How to write good dialogue

My guest blog post on writing good dialogue is up over at Ziggy Kinsella's Feckless Goblin. I wrote it to be funny, entertaining and informative, so if you'd like to get a laugh while you get some discussion of writing technique, pop on over and give it a read. Feel free to comment there or here.

Thanks for the opportunity, Ziggy!

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Snappy dialogue, blog posts and power tools

What does Tony's Saturday look like? I'm glad you asked!

I will be writing a guest blog post for Ziggy Kinsella, to appear over at The Feckless Goblin. It's on writing dialogue, and in considering how best to present a topic of such import to any writer, I've settled on a form that I think will do justice to the content.

I'll also be slicing through the subflooring of my bathroom with a circular saw to get at the joists. I'm fairly certain of where all the wiring is, but I need to expose and map out the water feed pipes and drain pipes. I'm remodeling the bathroom and need to know what's under there before I buy new fittings, plumbing, etc. It wouldn't do to get a new shower pan only to find out that it won't fit without hideously expensive retrofitting. I image there's a writing analogy in there somewhere, but I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

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#FridayFlash: Old Stones

Something a little different this week. My #FridayFlash isn't here - it's posted over at the Rammenas fiction web site. It was prompted by this photograph - who are they? What are they talking about? What is their story? Go read my #FridayFlash to find out.

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Snow, snow and more bloody snow

I'm getting a bit tired of this kind of thing:

Click to enlarge, and then come help me dig out.

Very pretty to look at, but this was a heavy, dense snowfall to begin with. It was followed by some sleet and freezing rain which compacted the first couple of inches, then another 10 inches of snow. Temperatures dropped well below freezing, so under all that snow is a layer of hard ice.

Shovel and scrape, shovel and scrape.

UPDATE: All shoveled away now. More snow is expected on Friday. Ugh.

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Three Word Wednesday: conniption, janky, scooch

What the hell? Aside from "conniption", these aren't even real words! Nevertheless, I play the cards I'm dealt.

The Three Words for today are: conniption, janky, scooch

I know that this poem is janky,
A conniption caused by hanky-panky
Thom pulled with these Three
(worse than Scooch on TV!)
Maybe next week's words won't be so wanky

Click to enlarge, because they are SO DARN CUTE!

"Wanky" isn't a real word either, but I figured turnabout is fair play.

Note: Thom defines these words thusly:
conniption; noun: a bad tantrum. One has a conniption or conniption fit.

janky; adjective: broken or functioning poorly or improperly; messed up.

scooch; verb: to move over, or to scoot.


Also, for my "One Shot Wednesday" friends, the poems here never really get any better than this. Sorry.

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Creative Genius - An Important 1%

I was recently honored by John Wiswell with the beautiful award you see here:

John is one of my favorite writers, so I'm pleased to accept this Creative Genius award from him. Created by Deanna Schrayer, the award is to be passed from each recipient on to several worthy bloggers. I'm happy to do so now.

Of all the writers and bloggers I know and interact with, I've decided to select a few who not only THINK, but also ACT. The streets are paved with great ideas; the people who take great ideas and turn them into reality are the models to be emulated.

P.J. Kaiser is not only the author of Inspired by Real Life, a wide-ranging site that covers writing, parenting, and modern life, she is also the driving force behind TuesdaySerial, one of the hottest Twitter hashtags for writers of the last year. P.J. has been involved with #FridayFlash for as long as I can recall. She's not only friendly and supportive, she's one of the most entrepreneurial writers I know.

Emma Newman is the delightful author of Post-Apocalyptic Publishing, a blog from which she launched her book, "Twenty Years Later". When a series of readings from her book were well received, she launched a side business of doing audio recordings and narrations, including audiobook work. She's collected short stories into an anthology, made podcasts available on her website, and writing the sequel to her book... witness the power of a good cup of tea.

Monica Marier's blog, Attack of the Muses, is where she posts short fiction and bloggery, but she is also one of the artists for a webcomic company which she helped establish. Her first novel, "Must Love Dragons" was a funny, clever take on the dashing fantasy hero. The second book in the series is sold and she's currently writing the third. She's also a fun person to hang out with on Twitter.

It's entirely possible that these folks have already received this award; this is clearly evidence of their broad appeal, and the consensus of opinion among their readers.

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Writer, writer, ignore the formatting rules at thy peril!

I put two spaces after a period when I type. Why? Well, the first and most important reason is that it's become the defacto standard, what agents and publishers expect in formatting.

Writer, writer, ignore the formatting rules at thy peril!

But really, it's because I learned to type on manual typewriters. For you innocent youngsters out there, I don't mean "keyboards that didn't accept speech-to-text", or "keypads with crappy word-completion predictive software". I mean one of these:

This one happens to be Cormac McCarthy's typewriter, but this style of Olivetti is similar to what I had. Manual platen advance, manual platen return arm, manual tab stop setting, etc. Was it a pain to use? No, it was a typewriter - jams, misaligned pages, bad margins, overruns, etc. were all just par for the course. I moved on to a series of electric typewriters, then ultimately to the glory of an IBM Selectric with a typeball. Jammed keys were a thing of the past!

I got to use a daisy-wheel typewriter for anything other than a few test pages because that was the sunset of the typewriter era. Today, alas, typewriters are a thing of the past.(1) My first experience with a word processing program was in high school. It was with a text entry monstrosity on the school's old DEC mainframe, accessed via a terminal, probably like the VT52, but I can't recall exactly. It only gave print output on the 22-inch wide scroll paper from the line printer - fine for programming & examining code, lousy for English prose. It was no threat to a typewriter.

However, when I got to college - with my portable Royal manual typewriter and a brand-new ribbon - I met the personal computer. One friend in the dorm had a Amiga, another a Wang, but the guys who had Apple computers were the kings. Easy to use, easy to type on, six different fonts to choose from and it interfaced perfectly with the single dot-matrix printer in the dorm. My university had computer labs full of Macs, with a timer and sign-up sheet for each. The labs also had side ghettos of DOS-based PCs, but only the grad students used those, for some reason. I was hooked on the computer, and never looked back to my old typewriter.

In time, I switched from Mac to MS-DOS, to Windows, to OS/2, then back to Windows. At one point, I flirted with Linux, but was never serious about it. Through it all, I put two spaces after every period, because that was what I'd been taught back in the two-drops-of-machine-oil-every-week days of the manual typewriter. Using two spaces is obsolete behavior, since the word processor won't jam if you type too fast, but I still do it.

Still, however hard it is to re-wire my brain's muscle memory reflexes, the time has come to make the change and get current. As Farhad Manjoo says(2):
The only reason today's teachers learned to use two spaces is because their teachers were in the grip of old-school technology. We would never accept teachers pushing other outmoded ideas on kids because that's what was popular back when they were in school. The same should go for typing. So, kids, if your teachers force you to use two spaces, send them a link to this article. Use this as your subject line: "If you type two spaces after a period, you're doing it wrong."
I realize that in this age of better fonts and appropriately spaced type, the extra space not only isn't necessary for clarity of reading, but is a waste of space on the page, adding unnecessary expense and heft to a book.

Like I said above, I put two spaces after a period when I type... but I'm trying to change that.

(1) I say "alas", but every now and then, I drag out my old Underwood and knock out a few paragraphs. Nostalgia is nice, but sorry, no. I prefer the computer.

(2) Note: I came across Manjoo's manifesto via John Scalzi. That post has a long list of comments and perspectives on this subject.

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That was a damn fine Friday

Since I was totally shooting from the hip, I had a stupid amount of fun writing last week's FridayFlash, "Where the hell is Tony's #FridayFlash?". I appreciated the response from everyone, and I'm glad so many regular visitors to Landless enjoyed the piece and got a laugh reading it. However, one person (who I believe might have been a first-time visitor) said this:

Click to enlarge & read all the pitter-pat goodness.

Neil Gaiman, you're a good sport. Thanks for stopping by, and I'm glad you liked the story. As I say to everyone, feel free to comment on anything you read here, and if you like what you see, tell your friends and followers... all 1,514,878 of them.

Well, I don't exactly say that last part to EVERYONE, but you know what I mean.

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Bears vs. Packers

Big game this afternoon, so don't expect much from me today.

For a bit of history, here's a little snippet from the 1985 Bears vs. Packers matchup. There's a lot of history between these two teams.

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Where the hell is Tony's #FridayFlash?

Where the hell is Tony's #FridayFlash?

by Tony Noland

Sitting in an airport, quietly eating a blueberry muffin, Neil Gaiman's phone chimed to the sound of an incoming DM.

D @neilhimself So did he die, or what? He's usually pushy & obnoxious, but he's been so quiet.

He wiped the crumbs from his fingers and responded.

D @margaretatwood No idea. He always has his #FridayFlash up on Thursday afternoon.

D @margaretatwood Has @susanorlean said anything? She's a big fan of @TonyNoland, too.

The plane was delayed by snow in Chicago. Strange, since he's flying from Dallas to Los Angeles, but it's an interconnected world, he thought. The connections are no less real just because they seem to make no sense. He looked down at his phone again. A Friday without one of Tony Noland's stories was like a brass doorknocker that wanted polishing.

He knew Susan Orlean somewhat, having met her at a "Writers on Twitter" charity event. Their writing spheres overlapped only slightly; he wondered if it would be appropriate to ask her directly if she knew why Tony was so late in posting his story. It was impossible to put out a general call, of course. Having a million and a half followers was as bad as walking through a minefield with an active hive on a hot day.

His phone chimed again. John Scalzi said:

D @neilhimself DYK what's up with @tonynoland? @wilw and I wr looking for his #fridayflash. Nthing new on Landless since Wed. ???

Neil smiled and typed in a response.

D @scalzi I thought you were going to stay off-line in the mornings, and work on pay copy? Where's your dedication? Your work ethic?

Instantly, the response came.

D @neilhimself Haha - for @tonynoland I make exception. Funnier than @stevemartintogo + angsty writer whining = good for laugh.

The crowd at the flight agent stand thickened momentarily. He thought that an announcement of some kind was imminent, but it was just one obnoxious passenger wanting to know precisely WHY the plane was delayed. Clearly, the man was unused to living in the moment when the situation called for it.

D @scalzi Question: your tweets are grammatically correct, but your DMs are rife with internetisms. Why is that?

D @neilhimself Like to remind self of AOL roots. Condense text when don't have to = deep editing irony. Tautology metahumor. LOL4U2?

Neil sighed. You can take the man out of the University of Chicago, but his blood will always run maroon. It was sometimes difficult to know when John Scalzi was joking, since his humor was often so multi-layered that it became indistinguishable from idiocy. One was then left wondering if it was, in fact, simple idiocy which John had presented as a challenge for the reader. What is the mystery of this empty box? Only the sharpest, deepest minds would come up with "The mystery is that there is no mystery." John was a complicated fellow.

Another chime.

D @neilhimself Neil, do you know anything re: @tonynoland's #fridayflash?

How strange, he thought. Everyone outside the profession assumed that all writers knew each other well, that it was all one big family. He considered how to respond tactfully.

D @barackobama Sorry, Mr. President. No info. I don't actually know him, just read and admire his work.

D @neilhimself OK, thanks.

The gate agent picked up the phone and began to make an announcement. Nothing happened, even after she switched handsets. On the board behind her, the flight numbers rolled as the departure time was pushed back another hour. Neil's phone chimed again, but he pushed the mute button and slipped the phone into his vest pocket. Pen in hand, he opened his notebook and took a deep breath to clear his mind. It was his hard and fast policy to use flight delays to let his mind wander and write whatever came of it. He'd gotten several quite good ideas that way. Tony would post his story at some point; he and everyone else would just have to be patient.

He thought for a moment, pen paused over the blank sheet. Robot bees? Explosive bees? Self-aware, explosive robot bees? Bees that wrote out poetry in their wax?

No. Bees that usually danced out poetry as commentary on the quality of the flowers they'd found, but were now dancing out elegies of the great CCD dying. The Great Death of the Bee Kingdoms.

Smiling, he began to write.

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Three Word Wednesday: descent, kill, surreal

The Three Words for today are: descent, kill, surreal

I used to kill time with Descent,
A game with a vertigo bent,
Its 3-D appeal
Was graphics surreal,
A spaceman on dire mission sent.

Descent, Myst, Zork, Galactic Civilizations, Nethack - so many hours down the tube having so much fun. Oh, for the salad days of my youth...

I'm also linking this to today's One Shot Wednesday. I do a limerick every Wednesday for 3WW, and toss off funny limericks on Twitter, but I'm not sure that qualifies me to hang out with real poets.

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Guest blogger, Icy Sedgwick - How to use Google Alerts

After a discussion on twitter with Icy Sedgwick and Rob Diaz about how writers can use Google Alerts, I invited Icy to pop over for a bit and explain them for us.

The Internet is chock-ful of blogs, websites, Twitter hashtags and applications aimed at helping writers at any stage of their career. It's not my intention to cover all, most, or even several of them, but I do want to cover a very simple tool that lets you know when you, or your work, is mentioned online.

Google is stuffed with handy bits and pieces that can aid a writer, from Documents (which helps enable writers share documents for collaborative pieces), Notebook (where you can jot down your ideas), to Alerts. I'm going to walk you through setting up a Google Alert so you'll be alerted to those instances when you've been mentioned in a blog, or on a web page. Think of Google Alerts has being a service that eavesdrops on the Internet, and gives you a gentle prod when it overhears your name.

With most Google services, you need to have a Google account, but Alerts is an exception. You can just head straight over, and set one up, without tying yourself into Google if you don't want to. If you do have an account, hurrah!

Enter in your address bar in your browser of choice. You'll see a very simple screen, allowing you to customise your alerts. Your first box is the 'Search terms' field. Enter what it is that you'd like to be notified about. In this case, maybe your name, the name of your blog, or your novel or serial, if you have one. As an example, mine alerts me to 'Icy Sedgwick'. I'm so cunning.

In the 'Type' dropdown box, you can select Everything, News, Blogs, Realtime, Video, Discussions. I've just got mine set on Everything, since you don't know when or where you're going to pop up.

In the 'How often' dropdown box, you can select once a day, as-it-happens, and once a week. It's entirely up to you what you choose, but for a writer just starting out, 'once a week' is probably enough. If you attain Stephen King status and are desperate for attention, maybe you'll want to see alerts as they happen.

In the 'Volume' dropdown box, you can select Only the best results or All results. I kept getting reports about icy conditions in Sedgwick County in Kansas, so I changed mine to Only the best results!

A sample Google alert - click to enlarge
The final dropdown box lets you choose where the alerts should be delivered. If you've got a Google account and you logged in before you visited the page, it'll show your Gmail address, otherwise you can add your email address now. Then you're done!

Google will helpfully send you an alert email according to your preferences. It will show you what the alert is for (so whatever you set up - in my case, 'Icy Sedgwick') along with a link to where it found your term. In a lot of cases, this might return your own blog posts, or Twitter feed, but every now and then you might find someone has mentioned you on their own blog.

If you decide you want to tweak the settings, head back to the Alerts page. This is where it becomes handy to have a Google account, as you can just sign in, and click the link "click here to manage your alerts". You can add more alerts (as far as I know, there's no limit on how many things alerts you can set up) which can cover more keywords, you can delete existing alerts, changing the frequency - whatever you want to do!

Have a go at setting one up - you never know what it'll tell you!


Buy "The First Tale" at Smashwords
Blown far from her Northern homeland, Icy Sedgwick now lives and works in old London town. She’s only 27 but she remembers the days when she wrote stories in crayon. She writes about everything from steampunk automatons to telepathic parrots, though her pet project is a supernatural YA novel.

You can get "The First Tale" over at Smashwords. Icy's website is, and you can follow Icy on Twitter as @icypop.

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Death Star Snow Day

A snow day in Minnesota... a snow day like any other... but then...

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#TuesdaySerial Blog Hop - Getting help & being helpful

Today is the day for the TuesdaySerial blog hop, prompted by the wonderful guest blog post last week by Sage Cohen. She posed a number of questions to prompt thought about writing and the writing life in the last year. As she suggests, I'd like to pick one and expand on it.

Who did you help, and who helped you?

I've done a number of things in this past year, but to answer this question, I'd like to talk about something I didn't do. On November 14, 2010, in the thick of a NaNoWriMo that seemed to be dying a slow, ugly death, I said this:
This NaNaWriMo is just not going anywhere. Every scene seems bolted onto a overall plot too thin to support it. Seems like a waste of time to throw more effort at it.
In response, Catherine Russell, Janet Aldrich, Laura Eno and Claudia Osmond all rallied to encourage and support. However, two other friends need special acknowledgment.

Carrie Clevenger, in a brilliant channeling of a drill sergeant, said: Writing for love is child's play. This is war. you against that blank page. That's all I'm saying. It's only a waste of time if you quit this far in. Tough stuff, but it's what I needed to hear.

Then, Shirley Jo Eaves did something even more extraordinary. To help me, she let me know how I'd helped her:
Tony, You don't know me. But somehow or another I stumbled upon your blog and you absolutely inspired me to write more. I read where you had written over 200,000 words, (at the time) and I started tracking the number of words I had written.... I like reading your flash fiction. I think I would like you if I got to know you. What I'm saying is, you inspired me. I think you owe it to your readers, and to others you may inspire to see this thing through. Partly because of you, and because of other great writers out there, I'm doing my first Nano. And believe me, you haven't seen bad until you read my first draft. But I'm learning things about myself by doing it. If nothing else, I'm learning about persistence and the ability to push through to the end. Please keep going! You never know who you may be inspiring to do the same thing, if not this year, then maybe the next.
This was, and remains, humbling for me to hear. Humbling, and yes, inspiring. Despite a schedule which shouldn't have allowed me to do it, and which put me 7,000 words behind with 11 hours left before the deadline on November 30, I did it anyway and finished the 50,000 word draft to win NaNoWriMo. I didn't quit.

I did it for my friends, I did it for myself, and I did it for the book. My NaNo is now my WIP, and the subject of my ongoing editing efforts. It's a mucky mess, but even with this first pass of corrective editing, the book is getting worlds better, expanding in complexity and depth, improving in logic and flow, sharpening in language and focus. If I'd given up back on November 14, 2010, I'd have nothing.

Any one of the people I've mentioned above are great people to follow on Facebook, Twitter, or wherever else you might happen to come across them. To take Sage Cohen's question backwards, through my openness about my struggles with this book and with previous efforts, I was helped in my writing and I have helped others write. How about you? Who did you help, and who helped you?

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For other posts in the TuesdaySerial Blog Hop, check these out:

Poll results: did "Bear trapping" win?

The poll, "Tony should write a blog post about..." closed yesterday. The results are interesting:

So, with a tie between "Novel writing software" and "Bear trapping", I guess I'll either have to write two blog posts or bring in some knowledgeable guest bloggers. Any suggestions?

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Today - guest blogging at Write Anything

At the invitation of the lovely Annie Evett, I'm a guest columnist over at Write Anything today, on the subject of #FridayFlash and what it does for your writing to be part of a community of authors. Go check it out.

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#FridayFlash: A Large Slice of Fire

A Large Slice of Fire

by Tony Noland

"And what do you think, Tom?"

From a distance, Tom Welscher heard his name. He looked up from his notepad, lifted his pen from his doodles. "What?"

Seth Goldberg titched through his teeth and tossed the laser pointer on the conference room table. "I said," he repeated, hands on hips, "what do you think?" Around the table, the people who disliked Tom let out exasperated sighs, while the people who felt sorry for him tried to maintain neutral expressions.

"What do I think about what?"

"Oh for god's sake, Tom, about the takeover of Enduricon! Where have you been for the last three hours?"

"Sorry," Tom said, "I was lost in thought."

"Bullshit. You just weren't paying attention. What am I paying you for, Tom? To doodle your little drawings, or to actually do the econometric analyses?"

Tom sighed. "Seth, you don't pay me. You're not my supervisor, you're not my boss and you're nowhere in the half-assed matrix management tangle that's just north of me on the org chart. I gave your boss the full analysis two months ago, and met with him to follow up last week. If he didn't choose to share all of that with you, that's your problem." He stood and started gathering his papers. "I only came here as a courtesy, and I think I've wasted enough time on this."

"You're out of line, Mr. Welscher!"

"Screw you, Seth. This takeover won't happen. As soon as you start the stock buy, Enduricon will announce the results of the FDA report on their new fat-busting drug. Their price will go up high enough to inoculate them, and we'll be left holding the bag, exposed, extended and without a fallback leverage position for the third quarter of this year. This isn't going to be a feather in your cap, it's going to be egg on your face. Your boss is setting you up."

"Sit down! How dare you walk out after making such a... a pronouncement!"

"Have fun, Seth. You're an idiot."

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A blogger's look back on 2010

I know all of this retrospective stuff is supposed to happen over the week between Christmas and New Year's. It makes for easy copy to fill in what would otherwise be dead air. I did a bit of that myself when I listed my Top 10 Posts for 2010. However, if you'll indulge me, this not only has pretty pictures, it has numbers. (You can click on the image to make it larger, if you're a detail oriented kind of person.)

As you can see, my visitor stats were coming along nicely in a solid growth projection. The little outliers you see circled are a slightly viral hit I had back in August, which I previously discussed and then drew a lesson from. But what lessons can be drawn from the year as a whole?

First: you, my readers, like things that are funny, informative, and entertaining. No surprise there, but I might as well set it down in writing for future reference.

Second: trying to gin up single day, blockbuster hits that will make up for weeks upon weeks of mediocrity is a bad business model. This is not to say I wouldn't enjoy one blockbuster viral hit after another, but just that it's much better to try for solid quality all the time.

Third: I'm much happier continuing to be me, instead of trying to capitalize on that viral hit by completely re-orienting my blog to capture that moment and make it last. I tried not to be "all ranting, all the time", since I'm not a one-trick pony. Granted, I still get razzed occasionally about semicolons and cat tweets, and I like the give and take of it, because it's all in good fun. However, those memes are part of me; neither one is my sole defining achievement.

Fourth: I can see that there is much yet to be done, as a blogger and as a writer.

So... how was your 2010? Do you look back and try to learn lessons from it, or is that too nit-picky?

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My Shorty Awards nomination

Hey, could you take a moment and go nominate me in the Shorty Awards? I'd really like to get more votes for this than I did for Student Council President back in high school. That was just embarrassing.

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Special Queensland Edition of Three Word Wednesday

Today's words for Three Word Wednesday are: harmless, moist, yelp

A harmless bit of rain,
Repeated again and again,
From "moist" to "deluge"
With no safe refuge,
They yelp at a life down the drain.

Dear readers, writers, bloggers, poets and editors: Queensland needs your help. Here's how you can participate.

I realize the folks being driven from their homes, watching the waters kill, destroy property and livelihoods, are doing a lot more than "yelping", but I work with what I'm given.

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Zombie Romance - love beyond the grave

My story "Romeo and Juliet are Dead" appeared recently in the Zombie Romance collection.

A meme going around on Twitter today made me think of it. If you've ever wanted a classy Shakespearean take on zombie love, this is a story for you.

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Now's your chance to shape a tiny piece of the future

A little while ago, I gave you the chance to suggest topics for blog posts. I've put up a poll widget for you to record your vote.

Tony should write a blog post about...

1. Novel writing software
2. Social media and author platforms
3. Bear trapping
4. Life
5. Anything at all, so long as it sounds like Tony

Poll closes in one week.

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Aftermath of the shootings in Arizona

The shootings in Arizona killed or wounded (among others):
* a Congresswoman who was friendly and collegial, well-liked by many but vilified by powerful, jingoistic people who didn't like some of her political positions

* a firm but fair Federal judge, a guy who was well-liked by everyone who knew him

* a 79-year-old grandmother, originally from New Jersey, who knitted shawls and caps for shut-ins and hospital patients, often knitting in the logo of the New York Jets

* a 9-year-old girl, brown hair and brown eyes and cute as a button, born on September 11, 2001, recently elected to her grade school student council, and granddaughter of Dallas Green, a former manager of the Philadelphia Phillies
Aside from the obvious and initial aspects of the horrific shooting, what really makes me sad is that all across America, scripts were being hastily written all weekend for made-for-TV movies about one or more of these people. They're charismatic, compelling, and tragic. It's Monday morning, so even as we speak, some of these scripts are being green-lighted, on the assumption that they can write in the endings once more facts are known.

The mills of schlock grind quickly, and they grind exceeding small-minded.

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Juggling as an exercise routine

The notion of juggling weighted tennis balls isn't unique to me. I came up with it many years ago, shortly after I learned to juggle. Ideally, I'd have used lead or steel shot, but they aren't readily available, and pennies are.

Tennis balls packed with pennies weigh about a pound each. Doing ten throws has very little aerobic benefit; juggling continuous fast throws for ten minutes will work up a sweat.

Here's more info on the subject:
Just learning to juggle can be a exercise routine all on its own. But once you get the basics down, the very act of juggling can be an absolutely incredible cardio vascular workout. It involves very high repetitions of manipulating relatively small weight.

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#FridayFlash: A fire in the palm of my hand


Her ankles cracked as she stooped to pick the tennis ball up from the floor. Her back cracked as she straightened and spread her feet again for another try.

Toss, toss, toss, toss, and she missed the next catch.


The tennis ball landed on the carpet. She'd cut slits into each of the three balls and shoved three hundred pennies in. Each ball weighed about a pound and a half.

$2.98 plus tax for the can of balls, plus $9 worth of pennies. $5 for the workout DVD from Goodwill. He couldn't complain about $17.62. It was her only money spent, and it was cheaper than a pizza and a six-pack, let alone a gym membership.

Crack. Crack.

Toss, toss, toss, toss, thud.

The 2 liter soda pop bottles partly filled with water and duct taped to the old broom handle - free.

The floor joists she used for the hangs - free.

The stack of old phone books for the step aerobics - free.

Some space on the hallway floor for her to stretch and run in place - free.

Crack. Crack.

Toss, toss, toss, toss, toss, thud.

Even when she progressed to the point of really being able to do runs of fast throws with the balls, and filling the bottles all the way up with sand, and doing real crunch pull-ups instead of just girly hangs, and real jumping jacks and sprinting up the steps of the art museum, all of it would be free.

It costs too much to get it shape, he always said. Equipment and classes and instructors - we don't have that kind of money, he always said. Don't bother, he always said.

You're too old anyways, he always said.

Crack. Crack.

Well, this is one resolution I'm going to keep, she thought.

Toss, toss, toss, toss, toss, toss, toss, toss, thud.

Crack. Crack.

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Poll: What do you want to hear?

As promised, here's a chance for you to express your opinion, and make suggestions. What would you like me to talk about? Characters? Plotting? Novel-writing software? Martinis vs. margaritas? The relative merits of rotary engines? How to leverage social media presence into an effective author platform?

Make suggestions in the comments, I'll pick a few and see what I can do.

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On the avoidance of personal pronouns in blog posts

On a recent blog post about setting up an e.mail-based feed to go with the RSS feeds, a visitor left the following comment:

Hmm. I guess the limericks aren't doing it for you, eh? I'm not surprised. Even for folks that like poetry, limericks are an acquired taste.

On the one hand, I guess I should feel pretty good about this comment. It began with love, and is as gently phrased as it could be. Wrapped up in this comment is the belief that I'm potentially worth listening to. Perhaps this is for amusement, insight, wisdom, or just for technical instruction on how to set up auto-crossposting of your blog posts to Facebook and Twitter. Regardless, it's nice to know that some of my content is well-received.

On the other hand...

Look, you can't say I didn't warn you, OK? Over on the left hand side of the blog, in that "Welcome Visitor" widget that nobody ever reads, it begins with: "This is my writing blog, which means you'll find fiction (short, medium and long), thoughts, ideas, experiments and other grammatically correct prose." What I mean by that is you should expect to see fiction (short, medium and long), thoughts, ideas, experiments and other grammatically correct prose. I didn't say anything about my poetry, since I try to keep that to a minimum, as a public service.

Sometimes my blog posts are about specific subjects related to writing, sometimes not. The most popular thing I've ever written was advice on how to use Twitter to maximum effect, but I wrapped it up in a rant that was, you guessed it, all about me.

How come I talk about me so much on this blog? I'll avoid the obvious answer and instead try to be more thoughtful. Because I'm not the New York Times, committed to a one-way flow of factual, dispassionate information. Hell, I'm not even the New York Times Review of Books, which is 100% erudite and artfully expressed opinion.

I'm not a Chuck Wendig who can dispense terrific inspirational kick-in-the-pants writing advice, or a John Scalzi, who can do the same thing with less profanity and more pictures of dogs, cats, sunsets and Hugo and Nebula awards from years past. I'm not a Jane Friedman who can share loads of publishing advice from years and years of successful activity in the biz.

Who am I?

Vell, I'm just zis guy, you know?

I promise, when I have a book out, I'll set up a website which will be all about that book, and nothing but. It'll have character bios, pictures, excerpts, polls, giveaways, live webchats, the whole nine yards. Until then, though, you get me in all my flawed glory, and this blog, ditto. That's not enough for some of you, too much for others. What can I say? I'm trying not to take this comment too seriously, but I tend to take everything too seriously.

To finish this post, I was going to open the comments for suggestions about what you'd like to see me post about instead. However, as this is clearly one of those posts about ME, I'll do a separate one that can be about YOU.

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Working with Writers: An Editor’s Perspective

Today, over at Somewhere Over The Sun, Adi Alsaid has an interview with Carrie Bailey about what it's like to work with writers when you're wearing the editor's hat.

As a point of interest, Carrie talks about what it was like to work with me as a writer on this book. I'm open to suggestions & offers, so if you have a writing gig for which you think my talents might be a good fit, go read what Carrie has to say about me, then drop me a line.

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Three Word Wednesday: plausible, taint, willingly

The Three Words for today are: plausible, taint, willingly. My poems for 3WW have been a bit heavy of late, so:

Dear God, I hope that it's plausible
To use the Force to pause a bull
Which is charging at me
Too damned willingly
('taint a good time to have bowels a-full!)

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I'm easy, and I get easier every year

I promote this site, but I want to do it in a tasteful way. Ideally, I'll make people aware of things here that they might like to see, but I'll do it without shoving my content into people's faces. To that end, I've made a couple of changes here. In addition to subscribing to Landless via RSS feed, you now have the option of receiving full blog posts of Landless via e.mail. Just check the shiny new widget over on the left side of your screen.

Those of you who are reading this by RSS will just have to pop over to see it. In fairness, my site looks a bit better on the web than it does via RSS.

Also, I did a bit of back-end work to automate a few things I've been doing by hand. There may come a day when I can pay someone to do all this holy-shite-that's-a-steep-learning-curve kind of HTML/website administration thing for me, but not yet.

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Getting back to work

The holiday break has been great, but things go back to a more regular schedule tomorrow. I'm going to re-open my NaNoWriMo later today; I haven't looked at it since the marathon 7K day on November 30 that put me over the top of 50K.

Confession: I left it at a cliffhanger, but didn't actually write the ending. I'd done 7000+ words that day, so was seriously low on gas. I know how it ends, though. I need to finish the ending of this first draft, then print the whole thing out so I can re-read it and make notes on what to do in the second draft.

I'm going to try a different physical approach to this than I have in the past. I've always used double-sided printing to save paper, and taken notes on a steno pad, referring to scenes and page numbers. This time, I'm going to single-side print and put it in a binder so as to give myself room for notes on the facing (blank) page.

Crazy, right? I'll let you know how it works.

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High emotion: putting pain in a story

My final #FridayFlash for 2010 engendered reactions that made me think about how much pain and emotion I put in my stories.

Readers described it as "prickly", "blinding", "dark", "potent" even "brutal". One reader said that the story really hit home because it was his father in a nutshell. Another reader found so much in the story that she sent me a message, asking if I was okay, if this was autobiography.

There's a school of thought on writing fiction which says that you should bare your soul, pour out all your emotion onto the page, make the words come alive with the truth that lies within you. By infusing your prose with the real intensity of real emotion drawn from real experiences, the story will grip the reader and never let go. Long after they close the book, they will be haunted by your words. Your writing will be unforgettable.

This, of course, is the promise of ALL schools of thought on writing.

Pouring out all your emotions onto the page isn't fiction writing or biographical writing - it's therapeutic writing. I've done that in journals for years and years; helpful for establishing equilibrium and making sense of the world, but not for writing fiction. In my more grandiose moments, I'm sure that someday, biographers will produce new revelations about the great Tony Noland by matching up dates in the journals with those of key events in my life. It'll be amazing, shocking, amusing, and helpful to posthumous book sales, which my estate will appreciate.

However, my private opinions on, reactions to and musings about people, events, etc., are just that: private. They may provide grist for the mill, spice for the soup, or some other comparable metaphor, but I have no intention of doing a straight braindump of the sweepings from the dark corners of my mind and calling it prose on the page.

Could I make up stuff wholesale and still have it be engaging? Keep the various truths of my life completely out of the writing? Well, no, I don't think you can. You need to start with some kernel of truth, or you'll really have no idea what you're talking about. However, once you've begun with truth, you need to carry it forward with outlandish lies well crafted fiction.

Perhaps I'm not putting enough of myself in the work, playing my cards too close to the vest. I'm going to work on this more in my own prose.

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