December 29, 2023

December Newsletter

Hello again, and happy holidays to you all. Or just happy end of the year, if you prefer. I don’t know about you but I’m very ready for 2023 to be over.

Anyway, you’ve heard me gripe about all that before. Let me give you a few updates…

I’m still editing GJD but the end is in sight. Less than a hundred pages left, which is pretty cool since I added three whole chapters since the last time we chatted like this. Hoping to have it done this coming week, which means my agent has it by the very first of the year, and maybe you’ve got it by… next fall?

This also means I get to go back to TOS, which is great because Ben was just about to start looking into the history of… well, I don’t want to ruin the surprise. I really think you’re going to like it.

Speaking of things you may like… if you’re not already following me on Instagram or Bluesky, I’ve been doing a retelling of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Specifically, I’ve been telling it with Halloween skeletons on my front lawn, changing their poses and costumes every other day or so. Overall, the neighbors have been highly amused (and a few little kids really love it). I’ve been taking lots of photos and on Instagram there’s a highlight that also has music and some simple filter-effects. No, this will not be a regular thing. It’s way too much work but now I’m committed to the gag.

Speaking of Christmas and the holidays, I must make the standard holiday sales appeal. If you like my books, perhaps consider sharing them with a friend or loved one? There’s still plenty of time to hit your friendly local book store and pick up a copy of The Broken Room or Paradox Bound or maybe one of the Ex-Heroes books? There’s also those two new anthologies I have stories in– Joe Ledger: Unbreakable and The Reinvented Detective. Plus, don’t forget you can give ebooks and audiobooks up until the last minute– digital stocking stuffers.

Also, if you’re in the greater Los Angeles area, Dark Delicacies in Burbank has a bunch of scribbled-in books by me from last week’s signing. Again, too late to ship but if it’s an easy drive for you, thought you might want to know.

And really… I think that’s about it. End of the year. Not many events. Writing projects have hit a nice, smooth pace. Just trying to enjoy the holidays a bit.

What else can I tell you about…?

Cool Stuff I’ve Been Watching– The Doctor Who specials have just been fantastic. I’m also halfway through Blue-Eyed Samurai and loving that. Watching a lot of Christmas classics (which also tends to mean a lot of Shane Black movies…)

Cool Stuff I’ve Been Reading
Again, not as much as I would’ve liked. Just finished Ghost Job by Greg van Eekhout and adored it (highly recommended for kids of all ages). Next up is an ARC of Django Wexler’s newest—How to Become the Dark Lord and Die Trying. Yes, that’s the title. And after that I’ve got a new one from Jennifer Brozek and another one from Craig DiLouie. Can I be honest? I friggin’ love when I get to blurb books from authors I’d be praising anyway.

Cool New Toys – Look, this close to Christmas I’m really not allowed to get myself anything. Even though I have been sorely tempted by a few things (so many sales!). But I did grab the ReAction Godzilla ‘74 when I was at Dark Delicacies last weekend (to pair with that Megalon I mentioned last time). And my lovely lady agreed that we needed the Four Horseman Jacob Marley. For a Christmas decoration.

Hope you all have a fantastic and safe holiday season. See you next year.

December 28, 2023 / 1 Comment

The Yearly Round-Up

Well, there’s less than a hundred hours left in the year. Guess it’s finally time to do one of those end of the year wrap up posts. Take a moment, look back, and see what got done this year.

So… what did I get done this year?

First off, this was a very crap year for me, focus-wise. Some of you have heard me complain about this in the newsletter. We had construction on three sides of us (like, right next door) basically from early April until late October. Power tools, guys shouting, music loud enough so they could hear it over the power tools and shouting. Plus stress-watching them rip out all the surrounding landscaping. Mature trees, bushes, lawns on either side… all gone. Road crews ripping up the street, the parking strip, the sidewalk, and even the edge of our lawn. From my office I had a front row seat to see a lot of the landscaping I’ve spent years working on get ripped out so the city could put an access ramp five feet from my driveway. It honestly got so bad we had a few discussions about moving.

But now it’s over.


All that said… The first few months of the year were me finishing off the book I’ve been referring to as GJD. It’s currently the biggest thing I’ve ever written. It has a very large cast of characters. We’ll be talking about it more in a few paragraphs…

Then I dove into my new project, currently called TOS. I spent a lot of the summer on this one. It’s probably going to be huge too. It’s currently close to 60K and feels like it’s just getting fired up. Hoping to get back to it in the next week or two. Why? Well, keep reading…

I also wrote three short stories this year. I don’t do a lot of short stories these days, but all of these anthologies tickled me just right. Altogether that was probably four weeks of work, writing, editing, polishing, all three of them. And two of those anthologies are already out (I may have mentioned them once or twice or thrice or…)

Anyway, about September or so my agent and I had a talk about GJD and some of, well, the issues it had. And at this point I’d been away from it long enough and worked on enough other things to see… yeah, it had some issues. And in all fairness, some of my early readers had mentioned these issues and I’d sort of brushed off their comments as “they don’t understand my brilliance!” So this was also a bit of cold water in the face for me. It’s okay. I think it’s a good thing for most of us to get that splash in the face now and then so we can sit back and reassess a bit.

So I spent the past few months doing a… well, not quite a page-one rewrite of GJD, but rewriting a lot of it. A few characters were re-envisioned (which changed a bunch of things). A few chapters were completely deleted (which changed a bunch of things). A few new chapters have been written (which also changed a bunch of things). As I’m writing this for you right now I think there may be… two weeks left on it? Maybe a little less. Regardless, as I mentioned above, hoping to have it back to my agent at the start of the year and then I get back to TOS and hopefully you get to read them all sometime soon.

Also this year I had my assorted blogs/pages consolidated into this one website and got the ranty writing blog back up and running. If my math is right, I’ve done forty-five posts here this year. Not bad, considering I didn’t do any until April.

And I’m still doing the newsletter. Thirteen of those went out. More-or-less once a month updates about what’s going on with the writing and other stuff in my life. Cool things I’ve been watching or reading, cool toys that’ve made their way to my desk, and so on. Once a month, because let’s be honest—you don’t have time to read a dozen different newsletters every week. How many of them just turn into spam and never get opened? So if you haven’t already, feel free to sign up and let me not clutter your mailbox sometimes.

It’s probably worth mentioning I also read twenty books this year. Not fantastic. Better than last year. I refer you to the previously mentioned concentration-shattering noise and would also mention that one of these books was a monster about three or four times times the size of an average book.

So that was my year. How about you? Did you get as much done as you’d hoped? Are you happy with what you did get done? Remember, don’t beat yourself up about it. People work at different rates, write at different speeds. What really matters is you got something done.

And I think that’s it for you and me and 2023. As always, many thanks for being here. I hope this past year I’ve maybe helped you work through a few things, writing-wise, and if not… well, I hope I’ve been mildly entertaining.

See you in 2024.

Until then, go write.

December 21, 2023

Important Holiday Choices

Well, it’s that time of year again. Christmas movie time. Maybe you’ve got a bunch on DVD or BluRay. Perhaps you’ve gone all digital. Heck, I think most streaming services have playlists ready and waiting for you.

I thought I’d take shameless advantage of the holidays to revisit an idea that I haven’t talked about in a while. It’s writing in-general relevant, but as we’ll see it crops up a lot in holiday movies. Especially…

Well, I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Let’s start with basics.

A lot of story (in the bigger plot-vs-story sense) boils down to “what my character decides to do.” Are they going to play it safe, try to fade into the background, stay home and do those TPS reports? Or are they going take a stand, take a chance, and go on that adventure?

Usually these choices boil down to a binary. Do X or do Y. Suck it up or quit my job? Help the little girl or mind my own business? Tell the truth or try to keep it hidden for a little longer? There’s a few trillion examples of this. I tend to think of these as triangles. My character is one point (A), their two options (we’ll say B and C) are the other points. You’ve probably heard of romantic triangles, yes? That’s a pretty standard dramatic device that pops up in a lot of stories.

Now, here’s the catch. Triangles—of any sort—only really work when B and C are both viable options. If my choices are stay late at my soul-crushing job where I’m unappreciated or go see my kid’s school play… well, that’s not much of a choice, is it? and if my protagonist chooses to stay at work, well… what does that say about them?

Granted, there might be a very good reason to stay at work that counterbalances this. Maybe there’s a big bonus they really need for finishing on time? Could a promotion be in the balance? Heck, maybe they’re helping someone else out. No point both of us missing the play—you go, I’ll get all this cleaned up. All these are good, viable things. But they need to be there for that balance to work. Otherwise, my character’s just making bad choices.

This imbalance shows up a lot in romantic triangles. One person is sweet and funny and supportive and attractive and the other side is… well, horrible. Selfish. Self-absorbed. They scowl so much they have permanent wrinkles in their forehead—and they’re only 23! I mean, if my choice is to be with Sam or be with Roy, and Roy is a misogynistic Nazi… well, that’s not much of a choice, is it?

When we don’t have balanced options, there isn’t a lot of dramatic weight to the actual choice. It’s like Eddie Izzard’s old “cake or death” routine. It’s not that surprising that everybody picks cake. And if I base my whole story around “gosh, will Jamie pick cake or death? Which one’s she going to choose?!?”… I mean, it won’t really shock anyone when Jamie picks up the dessert fork, right? It’s not exactly a surprise outcome.

So when my characters needs to make choices, there has to be some value to each choice. It needs to be a choice that takes effort to make. If there isn’t, I run the risk of them looking… well, a little foolish at best.

Also, just to save someone the time, yes, sometimes my two options are both bad choices. But that’s still a choice with dramatic weight. Let your best friend die or let a hundred strangers die? Starve to death or cut off your own arm?

Now, on that note, I told you all this so I can talk about Christmas movies…

Christmas movies are a solid, dependable genre. And a subgenre of several other standard movies, too. People try to sound intellectual and artsy by talking about superhero fatigue, but in all seriousness—Christmas movies are the real machine. Look at Hallmark, Disney, and Netflix and add up how many new Christmas films and specials they’ve made between them this year. You’ll hit double digits, easy. Might even get close to triple digits. And that’s just three streamers! I mean, at this point Shudder’s got a very solid Christmas sub-genre going.

Now, one recurring theme we see a lot is the Christmas romance. Yeah, don’t lie. You’ve seen a lot of them. Probably this year. They can be oddly comforting, even though some of them are also really awkward and fumbly.

I’d like to talk about the awkward ones.

A pretty standard Christmas romance goes something like this. A young woman (it’s almost always a woman) falls for a guy who’s a few weeks away from getting engaged, married, etc. The two of them have chemistry, while his current partner rages away at her big corporate job, becomes a larval Bridezilla, or maybe is just a generally awful person. Eventually the guy comes to see the error of his ways and our two impossibly good-looking people end up together just in time to kiss on Christmas Eve.

(you know which movie I’m talking about, right?)

Now right off the bat, this is one of those unbalanced triangles I was talking about above. One good choice, one awful choice. Wow, what a shock how things went, right?

But there’s another problem here that’s a little tougher to notice at first glance. A really basic flaw in how a lot of these holiday movies set up their triangle. It’s why they always come across as a bit weird and the protagonists always seem a bit… well, wrong. And I think it’s one of those things that’s really easy for me to avoid once I see it all laid out

Let’s use that basic structure up above for our example. Our test story, so to speak. Alexis (A) has a meet-cute with Ben (B), who is in a relationship with Chloe (C). Amy and Ben have chemistry, Chloe is bordering on (if not openly) awful and clearly wrong for Ben. And it’s Christmas because… y’know, that’s when this always seems to happen.

Now, normally in one of these romantic triangle situations, our protagonist would be Ben. After all, he’s the one who needs to make a choice here, right? He needs to be active and decide if he wants to be with Alexis or Chloe.


See here’s where it gets weird. Our protagonist is Alexis, but she’s technically the B in our “choose B or C” triangle scenario. So Ben’s the one choosing (the A), and she’s the one getting… chosen? See, that’s confusing just typing it out.

Plus, the only way I can make Alexis active in this situation is to have her do some, well, questionable things. If she tries to improve her relationship with Ben—all those normal romance beats like long talks and quiet dinners and shared passions—well, that kinda means she’s undercutting Ben’s relationship with Chloe. Which is a little tough, morally, no matter what we think of Chloe. And geeeeez, if things get physical to any level, well, now they both look bad. Alexis is making moves on somebody in a relationship. And Ben’s hooking up with someone else? I mean, how awful does Chloe have to be for us to be cool with him cheating on her? And if she’s not that bad, then… well, yeah, he’s a jerk. So why does Alexis want to be with him?

Yeah, okay, sometimes odd things happen between people in really specific situations. Everybody reacts differently to stress and fear and all that. Firm embraces may happen. Maybe even a kiss or desperate proclamation. But that’s a reeeeeeeeally fine line. Scary fine. It’s so easy for that situation to go from somewhat one-time excusable to what-the-hell inappropriate.

Y’see, Timmy, as I mentioned above, when Alexis is this point in the triangle, she isn’t the one with a choice to make. Not a real one, anyway. So she has two options. She can do nothing (which ends the story pretty quick) or she can try to disrupt Ben and Chloe’s relationship. Those are her only paths, as far as our plot goes, and neither of them is a great one from a storytelling point of view.

I think when writers make this mistake, they’re confusing the outcome with the choices that lead to it. We’ve all heard “the ends justify the means,” but this tends to ignore that the means I use also determines what kind of end I get. And more importantly, how we perceive those end results. There’s a bunch of ways Alexis and Ben can end up together, but a lot of those paths can make one (or both) of them into characters we don’t really like or care about. In some cases, we may even be actively rooting against them. Cause they’ll be horrible people.

Don’t worry about outcomes. Outcomes are the conclusion of a story. Think about the path to that outcome. The choices my character has to make in order to get there.

Because those choices are my story. They’re my plot. And if there aren’t any real choices, or they’re all being made by supporting characters, or they’re all just questionable, really bad choices… well…

I shouldn’t be shocked if people think it’s a bad story.

Speaking of stories and holidays, here’s a shameless reminder that ebooks and audiobooks make fantastic last-minute gifts. Have I mentioned those two anthologies that just came out? I’ve got a story in Joe Ledger: Unbreakable and one in The Reinvented Detective. And both of them have loose tie-ins to other work (hint hint hint).

Next time, I’ll probably do one of those annual round up/ list of accomplishment things all the cool kids are doing.

Until then, go write.

And have a happy and peaceful holiday season.

December 14, 2023 / 1 Comment

Three Random Answers

So, a few weeks back Rhyen asked three (supposedly) unrelated questions…

1. Have you ever used index cards for plotting?

2. Have you tried Scrivener?

3. (Stealing from the Colbert Questionnaire) What is the best sandwich?

I shall now answer these in reverse order. Just because.

First (or 3.) the best sandwich is clearly a turkey club with bacon. Once you move away from childhood classics like PB&J or baloney and cheese, the club the bedrock on which all “adult” sandwiches are built. Multiple meats, multiple veg, multiple condiments, works with almost any type of bread. There’s a reason it’s in the Criterion Collection of sandwiches. Sure, people will offer you more elaborate sandwich creations all the time—different meats, stranger veg, unusual condiments, is that even technically a bread? But that’s just it– they’re all trying to make more elaborate, overcomplicated versions of the classic.

I am, of course, open to hearing counterarguments on this, as long as you understand up front that you’re wrong.

Now, if you’re still with me after that…

Second, I haven’t tried Scrivener. I tend to just work in whatever my current word processing program is and have never been a fan of software that “helps” me do things. This goes back to my (attempted) screenwriting days. My current book and the one I finished earlier this year were both written in Open Office. Everything for about twenty years before that was plain old Word. Before that I was using a program called AmiPro.

Why? Well, I get uneasy whenever a piece of software (or a writing course, or a book) starts offering options or suggestions. F’r example, I’ve never once considered breaking all my chapters into individual files/documents. But it’s an option in Scrivener. Is that good or bad? Who knows? Up to you. Reference photos for locations? You can add those, too. Oh, you don’t have any reference photos…?

See, I think for a lot of folks, once an option like this is put out there—especially put out there by a vetted authority like this piece of writing software—it makes us think “huh, should I be doing that?” And because we tend to see books or machines as the voice of authority, I think some folks keep doing the thing the software suggested they do. Even when it doesn’t work for them. The computer wouldn’t lie to me, right?

To be clear, I’m not saying Scrivener is bad. My partner uses it and she loves it. I’m just saying folks should approach any piece of writing software—and all the bells and whistles they offer—as possibilities, not necessities. If you think it might help you, cool. Try it out. But if you ultimately feel like it doesn’t help, then just stop. It doesn’t matter if it works for a dozen writers you follow, it just matters that it works for you.

There’s probably a whole post about this sort of thing. Maybe in the new year…

Anyway, third (or 1.), no, I haven’t used index cards for plotting. I think I tried once (back in high school, maybe?) just as a character-notes thing, but even that didn’t sit right with me for some reason. When it comes to plotting, I tend to work right on the page, moving sentences back and forth in my outline (or just drawing arrows if I’m using a legal pad)

But that’s just me. And a few other folks I know. But I do know writers who use index cards and swear by them. Some go so far as to color-code the cards for different plots and subplots and story threads. I also know some folks who just pull them out to work through problems. And there are folks who use index card software, whiteboards, and look there’s a bunch of ways to do plot stuff out. I can tell you what’s worked for me, but it might not work for you.

I will say this, though—if I’m using index cards to plot out a book (or screenplay or whatever), I want to make sure the cards are plot beats, not details. “Miles fights all the alternate versions of Spider-Man” is a beat. “The fight spills out of headquarters and into the city” is a beat. “One of the alternate Spider-folks is a Tyrannosaurus” is a detail. Just remember, beats move the story along, but details stack up on beats.

This also might into that early-new year post. Or maybe I’ll just do a whole post about plotting? We’ll see…

Anyway, that’s three questions answered. See? Posting comments does do something!

Also, last week I signed a bunch of books at Dark Delicacies in Burbank. I believe they’ve still got a few copies of The Broken Room, Paradox Bound, The Fold, and Ex-Isle. If you’re looking for Christmas gifts, it’s probably too late to ship anything without ridiculous charges, but if you’re in the LA area… they’re right there in Burbank. Just saying…

Next time… let’s talk about all those Hallmark-y Christmas movies. You know the ones I’m talking about.

Until then, go write.