My Favorites

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

More on Inspiration

I wrote before, that to be inspired, I write  But you knew there had to be more to it than that--didn't you?  There is.  I'm not sure exactly what inspiration is.  I just get ideas.  When I get an idea, I write it down.  Some are mundane.  Some are more than mundane.  I turn them all into writing.  The point is, when I get an idea, I write it down.  That way I won't loose it.  I keep a couple of idea books around.  One I carry everywhere, and the other one is by my bed.  If I get an idea in the middle of the night, I write it down.  I have a list of Military Aviation Adventures I will write about.  The list comes from my experiences in military aviation.  When I remember an experience, I add it to the list.  The list is about 200 ideas long--enough for 200 short pieces (3000 to 6000 words).  When I read the paper, if I get worked up about some item of news, I don't seethe about it--I write it down in an essay or opinion piece.  Many of these pieces are never published, but I write them anyway.  The point is to be inspired by life and the record that inspiration.  Imagine your life as exciting and inspiring.  Imagine your characters and your writing as exciting and inspiring.  This is how you develop ideas and get them on to paper.

Another point that likely requires an even longer post: I don't write about myself.  Even when I am the main character in a Military Aviation Adventure, I don't write about myself.  I'm not living vicariously through my own writing.  I don't try to make myself the hero of my fiction.  This is something many authors don't seem to understand.  They are all about turning their mundane persons into an exciting fictional character.  If they do, their characters aren't real and everyone can tell.  That's why blog writers and writers who convey themselves with all their faults are more popular than those who don't.  Of course some blog writers and self aggrandisers make up the stuff to sound more pathetic.  They should stick to fiction.  This is why I say--don't write about yourself.  My old self who lived those Military Aviation Adventures is much different than the self I am today.  I don't write about myself.  More than that, though my opinions and ideas surely come through in my writing, that is not wholly my intent.  My intent is only to get the theme through to the reader in an entertaining fashion.  I don't really want to put up a soapbox and have my characters pontificate on my opinions.  I put words in the mouths of my characters that I don't agree with.  I don't like some of my characters.  I don't like some of the characteristics of my heros and heroines.  I don't write about myself; I give life to characters who are entertaining and who appear real.  They are separate and different from me or they wouldn't be real--they would just be clones of me.  Maybe I should develop this point in more depth tomorrow.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Centurion reader comments

Google alerts found this for me about Centurion at "So I finished reading "Centurion" by L.D. Alford a while back. If you want to know how legionaries trained, how they rose through the ranks, and how they actually fought, this book gives a good account. Apparently, the author visited Rome, Jerusalem, and other places to learn first-hand what was required to make a legionary.

Most members of R.A.T. probably already know most of the information outlined in the book, but despite my decades of interest in the topic of Rome's legions, I've only just now, within the last year, begun taking time to research. So this book was good for me, a newbie to the Roman way of training, using and disciplining troops. I really enjoyed it."
I really appreciated the comments by this reader.  I wanted to point out some information that most wouldn't know.  Because research for the novel came almost exclusively from ancient primary sources it has more basis than almost any other work of historical fiction on the subject of the Roman Legions in the first half of the first century.  There are few technical histories that cover the Legion in this degree of detail or understanding.  Not to mention, that as the reader implies, the novel is fun because it shows you how the Legions trained and doesn't tell you, like a technical paper would. 
Centurion is a compendium of information gleaned from ancient works in mostly Latin and Greek.  Archeology and other historical information went into the work to round out the knowledge of daily life during the time.  If you are interested in the Roman Legion or the history of the Levant during the first century, this is a book you should read.  You can read about my other novels and writing at  I also write about modern military aviation at  Check out the Military Aviation Adventures there.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Inspiration!  Just how do you get it, and what about "good" inspiration.  If you want to be inspired--write.  That's it.  Inspiration is enveloped in the process or writing.  I see writing as cathartic.  You fill up your brain with good things and out comes great writing.  This means you can't write well unless you are steeped in good stuff.  Your mind needs to be filled with positive and powerful words, music, images, and energy so when you get in front of a piece of paper, what flows onto the paper is rich and luscious.  Let's put it this way, if you spend your time reading Dick and Jane, you will write Dick and Jane.  If you spend your time reading Hawthorn and Dickens, you will write Hawthorn and Dickens.  We haven't begun to speak about your individual voice as an author.  So I want to fill up my mind with powerful stuff that then becomes powerful words on a page.  So what were those initial words about "just write?"  I was speaking about inspiration.  If you wait around for inspiration to hit you in the head, and then you write, you'll never write anything (or very little).  I find inspiration comes from the experience of writing.  Since I write in scenes, I do try to imagine the scenes as a focus to the writing and that provides much of the inspiration.  You might ask, where did the original inspiration for the overall novel or writing come from?  Generally, it comes out of the process of writing.  In other words, I imagine a scene I would like to write, I write to develop the scene, and that provides the inspiration.  Sometimes the scene I write has nothing to do with anything else in the future (like a novel), sometimes it does.  Sometimes the scene develops into a short story.  The point is, I don't wait around for inspiration, I just start writing and see what comes.  If you need some guidance in your writing, use a text book or figure some template.  Write about descriptive scenes or simply describe the room you are in right now.  If you can't get anything going from any of that--then writing may not be your thing.  Or just wait for some inspiration.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Writing a Novel, How I Start part 10

This topic is by no means complete.  There is so much more to delve into just about starting a novel, but I think it is time to clean this topic up a little and move on to another.  So I'll finish with this.  First, the four basic rules I employ when writing:
1. Don't confuse your readers.
2. Entertain your readers.
3. Ground your readers in the writing.
4. Don't show (or tell) everything.
The last rule has a double implication--it implies "show don't tell."  This is, of course, the basic rule of writing--show don't tell.  Arlo Guthrie's book, A Field Guide to Fiction Writing, is easily the writer's manual on this topic.  I won't go into anymore details today.

The second point that I haven't touched on yet is the idea itself.  If you want to write a novel, you need a novel length idea--an inspiration.  No cheating.  Although it can be a good exercise, it doesn't do to take your favorite author, movie, program, novel, or anything else and write a similar novel.  It is silly to think you can be successful by copying any work and producing something similar.  To be your novel, the ideas have to be novel.  The problems with many works today is they are too similar to other works, they have a voice that is too like other works, or they are so trivial, they are meaningless.  That's the other side of the coin.  A work that has a trivial theme, plot, or storyline is not going to be successful and will likely not get published in the first place.  The question of what is "trivial" is a difficult one.  I can tell you that if you have more than one unique miraculous incident in your novel, it is likely trivial.  We call these a deus ex machina, a god machine.  A novel can spin from a singular unique setting or event, but when they keep happening, the work's credibility becomes a question.  For example, although I don't buy it and few readers will (unless you absolutely build it properly) love at first sight is a cliched and deus ex moment.  A novel based on "love at first sight" might have a chance in the hands of an absolute expert writer, but the theme is so old and has been used so much that no one will believe it today.  Further, if the theme and plot of such a novel isn't "love at first sight," any other unique event that propels the novel will become trite and unbelievable.  Your novel can't become trite.  Unique events can flow from one another in the novel based on the singular circumstances developed in the novel, but those must come logically from the others.

Example from Dana-ana  Dana-ana is about a girl who acts like an Anglo-Saxon maiden although she lives in the modern world.  The plot is basically wrapped in a question:  who really is Dana-ana?  It is a revelation novel.  That is, it reveals more and more through the characters to the point where everyone, at the end, finally gets just who is Dana-ana.  The storyline develops around this revelation.  The unique point of the book is Dana-ana herself--everything in the novel flows from this simple evidence.  Everything becomes explicitly concrete because of who Dana-ana is.  The reader is grounded and funnelled into the story because of this singular point.  Further, the theme is about redemption.  It is the redemption of Dana-ana herself and the redemption of those around her.  Why does Dana-ana need redemption?  That is bound up in who Dana-ana really is.  So, you can see, a single unique existence propels the novel.  There are magic and somewhat miraculous happenings in Dana-ana, but it is a fantasy-like novel with a fantastic plot.  Those magic and miraculous happenings are not unique in the structure of the novel--just as future technology is not unique in a science fiction novel.  When the basis is future technology or magic, the events are no longer unique, they are common, but that is a topic worth more discussion.

I hope this short 10 part explanation of how I start to write a novel was helpful.  I think I'll talk more about inspiration tomorrow.  Until then...

Friday, August 27, 2010

Electronic Books (eBooks)

I'll take a days break from writing about how to start a novel and give you an update on what I've learned about electronic books (ebooks).  My wife has a Kindle and all my books are available in Kindle, Nook, and the generic format put out by  I played with the Kindle, Nook, Sony, and iPad devices.  I just bought an iPad. 

I invented the eBook in 1984 (you can read about it in my book A Season of Honor below).  I also sent the idea to a company in 1984.  They reviewed it, liked it, but thought the technology of the day would not support it--oh well.  I didn't have a patent because I didn't have a working model.  If someone wants to make an earlier claim, they have to have some proof on a date before 1984.

Back to the iPad--it's just like the eBook I envisioned in A Season of Honor.  The only difference was I still thought we would be using mechanical drives for data storage.  Here is what I wrote:

On the fourth night out, Shawn was on guard. He sat in the main room and read from his e-book. The e-book was a small, light, pocketbook-sized box. The entire front was a view screen that was now illuminated in perfect black text on a sharp white background. Concealed along the sides were small controls and connection ports. Inside, one of Shawn’s many book disks rotated in perfect silence, the only clue to its motion was the slight inertia he felt when he moved the device suddenly. The gyroscopic motion of the disk enabled the book to stay in a comfortable position, balanced by a single hand or on a knee. A single book disk could hold more than a thousand volumes, and some of Shawn’s fiction libraries contained around ten thousand. The e-book also recorded, so he could share his volumes with anyone. It could double as a computer, a very good one, depending on its cost and the options purchased.  Shawn’s e-book was a very powerful computer. It contained two disk drives for the small silver, laser-read/write disks, connections for a
keyboard, and a hundred other modern refinements. For almost a thousand years this was the shape and hardware of the standard book, personal computer, stereo, and video device.

Today, the book disk was still the most popular, though e-books were also manufactured with permanent memory chips. Chips were less hardy, less elegant, no smaller, and didn’t balance on the knee as well.  Also, the laser disk, an ancient invention, could hold its data through millennia. The book disks recorded a thousand years ago worked just as well as those made today. A memory chip would theoretically last as long, but electrical abnormalities, the proximity of any modern nuclear engine, or for the military man, a single nuclear blast, could render the chip completely unreadable. The small, beautiful laser disks could only be damaged by physical abuse.

The sole problem with either media was cost. Because books, music, movies, and computer programs were so easily traded, the cost of royalties was generated through the price of the recordable disks. The permanent disks were not as expensive because their price was based on a set royalty for the works on the disk, and these could vary in size and composition from a single best-selling volume to a huge library of thousands of older works. The same was true of computer programs, video, and musical recordings. The recordable disks, empty, cost much more than the e-book itself. They were some ten times the cost of
permanent disks and their price varied according to the amount of data they could hold. The e-book was a beautiful, refined part of society and encouraged the easy spread of knowledge.

There you go.  The book was first published in 2008, so a little old, but right at the cusp today of the eBook.  I even had the name right!

The iPad is perfect and exactly how I envisioned the eBook.  It will never replace a computer because unlike a computer, the iPad is not a productivity device.  It is an entertainment and personal device.  It combines all your media into a wonderful small package that is delightful to use.  A computer is for useful writing, computing, and mathematical operations.  It is for productivity.  An iPad is not a writing or a computing device.  It could be used for research, but that isn't what makes it so useful.  The wonderful and useful purpose of the iPad is to read those books, watch those videos, browse the net, read your email, check your calendar, read the WSJ (Wall Street Journal), read your Manga (graphic novels).  That is the purpose of the iPad.  Another piece of information, the screen on the iPad is obscenely beautiful.  I have never seen a clearer or more perfect picture.  It makes my websites look incredible.  It makes my books and pictures look like a glossy magazine.  I have nothing negative to say about the device.  Perhaps, if I were picky, I might mention is could be a little lighter (it's still not heavy) and the battery could last longer (it will give you a good 24+ hours on a charge).  I bought the model with 64G but not with the 3G network on it.  I don't think I'll have a problem with connectivity.  I should mention that I have the Kindle, iBook, and Nook apps (all the apps I have were free!).  To get a book, I don't have to do anything but push a button to browse the books I want (on any of the formats), I select the ones I want and they download right into the iPad.  I bought a couple of books, but most of them I downloaded for free!  I took some from my wife's Kindle account.  I also put my own books from pdfs right into the iBook library.  This is like candy and whisky all in one.  So, time to get an eBook--I recommend the iPad.  I tried all the others, and I like this one the best.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Excitement in Scenes, How I Start part 9

I wrote before, a scene must center around some event that is exciting.  Excitement is how you entertain and hold your reader's attention.  To build a scene that is exciting, you must imagine your characters involved in some event that drives the storyline, plot, and theme.  The scenes cannot be out of place to the storyline, plot, or theme, and they must fit your characters.  No scene, event within a scene, or piece of a scene can be extraneous or out of place.  Each bit, piece, and description must further the novel.  If, when you edit your writing, you find any piece that you can remove that will not affect the storyline, plot, or theme, then remove it.  This is something that is always interesting to me.  Many writers tell me when they edit, their writing length decreases.  Whenever I edit, the length of my manuscripts increase.  I always discover places I can improve and explain better.  I find places where I didn't provide sufficient description.  I rarely find scenes or events that are extraneous.  The reason for this is that I outline in scenes, and I center each scene in an event that propels the storyline. 

The main question is, how do you invent or develop exciting events?  Much of that is a writer's experience.  Just as writing well comes from much writing, event or idea development comes from both writing and life experience.  I would add that reading can provide many ideas for exciting events.  Let me show you the outline of scenes for the first chapter of Dana-ana
1.  Dana gets beat up: input, stealing lunches; output, she's knocked out.  You should be able to see the explicit excitement and action in this scene.  The pathetic character of Dana will not fight back (we find later that she can't fight back).
2.  Dana in the infirmary: input, Dana knocked out; output, Byron escorts her home.  Here the specific pieces driving the scene are Byron carrying her to the infirmary, the confrontation with the school nurse (we find out more about Dana; Dana broke into the infirmary safe before), Dana gains and loses consciousness a couple of times, Dana tries to get out of the infirmary on her own, Byron has to help her, she doesn't want his help...
3.  Dana's tarpaper house: input, Byron escorts her home; output, Byron goes home.  The action here is the walk to her house (lots of description), seeing the tarpaper house, describing the tarpaper house, realization that Dana has nothing, Dana washes Byron's feet to welcome him to her house (okay, here is where the storyline, plot, and theme really kick off.  If you didn't think Dana was odd to begin with, the moment she welcomes Byron to her house by washing his feet, your alarm bells should be going off.  She is obviously showing an action that is outside of a modern norm--yet this fits in the perspective of the novel and the action), Dana is hungry, Byron shares his lunch with her, Dana won't eat the food unless it is gifted to her in her real name (another cultural indicator), Byron discovers her heal name, she eats the food he gives her, Byron goes back to school.
Three scenes, three exciting events to develop one chapter.  That isn't too hard.  In this context the scenes flow one from the other.  You can read the entire chapter at  You can also see other examples of my writing at or read my books.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Don't Show (or Tell) Us Everything, How I Start part 8

I gave three of my dictums yesterday in one post.  Don't confuse your readers.  Entertain your readers.  Ground your readers in the writing.  Today, I want to give you another one: don't show your readers everything.  People ask me all the time from my books, "What really happened to x." or "Did x do this to y." I try to not let my readers know anything more than the characters understand themselves. I don't like to explain anything. I want the interaction of the characters to show everything. I don't want my readers to predict what will happen in the story. I want them guessing all the time. Guessing as much as the characters are themselves. In the real world, people's motivations are ultimately unknown. People's thoughts are unknown. There are always mysteries. Most of which we simply ignore. You can always leave your readers hanging, but don't leave them confused. Make sure your writing is clear and you are getting across what you want. This is where good editing and lots of it can help you. Find as many readers as possible and beg them for feedback. Once the novel is published, it's just too late to fix it.  So what does it look like to not reveal everything?  Let me show you.  In Children of Light and Darkness, it is quite obvious from the beginning that Kathrin and James have a romantic and sexual relationship. At the beginning of the novel their relationship is estranged. We know this by the way they interact and speak to one another. Here is an example from the novel:

James stepped out on the veranda, “Heat still bothering you, Kathrin?”

Kathrin didn’t say a word. She pursed her lips and clenched her jaw.

James turned around at the rail and leaned against it. He was tall and handsome, clean shaven. His hair was slightly tousled—always slightly tousled. It was brown and nondescript. His face, though handsome was still nondescript. MI, Military Intelligence, liked their agents and operatives to look good, but not to draw too much attention. It was easier that way. James was strong and well trained. He always treated her like a lady, even when he didn’t have to and when she didn’t deserve it.

Kathrin knew she was pretty—perhaps bordering on beautiful. Her face was freckled and sported blazing green eyes. She had heart shaped lips in a heart shaped face. Her hair was red, and she was thin, perhaps too thin. She wasn’t very tall either. None of those characteristics ever seemed to affect her negatively. She spoke with a thick, but improving Scottish brogue that made her a little difficult to understand at times. She knew she always showed a slightly harried look, and that was backed by an overly brisk personality. She did have a raging temper. It was a prideful secret that she kept it in check almost all of the time. When she let it out, it scared her. She didn’t let it out often, not at all since she had been working for the organization.

James checked his sidearm, “You still mad at me about last night?”

Kathrin’s eyes flashed at him. James tucked away his weapon and raised his hands.

All the fight drained out of her. She looked out on the jungle, “It was my fault.”

“Then come on. It will only get hotter the longer we delay.”

... After dinner, they took a nightcap with them to their room. James made a short foray to the veranda and smoked a cigar. Kathrin rearranged the fresh flowers in an old silver pot on her nightstand. For a while, through their window, she watched James as he scouted out the edge of the jungle. Kathrin undressed in the small bathroom. She wore as little as possible to bed. If she were by herself, she would have gone to bed naked. She hadn’t done that with James for weeks—well, except last night. He wore his briefs. That wasn’t an accommodation for her, it was service policy. Funny, the rules that governed spies. She hadn’t let him touch her for a long time. He hadn’t tried for a long time. She was a little ashamed at herself for getting involved with him that way. They weren’t married, and she almost felt like an old married woman.

Here, in this example, the characters show no outward affection for one another. You don't know anything directly about their relationship, but you know quite a lot. You know they are sharing a room, you guess that something happened the night before. I never tell you what happened--I leave it to your imagination, but you know something happened. I could have described everything in its gory glory. I could tell you what they think about each other--I never do. I show you what is going on and leave the rest to your imagination. This is the power of showing and not telling. It is also the power of not letting your readers know everything. The characters and their descriptions build themselves within the context of the novel.  So in building your scenes--aim to entertain, but plan not to let your readers know everything.  That keeps them looking for more.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sequence of and in Scenes, How I Start part 7

Sequence within and of scenes is an interesting question.  What I mean by sequence is the time based formation of the action and of the scenes.  This applies to time within the context of the novel as well as your writing.  Let's take them separately.  First, time sequence in and of scenes.  You could experiment with non-sequential based time flow in a scene, but I don't do that.  I do like to use scenes in some novels to go back into the past (potentially into the future), but I like to keep these separated as scenes.  You don't have to, but one of my main concerns in writing is to not confuse my readers.  As an aside, here are two of my main rules of writing: entertain your readers and don't confuse them.  Scenes where the time or time sequence moves around will confuse your readers, so unless you really know what you are doing--don't  Likewise, you can take the reader to the past or future with a scene.  You can have overlapping time between scenes, but use caution.  This is where clear description is necessary.  You have to ground your readers in the scene.  Put that down as a basic rule too: ground your reader in each scene.  For example, I do like to intersperse scenes that take the reader out of the main storyline into another storyline that parallels the plot.  In Dana-ana,, this means following the action of other characters for a scene and then jumping back to the original storyline.  Everything still supports the plot and the theme, it is just showing the reader new information from a different point of view (POV, point of view, is a whole other topic).  As long as you don't confuse your reader, these segues are great for them.  They build a level of excitement and at the same time make your readers long to get back to the main storyline.  Here's an example:

[end of scene with Macintyres (Dana's adopted family) after she left--Dana is the she]“She left of her own free will. I don’t think she’s coming back.”

[Beginning of the next scene--double break to set it off.  The first step is the setting]
Mata Hainsworth [already introduced in the novel earlier] leaned against the wall at the back of the Wellington Hotel. The fog was thick that evening. At his side stood two other men dressed in suits. One of them also carried a pouch at his side. He was short and had foxy features. The man with the pouch glanced around the corner of the building, “So Dana-ana made a blood vow to this boy.”

Mata laughed, “Yes she did. I heard every word. It seems her young man was already half convinced to dump her. My little confession just pushed him over the top.”

“She took it hard.”

“She’s in love, the little slut. It’s just as we hoped, she cast her blood when he released her and swore a blood oath.”

“So all we need to do now is tempt her little master to an accident, and she’ll do a death dance.”

The other man in the suit spoke up. He was very tall and broad shouldered. He seemed almost too large to be a normal person. His face and every other part of him that showed outside his clothing was very hairy, “You know it’s not as easy as that, Ailean. There are precautions we must take. Plus we need to lure them to a place she was restricted from—one of her ancient places of power. We must insure no interference from Ceridwen or the rest of the courts.”

“You are a spoilsport, Mahon.”

He held his nose and growled. The growl sounded distinctively animal-like, “And you two both stink so much of magic, you’re lucky I stick around to help you. I want to gag right now.”

“We all serve the same master, Mahon. You don’t have to get snotty.”

“Where is the girl anyway?”

Mata replied, “She’s searching for food in the bin on the other side of the building. That’s why I had us meet here.”

“Good, I don’t want her to ever detect us. She’ll smell you two a mile away. We have to prevent any interference from Ceridwen. She swore to protect Dana-ana’s life. Dana-ana must give up her life willingly, otherwise, Ceridwen becomes involved.”

Ailean nodded, “That’s been the plan all along. Tell us something we don’t know.”

Mahon stared at him and lifted a thick lip, “If our master allowed me, I’d crush you puny human.”

Ailean started to sweat, “Well he hasn’t, so tell us what the plans are.”

“We are arranging a conflagration. We only want to target Dana-ana through the boy. That’s the difficult part. The details are still being attended to.”

“Will there be a place for magic?”

“Yes, very much. It will be a necessary part of the planning.”

“Good. When we get our revenge, Dana-ana needs to know just who pulled the trigger. That’s what will make it sweet. She must die slowly, very slowly. It would be best if while she did, the stink of magic would gag her, and she would drown in her own vomit.”

“Our master would like that very much. Perhaps it can be arranged.”

“It might be pleasant for her to be ravished just prior to the event.”

“You ask for too much, Mata. If she were ravished, that would surely bring Ceridwen and Dana-ana’s sisters down on our heads. You do not want that, I assure you.”

“Perhaps we could get the boy to do it. Ailaen’s skill is seduction magic.”

“That might be useful, but don’t plan too much. We are just putting the details together now. The most important part was her blood oath.”

“You figure out how to get them alone together, and we’ll ensure the boy rapes her.”

“I’ll warn you only once. Whatever you do, do not let it cause a failure of our plans. Our master wants her dead. That will roil the courts and Ceridwen. You want revenge. All our goals align with her death. If she doesn’t die, no one will be happy, especially our master.”
[End of scene-double break]

[Return to the main plot line]
On Wednesday, as Gwen left the hotel, she caught a glimpse of Dana. She grabbed her mother’s arm, “Mom, Dana’s following us.”

The above is an example of somewhat parallel storyline scenes.  The the scene is separate and gives the reader a glimpse of what is happening outside of the knowledge of the major characters.  This is a very effective method to build tension and excitement.  Note the beginning of both scenes, the main one I show you and the beginning of the next, firmly ground the reader right away.  A single sentence or paragraph is all that is necessary, but it is necessary.
Now the second part, about writing your scenes non-sequentially.  Sometimes you might be tempted to write one of the most exciting scenes that you envisioned in your scene outline before you get to it in your writing.  In other words as you are writing your novel, you might want to write some of the more exciting parts of it first and get to the rest later.  That might work for some, but I advise you--don't do it.  Don't do it for two reasons.  First, if certain scenes aren't exciting to you, they won't be exciting to your readers.  Second, I've found that the few times I've done this, I had to completely dump or revise the whole chapter or scene.  The reason is that writing a novel is a process, the characters and your understanding of the plot grows with the writing.  Usually when I finally write up to the point I already wrote, the circumstances of the input and sometimes the scene output have changed and the characters and plot have subtly changed.  The previous writing of the scene is stale or out of place, and I have to completely write it again.  This is what I explained about on Centurion  The short story I originally wrote that to a degree spurred the novel could not fit at all into the novel.  The characters were different and the circumstances (inputs and outputs) were different.  So my advice is to not write out of sequence, but this is not a rule for everyone.  Plus, if you do write in time sequence, you can later move the scenes around, if necessary, to fit the way the plot demands--if you need to.  Tomorrow, I'll talk about more subtle means to work with your characters in scenes.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Outlining in Scenes, How I Start part 6

I use scenes to outline the development of each chapter.  I also focus a chapter on a scene or scenes.  I unimaginatively write in chapters and aim for 20 pages or about 5000 to 6000 words per chapter.  This may not be the best way to write a novel, but it works for me.  I don't necessarily recommend using my technique of using a chapter length as a goal, but I do recommend using scenes as the center point and outline of the chapter.

Now here is how you focus your writing in scenes.  First, you must develop a theme for your novel.  I've written about themes before, and I will eventually get to it here one day.  Suffice to say, the theme must be somewhat universal, and it must not be trivial.  It doesn't have to be to save the world, but it should speak broadly and powerfully.  Once you have a theme (it should be written or in some way cohesive in your mind), you can move to the next step. 

Second, imagine the actions of your characters.  Imagine generally the exciting and interesting scenes that will paint them and your novel within the theme.  This is where you begin to design the plot and the storyline.  I have been using the terms plot and storyline separately but together since the beginning because, to me, these are two very separate things.  The plot is the pattern of events that make up the larger narrative, specifically it is the scenes put together cohesively to make the story that supports the theme.  The storyline is the entertaining line of events that make up the narrative.  Whoa, what's the difference.  The difference, in my mind is the theme.  I never want the theme to get in the way of the story.  This preoccupation with the storyline prevents this problem for me.  I first of all want my writing to be entertaining.  I don't intend to beat the reader with the theme, I want the theme to come out naturally as part of the plot as directed by the storyline.  My example is Shakespeare.  You know each of the plays has an underlying theme, the purpose of the play, overall, is to bring out this theme, but the author doesn't beat the theme over your head.  The first purpose of the plays is to entertain.  A reader who reads your work and is entertained will get the theme.  The reader who is not entertained will put down your work and walk away.  No read, no get the theme.  Your readers have to first read and enjoy your work.

Third, start to figure out how to get the action of each scene down on paper.  To keep this from being overwhelming, outline by scene with a general goal toward some resolution.  If you have a general resolution in mind, the novel will grow toward that resolution.  Usually, your theme supports this resolution.  For example, without giving everything away, I knew Dana-ana would be a novel of discovery.  Dana-ana has a great and horrible secret that she is prevented from sharing.  She doesn't want to share it because it is so horrible.  Because of her secret, groups seek to punish her and demand her death.  The resolution is when she must face this horrible secret.  Now, she confronts her secret at multiple levels: personally (with Byron and his family), individually (with herself), legally (she was punished for her actions), physically (others want her life because of her secret), and mentally (I don't tell you, you see the effects on her).  The novel drives to the conclusion that brings all these together.  This may sound very difficult.  It is if you try to go at it as a whole.  Don't.  I wrote each scene as an entertaining piece that drove toward the conclusion.  The scenes each had their input, event, and output.  These all pointed toward the conclusion.  Let me give you an example of this scene outlining.  First scene, input Dana stole lunches, event the fight, output Dana knocked out.  Second scene, input Dana knocked out, event Byron gets help for Dana, output Byron escorts Dana to her home.  Third scene, input Byron escorts Dana to her home, event Dana washes Byron's feet and speaks for the first time, output Byron leaves Dana's house--end of chapter.  First chapter ends cleanly and I need a new input for the first scene of the next chapter.  Second chapter first scene input is Byron notices Dana in homeroom and speaks to her... The scenes continue from there.  In every case, I try to provide an entertaining episode that drives the overall plot and theme.  The scenes are the storyline.  Tomorrow, I'll see if I can give you more on developing scenes. 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Scene Building, How I Start part 5

I like to drive a scene through conversation.  You can see in yesterday's example, I used a snippet of conversation between Byron and an anonymous girl to introduce Dana (Diana).  This is the power of conversation. You can express many, many ideas without a single word of narrative or description.  For example, instead of telling us, she is crying, you can have another character state, "There's no need to cry."  In that single string of words, I told you something about the girl, she is crying, and about the observer.  Let's look at Dana-ana as an example of the conversation driving the first scene.  My comments are in [].

[Dan and Jack are bit characters. There is no reason to break the action to give them much description.] Dan held Diana’s arm. [Here is the input to the scene, Dana is stealing lunches] He put his pimply face in hers and yelled [I don't like to ever use said.  I want to use more descriptive words or show the actions of the speakers], “Thought you could just take it, didn’t you?” He twisted her arm and Diana flinched. She turned slightly until Jack’s hold on her hair stopped her.

Byron took a step forward, “What’s up Dan, Jack?” [We see Byron reluctantly get involved.  His actions show he isn't really interesting in saving Dana, but rather he feels compelled to prevent the other students from hurting her too much.] 

Dan glanced quickly up at Byron. His eye twitched, “Don’t interfere Macintyre. She stole Sherrill’s lunch. We’re sure she took Jane’s the day before. She’s been taking lunches since the beginning of school. We just finally caught her at it this time.”

“How’d you do that?”

Dan twisted Diana’s hand around and squeezed it open. “Take a look,” he grinned, “red handed.”

Diana’s hand was stained blue.

“Put that powder from the last chemistry lab on the handle,” he showed his teeth again, “add a little water, and the blue hand shows who touched it.” [Here is the proof that Dana is stealing lunches.  The other character, Dan, just showed it to the reader and explained how--no need of narrative.]

Byron put out his arm, “That’s enough, Dan, Jack. Just tell her to keep her hands off other people’s lunches and let her go.” [Sounds reasonable, but in the next bit of dialog, Jack explains why Byron doesn't understand the problem of Dana.]

Jack shook his head, “That won’t be enough for her. She’ll do it again unless we teach her a good lesson.”

“What did you have in mind?”

“Sherrill has to get her piece, and Jane.” [Sherrill and Jane are bit characters, no need to break the action to describe them.]

Byron glanced at Jane then Sherrill. Jane shook her head. Sherrill tossed her hair, “That’s enough for me. She didn’t get my lunch. Diana, you keep your hands off my stuff—you hear?” [Sherrill's response is due to Byron's intimidation.  No need to tell you how he affects them, but rather show you the results.  The dialog explains it all.]

Dan had Diana’s arm behind her back, and Jack twisted her head back with her hair. Her face was turned upwards and her eyes were squeezed shut.

Byron addressed the girl, “What do you say, Diana?” [This is ironic because we find out Dana will not respond.  This also indicates how little Byron knows Dana.]

Dan twisted her arm a little more. Diana flinched. Dan squinted, “She won’t say anything. She never says anything. Just slinks around and steals stuff.”  He turned a little more toward Sherrill, which twisted Diana’s arm a bit more. Byron thought her arm looked close to breaking—still Diana didn’t make a sound. Dan nodded to Sherrill, “Sherrill, pop her one. That’s your right and that’ll teach her.”

Sherrill stepped forward, took a look at Byron, and stepped back, “You do it. I’m done.” 

Without any warning, Jack pulled back his fist and tugged Diana’s hair toward it. His fist met her cheek with a crack, and she sagged forward. Dan’s hold was the only thing that kept her from falling flat on her face. He released her arm, and she flopped forward into the dirt. [This is the output of the scene and the input to the next scene--Dana is knocked out.] 

Sherrill scowled, “She didn’t admit to anything. Pants her. That’ll teach her.” [Once Dana is entirely helpless, the cruelty of the students comes out.  This gives us insight into them and shows us what they think about Dana.]

Dan reached down and grabbed the back of Diana’s pants. She didn’t have a belt on. He tugged down and half bared her buttocks. Byron moved quickly, “That’s enough Dan. You made your point.”

Sherrill laughed, “She doesn’t have any underwear on.” She pointed, “Look at that. I thought she was low, but I had no idea she was like that.” [we find out more about Dana]

At the edges of the crowd a call went up, “Teacher. Beat it.” [The result of this announcement should be obvious.]

The input into the next scene is Dana is knocked out cold and Byron takes her to the infirmary.  Whew, lots of notes. I could give you even more.

Here is the development of the scene from beginning to end.  First the input, Dana is stealing lunches and she was caught. She is about to be beaten for it.  The action revolves around this and the dialog tells you what is happening and gives you insight into the characters.  Mainly, in terms of plot and storyline, this is the beginning of the introduction of Dana and Byron.  This is the event that first brings them into contact with each other.  The event is somewhat commonplace and not out of place for the characters.  Neither Dana nor Byron want to be there and neither are interested in each other.  Circumstances simply bring them together and the bond between them is Byron's attempt to help her in light of the actions against her.  The output from this scene is Dana is knocked out.  The input to the next scene is also this event.  As the reader, you can start to imagine the next scene, but the details have not been revealed yet.  The point of these scenes in the storyline is to build a pretext for Byron's interaction with Dana.  In the real world people don't just meet each other and interact without some degree of connection.  Interaction is a process and this process gives play to future and other potential interactions.  The point of this and the rest of the scenes in the first chapter are to give a reason for Byron's interest in Dana.  There is much more to building scenes.  I'll give some more examples tomorrow.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Scene Building, How I Start part 4

 My novel Aegypt

Why and what: you need to begin scene writing with the input and a "what."  The "what" is something that will be entertaining to your readers.  Let's continue with the example of Dana-ana.  The main character has been accused of stealing lunches in school and is about to be beaten for it.  The tension in the scene is obvious.  The excitement in the scene builds through the description and conversation.  Description is the critical ingredient in building the scene.  You have to set the scene for your readers.  I follow Arlo Guthrie's advice and use description in many ways to tell the reader when, where, and who.  Without description the reader isn't anywhere.  You have to establish the reader in the world you are building in the scene.  I do this early on.  Let's look at the first few paragraphs of Dana-ana:
     The yells of students burst from the halls and classrooms and pressed into the yard. Byron Macintyre was carried along with the crowd. He just wanted to get to lunch. He rolled his eyes and kept up with the moving mob. The halls of their old school building were not very wide, and the lockers on either side made them smaller. The high school didn’t have that many students, but when they were all out of class and moving in one direction, it was nearly impossible to travel anywhere else. Byron figured he would just wait until he could get outside the doors, then he could duck back to his locker, the cafeteria, and then the library.

     Byron was tall, but he still couldn’t see what was going on ahead. Out of exasperation, he yelled over the noise of the crowd, “What’s going on?”
     From beside him, one of the sophomore girls laughed, “It’s that girl Diana. The stinky skank, who wears crappy clothes.”
     Yeah, Byron knew about Diana. Everyone knew about Diana. She was never very far from trouble with teachers, students, or parents. She didn’t have any friends, but she usually kept a low profile.

In these few paragraphs, I establish for the reader the place (a High School with some info about the school), the time (it's lunch, modern world is kind of obvious too), Byron, and the main character, Dana (Diana).  This, in my mind, is necessary.  You have to establish the reader solidly in the scene, then you can let them go to experience the rest of the action.  Note, the action moves even in this descriptive portion.  You can't let your readers loose by simply stating a description.  You need to keep your readers involved throughout.  Once you establish the basics of where, when, and who for a scene, you can continue to build with description in the conversation and narrative.
One more point about scenes: show don't tell.  Don't tell us motivations.  Don't reveal everything.  Show us what is going on in the scene and let it play out like in real life.  You don't know motivations in the real world.  You don't know what others are thinking.  You don't know even that much about yourself--sometimes.  Reality becomes real in a scene when the reader can see the entire situation, but doesn't know the internal motivations of the actors.  This is the way of the real world.  This is what builds tension in the real world--and this is what drives the power of a scene.  Tomorrow, I'll delve deeper into moving the scene through conversation and narrative.  You can read the rest of the chapter at

Friday, August 20, 2010

Writing a Scene, How I Start part 3

My novel Centurion
It would be impossible for me to tell you everything you need to know to write a scene.  There is already a lot of great writing on this specific subject.  What I will try to do is tell you how I write a scene.   First, I need an input and an output.  The scene has to have something that is the cause of it--that is the input.  It has to have an end with a potential transition to the next scene.  You can see the input is driven by the previous scene transition (or by another earlier scene transition--your scenes don't necessarily have to be back to back).  So to start a novel, your first scene must have an implied or explained transition from the imagined scene before.  You detail this at some point in the novel or the first scene, but that's getting into the details--I'll stick a little higher than that for now.  You could call the input to the scene the "why" of the scene.  The "why" is necessary, but the most important part of a scene is the "what."  The what of a scene is what happens to entertain the reader and drive the plot.  I develop a scene around this singular "what."  The "what" can be an event, a revelation, a conversation, an adventure, a joke, whatever.  The most important key is that the "what" must be entertaining to your reader.  It should draw emotion and or excitement.  For example, in the first scene to Dana-ana, the main character Dana is accused of stealing lunches and is about to be beaten for it.  There is the excitement.  The reader has no idea who this Dana-ana person is, but already the novel jumps into adventure and danger.  Within the scene, I put all kinds of information for the reader.  That's what is so great about a scene--in it you show the reader what is going on, but at the same time, you can reveal important information for the plot and theme of the novel.  So, the most important thing to me in writing is to entertain my reader--the scene is the mode I employ.  Each scene must be entertaining.  If it is not entertaining, there is no purpose in the writing.  I'll go into more detail tomorrow on the scene.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Writing in Scenes, How I Start part 2

Cover proposal
I write in scenes.  This is why all my novels are centered on a scene and a theme question that then develops into the overall plot and storyline.  The scene in my latest novel Dana-ana (working title Diana--still searching for a title) that started everything is the first one.  In it, Dana is being "beat up" by a couple of boys for stealing their girlfriends' lunches.  The main male character Byron intervenes but not before Dana is knocked out and partially pantsed.  The descriptions of the scene and Dana propel the narrative into the next scene.  Dana will not speak.  Her name is odd.  Her actions are odd.  The teachers intentionally allow her to be beaten--to teach her a lesson.  The next scene flows logically from the first--Byron takes her to the infirmary.  The nurse doesn't want Dana there.  She refuses to treat her.  When Dana finally wakes, her actions are odd and she still doesn't speak.  That flows to the next scene--Byron escorts her home.  Her home is a tarpaper shack and that flows to the next scene, etc. etc. (you can read the first chapter at  The scenes drive the entire novel.  Most of the scenes are conversational interaction bracketed by description.  The scenes drive the storyline and the plot.  The storyline is encapsulated in the scenes that together become the plot.  Each of the scenes drive the plot, and the theme is held together by that overall question.  As I mentioned before, the question in Diana is about an Anglo-Saxon maiden in the modern world.  

So this is how I write a novel.  It is certainly not how everyone approaches novel writing, but let me synopsize my approach.  I start with a scene and build from it.  I use an outline based on scenes.  I write each scene in order to build the storyline and the plot.  The scenes together turn into chapters which becomes a novel.  From such a tiny seed grows a 100,000 word work.  Tomorrow, I'll talk about writing a scene.  

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Novel, How I Start part 1

I wish I could spend every moment writing on novels.  The problem is that I can't physically or mentally do that.  I begin to write a novel when I have a novel length inspiration.  They come about once every six months now, so I can potentially expect to write a novel every six months or two a year.  My usual inspiration is an opening scene or a developed scene.  These usually manifest themselves as a theme question.  You can see some of these theme questions in the novel secret pages at  In the case of the newest novel I wrote, the scene was a girl being beat up and a young man rescuing her.  The question was what incidents would drive the circumstance of an Anglo-Saxon maiden in the modern world.  That's the plot statement of the novel.  Once I had a plot statement and an opening scene, I could begin on the novel.  The novel called for me to write it.  I couldn't stop the flow of ideas.  Once I fleshed out the major characters in the first chapter, I began to outline the novel.  I usually outline very loosely by scene.  I add scenes and develop plot details by chapter.  When I am writing, I write daily from about 7:00 am to 9:00 pm.  I usually write a chapter a day about 6000 words or 20 pages.  I aim for a novel of around 100,000 words.  About 20 chapters.  I finish a novel after about one month.  Tomorrow, I'll give you more details on writing my latest novel and generally about how I go about writing a novel.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Centurion is featured on another blog

This week Lynnette Bonner is featuring my novel Centurion on her blog at The account on her blog tells about how I got the idea for the novel, wrote it, and eventually found a publisher.

I am planning to write a sequel to Centurion. I already have a name and plot in mind. The name is Praetorian, and the plot will be set in Rome during the period after the crucifixion until around AD 56 or so. This allows the integration of Paul into the plot and the theme. I'm not certain how I will work that history into the novel. There has been a question about the time of the death of Paul. Many historians think he died in Rome in AD 55, but the writing of the pastorals "Timothy and Titus" plus the trip to Spain would have required at least a decade later. This historical anomaly requires some explanation and would be a perfect topic for Praetorian. I spent a lot of time in Rome and environs, so I'm familiar with the territory. I haven't started the writing yet because I just finished Dana-ana (current working title). I usually have to wait a while for inspiration (at least a couple of months to get the previous book out of my mind). In addition, I have a couple of other novels in the writing list ahead of Praetorian. I've even gone so far as to outline Ddraig Goch. This science fiction novel is planned to complete the Ghostship Chronicles

Right now, I'm writing from deep in corn country and my granddaughter is sitting on my lap and telling me to draw Sam the pony for her. That means you should expect a new addition to the aviation blog when I fly back to the Air Capitol on Wednesday.

Monday, August 16, 2010

My Other Writing...

I don't just write fiction. I also write technical papers and aviation histories. Because the government can claim to own any writing done in your primary field of work and training, I wrote historical fiction and science fiction while I worked for them. When I retired from the Air Force, I began to write aviation history. My aviation histories are in a special section at, called "Military Aviation Adventures." They are all true, but the names have been changed to protect the guilty. Most of them are my own experiences. I also write an aviation blog. I make an entry every time I fly an aircraft (as the pilot and not as a passenger). You can reach the blog through and from and My technical writing is about aviation, aerospace engineering, cyberwar, and flight test. You can see the links from technical writing at There is a whole bunch of other stuff I have written out on the web and a few pertinent articles on my website. In general, I don't self publish on the web, although, I am posting these blogs. Something new goes up nearly every day. If you friend me on FB, you will see my announcements when new pieces are published.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Description in Writing

Description is a necessary part of writing. I return to Arlo Guthrie Jr.'s advice that whenever you introduce a character you must provide a 100 to 300 word description that defines the physical characteristics, not necessarily internal characteristics of the character. Internal characteristics must be developed through showing us the character--don't even think about telling us what they think. Tell us what they look like--you can skillfully slip into this description something about the person's character. Telling is necessary in setting the scene and then letting the character loose in the novel. This is not a break from the rule of showing and not telling. This is setting the scene.

Character description example from Aegypt

Mr. Audrey.” Paul clasped the Englishman’s hand as he dismounted.

Lionel Audrey was a medium-height man with thinning brown hair. He wore a heavy wool suit, but he had removed the coat. Perspiration salted his brow and made his face glisten. Audrey
looked young, but his eyes were surrounded by wrinkles. He squinted out from under his thick glasses as if the glass wasn’t the right prescription, or as if he sought to penetrate further than just the surface. In spite of this impression, Audrey’s attitude was breezy and facile. He didn’t speak; he lectured in an arrogant Oxford accent.

You can see how this gives life to the character and sets him apart from everyone else in the novel. When Audrey is reintroduced and mentioned, there are many characteristics that can be used to refer to him that brings the character back into the minds of the reader.

Likewise, you must set the scene. Tell us about the weather, the environment, the feel of the place, and what it looks like.

Scene setting from Aegypt (place description):

The sun rose like a flame. The horizon boiled with the vigor of the lifting sun, and across the scorched rock and sand, the wind sang along with the moving light. Shadows moved in its wake
across the already hot plain. Paul already felt the sweat on his back and neck. The still air in the fort left the perspiration warm and heavy under his clothes, and he longed for the morning wind to make its way to him.

Without warning, a swirl of air touched him, but it wasn’t any relief. The breeze was hot and filled with the acrid dust of the Chott Djerid depression. He could feel it in his lungs, and he lit another cigarette to wipe the vile taste away. Below him, the wind-born dust swirled in tiny dust-devils around the diggings. The desert itself seemed to be trying to cover over the
gaping wound there.

The Tunisian workers were already stirring, ready to enter the cooler depths of the pit, ready to dig for the gold they hoped to pilfer under the noses of the archeologists, and they would. Paul had seen it happen too many times before. Their culture was different. The Englishmen wouldn’t or couldn’t understand that.

Paul took a long drag on his cigarette, nearly burning it back to his fingers. The sun stood like a flaming ball precariously balanced on the horizon for a moment, and Paul wondered briefly whether it would go forward or fall back.

He looked down at the diggings. The shadows wavered crookedly across the dark opening. Paul fancied he could see the essence of the ages spilling out of that black hole. It lingered in the waste as if the ancient plain were as timeless as the secrets hidden under that dull and
shifting surface.

This tells us a lot about the time, day, weather, and scene. This allows the reader to fall into the narrative and see what is happening. We also discover something about what is going on without telling the reader--we show the reader. We pull it from the knowledge of the main character without telling.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Themes and Subthemes plus a little on Sexual Tension

Anyone who has read Boccaccio, Chaucer, or Shakespeare knows that most themes have been used multiple times by multiple writers. That doesn't mean there are or can be new themes to be delved or powerful themes that have not been explored enough. The purpose of artistry in writing is to package these themes in new wrappers so the message and the ideas are fresh.

One of the most powerful themes and subthemes is sexual tension. This theme is easily observed in works like Romeo and Juliette. This theme is incredibly powerful and is exploited in most non-juvenile novels where men and women interact. The interaction of adult men and women almost always requires some degree of sexual tension. Sexual tension can be developed in three separate spheres of thought: natural, ethical, and moral. Moral use of sexual tension is a classical theme and revolves around licit and illicit sex defined by the boundary of legal, acceptable, customary, or promised marriage. Marriage is the general goal and the theme is propelled by the promise or hope of marriage. This is the classical theme in much of English literature especially in the Victorian Era, but is a theme and subtheme in much if not most of English literature. Examples are easy to come by--the Bronte sisters, Shakespeare, Jane Austin, and all. A variant of this theme is breach of marriage and or adultery. Examples here are well known, The Scarlet Letter is just one.

In the Twentieth Century and following, the sexual theme has morphed into one of ethical or natural sexual tension. These themes and subthemes are pervasive and generally intellectually crippled. Instead of marriage, the end of the theme is sex itself or a sex act. This theme is usually simply a subtheme, but focuses in sexual longing and desire driven by various romance based ideas culminating in the sex act with or without marriage or a promise of marriage. Ethical sexual tension, by definition, culminates with a stated or implied promise of some type. Natural sexual tension, by definition, simply ends in sexual congress. There is not a lot an artist can do with natural or ethical sexual tension--it certainly cannot really drive the theme of a novel although many have tried.

The moral sexual theme is one that is still well used in literature and should be--successful reproduction is the focus of human existence. Without it there will be no people to read all that great literature. The main point here is this theme is both critical and essential to literature and I recommend using the moral sexual theme or sub-theme to appropriately propel your writing.

Now, I will provide one of my real writing secrets. One theme that has not been used much is sexual tension in a successful or positive marriage. In fact, I know of only a few novels that successfully exploit this theme. You can see examples, amazingly, in some movies. Most of the time, in literature, movies, and theater the theme of marriage focuses around failed or broken marriage with an end of the change of spouse.

I am writing novels to exploit the sub-theme of sexual tension in successful marriages. Generally, the first portion of the tale is one of moral sexual tension with the result of marriage. Following marriage, usually authors ignore the concept of human sexual tension as though it didn't exist at all. As though sex or moral desire after marriage was nonexistent. In The Fox's Honor, Sister of Light, Sister of Darkness, Twilight Lamb, and Regia Anglorum, I exploit the subtheme of moral sexual tension in successful marriages. I attempt to do this with class and without any salacious detail. This is a theme that is not new, but underused and I think the modern world needs to see this as a positive example in literature.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Why Aegypt

After thinking about my post on titles, I thought it might be a good idea to explain why I named Aegypt, Aegypt It is an esoteric title that to many readers might not appear to describe the work. As I mentioned before, my mentor Roz Young recommended I call the work "In the Tomb of the Goddess of Darkness and Light." In that context, I thought to name it "In the Tomb of Darkness and Light." The problem with both these titles is that they are descriptive and perhaps too descriptive. One of the mysteries in the book is the tombs themselves. The original reason I settled on Aegypt was that the book was about broader Egypt in a physical, historical, and spiritual sense. That is, the work was historically about an ancient accidental colony of the Egyptians. Although Aegypt occurs physically in modern Tunisia, the title, and the theme refers to the extension of Egypt out of the area that Egypt physically resides in the ancient and modern world. I decided on the Greek and ancient spelling of the name for Egypt, Aegypt to refer to the ancient and archaic. The work is about the world of the ancient Egyptians projected into the modern world. So the title refers to this physical, historical, and spiritual projection of ancient Egypt into the modern world. It stands as a metaphor for everything that is Egyptian.

Now about the series see new novels. I have written eight total novels in the theme of Aegypt. These are very exciting, mysterious, and adventurous novels. Because the work became a series of novels, my publisher asked me to think up a name to describe the entire set of works. With the help of my prepublication readers, I settled on the name "Ancient Light." The motif of the series is light and darkness is light and darkness, so the name is Ancient Light. The next novel is called Sister of Light. It is on contract and should be out this Summer or Fall. Likewise Sister of Darkness is on contract and should be out in the same time frame.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Selecting a Great Title for your Novel

Unless you get a bolt from the blue while you are writing your novel, a title is best affixed when you finish the first draft. Sometimes it takes a long while to match the right title to a book, and sometimes the marketing savvy of your editor/publisher helps fix the title. Here are some ideas on how not to put together a bad title. Once you have a potential title or titles in mind:

Check it on Amazon, B&N, or any other book seller site. You want your title to be nearly or absolutely unique. This means no one else has used it in common practice or knowledge. If you have a great title, but everyone and his brother is using it already, how will you separate yourself from the crowd? Just take a look at some common titles on Amazon and see how many hits they generate--sometimes thousands. If your title gets confused with a thousand other titles, no one will find your book. On the other hand, if your book has a strange title, you might get no hits at all.

Make sure your title reflects your work. Roz Young recommended my book Aegypt be called, In the Tomb of the Goddess of Darkness and Light. That's catchy, but too long. There are some other works with Aegypt in the title and another work named Aegypt. Just one. I felt that that was great probability. Someone looking for Aegypt (either novel) would find mine. This is a positive.

Don't hold on to your working title if it doesn't work. For example, I gave a working title of Seeds for The Seeds of Rebellion to the work The End of Honor The working title of The Fox's Honor was Duel. The title of A Season of Honor was Desert. These titles simply stood in place for the final titles. Eventually, the Honor theme became the focus of each of the titles, and finally, I gave the series the title The Chronicles of the Dragon and the Fox This was a request from my publisher and made sense from the context of the books.

So to recap, make sure you have a somewhat unique title, that can't be confused with too many works. Check it out before you go to print.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

About Book Covers

Book covers are like titles and marketing. They are necessary to the finished product and necessary for the writer to develop. First, no one is going to read your book and make the perfect cover for you. You are the most knowledgeable source for your work and only you will be able to put together an idea that will capture it in a single picture--usually with help. When you finish your work: fix on a title (as described below), work up your marketing materials, and then put together a rough idea for a cover. You can see the process at look in unpublished novels. You can check the secrets pages for each published novel to see the process the covers went through.

Don't expect artwork unless you are willing to pay a lot for it or you are a best selling author. You can do it yourself, but unless you are really good (I mean a professional who sells or has sold or been trained or won real awards) don't even think about it. Many people who think they are great artists can only produce junk. As a matter of a fact the number of rotten writers is directly proportional to the number of rotten artists. Most of the time, you aren't both, but there are rare exceptions. The artist who did some of my artwork is also a writer, and she is an awesome artist.

Expect the publisher's cover department to put together photos, writing (fonts), and backgrounds to make your cover. This is a very cost effective means to make a cover and is the most common today. You can do it as easily as they can. The trick is that they have much better equipment, photos, fonts, software, etc. at their disposal. All you have to do is search the web or clip art to find the approximate photos that match your ideas. You put them together and send the idea to your publisher.

Generally, your publisher's art department will use your ideas to come up with a great cover or a couple of covers for you to choose from. If you look on my site at under secrets, you will see the cover proposal I sent, their proposed covers, and the final design. You can find these for each of my published novels. You can also look at my new novels to see my rough cover proposals.

Sandi Andrews of the Book Club Network wrote this about a couple of my covers:
Because I have both Centurion and Aegypt in front of me, I’ll address your question first. Perhaps it would help to understand the progression that led from not being familiar with your work to actually buying two of your books.The shortest answer is this site. The longer explanation starts with your friendship with Bruce. Because he posted in the discussions here, I became aware of him and his work. I checked out his website and online retailers to discover more about his background, books, and what others were saying about his work. Garnering enough information to justify a purchase, I ordered two of his books. By the time I was not very far into the second book, I determined not only did I enjoy his descriptive style and well researched content, but the man definitely had something to say that was worth my time to read and ponder. I then purchased the third book in his series and continued some exchanges with Bruce. In one of them he mentioned your friendship, suggesting that I might be interested in your book, Centurion, so I repeated the research process focusing this time on you and your work.What Bruce did not know was that if my father had not insisted that my undergraduate degree be in Finance, I would have pursued a course of study that would have led to a career in Biblical archaeology. The fact that I spent the greater part of my London vacation this past February at the British Museum underscores my interest in the subject matter of your books. I ordered both Aegypt and Centurion.So after that long winded aside, the answer to your primary question is that I think the covers of your books are both appealing and appropriate. The photo of the centurion on the book with the same title is riveting. My eyes immediately locked on the statue’s eyes which appear to be focusing on something or someone that is causing inner turmoil. The cover poses unspoken questions compelling a potential readers to seek the answers inside. Once the cover had my attention, I reread the back blurb which I had previously read online and then flipped through the pages to read a writing sample. Satisfied that I would enjoy the book, it was placed on my “to be read soon” stack. BTW, thank you for the Lexicon at the back of the book…it will help my understanding and limit interruptions to research terms online.The cover of Aegypt needed the blurb information on the back to clarify the time period of the novel but it is still compelling enough that I would have picked the book up in a B & M. Because I purchased online, the other pertinent information was visible with the cover for the purchase decision.
You have not only caught my interest because of the archaeology aspect of your writing but I think my husband will also be reading your work especially the sci-fi. He may already have read some of your air and space related articles in some of the aviation magazines he receives. Early in his career, Pete worked at both Carswell AFB in Fort Worth (where he first learned to fly) and at McClellan AFB in Sacramento where he worked on software for the FB-111A.So… is our inclination to explore your work based upon your covers alone? Probably not, but I do believe the covers would not repel anyone except those with no imagination or little interest in historical novels.As an experiment, I might present a sampling of some books for the club members to indicate their first reactions to the various covers.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Centurion will be featured on another blog

Next week, Monday 16 August, Centurion will be featured on Lynnette Bonner's blog at Lynnette is an OakTara author and wrote Rocky Mountain Oasis. She has another similar western work on contract with OakTara called High Desert Haven. I read her first novel and thought it was a great read. Lynnette asked me to write about the development of the novel, Centurion and about its publication. That's what I provided for her blog. There will be some great writing secrets in the blog, and I will answer questions about the novel and its publication.

After the Monday blog, I'll publish the information on Centurion here and on my website at Here is a synopsis of Centurion:
Who was the man ordered to crucify Christ?

What did he witness that led him to proclaim, “This was surely the Son of God?”

Traditionally, we named him, the Centurion Abenadar, and we know almost nothing about him. The novel, Centurion, gives life to Centurion Abenadar.

Abenadar’s life is based on primary source documents about the Roman Legion. Abenadar was close enough to the Procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate, that Pilate trusted him with the responsibility of the controversial and potentially explosive crucifixion of Christ. At the same time, Abenadar was a man to whom Pilate effortlessly gave the dirty work of the crucifixion, the execution for which Pilate himself would not take responsibility.
Centurion casts Abenadar as the bastard child of the Roman ambassador to the court of Herod the Great. Abenadar’s mother was a Judean girl, the Roman ambassador’s concubine. When the ambassador returned to Rome, he left her pregnant, and in disgrace. The girl returned to her home in Nazareth of Galilee. She named her son, Abenadar, after his father.

Abenadar’s father did not leave him with nothing—he granted his son Roman citizenship. When Abenadar accepted his legacy, he also discovered a place in the Roman Legion stationed in Galilee. Abenadar found in the legion and Roman citizenship a boon and a curse. From his mother’s training in Herod’s court, Abenadar spoke and read Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, and from the taint of his father’s legacy and his hard childhood, Abenadar learned to be a cunning fighter. The legion honed these skills. Centurion maps the rise of Abenadar through the ranks and units in Palestine until he is a chief advisor and one of the lead Centurions in Jerusalem. In this capacity, he both advised Pilate and became the vehicle to enact Pilate’s decree.

Abenadar was more than a Centurion; he was also half Judean. His abilities derived from his understanding and communication with the people of Judea. But Abenadar was a man, not a piece of cardboard—all the forces in his life shaped and formed him. He fervently trusted in God—and in the legion. When he accidentally rescued a prostitute, Ruth, in the streets of Jerusalem, he redeemed her—for himself. Ruth was a destitute girl; the death of her parents forced her into her past life. After Abenadar took her in, she lived a semblance of the life she was raised to lead. Life with Ruth changed Abenadar. He returned to the Judean practice of his youth, and through Ruth’s faith, Abenadar’s life became connected to the new prophet—Jesus.

Abenadar experienced the events in the city of Jerusalem from inside the court of Pilate and from the city streets. When Jesus was brought before Pilate, Abenadar became his interpreter and translator. When Pilate gave Jesus over to the Priests, he instructed Abenadar to crucify Jesus.

Through Abenadar’s eyes, Centurion reveals the crucifixion and the resurrection. Abenadar’s greatest fear was that he would lose Ruth, for she believed the message of the prophet he must execute. But Abenadar misjudged Ruth’s love and her faith. And he misjudged how his experience of the Christ would change him.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Watch words

Now I'm really giving away my writing secrets. You can see more writing secrets at I use this list to refine my writing. I do a search for these words and constructions and get rid of those that don't make sense. Most of the time none of these make sense. To the maximum extent possible get rid of the words that define these weak constructions. I will give some specific examples below.


Replace weak present participle constructions like:
He was walking.
(with strong past tense verb constructions like)
He walked.

Stay in the past tense. Movement into the perfect tense makes tedious reading. If you must introduce an idea in the past shift to the perfect tense for only a couple of sentences to introduce time sequence, then transition back to the past tense. Otherwise the use of the word "had" can be easily replaced with much stronger and direct verbs.
He had a cat.
(can be changed to)
He owned a cat.
He possessed a cat.
He loved his cat.

Don't tell us how someone feels especially by adding adverbial descriptions of speech. Instead show us how they feel.
"I don't like cats," he said disgustedly. (not good)
"I don't like cats," he said with disgust. (a little better)
"I don't like cats," he gagged. (very good)

Same problem as had. There are always stronger verbs that are more descriptive. Plus, was and were are used to move into the subjunctive case. The use of was is reasonable for identity statements, but these should be reduced as much as possible. For example,
She was a teacher. (Okay)
She taught children. (Better)

Gotten is rotten. Got is rot. Just don't use them. You can find so many other ways of saying the same thing without using these words. Instead of got, in almost every case, you can use received.

Even is okay if you are using it to describe a level area or idea, it is usually redundant as in:
Even the cats didn't like it. (bad)
The cats didn't like it. (better)
Everyone including the cats didn't like it. (exactly the same statement, still redundant, more specific)

Said is dead. Don't use said to tell us what a person is saying.
"I like you," she said. (bad)
"I like you," she gushed. (better)
"I like you," she kissed his lips. (best)

Just don't do it. Utilize means the same as use. It is a redundant word without any purpose. Always use a smaller shorter word when it will do. That is unless you want your character to sound pretentious and overinflated.

And that's part of the point. In conversation, these words may be used to convey a specific idea about the character. The use in the narrative and descriptive construction of the text is not a good idea.

Don't miss my guest blog on about Centurion on 16 August.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Nudity in Writing

In real life people take off their clothing for various reasons. In a novel, unless it drives the plot, theme, or story line there is little reason to document the action, consequences, or reasons for your character's nudity.

In my novels, especially the Aegypt novels, I use nudity with a specific purpose in mind. I'm giving away real secrets here, about my writing and my ideas on writing.

Back to Eden
One of the main themes in the Aegypt Novels is 'back to Eden' driven by Leora. Leora, the Goddess of Light, is not perfect, but she is the archetype Eve--the perfect woman. Her nudity demonstrates and represents her closeness to God. Likewise Lumie're, her daughter, and the Goddess of Darkness, in her time, is clothed and uncomfortable unclothed. These themes play throughout the novels with this specific purpose.

Good/Purity and Evil/Impurity
Leora, the Goddess of Light, is naked at certain times, and Leila, the Goddess of Darkness, is always naked. The contrast within the books is their stature and pose--the purpose for their nudity is to represent the concept the Jews call Eve/Lilith. Eve was created perfect, the mother of mankind, Lilith was created perfect and the mother of demons. The concept displays how beauty and perfection of form does not equate to beauty and perfection of purpose.

Cultural Comparison/Contrast
I do cultures and societies in my novels. Many cultures are driven by clothing, many are not. The contrast and comparison is wonderful. The play between them significant. A powerful contrast in many cultures is their view of nudity. The ancient Irish culture abhorred it, while the Greeks thought it was completely normal. This comparison/contrast based on clothing, or the lack of it, provides a powerful driver for plot lines. I do this a lot in my newest novel Dana-ana.

Shock refers to the characters and the readers. The shock value of the use of nudity in a fashion the reader may not expect can be powerful--the shock value between characters whose cultural perceptions are very different is priceless. These cannot drive a theme, but they provide some power within a theme--especially a theme about culture.

All these ideas work together on the page. They are self supporting and although can be used separately, gain power through being used together.

See more writing secrets at

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Sister of Darkness

I have two books on contract with OakTara publishing. You can see more about then at and I already talked about Sister of Light. Sister of Darkness is the next novel and follows the main characters from Aegypt through WWII. All my books are in some way dark. I try to trip issues and explore themes that propel the characters into the depths of difficult decisions. A novel is great only because the theme itself is important. No one wants to read a novel about a trivial subject or a trifling problem. The problem in Sister of Darkness is the interaction of Lumiére, their daughter, with the Goddess of Darkness, Leora's sister and Lumiére's aunt. The Goddess of Darkness has been encouraging Hitler's actions in WWII. So, you can see the dilemma posed by this book. Lumiére's entanglement becomes a problem for her parents because to fight the Goddess of Darkness, they must also confront their daughter. The problem is worse because Lumiére thinks she has been tainted by involvement in her aunt's actions and work. This book is action packed and exciting. It builds the intelligence involvement of the main characters that is further fleshed out in later novels.

Here is a synopsis of Sister of Darkness.
A pall spreads over the world with the beginning of World War II. The darkness is both a physical and spiritual miasma. Colonel Paul Bolang, a special officer in the French Alpine Corps, is assigned, with his men, to support the Allied operations against the Germans in Norway. He leaves his wife, Leora Bolang and their children Lumiére, Robert, Jacques, and Marie in sunny Hyères, France.
Paul and Leora share a secret they have never divulged to their children or to their closest friends. Leora is the incarnation of the Goddess of Light, herself reintroduced into the world from a 4000 year old tomb. Paul, her warrior, has a power beyond that of normal humans. Unfortunately, when Paul released Leora, Leora’s sister, the Goddess of Darkness, Leila was also released into the world. Leila delights in darkness and the deaths of men. 4000 years ago, Leora and Leila were displaced with the entire pantheon of the Egyptian gods when Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt. Now Leila wants revenge—revenge against the people who displaced her and revenge against the world—“that is her purpose.”
Paul is still on assignment when Germany invades France. Leora and her children barely escape the clutches of German troops through the help of Major Lyons leading a British Special Forces Team. They are shipped to Britain with only the clothes on their back. In Britain, Matilda Hastings, Tilly, rescues them, and Leora discovers she was, weeks before, invited to a royal function. How did Lyons know the Germans were coming for them? How did Tilly know to help them? Why the predestined invitation? Who knows about Leora and Paul’s secrets, and who is helping them?
Worse, the Osiris Offering Formula, a small black tablet Leila desires, lay protected and safe at the house in Hyères—now it is missing. If Leila gets her hands on the offering formula, she will be able to influence the world a hundred fold greater with her evil. Leila controls men through their own dark desires. With the offering formula, her power will increase.
As war spreads, Leora must deal with Paul’s loss, her sister’s interference in the world, the violent world around her, and finally, her daughter, Lumiére’s strange dreams and desires. The novel, Sister of Darkness leads through the dark days of World War II from its beginning to a spiritual confrontation at its conclusion. Leora and Paul face enemies and threats throughout, yet they persevere to the bitter end—an end where they must directly confront Leila and their own daughter.