Saturday, May 23, 2009

Procrastination and the Writer

by Tom Mach
© 2009 by Tom Mach

Robert Benchley said it best when he said, “Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn't the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment. “ While this can be said of any endeavor, I find that it is particularly true of writers. I am one of the greatest time-wasters in the world. Yesterday I must have checked my Twitter at least thirty times, my Facebook twenty times, sent out meaningless tweets about fifteen times, check my email every 15 minutes, bought myself a cell phone and tried playing Sudoku on it, then took a drive to get my car washed and put gas in it.

Box Score: “Other stuff” –110 “Writing”—0

I envy writers who claim they can sit down and type out five pages a day, every day, no matter what. They claim that even if what they type is nonsense, even if it is poorly written, even if it is filled with all sorts of errors, it’s writing. To me, it’s like saying even if you’re pumping air into a tire and no air is going into it, you’re pumping. Or, it’s like composing a symphony using a harmonica. At least you’re attempting to compose.

I use the excuse of having to be “inspired” before I can write. The problem is that I don’t get inspired until I start writing and once I get into the rhythm of my story, then I get inspired.

I think next time I give a workshop on writing a novel, I will write three words on the chalkboard and dismiss the class. The words? JUST DO IT.

Friday, May 22, 2009

My Personal Thoughts as a Writer (Part 4)

by Tom Mach
© 2009 by Tom Mach

Today I’d like to discuss two aspects of my writing life—one as a poet and another as a playwright. While I did write some poems in the late 1970s, I never took myself seriously as a poet. I suppose one thing that deterred me was the fact that at the time I saw only two kinds of poems—the classical (Browning, Shakespeare, etc.) and the modern. I’ve always loved the classical poets because there was a certain kind of sophistication, underlying truth, and musical cadence to their works. Who could but wonder about Robert Browning’s idealism when he wrote: “The beauty and the wonder and power. / The shapes of things, their colors, lights, and shades, / Changes, surprises—and God made them all!” Or the immortal Shakespeare sonnet: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? / Thou art more lovely and more temperate.” But when I get to the modern poet, I tend to get confused. I don’t understand a lot of it. Here would be a “typical” modern poem: “The lantern hangs on a darkened chimney while a mouse struck by the daylight hourglass, dances to the chimes of a carpenter’s saw.” Okay—what does this mean? I have no idea. I think modern poetry is a lot like modern art. There might be a message there somewhere, but I’ll be darned if I’m going to stare at it all day to try to figure it out.

I’ve read a lot of poems and am beginning to have some luck in winning recognition for them. I published a book of poetry called The Uni Verse and won the Nelson Poetry Book Award for it. I was also a winner in two poetry contests that our Kansas Poet Laureate sponsored a month ago, won first place in the narrative category and third place in the classics category of a contest sponsored by the Kansas Authors Club. One of my poems also won 9th place out of 3,000 entries in the July issue of Writers Digest. In addition, I’ve had several of my poems published in the Sunday editions of the Lawrence Journal World newspaper. I love the challenge of poetry because it keeps my writing sharp and helps me think beyond the confines of a story.

I’ve also written several plays, although none of them have been produced—as of yet. I’ve written a musical based on my novel, Sissy! I also wrote a children’s musical based on a first place short story called Priscilla’s New Word. And I also wrote a comedy, the title of which I won’t yet reveal publically. This last one is a two-act play and I have an agent sending it around to off-Broadway locations.

One of my biggest bugaboos is laziness. I work well under pressure. Right now I have no deadlines, so I’m just goofing off. Hopefully, my agent will find me a contract with one of my three books I have written or that play I mentioned. I’ve got to get that old writing brain of my working again!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Inheritance

by Tom Mach
©1981 by Tom Mach

Well, if you insist, then come,
drink in the pleasures of my father’s mansion.
Become intoxicated with his Renoired walls.
Visit the secret prison of his friends:
his Melville, Poe, and sacred bards of old.
What do you expect—the grandeur that would shake
even those who touch the garments of kings?
Think you that the power of his gods
will shine from the power of his gods?
Will Nirvana arise from the ashes of this man?
No. The poisoned air of shame
still smogs the songless rooms,
and the carpet once crushed by heavy boots
is dead, flattened by time.
So come, taste the stillness of my father’s cave,
but after, run hungrily to the meadow
before the shadow of his emptiness enfolds you.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Index of All My Blogs From April 7, 2009 to May 9, 2009

I have posted 28 blogs on this site between 4/7 and 5/9 and I invite all readers to review the past list of my blogs, to the very post I made. For those of you who might be unfamiliar with how to search for all of them you need to scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the green message that says “Older Posts.” This will bring you to a new window. As you continue to scroll down to the bottom and click on “Older Posts” you will eventually get to the last page that represents my first post.

Here is a convenient list of my posts, starting with the latest to the earliest—

May 9………Deepen your stories today
May 8………How should a novel end?
May 7………The music of the sonnet
May 6………A haiku to the universe
May 5………My novel, 52 years later…what did I learn?
May 4………There are different ways for you to read a novel
May 3………A few thoughts about our universe
May 2………My personal thoughts as a writer (part 3)
May 1………My personal thoughts as a writer (part 2)
Apr 30….…..101 Best websites in 2008 for writers
Apr 29………Making the transition from story to play
Apr 28………My personal thoughts as a writer (part 1)
Apr 27………A surprising list of authors who have self-published
Apr 26………Want to writer a children’s picture book? Read this.
Apr 25………Tom’s poem from The Uni Verse
Apr 23………Things to consider if you’re writing historical fiction
Apr 22………What is “poetry”? Why do you want to write it? And in what form?
Apr 21………Why should authors twitter?
Apr 20………The power of words
Apr 19………On being a shameless (& smart) self-promoter
Apr 18………Farewell to James Houston—author and friend
Apr. 17……. Blogs, books and the irony of short
Apr 16………(mis) Quote of the day
Apr 15………The analogy of novel writing to house building
Apr 11………How poetry improves all other writing
Apr 10………Sounds of Lawrence
Apr 8………..Humor
Apr 7………..Poems I’ve written

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Deepen your stories today

(excerpts from an article written by Mary DeMuth for The Writer, Feb. ’09 by permission from the author) For more information on the author’s book mentoring program, click on

William Wordsworth wrote, “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart” Wordsworth’s quote rings true for me as a parenting author. I splay my heart on the pages of my books, exploring my inadequacies, embracing little parenting triumphs. It makes sense. The way to a nonfiction reader’s heart is an author’s vulnerability, her ability to reveal emotional depth. Can the same be said for fiction? A resounding yes.

How do you harness emotional depth? Is it possible to write stories that suck readers in, enamoring them of characters who resonate? Absolutely.

1. Write truth from the inside out
Writing prose that does not have your heart in it becomes mechanically correct but bereft of soul. It becomes outside-in writing. Reveal secrets on the page of a journal, daring to write the truth. Write it to yourself, about yourself, about the world you live in. In the safe haven of a blank notebook, explore your passions.

2. Translate your emotional experiences
It’s one thing to explore your own interior; it’s another to use your emotions to build a character. But it must be done. Pull out the journal where you’ve bled some truth. Then, find a character in your story that lacks depth or verve and begin to connect her flatness to the richness of your current struggle. Free-write the character into a scene until you sense our own emotions surfacing.

3. Get out in the world
Writing is a solitary art. We seldom venture out of the land of people. But too much solitude makes our novels suffer. We need to put down our journal pen, abandon the blinking curser, and rub shoulders with people To hear bantering. To risk ourselves in relationships. To once again be reminded of the astounding beauty of humanity alongside its depravity.

You’ve heard the mantra: Show, don’t tell. Perhaps the secret to showing is actually living your own stories well.
Footnote from Tom Mach:
Ms. DeMuth brings up an important point about the necessity of showing and not telling. Our written words should project a strong mental and emotional image to the reader, getting her involved to the point where she resonates with the character because the character has become a living, breathing human being. I’ve had that experience as a writer myself when I wrote Sissy! and All Parts Together. My character, Jessica Radford, in both of my novels still haunts me today. She’s real.

Friday, May 8, 2009

How should a novel end?

by Tom Mach

© 2009 by Tom Mach

Actually, there’s no single answer to this question. A lot depends on the kind of novel it is, whether the novelist wants to “wrap things up” (as you would in a murder mystery), or if the novelist wants to leave some things undone—either because it would be more realistic or the novelist has another book in mind as a sequel or as a part of a trilogy and wants to hook you for the next book. I recall a lesson I learned from a dear writer friend of mine. She said, “Don’t go for a totally happy ending where everything is resolved and all of your characters now go trudging off into Never-Never-Land.” What she was saying was it’s okay to have a sad ending, as long as there is some hope that you can give the reader.

Do you remember Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, where Scarlett’s lover Rhett has left her forever? She’s now on the barren Tara plantation, left with little else. But there’s a glimmer of hope in Scarlett’s soul. Despite her sadness she says, at the end of the book:

“I’ll think of it all tomorrow, at Tara. I can stand it then. Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.” (That last sentence is one of the most important lines of the book.)

In my novel, All Parts Together, I have a protagonist named Jessica Radford who is desolate because her former lover, Matt is marrying another woman, her publisher no longer wants to accept her novels written about slavery, her hero—Abraham Lincoln—had been assassinated, and she feels betrayed by her adopted sister, Nellie. In a fury, she tosses her manuscript across the room. But there is a knock on her door. A stranger asks Jessica to become involved in another, even greater cause than slavery. Here is how I end that story (because I have in mind a forthcoming third novel of the Jessica trilogy)—

Jessica cleared her throat and put her hand to her warm forehead. “I’ll be there But first I need to clean up this awful mess that I’ve made.” (Note the symbolic twist I put at the end—the “mess” of her life versus the “mess” she made in her hotel room)

How should a novel end? I think it should end where the satisfied reader says to herself, “I know this character will survive. She’ll come out the better for it. I wish her well, and I’ll miss her very much.”

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Music of the Sonnet

One of the first poems I memorized as a teenager (and still know over 50 years later) is this poem from Shakespeare:

Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And oft is his gold complexion dimm’d,
And every fair to fair sometime declilnes,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d.
But thy eternal Summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest.
Nor shall Death brag thou wanderest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest.

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

I think I like this and similiar sonnets for two reasons. One, of course, is the deep meanings they hold for the reader. The poet in the above sonnet makes an interesting comparison between the lady he loves and nature. Even though nature can, at times, be harsh, his lady will always be beautiful him. Even old age and death will not diminish his love for her. Another reason I love this is because of the rhythm of the lines. I can probably put this entire sonnet to music because the words flow so gently. The mystique of the 17th century English language also adds to the beauty of this poem—such as the lady wandering in Death’s shade or the symbolism of “too hot the eye of heaven shines.”

The sonnet form of poetry is one several different poetry forms. Actually, the word “sonnet” means “little song” and it comes from either the Occitan word “sonnet” or the Italian word “sonnetto” Somehow, by the 13th century a sonnet was defined as a poem consisting of 14 lines with a certain kind of rhyme scheme. Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets and these consisted of 14-line poems, written in iambic pentameter, which means it consists of a line ten syllables in length and accented on every second beat. For instance, in the above sonnet, we have shall I / compare thee/ to a/ summer’s day The rhyming patter goes like this: ABAB CDCD EFEF GG in which the last two lines are a rhyming couplet. In the above poem, “day” and “May” rhyme, “temperate” and “date” rhyme, “shines” and “declines” rhyme, etc.

There are many different types of sonnets, of course, but I didn’t want to write this blog as a boring lecture series. I just want you to enjoy the rhythm and music of the sonnet itself. Here’s one that I wrote that won a prize in a writing contest:

The Power of Words by Tom Mach

Winds of apathy will not shake me
though I am invisible to this crowd
or seen darkly, blurred and misty.
I shall leave you all, head bowed
so you can play your strident noise
while I open my book of words
to recount the sum of all my joys.
Words take wing like songbirds,
finding minds to touch and arouse,
where characters give love and reveal
imagined souls for me to browse.
Matters not if they be false or real.
Pages press scenes within my heart
and arrange my thoughts, part by part.

I know it’s not Shakespeare, but I love it since I wrote it. So there!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A haiku to the universe

A haiku to the universe
by Tom Mach

planets move
nature spins orbs in circles
we are blind

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

My novel, 52 years later …what did I learn?

by Tom Mach

© 2009 by Tom Mach

I thought I would share with you an example how years of experience with life, with reading a wide variety of books, with rubbing shoulders of accomplished writers, and with getting great writing guidance from numerous sources, my writing ability changed for the better. I wrote my first novel when I was 17 years old, and it was my crude, uninformed attempt at writing commercial fiction. Although I certainly know now that it is an example of bad writing, I wanted to show you the beginning of my chapter and then give you my explanation as to why I wrote that way. Below are the beginning three paragraphs of this novel…

The Boss’s Son by Tom Mach

Chapter One

It is on a blistering summer day that one finds people of the finest physical composition, defaming summer and everything connected with it. But there is one great reason, one momentous motive, for ardent summer lovers deserting their nature and becoming strict summer haters. These rash converts become so because most summer days are unbearably warm. To put it more bluntly, people get damn sick of the sticky heat of an average summer. To put it more modestly, once again, it seems that Nature was unreasonably cruel to one place in particular—New York.

The poet would express it this way: There was one advantage of the persecutions of the sun on this city. The city did not possess the aspects of a paved jungle; rather it became a monument of mountains in a prairie of pebbles. The sun, with its kaleidoscope of hues, made those mountains a noble work of art.

The man of the city who lived in the city and knew the city would more accurately describe the mountain skyscrapers as something more than towering objects of steel and stone. He would much more profoundly say that they were symbols of business, of man’s strife toward the industry of the nation, and of this way of making a living.

I need to explain something here. First of all, the novels I read when I was 17 years old were the classics. So you can see, I used author intrusion and spent a lot of time philosophizing, writing in somewhat archaic language, just like many of the 18th and early 19th century authors did. Secondly, I never took a writing class and didn’t have anyone critique this for me, so I suffered under the delusion that what came out of my typewriter was what the finished draft should look like.

Speaking of that, I typed this 353-page novel of a Royal portable typewriter. I used carbon paper between sheets. When it came to correcting an error, I had to erase the error with an eraser on both the original sheet as well as the second page under the carbon paper. Obviously, this discouraged me greatly from doing any rewriting. Writers who are spoiled with the computer, allowing them to easily make changes, insertions, and deletions, don’t know the literal hell writers using typewriters had to go through.

An interesting aside to my experience is that I had sent this entire manuscript to a few major publishers (I didn’t know anything at the time about query letters, synopses, or sample chapters), and the publishers actually responded with personally typed rejection letters signed by either the editor himself or his assistant! That wouldn’t happen in today’s market without an agent.

At one time, I was going to toss out this novel, but I’m glad I didn’t. It’s always good to go back and reflect on why you wrote what you did at that age and how much progress you’ve made over the years.

Monday, May 4, 2009

There are different ways for you to read a novel

by Tom Mach

© 2009 by Tom Mach

Believe it or not, there are different perspectives to reading a good novel. By “good” I mean novels that might stand the test of time. These don’t necessarily have to be classics such as Melville’s Moby Dick or Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. They can be authors such as Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon or David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. Good novels offer something more than a basic storyline, they offer a human experience. An example of a novel which is not in the “good” category is one sold in adult bookstores where the sole purpose of the novel is to provide sexual titillation and nothing more. It may even be devoid of any meaningful storyline.

Good novels can be read in different ways. One might read it for sheer entertainment value. You read a novel for diversion, as an escape from reality. Stories that are read strictly for this purpose deal primarily with the adventures of the protagonist. People read such novels to “find out what happens” but not to search for deep, hidden meanings. Many standard mystery and romance novels fall into this category.

A person might also read a novel as an artistic accomplishment. It is analyzed from the standpoint of artistic expression just as, say, the Mona Lisa painting. Here we are looking for subtleties in writing, for nuances in the way the author has expressed an idea. In Moby Dick, for instance, we can read it strictly as an adventure of a captain trying to find and kill a certain whale. Or, we can read it as a symbolic epic where evil (Captain Ahab) is struggling against humanity (the crew) to overtake and succumb spiritual goodness (the white whale). In college literature classes, novels are typically read as an artistic accomplishment.

We might also read a novel as a form of history. Novels take place in a certain time period. Science fiction, of course, occurs in the future so there’s no real “history” there. But other novels take place either in the present or the past and both time periods have some history attached to them. When we read a novel for its historical value, we look for certain facts rather than underlying interpretations of the work. We are more concerned about what happened to a given person as opposed to a more universal reality for all mankind. Clues given in the novel will show the reader what time period the story takes place. Mentions of particular songs, certain political events, or social trends (such as the advent of the Charleston dance craze) will tell us when the story takes place. There may be historical characters involved, and a reader may want to study what occurs in that novel concerning these characters and relate them to his or her own understanding of the facts. When I wrote All Parts Together, I took particular care to ensure that everything Abraham Lincoln did or said would stand the test of intense scrutiny so that it would serve as a good source of history.

You may also want to read a novel for any technical information it may contain. Certainly Melville’s Moby Dick tells us a lot about sailing and whales. Grapes of Wrath shows the social prejudice toward migrants at that time. Medical thrillers such as Coma give us a very good idea of medical technology.

Stevens and Musial in Reading, Discussing, and Writing about The Great Books tell us that “fiction may be defined as the truth told or implied about a moral result that follows from thinking certain thoughts, holding certain values, and doing certain kinds of actions in a special kind of world.” Even though a novel springs from a writer’s imagination, it may also spring from certain universal truths. Some readers never read novels because they want to access “truth” that they believe only comes from nonfiction works

But I believe truth can also come from fiction.

--Tom Mach

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A Few Thoughts About Our Universe

by Tom Mach

© 2009 by Tom Mach

It is unfortunate that many of us in the evening will sit in our living rooms watching television when just outside our door an incredible event is taking place. Planets suspended on nothing are spinning about; the sun is shining on the other side of the globe; the stars—an enormous number of light years away from us—are blinking back. On a particularly dark night, especially if you live away from the bright lights of the city, you can just lean back in your chair and watch the vastness of the sky. It’s even more incredible if you peer through a telescope and begin to see those celestial objects appear even closer

I know we take such things for granted, and I’m certain guilty of that as well. But as you gaze at the stars, at the bright moon, at the shining white orb of Venus, you have to wonder how did it all get here, and why is it here? And during the day, if you visit a zoo and see a giraffe with its long neck, a monkey flipping from branch to branch, or a hummingbird in rapid-motion flight …or if you walk through a garden and see the different colors and shapes of such flowers as hibiscus, orchids, roses, tulips, dahlias, rhododendrons….or if you gaze across open country and see rolling meadows, a lake flickering with tiny specks from the sun, trees of different kinds, fields, streams—if you experience such a great abundance, such a tremendous variety of beauty, how can you possibly think that this was all the result of a Big Bang and the happenstance of random molecules colliding with each other over billions of years? How can you not think there must have been some thought and design behind all of this?

I know that I’ll probably get angry emails from atheists and agnostics, but I don’t care. I’m not trying to convert anyone into my way of thinking of a Supreme Being or some Creative Intelligence. Believe whatever you want to believe, but for me, there is God who put this together for us. Yes, there are other things that are not as pleasant—children being born deformed or killer hurricanes or catastrophic earthquakes I can’t explain why these things also exist, just as I can’t explain why some people refuse to forgive others for things they’ve done or why some people find no shame in robbing or murdering I would be wiser than anyone who has ever existed if I knew the reason for all those things.

But I choose to look at the wonderment of the universe and I have to ask myself if such creation is so magnificent, so marvelous to behold, then what must the Creator be like? And if He’s created all these wonderful things, and if He’s created us with the ability to appreciate these things and to feel profound emotions like love and joy, then perhaps we ought to put our iPods away for awhile, we ought to stop tweeting our silly message for the time being, we ought to turn off the TV, we ought to take a walk in the park, we ought to look around, and then…

…we ought to thank Him.

A Child's Closing Prayer

(poem taken from Tom Mach's The Uni Verse)

The lake is smooth and as still as death

lbut an occasional cricket shatters the silence.

"Grandpa," I begin, but he shushes me.

I follow his gaze to the evening sky,

all pierced with white dots

while a round white moon

touches the darkness.

"God is here," he whispers.

"Where," I ask, frowning.

But I see his smile.

amd I understand

Saturday, May 2, 2009

My Personal Thoughts as a Writer (Part 3)

by Tom Mach
© 2009 by Tom Mach

If you’re a novelist, you may know what I’m talking about when I say sometimes there’s a character and a story that you absolutely must write about. It happened to me when I moved to Lawrence, Kansas. Although I am a Civil War buff of sorts, I had no knowledge about a man named William Quantrill who, in 1863, rode through this town and killed almost 200 men and boys, innocent civilians. Quantrill’s gang of ruffians looted liquor stores, robbed safes, and killed people who just happened to be there. I imagined it to be a horrible sight. One evening, as I lay in bed, I had a vision of sorts of a woman named Jessica Radford who was a young woman about 19 or 20 who was fiercely independent and survived the Quantrill raid. This woman came alive to me. I could see her face, saw how she carried herself, heard how she talked, felt the emotions she felt. I knew that she had to be a character in my novel. Later, a name popped out at me from nowhere—Sissy. I “heard” a young African American slave girl about 10 years old yelling out the name “Sissy!” It was the slave’s name—it was the name of a Negro angel. And that name became the title of my first published novel: SISSY!

Now I look back at this as a gift, because in novels I had attempted to write before, I struggled with the characters and had to think hard about the plot. Not with SISSY! I told my wife I knew Jessica so well, I almost felt as if I were having an affair. In fact, the highest compliment anyone gave me was from a friend who asked me where Jessica was buried. He was shocked when I told him Jessica was a fictional character.

When I first started writing fiction, I was not being able to make my characters truly come to life—i.e., make them as real to the reader as possible. Because Jessica came alive to me, as did Sissy—the angel in my story—I decided to do a trilogy. My second novel ALL PARTS TOGETHER showed what happened to Jessica from the day after that Quantrill raid to the weeks following the Lincoln assassination. In this latter book, I took great pains to make Abraham Lincoln a real character, so I studied everything I could about him. During my research, I uncovered facts about the man I had never known before, such as his quick wit, his interest in photography, the way he loved his son Tad, etc. I also got in touch with an author who thoroughly investigated the assassination and I was able to use that information with his permission to create a very dramatic scene in ALL PARTS TOGETHER.

Since then, I have written the third book of that trilogy and it is still with my agent, looking for a publisher. I’ve also written a children’s chapter book that was test-marketed with three groups of school children (they all loved it), and I rewrote the thriller novel that was originally rejected because it was too long. I’m now rewriting yet an additional novel for which I had an agent years ago but who had not really aggressively tried to find a publisher for it.

I’m also doing workshops on writing, but frankly I don’t find it as fascinating as writing.

By the way, I want to tell you about my poetry writing and playwriting experiences, but that will have to wait until next time. See you later!

---Tom Mach

Friday, May 1, 2009

My Personal Thoughts as a Writer (Part 2)

by Tom Mach
© 2009 by Tom Mach

I think I left last time talking about writing articles for publication. I’d like to relate a true story. When I started writing articles for the Meredith Sun Newspaper Group back in the late 70s, I recall celebrating when my first article was published and I received a check for $25 for it. It was only months earlier that I had decided to write articles. I had gone to a writer’s convention and showed a woman a copy of an article I had written. She told me it wasn’t very good. I was crushed, so I asked her to tell me what kinds of articles SHE had written and published. You know what she told me? None. There she was—the grand “queen” of writing, telling me my piece wouldn’t work and she herself had never published anything! That thought me one thing—people who claim they are writers but don’t write are deceiving themselves and others.

Back to my story, however. After I submitted my first article to the Meredith Sun Group of newspapers (which servicee the entire South Bay surrounding San Jose, CA), the editor asked for an article a week, and I gave it to her. Finally, after having published six months’ worth of articles, the editor asked my not to write for her anymore. Crestfallen, I asked her why. She said that I write too well for the newspapers and I ought to write for magazines. So I did, and I wrote on a variety of topics for a myriad number of magazines. Receiving money in the mail for all those pieces didn’t thrill me as much as seeing my byline. One day I went to a Writers Digest workshop where the editor-in-chief gave a talk. After the meeting, I asked him what he thought about an article on stress that I thought about writing. He told me to send him a query on it, which I did. Another WD editor responded, asking me to expand on my topic and I did that. Then he asked for a draft. I send him that (by the way, this was before the internet or email was invented). He suggested a number of revisions, and I made changes and sent it back to him. Then he returned it to me for further editing. Finally, I received a galley in the mail, and months later, my article on Writing Stress made the cover of the magazine. I felt ten feet tall. I went to our California Writers Convention that year, and people were lined up asking me to autograph copies of the magazine for them. What a rush that was!

During this time, I did attempt to get a book published. (I should preface this by saying that when I was 17 years old I wrote a complete novel, sent it off to publishers, got rejected, although a vanity press gave me a glowing review and urged me to get it published. I didn’t know anything about vanity presses at the time and to this day, I’m grateful my mom denied my request to send in any payment.) Anyway, many years later, I wrote a how-to book on marketing research, secured a literary agent for it. The agent made two or three tries with publishers and told me he won’t be able to sell it because the market demand for the book is probably under 5,000 copies. So I gave up on that one and tried my hand at writing fiction. I discovered that while article writing kept me pumped up with how to spin a phrase, come up with interesting transitions, do my research well, and end up with a readable and informative piece—I had to learn how to write differently for fiction. I did manage to get a short story published in Stamp World magazine. I also wrote three partial novel manuscripts, a complete novel dealing with the clerical abuse situation, and a thriller. While I couldn’t find an agent for those earlier works, I did find one for the thriller. She sent it out to several New York publishers, all of whom returned it but with glowing letters indicating how well it was plotted and the writing style (One publisher said he thought I wrote like Tom Clancy). Their objections were twofold: (1) they weren’t looking for the thriller genre at that time, and (2) my manuscript was way too long (over 800 pages). At that point, I gave up and didn’t write for quite a while.

Along the way of learning my craft, I learned things about fiction writing that served me well. I will share those experiences with you next time.

---Tom Mach