Art mirrors life.

There. I’ve said it. If what you put on the page strays too far off from what your readers expect, then you have a lot of work trying to explain yourself. If you explain too much, you’ll lose your crowd. Also, just as in life, your protagonist must make decisions.

Decisions are central to a narrative, just as they are essential in life.

Duh, you say. Of course.

No, it’s no duh. People have trouble making decisions, I know I do. Your character in your story needs to make decisions, even if they are seemingly minor, because decisions reveal character.

God knows I’ve made some bad decisions in my day. I’d like to say I’ve learned from them, and I’ve progressed as a person, but some days I wonder. Of course, I think I’ve made some pretty good decisions, too. See photo above. There’s a story there.

On that day me and my guys captured a mountain of ammo and bomb making supplies from the bad guys. It wasn’t easy, but the job got done. What decision did I make, you wonder.

One of the hats I wore was Counter Improvised Explosive Device team leader, or the C-IED guy. We captured a ton of explosives, so it was a bit of a question what we should do with the junk. An option was to dump it all in a field and have one of the circling Apaches drop a Hellfire on it.

It would have disposed of the ordnance.

In my opinion, it would have also toppled a few structures and shattered every pane of glass within half a mile. I didn’t doubt then, or now, that someone innocent would have gotten seriously injured.

My boss asked me for a decision.

I made one. With multiple pissed-off groans, we ended up humping the explosives out of there on our backs. There was limited vehicular access, but the infantry has doubled as mules since the dawn of time.

Ten years later, and I am still convinced it was the right choice.

As my boss back then told me, no decision is also a decision.

A person who has never done anything has it easy when it comes to criticism. I am reminded of this when I watch the feeding frenzies on Internet personalities. I ask myself what decisions have these people made, what risks have they taken?

Chances are, few. Good old fashioned jealousy and schadenfreude seem to be the chief motivation of some.

Now, I am not saying to go out and make bad decisions. And some feeding frenzies are richly deserved. But that’s not the point of this piece.

What I am saying is that when you’re crafting a story, even if it is one that no one will ever read, the action is propelled forward by choices, good and bad. Be conscious of this, identify the various catalysts in your narrative. Make your character someone who acts, not someone who is passive, who is acted upon.

No one wants to read that. Also, no one wants to be that, either.

Start making decisions, whether it is a fictional narrative, or your personal journey.

It’s the stuff of life, and it’s what people want to read.

The Very Beginning

All, so I have embarked on a new trilogy as discussed in the last post.

Something I promised a long time ago was that I would discuss my writer’s journey as it unfolds. Well, something I learned back during my first trilogy was that before you do squat you need to have a coherent outline. Pictured above is a real outline of a book that I have completed. Using just those skeletal prompts pictured, I write entire novels.

This approach may not work for you, but it works for me. I guess the broader point is that if you want to write a book, you need some form of plan.

It doesn’t have to be an outline. It doesn’t have to have any type of formal shape. It just needs to be.

A plan. Without one you are probably whistling Dixie.

OK, so here’s what I do. I learned this from a master, and from the professional reading he assigned me. It works very, very well, and I really don’t know what I did before I learned the THREE ACT STRUCTURE.

In a nut shell, here’s what it is.

Act I

Opening ImageThe world before the story begins.

Theme stated. What is this story about

Set up. Hero at home, at work, at play.

Catalyst- set things into motion.

Debate- Hero doubts.

Act II (Twice the size of Act I or III)

Break into two. Hero must make a choice to step into II. Now or never.

B-Story activities.

Fun and games. Explore new worlds. Promise of the premise.

Midpoint. Stakes raised. False victory, defeat. Time clock. Pace accelerates.

Bad guys close in. Hero team issues or bad guy threats.

All is lost.

Dark night of the soul. “Whiff of death.”


Break into three. Hero steps up and goes all the way.

Finale. Final exam. Does hero learn lessons.

Gather team, load up.

Storm the castle.

Hightower surprise.


Execute new plan.

Final image- the world after. Cocoon- butterflies.

At the top of my outline segments, I leave the “beats” that a given act must fulfill at the top as a reminder. It is not a slavish guide, and I frequently diverge from the outline if I sense that the flow or structure needs something. Seriously, though, my two sentence blurbs turn into about 2k-2.5k chapters. This is how I roll.

But before I set a single word onto the manuscript, I MAKE AN OUTLINE!

The outline is the skeleton. It forms a frame upon which you hang all the squishy bits. There is a reason that most higher life forms have a skeleton- those stony, hard bits protect the nerve bundles and jelly stuff that makes you, you.

Trust me, you need a skeleton.

Now, as I said, your skeleton can look vastly different from mine. What would work well (and I should experiment with this) would be a white board with sticky notes; but because I’m a boring, stuck in my ways type, I like a column of ideas arrayed in a linear fashion upon a Word doc.

As I said, whatever works for you. But please, learn from my experience and make the outline in whatever form. My first book had some mistakes I could have avoided if I would have simply followed this basic step.


So that’s what I’m up to right now- I’m doing something familiar (making an outline), but I’m doing it in such a way that is entirely new.

What do I mean.

I’m making an outline, all at once, for a new trilogy. About 120 planned chapters, and I have to make it all work within a given structure.

Curious how this works. Should be OK, but I don’t know.

Something I run up against all the time is I make a chapter outline, and then I think “Those two sentences sum this up. How can I expand this without putting my readers to sleep?”

Kinda having this now with this mega outline. I know where I want to go with the trilogy, what terrain I’d like to cover. But there are important questions.

Who are my enemies? My friends? How do the circumstances shape my characters, what drives them forward? How do they live, and how do they die?

All of these are questions that need answered.

The answers lie in the outline.

Once that’s done, all I have to do is write.

2021 release of… something!

Pictured above are some hardcopies of my first trilogy. The last book in the series, Immolation, was published in May, 2017.

That’s four long years ago.

Since then, I have been busy. I have written in shared universes, and I’ve created one of my own, an alternate history.

The shared universes are exactly that, they are shared. They do not belong to me.

Long time readers know my publisher went belly-up a couple of years ago. This may have been a left-handed gift because if they were still around, I probably would have released my alternate history in a knee-jerk fashion.

News flash: I would have lost money on it. Unfortunately, that seems to be the cold hard truth for 99.9% of indie authors.

You will lose money.

It’s so easy to look at the sheer volume of the competition out there and get discouraged. At times I want to throw up my hands and say the hell with it, that this is a fool’s game and a massive waste of time.

But then I read through some really positive stuff that some people have had to say about my work, and it makes a difference.

Years ago, after my first book, I had sold something like fifty copies. The thing was going nowhere. It embarrassed me, my thoughts were “hey, I did this. I said I would. Now it’s done and no one wants to read it. I’ll never do this again.”

I walked away.

But then a curious thing happened. First, I was contacted by a fan who said he really liked the book. He asked me when I was going to write the sequel; I told him I hadn’t really thought about it.

But then I did. Then I heard from an author I was in occasional contact with, John Birmingham. He told me the book was a good read. I was blown away to hear this.

So I sat down and I wrote the second book in what became a trilogy. By May of 2017, it was done.

Then I got involved in a bunch of projects, lost my publisher, and finished another trilogy.

By now, April of 2021, the dam is about to burst.

I want to release my alt history trilogy so bad it hurts.

So I come back to what has sustained me throughout the years, my readers and friends. I have a question to pose to you. A series, really.

Here are my dilemmas.

First, I don’t want to go thousands of USD into the hole again. But I also don’t want to publish an inferior product. So the pure indie route isn’t that attractive. Sorry, Amazon, but for most Indie authors you are a money sink, not a revenue generator.

Second, selling the trilogy is still a possibility, and it’s by far the most preferred one. I consider my current trilogy to be locked up in this process for the time being. However, one must always have a back-up plan.

Here it is.

I really admire John Birmingham’s Patreon page.

This. This seems to be a sure-fire method of getting my work out to you all, and I would be paid some small amount per month to do so.

I take this question to you readers directly: would you be interested in paying a few dollars per month to see my latest and greatest? What would you like to see? How much would you be willing to pay?

Hell, how many of you would actually cross the threshold and join the Cool Kids Club?

I need answers to these questions.

Something I could do is begin work immediately on a NEW TRILOGY, one that’s not tied up in commitments. A new sci-fi universe, just for my readers.


At least once a week you would get a new chapter to chew on, and we could hang out and talk it over. At the end of each book, you’d get a complimentary e-book copy.

What do you think?

This is something I’m interested in.

But who cares about me.

The question is: are you interested?

I’m all ears.

The Battered Helmet

Hey, readers. Welcome to the North American spring, boy, am I glad that the better weather is finally here.

Well, with good weather comes flea markets and what are known as “garage sales,” sometimes I go to those. You never know what you can find. I attended a large one in this area recently on a sunny but cold day, and what do you know, I found this battered helmet for sale. The price was reasonable, so I decided to add it to my collection.

Kooky, I know. During the lockdown things got a little weird. I wrote A LOT. Plus, I spent tons of time on the internet. At times I made purchases; I decided to start collecting helmets.

Now, I already had a small collection. There were a few I had inherited, plus there were a few that I got in the service.

See below.

I see the helmet as a signature clothing item for a soldier; a piece of protective wear that signals what it is that you do for a living.

In this case, the helmet protects against flying bits of metal, blunt force trauma, and under the right conditions they will even stop a bullet.

The US has eighteen million living veterans, so that means that there is a lot of this type of junk to be found at yard sales. Much of it has a story, good or bad. The helmet I found a couple of days ago had obviously seen hard and long service, it was produced by McCord in late 1944. It was covered in several layers of brushed on ugly green paint, and what was cool was that in places traces of the original WW2 paint was visible.

This helmet has a story. To make things even better, a soldier’s name was carved in the paint on the inside, along with the name of a tiny town in Tennessee.

I googled the name, the gentleman is still alive. He is of the Korean War generation.

This. This is history. The price of admission is low, a couple of twenty dollar bills.

Maybe it’s odd, but I find this sort of thing to be fascinating.

This interest in history translates into writing; it blends well with science fiction. Mix it up, then puke the words onto the page and you get an alternate history trilogy.

My chief goal for 2021: Get the trilogy’s first book published, no matter what.


Ha, readers, here is a sample from my alt history trilogy! I am pretty much dying to publish this!


Ernst turned away and scuttled into the irregular belts of rubble and fighting positions. He ran from hole to hole, calling for the commander of First Company. Finally, there was an answer by a Maxim position.

“Over here, sir!”

The Maxim was firing in steady bursts, it looked to Ernst as if von Hassel was directing its fire. He nodded approvingly. He called out.

“Von Hassel!”

The Leutnant jumped.


Ernst cut to the chase. “Hey, I’ve got a company of Sturmtruppen at my back. We are going to attack right here, right now. Can you provide us with covering fire?”

“Fuck yes, sir.”

“Then wait for us. I have to go get them and lead them here. As soon as we set up, we attack. Tell your men! No fucking friendly fire!”

“I’ll arrange passage of lines. How soon?”

“Five minutes.”

Von Hassel’s eyes went wide. “Christ! That’s soon!”

“Better get moving, LT.”

“Yes, sir!”

Ernst turned back toward the south, he ran, his heart pounded. His Bergmann pumped in his hand as he sprinted along the treacherous footing, his canteen and gas mask banged along his hip. He passed back to the smashed cluster of houses where Leutnant Hofsteder and his grim one hundred awaited.

With a final dash, he reached their waiting spot. He called out.



“I’ve arranged passage of lines! We attack right now.”

Hofsteder called out.

Manner! On your feet!”

Ernst watched as dozens of men arose from the rubble. They looked like so many wraiths in the flickering darkness.

“Follow me.”

Ernst padded off, he could sense the special assault troops following in his wake. He retraced his steps, he returned to First Company’s perimeter, the chunk of blasted city that they held by their fingernails. 

Ernst grinned. He knew he was going to kick the lousy XXXXX right in the bollocks. He approached the Maxim nest where von Hassel lay.

“Leutnant! Are your men ready and warned?”

“Yes, sir!”

“Good.” Ernst turned, Leutnant Hofsteder was sending his men left and right, into a rough assault formation. It appeared to Ernst as if the man arrayed his company to attack in a rough skirmish line, divided into three parts. He crouched and hastened over to the Sturmtruppen leader.

“Ready, Hofsteder?”

“Hell, yes.”

“Alright, let’s go! I’ll accompany you; I will guide you to where I think the English commander is waiting. We hit there with everything we have.”

“Do or die, Major?”

“Is there any other way?”


“All set?”

Hofsteder looked around, he shrugged. “Yeah.” He pulled out a flare pistol.

Ernst spoke. “Hold on.” He called out between bursts of the Maxim. “Von Hassel!”


“Tell your gunner we assault now. Keep the fire right over our fucking heads.”

“Meter and a half?”

“Yeah. Close shave.”

Ernst heard von Hassel scream something to his machine gunner. He looked over at Hofsteder.



Hey all, you may have noticed that it’s been a bit quiet around here recently. This is entirely my fault, and if you want to assign blame then I am that fellow. There’s been some crazy stuff going on in my personal life, nothing to worry about, but also not something I’m getting into in a public setting.

The events of this month have skewed everything, really. It’s been an avalanche of one thing on top of another. Included in there has been a tax fiasco, among everything else. It’s been really good times.

But finally, sun is breaking through the clouds, much as our weather has done. It’s really beautiful out there, and my lilac bush is sprouting leaves at last. It is past time to continue work on my fitness and finish up my ongoing project, the long-banked alternate history trilogy.

I will have you know that I am in Act III, or the finale, of the final book in the series, which has the helpful name of “3.” This makes for exactly 111 chapters completed, with maybe ten to go. As is usual when I get to the end of a book like this, I feel an acceleration.

Maybe that’s not the right word, but it fits how I feel. Suddenly there is no problem with motivation to write, stuff picks up and the story almost begs to be written.

So I sit down and I write, usually at odd hours. My best times are early in the morning, although I’ve written at all hours depending on the household situation. My standard has been a chapter, or 2-3k words per day, everyday.

In March, I failed to meet the standard.

See vague life circumstances and distractions above.

However, something I did when this current writing blitz started in December was to plan in ample time for project completion. I established my own internal deadline as to when I want to finish up, and I mean to stick to it.

I’m not sure if it will be possible, but I want Book 3 to be done as of 1 April.

Right now I’m on Chapter 31 of a planned 40.

Today I’m feeling the bug, although the sun is shining outside. On days like today I can easily do two chapters. If I try more I usually get a headache and my left arm begins to tingle. So I try to limit myself. Although three chapters would be great, and at this point, easy to do.

The feeling I have, almost every time, at the beginning of Act III is one of falling. It feels like standing on sand in an hourglass, and you are being pulled inexorably toward the little Venturi in the bottom. It is a feeling of inevitability.

This is very good! It means the story is doing EXACTLY what it should be doing at this point in a novel- it is picking up the pace, it is speeding up.

And this was the problem with the first book I wrote.

The structure was entirely instinctive, I wrote it without a plan or an outline. There are those who say it’s a good book, but there are others that have justifiably criticized it.

Well, that book was a real learning experience. And I did learn. By the time I completed the trilogy, I had some very important friends and mentors, as well as fans (!), and I had done some professional reading about writing and structure.

So now I wouldn’t dream of starting a novel without an outline. There is no way I would commit a word to paper without taking flow into account.

But instinct is still important. Feel. It is crucial, and I’m not sure how you learn it except to read or watch a LOT.

And what I’m feeling about this trilogy right now is good.

Will I make the first of April? I don’t know.

But I’ll do my damndest.

Writing Sample

A passage from the third book in my unpublished alternate history trilogy. After a month of intense distraction, the time has come to resume work.

Bill called out.

“That’s torn it, sir! Every Heinie and his mother will drop into our fucking laps!”

“Quite, Sergeant. Lieutenant McBride!”


“We have seen quite enough, young man. Do turn your men about with dispatch.”

Tracers zipped along, they would hit objects and curl crazily into the air. Bill looked heavenward; it looked much like a series of racing fireflies disappearing heavenward. Blokes started to turn to the north; as Bill watched a man was struck. From the sound it was a solid hit; a meaty “thunk.”

The poor bastard hit the ground, a flare popped and Bill watched as black crud and bubbles poured from his mouth.

He was a goner, for sure.

Someone grabbed the wounded man by the collar. They started to drag him north, toward safety. Or at least perceived safety.

The wounded man’s rescuer took a bullet to the thigh. Bill saw a chunk fly off. The man screamed and fell. Bill looked for someone to shoot at, anybody. All he could see were muzzle flashes and the quick bright lines of the tracers.

It was time to fucking go.

McBride’s platoon hustled rearwards. Bill and the Colonel took up the trail position. They were slowed by the wounded; the further they moved the more they had. Fucking Birdcage, Bill thought. We did a recon, all right. You get close to the Birdcage, you get shot.

The night lit for a fraction of a second, and it wasn’t a flare.

It was the whizz-bang gun.

Bill heard the “whizz,” he felt the “bang!”

A chunk of shrapnel pulled at his trouser leg. Bill leaned down to free himself from what he thought was barbed wire. When he found the hole, his blood ran cold. The damn thing had nearly removed his left calf. He kept the Colonel in sight, what had been an orderly, tightly disciplined raid had turned into a headlong flight to safety.

The screams and grunts of their wounded hastened their steps. The 7.7 gun blasted them, the machine guns lashed at the retreating men.

The raid had been a costly debacle, and it had put xxxxx into a rare downcast humor. Later that day, he looked to the south and spoke.

“Sergeant, I fear the Hun is mocking us.”

Bill nodded. He lit a cigarette.

“Smarmy bastards. I should call Divarta and shell that detestable Birdcage to pieces.”

“It’ll just make it easier to defend, sir.”

xxxxx simply looked at him. He said nothing, then he returned to his vigil. He put a cigar in his mouth then he spoke after he puffed it to life with a trench lighter.

“I say, Sergeant, do you think the Birdcage would make a worthwhile study on canvas?”

Bill shrugged. “Sir, I don’t know anything about art.”

“Surely you must have studied the finer things of life in school!”

“They taught me how to read and write.” Bill paused. “And a little arithmetic.”

xxxxx harrumphed. “It is a scandal, what they call an education for the working classes.”

Bill puffed away. “Good enough to run this, sir.” He held up his Bergmann.

Reasons vs. Excuses

Alright, probably not the best pic of me, but I’m out doing something important and long overdue.

Getting exercise.

Which is getting back to reasons versus excuses. I’ll give some examples of reasons, then I’ll tackle excuses.

Reason: a cause, explanation, or justification for an action or event.

Alright, here are some legit reasons I couldn’t exercise for months. First, I became terribly sick in November. For weeks I could barely get out of bed. By the time I recovered, my family was in quarantine. The quarantine lasted about forty days. It was bad. Once it was over, we had a awful extended snap of cold weather and endless treacherous snow and ice.

You haven’t lived until you’ve tried to walk down an icy road with deep snow on the berms; vehicles passing you close by. Too close. No thanks. Plus, did I mention frigid conditions?

So my condition has suffered. It’s not good.

But for anyone who has been behind the fitness eight ball, you already know what happens next.

The excuses.

Excuse: attempt to lessen the blame attaching to (a fault or offense); seek to defend or justify.

With a reason there is no blame or fault. With an excuse, there is.

It wasn’t my fault we got put through the health wringer, and then the weather was abnormally awful. These are legit reasons for a lack of outdoor exercise.

No, the excuses came when the weather improved. “There’s not enough time.” (PS, I’m retired.) “I’m too busy.” (No, you’re not.) “I want to take a nap.” (Really?) “I can do it later.” (No, you won’t.) The longer the time stretched out, the more elaborate the excuses became, until they were borderline parody.

So, the BS train had to stop. In fits and starts, I started cranking up the exercise machine again. Where I’d like to be is where I was before I got sick, over 7000 steps per day on average. Nothing crazy, about an hour of movement, minimum, per day. This is where I need to be as I approach fifty years old. No excuses, just execution.

Hopefully no reasons pop up. I’ve had enough of those for one decade.

Excuses I can deal with.

Free Kindle Book!

Here’s a link to a free copy of Zero Day Code.

Does it get better than that?

Not really. See my review of this book below. For unfathomable reasons, the author has set the price on Amazon to 0.00 USD. I don’t know how long it will stay there, so don’t mess around.

By all means, leave a review. You might think that authors don’t need them, but that is totally untrue. Reviews are very hard to get, and they make a big difference, for better or for worse.

So do it. Follow the link and score the book.

Then kick back and enjoy!

Zero Day Code, a review

BLUF: Five flippin’ stars. An amazing work in the first rank, think Alas, Babylon, The Stand or On the Beach. It’s that good.

Need I say more?

Well, I will anyway. Here is why you should run out and buy Zero Day Code, which is at last available in Kindle format on Amazon. ZDC was previously Audible only, and now we junkies of the written word can jump in on the fun.

First, we encounter any number of believable heroes and villains, both sets of which come with human traits and flaws. There are no bulging biceps or straining bras, seemingly bulletproof protagonists or withering damsels in distress. No, these are flesh and blood people trying to survive in what becomes a desperate struggle for the living.

Next, the settings are carefully researched and believably presented. The reader can easily place her or himself into the action, at times one can almost taste and smell the locales. Beautifully done, and with a real feel for place and time.

Another point is a driving sense of urgency throughout the work. I experienced this as a strong desire to first keep listening, and then later to turn the pages of the ebook. This is a very difficult book to put down.

Finally, JB’s work is terrifying. The depiction of the situation and the catalyst is dead on. Harrowing. You can absolutely picture the scenario in this book happening tomorrow, the work leaves you with a distinct feeling of unease. Dread.

For me? This book makes me appreciate our currently peaceful and mostly pleasant world, epidemics and political strife set aside. It also rubs my nose in the fact that everything we hold dear is fragile and easily lost. Not to be taken for granted.

Get Zero Day Code immediately.

And then appreciate how good you have it.

For now.