Friday, June 27, 2014

Learning to Write With Michael Jordan

"Wait a minute? Did I read that right? What has Michael Jordan to do with writing anything?"
Great questions. And in response, here's your first lesson. Create a title that grabs the reader's interest. If you're here, it worked. If you're not, then you don't know what you're missing. I might have called this article "Learning the Hard Way" but what fun is that. This way I got to hang out with Michael Jordan, if only figuratively. So here goes...

Recently I received a slap in my authorial face and it woke me up. It wasn't hard slap. It was more like gentle pat on my cheek, more out of thoughtful concern than malice. Still like the title of this piece, it got my attention.
But let's get down to it. Michael, why don't you make your first point.
"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life."
In other words three-peats are tough.
Many of you have followed my recent successes on a fun new website mashstories.com. The concept is remarkably easy. They give you 3 unrelated words and you give them 500 in return in the form of a comprehensive short story utilizing those three words. I was fortunate to make the shortlist for their first two competitions with my stories "Begin the Countdown" and "My Big Fat Mythical Greek Wedding." If you haven't read them yet, go to mashstories.com right now and read them. It's okay, we'll wait right here for you.
***
Back? What did you think? Pretty great, right? I thought you'd like it. I'm very proud of what they did.
I didn't win the big money but just making the shortlist was awesome, twice. First, they published both stories on their website. Then they created a very professional audio podcast each week featuring a different shortlisted story. Both are excellent but I love what they did with "My Big Fat Mythical Greek Wedding." When I first heard it I was laughing out loud and I already knew all of the jokes because I wrote them. (Be warned they do mispronounce my last name in both stories. It's "bye-bo", not "bee-bo". I let them know both times and we've had a good laugh over it.)
For a long time I had signed up for a twitter account but I never really used it. Then I read an article on how writers need to brand themselves through social media and how publishers actually look to see how many followers you have when considering your book. Really? Okay I'd better get with it. I thought this would be the perfect time to begin. So I tweeted my successes and retweeted many of the kind words by mashstories. And a funny thing happened. People read my tweets. Now I actually had followers, new ones every day, people I don't even know.
Then a couple of other successes came through. I can tell you I was feeling pretty good. So I sent off my entry, "Brother Robert's Discovery", for Mash Stories #3. Third time's the charm, right, this was going to be it, big money.
What was that, Michael? You have something to say again?
"Sometimes you need to get hit in the head to realize that you're in a fight."


Ah, yes. Then came slap. It came in the form of an email from my good friends at Mash Stories. Though kindly, it was short and to the point.

Dear Bill,
Thank you for sending us "Brother Robert's Discovery". We appreciate the chance to read it. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to shortlist it this time. Don't be disappointed, but do try us again for the next quarter’s competition.
Thanks again.
All the best


Whoa! What? I mean, I thought we had a good thing going here. Now you don't want me? Are we breaking up? I was crushed. I sat in the corner and put on some John Mayer.
Yes, Michael, stop waving your overly long arm. I see it. You have something else to say?

"Be true to the game, because the game will be true to you. If you try to shortcut the game, then the game will shortcut you. If you put forth the effort, good things will be bestowed upon you. That's truly about the game, and in some ways that's about life too."


I hate it when you're right, Michael. I rushed it. In my defense I could fill a basketball stadium with excuses. I had so much work at the office in the next month, having to travel to Gainesville twice in the weeks to come, then family commitments, friends visiting, the summer was booking up. When was I going to write it? Best do it now and send it off quick. They'll love it and post it early and I'll get tons of votes and win the big prize! Great plan. Hooray! Let's do it!

I came up with a brilliant concept and wrote a fine story, but I didn't let it sit and gel and mature. I wrote it, read it over, and sent it off just a few days later, a full month or more before the due date. I went on with my daily chores knowing full well that soon First Place would be mine. It was inevitable, I mean, they love me.

A few days later at lunch I read my story over. That was when I saw the first typo. Dang it. (trying to keep it family friendly). But I still had a chance, maybe they'd love the story so much that they'd overlook it and let me fix it before they publish it. Just to be safe I didn't reread the story again.

Slap time. Wake up, Bill. You've got mail. Whack!

So what do you take away from all this? What are the lessons learned?

The big one, the easy one is don't rush it. It's fine to write your story in a few short days, but let it sit, do something else, come back later and read it over. You'll find ways to make it better. You know you will, you always do.

Don't be overconfident. Everything you write isn't golden. You're not perfect. No one is, even your idol. Vonnegut had stories he kept in his drawer that he or his publisher felt weren't up to his standards. They only got published after he was dead, and then he had no say in the matter.

Don't get lazy. Spellcheck will not find the wrong word if it still is a word and not just the wrong word. Someone once told me to accurately check your writing read the story backwards. Start with the last sentence, then read the next to last sentence, then the one before that. When you write a piece you spend hours hunched over it, delving deep into it. You get to know it, and anticipate it. You see words as you think they should be, not as you have actually written them. Reading the sentences out of sequence lets you focus on each sentence independently.

Finally, don't take it personally. You write words on paper, electronic or real. Readers, especially judges, react to those words. (Note: misspelled, wrong, or left out words judges react to a lot.) Just remember they aren't reacting to you as a person, just words on paper. They probably still think you're pretty cool. I still like them. (Hey, I did get a shout out today in their newsletter.)

So finally, yes I am ending this entry someday soon, here's what you've been patiently waiting for. I present to you my story "Brother Robert's Discovery". The words we needed to use were cathedral, monkey, relativity. The story is exactly as I sent it to mashstories.com. Nothing has been changed, nothing has been altered. I leave it naked before you, typos and all. Immediately following the story are the judge's comments. (That is one of the best things about Mash Stories. Feedback. They will tell you what they thought, giving you the chance to grow and get better.)




Brother Robert's Discovery
by Bill Bibo Jr


Brother Robert ran through the cloister, a stack of papers clutched tightly against his chest. He didn't stop when Prior Matthew called to him from the garden. He didn't stop when he ran into the cathedral, his footsteps echoing in the vast chamber. He only paused as he crossed the nave and passed in front of the altar, to genuflect in thanks to his Lord. He must speak to the Abbot. Something glorious has happened.
When he reached the door to the Abbot's office he looked down at the papers in his hand. A tear fell from his cheek striking the top sheet. He cried out and quickly used the fabric from his sleeve to blot it up. Summoning his courage and his joy he entered.
William the 123rd, the Abbot of the Monastery of the Immortal Bard, sat hunched over an ancient manuscript, a large ornate magnifying glass in his hand. Two candles on either side illuminated the manuscript and very little else in the room.
"Who doth interrupt my study? Who stills my contemplation?" the Abbot said not looking up from his table.
Brother Robert leaned gently forward and said, "Father, please excuse this intrusion. I have glorious news."
The Abbott looked up to see his young student rocking side to side and all but bouncing before him. He saw the papers in the young man's arms. He nodded to continue.
"Father, it's my cellmate. He just finished this. I brought it right away," Brother Robert said. He placed the stack of papers in front of the Abbott and retreated to safety by the door.
Abbott William grunted and poked at the papers with his magnifying glass lest they bite him. They didn't. He picked up the top page and began to read. He took the next page and then the next and the next.
"Father, what does it mean?" Brother Robert asked.
The abbot glanced at a few more pages before replacing all of them on the stack. He sat back in his chair staring blankly before him.
"I no not," said Abbot William. "For these centuries following the Great War our order was tasked to retrieve all knowledge that was lost. Some doubted our methods, but we persevere. Given enough time, and our eternal patience, the writings of our Lord will be recreated."
"But this manuscript entitled "Relativity: The Special and the General Theory", I make no sense of it. It has no rhyme and little reason. Tis worthless, I fear." he said dropping the papers into the basket by his desk.
"Brother Robert, return to your cell. Wait by the side of your monkey. Tend to his needs. Keep his typewriter clean and his ribbon dark. Tis 'Hamlet' we want. Tis 'Hamlet' we need. Not this, this dribble. Go now and waste not my time."
His heart heavy Brother Robert walked back toward his cell. At the cloister he paused, looked up to the open sky, and wondered what was out there.

the end




The jury's comments:

- The narrative drive is strong and with more thought and attention it could have been a contender.
- I was gripped by this story, deciding at the opening paragraph that I was going to like it. The idea(s)
behind it are sharp and entertaining, as well as thoughtful and thought provoking. However - and
unfortunately there is a 'however' - as I read on, the quality of the writing seemed to go downhill. There are a few typographical errors, and there is even an error of verb form in the opening paragraph ('has
happened' should be 'had happened' because the story's written in the past tense). There is also a lot of
punctuation missing - something that is probably vital in helping the writing flow.
- I love the pace of this and the build up to the revelation at the end.
- My main problem however is the dialogue between the brother and the Abbot towards the end. It seemed to come apart. And there was a typo: "I no not" should be "I know not". There is plenty that is good in this story; but that piece of dialogue is bothering me.
- The idea of the monkey at the typewriter eventually producing Hamlet is a nice touch. A good joke to slip in.


There you go. My writing soul laid bare before you. The good, the bad, and the lazy. Sure I have my excuses. We all do. But readers don't care. They want to read your story, not your excuses. Live and learn. Correct my mistakes, look back but don't dwell, and move on.

And, Mash Stories, look out. You haven't seen the last of me.

Okay Michael, just one more. What do you want to say?
"In reality, I never want to grow up."

Well played, Mr Jordan, well played.

For more quotes by Michael Jordan, go to http://www.brainyquote.com

And as always, thanks for reading me.



Thursday, May 29, 2014

Still Walking and now hard copies!

"Monster Hunter:Blood Trails" is now out in paperback and hardcover versions. This is very exciting to me. My work is in hardcover. I'm feeling like it's Christmas. One day I hope this won't be a biog deal. Naw, I hope I'm always excited like this.
I'll probably spend my check on extra copies for the family.
If you like a good monster story, you might like this. Check it out.

Monster Hunter Blood Trails (Legends of the Monster Hunter)

Then spread the word!!!!!
And as always thanks for reading me.

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Long Walk From Winter

My latest short story "A Long Walk From Winter" is featured in the anthology Monster Hunter Blood Trails by Emby Press. It tells the tale of Adam, Victor Frankenstein's creation, who, long after Victor has died, searches for something to believe in. Could he find it in an Alaskan mining town called Redemption?

Check it out. You might like it. But be warned, it is not a comedy.
The ebook is out now, paperback and hardcover versions coming soon. 
As always, thanks for reading me.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Monster Mash (Stories)

A few months ago I discovered a new website called mashstories.com. Billed as a place where writers can gather, grow, and maybe even get a story published. The main challenge is the quarterly competition where you are given three seemingly unrelated words and then you have to give them meaning depth and a soul and all in 500 words or less.

I love this!

There is nothing more creative than being given such exact restrictions and finding the connection. It's fun, challenging, and it's such great practice.

Their first competition used the words, animal rights, bunker, tennis ball. What? How do you make sense of that?

You take the words inside, let them sit there in the back of your mind, rolling around with the dust, the muck, the zombies, the devils, the angels, all your problems, all your answers, and then it happens. Something clicks and from those three words comes a life, a story starts to grow. You write a sentence or two, that becomes three or four, and before you know it where you needed 500 words you suddenly have 700.

Oh, crap! Too much, now you have to cut, edit, another aspect of the writer's journey.

I was lucky. My story clicked early. I called it "The First Cosmonaut". It felt perfect. I loved it. And then the judges did too! It was shortlisted and published on their website mashstories.com but they wanted to change the name to "Begin the Countdown". I still like mine better but I didn't hesitate. It was a flash fiction story they loved. Go, do it, put it up, let people read it, call it whatever you want.

Okay, it didn't win but the founder of Mash Stories wrote me and told me she liked it and thought it should have been in the top three, but alas (only writers use the word "alas") she wasn't a judge. When you take the challenge in the spirit of fun, never expecting to win, and then you get shortlisted and published on their site, hey, that's a win any way you look at it.

Encouraged I tried again. This time the words were Andromeda, dentist, democracy. Really? Are you kidding me?

So things are gelling in the muck in my mind and something comes out that I did expect. My first story was bittersweet. And with this new story came a staple in my repertoire. Comedy. "My Big Fat Mythical Greek Wedding" was shortlisted. And is currently in the midst of voting. hint, hint, hint again. GO NOW! I'll wait here...

Then Mash Stories creates a magazine and now my first story is in print form. Download, keep it, send it to me I'll sign it too.

And then Mash Stories does a podcast and I'm featured this week.
Whoa! Hold on! This is too cool. My story is being read aloud and in a very professional sounding production. Was that my story? Hey, it was pretty good. This is too cool.

Mashstories.com. What a great site. I'm loving this.
I've already sent in my third story for their competition. The words: cathedral, monkey, relativity. Fingers crossed. I'll be sure to let you know the progress.

In the meantime this is really fun.

I should get back to that novel........



Monday, March 17, 2014

The Writing Place

"This.. is you."
Those words Laurie spoke when she walked into the finished room. For weeks she was wondering what I was doing in there. Now she knows. And she liked it.
It's the first time I had a space totally mine, from top to bottom.
It used to be Shaun's room but living in Minneapolis, now with his fiance Hannah (Yay, Hannah!), he's not going to need it anymore. It's mine now. [evil diabolical laughter]
Now how about a short tour.

 the entry, welcome to my world, don't be scared, I already am

 from the door, note the mirror I trimmed with little 1" tall monsters painted gold, above that is an autographed photo of The Supremes I got as a kid at The Heart of Illinois Fair in Peoria

 my desk, that's as clean as you'll ever see it, the cardboard tubes are my wire management system

 the shelves are made from spindles of a chair I found on the side of the street, the shelving boards are leftover discards that were being thrown out and given to me by my carpenter son-in-law Justin

 the crowning glory, my desks faces an entire wall covered with chalkboard paint, at the top is an inspirational quote "You have your dream office, now make your dreams live." by me to me.

Now excuse me, I have to get busy.

As always, thanks for reading me. Keep it up.

Ramses and Bernie vs Ninja Leprechauns!

Hello, everyone. I'm still at it. I know, it's been way too long. But all that changes now.
The second story in The Wrong Side of the Rainbow series, "Death Bites", is live and featured today in Showcase #17 at StupefyingStories.com. Originally slated for a part in the anthology Noir: High Crimes and Lowlifes the publisher pulled it to be featured in the Showcase today. I'll let him tell you why.
I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to release SHOWCASE #17 on March 17th, and I definitely could not let St. Patrick’s Day go by without publishing “Death Bites” by Bill Bibo, Jr.. If you’ve read “The Wrong Side of the Rainbow” in the October 2012 issue of Stupefying Stories you’ve already met Ramses and Bernie, the oddest odd couple buddy-cop pair on the entire MCSI squad. If you haven’t—well, picture this: ninja leprechauns.
And that’s all the warning you’re going to get.
I think he likes it.
And I hope you will too. If you did, please pass it on and tell your friends, heck, TELL THE WORLD!

Now the work on the novel continues.

If you missed episode One, you can find the October 2012 issue on sale at Amazon for Kindle at $1.99. Just click the cover.


Also available for the Barnes & Noble Nook and in the Apple iTunes Store.

As always thanks for reading me. And stay tuned it gets better from here on out.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

When Editors Overreach

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends
We're so glad you could attend
Come inside! Come inside!
           From Karn Evil 9 by Emerson Lake and Palmer

Well I’m back. How have you been? I’ve been busy. We rebuilt our patio and I rebuilt the fence. We also have a new puppy, EMD Watson. But that, as they say, is a tail for another day.

What brings me here today is that I’ve recently had the dust shaken from my gilded view point of the publishing community. I had to do something last weekend that it never occurred to me that I would ever do. I asked a publisher to pull my story from publication in their anthology.

I’ve worked with many publishers, so far all very small press unfortunately, and everyone has been courteous, kind, and reasonably intelligent. Once you receive the coveted acceptance email from the publisher the next item you will receive is the contract. In it there is usually a line that states “The Publisher reserves the right to make minor edits to the body of text, which will then be presented to the Author for approval prior to Publication.” The key words in this sentence are “minor edits”. Herein lies the problem.

I received a copy edited by the publisher. The email attached implied that the edits were very minor and few except for removing all of the interview portions from my story. Immediately I was on guard. The interview portions were transition segments I was using to let the reader know more about MIS Disposal and the man who created it. I liked these sections and felt they made an interesting switch between scenes, not unlike a relevant quotation before a chapter which you see in many books.

I opened the file not without some trepidation. I wasn’t prepared for what I found.

The first few pages contained many revisions I felt were a bit arbitrary.
Example: revising a minor character from saying “A minute only” to now become “Only a minute”. Okay, fine, not what I wanted, but no big deal. I liked the more formality of the voice of the first one feeling that is the way I thought the character would speak. But in the end, no big deal. I could let him have this one.

In the next paragraph he began to change verb tense and to actually make the action more passive. Example: I wrote “The army pulled in.” He changed it to “The army had been pulled in.” Now why do this? First, it took an action that was happening right at that moment and made it happen in the past. Second, the addition of “had been” also made the action more passive. It didn’t fit with the rest of the paragraph.

So far not too bad. Then I went a few pages on. That is where the editing stopped and the rewrite began.

It started with a paragraph scratched out entirely and replaced with nearly the same wording but different order. Another “have been” was added in along with a “that was”. Much of what was done did not affect the writing for the better. On the contrary it weakened it.

The next page was worse. The entire page was red, the entire next three pages were red. He had rewritten everything and even added in imagery that did not exist in my original story. “A line of soldier moved in tandem like a monstrous centipede.” Huh? No, that’s awful. There was an entire new paragraph about the monster attacking a hospital. What? Nothing even close to this was in my story. WTF?

After 9 pages I stopped writing comments and gave up. It was no longer my story. He had changed the voice of the story, taking me away and putting in himself in my place. I looked ahead a few pages. Page after page had been crossed out and redone. He was making himself co-author and what’s worse, making it a really schlocky story as well.

I saved what I had done and sent the editor an email saying I’d be happy to look at edits to my story but what was sent to me was a rewrite. In the past an editor might say, make this part more exciting or this sentence is missing some color. Then they would allow me the opportunity to revise it. Not take it upon themselves to do it. I told him that if this is the story he wanted to publish I couldn’t allow it and asked it be withdrawn.

He replied stating that due to time constraints on the publication he was sorry but would pull my story. He was totally surprised that I had reacted in such a way. No one else had done so. Many of his comments had come from suggestions by a number of “beta readers”. No wonder it sounded so disjointed now. It had been rewritten by a committee.

Obviously there are authors out there that will let someone else totally rewrite their story and still feel fine with putting their name on it. There are a couple dozen in that anthology it seems. I’m not one of those. For $11 and a free copy it just wasn’t worth it. I want to be able to point to a story, say this is my work, and be proud of it where ever it is published.

I never thought I would do this, it never occurred to me I would ever want to do this, but it’s done. The story has been pulled. I never want to do this again.

Did I do right? Did I overreact? Does this make me a prima donna?
Let me know in the comments.

Don’t forget I still have 3 more stories being published this Fall. I’ll keep you posted.
And as always, thanks for reading me.