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

Craft and Practice

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

To Comma or not to Comma

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

Here’s how.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

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


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Words to Live By – Creative Legacy

Jeff Version_Words to Live By 2

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

Creative Legacy

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

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

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Chadwick Boseman

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

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


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

Craft and Practice

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

The Ultimate Tool in the Toolkit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

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


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


Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles – Writing for Catharsis

Craft and Practice

The third Wednesday of each month, writer Jeff Bowles offers practical tips for improving, sharpening, and selling your writing. Welcome to your monthly discussion on Craft and Practice.

Writing for Catharsis

Writing is a hard enough gig without the existence of one persistent, unceasing fact: things change, nothing lasts, and all things pass away. You could make a decent mantra out of that, couldn’t you? I mean it’s true enough I don’t even really have to repeat it. I will though. Several times, in fact, because I’d like to impress upon you the urgency of a world in desperate need of good, personal, dare I say it, emotional storytellers.

This month’s Craft and Practice will be a little different. We’re going to talk about our feelings. Wait! Don’t click off! You can’t run from them any more than I can. Things change, nothing lasts, all things pass away. And if you and your incredible writing superpowers are needed anywhere in the world, it’s quite possible they’re needed at home most of all.

You see, people can recognize the transience of life without too much effort, but they’re either too locked into their own experiential tangents to do anything about it, or they simply keep their stories to themselves. Writers don’t have that luxury, and nor should we be afforded it. It’s our job to comment, profile, report, extol, condemn, codify, decode. If not for everyone living today and for a hundred generations beyond, then at least for ourselves, right here and now. What does this all boil down to? We can write about all the crazy stuff that happens to us and call it catharsis. Neat, huh?

I recently released a novel called Love/Madness/Demon. It deals, in part, with a psychotic episode I experienced four or five years ago. Now at that time I didn’t know or understand what was happening to me. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, I urge you seek qualified help, because once I was able to do so, once a true diagnosis came my way, things slowly began to turn around for me. But I knew as I started recovering that what I’d gone through—what I’d put my loved ones through—it constituted serious traumatic territory, and I also knew that it might make me feel better to write about it someday.

It did. That’s the long and short of it. Moreover, spending sufficient time with my story as a finished manuscript tended to help even more. I had to tread, retread, and re-retread the same ground again and again. The worst moments of the ordeal tended to lose their hold on me. Now writing as catharsis implies you’ve repressed or buried something. Some people haven’t done anything of the sort, though I’d wager that to one degree or another, the vast majority of us have. This is life, after all, the greatest bare-knuckled, knock-down cage match of them all. If you’ve taken a few lumps in recent years, you aren’t alone.

I think it’s best to approach cathartic writing from a place of complete honesty. What are you doing it for otherwise? And realistically, you’ve got endless literary modes available to you. I chose fiction because it’s what I’m most comfortable with, but maybe you prefer poetry or nonfiction.

Nonfiction may be the best way to approach the craft for the sake of healing because you can just write the truth as it seemed to you. Now, you may have to wrestle with legalities, ditto with fiction, but I tend to believe most of the advice given to writers about these things are of the overblown, cover-one’s-own-ass variety. Can you write about things that really happened to you? Of course you can. Who says you can’t? What you can’t do is drag someone’s name through the mud in the process, but I’ve got a good feeling about you. You’re not interested in hurting others with your writing. You’re a paragon of humility and moral excellence. I mean, I can just tell by looking at you. What a punim.

I hurt after my psychotic break. A lot of people around me did. Because I was delusional, because I didn’t understand what was happening to me, I lashed out frequently and did things it’s taken me a lot of time to try and get over.

But your experience with cathartic writing will be wholly different. I hope and pray you haven’t got any major traumas in your direct experience. But if you have, and if you’re lucky enough to have been given an aptitude for the written word, I highly suggest putting your emotional self on the line and trying to do a little self-evaluation and self-nurturing. Even if you intend on never letting another soul read it, the initial intimacy and privacy of the act are paramount. I’d never suggest a person try to write their pain away rather than seek the help of a licensed professional, but I’ve found that a good therapy program lines up very well with cathartic writing. In fact, there were times in my recovery I didn’t have the ability to engage in counseling, so the writing of Love/Madness/Demon was even more crucial to me.

I feel better now. I don’t feel perfect. In fact, I still have a lot of bad days. But it was worth it to me to at least try to alleviate some of the pressures of everything I’d gone through. Maybe you can do the same for yourself. I hope you can. Things change, nothing lasts, all things pass away. It’s sort of a very painful time for many people out there. Writing about what ails us? There are worse ways to cope.


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 Pep Talk segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress


Jeff’s Pep Talk: Blast From My Past

Jeff's Pep Talk2

Blast From My Past

I originally wrote a version of this entirely too plucky Pep Talk just over eight years ago. I was twenty-seven then, and life until that point had treated me pretty good. That’s right, before I was writing monthly inspiration blog posts I was still keenly interested in, well, inspiring writers to do our thing. I offer this as a gift today. Eight years is a long time, long enough for the planet Venus to enter, exit, and then reenter retrograde.

And as Venus is the planet of love, I thought I’d share a proto-Pep-Talk that is very near and dear to my heart. Just goes to show you that no matter how far you think you’ve come, there’s always room to grow and many, many miles to go.

Let this serve as inspiration for you, especially if you’ve been feeling down about the world and your place in it. Keep working, keep your head down, but for gosh sakes, be a humanitarian to yourself while you’re at it. That’s the main message Jeff’s Pep Talk was always meant to impart. If you can’t be kind and compassionate to yourself when it comes to your work, how the hell are you ever going to be kind and compassionate when it comes to the rest of life?

Hope you enjoy this blast from my past. Twenty-seven years old. Yeesh. We were never that young. 🙂

2/13/2012

What? Me? Positive?

Firstly, an admission: I’m a terrible writer. Honestly, I am. I happen to have it on very good authority. Right now, right here in my office, even as I write this very essay, there’s a little man sitting in the corner, sucking down a Coca-Cola Classic, fiddling with his long, stringy hair, shouting de-motivators, anti-enthusiastics, and the highest-quality bizarro pep talks I have ever heard in my life. He tells me things like, “Boring!” and, “It’s been done to death!” and my personal favorite, “Nobody in this world will ever care!” He’s so good at his job that he’s even earned his own nameplate and the privilege of not having to sit on either of my shoulders.

I’m 27 years old. When I was 17, he didn’t even exist.

There’s a very simple reason for that, you know. When I was 17 it hadn’t even occurred to me to give writing a shot. Oh, sure, I’d begun and bailed on a novel or two. Once, I even made it a whole 90 pages, a feat that had each of my friends nodding and intoning, “cool,” before laying back into one another on my PlayStation. You know what I was when I was 17? First of all, I was a high school dropout. Didn’t even make it through freshman year. I hold two degrees of higher learning at the moment, but hell, even Scarecrow got one of those, and he didn’t even have a brain. Second of all, and infinitely more important, when I was 17 years old I was a future rockstar. Frontman? Check. Guitarist? Double-check. Writer of every song in my band’s repertoire? Oh yeah, and you just knew the Benjamins would start rolling in at any moment.

I was good at it, too. Honestly, I was. That’s really kind of the point here. Music came naturally to me. Okay, so maybe I didn’t come into this world kicking and screaming and nailing my do-re-mis, but put a Beatles songbook in my hand and a brand-new nylon-string guitar and just watch me put “Let it Be” through its paces. A band, a breakup, another band, another breakup; four albums recorded in my Mom’s basement; high school gigs and coffee house gigs and bar after bar after bar after bar after bar after…where was I? Oh, yes.

“Carrie?” I said to my then-girlfriend and now-wife. “I don’t think I want to be a musician anymore.”

Oh really? How come?

Does it really matter? I was going to be a writer, damn it. That’s it, and that’s all. Makes sense, right? If you can’t be a rockstar, what, then, might you be? Easy. A millionaire bestselling novelist, at the feet of which the Stephen Kings and Anne Rices and J. K. Rowlings of this world but kneel and tremble.

Step 1: Decide to become a writer.

Step 2: Write first short story.

Step 3: Am I a millionaire bestseller yet?

No? Not yet? Okay, I’ll just go wait over there. I and the little man in the corner have pushed story after story into this world via the agonizing and miraculously miraculous miracle of brain-birth. And guess what, the brain-birth for each of them? More agonizingly agonizing than miraculously miraculous. I tell you what, man, it’s downright painful. Writing? Man, writing is for the dogs. Remember when you learned your first guitar chord? Remember how accomplished you felt? Now do you remember your first story and that first critique you ever got?

“I had three problems with this story. The beginning, the middle, and the end.”

Remember how your voice used to have all the girls quivering out there in audience land? Quivering? Really? Okay, maybe more like mildly interested. Still, when was the last time your readers were even slightly or infinitesimally interested? Readers? What readers? You’ve got readers now? Where the hell did you get readers? Mom! The little man in the corner got readers and I didn’t!

Before I even joined the party, those in the know told me that rejection is the name of the game. Man, they weren’t kidding. That first rejection hurts like hell. So does the second, and the third, and the fourth, and the fifth, and the…when exactly does it stop hurting?

Just keep your head down. Just keep working, keep honing, keep sharpening, keep getting better and better, keep…keep…aw, hell, just keep forgetting what rejection feels like, keep forgetting there are a million others better than you’ll ever be, keep forgetting you’re not even as good as you want to be.

Yet…

So what keeps you writing? Why not just give up already? Oh, believe me, I’ve tried. Several times, seriously, studiously, not-joking-this-time. But you know what? Something always kept me going. Kind words? Ha! I wish. Publication? Okay, now you’re just making me sad. No, if I had to boil it down to one word, one, single, all-encompassing, all-revealing, all-enlightening, end-all-be-all explanation of why it is I keep doing what I’m doing, it would be this, my friends…

…………………

“What,” says the little man between swigs of his Coke, “that’s it? Ellipses? You’re going to end with ellipses? Oh, real original, Hemmingway. How about a nice ‘happily ever after,’ or a ‘the end…or is it?’ or you know what, how about a big fat–”

To be continued…


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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Is Shakespeare still relevant 400 hundred years after his death?

Bust of Shakespeare at The Globe Theatre, London

My son and I have different opinions on the relevancy of Shakespeare in our modern world. Greg thinks Shakespeare’s works have become irrelevant and would prefer to study more modern writers who have written about issues that have shaped our modern world.

He would rather study 1984 by George Orwell which is about totalitarianism, discrimination, tracking and other issues that, in his opinion, are still a concern today. He sees Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury as being relevant because he does not see people burning books in Western society.

I disagree with Greg on both counts but I am limiting this post to my thoughts about the relevancy of Shakespeare, who just happens to be one of my favourite authors.

These are the reasons that I think it is still worthwhile for students to study literature:

We quote Shakespeare all the time

Shakespeare invented over 1700 of our common words. He did this by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising entirely original words.

Some of my favourite Shakespeare originated words are green-eyed, assassination, bloodstained, lustrous and obscene.

In addition to all the words Shakespeare invented, he also put words together in new ways to create phrases and idioms. Most people know the famous quotes which are commonly attributed to Shakespeare including:

  • All the world ‘s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts;
  • Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them; and
  • How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!

Many people don’t realise, however, that many everyday sayings are attributable to Shakespeare such as be all and end all, catch a cold, heart of gold and to much of a good thing.

Inside The Globe Theatre, London – the stage

His works are universal and enduring as are his characters

Shakespeare’s plays portray timeless themes of human experience and interaction that have remained relevant since his death. They are also considered to be among the most expertly written and beautifully poetic works in the history of literature.

The outstanding features of Shakespeare’s play are as follows:

  • Characterization: Shakespeare created very real and intense characters who deeply feel all of their emotions. This makes them alive and real to the reader and/or audience;
  • Language: As detailed above, Shakespeare contributed a significant number of words, phrases and idioms to the English language. His usage of language was masterful and make his works enduring and memorable;
  • Range of plays: Shakespeare wrote at least 37 plays and collaborated on several more. His plays comprised of comedies, histories, tragedies and sonnets. Nearly all of his work was of an extraordinary high quality of excellence which is one of the reasons his plays are still studied by students of literature;
  • Shakespeare has had a massive influence on literary culture: In addition to the use by modern writers of his words, idioms and phases in their work, allusions to Shakespeare and his plays have influenced a number of well-known subsequent literary works including the following:
  •              Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (allusions to Macbeth/King Lear);
  •              The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey (Richard III);
  •              The Dogs of War by Frederick Forsyth (Julius Caesar);
  •              Love in Idleness by Amanda Craig (A Midsummer Night’s Dream);
  •              The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith (Macbeth);
  •              Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (The Tempest);
  •              Cakes and Ale by W Somerset Maugham (Twelfth Night);
  •              The Black Price by Iris Murdoch (Hamlet);
  •              Wise Children by Angela Carter (The Taming of the Shrew et al); and
  •              A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley (King Lear);
  • Exciting plots: Shakespeare’s plots are exciting and are filled with romance, horror, bloodshed, family feuds, fairies, ghosts, witches and comedy.
Open ceiling inside The Globe Theatre, London

What is your view? Do you think Shakespeare is still relevant? If not, what would you have preferred to study instead?

Balconies inside The Globe Theatre, London

About Roberta Eaton Cheadle

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I am an author who has recently branched into adult horror and supernatural writing and, in order to clearly differential my children’s books from my young adult and adult writing, these will be published under the name Roberta Eaton Cheadle. My first young adult supernatural novel, Through the Nethergate, has recently been published.

I also have two short paranormal stories in Whispers of the Past, a paranormal anthology edited by Kaye Lynne Booth.

Like this post? Let me know in the comments. You can be sure not to miss any of Writing to be Read’s great content by subscribe to e-mail or following on WordPress. If you found this content helpful or entertaining, please share.


Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles – To Self-Publish or not to Self-Publish

Jeff

The third Wednesday of each month, writer Jeff Bowles offers practical tips for improving, sharpening, and selling your writing. Welcome to your monthly discussion on Craft and Practice.

To Self-Publish or not to Self-Publish

I guess I’m a bit of a dreamer when it comes down to it. Head in the clouds much of the time, projecting myself right out of reality because, well, I take more comfort in worlds inside my mind than the world as it really is. I’ve always been that way, and it’s helped me enormously as a creative individual. Has it helped me much in life? That’s a conversation for another time. Or, you know, maybe never.

For me, the dream was always the most important thing, because I understood dreams become reality with startling frequency. I mean, that’s essentially what storytelling is, right? Making something whole, tangible, expressive, from nothing at all. It’s something I have to believe in order to do what I do. If I didn’t think anything and everything was possible, how could I convince you?

I like self-publishing. It’s a good speed for me. I made great efforts to publish short fiction in the traditional form for more than ten years, and I wouldn’t change anything about that time. But then I went off to earn an MFA in Creative Writing, and it slowly dawned on me that recognition, fans, and even money will only get you so far. If you’re dedicated to your craft, you can do it penniless. In no way does it make or break your enjoyment of the act of writing. In fact, achieving something like the ever-ubiquitous yet disappointing “best-seller” status often throws unsuspecting authors into a rut, one that can be difficult to climb out of. With success so comes stress and an urgent need to produce. I’m not good with stress, suffer from some anxiety and other mental health issues, and I somehow knew about myself that if I wanted to put my books out, I’d have to do it in a manner congruent with my everyday tolerance levels.

So when it came time to publish my first novel, I did it myself. I got the most amazing help from a friend of mine to render a cover and some gorgeous chapter-to-chapter artwork, I set the date, released it through Amazon, and then plugged it as best I could, also knowing I’m not a natural salesman. The truth is I would’ve made far more money if I’d snagged a traditional publisher. The truth also happens to be that I don’t care all that much either way, because I’m still the writer guy doing his writer thing, albeit at a somewhat reduced level.

I like controlling the whole process from beginning to end. The product I end up with, for better or worse, is all on me. The people who’ve read my first novel have enjoyed it immensely. Living the kind of life that’s cool and confident and down for lower-case “success”, simply because I’m not sure the upper-case kind is actually all that much fun, well it works for me right now. Maybe a few years down the line I’ll really push for the traditional publishing route. I’m not sure. What price success?

Given the choice, most writers would opt for more sales over fewer. I don’t think I’ve used the word “duh” since I was thirteen years old, but duh. The point is, you can write as much or as little as you want, and you can shoot for the stars or just keep your work on the down-low, but the real question is what fuels you? What keeps you satisfied? Is it money in the bank or pure creative expression? A happy mix of both? What do you want? What do you want? WHAT DO YOU WANT?!

If you’re working on a book or have recently completed one, first of all, congratulate yourself. You’ve done something most people on the planet want to do but never seem to get around to doing. Secondly, ask yourself the question in capital letters up in that last paragraph there. It’s harder to find sponsorship than to put it out yourself. That’s true no matter what you do, so consider it numero uno. Are you willing to risk rejection aplenty and month after month of waiting for an agent to reach out and tell you your work is magnificent (or abhorrent)? Or do you want to produce your book on the fly and handle all the publicity yourself later on? Know that for the vast majority of self-publishers, a hundred lifetime sales is considered superb. That’s a slow lunchtime minute in February for one of the major houses.

Work the traditional route, you’re likely to feel under-the-gun and underappreciated by your publisher. DIY it, and you’ll probably feel like you’re grinding your gears, working your butt off just to make a few lousy sales. Release your work through an established house, and perhaps struggle to earn out your advance and start bringing in those royalties. Put it out yourself, and claim your dividends immediately, meager though they may be.

See? Plusses and minuses for both. Nice work if you can get it, but look, your best bet is to keep producing and put your work out however you can, whenever you can. That’s the shotgun method, and it works. I know what’s been right for me in the past several years, but I also claim the right to change my mind someday. In the grand scheme of things, it’s all benefit and no loss. Just keep doing your thing, and if you get the opportunity to publish your work in a major way, absolutely go for it. If you can’t, however, or you simply would rather not, don’t sweat it, because magnificent career legacies have been built on less. Just don’t sell yourself short, and whatever you do, remain true to your vision and your goals.

Now for a little practical advice. You knew it had to be buried in here somewhere, right? If you’re in the market for an agent, find yourself a good searchable database like AgentQuery.com, or if you’re so inclined, think about picking up the 2020 edition of the Guide to Literary Agents, which many writers throughout the years have found great success with. Your manuscript must be in tip-top shape before you send it to anyone. I know that seems like common sense, but you’d be surprised how often people mess this up. Tip-top means thoroughly revised, edited, and proofread. If you can make it any better, you’re not done with it. Remember to remain professional and courteous, even when you get shot down. Especially when you get shot down.

On the flip-side of the publishing coin, the final state of your book is just as important in self-release, perhaps more so, because you won’t get an assigned editor to walk you through the process. If you can afford one, hire the services of an independent editor, and if you’re not super artistic, hire someone to do the cover and book layout, too. A lot of people, like yours truly, release their stuff through Amazon and call it good, but this is by no means your only option. Vanity publishing, independent print-on-demand, and independent ebook distributors all exist, though do your homework, because some are more attractive than others. Vanity publishing, by the way, try to eschew it if you can. I like Amazon because it’s one-stop shopping, and their KDP publishing system is easy to use, but your mileage may vary, and you may have bigger plans for your work than I’ve had for mine.

Regardless of how you publish, just remember it’s incredibly important to put out the best work you can. You want words you can feel proud of. In the end, your writing legacy is completely in your hands. That’s it for this post, everybody. I’ve got an overdue book to edit, and you’ve got more awesome Writing to Be Read articles to peruse. See ya next time.


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

GB Cover

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 “Craft and Practice” segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress. If you found this useful or just entertaining, please share.


Words to Live By – Love in the Time of COVID

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

Love in the Time of COVID

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

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

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

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

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

See the source image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To actually see. What a priceless and burdensome gift.

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

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


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

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



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


“Mind Fields”: The Power of Villains in Storytelling

Mind Fields

Mind Fields

Nothing infuses energy into a story like a good villain. If you ardently hate a villain in a book you’re reading, then you’re hooked! You’ve invested emotion in the battle between good and evil, you’re waiting for justice to be served.

These wicked characters must get under your skin. They have to arouse a visceral sense of repulsion and fear, the way spiders and snakes evoke primitive terror, the way decaying fecal ooze repels the senses. Villains are difficult to write because we instinctively recoil from the dark sides of life and the more grotesque aspects of our selves. That dark side, that shadow, is the only place from which a truly compelling villain can emerge. We can’t tear off evil like a number at the grocery meat counter.

            “Number Twenty Two!”

            “Here I am. Let’s see. What have you got that’s horrible and scary?”

Let us pause and consider the concept of Evil. What is it?

I’ve parsed my own definition of evil to a simple formula: Evil is the inflicting of pain to avoid pain. Evil lays its destructive spell on those in its path because someone (or some Thing) has found reliable ways to scatter pain onto others. I exclude those beings who enjoy causing pain because it’s their nature. Such creatures exist, but not for the purpose of this essay. 

Evil characters have malice and they have power.  Many of them are concealed behind a facade of charm or apparently benign goodwill.

Evil people are trying to wriggle out from under a burden of pain by forcing others to feel that pain.                           

It’s not always so simple. Each of us is a composite personality. Our inner child is really a little car filled with squabbling midgets. The steering wheel passes from hand to hand, the brakes are fought over, the car veers crazily.

A villain takes advantage of the muddle of human nature by having a clear point of focus. A fixation, an obsession, a purpose. This purpose empowers the villain at the expense of ordinary people. Bad guys know who they are and why they act. In many narratives the hero struggles with doubt and obscurity of motivation. His struggle isn’t just with the villain; it’s with his own confusion. When he sees clearly, when he knows what he wants, he obtains the weapons he needs.

All through this post I’ve been thinking of two characters: Adolph Hitler and South Park cartoon nasty Eric Cartman. Hitler annihilated millions; Cartman is a fictional character in a television show. Yet they have attributes in common.

My emotions regarding Hitler are an historical abstraction. He’s become a universal symbol of evil. Cartman, on the other hand, keeps my guts in an uproar. I HATE the fucker, I loathe him! It’s a very personal engagement.

The lessons of Cartman are numerous. All of his actions are manipulations. He is completely without sincerity. He’s a bigot. There is no minority group who escapes his ire. When he’s told that white people have become a minority group, he simply doesn’t hear the message. This may be Cartman’s greatest signifier: his inability to hear anything with which he disagrees. Intellectual and moral deafness is a widespread symptom of evil.

Cartman, and villains in general, like to blame other people for their own emotional discomfort. This profound moral choice, to blame others,  is a basic step into the world of evil. When writing a villainous character, it’s useful to give him someone to blame. Give him a scapegoat.         

A villain can’t be frightful without power. It may be supernatural power, political power, military power, physical power, but a villain cannot elicit fear, revulsion and anger without significant power. It’s the abuse of power that sparks the reader’s anger. Most of us see power as a privilege that entails responsibility.

We get angry when power is used for gratification of the ego and the appetites.

Cartman’s power comes from several sources. He’s clever, inventive, without moral scruple and completely selfish. His mother gives him everything he wants because it’s easier that way. Cartman is a fatherless boy. His mother always takes the lazy way out; she gives in to her son’s demands. If I take South Park as a microcosm, a model for the larger society in which we live, Cartman’s mother represents economic power. She makes him rich in comparison to the other kids.

He has all the latest toys, the best video games and a total lack of supervision.

To further amplify Cartman’s power he has a follower: Butters. This sweet but witless innocent will go along with any outrageous scheme Cartman dreams up. Cartman generates momentum. While Stan, Kyle or Kenny may have qualms about Cartman’s ideas, Butters is always there to support him. The plan, the idea, the scheme always seems to run away with itself before it can be thought through.

Its consequences are never anticipated. The only brakes on Cartman’s destructive power are the other boys’ common sense and lack of malice. In the end, Cartman always brings himself to destruction, but he will never admit defeat. In some people this is an admirable trait. In Cartman, it’s merely irritating.

In Hitler it cost millions of lives. If Cartman were a real adult person he would be a frightful monster. Think what Hitler and Cartman have in common. Scapegoats.  Blame. Moral and intellectual deafness. Unwillingness to take responsibility for errors in judgment. A will that generates great momentum,  and attracts followers who are willing to obey without question.

In the episode called “Breast Cancer Show Ever” Cartman takes a schoolyard beating by a mere girl, by Wendy Testaburger. She played the righteous avenger when Cartman mocked breast cancer and persisted in telling hurtful jokes on the subject of breasts. When she established the time for the duel, when Cartman realized that Wendy was serious, he tried to buy her off.  She would have none of it.  In spite of the fact that Cartman was pounded to a bloody mess, he twisted events in his mind so that he won the fight, that he was still “Cool”, or “Kewl” in the eyes of his compatriots. Kyle and Stan told Cartman “You suck, you’ve always sucked. We hate you.” Cartman can’t hear these declarations. He is still Kewl.

This amazing deafness made me want to jump through the screen and pound the fat twerp to a pulp. My emotions were completely engaged. When a writer can raise the emotional stakes to such a pitch, that writer has succeeded in creating a compelling villain.

I have used a silly villain in a silly cartoon show to highlight the power of a good villain to propel a good story. Ignore Cartman at your own risk. He’s a first class little asshole.

People ignored and dismissed Hitler as a buffoon. We know what happened to those people. Monstrous villains  have arisen throughout history. We are writers; we deal in fiction. The  most frightening villains in fiction draw resonance from history’s tyrants. Lazy writers may imitate these tyrants in their narratives. Good writers draw villains out through themselves, knowing that each of us is capable of monstrosity.


A Midwesterner by birth, Arthur Rosch migrated to the West Coast just in time to be a hippie but discovered that he was more connected to the Beatnik generation. He harkened back to an Old School world of jazz, poetry, painting and photography. In the Eighties he received Playboy Magazine’s Best Short Story Award for a comic view of a planet where there are six genders. The timing was not good.  His life was falling apart as he struggled with addiction and depression. He experienced the reality of the streets for more than a decade. Putting himself back together was the defining experience of his life. It wasn’t easy. It did, however, nurture his literary soul. He has a passion for astronomy, photography, history, psychology and the weird puzzle of human experience. He is currently a certified Seniors Peer Counselor in Sonoma County, California. Come visit his blogs and photo sites. www.artrosch.com and http://bit.ly/2uyxZbv


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Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles – The Revision Process

The third Wednesday of 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 Revision Process

So I’m in the middle of a fairly lengthy revision process for my latest novel, and it brings to mind a piece of advice a mentor once gave me. When I began writing short stories, I joined an online critique forum that in retrospect helped shape me in some crucial ways. It was a pretty tough, competitive space when it came down to it, and the other writers there didn’t mind (lovingly) tearing stories to shreds if it meant giving enough feedback to fix what wasn’t working.

There was a guy there called Gary, older than most everyone else who frequented the group, and I tended to see him as an authority, a friend, and a bit of a task master. Gary was fond of quick little rules and guidelines, notepad-like pieces of wisdom that could really set a young writer up for growth.

“Expect the revision process for any given story to last two to three times longer than it took to write in the first place.”

In other words, by Gary’s estimation, if you were to write a quick story in an afternoon, you’d expect to spend an additional two to three afternoons revising and sharpening it to an appropriate level. I’m sure I don’t have to explain to you how in-depth the revision process can be. Sometimes it’s pretty easy-going, but for the most part, if you’re not doing some cutting here, expansion there, general tightening of language on all levels, and if you’re not willing to kill your darlings, as the saying goes, odds are you may be doing it wrong.

So what if we’ve written a whole book? Does Gary’s piece of advice still hold up? In my experience, it does. Due to sudden and unforeseen circumstances in my life, my novel took about a year to write. So does that mean it’ll take me two to three years to finish it? Not precisely. I worked on it for a year, but in fact, I only wrote about 300 words a day for a grand total of maybe fifteen hours of actual writing per month. Fifteen hours times twelve months equals 180 hours, and 180 times two is 360. Bare minimum, that is the equivalent of fifteen full twenty-four hour days of revision. Maybe more like a month and a half if I plan on sleeping, eating, or ever seeing my wife ever again.

Now remember, that’s only the initial revision cycle. More work will likely need to be done in order to bring that book up to production quality. Realistically, once you add in the services of an actual editor, you’re looking at several additional weeks or months of back and forth nitpickery. It’s the nitpicks that save us, by the way. Make sure you get plenty of them at breakfast time. They’re like daily bowls of Wheaties. Nitpicks make writer big and strong!

Big and strong writer (due to nitpickery)

It’s part of the overall level of dedication it takes to turn out a good piece of writing, right? And we all expect to have to work a little more after we’ve initially told a story, or at least we should. I’m not big on hard and fast rules. Really, I’m not. I think “rules” in writing can and should be broken now and then. Generally speaking, these kinds of prescriptions are for writers, not for readers. Inside baseball, not meant for actual spectators, you know what I mean?

Even so, there are some commonalities to this process I believe every writer can and should keep an eye on. First of all, get comfortable removing chunks of flesh from your manuscript. Just straight-up cutting large sections that may have had stuff in it you liked. Also, get comfortable rewriting everything you just took out. Only better. Hopefully. If parts of your story slow the narrative down, add unusual or unnecessary complications, or otherwise just don’t fit in with what you’re trying to achieve, that stuff’s dead weight, detritus. It’s got to go. Gird your loins, fellow word-wielder. Things are about to get messy at the slaughterhouse.

See the source image

A good piece of meat isn’t born precooked, and neither is a good book. You can always resurrect some of that cut material and insert it elsewhere, but the same idea applies: if the words don’t fit, you must acquit.

Man, I’m on a roll today.

Another important thing to consider is if you want to make focused passes or not, keying in on just one element at a time, starting with larger issues like pacing and character development. This is a good idea if you’re new to the process or just like to stay organized, and it’ll probably save you some time in the long run. By making several focused and element-specific passes, you’ve got the opportunity to hone in without distracting yourself with other stuff that may change in the long run. My only suggestion for this type of revision process is to keep notes along the way. Ideas may spring to mind, better concepts for how to handle any given character or scene or larger story element, and you’re going to want to keep track of everything you intend to change for your next pass.

Admittedly so, I’m much too erratic and scatterbrained for this method, which means I tend to just charge in like a bull in a china shop and really tear the place up until its “redecorated” just how I like it. Mine is a messy process in this way, but it’s also just how my mind tends to work. Not everyone has the equivalent of sixteen trained chimpanzees careening around their heads, doing their level best to run the ship. If I don’t feed them at a regular time every day, Bingo—he’s the captain, see—he orders the rest of the chimps on strike, and then I’m in a real chimp ship pickle. Nobody wants that.

Where was I? Ah yes, serious discussion of the revision process.

A lot of what you’re going to be doing is in fact that more minute stuff, especially when you’re really getting down to it and most of your broader strokes have been made. Changing the language of the piece, the flow, tightening your syntax, all of that is important as finishing maneuvers. Just make sure you’re not revising so much you’re only shifting elements around and not necessarily improving anything. That can happen easily, which is why it’s also important during the revision process to take breaks when you need them. And I don’t just mean a break of a few minutes or hours. Sometimes you’ve got to let your manuscript go for days or even weeks just so you can come back at it with fresh eyes. The ability to forget what we’ve written is a great asset, so use it.

The annoyance and pain of all this is temporary. You have to keep that in mind. However, once they’re released to the general public, your words are forever. So now is your opportunity to line them up exactly as you want them. In the end, all you can do as a writer, as a creative individual of any kind, is your honest best. Will all your extra hard work pay off? That’s an eternal question, always in motion, and anyway, what’s your definition of success? I mean really?

I’ll have another Craft and Practice topic for you guys next month. Until then, cut a little, cut a lot, but don’t cut to the quick. The chimps in your brain may not like losing any of the good stuff. See you in June!


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

GB Cover

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