Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Apocalypse Utah

My newest foray into publishing is modest but awesome. I'm part of this year's Utah Horror Anthology called APOCALYPSE UTAH. I'd like to think that my story May 15th in the last anthology, IT CAME FROM THE GREAT SALT LAKE was the inspiration for this year's anthology, but no one will confirm or deny it. Nevertheless my story in APOCALYPSE UTAH is one of my best. Entitled Flame Unspeakable, it is a heavy thematic piece of cultural evolution, current events and natural order. Not for the feint of heart or shallow of hope.
Beyond the life-changing story, I was privileged to be one of the editors of the book. A double credit. going to frame this one. Though ewe didn't select the stories, Callie Stoker and I we worked, polished, assembled the twelve stories into a fantastic little horror tome. I'm excited to have it released this year at LTUE (Life the Universe and Everything Conference). Check out my schedule here to find me there. 
Anyway, without further ado, I give you


From the Creators of Old Scratch and Owl Hoots and It Came from the Great Salt Lake, comes the next installment of new Utah horror, Apocalypse Utah a Collection of Utah Horror.
Twelve Apocalyptic horsemen of the Rocky Mountains have come together in this terrifying anthology of Utah Horror. After years of dystopian fiction, these twelve writers won the challenge to portray how the apocalypse would occur.
Questionable kittens, ritualistic killing, destroying angels, ancient gods seeking punishment, lawless renegades, practioners of the dark arts, and zombies will haunt every corner of your mind as you read these thrilling accounts of what could happen during the end of days in Utah.
Reanimated corpses of religious fanatics proclaiming salvation are the least of your worries...




Wednesday, February 8, 2017

LTUE 2017

It's here again! LTUE - Life the Universe and Everything Conference. A great conference celebrating speculative fiction and creativity down in Utah County, but don't let the location scare you away. It's actually an awesome con. An excellent value, a reunion of the tribe. I recommend it to all writers who can come.

Below is my schedule. Come by and visit, chase me down. I'll be in tie dye and shouldn't be too hard to find. 


Life the Universe and Everything Conference (LTUE)
— February 16-18, 2017

Provo Marriott Hotel & Conference Center
101 West 100 North
Provo, UT 84601



Thursday, February 16th  

Hearing Pitches for Omnium Gatherum
3:00 - 4:00 p.m. (Board Room)
I will hear pitches for dark fiction/horror stories on behalf of Omnium Gatherum Media.

Presentation: Theory of Mystery
6:00 - 6:50 p.m. (Birch)
Johnny Worthen distills his “A Study in Mystery” course taught at the University of Utah. He covers the history, structures, and potentials of crime fiction and the quests within it. 

Panel: Pulp Fiction Power
8:00 - 8:50 p.m. (Maple)
Pulp fiction writing and it's powerful impact on current trends in books and movies. (with: David Boop, James Minz, L. Palmer (M), Alexander Sousa, Johnny Worthen)


Friday, February 17th

Panel: Grow Confidence and Courage Through Self-Expression
1:00 - 1:50 p.m. (Bryce)
Working in the arts is more of a calling than a career; one often fraught with rejection and heartache. In this panel, we will explore the beauty that is forged from the concept of never giving up on your dream, regardless of the challenges along the way. Creatives tell their personal stories. (with: Blake Casselman, Angela Hartley (M), Michael Jensen, Shelly Brown, J. Scott Savage, Johnny Worthen)


Panel: Dirty Streets - Writing Crime and Thrillers
4:00 - 4:50 p.m. (Juniper)
What sets crime fiction apart from other genres? Can themes from this type of fiction be explored in other genres? (with David Boop (M), Michael Darling, Liesel Hill, Brenda Stanley, Johnny Worthen)


Saturday, February 18th

Hearing Pitches for Omnium Gatherum
10:00 - 11:00 a.m. (Board Room)
I will hear pitches for dark fiction/horror stories on behalf of Omnium Gatherum Media.

Panel: Gone but not Forgotten
2:00 - 2:50 p.m. (Maple)
Lasting influences of the writers of yesteryear. A posthumous look at iconic and unforgettable writing greats to remember. (with: James Minz, Mari Murdock (M), Kal Spriggs, Brian Wiser, Johnny Worthen)

Panel: Apocalypse vs. Dystopia
5:00 - 5:50 p.m. (Arches)
For a while we only say the world ends, then we only say the aftermath. Deathmatch to decide which is better... (with: Liesel Hill, David Powers King, Peter Nealen, Nathan Shumate, Callie Stoker (M), Johnny Worthen)

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

THE BRAND DEMAND revisited

I wrote THE BRAND DEMAND the last time I was enraged and frightened about the state of my country. I envisioned a group of radicals resisting the cultural tides of hypocrisy and playing Robin Hood with dirty secrets. I modeled it after Edward Abbey’s wonderful MONKEY WRENCH GAME, a staple of the counter-culture when I was growing up. Shame it’s not read more today.

THE BRAND DEMAND is a political piece insofar as the protagonist, Galen Reed’s gang is united in a vision of liberal resistance in an oppressive conservative culture. Each comes from a different angle of oppression, one is a socialist, one fights against the constraints of religion, one for his sexual identity, one for social justice, one for the underdog. And all are horrified by the hypocrisies and bullying of their adversaries and seek to make them pay where it hurts them most by taking their money.

The story was written backwards. One morning after a dream, I envisioned the climactic moment, the forces arrayed and the decision come to. Can one side go as far as the other? I knew what had to happen and wrote a book to get there. Loving a good romance and always a good mystery I wrote an adventure with a conscience.

These days I think a lot about this book. It gave me hope at a time I thought I was alone. I’m definitely not alone now, but the days appear bleaker than before. A little hope is always helpful.

If you’re looking for a good adventure, a mystery romance with local color and meaning, a work of resistance in these dark times, I would recommend to you THE BRAND DEMAND.

Don’t just take my word for it, THE BRAND DEMAND won the Silver Quill Award, from the League of Utah Writers as an outstanding published novel.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Magical Idea Generator

I've heard this called a writing prompt before, but I don't think that's necessarily right. I’d call this an "idea prompt." it is a simple formula to create possibilities that challenge writers to create a story. It’s a tonic for creativity and it has never failed to offer me something interesting.

I forgot where I first ran into this, sometime late my careers, last couple years ago and even then I realized it was gold.

Now I incorporate it in my writing classes. I use it to stimulate ideas and give my writers a story plan if they don’t already have one.

It’s simple and magical. It is this:

What if…?

Then suppose…?

Ask these two questions, answer them and then, if you’re good, throw on a couple more “and then supposes.”

Not all of them will be good, but if you do, say, five or ten of them, I bet at least one of them will have legs.

It might be an entrance to your main character, a sleuth for you mystery. It might be an opening into a plot, a setting. A theme. It's a "twist" generator.

You don't need to have the answers to the questions right then, but some of the questions will surely stir the little grey cells.

As my class works this very homework this week, I joined them and this morning came up with the following ideas. Tell me what you think and try it yourself. Add your ideas below and store this little trick in your writers toolbox for a quick and creative exercise to get you going.


What if… 

Then suppose…


What if a spaceship runs out of fuel mid flight and wakes the passengers and crew to address it.

Then suppose the ship is found to run on a bio-fuel that can only come from humans bodies.



What if a man can start fires with his hands.

Then suppose he’s blackmailed into helping a criminal steal a priceless painting.



What if the devil were real.

Then suppose his goal was not the destruction but the liberation of mankind.

And then suppose he approaches a tailor to help him.



What if the a museum archaeologist examining what he thinks an ancient skeleton discovers it to be modern.

Then suppose he finds them to be from a housewife reported missing two years from a small town.

And then suppose that the whole town she came from are hostile to his investigation and obviously hiding something.



What if boy living out a car with his dad is suddenly abandoned at a desert gas station.

Then suppose he gets a cryptic message from his father asking for help.

And then suppose he discovers his dad is on the run and supposedly has millions of dollars hidden somewhere.



What if a plane takes off with eight celebrities on their way to a film festival.

Then suppose when the plan lands, there’s no one aboard.



What if an audiophile browsing a pawn shop buys an old dictaphone.

Then suppose he finds on it a suicide note.

And then suppose he discovers also a secret taped meeting of important people planning the overthrow of the government.

And then suppose that he sees some of what they planned happening now.

And then suppose they come looking for the dictaphone.



What if a man watching television sees a woman in the background of a news report about a protest.

Then suppose he falls in love with her on the spot.

And then suppose he’s driven to abandon everything he has to pursue her.



Wednesday, January 18, 2017

He kept absolutely still as the footsteps got louder —WonHundredWordWednesdays

I play again with flash fiction and the WonhundredWord Wednesdays. This week I incorporate the writing prompt for the flash fiction, the writing prompt for an upcoming anthology submission, and my never-ending obsession with death.




Seventy-three years, two cancers, six operations. Now never a conscious moment without pain.

Three children and eight grandchildren. Susan pregnant with another. Tomas on scholarship, Betty dating that cute boy from the medical school. Ron through rehab, now in Gambia teaching school.

All well and accounted for. Alice would be proud.

The darkness warmed a bit.

He has heard the footsteps for years. Distant and approaching. Stopping for Alice, now come for him. Unstoppable. Undeniable. Now in the house. In the hall. Outside the door. 

At the side of his bed.

“I’ve come for you.”

“I know,” he said.



Thursday, January 12, 2017

New Spring Classes

This semester I have the opportunity and privilege to teach two classes at the University of Utah Lifelong Learning Center.


Lifelong Learning is a continuing education program. No grades are given, no roll is taken, the pressure's removed for students to pursue their interests and enthusiasms. It's a great setting, intimate, lively, energetic and full of good stuff.




This semester I'll be teaching first my popular A STUDY IN MYSTERY.



A STUDY IN MYSTERY (LLWRC 837): Look behind the curtain of the formulaic, but eternally popular genre: the Mystery Story. Learn about the constructions, tropes, types and methods that make the modern whodunit. Designed for both writers and fans of the mystery genre, class will include assignments and activities on plot, character web, record keeping, suspense, tension and conflict. Refine your work as you’re asked the questions: Did you hide the clue well enough? Does the audience care about the victim? Is the suspense tight enough? By the end of the course, if the crime is writing a mystery story, the “Whodunit” will be you!


I get a week off (which will probably be spent watching a mystery movie with the class) and then I'm back at it.

My second class is LITERARY QUERYING: THE ART OF REJECTION

LITERARY QUERYING-THE ART OF REJECTION (LLWRC 844): So you've written a book. Now what? Approaching the publishing world can be a lonely and daunting task. This class will give you a jump start by providing the knowledge and skill required to navigate the world of agents and publishers. It is recommended (but not necessary) that you bring a finished piece of work you are trying to place. This is a workshop heavy class, where we'll polish your pages and develop a plan to give you the best chance in the great publishing hunt.


I modeled this class after Sun Tzu's The Art of War because, let's face it, getting past the gatekeepers of literary publication is war!


I invite you all to join me this Fall for some writing theory, workshop and publication. Click on the links above for registration information and costs.  Both classes have limited space and are subject to cancellation, so don't delay.



Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Rant—Fast Food Art

Allow me a little rant today.

I’ve been thinking about nutrition lately. I’ve been on this diet, you see, and one of the keys to it, and I suppose to any diet, is simply a change in consumption. It is an effort to alter habits and acquire an appreciation for things that are better for you though perhaps harder to access.

The truth is in our society, food is easy. Fast food for it’s quick carbs and easy availability is as ubiquitous as smog. It’s always been faster to do a drive through than a sit down and it’s now cheaper to go out that cook at home. Fast food, once the exception, a treat for special occasions on the road. and that day when you’re out of of leftovers, is the standard and everything else, vegetables and roasts, must fight for attention against it and is the holiday exception to pizza and ten inch “foot long” sandwiches.

I make the connection to entertainment. There’s a fast food variety of story telling. Like McDonalds we’ve all been raised on it. Unless we had a couple of hippie parents who pulled the cable and fed you kale and organic cheeses, you are accustomed to the three act structure and the fifteen point Save the Cat narrative timing. You can sense a coming reveal by the commercial breaks and are confident that you can plug away on your iPad sure that you can passively absorb the explanations at the end with little need to digest more than the quick cutting and special effects. The same plots and characters, situations and timings, like Taco Bell’s famous six ingredients, are rearranged slightly, renamed and then served in disposable cartons. It is ideal for the lazy consumer and a population of jaded entertainment junkies with short attention spans strung out on instant gratification and reruns.

It’s not healthy.

But it sells.

Books are better than most entertainment delivery devices. They books cater to a different audience, one willing to dedicate real time and actively—yes, I said ACTIVELY, participate in their own entertainment. But there is still a fast food component to the mass market. Stereotypical plots and characters, patterned structure, voice and pacing dominate the publishing world. Poor writing is excused and artless tropes are allowed for the literary equivalent of explosions.

I’m often surprised by how shallow some modern books are, how they don’t experiment or express, how their themes are as simple and accessible as a car commercial’s. How they are meant to be consumed, forgotten and thrown away—the very notion originally behind the invention of the paperback novel, I might add.

The problem lies in the self-replicating expectation of easily digestible story-telling. There is no patience for difference. Nowhere do I see this more evident than when I’m trying to get a book picked up. The hook—the almighty hook—is all that matters. Dare, as I often do, to create a slow build for greater later effect and you’ll most likely be passed over, called “boring” or “slow.” It’s an insult of course, and usually says more about the reader than the writer who might very well know what they’re doing. The problem, my dear Horatio, is that there are more things in heaven and earth… than are dreamt of in your philosophy. The narrow-minded, sugar-craved, consumer-centric stereo-type focussed editor gives little opportunity for an artist to push boundaries of thought and expression and share their art. You can still make it, but god help you getting it past such gatekeepers to put it effectively before the public.

Long Arc - not so new after all
The sad truth is the editors think they know their audience, but I’m not sure they do. They know the disposable stories, the retreads and flavors of the months. They keep the pipeline full of safe saccharine stories, ignoring the exciting stuff that connoisseurs hunger for. It’s telling that occasionally someone will take a chance with something new and it’ll be a hit. Look at Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones, for. the impossible multi-year, long arc fiction, or The Revenant, an Oscar winning movie with less dialog than a Swedish porn. Not all flavors are for all people, but given a chance they can find an audience. Arrival blew everyone's mind because it was structured to theme and challenged the audience to understand. And they did. These broke convention and were successful, like a quality steak house in a strip mall, or a vegan kiosk in the food court. People cannot live on junk alone.

It’s risky to break out of the patterns, to celebrate novelty over imitation, but eventually these very safe techniques get old. Movies bomb, pizza franchises fold, and vampires are not longer chic.

I’m sick of superheroes and space teenagers, speeding cars and orange fireballs. Italicized thought bubbles and dragon riding love-sick pubescents. I crave adults. I want some depth and meaning. Repercussions and theme. Yes, theme—what are you trying to tell me?

True art, like healthy food is out there, but usually not promoted. Word of mouth and active pursuit are required to find it. It’s hard.

Was this book any good
because not even The Wachowskis
could save the movie.
There’ll always be a place for the fast food, the for the mental margarita. Michael Bay will be in demand for a while still, Burger King ain’t going anywhere, but there is more than constantly shooting for and accepting the lowest common denominator. Not everything needs to be all things to all people.

Living on fast food is unhealthy for a person and a society. It reinforces laziness and conformity while promoting the basest affinities of taste. The problem is that we’re so used it, inundated with it. All the promotion goes to it. Unless we force ourselves to turn away, it’s all we’re fed. We must consciously find alternatives, boycott the crap. Once we break out of the habit, we can realize how unhealthy it’s all been and how wonderful the other possibilities really are.

Culture will move on eventually, if only from boredom, and those tales that managed to be brought out only to be forgotten may yet be found to be one of those wonderful things called "ahead of their time," "cult classics," and "avant-garde."

In the meantime, I'm sick of the pablum, the fourth grade reasoning levels, and simplistic designs of most of our stories.  I have a personal hunger to experience something other than a re-tread and a professional desire to find editors with vision who’ll see difference not as wrong, but as, well… different. Gatekeepers who can think beyond paint-by-numbers simplicity and appreciate the beauty of a rough edge, an unfinished phrase, a new pattern, a different pace, a thematic moment or an interpretative ending that all conspire a greater artistic whole.

You know, nutrition.