How to Kill Your Darlings

After “Show, don’t tell!”, “Read a lot and write a lot”, and “Never fight a land war in Asia”, the most common bit of writing advice may well be “Kill your darlings.” This means that sometimes there will be things in your writing that you really really really love, passages that sing to you every time you read them, passages which make you think that maybe you’re actually good enough for this writing business after all…but which you must remove from your book or story because the story itself is better without it.

That’s what it means: Kill your darlings. If the book is improved by killing something you see as a darling, then you have to smother it in its sleep. Poison its coffee. Push it off the bridge. You get the idea.

Sometimes when writers kill their darlings, the darlings resurface in another way – perhaps as a short story, or the idea gets recycled, or so on. Years ago, fantasy author Stephen R. Donaldson issued an anthology of short stories, but it also included a fallen darling of his: a chapter from his book The Illearth War, which he ended up cutting for sound reasons but which he also didn’t want to see gone forever. So darlings don’t have to stay dead.

But how do you know when it’s time to kill a darling?

Well, here’s the thing, for me: All darlings are suspect, and some of them are impostors. So the task isn’t to kill darlings, it’s to kill the things that are not darlings, so that the things that are can shine in all their darling glory. Your darlings are awesome. You don’t want to kill your darlings! You have to lure the non-darlings out into the open, and then you have to strangle them and toss them overboard. No mercy for the non-darlings, folks!

This requires a pretty hard-nosed and blunt approach to one’s own story. You have to see story errors for what they are, and ruthlessly eliminate them. Killing darlings is painful, but killing false darlings? Dragging the impostors outside by their hair and pushing them into a deep pit? That feels great! But since false darlings almost always look like real darlings, what’s a writer to do?

Well, sooner or later, every false darling will start to stand out like a sore thumb. If you have doubts about a certain thing in your story – a character, a subplot, a scene, whatever – then that’s a red flag that the thing you’re looking at is a false darling.

There’s an entire plotline in the first draft of Forgotten Stars III that will never see the light of day, because I recognized it for what it was – a false darling – very soon after I finished writing the first draft. It might have even been within a day or two of writing the words “The End”, and I wrote in my editing notes to delete it. And delete it I have.

Another problem with false darlings isn’t even that they’re disguised as real darlings, it’s that we’re trying desperately not to see them as false darlings, because we’re invested for whatever reason in their survival. These ones are the hardest. That plotline in Forgotten Stars III that I deleted? I tried valiantly to convince myself that it could stay, that it wasn’t too damaging, that I could make it work with some good editing…but eventually I had to come to terms with the fact that the thing had to go.

False darlings don’t want to go. They want to stay. They want to live off the energy of your story. They want to suck down that good energy and live on, ruining things for all time. And if you let them, they will. So kill them.

“But what if I kill an actual darling?” You’ll probably realize it. What can be removed, can be put back. A story isn’t like a game of Jenga…and if you have to put it back, maybe it’ll be even better. I’ve edited out actual darlings only to have to re-insert them before, and when I do, I usually just rewrite tham, and they come out better. So don’t worry about this.

Truthfully, I have yet to find a false darling that I feel bad about excising, and neither should you. And if you’re worried about a “wasted idea”? Don’t! If the idea is that good, it’ll work itself in someplace else. And if not, well…you’ll forget about it eventually, anyway.

Share This Post

Posted in Writing | Leave a comment

When Real Life Hands You Storybits

Sometimes real life hands you stories, almost fully-formed, and all you have to do is write them down. It’s like taking dictation. This happens, but it doesn’t happen very often, at least not for me. That’s kind of par for the course, when your genres are space opera and fantasy. Real life can’t give me too many stories about space wars or lost princesses. At least not yet, anyway.

But real life does give me a lot of storybits. What are storybits? They’re simply that: bits that can either be the basis for stories, or can serve as parts of stories. You never know where you might end up using a storybit, which is why you, as a writer, simply MUST make it part of your daily routine to recognize storybits and file them away for future reference. You don’t have to use all of your storybits, but the more you have, the easier it will be to do cool stuff in your stories!

Here are some times when I’ve used storybits.

ONE: Years ago, I worked in restaurant management, and one place I worked was a Bob Evans in Jamestown, NY. We had a regular customer named Karl, who was an older gentleman, probably in his late 60s or early 70s. (This was in 1998 or so.) Karl drove a nicely used pickup truck, but he was always very well-dressed when he came in to eat, always by himself. He had a handsome smile, but he was always quiet and always showed up, read the paper while he waited and while he ate, and then he would quietly leave, paying his bill and bidding us all goodbye with a genial nod of his head.

Then one day one of my servers informed me of the headcanon that she and the other servers had cooked up for Karl. I asked what his story was, and if anyone knew anything about him. No one did, so they had all concluded that Karl was one of the Nazi genius scientists that we brought over to the United States after World War II and gave a new identity in exchange for his research on nuclear power or rocketry or whatever.

Karl went on to feature as the creepy antiques dealer in my story “In Longhand” (available on Wattpad!). It’s one of very few times I ever put someone I knew from real life directly into a story, but even there it wasn’t much of a roman a clef. I didn’t know Karl at all other than his visits to Bob Evans, and I never even learned his last name. But he lives in a little in that story.

TWO: This happened in the last year! I thought I took photos, but I can’t find them, so I’m not sure when exactly it happened. My day job is in a large grocery store in a Buffalo suburb, and the Store is located on a heavily-traveled street. Near the front corner of our building, by the street, there is a large steel grate, through which water runs into the storm drainage system for the town. I never thought much about this grate (it’s big, about three feet square), until one day when I saw a bunch of cops standing around it. There were three or four squad cars all in our parking lot, clustered right by that corner near the grate, and then a big police van pulled up on the street, with two other squad cars pulling up in front and behind, to block off the right lane. I naturally wondered what was going on, but I couldn’t get close enough to see. However, I have access to my building’s roof, so up I went!

Looking down on this scene, I was able to clearly see that the cops had lifted the grate, exposing the drop into the sewer system below. I couldn’t see from that vantage point how far down it went, but there was a cop in a wet suit standing nearby, and they were lowering a ladder into the drain. Soon, the wet-suit cop went down. I didn’t stick around for him coming back up, but he soon did, and the cops put the grate back in place and then they dispersed.

I later learned that some people had called the police from the neighborhood of The Store, reporting voices in the sewers. The idea was that some kids had got in there, and were making their way through the sewers of the town. Thus search-and-rescue was deployed. I don’t know if anything ever turned up (well, I do know that they didn’t find bodies or anything so horrible), but that stuck in my mind. This incident has just this week found its way into the second John Lazarus novel.

THREE: Storybits don’t even have to be pieces of story. They can be the tiny details you notice as you go through life. It’s details like these that can make your story seem especially real.

One day, I was out driving, running errands. It was a summer day, and there was a sudden thunderstorm that fired up quickly, dumped its rain, and then moved on just as quickly as it had come. When it was gone, the sun came out again, just as bright and brilliant as before, but now everything was wet, including the road.

That was when I noticed that the car in front of me was kicking up spray from its back tires, and the sunlight was making tiny rainbows in the spray. I had never seen that before, and I’ve never seen it since. I think it’s really one of those “right place at the right time” sorts of phenomena that probably happens a lot but no one notices, and it doesn’t happen often to each individual one of us because while there’s always someone out driving in the post-storm sunshine, how often is it us, and how often are we looking down at the tires of the car in front of us, and how often are we driving at the right angle to the sun to see those tiny spray-bows?

Storybits are everywhere. Look for them!

Share This Post

Posted in Writing | Leave a comment

Finding time

People often talk about “finding” time to write, as if there’s a few minutes to be found under the couch, or “making” time to write, as if by sheer force of will we can make the next hour contain 69 minutes instead of the usual 60. I don’t much care for either notion. There is no more time for you than there is for me, and unless you’re incredibly fortunate, there are likely roughly as many demands on my time as there are on yours.

So no, you don’t “find” or “make” time to write. All you can do is use the time you’ve already got. I wish I had more time to write, but then, so do all who live to see such times. All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given to us. (Seems I’ve heard someone say something very like that before…hmmmm….)

John Scalzi put it all very bluntly a few years back, and I tend to agree strongly with him here:

So: Do you want to write or don’t you? If your answer is “yes, but,” then here’s a small editing tip: what you’re doing is using six letters and two words to say “no.” And that’s fine. Just don’t kid yourself as to what “yes, but” means.


But still, lectures like that aren’t always the answer. Specific examples might be helpful, if you’re struggling to somehow pack more writing into your day. All of this involves tradeoffs. It involves concluding that some existing time-sinks in your life need to be adjusted, in terms of their priority, in order to squeeze something else in. In some cases, it might even involve making some painful decisions regarding things that you really like doing, so ultimately it all comes down to the question of just how much you like writing in the first place, and the only person who can answer that is you. These are the things that I did when I decided that it was time to shift from “I wanna write sometime” to “I’m gonna write NOW.” Some of it is about using time for writing; others are about maximizing the quality of my writing time.

1. Get up earlier. Unless you’re a morning person by temperament – and I am not – this one sucks. But I had to do it. I used to get up at 6:00 am to get ready for work (my shift starts at 7:30 most days, and I have a roughly 15-minute commute). I started getting up at 5:30, thus gaining an extra thirty minutes of writing time before work. Does it suck? Yeah, sometimes. I am not, as I note, a morning person. But the time’s gotta come from somewhere, and there are fewer demands on my time early in the day than later, so that’s when I’ve decided that I have to get some of the work done.

2. Write during lunch. In fact, that’s what I’m doing now! As I write this, it’s my lunch period. Now don’t worry, I’m not giving up eating. But what I’ve done is utilize the down time I get at work differently. My job allows me a 15-minute break and a 30-minute lunch period each day. I used to take the break in the morning sometime, and then lunch around 1:00. Now I take the break around noon, during which I eat (because quite frankly, it doesn’t take more than 15 minutes to eat), and I take the lunch period around 2:00 or 2:30, during which I exclusively write.

It helps that I have my own small work area with my own door, so I can get privacy, and it also helps that I have never much liked the atmosphere of “break rooms”, no matter what job I had. Am I missing out on some social time with coworkers? Maybe, but I get plenty of that anyway.

3. The crockpot is your friend. It really, truly is. Now, you don’t want to overdo it, but several nights a week it falls to me to cook, and sometimes it’s nice to have a meal option that doesn’t involve losing an hour or two to prepping and working over the stove. You can do wonderful things with a slow cooker, and it can really free up some good writing time. (This is also why God invented rotisserie chickens and frozen pizzas.)

4. Set a daily quota. I have been a firm believer in quotas for years, and I plan to go right on being a fan of quotas. Setting real, measurable goals and breaking them down into meaningful chunks is important to me, and it helps me feel like I’m actually making progress when I have those days when, as Stephen King puts it, I only feel like I’m “shoveling shit from a sitting position”. Make your quota high enough to be a challenge (it shouldn’t be easy), but low enough to be attainable.

This is where you have to know yourself and your level of likely useful productivity. Currently I’m enforcing a quota of 1200 words a day, because that’s what I feel I can reasonably achieve in a day while still leaving room for family, meals, showers, dog walks, reading, and other stuff. If you can write more than that with the time you’ve carved out for yourself, great! If less, then that’s fine, too. If you set a quota and find that you’re hitting it every day with ease, raise it. If you’re never hitting it, then lower it. A quota is a goal you set for yourself, and more than that, it’s a tool to help you be productive. A quota is not a stick to beat yourself with.

5. Know which days are good and which aren’t, and feel free to adjust quotas accordingly. Just because you have quotas doesn’t mean that they have to be the same every day. In my own life, with the routine we currently have, it turns out that Tuesdays are really bad for writing. More specifically, Tuesday nights are never good for writing, so if I want to hit quota on Tuesdays, I have to get out of bed and make it happen early. On the flip side I have Saturdays, which are almost always awesome writing days, so I allow myself a quota of 2000 words on Saturdays. Every day is not created equal!

6. When you hit quota, STOP. This is another thing I believe. There are days when it’s grossly tempting to plow past my quota and keep going until I double it, triple it, whatever it. I don’t think that’s a great idea, because I think it can lead me to raising my expectations for each day out, thus magnifying the shittiness of the shitty days, and it can make it easier to blow off a day when I’ve blasted quota to bits the day before. Along with my strong belief in daily quotas is an equally-strong belief in steady, consistent production. Binge-writing, in my experience, leads to days when I write nothing at all, and those days are poison to my writing-loving heart.

There’s an old adage in storytelling: “Always leave ‘em wanting more.” Well, I think it applies to writers, too: Always leave yourself wanting more!

7. Leave a note for the next session. This is something I started doing after I read Rachel Aron’s book 2k to 10k. It’s not so much “outlining”, but when I end a session “in the groove”, I always have a good idea of what’s to immediately follow. Since sometimes twenty-four hours can pass before the next session, I find it hard to jump back in with the same enthusiasm with which I finished the day before. I do some hemming and hawing as I try to recapture a thought process that ended a day before, and in this way I lose valuable time.

So when a session ends, I try to leave myself a note – two or three sentences is enough – telling me where I’m going next. It makes hitting the ground running the next day a lot easier, and when time is of the essence, hitting the ground running is pretty important.

Let’s see, what else? Some folks swear by apps that disable their Internet access or other such efforts to make their work distraction-free. I do not do this. I can get distracted by the Internet as much as anyone, but I’m pretty good at cranking away without needing distractions when I get myself going, and my whole writing practice is designed to make it as easy as possible to get into that zone. About the only thing I like to do in terms of reducing distractions is using Scrivener’s fullscreen writing environment, and even that sometimes I eschew, since I like to keep two panes open, one with the manuscript and one with my character notes or some other info file.

So that’s how I maximize the time I have in order to get the most work done. How about you all? Let me know your tricks for getting productive!

Share This Post

Posted in Writers, Writing | Leave a comment

Get thee behind me, June!!!

So June is over and we’re into July, which means it’s time to take a look at the month gone past in terms of writing, and offer some other news items of note, first from my part of the world and then from other writers!

:: Numbers? We got ’em!

Final June #amwriting tally. 'Twas a bit of a rocky month!

The main project was drafting the second “GhostCop” novel, and in those terms, June was productive, but not greatly productive. It was not a bad month from a writing perspective, not bad at all. It wasn’t great, either. I basically made my targets and that’s about it. There’s nothing wrong with that. There were some days when the writing was harder than others, especially one stretch toward the end of the month when external-world concerns piled on to make writing especially difficult. Basically, The Wife had to work a number of very early-in-the-morning shifts, which screwed up everybody’s sleep schedules. I’m not super militant about needing my eight hours a night, but 4.5 to 5 hours for three or four consecutive nights increasingly takes its toll on me. But I soldiered through and still managed to average over 1000 words a day for June.

I also only had one zero-word count day, but on that day I sat down and did some “prep” work, making some notes about characters and ironing out the backstory that comes into play in the book’s third act and generally nailing down what all the various conflicts are in the book. There are more moving parts in this story than I had originally expected, but it should all play out in a pretty explosive way toward the end. At least that’s the current hope! As I write this (July 2, but it will appear on July 5), I have finished drafting the first act of the book and am on to the second. I hope to have the draft done by the end of August.

:: The focus this fall, starting in September, will be the publication prep for GhostCop Book One and Amongst the Stars, both of which will appear this fall. Hooray!

:: But I’ll also be starting another series of space opera adventures! I’ll say more about this as time passes, but it’s set in the Forgotten Stars universe. The stories will likely not intersect in any meaningful way; I’m setting them in the same universe mainly because I want to use the established world-building I already have in place. As Lt. Uhura once pointed out on Star Trek, “It’s a big galaxy!” So I might as well keep playing in it. I ‘ve been doing some plot-noodling and generating information on my characters, because this is going to be a Firefly kind of adventure series, with a spaceship and her intrepid crew having exploits. And I’ve even been sketching the ship! Move over, Millennium Falcon! Take a back seat, Serenity! Meet Orion’s Huntress, soon to be one of the iconic ships in all science fiction!

Spaceship for an upcoming space opera series I plan to write! (The ship's tentative name? Orion's Huntress.) #spaceopera #SpaceshipsAreAwesome #amwriting

:: Nifty blogger and writing cohort Faith Rivens recently read both Stardancer and The Wisdomfold Path, and she graciously reviewed both, here and here, respectively. Check them out! And then read the books, because they’re good! Other people say so!

:: A few months ago I first heard the term “bullet journal”. This has nothing to do with firearms. It’s a specific way of using a journal to enhance your daily like and productivity. Blogger and writer Coryl O’Reilly explains.

:: Ksenia Anske on taking long breaks between drafts. I absolutely believe in doing this. I wait at least three months between first draft and first manuscript markups, and most times I wait even longer than that. Distance makes seeing the flaws easier.

:: It’s required by law that I link this, so here it is: George RR Martin and Stephen King sit down and chat.

It’s a grand world out there, Writerfolk!!!

Share This Post

Posted in The John Lazarus novels, Writing | Leave a comment

Sunshine Blogger Award!!!

Oh wow, it’s actually been an entire month since I posted here last, hasn’t it? That’s terrible. Anyway, I’ll have a proper report up on how June went in terms of writing (short version: mixed bag) early next week, but for now, check this out: A fellow writer, Rebecca Chase, nominated me for the Sunshine Blogger Award! Huzzah!!

The rules are as follows:

The Sunshine Blogger Award is a “get to know the writer better” type of blogging exercise, with a couple of rules attached:

1. Answer all 11 questions asked by the blogger who nominated you.

2. Nominate eleven bloggers in return and write eleven (possibly fiendish) questions for them to answer.

You know, it’s funny — over on Byzantium’s Shores (my personal blog, for those who only know me through here), I’ve been blogging for so long that I remember when these types of blog-quiz awards were quite common. They’ve really fallen by the wayside with the rise of Facebook and Twitter and the like, but they’re still fun, so I’ll go ahead and answer these, pose my own, and nominate. Here we go!

1. What is your favourite song? Do you have a significant memory attached to a time you listened to it?

Oh heavens, it’s this question. Don’t you just hate when you ask someone this question and they get all dewy-eyed and say something like “Gosh, I just love music so much that I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite song!”

Well, guess what? Gosh, I just love music so much that I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite song! Although…I can pick a favorite song, just so long as we acknowledge that there are hundreds of others. For now, I’ll note the song “Last Dance” by Donna Summer. Here’s what I wrote on my personal blog about that song on the occasion of Donna Summer’s passing.

2. Where do you love to blog/write the most?

Upstairs, in my library, surrounded by my books.

But I do love writing elsewhere. I can write in cafes and in public libraries perfectly well, and I like to do so once a week, if possible, for the change of pace. I also want to try writing in a public park or something like that, but as of this writing my laptop’s battery is too old to live up to a sustained writing session without a cord. Luckily, though, also as of this writing, I’ve ordered a new battery! I don’t want to buy a new computer for at least another year if I can help it.

3. If you could make up a fear of something what would it be of and what would it be called?

Huh. Interesting. How about Pronunciphobia, which is the fear that you badly mangle a word in spoken conversation because you’ve only ever read it and therefore you don’t know how it’s said? Or Scrabble Expectations Syndrome. This is when people assume that you’re a great word-game player because you’re a writer.

And as a pie-in-the-face fan, I admit to barbasolaphobia. This is an unreasoning hatred of shaving cream. That stuff is terrible, folks!

4. Italian or French? (in whatever context you decide)

French! (We’re going with opera here. I love me some French composers. Hector Berlioz is my favorite composer of all time, and he wrote three wonderful operas. Then you have Bizet, composer of Carmen. Not that the Italians are any slouches, though. Verdi and Puccini are enough to ensure the Italian star in the operatic heavens.)

Oh, and salad dressing? Italian all the way. I’ve never been a big fan of French dressing.

5. What do you think killed the dinosaurs? (can be as creative an answer as you like)

Nothing. There never were any dinosaurs. Their bones were artificially created and seeded around the world by the aliens who put us here. Why? Because they’re jerks.

6. What is the strangest thing you’ve ever had to research for your writing/blogging?

Huh. I’m not really sure! I recently looked up how boiler explosions happen, because my current WIP features someone who died in one.

7. What can you hear right now? What would you prefer to be listening to?

Right now? Crickets and birds; the wind in the trees; traffic on the big highway that’s a quarter-mile thataway; the clackety-clack of the dog’s feet as he wanders about trying to signal us that he wants to go out for his walk!

8. What do you do when you feel you should be writing but are lacking in inspiration?

I usually grit my teeth and force myself to write. I’m a “Get the job done” kind of person. I don’t have a great deal of use for waiting for The Muse to show up.

9. What is your greatest achievement?

Raising the Daughter; staying married (no, we never came close to breaking, but we did have some pretty serious tests about ten years ago); finishing a book; learning how to use Scrivener (yes, this counts); learning how to format e-books in various formats!

10. If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life what would it be?

As long as I can change the toppings in any way I want? Pizza. Or waffles. Or sandwiches, with as broad a definition as possible! I also can’t rule out nachos or burritos. Damn, this question is hard!

11. Who is your favourite author and why?

My favorite living author is Guy Gavriel Kay, whose historical fantasies are deeply emotional and filled with characters who are incredibly real. My favorite nonliving author is JRR Tolkien, because The Lord of the Rings is quite frankly a miracle of a book.

OK, time to tag a few people! And my eleven questions follow. Wheeeee!

AB Keuser



1. What do you value more in a story: dialog or plot?
2. Describe the home planet of Lin-Manuel Miranda. (Come on, that dude ain’t human.)
3. If you enjoy watching any sports at all, which ones would you at least like to try just once?
4. Describe the most recent book to which you gave (or would have given) five stars.
5. Do you finish bad books? Why or why not?
6. How vexed are you when movies don’t match the books?
7. Describe your perfect hot beverage. In detail. I’m talking roast of bean or variety of leaves, additives like spices or squirts of citrus, vessel from which the drink is sipped, where you are sitting as you sip it, who is next to you, what music is playing.
8. Do you watch cooking shows? If so, describe your favorite.
9. Name a place you’ve visited that you thought you’d hate but you didn’t.
10. You know that hobby you had as a younger person that you miss dearly but you know you’ll never do it again? Describe it!
11. On January 20, 2017, the newly inaugurated President of the United States signs a law requiring all Americans to display a coffee-table book prominently in their home. Which one do you put out?

And thanks again, Rebecca, for the award!

Share This Post

Posted in Life, Writers, Writing | 1 Comment


I haven't been posting much because I'm THIS CLOSE to finishing the first draft of SEAFLAME, Book One. TODAY I FINISH WRITING THE THING, fellow writer-warriors!!! #amwriting

My intent has been to post here at least once a week, but obviously that hasn’t happened lately, and the reason is my usual one: I’ve been really focused on cranking out the words on SEAFLAME!, and guess what! Today I finished the first draft!

So…how did it come out in the end? Well:

It. Is. DONE. [thud] #amwriting

I’m not gonna lie, folks: while I gave myself permission to write a long book, mainly because I wanted to write a long book, I didn’t quite expect it to be this long! That’s a lot of words. It’s about 60,000 words longer than Stardancer‘s first draft, about 50,000 longer than The Wisdomfold Path‘s, and it’s about 30,000 longer than what was my longest book to date yet, Amongst the Stars. Plus, this is only the first book in a duology, and I plan to take a break from this project before I draft Book II, so it’ll be a while before this book sees the light of day beyond my own eyes. Sorry, folks, that’s just the way of it. But I will say this: I think I’ve done some really nifty work here, if I do say so myself. Certainly there’s some very strong character writing, and I look forward to seeing how it’s received!

SEAFLAME! is my Dumas-inspired adventure novel, and it’s a “fantasy” by virtue of taking place in a completely imaginary world, and there is no magic in it at all. It was a lot of fun to write, and I’m really glad to have a draft complete, because this is a project that I’ve started three times already. Third time was the charm, though!

So what’s next? Ghostcop II (more on Ghostcop to come in the next few months), and then the first draft in a new space opera series (which will be set in the same universe as The Song of Forgotten Stars, but the stories won’t intersect), and then either SEAFLAME! Book Two or Forgotten Stars IV. I like having my work planned out way in advance. Almost makes me feel like a real writer!

Onward and upward! Zap! Pow! #AmWriting

Share This Post

Posted in Seaflame!, The Song of Forgotten Stars, Writing | 2 Comments

Buckle Thy Swash!

There are a lot of ways to separate writers into opposing camps: Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you write in past tense or present tense? Do you have a daily quota, or not?

One of my favorite such queries is: Do you listen to music when you write, or not?

Some writers don’t listen to music, claiming that they can’t focus on the story when music is playing. Others need music, as a way of setting mood and of shutting out the rest of the world. I fall into the latter category. I can write without music, and I often do, but my preference is to have music going.

Usually I listen to classical, Celtic, or film music while I write. I’m not too insistent on matching my writing music to the mood of what I’m working on, but I do like to use music as writing-mood music at least some of the time. Thus, for my current WIP – the Alexandre Dumas-inspired Hefty Adventure Fantasy novel Seaflame! – I have been listening to some swashbuckling adventure music. Sometimes you just need some good adventurous-sounding music when you’re writing about crossed swords and villains with big hats with feathers in the brim and pounding horse-rides across the landscape and highland clans and all that sort of thing.

The Three Musketeers, music by Michael Kamen. This is the score from the 1993 film of Dumas’s novel, and it’s a terrific score. In fact, it’s almost certainly the best thing about the film.

The Adventures of Robin Hood, music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. So many wonderful swashbucklers of Hollywood’s Golden Age boast scores by Korngold. I can’t even look at a picture of Errol Flynn without hearing something by Korngold in my head.

The Sea Hawk, Korngold again. See what I mean? This is my favorite Korngold score.

Pirates of the Caribbean, music by Hans Zimmer and Klaus Badelt. I really do love these movies and have never understood the increasingly negative reaction to each one that comes out, and the music is a lot of fun too, for a more modern take on the swashbuckling thing.

Cutthroat Island, music by John Debney. This is not a good movie, although I also don’t think it’s quite as bad as everybody else does. It cost a ridiculous amount to make, the male lead was terribly miscast, and the movie simply wasn’t good enough to overcome being in a genre that simply wasn’t in demand at the time. Debney’s score, though, is amazing – in fact, many film music lovers consider it a classic. Lots of swashbuckling here!

The Mask of Zorro, music by James Horner. Energetic fun here, if you want a Latino flare to your swashbuckling music.

Ivanhoe, music by Miklos Rozsa. Rozsa is another of the great composers of Hollywood’s Golden Age. He’s likely best known for his work on big epics like Ben Hur, but Ivanhoe is a wonderful swashbuckling listen.

Hook, music by John Williams. Here we’re skirting the line between “swashbuckling adventure” and “outright fantasy”, but it’s hard not to get caught up in Williams’s work for this movie (which is, admittedly, not a favorite of mine).

Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, music by Michael Kamen. Kamen was somewhat underrated during his lifetime, and, well, he might still be a bit underrated. His Robin Hood score is terrific. (I like the movie, despite its well-known faults in the “historical accuracy” department.)

Rob Roy, music by Carter Burwell. This film isn’t quite the standard type of swashbuckler you might expect – it’s more of a historical drama, and Burwell scores it as such. But there are still exciting moments in it, and the score is well-worth hearing.

The Princess Bride, music by Mark Knopfler. Also not your standard swashbuckler, and therefore not the standard type of adventure music you’d expect for one, but it can still fit the mood, especially if part of your swashbuckling story involves Twoo Wuv.

And not just film music! You can hear a lot of thrilling music of the swashbuckling variety in the classical realm. A few examples, which aren’t remotely exhaustive:

Le Corsaire Overture, by Hector Berlioz. Berlioz is one of my favorite composers ever, and there’s a lot of adventure in his music. Especially in this rousing overture!

The Polovtsian Dances, by Alexander Borodin. Exotic and wonderful. The Russian Romantics will sweep you away, if you’re not careful. But come to think of it…let them!

The Flying Dutchman Overture, by Richard Wagner. There’s a lot of overlap between good swashbuckling music and good outright fantasy music, and this is an example. Wagner makes amazing listening for fantasy purposes, actually – but fantasy music is another post.

I could go on, but this post is pretty long already. These are but a starting point, though, so sharpen your rapiers, put on your wide-brimmed hat with giant feather in it, and go buckle your swash!

Share This Post

Posted in Writing | 2 Comments



Hey everybody! For one week only, you can get both FORGOTTEN STARS e-books on Kindle for just $.99 each! Two fantastic* space opera novels for the grand total of $1.98! Spaceships! Princesses! Ancient galactic empires! Lost planets! Mysteries! Action! Giant six-legged cats! Enigmatic space pilots! All this and MORE!!!

Get ’em while they’re hot!

*This opinion is completely biased.


Share This Post

Posted in Stardancer, The Song of Forgotten Stars, The Wisdomfold Path, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

GUEST POST!!! On the Tracking of Progress, by A.B. Keuser

Hey, folks! It’s me. Below we have a first for this site: a guest post! This entry is by A.B. Keuser, a speculative fiction author who, by her own words, “spends a lot of time making things up and figuring fun ways to kill people.” Here she discusses her methods of tracking her writing progress. Enjoy!!!


I track my writing by day. It’s a practice I took up in 2013 when I decided to write 1,000,000-words in one year, and I’ve kept with it since because it gives me some really great feedback.

Much like Kelly, I keep track of my writing on a spreadsheet. Unlike Kelly, I record my numbers up in a calendar like set-up.

This allows me to pull day counts, week counts, and keep a running total.

Let’s look at March of this year:

This is what my monthly spreadsheet looks like.

The bulk of the sheet is the calendar where I record the actual numbers. I keep 3 lines for each date because I have a main item scheduled and then I’m usually juggling two other back-burner projects that I write on when I’ve met certain goals. This is why I color code them. With one quick glance, I can look at March and tell you what I worked on.

I like to keep track of my weekly w/c and my running total alongside this just to make sure I’m getting on with my bigger goals.

Below the calendar, I keep a running bar graph (At the beginning of the month, I set up the formula to collect the day’s totals and add it to the chart so I don’t have to worry about it later.) This is one of the most visual representations I have of my monthly writing. It’s quick, it’s tidy, and it gets the point across.

Why this works for me

My eyes get bored pretty easily when it comes to numbers. We’ve never really gotten along, so I use this method of spreadsheeting with colors and charts to keep me interested in said numbers.

I’m also a very self-competitive person. This year one of my bigger goals is to beat my totals from 2014 & 2015. It’s going well enough.

But one of the main things it allows me to do is know when I write, and when I should focus on other things and give my brain a break.

Honestly though, the main reason I do this is to hold myself accountable. As Kelly mentioned at the beginning of April, I post my counts every month. I’m not sure anyone really cares to see them outside of myself, but having them out there, in the open really helps me keep from slacking off.

The Big Picture Numbers

ab sheet 2

2013: 1,000,497
Average: 83k words per month.
Best month: February – 133,329 words
Worst month: December – 0 words

In theory, this sounds awesome, right? So much productivity! But I managed that by ignoring all but two editing projects. Which means I’ve still got some back burner projects from that year that are waiting around to be finished.

If you’re just looking to get words down on paper—maybe you need to empty out your brain because it’s gotten too cluttered—the way I approached 2013 is great. You just write. If something isn’t working, you shove it aside and work on something that does flow. You worry about the rest of the writing stuff later.

2014: 438,943
Average: 36,578
Best month: May 62,965
Worst month: December 5,880

This year was all around tamer. I was working on things with the intention of finishing them and getting them right. That meant I couldn’t shove them to the side until my brain sorted through their issues later. I had to get things done, and I had to get them done when I scheduled them.

I learned, from looking through this year’s records, that I can’t rely on myself to do any writing on Thursdays. For whatever reason, they’re my own personal Mondays, and that day just sucks the life out of me, writing wise. Sure I can force it, but the writing is pretty awful in edits, so I usually just don’t schedule myself any req words that day. I use it for admin things now, like finishing up blog posts and doing marketing backlogs, or outlining etc.

2015: 361,949
Average: 30,162
Best month: November – 63,624
Worst month: June – 3,260

Now, those numbers look okay, but when you look at what happened throughout the year as a whole, you get a different picture. 1/3 of the words from last year were written in the last 2 months of the year. This has a very specific reason. While the first 5 months of the year were incredibly consistent, June through October were weak sauce on the writing.

June has its own excuse, my sister got married in our home state so I spent a lot of time traveling and with everything going on, I didn’t get a chance to write outside of 4 days.

July-Oct shows a different sort of recording. It shows how badly medication can affect your writing. Make sure you’re on the right meds, kids!

What this tells me on the whole

When I look at the numbers I have saved in my yearly spreadsheets, I can see patterns, like the fact that Thursdays just do not work for me. Decembers are (usually) pits of non-writing hell. Weekends are lucky to average 1000-words/day, and usually I just shouldn’t expect myself to get there.


And there you have it! Great stuff. How do you track your progress, fellow writers?

And check out A.B. Keuser’s books!

Share This Post

Posted in Guest Posts, Writers, Writing | Leave a comment

Progress! I has it!

So my writing month of April is in the books! How did it go? Well:

Final April productivity. Whew!!! #amwriting

That word total is just in drafting Lighthouse Boy, which I have now retitled Seaflame!, after its main character. (Yes, I’m using an exclamation point in the title. Not sure if I’ll keep it, but we’ll see.) Just over 27000 words, and I think that as of this writing, I’m a chapter or two away from the end of this one. And then…Book II, at some point. Seaflame! is a duology, after all.

The other major project was editing Forgotten Stars III, and how did that go? Well:

I DID IT YOU GUYS!!!!! Now to format and get it off to beta-readers. #amwriting

Yup, the First Revised edition is done, and the book is off to the beta-readers. And yes, the title is Amongst the Stars. You heard it hear first, unless…you didn’t.

Amongst the Stars was the toughest book I’ve edited yet, because there were a lot of things I left unexplained or unsatisfactorily put-together, with notes to “Fix this later.” Well, all of those bills finally came due, so there was a lot more heavy-lifting for this rewrite, with a number of chapters that needed outright rewriting. Hopefully this all resulted in a much stronger book, but we’ll see!

So what now? Well, plowing ahead on Seaflame!, and then moving on to something else. The next book drafted will likely be a sequel to Ghostcop (which I may now have a title for; stay tuned for that announcement), and then the first book in a series of space operas set in the Forgotten Stars universe, but not related to those books story-wise. Hey, why create a whole ‘nother galaxy if I don’t have to?

I’m also starting to brainstorm a bit on the next three Forgotten Stars books, which will form Act II of the entire saga. The bummer part of this is that there probably won’t be a Forgotten Stars book in 2017, but the break might well do me good.

So there we are. As always….

Because in my head I'm still twelve. #AmWriting #overalls

Share This Post

Posted in The Song of Forgotten Stars, Writing | Leave a comment