Sentence Length Variance

If you read enough books, you can gain an understanding of sentence length variance without really knowing what you’re learning. And when you sit down to write, you’ll follow the style and flow of your favorite authors, using short sentences if they used short sentences, and going on long-winded, semicolon-dotted tirades describing the contents of a store room if they went on long-winded, semi… okay, you get it. But if you do need it spelled out for you, consider this quote:

“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”

— Gary Provost

I love and hate this paragraph. I love it because it’s dead-on. I have not seen a piece of writing advice that encapsulates rhythm and flow like this one. And I absolutely hate it because I wish I had been clever enough to think of it first.

Being aware of the flow of your words is paramount. It’s another layer of storytelling. It’s more than what you’re saying; it’s how you’re saying it. Can stilted language create anxiety? Or long sentences fatigue? Or any length any emotion?

If a character is overwhelmed, I’ll run a sentence into the ground until everyone is exhausted. If a character is scared or angry, their dialogue will be short, clipped. How fast the reader gets through the sentence, the paragraph, the page, the chapter… all of it matters. When do they stop for air? When does it all become too much?!

I finished another chapter in Book V this morning, so I loaded it up intent on counting the number of words in each sentence. When that got too tedious, I decided to count the number of words in each paragraph. After all, those need variance too, right? Too many big blocks of text and the reader’s going to go watch YouTube.

So I counted up the words. 2,106 words in 79 paragraphs. Smallest paragraph: 1 word. Longest paragraph: 95 words. Average paragraph: 27.

Here’s what it looks like:


I like short sentences. They have drama. Power.

Longer sentences are great too, especially when they’re drawing the reader in, showing them things they may have missed, expanding on ideas in a thousand different ways to show them the hopelessness of the character’s plight.

I was glad to see there was plenty of variance in paragraph length. I think I tend towards shorter paragraphs because of the way it looks on the page, so there’s definitely an aesthetic consideration at work here as well.

When I look at the shortest of sentences and take into account their content, it’s almost as if they serve as punctuation marks for groups of sentences. A handful of regular-sized paragraphs followed by a short stinger.

“Watch me,” said, Armando, tossing a wad of paper towels into the trash can. He hurried out of the bathroom, wanting to get away from Jimmy and Ethan and the office and the horrible malaise that was slowly enveloping him. It was as if reality had developed a feel to it, a weightiness, one he was only aware of now that he’d been outside of it. Standing beneath the falls, standing on the bleak emptiness of existence, he’d felt free, almost… clean.

That was the word he was searching for.

Reality was a shroud he was forced to wear. It weighed him down, connected him to the simulation. If he could break free of it, he would also break free of its feel, its smell and taste—just everything about it. He could shed it all.

But first he’d have to make it back to the underworld.

The Rogue sputtered, growled.

I could see another writer combining the first three paragraphs, just letting it all run together. But to have a single sentence on a line by itself imparts importance, a clear clue to the reader that they should pay attention, something interesting just happened.

Anyhow, I was just thinking about this today. I hope you think about it too.

Because if I preview your Kindle book and am greeted with a page with no paragraphs breaks, I’m probably not going to read it. I’m looking at you, Victor Hugo.

Working Out With the Bundys

2017-08-14 06.09.07

Running on a treadmill is terrible. All exercise, is in fact, inherently wrong. We’re all going to wake up in our stasis tubes some day and shake our heads at the amount of time and pain we spent trying to keep virtual avatars “healthy.”

The only silver lining is that I get to relive my childhood by watching reruns of Married With Children, which stands in stark comparison to the show Dom is currently “making” me watch at home, Baby Daddy. I think it boils down to realism. Baby Daddy is like a Disney cartoon: bright colors, beautiful people, and edgy, I-can’t-believe-they-said-that veiled references to testicles. MWC is the opposite: muted colors, normal people, and constant cutting-down of family members, which is how you’re supposed to show love.

Some of the references are dated, but it’s easy to see how this show inspired the modern “edgy” sitcom, shows like Veep and Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Shows where they just don’t hold back. It’s like watching an episode of Rick and Morty, where you can’t believe people have the freedom to write shows with content that is really, really, really wrong.

Anyway, big thanks to TBS for showing this at 5 in the morning in Austin. I don’t know what I’m going to do when they change up the programming.

I’ll probably just stop exercising.




The Perion Spire glinted in the mid-morning sun. For a week now, the weather in the remote desert of Southern California had been cool and sunny, almost to the point of being enjoyable. In response, there had been a rash of impromptu stay-cations among the rank and file of Perion Synthetics; you could practically smell the burning of PTO from all corners of the city. While this had led to more pedestrian traffic on the streets, it had turned the Spire itself into a ghost town.

For Conner Overton, this was a welcome side effect. He didn’t have to fight the crowds in the main atrium of the Spire, nor crowd into the elevators and smell a dozen different types of colognes and perfumes as he rode up to his office the forty-eighth floor. He didn’t have to greet anyone on his walk to his office; even the floor secretary had been gone since Tuesday.

There was still a small bustle in the office: a few senior coders, the muted bass thump of techno-slop, and of course, the synthetic staff. Synnies were unavoidable in Perion City, and they never took vacations. They kept right on cleaning the offices, emptying the trash cans, and more or less submitting to whatever whim an organic human might throw at them.

There had been a time when some people looked on synnies as near-equals, as recently as a year before, but after the Collapse, after the recall, their psuedo-AI had been dialed back, leaving them capable of only the most menial jobs.

Conner stepped into his office and dropped his bag onto the desk. The curved window on the far side of the room was catching the sun; it had dimmed automatically to a soft gray that turned the desert landscape even more alien. His workstation chimed and came alive as he sat down in the room’s lone chair. Having only one place to sit discouraged visitors from staying too long, something Conner had learned early in his career.

A few pop-up notifications cluttered his main view, but he clicked them away with his mouse. They were just reminders for the multitude of meetings he had seemingly every day. Normally, he would leave them up, off to the side where he could watch the timers count down, showing him exactly when he needed to leave his desk to reach some remote conference room somewhere in the Spire. This week, however, most of the meetings had been informally canceled, which meant he could finally have a full day to concentrate on the task at hand.

The screen filled with multi-colored code on a black background. The syntax highlighting let him easily pick out variables, function names, and operators. Next to each line was either a blue circle or empty space indicating whether he had reviewed that line or not. Currently, he was on line 1,902 of some class file; he couldn’t immediately recall the name of it, only that it was one of thousands of class files making up just a minuscule part of a pseudo-AI.

That had been his job for the last year: review the code and figure out why every synthetic in Perion City had suddenly lost its mind, first at the death of James Perion, and second at the behest of Savannah Kessler. The process itself was mind-numbing, but a synny kept bringing him coffee and there were free sugary snacks in the break room, so overall it wasn’t a bad gig. Conner longed to work on something new again, but now was hardly the time to make waves.

Joseph Perion had been at the helm of the company for a little more than a year, and in that time, nearly two thousand employees had jumped ship. They were mostly from two ends of the spectrum, either entry-level noobs who couldn’t handle a little crisis, or hat-in-the-ring executive types who knew it would be their asses on the line when the Spire came crashing down.

For everyone else, it was just a job. The office was just where Conner went during the day before coming back home to his wife and two kids. The youngest, a boy name Curtis, had just started first grade at PC-2 on the north side of the city. Like all schools in Perion City, PC-2 had an unlimited budget, and after decommissioning dozens of synny teachers, had plucked the best and brightest educators from all over the country.

Conner glanced at the framed photo beside his terminal screen. Elizabeth worked in the legal department down on the fifteenth floor—her group nearly rivaled the engineering team—and had a nice, cozy office with a big desk and a pack-and-play where Curtis used to spend his mornings. His daughter, Etta, was currently in the third grade, had long blonde hair like her mother, and had no interest whatsoever in the professions of either of her parents. She mostly played immersive world-building games in Perion VR all day.

He was just about to start reading code when a meeting invite popped up on his screen, sent by a name he didn’t recognize: Jamie Levin. He almost dismissed it, thinking it to be spam, but realized if it were, it wouldn’t have come in through the company Exchange server. When he clicked the Open button, the invite filled the screen.

The subject was a terse but evocative Emergency Meeting, and the required attendees were listed as Conner Overton, Charles Huber, Dominic Franco, and Jamie Levin. The body of the invite read: Joseph Perion requests your attendance to discuss development at NTX installation. It was signed Jamie Levin, Assistant to Mr. Perion.

Conner looked over the invite again just to make sure he was reading everything correctly. Charles Huber—usually known as Chuck—was the lead architect for all synthetic projects at Perion Synthetics. Chief Franco led security in the city, and was responsible for keeping the bad people out. The body text didn’t make much sense. Development? Did they have a new coding project for him to take over? As a senior developer, he was one of the most qualified to helm new R&D. And what was the NTX installation? He’d never heard of NTX or how it was supposed to be installed.

The meeting was to be held on the —number—floor of the Spire, and the timer that usually counted down to when he needed to leave to make the appointment had already expired. Its sextuple zeroes flashed in alarm.

Conner hit the half-moon icon on his keyboard and put his computer to sleep. He finished off his cup of coffee in one long gulp. In the hallway, someone called to him as he passed, but he didn’t stop to talk. Big J had summoned him to the highest levels of the Spire, and when you got a call like that, you didn’t dally for idle chit-chat.

He looked longingly at the restrooms as he hurried down the hall to the elevator. The car accelerated skyward, and every vibration seemed to climb his legs and settle in his bladder. Why had he had so much coffee? Now he was going to look nervous and fidgety in front of Big J. Maybe there was a bathroom on —number—.

The doors opened into a reception area, and a bright-eyed guy with long brown hair pulled back into a bun looked up and smiled.

“Mr. Overton? They’re waiting for you in Mr. Perion’s conference room.” He stood and came around the desk. “If you’ll follow me…”

Conner glanced at the door to the right. Gold letters on dark hardwood spelled out the word RESTROOM. He gestured to the door. “Do I have time for a pit stop?”

“Not really,” said the receptionist, offering a weak smile. “This way, please.”

Conner followed him down a hall to the left and through a tall set of double doors. The conference room took up almost a quarter of the floor’s footprint, though this high up in the Spire, the total area wasn’t that impressive. It was big enough, however, for a large oak table and about a dozen high-backed chairs. To the right, in an alcove no bigger than his own office, were two sofas and two standalone chairs.

Chief Franco sat alone in one of the chairs with one leg crossed over the other. He’d shed his usual black sport coat with the Perion City Security logo on it. His white button-up was impeccably pressed.

On one of the couches, a frazzled and sour-faced Chuck Huber sat scratching his chin. His lab coat was stained with errant strokes from dry-erase markers. Next to him was the man himself, Joseph Perion, CEO and son of the company’s founder, James Kirkland Perion.

“Mr. Overton,” said Joe, without getting up, “thank you for coming so quickly.” He gestured to the empty chair. “Please, have a seat. We were just getting settled.”

“Thank you for inviting me,” said Conner. “How can I help?”

Chuck spoke first. “How much do you know about PSOS upgrades?”

“In general terms? I’m familiar with the process. There’s been some changes since last year. I know we can’t really do over-the-wire upgrades anymore.”

“That’s correct,” said Chuck. “We disabled remote upgrades for every synthetic in the city. Right now we’re doing updates on an ad-hoc basis when the synnies are hardwired into the network. Nothing over the air, nothing for people or a hacker to intercept and exploit.”

Had they really called him all the way up to —number— for a refresher on how upgrades worked? His bladder protested by sending a dull ache up into his stomach.

“Got it,” said Conner. “So what’s the issue?”

Joe gestured to Chief Franco. The law man grimaced, as if the explanation tasted foul coming out.

“They shut down upgrades for all the synthetics in the city. Not all of our synthetics are in the city.”

Conner shook his head, looked to Joe for confirmation. “That’s impossible. What about the Deadline? I didn’t think any synthetics were allowed to leave the city? Did they escape during the…” He trailed off, unsure if the topic was still sore for the CEO.

Joe waved his hand dismissively. “No, all of our inventory was rounded up within twenty-four hours of the breach. We only know of two prototype synthetics that managed to slip past. We tried to reacquire them but… that effort is still ongoing. No, what we’re talking about is a second, smaller deployment of synthetic humans, numbering around 75 units.”

“I always said it was a bad idea,” said Chuck, “but your father was so adamant about helping his so-called friends.”

“Did something happen?” I asked. “Something… bad?”

Chief Franco huffed, chuckled.

“Officially?” asked Joe, “No. I put in a call to NTX and spoke with Richard Lesner, an old friend of my father’s. He said everything was fine, but I don’t know the guy well enough to smell his bullshit. According to him, everything is five-by-five in NTX.”

Conner draped one of his legs over the other. He really had to go. Impatience slipped into his voice. “So what’s the problem?”

Joe lifted an eyebrow, looked to Chuck.

“The problem, Mr. Overton, is this.” He reached for a palette he had stashed between his leg and the arm of the couch. He unlocked it with his fingerprint and handed it over to Conner.

The text on the screen looked like garbage.

“What am I looking at?” he asked.

“Garbage,” said Chuck. “Or so we thought at first. It’s actually an encrypted message.”

“From who?”

“Not a who,” said Chuck. “A what. This is from a synthetic at the NTX installation. The synthetics there are still getting over-the-wire updates, and when we pushed a patch late last night, we got this in return. Normally, it’s just a boolean coming back, one or zero, pass or fail. Instead, we got this. Hit the button there at the bottom to run decryption on it.”

Conner tapped the button; the text morphed into words.


“All dead?” he asked. “What does that mean?”

“Well,” said Chuck, “it could mean that all of the human inhabitants of NTX are dead. But since Joe spoke to one of the residents this morning, that’s probably not the case.”

“More likely, one of the units is malfunctioning,” said Franco. “And if that’s the case, we have to be ready for another Collapse. It would be on a smaller scale, but it would be a hundred times more public.”

“We’ve already lost so much of the public’s trust,” said Joe. “If something happens in NTX, we’ll be done. That’s it. We’d have to go military to save the company and we’d lose all of our best people.”

“We’re not going military,” said Chuck. “We can handle a single malfunctioning synthetic without calling in the calvary.”

“So who are we calling?” asked Conner.

“We called you,” said Joe. “We need you to go to NTX and figure out what the problem is with this particular synthetic. If it’s malfunctioning, factory reset it to clear the problem. If that doesn’t work, bring it home so we can take a look at it.”

Conner shook his head, shifted in the chair. “I don’t do on-sites.”

“You do now,” said Franco.

Joe gestured to the Chief. “Alright, Dom. Relax. He’s not some augmented cyber stalker; he’s just a developer.” Then to Conner. “Look, I understand completely. We didn’t hire you to do on-sites. I know how it is with some people, preferring to stay holed up at home or in a single city, not wanting to go beyond the borders of their comfort zone. I’m not judging you, and I’m going to make sure you have all the synth you need to feel comfortable.”

“It’s not that…”

“Look, if there was anyone else, we’d send them, but you’re the most experienced.”

“What about my boss? McClain’s more senior than me, and I bet he has more experience using voice interface with synthetics.”

“Michelle McClain hasn’t worked here for six months. Nor has her boss, or his boss, or his boss.”

“What?” For a moment, Conner forgot about the discomfort in his groin. “I was just trading emails with her last…” He thought back. Had it really been six months?

“We’re hemorrhaging engineers,” said Joe. “So unless you’re ready to jump ship, you’re the most senior guy we have. No one else can do this except you.”

Conner imagined traveling. If by car, it wouldn’t be so bad, unless he was heading into a major metropolis. If by plane, it would be bad, crammed into a metal tube with all those other people. Crying kids. Rude flight attendants. It made him want to gag.

And what was this bullshit about no one else being able to do the job? Did they really expect him to believe he was the most qualified, out of the thousands of engineers at Perion Synthetics. Conner studied each of their faces, saw the restrained hope in Joe’s face, the restrained disdain in Franco’s, and the near bewilderment on Chuck’s.

“Do you mind if I use the restroom?” he asked.

Joe spread his hands as if to ask how could I stop you?

Conner stood and hurried out of the room. He nodded to the receptionist, gestured vaguely to the restroom, and mumbled something even he himself didn’t understand. The bathroom was opulent to the point of being distracting, with bright Perion silver adorning most surfaces. The sinks were translucent ceramic bowls sitting atop a quartz countertop. The two urinals were separated by a deep partition. Toward the back, an open door led to a private toilet.

He fumbled with his zipper as he stepped up to the urinal. As he relieved himself, he let out a long sigh.

“Heh,” said a voice. “And I thought you were just avoiding the question. Why didn’t you say something earlier?”

Conner watched Big J step up to the urinal next to him.

“I just needed to focus on one thing at a time,” said Conner.

“I hear ya.” Joe’s voice changed pitch as he tilted his head back. “Sometimes I wish I could take a step back and get a handle on everything. But it all just comes too fast, you know? My father dying, all that business with the Collapse. And VFeed’s been teasing an expose on my father for a year now. So many balls in the air. Too few hands to catch them.”

“And this is just one more thing?”

“Exactly. Normally I might send an account rep, someone to smooth everything over and make sure the customer is happy, but the thing is, NTX never should have been a customer.” Joe shook his head. “Perion Synthetics has no customers yet.”

Conner zipped up and walked over to the sinks. Joe’s voice echoed over the sound of running water.

“You’d really be helping me out here, Overton.”

In the mirror, Conner saw himself smirk. Of course Big J would try to use his charisma to close the deal. Did he really think that highly of himself?

Joe appeared at the sinks and washed his hands.

The two men couldn’t have looked more different. Joe had a professional cut, with long hair perfectly styled over short sides. His blue eyes beamed over a wide smile. Conner inventoried his own face, with hair that laid flat on his head and brown eyes that hadn’t sat atop a smile in a long time.

Conner stalled, rinsing his hands repeatedly. Joe dried his hands with a paper towel and then placed one on Conner’s shoulder.

“Do it for me. Do it for the company. Or money or a promotion, whatever you want. I just want this off my plate. I need someone onsite with the technical know-how to fix the problem quickly. Do this for me and I’ll give you Michelle’s job.”

Conner looked over his shoulder at Big J. “And her salary.”

“And her salary,” Joe agreed.

“And her office.”

“Don’t be greedy, Overton. Next thing you know you’ll be wanting your own private bathroom.” He gestured to the room. “Not even I have that.” He removed his hand, walked to the door. “Join us when you’ve made up your mind. I hope to hear good news.”

Conner watched the door swing shut. His eyes fell on the evacuation map hung on the back of the door, leading him with a bright red line to the stairwell.

No, he thought. There’s no escape route from this.

Big J had called. Conner had to answer.

On Sharing El Matador

As parents, Dom and I have years and years of decisions to make for our little Matador, but one thing we both agreed on months before his birth was that we weren’t going to be those people who saturate their social media feeds with pictures of their kids. You guys know what babies look like; you don’t need us cluttering up your feed. Instead, I told her I’d find a way for us to share photos and videos with the family and close friends that didn’t involve Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

That way turned out to be an app called Tiny Beans.

2017-06-01 07.50.48.jpgNaturally, I tried WordPress, Squarespace, Tumblr, and even Google Photos first, but nothing matched the simplicity and single-minded purpose like Tiny Beans. I created an account, downloaded the app (you can use the web version too), and then began inviting people. Now everyone in the family gets a digest email every day (or week, if they prefer) with all the updates we’ve posted. The interface on the iPhone app shows you a month at-a-glance, and fills each square with the latest pic. At the end of each month, you get yourself a little keepsake that you can print and put on your wall if you’re so inclined.

If you noticed, there are some pictures of Matador on Instagram, but you’ll never (?) get to see his face on there. At least not until after the birth announcement. Until then (or some arbitrary time in the future), it’s fun keeping a secret with Dom. El Matador is our son, and we’re keeping him to ourselves for the most part. It’s not that we don’t want our Facebook friends or Instagram followers to see him, it’s just that some things in the world are just for us.

Does that sound selfish? Well, too bad.

We keep hearing that this newborn phase goes by very quickly, and though we take a moment to snap a picture once or twice a day, we find ourselves having to make a considerable effort to do so. I don’t want to think about whether my latest Facebook post of Matador is getting enough likes; I don’t want to use him that way.

Instead, we’re just going to keep updating this little app, creating a living history of the latest Verastiqui to join the world. If you’re thinking about taking your child’s life a little more private, I wholeheartedly endorse Tiny Beans. It’s $50/yr for premium, but I’ve seen them run specials a few times since we signed up. I think they had their lifetime membership down to $75, so keep your eyes open.

(The “people who saturate social media with pics of their kids” thing was a little harsh, yeah? Don’t worry; we don’t judge. And even if we did, who cares? You’ve got kids to worry about, not the opinions of two late 30-somethings who are often too tired to form a coherent thought. Man, why can’t all the time be nap time? Seriously.)

Sugar in the Morning

Alcohol and caffeine in the evening. I sacrifice my teeth, liver, heart, and general physical health for you, dear reader.

What Came After PHP?

Seriously. Not asking for a friend.

At my day job, I continue to take a lot of flak from the dev team for building web apps with PHP and MySQL. They don’t consider PHP a real programming language, and anyone who uses it is stuck in the past with Britney Spears and Austin Powers. Myself? I still like it, specifically because I can deploy a web app very quickly.

I wasn’t hired to build web apps, but when you’re trying to manage complex processes and large amounts of disparate information, you start looking for solutions that are efficient, accessible, and easy to build a process around.

For example, we get a lot of requests from customers about whether or not our product is affected by the latest CVE (Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures). When those requests come in, we usually have to forward them to our dev team for investigation. If they’ve answered the question before, they have to go through old emails to find their previous responses.

This is not a good process; it interrupts important dev work (those witty Reddit comments aren’t going to write themselves).

So what we needed was a way for the Technical team to proxy those inquiries, log the responses, and hopefully, prevent requests from getting to the dev team. This would require two separate pieces:

  • An internal app to add/edit/delete CVEs from the database
  • An external app to display the database

Although I often try to defend my apps as more than glorified interfaces for a simple spreadsheet, these two are pretty much that. The only interesting thing I got to do was URL rewriting, so that we could link to individual issues as It just looks nicer.

Having these apps allows me to create a dead-simple CVE request process for my Support Techs to follow:

  1. Check CVE against database
  2. If found, send response to customer
  3. If not found, send request to development
  4. Add CVE and development response to database
  5. Send response to customer.

Ideally, once dev answers a question about a particular CVE, they’ll never have to be bothered about it again… unless I somehow overwrite the PHP files that power the app. Not that I’ve ever done that.

Here’s some .htaccess magic to make URL rewriting work:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond /var/www/docs/%{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
RewriteCond /var/www/docs/%{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} !^/docs/cve/sitemap\.xml$
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} !^/docs/cve/pdf/.*$
RewriteRule (.*) index.php

Don’t ask me what any of these things do. Like I said, it’s magic.

And here’s how you get the relevant info out:

$path = ltrim($_SERVER['REQUEST_URI'], "/"); # trim leading slash(es)

# trim everything after ?
if(strpos($path,"?") !== FALSE)
     $path = substr($path, 0, strpos($path,"?"));

$elements = explode('/',$path);
$cve = cve_scrub($elements[2]); # first 2 elements are part of url path

The cve_scrub function contains a whole host of filtering commands because hackers.

I love how fast apps can be put together with PHP/MySQL, but for the last several years, I’ve had this nagging feeling that there’s something better out there. If anyone wants to point me in the right direction, let me know in the comments.

I Should Be Writing

For some reason, I’m under the impression that if I’ve written and sent out a chapter in the last day or two, then I’m under no obligation to use my free time to write. Instead, I purchased a new domain and set up a new blog here at I’m not sure why I set up a new blog–none of them have ever panned out in the past–but it’s here now and I’m going to talk about writing and publishing and how much my son poops. He is almost three months old. You will know him as El Matador.

I should explain (about the chapters, not El Matador). As with my previous novel, Por Vida, I’m using TinyLetter to send out chapters of my new book as I write them. It was a lot of fun the first time around. There’s nothing quite like getting instant feedback when you introduce a twist in the story. I’ve got less of an idea of where the story is going this time, but the feeling of it is there.

Reality. Hyperreality. Simulations. The Multiverse.

Lots of interesting ideas that evoke a feeling inside me. If I can take that feeling and wrap it up in a hardcore romance/cyberpunk blend, then we’ll have a new book to pimp on Facebook.

Until then, I’ll be here, avoiding the next deadline in a life-long, self-imposed series of deadlines.


Probability Lines

There are a lot of crazy powers being used left and right in Sergei Lukyanenko’s Watch books, but the one that intrigues me most is when characters “check the probability lines.” The stronger the Other, the further they can look along the lines, and thus reasonably predict how the future is going to play out. Lukyanenko fleshes out the idea in Last Watch, book #4 in the Watch series:

It’s not possible to see the future in the way that charlatans and fortune-tellers talk about it. Not even if you’re a Great Other. But it is possible to calculate the probability of one event or another: Will you get stuck in a traffic jam on this road or not, will your plane explode in midair, will you survive or be killed in the next battle? …To put it simply, the more precise the question is, the more precise the answer will be. You can’t just ask, “What’s in store for me tomorrow?”

The reason I’ve been thinking about “probability lines” so much these days is because I think the term (and ability) also apply to writing. When I finish a novel and want to get started on something new, I review all of the old threads that are still hanging out there.

Some of them include:

  • Where did Natalie and G disappear to after Xronixle?
  • What’s been happening in Perion City?
  • Where is Kaili Zabora?
  • Where did the Net get started?
  • How did Jape get his start?
  • How does this all end?

And on and on. The problem with all of these ideas is not that there isn’t anything to write about, it’s that if I look into the future, the probability of any of those ideas containing something truly interesting is quite low. I just don’t see an endgame, something to rival the twist of Por Vida or the Vinestead-universe-shifting progress of Perion Synthetics.

I want to write something interesting, but how do you get from here to there?

It’s a blessing and a curse to have a feel for whether a story will be interesting or not. I can build the world and the characters and give them some initial conflicts, but what’s the bigger picture? Why is this story worth a reader’s time overall? Sometimes looking ahead can stop a story dead in its tracks, and I’ll never know whether or not it would have turned into anything worthwhile.

On the other hand, it’s probably good not to spin your wheels on stories that go nowhere. So a guy does something and it’s challenging and just when you think he won’t accomplish his goal he does and then he gets the girl and lives happily ever after.

There has to be more than that. Right? A mystery. Some thrills. A twist no one sees coming.

In the Watch series, Lukyanenko tackles the idea of preserving good while doing evil. Or maybe preserving one’s humanity when given limitless power. Either way, it follows the main character Anton as he becomes a more powerful other. Throughout the books, he continually struggles with his place as an Other, going from a reluctant initiate in book 1 to a magician beyond classification in book 4. 

The stories are interesting because the entire world hangs in the balance, and yet we see it all through Anton’s eyes. His personal struggles have a context that means life or death for every human on the planet. The stakes don’t really get higher than that. Add to that the intrigue and mystery and double-dealings and schemings and everything… it’s just a good story. Every time.

I’d like to write a story about that. Probably not about magicians and witches and vampires, but something that’s close to our world but not as boring, and something bigger than just a single character.

Unfortunately, looking at the probability lines, nothing like that has occurred to me yet. Not that I’m complaining; it takes time to look at all the lines. I sit down with a small idea and try to follow each line, each branch, to a larger meaning. There are a lot of dead ends that look like expressways, and sometimes that means thousands of words get written and abandoned, but that’s writing for you.


  • I’m having trouble finding a good story to write.
  • Sergei Lukyanenko’s Watch books are excellent, and also great to listen to on Audible.

  • The Night Watch and Day Watch movies are also excellent. I wish they would make more.

Building Pumpkin’s Nursery – Part 2

With the bigger painting job out of the way, it was time to concentrate on the deco wall. The first order of business was to build the shelf at the top.

I used some of the same MDF board (though with less width) and placed it on top of the main crossbeam. That created a little nook, so I filled it with some cove molding. The lip of the shelf and the cove molding aren’t flush, but I like it. Probably would have looked weird your way, you perfectionist.

In the shot above, you can see I went ahead and primed the slats as well as the cove molding. The finishing paint is pure white, so I wanted to make sure none of the yellow showed through.

There was still some weird, dark splotches on the wall between the slats, so I went ahead and added another layer of smoothing compound. Then it was time to paint with a tiny little roller, which was ridiculous.

It should be noted that everything hurt to do it. Holding up the boards, applying joint compound, painting with a brush… everything!

After two coats of paint, it was time to work on the caulking, which again A) hurt and B) took forever. Isn’t that stuff toxic? And there I was just dragging my finger through it over and over again. Still, it wasn’t until the caulk went on that this started looking like something real. Before it kind of had a detached quality. Now it looks like part of the wall, which is nice.

It looks really yellow in my pictures. It’s not yellow. Calm down.

I started running out of steam on this project towards the end, which caused me to not be as meticulous as I should have been. Had Dom not been busy growing our baby, it would have helped to have her directing me. She’s so much better at the finer details.

Also, the wall is still white. Not yellow. Seriously, cool your yellow jets.

All in all, I give this project a solid C. It just needed something more. The walls could have been a little grayer, and the white could have popped more. Also, I totally wasn’t sure what to do at the bottom. With the Drop Zone, we pulled off the baseboards and replaced them with MDF. Probably should have done that again. Next baby.

I was excited to move some of the furniture in as quickly as possible, just to see how it will look. Again, this caused me great disappointment in my craftsmanship. Hopefully, baby won’t mind.

So this is it. Baby Verastiqui’s nursery. That crib is where our baby will sleep.

How fucking awesome is that? Truly fucking awesome, if you ask me.

Building Pumpkin’s Nursery – Part 1

When Dom and I bought our house two years ago, we made sure to include a couple of extra rooms to grow our family. Fast-forward to today, and we’re less than two months from the arrival of our first child, which we have nicknamed Pumpkin since we don’t know the gender.  Ever since we found out we were pregnant, my to-do list has contained the line item: build a nursery. I’m happy to report that after seven months of procrastination, I’m finally on the job!

Sane parents-to-be would have simply emptied out a room and put some pictures on the wall to make it a nursery. Luckily, we are not sane parents-to-be. 

Here’s what we set out to do:

  • Paint the walls a nice gender-neutral color
  • Smooth out the accent wall (Dom hates texture, and I’m not a fan either)
  • Add board and batten to the accent wall’s lower half
  • Add wallpaper, mural, or stickers to the accent wall’s top half
  • Add SnapPower guide lights to all outlets
  • Replace light switch with rocker and add SnapPower guide light
  • Pretend we’re going to replace the carpet but then not actually do it

I decided to tackle the smoothing first, since I’d be painting over it later. I used some simple painters tape and picked up some joint compound from Home Depot.

Look at that tiny putty knife. I did the entire wall in a few hours while listening to the audiobook of 1984, which was possibly the most depressing Saturday I’ve ever had. I thought the wall looked okay with only one coat, but after the initial painting, I realized I was wrong.

If you’re smoothing out textured walls with joint compound, use at least two coats.

We used the same MDF from our Drop Zone project to start the board and batten. The wall is twelve feet long, but not exactly due to builder quality. And, as I expected, the adjoining walls aren’t exactly plum either. Oh well.

We chose a light color called Ash Blue despite it being generally considered a boy’s color. We started to get a bad feeling as I was roughing it in, and upon seeing the final product, we decided to cover it up with a light gray called Silver Drop.

Now came the fun part. We got some wood slats (about half the thickness of the cross beam) and started positioning them. We bought twelve, but didn’t use that many. Of the four outlets on the wall, we only ran into one, which was really lucky. I’m sure there are a lot of options for getting around that outlet (we considered covering it up, which evidently is bad), but I went with just putting in a break in the slat. It’s not pretty, but if it bothers us enough, we’ll just put a table in front of it.

So, after a couple of weekends, we’ve got the walls painted a nice light gray, the board and batten on a smooth wall, and guide lights on most of the outlets. The remainder of the work is on the board and batten: getting it caulked and smooth, primed, and painted, which shouldn’t be too much of a challenge. Once that’s done, we can move in the furniture!

Some things I learned:

  • See that pic above with the blue tape? Says 6ft on it? That’s how I measure, which I think is superior to actual measurement techniques when you’re trying to find center. Measure a distance from one wall (in this case, 6 ft), then the same distance from the other. You can then use a ruler to measure the distance between and half the difference. Works every time except for the times it doesn’t.
  • I had a moment of panic removing the tape from the cross bar when I saw blue paint on it. But then I remember that this is actually going to support a tiny ledge, so it won’t be visible.
  • Nail guns are pretty awesome.
  • I hate joint compound.
  • If you’re scared of electrocuting yourself, have a “spare” outlet cover and leave it in place. I used this method while applying joint compound and it worked quite well. Helps if you’re replacing the outlet covers with guide lights.
  • There is no good way of cleaning up after you spill half a paint can onto your tarp, but at least you remember to put down a tarp. I can’t believe that thin plastic kept the paint from getting into the carpet.