Writing Beginnings That Don’t Suck (Writing Workshop)

Every great journey begins with a single step forward. Where your story is concerned, that first step is absolutely, without question, the most important one. Doesn’t matter how fantastic the rest of the book is, if the first few sentences don’t compel the reader into the next paragraph, and that paragraph doesn’t force them to finish the first chapter, then you’re sunk right out the gate.

Your opening line is the front line. It’s your readers first interaction with the story and everything, and I do mean everything, depends on those first few lines doing their job.

But it’s not just a matter of starting the story with whizz-bang-boom in the first few sentences and then resting on your laurels. That next paragraph has to latch onto your reader by the scruff of the neck like a rabid Daschund. The paragraph after that must add another meanie-weenie dog. The one after that? You guessed it. Another ferocious ankle biting fur-ball.


Ferocious and Delicious.

The first chapter of your story needs to heap puppy after puppy on the reader until they are crushed beneath the dog pile and couldn’t walk away even if they wanted to.

When it comes to opening your story, it’s a dog-eat-dog world, and we’re playing for keeps. By the way, what’s up with all these dog metaphors? Hm… we’ll get to the bottom of that later, for now, let’s focus on what really matters: Writing a Stellar Opening! Or, barring a stellar opening, let’s write something that doesn’t completely suck.

Onwards and upwards as they say!

Okay, so now we grasp the importance of a great opening, but what does that even mean? What does a great opening look like?

When done properly, we barely notice a great opening. You know why? Because we are so enthralled that we don’t even stop to consider the fact that we’ve fallen headfirst into this majestic world of centaurs and jello fueled jetpacks until we come up for our first huge mouthful of air which, depending on how strong your opening is, could be hours later.

So what does a good opening need? I’m glad you asked, please refer to the handy-dandy list I’ve compiled down below:

What Every Good Beginning Needs

1) Hook the Reader

Hooking the reader can be done in all sorts of ways. Maybe there’s something really compelling about your character. Does he/she have a unique voice? A weird perspective on the world that immediately clashes with our own? If you’re from a more literary bent, then the language itself could be the hook. Read some Patrick Rothfuss and right off the bat you’re hooked by the sheer beauty of language.

Quick note: Not everybody can pull off this sort of opening. Nine times out of ten I’d say people fail because they come off as flowery and pompous. You don’t want to be that guy, so tread carefully.
Inevitably, whether you have a compelling character or beautiful language, the beginning comes down to the hook. The reason why the reader should invest their time in your story.

Most books do this with a question. Will Mary figure out who put the Butcher’s head in her freezer? Will she figure out whether or not she thinks it’s kind of sweet and romantic or a little too forward and a bit creepy?

Most books get put down because the reader is bored. They aren’t compelled forward; they aren’t hooked. If that happens, you have nobody to blame but yourself.

2) Establish Bond With Lead Character

Right off the bat we want to know who’s skin we’re going to be living inside for the next couple hundred pages. Introduce us to your lead character and then make us feel something for her. Do it quick, you’ve only got a hundred or so words to really grab me and yank me in. Don’t waste time.

Refer to the post Cheating Your Way to Likable Characters for ways to establish this bond. Here’s a quick list for you lazy SOB’s out there.






Inner Conflict

Don’t know what any of that means? Too bad, go read that other post.

3) Present the Story-world

This doesn’t mean info-dump or take a paragraph to describe the skyline and the underlying political system governing your little world. In the beginning every word counts double, so figure out ways to introduce the story-wono dumpingrld without taking a step sideways to draw attention to the fact that you’re introducing us to the story-world.

I’ve done other post on exposition and infodumping (CLICK HERE and I’ll prove it), but here’s the nitty gritty to help you navigate the treacherous waters of your beginning.


Act First, Explain Later: I’m not going to stop and explain why Daryl is about to shoot Wesley in the kneecap. I’m gonna do it, and you’re gonna trust that it’ll all make sense in the near future.

Comprende? Bueno. Now get over here Wes, Daryl’s got something for you.

Iceberg Explanation: Give us only 20 percent of what you think we need. Leave the rest underwater.
Information Inside Confrontation: Whenever possible use confrontation, or interaction with another human, to sprinkle information and propel the story forward.



The gun bucked in Daryl’s hand harder than he expected. “That’s for fucking my wife.”

Wesley whimpered on the blistering plasticene sidewalk, clutching his gut. “I didn’t—”

Daryl didn’t have time for more lies. He took aim at the space between Wesley’s eyes and fired a second time.


Notice a couple things. We jump straight into the action without introductions or back-story. Daryl thinks Wes slept with his wife, so there’s his motivation conveniently dispensed in the form of dialogue rather than some kind of internal monologue.

Is Daryl justified in his actions or is he a jealous asshole? Don’t know. Is he even our point-of-view character? Maybe. Maybe not.

For instance, perhaps he has his wife tied up in the back of the car and he’s gonna kill her next. Maybe she’s our main character and has to get away from her insane husband. Then again, maybe we find out she’s been cheating on him for decades and Daryl just learned none of his three children are actually his. Now we can at least sympathize with his anger.

Either way, at this point, we don’t know, but hopefully we’re intrigued enough to find out.

What’s a plasticene sidewalk by the way? Shrug. Not a clue. That’s just a bit of world building to give you an idea that this storyworld isn’t exactly like our own world.

Also, that very first sentence “the gun bucked harder than expected” gives us some idea that Daryl probably hasn’t fired very many guns in his lifetime. So where did he get this weapon? Did he buy it from a crack addict on the corner of 28th and MLK? Possibly.

I guess we’ll just have to read on to find out, huh?

4) Establish Tone

The above example is sort of morbid, huh? It has the sort of grit that would play well in a detective noir or mystery/thriller piece. Which is going to be awfully disappointing if the story you’re telling is supposed to be humorous or a romantic comedy. You need to set the mood immediately, give the readers no doubt as to what sort of story they are reading.

Seriously, don’t get cute and write a super-gnarly murder scene only to undo it at the end of the chapter with the old:

“Joe and Beth sat on the couch as the movie ended, wide eyed and traumatized. Nobody said a word. Perhaps Die Hardest: Oblivion Now wasn’t a good first date movie choice, Joe reflected.”


Now, the example from above is gritty, but we could easily tone it down into something more lighthearted with a bit of work.



The gun bucked clean out of Daryl’s hand and landed in a puddle of rain water. Daryl stooped over to retrieve the weapon. “That’s for sleeping with my wife, douche-nozzel.”

“What the he–?” Wesley whimpered.

Daryl took aim at the space between Wesley’s eyes, compensated for the anticipated recoil, and fired a second time.

The bean-bag round glanced off Wesley’s kneecap.


Is this funny? Probably not. I’m not good at comedy, but the take-away is that it sets an entirely different tone from the first example. The action is pretty much the same but instead of murdering Wesley, Daryl has resolved to use a bean-bag gun. A weapon he is clearly not familiar with.
The important thing is that right out of the gate, with both of the examples, you more or less know the sort of story you’re in for.

5) Compel The Reader To Move Forward

Never give the reader a reason to put your story down. Make it difficult for them to say, “That’s enough for tonight”, by always compelling them to move forward. This means asking a variety of big questions and little questions.

In the examples with Wesley and Daryl we have a couple questions revolving around what brought the two men to that place in their lives, and what’s going to happen next. But you can only string action along for so long before it becomes wearisome. Daryl can’t just sit there shooting Wes in the kneecaps all day long.

No matter how beautifully it’s written, eventually we’ll get bored.

That’s when you as the writer need to…

6) Introduce Opposition

Oh, would you look at that, what a conveniently placed talking point.

The beginning of your story needs to set the stage for the larger conflicts to play out.

How do we do that?

Well, start putting the protagonist in situations beyond his/her control. Introducing us to their nemesis might be a bit premature, because we haven’t really gotten to sympathize with our Lead yet, but we can start making their life suck.

For instance, in that first example we don’t really know what happened in the moments leading up to Daryl shooting Wes. Perhaps Wes was actually the one who tracked down Daryl with the intent of killing him so Wes could marry his wife? There was a struggle for the gun and Daryl came out on top and took revenge. Now, let’s say a patrolling robo-cop-dog has heard the gunshots and is going to arrest Daryl.


Seriously, what’s up with all the dog references in this post?

What does Daryl do? Run or stay?

Questions have been asked, and now our MC has some decisions to make.

On the other hand, if this is the lighthearted comedic romp with bean-bag guns and the like then perhaps Wes is actually Daryl’s boss and while he isn’t going to press charges (mostly on account of the fact that he’s planning on marrying Daryl’s wife following their soon-to-be divorce), he is most definitely going to fire Daryl.

Now Daryl’s losing his wife and job, but he got to shoot his asshole boss with a bean-bag gun, so that’s cool. What’s he going to do now?

Questions and decisions.

This is getting on the long side, so let’s wrap it up with a quick list of things not to do in your beginning.

-excessive description
-backwards glancing: ie: flashbacks or navel gazing.
-lack of threat. <—No lack of threat? That’s a weird sentence, but you’re a smart person, I’m sure you’ll figure out. Right? Right.

And those, folks, in a really wordy nutshell, are the key elements to a really good beginning. In the future we’ll talk more about this because it’s just so damn important, but for now I want ya’ll to boogie on down to the comments and tell me what some of your favorite opening lines/chapters are, and why.

Go on, butt-scoot on out of here.

Dog Reference Quota: Exceeded

Dog Reference Quota: Exceeded

You’re Telling It Wrong (Writing Workshop)

Do you ever find yourself just slogging through a story that, on the surface, you’re really jazzed about? You have a great concept with compelling characters, but for some reason you’re going through the motions, trudging towards an ending that’s somehow lost its luster? I see you over there hands in pocket, staring down at your feet pretending all “Shucks, no not me.”

But you’re lying, and you know what they say about lying. “It’s really fun unless you get caught. So don’t get caught.” Those are words to live by, my friend.

Yes, yes I do.

Yes, yes I do.

Anyways, you’re drifting down the Blue Danube on a story raft that simply doesn’t want to float. You’re taking water on from all sides. The more you struggle, the more you bail the water out, the faster the raft goes down. At the end of it all you’re left with wet britches and the burning question “Why isn’t this story working?”

There are a lot of reasons you’re story might be fizzling. Getting a spot on diagnosis, especially when you’re new to the game and haven’t really developed the editorial gaze of death to discern the fluff from the chuff (Chuff is good. Don’t know what it is, but I needed something to rhyme with fluff, so there ya go. Deal with it. Please) can be difficult.

This is where beta readers, editors, friends, and family members come in handy. The problem is, being only halfway through a story (and struggling towards the ending) is not a good time to dump your word vomit on a friend or enemy.

Self-Diagnosing your story problems is one of the best skills you can develop in your writing. To make it easy, and accelerate your learning curve (or just serve as a reminder to those of you who’ve been in the game for a long while and have simply forgotten ’cause you’re old and stuff), I’m going to lay out some of the most common ways I see stories stalling out midway through.

1) Wrong Main Character

It’s stupid how often this one crops up. We’ve all been there. You start with a good lead character, but a great sidekick. Part way through the story you realize the sidekick is way more compelling than the main character, which is an issue. Your MC doesn’t have to be the swellest gal around, but preferably she has the most at stake in the story. If not, then you might be crossing your streams.

To catch this, read through your story and figure out who the story is about. Is it really about the MC or is it actually about her best friend Suzy? Sure you might have started off the story thinking it was about the MC, but sometimes these things grow out of our control. You start off telling Story A, digress into the scummy boulevards of Story B, and then find yourself in the cardboard city of hobos that is Story C.

what am i doing here

It happens.

You can do a couple things at this point. Change to a new MC and start over, or tweak your MC to make her unmistakably the protag. Neither is an easy fix, but if you make the right correction, you’ll find the story flows much better and more naturally. And after all, whether inside the bathroom or out, isn’t better flow what we’re all looking for?

2) Wrong Point of View (POV)

I struggle with this one a lot. It’s my nemesis.

Here’s why: I love writing in First Person. It’s my bag. Ostensibly it plays to a lot of my strengths as a writer.

Here’s the problem: First Person doesn’t really work in a big sprawling story with multiple POV’s. You can maybe maybe maybe have two First Person characters alternating chapters, but you have to work damn hard to distinguish your character voice otherwise they start blending into each other. Most people, unfortunately, don’t have the chops to pull this off (I might be one of them. Shh, don’t tell anyone).

Often what happens is I’ll dive into a story in First Person, because that’s my default. I’ll get a good chunk of the way through and realize I’ve chosen the wrong character to chronicle through First Person. Whoops.

If it’s a big story with diverse cast I’ll usually alternate chapters between characters using 3rd person limited while returning more often than not to that First Person POV MC. If you’ve chosen your characters wisely, and structured the story appropriately, you’ll get to the end of the story and your Gordion knot of interweaving stories will have untangled itself. If not, you’ll get to the end and not only will that knot still be fully intact, but now it’s covered in sticky honey.

gordion knot


How to fix this?

Uh… There’s not always an obvious solution. It’ll take some fiddling with your story bits to figure out what’ll work best. Also, unfortunately, what worked best to fix your last story might not be worth beans on this story. So there’s always that. Good luck.

3) Wrong POV Character

Most of the time your Main Character (within a scene) will also be your POV character. It’s a good rule of thumb that, regardless of the scene, we want to be in the mind of the character who stands to lose the most. This is a moot point in stories that simply stay behind the lens of a single character throughout the story, but you should be conscientious of how this will limit your storytelling.

For instance, Watson (in the Sherlock Holmes’s books) is our POV character, but Sherlock is the Main Character. Everything we see and learn about Sherlock is through Watson’s eyes. This works really well for Sir Doylie, but might not work for you and your tale.

Ask yourself, is my POV character the Main Character? If the answer is no, you better have a darned good reason for it. If you find yourself struggling to come up with even half-assed justifications, then the fix is simple: make your MC your POV character.

4) Wrong Structure

This is one that is tripping me up on the story I’m working on right now. To give you some background on the project, it’s a collection of three novella’s forming an overarching narrative called Augment. The individual novella’s link together loosely, but it’s not until you reach the end of the last novella that you really see how they all fit together. That last novella, The Watchmaker’s Daughter, is the one giving me fits, and rightfully so. It’s the one that has to neatly wrap up all the loose ends, connect dots that the reader didn’t even know needed to be connected, and offer a satisfying conclusion not only to it’s story, but to the two preceding stories as well.

In short, it’s pulling more than it’s fair share of weight. Which, if done correctly, will be cool. But, if done incorrectly (which is likely what will happen considering how unwieldy a little bitch it is) it will leave the reader incredibly unsatisfied.

I don’t want to leave ya’ll unsatisfied, so I’ve been tooling over this story for a week or so trying to figure out why it’s not quite coming together and finally I realized that I’m telling the story with the wrong structure.

Here’s what I mean by that. I’ve been working so hard to wrap up all the loose strands, that I lost focus on the individual story taking place in The Watchmaker’s Daughter. Instead of being a standalone story about a mother losing her daughter, I sped through the emotional bits from a pulled out bird’s-eye-view, and robbed the story of all its emotional impact.

This is a problem. Fortunately it can be fixed.

Learning that the structure of your story is flawed sucks, but it’s better than wallowing in the muck of “Why?”

How do we fix a broken structure? You go back to the beginning and relay the foundation. For The Watchmaker’s Daughter I’ve reoutlined the story based off what I now know about it. Fitting in the emotional landmarks that the first version lacked and cutting out the parts that skim over the pain.

This is one of my least favorite sorts of fixes to make, because it amounts to a lot of work and throwing away many already written words. But hey, we write until the story is right.


Listen up. I’ve outlined some of the ways your story might be going off track, but ignore all of this advice until you’ve actually finished your first draft. As a new writer it is more important to take the editor cap off and simply write to completion. Everybody hits the 1/3 mark in their story and thinks “This is absolutely horrible.”

That’s normal. You have to get comfortable in that zone and learn how to push past it. If you stop mid-way through a first draft to go back and fix it, you’re unlikely ever to actually finish it. So, finish that first draft no matter how horrendous it is, then go back and tweak and revise, but not a moment sooner.


You should also finish that first draft before going back and implementing the tweaks I’ve laid out. Why? For the same reasons I gave the new writers. Nobody, regardless of skill, is immune to the stalling out point. I don’t care if it’s your first short story or thirtieth novel, finish that first draft before going putting the editor cap back on.

Stop arguing, just do it.

Here’s a picture of a cat to make it all better.



Here’s a nifty little video starring Littlefinger from Game of Thrones for your viewing pleasure. The CGI is top notch, the story is…uhm…*shrug* I don’t really know what to make of the story actually. It could be the kickoff of a really interesting story world, but this particular vignette seemed “dramatically forced”. Still entertaining from a visual effects stand point, however.

How To Be A Better Human (in theory)!

Between unannounced projects cropping up like hydra’s and a trio of computers cahooting to end the tyranny of their human overlord by committing near simultaneous suicide, the last month or so has been wonky. Which is why ya’ll haven’t seen me in a hot minute. But now I’m back and I’m gonna do a blitzkrieg styled post to get everybody on the same page, so without further adieu, buckle up and grab the ‘Oh shit’ handle, we’re going to lightspeed.

Wait, what do you mean this thing doesn’t go to lightspeed? How ’bout the speed of sound? Uh… as fast as a Fiat rolling downhill? Rollerblading downhill? Somersaulting downhill?

panda roll

Ah, there we go. Alright, let’s try this again: Buckle up and grab your “Oh shit” love-handles, we’re going to somersaulting-down-a-hill-speed. Boy, that sounds way less cool.

Anyhoo, first up on the agenda, I turned 31 this month. Woot woot. I’m officially old, right? Well, perhaps not. If current estimates of life expectancy are correct I suppose I’m only at about a 1/3 life crisis, so still young at heart, though the body seems to be breaking down more than ever these days.

Now that I’m considered a village elder (of some peculiar village out in the rain forest that you’ve never heard of, don’t bother fact checking me, just trust that I’m not lying. I’m totally a village elder, promise), I’d like to share with you a couple knowledge nuggets I’ve accrued over the past thirty years.

1) Put Other People First

We are all the centers of our own Universes.

World Revolves Around Me

But the world, as a whole, is a better place when we remember this fact and yet actively try to disprove it. We never fully can, of course. Self-preservation is hardwired into us humans, it’s part of what makes us so successful as a species. But there’s a lot to be gained by putting other people first and, for a time, allowing yourself to be sucked into the gravitational well of their lives.

*I am incredibly bad at this.*

2) Take Care Of Yourself

A good argument could be made for putting this one on the top of the list. If you can’t take care of yourself, then it’s impractical to think you’ll be of much help to others. But it’s too easy to fall into the trap of, “I’m not ready,” especially for people floating around my age, or a bit younger. We’re so focused on our own futures and outcomes that it’s difficult to see how we can be of much use to others until we’ve firmly established ourselves into the world. If you keep waiting for the day you feel grown up and ready, however, then chances are you’ll spend your entire life waiting.

Here’s the quick and dirty list to taking care of yourself:

-Exercise: I don’t care how, but make sure you’re doing it. Whether it’s jazzercizing in the park, excessively vigorous sexual escapades, or just doing 5,000 jumping jacks every morning, get that heart pumping. Don’t put it off for tomorrow, do it today.

-Eat Better: Be conscious of what you’re putting into your body. As a general rule always ask yourself “Why am I putting this in my mouth?” Listen, you don’t need to follow some fancy new-fangled diet, ’cause quite frankly, they don’t work. All you need is to exercise some critical thinking and conscientious eating habits, the rest will probably take care of itself.

-Brush Your Teeth and Wear Sunscreen: This is one of those classic “Do as I say, not as I do” moments.

-Get Your Finances In Order: Again, I’m a creative type, and we’re not always known for our long term thinking/planning skills. Money in particular is one of those things most people don’t “like” thinking about. But not thinking about it isn’t gonna make it go away. As my Dad has told me since high school, “Make a budget, have a plan.” It’s that simple.

Do these things and you greatly increase your chances of a somewhat happy geriatric experience when you finally get there (or so I’m told).

3) Plan For The Future, But Live In the Now.

Young people, in general, are much, much unhappier than old people. Why? Studies show that old people spend less time stressing out about the future. Faced with their own mortality, they realize there’s not much point in fretting unnecessarily about the far future, this frees them to focus on the things that really matter, such as the present.

It takes some mental gymnastics to juggle these competing mindsets. On the one hand, for a guy like me, statistics show I have about another sixty years to live. But on the other hand, there’s always the chance I get smooshed tomorrow by a semi-truck driven by a super intelligent chimpanzee recently escaped from the black ops government research facility just down the road.

So I mean, shit can go sideways at any moment. Try not stressing on that too hard.

But do stress a little bit. Hedge your bets and have a contingency plan for old age. Once in place, stop worrying about it.

4) Have Goals

I’m a very goal oriented person. Part of that is related to my ADHD. Goals help us focus on the thing we need to do to accomplish the things we want to do.

Let’s unpack that a bit. If you’re reading this blog, chances are you come from a socioeconomic background that affords you the ability to do pretty much anything you want (given enough time/effort/skill/talent/money). The important question you have to ask yourself is: What do I want?

It’s a consequence of my age and geographical position in the world that everybody I currently know could conceivably do *anything* (within certain limits, of course. I’m using hyperbole to make a point, suck it up) they set their minds too. The problem, and this goes across the board, it’s hard to decide what we want when faced with so many options. Compound that with the fact that we won’t be the same person tomorrow as we are today, and setting any sort of reasonable goal to guide our life for twenty years down the road seems a crap shoot at best.

A lot of my close friends are (and I used to be) paralyzed by this fact, instead choosing to ride the winds of destiny wherever those gusty zephyrs might blow. Which is fine, up to a point. We all need a moratorium period to really figure out who we are and what we want out of life (lord knows I did), but eventually you’ve got to move out of that mindset. Consequently, once you have goals in place, life becomes a bit less stressful and a lot more fulfilling.

So how do we set goals? I think I’ve done a blog post on this before, but I’ll rehash the nitty-gritty.

A speedometer with red needle pointing to Reach Goal, encouraging people to get motivated

-Set long terms goals. Example: In ten years I want to be a full-time author.

-Set medium term goals. Example: In five years I want to have published *such and such* many books.

-Set short term goals. Example: Write everyday.

These are intensely oversimplified, but they give us a framework. Long term goals are hard, but conceivable. For example: “Become NBA superstar” is unfeasible for me at this point in my life. That’s not a goal, it’s a dream.

goals are dreams wiith deadlines

Sorry to say, but I missed the “Become NBA superstar” deadline.

Long term goals can be nebulous things, but the more you nail them down in specifics, the better. Instead of saying “full-time author”, figure out what that actually means. Is it tied to financials or publications? If it’s tied to money, how much constitutes full-time to you? Figure this out at the beginning and understand that the details will likely shift along the way. That’s okay. It’s a good idea to annually revise your goals as life and circumstance change.

Medium term goals are the bridge, the checkpoint, that helps you gauge your progress towards the long term goal. Make these obtainable, though not easy.

Short term goals are absolutely obtainable, things that you can do right this moment, and are (on their own) relatively easy. Write everyday is on face value very easy. That is until life crops up and you run out of time, energy, or whatever.

Short term goals are frustrating because they are incredibly easy on their own. It’s doing them day in, day out, for years at a time, where they become unwieldy little bitches. This is where the 10,000 hour rule comes into play. Don’t know what that is? Google Malcolm Gladwell and learn, it’s an important concept regardless of what you hope to accomplish in life.

An easy way to visualize this is to put your long term goals at the top of a mountain. Your medium goals are base-camps spread out at regular intervals along the way. Short term goals are the countless individual steps you have to take along the way to ascend the mountain. There is no Donald Trump’esque escalator to get you up there, you’ve got to do the work yourself.

Start now.

5) Never Stop Learning

Doesn’t matter what, how, or why, just do it. Don’t become stagnant, don’t be boring. Learn, grow, try, and fail. Then repeat. Always. Until you die. Then start over in the afterlife.

never stop learning

Alright, alright. I could keep going indefinitely, ’cause I like spackling you with advice that I, myself, am horrible at following, but I’ll save you from my hypocrisy and end the torture now. Get down to the comments and let me know what you’ve been up to this summer. What goals you’ve set, what things you’ve learned, and which people have sucked you into the vortex of their lives.

Writing Is Sort Of Depresssing

This has been a week of highs and lows for me. And as is often the case when my mood starts flailing about like an enraged hobo high on bath salts, I can’t really put my finger on why. Which is surprising ’cause I don’t consider myself to be an emotionally complex individual. Overall I’m pretty simple.

What you see is what you get is what I feel. My emotional barometer doesn’t fluctuate all that much, usually. But this week has been a little different and since I’ve spent a goodly amount of time digging through my internal ichor in search of why that is, I figured I might as well share the results with ya’ll because none of this is unique to me. Au contraire mi amigo (

I said it in an interview a couple weeks back, but in case you missed it, I’l repeat it here: Writers (which extends to any creative type) need to have Han Solo’esque self-confidence alongside some C3PO crippling self-doubt. The tension between those two states of mind is where the best art is created.

Unfortunately, it also gives rise to some wicked internal dissonance which can lead to heavy drinking and heavy self-flagellation (and not the good kind).

Earlier this week I announced that I would be writing a time-traveling story for The Future Chronicles (which represents the apex of this weeks rollercoaster). But then it came time to dig in and get my fingers dirty with ink and story guts (this is the steep drop). Then came all the twists and turns that naturally arise when you write a story. The warm euphoria drizzling down on you like a Golden Shower from God when you realize, “Hey, this is an actual thing,” counterbalanced by the Devil’s wet-willy when you find that, “Hey, this isn’t any good.”

Which is nothing new; I always go through this phase upon swan diving into a second draft. After writing so many stories you’d think I’d be ready for the whiplash hairpin juke that comes after completing a first draft, but you’d be wrong. For some reason, I never see the damn thing coming.

Now, I’m not writing this because I want ya’ll’s self-pity (well, not entirely), but because at some point in the creative process you’re going to hit this wall like a crash-test dummy in a Pinto. It’s about this time that you want to throw your finger paints across the room and start giving serious thought to becoming a professional vagrant. The last thing you want to do is sit back down and get to work.

The shit of it is, that’s precisely what you’ve got to do. There’s no way around it. People say you can’t polish a turd, but you know what? Those people are absolutely wrong.

But here’s the other thing to remember: It’s probably not as bad as you think it is. Though, don’t get me wrong, sometimes it totally is. When that happens I recommend some margaritas and quesadillas to soothe the pain.

Overall I’m really happy with how this story is shaping up for the Time Travel Chronicles, by the way. There are some unique characters set within an interesting story world, but as usually happens at this point in my process I start second guessing myself and wondering, “Can I do this better?”

The truth is… yes, yes I probably can do better. Given more time, more practice, more skill, more more more..more things I don’t really have. I might as well wish for Patrick Rothfuss’s writing chops or the storytelling gene that Stephen King was so obviously born with (and totally never earned, he’s a cheater), for all the good it’ll do.

Ira Glass summarizes it perfectly in the video below. Especially if you’re a creative type who’s C3PO crippling self-doubt has become a bit too crippling.

THE GAP by Ira Glass from Daniel Sax on Vimeo.

If I could change anything about that video it would be to point out that this feeling of mediocrity is not reserved for beginners. I’d say regardless of where you are on the path, you’re gonna hit this at some point. Even those guys I listed above, Rothfuss and King, suffer from that same nagging voice in the back of their head that says, “Ehh…. this is sort of shite.”

There’s power in that realization. Writing (and art in general) is solitary by nature, and often you have no way of knowing if you’re doing it right. If those feelings of inadequacy are unique to you or indicative of something much more wide-spread.

Well, dear reader, take solace. You’re not alone,.

We all think we suck.

I think that was the point I was trying to make in all of this. Can’t be sure, though. Too many margaritas and quesadillas.

Joining The Future Chronicles!

Here’s some news: I’m writing a Time Travel short story for The Future Chronicles, and if I were any more excited I’d need to take a potty training refresher course.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Chronicles, they are curated by none other than Samuel Peralta himself, and explore the truly mind bogglingly (Yes, bogglingly is now a word. As a bonus, it’s also super fun to say, give it a try) vast spectrum of sci-fi themes in a short-story format. Past editions have explored the ideas of AI, robots, telepaths, aliens, dragons. You name it and they’ve probably either already done it, or will soon do it.

I got tapped on the shoulder yesterday to fill a spot left vacant for the upcoming Time Travel anthology. I’ve only got 13 days to get this story up and running so I’ve put a couple other projects on the back burner for now, but I’m pretty darn excited to share this one with ya’ll. I’ve only ever done one other time travel story (Which was about a time-traveling vampire, and oddly enough one of my dad’s favorite stories. But he’s not biased, he just really likes sparkly vampires), so this particular theme is wide open to me creativity wise. Trust that I’m running rampant like a rabid rabbit high on alliteration (Is that a good thing? Hopefully?)

If you haven’t read anything of The Future Chronicles I recommend checking out the links below and giving them a shot. Each edition has a truly impressive stable of high caliber writers, you won’t be disappointed.

telepath the alien chronicles ai chronicles

Lucifer Trailer

In an ironic twist, this trailer just blipped across my radar because the group One Million Moms is petitioning Fox to drop it. Lucifer is based on a fairly popular comic series, and I’m sure–true to Fox form–they’ll ruin this show, but I got to admit, I really want to see this. Partly because the trailer looks interesting and partly because I hate the uptight types who think they can ban art simply because it doesn’t agree with their worldview.

What’re your thoughts? Should the devil be banned from network television? I mean, hell, it can’t be any worse than The Kardashians, right?

Three Most Awesome Books of May

This was an interesting month of reading for me. There was the usual mixing pot of novels mixed with graphic novels (Y-The Last Man Volume 2, Saga Volume 1), some authors I’ve done more than a couple laps around the block with (Stross, Sanderson, Scalzi) and others whose words I’d never had the pleasure of visually molesting (Kloos, Bennett, Wong, Yu, Bale, and maybe most embarrassingly Pratchett–yeah, I know, I know. I’m way behind the times and should have read Pratchett a decade ago). There were a couple of books that, for whatever reason, I just couldn’t get into, and others who simply knocked my tube socks off.

We’re gonna talk about those sock thieves today. So let’s jump straight into that vat of butter and literary goodness. Listed in no particular order are the three best books I read this last month.

1) City of Stairs – Robert Jackson Bennett

city of stairs

Okay, I know I said I’m listing these in no particular order, but I lied; I’m putting this at number 1 because it deserves to be. Simply put, this wasn’t just one of the best books I read last month; this was one of the best books I’ve read all year. I’m gonna try not gushing like Old Faithful over here, but I can’t really help it.

City of Stairs is sort of an alternate world political thriller where gods are real (and have subsequently been overthrown). Worshipping–hell, even acknowledging–the divine has been strictly verboten by the now ruling government which was responsible for the godly overthrow in the first place.

This story is too complex to give a simple synopsis. Any attempt I make to do so will only fall short and disappoint, so I’m gonna take the lazy route and just sidestep the matter. Here’s why you should read this book:

– Strong Female Leads. Seriously, they are everywhere. What I love about these characters in particular is that all of the characters are informed by their gender, but not defined by it. I hate books that have female leads running around doing stuff in gender neutral ways, meaning, you could just replace that character with Hugh Jackman wearing a dress and nobody would be the wiser.

Writing strong female leads is not the same as writing strong male leads. If you want a master class on this, read City of Stairs.

– The worldbuilding in City of Stairs is some of coolest I’ve seen in a long time. It’s oceanic in its depth. I have the feeling that Bennett could easily pump out 20 books in this world without even breaking a sweat. Whether were talking about the culture clashes stemming from the interactions between the ruling (we hate gods) class and the now overthrown and bitter (we miss our gods) class, or whether were talking about the familial drama that plays out between strong willed members of a similar household, there is always something interesting and compelling taking place on screen. It sucks you in like a giant Hoover vacuum cleaner–in a good way.

– The way Bennett deals with the divine in City of Stairs is fantastic. You can tell he put a lot of time thinking about his divine pantheon, and it plays huge dividends in the story. He gives you just enough to keep you alive and begging for more, without divulging too much and simply exposing the mystery. A storytelling skill (and patience) that is amazing for a debut author.

If I’m not mistaken, City of Stairs is Robert Jackson Bennett’s debut novel, so it’s fair to say he’s only gonna get better. A startling fact considering how solid this book is already. The sequel, City of Blades, I believe is slated for release this Fall, so keep your ears to the ground on that one.

On a completely tangential note, after having read through the Hugo nominees for this year I can say unequivocally that City of Stairs should have been on the ballot. Bummer that such an amazing story got bumped, but what can ya do? Well, for starters, you could go pick up a copy of City of Stairs. Boom, look at that. Problem solving! Sort of.

2) John Dies At The End – David Wong


If City of Stairs tops the list for its storytelling excellence, then John Dies At The End comes next on the list simply because of its storytelling weirdness. This is not a book for everybody. In fact, I reckon that most people picking this up are likely to throw it against the wall with mild disgust plastered to their cheeks.

John Dies At The End is a comedic horror story (a peculiar slurry of a genre if ever there were one). Again, I’m not even gonna bother with a synopsis because (unlike City of Stairs which has a very complicated storyline) John Dies At the End is very weird.

So maybe at this point you’re wondering why I would even recommend this since thus far I’ve only called it weird. Well, weird can be good–if you’re in the right head space for it. If you;’re looking for something incredibly funny, at times stupendously stupid, and always a bit weird, then this would be the book for you. Pick it up and keep an open mind. You’re bound to have a few good chuckles along the way.

This thing is stream of consciousness word-salad, dribbling from the lips of a crack-fiend on a bad acid trip. If that doesn’t get your hackles up, nothing will. Feeling adventurous? Give it a go.

3) How To Live Safely In A Science Fiction Universe – Charles Yu

how to live safely

Ya know, I think this one actually deserves to be number 2 on the list, but it’s all arbitrary anyhow and I’m too lazy to go back and fix it. So, use your imagination. You’re gonna need it when you read How To Live Safely In A Science Fiction Universe because on the grand literary spectrum this thing falls much closer to John Dies At The End than it does City of Stairs, but that’s okay.

There is a lot of fancy sci-fi time travel hand-waving type stuff going on here, but at its core, How To Live Safely In A Science Fiction Universe is about a guy trying to find his father trapped somewhere in time. I think you’re going to get the most out of this story if you ignore the science fiction stuff happening in the background and simply focus on the heartbreaking story of what happens when we all grow up and realize our parents are not infallible, that they do not have all the answers, and more so, that they are people with their own hopes, dreams, heartbreaks and failures.

This is a very introspective story gift wrapped in some wonky paper. It’s worth it though, truly. I can’t remember the last story I read which affected my emotional state more than this. Perhaps that’s because I can see part of myself reflected in the story. Perhaps it won’t mean quite as much for you as it did me. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. We’ll never know unless you pick up a copy and then come back and let me know.

So what’re your thoughts? Have you read any of these tales? What did you think of them? Agree or disagree with me?

What did you read this month? Anything good? Anything to recommend? Get down to the comments and fill my orbital sockets with your words. NOW! (or later, it doesn’t really matter when)

One Day Only: Time Heist For Fleas!

I’ve been hitting the ginger ale pretty hard this morning. What I meant to say is: Time Heist for FREE!! Yeah, that makes more sense and seems a better deal for all parties involved.

Seriously, I don’t want your fleas, but thanks for asking.

Okay, so I screwed the pooch the other day when I announced Sins of the Father was free and that got me feeling pretty crummy. So here is my lame attempt at making it up to ya’ll. Until the end of the day, bop on over to Amazon and get yourself a free digital copy of Time Heist.

If you don’t read on Kindle devices, no problem. Just shoot me an email at anthony@onelazyrobot.com and I’ll send you whatever sort of format your little heart desires.

But you’d better be all Speedy Gonzalez about it ’cause this offer only lasts until the end of the day.

Click the pic below to be magically transported to Amazonia.

time heist

Science Fiction Has Gotten A Little…Gay.

This is going to be another touchy subject so let’s all promise to be on our best behavior right out of the gate? If not, I’m prepared to throw down, if you know what I mean.

*smacks a riding crop menacingly into the palm of his hand*

Good. Now that we’re all reading the same book, let’s get on the same page by giving you a bit of my own background. I’ve lived in Oakland, CA for the past four years. Before that I lived in Minneapolis, MN. This is important because these two cities (If you include San Francisco into the conversation alongside Oakland) are like two super LGBT capitols of the world. So I come from a microcosmic world of LGBT acceptance.

This skews my perspective.

In addition, one of my sisters is dating another woman (Huzzah! I like women too, welcome to the club dear sister). I don’t really know if that makes her gay, or bi, or what… and honestly I don’t really care to define it. As long as she’s happy, I’m happy. Not everything needs a label.

I certainly don’t. I don’t want to be known as Anthony the straight guy. That’s so…restrictive and disingenuous and trying to fit me nice and neat into a box that most certainly cannot accommodate my girthy hips.

Sexuality falls along a spectrum. We’re all a little gay and we’re all a little straight. Accept that. Does that make you uncomfortable? Well, too bad. That’s your baggage, not mine.

Never thought I'd agree  on anything with a child named Honey Boo Boo.

Never thought I’d agree on anything with a child named Honey Boo Boo.

But I will say this: If that previous assertion does make you a little uncomfortable, you should probably do some soul searching and figure out why that is because the world of tomorrow is coming and you’re falling behind the times. The rest of us aren’t gonna slow down and wait for you either.

So, in light of everything I just said, here’s what’s bothering me: Locus Magazine recently announced the shortlist for Best Sci-Fi and Best Fantasy book of 2014.

Best Sci-Fi

The Peripheral – William Gibson

Ancillary Sword – Ann Leckie

The Three-Body Problem – Cixin Liu

Lock In – John Scalzi

The Southern Reach Trilogy – Jeff Vandermeer

Best Fantasy

The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison

Steles of the Sky – Elizabeth Bear

City of Stairs – Robert Jackson Bennett

The Magician’s Land – Lev Grossman

The Mirror Empire – Kameron Hurley

I don’t know how many of these, if any, you’ve read, but I’ve read 8 of the 10 books (Excluding The Magician’s Land–cause I didn’t really enjoy the first book in this series–and Steles of the Sky) and I noticed something really interesting: they all have a gay character.

I’ll get to why that stuck out to me as being odd a little bit later, but I want to draw attention to some of the praise these books received:

“They fell in love at a university in Saypur, but Vo turned out to be gay (Shara suspects he liked her boyish figure.”City of Stairs – Robert Jackson Bennett

Annihilation has an Asian lead character, Authority a Latino and Acceptance has a gay man as protagonist. Southern Reach Trilogy – Jeff Vandermeer

One of the characters is gay, and it’s A Very Big Deal in the way his history is presented.”The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison

Those aren’t the reasons I’m falling so hard for this book. A big part of the reason is this: there are two characters, Jim Buchold and Rick Wisson, who are MARRIED. Yep. You got it. Two guys, married.Lock In – John Scalzi

This is also, it’s worth noting, a book as queer as the Bel Dame Apocrypha, if not queerer. The Mirror Empire‘s cultures all have multiple genders – three or five; and bisexuality is completely normalised and expected. The Dhai are a polyamorous society, where multiple-person marriages with all sorts of configurations of gender are shown without comment, and the men of Saiduan seem to be shared at their owner’s whims. Hurley has also included theOrlandoesque character of Taigan, who changes gender with the seasons; we see Taigan as both male and as an intersex individual in the novel, but presumably in future installments we’ll see her become female too.The Mirror Empire – Kameron Hurley

“One of the main characters is gay. You don’t see a whole lot of homosexuality in fantasy, and you should …. One of them is sexually promiscuous. One of them is depressed. There’s a kind of range of psychological personalities that is a little bit broader than what you see in standard fantasy.” The Magician’s Land – Lev Grossman

Gibson’s inclusion of gay characters as a regular part of Clanton’s community is commendable, and merits remark until such inclusion is no longer remarkable.” The Peripheral – William Gibson

This is what bugs me. We are still acting, as a community, as though the inclusion of gay characters in popular Sci-Fi and Fantasy is somehow…cutting edge. I don’t know if Steles of the Sky has any gay characters, but every other book on the list does. That’s 9 out of 10, which is like…90 percent or something.

crunched the numbers

Those are insanely high numbers. Now, you may be thinking that I’m somehow upset by this fact, but hey, I have gay characters in my own Firstborn Saga so it’s not like I’m petitioning for them to be removed.

Actually, I’m not sure what I’m petitioning for, because on the one hand I think it’s fantastic that the LGBT community is getting the inclusion they deserve–they are getting stories where, FINALLY, they get to be the hero–but the paradigm is shifting in a weird, unexpected way in that the LGBT community is now being…over-represented.

Huh? You all grunt as a collective.

Alright, don’t burn me at the stake quite yet, hear me out.

The National Center for Health Statistics does an annual National Health Interview Study and recently they began surveying Americans’ sexual orientation and what they found is that about 3.8 percent of American’s identify as gay/lesbian/bi/transgender. I’ll be the first to point out that there are some significant methodological issues with this survey.

– A lot of people don’t feel comfortable reporting one way or the other.

– A lot of people who participate in same-sex relations don’t identify themselves as gay, ie: “I sleep with men, but I’m not gay.” Huh? That… that is confusing. I agree, but remember, sexuality is a spectrum.

Anyways, I’m willing to grant that 3.8 percent is probably on the low end, so let’s round up to a solid 10%. Okay, so that means 10% of the population is represented in 90% of the Locus Award Eligible Novels for Sci Fi and Fantasy.

That’s INSANE (in both a good and a bad way). It’s good because I think gay rights is a super hot button topic right now. It’s good that writers are bringing awareness to this and being inclusive in their writing.

The bad side of the equation is that now, to write an award winning book, it almost feels like you have to include a gay character. As a result, everything is feeling a little.. same. A little.. forced.

Here’s an example of something else that affects ten percent of the population: Diabetes (which incidentally is the seventh leading cause of death in America). Now, imagine that 9 out of those 10 books all had a character suffering from Diabetes, and that a percentage of them even died from said disorder.

That’d be a little weird, right?


How about mental disorders? Hell, we could focus entirely on Major Depressive Disorder and Bipolar Disorder which together affect over 10 percent of the population. Include all mental disorders and you’re looking at closer to 25 percent of the population.

Okay, I guess if I had to state my gripe, it would be this: We’ve thrown open the doors of inclusivity, but by doing so we’ve pigeonholed ourselves to the singular character trait expressed in terms of sexuality.

I am not defined by my sexuality any more than my sister is. If the character in the book your reading is, then we’ve got a problem. We’re doing something wrong.

There is a caveat to this and it was mentioned in one of those reviews up above. Let me scamper up there and grab that real quick… hold tight.

*puts on some elevator music*

One of the characters is gay, and it’s A Very Big Deal in the way his history is presented.”The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison

When introducing a character and making a point of their sexuality, it has got to serve a purpose. If it doesn’t, then your character is a blatant attempt at ticking boxes on your Diversity and Demographics checklist.

Let’s leave off with this:

Gibson’s inclusion of gay characters as a regular part of Clanton’s community is commendable, and merits remark until such inclusion is no longer remarkable.” The Peripheral – William Gibson

The long, drawn out point I’m trying to make is this: the inclusion of gay characters, in and of itself, is no longer remarkable. It just isn’t.

Or is it?


Honestly, I just thought it was really cool how many awesome books are including gay characters these days and wanted to push your buttons to draw attention to that fact. Sucker! You’ve been had!