Saturday, July 31, 2010

From Sexton Sand, Chapter 56

The museum is being robbed, but it's fighting back...

  Clio smiled. "Need I remind you that we are Protectors of Sexton, and you ask whether our choice at the moment is to face armed men, or wailing women?"
   "Say no more," Octus growled, drawing his sword. He turned to face the Hall of Heroes. "You really didn't give us any choice at all."
   "Better a room full of deadly, armed heroes than one of wailing women?" Plantek asked.
    Octus looked at him and shrugged. "That's what my proud, dead pappy taught me."
   Clio looked at Plantek and explained: "I met his father. The man outlived three wives, and would've known."
    "What killed him?"
   "The fourth wife," Octus answered. He walked to the door and threw it open. 

Friday, July 30, 2010


I love to travel. I enjoy the destination, too...but it's the travel itself that gets me excited.
  Airports, and planes are full of people. I watch. I listen. I observe. Characters will come from the things I see, but I won't try to cut and paste from reality to fiction. Not only would that be rude, I don't think it would work. It wouldn't work for me, anyway. Half paying attention, half not...ideas will form and grow to life.
   When the wheels touch down at our destination, this time, I'll be in a city I've never visited before. That's exciting. If all goes as planned--yes, I've traveled enough to know it isn't going to go as planned--I will be left to my own devices in the city-to-which-I've-never-been-before for hours at a time. I don't know what I'll see, and haven't much of an idea of what I'll do, or who I'll meet. I don't really care.
   ...What I care about are the bits and pieces that will somehow make their way into Sexton.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Dialog can be fun

I've had fellow writers ask me about writing dialog. It seems like a lot of people struggle with it. I look forward to the dialog in my novels...because it feels like it's writing itself, as if I'm listening to a conversation as it occurs. I think I'd struggle with it if I saw it as writing dialog.
  There's no secret formula for writing dialog. I have only one tip: Don't think too much about it. Listen to conversations people around you are having. Do they, like some writers feel they must, question everything they say as they say it...wondering if it sounds natural? If they do, give 'em a hug. They'll be off to the nut house soon enough and you won't see them for a very long time. It should be the same with characters. Just record.

Here's a bit of random dialog from Sexton Spice. The setting: inside the museum. The body of a fellow protector is on the floor when Barkerson walks into the room. Sistelli speaks first, and makes it plain he isn't interested in the corpse.
   "Any missing statues, Barkerson?"
   "Why? Sir, he..."
   "Is the spitting image of one of the Americans. Think of it as dying for a cause, Barkerson. Our cause." He grinned. "More money to go around, yes?"
   Barkerson smiled. His upper lip was tight against his teeth. "Unless you decide to kill me, too."
   "Not a chance--we're partners," He shoved Tursek's dead leg with the toe of his boot. "Besides, you don't resemble any offworlder who should share, or take the blame for our little adventures."

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

On snoring

I usually eschew long sentences, but I like this one in Sexton Spice. I think it sums up, even in cadence, with what one feels when stuck in a room with an individual who snores:

   "It was usually easy to tell if John was asleep because of the halting, grinding, and grating sounds he emanated from his nose and throat that could only be called snoring by someone who loved him a hell of a lot more than anyone forced to share a room with him could."

Impressed, and I didn't want to be

I walked into a Barnes & Noble today. It was safe for me to do so: I was on a mission. It's not safe for me to go into a bookstore when I'm not on a mission, because I'll be there for a very long time (which explains the lunch counter at the B&N), and will spend what I can.
  I love books. Physical books. I published my first book as a kindle book, but with reservations. Remember what I said about hardcover? I changed my mind a little today.
  In front of me when I walked in the store was a display for Barnes & Noble's NOOK. It's their version of a Kindle. I picked it up out of curiosity, and reasoned that since I'm publishing my books as ebooks, I'd better have some sort of familiarity with an e-reader of some sort. I pushed the power button and a transformation of almost Biblical proportion took place.
    The store went dark, but for a cone of light from the heavens. I heard angels sing Alleluia, and for reasons I don't understand...a reggae band.
   The device felt good in my hands. It was about the weight of a big paperback or small hardcover book. The cover of a book appeared, and soon I was looking at a page of a book. It looked like paper. I pushed a button on the right, and the next page appeared. I pushed a button on the left and went back a page. I didn't like the font, and the device (the book, if you will) let me choose a different font.
  I put it down, reluctantly. I put it down knowing I'm going to buy a kindle or a nook in the near future. Still, I tried to fill my head with objections, and it wasn't easy. The only one that stuck was the thought that I don't want to pay for a cell phone account so I can download books. There's no PC port on the thing. A little research told me there doesn't need to be. The thing has its own wireless connectivity without a fee!
  Oh yeah...ebooks are here to stay. It's early in the game, and already 1 device can hold 1,500 books. That's a BIG hunk of shelf space. So...this thing felt like a book, looked like a book, read like a book, and is a book. I suppose it doesn't smell like a book, but I can't smell so that doesn't matter to me at all.
  Several people have said to me that they're not interested in ebooks because they like books. I didn't disagree...until this morning.
  Once upon a time, I'm sure scholars and clerics (who made up the minority of the population that could read) sniffed haughtily and scoffed at the idea of books vs. scrolls. I'm sure they were able to vocalize their preference quite well. Not long after that...scrolls were a thing of the past.

I'm more than a little... Ah, shoot, never thought I'd see the day!

When I checked email a few minutes ago, I saw that my author page on is ready. It doesn't show up in their search engine yet, but here's a link for a sneak peek:

Dave Steele's author page

   When I looked at the page, I got I probably should have. I ran downstairs and into our bedroom, waking my wife with a shout of: "You have to see this!"
    Without opening her eyes, she said, "I've seen it before...but okay!"
    "Er..." I shook my head. "On the computer. I have an author page!"

I may be kidding with the dialog... Perhaps. In any case, I was excited to see "author" collide with my name and my work on a commercial site. I've been writing for years. For most of my life, in fact. But putting my stuff up and out where anyone can read's new to me. I have a feeling it will always be new to me.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Product description? Wrong!

I was excited when I finally decided to publish Sexton on Amazon as a Kindle book. Still am.

But...thanks to a beating by none other than the sweat stained Ralph the Muse, I realized last night I have an error to fix. Amazon gives the opportunity to write what they call a "product description."  That's what I did, and I wanted to keep it brief. Here's what it says as of this moment: "Three Americans in a world of sword and sorcery make their own laws as smugglers and secret agents of the crown of the country that dared pronounce them outlaws."

It's a product description. I think I would have done it differently if I realized this: PRODUCT DESCRIPTION = The Back of The Book, or The Description Inside the Front Cover!

Have you ever read a one-sentence description of a book that made you want to buy the book? I haven't. Lesson learned. I'm re-writing the "product description". I'll do it right now.

It won't go up right away. Changes to product description take 48-72 hours for Amazon to process, but that's okay. Sexton is going to be around for a while, and so am I.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Baking bread and writing

There are comparisons to be made. I just started a new batch of bread dough. Making bread isn't tough--I do it once a week or so. I write every day, so let's leave that out of the comparison for a moment.

Bread making, like writing, starts with a simple bit of magic. In writing, it's an idea. In bread making, it's a bit of yeast and a little sugar. Right now, the yeast is eating the sugar in some water in a cup. While that happens, I'm at the keyboard.

In a little while, I'll go back to the kitchen and dump the yeast/water/sugar solution, dump it into a big bowl with flour, salt, and egg...and stir it all together with a wooden spoon. It's a mindless task. While I do it, the next chapter will "proof" itself in this skull o' mine...whether I want it to or not.

The dough will do it's thing (rise) while I'm up in my office writing. The process is underway. Stopping, or attempting to stop, either one would result in an addition to the real garbage can, or the virtual one on my desktop. I can write and/or edit several hundred words while the dough rises.

Here's the fun part: after an hour, I go back to the kitchen and show the dough who's boss by squeezing it until all the air is gone. Then I'll stick the dough in a bread pan. The dough has to rise, left alone, untouched--but not inactive--for another hour.

I'll add to whatever I wrote while waiting for the first rise, while I wait for the dough to rise in the pan. That means an hour at the keyboard, with a timer. Can't let the bread rise much longer than an hour or I risk collapse. This gives me a nice deadline and helps me keep the writing tight and undistracted for one hour.

After the hour, the bead is ready for the oven. It needs to bake for 30 minutes...during which time I'll be back at the keyboard, looking at the monitor to examine what I wrote.

When the timer's lunchtime! 

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sexton Spice excerpt 2

We join Aemilia, John, and Andy in the catacombs under a church. They're hiding illegal spices.

  She stepped to him, lips clenched, fingers drawn into claws. The mirth left his eyes before she could make his eyes leave his head. "Do you really want to know?"

   "Don't blame me! He's the bad guy!" To show his sincerity he whapped the back of John's head. "Bad boy! Bad...." slap, "...bad," slap, "...boy."

    "Enough already!" John forced himself to his feet. He looked down at Andy's leering face, bathed in light and shadow. "Of course you know this means war."

   "Yeah, yeah, yeah."

This is the calm before (still another) storm.


Tweetifyingadj. causing apprehension when one approaches Tweets before knowing what the hell he/she is doing.

I'm new to the Tweet thing, and I haven't decided whether I'll play with it for very long or not.

A tweet has to be shorter than 140 characters.

I write novels. I have and make involuntary body noises that are longer than 140 characters. So do the characters in my novels. Andy, for example, won't give someone the raspberries. He'll say: "Ppppppbbbbbbblllltttt!" and send a little spray in the general direction of the person or thing that inspires such a sound.

It's an interesting exercise. I think I'll have some fun with it. I find it takes me longer to come up with a humorous (I hope) 140-character Tweet than it does to write a blog update.

I'm not an intellectual. I got accused of it once, but after a few whaps upside the head with the blunt end of a broom, the guy recanted. Still...I like to stretch my writing abilities. Length isn't a problem for me. I'll give brevity a shot...

Television for the soul?

My new and improved way to watch Meet the Press:

I used to watch it and get all worked up at some of the stuff I saw.

Not anymore.

Now I turn it on, drop my drawers, moon the television, pull up my pants, turn off the television...and go do something productive.

Boy, do I feel better!

eBooks... Fad, or here to stay?

Reality differs from the dream. I think I like it that keeps both interesting.

I was reluctant to publish my novels as ebooks because, well... I wanted hardcover, baby! The king of the book is the hardcover. It has a feeling of permanence. People who spend twenty bucks on a hardcover book are going to keep it, or at least keep track of it. Borrow one from a friend, and the friend wants it back.


I was thinking--yes, smartass, I do that from time to time--about the emergence of a "new", "cheap" form of publishing that writers hesitated to embrace not all that long ago. I'm talking about paperback books. Back in the day, writers looked on paperbacks  with mild contempt. The royalties were higher, but the cover price was significantly lower. How could a guy afford patches for the elbows of his sports coat if he didn't make at least a couple of bucks on a book?

Now...enter the ebook. Higher royalties, but nothing to pluck from the shelves at the bookstore. No sneak attack autographs while lurking in the bookstore waiting for someone to pick up the book.

Don't get me wrong, I think physical books are here to stay. I won't lie to you--someday I hope to sneak attack autograph some unsuspecting browser in a bookstore.

Until then (and I'm not holding my breath because I'm too busy writing), I'll sell electronic books.

Between you and me, as long as I'm making predictions, I think the internet is here to stay. There! I finally weighed in in the guessing game of the 1990's.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

     "Fried chicken doesn't sell well for breakfast, so we invented donuts."
      Tom grinned. "What do we call this place now, Colonel Dunkin's?"
      "Kentucky Fried Holes." He leaned in closer so only Tom could hear him...

The "Moby Dick" exercise

When I was on my writing mentorship, Clive Cussler told me of a man who wanted to learn to write. He copied all of Moby Dick by hand. Every word, every punctuation mark. When he was done, he tossed the pages overboard and said, "Now I know how to write."

At the time, my joke was that he hadn't learned to write. He had learned how to write like Melville.

I don't mind sharing this: I'm a survivor of Wernickes encephalopathy. Look it up if you'd like. I'll wait right here.

When I got out of the hospital, I discovered I couldn't string words together and make stuff make sense. It scared the shivin' lit out of me.

I started typing novels. Lots of novels. Word. For. Word. Eventually, I started to re-awaken. We're talking a month of copying while I tried to rebuild my brain. Eventually, a bit at a time--a phrase here, then a sentence, then a paragraph--I started to add to my favorite novels.

I deleted the results when I was done, effectively "tossing them overboard." The exercise worked.

Opening salvo of Sexton (Sexton Chronicles)

Saturday October 22, 1983

  He stared at the bottom of the ravine and waited to shoot his friends. Some of the enthusiasm he felt when he took his position was gone. Tom Benton hoped this BB gun fight would turn out better than the last one. Last time they wandered around the woods, or hid, or both, and no one shot anyone before they ran out of time. He wasn’t going to let that happen again. The air was cool and crisp. He could hear cars on the road a quarter mile to the west as he listened for any sound of his friends…nothing so far. He could hear leaves move along the ground in the stiff breeze, and the dry swaying of twigs on the bare branches overhead. He looked at his watch: three o’clock. The fight would end in an hour.
  He reached in his pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He didn’t smoke, but planned to use the cigarettes as timers. He pulled out one of three packages of firecrackers from the back pocket of his jeans. The red paper wrapper made more noise than he wanted when he opened the package, but that didn’t bother him. His preference would be to use the noise to direct his friends to his advantage, but if he had to take a few shots to get the action going, he wasn’t opposed to the idea. Shooting people was the point of this game; the rest was simply buildup. He thought for a second, then decided to leave his rifle behind. The trap would work best from the bottom of the ravine. He would be vulnerable when he set it. Without the rifle his only option would be to run if they saw him.


Some writers like to outline what they write before they write it. I'm not one of them.

I like to write for the same reason I like to read: to see what happens next. I like to go for a ride and I don't enjoy it if I know every twist and turn of the road.

When I was trying to finish my first novel manuscript (henceforth referred to as The Book You'll Never Read), I outlined it. Gone was the joy of discovery, and most of the fun of writing. Each chapter became a step toward the goal of ending the book rather than the joy of travel. For me at least, the outline was a set of railroad tracks as opposed to the open road. I like the open road; I might not take the off ramp to every interesting spot along the way...but having the option is freedom.

I love freedom.

I did find one key--a key on the keyboard--the liberal use of which makes not outlining possible. I'm never afraid to use that key if I don't like where my ride went.

The key?


Coffee in one hand, red pen in the other

Up late last night. Woke up at 5:36 AM, too excited to sleep. While the coffee trickled into the pot, I looked out my window at the minuet of sunrise. I wrote Sexton Spice two years ago, and now I'm putting the polishing touches on it.

I love writing more than proofreading or revision. I don't know, but that's probably not unusual. Still... This is fun! Bits and pieces of the story seem fresh and new. I can almost hear their voices when the characters talk to each other.

As far as I'm concerned, this is going to be a great day. I hope you have a great day too. Whether it's great or not is almost entirely in your hands.

Back to Sexton for me!

Friday, July 23, 2010

This is a review written by Jeffrey Miller, a writer and teacher of writing. I've linked a couple of his blogs and strongly encourage anyone to visit them. Before you ask...yes, he's a friend of mine. I can assure you, however, that neither of us would say anything about the other guy's work if we didn't mean it.

His review is available here:

Writing exercise

I invented this one by mistake. In college, I had a cheap electric typewriter. I wrote a lot in addition to the usual papers college students write. Eventually, the "G" stopped working.

Rather than go to the computer lab, I wrote without using the "G."

Try that if you want to work on vocabulary and sentence structure. No more walking through doors... One enters a room.

Up and down

As a college student, I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days one-on-one with Clive Cussler at his home in Colorado. He's a very nice guy. He had me go up to his guest room and told me to come down when I had 10 pages of new stuff written.

I went down about 2 hours later. He pulled out a pen and proceeded to hack it to pieces. Then he sent me back upstairs and told me to come back down when I fixed it.

Three days and about twenty pages later, I had learned a lot.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


My first Kindle book, the first of many in the Sexton Chronicles, is available here:

Before there was a world called Sexton, before I could drive...a great friend of mine and I used to sword fight with shovel handles (an impressively dumb thing to do) in the woods behind his house. We played role playing games a lot. I remember him asking, "If a hole in the world opened in front of you, and you had no idea what was on the other side...would you go through it?"

My answer was yes.

I had nothing to escape, no need to hide, and a perfectly good life in this world. In spite of that, the idea of going somewhere with no idea what would come next, or what was possible... Would I have gone to Sexton?