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!


Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles – Throw Away Your Outlines FOREVER!

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.

My wife recently showed me a new favorite anime series of hers that perfectly illustrates a point I’ve been making about storytelling for years. I didn’t used to like anime all that much, and I’m not sure how you feel about it (if you feel anything about it whatsoever), but like many writers from my part of the globe, I had a certain bias toward a more Westernized approach to storytelling. I didn’t much like the aesthetic of anime, the tropes or the style, but I also wasn’t seeing the big picture. Anime is often judged on its aesthetics, but it should be praised for a preference for bold storylines, creativity, color, imagination, a kind of libertine approach that is no-holds-barred, that exceeds and usually subverts audience expectations.

The truth is there are a million writing advice columns saying it’s a bad idea to head into a writing project without some kind of plan. Sometimes, especially in speculative fiction, copious amounts of planning are advised. Character sheets, outlines, beat sheets, world building tools, map making, story bibles, and a number of other idea-gathering methods are common, and for good reason, I suppose. But in the traditions that gave birth to a medium like anime, form follows function, structure often inhibits form. In other words, rigidity and an unwillingness to let stories guide themselves is at the heart of lots and lots AND LOTS of bad writing.

To produce an animated television show, of course, quite a bit of planning is required. Scripts have to be written, art must be created, there’s a need to hire actors and hold recording sessions, and then post production is always a long process. Large groups of very talented people make this stuff. The animation industry is a machine, one so well-oiled the product itself is viewed and loved all over the globe, regardless of culture or regional storytelling preferences. In contrast, someone who writes fiction or poetry or who dabbles in screenplay, stage production, or even video game writing, is very much a free agent. But I’d like to ask you to throw all that out the window for a moment, because I want to direct your attention toward something crucial. Storytelling can and perhaps should be artful in addition to being solid, confident, and competent. Storytelling, the best kinds of it anyway, should meet and then exceed audience expectations, and I know of one sure-fire way of doing that: be the author who surprises the author.

Surprise yourself. Anime is an interesting medium to study because it absolutely loves the element of surprise. I know that in the new show my wife introduced me to, every episode contains a wealth of sea changes that completely redirect the flow of the narrative, creating an experience audiences simply cannot predict from one half-our segment to the next. It’s an intense ride, one that has equivalents in Western storytelling. Stephen King, for instance, is famous for espousing a very seat-of-the-pants approach to writing novels. He’s struck by an interesting what-if scenario, starts writing an introductory scene, establishes some initial paradigms, a few working story dynamics, and then he’s off to the races for the next couple months, having no clue where he’ll end up or how he’ll get there.

It’s worth noting that story synthesis requires the introduction, development, and resolution of disparate elements. For example, if I tell you to write a first chapter including a gun, a nun, an assassin, and a vengeful widow, you’ve got four disparate elements that must follow that exact line: introduction, development, resolution. So let’s say the widow is on a quest to kill the assassin who took the life of her beloved, but her religious convictions lead her to a local church where she gets down on her knees and begs a nun to talk her out of committing the ultimate sin of murder.

Where does the story go in chapter two? Imagine the possibilities, reason out the next most likely scenario to occur, given what’s just happened in chapter one (have to use your reasoning, logical brain for this). Repeat that method throughout approximately thirty or forty chapters, and you’ve got yourself a book. Again, if the author of a great story is surprised while they’re in the process of telling it, the reader is likewise guaranteed a similar reaction. It doesn’t mean you’re a sloppy storyteller. It means you’re willing to take a leap of faith, play jazz a little bit, stretch your abilities and find out in an improvisational way what works and what does not.

As you come up with ideas in the moment, you’re likely to want to check them against a few basic questions: does this concept make sense in context? Would my characters really do this and why? How does this dynamic irrevocably change the narrative, and does it take the story in a direction I’m not prepared to go? Constant alterations, redirection, redactions, and tweaks will be required, and you may also find your finished rough draft is in need of serious inserts, deletions, and edits, but the benefits outweigh the grief. Stories that surprise, that don’t hold the audience’s hand, that respect the audience’s intelligence, that’s what can result.

To return to Stephen King for a moment, there is a preponderance of disappearing, reappearing elements in his stories. Some of his most famous novels set, break, and then reset paradigms constantly and consistently. In The Stand, for instance, notice how a story initially about a small group of disparate and scattered pandemic survivors becomes a tale of strong familial community and then a post-apocalyptic holy battle of good vs. evil. King wrote that book without any planning at all, and whenever he got stuck because, you know, he hadn’t planned anything, he simply did something drastic and unexpected to break paradigms he himself had set. Gathering all the pandemic survivors in Boulder, Colorado and setting them up with good lives isn’t enough. There has to be a traitor in their midst, and if a bomb suddenly goes off and kills some fairly important protagonists, what’s the difference? At least we get some more breathing room to play with that wicked story.

Anime also teaches us paradigms can be created and implemented with the intention of shattering them and reassembling and continuing a story on the fly. Just like, I’m afraid, too much outlining can turn an otherwise well-written book into a predictable mess. Decent surprises telegraphed and ruined, characters that behave irrationally because they were and are slaves to dense, inhibiting structure, it’s a bit of a nightmare. It must be noted that in the professional world, a writer isn’t always given the opportunity to create stories on the fly. Publishers and studio executives, game developers, whoever you’re writing for, they like to be sold on ideas before they see a finished product. Call it an insurance policy. But if by chance you don’t care too much about impressing or working for these folks, if you’re of a more independent disposition, I urge you to try a writing approach that eschews too much planning and allows for absolute spontaneity. You may just be thrilled with the results.

I’ll be back next month for another Craft and Practice. See ya, folks, and thanks for stopping 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 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 Game Reviews – Hitman 3

Reviewed on Xbox Series X – Also available on PS5, PS4, Xbox One, and PC

The thrill of the kill is everything in the Hitman series. Are you a master craftsman of death or just a sociopath for hire? Who cares? Finding almost limitless possibilities to achieve your objectives and wipe your targets off the map is every bit as fun now as it was when the original game debuted way back in 2000. A sharp reboot in 2016 and a great follow up two years later bring us up to this little gem of a next-gen title, Hitman 3. This series about creative and covert assassinations has been around a long time. So what’s changed?

Well, certainly not the production values, which are often glorious to behold. Played on the new Xbox Series X in stunning 4K HDR, the game’s graphical achievements are evident at almost every turn. Lighting effects are brilliant, environments are large and incredibly detailed, and character models are just advanced enough to ensure players the new gaming generation is off to a good start. Even the music is fantastic. Fully orchestrated and grand, just like a prime entertainment experience ought to be.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to bring down the super-secret apparatus our bald-headed, barcoded protag, Agent 47, has spent an entire bloody career killing in the name of. It’s not crucial to have played the previous two entries in the series, but the campaign is well-written and well-acted, so you may want to go back and give the others a shot once you’ve cleared this one. Gameplay is essentially stealth-based, punctuated by moments of tense action, not unlike a good Bond or Bourne movie. Show up at a location, infiltrate, assassinate, get out. But the myriad ways to go about your grim work provide an impressive array of opportunities for fun and creativity. Sure, you can slink your way around, steal a disguise here, set up a killer trap there. Or you can be a bull in a China shop and bludgeon and murder your way to your targets. The choice as always is yours, but rest assured, you’ll never want for options.

Hitman 3 is a bit on the short side, with only six maps and therefore six overarching missions. But the replayability of the game is and should be a factor in your purchasing decision. Are you the sort to want to play huge missions again and again to get all the bloody nuance? Or is once and done enough for you? Developer IO Interactive is now working on a hotly anticipated 007 game, so you might want to get in your covert murder and espionage practice while you can.

Check out the video review here.

The most accurate thing to say about Hitman 3 in relation to its predecessors is that its scope and scale are a tad more robust. Yes, only six maps, but those six maps are gorgeous, huge, and contain so many fun secrets and hidden nooks and crannies you’re crazy if you’re not at least a little bit interested in diving back in after you’ve finished the campaign. Sometimes boneheaded AI and the intense and frequent need to save your game make it feel old-fashioned, but the more time you spend with Hitman 3 the more you realize just how sophisticated it is.

It’s not what you do, it’s the way you do it, your ability to bring down mega-baddies with style and finesse. The game rewards you for not being seen, setting up kills in advance, clearing stages quickly, and so on. Very rarely does Hitman 3 hold your hand. Its main interest is in providing you a worthy sandbox, and it does so with flash and ingenuity.

I must admit that after early experiences with the Hitman franchise when I was a young adult, I haven’t been all that excited to play a new one in quite some time. I’m terrible when it comes to stealth gameplay. Really, just awful at it. Give me a machine gun and an open field to mow down any day. But Hitman 3 has made me rethink its prominence in the popular gaming imagination. It can be so rewarding to sit on top of a target for five or ten minutes, shadowing them like a pro, waiting for the perfect time to strike. Similarly, discovering alternate paths to my objectives, appropriating disguises and equipment, scaling walls and being an unseen agent of chaos, it all makes for an engrossing ride, one for which I’m glad I paid full admission.  

This is a game for the meticulous, the completionists among us, and it’s incredibly rewarding on those levels. New players may find it tricky and challenging at first, but patience is a virtue. And so is a good garrot wire. Can’t leave that behind.

Jeff’s Game Reviews gives it an Eight out of Ten.


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!


Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles – A Matter of Time

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

I’d like to tell you there’s a magic bullet for the writer’s life, that one tip or trick or another will make you successful, skilled, well-known, or whatever else you’re looking for on your individual journey. If that were the case, we’d all be bestsellers and poet laureates, and yet somewhat mystifyingly so…

Why do some people strike out while others hit it big? Why does it seem like so many have to struggle more, or fail more, or publish less? I wish I knew. Then again, I wish it weren’t such a big deal. After all, personal dreams are a wonderful thing, but they don’t often hold up against cold hard reality. That the two sometimes become the same thing is an obvious miracle, but let’s not belabor the point. If you were here for mysticism instead of writing advice, I’d tell you to buy a good quartz crystal and an all-seeing eye pendant. The trick this month, the tip I’m offering, is simply to say that in most scenarios you’ll encounter in your creative career, patience will be a virtue. Because time is always the overriding factor. Always. And time can be a fickle thing.

Sometimes it looks like the long wait from a submission to an acceptance. Or even a rejection to a rewrite. It can also appear as years of struggle to produce a single wonderful piece of writing. If you’ve ever read an advice column that promised the moon, you know how disappointing and damaging unrealistic expectations can be. No matter what your goals are, sometimes accomplishment boils down to luck. That’s simply the nature of the beast. And luck doesn’t often spread evenly, as I’m sure you’ve discovered in your own life.

Then again, sometimes it’s all about the hard work, the sleepless nights. There are very, very few overnight sensations. I’ve seen individual writing dreams come true, up close and personal, and it only ever seems to occur after years and years of battling it out in the trenches. You can look at it in terms of struggle and strife, or you can adopt a more holistic point of view. What I’m suggesting here today is that the prime factor of your eventual success is a matter of time. That’s all.

Time.

Because no amount of talent, drive, dedication, or luck will ever disqualify or surmount one very important point: you have to get from here to there, from A to B. I think it’s important to have goals, especially when you’re just starting out, but you may realize at some point you don’t have as much control of the universe as you thought you did.

There will be periods of droughts and downpours, of veritable writing gluts and creative starvation. And what can you do about it? If you make enough professional allies and friends, you’ll most likely notice that some of them succeed more readily than others. Most people don’t have such fragile egos they can’t stand to see contemporaries and comrades doing better than them. Then again, we writers can be a sensitive and touchy bunch, and truly, it can hurt to watch other people get the things we want. I guess the real question is how much pleasure can we derive from work that doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere. Placing no focus whatsoever on its perceived relative quality. How much do we enjoy doing what we do?

Because I urge you to enjoy it more. Perhaps easier said than done, but there’s great pleasure to be found in the moment-to-moment, the day-to-day. I want you to write like only you can write because only you can write that way. Make sense? I want to hear your individual voice, and I want you to recognize it deserves to be heard.

Time can be your friend as easily as it can be your enemy. I suppose what I’d really like to do is walk up to the next struggling, frustrated writer I see and tap them on the head, ask her or him what the big deal is. Don’t you know your success is only a matter of time? Because that’s the truth, isn’t it? Don’t worry so much about what will or won’t happen. Worry about this scene you’re writing, that sentence you’re tweaking. In other words, focus on what you can control and disregard the rest. Don’t sweat it, because honestly, what’s there to sweat?

The simplicity of my message might offend this writer, because how can I say their success is a matter of time when nothing good or great has happened for them yet? How can I be so casual about the fact they haven’t proved themselves? Writers love to prove themselves. I might direct them to the precepts of Quantum Law, which stipulate that while there is only one you in the here and now, the future holds limitless possibilities for who you’ll become and what you’ll do next. Playing with pretty big odds, actually. Forces quite beyond your ken. Keep your nose to the grindstone, work when you can work, play when it feels right to play, and try to develop a little bit of trust, a little faith in the process and in your ability to do what’s right for you, to be at the right place when and only when it’s the right time.

Cliché and sound advice seem like the same thing sometimes, so don’t fret when I indulge in a certain truism: it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. Fact is fact, my friends. It’s all just a matter of time. I’ll see you next month in Craft and Practice.


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 – Wonder Woman 1984

Jeff's Movie Reviews

A Little Less Wonderful

by Jeff Bowles

When the first Wonder Woman film hit theaters three years ago, it was met with substantial fanfare. The Greek goddess superheroine is more than just a cultural phenomenon, she’s a feminist icon, a symbol of strength and nobility for millions of people all over the world. Her first major foray onto the big screen meant more to some people than anything else DC Comics has ever produced, so yeah, its sequel has quite a bit to live up to.

Wonder Woman 1984 is, if nothing else, an interesting product of its time, 2020, a year in which it was supposed to have been released in theaters in July. Coronavirus forced Warner Bros. to push the film until December, and the studio chose to do so by mixing a theatrical release with a special limited release on the home video streaming platform, HBO Max. So you can watch this movie right now at home for a small membership fee, kind of a remarkable thing in the history of cinema. New movies always used to be, you know, out at the movies. But now, who knows?

Subsequently, the flick has been met with much less fanfare than its predecessor enjoyed. Wonder Woman 1984 has been a success of sorts, but it’s doubtful to make much of an impact beyond that. The reasons for this aren’t merely limited to its precarious release schedule. The story makes some choices that keep it from being quite as wonderful as it deserves to be.

See the source image
Gal Gadot as the titular hero in Wonder Woman 1984.

For one, Wonder Woman 1984 revolves around a somewhat ridiculous McGuffin that allows for wishes to come true. This is a comic book movie, of course, which I have to admit I’m a huge fan of, even when they’re loud and dumb. But it’s almost as if the entirety of the plot was constructed on a simple and somewhat lazy notion to resurrect one key dead character. That would be Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor, Wonder Woman’s traditional love interest. The movie works best when the two share screen time. Their chemistry is relatable and infectious, so it’s no surprise writer/director Patty Jenkins wanted to pull him back into the fold.

Also returning is Gal Gadot as the titular hero, and she’s still great. More comfortable this time around, perhaps, but then, she’s played the character a total of four times now. SNL alum Kristen Wiig joins the cast as a relatable if slightly goofy foil/villain whose wish to be just like Wonder Woman goes wrong in all the right ways. The Mandalorian’s Pedro Pascal plays Maxwell Lord, a DC bad guy who first appeared in a 1987 Justice League comic and who has now been given the 1984 self-help guru treatment. Pascal gives the guy a lot of juice. A lot of juice. Perhaps its best not to say too much more about it than that.

One of the problems with the movie is that it doesn’t seem to feel the need to indulge in 80s-themed nostalgia in any major way, not like other recent shows and movies set in the decade have done. Odd, considering they wanted me to know the year it takes place months and months before it ever came out. Oh, there’s some paltry lip service to the year 1984 scattered here and there. An early action set-piece takes place in a mall, for instance. But again, no 80s tunes or anything? No Simple Minds? No New Coke references? What gives, dudes?

Wonder Woman 1984 comes together all right in the end, but really, it’s just another example of a DC Comics adaptation that’s barely handled well enough to justify its own existence. I’m a pretty big comics fan when it comes down to it. Gosh, it’s getting harder and harder to compete in that space. They’ve already announced Wonder Woman 3. Let’s hope Patty Jenkins and Warner Bros. bring a bit more punch to the superhero party next time.

Jeff’s Movie Reviews gives Wonder Woman 1984 a Six out of Ten.


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 – Creativity, Mourning, and the Year 2021

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.

Creativity, Mourning, and the Year 2021

2020 was a rough year for all of us. To varying degrees, it was tense, stressful, tragic, contentious, and perhaps most surprisingly of all, dangerous. I had been hoping the new year would bring better tidings, but my 2021 thus far has been a doozy as well.

On January 2nd, one of my poor kitties passed away. It was very sudden, very sad. He was only two years old, and a sweeter animal you’ve never met. Then, just a couple days later, my father called to tell me a relative had died from complications related to Coronavirus and a recent injury. Needless to say, it feels like tragedy and sadness are still everywhere I look.

I’m not a pessimist or a cynic, and I almost always believe the future can be better. This month’s Words to Live By is about creative struggle. What do you do as a writer or a musician, an artist or photographer, when it seems like you’re surrounded by tragedy? How do you stay productive when you’re feeling down or scared or just plain fed up with life? Should you stay productive at all, or is it more appropriate to take some time for yourself?

As I’ve mentioned in other articles, my method of writing fiction is minimalist. I only write 400 words per day, and I typically don’t do it every day of the year. It’s low-commitment, and it keeps me on the ball over the weeks and months it takes to generate a new novel. Having a low workload has been enormously helpful over the past few days. By the same token, there’s been a lot of grief in my household, and I don’t mind admitting that having some kind of daily work process—any kind of process—has helped get my mind off things when it’s all become just a bit too much.

I’m also a musician, an independent singer songwriter, and I’ve got an entertainment channel on YouTube. This is a solution some people choose, work through the pain. It isn’t for everyone. Sometimes it can even develop into something we modern people have termed workaholism. And let’s be honest, there are times in life working through the pain isn’t an option. I’m a creator, and if I’m not creating, I tend to struggle. But we all know how grief goes. Yes, sometimes it can be a good idea to distract yourself, stay busy, keep your chin up, but then again, when we deny our own turbulent emotions too long, they can fester and become something much, much worse.

If you’re going through tough times at the moment, or if you’re just a bit shell-shocked from the surprises and pitfalls of 2020, you may want to take extra care of yourself and the people closest to you. Yes, most of us have become very good at looking after the health of our bodies, but what about the health of our hearts and minds?

About five years ago, my life was in shambles. Mental health issues, stress, and exhaustion got the better of me. At that time, I was forced to place all my creative drives and impulses on the backburner. Things were so chaotic for a while, I couldn’t possibly have written a single word, and the thought of picking up a guitar only filled me with dread. It was appropriate for me to quit at that time. Just up and quit. And what’s more, I wasn’t sure I’d ever pick any of it up again. I should’ve known I could trust myself to do what was right for me. In general, I should’ve known it was better to trust, to have faith, and to give myself the time and space I needed to recover. No guilt, just allow and help myself get well again.

Sometimes when we feel like giving up, it isn’t because we’re weak or because we lack longevity. Sometimes it’s because we do in fact have the right to give up. At least for a while. I’m here to tell you, when the deluge of life begins, and it doesn’t show any sign of stopping, it’s incredibly important to lay down what you need to lay down, take with you only what you require, and face the storm with all the confidence you can muster. The real question is whether or not you can recognize, as I failed to, that the work of life resides in the heart, in the soul, and that patience and self-compassion are incredibly important, crucial in fact.

Having modified my schedule some time ago has been beneficial. I can weather fiercer storms, but I’m always conscious of the fact that I don’t have to do it if it gets too challenging. I won’t work myself to the bone just because I think I have to, not anymore. I miss my dear relative, and truth be told, I miss my poor kitty. I suppose, like many of you, I’m also grieving the world as I once knew it.

Nothing lasts forever. All things pass away in time. That’s especially true of people, places, and eras. Like I said, I’m not a pessimist or a cynic. I believe the future can and will be better. If you’re experiencing similar thoughts and feelings, I urge you to consider your own needs. You may feel better working through it. Then again, you may not. Look at yourself, your strengths, and while you’re at it, look at your weaknesses in equal measure. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. I believe you’ll know what to do; as with most everything else we encounter, it’s all a matter of instinct and timing.

There’s no use denying it: sometimes life can be hard. But that doesn’t mean you have to suffer alone, suffer in silence, suffer instead of choosing to do what’s right for you and for the people you care about most. Take care of yourselves out there, everybody. I’ll talk to you again next month in 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 – What’s the Use of Trunk Novels?

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.

Everything old is new again.

Trunk novels. Everyone’s heard of them. Heck, odds are some of you have one or two lying around. Personally, I’ve got three. Three and a half, if you count a couple false starts from back when I was in my late teens and early twenties. I recently dug one out and started reading and editing it a bit, just to see if there’s a viable release opportunity for me in it.

I’m kind of a modernist when it comes to publishing. My background is in lots of short story publications, but when it’s come to book-length work, I’ve always gone the direct route and published things myself. The good news this year is that I’m already ahead of schedule on the next book I’m writing, which means I’ve got more than enough time to try and polish this older book, see if I can turn it into something presentable. It’ll take some time. Let’s face it, there’s not much in writing that can’t be improved or sharpened in some fashion. And it’s a trunk novel, which means I chose to hide it away for a reason.

That term, trunk novel, it’s got a slightly negative connotation, hasn’t it? It would seem to imply that if a book were any good, it would’ve gotten published rather than collected dust in some old trunk, either in reality or in the newfangled digital sense. This book I’m looking at, I wrote it about thirteen years ago. That’s kind if astounding, really. I also happen to have written it at a time my writing gifts were still in the soft-boiled state.

Although I do find the material worthwhile to pursue after a fashion, I just wasn’t a very good writer back then. That’s par for the course, if you ask me. So what are you to do if you’ve got some old book you’d like to resurrect, but the writing isn’t up to your present standards?

Well, I say do the hard work and chip away at it, bit by bit, until it looks a little better. Grab the opinions of a few beta readers, and then chip away at it again. The focus for me has been in shortening and cutting. Lots and lots and lots of cutting. I was a pretty verbose writer, so I expect to cut something like 30,000 to 40,000 words from a manuscript originally in the 120,000 word range. But you might have a very different task. Maybe you’ve got to make additions, or perhaps you’ll have to rewrite whole sections of it.

The truth is, if you really still believe in the story, you should be willing to do just about anything to give it a fair shot. And look, you have so many more publication options in the year 2021 than you had in decades past. The traditional route continues to be the preferred option for just about everybody out there, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be the case. Reviving an old work, hiring an editor, a book designer and cover illustrator, or doing your best with some or all of these duties yourself, it can be a very gratifying way of letting the world see something that likely would have never come up for air otherwise.

I’ve always thought hidden art is the worst kind. An alternative to publishing a more polished version of old material outright, of course, would be cannibalizing it for spare parts. This can be a really effective tool for future story development. Maybe the trunk novel has a second life in it. Is it possible it contains ideas or even entire passages or chapters you could lift out and use somewhere else? Sometimes being a writer under the gun is the same thing as being a Frankenstein-like doctor, assembling narrative monsters from bits here and bobs there.

Or, and let’s be perfectly frank about this possibility, maybe you’ll find the trunk novel needs to stay in the trunk. No problem with this. Perhaps it was meant to be. At least you know for sure now. The time I’ve taken to look at my thirteen-year-old manuscript has been well spent. So far, I haven’t seen anything too objectionable, nothing that can’t be fixed. Is it possible this kind of retreading takes more effort than simply drafting up a new story from scratch? Potentially, but again, it comes down to how much you like the work and how much you think it deserves to be seen.

That’s it for this month’s craft and practice, everyone. 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!


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


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 live by less 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!


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


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


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