Words to Live By – For Dora

For Dora

It’s been tough around the house this month. My mother-in-law passed away after a long battle with liver disease. She’d been having severe problems for months, but as my wife said a few nights ago, we always thought we had more time with her.

I haven’t felt like writing. Even typing up a blog post like this is draining. Writing is a bit of a safe haven for me. Easily tumbling down the rabbit hole, so to speak, laying aside my heartaches and disappointments, entering worlds of my own design, inhabiting people who don’t really exist.

Dora was a writer herself, and a voracious reader, too. I stayed with my wife and her family a lot in the days I was first starting to tinker with short stories. Because Dora was enthusiastic and willing, I often asked her to read my fist drafts. Her comments were always complimentary, because it wasn’t in her nature to poke holes in something her kids had poured their hearts and souls into.

Her kid, that’s what I was. The family has two daughters, and both were married within a year of each other. Dora never differentiated between the four of us, or at least, she tried her best not to. If everyone was gathering in the same place, it was about the kids and whether or not we’d eaten, her kids and how we were getting along in life, the importance of the kids’ enjoyment of holidays, birthdays, work promotions, collegiate successes.

I have no bad memories of her. Truly, anything contentious between us didn’t live long enough to become an issue. She was always patient and friendly with me. I loved reading her yearly Christmas poems, which she sent to the entire extended family. Never missed a year or an opportunity to fret over one or two words. I liked that about her, a certain willingness to own what she’d created. She never tried to publish anything professionally, but the rest of the family agrees she should have.

Marriage, as it turns out, can be one hell of a rollercoaster ride. My wife and I will be celebrating our twelfth anniversary in September. Most of our friends have been married a far shorter time, which means we can dispense wisdom without pretense. Our marriage has been anything but perfect. Thwarted expectations, mental health issues, a lost house, lost job, grad school, which was pretty tough for me, because I do tend to have a sensitive mindset, things can set me off easily.

I have guilt over whether Dora knew how much I appreciated her, because I doubt I ever communicated it properly. I know my wife and father-in-law are suffering, but the truth is they’re both stronger than I am. There’s been so much in the last year to cause us all grief and misery. No shame shaking your fist at the bumpy ride behind and ahead of us. There’s nowhere else for me to be, nothing else I’d rather be doing. Dora was a presence in this house, this family. She was a pillar, holding things up in that matronly way that looks easy but can’t possibly be effortless. Life will be different now. Better or worse, I don’t know, but different for sure.

I can help my wife by making calls, figuring out logistics, being a shoulder to cry on. I’m not perfect, but then neither was Dora. Sometimes I expect her still to be here, watching movies or making dinner, reading, chatting, clipping digital coupons. One of the last things she did for me was to read the first novel I self-published. She loved it, told my wife I was talented and that I was never to give up.

She would’ve said that regardless of whether she enjoyed reading it or not, but I believed her wholeheartedly anyway. That’s what she meant to me. I was proud to be one of her kids. I’m still proud.

I’ll see you next month in Words to Live By. In the meantime, give someone important a hug. If they’re not a hugger, hug them even harder. Tell them you have my permission.


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!


Words to Live By – Where Lie Your Roots?

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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.

Where Lie Your Roots?

It’s been a slow week for me out here on the Colorado prairie. Not planning to announce any upcoming book or music releases, no urge to get out of the house and see the world again. I assume it’s right where I left it. Such a long time ago! Do they still have fast food out there? Do children still laugh? Asking for a friend.

I did finish the rough draft of a new book the other day. I’ve been working on it for three and a half months, so it was gratifying to finally type THE END. About 70,000 words in total, and guess what else? I wrote it without any preparation, no outline or notes or character sheets or research conducted the hard way. And I like how it’s turned out. Kind of proud of myself, actually. I think it would’ve been a very different book if I’d had no clue how good stories are put together. My family gave that to me, the freedom to ponder and learn and express, regardless of whether or not they figured it would, quote unquote, “Get me somewhere”.

This is at the heart of Words to Live By for this month. Where lie your creative roots? Reaching deep into the nutrient-rich soil, I hope. Have you been making time for inspiration? Have you lately nurtured those people and circumstances essential to your own creative growth? I believe every one of us has common mythic imaginations. Joseph Campbell spoke about it all the time, and so for that matter did Carl Jung. If not for that thick, tangled, extra-nerdy root system of mine, I doubt I’d have had the confidence to improvise a whole book. Think I’m going to call it Emily Greer’s Resurrection Mixtape, which sounds dumb until you realize what it’s about. I’ve documented my writing habits elsewhere on Writing to be Read, but because I developed Schizoaffective Disorder about five or six years ago, I’ve had to lighten my daily workload considerably. For me there’s a fine line between healthy production and the kind of overproduction that only exhausts and triggers me.

Have you ever met a writer who’s lost his or her ability to be a fan of stuff? Like they broke that button a long time ago and never bothered to have it repaired? I’d hate always feeling that way. As long as they keep making movies for nerds, I’ll doubtless keep paying to see them. It was something we always did together, my family and I, the magic of a darkened movie theater, popcorn, candy, soda; complete and total escape into stories bigger than the side of our house! I started borrowing amazing science fiction novels from my brother, started singing for the other kids on the playground, developing that taste for performance. By the time I got to college, I was hooked. My biggest leap forward at that time was to write a full screenplay for one of my theater classes.

“This isn’t bad, Jeff,” my instructor told me near the end of the semester. “You’ve got a knack for writing. You ought to continue developing it.”

So I did. I worked hard, studied hard, and yes, that did include watching movies and TV shows many people at the time considered junk. I knew this stuff was cool then and I’m certain of it now. There are a lot of cultural touchstones to keep track of when you work in genre fiction. I’m a nerd, which means I’m already full of useless trivia. But what about you? In what ways have your experiences with storytelling shaped what you do and the way you do it?

I get much of my writing style from comics. Big surprise there. Comic books are dynamic, bombastic, colorful. They’re also short, which is perfect for a mind like mine. From the likes of Marvel and DC, I learned the value of punch-you-in-the-gut storytelling. Can’t say I took personal instruction at the feet of masters, but just read some of my work and tell me you don’t see far more super than man.

Heh, that’s a good one, more super than man. Going to have to remember that.

Because I write relatively little each morning, I end up with a lot of free time on my hands. I’m also a bit of a homebody, which has only become more pronounced in the days of COVID. What do I do all day long if not to write? Because honestly, ten years ago I’d work for hours on end and never bat an eye. I read comics, of course, and I watch movies I’ve seen a million times before. I’m a huge fan who also writes and occasionally gets paid for what I create. The point is not to elevate my tastes above anyone else’s. I do like some pretty awesome stuff, but that’s subjective. I’d rather you elevate yours over mine. What catches your imagination most? What gets you excited to be creative? Watch Captain America or Batman for the umpteenth time and pretend you’re immune to feeling bored, frustrated, disagreeable. How deep do your roots go?

The things I love charge me up and make my work possible. Do you feel the same about the stuff you love? If there were no Avengers, no Justice League, no Star Wars, I might not have ever become a writer. Thank god I did. It’s been one hell of a fun life so far. 😊

I’ll be back next month with another Words to Live By. Until then, 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!


Words to Live By – Losing My Mind (in Real Life)

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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.

Losing My Mind (in Real Life)

At three-thirty in the morning, I’m screaming at demons. There’s something inside me, something over which I have very little control, and it’s been at my throat for months. Somehow I’ve convinced myself the voice in my head belongs to a friend from graduate school, that she’s speaking to me telepathically over a great distance. She’s crueler than the person I remember, always mocking and deceiving me, but I don’t do the simple mental math. The voice tells me all sorts of things, and this is the first time I’ve ever been crazy, so I don’t necessarily understand I’m not supposed to listen.

Though I sleep dismally, I call her the very next morning. The real person I mean. I say crazy things, most of which I don’t remember now. A few days later, something even worse happens. An incident with the car in our driveway. My wife, she gets hurt. The voice told me she was trying to kill me, and I believed every word, so I attempted to flee the house and she ended up with six fractured ribs. God, some days are made in Hell. If I close my eyes, even five years later, it’s an easy vision to conjure, and it lays me low every time. This happened, it was real, and I was crazy, crazy, crazy, an animal, a lunatic, someone completely undeserving of justice or fairness or something simple and clean like compassion.

I made a mess of my life, ended up in jail, in court, on a psychiatric ward, and I have had to cope with a version of myself from that time I cannot excuse, someone vulgar and unhinged, someone barely hanging on. I won’t go into details that are still too painful to write in blunt, unadulterated language. The pressures of life had gotten to me, an unexpected barrage of one thing after another, as life is known to dish out. Unexpected health issues, loss of a job, unable to pay the mortgage. No, I’d never heard voices before, but that doesn’t mean I’m worthy of forgiveness. My loved ones keep telling me I should finally let go, be kind to myself on this front, realize people make mistakes, that these things can and do happen and that none of it makes me a bad or dangerous person. I find it difficult to believe what they say. Scratch that, I find it impossible. It’s a miracle no one was killed.

Many prominent creative voices throughout history have commented on the clear and seemingly causal link between mental illness and creative genius, but not every dork with a science fiction and fantasy fetish and a couple of short story sales goes full tilt into lunacy. It’s not in my nature to describe myself in lofty terms. It’s not in my nature to think of myself very fondly at all, and that’s perhaps where dark things like this take root. Whatever creative abilities I’ve been granted and have spent years honing seem to have come at a cost. I knew I had depression at a very young age, but schizophrenia, I didn’t even know what that was.

It’s like this: you can’t trust your thoughts, your senses, your worldly experience. You will hear voices and smell phantom aromas and see things that aren’t there. You’ll think delusional thoughts every once in a while, strange ruminations and lines of logic that make perfect sense at the time they occur. If you’re lucky, medication will help, and counseling will teach you skills you can lean on that boil down to keeping it real, keeping it present, leaning on others if you’re having a truly difficult time distinguishing fantasy from reality. Don’t listen when you think you hear your friend from school. Don’t listen when you think you hear your friend from school. Don’t listen when you think you hear your friend from school.

There were nights I was so terrified I couldn’t imagine surviving till morning. These voices, they torture you in all sorts of creative and intimate ways. They make fun of you in the toilet, in the shower, when you’re dressing in the morning. They con you into driving recklessly in city traffic, convince you your counseling appointment has been canceled, and that in fact, you don’t really need counseling anyway. At some point, the ruse couldn’t sustain, and I finally realized I wasn’t speaking with my friend. Sensibly, tardy as usual, I asked to whom or what I was in fact speaking, in my head, in the room, just out of sight.

It said it wanted to be called Dave. Just Dave. And the more my wife and I used the name as shorthand, the more it seemed appropriate. Dave, like some faceless person who could be anyone or anything at any time. Dave, a personality that might be normal or might be abnormal, just depended on the day. And now when I write, even a simple essay like this one, I feel as though Dave is guiding my fingers over my laptop keyboard.

I can feel him looking out my eyes sometimes. He wiggles my toes and fidgets when I’m barely paying attention. He’s in me, he is me, yet they say he’s not the conscious, aware me. If my id expresses itself thusly, what the hell is wrong with me? Is it any wonder the book I wrote about that insane, scary time depicts Dave as a full-stop demon? Not a biproduct of janky biochemistry or a brain or emotional disorder, but rather something separate and inhuman? Took me two years to write that book. I still can’t stand to read a single word of it.

I wasn’t myself. It must be a constant reminder, or the truth is the person I am today, the person I’ve always believed myself to be, he’s a lie. And this is something I can’t accept. You must take action when your own wounding wounds others. It’s a teaching moment, a failing you can catch like a falling aspen leaf. It was a shot across the bow, an opportunity to reorient myself, look at my life and everything I’ve created and done not as the end-all-be-all, but as a small component of who I am in full. Each and every time Dave speaks to me, I can silently rebuke or ignore him and remind myself what real humility and humanity look like.

They look like the patients at the psych hospital who’d just survived suicide attempts and psychotic episodes. How gentle and caring they seemed. Not like me, strapped to a hospital bed, screaming my head off, trying to cut my wrists in a pretty useless fashion, thinking the Velcro ties would do the trick. Humility and humanity look like the caregivers—yes, even the guards at the county jail—who could’ve condemned me but instead took pity on me, tried to protect and treat me.

Even five years later, I awake sometimes from nightmares. He’s always there, but thankfully, so am I. Watchful, careful, repentant. Honestly, not at all interested in returning to that place ever again. I could’ve lost so much. It all could’ve ended so much worse. My blessings, I do my best to count them, but I know I could do far more. Recovery is a long process, or at least it can be, and it’s a bumpier ride than most people give it credit for being. But I have to go through it. It’s an imperative. Being better to people, hoping one day to learn to be better to myself. Leave the creative stuff aside. In fact, leave everything aside that is surface-level and cheap. Maybe it’s what I came here to do. Maybe it’s what we all came here to do.

If you or anyone you know is suffering severe mental health issues right now, I urge you to seek help. Especially in the middle of this pandemic, it’s a huge issue for many, and we owe it to ourselves, our friends, and our family to treat it with respect. There’s hope, there’s survival, and there is recovery. I’m proof of that. We all deserve to be the best versions of ourselves. All of us. I pray and hope for the best life has to offer, and I pray and hope the same for you as well. Safety, happiness, generosity, and love. Sanity most of all, my friends. Until 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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Looking Back on 2020 and Forward to 2021

2020 has been an difficult year for all of us as Covid 19 turned lives upside-down. Here at Writing to be Read and WordCrafter, we saw some great accomplishments, in spite of the fact that my genre theme schedule fell apart half-way through the year on the blog and content was a little more sporadic. I had to figure out how to adjust to my own “new normal”, which life changes brought my way, but they also led me to remember who I am. Now, I’ve analyzed and regrouped, and I’m ready to head into the new year with new ideas and projects.

WordCrafter’s 2020 Virtual Writing Conference

One of the biggest things for WordCrafter was the 2020 Stay in Place Virtual Writing Conference back in April. We ended up with twenty-two distinguished authors, offering live stream and video lectures, and interactive workshops and discussion panels, with free content for the Facebook event and a Zoom platform for the interactive stuff. We had a good turn-out with only a few glitches, and we’re preparing to do it again in 2021.

WordCrafter Press releases in 2020:

Ask the Authors

In April, the Ask the Authors writing anthology was released after two years of compilation. This book is an ultimate writer’s reference with tips and advice from twenty-two authors, and it started right here, from a 2018 blog series of the same name. In November, the print edition of this book, (and all WordCrafter Press books), became available, as well.

Spirits of the West

The Spirits of the West western paranormal anthology resulted from the 2020 WordCrafter Short Fiction Contest, and was released in October. The winning story, “High Desert Rose”, was written by Enid Holden and is included in the anthology. The theme for the 2021 WordCrafter Short Fiction Contest was announced and WordCrafter Press is now taking submissions to be considered for next year’s anthology, Where Spirits Linger.

Hidden Secrets and Last Call

Two of my own books were also released. Last Call and Other Short Fiction is a collection of my short stories, and my paranormal mystery novella, Hidden Secrets, is now available in print on Amazon, but the digital edition can be purchased through other retailers. In the coming year, I will have a story in the Where Spirits Linger anthology, and I’m working on a new book, The Outlaw and the Rockstar which I hope will be ready to release before the end of 2021.

Raise the Tide

WordCrafter Press‘ first stand alone author’s book was released in December, Raise the Tide, a devotional book by James Richards. We also look forward in anticipation to adding the January release of a massive poetry collection by Arthur Rosch, Feral Tenderness, to this list.

Feral Tenderness

Writing to be Read 2020:

We had some great guests on Writing to be Read. On “Chatting with the Pros”, my author guests featured Diana Raab, Amy Cecil, Cherokee Parks, L. Deni Colter, and Kevin J. Anderson. I’m hoping to transform this blog series into a podcast, which can be accessed through the blog, in the coming year, and I hope you all will join me there. Other authors interviewed in 2020 included Mark & Kym Todd, Jade C. Jamison, and Alan Dean Foster. The most viewed interview was with erotic romance author Nicky F. Grant. Interviews fell by the wayside along with the genre themes, but I’m planning to bring back author interviews for 2021, and I’m working on a new blog segment, “The Authors’ Covid Coffee Clache”, which will address issues of the pandemic specific to authors.

Treasuring Poetry

Robbie Cheadle’s poet guests included Sally Cronin, Colleen Chesebro, Victoria Zigler, Sue Vincent, Annette Rochelle Aben, Christy Birmingham, Kevin Morris, Frank Prem, D. Avery, Geoff Le Pard, and Balroop Singh. Of course, each segment on “Treasuring Poetry” are filled with poetry examples and includes a review of the poet’s latest poetry collection.

Growing Bookworms

Robbie Cheadle’s “Growing Bookworms” has great ideas for promoting literacy in children. Topics discussed “Making Learning the Alphabet Fun“, “Reading and Mathematics“, obtaining a balance of parental approval, “Sir Chocolate and the Valentine Toffee Cupid“, the benefits of singing and rhyming verse for children, “Teaching Children to Read“, “Introducing Non-Fiction to Children“, “The Future of Education“, “The Great Roald Dahl“, “Chapter Books vs. Short Stories for Children“, “The Joy of Nursery Rhymes: Twinkle, Twinkle Little Bat“, and “Incorporating Reading into Christmas Activities“. The post with the most views this year was a “Growing Bookworms” post from 2019, “Developing Imagination and Creativity Through Reading“, and in fact, it is also the post with the most all time views.

Words to Live By

On “Words to Live By”, Jeff Bowles offers up his thoughts on writing and life, and writing life. In 2020, he reflected on “The Creator in the Creative“, “The Kid in the Machine”, “Sex, Love, Warfare and Death“, “Fear, Creativity, and that Pesky Pandemic“, “Love in the Time of Covid“, “Be Here Now (Sanity for the Modern Writer), and”Creative Legacy“. The most viewed “Words to Live By” post was “The Big Chill“.

Mind Fields

With Art Rosch’s “Mind Fields”, you never know what the topic will be, but in 2020, they included “T.V. Addicts Annonymous“, “Nightmare with Tracphone“, “The Power of Villians in Story Telling“, “The Big Grief or Computer Wipe-Out“, “The Air in the Sky“, “Obsession: Craving Flashlights“, “Curvature: An Essay on Discernment“. The most view “Mind Fields” post was “Am I Real“.

Super Heroes and Supervillains

In May, Jeff Bowles took over the spotlight as he took over the Super Heroes and Super Villians theme, with a look at “The History and Evolution of Comic Books“, “The Rise of the Comic Book Film“, “DC Comics Gets Animated“, “D.C. Comics vs. Marvel – Rivalry and Inspiration“, and a celebratory posts for comic books and super heroes, “Look Up in the Sky!

Craft and Practice

Also in May, Jeff introduced a new blog series “Craft and Practice”, filled with great writing advice, which covered topics such as “The Revision Process“, “To Self-publish or Not to Self-publish“, “Writing for Catharthis“, “Story Synthesis: The Ultimate Tool in the Tool Kit“, “To Comma or Not to Comma“, “The Odds and Ends of Worldbuilding“, and “What’s the use of Trunk Novels“. The most viewed “Craft and Practice” post was “Should You Write Every Day?“.

Jeff’s Movie Reviews

Jeff’s Movie Reviews” covered The Invisible Man, Birds of Prey“, Hamilton on Disney+, Bill and Ted Face the Music, The Trial of the Chicago 7, The Queen’s Gambit, and The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone. The most viewed movie review post was for 1917.

Arthur’s Visual Media Reviews

“Art’s Visual Media Reviews” covered Homeland, Better Call Saul, 13 Reasons Why, Just Mercy, 13 Reasons Why (the later seasons), a critique of Marvel movies, and The Secret: Dare to Dream, but the most viewed review was a life review in “My Life with Jazz“. Unfortunately, “Arthur’s Visual Media Reviews” will not be appearing in 2021, but Art’s “Mind Fields” will be appearing twice a month.

My book reviews included Missing: Murder Suspected: True Crime Stories Brought to Life, by Austin Stone On Being a Dictator, by Kevin J. Anderson and Martin L. Shoemaker; Saint, by Amy Cecil; Heat: Book 1, by Jade C. Jamison; Old One Eyed Pete, by Loretta Miles Toleffson; Death Wind, by Travis Heermann and Jim Pinto; Severed Wings, by Steven-Elliot Altman; X Marks the Spot, an anthology of pirate fantasy tales edited by Lisa Mangum; Indominable, by J.B. Garner; Echo One, by Mercedes Lacky, Denis K. Lee, Cody Martin, and Veronica Giguere; the audio edition of Shadow Blade, by Chris Barili; Love/Madness/Demon, by Jeff Bowles; In the Shadow of the Clouds, by Jordan Elizabeth; Keeper of the Winds, by Jenna Solitaire with Russle Davis; Inspirational Visions oracle cards, by Judy Mastrangelo; The Freedom Conspiracy by Nathan B. Dodge; Disappeared, by Lucienne Diver; Fool’s Gold Rush, by Tim Baker; Terminal Sequence, by Dan Alatorre; Gunslinger, by Edward J. Knight; and Clay House, by Jordan Elizabeth. The top viewed review was Hold Your Fire, an anthology edited by Lisa Mangum.

Judging the Spurs

I was also honored to be a judge for the Writers of America’s Spur Awards and I reviewed my top six picks, and the winner of the western romance category, The Yeggman’s Apprentice, by C.K. Crigger. These were the best of the best, and I was honored to be given the opportunity to read and review them.

WordCrafter Book Blog Tours

Also, in 2021 Writing to be Read will be a host for the WordCrafter Book Blog Tours, so we’ll be keeping you up to date on several new releases as they come out. Robbie Cheadle will bring us a new blog series on nursery rhymes and fairytales, “Dark Origins”, and I plan to bring in a new series, “Writer at Work”, which will talk about different issues that writers face. Subscribe to this blog with one of the buttons in the upper right-hand corner to be sure not to miss this great new content or the tried and true content of continuing series on Writing to be Read in the coming year.

Dark Origins

Happy New Year and Happy Writing!

From Writing to be Read and WordCrafter

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Words to Live By – The Big Chill

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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!

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Words to Live By – Creative Legacy

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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!

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


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Words to Live By – BE HERE NOW (Sanity for the Modern Writer)

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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.

BE HERE NOW (Sanity for the Modern Writer)

What does a successful writing career look like to you? Have you ever thought about it? Do you believe you need one in order to call yourself a real writer? It may seem like a foreign notion to you, but many burgeoning authors won’t even acknowledge their favorite creative pastime in a serious way until they’ve sold a few short stories, picked up that dream book contract, or collected enough poems to turn into a collection.

I was like that when I was just starting out. I never gave myself credit for doing the work. In general I have this problem, as I understand it. People are always mystified by my apparent inability to cut myself slack. I refused to call myself a real writer until I’d made my first professional-level short story sale. That took seven years, and the funny thing is, it didn’t make me as happy as I thought it would. Oh sure, I was ecstatic for about an afternoon. But then things went back to normal, and a feeling of unease crept over me, the subtle realization that although I’d finally arrived at my destination, I hadn’t moved an inch.

In the last few years, I’ve experienced something of a paradigm shift when it comes to these things. You see, I finally had to admit to myself that no matter how many accolades I could garner, no matter how many times I saw my name in print, the writing itself often made me feel miserable, worn-out, and sometimes, just plain fed-up.

Do you have this same issue? Never give yourself credit for a job well done? Do you feel like a bit of a failure because you haven’t managed to reach your major writing goals yet? Trust me, you aren’t alone. You know the grass is always greener, don’t you? Imagine wandering into that other pasture, that creative promised land you cherish so dearly, only to find weeds and impassable thicket. Yes, you should make and maintain goals, because of course, you might not accomplish anything at all otherwise. And yes, each of us should dare to dream. I can’t stress that enough. Dreaming isn’t the problem. It takes a great beaten child of an adult to believe dreams are for fools.

But why dream if you’re only going to use it as a benchmark for your future happiness? Let’s say you’ve been writing off and on for twenty-five years, and you’ve yet to publish anything important. From the outside looking in, it may appear as though you wasted all that time. Your friends and family may not take your dreams seriously, or even worse, they may openly mock or criticize you for them. First off, if this is the case, you really owe it to yourself to find some new friends. Secondly, how do they know you didn’t enjoy every last second of those “wasted” twenty-five years? How do they know you didn’t have the time of your life, and in fact, wouldn’t trade a second of it for all the gold in Fort Knox?

The truth of the matter is if you can’t be happy with your work now, odds are you won’t be happy later. I mean that. Seeing your name in print will give you fleeting pleasure, but the more you see it, the less it’ll impress. You’ll have to trust me on this, and I’d like you to read this next part very closely, nothing you do in this life will make you happy if happiness eludes you here and now. Signing copies of your latest book or being able to share a cool story with the world via a very impressive and illustrious magazine or anthology, all of that is super cool. But after the proverbial new car smell wears off, you may feel a startling sense of anxiety and emptiness. Especially once you realize, aw hell, now I have to do it all over again.

Like I said, dreaming isn’t the problem. Expectations, however, will kill you every time. Because human beings often believe they cannot be happy until and unless something specific comes their way. I can’t be happy until I’ve found the love of my life. I can’t be happy until I buy my family a new house. I can’t be happy until I’m a bestseller. It’s always the destination that drives us. We so very rarely seem interested in the journey to get there.

Do me a favor the next time you sit down to write. Take your seat, open up your laptop (or grab your pen and paper, if you’re old school) and just sit there. Close your eyes if you’re so inclined. Be present in the moment, don’t think about the work ahead as a chore or a means to an end. Think of the work as the end itself. You are alive right now. Miracle enough for anyone with their priorities straight and their sanity intact. From the infinitesimal outer regions of statistically impossible microspace, you have arrived in all your glory. You’re breathing right now. Your butt is firmly planted in that chair, and you, my friend, are about to lay down some of the best writing of your life.

You can approach this moment as the incredible phenomenon it is. You can set your fingers to the keyboard and put one word after another, and you can experience an act of personal, almost spiritual fulfillment. Not because you expect this piece of writing to set the world on fire, but because for you, this passion, this instant, it’s all there is.

Be here now, as they say. The future will take care of itself, and as for the past, let’s just say ruminating on it too much is a recipe for disaster. No, now is all you have, and now is all you need. Dance like no one’s watching. Remember that many successful authors suffer from what we call impostor syndrome, which is a real shame if you ask me. What is a writing impostor? I mean really, what is one? A writer, set in terms even a chimpanzee could understand, is someone who writes. It’s as simple as that, isn’t it?

You’re not an impostor. You’re not anything more or less than the writer doing the thing, writing, and writing, and writing some more. And that truly is enough, no matter where you find yourself in terms of success or recognition or even money. Great pleasure and joy can be found in the simplest things, and though I’d never call writing a simple activity, profession, pastime, hobby, loving and fond nuisance, or obsession, the truth is—and you know this deep down in your heart of hearts—no outside thing, no future goal, no perfect outcome will give you the satisfaction you’re looking for.

If not now, when? If not now, when? If not now, when?

Slow down for a moment. Consider how lucky you are, how fortunate, how present and aware and full of life, and then go ahead and rock it out, lay down those beautiful words. I won’t keep you. You’ve got important and timely truths to express, new worlds to birth and share with us, and if you don’t do it, who will?

Until next month, everyone. I hope you can see the value of letting the present be, just be. You may never accomplish your goals, live your dreams, be anything more subjectively impressive than you are right now. But should it matter? Or should you simply learn to love yourself, your work, your creativity, now, now, now?

Peace! Joy! And don’t forget to proofread!


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.


Words to Live By – Love in the Time of COVID

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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.

Love in the Time of COVID

It goes without saying, few people living on the planet today have experienced any year quite like 2020. It’s almost a numerical thing, isn’t it? Or maybe just a numerological thing. Like we could see it coming a mile away, 2020, the year of perfect vision. Or of perfect integration of all the things we used to blindly ignore.

There’s a hell of a lot of old neurotic dead weight coming to the surface, both for individuals and for us as a collective. It brings to mind the basic processes involved in psychotherapy. Very often, the goal is to dredge up, edify, and to therefore let go of past hurts. Then we can move forward, better than before, ready to face the world again as new people. At least that’s the idea.

Is it possible that’s all this is? A chance by the cosmic forces that be to enlighten us through just a pinch, just a little skosh of what feels like outright torture? Have you been trapped in your house for three months straight? Were you used to being so homebound? Used to spending excessive amounts of time with the people you love? It strains the credulity of the value of being social creatures, doesn’t it? This is love in overdrive, folks. The rubber hits the road right about now.

Some people think love is a chosen thing, but I learned better long ago. Love is something given to you. You can’t help who you love. I’m not a father and I have no other dependents. I’ve been holed up with my wife, just the two of us, and it’s pushed us around here and there. I don’t mind admitting there’s been a few harmless spats, because I’m sure you can relate. It doesn’t mean there hasn’t been plenty of moments of fun and warmth between the pair of us. We’ve been watching old movies and chatting all day like we used to when we first started dating. That’s been wonderful. I’ve learned more about who my wife is now than I ever bothered to find out in the entirety of last year. People are constantly changing, and one of the secrets of a successful long-term relationship is to allow each other to grow up. Just a little bit. No one wants actual adults floating about. Heaven forbid.

We’re all such busy little bees, buzzing around, accomplish this task, fulfill this obligation, run this or that errand, put out this fire and then drag our attention to the next. When was the last time any of us had to sit down and face-to-face acknowledge all the people in our lives? In today’s modern society, not very often, not like this. Maybe you have no idea what I’m talking about. Or perhaps you know too well.

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My wife and I have chosen productivity over boredom. I mean, for crying out loud, how many times can you watch all the Star Wars movies on Disney Plus? For starters, I’ve been working on final edits for my latest novel, so that’s kept me busy. She had this idea for a radio-style animated YouTube show featuring angels, demons, and a fictionalized fantasy world, and for my contribution to her concept, I wanted to play with my old monkey.

Sorry, I should qualify that. Years ago, I wrote a short story I liked very much about a detective robot and his hyper-intelligent gorilla companion. The robot was fun, but Gorilla Todd, as he’s known, is one of my all-time favorite personal creations. So he’s going to be a main character on this show, and I’ll also be writing some companion novels about him, ‘cause Hey, Mack, a gorilla’s gotta eat.

That’s the plan. My wife is the artist and craftsperson, so she’s been drawing up maps and concept images, while I’ve been plotting scripts and outlining in my head where I’d like to take some of these stories. It’s been fun being collaborative with her. Though we’ve been married ten years, and we’ve done and seen everything together, we’ve never actually been creative as a team before. It’s an opportunity we might have otherwise missed. So that’s a blessing right there. Love in the time of COVID, you know what I mean?

But doesn’t that just make me a busy little bee again? Am I avoiding the chaos that seems to be raging in all parts of the globe by choosing a large creative project that will likely take the two of us months to gain any ground on? Quite possibly. Love, you see, needs breathing room. It’s just like fire. Suck all the oxygen out of the room, and the damn thing goes out.

And I’m aware, of course, that there are many people right now who don’t have anyone. I’m aware, for instance, that lots of relationships are currently taking a nosedive. Situations you should’ve ended long ago are ending very abruptly, and then you’ve got no one to synchronize surgical masks with when you’re out buying dog food and driving past your favorite movie theater, staring with jealous resignation at its pristine, empty parking lot.

Be careful with your love right now, folks. That’s the message I hope to impart with this post. Protect it fiercely. And if you are the creative type, head in the direction of new horizons for you and your art. Trust me, a nice afternoon of writing after being glued to the news all morning can be a wonderful salve. And, ehem, let’s not forget to use our bodies. Love can help out there, too. I don’t need to go into detail. Suffice it to say, if you are locked away with your partner, neither of you needs to starve for affection.

Yes, you might be saying, but what about unrequited love or love that’s gone cold? What if you’re in a situation right now that’s broken your heart and made you feel small? I’ve been there, man. We all have. Certainly, you can find a trusted friend to whom you can divulge all your longing and pain. See what I mean about love not being something we should take for granted? It’s everything, permeates all walks of life, yet it can up and vanish on you like a flash storm.

The truth is creativity and love go hand in hand. Just like you couldn’t help falling for your one true immortal beloved, you can’t help falling for a creative project that excites and motivates you. That’s the ticket, quantifiably so. We’ve got to love something if it has any chance of growing up big and strong. Works for people, books, paintings, songs. Works for everything we do and make and choose to be in this life.

Like I said, I have no children, but if I did, I imagine I’d be having an extra challenging time right now. It’s no wonder so many people are ill-tempered, lashing out. Society has been thrashing around on issues of race and inequality, civil rights, gun rights, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of this, freedom of that, and we’ve been doing it for hundreds of years, so don’t get it twisted. What you’re seeing on the news is by no means some spring chicken phenomenon. It’s led many to pontificate, where’s the love? We’ve come to 2020, that year of perfect vision, and we are being asked to finally open our eyes and see.

To actually see. What a priceless and burdensome gift.

All you need is love, as John Lennon once sang. Don’t forget to kiss the ones who matter most, let them know how you really feel, because none of us is guaranteed one more tomorrow. We tend to neglect this very basic fact. We neglect a lot of things. But the truth is, we’re all in this together, and if you think you know what the future will be, better buckle up, brothers and sister, because the ride gets even bumpier from here.

I’ll have more words to live by next month, folks. Until then, how about a song?


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in 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, Nashville 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, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

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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.


Words to Live By – Look, Up in the Sky!

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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.

Look, Up in the Sky!

This month on Writing to be Read, we’ll be celebrating one of America’s original storytelling mediums, the comic book. In any other given year, one not smitten with the likes of COVID-19, May would see the release of the latest big-budget movies from Marvel and DC, their publishing divisions would be rolling out their next huge crossover events, and Free Comic Book Day would invite fans and newbies alike to visit their local comic shops and sample what’s available these days.

This year isn’t like any other year, of course. Practically everyone on the planet is being asked to make sacrifices to keep themselves and others safe. Superheroes are great at making sacrifices. In fact, you could say it’s their most important superpower. The truth is we don’t have to go out to the movies or visit a comic shop to witness feats of incredible valor and strength. All we have to do is look at the people around us. In fact, all we have to do is look in the mirror.

Now I know what you may be thinking, especially if you’ve never been a fan of the medium or if you’ve got no love for spandex-clad do-gooders on the silver screen. It is a certainty you’ve noticed Hollywood has pledged a good deal of their resources to the production of films and television series based on superheroes and supervillains. I have to tell you, as a longtime fan, it sort of gives me a thrill. When I was growing up, only nerds liked comics, spotty young men and women who argued with each other about who would win in a fight, Batman or Spider-Man, who dwelt in their parents basements and only went into the sun to hiss at it and then stalk around Lon-Chaney-style, searching for more comics.

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That stereotype isn’t even close to accurate, but look, up until about fifteen years ago, it was supremely uncool to be into this stuff. Which is why I’m so pleased I inherited an absolute passion for it.

My brother, Chris, is ten years older than me, quite an age difference by the standards of most families with only two children. He started reading and collecting comics around about the time I was born, and when I was old enough to read them, he got me hooked as well. I learned so much about my favorite comic characters from cartoons and movies, but it was really Chris who taught me everything I needed to know, who allowed me to glimpse these worlds as they really are: static on the page, but full of life in your mind.

The sum total value of that knowledge is this: comic books are fun, colorful, dynamic, easy on the eyes, and short. Their stories take place over twenty-two pages, and they’re almost always about doomsday scenarios and strong, noble crusaders who nip them in the bud. I remember going through stacks and stacks of my brother’s collection, marveling at the artwork, the boldness and speed of the actual storytelling. Some of the best memories of my life involve curling up with my own short stack of comics. I looked up to Chris with all my heart. I still do. He’s a personal hero of mine.

Lots of people have analyzed the relationship between comics and myth, the Hero with a Thousand Faces, a modern manifestation of our desire for legends and tall tales. But I honestly think people’s love of superheroes, especially in today’s world, stems from a basic psychological need for good examples, guiding lights. If you venture into the world right now, you’ll see that heroes are everywhere. They’re the doctors and nurses staffing our hospitals, putting their lives on the line so we can be happy and healthy. They’re the people who continue to produce and provide us with food, the butcher at the grocery store, the delivery guy who gets your pizza to you right on time.

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Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Even you, who must battle fear just to run a few weekly errands. And rather than seeing these fictional figures as a breed totally outside our experience, it might be more helpful to analyze their existence in relation to our deepest desires. Maybe we can see ourselves in the likes of Superman and Captain America. It doesn’t take much to look beyond yourself and lend people a helping hand when they need it, and this is the basic nature of the superhero.

Sure, their exploits are silly sometimes, even nonsensical. They wear ridiculous costumes and rattle off cheesy one-liners. You could even argue they set a bad example for young people, because no matter what seems to occur, they almost always solve every problem with their fists. But the truth is the modern world needs them. Realistically speaking, we’ve all got a good guy dwelling in our hearts and minds, and it’s possible, if we really try, to take courage and strength, and at the best of times, to let our inner super shine.

A lot of folks criticize Marvel and DC movies for their overreliance on end-of-the-world scenarios, but it’s all a subconscious thing, isn’t it? We’ve all had our personal doomsdays, have all needed to be strong when fate was against us and luck simply was not on our side. It’s a quaint pastime, reading comic books. There’s nothing magical or mystical about it. Just the enjoyment of disappearing into another world for about twenty minutes, and then reaching over to your brother’s stack and picking out another adventure.

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We here at Writing to Be Read believe strongly in literacy and the spread of a better kind of virus, good storytelling. My storytelling mode of choice is often comics, which taught me right and wrong, strength and courage in the face of adversity, and which allowed me to form a connection with my brother that I value and cherish to this day. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my Mom and Dad, who bought us all those comics for all those years. As a writer, I learned a great deal of the craft from this medium. As a human being, I learned everything I needed to know about how to treat others with dignity and respect.

If nothing else, comics are clearly a great bonding opportunity, and in their purest expression, they allow us to feel, if only for a little while, like we too can bend steel, soar through the air, and leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Have a wonderful May, everybody, and tune in all month long for more superhero and supervillain themed posts and articles. We’re all in this together, always have been and always will be. You don’t have to wear a cape and save my life to be a hero in my book. All you’ve got to do is turn to your fellow man, decide you can help, and then do everything in your power to make it happen. Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane!

Up, up and away, everybody.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in 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, Nashville 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, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

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Words to Live By – Sex, Love, Warfare, and Death

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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.

Sex, Love, Warfare, and Death

People will fool you if you let them. Consumers especially. Consider the old marketing adage coined by Steve Jobs, “A lot of the time, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Every single morning, especially with the elections coming up, I turn on the news to get a glimpse of my world. The media skews reality so badly it sometimes seems pathological, but hey, let’s face it, if I really wanted raw unbiased information, I wouldn’t get it from CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC.

Coronavirus is about to go pandemic. That’s scary, which means the news will deliver it to me at accelerated intervals. Donald Trump tweeted something nasty again—big surprise there—and I’ll hear about it at the top of the hour, every hour. A new celebrity sex scandal? I eat those up, because, well, I’m a human being and gossip about sex somehow makes me feel like an active participant. It really isn’t the media’s fault, of course. They only sell what I’m willing to buy. Whatever else it may have become in the modern era, the news business has always understood our psychology far better than we do.

No matter how old we get, how wizened, educated, experienced, or jaded, there are but a few key elements we demand like clockwork from our stories: sex, love, warfare, and death. The news is a storytelling racket, after all, no different from books, movies, or anything else worth binging till our eyes bleed. Broadcasting the truth (or something designed to look like a reasonable facsimile thereof) is supposed to carry with it an added degree of responsibility, but if you find yourself screaming at the anchorman for his disastrous manipulation of the facts, don’t blame his boss or parent company. We are who we are. Humans possess a higher mind, higher aspirations and beliefs, altruism, compassion, faith, family unity, a virtuous sense of community. But we have a lower mind, too, a famously inconvenient and uncompromising wilderness of dim subconscious junk, and any storyteller worth her salt knows to engage us there first and foremost.

Think about your favorite stories. Every single one of them, I’ll bet, contains some degree of sex, love, warfare, or death. Now, your all-time top ten may not include all four at once, and maybe one or two of those elements, more or less to the point, is dressed up to resemble something else entirely. But they are there. 50 Shades of Grey wasn’t a pop culture phenomenon because it was a good book, and War and Peace would’ve sold far fewer copies historically if Tolstoy had simply called it Peace. I know what you’re thinking. This is all pretty cynical, Jeff. Surely people aren’t so basic as that. Why yes we are, and don’t call me Shirley. Anyway, it’s not cynicism. It just might be helpful to know what you’re up against before you decide to tell your next story.

Here’s what you’re up against. You are a human being attempting to entertain, enlighten, provoke, or otherwise affect on an emotional level other human beings, a species of meat-bodied, highly intelligent yet conflicted primates with a long, glorious history of blood for blood, sex for pleasure, and a penchant for looking for love in all the wrong places. Just so you know I’m not biased, I also believe each of us has a soul and a sovereign and divine spiritual destiny. To my mind, we’re a perfectly perfected, haphazard merger of things both high and low. It’s just that sometimes higher things can seem lowly and lower things can get us really, really, really, awesomely freaking high. There’s no shame in it, at least there shouldn’t be. You’re a warm body and an isolate personality. You get lonely sometimes, have to eat, sleep, and contend with day-to-day living. I also happen to believe in God and the unified consciousness of all things. Good thing, too. It helps to remember my mantras while I’m stuck in traffic, barely suppressing the urge to hop out and punch the guy sexting his girlfriend in the Hyundai next to me.

Have you ever read a really boring novel and thought, there needs to be more conflict, more romance, just a touch more daring and danger? I have, I do, all the time, especially when I’m reading something written by a beginner. Novice writers often confuse circumstance for story. These things aren’t mathematical, you aren’t working an equation, and outlining your latest plot to within an inch of its life will only render the storytelling equivalent of procedural asphyxiation. If artificial intelligence ever takes over the world, it won’t be writing stories. Not good ones, anyway.

Because we’re not synthetic lifeforms, you may every so often encounter people with beating hearts, barely controlled primal urges, a whole host of neuroses (both subtle and extravagant), and oh yeah, a crippling sense of self-doubt and self-limitation, stemming from one very basic fact: we’re all going to die, and there’s not a single thing any of us can do about it.

We care about sex because the survival of our species depends on it. We care about love and tragedy because they tend to define our most guarded, significant moments. And when it comes to warfare, we’ve all gotten a taste. What’s the difference between arguing with your neighbor for playing his music too loud and desiring to invade a foreign country because you don’t like the way they’ve been eying your stuff? A matter of degree is no matter at all, as it turns out. The trouble with reality as we know it is that we as individuals are just so damn, well, individualized. Relating to others in empathetic and wholly loving terms sometimes requires feats of superhuman strength, especially because I’m so terribly separate from you, and you’re so terribly separate from me, and I have my own needs, desires, limitations, and personal wounds to contend with.

But that doesn’t mean we’re alone. We aren’t, not one of us. It also doesn’t mean the stories we tell, the stories we love, have to be manufactured to meet primal criteria and primal criteria alone. The warmth and splendor of our experience is only equal to the depths of despair and loneliness we may encounter. That’s just the way it is. Life is a roller-coaster ride, and truth be told, we wouldn’t have it any other way. As The Beatles put it, in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make. How much love have you made recently? Was it worth writing about? If so, why the hell are you reading some stupid blog post? Jot it down. Hurry! Hurry! Before it disowns you and moves to upstate Antarctica!

Sometimes fiction writers neglect their own experience in favor of concocting synthetic lives, synthetic characters, synthetic prose. I imagine to some the old chestnut, write what you know, seems like a bad idea. It isn’t. You’ll have to trust me on this. Your experience is equally significant as mine, as hers, as his, which is to say, both significant and insignificant as dirt. But that’s okay. In fact, it’s the way things are supposed to be. In the course of any given lifetime, fortunes will change hands, lovers will dispose us or face our disposal, babies will cry, enemies and friends will be made, laughs will be had, tragedies endured, and at the end of it all, we’ll have to give the whole shebang back and pretend it was some kind of season finale to a sleeper hit show the network neglected to renew. It seems unfair, but immortality is reserved for vampires, Highlanders, homogenous national virtues, and other mythical beasts. It is precisely our temporal nature that enables the existence of storytelling in the first place. The people who remind us of our limits, who console us, make us feel understood, the ones who tempt us or frighten us or leave us hanging, we call them storytellers, and we honor their place in our lives.

Every single day is story unfolding, and every individual you encounter is a supreme co-author of yours. It is entirely possible to acknowledge these things about ourselves, these dark and dirty, foible-filled things, and to still enjoy the hell out of each waking moment. More than possible. Perhaps mandatory, because hating your life is just a way of saying you love it with all your heart. The real miracle, the fact that any of us are here at all, necessitates our uncompromising need to build the biggest, most luxurious sandcastles, and then to watch helplessly as the tide swallows them whole. This is the essence of storytelling. It’s the essence of life. All things must pass. All things must pass away. Just remember that the next time you sit down to write. You’d better entertain me, wow me, seduce me, or otherwise completely jack up my mood, because if you don’t, I’m putting your book down and turning on the news.

Oh look, Trump just tweeted about Coronavirus, Joe Biden, the Chinese economy, Russian election meddling, Nancy Pelosi, Roger Stone, his persecution at the hands of our political system, and he managed to use the term fake news a total of seven times. That’s got to be some kind of record. What a storyteller! Guess I’m watching CNN all morning again.

It’s in the bloodstream, you see, always was and always will be. And thank goodness for that. No need to make America great again, Mr. President. Or the rest of the human race, for that matter. We’re all pretty great already. I mean, we invented War and Peace and 50 Shades of Grey, and we haven’t even learned to conquer death yet. Bet there’s a good story in there somewhere. You should totally write it, dude, before someone else beats you to it.

Talk at you next month, everybody! Have a good one. 🙂


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in 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, Nashville 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, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

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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.