The Smirk – A Writing Prompt


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For Christmas, I received a book of “questions for creative exploration”. They are writing prompts, not all questions, and I decided that I would include my responses to them in my blog. They’re meant as daily exercises, but I just picked one I liked and got to work. Because I’m a rebel, baby! I also slightly deviated from the instructions because the book’s not the boss of me. The exercise for this day was…

At a raucous house party, one woman stands alone near an open window with a smirk on her face. What’s her story?

The thumping bass rattled my teeth and vibrated my ribs. I stared at the purple beverage in my red plastic cup to see if it rippled, as if in response to T-rex footsteps. Lights strung along the walls pulsed to the beat. In synch to the tapping of my foot, a beautiful girl appeared and disappeared.

Hers was a high-maintenance beauty, pristine after hours of preparation. She could only have been more stunning if she smiled. Instead she smirked toward the DJ’s raised platform. When the light flashed again, she stared off toward a knot of the fraternity brothers who hosted the party. Next her eyes fell on me, so I smiled and tentatively raised my cup in her direction. If she returned the gesture, it was hidden in the next instant of darkness.

In a few days, all the exams, parties, and chances for college fun would be over. It emboldened me, that prospect for at least abbreviated humiliation. I sheltered my beverage against my chest and dodged oblivious dancers. Someone spilled beer on my sneaker, so it squished through my sock with every other step. For a moment, the girl was lost, and my pulse raced in terrified regret. I’d gotten turned around in the semi-dark, and when I got my bearings she still smirked past me toward the hosts.

“Hey,” I half-yelled when I got close enough.

Her eyes widened in surprise, but a smile followed. Her lips formed something I decided was acknowledgement. She pointed at her ear and shook her head. I slid closer.

“Hi. I think you’re in my history class,” I said through her long blond hair, where her ear hid.

“Professor Stuart’s?” she shouted. Then, before I could reply, “Yeah. I’ve seen you looking at me.”

A lump caught in my throat. “Oh. Busted.” I smiled, and she pulled her hair behind her ears. “My name’s Dave.”

“Candace. Nice to meet you, Dave.”

“Do you know the guys throwing the party?” One of the hosts had lived down the hall from me during my freshman year and had invited me. I figured that might score some points.

“Uh huh. I was friends with just about all of them.”


“Do you know Chad?”

“Not really,” I said.

“I used to date him.”

“Oh. Still friends with him though, since you’re here.”

“No. They’re all pretty much jerks. But I wanted to be here for this last party, you know?”

“Sure. To say goodbye?” I guessed.

She put her arms around my neck, and her warm breath tickled my ear. “To watch it happen.”

She raised her chin and pulled my lips down to hers. My pulse raced at odds with the lights until she pulled away. When I opened my eyes, her tongue rested between her lips.

“Where did you get that?” Her eyes darted to my cup.

“There was some left over after they made their signature cocktail. Sully let me have what was left. Why?”

“Only the brothers get that. Usually everybody else just gets beer at these things.” She removed my hand from the small of her back. “I’m sorry, Dave. I didn’t mean for…uh, oh.”

I followed her gaze back over my shoulder. The group of partying brothers held their hands to their stomachs. A couple raced toward the back, where the bathroom lines stretched toward the DJ platform. They pushed and shoved their ways to the doors and hammered the wood while they doubled over. The crowd parted, hands waving in front of disgusted faces.

When the pain clenched my gut, the girl was gone. At the moment, she was the furthest thing from my mind. Weeks later, I was actually able to laugh about it, but I never saw Candace again.



Springtime Weed Massacre


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Winter was a dreaded season during my upstate New York childhood. The cold, snow, and inevitable illness every winter made moving south an easy decision. North Carolina winters still get cold, but I can’t remember a time when I had to dig out my mailbox or shovel a path to my backyard so my dog could pee without getting lost. A NC winter welcomes several months of mosquito-free living and a break from mowing my yard. (The word “yard” gives too much credit to my landscaping ability. It’s more of a free-range weed ranch.)

This year, spring started in late January, about two months early. Even though we still had some cold nights, the weeds threw a party and invited all their seedy friends. I thought it would be late March before the pollen started its ticklish torture of my sinuses. Instead, mid February, I mowed my lawn for the first time in the new year. I think it’s a record in the dozen years I’ve had a lawn to mow, and not one that pleases me. Also I received my first mosquito bites for the year. Bonus.

strawberriesThe weeds in my yard are pretty, from a distance. Some wear a distinctive purple flower. Others produce miniature strawberries. There are some, with running, red stems and leaves, that seem to find and cling to every tiny crack in my sidewalk and driveway. I hate them all, with total respect for their perfect adaptations to my lawn ecosystem. Worst are those that spread their leaves, like satellite dishes, to shade out the grass and gorge themselves on sunlight, leaving broad brown holes in my lawn if I pull them up. Their stems are flexible enough to defy mower blades and even the weedwhacker twine. They spring back in place after I’ve mowed and taunt me like hundreds of raised middle fingers.

Maybe it was allergy season sleep deprivation. Maybe it was frustration at mowing the same strips of lawn multiple times. Maybe it was the realization that there might be ten months of lawn mowing this year. In all likelihood, it was a mixture of all of them. It drove me to a breaking point of chlorophyll lust I had never before experienced and shudder to remember. It was like some Jekyll-Hyde transformation. One second, I was unspooling cord for my electric weedeater. The next, I was on my knees, grasping fistfuls of weeds and wrenching them from the ground. Dirt peppered my sweaty face, pollen assaulted my nostrils. My eyes streamed in irritation, and my throat begged for water. I couldn’t, wouldn’t, stop. They were everywhere, and I would not suffer defeat.pricklyweed

I ground my teeth, and I cursed them unto the seventh vegetation generation. Why had I
previously denied myself the satisfaction of rending them with my hands, instead depersonalizing the process with a machine? How much would it cost to just pave over my whole yard, perhaps adding a basketball or tennis court?

At last, I coughed myself to a standstill. Around me, piles of weeds were haphazardly strewn where I had thrown them in my landscaping rage. Did I remember to pick up dog poop before I began crawling around my yard? Thankfully, yes. What were the odds that my tantrum had only seeded the rest of the yard with more weeds? Probably good odds. I’ll know in about a week.

Raking and bagging the weeds allowed me time to reflect that I could probably pay some kid to wage war on the weeds for me. A win-win, if ever there was one.

The Cup – a Writing Exercise


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For Christmas, I received a book of “questions for creative exploration”. They are writing prompts, not all questions, and I decided that I would include my responses to them in my blog. They are meant as daily exercises, but I just picked one I liked and got to work. Because I’m a rebel, baby! I also slightly deviated from the instructions because the book’s not the boss of me. The exercise for this day was…

Think of a person and describe his or her personality through writing about a cup they often drink from (real or imagined).

Mr. Avon taught shop classes. To us students, he was Shop. I remember seeing him in the hall outside the teachers’ lounge, even before I took one of his classes. A steaming mug dwarfed his hand, as he stood talking to Mrs. Reid, the music teacher. No smile interrupted his wild beard, but the corners of his eyes crinkled in response to whatever made her laugh. At the bell, he spun on his heel and marched down the hall without spilling a drop.

A year later, I attended my first class in Mr. Avon’s domain. He leaned back against his fortress of a desk and explicitly described the severing of a student’s thumb due to negligence at a band saw. His voice was as monotone as the sand-brown mug at the corner of his desk, the same one I saw him holding outside the teachers’ lounge.

The handle was repaired, I deduced from the thin white lines circling it in two places. It surprised me, those lines, since the mug looked sturdy enough to be a geographic landmark, chiseled out of stone by wind-blown grit and glacial advance. It sat in the desk’s corner, placed so that its edge barely touched those of the desk’s front and right side.

I stared at the mug’s surface. At first glance, it shone with a clear finish; however, underneath there was a sandpaper texture of darker specs over a lighter background. Maybe I had it backwards. I wasn’t sure. The center slightly bowed out, as if the contents exerted enormous pressure, enough to stress the stone. A nearly indistinguishable band of slightly darker brown rode this bulge’s middle, circle around circle.

Mr. Avon cleared his throat and poured coffee into a split in his beard, where his mouth likely hid. The mug returned to its precise resting place, and when he turned his attention back to us, he appeared to notice my eyes fastened to the container. He said nothing about it, though I whipped my eyes forward to the wall of tools hanging behind his desk.

The handle pulled my gaze back to the mug. I hadn’t noticed before, but it looked like half of a heart, the valentine kind. Could the other half be on the inside of the cup? It seemed unlikely, and the realization made my breath catch in my throat, an emptiness swell in my chest when I thought of the missing half. What had broken them apart? Would they ever reunite? I was so certain it began as a whole. Who wants half a heart?

Later, in my art class, I abandoned my clay project to start something new. The walls were thin, a bit misshapen. Surely it lacked symmetry. I didn’t care much if it was perfect, or even if it would leak. I obsessed on the handle, both halves of the heart: one to be grabbed and the other, on the inside of the mug, to make it whole.

Unwritten Rules


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Growing up, there were some unwritten rules in my family. I think it’s safe to say that every family has some. These were different from the rules that might have gotten me grounded. In fact, occasionally they would be broken without much in the way of consequences, though my sister and I would submit to the rules if we were confronted. It’s remarkable that there wasn’t more resistance to them, even in our teens when we relished a good argument. (By good, I mean any excuse instigated one.) Yet we usually would just shrug and accept the rule.

One I remember was the “You caught it, you clean it” rule of fishing. I think this rule originated with my mom’s refusal to gut and descale fish, and she rarely took part in the fishing. She had no problem cooking them, but cleaning was a different story. My father


The wily and elusive trout

taught me to do it early in my childhood, when I relished anything slimy or otherwise icky. Had I been differently inclined, the rule might have ruined me for fishing. As it was, I hardly caught any fish, so cleaning them was rarely necessary.

Another rule was that the living room was off limits. We had a family room upstairs, where the TV and Atari resided. The living room, contrary to its name, was more like a museum. It sat just off of our foyer, where its antiques and stone fireplace could be admired but not marred by human hands. At least there weren’t any “no flash photography” signs. I was jealous of the cats who enjoyed the sun in the bay window. This rule was just as silently overturned when I left for college. I returned for a visit home, only to find in the living room a TV and some comfortable furniture that used to inhabit the family room. I laid on the couch, and no one cared. I moved the Nintendo down there to shoot virtual ducks and not finish Super Mario Bros. I enjoyed the “new” room without daring to question it and set about making it lived in (but not too lived in).


Prime family room real estate

Dad owned the recliner and the TV remote. They could be borrowed when he was absent, but when the time came for him to enjoy them, the rule was enforced. Even if the cat had settled on my inclined chest, the chair was to be vacated. The cat was welcome to return, of course. If I were in the middle of a TV show, I still surrendered the remote. Would he change the channel? Yes. Wide World of Sports was on. I should’ve planned better and started my program on the downstairs TV. At least there was a chance that he would start snoring, and I might pinch the remote from under his hand like Indiana Jones stealing the golden idol. Or I could walk all the way to the TV and push some buttons, but what fun was that?

What unwritten rules did your family have? Did you follow them or shake your fist at the Law? Drop me a comment and let me know!

Expulsion of Disbelief


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Photo by Jin

My reading, TV and movie viewing preferences have always leaned heavily toward the fantastical. This sometimes got me in trouble during my work in libraries because many patrons I tried to advise avoided science fiction and fantasy like it would stain their humanity. It came down to the suspension of disbelief that was required of them. They couldn’t, or wouldn’t, allow it. I, on the other hand, craved it. It wasn’t that I stopped disbelieving during a novel or movie, it was that part of me never put the brakes on when things got weird. In fact, my imagination put the pedal to the metal. I wanted to believe I could develop super powers, battle an alien armada, or make friends with a dragon, at least on the page or screen.

Stage magicians and illusionists still earn my awe and admiration, decades after my peers outgrew them. I never wanted to know the mechanics behind the magic. Finding out it wasn’t real hurt as much as discovering Santa Claus was a myth. The best I can do now is jam my fingers in my ears when somebody tries to spoil the secret. There are all too many people who think they’re doing a service to us believers, by exposing reality in the face of our willful ignorance. As far as I’m concerned, David Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty disappear and David Blaine can levitate. What’s that? Can’t hear you. I have my fingers in my ears, and I will just keep steering the car with my elbows until you change the subject.

My defiance of disbelief is also why I sometimes listen perplexedly while critics poke holes in movie plots. Sure, some films deserve it, but I want to believe in the story and exist solely in that world for two hours. The Jurassic Park dinosaurs are just vacationing until the next movie in the franchise. Hoban Washburne will have his memories downloaded into his cloned body for the Serenity sequel. Don’t try to tell the imaginative kid in me that either is wrong, or we’ll settle  the argument with Nerf guns at ten paces like civilized folks.

If I give a book or a movie a bad review, it might be because it convinced me I was wrong to expect the magical feeling I wanted. Something about it made me more interested in the mirrors and pulleys and less concerned for the woman sawed in half. I’m not suspending, even in-school suspending, my belief. I am willing to flat out expel it. If you can’t fool me into believing your fiction, you’re not trying hard enough. If you can make it magical and give me all the feels, I will love you. I mean it. I guess that makes me pretty easy to please, right?

I wish everybody could experience these fantastical things with utter abandon the way I do. I honestly feel sorry for people who can’t. But it’s never too late. Maybe CGI will help awaken the kid in them that wants to know magic again. Maybe I can convince them to read one or two books they never would’ve dreamed of reading, and that will be the start of their voyage back to childhood’s sweet, innocent awe of the unexplained.

Do you have any books or movies to share that let you shed reality’s shackles? Do you have some you could recommend specifically to people who hesitate to try fantasy or science fiction? Please leave a comment to spread the word!

That’s a Wrap, 2016!


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What a year! Take that however you’d like. There were ups, and certainly downs, and that’s how this crazy thing we call life goes. I like to keep looking and moving forward. I try to learn from, but not dwell on, the past. Some days are definitely more successful than others, in those respects, but trying is the important part. That’s how habits, happiness, and opportunities are made.

There certainly were an alarming number of heart-wrenching celebrity deaths in 2016, especially in the last month. Many of these people will always be inextricably linked to some of my favorite memories. Prince? He will forever be one of the greatest musicians I will know in my lifetime. Carrie Fisher’s role of Princess Leia taught me at an early age that women deserve important roles in my writing. She was so much more than that brief part of her life, and seeing her in The Force Awakens rekindled that original Star Wars magic in me. It wasn’t completely snuffed out by Jar-Jar, I guess.

On a more personal note, I lost my grandfather this year. He nearly reached centenarian status, and I sincerely believed that he would. His vitality, keen mind, and sense of humor made him seem immortal for so many of his retirement years. If growing older could be that way for most people, they probably wouldn’t dread it as much. I hope that I’m playing softball when I’m in my 80s and golf in my 90s like he did. If I’m still as energetic as he was when I hit 90, I’ll start playing golf just because I can. When I think of the Greatest Generation, men and women whose strength we owe so much, I picture him on a tractor, or fixing a furnace, or surrounded by three younger generations of relatives at our family reunions.

2016 was also the year of many unfulfilled writing goals. My writing output dwindled, my blog stagnated, and there were times I struggled to scratch out a few lines in my notebook. I submitted a few stories to publications, but only one was accepted. It is still unpublished at the time I write this. All others were rejected, with the exception of one, a decision that I still await. Most of the stories I wrote didn’t seem to fit the publications I found, either for length or some nebulous reason undisclosed by the reviewers. I’ll keep writing, and at some point I’m sure the right story will find the right market.

I finished the sequel to a short story that was published in Nonlocal Science Fiction #3, but I’m hanging onto it. There are three written so far that feature the same character. I have one, maybe two, more left to write in the series. My intention is to publish them all as a collection, once I finish them. There’s still plenty to outline, write, and edit before I’ll be ready to leap into the self-publishing arena.

I finished the first draft of my first novel, tentatively titled To Die One Death, and I’m close to halfway through the editing process. I had hoped to be done by the start of 2017, but I’m slowly starting to accept that it will be done when it’s as polished as I can make it. My word count, even before editing, fell short of what I anticipated. After editing, I hope to eliminate around 10 percent. At least, that’s what Stephen King recommends in his suggestions for writers. That gives me some room to add some more details about the world’s societies and environs that I might have rushed past when trying to complete the first draft. I want to make the novel as awesome as I can, and the editing process is where that happens, even if it will mean further delays. I plan to confront the demons of traditional publishing when it’s ready. I will hopefully find some willing beta readers in the next few months, then more editing, then professional editing, and then the submission process.

Because I like to bite off more than I can chew, I applied and was accepted to write video game reviews for Nerd Bacon. I’ve loved video games since my Atari 2600, so writing about them is a great excuse to keep playing them. I also hope to gain more exposure, expand my online presence, and eventually earn a larger audience for my fiction. Who knows? Maybe it will lead to some unexpected opportunities. Nerd Bacon is full of excellent articles and enthusiastic game discussion. I hope you will check it out, if that interests you. My first review, for the zombie survival game 7 Days to Die, has just recently been uploaded, under the moniker Aaroneous.

2016 was a year of emotional turmoil, but I like to think that I contributed a small amount to make it better and spread some positive vibes. If I were pressed into making resolutions, they would be to dream bigger and work harder to bring about those dreams in the new year. I look forward to continued writing progress, and I wish all of you a successful and satisfying 2017, no matter where your muse may call you.

Three Day Birthday Celebration! — (Almost) Average

Today (Dec. 15th!) is my birthday and what better way to celebrate than with gifts! But, I’m not asking for them, I’m giving them! Today through the 17th, you can get my first collection of dark fiction short stories (Almost) Average Anthology for FREE on Amazon. It’ll cost you a click or two to grab […]

via Three Day Birthday Celebration! — (Almost) Average

Standing Together


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This is the first, maybe the only, post that I intend to write that could be considered divisive. I hope it isn’t. I hope that everyone reads this as the deeply personal account I intend it to be. Afterward, I hope it resonates as something that could happen to our neighbors and our children’s friends. Certainly I’m not unique in these feelings or in the childhood experience that affected me so strongly. I should note that I’ve been Red, Blue, and various shades of purple throughout my adult political life. This has nothing to do with one side, the other, or the middle. It has to do with fear, rage, and sorrow, mostly mine.

When I was in junior high school, I met two new students. They had moved from a town not too far away, by upstate New York standards. The older brother had trounced me in a school tennis match the year before, and I still hadn’t completely forgotten it, but that was the only time we’d met. The younger brother shared several of my classes. He was new, and I wasn’t popular, so I introduced myself before anybody could tell him how uncool I was. (In hindsight, he had probably already noticed by the time I approached him.) We became best friends in record time, chiefly because we loved tennis and science fiction. Throughout our school years, we studied, played tennis, and rolled polyhedral dice together. I forgave his brother for humiliating me on the tennis court, and the three of us shared some of my most treasured high school memories.

If I had heard a presidential candidate at that time support ideas to register or imprison my friends and their family, I would have been outraged. If that candidate won the election, I would have been heartbroken. Why would the President of the United States, leader of the Land of the Free, want to do this to my best friends? How could voters let someone like that be elected? What would my parents and other adults do to stop it?

My friends, who had so much in common with me, were Muslim. They were my first exposure to any Islamic people. In a town that was 99% white, my cultural ignorance wasn’t surprising. I wasn’t wise enough to recognize the ignorance for what it was, what it might have become if I had never met those friends. It might have become fear, frustration, and rage. It might have become hatred, or perhaps worse, indifference.



Photo by Fibonacci Blue

I wish everyone who considers a registration or internment of Muslims in this country had experienced a friendship like the one I enjoyed. I wish they had been warmly welcomed into a Muslim’s home and shared a meal and conversation or laughs over a movie. I want them to consider that their children’s best friends could be stripped of their rights and forcibly separated from them. Their study partners, teammates, and shoulders of support would be irreparably branded and convicted. I want them to imagine the hurt their children will feel when it happens to their friends. I want them to attempt to find any valid moral, let alone constitutional, justification to give their kids.

I’ve tried several times to write this. This is the first time my heartbreaking disappointment and anger have allowed me to finish. I couldn’t give up after my first two incomprehensible drafts. It’s not much, but writing this is some small way to speak for my friends and others facing such potential horrors after the election. I owe it to my friends and their parents after all the kindness they showed me. I hope, no matter how you voted, you can tell that Muslim people deserve your voice, too.

Better Lies (Writing Tips)


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Photo by Tristan Schmurr

Writing fiction is a process of making stuff up, telling tales, fabricating reality, lying. An exceptional story will string me along like a gifted grifter. I’ll buy into its characters, conversations, plot hooks, and setting. I’ll pay to hear it, even though I know it’s not true, because it’s not true. What lies do I anxiously await time to experience? More importantly, what separates the great lies from the meh? As I pull out the dwindling supply of hair from my head, sore from bashing it against my desk, otherwise knows as “editing a novel”, I crave advice to make my manuscript better. I comb the internet and get sucked into Twitter and Facebook conversations about the dos and don’ts, rules, appropriately breaking the rules, artistic license, grammar police, etc. Ever present is the caveat that the writer should trust his/her gut about the changes he/she makes to his/her manuscript. There’s no way I will offer any definitive writing tips here, BUT I will pass along some that I’ve read about and make sense to me. First, my caveat, hereby relinquishing me of any responsibility that said shared tips might ruffle feathers, stir dander, or otherwise frustrate. I’ve found them to be helpful. There have been enough that I no longer remember where I read most of them, but I will give credit where I recall the sources.

Most recently, I signed up for Rayne Hall’s “Writer’s Craft” newsletter. The bonus for registering was a workbook for growing my author voice. It contained a practical guide to implementing a bevvy of tips for more dynamic writing. The workbook exercises customize to any type of writing that I am interested in successfully pursuing. Sounds too good to be true? The concept was simpler than I imagined. Putting it into practice was as challenging as I thought any realistic guide to improvement should be. Identify the type of voice you want to write in, based primarily on your genre, and figure out what adjectives describe that voice. Find and use verbs in your manuscript that lend credence to those adjectives. Eliminate verbs that don’t (and there’s a handy list of weak verbs that most new writers, including moi, abuse). I look forward to future newsletters and tips. Rayne Hall has also written whole books about writing, and I intend to check them out. Good stuff! Follow her on Twitter: @RayneHall

One of my favorite authors, Joe Abercrombie, thanked his mum (they’re British) for giving him some important writing advice. She said that he should be honest. It may be the vital ingredient that keeps me reading, and re-reading, his novels. While it sounds simple to emulate, it can be extremely difficult. Each character should act honestly, not that all the characters are truthful. How boring that would be! They should behave in accordance to their motives, personalities, fears, and experiences. Sounds like a lot of work? You betcha. But it’s what makes his fiction such a pleasure to read. His characters feel alive. They don’t seem created to fulfill a specific purpose or take on stereotypical roles in the narrative. They are messy, faulted, wounded, and often pathetic specimens, and those that don’t have those qualities are usually just exceptionally good at hiding them. As I edit my novel, I’m challenged to honestly portray my characters as people first, characters second. This, I think, is the key to luring in readers who normally wouldn’t want to read genre fiction. If I can make them believe my made-up characters mimic real people (see “lying” above), how much easier will it be to convince readers to follow those people through their journey? It’s also vitally important that I be honest with myself when editing and making difficult decisions about what furthers the story and what is unnecessary.

I talk to myself like the crazy guy on the bus. That’s one of the things I do when I’m writing and editing dialogue, and it’s also the reason most of my time spent on these activities is in the privacy of my home or my car. This exercise has been recommended to me nearly universally in every tip I’ve read on the subject. Why? Because anyone who speaks English will detect the lies I’m selling if the speakers of those fictional conversations sound like 1980s TV robots. Each character needs to speak consistently, and there should be a unique sound to each voice. It’s a great way for readers to be able to tell the characters apart in conversations without using dialogue tags. Speech can tell readers things about characters without taking up time to describe them in more traditional ways, more boring ways. There’s a fine line between perfect and overdoing it, though. When I speak characters’ lines out loud, I can hear how they sound and if their voices have changed from one conversation to another. I learn more about the characters, too, like what body language they might use along with their lines of dialogue.

Share your writing with others. It’s an important step for those who want to be read by an audience. Doesn’t that seem obvious? For many writers, this is completed with a great degree of trepidation. Rejections can be harsh, and there will be rejections on submissions. I’ve experienced a ton of them, and each of them sucks. Writing groups can be relatively safe spaces to get honest and helpful feedback. After all, they are filled with other people who want the same thing and appreciate opinions that are given respectfully. I’ll plug 10 Minute Novelists, a group I joined some time ago on Facebook. Now with thousands of members, they promote members’ blogs, give advice, offer consolation during the painful process of editing, and encourage members to help each other out. I’ve received encouragement, blog followers, and beta readers through membership in this group. Most importantly, I’ve learned that writing doesn’t have to be a solitary pursuit like it was before the Internet, or “when dinosaurs roamed the earth” as my son likes to say.

Writing tips are everywhere, and I could spend lots of time reading them instead of writing, but it is necessary research. Anybody who becomes good at something will tell you that you have to keep striving to improve. If I read advice that seems like a step in the wrong direction for my writing, I disregard it. I intend to share the nuggets of genius as I learn them. I’d appreciate it if you will too, because I can use them. Feel free to drop me a comment with the best writing advice you’ve received. Sharing can make us all better writers.

My First Snowflake


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Years ago, I began a fantasy novel. It had all the requisite fantasy stuff: heroes, fair maidens, evil sorcery, and swordplay. I began writing it from the protagonist’s first-person point of view. I set a dark tone and laid plans for the protagonist’s revenge against his enemies. I added some horror because I like horror. There is so much horror under the surface of fantasy novels I enjoy most. It just seemed like a good fit. Then the project fizzled out. I don’t know what went wrong. I don’t know why my interest flagged. It became another unfinished novel to add to my small collection, and I didn’t miss working on it.

Then something happened. I finished the first draft of my first novel. Let me tell you, it felt like I’d successfully scaled Everest. Only without oxygen tanks, avalanches, frostbite, starvation, or exhaustion. Man, that was a bad comparison, but the feeling was great. I’d done something I doubted I could do, something I had failed to accomplish after many attempts. The best part was that it made me see that I could do again because I had done it once. I had learned a few things, and I was determined to succeed again. I was determined to finish my second novel more quickly, with less editing, because I would try to organize it better from the start. I wouldn’t get sidetracked, I wouldn’t doubt my character’s voices, I wouldn’t second-guess my decisions in the middle of the first draft. How? Not with just a simple outline. I stumbled across something I wish I had found years ago, something other authors have been using for a long time. It’s called the Snowflake Method, and you can read the details here.

I’ve returned to the unfinished fantasy novel. Why not? I’ve thought about it often. The characters, especially the villains, have grown in my mind, and I already have a general idea how the plot will unfold. If the Snowflake Method will work for me at all, it will work for this novel. I don’t need to start over from scratch. I’ve already written the first three chapters. My problem was charting the plot beyond that point. It seemed overwhelming to think about where those characters would go, how their motivations would clash, and which of them might not survive. The Snowflake Method could help me organize it, help me define the characters in such a way that there would be no doubting the decisions they would make. I could write a character-driven, dark fantasy novel in the models of those I love. Maybe that’s why I never finished it: it seemed like I was going about it wrong. If so, I’m glad I stopped where I did. It will be easier to fix.

What I like about the Snowflake Method so far is that I started with the simplest of ideas and progressively expanded them. The creator, Randy Ingermanson, points out that this lends well to pitching the novel to publishers and agents. That’s something I dreaded, and now I feel emboldened to talk about the novel with anyone, even though it’s not finished. I’ve really barely even started, and that’s the beauty. By the time I get done with the preparatory work of defining characters and slowly expanding the plot details, I will have largely written the novel’s basic form. As with any fantasy novel, there will be world-building work and rules governing magic that I have to solidify, but I already have most of that in my head from years ago, years I spent thinking about it but not writing it.

After my first novel’s first draft took me roughly two years to write, I knew that I needed something to help me accelerate future projects. I’m optimistic that the Snowflake Method will be just what I needed. It’s hard enough to find time for writing on top of a full-time job and family responsibilities. It feels so much better to know that I will be spending my writing time more efficiently. And if it cuts down on editing time because my first draft will be written better, that’s icing on the cake. After all, the writing is the easy part. Editing is work.

If you’ve thought about writing a novel, I encourage you to take a look at the Snowflake Method. Once it helps you eliminate some of the most daunting tasks, gives you a place to start and a path that makes sense, you may find yourself on your way to finishing your first novel, too. And writing it much more quickly than I did.