Notes from a Writers Panel

I just listened to a panel of authors at the Northern Colorado Writers Conference. Here are some questions and answers, as best I could write them down. The panel consisted of Kerrie Flanagan, Jon Davis, Chuck Wendig, Denise Vega and Warren Hammond.

The replies are approximations, not exact quotes, so please don’t hold anyone accountable!

What’s the best piece of writing advice you ever received?

Denise Vega: Don’t follow trends

Chuck Wendig: Finish what you start

Kerrie Flanagan: When someone says “no” you say “next”

What consistent piece of advice you give your students?

Jon Davis: Start the next book

When you’re stuck; what do you do to get past that?

Chuck Wendig: I look at my mortgage payments

Denise Vega: I move. I free my brain up. I ask myself a question—whether about a scene or a character? Sometimes I take it to bed and wake up with the answer.

Warren Hammond: step back. let your subconscious work on it.

Jon Davis: I used to write screenplays. I let the computer read it back to me in its terrible voice. Gives me a new perspective.

When are you ready to submit when you’re? How do you know when its done since it can always be better.

Warren Hammond: It’s never finished; you just give up.

Denise Vega: Raymond Carver said when you take all the commas out and put them back in, you’re ready.

Chuck Wendig: Use beta readers; but once you have five or six books you have a feel.


Denise Vega: Sometimes you have to change your process. How do you work best? Try different things. I used to not plan or plot—now I’m doing it and it’s going so much better.

Jon Davis: Take a screenwriting course. It teaches you about the shape of a story. I’ve used a screenplay as an outline.

What things do you use to help creativity?

Jon Davis: I spent some weeks in a famine house in cold weather in Ireland. Being away from everyone for three weeks.

Kerrie Flanagan: Getting away. Go to a cabin with no internet. No TV. Just yourself and your thoughts.

April Moore NCW conference chair—we have a retreat. Being around other writers gives creative energy. (link)

How do you carve out the time to write?

Denise Vega: On Sunday I write out my schedule and put writing in just like any other appointment. It’s sacred time.

Kerrie Flanagan: Train the people around you to give you time.

Jon Davis: No one wants you to write—they want you to have written. It’s your job.

Chuck Wendig: Treat it like a job. A regular job. Would you treat someone in an office like this?

How far in your writing journey did you have the realization you are a writer?

Kerrie Flanagan: At Universal Studios. When people asked me I would say “I used to be a teacher.” At universal studios there was a sweatshirt that said WRITER. I bought the shirt and it reminds me all the time. We have to accept it and own it. So go get a sweatshirt.

Denise Vega: If you’re writing, you’re a writer. You don’t have to be published to be a writer. I had people around me supporting me.

What time of you day do you like to write?

Kerrie: Creative in the morning. Business in the afternoon.

Chuck: Same.

Denise: I don’t check my email first. Morning tends to be better. But whenever I find the time.

What % do you spent on the business?

Denise: It varies. In children’s books there’s an expectation you’re going to help market. I’m spending a lot of time connecting with booksellers, readers, etc. But often it’s a procrastination technique; I’ll do that instead of working on my book. Checking email is not going to help you solve the problem if you’re stuck.

Chuck: 75% to craft. 25% to business. You don’t need to be on social media.

Social media?

Denise: if it feels like a chore, it’s not good. I’m pulling back. I’m not convinced it helps with sales.

Warren: Publishers latched onto social media as free marketing. There are some success stories. Publishers push the marketing back on authors. There are a lot of authors who aren’t good at it. There are authors who get in trouble on social media. Social media should be more of an afterthought. Writers write. Publishers sell books.

Chuck: The more you’re willing to do, the less your publisher has to do. You’re training your publisher. Don’t do that. You want your publisher to get you opportunities. My career has kind of been made by social media. It’s not a great place to sell books. Keep that noise down. Promote other people. More people want to know what I like rather than what I promote. The professional value of social media is to engage with readers; to make professional connections. It’s a professional watercooler. I like social media.

Kerrie: One thing people don’t think of is writing for magazines. A byline is valuable and you can put your web site there. I get a lot of contacts that way.

Chuck: Branding might be a bad thing for writers- no one wants to read Coca-Cola.

Denise: Finding the joy in the work is key. I focused too much on “Will this book get published” I lost it. I had to re-find it.


It’s always good to hear other creative people talk about their process and their reality. The longer I’ve done this, the more I want to learn how to do things differently. And the best way do that is to listen to others.

Class of 1840– United States Military Academy

This the listing of graduates from that class. There were 41 graduates. The number, called a Cullum Number, is a cumulative number starting from the first graduate of the Academy.

There were 41 graduates in this class. Note #1022. It’s interesting to see where various graduates ended up and their fate.


What William T. Sherman predicted for the Civil War in 1860– and was sent home as “crazy”.

Sherman wrote this to another professor at Louisiana State Seminary (where he taught) in 1860, seeing the inevitability of a Civil War. Sherman had seen combat in the Seminole Wars.

You people of the South don’t know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is all folly, madness, a crime against civilization! You people speak so lightly of war; you don’t know what you’re talking about. War is a terrible thing! You mistake, too, the people of the North. They are a peaceable people but an earnest people, and they will fight, too. They are not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it … Besides, where are your men and appliances of war to contend against them? The North can make a steam engine, locomotive, or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or pair of shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical, and determined people on Earth — right at your doors. You are bound to fail. Only in your spirit and determination are you prepared for war. In all else you are totally unprepared, with a bad cause to start with. At first you will make headway, but as your limited resources begin to fail, shut out from the markets of Europe as you will be, your cause will begin to wane. If your people will but stop and think, they must see in the end that you will surely fail.

Sherman was sent home early in the Civil War because of his extreme pessimism– he was deemed a bit crazy. Turns out he was very accurate. A piece of trivia I also discovered researching my Duty, Honor, Country books was that he was ship-wrecked not once, but twice, coming in to San Francisco harbor. And he was on the expedition that confirmed the discovery of gold in CA, which started the gold rush.

Here’s his entry in the Cullum Register of Graduates for West Point where he is #1022, which means he is the 1,022 graduate of the Academy. Hmm, had to look mine up. I get #38625. Still, that’s not a lot since 1802.

Hidden History: “Fear not death too much, nor fear death too little . . .

. . .  lest you fail in your hopes; not too little, lest you die presumptuously. And here I must conclude with my prayers to God for it, and that he would have mercy on your soul.” The Lord Chief Justice on 29 October 1618 to Sir Walter Raleigh who was awaiting execution.

Raleigh had been living under a death sentence for a couple of decades, but his luck had finally run out in 1618.

On Giving Up Running After Four and a half Decades

I started running back in the day when the first “waffle” shoes from Nike came out and were sold in the Bronx from the back of a van. My first pair of running shoes as a high school freshman were leather Puma. At least they weren’t high top Chuckies, which is the pair of sneakers I had up until then and were our equivalent of Michael Jordan’s.

I ran cross-country, indoor and outdoor track for four years in high school. For indoor we’d do an hour and a half train trek to the 168th St. Armory in Manhattan to work out and for meets. Before they spiced it up– it had a flat, splintery, wooden floor. Rattlesnakes in the stands and dragons in the stairwells. Yeah. Cross-country was mostly at Van Cortlandt Park where they still run the same trails. The Flats, Cemetery, the Cowpath. Sound familiar to anyone? Coaches used hourglasses with sand to time us.

At West Point I joined the Marathon Team. I did multiple New York, Boston, Jersey Shore (aka Jooisey Shore), Marine Corps in DC and some others. My first was NY in 1978 before it was really, really big. I was booking, hit 20 in a little over 2 hours and then hit the WALL. Last six miles took an hour and a half. I learned from that. Boston was the easiest since it actually loses elevation from start to finish. One year I wasn’t in the greatest shape after an injury (or walking the Area for punishment tours at West Point, I can’t recall, but there is yours truly tooling around on the left) and a buddy and I decided to just sort of cruise it. That worked until we hit Wellesly and all the screaming co-eds. Next thing we were clicking off six minutes miles and finished under 2:50.

I remember the runner’s high when you’d be just sort of floating, feeling like you were hardly breathing or exerting yourself. After that, I continued to run to work out. Plus it was “Army training”. I tore my Achilles doing martial arts in the early 90s and was never really able to do much distance after that, no matter what kind of shape I managed to get in. Go over eight miles and I could feel it start to give. So. It was a long time since I’d had the runner’s high. But I continued to trudge it out. I’d take Gus to the woods on Whidbey Island, then in NC and now here and we’d meander along on the trails. Becca was smarter than either of us. Any time she figures we were doing an out and back run, she didn’t bother with the out. Running was never high on her agenda.

But Gus is over 8 now and he’s a big dog. We’ve learned that the hips for big dogs are key. And Gus also had a knee operation. I could tell even though he still wants to run (he was whining this morning, wanting to go) it wasn’t good for him. Dogs don’t know how to take care of themselves in some ways and its our job to do that for them. Plus I don’t know how to take care of myself very well without Deb to remind me. Anyway, I decided to follow Gus’s example. I’d been splitting time between running and biking anyway and now I’m just biking.

We moved in January to a house not far from the Greenway here in Knoxville. I can go down the driveway, catch the Greenway in a quarter mile and bike to the TN River, follow it around downtown, across the river, through iJams Nature Center to Forks of the River. Knoxville has a great system of Greenways and parks.

I had a mountain bike I’d bought in Boulder, CO when we lived there and I took it to Whidbey, where the weather is tough on things. I finally accepted it was time to get a tune up so as I was leaving for a conference I dropped it off at the local bike store. While I was gone, the bike guy called my wife and told her he wasn’t going to tune it up. He wouldn’t take responsibility for any work on the bike. Apparently it wasn’t in the greatest of shape. So I got a new bike. That was in 2009. Yesterday, I stopped by REI and saw their new line of bikes and made an impulse buy (most unusual for me). Okay, the impulse was, I liked this bike, looked it over, went home, looked it up on line, emailed my son the physicist and mountain-biker, asked my wife (I guess she’s unusual, because she always says DO IT! whenever I ask about buying something), did some more research, then went back and bought it. For the shrink I had who told me I needed to be spontaneous, that’s about as spontaneous as I get.

Today I’ll be driving up to North Boundary at Oak Ridge and doing some trails to test out the new wheels. Also its where I get my Y-12 glow on. My running shoes are sitting on the shelf in the garage, gathering dust. It was fun for over four decades, but it was time to move on.

Nothing but good times ahead!

Oh yes– today’s bundle special free: Military Science Fiction 2: The Rock and Atlantis Devils Sea.

Area 51: Resurrection– and a cover contest

The title says it all. I’ve begun work on a new book in my classic Area 51 series. Readers have been asking for more since there are unanswered issues from the end of Area 51 The Truth. After all, Lisa Duncan is an immortal who crashed into Mars with the Grail. Also, there is the larger issue of the Swarm versus the Airlia Interstellar War and also the revolt of the humans, which spread here to Earth.

I’m finishing up St. Valentines Day (Time Patrol) as I re-read the Area 51 series and make notes and outline. I actually have an outline from when I finished Area 51 The Truth and sent proposals in for follow on books, but we decided to go with the prequels of Area 51 Legend and Nosferatu.

Let me know your thoughts on what you’d like to see in Resurrection; loose ends from the series you think need to be addressed. In essence, the story will be Turcotte rescuing Duncan, but nothing is ever easy!

As part of this, since I’ll be needing a new cover, I’m opening this up to anyone who’d like to give it a shot. If someone submits a cover I choose as the one to be used, I’ll pay a prize of $300, and, of course, will acknowledge the winner in the book and here on the blog. I’ve been looking at covers and I think a fresh approach is needed overall in the entire market. Of course, I’m not smart enough to figure it out on my own. My brain goes to words, not images. Since it doesn’t involve food, Cool Gus isn’t much help either. Deadline is the end of May for submissions.

The cover is for the eBook version, although it will be used in the print eventually. Thus it needs to pop in thumbnail. Any images used can’t be copyrighted by someone else. Size should be roughly 1,600 pixels wide by 2,400 pixels tall with 900 DPI. Should be jpg and no larger than 1mb. If there is a winner, something to consider is I’m looking at re-branding almost all my book covers– we’re talking over 70 titles. So this could turn into something big.

For Area 51, since it’s part of a series, the only one where I don’t control the earlier books, my name and the words Area 51 and Resurrection, need to be the same as the rest of the series in terms of font, color and placement. Other than that, it’s wide open.

What I’m envisioning is an image of Mars at the bottom with RESURRECTION across it, and then something lancing up into space above Mars. Of course, that would look a lot like The Truth’s cover. But my vision often gets over-ridden by someone else’s good idea. The covers above were done by 47North. The earlier ones below were the ones we had at Cool Gus. But I’m thinking, given the success of The Expanse and the scifi genre, that they’re not scifi enough?Here is a cover by itself.

Questions, comments, suggestions? Email me at


10 Great Truths About Making A Living As A Writer. Okay, turn it up to 11.

Things I’ve learned over 30 years of writing for a living.

  1. You constantly hear “No one makes a living writing novels.” I’ve heard it for decades. In 2012 I was at a conference where I gave a keynote, then was listening to another keynote speaker, David Morrell of Rambo fame, saying “Don’t quit your day job”. And it started to worry me, until I realized my day job was writing. So I didn’t quit. Besides, I’d been in Special Forces and done the Rambo thing as my day job too. Nobody shoots at you while you’re writing. Usually.
  2. It’s the best time ever to be a writer. I’ve heard all sorts of gloom and doom, but I can honestly say, I don’t think there’s ever been a better time because the distance between you and your reader is the Internet. That’s not to say it isn’t an extremely confusing time. The deluge of content has leveled the playing field once more and it comes down to the eternal truth: tell a good story. Don’t focus on all the gimmicks of marketing. WRITE A GOOD STORY.
  3. There is more information than ever before out there. Which could be bad too, but seriously, you can garner a wealth of information about the craft and business of writing without leaving home.
  4. Leave home. One of the greatest mistakes I made in my early writing career was not networking. Even in self/indie publishing, it’s key to network with people. I know you’re an introvert (the least likely of the 16 character types on the Myers-Briggs is INFJ, which they kindly labeled: Author), but get out there and talk to people. It’s a people business. And network with a couple of other serious writers on your craft. I’m not a fan of large writers groups getting together and doing line by lines, but 2 or 3 serious writers working on story, like we do at Writing Scenic is invaluable. Find better writers than you to work with.
  5. Writers support writers. Mostly. I advise writers to join their local RWA (Romance Writers of America) chapter. It’s the most professional writing organization around and your local chapter has tons of expertise and friendly people and monthly workshops.
  6. It’s about story not the book. Change your frame of reference. I sell stories. In various modes: digital, audio and print. Wrap your brain around that concept. It’s about the content not the format! I market using . . .
  7. Slideshare (lots of them), blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, etc. all from home. I used to not be a fan of book trailers, and while I don’t think they do much direct selling, they increase your digital footprint. And they’re cool. It’s not about gimmicks, its about having SEO. Today, it’s not about distribution as much as it is about discoverability. They can’t buy you if they can’t find you.
  8. The framework of the story is evolving in the digital age. Since you can self-publish just about anything, you aren’t constrained creatively. I think self-pubbing is doing what the cable networks did to TV. HBO broke ground on new formats for series and characters. Sopranos, The Wire, and Deadwood. Other networks have picked it up. Have you seen Westworld? My brain exploded on that pilot episode– ah The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind— the book my wife and I bonded over. The Expanse? Science fiction is taking advantage of new technologies in film-making, but it’s always the story! I love studying story and then playing with it.
  9. You can study story in books, but also on Netflix, HBO, Showtime, etc and On-Demand. Watch everything twice. The first for enjoyment of the story and characters and to learn what happens. The second time is the key as a professional writer. Because you know what’s going to happen, now you can see how the writers crafted the story and characters . The second time is eye-opening. If Marie hadn’t stolen that damn state spoon in Breaking Bad, Hank would still be alive and the story would have gone in a completely different direction. Get it? You didn’t the first time you saw it and probably forgot that little event. The second time, it looms large.
  10. Bottom line: The only person who can stop your success is you.

And #11, because Spinal Tap says go to 11. Do you understand your creative process? We focus a lot on craft and business at writers conferences and workshops but not enough on how we actually create and that is the core of our profession. We must go from being craftspeople to artists. Lately my wife and I have focused more and more on how we create. How the mind works. Some of this has developed from working with other writers one on one and via our Writing Scenic Workshops. Process is more important to understand than anything else.

Which means, since writers aren’t in the bell curve, and we’re not necessarily on the good side of the bell curve, that you need a good therapist!

Nothing but good times ahead!

A New Blog, A Rainy Sunday, Rabbit Ears, a free bundle, and Cool Gus

It’s pouring here in Knoxville. Cool Gus is a bit damp and has that unique wet dog smell. He’s carrying a small stuffed rabbit in his mouth in this picture– no harm done. He can carry an egg in his mouth and not break it. Very talented, he is. Last weekend visiting the kids, I advised my son he needs to talk to the grandsons like Yoda, with the key word at the end. Instead of “Don’t put that in your mouth, Haydn!” he needs to say “In your mouth, Haydn, don’t!” Because I think Haydn only hears the last word.

This is my new blog at, so if you were subscribed to writeritforward I’m going to try to figure out how to forward you to this, but otherwise if you want to subscribe you can start anew– I even figured out, with Cool Gus’ help, to put the widget for signing up to the right. And to celebrate I’m doing a special only on the blog and in my Facebook A-Team: a free bundle every Sunday for the next couple of months.

Today it’s Military Science Fiction 1 which consists of two books that predict the future of warfare in two directions: genetics and the power of the mind. If you’re a fan of The Expanse (damn good) or Legion you will like these.

Synbat is about splicing together the perfect soldier

Psychic Warrior is about using the mind, going into the virtual plane and re-assembling in the real world at a distant point. It’s based on a real program we had in Special Forces called Trojan Warrior. My team took all the tests. I’m okay. Really. I don’t have two stuffed rabbit ears sticking out of my mouth at least.

I’m wrapping up Valentines Day for publication on 13 May. Tomorrow I’ll be making an announcement on the book I am already working on– not part of the Time Patrol series but rather another series fans have been asking for. Also, I’ll be announcing a contest for those of you artistically inclined. No, Cool Gus doesn’t need his portrait done. Although here is what it might look like.

I hope everyone is having a great weekend and enjoying their Sunday. Good thoughts to those who have to work today, especially those who do the jobs that make a difference in lives such as doctors, nurses, police, fire, military, dog owners, and others!

Nothing but good times ahead!

“The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, as Narrated by Himself.” Precursor to Uncle Tom’s Cabin

“I will conclude my narrative by simply recording my gratitude, heartfelt and inexpressible, to God, and to many of my fellow-men, for the vast improvement in my condition, both physical and mental; for the great degree of comfort with which I am surrounded; for the good I have been enabled to effect; for the light which has risen upon me; for the religious privileges I enjoy, and the religious hopes I am permitted to cherish; for the prospects opening to my children, so different from what they might have been; and, finally, for the cheering expectation of benefiting not only the present, but many future generations of my race.”

It is commonly accepted that Josiah Henson’s autobiography was the source for Harriett Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. So much so that later in life, he changed the title to: Autobiography of Josiah Henson: An Inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom.

He was a remarkable man who fought against overwhelming odds, not only to free himself, but to help others.His story was the most intriguing one among all my research for Ides of March (free on all ebook platforms)

As usual, I was focused on something else: George Washington’s speech to his mutinous officers on the Ides of March 1783. I came across Josiah Henson’s book. It drew me in so much, that it changed what I was writing. To tell you much more would be too much of a spoiler; regardless, I recommend reading Mr. Henson’s book to grasp a society we are not many generations removed from. And remember that people are not that much different, both good and bad.

I fear too often when we look at history or other cultures, we think those people are somehow ‘different’ than we are. That what happened then or there is out of the realm of possibilities for us. Whether it be pre-Civil War America, the Roman Empire, Nazi Germany, or any era or place. Given the right circumstances, people can do extraordinary things, both good and bad. These lessons are a driving force that keep me writing, trying to bring history to life and showing the ethical and moral issues that penetrate all aspects of it!