Dieting, Upgrading, and Writing

There’s a few things I want to talk about, but before I get into some of the topics, I want to announce that in just two days, I’ll be posting an entire short story to this blog. It’s part of an anthology spanning many blogs, or as I’ve been calling it a “blogthology.” Here is the handy graphic:

I’ve been working on this fun project with my friends in the #WriteFightGIFClub community on Twitter. It is still the best online group I’ve ever been a part of. If you’re a writer and you want a nonpolitical group of people to hang out with, you should look us up. We make jokes, we’re supportive, and we encourage writing.

About 20 of us are participating in the WFGC Hotel anthology. We’re all writing different stories with different genres, with the Hotel as the binding agent linking them together. When I post my story, I’ll provide a link so you can read the others. I’ve read a couple of them and they are fantastic.

We’ve all heard the story of an orphan that’s told he’s a wizard. Or, if you’ve gone to see Shazam recently you’ve seen a story where an orphan is told he’s a hero by a wizard. My story runs along the same lines, only my orphan, Jake, needs a bit more convincing.

I’m excited to share The Reluctant Apprentice with you. I had fun writing it, and I’m sure you’ll have fun reading it.

To prepare for this posting, I wanted to do some housekeeping with my blog and my web server hardware. It’s something I’ve been needing to do for a long time. Posting the short story became a good excuse to actually get it done.

My servers are in my garage, which is fine most of the time. In the summer, however, it gets pretty hot, and the oldest server does not like the heat. Actually, it doesn’t like much of anything. I brought it up almost 10 years ago, and it was an old computer back then. It should have been retired a long time ago.

My other server is tiny, hardened, utterly silent, and better in every meaningful way. I picked it up specifically so I could get off the old wheezer. I’m happy to say that as of a few hours ago, the move is done.

It was not easy. Since this is a writing blog and not a tech blog, I’ll spare you the details. When I first checked the blog after the move, I found a couple of things broken. Links to images wanted to use plain http but the new server is using https. I believe I’ve fixed the issues with images, but there may be other problems.

Email might be wonky. I’m hoping that the people subscribed get their posts per usual, but there’s a pretty good chance email still isn’t right. I’ve cranked up the security. It’s possible I’ve ratcheted it up so tight that nothing gets out. I’ll find out in the morning!

Speaking of tightening things, I’m on the last hole of my belt. I’ve been dieting since the beginning of March and I’ve managed to lose quite a bit of weight. As of this post, I’m just under 195. My official starting weight was 211, though I’m pretty sure I was 215 when we started the diet. Melissa and I have been doing it together since the beginning, and Bryanna joined us a couple of weeks ago. All three of us have lost a bunch of weight. We’re going to all be slim and sexy by summer.

That’s it for the update. Watch this space for the story on Tuesday! It’s going to be great!


Catching Up: Captain Marvel and Other Topics

Hello, friends and family! I’m still alive.

There’s a whole lot of things I’d like to talk about and they’re not all related. I’ll try to keep each section brief and easy to read, but I have a feeling I’m going to ramble. After this, I’ll try to post a little bit more regularly. But no promises.

Here’s what I’d like to talk about, in no particularly order:

  • My Captain Marvel Review
  • Latest Writing Successes
  • My Birthday!
  • March: A Very Busy Month
  • VLOG #3
  • The Hotel: A Short Story Project
  • Why Haven’t I Posted in So Long?

My Captain Marvel Review

I took the kids to see Captain Marvel on Thursday night last week. Melissa would have gone with us, but she knew that if she we went to the midnight showing in the middle of the week, she’d have to zombie her way through work the next day.

I’m not going to go into spoilers. In brief, our reactions were mixed. Bryanna fell asleep early on and slept through most of the movie. Chris left the theater with a huge grin, fist-pumping and talking about how we needed to buy it when it came out on Blue-Ray. As for me… my reaction lay somewhere between those two extremes.

To be fair, Bryanna hadn’t had enough sleep going into the late show, and her slumber probably had nothing to do with the movie. Boring isn’t quite the right word to describe the movie.

The movie felt like filler. Because of the setting (sometime in the 90s), I knew which characters were going to live. I never thought Carol Danvers was going to lose. I never thought Nick Fury was in any real danger. The future had already been shown to us, so none of the stakes of the movie grabbed me.

The special effects were great. Scratch that… the special effects were amazing! The de-aging of Sam Jackson and Clark Gregg was so perfect I stopped thinking about a few moments in. That’s incredible.

The movie was fine. Better than most DCEU movies, but not as good as Wonder Woman. It was fine. I’ll see it again with Melissa (and maybe Bryanna, since she didn’t really see it the first time.)

Latest Writing Successes

If you follow me on Facebook, you probably already know that I managed to get a short story into an anthology coming out this year. My story Unclaimed Goods will be appearing in Tales from The Goldilocks Zone released by Flying Ketchup Press.

This is huge news! It may be a small publisher based out of Kansas City that accepted me, but it’s still a major success on my road to getting my stories in front of people.

In addition, I made the favorites list on the Ink & Insights contest with the first 10,000 words of The Repossessed Ghost. I entered in the masters division and came in 7th out of about 150 contestants. Which reminds me… I should send a link to my blog. Hmm.

My Birthday!

Again, if you follow me on Facebook, you already know that my birthday was Tuesday, March 5th. Though I was a little grump at work that day, the evening was really nice. Melissa bought me a Switch, and the kids each bought me games for it.

I have Zelda: Breath of the Wild! And Super Smash Bros! And a cute little game called Moonlighter!

The last couple of days, I’ve mostly been playing Stardew Valley. It’s quiet enjoyment which is what I’ve craved lately.

March: A Very Busy Month

On Saturday night, the whole family went to see Michael Gallowglas’ live storytelling show on The Delta King. It might have been his best performance yet of Bard for Life. Michael drew a great, appreciative crowd, and he delivered.

This weekend, Bryanna and I are going to head up to Medford for a little bit. This is a targeted visit, with two main goals. First, I want Bryanna to meet Tim and talk to him. Tim is perhaps the greatest visual artist I’ve ever known, and Bryanna is majoring in art. These two need to talk. Second, I’m going to fix Tim’s computer. I need him to have tools. Also, it’s kind of a late birthday present for him.

Next weekend, I’m flying up to Seattle for a writing retreat on a train. I’m going to meet up with a couple of friends of mine from my Twitter writing community. Saturday morning, we’ll get on a train bound for Portland and write. In Portland, we’ll have dinner somewhere. Sunday morning, more writing on the train back to Seattle. This is going to be a really fun event, and I’m hoping to write lots of words.

I don’t know if I have plans for the last weekend of March. If I don’t now, I’m sure I’ll have some soon.


I reached another milestone on Twitter and it’s past time for me to make another VLOG post. I’ve been dragging my feet a little bit. The weather hasn’t been spectacular, so my “filming location” has been unavailable. Also, I just haven’t been in the mood to do that kind of work.

Regardless of whatever funk I’ve been in, VLOG #3 is coming soon. Obviously it won’t be this weekend or the next for the reasons I mentioned in the previous section. If I find time in the middle of the week, I’ll shoot it, edit it, and post it. They’re only five minute videos, right?

Chances are good that I’ll be doing it the last weekend of this month. The topic will be about writer support systems, and I might allow myself to go slightly over five minutes for this one.

The Hotel: A Short Story Project

I’m participating with a number of people from my Twitter community to produce what can be described as an anthology spread across multiple blogs.

Originally, we were planning on writing stories with a common theme. The idea evolved into not just a common theme, but a common setting. It has stressed out a few people, and I’m not sure how many are still participating. We started with close to 45 participants. I think we’ll have significantly less by the time we post our stories.

I’m still planning on doing mine. I’ve got a really great idea. The pitch would be something along the lines of: What if Harry Potter was told he was a wizard, but then he needed a bit more convincing?

This week, I’m going to work on the first draft of that story. I’m really excited about it and I’m looking forward to sharing it, along with the links to the other related stories.

Why Haven’t I Posted in So Long?

The short answer is: I haven’t felt up to it.

The long answer is: I haaaaaavvvveeeeeeennnnn’t feeeeeeelt uuuuup tooo iiiiiiiit.


Seriously, I’ve been in a little bit of a funk, and I’m trying not to post grumpy or sad stuff here. Work has been a little bit stressful. The news has been very stressful. I haven’t been playing music, and worse, I haven’t been writing.

I’ve been in a funk. Even the bright spot in February where I went to LTUE still had all the colors bleached out of it like a bad Zach Snyder film.

How do I get out of a funk like this? I focus on doing what I can do. I work. I pay the bills. I do the plumbing in the kitchen and clean the litter box. I play The Sims when I know I should be writing, and I try to forgive myself for falling a little bit short.

Tonight, on a Monday evening after a long day at work, I’m writing a blog post.

Tomorrow, I’ll write a story.

After that? Who knows what I’ll be capable of doing? The trick is to just do what you can, when you can. And then treat yourself with kindness and forgiveness.


Last NaNoWriMo 2018 Status

I guess I’ll just put this here:

Yay! I did it!

It’s actually been about a week since I crossed the 50,000 word milestone with the novel Synthetic Dreams.  I was hoping I’d finish the entire first draft before the end of the month, but I petered out last week.  By Thanksgiving, I needed to basically stop doing anything for a while.  This whole long weekend, I didn’t write, program, leave the house, or do anything that could in any way be described as “constructive.” I did laundry yesterday.  That was the extent of my productivity.

We need to take breaks every once in a while, and my need crept up out of nowhere.  Now it’s Monday.  I’m writing this post during my lunch break at work.  A few minutes ago, JPL landed a drill-bot on Mars and at the moment, I’m more excited about that little victory than anything else.

This is my last check-in for NaNo and I’m glad to report I now have a non-losing record.  3 out of 6 of my NaNo attempts have ended in a success.  Not too shabby.

I have a lot of friends that set out on this NaNoWriMo journey with me, and they aren’t going to hit 50,000 words by the month’s end.  For them, and for my future self, I want to take a moment to talk about what it really means to succeed at NaNoWriMo.

First of all, let’s keep it real.  I’m not going to try and cheer you up with a “participation is the REAL winning” kind of speech.  That’s not what this is about.

NaNoWriMo is purely about adding one more motivator to your writing engine.  That’s all it is.  You’re a writer 12 months out of the year and not just November.  50,000 words is an arbitrary goal during an arbitrary month.  It isn’t real and it doesn’t mean you’re not a real writer if you’re not hitting the 50k goal.

Necessity breeds creativity, and deadlines create both necessity and motivation.  When November started, we set for ourselves a deadline.  Write so many words in 30 days.  By framing the writing journey in such a way, we’re activating parts of our brain that we may not otherwise employ when sitting down to write a story.

There’s nothing wrong with that! It’s a good way to boost productivity.

Then there’s the competitive part of the experience.  When you’re comparing your word counts to those of your writing buddies, there is a part of you that is cheering them on.  There is also a part of you that really wants to win.  To get to 50,000 words first.  That’s another part of your brain that isn’t usually used during the writing process. While “winning” may not be the most noble of motivators, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter.  It’s all about digging deep and getting creative.  The more of your brain you bring to the keyboard, the better.

If you wrote this month, you won.  The prize is your collection of words, which hopefully resembles a story.  The quality of the prize is directly proportional to the length and readability of the story you’ve created.  If you vomited 100,000 words into Word and it’s incomprehensible… well, that’s your prize.  If you crafted 10,000 words over the course of thirty days, but it’s exemplary writing… that’s your prize, too.

I reached 50,000 words in Synthetic Dreams and I felt great about it for a few minutes, but I’m not really ready to celebrate because the story isn’t finished.  I’m in the middle and that’s a treacherous place where slumps happen and plot threads unravel.  I love my characters, the premise, the world building, the ideas of the story… but what I’ve written is going to need a lot of editing.  There’s a great story here, but it’s not leaping from my head fully formed like Athena.  My story is an ugly duckling that’s going to need a lot of time and effort.

I’m going to keep going on this story.  I’m going to try and get the first draft finished before the end of the year, but there’s no guarantee that will happen.  Looking at my outline, I can safely say the end is still another 40,000 words away.  Once I get the first draft finished, I’ll check what’s next in my queue.

Tying back to NaNoWrMo, the next novel I’m probably going to write is a fantasy.  It’s basically The Bourne Identity meets Game of Thrones.  It was the novel I attempted my very first NaNoWriMo.  I wrote about 10,000 words that November, then another 20,000 words before I abandoned it to work on The Repossessed Ghost.  I still like the concept and the characters I created.  I haven’t given up on the idea.  I just needed to grow as a writer before I could do that story justice.  So, taking what I’ve learned over the last 3 or 4 stories, I’m going to write A Clean Slate and it’s going to be great.  It won’t be an official NaNoWriMo winner, but it will be a winner to me.

Whether you wrote 50,000 words or not this month, you still have a prize.  Enjoy it!  But also remember that it’s not done.  No one wants to read your unedited first draft.  The first draft is like a pencil sketch.  You still need to go through and do the inking and coloring, shading and texturing.

A first draft is an important beginning and worthy of being celebrated, but switching from art metaphors to cooking, it’s not done yet.  It needs to cook more.  Don’t serve your guests something raw.

If you’re a writer, I hope you’ve had tremendous success this month!  And if you’re not a writer, I hope you’ve at least done something creative that’s made you happy.


NaNoWriMo Check-in

It’s November 5th.  Tomorrow morning, I’m going to get up early and go vote.  Bryanna may be coming with me if we get up and go early enough.  Then it’s back to the grindstone at work, which has been as intense as expected.

I try NaNoWriMo most years.  Going into this year, I had very low expectations.  The story I’m writing is complicated in every conceivable way, from its lack of gender pronouns to its post-apocalyptic world building, from its complex character dynamics to its layered plot structure.  I knew this story would challenge me.

The previous years where I made the 50,000 word goal, the stories were written in first person.  Since I spent the entire preceding month writing blog posts which are naturally in first person, I entered November with applicable practice.  I always assumed that if I was ever going to succeed at a NaNoWriMo, I would have to write it in first person.   Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to generate the story fast enough.

I’m coming up on the end of Day 5.  According to the official web site, to be on track and make goal on November 30th, I should have 8,333 words written.

As I go to bed tonight, I’ll have completed 16,542.

At some point along the line, I went up a level.  Or maybe several levels.  Just last month, I didn’t think I was capable of producing quality writing at this speed.

Granted, this whole thing is going to need a ton of editing.  The lack of gender pronouns is making for some very clunky prose.  My descriptions of these synthetic humans can probably use some boosting, too.  Once I’ve finished the first draft, I’m going to have my work cut out for me when I hit the second draft.

But it’s not all bad!  In fact, quite a bit of the story is really good!  I’ve found inspiration in a number of places, and I think the story already hits some of the emotional depth I was aiming for.

Sunday morning, Michael Gallowglas asked me what my goals were with this story.  He said that I’ve already proven in past Novembers that I have the ability to produce.  So what am I doing this month?  Is it just about writing 50,000 words, or am I trying to make a great story?

As I explained to Michael, those two goals aren’t mutually exclusive.  I believe I am crafting a great story.  I’m just crafting it way faster than I thought I was capable.  Thinking about it today, I think I know why.

First, my inner editor has been remarkably silent as I’ve worked.  Some of it is due to the clunky prose I already mentioned.  My inner editor just doesn’t know what to do with it.  Some of it is because I’m experienced enough with NaNoWriMo that I’ve become better at ignoring the inner editor while drafting.  Practice pays off, my friends.  If it can work for me, it can work for you, too.

Another reason I’m blazing along is that I’m writing from the most complete outline I’ve ever produced.  It doesn’t go to the level that true plotters enjoy.  Jennifer Brozek, for example, would have a much more complete and detailed outline.  But what I have is doing what I need it to do, which is keep me focused and on track.

Here’s an example from the beginning of my outline:

Act I
Goal — Establish the world, the characters, set the tone for the story, and start each of the three cases which will act as the backdrop to the real story, which is the relationship between Dee-ehn and Jayvee

Scene — Dee-ehn and Jayvee investigate scene of an extremely violent and graphic murder
Scene — Dee-ehn and Jayvee interview victim’s neighbors
— We learn the victim kept to themselves
— First view of someone suffering from the virus
— Introduction to another character which may be important later
— We see how interacting with other synths is stressful for Dee-ehn
— We see how interacting with other synths is Jayvee’s strength
Scene — On the way to the bar
— We get our first view of Humanists. Maybe they’re protesting
— We’ll get some explanation of Humanists and Singulars as Dee-ehn and Jayvee argue about the two sects
Scene — At the bar
— This scene establishes the status quo and again demonstrates Dee-ehn’s shyness and Jayvee’s outgoing nature
— Jayvee might play some music. Something that lets Dee-ehn and Jayvee talk about their progenitors
— It’s in this scene we should hint that Dee-ehn’s progenitor is late stage viral

I’ve edited this a little bit to remove spoilers.  Also, I wound up cutting the “On the way to the bar” scene.

My outline is giving me a very basic road map of the story.  It details my goals, the location, and tells me where things are going.  It gives me an idea of what I’m trying to accomplish with each scene without going into too much detail.

I’m the first reader of this story as I’m writing it, so I don’t want too many details.  I may have spoiled the over-all plot for myself, but I can still discover some interesting things as I get down to drafting each scene.

The third thing going in my favor this year is my time management.  Instead of leaving for lunch during the work week, I’ve been mixing a glass of Soylent and heading to a secluded conference room where I can hide for an hour and write.  Each lunch, I’ve managed to write around 1000 words.

When I get home, I go right to the computer, hook up with my friends on twitter, and participate in sprints.  It’s incredibly liberating working to a timer.  I know that for as long as the clock is running, there isn’t anything else I need to do.  I can just focus on the story, craft the prose, learn more about the characters by revealing details, and do the work.  When the timer beeps, I stop writing and screw off for a little bit.  Rinse and repeat to victory.

There may be a fourth contributor to my success thus far, and it’s that I’m writing with two point-of-view characters.  It’s third person limited, and each chapter either follows Dee-ehn or Jayvee.  I’m working hard to keep it clear.  I avoid head-hopping in the middle of the scenes.  The transitions should be clear, and I don’t believe the reader will be confused.

Up until The Exorcism of Jack Evans, I always kept to a single point of view.  For this story, it felt very natural to alternate.  I think both characters are compelling, and it’s fun exploring their competing views.

I’m not going to have any problem reaching 50,000 words this month.  In fact, if I maintain this pace throughout the month, I might be able to finish the entire first draft before December.  If I manage that, it will be amazing, and a real milestone for how far I’ve come.

I’ll try to check in from time to time throughout the month.  I don’t want to spend too much time blogging because time spent writing a blog post is time I’m not writing Synthetic Dreams.  But, I do miss posting here.  I think Blog-tober went really well this year, and I’m humbled and glad that so many people stopped by to read what I have to say.

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this year, let me know how you’re doing!  I’d love to cheer you on and offer  encouragement.

If you’re not participating… you should give it a try some time!  You still have time to jump in this year.  There’s no financial commitment involved, and the exercise is valuable even if you fall short of the 50,000 word goal.


Short Fiction: Halloween Harvest

At the edge of town, along a gravel road that stretched between lonely, rundown farm houses, Toby ran from Dana. Toby, a seventh grader and small for his age, pumped his arms and legs, moving with a desperation reserved for night terrors and closet monsters. Dana, an eighth grader that towered over the rest of his class, pursued with a wolf’s grace, each of his long-legged strides covering as much ground as two of Toby’s. The bully closed in on his prey. The cadence of their passing made quiet thunder and left a cloud of dust in their wake.

Toby could see his home off in the distance as he ran. A long, rude fence separated Toby from salvation, along with a broad field of tall, scraggly, brown grass. Just ahead of him, a gap in the fence marked the driveway. He sprinted harder.

Dana reached forward. His hand found Toby’s backpack. The smaller boy missed a step. He went down hard, the bully falling on top of him. Both boys tumbled across the gravel road, collecting fresh scrapes and bruises.

The bully recovered first. He grabbed the front of Toby’s jacket, hauling the smaller boy up and throwing him against the closest fence post. Toby bounced off, landing on all fours at Dana’s feet.

“Where is it?” Dana’s voice echoed across the field, sending a pair of birds into the air.

“Where is what?”

“Don’t play dumb.” Dana held Toby with one hand as he raised the other into a threatening fist. “That weird flashlight. Where is it?”


Dana swung. Knuckles struck Toby’s cheek. His head snapped back with the blow, the dull crack chasing the echoes of Dana’s voice.

“Where is it?”

Toby held up his hands to shield his face. He tried to pull himself from Dana’s grip, but the bully held firm. Neither of them noticed the long-haired, black cat slip past the fence to stand a few feet away from the boys. Not until it hissed.

“Is he yours?” Dana asked, nodding towards the cat.

“Misty is a she. Leave her alone!”

Dana released his grip on Toby’s jacket. The smaller boy fell hard on his back. As Toby rubbed his cheek with one hand, Dana lurched towards the cat. The feline took a step back, but not fast enough or far enough to escape Dana. The bully brought one hand down, grabbed, then picked up the cat gripping it by the scruff of the neck.

“Got you,” Dana said, straightening and holding the cat out in front of him. Misty made a deep, angry noise from the back of her throat, but remained motionless in Dana’s grip, her front paws sticking stiffly in front of her.

“Let her go!”

“No. I’m going to count to three, then I’m gonna see how far I can kick him if you don’t give me the light.”

“I don’t know what you-”


“Please! She’s a good kitty, you can’t-”


“Why are you doing this? You don’t-”


Dana turned, raising the cat a little higher. He took a step forward, a football player starting the motion of a kick-off. One step. Two steps. His foot went back.

“Wait! I’ll give it to you!”

Dana stopped. He lowered the cat but did not release it. When he turned back to Toby, he wore a smug, triumphant grin.

“Please, just let her go. I’ll get you the light. Just don’t hurt Misty.”

“Give me the light first. Then I’ll let her go.”

“I can’t.” Toby wrung his hands in front of him, his eyes fixed on his pet. “I don’t have it with me.”

“Bullshit.” Dana turned towards the field again.

“Wait! I’ll show you!”

Toby unslung his backpack and unzipped it. He upended it, dumping school books and papers into the dirt at his feet. After emptying the bag, he reached into his jeans pockets and turned them inside out. A few wadded bills and some loose change joined the pile at his feet.

“I don’t believe it.”

“You can search me! Just let my cat go. Let her go, and I’ll show you where it is. We’re not far from it.”

As fast as Dana’s hands had been catching the cat, he considered Toby’s words with glacial slowness. Time stretched between the two boys. A tear slipped from the corner of Toby’s eye, carving a slow path across the bruise growing on his cheek. Just as Toby opened his mouth to make his case again, Dana opened his hand. The cat fell to the ground and darted off into the scrub grass.

“Fine. Show me.”

“Okay.” Toby released a held breath. He looked off in the direction Misty had run before kneeling to pick up his things.

“Leave it,” Dana said. He moved closer and kicked one of Toby’s books into the road.

Toby straightened. He looked at his books, his unfinished homework, his box of pencils which had cracked open and spilled yellow number twos onto the gravel. Then he looked into Dana’s face. With a shiver, he turned and began to walk.

The smaller boy walked in front of the larger, the bully close enough to reach forward and prod Toby in the back. They moved in silence, Toby leading Dana past the fence and down the driveway. Instead of heading on to the farmhouse, with its clean white walls and short rise of stairs leading to a red door, Toby turned down a side path, leading towards a dilapidated barn.

“In there?” Toby punctuated the question with a shove to Toby’s back.

“I like to play in there, sometimes.”

“I don’t care what you do in there. If we go in and there’s no light, you’re dead meat.”

They stopped in front of the rundown barn. If the bare, warped planks that made up the front door had ever held a drop of paint, it had been washed away long ago. The barn sagged ever so slightly to one side as if too tired to sit up straight. In contrast to the weather-worn door and the dry, crackling leaves leading up to it, a length of silver chain held the barn closed.

“Locked?” Dana asked. He balled up a fist and smacked it into his open palm, like a baseball player prepping his mitt.

Toby said nothing. He reached down through the neck of his shirt and drew out a chain holding several keys. He selected one, bent in front of the door, and worked the lock until it opened with a click.

Dana stepped forward and threw open the door before Toby could free the key from the lock. The smaller boy choked as the chain pulled him to one side. Dana gave the barn door another shove, laughing at Toby’s pain before stepping into the dark structure.

Rays of afternoon sunlight sliced through gaps in the western wall of the barn, lighting up thin spider webs stretched between the rafters like strands of gold. The corpse of a broken-down tractor peeked out from the deepest shadows of the barn, its rusted bulk listing to one side on flat tires. The straw-floored space contained tools and farm implements, mundane equipment and other sundries that Dana ignored. A clean black table standing at the center of the barn became the focus of Dana’s attention. A broad shaft of sunlight broke through a hole in the west wall, illuminating the table’s contents.

An old copper pot squatted at the left side of the table, its small handles poking out on each side like cat ears. Opposite the pot, a number of dinner plates sat, covered in cookies, brownies, fudge, and assorted Halloween candy.

“What’s this?” Dana asked, reaching for one of the plates.

“You don’t want to do that.”

“Ha. Watch me.”

Dana plucked one of the pieces of fudge off a plate and tossed it in his mouth. He turned and leaned against the table. Chewing with his mouth open, he stared defiance at Toby. The bully swallowed, and silence filled the space between the two boys. Then Dana turned to grab another chocolate treat.

As the bully’s finger touched an orange and brown square, golden light filled the pot. The illumination grew in brightness until it seemed that the ridged copper pot held a piece of the sun itself. A fragrance like cinnamon and honey wafted out from the depths of the blazing vessel.

Dana stood transfixed, one hand still extended towards the candy. The light filled his eyes, narrowing his pupils to pinpricks. The scent filled his nostrils. Then he began to change.

His skin blackened like charcoal as though scorched by the golden light pouring out of the pot. His eyes pushed outward, the soft irises flattening, his pupils splitting, then splitting again and again until two, black, multifaceted gems stood in the place where his eyes had been. His mouth twisted and mandibles protruded from his cheeks like a pair of down-turned tusks.

The transformation began slow, then ended in a rush. One moment, Dana stood there, his body becoming strange and monstrous. The next, the boy was gone. Where his hand had been, one finger touching a piece of candy, a small black spider stood, its long, yellow-striped arms twitching.

The light went out of the cauldron. It became a simple pot once again, and the scent of Autumn magic diminished. Toby stepped closer to the table and looked at the spider, shaking his head.

“Toby? Is everything okay?” The female voice floated in through the barn door. Before the boy could respond, Toby’s mother appeared in the doorway.

“I’m okay. But we have another spider.”

“Oh, dear.” Toby’s mother stepped up next to her son. She tilted her head to one side as she studied the spider amongst the Halloween treats. Then she saw Toby’s swollen red cheek and the dirt covering his jeans. “Did he do that to you?”

“Yeah.” Toby touched the bruise, then lowered his hand.

Toby’s mother looked back at the spider, her eyes narrowed and her lips pressed into a thin line. After a moment of consideration, she raised her foot, slipped off her shoe, and raised it over her head.

“Mom, don’t!” Toby said. “I think he saw me playing with a will-o-the-wisp at school yesterday. It’s my fault. I should have been more careful.”

“Oh, Toby.” She lowered her shoe, still staring daggers at the striped arachnid. “Okay. I won’t smash him. But I think he deserves to stay that way until he learns a lesson. Where’s your backpack?”

“It’s back at the road. Will you stay with me while I go get it?”

“Of course, dear. Tell me everything that happened.”

Toby’s mother slipped the shoe back on her foot, then rested a hand on her son’s shoulder. They left together, Toby recounting everything that happened. As they walked, Toby’s mother drew upon the afternoon sunlight and the Autumn breeze to weave a simple healing spell. She laid the magic on Toby’s cheek while he talked, the mother’s love already at work to set things right.

So wrapped up in the retelling and the magic, neither of them remembered to close the barn door. Neither of them saw Misty creep in from the tall grass, stalking into the barn. The long-haired cat sought a kind of justice of her own.


Remembering my Father

I’m writing this on October 30th, but most people that see this post are going to see it on Halloween.  Tomorrow, October 31st 2018 marks 30 years since my Dad’s death.

I’m 45.  I’ve lived twice as long without my Dad as I’ve lived with.  It’s crazy because I still get a little bit melancholy around this time of year.  Not as bad as it used to be, but my mood definitely takes a dip.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about my father on Halloween.  I don’t want to repeat myself too much.  I loved him and I still miss him.  I wish he could have met my family.

When someone important to us passes away, we tend to idolize them and put them on a pedestal.  I know I’ve done this with my Dad to an extent, but I’ve tried my best to remember him as he was.  He did a lot of things right and I want to emulate him in those ways.  At the same time, I want to avoid some of the mistakes he made.

He loved me and my Mom and my sister unconditionally.  He put up with a lot of our garbage, and we were really good at being assholes.  As a kid, I accomplished demolition levels of damage.  I took a claw hammer to our furniture.  I smashed fences with my thick skull.  I broke windows and dishes and I wrote my name with a permanent marker on walls and washing machines.  He endured Hurricane Brian, and he didn’t stay mad at me for long.

We usually lived fairly close to whatever school I was attending.  I could have — should have — been getting myself up using an alarm clock and walking to school.  He liked to spoil me.  He’d wake me in the morning, make sure I had breakfast, and he’d drive me to school.  I took it for granted.

I took him for granted.

He wasn’t perfect.  He was an alcoholic until about 4 or 5 years before he died.  He smoked, too.  He knew I didn’t like him smoking so he pretended to quit.  He was comically bad at hiding it.  One time, my sister and I approached him at a diner.  He didn’t have anywhere to hide his cigarette so he threw it on the floor, on the other side of the counter.  The waitress looked down at the stub of cigarette, then looked back at my Dad with a hard, flat look.  He didn’t meet her eyes.  He just took a sip from his coffee cup before turning to greet me and my sister.

He didn’t sleep in a bed.  He’d fall asleep every night in a big chair in the living room.  Towards the end, there’d be reruns of Hill Street Blues playing as he passed out.  Before settling down for the night, he’d fix himself a pot of coffee, drink it down, and then either read or watch TV.  He was apparently immune to the effects of caffeine.

My Mom worked and my Dad stayed at home and took care of the house.  He did most of the cooking.  Usually that was great.  Sometimes, however, he’d make baked chicken which usually came out under-cooked.  To this day, my sister and I have a difficult time eating baked chicken, even when it’s prepared properly.  My Dad also made a nasty fish soup.  It might as well have been left-over dish water.  I couldn’t stand it, and he was the kind of parent that insisted that kids eat what is given to them.  We tested our stubbornness against each other several times over food I found too horrific to eat.

For a while, my Dad and I would go out every Thursday evening to Skipper’s in Medford.  I’d get the fish and chips and he’d get clam chowder.  A bowl of chowder came with my fish and chips on Thursdays, so I’d give the bowl to my Dad because I hated chowder at the time.  We’d eat and talk, usually about school or bowling or whatever was going on in my life.  It was a good time.

Much later, I discovered my tastes had changed and I actually liked clam chowder.  Every time I have some now, I think of my Dad and those Thursday nights at Skippers.

That’s all I have left of him.  Some scattered memories of inconsequential moments that add up to a warm and comforting whole.  Like a quilt in my mind.

He was born on Valentine’s Day in 1914 and he died on Halloween in 1988.  There’s a lot of time in between that I know nothing about.  One of my bigger regrets is not getting to know him better.  I was a punk kid.  I can forgive myself to an extent, because I was just acting my age.  Still, I wish I’d taken more time to ask him personal questions.

We spend so much time wrapped up in our own thoughts and feelings that we take for granted that the ones we love might not be there tomorrow.  We have to do this, of course.  Living on eggshells and constantly clinging to the people around us like they’re about to die is no way to live.  But maybe we can do better.

I think that’s all I have to say about my Dad tonight.  If your Dad is still around, do me a favor.  Take them out and share a meal.  It doesn’t have to be fish and chips and chowder, though that worked pretty well for me and my Dad.  Share a meal and ask him questions.

We only get one shot at this life.  Enjoy your Dad while you can.


Social Media

I kind of hate social media.

As of this writing, my online presence comes in three main flavors: Facebook, Twitter, and this blog.  Tonight I’m going to talk about how I use these platforms, what I think of them, and where I think social media is going.

If you’re short on time and you’d otherwise skip this post, please read my Overall Thoughts at the end.



I created my Facebook account at the behest of some of my coworkers in 2007 or 2008.  At first, I used Facebook mostly to play Facebook games.  I played Mafia Wars and Farmville and a couple of other time wasters.  I also wrote mini blog entries and slowly started connecting with distant friends and family.  In the beginning, Facebook was fine.

Over time, I stopped playing games on the platform.  Facebook developed new features, most of which I thought were okay.  The facial recognition seemed a little bit scary but it didn’t ruffle my feathers too much.  The in-app chat seemed pretty cool.  I was still digging it even as some of my friends and family began demonstrating levels of crazy I didn’t know they possessed.

I started to really dislike Facebook when they changed the chat to something that you needed to install on your phone.  You can still use chat in the browser, but the phone apps were needlessly changed to prompt you to install Facebook Messenger.  I will never install Facebook messenger, ever.  It wants to take over other parts of the phone.  I don’t trust it.  I don’t want it.

With the 2016 election, any remaining good feelings I had towards Facebook evaporated.  They sold out to the Russians.  That sentence sounds like hyperbolic conspiracy theory bullshit, but it’s true.  Facebook knowingly allowed Russia to buy advertisements that spread lies and propaganda.  There is no moral compass guiding Facebook.  The platform is an expression of the worst parts of capitalism.

I still post to Facebook from time to time, but my presence there is greatly diminished.  There are people I only see through Facebook, so it’s a necessary evil.  Someday, I’d like to shutdown my Facebook account and leave it behind forever.  In the mean time, I’m still connected.  Chances are, you found this blog entry via my Facebook feed.



I created my Twitter account in August, 2011.  That makes it sound like I’ve been using Twitter for 7 years, but I’ve really only been using it for a little more than a year.  Before that, I followed a few people but I didn’t really engage with anyone.  Scrolling through my Twitter feed, all I saw were bots and advertisements.

Last year, I started to find other writers to follow.  I posted my NaNoWriMo progress and somehow, #WriteFightGIFClub found me.  That’s such a strange name for a writing community, but it’s one of the best communities I’ve ever been a part of.  If I hadn’t joined them, I probably wouldn’t be using Twitter much.

I’ve talked about #WriteFightGIFClub before.  It’s an island surrounded by a sea of anger and vitriol.  We don’t talk about politics.  We participate in writing sprints, we post funny pictures and cute animals, and we provide words of encouragement.  There is real friendship to be found in the community.  It contains lots of good people, some of which I was fortunate enough to meet in New York City a couple of months ago.

Let’s get back to talking about the platform itself.  As awesome as #WriteFightGIFClub is, Twitter sucks.  There is so much anger and political polarization, and Twitter’s administration seems to have chosen the side that supports the Alt-Right and Neo-Nazis.  While angry people on the Left are getting timed out or their accounts suspended, others on the Right are getting away with some pretty heinous things.

I’m sure that some people on the Right are getting their accounts banned, too.  But too many are not.

To put a finer point on this, some Alt-Right assholes used Twitter to get James Gunn fired.  Most of the blame should be laid at the feet of Disney, but the Alt-Right guys are still active on Twitter.  The ones responsible for killing Guardians of the Galaxy 3 got away with it.

Meanwhile, one of the members of #WriteFightGIFClub recently had her account suspended.  She was gone for over a week and no one from Twitter told her what she’d done wrong.  She wasn’t given any way to appeal the decision.  She just got booted from the platform for no reason, as far as we can tell.

She’s back now.  Again, they didn’t tell her what happened or that her account had been restored.  She opened up the app yesterday and discovered on her own that she could once again use it.  No one knows why they suspended her account, and we’ll never know.

Chuck Wendig had his account suspended for a while.  Same with John Scalzi.  Pat Thomlinson had his account suspended and as far as I know, it’s still disabled.

Imagine having built up a following on Twitter as a writer over the course of several years, only to have it all taken away at the whim of a faceless Alt-Right sympathizer working for the platform.  Chuck and John and Pat are vocal Left supporters, but my other friend?  I’ve watched her feed.  She’s sweet and apolitical.

I want to like Twitter but it feels like that platform is sick or broken.  I don’t want to lose #WriteFightGIFClub, but I’d kind of like to see Twitter die.


My Blog

My blog is not social media.  This is a place where I write essays every once in awhile.  I’m sharing my writer’s journey with the world here, but this place has low visibility.  It’s never going to be like Chuck Wendig’s blog, TerribleMinds.com.  He’s created a platform that gets views, a place other people want to write guest posts for.

That’s not really what this blog is about.  This blog is a place for me to work out my thoughts on some issues and share what’s happened in my life as I continue to try and become a professional writer.  That will always have a fairly narrow appeal.


Overall Thoughts

The phenomena of social media is a realization of the potential of The Internet.  The world is made smaller and our cultures are connected through social media.  Global communication, a community that knows no borders, is made possible through social media.  The human species could grow so much by sharing ideas and cultures and celebrating our differences.

And yet, people are still people.  I want to celebrate social media and the potential for us to grow closer as a society, but that’s just not how humans work.

There are stories of women that enter into or stay in bad relationships with men, telling their friends that everything will be okay.  They can change him.  He’ll change if she just gives him another chance.

People don’t change.  Individuals do.  A person can repent, turn over a new leaf, and become a saint.  Individuals can change but it’s uncommon.  If you’re the person staying in a bad relationship, pinning your hopes on the transformation of your significant other, there’s something you should know.  That kind of change comes from within and if you’re staying with them, you’re probably enabling them to remain as they are.

People, on the other hand, don’t seem to change at all.  For as bad as we may think the political landscape is today, there are newspaper articles written a century ago that you’d swear were written yesterday.

I went down a rabbit hole for a little while, but I think I can bring this full circle.  In a hundred years, when people are looking through old Internet archives at various Twitter messages, they’re going to find the same kind of content that they see in their futuristic social media equivalent.  Nothing changes because people are the shitty boyfriends of the world.  We hurt each other.  We take advantage of each other.  And we never change, no matter how many chances we’re given.


Wow, that got kind of dark.  Indulge me a moment more as I’d like to end this post on a slightly more hopeful note.

I believe that individuals can change.  When they do, it’s through the transformative power of love.  Not external love, though we all need that.  The love that changes an individual is love that comes from within.

When you care enough for someone or something, you’re tapping into a universal constant that has the power to reshape the world.  When you truly love someone, you’ll grow towards them.  You’ll become stronger so that you can support them.  Love will open your eyes and change your mind and force you to see things you never would have seen otherwise.

As much as I may have bashed on social media tonight, and as much as I’ve expressed a certain hopelessness when it comes to the human race, I do believe that we all have the potential to become better through love.  So if you want to change the world and make it a better place, start there.  Because even if your love doesn’t change the world, it will change you.  Sometimes, that’s the same thing.


On a Long Enough Timeline…

Throughout the month, I’ve looked back at where I started as a writer to compare to where I am today.  It’s fun drawing a line from back then to now.  I can pat myself on the back and congratulate myself for how far I’ve come.

Instead of looking back tonight, let’s try to look forward.  This is like that crappy interview question where they ask where you think you’ll be in 5 or 10 years.  I’m going to try to keep my answers writing related, though I’m sure I won’t be able to avoid talking about a few other aspects.


1 Year From Now

By June or July of 2019, I’ll have the first draft of Synthetic Dreams finished.  It will be the most challenging story I’ve ever written to this point, and the most ambitious.

I will have heard back from the three queries I have out right now.  Between the feedback from those queries and the experience of writing others, I’ll start to feel better about the whole process.  My spreadsheet of rejections has grown considerably, but I’m keeping my head up and persevering.

I’m close to some kind of break through.  I can feel it.


2 Years From Now

I’ve had at least one minor success.  I’ve won at least one of minor writing contests and one of my stories is in an anthology for a small independent press.  Synthetic Dreams has finished going through critiques and it’s out on queries.

I probably have an agent by now.  I’ve been networking at conventions and meeting people.  By this time, I’ve managed to get the right story in front of the right set of eyes.  I may not have a novel published yet, but I’m getting close.

There’s been enough of success that I’ve opened the fancy bottle of Scotch I’ve been saving.


5 Years From Now

By this time, I have a book published.  It probably hasn’t hit the best seller list, and I’m not making a ton of money off my writing at this point.  I might not ever make a ton of money as a writer.  Most don’t.  But there’s at least one book out now with my name on the spine.  That’s the fulfillment of a dream.

When I go to conventions now, there’s a good chance that I’m on panels.  I’m not a celebrity, but I’ve been attending long enough and know enough people that it feels like a natural progression.  Plus, I have at least one book published.  I’m not a celebrity, but I’m a pro.  I have the respect of some of my writer peers.


10 Years From Now

I’m 55 years old at his point.  I never stopped writing, and I’m still trying to improve with every story I create.  One of the series I started has managed to catch a readership and I’m writing sequels.  I have fans.  Probably not many, but there are definitely people looking forward to my next book.

The house has been paid off for quite some time.  The kids have moved out and they’re doing their own thing.  A lot of our expenses have reduced to the point that I could conceivable stay home and write full time.  I’m probably not a programmer anymore, whether or not my books have sold well.

If I’m not already at home writing full time, I’m considering it.


20 Years From Now

I’m 65 years old.  I’m not sure if I’m improving anymore.  I always want the next book to be better than the last, but look at Stephen King.  Some say he peeked with The Stand and then wrote for several decades more.

My Dad died when he was 74 and my Mom died when she was 68.  I hope my health is better than my Mom’s at this stage of my life, but who knows?  I’ve probably had a heart attack by now.  That’s the price of living so long with stress and not exercising nearly enough.

If I haven’t won a Hugo by this point, it’s not going to happen.  It’s hard to say if Hugos are even prestigious in the year 2038.  I always wanted one.  Maybe it’s happened by now.

At the age of 65, I’m probably not going to as many conventions as I used to.  However, Melissa and I are still going on cruises.  We love going on cruises.



I should probably stop there.  Everything after 20 years starts to look pretty morbid.

The keyword is perseverance.  I’ve kept my predictions modest and realistic.  If things aren’t where I predict soon enough, I’ll just keep going.  I’ll persevere.

On a long enough time line, I will see my dreams come true.  I just have to keep going in the right direction.


The Tools I Use as a Writer

Yesterday I mentioned the writer’s toolbox in passing.  At the time I was referring to figurative tools such as verbs and adjectives and adverbs.  Tonight, I’m going to go over actual implements I use to write.  The order of these listed tools is random, and will include both hardware and software.


Pen or Pencil and Paper

I don’t write much long hand anymore, but I always keep a pen and some paper in my laptop back as a backup.  While I don’t usually write prose with paper and pen, I do work on outlines in that medium.  I wrote the entire first outline for The Exorcism of Jack Evans using my notepad, and during the first draft of Spin City, I kept re-outlining the ending in my notepad.

One problem I have writing with a pen or pencil is that my wrist starts to hurt fairly quickly.  Another problem paper tends to get lost or destroyed if it spends too much time in my bag.  I generally resort to pen and paper as a last resort, and whatever I hand write gets transferred to a digital medium as soon as it’s convenient.


Microsoft Word

The very first word processor I used was Appleworks on the Apple IIc and eventually IIgs.  When I switched to PC, I started using Word.  The first draft of The Repossessed Ghost and several short stories were done in Word.

Though I don’t spend as much time in Word as I used to, I still open my manuscripts in Word to make sure that formatting is correct.  Some contests require the writer to omit their name from their manuscript, so I use Word to edit the headers and footers and make sure my compiled draft complies with the rules.



These days, I draft almost exclusively in Scrivener and I really like it.  Scrivener offers a lot of writing project management tools that are not present in Word.  In fact, Scrivener is so full of tools, I probably use less than half of them.  I really like the corkboard view, the compilation options, and the manuscript tree.  The character sketch templates are nice, as is the front matter that you can inject in a compiled draft automatically.

Scrivener is a great tool and I highly recommend it to writers looking for a complete solution for their writing environment.



This one might seem like a weird entry on this list but it’s absolutely vital.  OneDrive is where I save my drafts and my Scrivener projects.  I’ve used DropBox in the past, but OneDrive is already present on all my Windows machines without having to do a secondary install.

Because I’m using OneDrive, all of my writing is automatically backed up.  Even better, regardless of which computer I’m using, I can pick up immediately wherever I left off.  Knowing that my work is safe gives me peace of mind.  During the years before I started saving my work to the cloud, I lost dozens of stories.


Surface Pro 2

I have several laptops but the Surface is my go-to device for writing.  It’s got some years on it but it still works fine.  The battery lasts 6 or 7 hours on a single charge.  It’s the device I take to conventions and the one I use at Starbucks every Wednesday evening.  Melissa has given me permission to upgrade and replace it but I just haven’t felt the need.  It’s a good little workhorse.

I have other PCs I use for writing, such as the Dell laptop issued by work and my gaming computer in my garage.  The Surface is the only one I use enough to warrant its own placement on this list.


Lofree Bluetooth Mechanical Keyboard

This is a relatively new addition to my writing tools.  I love it so much I just had to give it its own spot on the list.  The Lofree keyboard has a retroactive style.  According to the documentation, it can go months at a time between charges.  The keyboard operates both wired and wirelessly, and it makes wonderful clackety noises because of the Gateron blue switches.

I like mechanical keyboards.  If I didn’t have to share my office at work, I’d probably use one while programming.  The physical feedback and the clickety-clack is just so satisfying and calming to me.  Though the Lofree is a little heavy, it’s still small enough I can carry it around with me in my bag with the Surface.



Though I could probably do outlining and note taking in Scrivener, I still prefer to use OneNote for this kind of work.  Sometimes I use a stylus to hand write my notes in OneNote.  At conventions, I spend most of my time in OneNote.  Since it’s also backed up to the cloud, it feels safe and always at hand, even on my phone.



When I’m about to use a word and a nagging doubt creeps in my mind as to whether or not I’m using it right, I type the word into google and look up the definition.  I also go to Google to verify the spelling of an esoteric words that Scrivener or Word aren’t familiar with.  When spell checks and autocorrects are trying to do me a disservice, Google’s got my back.

I also use Google for general research.  For Spin City, I needed to look up various details of what it would be like to live inside what is essentially a centrifuge.  I remembered that there was a term for the strange movement of objects within such a system but I couldn’t recall the name.  Google helped me out.  In addition to providing the name, the Coriolis effect, Google lead me to a number of useful diagrams which helped inform my writing.

Most of the stories I write, I don’t need to go too deep into any particular field of research.  As a writer, I’m not looking to become an expert on every field my stories touch.  I’m only looking to know more than the average person so that I can make the average person think I know what I’m talking about.  Anything beyond that and the story starts to take on a weird shape or become boring.


A Pair of Size 11 1/2 Shoes

When I’m stuck or needing inspiration, I go for a walk.  Sometimes while I’m out strolling, I talk to myself.  Other times I’m silent, carefully working things out in my head.  Whether the walks are long or short, I consider the time spent valuable to my writing.

One of the best things I can do writing becomes hard is get up go outside.  The physical exercise unlocks areas of my brain that I wouldn’t otherwise explore.  A simple walk, even when I’m not blocked, can see me returning to the keyboard with greater focus and energy.


That’s my list.  There is one honorable mention: AutoCrit.  A few writer friends swear by it, and I don’t blame them.  It’s a web service which can go through your draft and give you a lot of interesting statistics about your writing.  It can tell you how often you’re using passive voice, how many adverbs you’ve used, your most repeated words, the quantity of non-standard dialog tags, and the average reading grade level.  I tried it and liked it quite a bit, but it’s a paid service.  At this time, I don’t want to subscribe.


What tools do you use that you think I should try?


Pithy Writing Advice

A number of writers I respect and admire have written books on how to write.  These books range widely in detail and quality.  Some are short and deep, others are large and shallow.  I’ve consumed a few books on writing, with one of my favorites being by Stephen King called On Writing.

I’ve been a writer off and on for over 30 years.  The last 10 have been particularly rich in terms of skill growth and quality output.  For all of that, I wouldn’t feel comfortable trying to write a book on the subject.  I have enough information to fill an essay or a blog post, though, so that’s what we’re doing tonight!


1. Read Widely

I’ve already talked about this earlier in the month so I’ll be brief.  Writers need to read broadly and continuously in order to see what works and what doesn’t work.  They need to be entertained and immersed in the kinds of stories that they want to create.  I don’t know any good writers that aren’t also voracious readers.  So go read.


2. Use Strong Verbs

This is the most useful advice I’ve ever been, and it has drastically improved my writing.  Verbs make your sentences stand out.  They lift your story off the page and kindle the imagination.  I’m using stronger verbs right now and this is probably the most exciting paragraph you’re going to read tonight because this paragraph yearns to prove itself and make you understand.  Just as the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, so too are verbs the muscles of the sentence.

Let’s try a quick example off the top of my head.

Joe was on the couch.

This pedestrian sentence doesn’t excite anyone.  It lacks a strong verb and it lacks specificity.  From this sentence alone, I have no idea what Joe is actually doing.  He has commandeered the couch in some vague fashion and the writer hasn’t given us a clue as to whether or not there’s room on the couch for anyone else.

Joe was sitting on the couch.

This seems a little bit better, but a good rule of thumb is that if your verb takes more than one word, it’s weak.  The verb in this sentence is “was sitting.” That pesky “was” isn’t helping Joe out at all.  We can do better.  Let’s drop the word “was” and make Joe an actual participant in this sentence.

Joe sat on the couch.

This is a good sentence.  It’s brief and to the point.  A little bit boring, but at least Joe’s an active character now.  He’s a contributing member of society.  He votes, and he sits on couches rather than being placed on them like a doll.  We can add more detail if we want the sentence to be a little bit less boring.

Joe sat on the couch with his legs stretched out on an ottoman, one arm draped over the seat back next to him as if waiting to wrap it around the first person to sit beside to him.

You might not like this sentence.  I’m not sure I like it.  That comma splice in the middle worries me a little.  But Joe is now an active member of this sentence with hints of his character starting to shine through.  I don’t know much about him but I know that a man sitting like that, open and inviting, has confidence.  He might even be displaying power and social status.

We’re done with Joe for now.  I hope I made my point about verbs.  Strong verbs keep the reader awake and turning the page.  Weak verbs invite yawns and boredom.


3. Avoid Adverbs

New writers hear this one all the time.  It’s not horrendous advice but it is often overstated.  This piece of advice is often repeated often without an explanation of why.

Here are the two main reasons you should avoid adverbs:

  1. They weaken the verb they’re meant to amplify
  2. They tend to do a lot more telling than showing

That first point I’ve already touched on.  The more words involved in the verb, the weaker the verb is.  Let’s bring Joe back for another couple of examples.

Joe knocked on the door angrily.

At a glance, that sentence might seem fine.  It’s okay.  It’s not the worst sentence in the world.  It shows up to work and does its job, but it’s not winning any awards and it certainly isn’t winning any promotions.  Let’s make it better.

Joe pounded on the door.

This sentence is putting in a little bit of overtime and it’s using less words to do it.  With this one, I can hear Joe’s fist slamming on the wood.  I can see how Joe is holding his arm, his bicep flexed and his knuckles white as he strikes the door with bottom of his fist rather than the front of his fingers.

The second sentence is better than the first.  It’s both more efficient and more descriptive at the same time.

Some writers offering advice on eschewing adverbs go too far.  They might go so far as to say never use them.  I subscribe to a much more lenient philosophy.

Adverbs are a tool in your toolbox.  New writers have a tendency to overuse them because they’re easy to drop into sentences.  They provide a shortcut to telling the reader some information that they want to get across.  Sometimes it’s fine to use the shortcut.

Sometimes the right adverb can make a sentence fun.  I remember looking at a video of an old fashioned printing press.  The contraption had all these moving parts collapsing in on themselves, making it look like a partly unfolded wood chipper.  There were no safety rails or guards on this device that I could see.  I remember writing about it:

I can see someone misjudging and pulling their hand back with freshly waffled fingers.

This isn’t a bad sentence.  I particularly like the last part because the cadence of “freshly waffled fingers” has a bounce to it that makes the sentence sparkle.

Of course, I’m kind of cheating with this example because while “freshly” looks like an adverb, it’s amplifying “waffled” which is an adjective enhancing “fingers.”  There aren’t any adverbs in that sentence.  Be that as it may, if we rearranged it so that “freshly” did become a proper adverb again, and we managed to keep that delightful rhythm in tact, wouldn’t the sentence still work?

Adverbs are a tool in the writer’s toolbox.  They’re a special tool and should be used sparingly, but that doesn’t mean they should never be used.  Just use them wisely.

4. Adjectives are Delicious

Marketers learned this trick a long time ago and they take advantage of it constantly.  If you want to make something delicious, pour on the adjectives.

Let’s do another exercise.


Lots of people like bacon, but we can do better.

Crispy bacon.

Now we’re talking.  We added one word and already I’m hankering for a BLT.

Bacon is easy, though.  Let’s try something a little more challenging.  And here’s a hint: the adjectives don’t even have to make sense or have anything to do with the food that you’re describing.  Just adding the extra words makes the food more desirable.


Yuck.  No one wants plain oatmeal.

Fresh oatmeal.

Better. What else ya got?

Fresh, buttered, steel-cut oatmeal sweetened with cinnamon, brown sugar, and maple syrup.

A little known fact… I make the best oatmeal.  Seriously you should try it sometime.

I’m saying that adjectives are delicious, but what I really mean is that adjectives are multipliers.  When you’re describing food, you can make the food more delicious by stacking adjectives.  You can also make a corpse more terrifying, a monster more frightening, a weapon more deadly, a dress more beautiful… you get the idea.

The cost of using adjectives as amplifiers is pacing.  Going back to food as the metaphor, adjectives will make your dessert more rich.  The reader will have to chew more slowly to get through your descriptive sentence.  If you’re in the middle of a chase scene, the reader isn’t going to want to sniff the sweet and honeyed flowers, the petals of which are smooth and soft and bursting with Spring colors.  When the story needs to go quickly, you need to ditch the frills.  Stick with what’s important and keep the sentences short.

Rich sentences with thick adjectives are great right after a fast sequence, not only because you can contrasting the pacing, but also because you can enhance the emotional reaction of the reader by focusing on the details that invoke the desired emotions.

5. Emotions and Chapters

This one is a little bit complicated.  Also, we’re pulling back a little bit.  Focusing on verbs, adjectives, and adverbs is getting right down into the microscopic level of sentence construction.  With chapters, we’re pulling back far enough to see more of the structure.

If you begin your chapter at an emotionally high place, end your chapter at an emotionally low place.  If the characters are comfortable in the beginning of the chapter, driving along with their windows down and the radio playing, end the chapter with the character pulled over, stressed out, wondering what the hell they’re going to do next.

The length of a chapter doesn’t really matter.  All that matters is that something changed between the beginning and the end of the chapter.  There should be an emotional curve.

Also, it’s best when your chapters end in such a way that the readers are encouraged to the turn the page and keeping going on into the next.  Some people might describe this as a cliffhanger, but really it’s just ending with a question.  It doesn’t matter if the character is in peril or if they just opened the treasure chest they’ve been seeking and they’re about to look inside.  If you end a chapter on a question, any kind of question, the reader will turn the page looking for an answer.  If you end a chapter too cleanly, they might put the book down and forget to pick it back up again.

6. Do Whatever Works

Every writer is different.  We’re all people.  Some like to listen to music while they write, and others (like me) prefer silence or white noise.  Some people need detailed outlines in order to feel comfortable writing, while others get bored with the story if they know too much of what happens before they even begin.  Some writers need seven or eight drafts before they get it right.  Others get it done in one or two (but I would argue that the ones that actually get it done in one are rare).

There are lots of writers on the internet, and most of them offer advice.  Listen to them with an open mind, but only do what works for you.  You’re unique.  Your writing journey is going to be different than anyone else’s.  What works for me isn’t necessarily what’s going to work for you.

Here is an example of something I do which may or may not work for you.  When I need to end a writing session, I often stop in the middle of a sentence.  That way when I go back to start writing again, I’m forced to get into the mindset inhabited before I took the break.  This method works well for me.

I write chronologically.  Some writers write whatever scene they want to work on at the time, wherever that may be in their story’s timeline.  I start from the beginning and proceed until I get to the end.

Don’t be afraid to experiment.  Do you write a lot of stuff in first person?  Try something in third.  Or second!  Do you write in past tense?  Try writing something in present tense.

Artists doodle in their sketchbook.  Musicians practice on their instruments playing riffs and scales.  Writers shouldn’t be afraid to practice and play around, too.  Open up your word processor or notepad and write a story that you know you’re going to throw away.  It’s fine.  Free yourself from the expectation of presenting your work to someone else and just see what you create when there is no pressure.

As much writing advice as there is out there, as many books as there are published on the subject, none of it is as useful as the experience of writing.  In the process of writing and experimenting, you will find what works for you and what doesn’t.

Figure out what works for you.  Then keep doing that.