Category Archives: Writing

It helps to know where you’re going

I’ve discovered that one the hard way.

Some time back, I embarked on a little project called Once Upon an Ever After. I started it with absolutely no idea where it was going. I actually thought that was a good idea. But after a couple of chapters in, I got lost and frustrated because…well, because I didn’t know where I was going. I don’t write with a super detailed outline. But I usually have at least some indication of how the story will progress between beginning, middle and end. Jennings Grove had a chapter list and some basic notes. The Final Quarter had nothing but a chapter list. But I had something.

With Once Upon an Ever After, I knew where the next chapter or two was going, and that was about it. And it almost made me give up on one of my best ideas to date. So I’ve spent the last week or so making notes about the story. There’s going to have to be some rewriting of the parts I’ve already done, but now I have a cohesive plot. It’s a lot more detailed than what I’ve worked with before, but there’s no chapter list, and there’s still plenty of room for the story to evolve as  I write, as I prefer it to.

It’s been a good lesson to learn, and I’m sure it will do me good in the future. Just wish it didn’t have to be such a hard one.


Just read it

While scrolling through Facebook this morning, I saw a link to a column by Dwight Allen called “My Stephen King Problem: A Snob’s Notes.” I’ll admit it: I was intrigued. It’s not too often you see people in the literati crowd take on the King anymore. It’s kind of like arguing about hurricanes. Some people see the impending storm as a reason to party while others just want to get out of Dodge or at least batten down the hatches and ride it out. But the storm itself is really just too big a phenomenon to worry about saying whether it’s good or bad. It’s there. If you live in Phoenix, it doesn’t bother you much. If you’re along the Gulf coast, you may have a hurricane party or have to rebuild. Stephen King has become such a force in writing world that you don’t think much about it until one of his books affects you personally (either because you liked the story or because someone dropped  The Stand in hardback version on your head).

So this guy says he’s a literary snob and didn’t read any King for 25 years. He’d even go out of his way to avoid publications like The New Yorker if it happened to have something by King soiling its pages. But, finally, because a friend had recommended it, he decided to hold his nose and read a few: Christine, Pet Sematary, 11/22/63 and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. He said King’s work was ultimately “workmanlike” but not particularly exciting or original — and it was way too long. Allen complained frequently about King’s unnecessary wordiness — long-winded passages that didn’t say much of anything.

Which struck me as funny, given that the column weighed in at 4,600 words. That’s long by any stretch. For a newspaper column, it would be about 10 times too long. Even for a magazine, this piece is pushing it. And for an online column — its actual home — it should be maybe a quarter of the length. And that’s just for readability. Few people are willing to put that kind of time into reading something like this on a computer screen. There’s no reason for this particular piece to be this long. It’s full of little parenthetical asides that have little if any relevance to the topic at hand. It rambles. The piece is basically a wandering rant. He makes some interesting points, but they’re buried under a slag heap of vitriol.

The ending pretty much says it all:

King may be an adequate enough escape from life, if that’s all you require from a book of fiction, but his work (or what I’ve read of it) is a far cry from literature, which, at its best, is, sentence by sentence, a revelation about life.

Honestly, that’s not a bad view if you happen to not like genre work. I think Allen’s a bit misguided, but that’s his prerogative. It’s his snobbish attitude, not just to King’s writing, but to the people who love his work:

I did feel, however, that I demanded something different (something more?) from a novel than I guessed most of the readers of Stephen King did. (Not that this made me morally superior, just more demanding, a high-maintenance reader.)

I’m not Stephen King’s biggest fan. At least, not his later works. His earlier stuff, such as The Shining and The Stand, and his short stories are wonderful. Some of his later work isn’t as good.  But with something like 50 books under his belt, he’s going to have some sinkers. I prefer the likes of C.S. Friedman, Clive Barker, Matt Hults, Tad Williams, Robert Jordan, Eric S. Brown and Michael West.  But, unlike Allen, I’m not going to knock anyone who likes to read everything King puts out. I’m glad they’re reading at all.

Now don’t get me wrong. As an English teacher, I deplore the general lack of appreciation for literature we see today. I’m enthralled by BeowulfThe Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare, the Romantic poets, Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe and Martin Cruz Smith. But you know what? I’d never have an appreciation this kind of literature if not for Stephen King.

I started reading at a young age because I saw my mother reading. It varied greatly: Romance novels, The Deathgate Cycle, Stephen King, etc. I decided to pick up Pet Sematary while in middle school. Scared the pants off me. I also wound up reading things like 1984 and Animal Farm that same year. And I kept on reading, King. Tolkien. C.S. Lewis. Jordan. And on and on.

As a reporter, one year I got to cover Rock and Read in Rockwall County.  This was a fundraiser for a literacy program where someone would sit in a rocking chair at various places in the county and read. I went from place to place, talking to different participants. One question I always asked: What are you reading? Nearly every one of them got a little embarrassed and replied beginning with “Oh, it’s just…” They seemed to think they should be reading Plato or Vonnegut at all times.

What I told them, I say to you: Be glad you’re reading something. I don’t care if it’s the Rambler essays or a series of pamphlets on shaving weasels. Just read it.

Jennings Grove is available in physical and ethereal forms…

My debut horror novel, Jennings Grove, is now available in whatever format you might want. So go grab it today!

Are you a financially contentious reader who appreciates the value of a good e-book? Get it for your Kindle!

Are you the type who prefers a dead-tree, hold-it-in-your-hands book? We got that, too!

We’re still looking for reviewers, as well. If you run a review site and would like to take a look at Jennings Grove, email me for a copy.

My first novel is in the wild (or: Get aboard the e-ARC)

Well, Jennings Grove has been released, anyway. It takes a bit for the book to filter on out to the locations such things are most commonly spotted — namely, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I actually spotted it on Barnes & Noble’s site today, but there wasn’t an option to purchase yet.

But it’s coming. And in honor of that momentous (for me, anyway) occasion, I have an offer for you, dear reader. A free e-ARC (advance review copy) of your very own!

Well, nearly free.

Now, don’t worry. I’m not asking for money (unless you really want to buy a copy, too). all I’m looking for is a bit of time and a miniscule amount of effort. After reading, please review on your blog, Facebook, Amazon, B&N, etc. Obviously, I’d prefer positive reviews, but all I’m going to ask is that you be honest.

If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, email me at Please include link if you have a blog where you review books.

Jennings Grove will soon be out in the world!

After a great deal of work from several people, Jennings Grove finally has a publish date: May 28. I owe so much to so many people, it’s not even funny. Short list would be the guys making this thing a reality: Dale Murphy at Graveside Tales for publishing. Stephen Blundell for my awesome cover. Matt Hults for the superb layout work. You’ll have to see my Acknowledgements page for the rest.

And until you can do that, be sure to sleep with a light on!

Never underestimate the need for a good editor

I’ve finally forced myself to begin editing Jennings Grove for its (hopefully)* upcoming publication. It’s obviously had a couple of thorough edits already; now I’m working from someone else’s notes. Now, I’ve always considered myself a pretty good editor, but that does not mean I’m perfect. Not by a long shot.
I’m no novice here. I’ve spent too long as a professional editor not to know my way around a red pen. I’ve worked on newspapers, newsletters, Web sites, short stories, poems, papers and novels. I have dealt with highly polished material, and I have helped people who could barely string two words together. And sometimes none of that matters. No matter how good you are, two things will always be true: 1. Somebody somewhere is better.
2. Editing your own work is hard.
This is something I talk to my students about all the time. You know what your own stuff is supposed to say. That frequently leads you to overlook mistakes or mentally fill in plot holes and other issues. A second pair of eyes is always helpful. They’re even better when they are sharp eyes.
I owe a great deal of gratitude to Myrryam Davies. As one of her last hurrahs for Graveside Tales, Myr read through Jennings Grove with a critical eye that was admittedly painful but also helpful. Anyone who’s creative will (if he’s honest) admit he likes people gushing over the work rather than criticizing it. But what we want and what we need are often two different things. I got a some pretty good kudos for my story, especially in the originality department. But I also got a good list of things to fix, which I am working through now.
Will I take all of Ms. Davies’ suggestions? Probably not. That’s another one of the hard lessons you have to learn as a professional writer: What advice to take and what not. It’s important to keep in mind that it’s your story. A lot of what people offer is helpful, but it doesn’t always mesh with your vision. Take what makes the story stronger and use that.
But don’t try to go it alone if you can help it. No writer is an island unto himself.

*I do not mean the qualifier as a slam on the publisher. Times are tough for everyone, especially small businesses. And most especially for small publishers. Graveside Tales is no exception. GST has become a one-man band with a pair of instrumental setups. The publisher is busy with his company and a demanding new job. I appreciate the difficulties. I also understand the realities.

I can see (more) clearly now

Chapter 2 (Going to the Church House) of Once Upon an Ever After is in the can. That makes me about 3% done with the first draft. There’s a long way to go, but the words are still coming fairly easily. And the further I go into this story, the more I learn about its faerie-riddled, post-apocalyptic world. I know more about my characters and what drives them.

There’s usually a fair amount of discovery as I write. I’ve always been one to have a starting point, a destination and a basic set of directions that probably won’t bear much resembalance
to my final route. Google Maps, it ain’t. Most of the time, it’s not even an outline, just a chapter list. But right now, Once Upon an Ever After doesn’t even have that. It’s like the muse told me , “Go west, moderately young man,” and I went without waiting to hear where exatly in the west I shoild be heading.

Keep in mind this project didn’t start out as a novel or even a short story. I had intended this to be a fragment, a writing exercise for a scene based on a particularly vivid dream. But I kept writing. My brain spitting out ideas as it mulled the scene over. I took those ideas and kept writing.

So, here I am, 4,300 words later, still plodding along. I’ve got a pretty good idea of Chapter 3 (Be It Ever so Humble) and Chapter 4 (Error & Trial). Beyond that, it gets a little hazy (but it is getting better, since I didn’t really know where Chapter 2 was going when I started Chapter 1). There’s a long road ahead of me. I know som of the points it will pass through, but there are also a fair number of blind curves along the way. The end is kind of like the backstory issue I had. I have a rough idea that feels mostly right, but it’s not quite ready yet.

So, I have basically stepped out on Bilbo Baggins’ Road. It goes ever on, and there’s no telling where it will sweep me. Although I am pretty sure my destinations are more Mirkwood than Rivendell.

Got your hiking boots on?

I’m not quite dead…

As you can probably tell from my blog posts recently, I’ve been reading a little bit more than I have in awhile. And it’s been nice to have that opportunity. As writers we hear how important it is to read, but you don’t realize the truth of it sometimes until the opportunity presents itself. But that’s not all I’ve been doing.

I’m about 2,300 words further into Once Upon an Ever After. Again, perhaps not the greatest of metrics as that only puts me about 4,500 words in, but it’s progress. Which is something on my tight schedule. Even better, I’m nearly done with the second chapter, “Going to the Church House.” Soon I’ll start on Chapter 3, “Be it Ever so Humble.” I’ve also been able to figure out some backstory/worldbuilding points that have been bugging me. Namely, how the faerie world  managed to gain the upper hand over the humans. I’d been working with an idea for awhile,but it was bugging me because it didn’t quite feel right. Now it does. I’ll probably put it into a prologue. This is an approach I’ve picked up from C.S. Friedman‘s Coldfire Trilogy. In two of the books, she put a little bit about the history of Erna as it related to the current story (how humans got to work the fae and the origins of the Hunter). I know some people don’t like prologues, but that has always intrigued me. It’s how I begin Jennings Grove and The Final Quarter.

On a more frustrating front, I’ve had another ping from my “Twitter muse,” the one that keeps throwing ideas at me. It’s hard enough to find time to work on Once Upon an Ever After without other cool ideas bombarding me. I had one a few weeks ago (about a guy who ages forward and backward over and over again), but it’s managed to leave me alone. This one won’t. If I can find the time (ha ha) to work on it, Remember the Alamo would be a steampunk horror novel set during an alternate Texas Revolution. I’ve been wanting to do a steampunk story for some time, but couldn’t ever come up with an idea. Now that I have…it’s hard to remain focused on the WiP. Oh, well. I’ll manage. And if I get stuck on the current work, I can move over to that one, I suppose.

Book Review: Plague by Bret Jordan

Title: PlaguePlague cover

Author: Bret Jordan
Publisher: Purple Sword Publications
Rating: *** (out of 5)

I’ve got a long, personal history with Plague. Both Bret Jordan’s novel and my own Jennings Grove started as online serials for Graveside Tales. Jordan and I would help each other with plot ideas, copy editing and the like. Due to some upheaval in my life, I never finished reading Plague online, so I was thrilled to see it finally make it into print. This was a phenomenal online novel; Jordan has made it even better for the final draft. Mostly.

Sword and sorcery battle against an unstoppable hunger as the few living residents try and escape the walls of an undead nightmare. Renier is a port city that stands as a glorious gem on the edge of the kingdom. The people are justly ruled by their beloved duke with the assistance of a benevolent wizard and a self-involved priest. Within twenty-four hours everything changes as a small group of strange lepers enter the port and cause a mysterious and deadly illness to rage through the city, killing most of the residents. Violent illness and gruesome death isn’t the end of the horror for the residents of Renier. Not by a long shot, as thousands of dead bodies rise from the cobblestone streets in search of living prey.

Jordan does some fantastic storytelling here. His world-building is tightly focused on Renier, but well done. The characters are, for the most part, well thought out and fleshed out. They fell flat a few times in my opinion, especially the wizard at times, but it worked well overall. His beginning and middle are some of the best fantasy writing I’ve encountered, bar none. His use of zombies is unique…even if he never calls them that (except for one perhaps accidental reference). His sensory imagery is absolutely wonderful. A little too much, in fact. It’s hard to read the passages of people dying of the plague on a full stomach. Jordan shows a flare for the visceral that reminds me of Clive Barker.

It’s at the end that Plague starts to unravel a bit. An undead general who’s played up as a military genius doesn’t get enough air time — nor does his supposedly brilliant strategic mind. The general has a pair of partners, one of which is a wraith that is given a great deal of mysterious potential but either unaccountably dissappears or  is an assassin character that shows up unaccountably later in the book. But if said assassin is the “wraith,” it’s a lot more solid later than earlier. But it’s also rushed. Things not only move quickly, they move so fast and end so abruptly that Plague feels incomplete. The book doesn’t just cry out for a sequel, it demands one. I won’t give the ending away, but I will say that for me it lacked a satisfactory conclusion. It felt more like the midpoint of the story rather than the end.

But even so, Plague was worth the wait and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes good, dark fantasy.

EDIT: Talked to Mr. Jordan today, and he tells me there is a sequel in the works at some point. So while that doesn’t necessarily alleviate all the issues Plague has, it should go a long way to fixing it. 

Why do you do what you do?

I’ve made a small bit of progress on “Once Upon an Ever After” this week. I’m about five hundred words or so into Chapter 2: Going to the Church House (Chapter 1 is Peaches & Scream). I know many writers post their word metrics and rejoice their productivity, or bemoan the lack thereof. I’m not here to do either. By most measures, that’s pretty pitiful for a week, but it’s proof to me that I’m still making progress, however small.

Much of the overall plot still eludes me, but I have noticed a trend in the ideas I’m working with these days. I’m working a lot with traditional fairy tale critters in a modern setting. And that brings to mind the question: Why do you do what you do?

I don’t mean so much why write as where the decisions come from as to what to write about. The first question is answered on the front page of this site. Writers write because it’s what we do, much in the same way that fish fly and birds swim. But why write the things we do? I was recently asked this question for a blog — specifically why I wrote zombie tales. I can answer that in part. I like exploring primal fears, such as darkness (Jennings Grove) and death (zombies). I’m also a huge fantasy fan. Aside from that, though, it’s a hard questonto answer. There’s something about bringing the fairy world to a gritty, modern reality that I like. With Once Upon an Ever After, it’s mostly a case of inspiration struck, and I’m not going to let it go.

And that’s good enough for me. I know self-reflection is a good thing, but there’s little point in winding up like Narcissus and staring at that reflection until you die. I’ll save it for my editing.

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