Notes On Writing Spec Fic, Late 2014

Notes On Writing Spec Fic, Late 2014

A Book CoverIt’s such a predictable trap. In or near an elevator, I tell some newly met, well-intentioned stranger that I’m a writer, and they immediately ask, as if they’ve waited all their lives for this very opportunity to arise, “What sort of books do you write?”

And that’s the end, you see, or at least the end of any potential new friendship, because if I answer “I write fantasy,” which is true, they start sniggering and feel superior, or if I answer, “I write horror,” they run off, laughing hysterically at my bad taste –– and of course then they feel even more superior.

Worst answer of all: “I write literary fiction.” Then they assume I’m a genius and their eyes glaze over, because they feel they absolutely must pay attention to every single word I say, in hopes of gleaning a pearl. I become the social equivalent of bubonic CliffsNotes.

Thus Renner & Quist, and Check-Out Time, because I want to craft stories that employ elements of multiple genres and literary currents. The danger, I suppose, is that I wind up with tossed salad, but I don’t believe that’s been the result. What reviews there’ve been suggest that I’m correct to think I’ve avoided the splatter-punk of, say, Jackson Pollock.

The characters themselves are a joy to write, and they switch off, chapter to chapter, so readers get a quite varied account of the proceedings. Most of the stories open with Renner; most close with Quist. When channeling Renner, a fussy, insecure Unitarian Universalist minister, I can explore the most erudite, academic reaches of any given scenario. With Quist, a former private investigator and ex-linebacker, I can bring to the same situation a strictly practical, git-r-done approach.

Annie-Hall-23Do these two unlikely comrades always see eye-to-eye? Of course not.

Nor will they in future. A “final” draft of Check-Out Time’s sequel, Bonesy, has been submitted to my publisher, and my editor there said, and I quote, “I agree, this might be your best yet.  (And I love the title.)  I really enjoyed this a heck of a lot.  So, not surprisingly, I’d be pleased to send you a contract.”

Of course that’s what I wanted to hear, but make no mistake, in opening said editor’s reply, I was skittish as a kitten on a frozen pond. This particular email turned out to have a happy ending, but believe me, I still get rejections aplenty. Rejections by the score. Sometimes even by the pound.

What’s to love about Bonesy? More trouble and trauma, that’s what, this time via a self-trained midwife who’s been dead since 1519. And of course Renner & Quist keep right on goading each other throughout. I expect that Bonesy will be available sometime in the early fall of 2015.

In the meantime, I’m still polishing my elevator speech. I really don’t wish to spend the rest of my days fumbling around in this pitch-black elevator (between floors, the power just went out), because once again I’ve dropped my prepared notes under some portly stranger’s boot.

Think of me as Jeff Goldblum in Annie Hall, having just lost my mantra.

One solution does present itself. I could answer simply, “I write good books.”

elevatorspeech11Egotistical? Naw: I’m just having fun riffing on Pirsig’s Lila, where the final, wonderful revelation is that “good” is a noun.

So. Now that we’ve met, and we’re out of the elevator, the question comes back to you. What do you like to read? If it’s high fantasy you’re after, you can find my Gemen trilogy right here on Black Gate (see below). Or, if you enjoy something of a darker, more uncanny bent, then maybe the Renner & Quist books are right for you. Don’t worry: no zombies, werewolves, vampires, or fan fiction will be allowed on the premises. (For a review, click HERE.)

Or if you’d prefer a writer with an entirely different toolbox, check out my interview on these very pages with C.S.E. Cooney.

‘Til next time (when it’ll be time to look at everyone’s favorite subject, evil), dream hard.

Write harder.


P.S. – CliffsNotes. Yes, that is the correct spelling. Talk about a needlessly mobile target, but this company has changed its name not once, not twice, but thrice. Coming soon: Rinner & Quest. Yeah, baby.

Mark Rigney has published three stories in the Black Gate Online Fiction library: ”The Trade,” “The Find,” and “The Keystone.” Tangent called the tales “Reminiscent of the old sword & sorcery classics… once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. I highly recommend the complete trilogy.” In other work, Rigney is the author of “The Skates,” and its haunted sequels, “Sleeping Bear,” and Check-Out Time. His website is

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Ty Johnston

Ye gads, yes, the dreaded “What do you write?” Little more makes me feel uncomfortable when facing an unknown entity. I usually just say, “Books,” but once or twice I’ve stolen a quote from Eastwood’s Unforgiven and said, “Letters and such,” just to see the reaction. Usually I get blank stares.

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