Category Archives: General

Giving Hope in Fiction

One of the points I touched on in my commencement address in June was on the concept of hope in genre fiction. This may seem like a stretch for some stories, but even in stories like horror, I believe there is an element of hope. Briefly, I will list the mainstream genres of fiction and then how I believe hope ties into that genre.

Science Fiction: I feel part of the hope for me in science fiction is that we’ll reach those levels of technology. However, as a large part of science fiction is to warn not only of the dangers of misusing the technology, the hope is in the message of warning. We hope to avoid the tragedy portrayed in the science fiction story.
Fantasy: In many ways, fantasy holds the same hopes as science fiction. We can see horrible situations to combat the wonder and beauty in the fantasy realm. We hold to our hope the characters will find within themselves what they need to overcome their obstacles, and in turn, we hope we can find those same strengths within ourselves.
Romance: We hope the characters will find the passion and love they seek and that we will find our love and passion in our life.
Mystery/Thriller: A hope that truth and justice will conquer all. We hope for the same justice we would expect in the real world.
Horror: a friend and fellow Seton Hill grad student, Ryan Demos, did a presentation during our time at Seton Hill on horror. Horror is an emotion so powerful it has its own genre. Where is the hope in horror? This seems obvious to me. I hope the horrors in the story are not real or that they will be eliminated quickly so I can get back to normal.
Young Adult: my YA author friends from Seton Hill would drop a literal ton of books on my head if I didn’t include YA in this list. I used to think of YA as only the younger version of existing genres. That would be YA fantasy or something like that, but they are examples of subgenres of YA. (I will have to get one of them on the blog to go into more detail on the genre.) Regardless, I think the hope found in YA of any kind is in learning to deal with the pressures of a situation on top of growing up and everything that part of life entails.

I could have gone into more detail regarding each genre, but for the purposes of this entry, I think conveying hope in some form is needed more in fiction. The Time Heist episode of Doctor Who is able to show this as well, for example. We get a rather cynical accusation for why the Doctor calls himself such, which I enjoyed given my last post. The assertion is the Doctor calls himself so because of his professional detachment. I can see why people would feel this way with him, but I think it would be more true with the War Doctor or just brief moments through various regenerations. In the end, the episode yesterday was about hope. The characters acted with a hope everything the architect did would work out for them, and The Teller, in the end was hoping to be reunited with its kind. I’m also a fan of the show Castle, we all hope everything will be okay with the characters given the season finale last spring. Although, logic dictates as the show is called Castle, it will be okay. However, even if Castle is found alive and well in the season premiere, will they resume the wedding? Or are they going to delay the wedding some more so the show can go on with more relationship strain. Here I am curious regarding how other viewers will weigh in in the subject. Do they hope for the wedding to happen sooner or later?
As an author, I have written my fair share of scary scenes or troubling situations. I always feel the responsibility to bring an element of hope into my writing. A large portion of this is because I got into writing because of the adventures other writers took me on in their books. However, further along in my career, I understand there is a subtle art to drawing out what readers want in a book. Now, think of doing a series. Those elements of hope for the characters will need to be drawn out even further. It’s basically the point of the Sword of Truth series, Richard and Kahlan don’t get the peace and quiet they deserve because something always gets in the way be it magic, politics, or tyrants. Whether a series or a one off book, I doubt readers would continue to come back to your work if you don’t present some element of hope in your story.


If I Stay and True love

I took my wife out on a date tonight. Yes, I believe in continual courtship, but that’s a topic for an upcoming volume in the From Dude to Dad series. We had a babysitter so it could just be the two of us, went to dinner to celebrate changes in my day job, and my wife picked the movie, If I Stay.
I’ll say this upfront, I won my wife over by enjoying chick-flicks. So I was willing to take her to this movie, especially given how many movies I’ve picked lately. I’m not going to give a full rundown of the movie for anyone, it’s not the purpose of this blog. However, as I did last week with the Doctor Who premiere, I’m going to focus my thoughts on some messages I took from the movie.
If I Stay had moments I enjoyed, and those I didn’t. While the characters are teenagers, I did appreciate that they didn’t find each other because they were the attractive one and the nerd who stumbled into each other or any of the other clichés used in teen romances. I really liked how he notices her because she’s playing the cello. That’s cool, and different. I enjoy showing a relationship built on something of substance. While I don’t care for the puppy love aspects at the beginning of their relationship, we are able to see their growth and failings in their relationship all the way until the very final moment on the screen. In the end, I feel the message is about True Love.
So what is True Love? I’m not distinguishing between romantic or family true love, just the concept in general. As my wife and I dissected the movie on the drive home, we came to the definition that true love is about sacrifice. Think about it, Mia’s dad says parents sacrifice for their children. You can’t really show any more love than that, can you. The characters sacrifice plans, dreams, money, love, and personal definitions of happiness and give it all up for someone else. That’s what True Love is all about. As a religious individual, a quote comes to mind. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13. The scripture is referring to Christ and his sacrifice for mankind, but it’s clearly a lesson for the rest of us. I believe it is true love. Why else would two individuals change their personal goals they may have held from childhood and focus on having children and helping them grow? Why else did Mia’s father in If I Stay quit the band if it wasn’t because he loved his daughter?
I’m glad there is a film which shows this by the end of the film. All romantic relationships have their puppy love stage, but what made this film interesting, is the blend of young adult issues with very grown up decisions. And in the end, learning to sacrifice for the happiness of someone you love.

The Doctor Returns or being free of judgment

I love Doctor Who for many reasons. I have some early memories of driving across the country to visit my grandparents, arriving at their house late at night because my parents were tired of driving and made a push to get it done, and seeing my grandpa watching something strange on the television while we were rushed through hugs with grandma and then off to bed. I would later learn it was the Doctor fighting the Daleks.

Lately, as a parent and father, I have fallen in love with the message of the Doctor. I love when the 11th Doctor tells us he travels with companions because he wants to experience the wonder again through their eyes. I love how, from the first episode with Matt Smith, we see him encouraging strangers to be better than they are.

Some may wonder why I am starting this way. I’m not going to do a minute by minute exploration with how I felt about the season 8 premier of Doctor Who. However, there were some things which happened or were said in the episode which resounded with me. As I mentioned above, there are many messages in the series I love, and along the lines of challenging people to be better than we are, there was a message at the beginning of the premiere which I felt was directed more to the audience than to Clara. Madame Vastra says Clara is judging the Doctor for regenerating with an older face and appearance and basically accuses Clara of being shallow. Why do I think this is directed to the audience more than Clara? Many, if not most, of the new generation of Whovians say it takes them a while to get used to a new Doctor and begin to be judgmental with design choices by the showrunners. I think, with the trailers showing a darker side of the Doctor, the showrunners are asking us to be patient and trust them with the direction they will take the Doctor and Clara.

There is also the larger message, like many other Doctor messages, that we’d do well to not be so quick to judge someone. This is reinforced with the phone call Clara receives at the end of the episode. We are already shocked that the Doctor is having a harder time than before with adjusting to his new body, then he leaves Clara, TWICE! But then, when we approach the end of the episode and are ready to pass judgement, reconnect to social media free of the fear of spoilers, and we see the phone call. A man who has experienced so much more than we will ever know, asks Clara to help him. Then he asks her to really look at him. How heart wrenching! Can you imagine living and saving people for so many centuries and not feel like your one true friend is even looking at you?

That might actually sound familiar to some people. Not the living for centuries, obviously. Far too many people feel invisible to those around them. And, sadly, when they are finally noticed, it is in a moment of personal weakness, where they need help, and they are labeled something horrible and demoralizing.

As a writer, I have decided to address certain topics as often as I can. One of those topics, is the problem of the bully. I believe everyone has experienced at least one instance where they were on the receiving end of malicious and/or inconsiderate comments or actions. Regardless of whether you have been the victim of only one or a thousand taunts, you know the sting of it. And yet it continues to happen with each generation. My children are too young to watch Doctor Who. As my wife says, “It is too scary.” My immediate response was half joking and half serious. I said, “I am okay with it being scary. When they are old enough to handle it, they will know it is scary, but will also know something far more important. They will know the Doctor is always there to make it right.” This is the message of Doctor Who. It is a message of hope. Everyone will experience pain throughout life. But there is always something to hope for. And there is never a reason to judge someone else because you don’t know what they have been through. I am excited the Doctor is back and thrilled to see the writers are right back into showing us how to be better people. I do long for the day when we hear more stories of courage and hope than we do of strife and turmoil.


Declaring Independence


This isn’t just a day to blow stuff up. Although that may be fun. It’s a day where we should remember the events that led to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. I think it’s also a day where we should dedicate ourselves to the improvement of this great nation.

I recently attended a college graduation ceremony and witnessed something that has bothered me since. One of the heads of the program would not sing the national anthem. Now I remember kids acting the same way in school because they didn’t agree with one thing or another. To which I think not singing the national anthem is a lame result. This nation was created for change. We have a system that allows change. We just have some people that are not up to the responsibility. So I say that instead of refusing to sing a song because you don’t agree with what is happening in the nation, get involved. There are so many opportunities to be involved in your community that have a greater possibility for improving this nation than to just fold your arms and refuse to sing.

I firmly believe that this is one of the many ideals in the Founding Fathers. They wanted to create a system where we can be involved. So get involved. The system is set so get involved. Go to town meetings. Write your officials. Follow their twitter and facebook pages and respond to their questions and posts. Get on their email lists. Don’t rely on the news networks. They’re all just companies. Go directly to the source. The men and women serving in government.

I actually do this. I didn’t vote for the Representative in my area, but I still recognize that he is the elected official and his office is great at answering my emails when I have questions. I’ve looked into our town meetings and seeing when I can attend those. You don’t have to do that if it isn’t your thing. But you should follow the social media feeds of your representatives because you can communicate your feelings from your phone.

There. I’m done. Have a great Fourth of July and stay safe.

Favorite shows

So in my quest to blog more I’m going to follow some advice from my blogging friends and writers. I have forty minutes to blog until the start of the next episode of Castle. Awesome show, right? Of course it is. I’ve seen every episode and my wife finally sat down to watch it with me towards the end of the third season. I know! An intense place to start. So whenever there is a week when there isn’t a new episode of Castle, we watch an old episode to get her caught up.

Speaking of shows, we are very excited for the return of Psych. It has been far too long of a wait for that show. We’ve both have been fans since the very first episode. We’ve found that we make the few shows we watch into mini dates after the kids go to bed and I’ve worked on my novel. (Now I’m trying to get her hooked on Doctor Who which I’m watching right now…) Oh, forget blogging. He’s a Time Lord!

Blogging and Branding

I’ve made a number of friends through the WPF program with Seton Hill.  A good number of those are very consistent with blogging about their writing and experiences.  I’m not very good at that…. clearly.  The fact is that I have never been good at even keeping a journal.  For the most part I’ve limited my blog posts to thoughts about what we’ve read in the Readings in the Genre courses.

During the months between residency we take a Reading in the Genre course and work on our thesis.  We also have two times when we all get onto the school servers for a program wide chat on various subjects.  In this last chat session I was in the room for branding.  It gave me a lot to think about and I still feel completely lost as to what I’d have my “brand” and tag line.  One of my author friends write Romance thrillers and has a book coming out soon.  Her tag line is “Even heroes need a happy ever after.”  And my mentor has a tag line in his email signature.  The other thing we talked about in the chat was about your involvement with not writing issues such as current events.  I’m still very lost with what I’d do in these areas.  I know there are certain subjects I would avoid blogging or tweeting about.

So that’s a lot of what’s been going through my mind lately from school.  And this is an attempt to blog outside of my thoughts on our RIG readings.  (Though one is coming in the next few days).   The only progress on branding that I’ve made is that I would need a few since I’m publishing under pen names.  I can’t come up with anything or tag lines for most of them other than my horror persona but I’m not sure I should use it or even type it here for fear of giving the wrong impression…. wait, no one reads this unless it’s a post for the RIG class…..


Scariest Robot

I’m a member of the site I need to be more active in reviewing other work so I can get my own reviewed. But this post isn’t about my passivity on the site. I get periodic emails from the site about various things and the last one I got had an interesting survey at the bottom to vote on the robot in fiction that scares you the most. It will be interesting to see what the end results of the vote will be. But the idea kept coursing through my mind so I decided it would make a great blog post.
The question and options are as follows:
Defend your horror! Which robot is the scariest?
Doctor Who’s Cybermen
2001: A Space Odyssey’s HAL
I, Robot’s VIKI
Battlestar Galactica’s Cylons
Everything in The Matrix

I’ll go from least “scary” in my opinion to most.

Last Place – Cylons.
I’m not a Battlestar fan. I haven’t even watched a full episode. So yes, that sways a lot of my opinion. But in looking it up, I found that even with their differences in the two continuities of Battlestar, there were two similarities that I feel have been done to death. In both continuities of Battlestar, the Cylons were created by another intelligent species to be their workers and soldiers. They get to powerful. Whatever. Doesn’t do it for me. No different than any other enemy force.

Tied for Fourth – VIKI and HAL
Both are very similar in my opinion. Both are just computer systems that got too much control. Like many stories and movies of their kind, just pull the dang plug.

2nd – Everything from the Matrix.
Now I would actually limit this to the machines instead of the programs. Because the programs don’t scare me much. If I’m in the matrix and not someone who is out of the system then I’d have no idea the programs exist and I would never remember if they ever used me to go after Neo or others. So no threat there. But the machines, while a threat, are also not entirely the most scariest because they are after complete annihilation of Zion and the people. So you either kill them or they kill you. If you’re dead. They’re no longer scary.

First place – Doctor Who’s Cybermen
This is what scares me the most. They don’t kill you. They chop you up and put you into the cybermen shell. You still exist in a stunted form. You can say that VIKI was enforcing a police state and therefore a form of a stunted existence but you can still fight back. Once you’ve been “upgraded” to a Cyberman you can’t go back and you’re basically stuck unless you’re destroyed. You have to live the rest of your life as one of them. If the Borg had been listed as an option I would still have listed Cybermen above Borg because in most cases, you have no memory of who you were before the Borg assimilated you. But we’ve seen episodes where people still remember parts of their past after becoming a Cyberman. That is creepy. As a writer and a person I find the continual psychological torment far more scary than a computer system that takes over the government or machines that just want to kill me.

Day 6 -January WPF residency

Yesterday started off with another workshop session. It was a smaller group so we all had more time to give feedback to the authors. It was my favorite session because it was led by my mentor, Scott A Johnson. After lunch we didn’t have any modules. Instead we had Kevin Hearne as the guest speaker. He’s the author of the Iron Druid Chronicles. I listened to the audiobook of the first in the series before coming out here and loved it. The series is about a 2000 year old celtic druid living in Arizona and appearing to only be in his 20s. He’s tried avoiding old enemies and gods but has finally given up on trying to run and hide and decides to face the opposition. For the urban fantasy type it is a breath of fresh air because it’s not about werewolves or vampires. But they are in it. They just aren’t the focus. There’s some off color humor that always makes it fun. Mr. Hearne spoke a lot about the craft and business of writing in the first session and then the rise and fall and rise again of epic fantasy in the evening session. I can’t believe I only have one last day of classes and workshops left of the residency. So this breakfast feels like a last meal in some ways. Especially as the module this morning will be by Scott.