The Importance of Characters

This is part of the Writing Tips from the Pulp Era series. It was published in Writer’s Digest August, 1943, and is now in the public domain. This one is kind of light on how-to details, but is an important concept to consider. It’s hard to get someone to read a story if he isn’t interested in the characters. Marian ended up writing often for TV, including a few episodes from the original Batman TV show.

Breath of Life

Marian B. Cockrell

No one thing in writing fiction is so important that nothing else matters, but I think that making the characters in stories individuals who are real and believable, instead of male and female puppets moved about by the author arbitrarily for the purposes of his plot with no consideration for their feelings (and how can one consider their feelings if he doesn’t know what they are?) is so important that it is impossible to write a good story without it.

It is said that there are no new plots. But there are new people. No person in the world is exactly like another, and no character in a story, presented by a writer who knows him well, is exactly like any other that was ever depicted by anyone else. Even such fundamentally exciting things as violence and death are interesting in fiction only according to whom they happen to. If the reader doesn’t care whether a character lives or dies, then whether he does or not is completely unlimportant.

If there is a man on a submarine who likes to be on submarines, then the fact that he is on one is not very interesting in itself, and the reader waits impatiently for something to happen that will arouse his Interest. But if the man on the submarine suffers from claustrophobia, why the mere fact that he is there, before any action whatever takes place, produces the sense of anticipation in the reader that is so important in persuading him to finish the story.

A plot has to be credible and interesting. Its basis may be quite fantastic, but the story is made perfectly credible if the people engaged in the action are the kind of people who would act that way. Or the plot may be about things intrinsically dull and Commonplace, but made absorbing by the kind of people these dull things are happening to.

I read an article in the Writer’s Year Book called “Tag Your Characters” and the general idea was to be sure and give each character some individual idiosyncrasy, such as a habit of biting his nails, or always remembering names, or never getting a haircut, so that the reader could always tell them apart. I think that is a step in the right direction, but to my mind arbitrary tagging merely for purposes of identification is sliding lazily over the most important thing in the story. The reader should be able to tell the characters apart with ease, without the device of having different colored ribbons around their necks. Of course, people do have idiosyncrasies, and the ones the people in the story have should be included, but they should spring from the personality of the character, and the writer should know very definitely what that is.

I have written a good many short stories, and have sold about a third of them. I searched for interesting, unusual plots (none of them were, very) and some of the stories sold and some didn’t. They were all written with the same care and in much the same style. On looking them over and analysing the plots, I have come to the conclusion that if synopses were made of them all, of the bare fiction, no one on earth could possibly tell which were the ones that sold and which weren’t. But on reading the stories the difference is immediately apparent. The ones which sold were stories about real, living people (I don’t mean portraits from life) who aroused the reader’s interest and anticipation before they had done anything at all.

And a character doesn’t have to be particularly unusual to be the kind of person people like to read about. He simply has to be alive. He can be the village idiot and have the reader palpitating with anxiety because he can’t find his other shoe, if the reader knows what it means to him to find it. The reader has to know him as a person-not a type, not a shadowy shape.

I don’t mean that one should go into tedious detail about the life and appearance and psychology of every character in his story. There isn’t time, and it slows up action. But the writer should know so much about his character that he can indicate his personality and emotions with very few words.

Suppose one decides to write a story about Joe, a typical high school boy. He will do this and this. So it is written, and it was supposed to be funny, or tragic, but somehow it doesn’t quite come off. So-suppose we start over.

What is a typical high school boy? And of course the answer to that is, there isn’t any. Well, what is this particular boy, who happens to be going to high school, like? The practical thing to do is write a short biography, a character sketch. What kind of people are his parents, how much money have they, what kind of home, what does Joe think of them, what kind of girls does he like, who are his friends, how does he stand in school, what are his interests?

By the time the writer has done a page or so about Joe, probably completely extemporaneous, he knows things about him that never occurred to him when he was writing the story the first time. And when he writes it over he may suddenly say to himself, “But Joe wouldn’t do that. He wouldn’t feel that way about it at all. And if this happens to him, what difference does it make? He doesn’t care. Let that happen to him instead. That would be terribly important to Joe.” And that is the time when he changes his plot, and when he doesn’t try to jam Joe into the one he had originally, because Joe wouldn’t be comfortable there.

The writer knows Joe so well by now that the reader knows him too, and if Joe is made to act or react unnaturally the reader will resent it. And there are things in the story about Joe that reveal his personality, things the writer couldn’t have put in the first time, because he didn’t know them himself.

If the writer is absolutely determined to use the original plot, why he must change Joe’s name (because by now he knows Joe too well-he’ll have to write it about someone else) and invent a boy who would do those things, and feel them; and then he’ll write with conviction and the reader will feel what he feels.

In writing a book, of course, convincing characters are even more important than in a short story, and one should be especially thorough in getting acquainted with his people before he starts writing. Even then they will grow and develop and sometimes run away with the plot entirely. And a plot that has been run away with is usually a good plot, for the people in it have had enough vigor in them to insist on being themselves.

These things apply to any kind of story. It is perfectly possible to lay down a detective story with a yawn in the midst of spouting blood and sudden death. I have read a great many detective and mystery stories where the sole interest of the reader could only be the mental problem of who done-it-and a few where the characters were so interesting to read about that the book would have been good whether anybody ever got murdered or not. And these are the best ones, and the most successful. They are interesting novels.

In writing any kind of story it is important to remember that in fiction nothing is important except in relation to the people it happens to. Anything can be important if it happens to, or is done by, the right person. If a writer has a character, or characters, who are interesting and unusual personalities, they can go through the most commonplace actions and incidents, and hold the reader’s interest completely. Or an unusual or exciting plot can be written about the most ordinary run-of-themill people, and if they are real and alive they can produce an absorbing story merely by their reactions to an unusual situation.

Having written the paragraph above, it occurs to me that of the two books I have written, the first was about ordinary people faced with an unusual situation, and the second was about an unusual girl’s reactions to the most everyday experiences possible.

A friend of mine, who has read innumerable books on writing, read the second book in manuscript form, and told me when she had finished, that if she didn’t know already that the book had been sold, she could tell me dozens of things that were wrong with it.

“The fact that it’s sold doesn’t mean that it’s perfect,” I said. “But did you find it interesting to read?”

“Oh yes,” she said. “I was so afraid that girl was going to marry Martin. But
I think you should have more in it about Giles.”

“But he’s just a sub-character, and the rules you’ve been talking about-”

“I don’t care about the rules. I liked him. I want to know more about him.”

“There you are. There are dozens of things wrong with it. It would be a better book if there weren’t. I’ve written only two books and don’t know as much about novel construction as I should. But the characters are alive and make you intersted in them, and anxious to see what happens to them, and the book is going to be published because of that, and in spite of the dozens of things that are wrong with it. And if the construction were perfect and the characters dead it wouldn’t have been. Maybe next time I can get them both right, but the people in it are the part that has to be right no matter what. (I did put in more about Giles, because I had got interested in him too).

Successful fiction is fiction that is interesting to read, in which the people behave consistently and don’t let the reader down; and one may follow every rule of construction in all the books and still come up with something anyone would go to sleep over. Or one may write a story which contains flagrant violations of some of the rules of the how-to-write boys, and still know that it is right and the way it ought to be, and someone will buy it while his drawn-with-a-ruler stories are still making the weary rounds.

I don’t mean that one should ignore the sensible and helpful rules that are generally acknowledged to be good. But if a writer finds he can’t use them in a particular instance, he shouldn’t let them get in his hair.

If a writer with any ability to express himself knows his characters and presents them faithfully without trying to twist them out of shape to suit him, and has them do and experience things that are important to them, he has accomplished the most important thing in fiction writing. All the other things one has to learn are important too, but not that important.

Emotion and Storytelling

This is part of the Writing Tips from the Pulp Era collection. It’s from the October, 1940 issue of Writer’s Digest, which is in the public domain. This is the third and probably last article I’ll be posting from this issue.

TL;DR – Your readers will feel something while reading your work. So give them a protagonist to relate to with big emotions.

Let Yourself Go

James H. S. Moynahan

Roger Torrey, who does the Marge and McCarthy series in Black Mask, stopped over at the house one Sunday afternoon with Helen Ahern, and I asked Helen how she was doing on a story she’d been working on.

Roger winked at me. “She’s holding her own,” he said, mock-loyally. “She’s still on page 26!”

Helen joined in the general laughter. She knew the we all knew, too.

The casual quip started me thinking. Why do we strike those impasses, and what gets us out of them?

I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the most important factors is this: We stall because we don’t feel our story. We have a few rough ideas, but no strong emotional reaction to them.

Steve Fisher, whose stuff you have read in Liberty, Cosmo, and will read shortly in the Post, puts plenty of study into this business of what makes a yarn tick. After I saw the Dorothy Lamour picture Typhoon, which carries story credit in big letters on the screen for Steve, I asked him what, in his opinion, did he consider the most important factor in selling his stories.

“That’s easy,” he said. “Mood is easily the most important essential. Back in the days when I was writing pulp, I used to fly in the face of editorial tradition in a lot of offices by turning in stories that had a strong emotional pitch running through them. You had to write action to sell, of course, but I always tried to include that other element, an emotional tone that held throughout the story. Hit that and hold it, and your story writes itself.”

The story we had been reading and discussing was a mood-picture of the war in France, held together by a mounting sense of impending tragedy that reaches its peak in battle and hospital scenes. In these it was not difficult to feel the impact of the writer’s emotional reaction to his material.

He didn’t just report them mechanically; he threw himself into the soldier’s stat of mind; his desperation, his fury, his resignation, his despair.

Such writing calls for telling in the first person, as you would set down your feelings in a letter to a friend. In a third person story the same emotional writing would seem forced and patronizing, as if the reader were too stupid to gather what the hero’s emotions must have been from the recital of the events themselves.

So there you have it. Unless, that is, you think Steve doesn’t know himself why he sells!

For my part, I think he’s got something. I’d like to go a little further with it, though.

l’d like to see whether we can’t examine this business of mood, and discover just how to evoke it in the reader. Steve feels it–and he writes it as he feels it. I think you’ve got to do that, ultimately, but maybe there are some steps that precede the writing. Let’s see what does move people,

I’m not going to be chump enough to try and get you dabbing at your eyes over bits lifted from stories. So, even if you weep at card tricks, l don’t think I’m letting you in for any emotional orgy. What I hope to do is illustrate a principle, and show you how you can use it to lift the pitch of your own yarns, this excerpt’s from The Blue Light, Private Detective, August, 1939, by Henri St. Maur. The detective, Fort, has just phoned his client that the murder mystery has been cleaned up.

He hung up, turned to Judy, (His office assistant) “Well, sweet, that’s how it is. Now if you’ll tell me what Stoughton did with the pistol-the little twenty-five he had when you conked him this morning-we’ll have him sewed up.”

Judy started at him. “I conked him?”

Fort said impatiently: “Stop it. Stop it! Are you asking me to believe that a timid kid like this Armitage girl wouldn’t run for her life if she saw Stoughton in my office? No, what happened, darling, was that you saw him going for her, and you conked him. It wasn’t till after he’d worked on you with that Tyrone Power act of his that you fell, What’d he do-promise you a cut on the take if you planted the card on my desk?”

Judy’s lips peeled back from her teeth and she clawed the little gun out from the bosom of her dress. Fort jumped at her, slapped the gun down.

“Don’t make it worse, you little fool!” he said. His voice held only bitterness. He twisted the gun from her singers, put it in his pocket.

“Get out of here,” he said in a low, controlled voice. “Get out of here.”

The girl looked pitifully at him, “Oh, Al, I-”

“Get out,” he said between his teeth.

She looked at him, lowered her eyes, went through the door.

Fort, blood dripping from his slashed arm, watched her take her hat and coat from the rack, go out without looking back.

Behind him the Armitage girl said: “Oh, Mr. Fort, do you suppose they’ll get my things back?”

Fort said, not looking around: “Maybe.” His lips were shut white. His fists were knots.

She said: “Maybe you could work on it for me.”

Fort didn’t turn. “Maybe I could,” he said slowly. “Maybe I could.”

In Roger Torrey’s Party Murder, Black Mask, April, 1934, a police Captain has just learned of the death of his daughter.Dal Prentice is the hero, a lieutenant of detectives. He is phoning.

He could hear somebody say say: “Hold it!” then: “You, Dal?”


“Dal! They just picked up the… what’s left of my girl off Aldena Boulevard. She’s been dumped out of a car.”

“Oh… my… good… lord!”

“Dal! Doc says her head was just beaten in. Let that go and come down.”

After some discussion, Prentice hangs up.

The phone clicked and Prentice turned a somber face to his audience, (His two partners and a prisoner).

“Cap’s feeling bad, They found his girl for him.”

Peterson (one of the police detectives) said: “I’ve got two and I could hear what was said…”

Let’s start with these two illustrations. Can you see what they have in common? Can you see how, in the complete story they might tend to evoke enotion in the reader? And why?

The explanation for the reader’s emotional reaction is this: empathy-or, if you prefer, sympathy.

Have you over wondered why mob will react so violently to things that its members, as individuals, might very well ignore? Or why a comedy is funnier in a full house? Or why you can read a headline: Thousand Chinese Slaughtered in Battle, with dry eyes, and yet weep over a dead puppy of your own daughter’s?

The answer is sympathy. Emotion is catching. A loud, angry, furious voice makes us irritable even if it is not addressed to us at all. Its mere sound evokes anger in us.

Thus, in the examples above, we take our cue from the characters’ emotional reactions. Had the writers made the characters meet these emotional crises with indifference, we ourselves should not be moved, but should find ourselvesmeeting the challenge of the situation with the same emotional indifference.

For example, in the first excerpt, substite for words like “bitterness” words like “amusement,” “boredom,” “indifference.”Watch what happens to the emotional tone.

For: “His lips were shut white. His fists were knots,” substitute: “He glanced down idly at his nails. They were clean and smmetrical.”

High spot in the Torrey excerpt is the point where Peterson says: “I’ve got two and I could hear what was said…” Just as Peterson, himself a father, is quick to respond with ready sympathy to the news of his chief’s tragedy, so the spectacle of a fellow human being responding thus to a situation tends to make us automatically respond in the same fashion. And note here that we might have responded with anger, with indignation, with despair, with indifference, or any number of shades of emotional reaction. Later in the story, when other characters become angered over developments, we find our own pulse rising, too.

Now the point, for you, is this. If you write a beautiful scene, full of menace, terror, and fury, and in it you show no character reacting to these stimuli as you wish have your reader react, what do you do now?

You take the yarn out, and carefully write in passages showing how the characters react to your menace. And remember: The more moved they are by story developments, the more moved your reader is going to be. Up to a point.

That point is incredibility. If you go too far-if you have your heroine throwing a wing-ding at his frown, like Sweet Alice, Ben Bolt, then you must expect your reader to say: “Sa-a-ay! What is this! Take it easy, will you!”

The trick is to force the emotion, to make your characters react as violently as possible or as deeply as possible to a given situation, but only up to a point which is still logical, and credible. Overdo it, and your drama will spill over into laughs.

Now not all this depicting of your characters reacting emotionally will be done by saying to the reader in so many words: “My hero is gritting his teeth. He’s biting his lips.” I think some of the biggest kicks a writer gets out of his trade is working out more subtle ways of showing these reactions without describing them in so many words.

For example, the way Fort, in the first excerpt, reiterates: “Get out of here.” We don’t say he’s obsessed with that single idea, but can it be done more effectively? We could tell the reader that the Armitage girl is a silly, self-centered little fool who misses entirely the significance of what his secretary’s treachery means to Fort. But her insensibility, so necessary here for contrast, is brought out in her complete preoccupation with her own lousy little “things.”

Note, in the Torrey excerpt, that the reader is not beaten over the head with adjectives, the distracted father is only a voice, yet we sense his controlled agony better than if we were having it described to us. You can do a lot just with the use of a person’s first name, as you see here. And note the grimness of Peterson’s “l’ve got two, and I could hear what was said.” We can just see this big, human cop holding back his feelings and resolving to handle this murder as if it had been one of his own two kids that had been the victim.

Instead of cluttering up your next yar?n with long descriptions of your characters’ emotional throes, try seeing how much you can do with dialogue alone. Try figuring out how many devices you can hit upon to do the work instead. For example:

“B-but I can’t g-go in th-there! Do you want me to be k-killed!”

“John. Please, now, John! He’s just a child. John, ple-e-ase!”

“Will you shut up!”

“I… see. A wise guy, huh?”

“Why you, you… !”

And so on. Repetition, stammering and stuttering, meaningful pauses, desparing wails, little intimate, impulsive appeals-give dialogue first chance at delineating these.

Where you do find the need for pantomime, use it as sparingly as possible. That is to say: One good effect is worth ten mediocre ones. For economy of effect, James M. Cain’s The Postman. Always Rings Twice will well repay any study you may give it. You will find numberless effects such as the part where the new helper, finding himself alone with the Greek’s wife, locks the door and comes inside carrying a plate and fork as an excuse to make conversation. When he says: “The fork on the plate was rattling like a tamborine,” he’s told you everything.

One more thing. Rules for writing are never of much use until their employment has become second nature and you no longer think consciously about them. Don’t expect these suggestions to help you right away. They may even confuse you and upset your writing for a while.

But here’s one rule for evoking emotion I can give you that you can put to work right away, and one that won’t give you any trouble. It’s this:

Let yourself go. When you’re writing about emotion, throw yourself into the feeling you want the character to experience, and write out of your own emotion. If you can do that, then everything I’ve told you above is just the malarkey, because you’ll do it instinctively so much better that any rules, no matter how effective, must necessarily step aside for reality. Because that’s what you’ll be writing.

Become a Better Writer by Following this One Simple Rule

This is part of the series Writing Tips from the Pulp Era, which is a collection of now-public-domain articles. Click the link for a full list.

This one comes from the October, 1940 issue of Writer’s Digest, which is in the public domain. The short version is this: Always send out/publish the very best fiction you are capable of producing. No phoning it in.

A Very Simple System

by William Benton Johnston

I would rather sell a good story to Grit for five dollars than a bad one to Collier’s for five hundred dollars.

Screwy? In view of the fact that I ama professional writer-and plan to continue in this business-I think not. The good story would advance me toward my ultimate goal; the bad one would take me back a step. Against this, four hundred and ninety-five dollars loses significance. I’m no long-haired artist. I’m almost bald and an a hardworking “money writer”.

In the beginning, I evolved a very simple plan: to select a plot and write a story I around it, putting into every paragraph the very best of my ability.

You’ll probably say: “I’ve read some of your stuff that was awful tripe.”

True enough, but it was my best at the time and I have no apologies for it; only regrets.

After eight years and some two hundred and Seventy-five published stories-and read hundreds of theories–I’m using that same system. Perhaps it is because I am too dumb to learn a better method, or because te old one has supported me, and my family, all those years.

Some beginner, confused by so much varied and often complicated advice, may find the
simplicity of this one-rule system a steadying influence.

Using it, I do not write a pulp or a slick yarn; I write a story and do my damndest to make it good. This may seem artless and unorthodox, but here are some actual results:

(a) A short-short, written with a one cent market in mind, sold for forty cents per word.

(b) A western, intended for the pulps, landed me in one of the big weeklies, to which I have made three subsequent sales.

In 1933, I was doing a few yarns for All-America Sports, at twelve to fifteen dollars per story. I had such a script in my pocket, ready for mailing, one day when I met Henry G. Rhodes on the streets of Memphis. He read the story and suggested that I try a thirty-five cents slick with it. The yarn was bought and featured; since then I have sold that publication thousands of dollars worth of fiction, with only one rejection.

Doesn’t going over each story, putting everything you have into it, cut down on production? Yes, it does. My agent sometimes calls me on the carpet about this, but in other letters, he says:

(a) “Enclosed herewith is my check for the story which we sold to [X] last week. The story wasn’t so wonderful; the plot material was trite indeed, yet I must admit that excellent writing and careful characterization put it across…”

(b) “We felt all along that this one, despite the fact that you really dovetailed two stories into one, would sell, for it had the virtues of being beautifully written and of presenting real living human beings.”

In trying to prove that constant efforts at perfection pays, this article may seem, a personal success story. Nothing could be farther from truth. I’m nowhere near the top and I may never get any closer. I mentioned that my writing has supported a family for eight years. Supported, in this instance, is a flexible word. Sometimes the going was pretty tough, and the meals anything but pretty. The family’s attitude has been swell, taking the cornbread and peas along with the caviar-and no grumbling.

For the past eight years and a half, ít hasn’t been so bad, because I have been fortunate in having the assistance of an agent with a keen story sense and a broad knowledge of markets. So now I just write the yarns and he sees that my efforts are shown to the proper books. Even the dog, Amos, is getting fat.

All this in defense of my simple system. Now let’s see how it works-in practice.

Several years ago, I was writing a serial and having a hard time with the plot (long fiction has always been my nemesis). The finished story was far from satisfactory. In fact, the whole thing was so hopeless that I grumbled about the long and tedious work of rewriting it paragraph by paragraph, cutting out every word that I could and re-casting clumsy sentences.

A writer friend of mine said: “Send it out a time or two ‘as is’-maybe you’ll get a nibble.”

It was a temptation. That kind of re-write on a serial adds up to work. Yet I decided that anything was better than making too bad an impression on editors. It took a couple of weeks to go over the manuscript and polish it up.

Mark Mellen was editor of Post Time. I sent the story there. In due time, came a letter:

“Your ‘Valkyre of Cumberland Hall’ received and first installment has gone forward to illustrator…

“I had another serial on my desk, with perhaps a better plot, but not so well written as yours…”

I have that original script in my desk, together with the revised version. Let’s look at the changes. Not particular good writing ín eíther ínstance, but the differerence between a rejection and a substantial check.

(a) Original.

The sale of stock to Cumberland Hall was successful so far as attendance went and when ít was over, the old shedrow was empty save far the one occupied by Tallahatchie.

After the crowd had drift£ed away, Betty and Allen sat in the office. Allen’s face was clouded with worry.

“The auctioneer did his best,” he admitted “and we sold them all, still we lack $2,400 and the note is due tomorrow.”

Betty looked at her bank book.

“We have $1,900 here, Allen.”

“You need that for current expenses.”

“We’ll live on bread and water. Mr. Gray must be paid in full. For some reason he wants Cumberland Hall- and badly.”

Allen figured again. “All of which comes to-five hundred short.”

“You can cipher up the darndest things.” Betty laughed. “Here, take this, jump in your roadster, drive down to Nashville and sell it.” She slipped a diamond ring from her finger and passed it across the desk.

“But, Betts, that was your graduation present.”

“Never mind; Gray must be paid.”

Allen drove away and, in the late afternoon, hitch-hiked his way back to Cumberland Hall.

“Where is your car?” Betty asked when he walked up the graveled drive.

“A crazy guy in Benjestown offered me six hundred and fifty bucks for it. Imagine a goof that screwy!”

He took the ring from his pocket and” lessly tossed it to her.

“Here’s your glassware; we won’t need it now.”

With a little cry, Betty ran down and flung herself into his arms.

“That car was the only valuable possesion you had left. Allen, you should done it.”

She pushed him away and looked at him. “If I lost Cumberland Hall and everything else I have in the world, I’d be rich having you, Allen Lamar.”

(a) Revised Copy.

When the stock sale was over, Tallahatchie was all that was left of Cumberland Hall stables.

“The auctioneer did his best, Allen admitted to Betty, “and yet we’re five hundred short.”

She slipped a diamond ring off her finger and gave it to him. Take this to Nashville and sell it.

“But, Betts-”

She said it again, “Take it to Nashville and sell it.”

Allen returned in late afternoon, walking. “A guy in Benjestown bought my car,” he explained.

“Imagine, six hundred bucks for that old wreck!” He gave Betty back her ring. “We don’t need to sell it now.”

For a moment she stood there and stared at him, then came down the steps very slowly and put her arms around him.

“If I lose Cumberland Hall and everything else that I possess,” she said gently, “I’ll always be rich–as long as I have you.”

(b) Original.

Jed Huskins came around the beech tree and shook hands with Jurden.

“What you want with me?”

“I got a job for you.” Jurden told him.

“What is it?” Jurden took out a wallet and counted from it a hundred dollars. “Sometime this morning, Jed, a horse van from Cumberland Hall Stables is going to leave Benjestown for Louisville. Now, that van will have a big black horse with a white star in his face, aboard. I don’t want that horse to go a bit farther than these hills; I want him taken from the van and killed, see?”

Jed Huskins thoughtfally took a chew of home-made twist tobacco.

“That van will have to come close to here; it’ll have to come right along Durveen Pike,
the lonliest stretch of road in this country.”

“Exactly.” Jurden grinned evilly. “It ought not to be much trouble.”

Huskins reached out and took the money.

“It won’t be no trouble a-tall,” he drawled.

(b) Revised Copy.

Jed Huskins came around the beech tree.

Jurden said, “Jed, I’ve got a job for you.”

“What is it?”

Jurden opened his wallet and counted out a hundred dollars. “Sometime this morning, a Cumberland Hall van is leaving Benjestown for Louisville; a black horse with a star in his face will be aboard. I want that horse removed from the van and destroyed.”

Jed Huskins took out a plug of tobacco and bit off a chew. “The van will come along Durveen Pike, the lonsomest stretch of road in this here country.”

Jurden grinned. “Exactly-it ought not to be much trouble.”

Jed reached out and took the hundred dollars.

“No trouble a-tall,” he said.


Let me try to prove, in another way, that I write without the handicap of slants, pulp or slick. The opening paragraphs quoted below are from four of my stories: two pulps and two slicks. Can you denote any particular difference?

(1) The house was new and unmellowed, and the cleared ground around it made a brown scar on the green, far-reaching length of the valley. Yet there was already a home-like atmosphere here, manifest in bright curtains and planted flowers and consideration of small details which showed a woman’s care and pride.

It was a pretty place, too, with the up-sweep of the hills back of it and, beyond these, stony summits making their high, irregular pattern against the sky. Before it, the mesa ran into the far distance, smooth and flat and unbroken. (“Homesteader,” Dime Western, Feb., 1940.)

(2) Mrs. Molly Brown’s cottage stood on the outskirts of the little town of Barclay. It was a neat place, with orderly hedges and close-cropped lawn. In the rear, there were clean, well-arranged chicken runs and row after row of apple trees. Just outside the front gate, a sign announced that apples, fresh yard eggs and blooded Minorcas and Plymouth Rocks were for sale. (“The Eye of Death,” Secret Agent X, Feb., 1938.)

(3) White thunderheads lay like puffs of carnival taffy against the blue dome of the China sky. Wayne Driscoll, with a veteran’s instinct for advantage, lurked in the blindspot of the the sun and throttled the Curtiss combat ship to idling speed. The deadly little plane fretted as a high-strung thoroughbred fret under heavey, restraining wraps.

Wayne chuckled: a hell of a place to be thinking of horses. Seven thousand feet above the broad Yangtze, with Nanking sprawled like a helpless giant before the Japanese bombers coming over Pootung from their carriers anchored at the mouth of the Whangpoo.

Yet the human mind sometimes becomes strangely detached during crucial moments, groping into the past as if attempting to fix clearly old, familiar scenes against the endless stretch of eternity. (“No More Guns,” Turf ard Sports Digest, June, 1939.)

(4) There was an unrealness about the entire scene, as if someone had splashed gay
colors against a grim and sombre canvas.

First, the flowers blooming in the arid soil beside the walls of the old Territory prison. Then the little girl, with her deep blue eyes and bright print dress, leaning against those drab, tragedy-enclosing walls, laughing at something the Maricopa said as he lugged water up from the Colorado and filled a barrel at the garden’s edge. Then, too, the mere fact that the Kid was there, carrying water for flowers and making a little girl laugh and follow his movements with adoring eyes. (“A Well Remembered Kiss,” Liberty, June, 1940.)


I remember reading an article by a “million-words-a-year man” in which he ridiculed the idea of going over and rewriting pulp material. He said, in effect, “Rewriting or revising cent-a-word stuff is equivalent to getting half a cent for it—slave wages. Better to hammer it out, charge off your rejections and let volume take care of you.”

I watched the progress of this man for quite a time. I’ve forgotten his name, but he was contemporary of H. Bedford-Jones, Ernest Haycox and Cleve Adams. The conclusion is obvious, isn’t it?

I know the old gag about “An amateur writes a story and looks for a market; a professional looks at a market and writes a story.”

Naturally I “study markets”; a thing which every writer must do. But it doesn’t mean to study a small, fourth-rate one and then decide that you can meet its requirements without putting forth your best effort.

You are not writing for that particular magazine; you’re writing a story with your name signed to it. You’re laying a stone in the foundation upon which you hope to build a stairway to Liberty or Collier’s or The Saturday Evening Post.

You are advertising yourself as a good or a poor writer. Every story is a vote one way or the other.

Writing your First Novel

I’ve decided to make this a series. I have purchased a few copies of now-public-domain writing magazines from the 30s-50s and I’m reprinting various articles from them and calling them “Writing Tips from the Pulp Era.” Click the link for a full list of articles.

Editor’s note: Marjorie Holmes ended up writing 134 books, 32 of which hit the bestseller list. She also wrote for all manner of magazines. From Writer’s Digest, August 1943, which is now in the public domain.

Get That Novel Out of Your System


Once you’ve written that novel that’s in you, crying to be written, you can live with yourself again. You can face your image in the mirror without flinching. You can sleep nights.

You’ll never be satisfied to dismiss it in a few pages as The Novel I Didn’t Write. A matter of personal integrity is involved. If it’s peculiarly and fiercely your novel, no one else can write it but you. And if you’re at all serious about your work, you’re in for self-inflicted hell until you do!

Writing a novel is so long a task, so perilous a gamble. The free-lancer must stake so much valuable writing time against monstrously uncertain success. In that same period he knows he can be turning Out many shorter manuscripts, making a go of Writing.

But unless the “good book” in the back of the mind of every writer is actually written, he fears that always he will be a hack Writer, at odds with himself and the people who have had faith in him.

But-and here looms the most sinister threat of all-what if he does gamble all on his novel and then it doesn’t sell? He realizes that, in that eventuality, he can no longer take refuge even in his dreams. He will be shocked and wounded; he will not only be far behind the eight-ball financially, but he will probably be conditioned for good against the novel form… And so, while you are tormented by the knowledge that you’re compromising, shirking your task, the cold sick dread of failure is holding you back. Mentally and emotionally you are a mess!

This is the story of the novel I did write. Things that affected the slow, agonized crawl to its completion. Maybe there’s something in it for you?

I began my novel shortly after I was out of college. The stimulus was a series of remarkable articles by Clark Venable, which the WRITER’s DIGEST ran from February through July, 1933. “Subject Matter and Beginning,” “The Voice of Jacob,” “Characterization,” “Color and Tempo,” even “The Last Hard Mile.” (They were wonderful!) I gulped down Mr. Venable’s advice, gave myself the tests: “Am I equipped to tell this story? Have I the dogged determination required for the chore? Is my story worth the labor and will it justify the use of the equipment I will bring to it? If all answers are definitely yes,” Mr. Venable urged, “then in heaven’s name begin.”

And so, gasping a frantic yes, yes! to all of them, in heaven’s name I-began. In heaven’s name I wrote, furiously, gloriously, for weeks. Then one sad day I paused for breath and looked back. To my stunned amazement, I found it had taken me 90,000 words to simply set the stage! Actually, I knew nothing about writing the novel. Even Mr. Venable’s fine articles assumed an experience and technical background I did not have.

I would have to put this material away. I would have to start at the bottom with stories and articles. I would have to learn structure and dramatic balance and discipline. I would have to mature.

It was a bitterly disappointing decision to have to make, but I knew it was the only way.

At that time I had sold a couple of pulp and confession stories. To these I gratefully and hopefully returned. I painstakingly built plot outlines; I polished and tested every page.

Sometimes, angrily throwing away the tenth version of a dramatic scene, I would protest, “What’s the difference? The editors will probably cut. And it’s just a confession, isn’t it?” But I could never kid myself. And I believe that this habit of petting, and practically tasting every sentence, every word, before letting it go, made for the kind of writing that had to go into my book. The book that I was still working on-simply because I couldn’t resist it-now and then.

To get my name into the more general magazines, I was also writing fluff. Airy little articles about love, glamor, personality, husbands, kids. These were easy to write and sold readily. I got anywhere from $10 to $75 for them, with frequent reprint bonuses which made the total take for the time involved very good. Together with story sales I made sometimes as much as $800 a month. I was in a (very small) unspectacular way, doing all right.

But-I couldn’t sleep nights. I’d read articles like Steve Fisher’s “Literary Roller Coaster” and walk the floor. Why, the guy was only 25 While I-well, let’s skip that. Anyway, I was old enough to have finished my book too if I’d just quit stalling, if I just had the courage to drop everything else and see it through. In a kind of panic, I’d open my notebook to the words an English prof had scribbled there once: “You can write beautiful things for people who crave beautiful things. There is a duty!” Or I’d gaze wretchedly at Clark Venable’s closing paragraph, clipped, framed, and hung over my desk: “For aught any man can say to the contrary, the author of that greatest novel may be now a lowly beginner who has within him the seed of genius which flowers only when WORKED. You?…”

In spasms like this I would haul down my novel, which despite the infrequent spurts on which I had worked on it, had grown to surprising proportions, and brood over it. I felt that I really had something in it; that, if nothing more, I had captured the spirit of a kind of people I wanted to portray. But something was wrong-and I didn’t know just what. I was too close to it, perhaps too much in love with it to regard it with an objective, discerning eye. Finally, though I’d never had much faith in critics, I bundled it up and sent it off to Mr. A. L. Fierst.

Money was never more luckily spent. I already knew that the book was too long, but I was lost and confused in determining what to cut. He pointed out what must go-and why. He suggested a plan for complete reorganization. In one letter he taught me things about writing a novel that I’ll remember all my life.

One mistake I had made was in the number of characters. I love characterization. My idea of creative bliss would be to write nothing but character sketches till the end of time. This I had been doing with the excuse that I was writing a novel. Every amusing or colorful character I had ever observed and “canned” in my notebook, had been lovingly dusted off and shoved onto a stage where he served no particular purpose and had no business to be. The result was a bizarre collection of personalities, each interesting in itself, perhaps, but contributing nothing to the plot, and only obscuring the true protaganists.

It was these few principal characters who were really important. On their backs rested the plot. It was through their courage, loyalty, and rollicking spirits that I must accent the theme. They deserved the spotlight, the very best that I could give them. To do this I couldn’t go dashing down bypaths, exploring the morals of the town drunkard, deciding what the garbage man thought about.

And once I had-however regretfully-killed off all these other minor characters, I had not only shortened the book considerably, but gained elbow-room to build up the characters I was really interested in. The Andrews family itself, and the few people who contributed to their destiny. This simplified the problem, the story, and the mood. It made for dramatic unity. It quickened the pace.

To further quicken the pace, I did what I should have done in the beginning-made chapter outlines, as if each were a short story in itself, leading to a dramatic climax. Then I went through every chapter already written, trying to shape it over the skeleton of this outline. A lot of irrelevant scenes had to be lifted out bodily-some of them to be discarded completely, others to be salvaged and worked into different chapters where they more aptly fit. For instance, in the original version of the manuscript, I had scattered the theatrical experiences of Ken, the older brother, through four or five chapters dealing with other matters. In revising, I gathered them all together and sewed them into a couple of chapters all his own, where they belonged.

In making these tardy chapter outlines, I discovered chapters that seemed dramatically out of place. These I shifted around until-like those little dime-store puzzles where you tilt and twist until the darkie’s eyes or teeth fall into place-they seemed to fit. To illustrate, I tried the chapter where the kitchen catches on fire, at least four different places. But not until I arranged so that it should follow a chapter dealing with the family’s difficulties at Christmas, did it live up to its own dramatic implications.

Timing, in the modern novel, is important. Almost as important as in a short story, I think. Speaking for the moment as simply a reader, I am distressed at how often novelists pay no attention to it. A dramatic effect achieved, a point made they often still go wordily on, to ruin that effect. I’m wordy enough myself, heaven knows! But the precaution of a chapter outline, pointing to a definite curtain line or peak of interest at which to stop, is a safeguard against going too far afield, as well as invaluable as a timing device.

Another mistake I made in first writing my novel was in handling the dialogue. My own short story experience should have taught me that dialogue serves two purposes-to delineate character and advance the plot. But somehow I got the notion that in novels no such hampering limitations prevailed. I love to write dialogue, and so I had a grand time letting everybody talk their heads off. They argued, they dissertated, they philosophized. And while a lot of it made interesting reading in itself, it kept the characters marking time when they should have been going someplace. A novel-as Mr. Venable had warned-must march!

Perhaps the over-abundance of dialogue had been due to my anxiety to make my characters realistic. I had faithfully reproduced pages of conversation authentic to a certain kind of people. Every interruption and half-speech, every “huh?” “gosh, kid,” “I dunno'” and “damn.” The result had used up a lot of space (you haven’t nearly as much elbow-room in a novel as you might imagine-the pasture looks vast and green after the narrow roads of short story writing, but that’s where so many of us go astray). More disastrously, it had become so realistic as to defeat its own end. The oral word is a tricky thing when reproduced in print. For instance, if I were to take down literally the conversation that took place recently at a luncheon, I would succeed only in making a group of refined ladies sound like a bunch of bawdy madams. Similarly, in my novel, the dialogue of typical, small-town middle-class girls, too conscientiously recorded, gave the impression that they were tawdry and cheap, instead of the nice, appealing youngsters they were. This dialogue had to be pared down and cleaned up. Since my novel wasn’t to be hairy-chested Steinbeck or Hemingway realism, anyhow, dialogue that went all out for realism threw the thing out of balance; actually giving it an unrealistic effect. Rather than impairing the ultimate realism–the stuff that makes a reader feel that he sees and knows the places described, participates in the story-a realism that, thank heaven, the critics are agreeing is there-I believe that my willingness to compromise a little with realism, contributed to its final achievement

In other words, the novelist, like the painter, must sort over his material, using only that part of it essential to the design he has in mind-and often streamlining and simplifying even that.

While on the subject of realism, you might like to know something about my methods of capturing it. This will take us back for a moment to characterization. Most people agree that the scene stealer in World by the Tail, is Sam, a cocky, witty, infuriating little clown of a dad, so let’s take a look at him. Better, let’s look at the strip of paper that was long pinned over my desk, labeled-SAM.

Physical Characteristics:

  • short, fat tummy, bald-headed
  • big nose
  • ruddy complexion
  • fat lips-wrinkled, like prunes
  • devilish blue eyes
  • likes snappy clothes
  • traces of powder on his ear lobes after
  • … etc.


  • thumbing his suspenders
  • slapping his knee
  • noisily blowing his nose
  • pointing foolishly to his bald head
  • … etc.

Pet speech tags:

  • “Never did like ya very good, any
  • “Don’t y’know it is?”
  • “Cheer up, Christmas is comin’, ain’t
  • … etc.

I didn’t remember or think up all these characteristics at once; they came to me as I brooded over the character, recalling or observing them. The list grew along with the story. But having it within glancing distance kept Sam always vividly strutting and chuckling and kicking up his heels before me. I couldn’t lose sight of him, consequently he came vividly out of the typewriter.

I kept sheets like that for every one of the characters-Jean, Ken, Polly-all of them. Such lists helped me to visualize and get hold of the characters I wasn’t quite sure about. And they prevented me from being so mentally sure of a character that I failed to portray him on paper, where the reader could see and know him, too.

The realism of your settings is important. I know the small, midwestern lake town background intimately, but every time I go back to it I fill my notebook with homely little details never recorded there before. The shaggy, mashed-down look of dock posts, the melancholy dip of rowboats at anchor, the dried foam looking like snow upon the sand. Dusty little towns with their jutting flagpoles at the corner of main street, ordering inside turn… small town hostesses reminding pertly, “Save your fork,” as they serve the pie… the look and smell of a hayloft in late afternoon-. Those are the kind of things that go into my notebook. Then when I’m miles from the midwest but trying to write about it, I have at my fingertips all the warm, pungent, vivid details that will recreate the scene.

But in the use of realistic detail, as in all else, I learned that the novelist must not overplay his hand. Background must remain just that-background. It must not be so glowing as to detract from the color of the characters. It must not hold up the action. Any vast ornate chunks of it must be broken up and scattered throughout the scene.

Figures of speech also pepper my notebook. Everything I see seems to remind me of something else. It’s fun to discover unique ones, and I am perhaps overfond of using them. One reviewer said my novel starts off as if I had “contracted with Reader’s Digest to supply its Picturesque Speech department for the season” before I settle down to telling the tale. I shall remember that next time. Too many similes can be too much cake.

Another mistake I made in my first floundering attempts at writing a novel, was failure to clarify the theme. Frankly, I hadn’t considered that I was writing a “theme novel”—that is, a book to prove anything. I was interested only in showing a certain kind of people for the gay, courageous souls they were. What I had failed to realize was that by their gaiety and courage they were proving something-if I could just fasten on what that was, make all episodes, however subtly, point to it, draw it out. I reread novels that I had loved for their characterizations deliberately refusing to be charmed away from that binding thread-the theme. However well hidden, it was always there!

Well, I thought about this theme business a lot during the three years that my novel lay around the house untouched. You see, shortly after receiving my criticism of this first version and getting all steamed up to revise, there were complications on the home front. I was going to have a baby. It seemed a very poor time to turn my back on all the money I could be making free-lancing. Besides, I began to be plagued by all those doubts mentioned at first. What if I gave up my markets, gambled a year or two on my novel, and then it didn’t sell? I just didn’t have the nerve. Perhaps-now keenly aware of its many faults, and quailing at the staggering amount of work involved-I was discouraged. I had lost faith.

And so I went back to free-lancing, writing everything under heaven-confessions, articles, verse, juveniles, pulps. I collaborated on booklengths with Mary Frances Morgan, that clever, attractive gal who never fails. We made a lot of money. We had a lot of fun. But after a while I began to have that harried look again. And again-I couldn’t sleep nights. I’d lie awake thinking about my novel, figuring it out. I began to sneak a day or two Out of my busy schedule to work on it. But I’d just get going strong when a hurry-up, sure-money assignment would come in to lure me away from it. That would be followed by another-it would be weeks, months, before I could come back.

Finally I couldn’t stand it any longer. I decided to get that novel out of my system—however swiftly, however poorly I wrote it, to get it done! I dropped everything else-sent back assignments, telling the editors the baby was keeping me busy (and he was). But even taking care of a new baby, an older child and the house didn’t seem so hard when I was doing the work I wanted to do-and now felt that I was ready for. I had had ample time to ponder over the mistakes I had first made; I corrected them. I had learned a lot more about story structure; I applied it to my book. I had gotten a grip on my theme. Whatever my impatience, habits of slow, painstaking writing were not to be thrown overboard. I fought every sentence to a finish. I let nothing go until it was right.

Finally, amazingly, the thing was done. Relieved, almost incredulous, I typed the final word. It might still be a punk book, but by golly, it was a whole one! Whole and balanced out this time in a sense that satisfied.

I sent it off to my agent and forgot about it. It was wonderful just to have it out of the house. I hoped that even if nobody bought it (and somehow I could scarcely conceive that they would) he would never send it back. Consequently it was the biggest shock of my life to arrive in Pittsburgh last summer (after moving up from Texas) and find a letter from my agent, saying the Lippincott editors would like a luncheon date to talk about the book!

I went to Philadelphia with a feeling of dazed incredulity. I came home sort of drifting on bubbles and stars. But I had to get my feet back on the ground and keep them there. There was a lot of cutting to be done, and I had to cook up a new ending before they would decide. I’m terribly superstitious; I didn’t risk jinxing it by telling anyone or even indulging in a dream. All I could do was work. I even wrote two new endings, so as to give the editors a choice. And fortunately so, as it was the second one they liked.

Because of my experience, I don’t advise people to start their novels too soon. Don’t gamble everything on your novel until you’re sure you have something to say, and know how to say it. But once you’re confident of that, wade in. Get it out of your system You’ll never have a moment’s peace until you do.

Thoughts on Hiring a Cover Artist.

First, a couple of examples for those who are interested in behind the scenes stuff. At the end, I’ll collect a list of things I’ve learned. And I’ve talked about a couple of other cover projects before.

Project 1

After I finished the first draft of my children’s book I thought for a while that I would be self publishing it. I eventually decided to hire an editor then submit it for publication, but I did play around with making a cover for a bit. I went on fiverr and found three reasonably-priced artists. I asked for a a single character without a background (Artists on fiverr almost always charge extra for a 3/4 body, full body, background, etc.) I gave the artists the exact same description and this is what I got back.

Artist #1

Artist #2

Artist #3


Note: My instructions said “either running or dancing.” I included no instruction on arm position.

I had decided at the time to go with artist 3, simply because it was the most “painted” look. I dropped in a background and did some fiddling and here’s basically what I would have ended up with (but you know, with the title.)

Project 2

Here’s the process I went through for my recently released sword and sorcery novelette Swordcrossed Frostbite.

I tried the same thing again, except this time I just wanted a picture of my main character. If the picture was great, maybe I’d negotiate for commercial usage of the picture or hire the artist to do another for the cover. Here’s what I ended up with:


Again, I used the same description to give to all the artists.

In the end, I found someone else on Artistsnclients to do the cover, and I paid a little more. In case you haven’t seen it, this is what the finished cover looks like:

Project 3

There was this time that I thought my artist for StoryHack Issue 0 had disappeared (this was a deviantart hire). I emailed 4 times over a 3 week period without response. So in my freaking out, I hired a backup artist on fiverr. Two days later, I got the artwork back from the original artist and it was fantastic. A day or two after that, the backup artist sent me this:

Who knows, I still may use this for something.

Random Lessons

  • The sites I have used to find artists are Fiverr, Artistsnclients, and deviantart. I used to just search around deviantart but now I always use the job offers forum.
  • Artistsnclients either needs to hire a new web guy or move servers. They seem to go down quite often.
  • Fiverr and have a sort of escrow system set up to prevent you from losing your money if an artist disappears or does not fulfill on their end of the bargain. Deviantart has no such system.
  • Posting a gig request on fiverr is a good way to get a lot of offers for your art. You’ll have to constantly go through and remove offers from artists who obviously don’t use the style you ask for. I think it only lets you have 30 active offers at a time. Hence the constant removing. I’ve seriously gone through like 90 offers before finding one that would work.
  • If you post on the job offers forum at DeviantArt, you’ll be swamped with artists looking for work. You work out payment on your own. Usually paypal. I didn’t know for the longest time that deviantart even had a forum, so well do they hide it. The quality of the artists responding tends to be higher than the fiverr respondents.
  • While hiring an artist, especially on fiverr, be sure to look at an artist’s whole portfolio. If it feels like they’ve stolen some art to stick on there, do a google image search. I have almost hired several artists before realizing that they were using someone else’s work in their portfolio. Fiverr has no easy way to report those people, so if the pictures look way too awesome for the price, beware.
  • ArtistsnClients has a bunch of inactive artists. Just message your chosen artist first before buying a gig. That’s actually a good idea anyway.
  • No matter what service you use to find an artist, be prepared to look at a lot of portfolios before you start finding ones whose styles meet your needs.
  • ArtistsnClients itself is slow to respond to inquiries. I once had an issue with an artist. I emailed, tweeted and facebooked the company (after trying in vain to reach the artist) and it still took a few days to get back to me.
  • If you look around, you may be able to score a deal. Don’t expect to pay less than $100 for a decent piece of art, though.
  • The more info you can get to an artist, the better. Poses, references, descriptions.
  • If your artist want pose ideas and you can’t find any you like, you can try the software Design Doll. It’s kind of a pain to get used to the controls, but you can pose a virtual mannequin and render a picture that an artist can base the drawing on.
  • Know beforehand how well the artist communicates and how long they think it’ll take.

Another Pulp Story Formula

This is the first in a series I’m calling “Writing Tips from the Pulp Era.” These are writing articles from books and magazines that have entered the public domain. Click the link for the full list of articles.

Author Note: Nelson S. Bond wrote and had dozens of pulp stories published by a wide variety of magazines, including Blue Book, Fantastic Adventures, Weird Tales, Esquire and Amazing Stories. He also wrote for radio and television.

Copyright Note: This article comes from the October, 1940 issue of Writer’s Digest. The copyright records from 1940 do not show a filing for either the magazine issue or the article itself. Neither is there an entry in 1968, the year it would have needed to be renewed. So I believe it is in the public domain.

It’s All A Matter of Timing

A Foolproof Fiction Formula
by Nelson S. Bond

It’s the damnedest thing! I stand up there with my heart full of hope and my mitts full of driver; I wiggle and I waggle; I straighten my left arm and lower my head; I haul my hips back. I swing. My clubhead goes swoosh! – and the ball goes ploop! A one hundred and fifty yard drive. Fifty up, fifty down, and fifty yards into the lush tangle of crab grass between the tee and the fairway.

My companion says, “Tsk,” and stares after my ball thoughtfully. “You going after it?” she asks. “Be careful. There’s lions and tigers in there!”

She takes her stance. She’s tiny and slim, and her hands are soft. She weighs 106 in her Kaysers. Her biceps are about as tough and sinewy as a cup custard. She swings. A gentle little swaying motion. But the club head goes splat! against the ball. Said pill takes off like a homing pigeon; soars high and far and true, and comes to rest at long last, gleaming whitely upon the green bosom of the fairway halfway to the pin.

Why? I weigh more than she does. I’m taller. I’m stronger. My clubs are heavier.

* * *

If I wrote like I golf, there wouldn’t be any long, lazy, blood-pressure-raising afternoons on the links. There would be handouts and patched breeches and truckloads of rejection slips. But by some quirk of fate-possibly because the gods have a celestial budget to balance-I am so lucky as to possess, in my vocation, that which I can’t grasp when I’m playing. A sense of timing.

I’m not sure that I can tell you what it is, or how to do it. I suspect it’s One of Those Things, like swimming or swinging a golf club or knowing that the third Scotch-and is enough.You have it or you don’t. If you don’t, you just keep on plugging, going through the motions, until one day, suddenly, there it is and you know what I’m talking about.

And when you’ve got it, you’re sitting pretty. Meat on the table, checks in the poke, and luh-huv in my heart for yoo-hoo!

You’re bound to get it, too, if you keep working at it. You know the old gag about how “every writer has to get a million lousy words out of his system.” Of course, that’s the old malarkey. Some writers click on the first go-round, others (like myself) have to do it the hard way. The truth remains, though, that those first, feeble, fumbling attempts are valuable. Every word you put on paper is another lesson in writing. Even if the story comes bouncing back with the stamps still moist, you’ve learned something from it. Maybe you’ve just learned how not do it next time. And, buddy, if you have-that’s valuable!

Did I hear a snarl in the audience? You want me to skip the fight-talk, huh? Get down to business? All right. You’re asking for it. Here’s my theory on the way to “time” a normal, 5,000 word story in such a way as to make it fast, dramatic and salable.

I don’t guarantee it; I don’t claim that all other methods are wrong. I believe, with Kipling, that “there are six-and-twenty ways of constructing tribal lays . . . every single one of them is right!” All I say is that this works for me.

* * *


(Patent not worth applying for)

General Instructions

Lay out approximately 20-25 sheets of clean, white paper. I prefer Corrasable Bond because it actually does-as Arnold Gingrich of Esquire puts it-“take erasure with dignity.” And an ordinary pencil eraser, to. If the Eaton People want to send me a check for this plug, I’m not proud. Use the 16, rather than the 20 pound weight. It costs less, and keeps down the postage.

Lay out an equal amount of yellow “second sheets,” a piece of carbon paper, your cigarettes and matches-Hold it! Change that typewriter ribbon! Your chances of selling fade in direct proportion to the fading of your ink, friend! Now put that damned thesaurus away. Hide it! If you don’t know the words and use them in your ordinary conversation, they’ll bulge in your story like an olive in a snake’s gut.

We’ll take it for granted you know how to title and identify your manuscript. If you don’t you shouldn’t be reading this; you should be studying back issues of Writer’s Digest. Name and address in upper left corner, approximate number of words in upper right, title and your name halfway down the page. All right! Let’s go!

* * *

First 1000 Words. Ends on Page 5.

Get going with a bang! Remember, you’re writing a short story, not Gone With the Wind. You can’t waste words, nor will the editor permit you to waste his or the readers’ time. Your first thousand words must tell who are to be the central characters of this work-of-art, when the story takes place, where the scene is set, what the problem is, and set the question as to how the hero expects to take care of it.

Get me straight! I don’t mean you should start off anything like this-

“John Marmaduke Frasier, tall, blonde and handsome Sheriff of Burp’s Crossing, Arizona, strode down Main Street wondering what he should do about saving the property of his fiancée, sweet Hildegarde Phlewzy, from the clutches of rich bank president, Phineas Gelt, who threatened to foreclose the mortgage on August 19th, 1904, twenty days hence . . .”

You think I’m crazy, eh? Nobody ever introduced a story that way? Guess again! I sat beside Harry Widmer of Ace Publications for a full hour one afternoon, reading over his shoulder unsolicited manuscripts that opened in exactly that fashion. Needless to say, the stories were not offered by “regulars,” nor did they come in the folders of an agent. They were the “unrush” mail, i.e., the free-lance offerings that earn pale blue slips reading, “We regret to say-”

But get the thing moving. Start with something happening to somebody; not with mental maunderings, Grab your hero by the neck and shove him smack into a mess of trouble. Then show who started that trouble-and why. Introduce the other persons involved in the problem, make their opening speeches depict their characters. As you write, keep an eye on your page numbers. Remember that this phase of the story must be finished by the middle of page 5.

End the opening sections with the implication that Our Hero recognizes his difficulty and knows what he’s going to do about it.

Second 1000 words. Ends on Page 9-10.

This is the phase wherein Our Hero’s star is in the ascendancy. Things move along with reasonable assurance of eventual success. Looks like the problem wasn’t so terrible after all. With matters moving smoothly, this section may also be used for brief, telling “flashbacks” (if required), and for strengthening characterizations.

A word about scene changes. Many beginning writers seem to go haywire over time and place transitions. That’s simply because they make an easy job tough for themselves. For instance, We’ve all seen manuscripts in which a character leaves a room, goes to another place, meets other people. The beginner, his “timing” hopelessly off, tries to follow the character all the way-

“He stalked from the building indignantly, found a taxi at the door, rode uptown, got out at his own apartment, paid off the cabby, took the elevator upstairs…”

Sharper-edged, neater and vastly more readable is a device used by all professionals and editors. The bridging of time by a quadruple space. Finish one scene. Slap your space-lever twice-and begin your new section with a scene as fresh, as new, as clean-cut as if you were starting an entirely new story!

Here’s the way it works in actual practice. Scene one was in the apartment of a detective, Sid (“Softy”) O’Neill. A policeman has come to bring Softy to headquarters. The first scene ends and the second scene begins as follows.

“Okay, let’s go!” (said Softy.) Then he remembered and jerked open a drawer in his desk. Dull blue glinted as he jammed something into a harness beneath his left arm-pit. “Let’s go!” he repeated.

The Chief said, “Gentlemen, meet Detective O’Neill. Sid is not a member of the city force, but as I told you . . .”

It is not until some paragraphs later that the Chief is introduced by name, or the second phase of the plot determined. But story stuff is unimportant here; we are concerned only with the question of time-and-place transitions. During the blank space left above, Softy O’Neill presumably covered a number of city miles and consumed a half hour’s time. The reader is made conscious of that by implication. You don’t have to drag him along the route with you. How Softy got to headquarters is unimportant; all that matters is that he got there! Save words, save time. It’s all a matter of timing!

Third 1000 words. Ends on Page 13-15.

Here’s where the Hero stubs his toe. Things looked good-now the Villain heaves a monkeywrench onto the woiks! Trouble-with a capital “Boo!”-pops up. Technically this is known as a “plot complication.” Which is just a literary way of saying it’s a, “Dood Dod, what do I do now?” mess.

Let’s backtrack a moment and dovetail this. We’ll suppose our story to have been (1) sports, (2) science-fiction, (3) detective, (4) love, (5) romantic adventure. Show how a “complication” piles on the major problem in each of the aforementioned.

  1. Hero flashy player, without his team cannot win championship vital to athletic future of small college. In phase one, main problem set forth. In phase two, path looks easy-hero going like house afire. Phase three, complication-vital blocking back busts leg before crucial game!
  2. Hero hastily finishing spaceship with which to visit Mars; must get special Martian desert weed to stave off dreadful scourge which threatens to destroy Earth. Complication. Enemy scientists corners market on beryllium, vitally essential metal for construction of spaceship.
  3. Detective hero hunting Red Jornegan, gangster, whose fingerprints were found all over gun that murdered cop. Tracks Jornegan to hide-out. Complication. Finds Jornegan dead, killer’s gun lying across room with Jornegan’s fingerprints on it! (Whew! This one came off the top of my mind. I wonder whodunit?)
  4. Hero admires movie idol, wangles introduction, succeeds in making him veddy, veddy interested. Soft odor of orange blossoms in distance, and then-complication! Learns his contract has a nix-wedding-bells clause.
  5. Hero, Foreign Legion lieutenant, besieged by a mob of howling Bedouins. Must carry news of uprising to post. Remembers cache of ammunition in desert. Finds it. Complication. Bullets are for different rifle!

In short, then, this complication is generally something he did not nor could have possibly expected; it may even be a break the villain himself did not count on. But it makes a heluva situation for Our Hero.

Fourth 1000 words. Ends on Page 17-19.

Herein, two things happen. The Hero, finds, thinks, or fights his way out of the complication. This consumes almost all of the fourth phase. And when we’ve suffered with him, bled him into open country again-

Up pops the Villain with his deepest, most dastardly plot, unfolded, finally, in all its dire ramifications!

This is the trouble! Ossa on Pelion, if youse lugs know what I mean. This is the spot wherein (in the ancient mellerdramers) Nick Carter used to get two busted legs and a broken back, while a horde of savages armed with scythes and swords and Stuka bumbers swarmed in on him.

That won’t go today-thank heaven! I’ve heard too much poppycock and balderdash about how “the pulps demand an excess of emotion.” Action, yes! True emotion, yes! But in my opinion, they neither want, nor will buy, blatantly overwritten mellerdrama.

Anyway, that’s a good rule to go buy. Figure it this way and you can’t go far wrong-the only reason pulps print hokey stuff is that sometimes they can’t get the smooth kind of writing they’ll grab when it’s offered to them. Let a man learn his trade, and he’ll be snatched up by the slicks in a split-second. I think none of the following ex-pulpateers will object if I mention their names in passing: William R. Cox, who has parlayed his Dime Sport muscle men into American, Liberty, et al. Ernest Haycox, who sells super-Westerns to every top-ranking magazine and to Hollywood. Richard Sale . . . Jacland Marmur . . . William Fay . . . but why go on? Their stories had what it takes; they’ve moved up (Yeah, yeah, I know, they still sell some to the pulps!) and others can profit by studying their techniques.

Some digression. We were in Phase Four, where Our Hero is up to his neck in Trouble. And the Villain is on the bank, heaving rocks at his head.

How to get him out? That’s your problem, pal! If I knew, I’d write the story, not donate the outline. But there are several sturdy, tried-and-true methods. By his superior knowledge. By a quirk of chance carefully planted in the earlier part of the story (none of that long arm of coincidence stuff)! By sheer fighting ability.

And he accomplishes this in-

The Fifth 1000 words. Ends on Page 21-25.

This is the phase of the solution, of final explanation, of denouement. In the detective story, here’s where your cop or shamus explains whodunit, why, and how he figured it out. In the western, science, sport or action story, this is where Our Hero fights free and, tying up loose ends, explains to his public how he knew just what to do.

The fifth phase of begins with violent action, tears along swiftly, leading to a swift, decisive conclusion-and ends happily.

Watch your timing here! Pace your final conflict so that the action of it consumes approximately 500 words or more. Previous action may have been truncated to move the story along-but not this final scene. Your readers have suffered with the Hero for 4,000 words. Give ’em a blow-by-blow description of the Last Stand, let their empathies jump with glee as the Villain flinches, cowers, and dies.

I could mention a half dozen writing “tricks” that arouse this emphatic feeling, but there’s no time to do so in this article. Nor is this the proper place to do it. This is simply a blueprint, a method of mechanically plotting the short story, that has worked for me-and it will work for you, if you’ll give it a trial.

If you’ll hew to the page-markers set forth here, I think you’ll have no more trouble with tedious openings, long, drowsy middle sections, stories that refuse to end. Because writing-like that confounded golf swing I cannot master-is all a matter of timing.

Oh, I said that before, didn’t I? Well-it still goes!

Author Business (Cards)

While I was busy pretending to be a real author at Fyrecon, I did sit in on a couple of very good classes.

One of these was on networking and was given by Jason King from Immortal Works. It wasn’t revolutionary or anything, but had lots of amusing slides and I had 2 very important takeaways. So, thanks, Jason!

Takeaway #1

I have to network if I want anything to ever come of my writing & publishing pursuits. No use trying to deny it. And it’s not like I didn’t know this, but it was a good kick in the pants.

Takeaway #2

I need an author business card. Again, I suspect that I knew this somewhere deep down, but I have never felt like it was that important. However, after the class I became hyper aware of how many cards I collected. And three or for times during the rest of the conference I really wished I had one to give out.

I also recognized that most people’s business cards are boring. Even if a card has a little personality, there’s no reason for me to keep it after I’ve sent a single email.

I think it’s high time for that to change. To that end, I set the hamster cage in my mind to whirring and I came up with an idea that everyone should totally follow. It started with the following question:

What if an author’s business card was not only useful, but collectible?

People would remember you better, and they’d keep your contact info around longer. They might even show it off to other people.

To that end, I spent some time thinking about what a collectible author business card might actually be like. After much reflexion, I have come up with the perfect solution. So here are the guidelines to the perfect style of business card that every author everywhere should always make and use from now on.

  1. Forget traditional size. Make it playing card/trading card game size. There is a good reason for this, which I shall disclose in a later guideline.
  2. Make it of a playing card stock/lamination. It will feel more keepable.
  3. On the back side, put the cover art from one of your books. People like pretty things, and your books all have pretty covers, right? I suppose you could fill the back with a quote from one of your works, but it should at least be jazzed up with clever colors and typography. This is the primary reason for the size. Cover art fits better on a playing card.
  4. Front side should have a picture, your name, best contact, and your website. Honestly, you don’t need every bit of contact. People can get your twitter handle off your website.
  5. Front side should also have a description of what the back side is. I put the name of the work and credited the artist. I had to put the name of the work because I put the raw art without lettering

That’s it. As a test I made three different versions and had them printed at a print-on-demand game company, as I knew they’d have the type and quality of paper I was looking for.

And if you want to know what’s on the other side of these cards, well, I guess you’ll have to track me down in person.

My Favorite Pulps: Lester Del Rey

I love the pulps. Seriously.

Have I talked about Lester Del Rey on here before? Yes, but it’s been a long time. So I have to do it again. He was an author and editor (Del Rey books still carries his name) and he wrote a bunch of great stories. I think I first bumped into him while cruising Gutenberg (maybe manybooks or feedbooks?) for free scifi. This was probably back in my prenook, prekindle days (2005-8?) when I had an eBookWise, which was my first ereader. It was super comfortable to use. Seriously, that thing may have been a bit heavy, but it was backlit long before eink devices figured out how to install a light bulb, its battery lasted like 4-5 times as long as the PDAs of the era, and it was easy to grip and change pages with one hand. The only downside was that it was a pain to get books loaded onto it. I digress.

Anyway, I didn’t have a ton of extra cash so I was always scouring the net for freebies. This was about the time I discovered A Princess of Mars and Solomon Kane, too. I read all the time and my pulp addiction was really taking off. So I happened upon three Del Rey works: Police Your Planet, Badge of Infamy, and Victory.

Let me start with Victory. I don’t remember much of the story itself, but I remember it being all space battle-y and fun. I also remember from this one the very idea of flying spaceships without a computer. I hadn’t really considered that before, being raised around computers my whole life. That thought really sparked my imagination.

Badge of Infamy really appealed to my libertarian streak. A doctor helps save the life of his best friend outside of a medical lobby-approved environment (it was an emergency). For this great crime, he is stripped of his doctor credentials and made into a societal outcast. His also-doctor wife basically disowns him but doesn’t divorce (So that they can reconnect later, spoiler). Despondent and oppressed, he sneaks his way onto a mars-bound spaceship to start a new life. On the red planet, he becomes involved in a revolution. Also, and this is a HUUUUGEEE spoiler, so don’t read the italics if you think it will ruin your enjoyment. He totally discovers that smoking martian space-weed is the cure for space lung cancer! How pulp is that?

Police Your Planet is probably the most pulpy of these three and would make an awesome movie. Just forget the rather tame covers that have besmirched the various paperback editions you find online. Our stalwart hero had had a number of manly jobs (newspaper man, prize fighter, I think a cop…) on Earth but he gets kicked off (probably for doing the right thing) with a yellow ticket, which means he can never return. On Mars he’s forced into a life of gambling, then a life of law enforcement, then political thuggery, and finally revolution. (Del Rey apparently didn’t like authoritarians or corruption) All the while there’s a woman who in turn tries to kill him , marries him (Plot Device!), and finally falls in love with him. The plot does not slow down for even one second. Honestly, Hollywood, why reboot more boring franchises when you could throw awesomness like this at the silver screen?

PS. Lester Del Rey also wrote a story called “Let ’em Breathe Space” which is possibly the best-named story of all time.

If you haven’t yet, check out the StoryHack Action & Adventure kickstarter. We’re about 3/4 of the way to the goal – within striking distance. There’s about 2 weeks left in the campaign, so please help out by passing the link along.

How to Accept Submissions

One of the other major facets of starting a literary magazine is the receiving and sorting of submissions. There is no way anybody would send me, a nobody, a printed submission in this day and age, so I’m not going to bother with a physical slush pile. As I’ve looked around, there are a few options for accepting submissions.

  1. Email – Of course, this is the simplest to implement. Just have authors send an email to a dedicated email address. And I could set it up with tagging/folders to stay organized.
  2. Submittable – Submittable is a web app that handles everything for submissions. I understand it has lots of options on the publisher end. A couple of the magazines to whom I’ve submitted use it, and it’s pretty easy for an author to use, too. The biggest hangup for me is the price. They have 2 levels of subscription, one at $31/month and one at $66. That’s not totally absurd, but it’s just not something I want to pay at launch. Another tiny hangup is it appears to have a few too many options.
  3. [](Green Submissions) – It’s a free to use submission manager app. It is nowhere near as slick as Submittable, and does not appear to be quite as user-friendly. It is however, free to use. I could also buy the software that powers Green Submissions, but it doesn’t look like it’s been updated in a while, nor do I know how easy it is to customize. And besides, if I want to make it better I might as well…
  4. Make my own – this is a problem among many programmers I know, myself included. A big part of me just wants to code up my own submission manager. Like I’ve already put down like three different starts on code.

Since the magazine I’m thinking about would be just me running it, I’d start with email. It’s easy to use and keep organized, and nobody should have a problem using it.

Short Story Contracts

I’m pretty comfortable with the technical portions of publishing, prepping files and the like. One part of the process I know very little about is the legal side. And I figure if I decide to do this thing, I’d better do it right. So over the past little while, I’ve been reading up on author contracts. It has been very useful that many magazines put up a template on their website. It looks like a large percent of mags use the SFWA’s model magazine contract as a starting place. It’s got good comments so you can understand the legalese.

Here are a few of the ones I’ve been looking at:

The Economics of Starting a Literary Journal

(Even if the fiction contained therein can not really be considered literary)

I’m still considering launching a fiction ‘zine. I spent several hours over the past few days considering what it would really cost to do it right. I built myself a spreadsheet with every variable I can think of to see at what point it could become profitable. Now, I understand many of these type of projects are run purely for the love of the craft, but I’m a dad with four growing kids, so I’m not interested in just dumping a lot of money into a hobby. But I am willing to spend some.

Also, I would want to do this thing right, I don’t want it to look like crap.


I’m going to start with my goal of 10 stories averaging 3,000 words each. That’s 30,000 words of fiction needing to be paid for. Professional rates start a $0.06 / word. That can get expensive fast. This would be $1,800 in author payments. Another option would be to offer less per word or perhaps some kind of flat payment per story. I’ve seen a couple of journals offering $15 or $20 for a story, so I’d at least offer $25. I’m not going to ask a bunch of authors to let me run their work for free. (However, I would totally help put together some kind of short story anthology where authors donated works for free and basically use the collection as advertising…)

Author costs: about $250 (for flat fee) to $1,800+ (for pro rates)

There are some other more static costs, like buying an ISBN (or block of them), paying an artist to do a cover, a new domain and hosting, and a couple more of probable administrative costs. All in all, I figure it to be in the neighborhood of $500.

Fixed costs: about $500

There are several ways to fund this sort of thing, and I’m going to consider two. Crowdfunding and self-funding. If I crowd fund, then I’m going to make the assumption that about 30% of backers will go for the print version, and 70% will go for ebook only.

Considering how to price the magazine is a whole new beast. I’d want to keep the cost down as much as possible. After all, It’s not likely to be a large page count. After all, nobody knows me or my magazine, so if I lower the bar to entry, maybe they’d be willing to take a chance. I’d love to get some feedback as to what people would be willing to pay (especially for the print version). For now, I’m assuming low, $2.99 for an ebook and $6.99 for printed.

30,000 words laid out at 300 words per page is about 100 printed pages.  POD magazine printer MagCloud quotes me $20-$21 per copy as a base fee for a mag of that length. So, you know, that’s right out. So if I want to be able to have a variable amount of copies printed, that means createspace or lulu. I love them both, but createspace’s pricing is a little better, and between my own stuff and some people I’ve helped, I’ve already published a dozen titles there, so I’m comfortable with the process. For a 100 page book (which I’ll call a magazine) with black and white interiors, it costs $3.55 per copy to print. Now, if I did a larger print run, I know I can find magazine printers online that would charge from $1.85 ~ $5.75 per copy. So that could come down a bit if I had a large enough crowdfunded campaign. There’s also printers that would do paperback books similar to the createspace ones near that same cost. SO I’ll use createspace’s numbers as a starting point then.

Printing costs: $3.55 per copy


Now that I’ve considered all of that, it’s time to answer some financial questions.

What would my crowdfunding goal need to be?

Let’s assume the 30% physical backers I mentioned earlier, and include some fulfillment costs (shipping) and other fees (most crowdfunding sites take 5%, plus Credit Card processing is 3-5%)

To pay the authors, the fixed fees, and printing costs, the goal would need to be a hair over $4,000. That doesn’t sound too bad, right? Well, if the only rewards offered are the two levels, $2.99 and $6.99, then this calculates out to 368 physical book backers and 856 ebook only backers. (1224 total backers). The only campaigns I’ve seen that hit those kind of numbers for a literary journal are run by an established player, namely Lightspeed magazine. Raising the ebook price to $4.99 and the printed to $9.99, I’d only need half as many backers (615 total). That starts to look sort of reachable. And if I could come up with some higher dollar backing plans? Well, that’s be even better. If I self-funded the endeavor, I’d need 5-7% less of starting capital, but still need to sell that many copies.

What if I cheaped out?

Well, if I pay less than I had budgeted for art and do the $25 per story thing, then I could make the magazine happen for about $550 dollars. That is definitely in the range of self-funding possibility. I would need to sell 262 ebook copies at $2.99 and only 157 at $4.99 to break even. Possibly a few less if I crowdsourced. I’d pick up the crowdssourcing fees, but I could deliver ebooks for free, meaning I don’t need to pay 30% in royalties to amazon kdp on a sale.

Maybe I could do a campaign with a sliding pay rate for authors based on goals met.

So what have I decided?

Nothing yet. I still have more to research and think about. It is somewhat helpful to put it down in words, though, so maybe I’ll keep blogging about it.

Then you can’t vote for her, either.

Politics. If you don’t like them, don’t read this post. I am going to rant for a minute. And let me get one thing out of the way- I am not planning on voting for Trump. I disagree with many of his stated policies. I find his personality grating. Do not mistake what I am about to say as support for him.

With all that out of the way, just let me say:

If you cannot vote for Trump, then you doubly cannot vote for Clinton. She embodies that which her supporters hate about Trump. If you do support Hillary, you then must either be willfully ignorant of her actions or a hypocrite.

Here are a few examples to illustrate what I mean.

The Devil you Know

I have heard from several people some variation on the following statement, “Yes, I know Hillary is corrupt, but who knows how Trump would act? I’ll choose the devil I know over the one I don’t.” To me this is like saying, “That guy over there looks creepy to me, but I need a ride, so I’m going to hop in the car with Ted Bundy instead.”

To admit your candidate is a devil from the get-go doesn’t seem like a reason to vote for her. If you can’t vote for someone because you see him as a possible “devil,” then how can you possibly morally justify voting for another person you have already admitted is a “devil?”

Why is he Hiding Stuff?

Anti-Trumpeters say “He’s hiding his tax returns. He’s hiding everything!” Well, Clinton hasn’t published hers (edit: okay, apparently now she has, thanks to my blistering rant, but the Clinton Foundation stuff is still very shady…), nor has she opened up the books to the Clinton Foundation. She’s hiding her finances every bit as much as Trump. So if that’s why you can’t vote for him, you certainly can’t vote for her.

What else is she hiding? She deleted a whole bunch of possibly damning emails. She didn’t even have a single press conference for over over 240 days! And when she did, it was with 7 hand-picked journalists who lobbed softballs. And even then her answers were evasive and rambling. There’s only two rational reasons she would hide like that: 1) She knows what questions are likely to be asked, and she can’t come up with a good answer. 2) She is not fast thinking enough to deal with the chaos ans pressure of that environment.

So if “hiding things” disqualifies Trump for you, it should even more disqualify Clinton.


There’s plenty of example of both people flip flopping on serious issues, depending on their audience. Hillary has flopped on same sex marriage, and when asked about it she said “Well, actually, I have been very consistent. Over the course of my entire life, I have always fought for the same values and principles, but, like most human beings — including those of us who run for office — I do absorb new information. I do look at what’s happening in the world.” Which is basically saying “I absolutely never change except of course I change all the time.”

Change is fine, but don’t pretend to always stand for the same values if you do.

She’s flip-flopped on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

She’s flip-flopped on NAFTA

She’s flip-flopped on The Cuba Embargo

So if you can’t vote for the Donald because he has flip-flopped on some issues, then you shouldn’t vote for Hillary, either.

Trump Lies

Well, so does Hillary. If you can’t vote for Trump because of his lying, then you shouldn’t vote for Hillary because of hers.

And as an aside, why would we accept this behavior from any elected official? Are there literally no honest people left in the world?

Violent Temper

“I don’t want his tiny hand on the big red button.” Says many a Hillary supporter, suggesting that Trump’s temper would lead to nuclear war.

Well, if having a temper should stop someone from being president, then you can’t vote for Hillary either. And yes, much of the evidence of her temper is claims made by people who have worked close to her, so they could be biased. Consider the fact that you can’t find such claims about Trump at all.

There’s ex secret service guys like Gary Byrne, Dan Bongino, and Lloyd Bulman who have since reported that Hillary is rude and blows up all the time, often becoming physical. (She threw a lamp at Bill, gave him a black eye, hit a secret service guy with a Bible, etc) Ed Klein’s book cites many people close to the Clintons who have reported the same type of behavior. In Ronald Kessler’s book about the Secret Service, he reports many more times that Hillary has been verbally abusive to agents who have had the audacity to say “good morning” to her. And there are several campaign aides now that report the same.

Again, these are all unproven he-said, she-said type accusations, but there sure seem to be a lot of them for them all to be fake.

So if his temper prevents you from voting for Trump, then Hillary’s temper should prevent you from voting for her.

Death Threats

“Trump threatened to kill Hillary! Or at least incite her murder! It’s in the public record! He’s a violent maniac!”

First off, no he didn’t. He made a joke in poor taste. Nobody goes around murdering light-haired people because they heard the one about “how to drown a blonde.”

But still, if even if you think his comments might possibly lead to violence, then you should consider the actual deaths that have occurred due to Hillary’s actions. And I’m not talking the quacky “Clinton Death List” that has been going around forever. I’m talking verifiable actions as Secretary of State.

  • Her bungling of Benghazi, which led to the deaths of Americans. Immediately afterward, she tried to sweep it under the rug and lied about what caused the attack to happen. Only after a lot of pressure did she accept any responsibility. Still, it’s hard to blame her for the actions of a terrorist. Let’s move on to worse stuff. That’s not exactly brave, strong leadership.
  • When she was Secretary of Sate, she accepted many “donations” to her charity from foreign nations. This alone was against the ethics rules of the job. Worse yet, once she got the donations, she approved the sale of warplanes and firearms to those nations. And these are not happy, friendly nations. These are places where she knew the weapons would be used to murder political dissidents and oppress women. If I sold a gun to a guy who I knew was planning on using it to murder, would I be in the wrong? You bet. She has apologetically been an accomplice to murder for her own personal gain.
  • Her meddling in Syria has helped lead to the death of over 250,000 people, and the displacement of something like 10,000,000 more. And Hillary talks about it like that’s some sort of great victory as apposed to a gut-wrenching human tragedy. 250,000 deaths. These are actual people. People, just like your neighbors, your sons, your friends. We’re talking women, children, and men. Its hard to even comprehend how many human lives that really is.

So if you’re afraid that Trump’s rhetoric might promote violence, consider that Hillary’s actions have already promoted catastrophic violence and war. If promoting violence crosses Trump off your list, then you have to cross Hillary off, too.

In the pocket of the 1%

“Trump’s a rich guy, so he’s going to give his buddies a sweet deal.” I would then invite you to take a look at some of the sweet deals Hillary has already actually given people as Secretary of State. So if you can’t vote for Trump because you think he would grant political favors, then you also can’t vote for Hillary, as she has granted them before and sure is taking a lot of corporate money as donations now.

So if not Trump, and definitely not Clinton, then who?

Hopefully you can see what I mean. If you can’t vote for Trump, then you doubly can’t vote for Hillary.

The are plenty of third party candidates to look at. Or write in this guy. Or don’t vote at all.

May all of us have the strength and wisdom to not just follow a crowd, but think for ourselves and search and find a candidate we can actually support.


Announcement: Learning (Game) Programming in Scratch

Over the past year and a half, I’ve been volunteering, teaching a programming class at a local elementary school. I’ve been using scratch to teach, as it’s easy to get something fun done fast for the kids.

I created a curriculum for the class that mostly consists of video tutorials the kids can follow along as they build one game after another, hopefully picking up some programming ideas as they do.

Here is the curriculum. Learning Game Programming in Scratch

If you have any thoughts, comments, questions or corrections on the curriculum page, please post them here.

What to Give When The Invitation Says “No Gifts Please”

Dear Friend and/or Loved One,

I know the invitation said, “No Gifts, Please!!” This is not a gift. You will know why in a moment.

This quarter was new back in 1976. It was minted in Denver, after which it was machined-packaged and shipped to a bank in Ada, Oklahoma. The bank was destroyed by a tornado in late 1985. But before that, a bank teller handed this quarter in its original roll to the owner of the gas station over in Happyland. The gas station now also happens to be closed. Coincidence?

The quarter was first touched by an attendant at the Happyland gas station. It is rumored this attendant was a disgraced voodoo priest. He gave this quarter as change to one Gary Bullafarht who was then on his way to Los Angeles to pursue his Hollywood dreams. It was in his pocket the day of his first audition. Needless to say, you’ve never heard of him because his film career failed miserably. Also, his 1973 Ford Pinto had no less than 5 flat tires on the trip from Oklahoma to California. More coincidence?

The quarter was lost for a couple of years until it was picked up in a parking lot by a little boy named Luke. Luke would later lose his hand in a freak sword fight with his father. THE SAME HAND HE USED TO PICK UP THE QUARTER! I suppose that was coincidence, too?

Luke used the quarter to help buy a Jose Canseco rookie card from Rusty. A card he mangled, tripping as he walked away from the transaction. Rusty left the coin sitting on the counter and his mom, Ellen, put it in her change jar. As long as the coin sat in the change jar, the whole family experienced the worst of luck. Their trip to Wally World was a joke. Their European vacation was a disaster. Even their simple Christmas at home ended with a swat team breaking down their doors.

At this point it would be laughable to suggest this monetary disk of despair had nothing to do with all these misfortunes.

The family’s bad luck continued until Ellen took her change jar to a coin counter at Safeway. The man who emptied the coin counting machine broke his hip while loading the armored car.

The next years were a veritable whirlwind of calamities and heartaches. All happened in close proximity to this copper-cored, nickel plated harbinger of doom.

In the winter of 2003, this twenty five cent hazard was a prolific carrier of disease. It passed the flu virus to no less than 7 people.

In 2004, the quarter was in the pocket of a truck driver. As he crossed a bridge on I-95 near Bridgeport, Connecticut, a car struck his tanker truck. The truck overturned and spilled its load of heating oil. Oil that caught fire and melted the bridge’s supports. The bridge collapsed. Are you still not convinced of this coin’s heinous power?

On February 12, 2010, a brat named Damien left the quarter on a railroad track just north of the Farragut North Washington Metro station. The train derailed, but the quarter was unharmed.

The coin was found by a construction worker in some particularly mangled wreckage caused by the Mississippi River floods (in turn caused by the quarter?) in 2011.

Tragedies, breakups, famine, and pretty much every abomination imaginable have followed this coin on its journey. I hope no further proof of this quarter’s qualities is needed.

The coin has continued its degenerate rampage ever since, until it came into my possession. I won’t go into details about the afflictions it has heaped on me except to mention I had to have a tumor removed from my leg last Monday morning. And now I give it to you. The quarter, not the tumor.

As you can plainly see, this quarter is not a gift at all. I HAVE NOT GIVEN YOU A GIFT!!

It is a curse.

However, it bears mentioning that the bitter misery spread by this monetary menace pales when compared to the epic suffering caused by another thing that joined the world in 1976. But that is a subject for an entirely different letter.

Happy 40th Birthday.



Internet Famous

A while back, I recorded an audio version of this. I am finally ready to release it into the wild. It is fairly ridiculous, not unlike the poem itself) Scroll to the bottom of the poem to listen.

Hello Blogosphere, twitterverse, facebookville, and other citizens of the interwebs. Recently, while singing Gangnam Style and riding Charlie the Unicorn over a Double Rainbow, I had a revelation in which I discovered my new purpose in life, as well as a plan to achieve that purpose. I have written it down as a poem so that you may bask in it’s glory.

I call it…

Internet Famous

I confess I’m in a pursuit a bit artless.
Maybe you’ll think I’m a big ignoramous.
Doesn’t matter how lame or insane this goal is,
I will not rest until I’m internet famous.

When I sleep I dream of heavy visitor stats.
I want more traffic than eBay or lolcats.
Google, Yahoo, Bing, here I come to do combat.
I’m willing to wear any color, even black hats.

Got the green screen behind me for my video attack.
On Friday, I’ll put Rebecca Black in back of the track.
With the Star Wars Kid and Chuck Norris in a forest,
Making noise by clapping one hand in chorus.

I’d hula hoop while covering Adele on the kazoo,
If only it means over nine thousand views.
My Kids are cute, I’ll post their history, too.
Maybe I’ll film me setting fire to a vacuum.

I got this crazy need indeed to succeed, I’d bleed,
Or put more cowbell in an epic fail frenzied.
I’ve agreed on a creed to meme intercede,
Every other dude’s humor I’ll proceed to exceed.

Any twit would admit this legit bit will permit
My name and face to be viewed like a bandit
Think my outrageous stunts may not be dope to submit?
Doesn’t matter. I don’t feel shame, I grope it.

Someday soon, you’ll wake up to see
Trolls, Noobs and Mods all agreeing with me.
All on Pintrest will pin my pictures with glee.
And Redditors will upvote my links smart and mighty.

Just wait and see, I’m not wrong, won’t be long
I’ll be revered for a post or recognized for a song
I’ll be followed and retweeted on Twitter by a throng
My fans on Facebook will grow a quarter million strong.

I’m not flawless but I won’t lose focus.
Already my presence grows on the web like a fungus.
You might want to check every day on my status.
Because I will not rest ’till I’m internet famous.

download audio

What Makes a Man a Man?

A little while ago a friend of mine asked a group of guys, “How did you know when you were finally a man?”

I’ve thought about it off and on for a couple of weeks, and I came to the conclusion that there was no one moment where I thought, “Okay, now I’m a man.” Part of the problem is that the American culture doesn’t have a set ritual or event where a boy starts as a boy and comes out being recognized by his community as a man.

So I decided that if I didn’t have an event, I should at least know what it means to be a man. My buddy JP and I discussed this for our podcast and we challenged each other to come up with a list of responsibilities/traits/skills that a real man has.

You’ll notice that my list is quite small. Here is my reasoning: there are a slew of attributes and skills that all kids should learn before becoming an adult. Learning to handle money and a budget, self control, general cooking/cleaning, and becoming emotionally mature are all great things and they are not specific to gender. Maybe someday I’ll write a list about becoming a full functioning adult.

I may revisit this list and change it, but for now, here are the attributes that signal true manhood.

  • Protect and respect women.
  • Become a Righteous Father
  • Provide / Work for the household in which you live

I could go on about each of these, but I’ll keep my thoughts short.

Protect and Respect Women

I read recently that about 11% of girls have been sexually assaulted by the time they graduate high school. About 1 in 4 have suffered rape or attempted rape by the time they graduate college. I hate the fact that rape is so prevalent that I have to teach my daughters situational awareness and self defense against it. It’s appalling. A true man would never do that. Men need to treat women better, and also need to do something about their predatory peers.

And beyond that abomination, a man should cherish and respect the roles of womanhood and motherhood. Strong families are the foundation of strong communities, cultures, and nations. A man recognizes this, and is grateful to mothers who fulfill those roles. Through words and actions, he makes those roles both possible and attractive.

Become a Righteous Father

A man strives to build the skills, attitudes, and personal qualities that enable him to play his part as the leader of his home. A righteous leader is not a dictator. A righteous leader is an example setter who accepts responsibility over what happens in his stewardships.

If he is married without children, he should work to make himself ready for fatherhood and not seek to avoid it. He should aspire to fatherhood.

If he is not married, he should be working to make himself the type of man a righteous woman would want to marry. And he should be seeking a righteous woman.

Provide / Work

A man works for the household in which he lives. He contributes to the physical and financial upkeep of his home in whatever way is appropriate.

Even if he is not employed he has a responsibility to work. In this case he spends at least the same time and effort as a full time job in one of three activities: getting skills and education that make him employable; applying, networking, and otherwise seeking a job; or building a business of his own.

The PUA and my Daughters

Okay, so there was once this KickStarter project wherein a man raised funds to publish a book titled “Above the Game: A Guide to Getting Awesome with Women”. The author said he was going use posts he had made around the internet (mostly reddit) as a basis for this book. Somewhere close to the end of his KickStarting time, another guy named happened across the project and checked out the original reddit posts. (See the second guy’s posts about it here, here, and here. They contain strong language.)

The draft of Above the Game contained such advice as, “Decide that you’re going to sit in a position where you can rub her leg and back. Physically pick her up and sit her on your lap. Don’t ask for permission. Be dominant. Force her to rebuff your advances.” and “Men are notoriously bad at reading women’s minds and body language. Don’t think that you’re any different. From now on you must ASSUME that she is attracted to you and wants to be ravished.”

This is not even the worst material. So yeah, the book contains some extremely distasteful stuff. It tells guys to just keep trying to get handsy, to back off if she really fights against it, but try the same crap again in a few minutes. In essence, the creed of the Pickup Artist (PUA) appears to be: “Be sexually aggressive (even assaultive) with every girl you find attractive until you find one that’s either insecure or frightened enough to let you use her like a toy.”

It started me thinking about my role as a father bringing up daughters in this world, and it frightened me more than a little. If I don’t want my daughter to be abused by jerks like the guys who read/write this malarky, I have a lot of work to do.

  • I have to give my daughters attention and love so that they don’t seek out attention from harmful predators.
  • I need to help my daughters build real self worth.
  • I must teach my daughters to identify and avoid creeps.
  • I have to teach my daughters enough self defence to physically resist unwanted aggression.
  • I must love and honor my wife so that my daughters see how a man should treat a woman.

I hope I’m up to the task.


Image courtesy of [xkcd]( And yes, I edited out the curse word. And yes, that’s fine according to Randall’s [license – CC Attribution Noncomercial](

And what of the Kickstarter project? Well, they found out the bad stuff too late to stop the project from funding. They did post an apology and donated to an anti-sexual violence organization, though.

The State is our Church

  • I see no good in having several lords:
    Let one alone be master, let one alone be king.

    Homer, Iliad, Book II, Lines 204-205.
  • No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other…
    Matthew 6:24
  • It’s time to ask yourself what you believe.
    Julian Glover as Walter Donovan in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

It seems to me as if most of the citizens of the United States of America have stopped worshiping the god they claim to worship. Instead, they worship a bizarre and amorphous group of men and women we refer to as “The Government” or “The State”, hereafter called by me Thestate (If you’d like, pronounce it so it rhymes with the Vampire Lestat.)

That’s right, we as a people worship Thestate as our god.

Don’t believe me?

Here are some ways in which either Thestate acts like a deity or we treat it like one. Now, I’m not going to pass judgement today and call all these things evil or inherently wrong. I’m merely reflecting on my beliefs and the customs in my country from a different viewpoint for a minute.

  • We promise our loyalty to Thestate in a memorized prayer that we call the “Pledge of Allegiance.”
  • We sing hymns of praise to Thestate’s infallibility and greatness in our national anthem and other patriotic songs.
  • We have an “Independence” day where we perform fire rituals to Thestate. Often these rituals are accompanied by impassioned sermons lauding Thestate as well as group prayer (Pledge) and hymn singing.
  • We court favor from Thestate for monies via his inspired welfare, grants, and tax credit systems.
  • We pay tithes and offerings to appease Thestate throughout our lives. We make an “income tax” sacrifice to the great god Thestate for allowing us even to labor with our hands or our minds. We pay further oblation (sales tax) to Thestate for the blessing of purchasing goods using money that we have earned through our own labors. Yes, legion are the offerings we call “taxes.” We offer up building permit taxes, a cigarette tax, capital gain taxes, income taxes (Federal, state, and sometimes city), gasoline and other fuel taxes, property taxes, telephone taxes, marriage license taxes, unemployment taxes, utility taxes, inheritance (death) taxes, and so many more. Perhaps we pay these offerings willingly as a way of showing our gratitude to Thestate for all he does for us. Possibly we offer these tithes in fear of Thestate’s righteous wrath and jail time. Whatever the reason, we pay them and thereby at every step of our life we are reminded of our subservience to Thestate.
  • We pray that Thestate will keep us from all harm physical, financial, and emotional. We rely on Thestate to sanctify (regulate and/or inspect) virtually every physical object with which we come in contact, from the cars we drive to the food we eat to the homes we live in, so that no harm may come upon us while we’re using them. Only Thestate can protect us from the violent attacks of criminal miscreants, and so he must regulate the ownership of arms and have a monopoly on the use of force (gun control, ATF, TSA, police and other law-enforcement.) To protect our wallets Thestate must watch over and sanctify all financial transactions.(FDIC, SEC) To protect our weak and frail emotions Thestate must stop all persons who speak offensive or hurtful remarks (unless that speaker is a minority.) When such offensive talk is still bound to happen, Thestate forces it into “free speech zones” at events and requires disclaimers on recorded and broadcast media. We rely on Thestate’s FCC to protect our children from violent, sexual, and crass media broadcasts.
  • We have hope and faith that Thestate will bless and sustain us monetarily in our old age. Thestate already cares for the majority of elderly Americans.[See fact #7 here] Increasing numbers of citizens are proclaiming their faith that Thestate will have financial control over the evening years of their lives.[citation]
  • We participate in the periodic ritual we have termed “voting.” By performing this ritual, we show our submission and acceptance that Thestate is the god that rules our life. Those who receive the most blessings from Thestate continue to practice this ritual in a way to ensure Thestate’s mind doesn’t sway from this protection. This is why it is political suicide for a perspective high priest of Thestate to even announce that he or she will petition Thestate for a decrease in financial blessings like Social Security.
  • We have a great council of elders that champion Thestate (Congress, other elected officials) and dictate ongoing revelation from him. These paragons of virtue are much wiser than us lowly worshipers. We trust them to reveal commandments in all areas of life, from our entrance into the world to the fields of our labor to the manner in which we dispose of our bodies when we pass from this life.
  • Thestate grants immortality to many of his extra-sanctified priests by setting aside days for their worship as well as their image on money.
  • Thestate, in his infinite wisdom, has given us roads. If he had not, there is no way people would have found a way to travel or move freight. Remember, we also pay monetary obeisance for the honor of purchasing state approved fuel for our chariots. We only allow adepts who have been anointed (licensed) by one Thestate’s sanctioned temples of driving knowledge to operate vehicles upon our Thestate-given roads.
  • Thestate tells us what is moral. We allow Thestate to define what a marriage is, and who can and can’t be married. Thestate has revealed to us what intimate physical relations are to be socially correct, and which deserve imprisonment. It tells us which activities are acceptable, which can be paid for, and at which age we are mature enough to participate. Thestate decrees at what age we are mature enough to pick up a vice like smoking or drinking.
  • Thestate has further removed the need for our own flawed internal moral compasses by inspiring and proscribing convoluted codes of conduct known as “ethics.” What is right and what is wrong in virtually every profession is set down in the volumes of scripture we know as laws and regulations.
  • We have faith that Thestate will cure our illnesses. Thestate determines which cures and treatments are allowable. Thestate also sends us revelation via funding for research. Thestate has provided (through revelatory mandate) care for everyone’s aches and illnesses, regardless of our ability to provide this care for ourselves (ER access + Medicare, Medicaid, etc). And through the miracle of Obamacare, we all must now pay a Thestate-approved intermediary (Individual insurance mandate) to pay our medical dues. Through many programs both local and Federal, Thestate provides counselors and chemicals to lift the depressed. Those who have beliefs in and practice healing arts outside of Thestate’s FDA doctrine are liable to receive Thestate’s most holy punishment.
  • All we need to know Thestate teaches us in public schools. In rare cases the state inspects, authorizes, and consecrates other houses of learning. So, private schools may be allowed to exist with only a modicum of ridicule and control. Those who seek knowledge in absurd, backward home schools are looked upon as heretics. Why wouldn’t the parents want the children to bathe in Thestate’s mighty doctrine?
  • Knowing that all humans are not worthy of living in this worshiped land, we praise Thestate for preventing too many lowly infidel foreigners from corrupting our land. To accomplish this, Thestate maintains and sustains his restrictive and complicated immigration system. Due to our continued worship of Thestate, we are truly more worthy of living and laboring upon this sacred dirt than foreign-born dogs.
  • Thestate is the only judge capable of deciding what life is, and which life is deserving of protection. Thestate sees and protects deserving animal species. Thestate also knows when a mass of cells stops being a “choice” and begins to be a human baby. We allow, no, we implore Thestate to define for us whether an unborn baby is ever anything but a human with rights. We pray and write and phone in to Thestate in hopes that our interaction will guide his gifted all-knowing mind to match our own, and thus new law scripture can be written.
  • Thestate alone is capable of deciding who deserves to have life and liberty forcibly taken away. Thestate tells us what is self-defense. Thestate alone has the wisdom and strength to capture and punish murderers. Thestate knows when an adept deserves death after a trial. Thestate is so wise he even knows when a citizen deserves death without a trial. Thestate knows without error when foreign persons and powers are deserving of being cleansed from the earth via acts of war. We don’t lose faith or revolt against the state when he kills 100,000 civilian men, women and children in a military action because we accept that Thestate knows when to make sacrifices for the greater good. When a citizen of Thestate questions the accidental killing of over 160 children through drone strikes in Afghanistan, he or she is righteously labeled as an unpatriotic heretic and terrorist sympathizing heathen.
  • As our worship becomes more complete, so do the powers of the great god Thestate. We sacrifice to him more and more control over: who is capable of making decisions, what we can eat, where we can speak our minds, when we can work, why we send young men and women to die overseas, and how we live our lives.

After considering these points, consider this: Where is the god that has sway over the majority of your actions? In all likelihood, his head schemes in Washington DC and his toes wiggle in your local city council. Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews and Atheists alike worship the government with equal fervor.

Here’s the problem. Thestate is not a person. He is a collection of persons. Fallible persons with hopes, dreams, and schemes. Persons that are taken to lunch every day by special interest groups. Persons no better than you or me.

So what if you don’t want Thestate to be your god? Do you march in protest? Do you stop giving it your tax money and soon go to jail? Do you even lend it your approval of existence by voting? Or do you simply relent and consent to meekly live your life worshiping a deeply flawed god?

I don’t have the answer, but I think it’s a question well worth asking.

The Most Important Survival Skill

A long time ago I wrote another article about this very skill, but I thought the subject deserved another treatment.

There are people who will tell you that when dealing with life threatening calamities the most important skill you can have is firearm handling, perhaps negotiation or maybe even first aid. No offense, but these people are dead wrong. It’s not that they’re morons or anything. They’re just incorrect. It’s a good thing you are reading this article, so that you can be set straight. This knowledge might very well save your life some day.

There is one skill that you will need to survive more than any other when the apocalypse hits.


It doesn’t matter how well you swing a sword. It doesn’t matter how quickly you can build a barricade. It doesn’t matter how smooth you can talk the other survivors into doing the dangerous stuff. I mean, sure, those things are nice, but when it comes down to it, those skills alone will never be enough.

Eventually your sword is going to get stuck and/or bent. Eventually the invading army will tear down your defenses. Eventually you will run out of meat shields to talk into padding your escape. Eventually your guns are going to click on empty. Eventually your friends are going to vote you to go on the supply run. Eventually ragged zombie hands are going to hold on to your soft ears while broken zombie teeth bite into your tasty brains if you don’t have the one skill.

Have I made it clear?

Do I have your attention?


Because it doesn’t matter what type of apocalypse you find yourself in. From flash floods to downtown volcanic eruptions to alien invasions to assassination attempts to any other of the crises that are likely to strike in your lifetime, this skill will prevent your grisly death.

Running is the one survival skill to rule them all.

Yes, if you want to survive, you’d better rush out and buy yourself a pair of running shoes. And you’d better start running every morning.

When all else fails, your legs are the key to your survival. If you make a careful study, you’ll see that the ability to run at a dead sprint for long stretches of time is the one skill all crisis survivors share.

Proof you say? You want proof?

You just think of any action/adventure or horror movie. What would have saved the perky teenage girl? If she had stopped her pathetic screaming and ran off, that’s what. What would have saved the preachy older guy? Again, if he had stopped spewing Zen maxims and started sprinting, he might still be able to pass on his wisdom today. What about the tubby programmer guy? You ever see him outrun even the slowest of dinosaurs for more than about five seconds? I thought not.

How often have you wanted to throw popcorn and soda at the idiot movie character on the screen then howl at the top of your lungs, “Just run you freaking moron! Run! The knife-wielding-costume-wearing murderer is RIGHT BEHIND YOU!”?


You are certainly by now convinced, but perhaps you don’t already know how to gain the skill of running. There are a few simple steps *rimshot*.

First, watch something motivational about running, I suggest that scene in Rocky II when the whole city runs with him. Whatever works for you.

Next, pick your running music. Listen to it every time you run. Pretty soon, whenever you run you should hear this music in your head whether your headphones are on or not. This way, that same song will jump into your mind and push you on to greatness when the wild rabid dogs are right behind you. Consider Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” Cake’s “The Distance,” or Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero.”

Later, purchase yourself several pairs of running shoes, and leave a pair everywhere you spend a lot of time. One at the office, one in your car, certainly one pair next to each exit from your house, and you may want to consider hiding a pair in the restroom at that Mexican restaurant you like so much, you know, the restroom where you end up doing so much thinking after you’ve eaten. This way you can always be prepared.

Finally, you’re ready to start running. Of course you should start small, but as soon as you can handle some longer distances without passing out, you should add in to your routine one or more of the following advanced exercises.

Just remember, I’m not responsible for you hurting yourself (or getting into trouble) when you try these out.


Wait until closing time at your office building, and make sure the space between cubicles, the stairs, and every hallway is teeming with people. When foot traffic is at it’s highest, start your stopwatch and see how fast you can get to the front door.

This exercise simulates the herd like mentality you are going to encounter from everyone around you when the excrement hits the breeze-production-via-rotating-fins device.

To properly psych yourself up for this exercise, scream “Get down! They’re right behind me!” before you start moving. Try to beat your best time every time you do this exercise.

Note: never do this exercise two days in a row. Your coworkers will begin to anticipate it and get themselves and any loose office supplies out of your way. You don’t want that. It ruins the realism.


This exercise is for people who don’t work in a crowded office, so it is much like the office sprint. You should probably wear nondescript clothes when you do this. Possibly a mask, too.

To perform the movie mash, go to a movie and sit in the middle of the theater. Wait until an exciting (or totally boring) part, then yell “It’s an invasion!” (After all, it’s illegal to yell “Fire!”) and do whatever it takes to hit the first pole light in the parking lot. Time yourself.

Again, you’ll be practicing dealing with a large crowd that has no idea what is going on. A crowd exactly like the one you will need to escape from when the blob begins to consume the town.

Hint: try this exercise at different genres of movies – action movies will present a different challenge than the latest children’s animated flick.


Find the meanest, nastiest, downright evilest dog in your neighborhood. If your neighborhood had no mean dogs, look for another neighborhood in which to train.

Once you’ve found the dog, walk up to his fence and stare right at it. (The dog, not the fence.) Make faces at it, call it names, and stomp around a bit. Get the beast good and riled up. Then hop the fence and attempt to cross the back yard where the dog lives without getting caught.

If the dog bites you, you can assume the zombies will, too.

Bonus: It’s better training for you if you have to jump over some lawn furniture along your way.


Here’s the thing: when the day finally comes that a giant spider creeps up right behind you intent on consuming your flesh, you won’t have time to think about your next move. You’ve just got to get going, or your meaty innards become lunch. You must train your mind and your body to react. That’s why you should practice the random trigger.

You remember the “secret word” shtick on the show “PeeWee’s Playhouse”? They’d pick a word of the day, then every time somebody said that word, everyone else would yell like spazzes? This exercise is like that, only better, because you’ll be preparing for the inevitable rather than just being silly. So pick a word every day. Any word. The more common the better. Anytime you hear anyone say that word, you stop whatever you’re doing and take off in a dead sprint for at least ten seconds. You may worry about this exercise causing you problems with your boss, but once you inform her that you were only preparing for the coming apocalypse, I’m sure she’ll understand.

Examples: The word “asphyxiation” is bad unless you’re a crime scene investigator – you won’t get much practice. The word “I” is perhaps used a little too frequently. Words like “iphone” or “awesome” tend to be just right.


People might laugh at you when you do these exercises. Anytime anyone mocks or criticizes you for doing these exercises, just remind yourself that someday, the robots will rise, and on that day you know who’ll be speedy like a hot knife through butter, and you’ll also know who will be slow like a sloth in a vat of honey.

Just remember that as you prepare for the worst, first and foremost, you’re preparing to run.

The Real Election Winner

Originally Posted back in November of 2012

Samuel Maverick is a colorful character from our nation’s history. One of things he is most famous for is claiming his cattle brand was no brand at all. Have a calf that was never branded? Must be his.

So, in the great tradition of Samuel Maverick, I hereby claim all votes that were not cast in this election as being votes for me. Of course, that means I won A LOT of elections this year, but out of my own magnanimity I’ll only lay claim to President of the United States of America.

There were 234,564,000 residents of voting age in 2010. Certainly there were more than that during the 2012 election, but those are the most recent numbers I could find, so let’s just pretend they haven’t changed. In the 2012 presidential election Barack Obama received 60,784,022 votes and Mitt Romney received 57,886,458 votes, for a grand total of 118,670,480 votes cast.

That means there were (at least) 115,893,520 votes for me! I totally pwn3d Pres. Obama and Gov. Romney in the popular vote. And I haven’t done all the research, but I’m fairly confident that I took every state in the nation along the way.

High fives all around! I’m the next president!

Perhaps you don’t buy my numbers – you say “yeah, but those people would have to be registered for them to be able to vote.” I say that’s crap. You see those 40.2% of eligible voters that didn’t register? They knew they’d be voting for me by staying home anyway.

Of course if you don’t count the unregistered nonvoters, I have to concede the election. In 2010 there were 59.8% of eligible voters that were actually registered. That totals up to 140,269,272 registered voters. If that’s the case, then I only get 21,598,792 votes. Still, that’s pretty respectable, considering the fact I didn’t raise money, campaign, or make shady backroom promises to horrible people. In 1992, Ross Perot only got 19,741,065 votes, and the news was all over him. Where is the mainstream media on my story? I think it’s a conspiracy.

But again, let’s be honest, those people didn’t register because it’s a hassle and they must have known their unvotes were going to me.

Maybe you still don’t buy my claiming the unvotes. Fine. If I’m not the president, then nobody is.

You know, because 115,893,520 voters voted for nobody.

And if 115,893,520 voters voted for nobody how can the president claim that he represents us? How can a government claim it’s even our government if 50.5% of the voting-eligible people don’t believe in it enough to play a part in the election process?

Ghost Stories

I remember eight or ten years ago there was the “Ghost in a Jar” phenomenon. If you don’t know what that was all about, I’ll give you a synopsis. A guy screen-named teajay101 posted an add on Ebay, saying that he was selling a “Ghost in a Jar”, and in the description he told the story of how he had found two such jars at a long-abandoned cabin in the woods and promptly broken one of them. When it broke, he said, an evil entity escaped and began to haunt him, which it continued to do for the next twenty years. Somewhere down the line, he had talked to an expert in such matters who said that the only way to be rid of the ghost would be to give the other jar to a willing recipient, so he was putting it up for sale, and you could bid – if you dared.

Basically, teajay101 was selling a ghost story, and I thought it was brilliant. He later put up a horribly-designed web site to chronicle all the weird and bad stuff that had happened to him in connection with that evil entity or “black thing” as he called it. Technically speaking, his stories were not well written. I remember them being full of typos and grammatically incorrect sentences. Still, I was obsessed. I checked back all the time to see if there were any updates until it became clear teajay101 wouldn’t be updating ever again. I wondered if the black thing had finally taken him.

Anyway, the point is I love a good ghost story.

As part of my real world job I support computers and websites for several motels in the town of West Yellowstone. During my visits to the properties, I’ve heard several tales of the paranormal from the staff. In fact, I’ve heard stories of ghost sightings in three separate properties, including one of the motels I support. Now, West Yellowstone is not all that big of a town. If the stories are true, that means something like one out of every eight motels is haunted. I’m not sure if all small towns or older motels generate legends like these, but I certainly hope so.

One of the hotels has a well-known (amongst the locals) legend attached to its sightings.

The hotel in question has a secret third floor. It is built into what would normally be attic space and has no windows. There is only one staircase that leads up there, and that staircase is hidden behind an unmarked, locked door that looks like it should be a cleaning closet. There are ten or so motel rooms up there that haven’t been used in years. These are the haunted rooms.

I’ve spoken with several people that have worked at this hotel. They say debris flies around in these rooms. They say they hear a voice. Some claim to have felt an unseen physical presence. Nearly all of them refuse to even go up to the haunted level any more.

When these rooms were still in use, the hotel owner used them to run, ahem, working girls. Despite the fact that a fair chunk of the town knew about the bordello, the owner managed to keep its existence a secret from his wife. For a while, anyway.

One night the owner made a pass at one of the maids. She had always found him and his “side” business distasteful, but she needed the work, so she stayed on. On the night in question, he was drunk and he was handsy. It was just too much. They had it out in the corridor. At the end of the shouting match, he fired her and she slapped him. He went upstairs to “relieve some stress” and she stormed out the front door of the hotel and marched her way across town to the front porch of his house.

When the owners wife answered the door, the maid told her everything. She detailed the seedier facet of hotel’s business, and speculated what he might be doing right now, and where it might be happening.

The maid’s story confirmed the wife’s long-held suspicions.

Enraged, the wife ran into the bedroom, snatched her husband’s revolver from the dresser and flew across town wearing nothing but her nightgown.

She stormed into the lobby and the desk clerk about had a heart attack. She waved the gun around and demanded keys to all the third floor rooms. The clerk’s hands shook as he took the keys from their hanging posts.

She raged up the stairs, bent on revenge. The first two rooms she unlocked were empty. The third room contained two people, neither of whom were her husband. She unlocked and threw open the fourth door.

There on the bed was her husband with a prostitute. In flagrante delicto.

The owner looked up from the bed and began to shout. “What do you think you’re doing? Don’t be stupid, this is your fault.” He stood up and pointed a finger and charged his wife. “If you had ever taken care of my -”

The report of the gun shook the room.

Blood splattered against the back wall.

His body crumpled to the floor and was eventually carried from the building. His angry spirit, however, stayed behind. It is his ghost who is said to haunt the hotel to this day.

As I mentioned, very few of the staff even dare go up to the third floor anymore on account of all the weird goings on.

I did get one of the maintenance guys to give me the creepy tour though. He says the ghost has attempted to kill him twice. Once while working on the roof directly over the room he heard the dead owner’s angry shouting and then felt two hands push him. He fell and very nearly skidded off the roof. The other time he was working in the attic space thirty feet above the lobby. This time he heard angry growling, and again he felt two distinct hands push him. His left leg went down between the rafters and through the ceiling, but he was able to catch himself before falling all the way through.

Who knows exactly what’s true, but I just eat these stories up.

At one of the properties where I work, all of the front desk staff report that they’ve heard footsteps and a door slamming when no one is around. And when I say “all” I mean “all” of them. I’ve asked probably a dozen of people over the years.

In fact, I was at this hotel once on a very chilly January afternoon. The property was closed for the winter. I was installing a new computer, a router, some software, and a printer in preparation for the coming busy season. During the hour or so I was there I repeatedly heard the footsteps and the door opening and closing. I am fairly confident that I was alone in the building during that time, but I can’t be sure.

To make matters even more interesting, at least three of the staff claim to have seen the ghost – in the kitchen – in a wedding dress. I wish I knew what her story is.

I’ve already written a novel about zombies and I’m almost finished with one about aliens and zombies. Who knows, maybe the next one will have zombies, aliens and ghosts.

I think I’m obsessed.

A Bulletproof Plan To Preserve Gun Rights

I’m not going to try to convince anybody (at least today) that gun ownership is a good thing. I figure the fact that you’re bothering to read an article titled “A Bulletproof Plan to Preserve Gun Rights” probably means you’re on my side that way.

Let me start by taking a quick jaunt down memory lane.

Some of my favorite childhood memories are from the annual family reunion. My little family hails from a long line of big families. That means we have upwards of 250 people or so there. Every year I can make it I’m shocked at the number of people that I still don’t know.

And for me as kid, the family reunion was about the best vacation in the world. Cousins abounded so there were always others my age to play with. A few people always brought ATVs, so that meant joyriding in the hills. My parents relaxed their strict rules just a little. I could stay up as late as I wanted. I didn’t have to do dishes. I got to sleep out under the stars. It was three or four days of paradise.

“That’s just swell for you, Bryce.” You say, “But what does that have to do with firearms?”

Well, the very best thing about the family reunion was this: it was the once a year my dad would take my brother and I shooting. There’s this old dump just outside the tiny city where the reunion is held. It’s the perfect location to go shooting. The locals still haul crap (water heaters, stoves, toilets…) up there for the express purpose of shooting it, so there was (and is) never a lack of targets, even if we didn’t bring any. The whole place is set into a bunch of hills, so there has always been a safe backdrop.

So, yeah, as a kid, it was far and away my favorite part of the reunion trip.

I’m an adult now (at least legally) and I cannot remember a time when my father has ever brought up the second amendment or sat me down to discuss gun rights. He didn’t have to. From the time I could steady his little Beretta, I was hooked. I’ll be a fan of responsible gun ownership for life. I’ll never vote for an anti-gun politician.

And therein lies the seed for my idea of the very best way to preserve guns rights for future generations. Here’s the bulletproof plan:

Take a teenager shooting. (And his or her dad, if you can) Once a youth knows that shooting is safe and that guns are awesome, he’ll have positive feelings about them forever. Why a teenager? Well, because a teenager is likely to say yes (& force his or her dad to come along).

Okay, so to really convert your guest(s) into lifelong gun supporters, I offer a few of suggestions.

Enforce the 4 Rules of Gun Safety

When you go, teach the four basic rules of gun safety.

All guns are always loaded. Even if they are not, treat them as if they are.
Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy. (For those who insist that this particular gun is unloaded, see Rule 1.)
Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target.
Identify your target, and what is behind it. Never shoot at anything that you have not positively identified.
Make a big deal about these because safety is a big deal. There will never be an accidental shooting if you and your guests follow these rules.

Bring These 2 Guns

Gun Number 1 – A twenty two with a scope, or a 20 gauge shotgun. This is so your guest can hit a bunch of targets and feel like a hero. It’s always more fun to shoot when you can actually hit stuff. Either of those guns come with the added bonus of being cheap to shoot.
Gun Number 2 – The biggest, neatest, meanest, ugliest, or strangest gun you own. You don’t have to let your guests burn up $100 in ammo or anything, they just should get the chance to shoot something “cool”. You know, so they can tell all their friends they’ve shot a Desert Eagle or a tricked out AR or had their shoulder dislocated while firing a Mosin Nagant. Because they’ve already been nailing targets with the first gun, they won’t care so much if they’re not as accurate.

Bring Something Fun to Shoot At

If your range or wherever you’re going allows it, bring something other than a paper target to shoot at. Bowling pins are fun to shoot and easy to clean up, and can usually be purchased used from a bowling alley very cheaply. Pumpkins and other vegetables make delicious biodegradable messes.

That’s it. Thus endeth my plan.

Why do I think this should work? If you follow those three guidelines your guests should have a good time. Once they have a good time, they are likely to want to do it again. And again. And again. They’ll become a gun supporter for life.

Sure, calling your senator and going to rallies and joining the NRA are all swell things, but they don’t fix the real problem. The real problem is that not enough people know the truth about guns (that they’re awesome and safe when used responsibly; just like medications, cars, and barbecue grills).

You may never bend the ear of a senator, but you never know, that kid you take to the range may grow up to be a Supreme Court justice. At the bare minimum he’ll never vote for a gun grabber.

So go take a teenager (& his or her mom or dad) shooting today.

4 Lies your Parents told you about the Inevitable Zombie Apocalypse


I want you to take a minute and think about how other customers treat you when you go there now. Now, imagine all of those people competing with you to pull anything of worth off the shelves because their family’s lives are at risk. Now, double or triple (or more) the standard amount of people you usually see there. Now, toss in the fact that there may be zombies in the mad crush of people that have all had your brilliant idea to fortify the local megastore. Not a pretty sight.

Trust me, you are far better off actually preparing beforehand your own food / gun / first aid storage.

As my buddy J. Dane Tyler once said, “Heck, Walmart is probably where it’s going to start.”


If you own guns and use them often you’ll read this section, roll your eyes then say, “Well, duh.”

Sure, owning a Remington 870 Express 12-Gauge along with a closet full of 00 buckshot is great, but owning is not enough. Here are some fun facts about guns that many zombie lovers don’t consider.

It’s hard to hit a moving target. Even a slow moving, limping, shambling target. Of course I’m not saying it can’t be done, I’m just saying that if you don’t spend time hunting ducks or training in the national guard or something, you’re probably going to waste most of your precious ammo. And let’s be honest, if you aren’t around guns very much, you probably can’t even hit a stationary target either.

You cannot pull the trigger enough times to put down a horde. Serious shooters know I’m right. It sounds dumb, but your trigger finger gets tired fast. Don’t believe me? Go buy some boxes of cheap 9mm and then find your friend that owns a Glock with the most extra magazines. Load those suckers up then head to the range. Start shooting and switching them out as fast as you can. By the end of your third magazine, your trigger finger is going to be cramping and refusing to work right.

Sniper rifles are heavy. Uzis are heavy. Even regular old shotguns get heavy fast. Ammunition is very heavy. If your plans for the zombie apocalypse include bugging out to a secure location, just consider the weight.

Walls don’t stop bullets. If you’re shooting at a zombie in the hallway of an apartment complex, you’d better be sure where all the living tenants are so they don’t catch any errant lead. Even shotguns are going to punch through several layers of sheet rock.

That being said, you should still own at least one gun. You should also learn to use it. Just make sure you always follow the rules of safe gun handling.


“But Bryce,” you say, “This can’t be a lie. Aren’t zombies in your novel killed with a headshot?”

Yes. Because I made the decision to make the zombies in Oasis be the virus-takes-over-the-brain type. Being an author means I can do that.

But who’s to say that the coming zombie apocalypse is going to be powered by that kind of zombie? What if the cause of the zombies is Voodoo? What if it’s some kind of self propagating nanobot? An alien symbiote? What if it is still a virus, but the virus commandeers a person’s movements via the spinal column rather than the brain?

So, if not the head, what should you try to take out? Well, shattering a zombie’s hip or destroying a femur makes the physics of walking or running impossible. I’m betting that even the fattest and most out of shape survivor can easily outdistance a hopping or crawling zombie. If you want to make sure the threat is over, you’d have to destroy the zombie’s musculature completely via fire or acid or something.


Maybe there are not shuffling, drooling zombies right now, but who’s to say that’s going to last? Science fiction has created hundreds, if not thousands of other concepts and items that have come to pass in short order.

Now, would you like me to scare you? Zombies already exist. I’m serious. Scientists have discovered real, actual zombie…



Go google “Zombie Ant Fungus” and be ready to crap your pants.

How long before an evil super-genius figures out how to weaponize that against humans?

Building a (Programming) Computer Lab with Edubuntu

I’ll be teaching a programming class at a local school again this year, and for *reasons* I had to rebuild their computer lab. The school had a bunch of donated equipment, but no really nice computers. Last year I set up the lab with an edubuntu server and a bunch of thin clients. When there were several students all trying to run stuff at one, the server slowed to a crawl. And really, I can’t blame it. That machine wasn’t built to be a server anyway. I’m writing this document to remind myself of all that I did, so that next time I don’t have to spend so long figuring out how to set everything up. Hopefully it will help someone else, too. Scratch is the programming language I’m using. Anyway, if this isn’t something you need to do, this post will be beyond boring.

One other note, I noticed that code block for this theme sometimes run a long command onto two lines. Sorry about that, I’ll have to look into fixing the theme or something.

Here’s the general steps I needed to take to get the lab where I want it.

If I had help from the internet for a step, I’ll link to the sources first. Otherwise I’ll just put all the steps down without explanation or commentary.

Physically prepare the server / network

I had an old 10/100 ethernet card that I pulled from an ancient machine, so I installed it into the server. Also, the computer I was going to use a server didn’t have a hard drive or a disk drive, so I scavenged parts for those as well. Like most modernish computers, the server also had a built in ethernet port. Having two network interfaces is the reccomended way to set up a lab. One will connect to your source of internet and one to the client network (oh, I needed a simple ethernet hub, too. Not a wireless one, though, as that always has other configuration weirdnesses that I didn’t want to deal with.)

So I made sure I had the power chords/etc for the server and a computer to test as a client. I plugged my one of my server’s ethernet cables to the school’s main LAN. the other I plugged into a little hub. The client I just hooked up to programming lab hub.

Setting up the client machine is relatively simple. As long as it’s faitly modern, there is a switch to flip in the BIOS that allows it to boot from the network rather than the harddrive, disk drive, etc. Every motherboard is a little bit different in this regard, so that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Install Edubuntu

I’ll be using Edubuntu, as it has a bunch of the client/server stuff built in as well as a bunch of software useful for a school’s computer lab. The most recent version as of this writing is 14.04. I downloaded the DVD image and burnt it to a cd. Installing is simple – put the CD in, boot the server, and wait for the magic to happen.

The Edubuntu disk image can be downloaded at I just used CD Burner XP to burn it to a disk.

During the install process, I chose to install the old desktop manager (gnome 3, not unity), I checked the install ltsp box, and I clicked the box to download and install the 3rd party software.

Make sure the network works and that clients can boot

This is the first “hardest part.” It was never clear to me how I could go about changing which network card is supposed to go to the client lan if I guessed incorrectly during installation. I’ve set up a couple of thin client networks, now, and sometimes that networking stuff all works, and sometimes I would, you know, just reinstall Edubuntu and chose the other network device.

I knew that was the wrong answer, though, so after much hair pulling, I figured out a slightly less time consuming solution. I simply played with the correct configuration file and rebooted until it all worked. The file I needed was located at /etc/network/interfaces

In the terminal:

sudo gedit /etc/network/interfaces

/etc/network/interfaces contents when I was done:

# localhost
auto lo
iface lo inet loopback

# primary (internet facing) interface
auto eth0

# client lan facing interface
auto eth1
iface eth1 inet static

At that point, I could see the internet in my server’s browser, and I could boot a client from the network.

Upgrade to FAT clients

Then it came time for the next “hardest part.” Turn those wimpy thin clients into powerful fat clients. All the computers I’m using in the lab have roughly the same specs, so I am not going to hurt anything by pushing proccessing out to them. Help for this step came primarily from

In the terminal:

sudo gedit /etc/ltsp/ltsp-build-client.conf

My ltsp-build-client.conf contents:

# The chroot architecture.

# which desktop environment to use

# Space separated list of programs to install.
 # The java plugin installation contained in ubuntu-restricted-extras
 # needs some special care, so let's use it as an example.

 # This is needed to answer "yes" to the Java EULA.
 # We'll create that file in the next step.
 # This uses the server apt cache to speed up downloading.
 # This locks the servers dpkg, so you can't use apt on
 # the server while building the chroot.

In the terminal:

sudo gedit /etc/ltsp/debconf.seeds

debconf.seeds contents:

# Do you agree with the DLJ license terms?
sun-java6-bin shared/accepted-sun-dlj-v1-1 boolean true
sun-java6-jre shared/accepted-sun-dlj-v1-1 boolean true

# In order to install this package, you must accept the license terms, the
# "TrueType core fonts for the Web EULA ". Not accepting will cancel the
# installation. Do you accept the EULA license terms?
ttf-mscorefonts-installer msttcorefonts/accepted-mscorefonts-eula boolean true

In the terminal (building the client takes a long time):

sudo rm -R /opt/ltsp/i386
sudo ltsp-build-client
sudo gedit /var/lib/tftpboot/ltsp/i386/lts.conf

add the following to the [default] clause:


Now test by booting up a client machine. Use epoptes on server to verify the client is a fat client.

Make Sure The Internet works

This was also the hardest part. My process here is an amalgamation and summary of the following three sources:

In terminal:

sudo gedit /etc/ltsp/dhcpd.conf

There is a line that starts with “option routers” and then has an IP address. Mine was correct, and was the same address that I set back in the /etc/network/interfaces. In my case it is “” If I had to change that IP address, I would have changed, saved the file, then entered the command “sudo service isc-dhcp-server restart” in a terminal.

In terminal:

sudo gedit /etc/sysctl.conf

Verify it contains the following line, and uncommented:


In terminal

sudo sysctl -w net.ipv4.ip_forward=1
ip route

This returned:

default via dev eth0 proto static dev eth0 proto kernel scope link src metric 1 dev eth1 scope link metric 1000 dev eth1 proto kernel scope link src

The line that ends with src is the client lan, as I know my network assigns addresses. At the beginning of the client lan line is the info I need. The network address/mask is therefore

In the terminal: (make sure source matches info from route…)

sudo iptables --table nat --append POSTROUTING --jump MASQUERADE --source

In the terminal:

sudo sh -c 'iptables-save > /etc/ltsp/nat'
sudo gedit /etc/network/interfaces

Contents of interfaces:

# localhost
auto lo
iface lo inet loopback

# primary network interface
auto eth0

# interface to the client lan
auto eth1
iface eth1 inet static
up iptables-restore < /etc/ltsp/nat

In terminal:

sudo gedit /etc/resolv.conf

If it has a line that says:


In terminal:

sudo gedit /etc/NetworkManager/NetworkManager.conf

and comment out the dnsmasq line by putting a # in front, so it looked like this:


In terminal:

sudo restart network-manager

Verify that is no longer listed:

sudo gedit /etc/NetworkManager/NetworkManager.conf
sudo gedit /etc/ltsp/dhcpd.conf

I changed the line that starts with “option domain-name-servers” so that it ends with the dns server that I want to use. In my case, I’ll be an opendns name server, because I want to help stop the kids that use this network from finding porn and the like. In my case the line reads:

option domain-name-servers;

Or use google’s name servers which are or

In terminal:

sudo service isc-dhcp-server restart

Now test it out. First by just going to from a client machine, then seeing if I could use the online editor on

If I had to, I could teach the class and let the students use the online scratch editor. For many labs, this would be enough. But for my class I wanted to use the downloadable scratch editor, so it wouldn’t matter if the internet was down or not.

Install air and Scratch

Like I said, a lab might not need this section, but it contains help for installing other programs for the fat clients as well. Help for this section was brought to you by:

In terminal:

xhost +

(make note of result, usually :0 or :0.0)

sudo cp /etc/apt/sources.list /opt/ltsp/i386/etc/apt/sources.list
cd /opt/ltsp/i386/tmp
sudo chroot /opt/ltsp/i386
mount -t proc proc /proc
cd /tmp
chmod +x AdobeAIRInstaller.bin
chmod +x Scratch-439.air
ln -sf /usr/lib/i386-linux-gnu/ /usr/lib/
ln -sf /usr/lib/i386-linux-gnu/ /usr/lib/

(if it does not equal the display I saw outside the chroot, change it by)

export DISPLAY=:0.0

(Graphical thing pops up, installer progress bar doesn’t work great.)
nautilus .
(error pops up. ignore it. file window pops up. double click on Scratch installer)
(if hangs forever, ctrl)

rm -f /etc/resolv.conf
nano /etc/resolv.conf

in resolv.conf:


And if there is anything else to install, can use apt-get to do so. For example, if I want to install idle for python programming.

apt-get install idle3

In terminal:

umount /proc
sudo ltsp-update-image

Give self a high five.

Some of my Favorite Procedural Tropes

So I’ve been watching a bunch of police procedural shows as of late. I gravitate to the “wildly eccentric maverick solves crimes” flavor of mysteries over the “gritty hyper-realistic team solves crimes stretched from today’s headlines” variety. Although I take in a few of those as well. I think I watch these shows mostly because there is not enough Doctor Who around to keep me happy.

The other day as I was watching it struck me again just how similar most episodes are. Here are a few of the things that always make me laugh/roll my eyes.

1. Heroes Don’t Need Helmets

“Everybody ready?” Detective Habidy’s perfect hair waves in the magic stiff breeze that flows through every apartment building ever. She looks back at her fellow policemen. Harsh hallways lights reflect sharply off their helmets with bulletproof visors. The three that will follow directly after Detective Habidy into the murderer’s abode carry shiny bullet shields as well.

Detective Habidy takes a moment to notice how much larger and more restrictive their vests are as well. Hers barely covers her rib cage.

It doesn’t matter, though. It doesn’t matter what carnage lurks beyond the door. Heroes don’t need helmets.

2. Kick Down Door, Sneak Around the House

Our hero, the sidekick, and a team of well-armored redshirts are crowed around a locked door. The hero pounds on the door, “Mr. Evilsmythe? We have a warrant!” There is no response for two seconds, so it’s now time to slam a shoulder against the door. It shatters with an unsettling crunchy sound that reverberates down the street. Once the door is noisily reduced to splinters, the whole team tiptoes in, whispering “Clear” to one another. And they all know they must sneak, or Mr. Evilsmythe will know they are here.

3. Turn in Your Badge. And your Gun.

“You wanted to see me, chief.”

“Have a seat, Flint.”

“Something wrong?”

“I just got off the phone with the mayor. This last stunt of yours was too much. Now my butt’s on the line. You need to back things off.”

“Chief, this is the eighties! If I don’t play rough that cokehead is going to kill again.”

“You play rough and it’ll be your job.”

“You have to let me do this my way.”

“That’s it. Turn in your badge. And your gun.”

4. Instant Impossible Arcane Knowledge

“Wait, what’s this?” Detective Boringguy pulls something off the serrated knife. “It might be a thread from our killer’s glove, left while he was wiping the blood off.”

“Doubtful.” Consultant Knowzit yanks the tiny clue away. He raises it to his eye, squinting and straining. “Just as I thought. See the way it bends in the breeze? Modern textiles don’t do that. This thread is almost certainly an antique, and it is exactly the type of thread that was used to make canvases in the fifteenth century by the dutch masters. We’re looking for a left handed art aficionado with a caffeine addiction.”

“Just like the harmless guy we met in scene two that could have no possible connection to the crime?”

“The same.”

5. TMI Gloat

“You must be joking, detective.” Slasher McGee puts on his ice cold ultra arrogant gaze. “But you and I both know you’ll never be able able to prove it.”

“Actually we will. Do you remember that note you left your nanny in scene two? We can link the ink on that paper to a custom pen which we know you purchased last Wednesday at the upscale stationary market on Fifth. With that pen and note, we can trace your movements to the victim’s summer home. Also by some enormous stretch of logic, it provides motive for blackmail and even murder.”

“Hmm.” Slasher shrugs. “Well, thanks detective.”

“For what?”

“For telling me what exactly will be the state’s case against me and what evidence I have to discredit when this goes to trial – all before you even arrest me.”

The detective snaps his fingers. “Shucks.”

“As long as I can keep myself from monologuing about how much I hated the victim and how she totally deserved it and how you all would have murdered her the same way I did if it had happened to you, then I’ll be fine.”