Life Advice

The Only Three Rules You CANNOT Break

This is all there is to it, right? Right? RIGHT?!

This is all there is to it, right? Right? RIGHT?!

Writers are fond of finding exceptions. It’s part of who we are, I guess. I mean, if we were people who liked following rules we’d already be in a more “normal” profession. We’d be doctors. Or lawyers. Or terrorists. Anything but these free-wheeling weirdos for whom “Pants Optional” is a huge job perk.


So good luck finding a “writing rule” that really IS a rule.



Imaginary Teacher: In writing we never use run-on sentences.

Imaginary Student Writer: Unless you’re Shakespeare. He did it. Like, all the time.

IT: Yes, well. Of course. So I guess you can use them. Just don’t use sentence fragments.

ISW: Everyone speaks in sentence fragments. And poets pretty much only use them.

IT: Of course. But one rule is that we never start sentences with a conjunction. And the reason for that is –

ISW: Uhhh… you just did that.

IT: Get out of my class before I kill you.


And the student leaves, usually makes a comment in his mind about how the teacher is teaching because he couldn’t make it as a writer,

and goes off and, you know, writes. Usually breaking as many “rules” as possible for spite.


Upshot: no rules.


Except there are. There really are. Just a few.


Just three. And you can’t break them. Not ever. Not and hope to keep an audience.



And here they are. There are three. Only three, no more, no less. And every other skill I know, every other technique I use, hangs on the framework provided by one or more of these rules.

1) Bore Me And Die

2) Confuse Me And Lose Me

3) Make Me Better Or Leave Me Alone


Let’s talk about each…

(on to #1 – Bore Me And Die)



Posted by in MbC Must-read, Writing Advice, 0 comments

Book Review: Map of Shadows by J.F. Penn

My review of Map of Shadows is a fairly simple one, but it highlights a few terribly important things.


To start, here is the litmus test for a great story: when you are in bed at night, reading, and your spouse elbows you in the side and says, “Shut UP.”


“What?” you answer, confused about what’s happening, half of you still trapped in the story you’ve fallen into.


“You were SHOUTING,” she says. Then she rolls over, laughing because she knows what all this means: that SHE has found a new story, too, because when I’m done with it, it’s her turn.




The above is rare for me. As a writer myself, I have a marked tendency to pick a story apart, to dissect each sentence after reading it and to ruthlessly VIVISECT the plot AS I read it. I’m like a mad scientist, who in churning out his own little monsters has ceased to view the other creatures out there as anything other than items of academic interest. Just things to be learned from or things to be despised, depending on how competent those creatures’ own “mad scientist” parent are (or are not).


And then, in a beautiful – and all-too-rare – moment, one of those creatures not only meets your gaze, but stares you down and then SPEAKS to you. You are reminded that these creatures, these little monsters that have sprung forth of others’ minds, can sometimes rise to be more than things to be examined. They can be extraordinary, full of wonder and light and genuine magic.

Map of Shadows, the first book of the Mapwalkers series, is a story like this.

I went into Map of Shadows with the concern that I ALWAYS have when reading a story by someone I know and respect, because there is nothing worse than telling a friend that their latest is anything other than magnificent. Ms. Penn and I are not the kind of buddies who hang out – or even talk regularly – but she has interviewed me a number of times for her (superlative) writing podcast, The Creative Penn. I count those interviews as among the most fun I have had, and Ms. Penn as one of the best hosts, who brings you not only onto her show, but into her heart.


Now, I’m not just wandering around aimlessly here. I mention The Creative Penn because in the same way that she opens her heart and mind and her great understanding of the written word to those lucky people in her audience (and those luckier people whom she hosts on her show) so she has opened that heart and mind and understanding to those lucky people who read Map of Shadows.

Map of Shadows, like The Creative Penn and the best books and like Ms. Penn herself, is simply MAGIC.

Shadow Cartographers. Maps of Shadow. Labyrinths where death makes its home. Places that have not truly disappeared from the world, but which most certainly HAVE become lost… and become darker in the losing. Fiendish monsters torn from dark imaginings and even greater monsters embodied in the men and women who bear sad resemblance to our own darkest selves.


All this and more is on full display in Map of Shadows, but above all that, this book is about connections.


It is a story of a woman who finds that this world we enjoy is not the ONLY world, and perhaps not even the most important or more powerful. But as her understanding of the world(s) grows(s), so too does her ability to bring real betterment to that world.


Map of Shadows is the story of a woman who chooses to reject a life of relative comfort for a life of danger, and does so for nothing more nor less than the tiny chance that she will find a family she thought lost to her.


Map of Shadows is the story of a woman who has few connections to a world which – as it has for so many of us – has grown cold and distant and even alien; but who then finds those connections in the form of new friends who are willing to echo her sacrifices and then add some of their own. It is the story of hopelessness found in dark places, but then brought back to the light.

Map of Shadows is the story of… us.

We each make maps of our lives. Perhaps none do what our heroine accomplishes – drawing places into being simply by “mapping” them, or traveling the length and width of the universe(s) in an instant – but we draw our homes, our places of comfort; our “war zones” wherein we find things ranging from angry bosses to that grocery store clerk who for some strange reason manages to terrify us every time she weighs our grapes (yes, this is about me); and we draw the outer edges of our worlds, knowing that beyond them danger dwells.


And yet we go. We travel to the boundaries of our lives and comforts and then – as Sienna shows us how to do – we move past those boundaries, and into shadow – there to discover that…

… we have, somehow, brought our brightness with us.

Sienna is all of us, and in her we find what every good Mapwalker MUST find: a road to travel; a quest to undertake; a guide or two to help us along the way, and, in the end, our hopes and dreams.

Thank you, Sienna, for showing an extraordinary path; and thank you, Ms. Penn, for your extraordinary stories and for the joy and light they bring – especially Map of Shadows, which occupies a new spot on my “favorites” bookshelf.



Posted by in Book Reviews, Life Advice

Star Wars Episode VIII – The One Whose Title I Remember

I saw the new Star Wars movie today. It is hard to compare the new series to the old, because they are doing such different things in terms of social effects and emotional reaction. The first three movies changed cinema in some fundamental ways, and were a great thrill ride to boot. They were trailblazers, going where no one has gone before (and yes, I know I am mixing taglines of different franchises here — what can I say, I’m an anarchist). The three that followed were garbage, pure and simple, and we will speak no more of them.


The current trilogy has a whole different set of goals. Anyone comparing them directly to the first is going to find them disappointing, and whether they realize it or not, I believe that this is largely due to the fact that the new movies are not designed as life-changing experiences. They are meant to carry the torch, to provide a fun movie, and to sell ancillaries (toys, T-shirts, lunchboxes, iPhone cases, brand-licensed contraceptives, etc.).


And they are succeeding.


Episode VII was a thoroughly competent movie, which almost could not fail to carry the torch of the original Star Wars, given that it followed the exact same story beat for beat, up to and including the MacGuffin of the Death Star, the child who comes from nothing but carries with her extraordinary powers, the swashbuckling rogue who doesn’t obey orders but always manages to be in the right place at the right time to do the noble thing, and the series regulars like C-3PO and Chewbacca and the like. It was a good movie. Nothing extraordinary, but nothing disappointing, either – unless you count the lack of anything extraordinary at something disappointing, in which case, again, you are probably looking for the same effect of the original Star Wars and are doomed to disappointment because that will never be replicated. Other movies may change cinema, may have societal impact on a grand scale, may sell ancillaries – one must look no further than the Harry Potter series to see exactly that kind of event. But the original Star Wars’ effects will never be duplicated, and to try and do so would be foolish. Disney is not foolish, they are not trying to do so. They are just trying to keep on with what Star Wars has become.


This is inherently safer, and the movies that result almost necessarily will be blander. That is why I much preferred Rogue One to Episode VII (a sign of its middle of the road approach being that I enjoyed it very much, but can never quite manage to remember its name without really putting thought into it). Because Rogue One was its own animal, part of the Star Wars universe but necessarily separated from it and many fundamental ways, it was free to do different things and was its own reward. I also clapped out loud when it ended the way it did — which ending I will not spoil for those of you who have not seen it, but which was quite a bold move for a family-oriented Producer and distributor like Disney.


Which brings us to Episode VIII, The Last Jedi. Like episode seven, It shared many story beats with its progenitors. In this case, I would argue it mostly moves to the structure and themes of The Empire Strikes Back, which is to its benefits since Empire was the best of the Star Wars movies. But unlike Episode VII, which felt like a Conscious attempt to replicate the structure and appeal of the first Star Wars, The Last Jedi felt much more like an homage, or perhaps even a love letter of sorts sent from writers and directors of today back to those children we were the first time we saw Star Wars, either upon its real original release, or later Via VHS, DVD, or the money-grabbing Millennial tradition of “an all-new, remastered re-release with never-before-seen footage!” It was less heavy-hundred, better-directed, and much more well-written then it’s predecessor in the Star Wars timeline. And its sense of fun was wonderfully displayed, from the excellent comedic turn of our new Rogue, to the (much better then Ewoks cute little sidekick/animals, to the wonderful nods to 1970s culture (anyone else spot the rebels playing Battleship?).


All this to say, I had a great time. It was not the original Star Wars, but it was not intended to be, it never could be, and it was far better off not attempting to be that movie.


I enjoyed it enough – laughing and clapping – that the man in front of me turned around and told me to quiet down, to which I simply responded, “no.“ He told me he would have me “ejected from the theater,“ which I simply responded to with a thumbs up, because theaters will not even toss people for answering their phones in the middle I have the movie, let alone simply laughing loud, clapping hard, and cheering wildly while witnessing a torch perfectly passed in a race long enjoyed.

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My review of Justice League

I saw JUSTICE LEAGUE with my two oldest kids. Verdict: it was okay to good – which is at LEAST an order of magnitude better than I expected. You could absolutely feel Whedon’s touch in the script and directing – a bit lighter palette on screen, and a lighter feel. Some good jokes (Aquaman sitting on Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth is a standout), and the kid who played THE FLASH showed Jesse Eisenberg that it is possible to do manic/neurotic without veering into “I’m a weasel who was drinking an espresso right before I fell into this big vat of cocaine” mode.
The Good:
1) The Flash absolutely stole the show – magic every time he was onstage, and his “hero progression” was handled brilliantly.
2) Batfleck still fits surprisingly well, and has some nicely played moments (see Flash’s “hero progression”). He needs to ditch the hairpieces and just admit he’s bald, though.
3) Some BEAUTIFUL shots. I like how in this one and Wonder Woman they really seemed to be mining ancient art as a template for what the fight scenes should look like.
The Meh:
1) Wonder woman got very little in the way of good lines, character development, or anything else, which was a shame since she became such a well-drawn character in her recent movie. She hit some people good and made magic fire by clicking her arm protectors together (PS totally lame move if you’re going to use it repeatedly), but that was kinda it.
2) Aquaman is getting a “meh” because they took a character almost no one liked and made him look AMAZING, then the actor portrayed him as such a unidimensional surfer dude it got boring and occasionally took a flying leap into lame.
3) The story was a series of wasted ideas. There was room to do something very powerful and interesting, but the artists involved avoided depth to such an extent that it felt like a cinematic kiddie pool.
The Bad:
1) Zack Snyder. Also, Zack Snyder and for good measure Zack Snyder. The dude has made precisely ONE good movie, and that one was a remake. Other than that, he does movies that are GORGEOUS, bus so drab and dreary it feels like pre-cyclone Kansas. Also, I have yet to see a movie where he gets “Story by” or “Written by” in which the story wasn’t a muddled mess.
2) Supes is my favorite all-time superhero. And the makers decided to make him the catalyst (of sorts), essentially relegating him to scenes where the best character development came in the form of “I am not wearing a shirt now, so you just KNOW I’m gonna mess you up in the face!” Ditto Amy Adams as Lois Lane. You’ve got an actor of her caliber, and you USE it.
Overall, I would recommend it, but encourage low expectations. It was fun enough to watch with my kids, and they certainly loved it, but I will likely never watch it again. Glad I did once… but once was enough.
Posted by in Life Advice

Writing is Magic

I’ve been scarce on social media (including this site) as of late… building up my identity as a Western Romance writer has been much more time-consuming than I thought it would be. Which is probably funny for most people, considering the assumption of most is that I already have at LEAST seven or eight other personalities rolling around in my little brain, so what’s one more?


I thought it would be tough to shift to that from a position in the “darker arts” of horror and other spec-fic. But it turns out I’m a sappy romantic at heart. Or maybe not… I just got told for the tenth time that my writing reminds folks of The Man From Snowy River and its sequel…


And oh, boy, will I take that thankfully. Because I can remember standing up and CHEERING as a young kid when I first saw The Return Of The Man From Snowy River. And remembering that, I also remembered how AWESOME it was when the hero of that movie faced folks down in Old West Tyme Australia with a FRICKIN’ BULLWHIP.


And guess what the hero in my first Western Romance has instead of a gun?


All this goes to show you how important stories are. They become more than entertainment, they become the stuff of our lives… part of our laughs, our cries, our shouts of triumph and tears of despair. They meld themselves to our DNA, and make us into new – hopefully better – people.


To the writers out there: remember that. The first job of a storymaker was to create community. To turn Many into One, and to give that One the tools to imagine marvelous things… and then turn those marvels into reality. You now hold that mantle, and I always plead that you will wield your powers in ways that make the world better, more beautiful, more MAGICAL.


To the readers out there: remember that you change every time you read. You cannot choose otherwise. But you CAN choose the works you patronize, the people you support with your time and money. Not all story has to have a happy ending – indeed, some of the best tales are cautionary ones, and you can’t caution anyone without showing the danger that threatens – but they should all MAKE the world a happier place overall. They should bring smiles, either in the moment of reading, or in the moment of satisfaction when the reader (you, me, and so many others) realizes there are things that are WRONG out there… and then fixes them.


Write. Read. Live.


And make that life magical.


Posted by in Life Advice, Writing Advice

Let’s talk about “assault weapons,” shall we?

I tried to post this in response to a friend’s Facebook post of “for the love of all that is holy, NOW can we ban military-grade assault weapons?”
Apparently, my post was too long for a “reply,” so I’m posting it here. Incidentally, doesn’t it say a lot about the fact that Facebook – probably the #1 place where important issues are discussed in all the world – does not permit people to respond in a way long enough to actually properly treat important subjects? If that isn’t a sign of how our ability to really discuss important issues has declined, I don’t know what is.
Anyway, to my reply:
Actually, no. One more pre-discussion note: BEFORE you go off your hinges, please understand (and I say this about eight hundred other times in the below, but fully expect some people not to read anything other than a lack of 100% agreement with both their thoughts and their methods) I AM IN FAVOR OF SOME THINGS CHANGING IN RE GUN CONTROL LAWS. But most people on the pro-gun-control side are going about it in an ineffective way from the basic point of view of the vocabulary they choose (as in the above).
Now last time I posted something that even tangentially touched on politics, and explicitly said, “I’m not for this PERSON, but I like this SENTIMENT,” a number of people came into the comments, starting screaming and cursing, then blocked me and unfriended me on Facebook.
I’m not going to say “good riddance” to those people – then or now. I am sorry to see ANYONE self-select out of my circle of friends, and actually MORE sorry in a lot of ways when it’s someone I disagree with. I don’t want to live in an echo chamber, because that’s the secret to stupidity.
But… yeah… I’m betting the same will happen here. And as then, I’ll be sorry to see you go. But I also can’t sit by and watch so many of my friends argue such an important thing in a way that is guaranteed to reach a poor result.
QUOTE: “…for the love of all that is holy, NOW can we ban military-grade assault weapons?”
FYI “assault weapons” is a nonstarter because it’s a nonsense term. The fact that this is a nonsense term is discussed in detail at the bottom of this post, but for now… here’s the problem with using it:
I am not saying I’m against tighter gun control – I actually lean toward some restrictions, though not many that I’ve seen proposed make any sense from a real world perspective, given the current state of technology and what statistical analysis I’ve seen.
But whenever people start talking about “assault weapons,” the very people you want so hard to convince turn off their ears because it convinces them that you are echoing a sound bite rather than doing the basic research necessary to have a competent conversation on the issue. Worse, it actually ENLISTS other people to side with them.
The equivalent would be if someone hacked a person to death with a chainsaw and there was an immediate outcry against “high-speed action knives.” The folks at the Craftsman chainsaw division are going to go on the offensive – but so are those from Ginsu, Swiss Army, and Sears.
Again, PLEASE DO NOT SHUT DOWN BECAUSE I AM SAYING YOU ARE USING THE WRONG WORDS. I REALLY REALLY REALLY WANT DISCUSSION TO HAPPEN. But you can’t have good discussion where one side (the gun people, in this instance) understand the technical aspects of the subject under discussion, and so many of the pro-gun-control people don’t even bother to learn the right terminology. Why would ANYONE on the gun side of that spectrum want to bother?
Example: A rocket scientist has designed a rocket that he believes is to be used for surveillance purposes, and for defensive action in case of attack against US soil. In fact, the rocket has been used to deliver payloads to unsuspecting enemies of the US. YOU know – and have proof that – his product has been turned into a missile/bomb, and is being used illegally and/or imorally! You make an appointment to talk to him, and start off with, “Your pointy airplane is killing everyone! And there’s no use for your pointy airplane, you KILLER!”
How long do you think that discussion would last? And how unreasonable do you think the rocket scientist would be for throwing someone who shows all the signs of being either an idiot or a nut job out of his office?
Again, AGAIN AGAIN AGAIN: this is not to say stay out of the conversation. The OPPOSITE – GET INTO IT! But get into it in an educated way, because THAT is the way to get a measurable result.
NOTE AGAIN: even though I have made it SUPER CLEAR that I’m not against gun control, and that the purpose of this post is to HELP PEOPLE WITH GUN SAFETY CONCERNS BETTER ARGUE THEIR CASE, AND DO SO IN A WAY THAT MORE GUN-USE ADVOCATES WILL RESPECT, I fully intend someone to start arguing about why gun control is good here. They will miss the point and lash out at anyone who disagrees with them in any way – even if it’s not in substance, but just in the ineffective way they are dealing with the subject. Worse, those people will likely start screaming about “assault weapons” and echoing the other talking points – which is the entire point of this (tl;dr) post.
This is the way spoiled children react when told they don’t get a toy because they haven’t bothered to read the instructions and will break it. I would hope it is NOT the way most of us want to reach decisions in the most important questions of our day.
Engage, engage, engage! But don’t go into someone else’s house (or the place they perceive as their house, which is reasonable since they are the only ones who seem to want to be there), and start arguing with them in a made-up language. Speak to them in words they understand, and words that actually MEAN something.
The following is quoted from a really good article on gun control issues, written by my friend Larry Correia.
For the record: I DO NOT AGREE WITH EVERYTHING IN THE ARTICLE. But Larry is extremely smart, and extraordinarily knowledgeable on the subject. More than that, he will actually engage – POLITELY – with anyone who has shown they have educated themselves on the subject and want to talk about why they think he is wrong.
He will also mock and then excoriate people who walk in under the assumption that their reading a newspaper article gives them the necessary knowledge to competently argue the very technical issues of gun laws.
But he is kind and considerate to others who show HIM kindness and consideration – even when he disagrees with them. I have seen this. I put all this ahead of the definition so you will know that a) he is an expert, b) I don’t always agree with him, and c) he’s shown a willingness to talk to me about any and all things that concern me – even to the point of taking me to a gun range to show me details of shooting everything from handguns to the things most folks would definitely think of as “assault weapons.”
In other words, he’s a good example of a “good” gun nut (and I call him that with a measure of affection, especially since that’s what he calls himself). You want people like HIM to believe you – especially since they are the movers and shakers (the below-linked article is the #1 most-shared internet article on gun control in the history of the internet). If you want to change things, you have to change THESE minds, and you have to do it at a level of competence and thought that folks like him will respect – because it shows that you respect both the subject, and respect them as people.
The link to the entire article (which contains an exhaustive list of his qualifications, as well) is below the excerpt:
And a final note: if all this is “too long,” then I would suggest you TAKE YOURSELF OUT OF THE DISCUSSION. I believe, strongly, that the issue of gun safety, gun availability, proper use of force, and gun control is one of the most important questions of this generation. But most people think “one of the most important questions” means: “I will scream and yell about it (on both sides), but can’t be bothered to do research. That’s too much like school, and who needs that to deal with something as EASY and OBVIOUS as gun control?”
Well, if it was that easy and that obvious, it wouldn’t still be a problem. Not unless you believe that over fifty percent of the U.S. population is both stupid and evil (not to mention the rest of the world). And in that case, we are well and truly screwed no matter what.
I choose to believe most people are good, and most people are smart. But experience has also taught me that I have to talk to people in a way they understand and respect if I hope to provide them with good advice that they will actually take.
by Larry Correia
_____We should ban Assault Rifles!_____
Define “assault rifle”…
Yeah. That’s the problem. The term assault rifle gets bandied around a lot. Politically, the term is a loaded nonsense one that was created back during the Clinton years. It was one of those tricks where you name legislation something catchy, like PATRIOT Act. (another law rammed through while emotions were high and nobody was thinking, go figure).
To gun experts, an assault rifle is a very specific type of weapon which originated (for the most part) in the 1940s. It is a magazine fed, select fire (meaning capable of full auto), intermediate cartridge (as in, actually not that powerful, but I’ll come back to that later) infantry weapon.
The thing is, real assault rifles in the US have been heavily regulated since before they were invented. The thing that the media and politicians like to refer to as assault rifles is basically a catch all term for any gun which looks scary.
I had somebody get all mad at me for pointing this out, because they said that the term had entered common usage. Okay… If you’re going to legislate it, DEFINE IT.
And then comes up that pesky problem. The US banned assault rifles once before for a decade and the law did absolutely nothing. I mean, it was totally, literally pointless. The special commission to study it said that it accomplished absolutely nothing. (except tick a bunch of Americans off, and as a result we bought a TON more guns) And the reason was that since assault weapon is a nonsense term, they just came up with a list of arbitrary features which made a gun into an assault weapon.
Problem was, none of these features actually made the gun functionally any different or somehow more lethal or better from any other run of the mill firearm. Most of the criteria were so silly that they became a huge joke to gun owners, except of course, for that part where many law abiding citizens accidentally became instant felons because one of their guns had some cosmetic feature which was now illegal.
One of the criteria was that it was semi-automatic. See above. Hard to ban the single most common and readily available type of gun in the world. (unless you believe in confiscation, but I’ll get to that). Then what if it takes a detachable magazine! That’s got to be an Evil Feature. And yes, we really did call the Evil Features. I’ll talk about magazines below, but once again, it is pretty hard to ban something that common unless you want to go on a confiscatory national suicide mission.
For example, flash hiders sound dangerous. Let’s say having a flash hider makes a gun an assault weapon. So flash hiders became an evil feature. Problem is flash hiders don’t do much. They screw onto the end of your muzzle and divert the flash off to the side instead of straight up so it isn’t as annoying when you shoot. It doesn’t actually hide the flash from anybody else. EVIL.
Barrel shrouds were listed. Barrel shrouds are basically useless, cosmetic pieces of metal that go over the barrel so you don’t accidentally touch it and burn your hand. But they became an instantaneous felony too. Collapsible stocks make it so you can adjust your rifle to different size shooters, that way a tall guy and his short wife can shoot the same gun. Nope. EVIL FEATURE!
It has been a running joke in the gun community ever since the ban passed. When Carolyn McCarthy was asked by a reporter what a barrel shroud was, she replied “I think it is the shoulder thing which goes up.” Oh good. I’m glad that thousands of law abiding Americans unwittingly committed felonies because they had a cosmetic piece of sheet metal on their barrel, which has no bearing whatsoever on crime, but could possibly be a shoulder thing which goes up.
Now are you starting to see why “assault weapons” is a pointless term? They aren’t functionally any more powerful or deadly than any normal gun. In fact the cartridges they normally fire are far less powerful than your average deer hunting rifle. Don’t worry though, because the same people who fling around the term assault weapons also think of scoped deer rifles as “high powered sniper guns”.
Basically, what you are thinking of as assault weapons aren’t special.
Now, the reason that semi-automatic, magazine fed, intermediate caliber rifles are the single most popular type of gun in America is because they are excellent for many uses, but I’m not talking about fun, or hunting, or sports, today I’m talking business. And in this case they are excellent for shooting bad people who are trying to hurt you, in order to make them stop trying to hurt you. These types of guns are superb for defending your home. Now some of you may think that’s extreme. That’s because everything you’ve learned about gun fights comes from TV. Just read the link where I expound on why.
I had one individual tell me that these types of guns are designed to slaughter the maximum number of people possible as quickly as possible… Uh huh… Which is why every single police department in America uses them, because of all that slaughtering cops do daily. Cops use them for the same reason we do, they are handy, versatile, and can stop an attacker quickly in a variety of circumstances.
When I said “stop an attacker quickly” somebody on Twitter thought that he’d gotten me and said “Stop. That’s just a euphemism for kill!” Nope. I am perfectly happy if the attacker surrenders or passes out from blood loss too. Tactically and legally, all I care about is making them stop doing whatever it is that they are doing which caused me to shoot them to begin with.
The guns that many of you think of as assault rifle are common and popular because they are excellent for fighting, and I’ll talk about what my side really thinks about the 2nd Amendment below.
Posted by in Life Advice

Hope is a Dream, a Time Asleep…

After my recent retirement announcement, a few people have stated that my situation is discouraging, given that they have always hoped to make writing a career and here’s a guy (me) who HAD it as a career, but couldn’t hold onto it. A few have lost hope in their own talent, their own futures. Here’s what I said to one of them, and what I now say to ALL who feel this way:


Don’t lose that hope. This kind of “turn” hits almost every writer out there, successful or not. Some of them have banked enough millions that it just doesn’t matter – who, for instance, believes that Dan “DaVinci Code” Brown is going to have a writing career in ten years… or that he’ll even notice the money not flowing in any more. The rest of them, when they have downturns, work as pizza guys or notary publics or any of a thousand other things. And that’s okay, too!


Don’t hope to be a pro writer and to have all be roses and sunshine forever. You want to be a pro, then WORK YOUR ASS OFF FOR THAT. Then, when it happens (and I have no doubt you WILL make it happen), just know that this life, this creative world… it’s all based on dreams. And the one thing that every dream has in common: they all end eventually. And that’s not a bad thing, because “real life” is what supports and informs the dream, and what makes it worth going to again and again. And the dreams are scary, fun, thrilling, horrible, ugly, beautiful, hateful, and lovely… which means they are, in fact, just one more facet OF that real life.


Live. Live your best, and you will find your dream, whatever it is. And then, having found it, you may realize that your dream is not the perfect thing you thought it would be, and that real life – the waking world – is also a pretty neat place.


And, having experienced both, you will be all the wiser, all the stronger, all the better for it. Having experienced both, you will be able to enjoy either, and excel within the bounds of whichever reality in which you find yourself.

Posted by in Life Advice

The Press – A Powerful Enemy (of Itself)

Here’s a good example of being your own worst enemy:


I *DESPISE* those people – usually powerful – who don’t like having to answer questions about their decisions; especially those who, once questioned, react with all the grace of a two-year-old who’s had his lollipop ripped right out of his mouth.


So this article, at first, made me angry.


A newly elected CONGRESSMAN? Hitting a reporter after the reporter DARED ask a question?


But then I read this line: “Jacobs [the reporter] said Gianforte [the ‘body-slammed me and broke my glasses’ after he asked a question about the Republican health care legislation.”


And I hear this in my head…

MbC’s Head: How dare he! How DARE a man in the Congressman-elect’s position BODY-SLAM a reporter and then — wait, what? “He broke my glasses”? That’s a weird thing to say after getting body-slammed. What about, “He shattered my femur” or, “He gave me a concussion”? Granted, the average congressperson has roughly the physical prowess of a quadriplegic three-toed sloth, but if the reporter got “body-slammed,” why is he complaining about his frickin’ GLASSES?


Uh-oh. And here’s the “own worst enemy” part. First of all, I deal with this kind of massive, ground-shaking level of complaint and fear for life and limb on a daily basis. I do, after all, have two pre-teens in my house. And any time it goes from, “HE/SHE ALMOST KILLED ME!” to “Also, look at this scratch on MY FAVORITE TOY,” I immediately know that the issue is not one of physical danger, but tender feelings with tewwible boo-boos.


This complaint, which devolves in a SINGLE SENTENCE from, “I was gravely attacked after doing my reporterly duty,” to “My glasses got busted by an old dude!” is, I fear, just the same.


About a year ago, a NY Daily News reporter (in)famously wrote an article called “What is it like to fire an AR-15? It’s horrifying, menacing and very very loud.”


In it, the reporter told of the massive terror, which he claimed ACTUALLY CAUSED PTSD in the instant it occurred,* that he felt upon firing the weapon.


“It felt like firing a bazooka.”

“I was just terrified.”

“The recoil bruised my shoulder, which can happen if you don’t know what you’re doing. The brass shell casings disoriented me as they flew past my face. The smell of sulfur and destruction made me sick. The explosions — loud like a bomb — gave me a temporary form of PTSD. For at least an hour after firing the gun just a few times, I was anxious and irritable.”


So how does this all tie in?


It used to be that reporters were there to keep the powerful accountable. They were there to uncover the truth, and to give us a more informed set of facts upon which to base our decisions.


Now? Now, sadly, they ARE the powerful. And we know the old adage about what power does. And we see, to our horror, that it’s true.


“He broke my glasses”?


Men and women of the press used to put their lives and careers on the line. Men and women of the press used to go up against the bullies, stand firm, and rely on the truth to take down those who abused their power.


Now? Now most of them put little on the line at all. Now men and women of the press are, all too often, the bullies themselves. Now they stand firm – no matter how unreasonable their positions – and rely on media pressure, mob mentality, and the threat of constant exposure to reprisals to take down those who stand in the way of the reporters’ power.


Is this always the case? No, of course not. And I don’t have all the details of the case of a man who was “body-slammed” and got a pair of broken glasses as a result. Perhaps it was a legitimately dangerous and terrifying event. But even if so, it doesn’t change the simple fact that “great reporting” used to mean timely, careful, and accurate dissemination of important information. Now it mostly means dissemination of information that is carefully timed to create the maximum buzz and anger. The accuracy is still there, but whereas “accuracy” used to mean “let us give the whole story, the whole set of facts, and let a human race that is mostly good come to the good conclusion on their own”; now it means, “what we said IS technically correct, and we’re going for the letter of the law because the spirit of the thing doesn’t pay as well.”


Freedom of the press is important – critical, really. But only if that press works to improve OUR freedoms, and not simply to create media firestorms, up ratings, and raise salaries.


There are good people in the press corps. I just wish I said that more from experience than from faith.



*The New York Daily News later posted this “update” from the reporter, Gersh Kuntzman, after a massive backlash to his use of the term “PTSD”:


Many people have objected to my use of the term “PTSD” in the above story. The use of this term was in no way meant to conflate my very temporary anxiety with the very real condition experienced by many of our brave men and women in uniform. I regret the inarticulate use of the term to describe my in-the-moment impression of the gun’s firepower, and apologize for it. [end quote]


I call bullshit – and those who know me and who read my posts know how rarely I use that term. The guy is a REPORTER. A professional writer whom we depend upon to provide full and accurate information. I know that when *I* write ANYTHING, from an entire book to a single WORD (like, for example, PTSD), that’s on me. Kuntzman says here that he made a mistake (only he doesn’t  even actually admit to any wrongdoing, just an “inarticulate use of the term” – which makes almost no sense at all, given that it is primarily used to describe indistinct speech patterns. If talking about the “cannot express oneself clearly,” definition, and if this applies to Kuntzman (especially since he admits it does), then he should not be publishing news pieces – even those of the op/ed variety – especially not on incendiary topics that require the utmost care to discuss and decide.


Posted by in Life Advice

Happy Easter

It’s happening again.


It’s worse at the end of the year, but it happens now, too.


“Happy Easter!”

“Happy Easter?”

“Happy… Sunday?”


Every time there’s a religous-themed holiday, someone inevitably complains. Yes, there are the complaints about commercialization, or the True Meaning of [Fill in the Blank], or how the day brings out the worst as people horde over slightly-underpriced doo-dads. But I’m not talking about those.


I’m talking about the paired complaints: “I wish they wouldn’t wish me Happy Easter/Merry Christmas/Whatever,” and, “Why can’t I wish people Happy Easter/Merry Christmas/Whatever without someone biting my head off?”


I mention “Christian” holidays above, because they’re the ones I hear most about. But I have no doubt there are similar arguments about Kwanzaa, or Diwali, or Vesak, or any other holiday that has a deity (or two or three or more) at its center – or at least at its genesis, since that argument that the once-Holy-Days have converted to nothing more than “Retail Day #7” or “Buy Overpriced Roses Day” certainly has some merit.


I digress. Sorry. I do that. Squirrel!


In all seriousness, though (yeah, like that’s possible for me), I hate this argument, this “Respect my religious holidays vs. “Respect my lack of faith/belief/interest in your religious holidays” dispute. Because it makes it about belief, and in so doing, it utterly misses the point.


Yes, the holidays have the beliefs themselves as their basis. Though you don’t have to believe in Christ to celebrate Christmas – at least in the trimmings: presents and cocoa and a wonderful excuse to be nicer to each other – you can’t have Christmas without Christ. You can’t have the holiday without its history. You don’t have to ascribe to the stories, but they’re there, and without them you don’t get the holiday – package deal.


Similarly, you can run around pelting people with colored powder, exchange gifts, and enjoy some of the greatest food of your life no matter what you believe… but that doesn’t change the fact that Diwali doesn’t exist without its history, without its god-stories of Krisha and Vishnu and King Rama.


Easter, of course, is the same. I love Cadbury Eggs, and that enjoyment is completely separate from whether or not I believe that one day a tomb was empty because its inhabitant had risen up and ascended to Heaven. But without that ascension story, Cadbury Eggs probably wouldn’t exist (and the world would be all the poorer for it).


Now, note that I call these things “stories.” I mean no offense to those who believe them – I’m a believer myself, and will be celebrating Easter this Sunday with egg hunts and food and family, but also with time in church, time in prayer, time talking to my children about what Easter means to us.


So no, calling them “stories” is not an insult. On the contrary, it’s a compliment. Calling them “facts” would actually lessen them in certain respects, because facts are what control our lives, seen or unseen, believed or not… but “stories” are what we choose, what we as humans have that is separate from every other creature. Every animal – every bit of matter, for that matter (see what I did there, ha!) – is governed by “facts.” By the realities in which we exist. Perhaps those realities include this God or that, or none at all… debating that isn’t the point of this essay.


Stories, though… if facts provide the framework, then stories provide the potential. Stories are what we choose to believe, and in so doing, point us toward what we hope to become.


And that’s the point of “Happy Easter” or “Merry Christmas” or whatever Holy-day that enters a greeting. It is about a story.


Stories are wonderful things. They entertain, they enlighten. But at their heart, the greatest magic they weave is this: they create communities.


An example – and please trust me, I actually have a point to all this, ya just gotta bear with me and pay close atten – SQUIRREL!


Sorry, where was I?


Right. Example.


Picture this: I’m in line for the newest Marvel movie. Behind me is a 15-year-old girl. Suddenly, I whip around and say, in tones of near-frantic worry, “Do you think Iron Man’s gonna DIE in this one?”


What does she do? In all likelihood, she’ll respond with a good-natured laugh, and then her own personal fan-theory about what’s going to happen; maybe something she heard about the plot on the internet. Someone a bit down the line will shriek, “Spoiler alert!” when she does that, and everyone laughs.


Okay, now picture this: In an alternate universe where everything’s the same, only here I’m in line at McDonald’s. Suddenly, I whip around to the same 15-year-old girl, and say, in tones of near-frantic worry, “Do you think they’ll ever bring back the McRib FOR GOOD?”


What does she do? In all likelihood, she laughs nervously, says, “Uh, maybe?” and then steps back a pace or two while covertly getting ready to hammer 911 onto her phone before the coo-coo can eat her face off.


What’s the difference? Same people. Same middle-aged guy and same teenager. We’re standing just as close to each other in both situations; we’re even wearing the same clothes, for crying out loud. So why the disparate reactions?



[continue to the rest of the article…]



Posted by in Life Advice

AN MbC MUST-READ: Ten Steps to Overnight Success…*

So you wanna be a writing success? Then let’s just dive right into the nitty-gritty, shall we? And no, I’m not talking about the “writing” part.


The top 1% of members of the Writers Guild of America — the folks who make between $600,000 and the “big money” (seven figures) number in the mere dozens. Of the rest of them — members of a group that as a rule has to get paid to even join — only the top 25% make $62,000 a year or more. And the average age of a person who actually makes it into the Guild — meaning they got that sale, or finally optioned enough screenplays to make it — is 35 years old.


Let’s talk now about some other averages. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median income for salaried writers hovers just over $50,000. Only the top 10% of salaried writers make over $95,000. And it must be emphasized that these are “salaried writers” — narrowly defined by the BLS as people like salaried journalists, or professional technical writers. Fiction writers are, for the most part, freelance writers whose annual takes — even if they are “professionals” (i.e., occasionally paid) — is
much, much lower.


In other words, “the big payoff” of becoming a “real, published author” may have more in common with the salary of your average janitor than it does with the sixteen bizillion dollars J.K. Rowling makes every time she writes a postcard.


Of course, the chances of making money go up greatly if you are signed by a large publisher — Scholastic, or Bantam, for instance. However, this itself has an inherent earnings inhibitor built in: most of the larger publishing houses require that submissions be “exclusive.” This means that a writer is only permitted to submit his work to one large publisher at a time. The average wait time to find out if the work has been rejected or accepted can range anywhere from a few weeks (if the writer already knows someone “on the inside” who is in a position to fast-track the review) or, more likely, several months to a year and a half. Then, even if the book is accepted for publication, the large publishing houses will typically take, again, several months to a year and a half to actually roll out the book.


In other words, even assuming your book is picked up by the first major publishing house you submit to — and the odds are against you — you are looking at somewhere between half a year and three years before you start really seeing any money. And if your book is not accepted by the first major publishing house, then you are once again in a sort of voluntary limbo, consigned there by the “no simultaneous submissions” rule.


What to do?


The reality is, most authors have “day jobs.” I am considered an anomaly. I have optioned screenplays and done rewrites for major Hollywood production companies. I have numerous television shows in development. I have written over a dozen novels that have spent time on Amazon’s major genre bestseller lists, and have spent the better part of a year as one of Amazon’s Most Popular Horror Writers.


I make a living writing.


Now, to put this in perspective: I began writing at the tender age of four. I made my first “sale” of a short story to a local newspaper at the age of 15. I earned creative writing scholarships in college. I hold the record as the person who has had the most screenplays go to quarterfinals and semifinals in the history of the Nicholls Screenwriting competition. And in spite of all this, it took me fifteen years of rejection letters to actually start making money.


Still, through it all I have learned some things about writing, and about how to become a “successful” writer, particularly in genre work like fantasy, sci-fi, and horror. Following is my “road-map for success.” Which is not a guarantee that it will make you a millionaire…but it is a guarantee that you will never fail so long as you continue doing these things.


1) Write. This may seem obvious, but the simple fact is that if you wish to make a living as a writer, you MUST WRITE. Constantly and without letup. Write your books, your screenplays, your stories. And when you are done writing those, write about them. Start a blog. Issue press releases. Have a Facebook page. The “writing muscle” is one of the most easily atrophied muscles in the human body.

Posted by in Life Advice, MbC Must-read, Writing Advice