Siblings ... wedding siblings

I wanted to post this to celebrate how much better my brother Jeff is doing at the moment. After a years long battle with lung cancer and then a fungus infection in his lung, he was given just two weeks to live--a month ago. Not that he's out of the woods, but he's eating some, has gained about five pounds, and is looking a lot better. So I thought I'd post these pictures stumbled across from our sister's wedding, way back in ... well, let's not think about how long ago it was.

In the first one Penny looks great, but I get the distinct impression I'm pretending to be James Bond and Jeff is playing the latest suave Bond Villain. Or ... do I look a little like Gomez from The Addams Family?

In the second one, I feel more like a stereotypical English butler. "I'm sorry,  sir, but I'm very much afraid you must shave an inch from that beard before the master will see you." But Jeff looks really good--I wonder if the reason why he so often clowns around in front of the camera is because he figures he can't do much better than this one? Let's force him into another bow tie and find out.

Cutting edge book editing

 So, the first draft of The Source Emerald weighed in at 67,515. The second draft topped out at 70,294. Now I've finished the third draft, and the new word count? 69,028. An increase of 2,779 words, followed by a decrease of 1,266 words.

But not the same words.

My third draft was a seek and destroy mission against certain words that can weaken your writing. Words that can make your writing too passive, such as "was". Adverbs. Words ending with "ing" that can become repetitive. Unnecessary words: For instance, instead of "stood up", why not just "stood"? Take up out, and make it stand down.

The word "suddenly" makes an action less sudden. Don't have too many "has". Don't tell the reader a character "felt" something ... show them feeling it.

Unlike some writers, I don't believe you have to stamp out every single one of these words. Treat them as a spice: Put in too many, and the mix isn't right. Despite what Stephen King says, I do have adverbs in my writing ... just not too many of them.

And now? The fourth draft. Time to work on voice and characterization a little.

Don't forget to check out the new short story!

Remember, books are the best entertainment: You don't have to worry about whether the CGI will be any good.



new short story: Everybody Knows Your Name

 My science fiction short story, "Everybody Knows Your Name", is available to read on the East Of the Web website:

It's about a scientist whose invention doesn't cause the problems most people think of ... instead, he finds an entirely new worry.

Remarkably, it only took about a week from the time they accepted this story until it came out. My last published short story took four months from acceptance to publication! But in that case there was also a print version of the magazine, while East Of the Web is e-pub only.

Let me know if you like it! Don't let me know if you don't like it. Yeah, I can take it, but I don't want to.

Remember, if you like a short story, it gets a chance to grow up and become a real boy.

Another short story sold

 I got great news to start the new year--in fact, it came in just after 6 a.m. on New Year's Day! Which might be why I didn't find it until January 3rd.

But good news delayed is still good news: I sold a short story to an online magazine, East of the Web. "Everybody Knows Your Name" is a story about an inventor who discovers his fears about a new technology are baseless. instead, he finds an entirely new fear.

 I'll let you know when I get a release date, of course. Here's their website:

Guess I'll have to write a new one, now!



Remember, any short story that eats a balanced diet and takes their vitamins might grow up one day to be a famous novel.


New Year's Writin' Eve

     I wondered about the best way to start the New Year. I rarely drink--and if I didn't start drinking in 2020, I never will. I have no desire to see Miley Cyrus' Epiglottis on New Years Rockin' Eve (or whoever the most recent too young to be showing so much skin singer is).

What I do want in 2021 is to get published again.

     So I plan to start the New Year with new rounds of submissions to publishers, magazines, and literary agents. I have short stories already out, but novel manuscripts that need to go out, including Fire on Mist Creek, Beowulf: In Harm's Way, and Summer Jobs Are Murder. Another three manuscripts are mostly done, but need some work yet: Smoke Showing, The Source Emerald, and We Love Trouble.

By the end of January I mean to have all my completed but unpublished manuscripts out and about, and seeing more of the world than I. Meanwhile, since both COVID and winter are likely to stick around for some time, I'll stay home and work on getting the rest nicely polished and pretty-looking.
     I know what you're thinking: "You lazy sod, why won't you have all that done three minutes into the New Year"? Well, my paranoia has me pouring over query letters and synopsis' for hours before I upload manuscripts and hit the send button. Besides, a little celebration is in order--and I have a morbid fascination with seeing how incapable the folks in Times Square are of finding and using a trash can.

 Okay, the truth is I have to work New Year's Eve. The other truth? After 2020, we shouldn't make plans: You never know what's going to fall on us in the New Year.

Remember, every time you don't read a book and leave a review, a wicked witch terrorizes Munchkins. Save the short people.

Have a look at The Source Emerald

 Second draft of the new novel-in-progress: done. New working title: The Source Emerald.

The rough draft weighed in at 67,515 words. Even after cutting some of the final chapter, the second draft finished at 70,294 words. A lot of those extra 2,779 words consisted of me saying, "Huh? What did I mean by that?" and then going in to make it clearer. The whole thing is better now.

I think.

And how does one celebrate the completion of a second draft?

Why, by starting the third draft, of course.

I leave you with a photo of a giant emerald.

This, the Bahia Emerald from Brazil, is believed to be the largest single shard ever found. It weighed about 752 pounds, and has been valued at about $400,000,000.

It was necessary to shrink the emerald in my book down to thirty-two pounds, but it was once much larger, and still resembles this one. And that, Mr. NSA guy, is why I've been researching gems so much lately.

Mark got a pun book

My daughter bought me a book of puns for Christmas. She should have known better. 

The odd part is, at the moment I can't think of a pun to go with this post.

Yes, Virginia, there's still a Santa Claus

I first wrote this in ... let's see ... 2003. I think the story of Virginia still rings true, after all this time.


 Her name was Virginia O’Hanlon. She graduated from Hunter College (gotta love that name) with a Bachelor of Arts degree, and a year later received her Master’s from Columbia. In 1912 she began teaching for the New York City school system, and 47 years later, after reaching the position of principal, she retired. It was a full and good life, one in which she had an impact on many children.

But throughout her life, until she died in 1971, she received letters, questions and interviews about something she, herself, did as a child -- something that has become immortal.

She wrote a letter.

“Quite naturally I believed in Santa Claus,” Virginia said years later, “for he had never disappointed me. But when less fortunate little boys and girls said there wasn’t any Santa Claus, I was filled with doubts. I asked my father, and he was a little evasive on the subject.”

All we fathers have been there.

“It was a habit in our family,” Virginia continued, “that whenever any doubts came up as to how to pronounce a word, or some question of historical fact was in doubt, we wrote the Question and Answer column in The Sun. Father would always say, ‘If you see it in the Sun, it’s so’, and that settled the matter.”

This was in 1897. Anyone who said “If you see it in the newspaper, it’s so” these days would be laughed right out of the room, but we were a more faithful society then. So, Virginia wrote this letter:

“I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘if you see it in The Sun, it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?”

Virginia O’Hanlon

Those of you who no longer trust the newspapers would not be surprised if an editor quickly jotted down “Of course there is!” to satisfy the youngster, and leave it at that. But the letter found its way to Editor Francis P. Church, the son of a Baptist minister, who had two decades experience in the newspaper business.

Church was habitually given the controversial subjects to editorialize on, especially those involving religion. His motto was, “Clear your mind of can’t”. In other words, don’t try -- do. He felt he had to find an answer, and he had to answer truthfully. But if he said no, he would devastate the 8 year olds of New York City. If he said yes, how could he face his church, and all those adult readers who believed in his honesty?

It must have been terribly difficult, but he sat down to work on what would become the most famous editorial in history. It was reprinted annually, until the newspaper went out of business in 1949, and has become legend since.

In a probably misguided attempt to make Church’s reply clear to modern children, I’m going to try to update the editorial in today’s much poorer English. It’s probably a huge mistake, and I’m quite sure I’m not going to do justice to it. But the 8 year old Virginia’s of today are growing up too fast, and those of us with young hearts also need to remember Church’s conclusion:

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They live at a time when they think no one believes in anything, and they believe only what they see. They think nothing is real if they can’t picture it in their little minds.

But all minds are little, Virginia, whether they belong to adults or children. In this huge universe man is very small, and his mind can’t truly understand all the things that are real and true in it.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

He’s real, as real as love, and kindness, and the spirit of giving, and all those things that bring beauty and joy to the world. How terrible this world would be without Santa Claus! It would be as dull and sad as if there were no Virginia's. There would be no childlike faith then, no imagination, no love that makes this life worth living. We would be unable to enjoy anything we couldn’t see or touch. There would be no childhood -- and the light of childhood fills the world.

Not believe in Santa Claus! Why, you might as well not believe in angels. You could get your father to hire people to watch all the chimneys on Christmas Eve, but even if none of them saw Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus then, but that doesn’t mean he’s not real. The most real things in the world are the things children and adults can’t see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s not proof they aren’t there. No one can imagine all the wonderful things that nobody can see in the world.

You can tear apart a toy to see what makes it work inside, but there’s a covering over those unseen things that not even the strongest man, not even all the strongest men together, could ever tear apart. Only faith, and imagination, and love, can push aside that covering and show all the wonderful things that are there. Are they all real? Oh, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else as real and long lasting.

No Santa Claus? Thank God he lives, and lives forever. A thousand years from now -- a million years from now -- he will still be real, and make glad the hearts of every Virginia, and everyone who stays young at heart.




Merry Christmas! Here's a free short story

Where does Santa Claus go on vacation? Why, Oz, of course. Read about it in a new Christmas short story, and don't forget to sign up to get the regular newsletter, which hits about once a month. Merry Christmas!



Happy 25th birthday again, Emily!

 Emily often doesn't like to have her picture taken, so sometimes I have to sneak in a photo while her attention is elsewhere. Here's one of my favorite that I've taken of her:

Not her best side, I'll admit.

Here's one I took of her on the job:

And here's one of her with another member of the family:

You know, something just occurred to me: Do you suppose Emily is an animal lover?

I know what you're thinking: "But Mark, won't Emily kill you for this?" Yes. Yes, she will. But I figure it's her birthday, and she should do what she wants. Even if it's painful.

Happy birthday, Emily!