Plot and Plan? Or Plunge in Where Angels Fear to Tread?

James Scott Bell is a published author with a diverse portfolio of fiction, from period short stories about boxing to zombie lawyer novels (don’t ask). Anyway, in the promotional material for his writer’s coaching service, Mr. Bell divides writers into two groups:

  1. Plotters map out their stories in advance, making sure they know how it’s going to end before they even start writing.
  2. Bell calls the other type “Pantsers,” but that’s an unfortunate choice of words. Puts me in mind of bullies yanking down a freshman’s shorts in gym class. Whatever you call them, they just start writing, with implicit faith that their stories will find their way to the end. They plunge ahead. So maybe “plungers?” That’s got an unsavory connotation, too. We’ll have to work on it.

Of course, most writers will find them in both camps to varying degrees at different times of their lives. For the first two published novels of my career, I have definitely been a hybrid of the two.

Continue reading


Also This Spring…

Last week, I offered a small preview of my upcoming novel, which takes place in the year 2019.

For this week, I give you another:

Part of Valentina’s volunteer work involved holding the hands of terrified young Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish girls, and doing her best to translate for the doctor as he explained the procedure. She had seen the results when these girls went to back alley quacks, so when her adopted country went a little crazy, so did she.

She had to be crazy, to be sitting in this fast-food joint in rural Georgia, hundreds of miles from home, engaged in activity that almost every state in the old South had branded as criminal. If she had been in Alabama, she would have been aiding and abetting a murder, and subject to life in prison according to the new statutes on the books there.

In plain fact, however, she was helping to drive a pregnant seventeen-year-old girl to Ohio.

So, in the year 2019, driving a pregnant girl to Ohio is considered murder in Alabama. Very strange…


Coming This Spring…

Sometime soon you may read a novel that begins like this…

Her name was Bethany McDaniels. She was seventeen years old and she was eight weeks pregnant. A high school junior in a small town in northern Georgia, Bethany had promised her mother, her father, and her pastor that she would save herself for marriage. That was what good Christian girls did. She had learned this at home and in church, and at her lunchtime Bible study group. She had believed it, too, praying every night since she was thirteen for the strength to stay pure.

But Rance Garrett had been a good Christian boy…

So how does that opening paragraph lead to the FBI and ATF pursuing two killers in a manhunt that crosses the South from Texas to the Ohio state line?

Stay tuned.


An Interview with Senator Remington Jeffries

Senator Remington Jeffries is the father of Colin, our hero in Human X, and plays a much bigger role in the follow up novel, which I am currently writing. Since he’s is so important, both in the life of our protagonist and in the story to come, I thought you’d like to meet the man.

Continue reading


The Real and Unreal World of Human X – Northern Virginia

I have a love hate relationship with the back roads in that part of country. They are beautiful and, when you know where you’re going, a lot of fun to drive. That part about knowing where you’re going is key.

Back in the days before in-car GPS systems, I was in the Vienna/McLean/Tyson’s Corner area on business. I landed at Dulles at night and was driving to my hotel. If had gone right, I would have been in the brightly lit heart of Vienna. I went left instead and found myself in a semi-rural residential neighborhood. Back in those days (1995), the people in those parts didn’t believe much in street lighting. About once every block, the road I was on seemed to be named after a different Confederate general.

This was also before I owned a cell phone, of course. Fortunately, my search for a pay phone led me across the road where my hotel was supposedly located. If I hadn’t stumbled on that, I might still be roaming the wilds of Northern Virginia like a Flying Dutchman in a rented Chevy.


Anatomy of a Character: Della and Lisa

In Human X, the one and only time we see Ted, Colin’s original partner, he say he’s headed to Della and Lisa’s house. Presumably, Della and Lisa are friends of Ted’s and acquaintances of Colin’s. Their role at first is twofold. First they symbolize the estrangement between the two partners, as the two men seem to live in separate worlds. Continue reading


Human X: From 2012 to 2040

The political background of Human X is not completely beside the point. It helps to define Colin Jeffries, and it also sets the groundwork for future stories. His father, Remington Jeffries is a U.S. Senator, but not for one of the two major parties with which have been all too familiar this year. Seriously, previous election years may have seemed like the country was giving birth to a new administration. This year felt more like we were collectively passing an especially painful kidney stone.

Continue reading


The Real and Unreal World of Human X – The Missile Site

When I wrote the climax of Human X, I thought I was taking some liberties when I described the missile site nestled in the oil fields of northern Orange County, Site LA-29. The site was real but I was certain that, by 2011, much less 2039, it was a neatly manicured tract of homes. Turns out I was wrong. The old site was still a decaying, graffiti-covered collection of abandoned structures. It was, however, far more complete than I describe in the book. Fortunately for accuracy, the remaining structures are marked for demolition and, by 2039, the site should be the relatively pristine wilderness described in the book.

Continue reading


How I Would Adapt The Stand for the Screen

Actor, director, and screenwriter Ben Affleck is apparently bogged down in his attempt to adapt Stephen King’s epic 1978 classic The Stand for the big screen. I’m not surprised. Somewhere here I have a 1980 paperback copy and the back cover proudly proclaims, “Soon to be a major motion picture from George Romero!”

Remember that movie? If you do, you were on drugs because it never happened. A movie version of King’s biggest novel (at that time) was a sort of holy grail for fans but filmmaker after filmmaker struggled with it and gave up. Finally, there was a three-part TV miniseries in 1994. It was pretty good. Gary Sinise made a fine Stu Redman, Jamey Sheridan was a good choice for Flagg, but Molly Ringwald never really looked confortable as Fran Goldsmith. The inability to get really R-rated with the material also hampered the final result. It was a nice try but fans still wanted more.

Continue reading


Anatomy of a Character: Antonia Milos

In Human X, the character of Antonia Milos is a textbook example of the organic way I develop characters, especially my supporting cast. I put a fair amount of a planning into my major characters, while still giving them room to develop with the story. I knew who Colin Jeffries was and where he had come from before I wrote a single word. When I started typing chapter one, however, Antonia Milos didn’t even exist. In fact, when I typed the words “Chapter Two,” she still didn’t exist.

Before I finished chapter two, however, I needed to fill in a bit of Collin Jeffries’ back story. Continue reading