Tag Archives: Writing

Writer First v Academic First

I’m a full-time writer, not a traditional English professor. Thankfully, I’m employed in a wonderful English department that does embrace writing, from academic to mass market.

I do not have APA and MLA formatting memorized. I don’t care if you end a sentence with a preposition as long as readers enjoy the writing. When you write for the mass media, a preposition can be a fine thing to end a sentence with. The primary task of a writer is to retain readers. It turns out, few readers enjoy pretentious lectures.

It is my theory that working as a creative writer does make me a better writing and literature instructor. This is certainly the philosophy of many MFA programs, though they tend to be more literary than mass market in focus. I’m unabashedly about the “massiest market” I can obtain.

My goal as a writer is to have an audience. I don’t care if they remember I wrote something; I care that they remember what I wrote. Most of my blogs, columns, and the books I’ve written don’t include my name. Writing pseudonymously is ideal to me; words are the focus, not me.

Admittedly, I also like getting paid for what I write. There’s nothing wrong with being a “professional” writer, and “literary” authors are every bit the professionals as their mass market peers. I know because I’ve discussed appearance and speaking fees with a few literary authors. When you charge $20,000 or more (a lot more in several cases) to speak somewhere, you’re in business.

If readers don’t enjoy my columns, stories, plays, or other works, I don’t get paid. It’s a simple way to know if I’m writing effectively or not. When people stop wanting to read my works, I’ll stop getting paid. I don’t sit around waiting to be inspired because magazines, websites, and production companies have deadlines.

I love writing. I live to write. I don’t live to please the grammar gods or some academic committee. While I believe writers need to remember their audiences, I also am part of that audience. The best writers I know write what they want to read and read nearly as much as they write. Good writers seek out works they wish they had written. Words are their lives.

If you want teach writing, you should love writing.

Interview with mystery writer W. S. Gager

Humorous mystery writer W. S. Gager graciously agreed to be our first author interview for our reading and writing blog. I had fun coming up with questions to ask, but welcome any and all suggestions for future interviews.

1. What can you tell us about yourself?

I’ve always been a writer. My first writing memory was eighth grade when I was named editor of the English class paper. That was the first time I was ever recognized for my writing and that was enough. I was hooked. I’ve been writing ever since and starting novels and putting them aside. My jobs also have been writing related including a journalist, speech writer, and public relations writer. Five years ago I told myself I was chained to my desk until I finished a book. I was hooked and always have at least one novel in progress at all times. To help pay the bills I teach developmental English classes in reading and writing at Baker College. I’ve lived in Michigan most of my life and love the Midwestern work ethic and friendliness.

2. What can you tell us about your book(s)?

I write mysteries but my first novel was a romance. I’ve read thousands of romance novels and thought I could write one. Turns out I wasn’t so hot on romantic entanglements but excelled at planting clues. My first mystery book called A Case of Infatuation won the Dark Oak Mystery Contest and then published. Go figure it was a mystery with a touch of romance, sort of.

Three books are out in the Mitch Malone Mystery Series featuring crime-beat reporter Mitch Malone as the amateur sleuth. The books are a throwback to the noir feel of the trench-coat-wearing private eye mixed with a bit of Pink Panther wit. The second book called A Case of Accidental Intersection won the Public Safety Writers Association award for unpublished fiction prior to print. A Case of Hometown Blues was released in July.

3. It seems that some writers have always known they were writers because they always had stories in their heads, and some writers started writing because they were frustrated with the lack of quality in published books. Have you always known you were a writer? Or was this a newly acquired inspiration? And if so, what made you start writing?

Both of them hold true for me. I have always been a writer but for many years I wrote nonfiction articles in newspapers and magazines. I always thought I would write a book someday. Every so often I would get an itch to start a book. I even entered a short story contest once. But I didn’t do it seriously. Then I had surgery and was laid up for eight weeks. I told myself that I was going to finish a book or I was going to quit trying to write them. I’d never gotten beyond halfway before. I did finish my first book. It was awful but I’ve been hooked ever since. My third one was published. As for the voices in my head. They are there. I’ve always looked at ordinary things and create fantastic stories in my head. Now I just put them down on paper.

4. Is there anything you can tell us about the source of your stories? Are the characters or events based on real-life events? Or as fictional as possible?

Many people that know me, can’t see me in the books I write. They only similarity between me and Mitch Malone who is the crime-beat-reporter sleuth is our occupation. I couldn’t figure that out for the longest time and I finally understand it. Mitch is the guilt-free, say-anything-I-want person I could never be. He is brash, smart, obnoxious with a dogged determination to get the story at any cost. As for the crimes in each book, the ideas come from something real but then are distorted so much they can’t be recognized.

5. I think a lot of beginning writers, and some readers, are interested in your particular method for writing novels. Do you work with an outline? Do you thoroughly define your characters before you write, or do you let interesting characters create themselves along the way? Do you start writing at the beginning and let the story unfold? Or do you write scenes out of order, then piece it back together?

I am a very seat-of-the-pants writer. I have an idea of where the story is going and where it starts. Then I just jump in and start writing. In A Case of Accidental Intersection Elsie Dobson had a small role as a witness in the opening scene. Elsie wasn’t happy about that. She kept coming up either by baking cookies for Mitch, hauling him across the coals for not pursuing the case or needing to be rescued. Every couple of chapters she came up. I finished the book and Elsie’s voice still wouldn’t leave me alone. I wrote a short story with her and Mitch and she finally started to be quiet.

6. Do you use any organizational software for writing?

No. Is there such a thing? I’m not very organized in my writing so I’m not sure it would help. The best I do for an organization system is I use sticky notes to help me complete all the plot lines.

7. Do you set specific daily hours or word count goals for yourself?

I do at times but then I take time off to recharge. When I’m working on a first draft, I usually work every day and try and write at least 1,000 words a day. When I’m working on a second draft or editing, I set goals specific to where I’m at. I can’t edit for hours at a time like I can when I write. After about an hour of editing, my eyes cloud over and I need a break.

8. In this day of print-on-demand publishing and ePubs, how do you promote your books?

I just try and get the word out anyway I can through guest blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and other Internet areas. I wish there was some secret formula but I haven’t found it yet.

9. What do you like to read? Were you a reader before you turned to writing?

Reading books was my life for many years. From middle school through college I read at least four books during a weekend and depending on what was going on, another few books during the week. I loved books and would read anything I could get my hands on. As I became older I had less time and became pickier because I could drive myself to the library or bookstore. I enjoy mysteries and thrillers but only read them when I’m not writing my first draft. I’m afraid I will grab ideas from them. When I’m writing I read romances, they are my ultimate escapism form.

W.S. Gager

Author of Humorous Whodunits
A Case of Infatuation and A Case of Accidental Intersection - Now Available
A Case of Hometown Blues – Coming this summer!


Purchase A Case of Infatuation today at Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

Websites and Comments

I’ve come to the conclusion that most websites need to hire a vast array of moderators for their online comments section. Mostly to delete the stupid comments.

Although I fully protect everyone’s freedom of speech and their freedom to come across as an absolute idiot in public or private, some of these news websites need to step up and delete most of the comments their stories generate.

It is disappointing to see the type of comments that appear on websites.

Even on CNNMoney, the majority of the comments are crude, rude, or grossily illiterate. I would expect to see stupid comments on many websites, even the news-based ones, but I was disappointed to see that even CNNMoney’s news articles also collected their share of stupidity.

What has happened to polite behavior? It is really necessary to post whatever your empty brains are thinking after you read an article when it has nothing to do with the topic and adds nothing to the reader’s understanding or appreciation of the topic? Are these commenters not embarrassed by the things they post?

I just read an interesting article on CNNMoney titled: “Want a Minion? There’s an App for That.” Apparently there are several small companies that have created a way for people who need small tasks done to hire out the work to people near them. The work ranges from picking up dry cleaning or groceries to moving couches or writing thank you notes. The “minions” can pick up extra money performing these tasks for the people who are too busy or just too lazy to do it themselves. Clever, no?

The first comment for this article was some idiot posting that he wanted someone to rub the bump in his shorts for a small fee. Was this really necessary? This is the kind of comment that needs to be deleted. Yes, moderating these comments would likely be a full time job for a small army of people, but think of the minimum wages jobs that could be created for college students looking for extra work.

And think of how much more enjoyable it would be to read the comments section of articles. We’d only be left with the “real” comments that would be posting alternative information or discussing the actual contents of the article.

For now, however, I think I’m going to stop looking at the bottom of the pages. It’s just too depressing to realize most people can’t control their impulse to look like an idiot, are obsessed with the latest trending conspiracy, or can barely read/write in English (and sometimes all three at the same time).

My complaints about the poor quality of writing and lack of editing for the actual articles will have to wait for another post.

PSWA 2011 Conference

I attended the Public Safety Writers Association 2011 Conference in Las Vegas this weekend. The attendees are not only authors of mystery, suspense, and thriller, many of them are also current and former law enforcement officers. Sitting among defense lawyers, prosecutors, retired military officers, firefighters, and others who really have lived to protect and serve this nation, I feel more than a little inadequate. These men and women are real heroes practicing the “Write what you know!” theory.

Listening to their stories, I don’t have much to offer. Secret Service. OSI. Undercover narcotics. Defense security contracts. These authors have material.

Writing requires a mix of life experiences and serious research. Readers of genres such as police procedurals and military fiction know the facts because so many have personal connections to law enforcement, the legal system, the military, et cetera. If you want to write in a particular genre, you need to immerse yourself in the culture, history, and technical details associated with the genre.

Because I’m on the road, I don’t have enough time to write reviews of the panel presentations. However, when I have a moment of peace and quiet, ideally sometime next week, I’ll write about what I learned (or was reminded of) during the discussions.

If you are interested in mystery, suspense, procedurals, military, or other public safety topics — fiction or non-fiction — consider learning more about PSWA. The website is:


Self-Publishing is the Future

I admit that I have long been skeptical of “self-publishing” in the print industry. The value of good editors and the supports provided to writers by traditional publishing houses is difficult to overstate. Yes, I realize the huge publishers are gatekeepers, selecting a handful of writers to promote, but they also have steady incomes from their backlist titles. This income stream allows good publishers the opportunity to fund and nurture promising talents.

We need a publishing industry, in my view. I cannot read thousands of books a year, but the army of acquisitions editors, working together, can and do read thousands of manuscripts. When a publishers decides to support a writer, there is some promise that the writer is good. I know some great talents are missed or turned away because of financial constraints, but the gatekeepers of popular imprints have done well for two centuries.

But, in the digital world I do see the important contributions being made by the self-publishing movement.

There are a few stories of bloggers signing book deals. These men and women do one thing that improves writing: they write and write and write. Blogging is self-publishing.

What is the difference between posting a blog and turning that content into an eBook? Nothing.

Aspiring writers can quickly and easily create an eBook. Placing a book on Amazon.com or BN.com takes a few days for many writers. You can upload a Microsoft Word file to some self-publishing websites. It doesn’t get much easier than emailing a Word file.

Self-published books are unlikely to sell millions or even thousands of copies. But what if your book is read by the right person? What if the self-published book leads to a traditional publishing house? I’ve met three writers who self-published a book only to later sell the rights to publishing houses.

Yes, self-publishing means you are your own marketing department. It also means you should consider hiring a good freelance editor and maybe a separate proofreader. I’d also hire an artist to create a great cover that looks fantastic at small sizes. You should admit to yourself that the book is likely an imperfect work, so paying for professional advice is a good investment.

I would not be surprised if in five years a third of books sold online are self-published. However, with hundreds of thousands of self-published books, most titles will sell only a few hundred copies. You need to stand out among the other self-published authors to attract publishing houses.

Don’t be afraid to consider self-publishing. It is the future.