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This is a great Twitter account.

You should go to it — the Magic Realism Bot — and therein you’ll find an endless array of story prompts. I’ve no idea if they’re actually written by a person with intention or somehow cobbled together by a wise and weird neural network (I’d guess the former, but who knows?), but either way, I’d say use ’em.

Pick a prompt.

Write a story based on it.

Length: ~1000 words

Due by: Friday, March 23rd, noon EST

Write at your online space.

And link back so we can read it.

Now, a quick bit — I get emails sometimes where people say to me, “Hey, wait, what does that last part mean? Post to my online space and give a link?” It means you need to find somewhere online to host your work. Be that Tumblr, or WordPress, or some ancient Livejournal instance, you will need to find a place to post your words publicly so that you can then, after posting, grab a link and drop it into the comments below. K? K.

Go write.

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A couple weeks ago, Mike Ryan put out a funny post at Uproxx that said he dared anyone to explain the Return of the Jedi “rescue Han Solo” plan that happens in the first act of the film.

He threw down the nerd gauntlet.

The Star Wars nerd gauntlet.

And so, here, on the day that The Last Jedi is released in digital video, I am picking up that gauntlet, and I am — wait, what do you do with a thrown gauntlet anyway? Is that even the right terminology? A thrown gauntlet? A gauntlet is an armored glove, so I guess it’s someone throwing their glove to the ground, but man, you shouldn’t throw that away, dear duelist — now your tender hand is exposed, like the tendon of Achilles.

Plus, this is Star Wars, where the chopping-of-hands is all-too-common.


Point is, who would I be if I did not defend this (erm, admittedly absurd) plan?

So, here’s the thing, as a kid, I never really questioned what was going on there. That’s not to say it’s plainly writ or sensibly told, and in fact is more chalk-uppable to the fact that I was, well, a kid. Things just make sense to you when you’re a kid because you have the critical thinking skills of a sea cucumber. It looked cool, and it ended with Luke Skywalker flipping off a desert diving board and then lightsabering some dudes into a giant tentacled butthole. It was great.  Logic? Who gives a shit about logic? Pssh.

And of course, Star Wars cares very little about rigorous logic. The books sometimes do, but the films? Nyeaaah, not so much. We’re not exactly talking about a methodical devotion to science or physics or any kind of common sense. Hyperspace moves at the speed of narrative. TIE fighters shriek like banshees despite the void of space. Droids are basically enslaved sentient beings but everybody’s like, “No no, it’s cool, we’re their makers, so basically they’re into it? I guess? Shut up.” The point of Star Wars isn’t exactly to turn your brain off, but it is to turn your heart on, and let that organ be the shepherd that guides you through all the stars and all the wars.

Just the same, nerd gauntlet.

So, here’s my explanation, loose and flabby as it may be, of the Return of the Jedi heist on Jabba’s palace — because, ultimately, that’s what it is: a heist.

Think of it as an Ocean’s Eleven slash Leverage style caper.

Before we begin, this is what you need to understand about this Skywalker Six heist — it’s not just a single-serving plan, but rather, a series of failsafe sub-plans that culminate in the kind of extraction and result you’d get if you were all sitting around a roleplaying game table trying to get your characters to perform any complicated task (robbing a bank, invading a country, scheduling and hosting a galactic orgy). It’s less a “finely-tuned machine” of a plan and more the “Millennium Falcon” plan — it’s a ship, once designed for a purpose and since re-purposed with spare parts and swaddling tape and lots and lots of hope. Probably some midichlorians. That’s right, the Falcon is a Jedi. You know it. I know it. Artoo and the Falcon are basically the masterminds behind the entire Star Wars series — and you can learn more in my upcoming novel, Artoo and the Falcon, coming out from Del Rey Star Wars in May, 2042.


Let’s do this.

Fresh out of the gate:

It’s Lando.

Lando has to go in first. He’s their scout. He hides in plain sight as a guard in the palace, and he’s just chilling there. One might ask, how does he get a job there, but you have to take for granted that he’s one of the galaxy’s greatest swindlers and con artists — if anybody can con his way into a job at the den of iniquity belonging to a greasy butt-slug, well, it’s Lando Motherfucking Calrissian. Plus, Jabba’s gang doesn’t seem to be particularly discerning in terms of its employment practices, do they? From blubbery rancor keepers to murderous Twi’lek dancers to crummy bounty hunters, Jabba keeps a pretty cruddy crew around. I don’t get the sense he’s really in charge of hiring practices, either. Whatever shitty LinkedIn variant they use, it isn’t working. Point being, Lando is there.

So, Lando knows what’s up.

He’s on the scene.

And he probably knows that Jabba needs a translator.

Because Jabba destroyed his last translator.

Enter the droids.

The droids are utility players. Luke offers them up as a “gift,” knowing that his threat against Jabba won’t work — Jabba’s not a pushover, he’s not going to be like, “Whoa, what, a couple of droids? For Han Solo? FUCKING SWEET. Boshuuuuda, motherfuckers, I hit the lottery. Somebody get Solo down off the wall. Dengar, you do it. Don’t give me that look, Dengar, you diaper-wearing scum, just do what I say or you’ll be rancor chum.”

And you can already see what Luke is doing here with this plan — he’s basically stacking the deck with his best players. He’s putting into play a number of critical assets, all hidden in plain sight, all able to be on-scene when the shit goes down. At any point, the plan could work and they could get Solo, and if that happens, it doesn’t end with barbecued Hutt-slug, but in place are also a series of failsafes — if the plan foils at Point A, they move to Plan B, and if that fails, then Plan C, and on and on, until, well, crispy strangled Hutt.

(Now, here you say: it seems foolish to waste their critical assets on this. Couldn’t they get someone else to do it? But to imagine that is to ignore the theme ever-present in Star Wars: a small group of characters eschewing the larger strategy to save their friends. Is it smart to rush into the Death Star to save Leia? Or wise to leave your Jedi training to help your pals on Cloud City? Han goes against the New Republic to help free Kashyyyk, and Leia goes against the New Republic to begin the Resistance — this is their whole schtick. Again, it’s a series of movies that is far more interested in following its heart rather than its head. Their devotion to one another is what stirs hope and what literally changes the galaxy time and time again.)

Okay! So, the droids get their roles. Artoo is on the barge, but also, he’s Artoo, master of wandering around and going wherever the fuck he wants to go (seriously, that’s kind of his entire modus operandi, isn’t it?), and Threepio is right on the dais with Jabba.

Enter Leia and Chewie.

Leia, dressed as now-dead bounty hunter Boushh.

Boushh, who needs a — wait for it — translator.

(Meaning, Threepio is essential to this part.)

She gives up Chewie, threatens everyone with a fucking hand grenade, Jabba is like HO HO HO I LIKE THE BALLS ON THIS MASKED WEIRDO, and everything is happy. Now Leia-as-Boushh sneakily sneaks to Solo, makes a lot of noise getting him down, unfreezes him and —


*the mad cackle of a monkey-lizard*

So, at this point, I think there was a very real chance she could’ve gotten away with it. I suspect it was intended that maybe, just maybe, she was going to go in, get Solo, and get the fuck out again — I mean, the exit to the palace is right there. You go up some stairs and the door is like, a hundred yards away. And here you might say, well, what’s the deal with Chewie and the droids? Fuck ’em? Remember, though: Lando is in the house. Wouldn’t take much for Lando to free Chewie in the chaos, and the droids are pretty crafty themselves — well, okay, Artoo is crafty. Threepio would basically just say ohhhh in a panicked, mournful voice as he spun around in a circle for an hour, but Artoo can save both their aluminum asses, as he does repeatedly.

But, it fails.

The curtain falls and somehow, Jabba has hidden himself in like a… a breakfast nook or whatever? (You wanna try to explain something, explain that: how exactly does Jabba and his entire cabal hide in what essentially looks like a walk-in closet?)

So, Leia’s now on Hutt-Slayer duty, and Solo is with Chewie (meaning Chewie works as a good support system for the blind smuggler when he’s released), and now it’s time for Luke to show up, all bad-ass and, let’s be clear, a little bit Dark Sidey.

(I mean, real talk: his first move is to Force Choke some Pig Dudes.)

From here on out, it’s Skywalker, the big gun, showing up and knowing he’s going to need his whole team for total extraction. And here the question might be, well, why doesn’t Luke just go in by himself right at the beginning? He could’ve, but that would leave him vulnerable at several steps along the way — getting Solo down and out is a task all unto itself. He needs assets in play. And the palace is stacked now with friendly faces. All of whom come into play at various points of the plan’s execution.

The rancor is an unexpected speedbump — though I figure he should’ve known, given Lando being in there, but maybe Lando forgot to mention that. Maybe Lando was in love with the rancor? Maybe they got up to some sexy times? We just don’t know.

Luke keeps his (new) lightsaber off him, expecting capture — and he keeps it in Artoo, knowing that Artoo has the Force and would clearly weave the narrative in such a way to ensure that Skywalker had access to his shiny new laser sword.

From there, he’s got that saber out, Lando’s on the scene, Artoo is going to free Leia, Leia is going to slay that gropey slime-worm, and so on and so forth. The players play their parts. They bring death to the Hutt’s regime. Huzzah and hooray.

So, to me, that’s it — that’s the plan. A kind of clumsy, “get everyone in and then work to get everyone out” heist, a heist that would work poorly with only one of them in there, but that works much better with several assets in play to support redundancies and failsafes.

Now, if someone wants to explain to me the plot of Attack of the Clones

* * *

DAMN FINE STORY: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative

What do Luke Skywalker, John McClane, and a lonely dog on Ho’okipa Beach have in common? Simply put, we care about them.

Great storytelling is making readers care about your characters, the choices they make, and what happens to them. It’s making your audience feel the tension and emotion of a situation right alongside your protagonist. And to tell a damn fine story, you need to understand why and how that caring happens.

Whether you’re writing a novel, screenplay, video game, or comic, this funny and informative guide is chock-full of examples about the art and craft of storytelling–and how to write a damn fine story of your own.

Out now!

Indiebound | Amazon | B&N

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We’re stuck in a repeated cycle of snow-thaw-snow-thaw, and today we’re getting… *checks weather* more snow? Whatever. Goddamnit, weather, get your shit together oh ha ha ha you can’t because the climate is drunk on our fumes.

ANYWHO, so what’s up everyone?

Here’s what’s up with me, real quick —

I’m back from ECCC — recap here.

I finished the third draft of WANDERERS, mostly just a quick polish to get the rest of my flavor-text snidbits in there at the fore of each of the 90-some chapters. The book is now (*coughs into hand*) 277,000 words, so it is pretty darn close to a bonafide bison bludgeoner of a book. It doesn’t come out for a WHOLE YEAR, basically, which is really weird for me? Because here I am, with… a huge expanse of 2018 where No Books Of Mine Come Out. It is the dark times. It’s arguably how a writer’s publishing schedule is supposed to look, but mine is usually more in the “one book every 4-5 months” department. So, we’re crossing over into weird territory for me. I also have only one book to write across the rest of this year, too.

This strange feeling tastes of both freedom and fear.

Now, I await edits on Vultures, the next (and last) Miriam Black book.

What else?

I have a cool comics thing I cannot yet announce, but I’m writing it this week.

My upcoming schedule is as follows:

March 24th, giving a Workshop for the Austin RWA — still a few slots open

April 7th, 4pm, Doylestown Bookshop, in Doylestown, PA — I’ll be joining Kevin Hearne and Fran Wilde on the release of Kevin’s latest and last Iron Druid book.

April 20-22, RavenCon in Williamsburg, VA

May 23-27th, Phoenix Comic Fest in Phoenix, AZ

And that’s it, folks.

That’s the jam.

Enjoy your week.

May you hit Monday in the face with a book.

Because then Monday is down and whimpering, and you still have a book.


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Yeah, go ahead, click that link.

In it, you’ll get two characters who are randomly paired together to fight crime.

This is the basis for your next story.

Now, the one change is — the two characters don’t actually have to fight crime. But you must include both characters in your story — whether as crime fighters, enemies, lovers, family members, whatevers.

That’s it. That’s the story.

Length: ~1000 words

Due by: Friday, March 16th, noon EST

Post at your online space.

Drop a link below so we can all read it.


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Being psychic is just another aspect of life for Neila Roddenberry. So are dreams of a past life as Nikola Tesla. She’s sure that last part is the result of reading the wrong mind at the wrong time without realizing it. Neither are things she talks about much. Her friends know she’s psychic, but no one knows about the dreams. She’s twenty-three, asexual, and unemployed with ambitions to become a freelance artist and writer.

On the way home from visiting friends, Neila gets caught up in a terrorist attack, then wakes up in an underground psychic testing facility. Raised by a doomsday-prepper father, Neila is unusually prepared for the possibility of being whisked away to a secret lab somewhere. When she is faced with the choice of working for the scientists studying psychics at the facility, she takes the job as both an agent and a test subject.

But not everyone in the facility wants to be there.”

Writing can be a great way to deal with stress and other stuff.

Seriously, I wrote this whole book while dealing with the tendons in my dominant arm turning, effectively to bone. I didn’t know what was happening to my arm at the time I wrote the book. All I knew was that it was getting increasingly painful to pencil and ink comics as well as work as a flatter. Writing helped to get my mind off the pain and still express myself outside of comics and art. The stranger I made the story, the safer I felt, because I could imagine a world and characters far from my own reality. Eventually I was able to see an orthopedic surgeon who diagnosed me with angio fibrodysplasia, also known as chronic ossifying tennis elbow. I learned ways to manage my condition with daily therapy and have continued to write because there is no way in hell I’m going to give up the little life preserver I found in writing.

It’s easier to rewrite when one has feedback.

I used to spend a large amount of time on a shark-themed music site that had a neat chatroom feature. I became friends with folks who liked to listen to the same sort of music as myself. When I mentioned I was writing a book about psychics and shapeshifters in a secret lab they showed interest in reading it. The feedback I got from them was incredibly helpful. They spotted giant plot holes that I was able to patch in later drafts. The group stayed in touch after the streaming site was shut down and members have continued to help look over things I’ve written.

It was amazing to learn that it’s okay to rewrite things and fix problems. Constructive feedback is amazing. I learned that no one writes things correctly the first time. When I started working with my editors at Ninestar Press I learned this all over again and then some. There’s almost always something one can improve on with a project. A line here, a scene there, no remove that scene, okay so that factoid in that scene isn’t quite right can you rework it so it’s a little more scientifically accurate? Cool! The first draft of the book is like a rough sketch for an illustration, ever subsequent pass on it tightens the work and adds to it. While it’s easier to rewrite with feedback it’s good to remember that finished novels wont be perfect but one must move on to the next or the first will never be done.

I like weird. People like weird. Make it more weird.

When I described The Facility that combined all the weird stuff I have interests in- psychics, superpowers, shapeshifting body horror, Nikola Tesla folded in- friends and strangers surprised me. They asked me to tell them more. I was expecting to be shrugged off or looked at funny. Granted the majority of the people I am friends with are folks online who I have never met in person, many of them are artists who could draw said funny looks while others are experts at using GIFs and memes that could be used in response to my explanation. I explored some of the ideas I had for The Facility’s shapeshifters in a short story called DNA-RW that was published by Sparkler Monthly in 2014. I had a lot of fun adding in weird stuff to The Facility and have a lot more strange and unsettling things planned (such as shapeshifters who grow anxiety induced ears on their face, like acne but with earlobes.) It’s just fun to write a character growing part of an extra arm. I think it helps me deal with my own arm problems. Then again, I could probably use a couple extra arms. I’m sure that would help me get more done.

Keep submitting but it may be best to stop counting rejections.

After I wrote the book, and rewrote it a couple times, my right arm’s elbow tendons decided to do their best impression of a AA battery. They stopped being flexible entirely, which made the muscles in my forearm swell up from taking the strain and pressed those muscles against the nerves in my arm. It felt like having a hot icepick shoved through my forearm. I couldn’t sleep for several weeks. At one point I didn’t realize I broke a toe because all I could feel was the pain in my arm.

I knew I could very well spiral into a depression worse than what I was already experiencing from the ongoing physical pain and the idea of possibly never being able to draw again. Up until that point I had worked in comics to pay my bills and express myself so that pretty much defined who I was. I realized I needed a “job” or at least something that could keep me busy. I had this book I had just finished writing, The Facility, so every month I set the goal of sending out 3 or 4 queries while I worked on another book for the few kind souls who supported my Patreon. Suddenly the thing I had been working on to deal with pain and stress was doing a bit more. I couldn’t sleep and if I couldn’t draw ever again I could at least type with my left hand. If something were to happen to my left arm I knew that dictation software was an option. Writing was a possible path I could take as my body continued to betray me. While friends and strangers liked the weird ideas I came up with they didn’t quite resonate with any literary agents. I eventually stopped counting the rejection notices. But they served their purpose. They were proof I was actively trying to do something, anything, to have a future creating.

I have a future in writing.

Flash forward a couple years after I wrote Psychic Underground: The Facility. I learned about #DVPit, a hashtag on Twitter designed to help literary agents and publishers find works written about diverse characters. I am an asexual woman and write primarily asexual protagonists, and the main cast of heroes in The Facility has only one cis heterosexual character in it, so I posted a tweet synopsis of the book using the hashtag. Ninestar Press ‘liked’ my post about The Facility to indicate they would like me to submit. I took some time to rewrite the book again before sending it off. I was, and continue to be, happily surprised they were interested in publishing it. I hadn’t realized until that moment that I no longer thought The Facility would see print. It was just the project I worked on and used to survive and now it was a project that a publisher wanted to handle. It was and continues to be an astounding feeling. Writing this book, I learned I not only have a future creating no matter what I go through, but it may very well be something I’m just meant to do. I love telling stories and writing weird things about characters like myself and my friends and I absolutely will not stop.

* * *

Sarah Elkins is a comic artist and writer who nearly had to give up art entirely due to a form of ossifying tennis elbow that forced her to be unable to use her dominate hand for nearly a year. She spent much of that time writing novels with her left hand as a means to deal with the pain and stress of possibly never drawing again. Thanks to a treatment regimen she is able to draw again albeit not as easily or quickly as she once did.

Sarah enjoys reading science fiction, horror, fantasy, weird stories, comics of every sort, as well as any biographical material about Nikola Tesla she can get her hands on (that doesn’t suggest he was from Venus.) She has worked in the comics industry since 2008 as a flatter (colorist assistant,) penciler, inker, and colorist. She contributed a comic to the massive anthology project Womanthology. Currently she (slowly) produces a webcomic called Magic Remains while writing as much as her body will allow.

Sarah Elkins: Twitter

The Facility: Ninestar Press | Amazon

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When dragons rise from the earth, firefighters are humanity’s last line of defense, in this wild near-future fantasy.

Firefighter Cole Brannigan is on the verge of retirement after 30 years on the job, and a decade fighting dragons. But during his final fire call, he discovers he’s immune to dragon smoke. It’s such a rare power that he’s immediately conscripted into the elite dragon-fighting force known as the Smoke Eaters.  Retirement cancelled, Brannigan is re-assigned as a lowly rookie, chafing under his superiors. So when he discovers a plot to take over the city’s government, he takes matters into his own hands. With hundreds of innocent civilians in the crosshairs, it’s up to Brannigan and his fellow Smoke Eaters to repel the dragon menace.

1- Simple concepts can ignite big stories

A lot of people agree that what makes a great story is its complexity: complex characters, a plot that winds and twists so much, you’ll look over your shoulder to make sure David Bowie isn’t following you with Muppets and a bulge in his magical, gray yoga pants.

But this is not the same as a concept or hook, and I’m sure you’ll find that a great story also has a very distilled description.

Before Smoke Eaters, I’d written four novels and all of them took at least a sentence to describe. Then came the day I was sitting in a firefighter class where the three-word premise of Smoke Eaters popped into my head: firefighters vs. dragons.

When I told my agent and others about it, they reacted with so much enthusiasm. Wow. Three words did that?! Many were surprised it hadn’t been done before, it makes so much sense. And I guess the fact that I’m a professional firefighter helps.

Now that the book is finished, you can add a few more words to it: firefighters vs. dragons in the future. There’s a lot more going on, of course, but that simple concept sparked a much larger story.

2 – You have to fight for your write

Time to write isn’t going to fall into your lap. You have to make time. Huh. Seems like you might have heard that a few times before. Maybe even on this website.

As a firefighter, I work for twenty-four hours and then go home for forty-eight before I have to do it all over again. I’m also a dad to two toddlers and an eight-year-old stepson.

My daily writing goal is a thousand words. No, I don’t always make it. When I write at the firehouse, I have to ensure we don’t have anything else going on like a school presentation, testing hydrants and hoses, or inspecting businesses for fire hazards. That’s not even taking into account the emergencies I have to respond to. There were many times while writing Smoke Eaters (and still) where I would be on a roll at the keyboard and the emergency tones would sound. Then the voice over the radio would send me to put out a fire, perform CPR on someone who overdosed on heroin, or hold pressure to stop the bleeding from a man who decided it was a great day for self-castration.

But then I would return to the firehouse and get back to writing.

Don’t get me wrong. Some days it just ain’t happening. I’m either too tired or there’s just too much going on. That’s reasonable. I’m here to tell you that, no, you don’t have to write every day. But it’s great to try.

3 – It’s okay to write what you know

For a long time I heard the writing advice “write what you know.” I thought it was bullshit. Yeah, yeah there are many ways to define that little pearl of wisdom, but I’m talking face value. For me, writing is the same as reading something unexpected. It’s an adventure. Fighting fire is something I know. Where would the surprise be? I didn’t want to write about firefighters, I wanted to write about lesbian, laser-wheeled motorcycle gangs in space. And I did.

After I got the idea for Smoke Eaters, though, I knew I could do it my way. I could talk about what it meant to be a firefighter, the culture, the stress, all the many, many swear words. But I could also throw in all kinds of curiosities from science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

Which brings us to…

4 – You can write whatever the fuck you want!

Dragons? Check. Firefighters? Check.

But what you might not know about Smoke Eaters is that I’ve also included ghosts, robots (including a metal Dalmatian that only speaks Korean), a cyberpunk Canada, laser swords, power suits, and a bunch of other cool stuff.

Why? Because I wanted to. I fully believe in letting your imagination roam wild. That’s why I love writing speculative fiction. This isn’t to say that you should get to the end of your epic fantasy and have space unicorns invade and poke everybody in the butt with their horns. But, hell, if you’ve done the preliminary work where that would make sense: go for it!

Sometimes when I write, a thought tries to dissuade me from doing a certain thing. A few times this is just logic. Most of the time, however, this is pure, assholey fear. Fuck fear. If it’s what you want to do and it makes sense: do it. Don’t hold yourself back because you think the market wouldn’t want Karen and Debbie to get married on top of a giant puff of cotton candy in the Triangulum galaxy.

When I first set out to write Smoke Eaters, I kept seeing the beginning in my head. It was an ash-covered wasteland where a ragged ghost (wraith) floated over the desolation, groaning. I don’t know where the hell this image came from! I thought I was going to be writing about dragons. But as I developed the story, the wraiths became a big part of the plot and I tied it all together. Now, I couldn’t imagine the book without them.

You are in charge of your story.

5 – keep moving forward

So, while Smoke Eaters is my debut novel, it’s the fifth that I’ve written and the second I’ve had on submission. I’m on the low end of the spectrum, too. Some writers had to write a ton more than that before they got published.

Rejection, obviously, is a big part of publishing, but there are a lot of other flaming balls of shit that can fall into your path. The only thing you can do about it is to write more stuff, new stuff, different stuff. Don’t get hung up on one work. You still might sell it later, but I am a big proponent of starting something completely new each and every time. You get better that way. I talk about persistence a lot on my podcast, Cosmic Dragon, and in general. It’s what separates pros from coulda-beens.

And persistence doesn’t stop with the business side. I still read books on craft, listen to podcasts about writing, and watch YouTube videos about it. Never stop learning. It’s something they teach us in the fire service, and it’s just as valid in the business of lying on paper for a living.

* * *

Sean Grigsby is a professional firefighter in central Arkansas, where he writes about lasers, aliens, and guitar battles with the Devil when he’s not fighting dragons. He hosts the Cosmic Dragon podcast and grew up on Goosebumps books in Memphis, TN.

Sean Grigsby: Website

Smoke Eaters: Indiebound | Amazon | B&N | Kobo | BAM

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Bears repeating: Creativity that satisfies & affirms your world view is Entertainment. Creativity that challenges & disrupts your world view is Art.

— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) March 6, 2018

Oh no, Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

Oh no.

No no no no no.

*pinches brow of nose*

*exhales slowly*

Listen, I appreciate Neil these days more than I perhaps like him — I know he’s backed away from his POP CULTURE PEDANTRY (“A TIE fighter is not made of TIES and so therefore it cannot exist, ho ho! Star Trek? You cannot literally trek upon the stars, you could burn up your feet! My my! Harry Potter is neither hairy nor a maker of pots! I got you again, pop culture! Magic is not real and lightsabers are utter nonsense!”), but I still find that piled around his feet are the corpses of all the fun he has killed, and now, here he is again.

Making proclamations about art.

Let’s rewind a little to this tweet:

In school, rarely do we learn how data become facts, how facts become knowledge, and how knowledge becomes wisdom.

— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) September 5, 2017

Which, you know, is literally why we have the humanities.

It’s why a liberal arts degree isn’t actually human poison and why STEM is nice but STEAM is much, much nicer, because it helps to generate people who not only understand information, but who can also contextualize it against all the other information that pushes and pulls upon it.

He’s also disregarded philosophy in the past.

And now, he’s offering comments on what exactly counts as “art.”

So, unsurprisingly, it’s not a good take.

Because, really, most takes attempting to find and thereby sequester the proper territory of art and its margins adds up to a bad take. Because art is not a thing. I mean, art exists, but it’s a squirmy, wiggly target on the best of days, and on the worst of days, the definition of art is often one that attempts to create a kind of hierarchy, where Good Art is put into Nice Boxes and all that other stuff is kicked into the trash bin. And that leads us down some troublesome roads — we pit genre fiction versus literary fiction, let’s say. Or we pit hard sci-fi (grr) against space opera (whee). High fantasy versus low fantasy. Romance versus, well, everything not romance. Marginalized creators versus non-marginalized creators. It is, simply put, a good way to make some art subterranean while other art gets to remain above ground, breathing the fresh air and staring up at the stars.

Perhaps even worse, if you take it to its natural conclusion, it often puts us into the territory of that most dangerous of myths for us creators: the myth of the Starving Artist. And it does this in a handful of ways — it suggests first that entertainment is some crass and common thing, which ends up being where the money is. Then, because we’ve all internalized the myth that art and money do not dare travel together, we put something artistic into a such rarified air that it’s balanced at the pinnacle of a tower where no one can reach it — it ascends so high, it is truly inaccessible. But but but, at the same time, by denigrating entertainment, it also gives an excuse for the peddlers of entertainment to pay the creators of entertainment less — oh, that’s just pulp, that’s just bunkum, that’s just clownpants, you’re basically a clown, so dance for us, clown, DANCE FOR US *shoots pistols at artist’s feet*


The tweet is so simplistic, it fails to appreciate a nuanced view of art.

If the definition of art is hung on the peg of our worldview, that’s already fucked up, because we have no single, permanent world-view. We’re not a hive-mind. We don’t all share our opinions through pheromones and antennae-rubs. It is entirely possible that he is suggesting, somewhat cheekily, that all art is subjective, but a) there are better ways to say that and b) it still pushes past the idea that something affirming our worldview cannot be art to us. Which is nonsense. I’ve read challenging books that either challenged my worldview and brought me around to that perspective or that helped me strengthen my already-existing point-of-view, and are those things less artful because of that? By his definition, yes. (By mine? Nope.)

There is an art to creating entertainment, too — the act of creating fiction, or an image, or a sound, that is beautiful and peaceful and does nothing to challenge us but does everything to make us feel something, that’s art. That’s really, seriously, definitely art. The ability for someone to create a scene (or a painting, or a song) that aims to make me sad and then makes me sad, yeah, no, that’s art. If it aims to make me happy, and I’m happy after? Art. If it’s just pretty to look at? Art. If it’s willfully ugly? Art.

Art can be about feelings, not about thoughts.

Art can also be about thoughts, and not about feelings.

Put differently:

Van Gogh does nothing to challenge my worldview.

He fails to disrupt it.

He doesn’t particularly affirm anything, either, except that the things he paints look like the things as they exist, except through the erm, “lens” of his eye and the tool of his brush.

So, is Van Gogh not an artist?



Is Get Out art? Shape of Water?

If they both entertain and challenge, does that invalidate them? Does it put those films in some elusive third category?

Or maybe, just maybe, are there no categories?

Hell, maybe NDT should just settle down, stick to science, and maybe in the meantime go back to college to get his humanities degree. That’d be okay, Neil. Go learn to write some poetry. Paint a painting. Read some philosophy. Liberal arts, Neil. It’s right there in the name — arts.



* * *

DAMN FINE STORY: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative

What do Luke Skywalker, John McClane, and a lonely dog on Ho’okipa Beach have in common? Simply put, we care about them.

Great storytelling is making readers care about your characters, the choices they make, and what happens to them. It’s making your audience feel the tension and emotion of a situation right alongside your protagonist. And to tell a damn fine story, you need to understand why and how that caring happens.

Whether you’re writing a novel, screenplay, video game, or comic, this funny and informative guide is chock-full of examples about the art and craft of storytelling–and how to write a damn fine story of your own.

Out now!

Indiebound | Amazon | B&N

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Before I begin my recap, I’ll post this picture — not a macro, as I couldn’t get close enough in the swamp, but I’ve found a number of ootheca egg cases around these parts lately. Seven in easy sight (this being one of them), which means that I expect a MIGHTY PROLIFERATION of PRAYING MANTISES this upcoming season. We had tons of them this last year; those saw-armed motherfuckers were everywhere. They’re wonderful and weird creatures, and I’m excited to one day soon be blanketed in hungry mantids! Literally! All over me!

It’ll be like the SHAPE OF WATER. So romantic.


I have returned from Seattle.

Emerald City Comic Con — I went this year because I wanted to scout it out for a potential 2019 trip. (My big-ass book, Wanderers, drops around that time next year.) I love comic cons as a writer, especially when it’s a con that has a strong leaning toward a robust literary track. And ECCC does the magic with tons of panels and signings and the writer’s block area — plus the sublime University Bookstore keeping everything running like clockwork.

It was nice. It was chiller than most comic cons — not dead, not quiet, but you could move, you could breathe, you didn’t feel smothered by the sweaty press of encroaching pop culture fandom.

Thank you to all who came out!

You can find various pics on my Instagram feed.

Various good things happened.

E.K. Johnson once again sneaked contraband Canadian chocolate to me. (Sorry, America, but your chocolate can go to hell.)

Adam Rakunas and Dan Moren know the power of big pig teeth, and the seductive diarrhea stylings of Max Kiss.

Sarah Gailey and I, just by meeting, will now take over the world, it’s just how it’s gotta be, and also it may feature money laundering.

John Rogers made sure to let us know that 95% of what we see is an articulated hallucination curated by our own minds, so that’s oddly comforting.

Annalee Newitz will lead you to excellent hamburgers which is the perfect way to wind down a con of this magnitude.

I met Ricky Whittle (aka Shadow on American Gods) in the SyFy Green Room whilst there with Delilah S. Dawson and he is a pure beacon of sexy light. He’s super nice, and super hot, and my gods, give him all the money and the acting roles.

Had a great signing at Brick & Mortar Books in Redmond, WA — a truly wonderful bookstore, like, chef-kissing-fingers good.

I got my Piggy & Pug signed by Anne Wheaton — which we’ll pretend is for my six-year-old but don’t think I didn’t read it, too. Also managed a bonus Wil sighting, which is always a considerable pleasure.

Myke Cole hunted a basilisk that was chasing Sam Sykes down a hotel hallway. He speared it with a fountain pen and then kicked its brains out of its head, it was really something.

Seanan McGuire again reminded me that one day she will hunt me through the corn, but then she also invited me for tacos, which I now think was probably a ruse to hunt me in the corn.

Ken Lowery let me know I’m a Spooky Boy.

Chris Sebela stroked his beard at me.

I won a trivia contest.

Tee Franklin owned the shit out of that show, sold all her Bingo Love, but keeps on hustling, because that’s how she kicks ass.

Thanks too to the Pride Squadron of Seattle for having me out and giving me a tour of the 501st setup there at the con.

And, of course, I get to see some of my favoritest people in the world, some bonafide buddies like Kevin Hearne, Delilah S. Dawson, Jason Hough, Kace Alexander — people who both in and out of writing are awesome people doing awesome things.

And I think that’s it. I’m quite sure I’m missing something or someone, which is not because I don’t love you, but because my brain is like a bucket of crabs struggling for dominance, it’s just madness and claws, man, madness and claws.

Again, thanks for coming out.

I signed a bunch of books. Life is good. I’m riding high.

But I gotta get back to work, because the work abides.

Here is one more macro — this one, vanilla beans, very, very close up, smeared on the tip of a small, sharp knife.

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Writing only gets done by getting it done.

The work is the way forward.

But what that means is…

…not chiseled in stone so much as it is swirled into pudding with an index finger. It’s in flux. Uncertain. How we do the work, and why, and when, and at what rate, is where writers really are snowflakes, each as unique as a fingerprint, or a strand of DNA, or a cat’s butthole.

(That’s true, by the way, that’s science. All cat buttholes are unique to the cat. It’s how cats catch each other at cat crimes.)

I’ve been doing this writing thing for —

Wait, hold on.

*puts on long, gray beard*

*pulls pants up so far that the waistline is hitting the nipple watermark*

*black socks and brown sandals, deployed*


Wow, sorry, I was really yelling there, huh?

*clears throat*

As I was saying, you should listen to me because I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about. Which is really the point of all this: the further I’ve gone down this path, the one thing I know with great resoluteness is that I know less than I did when I began. My certainties are far less certain. My knowledge has faded, and in its place has grown —

*mouth opens, rainbows and ravens shoot out*


Or something like it.

Here, then, is what I presently believe about the act of writing — these three “truths” are not about the art of narrative, not the craft of constructing stories, but simply the meat-and-potatoes of getting it done. And note, too, that when I say truths, I mean they are truths for me, and only for me at this moment in time. They might not be for you. They might not even be true for me ten years in the future, provided we’re not all hiding in the nuclear swampland eating irradiated cricket paste as the eyeless cannibal hordes hunt us for our meat.

So, here are three cough-cough, wink-wink, “truths.”

Do with them as thou wilt.

The Name Of The Game Is Incremental Progress

I come out of freelance writing, where there were hard-and-fast deadlines that necessitated vacuum-sealing your cheek-meat to the office chair and not breaking the seal until you did your time in the word-mines. I had to hit 2000 words a day or I was dead. Sometimes, that’s still true.

But I’ve also learned that stories are wiggly.

They’re like puppies. Every one is different. They have different personalities.

Just as every writer has a different personality.

So, every writer is different, and every story that a writer writes is different from the last, and to make it even more fun, every day is different, too. (I know, what a revelation.) Some mornings you wake up, fresh as a newborn baby bathed in unicorn tears. Some days are total fucking gutter balls — it’s a clunk and thunk and the ball rolls into a ditch without knocking over a single pin. You just don’t know. And some stories are stories that pour out of you like a puke out of a drunk freshman. Other stories are ones that must be extracted, like a tooth, or a tapeworm.

And that’s okay.

That’s how it is.

The trick is this:

Just make progress.

Just move forward.

I’m not saying you move forward at 2000 words every day. I’m just saying — move forward. Move forward at the rate you, and the day, and the story, demand. Incremental progress is the key. One sentence. One page. One chapter. Consistency is fine if consistency is what you require. But all you really, really need is the discipline to inch forward. Crawl if you must. Run when you can. Pause when necessary.

But set your eyes on the horizon and walk toward it. Don’t look at other writers and how fast they’re doing it. Don’t sprint when you know you need to creep. Don’t creep when it’s time to sprint. But always move forward.

Except —

Progress Is Not Always A Forward Direction

Well, shit. A new wrinkle.

I’mma repeat that, because it bears repeating:








But — what the fumbly fuck does that mean?

It means this: sometimes, progress is not a day of writing, but a day of thinking. Sometimes, progress is a day of writing badly, a day of writing you will throw away, or a day of writing that feels bad but ends up good. Progress can mean having a great writing day, and then later on, during editing, kicking that shit into the garbage bin because you don’t need it or it wasn’t that good. Progress is failing in some — any! — direction. Progress is taking a walk and having a revelation about the story. Progress can be outlining, it can be throwing away an outline, it can be writing 1000 words just before deleting 2000.

Progress is movement and momentum, but it’s not always forward.

Listen, I have literally written an entire second draft that ended up worse than the first. It’s not supposed to happen like that, you think. It seemed to be at the time an incredible failure — it was like aging backward, like maturing in reverse, like pissing in good whiskey. But it wasn’t that. It was progress, just not forward progress. In failing to make a better story with the second draft, I was given greater clarity as to what the story needed to really be. My writing career is built on the steaming backs of many humid failures — books that are just moist carcasses. Thing is, I view those now as necessary to progress.

Skill is not like in the role-playing games where it’s just numbers on a page that tick up, up, up. Skill is a hazy, goopy sphere. We move through it, in it, out of it, around it, and our entire writing career is like that. Sometimes, to refine who we are and what we write, we have to try a lot of things, and trying a lot of things means screwing up a lot of things.

Often, to succeed, we must first fail.

And even that doesn’t look the same every time.

Progress Does Not Always Look The Same Each Time

Like I said, I’ve written a bunch of shit. Some of it is shit I’m proud of. Some of it is… you know, let’s just leave it at “shit.” (Insert poop emoji here.)

And every time, I struggle because I want the process to be the same.

I want it to be a purely mechanical process.

Like, I dunno, building a fucking birdhouse, or making cheese. I want the muscle memory and the skill to work in such a way that, roughly every time, the process is the same — maybe even easier than the time before. A lot of things are like that.

Writing is not like that.

It’s a little like that, in that practicing writing for a long time really does make you better. You are also different writer every time you write. And that means the stories you tell are different, too. And they get harder, not easier.

Writing a book is less like building a birdhouse and more like raising a kid — as a parent you start to figure out pretty quick that every time you learn some new Parenting Skillz, the child also learns new Child Skillz and then you must compete in the Thunderdome or — okay, you know, I think I’ve lost hold of that metaphor, but more to the point, as your child grows, you must adapt your parenting, and as you grow, you must adapt your writing.

Which means that progress is never the same.

The way writing goes one time won’t be the way it goes the next time.

Not day to day.

Certainly not story to story.

But that’s okay. It’s a good thing, not a bad thing. If writing felt the same every time, if it settled into rote, comfortable patterns, it means you’ve settled into a rote, comfortable pattern. And rote comfort is ruinous to the artist. We thrive on the discomfort of evolution.

Enjoy the discomfort. Make incremental progress in whatever direction it demands, and remember that every book has its own map, its own uncharted path through the swampland.

Movement and momentum.

In any direction.

* * *

DAMN FINE STORY: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative

What do Luke Skywalker, John McClane, and a lonely dog on Ho’okipa Beach have in common? Simply put, we care about them.

Great storytelling is making readers care about your characters, the choices they make, and what happens to them. It’s making your audience feel the tension and emotion of a situation right alongside your protagonist. And to tell a damn fine story, you need to understand why and how that caring happens.

Whether you’re writing a novel, screenplay, video game, or comic, this funny and informative guide is chock-full of examples about the art and craft of storytelling–and how to write a damn fine story of your own.

Out now!

Indiebound | Amazon | B&N

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(On a warm day last week I took some snaps, including the above, which looks like some kind of weird microscopic close-up of a virus in action, even though it’s actually just a hibernating poison ivy vine. More photos to come.)


Recently I saw two films in close proximity:

Justice League.

And —

Black Panther.

(Note: mild spoilers for both.)

Now, let’s just get this out of the way — Black Panther is the superior film, and it’s the superior film in the way that a high-five is superior to a punch to the neck. Justice League isn’t a bad movie, exactly, but the best I can really say for it is that it is a movie that exists. It is a more palatable filmgoing experience than Batman V. Superman, though it is a worse overall film — at least BvS had a point-of-view, dire and overlong as it was. I actively despised that movie, but despised it because I didn’t agree with it — I didn’t despise Justice League, I didn’t even dislike it, but I certainly didn’t like it. My feeling for it are equal to my feelings for saltine crackers or Swedish fish: I know they exist, and I can summon no opinion about them beyond that.

Justice League is a film with no point-of-view. It has literally nothing to say. It’s just — here are some costumed weirdos, and now here is a sludgy computer-generated menace, now let’s mash them together like a bunch of action figures, mash mash mash, fight fight fight, tap the X button, tap it, now the right trigger, now Y and B in a combo, aaaaaand, yay, it’s done, please to enjoy one more shot with Superman’s CGI mouth-bits, since apparently they had to digitally erase Henry Cavill’s mustache? I dunno.

Justice League is a film with a lot of whizz and bang but not a lot of reason for it. It’s got some humor, but no heart. It’s got some heroes, but no real heroism. It’s not thoughtful in any way, and it has nothing to tell us, and that comes down to the fact that the characters possess, by and large, character arcs that are shaped less like arcs and more like a garden hose laying haphazardly across a driveway. No one has changed fundamentally by the end, if at all. Batman growls, “I gotta gather the team,” and then he gathers them. Aquaman is the only holdout, and even he comes along about six minutes later, somehow, and then it’s a red-tinted digital punch-fest after that, a series of perfectly serviceable PS4 cutscenes. Then they win. There’s never really any danger. Nobody sacrifices anything. Nobody learns anything. It’s the worst kind of story — introduce problem, then beat the problem. “I wanted a sandwich, so I got one, the end,” is not a good shape, but that’s more or less what’s on display, here.

It has no beauty, it has no aesthetic.

It has no mind, it has no heart.

And then we come to Black Panther.

It is a film that is almost the polar opposite of JL, isn’t it?

It’s a solo film, not a team film, but even in that, T’Challa has a capable team — most of them being strong women, and strong women not just in the “I CAN KICK YOUR FACE” way, but in the “strongly-rendered, lushly-imagined characters-with-agency.” They are not merely support players but vital players on the stage. Okoye, Nakia, Shuri! They have beliefs and attitudes and they do not shove them aside just because T’Challa (or the plot) demands — they push on the plot more than it pushes on them. T’Challa, in fact, is shaped by them as much as they are shaped by him. And I can tell you more about most of the side characters in Black Panther than I can about any of the main heroes in Justice League.

It’s also a film with a great deal of beauty — the Marvel films have done a lot of good in making their worlds really pop, but none have popped quite as much as Wakanda — or hell, even the Busan sequence, which is one helluva sphincter-clenching action-and-then-chase sequence.

Best of all, it’s a film with both a heart and a mind — it’s a movie with a point of view, a thing to say, and the entire film serves as a discussion of those themes, themes that arise from questions of colonization and supremacy, that are bound up with what it means to have responsibility. There is no simple good versus evil struggle here — Erik Stevens (Killmonger) is an antagonist, but not so much a villain; he opposes the protagonist, T’Challa, but is himself the hero in his own story. Erik is a liberator and a conqueror, and intends to use Wakanda to restore his idea of justice and balance. He’s not — shit, what was the bad guy’s name in Justice League again? Steppenwolf? What the hell did that asshole want again? Just… badness, right? He just wanted global apocalyptic badness, and the reason he wanted it was… *whistles* *snaps fingers* *shuffles feet nervously* … because he’s evil? I dunno. I got nothing.

What’s fascinating is, at the core of it, save the world is one of the most boring problem/goal combinations you can have in a story, and yet, both JL and BP have it. JL has the version of it we’ve seen a hundred thousand times — oh no, big bad guy, he wants to blow up the world, let’s stop him, punch punch punch, yaaaaay. But BP has a way more nuanced version of it — Killmonger wants to destabilize the world and he wants to destroy the social order of it, and arguably he wants to do so for reasons we totally understand and can empathize with. And T’Challa decides to commit to Erik’s goal, but in a better, more heroic, more open way. He chooses not to destabilize the world but rather, to stabilize it — he helps to save a world that doesn’t even know it’s in danger. And the heart of it is Killmonger versus T’Challa.

In Damn Fine Story I talk about how some characters run parallel to each other, and others are perpendicular — they crash into one another, and that’s Killmonger and T’Challa. Two characters coming at roughly the same goal from two different, competing angles. Their intersection is not gentle, but calamitous. These are characters who are not shaped by the plot, but are the plot. They are not architecture, but rather, they are architects.

And they carry both the heart and the mind of the work.

Black Panther will make you think.

And it will make you feel.

Those are the storyteller’s goals.

Not amuse or entertain — those goals are secondary. A film can’t just be fireworks. A story has to be fireworks that like, kill your Dad, or that set fire to an old-growth forest; the fireworks can’t just be for the light and the sound, for the clamor and the flash, but the fireworks have to be fired into your fucking heart. The fireworks should pop and sizzle in the sky and spell out a message, a message that challenges the ways you think about things, that demands you investigate your own ideas. Which, needless to say, Black Panther does.

Justice League is… you know, like a kid in homeroom, it’s present? It’s raising its hand to let you know it’s there, and then it’s going to lay its head back down on its desk and go to sleep.

So there you go.

What else is going on?

Not much, really — just a reminder that, HEY, I’m off to Emerald City ComicCon this week. You can nab my schedule here, and a reminder that even if you’re not going to ECCC, you can catch me, Fonda Lee, and Alex Marshall doing a panel at Brick & Mortar books this Thursday from 6-7pm (details here). And Friday night at 7pm is the Worldbuilders Party — donate to charity, come play games with creative weirdos!

Hope to see you there.


Except you in the back.

You know what you did.


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