Category Archives: freelance writing

Gently Read Literature, New issue is available

Gently Read Literature

Reviews of Contemporary Poetry & Literary Fiction

Daniel Casey’s GRL: The Winter 2014 issue includes fiction reviews of authors such as Peter Cherches, Kirby Gann, Pamela Erens, Bonnie ZoBell, George Guida, Valerie Fioravanti, Adam Berlin, Luanne Rice, Bruce Holbert, Linda Lappin, and Juliet Marillier.

I’ve reviewed Bonnie ZoBell’s short stories from The Whack Job Girls and Adam Berlin’s novel, The Number of Missing.

Daniel Casey, Robin Martin, book reviews, chapbook,

San Francisco Book Review

One of the things I like to do, when I have “free” time, is write book reviews.

I have been writing for SFBR and the Sacramento edition for several years now, and recently began doing “sponsored reviews” for them, which often entails reading books not unlike what I primarily help clients write and produce: Self-published titles.

For this March issue, I reviewed a book thematically identical to my client Brad DeHaven’s Defining Moments.

I recommend both books for two different and original takes on parenting drug addicts.  Each has a unique hook: Dina Kucera’s Everything I Never Wanted to Be feels a bit like the old Roseanne show– for any of you old enough to remember it.  The author is a comedian, and her self-deprecating humor allows the reader to experience her pain and her life-saving way of laughing at her pain.  If she couldn’t make a joke of all these awful circumstances, she wouldn’t be able to survive.

Brad has a great sense of humor, but his memoir is less funny and more true crime, as he takes the reader with him into the line of fire, where he voluntarily placed himself to keep his drug-dealer son out of jail.

Both good reads.  I love my job, and my “free time” too.

Yemassee Short Fiction Contest

Here’s an announcement from Zack O’Neill, a former colleague of mine from graduate school, who is currently at U of South Carolina:

Yemassee, the University of South Carolina’s literary journal, announces an extension in the deadline of the William Richey Short Fiction Contest.

Submit a short story or novel excerpt of up to 10,000 words with a $10 entry fee by December 15th. The winner will receive $1,000 and publication in Yemassee. Two runners-up will receive $100 each, and ten additional finalists will be listed on our website. All entries will be considered for publication.

The winner and runners-up will be selected by author David Bajo, whose novel Panopticon is now available from Unbridled Books (October, 2010). For more information on David Bajo, visit:

How to enter

Entries (and fees) may be submitted via submishmash at:

Or mailed to:


William Richey Short Fiction Contest

Department of English

University of South Carolina

Columbia, SC. 29208

Checks should be made payable to Educational Foundation/English Literary Magazine Fund.

Multiple submissions are accepted (with a separate fee for each entry, and a separate SASE if submitted via regular mail). Simultaneous submissions are also accepted, but please inform us if the piece is accepted elsewhere and note that entry fees will not be refunded if the submission is withdrawn.

For more information on the contest and Yemassee, please visit

Break it down: What is an E & C, exactly?

An Evaluation and Critique of your work provides a professional reader’s insight into the effectiveness of your manuscript.

Some things you can not see because you’re the writer and just too close. Some things your family and friends will never tell you, even if they are themselves writers, because it is just too difficult to articulate some criticism kindly.

A professional reader may have a post-graduate degree in writing, publication credits, time on a literary publication’s editorial staff, experience in a publishing house or literary management agency. A professional reader reads and reads and reads.

A professional reader may not only have a background in the craft of writing, but may also have insight into what is selling in today’s market and can point out what makes your manuscript compatible with these markets. (You can do some of this research yourself, on sites like Publishers Marketplace and Writers Market, but do you wake up every morning and read the latest Deals? A professional reader does.)

My E & Cs don’t follow a predetermined format. Unfortunately for my time management, but I think fortunately for my clients, I don’t have a template for the E & C where I can just fill in the blanks for each manuscript. I start fresh with each one, and then am able to customize the E & C based on the client’s goals for the project and where they are. I think this second part is especially important.

Where they are:  Example- S wants to know if she has any talent and should pursue her dream of writing. Am I going to focus on her overuse of adverbs, inconsistent verb tenses and commonly misspelled words? No, I am not. I will focus on the seeds of her manuscript that work and that she can develop and recommend ways for her to grow these seeds. I am going to focus on broad issues of character and plot development through showing and not telling, on how to find details that compel the story forward and draw the reader in.  I will mention the correctness issues, but only in passing.

Remember when you used to get those essays returned with no line untouched by the bleeding red pen? ~I like to avoid that feeling.

In another case, E is ready to publish. He wants an E & C before he sends it off to self publish. Am I going to focus on how far he has to go to refine his craft? This is an author who has already determined that he will not get the attention of agents and major houses. This is not his goal. I would focus on and advise him regarding any elements that stand out as particularly ineffective before he goes to print.  Such as, if there are any problems with the logic of the story arc, any problems with consistency and characters. I might recommend another pass through to eliminate intrusive filters, for example, working towards moving the reader closer into the story. I would definitely point out patterns of correctness issues, grammar and spelling that may embarrass him when they appear in print.

Two very different examples of an E & C (elements have been changed to protect the identity of the author):

Coming to the end of my largest project to date

After being buried in many more than the 365 pages it has turned out to be and over 7 months later, I am mailing out the first full manuscript for review by the author with whom I worked on the development of his novel.


In June, this novel was a series of redundant vignettes. Though it had been professionally edited once before, it lacked any transitions, was extremely short on character development, contained no gestures and countless adverbs. It was written entirely in a flashback, framed by a present tense scene where a man sat in a chair remembering. Kind of like Masterpiece Theater, but without the masterpiece.

I read it all through once fast then got to work. First, I needed to move the action around a bit, put it in present tense with a story arc and an occasional flashback, more like a contemporary novel.  Next, it needed to be typed into a computer–Did I mention that the draft I was given was a combination of typewriter and handwritten pages? So, I got to work and used the Track Changes function to suggest changes and comment on the writing. For three chapters I typed and commented and suggested as much as I was inclined to; I didn’t hold back, because if I was going to be working with this author for the length of an entire novel, I’d need to know what he was willing to change and what he would resist; I needed to know more about his characters and his intention; I needed to know what types of developmental help he was really looking for. Then, I gave him those three chapters with comments and suggestions and waited for his reply.

I didn’t have to wait long. My author was eager and, frankly, not very busy. Unfortunately for me, he didn’t just accept all of my changes. In fact, in quite a few areas I seemed to get it all wrong. Although I had read the entire novel, I didn’t know who was the protagonist. I didn’t know who the narrator was supposed to be or who I was supposed to root for. I didn’t know who to fear for. I received the most resistance on my suggestions of gesture and removal of adverbs.

One of the comments I received on my suggested text said in rather irritable capital letters: “MY TED DOES NOT ROLL HIS EYES.”

If I removed an adverb, he simply re-wrote the phrase with a different adverb and maybe an adjective thrown in for good measure.

This was a struggle, frankly. This was my largest project where I was writing for someone else and really as someone else. I had to pretend to be the author and use the author’s voice even when I thought it was lousy. At first, I reiterated some of my golden rules of writing, tried to coach him on showing rather than telling, just the basic stuff. He accepted some of it and rejected some of it.

He allowed me to add some transitions, remove some redundancies, create some scene around disembodied dialogue. I think a reader will know who to hate now, although the protagonist is still pretty creepy in my opinion.

By the end I came to realize that this is HIS book, not mine. Ultimately my job is to suggest edits and then follow orders in their execution. That’s what it is about to work for someone.

Fortunately, his goal isn’t a major publisher. And my name won’t be on the cover.

Reviewing Books

I just submitted my newest review to Sacramento and San Francisco Book Review:

It is The Face in the Mirror: Writers Reflect on Their Dreams of Youth and the Reality of Age, Edited by Victoria Zackheim. It is an anthology of reflective essays written by totally intelligent authors. My favorite line from this book:

“At the very least, my parents wanted a child who was normal, but what they got was a writer.”

Each book I review I add to my collection. It is in this way that I’ve obtained some books I’m all too eager to give away-like Robert Olmstead’s Far Bright Star and the British mob-book disaster Faces. Other books I’ve reviewed, of course, I’m thrilled to be able to lend, just lend-with promise of return-to my writer and reader friends, like Updike’s Maples Stories. I might not lend my Last Night in Twisted River pre-release copy. What if something happens to it?

I am always on the lookout on the Books Available Lists for high quality books for the 7-11 year old set, but without reading a review first it is hard to gauge by the title. Aha- I am so helping other parents by reading them first! I have enjoyed reading children’s books with my son, including the delightful Max Said Yes! and the intriguing Harry Houdini for Kids, and even ask him for his assistance when composing the review.

I did get a bit gun shy when I chose a title from the children’s section that turned out to be a novel for the middle years. It’s not that it was bad for what it was, but it was not what I enjoy reading, is not a genre I am familiar with, and almost got me in trouble with my 9-year old. (The young male protagonist sets a prurient goal to see a woman naked). Egad! I’m so not ready to go there.

On Deck:

For On-Line: Mike Croft’s Down Deep. This is a wild card. When I ordered it, I thought it was written by Mike Croft the managing editor of Narrative Magazine, but alas, this is some British dude’s nom de plume. Wish me luck with that one.

For January: Strange Things Happen: A Life with The Police, Polo, and Pygmies by Stewart Copeland. I love Rock and Roll Biographies and have always had a big crush on Copeland. This oughta be good.

For February:  Hot Springs by Geoffrey Becker and Tin House. Anything Tin House is awesome.

Variety is the Spice of Life- or- Why is it I rely on cliches when I know better?

This was going to be a blog post about the great variety of projects I have on my plate right now:
Agenting: pitching a novel to publishers.
Evaluating: reading contest entries for a popular international summer fiction contest.
Writing: compiling a book proposal and pitching package for the authors of a non-fiction leadership book.
Reading: and reviewing books for the Sacramento Book Review.
Editing: guiding a novice novel writer who at the age of 90 has hired me to be a developmental editor (and typist) for his book.
Submitting: researching and sending out my own fiction to potential venues for publication.
Querying: creating freelance writing jobs for myself, interviews, reviews, articles.
Establishing: still working to create my professional brand.

But when I looked at the title I had chosen and then my first line I saw, staring back at me, two huge clichés (now count them 3) and stuck out my tongue in disgust.

Some people, apparently, like clichés, and search for them.

Clichés are, sadly, my primary language. I dream in clichés, (always packing up other people’s stuff that I feel responsible for but the piles keep growing, or climbing up a steep hill that I can’t get to the top of, yadda yadda). I think in clichés and, alas, write in them, until I translate in that second step to original language (or so I hope). Clichés are lazy, yes, also habit and something that can be unlearned.

I speak only snippets of languages other than English: a bit of French, German, Italian, Spanish, but only enough to get me on the right train, a seat by the window, a glass of bubbly water, one more beer, or to the bathroom. But I understand that as a person really integrates a new language into their beings, as they are immersed in English, for example, they may still dream in their L1 or be consciously translating what they want to say into the new language, still thinking in their primary language.

While I may think in clichés, I successfully eliminate them in revision, much like a new language learner translates.

I really believe I have colleagues, I’m thinking in particular of the amazing fiction writer Kylee Cook, who no longer think in clichés, if they ever did. Her primary language is innovative; her stories— hell, even her Facebook posts!— are thought provoking and never cliché. I aspire to the elimination of clichés in any draft. Until then, I guess practice makes perfect.