Notes on Writing

Top Reasons Why We Love Zombies

Let’s face it: as a culture, we are obsessed with the undead.  From top zombie books to current popular television shows, the nation almost seems to dream of a time where we can run free in a collapsed society.  Let’s take a look at some potential reasons for their popularity, and the impact it has on both written and visual media.


Reason #1: We Love the Idea of No Laws

In a world where there is basically no ruling government, the law of the land is in the hands of those who have the most power.  Being able to kill or destroy zombies appeals to us on several levels.  Taking our anger and frustration out on walking, yet unfeeling physical forms can be an excellent therapeutic method, and since they really aren’t living people at that point, the idea intrigues us.

Reason #2: It Brings Out the Best (and Worst) Qualities in Us

When faced with life and death decisions, the true nature of a person will often reveal itself.  Are you selfish and focused on your own survival?  Are you caring and looking to help fight, rebuild, care and protect?  Whether it’s a zombie apocalypse or facing a terrifying creature of unknown origins, the situation always offers questions regarding morality, truth and survival.

Reason #3: We Like Being Frightened

Having one’s emotions and fears manipulated is one of the sole reasons why books, television and theatre exists: it changes our perspectives on life.  We like to be afraid, we like thrills, we love to experience different emotions.  Zombies have that effect on is and continue to do so even decades after they were first brought into existence.

Some of the best zombie books and novels are still out there: start reading and experience quality stories today!

Two Heads Are Better Than None

As the autumn continues on, the latest hit television shows are enrapturing millions of Americans as we speak.  Without a doubt, The Walking Dead has the largest audience in the cable industry, and it is no small wonder: the public is always ready to watch and read anything zombie and apocalypse-related.  Many of the best urban fiction books are geared towards these topics, and there truly is an undeniable appeal towards these quality stories; why is it that we are so obsessed with the undead as a society?

As a nation, I think it is fair to say that we have a distinct tendency to desire chaos, drama and entertain our senses to the max.  In a way, we have become desensitized to most forms of violence; do you think that the movie ratings or video game ratings mean anything at all any longer? The reality is that the thrill of an engaging story, especially when geared towards a topic such as zombies, truly makes the mind spin.  Questions arise, such as whether this could happen in real life; most individuals undoubtedly have a secret desire that the undead would arise, giving them plenty of opportunity to take out their anger and despair on hordes of targets.




Violence is just one piece of the puzzle, however.  If you went to see a movie and all it offered was action and violence, yet no storyline, most would feel that it was somewhat lacking.  The same can be said for novels and stories; violence within a story can be gripping, but the overall premise should have solid character development and a story that makes you want to re-read it over and over.


Two heads are better than none: rather than endless decapitated villains and creatures, the concept should focus on you, the reader, having a connection with the main character.  As we approach Halloween, keep this in mind when looking for new and exciting fiction novels to read!

Progress Without Milestones

ASDA Suede Notebooks - Stacked with Moleskine by pigpogm from FlickrWords continue to pile up for the first draft of book three. A title? That’s nowhere in sight. A notion of how all these stories come together? That’s…well that’s also murky. A clear idea of what happens next? Not so much.

And yet I continue to sit down every day, shut down all distractions, and write. The scene I’m working on unfolds, the next scene is hinted at, and the next day I continue this exercise. And the next. And the next. And, when all of these mysterious bouts of writing are strung together, definite progress is being made.

But it’s really freaking weird.

Every book I’ve written I’ve taken a different approach to. And every time, the approach I chose was a direct result of where I wanted to be with my writing.

I felt I was becoming far too constrained by outlines and planning, and so I started the 26 Stories in 52 Weeks project, which spawned Probability Angels.

I became nervous about my reliance on first-draft readers, so with Persistent Illusions I did not let anyone read anything until well after a first draft was finished.

For this book, though, my notions of how to write are much more informed by my notions of what I want writing to be.

Writing used to be stressful, painful, slave-labor with myself chained to my keyboard. I used to yell at myself for not hitting my word counts and have anxiety attacks that my story wasn’t good enough. I would sit down to write and a voice in my head would yell at me constantly. And if I wasn’t all keyed up then I would worry that I wasn’t “feeling things” enough and I would try to hype myself up with music or caffeine so that I could write dammit.

This book I’m not doing any of that. I do worry about the story, but I also constantly remind myself that my past five books all came together somehow, and that I actually had a proof copy of Persistent Illusions ordered before I knew what the ending was going to be. So I think about the story a lot, but I don’t let myself panic about it.

And I try for a word count every day, but I don’t beat myself up over it. I know that some days will be less and some days will be more. It’s far more important to chip away at it for many days over time than it is to stress one day in particular.

And I don’t need a loud voice in my head yelling at me; I actually aim for the opposite of being keyed up. I flip my phone over and and shut down all distractions on my computer and say to myself, “Okay. You can either write, or you can sit here, but you are not allowed to open any internet pages or look at your phone. There’s the Word document, and that’s it.” And when I say that, I’m calm. And when I hear that, I listen. And I sit and I relax and I do nothing for the first five minutes, and then sure enough I start typing.

Words appear and pages pile up but the hallmarks of progress, all the little goodies I used to savor, like reaching a big exciting scene I was looking forward to or finishing up a section, none of those exist.

It’s just me and my Word document.

And as I said, it’s pretty strange.

So progress? Progress is being made.

I just have no way of measuring it.

Hydra Headed Problems in Writing

Helsingør, Herkules kæmper mod hydraen by ЯAFIK ♋ BERLIN from FlickrHercules was a demi-god…I think. We’re going off of memory here because that’s more fun.

Anyway, Hercules was a demi-god with some rage issues. One day, for reasons I can’t remember, he killed his wife and kids.

This was bad.

He wanted to atone for this bad thing that he had done, or the gods demanded that he atone for it, and so he set off on his labors. The Labors of Hercules. They’re sort of famous in mythology.

He had to kill the lion of Numedia (we’re guessing at names too…but I know he had to kill a lion). He had to capture Cerberus. And he had to clean some stables.

Yes he had to clean some stables. They were the gigantic stables of some horse-crazy land with horse crap caked on three feet deep. Hercules had to divert an entire river just to clean the stables. Big stuff.

He also had to kill the Hydra. Who on earth made up this list of chores is beyond me. One day he’s cleaning stables and the next he’s killing a mythical creature. I guess it was sort of like a decathlon, testing as many different skills and pushing as many buttons as possible.

So anyway, the Hydra. The Hydra was a nine headed monster. That doesn’t sound too bad. I mean Hercules was able to clean that stable by diverting a river so we can assume that monsters are sort in his wheelhouse.

The only problem was that every time you managed to lop off one of the Hydra’s heads, two more would sprout up in its place.

This is a problem. In fact, this is such a common type of problem that it is now known as a hydra headed problem: knock one down and it only serves to introduce two more problems.

This is where I’m at with book three. It feels like I’ve been here for awhile. Every time I figure out a kink in this book it opens up two more ideas that I have to toy with and examine and decide where, or if, they belong.

I began with a fairly basic idea for the plot. The plot is no longer basic. I have story-lines that range from Bartleby’s life as a human to a serial killer causing unrest in the world of the testers to a coup in the Council to Gregor’s rise as leader of the zombies.

It’s possible that I can tie all of these together, most likely weeding a few out, and create a single cohesive book. But right now? Right now it just seems like every step forward I take results in two more paths I have to sniff out and examine. And it’s getting really annoying. I have no idea if this is progress. It feels more like a hamster wheel.

In order to defeat the Hydra, Hercules found a giant log and heated the end and after he sliced off one of the Hydra’s heads he cauterized the wound, cooking it shut by applying the glowing red end of the log to the open cut. No more Hydra heads.

It’s possible that I’m allowing myself too much exploration. It’s possible that it’s time to start cauterizing story lines, that once I figure out one bit I need to start ignoring the inevitable questions that crop up about what else that bit might be hiding.

Or it’s possible that you can beat a hydra by wearing it out, that eventually the stupid thing just runs out of heads.

With the holidays coming up and a massive disrupt to my work schedule bound to happen I’ll probably take that opportunity to step back and more properly assess what the hell I have on my hands right now.

Until then, I’m just glad I’m not cleaning stables.

We’re Going to the Big Screen!

View of PragueI just wanted to quickly share an email I received from a fan a few days ago.

This is from Roma Raju:

I’m originally from India, but I live in a small south bohemian town in Czech Republic, not far from Prague.

I’m supposed to be making a film this semester. But if you ask me, I think nobody should make a film or create any piece of art if they don’t have anything worthwhile to say. Well, that was before I read your short story online, Private Showing.

I loved it! Its very “Visual.” A beautiful story, well-told. I would like to make a short film based on it, if you allow me.

I’ve mentioned a bunch how cool it is to have readers all over the world, but this one really made my day.

I obviously told Roma to go ahead with this project (all of my short stories are open for this sort of thing under their Creative Commons license) and I was promised a peek at the final filmwhen it was finished.

If you don’t remember, this is Private Showing, truly a popcorn worthy short story if I’ve ever seen one.

In other news, the virtual tour is moving along and I’ll be recapping fully when it’s done, plus I’m posting links all over Facebook and Twitter.

Here’s the latest review if you can’t wait for the recap:

Probability Angels turned out to be, quite possibly, one of the most original additions to the theme that I’ve read in many years.


Why I Hate George Lucas

Over this past weekend, for some reason, Spike TV was on constantly in my apartment. They were airing the entire Star Wars saga over and over again in a continuous loop. I’d head out for errands and come back to watch Luke get de-handed. After a late dinner I watched some Jar Jar. On Sunday I watched the finale of the original while texting with a friend.

It was during this text conversation that we realized that all of the movies would be trotted out, once again, starting this spring…only now in 3-D!

My friend had one thing to say: “I hate George Lucas.”

I agreed.

But over the past few days I’ve come to realize what a strong phrase that is, “I hate George Lucas,” and I began to wonder why a guy obsessed with puppets and magic could bring such strong emotion out of me. Oh, I know there are plenty of reason to hate the prequels (ChefElf covers those far better than I ever could). I have long since downgraded all of them to “Crap.”

But it wasn’t the prequels my friend and I were watching when our issuance of hatred arose. It was the originals. The new originals. The ones packed full of just utterly absurd changes that serve no purpose. In A New Hope we get to see Jabba! Hooray! And he’s presented in a way that makes absolutely no sense and as if fucking up his physical appearance wasn’t enough, we now get a scene where Han Solo steps on the tail of the most feared crime leader in the system and nobody cares. It’s played for laughs in fact. Ha. Ha.

In Empire, R2 gets eaten by a swamp monster and spat back out. Luke, in the original, wipes mud off of R2 and says: “You’re lucky you don’t taste very good.” Now, through the magic of editing, he says: “You were lucky to get out of there.” Awesome!

And this goes on. And on. And on. It’s like a madman is at the wheel of my childhood, and instead of passing by all my favorite memories he’s randomly making right-hand turns to see things no one cares about and tell fart jokes.

And yet still, I’m not sure that’s where my hate comes from, though mucking about in my childhood memories is not a good thing, to be sure.

No. I think I hate George Lucas because the prequels manage to make THE ENTIRE FIRST THREE MOVIES MAKE NO SENSE. Obie-Wan ages forty years in the time it takes Luke to grow into a teenager. Chewbacca, who fought at Yoda’s side during the Clone Wars (apparently), never once pipes up with the slightest bit of information. Vader doesn’t bother to look for his children or old master in his hometown. Oh, and also, nobody remembers or cares or believes in the Jedi, who less than twenty years ago were a major part of the Imperial whatever the hell it was called.

And I know, these things are somehow explained in the books. I get told that a lot.

But I don’t care about the books. People are constantly plugging up plot holes using a jury-rigged explanation from material that doesn’t exist in the movies. I get angry when fans defend the existence of cities that make zero sense by conjuring up some bizarre native cultural belief that is not addressed in the films. Or how I get assured that scenes of complete nonsense are actually perfectly explainable if I know the back-stories of the characters that got made up to explain the nonsensical scenes in question. In short, I get angry when anything outside of the movies needs to be brought in to explain the movies.

Because that is crap.

Pure and utter crap. You don’t get to have legions of fans and gh0st writers scramble to cover up the mistakes you were too lazy or too blind to see, Mister Lucas. You are not a writer, if you do so. You are not a creator. You are not giving anything to your art and you are not respecting your craft.

And that is why I hate you.

Look. Here. These are some notes I wrote trying to piece together one set of scenes for Persistent Illusions (warning: there might be spoilers in here assuming you can read my handwriting):

Notes from Persistent Illusions

That’s a sequence of maybe four scenes. I wanted to make sure that my time-lines made sense. I wanted to make sure, since my characters are all over the world, that I had sunrises and sunsets occurring at the right time in the right places. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t accidentally skip too far ahead or give a character knowledge they couldn’t possibly have. I wanted to make sure that emotional responses had time to build, that fights had back stories, that breakdowns had build-ups.

I wanted to put together the best possible product I could for my readers.

I’m sure I made mistakes. And I know I fudged some things. Artists do that. But I thought long and hard about everything I fudged, everything I did that pushed the unspoken agreement between me and my readers that I’m going to be a good guide for them. And I tried as hard as I could to dim those down and I tried my damnedest to eliminate all my mistakes.

I’m not sure when George Lucas stopped caring, or if he ever did. Maybe he just got lucky in the originals. But I know that the minute you stop caring, the second you shrug and give no thought to putting your name on something you haven’t sweat for, that’s when you stop being an artist.

And to do that with your biggest project? To do that and manage to ruin your previous projects in the same motion?


Just no.

I’ll never join you, Lucas.


Writing Someone Else’s Story

Breach Loaded Shotgun with ShellsI am once again attempting to put a short story together for one of Chuck Wendig’s weekly flash fiction contests. This week’s contest is about guns and crime. Which is a nice fit for me. I can certainly get up to some fun with guns, murder, crime and a nice macguffin. And the 1,000 word limit adds a nice spin on things. It’s like creating an amuse-bouche with words (props to me for fitting the words “macguffin” and “amuse-bouche” into one paragraph).

There’s also a certain thrill that comes with writing someone else’s story. It’s strange, coming up with my own fiction is such a difficult process to track that it’s hard for me to say where most of my ideas come from. And at times is seems like what I really do is come up with one or two strong ideas, scenes, lines, characters, just whiffs of them mind you, and then flesh out everything else that’s attached in order to find the story surrounding them.

In these flash fiction challenges, though, one or two of the ideas are already there. They don’t arrive in my brain spontaneously like normal, they are sitting right there on Chuck Wendig’s page for me to approach from afar and study. It’s like playing with someone else’s set of LEGO’s. I mean, I know I have tons of those blue blocks and rubber wheels and jungle material, but I poke around in someone else’s collection and there’s all these new pieces to try and figure out. Where does that airplane wing fit? What are these tiny white one’s for?

Not that guns and crime don’t exist in my personal LEGO set of fiction, but you know what I mean.

Anyway, I should probably get back to my shotgun and bank robbery.

It needs to be done by Friday after all.



And that, apparently, is how you write a book

First draft for this last section is done.

I’m very tired.

I’m not at all confident in my ability to clean up a rather clunky ending.  And the pacing in the last half needs some serious work.  Plus there’s a scene I couldn’t be bothered to actually write, so I just put some filler in there and then changed scenes again.

Which is going to be tons of fun come tomorrow when I have to sort all this out.

Not to mention the typos.  So many typos.

My bid to alienate everyone

So, as I mentioned yesterday, endings are tough.  They’re really tough for me because I don’t really believe in them.  In my mind, life goes on; I never really get it into my head that a character’s story is over (unless I’ve killed them off, of course).  The result of this mentality is that for my larger works there’s always a lingering hint of things left undone in my endings.

I shouldn’t say “always” I guess because I don’t have a ton of larger works, but just the same I don’t see myself ever wrapping up one of my stories with a bunch of ewoks playing instruments and everybody dancing and smiling implying that now everything will be perfect for always.

Or maybe I’m being too analytical of myself.  After all, even the most tied up of endings gives some notion of life continuing.  I’ve yet to see the story that ends with, “Then everything stopped forever.”

No, maybe my point here is that the Matthew and Epp stories are, by nature, going to end with the notion of things continuing on past the final word.  These characters live preposterously long lives; I’m not going to be able to sum them up in the year I’ve spent with them.

But that’s not it either.

I don’t know.  I haven’t actually written the final words yet, but I get the idea that it’s going to be possible to read it as me leaving the door open for a sequel or something.  Which it isn’t.  I may come back to this world, I have no control over that.  But my ending isn’t an attempt to hint at that.

It’s just my ending.

Life goes on.

This one and the next.  Ha.

Endings are tough

About four times so far today I’ve stopped writing, thrown myself into a panic, come to the conclusion that this is nothing but a horrible mess, written the words, “then everyone dies,” and walked away from my computer in disgust.

In fact, I didn’t bother to delete those three words, “then everyone dies,” the last time I wrote them. They’re still there at the end of my current Word document, hovering just past the body of the text, sitting there below the cursor, a happy little escape hatch for me to fall back on when I finally give up on tying all of this gigantic mess up. It’s sort of like my mythical trip to Tahiti that I’ve been contemplating for as long as I can remember but will never actually get around to taking.

At any point I can just stop, mid-sentence even, and hit delete until the rest of the story catches up to those three words. Then I’ll be done.

Endings are tough.