Ned Hayes Writing

Ned Hayes is a voracious reader (and writer). I wrote the national bestseller THE EAGLE TREE and the historical novel SINFUL FOLK,, illustrated by New York Times bestseller Nikki McClure. Both of these books were nominated for the "Pacific Northwest Bookseller's Award." |

The October Country - Ray Bradbury
The October Country - Ray Bradbury

“October Country . . . that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and mid-nights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain. . . .”

― Ray Bradbury, The October Country


“The Testaments" by Margaret Atwood feels both more prescient and more hopeful than "The Handmaid's Tale“. In 1985, women’s rights seemed assured and the world described in Gilead was a strange dystopia. Sadly, Gilead seems like a real possibility now. “The Testaments”, set 15 years after the events of "The Handmaid's Tale," shows that the Republic of Gilead is a theocracy teetering on the brink of self-immolation.


The story this time around is not just one woman's inner turmoil and her often-lonely struggle to stay sane in the midst of a life of religious slavery. In "The Testaments", instead of just the story of Offred, this book features the stories of three radically different women all caught in the same morass.


Agnes Jemima, who was raised to be a compliant Commander's wife, questions what she knows. The vicious Aunt Lydia describes her past and protects herself by gathering secrets. And Daisy, an anti-Gilead activist, begins a dangerous mission: going undercover as a convert to the faith in hopes of helping to take Gilead down from within. Once again, Atwood has crafted a chilling cautionary tale about the suppression of women's rights and a society twisted by that destruction.


In our current era, the story has a powerful and terrifying resonance because so many rights have been curtailed, and it is much easier to see how the lines of our society can be easily redrawn by self-interested charlatans using religion to further their own agendas. Freedom is under threat, and "The Testaments" shows us exactly how it happens, and what the consequences look like.


Today is the release of "The Testaments" -- a feminist parable for our time and of our time.

Neal Stephenson's New Book

Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson's most recent work is two novels in one. 

Novel #1: There is, as you may have heard a vast self-indulgent re-telling of various mythologies, including allusions to Summerian mythos and Biblical mythos. That part is boring, video-game-derived fan fiction written clearly by someone who thought it would be cool to pretend to be Milton for awhile, but has the parse vocabulary and flat descriptive power of the lackluster contemporary SF milieu. Imagine great mythic poetry rewritten by someone who has never read the King James, and you'll get the gist. I don't read a novel to read about the events of a video game, where there is no inner struggle, no character growth, and no sense of real human activity. Pretty sad as a novel. 

Novel #2: 
However, this videogame-style post-death story is wrapped in a highly compelling vision of our emerging future, which contains all of the brilliant observations, near-future forecasting and prescient insights that made me a Neal Stephenson fan in the first place. How easy would it be to "fake" a nuclear attack using social media? Pretty damn easy, and Stephenson shows us how. How rapidly would the midwest population's evangelical righteousness drift into a full-throated embrace of the Old Testament's Levitical dictates? Pretty fast, and Stephenson shows us a just-that-side-of-n0w reality. What is it like to live on the coasts in the high tech circuit today, and yet feel a kinship with a bygone middle America? Yep, that's here, and it's pretty poignant. This real grounded story in the novel is powerful, real, visceral and demonstrates all the wonderful power that Stephenson can bring to bear as a novelist. 

Stephenson just needs a stronger editor who can tell him to knock off the blowhard self-indulgent crap (Novel #1) and focus on a real story with real characters (Novel #2), which in the end is more compelling and more emotionally powerful and contains pointers to both the worst and the best of our shared future.

MLK Day: A Langston Hughes Poem

The poet Langston Hughes was a great inspiration to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Examples of their connection are expansive. In 1956, King recited Hughes’ poem “Mother to Son” from the pulpit to honor his wife Coretta, who was celebrating her first Mother’s Day. That same year, Hughes wrote a poem about Dr. King and the bus boycott titled “Brotherly Love.” At the time, Hughes was much more famous than King, who was honored to have become a subject for the poet. To honor MLK’s legacy today, here’s Langston Hughes’s famous poem “I, Too.”


I, Too

I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.

Langston Hughes, “I, Too” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1994 by The Estate of Langston Hughes. Reprinted with the permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated.
Source: The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes (Vintage Books, 2004)

In Memory of Mary Oliver

Poet Mary Oliver died today, at the age of 83.
Here is one of her poems in memory of her life.


My Work is Loving the World

–by Mary Oliver (Aug 15, 2016)


My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird –
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,

Which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.



This is the first poem in Mary Oliver‘s collection Thirst, titled, “The Messenger.”


Read more Poetry Posts



Book Recommendation: If We Were Villains, by M.L. Rio

The wonderful fantasy writer V.S. Schwab recently asked for recommendations on books from her readers.


I was surprised to see a new book I’d never heard of mentioned by many — If We Were Villains, by M.L. Rio.


I promptly purchased the book and it’s been my happiest book find, and the first book I finished in 2019! Reminiscent of Donna Tartt’s classic The Secret History and replete with bookish clues, like The Rule of Four (Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomasen),

Villains tells the story of four Shakespeare-obsessed undergraduates who find themselves obsessed and murderous and in a desperate hunt to find a murderer in their midst.  Like any great Shakespearean tragedy, this novel haunts for a long time, and I absolutely loved the book.


This is my January book recommendation!



A New Year's Day Post


Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world.
All things break. And all things can be mended.
Not with time, as they say, but with intention.
So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally.
The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.

— L.R. Knost.



I'm finally reading Lud-in-the-Mist, the fantasy classic recommended by Neil Gaiman -- wow, this is the book I needed for this winter season. 


A beautiful work of complex fantasy, with so much depth woven into the characters. #fantasy

The Witch Elm, Tana French
The Witch Elm, Tana French

Tana French is one of the most talented writers I've ever read in the mystery and detective genre. In this most recent book, she really surpasses the genre entirely, and breaks new ground with a lyrical, heartbreaking and soul-bending literary novel that focuses on one man's gradual descent out of privilege and extreme good luck into the netherworld of uncertain fortunes and dissolution.


This is not a story of a person's willful decline -- far from it -- but instead, the battle to retain esteem in a universe where bad luck happens and you have to make up a life out of the remaining scraps. Sure, each of her novels have a death in them, but this novel focuses on character building above all, and brings to the forefront her excellent skill with language, with insight and with skillful observation of human nature.


This is, in a word, Tana French's best book, and I would not be surprised at all to see her work in future years held up as examples of leading literature. Jane Austen, after all, wrote romances, while Charles Dickens wrote fabulist fictions.


Tana French writes great novels. 


Halloween: Twelve Terrifying Two Sentence Horror Stories


I found a thread on Reddit that asked this question: “What is the best horror story you can come up with in two sentences?” I posted the best ones I found, as well as one more scary tale I created on my own. See if you can figure out which one is mine!

With Halloween right around the corner, these two-sentence terrors fit the month perfectly! Happy Halloween!



“My daughter won’t stop crying and screaming in the middle of the night. I visit her grave and ask her to stop, but it doesn’t help.”

Image Credit: Fivvr







I woke up to hear knocking on glass. At first, I thought it was the window until I heard it come from the mirror again.

Image Credit: Vampyr Fangs







I can’t move, breathe, speak or hear and it’s so dark all the time. If I knew it would be this lonely, I would have been cremated instead.

Image Credit: Public Domain








After working a hard day, I came home to see my girlfriend cradling our child. I didn’t know which was more frightening, seeing my dead girlfriend and stillborn child, or knowing that someone broke into my apartment to place them there.

Image Credit: Dead Girl (film)








My sister says that mommy killed her. Mommy says that I don’t have a sister.

Image Credit: Universal










“I can’t sleep,” she whispered, crawling into bed with me. I woke up cold, clutching the dress she was buried in.

Image Credit: Cemetery Guide











I begin tucking him into bed and he tells me, “Daddy, check for monsters under my bed.” I look underneath for his amusement and see him, another him, under the bed, staring back at me quivering and whispering, “Daddy, there’s somebody on my bed.”

Image Credit: Flickr











A girl heard her mom yell her name from downstairs, so she got up and started to head down. As she got to the stairs, her mom pulled her into her room and said, “Don’t go, honey — I heard that, too.”

Image Credit: Random Geekings








Yesterday, my parents told me I was too old for an imaginary friend and I had to let her go. They found her body this morning.

Image Credit: DeviantArt












In the early morning, I could feel the cat purring against my side, nestled up against me in bed, but the cat smelled of blood. I woke slowly remembering that I had tortured that cat to death last Sunday, and scattered the body parts across the construction site.

Image Credit: DeviantArt










The last thing I saw was my alarm clock flashing 12:07 before she pushed her long rotting nails through my chest, her other hand muffling my screams. I sat bolt upright, relieved it was only a dream, but as I saw my alarm clock read 12:06, I heard my closet door creak open.

Image Credit: DeviantArt










The doctors told the amputee he might experience a phantom limb from time to time. Nobody prepared him for the moments though, when he felt cold fingers brush across his phantom hand.

Image Credit: MNN 


(H/T Arts.Mic) (via Reddit)











Sanctuary - Nick Hallum

Nicholas Hallum created a short and chilling  tale.




You can ORDER for Kindle here >>




Thank you for your reading and support!


On Writing: About Moral Gravity and Pleasure and “Comfortable” Writing (and Stephen King)

Last week, I picked up a book that’s been on my shelf for a long time. This was Different Seasons by Stephen King. This book is a collection of four novellas, and was his first publication that reached outside of the horror genre. The book includes the novellas Apt Pupil, The Body, The Shawshank Redemption and The Breathing Method (I had only read Shawshank Redemption before I picked up this book). I began reading the book purely for pleasure, and then I began asking myself about why precisely this book was pleasurable to me as a reader. This post is about a few of the specific pleasures that I found King brings to a reader. I’m enumerating them here because I hope to duplicate these particular attributes in my own writing.


The thing about Stephen King is that he is predictable. This is not a bad thing. Setting expectations for readers is something that every writer does. We announce to readers with our titles, our writerly personas, the marketing blurbs and in our writing style (Noir? Lyrical? Journalistic? Hemingwayesque? Faulknerian?) what the reader should expect. No reader – I hope – enters into a Cormac McCarthy novel hoping to find a sweet cozy mystery or romance. No one reads romance for blood and gore. But I fear I’m alluding to genre here, when I mean to speak about an attribute of writing that I find particular to King and other writers who have gathered large and consistent audiences.


Yet what Stephen King does is so utterly consistent from book to book that his readers trust him. I knew when I picked up a Stephen King book that I would get human characters that will have a life that I recognize, and that I know as familiar in standard human terms. If behavior must be explained or illuminated for me (as a reader), Stephen King will take the time to explain the behavior until I come to understand that behavior on its own terms and recognize it. This is in stark contrast to a writer like, for example, Jonathan Franzen or Cormac McCarthy, who do not explain their characters in terms of motivation, inner life or external behavior. Their characters thus exist as ciphers to many readers. Some readers find that pleasurable: many others do not.


However, for this reason, some readers (and notably some high-brow writers) believe that Stephen King writes “clichéd” books that contain “stereotypical” characters. This is a valid critique, but I think that all too often writers rely on originality as the prime objective, without realizing that they must ground their stories – and their readers – in the recognizable and the familiar before they take a flight of fancy into the unknown. Part of the reason so-called “dirty realism” fiction (such as that originally popularized by Raymond Carver in the MFA world) became the norm is that it starts with the recognizable, and then the originality is found in building a new perspective or a new framework around the already-known world of the truck driver, the wheat farmer, the mill worker or the down-and-out-drunk. Carver limned his characters in quick stark strokes, with a minimum number of words and descriptors. Yet there’s hardly an “original” character among them: Carver writes no Dickensian Oliver Twists or memorable Martin Chuzzlewits, and will never be known for a character like Scrooge.


In the way he writes characters, King is like a low-brow John Irving, painting characters vividly so that they stay in your memory. Yet unlike Irving, King does not create caricatures or characters who are memorable for specific traits, behaviors, attitudes or presence in the world. There are no transgender football players, pet bears, or horrific sex accidents in King (cf. Irving’s World According to Garp). King may describe a character with many more words than Carver, yet in the end they are both writing about an “average” mill worker, or police man or homemaker. Both Carver and King start with the average, the norm, and establish that firmly in order to describe what happens to these average characters.


Consider the novella “Apt Pupil” in Different Seasons. In this novella, a young boy is drawn to an older Nazi, and gradually “learns” from him how to be a serial killer and how to discard human lives like leaves. What is really interesting about this story is that I thought I knew the basic plot going in. Old Nazi would entice young boy in a pedophile-like embrace, and gradually things would go to hell. King didn’t write it that way at all. Instead, in the words of one of the main characters, he wrote:


  • [T]he story of an old man who was afraid… of a certain young boy was, in a queer way, his friend. A smart boy… At first, the boy was not the old man’s friend… At first, the old man disliked the boy a great deal. Then he grew to… to enjoy his company, although there was still a strong element of dislike there […] Part of the old man’s enjoyment came from a feeling of equality… You see, the boy and the old man had each other in mutual deathgrips. Each knew something the other wanted kept secret. (King 191-192)


King’s brilliance here is to make the old Nazi a vulnerable, afraid human being. When a young boy reaches out to him with a threat, they gradually become equals in terms of terror and secrets. I did not expect this at all, and the story entranced me because of the unique approach King took to a story that could have been quite hackneyed. What I meant earlier by “predictability” should instead be characterized as “fully fleshing” his characters. I know that there will be no easy-to-categorize “evil” human beings. Instead, there will be human beings who are flawed and trying to do their best with what they have to work with. He fleshes his people, which is harder to do than it looks.


The other thing that I find intensely “comfortable” about King is that events have moral weight in his novels. Let me explain this point by reference first to Bret Easton Ellis – a writer who I believe avoids moral justice like the plague. Ellis might disagree with this point, and in fact, he often portrays his novels as parodies or satires of moral immorality. Yet at heart, I really think satire is a genre without moral justice – or in mockery of moral justice. Ellis’s characters get away with hell on earth – both in their behavior to other people as well as their behavior to themselves. They don’t live lives that are considered or meaningful, because their actions have no consequence and no moral weight.


King, on the other hand, even if everything is going to hell – and especially when very bad things are happening – manages to carry his readers through by making an implicit promise that the bad will be accounted for, and that the good (on some level) will triumph. Bad actions have consequence in King, even if they are (as in “The Body”) momentarily avoided. In the end, those who commit crimes are always discovered by themselves or others, and must pay for their actions. And those who quietly do well are discovered in a different way, and rewarded. King is the contemporary writer who most honestly embodies Tolkien’s famous aphorism that it is “the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness, and love” that ultimately defeat evil (Jackson / Tolkien). King adheres to this maxim, almost to a fault. There are no magical mages in King, and very few people with special powers (none that I can think of who understand or control their powers purely for good). There are no melodramatic good guys, and very few purely evil characters.


Instead, there is an Everyman or Everywoman who has to struggle with the laundry, self-esteem issues, and their upset spouse, all while struggling with unimaginable forces from the beyond. They are small everyday deeds that ultimately keep the dark at bay. And it is telling that even in these everyday lives, King manages to keep the moral compass clear. In contrast to many other contemporary writers – both literary writers like Paul Auster and commercial writers like Scott Turow – King ensures that we can trust him to bring a moral gravity to his work that is hard to do well, and trite if you don’t pull it off well.


I read King still when I just need some moments of pleasure, because I can trust him to be predictable in terms of his human characters and I trust the moral weight of his books. I’d like to be a writer who is as successful in these two attributes as King has been: even if I never have a Stephen King like commercial success. I think that these two attributes will stand the test of time.



A literary update from
Readers can find my books at these bookstores:

Amazon bookstore Barnes & Noble Indie Bookstores


Works Cited


King, Stephen. Different Seasons. New York: Signet, 1983.

The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey. Dir. Peter Jackson. Warner Bros, 2012. Film.


Bookstores: Borderlands in San Francisco

BorderlandsBorderlands Books is a fantastic otherworldly experience in the heart of San Francisco. A specialty store that focuses on science-fiction, fantasy and horror novels, this is a bookstore for a true connoisseur of speculative fiction. I’m not sure if I qualify entirely, as I’m not as well read in the field as I’d like to be. But I do love me some Tim Powers and Ursula Le Guin, and I’m truly deeply madly in love with Nisi Shawl and Octavia Butler’s writing, so sign me up as a fan of Borderlands Books.


In fact, I did just that back in 2015. I signed up to be a sponsor of Borderlands Books, and you can do the same thing. In the hot real estate market of San Francisco, bookstores are hardly viable. So literate people of goodwill have signed up to ensure that a great bookstore like this can stay in the city.


You can sign up right here as a sponsor.


You might wonder how all of this came about.


In 1997 Alan Beatts opened Borderlands Books in Hayes Valley as a used-only bookstore consisting of his personal collection and a selection of books from Know Knew Books in Palo Alto.


Bookstore owner Beatts had done a lot of things before opening his new and used science fiction bookstore. Private Investigator, night club manager, and briefly a used clothing salesman. But he’s stuck to it with Borderlands Books — which is now the largest science fiction bookstore in the United States, carrying 14,000 titles specializing in science fiction, fantasy, and horror.


BorderlandsBorderlands Books is important in SF and fantasy circles, with many author events per year and international tourists popping in daily during busy months. Borderlands Books makes appearances at horror and science-fiction conventions, and has hosted numerous events with a variety of SF/F luminaries, including Lou Anders, Chris Roberson, John Varley, Jacqueline Carey, John Picacio, Graham Joyce, Patricia McKillip, Paolo Bacigalupi, David Drake, Randall Munroe, Steven Erikson, and Cory Doctorow.


Here’s another nice twist — the café attached to Borderlands Books serves coffee or tea, but they never play music and there is no wi-fi, so that you can simply read books. You can sit and read a new book, or nosh on café treats and read one of the SF magazines also sold at Borderlands. I’ve always thought reading is the point of having a bookstore café, so I’m glad that Borderlands agrees with me.


Borderlands Books also hosts the Tachyon Publications anniversary party with the associated Emperor Norton Awards, given for “extraordinary invention and creativity unhindered by the constraints of paltry reason”. The first award is given to a single work of science fiction, fantasy, or horror, or to an author in these genres, and the second to any creation, creator, or service relating to those genres. In 2008, Borderlands’ owner Alan Beatts and general manager Jude Feldman were jointly nominated for a World Fantasy Award under the World Fantasy Special Award: Professional category.


Despite all this awesomeness, Borderlands couldn’t survive on its own.

On February 2, 2015, in an open letter posted on Borderlands Books website, the owners Alan Beatts and Jude Feldman, announced they would close the store on March 31, 2015. The Valencia Street store — one of the largest of its kind in the world, specializing in science fiction, fantasy, mystery and horror titles — drew widespread coverage (including a New Yorker piece) after it said the city’s increase in the minimum wage to $15 would not allow it to continue as “a financially viable business” (for the record, the owners support the minimum wage increase).


Then, thanks to a public meeting at which customers proposed ideas for saving the store, a new sponsorship plan was hatched.


Borderlands Books announced a plan to remain open by relying on sponsorships. Soon it seemed that every fan of speculative fiction in the known universe was willing to help out. People from Peter Straub to Neil Gaiman to Joe Hill all sounded the alarm on their social media channels.


Borderlands Sponsors“It’s been incredible,” Beatts said. “I had no idea that this would get so much attention from the press, from the public. I was astonished by how many people wanted to get involved.”


The initial goal was merely 300 private sponsors at $100 apiece. This goal was soon surpassed. In fact, the first cohort maxed out at 844 sponsors!

Every year since then, people have signed up to support Borderlands Books, and perhaps the bookstore will even buy their building! (here are some details about the building)


I am proud to say that I was an early supporter of Borderlands Bookstore — here I am, listed under my SF moniker “Nicholas Hallum” as sponsor #214 — one of the first 300 to stand in the gap and defend the bookstore against the forces of avarice and illiteracy! Have I mentioned that you can join us?


You can sign up right here to sponsor Borderlands Books.


Visit Borderlands Books right here.






Pinterest – Ned Hayes Bookstore Board

A reader on the crowd-sourcing platform Quora asked a question about how to deepen their reading practices and read beyond just mere plot. Here’s a post I made in reply that provided some hints and strategies for deepening one’s reading practice and becoming more profoundly engaged with the literary world. ((Quora is top-heavy with tech-focused people, so I oriented my thoughts around technology examples.))

Here are some strategies used by English majors, as well as active readers.


1. Journal

Write down ideas, and phrases that are meaningful to you, and try to describe how they impact your life. This will help you to understand yourself and literature on a deeper level. Writers and active readers often refer to this type of book as a “commonplace book” because it is a special name for a scrapbook or set of notations about your reading.


2. Read beyond plot.

There are many books out there that have a very thin plot, but instead focus on character development language and big ideas. Read some of these and you’ll begin to see the possibilities of literature beyond plot. Toni Morrison. Cormac McCarthy, Sylvia Plath, Ray Bradbury all use language and metaphor to make points that can’t really be represented in a straightforward plot. Read Borges. Read Kafka.


3. Re-read

Read again books that have been meaningful to you, and look for other meanings that you missed the first time around, or structural items that strike your fancy. If you are an astute reader, every time you re-read a book, you’ll notice new and different things. (For years, Hoffman would re-read Lord of the Rings for example. That book has metaphorical layers miles deep, and it’s not just a simple story about a hobbit.)


4. Read across genres.

Today, we compartmentalize books into “genre” categories: science-fiction, literary fiction, fantasy, romance, mystery and children’s books. These are publishing categories designed for effective marketing — they have nothing to do with the value or the meaning that is found between the covers. Would you let some junior marketing flunky tell you what to read? I didn’t think so. So don’t allow yourself to be constrained into one genre or type of reading. If you’re reading all science-fiction, read some romance. If you’re reading all literary fiction, read some fantasy. If you’re reading all fantasy, then go read some crime novels. If you only read romance, read a horror novel. It will be challenging to read outside your chosen genre, and you might not like it at first. That’s kind of the point. Find works that help you grow as a reader and expose you to new ways of storytelling. Again, these are arbitrary categories, and any great work will end up not categorized in the minds of readers like you.


5. Challenge yourself.

Read books that are classics, that do not fit into your typical modern marketing genres. Read a book by Dickens (I recommend A Tale of Two Cities). Read poetry by John Milton (Paradise Lost). Read Dante. Read some Chaucer. Read Rudyard Kipling (Kim is a great read). Read Plato (his work is surprisingly readable, even now!). Read Louisa May Alcott. Read George Eliot or Jane Austen. The reason to read these classic writers is that their vocabulary and perspective will open your eyes to new possibilities. Reading older works will also teach you that human beings speak to each other across centuries, and the same questions recur, time and again. I have a friend who was saved from suicide by reading a philosopher… who wrote in the 1500s. Writing always communicates, across time, across space, and across different experiences.


6. Keep challenging yourself.

Read writers that are not of your race or gender. Read Langston Hughes, Maxine Hong Kingston, Octavia Butler, and Salman Rushdie. Read Radclyffe Hall. Read Samuel R. Delaney. Read William Burroughs. Read Sandra Cisneros. Read Katie Kitamura. Read Justin Chin. Read Min Jin Lee. Read Christine Hyung-Oak Lee. Read Nicola Griffith. Read Junot Díaz. Reading these writers teaches you about the human experience, and that it might be broader, richer and deeper than your experience (or my shallow pool of recommendations). If you are in a reading rut, and are only recalling plot, you’re reading at a low level, and reading writers who challenge cultural and gender assumptions can break you out of that mindset.


7. Engage with other readers.

Find a book group or book discussion group at a bookstore or other local venue. Read a book together, and understand that other people have different perspectives on the same books that you’ve read. Their perspectives will enrich your reading.


8. Write

Try your hand at a short story or poem. Even if you’re terrible – especially if you are terrible –this activity will help you understand some of the decisions that go into crafting a piece of prose or poetry. You can begin to see the skeleton underneath the flesh of the words.


9. Read critics.

Read what other people have to say about contemporary writing. By doing this, you are entering a decades long (sometimes centuries long) conversation about a piece of writing, a book series, or the intentions of a writer.


10. Write your own thoughts down and share them.

If you are brave, you can even add your own voice to this critical conversation. Keep in mind that reading a book critic and engaging with them is to be one yourself, so your opinion should be factually supported, and should be substantive. Be willing to engage thoughtfully with people who disagree with you. Find a rationale for your ideas. Most online argumentation today is shallow raw opinion without deep thinking. Most people who write seriously about books do the opposite: they go deep and look for meaningful interactions with big ideas. Be worthy of this conversation.



A literary update from
Readers can find my books at these bookstores:

Amazon bookstore Barnes & Noble Indie Bookstores




Bookstores: Kepler’s Books

Keplers Books


Read my books at Kepler’s



Kepler’s bookstore has been part of my life for many decades. The first place my family lived when we moved from Taiwan to the United States in the early 1980s was Sunnyvale California. I am sure that my mother, as an avid reader, visited Kepler’s bookstore in Palo Alto with me in tow. But although I was in fourth or fifth grade, I have no memory of visiting Kepler’s at that time. Instead, my first memories of visiting Kepler’s are on post-college road trips from Washington State to California, when we made regular pitstops in Silicon Valley, stayed with friends or family in the area for a night or two, and visited Kepler’s on the way.


Why visit Kepler’s? Because it was the best and richest book experience in the south San Francisco area – a book refuge in the middle of the intellectually barren software and hardware technology companies. For over 60 years, Kepler’s has been a major intellectual and cultural hub for the Peninsula. On my peripatetic travels through northern California, I always made a point of stopping at Kepler’s.


Keplers BooksOne particularly significant stop was in 1993, when I did a solo 1500 mile bicycle traverse of the West Coast, from southern California to northern Washington — all the riding time completed in 12 days flat (on some days, I topped 200 miles pedaled!). The days on which I wasn’t riding were spent with family or friends in California, Oregon and Washington. And at my favorite haunts, including restaurants I enjoyed and beautiful bookstores I knew and loved on the West Coast.


On one particularly memorable hot August day, I bicycled over the Diablo mountain range from the Merced area, and down the other side into San Jose and then on to Palo Alto Valley, where I stayed overnight with a cousin who was in graduate student housing at Stanford University. The next day I peddled over to Kepler’s to pay my allegiance to the best bookstore in the region. In my sweat-stained biking togs I must’ve been an interesting sight, but I still walked out with at least one hardcover (Anne Tyler’s Saint Maybe, as I remember) that I put in my bicycle panniers and subsequently toted with me all the way to Seattle Washington. The book made for some great evening reading by my campfire.


Keplers Books

Even though I’d been a fan and a regular for many years, I didn’t know the storied history of the bookstore until quite recently. Here’s a brief version — Kepler’s Books was founded in Menlo Park in May 1955 by peace activist Roy Kepler. Along with Cody’s in Berkeley and City Lights in San Francisco, Kepler’s led the paperback revolution in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 50’s and 60’s. According to their website, Kepler’s “soon blossomed into a cultural epicenter, attracting a loyal following among Beat intellectuals, pacifists, students and faculty of Stanford University, and other members of the surrounding communities, interested in serious books and ideas.” In fact, the Grateful Dead performed at Kepler’s early in their career, and they, along with folk singer Joan Baez, often appeared at Kepler’s holding impromptu salons with local community leaders to discuss ideas, political action, and music.


Keplers BooksAfter the 60s were over, Kepler’s continued with a new generation. In 1980, Roy’s son, Clark Kepler, took over the management of the bookstore. In 1989, Kepler’s moved to its current location in the Menlo Center on El Camino Real. Under Clark’s leadership, Kepler’s expanded its role in the community, developing new partnerships and programs, and winning multiple awards nationally and locally. In 1990 Publishers Weekly named Kepler’s “Bookseller of the Year.”


As the technology revolution swept across the country and changed how people buy things, the bottom line dropped out of Kepler’sbookselling business. Amazon had taken a significant bite out of the paperback market. (Oddly enough in the early 1990s, I had the opportunity for a job in the early days of, but I didn’t pursue it because I felt it would take time away from writing novels. I was right on the novel writing front, but wrong on the potential positive impact that an early role as a booksite editor at Amazon would’ve had on my life.) In any case, the advent of Amazon and the box big sellers such as Barnes and Noble had a massive negative impact on small bookseller such as Kepler’s.


Keplers FoundationIn 2006, Kepler’s announced it was closing -– the only independent bookseller in the greater Silicon Valley region now dead. Fortunately, there was a massive outcry of protest from the literary public. People knew that they needed a bookstore in Silicon Valley.


Thus, the Kepler’s Literary Foundation was born, and Kepler’s bookstore resurrected! A new organization — the Kepler’s Literary Foundation — was formed to create events, readings, and additional experiences associated with literate culture, and keep the Kepler’s experience alive for future generations.


In the last 2000s, I was fortunate to visit the re-vivified Kepler’s bookstore on a nearly weekly basis for a few years. For many years, I’ve worked for large technology companies who have bases of operation in Silicon Valley, from Adobe to Microsoft to Xerox PARC and Intel. Between 2007-2012, I worked variously as the CEO of a small technology company funded in part by investors in Silicon Valley and as a principal product lead for an R&D team at Xerox PARC, located in Palo Alto, (more on my interesting tech career here).


When I worked in Palo Alto, I commuted down from my home in Washington state on a weekly basis (my “super commute” was even covered in the Seattle Times). While I was on the road to Palo Alto every week, I made a regular habit of stopping at Kepler’s bookstore to attend author readings, buy books, and check on what new releases piqued my interest. Eventually, my work at Xerox PARC ended and I sold off my interest in the Valley-funded tech company.


But now, as a senior manager at Intel — whose headquarters are in Santa Clara — I have fresh excuses to check in at Kepler’s on a nearly monthly basis (Intel, after all, is kind enough to provide a free air shuttle to all employees for trips to the Valley, and I supervise several team members who are based in the Santa Clara office). So Kepler’s bookstore is once again a big part of my life.


I stopped at Kepler’s most recently a few months ago, to organize a reading near to where many of my friends work in Santa Clara and Palo Alto. I ran into the the wonderful poet Charif Shanahan — we share a publisher and have co-presented at readings before — and it was lovely to catch up with Charif in person. I’m also currently a student at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, so I have more reason to be in Silicon Valley, and I’m hoping to do a reading at Kepler’s soon. Along with the rest of the reading community in the Silicon Valley region, I am excited to see where the Kepler’s Foundation takes the future of this important bookstore.


Kepler’s Books is one of my literary touchstones, and I’m happy to share that bookstore experience with my readers! Enjoy!


Find my books at Kepler’sKeplers Books 




Pinterest – Ned Hayes Bookstore Board

On Writing: What We Talk About When We Talk About Genre

GenresIn grad school for English literature (the first time around), I had a professor who had written an entire book on genre. Not “genre” as we typically think of it — that silly label for writing that isn’t characterized as high-art “literature” (like science-fiction and fantasy). She was instead writing about the technical definition of “genre” itself, which means the characteristics of a work that can associate any work with other works of writing. At the time, I thought this was absurd — to write an entire book about the very idea of “genre” itself. But now that I’ve been writing novels for nearly 20 years, I see what an important topic this idea of “genre” is, and why it matters to the working writer.

As I discuss my work-in-progress with other writers and interested readers, the more I realize what a crucial role knowledge of a genre plays in a writer’s mind. Before I go further in this conversation, let’s make sure we know what we’re talking about when we talk about genre.


The genre of any work of fiction is the basic underlying form or function that the work fulfills: genre defines the rules of the game. If you’re playing chess, you’re going to do fundamentally different things than if you’re playing basketball or baseball. I need to know what game I’m playing in order to play the game at all — much less to play it well. Genre defines the basic rules of the game for any piece of writing.


Some simple examples are the differences between poetry and prose, or the differences between a mystery and a romance. For example, a piece of work that is rhymed, published in short stanzas and concerns itself with metaphorical description over straightforward storytelling is a poem, while the same set of words, re-arranged to be non-rhyming and telling a story that uses fewer metaphors to tell a straightforward story with a recognizable beginning, middle and end is called a prose story.


By the same token, if you’re writing a romance novel, you’re going to do fundamentally different things than if you’re writing a mystery novel or a literary novel. None of these things are bad things to write: yet all of them carry specific rules with them that constrain what you can do, how you can do it, and how far you can go with your work.

The WitnessThings get more complicated, as you move between one type of poem or story and another. Is a mystery novel with romance primarily a mystery or a romance? J.D. Robb is a mastery at combining genres: so is her novel The Witness a romance or a mystery? By the same token, is a fast-moving action novel with horrific scenes in it primarily a thriller or a horror novel?

The distinction can be found in what predominates in a manuscript or story. If the romance is the preeminent element of a story, it’s a romance, regardless of other elements that are interpolated throughout the story. By the same token, if the psychological and visceral elements that make a good horror novel resonate in the reader are the predominant elements, then a book is a horror novel regardless of what else is happening in the book.


What do we talk about when we talk about genre? To start with, unless we understand the genre we’re working within, we miscommunicate. If I’m trying to write a children’s fantasy book, there are constraints and rules around this genre. If I’m trying to write a mystery, there are also rules. You can play with the rules, and even violate the rules, but you must notify the reader that you’re intentionally doing so, or you look like just a dumb writer who can’t play the game very well.


The Eagle TreeNow what’s really interesting about genre is that you can play within a genre, but most readers won’t even realize you’re working with that genre on a conscious level. Yet because you’re fulfilling the requirements of the genre, they’re still satisfied by how you’ve built the story. I’d argue, for example, that my novel The Eagle Tree is a romance. The way it is a romance is that the entire story focuses on one person (March Wong’s) love for and obsession with a tree. The romance is between a boy and a tree. Within the romance convention, a writer starts with the love interest early in the story (I begin this romance on page 1) and then most of the novel is concerned with the obstacles that emerge between the two lovers, to separate them (this is also true of The Eagle Tree). But the idea of critical importance in romance — the thing that make a romance a romance — is that there must be consummation. The lovers must finally come together in some meaningful way. And I also carefully adhered to this genre convention — (spoiler!) — as my main character manages to climb the tree he loves by the end of the book. If I’d broken the romance rules in this novel, my readers might have felt cheated, even if they did not consciously realize they were reading a romance.


 Tim Power’s grand and world-spanning novel DECLARE is a great example of a true master combining genres. In DECLARE, Powers combines elements of an espionage-driven spy thriller with fantasy. The book is both a spy thriller and a horrific, sorcerous story of magical hijinks that reach across a century of secret warfare.

Yet at the core, this interesting novel doesn’t work unless it is fulfilling all the rules of the spy thriller. A secret mission needs to be fulfilled. espionage action needs to take place, action needs to include uncovering and/or killing enemy agents, there need to be compartmentalized cells that fight against each other: and in the end, all the action needs to have world-shaking consequences for the secret agency that is funding their activities. And in the modern age of John Le Carre novels, the entire aura has to be one of moral ambiguity and ethical gray zones. All these things happen in DECLARE, and this solid fulfillment of genre expectations are fundamentally why DECLARE is so successful as a novel.


Wilderness of Mirrors

The sorcery is secondary. DECLARE needs to be tightly adhering to a single genre before Powers can interpolate other elements on top of that primary genre structure. (I’ve learned this truth to my chagrin in attempting to undertaken a similar type of magic trick in my forthcoming novel Wilderness of Mirrors.)


A recent writerly conversation brought this question of genre to the forefront, when I realized that the writer I was talking to was fundamentally unfamiliar with the genre I was writing in, and therefore was suggesting elements that didn’t fit the genre at all. (As a side note, this is part of why writers must be readers first and foremost — you’ve got to know your genre intimately to understand how the rules work and how to play within and around those rules.)

If someone thinks I’m trying to write in the genre of “literary fiction” (which is a weird little sub-genre that fundamentally doesn’t sell very well, but has a lot of prestige), when I’m really trying to write a straightforward noir mystery, then our discussion of what the novel should be will proceed upon mutually exclusive, mutually misunderstood tracks. A “literary” novel is not a “noir mystery” novel: the two can share many elements, but they are not precisely the same thing in all aspects. And this is the interesting problem with writing fiction — you have to be aware of the rules and the overlaps in order to play the game well. If you are playing on the tune of one genre, and you slip in a beat or a chord from another genre, that’s very cool — but only if you clearly know what you’re doing. If it feels at all happenstance or slipshod to the reader, then the reader feels cheated and uncertain. The reader stops trusting the writer, and at that point, all is lost.


However, when a writer masterfully fulfills the conventions of a genre, readers find the book satisfying. If a writer knows the conventions, demonstrates that they know how to play by the rules and then tweak and violate the rules with a full wink at the reader, then readers find the book joyous. Finally, when a writer knows the conventions, plays within those conventions, and stretches the conventions by adding their own flourishes that expand — but do not violate — the genre conventions, then readers find the book utterly enthralling. And this is the ultimate goal every writer strives to achieve.


A literary update from
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The Eagle Tree: BookBub Feature

“A must-read” (New York Times bestselling author Steve Silberman): March, a teenager with autism, is determined to save his beloved Eagle Tree from the axe. But his mission might be riskier than he ever imagined… A moving novel with over 1,100 five-star ratings on Goodreads.

Publisher Description

Fourteen-year-old March Wong knows everything there is to know about trees. They are his passion and his obsession, even after his recent falls—and despite the state’s threat to take him away from his mother if she can’t keep him from getting hurt. But the young autistic boy cannot resist the captivating pull of the Pacific Northwest’s lush forests just outside his back door.

One day, March is devastated to learn that the Eagle Tree—a monolithic Ponderosa Pine near his home in Olympia—is slated to be cut down by developers. Now, he will do anything in his power to save this beloved tree, including enlisting unlikely support from relatives, classmates, and even his bitter neighbor. In taking a stand, March will come face-to-face with some frightening possibilities: Even if he manages to save the Eagle Tree, is he risking himself and his mother to do it?

Intertwining themes of humanity and ecology, The Eagle Tree eloquently explores what it means to be part of a family, a society, and the natural world that surrounds and connects us.

Bookbub Deal Here >>

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