I’ve spent the second half of my writing career unlearning what I was taught in the first half.

Like any good novice, it started with “the writing rules.” Now, by “writing rules,” I’m not referring to the Strunk and White type of rules, the standard principles of grammar and composition. There’s “other” rules for contemporary novel writing, formulas for publication which some hold to be just as binding as rules of spelling and punctuation.

Some of those rules are:

  • Show Don’t Tell — Use action and dialog rather than exposition
  • POV — Maintain a consistent, realistic narrative point-of-view; don’t “head hop” from one person to the next in the same scene
  • Avoid Passives — Keep tenses active

Where did these rules originate? Well, as more and more people aspired to be novelists, the need for formal training and advice increased. Thus, the rules were born. The “writing rules” became a convenient template for wannabe novelists. Now, with the rise of democratization, pretty much anyone can be an “expert.” Also, as indie publishing has exploded, so has this circle of “experts.” Today, anyone with a decent canon of accomplishments and a respectable platform can disseminate advice to eager up-and-comers.

But perhaps the biggest contagion of the writing rules are critique groups.

I joined an online critique group, as a newbie, back in 2005. Some of those writers have gone on to have successful writing careers. It was a terrific group of folks, most of whom helped me tremendously, and whom I’m still friends with. But this group was also where I picked up some bad habits. You see, at that time, none of us were published. We were all scrambling to get a foot in the industry door. As such, the writing rules became our mantra. I couldn’t submit a new chapter or a new story without being flailed by the dreaded rules.

  • “Stop head-hopping!”
  • “Too many passives!”
  • “Show don’t tell!”

Like Pavlov’s Dog, just pressing the Submit button instinctively made me wince, knowing that a literary beating would follow.

The problem was, the longer I actually read what was being published, the less important the “writing rules” appeared to be.

It started with Frank Peretti’s, The Oath. The book had sold over one million copies worldwide, so I knew it must be terrific. Besides, it was the recipient of the 1996 ECPA Gold Medallion Book Award for Best Fiction, and one of Peretti’s most critically acclaimed novels. I dug in, not only to be entertained, but to be wowed by his craftsmanship. I read about 50 pages of The Oath before shelving it. Why? The “head-hopping” was driving me nuts! Okay. That was an aberration. Surely Stephen King would not exhibit such literary flagrance. So I took up his classic, The Stand. Alas, one of the takeaways, to my shame, was how often I noticed King violated some of the most basic writing rules. Namely in his use of passives and head-hopping. Lots of jumping from one POV to the next in the same chapter. And then there was the “had been’s” and “was’s.” Good grief! That book would have driven some of my old mentors crazy.

Interestingly, however, King’s infractions, his breaking of the writing rules, didn’t keep me from enjoying the story.

It was a huge turning point for me as a writer. Here I’d spent years learning the rules and diligently applying them… only to find that King and Peretti did not do POV’s. So I had to confront the fact that either Stephen King and Frank Peretti were bad writers, or the “writing rules” were not nearly as important to publication as I was being led to believe.

It was creatively liberating.

After that season of legalism, Stephen Koch’s book, The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop, was revelatory. In it, he writes this about POV:

Many teachers of writing will tell you that the way to unify your story and integrate it with its characters is through something called the narrative “point of view.” There are even certain purists who will insist that an “integrated point of view” is the only way a narrative can achieve unity. . .

. . .The academic emphasis on “point of view” in fiction is precisely that — academic. The notion that “the most important thing in fiction is point of view” is a beguiling but vacuous theory that bears only a marginal relation to real practice. And it causes vast amounts of misunderstanding.

. . .Of course, a consistent point of view can indeed be a guide to unity, and of course, you will want your prose to have a coherent texture. But it is a mistake to assume that point of view itself necessarily endows any story with either unity or coherence. Too often, this rather fussy doctrine pointlessly constricts writers’ options and narrows their range. (pp. 88-90, emphasis mine)

After my early indoctrination, I must say it was refreshing to hear the POV rules called, “. . .a beguiling but vacuous theory. . . [a] rather fussy doctrine [that] pointlessly constricts writers’ options and narrows their range.”

And therein lies the danger of writing rules.

If the primary goal of a story is to take us somewhere, then the “writing rules” must be subservient to that end. Much like a map, aesthetics are secondary to functionality. It is required first of the mapmaker to know which way North is. A colorful, good-looking map that has its directions all wrong is about as valuable as a well-written novel that doesn’t take us anywhere. Perhaps this is what we should first teach aspiring novelists — not about passives, POV, and show v. tell, but about how to take readers somewhere.

By over-emphasizing writing rules we unwittingly create a “checklist mentality” that places style above story and “pointlessly constricts writers’ options and narrows their range.” Of course, new writers need to understand the rules (if, at least, to be conversant in their allure). But if we’re not careful, we will turn the creative process into a formula and make literary Pharisees out of our proteges.

And sadly, online critique groups are notorious for perpetuating the mythology of writing rules. Yes. I believe that writing groups can be invaluable. After multiple published novels, short stories, and articles, I’m still in one! However, if we are not cautious, we can perpetuate a type of literary inbreeding in such groups. Especially when there’s a disproportionate ratio of “experts” to “novices.” (It’s why the “mix” and makeup of a writing group can be really important.) New writers should pay more attention to what’s being published and less attention to the echo chamber of their “expert” peers. Conversely, those with publishing cred and earned (or just given) respect, must be careful to not perpetuate “[a] rather fussy doctrine [that] pointlessly constricts writers’ options and narrows their range.”

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As the holidays approach, my art activity typically increases. Last weekend, my son-in-law and I were vendors at the annual Riverside Day of the Dead event. This was a huge venue, attended by thousands. (The picture to the left represents the mash-up of designs we do.) We had a great time and moved lots of merchandise! The remainder of the year, we’ll be appearing at the Festival of Lights, near the historic Mission Inn in Riverside, which is running from November 25, 2017 thru January 6, 2018. While I typically concentrate on making wall crosses, I’ve recently begun crafting paper mache skulls (pictured right). Many of the designs are intended to capture Day of the Dead themes, but I also have found that integrating pop cultural icons (like Darth Maul, Mars Attacks, and lucha libre images) to be popular.

As I’m wanting to expand the range of my art, learning new techniques and attempting new mediums, I’ve recently updated my Art page on this website. There, I expand a bit on the “art journey,” how I started making wall crosses, how you can follow more of my crafting, and purchase various items. I’m hoping to develop a video depicting the process I go through building, painting, and finishing my pieces. You can check out my updated Art Page HERE.

Finally, one way that you can connect with me on social media is through my Facebook Page, Extrinsic Art. I dedicate that page (along with my Instagram Page) to updating completed projects and announcing where I’ll be selling. Occasionally, I do random giveaways there. Which I’m doing now! This week I’m giving away the cross pictured to the left free to one commenter. To enter the giveaway, leave a comment on THIS post (and make sure to Like THIS page) for a chance to win this wall cross. It measures approximately 13 X 10 inches, is assembled from salvaged wood, an original, hand-painted design, sealed with clear acrylic and ready for hanging. I’ll be randomly selecting a winner sometime this weekend and announce the winner on my eXArt Page, so stay tuned. Again, for a chance to win, Like my Page and leave a comment on this post.

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My novelette, Wickers Bog: A Tale of Southern Gothic Horror, is currently free for Kindle. What readers are saying about the story:

“…a captivating and creepy tale with substance.” — S. Thomassie

“Quick read that doesn’t skimp on lush imagery and a really good story. I’m a fan of bayou horror, and this does not disappoint.” — Kim Pratt

“You will never look at a swamp the same.” — Alicia Freeman

“If you like gore-free chillers as sticky as the Southern swamps, then Wickers Bog is just your cup of moonshine.” — Mark Carver

This is a limited time offer. You can download your own copy HERE.

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Why “deCOMPOSE”?

by Mike Duran · 5 comments

I started this website back in 2005. I’m sometime asked why I named my blog deCOMPOSE. It comes from my short essay entitled Let Us Decompose which was first published in Relevant Magazine back in 2006. Here is that brief essay:

***

G.K. Chesterton said, “Art is the signature of man.” Some believe men rose from monkeys. But let the record show, monkeys have no interest in sketching men. It is precisely our urge to sketch monkeys, which separates us from them. As the apologist wrote, if man was “an ordinary product of biological growth, like any other beast or bird, then it is all the more extraordinary that he was not in the least like any other beast or bird.” When ancient man first dipped his thumb into the blood of berries and scraped that red swath across cool granite, he distanced himself from elks and orangutans.

Human history is one of composition. Of course, we’ve come a long way from dancing reindeer and stick men on blackened cave walls. Today, the cave walls are digital and the stick men dance in cyberspace. But whether it’s Mozart or 50 Cent, Rembrandt or Warhol, Aesop or Spielberg, the urge to compose—to create new beings and worlds, new stories and songs—is unique to us. We write, paint, carve and mold; we sit hunched over parchments and tape recorders, laptops and canvas, searching for the right word, the right sound, the right image, yearning to rise above our earthly origins and distance ourselves from elks and orangutans.

Yet the creative spark reveals more about us than just our dissimilarity to animals. In a way, all composition is really de-composition. The word “decompose” simply means “to separate into components or basic elements.” It is to categorize, quantify, sort and stack; it is to break something down to its lowest common denominator.

In reality, we never really create anything: we reassemble existing parts, cut and paste objects and ideas from the known world, reshuffle the deck. Even abstracts are just extracts of the ordinary. I mean, when was the last time a new primary color was invented or a missing musical note discovered? Genuine originality, it’s been said, is rare. I’d venture to say, it’s extinct, dead with the first chisel strike or quill stroke. “There’s nothing new under the sun,” King Solomon said, without crediting his source. Maybe this is why plotlines follow the same basic patterns. Prime time TV is a constant karmic retread of new faces trapped in the same tired tales. Even Hollywood, the summit of artistic inclination, cannot rise above the remake. Musicians are judged by who they sound like (part Bob, Beck and Bruce), actors by who they look like (she’s got Jessica’s hair, Nicole’s eyes and Angelina’s lips) and books by how they read (think Harry Potter with a dash of Steele). Even fantasy worlds look like ours and superheroes like us—with a little tweaking. All our creations are re-creations, omelets whipped up from yesterday’s leftovers.

For all our ingenuity and technical advances, no matter how many edits and remakes, we cannot rise above the Story Board. We are as fixed to its laws as Frodo is to Middle Earth. We stitch and sketch, dream up and hammer out, but we cannot transcend.

“In the beginning, God created …” He composed. He assembled parts ex nihilo, “out of nothing.” He spread out the canvas and drew His thumb across the celestial swath. We live in that Composition, on that Canvas; we are the parts He assembled. Herein lies our glory and our deficiency.

We create because we are like Him, but we cannot create like Him.

Unlike God, we cannot make something from nothing. Everything we shape, form, order and arrange requires something else. Like a celluloid hero, the laws of the medium bind us. Poets need language and its laws, for without it their craft is made moot. Some musical forms may push the boundaries, but sour notes are not tolerable—even by the most sophisticated. Architecture can be innovative, as long as the foundation is solid. Characters can be fresh, as long as they are believable. Art must correspond to Reality—in fact, it cannot do anything but that.

If art is the signature of man, as Chesterton suggested, then man is the signature of God. And every film, song, poem or novel, no matter how tired or twisted, is an echo of His original act. So let us borrow, bleed and recast the old, tell the Tale a thousand times over. Let us crush the berries, raise the chisel and strike up the band, for tonight we de-compose.

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There’s no shortage of hatred for Halloween. Mainly from well-meaning religious folks.

  • “Halloween is the devil’s holiday!”
  • “Witches, vampires, and ghosts are not of God!”
  • “Have no fellowship with the works of darkness, but rather rebuke them!”

Those were sentiments I voiced at one time or another. We were the parents who turned the porch light off, did not give out candy to trick-or-treaters, and refused to let our kids dress up. I saw Halloween, at best, as a waste of time and money. At worst, it was a culturally sanctioned celebration of all that is Dark, Evil, and anti-Christ.

So what changed my mind?

First let me be clear about my position: Like Christmas and Easter, Halloween is a mish-mash of pagan, religious, and pop-cultural elements; while some participate in Halloween with evil, occult, or godless intentions, the majority of American celebrants participate innocently (or ignorantly, you could say), with little to no actual commitment to some nefarious intent. For many, the 21st century Americanized version of Halloween is basically national dress-up day. Provided that ones’ participation does not constitute celebrating evil, the occult, or obvious sin, Christians are free to follow their consciences in celebrating the holiday.

I began to change my thinking on Halloween through a combination of doing research (on both Halloween and the horror genre), familiarizing myself with the biblical arguments pro and con, and jettisoning a legalistic outlook on life.

Like many of our national holidays, the origins and “meaning” of Halloween are buried under layers of historical amnesia, cultural change, and hollow symbolism. The first Halloween had very little in common with our 21st century version.

The Celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced SOW-in or SOW-an), which means “summer’s end,” is considered the earliest traceable origins of what we now call Halloween. Samhain (a derivation of Saman, the Lord of Death) marked the death of summer and the beginning of winter. This was considered a night of magic and power, where spirits roamed and demons cavorted. To herald this seasonal/spiritual transition, the living would often sacrifice crops and dress in ghoulish costumes so the dead spirits would mistake them for their own and pass by without incident. Masked villagers would sometimes even form parades to lead the spirits outside of town. Food and treats were offered to Saman to curry favor and appease his wrath, as well as to deceased ancestors who were traveling to the afterlife and needed a brief respite.

A collision between Christian missionaries to Ireland and this old world paganism changed everything.

Rather than completely dismantling a religion, the Church often sought to merge some of its beliefs and practices with their own. All Saints’ Day—a time designated on the Christian calendar to honor all dead saints and martyrs—was moved to November 1st. This was intended to substitute for Samhain. Though pagan belief in supernatural creatures persisted, as did their traditional gods, a synthesized form of the celebration soon emerged. Traditional Celtic deities diminished in status, becoming fairies or leprechauns, sometimes devils, and were often joined by Christian characters like angels and miracle-working saints. Sometimes fantastical, absurd renditions of Satan could even be found at the festivities.

Nevertheless, the old beliefs associated with Samhain never really completely died out. People continued to celebrate All Hallows Eve (the evening before All Saints’ Day) as a time of the wandering dead, where spiritual beings roamed. Folk continued to appease those spirits (and their costumed impersonators) by setting out food and drink. Eventually, All Hallows Eve became Hallow Evening, and then Hallowe’en.

As immigrants flooded America’s shores, they brought various beliefs and customs with them. Soon a distinctly American version of Halloween began to emerge. In rural America, public events were often held to celebrate the harvest. Neighbors would share ghost stories, tell each other’s fortunes, and engage in mischief-making. By the middle of the nineteenth century, annual autumn festivities were common. That changed in the second half of the nineteenth century when America was flooded with new immigrants. These newcomers culled Irish and English traditions, began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money, a practice that eventually became today’s tradition of “trick-or-treat.”

It wasn’t long before Satan and his minions, as well as Saman the Lord of Death, were stripped of their power.

Whereas the original Fall festivals were decidedly spiritual, their American iterations discarded the saints and devils for family and frolic. By the early 1900s, the holiday had morphed into community and neighborly get-togethers involving games, seasonal foods, and costumes. Halloween eventually lost most of its superstitious and religious overtones and become a secular, but community-centered holiday featuring parades and parties. But by the 1950s, Halloween had evolved into a holiday mainly for the young. This coincided with the baby boom and eventually the centuries-old practice of pumpkin carving and trick-or-treating was revived. American consumer culture took advantage and it wasn’t long before cheap plastic masks and costumes of cowboys, princesses, devils, and angels were being mass produced for the kiddies. Halloween had gone mainstream.

Of course, some churches were busy branding Halloween as Satan’s Holiday. Earnest ministers condemned the celebration as the most important day on the witches’ calendar, and claimed the holiday was covertly intended to domesticate the occult. Rather than fearing the devil, they argued, we have trivialized him. However, for most Americans, Halloween’s religious elements had long ago been stripped away. Saman, the Lord of Death, as well as All Souls Day, had been overshadowed by another god—the god of consumerism.

Last year alone (2016) Halloween retail spending reached a record high in the U.S. at 8.4 billion dollars. Other records were broken, including the number of those celebrating (171 million) and how much was spent per participant on costumes and candy ($82.93). Halloween is typically ranked as one of the most popular holidays on record, sometimes surpassing Easter, Thanksgiving, and Mother’s Day. Americans now spend more money on Halloween than any other holiday except Christmas.

The popularity of Halloween has grown in direct proportion to the rise of pop culture. Now it is not uncommon to find Halloween costumes and images melded with both the creepy and the comedic. Whether it’s costumed witches, clowns, anime characters, or superheroes, you’ll likely find some iteration of them on October 31st. Halloween has become a barometer of our culture’s latest villains or box office hits. It is a time to mock political figures, lampoon celebrities, emulate icons, and affirm current trends. From dinosaurs to zombies, robots to slashers, you are sure to find some sampling of the weird and wacky.

Halloween has thrived, but only as it has shed its somber religious roots in favor of fun, festivity, revelry, and lots of sweets.

Understanding the history and the cultural synthesis of the holiday helped me to see it in perspective. Even more important was acknowledging the fact that vestiges of paganism can be found embedded in many of our most sacred holidays and strewn throughout our national life. For example:

  • Christmas was the Winter Solstice
  • Easter was Ostara (the Spring Equinox)
  • Halloween was Samhain
  • Valentine’s Day was Imbolic
  • May Day was Beltane
  • Tuesday was Tyr’s (Tiw’s) Day
  • Wednesday was Woden’s (Odin’s) Day
  • Thursday was Thor’s Day
  • Friday was Freya’s Day
  • Saturday was Saturn’s Day
  • Sunday was the sun’s day

So I was faced with the question, Why rail against Halloween when so many other holidays and cultural markers have pagan origins or elements? Truth is, the same people who denounce Halloween often put up a Christmas tree, a wreath, or color Easter eggs… customs that are all pagan in origin. In fact, the very currency we work for and exchange contains possible occult and esoteric symbols. So how does a well-meaning person with a healthy fear of the occult and paganism respond? Must we never celebrate Halloween, color Easter eggs, decorate a Christmas tree with the best glowing accessories from this site, or use paper bills? The answer, for me, was rather simple — I don’t worship my Christmas tree.  I also don’t worship or recognize Ostra, Imbolic, Thor, or Saturn. Christians can participate in an event or ceremony that has some pagan origins or attachments without honoring those elements. As such, I can celebrate Halloween without invoking Saman, Satan, or Druidic lore.

Perhaps the most important factor in my change of heart regarding Halloween came from my study of Scripture. You see, a similar debate occurred in the early church that is very instructive in this regard. Many new converts had been saved from paganism and were averse to any vestiges of their former ways of life. For example, they refused to eat meat that was sacrificed to idols believing that it was spiritually corrupted. Others did not share their convictions and had no problem eating this meat. The apostle Paul spoke to this issue in I Corinthians 8. He concluded with three important points:

  1. Idols are nothing. They have no power over meat. (vs.4)
  2. “food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.” (vs. 8)
  3. Don’t allow your liberty to stumble someone with a weaker conscience (vs. 9)

Paul follows a similar line of argument when speaking to the Roman Christians. In this case, the church was arguing over not just what food they should or shouldn’t eat, but what special days should or should not be observed. He writes:

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. (Romans 14:1-9 NIV)

So once again Paul reasons that certain foods or certain days are no more “sacred” than another. Sunday is not intrinsically a “holy” day just as meat sacrificed to idols is not intrinsically unholy. Rather, we should be persuaded by own our consciences and give others the freedom to do the same. Or as Paul puts it, “Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind” (vs. 5).

Similarly, I’ve come to believe that the celebration of Halloween falls under “disputable matters” (vs.1). There is no clear biblical compulsion for or against celebrating Halloween. Though there are pagan elements of Halloween, there are also deeply religious ones, many of which are celebrated today during All Saints’ Day. Though there are those who use Halloween as an opportunity to revel in evil or venerate something/someone devilish, there are those who use Halloween to celebrate family, community, or their favorite pop-cultural character. Halloween has become too big, too historically convoluted, too commercialized, and too much a part of American culture, to attach one specific verdict or motive. People celebrate Halloween for lots of various reasons, both good and bad.

But there is just nothing inherently evil about dressing up as a pirate for the office party.

Mind you, I’m still not a huge fan of Halloween. I’m just no longer a Scrooge about it. I have no problem taking the grandkids trick-or-treating, decorating my truck up for Trunk-or-Treat, or judging the best costume at the pageant. Sure, I don’t personally dress up. I think the amount of candy consumed by our kids this time of year is insane. And the celebration of gore bothers me. But personally, it’s come down to the realization that I have a tendency to be legalistic, and there’s no compelling reason to believe that anyone who participates in Halloween is somehow a pawn of Satan.

Please understand, I am not trying to persuade anyone to chuck their concerns about the occult or spiritual darkness. As Paul wrote, “Each of [us] should be fully convinced in their own mind.” If you believe that participation in Halloween is somehow evil, then by all means don’t do it. Just please note that there are many aspects of our culture and history that can be traced to pagan origins. Like meat sacrificed to idols, things aren’t inherently unholy just because a druid once touched them.

Whatever your opinion, Halloween is an ever-changing reminder of our spiritual roots and just how far we’ve drifted from them. It’s evolved from a religious / ethnic celebration to a blend of street festival, fright night, and vast commercial enterprise. Drawn from an array of sources as disparate as the classic monsters of Hollywood to pagan harvest festivals, this constantly morphing holiday blends the mystery of life beyond the grave with pop cultural whimsy, forming a bizarre concoction of the somber and the comedic, the saintly and the sinful.

Perhaps the bigger sociological issue, for me, is why people like dressing up, pretending to be something they’re not. And why people like being scared. Which is a subject I’ll explore in my next post.

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The Hero’s Journey as Divine Blueprint

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The Hero’s Journey is a narrative pattern first identified by mythologist Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Campbell identified “a universal motif of adventure and transformation that runs through virtually all of the world’s mythic traditions.” That “motif” revolves around three basic movements: Departure Initiation Return Within that framework are specific […]

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5 Reasons Pastors Should Read Fiction

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A writer friend recently pondered (in an online writing community I’m part of) whether he should use a pen name when publishing his fiction. The reason? He’s a minister at a church and feels that other staff pastors won’t “get” his fiction gig. In fact, some might be downright hostile to it. Sadly, this is […]

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The U.S. Government’s Ongoing Attempts to Weaponize Psychic Powers — A Review of “Phenomena”

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Sometime in the early 1950s, the CIA began a “quest to locate an ESP-enhancing drug.” As part of that quest, the Defense Department appointed Henry “Andrija” Puharich with locating mushrooms that they believed might unlock psychic powers. The research was conducted under the codename Project MKULTRA and, as an official memo put it, involved “studying […]

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Q & A with Family Fiction

I was recently interviewed at Family Fiction about my recent novella Requiem 4. I don’t necessarily see my stuff as particularly “family friendly.” That’s not to say it’s family unfriendly, but that proponents of that term tend to frown upon horror, language, and darker elements in fiction. Nevertheless, it was a fun interview with some […]

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On Being a Mutt

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Had I not heard God being addressed as “Father,” I would never have equated my father with him. My father was a large man, as most fathers are to sons. Mine was more so. A thick, burly man who could raise his voice to shiver the timbers. His skin was olive and he often wore […]

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Audience of the Frozen Sea

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“Write for your audience.” This is common knowledge among authors, a staple of advice at most writer’s conferences. Know your audience. Write to their tastes. If they like certain tropes, certain cover designs, certain characters types, certain resolutions, even certain length stories, write to them. Give them what they want. When it comes to writing […]

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When You’re the Oddball in a Room of Geeks

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Sometimes I don’t think I fit in with geeks. Which could be a problem when you attend conferences made up of them. That realization first struck me during breakfast my second day at Realm Makers 2017. For the record, I had a fantastic time there! But I must admit feeling a little awkward on some […]

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