<![CDATA[Official Website of author TJ Vargo - Blog]]>Mon, 22 Dec 2014 19:38:37 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Have Fun and Become A Better Writer—Enter The Great Novel Contest 2015!]]>Sat, 06 Dec 2014 17:48:49 GMThttp://tjvargo.com/1/post/2014/12/-have-fun-and-become-a-better-writerenter-the-great-novel-contest-2015.htmlPicture
If you’re a member of the growing horde of artists who write fiction, let me fill you in on a few secrets. First, your chances of becoming rich or famous are about the same as becoming a professional athlete. Really. So get that out of your head. Second, you’re not smarter than your workshop, class, or writing group. Even if you’re a genius, the group is and always will be smarter than you. That’s just the way it is—sorry. As a writer myself, I’m aware that many of you stopped reading after I wrote that you won’t be rich or famous. Writers are a particularly delusional lot (as are most artists), and newbie writers are especially prone to believing they’re the next big thing. No amount of reason or logic will sway them. But the bald-faced truth is this—if you’re a writer, you’re a member of the creative class, which is a veritable MOUNTAIN of a class. To get an idea of how titanic it is, log on to Amazon’s book selling machine, check out that ever-expanding galaxy of novels, and then realize that the books on Amazon are an infintesimal speck of the literature being produced by the great unwashed masses. Published work represents approximately three or four percent of the universe of literature. There is a great unseen tidal wave of novels out there, my friend, and if you’re a writer, you’re part of that wave. It’s a scary proposition. You work your tail off only to be part of a teeming mass of dreck, with no way to determine if your work has any merit. The random nature of this process breaks many writers. “What is the secret?” they cry, shaking fists of rage as their novel dies the slow death of apathy, ignored by agents and publishers alike. “What am I doing wrong?!”

Well, unclench your fists you big dummy. The secret is simple. From this point forward your job is simple—do your best work and learn from your mistakes. That’s all. The best part is it doesn’t matter what your skill level is. Unless you’re unable to work up the gumption to put words to paper or are locked in the delusional throes of your own genius, you can always do your best work and learn from your mistakes.

There are a couple options on how you can master your writing talent, or (as is often the case with me) figure out how to—ahem— skillfuly hide your lack of talent. If you’re interested, my strategy is as follows:

● Write something

● Have it critiqued

● Rewrite it

● (and the fun part)—Enter it in a contest


We’re going to skip over the writing part. If you haven’t written anything, stop reading and get busy—we’ll be here when you get back. For the rest of you, the first part of this strategy—critiques—vary in efficacy depending on the source. Critiques from agents, publishers and book reviewers are notoriously hard to get, but they’re the best. They’ve helped me really understand why I stink and how I can write stuff that’s less stinky.

(For the record, I usually don’t try to fix my weaknesses, I do my best to eliminate them from my writing and concentrate on making my meager strengths stand out. For instance, if your dialogue sucks, don’t write dialogue. H.P. Lovecraft is a great example of this—his dialogue blows, so he did his best to not include dialogue in his stories. But I digress, onward ho—back to critiques!)

Unfortunately, getting critiques from agents, publishers and professional reviewers is hard and sometimes impossible, so the next best route is to get critiques from fellow writers at workshops. If you follow this strategy, your job is to filter out the nonsense and focus on the real input.

Rule of Thumb—If more than two fellow writers think your thirty-year-old Shaolin monk-turned-assassin talks like an eighty-year-old Yiddish housewife, take that input as gospel and fix that unfortunate misconception.

Once you’ve completed the rewrite phase, you’re ready for the real fun of being a writer. If you’ve written a novel, had it critiqued, and rewrote it, then contests are your next order of business. Yes, you heard me right, CONTESTS. They’re the perfect vehicles for having your work weighed and measured against the competition. I mean, what the heck are you writing for anyhow? You want people to read what you’ve written, don’t you? Contests will get that done for you, and they’re also a ton of fun. I came late to this realization, entering my first contest after writing fiction for twenty plus years, but once I did enter a contest, my eyes were opened. It’s exciting. Contests gives you a buzz for the entire length of the competition. Even when I’m having a bad day I think to myself, “Hey, maybe a judge is right now laughing at my story—hopefully because it’s funny—and is passing it along to the finalist round.”  You will not believe how much it boosts your creativity when you enter your work in a contest. No joke. Maybe it’s because I feel the need to fill the vacuum created when work leaves my computer, but whatever it is, I write more when I enter a contest. Which brings me to today. I am currently in the midst of preparing a manuscript for The Great Novel Contest 2015. If you have a completed novel, you need to do the same. This contest is legit. Last year I creeped on all the writers who were finalists. It was a sobering experience. Writing professors, established fiction writers, and highly-regarded graduates of MFA programs from all four corners of the U.S., as well as at least one or two from Canada, were among those in the finalists round. Let’s put it this way, these people knew what they were doing and trust me, that’s what you want when you enter a contest. If you’re going to be a writer, you have to know how your work measures up against people who are serious about the artform. In addition to stellar competition, this contest also has some pretty cool benefits if you win or get runner-up status. You get $1,000 if you win and a bunch of publishers consider your novel for publication. The runner-up gets $500 and a letter of recommendation that can be used for contacting publishers and/or agents. This is the third year of the contest and the past two winners have had their novels published. That’s a good track record. What really attracts me to this contest is that manuscripts are judged blind. This means that the judges are reading the story and giving it a thumbs up or down based on the writing. It’s like that show “The Voice” where judges pick singers for their teams without seeing them, in effect selecting singers based on the quality of their singing rather than how they look, dance, command the stage or any of the other extraneous stuff. The Great Novel Contest 2015 follows this model. There are no names on the manuscripts. No listing of prestigious degrees or honors and previous writing glory to sway the judges’ opinions. It’s nothing but your writing put to the ultimate eye-test.

Believe it or not, I’m entering the first novel I ever wrote. Yes, I know—it’s a fools strategy. First novels are often atrocities, and mine definitely falls into this category, but I’m taking the time to work through it and see if it’s salvageable. And once I’m done, I know of only one way to find out once and for all if I was able to transform the stinking heap of words I called a first novel into something readable—I’m entering it into The Great Novel Contest 2015!

If I can do it, you can too. Hope to see you in the finalist round. Good luck and happy writing!

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<![CDATA[How To Write A Good Query Letter]]>Sat, 15 Nov 2014 15:44:32 GMThttp://tjvargo.com/1/post/2014/11/how-to-write-a-good-query-letter.htmlSo here I am with a completed novel. The plot has a relentless momentum. The characters are gritty, dangerous and real. The writing is clean. I think its my best work to date. But the hard work is still in front of me because I'm shopping this novel for an agent. The way this works is I have to write what's called a query letter. This letter must convey everything that matters about my novel (the characters, the plot, the setting, etc.) and everything about my journey as a writer in one concise, elegant package. It requires marketing genius and true copywriting artistry to pull this off, and more than a few novel-writing friends of mine have expressed dismay at writing the dreaded query letter. But after decades of writing them, I've come up with a decent blueprint that gets me pretty good results. A case in point is my current novel. After completing the final edit on my novel I sent out twelve query letters to agents who represent similar novels. Within a couple days I received three requests for full manuscripts from agents and one request for a full from an agent turned publisher. Not too shabby. If you're interested in how I did it, here's my letter:

Dear Agent X,

I am interested in obtaining representation for TOMBS, my recently completed crime novel of approximately 105,000 words, written in the tradition of the new breed of literary-leaning genre novels such as Chuck Hogan's PRINCE OF THIEVES and Jonathan Lethem's MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN.

Curtis Monroe is living the wrong life.

He hates being a thief.

He hates his buddies who stole his get-out-of-town money.

He hates the crime lords who destroyed his family.

And he hates the idea of facing off with Joe Cracker Jones, the hillbillly killing machine who's on the crime lords' payroll.

But he know he can't start a new life until he erases the old one. it's a fight he can't win, but one he can't turn away from.

Welcome to the city of Tombs.

TOMBS was selected as a finalist in The Great Novel Contest 2014, an international novel competition sponsored by the Columbus Creative Cooperative. Since its selection as a finalist, I have revised and edited TOMBS with an eye on tightening the storyline and further developing the characters. My previous novel, LOW MAN, won a silver medal in ForeWord Magazine's 2008 Book of the Year awards and my novel THE EXPEDITION was reviewed for movie adaptation by Creative Artists Agency. I studied in the Northeast Ohio MFA program at The University of Akron, where I was awarded the Carl H. and Dorothy S. Bauer Scholarship.

Do you have time to give TOMBS a read?

The above letter follows a format I developed over years of trial and error. If you're a fellow writer, feel free to study the mechanics of this letter and steal what you like. And don't be shy if you have questions, just post them and I'll pass along any knowledge I can. Writing is hard work. If I can help make it a little easier for you, that's a good thing.

Take it easy and have a great day:)




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<![CDATA[Is Your Left Hand Free?]]>Sat, 18 Oct 2014 15:06:58 GMThttp://tjvargo.com/1/post/2014/10/is-your-left-hand-free.htmlIf it is, you better check out this music by Alt J. Listening to it is fine, but I suggest getting the full experience and watching the video - believe me, you'll thank me later:)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRWUoDpo2fo

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<![CDATA[Funk It Up!]]>Thu, 04 Sep 2014 00:45:57 GMThttp://tjvargo.com/1/post/2014/09/funk-it-up.htmlGet busy with your bad self and check out one hell of a funk band - Big Soul!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JtITIZW0kyA

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<![CDATA[Writing Update]]>Sat, 24 May 2014 15:32:55 GMThttp://tjvargo.com/1/post/2014/05/writing-update.htmlPicture
TJ's crime novel, THE HARD WAY, was selected as one of ten finalists in the international novel competition, The Great Novel Contest 2014. THE HARD WAY did not win the competition, but sharing company with novels written by seasoned novelists and creative writing professors from around the U.S. and Canada was a great honor. TJ has refocused his creative energy on a rewrite of THE HARD WAY and has this to say about the novel:

"This is my most complete work to date. I'm very happy with the characters, the plot, the drama, and the dread that permeates this work of crime fiction. In the past I would've moved on to another project after getting noticed by a competition as big as The Great Novel Contest, but I can't set this project aside just yet. Feedback to THE HARD WAY painted a bulls eye in my mind of what this novel can be. The story and the characters have occupied my mind for three years now, and the finished product is close to the vision I had when I first conceived it. Now I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that vision becomes a reality. I'm extremely grateful to The Great Novel Contest for recommitting me to this dark tale of bad men fighting to survive in the wreckage of post-recession America, and I wish the best to all those writers who shared the finalist stage with me. Writing a good novel is the toughest thing I've ever done. Being recognized as one of the best among other people that share my desire to spin worlds from thin air is an honor I'll never forget."





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<![CDATA[Two novels. $0.99. Three more days...]]>Tue, 22 Apr 2014 23:31:58 GMThttp://tjvargo.com/1/post/2014/04/two-novels-099-three-more-days.htmlPicture
That's right. You have until Friday to get two novels for $0.99 a piece. One will take you to a far off town in the middle of nowhere. A place where evil lives, and there's no one to help. THE DEVIL'S DUE is one scary horror novel with the Devil himself as one of the main characters. So buckle in for one long stretch of time with the most evil creature ever created.

The other novel, SURVIVE, is a thriller that packs five law enforcement personnel on a remote island for a race. The winner lives. The rest, along with their families, die, all because an old drug-lord is less than happy with having been locked away for over a decade. 

So there you go. Two novels for $0.99 for three more days.

Get one. Get the other. Or get them both. But read something!

I'm still waiting on the results of the Great Novel Contest. I checked out some of the other finalists and I am in rare company. Creative Writing professors. MFA graduates. Long time fiction writers who've been busting their hump for many years to write the best novel they're capable of. That's okay. I've done the same thing. I've worked on my writing and, win or lose, I know that THE HARD WAY is the best product I can write. Whether it wins or not is another matter, but I really, really enjoyed writing that book. I'll let you know what happens as soon as the winner and runner up are announced.

Take it easy - I'll talk to you later.


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<![CDATA[Best Hard Rock I've Heard Since the 70's]]>Sat, 19 Apr 2014 13:55:19 GMThttp://tjvargo.com/1/post/2014/04/best-hard-rock-ive-heard-since-the-70s.htmlPicture
Do you miss bands like Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, and Black Sabbath? I do. While bands like the White Stripes and the Black Keys gave me hope through the years, I thought the old days of a real bad ass bands were gone. But fear not, my friends, there is such a band that has the cold dark heart of hard rock beating in their chests. They're called SWORD. They're good. Real good. And I have to thank my old band mate Pete Peterson for turning me on to them. Makes me want to grow my hair long and blast my stereo until the neighbors call the police. If you like old 70's masters, settle in, click here, crank the volume to eleven and listen to one of the best hard rock bands I've heard in a long, long time.


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<![CDATA[The Great Novel Contest 2014 Selects THE HARD WAY As A Finalist ]]>Sat, 22 Mar 2014 14:30:12 GMThttp://tjvargo.com/1/post/2014/03/the-great-novel-contest-2014-selects-the-hard-way-as-a-finalist.htmlPicture

THE HARD WAY, my magnum opus crime novel of about 110,000 words, has been selected as one of ten finalists in the Columbus Creative Cooperative's GREAT NOVEL CONTEST 2014. Literary agent Terra Chalberg will now review the ten finalists and select a winner and a runner up. If you feel up to it, go visit your local Catholic church and burn a candle for me, say a few prayers to Saint Jude, the patron saint of the impossible, and then send a bribe over to Terra. Seriously, I always get worked up when one of my novels gets into the running for anything. It doesn't mean I'll become rich or even be able to make a living as a writer, but it means that someone enjoyed my work, and that's why I write. To be recognized as an entertainer with a top-notch product is always a good thing. Not sure when I'll hear who wins, but win or lose, I'll let you know. I just hope Terra likes crime novels with no good guys and lots of blood and guts.

Oh, one more thing. My thriller, action-adventure novel, THE EXPEDITION, will be on sale for $0.99 on Amazon from Monday, March 1 through Friday, April 4. THE EXPEDITION is about some scientists who are messing with nature. And, don't you know, nature messes back in a big way when they go on a expedition to the Amazon jungle. It's a fun, scary romp through real eye-popping science that is a little bit Michael Chrichton with a dash of Robert E. Howard. Hope you get a copy and have fun with it.

Take it easy - spring is here!


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<![CDATA[The Afterlife Revealed]]>Sat, 01 Feb 2014 15:32:25 GMThttp://tjvargo.com/1/post/2014/02/the-afterlife-revealed.htmlPicture
You know those stories about people who die and come back to life? The ones where the dying person floats above their body and is overcome by a feeling of ultimate peace while angels and friendly deceased relatives and friends whisk them toward a white light? Well, LOW MAN is kind of like that. Only take away the feeling of peace and replace it with terror. Then get rid of the angels and bring in dark creatures hunting for souls to drag to Hell. Finally insert a young down-on-his-luck man, Benny, fighting with every fiber of his being to make his way through Hell to find his dying son, carry him back to life and reunite his family. LOW MAN is an award-winning novel that has been downloaded about 10,000 times in the last year, and it will be on sale for $2.99 from Monday, February 3 through February 9. I recently edited the story to make it faster, scarier and more exciting, so if you get a copy, remember to leave a review on Amazon to let me know what you think. Enjoy!

Click here to download a copy of LOW MAN now.

What reviewers are saying:
Breaking Boundaries, December 24, 2013      
By Katherine A. Kaplan "Bibliophile :-)" (Pittsburgh, PA) - See all my reviewsThis review is from: Low Man (Kindle Edition)

I LOVED this book, and hated for it to end!

I enjoy reading Life After Death books in general. What grabbed me about this one was the diversity of characters, and how their lives intertwined with each other in remarkable and fascinating ways. Even the ending is captivating.

I look forward to reading other works by this author, and highly recommend him.

WOW! A Real Edge of your seat read!, April 25, 2013      
By Debra L. Lopez "Debra Lopez" (Arkansas, USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)    Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?) This review is from: Low Man (Kindle Edition) Low Man is an excellent book reminding me of Perretti's style. Got it on my Kindle Fire and finished reading it in one day. Lots of action and other worldly creatures. Makes you wonder about life and what really happens after death or in the inbetween place. Kept me guessing and holding my breath several times till the end. Highly recommended.

Low Man, April 27, 2013      
By crazyt - See all my reviewsAmazon Verified Purchase(What's this?) This review is from: Low Man (Kindle Edition) When I purchased this book, I really was not sure if I would even read it.But, after I started to read it I could not put it down. I reallly enjoyed reading it, and I found myself rooting for Benny.I won't give away the ending but it it did not end the way I thought it would,which is a refreshing change from the norm.All. I can say is give this book a chance and happy reading.

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<![CDATA[Night Film]]>Sat, 25 Jan 2014 16:31:50 GMThttp://tjvargo.com/1/post/2014/01/night-film.htmlPicture
One of my favorite pleasures in life is running across a book that I've never heard of, taking a chance on it, and enjoying the experience. Marisha Pessl's NIGHT FILM is one of those books. I've never heard of Pessl. And I'm sure if I saw her first book I would've run screaming in the opposite direction because of the title - SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS. That's unfair, but that title brings back horrific memories of college classes in scientific disciplines that hurt my brain. But NIGHT FILM sounded good to me. I like the dark and I like films, so I decided to try it. Not the most discerning method for choosing a book, but believe it or not, this logic usually works for me. The actual experience of reading Pessl is exactly like a night film. It's surprising, creepy, thrilling and ultimately an experience that makes you sigh and say, "Wow, that was fun." My literary tastes are eclectic, which is exactly how I'd categorize this book. Is it a horror story? Maybe. A mystery. Maybe. A drama/suspense/thriller? Uh, maybe. Being unable to categorize it is, in my mind, very good. I'm tired of the same old music, the same old literature, the same old talking heads, the same old (insert your subject here). Pessl is a writer who keeps me guessing, and I appreciate that. I do have a few nitpicks. Her use of metaphor is pretty heavy handed. When it comes to metaphors, fewer are always better. Her use of italics falls in the same category. But that's technical mumbo-jumbo, so my advice is forgive Pessl her sins and just enjoy the dark world she paints. Pessl's mastery of writing is what you'll enjoy, and it's evident in her ability to create characters you care about, have a story that plants itself in your head, and the inventive and creative way she leads you through a maze that seems to continually sprout new and exciting corridors. I'm not going to go into the plot except to say it's about a search for a reclusive horror film director, Cordova, who has a rabid underground fan base. There are hints of lurid, dark doings from the very beginning to the end of this novel. If that's your wheel house, get your copy of NIGHT FILM today. I enjoyed it so much that I actually picked up a copy of SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS. Any book that can do that has to be good:)

Have a great day - talk to you later.




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