Tag Archives: Writing

I just ran a 5K! (Well, sort of…)


A productive day, indeed. It’s taken the better part of ten hours, but I have pounded out 5,000 words today, pretty close to a personal record. I might even be able to keep most of them, but I won’t know for sure until I hit the editing phase.

How many pages is 5,000 words? Well, with the average being about 250-300 words per page in your average paper back, that’s 16 – 20 pages. If I could write like this every day, I could complete a book a month, but the contrary nature of my muse in concert with the demands of the actual job make that a bit of a pipe dream, at least at the moment.

Suffice to say that today was a very good day, the characters and story both definitely moved forward, and I feel like I am back in the saddle. Manuscript now sits at 54,453 words and climbing!

As a quick side note, today’s plot twist comes to you all by way of Micki Knop and her insightful comment from ConCarolinas regarding “PATW”. BTW, that particular piece is Prokofiev, not Tchaikovsky, but I’m totally using it anyway – I think that actually makes it work better in the long run, as a matter of fact. Thanks, Micki!

Back at it tomorrow!


Words Awake!


Words Awake! – 8-9 Apr 2016 at

Wake Forest University – Winston-Salem, NC

This event is more than a bit of a homecoming for me.

I was pleasantly surprised a few months back to be invited by Thomas O. Phillips to return to my alma mater at Wake Forest University, which also happens to be located in my hometown of Winston-Salem, NC, to participate in the second iteration of Words Awake! – a celebration of Wake Forest writers and writing in general. This two-day event brings together writers and readers and students and teachers and all lovers of the written word and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of it!

On Friday, I and three of the other authors will spend most of the day at Parkland High School talking to the students there on various aspects of writing from both the artistic and business side of the house, and then the rest of Friday and all day Saturday will be spent on the Wake Forest University campus in the main celebration, the full schedule of which can be found here.

To any of you Wake alumni who happen to still be in the area, hope to see you out at this event or at another event in the future.

Who knows? If this goes well, perhaps I’ll be invited back someday for Words Awake 3!



Where’s Darin?

IMG_3048Doesn’t Darin have a blog? I mean, he used to do that Mussorgsky Mondays thing, right?

Hi, everyone. I’m still here, just been busy working on the new WIP, a sequel to The Mussorgsky Riddle, which I must say is coming along a lot better than I anticipated. Funny how these books sort of write themselves sometimes.

Except they don’t, in the very real concrete way of thinking about it.

I do my best to write, blog, social media, all the things a writer is supposed to do in addition to eat, drink , sleep, work, see family, friends, girlfriend, etc. but my daily words are precious and of late, I’ve been spending most of them on the next book. Wish I could find a way to get in more blogging, facebooking, tweeting, pinteresting, tumblring, etc., but I just can’t and get this book written. Never was that great at juggling, anyway…

The writing, on the other hand, has been pretty exciting of late. Right now, it feels like it did when all the little strings (pardon the pun) from Mussorgsky started to come together as we headed for the big finale. I’m excited to sit and write these days, and it shows in the recent word count. As I near the end of this current WIP, I’m really gearing up. But this is nothing new. I always start to accelerate toward the end. Happens every time.

For instance, I started this book the day after Christmas, 26 Dec 2014, or for all intents and purposes, January.

Jan – May – 42,247 words total

Jun – 56,308 (up 9,061 words) Also, June usuallyeats me alive every year.

Jul – 69,397 (up 13,089 words)

Aug – 81,875 (up 12,478 words – and still with 14 days to go!)

I did stop and knock out two short stories along the way, the first 5K and the second 7K, which, while cool, is a bit frustrating as I’m pretty sure I’d be knocking on the door of my two favorite words (The End) right about now if I’d just kept going, but those stories were both fun and hopefully will be published someday in the not too distant future. Meanwhile, the novel was allowed to gestate/marinate/other metaphor ending in -ate during these two times away and now I’m back at it with a vengeance.

There are many reasons why I seem to be picking up speed. As always, Aug and Sep are typically when my life calms back down a bit at work, but I think the biggest reason this time is I can’t wait to see how this story ends. Truth be told, I know what’s coming–Trust me, I do–but do any of us REALLY know exactly how the story will end until we actually get there?

Flannery O’Connor said it best: “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”

Speaking of the end, it’s nearly midnight and tomorrow is coming whether I’m ready or not, so I will sign off for now. As always happy writing, and I hope to be back around these parts sometime soon!




The First Day of May… or Why is it so hard to find time to blog?


I don’t have time to write. I don’t have time to exercise. I don’t have time to create a blog post.

I don’t have time to do whatever.

I think many of us say some permutation of this on a frequent basis, and the truth of the matter is sometimes it’s true. We all have a ton of competing things jockeying for top spot in our lives.

Relationship. Family. Children. Job. Sleep. Eating. Exercise. Writing. The list goes on and on and there are only twenty-four hours in a day.

And yet, as my friend John Hartness pointed out two nights ago, it’s also bullshit. We all have time to do exactly what it is we want to do. Simple fact.

We have to work. We all require some sleep. But for writers, we can choose whether or not to open up our word processor or put pen to paper, or as Stuart Jaffe recommends, even dictate into a recorder. Unfortunately, as I have discovered, books don’t write themselves.

The truth is we all want to write. And sleep. And see our significant other. And spend time with our kids. And. And. And.

For writers, especially those with day jobs (which is a big majority of us) I think it’s sometimes rough to find time to do all the things we are told we are supposed to do.

Put down 2,000 new words on your WIP per day. Be active on Facebook / Twitter / Pinterest / Instagram / Tumblr / etc. Blog. Make appearances at conventions / bookstores / writers groups. Be available.

Life is a pie chart. For writers, our writer life is just one piece of the pie. We have to decide how much of our day/week is “writer”. Then, that pie piece gets divided as well. If we spend it all promoting, when do we write? If we spend it all writing, when do we promote? And especially when there’s no guarantee our WIP will be picked up or our social media message will be seen, sometimes I think we feel like we’re shouting into the void.

Trust me, I’d love to have my 2,000 words every day and write a novel in 2 months AND have a daily blog AND get out a significant heartfelt message every 2-3 hours to all my Tweeps and Facebook friends. But I can’t. Even with Hootsuite. 😉

So, today, I spent the morning with my girlfriend who I’ve barely seen in a week, and this weekend I’m going to go see Avengers 2 and share a meal or three with a good friend who is coming into town so we can watch the Hulk and friends beat up some robots, visit a couple friends at their various book signings, get at least 6-8 hours of sleep each night, and try to knock out some words in the space between. Just crossed 39K last night on the #WIP last night, and am about to enter a very cool fight scene!

But first, I thought I’d leave a few words here. Just where my thoughts went this morning. To my fellow writers out there, if you don’t do it all, or don’t even want to this week, that’s okay. Enjoy life. Kiss your children/wives/husbands/significant others. Get your sleep. But don’t forget to write. As they say, that’s what makes you a writer.

Officially as all over the place as I’ve ever been. Have a great Friday, all!


And now…

Avengers 2

Mussorgsky Mondays – Hear ye, Hear ye


So, it’s been another three weeks. Still catching up and enjoying the summer, but wanted to keep everyone up to speed on all the goings on in my little world.

#1 – We have a date! Well, sort of. Curiosity Quills has named 12 Jan 2015 as a “proposed” release date for The Mussorgsky Riddle. This is a Monday, which seems quite appropriate, don’t you think? All the edits and proof reading are in and the big thing we are waiting on (that I am waiting on, especially, with bated breath, even) is the cover.  This is currently in the very capable hands of Polina Sapershteyn, a graphic designer in New York City who went so far as to read the manuscript to ensure she captured the right flavor of the book. Her design is intriguing and I can’t wait to see a more finished version of her idea. Till we have a cover, however, all dates will remain in the “proposed” category.

#2 – My story, “Midnight Screening,” was officially accepted into Emby Press’s anthology, Reconstructing the Monster tonight. I will have four stories in Emby Anthologies hopefully by the end of the year, if they are all out before January 1st. Pretty exciting time to be a monster hunter.

#3 – I also have a short story coming out in CQ’s annual anthology. “Flight of the Pegasus” is my first foray into steampunk, but hopefully won’t be my last.

#4 – Work continues on my new project, code named “Operation: Ghost Story.” All but the last chapter is done and I am going through the critiques of my alpha readers/critique group finally after being busy with edits on MR for several months. This story is shaping up quite nicely. I had promised it to my agent by my birthday, but that ship has sailed, so now I’m aiming to have it in before Labor Day. Keep me in your thoughts and prayers… 😉

#5 – Lastly, trying to get something together for Dark Hall Press’s Techno Horror Anthology. Just started tonight. It’s got a little bit of a 2001: A Space Odyssey vibe. We’ll see how it turns out…

And now, a little something from my man Modest. Here is Mussorgsky’s, A Tear, for your listening pleasure.

All best, Darin



And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for…


Or at least the moment I’ve been waiting for.

Disclaimer: These are the scrambled thoughts of a man who is simultaneously exhilarated and exhausted, triumphant and tired, dauntless and overwhelmed.

My writer’s group gathered last night around the incomparable Gail Martin for our monthly meeting to discuss publishing, marketing and other facets of this writing business. The talk surrounded such things as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Goodreads, Shelfari, Reddit, and others, but as always we started our gathering with announcements, and this month, boy did I have an announcement to make.

On 28 Feb 2014, Lisa Gus at Curiosity Quills Press contacted my agent, Stacey Donaghy, with an offer to publish The Mussorgsky Riddle. On 13 Mar 2014, we accepted her kind offer. It’s been a long haul, this hike from novice writer to not so novice writer, unagented to agented, unpublished to contracted with a publisher, and at every step, I’ve always repeated the same mantra.

Patience, Darin. Patience.

Don’t get me wrong. I am beyond thrilled and can’t wait to hold this book that took me over two years to complete in my hand, but having had a week for all of the excitement to sink in, I’ve thought a lot about the experience. I fully expected to sit down tonight and turn out a full-on Kool and the Gang, Celebrate Good Times blog post, but as I sit here and listen to the 80’s shuffle echoing from my AppleTV, I became a little nostalgic–I know… that never happens to me ;-)–and this is what came out.

I’ve read stories of all the “overnight” successes who have been working at their craft for years, and though I have done anything but “arrive,” I get it. I’ve been writing for almost exactly ten years now, having written the first word of Pawn’s Gambit as I sat in a MIG hangar in northern Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004, back when I stared up at Mars and it’s baleful red eye every night and wondered about having the god of war look down on me as I stood on a battlefield. Since that time I’ve written two complete novels, am currently on the last chapter of a third, have written half of a fourth (the sequel to PG), written and published 19 short stories among six small publishers as well as a rare piece of fiction in Chess Life magazine, attended half a dozen writer’s conference, met countless authors through local, regional, and national writers groups, participated in (and ran for two years) a writers group with 500 members that critiques writers’ works twice per month, and led a successful small critique group out of my home for years. And all this with a full time job and still needing to sleep and eat occasionally. Oh, and watch The Walking Dead, of course.

The constant along the entire way and at every step: waiting.

Not all waiting is the same.

There is counterproductive waiting. Waiting till I had time to write. (honestly, med school and residency had a lot to do with that) Waiting till I felt like writing before sitting down at the computer. Waiting till I had everything all worked out in a story to actually put down words. Lots of stuff like that. As a dyed in the wool procrastinator, I know all about that kind of waiting.

Then there is productive waiting. Keeping your eye on the ball. Being in it to win it. Being patient. Waiting for the right story idea. The right word. The right ending. The right agent. The right publisher. Have I been impatient at times? Of course. But sometimes, good things actually do come to those who wait. Just the right kind of waiting, I believe.

There’s a lot to be said for patience, and I will need plenty more as I have no doubt that the waiting has just begun. I have just started the editing process to get my manuscript up to speed for CQ standards and I see more waiting on the horizon. Waiting for first edits. For second edits. For the cover. ARCs. First reviews. First sales. First royalties.

And starting the whole process over for the next book.

These are all good things to wait for, but as I sit here and take a deep breath, I realized one important thing.

You can’t just mope while you are waiting for the next step. You have to enjoy it.

Mountain top experiences are just that. Brief views of breathtaking beauty punctuating miles of often brutal hiking. But despite the blisters and leg cramps,  there is joy not only in the vistas from the mountaintops, but from the water of a valley stream, the green of the forest, the camaraderie of your fellow hikers. You have to enjoy the process, not just the highs, and when I look back, I can say that my hike has been a good one.

A few quick thank yous to my fellow hikers, because you can never say thank you enough.

To Lisa Gus at CQ for giving me a chance.

To my Captain, Stacey Donaghy, for being the absolute best advocate for my work I could have imagined. Oh Captain, my Captain, thank you.

To my friends among Charlotte Writers, for being my Charlotte family. You all are the best. Don’t ever forget it.

To other friends, both near and far, for a million things, many of which neither of us may even remember anymore.

To my family, for their LITERALLY never ending support. You are on every page.

To God, for giving me at least my fair share of patience.

And lastly, to one of my favorite movies, for teaching me five simple words: Never give up. Never surrender.

On another night, I will type my “O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!” post, but for tonight, thoughtful introspection is the order of the evening.


Good night! And remember, if your dreams don’t scare you, you’re not dreaming big enough. Now get out there and WRITE!

So what I told you was true, from a certain “point of view”

What starting a new novel feels like...

What starting a new novel feels like…

I haven’t looked, for I fear I would go down the rabbit hole only to reappear just before bedtime, but I suspect there are exactly  1 bazillion blogs out there on point of view and the advantages and disadvantages. My writer’s group and I were discussing this last night, and I thought I would take a moment to share my thoughts on the subject.

First – to anyone who is not familiar with what I’m talking about, point of view, or POV, is one of the basic characteristics of your storytelling for a particular story. You may remember some of this from your middle school and high school English classes. First person is “I did that,” second person is “you did that,” and third person is “he/she/it did that.” Then there is tense: “I do that” is present tense and “I did that” is past. I suppose “I will do that” is future, but if you anyone is out there writing in second person or future tense (or both – wow…) they are braver than me.

So, what’s the big deal? I basically wanted to share my story and where I’m at today.

The first thing I ever wrote since starting down this path called “WRITER” (i.e. not counting anything that I wrote prior to 2003) was my first novel, Pawn’s Gambit. A broad contemporary fantasy epic with a complex story, multiple characters both good and bad, and important things happening that my main character wasn’t privy to all but required third person. In a first person story, unless you are changing who the first person POV character is (which you can do, of course), you can’t see anything that is happening that your POV character isn’t present for in one way or another. This can be limiting, but also can help. My second novel, The Mussorgsky Riddle, is all first person, as it deals with the main character (a psychic detective of sorts) and how she perceives what is happening to her over the course of the story, both in the real world and in the mind of another character. My current novel is interesting, in that the source material I’m drawing from for inspiration was written in third person, past tense, and I’m writing my “version” of this story in first person present tense.

Another interesting thing I’ve discovered is that for me, third person lends itself very well to past tense and I have trouble doing it in present tense, though it can be done well. First person on the other hand sounds so much more pleasing in my head when I do it in present tense. It’s almost like the reader riding along and encountering the story with the character. So that third person past tense for first novel, and first person present tense for second and third novels. My short stories? Well, they’ve been all over the place, but it’s usually been one of the above. I contemplated doing my recent story, “The Eye of the Beholder,” (which was just picked up for Dark Hall Press’s Cosmic Horror Anthology) as second person, present tense, just to get the full gross out effect of the last page, but from what I understand, it’s hard to sell second person, so I stuck with what I knew.

The main thing I’ve learned? Likely there is a best POV for each story. It may be governed by what a particular writer is best at doing, but I believe it has mostly to do with the story you are trying to tell. Can you imagine trying to tell the story from Star Wars from a lone first person POV? Gah. Now admittedly, J.K. Rowling did an outstanding job keeping everything in the Potterverse down to only what Harry could see or what he was present for, but even then she went 3rd person, past tense with a close, non-omniscient narrator. If Harry didn’t know it or couldn’t figure it out, the narrator wouldn’t spill it. That’s one of the many things she did well in that series, and one of the many skills she brought to the table that made her series so successful.

Omniscient vs. Close is a discussion for another time. My friend, Jay, thinks that omniscient narrators may have their day again, but for now, third person POV out there seems to be sticking close to the focus characters senses and thoughts. Probably more of a trend than a rule. (It’s sold in the past. Don’t believe me? Go read some Tolkien.)

So, your homework. Take a look at your story. You may find, as I did with Mussorgsky a few years back when I was in about 10,000 words, that your third person past tense story is screaming out to be first person present tense. Don’t be afraid. It’s not as hard as it sounds. Just change almost every subject and verb for 30-50 pages, read it through a couple times, and drive on. If I can do it, so can you.

And now, I’m off to Starbucks, for some first person, present tense words are itching to fly out my fingers and onto the screen.

Happy Writing!


The Importance of Beta Readers


For the second week in a row, a Facebook status has tickled my brain enough to warrant evolving into a blog post.

And no, I’m not talking about the post about how the news of the death threats against Ben Affleck for being cast as Batman is just about the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.

I’m talking about something with which I am blessed with an abundance of, both in quantity and quality: beta readers.

No matter how awesome you think your writing is, no matter how many times you’ve pored over your poor beleaguered manuscript, no matter how perfect a proof reader you think you are, a good set of beta readers will prove you wrong.

Surround yourself with good beta readers and you will be a better writer. They will find your gaping plot holes, your enormous leaps in logic, your unintended character shifts, your penchant for using the same word three times in one paragraph, not to mention your (likely) many gaffes in spelling, grammar, historical accuracy, and writing in general.

Just going through a couple critiques on “Operation: Ghost Story” and getting some spot on recommendations from both the critiquers on that one.

My recommendations – get beta readers with different reading and writing backgrounds, ones you can trust with your “darlings” even as they are telling you which ones to assassinate, ones who know how to sprinkle a little sugar even as their rubbing salt in the wounds of your suddenly red manuscript, and ones who are reliable enough to get you what you need in somewhat of a timely manner.

I participate in both large and small critique groups. The small group provides focus and particular attention on a more detailed level, but a large critique group provides a different degree of “eyes on” and getting such a wide swath of readers to give you advice at once can be immensely helpful.

That being said, there are pitfalls here. Sending something that you’re not happy with first probably is a recipe for unhappiness because you are likely to have things pointed out to you that you already knew weren’t working and that can be a bit disheartening. (Part of why I haven’t looked at Ghost Story much in the last two months – still licking manuscript wounds from June!). Also, listening to every bit of advice and acting on it will drive you mad, especially when one individual likes a particular section and another hates the exact same section. Which way do you go? Who do you trust? Answer: trust yourself. At root, you are the creator, and all critique is just a suggestion (unless it comes from Stephen King, in which case, take it to heart). 😉

As I said in my two Facebook posts, thanks to all my AWESOME beta reader and critique partners from now and the last ten years. From my first reader ,Lisa Postell during OIF1 in Iraq, up to my current two critique groups, you all have made me a better writer and my manuscripts much shinier (for all you Firefly fans out there). And with that, I will return to looking at suggested edits for Part I of “Operation: Ghost Story” – as always, with one or two grains of salt!

Happy Writing!


Sliding back into my pantser pants…


So, this started out as a couple of Facebook posts, but seems to have graduated into a full on blog post.

First, to those not familiar with the terms – What is a plotter and what is a pantser?

A plotter is someone who uses whatever method works for them – note cards, outlines, maps, wall charts, etc. – to map out their story in some kind of detail before they write the first word. As I understand it, Dan Brown is a plotter, and clearly that is working for him.

A pantser, on the other hand, is a writer who sits down at his blank screen/paper/stone tablet and just goes to town, writing down the story as it comes to them. They don’t plan out scenes, chapters, arcs. They just let the cards fall where they may, with certain caveats. For instance, I pretty much pantsed all of Pawn’s Gambit, but I did a lot of research on the topic of chess and chess history and the various areas of the world visited both before and during and after the writing. So to say I was driving without a plan would not be accurate. However, unlike a dyed-in-the-wool plotter, I didn’t know where every rest stop, gas station, and fast food joint along the way was located, and definitely didn’t have a GPS (that would have been so helpful). With Mussorgsky, I had to stop and plot out a little, and used a calendar of about 1 month since most of the story takes place in a September/October 4-5 weeks. Some of my characters were teachers and another a psychologist, neither of whom typically work on Saturdays, so I needed to know which days my people were at work and which days they were out and about. Don’t want to get called out on stuff like that. However, other than that, pretty much pantsed that one as well.

Plotters often say they don’t have to rewrite as much because late manuscript course changes that cause retrograde ripple phenomena occur in your story don’t happen as often when you plot. Also, because you have a very clear map as to where you are going, you get there faster. Plotters, I suspect, once they have their (evil?) plotting all done can finish a story pretty quickly. We could ask James Patterson’s dozens of co-writers, I suppose. (In case you were wondering, most of the time these days, Patterson outlines and the other dude/dudette on the cover writes the book.)

Pantsers on the other hand are out on the open sea, just stopping at whatever island looks pretty, with a general destination in mind (or at least that’s my method). This is sometimes called “discovery writing” since you kind of discover your story as you go. This, to me, is the most fun part of writing. Lots of cool stuff in both my novel length manuscripts would never have come to pass if I hadn’t been totally pantsing it. Take Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle, for instance. I couldn’t have plotted out who they were going to be in a million years, but when I came to it, it was like I plotted it from the beginning. These happy accidents are, for me, what makes writing fun.

So, why all this jibber jabber? (said with Mr. T inflection, of course)

My sooper sekrit projekt, codenamed Operation: Ghost Story, seemed to be floundering the last few weeks (actually months). My critique group pointed out a lot of issues, my beginning wasn’t right, my main character’s motivations were unclear, and something just wasn’t clicking. So, after getting progressively more frustrated, I decided yesterday to trade in my pantser pants, slide into some plotter trousers (or culottes – thanks to Zoe for thinking I have the calves to pull that off), and see what would happen. I pulled out some 8 1/2 X 11 sheets of notebook paper, cut them into fours, and tried to do some note cards. This exercise lasted 15 minutes before I wanted to pull out my hair. Then I tried the note card feature on Scrivener – for all of five minutes. Considered tattooing myself with story elements like the guy from Memento or Michael Scofield from Prison Break, but that sounded far too painful. I sank into a maelstrom of doom, ennui, and self doubt. Not just yesterday, but for weeks, I had felt like I had forgotten how to write something longer than a short story. Kind of disheartening when you have at least novel/novellette length projects you would like to be working on.

The happy ending? Apparently what I needed was a good night’s sleep, three glasses of the sweetest tea I’ve ever had (and I was raised on Pizza Hut tea in Winston-Salem – Thanks Brixx!!!) and a white chocolate mocha at my favorite Starbucks. Today I churned out 2,000 words, fixed the opening 5-10% of the book (which was the part that was driving me so buggy), and still had enough oomph to write this little blog post.

In short, plotter trousers were returned to the store and I bought four new pairs of pantser pants (pictured above). Operation: Ghost Story, after a month or so of languishing untouched on my hard drive, is now back on the docket. Look out all you plotters, because like the tortoise in the classic race, I’m coming for you.

And the winner for Worst Blogger Ever goes to…

Worst Blogger


I have every intention of being a great blogger, writer, author, doctor, friend, brother, son, human being, etc. Then that whole 24 hours in a day thing kicks in. Burn the candle at both ends a few days in a row and I end up with a summer cold. Try to work on getting out and doing stuff and the writing suffers. Try to get some writing done and want nothing more than to be outside for all the beautiful weather. Is the grass really greener over there? Sure looks like it.

In other words: Hi! and welcome back to my blog. (That’s me talking to myself as much as you, kind reader.) Back in September 2012, I kicked off this whole “Checkered Ramblings” thing, and since then, other than putting up a couple of publications, haven’t been back. Had time to accumulate about 3700 spam messages in the filter since I was last on, and have sentenced them all to WordPress Purgatory. Now that it’s all cleared out, all publications up, and I’m feeling a bit motivated again, I’m going to follow my friend Jay’s  lead and try to get in one blog a week. I can do that, right?

So, starting this Saturday, we’ll get started. A proposal I am considering:

First Saturday of the month – A writing related post

Second Saturday of the month – Something a bit more personal

Third Saturday of the month – State of the Union (Agent, Publishing, etc.)

Fourth Saturday of the month – Something funny

Fifth Saturday of the month – Hey, I’ll write something if I feel like it. 😉


All right everyone, it’s going to take a village to raise this blogger. Keep me honest.

And now, to work on putting a 25th hour in this day and get back to my new steampunk story…

Happy Writing!!!