Everyone's a Critic

Everyone's a Critic

If you're a writer, and serious about your writing, it is important to find a critique group…

Whack It

"Whack" means "to prune."

Theory of Omission

Theory of Omission

With my third Thomas O'Shea mystery, The Face on the Other Side, about to be launched early next month (YES!)

The Business of Books

There are two sides to writing if you are interested in being published. One side is up to you, and that is producing the story, poem, novel, or memoir that represents your best efforts and is rewarded with the great news that you are being published. The other side is cold, hard business - dark and seamy and filled with potholes and disasters - and those are the good things about the business side of being published.

When I was notified that my first novel was going to be published, I was thrilled. I had images of my book in print with my name on it and all kinds of accolades and bestseller status and . . .  so on. Likewise my second novel. Things were rolling and, even though I wasn't getting rich by any stretch of the imagination, I was proud of my work. Novel #3 was finished and sent off and I was told it would be published last November. And then communication came to a dead stop. Emails were unanswered. A Christmas gift was not acknowledged. No communication. This is the evil side of publishing; the business side over which writers have little control. So I made a decision based on the fact that communication had ended. I sent them a registered letter terminating my contracts. 

Now I am on the street again, seeking a publisher or an agent, tin cup in hand and singing "Mr. Bojangles" on street corners. Tough decisions are not always rewarded immediately, you know.

Writing Wednesday

I plan to dedicate a blog about writing on Wednesdays from now on, as much as possible. If you've been following curlylarryandme, you know that I'm a writer with some success and lots of failures. I have written more about rejections than anything else, because I'm an expert on being rejected, as is nearly every other writer regardless of publishing credits, or not.

Usually, when I query a literary agent I think would be a good match for me, they explain on their website, that they are busybusybusy people, and a bit self-important, too. Most of them have a tone of condescension, too. They say they receive 5,342 queries every day of their busybusybusy lives, and because of their level of busy-ness, they may not be able to tell you that you stink for a month or two. Or not at all. The "or not at all" attitudes are especially annoying. In other words, they are so busybusybusy they don't have time for good manners, common decency, or simple professionalism. 

So, when I sent off a query letter and a few sample pages to an agent who seemed to be a good match, I was a bit surprised to receive a polite, professional, and kind rejection email in, get this, 18 HOURS! Was my letter so terrible that the poor woman threw up and hit the REJECT AUTOMATIC REPLY that fast? I could not believe it. A first in decades of rejection letters. 18 HOURS!

When I told my astute Book Concierge, Rowe Carenen, she said not to worry, that the busybusybusy agent's "In Box" was probably full, triggering the response, and she probably never even saw the query letter and sample pages. That made sense. I tried again with another agent at the agency. That was a little over two weeks ago. No rejection. Yet. Maybe she's reading what I wrote. Maybe she'll be impressed. Maybe she won't. Might be too busybusybusy. I'll let you know when, and if, I hear from her.

In the meantime, keep writing!

Agent Unawares (For Now)


For all practical purposes, I have finished the "big" novel I've been writing to you all about.  Thirty-eight chapters ast it turns out, thoroughly reviewed, critiqued, and edited by my stellar book concierge, and studied by my writers group, "The Write Minds." I enjoyed writing the book, enjoyed the several revisions, enjoyed the outcome of the story that has redemption in it for a very troubled protagonist. Now the hard part sets in, the "corrosive self doubt" that I wrote about earlier that all writers feel.  It isn't any good.  It might be good but no one will want it.  Is it the best I can do?  Did I waste my time?  What will my 6th grade teacher at Hawthorne Elementary School in Clinton, Iowa think of it?

Something even harder begins now, and that - finding an agent.  I published my first two novels, and the third to come, without an agent.  So, why do I need an agent for this book?  Because there is a whole business side of publishing that I know nothing about and that my current publisher does not pursue.  How to push the book.  How to get rave reviews.  How to boost sales.  How to expand author's rights into foreign sales, getting into big bookstores, even movies.  How to, I tremble to mention this, how to make some money at my craft.

I have writer friends who have written wonderful novels and can't get published.  I have writer friends who got published but have made less than $500 in royalties over two or three years.  I have writer friends who despair and give up, but I'm not doing that.  I wrote a good book.  I hope to find an excellent agent who will boost my career.

I will keep you posted, dear readers.

Taking a Page from Stephen King

Some famous author once said that when a writer finishes writing their novel, a sort of depression sets in, not unlike the postpartum blues women suffer from right after having a baby. I can't relate to postpartum depression, nor can I say rightly that I get down after completing the last chapter of a novel.  you see, I just finished the last chapter to my work, a 97,000-word "upmarket commercial" effort.  And I did not get depressed.  What I wanted to do was immediately start revising, so I did, looking specifically for two of my blind spots - passive voice and "echo," a term we writers use to describe using the same important word twice within close proximity of each other.  That proximity blind spot can be annoying, a speed bump interfering with the reader's flow and proximity to a smooth narrative.

So I did that, weeding out my blind spots.  What's next, you may ask?

When Stephen King finishes a novel, he sets it aside for a month or more and does something else, such as going for long walks or watching Boston Red Sox games, or reading what other writers are publishing.

My urge was to get back to working on my fourth Thomas O'Shea novel, since the first two are published (Signs of Struggle 2012 and A Far Gone Night 2014) and a third (The Face on the Other Side) is scheduled for an early 2017 release.  So I plan to get after number four in the series, Of Mists and Murders.

I am a professional writer, so I have a compulsion to write, and I am itching to produce that next O'Shea novel, and it nags at me.  But first, I am going to follow King's example and take some time off, starting with a long road trip with my bride, watching college football on TV (especially my Iowa Hawkeyes), and enjoying the changing of the seasons leading into my favorite month - October.

I will, however, keep a notebook in close proximity at all times, just in case I need to jot down a piece of dialogue that comes to mind, a vivid setting, or a conflict among my characters I had not thought of previously.

So, no more blogs for a while, but please look to hear from me and my writer's journey when the leaves turn to gold and orange and red.king

A Writer's Wednesday

In my previous offering, I wrote about what it's like, a little, as a full time writer. I also alluded to the fact that I was about to write the final chapter of my most recent novel, which would have been Chapter 35. Guess what? Well, I did finish the novel last night, but it was Chapter 37. Things happened that I didn't expect, including a blizzard and a puppy and a couple of scenes in a pub. If you're a writer, you know how that happens. If you're not, let me try to explain. People say, "How in the world can something can happen in a story you, the author, are writing, and how can you be surprised? Aren't you in charge? This doesn't make any sense!"

They're right and wrong. Yes, I am the writer and I am in charge, and responsible for, what I write. But no, I'm not surprised when something happens I didn't plan on happening. How does that happen? Well, if I'm writing regularly, and I'm talking about several pages or even a full chapter, then the story sort of writes itself, in a sense because the story is happening inside my head, and things can intrude - scenes, dialogue, action - that I didn't plan. I do not outline. I do not write the last chapter first. I don't even know how the novel is going to wind up when I start. In this case, I did know that there would be redemption at the end, but that was it. How was that going to happen? Don't ask me. I can't answer the question.

So, how does it feel to have finished? It's good and bad. It's good because I've accomplished what I set out to do. It's bad because it's over, the relationships I have with the characters and the story. What's next? I'll set it aside for a while, several weeks maybe (Stephen King sets his aside for three months), but I'll still be thinking what I'm going to do to make it better. I'll get ideas, I'll jot notes, I'll answer questions that should have been answered in the book (why does that guy bite people instead of say hello?) and so forth.

In the meantime, I am going back to Of Mists And Murders, #4 in the Thomas O'Shea series set in fictitious Rockbluff, Iowa, which is what I was working on when the idea for this other novel shoved its way into my schedule. In other words, when I finish writing something, I write something else. Grand, isn't it?

Writing Wednesday Writer's Plug

Now that Memorial Day is over and June is here, many of you are planning vacations - to the beach, to the mountains, to the back yard.  When that happens, a grand old American tradition is to get one's hands on novels with page-turning plots, colorful characters, humor, and maybe even a bit of mystery and action.  Ideally, romance is sprinkled into the mix with healthy portions. I would like to make two recommendations, knowing that these novels include all of the above ingredients for a good read.  I know this because I wrote them, and here they are:  Signs of Struggle in which the protagonist, Thomas O'Shea, who has lost his family in a tragic car accident, comes upon a beautiful woman, bloody and screaming, running down a country road.  He considers not helping; after all, he has his own issues, but his heroic side wins out, one thing leads to another, and he discovers an enormous plot to sell tens of millions of dollars' worth of prime Iowa farmland.  He starts snooping into the situation and then people try to discourage him.  Attempts are made on his life, but O'She is a tough guy with nothing to lose as he struggles with the loss of his family, drinking, women, and his guilt for precipitating so much violence in the little town where he now lives.  Ron Rash (Serena, The World Made Straight, Above the Waterfall, The Cove) says "Signs of Struggle is both a gripping murder mystery and a compelling study of one man's recovery from tragedy.  John Carenen is a gifted writer and his novel is an impressive debut."

My second recommendation is the sequel to Signs of Struggle and is entitled A Far Gone Night.  Suffering from insomnia, O'Shea goes for a late-night stroll and finds himself pausing on a bridge over the river that runs through the peaceful Iowa town of Rockbluff.  When he glances downstream, he sees the body of a dead girl. Teaming up with his friends Lunatic Mooning and Clancy Dominquez, an old buddy from Navy SEAL days, the men set out to bring justice to the dead girl, a quest that takes them to the Chalaka Reservation in Minnesota, seedy businesses adjacent to the Chalaka Casino, and straight into the world of organized crime.  Quirky characters fro my first novel, a fast-paced story, and laugh-out-loud moments continue to enliven the complex world of Thomas O'Shea.  Wendy Tyson (Killer Image, Deadly Asset, Dying Brand, A Muddied Murder) says, "Carenen has done it again.  Beautifully written ... A Far Gone Night doesn't disappoint."

So, whether you are headed for the beach or just enjoying your front porch, I am confident these two novels (the third in the series is at the publisher) will bring pleasure to your summer reading.  You can find them at Amazon books, of course.  If  you I've in the South Carolina Upstate, where I live, you can pick up both novels at both Fiction Addiction and Joe's Place in Greenville and My Sister's Store in Travelers Rest.  Also in "TR" as we call it, the novels are available at As the Page Turns (Southern Writers section) and The Cafe at Williams Hardware.  Just ask if you can't find them.  They're there.

So, I hope you'll pick up these novels, enjoy them, and say "I'm Facebook friends with this author!"

Everyday is #WritingWednesday

how_to_overcome_writers_blockSoon I will be a full-time writer which, frankly, scares the crap out of me.  As I phase out, over the next few months, my time as a professor, I will be face to face with what I always wanted to be, said I was going to be, and now must be; that is, a writer.  Not a part-time dalliance, not a self-absorbed "hobby," not anything else but one of those odd people identified as - a "writer."  No excuses.  Time to produce.  So be it.

Gordon B. Hinkley said, "All writers should be put in a box and thrown in the sea."  He might be right, but I will not be thwarted.  I will have to learn to say so long to procrastination, excuse-making, and most of my time on Facebook.  I will have to produce.  I will have to be a bit selfish with my time.  I will have to be disciplined!  A novel, then another.  Maybe a short story.  A new novel.

I have no expectations of best-sellers, movie contracts, interviews on TV, ever-aware of Flannery O'Connor's quote about expecting too much which produces a softness that can lead to bitterness.  I will write, revise, edit, and send out my work.  Then I'll start something new.  How weird is that?

I will develop a thick skin.

I will be disciplined.  I will put in the research.  I will seek critique from honest people I respect.

But to be honest, I'm not sure I can avoid what the tremendous author, James Lee Burke, calls the "corrosive self-doubt" that afflicts all writers of all genres.  That the ugly thing that can intimidate.

I'll keep you posted, dear reader, as I gradually ease into my new life as a writer.  Shall I purchase a beret?

I'm afflicted

One of my goals this Spring Break was to finish the first draft of novel #3 in the Thomas O'Shea series. Just a few chapters, going back a bit and making minor revisions, forging ahead. Well, I did it. I finished the final chapter, Chapter 30. I tried to avoid finishing it, to be honest. I have what the great James Lee Burke calls "corrosive self-doubt," which is an affliction all writers suffer.  I dawdled. I dallied. I thought of other things I could do besides finish that last, short, chapter. I played "monster" with my dog, chasing her around the cottage, a game she loves. I got on Facebook for a while. I read up on the Hawkeyes, the Red Sox, political scandals. I went back to my computer.   I finished, immediately followed by a sense of satisfaction, a sense of imminent doom, a bit of sadness that it was over. But I finished. Next step? Well, I mean to put it away until May, and then I'll go full bore making revisions, some major, most minor. I have to get all the names straight, the timelines accurate, the details nailed down, maybe more research to review, the loose ends tied up. But I love that part of being a writer as well.   Next step after that? Off to my publisher and start to write again.   Being a writer is an affliction, but it is a delightful one, especially when a work is finished. And I did that. Now I can spend my valuable time watching March Madness. Of course, there's some writing I need to do.

The beat goes on.

My Writing Process

This week, I'm participating in a blog tour for writers.  Each writer answers four questions about their writing and tags a few more authors to do the same next week.  I'd like to thank Barbara V. Evers of  http://aneclecticmuse.blogspot.com who tagged me for this week.  Barbara writes epic fantasy and I can't wait get my hands on a copy of The Watchers of Moniah.

Now, on to the questions!

What am I working on?  
Right now I'm working on the third book in the Thomas O'Shea series. Book one, Signs of Struggle, was a success, and book two, A Far Gone Night is coming out on September 9th. I'm eight chapters into book three and looking forward to completing a first draft by the summer's end. I'm also trying to be faithful to my blog, "CurlyLarryandMe."
How does my book differ from others of its genre? 
Good question, because my books don't really fit any specific genre. They're just stories with the same protagonist and supporting cast of characters with weird names (Lunatic Mooning, Bunza Steele, Harmon Payne) in an obscure setting - a small town in northeastern Iowa. My books are different in that the protagonist is not a P.I., a retired cop, or any other standard protagonist. He's just a middle-aged guy who's lost his wife and two daughters in an automobile accident a couple years back and is trying to work out his approach to God, alcohol, violence, and relationships with the opposite sex while maintaining a kind of "tough guy" code.
Why do I write what I do? 
It all started with the Stephen King approach of, "What if?" I then thought about what would be the worst thing that could happen to me, and that would be losing my family in an automobile accident. What would I do? So I took that idea and applied it to Thomas O'Shea and came up with Signs of Struggle. To me, the story is everything, and writing from a first person point of view makes the story more intimate.
How does my writing process work? 
Of course, I'm always writing in my head and making notes here and there, but I'm pretty disciplined, writing when I can during the school year (I'm an English prof) and, when summer comes, sitting down from 8-12 and working. It's fun, especially in the summer because I know I'll have the time to really dig in and let 'er fly. I also have more time to do research, which I enjoy. I try to write a first draft in the summer (keeping in mind Hemingway's observation that all first drafts are "vomit") and then polish and shape after that during the year. Also, we host at our cottage, twice a month, an eclectic group of writers in a group we call "The Write Minds" which is useful for critique, suggestions, and insights. They're a little crazy, but talented and astute. They find my blind spots. That's about it on process.
Make sure to follow the tour next week (June 30) with the following authors:
Warren Moore
Image Dr. Moore received his B.A. in English from Excelsior College, his M.A. in English from the University of Kentucky, and his Ph.D. in British, American and World Literature from Ball State University. His Ph.D. work focused on representations of evil in literature, with particular attention to medieval literature, and a dissertation on the Seven Deadly Sins in pre-Shakespearean English drama. He was named Newberry’s Professor of the Year in 2006 by the College’s Student Government Association, and was named a South Carolina Governor’s Distinguished Professor in 2008.

Prior to joining the faculty at Newberry College in 2003, Dr. Moore worked in jobs ranging from magazine editor and freelance journalist to stand-up comic. He is a regular contributor to the New Chaucer Society’s annual bibliography, and to The American Culture, an online magazine. Moore's first novel, Broken Glass Waltzes, was published by Snubnose Press in 2013.

Blog: http://profmondo.wordpress.com
E-mail: prof.mondo.blog@gmail.com
Twitter: @profmondo

Dave Newell



Dave Newell was born and raised in the Midlands of South Carolina. After graduating in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in Broadcast Journalism, he moved to Greenville, South Carolina where he currently lives with his family.

Red Lory his first novel, was published in 2013 and the film version is currently in production.

Just what do you think you're doing, John?

Wheeeeeeeee! I have conversations with my chair. You need to understand this is not an ordinary chair. This is a new chair that my long-suffering wife, Lisa, bought for me on the sly, assembled herself, and set it before my computer. It is a beauty, and it knows it. Sort of like Lisa's self-absorbed cat, Bernadette.

Anyway, it is a wonderful chair and it invites me to sit in it and write.

"I am comfortable, John. Here, come sit and write."

"I know you're comfortable, but I'm busy procrastinating right now," I say.

"I am adjustable up and down."

"I know."

"I can go round and round, spinning like a top. It's fun!"

"I know that, too," I say.

"I can rock."

"I agree, you definitely rock, being comfortable, adjustable, and spinning-capable," I admit.

Most days, this new chair does not need to entice me. Most days I am motivated enough that I go there willingly, without conversation. Like today, as I write this, and prepare to send it on to my book concierge, Rowe Copeland.

But now it is time to get up and attend to some chores, yet I hesitate, afraid to hurt its feelings. You see, the chair has taught me to say, "I appreciate you" whenever I get up and go away for a while. And after I say that, it responds with, "You're welcome, John. See you again. Soon." This reality makes me nervous. Makes me think of Hal, the computer, in Stanley Kubrick's epic film, "2001, A Space Odyssey."

The voices are similar, soft, mellifluous, easy on the ears. Hypnotic.

Maybe I'll stick around and write something more. Another blog, a letter to my congressman, a note to an old friend. Surely I can come up with something to keep me in the chair. I mustn't make it angry, it is so comfortable. One could get lost in its lovely contours. Maybe I'll just rest my eyes for a moment, maybe doze off, perchance to dream, to dream, to . . .