Always Ask What if


There is a large percentage of Scotland, somewhere around 45 percent, wondering today, what if? Wondering what may have happened if another 6 percent of their countrymen could have voted with them. There is a large portion of the world who wondering what may have been, too. Flanders, Catalonia, the Basques, Quebec, all wondering if the Scottish bid was in the affirmative, whether or not they, too, would be allowed to pursue their own independence.

Most of them will allow these thoughts of what if to fade into the background. They will perhaps come the front of the mind every once in a while, but they will quickly fade away as real life takes back over. There are a group of people who will not let the what ifs go away.

I am a part of that group. I am one of those who looks at the what ifs and lets them run wild. Lets them run so fast and far that they entangle all of my thoughts. It creates story ideas that are sometimes fulfilled, sometimes temporarily put aside, sometimes completely abandoned.

Asking what if creates ideas like a man dealing with a breakup before the end of the world. It spawns ideas like a girl inside a virtual theme park attempting to save the digital world. Ideas like a kid who can travel though time with a toaster. Or stories like what will the world be like after global warming destroys the globe.

Creators of great and small works alike ask “what if.” And then they take that question as far as they can get it, allowing it to shift in form until it becomes a story that they feel is worth telling.

So, keep asking what if. Ask it as many times as possible. Asking what if is the only way that the Scottish referendum got floated in the first place. It’s the only way that great events happen. It’s the only way that great stories get told. And in the end, asking what if is the only way that anything every changes.


I am a fan of history and absorber of all things news. I am a writer of books and blogs, and an enjoyer of all things pop culture. There is more about my that I can not currently think of. I will answer any question via email bearded bards at, or in the comments below. If your question is, “Can I get your book for free?” My answer is yes, just send me an email. If you would rather pay for the book on Amazon, the link is below.

Tim and the Breakup of Impending Doom.




Copy Cats Need Not Apply


Each semester I would inevitably have a teacher who would espouse to the class how they always had one person who plagiarized. One person who thought that they could get away with copying their paper and pass it off as their own. There was an underlying threat involved–the teacher could and would find all plagiarists in their class, so don’t even try. The reality was something different. Most teachers are far too overwhelmed by the amount of work that they have to actually identify any plagiarism. Most cases of plagiarism in the academic setting will go under the radar. Unless the plagiarism is completely evident (as in, the writing level is far exceeding that which the student has previously written), or the teacher has somehow already read what the student is putting forward as their own, the plagiarism will go unnoticed (unless the teacher is using a service like, which is another blog post entirely).

That doesn’t mean that I’m endorsing plagiarism. I’m just saying that it is incredibly easy to do. There are plenty of instances of professors and journalist plagiarizing work. Most of the time it’s for one of two reasons–they are too overwhelmed with other projects in order to take the time to make their own original content, or they just don’t want to make their own original content. Any way you cut it, those who plagiarize either believe whole heartedly that they will not get caught or hope beyond hope that they will not get caught.

Being writers on the internet, and being self-published authors, Zach and I have to be especially aware of plagiarism. Not only do we have to be diligent ourselves to not take credit for what is not our, but we also need to make sure that nothing that is ours has been appropriated by someone else. The internet, with all of its glorious achievements, has also made plagiarism incredibly easy to do–and incredibly easy to spot.

Here are a few cautionary tales of plagiarism.

1. If you get caught, don’t be a jerk about it

Plagiarism Today, a great site about all things copyright and content ownership, has a great post about a lurid tale of plagiarism in the University setting. The story is a flip on the usual, as a professor instead of a student is the one who was accused of plagiarism. His come-back? Attempt to completely dismantle the life of the guy who found him out. The story is worth a read and definitely gives a good moral: if you get caught for plagiarism, go quietly into the night.

2. There are a lot of forms of plagiarism

One thing that I learned in my time interning at a writing center is that plagiarism comes in a lot of different forms. Ed Tech Digest does a nice little breakdown on the different forms of plagiarism in what is called, “The Plagiarism Spectrum.” I would recommend anyone who is questioning whether or not what they are doing is plagiarism to check out this post. Not only does it describe the different forms of plagiarism, but it breaks them down into easily identifiable categories. According to the article, “The Plagiarism Spectrum was developed specifically to help students better grasp what plagiarism looks like in practice.” Personally, I think that it can be used by anyone to great affect.

3. Anyone can plagiarize, and anyone can get caught

Our Bad Media, an anonymous group of two bloggers/twitter users (@blippoblappo & @crushingbort) put up a post outlining numerous episodes of plagiarism by author and CNN host Fareed Zakaria. While the whole incident has not gotten nearly the traction that it should, there are some great dissections of the whole mess. One in particular that I think is well worth reading is a post by Steve Buttry, where he gives a great journalist perspective on why what Zakaria did is plagiarism in every sense of the word.

One more place plagiarism is rampant is in the music industry. And as this Westword article points out, it’s usually identified pretty quickly.


I am a fan of history and absorber of all things news. I am a writer of books and blogs, and an enjoyer of all things pop culture. There is more about my that I can not currently think of. I will answer any question via email bearded bards at, or in the comments below. If your question is, “Can I get your book for free?” My answer is yes, just send me an email. If you would rather pay for the book on Amazon, the link is below.

Tim and the Breakup of Impending Doom.

Music (and Pictures) To Write To: All Scotland Edition


If my math is correct, then as I post this it is a little less than 18 hours until the calendar flips over on September 18th, 2014 in Scotland, otherwise known as the date of the Independence Referendum.

I know exactly where I was one year ago, because I was there, in Scotland. To be specific, on the 18th of September, I woke up in the village of Kenmore, had lunch in Pitlochry, zipped by the Cairngorms, and ate dinner beside the River Ness. It was a helluva trip, one that will leave a lasting impact on myself and by proxy my writing for years to come.

So to mark the occasion, I thought I’d do a Scotland-themed MtWt. And then I thought I’d add some pictures. And then I realized I wouldn’t want to share just one song, so I’m going to go freaking nuts and share a bunch. And also pictures (taken by me, so excuse any lapse in quality).

First up, a classic, Loch Lomond as performed by Scottish folk legends The Corries

Loch Lomond, copyright Z.T. Burian

Loch Lomond

Next, one of my favorite artists, who almost always sings in a language I can’t understand but I adore anyways, Julie Fowlis. This video has a nice intro, and it’s a live performance. With a baby. Just watch it.

The Isle of Mull from Iona

The Isle of Mull from Iona

On to one of my favorite bands, not just from Scotland but from anywhere, Frightened Rabbit. I have had their album Midnight Organ Fight on repeat some days, and still can’t get enough of it.



For something completely different, here’s my favorite Mogwai tune.

And last, because I can’t resist, and because I absolutely love this song (not ironically), The Proclaimers.

Kenmore in the morning

Kenmore in the morning

Edinburgh in the evening

Edinburgh in the evening



My sister and me and Edinburgh Castle

My sister and me and Edinburgh Castle

I have thousands more pictures (not hyperbole), but I’m wearing out my welcome I think. Scotland has influenced my writing through the music above, and the places I visited. Old Town Edinburgh was my model for Ganton in Gone To Wonder. Celtic and gaelic imagery abounds in my work. But I could never do the place justice, in pictures or words.

I’m American, so what goes down the 18th is none of my damn business. No matter the result, I hope Scotland becomes an even more impressive place, and I wish the people there success. If you’ve never been there, I hope you visit someday. You might just be inspired to write.

Peyton Manning, Regression, and Redemption


There is a legend. A man, young and strong, comes to a kingdom in need of help. This man overcomes trials, fights off beasts, and eventually comes away with an ultimate prize. The man, after completing his tasks, rests for a time. He ages, it seems as though he will not be able to come back. But he does come back. He comes back and once again undertakes the road of trials, so that he may once again fight a beast, once again undertaking a journey fraught with peril. That man is, of course, Peyton Manning.

Beowulf would fit the mold, too. But, hey, that’s old and boring. Plus, Manning throws footballs, avoids tackles, and is the hero to millions of people. Plus—he did an awesome SNL commercial for United Way.

Beowulf on the other hand only ever killed a Grendal and Grendal’s mother, and a dragon. Boring.

Peyton Manning was a force to reckon with in the NFL in the first incarnation of his Hero’s Journey. He passed his road of trials, fought against and lost to the evil Tom Brady, and eventually was able to gain his boon and come back to the promised land of Indiana. Manning’s own story is much like that of Beowulf—who came to a kingdom as a rookie knight, defeated a beast, saved the kingdom, and got his own boon in the way of fame, fortune, and kingship.

Both could have rested at that point. Both had completed the Hero’s Journey. Both were in their promised land and could have retired (Manning) and died (Beowulf) in complete piece.

But neither did.

Peyton, after injury, came back to the NFL. And Beowulf, after old age overtook him, came back to slay another beast. I’m of course not conflating one of the most prolific figures in history with Beowulf (see what I did there?). The two have all the differences in the world. But they do have one thing very much in common—regression and redemption within the Hero’s Journey.

Regression and Redemption

Everyone regresses. It’s a basic fact that there will be highs and lows throughout our lifespan. Everyone goes through the ups and downs of repeated trips through the Hero’s Journey. There are plenty of examples of regression and redemption throughout literature, cinema, television, and everyday life. Here are just a few:

TV Procedurals — Each week the members of the CSI team, or New York’s finest, must solve a new crime. They go through every step of the Hero’s Journey, the initial call, the trials, the boon, and the return (a simplified version of the Journey, but one that still hits all the major points). Every week, though, they must solve a new crime or overcome a new challenge and repeat the Hero’s Journey. Despite completing the quest, they must regress back to square one and start all over again.

The Hunger Games — In every incarnation of the Hunger Games, Katniss must overcome what amounts to the same obstacle. In each book (and movie) she must overcome some form of the arena. In each part she gets called into the arena, overcomes the trials, and comes away with the boon of victory. Just because she has completed an arena, though, doesn’t mean that she is done. In each episode she must start at square one of the Hero’s Journey before she can start on the next arena.

The Mighty Ducks — This is perhaps my favorite version of regression and redemption. Each film, the team must come together and go through their trials in order to win the big championship. And at the end of each film they are able to win said championship. They celebrate in how far they have come and the skill at which they play the game. However, at the start of each film they basically start over. Even though they have gone through all the cycles of the Hero’s Journey and come out the other side as champions, at the start of the next film they start playing hockey like they have never done so before. It’s the perfect example of regressing to zero and having to redeem yourself through the Hero’s Journey.

Repeating the Journey

We all go through multiple Hero’s Journeys everyday. Almost every task we take on could be fit into the Hero’s Journey frame work. Let’s take this one from myself yesterday. Yesterday I wanted to go find a little device that I needed in order to make my own TV antenna. In my truncated form of the Hero’s Journey I, 1) Got the call, figured out that I needed this part in order to make the antenna, 2) Went through my road of trials, I had to go to multiple stores in order to get the part that I needed, and 3) Received my boon, got the piece that I needed, and then 3) returned, I went home to celebrate in my victory.

Nearly every micro and macro task that we undertake (micro–getting an antenna, macro–birth, life, death) can fit into the Hero’s Journey framework. But nearly every task that we undertake is pretty boring. Sure, there are some that are more interesting or involved than others, but most of the things that we do which fit into the Hero’s Journey don’t quite feel like they fit into the Hero’s Journey. And the majority of the time when we start on a new Hero’s Journey it feels like we are starting from square one.

The point I want to get across is this: the Hero’s Journey can repeat and be repeated multiple times. It happens to us everyday, it happens to the Mighty Ducks in every one of their movies. In fact, most of the time when we finish a Hero’s Journey, a new one begins right afterwards. The fact that Peyton Manning is currently going through a second incarnation of the Hero’s Journey, or that Beowulf went through the journey twice in his epic, should come as no surprise.

How Many Boons for Peyton Manning?

Peyton Manning With his Boon

There is a question over whether Beowulf is able to gain a second boon. Is death a boon? Is defeating the dragon a boon? Personally, I think he does. I think that in defeating the dragon and dying as a king who was able to protect his people that he is able to gain yet another boon. Effectively, he is able to complete two distinct journeys during his epic.

The question is still out there for Peyton Manning.

All of us and the charters that we view and read about can fail during the Hero’s Journey. We can easily refuse the call and not go on the journey at all, we can fail at our trials, we can fail upon attempting to get our final boon.

Manning’s ultimate fate still waits for him. He has successfully completed the Hero’s Journey once, but that does not mean that he will successfully complete it again. He may fail, he may not be able to win a second super bowl, he may retire and find that the boon that is his second Lombardi trophy eludes him.

Of course, he will have other attempts at the Hero’s Journey. Most of those attempts will not be broadcast over national television. In all probability, he will be able to successfully complete the majority of his journeys without any difficulty at all. But will those really matter as much as this current journey that he is undertaking?

The Everyday Journey

I think all that really differentiates you or me from a person like Peyton Manning or Beowulf is the amount of people who care. Manning’s return to the NFL was a long scrutinized endeavor, Beowulf is a story which is studied in literature classes across the globe, and millions of people have paid to watch The Hunger Games.

Like I said above, we all go through the Hero’s Journey everyday. The biggest question you have to ask is whether or not your journey is really all that important? Sure, we are all the center of our own universes, but is what we are doing really as big a deal as we make it out to be? Is making sure that you get to the post office before it closes really all that important in the big scheme of things? Do other people care if you get to the post office or not?

I’m not sure. But there is something that we can relate to with Peyton Manning and Beowulf. We can see people who are taking on the call of the Hero’s Journey despite everything that is fighting against them. Despite being injured and aged they still accept the call. The Might Ducks, despite not quite being all that great at hockey anymore (for some reason) still take on the call.

It’s an inspiration for any of us. If we look at the tasks that we undertake as if they are all Hero’s Journeys, just like those that Manning or Beowulf are taking on, it become easier for us to accept that call. We may feel that we have regressed, that we may not be able to undertake and complete the task ahead, but if Manning can do it even after a neck injury, why not us?

In Defense of Exposition Dumps




Andrew and I got into an argument yesterday. We had just watched a preview screening of The Maze Runner at the always-excellent Alamo Drafthouse, and we both, for the most part, enjoyed it. There’s a lot of action, though I wish there was a bit more about the maze—besides the creepy-crawly-id-monsters, the maze didn’t feel too threatening. But that wasn’t my major problem with the movie, nor was it the point that Andrew and I disagreed upon. We didn’t quite see eye to eye over one of the biggest obstacles with genre fiction: exposition.

Exposition, as defined by me, is the pure information of the story. It’s when someone (character or narrator) directly gives the audience information about the world. Think Gandalf sitting in Frodo’s kitchen telling him about Isildor and the One Ring. Obi-Wan explaining The Force to that whiny blonde kid. Etc.

It is the driving force of scifi, fantasy, dystopias, mysteries, thrillers—basically anything that builds a world we are not intimately familiar with. It’s even there in something like The Fault In Our Stars, as Hazel’s world of cancer* is unfamiliar to most people and has to be described in some way. In other words, exposition is so very necessary in order to understand a world.

But there’s a problem with it, as with anything. I love it at times, and can tolerate a lot more than normal, but at some point there is just too much information. A writer might get so into telling you about this world that they neglect the story, because story isn’t information, it isn’t even about history, it’s about character. There’s talking about a character and stuff happening, and there is showing how that stuff happens and how the character reacts.

In The Maze Runner, you are delivered into the world in a great way. Kid wakes up in an elevator, is very confused. That’s it, zoom, right in there. Contrast this to opening with a monologue voiceover explaining shit, like in Divergent (and, to be fair, LOTR does it too, but it works. That’s a whole ‘nother post right there). It’s a cold open, which serves to put you right in the character’s shoes. He doesn’t know what’s going on, and neither do we.

This is where Andrew and I diverged. From this point on, there were too many direct question-answers for him. Thomas asked a question about the world around him, he got an answer (mostly). Andrew thought this was too much information, that it was too easy. The problem here is, there’s not much you could do as a writer besides giving this information. The best you can do is make it entertaining and layer in character moments.

If you are writing in this or any related genres, this is your only way out. You must give the audience information eventually, but you can’t overdo it. I thought The Maze Runner did a good job of feeding you a constant stream of exposition without really feeling like it. Questions arose naturally, as they should. If Thomas didn’t ask something obvious (Where the hell am I? Who the hell are you? What the hell is that creepy noise?) I would have lost it. And if the other characters did not at least attempt to give him clear answers, they’d be assholes and I’d accuse the writer of stalling. Amnesia is a hugantic cliché, but the movie kind of hangs a lantern on it and utilizes the form to inform the story’s direction, instead of simply as a device to make the story easier to sell. In this I’d put it in the positive category of “Stories that have amnesia as a plot point and don’t suck.” (Off the top of my head, other members are Memento and Chasm City).

While I understand Andrew’s frustration, that it could feel like an expo dump in delivering a lot of information in the first act, I never felt like it, because there were plenty of character moments. Thomas’s inherent (if a bit generic) heroism shines in his responses to the information—his curiosity about the maze, willingness to be a runner, going after Minho and Alby, etc.

The movie doesn’t do so well at the end. To me, the expo dump at the end, all about the (REDACTED FOR SPOILERZ) was too much stuff that did not serve the story. It had nothing really to do with what the characters went through. It may have explained the world more, but it clouded the story to me, which is not something you do at the end… unless you have a sequel lined up. Because money.

Andrew was fine with that. I don’t know why. You can ask him, I’m done with him and his stupid face for a while.

*Hazel’s World of Cancer: Worst Theme Park Ever.


cover3I have an unhealthy attachment to exposition dumps, because I really love genre. If you’re like me, you might enjoy my book Absent Hero, which has tons of geeky exposition. It also has a steampunk theme park, nerdy teens, pirates, a fox, and giant animatronic knights made of stone. Get it now for Kindle.

Three Things: Cold War Redux


Things continue to heat up between Russia and the West. While it’s not yet at Cold War era levels, the rhetoric and actions between the East and West are creating tensions that could quickly lead us there. The Cold War was a terrifying period of history. The prospect of nuclear annihilation lay just over the horizon. And, the amount of times that the world almost ended because of malfunctions, misunderstandings, and human error, is unthinkable. There are some great lessons to be learned from the history of the cold war, and, like Dan Carlin says, context is key to understanding. Here are some of my favorite places to learn some Cold War context, which will hopefully help you to be more informed about current events.

Ghosts of the Osfront


World War Two turned the United States into a global power. But, it also turned the USSR into a global power with nearly the same reach. Understanding why the USSR was able to gain so much territory and authority in post-WWII Europe takes an understanding of its role in World War Two. Dan Carlin, host of the podcasts Hardcore History and Common Sense, gives a great overview of the war that the Third Reich and USSR fought on the Eastern Front.

The USSR lost much in blood and treasure in the war, but it also gained a great deal in power and influence across the globe. Really, the ramifications of the Eastern Front are what made it possible for the USSR to face off against the United States for the next 50 years.

Carlin is also able to take a great deal of the context from this podcast (Russian fear of invasion from the West, erosion of the Warsaw Pact and rise of NATO, and dual militarization) and bring them up in his Common Sense podcast. Poking the Bear and In Search of Context, are two must-listens for anyone who wants to be truly knowledgeable about what is going on in Eastern Europe.

Cold War

CNN isn’t usually a place that I go for news. But with Cold War, they created a mini-series that gives an informative and interesting overview of the Cold War from 1945 to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Originally aired in 1998, the 24 part mini-series was re-released earlier this year. The series has a great amount of interviews with people who lived through the era, both from the East and the West. Plus, it’s narrated by Sir Kenneth Branagh. How can you go wrong?

While there have been some questions about whether or not the series was biased in one form or another, I think it is important to make two points. First, if you are looking to CNN to get all of your information on one topic, you need to look at other news sources. Remember when they did a month straight of 24 hour reporting on Flight 370? CNN is not exactly known for their hard hitting, focus-from-all-sides reporting. And second, it’s a documentary with great footage and interviews. Documentaries can often be one sided or biased in some way (although, I really don’t personally think that this one was all that biased), and to be a truly informed viewer, you need to look at other sources of information to get the full story.

Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth



1961 gets far less interest than the Cuban Missile Crisis in the annals of US history, but it is just as–if not more–important. 1961 was the year that the Berlin Wall went up, encasing West Berlin inside of the Iron Curtain in a literal sense. From 1961 until 1989 the Berlin Wall stood, keeping East Germans from entering into West Germany and West Berlin at any cost (though, while prohibited with the consequence of death, many East Germans still made attemptssome successful–to enter into the West).

With 1961, author Frederick Kempe creates a book which paints a complete and thorough picture of the political and social reasonings for the creation of the Wall. Along with the background of why the Wall was built, the books paints the dark attitudes and fears that painted this period of time. It is incredible how close the world came to annihilation because of some miscommunications and increasingly threatening rhetoric from both sides. If you don’t know enough about the politics and people of the Cold War and want to learn more, 1961 is a book worth reading.


I’m a fan of history, mythology and absorber of all things news. I’m a writer of books and blogs, and an enjoyer of all things pop culture. There is more about me that I can’t currently think of. I will answer any questions via email (bearded bards at or in the comments below. If your question is: “Can I get your book for free?” My answer is yes, just send me an email. If you would rather pay for the book on Amazon, the link is below.

I don’t only muse about the total annihilation of humanity through nuclear war; I also think about the total annihilation of humanity by asteroid! As seen in my current offering: Tim and the Breakup of Impending Doom.



Music To Write To: “Switzerland”


Hope you’re enjoying this Tuesday, or should I say, this iTuesday? I hope someone makes an app that warns you when a street magician is taking your watch off without you noticing. It could devastate the street magician industry!

Anywho, here’s some music. “Switzerland” by The Last Bison is an excellent song that I bumped into the other day and has already made it’s way into my retinue of writing music.