Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles – Should You Write Every Day?

Craft and Practice

Each month, writer Jeff Bowles offers practical tips for improving, sharpening, and selling your writing. Welcome to your monthly discussion on Craft and Practice.

The cure for common burnout?

I’m not a long-haul writer. I’ve tried to live by the adage a writer should write every day, and to be perfectly frank, there are monasteries in the world that don’t live by more draconian standards. My best writing gets done when I work in spurts, crank out a project of one kind or another, take a break of weeks or even months, and then get back at it feeling refreshed.

By traditional standards, this is a pretty lazy and dysfunctional way to go about it. These things were determined long ago by the writing powers that be, and as far as they were ever concerned, it’s a bad idea to rest on your laurels when you could be mass-communicating incredible beauty and truth.

Milage varies on that last point, of course. Because after all, how can we communicate much of anything when we’re dog tired and in need of a rest?

If you’re like me, keeping up with a daily, monthly, yearly word count is hard work. For sure, being a writer is hard work anyway, so if we can make our jobs easier, even just a little bit, I think we owe it to ourselves to do so. But be warned, the advice which follows is not for the faint of heart. If the idea of going long-term without putting any words down sends you into an apoplectic fit, maybe stick to the way you’ve always done things.

I do, however, think you’ll find my method of working allows for much more personal freedom than the long-standing tradition of writing till you drop. Yes, you may get less done in a year. That is a distinct possibility. But do you want to know something funny? When polled, most writers who also work a typical nine-to-five job say they wish they had more time, and that if they did have more time, they’d produce far more writing.

But what if some of those writers are wrong? What if, somewhat counter-intuitively, more free time on our hands doesn’t always equal a higher rate of production? The thing about being an author of any kind is that it requires incredible creative and intellectual energy to pull off on a regular basis. Yes, taking breaks might damage your output. Then again, it may just boost it. You may also find that the quality of your writing improves the more slack you cut yourself.

I’m big on cutting writers slack. I think it’s incredibly important, and in my experience, most of us are simply too hard on ourselves. That’s really why my writing habits have developed this way. By nature, I’m hard on myself, which means if I don’t take breaks every now and then, I’m liable to tear myself down instead of fostering a mental attitude that helps me build myself up.

Now, the first thing to realize is that taking a break from your writing means your skills will not atrophy so much as cool down a little. Writing is not unlike riding a bike. You never forget how to do it. But let’s say you take a five-month hiatus, simply because you’re feeling worn out or you’ve got more important things going on in your life—happens all the time. After that five months, you might return to the craft a bit dismayed at your apparent lack of talent. Whatever you’re working on needs to be rewritten from page one, and it’s all because you took the lazy advice of that awful Bowles guy.

One key thing, of course, is that I never said to quit entirely. If you know you’ll be taking a siesta, if you can schedule that in for yourself, why not also schedule in some light exercises so you don’t feel like a total louse?

For instance, I write for this blog three times a month even when I’m not writing a book. Producing content for the internet is a great way to keep your skills in tip-top shape. You could also work on a short (and I do mean short) story or two, or in the very least, engage in some weekly finger exercises. It doesn’t really matter so long as you don’t miss the point. Rest, recuperation. This is the point.

Conversely, and this is always a good idea, you could increase your reading load. The worst kept secret of the craft is that reading a lot tends to make us better writers. And the good news is it doesn’t really matter what we read. The basic engagement of our minds in this way seems to keep our intellectual and communicative abilities primed. Reading’s good for you. It keeps the stupid at bay (it is to be hoped). Honestly, you should be doing it anyway, and if you’re not…

Another piece of advice I can offer is to decrease your writing load rather than to cut it off altogether. For a little while at least, try transforming your 2,000 word-per-day average into something more like 500 words-per-day. That’s not a bad count-up when averaged out over an entire year. If you could write a scant 500 words per day, you’d end up cranking out about 15,000 words in a month. That’s the equivalent of a novel or two in a year, and the best thing about it is that 500 words per day means you’re only writing for about an hour or so, half an hour if you’re quick. That doesn’t sound too daunting, does it? If you’re feeling burned out, this might be just what the doctor ordered.

And the truth of it is people do get burned out, fed up, exhausted, and all sorts of other tired-sounding descriptors that equal one thing: you’re a human being, not a machine. If you’re struggling with your work right now, if you’re having issues with confidence or anxiety or anything of the sort, try slowing down. Trust me on this, don’t even fret, your desire to write will return in all its power and glory, and then you’ll be ready to crank out another masterpiece.

You’ve got a masterpiece or two lurking inside you, right? That’s what I thought. Happy writing, everyone. Or perhaps I should wish you a happy vacation. I’ll be back with more Craft and Practice next month.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


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Jeff’s Movie Reviews – The Queen’s Gambit

Jeff's Movie Reviews

Seduction by Chess

by Jeff Bowles

Chess is not typically known for excitement or suspense. The game of kings has certainly been portrayed any number of ways by Hollywood throughout the years, but Netflix’s new limited series The Queen’s Gambit makes it look passionate, dangerous, and well, sexy.

Maybe it’s the stylish 60s themes, fashions, and music. Or perhaps the magic of this series is in the writing, which is sharp, compelling, and just a little bit wild. So too is the basic look of the show. Each and every chess match (and there are quite a few scattered across seven hour-long episodes) has a different feel, a different level of intensity. And make no mistake, The Queen’s Gambit is all about intensity. To finish a single match is to look into the hungry and carnal eyes of your opponent and ask for another round. And here I thought chess was boring.

No two ways about it, Beth Harmon (played by the wonderful Anya Taylor-Joy) is a child prodigy. After a terrible car accident kills her mother, she’s sent to an orphanage and there befriends a lowly janitor who lives in a veritable dungeon of a basement. The janitor, by the way, happens to be a chess wizard himself. After some brief instruction and the early rumblings of blind obsession, Beth beats him, his chess club (all at once in a series of simultaneous matches) and then begins to play on the larger American circuit. She becomes an overnight sensation, her face on magazine covers, her name known to anyone interested in the game. But the fire in her belly is unquenchable. She’s a marvel and a ticking time-bomb. We know she will explode. The only question is when.

Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon in Netflix’s new limited series, The Queen’s Gambit

We are talking about the 1960s here, and at that time chess and master chess players were honored and respected worldwide. Beth’s basement-dwelling mentor warns her genius often comes at a price. Her personal demons take the forms of addiction, mental illness, and compulsion. Every single night is an opportunity for her to practice and read and imagine (or perhaps hallucinate) whole matches upside down on the ceiling above her bed. She pops a few of her favorite pills, which are never specifically named, maybe has a drink or two, and then she lies down and watches as the shadowy game unfolds above her.

The Queen’s Gambit is based on a novel by Walter Tevis, who passed away in 1984. It’s a shame he didn’t live to see the adaptation, because Netflix has done his book justice. There’s real emotion and drama here. Beth Harmon is a fascinating character, and though she’s entirely fictional, she and her world are so fully realized you might mistake her for an actual public figure. The show drips with passion and lust. It’s incredibly sexy at times. Imagine making chess sexy.

How rare is it to find someone who burns for something, anything, as much as Beth burns for chess? Mastering the game, explosive, sometimes cold, almost always calculated, but there’s a beating heart inside her, a need for appreciation, recognition, for someone to love and understand her. Even those closest to her see her as an enigma. So incredibly young, stunningly beautiful, dressed in the most Chic fashions of the time. A genius, absolutely. But always at a distance, just beyond everyone’s reach, right where she likes it.

Drug addiction adds an interesting element to The Queen’s Gambit. Self-destruction, it seems, can be as seductive as a tender kiss. Even if the acting weren’t top notch across the board (and it is), the fascination, drama, and blind ambition emanating from Tevis’ narrative is stunning. If you were as determined to become the greatest chess master of all time, you might develop a drug problem, too. Then again, maybe you wouldn’t. Beth Harmon comes from tragedy, and it follows her wherever she goes. Adopted by a married couple whose relationship was on the rocks to begin with, she learns from a very early age the only way to get by in this world is to commit to personal freedom and absolute autonomy. She drinks, she pops pills, but the ultimate question of what it all costs comes down to this: if genius and madness go hand-in-hand, when does the ride stop? Where must the line be drawn?

We’re never really sure Beth Harmon receives the answers to these questions. The Queen’s Gambit is an unexpectedly charming, gripping, and seductive limited series all fans of excellent storytelling need to stream immediately.

Jeff’s Movie Reviews gives it a Nine out of Ten.

I think that’s checkmate, everyone.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of Jeff’s Movie Reviews? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress


Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles – The Odds and Ends of Worldbuilding

Craft and Practice

Each month, writer Jeff Bowles offers practical tips for improving, sharpening, and selling your writing. Welcome to your monthly discussion on Craft and Practice.

How Well Can You Play Jazz?

In the grand scheme of things, there are some elements of storytelling that make a larger impact than others. Character, point of view, scene, dialogue, these are all textual, the brass nuts and bolts your readers will engage with directly. Then there are elements of craft that are more supportive, behind-the-scenes, the framework and scaffolding that keep your story together.

Worldbuilding falls into this latter category. No matter what you do as a storyteller, regardless of genre or narrative intent, you will have to build worlds for your characters to inhabit. If you’re a genre writer (sci-fi, fantasy, horror, etc.) odds are you’re in need of more of this scaffolding than, say, a writer of contemporary adult fiction, or really, anything set in a non-magical or non-hyper-technological world.

For instance, if I want to write a family drama set in Waco, Texas, I can most likely get away with using my imagination. A gas station in Texas is the same as a gas station here in my home state of Colorado. A bar is a bar, a home is a home, a restaurant is a restaurant. Now, if I I’m a very skilled and enterprising writer, I might actually travel out to Waco, especially if I’ve never been there before. I might walk the streets, soak in the ambience, listen to how the locals talk, how they interact with each other. Nice, right? Conversely, I could do it the lazy way and just use Google Maps. You know, worldbuilding for slugs.

Don’t worry, there’s no judgement here. I’m slug number one. Anything worth doing is worth doing the easy way, or so my habitual procrastination always tells me. Still, you may find it difficult to easily jot off scene details when your story is set on an intergalactic space station, or in a magical realm full of wizards and dragons, or perhaps in a unique and genre-bending setting heretofore unimagined by non-writing mortals. Like dragons tearing ass through awesome space stations. Bestseller material. I’m sure of it.

As with everything, novice writers tend to lean on advice found on the internet or in books on craft published thirty years ago. Take it from your local writing advice guy, there’s nothing wrong with that. We all need instructors, examples, positive influences to look up to, no matter how experienced we become. Worldbuilding advice from certain genre masters includes meticulous research, lots of thinking and planning, note-taking, mapmaking, character family lineage, alien astronomy, mythical world histories, languages built on complete working syntax and sentence structures.

And far be it for me to second-guess the masters. However, it must be noted that even they aren’t huge on taking their own advice. I once had a professor who picked the brain of Fantasy author George R.R. Martin on this very subject. When asked how it was he built such engrossing, immediately present and lush worlds, Martin didn’t rattle off dry advice like, “I draw up detailed maps,” or, “I don’t write a single word until I have the look and feel of every fork and every knife placed on each house dining hall table.”

Nope. It seems the creator of the Game of Thrones series likes to wing it. He said, simply enough, that if he wanted a character to have a fork in her hand, he’d describe it on-the-fly and then move on to the next thing. Dialogue, for instance, which can convey information about a world in subtle yet effective ways. He’d then need to describe a goblet or a roaring fireplace into which his character could spit the unwanted rind of a piece of old cheese. Was there a history behind that fireplace? Yeah, maybe. And in this way, his worlds build themselves automatically. In other words, for him the process is organic, unrehearsed, true to the spirit of conjuring stuff from fairy dust and raw intuition.

Not to suggest Martin eschews preparation in every case, because I’m sure he doesn’t. Never start a book without thinking about it at least a little. You know not to do that, right? Stephen King offers similar advice to Martin’s in his seminal autobiography/writing manual, On Writing.

“Description should begin in the writer’s imagination and finish in the reader’s.”

By which he means an economy of words and ideas is our best friend. After all, we don’t write fiction to glorify our own intellects. At least not all of us do. We write to entertain, edify, enlighten, shock, or otherwise affect our readers. Let them participate. Don’t overburden them with extraneous fluff.

Generally speaking, I don’t do much worldbuilding. Some writers come to see it as a crutch, but I don’t think that’s true. It’s a matter of comfort and personal style. There are many highly skilled authors who do take the time to establish their working narrative milieus in exacting detail before committing them to an initial draft. I can’t fault them for this. I’ll just say that for the majority of us, especially those of us who are just starting out, all that detail can become a liability. What’s to stop us from using it—all of it—to create infodumps of mythic proportions? You know what an infodump is, don’t you? It’s when a writer loses confidence and shoves a pile of overcooked world down my throat.

“Look! There’s story here! Don’t choke on my custom third-age elf lore, please. I made it just for you.”

It’s okay to play jazz a little bit, throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks. You never known what your narrative needs until it asks you directly. Trust me on this. Ever overprepare for a job interview? Caught off guard by unexpected questions, flustered now, rattling off hyperbole and corporate nonsense instead of real knowledge acquired through years of experience. Too much worldbuilding can become a mess precisely because we think we know what to expect yet never seem to.

Sometimes we fall into a rut and overprepare because it’s easier than the actual writing. It’s a different animal, playing with your characters in real terms. Everything you do up to that point is academic and therefor inert. Besides, improvisation as an author’s best friend. You may find over the course of your career it’s your saving grace. You’ve got instincts. I say use them. The best stories ever told have had an organic, unaffected, natural quality, don’t you find? Besides which, I like Jazz. It’s surprising, fresh, sometimes complicated, but never boring. Unless you like Country, and if that’s the case, I need you to stop reading this blog post and go develop a decent sense of music.

Joking. Only joking.

Well, that’s about it for Craft and Practice this month, folks. Drop me a line in the comments section below. Are you a meticulous worldbuilder? Do you find that a more improvisational approach is best? In November, we’ll take a look at a sister topic, character development. See you then!


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress


Jeff’s Movie Reviews – The Trial of the Chicago 7

Jeff's Movie Reviews

Bomb Throwers and Peacemakers

by Jeff Bowles

Movie reviews generally don’t work when the reviewer gets too opinionated. Politics, for instance. Just kind of common sense “the movie guy” shouldn’t vent his issues with this candidate or that major event all over your nice, unsuspecting blog visit. I don’t even have to be qualified to tell you that, do I? I’m not qualified, by the way, not in the least, but then, who among us is? Look ma, no hands.

It should be noted, however, that this movie reviewer is a human being, and as is the annoying habit of most human beings, he can’t help actually having an opinion. And a unique perspective, he might add.

I might add. Sorry.

I’m a Millennial, which means Aaron Sorkin’s new political courtroom drama, The Trial of the Chicago 7, is perhaps made with me in mind. After all—and it’s clear as day for everyone with news access to see—the events surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention closely mirror protests and riots happening at this very moment, all over this country, chiefly led or supported by people my approximate age.

It feels like if you’re in your twenties or thirties in this day and age, you’re expected to be a revolutionary in one sense or another. At one point I had a nice job as a technical writer, and as the young blood, the fresh meat, revolution was supposed to have been my forte. That word, revolution. I wonder if most people understand what it means before an honest to god revolutionary moment has broken out. They definitely understand afterward, as did the eight men put on trial for an alleged conspiracy to incite a riot and provoke Chicago police into acting violently against Vietnam War protesters during the ‘68 DNC. This whole thing is so tied up in politics, nostalgia, and bright yet somehow startlingly foggy memory that it binds up my fingers and makes it difficult to type the full length of this review. And that’s saying something. I haven’t even gotten out of my bathrobe yet.

Truthfully? I’m more of a peacemaker than a bomb thrower. I think I recognize a time and place for the latter, but as the former, I can’t get behind violence for the sake of ideas, the most transient of all puffy white clouds in humankind’s mental skyline. The Trial of the Chicago 7 seems bent on assuring me revolution is a positive thing. Should I take the film’s word for it? I wonder. In fact, I find I’ve always had to wonder.

Aaron Sorkin is known for precisely two things: incredibly sharp pacing, dialogue, and character work that’s often rendered too slickly and can add up to less than the sum of its parts. And The West Wing. That too.

That this film has been in the works for fourteen years doesn’t surprise me, nor does Sorkin’s clear intention to finally produce and release it just before the 2020 general election. Yes, it’s star-studded and wonderfully written, and yes, it’s also too whimsical and nonorganic to present the events of that time and place with any kind of genuine honesty. Basically, all the historical components are there. These young men, they couldn’t have understood what they were in for. Sacha Baron Cohen is too old to play Abbie Hoffman but knocks it out of the park regardless, and Jerry Rubin is basically turned into a two-hour-long stoner joke.

Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman in The Trial of the Chicago 7

But what the heck? It’s not as sensationalized as an Oliver Stone movie, and I believe general consensus circa 2020 is that these eight men stood for something noble and endured a fascist political trial under a federal judge who had no intention of doing anything less than screwing them to the wall. Again, this seems to be Sorkin’s intended memorandum, and again, I don’t think I’m all that interested in agreeing or disagreeing. I’m the movie reviewer, after all. The movie is what it is, and my role is cut and dry.

Except to say this. If violent (and I must be frank, even nonviolent) revolutions are so effective, why do human beings always seem to wind up entangled in them? My mind works this way: there will never be a positive and lasting human revolution until and unless human beings themselves, on both an individual and collective level, revolutionize their own archaic hearts and minds. This nonsense of us versus them, this grand illusion, it has plagued us from the very beginning. I don’t bow down to more of it, and I realize I might be alone in that kind of thinking.

Also, very simply, it must be asked if Sorkin himself is aware of the ability of commercialized entertainment to stoke passionate societal flames almost as easily as calling for blood from behind a podium. The potential responsibility inherent in such an acknowledgment, it may be too much for his kind of star power. Regardless, his new Netflix film is easy to enjoy, to digest, and to dismiss. And really, isn’t that the best sort of popcorn entertainment?

I could engage with The Trial of the Chicago 7 a bit further, but not easily, not without being forced into more politics. Systemic racism is addressed, for instance. But not in a way that will satisfy people sick to death of the anglo-savior storytelling trope. Again, nuts to politics, what about the beating heart of a man gagged and shackled in the middle of a US courtroom? That would be Bobby Seale, the event depicted without teeth but after a fashion, I suppose, accurately enough. What about a growing awareness that essentially, we have the same soul, the same tormented passions? Does that kind of thinking seem present or absent in today’s politics? Or the politics of 1968? Or of any other era for that matter?

The wheel keeps spinning, the bomb throwers throw, the peacemakers do their best, and somehow, one way or another, all of it seems destined to end up on my TV.

Jeff’s Movie Reviews gives Netflix’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 a seven out of ten. Good enough for government work, if government work is indeed on offer.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of Jeff’s Movie Reviews? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress


Words to Live By – The Big Chill

Jeff Version_Words to Live By 2

The first Wednesday of every month, writer Jeff Bowles muses on life, creativity, and our collective destinies as makers of cool stuff. You’re a writer, but have you ever thought about how or why? Here are some words to live by.

The Big Chill

I’ve always tended to believe there’s a time for action and a time for inaction. For instance, as a writer, I very rarely get away with working the whole year round. I realize it’s something of a controversial position to take, but I don’t like constant effort and much prefer writing in bursts. Perhaps I’ll work on the rough draft of a new book from Christmas to Groundhog’s Day, polish it up till early summer, and if I feel like releasing it myself, do that sometime in July. That’s usually how it goes. This year is bound to be different, though.

I don’t have to tell you, but 2020’s been something of a seminal time, both famously and infamously so. Even if it weren’t for the pandemic, we as a collective have dealt with politics, racism, the inherent corruption, or if you like, the non-corruption of the system designed to protect and serve us, and it’s still only early October. But yes, on top of it all, we do have a global pandemic to worry about. As Bob Dylan once famously sang, the times, they are a’changing. And not too nicely, either.

I’m aware I should be working harder on prepping my next major writing project. I’m aiming for the stars on this one. I’ve got enough details planned out in my head I could start outlining any day. But I haven’t yet. I’m choosing not to. Why is that? Because there are times for action and inaction.

Known by another name, inaction is simply observation. I feel the need as a storyteller to be the witness for a while. We all play the witness. In fact, it could be considered one of the chief characteristics of being alive. We watch the times, the places, the faces that come circulating through our daily experiences. And when something big like 2020 comes along, we are helpless but to stop everything and pay attention.

Maybe you’ve never paid this much attention before. Maybe you’ve never had the time. I’ve got news for you, 2021 isn’t likely to go any smoother. I’d like the opportunity to soak up the lopsided feeling of this year, like a beautiful but flawed piece of Italian bread marinating in extra virgin olive oil and herbs. Sure, leave that bread in its bath too long and it’ll come out a mushy mess. But it does deserve to marinate, doesn’t it? For the sake of fine cuisine?

Okay, maybe that’s an odd image. I’m more of a cheap peperoni pizza guy, anyway. The point is, if the world is changing, I’m no doubt changing right along with it. And if I’m changing—as a person, as a creative individual, a writer, and an entrepreneur—then surely the work I’m capable of producing is changing, too. Which means I can wait to tell that next story. The Germans have a lovely little phrase, one which has always fascinated me: zeitgeist, the spirit of the times. Things aren’t how they were five years ago. Heck, I’m not even sure last year was anything like 2020. And if you think for a minute you know how the world’s going to shake out from all this, I’m here to tell you you’re dead wrong. Maybe that’s why I’m choosing observation right now. I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Of course, there will be some who don’t feel like anything’s changed at all. There will be others still who, in the face of great change, make the choice to dig in, refortify, and to be more or less aggressive versions of the people they’ve always been.  No yielding or bending. Go on and write your old-school hardcore science fiction the way you’ve always written it. Financially speaking, who can say what a smart approach looks like anymore? If I knew that … well, let’s just say I don’t know. Still, from a creative standpoint, I know there are some fellow authors out there who must see the clear opportunity for growth.

I’ve watched so many lives change in the last seven months. I’ve seen it all year long in my social media threads, too. This couple is breaking up after twenty years together. This son is finally moving out and this daughter is abandoning a job she never wanted in the first place. Change is all around us, and I’d wager that if you stopped for just a moment, cleared your head, quit thinking for a second or two, you’d feel profound change within yourself as well.

So here’s what I’m advocating for writers this month. Unless you’re already in the middle of a project, don’t even think about starting something new. Give it to till the end of the year, or longer if you’d like. Witness the world for a while, in whatever fashion seems best to you. Yes, you could watch global events on TV every morning. There’s certainly enough of them to go around. By the same token, you could watch ripples of water on a natural pool, the silent fall of red and golden leaves while sitting on a comfy park bench, the smile on your son’s or daughter’s face when he or she discovers just how big and perennially full of opportunity the world is.

As for me, I’ll be plotting that next big book, but only in my head, at least for the time being. It’s a personal story, no heavy-handed global events to speak of. Yet something tells me, the Jeff Bowles who’d start drafting that book in December will be a totally different guy than the Jeff Bowles who’d begin now, next week, or even next month. This is a clear opportunity to, if you don’t mind the aggressive self-talk, shut up and listen for a while, and boy oh boy, gleefully shall I do so.

Stop and smell the roses, fellow writer people. Or maybe I should say, choose to linger a while and watch the roses develop. The world isn’t all that interested in selling you flowers at the moment anyway. Gather ye petals while ye may, know what I mean? And then spend the big fat stack of them in the Spring, when the world is lush, your creative mind is firing on all cylinders, and fingers crossed and knock on wood or whatever other inert mass you’ve got lying around—there will be no such thing as elections and diseases, diseases and elections.

And if you must think about revolution, revolutionize yourself first. Everything decent will flow from there. That’s all for this month. Have a good one, everybody.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of Jeff’s “Words to Live By” segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress. If you found this useful or just entertaining, please share.


Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles – To Comma or not to Comma

Craft and Practice

Each month, writer Jeff Bowles offers practical tips for improving, sharpening, and selling your writing. Welcome to your monthly discussion on Craft and Practice.

To Comma or not to Comma

Basic rules of grammar and punctuation aside, I find that many writers, regardless of experience or education, have a hard time with commas. Oh sure, most people breeze right through them, place them wherever they figure they ought to go. It can’t be that hard. Readers know better than to pick apart our comma usage. Aside from periods, commas are the most common punctuation mark we make. If anything, semicolons are a lot scarier, right? I mean, how the heck do we even use semicolons?

Here’s how.

A semi-colon, in its most common usage, is properly deployed between two completely independent yet related clauses. Commas, on the other hand, have a wide variety of applications. Connecting ideas, creating lists, separating dialogue and dialogue tags, and let’s not forget the old Oxford comma, which confuses and infuriates people left, right, and sideways.

Don’t worry. This isn’t going to be a boring post dedicated to the rules of the English language. The truth of the matter is that schools and writing programs all over the world place more emphasis on basic mechanics than they do on style. And why is that? Because style is more or less unteachable, and in developing our unique voices as writers, we often learn to break the rules as soon as the authorities that be teach them to us.

For instance, check out this classic line from Charles Dickens:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”

We’ve got all the makings of a terrible run-on sentence here, haven’t we? How’d he get away with it? If the grammar authorities were in charge, he wouldn’t have. Grammarly tells me it’s okay Dickens wrote his classic introduction to A Tale of Two Cities in such a manner because Dickens often used rambling language to satirize long-winded speakers of his time. I think that’s nonsense. Dickens wrote like this because it was his style. And no one was going to criticize him because he was Charles Dickens. Will anyone criticize you for similar crimes, real or imagined? Maybe it’s time to find out.

If you’re planning on being an indie writer, or if you already are one, recognize you have potentially earned yourself a bit more freedom in this playing field. You can toss out commas till the cows come home, and no one will bother you about it. Well, maybe sometimes they will. If, however, you’d like to publish via a more traditional route, get ready for some intense editing, because your comma usage doth rain like flash storms on the Serengeti.

Are you a stickler for form? Or do believe rules are meant to be broken? I have to admit, I’m kind of on the fence on this one myself. I do hate to see a misused comma, but I’m also cognizant of the fact that the written word is our ultimate tool for communication, and that for it to remain relevant in today’s fevered world, it needs to reach people on an individualized level. That means there’s room for all types of writing, all styles, as many variations as there are working writers in the world. I’m thinking more of a glorious rainbow than a unified, boring color-scape in which no piece of writing stands above another.

In a now famous interview with Oprah, author Cormac McCarthy took to task the basic institution, tradition, and prescription of punctuation.

“I believe in periods, in capitals, in the occasional comma, and that’s it,” McCarthy said. “I mean, if you write properly you shouldn’t have to punctuate.”

And how do we feel about that? Surely, our teachers and professors would’ve torn our earliest writings to shreds for ignoring quotation marks, colons, semicolons, dashes. You’re going to find a hundred articles on how to use this and not to use that. Very few so-called authorities will council you to write in a broken and unusual manner like your favorite poet does.

Regardless of where you come down, you have to admit a certain disconnect between what we teach our kids about writing and the actual job done by actual writers. Thanks to the invention of online communication, we’ve raised a generation of kids who struggle with grammar and punctuation anyway. I envision a future in which writing is a terribly fluid, wonderfully flawed thing. Is it better to know the rules before you break them? Yes, I think so. But I also believe the game should never be played exclusively by people who know the rules. That’s elitism, a facet of our creative nature that ruins more great work than it helps.

Writing in the modern world is not meant for the few. Thank God for that. Anyone with the desire now has the ability, more or less. Your voice deserves to be heard as much as mine. If I didn’t believe in that, I also wouldn’t believe in things like Democracy, term limits for our elected officials, and a world free enough it hasn’t outlawed pizza yet.

Let us pray the grammar police are never put in charge of pizza.

Keep your chin up, keep studying those rules, especially if you’re new to writing or publishing. But if you find your writing is flawed, know you’re in terrific company. How about that intro to a Tale of Two Cities, huh? Better than a warm glass of milk and a comfy blankey.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress


Jeff’s Movie Reviews – Bill & Ted Face the Music

Jeff's Movie Reviews

Party On, Dudes

by Jeff Bowles

Nostalgia is a fickle thing. Sometimes it can make new spins on old content sparkle. Then again, it can also blind us to bad movies, books, TV shows, really anything marketable to our hungry and impatient inner kids. Nostalgia is often manipulated by the entertainment powers that be. Apart from sex and death, it’s Hollywood’s number one favorite tool. So how did this happen? How did we come to see the release of a new Bill & Ted movie in the year 2020, almost three decades after the last entry in the series, the aptly titled Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey? In that movie, the hapless, witless duo from San Dimas, California went to Hell and back. Literally. Gosh, where else can we take them? More importantly, should we even bother? Especially since stars Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter aren’t exactly high school students anymore?

The answer is that while Bill & Ted Face the Music occasionally misses the mark, it never leaves us feeling empty or bored, especially if that nostalgia factor is in play. I first saw the original when I was a kid. I’m a product of the 80s and 90s, so you can bet this movie was more entertaining for me than it would be for audiences either much older or much younger than I. But if you’re in the mood for a fun, funny, ridiculous time travel movie that’s no more or less useless or necessary than the first entries in this series, look no further. Bill & Ted Face the Music is a great excuse to stay home and stream, avoid the movie theaters, avoid that pesky virus. Heck, I’m not even sure Face the Music would’ve survived in the normal corporate theater chain climate. It’s kind of a specialty product, one nobody was looking or even asking for.

Bill S. Preston Esq. and Ted Theodore Logan have had a hard few decades since they braved the time-ways and journeyed through Hell and Heaven. Their band, Wild Stallions, has failed to ignite the period of world peace and excellence guaranteed by their old mentor, Rufus, and though they actually can play their instruments now, nobody cares about their music, which must be a shock for supposed rock and role messiahs. And on top of everything else, their marriages to the royal princesses (remember them?) are falling apart. It is a most heinous and non-excellent time, dudes.

The rest of the plot is a hodgepodge of different ideas that reflect places and faces we’ve seen before. Bill and Ted must write that one amazing song they’ve been trying to write since they were young, and screw the basic scientific efficacy of the concept of time travel, they’ve only got a few hours to write it. So what do they do? Cheat and try to steal it from their future selves, of course. Meanwhile, their teenage daughters—also cheerfully known as Bill and Ted—go on a quest of their own to recruit for Wild Stallions the likes of Jimmy Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, and Mozart. You see, the girls still believe in their dads, perhaps blindly so. After all, we’ve been promised Bill and Ted would save the world twice before. What makes anyone think they’re likely to do it now?

As you can see, there’s a lot going on here. And it’s only an hour-and-a-half long. More jokes land than miss, and there’s a larger supporting cast that’s hilarious to watch, including a robot assassin that feels terrible, just terrible for killing the wrong targets and the return of fan favorite the Grim Reaper, the ultimate rock bass player, Death himself.

Ultimately, the ride proves worthwhile, especially since Reeves and Winter give it their all. Neither seems terribly put out they’re having to reprise roles they haven’t played since the first Bush administration. They still hit their “dudes” and “whoas” with perfect timing, and it’s genuinely nice to see them again. I’m sure these guys never thought they’d star in another Bill & Ted, and to listen to them chat about it in interviews, they couldn’t have had a more enjoyable time making it if they’d tried.

Some lingering frustrations may ensue if you’ve allowed your brain to clock in at any moment during the running length. Also know this: the special effects were finished during the initial stages of the COVID outbreak, so some of them don’t look as bodacious as they otherwise might.

But so what? Bill & Ted Face the Music has a mind to rock you, entertain and overwhelm you with its nostalgic charm, and just like the original, you might actually learn something about yourself and the world. Like the fact that the great Satchmo was one of Jimi Hendrix’s key influences. Or that you’ve got more of that old goofy teenager lurking in your heart than you thought.

Jeff’s Movie Reviews gives Bill & Ted Face the Music a 7 out of 10.

Now do me a favor and be excellent to each other out there. After all, any one of us can change the world. We just need to sing the right song. Catch you later, blog-reading dudes!


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of Jeff’s Movie Reviews? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress


Words to Live By – Creative Legacy

Jeff Version_Words to Live By 2

The first Wednesday of every month, writer Jeff Bowles muses on life, creativity, and our collective destinies as makers of cool stuff. You’re a writer, but have you ever thought about how or why? Here are some words to live by.

Creative Legacy

Last week’s passing of actor Chadwick Boseman has put some things into perspective for me, both as a human being and as a creative individual. I loved his portrayal as Black Panther. I’m a huge comics fan, and he was a true joy to watch onscreen. So much nobility and strength, a perfect turn as one of Marvel’s key heroes. As a fan, I’m affected. It’s sad to see someone so young and full of life go. It’s also my birthday today. I’m turning thirty-six. Of course, by most standards I’m still a young man, but Mr. Boseman was only seven years older than me.

His legacy is secured. He didn’t have to fight for it, and he chose to work the last few years of his life, perhaps knowing all along he wouldn’t make it. He chose work. That says a lot about him. I have to ask myself, would I do the same? Would I instead lounge around and take it easy? Would I tour the world, make the most of my remaining time? Or would I sink into despair and miss the fact I could be living instead of just dying?

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Chadwick Boseman

I’m not big on legacy. There was a time I was obsessed with it, and in a way it came down to the death of things no one ever really expects not to be there for them. My wife and I can’t have children of our own, and back when this fact was slowly dawning on us, oh, ten years ago, I threw myself into my writing, not only because work helps anesthetize pain, but because I was desperate to leave something behind, because I recognized sons and daughters were not in the cards for us. The work yielded some positive results, but I learned career concerns weren’t really the answer for me either. I’ve seen very proud parents who, in consideration of their whole lives, only seem to find meaning in being the best mom or dad they can be. To be honest, it seems like a very radiant and pure existence to me.

And you can’t outrun that kind of pain. You can’t out-type it either. I thought telling stories was the best way to escape a world over which I sometimes felt I had no control. I feel differently now. I’ve changed quite a bit in those intervening ten years. For one thing, I found spirituality, a facet of life I now know was always missing for me. I believe in some form of hereafter, and I recognize that all we make and do and believe in this life are nothing but sandcastles, yielding to the tides no matter how strong we think we’ve built them. What in truth does it matter what I think I’m leaving behind? Even if I left this world as a bestseller, an inspiration to millions, creator of characters and worlds beloved all over the world, how long you figure my name would last? A hundred years? Maybe? Only to disappear beneath that tide regardless. Nowadays I do the work because I like to do it. I try to keep all other expectations to a minimum, because doing otherwise seems crazy and self-sabotaging to me.

What do you think your legacy will be? Career related? Maybe you’ll leave behind strong family ties. I have to admit, with the virus, the protests, Mr. Boseman’s death, everything else going on in the world, I’ve been thinking a lot about the end of life. One thing is for sure, legacy can be a burden for future generations. Or it can be a boon. If you’re of a mind to leave behind a strong body of creative work—writing for instance—I feel inclined to prod and gently remind you it is generally a good idea to be a humanitarian, in however humble a fashion you must be one. Writers can be an ornery bunch, irascible and impatient even at the best of times. We aren’t often wealthy, and maybe that’s got something to do with it. If in this regard you find you aren’t giving people a fair shake, remember life is short, and the truth of your existence depends in part on your ability to share your heart honestly with others.

Everyone we’ve ever met, loved, hated. That’s our legacy. How we treated people, how we acted, when we failed to act, or when we failed to remain still. It’s not just what we made, it’s what we took, the holes we left, the valleys we filled. The puzzle pieces we helped lock into place. I’m becoming more and more comfortable with the idea of a world without me in it. How about you? I’m not ill. I’m not dying. But I will die someday, and everything I could’ve been will become everything I was.

The sages say the trick to life is to learn to die before death, to pass away from the need for anything in this world before this world passes away from you. I like the symmetry of this. I don’t know how attainable it is for regular people. I also don’t know what the end will be like. I suppose none of us does. I have so much more I plan to do. I want to write, meet more people, cause a ruckus, as it were. I’ve got lots more birthdays to go, and I haven’t written a single masterpiece yet, not one.

So what do you guys think about legacy, creative or otherwise? Given the current state of the world, are you seeing things differently, too? Sound off in the comments section, and tune back in next month for another Words to Live By.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of Jeff’s “Words to Live By” segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress. If you found this useful or just entertaining, please share.


Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles – Story Synthesis: The Ultimate Tool in the Toolkit

Craft and Practice

Each month, writer Jeff Bowles offers practical tips for improving, sharpening, and selling your writing. Welcome to your monthly discussion on Craft and Practice.

The Ultimate Tool in the Toolkit

Remember when you were a kid and you had to lie to your parents? Maybe you trashed the house while they were away, dented the passenger-side door of their new car, or perhaps you can go back even farther with me and you remember drawing with crayons on the wall or stealing the last cookie from the cookie jar.

Whatever you did, I’ll bet you had to tell one heck of a story to get out of trouble. Maybe it worked, maybe it didn’t. Odds are, if you told a real whopper, they grounded you for a week. Too many details, or maybe too few. Too many working components you couldn’t keep track of, or maybe you introduced logic gaps and they picked the damn thing apart on you, literary-critic-style. The key all along would’ve been balance, believability mixed with a healthy dose of surprise. And boy were they surprised. What lovely colors you added to their wall.

As storytellers, we often do something similar, draw all over the walls and then spin an incredible yarn about it. Although, if you feel the need to call us liars, remember that the preferred technical term is “professional liars”. Story synthesis relies on your reasoning skills, ability to drive a narrative in fun and creative ways, and your talent for convincing your readers everything happened just like you said.

Story synthesis applies to every level of the storytelling process, from brainstorming and outlining to drafting and revisions. It applies to character histories, plot details, scene details, dialogue choices, and you must believe me when I tell you this, if you can’t synthesize spare parts on the fly in an organic, natural, and logical manner, you’ll leave your readers cold, and no one wants cold readers, now do they? In very real terms, story synthesis is the most important tool in the toolkit, one not every author has developed to its full potential.

It’s a bit of a magic act, a spell you’ve got to cast on yourself. It happens while you’re writing, which of course means it must be at least somewhat subliminal and unconscious. What we’re really talking about here, though, is completion and resonance. Do all the different parts of your story add up? Do they make sense in context? Does anything come out of left field? Or conversely, is your story just too milk toast?

Story synthesis isn’t hard as such, because your brain synthesizes concepts from disparate elements all day long anyway. It does, however, require a bit of practice to do well, especially if you’re writing a long-form story, like a novel. Much as a spider would, your job as an author is to take all the loose threads you’ve spun and collect them together into a coherent web. This is why it’s usually a bad idea to abandon a project and then pick it up again later. Those threads might be lost on you. The process by which you were synthesizing the narrative died an untimely death, and now you can’t pick your way through and reassemble it, at least not in the same manner.

Story emerges from character, unless you’re outlining too heavily, in which case story emerges from, well, an outline. What’s the difference? In one scenario, it appears to the reader that your characters are making their own choices. In the other, it’s clear you’ve rigged the deck, and that the whole experience is artificial. In my experience, people who rely too heavily on outlines doubt their ability to synthesize story in a natural way. Either that or they think outlining will save them time and effort. As Stephen King once said, “Outlines are the last resource of bad fiction writers who wish to God they were writing masters’ theses.”

At any one moment in the process, ask yourself what your characters want and how, reasonably so, they can go about getting it. The rest will flow from that, though not effortlessly, so don’t get it twisted. Maybe you’ve written yourself into a corner. A common enough situation. And though you’ve had a general plan all along, something ended up rushed and malformed. You may need to go off the rails to land back on your feet. So to speak. I say blow the whole thing to pieces. Do something to really shake yourself loose. You’ve got to navigate your own twisting waterways with grace, or put another way, all those balls you’ve tossed into the air? They’d better be in your hands and not on the floor by the end of your routine.

Don’t be afraid. Some of the best writing you’ll ever produce will be wholly unexpected. Be the trapeze artist, the reed in the wind. Be willing to exert a little nonchalant flexibility when you feel most worried all your herculean efforts have gone up in smoke. The synthesis of your tale into something readable and engaging begins when you relinquish a little control and trust your creativity and rational mind. Because really, it requires both.

Synthesis in this context applies most especially to story climaxes, the worst of the worst, the hardest to pull off. Sure, beginnings are tricky, and middles are a tough nut to crack, but the endings, oh, the endings. I’d like you to imagine a pot of boiling stew. Now imagine your readers watched you cook this amazing stew from start to finish. They watched you cut up the veggies and meat, saw you season everything and stand at the stove for hours, stirring and tweaking. They’re even aware you’ve been taste testing, which is important because it means they trust that you at least find the flavor remarkable.

But let’s say that stew wasn’t synthesized properly. Maybe you were working off a recipe and failed to notice it needed certain improvements, or maybe it just came to you and you rushed the chopping and cutting. Potato pieces the size of peas. Celery stocks that may as well be whole. If dinner doesn’t go well, it hardly matters what you think you did or how well you think you did it. I mean just look. You left a whole pile of carrots sitting on the cutting board. Why didn’t you throw those in? And that beef broth you only used half of? It probably explains why your stew tastes like wet cardboard.

You see? Good story synthesis means combining all of your disparate and seemingly unconnected ingredients together creatively, confidently, logically. In fact, if you do find yourself in no man’s land over a piece of fiction, get excited, because it means you’ve got the opportunity to pull off something truly magical. As you’re writing, keep track of everything you still have to pay off. You know what a payoff is, right? If someone mentions a mountain in Chapter One and we never see its summit, not even by Chapter Forty, that’s not a good payoff. You might even keep a list running so you miss not a single opportunity to pull one more good thread together.

Like the man said, “Not all who wander are lost.” I urge you to get lost in your writing this month. Check and see that this particular superpower is performing at peak levels. And remember, good story synthesis isn’t about shock and awe, not necessarily. It’s about balance, inevitability, structural harmony. Plus tons of shock and awe. You wouldn’t want people to get bored, now would you? I’ll be back in September with more Craft and Practice. Good hunting, everybody.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of Craft and Practice with Jeff bowles segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress


Jeff’s Movie Reviews – The Secret: Dare to Dream

Jeff's Movie Reviews

The Law of Attraction in Action

by Jeff Bowles

The phrase “summer movie season” has a totally different meaning this year, doesn’t it? Point of fact, there really isn’t one. For the most part, cinemas have shut down all over the world, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t still watching movies at home. Maybe it’s old favorites with your Netflix subscription. Just chilling on the couch with your family, windows open to cool the house after a hot summer day … doing whatever it is people are doing to stay the heck away from Coronavirus.

Don’t worry. I’m not judging. I’ve literally forced myself to watch the entire Skywalker Saga on Disney+ four times. That’s a lot of lightsaber fights. A lot of them.

So here’s the deal. Writing to be Read is primarily a book blog. We talk about writing, literacy, try to keep you up to date on stuff you might want to read, and there’s room for some offhand conversations here and there as well. Normally, this time of year brings us a deluge of film releases, many of which are based on bestselling books (assuming you don’t get pelted by Marvel and DC before you make it to the popcorn stand). Now that the only real new releases are coming via the timely advent of at-home video streaming, pickings are slim, but I’ve come to you today to discuss a new movie based on a bestseller that is … well, let’s just say it’s more pop culture spiritual life coach than YA dystopia or gritty crime thriller.

The Secret, a book that teaches readers about the Law of Attraction, released in 2006 and summarily took the world by storm. It was later turned into an equally popular documentary, and eventually, a full-range self-help empire of near Tony-Robins-like proportions.

For those unfamiliar, the core teaching of The Secret is that we can have anything we want, as long as we keep a positive mental attitude, focus on desired outcomes rather than undesired ones, and basically have faith that the universe will provide exactly what we want, if perhaps not in the way we expect it. Plenty of people say it’s silly, ludicrous, wishful thinking, but there are many, especially in the New Age spiritual community, who hold The Secret as gospel.

Back in 2006, a bright and shining period in time compared to how 2020 has felt so far, the notion seemed plausible and exciting. After all, isn’t it determination and perhaps something outside ourselves, call it luck or grace or even the divine, that brings things into our lives right when we need them most? But then don’t bad things happen to us, too? And isn’t it cruel to blame people for their misfortunes by insinuating a negative mindset brought it to them?

Well, maybe. But that doesn’t stop the machine from churning. Now, with our movie theaters shuttered and barren like ghost towns, the international self-help brand The Secret has produced a feature film: The Secret: Dare to Dream. It’s a real Hollywood flick. It’s got movie stars, a genuine movie script, pretty yet bland domesticized locations. What it lacks, however, is the basic knowledge that pop spirituality, proselytization, and popcorn entertainment kinda don’t mix.

In recent years, there’s been a resurgence, a kind of renaissance, in Christian filmmaking. God’s Not Dead, The Case For Christ, I Can Only Imagine, these are movies of moderate budget, moderate expectations, that hit their audience and generally seem to work for them. The Secret: Dare to Dream is interested in riding in on a similar horse, although with a little veiled new agey-ness to go along with it.

Regardless of what you believe, surely you must admit that when entertainment becomes preachy it’s just not as, well, entertaining. And Dare to Dream does become preachy. Pretty darn quickly. That’s the whole point, right?

Miranda Wells (Katie Holmes) is a single mom and local restaurant manager who could seriously use a new house and a more positive outlook on life. When she literally runs into a guy called Bray (Josh Lucas) and damages the front fender of her van, Bray turns into mister fix-it, and as far as the filmmakers are concerned, enters the action specifically to transform Miranda’s life using the Law of Attraction. There’s more plot happening here than that, of course. There’s a superstorm, a hell of a lot of home damage (which Bray also volunteers to fix), and something of a love triangle.

The Secret: Dare to Dream - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell — Phoenix Film  Festival

Katie Holmes and Josh Lucas in The Secret: Dare to Dream

I’m assuming people who are interested in this movie already believe in the Law of Attraction. Here’s a little “secret” for you. I sort of do, too, though the miraculous and unbelievable circumstances that tie Dare to Dream’s plot together have certainly never happened in my conscious daily experience. Still, I do believe in miracles, and I certainly believe our focus determines our reality. But some readers of The Secret have complained over the years that the book is way too dreamy. And you know what? This stuff is supposed to be ancient esoteric wisdom anyway, so what the hell is it doing in my Josh Lucas romance?!

That’s right, I forgot to mention Dare to Dream has love on the brain, and it takes a halfway decent stab at it, too. Not a total fail as a romance. Only problem is that educational tone, that preachiness, it pervades the entire proceedings. It’s clear that the negative people in the movie are on the wrong end of things, and it’s also clear this Bray fella is the proverbial music man of their lives, barging in and singing his song, improving everything with the utmost maximum charm at his disposal. Which is a lot of charm, as you can imagine.

Simple, right? Which is exactly what The Secret says about changing your life. In some ways, this is barely a movie, and it really ought to be pondered if books of a pseudo-spiritual nature, self-help-oriented and considered pure pablum by many, has any serious business being turned into a film Amazon wants me to Roku for $20.

I say it does not. But that doesn’t mean faith, positivity, and focus and determination are bad for us or don’t belong at the center of our popular storytelling. It’s just that transparent allegory—and trust me, this is the most transparent allegory you’ll ever find—turns people off. At least The Secret: Dare to Dream makes no bones about what it is.

I’m just waiting for the Deepak Chopra/Eckhart Tolle mashup superhero movie coming next year. It’ll be explosive. Or completely at peace. Depends on your point of view.

Jeff’s Movie Reviews gives The Secret: Dare to Dream a 6/10


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

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