Cave Creek,  Challenge,  On Writing

Reading To Buy…

Editing… A Very Different Mindset…

Right now I am reading Cave Creek stories for three different anthologies. I am most of the way through all the stories and will be turning the anthologies in on Monday to WMG with my introductions. A lot of work and it has been a lot of reading as well.

But honestly, I have loved it, because Cave Creek is a shared world I came up with and all these great writers are writing in that world. That, by itself, is a strange feeling.

Cave Creek has some pretty set rules and I need different stories to be in the book inside these set rules. So far the different stories aspect has not been a problem. Cave Creek seems to be a literal gold mine for ideas. So great there.

But the problem I have had the most trouble with is this: Stories work, but don’t work.

These writers are all great and skilled that are writing for these collections. Sure, every-so-often a story just misses and is easy for me to send back, but for the most part I am reading to the end of every story.

Those stories fall into three categories for the editor me when I am finished. 

1… Yep, I’ll buy it. No doubt. 

2… I really loved this story, but can’t figure out what is wrong.

3… Loved this story but it doesn’t fit the rules of Cave Creek.

#1 and #3 are easy to deal with. Letters to the writers for both. The buy it letter is always shorter than the missed-the-rules letter.

But the stories in the second spot are annoying beyond words. I love the story but something is wrong. My editor Spidey-Sense is ringing, but not telling me why. If with a little thought, I can’t figure it out, I put the story aside and read it again the next day. Often that allows me to find what is bothering me and if it is enough to reject the story or buy it.

This second category of stories never happens with beginners and early professional writers. But wow does it happen a lot with more advanced writers like the group I am reading. Skilled writers are so, so good and waving their hands in a story (as Kris calls it) and saying, “Don’t look over here, look over there.”

And that triggers the Spidey-Editor-Sense.

For example, one writer used a floating viewpoint very well and I liked the story a lot, but the entire story bothered me (Spidey Sense). So I put it away, came back the next day, started through it again and realized the floating viewpoint was an attempt to hide information. Nope, if you are in a character’s head, all their thoughts must be out there. The story would have been a lot better, actually, with everything revealed. But the writer didn’t think so and did a masterful job of hiding what the writer thought should be hidden. Most readers would have never noticed.

A side not: Wrong reason to float a viewpoint. You float a viewpoint to get more information to the readers, not to hide it, which is why it took me an extra day to spot the problem. (Yes, we will do a floating viewpoint workshop at some point.)

One story that I had to sit back and think about was a fantastic Cave Creek story. Just nothing weird happened. A wonderful western. I thought about buying it anyway because it fit Cave Creek and was such a good story, but that would be like buying a Twilight Zone story without anything strange happening. Uhh, nope.

So got about ten or so stories left to read tomorrow, then do the introductions and get this turned in. Then next week I will read the Pop-Up stories I am behind on.

Just thought you might like a glimpse at a working editor trying to deal with really good writer’s stories with a set limit on what I can buy.


  • Kate Pavelle

    Dean, from the writer’s perspective, I doubled down on the rule-following. I might’ve gotten bogged down in research and extra fiction reading to get the vibe down (since most of my Old West influence comes from Czech translations, and no matter how much English I read, I still hear that particular writer’s voice very clearly.) I researched local history, colloquial expressions and curses, but I tried not to emulate you too hard. I think all this got in the way of the story.

    So… if we’re trying to go for the right “voice” or “vibe” to fit a particular world, how do we avoid the critical voice sitting on our shoulder, chiming in on every paragraph? I’m asking because this will come up again, and this writing process is not quite “into the dark” for me. It’s like a gray maze with forbidden dead ends.


    • dwsmith

      For me, over all the years of ghosting and getting a feel for a series or television show, I learned to watch for patterns in the writing. The voice of the character, the series, and the author. That comes out in patterns in the words. Honestly. Way beyond most writers, and honestly, no reason for most writers to even bother to learn this stuff besides the desire to make characters distinct. And often that is not worth the time either.

      So just write and if in a shared world, follow the rules and maybe reread the example a few times to let the creative voice pick up the patterns and the feel and then just write. You can’t do that from critical voice I’m afraid. In fact, almost nothing in fiction is done well from critical voice.

  • Kate Pavelle

    Since it’s word patterns, would reading your Thunder Mountain series help? I’ll definitely reread Card Sharp Silver again and maybe copy some parts of it. Thank you, this is pretty arcane stuff.