Swing State Blues

(This article was written during the presidential campaign of 2012)

The election will soon be upon us, and the gods of statistics have declared that a once-in-a-blue-moon event is about to happen: my vote will actually matter!  Having spent my entire life living in states where presidential elections were decided before they began, I have grown accustomed to performing my pilgrimage to the presidential polls as a civic duty, a metaphorical declaration of my belief in freedom, justice, and the American way…but not as an action that would actually help decide who led the country.

But hey, I live in Virginia now, and the pundits have declared God’s truth from every mountaintop: My vote matters!  In fact, every night I can turn on the news and get an updated assessment on just how much it matters.  Romney gained a three point lead in Carolina?  Wow, only 6 states left!  Is Florida in Obama’s pocket? Down to 5! read more…

The Reality of Writing

People often ask me what writing professionally is like…or how to go about writing a publishable book…or some other question that involves the writing process. Well, here’s the answer:

This morning I’m working on a chapter in my book where my characters are finally getting a few important things explained to them. Yes, the dreaded “E” word. An author usually avoids explanations like the plague, and writing one from the author’s POV is on the top ten list of unforgivable sins in fiction. But sometimes you get to a place in your story when one character needs to explain something to another, and then you have to figure out how to make that happen without slowing down the story… or making it seem like you’re trying to sneak in the author-POV thing. read more…

To Beta or not to Beta?

All right, I never thought of them as “beta readers.” The first ones were just “friends who believe in me and keep me going.” Back when I was working on my first novel, 700+ pages with no guarantee of publication, that was what I needed most.

As I wrote each chapter I would painstakingly print out copies (dot matrix continuous feed paper…ah, memories of the dinosaur age!) and then put them in manila envelopes and mail them to friends. And then I would wait on tenterhooks for the phone calls that would tell me, “I really liked that one, keep going!” At times when my spirits flagged, or I had doubts about whether I could finish this immense project at all, those moments of human contact kept me motivated. read more…

The DM Rule

Too often we create our worlds with a particular story in mind and assume that all the characters will respect our intentions. They don’t travel beyond the borders of our map, try to use artifacts in ways that we did not intend, seek loopholes in our Laws of Magic, or otherwise stress the limits of our universe.

Real human beings, of course, are not like that. History teaches that it is human nature to go everywhere, do everything, and test every limit there is. Thor Heyerdahl proved that man could cross an ocean using only primitive construction materials, and we know that many islands in the Pacific were discovered by men who set out with no more than an outrigger canoe and a dream. There is no island so remote, no terrain so daunting, that men will not seek out and explore it, no supernatural concept so bizarre that someone will not attempt to exploit it. Merely saying “it is dangerous” may scare off most people, but there are always those will consider danger a personal challenge. read more…