Don’t Tear Down Your Protagonist

When I gave her Succubus to read for the first time, my wife hated my main character. "He's weak and needy," she said. I worked hard to figure out what she was responding to and found that I had written scenes where he was bullied, dominated, and needed to be bailed out by others. I fixed it by instinct. Then, at a writer's group, a colleague used the term "Don't Tear Down Your Protagonist" when critiquing another writer's work and it clicked. That is a principle I want to adopt for my writing. I explain how I learned and what to do with it in the video.


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Short Stories – Release Two – For Family


Marsh and his team left Alpha for Delta Camp before sun-up. They hiked all morning without incident, but three hours after their lunch break, Garvin signaled danger and the three of them darted into the underbrush. From cover twenty yards off the trail Marsh, a three-share in the company, whispered, “What’s the problem?”

“Something is coming down the path,” Garvin said. “Right at us.” Garvin was a nine-share, a true executive, a member of the secretive board of directors. He was older than most people in the company, but still vital and strong. A leader. This was his mission.


“I heard voices. I can’t make out what they’re saying, but it was definitely voices.”

“Scaff?” Hatch, an edgy one-share and the youngest member of the team, said in a nervous whisper. “Oh man. I knew this would happen.”

Swirling gusts rustled the tree tops and made it hard for Marsh to hear. It took concentration, but he finally detected the voices; two men in casual conversation. As they grew closer, he picked up the stilted dialect of the company’s only competition for the resources on this planet.

Scaff was the slang term for the group, a name they used for themselves as well. Just like lower-level staff members referred to the company as a family because of the way the executive board exerted parental-style control over member’s lives. Meaning, you were asked to put the company first, above everything else in your life. Also because the company operated on insular networks that took loyalty and maneuvering to penetrate. Marsh had no taste for maneuvering. And the word family had too much meaning to him to use it so casually.

The scaff were really separatists. Mostly service staff - cleaning, kitchen, and maintenance crews - the scaff were a tight community of men, women, and their children who broke away from the company when they all became stranded on the planet. The scaff rebelled for the right to live free from company rule, a right they would never have earned on their shared home world. Marsh didn’t blame them, they were second-class citizens because they chose to work in service of the company class, marginalize and ill-treated.

The scaff were about to the section of trail where Garvin’s detail had jumped for cover. Their conversation seemed to be about a women they both knew. Intimately.

“They’ve been tracking us.” Hatch said, his body rigid with tension. He was propped over the top of a boulder. His rifle was aimed toward the trail.

“Shut the fuck up, or they’ll hear you,” Garvin hissed and yanked Hatch’s belt to pull him down. “Stay focused and let them pass.”

The conversation on the trail stopped. One voice asked clearly for the other to wait. Marsh listened as someone stumbled off trail in their direction. Then he heard the whoosh of urination. “Hurry the fuck up,” the other man said from the trail. Only when the first man finished, and his heavy footfalls began to recede, did Garvin relax his grip. “I am thinking of the mission,” Hatch hissed. The footsteps stopped. The two scaff exchanged words in a low and urgent tone. Garvin put a finger to his lips and shook his head slowly.

They listened for two minutes to wind noise and the scittering of wildlife. Then Garvin nodded at Marsh and Marsh unholstered his pistol. He cocked the trigger, muffling the sound with the palm of his hand. He edged to the corner of the boulder he had hidden behind. He peeked until he could see the trail. It was empty. He nudged forward. Still no scaff. He stood and leaned forward to get a better view. Satisfied, he turned back to his teammates. He got halfway through the phrase “All clear” when he was tackled from behind.

He hit the dirt with a slide, the weight of a large man furrowing him into the ground. A strong hand tattooed in an intricate pattern of whorls and dots trapped his wrist and hammered it against the ground until he released his pistol. He resisted as best as he could, but was immobilized by a thick forearm at the back of the neck.

“Relax, fuck face,” the man said, then started to rifle the pockets of Marsh’s jacket. Marsh thought of the satchel, which he wore under his long coat, and of what it contained. He wriggled to keep it trapped under his body and out of reach.

“Take what you want and be on your way,” he said to the man on his back.

“Shut your mouth,” the man barked. Then, to his companion, said. “Herc. Get those other packs.”

The second man, smaller than the the first, had Marsh’s teammates at rifle point. He ordered Garvin and Hatch to drop their packs. Like most scaff men, tattoos covered every exposed patch of skin.

“Where are you all going?” the man on Marsh’s back said.

Garvin started to answer but Marsh held up a hand. “Delta camp,” he said. “I’m a doctor. I’m needed there.”

“You from Alpha?”


“There are no medical provisions in your pack?” Marsh kept his mouth shut and his body against the satchel under his coat. The two men exchanged a look. “You look like an executive."

Marsh forced himself to not look in Garvin’s direction. “I’m just a medic. A member of staff.”

The bigger man narrowed his eyes. His hand hovered over the butt of his pistol. “What’s an executive doing traveling between camps with an armed escort?” Marsh focused on his breathing. He had sworn to protect the information in the satchel with his life if necessary. He didn’t want it to come to that.

“What do you think Herc? Is this the guy we’re looking for?”

Marsh formed his next sentence carefully, but then Hatch was already in motion, rolling toward his rifle. He came up in a crouch and got a shot off at one of the scaff. He missed, but not by much. The younger man sprinted for the nearest boulder. The man behind Marsh scrambled and started to bolt toward the trail. Hatch fired two more shots. One exploded a sapling just to the right of the running men. The second spat up a dramatic puff of dirt between the smaller man’s legs. The young scaff paused and returned fire. His shots pinged off the boulders and trees all around Hatch. Hatch retreated behind a rock, hugging his rifle.

“Stand down, dammit,” Garvin yelled.

Hatch took a deep breath, re-positioned his rifle stock against his shoulder, and steadied his aim against the rock face. He lined up on the running figures. Marsh hissed at him, “Boss says stand down, man. Don’t shoot.” Hatch calmly pulled the trigger twice.


To read the entire story, download it in PDF format here.

Or, you can listen to me read the story on my short fiction podcast here:


Regaining Momentum in Fiction

When life gets in the way and you have to set a fiction project aside for a while, it can be tough to pick it back up again. Writing is sometimes a game of momentum. Here are a quick of couple of ideas for how to get the creative flow back when your project has been on hold.

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What kind of editor do you need for your novel?

To produce salable work when publishing independently, it is important to hire a professional editor to make your book its best. But did you know there are four different kinds of editors? Knowing which kind your book needs is key to getting the most out of your investment. I learned the hard way and share with you my journey here.

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Sucking at Amazon ads, round two

The tougher the job, the greater the reward - George Allen Sr.

Where is my river of money, my shower of Benjamins, my riches in royalties? I did, after, write a whole book and send it into the Amazon machine to be served up on Kindle's around the English-speaking world. Don't I deserve my reward!

When I took my first run at an Amazon campaign to promote my novel Succubus, I failed to generate any results (I wish I was being hyperbolic - I mean no results). I made some tweaks to the wording and placement of my ad and sent it out into the world for a second run. The result? More of the nothing. In fact, less of nothing.

The campaign was programmed to run for ten days with a $10 per day budget. Amazon could have taken $100 of my hard-earned dollars, but apparently chose not to. Because the problem was not that people did not click my ad or that when people did click my ad, they failed to convert into readers of my book. The problem is that the ad wasn't even served by Amazon.

Over the ten-day run, Amazon served the ad (impressions) only three times. Three times! Which is actually less than the number of impressions my first ad triggered (the ad I 'fixed' for the second campaign). Of course I generated no clicks. No-one saw the ad. It never had a chance to be judged, to draw the eye, to encourage someone to want to at least look at the book's page and ponder for a fraction of a minute if they wanted to download a sample.

I don't understand how this happens. And God knows there isn't a human being at Amazon I can call and ask (there isn't, is there?). I want to know what to try next. Should I change my pricing? Should I target a different keyword/category? Should I change my title? My book cover? To find some hint at what to try for round three, I turned to the all-powerful and all-knowing multi-colored Artificial Intelligence behind the curtain of my computer screen - Google.

It's about the motherfudging keywords dummy!

The first article I read covered the basics of what the Amazon ad campaign program is and reinforced that I at least set my campaigns up right. But it didn't really have any deep insight drawn from experience of how to make the system wake up and recognize your ad. It did have this helpful suggestion though - As a general rule of thumb, I’ve found that impressions and clicks can be hard to come by, so more keywords is better. You never know which keyword might turn out to be a surprise winner, and you can always pause under-performing keywords from your campaign once you have data.

For my second ad, I targeted the category of which my book is listed (Supernatural Thrillers). This seems to suggest that targeting keywords, and a broad set of keywords, might get the ad served. Those keywords need to be relevant though. Otherwise, the ad will not resonate with the potential reader.  That led me to this Amazon page regarding keywords for Mystery and Thriller authors.

Back to the campaign. I duplicated campaign number two. There's no need to change the ad because in order to test the ad itself, I have to get it served. My focus this time around is on how to get impressions. Then I can pivot to converting impressions to clicks and clicks to sales.

In the new campaign setup, I paid more attention to the keyword section. Honestly, I am slapping my forehead about it this but I thought you could only choose one. But you can, in fact, select multiple keywords.

Amazon presents you with a list of suggested keywords (keywords tied to your category and, I assume, book description). It also allows you to create your own keywords. The theory I'm testing here is that I need to target the ad to a broader potential pool of readers (as identified by the keywords they are searching in), but not too broad as to waste impressions on readers who are not looking at anything even remotely related to my fiction. That led me to develop a keyword list ten words and phrases deep. Most related to the content (Succubus, Supernatural), but I also added some of the top supernatural thriller author names. I figure if someone is a Dean Koontz fan, they might be open to my book.

I really do feel like I'm stumbling to try and figure this stuff out. And I consider myself a reasonably smart person. The fact that I am only figuring out keywords as part of the ad campaign process the third time through is embarrassing. But I'd rather share that I am dumb and just learning than pretend I have all this stuff figured out because I am writing this for the next person like me, someone who is trying to figure things out for themselves and just on the front end of a lifelong journey to create and share their art.

This campaign will run for two weeks. I will post results after I get them.

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