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Make a Note…

If you were to ask ten different authors what they did to get ideas for stories, or even where they come up with character traits, chances are you’ll get ten different answers.

One thing I did for a long time (and should do more of now) was to take small notebook with me where ever I went. I kept this in my back pocket and would pull it out and make notes as I came across something interesting.

I travel…a lot….and end up spending several hours a week stuck in airports. It’s amazing what you can learn just sitting watching what people do and how they act. Some people move through an airport with blinders on. All they want to do is get from point A to point B. Others want to stop and look at every shop and kiosk in the concourse.

There are those who sit next to you and instantly put on their headphones and open a book. Others will sit next to you and begin telling you their life story and why they are going to Salt Lake City to see their best friend.

When you fly a lot one thing you just come to expect is delays and cancellations. They are a given and there is nothing you can do to change that little fact. I have made dozens of calls home to inform the family that I was stuck in Chicago or Denver and would be home in the morning. However, there are those who do not fly a lot and tend to think they have the ability to alter how the airlines function. I remember one such incident with a gentleman who raced through the airport to the connecting gate. I was sitting at the adjacent gate and was able to watch, and hear, the whole thing.

The gate attendant had already closed the door to the jetway by the time he arrived. Once that door shuts, it’s game over player one. There is no opening it. Yep, but Mr. I-got-to-get-on-that-flight felt differently.

What I learned watching that exchange was how quickly people can become rude when the world stops revolving around them. But, I also learned how well the gate attendant handled the situation. She was firm, polite, and determined not to let Mr. Gotta-go get under her skin.

Yep, that one made it into my notebook for sure.

These moments are golden to a writer. I will sit there and observe then open my trusty little notebook and jot down something to remind me of what I saw, heard, or experienced. Bits and pieces become parts of a story or elements of a character’s personality.

In today’s world, you don’t need an actual notebook or a pencil. You can do the same thing on your smart phone, iPad, or other techno-tool. However, I would encourage you to use paper and pen and go old school. Why? Because you are more apt to remember it if you actually write it by hand. Writing notes is less about creating a reference as it is creating a memory. The physical act of writing allows us to remember the content better.

In all the years I carried that small notebook I can’t think of more than a few times I actually went back and looked at it. I didn’t need to. I filled dozens of small flip books full of notes, sketches, outlines, and other tidbits that eventually made their way into stories in one form or another.

So, swing by the Five and Dime and pick up a few dozen notebooks and good pen. There are ideas taking place all around you. Write them down!

Technology Trap…

Ask your kids what it means to “dial a number”. They won’t have a clue.

Ask them what a WalkMan is or better yet, 8-track cassettes.

One of the great things I love about writing is what I learn through the process. If I am writing a crime thriller, I had better know a little bit about how a forensic scientist work because someone out there will know if I collected the evidence right or not.

Or, if I’m writing a historical romance story set in the 1880’s I had better know what was going on in the 1880’s because someone out there reading my story will know. How did people get around? Was it by horses, carriages, or trains? When did cars start to come on the scene?

Technology is a wonderful thing. It improves our lives, makes things easier, allows us to get done with things faster, or simply allows us to simply stay connected.

However, from a writer’s perspective, technology can be the hammer that shatters the reality we are trying to create.

Did you ask your kids (or the neighbor’s kid….) what it means to “dial a number“? I bet they didn’t have a clue. It wasn’t that long ago when we had rotary phones or even party lines. Think of the cell phone. What did they look like in the 80’s? How about the 70’s (yes, we had them in the 70’s, they just took up 80% of the trunk of your car…).

How about music? If the story has a flashback is music listened to on their phone or via a WalkMan? Does the hero use a public phone?

As a writer I tend to spend about as much time researching a story idea as I do actually writing it. That is where technology actually helps me as a writer. Yes, I have to take more time to make sure I’m getting the facts right, but I can do it much easier and faster than I could 20 years ago. The internet, iPads, and even my cell phone all give me a portal by which I can conduct research.

If you really want to capture the reader’s attention and draw them into your world, make sure your world is believable. Make sure it fits with the reader’s expectations.

So go on, pick up that cell phone, surf the web, and learn something new!

Edits and Editors…


Writing is an odd profession. Most people think that since you can write you are also perfection when it comes to punctuation, grammar, and anything else relating to the written word.


Writing is a creative process. We writers dream of worlds undiscovered, of love’s first kiss, and histories lessons. Catching the comma after a quote or the period at the end of a sentence is not our goal. Our goal is to get the story from our little brains down on to paper or into the computer as fast as our fingers can go.

For me, I am horrible with spelling. I can’t spell my way out of a paper bag on most things I write. My last story made my editor laugh. When she was done she asked me “How do you spell rifle?” I looked at her and said “R. I. F. F. L. E.”

That was the wrong answer.

Then she proceeded to tell me about how, in the middle of the part where the heroine realizes who she loves, I had written something along the lines of her finding her soulmate.

Except I had written …. sole mate. Yep, their feet were touching.

Odds are If I had taken time to read through the manuscript before I sent it over to her for editing I would have caught some of these. But, I’m not an editor. I don’t have the patience to look for all of those little errors. I’m too eager to get on with the next story that is trying to push its way out of my head.

Besides that, I find it incredibly difficult to edit my own work. I know what the characters are supposed to be saying. I know what the action was supposed to convey. When I read my own work I see what I want, not necessarily what I actually put on the page.

If you are one of the rare exceptions to this and you can actually edit your own work and can actually catch all those tedious, annoying little grammatical errors, then I applaud you….and am quite frankly, jealous. However, if you are part of the 98% who can not, then I highly encourage you to find an editor who can read and review your stories.

Besides catching the technical aspects of what we put on paper, editors are great at catching logic flaws and character variances. Is the location set in a forest at the beginning and then in a prairie at the end? Does the main character have blonde hair in one place and strawberry blonde in another?

Yep, editors are great. They keep us creative types from stumbling over our own two feet and let us present our best work every time.

So, thanks Deb for keeping me looking respectful.


Today is the opening for Prometheus, the prequel to Ridley Scott’s 1979 hit, Alien.

Alien was one of those movies where the future wasn’t all bright and happy and humans were not the strongest species out there. In fact, it is one of the earliest films I remember watching where the alien was truly alien.

Watching the original still brings a chill to me even after all these years. Scott did this one right by keeping the alien hidden for most of the movie. Even when you did get to see it you really didn’t. You just got bits and pieces. Our imagination is much more frightening than anything we can see on the big screen. Scott knew this and it worked.

Then came Aliens in 1986. The space Marines were ready to tackle anything that got in their way. Or so they thought.  Almost 10 years after the original, Aliens carried the torch well. The story continued and it flowed. More importantly, the story made sense. It worked. The characters evolved and grew. We learn a bit more about Ripley and about the Aliens.

Then, came Alien 3. Although weaker in the series, I still like this one. The alien character evolves some and we learn a bit more about it, but the rest of the movie feels forced.

Alien 4 was a waist of film. In fact, if anything, 4 nearly destroyed the franchise as a whole. They broke their own rules, they stopped evolving the characters, and the story fell so far outside the realm of believability it was almost embarrassing.

In fact, it prompted me, at the time, to write my own version of what Alien 4 should have been. It was my first attempt to write a full length novel. The story is sketchy, the style is rough, but I think I did okay with keeping to the rules. The big conclusion of my version was how the heroes defeated the alien threat. The Aliens use acid for blood. They should have used a base to neutralize them. Simple vinegar would have stopped those baddies fast.

For now, I am going to consider the Alien vs. Predator series outside of cannon. Those films were fun and should be considered as such, much like any other “cross-over”.

I am actually excited to see this new movie. They have gone back to their roots with Scott at the helm. Lindelf has done some great things thus far with other movies and brings a fresh new perspective to the franchise. He understands the past, understands the importance of staying within the rules that have been created, and knows the characters. I have no doubt the story will hold up.

One other thing the Alien universe shows us is there is really no end to the possibilities of the world’s we create as writers. The one thing I hope for as I grow as a writer is to create a story some day that inspires others to continue the story line well after I’m done playing.

Thank you, Mr.Scott, for giving us a playground full of possibilities.

Remembering Ray…

Ray Bradbury

It’s a sad day when you flip to the news site, turn on the radio, or hear it from a friend that someone you admired has passed away.

Did I know Ray Bradbury personally? No, but that does not mean I will not miss him. He gave me a gift, a gift of worlds newly explored, of adventures into the unknown, and he even made me stop and think about what it means to be part of the human race.

One of the earliest things I remember reading of Ray’s was Fahrenheit 451. It was in high school English class when I first met Ray. The world he introduced me to was not one of utopia or perfection. Time was not the cure for all of man’s problems. We did not learn from our mistakes nor did we grow in our understanding and tolerances. Instead, we did what has happened so many times in the past, we became more controlling.

Or, take another story of Ray’s, Something Wicked This Way Comes. Sometimes getting what we wish for is not what we really need…or want.

Ray had the ability to make us look into ourselves and see what really makes us tick. Understanding what our abilities are, both good and bad, gives us the ability to make better decisions and to understand how those decisions impact others.

And, like in Fahrenheit 451 and Wicked, we all have a choice. Always. Even if we think we don’t, we do. We can either burn the book or save it. We can read the words and pass them on or we can let them fade into history.

We never would have learned these little lessons if Ray Bradbury hadn’t taken the time to put pen to paper. Sometimes it takes more than just an idea to write a book or a short story. Sometimes it takes a bit of courage to go beyond the norm and to look into ourselves.

Thank you, Mr. Bradbury, for giving us the ability to look beyond. You will be missed.

Gotta Read!…

Nearly twenty years ago (…gulp…) I graduated college with a degree in engineering and was ready to take on the world. In reality, all I had was a fancy piece of paper that said I had the ability to learn. Knowing where things are located in a book or what the formula for a fulcrum is doesn’t mean much if you don’t know how to use them.

As a new engineer you enter the work force and work for several years as basically an apprentice. In most companies you are placed on a team consisting of engineers that, let’s say, have been around the block. They know the short cuts, the pitfalls, and the whys. Some are better than others, but they all know more than you do that first day.

Eventually over time you begin to learn from them. What’s important to understand is the process is not simply mimicking their actions…it’s actually learning. You watch, absorb, then apply and change. When I began doing things I ended up doing somethings faster, some things slower, and some things totally different. I made the knowledge they gave me mine.

Okay, that’s fine and dandy, but what the heck does it have to do with writing, you ask? Plenty.

We are all apprentice writers, even those of us that have been writing for years and years. Who did you apprentice under? Who showed you the ropes? All those people who wrote books and poems and screenplays before you, that’s who. All those people who currently have books on the shelves of Barnes and Noble. We have to read their work to learn.

There are several authors I love reading. Some are current, but some are not. I love H. G. Wells and Jules Verne. These guys broke the mold when it came to science fiction and asking the great question….”what if?” They have a very unique style. The grammar they used reflects when and where they were in the world, but how they brought the images to life was all their own. What they chose to reveal about the characters is unique to them.

Then, there is the great Robert Heinlein, a fellow Missourian.  He wrote things that pushed the social conscience of our day with things like The Puppet Masters, A Stranger in a Strange Land, and Starship Troopers (don’t judge the book by the movie…they are nothing alike).

By reading these other authors and learning how they use words to bring pictures to life and how they develop characters allows us to begin to make writing our own. We can take that information, that knowledge, and begin crafting our own style. As important as it it is to write a little every day it is equally important to read a little every day.

If you don’t have a stack of books sitting on your desk calling out to you to be read then you need to swing by the bookstore on your way home and grab some. When you do, pick a few that are not contemporary. Grab an old Wells or Heinlein book and see what they had to say about their worlds. I bet you’ll learn something along the way.

Childhood Heroes (Part 3)…

“To boldly go….”

I could not end this series without mentioning the most influential characters from my childhood, the crew of the USS Enterprise. As a kid this was such a great show. It had action, special effects, and it showed us going places we had never been before. It made you think about what was going on.

There is a great book out there called All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Watching Star Trek where the author, Dave Marinaccio, takes us through little life lesson’s learned from each episode. It’s a fun book.

I read this in college. A friend had gotten it for me as a birthday gift. It was then that I started to realize what I had learned from this show and didn’t even know it.

Over the years, as I began (and constantly continue) to fine tune my writing, I fall back to how Star Trek brought things to life. One of the greatest things this show did was create the “trinity” with Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. They are basically the ID, Ego, and Superego. More basically, they are logic, emotion, and force. Spock brought the logic, McCoy the emotion, and Kirk put it all together with the fortitude to make the final call.

From a writer’s perspective this format opens up a wide range of possibilities. Gene Roddenberry was able to address specific social issues through these characters. Better yet, Gene was able to show how these three characteristics we all have within us fight, struggle, and eventually get along. There is a balance we all have to find. Star Trek was able to show that struggle and resolution in each episode.

“To boldly go….” was the purpose of the star ship Enterprise and it is our purpose each and every day.

So, pick up your pen, pencil, or keyboard and boldly go. Create a world that takes us to unknown places. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll discover who we are along the way.

Childhood Heroes (Part 2)…

“One man can make a difference.”

This was the opening line to Knight Rider (the 80’s version). Although that much is true, the show was centered on a duo….Michael Knight and KITT.

KITT (Knight Industries Two Thousand) was Michael’s car….a very special car. Yes, KITT could talk, drive himself around, and even jump over obstacles without the use of a ramp. These are all very special, but KITT’s greatest gift was he could think.

And think he did.

Michael tended to be brash and rush into a situation. Driven by the need to protect the innocent and make the guilty pay, Michael was constantly trying to right the wrongs committed against him in the past.

KITT became Mike’s conscience. He became the logic of the show, the voice of reason. Between the two of them there was nothing they couldn’t do.

Just like with the Six Million Dollar Man, the filming style of this show was not the best, but it was better. They don’t look quite like home movies when I watch them today, but I don’t watch them for their cinematography. I watch them for the story arcs.

I bought the series last year and began watching them with my kids. I was amazed at how into them they were. At night when we were to ask them what they wanted to watch, they said Knight Rider. Wow.

Why? It was then that I started to really watch them. The things we took for granted were becoming evident. The stories were not about cool jumps or car chases (although those are cool too). They were about the characters.

Battlestar Galactica and Knight Rider, both Glen Larson properties, were the first shows I remember which had true character arcs. Events which happened in the first episode would come up later, maybe even in the second season. The writers tried to evolve Michael and KITT to give them a chance to grow.

And grow they did.

Both Michael and KITT had that one opponent that haunted them. Michael had Garth but KITT had KARR! What would you do if you met your exact double, but they were everything you were not. You are good, they are evil.

These type of episodes drove the characters to reach deeper and deeper.

Then, the show did what most shows of this type do. They lost their way. They thought what was driving the show was the special effects, the cool jumps. They forgot about the characters and began breaking their own rules.

As a fan, I could forgive a lot. I didn’t like the fact that KITT became a convertible somewhere in the 3rd season. This was goofy and not realistic. KITT was a T-Top, not a convertible. When he was in “normal” mode he still had the T’s. Ugh, but I forgave that and let it slide.

Then they jump-the-shark in the fourth and final season when they created Super Pursuit Mode. Oh brother. Even at 10 years old I could see they were doing anything they could to manipulate the story just so they could use that feature.

That was the end of Knight Rider.

Even after all these years, the show and the characters still hold a special place in my heart and are great examples of what can happen when the characters are real. The story needs to support the characters, to drive the story.

Childhood Heroes (Part 1)…


“We can rebuild him….Better….Stronger….Faster…..”

Writing yesterday’s blog sparked something in me….I realized, as I was writing it, how much of an influence my childhood heroes had on me. So, I thought I would share a bit of those here.

The Six Million Dollar Man will always hold a special place in my heart. I am the youngest of 6 kids in my family and there is over 12 years difference between me and my eldest sibling. I wouldn’t call them playmates at that point. In fact, as you may be able to imagine, I was more of a nuisance to them than anything. As a result I had the “opportunity” to create my own little world to play in.

Back then, people made shows knowing how people would react. The whole slow-motion-super-speed-running (nah-nah-nah-nahhh) gag was done intentionally. Show creators knew kids would try to mimic what they saw. To help protect them they played the stunts back in slow motion. Ever try jumping in slow motion?

It worked.

I remember “running” around the house in bionic mode. It took me forever to get around the house.

Ok, enough of memory lane….why is this series important to me today? It’s not for the cinematography of the shows, that’s for sure. Watching them now reminds me of what one would see on YouTube. Homemade. But, for those of use who lived during those days, we are able to put the show style into perspective.

There were no super computers back then, or even desktops. No one had cell phones, internet, or even word processors. Everything was science fiction in those areas. For the time it was pretty darn cool to see some of these visions in “action”.

At the end, though, it wasn’t the special effects that drove the show, or the technology. It was the story telling. These characters had depth. They were human and they had to overcome human issues as well as the evil-cyborg-of-the-week.

Steve Austin was a test pilot and an astronaut. He did some pretty impressive things. Keep in mind, this was still during the day when we had a pretty active space program that inspired the world to wonder where we would go and when. It was something a lot of us could relate to.

Steve was a man who stepped up and went beyond. Even when his test plane was in trouble he refused to give up. He hung in there and fought his way down. Should he had baled out? Probably. His pride got in the way and it almost got him killed.

This is the first character trait we learn about Steve and it continues throughout the story arc. When he wakes from the crash, he is battered, bruised, and missing his legs and right arm. He is on the verge of giving up.

He is bitter and angry, even when his friend, Oscar Goldman, tells him there is a way he could walk again he get’s mad and yells.

Reluctantly, Steve gives in and becomes the “world’s first bionic man”.

We learn later that even with new legs, an arm, and an eye, it isn’t enough for good ol’ Steve. Now he’s upset because they aren’t real. He is a fake and doesn’t know how to deal with it. He got what he wanted – to walk again – and he still isn’t happy.

The show used the bionics and special effects to carry the character arcs. For me, the stories were always about the character’s discovery of themselves and who they are. The bionics were secondary, a tool to push the story along.

As good as The Six Million Dollar Man was at doing this, The Bionic Woman was even better. Could be why it ranked higher in the ratings after just one year.

I sit back and watch some of these old shows now and laugh. They were filmed poorly and had some bad acting, but we didn’t care about that. They sparked our imagination and brought a new world to life. They gave us characters we cared about and inspired us to overcome challenges with pride and dignity. Not everything is going to go our way, but we can make even the worst situations something to work for us.

Go on, embrace your inner child!

A Rogue Storm….


Look…I’m caught in the middle of a Rogue Storm!

I caught you smiling at that one.

I’ve spent the last week with my family in Orlando doing the great American vacation sweep…Disney and Universal. I’m about numb at this point, but it’s been great fun. If you are into theme parks (and are an oversized kid) I highly recommend going to Universal Studios. Where else can you get your picture taken with two awesome superheroes?

I loved superheroes and comics growing up. For me it was all about DC comics. Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and of course Lex Luthor’s minions. I didn’t get into Marvel much (although they make better movies these days…). That was mainly due to the fact that the comics I read were the ones my older brothers were done with.

That was in the 70’s (yes, the 1970’s) when tv was just discovering it’s power to influence the masses. I loved the great superheroes of the small screen such as Steve Austin (The Six Million Dollar Man, not the wrestler), Jamie Sommers (Steve’s better half), Michael Knight in Knight Rider (the 1980’s version), James T. Kirk (TOS generation), and about a dozen others. They were the ones that overcame the impossible and inspired me to want to do the same.

But those “guys” were stuck on the small box in the living room where you could only see them once a week, at best. Comics, on the other hand, were portable and could be read anywhere, anytime.

At the time multi-media was a comic book which came with an audio LP (that’s a Long Play vinyl record for those born after 1990…). I remember reading a SMDM comic called the Doppelgänger (I think) where Steve had to battle a bad guy that looked just like himself. The LP came complete with sound effects and everything. I would read along, flipping the pages, as Steve battled it out in my mind.

I think I wore the ridges off that LP.

Then I “grew up” and in the process faded away from comics. It wasn’t until college that I got back into them for a while. I collected quite a few during those few short years (not as much as my friend John, who has thousands upon thousands, but a fair amount…). When I graduated from college and entered the “real world”, I once again faded away.

That is until recently. I finally jumped on board the iPad revolution and have fallen in love with the digital medium of comics. I can now take my whole collection with me when I travel and can read anywhere I wanna. Which is a good thing.

We all need to get away from it all every now and then to recharge our creative batteries. Take the kids to the local comic book shop.While you’re there, grab a few of the latest releases for yourself and discover what it’s like to be an oversized kid.