All your character wants is a meatball sandwich

E! True Brian Story: Though the meatball marinara sub  sandwich at Subway isn’t the greatest in the world, I still REALLY wanted one the other day.

My wife set me up with a text, describing it as “hot,” and “fresh.” I so wanted that.

Instead, my mother, who is in town, made me a homemade version. It was good, but it wasn’t what I wanted — so I was a little frustrated.

This is a struggle you should give to your fictional characters — the want something but don’t get it. True, a sandwich isn’t an appropriate plot device unless it’s an episode of FriendsBut your characters need to want something. 

Whatever that something is, even if they say that’s what they want, don’t give it to them. Frustrate him or her, string them along. And when he or she is about to burst, only give them a bite.

Hope this helps!


Plotting: I’m a believer. Are you?


Writing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m in the midst of writing my sixth manuscript. It’s the third in my Reject High teen series.

I got stuck. Like all four wheels spinning helplessly in the mud stuck.

I didn’t want to try writing out my plot.

For my first three novels, I created my characters, wound them up and let them go. My major plot points were a function of their behaviors. While I knew where they were going and how it would end up, I let them guide me through the “how.”

With this book, it was just different. I couldn’t do that anymore. My characters were letting me down (they’re teenagers, so there’s that).

So, I turned off my cellphone and iPad, stepped away from my laptop and started writing with my main character, Jason. Once I finished his arc, I worked on his love interest. Three hours later, the entire plot was done.

I’d never thought I’d say so, but I’m a believer in sketching out plots on paper now. Are you? What’s your process?

Writing in a time crunch

My writing process is insane. Don’t try it at home.

I envy those writers you read about who can flick their muse on and off like a light switch. I have, what my editing Jackie Rodriguez calls “writing jags.”

Imagine if your writing muse had the stomach flu. One moment, there’s nothing, and the next, there’s everything. 

One day, I might not write anything, the next, I’ll churn out thirty pages. I don’t pretend to make sense of it. I just ride it out.

You can imagine the flux I was thrown into halfway through my fifth novel when my second daughter was born. In addition, I went back to teaching full-time and we have a four-year-old in Pre-K as well. My peak writing times are — you guessed it — when I’m in school. Balancing my after-school commitments and family time is tough, but you do what you have to do.

To get through it, I grab any and all writing time I have. Ten minutes before I get my daughter up for school, five minutes while she plays in the bathtub. A half-hour when my wife is nursing our newborn, and maybe twenty minutes during my lunch break. My muse has learned to live with it and gradually, so have I.

So, tell me, if you’ve had a similar situation in your field, how have YOU done it?

Editing: really, it’s nothing personal

In another life, I was a professional journalist.

Steve Berlin, my copy editor, tore my first article to shreds and made me redo it. If I told you what I imagined doing to him, you’d think I wrote scripts for the Saw franchise.

Prior to Steve, no one had really bloodbathed my journalistic writing before. In my eyes, that article needed, no, deserved 20″ of editorial copy. Push that quarter-page ad to the back — I don’t care.

He won that round, and the next ten or so before I stopped being stubborn and learned from my mistakes.

I remember R&B singer Erykah Badu once telling her audience that she’s an artist who’s sensitive about her craft. Aren’t we all? Prior to the birth of my daughter, and my career in teaching, my creations were my babies. Nobody wants to be told their baby has crooked feet – something correctable, but maybe painful, time-consuming, and possibly, a little embarrassing to admit to other people.

This might be the reason why some self-published authors skip the professional editing process. They don’t want to be told their manuscript doesn’t walk as well as it should, or worse, they claim they can’t afford to fix it.

Honestly, editing is nothing personal. I’ve edited a few manuscripts in my day, and I don’t cackle in an evil voice, “Haha, a comma splice error!” It’s an editor’s job to preserve the author’s voice, as much as he can, while providing the author constructive ways to fix their stories and grow in the process. In other words, you’re paying them to be Steve Berlin – a nice guy who just wants you to get the job done.

FYI: For those of you who can’t afford editing (it goes between .012 cents per word to .045 cents), e-mail me at, or try the freelance route at

Hope this helps!


What are you willing to pay?

People who don’t value their time don’t care how they spend theirs and will probably waste yours, if you let them.

With every business decision, I sit down and do the following equation: X x Y =Z where X = time I would spend to do it myself Y = my hourly rate; Z = total dollar amount it costs me. If Z is higher than what a subcontractor would charge me, I pay them to do it.

I write, publish, and consult full-time. I tutor in the evenings, have a toddler, and my wife is pregnant with our second child, which means my time is very valuable. When I started my consultation platform, I sat down and asked myself  – what should someone else pay me for my knowledge and expertise per hour? I settled on an amount and don’t make apologies for it. Either people can pay it (and will want to) or they won’t – it’s nothing personal and shouldn’t be taken that way.

With the push for self-publishing and indie publishing over legacy publishers, people believe they can do everything on their own. There are free templates, and conversion tools (like Calibe and Sigil) to help you do it.

Of course, you can do it yourself, but should you? I can sing, but I can’t sing well. I’d rather let someone else do a better job.

You may come to a tipping point with your project. You’ve finished your manuscript and need editing. Would you spend six hours of pay to have a professional do it for you, or take however long to do it yourself? If you’re being honest, you admit to missing errors because you either fall in love with your own prose or you are too familiar with the material.

Of course, you can hand it off to an English teacher or a friend. But the only English teachers I know as ruthless with a red pen as I would be don’t have time to edit a 272-page MS, especially as a free favor. And a friend may give you a pat on the back and no constructive criticism, which is not what you need.

Or, maybe it’s time to design the cover. I consider myself pretty techie, but it’s nothing I have a desire to try. Why? Because Z is higher than what my cover designer charges me. WAY higher. What’s the point?

When it’s decision time, weigh out your options. Be strategic. And don’t waste your time!

The point of pricing

I’m an advocate of indie publishing, if you didn’t know. Here’s one BIG reason: price points.

Most authors don’t control their price points. If you go through most self-publishing companies, that means you too. Hardcovers, trade paperbacks, and yes, e-books. And it’s about to get worse.

In one of my Facebook groups, I asked the e-reader crowd about their preferences. All of them said anything above $5 is too much to pay. Some wouldn’t go above $4. One mentioned her friends who net $2,000 worth of e-books a month at .99 a pop.

What do you do? I have a self-published friend whose e-book retails for $9.99 on Amazon, which takes 30% of e-book sales – priced above .99 cents – off the top ($3). Her self-pub company takes 50%  of that ($3.50). Her cut is $3.49 minus distribution and taxes, provided she actually sells e-books at $9.99. I tried asking them for specifics, but the company won’t say (RED FLAG).

If the books aren’t moving, she can’t drop the price, and since her self-pub company owns the rights to the digital files it designed, she can’t sell them on her website at a lower price.

You want to give it a go at .99 cents? That’s not a sound business strategy for long-term growth. Thousands of dollars a month is the exception, not the rule. At .99 cents, your royalty rate doesn’t go above 35%, and if they’re not moving for whatever reason, will you drop the price lower?

I sell mine at $2.99 and encourage you to do the same, or close to it. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords all provide platforms where you can publish your work and control your price point. Hope this helps!

Sometimes, the best closure is worth waiting for

Anything you regret doing or not doing in your life?

I’ve got two. Here’s one of them:

In 1992, I attended an out-of-state funeral. Until then, I rarely knew the deceased. My cousin Lizzie died; the one with a mustache who always wanted to kiss me on the lips. That’s not the regret, though I REALLY regret it.

That Sunday, Mom and I dropped off my grandmother (her mother) in New Jersey and we went home. Gram (as I called her) had been coughing a lot the whole trip through Monday. My mom asked my uncle to take Gram to the hospital. He said she was “fine,” and he’d take her to the doctor Tuesday morning.

Still concerned, my mom decided to drive to New Jersey and asked if I wanted to go.

I said “no,” and continued playing my football video game. Monday was the last time I saw Gram alive.

When I was writing The Anarchists, I dug into how I felt about that – just like Damario, Harper, Quinne, and Teanna eventually had to do. For about two years, I was depressed more than a 16-year-old should be. I drank alcohol from my mom’s cabinet and did not want to live anymore. Unlike the first funeral I experienced at 6, or the half dozen or so afterward, this one hurt me to my soul. If I was a character in my book and got the opportunity to “begin again” in 1992, I’d get in that Toyota hatchback with my mom and go to the hospital without hesitation.

If I did, my last memories of Gram might be different. Maybe I needed not to go to get to this kind of closure:

One day, ten years later, I was driving to class in North Philly. The skies opened and shined sunlight through my windshield. Not to sound spooky, but I heard God tell me that Gram was in my life to help raise me, and when she finished, He took her. It was a peace I still carry, don’t understand, can’t fully describe, and wish I could pass on to you.

What’s my other regret? You know what: it doesn’t matter so much anymore. Relax, it’s not like I was going to tell you anyway 🙂


First look at The Anarchists!

Thanks for your support of my work! Below is the ARC version of the Prologue and first chapter of The Anarchists. NOTE: If you have not read The Lost Testament (and intend to at some point), you might not want to read this. Enjoy!


Bound at the feet and hands, Noor straightened his posture. A crooked smile crept across his mouth as his eyes met those of his judge’s     heir. “I dared to overthrow your righteous kingdom and take his place,” he spat with contempt. “There, I admit it. End this joke of a trial and suffer me to die.”

EL’s voice filled the chamber. “So be it.”

Noor flinched, as blue winds whipped about his body. The floor vanished into darkness. He looked away, bracing himself for the worst. Swept into the air, he dropped . . . down – faster and farther than any flight he had ever known. As he plummeted, those who supported the coup joined him – nearly half of EL’s finest. To his surprise, the number included his five, most trusted lieutenants and secret co-conspirators.

Together, they rebelled against the command to serve. And together, they would perish for it.

The convicted crossed realms. From their origin in the third, to the second among the heavenly bodies, and into the last – that of the mortals. The skies cracked with thunder and lightning. Stars tethered themselves to each of the beings, giving the brilliant appearance of a billion falling flames, and the pungency of brimstone filled the air. The collisions flattened the mountains, raising valleys into new, higher precipices. Geysers of hot water spurted up through the fissures in the ground and formed boiling pools around the incinerated plant life.

Noor rolled over to his knees. Indeed, his essence had changed into that of a mortal female, of about twenty years old. He was alone, and retained several of his unnatural abilities.

But this body’s sensations startled him. Small bumps appeared on its skin, but the flickering yellow bursts nearby abated them. He approached one of them until the fire overwhelmed him and he jumped backwards onto a jagged stone.

He winced, for the rock pierced the heel of his right foot and drew blood. Marvel and fascination over the pain excited him. EL forbade His servants to see blood, for it represented suffering to the mortals. It also possessed an ancient secret that only humans could choose to understand. Pursuit of that mystery for himself led to his capture and subsequent dismissal.

Why had EL exiled him and change his gender? What purpose did that serve?

After the fire dissipated, a pile of neatly-folded clothes appeared in its place. Scorning the mercy, he dressed anyway. A few attempts passed before he appropriately wore them. Surveying the area, Noor recognized the city on the horizon – he had visited this particular peninsula several times before – and admired it for its lack of social restriction. Thus, he’d adopt its moniker as his forename and keep Noor as a surname.

In the remote distance, the smoldering horizon beckoned to be explored. Noor remembered the divine decrees, which indicated the lifespan a mortal would not exceed one 120 years. He could not locate his trusted soldiers in that time, not if EL had changed their appearance, as He had to Noor. No, he must recruit five humans and find them in a century’s time.

“If I cannot rule in EL’s realm” he resolved, “then I will conquer this one.”



 New Year’s Eve morning, 2049

Prior to committing what some considered murder, Micah Darrion James held a high resolution photo of his family. Meanwhile, Harper Lowe, his always punctual girlfriend, changed from a fire engine red, v-neck sweater shirt and grey dress slacks to a knitted apricot shirt and blue jeans.

Harper was a slender and leggy Caucasian, with shoulder-length blonde hair she ponytailed and obsessively dyed black to mask the premature gray. For the picture, she let it down at Micah’s urging. Christian, then six months old, had been propped up between his father’s thick legs, a smile squeezing from his fat cheeks. Two-year-old Gabrielle, his ebony-skinned daughter from a previous relationship, held a plush toy. Still tanned from the vacation, Micah laughed. His natural curls were cut low. It was his 38th birthday, about a year-and-a-half ago.

Last night, he happened to coerce his mother into entertaining her grandchildren for a few hours on New Year’s Eve morning. He and Harper needed “couple time.” Otherwise, the former scientist would question her son into the ground about their doings, asking “where are you going?” and “why can’t the family go with you?” A two-time divorcée, Laverne James heavily scrutinized the relationships of both her sons – especially this interracial one. She informed him that Harper’s enlarged B-cups signaled pregnancy. He explained it as the effects of a push-up bra and hoped she left it at that.

Micah and Harper did not speak en route to the facility. It was their least expensive option, shoddy in more than a few ways, and situated in a dangerous location. Words had been previously exchanged on the subject, but nothing constructive. Harper was “irresponsible” and “forgetful.” Micah, who had gotten downsized months ago, was “jobless” to his face and “basically worthless” behind his back. Because of their collective gross inadequacies, they agreed to end it. A third-party’s involvement meant neither had to dirty their hands in the deed. The decision itself would remain a joint one.

Their transport rattled, halting at a traffic intersection where it moved no more. Micah cursed and authorized the ignition again, but the engine failed. Jupiter, an American auto giant, specialized in practical vehicles, but this one passed its prime 50,000 miles ago.

Harper started the vehicle’s warning lights and expectantly looked at her boyfriend of three years. We should have traded it in years ago, like I told him we should do.

“I’ve got it.” He cursed again before entering the pouring rain without Harper’s umbrella, protected by his stained, black leather coat. Beneath the hood, his patchwork had not held: a critical hose hissed steam from a tiny split. Wrapping the crack to the best of his ability, he reconnected the hose. This time, the hydroelectric engine sparked alive.

“Piece of junk,” she snarked. “We’re going to be so late.”

Completely drenched, Micah cranked the heat to high and cut his eyes at her. “At least we own it. We’ll get there in time.”

“These people don’t wait. It’s not a drive-through window, Micah. You can’t just get there when you get there and expect a DNC like a Happy Meal.”

I’m not the one who changed outfits. “It’s New Year’s Eve. We’ll be waiting anyway.”

Micah tuned the satellite radio to something he could listen to and drown her out. When the station played a classical song he liked, Harper shut it off.

“Do you have to be like that, Harp?”

She crossed her arms. “I love the sound of falling rain, and I can’t hear it over that.”

He knew that but did not care. Silence forced him to dwell on his lingering drowsiness. Micah lit a cigarette and took a long drag.

“Really?” Harper shook her tousled hair, which showed hints of gray and blonde at the roots. “Of all the things you can think of to do. . .”

Micah exhaled smoke. “You shut off the satellite, I’m soaked, and you want to piss and moan about a cigarette? Listen to your rain and leave me alone.”

Harper’s hands cupped the bottom of her growing belly. Micah noticed it. “It’s not a ‘him’ or a ‘her’ yet,” he said, his voice trailing off. “It doesn’t matter. . .not now.”

“It’s a boy,” she ventured. “I know it, and it matters to me. You would too if. . .”


She turned in her seat. “Your great great-grandfather. . .”

“It didn’t happen. And you can’t have faith just because someone in your family did. That’s part of why church is so fake now. . .”

Here we go. “There were articles, pictures, eyewitnesses. . . what about all the people he healed?”

“. . .and you’ve got people pretending to love God, or even know him, or her, or it. People get leadership roles because they know how to work crowds. They put together shows with God slapped on them somewhere. I don’t understand how you can believe in that. It’s a con. I won’t even get into the money thing.”

“My faith lets me sleep at night,” she shot back, “and I know that even after we do what we’re about to do, God will still love us. Faith isn’t a scientific thing, Mike.”

The allusion to his insomnia irritated him. “God will forgive you, if you know it’s wrong and you do it anyway? That’s weak.”

“That’s love and mercy.”

They said no more on the subject until Micah stopped at the clinic. Despite the rain, a line of silent but hostile-looking protesters blocked the entrance. A pang of fear hit his stomach. “These wackos make me nervous. Wait for me at the curb. I’ll walk you in.”

“Why, so we can be even later?” Harper opened the door, umbrella in hand. “Just park. I don’t care where those people post up our pictures. We had a nine o’ clock and it’s eleven after. After twenty minutes, they cancel you, and I’m not going into the New Year without ending this.”

“Ending what exactly. . .us, or the pregnancy?” He suspected the answer. “Just wait.”

She departed without responding. Micah watched the canary yellow oval approach the gathering dressed in all black. If he abandoned the Jupiter in the unloading area and it got towed, that would be another financial burden. And then they would not have a way home.


Harper tried to circle the line, but a gaunt woman with a face painted like a skull directly jumped into her path. “Consider your options carefully,” she warned.

The irony of options humored Harper. “Snap a picture and get out of my way.”

“Give it up for adoption. Let a relative raise her. Take responsibility and raise her yourself. This isn’t just about you and how you live your life.”

Harper cursed Skull Face. “Then, who’s it about: my unemployed boyfriend? The bills we can’t pay? What do you even know about anything?”

“I know women like you use abortion like an eraser. Murder’s a sin!”

“Do you have children? Have you even had sex before?”

The brazen woman’s lip quivered a bit.

“Do you adopt? Take in foster kids? Show me one scripture that says ‘tell someone what to do, but don’t help them.’ That’s a sin. Tell me! We’ll turn around and go figure this thing out.”

“You could have prevented it.” Skull Face reloaded on rhetoric. “Contraceptives work almost all of the time unless you don’t know what you’re doing.”

Harper raised her fist to strike but a clinician kept her from doing so by restraining the expectant mother’s wrist.

“That’s enough.” The woman had forced her way through the crowd. “The ban goes into effect tomorrow. Give this young lady the opportunity to exercise her right to choose today.”

“Choosing death is not God’s will!” said Skull Face.

“Maybe not,” said the clinician. “But what about free will?”

At that, the doors shut behind them at 9:19.


Inside the whitewashed and sterile waiting room, Micah imagined the programmers responsible for the trippy music had been lobotomized. Four magazines later, the power cell of his holographic phone, or “holophone,” had reduced to emergency levels, severely limited his entertainment options. The spectacled nurse looked wroth and unwilling to change the HTV channel from the forum talk show airing. This type of holographic programming irked him even more than the judgmental assembly outside. He pushed his way through the ranks like a linebacker.

Irritated, Micah redirected his attention to the show, which, at a low volume, sounded like fighting turkeys. It featured five women of different walks of life analyzing and debating issues. Far stage right, a conservative pundit on the panel had a fashion sense as buttoned-up as her viewpoints. Next to her sat a wisecracking, middle-aged businesswoman. At center, Kareza Noor, a beautiful, middle-aged local executive, acted as guest moderator. To her left, a popular liberal provoked arguments to rankle the right-winger. Last on the panel, an Asian woman folded her hands and rarely spoke her mind.

The topic swung to changes in abortion legislation. The front desk attendant turned up the volume. Micah leaned forward and cocked his head. Though the James/Lowe family’s finances were in disarray, this one thing went their way. The law would not go into effect until midnight tomorrow. Had Harper’s boss Jackie not advanced them the monetary units, they would have had this child. Thinking about the diapers, formula, and healthcare expenses alone made his nights restless.

“Some of these peaceful demonstrations have turned violent, especially in Florida, and New York City – which has the highest number of legally-induced abortions. It’s not about ‘put-my-picture-on-a-website-so-everyone-knows-my-shame’ anymore. People are getting killed.”

“Well, abortion – it’s murder. Period. Point-blank.” The conservative crossed her arms. “The legislation squares with existing laws. Kill a pregnant woman? You’re charged with double murder.” She flipped her hand. “Can’t call it alive when on one hand, and deny it’s alive on the other!”

“Murder is illegal,” said the finger-pointing liberal. “But abortion shouldn’t be. I’ll put it out there. I own an Ordnance.”

The funny one ducked, drawing nervous laughs from the live audience. “You brought it here, on the set? Take her purse! Pat her down or something.”

“That’s my Second Amendment right. How I use it is my choice. This new law takes freedom of choice away and enforces a system of beliefs on all women. That’s unconstitutional. That’s the decision handed down eighty years ago, Roe. Vs. Wade, and it should stand.”

“So, let me get this straight: citizens should have the choice to shoot someone or kill babies?” the conservative barked. “Why even open your mouth and say something so stupid?”

“Stupid? Free will is stupid? What do you do about the poor and impoverished without access to free contraception and educational services because our conservative president cut funding to it? Tell them not to have sex? We were all teenagers once. Trust me: ‘just don’t do it’ doesn’t work.”

Micah found interest in the topic, though his views were simple. They couldn’t afford it. Laverne couldn’t stand to help, and her affluent mother wouldn’t. A couple thousand monetary units now were better than the millions they may spend in the years to come. Their answer was simple, even now, as he imagined his son or daughter being destroyed. My son. He wanted another boy, but not now. Not like this.

Kareza crossed her shapely legs. “So, playing devil’s advocate, should abortion be legal in ‘certain situations’ – like rape, incest, molestation, and the like?”

The funny one laughed. “Guest moderator for one day and you’re trying to start a fight?”

“We’re trying to get to pick at the heart of the issue,” Kareza replied.

The Asian woman perked up. “The Center for Disease Control reports that pregnancies from rape, incest and molestation make up a small fraction of the three million abortions performed last year – less than one percent. Almost 80 percent say they aborted because of finances, unplanned pregnancy, or inconvenience.”

“It’s a sad state of humanity when bringing a life into the world becomes ‘inconvenient’,” said the conservative, drawing a small pocket of applause.

“Let me point out,” said the liberal, “those numbers are documented cases of incest, rape, and molestations. It happens off the record all the time. How does a 12-year-old girl report that her stepfather or mother’s boyfriend impregnated her and get someone to believe her story? This law forces her to keep a daily reminder of a sick act or seek a dangerous and illegal alternative.”

Micah became so engrossed in the conversation that he failed to notice his name being called. A different nurse muted the HTV.

“Mister James, by now your wife should be in recovery.”

“That was quick.” Micah rose and quietly approached her. “We’re not married.”

The woman treated the correction with disgust. “She will need you to fill a prescription.”

“Any idea of how much this’ll cost?”

“Not sure. I can’t access that information at this time. Probably 300 units or so.”

Micah’s eyes bulged. “Generic?”

“That’s the generic version.”

He would have to pay a fraction of the utilities again and pray that they did not get cut off until Harper’s next paycheck. Thankfully, her position as a psychiatrist paid reasonably well.

“Here,” she said, handing him a thumb segment-sized, blood red disk. “I know Kareza Noor, the woman on the HTV. She’ll be able to help you with whatever you need. Come back at a quarter ‘til one to pick up your. . .girlfriend.”

Hands in pockets, Micah started the half-mile trek back to the free parking lot. More than halfway there, he checked the time. Ten minutes past noon. He stopped inside a busy Dunkin’ Donuts on the next corner. Harper had not eaten breakfast, so a bran muffin and a shot of hazelnut-flavored caffeine might do her some good.

Fifteen minutes later, he ordered and paid, hustling the rest of the way. With all green lights, he’d still be on time – barely.

He docked his phone to charge it, placed the coffee in the cup holder, the muffin on the passenger seat, and started the Jupiter’s engine, which turned over without reservation.

The sun broke through the clouds and shined on him. Thinking it a sign of good things to come, he turned on the radio. One of his favorite classical pieces, “Mars,” played. He smiled, backed out of his space, and turned onto the street. When Harper got in, he would turn it off, and they would peaceably talk.

Since his layoff from the structural design firm, they had been under financial pressure. Harper’s pay didn’t cover the bills, so budgeting became a complicated balancing act. Unexpected expenses meant begging or borrowing to make it work. Micah’s job search had been so unsuccessful that he even applied for menial jobs that preferred humans over droids. “Too educated” for those, and “not educated enough” for high-level mathematics positions, he was stuck. But, with this pregnancy out of the way, he felt better about their future.

Micah braked at the light a block away from the clinic. The song continued to build and he pretended to conduct the strings. Up the street, the protesters had vacated the property. Almost half of the tune had played before Micah realized the light still had not changed. His holophone lit up and projected an image of Harper in front of him. “Mike, where are you?”

“I know you’ve been waiting. I’m sorry. I’m stuck at the light out front. Be there as soon as it changes. And I have a little surprise for you.”

Harper spotted the Jupiter from a café across the street. “Can you see me?” She waved behind the front window. “Baby, I didn’t. . .”

“Plus,” he interrupted, “I think I’ve got a lead on something good!” The signal turned green. Micah accelerated and pulled over thirty feet from the entrance. We can finally afford to talk marriage! he thought “Tell them to wheel you out. I’m on time for once. And, we need to talk about. . .”

“Mike, listen, I’m across the street. I told them to stop. . .”

Suddenly, a raucous explosion blasted through the clinic, turning the Jupiter over and upside down. The suicide doors swung open, but the vehicle’s collapsed dashboard pinned Micah into his seat. Shards of window glass jutted out from his face. He struggled to breathe.

“Harp. . .” Micah could not finish her name without coughing out the blood pooling in his mouth. He hoped someone heard his pleas.

Definitive time travel rules

Cover of "Back to the Future"

Time travel is a tricky concept to master

For my next book, I spent A LOT of time researching time travel, quantum physics, and alternate realities. All of it is theoretical, of course, which presents a number of obstacles. I found a solution that seems to work, and I’ll share a little bit of it with you.

Some Debbie Downer chaos theorists say that any mode of successful time travel within your own lifetime would destroy the planet. Makes for an anti-climactic novel, don’t you think? The call to action destroying all of mankind? Bummer.

There’s the Back to the Future theory, where you can travel outside of your own lifetime, like Marty McFly, and return to a reality resembling the one you left. To make this movie work, his parents would have to have awful memories, wouldn’t they?

My wife loved The Lake House. I still don’t buy Keanu Reeves as a romantic lead, but I like Sandra Bullock enough to ignore most of the potholes in the time-jumping plot. And, while The Butterfly Effect was critically panned, I appreciated the negative consequences of Evan’s time-jumping. He caused brain damage to himself. After all, once you change your past, EVERYTHING, from the clothes you wear the next day to the next sentence you speak, has the possibility to be different.

Here’s are three tips that I found useful:

  1. I’ve heard it said that if you write characters that the reader/viewer falls in love with, you can get away with pretty much anything plot-wise. Yeah, my soapbox on writing good characters  is pretty much always in use. But think about it: how many movies have you seen with unbelievable plots but you didn’t care?
  2. Make your theme clear. Sure, they’re going back in time. It’s cool and adventurous. But, why did they go in the first place? What’s the ultimate message? In Back to the Future, Marty was warned not to interfere with history, but he did it to save his friend. Ultimately, that was deemed an okay rule to bend. Evan in The Butterfly Effect sacrificed the love of his life and destroy his method of time travel after realizing that playing God was too dangerous.
  3. Keep it simple. If you get lost in the writing, your reader will get lost in the reading — and not in a good way. Some of my writing was once compared to that of Toni Morrison. She’s a Nobel Prize winner and a celebrated author, but I did not take that as a compliment. It was her excuse for not reading any further. Don’t let the same happen to you.
Happy writing!

Characterization: real people with real issues

How do you write real people with real issues? I write inspirational fiction and shy away from calling it “Christian fiction” because of the genre’s tendency towards squeaky-clean people or the other side of the spectrum: wrong-side-of-the-tracks bad boys or girls.

My preference is for a multi-cultural cast of characters. They have screwy childhoods and destructive tendencies that evolve into redemptive qualities at the end. Sometimes 🙂 Not everyone deserves a happy ending, and not everyone who gets a happy ending deserves it.

Characters need motivation: a reason why they do things. If your bad girl is promiscuous, why is she promiscuous?  If it’s because she likes sex, why does she like sex? Sound like a stupid question? “Because it feels good,” “it’s a part of the genre,” or “sex sells” are convenient and lazy reasons. Dig deeper with your character. It’s her way of taking back the power over her body that was robbed from her by an assault. Or, she uses sex to get what she really wants — intimacy from a man — because it’s what she was told she had to do to get it.

I’m writing a character for my next book who has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I’m fleshing her out by interviewing people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The character, named Isoke, is a hardened war survivor with abandonment issues. In addition to my research, the experiences of those people help color Isoke’s world for me. How can she sustain relationships with PTSD. Can she sustain a romantic relationship with someone who does not understand her or her feelings? If she can, how? 

My characterization form, which I cobbled together from different sources, is kind of (REALLY) long, but useful. If you’d like a copy, drop me a comment or e-mail me at

Happy writing!


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