How luxurious do you want your writer’s boot camp?


Dear Reader; a warning.  You may be entering a RANT zone!

I got an invitation by e-mail to sign-up for a “luxury weekend” writers’ retreat to be held at an upscale lodge with water views, loads of charm and spectacular food.  This is billed as a “no nonsense” intensive “camp” run by experts who just know you are ready to get serious about your craft.  (Frankly, I don’t know many real writers who can afford a luxury weekend.  Frankly, I don’t know many writers who would want to go.)


 (I am changing details here in an effort to disguise the perpetrators of this event without changing the circumstances.  I might have been more enthusiastic about this program if the blurb they sent hadn’t been riddled with typos.)

First Evening:  Refreshments and appetizers and then social time to schmooze each other.  (There was a no-host bar.)  Finally off to bed. 

Next Day:  After a gourmet breakfast a three hour workshop and then lunch, more workshops and “consultations” and something else I don’t understand and makes not a lot of sense; free time.  Then more schmoozing and dinner followed by charades and parlor games and more schmoozing.

Last Day:  Same as the previous one except everyone breaks camp late in the afternoon and goes home.

You would probably be amazed at the price tag for these 48 hours of “intensive work” and delicious food and socializing.


There’s the woman I’ll call Asteroid who has money to pay for such a boot camp.  The last time I heard from Asteroid she’d been working on her chapbook for years.  But she is published if you consider a quarterly review that pays in seven copies as being published.  Asteroid demands attention when she enters any room, not just because of her size but because her voice would stop a truck and she has self-confidence to burn.  She wants to be seen.  Picture a tugboat entering a crowded harbor.

Then there’s Malcolm.  He’s a trust fund baby who owns a slick white laptop and he spends a lot of time at his favorite coffee shop where you’ll find him most afternoons biting his nails and pondering a paragraph for the Great American Novel.  Malcolm loves events like this, likes them better if they last a week or ten days and meet in some high mountain lodge inColorado.  Time to hit Nordstrom for new duds!

Then we have Mitzy, also working on her novel for years.  She doesn’t have a lot of ready cash, but saves all year to attend a prestigious writer’s conference.  Her goal is not to learn more about her craft, but to snag an agent.  She flies a good distance to that mountain lodge inColorado, her luggage sagging with sample chapters and copies of her manuscript. 


Then there’s Gordon.  He lives in theHaight-Ashburyin a tiny rented room, works all day writing and then goes to his bartender’s job from around 7 PM until 2.  So far he has not been published except for a few of those small quarterlies.  I wouldn’t write him off.  Given a few breaks and a bit of luck, who knows what Gordon might do?  One thing is certain; he’d never spend a small fortune for 48 hours of intensive schmoozing!

If you have experiences in such a “boot camp” by all means send them along to share with the rest of us.  Under 300 words will do fine.    


My Kindle Books!

*4 Spooky Short Stories
*A Thorn of the Crown
*Paper Cuts
*Timothy Holbrook and the Zombie Curse
*Tomorrow Will Take Care of Itself

Copyright 2011 by Spencer Schankel. All Rights Reserved.

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The Writing Game is on a break during August.

     See you in September.


My Kindle Books!
*4 Spooky Short Stories
*A Thorn of the Crown
*Paper Cuts
*Timothy Holbrook and the Zombie Curse*Tomorrow Will Take Care of Itself

Copyright 2011 by Spencer Schankel. All Rights Reserved.
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The End as We Know It!

I’m about to go where no blogster has dared go before; skating on thin ice, working without a net, leaping over ten flaming automobiles on a Harley.

So here’s the deal.  Sacrilege warning!  I’ve just read my umpteenth obituary, ode or lament to the closing of a big box bookseller.  How the community is about to be lessened, made practically savage by this loss.  There will be no more delicious scents of coffee and honey-buns wafting upstairs with the escalator, no more piles of second-rate copies of the classics stacked in one’s path, no endless displays of coffee table books discounted to the price they should have sold for in the first place.  And, where in the world will we get next year’s calendar?

Yes, the world of book buyers is topsy-turby.  The e-book menace is oozing down Main Street like some great, green blob.  It won’t be long before we’re pillaging each other’s garbage cans looking for something to read.

One blogger lamented the lost of “the tactile experience.”  I gather that means the ability to touch the spines, caress the pages, and perhaps undress those paragraphs with our eyes.  Another sighed and wrote essentially that there goes the neighborhood.  She loved the brightly lighted coffee shop where writers were invited to dawdle over their computers and sip caramel lattes, while the next Great American Novel took shape under their tapping fingers. 

There was usually the bearded guy at a corner table, his beret askew, his eyes fixed on the door as if expecting someone, his laptop waiting patiently for his next deathless sentence.  He always took a table for four, but made certain no one would ask to join him, no matter how busy the place, because coats, scarves, briefcase occupied all of the other chairs.  One dare not disturb the bard.

How did it come to be?  This mysterious connection to books?  It’s as if one lingers in a bookstore in San Francisco’s North Beach, or one in Greenwich Village or some cathedral of a library, knowledge and insight will be gained by osmosis.  The very act of being in proximity to books will enlighten or thrill or engage.

Let’s step back a few years when readers were lamenting the loss of their neighborhood independent bookstore to the very big box store they’re gnashing their teeth about now.  The argument was almost identical to the one fogging the blogosphere today.  Except then few little shops on the corner offered coffee and honey-buns.

Let’s step back further.  There was a time in the not too distant past when households with any aspirations had a bookcase in the front room that usually included a massive set of encyclopedias, a few of last year’s best-sellers, an atlas (out of date), a Bible, a dictionary and a copy of “The Egg and I.”

Somehow those bookcases grew taller and longer as aspirations did the same, until finally a “library” was mandatory for any upwardly mobile family.  The hunt for knowledge became decoration.  Children were pictured sprawled on a carpet reading Mark Twain and listening to Schubert on the radio: halcyon days.

Not too many years ago I was invited to a housewarming in a gated community (that shall remain nameless) in Northern California.  The entry hall led to a sweep of stairs curving up to a mezzanine, and the walls on said stairs featured built-in bookshelves.  I was taken aback at how artfully the books thereon were arranged.  It was as if someone had managed to read hundreds of books that somehow had color coordinated dust jackets or leather spines polished to a high cordovan or oxblood.  Closer examination (and I doubt few took the opportunity) revealed that those lovely books were trashy romances and detective stories with custom-made dust jackets, sometimes three or four of the same titles (all the same height, you see) disguised as Milton or Shakespeare or Lord Byron.  Books sold by the yard to decorators.  Thus we reached the ultimate use of books as status, but not books as books.

But, let us return to today.  E-books have overtaken sales of print books.  For all intents and purposes the neighborhood bookstore is gone, as are a lot of the big box stores.  What would readers expect a bookseller to do when publishers no longer publish on paper? At the rate life is accelerating in this fast lane of electronic reading it’s only a matter of time until there are few printed books at all. 

The next generation will take their Kindle or Nook to whatever replaces the coffee shop on the corner and read whatever they downloaded in the morning.  An e-reader is easy to dust.  An e-reader is easy to carry around.  It has a certain cachet.  However, you can’t decorate much with it. 

There is no point in regretting what is passing.  I can see a future where the only print books available will be by subscription and sold by boutique printers at prices, of course, that I couldn’t begin to afford.

When everything is electronic my only worry is that someone will drop a neutron bomb and wipe out all the writing of the past 6,000 years.  There’s always something to worry about or regret.

Meanwhile, I’m about to start reading a best-seller that a friend recommended.  It feels nice in my hand, the layout is attractive, and the type is comfortable, the paper has a nice feel.  It weighs probably three pounds.  I’ll just grab my old bookmark and head on down to the coffee shop.  Today, I think, I’ll have a coffee mocha with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles. 


My Kindle Books!

*4 Spooky Short Stories

*A Thorn of the Crown

*Paper Cuts

*Timothy Holbrook and the Zombie Curse

*Tomorrow Will Take Care of Itself

 Copyright 2011 Spencer Schankel.  All Rights reserved.

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A reader wants to know why I write in so many different genres.  Sometimes I wonder that myself and my first response is that I have to be totally interested to write anything at all.  I have a graveyard of partial manuscripts that I tried writing because I thought I had a good idea but it went in the gutter. 

My second response is that while it may not be obvious, all of my books in one way or another are basically mysteries.  Maybe not violent crime, maybe not murder or mayhem, but they are mysteries to more or lesser degrees.  Even the book I co-wrote with Zölestina von Tatianoff is really a mystery at its heart.   

I have watched other writers over the years who produced a couple of popular books with a popular character and then went on to write fifteen or more just like the first and second.  Often the characters have grown stale; the plots are fill-in-the-blanks and the resolution predicable.  They continue to sell and that’s all that matters.  Nice work if you can get it.

I’ve been told by people who should know that some of these extended series are ghosted; written by hacks who are handed an outline and put in a cubicle and paid to produce a book.  It’s an industry, and that’s fine with me, but not for me. 

Whenever I have trouble getting started on a new project, I’ve learned to let it rest until something clicks (usually in the middle of the night).  I try to keep agile during those dry spells by writing blogs or comments on news articles and counting the clicks.  It’s a kind of writer’s transcendental meditation.

Let me know how you handle these things and if I get a handful of interesting ideas I’ll put them up.  About 300 words or less will do.




This is the first time that I’ve ever written a sequel and I find it exciting.  The characters come back like old friends at a reunion.  The settings are so familiar that I’m afraid I may not offer enough description.  Right now it isn’t something to worry about.  I tend to make changes right up until publication time.



If you are worried that somebody may try to steal your book and put it on the Internet, your concern may be justified.  A writer named Ruth Ann Nordin has had just such an experience with some of her books on Amazon Kindle.

Suffice it to say here that the moment you commit writing, the work is copyrighted.  However, you have to be able to prove it.

If this is a subject in which you are interested, here’s a link for you:

She done an excellent job of researching this and has made it available to all of us.  For this we owe her a heap of thanks.

 Copyright 2011 by Spencer Schankel.  All Rights Reserved.


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A woman e-mailed asking how I prepared to write a novel.  Apparently this reader has experience with short stories and commercial non-fiction and has a book in her.

 The short answer, dear reader, is that I haven’t a clue.  That’s the truth.  My suggestion is to sit down and “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”*

My own experience is this:

I seem to start three novels and finish only one of them.  If the going gets tough I chicken out!  On the other hand I may start the same novel several times, convinced it is a winner, only to toss three hundred or so pages into the deep.  I have at least ten unfinished novels in one state or another, and probably twenty short stories.

Outline or not to outline?

I do not use an outline.  To me they are useless.  I’ve tried it.  I’ve made detailed outlines only to have the characters run away with the story; lock, stock and plot!  I make notes.  Lots of them.  Stacks of them.  I have Post-it Notes and scraps of paper everywhere in a kind of chaos of order.  I have yellow legal pads, perhaps a half-dozen with different characters doing different things.  And, I have notes and bits of conversations on the computer.  Somehow the story begins at the beginning, etc!

The first draft!

Is really nothing more than a rehearsal.  Get through it quickly.  Don’t worry too much about spelling and punctuation.  The story is the thing.  Get your story down as best you can and then set the whole mess aside for a week or so—or as long as you can stand it.  Take long walks, wash the windows and weed the garden.  Try not to peek at your story.  You may at this point think your story is so great you have to read parts of it to family and friends.  Don’t.

The second draft!

Put on your editor’s cap.  This is the grunt work for your final book.  This is where you look for logic flaws, correct spelling and sentence structure.  This is where you find out that Aunt Ella had gray hair in chapter three and was bald in chapter fifteen with no explanation.  This is where you discover that the golden retriever in the park scene turned into a bulldog at the house fire. 

Go slowly.  Think about what you are writing, what your characters are doing, saying; fact check, and take coffee breaks to let your head clear.  I cannot emphasize how important the second draft is, how necessary and how frequently boring and frustrating.  If you get stuck take a walk and let the characters back in.

Finished at last?  Put the manuscript away for as long as you dare.  A month?  Six months?  Separate from it so that you can read it eventually with a gimlet eye, make notes and make changes.  Meanwhile start a new project or take up crochet.  

The book! 

Read it through and make notes, but do not stop to make real changes.  Go with the flow.  Finished, you go back and polish and polish.  Cut like crazy.  Throw a lot of that deathless prose into the trash.  I often end up tossing away the first chapter, plus perhaps two and three.  Often these chapters are not as important as one might think at first draft.  Perhaps one good solid sentence or paragraph will replace thirty pages. 

I don’t much believe in *hooking* the reader with some kind of jolting opening (unless it just happens in the process).  I know that a lot of successful writers use the hook to engage readers.  I know that a lot of these same writers offer a hook that ultimately leads nowhere.  If a reader needs a trick to get interested in a book, perhaps that’s not the reader I’m writing for.

The first test!

After you’ve polished and polished, read and reread, corrected and corrected to the point where you can’t stand to look at one more page, it’s time to send your book into the world.  You should give it to two or three people to read and give you notes.  Tell them to mark all of these things: logic flaws, typos, spelling and anything else that might catch their attention.  Ask them if they can read within the next week or two.

After that, grow a thick skin.  Do not protest the comments you get.  Do not bask in complements.  Listen to everything they might say.  Thank them profusely.  Study the places where they have used a highlighter and left a note.  Finally, everything is your decision to take or leave.

Another edit!   

Yes.  You have to go back and do it all again.  Every page.  Every paragraph.  You make the manuscript as good as you possibly can before you do whatever you want to do with it.


Of course, none of this may work for you!


A Note to the wise:  If you are planning to put your book on Kindle for consideration I urge you to learn something about the process before you start writing.  It may save you a lot of time later.  I recommend:  An excellent resource.

My Kindle Books

Tomorrow Will Take Care of Itself
4 Spooky Short Stories
A Thorn of the Crown
Paper Cuts
Timothy Holbrook and the Zombie Curse

Currently working on Timothy Holbrook and the Reflected Worlds


*Lewis Carroll, Alice‘s Adventures in Wonderland. The King to the White Rabbit.

Copyright 2011 by Spencer Schankel.  All Rights Reserved.

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One Woman’s Epic Adventure! One Man’s Unshakeable Love!

A reader asked how I came to write a “woman’s book.” She was referring to A Thorn of the Crown on Kindle.

Actually, dear reader, I didn’t exactly write the book. It started as a sort of competition between me and Zolestina von Tatianoff; an exercise actually. The goal for each of us was to write a cliffhanger and then the other person would pick up the thread from there or write a conclusion to a scene and start another which was again picked up.

Somehow we had to manage to get from point A (China) to point B (Hawaii) to point C (San Francisco) and then finally to an ending in Book Four. Another idea was to “lose” characters and possibly find them again, or do them in once and for all. We even had them returning as ghosts (which seemed farfetched, but is perfectly acceptable now).

The initial writing took only about eight weeks, but the revisions and rewrites went on for two years. I’ve never counted the characters in the manuscript, but it is quite a parade.

Writing Thorn was a real learning experience and one we both thoroughly enjoyed. There were times when we laughed so hard tears flowed, times we groaned at the purple prose. We did use an outline as a general map of where we were headed, but it was only written for about fifty pages ahead. We were never quite certain how any of this would end, but it did in, I think, quite a magical way.


A Thorn of the Crown tells the story of an orphaned aristocrat in headlong flight from war-torn China in 1949, across pirate-infested seas to the flanks of a rumbling volcano in Hawaii, and then on to danger and glamour in San Francisco. At age 16 Katrin is protected only by a mysterious amulet and the blessing of the Mother Superior, but this leads to a grand inheritance and fulfillment as a wealthy, desired woman. With humor and aplomb Katrin survives further perils to discover her true destiny. Beauty and wit meet high adventure in an action-packed tale of love.

You can see it here on Amazon:



If you are in my ever expanding circle of friends and followers that I follow and friend and you have not gotten a Thank You from me on your page or site or blog it’s because I’m easily lost. So please accept this blanket thanks to everyone and forgive my lapses. You can always mail me at

Also on Kindle:
*4 Spooky Short Stories
*Tomorrow Will Take Care of Itself
*Paper Cuts
*Timothy Holbrook and the Zombie Curse

Copyright 2011 by Spencer Schankel. All Rights Reserved.

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To Star or Not To Star?

A writer sent a note asking why, if I was so enthusiastic about Philip Corbett’s new book White Sands I only gave it four stars—when he said—it sounds like a five-star review?

There are many reasons, reader.  IMHO only books that can stand the test of time should get five stars.  Mr. Corbett’s book may do that.  There were a couple of things that rather did put me off, but not enough to change my glowing review.  The man is talented.  He has style and craftsmanship.  All in all, an exciting find.  Here is my four-star review:

This is a perfect example of what people mean when they say a book will keep you on the edge of your seat.  Literally.  There were moments so intense that reading it I nearly tumbled off of the edge of that seat.

Philip Corbett is an excellent writer with a firm grasp of his material; the story of a white boy raised by Navaho after a perilous journey and the death of his father.  As the pages turn the reader is thrilled, gripped, startled and rocked by a succession of hair-raising scenes that unspool with an almost cinematic clarity.  Mr. Corbett uses an excellent and imaginative device to show us the hero’s memory and how he grows into his own revelations. 

In spite of, or maybe because of all of the action packed episodes in the book, there is a poetic warp and wolf to this work; a rhythm that is almost musical, and an exciting use of language.  Mr. Corbett gives us lots of detail that in the hands of a lesser wordsmith might be tedious, but here adds all kinds of depth and color.

This is the first of four installments in the life of the boy who by the end of the first volume is a man.  I look forward to the second one.

What some writers suspect (and at least for the time being I’m agreeing) is that readers are skipping five star reviews because so many are written by friends and family.  Puff-pieces that really don’t help much.  There are, in my opinion, books with five-star ratings that should never have even been sprung on an unsuspecting public.  These are the ones with five-star and one-star reviews and little in between.

Finally, one other thing.  If I cannot in good conscience give an Indy writer at least three stars I do not review at all.  That does not apply to books produced by the big commercial houses, which after all give their writers a huge support system thatIndiesdon’t have.  If a book is produced by Corporation A, with a lot of hoopla and a back cover littered with glowing quotes by a lot of famous names, and I disagree, one star is my comment to all of that–or two, or maybe three.  There is a lot of mediocre work coming out of Corporation A these days.   


My Kindle Books!

*4 Spooky Short Stories
*Tomorrow Will Take Care of Itself
*Paper Cuts
*Timothy Holbrook and the Zombie Curse
*A Thorn of the Crown

Copyright 2011 by Spencer Schankel. All Rights Reserved.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment