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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The Cost of Writing

A Writer’s Life

Many of you authors out there are like me. You know what it feels like to feel an idea wiggling its way to the surface of your brain and popping up its head when you’re right in the middle of cooking dinner or in the middle of a project, or you’re two hundred miles from nowhere on a camping trip. You know what it’s like to feel that need to drop everything and run to put words on the page, or screen, as the case may be. You may know what it’s like to be on a roll, in the middle of a vital scene for your book, and have to stop and set it aside, because you have an important engagement to attend and you can’t show up looking like you haven’t slept for days, even if it is true.

Let’s face it. Writers write because they have a innate need to express themselves. We didn’t ask for it, but it is there. We didn’t choose it, although we have chosen not to ignore it in our younger days, when ignoring it was still an option. Writers need to write as much as they need to eat, sleep or breathe. (Probably more than we need to sleep, since writing often takes the place of sleep on many nights.) This needs stems from our creativity deep within us and is as much a part of our inner mental beings as water is to our physical beings.

When I was getting my M.F.A., I had an instructor who was a binge writer. When she was done with the prewriting and was ready to write her story, she would shut herself in her office and not emerge until it was done, be it days, or even weeks before she had the first draft of the story out. She said that her family members all knew better to disturb her when the door was closed, and she wouldn’t come out, except maybe to tend to urgent bodily functions. That was her writing process, and it was effective, because she was publishing and selling her books. But there was a cost. She was on her second marraige because her first husband hadn’t put up with her crazed writing frenzies, and frankly, I was amazed that her current husband and family did.

That’s one of the prices that we pay for following our innate urges and releasing our creativity. Human relationships often suffer. I know there have been times when I have gotten up in the middle of a family get-together, and pulled out my laptop to start typing away because an idea struck me, or I suddenly realized what really happens in a scene I’ve been working on. My family members may have thought I was being extremely rude, and I guess I was, but they didn’t understand about the idea or thought that was nudging away at me to get it down NOW. Those ideas are fleeting, and if I don’t get them down when I have them, they may abandon me and not be there later.

I never go anywhere without my laptop. It goes on camping trips and vacations, even to the laundry mat or out to dinner. I write while traveling in the car, even though I know it makes me car-sick. At a memoir workshop I took a few years back, we were asked to read aloud something that we had written. Everyone else came with sheets of paper in hand, printed out with what they intended to read. When my turn came, I paused to make sure the correct work was on the screen with an explanation that “My life is in my laptop.” That brought a few laughs from my fellow workshoppers, but you know, there is a lot of truth in those words.

Writing is my world. I am passionate about it. And I’ve missed more than a few outings with friends and family, jeopardized my day job by writing late into the night when I had to work the next day, let my grades suffer to get the words just right, and missed out on countless hours of sleep just to empty what’s in my head out onto the page. Writing is a wonderful outlet for creativity and self-expression, but as all good things usually do, it comes with a price. I’ve paid that price time and again, and never thought that it wasn’t worth the cost. So, how much are you willing to pay to be a writer?

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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!


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Words to Live By – The Big Chill

Jeff Version_Words to Live By 2

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

The Big Chill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

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


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


Butt in Chair, Write the Damn Book

Writer at Work

Some of the best advice I ever received on writing a novel length work came from one of my M.F.A. instructors, Russell Davis. He said, “Ass in chair, write the damn book”. And you know, he was right. If you don’t sit your butt in that chair and start writing every chance that you get, chances are that novel will end up unfinished, sitting on a shelf, collecting dust rather than on an Amazon bestseller list. No the only way to complete a novel is to just sit down and write.

Lately though, finding time to put my butt in the chair and keep it there has been a real challenge. All the strategies I had used successfully to create productive writing have fallen to the wayside since Covid came along and turned our worlds upside down and inside out. WtbR team member Robbie Cheadle made a good point when she said that lockdowns and quarentines have blurred the lines between work and personal lives. With many people working from home, the boundaries between work and personal time may not be as distinct as they were before. There is no commute on which to transition from work to home life, or vice versa.

That is kind of what happened with me. Although I’m back to the grind of commuting now, when I was staying at home, I threw everything I had into my writing. My personal life and relaxation were laid to the wayside. Then, when I went back to work, I was overwhelmed with work, school and all of the many projects I had started working on while at home.

Although my butt was in the chair, I found it difficult to focus on any one project and to prioritize which project I should be working on. My school work fell behind. Life circumstances changes that required more of my tijme and attention. My regularly scheduled blog posts weren’t getting written; I struggled to finish my short paranormal western story for the Spirits of the West anthology; and the book I had planned to write this year was just plain not happening. It doesn’t do a bit of good to place your butt in the chair, if all you do while there is stare at a blank screen.

So, I pulled back and prioritized all the different things that I needed to get accomplished. I regrouped, so to speak. Even though I am very close to earning a degree in marketing, I decided it would have to wait and I withdrew from my schooling. I went camping to give myself some ‘me’ time, and rediscovered the Colorado mountains that I’ve always loved, and my passion for writing, and found myself once more sitting down in front of my laptop and writing with purpose.

It was amazing, but once I started writing for the right reasons, because I wanted to write, not out of obligation, I was able to focus and the words fell onto the page. It just goes to show you that staying home and away from people doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be able to pump out the best writing that you ever have. Beside sitting your butt in the chair, focus is another necessary element.

Spirits of the West

In addition to getting this blog back on track, and doing a bit of restructuring on it, I finished the story for the Spirits of the West anthology, “Don’t Eat the Pickled Eggs”, and I’m currently working through the kinks in the publishing process, as well as working on my next novel length work, The Outlaw and the Rock Star. It is a time-travel western inspired by the music of The Pretty Reckless, and I have three and a half chapters so far. This is where my priorities lie and these projects are what I intend to focus on. Writing is where my heart is, and I feel like I’m back in the saddle again. Ass in chair, focus, and write the damn book.

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We Can’t All Be Prolific Writers

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Not all authors can be prolific, turning out one, two, or even three books a year. To be sure, there are prolific authors out there. If you’d like examples, think Stephen King, Dean Koontz, J.K. Rowling, or take a look at my interview with the most prolific writer I personally know, Kevin J. Anderson. The words just seem to flow onto their manuscript pages with the right words, settling in just the right order, to say exactly what the author intended to say, requiring minimal editing and revision, churning out quality stories in mind boggling volume.

I am not a prolific writer. This is an epiphiny which came to me only recently. I know it can be done, but it’s just not me. Realizing this actually explains a lot about me. Now I know why I never could complete a NaNoWriMo. While it is true that I did once write a 35,000 word novel in nine days, it wasn’t the quality writing that I am capable of. It was a draft that was nowhere close to publication. I have to struggle through the plotting, and work things out in my head with my characters until I get it just right.

With Delilah, the first book in my western frontier saga, I completed the first draft and put it through a first read and revised, and ended up rewriting at least a third of the book because I changed one scene that impacted and changed everything that had come after, but the book came out better for it after two years.

The problem is that I’m a perfectionist, so anything that is less than as perfect as I can make it be isn’t good enough to go out there with my name on it. I don’t want to pump out a huge volume of sub-par writing just to bring in the green. My readers deserve more than that, and I won’t settle for less than the quality writing and well crafted stories that I long to create.

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With the second book in the saga, Delilah: The Homecoming, I didn’t even get the first draft completed before the first rewrite. Around 40,000 words into the first draft, Delilah told me that the story was all wrong. Somewhere along the line, my plot had taken a wrong turn, and the story wasn’t going in the intended direction. (Yes, I talk with my characters with the stories in this saga.) When I reread what I had, I realized the truth of it. I had no idea where to take the story from the point it was at.

I tend to be a seat-of-the-pants writer. I get an idea and I have to get it down, so I just start writing. With short fiction, that’s not a bad thing, but when it comes to novels it can be. I could see a couple of places where I thought the story should go in a different direction, but the enormity of the task weighed on me and there were spots where I couldn’t see around what was already written. I set it aside for a month while I pondered the possibilities until I realized what needed to be done.

I may not be prolific, but I am obsessive/compulsive about writing, always having two or more WIPs in different stages of completion. While writing Delilah, I was also working on my thesis novel, which has now become book one of my Playground of the Gods science fantasy series, The Great Primordial Battle, along with completing several short stories during that time. Currently, along with crafting the first draft of The Homecoming, I’m working on two anthologies, preparing The Great Primordial Battle for publication, and working through the snags I’ve hit with my memoir, Losing Michael. It’s no wonder my books take years to write. Yet, I have the satisfaction of knowing that when I’m finished, they will be well crafted stories.

The soil of my mind is fertile and can produce an abundant harvest of stories. The children of my creativity just require longer gestation and growth periods. Stories don’t just spew out of my brain, ready made. They must be honed and crafted until they become the works of quality writing that my readers have already come to expect. But another thing that I’ve realized, with as many projects as I have going, when they all are finally published, and they are all lined up across my author pages and my website, it will appear that I am prolific to anyone who doesn’t know better.

The point is, as authors, we’re all heading toward the same goals, quality crafted stories. The path we chose to get there, they way that we approach the writing process, isn’t nearly as important as the fact that we complete the job. And we can all do that. What kind of writer are you?


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The Making of a Memoir: Obstacles and Roadblocks

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Losing Michael: Teen Suicide and a Mother’s Grief

 

“The Making of a Memoir” is a bi-monthly blog series which explores the stages of writing a memoir as I write the story of losing my nineteen year old son, Michael, to suicide, through his story and the tale of a life without him and the grief I experience every day, even after he’s been gone for a decade. Some progress has been made toward the actual writing of the book since the last segment. I made a final decision on the title above for the book, and work on the cover is in progress with Art Rosch at Starrts Creative. Although there is still a lot of material still to sort through and compile what I want to include, I managed to work through a considerable amount. The going is slow, as I knew it would be, due to the emotional nature of the material and the memories some of it awakens.

In the last segment, “Stage 1: Prewriting Tasks“, I said I expected this book to be the most difficult story I have ever attempted to write, and that has proven to be true. In fact, it has proven to be difficult in more ways than I had imagined. This segment was supposed to be titled “Stage 2: Selling the Story”, but alas, unexpected “Obstacles and Roadblocks” has become a more appropriate title. Over the past two months, I run into several and I’m still trying to find a way around, over or through one huge one in particular – legalities.

Memoir can and should be a work of creative nonfiction. It is a true story told creatively, so as to capture and hold the readers’ attention. What memoir is not, is a work of fiction, with fictitional characters and places. You are telling a true story, something that actually happened, something in which other real people played different roles, and to tell the story, their parts must be told as well, even if the tale doesn’t portray all of them in a positive light. A good memoir must be told with honesty, from the heart.

As I sorted through the plethora of material I have gathered and saved since my son’s death: his poetry, writings and artwork; my poetry and writings; and oh so many photos, I couldn’t help but think about the other people involved, directly or indirectly with the story of the events leading up to Mike’s death and also the events that came after, and I realized that there were more than a few, people associated with Mike, and law enforcement officers, who might not want this story to come out because of the manner in which they might be viewed for their parts in his death.

It normally wouldn’t be a problem at all. I’m writing the story of events as they happened to the best of my knowledge. Many facts surrounding Mike’s death were suspicious, and for a time I believed that Mike might have been murdered. Things didn’t add up, but the proof to back up what I know to be true was withheld from me by local law enforcement. I no longer entertain the idea that Mike’s death was anything other than suicide, without the proof that the events happened the way I claim they did, I could be open to liable in telling this story.

The individuals involved wouldn’t really be a problem. The obvious solution is to change the names. Even in a true story, real people can have fictitious names, without damaging author credibility. Authors do this all the time; you just state that some names have been changed and readers won’t feel cheated.

The law enforcement agency and certain individual agents present a bigger problem. Do I change the names of the law enforcement agents? Do I change the name of the area they represent? How much can be changed before a true story becomes a work of fiction? The proof I lack wouldn’t portray the local law in a positive way and they know it, so they aren’t likely to have a change of heart about sharing it with me for the book. They play major roles in the events leading up to Mike’s death, and the story really can’t be told without their inclusion.

Although this issue has presented a roadblock that appears it might be unsurpassable, I have a couple of ideas on how I might be able to get around it. I need to let it play out and see. If not, I’ll look for a way to go over, or under if I have to. This is a story that must be told, and I’m determined to tell it.  By the next segment, in June, I should be moving forward once more. I’ll let you know how it gets resolved. I do hope you’ll join me then.


Join me in my writing journey through “The Making of a Memoir” the second Monday every other month on Writing to be Read: February, April, June, August, October and December. To be sure not to miss one segment, subscribe to email or follow on WordPress for notification of new content.


How well do you know your characters?

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When I was in the M.F.A. program at Western State, they emphasized the importance of really knowing your characters. They had us answering questionaires about our characters which included questions about things that were never going to come up in the story, so it didn’t seem like they really mattered. I mean, who cares what Delilah likes to eat for breakfast? Or what her favorite color is? Unless it has direct bearing on the story, I couldn’t see any reason for knowing the answers to pointless questions about my characters. But I learned that I was wrong.

In order to be true to your characters, you must know who your characters really are. Readers may not know that red is your character’s favorite color because her daddy gave her a red dress on her eighth birthday and she thought it was the prettiest thing she’d ever seen, but you should. It may affect the color of car she drives after she gets her liscense, which leads to her getting pulled over while unknowingly carrying drugs in the car that her boyfriend stashed in it, which in turn can set off a whole series of events which otherwise wouldn’t have occurred. You might put her in a yellow Volkswagon Bug, instead of the cherry red Corvette she needs to be driving for the story to unfold, and our heroine to win the big race.

 

 

If you were writing an inspirational book, or a self-help book, you wouldn’t advise your readers to do something that was totally out of character for them because it’s very likely they would never, ever do it. Likewise, your characters shouldn’t do things that are out of character for them. Unless you know why your character is doing certain things, you can’t write in the proper subtext which will clue readers in to the motives, as well. The more you know about your characters the more their actions in the story will ring true.

By knowing your characters histories, you are bringing them to life, solidifying them into someone that will feel genuine to your readers. And these days, it’s all the fashion to interview your characters, or have someone else do it. These interviewers ask questions very similar to those used by my graduate program instructors on the questionaires they had us fill out. Your characters have to have past lives and histories in order to respond to interview questions, because they may have to do with things outside of the story line.

Blank slateSo, pull out those questionaires, such as the Proust Questionaire, or the Character Chart for Fiction Writers, and get to really know your characters. If you don’t know the answer to one of the seemingly meaningless questions, take the time to discover what it is, even if you don’t think it will ever matter. Challenge your character to an interview if you think it might help, or if you think it might be fun. Once you’ve developed the characters, write their stories true to who they are, to who you, the author have created them to be.

 

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Update on “Playground for the Gods” Series

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While Book 1: The Great Primordial Battle is spending time with my alpha reader, I’ve been busy working on Book 2: In the Beginning. Now I know it seems strange name for a second book, but for this series, it’s actually quite fitting.

You see, Book 1 covers the time just before and after the Atlans arrival on Earth in prehistoric times, which result in a great battle between the Atlans and the monstrous creatures created by the angry Tiamat, Oldest of Old Ones. It is the story of how the Atlans came to be on Earth.

Book 2, on the other hand, takes place during Earth’s earliest civilizations. It explores Biblical times and even before, as well as visiting ancient Egypt and Minoan cultures. It looks at the beginning of time, hence the title, In the Beginning.

That said, I’ve finished the first draft for Book 2,  and started on revisions. I guess maybe my writing process is a little weird. At Western, while earning my M.F.A. in Creative Writing, we talked a lot  about our writing processes, and while everyone’s processes were different, I never found anyone whose process was like mine.

My first drafts are pretty rough, consisting mostly of the basic plotline. The basics of what happens in each chapter, so the way the story moves forward can be seen. Once, I have that down, I can go back and revise, adding description and action that helps the story move in each chapter, sharpening the image, hopefully, for readers. That’s where I am in the revision process now.

Before I send it off to my alpha readers, I’ll do another run through to check for repetition, spelling, grammar and punctuation errors, and eliminate unnecessary words. This is the pass that tightens up my writing to make it the best it can be before going to the alpha readers have a go at it.

Once I have it back with their comments, I may do up to three or four more passes, before I feel it’s ready to submit to publishers or agents. If all goes well, I will get Book 1 back from my alpha reader, which in this case may be a beta reader since I made revisions to the completed work after sending it out without raising any interest, about the time I have the final draft of Book 2 ready to send out for her scrutiny.

I think the main problem, possibly with both books right now, is a lack of emotion from my characters, which could result in a lack of emotional investment from readers. Identifying it as such is good, because if readers don’t care about the characters, they won’t continue reading. The challenge will be finding a way to fix it, so my readers will keep turning the pages. Fortunately, I found some great ideas for showing my characters’ emotions in a post titled Emotion vs. Feeling by David Cobett on Writer Unboxed.

The story is there. Now I just need to breathe life into it. That’s what writers do.

 

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Ah! The Writer’s Life, Right?

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The life of a writer. It’s what we all aspire to, right? But what do you envision when you think of yourself living the writer’s life? What exactly is it that makes it so appealing to us? And how close is it to the reality of being a working writer?

Many aspiring writers picture working in their pajamas, sleeping in or working late, running a schedule tailored to our own personal needs. Aspiring authors may envision book tours and readings to promote their published books, maybe even autographing copies for our fans, having strangers recognize us from our book covers. Others may see themselves traveling and attending writing events and conferences, meeting others in our field and networking. All of these are beautiful visions to have and they can be a part of what is referred to as a writer’s life. They are all worthy things to aspire to, but we may not be seeing the whole picture.

A writer’s life can be all that and more, but as with anything in life, it’s not all champagne and roses. Writers often spend more time on non-writing activities such as marketing and promotion, or networking than they do on the actual act of writing. Or they are forced to spend their time not on the creative process, but on promotional writing, such as query letters and resumes.

It’s true. Freelancers spend a lot of time promoting themselves in job queries, resumes and CVs. Aspiring authors spend much of their time peddling their completed works to editors, agents and publishers. Aspiring screenwriters peddle their scripts or ideas to agents, producers, directors or anyone else who is buying scripts and is willing to listen. And published authors peddle their books online, as well as at conferences and writing events, and perhaps even, like one author I know, at the local hardware store.

As was discussed in Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing (Part 10): Conclusion, as well as in the preceding series, in today’s publishing industry, even traditionally published authors are expected to do a lot of the promotion and marketing for their books. Everybody is selling  something. Whether it’s your writing or yourself, promotional activities take a lot of time.

Networking is another necessity. It’s really another part of marketing and promotion. We can’t get our work out there to be discovered without networking. In screenwriting, the thought is that you must also live in L.A. to network advantageously. I know at least two aspiring screenwriters who recently moved there in hopes of being discovered, but it’s too soon to tell if they will reap any benefits from it.While we may dream of attending writing events and meeting others of like mind, the reality is that these activities take both time and money, and the time you invest into networking, is time that isn’t spent writing.

Then, with all of these extra-curricular activities, a writer also has clients, editors or publishers, and a screenwriter has agents, producers and directors, breathing down their necks to meet deadlines. Of course, most aspiring writers or screenwriters consider themselves lucky to have deadlines. A deadline means that you have work that involves writing, so that’s a good thing. But it can be very stressful, especially if you’re actually trying to make a living from your writing, and struggling to make ends meet.

The fact is, writing isn’t all glamour and parties. Writing is a tough way to make a living. Especially in today’s market, when everybody wants to be a writer. Self-publishing has provided the means to make that dream come true, although there are no guarantees that your book will be a huge success. And self-published authors must do all of their own promotion and marketing, too.

Writing is a lot of work, starting with the creative process and moving through the motions to promotion and marketing. You might be able to do some of it in your pajamas if you so chose. Most of what writing is, at least for those of us who are still looking for a big break, is being grateful for every writing job that comes your way, searching for that one acceptance in a mountain of rejections, and endeavoring to persevere.

Is it worth it? You bet. There’s nothing like it when you find that one acceptance and know the whole world will be able to read your work, and you may be able to put food on the table for another month, or pay your car payment, or your rent. Writing is truly a labor of love, and this blog is the proof of that. It’s Writing to be Read, and I don’t make a dime off it. My reward is in each comment that is left, each blogger that takes the time to ‘like’ a post, and each new follower or subscriber I get.

Of course, I still search for a publisher for one of my two completed novels and I submit my short fiction and poetry everywhere I can. I still want my work to be discovered, naturally. But it does my heart good to know that my writing id being read, even when it doesn’t put food on the table, even when I have to get an outside job to supplement my income. I don’t have to dream about living a writer’s life, because for better or for worse, I live it.