Ask the Authors 2022 Book & Blog Series: Pre-Writing Rituals

Ask the Authors 2022

Welcome back for segment 2 of the “Ask the Authors 2022” blog series, with an introduction to Bobby Nash, who shares how to manage the many tasks which being an author entails, to the Ask the Authors 2022 Writing Reference Anthology, and a Q & A on Pre-Writing Rituals.

Last week, we learned a little about myself and author Kevin Killiany, in addition to the Q & A session on Writing Life. If you missed it, you can find it here.

And now on to this week’s post.

Meet Bobby Nash

Bobby Nash is not a man of action, a detective, or a hero, but he loves writing about characters who are all of those things and more. Bobby is an award-winning author of novels, comic books, short stories, screenplays, and more. He is a member of the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers and International Thriller Writers. On occasion, he acts, appearing in movies and TV shows, usually standing behind or beside your favorite actor. From time to time, he puts pen to paper and doodles. For more information on Bobby Nash and his work, please visit him at www.bobbynash.com, www.ben-books.com, and across social media.

Pre-Writing Rituals

Please tell us what genre(s) you write in and what type of research is required for your stories?

Mario Acevedo: I write commercial fiction—novels and short stories of supernatural fantasy, horror, and hard-boiled crime. My research is to make the story and setting sound as credible as possible.

Paul Kane: All kinds really. I’ve dabbled in a lot of genres and written in a lot of formats, from comics and audio scripting to TV and film. I started out doing journalism, so non-fiction, and had a couple of books out in that vein: The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy is probably the most well-known. Then I returned to writing short stories, because I was always writing those growing up; especially for English classes where the teachers would get exasperated at the length of some of them. I started sending these off to small presses and was lucky enough to get some printed, which then led to a collection. At the same time I’d been trying to write a novel, The Gemini Factor. I’d had a stab at a few before, so technically this was about my third or fourth novel, but the first I wrote with any serious intention of getting it published – which it was eventually, and there was even an anniversary edition which came out in 2020 through Gestalt Media. That was a horror serial killer thriller, by the way – and indeed most of the stuff I was doing back then was horror, and I carried on in that vein for a little while. Then around 2007, I pitched a book to Abaddon/Rebellion for their post-apocalyptic Afterblight series, which was a reworking of Robin Hood. They accepted that and it was my first mass market novel, so I’d shifted into SF at that point and wrote three novels altogether – gathered together in the sellout Hooded Man – plus a novella for them. I also wrote my first YA novel, The Rainbow Man, as PB Kane. At the same time I was writing short films like The Opportunity and The Weeping Woman, and then some audios – I adapted The Hellbound Heart into a full cast audio drama for Bafflegab – as well as working on and running conventions. More recently I’ve moved into writing straight thrillers for HQ/HarperCollins under the name PL Kane and the first of those, Her Last Secret, Her Husband’s Grave and The Family Lie, have all done very well. In amongst all that, I’ve written a couple of short plays too, one of which – One for the Road – was performed at FantasyCon 2015.  As for research, it very much depends on the kind of story you’re telling. Crime research is very different to SF, as you can probably imagine.

Chris Barili: I write in just about every genre, and I wouldn’t say one genre requires more research than the others. Rather, I’d say one series of stories requires it: Hell’s Marshal. Because it is set in the old west, I do extensive research to make sure it is accurate, or at least believable in light of the story itself.

Bobby Nash: I write in whatever genre the publisher wants. So far, I haven’t done a lot of fantasy, nor have I attempted romance or erotica. Most of my work has a thriller element to it. I also write a lot of action and crime fiction. Research varies from project to project.

Robbie Cheadle: My YA and adult books are all historical and most have a paranormal element. I do a lot of research for each book, plotting the historical events on a timeline and then overlying the events of my plot. A Ghost and His Gold had over thirty historical sources and my current work in progress, The Soldier and the Radium Girl, will end up have at least the same number of sources, possibly even more.

I also read a lot of books in the timeframe I am writing about, especially classic books that were written during the period. This helps me gain insight into the everyday lives of people living at the time and experiencing the historical events I’m writing about.

Nancy Oswald: I write mostly Colorado-set historical history for young readers. It’s not always in the same order, but I typically start by reading history of the area, but not always. I like to visit the sites and glean as much as I can about the area. For me, museums and history centers are a huge wealth of material. 

Kevin Killiany: Young adult, because the stories are more direct and revelatory of character. “Hard” science fiction (which means the fictional science is compatible with and based on real world science) and historical. Both require serious research, because accuracy is essential to the authenticity of the story.

How do you prefer to conduct your research: Live? Online? First-hand accounts?

Mario Acevedo: While the Internet is the most used because it is right in my computer, I continue to surprise myself with what treasures you find in newspaper microfiche, libraries, and visiting a place.

Paul Kane: I mainly do my research through a mixture of online searches, books and documentaries. For example for Her Husband’s Grave I did a lot of digging into psychology and serial killers, because my main character Dr Robyn Adams helps the police with their serial cases. For The Family Lie, I watched documentaries about cults and stuff like Jonestown, which led to some sleepless nights I can tell you. The cult of personality and all that. You get first-hand accounts in documentaries about subjects like that, so I haven’t needed to go to the horse’s mouth yet. Apart from in one instance, where I had a weapons expert called Trev Preston who’d help me with some of the details in the Hooded Man series. I’d ask him bizarre things like, is possible to take down an Apache Helicopter with a bolas – and he’d say yes or no. The answer’s yes, by the way, and that scene is in Broken Arrow

Chris Barili: I do almost all my research online.  Just don’t have time or resources to go visit far away places. That said, I did do some of that during two recent road trips.

Bobby Nash: I enjoy meeting and talking to people who do the jobs. I’ve talked with FBI agents, police, doctors, etc. about their respective jobs to get a feel for what they do. That adds a personal touch to the characters I have in those roles. On-line research is an invaluable tool to have at your fingertips. I also like to travel and visit locations where I can set stories and scenes.

Robbie Cheadle: I do all my research on-line and I like to use diaries, letters, and journals from the time, if possible.  Project Gutenberg is a wonderful resource for historical research.

Nancy Oswald: See above, but add first-hand accounts if they’re available. I usually save online for while I’m drafting, because inevitably I’ll need a piece of information that I couldn’t anticipate.

Kevin Killiany: I love a library—finding and searching through physical books—but these days the internet enables one to access more information quickly. Whenever possible, I visit locations used in my stories.

What are your best research sources?

Chris Barili: Town or county historians. As them the time and they will build you a clock.

Bobby Nash: Google is readily at my fingertips. Interviewing people is also a good source of information gathering and adds a personal touch.

Nancy Oswald: I like the online dictionary of etymology. Quick and accurate.

What do you look for in a source: Aim? Accuracy? Authority? Correlation?

Paul Kane: I think you’re always looking for accuracy, because it goes back to that thing of believability again. You need to be as accurate as you can with facts, just so the reader believes in what you’re doing. That said, it’s hard to research some of the things I write about, like monster cats coming back as ghosts and attacking people, but you just have to do your best. That’s where the imagination element comes into it. I recently wrote a story for a charity anthology that takes place in the universe of my novella The Rot, and I had to do tons of research into black mold to get that right – even just for short story. It’s that important.

Robbie Cheadle: I like my stories to be as historically accurate as possible, so I actively look for accuracy and correlate the information I find with as many other sources as possible.

Nancy Oswald: I usually check more than one source if I’m in doubt. For historical fiction I like to be accurate, but love, love, love historic photos for setting. 

What pre-writing exercises do you employ: Outlining? Free writing? Brainstorming?

Paul Kane: I rarely need to brainstorm, because Ideas come to me all the time and I jot them down. This means I’ve got tons of notebooks to draw on if I ever go blank… And I do plans, outlines and chapter breakdowns for novels. I might not stick religiously to them, but I find it helps me focus and keep on the straight and narrow, to keep going whenever I lose where I might be in the story. Like a kind of roadmap. You wouldn’t set off for a destination without having one of those – or a Satnav, or your phone – so why set off on a journey of many hours of hard work and 80 or 90 thousand words without an idea of where you’re heading? Some people wing it, I know, but I suspect they’re just planning it all out in their heads or their subconscious. 

Chris Barili: Yes. And more. Any tool I can get my hands on to make my writing better.

Bobby Nash: I rarely have time for pre-writing. Deadlines do not always allow for that. I spend my writing time writing. When I’m at the beginning of a project and creating characters, I will do free writing and just start jotting down notes as I get to know the characters. Sometimes, plot/story ideas will happen in this stage too.

Robbie Cheadle: I research each section before I start writing a new chapter. As mentioned previously, I have my ending plotted prior to commencing writing and that is the direction I write towards.

Nancy Oswald: Refer to answer about plotting or pantsing. Oh, it’s blank. None of the above. I think while I write most of the time, but I have used a time-line to plot on when I’m trying to track a fiction story-line and compare it to the actual historical events.

Do you try to write to market or write what you love?

Paul Kane: The quick answer is both. I’ve written stories just for the love it them, usually they’re new ones for collections – like ‘The Butterfly Man’, that was a story for a collection from PS of the same name. But I’ve also written for specific markets, like the Hooded Man stuff, or where an editor gives you a theme for an anthology. I wrote ‘The Shadow of Death’ for an anthology called Expiration Date, for instance, ‘Shells’ for an anthology called Terror Tales of the Seaside, and ‘Presence’ for Hauntings. So at that point you’re totally writing for a specific market or theme. 

Chris Barili: Again, yes. I write to market within the boundaries of what I know and love. I won’t shoe-horn my writing into genres or labels, and while I write what I am passionate about, I don’t limit myself to things I know or share with the reader.

Bobby Nash: Write what you love. Writing to market can drive you crazy and often leave you unfulfilled. I speak from personal experience here.

Robbie Cheadle: I write what I enjoy and for my own pleasure. I would like others to enjoy my stories, but that is secondary to my primary aim of personal enjoyment. As a result, I have decided to continue to publish with smaller publishers rather than to try to get representation with a larger publishing house.

Jeff Bowles: I sort of try to do both at the same time, I suppose. I’ve always had this theory that solid, salable fiction can be fun and artistic, too. Crazy, I know, but that’s just how I feel! Anyway, I’ve sort of developed a unique style, and there’s certain subjects I seem to write about again and again, as it is with most authors, I think. When I try to write like other people, the results are mixed, so I learned a long time ago to try to hit the personal enjoyment metric and then sort out what I think is salable or not. It’s a fine line, one that’s almost always difficult to walk, but it’s almost always worth it in the end.

Nancy Oswald: I realized a long time ago I cannot write to a market. For one, living in rural Colorado, I can’t keep up with anything that resembles up-to-date or edgy. The last time I remember trying keep up with cool was when I was a teen (living in Denver) and I practiced doing “The Jerk” in front of a mirror.

Kevin Killiany: Obviously when writing tie-in fiction for a TV show or role-playing game, I have to write for the market. BUT I’m writing for that market because I love the game or show—you have to campaign constantly to get your foot in the door, and that requires a good deal of passion.
With my own, original fiction, I write solely for me. If you guys like it, that’s fantastic.

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That wraps up “Ask the Authors 2022” blog series for this week. Be sure to drop by next Saturday for an introduction to multi-genre author, Roberta Eaton Cheadle, and a Q & A on plot/storyline. (Okay, many of you already know Robbie, some of you quite well. Drop by anyway for the Q & A.)

Ask the Authors 2022

You can get your copy of Ask the Authors 2022 at your favorite book distributors at the special price of 3.99 for the duration of this blog series, through the Books2Read UBL: https://books2read.com/u/3LnK8e

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Words to Live By – Professional Jealousy

The first Wednesday of the 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.

Green with Envy?

How jealous can you get? It’s an important question, one which may very well help define your ultimate level of happiness. I don’t mean the kind of jealousy that can emerge between romantic partners, or even jealousy that exists in people who constantly feel the need to keep up with the Joneses, though that in part has something to do with it.

I’m talking about professional jealousy, specifically as it occurs in the publishing world (or in any other creative field, really). It’s that sting you feel when a rival snags a big book contract, seemingly leaving you in the dust. It’s also the feeling you get when a good friend becomes successful, and you can’t seem to get anywhere close. This is not a rare experience, nor is it down to animosity or contention alone. It’s everywhere. Don’t try to deny what the world already knows. Human beings get jealous, maddeningly so, and there’s not much any of us can do about it, right?

Wrong. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that some who stumble across this post will have no idea what I’m talking about. Jealousy isn’t much of an issue for them, at least not in this sense. They may be beginners, or in some cases, they might be individuals who are much smarter than the average bear. You see, it takes a certain amount of practiced intelligence to avoid the crushing impact of full-on, green-to-the-gills jealousy.

When I was starting out with short stories, I noticed my own capacity for envy when it came to other writers in my sphere. Some of them were better than me. Much, much better. Some were bypassing shorts altogether and were producing novel-length manuscripts, which made me even more irascible. At that time, I wasn’t too terribly smart about these things. I didn’t realize what this life would come to represent to me, a brilliant and complex tapestry in which no single thread is out of place. We can’t all be huge successes. I’m sure you know that by now. Jealousy is a wholly destructive emotion. A person can use it to jumpstart their inner drive, but mostly it’s just corrosive.

Those who earn the spotlight deserve the spotlight. End of story. And it doesn’t mean you aren’t deserving too. It’s just that either by randomness or divine intervention, you’re in your own little universe with your own feathers for your own cap, and really, that rival or that friend has very little to do with any of it. Don’t let it become a mile marker for all your anxieties and worries. Their successes doesn’t make you inadequate or unskilled. It’s just that you haven’t gotten there yet, may never get there, may decide someday you didn’t really want it as bad as you thought you did.

The only real losers in this game, and I’ve long believed this about creative folks, are the ones who don’t even try, who settle for less than full creative disclosure, who don’t take at least one or two risks in their limited time here on this planet. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s everyone’s solemn duty to reach for the stars and try to become something they aren’t likely to become, but look, if you’ve got the drive and ambition, it’d be a real shame to leave all your talents undeveloped and hidden from the rest of the world. Share these things, put them out there, even if you fail. Especially if you fail. Because I guarantee you’ll rarely meet (or perhaps, meet less often) that other beast of an emotion, regret.

And I would suggest you do so for reasons that live up to your lofty station as a maker of cool stuff. Don’t go after your dreams if you think they’ll add something to you that isn’t already there. Similarly, don’t do it if your goal is to crush and outperform all other applicants. Create because you love to create, publish because you’ve got something to say, stories to tell. Do these things for joyous reasons, not simply because you want to teach that vindictive high school English teacher a lesson or prove once and for all to everyone you know that you are worth a damn. Trust me, you are. Don’t even question that. Take it as a given.

Remaining anonymous is not failure. I had to learn this the hard way. Our culture can be shockingly backwards and out of sync with the realities of, well, reality. You have your own path to walk; your work and your passion is a matter of personal pride. Nobody can do things the way you can. Nobody. We are simultaneously small in the grand scheme of things and as massive as the universe itself. You are and always have been precisely all you are and always have been. I do believe that. You’re perfect enough already. Keep that notion close by at all times.

Do your work, create what can create. Do it like no one’s watching, regardless of whether or not anyone is. It’s a wide and generous world if you know what to look out for, and allowing poison into your heart won’t  solve anything for anyone. Do I still get jealous of other writers? You bet I do, but if I can, where I’m able, I decline to attach to that particular emotion and just let the old familiar sting pass on by.

Until next time.


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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Writer’s Corner: The Craft of Short Fiction

I’ve recently been working on two different anthologies for my classes, as well as planning two, or possibly three different anthologies, that I want to put out through WordCrafter Press next year, so it’s not surprising that I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the writing of short fiction. While writing short fiction presents many of the same challenges as writing book length fiction presents, such as avoiding passive voice, using the correct tense and the right POV, and avoiding repetitive language, it also seems to present challenges for the writer, which are more prominent and more noticable in a short story.

Below is a list of what I see as the top four challenges of writing short fiction. A short story in which these challenges are met and mastered can be a delight to read, but when the writer misses the mark or doesn’t tackle these challenges skillfully, the result can be a story that doesn’t feel complete, leaving readers feeling unsatisfied.

Top 4 Challenges in Short Fiction and How to Handle Them

  1. Abrupt ending: I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve read recently that start out wonderfully, promising a killer story all the way to the end and then drop the ball, leaving me wondering where the story went wrong. I think many times authors are at a loss as to how to wrap things up, and with short fiction, where word counts must be taken into consideration, they try to end too quickly, instead of taking a little more time to tie up the details of the story. – To avoid this, take the time you need to wrap things up in your story in a way that will be satisfying to the reader who has stuck with you this far. If you can’t give your story a satisfying ending within the required word count, perhaps it should become a longer work, because there is nothing more frustrating than to read an engaging story that you are really into, only to be disappointed at the end, so this is a biggie.
  2. Shallow, underdeveloped characters: In short fiction, you have a limited space in which to introduce your characters and make your reader care about what happens to them, so it is important to come out of the gate with a good strong voice that grabs the reader’s attention at the very beginning and continue with that all the way through. Making your characters interesting is something you need to do with fiction of any length, but with short fiction, you need a strong voice to bring character traits to the forefront in a succint way. Passive voice in a short story can result in a lack of interest in the reader, causing them to put the story down without taking time to get to know your characters or get into the story.
  3. Head hopping: This is always a problem when it occurs in any length work of fiction, because it tends to pull readers out of the story when they realize that the viewpoint they thought they were in, is really that of a different character. Short fiction isn’t really long enough to use multiple POVs, so it’s difficult to figure out how this even happens, but it does. The author needs to pay close attention to who the narrator is and be sure to not wander into the view point of a different character.
  4. Excessive wording: It’s important to realize that a short story is just that – short. Don’t waste space with unnecessary wording that isn’t needed. Write succintly. Say what you have to say in as few words as possible. While it’s important to paint a vivid visual image for the reader, don’t include details which are not relevant to the story in some way. World building, character development, and plot must all come together in a short amount of space, so choose your words carefully.

I love a well-written short story, and I read a lot of short fiction. When it’s done right, a short story can be every bit as engaging as a good novel. Don’t you think?

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See the WordCrafter New Beginnings Character Development Panel Discussion.

The 2021 Wordcrafter New Beginnings Virtual Writing Conference did not turn out as well as I had hoped, by any means. This year, we had a two-day event with a pre-event promotional and social day on Facebook to launch it. If you happened to attend any part of the event, I want to thank you for your support. For those of you who did not attend, and that is probably most of you as attendence was way down from the 2020 conference. I’m sure the pandemic had a lot to do with both last year’s and this year’s turn-outs.

Whatever the reason for the poor turn-out in 2021, I think we all still had fun just getting together and talking about the craft. We had a great group of authors, who jumped in and carried on without me when I experienced an internet outage, causing me to miss one full day of the conference. Let me tell you, as the host, that was really frustrating, because I didn’t know if things had continued on without me, or simply fallen apart, and I had no way to find out until I moved to another location where I knew I would have internet access for Day 2. But most of this great group of authors just picked up the ball and ran with it, even without their host to guide them. I guess it’s true that the show must go on.

It would be a shame to let all the hard work that myself and all of the wonderful authors who were kind enough to volunteer their time to present this conference go to waste. So, I made the keynote address by horror author, Paul Kane, available from the Conference Page, here on Writing to be Read or on WordCrafter’s YouTube page, immediately following the conference, and although the editing of the conference recordings has been slow, they will all eventually be released, as well.

The first of these has recently been posted to YouTube and can be accessed both there and on the Conference Page, as well as through the link below. It is the Character Development Panel Discussion, with authors Jim Nesbitt, Ellie Raine, Paul Kane, Chris Barili, and Mario Acevedo. It’s an interesting discussion, one that you’ll want to be sure and sit in on. You can even weigh in with your own thoughts on character development in the comments. And the best part is, it’s free!

Character Development Panel Discussion

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Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles – Narrators of a Different Color

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.

There’s an entire school of thought behind the use of standard third-person perspective in narrative fiction. Often enough, beginning writers are encouraged to see it as their go-to, which isn’t horrible advice. Let’s do a quick POV lesson, in case your memory is hazy.

First-person: I walked to the lake.

Second-person: You walked to the lake.

Third-Person: He walked to the lake.

Conventional wisdom says most readers stomach lucky number three best. I think that might be a load of hogwash, but let’s assume it’s 100% correct. What would be the benefit of writing fiction—or creative nonfiction, for that matter—from a quote, unquote “nontraditional” perspective? Your own edification, right? And maybe something else.

Third-person is the norm because it provides helpful breathing room between us and our readers. It’s easy to tell a story this way, natural. We’re used to it, having read it a million times before. By the same token, I have noticed it’s become increasingly more common for storytellers to dabble in other modes. First or second-person, past or present tense, limited omniscience or full-blown mind-of-God territory. First-person present tense, by the way, is notoriously apt to cause chaos.

“I write on the blog post for a bit, and then I check my email. It occurs to me I’ve never met a sultan of Saudi Arabia, so it’s possible these diet pills are phony. Oh well. I chuck them in the trash and head outside to clear my mind. It smells like a forest fire out here. Hey, what gives?”

This is stream of consciousness stuff, easy to write but difficult and unwieldy to beat into proper shape. All the verbiage points to me, me, me, now, now, now. It can get same-same after a while, difficult to chew through. Not always, but often enough.

I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume your new forest fire/phony diet pill story is perfectly well written, thank you very much. You did the job, tale told effectively, end of discussion. In that case, one crucial question comes to mind. Is your narrator any fun to read?

What do you mean, what do I mean? What’s a fun narrator supposed to sound like? Well, I guess they can be any of the following: idiosyncratic, faulty, confident, psychotic, mentally sound, likable, unlikable, funny, unfunny, jaded, naïve, a super focal lens, an individual with something to say, a personality worth delving into.

Maybe you’ve never considered it this way, but in my humble estimation, narration of this kind is a blank check. Most things worth achieving sound unlikely at first. Think of it like speed dating. You known instantly upon sitting across from someone whether or not you’d enjoy their company. Is your speed-dater worth engaging in conversation? Are they fun to listen to?

Gut check time. How well do you write dialogue? I only ask because I’ve realized throughout the years not everyone is as keen on it as I am. Sharp and amusing with zero fat left to trim, that’s my favorite kind. But what’s yours? Informative but not dull? Wacky and a bit irredeemable? More importantly, do you think you could extend a few lines of it to encompass an entire story? I’m willing to bet you can.

The simple truth is most writers create bland characters by default. Not you, of course. Perish the thought. Mentors and teachers might encourage us to pre-fill character sheets or go to public places and write down snatches of conversation we hear. I’m not saying that’s bad advice, but I can confidently tell you it’s more efficient and effective to let characters tell us who they are rather than to impose our sizable wills upon them. Don’t bloat yourself up with too much preparation. On the fly, hit the page and let your creations speak to you. A little honest individuality is enough to distinguish your work from the work of others, and that’s a good thing.

Rule makers have tried to enter this arena, but I don’t think they’ve done a great job setting any concrete prescriptive measures. Is addressing your reader directly breaking the fourth wall? No, not really. If you think about it, first-person narration divorced from context is unnatural anyway. It was much more common in centuries past for authors to speak to their readers through narration. As we discussed earlier, stability is easy to achieve by providing a little breathing room. This is a blank check, remember? Anything and everything is achievable, provided you’ve got the skills to stick the landing. That’s the thing about experts. If they tell you something can be done, they’re most certainly right. If they tell you it can’t, they’re most certainly wrong.

Style remains essential in this domain. My final advice is this: If you’re currently working on something you’ve written in first-person, try playing with your style a little, write it like you’d write some nice extended dialogue, just as far as you’re comfortable, nothing too crazy—unless you like crazy. You might just surprise yourself. Scratch that. Your narrator might surprise you.

Don’t be stiff or formal. Get into the nitty gritty and pour a serious helping of personality gravy on those otherwise boring and bland mashed ‘taters.

On that note…

See you next time, everyone. Have an awesome May, will you?


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 – Characters in Need of Color

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’m a big fan of color. Maybe it’s the art lover in me, but I can’t stand boring compositions. A little passionate red, cool and withdrawn blue, yellow to energize, purple to pacify. My stories are always full of color. I design them that way so I don’t get bored in the telling. Attention span of a cocker spaniel, I assure you. I figure if I’m getting bored, my readers don’t stand a chance.

In this edition of Craft and Practice, we’ll look at colorful characters. Where do they come from? How can we more easily create them? Let’s assume you find them preferable to stock characters that are functional but not especially inspired. I’m here to tell you that you don’t need much in terms of preparation. Outlines, character sheets, written histories, throw them all out for the time being. The trick here is to open yourself up, to trust your instincts and your ability to create something sort of magical and unique to your abilities, to your point of view. It’s not so much that preparation can hamper our ideas or dampen our expression of them. This is true some of the time, but not always. It’s more that the tighter we constrict our creativity―that’s constrict rather than channel; one is suppressive by nature and the other is purposefully expressive―the more likely we are to produce wooden and inflexible components.

Your characters don’t want to be inflexible. Trust me on this. They long to be unpredictable, passionate, full of life. Some writers like to work with a net. Perfectly understandable. It’s cleaner and in some sense easier. But I’d like you to consider the possibility that extra work at the conclusion of a writing project is worth more in the long run than an equivalent amount of preparation. The final product is bound to be less like everyone else’s stories and more like your own, and that’s a win in my book.

Let’s run a brief exercise to illustrate the point. Character A asks Character B for something to drink. Character A doesn’t visit other people’s homes very often, so the request doesn’t seem rude or presumptuous. Character B is a friendly sort, charitable in all the ways it matters, and if it’s possible to provide hospitality and comfort to Character A, then that’s precisely what Character B will do. Outcome: Character A gets to drink. Huzzah!

Notice that in just a few brief character descriptions, I’ve told you everything you need to know in order to enjoy the scene. Do you care what Character A’s first car was? Not unless it has direct bearing on the scene at hand. Do you care if your protagonist prefers Pizza Hut to Domino’s? Not as such, because they’re not eating right now. They’re, you know, drinking. What if childhood trauma involving fruit punch makes them thirstier than the average beverage enthusiast? I mean, that may be pertinent information. Put it in and see how it reads. In this way, story serves character, not the other way around. These imaginary folks living rent-free in your head, they might change their spots entirely by the time you’ve written THE END. In fact, we sort of need them to. It’d be damn boring if they didn’t. I’m saying the desired effect is best achieved organically. Think about your standard rising action chart

Notice the trajectory, one smooth line shot straight toward a conclusion. Don’t design your plot or your characters in this manner. Just don’t do it. Trust me, that line reads a whole lot better when it’s perforated, imbalanced, full of ups and downs, at last arriving at that ultimate destination. In real life, human beings do not proceed along a straight trajectory. Great actors know this. They understand innately to respond to moments as they come. One foot in front of the other, not all the feet all over the world all at once.

Imagine going onstage with a dozen pages of notes stapled to your forehead. This scene should be easier to perform because you have at your disposal so much background information. Right? Wrong? Yes? No? How’s your performance? Natural or constricted? I mean really, is that stuff helpful, or is it dead weight? A given scene tells me I should be afraid of snakes. The next one tells me I’m falling in love with someone who owns a lot of snakes. The core of my character remains, but the dictates of motivation, action, and reaction are all over the map. Am I in love with snakes and afraid of love? No, of course not. My name is Character A, and I’ve just been bitten by a rattler. See? No preplanning required.

Here’s another classic scenario for you to consider. You can night drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas without ever seeing further ahead than the thirty feet of illumination provided by your headlights. The road is there, it promises to deposit you at your destination, but even it has no idea what will happen along the way. Maybe you don’t end up in Vegas at all. Maybe your characters have decided they’d rather go to Reno. Are you going to tell them no? They’ve already hit the ATM and booked serviceable lodging!

Thinking of your work in terms of performance is a good habit to cultivate. Just try it. Write a simple scene for which you’ve planned nothing. It’s not important where these characters have been, how much money they have, what their likes and dislikes are. All that matters is the spontaneous influencing the spontaneous. That’s the meaty part, the gold in the gold mine.

Fluff is a chore to read. If you don’t believe me, dig out one of your first serious pieces of writing and tell me how much of it is pertinent and how much ought to be nixed. I know, painful, right? Reminds me of the first piece of honest criticism I ever received, “I only have three problems with this story. The beginning, the middle, and the end.”

The good news about this craft is that there are a million and one ways to skin a cat. I’ll be back with more Craft and Practice next month. No cat-skinning required. See ya!


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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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


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


Words to Live By – The Big Chill

Jeff Version_Words to Live By 2

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

The Big Chill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

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


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