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.


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.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Betwixt the holidays blahs

It's that pensive in between time betwixt Christmas and New Year where little gets done besides self-loathing, promises to do better and eating. Best I can do today at The Blog Mansion is to cross link the questions for my recent MFA YA Q&A. See? I'm useful.

Thanks for all your support.

Read my books.

Thursday, December 22, 2016


Hey everyone. Happy Holidays!

Today after a brief break to celebrate BEATRYSEL with the BEATRYSEL HOLIDAY EVENT,  I'm back to talking YA. If you didn't see the BEATRYSEL post, well, you should go. There's still a give-away I think and some cool videos.

Today, to round out the year, I'm completing the MFA YA Q&A.

If you remember I was approached by a friend of mine who is getting her MFA and working on a project about Young Adult Literature. She gave me a five questions and I thoughtfully answered them. Liking them so much, and needing blog material, I've presented them here. Here are the previous questions.

1. What does the term "young adult literature" mean to you as an author?

2. What do you believe makes a novel young adult?

3. What made you want to write a young adult novel (or market Eleanor, Celeste, and David as such)?

4. Do you believe young adult novels have literary value? How so or why not?

Today Question 5: What do you believe the future of young adult literature entails?

One thing about literary books is that they often have reference to the history. To truly understand what a “literary” author is saying often requires a certain degree of literacy. From Sophocles to Salinger, there is a western literary tradition that needs to be understood. Young adult books tend to be more immediate, without the history or baggage of books traditionally considered to be literary, and that’s okay. They’re creating their own history. It’s a bit like fast food; it may not have all the nutrition you want, but it’ll keep you going. It might be the best shake you ever had, but there’s still something missing. The goal is to get readers interested with the flashy YA and lure them to keep reading and grow into intelligent, literate readers from any foundation.

With any luck young adult readers today will stay readers tomorrow. Young adult books are necessarily restrictive. Among other things, there’s a certain “limited attention span” prejudice about them shared by agents and editors as well as authors, (I’m not convinced about readers). Complexities aren’t really welcome in the YA universes as a rule. Black and white sides, clean exits, right and wrong, clear choices are a hallmark of juvenile literature. It’s comforting and popular to all ages and, as the average American claims less than an eighth grade reading level, it’ll probably remain the norm for all popular narrative for the foreseeable future. It’s a comment on our culture as much as anything and the arguments for and against long form fiction, literariness and complexities will rage on.

And so young adult fiction is here to stay.

Consider this; if nothing else we are a “youth-loving” society and mass market narrative, be it books, film or TV is centered around the young who are said to have disposable income enough to consume such things. Art is one thing, but economics is another and the popularity and demographics of YA will cement it for a long time.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

BEATRYSEL holiday event

This week I'm celebrating the birthday of my first girl, my beloved BEATRYSEL. Three years ago she was first published, setting in motion my writing career. My lovely publisher Kate Jones at Omnium Gatherum has renewed our contract and so BEATRYSEL continues to haunt bookshelves.

Unsatisfied with the ancient grimoires, the Magus made his own. Unsatisfied with the ancient demons, the Magus made Beatrysel. She was a creature of love. But there is no love without hate, no light without darkness, no loyalty without betrayal. And demons are greedy for flesh.

BEATRYSEL is a story of power and hubris, jealousy, love, and magick. Murder and sacrifice. It is a modern Faust set in the American Northwest where the cold winter rain melts the barriers between what is real and what is more real. It is a battle between power-hungry magicians, serial killers and jilted dying lovers.

Man I love this book.

Check out these videos about BEATRYSEL.

To celebrate and take advantage of the season, we’re putting BEATRYSEL on sale for a couple of days. The Kindle version is only 99¢ for a very limited time and if you order through OG’s web page HERE you can pick up the stylish paperback for a mere $9.99. An ideal stocking stuffer for big socks and occult thriller buffs. And of course, what literary celebration should be complete without a give-away? Sign up below and enter to win a signed copy.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


Today we look at question #4 from the questions I answered for an MFA candidate concerning Young Adult Literature.

The question and links to the previous ones:

1. What does the term "young adult literature" mean to you as an author?

2. What do you believe makes a novel young adult?

3. What made you want to write a young adult novel (or market Eleanor, Celeste, and David as such)?

4. Do you believe young adult novels have literary value? How so or why not?

5. What do you believe the future of young adult literature entails?

This week:

4. Do you believe young adult novels have literary value? How so or why not?

Absolutely they have literary value. First, as art, it carries on the traditions of the art, whether it likes it or not. Second, and this is probably the most realistic and far reaching argument, young adult books are being read. Love it or hate it Stephanie Myer's Twilight cannot be ignored as a cultural artifact. Harry Potter is now ingrained in our western consciousness more than Dickens’ Oliver Twist (who was thought of as trashy throw-away literature in his time, by the way).

One of the arguments of literary value must be an artifact’s cultural impact. Young Adult is ruling this today. Though I’ll grant that it’s the films that are imprinting on the masses more than the books, the books have not been ignored and are read even by people who generally don’t read. Young adult books lead the way here. Since young adults read, and their minds are impressionable, the impact of YA books on the society cannot be downplayed or ignored for it’s influence there. Add to this the multi-media access to YA stories and it’s a perfect storm of influence in American culture. These are the heroes of our time. All respect to Jonathan Franzen, but his characters have nothing on Katniss Everdeen for longevity or impact.