in stone and they changed as needed. I wrote them more to give me a feel for the characters and how they would act in various dangerous situations. The most important lesson learned from writing bios is that once you decide a character is going to have a specific trait, you need to keep the character true to your vision of her (or him). In the initial version of The Black Lodge that I turned in to my editor, Sally Peters, she liked everything but Chapter 43. In that chapter, Janet bursts into Taine's office and tells him that Tim has been kidnapped. In the original version, Janet then breaks down into tears and is pretty useless the rest of the chapter. Sally pointed out to me that Janet had been described and acted like a take-charge character throughout the novel, a woman willing to do anything to save her son. The last thing she would do if Tim was kidnapped was suffer a complete break-down. It wasn't true to the character I had created. Sally was absolutely right, and I rewrote the section so that Janet goes through some brief tears and then vows to save her son. That action helps make the scene work so much better as it gives Papa Benjamin a chance to vow that no harm will come to Tim and for Ape to make it clear he's had enough being pushed around.

Not every walk-on character in the book needs a complete bio (mine were usually about two double-spaced pages per important character), but anyone who appeared more than once in the book got a write-up. I worked hard on each character, thinking of them as real people and thus giving them real interests, real ambitions, and equally important, real tastes and unique senses of humor.

The Dark Man was a supernatural being, so he required a lot of attention as to where he came from, what he looked like, and what weaknesses he had. I also gave him a nasty sense of humor, which I though reflected the same nastiness of his mentor, Harmon Sangmeister.

Sid Taine’s name was an in-joke that one person in the world noticed. Sid came from a family of detectives who lived in San Francisco, and his father and grandfather were both detectives (this is mentioned in the book). In AMAZING STORIES in 1929, Hugo Gernsback, the magazine’s editor, published a series of SF detective stories featuring a brilliant detective named Taine who solved crazy crimes in San Francisco. I thought it was a neat notion to link my hero with one of the earliest SF and fantasy detectives. His first name, Sid, I admit came from a cousin of mine named Sidney.
Janet was a girl I dated in college pretty much in looks and personality. Her father was pretty much taken from life, his personality being borrowed from several of my business associates. Tim and his transformers came from my own son, Matt, and his toys, and the scene with Taine and the transformers actually took place when my lawyer visited my house one day and saw Matt's toys.

Papa Benjamin came out of a book on voodoo, one of many I have read over the years. Hugh B. Cave, the famous horror writer and a close friend, read the manuscript for THE BLACK LODGE and told me that he felt I captured the depth and heart of the religion better than most outsiders. Since Hugh had lived in Haiti and attended more than a few voodoo ceremonies, I took that as a high compliment.

The story about Willis Royce's son being buried in his car is an actual piece of Chicago history, though names have been changed. It also was another sneaky way to get the death of a child into the Black Lodge without being too obvious. Royce was a combination of a bunch of black alderman from Chicago's south side I had read stories about for a long time.

Ape Largo's life story was based on an interview I read when I was 13 years old, conducted with the legendary wrestler, Gorilla Monsoon. GM weighed around 450 lbs at the time and told a newspaper reporter how he grew up in Mongolia and made his living as a teenager by wrestling bears in taverns. He was thrilled to come to the USA so he could fight only humans! It was a great story and made a lasting impression on me. It wasn't until many years later that I learned Monsoon was born in Hackensack, NJ (not far from where I lived as a child) and had gone to Fordham University before becoming a wrestler. His whole bio was a fake, but what a great fake! I used an embellished version of it for Ape's story, as my tribute to Gorilla M, who died a few years ago.

Harmon Sangmeister combined the names of two local politicians in Chicago I did not like. Angel Caldwell is one of those bad girls that nice guys like me dream of meeting and know we would turn to stone as soon as they looked at us. Her husband was based on one of my more obnoxious relatives.

Characters are central to a good novel. You want them believable and intelligent (or at least as intelligent as they should be for who they are). As the plot bubbles, if you have the right characters, they will act logically, and if your book is constructed correctly, that should mean that their actions will further the plot. Character and plot should be partners. One should not diminish the role of the other. They should work together to create the best book possible.

The geography was all pretty much real in the book. I knew the city of Chicago pretty well, having driven around it for many years. The first scene with the bridge and the railroad yard was exactly as described back in the 1970’s. Now, condos have gone up where the railroad tracks once were. The climactic scene in the novel takes place around 2 miles from my house. If needed, I could draw a map of every location in the book, tracing the streets and highways everyone used, the school visited, and the location of every house and apartment. I believe in details.

Next time, weaving in clues and red-herrings into your mystery so as to keep your readers guessing right to the end.
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Essay 9 - Some Thoughts Regarding the Real World

When I taught this class in college some years ago, several people raised some interesting questions that I felt needed answering. The questions were good ones and I thought the points they raised were worth covering again. So, I decided to focus this essay on the questions raised and the answers I gave. The questions dealt with some of the underlying truths about writing novels. I think it is stuff that you need to know if you plan to be a writer.

It never hurts to ask a question if you truly cannot figure out the answer. The only bad questions are ones where the answers are obvious if only you gave the matter a few minutes thought. Remember, that while you can impress other people with your knowledge, you can also un-impress them with your stupidity. It's best to showcase your knowledge to the world and keep your stupidity to yourself.

These were the two questions raised in class by one of the students that I felt needed answering ------------

1. I think writing the novel is the easy part. Hell, I've completed 6 novels without much difficulty. What I find is that it isn't the novel that sells it's how you sell yourself in the query letter. Will you explain how yours worked at some point, what yours looked like, and so on?

2. I believe plot is pointless. I let the story uncover itself much like Stephen King says in his book on writing. Is it your opinion that you must have plot in order to write the story?

----------- my answers --------

1) Cover letters are a problem for me to discuss honestly because I've always worked with an agent and she's submitted all of my novels - usually by handing the proposal or manuscript in person to the editor and telling them that they would like it.

On short stories, with rare exception, my stories were written for anthologies where I was invited to participate. So my cover letter read, "Here's the story you asked for. I hope you like it."

Now, when I was a teenager and first started writing, I did submit short stories and novels to publishers without an agent. My cover letters consisted of the name of the editor, his address, my name and address, the date. Then followed with--

Dear Mr. Pohl--

Enclosed is my short story, "Destroyer," which i hope you will consider publishing in IF magazine. A SSAE is enclosed for your convenience.

yours truly,

Bob Weinberg

Of the hundred or so cover letters for short stories I wrote, that was the letter I always sent. When I submitted a novel, I put in the name of the novel and I changed the line to "publishing as part of the AVON paperback line."

Working as an editor for Barnes & Noble and other publishers, I have read thousands upon thousands of short stories. I have never given one more attention because of the cover letter. They make no impression on me whether they are a line or two long or whether they are pages long. I buy fiction based entirely on the quality of the work.

Despite reading hundreds of posts on the Horror Writers Forum and other message boards, I do not believe editors buys a novel or story based on what is said in the cover letter.

If a publisher’s web site or listing says that they want a query letter before submitting any material, write a short concise letter explaining what your book is about and what makes it different than other books the editor might have seen. A query letter is not a proposal, so keep it short, intelligent and specific. If an editor asks for a proposal, make sure you include the following: a brief summary of your book and what makes it unique. Do not, as I have mentioned previously, keep the ending a mystery from the editor. You need to let the editor know you have the entire book plotted in your proposal. Otherwise, the editor will suspect you have no idea how the book will end. Also include in your proposal a short bio, along with any credits you might have, the possible market points of the book (i.e. it would appeal to dog lovers since a dog is the main character), and a sample of the actual book. Most editors expect the first three chapters of a novel, (around 50 pages) along with an outline of what occurs in the rest of the novel. Make sure your outline squares with the short summary of the book you include at the beginning of the proposal!

2. I have only met Stephen King once or twice (and briefly those times) and I surely have no idea how he writes his novels. Still, while I find his advice ON WRITING interesting, I don’t particularly think it is very useful for a beginning writer. Perhaps some authors have written huge best sellers following his advice. I don’t know, though I strongly doubt it. My impression of his sections on how he writes novels is that most of it is based on what people want to hear from “creative types.” That like many autobiographical pieces written by bestselling writers, the “art of writing” side is emphasized and the practical side is mostly ignored. Do you really believe that King wrote his early novels like Carrie or Salem's Lot or The Shining or The Stand without having the endings of the books in mind? That he let the books wander along driven only by characterization until a neat way of tying up all the loose end suddenly hit him one night and he was able to type the end the next morning? King is a master storyteller and even in non-fiction he tells stories that people want to read. Having taught creative writing in college and having taught numerous writing seminars for years and years, I can tell you the number one problem new writers have with books - they can't end their book. They have no idea how to close their story with a meaningful conclusion. They let the book flow without a plot until they realize that there is no way to finish off the story and they give up. Or put on an ending that makes no sense.

Sure, many great writers tell you that they create characters and that the actions of the characters tell the story and resolve the plot. Well, despite their inner feelings that a plot does not matter, I find it fascinating that all the main elements in the story tie up in a neat manner in the end. Horror is not a genre where “life goes on” is a suitable ending. Or the main characters all go back to work and never call each other again. Horror novels need plots and endings.

If you've written six novels and they have not sold, then you are doing something wrong. The goal of a professional writer is to sell. That's the only way of keeping track of success. There are plenty of people in this world with 10, 15, 20 unpublished novels or more sitting in a trunk. The number of pages you haven't had published means absolutely nothing. Zero. Only the published pages count. If you are writing and writing and not progressing, not getting editors encouraging you to make changes or try something different - or revise your stuff and make it better - than you need to review what you've done.

Remember, as I have said before, the world is not against you. Nor is the world on your side. The world just doesn't care. (Thomas Hardy). If you are going to live off the money you make writing, you better be prepared to work hard at the job. If you depend on luck or circumstances, you are going to starve. Talent is wonderful and the most talented writers should always rise to the top. But, if you read what is published you know that's not true. Plenty of great books were rejected by good editors. If you're doing everything you can to get your work noticed and it's not working, then toss out all your old ideas, and come up with new ones. For every person who makes it by a lucky break, a thousand other writers succeed by never giving up and trying hard constantly.

The most important advice I can pass on to anyone who plans to become professional, full-time writer is "learn to be HONEST with yourself." In our world, in our lives, honesty isn't always easy. We want so desperately to believe that certain things are true that sometimes we end up fooling ourselves. Sometimes we end up actually believe the stuff that we tell other people. And, for a writer, that's death. If you can't face your own missteps, your own mistakes, no one else will.

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Essay 8 – Chapter 2

Last article, we discussed the first chapter of your novel, which is without question the most important chapter in your book. It’s the chapter that has to grab the reader by the throat (sorry if I use this cliché again and again, but it’s the exact right one for the situation – you DO have to grab the reader by the throat or some other equally sensitive area) and convince them with that one section that they MUST continue reading. The first chapter of a novel serves as the coming attractions for the rest of your book. Years and years ago, audiences might have been more patient and less demanding but that’s definitely not the case these days. One chapter is all you get, so that chapter better be good. Previously, I mentioned hitting the reader over the head with a club to get their attention. If you don’t like the club analogy, then think of your first chapter as a (hard) slap in the face, or a bucket of cold water poured over the reader’s head. The idea is the same. By the finish of that chapter, you need to have the reader sitting up and turning the pages. Half the battle of writing and selling a novel is fought in the first chapter. Unfortunately, wars aren’t won by one battle and books don’t rise or fall on the basis of one chapter. While the sale of your novel depends primarily on your first chapter, it’s the SECOND chapter that makes or breaks your career. It’s in the second chapter where you are forced to prove you’re a novelist. Without question, it’s the hardest chapter to write in a book. The only other chapter nearly as challenging in the big conclusion, which we’ll discuss later on.

Now, to remain perfectly honest, I have to pause before continuing and state that as always these opinions are mine and I am not Stephen King or Dean Koontz or any of a half-dozen best-selling horror authors. Every writer structures their books in a certain manner and writes them the way they feel works best for them. There is no ONE formula that will enable you to write a best-seller, or even write a book that is sure to sell. But, at the same time, many many books, especially in the horror and fantasy fields, follow a particular structure and style of storytelling. In conducting this class, I’m trying to relate how this method of writing a novel works. It’s a fairly straightforward process and it is especially useful for people who have difficulty finishing what they’ve started. I am surely not saying that it’s the only way to write a novel. Hopefully, it will inspire you to seek out other books describing how other writers compose their books using different techniques. I’m not saying mine is the best way, and it surely is not the only way. But, for now, it’s me and my methodical approach. So, please understand, I’m not saying these articles describe the ONLY way to write a novel. It’s just one way. Whether it’s the method for you, that’s a decision only you can make.

Now, let’s jump back to chapter two. What makes it so difficult? Strangely enough, the answer is at least in part, chapter one. Chapter one is the whirlwind start to your book, the James Bond high voltage action sequence before-the-titles show on the screen clip, the passionate embrace on the beach and roll-around-in the-sand until the tide comes in scene, and usually those scenes are not that hard to write. No question, they need your full attention and you need to work hard on them to squeeze every bit of passion, emotion, horror, or madness into those first half-dozen pages. But, for most of us, those type of scenes aren’t the difficult ones. Once you have the right idea, the intense emotion you need to make that scene work, putting it down on paper is often a race to see if your fingers can type as fast as your mind can dictate the words.

It’s not that action scenes or first chapters can be just written in an hour and forgotten. They need plenty of attention, especially in regards to using the correct words and not repeating yourself in three different spots. But, they’re also the scenes that almost write themselves. At least, they have always been that way for me and most authors I know have expressed pretty much the same thought. In THE BLACK LODGE, starting from when the Dark Man emerges from beneath the overpass to the end of the chapter, the pages were written in a white heat. I knew every exchange, every thought, every detail of the rest of the chapter. I replayed the shooting scene a dozen times in my head while writing it, thinking hard whether there was any way to make it more dramatic. I settled on “My turn,” the first pass and there was no doubt in my mind that the line would remain. It fit perfectly. I zapped the first chapter and fifteen years later there’s just about nothing in it I would change. But, then came chapter two, and I had to face the real world.
In chapter two, the plot of THE BLACK LODGE begins. The lead character of the book, Sidney Taine, is introduced and the main mystery of the book is presented to the reader. A menace of some sorts is made clear and other characters, even if they do not appear onstage, are mentioned. Equally important, at least to my concept of storytelling, there was seemingly no connection at all between the actions of the first chapter and the second. Hopefully, this lack of linkage caused the reader to wonder what did the first chapter have to do with the book? This notion tied in with what we discussed earlier.
EVERY chapter in your book must (repeat: MUST!) relate to the plot of the book, even if the reader does not realize that until much later. If the first chapter of your book is just an action scene but has no real connection to the plot of the rest of the story, then that chapter does not belong in your book. The first chapter not only has to start the book off with an action scene, it also has to start off the plot of the novel, though hopefully in a manner that the reader won’t understand right away. Chapter one introduces the murderous Dark Man killing drug dealers. Chapter two introduces Angel Caldwell searching for the mysterious Arelim and worrying about the Lodge meeting planned by her father and her husband. By the end of chapter two, the reader needs to be wondering what connection does the Dark Man have with the Lodge? Or with Arelim? Or Angel Caldwell?

Chapter Two also serves introduces the main character of the book, Sid Taine, and describes him well enough that he doesn’t need to be described again. He’s a big man, tall and graceful, and knows a good amount about the occult. For some reason not made clear, he is of interest to Victor Caldwell. Though Taine is presented as a smart, sometimes ruthless character, he never once uses physical violence in the novel. One or two scenes where he appeared somewhat menacing (in the bar and at Willis Royce’s headquarters), my editor suggested I tone down and I agreed. The cuts only amounted to a few paragraphs, but whereas Taine talks a good game, he never actually commits any violent acts in the entire novel. One of the points of the book is that Taine is too smart to rely on physical violence to solve his problems. A true master of Kabbalistic magic doesn’t need to punch people to make an impression. It’s a notion that rarely gets noticed when people read the book, but it’s an underlying theme of the story. Violence isn’t the only answer to violence, as Taine uses the force of God’s name to defeat his enemies instead of some powerful black magic.

Along with introducing Taine and several plot elements, the second chapter also includes several clues to the mysteries and crimes discussed in the book. The Black Lodge, of course, is mentioned with both Victor and Harmon as members. Angel, who is no angel, mentions how evil things happen there, and who better to say something like this than a schemer like Angel. There’s also the puzzle of why Victor Caldwell would be interested in psychic detective, Sid Taine. Plus, we’re presented with the fact that Taine solves most of his cases and uses occult (or at least New Age) methods to do so. How does that tie-in with the Lodge and the Dark Man? All are questions that are raised and need to be answered in the story. But, there’s one other point of importance.

When Taine is talking to Angel about who she wants found, she casually mentions that her older sister and mother were killed in a boating accident many years ago. It’s not a comment that attracts much notice, especially since Angel also mentions how she hates children and drops lovers. But, it’s the first clue scattered throughout the book about the death of a child belonging to a wealthy family. Those deaths become much more focused when Janet remembers the death of her brother, but it’s not something picked up by many people as being an integral secret of the novel. Just as the death of Willis’ Royce’s son seems to be nothing more than a bizarre incident about a drug dealer’s son and not another link to the chain of sacrifices.

Going back to a point made much earlier: knowing the end of your book and knowing the deep secrets of your plot before you start writing the book, enable you to write plots with depth and complexity otherwise not possible. Since I knew before I wrote the first word of THE BLACK LODGE that entry to the Lodge demanded that the member sacrifice the eldest child in the family, I was able to place such information in chapters in minor conversations, in histories of the characters, in otherwise innocent statements. Important clues need to be hidden from the reader, and the best method of hiding clues is to put them in plain sight but make them read so innocent that no one ever realizes they are a clue. Position your clues right and your book will sing. And your second chapter will have done its job.

Any Questions?
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