The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

Finished Terraforming Romance

pluto heart

Three weeks ago I finished my next try at getting published. Its project code is “Terraforming Romance”, but it has a title. I don’t want to reveal it yet because it’s too clever, but I didn’t think of it until about 90% through.

Unfortunately, I don’t remember when I started this draft. After I finished “The Mudbow Sisters” but before I started “Naga Story”, I took a little break to do some writing exercises and fiddling around. I had three stories that I couldn’t decide which to make next, so I wrote the first 8,000 words of each to see which one felt right. That still didn’t help, so I wrote the one I liked the best and felt the most commercial. That was Naga Story, but that turned out badly. I started formal production on the outline on 11/19/2019.

Terraforming Romance didn’t have much of an outline at this point, so I took a lot of time examining the characters, fleshing out the outline, pre-writing and idea-generating. Near the time I had a first draft of the outline, Covid hit. My office closed, and I was working from home. Suddenly, my writing lunch break wasn’t so solid. I finished the outline in-between program compilings, but I lost the will to start the first draft. If I could play video games and watch movies at lunch now, why bother writing? With my routine disrupted, authorship wasn’t so much of a priority. (Especially when it seemed like we all might die any day.)

But somehow, I gathered the will to start it up. Summoning the discipline to get back in the habit wasn’t easy. My new writing spot was the basement–about two feet from where I was working, so the change of environment wasn’t so sharp. But at least I didn’t have to worry about someone barging in. And I already had 10,000 words of the first draft ready. I just had to jump off that point. The outline was divided into three acts, so I wrote one at a time. Then I’d re-examine the outline, look for unnecessary scenes, and get it ready for drafting.

I don’t remember when I formally started the draft–probably around the middle of summer? But I finished on January 19, 2021. So that’s more than a year of novel creation. Most writers say that Coronavirus is slowing down their production, and I believe them. I’m certainly no exception to that rule, even if I’m not published. But now that I got a routine going, I think it’ll go a little faster.

It’s a long one–the first draft is 140,000 words. I think that’s because it’s in first-person, something I haven’t done for a few novels now. The ability to be in one person’s thoughts lends itself to easily start slipping into “navel-gazing” at the events happening around the character. Whether that’s good or bad, I don’t know. A lot of the female-oriented novels I’ve read have a lot of “thinking” (ex. Where the Crawdads Sing, Catherine, Called Birdy), but it’s not my cup of tea. In the second draft, I’ll have to take a machete and terminate all the unnecessary “thinking” with prejudice.

Looks like I’ll be working on this one for a long time. Ironic given that my next one I plan will be a short kids’ novel. I just hope this one ends up in something commercial enough to catch an agent’s eye. Each time I write I get a little closer to nailing those beats that make a good story.

Field of Dreams is Stupid and You’re Stupid for Liking It

field of dreams poster

Boy I’m getting all my controversial opinions out, aren’t I?

Field of Dreams is on everybody’s “Best Movies” lists, but it’s a stupid movie and no one understands why. I guess because it makes them “feel good”. Which, I guess, is fine — art is supposed to make you feel something. I suppose it’s satisfying to see a jerkass yuppie blowhard get his comeuppance or an affirmation that the life choices you made weren’t mistakes or to see a grown man get a second chance to bond with his father.

And it all hinges around baseball. That god-given, American-as-apple-pie (suspiciously-similar-to-English-cricket) sport of kings and peasants. It’s Hollywood’s go-to pastime and cinema darling. Easy to pick up, hard to master. It has so many aspects ripe for stories–the economy (Moneyball), triumph over prejudice (A League of Their Own, 42), relationship woes (Fever Pitch, Trouble with the Curve, For the Love of the Game), thriller (The Fan), coming of age (The Sandlot), wish fulfillment (Rookie of the Year, Little Big League), and of course, the good old underdog story (Major League, The Natural… and pretty much all the rest). But then we got Field of Dreams, which is a… ghost story… where ghosts are nice?

And by the way, why is it that one guy can’t see the ghosts and then can suddenly see them all after one steps out. And why do the ghosts appear as the age they were at their baseball prime, but they seem to remember everything of their lives? This is my complaint about ghost stories in general — ghosts have no rules so nothing matters. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

ghost baseball

Here’s my first problem: the main character has no character arc. What’s his problem? Well, he’s bored. He’s a man of the land, beholden to his bills. He feels like he’s missing something, that he’s meant for something more. Well, isn’t that white privilege in a nutshell. You’re stuck in Iowa, that’s your damn problem. People in Iowa look at Des Moines like it’s Capital City. (“Man, if I could just get to Des Moines I’ll have ‘made it’.” “We gotta get to Des Moines this weekend.”)

That’s what he wants. What he needs is to reconcile with his father. All he wants is to have one last “catch” with his dad. Well, that’d be fine except that it never comes up. None of the problems or conflicts in the plot have anything to do with his father. In fact, you forget he’s even a factor until the end of the movie.

And what’s worse, the movie doesn’t show you any of these motivations, it TELLS you. It tells you in the opening narration. It tells you in an actionless dialogue between him and his wife. What does that make the plot? A bunch of gibberish.

The inciting incident for the plot is that Kevin Costner hears a voice. It tells him to build a baseball field. Why does he do it? Because there’s no movie if he doesn’t. It’s like the Gremlins rules. I mean, I love Gremlins, but no sunlight? No water? Those are the two most abundant things on this planet. How have gremlins not overrun the world by this point? How does Gizmo live without getting water to drink? They make the rules silly so that they’re impossible to follow. Because if they are followed, there’s no movie.

Anyway, back to Kevin Costner. Nothing he does is character-motivated. He doesn’t build the field because his family will starve if he doesn’t, or it’ll lead to seeing his father again. He just does it because someone told him to. This is what we call “railroading” in the D&D world. The Dungeon Master is putting out notes and clues so the players will go where HE wants them to go. He doesn’t let them act according to their motivations, their wants, their mistakes, desires to love and protect and sacrifice. So what does this voice want? To get America to appreciate baseball again?

For instance, there is no reason that, at the baseball game, Terrence Mann (James Earl Jones) should suddenly jump in front of Kevin Costner’s car just as he’s about to leave, thinking he’s failed his mission, and confess that he saw the ghostly message on the jumbotron too. It’s so dramatic it’s comical.

What should have happened is that, after this white guy talks his ear off about voices in his head and old dead baseball players in his yard, he sees the Jumbotron get all screwy and display a message about Archibald “Moonlight” Graham and goes “Holy shit! Did you see that? The Jumbotron’s messing up and no one else can tell! Are you seeing this?” No, he just keeps it to himself so we can have this cinematic revelation later.

“We’re coming for you, Barbara…”

Since we mentioned him, let’s talk about “Moonlight” Graham and his strange subplot. Kevin Costner does some research and finds out he was a kid who played one inning, then became a pediatrician. What does Kevin Costner need to do for him? Nothing, I guess, since he’s quite dead. But then he time-travels to 1972 and has a conversation with old Dr. Graham (or his ghost–who knows), in which he affirms how he’s quite satisfied with how his life turned out. Everything seems resolved.

EXCEPT, on the way back home, they pick up (the ghost of) young “Archie” Graham. They take him to play baseball with all the other ghosts. Later, when Kevin Costner’s daughter starts choking, there’s a big dramatic moment where (the ghost of) young “Archie” Graham has to step off the baseball field and become (the ghost of) old Dr. Graham. (More ghost rules: how does he know he can save the girl if he’s not old enough to have gone through medical school yet?)

So what was the point of that? Didn’t we already establish that Dr. Graham accepted his life choices? Why did we need to show this again? And what does it matter — he’s a frickin’ ghost. He can’t change. He can’t influence lives anymore. But the story is treating him like a protagonist who needs to learn a lesson. What is this for? Who is supposed to see this?

Speaking of ghosts — fuck “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. Even the movie doesn’t make him very likable, and it’s supposedly painting him as a good guy. He’s a cheater. He’s a stubborn asshole. He’s a moron. He changed his story throughout the trial. He took $5,000 but says he “did nothing on the field to throw the games in any way”. If you take money to commit a crime, but don’t commit the crime, that’s still wrong. Even if he didn’t do anything wrong, he didn’t speak up when others did. He could have done something but he let it happen. It’s like what Spider-Man said in Captain America: Civil War.

But the thing I most hate is James Earl Jones’s speech at the end, basically browbeating us with “why this movie is so great and you should like it and if you don’t like it, you’re a communist.” And it sucks because James Earl Jones is a highlight — it’s nice to see him playing someone who’s not a king or an emperor or the voice of one. But here’s what he says when the yuppie brother-in-law tries to convince Kevin Costner to sell the farmland and he can’t think of a reason not to (other than the ghosts in his corn):

“Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it. For it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers. Sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”

They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it? That sounds frickin’ scary to me. How? How did they know? Are they zombies? Brainwashed? And there’s life after death? Ghosts are real? Does this suddenly prove the existence of God? Holy shit, forget baseball — this changes everything.

But even if divine intelligence hasn’t been proven, the whole thing sounds pretty apocalyptic to me. The last shot is this huge line of cars jampacked on the road to his house. Everyone’s suddenly been called to this farm field in Iowa. They get there and it’s “Why am I here? I suddenly had the urge to take my family two hundred miles away, ignored my job, forgot to feed the pets, and didn’t bring my wallet.” Plus, Kevin Costner’s farm is going to be trashed. Remember Woodstock?

“They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines” — bullshit. Do you see those cheap bleachers? Maybe, like, ten people’ll fit into those seats. The voice told him to build a field, but it wasn’t specific on seating capacity, unfortunately.

“Sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon.” I just have no idea what this means. What does it mean to “sit in shirtsleeves”? Does one “sit in jeans”? Or “sit in a hat”?

“It’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.” You do realize that not everyone likes baseball, Terrence? Not everyone likes sports. Some of us like our cosplay or video games or tabletop games or puzzles or self-fitness or non-competitive sports like American Ninja Warrior or Wipeout or competitive non-sports like The Masked Singer or RuPaul’s Drag Race.

“Baseball has marked the time.” What, did time not start until 1871? Was there no American history before that? Was everything else unimportant? Incidentally, no one invited Satchel Paige or Smokey Joe Williams onto the “field of dreams”, did they?

Can’t wait for this guy to sit in the stands in shirt-sleeves.

And at the very end, Kevin Costner gets his catch with his dad. He gets to “resolve” things, although they do it in a very manly way where no one expresses any feelings or apologizes. Plus, it’s his dad before he had his kid. So while Kevin Costner might feel reconciled, it’s not reciprocated. The father (who is a ghost) doesn’t understand what’s going on and gets no catharsis from it.

I mean yeah, maybe I’m being nitpicky and pedantic here. But this is supposed to be a story about faith and redemption, and I don’t see where the events of the plot reflect that theme. And I don’t see the story of a man overcoming obstacles to get to his atonement (and what he needs to atone for doesn’t seem significant). I see a man being forced into action with no stakes, no regard for motive, and no idea what the end goal is. The puzzle purely exists so that pieces can be put together, not to make a beautiful picture.

Out of Work and No Place to Go

job search

So it’s been about two weeks since I lost my job. Well, I didn’t lose it, my contract ended. The problem is, this is December, the worst time for job-searching, and I’m only getting paychecks until this Friday. The company I’m working for had me under a Salaried Professional System, but they can’t find a job for me and they haven’t been trying hard. So it’s been up to me to search for a job, with only two weeks notice before I lose my current one. And it’s not looking likely I’ll find one before the end of the year, but we’ll see. My point is I haven’t done any writing for two weeks.

Not that I’m complaining. It’s been basically a paid vacation for me. Been playing Star Wars: Knights of the Republic. I’ve been thinking about the story, but I can’t say I’ve been missing it. It’s in my mind, but job searching/dinking around at home has been taking priority. I guess this means that, unless I have a really extended break from working, I wouldn’t write if I could. Or maybe I’m just recharging. Either way, it seems I’m that guy from Office Space who, if he didn’t work, would “do nothing”. But I can’t fill my life with “nothing” for that long. Or can I? I used to say that if I didn’t write, I would just be a sponge. Always taking, never doing, never producing anything to help society. Being a lazy bum who ate bad food and laid around like my dogs.

I just hate working. And I hate that I hate working. I have a high-paying job, lots of experience. But I’m so sick of doing nothing at work, just sitting idle, trying to fill my time with the company web blocker limiting my options. I hate dealing with all the other contractors and consultants that sound like they’re on quaaludes and so worried about being deported they won’t ever speak up when something’s wrong. In other words, I have no co-workers who are charismatic, or who I’d want to be around. Just the managers. And they’re all doing their manager stuff with projects and finances and so forth.

Everyone wants me to be a manager. That seems to be the only way to make any advancements in my career, and I’m mid-career. It would suck to be stagnating as a developer for the next sixteen years. But I have no experience being a manager and I have a terrible track record of being a leader. I have no charisma myself. I have no confidence in myself. And if no one gives me the chance to lead, how am I supposed to learn. I was supposed to do some leading in my last job, but they seemed to drop the ball on that.

It’s a pretty sad Christmas when you don’t have a job and don’t know where your next paycheck’s going to come from. My wife can’t go skiing this Christmas break because we’re working “on a tight budget”. That’s a shot to the heart. So I’ve got to work. I can’t spend the rest of my life like this. But I still haven’t found any company that I like. They all either treat me like a number or never improve their technology. That’s why I’m hoping consultancy gives me the variety I need. If something sucks, at least I won’t be there much more than a year (usually).

Maybe I’ll look at doing some freelance writing for money this Christmas break. I’ve always been curious about that. Not that it’s going to take the place of my current job, but it’d be a nice supplement. And a nice thing to try out. Maybe I can moonlight during times I’m bored at work. And maybe monkeys will fly out of my butt.

Trends in the Queries


Here’s two trends I’ve noticed when doing my queries: One) a lot of agents are using QueryManager, which is good. Online forms make it easy, make the formatting more universal. And QueryManager’s changed their interface so it’s more formlike.

Two) the agents want to know about your platform. I still can’t really explain what a platform is, but the short answer is: how many followers do you have? Do you have people following you on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Who are your fans right now? Are you on the social media 24/7 instead of writing? What kind of audience are you intending to reach? What books is your book similar to? I hate answering that last question because I so rarely read current books. I like the ones that have been proven through tests of time.

So I’ve been using examples that aren’t exactly from current authors. This is an interesting question because what do authors always tell you to do? Don’t write to trends. But then what do they ask for? Is your book similar to any existing trends? What niche can we shove this into? I don’t get agents.

Both literally and figuratively.

Should I Reup my Duotrope Subscription? (a.k.a. The Year in Writing)

duotrope logo

Right now, I’m thinking no. Just from a cost-benefit analysis, it’s not worth it. The subscription costs $50. I sent out twenty-five submissions and got only one acceptance. It seems like response times are getting longer, guidelines are harder to find, and more frequently I need to poke editors to find out where they’re at. The whole process is annoying (not to mention my workplace blocks half the sites behind their proxy for no goddamn good reason).

Not to mention, I’m not writing many short stories. I never have been. Never been interested. I thought they were a way to fill a resume, but no one seems to care. I only completed one this year. Not to say I haven’t been writing some short fiction, but they either died on the table or… ahem, aren’t appropriate for general audiences… or specific audiences… in fact, they’re oriented to quite a limited, devoted audience, if you know what I mean. Like that even publishing it on Amazon could get me banned. Ahem.

If I did something like take a class or join a writing club, something that lets me work on short story craft, I might come back. Definitely not closing the door on short stories. But I need a bigger stable to make it worthwhile. Plus I’d rather write novels than short stories any day of the week. I would be happier if I could complete three first drafts for novels this year than ten finished short stories.

That was the final nail in the coffin for realizing it wasn’t worth it. I get more pleasure writing novels anyway and this year has been all about increasing joy. Getting that happy feeling from writing because that’s been damn hard to do (and because otherwise, what’s the point?).

This year consisted of climbing back up from my pit of despair. All I wanted to do was get back to writing a thousand words a day and do that consistently. I think I’m just about there. My next novel, I’ve been working on since the beginning of October and now have more than 50,000 words (of a hopeful 90,000). I don’t always get a thousand a day, but it’s something. And half the battle is getting butt in seat and not watching YouTube videos.

Others have relayed the same despair (like John Scalzi and Wil Wheaton) so I don’t feel alone. 2017’s not been kind to creativity. But still, I feel like I did better in 2017 than 2016. No new completions to speak of, but I’ve been keeping the chain going, making a new link every day.

I hate it when it comes to Christmas card writing time and I realize that I can’t write “I got an agent this year” or “three book contract” or “look for XYZ on shelves this season!” I feel like I’ve down my family and myself, that I’m not accomplishing goals. But the road is long and if I can’t reach the destination, I might as well enjoy the walk.

What We Mean When We Say You Can’t Break the Rules Until You Can Follow the Rules

peanuts lucy psychiatrist booth writing advice

One of the pieces of advice I often hear about writing is that you need to learn to follow the rules before you can break them. All writers do it. Choppy sentences, passive voice, fragmented sentences, consistent point of view, infodumping, starting with a character waking up, use of adverbs. Bestsellers and classics like Jane Austen, James Joyce, John Green, Suzanne Collins, Stephenie Meyer, John Scalzi, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King. There’s no work where at least one of the basics isn’t twisted.

Now one could say that it’s because, in any art form, there are no rules, only guidelines. Suggestions. Good advice. They’re smart plays, but not written in stone.

I think part of it is that, if the rest of the work is good, you’ll be able to ignore or forgive the occasional bad. Like they say on the YouTubes, there is no movie without sin. Same for any story. There is no work that doesn’t have some flaw, either in mechanics or execution. A plot hole, an inconsistency, an error in geography, or anachronism.

But I was thinking of a way to explain this to younger, newer writers (like myself). How do you know when to break the rules? How do you know when it’s all right to use passive voice of if you’re using it too much? How do you know when it’s okay to make a bad sentence when the good sentence sounds awful?

Remember when you were learning how to drive? You probably followed all the rules to a T. Any law you broke was due to mistake, not purpose. You drove under the limit, stopped two feet behind every stop sign before crawling forward, stressed about how far was 100 feet, 200 feet, 500, etc. When you follow all the rules, everyone passes you. They ignore you. And knowing which way turn the wheels up or down a hill is made a lot more important than it really is.

I remember when my sister was learning how to drive, and we all went up to my grandparents’ cabin, 114 miles. It’s usually a 2 to 2 1/2 hour drive. She drove the whole way with her learner’s permit and it was SO SLOW. I thought I was going to go insane, start banging my head against the window like a padded wall.

Then you get comfortable. You get used to driving. You’re no longer using your hands to turn a wheel to turn a car–you just turn the car. You become the car. Like how you don’t think about pressing a button on a controller to make your character move left.

You learn how to use cruise control, you forget where your four-way flashers are. You follow other cars closely. You speed through a yellow and only mildly worry about cops. And most importantly, you never go the speed limit.

But you also don’t go very much faster than the speed limit. About ten miles over or so, probably (depending on where you are). Because you go faster than the rules, but you never go faster than you can control the car. Cause that’s the key–are you in control. The moment you’re not in control, that you don’t know what you’re doing, you return to the rules.

It’s experience that gives you that control. Knowing what you’re doing, knowing what your car is capable of (like how fast it can accelerate down the ramp, whether you’re going to be able to merge behind this car or that car). So yes, when they say the first rule is that writers write, remember that metaphor. Drivers drive. They learn how to drive by driving. They learn the rules by driving, and they learn which rules aren’t so crucial by driving.

chain break the rules

The Books I Read: May – June 2017

bookshelf books

goodnight stories
The Book of Goodnight Stories by Vratislav Stovicek

I got this book a long time ago because I had it as a kid and I wanted my kids to have it. There are 365 stories, one for each day of the year, although a lot of them are multi-parters, and each day is only about 250 words.

I have fond memories of this book, but on the re-read, it started becoming hard to get through. The stories I remember as a nine-year-old weren’t as full of whimsy and wonder. The tales weren’t diverse and magical. They started getting samey (right around August, I believe) and it’s not as much a compendium of fairy tales as I thought. Some are downright strange. There are no paragraph breaks and little dialogue. I wonder if I returned to my nine-year-old self, reading this volume for the first time, I’d feel the same way. I don’t know the answer to that, but I do understand now why my kids haven’t cracked it open.

astonishing x-men joss whedon
Astonishing X-Men, Volumes 1 & 2 by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday

Comic books. Is there anything they can’t do? Joss Whedon’s applies humor and heart-wrench, the same as any other work, to another group of motley misfits with superpowers and lack of understanding. And it works. It works so well. You don’t have to know more than a periphery of X-Men lore, but it helps. There’s past history–like where Colossus is and Emma Frost’s backstory–that’s hard to understand if you only know the MCU. But that’s why fan wikis are around. All the Whedon wit and charm is there. It feels like the best Buffy episodes.

Every panel of art is beautiful and makes you think, whatever John Cassady was paid, it wasn’t enough. At times I felt like I wasn’t paying enough attention to the panels so I was sacrireligizing the work. Some of them look like they should be wallpapers. However it does suffer from a common sickness of “too much content” in an image to tell what’s going on and too many spreads.

The writing is not all it’s cracked up to be. I always wonder how much the studio dictates and how much the writer does. I always imagine the studio’s saying “you gotta refer to this, this, and this that happened fifty issues ago” and “you gotta bring your characters to this point by issue 25 because that’s when we have our big crossover tie-in” and “Wolverine’s getting a six-issue run with some new title we’re trying to promote so don’t write anything with the most popular and interesting character for six months.” There are plot threads that cease developing, like a mutant cure, and the Breakworld aliens.

Nonetheless, this run is beautiful. It’s all beautiful.

street cat named bob
A Street Cat Named Bob: How One Man and His Cat Found Hope on the Streets by James Bowen

I discovered this book when the trailer for the movie came out. I love cats, but you rarely see them in movies — they’re difficult to train. And if you do see them, with terrible CG. But then I discovered it was based on a book.

When I was in middle school, I went through a phase where I read every book, fiction or non-fiction, about cats that my library had. The Cat Who Came For Christmas, A Cat Named Norton, The Tiger on my Couch (cat psychology), books by Lilian Jackson Braun. As such, I expected much the same thing. Except this had something a little different–the cat was “owned” by a homeless heroin addict. Well, as it turns out he’s not so homeless, and doesn’t really “own” the cat. But he is a busker and has to deal with making his living around that sort.

I didn’t expect much from the writing style, given the protagonist’s background, but he actually pulled off something eloquent and interesting. I’ve mentioned in reviews of a few past memoirs how the author hasn’t lived long enough or interesting enough to fill out a complete book. This one has. And it’s nice to see that same kind of masculinity exhibited by Newt Scamander in real life. It’s cozy and it’s heartwarming without being schmaltzy. And it feels like a real-life “a boy and his X” story.

kingdom keepers disney after dark
Kingdom Keepers I: Disney After Dark by Ridley Pearson

I barely finished this one. Thirty-three percent through and I was speed-reading just to get to the end. I really should have just stopped, but the idea sounded too good not to follow through, like Kingdom Hearts. But it’s not worth your time.

The concept is ideal for any Disneyphile-evil lurks in the park and five kids have to stop it, going on rides after close and exploring cast member tunnels and doing all the things you’re not allowed to do. Walt Disney World goes from a place of joy to a battleground. Anyone who’s been to a Disney Park at least once should be intrigued.

But you shouldn’t. It’s so poorly executed and poorly written. Like it was a rush job. The characters have no depth. They don’t even get the depth of stereotypes. No one has a personality. I could not tell you the difference between the two girls of this five person team. And they’re barely in the book as it is. Anyone who’s not the “team leader” gets barely any screen time. The two other boys are “the big guy” and “the computer guy” but “the big guy” occasionally feeds information about computers and “the computer guy” acts weak and nerdy. No one has internal goals or distinguishing characteristics. Power Rangers had better characterization.

The story is all event. And they throw in some BS about how these kids are “holographic cast members” and that gives them the ability to be in the park after it closes. This is a thing that doesn’t exist in the park, and I had to try explaining to my kids five times. It’s rooted in science but acts like magic and has no rules around it. It just happens. Once they’re in the park, they have to do some lame The Da Vinci Code style sleuthing, because Walt Disney knew that his movies were going to come to life and imprison the guests in dungeons down below. That’s a sentence I just said. This fetch quest accomplishes its job of filling out pages by making every obstacle the same–you get on a ride, the ride malfunctions, but you succeed anyway without any lasting consequences. Goalposts are never pushed back.

Kids deserve better than this. The only highlight is seeing the things you saw in Disney World, and only in the “hey I remember that” way.

This is no Percy Jackson or Wimpy Kid. I did not care whether the characters lived or died. And there were too many of them anyway. In addition to the Team of Five, there are two girls with ambiguous motives but the same non-personality, an Imagineer mentor, and “the adults who know nothing”. The author can explain the Utilidor under the park, but not why these kids matrix-jump into their holograms when they fall asleep nor how that works. That’s like Benedict Cumberbatch doing the mocap for Smaug, then going to sleep and finding himself IN the film. It feels like the author was writing to a deadline or to the specifications of investors and focus groups. Pick up a Travel Guide instead.

lamb christopher moore
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore

It’s a long one, but it’s good enough that you don’t tap your foot. After reading this I now have better knowledge and understanding of the New Testament. Furthermore, despite being an atheist, this book brought me closer to embracing becoming a Christian and identifying Jesus Christ as a philosopher to follow. It’ll never happen, but it got me closer.

Since there’s nothing in the bible about Jesus between when he’s born and when he’s the prophet, this book helpfully fills in the gaps. And it’s all from the perspective of Biff. They start from the beginning when the two boys meet, as Jesus (called Joshua in the book) is doing a trick for his younger siblings of killing a lizard, then putting it in his mouth to resurrect it (he’s only four or so). The nice thing about this scene is that it’s a gatekeeper for any fundamentalist who can’t take a joke. And that’s important because, well, look what I said in the first paragraph.

The book leads us all the way around Roman-occupied Jerusalem, and keeps (as far as I can tell) historically accurate. Although that’s hard because cultural records from that era are spotty at best. But there’s never a dumbing down or overly-smartening the text. It’s a fine adventure, fine to read, and has diverse characters. Characters whom you care what happens to them. It’s the story of Jesus accepting his position as the son of God, but not getting the answers on what to do with it. So he goes on a journey to find those answers, and meets the three wise men who sought his birth. It’s from these people he learns the blend of Western and Eastern philosophy he uses to become the orator we all know and love.

So yes, even though it’s long, it’s worth your time. Especially if you need something non-heavy that’s not a romance or mystery.

tender wings of desire colonel sanders
Tender Wings of Desire by Colonel Sanders

Needs more chicken.

Okay, so this is a free novella put out by KFC for Mother’s Day, as a “thank you” to all the hard-working moms who bring dinner home in a bucket sometimes. This must have been the most bizarre bit of marketing that didn’t involve goat sacrifice or racist tweets.

The problem is, this book is played straight. It’s a basic Victorian regency story about a high-class woman conscripted to marry. She runs away from her English mansion and becomes a waitress in a pub, working for a tough-talking but heart-of-gold barmaid. She falls in love with one of the patrons, a sailor. But the cover is Colonel Sanders embracing a suburban mom holding a fried chicken leg. So you can understand my confusion. I mean, it’s CALLED “Tender Wings” and there’s not even so much as a drummie within. I think it takes place before fried chicken was invented, if that’s irony for you.

I was expecting something more tongue-in-cheek, something with more humor. Because come on, the whole concept is ridiculous. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it just turns out that the beau she falls in love with is named “Harland Sanders”, and we only learn that through a letter calling him back to America for his “chicken empire”? I guess it’s too subtle for me.

But it’s competently written. More than I expected for a free eBook coming from one of the lesser fast food chains (seriously, I haven’t seen a KFC around my parts for years. The nearest one is twenty miles from my house). I have fond memories of KFC — my mom WAS the person bringing it home for dinner on nights she couldn’t cook (although she didn’t read bodice rippers). So, just like the food this place delivers, my expectations were met.

hannah hart buffering
Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded by Hannah Hart

Hannah Hart should not exist.

Her presence in the world defies natural order to things. Because there is no way a woman from this background–a background of foster families, drugs, mental illness, international fame, fundamentalist parents, schizophrenic parents, self-harm, social services, and such and so forth–becomes as positive and optimistic and a generational leader as she does. There’s no universe where that computes.

Like I’ve mentioned before, I get apprehensive around memoirs by people under thirty years old. You never really know if their life is interesting enough for a whole book. But I had no doubts about Hannah Hart.

I watched Hannah in her early days. She only ever released little tidbits about her life in her videos. She was attracted to Scarlett Johanssen in one, that she was emancipated from her parents in another. It set up a bizarre puzzle for viewers. But little did I know this was no five hundred piecer. This was a two-thousand. With no border. And it’s all Persian cat faces.

This book answers the questions of that mystery. But there’s so much to unpack that you never truly understand it all (which is the sign of a good book). None of the terror that must have been present in Hannah Hart’s life comes through in her videos. So how can she function as a human being?

As far as the book itself, her talent extends to the written word. It’s full of wit and humor, but also pathos and drama. There is sufficient ups and downs that it’s never tonally consistent. But that’s a good thing, because the palate is always cleansed and the meal never takes too long to cook. Hannah goes from talking about being homeless to how to be a good traveler. It’ll leave an impression on you.

dead wake
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

I’m just not in a place to be reading non-fiction history books right now. Let alone history books that are doorstops. Like I’ve said before, my writing has suffered in the last year because I’m not reading books that excite me and inspire me to write. I need to read books in my own genre and this is not one of them. Just how much detail does this book need? Do I need to know every little particular? Do I need to know what the captain ate for breakfast? Was that part of the u-boat attack?

Maybe there is a story behind the Lusitania but I’m not sure it needs to be this many pages. I was hoping for something like Unbroken but there isn’t a main character to hang a hat on. It feels very much like the author is spitting back research, not creating a narrative.

Unsoul’d by Barry Lyga

The main character is SUPER unlikable. He’s a douchebag that fucks multiple women, is vulgar, lazy, does stupid adult things. There’s a lot of sex, to the point of being porn-like. And the things he does don’t justify the ending.There’s an underlying technique of “is this actually all in his mind?” that distracts from the text.

The central idea is “what if a down-on-his-luck author actually did make a deal with the devil for a bestselling book”. The problem is that this is a character book. And the kind of character who would make this deal is a douchebag. Like if Stephen King drank a Jekyll-and-Hyde potion and all we saw was Hyde. Sad to say, Barry Lyga is no longer one of my favorite authors. I probably wouldn’t have finished it if it hadn’t been so short.

save the cat blake snyder
Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder

I sought this book to learn more about the monomyth and a “formula” for a winning story. This book has that, but it’s important to be a filter and not a sponge when reading it.

I heard of this book from an Imgur post when Blake Snyder died. It laid out the steps of every top-grossing Hollywood movie. (This poster applied it to Frozen.) I’m always up for anything that makes writing easier so I kept it favorited until I had a chance to really break it down.

But there’s more to this book than just “the formula”. It’s also making sure that you have everything needed to sell a script. Like log lines, a catchy title, and things that don’t matter so much in the book-writing world.

And the biggest reason you need to be a filter is that this guy makes claims that he’s made hundreds of thousands in residuals, been in the industry long enough to know the keys failures and successes, like he’s Ron Popeil selling a juicemaster. He’s been called “Hollywood’s most successful spec screenwriter”. The problem? Check out this guy’s IMDb page. His claim to fame is Blank Check which was harshly lampooned by The Nostalgia Critic. Second place? Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. Occasionally he uses, as examples, older movies and movies I’ve never heard of. I would think if you want to be successful, you want to keep your case studies as current and outstanding as possible.

So this makes you think “why should we listen?” The answer is because, sometimes, people are better at teaching than doing. And while there are flaws in the technique, the content is solid. Well, I don’t know if it works or not, but if you’re wise, there’s things inside that I believe can help you with writing.

lovecraft country matt ruff
Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

I reached 63% before I decided to stop. Many times in the past, I would have told myself to keep going just to finish it. But that was the old me. Each time I picked it up, I’d sigh and look at how much more I had to go.

The anthology format doesn’t work for me. It usually doesn’t. The racism part is what intrigued me. I heard about this book from Scalzi’s big idea, and the excerpt hooked me in. Lovecraft monsters + the soft racism of Driving Miss Daisy. I love that genre-mixing. But if you came to this looking for Cthulhu, you’ll be disappointed. There is little horror and the social commentary becomes its own character, overshadowing the already shadow-thin cast therein.

They aren’t interesting enough for me to want to continue. True, they have more depth than just “they’re black”, but I also couldn’t care whether they lived or died. Maybe it’s because of the format. Each story focuses on a different person in this family that’s connected to another family of cultists. None of them are distinct or sympathetic enough. The writing style is blah too. Descriptions of physical environments are mechanical and go on too long. The author describes each step a character takes instead of summarizing it.

The big idea is great. It just needed to be executed better. Needed some condensing or editing to give more pressure per square word. But I look forward to seeing Jordan Peele’s take on it.

ella enchanted gail carson levine
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Fantastic. Beautiful. It reminds me of Wren’s Quest by Sherwood Smith, one of my formative books. It’s what I wish Diana Wynne Jones had written like. My only quibble is that the style is functional to the extreme. You won’t find any beauty of prose here. But in my opinion, that’s a good problem to have. It keeps tension high and still uses vocabulary to keep you in a world (like “sparrowgrass” for asparagus).

It’s a version of Shrek for the intellectual. Less in-your-face and fart joke-laden. More for those who’ve read original versions and appreciates guilty pleasures. People who like “Into the Woods”. Plus all the characters are likable. The most negative part is the predictable ending. Not that you know what’s going to happen (you do), but you’re bored waiting for it to play out.

But I gave it five stars. However, those looking for twee elfin phrases will be disappointed.

How I Plan to Answer the Common Author Questions

stick figures question
“How do you become an author?”

You become a writer when you first start trying. You become an author when you get published. When your words are on pages and those pages are between two pieces of cardboard, then you become an author. Authors evolve from writers. Writers are the Pokemon who fight the battles, one at a time. And if they keep working, they get to become authors. At first, they just press the A button over and over. Attack, attack, attack. And that’s fine. Because as you go on, you learn new things from the other Pokemon–tackle, quick attack, scary face, hydro pump, dodge, sand gust, psychic, sleep, surf. New ways to execute for the same purpose — beat that Pokemon. And if you beat enough of them, eventually someone can make you legendary. But there are no legendary Pokemon that didn’t start in Pallet Town.

“Where do you get your ideas?”

This is the like the “The Aristocrats” of questions. Each author should develop their own answer meant only to amuse other writers. One that fits their style and tone, but still sort of answers the question. Here’s my attempt:

There is a land scattered with roasted mushrooms.Take three of these, but not the blue one. The blue one contains only thoughts without z‘s and while this may be acceptable to some, as z is an underused letter, you will be distraught when the ebras stampede on your head. Using a spatula encased in gold lame, gently sever the mushroom head from its root. Preserve it within a glass case with three parts ammonia and one part lemon juice. This mixture must be refreshed every twelve seconds, keeping the ambient temperature to 109 degrees, which may make the flight back from Zanzibar a wee bit difficult (not to say that you must go to Zanzibar to fetch these mushrooms, but one may ideally make the trip for additional tourism purposes). Take these mushrooms to a man in New York dressed as Moon Knight. Is he the real Moon Knight? Maybe, but you are not there to find out. The one subtle difference, one you must mot mistake, is that he will have an AOL disc on his belt. After he recites all the Sorting Hat poems from the Harry Potter books, you must repeat all the Oompa Loompa poems from Charlie & the Chocolate Factory. This is your code word exchange. Should you get one wrong, or if he doesn’t like your intonation, he will take you Bertha, a very corpulent woman who enjoys inflicting pain on poor intonators and your grisly fate will be that of a Leisure Suit Larry game over. If you manage to avoid this outcome, the Moon Knight-impersonator/cosplayer (you’re not sure which, because you’re not aware of any conventions around the area — you just came back from Zanzibar after all) will take you back to a tattoo parlor. The main patron will look suspiciously like Bertha, but do not be alarmed. This person actually has a daisy tattoo on her butt. I’m not sure if it’s the flower or the duck, so you have to confirm. She takes these mushrooms and grinds them into a fine blue powder. Sniff, but do not inhale. What you will not smell is a lovely addition to any cereal milk. Pour it on your piano, making sure it covers all the keys, then play any theme song from Cartoon Network ca. 1999. At this point, a Zulu warrior should be in your house, the kind with the bone through the nose and red headdress. Accompany him onto a pirate ship while singing one of those Irish drinking songs, like, for ALL the way. One hundred bottles of beer on the wall is acceptable, but you may need to increase the number of bottles. Extra points for drinking those bottles as you sing. I recommend drinking rum and cokes without the rum. Assumably the demographics for this ride should be suitable enough to reach the island of misfit biscuits. These biscuits are being nibbled on by cute little mice in a maze. One of them is about to give birth and it’s your job to help her through the laboring process. Don’t forget the balloons and boiling water. She would like it recorded too. Not the mouse, of course, but the mother. After the pups are birthed (what do you call mouse babies? Mouselings? Mouselettes? Mousingtons?) you must give them all names, then release the doves. Follow one of these doves–the one going westmost–to a cavern. Bring some Greek yogurt with you. The Greek yogurt is to dump on your head when you do the dance of a thousand and seven veils, which shall be accomplished on a crack across an old ravine. Old Troll River they call it. And if you’re lucky you may see one of the trolls. Do not give it your jacket. It will ask you for it, but resist. Not even if it uses that cute hillbilly accent. Now take the bowl of Spaghetti Bolognese with you, which is spaghetti with cut-up bits of bologna in it, and leave it in front of the orangutan. At this point you should notice that a series of Times Square mascots have begun marching to The Simpsons theme song. One of them is dressed either as Ben Hur if he were Donkey Kong or a kind of Mega Man-ish robot filming a documentary on the national epidemic of sewer rats.Take Donkey Kong/Ben Hur/documentarian Mega Man into the battle royale arena where you have to fight him to the death using a lawn chair and a 1950’s black and white advertisement for coffee in which the woman is unnecessarily criticized or blamed for the quality of the beverage which her self-esteem hinges on. If you can keep alive or hydrated by the time curfew is called, there will be several programs left on the ground. Inside one is an advertisement for jet packs. Ignore the remarks about fascism and totalitarianism within the copy. Take the jetpack to the Iowan field used in Field of Dreams (I assume it’s still there) and strap it on. Make sure all valves and flaps are closed and fuel lines are clear (you know, basic maintenance), then look up at the sky and shout three times “Dicks out for Harambe!” I’m betting you feel terribly silly now, but hold tight. This is by design. Try jumping up and down, it might work. But by this time it should become clear that this is not a jet pack but a set of scuba tanks filled with gasoline. Even though you must not travel to an ocean (any ocean will do) please note that the above step must be taken or you will instead receive intuition about a chess match between Mr. Forbes and Mr. Holland. Now that you are in the air, please take this opportunity to play your Chumbawamba CD. At this velocity, you should notice the altered pitch and rhythm of Track 9. This is actually a secret code which you should write down immediately. The code itself is in binary and was written by a Japanese Tokyo University student, so take it to a Japanese computer. Make sure not to get a single 0 or 1 wrong, or, well, we all know what would happen, wouldn’t we? In the code directly, there is a calculation every three or four steps (I forget which) which will translate to a map of a lagoon headquarters where the elite scientists, philosophers, and thinkers are holed up, working on developing the great secrets of the world. There are several consultants milling about, some in the break room, some brushing the dragon’s teeth. Find one that looks like Bill Cosby. Use the mobile app to make an appointment and be sure to have your cell phone ready in case you need to receive a text regarding a change of time.

That’s step one.

“Have you always wanted to be a writer?”

I’m not really sure I ever had a choice. I’ve been making little books out of my dad’s computer paper since I was five. Little storybooks with Snoopy or Garfield or Roger Rabbit. And at some point, it wasn’t so much if I could, but if I would. There was no significant event between the two — no graduating into a new belt or getting a medal. Just a good idea. A good idea and a void to put it in. And if no one else was going to fill that void, I would have to.

“How do you deal with writer’s block?”

Sinking into despair always worked for me. Actually, I try not to believe in writer’s block. When we talk about writer’s block we’re really talking about writer’s delay or writer’s despair. And everyone gets it, the “my stuff isn’t any good” blues. Stephen King gets it. Neil Gaiman gets it. (Please don’t tell me if they don’t, I don’t want to know.)

Writer’s block is not a shortage of ideas. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Executing those ideas is the hard part. That’s what writers get paid for. There are dozens of ways to tell A Christmas Carol, but finding a good way is hard. That’s the trenches. That’s where the writers are, putting word after word. Building the story one Lego piece at a time to make something that resonates and satisfies. You can get the character from point A to B fine. It’s making that journey interesting (while following sense and logic) that’s hard. Rational yet emotional. Controlling the flow of stimulus and consequence/response. Scene and sequel. Character and setting. All while not being boring. That is the hard part.

“Would you like a movie made of your books?”

Why? Do you know people?

I can’t believe there are people like Alan Moore and Roald Dahl who didn’t want movies made of their books. I guess they had enough F-U money to say no. But the world of books still feels like a subdomain under the world of movies. Books are written by the morlocks and if you’re lucky, one of the angels above ground may pick one to raise into their world. And the angels will know your name and they will look at pictures of you from time to time. But you can never be one of them. Writers are shunned on the red carpet, scripts are passed around like a back alley whore. Visions are shared by 164 different people, most working with computer graphics.

As for me, I don’t see how I could say no. Even if they did screw it up Mary Poppins style, at least people would know my name.

“What are you working on right now?”

What am I not working on?

I Hate Dream Sequences

dream sequence whale

I am a writer and I hate dream sequences.

More than any other convention or cliche, dream sequences are the stupidest thing ever cooked up by the author’s imagination. I avoid them wherever I can. I avoid them like a river of lava. And if the time comes when I absolutely have to set foot in it, when I’ve exhausted all other options for alternate routes, backtracking, and even digging under the earth, I still don’t do it. Nothing wastes more of the readers time than going into a dream. I wish more creative writing teachers and guru told students to avoid this disease of books. Here’s why:

1) Dream sequences in books don’t follow dream logic. This was also one of my (and others’) big complaints about Inception, but I could dismiss it because Leonardo diCaprio’s character says “the more unrealistic the dream gets, the more the dreamer becomes aware that it’s a dream (and the more chance of getting kicked out/attacked). So I suspended disbelief. Maybe it had something to do with the magic machine. But any other time, the dream always follows the same logic and physics of the real world. As if the creator’s trying to fool you that this is reality. There are no transitions, no randomness, no sense of mindscape. Dreams should be like fantasies, like Mena Suvari’s boobs turning into roses in American Beauty.

2) They’re always filler. I have rarely found a dream sequence in a book or movie that didn’t already have a minimal run time/word count. Usually because of a paper-thin plot. If it’s not an excuse to exhibit cool stuff for the trailer without consequences on the plot, like Batman v. Superman, then it’s padding.

3) They’re always foreshadowing. No one ever dreams about something that happened in the past or current emotions. It’s always something in the future. Every protagonist suddenly becomes clairvoyant when they dream. I guess heroes all gain ESP while they sleep. Suddenly they can see what the bad guy is doing, or how the hero might die. The Matrix does this. Star Wars does this. Lord of the Rings does this. Dune does this. The freakin’ bible does this. It’s tiresome. It’s like the author forgot there are other ways to foreshadow than using dreams. And then we get to the point of the story where reality catches up to the dream and the audience goes “hey, I remember that. Wow, everything came full circle. Let me suck the author’s dick now.” Nothing important happened, you dolt. The author just showed you the “coming up next” reel.

4) They all end the same. The dream wakes up sweaty and screaming, gasping like they were underwater. If they were in bed with someone, he/she wakes up too and comforts the dreamer. “Go back to bed, sweetheart. It was just a dream.” But it WASN’T all a dream. We–the audience–know that. That’s the dramatic irony of it all. Oh, foul Mistress Irony, when we you release your cold hands from my bosom.

5) Nothing changes as a result. Any time I see there’s a dream sequence in a book, I know I can skip it because nothing is going to happen in the real world until the person wakes up. By its nature, you can’t proceed with the plot until the dream is over. Dreams can only ever add to characterization. The scene NEVER has a bearing on the plot or setting. 99% of the time you can take the dream sequence out and nothing changes with the story. It doesn’t belong.

And does the dreamer do anything about the dream afterward? NO. He/she never changes course of action, because what idiot would? “Well, I remember seeing this exact thing in my dream last night, and when I went to the left, a glass pane fell on me. But that couldn’t possibly happen in the real world, could it?” No one ever holds their head in their hands and goes “Oh, waily waily waily, if I only I had paid attention to that dream I could have avoided all these dire consequences.” Nope. Because that person also dreamt that he was getting a jumbo pop from an elephant and what the hell are you supposed to do with that information.

Maybe my hatred stems from my own personal experiences — I rarely dream. And when I do, the dreams are rooted in primal emotions–usually frustration, loneliness, longing for adventure, and friendship. But always weird shit: me and Neil Gaiman defending a mall from a throng of zombies, a girl strutting her stuff on the deck of a pirate ship and then her boobs turning into butterflies. Last night I had a dream that some cops were indirectly accusing me of pedophilia in a 1980’s house, and then there were zombie trees that ate people and turned them into tree-human zombies and it was like X-Files, and Smoking Man appeared at the end, not blown up like at the end of the series. None of them — NONE of them — are ever anything remotely considered prophetic.

My personal experience does not negate others — maybe some people do have logical dreams. I hope they are very happy fighting the orcs and piloting spaceships that I’m sure exist in their world.

Should an Author Change a Story for Commercial Viability?

thinking emoji

So while I’m composing the outline for “naga hide” story, I thought I’d share this anecdote.

I was with my wife, walking our two poop-makers floor-destroyers inbred suicidal moronic pains-in-the-ass with fur dogs. And as I’m always desperate for conversation topics (being an introvert) I talked about the two novels I was planning — seeing which idea she thought had more merit.

When I talked about “naga hide”, she had qualms about the main character. She said “women don’t like snakes” so that might diminish the marketability/commercial viability. That certainly got my attention. Commercial viability = people paying money to publisher = happy publisher = publisher paying money to agent = happy agent = agent wanting to buy book = happy me. And the idea that women don’t like snakes isn’t untrue. I don’t know what the statistics are, but over the world, I think it’s more common than not.

So I started thinking of different monster girls that could serve the same role. Something that is both repulsive but alluring. Something traditionally seen as fundamentally evil, like biblical, with elements of seduction and demonry. Like a vampire or siren. Centaurs were too large — I needed something that could climb and be disguised. Spiders had the same problem (also there’s no compromise with women when it comes to spiders). Mermaids — I already did a book on mermaids and besides, the medieval period wasn’t wheelchair-accessible. Succubi are too on the nose. Dragon ladies are too powerful. Slime girls — too sticky. Sheep-women were too silly, plant-girls are too out there, demon girls are too cliche. Not even bunny girls would work.

I finally decided on werewolf, even though 1) werewolves exist either in the camp of cheesy Universal horror movies or “Twilight” and 2) “Ginger Snaps” planted the flag on “female sexuality as the beast within”.

I brainstormed bandages to my existing story ideas, but before I began full-on dedicating the death of brain cells to this, I asked Reddit’s writing forum if what I was doing was right. If I should change a fundamental aspect of the character I originally envisioned for the sake of marketability. I didn’t get a very large sample, but the sample I did get was vehement — don’t change your idea to satisfy someone else.

In fact, not one response supported the counter-argument. Some of the more memorable quotes: “execution > concept”, “art is not a democracy”, “write the story you want to read”, and the one that really got to me: “From personal experience, changing an idea I have loved based on what I think would sell better has been nothing short of crushing to me.” Nothing convinced me more than that. Can’t deny user experience.

Quite a few mentioned the idea that “women don’t like snakes” is bupkiss. Lots of responders said they love snakes just fine. No one said they were afraid of snakes, at least not from a book. And no one said they liked werewolves more.

And from these results, I’m glad. I feel like a dodged a bullet on this one — prevented a lot more work than I would have needed. I’m glad I asked for advice, because I had a feeling in my gut they were right. And overall, I would have been unhappy all through the writing process. I wouldn’t have been spending my time with the character I fell in love with.