Flores Factor Interview Bonus Questions on Writing and More

Darker PagesFor those of you who might’ve missed it, the super-witty Richard Flores IV interviewed me last week on his website, the Flores Factor. Here’s the link to the original interview:


Richard is the author of the science fiction novels, Dissolution of Peace, Volition Agent, and Broken Trust, as well as Editor-in-Chief of Plasma Frequency. He offered me an array of totally compelling questions, but because I tend to ramble on and on and on (and on (and on)), a few of my answers were cut from the final interview. So, I’m happy to present for you here the rest of the interview.

And if you’re not following Richard on Twitter (@Richard_Flores4), you’re really missing out on some insightful and fun tweets. Check him out!

And without further blathering . . .

Richard Flores IV: When did you start writing and what made you start?

Rob E. Boley: I first started writing during high school. My sophomore year, our English teacher, Julie Johnson, gave us a homework assignment in which we had to craft metaphors for various objects, places, or concepts. The next day, she called on us randomly to read some of ours. She liked mine so much that she asked me to read most of them to the class. That’s when I really knew I had a knack for this. For many years, I mostly wrote poetry. After my daughter was born in 2005, it was like a switch was flipped somewhere in my warped little brain. Suddenly, I had stories to tell. I’ve been writing fiction ever since.

RF: Did you learn anything about yourself or your writing while working on this book?

REB: THAT RISEN SNOW went through at least three or four major revisions, so it’s fair to say I learned a whole lot about writing along the way. I’d say the two biggest lessons I learned were: 1) to start the story when the action commences, and let the backstory come later; and 2) that the protagonist’s inner conflict is every bit as important as his outer conflict.

RF: If you had to pick one trait that makes you a better writer, what would it be?

REB: Easy. That’d be my anxiousness. I tend to carry around a mild bit of anxiety every day, so I’m always seeing the worst possibility in most situations. This sucks for everyday living, but it’s great for writing, because no matter how tense a scene is, I’m always able to come up with something to make it even worse for my poor characters. And actually, fiction writing becomes somewhat therapeutic, because when I’m working on a story, my mind is occupied with terrible things happening to my characters, as opposed to awful things that could be happening to me. So, everyone wins! Except for my characters. They’re screwed.

RF: When you are not writing, what are you doing?

REB: Well, by day I work at my alma mater, Wright State University, in the fundraising department doing data analytics and research. It’s a great job and I’m fortunate to work with a fun team of people. And best of all, while my job requires creativity, it apparently uses a completely different part of my brain than my writing. On the evenings or weekends, I spend a lot of time with my daughter. We like to play card games, dice games, and board games. We wrestle. Sometimes we go exploring in nature. We’ve been watching a lot of Regular Show lately. I do a lot of the same stuff with my adult friends, but with more swearing and drinking (and less wrestling).

RF: What is your favorite quote?

REB: “If you try and take a cat apart to see how it works, the first thing you have on your hands is a non-working cat.”—Douglas Adams. Some people are do-ers, and some are thinkers. I’m totally a do-er. I’d rather play with the cat than take it apart.

RF: What secrets would you share with aspiring authors?

REB: I think the most important thing new writers need to know is this: You write in solitude but you publish in solidarity. So, if you want to see your stories in print, you need to befriend other writers. Go to writing conferences. Don’t go to “network,” because that’s irritating, but be sociable. Make friends. These are people who can be your beta readers, write blurbs for you, open doors for you, listen to you while you vent, and celebrate your successes. In turn, you should be prepared to do all those same things for them.

Again, a big THANK YOU to Richard Flores IV for the interview! Once more, he can be found at:



Write on!

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The Antagonist Within, or the Difference Between Idea and Story

Darker PagesI get a lot of ideas. I’m not bragging, I’m just saying that—as a writer—ideas are always in abundance. Likewise, I can write dialogue all day long. Description, on the other hand, is more of a struggle. Says the, uh, bearded guy typing away on his, um, grey, rectangle-shaped word calculator computing device thingee.

I digress. It wasn’t unusual years ago for more to say, “I got this great idea for a story the other day.”

What I should have been saying was, “I got this great idea the other day.”

My point here is that ideas and stories aren’t the same thing.

An idea could be this: Sara drives an ice cream truck and uses her job to secretly hunt down demon Boogeymen who pose as little kids and prey upon young children.

That’s a nifty idea, but it’s not yet a story. I could start with that idea, give Sara a bad-ass nemesis, throw her through some hard knocks, crank out 5,000 words, and still not have a story. I’d just have a really long idea.

But let’s say that one of these Boogeymen killed Sara’s brother when they were young. Let’s say that she’s secretly resented her brother for dying, for leaving her to deal with their alcoholic mother and grow up alone. Let’s say that over the course of the story, she realizes that all these years, she hasn’t been chasing after Boogeymen; she’s been running away from her dead brother and hiding from her guilt to be the one who survived. When Sara fights not just the physical demons but the demons within, then, my friends, we have a story.

Call it a character arc. Call it inner conflict. Call it the antagonist within. Every good character has some flaw—some aspect of themselves—that they must overcome or alter in the course of resolving their outer conflict.

That’s story.

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Writing Exercise: Using Poetry to Seed a Scene

Darker Pages Later this week, I’m doing a presentation for 9th grade students at the Dayton Regional STEM School. They’re about to embark on a new writing assignment, so I’m going to talk a bit about my writing process and share one of my favorite writing prompts.

Honestly, I don’t often use writing prompts in my fiction writing, but they can be a lot of fun. The premise for this charming little exercise is simple. You take a song or poem and write down its words in order—one word per line. Each word then becomes the first word of a new sentence.

So, for example, let’s take this excerpt from “Slow” by Leonard Cohen, a devilishly poignant tune:

I like to take my time
I like to linger as it flies
A weekend on your lips
A lifetime in your eyes

He’s just brilliant, isn’t he? Let’s hear the whole thing:

Okay, back to the exercise. So, we’ll use each of Cohen’s words as the the start of a new sentence, and try to make a coherent scene out of it. It’ll look something like the example below. I’ve bolded the words taken from “Slow” so you can see what I mean:

I sat in my room all last night listening to a ghost.
Like most everyone else, it only wanted to hear its own words.
To be honest, I didn’t care.
Take your time,” I told it.
My schedule’s all clear.”
Time?” it answered.
I don’t do time anymore.”
Like an itch, its voice lingered between my ears.
To my chest, I drew my knees.
Linger with me,” I urged the ghost.
As if I have a choice,” it answered.
It giggled.
Flies buzzed out of the room.
A ghost’s giggle is better seen than heard.
Weekend nights are meant for better than this.”
On most occasions, I would agree,” I said.
Your apartment bores me,” it said.
Lips bit, I nodded my head.
A pause later, it said, “Though it looks familiar.
Lifetime movies never made sense to me.”
In a moment, the new tenant walked in the door.
Your new home,” the landlord said to the tenant.
Eyes passed through my companion and me, seeing all of the future and none of what had passed.

Shazam! Just like that, we have a 176-word flash fiction piece. Nifty, huh? You can approach this exercise in many ways:

  1. Simply use it to make one poem out of another poem.
  2. Challenge yourself to see if you can start and end a coherent story with these rather severe constraints.
  3. Flesh out one of your characters a bit. Say you have a character who you’re trying to fully develop in a separate story. Figure out what her favorite song might be, and use the exercise above to craft a scene from her point of view. Odds are, you’ll discover something you didn’t know about her.

The point here is that words are magical things. They can act like seeds to grow still more words. And so from a song can a story grow.

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Where to Begin? The Crucial First Sentences of Your Story

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My nine-year-old daughter wants to do two things when she grows up: 1) be an author; 2) work in an animal shelter. The other day, she told me that to be a successful writer, you have to start your story with something that gets the reader’s attention.

“You’re right,” I told her. “We call that hooking the reader.”

I recently took a couple weeks off from working on my Scary Tales series to crank out a couple short stories. In both cases, the first draft of each story had the same flaw (among a few others, of course): it started too early.

As writers beginning our stories, we need to know the full context of our characters as they meet the conflict that will drive the narrative. But guess what? Readers don’t. Readers need the conflict, and they need it fast! If you bog down those crucial early paragraphs with a bunch of backstory and description, you’ll lose your readers.

But here’s the thing: don’t focus on this too much in a first draft. You’ll drive yourself crazy trying to start your story with a hook. Personally, I think it’s much better to start your story wherever you intuitively feel it begins. Finish the draft. Then, you can go back and see where your story REALLY begins. Odds are, it’ll be somewhere on page two or three, and that is where you should start the tale. And all that stuff that led up to it? You can sprinkle out whatever’s necessary throughout the story.

A great example of a snazzy hook is the first couple sentences of Horns by Joe Hill:

“Ignatius Martin Perrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things. He woke the next morning with a headache, put his hands to his temples, and felt something unfamiliar, a pair of knobby protuberances.”

Bam! I’m hooked. Aren’t you? We know right away that we have a troubled, hungover protagonist who has a pair of freakin’ horns on his forehead. Giddy-up! We don’t need to know yet all the details of what he did the previous evening. That can wait. We know he has horns, and we have a crap-ton of questions. Joe Hill, as usual, did his job well. He hooked us.

If you want to learn more about how to hook the reader, check out the classic book on writing by Les Edgerton called, appropriately enough, Hooked. It’s pound-for-pound, the best damn book on the craft I’ve ever read.

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The Power of Walking Away . . . and Ballerinas with Pedometers

Darker PagesLast week, I wrote about the myth of writer’s block, and my mantra for the piece was these three words:

Just. Keep. Writing.

I thought this week I ought to expand on that a bit. Since I’m not an outliner, sometimes I get to a place in the story where I have no clue exactly what’ll happen next. I won’t lie. It can be a little scary.

The thing is, as writers we are lucky to work in such a measurable medium. Do sculptors have the luxury of measuring their output by pounds of clay? Painters by square inches of canvas? Dancers by steps?

Likely not, though I’m wholly tickled by the idea of a ballerina wearing a pedometer.

So, as writers, we are spoiled by our ability to measure our continuing success. But we can’t squander this blessing. Yes, we must make our daily word counts, even when we get stuck in the story. The best approach I’ve found for these moments isn’t to stay in front of the computer and grind out the rest of my daily words. No, I find more success (and less frustration) if I have the courage to walk away.

But wait. Courage? Wouldn’t it take more courage to stay and fight it out?

Not necessarily. The courage comes from having faith in your characters and your story—and having the resolve to come back to the computer after a few minutes of down time. See, I’m a big believer in the power of the subconscious to resolve story issues. If you have a solid story and realistic characters, then your problem will be resolved and your tale will be told. It might just need to simmer a bit in your head.

Sometimes you have to (or at least I have to) walk away for a little. For me, it helps to do something mindless like wash the dishes or even taking a walk. Engaging in these mundane tasks gives my body something to do while my mind chews on the story. I’m thinking about the narrative, but in a much more relaxed way than if I were still planted in front of the laptop. Of course, there’s a fine line between taking a healthy break to mull over a plot point and simply procrastinating.

You can walk away but you have to come back. You have to be committed to writing your daily words, even if it has to happen in a couple sittings. So, maybe a better mantra is:

Just. Keep. Writing. But sometimes stop and walk in a big circle.

Yeah. Not quite as catchy, huh?

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