Gene Rodman Wolfe (May 7, 1931 – April 14, 2019)

It is with regret that I report that Gene Wolfe is no longer the greatest living writer in the world. He may be one of the greatest writers in history, however. He passed away last month.

He was my friend and an early mentor to me. Many authors today cite Gene as a primary influence. But many more people have not heard of him.

I met Mr. Wolfe back in the 1970s when we both worked at Technical Publishing. He was then a struggling author. In his generosity he invited me to join with him and a small band of folks who also were struggling authors living in the Chicagoland area. It was a generous gesture to a young writer. Gene and his wife Rosemary never stopped being generous.

My last direct personal contact with him, save a few random Facebook moments, was in 2007 when he sent me a copy of his latest book. The letter that accompanied it was typical wry Wolfe in which he mentioned that his book had won an award, and this had taken him by surprise. “…My work hasn’t won a major award since 1996, unless you count that Hall of Fame thing.”

In his life Gene Wolfe won or was nominated for nearly every single award possible in the science fiction/fantasy genre, including the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 1996.

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America named him its 29th SFWA Grand Master in 2012.

The annual Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award was presented to Wolfe during Nebula Awards weekend in 2013.

And of course, there was this “Hall of Fame thing,” being his induction into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2007.

He finished life with many accolades. And he was so much more. In March 2012 he was presented with the first Chicago Literary Hall of Fame Fuller Award, for outstanding contribution to literature by a Chicago author.

Gene has been quoted as saying, “[My definition of a great story] is one that can be read with pleasure by a cultivated reader and reread with increasing pleasure.”

Gene’s writing is tricky and sometimes difficult. It often demands a second or third reading. He is not an “easy” read nor does he try to be. Once upon a time I sought to get everyone I knew to read his books. I learned they are not for everyone. Not everyone wants to make the effort.

In an interview I conducted with him, Mr. Wolfe said to me, “If you want to be a good writer, read good books. If you want to be a great writer read great books.” I use that quote often to encourage other writers, but what I do not say is the rest of his thought. “That is why there are so few great books written these days. No one wants to take the time to raise the bar.”

If you choose to read a Gene Wolfe book, make certain you have a dictionary handy. A really good dictionary.

As an author, I take Gene Wolfe as an example. I do not attempt to emulate his style. It gives me the willies just to imagine working quite that hard. But I do try to write to a higher level, to add hope and vision to the world, rather than fear and despair, wonder rather than worry. Let us give Gene the last word.

“I would like [my readers] to better understand human beings and human life as a result of having read [my] stories. I’d like them to feel that this was an experience that made things better for them and an experience that gave them hope.

“…what we [fiction writers] are saying is that [life] doesn’t have to be like this: things can be different. Our society can be changed…it doesn’t have to be the way it is now. Things can change. And we’re also saying things can change for you in your life.

“We don’t always have to be this. There can be something else. We can stop doing the thing that we’re doing…we don’t have to keep on doing what we’ve been doing. We can do something else if we don't like what we’re getting. I think a lot of the purpose of fiction ought to be to tell people that.”


Encouraging Your Writing Practice

I will be offering encouragement for you to Write from the Heart at California Writers on February 10 from 11:00 - 12:30. Centrally located at the Orange Public Library and History Center, 407 E. Chapman in Orange, CA. Hope to see you there!

Amusing Your Muse (Part Two)

Finally, the follow up to my post (see below) on Seven Things Your Muse Does Not Care About.

Seven Things Your Muse Does Care About –

1)       Quiet, uninterrupted time. Entails commitment and sacrifice.
2)      Flow
Acceptance of Original Thought. No second guessing.
5)      Nourishment – Quality in=Quality out. Gene Wolfe once told me, “If you want to be a good writer, read good writing.”
6)      Finished, not perfect. Perfect is the enemy of done.
7)      Joy, Passion – YOUR joy and passion, not someone else’s.

How do you serve your Muse when the world is still around?

1)       Using a Ritual - Light a candle. Use an opening phrase. Specify some action to invite her presence.
2)      Creating a dedicated space and time that suits your muse.
3)      Finding your inspiration trigger - Music, nature, doodling, walking, meditating, shower time.
4)      Observing - Do something different. See the world through new eyes. Find new twists on the everyday. Ask, “WHY?”
5)      Questing - Give your muse a problem to solve. Start asking questions of your characters. Ask for your characters’ names. Ask, “What if?”
6)      Educating yourself - On your subject, your craft, or anything! Wikipedia, not Facebook.
7)      Being open and internally quiet so you can hear your Muse. Listen.


 How do you know when your Muse is present?

The Inevitable Avocado

Meet local So-Cal authors at the book launch of It’s All in the Story, an anthology about living and dreaming in California. My short story, “The Inevitable Avocado” is included.

This event is on Thursday, November 2 at 7 p.m. at The Book Carnival. The Book Carnival is located at 348 S. Tustin St. in Orange, California. The festivities commence at 7 p.m. You can get all the details on their website. Hope to see you there!

Please Join Me At:

OC Writers at The Foothill Ranch Library in Lake Forest, California. On Saturday, August 19, from 10:30 - Noon I will be presenting "The Short Storyteller." Opportunities abound for the teller of short stories, both in fiction and non-fiction. Short story creation also informs the novelist, being an exceptional exercise to hone your craft. I hope you can join me for this interactive workshop. The Foothill Ranch Library is located at 27002 Cabriole Way.

The Southern California Writers Conference, held Friday, September 22-Sunday, September 24 where I will be presenting The Long and Short of Storytelling on Friday and Write From the Heart on Sunday.

California Writers of Long Beach on Saturday, November 11 from 3-5 p.m. to be inspired to "Write from the Heart." Let's reconnect with our Muses! We meet at the Ruth Bach Branch of the Long Beach Library.


All of these outstanding groups are actively supporting the writing community. Please visit their websites to discover all of their author events.


Southern California Writers Conference 2016

As an author I get asked a lot of questions about process and creativity. “How do I get started as a writer? What resources exist to help me create a complete, quality manuscript? I feel so isolated. Am I the only one out here? Is there a community where I can exchange, share, and explore ideas?”

The Southern California Writers Conference (SCWC) can offer a full and comprehensive education into every facet of writing faced by a twenty-first century author.

When I first attended the Southern California Writers Conference in 2008 I was a seasoned book reader, student of cinema, and an amateur author. I had written quite a bit, but never followed through into publication. At that time, the term “self-published” meant “inferior writer.” It was certainly something to be avoided! Since that time there has been an explosion of creative outlets and a rapid shift in attitude. Options for publication continue to grow.

The Southern California Writers Conference has evolved along with these changes, offering leading-edge workshop sessions embracing the new world of publishing. I have grown into a polished and published author, largely due to my attendance and participation with the SCWC. The reality of today's publishing world shared at this annual event is vital to modern day writers who seek to tell their stories and gain an audience.

The dedication to craft that I witness is outstanding. Within this group there is no competition or rivalry. There is abundant support and no one takes a superior position. We learn from each other. Often the most transformative experiences occur at the Rogue Read and Critiques. Each author brings a sample of their work to be read aloud. This is where we, as authors, expose our work to one another and begin to bond through open conversation and sharing of thoughts and ideas. Conferees become community. There is also an option (scheduled pre-conference through the website) to have work critiqued by an experienced author, editor, or agent. This tends to be quite enlightening.

I am now on staff as a presenter for the conference. I still enjoy attending other workshops, Read and Critiques, and experiencing the community of writers. I am constantly learning and am grateful for the opportunities and support. This year I will be presenting two workshops at the Southern California Writers conference: "Write from the Heart" and "The Long and Short of Storytelling."

SCWC 2016 will be held September 23-25 in Irvine, California. For more information, please visit their website at

Come join us!

Podcast Presentations on the Creative Process

I enjoyed being the guest of Catharine and Damien's podcast today as they celebrated their 200th Show! You can listen in to my interview here -

I will be back on Garrett Miller's Rated - G Radio on March 15 and June 7th. Listen LIVE and call in with your questions! The direct link and call in number will be posted on our banner the week of the show.

You can tune in anytime to hear our previous discussion of my metaphyictional writing -



Seven Things Your Muse Does Not Care About

As writers, we often feel solitary. But are creative people ever really alone? Only if they ignore their Muse, the being that helps translate the creative energies of the universe into concepts, pictures, music, poetry, stories, and art. The very personification of inspiration.

Your Muse has one job - to help you create. Your Muse exists in your life to inspire and apply the Promethean fire of creativity. What the Muse desires is for you to listen to her voice. Sit quietly and express what the Muse breathes in your ear. Release expectation and allow for a continuous flow of creative energy and your Muse will be satisfied.

While you are in the thrall of your Muse there are things that YOU can do to screw things up. If you start to edit your work before it is ready to edit, that is, before the first draft is complete, before the Muse has finished expressing herself through your fingers, the Muse will be forced to stop or slow down while you wander backwards looking for some vague thing to correct or restructure, when that does not matter in the initial run of inspiration.

What often occurs is that, while you are blissfully listening to your Muse sing inside your mind, other little voices start to pop up. Oft times writers have many of the same or at least very similar voices, like the one that says, “You stink at this,” or the one that says, “Shouldn’t you be doing something useful with your life?” These are easy to deal with, for the most part. They are big and noisy and wrong and any writer worth their salt will have ego-boosting strategies in place to handle such ridiculous self-degradation.

No, it is not the big noises that will trip up your relationship with your Muse. It is all the little tips and hints given by all the successful authors who write helpful articles designed to assist you to get published the same exact way they did. “Follow these rules,” they insist, “and wealth and fame will come to you and your descendants!”

Your Muse is not amused by their rules. Your Muse wants you to be free and let flow the creative spirit. Here are seven things I have noticed that the Muse, YOUR Muse or mine, does not care about at all.

You Muse does not care about:

1)    The Oxford Comma – If you do not know what this is, then you must learn it, but not while you are in first draft mode and fully engaged with your creative Muse.

2)    Words that end in “ly,” or as I call it, the Stephen King rule. This is something that King wrote about once and it has passed into MFA programs as some stone-carved commandment of writing. Just write, and if you use too many adverbs they can be edited out later. Or not.

3)    Word count for the day – Let go the need to quantify your work. Just write until you are finished. When you are inspired again, then write some more.

4)    Platform – There are those who insist you begin creating your platform before you even begin creating your book. This is putting the cart before the horse, in my humble opinion. I have seen many fine platforms (websites and blogs, etc.) that never ever actually reward the follower with the promised product. The time and effort wasted in this activity (for all concerned) can be better spent allowing for the fulfillment of your Muse’s creative vision first.

5)    Spelling and punctuation – The Muse just does not care all that much, especially in the first draft.

6)    Outlines – Do not attempt to structure your Muse. The Muse will rebel. Muse rebellion is hell.

7)    Whether someone will buy your book – The Muse only wants the book written. Do you like it? Do you feel good when that first draft is in process? That is all that matters. Seeking validation outside of yourself will certainly lead to comprising the Muse’s vision and forcing artificial structure on the process.

Let’s be clear; these concerns gain importance at some point. Later in the process you must pay attention to structure and logic. For the purest first draft, let your Muse run wild. Allow for surprises. If you are surprised by a plot twist, imagine the reaction from the equally surprised reader! Allow for synchronicities and…

Let old patterns and standardized formulas be blown apart and away by the speed you write while under the influence of your Muse! In first draft mode the only rule you must be concerned with is - Let YOUR Muse Rule!


I will be presenting a workshop, “Write from the Heart: The Care and Feeding of Your Muse,” at the Southern California Writers Conference ( on the morning of September 27, 2015. A fine way to feed the Muse is to connect with others of like mind. I hope you can come and join us or find a conference in your area that feels inspiring to you.

Why Gene Wolfe?

“My definition of good literature is that which can be read by an educated reader, and reread with increased pleasure.” Gene Wolfe in a letter to Neil Gaiman

Recently I invoked the name of my favorite author, Gene Wolfe, in an offhand comment on Facebook. I am quite certain that no one caught my point. It is not uncommon for me to invoke Gene’s name; he is a vocabularic virtuoso, a poetic maestro, a genius level wordsmith, and a heck of a nice guy.

My oblique reference was to an early short story of his titled “A Method Bit in ‘B’" which concerns an actor in a werewolf movie, likely filmed in black and white. It is one of my favorite stories and I do not entirely know why.

It is also, to the best of my knowledge, uncollected at this point. To read it you must find a copy of Orbit 8, edited by Damon Knight - which I encourage you to do. It is easy enough if you are one of the first to hit Amazon’s second-hand third party market. At the time of this post $9.99 gets you the hardcover, while $2.99 gets you a paperback. Hurry. There were not many available. It is worth the price for Wolfe’s story, but there are also many other excellent short stories waiting to be discovered by you, including a second Wolfe short about the future of pets. Grim and funny stuff.

One of the things I will say about “A Method Bit in ‘B’” is that it is clever. By clever I mean sly. By sly I mean devious, unobvious, sneaky, O. Henry-esque in its own Wolfean way. It does not ask the reader to understand, nor does it explain the conceit of the story and it steadfastly refuses to let the reader in on the secret with a wink or a nudge of exposition. This is a tale that respects the reader's intelligence. Sadly, many readers are unwilling to invest their time in Gene’s often dense, always literate prose.

There are few writers working in this day and age who are daring enough to leap from the hidebound rules of the MFA programs of monolithic institutions. Rules which change, by the way, based on the perpetual “new normals” instituted by those who dare. What is taught is often what last succeeded. Heaven forfend that we try something new! Gene Wolfe knows the rules. He also knows how to re-engineer them in interesting ways.

There are, among the few authors that take the leap, still fewer who have the actual skill to make the leap. Some do it once, by sheer awesome hutzpah and the amazing lack of knowledge that tells them they cannot possibly succeed in their mad endeavor. Often their second leap is weak and injurious to their career.

Gene has been taking that leap, and making it look easy, for over forty years now. That takes skill and confidence. Also daring. I suspect that Gene is such a veteran of the publishing world that he does not view what he accomplishes as a feat of derring-do. I also believe that he does not take each new leap for granted. Like any good magician (the word I want to use is Wizard) he works hard to make it look easy.

Although I mention Gene Wolfe often and hold his art in the highest esteem, I do not always recommend him to readers. The reason is the same as to why I do not recommend a film of the caliber of say, Citizen Kane or Shakespeare’s histories to someone who prefers watching reality television programming. Their interest is in lighter stuff.

Wolfe can be playful, the story deceptively light, but there is never anything simple about Gene’s storytelling. He is often purposely deceiving. You can never quite trust a Wolfe story to be what it first seems or is labeled. There is surprise within the forest of language and often you are well along the path before you realize what you have witnessed.

Rereading Gene Wolfe’s books and stories will almost always reward the attentive audience with a missed twist or reference. For a writer you will likely find yourself educated in the matter of style, with your sights set higher regarding your own work.

Why do I like “A Method Bit in ‘B’” or any of Gene Wolfe’s crafty tales?

I am never quite sure.