WATWB – Your Monthly Shot of News That Doesn’t Suck

It ain’t easy finding good news these days. We’ve still got a pandemic going on, one that scientists are finding is much uglier than previously thought. The riots are slowly dying down, but the underlying turmoil that drove them is still there. And American leadership is at an all-time low. On the plus side, the murder hornet subplot seems to have been ditched, so we’ve got that going for us.

All in all, 2020 has been something of a dumpster fire. That’s why next weekend, I’ll be tossing some candy into the streets, eating some turkey, passing out some presents, and calling the year done.

In the milieu of the year, it’s easy to forget there are some good things going on. I nearly wrote up this post on how Dolly Parton and Nina West are starting up a charity for LGBQT+ and children’s literacy because, hey, Dolly Parton. You can’t go wrong with Dolly Parton. I was also tempted by the very important story of how a topless woman saved a drowning family because topless woman.

In the end something a little more timely won out. Namely the fact that NASA renamed its DC HQ after Mary W. Jackson, the first black female engineer at NASA. Women have had a tough road to hoe in the sciences – even Hedy Lamarr who co-invented frequency hopping spread spectrum had to step back from her invention and let a man take the credit – but black women have had an even tougher road. Mary Jackson worked her ass off for NASA publishing twelve technical papers, working on high-profile projects like Mercury, and worked on helping women and minorities figure out how best to advance their careers by offering her insight on classes and career paths. In other words, someone worth looking up to.

So, while the world is changing, hopefully we’ll be able to see more stories like this. They won’t erase the past but maybe they’ll help us reinvent the future.

If you’d like to connect your blog and help spread a little joy (or snark, like I do), it’s easy to sign up. Just ask and ye shall receive. Or go check it out here: here.

Our lovely and talented hosts this month are: Sylvia McGrath, Susan Scott, Shilpa Garg, Damyanti Biswas, and Belinda Witzenhausen.


1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible. (Wow, I totally missed that mark this time around).

2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.

3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.

5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.

6. To sign up, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

This is a Blog Hop!

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

And now your moment of Zen.

Petrichor, Potvalor, Sapid. #vss365

I play some of the Twitter writing prompts every day. There are dozens of them out there. Some are good, some not so good, and some go through bouts of greatness followed by pits of despair. One of the biggest and longest running prompts is #vss365, short for very short stories 365 days a year. It’s big enough that there’s no chance in hell you’re going to read them all on a given day. Well, unless you have significantly more free time than I do.

The way these prompts work is someone posts a word and you can either dig through your existing works or write something new that uses the word. The idea is to use the word in some creative fashion. With some words, like machine which was the theme word for both #scififri and #satsplat today, it’s relatively easy. Machine can mean a lot of things from a physical machine to a metaphorical machine to Sharky’s Machine. There’s a lot of room to play with the theme word.

Then there are some of the words that have popped up on #vss365 lately: Potvalor, petrichor, and sapid. Among other things. Personally, I think it’s telling that Brave’s spell check is telling me all those words are spelled wrong, but because they’re so rare almost no one ever uses them. It’s like fustian or polyglot; outside of certain realms of communication those words simply don’t exist.

So, for those of you scratching your heads and wondering just what the hell potvalor, petrichor, and sapid mean:

  • Potvalor: Courage or bravery from resulting from drunkenness
  • Petrichor: That pleasant smell after a good rainstorm
  • Sapid: Having a strong, pleasant taste

There, now you can use your potvalor and describe your sapid drink and the petrichor next time you’re trying to seduce some hot little number at a party. You’re welcome.

Aside from the sensuous art of verbal seduction, what’s the good of trying to shoehorn potvalor, petrichor, and sapid into writing? Especially when you consider most writing should fall into about the sixth grade reading level. Well, here are two things to keep in mind: If you want to get good at something, do it a lot and if you want to get better at something, push yourself.

As with anything else, writing is a skill and skills can and should be developed and nurtured. You don’t hear about pro athletes saying they’re just naturally so good they don’t bother to train. Want to get better at punching? Punch something. Want to get better at cycling, get a bike and go ride. And each time you do that thing, pay attention and focus on getting better. If you want to get better at writing, write. And just like the athlete that pushes his or her boundaries, break out of your skill set. Write a different genre of story or a different style. If you’re an action writer, try your hand at writing a romance and vice versa. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but the act itself will illuminate things you’d never thought of before. For instance if you’re gonna try your hand at erotica, you’ll be amazed at how many euphemisms there are. Also, writing the word “cock” over and over gets boring. Dig deeper. Tease out those other words. Penetrate your own style. Trust me, the explosion at the end will be worth it.

Now, of course, none of this is to say I didn’t take a few cheap potshots at the #vss365 theme words here and there.

But ultimately, I like to think I rose to the challenge. Words like petrichor, sapid, and potvalor aren’t easy to incorporate, especially if you want them to be interesting and feel natural.

It’s all too easy to grouse at the challenges, but those challenges are what make you better. So, next time someone says, “Work fustian into a sentence without sounding like a pompous ass” you can do it. After you look it up, of course.

In fact, go do that and drop a line in the comments.

Guest Post – Athabascan Languages and Legends by Daniella Shepard

“The Headless Ravine? You mean up Chitistone Gorge? That’s just a legend.”

“Yeah, the Athabascans didn’t name it that for nothing, kid.”

Myths and Legends of all cultures have fascinated me since I was a little girl. One of my favorites is that of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe of the Mojave Desert (near Death Valley). They tell of early times, when the Coyote Spirit carried the First People into the Living Valley (what the Europeans would later name Death Valley) in a basket. He fell asleep, and the people crept out and populated the world. This took place at the Wosa, now known as Ubehebe Crater, a large extinct crater shaped like a basket in the National Park. I always liked to picture the coyote sleeping under the multitude of desert stars, while the curious people wandered away.

As I grew older, my brother, cousin and I would sit around and tell darker stories. Those of the of the Yucca Man and Skin Walkers. The southwest like every region of the world has its own tales of creatures that stalk the empty, uninhabited spaces of the land.

Native Legends

Navajo Legends

Yucca Man

Athabascan Language Groups

When I moved to Alaska in 2007, I became fascinated with the differences and similarities between the legends I grew up with and the ones I encountered in my new home. Something that I didn’t know, and others may be surprised to learn, is that Alaska Natives First Peoples of the interior of Alaska, called the Northern Athabascans, are actually related to the Apache-Navajo tribes of the American Southwest. The Apache Navajo are considered to be Southern Athabascan (also spelled Athapascan). The language structure, verb usage and words are similar, though the two groups live more than 3000 miles apart and have had no contact for many millennia. Some words have become obsolete over time and distance as the languages have evolved, but they have found that if they bring members from the different groups together, they are able to understand each other with some difficulty. I have included some links below that talk in more detail about the Athabascan Languages, relationships, dialects and origins.

Athabaskan Peoples Languages



Of the 31 dialects of Athabascan in Alaska, my particular story, The Dark Land is derived from legend of tailed creatures in the interior of Alaska in the region of the Ahtna (referring to the Upper Ahtna). The Dene, Han, Upper Tanana and other tribes have similar stories and legends revolving around evil creatures in the Alaska-Yukon wilderness, the most complete version resides in the book, Tatl’ahwt’aenn Nenn’ or The Headwater’s People’s Country, transcribed and edited by James Kari.

Cet’aenn Nal’aen’de (When the Tailed Ones Were Seen), is a chilling account of the Upper Ahtna’s encounter with the Cet’aenn (pronounced: Ket-ANN) detailed in the aforementioned book. It described evil, monkey-like creatures* that would come out of the ground at night and watch from the hills. The story describes how the Ahtna vanquished the creatures in the particular area known as Roasted Salmon Place (Batzulnetas), but the implication is that they didn’t eliminate them entirely.

*English translation-no word for monkey in Dena’ina/Ahtna.

Talking with some of my other friends who are more closely related to the Tanacross/Tanana tribes, this oral story/legend is not familiar to them. But they are very familiar with what is known as the Bush Men (Ts’el’eni or Kol’eni) or “Wild Men of the Tundra.” According to legend these men are known for kidnapping women and children and waging war against the First Peoples. There is also fervent belief in “The Hairy Man,” or the Wood Man (Nuhu’anh) what we would call Big Foot or Sasquatch.


No matter where you go, the theme of something sinister lurking in the woods beyond the shadows of the campfire prevails. No matter what our differences, tales of things waiting to devour those that stay too far from the path permeate every culture. Blending these tales into my own brand of fiction was a fun adventure, at the same time I wanted to share the inspiration. I also wanted to share the reason why I will definitely think twice before investigating the strange noise outside my cabin in the darkness.

Thanks for reading. If you want to read about legendary bloodthirsty creatures stalking the frozen trails of Alaska, you can find The Dark Land on Amazon.

You can also check out more of my blog posts about my Alaska adventures on my website:


Daniella’s book, The Dark Land, a wonderful mix of romance, terror, and action will be released May 4th. Yes, I’ve read it. Yes, it’s a lot of fun. Check back on May 4, 2020 for a full review.

You can also find Daniella on Twitter.

WATWB – Your Monthly Shot of News That Doesn’t Suck

Time has no meaning anymore. It’s just a filmy haze of going from room to room in my house, pretending different rooms are different places for different jobs. Living room is writing. Front room is for working.

Like a lot of people, we’ve been working from home full time while a virus runs roughshod over the country. It’s been an experience. I even bought a Bluetooth headset for phone calls. I’ve discovered that Bluetooth headset + lots of phone meetings = plenty of time to develop nunchuck skills.

But, of course, the biggest difference is not driving as much. Although you wouldn’t know it driving around Albuquerque, vehicle traffic worldwide has taken a nosedive. Which, you know, is kind of a pity since gas is so cheap right now. I feel like I should drive around, speeding through school zone and doing a lot of sudden stops and starts just to take advantage of low gas prices. And also to piss off that jackass in the 4×4 with a lift kit who likes to tailgate everyone.

Just like countless songs have crooned over the decades, every cloud has a silver lining. And right now that lining is a precipitous drop in airborne pollutants. People all over the world, stuck in their homes and drinking themselves into a stupor, have suddenly discovered that there’s thing called a “sky” and that “sky” has stuff like clouds and stars in it. Hell, even in Albuquerque, we can now see distant mountain ranges that are normally hidden by smog.

In some cases, and in some particularly filthy cities – I’m looking at you, Wuhan, airborne pollutants are down by as much as 60%. So, that weird feeling you get when take a deep breath outside? That’s air. Without all the crap driving adds to it.

So, while it won’t last forever, take a moment to appreciate the air quality. It’s one of the few good things to come out of this little pandemic. Well, that and I finally get to practice nunchuck twirling in meetings.

Check out the original article here

If you’d like to connect your blog and help spread a little joy (or snark, like I do), it’s easy to sign up. Just ask and ye shall receive. Or go check it out here: here.

Our lovely and talented hosts this month are: Susan Scott, Inderpreet Kaur Uppal, Damnyanti Biswas, Dan Antion, and moi.


1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible. (Wow, I totally missed that mark this time around).

2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.

3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.

5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.

6. To sign up, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

This is a Blog Hop!

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

And now your moment of Zen.

Reprint – Writing the Villain

This was originally posted on Originality By Design as a guest post by yours truly back in October 2019. I figure it’s probably safe to repost it here now.

I grew up in a trailer park on the outskirts of Farmington, NM. I’m
not gonna lie and say it was the greatest place on Earth. It was home and that was good enough.

We had a real rouge’s gallery of people that lived out there. For some, I suspect, it was an opportunity to get out of the hustle and bustle of Farmington, a town with a population of a little over 30k at the time. For others, it was probably the fact that trailers were cheap, and rent was cheap, and living out on the hill in a trailer they owned was better than renting any of the run-down apartments in town.

On one side of us, we had a guy who had the occasional party. Nothing too big, just some friends drinking beer and hooting it up. What made the parties interesting in a terrible kind of way was the fact that, no kidding, he’d go out and steal someone’s sheep for dinner.

Across the street was a guy that woke me up at 3 a.m. one morning screaming about how terrible the world was. Apparently, he’d gotten drunk as a skunk and managed to bounce his girlfriend’s head off the cement. She was out cold, probably massive head trauma. The cops and ambulance showed up and we never saw those people again.

But the sheep smuggler and skull smasher aside, the real bull-moose loony were our other neighbors.

Brett and Joyce used to have epic fights. The kind of fights that rattled not only the windows in their trailer, but the windows in ours. They were experts at escalating, too. They’d feed off each other’s rage and amplify it in a massive feedback loop until the screaming was so loud it became pure white-hot noise.

On the nights when it got really bad, we’d see the back door of their trailer fly open and Joyce would fling one of Brett’s beloved beer steins out. Some bounced when they hit the back yard, others shattered. A few minutes later, the back door of the trailer would fly open again and Joyce would go sailing out. She’d hit the same rocky ground, get up, brush herself off, and go right back in again.

Then another beer stein would fly out the door. Then Joyce would fly out the door. Lather, rinse, repeat until they were both so exhausted they couldn’t keep the rage going anymore. In the morning, my mom and would I gather up the unbroken beer steins and put them on the rickety wood steps to Brett and Joyce’s trailer and life would otherwise go on as normal.

This wasn’t an every night affair, by any means. You’d have to be superhuman to do that level of fighting every night. But it happened. The SWAT team would show up, using our trailer as a wall, tactical gear and full-auto weapons trained on Brett and Joyce’s trailer and we’d just move to the other end of the trailer and keep our heads down until it was all over.

Eventually Brett and Joyce split up, which was probably a good thing for everyone involved. She left, hooked up with some other guy and everything was quiet for a while. But the thing is, both of those two had learned to hate each other and they never let that go. Things finally came to a head when Joyce – after moving out and finding someone else – hired a hit-man to take Brett down. Brett survived because he happened to bend down to pick something up just as the shot was fired.

Joyce wound up in prison. Brett moved out. Things quieted down. It was just us and sheep smuggler and a whole bunch of people we didn’t know. Everyone kept to themselves and, other than the trailer down the block from us catching fire, things were quiet on our end of the park.

From the outside, that place was like a war zone. SWAT teams, sheep smugglers, hit-men, guys bouncing their girlfriend’s heads off driveways. Most people would see that as madness. I just saw it as something that happened and went about my business of riding BMX bikes and getting into the occasional fight. That, as far as I was concerned, was just what life was.

Now, here’s the really interesting thing. For all their screaming and violence, Brett and Joyce were fundamentally good people. She made the best tortillas in the world. He collected rare beer steins. They took care of me when I was sick, and my mom couldn’t stay home from work. Literally, anything you needed, they’d help out with. Our back doorsteps got rickety over time and we came home one day to find the sheep smuggler out there fixing them. My mom got sick and Joyce made her dinner and brought it over.

We, as a species, have a tendency to focus on the negative. Those people are fighting all the time? Must be bad people. He steals sheep for dinner? Bad person. Stay away. But people are just people. Unpredictable, dangerous sometimes, but ultimately they’re just people. And, no matter what anyone says, no one sets out deciding to be the bad guy that day. Even in the heat of the fight, when beer steins and wives are flying, no one thinks they’re the bad guy. As a species, we also have a wonderful ability to justify our actions to ourselves, flimsy though that may sometimes be.

It was that kind of early exposure to what most people would write off as the “criminal element” or “bad people” that shaped me. There’s that realization that people can be complete train wrecks one minute and ready to give you the shirt off their back the next. Or they try to tear each other apart one second and be the most gentle, reliable people you’ve ever met the next. People are just people. They do stuff and that stuff ain’t always pretty.

So, flash forward a few decades and I’m revising Brett and Joyce, a couple I haven’t even thought about in years, and wondering if they didn’t provide some kind of template for characters in my books. I don’t write about nice things. You can call it urban fantasy, you can call it crime noir… call it whatever you want, but I tend to have less-than-stellar good guys and I always strive for sympathetic bad guys. Because, just like Brett and Joyce, those bad guys are just people doing what they do. Be it revenge, power, freedom, whatever, the difference between good and bad has nothing to do with the want; it has everything to do with how they try to fulfill that want.

And that right there is the key to villainy. No one is evil all the time. From their point of view, they know what they’re doing, they’re doing the right thing. Be it protecting your beloved beer stein collection or destroying beer steins because he loves them more than he loves you, there’s always a good reason. Seen from the outside, especially when things and people are flying out the door, it may look despicable, but to make a truly believable bad guy you have to look a little deeper and have some sympathy. Maybe not sympathy for the action, but sympathy for the reasons behind the action.

COVID-19 And The End Of Complacency

First off, let me just say I thought COVID-19 was the name of the virus and the sickness you got was just a sickness. Apparently, I was wrong. COVID-19 is the sickness and SARS-CoV-2 is the virus. Personally, I think they need to come up with better names for both the disease and the virus. Although, to be fair, COVID-19 has done an admirable job of striking fear into the hearts of the world.

But, let’s face it, it’s only a matter of time before the first COVID-19 World Tour 2020 shirts start popping up.

As of this writing, we’re still semi-confined to our houses. I say semi-confined because essential businesses are still operating. Restaurants are doing take-out orders, grocery stores are still operating, and half of Albuquerque is at Lowe’s at any given point in time. Drive around the city and there’s still traffic, albeit less than usual. But all the fun stuff – libraries, bars, movie theaters, that Savers thrift store I love to visit, gyms, etc – are closed. Those of us still fortunate enough to have jobs are primarily working from home and school is moving to an online model of education.

The online world is filled with people saying, “When this is all over, I’m gonna…” It could be go bar hopping, or hug friends, or go to a movie, or have wild, drunken sex in a truck stop parking lot, or whatever. All the stuff we used to do without thinking about it. Pumping iron and listening music. Hitting a punching bag. Shaking someone’s hand without worrying about a slow, lingering death. Interacting with people face-to-face. Checking a book out at the library or buying used pants. Little things. The stuff of normal day-to-day life.

These are weird times. And whatever son-of-a-bitch keeps saying, “May you live in interesting times” needs to shut the hell up. But it’s important to realize this isn’t forever; it’s just an intermission. This is a chance to sit at home and wonder if all the crap we used to think was important really is all that important. Or maybe all the stuff we took for granted was really the important stuff all along.

A weird thing people do is put things off, thinking there will always be the time to do something. And then, when it’s well and truly gone for a while, we realize the right time to do that thing was always right then and there. Take that trip. Adopt that cat. Hug that friend. Write that damned book. If there’s one thing we should be taking away from this whole mess it’s that putting things off for some made-up reason isn’t doing us a damned bit of good.

We got complacent. We thought all that stuff would always be there because it’s free or cheap or sounded like it might be hard or uncomfortable or that thing would always be there.

Someday this pandemic is going to end and we’ll all be free to go back to whatever passes for normalcy. The question is how much of that normalcy was frivolous and how much of it was actually important and worth returning to?

#WATWB – Your Monthly Shot of News That Doesn’t Suck

The normal process for WATWB is to find an uplifting news story, talk it up a bit, and bring a little light to an otherwise dreary world. That’s why I usually title my posts “Your Monthly Shot Of New That Doesn’t Suck”; it’s a little jab to the nose of perceived reality. Normally, I scour the Internet – by which I mean look up Reddit’s Uplifting News section – until I find something that looks good. Then I babble about it for a while and give you a funny picture. Book it. Done.

These days, with a pandemic calling us and breathing heavily into the phone like some kind of damned degenerate, positive news is getting a bit harder to scrounge up and no one really wants to hear about the dog, squid, and spitting cobra that managed to find their way across the country to go home. Toss in a completely incompetent executive branch and a bunch of snapper-heads claiming it’s all a hoax and you’ve got a recipe for telling everyone to fuck the hell off.

But the thing is, this isn’t forever.

This morning, against my better judgment, I hopped on my bike and took a ride down the Tramway trail. 20mph headwind and going out to the end of the trail is mostly uphill. It was brutal. Fingers going numb, wind echoing so loud in my ears I couldn’t even hear my heart pounding. But I made it and let me tell you, coming back down was amazing.

In a way, everything is like that. You struggle, you fight, you get to the end and coast for a little while, then you do it all over again. Sounds miserable, but every time you conquer something, you get a little tougher.

So, yeah, being cooped up sucks. Watching my national government screw the pooch in every way possible while still managing to claim they’re doing a great job sucks. Wondering when this all going to end sucks.

But it will end because nothing is forever. Some things, like most of my comm classes in college, may feel like they’re going to last forever, but they never do. Eventually it all comes to an end and you get to move on to something different.

Except taxes. Those apparently last forever.

Anyway, tuck your chin, keep your hands up, roll with the punches, and know this will end.

If you’d like to connect your blog and help spread a little joy (or snark, like I do), it’s easy to sign up. Just ask and ye shall receive. Or go check it out here: here.

Our lovely and talented hosts this month are: Sylvia McGrath, Damyanti Biswas, Shilpa Garg, Dan Antion, and yours Belinda McGrath Witzenhausen.


1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible. (Wow, I totally missed that mark this time around).

2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.

3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.

5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.

6. To sign up, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

This is a Blog Hop!

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

And now your moment of Zen.

It’s All Just Fiction, Right? Right?

A conversation popped up on Twitter not too long ago that left me thinking. Thinking isn’t a common occurrence for me, so my first worry was I have a brain aneurysm. That was followed up almost immediately by me wondering if I’d been a total dick and hadn’t realized it.

Normally I eschew political correctness. Not because I necessarily have anything against it, but because I feel it’s better to subscribe to the “Don’t Be A Dick” philosophy of living. That way when someone pulls a tweet years down the line, I can honestly say, “No, you’re the asshole! Very unfair!”

Just kidding. If someone pulls a tweet of mine years down the road and says, “Hey! This guy was being a dick!”, I can honestly say, “I’m really sorry. At the time, that wasn’t a thing, but I do apologize to anyone who I was a dick to.” And mean it. I really don’t go out of my way to be an asshole.

Anyway, I’m not going to reprint the discussion here, but I am going to reprint the tweet without a link so we can all start from the same page.

“When the walls are falling and the world is singing songs of doom and the record is skipping and everything’s about to go totally to shit, steal that kiss. Because that might be the last time you ever get the chance to.”

It was paraphrased from a short story I was working on. For the most part, people seemed unperturbed by it. There was one negative reaction, though. Fortunately, no one jumped on her for her response and everything moved along civilly. After a little back and forth, she apologized and I apologized and everyone went away happy.

The general gist of her complaint was stealing a kiss was wrong. To be honest, I can’t argue with her. Don’t go kissin’ folks that don’t want kissin’. Ain’t exactly rocket surgery. Just ask Greta Zimmer Friedman.

But it got me thinking about a couple of things. One is you can never be sure how your audience will react to your words. In communication theory we used a model called the Triangle of Reference to describe the phenomenon that different people will have different reactions to things based on past experiences. Think about this way: If you got scratched by a cat and the cut got infected and you nearly lost your arm and wound up with tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills and a hook for a hand, you’re probably going to have a negative view of cats. You also probably got treated in America.

Bottom line on that is words have meaning and it’s not always the meaning you think it is. And there is absolutely nothing you can do to control that. Even if it’s only fiction, words can have an effect you didn’t expect.

Which leads to the second thing. If we can’t control how people interpret our words, should we strive for avoiding all potentially controversial topics knowing full well we could be poking a bear? In other words, should fiction be safe? Or is it better to write with iron fists and damn the consequences?

I know what I think, but I’m interested in hearing what other think. Drop me a comment.

The Tesla Truck Is Gorgeous

One of the few popular posts I’ve made on Tumblr was from the set of Aliens, James Cameron’s epic tale of motherhood in space. Since time is short and no one has time to read a thousand babbling words of description, it was this picture:

Two lovely ladies

Aliens definitely pitted two devoted mothers against each other. It’s easy to defend Ripley – she’s a badass human, after all – but it’s more difficult to defend the alien queen. Some of that is the way the story was written. We’re expected to see the aliens as the antagonists because they run contrary to the human goal of staying the fuck away from monsters with acid blood and penchant for implanting their parasitic young in our chests through a process that’s not entirely unlike rape.

Turn that around a bit and you’ll see a young mother – the alien queen was probably less than a year old at that point – trying her damnedest to raise a family in a harsh environment and then a bunch of weirdos with guns show up and start shooting up the house she’s built for her kids. Then, in the ultimate dick move, the weirdos nuke the planet.


Now, all joking about motherhood in space aside, you have to admit the alien queen was remarkably good at her job. By our standards, she’s a hideous beast, but she was an efficient hideous beast. Before Prometheus and whatever the name of its sequel was came along, it was possible to see the aliens as the most recent product of their evolution. Critters that took reproduction to whole new levels. Amazingly tough, single-minded, and adept at fulfilling their biologically-programmed goal of making more of themselves. You can’t do that kind of thing and worry about how you look doing it. You just do it and if you’ve got an evolutionary advantage like acid blood or the ability to survive in the vacuum of space, you use it.

In their own way, the aliens were beautiful. The queen even more so. Not because of any fickle human concepts of beauty, but because they used their bodies to further their goal of reproduction like a bunch of drunken sorority girls with armored skin.

So, that picture was, indeed, two lovely ladies. You just had to get past the queen’s looks to see she was freakin’ beautiful.

Hold tight, here comes the segue.

Whoops. Wrong segway.

Last month Elon Musk and crew dropped the Tesla Cybertruck on an unsuspecting world. It looked like something out of the old Battlestar Gallactica, a brown, pointy thing with weird lines and not a curve to be found. Imagine if an F-117 had sex with a Lancia Stratos and the baby got the Nighthawk’s looks. Immediately, the world jumped on it. Hell, I’ll admit it, I took a few potshots at the thing’s looks, too.

But the more I look at it, the more I see the beauty of the design. It’s a truck. It’s meant to haul things. It doesn’t have to be a classic beauty. After all, who would you rather have carrying your stuff, Audrey Hepburn or Andre the Giant? Audrey may look better doing it, but I can guarantee you Andre could have carried more.

The world of trucks is the world of functionality. It’s the world where other people will judge you based on your truck’s towing capacity and ability to go off-road and save virgins from terrorists. Apparently, the Cybertruck can do all those things, although Tesla hasn’t published the results of the all-important saving virgins from terrorists test. But I’m cautiously optimistic.

Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that pickups were very much the realm of American manufacturers. The first full-sized pickups from Toyota and Nissan were originally shunned, but now they’re commonplace. I promise you, it won’t be that long before the Tesla Cybertruck starts winning people over. The lusty allure of not having to put gas in a vehicle coupled with the promised torque will be all it takes. Soon, you’ll see Cybertrucks with lift kits and Molon Labe stickers and bumper stickers that read “These colors don’t run”.

Just like with the alien queen, sometimes you’ve got to push past the initial looks to see the beauty. If Tesla can pull it off and make it do everything they say it can – tall order, I know – it won’t be long before people start looking at this thing and thinking, “Damn, this truck is freakin’ beautiful”.

The Art and Science of Selling Out

Earlier in the year, some of my Twitter writing community friends and I were trying to pull a guy back from the ledge. We’ll call him Gunther because, for some reason or another, that name popped into my mind.

Gunther, it seemed, had a problem. His prose was weighty. Dense like a collapsed star, and about as fun to read as stereo instructions. His reviews were coming back with things like “Reading this was like wading through rancid molasses” and “This was so bad, I think it gave me cancer”. Note: not actual reviews, but those were the general gist.

Now, as every writer knows, reviews can be important things. They can help drive sales, but they can also give you an indication of what’s working and what’s not working. I got one a couple of years ago about head-hopping in a story. For the uninitiated, head-hopping is the process of switching back and forth between viewpoints in narrative. It’s part of the third person omniscient style of telling a story and, done correctly, it can be a useful tool because it lets the reader get into each character’s head. The problem is, done poorly, it can be jarring and leave a reader wondering which character was thinking what at the time. That leads to confused readers and the number one rule of writing is never confuse your reader.

Guess which way I did it.

Actually, when you get down to it, that’s really the only rule of writing. You can do anything you want in a story as long as it doesn’t leave the reader scratching their head and wondering where you scored the crack before you started writing. Tell an entire story without punctuation? Sure. Charlie Huston did it in his Joe Pitt books. (Fun fact: Charlie Huston is kind of my hero). Tell a story while you’re hopped up on every drug known to man and drunk as a skunk to boot? Go check out Hunter S. Thompson. (Also my hero). Make liberal use of the word “fuck”? Guilty.

Point is: Huston and Thompson and every other successful writer out there knew how to tell a story without confusing their readers, no matter what other weird chicanery they may have pulled. Gunther lacked that skill. So, not only was his prose dense as fuck, it was confusing to boot. Think of it as a weightier version of Sean Penn’s abysmal writing without the star power to drive sales.

While a handful of us were imploring Gunther to just, you know, change his style to something that people would want to read, he was busy complaining that he couldn’t change his style. And moping about it. And whining.

That was about the part where I checked out. When you’ve got a handful of people giving you some advice, you don’t immediately discard it because “you can’t change”. Advice is like a live-action review and woe unto the person who ignores the review that says a book was so bad it gave them cancer.

Here’s the deal: any writer worth their salt is going to be able to adapt. There’s nothing wrong with adaptation. Like the U.S. Marines like to say: Improvise, adapt, and overcome.

You can call it selling out if you’d like. You can even call that a bad thing if it makes you happy, but what’s worse: Writing exactly like you want and having no one read it or adapting and still getting your words out?

My grandfather used to love to say, “A piece of information is only good if you have a use for it”. Thomas Edison’s middle name was Alva and the Battle of Hastings was in 1066? Unless you’re really into history, that’s useless information. Knowing Edison was an inventor who’s credited with a short ton of inventions is useful. Knowing he was vicious bastard who happily stole inventions from other people and called them is own (*cough Tesla cough*) can be useful. Knowing his middle name? Who cares.

Writing’s kind of like that. You can either be the bit of information out there, all alone and screaming into the void, or you can be the thing that changes the way people look at the world. Gunther, if you happen to come across this post at some point, consider at least trying to do things differently. Trust me, you can do it. You can improvise, you can adapt, and you can overcome. Or you can be Alva. Your call.