The World’s Crappiest Synonym

Stephen King is among the most talented authors to emerge in the last 40 years (and certainly one of the most popular). But in my mind, he is also the progenitor of the world’s crappiest synonym.

King was one of my favorite authors growing up. I have a theory that The Stand is the most influential genre book written in the last 30 years. Think about the boom in post-apocalyptic books that followed a dozen years later. A lot of those authors probably read The Stand in their formative years. I think the Walking Dead has more in common with The Stand than with Night of the Living Dead.

I have another theory that Stephen King’s voice is the closest any author comes to ‘speaking’ in the way that most people think. In his 2001 treatise on writing, called…wait for it… ‘On Writing,’ King describes his craft as a type of telepathy, and I think that sums up his writing style perfectly. If you try to write in a style that is as relatable and ‘unobstructed’ as possible—and if you often intersperse 1st-person inner dialog into 3rd-person POV narrative—then I think you’re writing in Stephen King’s style.

Take a look at this suggestion from ‘On Writing,’ in which King illustrates the point that a writer should never let a fancy (or stiff) vocabulary come between the writer and the reader:

“…never say ‘John stopped long enough to perform an act of excretion’ when you mean ‘John stopped long enough to take a sh_t.’ If you believe that ‘take a sh_t’ would be considered offensive or inappropriate by your audience, feel free to say ‘John stopped long enough to move his bowels (or perhaps ‘John stopped long enough to push.’)”

Push it real good

Push it real good

Ew. Excuse me a moment while I try to ‘push’ that quote out of my head.

Ah. I can’t do it. Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ is one of the best writing-advice books out there, and I gathered many great insights from it. But this particular passage, King mixing tautology with scatology, has always stuck with me. In some ways, it’s embedded a more enduring, disturbing image in my head than anything I’ve read in Pet Sematary, Carrie, or It. I guess, to me, ‘push’ is one of those words (like ‘moist’) that apparently has an inherit ickiness to it.

Perhaps Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick, the writer-creators of The Venture Brothers also read ‘On Writing.’ In their episode “What Color is Your Cleansuit,’ they wrote this scene involving the series’ primary antagonist, and his ‘anti-villain’ girlfriend.

The Monarch: Excellent! Then we drop in our mutant henchmen, as if taking an evil, mighty push!
Dr. Mrs. The Monarch: That is so foul! Can you say “movement” instead of “push”?
The Monarch: Okay, movement. I don’t even know why I said push. It’s really gross when you think about it. Push…

Again, ew.

I guess the ultimate lesson would be, there’s no good way to chronicle the ‘act of excretion.’  Maybe writers should just avoid the subject altogether.

For other writing tips that traumatized me, click here. Or here.


10 Statements – James Derry

James Derry:

Thanks so much to Karen at for allowing me to contribute my 10 Statements!

Originally posted on My train of thoughts on...:


I’ve been writing or drawing stories since the day my parents let me borrow a ballpoint pen. A few years later I created my first magnum opus in blue ink: a comic-book parody of Ghostbusters called ‘Roastbusters.’ Hey, I was ten. I studied art in college, hoping to become an illustrator. But eventually my aspirations shifted, and I became a graphic designer (living in Atlanta). I returned to writing ten years ago when I met my wife. Since then I’ve spent large chunks of my free time writing (and rewriting) my manuscripts. LINE OF DESCENT is the first of my books to see the light of day. I hope to release a Space Western, IDYLL, before mid-year!

Find me…

(just started that one!)

My personal motto:

“Bend. Don’t Break.

10 statements
  1. A typical work day begins with… breakfast for the kids, then…

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Series Condition: Invincible

invincible_coverThis is my attempt to start a new feature on this blog, showcasing my appreciation for sequential art (i.e. comic book geekery). With Series Condition I want to give my overall impression of an entire comic series, from its first issue to last (or most current) issue. I figured why not start ambitiously with a title that has been running for 117 issues?

That title would be Invincible. You know, that other long-running comic series that Robert Kirkman writes…the one that doesn’t feature ambulatory corpses. Kirkman started Invincible in January 2003, ten months before he launched The Walking Dead.

Invincible’s alter ego is Mark Grayson. (And yes, his super-hero code-name is Invincible. I know. I know.) Mark is essentially an Peter Parker archetype. He’s a regular high-school student, except…wait for it…his father is basically Superman. Actually he calls himself Omni-man, which is pretty lame, but still better than Invincible. Omni-man is a super-powered alien, and since half of Mark’s DNA is alien, he begins to develop his own, lesser super-powers when he hits puberty.

This is the direction of the series, which is quite entertaining for six or eight issues. Then Kirkman smacks the reader with his first of many jaw-dropping paradigm shifts. I won’t spoil the twist for you, but if you want to try out a modern take on super-hero comics, I recommend you try out Invincible up to issue 12 and see if this shocker grabs you. After this turn, the tone of the book shifts, and the series is truly off to the races. Kirkman is also a master of changing the status quo of the comics he writes, while also keeping the essence of the saga intact. Any twelve-issue run of the series feels fresh and different than the others, and yet fundamentally familiar

What do you get with 117 issues of Invincible? You get lots of modern teen issues. Girlfriends, growing pains, parental issues, sexuality. The book even deals with abortion. If you’re a fan of The Walking Dead, then you know that Robert Kirkman is a genius at creating fully-realized characters never fail to react realistically—yet unexpectedly—to the insane problems with which they are confronted. And like Walking Dead. Invincible can get very dark at times. Secondary characters are routinely killed off or maimed. Friendships and alliances are broken. Most of the characters (even the heroes) do shameful things, sometimes even when their motives are good.


But Kirkman does a good job of balancing the dark stuff with jaunty (or just plain goofy) comic fun. Invincible is a pretty weird code-name, right? Well how about the awesomely dorky names like Dupli-Kate, Atom Eve, KaBoomerang? How is it that Kirkman can create a character named Rex Splode, then build him up until the reader feels emotionally invested in his story?

Finally, I want to give kudos to Ryan Ottley, who has pencilled Invincible for ten years. Ten years! That’s insane! Ottley has a sort of classically ‘clean’ style, and yet he is capable evoking subtle (and convincing) character acting with just a few lines. Ottley has amped up his style with more detail and dynamism as the years have gone by. And when the story erupts up into Dragonball-Z-style mega-battles Ottley truly shines.



My book is published! Now the hard work begins.

Line of DescentMy novel, LINE OF DESCENT, finally went live last week on Friday 13th. Woo-hoo! Honestly, after three days of toiling over the enigmatic (and wonky) art of ebook formatting, I was just relieved to be done with it for a while. Maybe after I publish my second book, I’ll write a post on formatting through Word and Calibre because I haven’t found a concise guide on the topic—and because I’m pretty sure Calibre’s user manual was written by Franz Kafka.

Wait, did I say I was done with the book? Put that thing down, flip it, and reverse it! I’m nowhere near done:

I have to plan my Kindle Store strategies regarding pricing, product description, and keywords. Apparently Kindle Spy and Kindle Samurai are good resources for finding effective keywords, which help readers find your book when you stuff the keywords into your book’s meta-data, description, title, and tagline. According to some opinions, I should probably change the name of my book to ‘A NEW BARGAIN LINE OF PARANORMAL HORROR DESCENT THRILLING NEW ADULT PSYCHIC VISIONS STEPHEN KING.’

I have to recreate header graphics for my Facebook and Twitter pages. I have to start USING my Facebook and Twitter pages. I have to create a Goodreads Author Page. I have to create an Amazon Author Page. That means taking another crack at the dreaded author bio…and an author portrait. Argh!

I have to investigate promotional and reviewer sites like NetGalley, Story Cartel, BK Nights, KND, and Pixel of Ink.

I have to weigh the pros and cons of signing with KDP Select. I have to figure out what the heck is a ‘Kindle Countdown Deal.’ has been a tremendous help for getting up to speed in the indie-publishing world, but it can also be a huge (and intimidating) time-suck.

All of this, and I have to keep writing. I’d love to have my next book out by mid- to late-spring.

It’s a lot to take in. And a lot of complicated and non-creative work to get done. And I’m really excited to trudge through it!

Here’s a few links to LINE OF DESCENT. For a limited time I’m selling at a 99¢ promotional price!

Amazon U.S.
Amazon U.K.
Amazon Australia
Amazon Germany


I just read: Ash

ash_jason-brantSince I have just finished a paranormal thriller about a telepath (OK, she’s an empath, but let’s not parse details!), This month I was craving a similar genre-novel featuring a protagonist with ESP. They seem to be surprisingly hard to find, at least for what I’m looking for. What I didn’t want was another ‘Medium’ clone: psychic as a super-powered CSI. I wanted something that was more like Marcus Sakey’s BRILLIANCE or Daniel O’Malley’s THE ROOK, which I really enjoyed.

Jason Brant’s ASH scratched that itch. It’s the story of an Irag War veteran, Ash Benson, who sustains a brain injury that unlocks his telepathic potential. The book opens with a harrowing battle scene, in which Ash is injured, and in many ways, this scene was the highlight of the book to me. Very suspenseful—even though, based on the blurb, you kinda know where the action is headed.

Several years later, Ash is back stateside, living as a semi-vagrant. Since the day his brain was traumatically altered, he can’t stop hearing the thoughts of everyone around him. Not unless he drinks. Ash just wants to be left alone, but events pull him into a bloody conspiracy that suddenly explodes, threatening the lives of hundreds including the President of the United States. These lives are being threatened by another psychically powered former-soldier whose abilities are stronger and more varied than Ash’s. Luckily, the author fills the book with colorful and capable characters who are ready to lend Ash a hand.

But none of the characters are as memorable as Ash himself. To me, he seems like a unique protagonist in the paranormal genre. He’s a BIG man, a former Marine, a gym rat, and a bit of a slob, who can’t ever seem to find time to shower. Think Professor X, if he walked, drank Creatine, wore Family Guy shirts, and dabbled in Mixed-Martial Arts. Before the book ends, Ash has found his weapon of choice, the Desert Eagle, which is this decade’s version of Dirty Harry’s .44 Magnum.

That weapon—and Jason Brant’s hero—fits the plot, which is heavy on action. It’s part Carrie, part Call of Duty. If that sounds like a fun time to you, I suggest you check out the Ash series!

What’s your crutch?

shutterstock_229762090As I was reading through and editing my book this month, I was shocked at how many times I ran across the word ‘sloshing.’ I had written accounts of a nauseous character walking on sloshing floors, of a drunk character with a sloshing head, of water sloshing over feet, of the sound of crickets sloshing through the night air. That last one had me scratching my head. Sloshing, sloshing everywhere! I never realized I had such an affinity for that word.

My book also contained much ‘clenching of jaws.’ Anger, determination, fear, reserve—half-a-dozen varying emotions had my characters nearly cracking their molars.

Needless to say, I broke out the editing pen and there will be a lot less sloshing and clenching in my final draft. I don’t want my readers to see a phrase or a writing device used so often that it takes them out of the story.

I was less surprised to see a bunch hyphenated words in my story. For a good while, I’ve known about my love of the hyphen. I love to create new words using a hyphen (‘beetle-sized,’ ‘mustard-colored,’ ‘trash-strewn’). Or to throw it into existing one- or two-word phrases. I especially love when I throw a hyphen between two words and find out that it’s supposed to be there (‘month-long,’ ‘high-pitched’). Hyphens! I think they’re great, but I realize better writers than me would call them a sign of lazy writing, or at the very least, a crutch that I rely on far too much.

With that said, what are the things that you use again and again in your writing. Particular phrases, words, or punctuation? And do you try to pare them down once you get to the editing phase, or leave them in to help distinguish your voice?

Ranking Black Mirror episodes

Do you have a love/hate relationship with technology? Do you love TV shows like The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits? Then you should check out Black Mirror, currently available on Netflix. At first I wasn’t too intrigued by the idea of this series. I kinda expected each plot to devolve into the ending of Superman 3.


The most terrifying/ridiculous Superman moment ever

Sure, the plots are creepy and pessimistic on the whole, but there’s more to them than that. There are explorations of how mobile/social media and our surveillance culture speak to the seamy or sentimental sides of our human nature. In Black Mirror (I always pronounce it the way Arcade Fire sings it), technology is presented as 30% awesome, 70% revolting/dehumanizing. And we can’t turn away from that awesome 30%.

There are seven episodes of the series in total. The most recent (starring Jon Hamm) isn’t on Netflix yet, so I haven’t seen it. With that said, here is my ranking (in order of bestitude) of the first six episodes:

The Entire History of You
The premise: Almost everyone has implants in their skull that record the video and audio inputs of every moment of your life. You can replay those memories at will, or project them onto a screen for others to see.
My take: I had a similar idea for a short story; I’m sure probably a lot of people have. But here, the writers take the idea and just kill it (in a good way). My story was going to involve a guy who become addicted to reliving his best days, so that he never makes any new memories. This story goes in a much better direction. Also, Robert Downey Jr. has bought the rights to turn this episode into a film.
Rage Against the Machine factor: One broken screen and a self-mutilation.

Fifteen Million Merits
The premise: More dystopian than the SNL’s The Group Hopper. Everyone wears gray sweatsuits. They pedal spin-bikes to create energy. They are inundated with screentime at every waking moment.
My take: Of all the episodes in the series, this one builds a world that is most different from our own. In fact, parts of it are a bit cartoonish. Then the episode reveals how this world deals with instant—and disposable—celebrity, and the story really takes off. Everyone is one step from becoming a reality show buffoon, one step from an American Idol superstar, one step from a porn star.
Rage Against the Machine factor: One broken screen and some FCC-unfriendly ranting.

Be Right Back
The premise: A tech startup can resuscitate the dead—virtually—by creating an artificial intelligence based their mobile and social media presence.
My take: Wow. The writers flesh out the characters, lay down the dynamite, and set up the viewer for a wallop. The story has some similar themes to Her and A.I.—except this ghost in the machine was an actual person at one point.
Rage Against the Machine factor: Some cliff-side kvetching that would make Emily Bronte proud.

National Anthem
The premise:
Someone has kidnapped England’s most beloved princess, and they want to extort the Prime Minister to do something very embarrassing.
My take: A short episode, and not a whole lot to say about technology in general. Except that the web completely cuts through the reins that the British government’s try to put on their traditional news outlets.
Rage Against the Machine factor: Surprisingly benign. I can’t imagine the story ever actually playing out the way it does here. If this happened in America, we would immediately declare war against all swine.

The Waldo Moment
The premise: A comedian who voices a vulgar cartoon bear finds himself mixed up in a national election.
My take: Again, Black Mirror takes on politics. This episode reminds me a bit of House of Cards, real people caught up in diabolical political schemes. Shadowy  strategists decide that an irreverent, populist cartoon bear is the perfect candidate, and their argument actually kind of makes sense.
Rage Against the Machine factor: A couple of broken screens, and much flaunting of animated genitalia.

White Bear
The premise: 90% of the population have mysteriously turned into gawkers. All they ever do is wander the earth mutely and record stuff on their phones. Society has broken down, and the remaining 10% of the population react to this new status quo in one of two ways. They go on Purge-style murder sprees, or they run and hide from the Purge people.
My take: A good start, but in my opinion, this is one case where the episode’s twist actually makes the story lamer.
Rage Against the Machine factor: See The Purge, Strangers, The Signal, You’re Next, Cell (Stephen King), Haters (another book). Any number of movies or novels where roving bands of anarchists try to killy-killy-stabby-stabby.