yeah, i’m looking at you NPRThe story sounds like a drug-inspired paranoia trip. But here it goes.

Some conspiracy whack jobs on the interwebs told everyone that a pizza shop in Washington D.C. was a front for child-sex trafficking and satanic illuminati shenanigans. The conspiracy loons said Hillary Clinton was involved. Their mindless bilge was all propagated as news, when in fact it was fake-news. Fake-news seems to be more profitable than real news.

People believed these lies unconditionally and didn’t bother to check the facts or consider the source.

Death threats were made. Innocent people were harassed. Someone went into the pizzeria and shot off a couple of rounds from an assault rifle. He said he was investigating the claims about Clinton.

I told you it sounded crazy, didn’t I?

In my novel The Little Girl Waits (which you should buy right now) I have a scene where the traffickers are using an auto repair shop as a front for their evil, and the good guys go in to investigate. It is one of the better scenes in the book, IMHO. But that is fiction. This loon took a real rifle into a real pizza restaurant. A PIZZA RESTAURANT! That is not fiction.

So, the next time someone tells me that the elements in my novel aren’t “believable” I’m just gonna point to this.

I’ve come to think that believability in a story is slightly overrated. (By the way, have you bought my novel The Little Girl Waits yet? Go Ahead and get the follow-up to it, How Great is The Darkness while you’re at it.) When I pick up a novel to read, I don’t want it to look exactly like my everyday world. I want it to be different. I want the unexpected. I want to see believable characters in unbelievable situations. In fact, I like that sentence so much, I’m gonna set it off in its own quote bracket to highlight the point like they do in fancy publications.

I want to see believable characters in unbelievable situations

This gets back to another thing I believe in so deeply. Character trumps plot. We love characters. We tolerate plots. The plot only exists to reveal the integrity and grit (or lack thereof) of the character(s). I’ll use Harry Potter because it is so easy. The plot of what is going on and the whose it, spell it, when it, is very inconsequential. We care about Harry, his friends, Dumbledore, and the showdown with Voldemort. The characters are the plot.

Of course, the plot matters. I don’t mean to say it doesn’t have a role to play in the development of a good story. What I am saying is that character development matters far more, and it is the characters that keep the reader engaged. The moment the reader stops caring about the character he or she is likely to put the book down and go turn the television on  and watch the Gilmore Girls–because that is all character.

But back to the pizza shop. It is actually a place called Comet Ping Pong Pizza. Disclosure–I’ve never been there, so the pizza might be lousy.

I think they should lawyer-up and start the lawsuits. If I owned that business, I would sue everyone I could find that pushed that fake news story. I’m not generally litigation happy, but for crying-out-loud there needs to be some accountability here. Free speech is important, but I can’t shout, “Fire” in a movie theater and fake news propagators must be held accountable.

This is not a real news story


There are two problems at play here, as I see it. The first problem is, as this (click here) article on slate points out, conspiracies to hurt children exist. One only has to think of Jerry Sandusky at Penn State or the Catholic Diocese of Boston highlighted in the film Spotlight. It is sickening to think about, but true. The second problem, though, is different. It is the problem that we attribute the worst possible societal crime to our political opponents. It is not enough to suspect a child-sex ring, but somehow it must be Hillary Clinton’s fault. Before the progresses get all high and mighty about this, they need to realize they are equally to blame when they all but accuse Donald Trump of having white hoods in his closet.

This is all problematic. But you know what else is problematic–who we blame. If  I hear one more person blame “the internet” or “social media” for this (yeah, I’m looking at you NPR), I’m gonna do something serious like eat an apple without washing it first. Dont’ try me!

This is not the internet’s fault. The internet is neutral, like a car. You can drive it wherever you want. The internet takes you places and grants you conversation. The problem is not the medium. The problem is that people have lost the ability to think critically. I don’t when it happened, somewhere since my childhood the important skill of analysis has vaporized.

Fake news stories have been here, since, like, forever! The National Enquirer was based on it in my childhood. People read it, but they knew it was garbage.

Somehow we’ve lot the ability to chuckle at the stupidity and move on.

The reason is we want to believe the garbage.

It reminds me a bit of my theology of zombies. You read that right. Zombies have a theology. The short of it is that the zombie genre and our fascination with it hints at a deep down feeling of unease that we have with our life. We have a sense that something is out of balance, something is not quite right in the world, and we are just one bad moment from ending the whole thing. This thinking has crept into our political world. We expect there to be a political apocalypse any day now, when our darkest nightmares are confirmed. It is fatalism that flows from a lack of spirituality. To read more about the theology of zombies, click here.

Therefore, the political enemy must, necessarily, be completely evil. He or she can’t just be wrong on the issue or the policy, he must be completely evil. So George Bush was compared with Hitler, Obama was a secret Muslim, Trump is a Nazi, Clinton is the Illuminati, and on and on and on. This kind of though pollutes our national discourse.

One more thought. Chew on this for a bit. A pastor friend of mine shared this week that someone he knew refused to pray for peace because he believed that the world needed to get worse and worse so that Jesus would come back.

That is how you end up with assault rifles at pizza joints where people are looking for presidential candidates sacrificing children.





So, my new novel, a follow-up to The Little Girl Waits, is finished.

Well, maybe.

I adore the plot, love the way the returning characters have changed and grown, and how they are also very much the same people they were in TLGW, and I think the story is tight, just the way I like it.  Unless your name is Tolkien, Asimov, Rowling or Homer you probably shouldn’t be writing winded and wordy works of fiction.  So this is not an issue of length for me.  I’m not trying to make it longer.

But I feel like something is missing–like I need to add something.  Not much, mind you, but something.  Here are my options, as I understand them.puzzle

  1. I could add a mysterious stranger.  I’m thinking an additional chapter somewhere, before the rising action really takes off.  In TLGW this function is played by Shark, who only has a brief appearance in the story but is pivotal.
  2. An action scene might help.  I am hesitant to add action scenes “just because” even though readers really like them. I believe action scenes should further the story, but sometimes you need something like that to keep the reader keyed in.
  3. Flashbacks have helped me in the past.  There are several flashbacks in TLGW, and that can give great insight into what a character is thinking.  My thoughts right now are for the bad guy (actually, in this story it is a woman) to have a protracted flashback.  This might give the reader a little more insight into why she is doing all these horrible things.
  4. Maybe it is the ending.  I finish the novel with Butch talking with someone about the why and reason of the events they go through in the book, but no real clear resolution is found other than the world is messed up.  At first I liked that ending because the world is messed up, and sometimes good people get caught between different factions of evil pulling in different directions.  But perhaps I need a tidier resolution.  Perhaps.

There is one other thing.  It might be the title.  I have yet to decide its title.  For the entire time I wrote it was simply “Butch Gregory 3” but titles like that only work for Iron Man and X-Men movies.  Right now the title is “How Great The Darkness” but I don’t know if that will last.  Perhaps I’ll feel better about after I title it officially.  However, my experience is that often the title gets changed or adjusted during the publication process.

Writer’s neurosis and self-doubt might also be at work here.  I find that letting go of a manuscript is one of the hardest things I ever do.  This is true whether it is a novel, short story, poem, or sermon.  I want to hold on to them like children, and never let them go.

I need to make a decision this week so I can get the project finished, hopefully get it published, and then get back to my retro-scifi stories.  They have been on hold until this is complete.

puzzle image from radicallychristian.com


Where do you get the names for your characters?

Hunter Pence--A name and look made for a novel action hero.
Hunter Pence–Action Hero

That is one of the most common questions I get from people who are kind enough to read my books and stories.  The best answer is from anywhere there is a list of names.  Graduation lists are great resources, people in photographs in the newspaper, church bulletins, anywhere really.  The eye is the portal of creativity.  It is often good to take first names and match them with other last names.

But inspiration can come from anywhere.  As I watched game five of the World Series last night, it occurred to me that the entire starting lineup of the San Francisco Giants have excellent novel names.  In my mind I built a plot for each one of them.

CF Gregor Blanco–An assassin who specializes in international jobs.  He has a handlebar moustache.

2B Joe Panik–1960s era private investigator.  That he plays in San Francisco just screams Bogie

C Buster Posey–Banker from the 1920s-30s.  He wears suspenders and a bow tie.  A close personal friend of Daddy Warbucks.

3B Pablo Sandoval–A desperate artist who lives in Miami.  He probably has a sordid past,  maybe a couple of children he left behind in New York.

RF Hunter Pence–My favorite!  He a loner who makes an incredible discovery about the origins of the cosmos while backpacking through Mongolia.  (Note–If you want to know what my mental image of Wyoming Wallace, Hunter Pence is pretty close)

1B Brandon Belt–A bartender who has lots of luck with the ladies, until he finds the one girl who is the gin to his tonic.  Soul patch, tall, lanky. 

LF Travis Ishikawa–This name just screams scientist.  Ishikawa develops a time machine that . . .

SS Brandon Crawford–Brandon Crawford is a Hollywood superstar, but beneath the perfect smile and hair he hides a dark secret.

SP Madison Bumgarner–President Madison Bumgarner must overcome international terrorists and domestic political division to unify the nation before its too late. 

Yeah, these are some great names.  Sadly, Kansas City just doesn’t have quite the pizzazz that the Giant names do.

image of Hunter Pence from www.kshb.com


Man Typing on Laptop
The next scene is him throwing the laptop across the room.

I’ve spent lots of time this week trying to finish my new short story on the Deep Cove monster.  It will be the fourth installment behind Deep Cove, Deep Cove:  The Party Crasher, and The Deep Cove Lineage.  These sci-fi stories are written like a serial–a continuing story line.  It is almost finished and ready for others to proof.

As I’ve been working on this, and through the rollout of my new novel The Little Girl Waits, I’ve been pondering some of the greatest challenges for writing fiction.

1.  Deciding how much to leave out.  Fiction, because it exists entirely in the mind of the creator, can go as far as you want it to.  When I write about the woman being attacked by the monster, for instance, my mind sees the whole thing at once.  The problem is, the whole thing at once might bore the reader to tears.  I mean, seriously, does the reader really care what kind of shoes the old woman has on?  But at the same time I recognize these kinds of detail can give the story a rich, narrative depth.  It is always a struggle to know where to stop.

2.  Continuity in the story.  This is hard enough in a single novel, but it becomes increasingly difficult for me when the stories pile up, such as the Deep Cove series.  Many of the characters in The Little Girl Waits are from my first book or other short stories, and I had to really be careful that I didn’t change anything significant about their characters.  I almost did.  At one point I almost changed the gender and name of one of Butch Gregory’s kids.  Yikes.

3.  Continuity in the character.  I would like input from other writers on this one, because I find that maintaining a character’s voice is not the easiest thing in the world to do.  I’ve got a character, Colonel Crews, who in the Deep Cove Lineage has a certain demeanor and I am finding it hard to keep him ‘in character’ in the new story.  I don’t know why that is, because I wrote him the first time.  Why is it so hard to keep him in personality stasis?

4.  Fight scenes.  I love reading a good fight scene, and I think I understand the logistics of writing them and how they should work.  The problem I have is lack of experience in actual fighting.  The last fight I remember being in was in fourth grade.  A kid flicked my ear from the seat behind me on the bus and I lunged over the top of the seat, put him in a headlock, and pounded his nose with my left hand.  He never picked on me again.  However, not all fights can go like that.  I have to really work at writing these–even to the point of acting it out in the study to feel how the motion goes.  Oh I hope no one ever sees me fighting with myself through the window.  They will think I’m Edward Norton from Fight Club.

5.  Keeping the tension high.  Tension is the key to interest.  No one is interested if everyone is happy and the world is picture perfect.  Things have to go wrong and the threat of danger must be near.  I can do that fairly easily, but what I have a hard time is keeping it high.  As a human being, I want things to balance out cleanly before the next tension arises, but this linear mojo is not in keeping with life or good art.  It is far better when the tension swirls all over the place and never truly comes to resolution.  I find doing that to be a real challenge indeed.

There are many other challenges in writing fiction, but these are some that I’ve been mindful of on my most recent projects.  If you are a writer/artists, feel free to share what your major challenges are right now, or if you’re willing, share how you overcome some of these that I’ve mentioned.



image from Shutterstock