Why being a Literary Lone Wolf isn’t a Bad Thing.


Writing is a solitary art. It’s you and your word processor. The end.

But even in the age of self publishing, to get your writing out to the world, you must collaborate with other humans on some level. You need your editor. You need a graphic designer, and in some cases you need a publisher.

But you don’t need to kiss anyone’s ass.

If you’ve been around small press publishing for more than a few years and you haven’t connected the dots between publishers and their best selling authors (often times one in the same individual) then you’ve either got the perception of a rock, or you’re purposefully turning a blind eye toward the rampant nepotism that exists in the publishing world.

Oh my god, he used the N word!

Yeah, I did? So what? Nepotism runs the world. It invades every facet of our lives from government all the way down to our menial labor jobs. Hang out in any writers group for a few minutes and you’ll see the brazen gloating about it. Except it’s never referred to as nepotism. It’s called social networking. To use the N word is to immediately give social networking a negative connotation. It says that the individuals didn’t get where they are by talent and merit, but rather by social station alone.


You’re kidding yourself if you think that every published author on a small press label got their break by talent alone. Again, hang out with writers and publishers for five minutes and they’ll tell you how they don’t want to work with assholes. Or that people who aren’t friendly won’t find success. Or that their talent pool is derived from the friends they make in writer groups.

That’s what makes the world go round. You don’t put your name and face out there, you don’t get noticed. You pick fights and start drama, people avoid you. Common sense. Don’t be an asshole if you want friends. But what if I told you that success based on talent and merit alone is, in fact, attainable?

Are you the kind of person who sees all the schmoozing and ass kissing going on in writer groups as disgusting, or at the very least as pandering and maybe lacking in integrity? Well, take it from me, a guy who puts the bare minimum amount of effort into writer groups and socializing with publishers and editors. I’m friends with influential people in the small press, sure. But I’ve never asked those individuals for favors, nor do I ever expect to receive one. I’m not friends with them to take advantage of their station, but because they’re interesting people with similar interests.

What I’ve done as a writer, I’ve built on my own. I’ve won and been nominated for awards very important to the genres I write in. I’ve done so while speaking my mind honestly and with integrity, and never compromising my core beliefs, even when those beliefs piss off influential people in the small press. I truly do not give a fuck what affect that has on my precious reputation because in a few years I’ll be dead forever and my books won’t. My books aren’t assholes, they’re books with their own reputations completely separate from mine.

Yes I network with authors. Yes I attend literary gatherings and conventions, but I never do so with an eye toward using others to gain station in the literary world. That’s ugly. That’s gross. When I look at the awards and nominations on my writing desk, I don’t owe that sense of pride to anyone. I didn’t get here by nepotism. I got here by hard work, self belief, and talent. I get that everyone won’t be so lucky. I came to fiction writing with a fanbase from making movies, but I built that the exact same way. On my own. A decade of hard work. Without the help of any producers, or investors or distributors compromising my vision as an artist.

I am a literary lone wolf, here to tell you that it’s ok to go it alone. You don’t have to dress up for the party. You don’t have to be best friends with the kid throwing it, either. Write well, and the rest will follow.

Sometimes You Write The Character, Sometimes The Character Writes You

kevinthestrangelogo4Writing believable characters in fiction can be difficult. It’s very easy to fall back on reliable, yet generic tropes such as the mysterious stranger wandering into town, the scorned lover, or, god forbid, the writer with inner demons. Regardless of who you choose your characters to be, you have to make them believable. Personally, while I’ve written more scorned lover and mysterious stranger stories than I care to admit, I’ve never written a story from the perspective of the latter. Writers are writers, they’re passive, they’re observers by nature. They’re more likely to be the nosey neighbor watching the events of your story unfold than a participant.

I’m always skeptical about reading a fictional tale, especially a horror tale which follows a writer as its main character. Inevitably by the final act, the normally sedentary and meek writer becomes Rambo, defending his family or himself from demons or monsters from mind-shattering dimensions while leaping fire pits and jogging down dark alleys. I’m sorry, but most of us writer types just aren’t that fit.

This month, as I embarked on a journey to participate in #NaNoWriMo, I decided it was about time I wrote a story about a writer. Only my writer would be a sentient praying mantis English professor struggling to complete his first novel in a post apocalyptic world where genetically modified mantises have wiped out humanity and taken their place as the dominant life form on planet Earth.

Believe it or not, the weirdest thing about this story is that Matthew the mantis (yes I’m an adult. Yes this story is written for adults, thank you very much.) simply refused to become an English teacher, and was far too busy to even thinking about writing a novel. You see, I know what’s going to happen to poor Matthew as the novel progresses. I know that he doesn’t want to be eaten by his wife when they mate. I know that this will be a major point of contention in Matthew’s journey. The main conflict even.

So Matthew wants to be a history professor, and he wants to be an instrumental figure in a political group vying for humane reproductive rights for male mantises who are in very real danger of being decapitated when they have sex. The history professor part is so that Matty the mantis can be passionate about creating a more civilized society than the one the humans left them. He needs to know well the history of the Great Awakening as the event that caused mantises to grow to human size and gain sentience is referred to.


Sure, I could have forced Matthew to become a writer, but his character would have been less believable when it came to his vehement protest over being eaten during matting, which is, after all, a perfectly normal and healthy function of mantis sex, as the male produces more sperm in his death throes, creating better odds that his offspring will continue his lineage. A character’s motivations are just as important as their back story, voice, or physical characteristics. Moreso, I’d say, as your character’s motivations will be directly at odds with the conflict you present them with. The rest of it is interchangeable window dressing.

Being flexible with your character’s traits, your plot, your ending, these are all crucial to preventing you from writing yourself into a corner later on down the road, once you’ve hit maybe 30,000 words and it just feels like the book isn’t working, or that your drama is falling flat. No matter how much meticulous outlining you’ve done, you have got to let your characters choose their own direction in your story. Some characters are doomed from the get go. A sacrifice to push your protagonist past some mental block at the end of the first act. Only once you get near their death scene, that secondary character starts making a very real and valid argument to stay the course and at least make it half way through your second act.

If there’s purpose there, if suddenly that character’s job isn’t done, let em live. See what they have to say. After all, it’s made up shit. If it doesn’t work, rewind the tape. Add back in that deleted scene, and rip their pecker off with a pair of giant oysters. Do whatever the fuck you want. It’s your book.

Just remember, whether you’re writing on a laptop, a typewriter, or a pen and pad, your story must always remain fluid and dynamic, allowing the characters to breathe and act on their own. Never be afraid to jump through a quantum portal into an alternate dimension beyond the outline you believe is written in stone. If you’re allowing your characters to make their own decisions, you’ll likely find that they’ll jump around through multiple attempts at outlining them. The more anal retentive among us will find this idea revolting, but I believe it is the single most fun part about writing fiction. That moment when your characters and their actions surprise even you, forcing you to work harder to outsmart them, trying desperately to keep them on track, until you realize that they’ve written their very own ending, and you were the first person to see the show. That’s magic. That’s writing. That’s why we do this.


How to not fail at NaNoWriMo in 5 easy steps

kevinthestrangelogo4A few years ago I wrote a scathing blog about NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated. Every November, the amateurs come out of the woodwork to play author while those of us who do this full time smile and pat them on their heads. Most authors simply look at this month as a raised awareness of writing fiction as art, and celebrate it as a victory for writers everywhere.

I did not look a it that way.

I raged and pointed out the common sense reasons why one cannot simply become a novelist for one month a year because one wants to. My blog was published in a college literary journal, and I pranced around like Mr. Know-It-All for months afterward. I still stand by those words, but today I realize that NaNoWriMo isn’t going anywhere. I can’t be angry at the amateurs every single year and sing them the same finger-wringing song of doom and failure each time I see that familiar hashtag. So this year, I’m going to present you newcomers to the novel writing game with five easy steps to ensure that you’ll complete this year’s challenge. Best of luck!

1. Have a game plan before you begin

I’ve said in the past, I’m not a meticulous outliner. But one of the easiest ways to fail at writing a novel is to have no idea what you’re writing to begin with. Too much outlining ruins the fun of discovery, but no direction at all will keep your book from being a cohesive page turner. Even if you finish, you’ll have a bunch of meandering exposition, not an engaging potboiler that will keep your readers up at night, turning pages, wondering what happens next.

Personally, I visualize my books in three acts. An introductory act that leads into a conflict act that leads into a climax and resolution act. I might not know exactly what happens to my characters, but I have a solid idea of who they are at the start, what their conflict is, and at least one or two paths that might lead them to some sort of change, be it death, an inner turmoil resolved, or solidarity in a belief they’d lost faith in before the book began. Know your characters’ arcs before you send them out in the maze or they’ll surely get lost, starve, and die the death of the unfinished novel.

2. Keep it simple, stupid

NaNoWriMo isn’t about starting on your nine part urban fantasy/YA/post apocalyptic series. It’s about boots to ground, one foot in front of the other, get the shit done writing, right? It’s about completing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, right? You ain’t going to tell Princess Esmarelda’s sprawling 580 page novel in 30 days. You’re just not. Instead, thinking about writing a story about your cat gaining human-like sentience and enslaving all of the dogs in the neighborhood toward its goal of world domination. In other words, the simpler the concept, the easier the execution. Choosing a complicated concept is one sure fire way to fail at your goal and not finish your book. Think of something fun, fast, and interesting enough to keep your attention every day. You’ll be surprised how fast your word count adds up when you’re cranking out 2k in the morning or before lunch 7 days a week for month. If you can’t explain your novel’s concept in a couple of short, concise sentences, you’re destined to paint yourself into a corner and barely get through Esmarelda’s elderly aunt’s back story by the time you hit 50k.

3. Word count means everything

Speaking of word count, that’s your life-line, kid. Like long distance runners count miles and minutes to keep pace, so too will your words to hours ratio keep you motivated, on task, and pounding through pages toward all the glory and victory your bragging rights will grant you for being the only one on your Starbucks barista shift to actually have a completed 50 thousand word novel come November 30th.

You’re going to need about 1700 words a day to finish your book by the end of the month. I’m sure you’ve seen that stat all over the internet by now, but this is what it means. It means you’re going to devote about three hours a day, every single day, for thirty days in a row in order to write your novel. Does that seem like a lot of work? You’re the one wants to write a novel in a single month, bud. I already told you in my last blog on the subject that you shouldn’t even try. But here we are, two years later and you’re still hashtag: NaNoWriMo lol-ing it up all over my facebook feed. You asked for it, this the work part. Get up early, turn off your phone, have your internet tabs closed and your word document open when you get up in the morning. Have your coffee ready to go and your playlist synched up on your iPod. From 9am to noon, your ass is in the seat, and you’re typing eight or nine pages a day.

Some of you don’t have mornings free. You’re going to have to do your three hours in the afternoon or at night after work, before you go to bed. Regardless, the rules still apply. Get rid of your distractions, set yourself up for success, and plan your hours ahead of time. Do not try to write 5,000 words a day and gloat all over social media that you’ll be finished with your novel in two weeks. You won’t. You’ll fail. You’ll burn out. And you’ll lol and say you didn’t really expect to finish anyway. That’s why real writers don’t like you. This is a long distance marathon, kids. Not a sprint. You’ll gas and fall over dead long before you hit the finish line. Find your pace and stick to it. Some people can pound out 1700 words in an hour. For me it takes about three hours, give or take how easily the words are coming that day. Your word count is your anchor. Respect it. Pace yourself. Be patient. The 30th will be here before you know it.

4. Word count means nothing

It took me a lot of years to find my pace and rhythm and to figure out what kind of writing schedule works for me. As a writer new to the novel writing game, it’s going to take you years to figure it out as well. NaNoWriMo is about exploring and expanding your abilities as an author. Maybe you like to outline a bit in the morning, plan your scenes in your head in the afternoon, and do your hardcore writing late into the night. Maybe you’re a marathoner who works great under pressure. If that’s you, maybe you’ll write your novel in three hardcore binges over the weekends cranking out 10k a day in a frenzied panic. Whatever gets you the best results is how you’ll succeed as a novelist. My above advice is what I think is the easiest way for a new writer to keep from getting discouraged and quitting because their word count doesn’t match their deadline. However you write is the right way. There is no wrong way. The only way to fail at NaNoWriMo is to not write at all.

For me, I go both ways. A lot of times, I’ll get my first twenty or twenty five thousand words done at a slow, methodical pace, and then rent a hotel room and binge the last twenty in a couple of crazy days and nights. I’ve written entire books the slow way, and the marathon way. I can’t say one method works better, or produces a better quality book than the other. Every single book is different and will present its own unique challenges. As soon as you think you’ve got it all figured out and the writing game mastered, your next book will throw you for a loop, and make you question how you ever got through the other books you wrote in one piece. Writing a novel is a humbling, taxing experience every time. Adapt. Change. Be ready for anything.

5. Finish, finish, finish!

Whether you finish your novel a week early or a week late, finish the book. So many writers out there are sitting on half or three quarters finished books. That, to me, is a great tragedy. All books deserve to be written, and deserve to be read. No one can read your book, REALLY read your book unless it’s got a beginning, a middle, AND an end. Respect your book, and respect yourself as an author. Finish it. Have an ideal reader in mind. Confide in them throughout the process. Make it someone in love with your novel concept who loves to read. Get excited about your ideal reader getting to that twist midway through the book. Think of their eyes widening when you kill off the character they’ll least expect. See the anger in their eyes as they violently turn the page when they think your protagonist is making the dumbest mistake ever, only to cheer when it turns out the whole thing was an elaborate ruse, and picture the tears in their eyes when the displaced lovers are finally reunited in the end. This is why we write. We’re storytellers. We want to move people with our wild fantasies. Picture your ideal reader reading every line as you type it. That is victory. That is success. Finish your book. Let it be read.

Good luck, amateurs. Here’s to your success this November. May you fall in love with writing, and write the greatest novel of all time.