No Instant Answers


There’s no magic bullet when it comes to writing.

I know there are literally millions of websites and courses and master classes out there, insisting that they can tell you exactly how to write best-seller/award-winning/luminous prose, but Reader: they lie.

MFA Writing programs notwithstanding, no one honestly knows how to do any of that.


Some writers know (or at least they think they know) how it works for *them*.

It might not work for you. In fact, it almost certainly will not work for you.

First, because there’s almost a 90% chance that the writer who hit the top of the hit list on their very first venture into the world of writing just got a mysterious, unrepeatable stroke of luck. They hit the right editor, at the right magazine, at the right moment, or they queried a book agent on a slow day of a slow week, or someone at a national TV show wanted a “small town success story” for some reason and the writer’s sister’s best friend from high school mentioned their name.

Secondly, and even more importantly, what works for one writer, in terms of subject, or plot, or theme, or genre, might be all wrong for millions of other writers.

I mean, romance writers sell a kajillion more books than I do, but I couldn’t write a straight romance if my life depended on it. My heart’s not in it, and readers, dog love ‘em, would sense that on page one.

I’m not saying you don’t learn stuff from those MFA programs, or the expensive master classes, or even from a website listicle. There are things that can be taught, and you definitely should go out and learn them. Like most endeavours, it’s very important to know the rules before you break them.

But there’s no formula. Computer programmers keep telling us there is, but I haven’t seen any evidence that making sure you use certain words in certain percentages that mimic all the NYTimes Top Ten novels for the last decade will result in anything more than crap.

It’s not the words. It’s how you – specifically you – use them.

It’s not the story you tell. It’s how you – again, specifically you – tell it.

And, perhaps paradoxically, it isn’t merely what you bring to the novel, but also what the reader(s) bring. Fiction is not a monologue.

There is no way to predict any of this, and far less of any magic charm telling you how any current zeitgeist will play into the equation.

There is one thing that all really successful writers do uniformly, though, and it’s not a big secret.

They write the very best book they possibly can, with as much love, commitment, and sincerity as they can possibly give.

It’s as easy as that.


Flash Fiction Friday!

It was a particular time and place she always loved: that perfect pre-dawn sky, with its deep and chilly blue, ornamented with a streak of brilliant orange lying just along the horizon in the east. In the little glade, there were white, new-born flowers peeking up from the pale green grasses underfoot, like tiny stars, and the air was crisp and clean. The trees, silhouetted in the distance, swayed and danced, black and graceful.

Somewhere below her hiding place, she could hear the sound of water, trickling over the rocks, and the faint notes of a flute were drifting on the breeze. She almost sighed aloud in contentment.

She eased her sword from the scabbard.

Flash Fiction Friday!

It’s midnight.

My footsteps echo on the path, a rhythmic squelching of mud and dead leaves.

I’m all alone, and I’m okay with that – this town full of busybodies is only quiet and peaceful at night. During the day, it’s a never-ending  chorus of questions:

“How are you?”

“How’s Annie doing?”

“Will you be at the meeting tomorrow?”

“Can I help you carry that?”

And I’m not used to it, not anymore. Not after twenty years in the city, where no one gives a rat’s ass who or what I am, much less how I feel.

But here? Here, my fifth grade English teacher sends me invitations to have lunch with her at Memory Acres, the lone senior’s complex beside the hospice and the main medical clinic.

Here, the girl at the grocery store check-out is my used-to-be best friend’s daughter, calls me “Uncle”, and seems to think it’s her job to point out all the things on sale.

The bank teller makes jokes about writers having their heads in the clouds when I realize I can’t find my bank card – but it doesn’t matter, because she knows everyone’s account numbers and passwords, anyway.

I’ve never been a violent man. One of my exes called me “long-suffering” – but she meant it in a good way. I think.

I don’t own any firearms. I haven’t been in a fight since I was nine.

But frankly, I’m ready to kill every last one of them.

Flash Fiction Friday!

The cold wasn’t really the problem.

She was used to that, and she still had some very expensive winter gear, the left-over benefit of having worked for the oil industry back in the boom times.

It wasn’t even the ever-present snow and ice, in and of itself. She had shelter, and she had heat, having closed off most of the house so that the living room fireplace was enough to keep the single room she now lived in warm enough.

It was the problem of food.

They’d had no spring or summer for nearly two years now, and it didn’t look as if that would change this year, either.

Sure, she could hunt: her dad’s old crossbow was still in working order, and she had managed to reverse-engineer from the old bolts, so that she had enough new ones ready when the opportunity arose.

But there wasn’t any game left to speak of, and it wasn’t just that everyone had hunted out the area.

She couldn’t live without something green and growing, in addition to on-the-hoof protein, and neither could the protein.

Climate change.

That thing she’d laughed about, and voted against combating, back when that oil company had paid her so well.

Switching Up



When I was about 8 or so, I discovered my dad’s collection of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ books in a box in the basement.

I was a voracious reader, so I sat down and read them all, over the course of a week (maybe longer…I was 8, and now I’m “mumble-y ‘leven plus” years old, so I can’t really say, at this point, how long this took) and I loved them.

It wasn’t that long afterwards that I discovered C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.


And I was hooked. Science fiction and fantasy took hold, rooted itself inside of me, although, looking back, I realized that I’d been primed for it through countless books of fairy tales and a healthy dollop of dinner time conversations about real science, and the ongoing Race-To-The-Moon being played out on the evening news.


It’s no surprise, given that and the academic family background,  that I ended up as a fantasy writer.


Lately, what with the influx of women writers into the field, there’s been an attempted backlash.

Male fandom is increasingly perturbed (okay, maybe that’s the most polite and/or weakest word I could use here) about the proliferation of SFF works that feature not the “John Carter” heroes bravely giving their all to rescue a sex object, but interesting women with agency, tackling problems and solving them without the aid of some more knowledgeable and brawny guy stepping in to save the day.

They are put off by books that deal with the relationships between people, rather than novels that are designed to showcase the superior technology that allows for space travel. They balk at reading about women in command of weapons-systems that can wipe out planets. They weep, as they read the back cover blurbs, unable to find works that they can “relate” to.

They have even, in some cases (#notallmen), organized campaigns to stamp this awful trend out.

It doesn’t need to be like this, of course. But to change this attitude will take some work on male fandom’s part.

They will need to learn, as generations of young women have done before them, to put themselves into another gender’s shoes.


I mean – do you think I loved all those Barsoomian tales because I wanted to be kidnapped by Martians and wait around for someone to save me? Do you honestly believe that I identified with Haja, a slave?

I assure, I did not ever think more than a nanosecond about those women, because it was obvious that Burroughs didn’t stop even that long to think about them.

I saw myself as Carter.

And I was not alone.


So, guys: when you open a novel and realize that the protagonist does not have massive jolts of male hormones coursing through their veins, and that they do not own the testicular equipment you do, fear not.

You can learn, as countless women have over the last century, to ignore the pronouns, to redesign the “hero” in your mind, and finally, to see the human-ness in all of us, on the page and off.