Fear of Ideas

I’m on a productivity message board, and one of the topics that frequently comes up is “How do you store your ideas?”  Everyone pops up with Evernote or OneNote.  Someone says they put them on a task list like Omni Focus.


I don’t save them.

It’s always quite shocking to the others.  They all say the same thing: They don’t get many ideas, so they have to save ALL of them.  Because they are all important.

I understand that.  I was there on my first novel.  I had this great idea for a mystery, start writing it…and then I got stuck.

I couldn’t figure out why I was stuck, so I figured that the problem was in the beginning and I began to rewrite the story.  Got stuck in the same place.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, a little voice kept saying that I should toss the story and start a different one.

But I didn’t have any other ideas.

Or, actually, I didn’t know how to come up with more ideas on demand.

When cowriter and I were close to breaking up, we were talking about a next project and got into a big disagreement about ideas.  I was coming up with some, and he kept shooting them down, saying “That won’t sell.”  Since we hadn’t written anything, how would he know?

But that’s the nature of the elusive idea to those who struggle to come up with them.  Everything–their entire success–rests on that idea.  The idea is what will make the book get published (not the story, the craft skills…right).

In the early days of the internet, there was a guy who was trying to either copyright or trademark several of his ideas for novels.  He thought it was inspired to do this, like no one else had every thought of doing this for an idea before.  The ideas were quoted…and well, they weren’t that good.  They were the low-hanging fruit ideas.  You know, the one where you write it, and as you finish the book, you pick up a book at the bookstore and it’s the same story!

But coming up with them is a skill that we’re really not taught.  Once you go out of the flights of fantasy as childhood, that ability seems to disappear, possibly because it’s not something that can be measured or graded.  But it is a skill that can be learned.

Dean Wesley Smith and Joanna Penn both have posts up today on ideas.

The Library Card Catalog

When I go to the library to find a specific book, I go to a computer terminal and type in the search criteria.

But it wasn’t always that way.

The library’s list of books used to be on index cards.  They were often typed with a manual typewriter, and dog-eared from all the fingers going through them.

The books all had a pocket either on the inside front cover or the inside back cover.  You wrote your name on the card, the librarian date stamped it, then filed it away.  And you went home to read the book (or stack of books).

I was hunting down when the index card was invented and ran across A Short History of Index Cards.  What’s really interesting is the man who invented the Dewey Decimal System thought eventually everything would go digital.  And now you have to read the article so can see what date he made this prediction.  Astounding!

The Myths of Write What You Know

Illustration of Marilyn Monroe in the famous subway wind scene
My mother loved watching Marilyn Monroe


I grew up in Los Angeles, and just devoured any books on Hollywood.  It was fascinating to read the behind the scenes of how John Chambers put the makeup on the actors for The Planet of the Apes.  I read Daily Variety every day at the college library, and the local gossip columns published in the newspapers.  The internet’s largely made some of it go away, but we had columns where people could write in and ask, “What happened to X?” and find out.

So I gravitated into what I’m working on now, a mystery set in Hollywood in 1947.  If you didn’t catch that, it was right after World War II, so I got veterans in there, too.  I’m mostly research fashion of the times, types of cars, popular colors.  I’ve had to do geography as well, since I only saw the mountains.  I didn’t know what they were called.  😦

And I still remember my high school short story about a serial killer who picked his victims by random choice.  Needless to say, that didn’t win any prizes.

“Write what you know” is one of those first “rules” that writers are taught when they think about writing a novel.  And everyone scratches their head and tries to figure out what it means.

But it’s also a piece of advice that I think has been way oversimplified. I’ve wondered if it originally came from a pro writer and somehow got dumbed down over time.

I gravitated to the serial killer story because it was the idea (and this will date me, but the year that story popped up was when the Hillside Strangler in the news).   You get this idea, you write the idea as is and the idea is the story.  BIG myth.

Also a relative who shall be nameless suggested the random choice with pure INTP logic.

Okay, yeah.

Many people–not just writers–view ideas as rare and precious.  So you get one, you write it.  Even if it is way, way, way out your experience.

Like the writer who knew nothing at all about medicine and had to do research into how surgery was done for a book.  She was scandalized at the thought of a best selling writer saying he didn’t do a lot of research.  But maybe, maybe, she should have picked a different direction for the story that didn’t involve researching surgery.

One she was more familiar with.

That’s where write what you know comes into play.

It’s not about making your character head of HR because you’re head of HR.  It’s about finding an expertise that you already have because you’re interested in the topic.

Tamara Pierce said that she grew up reading about the knights in England.  Her books are about knights and people who live in the times of knights.

Michael Connelly was a crime reporter (and has a non-fiction book on those days).  He writes about a police detective who solves crimes in L.A.

Elizabeth Moon was a Marine (ooh-rah).  She writes about characters who in some form of military, whether in fantasy or science fiction.

Makes the research a lot easier, too.  It’s one of the reasons I’m doing a Hollywood mystery.  But no serial killers are involved.


Winnie the Pooh and World War I

On rooftop, little girl with pony tails hugs giant white teddy bear and looks at the full moon and the galaxy.
Small cute girl sitting with toy bear on the roof and looking at the moon


This was something I didn’t know, but it makes sense.  Winnie the Pooh was created by A.A. Milne to explain war to his son:

Every stuffed friend in the Hundred Acre Woods is a child-friendly representation of a characteristic of post-traumatic stress. Piglet is paranoia, Eeyore is depression, Tigger is impulsive behaviors, Rabbit is perfectionism-caused aggression, Owl is memory loss, and Kanga & Roo represent over-protection. This leaves Winnie, who Alan wrote in for himself as Christopher Robin’s guide through the Hundred Acre Woods — his father’s mind.

The Army and Women in the WAC

Interesting article on what happened when the Army let women enlist in the WAC during World War II.  A lot of one size fits all, even when it didn’t…

And still somewhat true when I enlisted.  Uniforms were made for the average man, so it was hard to get ones that fit right (and also shorter men).  My “small” flack vest was so big that when I sat down, it pushed up the back of my helmet.

Writing is Hard, and Not. Depends

This week, there’s been a lot of discussion about writers essentially trying to take short cuts.  Sort of like the person who is always jumping from one thing to another, hoping to get rich quick.

Except it’s choosing the right genres, getting books out so fast they hire ghost writers to keep up with, making the right contact.  I just unfriended a writer on Facebook because all her posts turned into “I write all types of genres in fiction and scripts. Please give me the name of an agent who represents everything!”

We get fooled by the media who says “overnight success” for a new writer and leaves out the part that he or she wrote books for ten years.

Or reading Writer’s Digest and articles like “10 Things That Keep You From Being Published.”  The writer then proceeds to list trivial things that fall more in copy editing.  Makes it sound like you follow the checklist and the agent or editor will move your story to the top of the pile and buy it.

It doesn’t happen like that so the writer either blames publishing for not recognizing them or try to find a way to stick the foot in the door.

Like two other writers I knew.  Neither were particularly interested in improving their craft–you know, that part that makes readers want to buy the book.  With one, I co-wrote with him, and there was huge disconnect to the fact that if a reader is going to plunk down $$ and the cost of their time, the book has be pretty good.

No, it was about networking to find the right agent and getting the book in front of him.  It was–and I’m not making this up–figuring out the publishers’ secret to what made a best selling book.  I remember going to a writer’s conference with him.  We chatted with an agent for fifteen minutes.  She liked us.  She enjoyed talking to us.  And she still rejected the book.

And rightly so.  I look back on my writing then, which is now fifteen years ago (yikes!), and there was still a LOT more to learn.

The other writer didn’t want to learn at all.  Hated his day job.  Wanted to write full time to get out of his job.  Wanted people to tell him his stories were good.  Thought all he needed to do was produce as much as possible and marketing would magically get people to buy the books.

Somewhere in there, the reader got left out.  Or maybe seen as the person who goes to the huckster who comes into town and convinces everyone to buy his snake oil.

One of the problems is that there’s a huge learning curve, like that wall in American Ninja Warriors.  It’s hard to get up it, especially in the beginning.  You send out stories, get form rejections.  No idea why the stories are being rejected.  Everyone starts thinking it was this typo on page 10 or the editor wouldn’t recognize anything good.

It can take a long time to get over the top of that Ninja Wall (and if you’ve even seen the show, most people never got past it).  Learning is always a choice.  Checking off boxes is also a choice.

But both with different results.



A fun military story

This is a story from my days at Fort Lewis that popped up recently.

We’d gone to do a readiness exercise where a bunch of people verify we have dog tags, our emergency forms get updated, and shots.  I don’t recall any more how we got there but it was too far to walk.

Several of us finished early, so one of the lieutenants volunteered to take us back in his car.  I sat in the front seat, and the other soldier in the back.  Before we left though, a bunch of other soldiers got done.  So they hopped in, too.

It was like a clown car.  We were all packed in there.  I was squished in the front seat because there was a big guy jammed into the seat with me.

So we’re driving down the street and we hear the “Whoop! Whoop!” of a police siren!

The military police pulled us over because were were overcrowded in the car.

The MP walked over, took one look at the lieutenant and went, “Ah, sir!”

The result was that I ended up getting out and riding in the back of the police car, which followed the lieutenant back to the unit.

I was mortified!  Couldn’t wait to get out of the car when we arrived.


And how to spill the tricky word lieutenant.  It’s easy because all you have to remember is the first part of the word:

Ten + Ant.  Add the Lieu in front of that.

Final Days for Military SF StoryBundle

This bundle will be gone on Thursday!

12 book covers in the military SF bundle

The 2018 Military SF Bundle – Curated by Kevin J. Anderson

Strap in, adjust your uniform, fire up the engines, and get ready to defend the Earth against all threats, extraterrestrial and domestic! I’ve curated a new Military Science Fiction StoryBundle with a dozen great books from the high-tech battlefields right here on our home planet to the farthest reaches of the galaxy.

This StoryBundle contains two of my standalone military SF novellas, ESCAPE HATCH and PRISONER OF WAR, and COBRA SLAVE by Timothy Zahn, as well as OBLIVION by Steve White and Charles E. Gannon, part of the New York Times bestselling Starfire series. Baen Books provided the brand new, hot-off-the-presses YEAR’S BEST MILITARY AND ADVENTURE SF, edited by David Afsharirad, with excellent stories by David Weber, Jody Lynn Nye, Larry Niven, and more.

Three of these books are written by veterans of the armed services, who bring their own gritty experiences into writing, FIRE ANT by Jonathan Brazee, CRYING PLANET by Linda Maye Adams, and STRIKE EAGLE by Doug Beason.

Ron Friedman’s time travel thriller TYPHOON TIME, J.A. Sutherland’s INTO THE DARK, Steve Ruskin’s A DEAL WITH THE DEVIL’S BROKER, and Andrew and William Keith’s COHORT OF THE DAMNED round out the bundle.

As always with StoryBundle, you name your own price. Get the base level of four books for $5 or the entire dozen for as little as $15. You support independent authors and small presses, and a portion of the proceeds goes to benefit the remarkable work of the Challenger Learning Center for Space Science Education. The Military SF StoryBundle is available for only three weeks here: https://storybundle.com/military – Kevin J. Anderson

The initial titles in the The 2018 Military SF Bundle (minimum $5 to purchase) are:

  • Escape Hatch by Kevin J. Anderson
  • Strike Eagle by Doug Beason
  • The Year’s Best Military & Adventure SF Vol. 4 by David Afsharirad
  • Oblivion by Steve White and Charles E. Gannon

If you pay at least the bonus price of just $15, you get all four of the regular titles, plus EIGHT more!

  • Cohort of the Damned by Andrew Keith and William H. Keith, Jr.
  • Typhoon Time by Ron S. Friedman
  • Prisoner of War by Kevin J. Anderson
  • A Deal with the Devil’s Broker by Steve Ruskin
  • Into the Dark – Alexis Carew #1 by J.A. Sutherland
  • Crying Planet by Linda Maye Adams
  • Fire Ant by Jonathan P. Brazee
  • Cobra Slave – Cobra Rebellion Book 1 by Timothy Zahn

This bundle is available only for a limited time via http://www.storybundle.com. It allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub and .mobi) for all books!

It’s also super easy to give the gift of reading with StoryBundle, thanks to our gift cards – which allow you to send someone a code that they can redeem for any future StoryBundle bundle – and timed delivery, which allows you to control exactly when your recipient will get the gift of StoryBundle.

Why StoryBundle? Here are just a few benefits StoryBundle provides.

  • Get quality reads: We’ve chosen works from excellent authors to bundle together in one convenient package.
  • Pay what you want (minimum $5): You decide how much these fantastic books are worth. If you can only spare a little, that’s fine! You’ll still get access to a batch of exceptional titles.
  • Support authors who support DRM-free books: StoryBundle is a platform for authors to get exposure for their works, both for the titles featured in the bundle and for the rest of their catalog. Supporting authors who let you read their books on any device you want—restriction free—will show everyone there’s nothing wrong with ditching DRM.
  • Give to worthy causes: Bundle buyers have a chance to donate a portion of their proceeds to The Challenger Center for Space Education!
  • Receive extra books: If you beat the bonus price, you’ll get the bonus books!

StoryBundle was created to give a platform for independent authors to showcase their work, and a source of quality titles for thirsty readers. StoryBundle works with authors to create bundles of ebooks that can be purchased by readers at their desired price. Before starting StoryBundle, Founder Jason Chen covered technology and software as an editor for Gizmodo.com and Lifehacker.com.

For more information, visit our website at storybundle.com, tweet us at @storybundle and like us on Facebook.


Guess the Actress: Contest

This is now closed.  The actress below is Yvonne Craig, who starred as Batgirl on Batman, and as the green woman on Star Trek’s Whom Gods Destroy.

Like with the others, first person to guess who this actress is gets a coupon code for the 2018 Military SF StoryBundle.  This is very limited now, since the bundle comes down in 3 days!

You can check out the bundle here.  Onto the clues.

Actress seated a con table.

This actress was in a popular TV series in the 1960s and rode a purple motorcycle.  She also was green for a science fiction TV series.

This photo was taken at DragonCon in 1997.  The actress has since passed away (which is what I seem to be saying about a lot of these stars unfortunately).

Contest Giveaway: Guess the Actor

And we have a winner!  Peggy got the name!

This is Richard Hatch, who starred in the first (and in my opinion, the best) version of Battlestar Galactica as Adam’s son Apollo.

We still have the Star Trek lady below to guess, and another one above.

No one’s guessed the actress below.  If no one does, I’ll post who she is in a few days.  Meanwhile, here’s another actor to identify.

Actor seated in chair, a stuffed bear in one arm and a stuffed koala in the other

This was taken at DragonCon in 1997.  He sat a couple of tables away from David Hedison, so when he started playing around with the stuffed animals, I had to grab a shot.

The actor starred in a 1970s science fiction TV show.  He passed away last year.

First person to guess his name gets a coupon code for the 2018 Military SF Story Bundle.