Method Writing

The latest news features some writer, who wrote stories about murder, now himself accused of a gruesome torture and murder. I won’t bring any more attention to this story, but it did remind me of a stupid new trend in writing that I read about, called “method writing.”

Method writing is apparently employing the same types of techniques that are used in method acting, where actors try to get into character, making their real-life surroundings similar to those experienced by the character. And just like method acting, method writing is equally pointless.

I’m not an actor so maybe I’m not qualified to say what is and isn’t a good acting technique. But the brilliant writer and director, David Mamet, has spent plenty of time around actors in theatre and in movies. In one of his books he refers to conveying emotion to the audience. He says, “Nobody cares what you, the actor feel.”

The bottom line is, you can run a three-day marathon, binge on drugs and brood, or speak with a German accent all you want. If you can’t convey the character on the screen or the page, none of it matters. And as little sense as it makes for an actor to spend all day wearing a straight-jacket to play a character from an insane asylum when you can simply pretend (or, you know, act) it makes even less sense for a writer.

If you’re writing any story other than one where a character is in absolute solitude, you’re going to be writing from various perspectives and points of views. Even in first-person narrative, you will at the very least need to write about other characters. These other characters need to be well-rounded just as much as your main character. So if you’re writing in method, are you really going to change the elements of your surroundings every time another person is mentioned?

For instance, let’s say there’s a scene in your story where there are three characters in the room talking about their plan to save the world. One character’s main trait is that they are uncomfortable in their own skin. They are easily annoyed by everyone. So for method writing you find a bed of jagged rocks to sit on while you write.

The second character is a stoner teenager. For method writing you put on some music you listened to in high school and smoke pot.

The third character is a British girl who loves being around nature. So for her, you put on your coat with the Union Jack patch, speak with an accent to yourself, and run to the woods to write.

Okay, great, rime to write. You find a group of uncomfortable, jagged rocks near the highway where the traffic is loud and annoying. You write the first character’s actions and dialogue.

You rush home, put on some Goo Goo Dolls, roll a joint, and smoke while you write character number two.

You need to nap for a bit to clear away the light-headedness from the joint. After you wake up, you find your jean jacket with the Union Jack, and start practicing your cockney accent while you find a good spot in the woods. Then you write character number three.

Congratulations, after four hours, you’ve written three lines of dialogue and a bit of action.

There are plenty of reasons not to like method writing, but the main one is it seems very easy to make excuses and be prevented from writing if your surroundings aren’t just so. A common thing for writers, even famous writers, is to put on some music as they write. There’s nothing wrong with this, but if you’re spending twenty minutes to find the best song for your scene, you might want to question if you’re being counter-productive.

Method writing isn’t to be confused with doing research. Research before writing about a character or subject is great, even if this research involves partaking in certain activities. But you don’t need to go too far with these activities either. It’s more about conveying it on the page than experiencing it in your head.

Like Mamet said about actors, the same can be said about writers. Nobody cares what you, the writer feel.





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N.E. Imported

Free fiction, available here for a limited time. “N.E. Imported” was originally published in Thrice Fiction Magazine.

N.E. Imported

I can’t imagine what N.E. Imported was like before Charlie Moore worked there. Even though he only started a few months before me, it felt like he had been there much longer. Maybe it was how everyone treated him.

Shit, he got a whole lot of slack, more than me, more than anyone in the place. You could tell when you saw him. His hair fell long and messy just onto the top of his shoulders. Dark scruff speckled his chin—though, not too scruffy. The guy never wore the mandatory tie, just crisp white shirts with the top two buttons popped open. He acted like he looked too. He took his own breaks, missed meetings, came late, left early.  People around the office would shrug it off, “That’s Charlie.”

We all knew why too. We knew why our boss and owner, Andy Blackwell—the man with the wardrobe of khakis—let all of it go. Charlie was such a damn good salesman.  He had the gift of gab—sure, most of us probably did. But he also had moves that were impossible to replicate. We studied certain tricks at seminars—mirroring, matching, reading body language.  Charlie never went to any of these clinics, of course. He never seemed to even use the techniques. When he got face to face with someone, he would make sure he never lost eye contact. And he wouldn’t. The customer, which we called “the mark,” would remain fixed until they opened their wallet, paying for some junk that they never wanted. I used to joke with Charlie and say his eyes shot tractor beams like some sort of super villain.

Other salesmen and women, ones much older than him, would ask how he got so good. He told us that as a kid he worked for the local church shucking bibles door to door for donation money. He’d say, “If you can sell people on something as immaterial as religion, you can sell them on anything.” He’d smile out half of his mouth and you’d wonder if the story was true, or if it was just something he liked to say to add to his myth…



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Those Outside the Law


I am happy to announce that my novel, Those Outside the Law, published by Aerodrome Publishing, is now available on Kobo. It is exclusive to Kobo at this time, but will soon be available in other formats. You can check it out here: Those Outside the Law.

Ray is an aging outlaw who has seen it all. Kip is a young outlaw looking for respect and notoriety. And Hill is a former lawman from the north.

Greed and circumstance forces these men together in the small Arizona Territory town of Frost Ridge—where a hot-headed sheriff looks to keep order, and the lies and mischief of a boy wreaks havoc.

Will Ray find his final adventure? Will Kip make a name for himself? Will Hill return to his roots as a lawman? The myth of the Old West deepens in this tale about a hard-working small town with a troubled history.

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I’ve decided to start doing posts based on what I’m reading. These won’t be reviews of the work, but just a general description about what the book is about. I will attempt to highlight certain interesting details or unique features of a book. The hope is for others to maybe read something that they find intriguing and then go ahead and discover a book that they may not have found otherwise.


 So here we go with our first book by the great Louis L’Amour, originally published in 1958, Radigan.

Set in Northern New Mexico in the 1870s, this story follows Tom Radigan, a man who owns an expansive, yet remote patch of land where he runs cattle.

A woman named Angelina Foley makes a claim to his land, saying they have an old title, but Radigan doesn’t believe it, and knows too well that it’s some phony business.

There’s some different elements in the setting here. Winter and snowstorms in the elevated regions put characters in some troubling survival situations. It takes the toughest of men and women to survive.

Radigan is a stubborn man who doesn’t waiver throughout this story. It’s interesting how he is depicted as a man quite sure of himself, almost somewhat cocky at times, especially when dealing with his enemies. He’s perhaps a little unreasonable when he knows he’s right.

There’s quite unpredictable developments in this story. It’s not as straightforward as just a man protecting his land. Those are always stories I enjoy, but this one takes some different turns in the later half.

Radigan’s opposition being a woman certainly changes the typical Western dynamic too. Because of this, the resolution can’t be settled with a simple duel in the street. Or can it?


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Max Brand

Max Brand is the most popular of the several pen names for Frederick Schiller Faust. In total, he’s said to have written over 500 novels and hundreds of short stories for the various pulp magazines. Even more impressive is that he managed to do this while living only until the age of 51.

He’s said to have not cared much about his pulp writing, attaching his real name to his poetry instead. Although, this is somewhat hard to believe when you read the beauty in some of his passages.

The opening of Stagecoach, for instance, is about as great an opening for any story I’ve ever read.

Someone who knew what he was talking about said that no man should go into the West–the real frontier West, that is–unless he was capable of inspiring some measure of awe. Perhaps by his personal dignity, which is, after all, the best way of keeping a man out of trouble. Or through physical strength or mere size, or by dauntless power of eye, or through fighting skill–any or all of these attributes would be most serviceable. But Sammy Gregg did not have any of them.

This passage does so much to introduce the tone, setting, and character in a such an economical amount of words.

Where many of Brand’s contemporaries described the setting of the West in great, colorful detail, Brand’s uniqueness is in his descriptions of horses. From Bull Hunter, for instance:

Not that Bull Hunter analyzed the stallion in any such fashion. He was, literally, ignorant of horseflesh. But in spite of his ignorance the long neck, not overfleshed, suggested length of stride and the mighty girth meant wind beyond exhaustion and told of the great heart within. The points of an ordinary animal may be overlooked, but a great horse speaks for himself in every language and to every man.

Brand’s love for animals comes through in passages like these that are woven throughout his hundreds of stories.

“The Cure of Silver Canyon,” a Max Brand short, concludes the Sundown Western Tales collection. Like many of Brand’s stories, it’s a gem worth checking out.

Again, you can go here and leave a comment for a chance to win a free ebook. Or, if you prefer a paperback, you can purchase one through Amazon.



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Sundown Western Tales

I’m happy to announce that I am part of a new collection that has just been released by Sundown Press. This collection, Sundown Western Tales, is available on Amazon here. It’s also available for Kobo and in various other formats including paperback as well.

The collection features mostly new Westerns, but also includes a couple of classics by Zane Grey and by Max Brand. Brand, in particular, is an amazing pulp writer, one of my favorites, and definitely worth reading if you haven’t before.

I am very proud that my story, “The Good Shooting,” is in good company in this collection.

And great news, Sundown Press is offering a giveaway of a free e-book if you go to their blog and leave a comment. Go here to check that out.


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Why You Should Submit Often

There are several reasons why it’s good to keep submitting short fiction to markets. For one, if you don’t submit, you can’t get accepted. Also, when your stories are out, it forces you to work on something new. This keeps you working on new projects, and it keeps you in the mode of writing.

But submitting your work has another added benefit which hadn’t occurred to me until I had plenty of work out there–you get free feedback.

When your work is rejected you will get one of two things: a form rejection, or a rejection with a note from the editor. The form rejections will not provide you with a whole lot of insight, other than just saying the story wasn’t a good fit for their publication. A note from the editor, or even a reader, however, will give you at least some insight.

Rejections with comments come in all sorts of forms. You may receive anything from a sentence about your story, to a whole letter with several paragraphs. Since readers and editors are busy, you’d be lucky if you got a full letter detailing different elements of your story. But even a sentence or two can provide you with valuable insight.

What’s valuable is that these aren’t comments from any reader, but from people who see an abundance of stories on a daily basis. These comments are coming from a location of wisdom.

You might completely disagree with a certain comment, but you should wait a day or two for the initial sting of the rejection to go away and reconsider it. You don’t even have to make changes to your story based on the comments, unless something is glaring and requires immediate attention.

For me, some of these comments are in the back of my head when I’m writing something new. And they’re invaluable.

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What I Would Have Done

I feel a post like this would be helpful for someone just starting to write, or for someone who is thinking about jumping in soon but they aren’t quite sure how to get started, living with fear of messing things up.

You learn a whole lot along the way, and I certainly still have a whole lot more to learn. In reality, you are constantly learning new things as a writer, and I really don’t believe anyone has anything 100% figured out. That’s what makes it art. You may even define art as anything where you strive for perfection but can never achieve it.

Anyway, as little as I know now, I do know there are a few things I would have done different from the start had I known better, or had I been able to go back in time and visit myself as a young man.

Write a Million Words

This is the threshold that you hear different writers speak about. It’s the threshold where bad work begins to become good. It’s certainly not an exact number, some may learn quicker, some later, but it seems to feel pretty damn close.

If I were starting today I would write a million words. I’d write real stories, not just nonsense to fill a word count. I’d struggle. I’d work at it. But I wouldn’t submit anything. I’d write that million and then set fire to the whole pile of stories.

Write Everyday

This is the most important thing a writer should do. It’s like shooting baskets, or hitting the batting cage, or practicing the golf swing, or any other sports analogy you can think of.

Writing everyday helps in two ways. First, there’s the process of practicing to get better at what you do. Second, there’s the process of trying to stay sharp. At first your jump shot will suck, but with practice it will improve. But take a few days off, and your game will become horrendous, and it will take more practice just to get back into form.

Submit, Submit, Submit

This is the last bit, but you can only submit stories after you’ve written everyday and written a million words.

A story a week is a feasible goal. That’s 52 stories in a year! There will be plenty of rejection and pain, but a few will find their way to happy homes, and you’ll be thankful that you held off honing your craft before you started submitting stories.

I wish I could back, write everyday, write my million, and then really start writing and submitting.

If you haven’t started writing yet, let this be advice to consider.

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Recommended Reading 12/27/2014

I had an idea to change this Recommended Reading post from the last time I did it back in November. I liked the idea of containing a short fiction work since shorter works sometimes don’t get the credit they deserve. I also think it’s good to look at both newer works and older works, that way people may find something older that they haven’t read, as well as the opportunity to discover something new.

Going forward, I will break up these Recommended Reading posts into three categories:

Something Older – Not necessarily classics, but books that are at least a few years old that have either stayed with me, or I’ve re-read recently and realized how great they are.

Something Newer – These are newer books (within the last 2 years) that I think are worth reading.

Something Shorter – Short fiction that stands out. I’ll try to keep the length anywhere from flash to novelette.

I think breaking the list down like this gives a good variety. Someone can then choose the type of book or story they are looking for accordingly. I’ll also probably limit them to one recommendation each per category, but try to make these posts more frequent.

Here is the list for today’s date.

Something Older Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler

This is one of my favorite novels. It may be my favorite overall, so I might as well mention it sooner rather than later.

Barney’s Version is a novel with incredible depth. You can re-read it over and over and marvel at the language, the complexity of the characters. It has everything–emotion, pain, crudeness, comedy.

Barney Panofsky is a wonderful character who is difficult to love, but easy to be fascinated by. He’s an aging man in Montreal looking back on his crazy life, all his troubles.

There’s a wonderful style to Richler’s narration which leads to great revealing moments throughout the story. The fictional footnotes employed are brilliant.

This is a novel to put on the bookshelf, one to go back to every couple of years.

Something NewerPlaying the Short Game: How to Market and Sell Short Fiction by Douglas Smith

I read this the other day after seeing a mention of it in the comment’s section on Dean Wesley Smith’s blog, which by the way is probably the best daily blog about writing.

I finished Playing the Short Game in about two days even during all the chaos of Christmas. It should be essential reading for anyone pursuing submitting stories in the short fiction markets.

The book isn’t about the craft of writing, although there’s enough on the philosophy of rewriting and how much to do, and that section is quite helpful related to craft.

The main focus, however, is the business of writing short fiction. Douglas Smith has firsthand experience. And the book covers just about every aspect–cover letters, markets to choose, copyright, selling to foreign markets, selling audio rights, reprints, etc.

There’s a focus on genre specific fiction, but there’s plenty to apply to submitting to non-genre markets too.

If you’re serious about writing short fiction this is the best read out there. I wish I had the chance to read it sooner.

Something Shorter “The Emperor of Mars” by Allen M. Steele – Clarkesworld

I read this one today actually, and it inspired this blog post. Steele (of no known relation) is always a terrific storyteller and he frames the narrative in this tale beautifully.

Told in the first-person, the focus is a third-party character and how he slowly descends into madness due to life on Mars.

Instead of turning dark, this tale takes a wonderful fun turn. It has great themes about the importance of fiction.

It’s a reprint from Asimov’s in 2010, but Clarkesworld has it available. Go check it out.



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Writing as Work

Any interview or biography of someone successful will no doubt mention a period of struggle. The successful person will overcome this struggle through hard work. With a very few exceptions of dumb luck, hard work is what helped the person become successful.

Just as a healthy diet and exercise are the only real ways to keep the weight off, hard work is the only real way to achieve success. I absolutely believe this.

I like reading about people with a blue collar approach to their work. Everyone from athletes to stand-up comics to business people who go to work every day and put in the hours, eventually they find some version of success.

When it comes to writing, I certainly treat it with this kind of blue collar approach. It’s important to treat it as work. You simply need to put in the time.

With that in mind, it shouldn’t feel like work. Okay, sometimes maybe. Certain aspects of writing are necessary evils, or less enjoyable. Mostly it’s the stuff around the actual writing–submissions, formatting, etc.

If you can’t enjoy any part of the actual writing process, if it all feels like work, then maybe you need a break of a few weeks to really think about your pursuit.


Treat writing as work, but don’t let it feel like work. Sometimes it helps to keep this statement in mind.

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