My latest short story "The Night the Lights Came On"

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Method To The Madness has an Awesome Cover!

There is a certain anthology coming out next year, and above is the amazing cover for it. I submitted a story, or more like a humorous essay, to this anthology - and it was accepted! I am so excited! If you've read some of my previous blog posts you may already know this. This will be my very first piece of fiction published by a real publisher! How cool is that?! Very cool. Five Rivers Publishing is putting out this awesome anthology of essays on how to be a super evil mad scientist. It is very tongue in cheek and very fun. Check out this great blog post on their site where the cover artist Jeff Minkevics describes putting this rad cover together. A huge thank you to him, Five Rivers Publishing, and the two guys behind this awesome book Michell Plested and Jeffrey Hite who had the idea and gave much of their time to edit this book and make it better. My hat is off to both of those gentlemen. Even though I plan on mostly self publishing my fiction, I will never forget the first time I get published. It is going to be pretty sweet. I can't wait to hold a copy of the book in my hands and read all of the awesome stories and essays written by the other authors in the anthology. Sometime next year, for the first time, I will get to hold a published book with my writing in it. It is a day I really look forward to.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A NaNoWriMo Update and Studying Story Structure

This is my fourth year doing NaNoWriMo, and it is the worst I have ever done, but that's okay. I've barely written two days worth of words. Even though I wish I have been using this time to put a whole bunch of words on the page, I've still been using my time well. I'm building a foundation that will improve all of my writing moving forward. I have been studying plot and story structure like crazy. I have written a couple thousand words, but mostly I've been studying. After finally putting one of my novels through more than one draft (three) and handing it off to beta readers, a process which took a huge amount of time, I saw how much was still wrong with my book. Even after all my revisions and rewriting my manuscript is a mess. The feedback helped me see a lot of the major things that were wrong with it. Talking about it with my friend and co-host of the Pen Fights Gamepad podcast  Donald Conrad helped a lot. He did me a solid and read through it three times! I still can't believe that. He said something to the effect of I have a good story, it's just hidden behind a hall of mirrors. It is buried between unneeded scenes and scenes that need way more. 

I think I'm a decent writer, but I did so many things wrong in my novel even after three drafts that I see I have a long way to go to become a good storyteller. It may be a case of changing what the book was so many times, but I'm thinking it's mostly that it was only the second novel I've written. Time and time again the advice for writers I hear the most is to write. Get words on the page, then do it again and keep doing it. I think this is great advice. I don't think I could wrap my head around all this structuring the story of my novel business until I proved to my self a couple times that I could actually write a whole novel. As they say you need to get all the bad words out, and write a million bad ones until you can start writing good ones. There is a lot to be said for just finishing a novel. Finishing is the hardest part in some ways. The problem is that now I know I can write a novel, once it's written though there is so much wrong with it that I cringe at the thought of revising, rewriting, and fixing it because it will be so much work. I don't mind doing the work and even enjoy revising to make the writing better - I just don't want to have to do such a massive overhaul evertime I hit the second draft of a novel. The more I study the more I learn that almost every successful story follows the same three act structure, so if I don't know this structure and put my story into it, I'm going to run into a lot of problems. Problems like boring the reader, or not having an engaging story. I don't want to write another novel until I feel that I fully understand plot structure and can apply it to my stories before I begin writing them.

It reminds me of art school. I was trying to get better at drawing and so I spent at least an hour drawing in my sketchbook everyday. The problem was I was just drawing whatever seemed to take shape out of my imagination when I should have been studying things like anatomy. If I wanted to draw characters I needed to know anatomy first. I could draw from my imagination in my sketchbook as much as I wanted, and yes I slowly got better but not by much, or I could study what I was trying to draw first, get the structure of how it it supposed to go down, then let fly with my imagination and draw characters. When I analyse the stories I have written with this structure it helps me see right away major things that are out of place or not there. I think I finally have a method now. 

I'm getting my current project "The Truth About Zombies" broken down into an outline with all of the story points in the right places down to each chapter. I decided I wanted this to be a shorter novel, 60K words, and so I broke that length up into 2,500 word chapters. Then I took tools like Dan Well's 7 Point Story Structure, and Blake Snyder's Save The Cat Beat Sheet and wrote out all of the major plot or story points of my novel. The Save The Cat Beat Sheet is for movie scripts, but the story structure is the same as what a great novel should have, and it has the page number each story point should be at on a 110 page script. You can use that number by turning it into a percentage, and get the word count and chapter those plot points should be at in your novel. I know I want my novel to be 60K words and have 2.5K word chapters so it will be 24 chapters long. I know that the turn from Act I into Act II should be about 25% of the way into the story so I will put it at the end of chapter 6. Obviously my midpoint, which Dan Wells tells us should have characters go from reacting to the problem to taking action in solving it, will start in chapter 13, or be set up by the end of chapter 12. I've already written the first 3 chapters of my novel, but already this has shown me that I had things in the wrong places. For example, the B story usually involves the romantic part of your story and should start around page 30 of your script. 30 divided by 110 is .27 so that is about 27% through the story. My B story started in chapter two which is much too early, and I was having trouble figuring out how to flesh out the chapters to get me to the next plot point. Now I know why. I also had the midpoint too early in my book. It looks like I rush things. I was using the 7 point system but not spreading them out to the right places so I would rush to the next point much too fast. So now I'm revising the first three chapters so that all the plot points will be in the right place.

Planning out my book by chapters instead of just writing one massive chunk of text and organizing it into chapters after the fact is proving to be amazing. Now I want each chapter to be a little story of it's own and leave the reader in a place of wanting more at the end. Instead of having things just kind of move along I can plan out all the important things that need to happen in my story and then break them all into the places they need to be. I'm excited. I'm taking the Save The Cat Beat Sheet and placing all the beats into the chapters they need to be in my outline, which is helping me know what all the chapters need to be doing to move the story along. I'm excited and I think this will be my best book yet and one that will actually keep my beta readers wanting to turn the page instead of taking copious notes telling me why they're getting bored or asking why I put things in the story, or why the chapter breaks when it does, and so on and so forth. :)

I used to think writing was all about getting the most beautiful sentences down, but now I see the real challenge is in crafting a great story. One that moves your reader to turn the page and brings them through a journey taking the characters from one place to another. People don't take on huge projects without planning and knowing the structure of what they need to do. From now on I'm going to have everything planned out and know just how I'm going to get from Act I, to Act II, to the midpoint, and the grande finale. I can't wait to write a novel with these new tools in my tool belt. It is going to be another amazing learning experience on my long path of becoming a great novelist. As always, thanks for stopping by and I'd love any comments you have.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Hugh Howey's Wool Series

There will be no Movie Memory guest post today. As I'm sure many of you are, I'm busy. NaNoWriMo is going on, and a lot of other transitions in my life have happened recently. I haven't been writing for NaNoWriMo because I'm sick of writing full novels and having so much wrong with them that I need to fix - so I've been studying plot structure like my life depends on it. I'm hoping to get my outline fully laid out and then try and sprint towards the end of the month to get my 50K. We'll see.

So I have something else to share with you, and though there's no fun Movie Memory guest blog post today I promise you this will be just as good if not better. I've been reading the Wool series by Hugh Howey, and it has been blowing me away. It is SO good! Here's the description from Amazon:

Thousands of them have lived underground. They've lived there so long, there are only legends about people living anywhere else. Such a life requires rules. Strict rules. There are things that must not be discussed. Like going outside. Never mention you might like going outside.
Or you'll get what you wish for.

It is very well written, and an amazing story that captures your imagination and intrigues you so that you have to keep reading to find out more about the world and what will happen to the characters. So you're busy right? Well that's okay - the first book in the Wool series is very short, and you can pick it up for free! As Levar Burton used to say on The Reading Rainbow, "You don't have to take my word for it." So with no cost you can now read the first book in the series that has captured me this month. Hugh wrote the first one and published it, just to get the story out of his head. Then the readers all loved it so much that they demanded more, so he wrote four more books in the series and you can now purchase them all in one place as the Wool Omnibus. I picked it up as an audio book on Audible, and I've really been enjoying it. The narrator Minnie Good does a great job with it. She's really good. The best part of all this is that there is a new book out, First Shift - Legacy, that gives you the back story of the world, explaining how it came to be - something I can't wait to read! You can also check out his website and see how far along he is in the next Silo book, so you know that even after you finish the latest installment there is still more to come. There you go guys, my early Christmas gift to you - actually it's Hugh Howey's gift to all of us. Great stories with fantastic writing. Go grab Wool Book 1 and get to reading so you can see what I'm talking about! What are you waiting for? It's free! You're welcome - and to Hugh Howey: thank you and keep writing.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Movie Memories 08 | Justin R. Macumber

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A Long Time Ago, In A Drive-In Far, Far Away…

We human beings are such a mess of thoughts, histories, experiences, and emotions that it’s hard to know why we are the way we are. The smallest incident can have the biggest impact, yet we can be oblivious to the large changes that shape our psyche. As the bard said, “Man is a giddy, flighty thing.” I’m sure thousands of therapists and psychiatrists would agree. I’m just as prone to it as the next guy. But, there was one moment in my past that I clearly remember as a pivotal one in my development not just as a human being, but also as a life-long geek. It happened on a dark evening in the summer of 1977, in a dusty Kansas drive-in, with me on the roof of my parents’ car. If you’re a fellow geek, you know exactly what I’m talking about.


Yep, I can remember it as though it happened yesterday. I was four and a half years old, pie-eyed, and sweaty from having played with other little kids in the drive-in’s playground in the space just in front of the huge movie screen. The screen was really just some whitewashed boards, but to my young mind it was a portal to another world. Once the sun was down and the speakers hanging from metal poles crackled to life, I ran my tiny legs off to get back to the car so I could see what new delight was in store. When the 20th Century Fox logo blasted across the screen with John William’s music, a huge smile spread across my face. But, what was to come would take that smile and turn it into something truly special – a slack-jawed “O” of amazement.

What was my young mind to think when the diamond-speckled black of space was eclipsed by that massive Star Destroyer as it hounded Princess Leia’s blockade runner? I’d never seen its like before, and my synapses shot sparks as cannon fire and explosions rocked the screen. Then there were men in stark corridors, some frightened and some resolute, but all holding a blaster and ready to defend their ship. Suddenly more explosions! Bad men in white armor! Red and blue energy bolts lancing this way and that! Death! Smoke! And then… Oh, and then that figure in black, with the helmet and the breathing as he strode onto his conquest. I’m telling you, it was enough to send me reeling. I was mesmerized, captivated, enthralled. It was just too much, yet in a strange way it was also only the beginning.

Little did I know at the time how much, and how deeply, George Lucas was affecting my brain. Over the course of that evening I was wholly turned into a sci-fi loving nerd of the highest order. Sports? Boring! Police shows on television? Meh. For me, if it didn't have lasers and starships, I wasn't interested. Over time I discovered the fantasy elements that were not-so-subtly ingrained in the Star Wars story, so I came to love the fantasy genre as well, and then in my teens I came to love horror too. But, my first love was Star Wars, so I will always be a sci-fi guy in my deepest core, and I couldn't be more proud.

Being a geek from such an early age brought a lot of great things into my life. It brought a love of reading, a love of gaming (both electronic and paper & dice), a love of technology, and most importantly a love of writing. When other kids were off playing baseball, I was at my desk writing stories, learning how to operate a computer, or reading Asimov. Now that I sit here as a pudgy older guy I think perhaps I should have given that sports thing another try, but I wouldn't trade a day of my past if it meant giving up who I am. I love who I am. I was a nerd before it was cool, and I’ll be a nerd long after it’s passed out of fashion. My wife, who’s a fellow nerd herself, loves me too, and we encourage each other to be all the geeks we can be.

Thank you, Mr Lucas. I wouldn't be who I am right now were it not for you. People can hate on you all they like, cast all the aspersions they want at the prequel trilogy (I have issues with them too), but I will always owe you a great debt of gratitude for helping me become the man, husband, son, friend, writer, and nerd that I am today. You started me on this journey, and I feel blessed that my introduction into this strange life was begun by your visionary tale of a farm boy on another planet whose destiny was greater than he ever imagined. You made me think I could be that boy, and my destiny will be the same. Thank you, and may the Force be with you.


Justin R. Macumber

Justin is the author of HAYWIRE, a science fiction novel published by Gryphonwood Press and available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, the iTunes Bookstore, and His second novel, a post-apocalyptic urban fantasy entitled A MINOR MAGIC, is forthcoming by Crescent Moon Press. His website is at He is also the creator and co-host of the Dead Robots’ Society podcast, a podcast made by writers for writers. It can be found at You can also follow Justin on twitter.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Movie Memories 07 | J.R. Murdock

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I haven’t always been a cynic when it comes to movies. Honest. I know I’ve posted many critical movie reviews and I have a tendency to tear apart movies, but I really like watching them (even the bad ones). Honest.

The first movie I saw in a theater was in Tamarack, MN (some 20 miles away from where I lived) when I was…oh…6? My memory as a kid can be foggy. But I do remember sitting on basically concrete steps like it was some ancient theater (yes, others had seats) and the movie was projected on a mostly white brick wall over there (yes, some theaters had screens). Needless to say the theater wasn’t much of a theater, but there was popcorn, and a movie. We saw the Jungle Book.

NO! I’m not THAT old!

It was a reshowing of the original. Sure I’d seen it on the small screen many times. I’d seen a lot of movies. I loved watching movies. Once I saw something on the big screen, I was shocked! It was great.

The second movie I saw in Aitkin MN (some 40 miles away) a few years later. Yes, going to the movies was an event. We got all dressed up and headed over. It was quite a drive (nearly an hour) and we got there early to make sure we got good seats. I didn’t even know what movie we were there to see. I don’t recall the previews. What I do remember was the words crawling up the screen.

Oh My God! Oh My God! Oh My God! (Yes, this was in the days long before OMG was a thought)

It was the Empire Strikes Back! I had seen Star Wars many, many times on television and was so excited to see the sequel. I think I actually started bouncing in my seat as I ate my popcorn and drank my soda and chewed my red vines (not all at the same time mind you). I sat mesmerized by the visions on the screen. The massive explosions. The bright lights. The music!

Quick aside, nearly all of my viewing up to that point was poor due to my need for glasses that I didn’t have. Once I had glasses, watching things became completely different . Still everything I saw was on a tiny TV that got a lot of static due to our location just next door to the middle of nowhere.

To see Star Wars in such huge clarity with sound I didn’t have to strain to listen to and no commercials!


I had to excuse myself when I was certain it was a slow point in the movie. I ran as fast as I could trying not to trip as I walked backwards up the aisle. I did my business as quickly as I could and got back to the movie. NO! How did Luke escape? What happened? What did I miss?


Yes, I’ve seen the Empire Strikes Back many, many times since. I burned out my Video Tapes I had of them and had to buy new copies. I have them on DVD, but I doubt I’ll get the Blue Ray. To this day I still have not seen the Empire Strikes Back without interruption. Be it a phone call, a bathroom break, a knock at the door. It’s like life knows I’m watching this movie.

Even when I went to the theater to see the updated versions, The Empire Strikes Back had something wrong with the playback and the movie cut in the middle and we had to wait 10 minutes for it to restart. I even joked with my friend that something will happen. Sure enough, fate intervened.

I have seen a lot of movies over the years in a lot of different theaters. Yes, I’m cynical and critical of the movies I see. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the experience of buying my popcorn, my soda, my red vines, and taking my seat with the hopeful anticipation that I’ll be entertained for the next 1.5-3+ hours. I doubt I’ll ever stop seeing movies.

I think I’ll go throw in the Empire Strikes Back and see what interrupts me this time.

J.R. Murdock is an avid reader of almost anything he can get his hands on. That being said, he also writes with near reckless abandon in any and every genre. His style is intended for pure entertainment. Over the years he’s written nine novels and over one hundred short stories. Only a few short stories have seen print (in actual print and on the web) so he’s decided to throw his hat into the podcasting arena with his novel V & A Shipping. Since then he has also podcast his novel Billy Barbarian and released his YA novel Astel: Chosen, not to mention the great short stories he's podcast in his Murdockian Tales series. Find out more at Also from J.R. Murdock look for the Action Pack Podcast at There he'll be spinning a serial western steampunk tale called Golden West. The podcast and eBook formats drop once a month starting this February. When not writing like a mad-man, J.R. Murdock does have a day job as a computer programmer and loves to spend time with his lovely wife and beautiful daughter.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

"Danthology" Available Now

My anthology "Danthology" is now available at Smashwords, Amazon Kindle, and Apple's iBook store. It will be in Barnes and Noble online, and many other online retailers soon. It is a collection of all my short stories in one place. In the order they appear you will find Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Thriller genres. These stories are a mix of children's stories, middle grade, young adult, and genre fiction for adults - though all of it would be rated no more than PG. You can listen to all of the stories for free, or get them all as individual eBooks for free on Smashwords, but I thought it would be nice to have them all in one place for a cheap price in case anyone just wanted to snag them all in one download. I also wanted to have a way to put these stories in Amazon's Kindle store. As a self published author I cannot make my books free on Amazon, so I put them all together for a buck. You'll find that the stories have been through another editing pass from the podcast edition, but nothing more than grammar or a different turn of phrase has ever been changed. As I write more short stories I will be adding them to this anthology, so check back for updates. If you've purchased the book you can always go back and download it again to get the new stories. Thanks for stopping by and enjoy! I hope you had a very happy Halloween and if you're doing NaNoWriMo this year be sure to become my writing buddy. I made it easy with a button on the upper right of my website. Now go get that 1,667 words for the day!