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June 27, 2017



            I’ve brushed on this before, but because a member of my Henderson Writer’s Group brought it up at a recent meeting, I thought it was time to revisit this worthy subject.


            For those of you that attend a writer’s critique group, getting up to read is what it’s all about. Some of you read your own work to get feedback while others prefer someone else to read for you, so you can hear what you did from another voice (or because you suck at reading aloud or are terminally shy). It’s also practice for when you get out to market your book once you get published.


            At my last meeting, one member asked if I could get someone else to read my stuff because she didn’t like my “flat” voice. I didn’t have enough “inflection” in it for her. I try to vary the voices of each character, somewhat, but I’m no Mel Blanc or Robin Williams. I’m no voice actor. I try, but no ceegar. Some days I’m better at it than others, but given my work schedule and how late in the day the meeting convenes, I’m certainly not always at my best when it comes time to read my stuff. I think I do better than a lot of people. Others in the group don’t seem to have a problem with it, but not everyone is the same and I appreciate that fact.


            I politely declined to have someone else read my own stuff.






            Have you ever been in a situation where someone asks you which is your best learning method? Have you ever been admitted to the hospital? I know I have. One of the inpatient admission questions I’ve had to answer is:


“What is your preferred learning method?


            Audio, visual or written.”


            I usually put all three, but my preferred is visual and written, depending on the circumstances. Audio, if it’s accompanied with one of the others. With audio by itself, I tend to drift. Listening to someone drone on and on, even if they’re a gifted speaker, just doesn’t do it for me. Guess why I don’t have any audio books?


            So…when this group member asked if I could get someone else to read my stuff, I declined because it’s the same as when another member is reading. If I don’t have a copy of their work in front of me, I tend to drift and blank out. Even if I have a copy of their stuff, I tend to skip ahead, edit their copy and don’t even pay attention to what they’re saying.


            The only time I really pay attention to the audio, or what they’re saying is if I’m watching something. Then, the audio is critical.


            It boils down to if someone else reads my stuff, even though I’ll have my own copy sitting right in front of me, I’ll be self-editing, two or three steps ahead of the reader, something I’ve already done at home before I ever got to the meeting! The vocal performance of the reader will be useless to me, even if entertaining to the rest of the group.




            Even though I’ve probably read and self-edited my piece at least once, maybe twice, reading it aloud highlights stuff I never would’ve seen no matter how many times I read and re-read it to myself.


            Not only that, but as I said at the outset, not everyone thinks I drone on like that one person. Some people actually have no issue with the way I read. Individual tastes. I can’t please everyone.




            Back to that hospital question. What’s your best learning method? Are you a good listener? Do you prefer to read yourself, or would it be better for someone else to read it for you?


            Is your issue crippling shyness? Do you just suck as a reader? Trust me when I say that some people are just not cut to read to a group! We’ve all suffered through some of them!


            I can say that I was not the least bit hurt, upset, intimidated or put off by my friend’s request. It was a heart-felt opinion and I really did appreciate it. I explained why I won’t do it. She may not agree with or like my explanation, but oh well…


            Maybe she did understand.


            What I really appreciate is that she spoke up and gave me her honest feedback. That’s the whole point of these critique sessions!




            Whichever method you choose, the goal is to get your stuff read to the group, get your manuscript exposed so everyone can look for the loose ends, help you fix the issues and make it the best it can be. Whether you read it yourself or have someone do it for you, it’s time to get it done.


            Happy writing!



June 21, 2017

The other day, I was reading about all the kerfuffle with Megan Kelly and her interview with conspiracy theorist and all around nut job Alex Jones. I understand why her network wants the ratings. I understand why people are upset. I also understand why individuals like him need to be exposed. At the same time, it’s difficult to give them exposure when all (supposedly) the network is doing is exposing them for the nut jobs they really are so people are aware that there are actually such crazies out there. I’m not here to debate that.

If you have more than a few hundred friends on Facebook and they have differing social and political viewpoints, are tolerant to them as I am and don’t automatically “unfriend” them unless they step waaaay over the line, you’ve been subjected at least once, if not more, to a multitude of these crazy, usually unsubstantiated and poorly to not-at-all researched conspiracy theories.

If you’ve been to the supermarket or a convenience store and went to the checkout counter, you’ve passed by the rack with the magazines and the blazing headlines full of conspiracies.

In some way or form, unless you live in a complete bubble, you’ve heard at least one conspiracy, or thirty.


This Alex Jones and as a consequence, Megan Kelly is getting press right now because he believes the Sandy Hook shooting was done by actors and was staged so Obama and the dirty liberal weenies could push gun control. Yup, for the one or two of you who haven’t heard yet, Sandy Hook never happened. This is extremely upsetting to the families that lost their kids and the families of those teachers that lost their lives.

The media is concentrating on that one story but that’s only a drop in the bucket. This Jones character has a whole host of deeply disturbing and whacky conspiracies that fit the paranoid and anti-government types like a glove. I have no idea what his actual beliefs are because I’ve never personally watched him, but those of his ilk like to espouse stories, some just whacky, others plain hurtful, racist, and over the deep end. Below is a partial list of some of the more common ones, the crazy, the bad and the very ugly (not all attributed to Jones).

9/11 the twin towers were staged. Yup. A controlled explosion bla bla bla.

UFOs are real and we’re using alien technology to spy on everyone.

They’re putting chemicals in juice boxes to turn everyone gay.

Those strips in all the paper money are so the guv’mint can keep track of you.

The holocaust never happened (a long-held racist belief).

The earth is flat (more people believe this one than you might think).

Con-trails that jets put out are a way for the CIA to poison everyone so they have kids with medical problems and mental issues that turn them gay and into dirty liberal weenies.

Now, on a more obscure but closer to home (at least for me) conspiracy, and one I didn’t even find out about until AFTER I wrote Lusitania Gold, a conspiracy about the Titanic.

Note that this is a conspiracy Jones and his cronies have probably never covered.

Supposedly, the Titanic isn’t the ship that sank on April 14/15, 1912! Yup, that’s right. It’s an insurance scam. Folks, if I got this correct, the Titanic was switched out with the Olympic, its sister ship, because it wasn’t ready to sail or something, and the Olympic is the ship that sailed from Liverpool that fateful day. They switched the names of the two ships. I don’t have all the details, but it was all about insurance or something.


The last thing I want to do is legitimize the “just because your paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t really after you” mentality, the tin foil hat club, and give these nut jobs a platform, but you have to admit, some of these whacky theories DO make for great plots.

Think about it.

For thrillers and mysteries and even science fiction.

Some conspiracy theories are even too crazy for fiction!


Are they?

If you can stomach it, and can do so without supporting these crazies, or giving them legitimacy…

Then again, there’s goofy, there’s whacky and then there’s just plain sick.

No, I have another way.

Just wait for some of your paranoid friends to post these theories. I’m pretty sure they will. I get this stuff a couple of times a week. I try to keep politically, religiously and sexually neutral on the web so as not to alienate my readers. Yet, I may privately respond to certain posters or even make an open neutral or logical comment to certain posts.

Even that gets me into trouble sometimes. I rarely if at all respond in kind.

Well, one thing. You can tell what I think about conspiracy theories. So, in a way, I’m giving something away.

At the same time, everyone has a right to freedom of expression, no matter how disgusting or controversial others think it is, up to a point.

We all have to draw a line somewhere. Wherever that line is, if your genre supports it, maybe listening to a small bit of this stuff might give you a spark for your next plot. Maybe not!

One more thing. Think about this. How about the reverse? Have you ever wondered where some of these whacky conspiracies come from? How many of these theories have come from books? Thriller plots anyone? Talk about reverse engineering! Hmmm…

Happy writing!


June 13, 2017

For those that know me, that have been keeping track, you know this isn’t an issue with me. I never have a problem with a blank page. However, I know people that do. This is for you!


When you sit down to write and pull up a blank page, there’s often something you probably don’t think about when you pull up a blank page.

What does that blank page tell you?

What’s the one thing it might be saying to you that you haven’t thought about before?

What if you’re a glass is half empty person?

Is it coming to you yet?

Okay, here it is, spelled out for you.


That’s right. When you pull up that blank page and stare at it, unprepared, with no inspiration, with no idea what you’re going to write, that blank page is telling you “you can’t.”

That blank page is your first roadblock.

No, let me take that back. It’s your second roadblock. Your first was already making up your mind you had nothing to say. Just sitting down and pulling up the blank page isn’t going to make it better. It’s not going to spur you on if you have a blank slate to start out with.


As a writer, if this is a passion rather than a hobby, the ideas are in you. They hit you every waking minute, maybe in your dreams as well. You should be brimming with ideas. Whether you keep them locked away in your memory, write them in sticky notes, or record them with a voice recorder for future use, somewhere, somehow, you store these ideas away for future use.

When you sit down at that blank page, it’s all a matter of choice. THAT, my friends, is the real dilemma. Picking which one to start with, rather than not having any.


Well before sitting down to that blank page, you should be at least toying with one, of not several ideas of what you want to do, whether a novel, short story, or article. You should be mentally preparing yourself for one if not several possible routes, so that when you sit down, whether it be a spontaneous moment, or a planned session, you can start right away. No time wasting, no dawdling.


Okay, how many of you started something, thought it sucked and stopped, only to move on to something else? How many of you accumulated a whole bunch of these start stop somethings?

Now…how many of you ERASED all those start stop somethings?

I have a better idea.

How about saving them and keeping them for possible future use? You never know how these aborted attempts might end up being useful in something unrelated to how you originally used them. Ever thought of that?

Just an idea.

My first ever completed novel, The Cave will never see the light of day. However I’ve never tossed it. Why? It’s complete, after all. It sucks, but I finished it. One day, I may drag it out and either fix it or turn it into something else. I certainly won’t erase all that effort for nothing.

In any case, when you sit down, the idea isn’t to start and then stop and start over again. When you get down to it, you should know what you’re doing and be able to get there. Some of that comes from experience and a lot of it comes with confidence. Some of it’s just plain doing, then worrying about editing later, as well.

The whole point is that now you’re not staring at a blank page. You’re actually doing something. The page isn’t blank anymore.


If you’re prepared ahead of time, you should NEVER sit down and stare at a blank page. Sitting down and staring at a blank page and expecting the ideas to come to you is doing it bass-ackwards. You have to have a reason to sit down in the first place, otherwise you may be creating a psychological barrier you may never be able to break again.

Happy writing!


June 6, 2017

For some of us, we can only work on one issue at a time. It’s called focus.

For others, we can multitask.

I’ve been known to work on a novel, which I’m doing right now. At the same time, I actively write these blog articles, work the Las Vegas Astronomical Society Observer’s Challenge, used to write weekly autobiographical articles for the now defunct Let’s Talk Nevada, and would still throw out the odd short story to submit to my writer’s group’s annual anthology. I’d even occasionally knock out the occasional short story, juss cuzz.

It all boils down to that burst of inspiration and a willingness to see it through.


A dilemma every writer finds themselves in is when they get the sudden burst of inspiration, and it doesn’t fit with what they’re currently working on, what to do? It’s a matter of either hitting the brakes on the current project or trying to preserve that inspiration so you can come back to it later. Or…work several simultaneously?

Will that inspiration still be there in a week, month, year?

Will you still want to revisit it at a later date?

Will it still have the same impact later?

For many of us, the answer may be no.

Now, ask yourself, can this new idea be used in your current project?


Oh…kay. Now what?

Does it warrant a short story or does it require a longer form?

Once you make those determinations, maybe, just maybe you can either stop what you’re doing, take care of it, or maybe write it all down and come back to it after you finish your current project. Or, maybe come to a breaking point where you can stop what you’re doing long enough to scratch this itch.


I know, there are some of you that are going to lose out. You have to focus. You get a great inspiration, but it doesn’t fit your current project. You try writing it down and intend to come back to it. Several weeks, months, a year later, you find your note, but by now, you can’t grab that brass ring again. That idea that sounded so great is gone now. Those wonderful ideas you had racing through your head are gone, lost in the ether.

Oh well…

If you’d stopped your current project and followed your muse for this new thing, would that have messed up what you originally started on?

No sense worrying over something you have no control over.

For those of you that cannot multitask, the best I can tell you is write down these nuggets of inspiration and HOPE they come back. That’s all you can do. If they come back, fine. If they don’t, do NOT lose any sleep over it.

Other ideas will come along.

Time to move on.


No two people process things the same way. Even if writing is a passion, the creativity and inspiration comes to us in different ways. We have to learn how it works best for us as individuals. It makes no sense to beat ourselves up about how we get our ideas but to learn to work with them.

If focus on one idea is how you have to work, go for it. If you get that sudden idea, record it and hope you can get back the same feeling later when you can concentrate on it. If not, move on to something else.

If you can multitask, by all means, take a break from your current project and wail away.

Happy writing!


May 30, 2017

Bear with me while I get to the point of this article.


It starts with of all things (big surprise here, if you know me), with heavy metal music. Lately, I’ve been exploring folk metal. I’m sick to death of the mostly harsh screaming, shouting or roaring, the “brutal just to be brutal” stuff I hear so much of on stations like Sirius XM Liquid Metal. As is often the case, a “serious” (simile intended) overdose of Metallica, is what I sometimes will hear simultaneously when I switch between metal stations if not harsh annoying vocals of the other sort. So, I’ve been browsing the CD store for specific genres of bands, trying to find new heavy music while also trying to avoid said annoying vocals.

To me, as with all music, regardless of genre, the vocals are just another instrument in the band. In most cases, I could care less about the lyrics unless they’re dirty or funny. As Frank Zappa would say, they’re just “articulated vocal noises.” That means the vocals are an important “instrument” and if they don’t sound good, I don’t care how good the rest of the band is, the vocals can ruin what may have started as a good thing.

In my browsing (through research in various sources), I ran across a Norwegian folk metal band called Lumsk. They sing entirely in Norwegian. As I said above, “articulated vocal noises,” so I could care less what the lyrics are. However, as I was browsing the band info (in English) and lyrics (in Norwegian) of their third album in the CD booklet, I noticed a lot of the word “og.” I thought it was a funny and cool word.

I looked it up and in Norwegian it means “and.”

Now, I’m also a huge fan and personal friends with the Dutch heavy metal band Picture. They sing in English and are in the classic 80’s style, which I’ve always loved (clean vocals for one). Being personal friends with the original band members on Facebook, I get lots of posts to include other friends of theirs and family and many of them are in Dutch. Amongst the often tongue-tying words, from our English speaking perspective, I’ve seen the word “ook.” Another one of those “o” words! So…I looked it up and it means “also.”

This has put my fascination with words in overdrive!


I love to play with words. I find a great fascination and sometimes humor in words. I absolutely butcher English and Spanish, just for fun.


I’m a wordsmith. I write. I do this for a passion. I write to communicate and to do this I use words. It’s the medium with which I, as a writer, create my art, so to speak.

Since I lived overseas for fifteen years, I picked up an affinity for foreign and sometimes tongue-twisting words. In my job, I run across many foreign names but am able to spell then almost upon first look and can even pronounce many of them correctly, first off.

In my real life, I often deliberately mispronounce words juss’ cuz. However, what I can’t stand is when people mispronounce words out of ignorance. Now, if they do it deliberately, that’s a different matter, if it’s obvious. On the other hand, it’s a pet peeve, for instance when people pronounce the town I used to live in wrong. Lompoc California is pronounced “Lom-Poke” not “Lom-Pock!”

When someone mentions Incirlik, Turkey, where I was stationed in the Air Force for five years, just as often even if they’d been there, they pronounce it wrong, calling it “In-sir-lik” instead of the correct pronunciation “In-jure-lik.”


What this all boils down to is that as a writer, I take words seriously and have an endless fascination with them. I play with them, I make fun of them, I use them correctly and I also make them up.

I’m constantly asked where I come up with all of these weird names for characters, things places and creatures I use in my fantasy series, for instance, or even in the other genres that I write.

Well, now you know.

As a writer, it’s your job to know words, to use, manipulate and figure out how best to fit them into your stories. You need to play with them, seek them out, figure which ones are most pleasing to the eye and ear, and use them to get the most pleasure from your audience, and not annoy the reader (ring a bell from my metal tale above, anyone?).

Happy writing.


May 24, 2017

Something that’s happened too many times to me, mostly for the bad, is when a favorite author decides to shift their writing style.


They got bored.

Their publisher pressured them into it.

They decided to chase a trend.

Their muse took them that way.

Their fans demanded it (highly unlikely).

Sometimes this strategy worked for the author commercially…personally as well. Sometimes not.


As usual, I won’t name names. There was once a great thriller writer. I devoured all of his books, written in solid third-person, past tense. In fact, the last great novel of his I read, I finished while we were camping at nearby Mt. Charleston here in Las Vegas. It was one of the last times we were able to camp up there before they closed the camp sites and converted them to day use only. That was around 2012 or 2013.

I anxiously awaited this author’s next book. When it finally came out around Christmas, for some reason, I opened it in the bookstore and leafed through it first. Maybe I was paranoid because of another book I got burned on, I’m not sure. In this case, I looked before I bought and it was a good thing. The author changed style and switched to first-person. For those that know me, you know I can’t stand to read first-person in fiction. I won’t go into the what’s or why’s in this article, but let’s just say I was so disappointed and pissed off, I actually did a one-star review on Amazon. This is the first and only time I’ve ever done a book review without ever reading the book. Why? Because the author wrote it in a style that’s virtually “unreadable” to me. I felt justified in my rating because I was expecting something else and the author disappointed me so much I couldn’t help myself. I clearly stated I never read the book, but also why I didn’t read it. That one-star rating was solely based on his writing style.

The author has continued to write in first-person and I haven’t read a single thing he’s done since. Oh well…

Case number two is another thriller writer I used to like. I read everything he wrote for years. Then he started collaborating with another author. Uh oh…

I got hold of their first effort, then leafed through the story. Crap!

As in total crap!

The story was written in third-person, but present-tense.

As you regular readers well know, I find present-tense unreadable in the extreme.

That ruined the author for me from that point on. Ever since, I’ve anxiously hoped for a change, but that author, even when he writes solo, continues to put out this crap in presnt-tense.

He used to write so well.

Now there’s another writer who back in the day, I had to struggle through some of his stories. I liked them but could never figure out why until I learned the writing craft. This guy used to write present-tense! I gave up on him because I couldn’t stand to read his stuff. However, I kept track of him, hoping he’d change.

Well, folks, he finally woke up. He started writing in third-person, past tense. His stories are so much better. They rock!

Now, I’ll mention a writer by name. Patricia Cornwell. This author is all over the place. She generally writes third-person, but has a penchant for present-tense. I was laid up in the hospital after surgery and had one of her present-tense books. Even with nothing else to do, I could barely get through that drivel!

Then MS Cornwell wrote the odd past-tense novel and it rocked!

To this day, I still check each book she puts out, hoping to see another one in past-tense.


I’m sure you’ve had authors that for whatever reason, have stirred the pot, changed their formula. Maybe they didn’t change writing style, but genre. Now, for me, if they write the same, but change genre, I’m more likely to read it. If they keep the genre but change writing styles, that’s not the case. I have specifics about what I’ll read.

For those of you more tolerant, or for those of you that haven’t found your favorite, this all may be moot. For me, since I constantly read as well as write, it’s a key to my existence.

Since I write multiple genres, there’s one thing I can guarantee, regardless of genre, the writing will be the same. You can bet on that. If you like the way I write in one novel, and don’t mind switching genres, you’re more than likely to like my stories in another genre as well.

Happy writing!


May 18, 2017

I’ve talked pacing before but the ole’ nugget of inspiration struck me again as I’m currently sort of just suffered through another thriller with a pacing problem. As an avid reader, while also being a writer, I like to learn from other people’s mistakes, but also look at what’s out there that’s either trending for good or bad.


I like thrillers, adventure and icky bug. That includes murder mysteries as well. If you were to look at most of the book reviews I have on Amazon (at least the ones Amazon hasn’t hidden because I didn’t buy the book from them), you’ll see they’re almost all in those categories.

A lot of detective/murder mysteries are now catalogued as thrillers but if you go to the “only” chain bookstore on the West Coast, which is Barnes & Noble, just about everything except science fiction/fantasy, western and romance are all lumped together into “general fiction.” Folks, that lumps a lot together. In my mind, with the only other chain out there being Hastings, which services at least the Midwest and possibly the East Coast, unless they categorize differently, it probably doesn’t make much difference what you call your book as far as shelving it, as long as it isn’t western, romance or science fiction/fantasy.

On the other hand, when it comes to on line, that category makes a much bigger difference.

I got off on a rant here only because in my roundabout way, I’m getting back to what I read the most, thrillers.

What’s the main concept of the thriller? They have to be thrilling.

The story must be fast-paced.

What do I personally like?

I like the story to move, for sure. However, do I like a frantic pace with non-stop action?

Not really.

I like my stories to live and breathe, but at the same time not dally too long.

Pacing. Which brings me to the gist of this article.


I am a failed musician. My new outlet is writing and has been for twenty-plus years. However, I didn’t give up music entirely. I still love to listen to it. In that respect, being of Medicare age, I surely (and don’t call me Shirley) don’t listen to the music of my age group. I like metal as well as (of course) older heavy psychedelic and hard rock. The problem is that a lot of the metal today is extreme metal. Though I like some of it, there’s some that’s just to be brutal and extreme just to be extreme. To me, it’s just plain annoying. I listen to it sometimes to try and find something musically redeeming to it. I usually turn it off after a while, switching to something with a more melody, or at least a rhythmic cadence to the vocals, guitars and bass that is distinguishable as riffing versus a blur of noise.

Now, why do I bring this up? Because when these younger generations take music and go to the extreme just to be extreme, it’s no different than some authors who pace their stories extreme just to be extreme. If that’s their thing, it’s fine with me. I appreciate that they’ve found their groove, it’s just not my groove. I make an effort to understand it, but don’t have to like it all the same, whether it’s extreme music or writing.


A thriller’s supposed to be full of action. That’s the premise. However, a thriller doesn’t have to be non-stop, from page one to the end. In-between, the characters have to take a breath, rest, gather their wits. Plus, the author has to develop the plot.

Not only that, but the reader needs a chance for a breather as well.

I always see the “Non-stop, pulse-pounding action” catch phrases on books but usually find out that’s not strictly true. The good author takes the time for the characters to relax a bit, breathe, investigate. Get to know each other. Smell the roses a bit.

In the story I just finished, there were few breaks to develop anything. It was almost non-stop chases, boom, bam, shooting and killing. The chase scenes took up six, ten chapters with maybe two in-between for something else to happen. Then on to the next major chase or escape. It went that way right to the epilogue.

That pacing gets monotonous. I dreaded the next chase, which I knew was coming way too soon. I wasn’t the only one either as the reader reviews prominently displayed, matching my own in a lot of ways.


There are plenty of fans of this, just like there are plenty of fans of the screaming, shouting and grunting of extreme metal. The same for the current trend in movies with the herky-jerky camera style that some people seem to compute with being more into the action.

While I personally find these frenetic styles nerve-wracking, it’s da’ bomb for others.


While I won’t name names when it comes to the bad examples, such as the novel I just read, there are plenty of good examples.

The Jack Reacher series. Our hero has many calm moments where the tension builds before things get frantic, where the pace builds up. Now, keep in mind that the story is in constant motion. However, it’s not all chase. There’s time to smell the flowers, contemplate, investigate, figure out what’s going on.

The Harry Bosch series. Same thing. It’s a fast-moving slow burn, if that makes sense. There’s no sitting around or endless narrative. Harry’s constantly on the move, investigating the case. However, he gets into situations and the action has plenty of intense moments, when called for.

That’s just two prominent examples. Both have plenty of thrills and action but also give the characters and the reader time to breathe and let the mystery grow a bit. The author lets the tension build instead of slapping you in the face right out the gate and never letting up.


There’s probably a good cliché right about now to mention, but I’ll just say this.

There are many ways to show a story. The easier you make it on the reader, the more likely the fans will come back. You have to balance between driving them crazy or boring them.

Let instinct be your guide.

Happy writing!