Writing Tip – POV Switching

The first book I read that switched between 1st person and 3rd person point of view was Charles Stross’s The Rhesus Chart. At first it was the normal 1st person POV I’d come to expect from Stross, but then there were little bits of 3rd person POV that popped up. It threw me for a moment because it was unexpected, but the POV change was handled skillfully enough that it added a dimension to the narrative rather than pulling me out of the story. In a way, it was more like the chorus in Greek tragedies – those folks that told what was happening when the action on the stage wasn’t happening.

I don’t know if this is a new thing – this hopping between the depth of focus that comes from 1st person narrative to the breadth of knowledge that comes from 3rd person – but it seems to be getting more popular. I guess you could make a serious argument that it’s not at all. See the previous comment about the Greek chorus.

We had a little discussion about these swaps in an IASD thread on Facebook last week and it kind of got me wondering about the pros and cons. My Henchmen series is written exclusively in 1st person. Most of the stories and the entire (such as it is) Saxton series is 3rd person. In my limited experience, both have their ups and downs.

The primary con, of course, is switching from 1st person to 3rd person can throw the reader for a loop if it’s not handled well. One second you’re deep in the narrator’s head, feeling their feels and seeing the world through their eyes. The next you’re in a boardroom with a bunch of guys in suits smoking and trying to figure out what is to be done with this situation.


And then you’re back in the main character’s head, safely ensconced in his or her understanding of the world.

Writing is an oddball thing, because in addition to telling a story, you’re also teaching the reader how to read it. You have to give them clues about how to interpret the story because even the most avid reader can’t read your mind. If your POV swaps aren’t understandable your readers will get confused and surly. Next thing you know your book is tossed across the room in favor of some lackluster yarn about Bigfoot’s constant need for sex or the trials and tribulations of a harem of women kept by Velociraptors.

Think about this way: let’s say you’ve got a test coming up for your English lit class and it contains questions about calculating the distance between two Latitude/Longitude pairs (use a Haversine formula) and when the Battle of Hastings was (1066). Or think about the ending of Monty Python and the Holy Grail – that serious WTF moment when they all get arrested.

Those serious WTF moments are things that are best avoided in fiction lest you come to be known as one of those difficult authors and your readers start hyperventilating. Or worse, stop buying your books. Next thing you know, you’ll walk into a used bookstore and see a stack of your books for sale a quarter a pop.

This is kind of what I look like when I try to describe my books.

Does that mean you should never switch back and forth between 3rd person and 1st person? Absolutely not. 1st person POV and 3rd person POV have pluses and minuses. 1st person is great when there’s a limited cast and you want to tell a more intimate tale. Not intimate as in intimate, intimate as in connecting with the reader. 3rd person is great for larger casts and more complex story lines. Think in terms of the spread of information. 1st person is narrow and usually focused, but the narrator only knows what he or she directly experiences or what other characters tell him or her. 3rd person has a larger amount of information available, but is less intimate.

Personally, and this is just my guess here, I think Stross used the intermingled 3rd person scenes in The Rhesus Chart to explain some technicalities without having to resort to information dumps or direct experience that simply wouldn’t fit in with the narrative. He used it in a limited scope and it allowed him to provide information to the reader even if the narrator wasn’t privy to it. That way, Stross could explain why things were happening the way they were in a less obtrusive manner and avoid the dreaded information dump.


What an information dump might look like.

To tell the truth, I’m using a variation on this theme with the Saxton series. Since that’s written in 3rd person, it allows for a larger cast of characters. In a way, the Saxton stories and some of the stories in The Clock Man provide the information dump that the narrator of Henchmen wouldn’t know.

So, are there any hard and fast rules about switching point of view back and forth from 1st person to 3rd person and back again? No, not really. Most people seem to agree that switches like that should handled in an obvious manner: switch at a scene, switch at a chapter break. Whatever you choose to do, make it obvious that a switch has occurred. As long as it’s obvious what’s going on, you’ve done your job as a teller of stories and a teacher of readers. If you switch willy-nilly, things can get confused and that’s a bad state to have your reader in. Especially if you want them to buy more of your books.


  • It’s possible to switch back and forth between 1st person and 3rd person POV
  • There are no real rules that prohibit it, but you can usually ignore rules anyway
  • The only rule that really matters is make sure you don’t confuse your reader

What are your thoughts? Drop a comment. I promise I’ll respond.

Book Review – Roller Rink Witchcraft by Raven Snow

Let’s face a hard fact here: the real world can seem pretty boring. Get up, go to work, curse at traffic, flip off random drivers and pedestrians and the occasional kid in the back of the school bus, go home. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if that person who thinks he’s a warlock really is? Probably not, because you’ve picked on him since kindergarten and he’s got a huge chip on his shoulder and the power of the universe in his little finger. What about if magic were real and, frankly, pretty pedestrian? What if, instead of lurking behind the normalcy, the fantastic was right out in the open? Got a stain, go the cleaners. Got a hex, head down to Regina’s. She’s the best at getting out hexes. She’s even got a groupon going this month.

That’s the thing that fascinates me the most about urban fantasy as a genre. Regular fantasy, with mages and dragons and wizards, is less interesting to me because the world they’re set in is less interesting to me. That doesn’t mean the fantastic elements aren’t cool as shit, it just means I don’t really care for castles and dungeons. I like the idea that the hero or heroine saves the day then goes home to play XBox or Tweet about what they just did.

Totes stopped invasion of evil from 9th dimension. Suck it red ‘lectroids. Lolz. #banzai4life yo.

That’s the kind of world Raven Snow creates. There are magic stores – real magic, not prestidigitation – and they’re fiercely competitive. A budding witch with a powerful grandmother owns a throwback 70s roller rink. (BTW, I spent many a misbegotten day in legitimate 70s roller rinks. Yes, I’m that old). Snow has created a cool world where magic is just one of those things. By stripping the fantastic element from it, she’s made it even more amazing.

The story embedded in the surroundings is a traditional mystery, but Snow has breathed new life into the genre by dropping it into a magical universe. The cool thing is, magic doesn’t solve the mystery, because that would have been cheating.

Roller Rink Witchcraft is part urban fantasy, part mystery, part romance, and a heck of a lot of fun in the process.


Get your copy here (it’s free! At least as of this writing)

Let Me Dialogue With You


Human communication is mind-bendingly complicated stuff. How many times have your heard someone say, “It’s not what he said, but how he said it”? Or the age old “Don’t look at me in that tone of voice”?

Maybe the second one is less common.

Anyway, our communication goes well beyond the spoken words. You’ve got intonation, movement, history, touch, word choice, on and on and on. Anyone who tells you it’s what you say that’s most important is way off base. The verbal component of communication is actually just the tip of the iceberg.

Which leads us nicely to a potential problem: If communication is more than just the words, how do you handle the nonverbal aspects of communication in writing? For instance, take this line:

“I’ll always find you.”

The text alone is wide open to interpretation and it depends largely on the reader’s own past experiences (yes, a reader brings their own baggage into the book), their experience with the character, and the scene and story line you’ve set up. I pulled this line from from an image which shows us how important fonts are, but it’s also important to see how changes in the scene and the way the dialog is delivered can have a drastic impact on the way the line is perceived.


Unless you’re hoping to write a novel with a ton of fonts – guaranteeing no one will ever read it – you’re going to have find a different way of eking that extra non-verbal aspect out of your dialog. The way to handle that is to rely on more than just the dialog. Set the scene, develop the characters, and take some time to explain the set up. Don’t get all pedantic with it, the reader doesn’t need to know every little bit that’s going through the speaker’s head at the moment, but they sometimes need to get a bit of context.

Now, the rules of writing dialog have been done to death. Truth be told, writing dialog isn’t hard: Listen to the way people talk and replicate that. Follow the rules of grammar, make it sound natural, all that jazz. But to make it all work and make the dialog compelling you have to – at least sometimes –  handle the nonverbal.cues.

Some of the nonverbal aspects of dialog – things like character development and history – are far too in-depth to handle in a blog post, but if you’re writing you’re probably already familiar with those things, so let’s focus on setting the scene. To illustrate how different word choices and scene-setting techniques work, we’ll be using the same quote for each scene. This is actually pretty similar to an exercise we used to in acting classes, but with writing. In that exercise, each actor is given a line and a feeling and told to deliver it. Two actors could be given two unrelated lines and told to interact using a feeling or something similar. This exercise basically the writing version of that.


He watched her from afar, as he always had and always would. She had her life and it was better without him in it. He’d saved her again and, just like always, she never even knew he was there. “I’ll always find you,” he whispered to her from the darkness.


“I think this will be the last time we meet,” he said. That smirk that made him a beau that won over many a young lady’s heart was plastered on his perfect face.

She tore at the cheap plastic belt that held her in place and glared as he casually walked off into the rain. It was a cheap trick, but it had worked, and he escaped her one more time. “I’ll always find you,” she snarled.


“How did you …,” she stammered.

His eyes sparkled gold and hazel in the mid-day sun. She drank him in, reveled in losing herself in him.. He held her close, stroked her hair, and said, “I’ll always find you.”


He pressed into the wall and wished he could magically pass through it. That nail he’d promised for months to pull out dug into his back. “How did you …,” he stammered.

Her eyes were as black as her soul. She didn’t care what happened when this was all over. Whatever it was, it would be worth it just to have been able to see the look on his face at this moment. She bared her teeth and her smile spoke of predation. “I’ll always find you,” she said.

Try it sometime. Take one or two phrases (technically it should be two since dialogue usually requires two people, but you get the idea), pick a feeling, and see if you can make it work.

None of this should imply that every line of dialogue needs this level of detail. There are certainly times when you want snappy repartee and, in truth, most of the times when we actually talk to each other there’s a lot of give and take. People talk over each other and interrupt each other all the time when they’re speaking. That’s not necessarily something you want to try to emulate in writing; it works about as well in print as it does in real life. Which is to say, not really at all.

Sometimes the dialogue needs to come fast and furious, but it’s also a good idea to back it off a bit sometimes and let the reader know what the voices in your head are thinking. Set the scene, let the characters be themselves, and let it rip.

Let’s mix the fast and furious with the deep POV and see what happens:

“Oh, Johnny… Where are you Johnny?” she asked.

Johnny stumbled backwards across the room, hands feeling behind him in a futile attempt to keep from tripping over the detritus of his misery. She was close. But there was no way she could be here, right? Not after the … incident.

“I just want you to meet my friend, Johnny,” she said.

“I already have friends,” Johnny said. “I don’t need any more.”

“But she so wants to meet you. She’s bright and shiny and I know you’ll both get along so well.”

“It was an accident.” Tears welled in his eyes remembering her broken body on the pavement. “I’m so sorry.”

“It wasn’t an accident, Johnny-boy. You loved your drink more than you loved me. But that’s okay, I found some new friends and they’re looking forward to meeting you.”

She came around the corner and he finally got his first look at her. Kelly, the woman he’d loved and lost to an accident that could have easily been prevented. She looked well, she looked normal. She looked like home. Whatever it was, it looked like her, but there was no way it could be her.

Johnny pressed into the wall and wished he could magically pass through it. That nail he’d promised for months to pull out dug into his back. “How did you …,” he stammered.

Her eyes were as black as her soul. She didn’t care what happened when this was all over. Whatever it was, it would be worth it just to have been able to see the look on his face at this moment. She bared her teeth and her smile spoke of predation. “I’ll always find you,” she said.

Sure, it’s a first draft, but hopefully it gives you some ideas.

So, what tricks do you use when you write dialogue?

Book Review – Breacher by Tom Julian


A while back I reviewed a book that had the single most uplifting and soul crushing line I’ve ever come across in fiction. That line – although I didn’t mention it at the time – was “This is none of my concern.”

Time has dulled my memory a bit, so that may not be the exact quote, but it’s good enough for now. That book was Tom Julian’s Timberwolf and it was a wonderful read about a world of high technology, constant war, and the religious reasons for those wars. The lead character was a serious bad-ass name Timberwolf Velez and we got to see the world through his jaded eyes.

The really cool thing about self-publishing and the eBook revolution is it allows authors to do things we wouldn’t have been able to do even a decade ago. When the world only read books in print it would have been unthinkable to publish a stand-alone story about a character unless you could find a magazine willing to put it out there. The simple fact of the matter is books cost a lot of money to publish and distribute and no one in their right mind would even think about publishing a short story unless it was in an anthology. Now an author can write a story that expands on the larger work and make it available to fans for a minuscule cost. This is the exact sort of thing I’m doing with the Saxton series, in case you’re wondering.

This, I suspect, is exactly where Tom Julian is going with Breacher. It’s a short story set in the world of Timberwolf, but covers Velez’s earliest days in the armed forces and gives us some tantalizing hints about the universe at large and how Timberwolf came to be.

The action in Breacher is quick and tense, and the story is worth the read for that alone, but the hints about the back story and the world at large are what make it truly exciting. One can only hope Julian will continue to work away at the events that occurred before the final, epic conclusion of Timberwolf. So, if you’re reading this, Mr. Julian, it’s time to start cracking away on some war stories.

Somewhere in orbit off one of Saturn’s moons, a ship sits in darkness, awaiting its own destruction. A small squad approaches. Malfunction. Destruction. Three friends are set on the path to bitter rivalry.

Before Timberwolf Vélez became a legend, before Emmanuel Gray became a bishop, and Michael Solandro became his right hand, they were soldiers. Together. And before twenty years of war pitted Earth against the universe, they formed part of an elite group of specialized operatives: the Breachers.


Get your copy here

Writing Tools

Every now and then I’ll come across a Kickstarter campaign for a book and wonder what’s going on. Sometimes the campaign is to help fully publish and do a custom print run, other times it looks like the campaign is trying to raise money for software or whatever else. Even more rarely, you’ll see someone running a crowdfunding campaign so they can quit their jobs and just write.

Some of that I can certainly understand. If you want to do a custom print run of a children’s book or something like that, you’re looking at dropping a butt-load of money on the project. Or, as my son likes to say, you’ll need a lot of cheddar.

Kids these days. As if we didn’t have enough slang terms for money already.

But for those campaigns where the author just wants to take a year off work and write a book, I’m not sure how well that will work out for them. If you can’t write a book in a year during your free time, there’s no guarantee that making it your job will help. I’ve known far too many people who’ve said for years “I’m working on this novel.” Just write the damned thing already.

Writing isn’t exactly rocket science. You come up with an idea. You sit down and write the idea out. Write some more every day. It takes time, it takes dedication, and it takes tenacity. Before you know it, you’ll look down and the word count will be hovering around 70k.

So, what do you need (besides an idea and some tenacity) to get a book written? Software generally helps. You could be one of those writers that uses a typewriter, but if you have access to a computer and some free software you’ll make your life much easier. CSB moment: I saw an old manual typewriter at a pawn shop yesterday and seriously considered buying it. Then I remembered what it was like to work with one of those damned things and came to my senses.

With that in mind, here’s a quick list of free or cheap stuff you can use to write your amazingly awesome novel that will propel you into the upper echelons of high society.

A computer of some sort or another.

This doesn’t have to be the latest Voodoo PC laptop with an 8 core i7 CPU and 32GB of RAM. Writing is word processing and the beautiful thing about word processing is it doesn’t require much in the way of hardware. I’ve written on my old Asus Transformer tablet and that thing’s insanely slow. If you’re buying a computer, go cheap. Spend your money on other important writing tools like Scotch. All the computer has to do is handle words and not crash all the time.

If you’re technologically savvy enough, Linux will eke out every bit of power from your hardware. Find a used laptop that works, even if it’s full of viruses and malware, and drop Linux on it. I’d recommend Kubuntu, but there are dozens of other choices out there.

The only other piece of hardware that would come in handy is a portable USB drive. Don’t rely on a thumb drive, they’re notorious for randomly dropping all their data, get a small portable hard drive and make it a habit to keep a copy of your manuscript on the laptop and backed up to the USB drive.


A Dropbox subscription will also come in handy. Dropbox is a free tool that lets you back up your data to cloud storage. Cloud storage, by the way, is just a cutesy, fancy term for putting your files on someone else’s server. A subscription is free for the first 2GB of data. If your manuscript is larger than 2GB, it’s probably time to consider cutting the length down. Dropbox is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, and just about everything else under the sun.

The actual writing portion of writing can be handled on Notepad if you’re so inclined, but it’s not really the best choice. You can go with Office if you have a copy already, but if you have to buy a copy of Office you’ll soon see it’s a pricey piece of software. There are plenty of cheaper alternatives and some excellent free ones, too.

Scrivener is a cheap tool that’s built for writing screenplays and novels. It’s amazingly flexible and a steal at only $40. The only downside to Scrivener? It’s only available for OSX and Windows. As of right now there are no Linux versions.

If that’s too steep, how does free sound? Both Open Office and Libre Office are free and open source versions of Microsoft’s Office suite. Versions are available for Linux, Windows, and Mac OSX.

The hardest part of writing is the actual part where you have to sit down and write. No amount of hardware or software can help you with that. Unfortunately, inspiration will strike at the most inappropriate times, so invest in a notebook to jot down the little bits and ideas that pop up from time to time.

Now, go out there and tell the world a story.

Past Tense vs Present Tense

I recently read a comment on a Facebook group post that made me wonder if was doing something wrong. Then I sat down and thought about it, did a bit of research, and came to the conclusion that no matter what anyone says, they don’t really have all the answers they claim to have.

Does that mean I’m not doing something wrong? Maybe. Hell, I don’t know. I just write stuff and hope it resonates with someone.

Anyhoo, this was a heated response by an author who said, in no uncertain terms, that she absolutely could not read books that were written in present tense. It apparently causes a visceral reaction and, as a result, she flat-out refuses to read books that aren’t written in the past tense.

Now, stop for a moment and think about the last book you read. Was it in present tense or past tense? Chances are high it was in past tense. I’ve read both styles and not even noticed if a book was written in past or present tense. After I started reading up on the whole past vs present debate, I started paying attention to what I was reading and found the bulk seem to be in past tense.

Guess what. Mine are in present tense. Aiyah.

I’m not entirely certain how this happened. It just seemed more natural for me to write in the present tense. For whatever reason, the present tense just felt more immediate and, for books I’ve described as “in your face entertainment”, immediate seems like a good thing to have.

For those of you scratching your heads and wondering what on Earth I’m prattling on about, past tense vs present tense in fiction deals with when the story happened and how it’s told. Past tense is more traditional. In past tense writing the narrator is recounting something that has already happened. Present tense is less common and the narrator is telling the story as it happens. Take for instance the following snippets:

Past tense: Mighty Cthulhu rose from his dreamless sleep to spark nightmares in the world and consume those who would worship him. His worshipers were the lucky ones; they were eaten quickly and put out of their misery.

Present tense: Mighty Cthulhu rises from his dreamless sleep to spark nightmares in the world and consume those who would worship him. His worshipers will be the lucky ones; they’ll be eaten quickly and put out of their misery.

Which one is better? That depends on who you talk ask. A vast amount of words have been written in praise of writing in the past tense. It’s easier, it’s more traditional, it’s just better. Much less has been written in praise of present tense. In fact, some dismiss it as a just something new writers use to be fashionable and recommend the use of present tense be severely curtailed.

But here’s the problem with that argument: it assumes there are rules that must be adhered to for a book to be considered good. This is fiction. The only rule that matters is whether or not the reader can follow the story. Beyond that it’s all personal choice. Sure, some people will refuse to read anything in the present tense, but there are also people who refuse to read poetry, urban fantasy, horror, science fiction, or any of dozens of other categories of writing.

And – much as I hate to say this – there are people who will refuse to read your book for a variety of reasons. Or they’ll read it and hate and tell all their friends that you’re a horrible writer and quite possibly also responsible for kidnapping the Lindbergh baby and changing the formula for Coke. Don’t fret about those people; you can’t please everyone.

So, forget what the naysayers neigh about. It’s your book. Write it like you want to write it. Past tense, present tense, first person, third person, third person omniscient, etc., etc. These are all just labels and they don’t define your story. Only you can define your story.

Book Review – The Alexandria Project by Andrew Updegrove

Here’s a fun fact for you: Wars are won and lost on information. Weapons and troops are certainly important, but if you don’t know where to place them they’re less than useless. Imagine a whole battalion of the greatest warriors the world has ever known, armed to the teeth and ready to take on any foe. They’re also standing in the middle of nowhere with no one to fight while a few people with homemade explosives and cheap Chinese knock-off AKs take out a supply depot.

Information is a weapon and if you know how to manipulate it you can blow the kneecaps off the world. All you’ve got to do is find it. If you can find it and manipulate so the other guys can’t use it, well, that’s much better.

Hacking used to be a fun past-time for some people. Sit in a motel somewhere and steal a whole mess of credit card numbers. Lolz ensue. Break into someone’s server and delete a bunch of information. Hilarity ensues. Bad as those things might be, they pale in comparison to what governments do to each other on a day-to-day basis.

That’s the face of modern warfare. It’s brilliant and difficult to trace and extremely hard to prosecute. Sure, lives get damaged in the process, but people don’t actually, you know, die.

Besides, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper to hire a bunch of hackers and turn them loose on an enemy than to ship a whole mess of troops halfway around the world and let them duke it out. Plus, after the war, you’re still stuck with cost of rebuilding the damage and running the conquered country.

That’s the general gist of The Alexandria Project. I accidentally gave away a major plot point (if you were paying attention), but I didn’t give away the details, so Andrew’s book should still be a good read.

“Thank you for your contribution to the Alexandria Project” is the message cyber attackers leave behind as they delete crucial data from computer networks across America. It’s not long before the nation is on the verge of collapse as Wall Street, the transportation system, government agencies, and the rest of our internet-based economy all fall victim to the attacks of unknown assailants. As the public outcry builds, Frank Adversego, a brilliant but conflicted cyber security expert, finds himself under suspicion as well as trapped in a power play between the FBI and the CIA. Only by tracing the Alexandria Project back to the source can he clear himself.

What follows is a fast-paced, satirical tale of cyber sleuthing, international espionage, and nuclear brinksmanship that accurately portrays our increasing vulnerability to cyber attack. The surprise ending will leave readers both ready for the next Frank Adversego thriller, as well as concerned about where our headlong rush onto the Internet may be leading us.

Personally, I found it a great read. The technical details were accurate – which is a rarity these days. Far too often I’ll read a techno-thriller and find all kinds of gross inaccuracies, but The Alexandria Project made it work without getting drug down in the technical details or simply making technology up.

The Alexandria Project has a goodly portion of the alphabet soup of American intelligence agencies, a dysfunctional genius of a computer security specialist, the North Koreans, and enough intrigue to keep you on the edge of your seat. You can never go wrong with the North Koreans; they’re like the Nazis of the modern world.

A highly recommended read.




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Meow Wolf

Santa Fe’s an odd place under the best of circumstances. Founded in 1608, it’s the oldest State Capitol in the United States. It’s full name – La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asis  – which translates to “The Royal City of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi” is also probably one of the longest city names in the United States. It’s an artsy city where the old ways clash with the new ways and it’s not uncommon to see someone sitting in front of a store happily strumming a guitar while someone else plays bongos to a completely different beat.

Quirky is a common descriptor for the place.

I have something of a mixed relationship with art. I wouldn’t call myself a connoisseur by any stretch of the imagination, but I do appreciate some of it. Contrary to popular belief, my appreciation of art extends beyond comic books and bikini models. Still, even though I can appreciate the technical skill required to create a great work of art, that doesn’t always mean I want it hanging in my living room.

This, on the other hand, would offset our collection of Dia De Los Muertos artwork nicely.

A Friend in Need, by Cassius Marsellus Coolidge

A Friend in Need, by Cassius Marsellus Coolidge

I also have a kick ass Fantastic Four poster by Alex Ross. It’s not in the living room, though; it clashes with the skeletons.

Anyway, just like Santa Fe is quirky, I like my art quirky.

I’ve done a bunch of book reviews on this blog, but I’ve never reviewed art. Especially art like Meow Wolf, which is in a whole other category of art. Even though it starts with ‘M’, look for it in the A range because it’s awesome and amazing and astounding. It’s a whole immaculately detailed display the likes of which I’d like to be able to write, and man is it quirky. Quirky cool, that is.

Here’s the thing: I had absolutely no idea what to expect when I walked in to Meow Wolf. I knew it would be art and I knew it would be quirky from checking out the website, but the totality of the installation is nothing short of mind-blowing.

When you drive up, you’re greeted by massive statues of wolves and spiders and robots, standing guard over a re-purposed bowling alley.


Wolves usually aren’t this happy to see humans. We have a pretty bad track record with them.


In Santa Fe, spider stomps on you.

Inside Meow Wolf, the world changes and suddenly giant spiders and wolves seem normal, almost baseline compared to what lurks in the main exhibit.

And here’s where things start to get strange. You buy your ticket, you get ready to take your ride, and you’re immediately greeted by a video of a strange man explaining the rules of the inside to you. He’s not like you and he’s not like me and it’s best to do what he says, but the totality of his statements don’t hit you until you walk through those black doors and reality takes a hard left and steps on the gas. He’s a precursor of things to come and the first real hint that this won’t be what you’re expecting.

This is no normal art installation. You don’t walk along and nod appreciatively at the clever soup cans or the painting of the falling whale and flower pot. There are no neat rows of pictures roped off with tacky red velvet rope.

Through the black doors there’s a house. A mostly normal looking house. You can even go inside it if you want to. Inside you’ll find a living room with a TV playing, a couch, a bunch of books, and a picture of a family: husband, wife, two kids.

The guy on the video out front encouraged us to explore, to touch and pick up and look inside. Go up the stairs and poke around and you’ll find a computer, a master bedroom and three kids’ rooms. (Let’s see how well you were paying attention).

The rooms are quirky, but not overly so. They look real. They feel real. It feels just like being in some stranger’s house. This is where you have to shove aside your normal desire to be a good guest and give into your darker impulses. Because if the house itself feels a bit odd it’s only when you open the closets that you’ll find a wonderland that would make Alice feel like she’s tripping balls.

And that’s when the magic starts to happen.

I’ve always had this feeling that just beyond the normalcy is the wondrous realm. The Dreaming Lands, The Nowheres, the Area 51s, and the Dulces are hiding out there and all it takes is finding the right door to kick down.

In Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return, any door will take you to the Dreaming Lands. All you have to do is open it.


A glowing Mastodon skeleton, found right inside the boy’s closet.


While the Mastodon may seem really cool, and that strange audio message is pretty slick, it’s what happens when you push a little further and find an entire city buried inside the house that will really blow your mind.

Because even though Meow Wolf is art, it’s a story and every bit of the installation tells a part of that tale, from the warped and rippling ceiling of the dining room to the refrigerator you can crawl through to wind up in a futuristic dimensional travel facility. The tree house, the red room, the crashed bus, the video arcade, the piano; all are part of the tale.



The whole installation, all 20,000 whopping feet of it, holds clues to what happened to the people who lived in the house. It’s a walk-in X-File, a trip through a neon Twin Peaks, and a nostalgia trip all wrapped up and topped with a bow made out of some strange material that hasn’t been invented yet. Each room is at once perfectly normal and disturbingly eerie. It’s the physical manifestation of what it’s like to listen hardcore versions of Rick Springfield songs.

You could spend days in here examining the details, looking through the books, pondering the meanings, and never get bored. You might get lost – both in space and time – but you’ll never get bored.

The pictures below are a few samples I managed to get while I wasn’t staring in gape-jawed wonder at the new world Meow Wolf has created. As a writer, I hope to eventually manage to create such a richly detailed world and let readers wander through it.

I want to write something this amazing, this fun, and this quirky.






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Hear Me Now, Believe Me Later – Reading Your Own Work Out Loud

Back when my son was younger his favorite book was Dr. Seuss’s Fox In Socks. Now, for those of you without kids, that book is one gigantic tongue twister. There’s even a warning on the cover about the book being dangerous. The first time I tried to read it to him I stumbled all over the place. It was the literary equivalent of a rumble strip. It starts out pretty easy, but before you know it the book is repeatedly punching you in the teeth. After finally getting through the Tweetle Beetles part, I set the book down and swore I’d never read it again.

My son’s response? “AGAIN!”

Over time, I got really damned good at reading that book. It’s amazing what reading the same thing, night after night, will do for your ability to read something. In the end, I think I had it memorized. I found the flow, learned the twisters, and rolled with it. By the time my son was bored with Fox In Socks I was actually enjoying reading it out loud.

What does this have to do with writing? Funny you should ask.

There’s this theory in writing fiction that you should read your own work out loud. It helps you identify stumbling sentences and things that simply don’t flow like they should. Often times, while we’re writing, we tend to have and idea that sounds great in our heads, something that looks good on paper, but sounds like fools yammering when you read it out loud. Those are the things to keep an eye out for. It’s not just Seuss’s vicious tongue-twisters, it’s the clunky, kludgy speech that winds up on the page that kills otherwise good prose.

Dialogue is an especially difficult thing to deal with. The words characters speak – and how they speak them – need to feel real. Remember: there are grammar rules for the body of the text, but very few people actually speak in grammatically correct sentences. Dialog that follows true grammatical rules often times feels wrong and can make characters seem fake. Character dialog has to fit the character and that character’s place in the narrative or it becomes a huge, glaring error on the page.

So why reading it out loud help? I haven’t a clue what the scientific reason is, but I do know bad flow will stick out like a turd in a punch bowl when you read it out loud. Maybe by saying things out loud you force yourself experience the words differently; they gain a gravity that’s lacking on the printed page. Plus, when you hit that section on the Tweetle Beetles, you’ll definitely know it.

I’ve been working on the as yet unnamed sequel to Arise, as well as a few other things, and decided to put the theory to the test.

To make things more interesting, I decided to record myself reading so I could play it back later. This was kind of a mistake since I hate listening to myself talk, but maybe someone will get something useful out of it. At the very least you get to hear a chapter from a book that’s not even done yet and you get to hear my lovely voice reading it. I found a cheap microphone, a free recording app for my phone, and sat in my car reading a random chapter from Henchmen 3.


The experience was interesting and useful. I tend to write like I speak. In fact, I’ll be reading things in my head while I’m writing them. I did find a few stumbling points (which have been altered in the text), but for the most part was pleased with the flow. I was not terribly pleased with the performance, but that’s another issue entirely.

I may be taking a hard right from most people here, but I think the reading would have gone better in front of an audience. With an audience you’ve got someone to play to. Sitting in your car while people give you strange looks isn’t quite the same thing.

At any rate, if you’re interested the recording can be downloaded below. Remember, this was a completely cold reading of a chapter I wrote a few months ago, so don’t expect a high quality performance.

Check it here (right click and save as to download)

For Writers – A Bit About Knife Fighting

Back in 2006 I gave myself a nasty cut on the hand – like nine stitches nasty. I came about a quarter inch from severing the tendon that lets me move my thumb. Had I done that the treatment would have moved from a bunch of stitches and an admonition to be more careful with sharp things to “your surgery will be tomorrow and don’t expect your hand to ever work quite like it used to.”

Now, I wasn’t doing anything terribly stupid, which is a change for me. I was studying Kenjutsu at the time and was practicing one of the katas where we slice parts off people. Part of learning sword fighting is learning how to draw the sword and strike in a smooth motion. I got a little over-exuberant and wound up with a bunch of stitches and a serious blow to my ego.

My instructor took it all in stride. He wrapped up the wound and pointed me at the nearest hospital. He later explained to me there were two kinds of Kenjutsu students: those who have been cut and those who will be cut.

I was now in the first (and am probably still in the second) category.

Now, granted, that cut was done by a sword, but a knife is still a seriously dangerous tool. People like to point at guns and worry and fret about them, but you can do some seriously bad things to a person with a knife. It doesn’t even have to be a big knife – sharp, yes, but not necessarily big – to do a lot of damage in a very short amount of time.

I study Kenpo. We’re not big on dealing with knives in my school. As I understand it, the entirety of the 5th degree Black Belt is dealing with knives, but I’m a lowly 2nd black, so I’ve had to expand my studies a bit. Among other things I’ve come across a few tidbits of knowledge.

  • A “knife fight” is a pretty rare thing. A knife murder (or attempted murder) is much more common. Actual knife fighting just doesn’t happen all that often.
  • Anytime a knife shows up in a fight, you’re gonna get cut. Get used to it.
  • From very close range there’s not much of an effective defense against a knife. Guess what – most knife attacks occur at a very close range.
  • Fighting in general is a stressful situation. In any kind of stress situation your mind turns to mush. Therefore, any complicated defense that requires precision is right out the window. Gross body movement and practice will save the day.
  • It doesn’t take much skill or effort to use a knife. Flailing, random attacks can cause critical wounds in a very short amount of time.

So, for writers, those are some pretty good notes, but let’s take a closer look at a few things. First up, we all have this idea that knife fighting is a skill you can develop. Sure, to a certain extent that’s true, but the ways people deploy and use knives in common street situations isn’t exactly like the movies. For instance, a knife attack rarely starts with with both parties brandishing their weapons. That’s dueling. It happens, but not as often as you’d think. According to No Nonsense Self-Defense, someone who had actively practiced drawing and using his knife managed to pull it a grand total of one time over the space of four fights. Even though he had practiced pulling his knife – in less than a second, according to him – the attack happened so quickly he simply never had to the time to pull his own knife.

This is not what a knife attack will look like.


This is what a knife attack will look like


What’s the best defense? Distance, and a lot of it. Plenty of studies have shown that a person can cover 21 feet and stab you 6-12 times in about 1.5 seconds. The average person takes about 1.5 – 3 seconds to realize they’re being attacked. That means the average person will have been stabbed and the assault will be over and they’ll be lying in a pool of their own blood before they even realize they’ve been attacked.

Situational awareness can help this. Paying attention can help this. Some level of experience can help this, but it’s still a frightfully quick attack.

What does this mean for writers? Well, if you’ve got a main character daydreaming it’s unlikely he or she will snap out of it and react to an attack in time to save themselves. A realistic scenario would be the character who is cognizant of his or her surroundings and makes effective use the environment to buy time. A character who was situationally aware would be able to pick up on an assailant through the way the attacker moves, watches the main character, or does something else that seems shady. From there, keeping a piece of furniture or a car between himself or herself and the attacker would be a somewhat effective defense. Now the knife murder part has been defused, the protagonist can arm himself or herself and the fight can continue as planned. Conveniently, the weapon can be almost anything.


For all Star Trek’s fantasy elements, this is actually a pretty good knife defense. You might be thinking “It’s just a pillow”, but you’re wrong. First, it’s a space pillow. From the Enterprise. Thrown by Captain James Tiberius Kirk. So let’s show that space pillow a little respect, okay? Also, it plays into a quirk humans have: if you toss something, anything really, at a person, they’ll usually catch it. You can also hand something to a person and they’ll usually take it. Try it sometime. Hand someone a piece of garbage or toss a pillow at them. They will either try to block it or take it from your hand without thinking. Good times will ensue.

Have your protagonist toss a sheaf of papers at a knife wielding attacker. There’s no way a bunch of random papers will hurt someone, but it’ll buy enough to time to move to a better position and think about the next tactic.

In fact, try it yourself sometime. The next time your boss calls you on the carpet about something, toss a sheaf of papers at him or her and disappear in the chaos. It’s like the modern office version of a Ninja smoke bomb.


What about really experienced knife fighters, the people who have been trained and practiced and honed their skills. If an average person can cover 21 feet and stab you 6 to 12 times in about 1.5 seconds, what’s going to happen if you’ve got a character who knows what the heck they’re actually doing?

Well, that gets scary. I’m taking this from memory because I can’t find any documentation on it, but there was a case about twenty some odd years ago in Phoenix where a young punk tried to mug some guy. It was a pretty clear-cut case of self-defense, but the guy being mugged still wound up on trial for using excessive force. Why? It turns out he cut the mugger to pieces, landing something like thirty stabs or slashes in a fight that lasted seconds. While he was on trial, he claimed he’d actually held back. It turns out the guy being mugged was an Escrima practitioner. For those not familiar with Escrima, it’s a Philippine martial art that specializes in blades. It also goes by Arnis and Kali. During the trial, the defense brought in a board, gave the Escrima guy a knife and thirty seconds and told him to go to town. In that thirty seconds he put nearly two hundred stabs or slashes on the board.

That’s Escrima for you, though. Done with the right intent, it’s a pretty scary system.

Knife attacks, like all fights, are usually over pretty quickly. Outside of professional fighters, it’s pretty rare for a fight to last more than thirty seconds or so. Knife attacks are over quicker than that. The odd thing is even a pretty nasty cut doesn’t really hurt when it happens. When I cut my hand with a sword it felt like a pinch. I’ve read stories of people getting cut a lot and not noticing it. That’s our good buddy adrenaline playing its wicked game. My hand hurt like hell for the next few days and I had to drive one handed for a while, which is no mean feat in a standard, but it didn’t really hurt when it happened.

So, next time you’re writing a scene with a knife fight in it and want to add a touch of realism, there should be a couple good pointers in here.

Of course, writing shouldn’t always reflect the real world one hundred percent. People read to escape reality, not go hang out with it. Which is why you should write the fun moments in along with the realistic moments.


While we’re at it, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention Fairbairn. He’s the WWII Colonel that basically invented modern military knife tactics (and the knife to go along with them). Unfortunately, covering Fairbairn (or Applegate, for that matter) in anything less than a full post would be doing him injustice, so I’ll just leave this here.


Further notes and things to read

Defense Training’s article on the 21 foot rule

The US Marine Corp Close Combat Manual

Tactics for winning a knife fight from Law Enforcement Magazine

Lies about knife fighting