April 20, 2023 / 6 Comments

Grand Re-Re-Opening

Oh, hello there. I didn’t see you come in. Please, take a seat and join me for a while. Apologies for the dust, I’m still freshening things up. No, no, take the good chair. It’s fine.

Well, let’s get caught up, shall we?

I started the ranty writing blog about sixteen years ago. I was going to bore you with the exact how and why, but its not really important, is it? I mean, some of you know, but I’m betting overall most of you don’t really care. No, it’s okay, I get it. To paraphrase Patton Oswalt, I don’t need to know where the stuff I like comes from.

Anyway, I’ve been offering tips and advice for a while now. Just tips and advice, because ultimately writing is an art and we all approach art in our own ways for our own projects. That’s my golden rule for this stuff. What works for me probably won’t work for you and it definitely won’t work for him. A huge, often overlooked part of being an artist is finding the tools that work best for you. Which often means figuring out the ones that don’t work for you.

And I’ve found I like blathering on about this stuff. It helps you with stuff, and every now and then it helps me with stuff, too. And I like helping where I can. Here, at the Writers Coffeehouse, at cons. Remember cons? Good times…

“Well, hang on there,” says RealWriter677147, their voice rising up from the depths of the internet. “If you like helping other writers so much, where’ve you been for the past year?”

Fair point.

After lockdown more or less puttered out (but our covid crisis continued), I was just feeling… beat. 2020 was a grueling year—personally, creatively, nationally. 2021 was marginally better, but only in the sense of breaking both thumbs not feeling that bad after you’d already broken both knees. Rolling into 2022 I was just… beat. Exhausted. I’d hit the point where it was hard to care about a lot of stuff, but I was just pushing ahead and doing it anyway. Which just made me more fatigued, and then we were in one of those vicious circles you hear about.

So I took a break. A long break. And kind of looked at a couple things and how I’d been approaching them.

And well, all this (he said gesturing around) was one of the things I wanted to fix. I’d gotten spread out a lot over the past decade and a half on the internet. We had the ranty blog, sure. But we also had the Lovecraft Zombie Almanac, which was me sort of parking my own name on blogspot in a just-in-case way. And there were a bunch of different social media accounts. Plus a personal website Penguin Random House had created for me years ago when they discovered I owned my domain-name but had never done anything with it. So I asked around and somebody recommended a designer who could pull all this together under one umbrella, so to speak.

It felt weird to start posting again when everything would be moving to another website in a month or two, so I held off for a little longer. And then certain people with more money than sense decided to get into the social media game and well… that knocked things around a bit, too. I enjoy doing this, yes, but I won’t lie to you– there is a business aspect for me as well. I’m not planting subliminal messages for you to buy my books (probably), but it definitely helps to make sure people remember I’m still alive, y’know? So, his Muskiness made me rethink a few things. I was fortunate to have a patient web designer who didn’t mind my swings between complete indecision and almost obsessive focus. And then it was the holidays and, look, everybody’s got lives and loved ones.

And then holy crap it’s been like a year since I really posted anything here. It’s time to get back to it, right? Let’s go!

Well, first…

I may be doing a few new things here. I also started a newsletter in this downtime, but it’s through Substack and… jeeeez, speaking of people with more money than sense, right? I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to convince myself this is a good thing. Either way, I’d already decided I’m going to also post the newsletter here on the ranty blog. So once a month you’ll get a general update about what I’m working on, where different projects are at, and also just some quick updates on other things of interest like books, movies, toys, and so on.

Also, you may notice some little hiccups here and there throughout the blog. The designer did an amazing job bringing everything over and keeping 95% of the links and formatting intact. But the truth is, at this point we’ve got some posts that are old Word docs which were cut and pasted into Blogspot’s editor which were then ported over to this system. There’s some rough patches out there and I’ll try to clean them up as I stumble across them.

Oh, and last thing. I won’t be taking down those Blogspot blogs. I won’t be adding to them, but I’ll probably just lock the comments and direct people here. Point is, if in the past you linked to a post for some reason, you won’t lose that. But if you want to update it to here… that’d be cool.

I’ve got a few things on deck for upcoming topics, but I’m always up for suggestions. Maybe something specific you were looking for help with or just wanted a few nudges in the right direction. Let me know in the comments down below.

Speaking of which, next time I’d like to talk about the things we talk about.

Until then, go write.

And thanks for checking out the new place.

April 30, 2022 / 1 Comment

State of Things…

Hey. Interesting week, huh?

First off, many thanks to all of you for your patience. Probably looks dumb as hell, guy who’s got his dream job complaining about being burned out. But the truth is, even a dream job is still a job. And I think for all of us, trying to do your job for the past two years has just been brutal. And it all finally caught up with me. I guess the one big difference is I’m in the very fortunate position of just being able to throw my hands up and say “I’m done” for a week or three.

And it’s helped immensely. I feel rested for the first time in months (almost since before Halloween, really). The new book is back on track. I even think I’ve got a handle on how to deal with the disconnect between my new word processing program (say hello, LibreOffice Writer) and the blog site here. Yes, you may have noticed some odd formatting over the past half-dozen or so posts.

So again, thanks to all of you for your patience.

Anyway… I know I promised to talk about languages next time I put up something new, but I figured it’s probably worth mentioning that big potential shift coming up in the internet. You know. That guy. The one with so much money he literally doesn’t know what to do with it, so he just keeps making questionable choices and never suffering any repercussions. Will things go forward? Will they collapse? Will he get bored and sort of wander off like he’s done for so many other loudly proclaimed offers and deals?

Who knows.

No, seriously. I think there’s good reason to be worried if a guy like that ended up in charge of a major worldwide communication system. He has an extreme “rich white man/ never dealt with a real problem in my life” view of the world. I also think… well, like I mentioned above, he does have a real follow-through problem. I’d say it’s 50-50 at best that this sale even happens. Seriously.

It’s an odd bit of synchronicity that just as I’m coming back from a break on this particular platform, as my fellow youths like to say, and there’s a potential upset at the other big one I spend a lot of time at. Makes you think, as my fellow olds often say. About social media and the role it plays in our lives and our careers.

For a few months now I’ve been looking at this site (which is still here on Blogspot, fer cripes sake) and thinking I should really migrate it over to my website and have everything contained there. One thing this past week’s highlighted is how fragile things can be on the internet. One buyout, one new executive who doesn’t like that balance sheet, and everything can change in minutes. Like, actual minutes.

I also know one reason I’ve been dragging my feet on doing it is because I’ll lose all the links in these posts. Bam, all that interconnectedness and easy reference gone. I could rebuild it, but it’d take time. A lot of time. And I am, y’know, working on other things…

All that said, I’m probably going to stay on Twitter for the foreseeable future. We’ll have to see how it goes there over the next few months. If you’re so interested, there’s also Instagram, which is mostly toys and cats, yeah, but some book stuff too. With all this going on, I set up an account on Counter.Social just because a few folks I know were over there and I figured it might not be a bad thing to claim my name there, so to speak. And someone reminded me I had a Mastodon account I hadn’t used in a while, so I’ve dusted that off and made sure the engine still runs. If you’re on any of these sites, please come find me and listen to my daily prattling. If nothing else, you’ll know when this site gets updated.

And please do keep an eye out here. I’ve got a few cool things planned out for the month of May. I think they’re cool, anyway. That foreign language post, talkin’ about three act structure a bit, and maybe a rambly birthday post or two, as I’ve done once or thrice in the past.

So we’ve all got that to look forward to.

Until then, go write.

February 24, 2022 / 1 Comment

Fear of the Unknown

I know, I know. I’ve been really bad about this lately. As some of you may be aware, it’s been a wild month for me. New book comes out next week, so I’ve been doing tons of promo stuff, some interviews, scheduling other promo stuff and interviews, and also—when I can—trying to work on my new book. The one everyone’s going to be asking about week after next.

Oh, and I also spent some time going up on the roof (twice!) trying to fix a tarp. That ate up a fair amount of time.

Also, random fun fact– this is post #750 here on the ranty writing blog. Yay to all of us for sticking with it this long. Hopefully you’ve gotten something out of all these random rants and musings.


Also-also… holy crap this has been a stressful week. We’ve been dealing with some horrible stuff here in the states and as of last night a large chunk of Eastern Europe kind of spiraled into.. well, hell. So I completely get it if you’re not up to this right now. It might help get your mind off things, but it also might feel kind of frivolous, both me writing this and you reading it, and stress you out even more. I know why I’m here, but seriously– if you need a minute to not look at a screen, to just close your eyes and listen to music or something… go for it. Take ten, take a few deep breath, put your favorite song on repeat. Take care of yourself, okay? You can’t do anything if you’re a wreck, so do what you need to keep yourself together.


I wanted to talk to you real quick about that unknown thing. You know the one I’m talking about. Yeah, that.

And fair warning, this is one of those posts inspired by a Saturday geekery movie.

So, hey, I was watching a Saturday geekery movie a few weekends back, and the actors, director, and even the writer didn’t know what the monsters were. From a production point of view, anyway. Y’see, it was pretty clear the movie was done very cheap and on the fly, without much of a script. It’s my educated guess that they just shot the movie and figured “well, when we’re in post we’ll see what the special effects house has for cheap models and CGI in some kind of monster then.”

The problem, of course was… well, they’re filming now. And the actors need to look at that spot on the driveway and pretend there’s something there. But they can’t say anything definitive because nobody knows what it’s going to be. Maybe dinosaurs. Maybe giant insects. Maybe dragons. Who knows. Again, we’ll figure it out later, right? For now, just… be vague. Act confused.

Which they did. A lot. And it got thin really fast. Because while it was unknown to them, filming the movie, the monsters were very clear and visible to us watching the finished movie. So nobody’s reactions made any sense, because nobody knew what they were reacting to. What it was doing, how big it was, nothing. People were looking past monsters, above monsters, at one point kind of uncomfortably at a monster’s crotch.

Plus, nobody’s dialogue made any sense because it was all about “those things” rather than what those things were. I mean… that’s a dinosaur. No question. Even if it’s secretly a giant robot or an alien, it looks exactly like a dinosaur and it’s kind of silly for nobody to say that. If anything, it makes the characters look really stupid.

Perhaps even more jarring, nobody ever talked about whythese things were there. I mean, if you and I went outside and almost got killed by a dinosaur/giant spider/dragon and ran back inside (slamming the door behind us), it makes sense we’d be yelling “WTF was that?!?!” But after things calmed down a bit and we had time to talk… wouldn’t we wonder how there’s a dinosaur in the driveway? Maybe question where these giant spiders came from? That’d seem kind of natural, right?


But the characters couldn’t have these conversations because nobody actually knew what was in the driveway. A bat-winged demon with a spiked tail and a killbot with missile pods on its shoulders would spark two very different discussions. But we don’t know what it’s going to be, sooooooo… the characters need to talk about something else. And not the giant monsters outside. Maybe about how she hates her job. Or why they wish they hadn’t argued with their girlfriend this morning. Maybe a little monologue about faith or humanity’s basic nature.

Anyway, have you figured out how this applies to writing in general?

It’s pretty common in fiction to have “unknown” elements. The faceless enemy. The mysterious figure. The unseen monster. Things that leave our characters confused and maybe angry and trying to figure out what the heck’s going on.

But… at some point they’re going to find out what that unknown element actually is. Either that, or we need to have a serious talk about it’s aggressively unknown state. And once it’s known, everything still has to make sense. The way Phoebe reacted in chapter four. Dot’s vague statements in chapter eight. How Wakko was killed in chapter fifteen. All of that’s going to line up and make sense with the now-known element, right? And, yeah, even if I want to keep things unknown to my readers (and maybe my characters, too) for the whole story, I still need to know what this unknown element is.

Y’see, Timmy, the world I’m creating needs rules. because my readers are going to sense if I’m just sort of winging it and saying “anything goes.” Doesn’t matter if it’s sci-fi or supernatural or ancient elder evil from the dawn of time—my story comes with an unwritten promise that all this makes sense. I’m not cheating you, there really is a logic to this. I might not directly tell it to you, but you should still feel it and see its affect on things.

So, yeah, I can use the unknown. But at the least, I need to know which unknown I’m using. because believe me… they’ll know.


Next time…

Crap, like I said above, there’s a lot happening between now and then. The Broken Room comes out next Tuesday, and if you’d like to pick up a copy in your preferred format, that’d be super cool. If you’re so interested, I’m also doing signings Wednesday at Mysterious Galaxy and Saturday at Dark Delicacies. You could pre-order from either of them, wherever you are, and get a personally-defaced copy shipped to your doorway. If you order from Mysterious Galaxy, you can watch me babble about the book online in real time.

Anyway, next time, I’d like to talk about making stuff up.

Until then, go write.

And seriously. Take ten. Take a few deep breaths. Drink some water. Listen to some music.

February 1, 2022 / 1 Comment

Who’s Driving This Thing

Wow, talk about running late. All of January with no posts. Sorry about that. Start of the year and I’m already struggling for stuff to talk about.

Well, that’s not true. There’s a lot of stuff I’d like to blather on about, but I sometimes worry that I’m not really up to the task. There’ve actually been a few topics I’ve set aside when I realized I couldn’t quite articulate the ideas I wanted to get across. I don’t want to try to explain something, do a poor job one way or another, and actually make things worse for anybody. “I’m not sure if he was serious about that whole ‘mellonballer’ thing but what the hell, I’ll try anything if it gets my foot in the door.”

Another way to look at it is I’m worried the decisions I make here might have a negative effect on you out there. I mean, the goal is to have an effect, yeah, but hopefully not one that has you tossing your laptop or burning your idea notebook. I’m hoping this’ll be an overall encouraging, educational place, and my actions will help you out.

And this, if you didn’t guess, is my clumsy lead-in to this week’s topic.

I’ve talked several times here about the idea of plot and story and how the two bounce off each other. Really simply put, plot is what happens outside my character, story is what happens inside my character. Plot forces my characters to make decisions and adapt. Story is that growth and change, and how it leads them to make different decisions and take different actions. Which then, in turn, affects how the plot progresses. Makes sense?

Personally, I think this is really helpful to have in mind when people start arguing about plot-driven vs. story-driven narratives (I’m using narrative here to avoid the confusion of using story vs.story). If I’m not having this back and forth—if plot isn’t driving story which is driving plot which is driving story—then what is making things happen?


Consider what we usually think of as “character-driven” narratives. If there’s isn’t some outside influence forcing them to adapt and change… way are they changing? Truth is, without outside pressure most of us tend to just sort of stay the course. We need a little nudge or maybe a hard shove to get us out of our ruts, and it’s not really possible to shove yourself. Sure people make random decisions sometimes, but if somebody in my narrative does something wildly out of character… well, I mean it’s clear that decision didn’t come from inside the character, right? So if they decide to change without any sort of outside influence—without a plot—where are the decisions coming from?

Well, they’re coming from the writer. I mean, yeah, the narrative always comes from the writer. But in this case it’s coming directly from them without bothering to guide that motivation through a plot.

Another point worth mentioning—an all-too-typical thing in character driven narratives is when what little plot there is comes to a dead crashing halt for twenty or thirty pages so someone can reminisce and/or lament about… well, something that has absolutely nothing to do with the plot. And they can do this because there’s no actual outside stimulus, nothing urging them into some sort of action. Yeah, the bank’s foreclosing on the farm, the tractor broke down, the dog’s gone missing, mom has cancer, but let me tell you about that time Lizzie Metcalfe invited me to the school dance and I turned her down. Y’know… that’s always gnawed at me. Especially right now, with all of this going on. I mean, isn’t life just one big school dance when you really think about it…?

No? Okay, well, never mind…

When the plot bends or twists to shape itself around my character, it doesn’t feel like anything outside of my character has any real agency, does it? Yeah, my protagonist should have agency, but so should my antagonist. And the bank manager and the waiter and the maitre’d. They’re not there just to give my protagonist more dramatic meat to chew. All of them should be acting or reacting like real people would, not in a way that just lets the character continue working through whatever issues or problems they’re dealing with (or not dealing with) at their own pace.

So we need a plot. We need forces outside of our character, things affecting them and driving them to change. Often at a pace or in a way they don’t like.
And this brings us to the flipside, the so-called plot-driven story. Which is kind of silly because, again, pretty much every good story is going to have a plot, and that plot will lead to changes in the story. Like we’ve been saying.

Plot driven stories are all exterior. We don’t really get to know the characters or their inner needs. Everyone tends to respond to things in very basic, shallow ways. Good people do good things, bad people do bad things, cowardly people do cowardly things, and yes, Benedict McTraitorson did stab our hero in the back. We see a lot of stereotypes (or archetypes, if you prefer) in these kind of stories, not fleshed out past a few obligatory descriptions (“No, she’s different because she’s got
red hair and wears hikingboots…”)


I think another big clue for a plot-driven story is that people rarely have any real choices. The ongoing, dynamic plot gives the illusion of choices being made, but really the characters are just sort of getting carried along for the ride. If people are shooting wildly in my direction and I run away… I mean, this isn’t me really choosing to do anything. It’s an automatic reaction for 99.9% of all people. Yeah, sure, we can argue about what constitutes a choice in the same way some people might nitpick about what counts as action, but at the end of the day we want to believe characters are actually having some effect on the world around them.

One other, slightly less common thing… I’ve noticed plot driven stories often (not always, but often) have hyper-capable characters. They have a flawless plan and even if it somehow goes south they’re so well-trained and prepared they’ll figure something out on the fly. Because they never fail and nothing rattles them in any way, they don’t have to make any hard choices (see above) or suffer any sort of repercussions. Which means they never have to grow or change as characters. Again, nothing interior, all exterior.

Is this helpful? Hopefully most of you see why it’s kind of important I have both plot and story in my narrative. And this is the kind of stuff of stuff I want to keep in mind while I’m writing (or maybe outlining) my story. Has this introspective monologue brought things to a halt? Are events making my character grow or change in any way? If we don’t have both of these things going on

Think of it this way. Plot and Story are playing an exhibition game of ping-pong. They’re knocking the ball back and forth and back and forth. How Plot serves is going to shape how Story returns, and that return is going to effect how Plot hits the ball back, and so on, and so forth. If one of them stops doing anything (or just walks away altogether) the game’s going to get boring really fast. Oh, sure, watching Story bounce the ball on his paddle might be interesting for a minute or two, maybe watching them swat it against the far wall like a racquetball. But ultimately we showed up to watch these two play against each other, not, well… play with themselves.

Although here’s another name for that which also fits well here.

Next time, I’d like to talk about how long this takes.

The writing, not the playing with yourself bit.


Oh, also, shamelessly, we’re exactly four weeks out from the release of The Broken Room. If you want to preorder it from your favorite local bookstore I’d greatly appreciate it. Preorders mean you get the book as quickly as possible while also telling the publisher they made a good choice picking up said author’s books. So if you can… well, I’d appreciate it.

And next time, how long this takes.

Until then, go write.