Inertia: What’s Under the Writer’s Hood?

Writer Jason Howell hosts a weekly Q&A with writers & readers on his blog, mostly aimed at the place where writing, reading, and life intersect. This week’s question(s): What gets you back on the horse again? Keeps you trying?

I was grateful for the chance to chime in this week. Stop by and see the range of responses. Post your own in the comments here, if you like.


"The Nightmare" by Henry Fuseli

“The Nightmare” by Henry Fuseli

Robert Coover (novelist / professor emeritus, Brown University): “My way of making-the-best-of-it is to try to make a good story out of it… One thing about [the hero] is that the poor old fella’s had it, he knows he’s had it, but he’s still crawling back up on [the dragon’s] back again, and the willingness to do that is part of what makes the writing of the stories possible. If one falls into the despair that’s available, as one’s story-supports fall away, it’s all too easy to sink into that feeling of total inertia that overtakes you when you realize, looking at the world as a whole, from a cosmic viewpoint, it’s meaningless, and it can just drive you into a kind of immobility. It’s breaking through that immobility and getting right back on the horse again that is the heroism, and is the only way that we might make something out of nothing.”

What gets you back on the horse again? Keeps you trying? Mobilizes you when you’re paralyzed? Do you ever turn to literature, art or myth for models or instruction on how to go about your work (or life) in a meaningful way? What keeps you going?

True Crime Review: Ivory Tower Cop

George Kirkham and Leonard Territo pair up to deliver an informative, fast-paced police procedural in Ivory Tower Cop, exploring a serial rape case based on actual events. The thriller digs into half a dozen savage crimes, the latest developments in forensic science, arcane Biblical studies, historical detail from The Third Reich, and Nazism’s reach into the present with a pace and range worthy of Dan Brown.


David Roth is an internationally recognized expert on the behavioral profiling of serial rapists, a professor at the University of Miami, and a widower who lost his wife and son to a drunk driver several years before the events of this story. He’s fast-tracked through the police academy to team up with Miami PD’s special victims unit, headed by an attractive young Cuban-American, Maria Sosa. Stir in romance among the story’s numerous other fine attributes.

Full Review

Reviewers’ resource

If you’re looking to sink your teeth into reviewing books, Atticus Review is a good place to start. You can hear from their book review editor, Sam Slaughter, at Citizen Lit. He offers up a few thoughts on the art of the review and his approach to guiding writers in the process. Listen to the whole thing here. Excerpt below.


You have to be able to show if something is working, how it’s working. If something’s not working, how it’s not working. And doing that in a way that doesn’t come off as just being a jerk about it. You have to be able to advance the dialogue about literature in some way.

When you’re struggling with a book, and you know you don’t like it, if you can put into words and put into some sort of critical manner how it is not working for you, that is a much stronger review than just saying “This is a terrible book. The characters are flat. The plot is non-existent. Whatever.”

You also need to be able to understand that what you’re doing is, you’re giving readers a chance to understand the book maybe before they buy it. If they’re on the fence about something, understand the pros and cons of the book.

It’s not a chance for you to flex your vocabulary, it’s not a chance for you to show all of your hot similes off. You’re here to really show the voice and the work of another author.

You can have your voice come through, but you have to be cognizant of where to draw the line on where your voice is and where your voice takes over the content of the book you’re reviewing.

Work out! Rock out! Write on!

Here’s an inspiration to kick off the new year. John Grisham built a reputation as a writer (love him, hate him, it’s unimportant) by turning tax lawyers into the kind of people who drive fast cars, plot murders, and enjoy lives of sinister intrigue. Tax lawyers.

Whatever you do for a living, it’s got to be more interesting than tax law. Salesclerk, trash collector, even the fancy pinstriped diplomat, all seem better suited to the creation of hot-selling books!

Grisham says it takes him about six months to write a novel. He’s published at least one a year since he released The Firm (his second book) in 1991. The title, which inspired Tom Cruise to play a McDeere in the headlights, also seems to have spawned a whole line of workout videos. No credit to Grisham for the British rock band by the same name, however. They split up by ’86.

Happy new year! Now get writing!


Cheney: still wrong after all these years

Former veep, elegantly cloaked in fiction

Crediting Dick Cheney for his rebuke of Donald Trump’s bigotry gets no traction with me. Sorry Dick: you can’t make up for decades of reckless decisions and bad policy based on one easy moment of obvious decency. You’re still a modern architect of the very party now on the verge of nominating a racist bully with a wild ego and worse ideas than your own for the White House.

I made a big mistake when I ordered D*cked. A colossal error indeed. What I should’ve done was get the paperback instead of the e-book. That way all the riders on DC Metro would know about my impeccable taste for biting prose and my disdain for wicked human beings.


The real beauty about the compilation titled D*cked: Dark Fiction Inspired by Dick Cheney is that in spite of its premise, the book didn’t turn into a couple of dozen stories about trolls. What was the premise?

“No rules, no quarter. Make him a hero. Make him a perp. Make him a throwaway reference. Whatever fired the writer’s engine. All our authors had to do was craft a fictional, satirical tale inspired by the most vexing juggernaut of modern American politics — Dick Cheney.”

Yes: the troll is there (“Neighborhood Watch” by Rachel Canon). But so is the twisted, murderous perv who designs his own latex Cheney lookalike so he can run his hands up and down the former Veep’s nethers (Keith Rawson’s “The Many Loves of Arthur Snow”); so is futuristic Dick, or his statue anyway, whose reckoning becomes the subject of a high school senior prank in Jimmy Callaway’s “A Restoration of Power and Authority”; Flamethrower Dick gets it on in Greg Bardsley’s “Behind Those Yellow Rapids”.

Full review

The views expressed on this blog are my own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of my employer

A New Call to Arms


University Prez to Parents: Your kids aren’t safe with us

In what is surely a blow to morale for Liberty University’s security staff, university president Jerry Falwell, Jr. appears to lack faith in the campus cops’ ability to protect their grounds.


Following Wednesday’s mass shooting at a holiday party in San Bernardino, California, Falwell told 10,000 students, staff, and faculty at his Richmond, Virginia school to obtain concealed carry permits on campus, according to the AP.

“Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here,” Falwell said. “I’ve always thought if more good people had concealed carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in.”

The sad truth is, Falwell seems to have failed to learn the lesson himself: most, indeed nearly all, gun-related violence committed in the United States, including against schools, is carried out by non-Muslims.

Spot the Trend

  • 1999 Columbine High School shooters Eric…

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San Francisco: Crime and Baseball

San Francisco–can you get any stranger? Spiked baseball bats chained to parking meters all over town. They appeared, 27 of them, on Thanksgiving: preparations for the Black Friday zombie shopper apocalypse?

SF's strange new bat population...

SF’s strange new bat population…

Speaking of crime, baseball, and the City by the Bay: check out Tom Pitts’ Knuckleball…

The whole city of San Francisco wants a cop-killer caught. Over at Giants stadium Hugh Patterson’s jolly mug fills the Jumbotron: 30K reward and the good will of the city, the tabloids, the cops.

Patterson was a good cop. No ordinary beat-walker. Loved his uniform, helping old ladies and handing out stickers to kids. He was a believer, a Giants fan. He was a man of the people until one of the people put a bullet in his head, then five more for good measure.


Patterson’s partner, Vince Alvarez, a cop in golden handcuffs, doing his time until retirement. Bust the baddies and get home to his wife, his high school sweet heart. Doesn’t give a fig about more than that. She’s his reason for being and maybe some day they’ll have kids.

Shooting at 24th and Capp, San Francisco’s Mission District, good cop goes down. Bad cop’s got a shoddy story, looking for someone to pin it on.

Full Review

The Patron Saint of Juvenile Delinquents

Everyone who’s grown up Catholic has a few stories to share, long or short. The good folks at The Citron Review were good enough to publish one of my really short ones:


Mrs. Dever sees their faces but can’t remember what to call them. They all look alike. They all look bored. They all look drugged. They all look through the Bible for the names of saints and prophets they’ll take when done with her course and confirmed by the Bishop as members of the Catholic Church. Mrs. Dever lights up during class in the church basement.

"...the Bishop looks mighty in his Mitre..."

“…the Bishop looks mighty in his Mitre…”

Darren Ford has lice. Harry Brooks got dropped from swimming and everybody knows the swim team takes anyone. Vera Davis is dying to visit her brother at college and doesn’t understand why. Rhonda Watts hopes she’s a nympho, because there’s lots of money in porn and she’s sick of being a poor small-town girl.

Mary Magdalene. Was she a saint?
Can I use my given name?
Does it have to be a saint?
Why don’t we hear more about the prophet Malachi?
Was Jeremiah a saint?
Jeremiah was a bullfrog.
What about Jesus? Was He a saint?

Visit The Citron Review and read it all.


Trivial Armchair Protest #1

I like Starbucks’ red cup and I’m glad they dressed themselves up for the holidays. I’m annoyed that Nordstrom’s is bragging about not dressing up sooner. They sell clothes, after all: if anyone should dress up sooner, it’s them.

Nice cup. But why are the mermaid's feet behind her ears? Wait--this mermaid has feet?

Nice cup. But why are the mermaid’s feet behind her ears? Wait–this mermaid has feet?

I’m also tired of people casting judgments about how others recognize and celebrate or do not recognize and do not celebrate particular holidays. #NotForYoutoSay #GetOverYourself #MerryChristmas #WarOnChristmas #HappyHolidays #WarOnHolidays

Speaking of war… I never thought I’d say this, but I miss the good old days when this Christmas cup argument mattered. Please CNN, argue with me about the color of Starbucks Christmas cups and stop scaring the shit out of me. #DaeshGoF*ckYourselves.