Happy Halloween 2023!

Emotions have been a little all over the place the last few days, and today hasn’t been much different. As I showered this morning, I did the math in my head and realized that today marks 35 years since my Dad’s death. I still miss him. I wish I could go back in time and talk to him one more time.

Once out of the shower, I realized I could probably put together a really good The Dude from The Big Lebowski. Here is what I came up with this morning:

Later, when I was getting into meetings, I changed my background, which really tied the whole thing together.

Being The Dude, I spent most of the day abiding. My work day was fine, and I’ve been avoiding stress.

It’s evening, now. The sun has been asleep for a couple of hours, and we’ve had a couple of kids come by. One was a little girl with her Mom. This was her very first time Trick or Treating. She got two full size candy bars from us, plus a Capri Sun. Then a teenager girl dressed as Dorothy knocked on our door. I asked her if she recognized my costume, and she said, “I remember you being the guy that gives out sodas.” I gave her 3 full sized candy bars and an Izzy.

I’m not sure we’re going to see that many kids tonight. I hope we do. We’re stocked and ready to go, and I love handing out the candy.

That first little girl tried to come in our house, which reminded me of the first time Bryanna went Trick or Treating. We were living on base at Holloman, and we went around the base housing neighborhood. She was tiny, barely speaking, but she could move. At that first house, she could smell the chili our neighbors were making, so she hurried inside, climbed up at their table, and waited for a bowl.

We’re having chili tonight. Time is a flat circle. Or perhaps it is a poem that occasionally rhymes.

Bryanna stopped by earlier. She was dressed as a pumpkin. One might say that she was our first Trick or Treater, but since the sun was still high in the sky, and she’s 27, I’m going to say that she didn’t count. I still gave her candy, though. She and her best friend are doing something tonight. I hope they’re having fun.

I have Melissa’s folding table setup in the middle of the living room. My Surface is setup, and the curtains are open in front of me, giving me a perfect view of the street out front. This would be a great setup to watch for Trick or Treaters, except that I’m wearing my glasses to get the best use of my laptop, which makes it hard for me to see anything more than a few feet away.

The brainstorming I did on The Psychic Out of Time was extremely useful. My story idea rocks, actually. This is one I can really be proud of, and one with an excellent emotional core. I’m excited to write it! I might even love it enough to see it through. But, I still don’t have an outline.

That’s why I’m setup like I am. I’m perched, ready to spring up and give kids candy, and either a soda or a Capri Sun depending on their size. While I’m waiting for the next knock at the door, I can sit here and work on the outline. If I finish it, I’m out of excuses.

How much do I really want to do NaNoWriMo this year, though? I know from personal experience that I don’t need it. I can draft just fine throughout the year. I’m not engaged with the local Nano community. The only deadline hanging over my head has to do with a cover for One More For the Road, which is sort of out of my hands.

This post is the 31st in a row. I have filled the month of October with a daily writing habit, exactly the kind of exercise that I find necessary to prepare for a solid NaNoWriMo. I have a solid story idea, with good notes, and I could have an outline soon enough that I could start writing tomorrow. The only thing left is to determine if that’s what I really want to do.

I just answered the door again. Quite a few kids have shown up, now, and I love it. The kids don’t know I’m The Dude, of course, but some of the parents figure it out when I toss them a clue. Next year, I’ll put some effort into my costume and come up with something that the kids will like and recognize.

NaNoWriMo. I still don’t know. Maybe I’ll just sit here, work on my outline for the next Mel Walker story, and decide tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow, I’ll start working on the story, but without a commitment to writing 50k in 30 days. It sure would be funny if I completed NaNoWriMo this year without ever actually committing to do so.

Time to get to work.

After tonight, I’m going back to my erratic schedule. I hope you’ve enjoyed the posts this month. If you have any favorites, let me know! Whether or not I do Nano, I’ll try to do some check-ins through November.

Happy Halloween, everyone! Stay safe and have fun!


Not the “Buy My Book” Post You Were Expecting

Only two more posts, and Blogtober will be finished. I’m changing topics again tonight. I was going to record a new video on Sunday and post my first VLOG in 3 and a half years, but I just wasn’t up for it. I’m still not quite 100% physically. Mentally and emotionally, I’m doing even worse.


I have a good life. Maybe even a great life. My job is rewarding, and I’m respected in my position, and compensated well enough for my time. I published a book this year. I recently finished a short story, which is technically the first sequel I’ve ever allowed myself to write. I’m relatively healthy. My family is fine.

Yet, if I were to describe what I’m feeling, it is hopelessness.

It’s not too different from what I was feeling last year, right after we got into November. I was trying to work on a Cyberpunk story, and the reality of the world around me was too close to what I was writing. I couldn’t do it. And then, in spite of my efforts to avoid it, I felt a little bit of guilt about “failing” another NaNoWriMo.

Looking around, things still seem bad. There is economic uncertainty. People are dying in The Middle East. There is one political party in the US which has lost their way, and there is the other which lacks a fundamental quality that would allow them to succeed. I’m not going to elaborate on any of that right now. This post is not directly about politics.

There are problems I don’t know how to fix. Problems that are bigger than me, that are affecting my children right now, and I don’t see how things will get better in the future.

I look at the problems globally. I look at them locally. And I look at them personally.

I shouldn’t write this. I’m a damn fool to write this. But fuck it. Let’s let it fly.

The best possible scenario for my future is one in which I make a career as an author work. If you know me at all, if you’ve looked at this blog for even a few minutes, you should know that I’m continuously working towards this. I’m putting in the work, facing personal fears, and making plenty of sacrifices to give full-time author Brian C. E. Buhl the best chance he can of being a reality.

The next best possible scenario is dying quickly and relatively young, before my programming skills become so outdated that I’m no longer useful. It must be quick, so that my health doesn’t become a burden on my family. It’d be best to happen while life insurance is still cheap enough that those that survive me get some benefit from my passing.

I’m not trying to be morbid. While I don’t like our capitalist society, I fully understand it, and I can look at things through the lens of this society. I had an HSA going into this year, and just from basic care, it was completely wiped. I didn’t have any major procedures. I just saw my doctor a few times and had some blood drawn.

My blood pressure on Friday, at the doctor’s office, was just about as high as it was when I first went in. The reality is that the low salt diet isn’t really doing that much. The exercise isn’t doing that much. I’ll keep doing those things, because there is a slim line of hope that I won’t have to be permanently on hypertension medicine if I can get my weight low enough. But chances are, I have my Mom’s heart.

I don’t smoke. I rarely drink. I don’t consume nearly as much greasy food as my Mom. But genetics are genetics, and while I don’t have complete knowledge of the hand I’ve been dealt, I watched what my Mom went through at my age and a little bit older, and the outlook is not good.

The third best scenario is that I continue as I am, and I exercise and diet, and I put in the work to maintain my relevance in technology, or maybe focus more on management, and even though I can never switch to being a full time author, I keep writing and sacrificing and living pretty much exactly as I am living right now. This is a life of constant uncertainty, work, and sacrifice, with no real breaks. I’m constantly working on something, and yet there are always things never getting finished. Never ending effort, yet parts of my life grow increasingly neglected.

Yeah. I shouldn’t have written any of this. This is not an upbeat, happy post. It’s not the kind of thing that endears people, or encourages them to seek escapism in one of my stories. It’s not selling anything.

All this month, I’ve made mention of The Repossessed Ghost, because that’s what an author must do. Like a good writer, I’ve been making the narrative of these posts serve multiple functions. Writing every day in October helps me get in the habit of writing every day in November. Writing about tips and tricks to making fiction better helps remind me of these tips and tricks I’ve learned, so I can use them in November. And including some reasonable or useful content is a great way of buying good faith from the reader, so that they don’t mind a little bit of gentle shilling. It all overlaps and works together, and no one has to walk away feeling like they just stepped into a commercial.

That was going to be the point of the VLOG. I was going to talk about providing engaging content, to essentially pay the way and provide room for talking about the book. Because no one has every been swayed the words “buy my book” when they’re presented alone.

Make your scenes do double duty. Make all of the words count. Don’t just drop naked exposition on the page and hope your reader doesn’t get bored. If you’re going to reveal something about the world that the reader needs to know, make it entertaining! Hit them in the heart and the mind at the same time, and they will love it. They may not know why.

With posts like this, ones that I’m not super excited for people to read, I lean into the double duty thing, because I know that the ones that can handle what I’m putting down will read it all and understand, even if it’s super long. And everyone else will see the length and bounce right off, because who has time to read all that?

I’m not always that sneaky, but sometimes I am. The other long posts this month were mostly because the topics I tackled were big and needed all the words. This one is not one of those. I’ve reached the end of the month, and yesterday, when I was feeling light-headed and just wanted to sleep, I decided that I’m not doing NaNoWriMo. I sat in my chair, growing increasingly uncomfortable, rewatching all of the episodes of Make Some Noise on Dropout.tv, and I played solitaire. This was after spending hours trying to write an outline for a story that I don’t seem to want to write. At least, not at the moment.

Then, as I was falling asleep, the heart of the next novel revealed itself to me. I know what the beginning and middle of The Psychic Out of Time should be. I have a clue about the end. I know what the emotional core of the whole story is, and I think I actually could write it next month. But I still don’t have an outline.

There’s still tomorrow night, I suppose. I’m not doing it tonight. This stream of consciousness works to fill a blog post, and it helps with brainstorming ideas, but it’s… huh. I guess when I’m done with this post, I’m going to do some more brainstorming, and see what happens.

Anyway. Buy my book. If you haven’t done so already.


Running Away From a Story

On Friday, I went and saw my doctor and I received three vaccinations at once: Flu, Covid, and the 2nd Shingles shot. By the afternoon, I was feeling the effects and had to stop working a little early. I laid my head down on my couch and passed out. When I woke up, I was shivering, even though it was 70 in the house. I went to bed early, hoping I would feel better the next day, because I had a lot to do on Saturday.

When I woke up, I wasn’t shivering, but I still felt hot. I made it through the day and all of the events I needed to attend, including my critique group in the afternoon. We went over my short story, The Psychic on the Jury, which is a follow-up to The Repossessed Ghost. They enjoyed it for the most part, which is fair since it’s an early draft that I haven’t had a chance to really revise yet. Maybe I’ll revise it in December.

One of my goals this weekend is to finish the outline for the next Mel Walker novel, which at the moment is called The Psychic Out of Time. I talked about it with my friends on Saturday, and I had every intention of working on in Saturday evening, after the critique.

I didn’t work on it, though. I didn’t feel well, which is a valid excuse. Melissa and I went to bed early and we got caught up on season 2 of Loki.

It’s now Sunday morning, and I don’t have much time. If I don’t finish this outline, I can’t do NaNoWriMo. I could try, but I would fail. I would get about 5k, maybe 10k written, then lose my way, flounder, and give up. I would add it to my long list of stories I hope to finish, eventually.

I feel quite a bit better this morning, though still not at 100%. The shoulder where they gave me the Shingles shot really hurts. I’m finding it difficult to sit at the table in front of my laptop. I keep getting up and walking away from everything, and I keep asking myself, “Don’t you want to work on this story?!?”

Do I want to work on this story?

I think I do, but there is so much uncertainty around it, and I think it’s going to be complicated and a difficult one to pull off. It’s a sequel, which means it has a very limited potential for sales, and I already feel like I’m struggling to reach a wider audience. It’s Urban Fantasy, and I typically think of myself as a SciFi writer.

On the other hand, I’ve been thinking about this story off and on for 10 years. There are a couple of characters I can’t wait to write. And, I enjoy Mel. As someone in my critique group put it, he’s a “dirtbag idiot” and dirtbag idiots getting up to shenanigans is almost always a good time.

I was supposed to write a different post today, but I think I needed to write this. First, it’s another excuse to not be working on the outline, which in my current state, I was ready to jump on. Second, this is allowing me to talk my way around the story and try to address some of the fears and concerns that are at the back of my mind, that I haven’t really wanted to deal with. The things that are ultimately getting in the way of working on the story in the first place.

If I don’t finish the outline today, I’m not going to participate in NaNoWriMo, and it will be that much longer before there is another Mel Walker story to submit to Water Dragon for consideration. The stakes are set. Now I just need to bootstrap my way into getting into the story elements, so I can conjure an outline, and maybe fall in love with this new story.

That’s the trick, by the way. That’s the secret sauce. It’s why writers can be so defensive of their work.

Unless you’re some sort of masochist, a writer must love the story they’re working on. They’re giving up parts of their lives in order to take an idea and a pile of words and turn them into something that can be shared and enjoyed by others.

A writer can get tired of working on a story. They can get bored with certain parts of the writing process. But to see a story through, from first draft to final revision, a writer must love the story that they’re creating. Without that love, I can only imagine some sort of cruel abomination coming out the other side of the writing process.

If the writer does not love what they’re writing, how can they expect the reader to love it as well?


Psychics Versus Mages

We’re getting closer and closer to Halloween, and I’m feeling more and more incentivized to talk about The Repossessed Ghost, because it starts off on a Halloween night, and I would love it if more people picked it up and read it.

As part of the effort to promote the book, let’s talk a little bit about Mel and Isabelle, the main character and a supporting character in The Repossessed Ghost. Specifically, let’s talk about psychics and mages.

In Mel’s world, but there are many different types of magic, and they all operate differently from each other. Does this mean I have several complicated magic systems laid out in excruciating detail? Have I gone full Sanderson in my world building. Does Mel have to eat some metal in order to look into the past?

Well… no. Not really.

I have an idea of how the different types of magic work, and the whole purpose of this post is to describe two of the systems in at least some detail. But these are more or less guidelines and not necessarily hard rules. Whenever these elements become load-bearing, as in, the plot depends on some piece of magic in the world, I provide the information and setup so that it is satisfying. However, I’m not wasting time writing up things like necromancy, because none of the characters within the pages of the current book use that particular magic. To spend a lot of time working out necromancy at this point would be a waste of my time and get in the way of the actual story I’m trying to tell, even though I know that necromancy exists in the world.

Two types of magic that do appear within The Repossessed Ghost are psychic abilities and witchcraft, for lack of a better term. Mel is a psychic, and Bella is a witch.

Psychics awaken into their abilities, and require no special training. They can practice and improve their use of their abilities, but a psychic does not need to study in order to attain their gifts. Imagine someone that is able to wiggle their ears or other weird tricks with their body. Psychics are like that. It’s a part of who they are. It may or may not run in families. A psychic may have a latent ability that manifests later in life, or they may begin using their gifts at a young age.

Witches and warlocks are also born with some innate talent, but they cannot access it until they have studied and practiced. In some cases, they’re ability can be improved through a significant sacrifice. Someone can have the magical ability bestowed upon them by certain powerful, extra-dimensional beings. Witches and warlocks typically require spell components in order to perform magic, though some possess magic items or talismans that allow them to perform some magic without preparation.

Are witches stronger than psychics? Not necessarily. It’s easier for a psychic to access their “mind’s eye.” It’s easier for witches to do things that affect the world. However, there are psychics that can move things with their mind or conjure fire out of the air, and given enough prep time, there is no psychic trick that a witch or a warlock can’t mimic or duplicate.

What have I based this on?

Well… I don’t know. It didn’t come from a video game or any one book I have read. The magic in Mel’s world isn’t particularly compatible with the magic from Jim Butcher’s world.

While considering the things that go bump in the night, I asked myself, “What seems true?” The first thing that came from that was the significance of reflections and mirrors. I knew early on that Mel would be able to see Kate in reflections, and that became a part of the world building. It’s relatively unique, and good flavor for Mel’s world.

And I just kept going from there, with one detail moving into the next. I knew Mel would be able to look into the past. I knew he’d be able to touch things and get visions. And I knew he’d be able to open his mind’s eye and attain supernatural sight, though most of these things weren’t available to him until the story progressed.

Now I’m thinking about what will go into the second book. How do I complicate things and still have it satisfying?

That’s the rundown of psychics versus mages. If you’ve read The Repossessed Ghost, let me know if this description matches what you picked up in the book.


The Flashlight Approach to Story Writing

Some people really hate to write outlines. I used to be one of those people.

Heck, maybe I still am. I’ve been finding all kinds of excuses not to work on the outline for my NaNoWriMo project, and we’re almost out of time.

For those discovery writers that really, really hate to outline, there is a compromise. I call it “The Flashlight Method.”

I used to think I invented this technique. When I drafted The Repossessed Ghost, I was still anti-outline, but I needed to know where I was going. After writing the first chapter, I took a moment to think about the story. I looked into the darkness, in the direction the story appeared to be going, and I jotted down some things I thought to be true. Then I kept writing. Every time I reached a point of imperfect knowledge about the next milestone, I’d stop and look again. That’s how I wrote 50,000 words of that story in 30 days.

Several times since then, I have described this approach of drafting as “The Flashlight Method.” It seems I’m not the first one to come up with this. Google shows other references.

Looking into what other people are calling The Flashlight Method, it seems to be a way of writing an outline, not a first draft.

The idea is basically the same, though. You focus on a smaller piece of the story and you write what you can. Whether you’re putting together the outline or writing the next part of your first draft, I’m not sure it matters.

Drafting this way comes with risks, of course. Without having a full plan, you might create a giraffe when you were trying to craft a horse. The shape of your story might be wacky and wildly disproportionate upon completion and when observed as a whole. But that’s okay. That’s what editing is for. You can’t edit a blank page, and the primary purpose of the first draft is to exist. In most cases, the first draft is the writer telling the story to themselves. Also, all first drafts are crap.

That’s really all there is to it. If you wind up drafting using this technique, or if this describes how you usually write, please let me know so we can compare notes!


How Much Detail is Too Much Detail

Before I get too far into tonight’s topic, I want to talk a little bit about my stream on Tuesday night. [If you watch it from that link, it gets started at around the 4:30 mark]. I was going to guest on Michael’s regular Tuesday night stream, but he had to call it off. Since I was going him and talk about tips for having a successful NaNoWriMo, I thought I’d go ahead and stream it myself. And so I did!

The reason I streamed it when I did was because November is coming up on us very fast, and if I waited much longer to talk about NaNoWriMo, I’d be too late. The whole reason I’m writing all these posts in October is to help me have a successful NaNoWriMo, and along the way, maybe offer up some tools for other people to help them with their writing journey.

The point of this post to answer the question, “How much detail is too much detail when I’m trying to write a scene?” And here I’ve gone and started the whole thing with way more detail than is required to make that point. Does that mean the beginning of this post is bad writing, because it is too much detail? Or does that make it good writing, as it is an example of what it means to have too much detail?

The truth is, the answer depends on what your writing, and what era it is. If someone were to write like Tolkien today, they would likely be criticized for describing too much. Heavy descriptions provide immersion and richness to your world and to your story at the expense of pacing. These days, the common advice is to hook your reader from the beginning, and keep them on the edge of their seat, until it’s time to breathe.

When I was talking about audio books yesterday, I talked about how the reader is an active participant, filling in details that the writer never mentioned. It’s why the book will almost always be better than the movie. That partly answers the question about how much detail you should include in your stories. If you don’t give the reader room to participate, you’ve gone too far.

I have a tendency to not put in enough detail. In Synthetic Dreams, I definitely under-describe what the synthetic people look like. In Spin City, I don’t think I go quite far enough to let the reader know what it looks like to live in a spinning city on The Moon. And in The Repossessed Ghost, I choose not to give much of a description of the main character.

Something I have to watch for and correct in my revisions is the tendency to over-describe certain, specific details I want the reader to understand. I don’t trust myself to describe it well enough on the first pass, so I wind up going over it again in subsequent sentences, which is redundant and not as much fun for the reader.

The right amount of the detail is just enough to get the story to the reader, plus a little bit more for flavor. You want to convey the idea. The feel of a place, the impression of characters, and details that allow the reader to establish an emotional connection. At the same time, it’s important to paint with a lighter brush, so that the reader doesn’t grow bored or get distracted by details that aren’t necessarily that important.

Different genres make different demands on what should be thoroughly detailed, and what should be left to the imagination. If you’re writing an epic fantasy, you have more room to be more lavish with the detail. If you’re writing something tighter and lighter, your details need to be specific, light, and delivered exactly when they’re needed.

Short stories need to be extremely economical in the amount of details put on the page. Look at flash fiction, and how many details you can get away with there. All stories must function, and for them to be successful, the reader must receive the idea that the writer is sending. Too sparse and the reader is confused or frustrated. Too much, and they’re overwhelmed, bored, or distracted.

It all comes down to practice and experimentation. If you have a critique group or critique partner, you can get feedback from them and look for the times when they’re bored. A lot of times, boredom indicates places where you’ve slipped and left the exposition on, and the page is covered with dry information that is unattached to the action, or devoid of any emotional connection. If it isn’t exposition, it might be that you’ve gone too far with your descriptions.


The Good and Bad of Audiobooks

When I was younger, I might have picked up a physical copy of Where the Red Fern Grows, but that’s not how I remember reading it. I remember sitting in class during elementary school. Every couple of days, the teacher would read to us, and in my mind, it feels like I read the book myself. I’m not sure I did, but the details of the story are vivid in my mind.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons I love Audiobooks so much. I don’t have a problem reading with my own eyes, but there’s something very comforting about listening to someone read me a story.

The Good #1 — Convenience

Nostalgia aside, audiobooks are extremely convenient. When I was driving to work most days, 45 minutes each way, I could listen to audiobooks and feel like that time wasn’t completely wasted. I went through a bunch of audiobooks like that over the course of several years.

These days, it is really easy to get a subscription to Audible and essentially get a “free” book every month. I can download them to my phone and then listen to them wherever I am. That’s way more convenient than they were growing up. In the 80s and early 90s, audiobooks came on either a bunch of tapes or a CD or two. They were way more expensive back then, too.

The Bad #1 — “It’s Not Reading!”

Before sitting down to write this, Melissa and I had a firm but playful argument about whether or not listening to the book is the same as reading a book. Since this is my blog, I can definitively say that I’m right and she’s wrong, but maybe you share her opinion, in which case, you’re wrong, too.

I will acknowledge that there are differences between reading a book and having a book read to you. This whole post is to highlight some of those differences. Mostly, this specific item on the “con” side of audiobooks is that people seem to enjoy saying, “That’s not reading!” and I think the distinction is semantic and a little bit silly.

I’m writing this blog post, but my hands are nowhere near a pen or pencil. Is it still writing? Yes. And if I tell you that I recently finished Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, is it really so wrong if I say I read it, even though I listened to it via audiobook?

The Good #2 — A Good Reader

Sometimes, a really good reader can elevate the book. For example, I’m not sure I would have recieved the same level of enjoyment from The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher if I had not heard James Marsters reading it to me. Marsters brought voices and performance and gravitas to the material. I know that I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much with a different reader because Ghost Story was originally read by someone else, and I didn’t like it. The reader was good, but he didn’t deliver the material the same way James Marsters did.

I’m listening to Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir right now, read by Ray Porter, and he’s doing a fantastic job. Looking back through my library on Audible, there are a lot of books I’ve enjoyed read by Ray Porter.

Also good, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, read by Bryan Cranston, and Artemis by Andy Weir, read by Rosario Dawson. Sometimes, celebrity readers can really deliver.

Another shoutout goes out to Mary Robinette Kowal, as she does audio book recordings professionally, for her stories as well as for others. Her readings of The Lady Astronaut books helped me get safely across Nevada a few years ago.

The Bad #2 — A Bad Reader

I will heap praise on good readers and call them out by name. On the flip side, I will acknowledge that there are bad readers, and rather than mention their names, I will just describe what I didn’t like about their readings.

There was a relatively long fantasy series I listened to several years ago, and I had a difficult time getting through one of the middle books because the reader had all of these weird mouth noises while they read. It sounded like they were tasting their tongue with every other sentence. Maybe they had a tongue piercing, or a saliva problem. I don’t know. I just didn’t want to hear it, and it was a huge, terrible distraction.

Then there was a reading of a very popular SciFi book, also part of a series, and it had two readers, a man and a woman. The man’s reading was passing, but the woman’s part was so, so bad. I will add some extra punction to the following so you can read what it sounded like: It’s like. She put. These pauses. Everywhere. That weren’t needed. And I just. Didn’t want. To listen to it.

There is yet another fantasy series that I tried listening to, but the reader kept mispronouncing some of the fantasy names. I know they were mispronouncing them because in the back of the books, there is an index which provides all of the pronunciations for the strange names and words that run all through the series. I read most of the books in the series in paperback, and was trying to finish it out by listening to them on audio while driving to work. The reading was mostly fine, but the odd pronunciations pulled me out and distracted me constantly.

The Good #3 — Multitasking

Some of this overlaps with the first point I made about convenience. In addition to being able to listen to a book while I drive (especially when driving long distances), I like to listen to audio books when I’m doing other things that don’t require a lot of my attention.

For example, I’ve been walking a lot lately. I have a route near my house which is right around 4 miles. During those long walks, I pop in an audiobook and ingest some stories while I’m getting healthier. Today it looked like rain, so I listened to more Project Hail Mary while I rode on the exercise bike.

Other people might be able to do more complex tasks while listening to a book. For myself, the tasks have to be relatively simple and thoughtless. I can’t program and listen to a book, and I don’t think I can cook while an audiobook is playing. I might be able to do some yardwork or other cleaning, but I haven’t tried.

I do like to be doing something else while listening to a book, so sometimes I will fire up Minecraft, dig deep into the ground, and listen to the story while I do some mindless mining.

The Bad #3 — Minor Inconveniences

There are a few nuisances, which I’ll lump together and list here.

You have to have some way to play an audiobook, and your device must have power. If you’re not in a position to play it aloud, you probably also need some headphones. This is all in contrast to books, which operate without batteries. You can’t read in the dark, but you can listen to an audiobook with your eyes closed, so this isn’t that much of a negative.

It’s easier to lose your place in an audiobook than it is to lose your place in a physical book. Rewinding and fast forwarding is not nearly as convenient as turning pages and skimming to find your place if your bookmark should fall out.

If you get momentarily distracted while physically reading, you can go back a couple of sentences and pick up the thread again. If you get momentarily distracted while listening to an audiobook, you have the rewind problem I just mentioned, which can be a real pain in the butt if you’re driving or doing something else that requires the use of your hands.

For some people, audiobooks are simply slower than reading a physical book.

Not all of the best books are on audio. For example, The Repossessed Ghost is not on audio, and based on the sales, it seems unlikely it ever will be. But I remain hopeful.

Final Point — Nuance

This is mostly a negative, but it’s possible to go the other way.

When talking about a book that has been adapted to a movie, the usual consensus is that the book is always better. The main reason for this is that you are an active participant in the tale and within your imagination, you make choice about the details. You imagine what the timbre of someone’s voice sounds like, even when the author gives no guidance. There are a million tiny details that you fill in without even thinking about it, making it a complete immersive experience.

On the big screen, these choices are taken away from you. You become a more passive participant in receiving the story.

That happens as well with audio books. The reader will make choices around inflection and voice acting, which is a reduction in the participation of the person listening to the story.

On the other hand, some people have poor reading comprehension, and the choices made by the audiobook performer can help deliver the story as it was intended to be received.

This one is a little bit of a mixed bag, and it’s also a very minor point.

Concluding Thoughts

I didn’t even mention that I’m at an age where I need reading glasses, and audiobooks let me enjoy a story without hardware on my face.

I like audiobooks. I think they’re groovy, and I seem to be able to retain the details of the stories in my mind almost as well as when I read them with my eyes. Additionally, audiobooks are helping me exercise more and become a healthier version of myself.

Audiobooks are good, regardless of whether or not you think of it as reading.


Sanderson’s Laws Simplified

Believe it or not, when it comes to magic in Fantasy, the prevailing wisdom was to keep it mystical and mysterious. To spell it all out in a concrete rules system was considered gauche. Brandon Sanderson changed the conversation on magic systems, and now when I go to conventions, the script is flipped. It seems a lot of Fantasy writers focus heavily on the magic system as a major part of their world building.

Here are the Sanderson’s Laws:

The First Law: An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic.

The Second Law: Limitations are greater than Powers.

The Third Law: Expand what you already have before you add something new.

There are videos on it. There are videos of Sanderson talking about it himself. I see them more as guidelines than laws, and I think they’re fine.

They’re fine!

I have read a bunch of Sanderson books, and I think he’s a good writer. I enjoy his stories. I have talked with a lot of his fans, and I have spoken with a few people that are critical of his work. A common criticism goes along the lines of, “When I read [insert Sanderson title here], it’s like I can see the mana bars over the character’s head.”

If you have been following my posts, you may recall that I said that is specifically something I want to avoid when people read my stories, especially The Repossessed Ghost. So, it will come as no surprise to you that I don’t strictly follow Sanderson’s laws.

I suppose I have my own law which I follow, which I’m only just now putting into words. I didn’t come up with it while thinking about Sanderson’s laws, but it could be considered a simplification on his, and it is this:

Buhl’s Law: Anything in your story which is load-bearing must be established and clear.

I think that’s relatively easy to understand, but just to be sure, I will spell out the three different parts so that it makes even more sense.

What I mean by Load-Bearing: This fits with Sanderson’s First Law with regards to solving problems, but it’s not limited to that. If a villain changes their mind because of a thing, that is load-bearing. If it is part of the problem that the heroes are trying to solve, that is load-bearing. If it is pivotal in the reader’s experience, causing surprise or fear or delight or remorse, it is load-bearing.

Load-bearing story elements are foundational, so it should make sense why these parts of your story should be both established and clear. But what do I mean when I say that?

What I mean by Established: If something is established, it does not feel like it’s coming completely out of left field. A writer establishes a piece of their story through any number of means, and it doesn’t have to be glaring like a neon sign. It just has to be present enough in the reader’s mind so that when that story element comes back into focus is not jarring.

This is part of the solution to the deus ex machina problem.

Let’s try an example.

Sam and Frodo are in Mordor, and the weight of The One Ring has pulled Frodo down. He’s collapsed, completely exhausted, and Sam says, “I may not be able to carry the ring, but I can carry you.”

Before Sam can sling Frodo over his shoulders, Tom Bombadil pops out from behind a rock and says, “Bless you, wee lads. It looks like you’re in a bit of a pickle. Let me give you a hand.”

Tom then takes the ring from around Frodo’s neck, and with a little dance and a jig, skips up to the fire pit and lobs the ring in. Problem solved. The end.

This… this is not a satisfying end to this story. While it can be argued that Tom Bombadil was established earlier in the trilogy as being unaffected by the magic of The One Ring, and while it is also established that Tom is a magical creature able to pop in when you least expect it, Tom is not established as having any part in this conflict. As a reader, we haven’t seen Tom struggle with our heroes, evading orcs and giant spiders and all of the evils Middle Earth has dished out to our heroes.

To establish a story element is to not only present it, but weave it into the plot so that it is present in the reader’s mind at the right time.

What I mean by Clear: Again, Sanderson’s first law refers to the reader’s ability to understand the magic, and that can be part of this. But clarity does not have to mean complete, functional understanding. The people of the modern world do not have to know how electricity works in order to activate a light switch. They don’t have to know how the internal combustion engine of their car works in order to go for a drive. However, the functions of these objects is clear to us, just as we do not have to know how a gun functions, Chekov’s or otherwise.

Clarity can simply mean trust. When Gandalf performs magic, we don’t know how the magic works, but Gandalf is established as a character that is wise and powerful, and when the writer tells us that Gandalf is doing something mystical, we trust that Gandalf can do it.

In Conclusion…

If Sanderson’s laws help you craft a compelling story that is satisfying and coherent, and if you enjoying using his laws, then keep doing that! If you like my simplification, try using that, too.

The goal is to create escapism, entertainment, tell a story, move an emotion, teach a lesson… there are as many reasons for us to write our stories as there are for us to read those written by other people. If what you’re writing is delighting you and you’re readers, keep doing what’s working.

If you’re struggling to create the intellectual or emotional experience you imagine your story should deliver, you might want to look at how well you have established the most important parts of your story. And you should check to make sure those items are very clear and easy to understand.


Relationships in Stories

My buddy Michael has been ruminating on relationships in stories, in all the different definitions, and I thought I would take a stab at the topic myself.

Let me begin with the punchline: Every aspect of a story can be described in terms of a relationship.

Writer to Reader

Writing is communication. Stephen King in On Writing describes it in mystical terms, as a kind of telepathy between the writer and the reader. I think there’s something to that. The writer takes the ideas in their mind, transposes their thoughts and words into some medium, and then the reader ingests those words and fills their mind and imagination with some approximation of what was in the writer’s brain. Sharing thoughts like that sounds like a kind of intimacy, and I think we take it for granted.

Taking a step back from the hyperbole, it can also be described as a one-way conversation. The writer is telling someone, perhaps many someones, a story. Just as you have a relationship between yourself and your conversation partners, so too is there a relationship between the writer and the reader.

I believe it helps to have some idea who the ideal reader of your book is. Michael and I have disagreed on this point a few times, but this time, I have some arguments to support my case.

When I write a story, the ideal reader is someone that reads English. My story might be translated into other languages, true, but there are idioms and metaphors woven into my stories that will likely have to be changed and reinterpreted in order for it to work for a non-English speaking readership. If The Repossessed Ghost were ever translated into French or German, those versions of my story would be different works, transformed to accommodate a different ideal reader.

Going further, when I wrote The Repossessed Ghost, I made other decisions that influence the best, target audience. It’s an urban fantasy set in the U.S., so the ideal reader is someone that is familiar with U.S. geography, especially New Orleans and Sacramento. Being an urban fantasy, there are certain tropes I use that would best be read by someone that already appreciates urban fantasy stories.

If we cut it down fine enough, I wrote The Repossessed Ghost for someone that likes the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. If you like Butcher’s stories, you will most likely enjoy The Repossessed Ghost. I wrote it with you in mind. I’m someone that has enjoyed those books, so I wrote it for me, too.

In starting off our conversation about relationships and stories, I think it’s only fair and correct to begin with the relationship between the writer and the reader, because if there was no relationship there, no story would ever be sold or read or heard. Even if I’m wrong on the other point, there is likely a commercial relationship, where the writer is acting as the supplier, and the reader is acting as the consumer.

Character versus Everything Else

The next level of relationships to touch on with regards to story is that of the characters within the story to… basically everything else. This gets pretty broad.

When I was younger, I remember being taught in English that there were 4 main types of conflict in literature. As I sat down to write this, I could remember 3 off the top of my head. They were all phrased as “man versus x” so I remembered them as “man versus self, man versus man, man versus nature” and I couldn’t remember the 4th.

I went Googling around and discovered that my information may be outdated. The number of conflict types has expanded. Depending on where you’re looking, there are either 6 or 7 types of conflict now.

  • Character versus self
  • Character versus character
  • Character versus nature
  • Character versus machine or technology
  • Character versus society
  • Character versus the supernatural

Those are the 6 that overlap. If you change that last one to “character versus a supernatural being” then the 7th becomes:

  • Character versus destiny or fate

None of this is science. None of this is set in stone, and there are overlaps. In Dracula, you can classify that as “character versus a supernatural being”, or you can look at it as “character versus character.” Depending on how you read or interpret Jekyll and Hyde, it could be seen as a “character versus self”, “character versus nature”, “character versus technology”, or “character versus the supernatural” story. You could rewrite the story and lean into any of those types of conflicts and it would work.

Conflict is a relationship. It’s an adversarial relationship, but it’s a relationship nonetheless. It’s difficult for me to imagine a story I would enjoy that doesn’t involve some kind of conflict.

Stories describe change. Perhaps a secret 8th type of conflict is “character versus the status quo,” in that the character’s relationship with the present conditions are in conflict, and the change is either the character altering their status quo, or surrendering to it.

It is my belief that every aspect of a story can be described in relationship terms. Let’s break apart the original Star Wars.

Luke is in conflict with himself and his adoptive parents, in that he wants to be responsible and help with the moisture farm, but he also wants to get away and go on an adventure. Eventually, the Empire, looking for some escaped droids, takes the decision out of Luke’s hands. Luke and Obiwan run into Han, whose relationship with Jabba the Hutt has him in deep water, looking for a way to make some quick money.

I’m skipping stuff, but hopefully I’ve illustrated the point. Every single scene can be described in relationships. Every scene in my stories can be described in relationships. That’s what a scene is.

Writer versus Everything Else

I think I could write about this topic at greater length, but I’ll stop with one more relationship, which is the Writer versus Everything Else. I’m not going to rehash what I already said about the relationship between the writer and the reader. That one is very important, which is why I started with it. Possibly even more important, though, is the relationship between the writer and the story.

As a writer, I love my stories. And I hate them. Then I love them again. Then I worry over them, the way a parent might worry over their child. I work on my stories, the way a mechanic works on a car. I grow them, the way a farmer grows their crops. And I try to promote them, so that they might go out into the world and have their own relationships with other people.

The writer may have an agent. The writer works with publishers and editors and cover artists. The writer might even have fans! Though fans are usually readers, the writer-fan relationship is different because there isn’t necessarily a story separating them.

Without these other relationships, the writer might not ever see their story make it into the world.

In Conclusion

Every aspect of a story can be described in terms of relationships. They are all important, though admittedly, some are more important than others.


October 22, 2023 Update

My original plan was to write the posts about zombies, dehumanization, the attractiveness of driven characters, then cap off that series of posts today with writing advice that unifies all of those ideas. The problem is that I basically already laid it out in those posts. There is good information there for writers, and a summary post would just be repeat information.

Also, not everyone that swings by is interested in writing advice. Sometimes, people just want to know what’s going on with me.

It turns out, I have quite a bit going on! Here are some updates, presented in increasing excitement level.

Exercise and Health

I’ve been walking about 4 miles every day for more than a week, except yesterday where I rested a little and only walked 2 miles. My legs haven’t been as sore, and I’m starting to feel more like I felt before I had Covid last year.

I haven’t needed to take any blood pressure medication in a couple of weeks, even after days where I had a bit more salt than I intended. My blood pressure hasn’t been fantastic, but it also hasn’t been at the kind of levels that make medical interns wonder if there’s something wrong with the equipment. Yesterday in the morning, my BP was 119/86. Honestly, not that bad.

I had lost some weight, and I’m still down, though I showed an increase in a couple pounds yesterday on the scale. I’m not too worried about that. I’ll keep exercising and watching what I eat. The weight will come off when it’s ready to, and I’ll keep focusing on getting healthier.

First Draft Finished!

Yesterday, after finishing my blog post, I went to a Starbucks and wrote until it closed. Then I came home, dawdled a little bit, and wrote some more. After so many months, I finally finished The Psychic on the Jury at just under 14,000 words. Depending on the definition you’re looking at, it’s still in the short story category. It’s a novelette. Not long enough to be considered a novella.

How is it? I don’t know. I need to read it to Melissa, which is my first step in revising it. Later today, after some more revisions, I’ll submit it to my critique group. We’re meeting on Saturday, so I’ll have some objective feedback then. I think there is some good stuff in it! I think it’s probably a good follow-up story to The Repossessed Ghost.

The goal was to finish it by this weekend so that I would have some time today to start the outline for the sequel novel. I’m on track for accomplishing that goal, so I don’t need to cancel my NaNoWriMo yet.

Publishing News!

You’re not supposed to talk about publishing deals until the contract is signed, right? Well, I signed the contract a couple of days ago, and One More for the Road will be published by Water Dragon Publishing soon! And, it looks like a friend of mine will be doing the cover, which I’m very excited about. We’re aiming to have the whole thing ready by Christmas, but that timeline might be a bit tight.

I’m really excited about this one. It’s a short story, so it’ll be a stand alone Dragon Gem. I wrote it for Melissa several Christmas’s ago, and I think it’s my second favorite story I’ve written. If I were to say it’s one of my stories, Melissa will correct me and say that it is her story, and it is. It was her idea, and I wrote it for her. And soon, everyone will be able to read it.

I think that’s it! I have a bunch of writing activities to perform today. I may rake some leaves, too. I’ve got a busy day, and it would be best spent not dawdling here.