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.


My Novelette: The Exorcism of Jack Evans

Good evening! Tonight is the final entry in my three part series talking about the most ambitious stories I’ve written.  Like the previous two entries, I’ll be sticking with the same format.  The primary goal is to provide insight into my creative process.  A secondary goal, which I don’t think I mentioned in the previous posts, is to practice talking about my stories and describing what makes them special.  I think this kind of practice is important for making me better at querying.

Here is a list of the things I’ll talk about regarding The Exorcism of Jack Evans.

  • What It’s About
  • The Inspiration
  • The Writing Process


What It’s About

The Exorcism of Jack Evans is about a man named Jack that is murdered before the story even begins.  He finds himself as a ghost hovering over his own still cooling body.  He soon sets out after the person that shot him hoping that he can somehow make his revenge.


What is it REALLY About

This is actually the first time I’ve talked about this story like this, so I’m having a more difficult time describing this story than I had the other two.  The Exorcism of Jack Evans is split into three equal parts.  The first part follows Jack as a ghost and his struggles and horror at existing without a body.  The second part follows Jack’s murderer once Jack has caught up with him, and the third part follows the priest that ultimately brings Jack’s story to an end.

When I started the story, I didn’t realize I was writing psychological horror.  Given the things I knew would take place, I should have known.  I probably didn’t think about it because I’ve never tried to write a horror story before.  This one went to some very dark places.

In terms of themes, there is quite a bit going on in a very short amount of time.  There is a contrast across all three characters in how they deal with loss.  I don’t want to talk about spoilers, but I will say that this touches on suicide, and there is some sexually graphic content.  I think I handle both in a way that is respectful.  I think the material belongs in this story.  None of it is there for shock value or titillation.  However, I feel it’s important to give people a fair warning before they read it.


The Inspiration

While listening to N. K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, I had a really hard time with the parts that were in second person.  I think it had a lot to do with it being an audio book.  The narrator kept telling me that I did certain things and felt certain ways and I just kept arguing with her.  The second person parts of the story made me feel uncomfortable.  It made me feel like someone was trying to take over, and I didn’t like it.  I wound up turning off the audio book without finishing it.

The experience of fighting with the second person narration stuck with me.  Some time later, I asked myself what I could do with a story in second person?  Remembering how the audio book of The Fifth Season made me feel, I decided that it would be perfect for a possession story.

After that, I decided to write the story in three parts.  The first part would be in first person, the second in second, the third in third.  I came up with the name of the main character and the name of the story first.  Then I did some plotting.

All of the beats I wanted to cover in the first and second part seemed obvious to me from the start.  The third part, on the other hand, gave me a hard time.  I knew there’d be a funeral but I didn’t have a clear vision of anything else.  For the longest time, I had no idea how I was going to wrap up the story because I didn’t know what the third part was all about.

After listening to an episode of Writing Excuses talking about character arcs, I decided to apply the DREAM tool to all three parts or my outline to see what that would reveal.  If you don’t click the link, DREAM stands for:

  • Denial
  • Resistance
  • Acceptance
  • Exploration
  • Manifestation

After applying that tool, I had a concrete view of what I was going to explore in the first and second part.  The third part was still a little bit fuzzy, but I had enough to work with.  I felt confident that I could write the story and that it would be powerful.

On the cruise, I pulled out my outline and started writing it.  I finished it earlier this week.


Where is it Now?

I haven’t shared it with anyone.  I finished the first draft and I still need to do a good edit.  It is 15,000 words which makes it a novelette.  If you’re curious, the word count ranges look like this:

Word Count Classification
Under 7500 Short Story
7500 to 17,499 Novelette
17,500 to 39,999 Novella
40,000 and above Novel

I’ve written a few short stories before but I think this is my first novelette.  It’s also my first adult psychological horror.  I don’t know where I’d be able to sell this or if I even could.

It is a really good story.  Even though I started writing it for my own amusement and with no other audience in mind, I think it’s something special.  However, with its length and subject matter, I won’t be surprised if it’s something that never goes anywhere.  I’ll keep my eyes open but I won’t hold my breath.


I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of posts.  In November, I’m going to restart the novel I put on pause for NaNoWriMo last year.  I don’t expect to reach 50,000 words in thirty days due to the nature of the story.  I don’t think it’s going to be something I can rush.  But I do have a complete outline to work from.  In many ways, I’m more prepared for this year than I’ve been any other year.  Starting in about a week, we’ll see how prepared I really am.


Facts Leading to Today’s Bomb Threats

I wanted to write about a novelette I just finished, but then a bunch of bombs went to Trump’s political opponents this morning and I felt like I should probably get my thoughts out of my head while it’s still fresh.

I’m going to state a series of facts.  It might look at first like I’m playing the “both sides” game, but I’m not.  I’m just going to lay out a series of facts, with links when I can find them, and then state my thoughts and conclusions based on those facts at the end.  If it looks like I’m cherry-picking the news, it is not my intention.  Please let me know what I’ve missed, but only if you can provide a link to a credible source.  I’m not interested in spreading or engaging in bullshit.

  • Trump encouraged violence at a rally in 2015 and said later on Fox and Friends that he should have been roughed up


  • Trump incited violence at a rally in 2016.

  • February of 2016, Trump said as a protester is escorted out of a rally, “Knock the crap out of him, would you? I promise you, I will pay your legal fees.” (Not posting more videos… there are plenty of these Trump quotes and they are easily verifiable)
  • March of 2016, Trump said “Part of the problem is no one wants to hurt each other anymore.”
  • March of 2016, Trump said “The audience hit back. That’s what we need a little bit more of.”
  • March of 2016, another rally, Trump said as a protester is escorted out, “If you do (hurt him), I’ll defend you in court, don’t worry about it.”
  • June of 2017, Sara Huckabee-Sanders says that Trump has never encouraged violence.

  • A couple of weeks ago, Fox News and other right-wing leaning bloggers and journalists play half of Eric Holder’s speech, making it look like Eric Holder was inciting violence.  Here’s an example:

  • But here’s the rest of what he said that say.  He said “Don’t do anything inappropriate.  Don’t do anything illegal.”


Those are facts.  In summary:

  • Trump has a long history of encouraging violence at his rallies
  • His staff lie for him
  • Right-wing supporters lie for him
  • Right-wing activists have acted out violently, killing people
  • Left-wing activists have upset people’s dinners
  • Every person that received a bomb today was someone that Trump has targeted with his rhetoric

Even tonight… TONIGHT… people at Trump’s rally were shouting “Lock her up.”

There is no “both sides” to this.  The fish rots from the head, and Trump has lead his party and his supporters to this violent end.

If you consider yourself a Christian, you should not be a Trump supporter.

If you consider yourself a decent human being, you should not be a Trump supporter.

Trump has built his entire campaign on hatred and fear.  Fear of Muslims and immigrants and Democrats and Obama’s legacy.  And the Republican party is supporting him.

We obviously have to vote the Republican party out.  We need to peacefully reject all of the people that continue to prop up an incompetent, lying, ignorant, egotistical, violence-inducing proto-fascist so that he can be removed from power and tried in court.

We also need a new conservative party to replace the Republicans.


My Novel: Spin City

Good evening! Tonight it’s time for part two of my three part series in which I talk about the most important stories I’ve written so far.  We’ll be going over Spin City in this part, sticking close to the same format I used last night.  I’m hoping I provide some valuable insight into my creative process.  I don’t want to just gush over my own work, but I’m sure there’ll be a little bit of that, too.

Here is a list of the things I’ll talk about regarding Spin City:

  • What It’s About
  • The Inspiration
  • The Writing Process

Before I get going, I want to say something quick about titles.  I’m not attached to any of them.  The Repossessed Ghost and Spin City are both temporary names as far as I’m concerned.  When going the traditional publication route, it’s important to not grow too attached to things that are best left to the marketing department.


What It’s About

Spin City is about a down-on-his-luck private investigator named Arthur that works and lives in a spinning city on The Moon.  The case starts off simple enough.  He’s hired to take pictures for a man wanting to know if his wife is having an affair.  It turns into a murder investigation when that same client turns up dead in his own apartment.  As Arthur and his partner are drawn deeper into the inner workings of the city, from robot dog fights to glamorous night clubs, Arthur realizes that he must get to the bottom of the case before the place he calls home is taken over by a psychotic criminal.


What is it REALLY About

This is a more serious story about a desperate man struggling with alcoholism.  While the character of a drunk private eye is kind of a cliche, this story deals with alcoholism in a much more realistic way.  The question of why Arthur drinks is important as well as how his drinking impacts his business and his relationships.

Within the story are themes pertaining to immigration and personal responsibility.  I’m not sure what more I can say about this story in regards to theme without giving away some spoilers.  I will say that while I like Arthur in this story very much, a side character named Victoria is probably my favorite.


The Inspiration

I’ve already talked a little bit about the inspiration for this story earlier this month.  The very first time I wrote about the character named Arthur Kane, I’d just come home from visiting my friend Douglas.  He’d written a story about a detective and I decided to try writing a similar story of my own.

After my Dad died, I sat down and started a novel length story which I called The Arthur Kane stories.  Spin City is the grown up re-imagining of that novel.  As you might imagine, it’s very different from the original work.  While the names remained the same, the characters grew deeper and more realistic.  The plot is radically different though I kept a couple of significant events.  I tried to keep the good ideas from the original story and lift them up with stronger writing and a more intentional noir feel.


The Writing Process

When I wrote The Repossessed Ghost, I went up to the edge of the unknown and jotted down what I could glimpse just ahead.  Most of that story involved discovery writing and I didn’t have a clue how it was going to end until I got about halfway through the first draft.  Since I rewrote that ending in the 3rd draft, you could say I didn’t know how that story would until a few years after I started.

With Spin City, I couldn’t leave things up to chance.  I wanted to create a complicated mystery with crime elements.  To do that and have it make sense, I needed to work backwards.  First I figured out who the antagonists were.  I determined their motivations and their available resources, which told me what kind of crimes they could try to get away with.  Then I worked backwards chronologically.  For person X to accomplish crime Y, they needed to get the aid of Person Z.  That sort of thing.

Once I worked back far enough, I had a fairly comprehensive map of everything the bad guys accomplished.  That gave me ideas for how Arthur could find clues and be a disruption in some of the antagonist’s plans.  At that point, I started doing some loose outlining from the beginning and going forward.

This sounds way fancier and more complicated than it really is.  While I created an outline that went from the beginning to the end, it was not a very complete outline.  I left plenty unplanned.  Also, the exact details of the end were a little bit fuzzy.  I left plenty for me to discover along the way.

Like with The Repossessed Ghost, a couple of characters I expected to have much smaller parts wound up gaining more prominence in the story after I realized how much I liked writing them.  I knew that Arthur and his partner were going to need to bring in a specialist.  I assumed it was going to be a hacker named Victor.  She turned out to be a wet-wired net-head named Victoria, and I think she may be one of the best characters I’ve ever written.

The overall process still involved a lot of discovery writing even though I stuck with the outlined structure.  I wound up changing the outline in minor ways a few times when I realized that what I’d planned wasn’t as cool as some ideas I had along the way.  I made adjustments to the outline, rechecked the reverse chronological map to make sure everything still made sense, then kept going.

I wound up changing the ending quite a bit just before I got there.  Without going into spoilers, I thought I was going to end with a bigger action sequence.  While there is still quite a bit of action, the whole story is much more psychological than physical, so the ending shifted to follow suit.  I’m currently very satisfied with the ending.


Where is it Now?

I’ve submitted two queries.  One was a request for full that came out of the New York Writer’s Digest Pitchslam.  The other was to a prominent agent I’ve met several times at WorldCon.  The agent turned down the query without seeing the manuscript.  I haven’t heard from the one via Pitchslam yet.  It’ll be another month before I ping them.

I quit my writer’s group before submitting Spin City to them.  I don’t have a lot of people I can send it to that will provide a critique.  Most of my friends on Twitter are busy reading other things.  I finished this thing that I think I should be proud of, but I need fresh eyes and reader reactions to see where I can improve it.

Michael Gallowglas heard me lamenting my lack of critique partners and he volunteered to read it.  This is a big deal because he’s developed a significant critical eye on his quest to acquire is MFA.  Also, neither of us have critiqued each other before.  It’s kind of scary, but I trust our friendship to be able to handle this however it goes.  I’m sure Michael will tell me some stuff I don’t want to hear.  I’ll tense up for a moment, take a few moments to process, then try to see what he sees.  I’m sure it’ll be fine.

And just so you don’t get the wrong idea, it’s not exactly a first draft.  I did a lightning fast edit of the entire thing, reading it out loud to Melissa in order to find the most egregious errors.  I don’t like to share first draft stories with people anymore.  The current state of Spin City is that it is more than a first draft, not quite a second.  It’s also the rework of something I previously wrote.  I’m note sure how that affects the draft version math.

When Michael agreed to read it, he talked about printing it.  I printed it for him.  The damn this is 100,000 words and the chapters are short.  I knew it was going to take a lot of paper.  When I printed it for him, I had a copy printed for Melissa.  To give a literal answer to the question of where it is, Spin City is in two places.  One copy is with Michael, and one is buried under some of Melissa’s clothes in our room.


My Novel: The Repossessed Ghost

Hello friends, and welcome to the first in a three part series where I talk about stories I have written.  These will be a little bit self-indulgent, but maybe I’m hoping that some of what I’ve gone through with each of these stories is helpful to other writers.

Here is a list of the things I’ll talk about regarding this novel:

  • What It’s About
  • The Inspiration
  • The Writing Process


What It’s About

The Repossessed Ghost is about a young repo man named Mel that discovers he’s psychic when he finds a ghost named Kate in the back of a car.  When he becomes a suspect in her murder, Mel gives up the life he’s known in New Orleans and goes to Sacramento, Kate’s home town.  There, he becomes entangled in a much larger supernatural community.  He must learn to use his powers, figure out who he can trust, and solve Kate’s murder in order to stop the one that killed her from killing again and unleashing an unspeakable evil on the world.


What is it REALLY About

I’m glad you asked, imposing type font.

While it’s a fun adventure set in a modern world, it’s really about a young man taking the last few steps into adulthood and learning to take responsibility and ownership of problems rather than just get by.  It’s also about a young woman that literally loses everything and thinks she’s powerless.  It’s not until she exercises her own agency that she truly finds her own strength.

The story is fun and light with plenty of humor and an interesting take on how some of the fantastical elements work in Mel’s world.  Also woven through the story is a theme regarding power demanding sacrifice.  There are a few other things in the story that I think are better discovered than explained.


The Inspiration

Many years ago, Michael, Robin, Jason, and I were players in a game run by David Mullin.  The underlying system was Champions, but that didn’t really matter.  It didn’t last that long.  Just long enough for me to really fall in love with my character, Mel Walker.

That first version of Mel was a bit older than the one I wound up writing about.  When playing him, I spoke with an outrageous Southern accent.  He was a little bit creepy in the way he used his powers, but he had a heart of gold.

Imagine an immature man with psychic powers and low impulse control.  On the surface, that was Mel.  What made me really like him was that he had quite a bit more beneath the surface, and I was quite interested in exploring his depth.

Long after the game petered out, Mel stayed in my imagination.  For years, I wanted to write a story featuring him.  In 2013 for NaNoWriMo, I finally decided to give him a shot.  I’d been listening to The Dresden Files on audiobook for months leading up to November, and I was really interested in writing something light and fun.  So began what was initially called “The Mel Walker Story.”


The Writing Process

Up to this point, I eschewed outlining.  I didn’t want to spoil the story for myself.  I always saw the writing process as sitting in front of the keyboard and reading the words into existence.  That’s how writing felt going all the way back to when I started in my early teens.

For The Mel Walker Story, I did something a little bit different.  I outlined fractions of the story at a time.  I didn’t spend a lot of time on the outlines.  Most of the time it was just me writing down a few thoughts on what I thought was going to happen next.  It was like creeping up to the edge of the unknown and shining a flashlight into the darkness.  Whatever I saw up ahead, I jotted down.  That was the extent of my outline.

When I started writing, I thought I knew where the story was going up to the point when Mel would leave New Orleans.  I knew the ghost (a nameless character at the start) would be the one pulling Mel out of his comfort zone and forcing him to become a hero.  I thought Mel would leave her behind and get on with his life within the first Act.  Helping her out of a bad situation would be his first taste of the supernatural life, and he’d go off in search of more.

After I started writing Kate, I knew that I wanted her to have a larger part in the story.  I still wasn’t sure how large a part, but I really loved the dynamic between Mel and Kate.  I felt a strong bond forming between these two characters and I was enjoying their dialog.

I had plotted out that Mel would go to the police and things would go badly for him.  Kate surprised me by saying, “Or, you could make an anonymous phone call.”

All of this that I’m describing is at the beginning of the book.  I’m not going to spoil anything and talk about any of the major twists and turns that happen along the way.  I’ll just say that writing the book often involved me plotting a little bit ahead and thinking I know exactly what’s going to happen, only to have Mel or Kate surprise me at the last minute.  I had a lot of fun writing them because they’re voices were very strong and clear to me.

I wrote the first 50,000 words in November of 2013.  I wrote another 11,000 between December and the end of January.  At 61,000 words, I reached the end, and I shared it with my writer’s group at the time.

That first draft was way too short and the writing wasn’t all that great.  Too much passive voice.  Too many basic mistakes.  I polished up the first couple of chapters and sent them to a Writer’s Workshop at Convolution the next year, and got some overwhelmingly positive feedback.  I made some friends during that convention, and one of the professionals, Jennifer Carson, continued to pester and provide encouragement to getting the next draft done.  It took me well over a year, but I finished the 2nd draft and sent it on to Jennifer.

Jennifer, my new writer’s group, and my wife both had fantastic feedback.  Some of it wasn’t easy to hear.  For example, my ending didn’t work.  I’d had doubts about the ending in the first draft and I hadn’t changed it that much in the second.  So I had to go back into the think tank on that.  Other advice involved bringing some characters out more that seemed to fade in the middle of the story, and fulfilling promises that I made to the reader but never resolved in a satisfying way.

I finished my third draft.  I fixed the ending.  I’d listened to all the advice and critiques, and after four years, had something I felt ready to submit for publication.  It’s now a novel coming in at just under 80,000 words.


Where Is it Now?

I sent it to someone about a year ago and received a rejection.  Then I let it sit in a drawer for a while.  I pitched it during the New York Writer’s Digest Pitchslam, and one person asked for the full, another person asked for the first 50 pages.  Just this weekend, I sent off those queries.

I think it’s a good story.  It’s fun.  I hope it sells but I’m not holding my breath and I’m not waiting around for it.  It’s not that I don’t believe in the story.  One of the problems is that it’s Urban Fantasy.  I’ve been hearing too many agents that I trust state that Urban Fantasy isn’t getting picked up by traditional publishing right now.  The Independents have cornered that market.

As I see opportunities, I’ll send queries.  I’m not giving up on it.  At the same time, I’m not interested in working on it until the change requests are from a professional editor.  I’m also not interested in publishing it on my own because that’s not a business I want to start right now.

So Mel… I raise a glass to you.  I hope you find a good home.  I have other stories I’d love to tell with you, but I’m not going to write those stories unless there’s a readership out there waiting for you.