What does a character know, and when does she know it?

I recently attended the LTUE Symposium in Provo, and one of my favorite panels was the one on getting your firearms right.

Now, you may not be a gun nut, and you may not care, but I can practically guarantee that just about every author who’s written about guns has gotten some–ahem!–feedback on what they got wrong.

So let me lay it out as (a) a gun-nut, (b) a writer, and (c) a reader. These states of mind are not separate. They overlap.

Let me take off my shooting hat (yes, I have one to keep the brass out of my cleavage) and put on my writer hat (let’s say it looks a bit like a crown).

Just because I know the difference between a magazine and a clip doesn’t mean that every character I write does. Just because I know the difference between an auto-loader (semi-automatic) and full-auto doesn’t mean that every character I write does. Got that?

Let’s say I’m writing from Lizzie’s viewpoint. She is Mark’s girlfriend. Mark is a gun-nut. He wears Hoppe’s as after-shave. He carries a bore-snake in his hip pocket. Lizzie on the other hand knows which end is the shootie end and that there’s a thingie that you pull and it makes the gun go boom.

Lizzie settled into Mark’s bed, all alone. He’d gotten called in for overtime on a mid-shift. She’d fallen asleep easily enough, but the sound of glass breaking woke her as if someone had tossed a bucket of ice-water on her body. Over the thundering coming from her chest, she heard footsteps. She scrambled for her cell-phone. No signal. None. Lizzie grabbed at the nightstand drawer and pulled out the gun just in time to shoot the big, bad guy barging through the door. He dropped to the floor.


Notice how I didn’t get into the muzzle, cylinder, or cocking the hammer, or sighting in? Notice how I didn’t even tell you it was a revolver? Why didn’t I? It’s not because I didn’t know the proper terminology. It’s not because I don’t know what it feels like to experience this exact scenario.

I could’ve quite as easily written this:



Lizzie lifted the Smith & Wesson 357 Magnum with its six-inch, weighted barrel. She’d loaded it with 38 Special ammo to further reduce recoil and had custom grips made. Its more than 56 ounces was a reassuring weight in her hand. She looked down through the adjustable rear sights and placed the partridge dovetail of the front sight right where it needed to be–between the rear sights and on the intruder’s center of mass. She cocked the hammer. The cylinder made that satisfying click. The trigger pull was smooth as silk; the report, as quiet as a whisper. So, this is time distortion. This is auditory exclusion. This is surreal.


So, why didn’t I write the second version? Because Lizzie is not me. Lizzie is not a gun person. She doesn’t know these details (that’s actually a competition gun, BTW, but the use of 38 Special ammo in a 357 Magnum is deliberate). She doesn’t know about time dilation and compression. She doesn’t know about auditory exclusion.

Does genre matter?

No. It doesn’t. Even in the gun-nut genre, if you are writing from Lizzie’s point of view, you have to stay in Lizzie’s head, or else you’re going to have a world populated by gun-Mary-Sue’s. All your characters will read the same.

The second version is actually far more appropriate to Mark’s viewpoint, although even there, it’s arguable that he’d go on and on, describing his gun in THAT moment. Now, he might well describe it in such detail if he’s putting it away in the drawer, just before he leaves. Maybe he was cleaning it and got the call to go in to work. Maybe he loaded it just in case, because the self-defense gun was still on the kitchen table being cleaned and he figured that it was better to have the competition gun ready than have none at all. But he wouldn’t describe it in detail as he was shooting it. He might think about lining up the sights just right, but he wouldn’t tell us about the type of sights. He might not even notice the time dilation or auditory exclusion as it’s happening. Later he might, though.

Point of view matters.

5 Days to Go: Intellectual Property Tracker Kickstarter

I’d like to thank Jamie Ferguson for giving our Kickstarter a boost with this interview. Time is running out. Our Kickstarter ends on Feb. 13th. Make your pledge now in order to save money and unlock bonuses available only while the Kickstarter is running.

The Kickstarter has met its funding goal, so what’s the advantage of someone supporting the Kickstarter at this point?

There are three advantages: 
1. saving money; the pledge levels offer you the plans at a savings.
2. Dean Wesley Smith’s Magic Bakery Workshop on copyright and intellectual property is a $150 value on its own; you’re going to learn so many amazing things about copyright and how important it is to manage your rights in this class. Honestly, if you don’t know why stories are intellectual property and the value that intellectual property (IP) has to your success as a writer, you absolutely NEED this class, even if you’ve never published anything or if you’ve just had your first story accepted.
3. for those that already have a few (or a dozen or a hundred) titles out and know about copyright and IP, the $500 Lifetime Plan is a Kickstarter special.

Story and Characters: Love-hate affairs across cultures

Earlier this month I was introduced to the most successful German-language musical of all time, Elisabeth das Musical.

This fictionalized account of the life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria has been translated into seven languages and seen by over ten million, although apparently never in the United States. It made me wonder why, since it has been successful not just in Germany, but Hungary, Russia, South Korea, and Japan. In fact, the cross-cultural adaptations are worth a study in themselves. Here is a multi-language compilation of the prologue. I’m particularly fond of the Japanese costuming. And here is the international trailer with an English introduction.

Personally, I love a good anti-hero and in this case that would be Death, not Elisabeth, the heroine of this story.

Having grown up in a culture similar to the one that Elisabeth grew up in, I’d like to share my take on this story.

Know then, that for most of history, people did not marry for romantic love. Most of those who ruled didn’t (I’m sure there were exceptions). The peasants, shop keepers, and nobles didn’t either, although they had, perhaps more freedom in that regard, depending on the time period, etc.

Today, we live in a culture rich enough to allow us to casually enter into marriage based on romantic love, with less thought given to the economics involved, than in the past. All it takes in most places in the US, is a drive down to City Hall or a Justice of the Peace, the payment of a fee, and you are married. Most people are free to fall in love and marry just for that. Whether it lasts or not is another matter. So, go into this knowing, that that was not the case in Elisabeth’s time, and it is not the case in most of the world even today.

My parents’ and grandparents’ generation in Communist Romania certainly thought of marriage in terms of economics, despite it being the 20th Century. Nobody cared about love. What did they care about?

Does he have a good, stable job?
Will he be able to support a wife?
Will he be able to support a family?
Is he husband material in other ways?
Is she wife material?
Can she have children?
What kind of mother will she be?
Do undesirable traits and behavior run in his or her family?
Can the families get along?

Living as part of an extended family that were always in your business, did not allow an unmarried man or woman the freedom to just fall for someone and call it done. Even if the respective families couldn’t stop you from marrying, they could certainly withdraw and refuse support, and often did. It was also not that unusual for the older generation (the grandparents’) to be responsible for child-rearing, and for younger cousins and sisters to be involved as well (as nannies and baby-sitters for girls must learn how to be mothers themselves some day), since the concept of a nuclear family was unknown.

And I can tell you without a doubt that the idea of living only for oneself, for one’s own selfish desire was not praiseworthy, was not encouraged, much less celebrated. In contrast, today, there are plenty of young men and women who pursue “their bliss” well into their thirties, often as a result of parental generosity.

Elisabeth (as portrayed in this musical) is in many ways a contemporary embodiment of what we so often see today. She is raised in an ideal environment, which, while desirable, does not reflect the reality of the world. One moment she swears off marriage for the freedom to do whatever she wants. The next, she’s fallen in love (at first sight no less) with the Emperor of Austria (a man intended for her older sister).

Then when she does have children, they are taken away from her to be raised by her mother-in-law. She fights to get them back, but then abandons them in retaliation for her husband’s unfaithfulness. Now, I realize that some of this is being done for story reasons, and that’s fine. Conflict, shattered expectations, and a character arc all demand it. Otherwise we’d have no Story, or at least not this story, and it is THIS story that is compelling.

Elisabeth sacrifices everyone (including her beloved son) for her own freedom, while at the same time enjoying an unearned material wealth. Audiences are drawn in and cheer on her declaration that she belongs only to herself.

While it’s interesting, and entertaining to watch the character arc, the love triangle between Elisabeth, her husband, and Death personified (and yes, I enjoyed the heck out of this play–I watched the German and Hungarian versions–and it’s in the “watch again” bin) there were so many times when I wanted to reach out and strangle her and shout “You are such a selfish, silly <insert expletive>!” Then I take a deep breath and remind myself that it’s a Story, it’s meant to be entertainment, and I should just enjoy it.

Which leads to “Why am I willing to watch this again, when I don’t particularly like Elisabeth as a person?” Yes, Mark Seibert as Death makes up for a lot, but he’s not on the stage that long. And it’s not just Seibert’s portrayal of Death, even though I’d jump at the chance to go see him on stage even if that meant actually going back to Europe. Kim Junsu’s portrayal of Death in the Korean version is just as good, if not better.

It’s the characters, stupid! Plot, logic, and inconsistencies matter not when the characters have you in their grip, just like with a book you read again and again, even though you know not just the ending, but every plot point along the way. It’s why I’m on a mission to watch the Japanese and Russian versions as well, provided I can find them.

Even the language barrier was not enough to dampen my enjoyment and I’m not a fan of theater in general. The fact that it was in a foreign language made it more interesting. I really admire the translators since they had to translate not just the words, but make the syllables fit, and oh, by the way, some of it still rhymes. Think of it this way. In English, “I” is one syllable; same in German, Hungarian, and Russian. But in Japanese, “I” is “watashi(-wa)” which is three or four, in Korean it’s “naneun” also three. From what I saw of the subtitles, they did it while preserving context in most cases. It’s shown particularly well here, in a multi-language compilation featuring several of the actresses portraying Elisabeth during the 20th Anniversary Tribute. Notice how the song smoothly flows from one language to the other (I identified German, Dutch, Korean, and Japanese. Finnish might also have been in there, although I didn’t verify it).

As a writer, I also appreciate how well the Story (not the plot) delivered a highly satisfying ending.

When it was all over, I asked myself, was this a romance (i.e. it had a happy ending) or was it a tragedy? And the answer is, it was both. The climax was a tragedy, but the denouement was a happily ever after. Yeah, that’s right. THIS and the compelling characters is why Elisabeth das Musical is such a hit.

Now I’m off to add “learn more about the Habsburg Empire” to my ever-growing list of stuff I’ll probably never get around to. I really do wish they’d have spent more time on this part of history when I was going to school.

One final thing. The story shows the rising nationalism of the time period. I believe it is historically accurate. If you’re going to get offended by the appearance of National Socialism and its anti-semitism (slogans, symbols, etc), despite their portrayal as the bad guys, you might want to skip this.

Creative Penn podcast

Many thanks to Joanna Penn for the shoutout about Intellectual Property Tracker on her Creative Penn podcast. Joanna is a successful author and entrepreneur, with many, many, titles (both fiction and non-fiction about the business and craft for writing) to her name. 

Remember that our Kickstarter ends on Feb. 13th, so don’t delay. 

Please help us spread the word by sharing this. Thank you.

Intellectual Property Tracker update:

You asked. We responded. We added a requested feature to the demo version.

In response to the request for a feature that allowed the tracking of  images related to covers and merchandising, I’ve added that functionality to the demo version and recorded a brief (4′) video to give you an idea of what it might look like. This new feature allows you manage the data associated with images as well as the licensing associated with them. Whether you’re just using images for covers or not, we think this feature will streamline your process and free up your time.

Thank you again, everyone, for your support. We’re very excited to see this project come together. You can help this project by supporting our Kickstarter here.

Intellectual Property Tracker Working Demo

A working demo on the initial concept of Intellectual Property Tracker. You’ll see some of the BASIC functionality and how the software can be used. The final product will be easier to use and have more features.

Please consider backing our Kickstarter as well. In addition to the final product, you’ll also get WMG’s Magic Bakery Workshop, a great self-paced course on copyright and intellectual property (that’s a $150 value). Check it out.

Demo of initial concept (NOT the final product)

Random musings on Romance and The Terminator

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I know it’s only January. But I’m nowhere near as bad as the grocery stores that were selling Christmas candy alongside Valentine’s candy and St. Patrick’s day candy, so bear with me.

I wouldn’t say I’m a huge Romance reader, i.e. it’s been some time since I’ve read a Harlequin novel of any kind. So, some of what I’m about to say comes from distant memories of it and some of it comes from the excellent material from the Genre Structure class I took (Psst, it’s really great and if you want to learn more about genre conventions, I can’t recommend it enough. In fact, all of WMG’s classes are top notch).

A lot of writers take pride in pushing the boundaries of genre, refusing to be constrained by it. Indie publishing has turned genre mixing into some sort of bloodsport though, where anything goes, which is fine to an extent.

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Characterization and Word Choice

One of the gripes I hear most from writers is about the challenge of making characters sound different, i.e. giving them each an individual voice. Let’s explore the subject, shall we?

One way of making your characters sound different is to give them an accent. And this can certainly work, as long as you use their brogue or twang sparingly, like you would spice. Add too much and it becomes distracting gibberish that’s hard to parse out.

The other way is to change their syntax. But don’t go all Jar-Jar on us. One of the best examples of syntax usage is R. M. Meluch’s character Dr. Mo Shah.

Dr. Shah’s voice sounded again from the intercom. “Captain? May I be having a word with you?” Confidentially, Mo Shah’s tone added.

“Oh. These are not being signs of slaughter. These are being medical communications. Physicians conferring with each other, I am believing.”

“He did not pass the drug scan,” Dr. Shah reported.

Farragut pursed his lips. Spoke at last: “What’s he doing?”

“The whole pharmacy,” Mo answered. “And the R&D lab.”

The Myriad: Tour of the Merrimack #1

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2019, A year of changes

First of all, Happy New Year, one and all.

Last year saw the words “The End” go on my space opera. It came in at a respectable 150,000 words. It’s a mix of futuristic nanotech, genetic engineering, the clash of cultures, feudal politics, sexy romance, and swords.

The new year is also supposed to see a new short story and two novellas, all as part of anthologies.

On the self-publishing side, I plan on re-releasing a short story in June and a novella in February. The novella is a bit of conundrum. I’m tempted to expand it and make it a second edition, one with additional content and some added steam (i.e. that means sexier), along with a sexy cover that I can’t wait to show you.

The major change this year is that all my self-published ebooks will be available to my newsletter subscribers two weeks before they are released to the rest of the world. So, if you want to take advantage of this, you have to be on my subscriber list, i.e. my super-fan list.

If you’re not on the list, you can sign up under “Newsletter Opt-in” on the right-side of the screen. Go ahead and do it. It’s easy.

I’m not into making new year’s resolutions, but I will say that my goal is to make 2019 a more productive year overall, with sequels and side stories for my space opera and a sequel to Promethea Invicta. Speaking of Promethea, I’m eagerly awaiting a better microphone (due here next week) so I can produce an audio version. I’m also very excited to announce a collaboration with Tom Kratman. More to come on that.

Meanwhile, my short story, Equality (first published in MAGA 2020 & Beyond) is live as of today directly from me via Bookfunnel (in your favorite format), as well as from these vendors (Print, Kindle, Kobo, iBooks, Scribd, D2D). And of course, it’s available through your favorite library as well; just ask your librarian.