Random AMA, Ask Me Anything, Today

I’m kinda hovering around a couple different projects, so today, let’s devote it toward an AMA, aka, Ask Me Anything. Way this works is, you pop into the comments below, drop a question, and this afternoon I’ll go ahead and try to answer as many as I can. Note that jerky questions will be left unanswered, or worse, plunged into the Spam Oubliette where they will be left, screaming silently and pawing at the quivering pink walls of obscurity and oblivion.

That’s it. Easy-peasy play-Parcheesi.

Ask and ye shall receive answers. Probably. Maybe.


  • Missed seeing at the Los Angeles Times Festival of books this year (volunteering) – when might you be swinging back out this way again? I owe you a perfect navel orange.

  • Did the idea for Mr. Bones come more from exposure to the Prequel Trilogy or more from The Clone Wars animated series. Love that character!

    • It was the previews for PHANTOM MENACE. Those droids looked so freaky — weird vulture-faced droid army. Then I saw the movie and — I mean, it was fun, but those droids were basically jokey lightsaber fodder. I wanted to reclaim the scariness.

  • I’ve written a full book and started several others but am hesitant to ask other writers to review my work to see if it’s good and I have a future writing or bad, despite my reading 250 Things, Damn Fine Story, 500 Things, etc that are helping me as I re-read and edit my mostly complete, yet I keep editing, book. Several of my friends have read it, but constructive feedback has been limited.
    How did you start off getting professionals to review your work?

    • I did not get professionals to review my work, because really, that’s not their job. Writers are not critics or editors. Your best bet is to hire a freelance developmental and/or copy-editor for the job. That or join a beta reader/critique group with trusted individuals.

      • Thank you, kind sir. It’s kind of like I know where I want to go but have no, dare I say, Jedi Master to lead me where I need to go.
        You’re amaze-balls btw.

  • What advice/wisdom/suggestions can you share about raising a kid in Pennsyltucky who is aware of prevalent social injustices, aware of the greater world outside of our rural home, but also knows that there is nothing inherently wrong with him or his own identity. (i.e. How to raise a good human being?)

  • June 13, 2018 at 12:18 PM // Reply

    Uhhh… I had a writing question but forgot what it was because my brain is also like a sieve. So, how often do you go running? I recently started and was wondering the frequency with which you do it (Couple days a week? Every other day? EVERY DAY?!?!), and do you do any non-cardio exercising like weights or yoga or something?

    Really love your blog and your books. Thanks for doing what you do.

    • I try to run three times a week. Depending on weather and such. I also do some weights in the office shed and I do daily push-ups. I’d try yoga but I have a fear of embarrassing the hell out of myself.

      • You could try YouTube yoga videos. No embarrassment and they’re free – bonus! I like Yoga with Adriene.

  • June 13, 2018 at 12:40 PM // Reply

    I am querying a YA & I am at peace with the characters, story etc., but I know it probably still has grammar/ punctuation issues despite having gone over it several times with one beta reader. I am wondering if I should spend the money to have it professionally edited before I query some more, but as a struggling single mom I can’t really afford it. Should I hope an agent will take me on on the merit of the story & then worry about more edits, or stop what I’m doing & save up for a freelance editor’s help now? Thank you so much for this AMA, & for all you do- I love every word you write!

    • It’s hard, and that isn’t cheap — it really depends on how broken you think it is. If it’s just a little tweaked, you could try querying as is. If you think it really really requires the pass, ennh, I dunno, try to save up? Visit forums see if there are other authors you can trade a copy-edit for?

  • How do you do your novel outlines? (excel spreadsheet, lots words in a word doc, etc) How detailed (on a scale of 1 – 10) are they before you start your first draft?

  • I am wondering if you’ve thought of doing a writing project around/involving your photographs? Love your take on the idea of it. Also want to thank you for your generosity with your time and information! Your posts make me smile––always a good kickoff to my day.

  • You put the first Miriam trilogy out then went away from her to do other things. When you went back to her was it hard to get back into her head after being away? By the same token, do you find it particularly challenging to work on multiple projects at the same time? Shifting from world to world seems like it might cause feels from one project to bleed into another.

  • Any advice or resources for someone (Er, me) who needs to outline but isn’t too sure of the best way to go about it?

  • June 13, 2018 at 2:01 PM // Reply

    I recently watched “The Staircase” on Netflix, and in one scene, the sisters of the deceased dug through the accused’s early writings (he was a novelist drawing on his experiences in Viet Nam as a U.S. Marine) trying to find dirt on him. The found a passage where a *character* was expressing opinions that they immediately categorized as “sociopathic” (they weren’t trained psychologists as far as could be discerned) AND they immediately declared that this passage was autobiographical. This was an extreme case, but I have had friends and coworkers whom I let read some of my short stories do pretty much the same thing. It seems to me there are a lot of people who simply do not know how to read fiction, and/or who assume that because a person writes something down, it expresses their own personal POV. Have you run into this? Any ideas on how to maybe nudge them along into a more realistic view of what writers do and how to understand fiction? My coworkers in particular were all very well-educated people. I was amazed at their obtuseness about fiction.

    • The sad reality is, most people don’t read fiction, and don’t contextualize it well. No idea how we fix that, except… maybe support politicians and laws that are pro-library?

  • Hey Chuck! First of all, thank you so much for the advice and encouragement you put forth. It has seriously helped me keep going with my writing. My question is, what are the best steps to take to find a writing agent that isn’t secretly evil? I am reaching a point in my writing where i’ll need to start looking for one, and I have no idea what i’m doing. Thank you so much for your time!

    • I don’t think there are too many SECRETLY EVIL ones — probably a fair number of mediocre ones, though. Best bet is to talk to their clients; also to talk to the agents themselves. Look at how they comport themselves on social media, f’rex.

  • Kind of a two-part question (in honor of Father’s Day! Why not!). One, do you ever write stories for your son (and, if you’d like to share, have they received as positive a reception as many of your other works have)? And two, given some of the themes in your work, how do you explain that to your son, or do you?

    *FWIW, I have two young children, 8 and 6. I’ve read them a couple of (more or less) age appropriate stories I’ve written just to see if they liked them. Some stories, though, are scary or violent — not okay for kids. Not okay for grownups, either, maybe, hell, who knows.

    • I haven’t written him anything, but we make up stories together sometimes — used to be a thing to get him to eat his food (“eat three bites, I’ll continue the story”) but since then it’s just a thing we do; the story is the reward for the story.

  • Short stories are my comfort zone, but the idea I have needs more space to grow. Outline – check Characters – check. First draft started. What a different animal is a novel. I feel like a dung beetle. Is it best to keep soldiering on until I get to the end of the first draft in all its dunginess?

  • June 13, 2018 at 2:59 PM // Reply

    Do you have any tips for revising drafts within a rational timeframe? It takes me forever to write a piece, then before I know it I’ve spent two months revising 40 pages, and I’m absolutely exhausted from second-guessing 🙁

  • June 13, 2018 at 6:00 PM // Reply

    If you could wrote a sequel to the Aftermath Trilogy, what would it be about? Sloane and Hux? Norra’s team? Eleodie Maracavanya’s awesome pirate fleet? Something else entirely?

    • Sloane would definitely feature. I’d also kinda want to do a WEST WING style political drama/thriller with Sinjir and Mon Mothma. I mean, realistically most of the characters would come back in some capacity.

  • June 13, 2018 at 7:06 PM // Reply

    What’s your opinion on author newsletters? I love reading your blog, and I blog myself. Are newsletters a dying fad to attract readers, or still a solid method for an elusive audience? Blog vs newsletter – what was the basis of your decision?

    • I think they’re great — authors seem to have a lot of success with them, and they work to offer a seemingly private connection with an author and still be a thing the author owns and controls. Blog for me is just that I’ve done it so long, 18 years now, and I can have people subscribe to the blog way they do a newsletter, so it seems odd to switch to a newsletter now?

  • Is there any advice you can give related to screenwriting? If no, do you know anyone I can ask who is comparably approachable to you? I’m trying to work in low-budget horror, and it’s hard to figure out where to start. I know that’s not your domain necessarily, but I appreciate any help I can get!

    • I am an alum of the Sundance Screenwriting Lab, and I’ve been in and out of the film TV world a little bit. It’s a very, very hard industry to break into — best I can tell you is to write a lot and to haunt film Twitter just to be cool and talk to folks.

      • Thank you so much!

        I apologize that I was unfamiliar with that part of your background – I hope I didn’t offend you in any way.

        Thanks again!

  • Well, alright. How do I put that…

    Do you ever experience a difficullty when it comes to putting yourself into the storyworld of the one you’re currently writing? Like, you sit down to get to work, but some other stuff (exterior to the storyworld, like… the real world) won’t let you dive into that world beneath the words you type?

    I love that metaphor from Stephen King’s Misery, where Paul is trying to flee through the hole in the paper into the world of his story.

    So, if yes, how do you deal with that? What’s your way of fleeing through the hole into that world on the other side of that hole, when it seems so difficult to do on that specific day?

    Thanks 🙂

    • I don’t know that there’s any good answer for me other than, “I do it anyway.” I’m often reticent, and the real world is often very distracting, but I do it anyway and have practiced that, and it the action of turning the wheels also greases the wheels.

  • Hi, Chuck. I was wondering if you have any advice for a writer dealing with anxiety and depression. I’ve been dealing with it for eight years now, and I’m slowly getting better, but it’s something I’m living with long-term. I’ve still finished some short stories, and a Nanowrimo novel, but everything I do is so slow ’cause life and my depression exhaust me. You have said before that depression is NOT writer’s block, it needs to be dealt with on its own, so what do you do when low-level depression is here to stay? I feel like everyone else is leaving me in the dust.

    • I’ve got the anxiety part of that equation in full-force — and I don’t know that there’s any great answer I can give, but a good therapist might? For me, I compartmentalize very well and I try to exercise and take Magnesium and meditate — none of those things eradicate the anxiety, but they can lessen its sting. Depression is a related but different animal, and probably requires intervention at that level? Therapy? Meds? No shame in either.

    • I don’t know that there’s any one reason. Fear is one — fear of success, fear of the next step. Self-doubt is another. Lack of discipline and practice. A lot of reasons, I suspect.

  • June 14, 2018 at 2:09 PM // Reply

    Actual writing question if it’s not too late. I have an awesome character and interesting world knocking at my brain-door, and zero plot. Usually I get a flash of a scene that acts as a window into the story which I can expand into an actual bone structure, but this time nada besides a heap of backstory, which is the exact opposite of how it usually works for me. Which, maybe not surprising since I’m returning to writing after a looong hiatus, but frustrating as hell. I’d ignore her and work on something else, but she won’t shut up, and none of my old screenwriting story dev exercises are working.

    Any suggestions for sparking a plot/skeleton, since I have the brain/lead character and a pile of skin/world + supporting characters? Go to TV tropes and roll a 20-sided die, see what sticks? Stephen gets mad when I bang my head against the wall, so that’s already off the table.

    • TOO LATE

      *slams buzzer*

      No okay, if you have an awesome character, then you have plot.

      If that character does not generate plot, that character is not an awesome character.

      Way this works is, and this is really the crux of DAMN FINE STORY, you let the character lead the way by attempting (and failing) to solve a particular problem, and in doing so, they make decisions and the world reacts to those decisions, and PLOT is formed from the fertile dirt of those choices. The story is in the solution to the character’s problem. If a character needs money for an operation, but has none, and needs it quickly, the character has to make choices to get that money. Rob a bank? Kill for the insurance money? Counterfeit it? Time travel? I dunno. Point is, in pursuit of the solution to the problem, plot happens. Especially when other characters with similar PLOT-CREATION ABILITIES show up and fuck it all to hell.

      • June 16, 2018 at 2:16 PM // Reply

        Oh helltits… then I need to reread DAMN FINE STORY and see what bubbles up from my caulron o’brainmeats as her major malfunction. Grazie mucho mi amigo.

        (Suhweet book plug amidst solid writing advice remind, BTW.)

  • What time of day is your writing at its best?
    I love you, man. And I’ve proceeded to copy from the tight vizh styling of your blog. So, thank you. Doubt I’ll ever copy your flow-tastic writing style, but I can try.

  • I’m pulling together my flash fiction; and I’m stuck! Do I put them into categories – ie: horror, funny, Christmas, Easter, love, twisted, weird – or just throw them into a mish-mash of story Hell?


    This is so different from writing a book from beginning to end – I’ve never published a collection of stories before.

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