New Microfiction: Lone Survivor

Started some new microfiction over at Reddit that seems to be winding down now. ‘Lone Survivor’ is based on the writing prompt: “it’s been 14 months since the bombs fell. For 14 months you have had no one to talk to, no variety to your diet and nothing interesting to do. But today the air scrubbers in your bunker have stopped working. You now have to leave in search of repair parts or die.”

Inspiration for the story comes from several places: Cloverfield 10, Firefly, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and the artist pictured to the right: Simon Stålenhag. I wanted to paint a portrait of a simple guy, with a painful past, facing an uncertain future. I even named him ‘Chad,’ because I hate the name Chad and thought it would be fun to create a hero I immediately disliked. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it!

Read Lone Survivor Here

Real Writers Have Day Jobs

After the Geoffrey Owens thing last week, I thought it might be interesting to talk about how creative people support themselves. Creators don’t exist in a vacuum, after all. We have bills, mortgages, relationships, and checking accounts. What am I trying to say? I’m saying real writers have day jobs, just like you.

I got curious earlier this week and decided to ask other writers about this. I started with a very simple question – “How Do You Support Yourself While Writing?” What I got back were a number of interesting insights.

Yes, real writers have day jobs. But what kind of jobs? It turns out, authors more often than not work a corporate gig somewhere. Keep that mind the next time you talk to your favorite IT guy, cybersecurity expert, developer, corporate trainer, or hotel A/V guy. They might be using your conversation as material, or turning you into a character they can murder.

I met one writer who is also an EMT, and one who works in probate registry. One way or another, many authors support themselves by helping others. Some writers teach English, like Stephen King, did. Other writers are in communications, are ghost-writers and marketers, or even chainsaw artists.

All that sounds cool on the surface but real talk: does working in writing hamper your creativity? Asking for a friend.

Many authors work in ways that are less white collar or career-focused. Some work at Trader Joes, like Geoffrey Owens did. Others are baristas or cafe managers. Sometimes this can suck, but if you have ‘easy hours and a great boss,’ you’ll get ‘lots of time/mental space to pursue your artistic endeavors.’ Still other authors are retired and living lean.

Finally, the last category – there are many writers like me, living with a disability. ” Before I got too sick to work I was finishing my masters in neurological psych and forensic psych, already had degrees in Criminal investigations and forensics. I was fast tracking for the FBI ViCAP,” says TwistedMune. “A lot of my ghostwriting jobs are psychological analysis and true crime books.” Reading that made me feel a lot better. There are a tribe of writers out there who know the struggle.

So if you’re considering a career as an author or writer, you may want to remember that writing is often what you do after you get done with work every day. It’s not all book-signings and late nights with William Strunk. However, if you’re up for the life, it can be quite rewarding.

It’s the ‘sex and cash’ theory of creative professionals. Find joy in the art, do the gig so you can do the art. I live pretty lean on my disability check, but that’s ok. I’m in love with making a chapter or a scene come together (Like the chapter of Mesh I’m working on right now, for example). The fact that I’m cruising EatCheapandHealthy for recipies is just part of the trip.

So I hope you found this interesting and insightful. Addtionally, if you’re looking for a job to support your writing, you might check out the suggestions mentioned here and here.

Write on!

Mesh Update #9 – Stars Can Collapse

This is a tough one. I talked about David Hahn before, but  it wasn’t until today that I knew how the story ended. Hahn died in 2016 of alcohol poisoning. They found David’s body in a Wal-Mart bathroom, 18 years after building a nuclear reactor in his back yard. This tragic conclusion illustrates what I said earlier. We need schools to nurture budding stars like Hahn or Taylor Wilson. Stars will collapse, if they don’t have the right conditions to shine.

There is no question, for example, that David Hahn had a tremendous amount of potential. After all, you can’t be both a sniper and a master helmsman unless you’re both bright, and talented. But what went wrong? Continue reading

Still Cranking …

Just a quick note to say ‘Yes, I’m still breathing.’ Personal medical stuff has gotten me down, but I’m still kicking. I submitted two short stories to new publishers (see the Short Story production page for details) and now it’s back to work on Mesh. I have health problems, but my health problems don’t have me.

Do All of the Things Now

Excellent career advice when considering a creative job. Watch out for the f-bombs, though.

“So that’s your to-do list: Upgrade the day job and upgrade the dream and speed up the publication schedule. Do all of the things. Don’t just write a book right now. DO ALL OF THE THINGS RIGHT NOW. Enjoy them and celebrate them. Today is all you have. You don’t need a future. You don’t need a finish line. When you realize that, time slows down. You just need this day.”

All that in more in this amazing write-up on the creative career path:

‘Should I Quit My Day Job to Write a Book?’

Ahead of the Curve: Scifi and the Effortless White Woman

Effortless white women. Where have I been? This has been a thing for over ten years now. I was late to the party, but the resentment against that zeitgeist bubbles forth like a Hawiian volcano, and so it came to my attention. The happy news about this stale trope in our boring dystopia is that scifi has been ahead of the curve when it comes to this self-destructive mindset.

Who or what is an ‘effortless white girl?’ The Medium article explains: “a feminine ideal that has been part of women’s media ever since second-wave feminism made it taboo to publish articles about decorating to please your husband: The Effortless White Woman.”

Ellen Ripley, after someone asked her to make a sammich

As bad as that is, it gets worse: “This seemingly leaves women stuck in the familiar, dreary bind always created by internalized misogyny: hating ourselves, and hating other women because they remind us of how mu ch we hate ourselves, with only a few callous opportunists getting out ahead. But the anger under the Effortless White Woman has, of late, been transforming into something potentially illuminating—not deferred self-loathing, but an actual recognition of injustice.”

All that bad mojo aside, the good news is that scifi was, is, and will always be on the right side of history when it comes to the Effortless White Woman. We’ve never had much use for anyone, regardless of their gender, who does not understand the value of struggle.

Think of our favorite female heroes: Wonder Woman, Princess Leia, Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor, River Tam, Trinity. Do we admire them for their effortlessness, or do we admire them because of their strength and their resilience?

I Am Woman: Hear Me Blast a Stormtrooper

Oddly enough, Gwenth Paltrow is at the center of this Effortless White Woman discussion and yet I only know her because I love her as Pepper Potts in Iron Man. Her Pepper Potts is hardly effortless. On the contrary, she’s a strong, determined person, capable of reigning in the mad genius of Tony Stark.

If I were to think of an EWW in the Scifi or Fantasy world, it would be the Childlike Empress in Neverending Story. Sure enough, she was the Ivory Tower girl come to life, waiting to be rescued by Atreyu. Do you even remember her? I had to google her name (Tami Stronach). That’s how little the character mattered to me.

So to wrap up – perhaps the answer to this social issue is not so much extrinsic (“Everyone should stop idolizing the Effortless White Woman”) as much as it is intrinsic (“My value comes from inside, not from a product I buy, and if you can’t understand that then maybe you need a time-out.”).

Just a thought. Just me. Please don’t be angry if I’m missing an important issue. Reach out to me on Twitter or Reddit – I’d like to learn.

Nerd Post: Bots Defeat Google Analytics

This isn’t directly related to writing, but it’s important if you run a website for your books (Looking at you, George R. R. Martin). This is a nerd post to talk about a source of frustration for me, and I imagine many other small-scale website owners: Bots defeat Google Analytics.

Anyone in the ‘writing for fun and profit‘ space will tell you that audience building is a key part of the game. You must get eyeballs and then get them to become interested in whatever it is that you’re offering. For me, it’s science fiction, but for you it could be antique cigarette lighters, bespoke suits, or Dukes of Hazzard TV trays. Who knows?

One of your key performance indicators (KPI) will always be web traffic. Like millions of other sites, I use Google Analytics. Every once in a while, I’ll fire up my GA tool to see what’s going on and I’ll find a table that looks like this:

Now let’s talk about what this table means, and what it’s supposed to tell me about my web page. Continue reading

“Derelict” – New Scifi Wallpaper

Spent a few creating a new wallpaper for you. Hope you enjoy ‘Derelict.’

It’s based on a story I never developed, about a junkyard in space. Just like cars, spacecraft rust away under the sun. Totems of a brighter age, they carry memories of forgotten hopes. Silence is the only answer for spectral heroes of abandoned futures. Vehicles of destiny turned into spacefill, archipelagos of life amongst the cold, dead space above Earth.

Follow-Up to the ‘Toxic Fan’ Piece

Kelly Marie Tran spoke out on the New York Times about her experiences with online harassment. I wanted to mention it as a follow-up because her experience was part of the reason I wrote the ‘toxic fan’ piece the other day.

Toxicity in scifi is more than just ‘you suck, lol,’ It has real-world ramifications for creative people that need to be addressed if we want our genre to survive and thrive.

I’m very proud of Loan for speaking out, and I hope you take a moment to listen to her today.

Less Anger, More Jim Henson


Coming out of a serious writing jag, I’m thinking about Worldcon, that happened over the weekend in San Jose. Like many other purveyors of the art, I’m sometimes confused and puzzled about how people interpet what science fiction is supposed to be. Is it necessary to turn sci-fi into a competition, an argument, or a conflict? I did a bit of thinking, and it occurred to me that we need less anger, and more Jim Henson.

I’m going to keep this short and sweet, but don’t ignore the point: It isn’t just about where we’re going, it’s about who we’re going to be when we get there. I read that one time, and it’s always stuck with me. There’s no point in creating new things if the only purpose they serve is to be weaponized against innocent people.

Most geeks understand that. The best example I can think of is our old friend, Jim Henson. He was more than just the Muppets, of course. Jim created an enduring legacy of love, peace, and joy that he expressed through art and relationships.

There’s an article reprinted from Life that explains it like this: ‘Jim Henson can be credited with many accomplishments: he had the most profound influence on children of any entertainer of his time; he adapted the ancient art of puppetry to the most modern of mediums, television, transforming both; he created a TV show that was one of the most popular on earth. But Henson’s greatest achievement was broader than any of these. Through his work, he helped sustain the qualities of fancifulness, warmth and consideration that have been so threatened by our coarse, cynical age.’

Jim Henson had flaws but he was also a tolerant, patient man. That’s not to say that he tolerated everything. Many people conflate the two, and that is yet another byproduct of our toxic age.  “Underneath the zaniness, there was a kind of decency that the characters had about the world and to each other, and I think that was one of the legacy’s that Jim left,” Jerry Juhl, Head Writer for the Muppets said. “At the core there was always this kind of sense of social values and decency.”

Beyond that, through the Muppets Jim Henson showed a sense of ‘wonder, delight, [and] optimism.’ That’s sadly missing from the 2018 sci-fi landscape. Social values and deceny are being challenged. The loudest guy and the biggest sign seem to be winning.

We have the opportunity, though, to be the change we wish to see in the world. We don’t need to shout louder than the other guy. We just need to be. We can communicate our priorities by what we do, and the choices we make. None of these things are revolutionary in themselves. We’ll find, as Henson did, that we already know what the right thing to do is, we just need to do it.

Jim Henson did that. In so doing, he destroyed his foes, not by defeating them, but by befriending them. That wasn’t really original, it came right out of the Abraham Lincoln quote: ‘Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?’

So, although it seems like dark times, there are opportunities for light. Jim Henson showed us the way. Let’s find the next Jim Henson, or be the next Jim Henson, so that we can light the way for the next generation, too.