My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Friday, August 27, 2021

Best Fantasy That Could Stand Alone, but Doesn't (Call For Recs and Secs)

Reminder: After this post I am going on vacation for a week and a day (and Labor Day too). My trip got cancelled, but I'm still taking a staycation and I'm going to be doing a lot of lower-key admin stuff behind the scenes. However, one thing I will keep going, so that there are SOME posts going up, is our book recommendation. 

I'll be dropping the original page rerun over on WAW's Facebook page but for everyone else, here is a quick update post. If you haven't yet, please don't forget to pop over to the original page to drop that nomination, see what has been nominated already, second (all) those you agree with, as well as brush up on the rules—there are a FEW after all.

So much like our similar Sci-Fi poll, when we called for best stand-alone books, we got a bunch of books that WEREN'T stand-alone. So now is your chance to specifically do a book recommendation for all the books that had sequels but didn't really need them or were part of a series but could have (and maybe should have) stood alone.

Again, please remember to go to the original page to drop your nomination (and familiarize yourself with the rules if you haven't yet). If you put it anywhere else (including a Facebook comment on this post) it will not be counted.

Thank you all for joining in our Book Rec Conversation. I've really love reading all your comments about the books you treasure and why.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

I Can't Thank You All Enough (Plus Meta Update)


I don't even know what to say.

Thank you all so much. Thank you. THANK YOU.

Yesterday I couldn't postpone putting up an appeals post any longer, and the response was better than I could have possibly imagined. 

Thank you to folks who signed up for $1 and $3 and $25. Thank you to folks who dropped their entire Venmo balance of $1.75 on a donation and folks who sent me $100 to keep doing what I do. Thank you to folks who dropped GIFs and comments and reactions that helped boost my visibility through the arcane labyrinth of Facebook's algorithm. 

Thank you to all of you.

While there are still a few more patrons and donations trickling in, I can already tell you that we had the most successful appeals post ever. And even though I can't stress enough that I'm not even close to making "good" money from writing—especially for the SF/Bay Area—I was able to shore up enough of the budget from the lost nanny hours that the immediate emergency is quelled. I won't have to put up ads on the blog or significantly curtail my posting schedule in order to pursue "day jobs."


Next week (and this Friday) was always going to be a week (and a day) off for me. It was the second of two badly-BADLY-needed post-pandemic vacations. I couldn't really take time off before vaccines. My clients needed me every second I could spare, and the weeks I was in quarantine (after a doctor's appointment or something) I was still trying to catch up on writing.

But the trip I had planned—a road trip to Denver to see a friend—fell through.

So here's what we're going to do….

I'm still going to take the time off: a staycation of sorts. However, I'm also going to use the opportunity to catch up on all the admin stuff that is so dreadfully behind. It'll be a little easier than writing posts whole cloth and will be a LITTLE relaxing, but I'll feel better if I come back to some of this stuff being cleaned up—kind of like coming home to a clean house after a physical vacation.

Thus, while I'm "gone"…. I'll update the book recommendation compilations. We'll get the Best of W.A.W. updated for 2020—yes, I'm still procrastinating on LAST year. We'll catch up on Patreon reward tiers. And if there's still time, we'll start cleaning up the menus and tags. I'll also keep the current book recommendation going, tabulate the results, and start up a new conversation, just so I don't go to quiet.

You may see some posts going up (and if you watch REALLY close, you may see some changes happening behind the scenes), but I'll be ditching our usual posting schedule. I probably won't be putting links to too many of these updates on social media. (I'll run reruns that week.) Instead, at the end, I'll do a "bundle" post of everything I cleaned up. 

We will be back to our regularly scheduled shenanigans on Sept 8th. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

The Winds of Change

This is a hard post to write, but there may be some changes coming to Writing About Writing.

I wish things were going better.

During the pandemic—or more accurately, during the global recession that happened because of the pandemic—I lost a lot of patrons. It was a tough time, and crowdfunding artists is often one of the first things to go when people look for a buck or three they can save in their budget. In the last 18 months, I've lost dozens of financial backers. And several more have had to lower their monthly contributions to something they could handle more easily. I leaned on a side gig watching kids to shore up my writing income, and since those hours were almost more than I could handle, the bills got paid and then some and it was no big deal that folks were doing what they needed to do to survive the age of covid.

However, because I live with children too young to get vaccinated who are going back to school, all my nanny hours were cut off SUDDENLY. (It was a tough decision, but there's an immunocompromised person in the house and an abundance of caution against breakthrough infections is wise.) Now, I am down to JUST writing income. 

I wanted to wait until the vaccines started to get life back to a semblance of normal before I passed the hat again, but the delta variant seems to be poised to tack on another several months to any kind of fully "back to normal," especially for people with kids. And there IS an economic recovery happening even if it looks a little strange and is kind of scattershot across certain industries but not others. 

I used to run an appeals post at least every month, and I've been trying to take it easy when I know times were tough for everyone. But the change in circumstances means I really need to start covering ALL my bills with writing.

Please don't think you need "a lot" to help.

I absolutely adore my big donors, and it is not hyperbole to say that I literally couldn't pay my rent without them. But it's also true that I couldn't pay my rent without HUNDREDS of smaller donors. They form the foundation upon which my ability to have any financial security at all rests, and their steady and small contributions are the reason that several times over the years, a big donor has a major life event, needs to cancel their contribution, but I don't immediately have a panic attack, fold, and start selling my organs on the black market.

One of the reasons I offer one of my best rewards to folks who sign up for my second-smallest tier––$3 a month––is because I value my small donors SO much. I know it's a hard time for someone to find a significant chunk of their budget for crowdfunding, so instead of one $100 donor, I'm hoping to find a lot of folks who have $1, $3, or $5 to give.

I'm gonna keep doing what I'm doing as often as I can. But I'd love to keep my blog ad free and not have exclusive paid content (beyond the newsletters). To say nothing of my ability to keep writing instead of taking side gigs pet sitting, freelance writing, or all the other ways I spackle together a big enough paycheck to live where I do. If you want to help me keep the rent paid and the lights on, right now I sure could use a lot of small donors to make up for some of these recent hits.

If you like what I do, and want me to keep doing it (and doing it more), I could use your help. But if I can't make enough through writing, there may have to be some changes. If you've ever thought that my work (here, on Facebook, or the combination) was worth a dollar or three a month, there would never be a better time to become a patron.

Please visit my Patreon if you can help. Even a dollar or three a month makes a big difference when a lot of folks take that step. And the ongoing support allows me to plan and budget for the future.

If an ongoing donation, for whatever reason, isn't good for you, I'm also elated, of course, to get one-time donations as well. I can take donations through Paypal, Venmo (chris.brecheen@gmail.com) or arrange for some other form if electronic transfers don't work. Some people even literally send me checks in the mail.

Of course, the Patreon rewards aren't "worth" the amount of the tiers, but they are my small way of saying thank you for helping me stay afloat, and they go from getting in on backchannel status updates and a monthly newsletter all the way up to early access, a quarterly major newsletter, autographs, and even tutoring if you want it. 

Note: The algorithm for social media rewards engagement, so if you can't help financially but want to do something (or you CAN help, but want to help out doubly so), please consider reacting to this post and/or commenting. I'm told GIFs work the best, so feel free to have a gif party in the comments.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Why Should I Describe My Characters At All If They Don't Have Distinctive Features? (Mailbox)

Why should I describe my featureless characters?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox." I will use your first name ONLY, unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. Sometimes "question" might mean "comment made on a Facebook page."] 

Just a note before I jump into this question. My queue of questions isn't EMPTY, but I can kind of "see the bottom," and like a cat, I'm absolutely sure that this means I will soon run out and perish. So if you've got questions for me, now's a good time to send them.

Deb writes:

I limit my description of characters if they don't have distinctive features and I'm not sure why that should be a problem. I just name them unless they have scar or wild hair or something.

My reply: 

So there are two….let's say ISSUES with this. One is a craft problem. The other one…. The other one is probably more important but takes a little explanation. 

Describing characters is a bit of an art. Okay, writing is an art, but character description takes a little finesse even beyond the usual. Ham-handed descriptions of characters noticing their own breasts as they walk past mirrors, weird scars, and "shocks" of hair are everywhere you look. 

Generally, it's mostly okay to find your own groove as a writer when it comes to descriptions. Some writers describe their characters meticulously from head to toe the moment they enter the story, some release bits of information about them as the story goes on to form a more and more cohesive picture. Some drop a significant detail or two and let the description finish in the reader's mind—a particular favorite of most modern authors. 

There are two places you want to be careful about using particularly sparse description.

First of all, when you're running the description of one character through the lens of another character. I can't emphasize enough how great this shit can be. In this situation, you have the opportunity to characterize BOTH characters. One by their description, of course, but the other by WHAT THEY NOTICE about the first character. Do they pay attention to how attractive the other person is? Their fashion choices? Are they very interested in how the person carries themselves? Do they try to read the other person's "soul" by gazing into their eyes? The things they pick up on and perceive say a lot about them, so this is a great opportunity to use a few economical words to do so much more than just drop a name.

The second thing you want to be careful of is a little harder to unpack. But it's what you mean when you say a character doesn't have any distinctive features. What does that even mean? If everyone basically looks unique, how can anyone have NO distinctive features? Is this person Emmet from The Lego Movie—so nondescript that no one really even knows who he is? Is their face yellow and their smile painted on?

I heard a story once about the early days of the rocket test pilot program… or maybe it was the space program—although it's not important to the story which. They designed and engineered the original cockpits for completely average people. Average height, weight, arm length, leg length, torso length…you get the idea. The only problem was no one could actually fly the things. NOBODY has average everything. Every pilot had something weird about them: long arms, short legs, a weirdly broad chest, SOMETHING. They had to design the second generation cockpits to be a bit configurable to each pilot*.

Everyone has SOME distinguishing feature.

(*Now I'm imagining a fighter pilot getting into their F-35 Lightning and their knees are in their chest. "Damn it, Mavrik!") 

There's a more insidious aspect of assuming a character has "no distinguishing features." That is the idea that there is a "default human." What is a human with NO distinguishing characteristics. Are they blonde? Are they tall? Does a default human look like you? (And just so I'm not being too subtle, in most of the English-speaking world it is usually only white people who tend to think that they look like a default human.) Do you think that everyone who is somehow "distinguished" is a deviation from this "default human"? What comes into your head when you think "no distinguishing features," and is that an assumption that should perhaps be unpacked and interrogated?

Much like honey (or sugar) in your tea, you can have too much description of a character. It can overpower everything else and ruin the taste. And probably everyone can think of at least one book they read where character descriptions were so ponderous and byzantine that they just skipped over them every time. But you also don't want too little. That doesn't taste right either. It will make your prose feel vague and unanchored (even if your descriptions of everything else are pretty good). And while, the amount of description is a stylistic choice that you will settle into as you find your own voice, there is almost no situation in which some is not better than none and a couple of situations where it is even a little awkward.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Facebook Compilation (July)

We're going to do something a little different today. Life got a little "on," starting in July (and it hasn't really stopped). Even though I've mostly managed each week to do a little better than the last, the July output still weird, and what I noticed when I went to do a two-week compilation was that at the top of the month (the 1st-15th), I did a lot of memes and not much writing, and at the bottom of the month (the 16th-31st), I did very little writing and almost no memes. So instead of breaking this up, here is the compilation for the ENTIRE month of July.

For years, I didn't count all the bite-sized chunks of writing I was doing on Facebook as "writing." But it's a post here and a post there, and sometimes I spend hours a day working on that writing, so it's high time I acknowledge the fact that it "counts."

Here is a collection of the BEST statuses (and a few of the most popular memes) from my public Facebook page over the period of July 1st-31st. (You're welcome to follow me there to see the not-quite-the-best ones but read up in the Facebook FAQ [last question] if you want to send me a friend request.) 

Trump was NEVER some "How-could-we-have-foreseen-this?" plot twist for The Right. As much as some people said they hated him, he was "their guy." He embodies the jingoism, xenophobia, racism (by ANY other name), and bigotry of  the modern right.

He was their paragon. He was the nonpareil they chose among 17 in their Hunger Games of balancing pragmatism and conservative dogma. Far from being something they can wash their hands of, they picked him over and over and over again. Of everyone on the stage, he most said what conservatives wanted to hear. And over and over and over again, instead of finding his breathtaking bigotry and explicitly-stated-intention-to-harm a deal breaker for political support, they either didn't find it a deal breaker or (more often) kind of liked it. 

He is the Leader of the Republican Party and has been a Rorschach inkblot test of their integrity and principles. The embodiment of their scorched-Earth obstructionism, the incarnation of their do-anything-to win-ness, and the apotheosis of their scapegoating. He is an avatar for their belief that bigotry simply doesn't count if one merely denies the accusations ("I don't have a racist bone in my body!") , and the epitome of the belief that pointing bigotry out is what's actually injurious. 

He is the quintessence of claiming anything that fails to stroke his confirmation bias must be "fake." And that lies aren't really lies simply if one repeats them over and over.

He isn't some mistake that the GOP are asking, "What have we DONE?" He is their final form.

Unfortunately for everyone under 12 and their worried-as-fuck parents, the Venn diagram of people who CAN get vaccinated (important distinction) but refuse to, and people who will lie about their vaccine status so they don't have to wear a mask is almost a perfect circle.

I know what the CDC was going for, but I think they had a little bit too much faith in humanity, and didn't think that one through.


I can't begin to tell you how ridiculous you sound if you ignore literally all of human history until the 17th century and call capitalism "natural." Jesus, you even left out mercantilism. 

The idea that "money can't buy time" is usually expressed by people who can afford a fair bit of time-saving expenditures (housekeepers, a dishwasher, in-house laundry facilities, eating out, a personal vehicle). 

Try living life without being able to afford a few of those things and see if you still believe that crap.Just say you like rather like organized exploitation as long as it's not you (and, uh, bad news on that front, pal....), and let's move on.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Best of May/June

We're still working our way back to our pre-pandemic posting schedule. The nanny hours are no longer an issue, but I'm moving and trying to recover from an overwhelming bout of falling in love, and as a result, instead of dropping the best three for each month, for the past 16 months or so, we've been doing the best three for every TWO-MONTH PERIOD during most of the pandemic. I'm still hoping we're able to take the year out with our old posting schedule, but it's going to be at least September before the dust settles enough to even really try.

Here are the posts that will go on to fame and infamy in The Best of W.A.W.

Facebook Ban—Guess I'll see you tomorrow In what would be the first of a couple of bans from Facebook's new "Zero Human Oversight" algorithmic moderation, I decided it wasn't worth posting and promoting without the biggest source of page views. When I posted later about what had happened, it became the most popular post of the two months. 

Bottom of April (Facebook Compilation) I suspect the preview image meme was what made this one go viral, but go viral it did. The best posts and memes for the second half of April off of my public Facebook page.

Types of Dialogue (The Very Basics) Some scaffolding for a bigger post (that is still in the works). But it ended up being a pretty popular post on its own.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Moving Day Off To Monday (Meta)

Hi all,

I am officially moving my pandemic-stress day off to Monday. There are a number of reasons including not having the kind of slow puttering weekends in which I could basically get a post written over the course of the two days and the fact that with a FEW more things possible post vaccination, the weekends are prime real estate for plans, but mostly because my editor is not generally available on Mondays, and I predict that it' still going to be a couple of months before I'm consistently getting my copy to them the day before instead of the last minute. 

That means you will be GETTING a post on Thursday. It also means that for the time being, if I need an admin day, I will take Wednesdays off.

In the future I hope to be posting every weekday. We're not quite there yet. Although every week is just a little easier than the last, so I don't imagine it's going to take a LOT longer. 

I know there's only a few of you who keep track of my update schedule, but I thought I'd mention it since (other than this) there will be no post today.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Burnout and the Writer

I want to talk about burnout.

There's a story called All Summer in a Day where a girl who was raised on Earth, but now lives on Venus, remembers the sun and hates the weather on Venus. But then Venus gets one break in the clouds (that only happens every gillion years, or something) and all the kids raised on Venus will get to experience a few minutes of Earth weather. I won't ruin it for you (and obviously it's not like overflowing with scientific accuracy), but the reason I'm thinking of it is because it's kind of what the pandemic felt like.

For like this one minute, those of us who knew what the world used to be like (instead of a flaming ball of shit) saw the clouds break and the sun start to come out. The vaccines started rolling out. Folks who had been extra careful started to peek their heads out. We started a collective sigh of relief of the breath we'd been holding for fifteen months. And even though anti-vaxxers were doing their best to ensure we never reach a viable herd immunity, we were starting to make progress towards life getting back to something that at least resembled normal. But then the moment of sunshine ended. The clouds came back in. And now here we are as delta variant closes in….aaaaaaalmost back to square one. Groups are dangerous all over again because of breakthroughs. Anyone with kids is almost back to a full quarantine. Risk assessment involves a bunch of stuff we just don't know.

It's crummy normal Venus weather all up in this bullshit. But we got to SEE the sun for fifteen minutes, so this one burns like only returning to pain after a little bit of relief truly can. 

I think it's got everyone burned out. Not just burned out in a way we might have been if the vaccine had taken four years to complete, which would be bad enough, but in a way that you can only be burned out if you get a tiny moment to feel like maybe it's going to end, almost get to touch it, and get the rug yanked out from under you.

We are utterly, completely, beyond-the-telling-of-it burned the fuck out. On a fundamental level. On an existential level. Down to the marrow in our bones.

This pandemic is so destructive to creatives. And I think the most important thing any of us can do (writers or not) is be kind and gentle with ourselves about understanding what damage is being done. 

I spoke with a musician a little while ago who told me that when the pandemic hit, he thought he was going to have all this time to work on his music and it was going to be great, but after only a couple of weeks, he started to lose focus completely because it turned out that he was missing out on all the LIFE that inspired his music. Looking at the same four walls day after day started to grind down the way his creative brain even worked. Interacting with new people and places and things was what fired his creativity.

I had a different problem. My nanny work exploded and left so little for my writing and creative life that it was a struggle every day to find enough time to get an article written.

Still another friend simply dried up. The anxiety and depression were overwhelming and trying to be creative simply…didn't work. There wasn't anything their creative brain had to give them. 

I know several people who had these amazing ideas for all the work they were going to do, and they don't really know the reason, but they just….can't. They just sit there and it doesn't happen. Day after day after day.

The stories of writing whole novels or taking on entire new creative endeavors while sequestered away happen, but it's important that creatives understand that they are not broken or lacking dedication if the pandemic has taken its toll and burnout has claimed their ability to be as prolific as they once were. The folks who can pull this have lightning in a bottle. They don't have more discipline or some greater desire—if that were true all artists would be exploding with productivity, and I assure you that we're not. For some reason, at this point in their creative life a pandemic happens to be good for them is all. For most of us, we're putting so much effort into just getting by that there isn't a lot left to just go be prolifically creative. 

For the working writer (or creative)—or one who is determined to "make it"—there may be little choice but to try to churn something out. We don't get the same kind of vacations or breaks as professionals, and even though we can give ourselves time off any time we want, our income might immediately suffer. So maybe we have to sort of embrace a "reduced" output period where we really give ourselves some forgiveness and latitude and keep working, but we also do a lot of self care to recover, take as many days off as we can get away with, and try to keep in mind that creativity doesn't really work (certainly not nearly as well) when one is in "survival mode." But it's just important to remember we're not going to bounce back like nothing was ever wrong. The same way many of us are kind of dragging our asses to our jobs and going through the motions. 

But whether you HAVE to produce some copy if you want to eat that month or whether you just do it for fun and find that right now it isn't, it's important that everyone understand just how deeply and profoundly we are burnt out. 

We are. Almost all of us. 

So. Burnt. Out.

Now…I didn't stop being me last night. I still think that if you want to "make it" (for whatever value that means to you), writing daily is important to cultivate discipline. That way when the sun comes back out, you have good habits and aren't completely out of practice. But be gentle with yourself. Accept some crap days. Understand that you're not going to be at your best, and forgive yourself like you would literally anyone else. 

Sometimes it's enough to simply survive. 

So whether you're a casual hobbyist, a dedicated part-timer, or a working writer, it is important to acknowledge what is happening—and it IS happening—and to be as kind to yourself as possible. It'll all still be there when we get through this.

And I don't really have a pithy, wrap-it-up-in-a-bow way to talk about burnout where I can bring it all back to a poignant message in the last paragraph. There just isn't one. Burnout is real, and almost everyone is feeling it. Acknowledge it. Sit with it. Set goals and objectives that account for it and that don't pretend it will just go away or shouldn't be there in the first place because a "real" writer would grit their teeth and work through it. Give it what it needs as much as you possibly can, and know that you aren't going to be (you CAN'T be) some supercharged dynamo of productive energy if you are burnt out. 

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Best Fantasy That Could Stand Alone, but Doesn't (Book Recommendations)

What is the best Fantasy Book that COULD stand alone, but is (technically) part of a series?

Maybe it's part of a trilogy, but the other books are absolutely lackluster. Maybe there are companion novels written in the same world and with overlapping characters, but just were not up to the One Book™. Maybe the author wrote a sequel or a prequel years later but it is their foundational work that really gets attention. Maybe you've never even HEARD of the other books, but found out they exist when I didn't put your recommendation on our last list. But in any case, they are books that ARE part of a series, but could (and maybe SHOULD) absolutely, totally stand alone.

We had the same problem with our last poll as we did the one two before it. That is, I asked for stand-alone titles and got a BUNCH that were technically part of a series. So it seems clear that we need to run a book recommendation thread JUST for those books. Now is your chance to drop fantasy on here that is part of a series (or world saga) but could also completely stand alone.

I normally don't run a post on Thursday, and I have been having A WEEK, but I owe you from yesterday.

Remember, instead of trying to figure out what more people think is the BEST (which usually turns into which book has the coolest movie adaptation anyway), we're just going to have a nice chat about good books and all come away with some suggestions for our To Be Read Pile™. We'll still have the system of seconds (and "thirds" and "fourths" and…well, you get the idea), but all that will really determine is which goes to the top of the list when I post the results. You can go HERE to see what the results will look like when all is said and done. And I'll link out the original nomination post for folks who want to go see what people are actually saying about the book. Eventually these posts listing the results will be compiled in a massive "book recommendation" post.

Today we're doing "stand alone" fantasy that isn't ACTUALLY stand alone. But to be clear, we're talking about books that absolutely could stand completely alone (and were maybe even intended to had the author not gone back to them), not just "the exceptionally good first book in a trilogy" or something. (Think The Shining or The Witches of Eastwick and not so much The Hunger Games.) These are books that could (and maybe SHOULD) have never had sequels. Planned trilogies (or whatever) that happened to have exceptionally contained narratives technically shouldn't go here.

Because folks voted for some of these books on the "Stand alone" poll, we have a small list already ready to go! But do notice there's no copyright year limitation, so the book can have been published before 1980, unlike our last poll. 

Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, R. C. O'Brien

Bunnicula, D. Howe and J. Howe 

Bridge of Birds, B. Hughart 

The Dark is Rising, S. Cooper

Inferno, L. Niven and J. Pournelle

Over Sea Under Stone, S. Cooper

The Rules

  1. Make two recommendations. Obviously, I can't stop anyone from making fifteen, but nothing beyond the first two will make it onto the master list. I'm a despot that way.
  2. TELL US ALL A LITTLE ABOUT WHY YOU LIKE THE BOOK although obviously do so without spoilers! If you just drop a title name and it gets all the seconds, I'm still going to list it, of course, but the whole point of this is to have a "conversation" and gush a little about the books you think are great, exciting, well written, or unforgettable and a little (spoiler-free) squee about why.
  3. For each recommendation, let us know if you're nominating it more as a BEST book in the genre or an UNDERSUNG HERO in the genre. Basically "undersung hero" is for books you think are great, tragically overlooked, NEED to be read by everyone (like…yesterday), but are maybe not necessarily the besty bestest best. They'll all end up in the list I compile, but I'll put them in different places.
  4. As always, I leave the niggling over the definition of genres to your best judgement because I'd rather be inclusive. If you want to nominate Snow Crash as fantasy (even though it's probably better placed as science fiction), you should show your work if you desire those sweet, sweet seconds (or thirds....or fourths) and there might be a discussion thread after your comment with a lot of people writing out the "If I may…"
  5. Your book must be part of a series or more than tangentially related to a fully formed fictional universe. It must have a sequel, prequel, be part of a series, or be part of a massive world (like Discworld). If it makes little more a reference to another book like once or twice is clearly taking place in the world of another book without being a sequel, prequel, or a grand unified series, it wouldn't count for this poll. (Sometimes Stephen King books have a small allusion to one of his earlier works. This wouldn't count, as there are only a few S.K. books that are truly sequels.) 
  6. You get to mention two (2) books. That's it. Two. You can do one BEST and one UNDERSUNG HERO. Or you can do two BESTS. Or you can do two UNDERSUNG HEROES. But two is the total. If you nominate three or more, I will, with unimaginable cruelty, simply ignore the third and any subsequent books. I'm sorry that I'm a stickler on this, but it's just lil ol' me compiling this list by myself and it's a pain when people drop a spinosaurus list of every single book they can remember in the entire genre. However, you list more than two books and your third or later choice gets a second, I'll consider everything. (Even though that matters a lot less than it did when I was counting seconds to see which titles made the poll––see below.)
  7. Did I mention two?
  8. You may (and absolutely should) give a second shout out to AS MANY nominations of others as you wish. There is no more poll, so this will not be a cutthroat competition to see who makes it to the semifinals. It will simply dictate which titles I list first, and it may influence which books someone considers a good recommendation. ("This one got six seconds, and that one only got two, so I think I'll start with this one.")
  9. Put your nominations HERE. I will take nominations only as comments and only on this post. (No comments on FB posts or G+ will be considered nominations.) If you can't comment for some reason because of Blogger, send me an email (chris.brecheen@gmail.com) stating exactly that and what your nomination is, and I will personally put your comment up. I am not likely to see a comment on social media even if it says you were unable to leave a comment here. 
  10. You are nominating WRITTEN fiction, not their A/V portrayals. If you thought The Shining was the greatest Stanley Kubrick movie ever, but found the book a little disjointed and TOO character driven to have a satisfying climax, please nominate something else. (I love film, but it's a different medium.) 
  11. Have a conversation, but check the typical internet assholery at the door. If someone likes something you think is terrible, it's okay to let them enjoy it. And if someone has one tight and polite bit of criticism about your recommendation ("I was not a fan of the X plot arc or the way that author writes women."), it's okay that they didn't care for it and there's no need to defend it like they have impugned you honor for seven generations.  I **WILL** delete shitty comments, and I absolutely know that's highly subjective, so better to err on the side of nice. 
  12. TWO!

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Too Much

Not going to be able to get even my normal Wednesday filler up today. I am working a solid 12 hours at other jobs and trying to move. Maybe I can make up for it over the weekend since I have some free time there.

The "good" news is, this will be my last Wednesday for a while of having child care to deal with. The reason why sucks—I'm not going to be able to see the kids whose life I'm a part of until there's some development with covid that reduces their risk from me—but, I guess, at least, it'll give me more time to write. 

Monday, August 9, 2021

Snowglobe! (Meta/Personal Update)

The time of prophecy is upon us. The Time of the Snowglobe.

For many moons The Great Chaos™ has been approaching, spoken of only in hushed whispers. But now the maelstrom descends from the heavens. The falcon is like "What, brah? Can't even hear you." And everything is about to get table flipped.

One of my partners calls it "the snowglobe." We are in the middle of being shaken up, and we don't really know how things are going to land. Will kids really go back to school this week (and will they stay there for long, with the delta variant affecting younger and younger people?) Will travel become simply a pipe dream again for another year? Will schedules align with folks we want to see more of? Will folks who've been working from home get called back to the office? Full time? It's a period of major uncertainty, and it's basically kicking off as kids go back to school…in the case of some of the ones near me, this week. 

I have further complicated The Time of the Snowglobe on a personal level. I'm about to move. If you've been paying close attention, especially if you're a patron, you probably can guess why. But it means there's going to be a lot of physical manifestations of the uncertainty of the coming month as I try to move an entire apartment into a single room and some storage (with maybe a bookshelf in the living room. I may miss a post here or there, but I'll make up for anything I screw up with a commensurate post later on.

Tie it back to writing? Of COURSE I can tie it back to writing. This is Writing About Writing after all, not Writing About Snowglobes or Writing About Busy Times!

I don't know what your life is like, and I'm not here to judge how bad your own snowglobe situations are. There's already entirely too much judgement in the conventional writing advice wisdom that if you don't crawl on your hands and knees across glass, you don't really want it. But what I can tell you is that a lot of writers who are frustrated with the trajectory of their careers (or lack thereof) would be putting their writing on the shelf during a time like this. "It's too much," they would say. They would try to get through the rough time, and then get back to the writing. Most of the working writers I know would approach such a time like it will be difficult and would impact their writing, but that it will still be important to carve out time to get a bit of work done. 

So good luck with your own snowglobe time (whether you've added in your own personal complications or not), may it settle in the best possible way, and if you're hoping to take your writing to a higher level, may you keep it prioritized even while everything is up in the air. 

Friday, August 6, 2021

It'll All Be Better With the Cardboard Drawers

A million, zillion years ago I was married, and my spouse and I did not have an easy time keeping our space clean, and, if you listened to them, the reason why was apparently because we didn't own a set of cardboard drawers. 

Yes, you read that right. Stick with me, and I'll make it make sense. And I'll even tie it back to writing. 

First of all, I have to take a beat and recognize that there were a LOT of reasons we didn't keep our space clean. We were young. We didn't prioritize nesting. We would rather play Final Fantasy 7 and try to beat Emerald Weapon. We both had executive dysfunction around domestic chores, and while I don't think it's cool to do armchair diagnosis, if they told me tomorrow they also had ADHD, let's just say I wouldn't drop my drink dramatically to the floor where the camera would watch it shatter in slow motion. The place was also tiny and could go from pristine to post-apocalyptic movie set contender in only a single wadded up ball of dirty clothes that didn't find the hamper. 

I was the housespouse (I usually am in cohabitation arrangements), and so I would do 90% of the cleaning, but I bristled at messes that were clutter simply not put away or things abandoned when they were done being used. I didn't mind the domestic chores, but just cleaning up after someone who is kind of sloven has a totally different vibe. 

Every time I would bring this up, the answer was the same. "I need cardboard drawers." Now…if you're thinking…"wait a damn second—what do cardboard drawers have to do with putting clothes in a hamper or putting things away instead of just leaving them out?", believe me when I tell you that I am RIGHT THERE WITH YOU. Other than sort of vaguely both being about places to put things, there was no real connective tissue. But they swore with their hand to God that this was the ONE thing that was going to make all the difference. 

"It's the cardboard drawers. It'll give me a place to put things. It'll all be better when we get them."

"But that doesn't—" I would sputter. "Those two things don't even have anything to do with each other. Only in the fact that one is LOOSELY related to organization are they even remotely—"


I see a lot of writers do this. They fixate on something like their new desk or their ergonomic keyboard, their new writing program that organizes their chapters for them, and while these things are nice, they don't MAKE you write. Their absence doesn't actually prevent most people from writing. And once you have them, doing the work might be easier, but it's not going to do itself. You still have to sit down in your super ergonomic mega-comfy chair and write for a few hours a day if you want to pump out a novel in a year. 

Yes, you might be super mega comfortable doing it, but it's still a lot of work, and it's probably not really what's holding you back from just firing off the great American novel.

The affectation can be almost anything. It can be physical like a chair or a desk or a room that can be made into an office. Or it can be more cerebral like "next week when things get easier." Or "once I take time off from work." But the fact is that in almost every situation where we're sitting around and just waiting for something to improve before we can start work in earnest, if we weren't writing before the thing, we won't be writing after the thing either.

Now, it's not that none of these things matter. Some of them may even help you write better or longer. I certainly write more when I have a room and a desk to write at rather than with my back leaning against a wall with a laptop pillow while children play Enter the Dragon two feet from me. If you've been here for more than, like, an hour, you know I am constantly complaining about a better schedule that is just a week away from kicking in. But in the meantime, I'm still writing.

These things like chairs and offices and schedules are not REALLY writing, and it is the people who sit down even when they don't have a perfect schedule, a perfect chair, or a perfect writing program and DO THE WORK who end up doing better when they have one or more of those things. I talk about these things and work on improving them, but in the meantime, I write.

Unswervingly—and I mean maybe there are some exceptions in the history of the world, but we're talking really close to 100%—everyone who sits around and waits for some factor to be improved before they can even start ends up finding a new reason they can't do the work once they get what they were waiting for. The office needs a new desk. The ergonomic keyboard works, but now a desk that can go up and down is needed so that writing can be done standing up. The week off had to be used doing all the home improvement that had been procrastinated, so we need ANOTHER week off.

In an M. Night Shyamalanian mid-career plot twist (that is to say, entirely predictable by anyone with a pulse), getting cardboard drawers did not solve the problem. A few things were put away. We had a slightly better system of organization. It was easier to clean up when we cleaned up. BUT…the piles of dirty clothes did not move themselves to the laundry and the messes I cleaned up after were still there. Because the problem was never the absence of cardboard drawers. Fixating on them, and fixating on the problem as somehow insurmountable without them, just meant we kicked the can down the road for dealing with the actual problem—the clothes needed to be put in the hamper.

The same thing happens with writing. The longer there is one more thing without which writing is "simply impossible," then the real issue—that it's time to apply ass to chair and do some writing and all the ergonomic furniture in the world won't make your work write itself—is not being addressed. 

So get your super desk or your cardboard drawers or your Vorlon-inspired writing program that keeps track of your character arcs, keeps track of your adverbs, keeps track of passive voice, and keeps track of your timeline for you, but don't EVER forget that you still have to actually DO the writing. 

And you at least start THAT…without the cardboard drawers.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Facebook Compilation (Bottom of June)

I don't usually post these compilations weekly, but I want to catch up to the point where they're going up no more than a month after their "original air date," so I will have to do one MORE next week and then we should be able to go back to biweekly. 

For years, I didn't count all the bite-sized chunks of writing I was doing on Facebook as "writing." But it's a post here and a post there, and sometimes I spend hours a day working on that writing, so it's high time I acknowledge the fact that it "counts."

Here is a collection of the BEST statuses (and a few of the most popular memes) from my public Facebook page over the period of June 16th through June 30th. (You're welcome to follow me there to see the not-quite-the-best ones but read up in the Facebook FAQ [last question] if you want to send me a friend request.) 

Reminder: If you are blocked on social media, that is a boundary. Contacting the person on another social medium is big boundary-violating energy.

Consent culture has ruined about 95% of romance plots for me.*

“Hey, dillhole. Ask before you do that shit.” “Wow, the passion. The spontaneity. The lack of asking.”

*Actually 95% of romance plots really need some consent culture.

Listen closely to what you DON'T hear. In almost zero criticism of critical race theory (and absolutely none from informed folks) has anyone ever said "It isn't true."

Chris's Pass/Agg theater of the day

Boyo....listen up. 

Never piss off someone who is unswervingly kind. That kindness is a deliberate choice and they probably work on it every day. And trust me—TRUST ME—when I tell you they have another side. 

First of all, you've never met the facing-down-a-bully version of me. That's the part of me I legit worry about getting killed or imprisoned one of these days. That's the peep that got into a fight with four muggers ten years my junior who wanted my iPad, the peep who still walked away still holding that iPad, the peep who took on a dude with a knife because fuck him in his entitled face, and the peep who caused an orbital fracture with a cell phone because you don't get what you want just because your bigger and a jerkwad. And I'm sure I would kick more ass if I were ripped and didn't love pizza, but there's about fifty things between here and muscle mass that matter more when it comes to scrapping.

Secondly, when I go to protests, I bring a first aid kit, a fistful of power bars and nuts, a couple of huge bottles of water, and ask if anyone wants me to buy them food. That's who I am. I'm the guy who is breathing heavy and trying not to let my fight or flight response yank me the way it ALWAYS does (hint: not flight). 

If I ever DECIDED I was going to fight before I even showed up, I'm not going to walk up with my "I <3 antifa" t-shirt and challenge someone to honorable fisticuffs, so you better calculate for a lot more than the fact that I don't look like I run 10k's every week. No one's head is going to be on a swivel looking for me, and that's JUST the way I like it.

Not that I'm badass. I'm not. I don't feed that part of me, and frankly when it comes out, it's terrifying, and I don't like it very much. It's just maybe you shouldn't be talking about me like I'm already dead or that no one over 140 pounds of ripcord muscle could possibly sidle up to you and throw an elbow before you knew what was happening.


Dear old person lecturing me on how how tough you had it. 

You're wrong. Literally….…You. Are. WRONG. Life was demonstrably easier by a number of metrics that various health organizations use to gauge quality of life. You had it easier, actually. Considerably easier. You are not a poster child for the meritocracy, you are just an asshole from the golden age lecturing folks trying their best to live in the wake of all this shit you fucked up.

Please don't confuse the fact that no one commented on the child abuse many children endured right out in public back in your day with young people having it actually better.

This is good, but we dug into some important nuance in the comments.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Best Stand Alone Classic Fantasy (Results)

The results of our book recommendations for best stand-alone fantasy (written before 1980) are in, and wow, are these ever some amazing books. This might be the first time EVER that I've read every single book on the list, and they all deserve the praise they got. Thank you to SO many people for participating and making this our best book recommendation post yet. Results will go onto our massive compilation post in the next few days.

We did have a hiccup (again) a bunch of you went ahead and ponied up recommendations for books that were NOT stand-alone. They have clear sequels or ARE clear and obvious sequels. So, like last time with the sci-fi results, I'll run a separate poll for books that AREN'T stand alone but totally SHOULD be. We will also of course do another such post for MODERN fantasy (written after 1980). 

On to the results…

Favorites (Remember, there was no voting, so the only "order" I've put them in is how many seconds they recieved.)

Watership Down, R. Adams 5

The Last Unicorn, P. S. Beagle 4

The Neverending Story, M. Ende 4 

The Phantom Tollbooth, N. Juster 3

Kindred, O. Butler 2

Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast, R. McKinley 2

Fahrenheit 451, R. Bradbury 2

A Canticle for Liebowitz, W. M. Miller, Jr 2

Something Wicked This Way Comes, R. Bradbury 2

Drawing of the Dark, T. Powers 2

The Farthest Away Mountain, L. R. Banks

Out of their Minds, C. D. Simak

Operation Chaos, P. Anderson

Momo [The Grey Gentlemen], M. Ende

Undersung Heroes: 

This Time of Darkness, H. M. Hoover

The Shaving of Shagpat: An Arabian Entertainment, G. Meredith

The Princess Bride, W. Goldman 

Dandelion Wine, R. Bradbury 

Rule-Breaking Mention

I'll mention three rule-breaking exceptions that defied the rules of our post but not simply by being published after 1980 or having a clear-cut sequel. One is not a novel. So does each of its short stories count as sequels or part of a series? The other is a book that has multiple endings released over 40 years apart including one that opens up the possibility of a sequel (possibly for its TV serialization). The last is a world-building book for Lord of the Rings which doesn't really have anything to do with The Hobbit or LotR, but is still kind of an edge case.

The Stand, S. King

The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien

The Illustrated Man, R. Bradbury (Short story collection) 2

The books that were part of series will show up on the next poll.

Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, R. C. O'Brien 4
Bunnicula, D. Howe and J. Howe 2
Bridge of Birds, B. Hughart 2
The Dark is Rising, S. Cooper
Inferno, L. Niven and J. Pournelle
Over Sea Under Stone, S. Cooper