Friday, March 27, 2015


Hi folks,

This just in... Just received this review of The Genuine, Imitation, Plastic Kidnapping by author B.R. Stateham. Made my day!

Baseball, Crooks, New Orleans . . . what else do you need for a Great Read? March 27, 2015
By B. R. Stateham

This review is from: The Genuine, Imitation, Plastic Kidnapping (Kindle Edition)
I know I'm late for the party reviewing this one. But that's just me. What you need to know is this; when Les writes a story, any story, you're instantly swept up into a world that engulfs you . . . absorbs you . . . into a sensual assault that leaves you speechless. In this one you get the full gamut. Baseball, New Orleans down at its grittiest, back street wonders, sleazy (and not so bright) hoodlums. And a wise ass loser just smart enough to know better, but not gifted with the ability to say "No!" at any time in his life.

Les' writing is three demensional. You do not just read words. You feel . . . taste . . . see things from a perspective few human beings have had the pleasure (or maybe, the bad luck) of experiencing first hand. That, boys and girls, is the mark of a GREAT writer. And yes; just to answer your question, I'm jealous.

Thanks, BR--you just made my day!
Blue skies,

Monday, March 23, 2015


Hi folks,

We’ll be starting our next Boot Camp For Writers session this Sunday, March 29 and, as almost always, the class is full. However, there are unlimited spots open for auditors who are able to see everything we’re doing in class and a great many people have told me that the experience was invaluable.

The class is devoted to writing a novel and runs ten weeks.

Regular participation is $400, but auditors only pay $50.

If any here are interested and have questions, please contact either me at or our class administrator, Holly Love, at

Hope to see a few of you!

Blue skies,
The novel Maegan Beaumont wrote in class and got a several book deal out of.

Me and some of our class members out for a bite to eat and beer in Phoenix.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Sorry, folks!

HI folks,
I recently posted a blog on colonoscopies I mistakenly thought was written by the person who sent it to me and found out from Bill Fitzhugh that it was a column written by the great Dave Barry. I'm really embarrassed about misrepresenting this and hope you'll forgive me. Thanks to Bill for alerting me. And, apologies to Mr. Barry!

This makes me sad that it wasn't given proper credit. I've taken it down.

Blue skies,

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Review of WORM by Anthony Neil Smith

Hi folks

Here's my take on Neil Smith's latest masterpiece:


I can’t think of anyone who tops Anthony Neil Smith in writing Everyman tales in which the average Joe, up against the world, makes the wrong choices for the right reasons and keeps plunging deeper and deeper into the abyss. Lee Child said the secret to creating page-turners was to keep posing story questions on every page. This is exactly what Smith does in every novel he writes and his latest, Worm, is a master’s class in how to keep tension on every single page. His character Ferret just wants what most of us want—to provide a better life for his family. His desire is honorable but unfortunately his options are limited and what happens to him as he pursues the American dream is all-too-often what happens to many others with that same dream—disaster. Years from now, Smith will be viewed as one of the best writers of our generation—he’s just not capable of writing anything but a fantastic novel. If you haven’t yet read him, glom onto this book and when you finish it, pick up another masterpiece by this writer who is, indeed, a literary treasure. And, kudos to Blasted Heath books for putting out another winner.

If you haven't read DocNoir's work, you really should. He's just one of my favorite writers and I steal as much as I possibly can from him

Blue skies,

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


Hi folks,

I wanted to share some stuff with you about my brothers and sisters inside the walls. If you can help spread awareness of this, please do. It's a great program.

Do you work at a community or public radio station? Does a friend? April is National Poetry Month and we think the Prison Poetry Workshop radio series should be broadcast into homes and prison cells across the country.  
The Prison Poetry Workshop
Sit in any prison classroom or recreation room and ask: How many writers are in the room? How many people are writing rhymes or poems? Carefully-folded pieces of paper come out of pockets – words written in tightly stylized handwriting. As we listen to these poems we realize they hold a deep significance to our understanding of American culture and its tradition of democratic arts.
Prison Poetry Workshop is a public radio show hosted by journalist Rend Smith, and travels across the country exploring the rich history and stories connected to the prison poetry literary form.
To access the full series on PRX:
If you’re not on, you can download episodes at this link: or contact us directly( for help..
Don’t have time for the full series? We suggest airing our one-hour Marquee production:
Want to bring prison poets to your station, but don’t have a full hour of airtime?

We’ve got you covered with our Prison Poetry Workshop podcast series (great for drop-in content), which you can find here and here
Contact Nick Szuberla for more information:

Learn more about the series at

Blue skies,

Monday, February 16, 2015


Hi folks,

I recently received an email from emerging writer Ashley Gaumond who asked a couple of really good questions and I thought I’d answer them here as I’m sure there are others who visit here who might have the same questions.

Ashley asks:
1. Does a short prologue have to follow the standard rule for a scene (goal, conflict, disaster)?

My answer: Well, first of all, as a general rule, I don’t believe most prologs are useful or necessary. In general, I find that at least from beginning writers, most are created because they’ve been told they shouldn’t begin a novel with backstory and setup, and they’ve found an all-consuming need to provide… backstory and setup. If they call it a “prolog” they feel they’ve dodged the rule… That doesn’t mean that all prologs are bad, and occasionally we’ll see one that works and works well. But… that’s only occasionally. At least, in my experience. I think if you’ll look at the ones that get published you’ll often find that if they were left out, it didn’t affect the book adversely at all.

In Hooked, I talk about prologs a bit, and use the example of Larry Watson’s wonderful novel, Montana, 1948. It’s an absolute terrific book and he has a well-written prolog. But, I don’t think it was needed at all. Mostly what it did was… provide backstory/setup. Which did nothing for the book, to be honest. I think a lot of writers—especially newer writers—think they make a novel look like… a novel. They just kind of look “official” or something. Most are written in kind of a melodramatic style—the tone being—“Here’s a person who has undergone something really heavy and emerged sadder, yet wiser.” That kind of thing. Well, if you just read the novel sans the prolog and it’s written well, you’ll probably emerge from the experience feeling, “This was a person who underwent something really heavy and emerged sadder, yet wiser.” Without the nudge of a prolog… It just seems to me that prologs written for that reason are pretty much saying the author doesn’t trust the reader’s intelligence to grasp that without the author pointing it out in the beginning.

As to your question, does it have to follow the standard rule for a scene, why would it? Most prologs aren’t scenes to begin with—they’re the internal monologue of the character or purportedly an outside judge of the events to come—and while some may contain a scene—which by necessity is a past event and therefore nearly tensionless—most are kind of a sermonette delivered to convince the reader that what they’re about to experience is… emotional and powerful. Personally, I kind of take offense to someone telling me how I’m supposed to react to the read. It feels like they're telling me I need to feel guilty if I don't experience what they told me I would after reading it.

And, some people love ‘em.

I’m just not one of those people. Convince me your novel is a big deal by the writing itself.

Ashley asks:
Regarding antagonists, can every character except for the POV character serve as an antagonist at some stage in a novel (even the "good" ones)? I see an antagonist simply as someone (not just a villain!) who challenges the protagonist at any given time.

My answer: First, I’d like to provide a definition for the protagonist and the antagonist. The protagonist is simply the person through whose viewpoint you experience the story. The antagonist is simply the individual whose goals conflict with those of the protagonist’s. In my view, it’s a really big mistake to view either of these people in moral terms, i.e., the protagonist as “hero” and the antagonist as “villain.” Same applies to that dumb term, the “M.C”. It’s not the “main character” boobies—it’s the protagonist. This is simple stuff, kids… What happens when you do that is you tend to create one-dimensional, cardboard characters. Cartoons. Snidely Whiplash vs Snidely Doright. Yuch. I see these kinds of terms used often in writer’s advice and I really have a jones against them. When you begin to think of your characters as heroes and villains, you’ve just dumbed down the story immensely, in my opinion. You’ve almost completely destroyed the possibility of complex characters with that kind of mindset. In the worst instance, you’ve created a morality tale and, as Samuel Goldwyn said to a screenwriter who brought him a screenplay with a moral “message”: “Don’t send a message. Write a story. If you want to send a message, use Western Union. They’re much better at it. Just write a good story.” Perfectly said.

This is the kind of thinking that led years ago to that term “anti-hero.” If you think of protagonists simply as the person through whose viewpoint you experience the story, all that morality goes out the window as utter nonsense. The term “anti-hero” comes about as a subset of thinking in terms of heroes and villains, good vs evil. So, if a writer creates a protagonist who is seen in terms of good vs bad and they’re “bad” then they’re an antihero. Fairly infantile and limited thinking in literary terms. Just my opinion, but it’s the only one I have…

And, you can’t write a good story if it’s simply “good guy vs bad guy.” That’s just junk writing. That’s Snidely tying Nell to the railroad tracks and Dudley rescuing her… Again… yuch… Cartoon stuff for Saturday morning on the floor in your jammies… Junk food for the mind. Nothing to see here folks--move along...

Before I completely answer your question, Ashley, here’s what a story consists of.

1. A protagonist who has an experience that profoundly changes his/her life and therefore creates a story problem. (And the only place for a contemporary, publishable story to begin with. Probably not with a prolog that provides an outline of what's to come, attendant with a drum roll warning you as to the coming emotion you'll experience...)
2. His/her struggle to resolve that problem against increasing obstacles and opposition.
3. His/her resolution to that problem, containing both a win and a loss in that resolution.

Okay. Notice I made protagonist singular. That’s because it has to be one person. If there is more than one, the reader’s interest is hopelessly diffused. We see clearly one person. We don’t see two or more, at least not clearly. A book about capitalism vs communism won’t work if it’s about the U.S. army vs the Chinese Communist army. If, however, it’s about the commanding general of the U.S. army vs his counterpart of the Chinese army, then, yes, it can work. Or a private in each army vs his counterpart in the other. Whatever. When I see work that tries to do that, I know instantly that this writer has put the cart before the horse. He or she is thinking in terms of “theme.” And, for writers, theme is something that should be thought of only after the first draft is done. It’s at that point that we figure out what the story is about in terms of loglines, which is what a theme actually is, and then apply that to the rewrite. Check any issue of TV Digest for themes... Anything that doesn’t fit the theme upon rewrite needs to be exorcised. But, it’s not something a writer should even consider when writing initially. Just write a story.

And, the antagonist should be a single person as well. Same reason. We can’t visualize multiple people nearly as well as we can an individual. Does that mean there can’t be others who oppose the protagonist? Not at all. There can be many, many people who provide opposition… and there probably should be. But… they’re not antagonists. They’re merely people who do antagonistic things.

Here’s the perfect example—the film Thelma & Louise. The protagonist is Thelma. Contrary to what some might think, she and Louise aren’t “co-protagonists.” It’s Thelma’s story. Louise is along for the ride and experiences many of the same things Thelma does, but it’s Thelma’s story, all the way. Louise, if you want to assign arch-types, is the “Older Mentor” type. She’s not really older—they’re the same age in the movie, but she’s the one with more experience. Her story is necessary but it’s subservient to Thelma’s.

Now. The antagonist. When I show this movie, I usually ask the audience who they think the antagonist is. Very few get this right and that’s because largely they haven’t learned to think of story with the writer’s eye. The usual answer I get is her husband Darryl. Well, Darryl ain’t the antagonist. He does antagonistic things, but he just plain ain’t the antagonist. The second-most-common answer is Harlan, the would-be rapist who Louise shoots and kills. Again, not. The antagonist is Hal the cop. Darryl is Snidely Whiplash. So is Harlan. As are most of the other men in the story. Just a bunch of guys who do antagonistic things but aren’t the antagonist.

Look at the definition of the antagonist. He’s the individual whose goals conflict with those of the protagonist. Which is exactly what Hal does. Thelma wants to escape—Hal wants to catch her. Nothing moral in this. In fact, Hal is the nicest guy in the entire story. He only wants to catch Thelma to save her—first, from being charged falsely in Harlan’s murder and next to save her life. If Callie Khouri (the screenwriter) had thought in terms of “heroes and villains” she probably would have come up with what my wife Mary calls a “chasey-fighty movie” and gone direct to video if it would have been made at all. It’s because Khouri doesn’t think in those terms, but with the correct definitions of protagonist and antagonists. Her protagonist has a problem and her antagonist wants to thwart her resolution of that problem. It’s that simple. And, yet, creating characters under that definition leads to incredibly complex characters and situations.

And, yes, there are all kinds of characters in the story who do bad things to Thelma. But, only one person is above and beyond all others as the antagonist. The other characters—Darryl, Harlan, the truck driver, the state cop, et al—all do things to thwart Thelma but they are all limited in their opposition. Hal is the one who remains steadfast during the entire story to thwart Thelma’s goal—escape. And, he also satisfies the dimensions of a great antagonist—he is very, very powerful. He's very smart, has years of experience in catching criminals, has almost unlimited resources—state police, FBI, helicopters, dozens if not hundreds of pursuit vehicles, many, many guns, communication abilities—it goes on and on. The strength of a novel depends on the strength of the antagonist. You should write that down. I’ll repeat it: The strength of a novel depends on the strength of the antagonist. There are lots of writing “rules” that aren’t always necessary, but that’s one that really always holds true. Think of classics like The Silence of the Lambs. One of the most powerful antagonists in literary history. Think of Cape Fear. Personally, I’d spend far more time on the antagonist than even the protagonist. And, I’d always make that an individual. And, supply lots of other characters who also do antagonistical things to the protagonist. They’re allowed to have helpers and should have many of those.

So, Ashley, the antagonist is not “someone (not just a villain!) who challenges the protagonist at any given time.” It’s the individual who provides a constant obstacle to the protagonist all of the time on an up close-and-personal level.

So, please don’t think of these folks as “heroes and villains.” That’s kind of a good path to self-publication as the only avenue to seeing your book in print…

Hope that helps!

Blue skies,

Me and Anonymous 9 discussing prologs...