The writing tip that ruined me: Strict definitions

Mullet? Pinstripe shirt? Bare feet? Check. This  will be the least downloaded stock photo ever.

Mullet? Pinstripe shirt? Bare feet? Check. This will be the least downloaded stock photo ever.

Knowledge is power. But then again, ignorance is bliss. Hmm…

Colorful words are great. As a writer, I love to throw them out there willy-nilly. But what to do when some smarty-britches points out the strict definition of a word, and that definition is a little too strict for your purposes? Urgh. Over the last few years, I can think of two words that have been ruined for me. Now I’m going to pass that ruinous wisdom on to you… You’re welcome?

Max Brooks’ World War Z is a great book. I saw about 20 minutes of the Brad Pitt adaptation, and it seemed alright. But Brooks’ book is very different. It’s a bunch of snippets of narration that show how most of the planet’s most prominent nations handle a worldwide zombie outbreak. The cultural and historical ground that Brooks covers is way more interesting than the zombie action. Although some of the zombie scenes are pretty kick-ass as well.

But when Brooks speculates on how Russia would deal with a pandemic, he spends a few lines clarifying the true definition of ‘decimate.’ Decimate, as in ‘the Russian army decimated an entire town.’ Right? No, historically, ‘decimate’ means to kill one-in-ten. Doesn’t sound quite as apocalyptic does it?

So if you’re writing a sci-fi book about a super-contagious narcolepsy that wipes out more than 10% of a planet’s population (IDYLL, hopefully coming out soon), then you better do a find-and-replace if you use the word ‘decimate’ anywhere. Right?

The next word I can no longer use is ’nauseous.’ In the movie ‘Never Been Kissed’ Drew Barrymore plays a nerd who points out that ‘nauseous’ is an adjective that can refer to a gross scene or a gross smell but not a grossed-out person. So if you are describing a person in a state of nausea, you can’t use ‘nauseous.’ You should use ‘nauseated.’

‘Nauseated?’ Blech.

OK, now run along and never use these two words again.

Oh, but wait! It seems that Merriam and Webster and Roget have already dumbed down the lexicon to match common usage. So feel free to decimate the English language until you’re nauseous. Woohoo! Ignorance wins again!

Other writing tips that ruined me:
Subjunctive Mood
Using ‘Said’

Review of #DarkFantasy LINE OF DESCENT, plus interview & excerpt

James Derry:

So excited to be featured with a review and interview on!

Originally posted on Barb Taub:

The darkness and the light are both alike to thee. (Psalm 139:12)

twins-kubrickAdorable little sisters or scariest twins ever?

What’s the difference between dark fantasy and horror as genres? As far as I can tell, it all comes down to the author’s intent. Does he want us to share in the trauma that makes the ultimate victory over darkness that much more precious? Or does he just want to scare the bejeezus out of us?

Or, to turn it around, what is the scariest, most horrific thing you can imagine? For me, as a parent, it would be evil stalking a child. And if that evil was her own parent?

Line of Descent by James Derry

Upside Down 3
The Gardeners are incredibly wealthy, with a dark secret to their success. One evening on their private island estate, their matriarch strolls into the ocean and doesn’t return. Her suicide sparks a chain of…

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Sketch: Reynard

Reynard - Line of DescentHere’s a sketch of one of my favorite characters from LINE OF DESCENT, Marquis Reynard LeFevre. He’s a mysterious and dangerous enemy of the Gardeners’ Parisian ancestors. He’s both a practitioner of Hinduism and a forefather of the Mesmerist movement. Oh yeah—and he likes to host masquerade parties in underground crypts!

One of his quotes:

“Think about the world the way it is now. Each generation mourns for the golden years of their youth. Each generation weeps that times have never been so bad. Then their children grow old and wail that things have become even more unbearable. Their golden years are the previous generation’s worst days.”

Review | Line of Descent by James Derry

James Derry:

Thanks so much for the great, thoughtful review from Aimal from Bookshelves & Paperbacks!

Originally posted on Bookshelves & Paperbacks:

Upside Down 3Title: Line of Descent
Author: James Derry
Genre: Young Adult | Fantasy > Paranormal
Synopsis: Some women dread the idea of turning into their mothers. For Elise Gardener, that dread has twisted into an all-too-real nightmare.Elise has always been the spooky misfit of her wealthy family—and a disappointment to her overbearing mother. Elise’s problem is that she’s supernaturally sensitive. She’s an empath who can’t help seeing and feeling the intimate emotions—sometimes painful or shameful—of every person she meets. While her cousins are starting glamorous and lucrative careers, Elise is happy working as an unseen housekeeper at a camp for underprivileged children. But Elise’s cloistered life is shattered when her mother seemingly drowns herself.Elise invites her tenuous best friend—Mallory, a girl she’s only known for two months—to the memorial at the Gardeners’ private isle on the Georgia coast. Together, they discover that Elise’s family have a sinister secret that they’ve been…

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Series Condition: The Royals, Masters of War

I think most writers would kill to come up with a idea as awesome as Rob Williams’ premise for ‘The Royals: Masters of War.’ Here it is: Royal blood is truly divine, and every king, prince, princess, duke and emperor across the planet has been granted superhuman powers by birthright. Now throw those super-powered nobles into the catastrophic turmoil of WWII and let’s see what happens!

royals_mastersofwarWriter: Rob Williams
Artists: Simon Coleby, Gary Erskine
Total Issues: 6
Published: 2014
Publisher: Vertigo (DC)

Royals is a mini-series, written with a sort of ‘just-the-hits’ mentality. It has a very clean, driving narrative which makes it a fun, easy read. It’s like a summer blockbuster, if summer blockbusters had subplots involving euthanasia, genocide, and incest.

Our heroes (and anti-heroes) are the British royal family. Sorry, these are all characters from an alternate history. So you don’t get to see a teenage Queen Elizabeth kicking Nazi booty. But we do see other historical figures: Churchill, FDR, and Eisenhower, to name a few that I noticed. And a lot of the big WWII milestones are there. As I mentioned, the book has a ‘just-the-hits’ mentality, so we see our nobles fighting at Midway, Stalingrad, and Normandy. It’s kind of like a video-game in that the characters seem narratively obligated to battle in a snow level, a water level, an urban landscape, etc.

The Immortal Emperor!!

But the story does have some nuance as well. The series plays nicely with our basic understanding of 20th century history. It turns out that after this timeline’s French and Russian revolutions (which were just as lethal for super-powered royals as they were for ours), the other monarchies decide to downplay their powers, and to not use them to interfere in the affairs of commoners. But England’s Prince Henry sees the atrocities of the blitz and decides that he can’t stand idly by. So we’re treated to the gratifying scene of a ’superman’ decimating Nazi planes and troops. (Side note: Thank you Authority and Invincible for setting the trope of superhumans punching through the skulls or torsos of mere mortals. It’s pretty gnarly.) Of course, that one moment of patriotic gratification has unpredicted consequences, as monarchs and emperors on the Axis side begin to wade into battle. Things escalate quickly, and you shouldn’t expect Henry’s war to end like WWII ended for us.

Our hero, flying through Nazis

The first issue starts with a ‘flash-forward’ in which we see Henry battling a shadowy Nazi super-soldier. Henry mentions regret for drawing first blood, anger at a mysterious betrayal, and a thirst to avenge his beloved sister. Obviously we’ve seen this flash-forward technique before (I remember American Hustle used it. Breaking Bad used it a few times. Goodfellas and Fight Club as well?). I researched and found out the dramatic term is ‘in medias res.’ So that’s good to know. This scene effectively sets up the mysteries that will run throughout this short series. Who is this German badass? How can Prince Henry beat him? What happened to his sister, and who betrayed them? Williams’ plot plays out all of these mysteries quite nicely.

Related link: Series Condition: Invincible, or that other great long-running series written by Robert Kirkman.

Line of Descent

James Derry:

Thanks so much to Ana from for the thoughtful & insightful review for Line of Descent!

Originally posted on Ana's Lair:

Title: Line of Descent

Author: James Derry

Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Thriller

Length: 248 pages

Source: Author

Format: Mobi

Rating: 3.75/5


Following her mother’s funeral, Elise finds that, due to the betrayal of those she considered closest to her, she is in the process of being taken over by an entity. During the course of the 7 days it takes for the transcendence to occur, she can only count on her very recent best friend Mallory, who does not even know about Elise’s ability to see auras. Can Elise get through this and save Mallory in the process?


Line of Descent has some very unique elements, like the way Elise views auras. She does not only see colours – they are flower shaped and accompanied by smells and it is all exquisitely complex. Add that to a secluded environment (an estate on a peninsula owned by her filthy…

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Movie gems on Netflix

I used to have a problem with Netflix, back when most of their business involved mailing DVDs. I had this theory that they were punishing their customers who used the service a lot in favor of their customers who barely used the service at all. I wasn’t the only one who thought there was something shady going on.

But that was a long time ago, and now those red Netflix envelopes seem as charmingly antiquated as the video stores they helped push out of business. All of those old conspiracies have been forgiven, and Netflix’s streaming service is easily my favorite source of ‘moving picture’ entertainment.

These days, my biggest problem with Netflix is that they seem to be weirdly tight-lipped about promoting their movie acquisitions. Sure they have ‘Popular Now’ and ‘New Releases’ sections on their site and their app, but those don’t seem to be particularly well curated. When a big, buzz-worthy movie is available (or going to be available in a month) on HBO or Redbox, they make sure their consumers know it. Netflix seems to hide away some of their best movies like a trendy nightclub on a back alley in L.A.

So I’m not surprised that CNN and have taken to publishing lists of all of Netflix’s new releases at the beginning of each month. Some would say that’s too much of an ‘advertorial.’ I say it’s a needed service. With that being said, I want to offer my own list of three movies that I recently watched on Netflix and enjoyed. Perhaps you would enjoy them too.

chefChef (2014)
In 1996, actor/writer Jon Favreau used the 90s’ retro swing dancing craze as the backdrop to his story about twenty-something single guys living in L.A. With Chef, he’s focusing on a new trend and a new phase of adulthood. This decade’s trend: foodies / food trucks. The phase of adulthood: fatherhood. Nearly twenty years have passed, and it’s interesting to compare the cultural and technological differences between both films. In Swingers, Favreau’s character famously struggles with a prospective date’s answering machine. (Remember answering machines?) In Chef, the protagonist runs into disaster when he experiments with an innovation from this decade: Twitter.

Chef is mostly about a man struggling to balance his desire to be a good father with his need for professional and creative fulfillment. The pace and story is self-assuredly low-key, interspersed with lots of surprising co-stars (Robert Downey, Jr., Dustin Hoffman, Scarlet Johansson) and lively montages of mouth-watering food. Do not watch this movie on an empty stomach!

perfumePerfume: The Story of a Murderer (2007)
This movie, based on a 2001 novel by Patrick Suskind, reminded me of the grimily wonderful work of Terry Gilliam (Time Bandits, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen). Perfume is about a man who suffers through an impoverished childhood among the most horrid smells that 18th-century France has to offer. Facetious spoiler alert: this was a pretty odious period in man’s history. Another facetious spoiler alert—or maybe you have gleaned this from the movie’s title: the man becomes a serial killer. He’s obsessed with distilling a perfect scent from the essences of the beautiful women he kills. Our anti-hero stumbles into great success working with the proprietor of a fine perfume shop (played by Dustin Hoffman) and soon his olfactory obsessions create a sensation among the upper echelons of French society.

howilivenowHow I Live Now (2013)
This film is also based on a book, a YA novel written by Meg Rosoff in 2006. A high-strung American teenager named Daisy arrives at her cousins’ bucolic English country house just as World War 3 breaks out. For the first act of the movie, Daisy is fixated on the typical social concerns of a teenager, on a new crush, and on a nearly unhealthy obsession with hygiene. We follow her perspective (which rarely rises above navel-gazing), so we only see vague hints of the coming calamity.

Daisy is frolicking in the forest with her new friends when they hear the distant rumble of a massive explosion, Then they are standing in an eerily beautiful snow flurry of gray ash. The teens naively decide they’ll be safe on their idyllic, isolated estate, and Daisy and her beau keep up their love affair despite signs of carnage in the distance. But soon they are all swept up by the tides of war. The last half of the movie turns quite brutal. I have to give the movie props for never making Daisy into a super-likable, wholly heroic character. Daisy does not outgrow her ‘personality flaws’ (her obsessive compulsive nature, her nearly anorexic focus on willpower, her puppy-love idealism). Instead, these ‘flaws’ become the source of her strength as she fights to reunite and save her cousins. But if you’re the type of viewer who like your YA heroines to be more like Katniss Everdeen, Daisy might leave you feeling cold.

See the difference?

See the difference?

One minor frustration with the movie: the causes and factions of the war are never revealed. At the end this is explained as part of the point. We can’t ask the world to make sense. Still, in these times of ISIS recruits and Russian expansion spreading across sovereign borders, it would have been nice to have a better idea of who’s causing all these atrocities. Still, I thought it was a very harrowing and haunting film.

How about you? Seen any great movies/shows on Netflix lately?