Being a Better Writer: “The Simpsons Did It”

Hello readers! Before we get rolling with today’s Being a Better Writer post, there’s two bits of news you should know about!

First, there’s a preview of Axtara – Banking and Finance here on the site! Those of you who don’t frequent the place during the weekends will have missed this, so here’s the quick recap: My next book, a YA Fantasy titled Axtara – Banking and Finance is now slated to release before Christmas. It’s been ready to go for a while, but the cover is at long last in development and on its way! And with the release so close, it’s time to let everyone get an early look at it so they know what they’re looking forward to.

Basically, here’s a link to this weekend’s post that’s an excerpt from the first chapter. Go meet Axtara!

Now, item two on the list: A reminder of my Books page and Christmas. It’s been a rough year for a lot of us, I know. And with Christmas approaching, a lot of you are likely thinking about gifts and looking at a terrifyingly tight budget. Why not give the gift of a book? Send your friends on a trip to Pisces or Indrim!

Basically, as you shop for Christmas this year, I’d like to point out that yes, you can gift my books, they’re an absolute bargain, and doing so is a Christmas gift to me as well. Sands, you can buy one or two for yourself while you’re at it. If you’re one of those folks that’s been reading Being a Better Writer for years but never gone any further, well, Christmas is the perfect season to give a little back. Plus, it isn’t as though you’re risking much: You’re talking about books below ten dollars that are, in most cases, almost or over a thousand pages long, with over a hundred reviews over the last couple of years leaving them at a 5-Star average.

So yeah, as you think about Christmas this year, I’m going to shamelessly plug my own work and point out that it’s ridiculously well-priced for what you get. Got a reader of Sci-Fi or Fantasy in your friend circle? Give them the gift of one of the best books they’re read this year. Or get yourself a new adventure you won’t forget.

The books page is here! So go take a look!

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Axtara – Banking and Finance Special Preview

Readers! I’ve got a real treat for you today! As you may have heard, Axtara – Banking and Finance is getting a cover at last. And no, it is not the featured image for this post. That was an amusing mock-up which, to some of you, will explain a post title from earlier this week. UPDATE: The real cover is now the featured image. If you find yourself wondering about the old one, well … you missed it. But you’ll see it again before long!

Anyway, with Axtara at long last nearing for many of you, well, there couldn’t be a better time to start hyping things up! So, for your enjoyment and delight to kick off this weekend, here’s a little snippet from chapter one!

Hit the jump, and get ready to meet Axtara at last! And once you’ve done that, get ready, because the whole of Axtara – Banking and Finance will be dropping soon!

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Why You Should Read … The Pinch

Yes, it’s time for another one of these posts. Why You Should Read …, if you’re not familiar with them, are posts where I talk about books other than my own that I have perused, enjoyed for one reason or another, and now recommend to all of you for (probably) those same reasons.

I’m a big proponent of reading—well, not just reading, but thinking and comprehending. Thinking critically. Questioning. Gathering information and then using it to look at the world through a new lens. Comparing lenses and asking why one may work better than another.

I’m also a big proponent of seeking out knowledge. I don’t hold at all with the idea that “what I’ve got is good enough, and I refuse to learn more” (sadly a common concept, I feel, in modern culture). We should, I believe, always be striving to learn new things, new knowledge and new concepts. Again, there’s a way to do that intelligently and with patience, but seeking out and learning new things is one of the blessings of modern society. Well, at least, the capability to do so is. A lot of people, sadly, don’t take advantage of this, then still want to play in the grand sandbox, pitting their toy soldiers of ideas against actual tanks (and often not understanding in the slightest why their plastic memes failed to make a dent in a well-armored, carefully researched opponent).

Basically, Why You Should Read … posts are the occasional recommendation of books that I find worthy of being added to someone’s read shelf, for one reason or another. Some are fiction (because you absolutely can learn a lot from fiction, as many scientific studies are discovering) and some are non-fiction (because understanding the building blocks of the world around us along with its cause and effect is pretty important). Today I’m recommending one of the latter: The Pinch by David Willets. Or, to use it’s less common full title, The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children’s Future — And Why They Should Give it Back.

Yeah. It’s a mouthful. And the longer title isn’t especially popular with some people, as you may guess. After all, it straight up points out an issue and assigns blame right there, and against a particular generation that doesn’t much like being blamed for anything save the good. Which, you might suspect, could be part of the problem.

But David Willets is not intimidated. In fact, he’s a member of that generation (the Boomers). He’s also a British lord and chair of the British Science Association as well as a member of the British Council of the Institute for Fiscal Studies. In other words, he’s not some random individual. Willets is someone who was tasked with studying the economic impact of the largest generation ever, along with a whole wing of the British government and independent research groups. And after a several-decade study, comparing data going all the way back to the late 1800s (and in some cases even earlier), and yes, involving the United States, Willets wrote a book about their findings to try and widen their audience because, well, it’s vitally important that people know what they found out.

And I’m saying that you should read it. Hit the jump.

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Weekly Update: Mock that Mockup

Hey folks! Max here with the weekly update. And I’ve got awesome good news, starting with Axtara – Banking and Finance!

The cover is on its way!

Yes! At long last the Axtara cover is coming, and it is going to be glorious. Like the cover for Shadow of an Empire, it will be available in a fantastic 4K background image as well. And once I have the cover, I can start the paperback sample run …

But this does mean that I can officially give you a notice: Axtara, at least in digital format, will be available before Christmas. Starting this weekend, I’ll be dropping preview chapters here on the site, and I’ll have a release date up soon!

So get ready! Axtara is taking flight and almost here!


Right, so that’s the big news. Now for Starforge. Not much to say here: The draft is at 183,000 words and climbing! Progress continues … and that’s all I have to say about that!

This has been your weekly update! Catch you readers later!

Being a Better Writer: Selling Emotion in a Written Medium

Hello readers! Welcome back after the (for many) Thanksgiving Holiday Weekend! A bit of an odd one given the pandemic issues sweeping the country at the moment, but a Holiday Weekend all the same. Like many, I stayed home, making a Thanksgiving meal for one—by which I mean I’ll be eating leftovers for a while now—and then got all my Christmas shopping done in a single, several hour stint of buying on Friday. It’s a bit easier when you’ve had some gifts in mind for a while.

Anyway, it was a pretty nice weekend past that. Got a bit further in The Pinch, which I’ll be talking a little bit about when I’m done, and also tore through Ori and the Will of the Wisps, which I can absolutely recommend as a worthy successor to the first title, Ori and the Blind Forest. Very evocative story-telling, to the point that yes, just like with the first game I teared up a little. Moon Studios is really good at getting that Pixar-like empathy with the audience going, all without dialogue.

Which actually ties in to what I wanted to talk about today, actually! Because yes, both Ori titles do a fantastic job of selling emotion, in a way that’s very reminiscent of the opening to Pixar’s Up (yes, that opening), and selling emotion like that is what we’re talking about today. So hit that jump, and let’s get started!

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Weekly Update: It’s Full of Stars and Lovecraftian Monsters – Happy Thanksgiving!

Hey readers! I’ve decided that, at least of the foreseeable future, this Wednesday night update will be a regular feature. A progress report, and a little bit of news!

So, first up, let’s talk Axtara – Banking and Finance. I appears I’ve found a cover artist at last! Good news, I know. With that finally happening, that means I can aim at December release! Ebook first, paperback ASAP (but hopefully before Christmas, for all you book-givers out there).

Excited! I am. Axtara was an absolute joy to write, and I can’t wait for all of you to meet her at long last. Keep watch on things, because there’s going to be more news coming!


Now onto Starforge. As of today, the first draft is sitting at 177,000 words. And I’d say I’m about halfway through the second quarter, so … 37.5% or so. Roughly.

This is the “stars and lovecraftian horrors” of the title by the way. Though the All are easily a more tangible “eat your face off” sort of horror as well. They’re just kind of lovecraftian in their scope.

This book is shaping up to be awesome though, It just keeps picking up speed.

All right, that’s the update. There is some news from the book industry I want to mention, but I’ll put it after the jump. Hit it if you’re curious, otherwise, have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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Being a Better Writer: Holidays

Hey there readers! How were your weekends? Healthy, I hope. I spent all of mine inside working on Starforge, Axtara, or recuperating. My Covid-19 test came back negative, but that just meant whatever I did have likely wasn’t Covid. It was still something, so I skipped church on Sunday (doing the smart thing) and gradually felt better as the weekend moved on.

Either way, due to that, I really don’t have much in the way of news to report or talk about from this weekend, so there’s not much for me to do here but dive into this week’s topic. Which, as you might have noticed, is a little … seasonal.

Yeah, I’ll admit this wasn’t on the list. Rather I thought of it over the weekend and once the bug was in my head, couldn’t shake the idea because it was, I felt, a good one that deserved talking about. Not a game changer, probably, but one of those “little details” that can take a story from a nine to a ten.

Yes, we’re still talking about writing. When I say “Holidays” I do so in the sense of a recognized celebration date, not a vacation from things. Those of you waiting for that kind of post are looking at the wrong job.

I kid. Mostly. A writer is almost never truly on a vacation. Our work tends to be … consuming.

Anyway, with that clarification out of the way, let’s talk about holidays.

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Weekly Update

Short and sweet here guys. I’m still pretty tired. And was tested for Covid-19 last night so … yeah. 72 hours until the results come back. Only symptoms fatigue (a lot of it) and the occasional light headache.

But enough of that. Book updates!

Starforge is now at 163,500 words. I’m running a little slow right now, just doing 2,000 a day instead of 3,000-4,000 and I’m tired through it, but I can’t stop. This story is too important.

Axtara updates: I am still trying to find someone to do a cover. Most artists I’ve tried to contact are either busy or not doing art right now because of what I’m guessing are Covid-19 related issues. If any of you readers know of anyone who can do art like this and is looking for commission work, let me know.

That’s it for today. Tired now. Going to rest for a bit.

Being a Better Writer: Doing Good Research

Hello again readers! I hope you’re well and healthy. Me? A little funky. Really tired. No other symptoms that—to my knowledge—line up with Covid-19, but I’m considering if I feel funky tomorrow calling and scheduling a test anyway, just to be on the save side. And if it isn’t going to bankrupt my bank account.

Anyway, I hope none of you feel funky, but are staying in feeling healthy and hale. Watch that pandemic people! Do your part to fight the menace and stay home.


And with that, I’m going to dive right into today’s topic. Which, if you’re a long-time reader of Being a Better Writer, is one of the more common recurring topics. It wouldn’t be, except that time and time again so many authors, editors, and publishers get it wrong, or don’t even bother to try getting it right.

Note: This may be short. I feel funky.

For example, some of you may recall a hilarious error earlier this year when a historical novel released to the world from a major publisher … only for readers to quickly notice that a segment on dying cloth had some very interesting ingredients listed. Such as “keese’s wing” or “Lizalfos tail.”

If you’re not familiar with those odd-sounding items, it’s because they’re not real, and certainly didn’t exist back in ancient Greece or Persia or whatever either. They’re ingredients from the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild video game, which had just come out when the author was writing the book. So when they Googled “Making X color dye” one of the most popular results at the moment was a guide for making the dye in Breath of the Wild using these fantasy ingredients.

Now, you’d think that someone would have noticed the video game screenshots, or maybe the address of the webpage, maybe checked the credentials of the site offering this information, but no. None of that was done. Instead this “historical” novel passed by a pack of Trad pub editors and readers with not a single person questioning “Keese’s wing” or any of the other ingredients as appearing in a dye, nor the very simple, video-game methods by which said dye was prepared (combine in pot, apply).

End result? A lot of embarrassment for the publisher and the author when they had to admit that they hadn’t checked things as closely as they should have. And the rest of the “historical novel” was suddenly under suspicion, because if the author couldn’t be bothered to check if the dying process wasn’t from a video game, what else in the novel hadn’t been properly researched? Were bandits going to set upon travelers with the warcry “Never should have come here?”

Thing is, this isn’t an isolated incident. This kind of thing happens all the time. It would seem that most Trad pubs are interested in getting a book out as quickly as possible over doing, say, actual editing and checking things for accuracy, even in Sci-Fi and Fantasy.

“Accuracy?” you might say. “In Sci-Fi and Fantasy?” Yes, actually, Sci-Fi and Fantasy, while being fantastic, still subscribe to certain rules. If you’re writing Sci-Fi, for example, you’ll want to run the numbers on your science, and make certain that they actually make sense.

For example, a recent Sci-Fi release from a major publisher featured an astonishingly glaring oversight when it came time for the author to describe the muzzle velocity of their new weapons. They described—get ready for this one—a railgun autocannon on an atmospheric fighter that fired rounds at .1c. That is, for those of you who don’t use “c” often enough, ten percent the speed of light (“c” being the speed of light).

In atmosphere.

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Op-Ed: Rebooting America’s Education System

This post has been a long time in coming. It’s one I’ve wanted to make for months, almost a year, really, but just kept putting off because of everything else that was going on. But at last, the time is here, and I’ve got a bit to talk about it.

I’m going to start out with a few obvious disclaimers: I don’t work in education. I came through the US education system, but I don’t work in it. I’ve taught, but on panels and in places like Sunday School classrooms, where attendance is pretty voluntary, and that’s a pretty different experience.

Second, I don’t wish for this post to be taken as “How dare you attack our teachers!” at all. Because it’s not. Most of the best teachers I’ve known have been hard-working individuals who cared a lot more about the job than the paltry paycheck they got in return would have indicated (much of which went right back to paying for things their school couldn’t).

This isn’t to say that there aren’t awful teachers out there, but they’re a symptom of the problems with the US’s education system and only a partial cause rather than the full cause.

I’m also not trying to say that the US’s education system has been flawed from the beginning. It wasn’t. Not initially. But … Well, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start where this whole thing for me started: With the biggest missed opportunity in decades.

The quarantine.

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