December 2018 Research Triangle Writers Coffeehouse

UPDATE, 8:30 local time, 9 December 2018: Today’s meeting is canceled due to snowy weather and poor road conditions. See everyone next month!

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All writers, young or old, published or unpublished, struggling or accomplished, are welcome at the next RT Writers Coffeehouse meeting at Quail Ridge Books on Sunday, the 9th of December at 2 pm. We’re just a bunch of writers, sitting around talking about writing!

Come and tell us how you did with NaNoWriMo (if you did NaNoWriMo). Come with your gift suggestions, whether you want to suggest your own book or someone else’s. Come and spend some time browsing, and pick up some gifts for your family and friends. Just come!

The Writers Coffeehouse

Because the bottom line is, if you’re a writer and live in or near the Research Triangle, you’re welcome at The Writers Coffeehouse!

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P.S. Don’t be shy: join the Facebook group, and share this post with any other area writers you know!

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Answering a Writing-Related Question, and Admitting that I’m Badly Stuck

A few weeks ago I invited my newsletter readers* to submit questions they wanted me to answer — questions about anything: writing (stories or songs), editing, pastimes, whatever. I haven’t been very good at answering them in the newsletter, but I thought I might include some here on the blog anyway (probably as sporadically).

This one in particular ends up with a confession, which I hope will be good for my soul….

ASK
(Image: “ASK,” by Anne Thorniley, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

One reader asked: Is it harder to write a short story for an anthology, or a full novel?

I thought that was a great question, and I wrote back right away with a partial answer. As I thought about it a little more, I realized that even though I’ve found short stories to be generally easier — just because they’re less complex than novels and we get to “the end” faster — they’re still challenging for a couple of reasons.

First, for me personally, short stories are hard to write because I tend to write long (which makes editing blog posts and newsletters into quite a chore). Within science fiction and fantasy, a short story has a limit of 7500 words—beyond that and you’re into “novelette” territory. But anthology editors often ask for even shorter stories! In fact, one editor only wanted 6500 words and I thoroughly busted the limit; thankfully, he liked the story enough that he didn’t ask me to cut very much.

Second, I find short stories for anthologies to be particularly challenging depending on how tightly focused the theme of the anthology is. Some anthologies have broad themes, like the Star Destroyers anthology that came out earlier this year. The working title and the theme of that anthology changed a couple of times, but in general the stories were supposed to address operations — and particularly battle operations — aboard starfaring ships. Even with that rather broad idea, it took me a good while to figure out what story I wanted to write!

I have a much harder time coming up with stories when the anthology theme is very specific. One of the hardest stories for me to write was for Chuck Gannon’s Lost Signals anthology, because it had to take place within the specific bounds of his “Caine Riordan” universe. I think it was difficult for me because I had a terrible fear of messing something up in his universe. That fear may have been a little overblown — as most fears of that type are — because he wouldn’t let that happen, but it was compounded by the simple fact that I didn’t want to let him down if the story didn’t fit into his universe. I rather liked the story I wrote, but I had such a hard time writing it that when Larry Correia asked me if I wanted to write a story for one of his anthologies I thanked him and told him I didn’t think I could do it.

Which leads me to my unfortunate confession: I haven’t written more than a few words of fiction since finishing that story. I’ve tried. I’ve got ideas, and notes upon notes, but the idea of trying to compose, of trying to bring these ideas out of my head onto the page, has become anathema to me. Even my songwriting has suffered. In fact, that’s part of why I started back up on blog posts: to see if I might find a way out of these doldrums.

I’m stuck fast; struggling against it has worn me out; and I hate it. And here’s the deeper, more frightful confession: I’ve begun to wonder if something in the process of writing that story damaged some part of my creative self.

But that’s probably a topic for some other day.

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*You can also subscribe to my newsletter. I’d be pleased if you would (and I’m always willing to take new questions!).

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Once More Unto the Blog, Dear Friends

I’ve been away from the blog for a long time.

Maybe you’ve noticed; maybe you haven’t. Maybe you care; maybe you don’t.

But I’m back, and it’s back. Or we’re back. (Or something!)

I don’t have much of a plan or a purpose, just things I still want to say and this handy place to say them. Maybe more people will come visit; maybe they won’t. I’m going to try not to worry about it too much.

As my high school English teacher wrote in my yearbook, “Our beach is a lonely beach, and few come to see our castles. But, on we build.”


(Image: “Sand Castle, Cannon Beach,” by Curt Smith, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Stop by and visit anytime!

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Writing that Crosses the Spiritual Divide

(Cross-posted, with some light edits, from my 12 June 2018 guest post on the Speculative Faith blog.)

The conventional wisdom is that authors shouldn’t read reviews of our own work.

If the reviews are good, they can inflate already outsized egos, and if the reviews are bad, well — egos don’t always just deflate. A hot-air-balloon-sized ego, pierced by a bad review, might slowly settle into a mass of hard-to-wrangle canvas, but a smaller, more fragile ego might burst into shreds that are impossible to reassemble.

Nevertheless, some of us are drawn to reviews like moths to flame. If we’re lucky, the flame is a gentle candle and we just get singed if we get too close. If we’re unlucky, it’s a napalm-spewing flamethrower and we get terribly burned.

Sometimes we just get confused, as I was at two contrasting reviews of my novel, Walking on the Sea of Clouds. First, an Amazon reviewer gave the novel three stars and noted that it was a “good story” with strong character development but was “a bit bible-preachy [sic] for [their] tastes in hard science fiction.” Then the first issue of the Lorehaven online magazine included a brief, positive review that warned those seeking discernment that the story “only briefly referenced Christianity.”

Same story. Bible-preachy. Only briefly referenced Christianity.

I think this illustrates the fact that every reader brings their own experiences, attitudes, and expectations to the stories they read. Orson Scott Card told us in his writing workshop that whatever we’ve written is not the story, because the real story is in the reader’s head — and what’s in your head when you read a story is different from what’s in another person’s head when they read the same story. You might agree on some points, but you’ll disagree on others, and that’s okay.

In the case of my novel, someone who was not used to reading about believers and faith in the context of hard science fiction was put off by it. I have no way to know whether that person is a believer who was just surprised or a nonbeliever who was repulsed, and that really doesn’t matter. Their reading of the text is just as valid as anyone else’s — including the Lorehaven reviewer who might have been looking for more overt Christian themes. Was that person disappointed not to find them, or just surprised? I have no way of knowing, and again it hardly matters because however they read the story was the right way, for them.

Same story. Different readers. Different results.

It reminds me of what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, about the message of the cross seeming foolish to the lost, but representing the very power of God to those of us who believe (1 Corinthians 1:18). Same message. Different audience. Vastly different results.

Even within the body of believers, though, we can differ in our interpretations of Scripture. How much more should we expect to differ in reading science fiction and fantasy stories?


My friend Keith Phillips (Colonel, USAF, Retired), with whom I served in the 4th Space Operations Squadron, showing off his copy of Walking on the Sea of Clouds.

What does it take to cross the spiritual divide effectively in a literary or artistic work? Is it foolish even to try? I hope not, because in this age of growing doubt and disbelief I believe that Christian ideals, values, and themes still have a place in literature and art, whether science fiction, fantasy, or more mundane creations. And not just Christian principles, but Christian characters belong in fantastical stories — even in technology-heavy hard science fiction — just as surely as Christian people belong in every profession.

Unfortunately, sometimes the Christian characters in these stories end up being caricatures more than characters, reflecting the authors’ preconceptions rather than being portrayed as individuals, as people. I’ve found this to be true in stories by believers and nonbelievers alike, and it was something I tried to avoid.

That is, I tried to cross the spiritual divide by including Christian characters where they’re not always found — and by representing them as individual people with their own virtues and flaws, and even with different attitudes toward and expressions of faith. Some talk about it, some hide it, some deny it. Some ignore it, some sneer at it, some question it. That seemed realistic to me, and above all I tried to make the story seem realistic.

And maybe those two contrasting reviews — too much Bible to some people, not that much to others — show that I struck the right balance after all.

If you’ve read the story, I’d love to know what you think! And if you haven’t read the story, then now you know a little more of what you might find in it.

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The Pride of Doing

Pride sometimes gets a bad rap. Often its bad rap is deserved. But sometimes pride is important.

For those of us raised in the Christian or Jewish traditions, or even marginally aware of some of the Old Testament’s aphorisms, pride’s place as a “deadly sin” is solidified in the book of Proverbs:

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)

That usage, as I interpret it, is related to hubris, i.e., excessive pride, the kind of pride that exudes from puffed-up ego rather than solid character. In contrast is a lesser degree of pride, the type that is useful and necessary to everyday life and especially important to success in everyday life: the pride of doing something well.

This is not the pride of being — being good, being smart, being beautiful, being talented — but the pride of accomplishing, the pride of making, creating, discovering. The pride of doing is the pride that derives from building up the world. The former pride, the pride of being, only builds up ourselves.

The pride of doing, and doing well, is vital. If we had no pride in our work, for instance, we wouldn’t show it to others for their evaluation, their approval, or especially their purchase. When we have worked diligently and produced something of which we are proud, our degree of pride is likely to be proportional to our work’s value — if we have judged it properly. Not that we don’t see the flaws in it, but that we are rightly proud of having produced something of quality. That is, we are more likely to receive recognition or compensation in the open market for work we are proud of than for work we disdain. It only makes sense that if we are not proud of what we have produced, chances are others may not find much value in it.


(Image: “Vulcan Forging the Thunderbolts of Jupiter,” by Rubens, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Working hard and producing something of which we can be proud, then, is an important component to being successful. It doesn’t guarantee success — nothing does — but we increase our chances of success if we judge our own work fairly and honestly and our level of pride reflects its value.

In truth, being able to distinguish between things that are shoddy — things of which we should not be proud — and things which are excellent — things of which we should be proud — is an important skill. Unfortunately, not everyone possesses that skill because the only way to develop it is to have enough pride in our work to show it to someone who will give us honest feedback about its strengths and weaknesses, and then to be willing to listen to the feedback and make adjustments.

In my professional life I regularly see the work of writers who seem unable to distinguish good work from bad as it pertains to their own results. Whether they make the distinction when it comes to others’ work, I have no idea; but like those who suffer from the “Dunning-Kruger Effect” these writers display inordinate amounts of self-confidence and pride, having produced relatively mediocre work. In contrast, many of my writer friends — even some of the most successful — are actually quite humble about their own work (even work of which they are justly proud).

So, pride of doing is important in that we want to produce things that make us proud; however, that pride should be informed, accurate, and truthful. Otherwise, our pride will go before our destruction, at least so far as our work is concerned.

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GW4GP: What’s It All About?

Have you ever been in one of those moods where you’re evaluating your life and trying to make sense of things?

Early last year I was in such a mood when I found myself driving through South Carolina and reflecting on what I do. I don’t recall what book I was listening to at the time — something related to entrepreneurship — but part of it talked about developing a clear sense of mission: not at all unusual for a book like that, except that I was more in the mood to think about it than usual.


“My crystal ball is cracked, no magic images appear.” (Photo by Christopher Rinehart.)

Anyway, on that trip I came to the conclusion that my mission, my vision, my purpose in life is to write Good Words, for Good People. I like to think that’s what I actually do, but at the very least it’s what I want to do, what I intend to do.

I know that I don’t write perfect words. I don’t write anything like great words, or monumental words, or world-changing words. But I think I write good words — whether they come in the form of stories or songs or ideas, whether you encounter them here on the blog or in my newsletter or in a book or magazine or CD or speech.

“Good” in that they are adequate to the task, usually well-suited to the occasion.

Perhaps “good” in that they provide value for the investment of time and treasure.

And hopefully “good” in the sense that they make the world, or some small part of it, a little better.

I know sometimes I fail, and what I write is poor: poorly worded, poorly constructed, poorly thought. At other times, whether I succeed or fail will be … questionable. For instance, some things I write may challenge you, contradict you, even upset you, and you may assess them as being poor while others assess them differently. That’s okay, because I can’t (and don’t) expect anyone to agree with me all the time — as I’ve written about before.

But from the perspective that I am trying to produce “good” words, I’m comfortable saying that

  • My CDs aren’t perfect, or even masterful, but they’re pretty okay
  • My book on education isn’t the best thing ever written on the subject, and it won’t change anyone’s life who reads it, but it’s pretty good and (I think) is worth a reader’s while
  • My novel may not be the best thing anyone reads this year, and it won’t be to everyone’s taste — what is? — but it’s a pretty good near-future science fiction story, and some people have even found it to be moving
  • My newsletter is no paragon of excellence, but I try to keep it friendly and conversational (plus, if you subscribe I send you a free song, a free story, and a free e-book)

So, then, Good Words — that’s one thing.

But Good People — who are they?

To my way of thinking, pretty much everybody qualifies as “good people” — certainly you do! We may not agree on much, we may barely get along, we may not even like each other very much, but we’re all doing our best, the best way we know how, and the vast majority of us are trying to do things the right way, so far as we know the right. We’re not just trying to do well, but most of us are trying to do good. And I’m serious about you fitting that category, even if we’ve never met, because I sincerely believe that anyone who takes the time to read something I’ve written, or listen to something I’ve sung, or think about something I’ve said, is “good people.”

That’s GW4GP. The more I’ve thought about it, boiling down what I do and why to its very essence, what came out of the mental crucible that day was quite simple (and perhaps even a bit elegant): I write; and what I write, I hope, are Good Words, for Good Peoplelike you.

Thanks for reading!

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P.S. If you’re of a mind, I hope you’ll visit and “Like” the “Good Words for Good People” Facebook Page. Thanks! GWR

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Authors: Don’t Lie in Your Cover Letter

Or, to be a bit more charitable, don’t exaggerate.

Why do I even have to say this? Because of a cover letter I read today, in which an author claimed that their work had been nominated for (among other things) a Nebula Award.

Nebula Award Logo

A simple search turned up no record of that author having ever made the Nebula ballot in any category: novel, novella, novelette, or short story.* (Sure, it’s possible that they had written something under a pseudonym that was nominated, but that would have been an important detail to mention.)

Pro tip: Having someone tell you that they nominated your work for a Nebula does not equate to being a Nebula nominee. That title applies only to work that made the final ballot.

Pro tip the second: The person who’s reading your cover letter probably has a computer and knows how to do a search, so your lie — or your exaggeration — is likely to be discovered. And when it turns out that you weren’t actually on the ballot for that thing you claimed, your credibility and reputation suffer.

You’re better off not including a cover letter at all than to send one that’s so demonstrably bad.

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*Or even script, back when that was a category.

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Brave Knights and Heroic Courage (New Video)

(Another in the series of quotes to start the week.)

Today we look at a quote from C.S. Lewis.

Lewis is well-known as the author of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — published on this date in 1950, from what I understand — but this quote comes from his essay “On Three Ways of Writing for Children”…

Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.

I think that holds true when writing for anyone, not just writing for children. I much prefer stories with characters who face up to difficulties and do what’s necessary to work through them, even if they might not be “heroic” in the truest sense. And, especially for those of us who don’t have to practice it day by day, stories can remind us that we ourselves are capable of courage, and perhaps instill in us the bravery we need to face our challenges, if not actual enemies.

Have a great week!

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(Possibly) Related Videos:
We Are All Leaders
Stand Tall in Troubled Times
Every Student A Scholar?
The Musashi-Heinlein School

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Introducing the Adventure Sci-Fi 2017 Bundle!

Want a bunch of books for a little money, and the chance to support a worthy charity? Then read on …

NYT-Bestselling author — and my publisher — Kevin J. Anderson has curated the Adventure Sci-Fi 2017 Bundle, a collection of novels and short stories that not only promise hours of out-of-this-world entertainment but also provide a means to support the Challenger (as in Space Shuttle Challenger) Learning Centers.

Kevin says,

We’re Full of Stars!

Strap into your cockpit, fire up the faster-than-light engines, and set course for the nearest star. I’ve got a grab bag of 13 excellent science fiction books all in one new Adventure SF StoryBundle. Get them all for as little as $15, and help out a great charity, too!

I put in a brand new action-packed story, The Blood Prize, featuring the popular character Colt the Outlander from Heavy Metal magazines, with all new art by the Aradio Brothers. Robert J. Sawyer offers his classic novel Far Seer (a planet of intelligent dinosaurs!). Raymond Bolton’s Awakening shows a fantasy civilization on the cusp of the industrial revolution faced with an alien invasion. You’ll read different adventures on very different lunar colonies in Gray Rinehart’s Walking on the Sea of Clouds, Lou Agresta’s Club Anyone, and T. Allen Diaz’s Lunatic City, as well as Louis Antonelli’s alternate space race in Dragon-Award nominee Another Girl, Another Planet. Jody Lynn Nye’s Taylor’s Ark follows the adventures of a veterinarian to the stars, and Brenda Cooper’s Endeavor-Award winning The Silver Ship and the Sea is a gripping story of prisoners of war abandoned on a rugged colony planet. Acclaimed, award-winning author Paul di Filippo gives a collection of his best stories in Lost Among the Stars.

And for thrilling military SF, the bundle also has Honor and Fidelity by Andrew Keith and William H. Keith, Recruit by Jonathan P. Brazee, and the hilarious adventures of Phule’s Company in Robert Lynn Asprin’s Phule’s Paradise.

Take Note: This Adventure SF StoryBundle runs for only three weeks. You can pay the minimum price to get the books, or you can pay more and designate a portion to support the Challenger Learning Centers for Space Science Education.

More details …

The StoryBundle has two purchase levels. The initial titles, available as a minimum $5 purchase, are:

  • Lunatic City by T. Allen Diaz
  • Phule’s Paradise by Robert Asprin
  • Awakening by Raymond Bolton
  • Taylor’s Ark by Jody Lynn Nye
  • Honor and Fidelity by Andrew Keith and William H. Keith, Jr.

The bonus level, available for $15, adds the following eight titles:

  • Lost Among the Stars by Paul Di Filippo
  • Another Girl, Another Planet by Louis Antonelli
  • Club Anyone by Lou Agresta
  • The Blood Prize by Kevin J. Anderson
  • Walking on the Sea of Clouds by Gray Rinehart
  • The Silver Ship and the Sea by Brenda Cooper
  • Far-Seer by Robert J. Sawyer
  • The United Federation Marine Corps Book 1: Recruit by Jonathan P. Brazee

What a bargain! Check out the the Adventure Sci-Fi 2017 Bundle today!

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P.S. What is the StoryBundle program, and why should you care? Here are just a few benefits StoryBundle provides:

  • Get quality reads: We’ve chosen works from excellent authors to bundle together in one convenient package.
  • Pay what you want (minimum $5): You decide how much these fantastic books are worth. If you can only spare a little, that’s fine! You’ll still get access to a batch of exceptional titles.
  • Support authors who support DRM-free (i.e., Digital Rights Management-free) books: StoryBundle is a platform for authors to get exposure for their works, both for the titles featured in the bundle and for the rest of their catalog. Supporting authors who let you read their books on any device you want — restriction free — will show everyone there’s nothing wrong with ditching DRM.
  • Give to worthy causes: Bundle buyers have a chance to donate a portion of their proceeds to the Challenger Learning Centers for Space Science Education!
  • Receive extra books: If you beat the bonus price, you’ll get the bonus books!

Every bundle allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub and .mobi) for all books!

It’s also super easy to give the gift of reading with StoryBundle, thanks to our gift cards — which allow you to send someone a code that they can redeem for any future StoryBundle bundle — and timed delivery, which allows you to control exactly when your recipient will get the gift of StoryBundle.

StoryBundle was created to give a platform for independent authors to showcase their work, and a source of quality titles for thirsty readers. StoryBundle works with authors to create bundles of ebooks that can be purchased by readers at their desired price. Before starting StoryBundle, Founder Jason Chen covered technology and software as an editor for Gizmodo.com and Lifehacker.com.

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Celebrating My Debut Novel!

This past Sunday, I threw a party to celebrate the only debut novel I’ll ever have. (If you just happened onto this blog, it’s called Walking on the Sea of Clouds, and I’d be much obliged if you would check it out. Folks have compared it to The Martian, if you’re into that sort of thing.) Anyway, we had a pretty good turnout even with a few cancellations — not a packed house, but I think we would have overflowed the room we were originally supposed to be in.

Some pictures made it onto Facebook on Sunday, but I thought I’d hang a few more here on the blog. First up, anyone who’s seen me speak or give any sort of presentation knows that I tend to gesticulate, and that day was no exception:


Making a point during the introductions.

While folks continued to trickle in …


What are we here for, again?

… local “Wizard Rock” band The Blibbering Humdingers provided musical entertainment:


The Blibbering Humdingers! — L-R, Eddie Mowery, Kirsten Vaughan, Scott Vaughan, Chuck Parker.

And because I can’t be satisfied with just talking or reading — oh, no! — I had to play some music, too …


Playing “Tauntauns to Glory” for the folks.

… which folks tolerated pretty well.


They didn’t leave!

And then came the big moment:


Reading from Walking on the Sea of Clouds — first time ever reading from the actual book.

After reading a bit, we ate …


The real reason people stayed!

… and ate …


Fantastic desserts from Once in a Blue Moon Bakery.

… and we actually ran out of barbeque, because more people came than had RSVPed! So it was okay that we had some cancellations, or I would’ve had to order some pizzas or something.

While the Humdingers played a final set, we ended by signing books …


Some folks even bought books!

… and saying goodbye to folks who had come out …


My Aunt Frances (on the left) won the prize for traveling the farthest to the event — all the way from Florida!

… and gathering for commemorative pics:


With the family.

I thought the event went pretty well, and folks seemed to have a good time. I appreciate everyone who came out to help me celebrate, and especially everyone who helped put the party together!

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Once again, that’s Walking on the Sea of Clouds, a near-future novel of survival and sacrifice, love and loss, in the early days of the first commercial lunar colony. Ask for it at your favorite bookstore!

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