Joe’s Sandwich: A Hook

I’ve recently started a initial trial of Amazon Kindle Unlimited, and have figured out how to use KU to get audiobooks (you have to download the e-book and then add narration to it–not difficult, but a bit counter intuitive.)

So I’ve tried a number of audiobooks and since I am not paying per book, I feel very little obligation to finish something just because I’ve downloaded it. (Not that I tend to feel much of that anyway–I am brutal with media. You’ve got a very small window to make me love you.)

It seems to me that there are a lot of authors out there who are writing a publishing fiction who have no clear idea how to begin a story. To give an example of what I mean, let’s talk about Joe and the sandwich.

Joe has been working since very early in the morning, and he gets to lunch late because of a problem with the production line.  But eventually he gets outside into the parking lot with a crisp new ten dollar bill in his hand, just to see the lunch wagon slam down the side window and drive off.

That is a story opening. Joe wants a sandwich.  We want Joe to get his sandwich, because he’s earned it.  He’s been working hard.  He’s got the money to pay for it.  He’s got every reason to expect he can get it, and then something happens–through no fault of his own–that denies him what he wants.

We are now emotionally invested in the story.  We know what it’s like to be hungry.  We want to keep reading because we want a resolution for Joe in the form of a nice cheese and roast beef on marble rye.

Now, that seems really simple, but there are a lot of ways to screw it up.  Suppose Joe has been slacking all morning, hiding from the boss in the back warehouse, and missed the roach coach because he fell asleep on a pallet.  Do we care?  Not so much.  Instead we’re thinking, “ha ha, ya lazy schlub, that’s what ya get for sleeping on the job.”

Or suppose that he doesn’t have any money, and got to the truck on time but they wouldn’t give him credit because he hasn’t yet paid off the credit he got two weeks ago.  Again, it’s harder to be sympathetic to Joe–it’s kind of his own fault he’s going hungry.

Maybe Joe gets to the parking lot and Leo’s Deli On Wheels has left, but Manuel’s Burrito Truck is still idling there.  Sure, Joe’s going to be disappointed that he can’t get the roast beef sandwich he was hoping for, but if he’s really hungry he’ll settle for the burrito.

Then again, suppose that Joe has already had his lunch, and he just wants to talk to Leo because Leo grew up in Ankeny, Iowa and Joe wants to know if that’s a good place to go on his vacation next month.  That is a goal, sure, but it’s not an urgent one and besides there are other ways Joe can find what he wants to know.

Making me care what happens next isn’t rocket science.  Give me somebody to care about, something that I want that person to get, and a logical reason why they might not get it. That’s all.

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Cirsova Ad Giveaway!

EDIT: We have a winner!

I am still giving away a quarter-page ad in Cirsova magazine, even though nobody entered my contest. Yes, it’s not July 1st yet, but I am going to go ahead and close the contest and just give the ad to the first person to reply to this post via my Contact Form.

I am also going to reveal the answers to the questions (none of them are really spoilers for the books.)

  1. Who are the authors of Mankind’s Eternal Odyssey? Michael Chase with Sabrina Ericovitch. (Answer in Gingerbread Wolves.)
  2. What is the title of Jenny Noir’s first solo album? After The Moonlight. (Answer in The Worms Of Heaven.)
  3. What Delapour & Associates employee wrote and published a novel? Chuck Harwood, aka Exquisite, The Apprentices’ Cipher. (Answer in Gingerbread Wolves.)
  4. What was the original name of the riverboat that became known as Scarlett’s Casino? The Missouri Maiden. (Answer in Cannibal Hearts.)
  5. What book does Stuart Dogs read to Nancy Dew while she is convalescing in the mud-bath? Michelle Proulx, Imminent Danger And How To Fly Straight Into It. (Answer in the afterward to Gingerbread Wolves)
  6. What is the name of the magazine that Godiva finds that reveals Dr. Klein’s home address? Natural Glamour. (Answer in Catskinner’s Book.)

Seriously, folks, this is a great opportunity.  Cirsova reaches a lot of readers who are looking for new authors, and since it’s published as an e-book, it will never go out of print.

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It’s Only A Mystery If I Want To Unravel It


I just gave up on a book called Pines by Blake Crouch. It was read by Paul Michael Garcia, who is narrator that I really like–he’s done a number of science fiction novels including several of Heinlein’s that I own.

The writing style was pretty fair, nice description and the language was elegant without getting too flowery. The problem was the story.

See, there’s this guy.  We don’t know who he is.  He doesn’t know who he is.  He’s in some place that looks like an ordinary town but is kind of spooky in an indefinable way. And this guy likes coffee, but he doesn’t have a wallet, so he can’t buy any.  And he’s hurt, but he doesn’t want to go to the hospital for some reason that neither he nor us knows. So he wanders around the empty streets of this vaguely creepy town.

And that’s a far as I got. Because I don’t care what happens next.

I’m supposed to.  I can tell that I am supposed to be on the edge of my seat wanting to know who this mysterious stranger is and why he’s in this creepy town and how he got injured and what makes the town so creepy.

But I don’t. Instead I decided to make up my own story.

The guy’s name is Joe Boat. His wife, Margie Boat, drives up and gives him his medicine, which he forgot that morning, and then he remembers who he is and he goes into his work at the craft store (which is where he left his wallet) and his boss chides him for forgetting to take his medicine that morning, but understands and doesn’t fire him for wandering off on his lunch hour.  After work he goes back home to Margie and thanks her for looking for him when his boss called to say he’d wandered off again.  Then the Boats go to bed and have such great sex that their corgi runs and hides under the couch.  The end.

Now, that is probably not the story that Blake Crouch wanted to tell.  But, you know, if he wanted to tell me a different story, he should have done so.  But he didn’t.  Instead of Joe Boat, Craft Store Clerk, I got… some guy.

And I’m sorry, some guy, but I really don’t care what happens to you.  You’re not my problem, dude.

Now, I love mysteries in fiction.  I love the conventional “whodunit” style as well as the more metaphysical “what’s going on here” thing.  But I need some kind of buy-in before I’ll sit down at the table. If I don’t have any skin in the game I get bored.

This book skipped the ante. Heck, this book skipped the deal.  Instead Mr Crouch just shows me a couple of face down cards and I don’t even know what the game is. Am I winning, am I losing, if I win do I get the door with the new car, or am I stuck with the goat? Tell me why I care what happens next. 

It’s really not rocket surgery. But I’ve seen people drop the ball before the game really begins this way a lot, for example in Wool, which I also gave up on before the author got around to telling me what was going on and why it matters. It’s supposed to be some kind of hook, I think, making the reader keep reading in order to find out the truth.

But you have to prime the pump–or, at least, you have to with me.  I need some reason the care about the character, to want Joe to find his way back to Margie and their adorable corgi. (Edmund.  The corgi’s name is Edmund.  They call him Edmund the Chewer. And they let him sleep on the bed when they’re not having great sex.)

But this some guy? Does he have some girl someplace that I want him to find his way back to?  Some dog, maybe? I don’t know.  And I’m not going to take the time to find out.

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Win An Ad In Cirsova Magazine!

I am giving away a quarter-page ad in Cirsova magazine.  Why? Because I believe in Cirsova and I want to support it, and because I believe in the crew of indie authors who follow this blog and I want to support you.  So it’s a win-win.

Please, only enter if you will be using the ad.  Cirsova is a high quality adventure fiction magazine and your ad will be seen by readers who are looking for Independant Science Fiction and Fantasy fiction.  Details on the requirements are available here, and the winner can contact Cirsova for more information.

The deadline for advertisements is August 1st, so let’s get on with it.

The contest is simple. Below are some Book Of Lost Doors trivia questions. Do not, please, post the answers here–instead send me an e-mail via my Contact Form. The first entry I recieve that has all of the answers right wins the prize. If I don’t get anyone who gets them all right by July 1st, the entry with the most right answers will win.

  1. Who are the authors of Mankind’s Eternal Odyssey? (Two names.)
  2. What is the title of Jenny Noir’s first solo album?
  3. What Delapour & Associates employee wrote and published a novel? (Author and title.)
  4. What was the original name of the riverboat that became known as Scarlett’s Casino?
  5. What book does Stuart Dogs read to Nancy Dew while she is convalescing in the mud-bath? (Author and title.)
  6. What is the name of the magazine that Godiva finds that reveals Dr. Klein’s home address?

The answer to each of these questions can be found in one of the four books that make up The Book Of Lost Doors–Catskinner’s Book, Cannibal Hearts, The Worms Of Heaven, or Gingerbread Wolves.

Good luck!

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This Ugly Little War

Recently, during a discussion regarding the new Wonder Woman film, a comment was made:

Let me put it this way:

I write a beautiful poem all about how we should nuke New York.

The poem is lovely. Gorgeous. The language is beautiful. The case I make, based on the good of mankind, makes your heart swell with pride at the ability of the human race to make sacrifices in order to aid our fellow man.

But I go out and say that it’s explicitly meant to be an actual argument in favor of nuking New York. I want NY nuked. Furthermore, academia agrees with me and starts pushing the poem for that reason, and SJW’s use my poem as their anthem.

But it’s a beautiful poem.

The implied question from the rest of the thread is, “Would I support the poet and the poem?”

My answer is:

Absolutely.  Without hesitation and without apology. 


In order for it to truly be a beautiful poem, then the event that it describes–the destruction of an American city by atomic weaponry–would have to be a right action. Esthetics is a branch of philosophy and dependant upon metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and politics. Art is the discovery of truth by means of imagery.

I see no difference between the suppression of artistic truth and the suppression of scientific truth.  Both are wrong. If something is beautiful then it is beautiful because what it expresses is understood by the viewer as being ordinate to reality.

This does not mean “realism” as the term is generally used.  Art can express true ideals without being based on true facts.  To give a trivial example, a story problem in mathematics that states that if John has five apples and he gives three of those apples to Jane then he will have two apples remaining does not become less true if John does not, in fact have five apples–or even if John and Jane do not exist.  A plague of fruit trees may ravage the world and eradicate all apples everywhere, but the truth expressed in the story problem will remain true.

In the same way, the journey of Frodo and Sam to Mordor in order to protect the Shire is no less beautiful and inspiring because none of those persons or places actually exist.  The story expresses a truth that transcends facts. Beauty is how you know that something is true.

To return to the analogy of scientific truth, if one happened to believe a particular theory–say that all planets in the solar system rotate on their axis in the same direction–and then encounters evidence that contradicts this theory–the axial rotation of Venus and Uranus–then suppressing the evidence in order to hold onto the theory is wrong. Either the evidence is bad, in which case further study will contradict it, or the theory is wrong, and to continue to cling to it in the face of evidence against it is an act of willful ignorance.

However, the above analogy is also predicated on the assumption that you understand the science–the math involved, how to apply the theory, how to determine the proper frame of reference, knowing in what way the science is applicable as a model for the real world.

In the same way, if a work of art is beautiful, if it moves you, then it is expressing a truth and if that contradicts an opinion that you hold, that may be evidence that your opinion is wrong. It may also be evidence that your esthetic sensibilities are unequal to the task of understanding the work in question.

The way to avoid being taken in by junk science is to develop an understanding of real science. You don’t have to be an expert in a particular field to understand how to tell when a sample size is statistically significant or when a conclusion does not follow logically from a premise.

In the same way the defense against propaganda is not suppression of bad art, but an understanding of esthetics sufficient to recognize it as bad art.  A good grasp of mathematics will inoculate one against pseudoscientific scams, and a good grasp of narrative and story will inoculate one against propaganda masquerading as fiction.

A well-trained esthetic sense will also allow one to understand the applicability of the work to the real world. Just as a trained scientific intellect will understand what a scientific theory does and does not imply regarding reality, a trained esthetic sense will understand what art does and does not imply about reality, and to see the significant parallels while discarding the spurious ones.  The message of The Lord Of The Rings, for example, is not that short people are better than tall people.

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Imminent Danger Now Permanently 99 Cents!

I keep recommending this book–it’s fun, it’s clever, it’s exciting. Get it already. Then get the next one. Then join with me in pressuring Michelle to release the third one already.

Michelle Proulx - Author

In an attempt to create more interest in my books, I’ve dropped the price of Imminent Danger And How to Fly Straight Into It down to 99 cents. Hopefully this will encourage people to give it a shot, since I know that I’m much more likely to buy a self-published book if it’s cheaper, especially when I don’t know the author.

It really grates my cheese that books have become so devalued, but at the same time, I get it. I’m a consumer as well as a writer, and it’s a real gamble to spend money on something with unknown quality. Especially in self-publishing. For every excellent book I buy, read, and love (*cough*Catskinner’sBook*cough*) there are three more that turn out to be real duds. So I’m way more likely to risk 99 cents on a possibly-great book rather than $2.99+.

I’ve kept Chasing Nonconformity at $2.99. I…

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Wonder Woman

Let’s forget about the “superhero” universe for a minute. Let’s not worry about continuity and connectivity and just look at this film as a film, as if it exists all by itself.  Okay?

Now, that’s easy for me, since I haven’t really been following the “DC Universe” films.  I saw (in fact I own) the second Nolen Batman film, The Dark Knight. But that’s about it.  I really wasn’t interested in When Batman Met Superman or whatever it was called.

I wasn’t all that familiar with the source material, either–I know the basics of the character concept and I vaguely remember the old TV show.  Okay, I remember Lynda Carter in the amazon outfit. But I can’t recall ever reading the comic book.

So when I went in to see Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman I was able to look at it from a fresh perspective.  And what I saw was historical magical realism expounding upon a mythic theme.

Here I’ll put in my usual spoiler caution. I do try to avoid spoilers in my reviews and media discussions, however I will be talking about overarching themes and hence what I say may give away parts of the story.  For this I apologize. Since I strongly recommend this film, I would urge my readers to go see it first, then read my analysis.

Comparisons have been made to the first Captain America film, and I think some of those are just the nature of the two films–all war movies are going to have certain scenes in common. There are moments that feel like a deliberate echo, though, but I think those echoes serve to show the contrast between the characters.

Captain Steve Rogers is Jack the Giant Killer. He’s everyman–“just a kid from Brooklyn” is how he puts it. He’s inspiring because he’s an ordinary man elevated to extraordinary heights without losing his essential humanity. He is “who we are”.

Diana is exactly the opposite. She is a goddess who has left Paradise to inspire mankind.  She is “what we’re fighting for.”

Which is not to say that Diana is not herself a warrior–she is, and the combat sequences featuring Gal Gadot are some of the best that I have seen in any action film.  A bit heavy on the “bullet-time” upon occasion, but I see that more as a symptom of the current state of the art than a reflection on Jenkins’ filmmaking. It’s like split screen in the 1970s–everybody does it.

But despite the title, Diana is not a woman.  Not a human female.  She is a goddess, in the classical Greek sense of a personification of virtue, like a muse or the classical image of Lady Justice. She represents an ideal, the best that the human race can be, just, courageous, merciful, and strong.  Gadot pulls off that character marvelously, combining innocence and wisdom.  When she charges into battle you want to follow her, because she represents what we are meant to be, and what we are meant to do.  The violence in Wonder Woman is purposeful violence, the strong rising up to defend the weak.

We see this inspiration in the character of Steve Trevor, played to perfection by Chris Pine. He’s the everyman in this film, and his growing comprehension that he is in the presence of divinity makes us believe in Diana. The small but delightful supporting cast of misfits that aids Diana and Trevor in their mission echoes Captain America’s “Howling Commandos”, but with a significant difference.  Diana’s followers are men who have lost their inspiration, men in whom the spark of virtue is all but extinguished until she fans it into life again.

All in all, a magnificent film–an inspiring film.  I left the theater feeling good about humanity.


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