Sunday, December 25, 2016


Well, it's been a little over a month since Critical Times was released, and I have to say that I've been overwhelmed by the support. As I'd written previously on this blog, I was initially very nervous during the writing process, imagining that some of the story's elements would be a little too dark for my readers. But so far, no complaints there. If anything, it seems that the sobering tone of the book has got many of our friends thinking about how they'll fare during the Great Tribulation, and what events in particular might be particularly difficult for them personally. Although we can only guess as to what challenges lay ahead, any sort of meditation that leads to this kind of self-analysis is a good thing, like a soldier inspecting his armor before the big battle.

So, this post is here to say Thank You! Thanks for your support, both through purchases on Amazon, comments here on the blogs, and of course, emails and donations. Although I am sometimes bad about replying quickly, I do take the time to read all of my correspondence, and greatly appreciate each and every message.

I'm also thankful for the reviews that have been posted on Amazon. It really means a lot when others take the time to leave a few words for other potential readers. I can only imagine how reluctant I would be to read a book from a stranger claiming to be a Witness online, so having those comments there to reassure the friends that everything is on the up and up is a big help. While I don't want to pressure anyone to read any of my stories, I certainly don't want someone to misunderstand my purpose.

So, what's next, you ask?

Not to fear! A fourth book (and hopefully more) is in the works. It's in the very early stages, but it's shaping up to be an interesting story, something that I think many readers of the previous books will find both slightly familiar while new and exciting. More details to come in the near future, so stay tuned...

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Story Behind the Story

Authors are often asked where their ideas come from, and while each storyteller has his or her own process (or lack of process) for finding them, I remember quite clearly the conversation I had that led to the conception of Critical Times. (Depending on how far you’ve read, the following may contain spoilers, so you might want to skip this post entirely before finishing the book.)

It was about two years ago. I was sitting in a coffee shop with a friend talking about the Great Tribulation. There was so much in the news at the time regarding ISIS and terrorism and natural disasters, and we got to talking about what chain of events might lead to the attack on false religion. (It’s important to note, of course, that ultimately it is Jehovah that “puts it into their [world governments] hearts” to attack Babylon the Great (Rev 17:17); however, this could still mean that certain world events related to religion may precede it.)

After mulling over various scenarios, I mentioned that I wanted to set my next novel during the Great Tribulation. I thought it would be exciting (if not a little terrifying) to write (and read) about the collapse of society, the ensuing chaos, and how the friends were carefully maneuvered to safety. Although it was entirely guesswork, it was an interesting mental exercise, and there were plenty of Biblical precedents to meditate on and research.

For a change of pace from the first two novels, I decided early on that the protagonist would be an unbeliever. I thought it’d be interesting to see the end of the world through his eyes. From there, casting him as a police officer seemed like an obvious choice. This way, he’d be even more invested in the safety of his community, and bad things happening around him would feel all that more personal. Then came the kicker–what if his wife were studying with the Witnesses… in secret?

This was the “Aha!” moment that set me firmly on course for writing Critical Times. There was plenty of potential for conflict, both internal (when the protagonist discovers what his wife is doing and must make a decision), and external (societal collapse, terrorism, etc). This was enough for me to start writing the first scene of the novel–the fire at the Kingdom Hall. Only, at first, it wasn’t a Kingdom Hall but a church.

In the original concept, Luke and his partner respond to a fire at a church and rescue a pastor from the flames. In this version, Luke was a detective, and this inciting event would lead him on an investigation which would span most of the novel. The problem was, it was starting to dilute Luke’s character. I didn’t want him to be a sharp-minded criminal investigator with misgivings about the government and/or the police. He needed to be loyal to the force, respectful of his captain, and protective of his community. Thus, he was more effective as a patrol officer, one pursuing a promotion as Sergeant and eager to please his superiors. Consequently, Eva’s character came along, as she was someone who could deliver chunks of the investigation to Luke without us having to plod along behind her every step of the way.

After writing the first few scenes (Luke responding to the fire, saving Brother Harris, getting interviewed by Eva), I realized something else was wrong. Since the novel was written from Luke’s perspective, the reader was missing all that was happening behind the scenes with his wife. It wouldn’t do for Luke to suddenly discover what she was up to. We had to see it coming. We had to get emotionally invested with her plight. Thus–and with a bit of trepidation–I decided to write from a multiple first person perspective. (I’ve had a few emails from people complaining about this, and I can certainly understand why it can feel disorienting, but trust me when I say that it was the best option available. I actually wrote several of the scenes in three different perspectives, but none of them worked as well as this.)

As I’ve written about in a previous post, I’m not one for meticulous plotting when writing a story, and Critical Times was no exception. I didn’t know, for example, that Jesse would turn up later in the novel, or that we’d finally found out what happened to Eva, or that the story would end at sea. I went with instinct for a lot of it, constantly upping the stakes, making things increasingly difficult for the protagonists, until the final showdown at sea.

The lessons that many readers have drawn from the book are spot on. Don’t get too attached to material things. Reach out to unbelieving family members. At the very least, see things from their perspective and empathize. Improve skills in informal witnessing. Stay close to the organization, and be obedient.

While none of us can be sure what awaits us in the final days at hand, we can be sure that improving now in these areas will pay off in a big way!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Full Critical Times now available!
It's here! After a long process of research, writing, and editing, I'm happy to announce that Critical Times is finally available for download. As always, there are free download options (epub, mobi, and PDF for now), and paid options (for those who'd like a physical copy or the convenience of downloading on the Kindle store). See the links below for the details, and enjoy!

Click here to purchase via (either as a digital download or a printed paperback)

Free options:
Click here to download the .epub version (for iBooks, Apple devices, and Android devices)
Click here to download the .mobi version (for Amazon's Kindle)
Click here to download the .pdf version (best for computers)

(Right click and choose "save as" or "download as" if left-clicking doesn't work)

Monday, October 24, 2016

Editing For Exposition

    When it comes to writing, if there’s one thing I've noticed that really separates the novices from the pros, it’s probably the use of exposition. Novice writers tend to explain each and every little detail, inserting plenty of adjectives and adverbs to be sure the reader doesn’t miss a beat. The result is “fluffy” writing, where much is superfluous and just begging for the editor’s DELETE key. In a way, it’s kind of like someone delivering the punchline of a joke and then immediately nudging you in the ribs.
    Haha! You get it? It’s funny because…
    Yeah, we get it. It’s funny. Or at least it was funny.
    Too much exposition in a story has the same effect on readers. They don’t want all the details; they don’t need them. They just need the story. Whatever isn’t story shouldn’t be there. Good writing simply conveys the essential elements and leaves the rest to the reader’s imagination. Let them figure out what color the protagonist’s hair is, or whether your villain said something ‘maniacally’ or ‘vengefully’. So much of this is excess.
    This isn’t to say I’m an expert writer by any means, and I’m certainly guilty of this exact thing in my writing. But I am improving! The key is editing. During the composition of the second and third drafts, I labor over each and every word. Does it need to be there? Can the verb+adverb combo be replaced by a better verb? (Instead of “said angrily”, can I use “fumed”, “spat” or possibly “hissed”?) Can several words be condensed into one? Do I need to say (“He bent over to inspect the sidewalk” or can it just be “He inspected the sidewalk closely”?)
    Editing is tireless work, but it’s got to be done and the results are worth it. Check out this excerpt from an early draft of The Unrighteous.

“I can’t believe we’ve been on this plane for over nine hours,” Naomi said, looking over her shoulder at her husband. Charlie returned a neutral expression.  His mouth opened slightly as if to say something, but he thought better of it.
    “Don’t worry, it’ll be over soon,” He finally said positively, removing a highlighter from his lapel pocket and underlining something.
    Naomi glared at her husband. “Ugh. I just really want to land. I don’t know how you stand it,” she sighed.
    Charlie shrugged distractedly. “I dunno. I guess I never really minded flying. It helps clear my mind I guess. It helps that I’ve got something to occupy myself with, too. You didn’t bring anything to read?”
    Naomi let out a soft groan. “I don’t feel like reading. How are you not worried?” She complained.
    “What makes you think I’m not worried? I’m worried,” Charlie said.
    “You don’t look it. Reading books, napping. I can barely think of anything else.”
    “Naomi, everything will be fine,” Charlie said reassuringly. He tried to put his arm around her but changed his mind, discovering that the headrests formed an awkward barrier between their seats...

   The passage above is a good start. There are some important unspoken cues given by both Charlie and Naomi to suggest their differing moods and personalities. Charlie is content studying his book while his wife yearns for his acknowledgment of her discomfort. The problem is all those verbs and adverbs. Ok, sure, we see her impatience and frustration in  “groaned”, “glared”, “complained”, “sighed”, and the adverbs “distractedly”, “positively”, and “reassuringly” help show that Charlie isn't engaged. But do these words really need to be there? Can the reader infer any of this without the exposition?
    Let's see...

“I can’t believe we’ve been in the air for over nine hours,” Naomi said. Charlie wore a neutral expression.  His mouth opened slightly, then closed again.
    “It’ll be over soon,” He said, removing a highlighter from his lapel pocket and underlining something.
    Naomi glared at her husband. “I just really want to land. I don’t know how you stand it.”
    Charlie shrugged. “I dunno. Never really minded flying. Helps clear my mind I guess. It helps that I’ve got something to occupy myself with, too. You didn’t bring anything to read?”
    Naomi let out a soft groan. “I don’t feel like reading. How are you not worried?”
    “What makes you think I’m not worried? I’m worried.”
    “You don’t look it. Reading books, napping. I can barely think of anything else.”
    “Naomi, everything will be fine,” Charlie tried to put his arm around her but changed his mind, discovering that the headrests formed an awkward barrier between their seats.

   Much better, no? The dialogue still works without a lot of the previous verbs and adverbs. Instead of directly saying that Charlie is distracted, I can imply it by having him speak in short, clipped sentences. His mind is elsewhere; he’s not giving his wife his full attention. And really, do we need the words “complained”, “sighed”, "positively" and "reassuringly"? Isn’t that obvious from what’s being said?
    Notably, the second version has nearly forty words fewer than the first. But I think that’s part of what makes it better. After all, less is more. Cut the excess!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Music for writer’s block

It’s a scary thing, writer’s block. It’s like… the doldrums. There you are, the captain of your story, enjoying the wind in your sails as your novel just breezes along, adding a few thousand words each day to your hefty first draft, when suddenly the air is still. Inspiration is gone. The novel stuck. Not knowing what comes next in your own story can be frustrating, disheartening, and a bit like quicksand–the longer you do nothing, the harder it is to get out.

In the fifteen-month process of writing Critical Times, there were more than a few times where I’d go several weeks to a month without adding even a single word to the first draft. Then there were the numerous other times where I’d open the file just to be perplexed by the current scene, unsure what ought to happen next. Although I had some idea of how I wanted things to play out in the final half of the book, what I actually wrote in the final draft bears almost no resemblance to that original concept. As I’ve said before, I write better this way, not being too meticulous about plotting but rather letting things happen organically as the characters deal with the situations that arise.

This is why I found music so helpful. I’ve said before that I work visually, and I mean that in the most literal way possible. I see the characters and the lighting and the weather and try to frame the shot as a director for a movie might. Then it’s lights camera action and I’m transcribing what I see as it unfolds. And apart from what I’m seeing, I’m also taking cues from what I hear. What’s the soundtrack for this scene? Do I hear the high, tense wail of violins to suggest impending danger, or a low, rhythmic drum and heavy, deep brass notes signaling a call to action? What emotional reaction is this music eliciting?

In this vein, starting with this novel I actually listened to the music that I thought fit the scenes as I wrote them. I found that doing this was incredibly helpful, as it helped push the story along when I found myself stuck, sort of like having a handy little outboard motor on my sailboat when the wind died down.

Aside from music, I also listened to a lot of rain and thunderstorm sounds. As any of you keeping up with Critical Times know by now, the setting of the story is much darker than the first two novels, and having the constant sound of rain and thunder in my head just seemed appropriate, especially for the end of the book. (No spoilers! That’s all I’ll say!)

Anyhow, I thought I’d share links to the YouTube mixes and rain tracks that were responsible for at least some of Critical Times. Who knows, maybe you’ll enjoy listening along as you read, too?

Cinematic, intense music great for action scenes with high tension.

Lighter, more reflective, helpful for scenes where Luke or Amy were reflecting on things.

For everything else...

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

So you want to build a house?

Designing and building your own house is an aspect of the New World that many of us look forward to eagerly. In a world where poor quality, environmentally harmful, and otherwise hazardous building materials (not to mention corner-cutting building techniques) have become the norm, this is completely understandable. Just think, one day soon we'll actually be able to design and construct the house of our dreams!

But what, exactly, goes into actually building a house? While we have no idea what kinds of houses we'll eventually be making, it's likely that somewhere along the line we'll learn how to re-purpose materials directly from the natural environment. Truth be told, these types of homes typically last much longer and require less insulation (and are thus cheaper to heat and cool) than the ones most of us live in.

Still, building a home from natural materials is no small task. It requires a plethora of skills (tree felling, woodworking and carpentry, masonry, brickmaking, etc etc) and much forethought. The result, though, can be breathtaking.

Check out this video below from someone who's actually done it:

A description from the uploader of the video:

This is a documentary movie uncovering the process of building a wooden house with hand tools from local materials starting from forest till the living space.

I built my house from trees that I felled with an axe and two man crosscut saw in my own forest. I did it following the research of old carpenter's calendar that coniferous trees should be felled in January's first days when the new moon rises and the deciduous trees should be felled in the winter time during the old moon. In winter time trees are sleeping and the juice and moisture content is very low in them. As time passes timber felled in winter becomes light and strong.

In the building process I used mostly traditional carpenters hand tools - axes, hand saws, timber framing chisels and slicks, old Stanley planes, augers, draw knives and mostly human energy. All the ground work for fundaments and the basement earth digging was done by hand with shovels. The foundation consists mostly of bigger and smaller rocks and boulders. Lime, sand and concrete mixture are using only in small amounts - to hold the boulders together. The visible part over the ground level - boulder mosaic has been masoned with hand split local granite.

The House has been built based on the western part of Latvia - Kurland/Kurzeme (German influence) historical wooden architecture typical technique - Timber Frame construction with sliding log walls between the posts. House is two carpentry technique union - Timber Frame (that is typical in France, Germany, Great Britain, North America and other countries) and traditional Latvian log building technique, between the logs using moss from the local swamp.

In the walls, timber frame and roof construction there I used only wood joints and wooden pegs to hold the main construction together - no nails, screws or steel plates. Walls are insulated with 250mm thick dry pine and larch shaving layer (leftover from the local cabinet makers workshop). Overall exterior wall thickness is 50cm. In the walls (except wind vapour breathable membrane over the roof) has not been used any plastic or modern synthetic materials.

To preserve the wood from the spoiling, fame posts, sills, top beams and final cladding boards are treated with fire and pine tar mixed with Tung oil. This wood preservation technique was adapted from the Japanese traditional wood preservation technique Shou Sugi Ban (焼杉板).

Exterior cladding boards recoating each 10-15 years Tung oil and pine or birch tar mixture, the house can last more than 500 years. As an example is taken Norwegian stave churches that stands more than 500 years until nowadays.

Roofing is three layer white oak shingles (each 10mm thick, 120mm wide and 720mm long) laid in two directional technique. Overall amount of shingles used is 15 000 pieces. Roof walls are insulated with ecological wood fibre wool and wood fibre panels. Over the wood fibre panels are plastered natural plaster - mixture of sand, clay powder, lime, linen fibre, salt, wheat flour. Overall thickness of the plaster is 20mm and over all amount of plaster used on the walls are 5000 kilos. It works also as thermal mass and improves energy performance.

Exterior measurements of the house is 6.5 x 13 meters. Living space in both floors are 120sq/m. The house is being heated with clay plastered brick bread oven and smaller oven made of clay tiles in the kitchen. To heat up both floors of the house, when outside it is minus 10 degrees (Celsium) only small oven is heated once a day. When freeze gets below -15, -20 C, we heat up the bread oven. Once it is heated, because of it’s thermal mass of 5 tons, it keeps the warmth 2-3 days. To heat up all the house (120 sq/m) in the winter time we use not more than 4 m3 of dry firewood. This is 2nd winter we are living there and we still heat up the house with the leftovers of lumber from the building process. And it will be enough for 3 more years.

I have fulfilled my vision to a build natural, ecological house with high thermal efficiency, low energy consumption, sustainable, using local materials such as - wood, stone, old and new clay bricks, moss, linen fibre, clay, water, lime, wheat flour, salt and wood shavings.

--Jacob, carpenter, craftsman and founder of John Neeman Tools.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Wallpaper Burst

During the course of novel-writing, I'm sitting at my desk staring into my monitors, sometimes for hours on end. I've got dictionary apps open, various websites for research and fact-checking, my music player, and of course my hefty word processor (for the specifics on the app I use to write and compose, check out this post.) Most recently, I've also kept open large image files as I write. I find this helps me to visualize a scene as I compose. Since I'm a very sensory person, having these kinds of visual references really help put me in the scenes. I thought I'd share some of the most vivid, high-resolution images here. (If you'd like, you can right-click and save from the image source, as they make great computer desktops.)


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Help a brother out?

A snapshot of my working document for Critical Times... Almost there!

As the final editing process wraps up on Critical Times, I'm already itching to start a new project. A  list of six or seven ideas (some with the entire character sheets and story arc outlines) has fleshed out over the last year or so on my laptop. Going forward, it's merely a matter of choosing the story that seems right for development now. I say this because I suspect that most of these stories will be suitable for telling sooner or later, but that doesn't mean they're all equally appropriate for 2016/2017. (Case in point: although the fundamental elements for Critical Times were floating around in my head as early as 2014, it wasn't until our articles vividly depicted the Great Tribulation that I started working on the book.)

So here we are. Going forward. What to work on next? As stated, I'm itching to get started on something fresh and exciting, something that will take me and the readers to a place we haven't been before. Many of the ideas (and I won't go into specifics here, sorry!)  should push the boundaries of my writing. They'll likely all require copious research and unique approaches to storytelling, but isn't that half the fun? ;)

Of course, there's always the chance of the author's will go too far, will write too much for himself/herself, that no one else besides the author will enjoy the finished result. This is a real possibility, and for this reason many authors go to great lengths to understand their reader demographic. I've given this some thought as well, and although I certainly want to steer free of writing exclusively for one kind of reader, I've decided it certainly wouldn't hurt to know who's reading these books. For that reason, I've set up a poll here (see the right column). If possible, take a minute to fill it out.

In the meantime, I'll be here, slumped over my laptop, putting the final touches on Critical Times...

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Writing for the friends

It may surprise some of my readers to find that I've pursued this hobby of writing theocratic fiction (theofic?) with some reluctance. Scratch that. A LOT of reluctance. As Witnesses, we've been trained to be cautious when reading theocratic material posted on the internet and/or by those claiming to be our brothers and sisters. Just seeing the words "Jehovah's Witnesses" on a website usually gets the Red Alert! sirens going in my head, and I'm sure many of you out there are the same.

This is a protection, of course. These days anyone with web access can hide behind an avatar spreading falsehood under the guise of "enlightening" the friends. The possibility that I'd be viewed this way made me put off writing the first book for years. (Three, to be exact.)

Far from criticizing the organization or weakening the brothers' faith, however, I yearned to tell stories that did just the opposite. I wanted to encourage and bolster the friends; I wanted to fuel their imaginations as regards our future hope. Although the characters and events would be fictionalized, they demonstrate the truths we can live by today: keeping in step with the organization (despite not fully grasping the reasons for certain changes and direction); fully relying on Jehovah in times both peaceful and tumultuous; cultivating our art of teaching to as to save ourselves and those who might listen. (All three of these themes have appeared to some extent in the previous two books, and they will be even more evident in the current story, Critical Times, which I deliberately set during the most trying period of humanity.)

Still, good intentions aside, I feared the worst. What could I do? As mentioned, I shelved the idea for years, feeling the time just wasn't right to start such a project. Then, in 2013, things changed. More and more, it seemed like the organization was encouraging us to meditate on our future blessings. And so I put pen to paper and churned out a first draft of All Things New in a little under four months. I actually prayed about that project (and the ones after it), trying to determine if it was a good idea or not. I figured my 'fleece test' could be gauged by the readers' response. If there was a lot of negative feedback, I'd have my answer. If, on the other hand, it proved to be the encouragement I'd intended it to be and the response was positive, I'd trudge carefully ahead.

To date, the overwhelming majority of feedback has been positive. In fact, in the nearly three years that the first book has been floating around, I've received only one email from someone strongly opposed to the books, and it turned out they had misunderstood some very crucial details about the novels (and hadn't actually read them, as a matter of fact).

Because I'm writing for the friends, I've always felt that offering my work free of charge is the right thing to do. (The exception to this, of course, are the Amazon books, which cannot be listed free of charge due to publication and printing costs.) While I'm sure most secular writers would cringe at an author giving away so much of their hard work for free, I'm not in this for the money. Never have been, never will be. I have a day job, and don't expect to quit anytime soon.

I guess this post has rambled a bit somewhat, but the bottom line is that I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience of writing these three books, and I hope to continue with more stories in the future. The emails I've received (some of which have moved me to tears) have shown me that many have been encouraged by my work despite its fictional nature.

Please, keep those wonderful emails coming, and don't be afraid to let me know when you find an error! (I love those emails, too.)

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Letting characters and situation run the show

I’ve recently been re-reading Stephen King’s On Writing, a book I’d easily recommend as my favorite on writing craft. So many books about writing tend to land somewhere in the dull realm of a how-to manual, or focus so much on mechanics and grammar that the life and creativity of writing–the art, as it were–is neglected. On Writing avoids these pitfalls, and the result is a page-turning exploration of writing as seen through the eyes of one writer.

[Disclaimer: While I recommend this particular book, I can’t get through most of Stephen King’s novels, but not for a lack of gripping writing. (It’s just that the content that often disturbs me.)]

One of the passages I read this morning was so good that I thought I’d share it here. I’m sure not all authors subscribe to this method, but I feel it’s got a lot of merit, and is worth the consideration of anyone attempting to tell a story:
“I want to put a group of characters (perhaps a pair; perhaps even just one) in some sort of predicament and then watch them try to work themselves free. My job isn’t to help them work their way free, or manipulate them to safety—those are jobs which require the noisy jackhammer of plot—but to watch what happens and then write it down.
The situation comes first. The characters—always flat and unfeatured, to begin with—come next. Once these things are fixed in my mind, I begin to narrate. I often have an idea of what the outcome may be, but I have never demanded of a set of characters that they do things my way. On the contrary, I want them to do things their way. In some instances, the outcome is what I visualized. In most, however, it’s something I “never expected.”
The reason, King believes, that this is a superior method of writing (as opposed to meticulously plotting everything out before putting pen to paper), is that the author ends up reading (and enjoying!) the story’s twists and turns along with his audience. And if the author is enjoying the process of recording the story, readers are sure to sense it, and want more.

This is more or less the way things happened with The Unrighteous. The novel itself sprung from a simple concept: What if, in the New World, some of the unrighteous believed, not that they were resurrected by Divine power, but wrapped up in some kind of conspiracy? From that came the characters: Jack, a hardened American soldier who’d suffered a grisly death on a battlefield in the Middle East. Harold, an arrogant British evolutionary biologist firmly opposed to the idea of God. Liping, a Chinese woman who’d been swindled, cheated, and lied to her whole (previous) life. A lot of the things they said and thought and objected to were based on actual conversations I’ve had with those in the military, evolutionists, atheists, and Chinese. At least in this way, the story had the ring of truth. Jack, Harold, and Liping were very real characters (at least in my mind). And they made my job–that of telling the story–a relatively easy task. All I had to do was supply the environment (a Welcome Center on a mountaintop run by perfect people) and let them interact.

Interestingly, almost everything that happened after the First Act of that book was unscripted. [Spoilers to follow, so skip to the next paragraph if you haven’t read it and want to be surprised…] I had no idea Jack and Harold would get into a fistfight, and was shocked when they decided to run off into the woods. I was as exasperated with their actions and attitudes as Charlie and his family, and many readers have been able to relate to their emotions as well. After all, who of us hasn’t had a particularly difficult Bible student (or child), who repeatedly disappointed us despite our best efforts at love and patience? The setting of The Unrighteous may be a distant future yet to unfold, but the emotions here resonate with us, today, as imperfect Witnesses doing our best with the tools we’ve been given.

This is another key to story-telling, and one I still struggle with (I am a very novice writer, after all): being honest. For the characters to behave believably, the writer must be honest. If a character’s actions and words don’t meld with the way the reader has been perceiving him or her, things will start to feel out of place. Like King says, this is the ‘jackhammer of plot’ at work. The author is forcing his will on the story, squeezing things into his mold, and making a distracting ruckus in the process.

In the end, I find it best to go with the flow, to let the characters run the show. After all, we've been given free will; we might as well extend it to the people on the page.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Paperbacks now on Amazon

Here are the links:

All Things New
The Unrighteous

You'll notice that these are linked to the Kindle downloads for the books, making it a convenient place to get both physical and digital copies. Another nice feature (and one of the reasons I decided to put my books on Amazon in the first place) is the reader reviews. So if you've read either of my books and would like to leave a comment and a rating, it would be much appreciated!

As I mentioned in the last post, the physical books are slightly more expensive than they previously were, when I sold them through my own store. The reason for this is that Amazon charges a hefty fee per book, plus other fees for printing services and so on. So unfortunately I can't sell them at the same prices as I have previously. However, an upside to selling on Amazon is that their shipping is much cheaper than what I was using before, and if you've got an Amazon Prime account, the shipping fee is waived entirely. Additionally, the shipping should be much faster than my previous shipping arrangement with the US Postal Service. In other words, in the end the price sort of evens itself out.

Finally, letting the good people of Amazon handle the printing and shipping of books means I no longer need to micro manage this, so I can focus on the more important things in life, and devote a bit more time to writing new stories.

As always, thanks in advance for your understanding and support!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Cover Design for "Critical Times" + Amazon release

It's been awhile since my last update! Been busy with things lately, like feeding the pioneers at a local PSS, helping organize our local regional convention, and trying to get the rest of my time in for the service year. The summer months bring increased activity to Jehovah's organization, and I'm sure I'm not the only one scrambling about in the August heat!

That said, I'm happy to share the following tidbits of news regarding my writing projects.

First and foremost, I'm excited to announce that both All Things New and The Unrighteous are now available on as digital downloads. This means that if you're like me and like to read on your Kindle, it's now easier than ever to download and read my books. If you use Android or Apple devices to read, you can also enjoy the books via the Kindle app. Please note, since these are part of the Amazon store, I couldn't make them available for free, but at just a little over $1 USD, I think you'll agree that the set price is pretty reasonable.

For those who've been asking about when paperbacks will be back in stock in the store, I'm also happy to announce that Amazon will soon be carrying paperback versions of both books. The cost per book will be slightly higher than my store (Amazon takes a large cut), but the reduced shipping costs worldwide should even things out quite a bit, especially for international buyers. I will have more news on this soon.

Finally, for those who've been waiting anxiously for the release of a downloadable Critical Times, thank you for your patience! My third novel has become a much more involved project than the last two, and it's significantly longer and more complex. Because of this, the editing process has been slow and painstaking, but it's almost there. I hope to have more on this soon, but until then, you can enjoy the cover artwork, which I finally finished designing this week. I think it captures the mood of the story well. Hope you all like it too. Have a great week, and see you soon!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

"Sick Day" - A Poem

Can’t go in service,
Nuh-uh, no way,
I’d love to, Mom, really,
But I’m just too sick today!

My temperature is soaring,
Must be a hundred-and-three!
All my toes are swollen
And there’s a weird pain in my knees…

My throat is literally on fire,
I promise it’s no trick,
Gotta be careful with these things Mom,
Don’t wanna get you sick

I’d love to knock on doors, really,
But I can’t in this condition,
No, you go on, let me rest,
You have my permission

I’d just slow you down out there,
Limping along in a daze,
People would start to wonder about
What kinda kid you raised.

No, I really oughta get some sleep,
Maybe I’ll be better by noon,
And I know what you’re thinking,
And NO, I won’t just watch cartoons!

I wish you the best out there today,
Hope you have plenty success,
But me, I just can’t quite make it out,
I really need some rest…

Thanks for understanding, Mom,
I really think it might be smallpox,
But if I just take this morning off–
Hey, wait, where are you taking my Xbox?!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Growing Up

Believe it or not, there was a time in my life when the idea of paradise was completely unappealing to me. I was actually frightened by it!

I was a child then, probably not quite ten years old, and I refused to talk or think about life in the New World. My parents carefully avoided the subject during our Family Worship evening, instead focusing on things that were practical at the time to help me get through pressure at school, the stress of moving and finding new friends, and avoiding problems common to preteens. But no paradise. No talk of the resurrection. Even chatting about playing with animals in a worldwide garden was off limits. My parents were discerning and sensitive about the issue, and it paid off.

Looking back now, I realize how silly I must have seemed, but I still remember clearly my anxiety. At its core, it was a fear of the unknown. I didn't want to live forever. The mere concept of eternity was perplexing and overwhelming to me.

Around that same time, I remember hearing a brother give a talk about the meaning of "forever". He asked the audience to imagine a seagull picking up a grain of rice in its beak every hundred years and dropping it into the ocean. "How long would it take for the ocean to be filled?" he asked. "That's still just a fraction of the meaning of forever."

As a kid, that mental image was terrifying! I certainly didn't want to wait around on beaches, watching a bird carry stuff over the ocean every century! I assumed life just dragging on like that would be impossibly boring and tedious, that we'd all be reduced to mindless drones going about our endless daily lives.

Of course, things would eventually change for me.

Fast forward a few decades, and here I am studying the Bible with a young person of my own. Although he isn't my fleshly son, I've known him for most of his life and seen him grow up. And oddly enough, despite not being related by blood, I see so much of myself in him.

It's funny how young ones can develop sudden thought patterns that appear to come from nowhere. Things once accepted as facts are now picked apart skeptically. Pastimes once enjoyed are now avoided obdurately. Tastes and hobbies and fashions change.

But if I've learned one thing from my own parents, it's to be patient, understanding, and accommodating as possible.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Choosing the right tense and perspective in writing

Hope you brought your spiral notebooks and sack lunch today, because we're about to head back to school! Let's take it way back to 5th grade English class and talk about tense and perspective in writing.

Tense refers to the time the story occurs. For the majority of fiction, the past tense is used:
John scanned the horizon and gazed out at the endless sea.

This is the tense that most readers and comfortable with, and so it feels the most natural. However, some fiction is written in present tense, as seen in the following example:
John scans the horizon, gazing out at the endless sea.

Believe it or not, some authors even choose to write in the future tense, describing what characters will do and what events will happen. It's not very common, but it definitely can serve a purpose, especially in a story where time moves non-linearly (as in a time travel story, for instance).

Perspective, or point of view (POV), refers to who is telling the story. Most fiction chooses a third person perspective. In this case, the narrator is not a character in the story, and does not refer to the first person, "I", for the entirety of the writing. It's all about the characters in the story. (The two above examples are in third person).

In a story told in first person POV, the narrator is a character in the story:
I looked carefully through the drawers, searching for any clues she may have left.

First person stories tend to feel a bit more intimate. It's as if the narrator is standing next to you relating to you everything that happened to him or her. This can create a very compelling story, but there's a drawback: typically, first person stories are limited in their access to certain details. As the reader, you can only know what the narrator knows. The advantage of third person POV is that the reader can get insight into many different characters and situations at the same time. This is called "omniscience" in writing, and is a tool that can be used very effectively.

After starting Critical Times, some readers have begun to wonder why I chose to write in the first person POV with the present tense. (And not just a single person POV, but an alternating POV that switches narrators between police officer Luke Harding and his wife, Amy) It's a good question, and I'll try to answer it here as best I can.

First off, if the style of writing is throwing you off, that's understandable. This tense + POV is not very common in fiction, but I feel it was the best choice for this story. Why? Simply put, I feel it's the best way to get to know the characters while maintaining the tension.

The first draft of Critical Times was written in the traditional third person past tense, and it just didn't click with me. I wanted the reader to be able to get into Luke's head a bit more, to hear his thoughts and feelings, and the best way to do that was to have him tell the story. At the same time, if he was the only narrator, the reader wouldn't be able to understand all the struggles Amy, his wife, was facing, and the story would be missing too much on that end.

Additionally, the past tense just didn't work for me. I wanted the readers to feel like they were with Luke and Amy each day as they went about their lives, watching the news reports as society began to crumble, making decisions that would affect their futures. After making the switch to the current style, everything fell into place.

Again, I can sympathize with some who may feel confused by the tense and perspective, but I hope you'll stick with it to the end, since I feel it was the right decision for this novel!


For more a more detailed analysis of writing tenses and perspective, check out this article here. It has plenty of examples, and even mentions the elusive second person POV narrative style!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The New World

( I've been writing some children's poetry lately and thought I'd share a sample. Enjoy!)

In the New World,
What will you do?
Will you sail the seven seas?
Will you learn to play the flute?

In the New World,
What will you be?
A carpenter? An architect?
A zoologist trainee?

In the New World,
Where will you go?
Across the endless oceans,
Or to the depths below?

In the New World,
What will you eat?
The sweetest rhubarb pie?
The coldest ice cream treat?

In the New World,
Where will you live?
On a mountaintop?
In a field of katydids?

In the New World,
Who will you greet?
A resurrected ancestor?
Someone from down the street?

We cannot be certain,
Exactly what’s in store,
But the New World will be amazing
Of that, I am quite sure!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

"The Unrighteous" Now Restocked

"The Unrighteous" was out of stock for a few weeks, but I'm happy to announce that the new shipment has arrived. You can purchase paperback books here:

Friday, May 6, 2016

Writing Tools - The Story Grid Method

I recently came across a YouTube series of videos that has, in some ways, changed the way I write stories. But before I get into that, let me explain a bit about the way I work…

I’m a very gut feeling kind of writer. What I mean is, I rely a lot on my instincts when putting scenes together. Since, by nature, I’m a very visual person, I imagine that I’m watching the movie version of my story. I see the opening credits roll and see the establishing shot, the camera pans, and we get our first glimpse of the protagonist. (This may seem like an exaggeration, but in fact this is exactly how I write, even down to hearing the background music for each scene.) Since I’m “watching” my story as I write, it’s just a matter of describing what I see accurately so that the readers can “watch” along with me. And once I finish writing that scene, I ask myself, “In this movie version of my story, what would be the next logical scene?” I find that this sort of intuitive writing method usually results in a satisfying story.

In other words, I’m not a meticulous plotter. Although I do use outlines for parts of the story, and to get the action going again when I hit a wall, I feel that perfecting and polishing all the elements before putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys, in my case) really stifles things. Some of my favorite scenes from The Unrighteous, for example, were spur-of-the-moment decisions. (For example, [spoilers here if you haven’t read it yet!] Jack and Harold running away from the Welcome Center together and fleeing into the woods was something that occurred to me only when writing the previous scene, and it actually ended up becoming one of the focal points of the book, and one of the driving plot points. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine how the story would’ve unfolded without it.)

I strongly believe that my emotional state while writing a story (be it sadness, anger, frustration, joy, excitement, etc), is the emotional state that my first-time readers will experience. So if something in the story surprises me while I’m crafting the novel, I can be pretty sure it’ll catch readers off-guard as well. On the other hand, if I’ve plotted it all out, carefully nudging my story and characters in a certain direction towards a key event, more than likely the readers will be able to figure it out long before the hammer drops. This is the equivalent of a movie that’s too predictable. It’s yawn-inducing, and results in a disappointing, even anti-climactic, experience.

Still, writing off the cuff sometimes results in me finding myself in a corner. This is good, I think, in a way, because it forces me to really push the boundaries to come up with a solution. (The airplane hangar scene in The Unrighteous is an example) The problem, of course, is that it can easily lead to writer’s block, and let me tell you, it isn’t fun to be there. It’s as if you’ve just put the movie on pause indefinitely, and the characters, story, plot, and all other elements are all waiting impatiently on the paper (or screen) for you to press play again. Believe you me, it’s stressful!

That’s where The Story Grid comes in. As the name suggests, it helps a writer to graph his or her story visually, to see which elements are changing with each scene. This is a powerful tool, because all too often, writers can neglect certain key elements in their story for far too long. A character that plays a key role in Act III, for example, is mentioned once or twice in Act I, but totally forgotten in Act II. There’s also the issue of what I call “dummy” elements; characters or objects in a story that are merely decoration–they’re completely static throughout the story and take up lots of page space. The Story Grid helps a writer to identify these elements and either A) make them actually do something, or B) eliminate them. This can enliven a story in a big way.

Another important element in most stories is the character arc. (I say most stories because there are few good ones out there where the characters change little throughout the course of the novel. But they are the rare exception to the rule!) Good stories hinge on dynamic characters, individuals who change (for better or worse) over the course of events. In my mind, plot is secondary to characters. You can have a static plot with dynamic characters, and still have a good story. On the other hand, a dynamic plot with static characters will leave the reader feeling empty. (i.e., the majority of what Hollywood likes to churn out. All action, no character development.) The Story Grid helps to keep character development at the forefront of the author’s mind by graphing a “polarity shift” of each character.

Aside from all this, there are plenty of other positive things to say about The Story Grid, but since this is a video series, I suppose it makes sense to just let it speak for itself! If you’re an aspiring writer (or even a seasoned one), I definitely recommend giving the video series a look.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Foreign Language Translations of “All Things New”

Over the last couple of years, there has been much interest from readers in foreign-language translations of the first two novels, especially All Things New. Of course, this is a huge endeavor, and due to the costs involved (and the content), it was never feasible to hire a professional translator. However, I have been delighted to receive emails from several brothers and sisters willing to volunteer their time to help translate the book (or portions of it) themselves. Of course, I've readily agreed to this.

Thus, I’m happy to announce that multiple translations of All Things New are currently underway. I’ve seen parts of these translations already, and I hope that I will be able to share them with everyone online as soon as they are completed. Of course, due to the amount of time and effort required, it’s impossible to know when these will be ready for reading online or elsewhere. However, if you would like to be a part of this ongoing project, please feel free to contact me.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Your Future Home...

In the New World, what kind of house will you live in?

This has always been an interesting question for me to ponder, and for a variety of reasons. First, as someone who appreciates design and architecture, I often wonder how our homes will look on the other side of Armageddon. It’s likely, I suppose, that in the beginning we’ll build homes with standardized designs. This will make things somewhat more efficient. (It’s also possible that we’ll use modular construction methods, similar to what we’re seeing with recent branch and Kingdom Hall construction.) But as times moves onward, I’d expect to see more creative and innovative home and structural designs.

Secondly, I often wonder about what methods and materials we’ll use to build our homes. In preparation for writing All Things New, one of the research topics that I really delved into was eco-friendly architecture and construction methods. There are some really amazing things being developed these days, and I suspect that some of them may carry on into the future. I thought I’d write about them here in a post, and share some of the images that I think could be glimpses into our future homes.

Concrete is the world’s most popular building material, and for good reason. It can be made easily, formed into all sorts of imaginative shapes, and, if maintained properly, can last for decades. But even concrete is no match for the natural elements. Eventually, with enough exposure to moisture, cracks will form along its surfaces, leading to corrosion.

Henk Jonkers, a microbiologist of the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, believes he may have a solution to this problem–bioconcrete.

Bioconcrete is mixed just like regular concrete, but contains an extra ingredient, a special bacteria. The bacteria lies dormant in the dried concrete structure until cracks form over time, exposing the inside of the concrete to water, which breaks open biodegradable plastic capsules containing calcium lactate, the “food” that the bacteria needs to feed on. As the bacteria germinates, it feeds on the lactate, combines with the calcium, and forms limestone, binding the concrete back together.

So, theoretically, we could use bioconcrete or something like it to create structures requiring little maintenance that could last for centuries. Cool, huh?

Solar Paths & Roads
We’ve drilled the Earth for gases, oils, and minerals, much of it in the name of satisfying our need for energy. The result, as we all know, has been untold harm to ourselves and the Earth itself. We’ll need to find a solution to this problem, and it might be solar power. It’s free, clean, and available practically everywhere. The problem, however, has always been surface area.

The reason we don’t see things like solar cars, motorcycles, and planes at the consumer level is that the amount of space needed to soak up enough energy from the sun’s rays is usually much larger than the thing needing to be powered. (As an example, Solar Impulse 2, the plane that recently embarked on a trans-continental flight relying solely on its solar-chargeable batteries for power, had to be designed with a wingspan of 236 feet to accommodate the unwieldy solar panels, and it can only carry a single pilot. By contrast, an Airbus A380, which relies on jet fuel, has about the same wingspan, but flies six times faster and can carry about 500 people.)

Of course, I’d imagine that with time, solar panels will become smaller, more efficient, and easier to produce. But one interesting solution we may see in the New World are solar paths and roadways. Instead of climbing onto our grooves to install solar panels, the panels would be on the ground. Potentially, we could build a house anywhere along the roadway and “plug in”. Voila! Instant, free energy. Other benefits? Imagine roads with built-in LEDs, which would light up when you walked along them at night, or sensors built into the panels to give warning signals regarding road dangers up ahead. A cool idea indeed.

The only problem? With current technology, manufacturing solar panels requires toxic chemicals and other polluting factors.

Organically-Shaped Pipes
A tremendous amount of electricity is spent on water pumps. Pumps must work especially hard getting water to travel up to the top floors of high-rise apartment buildings, but the energy is wasted in other ways, too. One of those has to do with the current design of pipes.

Computers and machines tend to favor straight lines. Mathematically, they are easier to work with and produce. As a result, the machines we build are often based on boxes and rectangles. However, in actual physical application, things with curves tend to perform much better. (Think aero/hydrodynamics) As time goes on, many of the physical things we use (cars, airplanes, and even clothing), have begun to take on more organic, natural shapes. But other things are still stuck in the rigid ways of harsh angles and straight lines. Pipes are an example of this.

At first glance, this may not seem like much of a problem. After all, pipes turning at right angles make things much easier for architects and manufacturers (again, the math is simpler this way). However, much energy is lost as the water is forced to turn at sharp angles. This also puts extra strain on the pipes themselves.

By contrast, the branches and stems of trees never grow at right angles. The degree is much slighter, which maximizes the efficiency of the energy spent in getting the water to move. This is a engineering element that I hope to see eventually implemented in our New World pipes.

Harmonious Architecture
This one deals less with the technical aspects of building and more with its aesthetics. Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with one of the project overseers at Warwick, who offered all sorts of insights into the building processes being used there. There were lots of amazing details, but one that really stood out to me was the decision made to build much of the furniture used in the Bethel apartments from the lumber cleared from the original site.

How smart is that? Instead of selling the trees to some lumber company and having them hauled off, why not turn it into something useful on-site? It only makes sense that this is how we’ll build in the New World, as well. Less waste, with much focus made on reuse and recycling.

I would imagine, too, that this will eventually be reflected in the architecture itself. Homes will complement their environments in terms of materials used, colors, and styles. It’s an exciting thing to think about, and for me, makes the New World that much more real. Check out the images below for some neat examples of what future architecture may look like…

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Language in the New World

Language is a dynamic, living thing, constantly in a state of flux. Just compare British English and American English, and you'll quickly notice how many differences there are in pronunciation, spelling, grammar, and slang. And those are just two dialects of the same language, with the American counterpart only having developed for about three centuries!
And if you go back further than that? Check out this passage from Luke 8:1-3 from the Wycliffe's Bible, published in 1384:
1And it was don aftirward, and Jhesu made iorney by citees and castelis, prechinge and euangelysinge þe rewme of God, 2and twelue wiþ him; and summe wymmen þat weren heelid of wickide spiritis and syknessis, Marie, þat is clepid Mawdeleyn, of whom seuene deuelis wenten 3out, and Jone, þe wyf of Chuse, procuratour of Eroude, and Susanne, and manye oþere, whiche mynystriden to him of her riches.
I know what you're thinking: Huh? Sounds like a foreign language, right? Although I'm no expert on languages, I'd guess that non-English languages are the same, constantly evolving with the flow of time.

Of course, this poses a lot of interesting questions when it comes to life in paradise. There are currently about 6,000 spoken on this planet, and many of these language groups can't communicate with each other without learning at least a little of each others' language. Clearly, in the new world the language barrier will be a thing of the past. But how? There seem at present to be two possible scenarios: 1) Jehovah will miraculously unify the languages sometime after Armageddon, or 2) We will be required to study and learn a new language.

When I started mapping out All Things New, I quickly realized that I would need to choose one of these premises and stick with it throughout the course of the novel. It was an important element to decide early on, since it would affect a lot of the minuter details in Mitch's story. If you've read that book or The Unrighteous, then you'll already know which option I went with. (Hint: language classes were not part of the reconstruction work.) This blog post will explain why I leaned this way.

Please keep in mind: I am in no way dogmatic about this stance! And truthfully, it doesn't really matter; it'll all work out in the end. But since, from time to time, I do get emails asking why I chose this particular scenario, I thought it'd be worth writing about.

So, why is it that in the novels, everyone miraculously speaks a unified tongue right after Armageddon, you ask?

Well, thinking back to the days directly after the Noachian flood, we know that man spoke one language (or perhaps some dialects varying slightly from the original language Jehovah created Adam with). This, of course, enabled Nimrod to organize the people at that time to build a tower. The purpose behind the tower (to make a god-like name for themselves, and perhaps, as the Insight book points out, to survive a future flood), was in direct opposition to Jehovah's purpose, so he did something no one could have fathomed: he created a host of new languages. The results were immediate: chaos erupted, construction halted, and the people scattered.

Based on this account, it seems that Jehovah used the new languages to, in a sense, 'curse' the unrighteous people of that time. The results have plagued us down to this day. (If you've ever tried to learn a new language, you'll know that sometimes it truly feels like climbing an insurmountable barrier). The question is, Would it make sense for Jehovah to leave this barrier in place after the destruction of this wicked system of things? Or would He reverse the 'curse' from Nimrod's day, miraculously restoring our ability to communicate? To me, the latter seems more likely.

Another reason that I went with this scenario is that He's done it before. In Pentecost 33 C.E., when the Christian congregation was established, an outpouring of holy spirit resulted in the miraculous speaking of foreign tongues. Those first century Christians didn't need to study grammar or write flash cards–they could suddenly speak those tongues fluently, and this was done to facilitate the preaching to foreign-language Gentiles in Jerusalem at the time.

Under the subheading Language in the Insight book:
So, it appears that, when Jehovah God confused the speech of those at Babel, he first blotted out all memory of their previous common language and then introduced into their minds not only new vocabularies but also changed thought patterns, producing new grammars.
Indeed, language and thinking go hand in hand. Mastering a new language thus takes decades, since it requires the learner to reshape their thinking process. (New learners in a foreign language congregation will often lament that they can only give comments 'like a baby'. In fact, from a neurological stance, that is exactly what they're doing: learning the thought process and word formation from scratch, starting at the most rudimentary level and working their way up, as a child does.) And in the end, no matter how fluent the learner becomes, it rarely connects to the heart like their mother tongue.

So, for these reasons, it's my guess that scenario #1 is most likely. However, I am fully willing to be wrong on this point and many others!

Did I miss something? Is there another scenario I'm leaving out? Think we'll study the new tongue instead? Leave your feedback in the comments!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Critical Times Excerpt

You can read an excerpt for my latest novel, Critical Times, here.

And let me just say, I am nervous. Nervous because this book has a very different feel to it than my first two, and I'm not sure how readers will receive it.

Although there was a clear sense of conflict in both All Things New (between the interviewees and the things they faced during the Tribulation) and The Unrighteous (between the Lewis family and the unrighteous resurrected they were assigned to), these were both essentially paradise novels. The protagonists were nearing perfection and part of the enjoyment for the reader was in watching the characters grow. The settings of the novels were relaxing and peaceful, and reading it was meant to be a soothing experience.

Critical Times is a totally different animal. It's got a lot more conflict, as it's set during the most tumultuous period in mankind's history, the Great Tribulation...

I'd say more, but I don't want to spoil anything. Just keep in mind: this isn't another paradise novel!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Wiritng a Novel - Keeping it all Organized

One of the most daunting aspects of writing a novel is the sheer volume of words involved. Not only must they be written, but they must be organized somehow. Otherwise, you're bound to find yourself buried in an avalanche of words, paragraphs, and chapters. Every author has their own way of keeping it all organized, but my personal preference is a piece of software called MacJournal. (Microsoft Word, for the PC and Mac, is capable of some of the features I mention in this post. However, I prefer MacJournal, which is a faster, lighter program.)

The advantage of using MacJournal–as opposed to opening some other word processor and just typing away–is that you can easily organize and label each entry. As the name suggests, MacJournal is primarily a tool meant for keeping a desktop journal, so it automatically (and helpfully) names each new entry with the current date and time. I typically use one entry for each scene in the novel, and I rename it to reflect whatever happens of import in that scene. I also like to add blank entries in between other passages, to help denote chapter breaks.

My MacJournal project for The Unrighteous. Left column shows the entries/scenes for the story. In the 'Notes' section, you can see some of the entries I used for research and plotting.

In writing a novel, I often find myself getting stuck on certain passages and returning to them later. To call attention to these 'orphan' entries, I use various colored labels as tags. (In the screenshot above, I used the red to denote when I'd finished writing and editing each section)

I use a separate folder, contained within the same document, for all my reference notes. For example, any pertinent research I've done, important notes for the characters, facts that need to be checked, or other amendments that need to be made. I find that one of the worst things I can do while writing is to let myself get distracted with minor details, so having places like these where I can stick notes for future editing is a big help.

Another of my favorite features is MacJournal's word count, which is automatically displayed at the corner of the interface. Because I'm always writing with a word count goal in mind, knowing exactly how much I've written during each session helps me clearly gauge my progress.

Have another method of organizing your writing you'd like to share? Feel free to let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Appreciation for New Songs

For family worship this week, my wife and I practiced a few of the new songs, trying to familiarize ourselves especially with #147 and #149 (the two that will be sung for the memorial this year). Our favorite of this new batch is #149. The lyrics, the music, and the composition of the orchestral music is very moving.

We also really like #150. I’m so happy to see that the style of our music has expanded in the last year or so. I especially like the tribal percussion and unique rhythms of both #150 and #142. As a worldwide brotherhood, it only seems fitting to have melodies and compositions that reflect our varied ethnicity!

Actually, besides just the music, it seems we've seen the creativity of our organization really blossom in the past few years (especially since the launch of the updated site). The photography and design on our magazines, for example, has become cleaner, more modern, and more appealing than ever before. The use of infographics (now a weekly part of the Meeting Workbooks) is wonderful. And now, a constant output of eye-catching, artistic videos paired with professionally composed music. It's just incredible. I can't help but thinking of the scripture at Isaiah 60:17:

“Instead of the copper I shall bring in gold, and instead of the iron I shall bring in silver, and instead of the wood, copper, and instead of the stones, iron; and I will appoint peace as your overseers and righteousness as your task assigners.”

If you haven't yet had a chance to preview the new songs, you can listen here.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Writing a Novel

In the course of writing three novels, I’ve adopted a lot of tools and techniques to help me along the way. Some I’ve developed myself, while others I’ve picked up from other authors and bloggers. Some techniques have even come from you, my readers. I thought it’d be nice to occasionally write a blog post to share a few of the methods that I use to help me go from concept to first draft and beyond.

First of all, I’d have to say that writing a novel isn’t hard per se, but like any long-term project, perseverance is a must. I’ve gotten emails over the past couple of years from friends who lament, ‘I’d love to write a novel, if only I had the time!’ Well, I’m here to tell you that writing a novel is less about having the time and more about having dedication

Using graphing software helps me visualize my progress as I write.

As with anything else, short term goals can be a big help. For me, that goal tends to be writing 2,000 words per day. Since my books thus far have run at around 100,000 words, this means that if all goes well, I can have a first draft done in a little under two months. Has this actually happened yet? Well, no. But the goal is still useful. It gives me something to shoot for each time I sit down in front of the computer to write.

‘But where can I find the time?’ you're thinking, right? Well, like anything else, writing a novel requires a certain amount of discipline and sacrifice. For me, it means limiting how much time I spend in front of the TV. It’s no big secret that TV viewing can be a huge time waster. (According to a Nielson study done in 2012, the average American over the age of 2 spends 34 hours watching TV each week, or just under five hours each day!)

Of course, I’d imagine this average is a lot lower among Witnesses, who, on top of their secular lives, must schedule in Family Worship, the ministry, meeting preparation and attendance, and personal study. Still, by shaving away just a few hours of TV viewing per week, I’ve found that I’ve had a lot more time to do more productive things, like writing. So how long does it take to hit my goal of 2,000 words? It varies from day to day, but on average I’ve found that I can hit that mark in about two hours. The result is pretty rough, and barely good enough to make it into a first draft, but as any writer will tell you, the first step of writing a novel is just getting the words and ideas on the paper (or the screen).

Making it all sound pretty comes later, in the editing stage, which I’ll save for another post…

Saturday, February 13, 2016

New blog launch

Well, I've resisted the urge for a while, but here we are. I've finally caved and set up an actual blog (as in, a website where I post more than just snippets from my books). Wait, I know what you're thinking: Just what the internet needs, right? More bloggers!

I've decided to do it for a few reasons. For one, I hope that having this site will help me to keep motivated with my writing. I'm just about finished with my third novel in as many years and I'd love to keep up the pace, but with increasing responsibilities and endless demands on my time, it's hard to make any promises. The idea is that having something like this will get me to keep writing (every few days, if possible), even if I haven't yet invested in the next big writing project.

Another reason for joining the blogging masses is to share some of the things I've learned about writing itself. I'm no professional writer and I can't say I've ever aspired to be one, but I have picked up some techniques along the way that might be helpful for other amateur writers. A surprising number of emails have come through with questions and feedback along these lines, so hopefully making my answers public here will be of some benefit to others.

Third, having a blog like this will help to centralize things a bit. For example, I can put all news related to any of my novels here, like book printings, digital releases, etc. I believe this will make things much easier for visitors to these sites, since they will no longer need to jump from one site to the next just to get the latest scoop.

Finally, I'd like to use this site to host the occasional poll or gather thoughts and expertise from my readers. The feedback I've gotten from all of you has been wonderful, and I'm forever grateful for the time that many of you have put into contacting me and sharing your thoughts. I've gotten lots of great suggestions from fellow writers to improve my writing, and many others have written in with concerns regarding the accuracy (or plausibility, I should probably say) of some of the details and events depicted in the books. Needless to say, this has all been very helpful. Hopefully, having this blog will allow me to address specific issues and garner even more valuable input.