Wednesday, April 26, 2017

WHAT IMMORTAL HAND Cover Reveal

It is with great pride and excitement that today I reveal the cover for my upcoming book, WHAT IMMORTAL HAND.

It is a dark tale of a dark journey, a psychological odyssey that tested me and my skill. I'm very proud of it.

Without further ado, I present the cover for WHAT IMMORTAL HAND.




Coming this September from Omnium Gatherum Media.



Wednesday, April 19, 2017

420 - Thoughts of Hunter


Today’s a holiday for some people. Underground and subversive, spoke of in gasps as one tries not to exhale. And on this day I find myself in Las Vegas and my thoughts naturally turn to my youth when I explored this city with rock and roll ringing in my ears, chemicals in my veins, and the words of Hunter S. Thompson gathering that energy together, focussing it, and fixing it into an idea transcendent of my own experience and time.

An entire generation joined the good doctor on his journey of self and social discovery. These were the wide-eyed and cynical counter-culture revolutionaries who bought a ticket and took the ride. He took them to the edge, or at least showed them the way. I discovered him late historically, but personally, he arrived at the perfect time.

Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
My brother McKeen had introduced me to Hunter S. Thompson,  but it was my peers who gave him life. Like a debauched book club, my group of friends all read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas one year in preparation for our annual pilgrimage to see the Dead down there. The book, like those pilgrimages, changed my life.

My speed has changed since those days. This trip to Vegas is not fueled as before with drugs whose name it is illegal to speak in most places or with the friends who shined with me, but aren’t with me, and some who never will be again. But I remember and I will miss them all and wish I could have my youth again—not to change a thing, but to make more of the days that were the exception to "normal," because those are the days I remember. Those are the days whose fire still flares into flame and in whose hot embers I test all I know and want.

Today, now, here in Vegas–underbelly of the US, I particularly miss Thompson’s wit and clarity. I pray that somewhere now in our current social crisis there is a voice like his rising to light the way, a voice of the authentic and debached. A insane voice of reason in madness.

If there is, I bet that voice knows what day it is.

Today, in Vegas, I will l drink Kentucky bourbon in honor of Kentucky’s son. I will worry about the future, of politics and the planet. Of human rights and insatiable greed. I will think no one has ever had it as hard as we have now. I will lose hope, and then I will climb to a high window, or find a hill, and using eyes Hunter shaped, I will peer west and and remember this passage:

“Strange memories on this nervous night in Las Vegas. Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era—the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run . . . but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant. . . .

History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time—and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.

...

There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda. . . . You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. . . .

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.” 

― Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas


That always gets me. I take hope from it and with the right kind of eyes, it makes me search the horizon for the next wave.


Happy 420!



Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Artist and the Salesman


I’m reading a book on writing books penned by an agent. It’s not one of the big agents (see below) and it’s not the first like it I’ve read. This time however, I’m seeing it with new eyes. I’m really noticing the disconnect and the difference between the artist and salesman. The book, like others like it, states unequivocally the pocket logic of not to write to the market but then, as is also the way of these books. goes on to spend the next thee hundred pages telling you exactly how to do just that.

Using examples from once in a lifetime efforts, fads and flash-in-the-pans, from lucky authors who caught lightning in a bottle are gems like these:

Just come up with a great idea and write that.

Tense doesn’t matter but don’t use present.

Always have a romance, but let the story dictate.

Your story should be as long as it needs to be, but don’t go over 80,000 words.

Your story must be High Concept (explainable in a single sentence) or don’t bother submitting it. 

I feel for the agent who advises authors. They want to celebrate the art, but they’re not on that side; they’re on the business side. They need to push easily digestible junk food pulp and hope something in their catalog will nourish their readers enough to keep them coming back.

But what I really hate about these kinds of how-to advice columns is how the agent’s prejudices and experiences are melted down to a kind of formula. I hate that. I don’t believe in it. It’s a personal grudge, one that grew out of books on writing by agents and also from the infamous screenwriting bible SAVE THE CAT.

Remember 1984, George Orwells’ formulaic market chasing junk food political thriller? If I remember it right, there was a division in the Ministry of Truth, that actually produced books on an assembly line according to a pattern. Smut and violence for the masses. Artless consumer goods.

The idea that art—my art-—can be summed up into a formula is a horror.

It’s not that formulas don’t work, it’s that people grow so used to them that they see anything outside it as wrong. I see new editors really struggle with this. A cookie-cutter mentality of reproduction. It’s a prejudice, and I use that word deliberately, with all the social emphasis I can because these are the guidelines agents and editors use to judge the merit of a book without actually reading it. They close their minds to the new. They give lip service to originality, but that’s not what they’re looking for. They cherish the artist, but sign the hack. It’s safer to let only the High Concept, 70,000 word Young Adult Romantic Time Traveling adventure through than to investigate a book whose author couldn’t sum it up in a soundbite. I get it, but it’s ugly.

Worse, new writers who get their hands on an agent-written book on writing are apt to write while looking over their shoulder. Instead of investigating their question, following the path of their muse, they’ll pound square pegs into round holes because an expert told them to do it that way.

Next week I’m going to Las Vegas. I’m attending the Las Vegas Writer's Conference put on by the Henderson Writing Group. It looks absolutely amazing. I’m really stoked. I get to talk facets and theme to the desert tribe. I get to wax poetic on pain and the transcendental experience expression and language. Then I’m spending a day with Donald Maass. If you don’t know who that is, you’ve haven’t started querying agents yet. If I had to name the biggest, most influential agents on the planet, I’d say Donald Maass and then shut up. He’s written a half dozen books on writing. I haven’t read his (yet) but they’re best sellers and I have some on my shelf and will doubtlessly pick up the ones I don’t have while I’m down there. He’s putting on a full day seminar and I’ll be there taking advantage of the rare opportunity to breath to same air as he. I’m sure I’ll get lots of golden nuggets about the industry, but I’m not sure I’ll learn much about the art. I’m steeling myself for it. I know I’ll question everything I’ve written, everything I am writing, everything I want to write. I have little doubt I’ll be hit by a brick of inadequacy during his workshop and question my entire career because it has not been as commercial is might otherwise be.

A one saving grace that agents can’t conceal in their commercial recipe is that the books they point to as great, innovative and industry-changing all broke previously established rules and expectations. Present tense was bad, until THE HUNGER GAMES. You’ve got to have a strong romantic element, until HARRY POTTER. Literary fiction is dead until Cormac McCarthy. You must have sympathetic characters until GIRL ON THE TRAIN.

The other thing about popular books, the blockbusters, the best-sellers to remember is that they also got god-damned lucky. They were the right thing at the right time with the right people backing it. Knowing this, and remembering it, are what keeps me going because I can’t write as the agents tell me.

I’m justifying, I know. But I’ve done that my whole life. I’m not a copy. I’m an individual. I rebel against convention, hipster that I am. Some of your rules I like (bathing, commas) others I don’t (sugar sodas, seven point plots). I think of myself as an artist before a salesman and find truth in my writing because of it, though possibly not the sales I might have had otherwise.

David Morrell once told me, it’s better to an authentic you than a counterfeit other. Taking advice from the commercial side of publishing suggests, against all their lip service, that the counterfeit is what you need to be.

Bullshit. I’ll stick with Dave.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

WHAT IMMORTAL HAND

Buckle up. I have a new book coming out. WHAT IMMORTAL HAND.

The Dark Mother loves her children and beckons them home when they’re lost.

What begins as a routine investigation of a hijacked truck turns into a desperate and personal quest for memories, faith, and meaning. The answers to these, for Michael Oswald, like the strangled cries of a thousand murdered travelers, is found in the dark heart of an ancient cult of killers.

Michael is called of God, just not that God.


WHAT IMMORTAL HAND is an upmarket, adult occult-horror. Literary and dark, It is a road trip across American wastelands into the depths of spiritual shadow. The Dark Mother, Kali, has come to the New World and her children thrive.

Well researched and imagined, in the tradition of Dan Simmons’ Song of Kali, throbbing with symbolism and epic undertones, What Immortal Hand answer’s William’s Blake famous question from The Tyger: “What immortal hand or eye, Could frame thy fearful symmetry?” It is the Goddess Kali, consort of Shiva, Lord of Destruction. Through her worshipers, the Faithful Tigers—The Thugs of old, she culls the roads of travelers and prepares the fires of renewal.



Coming September 2017 from Omnium Gatherum.


Cover Reveal April 27, 2017.



Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Horror University Interview

As part of my upcoming class at StokerCon 2017, Horror University, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by internet computer gadgetry. Here's the result. 

Enjoy. 

I hope to see you at StokerCon for Mistakes Were Made.





Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Rant About the Glacial Pace of Querying

In my time as an author, that is a writer consciously and deliberately trying to make a career out of a passion, I’ve learned much about production and rejection but also something about delay.

Delay.

Ah, delay.

Delay is the unforeseen irritant that irks me no little bit in this job and I’m here today to talk about it.

I realized early that the only real control I have in this occupation is contained exclusively in my writing. The expression and work of the creative process. That is mine. There It is pure and though maybe not finished, it’s where my wishes are going to find the easiest outlet. After that, it becomes a cooperative effort and it gets muddy. And slow. Slow. Slow…

Beta-readers take for ever. No offense to you wonderful people willing to delve into a book that’s still got it’s sharp edges, but as a writer, anxious to move along, feeling the cold hand of death reaching for him, any delay is a trial. It’s the artist’s angst. As professional as I want to be, I also need validation and so the delay here is taken personally. Nothing for it though, people are busy and I need people. I write this off as part of the process.

There are other delays in creation, like editing and re-writes, back to readers, but these are creative for the most part.

The real hell comes once it’s sent out for query. Let me explain it for you.

Querying is a nerve-wracking, soul-crushing exercise of masochistic torture that drives most would-be authors out of the business. I’ve queried a lot. Lots and lots. I have a door covered with my rejection notices. I didn’t dare hang it on the load bearing wall. Rejections are part of the game. There’re lots of reasons to be rejected and you try not to take it personally, though, again, it’s your baby and you’re going to damn well take it personally. Once you start querying, it’s a numbers game and rejections flow back to you like the little bird that you’re supposed to set free if you love, but it comes back and poops on your head before ruining your garden.

But what makes it worse, what makes querying really suck is how long it takes. If you get a response right away from an agent or an editor, it’s a rejection. Count on it. They decide on a NO must faster than a YES. Don’t worry though, these are few and far between. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a form letter rejection six months after you sent your query. Six months. Form letter. Yep. Lucky us.

They weren't pondering the whole time. No. Not at all. They made their decision instantly, it's just that takes that long for editors to get through their slush piles. Six months is common. I’m still getting rejections for ELEANOR three years after it was published! That’s how glacial this business is.

Mostly though, you won’t get as much as a form letter back. There’ll be a line of small print on a website saying that if you haven’t heard back within 8 weeks assume it’s a no. On pins and needles for eight weeks and by the time their intern reads your cover letter, the new craze is space chicks in leotards fighting bird men and your tender character study ain’t getting past the freshman Communications Major whose boyfriend just left her for a Slovakian exchange student.

What I’m saying is that the process is long and delayed. Agents and editors are swamped. Their interns (like themselves) are underpaid and overworked and everyone with a word processor is trying to be a writer.

Strange as it sounds, no news is often good news. If they don’t have the eight weeks, "we’re really deleting every query as they come in” notice buried on their webpage, a long delay can be seen as a good thing. The story interests them and the delay might be the book being bantered around the office, or set on the agenda for a mythical upcoming meeting. Maybe. We can hope, right?

The holidays hurt. Between Thanksgiving and New Years no one reads queries. You want a surefire rejection? Send your book during the agent’s vacation and Christmas party. There’s a reason so many rejections go out in November—they’re clearing their box for the season.

Eventually (one can hope) comes the magical moment when the stars align and you get the mythical Request For Manuscript. After only nine months, the letter arrives and they’re going to look at your book! Hallelujah! Within the hour (since this is in your control) the files go out and your excitement is uncontrollable.

For a year.

Until they reject it with an letter saying they liked X and Y but Z left them cold. And then there's the fighting space chicks in leotards.

This is not a theoretical situation here. This has happened to me several times. You think a regular rejection hurts? Try getting one after a RFM and a long wait with a big house. Carrie Fisher, actress and writer, had her ashes placed in an urn the shape of a Prozac tablet. Yeah, she was an author.

My method of surviving all this was to query on. Whenever I got a rejection, I’d send five more out that day. I took them at their word that this was a subjection decision and I should keep trying. So I did. Not do. Did.

Now I have an agent and much of the pain is taken from me, but not the delay. I have a little more now too, because she's a human and adds delays of her own. Before I’d send out 5-20 queries a week. Now we’re being more precise and perfect and targeted. I’ve traded in a scattergun for a sniper rifle. But the delays are still there.

They're always there.

Glacial, heart-wrenching delays for a half dozen books waiting for rejections.

Waiting for the chance to wait longer when it's picked up and enters the slow publication process. <sigh>

Such is the nature of the business. If you’re in a hurry, this is not the business for you. Small presses take months, big presses years. Agents are hens teeth and editors use interns who weren’t reading when you wrote your book. What a business.

I return to the only place that I ever had control, the nucleus of this madness. The art. I write and I carry on.

Waiting.



Wednesday, March 8, 2017

League of Utah Writers 2017 Spring Conference


I am stoked to announce the upcoming League of Utah Writers Spring Conference to be held at on April 8th, 2017 at the Taylorsville campus of Salt Lake Community College.(4600 South Redwood Road, Salt Lake City, UT 84123)

Last year was the best attended Spring Conference The League has ever had. Hundreds of people were there to take advantage of this intense half-day event. We had twenty five hours of classes, panels and presentations about writing. This year, we’ve increased that to thirty-five. It’s going to be awesome. Beyond the classes, we’re also offering practice pitch sessions with agents and experts along with manuscript critiques from established editors. All this for the low low cost of $25 for League Members. It’s $50 for non-league, so you might as well join the league for for $25 and then come. AT the door, the price is $75.





As president Elect of the League, this conference is my baby, so I’m hoping lots and lots of people come and learn even more. It’s about giving back and he Spring Conference is full of mentors at all levels. See you writing types there!


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

LITERARY QUERYING-THE ART OF REJECTION

The next class I’m teaching at the University of Utah Lifelong Learning Center will be LITERARY QUERYING-THE ART OF REJECTION. This will be the second time I’ve taught this course, though I’ve lived it for my entire career.

The class began as a one hour presentation for writers at conferences. It was a good follow-up for my signature class A NOVEL IN 90 DAYS, FAKE IT ’TIL YOU MAKE, an inspirational class to get writers in the proper delusional mindset to strive for literary success, or at least finish a novel.

I’ve expanded my original presentation about tools to have ready and ripe, forms and formats, markets and rejection, to include things I’ve learned from being an acquisitions editor. I take pitches, I comb the slush pile, I edit books for publication. Working the other side of the process has been eye-opening. I also have new experiences with agents and higher publishing goals as my career has progressed.

No one told me any of this going in. Everything I teach here I learned the hard way. That is to say, that this class is the class I wish I’d have found early my career. It’s about the things no one tells you about.

The game is fixed. It’s never been a meritocracy. It’s about luck and sunspots, positioning and readiness. It’s about war—being prepared and organized. The class teaches what weapons you’ll need, how to sharpen them, and where to position yourself for the best chance to use them.

The class is heavy on workshop. We critique the stuff we assemble, be it the first pages (hook), blurb, synopsis or the all-powerful query letter. Once properly armed, our intrepid hero-authors will be equipped to set out upon their quests for publishing glory.

The class begins March 21st and runs for six weeks on Tuesday evenings, 6:30-9:00 at the main University of Utah Campus in the annex building. Here’s the link.


Space is limited and I don't know when the course will come back around.

One last word, the class is geared to authors who have finished a work that they wish to query. If your book isn’t done yet, I’d suggest you put your time there. We’ll catch you on the next one. Check back.



Wednesday, February 22, 2017

MISTAKES WERE MADE

You might not know, but I’m moonlighting as an acquisitions editor for Omnium Gatherum, a dark fiction press out of Los Angeles who gave me my start with my debut BEATRYSEL and may have more treats in store for me (hint hint). As an editor, I take pitches at conventions and I weed through the slush pile of submissions making suggestions on which books we should publish, then I edit them with the author and we all retire to the Bahamas (some of this is true).

The work I do for OG has been invaluable in understanding the industry from the other side. Not only must I endure the unending flow of rejections I still get as a writer, I now get to give them out. Good times. But the process is no longer as mysterious as it once was.

 I’ve made it a mission to share all hard won knowledge I’ve come across in my journey into literature and so have put together a hands-on editing class, delving into the slush pile mistakes that will jettison a manuscript before the second page is turned.

I often say, there are no rules to writing. Many editors would disagree with me, but they’re wrong. What matters is effective communication. Every rule, even grammar and spelling are up for grabs and debate. This is art. 

Nevertheless… There are conventions and stylistic tropes that modern audiences prefer. Styles change, fashions and tastes are constantly in flux, often influenced by the newest best seller. Remember when first person present tense was a terrible idea? It was before The Hunger Games. Now you can’t swing a dead cliche without hitting a book in first person. We’ll see if this is an enduring trend or not, but certain conventions once thought new have endured and now define modern writing.

Like passive tense. “The deck was made last summer by my uncle.” Not an error in and of itself, but it is considered “weak” in comparison to active tenses. “My uncle made the deck last summer.” The first example is a perfectly good construction, gets all the information out and relieves the uncle of direct responsibility (which is why it’s weak and why presidents often say “mistakes were made” instead of “I screwed up.”) Passive voice, right as it is, will likely piss off an editor if over used. But luckily it's easy to fix.

Remember the two parts of a query: The synopsis showing the idea, and the writing example showing the execution: The best idea poorly executed is a failure. The best execution of a poor idea will often still get published. Execution trumps idea.

I’ve made a list “mistakes” I’ve encountered over my literary career some as obvious as passives, some as hidden as scaffolding that weaken prose to the point that I won’t dig through them find the underlying idea. These are often very simple to address. I have designed a class to share these finds show their remedies. I call it “MISTAKES WERE MADE.”

MISTAKES WERE MADE will debut this April in Long Beach aboard the Queen Mary at StokerCon 2017 as a two hour course within Horror University. If you’re going to StokerCon (and you should be), sign up for my class. I promise you’ll get hands on experience and useful “actionable intelligence” to better wage your war against the gatekeepers of publishing. There’s not better way to learn than by actually doing and we’ll be actually doing it. Not all editors are writers, but all writers better be editors.

Pencils required.



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.