The Games We Play

We did it. Thirty-one posts in the thirty-one days of July. Which means I should write a novel in August, right?

Well… I’ll focus on finishing my Mel Walker short story first, then see what comes after that. Work has me stretched thinner than usual. I’m constantly tired, constantly behind, and I’m not sure that August is going to be free enough for me to write anything particularly long or serious. What I need to do is find ways to relax and destress when I’m not working, which often means computer games.

So what am I playing these days?

Mostly Project Zomboid. I’m still not tired of that game. Before that, I was completely hooked on Valheim. Now it’s Project Zomboid, which looks like The Sims 2 if The Goths became patient zero and turned the entire city. Actually, I find the game to be deeper than it appears on the surface, and very satisfying, especially when playing with other people.

There are other games I’ll fire up. Cyberpunk 2077 is still rad as hell, in my eyes. I’m really looking forward to the expansion, which looks like it’ll rework the entire game from the bottom to the top.

I’ve dabbled in Shadows of Doubt, which is a procedurally generated voxel city where you play as a private eye, solving different mysteries. It’s cool, in that it’s basically a mystery-solving sandbox. There’s some cyberpunk qualities to it, mixed with 80’s era technology. The aesthetic and overall vibe of the game appeals to me greatly, though I found it frustrating to play at first.

Wednesday evenings, Mike, Nick, John, and I often still play Gunfire Reborn. We were playing some Diablo IV, but strangely enough, I haven’t found Diablo to be very satisfying lately. It definitely wasn’t fun for me to play it in the group setting. It might have been more fun once I finished the story, and I still haven’t done that. I understand that the recent patches nerfed the hell out of the high level game play, which sounds very frustrating. John is still playing it, but he doesn’t seem super happy with the game right now. The next patch is supposed to help.

We’ve all been kind of tired and stressed, so we’ve been playing a bit of Golf with Friends. The physics in that game can be wonky, and it’s not a game to be taken seriously. We fill our Wednesday evenings with quite a bit of swearing when we play that game, but it’s been fun.

I imagine I’ll get hooked on Valheim again when the next expansion comes out. And, I recently fired up City of Heroes and made sure it’s still functional in my garage. That game still makes me smile.

I have a wealth of video games to play, but I’d rather be playing a good tabletop roleplaying game with friends. The pirate game I’ve been playing with Richard is okay, but it’s very infrequent, and it hasn’t really satisfied my deep need to play an immersive, cooperative storytelling game. I should probably try to put one together and run one myself, but again, where is the time? Also, I’m not sure I have enough friends that would show up.

That’s the update on the games. I still have more Day Job work to do, and there’s stories I could be working on, but after I push “Publish” on this post, I’ll probably fire up a game and see if I can find some fun tonight.

What are you guys playing?


My Story Ideas — 2023 Edition

In no particular order, here is a list of the story ideas I want to pursue this year. Some of these stories are more developed than others. Some I have tentatively named, but most of the time I don’t know what to call it until I’ve written at least half of the story.

The Pyschic on the Jury

This is a direct follow-up to The Repossessed Ghost. I’m writing it in such a way that it will not contain any spoilers for the first book. The basic idea is that Mel gets selected for jury duty. One does not have to worry about “reasonable doubt” when you can simply go to the scene of the crime and rewind time, or pick up the murder weapon and look through the eyes of the killer. So what will it be like when Mel is the only one that seems to know the truth? I have a very interesting twist lined up for this story. It might wind up being a little bit darker than The Repossessed Ghost, but I think it will be very enjoyable, just the same. I’m about 4500 words into this. I expect it to be under 12,000 words when finished, but it might go a little bit longer.

Unnamed Sequel Novel to The Repossessed Ghost

This is one I’ve been thinking about ever since I finished The Repossessed Ghost. I have some ideas for very interesting characters that will show up in this story. We might meet Mel’s father. There will definitely be other psychics with different gifts than Mel. There will be more ghosts, as that seems to be Mel’s specialty. But The Society has bigger scale issues to focus on, and they’re going to need more people. A big part of this story will be Mel going out into the world to find and recruit more people like him, so that when the end times are upon us, there will be people ready to defend us from the things that go bump in the night.

A Heist at the Center of the Galaxy

I have more research to do, but I want to start working on my Truckstop at the Center of the Galaxy story sooner than later. My initial idea is a heist. The Truckstop, as I understand it, rests at a nexus between different galaxies. What better way to get away with ill-gotten goods than to pass it through such a nexus, and hide it in completely different space? Of course, when you open a door, things can pass the other way, too, so things won’t go exactly as planned. I have a lot of work to do on this one. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun, though, and I’m looking forward to tackling it.

The Plant Necromancer Story

I’ve talked about this story before, and I still want to do it. At the edge of a village lives a kindly old woman that makes certain that the crops survive, even when the weather is rough, or when the rats and vermin get into the fields. She is beloved by the village, even if she sometimes asks for strange things, like a bucket of pig’s blood. She keeps to herself for the most part. That is, until a grieving mother discovers her secret: she’s a necromancer. The grieving mother will approach the old woman with a proposition: bring her child back to life, and the secret stays safe.

I’ve done a little bit of work on this story already. I have an outline. I know who the POV character is, now. I thought it was going to be the necromancer herself, but now I think it’s going to be the grieving mother. I need her to by sympathetic, and she’s the most active person in the story, so she’ll make a good protagonist. At this point, I just need to take the time to sit down and write it.

Everything else

There are a handful of novels I still want to finish. I started a cyberpunk novel for NaNoWriMo, but I did not finish it. The dystopia was too real, and I got depressed the deeper I got into it. I think it can still be a good story, though, so I want to try it again at some point.

I still want to write the Bourne Identity meets Game of Thrones idea I had in A Clean Slate. It’s a novel I started in 2011 that I did not have the skill to write at the time. There are some really good ideas there, and I think I can pull it off now. It’s lower on my priority list, though. It’s a straight-up fantasy story, and I’m not sure that’s where my interests lie right now.

Speaking of fantasy, there is a trilogy of novels I want to write that follow some of my favorite character voices I’ve roleplayed or written over the years. I started the first one for NaNoWriMo many years ago, and I made it about 15,000 words into it before time constraints got the best of me and I failed that year.

I have some other ideas, but none of them are exciting me enough to talk about right now. That’s how it is, sometimes. I’ll get the seed of an idea and it’ll stick in my mind. It won’t be enough to develop into anything, but as long as I’m thinking about it from time to time, watering it with interest and new life experiences, the seed takes root, and before long, it becomes the next story that I have to write. That’s how it was with Synthetic Dreams. I suppose that’s how it was with The Repossessed Ghost, if you consider Mel Walker himself to be the story seed. I carried him for over a decade before I finally gave him a shot, and it was a decade later when he became my first published novel.

The future looks bright. I can’t wait to fill it with more stories.


The Repossessed Ghost Readings!

Last week was the virtual launch of The Repossessed Ghost. During the virtual launch, I did 3 readings. The first two were from the book, and the third was the beginning of the follow-up short story, where Mel gets jury duty.

The last reading isn’t online, but the first two are! And here they are!

I have to say, I’m not super thrilled with how I sound in these. I should have grabbed a glass of water before or during the reading. Also, I tried to do the accent, but I’m not sure I pulled it off, and it sounds fake and reductive, to me.

But still! The readings are out there, and you can listen to them, if you’d like!



It’s my 28th anniversary! Melissa and I went to breakfast this morning at Mel’s, and then we went to the Barnes & Noble that’s supposed to have my book. It was not there. It looks like the order was canceled, and I was given an email address to write to and ask what’s up. After buying Melissa a couple of books, we drove around a little bit, then picked up my laptop and her books and headed to an unfamiliar Starbucks that isn’t too far from the house. She’s sitting across from me, rereading The Repossessed Ghost while I bang out this post, then move on to some other writing.

The “other writing” counts as a sequel, which is a perfect segue into today’s topic. Let’s talk about sequels, not only writing them, but reading them, and what our expectations are.

When reading or watching sequels, it can be a mixed bag. It’s hard to know what to expect. The follow-ups to Jim Butcher’s Stormfront were better than the original, as the author really started to figure out what he was doing. Stormfront, Fool Moon, and Grave Peril were all fine and entertaining, but I think when we hit Summer Knight, The Dresden Files started to shine. This is a case where sequels got better over time.

I think the same can be said for the sequel to Hyperion by Dan Simmons. Maybe not all of the sequels; I haven’t read Endymion or The Rise of Endymion, but Fall of Hyperion was really excellent. Some of that could be because Fall of Hyperion was written as a novel, while Hyperion was written as several short stories that Dan glued together to form a novel. Regardless of how it came about, I loved the Hyperion books and it’s another example where the sequel did not disappoint.

When I was reading The Wheel of Time series, The Great Hunt was my favorite for the longest time, and that’s the direct sequel to The Eye of the World. As the series went on, the books hit with varying levels of success, some of which I found difficult to get through. This is also true of The Dresden Files, but I think even the worst offenders in Dresden were still better than Stormfront. I don’t think the same can be said of The Wheel of Time.

Getting into Star Wars, I think The Empire Strikes Back is one of the best examples of a sequel surpassing the original. It’s a cultural touchstone. Return of the Jedi is also great. The prequel trilogy was a bit of a mixed bag, but is held in higher regard than it was shortly after it came out. The sequel trilogy, on the other hand, has some good parts, some good characters, but is generally bad and does a disservice to the franchise as a whole. Some people hate The Last Jedi while other people hate The Rise of Skywalker. These different camps might argue over the details, but for the most part, they will agree that the sequel trilogy did not deliver on either the promise or potential.

Sequels can be hit or miss, and not every story needs a sequel. For example, one of my favorite movies of all time, The Shawshank Redemption, will never need a sequel. One of the highest grossing films of all time, Titanic, does not need a sequel, and furthermore, makes me laugh thinking about what the sequel would even be. Coming to the theaters near you, witness the spectacle that is Titanic: Jack and the Mermaids of Atlantis. I don’t know. If they get DiCaprio on board, it’ll probably do well.

Where was I? Oh yeah. It’s time to talk about writing sequels, and the challenges involved.

In the original story, the writer takes a character or a group of characters, puts them through experiences that are meant to change them, and then the reader or audience experiences either the joy, terror, relief, or whatever emotion they’re supposed to feel when the protagonists change. The change itself doesn’t have to be huge, but there should be some sort of evolution. If there is no change, then there is no point in the story.

Maybe I should back that up with examples. In The Lord of the Rings, the hobbits return to The Shire, and their simple life surrounds them. All the things they loved about their home are still there (eventually), but the heroes of the adventure are changed. The world is no longer as small, and neither are they.

In Die Hard, John McClane enters the story as a tough, no-nonsense cop, and he’s even tougher and just as no-nonsense on the other side, but his relationship with his wife is changed. They have a greater appreciation for each other. Even Powell has gone through a change, finding the courage to draw his gun at the end.

In Star Wars, Luke loses some of his naivety in exchange for realizing his dream of leaving the farm and becoming a hero. Han realizes he values his new friends more than money. And Threepio realizes he is truly, deeply in love with Artoo, and that their bickering has always just been a cover for the deeper emotions running beneath the surface.

Every story is about change. It’s fundamental and core to storytelling. So what does that mean for sequels?

A sequel is just another story, so it, too, must be about change. The danger of a sequel is that it is following another story about change, and if it does not honor that original change in some way, the sequel will be unsatisfying.

Let’s look at Luke’s journey through the original Star Wars trilogy. He starts on the farm, eager to get away and join the academy, meaning he initially wanted to be a pilot for The Empire. By the end, he is a pilot for The Rebellion, and he’s blown up The Death Star. At the beginning of the next movie, all of the previous change is still in place, and he is continuing to help The Rebellion. He’s told by a Force ghost to seek out a teacher, and by the end, he has lost a hand and gained knowledge that changes everything: he is the son of Darth Vader. At the beginning of the next movie, he has returned to the planet where he grew up, but he’s in his emo phase, wearing black and choking out pig men with The Force. At the end, he is by himself, mourning the loss of his father that he alone was able to redeem.

Now let’s look at Rey’s journey through the sequel trilogy. She starts off scraping by as a junker on a desert world, eager to get away and have adventures of her own. By the end, she has become a hero in her own right, facing down and defeating the Darth Vader equivalent. Then we get a little bit of extra, where she finds Luke Skywalker and extends his old lightsaber to him. The next movie starts right where the first left off, and we get our expectations subverted when Luke pitches the lightsaber over his shoulder. Rey’s journey begins with convincing Luke to train her. At the end of movie, she is using what she’s been taught to save her friends, but there is uncertainty; the lightsaber is destroyed and the rebellion is in shambles, but there is hope because anyone can be the hero, even the nameless little boy that is sweeping barns on the casino planet. At the beginning of the next movie, the lightsaber has already been repaired and Rey is training in the forest, and somehow Palpatine is returned from the dead, and at the end, Rey goes to Tatooine, a planet she’s never been to and one that Luke and Leia left a long time ago, so that Rey can bury both of their lightsabers on the planet where Luke’s foster parents were burned to death and Leia was forced to wear a brass bikini and service a space slug. Also, that whole business about anyone potentially being a hero is bunk, because we’re super into eugenics, now.

I went on a little bit of a rant there, but the point is that a sequel that ignores what came before is unsatisfying. Honoring what came before doesn’t mean preserving it, completely unchanged into the next story. Things can regress. That is a kind of change, and stories are about change. But the change has to be in the story.

There is more I can say with regards to story structure and sequels. You want the shape of the overarching story to resemble a story on its own. But, I think if you make each story in your series satisfying while still honoring what came before, you’re going to be okay.

It’s time for me to finish some sequels of my own. I need to do some actual drafting now, and I never really know how to end these types of entries. Thank you for attending my TED talk? Please like and subscribe? And now you know… the REST of the story.


Writing in Someone Else’s Sandbox

I have had the honor of getting asked to write in someone else’s world. In early 2020, before the lockdown, Heads and Tails publishing was working with Michael Gallowglas, and he was going to get several writers to draft novelettes in two of his properties. Some of these potential writers are famous and well established, while others were unknown quantities like me. I was to write in his Dead Weight universe, which is about the US Marine’s response to a fairy invasion, told from the perspective of a storyteller.

By the time the pandemic hit, I had about a third of the story written. I started it right after I saw the first draft of the contract. Covid wiped out Heads and Tails, the publishing deal disappeared, and I continued drafting that story. It’s called Dead Weight: Air Superiority and it pulls heavily from my real-world experience in the Air Force, deviating from reality when a fantastical version of my old squadron is deployed to establish air control in a desert where dragons are dominating the skies.

The truth be told, I really enjoyed working on that story, at least in the beginning. I didn’t enjoy the work so much in the middle and the end, but that was because I was fighting depression like so many other people, as Covid changed the world around me. Pandemic not withstanding, I enjoyed diving deep into the world and studying it, getting the rules and mechanics of the setting in my head, so that I could play with those same mechanics in a way that honored the original work while still allowing me to tell a story that is from my heart and mind.

It wasn’t exactly the first time I wrote in someone else’s property. I played on the Star Wars MUSH for many, many years, and I often think of that more as writing fanfiction than anything. None of it is publishable, or even particularly good, but I learned so much from that experience about writing compelling characters with their own unique voices. There are ideas from that time that I want to pull forward and make into full novels, the way I brought Mel forward from a roleplaying game and created The Repossessed Ghost. But those novels will have to wait.

In front of me now is another opportunity to write in a shared world, The Truckstop at the Center of the Galaxy, published by Water Dragon Publishing. There are many stories written and out in the world already, and I’m looking forward to diving into them with the same energy I had when I worked on the Dead Weight story.

It reminds me a little of when WriteFightGIFClub worked on the Hotel stories. It was another shared universe idea, multidimensional, with certain characters and landmarks that could show up in each of our stories. I’m actually quite pleased with The Reluctant Apprentice, my entry for that series. I think if we were braver and a little bit more organized, we could have put those stories together into an anthology, but I think what we did was enough.

I used to think that writing a story for an established franchise was unappealing. I like my original stories, settings, and characters so much. Why would I want to give up any part of the creative process? Why would I want to be confined to someone else’s rules?

Now I see it differently. I still prefer creating original characters and focusing on those for my stories, the way Timothy Zahn did with his Heir to the Empire Star Wars novels. But I think the external rules encourage a kind of creativity that you don’t find when the canvas is completely empty.

I have some really fun projects in front of me. Tomorrow, I’m going to meet up with Mike and we’re doing to do some writing. Maybe I’ll make some more progress on the next Mel Walker story. Maybe I’ll reorganize my thoughts and outline on the sequel novel to The Repossessed Ghost.

If you’re like I was and you think writing in someone else’s world wouldn’t be fun, I challenge you to reconsider. Just for fun, pick your favorite franchise and try to write some fanfiction in that world. Keep the pressure off yourself and see what happens. It is a lot more fun than it appears, and it might expand what you know about creativity with boundaries.


Water Dragon Publishing

I have mentioned Water Dragon Publishing a lot, but I’m not sure that I have dedicated time to really introduce you to them.

The dry stuff would be to say, Water Dragon Publishing is small and independent, an imprint of Paper Angel, and focuses on fantasy and science fiction. Other imprints under Paper Angel have other focuses, with a potential new imprint coming soon which focuses on horror.

If not for Water Dragon Publishing, The Repossessed Ghost wouldn’t be out in the world. I am grateful, and I want to talk about Water Dragon a little bit more, to go beyond the dry stuff and reveal what it’s like being an author working with them.

I do not have experience with other publishing companies, big or small, but I know a lot of authors and have heard their stories. I’m not going to name names, but I have one author friend that had two of their series dumped by a major publishing company, before either series could be completed. Another author that has been a mentor to me has talked about struggles with their publisher, as one of their books came out around September 11th, and even though all book sales were impacted during that time, the publisher still dealt with the author as though it was somehow their fault that the book didn’t sell as well as projected. And still another close friend of mine partnered up with a publisher, and wound up having to buy back the rights to their stories when the publisher failed to promote their books in any meaningful way.

I went into my relationship with Water Dragon knowing all of these stories, and I sort of held back my hopes and expectations.

Instead of adding to the list of nightmare experiences, I found a community. I found a group of writers that are supportive, knowledgeable, and passionate about holding each other up. This was a lot like when I found the WriteFightGifClub. When you join a group of writers like this, you find shelter and support in the storm. There will always be uncertainty in publishing, and drama, and troubles, but a group like this offers hope and assistance when you need it.

Steven Radecki is the managing editor, and he wears a lot of hats. One of those is Small Publishing in a Big Universe, which is both a podcast and a marketplace for independent authors. We had a whole extra table in the dealer’s room at Baycon dedicated to the marketplace, where non-Water Dragon authors could sell their books at the con. We also interviewed authors at the con live and made them part of the podcast, and posted information on their books at the marketplace website. This might seem like a wild tangent; it isn’t, because this is all still part of what Water Dragon is and does. It’s not just a philosophy to help other writers, but a call to action.

I’m not sure what’s going on with the big publishers right now. Last I heard, there was some turmoil and a lot of layoffs, especially around genre fiction. There is a lot of uncertainty everywhere. Maybe it will mean more opportunities for smaller, independent publishers like Water Dragon.

To pull back from the shilling, let’s talk a little about the downsides of Water Dragon Publishing, which mostly amount to being small and independent. There is always too much to do and not enough people to do those things. Printing is outsourced, as you can imagine, and there is some kind of delay with the printing of hard covers for The Repossessed Ghost, so many of the pre-orders are unfulfilled. The prints are beautiful, but a couple of my friends and coworkers are getting antsy. These aren’t really criticisms of Water Dragon specifically, but more reflections of the publishing business on the whole.

If it’s not clear already, I like working with Water Dragon. I want to submit more stories and continue working with Steven and the other authors. There is a shared world project that I want to dip a toe into. Maybe I’ll even see if there are other ways in which I can volunteer and help.

If there’s anything I’ve left out, or if you have any questions, please let me know! And to cap this off, let me tell you about this:

You can read more about the details here. It’s 12 stories for around $20, and it helps SFWA, which does not suck.


Monty Python

At a certain point in my life, I quoted a lot of Monty Python. These days, I’m more likely to quote from Liar Liar, of all things. Even now, I’m on the verge of telling you the color of my pen, which is royal blue.

Monty Python is a wonderful combination of zany and dry humor. From the ministry of funny walks, to the parrot that was alive when it was purchased but has ceased to be, no one expects which direction Monty Python will go, much like The Spanish Inquisition. That’s just The Flying Circus.

Of their movies, I think mostly of Life of Brian and Holy Grail. The Life of Brian isn’t quite as funny as the other, but the name alone forced me to pay attention to it, and it ends with a song that makes me smile. Even while being crucified, always look on the bright side of life.

Holy Grail, on the other hand, is where most of the quoting comes from. From the very beginning, with the text written by people that weren’t actually sacked, to the end where the whole thing is taken apart for the farce that it is, the whole thing is completely quotable.

I enjoyed Monty Python when I was younger, but I’m not sure how much of it has aged that well. John Cleese was always my favorite, but I understand that in his older years, he expresses some less-than-stellar viewpoints. I’m not sure what they are and I’m not going to look them up, to be honest. I assume that when I’m his age, my viewpoints won’t be particularly pristine, either, and I’d rather just think of John Cleese as being a really funny man that delivered an amazing performance when he read The Screwtape Letters. If you haven’t heard that, find it and give it a listen, it’s amazing.

I think I’m a fan of British Humor. I enjoyed Monty Python when I was younger, and I really enjoyed all of Douglas Adams’ writing. There is some commonality there, and I wouldn’t be surprised if one influenced the other.

There have been other comedy troupes that have done similar work as Monty Python, but I’m not sure that any reached the same level. Kids in the Hall comes to mind, and they were really popular for a while, but I don’t think people are talking about them the way people still talk about Monty Python.


The Most Common Questions I am Asked

When someone suggested this topic, I thought it was going to be fun! But now that it’s time to write it, I’m drawing a blank.

I get asked tons of questions at work, many of which repeat, but I don’t really get asked that many questions outside of work. I have a lot of experience as a writer, and I take my craft very seriously, but I don’t think anyone thinks of me as an authority on the subject. I still talk about writing all the time, but not because people are asking me.

Let’s just try this and see what happens.

How are you doing?

I’m fine, thanks! Even though my day job is brutally busy, I’m doing okay.

Where can I find your books?

I finally updated my books and stories page at the top. I currently have one book out, The Repossessed Ghost, which so far has been very well received. You can go straight to the publisher to buy it, in which case it will likely be sent to me first to be signed, or you can find it on Amazon.

I also have a short story in an anthology called Tales from the Goldilocks Zone, which is also on Amazon. Not a lot of people have purchased or seen that anthology.

I have a couple of other unpublished but finished novels, and I’m working on follow-up stories to The Repossessed Ghost.

What was the inspiration for The Repossessed Ghost?

Chronologically speaking, the character of Mel Walker started off as someone I played in a roleplaying game over 20 years ago. He had a fun voice, and I wrote a few short stories featuring him back then. The game didn’t last long, but the character stayed in my head for years and years.

At the beginning of November 2013, in the middle of binging The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, I decided I’d give Mel a shot at his own novel. I wanted to write something light and fun like The Dresden Files, and Mel was perfect for the job. Now if I could just borrow Jim Butcher’s fans for a little while, that’d be great.

Do you believe in ghosts?

I do not. Ghosts are fun to write about, but as far as an afterlife, I find that being turned in to a ghost to be the most repugnant.

Melissa believes in ghosts most of the time, so she can believe enough for both of us.

Why a ’74 Nova in The Repossessed Ghost?

The car featured on the cover of the book, and that plays a critical role in the story, is sort of a combination of two cars I remember from my late teens. I used to get to borrow my brother-in-law’s ’74 Ford Torino, and I loved that car. It was blue like the car in my book, but it was not fancy. It had rust spots, and honestly wasn’t worth much money.

My girlfriend’s Dad at the time had the mid-70’s Nova. It was dark gray, and the engine was so chromed out that you could lift the hood and use the insides as a mirror. I never drove that car, but like the Millennium Falcon, it had it where it counts.

What are you working on now?

I’m about 5000 words into a short story about Mel Walker on a jury. I’d like to get it finished before the summer is out, and see if there is a home for it with Water Dragon. Once that story is finished, I’m going to outline the sequel to The Repossessed Ghost, and then I’ll consider which story I want to work on next. I have a lot of ideas I’d like to pursue.

What’s your writing style?

People don’t actually ask me this in so many words, but the question comes up in a roundabout way when I talk with other writers.

I used to be a pantser, but now I outline. I do not outline as thoroughly as most plotters because I still like to have lots of room and leeway to discovery write. In fact, sometimes I’ll put in my outline, “You’ll figure this out when you get there.” And I usually do.

When I’m drafting, I wind up reading a bit of what I last wrote at the end, in order to recover the flavor and voice. As long as I can pick up my threads of thought, I’m good to go. When I have to reforge, I slow down.

My first draft usually comes out relatively clean, but I no longer share first drafts with anyone. Once I’ve finished the first draft, I’ll let the story sit. I’ll try to work on something else. When I come back to it, I want my eyes as fresh as they can be.

Revisions involve reading the story to Melissa. My ear catches more than my eye. When I’ve finished the second draft, I start looking at my critique group, in the hopes that I might be able to submit it and start getting external feedback. I miss things, and my critique groups are vital, because when I can see my story through their eyes, I find the things that are missing.

The two times I’ve worked with an editor, things went very easily.

Why do you write?

This is another question I don’t usually get directly, but the idea of the question comes up from time to time.

I write because I have to.

When I don’t write, the depression gets me. Writing is my favorite way of expressing myself. My writing voice is stronger than my regular voice. Writing brings me peace and fulfillment.

I want to entertain people. I want to connect with people through my writing.

It would be a dream to be able to write full time. Maybe it will happen, still. My dream had been to get one of my novels published, and that happened this month. Now I want to get another book published, and hopefully reach more people with my stories. If enough people gain interest in what I have to write, maybe this could become my full time job, and I would be very satisfied.

If you have any questions for me that I have not answered, please let me know!


The Rise of Queer Protagonists in Genre Fiction

I’m not the best person to tackle this subject, but I’m going to do my best, with empathy and respect. I’m a straight white guy, arguably an old straight white guy now, and there have been a ton of protagonists that have looked like me and sounded like me. Representation matters, and it’s easy for me to find a character in a book or a movie that is superficially like me.

Maybe I’m going too fast. Let me slow down and break down what I just said, one piece at a time.

What do people mean when they say, “representation matters”? It starts when we’re young. We look up to our heroes and we try to see ourselves. When a child sees an astronaut or a superhero that looks like them, it’s easy for them to imagine being that person. Our dreams as children are only as big as our heroes. I’m pretty sure I wanted to be Superman with a lightsaber at some point. Maybe Melissa wanted to be Wonder Woman.

If I had been something other than white when I was little, I might not have been able to see myself so easily as Superman or Luke Skywalker. It’s hard for me to say. I had the privilege of getting to grow up not really thinking about race. As far as gender and sexual orientation, it was a completely different time and what I was exposed to was neither kind nor compassionate.

Representation matters, and as I said at the beginning, it’s simple for me to find characters that are superficially similar to me. Why did I include the word “superficially”? Doesn’t that imply that representation doesn’t matter? Am I trying to hedge?

I don’t think so. Not every black person has the same lived experience. Neither has ever gay person. I described myself as a straight old white guy, but that’s not really my lived experience, either. I’m adopted. I grew up in a household with a mother that wasn’t always there and a father that was drunk most of the time, until my early teens. I was surrounded by people that made devastatingly difficult life choices, and like a lot of Gen X folks, I muddled through on my own. I had panic attacks in Junior High. I was afraid all the time, and I got into a lot of physical fights.

There are lots of people that look like me, but there are not a lot of people that are actually like me. Sometimes that’s for the best, because I can be a lot.

I think representation matters most for the younger folks. All kids, regardless of their race, gender, or sexuality, should be able to find heroes like them, and be given the opportunity to dream big and aspire to be anything. By the time someone is my age, they should have learned to look beyond appearances to discern what lies beneath the surface, where our true similarities may be found.

What about queer protagonists in genre fiction? Why is there so many now, and what is that about?

Let’s look at the history of genre fiction. Until the last couple of decades, it was on the outskirts. The world we live in today has been inherited by The Geeks, but before that, geek culture existed behind closed doors. It was nerd stuff.

Awards in genre fiction, such as The Hugo, The Nebula, and The Dragon, carry some clout these days. When The Hugos were first handed out, it was not quite so prestigious. Weirdos ran those conventions and attended them, and the weirdos were the ones selecting which other weirdos should get recognition for the strange and wacky fiction they all celebrated. Tolkien’s contemporaries even tried to shame him for writing fantasy, which was considered unserious and “a waste of time, only useful for escapism.”

Genre fiction has always been where societal boundaries are stress tested first. Genre fiction is where progressive voices get to practice. When the stories are exploring what could have been or what might be, sometimes the narrative dives straight into what should be.

Presently, there should be more queer protagonists. There should be more queer writers, writing queer protagonists, celebrated by audiences, queer or otherwise.

Will I write a story featuring a queer protagonist?


There are lived experiences that I cannot claim, experiences that many queer readers would expect from a story that is meant to speak to and represent them. It would be wrong of me to try and write a queer story. There are other writers that can write that, and we should make sure there is room for them to do so.

I can include queer characters in my stories, though. My main character can be queer, as long as I don’t make that the focus of the story. Some folks are gay. Some folks have dark hair. Some folks have gluten allergies. These are descriptors, and not necessarily character defining traits.

It can be a little confusing when a story is appropriation, and when it is representation. When in doubt, there are readers that can provide feedback and help the writer keep from doing harm with their stories. Misrepresentation and stereotyping can be extremely painful and continue a cycle that oppresses or mischaracterizes people that are already not well represented. So, hire a sensitivity reader, and listen to them if they tell you that you’re doing harm.


State of The Brian — 2023

Mr. Speaker. Madam Vice President. My esteemed colleagues.

The state of The Brian is strong.

Coming off the release of The Repossessed Ghost, I am feeling satisfied. A life-long dream has been realized, and now I’m developing new dreams to follow.

My health is stable. I’m taking hypertension medicine, but only occasionally, as my blood pressure is staying relatively normal. The low sodium diet appears to be working for me, and I have been exercising more.

I could stand to exercise a lot more, but progress is being made, and progress needs to be acknowledged. Continued progress will lead to a leaner, stronger Brian, the kind of Brian that will see many more summers, many more conventions, and will likely produce many more books.

I haven’t been drafting as much as I like, but I think focusing on the release of The Repossessed Ghost is appropriate writer activity, and it has taken some time and energy.

People have reached out and given me amazing compliments with regards to The Repossessed Ghost. Yesterday at Michael Gallowglas’s shows, he made my book available to his audience, and his support specifically has been life affirming. I feel spoiled. I feel appreciated. This is a good time to be Brian C. E. Buhl, and I’m trying to live in the moment and appreciate it all as much as I can.

We had some hiccups on the goal of writing a blog post every day in July, but as of this post, we are fully caught up and back on track. We have successfully talked about Shoes and Mashed Potatoes, and we managed to get to the other side of The Byzantine-Sasanian War of 620-628 AD. We have operated this platform with integrity, and we will continue to keep the light on in this place for as long as possible.

As far as my day job is concerned, I’m behind on some important work, and that has created a great deal of stress. With regards to extracurricular activities, I have been playing quite a bit of Project Zomboid, especially with Mike and Nick. That’s been excellent fun.

Tonight, I started a new keyboard, the keyboard I intend to make available for the giveaway at the next Writing Excuses Retreat on the Alaskan cruise. Melissa and I have selected our offshore excursions, and we’re both quite excited for them. The near future looks bright.

As I sit here tonight, I have never been more optimistic about my future. I just have to continue to remember who I am.

I am Brian C. E. Buhl and there is nothing beyond my capacity to accomplish, as long as I have the support and love of my friends and family.

May God bless us all. May God protect our troops.

Thank you.