I Swear Our House Wasn’t a Fixer-Upper When We Bought It

A wee two bedroom mid-century, move-in ready.  That’s what it was, I swear.  Two years later now and I’m not so sure.

We just finished a full ceiling makeover, for no other reason than we didn’t like the acoustic popcorn that was there originally.  Seal the rooms; scrape the popcorn; haul out the debris; add new beams because they look nice; patch, mud, and sand; prime and paint.

Ah, but heed well, padawan.  There’s more.

Prior to the ceiling project, we (counting backwards) replaced the mailbox; installed new front and back doors, a new window in the bathroom, and cabinets in the laundry room; dug a fire pit in the front yard (to match the one in the back); removed a wood-burning stove and patched the hole where the stove pipe exited the roof; built a shed; installed exterior electrics and lighting; ripped out the old landscaping (which included a laurel hedge that occupied the same length, width, and height as the Great Wall of China); and planted forty-three new trees and assorted varieties of ground cover to replace the Great Wall of China.

In a house that wasn’t a fixer-upper.

I feel like the guy on that insurance commercial: “I’m never buying another house.”

Out of My Head: Advice vs Rules

People wanting to write are hungry for advice.  (Myself, I was starving.)  Everyone wants the magic bullet, the password, the secret handshake, the keys to the kingdom.  The secret of it all is that there is no secret, only lots of hard work.   Anything else is misdirection.

It’s the idea of what’s right that can trap people, everything that is couched as “you should…” or “a pro always…”  They’re all trying to entice  you with the red pill.  “Buy my book!  Attend my seminar!  Sign up for my workshop!”  And that’s dangerous.  With apologies to The Matrix, there is no red pill, no One True Path.  There are only blue pills.  Thousands of them.  Each one a writer with opinions to sell, and none of them quantifiably objective.

Robert Heinlein’s advice on the matter was simple and straightforward:

  • Write
  • Finish what you write
  • Put it in the mail
  • Keep it in the mail until it sells
  • Never revise except to editorial request

Author Jay Lake posited that the only universally true advice for writers is “Write more”.  Everything else falls into the trap of individualized process.  What one writer passionately believes could be nonsensical or even destructive to another writer.

The trick with advice is sorting out how to apply it.

Lake again: We’re all Viktor Frankenstein, sewing body parts in the basement.  (I love that imagery!)  There isn’t a right way, there’s just your way.  And my way.  And anyone else’s way.

The difference between Rules and Advice is an easy one: Writing Rules are spelling, punctuation, grammar, manuscript format, the difference between nouns and verbs.  They’re what we learned in English class.  We collectively agree to them so as to make the process of reading and writing coherent.

Advice is: “don’t begin your story until you have a firm understanding of character, setting, and problem.”  That’s an opinion, nothing more.  Take or ignore advice as you wish.  Writing is a profoundly idiosyncratic business.

The point?  Try not to read how-to books and think “I’m doing it wrong.”  If something you read strikes you as interesting or worthwhile, go for it.  Every writer has to discover for themselves how to get it right.

So before you go running down to the dealer’s room, or to the store, or pay lots of money for workshops or seminars or online classes looking for that one perfect book about writing, the one that’s tailor made to suit your unique voice and strengths…  Stop.  That book isn’t going to be there.  It doesn’t exist.  You haven’t written it yet.

All of that being said, here are my own rules to live and write by.  Relax, there are only two:

Rule #1: Be honest (don’t try to be clever).

Being clever is calling attention to yourself.  You’re letting the words be more important than what you want to say.  Your job as the writer is to be invisible.  Declaring your presence with overwrought prose is not being invisible.

Rule #2: Steal from the best.

Learn from those who have actually done what you want to accomplish yourself.  Which authors first inspired you to take up pen and paper?  Who rocks your world, and how do they do it?  Embrace the writers who resonate with you most and incorporate them into your own work.  Try to sound like them.  Your unique voice will separate itself out as your skills and confidence grow, built upon a successful foundation of those who came before you.

Ultimately, there’s only one thing to remember: No one has ever written a perfect book.  But you keep trying.  That’s what it’s all about.



Back when this website was first launched, there were no variations of my name available with which to register the domain.  I just figured it would be easier for people to find.  By default I chose one of my character’s names instead.  (It was actually his title, but there you go.)  So imagine my surprise when “Dean Wells with a dash in the middle” opened up.  I claimed it a moment later.

So here we are, darkapostle.net is now dean-wells.com, and I’m happy to have you all aboard.  Exciting times are ahead!

Norwescon 38

Norwescon 38 is not three weeks away yet and the host hotel (as well as the overflow hotel) are already sold out, due in no small measure to the presence of our guest-of-honor George R.R. Martin and the frenzy that’s generating in the fan community.  I hear he’s a big deal.  I’ve never seen Game of Thrones myself, but George seems like an earnest fellow and is bringing along the Iron Throne to be displayed in the hotel lobby.  If a passerby or two happens to notice, then it’s all good.  Here is my schedule per the program guide for April 2-5, 2015:

Apr 2, 5PM – “Name All the Things!”  The names you choose add flavor to your story, but sloppy naming can detract from it.  Which characters and places need names at all?  And most importantly, when is it time to stop worrying about names and just get on with writing?

Apr 2, 8PM – “Outlines”.  There are a thousand ways to outline a story, but they won’t all meet your needs.  Our panelists will talk about outlines and offer suggestions to help you discover what works best for you.

Apr 3, 2PM – “The Hero’s Journey”.  Joseph Campbell explored what historically went into stories and revealed the monomyth.  Let’s take a look at the Hero’s Journey and se how it can be used to create stories without stumbling into tired tropes.

Apr 3, 4PM – “Revising From Feedback”.  The terrifying art of adding flour to and removing eggs from that cake you’ve already baked.

Apr 3, 7PM – Reading:  “To the Gods of Time and Engines, a Gift”.

Apr 4, 1PM – Writers Workshop: Betsy Aoki

Apr 4, 2PM – Autograph Session 1

Apr 4, 5PM – Writers Workshop: David Benedict

Apr 5, 11AM – “B Plots: Romances (or Bromances)”.  Developing the soul of any story means nurturing your protagonist, yet many writers flounder here.  Learn from panelists how to write a life-changing relationship.

Apr 5, 12PM –  “Comics on TV”.  Not cartoons, but serious television adaptations of comic properties.  How do you think they’re doing, and what are the ramifications for comics in the future?

Apr 5, 2PM – “Technobabble and Other Cromulent Words”.  Shakespeare, Tolkien, Burgess.  They coined new vocabulary in their fiction.  How to innovate with language without losing your reader.

The Clockwork Millennials

For a while now I’ve been writing a series of stories and essays set in a post-steampunk dystopia some 800 years from now.  The premise it that during the Industrial Revolution, the great machines of the era became self-aware and, in turn, engendered mechanized gods who recreated the world in their image.  Chronologically, the collection spans the final century of the first millennium following this technological awakening.  Each story is a stand-alone with its own conclusion, and yet the work as a whole builds towards a larger meta-resolution with (hopefully) a deeper, longer lasting payoff than the individual stories do themselves.  In order, they are:

To the Gods of Time and Engines, a Gift

When Averly Fell From the Sky

Evensong, Having Been Answered

And the Blessing of the Angels Came Upon Them

All Whirlpools Lead to Atlantis (work in progress)

The Shades of Morgana

The Goddess Deception

Cold Ink  (work in progress)

The Lost Tomorrows (work in progress)

A Child’s Last Steps at the End of the World

Orycon 2014

Orycon 36 is on the horizon, taking place at the DoubleTree Hotel in Portland. It will be our first time in attendance. Take the train from Seattle, keep a leisurely pace. Here’s my schedule per the program guide for November 7-9, 2014:

Nov. 7, 4PM – “Short Stories, Novelettes, and Novellas, and the Markets Who Love Them”. Yes! There are markets out there for shorter fiction!

Nov. 7, 5PM – Reading, “To the Gods of Time and Engines, a Gift.”

Nov. 7, 6PM – “Religion in Genre Fiction”.  Depictions of actual, modernized, or adapted religions in genre fiction–the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.  What’s been done and what could be done better with religion in fiction.  Is the future atheistic?

Nov. 8, 10AM – “What I Wish I Would Have Known–Pitfalls for New Writers”.  All the things writers should know going in, from craft to scams, and what our panelists wish they’d known.

Nov. 8, 11AM – “Planners vs. Pantsers”.  Some writers have everything outlined and plotted before they put their fingers on the keyboard.  Others insist on flying by the seat of their pants.  If you’re one, come learn the techniques of the other and why you should pay attention.

Elmore’s 10 Rules (and 2 of Mine)

If the only thing legendary writer Elmore Leonard had done was create Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens, that would be enough for me. But late in his decades-long career Elmore posted an article in the New York Times titled “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points, and Especially Hooptedoodle”. Within were his ten rules about writing, excerpted below. This list is gold, folks, brilliant in its simplicity. I’ve broken each of these at one time or another, but this is what keeps me on the path. They are:

1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”… he admonished gravely.
5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke use”.
7. Use regional dialect sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.

Elmore’s most important rule is one that sums up the 10 – If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.

I also have two of my own, learned the hard way (and with a respectful tip of the hat to Steven Barnes):
1. Be honest.
2. Steal from the best.

So There Was This House…

…a tiny little place deep in the woods, just north of Lake Washington. Two bedrooms, one bath, a large piece of land and easy on the eyes, but nothing exceptional or special. Love at first sight, so we made an offer bought it.

Moving in was a challenge. Did I mention the house is tiny? Much smaller than the place we’d been renting. We had to think long and hard about what to get rid of as we (truthfully I) had too much stuff to fit. The largest single piece I parted ways with was my desk. I loved that desk. It was huge–I could spread out all my papers and books and still have room to write. Every story I’ve had published was written at that desk. Surely I could have made it fit somewhere, right? Probably yes. Did I need the desk? Probably no.

One of the places I’d visited while in London several years back was Charles Dickens’ house. It’s a museum now, still furnished as when he lived there. What impressed me most was his desk. It wasn’t really a desk at all; it’s the size and shape of a TV dinner tray, with spindly legs mounted on tiny wooden wheels. Dickens would roll it from room to room when he wrote, wherever the mood struck him and the light was best. He didn’t need a grand piece of furniture at which to work, he just needed to work.

So I said good-bye to my own grand piece of furniture. As I write this I’m sitting at the kitchen table, which is as fine a place to work as any. Too many people get hung up on the things they need in order to write: the proper space, the newest program, the right keyboard. All they really need is some paper, a pencil, and the desire.

I started this post talking about my house, and maybe that’s a fine place to finish. It’s where I write.

A Really Good Day

The April issue of Locus magazine came today and there on page XX is a review of my novella “The Goddess Deception”. Now I’ve been reviewed by Locus before, but in their online version. Print is different. It’s an actual something. You can hold it in your hands, you can smell the ink and paper, you can roll it up and swat the fly that’s been driving you bat shit crazy for the last hour. And it certainly didn’t hurt that the review was very positive at that. Thanks for the kind nod, Rich. It’s a little thing, really. Getting reviewed in Locus had been a goal of mine coming up through the ranks, and now that it’s here it made my day. Until…

…an invite came asking me to be a panelist at Orycon 36. We’ve not attended before, and visiting Portland will be a treat. Good days are made of small things, and today we received two.

OryCon 36 and the Locus review.

Norwescon 2014

Norwescon 37 was a wonderful experience, despite the misfortune of my son and I being sicker than dogs.  What can you do?  All in all, I’m very pleased.  Nine scheduled events, slightly more than average and certainly my heaviest convention load to date (eight panels, of which I moderated two, and a solo reading). Plus my staff duties in the Green Room.  Yikes! That’s a busy four days. My schedule per the program guide for April 17-20, 2014:

April 17, 3PM – Is Space Really the Old West?
A wagon train to the stars is a familiar trope in SF. We see examples of Western stories set in space all over the place. The immense distances in space create problems similar to those encountered by American settlers colonizing the continent. Come and join in the discussion of this popular form of our genre.

April 17, 5PM – Intricate Worlds
How do you build and maintain an intricate fantasy world that holds up to intensive fan interrogation?

April 18, 11AM – Authors with Volume
Audiobooks, vlogs, and podcasts are extremely popular formats, but many authors don’t know where to start. Learn the tools and tricks by participating in a recorded podcast session.

April 18, 2PM – Faith in Speculaive Fiction
Faith is an area that is often overlooked in world-building and character motivation for speculative fiction in spite of the fact that it has had and continues to have (for good and bad) in our world. How has faith been used well (or badly) in our genres?

April 18, 5PM – Lies My Writing Teacher Told Me
Much of what we think we know about publishing is wrong–or rather, it’s not true anymore. This panel aims to dispel common myths and radically update the understanding of etiquette, norms, and plausiblr paths to success in this fast-changing industry.

April 18, 4PM – Giving Good Alien
It’s pretty hard to write about a lie form completely outside of our experience. No matter how good an SF story is, if you come across an alien that’s either “just a guy in a suit” or too far from our current understanding of the laws of physics, it can throw you out of the story. So what does it take to create a believeable alien?

April 19, 3PM – Reading, “When Averly Fell from the Sky”.

April 20, 12PM – Queen Victoria’s Fantastical Fiction
Steampunk is no longer a fad, but t’s own subgenre. What makes it so appealing, and is steampunk different from other forms of fantasy? Join our panelists as they look at recent works and discuss where steampunk is going, and who might take it there.

April 20, 2PM – Writing Action
Penning a thrilling action sequence requires specific writing skills. Learn how to change up the tone of your prose, sequence events properly, and triple your pace without sacrificing clarity.