Does Your Story Need That?

A lot of these blog posts are fairly light, but we’re about to dive into some more serious subject matter. Prejudice, Sexual Politics, and Violence. I’m not planning on getting too specific, but if it’s the thing you might not want to read about, you have been warned.

Part of writing a story is knowing what you need to put into it and what you can do without. Among all the talk of plotting and character arcs and worldbuilding and theme, we often don’t get down to specifics. Every story is its own animal, and every story has its own needs.

The foundation of fiction is that it is imagined. This truth is usually sidestepped by both author and audience because if we acknowledge that a story isn’t “real” in even the smallest way it can be seen as robbing of it of its value.… Read the rest “Does Your Story Need That?”

Mission Statements

Let’s talk Mission Statements.

The term has become a cliche, one that’s hard to take seriously. But I’m here to try to redeem the idea because good writing almost always has a mission statement, even if that isn’t immediately obvious.

Stripping away most of the baggage from the word, a mission statement is a driving goal, a thing to focus on when in doubt. It doesn’t have to be the only purpose, but it is an important purpose. Generally, I think it’s important that when I write I have a mission statement in mind.

Not always, and not always at the beginning of a story. It doesn’t have to be there right away, but that goal should show up eventually and it almost always ends up affecting my rewrites and editing process. Once I know what a story is trying to accomplish, I know where to focus my energies, and storytelling is all about focus.… Read the rest “Mission Statements”

The Prophecies of Kimberly, From Accounts Payable

I asked Twitter to give me a cliche they were particularly tired of to see if I could do anything interesting with it without having to completely subvert it. This is the result.

The chosen tropes are Destiny, The Chosen One, and Secret Relative. Hope you like it.


The interviewer sat behind a small metal desk in a cramped brightly lit room. She glanced at her paperwork, then at Hanifa, then wrote something down.

“Sorry I’m late,” said Hanifa, catching the nervous energy in her own voice. Her inability to tamp it down didn’t trouble her. People were nervous during job interviews. It was normal, expected. “I couldn’t catch a cab. And when I did catch a cab, I left my phone in it by accident and wasn’t sure which building it was.”

The interviewer said nothing, only scribbled on her papers.… Read the rest “The Prophecies of Kimberly, From Accounts Payable”

Women and Other Alien Creatures


I’m in the process of rereading your catalogue, studying how you put a story together and how it has changed over time. I’m intrigued that you write using female protagonists, and do so quite well nearly all the times you do so. Would you expand upon this and its process?


There’s a lot to this question, and I can’t possibly break it all down in one post, but I can cover the generalities.

Yes, I use a lot of female protagonists in my stories. This wasn’t always true. My first efforts, all those unpublished novels I wrote while in the aspiring phase of my career, had male protagonists. They had female characters in them, but they were always in a supporting character role, and while female characters tended to get more of the spotlight with each story, it wasn’t until I wrote A Nameless Witch that I went with a female protagonist.… Read the rest “Women and Other Alien Creatures”

The End of Kings

From the Action Force Mailbag:

What is one fantasy trope that annoys you the most?


I struggled to answer with this. In the end, it’s all about execution. Anything I would suggest could be properly executed somewhere, and it’s all personal.

I dislike the deconstruction of “Evil Superman”, for example. Not the idea of a villain with incredible powers. There are plenty of those to go around. But there is a common idea that the edgiest thing one can do is create a version of Superman that is outwardly a hero but inwardly an egotistical, arrogant, possibly dull-witted, jerk. I rarely find that interesting, though there are exception.

I’m not crazy about zombie stories and, specifically, I’m not a fan of “Who is the real monster?” tropes where the humans turn on each other and cause as much or more damage than the zombies.… Read the rest “The End of Kings”

Why, Constance, Why?

Time to dig in the ol’ Action Force Mailbag, and see what comes up? I don’t get a lot of mail, so maybe if I answer more often that will change. And, hey, what better excuse to sit down and address you, my sem-adoring public?

Today’s Question:

I was wondering why you keep writing more of Constance Verity, among all the other wonderful universes you have created? I would so love another Earl/Duke – Emperor – Nessie – Mack story, and there at least seems to be as much scope for furthering the story in any one of these as you could find for Constance.

Ever since my first book I’ve been asked this question, in one form or another, about nearly every book I’ve written. One of my favorite things about my body of work is that everyone has their own favorite novel, and while some are definitely more popular than others, every book has its fans.… Read the rest “Why, Constance, Why?”

What I Read & Reading Recommendations

Writers often get asked what books they’re reading. It makes sense. It shows our influences, and if you like what we write, maybe you’ll like what we read. No guarantees, but it’s not a bad place to start.

The truth is that I don’t read as much as I used to. Part of this is just a change in culture. There’s a ton of media vying for our attention. I used to watch a heck of a lot more TV as well. I’m more unforgiving of my media than I used to be. Stuff that would’ve kept me engaged ten years ago doesn’t always make the cut.

The other part is that as a writer, I’m busier writing novels, meaning reading is often on the back burner.

And the other part though is that I’ve never had much of a tolerance for long books.… Read the rest “What I Read & Reading Recommendations”

Q&A, Quarantine Edition

You’ve probably already talked about this, but what inspired you to write Gil’s All Fright Diner? Do you live in a rural area? Are you a big Monstervision fan? Your heroes and villains in that are so distinct. Were they at all inspired by people you know?


Yes, I’ve talked about this frequently. Gil’s All Fright Diner is my first novel. (Well, first published novel, but let’s not get bogged down in technicalities since it really isn’t even that if we get down to semantics.) It’s also still one of my most popular. If I could point you to an older entry in the blog, I’d do so, but since rebooting, that’s lost to history. So why not talk about it again?

It’s not always easy to trace the origins and inspirations of a particular novel because it’s rarely as simple as X inspired me to write a book.… Read the rest “Q&A, Quarantine Edition”

Dragons, Wizards, and Other Story Distractions

Star Wars is not about the Force.

Terminator is not about Time Travel.

Harry Potter, believe it or not, isn’t about Magic.

One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that you should never mistake a plot device for the reason the story exists in the first place.

I could go on.

Iron Man is not about How to Build a Suit of Power Armor.

Doctor Strange is not about How the Metaphysics of Magic Would Actually Work.

Lord of the Rings isn’t about the Rings.

In all the above examples and a hundred others I could name these elements help keep the story moving, perhaps even start it going. But this isn’t the same thing as being what the story is about. Confusing that leads to a lot of weird places.

One of the reasons the term Plot Hole is so overused is that it is often thrown at elements that are there to get the story going, but aren’t supposed to really be that important.… Read the rest “Dragons, Wizards, and Other Story Distractions”

Camp Sunshine

No one went to Camp Sunshine after the third massacre.

One massacre was just a thing that happened. Two was an unfortunate coincidence. Three was enough to discourage the most determined thrill seekers. The camp was abandoned, and it would remain abandoned for decades.

But kids with nothing better to do or in desperate need of privacy would park on the outskirts, beneath the old faded camp billboard just off the interstate, and do things they couldn’t do anywhere else.

Emmett leaned closer to Meadow. His breath reeked of alcohol and pot. His hand strayed up her knee, under he skirt. She stopped his progress but didn’t push him away.

“Hey, baby, come on,” he cooed, shaking his head, trying to get his overgrown bangs out of his eyes. He reminded her of one of those cartoon characters with the top of their face always obscured by some hair or a hat.… Read the rest “Camp Sunshine”