The first time I received a negative review of one of my novels I felt as if I’d been gut-punched.

I tiny wave of nausea surged through me.  That was over six years and five novels ago.  Since then, I’ve learned to roll with the punches.  Thumbs-down evaluations of my works, I’ve come to understand, are part of the business.  As the cliché goes, they come with the territory.


One of the beta-readers for my forthcoming novel, FIREWIND, took me to task (which is what I expect beta-readers to do) for using several “big” or “obscure” words when more common words would have sufficed.  He pointed out, correctly, that readers get annoyed if they have to constantly refer to a dictionary.  In truth, novelists are taught from the get-go to avoid complex words when simpler ones work.


whiskey+glassIt occurs every time I complete a manuscript and send it out for comment.  I can’t explain it.  It just happens.  I tumble into something I call The Author’s Abyss, a sinkhole of self-doubt.  It’s recurring epiphany I have that, in plain language, reminds me I can’t write worth a shit.

I realize the beloved project–my novel–that I dove into with such enthusiasm and optimism has disintegrated into something worthy of only a paper shredder.  In the beginning, full of passion and fervor, I commanded, at least to myself, “Let there be light,” and a fictional world full of interesting characters and compelling stories began to take shape out of a formless void.  Pulitzer Prize-candidate stuff.


41Oq8LVj-mL._SX271_BO1,204,203,200_It wasn’t that I didn’t like GONE GIRL.  It was that GONE GIRL just never got going for me.  I plowed through about 40 or 50 pages of the novel and raised the white flag.  Not because the writing wasn’t good, quite the opposite.  It was exquisite.  Gillian Flynn can write circles around me and most other authors.

The problem was, I didn’t know what the story was.  No conflict or drama emerged, at least in those early pages.  A friend of mine who read the book (all the way through) said, “You should have stuck with it.”  After seeing the movie, I knew he was right.  But I got tired of taxiing down a runway in an airplane that never took off.


imgresThere are no wolves in the southern Appalachians.  There probably haven’t been in over a century.

They do, however, make a guest appearance in my most recent novel, Blizzard.  In the book, I think I adequately explain their presence.  What’s more interesting, perhaps, is how the animals made their way into the story in the first place.

It started in Germany. 

Near my wife’s hometown in the Mosel River Valley of Germany, there’s a castle, Burg Arras, that overlooks the river.  The castle was constructed around 1100, and probably rebuilt a couple of times since then.  Still, the “bones” of the castle remain with its thick stone walls, dungeon and battlements.



I got an email recently from the VP of my publishing company, Belle Bridge Books, detailing the marketing challenges faced by smaller presses, like Belle Bridge, and relatively unknown authors, like myself.

The VP, Deborah  Smith (a New York Times best-selling author, BTW), harbors a great deal of wisdom and a laugh-out-loud sense of humor.  Her comments are worth sharing.

The email from Deb was in response to a question of mine about ARCs, Advance Reader Copies.  ARCs are sent out prior to the publication of a book to get endorsement blurbs, the brief quotes you’ll often see on the front or back cover of a book proclaiming what a great read it is.


SteveBerry-Media-200x300Steve Berry is an international, mega-best selling thriller novelist.  According to his website, he’s sold 19 million books in 51 countries. Me? Another 18.9 million copies and I’ll be right there with him.

I’ve met Steve several times, but let me make it clear, we aren’t necessarily BFF.  If we were to meet again, he might recognize me, but might or might not remember my name.

He probably doesn’t realize it, but he’s been an “encourager” of mine, always, whenever we met, urging me to keep writing and reminding me–as he has many others, I’m sure–that “if I [meaning himself] can do it, you can do it.”


imagesI preach it all the time in my critique group, so I don’t know why I have such a struggle doing it myself: grabbing the reader in the opening few paragraphs of my book; embedding him or her immediately in the drama.

Eventually, I always get things sorted out, but I usually have to get “slapped upside the head” before I do.

Maybe it’s because, as a friend who had an artistic bent once told me, “Buzz, your thinking is too linear.”


imgresIn a recent blog, I discussed the importance to a novice writer, one with aspirations of becoming professionally published, of not trying to learn the craft in isolation.  I strongly recommended interacting with other writers.  One of the most common ways of doing this is to become part of a critique group.

There are some authors who don’t believe in critique groups, but I do.  Joining a critique group isn’t the only way to improve your craft, but it is one of the most common.


images-1There is an abundance of guidance available–books, blogs, hand-outs–that illuminate the steps or “rules” to becoming a successful writer.  Be warned, however, as NYT Best-Selling Author Steve Berry says, “The first rule is, there are no rules.”

Similarly, there’s a plethora of material out there for novice writers, whether wannabe novelists or nonfiction authors, that expound upon the snares hidden along the path to publication.  That is, the mistakes that can be made.

But there is one mistake that beginning writers make I think is key.  I know, because I made it.