Next Novel Ideas

Okay, here’s something non-corona virus. May I ask whoever cares to, please, to take a look at the list of novel descriptions below and let me know your top three, in order? I’m trying to figure out what to work on next, and this is a tip from my reading.

Please respond in Twitter if you found this link there, or in the comments. Thanks very much, and stay well, everybody.

The Extreme Medium
A wanna-be private eye becomes a hero – until a mysterious book of spells and a company of ghosts ruin everything.

Jesus Saves a Lot
The perfect suburban wife meets Jesus at the Sav-a-Lot and her life spirals into chaos.

Thin Places
Colin Davis is coping well with afterlife in Hell, until he has to escape to rescue his abducted brother back in the mortal world. (Rewrite of Trouble Spots, my first novel)

The Mortal Portal
Colin and Alexis are living a romantic dream, until demons kidnap Alexis and Colin must break out his magic sword.

The Littlest Valkyrie
An accidental Valkyrie goes from being merely incompetent to bringing about the End of Days to keeping the end from coming.

The Navigator
An enslaved wizard is navigating yet another cargo ship across the galaxy when his plots start taking the ship to the wrong, and dangerous, places.

The Artist
A private eye is about to retire when his old clients start showing up in oversized picture frames, dead as nails… an he thinks he’s next.

After his bizarre birth, Rudy becomes the perfect son… until at 16 he morphs into a monster.

A young man drops out and heads west for a life of freedom, but aliens, a gang of evil clowns, and an irresistible girl force him to take a detour.

Bread, Salt, Wine, Blood
A contemplative monk prepares to take vows of solitude, but when invaders attack, he must quest for a legendary weapon.

Something Strange
A persnickety hotel clerk and an aging stripper share an apartment and little else, until she disappears and he goes searching for her.

My Life as a Twit

twitI wish I had time for book marketing, or, more precisely, I wish I wanted to make the time for it by sacrificing other things, but those other things, which include actually writing fiction, keep shoving it out of the way.

Still, I do a couple of things on a random basis. This blog, for instance. Thanks to friends and family – thanks, you guys! – there are some people who actually read it, and once in a while, a complete stranger wanders in from Networld and gives it a look – thanks to you guys, too! And I have an author page on Facebook here, which gets a look now and then. I don’t do much with it because of the time shortage.

Then there’s Twitter, which I am into more at some times, less at others. Right now, I’m more into it. My handle is @coolcarsoncraig, if you’re interested in following (or blocking, maybe).twitterHead

Sometimes, if I’m having a bad attitude, which is a lot, I’ll feel that having a Twitter presence is kind of like wandering around a huge meadow with a lot of other people in it, all of them very far away, and shouting. Occasionally, one of these people will wander within earshot. Of these, a miniscule portion will pay attention to your shouts, and perhaps react. You, too, will wander within hearing distance of some of your fellow meadow-walkers from time to time, and once in a while, you’ll react. Mostly, though, you’re unheard, heard but not reacted to, or heard and ignored.

But on a good-attitude day, I realize there are some shining moments in the Twitterverse. Someone will follow your feed for a reason other than to sell you 10,000 followers. You’ll get a Like on a tweet, or even a re-tweet. You’ll get a direct message that reflects a genuine desire for community.

The best thing about Twitter, though, is that it gives you concrete proof that there are countless other writers out there, fighting the same battles, experiencing the same defeats, celebrating the same victories. When you see this, suddenly you can hear all those far-away meadow people, and they’re all shouting, mostly joyfully, about writing. Sometimes somebody hits a big milestone, like 100,000 words, or they get an agent, or their book comes out, and they’re absolutely singing. Other times, they’re calling out encouragement or creative ideas, in case anybody needs them, and who doesn’t?

So, anyway, I don’t know if it’s much of a marketing thing, but I kind of like it out there in the Kingdom of Twitvalia (Is that dumb? Well, screw it, I’m leavin’ it.). It’s a place where I can reach out to like-minded souls, lots of them. Even if the connection is ephemeral, it’s still uplifting, and a writer needs that.

Now, there’s also Instagram, and Snapchat, and… Oh forget it. No time!

Happy writing! (And tweeting!)


Trouble Spots: The manic tale of a young man's escape from Hell.

By the way, I wrote a novel. It’s full of laughs and adventure. It’s called Trouble Spots, and you can get the Kindle version here or the paperback here. It’s also available at lots of other awesome e-book outlets.


Embracing the Writer’s Conflict(s)

frustratedWriterAtComputerTalking Conflict, Thinking Conflict

Writers talk a lot about conflict. And they should. It’s the lifeblood of any story. So we sit down at the keyboard, or the notebook, or the electronic device du jour, and think about Mary, and how she wants a new samurai sword, but her parents disapprove of her martial arts obsession, and even more so of a long, sharp instrument. Or we think of something else where humans are up against some sort of opposition.


We are in conflict, ourselves, as we write. At any moment, as we write, we’re standing in the shoes of the character who is acting at the moment. If it’s a character who is important to the story, they are no doubt in conflict, which means you are, too. You are, in fact, that character. If you couldn’t empathize like that, you probably wouldn’t be a fiction writer.

Life Conflictwriter-having-inspiration-block-and-frustration_r-yf1qioe_thumbnail-full01

If you’re a part-time writer, like me, you’re probably engaged in other conflicts, too. Maybe your day job keeps you so busy it’s hard to find time for your art. Maybe you have a conflict of desires; for instance, you want to be an excellent writer, but you want to be an excellent parent, too, and sometimes the choice between one and the other is grating.

Muse Conflict

There’s the work, too. If you’re trying to get something started, there’s that blank page/screen/stone tablet staring you in the face, daring you to make a mark. You might be well into a manuscript, only to have it turn around and start fighting you for every word. The muse might be throwing words at you by the bushel… only they’re all bad.

Value Conflict

And what about the worthiness of that work? After all, the writer’s conflict is of a very different, arguably far less intense, type that that of soldiers, police officers, emergency room personnel, and the like. Especially for the part-time writer, there’s a nagging voice in your head sometimes that tries to convince you you’re wasting valuable time making stuff up, and you have to argue back, or summon the fortitude to ignore it.

artsyWriterPicConflict is the woven into the heart of every story, and into the life of every writer. It’s inescapable. My though? Embrace it. Make it your guide and see where it takes you.




Help in a Writer’s Hard Times

get by with a little help from my friendsHard Times

The last several months of work on novel #2 have been pretty miserable. I felt like I was dragging every word out of my brain by its heels, kicking and screaming. When they finally landed on the page, my only thoughts were self-bolstering phrases like:

This is terrible.

Can this get any more boring?

The story isn’t going anywhere.


I went a little crazy. I spent a bunch of time on outlining schemes and re-writing. I wrote three new openings for the book. Still, I wasn’t happy with it. I even flirted with starting a new book altogether.

The Cavalry Arrives

At last it came time for me to submit my stack of pages to my critique group. As it turned out, their evaluation was radically different from my own:

“The writing is compelling and beautiful.”

“Another great episode.”

“What a powerful story.”

“…mastery of revision, and fluent writing style.”

I was floored, in a good way, like when you finally work up the courage to ask that out-of-your-league person out and they say “yes.” The positive feedback was a huge shot in the arm. Now I am writing with a positive outlook on the work and all the joy I had when I started it.

Objective Views

It’s wonderful how an objective view (or views) of your writing can change it for the better. Often such views are editorial and corrective, pointing out weaknesses you need to fix, and that’s always good. But sometimes, the objective view can just be encouragement. I don’t find writing lonely, but I do find it solitary, and I’m grateful for capable people I can reach out to for help on a regular basis.

Your Thoughts?

If you have some ingenious way of getting objective feedback on your writing, I’d love to know about it, and so would the other three people who read this blog. Please leave a comment. Thanks!


P.S.: I wrote a novel ( get it here ) called Trouble Spots. Now I just need somebody to read it. Here’s the skinny:
Grieving over his dead parents, newly homeless, and bereft of his beloved younger brother, Colin Davis, aspiring writer and compulsive smartass, is certain life can’t get any worse, and it probably can’t. But then there’s the afterlife… When an injury sends Colin’s body into a coma, his soul awakens in the claw foot tub intended for the Limbo-bound, but a demon dressed like a Bible salesman tricks him into entering Hell instead. Colin’s one avenue of escape: Thin Spots, unreliable portals between realities that are as likely to land him in the lobby of a Ramada Inn as in the caldera of an active volcano. His quest to obtain the one means of controlling Spots, the Golden Bough, puts him on a collision course with Satan, who wants the Bough to launch a war against an unwary Heaven. To get the Bough and save the universe (and, incidentally, his brother), Colin, with the help of Hell’s queen, her handmaid, and a scholarly angel, embarks on a quest across the ocean of Limbo to beg Heaven’s unwilling angels for help. When the angels refuse his plea, Colin decides victory is a do-it-yourself deal, where the terms are a deep breath and a dive into the hottest flames Hell has to offer.

Get it here. 

5 Ways to Strangle Your Creativity

stranglerVineWhat a Pain…

Your inborn creativity is probably a large part of what makes you a writer. Situations, characters and settings pop into your consciousness like bubble from the bottom of a boiling pot. You are also probably driven to a certain degree by a compulsion to bring new things out of your brain and into the world.

What a pain in the neck!

All that stuff rattling around in your head, not to mention that nagging voice going “Write, write!” like some shriveled, cantankerous maiden aunt, is just a drag.

Killing Creativity

Here are five ways to choke off that pesky creative gift:

  • Make writing a hit-or-miss affair. Forget about making a commitment to write on a regular schedule. Write when you feel like it, or when it’s convenient, or when there’s nothing good on TV. Sure, you’ll spend most of your time trying to get your narrative voice tuned up and remember what happened in the story last, but who cares? It’s a casual deal, right, this writing?
  • Don’t read. This includes craft books, fiction, non-fiction, magazine, the newspaper, and package labels. Get as much information and entertainment as you can from broadcast media. The farther you get from the written word, the less inclined you’ll be to bother with it – and the less able!
  • Avoid art in general. Stop listening to music. Limit your broadcast consumption to fact-based programming. Stay away from art museums, and if you happen on a piece of public art, either ignore it or make fun of it.
  • Never take time out. Don’t sit back and let your mind wander. Don’t daydream. Keep every minute of every day filled with some productive activity, like polishing your doorknobs or picking the lint out of your rugs with tweezers and a magnifying glass. Work lots of unnecessary overtime.
  • Do it somebody else’s way. If you must write something creative, don’t do it in your own, unique fashion. Find somebody else’s method and follow it like you were its slave. For example, take the Hero’s Journey model and follow it exactly, and write from 4:30 until 6:30 every morning, even though you’re not a morning person and it’s more natural for you to write in shorter bursts.

I hope you’ll be able to find the fortitude to smash your creativity flat. If not, well, shucks… you’ll just have to write and enjoy yourself, I suppose. My sympathies.

Happy writing!






Trouble Spots: The manic tale of a young man's escape from Hell.
The manic tale of a young man’s escape from Hell. Think: action, laughs, outrageous demons, and even romance. Or don’t think at all—it’s up to you. Available at most online bookstores.

Looking for Ideas? Look to the Shadows

Carrying Darknessshadow052017

I carry a lot of darkness around. Some of the shadow is the result of past life experience and some of it’s from genetics. This is unfortunate for me and the people around me, so I have been working on reducing or managing that dark streak since I was about ten. I still have a long way to go, but the good news is that sometimes I make a little improvement.

Story Fuel

The other good news is that the darkness fuels my writing, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. My first novel*, even though it’s funny (I hope), is set in Hell, and filled with monsters and violence. Even Heaven turns out to be less than it’s cracked up to be. Those elements, even though couched in slapstick silliness, come from that black crack in my heart. My second novel, now in progress, is a dark thing. The world it’s set in is hostile. People use and abuse each other and take it for business as usual. That setting, those characters, the story, all drink from the same vein of darkness I haul around.

Maybe it’s time to turn off the lights and venture into the shadows.


Lest I dig a complete ditch of despair, I have to pause and observe that I have more than a shadow land inside. There’s love, sensitivity, humor, determination, compassion—all kinds of good stuff—in my interior landscape. It’s these bright aspects that enable me to turn that rage and depression into art (such as it is). The creation of art, in turn, makes my life brighter.

Ideas from the Shadows

But it’s still the dark side that spins up most of my ideas. I think this is because conflict is what drives stories, and you don’t find conflict at the bright end of the rainbow; you find it along the path of the rainbow while you’re fighting to get to the blasted end.

Are you hard up for a story idea? Or for the next turn in your story’s path? Maybe it’s time to turn off the lights and venture into the shadows.

Happy writing (be it dark or light),






*Novel #1: Trouble Spots

Follow the Crazy Brick Road


A Disorderly Day

Yesterday, the day got away from me. I was going to write, meditate, make lasagna, do some family insurance paperwork, fill the birdfeeders, bake some brownies and write this blog post. Instead, I wound up running a set of errands and going on a garden tour with my wife. Very little on my lengthy to-do list got done.

If your story’s taking an unexpected turn, that probably means it’s alive.

I could have gotten frustrated about this change of plans—in fact, I came very close, but I didn’t. Instead, I decided to just go with the day and see where it took me. As a result, I had one of the most pleasant Saturdays I’ve had in some time.

Isn’t this a Writing Blog?

There’s a so-what here for novel writing, whether you write with a plan or by the seat of your pants.

Sometimes, the story is going to get away from you.

Your characters are going to do that apocryphal thing where they take on lives of their own and start doing what they want to do, or you’ll realize you’ve written yourself into a corner, or you’ll realize you’ve got a tiger by the tail when you’d been going along thinking you had a tame bunny by the floppy ears.

The bunny-become-tiger thing is happening to me with my current novel. I thought I had a nice, tidy idea about two sister getting separated and it’s turned into this juggernaut with monsters, assassins, a huge geographical landscape and a little magic. The prospect of corralling all this material is not a little daunting.

Be Grateful

Yet, when something like this happens to you, I don’t think it’s time to throw up your hands in defeat or disgust; rather, it’s time to throw them up in gratitude. If your story’s taking an unexpected turn, that probably means it’s alive. The thing to do is roll with it, revising your plan or changing your pants as needed. If it turns out badly, well, that’s what rewrites are for.

Just follow the crazy brick road, using your best judgment as a sturdy walking staff. It might turn out to be one of your best journeys ever.

Happy Writing,



Buy a book! It’s cheap!

Trouble Spots - High Resolution

Why I Write


That’s why.

Because joy is different from happiness.

Happiness is that wonderful, fizzy feeling you have when things are pretty much going your way, you’re doing what you like, and you’re smart enough to be grateful for it.

Joy is a sense that the grounding of things, the long-term outcome, the big picture, are whole and positive.

Happiness is great, but it tends to fade in and out, like an iffy signal on A.M. radio. Joy, on the other hand, hangs around.

When the prose stinks, the characters fall flat, the plot meanders into ever deeper and more stupid places, writing brings me joy, even though I may not be so happy right then.

So, I persist, and when happiness shows up to accompany joy, well, that’s a great day.

I wish you many days of both.




Check out Wishie. That’s joy, right there.  


Small Sales = Big Disappointment? Nah

journeyNotDestinationWhen I self-published my first novel, Trouble Spots, last October, I did so with high hopes—well, hopes. Okay, a little. A glimmer, for sure. My feelings were mixed, truth be told. One the one hand, I thought, “Hey, I wrote this for fun and for love; I’ll publish for the same reasons, and to heck with sales.” On the other, the little gremlin in my soul that ever longs for glory was whispering “Oh, let this be enormous! Let it go viral! Let it be big in Japan!”

You can guess which happened. So far, sales have been slim, limited to friends and relations kind enough to give my maiden effort a chance. I am truly grateful to those folks, and I truly hope they enjoy the book, either as literature, a doorstop, or a handy sheaf of bacon-grease blotters. I’m not moving a lot of units, digital or dead tree.

Obnoxious Commercial Break: If you want to change the situation, check out the Kindle copy, the CreateSpace (paper) copy on, or visit other e-book stores like iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, etc. Now, back to our show.

When I ask myself how I feel about the low sales, I still have mixed feelings: “Wow! I did it! That was so much fun! Let’s go for round two!” vs. “Nobody really likes my novel. My writing and storytelling are appallingly amateurish and not worth anybody’s time. I should give up now.”

I’m happy to report that, after a settling period, my feelings are ninety percent the former and only ten percent the latter. Sure, I’d like the world to pat me on the head by buying my fiction, but if it doesn’t, that’s fine. Here’s why the whole adventure was worthwhile:

  • I met the great folks in my writing group.
  • I became a better reader of novels.
  • I learned I can set a long-term goal and persevere until I reach it.
  • I learned that writing what you want, in the way you want, is joyful.
  • I got to spend time with my characters, who I love.
  • I gained increased confidence in my fiction-writing abilities.
  • I had boatloads of fun.

There’s a lot more I could do to increase sales, I guess—marketing-y stuff—but I just am not into making time for that right now. I have other priorities, like my family and my day job. Actions (or lack thereof) speak louder than words, so I guess there’s my certain answer: If I was really wrapped up in sales figures, I’d be spending lots more time trying to increase them. Making fiction for the sake of making fiction is still the way to go for me. That could change, but for now, I’m good with it.

Whatever conclusion you come to regarding the importance of sales, I hope your writing dreams come true.



Remember! Leaving a comment or logging a like builds the magic to get Wishie some boxers!


Writing Action

actionAction, Baby!

When I’m writing a novel, I always write the kind of thing that will keep me amused and engaged. As it happens, I’m amused and engaged by action scenes, so you’ll find a lot of them in my work (which you should immediately purchase, of course). I got a nice note from one of my writing group buddies, who bravely suffers through drafts of my latest whatever, saying that he thought the action scenes in the last portion of novel #2 (The Farthest Hour) were quite the thrill-makers.

I glowed for a few minutes, and when that settled down, there being no work or household crisis to deal with, my mind wandered to thoughts of why the action scenes were working, at least for this pal of mine, who pens some corking passages of mayhem, himself. (Bagger Island and its sequels, by Denis Hearn – highly recommended.)


The lead character in the scene, normally your protagonist, needs a good reason to get out of the easy chair and get into action, and that means something serious must be at stake. In a recent scene from Farthest, the protagonist’s best friend is strapped to a cross and about to be flayed alive. She doesn’t want him to die, much less suffer such a horrible death. She’s launched into action because of the stakes.


The cardinal characteristic of an action scene is – duh! – action. It can’t be just any action, though. It’s got to be dramatic enough to draw the reader in, and it’s got to move the story forward. Luckily for me, my lead happens to be preternaturally good at accurately throwing things, and is also carrying a set of throwing knives. From across a city square, she flings one of the knives and nails the would-be flayer in the neck, taking him down and giving her friend at least a temporary reprieve. So, that’s one down: it’s dramatic.

Story Movement

But what about moving the story? If the scene just stopped there, not so much, but it doesn’t. The sudden crack in the apparently total power of the authorities breeds controversy in the crowd. Some wanted the flaying to happen, some didn’t; now they start yelling about it, and the next thing you know, there’s a riot. Best friend and his fellow prisoners are evacuated and the protagonist, is identified as the knife-wielder and arrested. Now she is hauled off into the belly of the beast she was just busy resisting. If that’s not plot movement, I’ll drink a beer. Hell, I’ll drink two. You’re buying.

Physical Movement

Another hallmark of the action scene is physical movement. In the scene I’ve been talking about, the protagonist not only throws a knife, but works her way through a thick crowd, rides in a rickshaw, and gets tied up and thrown onto a horse. Her friend also spends some time tied and mounted, and is then taken down, tied to a cross, and forced by survival instinct to do a lot of useless struggling. The flayer parades around with his knife and actually starts the job before getting distance-stabbed. By the end, the cops are high-tailing it out of there, leaving a square boiling over with rioting civilians. You get the idea.

Getting the Knack

The best way I know of (my knowledge being, admittedly, limited) to get the hang of writing action is to sort of marinate yourself in it. Read a lot of books with action—fiction and non-fiction. (Ever read Into Thin Air? Wow. Watch action-packed movies and TV shows. Read some more! Engage in a bit of action yourself, if you can, to the best of your ability; get some martial arts instruction, go mountain biking, walk the dog on a new route, whatever you can manage.

Most important of all, start writing action as soon as you start marinating, or even before then. As with everything else in life, practice makes you better.

Happy writing!



Writing Prompt: Write an action scene starring Wishie the Troll and leave it in the comments!