June’ 24: “Graveside”

Thanks for reading! 

Any support, even just giving these posts a read, is always appreciated.

This Month Will be a Little Different:

June is a busy month in my life for a lot of reasons, and this June has already been one of particular intensity both physically and mentally. So, you’ll excuse me if I cheat. Instead of my typical newsletter, I’m sharing a (very) short piece of creative nonfiction that I wrote for an author event I did a while back in Brandon, Mississippi.

Among the many things that makes June a consistently stressful month for me and my family, Father’s Day rests neatly in the middle. The task of scheduling family get-togethers in an already busy month on top of trying to take some time for ourselves as a family is only been compounded by the loss of my grandfather last May. So, in an effort to remove some of the general tensions right now, and provide a little memorialization for my grandfather, this month’s newsletter is just a piece of short CNF, dedicated to him.  

It’s short, but I like it. I hope you will too. 

“GRAVESIDE”-BY: Billy Don Loper

The light filtered down through Granny’s pine trees the way it always had. Little glimmers of radiance caught in a breathless moment before being cast to the ground in their moving shimmer. The trees had been little once, toddling things dug up from somewhere near the fence row on the other side of the graveyard. She had always intended to move there, that little patch of hilly old farm field on her father’s land, closer to her children and grandchildren. But, the grandchildren moved away, and before long, it was too late, and she was too old and eaten up with cancer to move anywhere. 

Still, she did make it there, in the end. Her own stone placed just beyond the fence of the family graveyard, there in the place where the pines cast their light. She had always liked the shade of her trees, so it seemed right and proper that she should spend her time in the ground beneath them. That had been The Eldest’s decision, as most of them had been. When the long wait passed and the heavy stone finally placed, a double one waiting on its other occupant, a little bench was put there too. Green or black, the color never really stood out against the rusting wrought iron and flaking paint, but it was sturdy and high enough that The Husband didn’t need any help getting up. 

That’s where I’d found him, me being the Eldest of the Eldest and sent to hunt him down an hour late for the family Easter. He was sitting on the bench, a metal cane leaning on one knee, and as soon as I shut my truck door I could hear him talking to her. He sat on the side of the bench aligned with his own stone, leaving space enough for her. I think I could see that when I walked the short way from the end of the drive to her trees, and that’s why I never did sit down. I hated making him look up to me, but it didn’t feel right to sit there in a spot he had saved for someone else. 

“Hey, there you are. Dad sent me looking for you.” 

“Mm? Why’s that?”

“Easter. You’re done supposed to be over at the house.”

That thin, gaunt face that I never did reconcile as his pulled tight when he nodded, his focus back to her and her trees. He did, though, spare a moment to glance at his watch. “Didn’t realize it’d gotten so late.”

“That’s all right. We just didn’t want you to have gotten off or hurt.”

“No, I’m all right. Just sitting here. I like to come sit every once in a while.”

“Okay, well. You sure you’re okay?”

“Oh yeah, just want to sit here a bit longer. I’ll come on in a little while.”

There was a silence there, however brief, that lingered between me and him. His frame, thinned and worn down by his heart disease and her cancer, didn’t look like the man I had grown up knowing. It never did, no matter how long I lived with it or how long it was the truth. I thought about all the trouble we’d had with him in those weeks leading up. His mind slipping, the doctor’s screaming Alzheimer’s despite its sudden appearance, though that never quite settled with me. It always felt like the long weariness of a house once shared, now filled with ghosts and memories.

“All right, well. I’m gonna head back and let Pop know you’re here and okay. You going to come on that way in a little bit, right?”

“Yeah, just a little bit.”

“Okay, see you when you get there.”

My boot heels scraping on that half-damp grass hid most of it, but even before I stopped to open the door of my pickup I could hear him. With her again. 

Part of him, anyway. 

For Donald Ray Loper-Father, Grandfather, and Great Grandfather.

May ’24: Finding Peace in the Outline

Thanks for reading! 

Any support, even just giving these posts a read, is always appreciated.

Recent Updates: 

It’s with a degree of severe melancholy that I let y’all know that the full request I had out has been rejected. However, searching for that every hazy silver lining, the agent did provide me with some great, actionable feedback. 

The trenches remain. 

Project Progress: 

Finished a round of edits on the horror novella, so I’m taking a break to draft a new project. It’s my first attempt at literary fiction in long form, and will likely be a long process. 

Recent Fascinations: Outlining, Writing from the Gut, and the Eternal Battle Within

If you sit down and talk with any group of writers, they’ll be a couple of topics that always come up. Adverbs, passive voice, and editing are some of the more common ones, but by far the most repeated topic of conversation for writers is the eternal debate between Outliners and Non-Outliners. 

The conversation comes in a dozen different forms. Perhaps the two best known are George R. R. Martin’s distinction between “Gardeners and Architects” and the National Novel Writing Community’s “Pantsers and Planners.” While at one time GRRM’s essay on the topic might’ve been the better known of the two, NaNoWriMo’s pervasive presence online has caused Pantser/Planner to become the default framework. I won’t be using either set of these labels. 

To categorize these two processes in terms like this applies some sort of value judgment towards one or the other. You’re either a gardener, who lets their novel flow from his fingertips with the speed at which it requires and in the way the whims of the words see fit, or you’re an architect, who meticulously shapes the words and then constructs his novel according to the plans devised. You’re either a pantser, flying by the seat of your pants, or a planner, organized and disciplined. I do not mean that I think GRRM or the NaNoWriMo folks are meaning to say that one or the other is better, but I do think that categorizing yourself or your writing style says something about the processes inherent in both. 

I have the (not so unique) position of having been both an outliner and a non-outliner. Early on in my fledgling days, I read Stephen King’s ON WRITING for the first time, where he talks at great lengths about why doesn’t outline, and about how he sees writing as a near-spiritual experience. At the time, I latched onto this idea and steadfastly refused to ever use an outline in my writing. This process created a lot of false starts, half finished projects, and a handful of pretty good short stories, but it never quite felt like how I was supposed to be writing. To be sure I am clear: I am not saying that I had some grand revelation that King was wrong. Obviously it works for him. Instead, what I’m getting at is that I tried to lump myself in with the writers that so adamantly denies outlining that it becomes personality. The gardeners. The pantsers. I tried to align myself with that style of writing, when it just never worked for me. 

As I started (attempting) to take writing more seriously, dedicating myself to finishing projects and focusing on getting published, I started to reevaluate my writing process. As I finished up the first draft of my Sci-Fantasy WIP (the one that’s currently being queried), I realized that so much of the text was aimless, and that because of that my prose had lost its focus and been blunted. So, as I moved forward with new projects and planning the sequel to my Sci-Fantasy project, I started to lean more and more on outlining. I’ve found that in the initial rough draft I am more able to focus on language, crafting clear metaphors, and precise characterization, because I am not so focused on where the story is going

More profound than the direct affect on my writing process, though, has been the way outlining didn’t affect how I feel when I write. I have said here before that I have a near-compulsive need to write. Writing is always on my mind, and much in the way King describes it in ON WRITING, it sometimes feels like a near-spiritual experience for me. But, unlike what King posits, turning towards a more structured, outlined approach to writing has not lessened that at all. I still feel like I’m writing from my gut, from the center of my being, regardless of how much thought I’ve put into it beforehand. 

Outlining and not-outlining aren’t some diametrically opposed mechanisms that decide the way writing works or is conceptualized for a given writer. They’re just tools and methods for all of us, things to help us get our stories out there. A chisel in the hand of the carpenter. 

As long as we get our stories out, it doesn’t really matter how we hold the chisel.

Thanks for reading. 

April ’24: Po Campo is God

Thanks for reading! 

Any support, even just giving these posts a read, is always appreciated.

Recent Updates:

Still waiting to hear back from the single full request I have out at the moment. 

Other than that, I’ve had a few other rejections, sent a few others out. The trenches remain. 

I was a featured author at the Brandon Public Library for Central Mississippi Regional Library System’s Author Brunch. I put together a sort-of unofficial and thrown together mini-collection for it and have a few copies left. If you’re interested in buying one, for 10 bucks, email me at loperwrites@gmail.com.

Project Progress:

Still in the process of editing the horror novella, and I expect progress there to be pretty slow going. It’s an old story that needs a lot of reexamination. 

Recent Fascinations: An Essay on Character Incited by Larry McMurtry

The idea for this essay has been on my mind since I finished my first read through of Larry McMurtry’s titanic classic LONESOME DOVE, but this or that got in my way every time I went to write it. Either a deep bout of melancholia or a full request or something of that ilk, and this is a thought that, to the best of my ability, I want to give room to breathe. 

For a great part of my time (so far) as a writer, I considered myself a character writer. I’ve talked about this before here, about the way that my own perception of my writing has shifted from character centric to setting centric. I still believe that, but that doesn’t mean I don’t crave good characters in the stories I read. 

All of my favorite books, and I mean all of them, are character driven, regardless of whether or not that type of storytelling is the center of the stories I write. I’ve been trying for years to find a way to put into words exactly why I feel this way. Why reading THE STAND makes me feel the way it does. Why AMERICAN GODS brought me to bitter, sobbing tears. And finally, a little over halfway through LONESOME DOVE, I found them, and, in the words of Kerouac, they were simple. 

Po Campo is God. 

Okay, maybe I should elaborate. I don’t actually think McMurtry ever meant for the Hat Creek Company’s second camp cook to represent God. The character isn’t a vessel for magic realism or anything like that, and he doesn’t represent some perfect, Christ-like figure. But he is important. 

LONESOME DOVE is full of characters, but for the short walk through its archetypes that I need to go on in order to set up the bulk of this essay, I’m going to focus on three. 

The Stoic: Woodrow Call

The Epicurean: Augustus McCrae

The Satisfied Man: Po Campo. 

While Woodrow and Gus are, from the very beginning, meant to represent opposite sides of the same coin, Po Campo’s arrival signals something else. He is a man, despite the hardships both ahead and behind, who is satisfied. He is happy with his life as it is and expects very little from himself and those around him, while also taking an enormous amount of pride in his craft. Woodrow seeks meaning and direction from labor, Gus seeks the same from joy and vice, but Po Campo seeks nothing and makes due with what is passed to him from beyond. 

Now, that in mind, I’m going to abruptly pivot away from LONESOME DOVE the story and towards character in general. The ideas behind these three core concepts are not particular deep or revolutionary, even at the time of publication. 

Call works hard and is seldom satisfied. 

Gus doesn’t work and is seldom satisfied. 

Po Campo is satisfied. 

Where the importance of these characters comes from, what gives them their layers, is the experiences they have on the page. 

While there is a sea of experiences behind the pages for all of the characters of LONESOME DOVE, and most other epic-length modern novels, it isn’t those experiences that carry the reader along. It is the things the characters do from the time the reader picks up with them. This carries true even for series that start the reader and the characters both at the “true” beginning. In Robert Jordan’s epic masterpiece THE WHEEL OF TIME, the reader starts the story with the main characters from their first call to action and then Jordan carries us along on the entire (and I mean ENTIRE) journey. It is through those shared experiences that WOT or LONESOME DOVE or any other character driven story earns its keep. 

So, that brings me back to Po Campo, and why he’s our ineffable savior. 

Despite the comedy and beauty and introspection, much of LONESOME DOVE is a harrowing experience. There is great violence and brutality on the pages of that novel, and at times, especially once Blue Duck makes his appearance, that brutality can feel oppressive. So oppressive that at one point, a literal, biblical-scale plague of grasshoppers descends on the Hat Creek Outfit. However, through it all, Po Campo does not falter. He is steadfast in his every action, past and present, and never doubts himself or his dedication to the road ahead. Perhaps most memorable is when he states that his wife is “in hell where I sent her,” without so much as a smidge of regret or introspection.

LONESOME DOVE is a book about characters, and almost the entirety of its purpose is the development of those characters, but, as I’ve said, Po Campo remains. There is no growth for him provided in the story, no examples of the ways the road north changed him. He is known, certain, stalwart. Po Campo, in other words, is God. 

Writing characters that live and breathe through the page is hard, exhausting labor for me. It’s something I have to work at, something that never comes natural in the flow of my prose. I think that difficulty is what drew me to Po Campo as I read McMurtry’s masterpiece. I struggle to imagine the ideas that must have passed through McMurtry’s mind as he drafted the earliest versions of LONESOME DOVE. I wonder about the changes that Po Campo had to go through in order to live on the page as totally and believably as he does from his very first appearance. 

I don’t think I’ll ever achieve that, that I’ll ever write my own Po Campo. 

But, then again, what’s the point in riding for Montana if you’re already there. 

Thanks for reading. 

March’ 23: The Perpetuity of Querying Anxiety, or Maybe My Skin Ain’t as Thick as I Thought

Thanks for reading! 

Any support, even just giving these posts a read, is always appreciated.

Recent Updates:

For once, I have some pretty significant a pretty exciting update!

In late February I got my first full request from an agent, and more specifically from an agent I thought I had no chance in even getting any interest from, much less enough interest that they decided to read the entire thing. 

This is really exciting for a number of reasons, all of which I will go into in the fascinations section of this newsletter. 

Be sure that I will keep a running update here of how that goes!

Project Progress:

I finished the post-apocalypse rough draft! It turns out that February was a very productive month for me overall, and I was able to wrap up a story that, in one form or another, had been haunting me for more than five years. 

Now, I’ve moved on to editing the horror novella that I finished the rough draft of back in the Fall of 2022. 

Recent Fascinations: Realizing the Limits of My Querying Resistance

All right, so, to get the celebration out of the way, glory glory I’ve gotten my first full request! The excitement I feel from this is impossible for me to explain. It is a high that I haven’t felt since my first short story acceptance, and it has really, really, made me more confident as a writer. 

The query that developed into my first (and as of writing only) full request was one of the original batch of six I sent out way back in December of ‘23. This particular query was to an agent that I would have described as my dream agent if I even thought there was a cold chance in hell. It was the long shot, straight from JV to the major leagues, unthinkable agent. The agent I sent a query to expecting a rejection but knowing I would hate myself if I had never taken the chance. 

For EIGHTY-NINE DAYS I watched the counter on that query tick up. Agents sent rejections, I sent out new queries, and the longshot ticked up. When I mentioned this particular query to my writer friends, I called it the “never gonna happen” query. I disregarded it, its status on my Query Manager page just a reminder that sometimes this whole writer thing requires us to take a chance or two.

I don’t think I’ll ever have the words to describe the feeling that came over me when the full request came in, but it is a high I’m still riding as I write this. My writing hadn’t just been noticed and recognized as something worth a second look, but noticed and recognized by an actual titan of the industry. With all of this joy, though, came a realization that maybe, just maybe, my skin isn’t quite as thick as I think it is. 

Throughout my querying journey so far, I have remained resilient to the wearing forces of the process. Rejection is part of the job, and I’ve taken each one with a smile. A rejection comes in, I send out a new query. I’ve solidified that process into something that I feel is sustainable. I’ve settled into a pace that works for me and my writing goals. Through all of this work I’ve managed to keep my expectations realistic, not anticipating anything beyond a rejection from any of the queries I’ve sent out. 

However, the moment that the realization around this first full request settled in, I knew that those emotional defenses have a limit. Even though I have no real expectations of anything coming from this full request, I also know that once that rejection comes in, I will be totally, absolutely crushed. 

I hope no reader of this misunderstands me, though. This full request has done a great deal to show me that my writing, and especially this dark fantasy manuscript, is worth something. It’s an irrefutable statement from the industry that this is all worth the effort. I also hope that any reader doesn’t think I’m dejected or self-depreciating when I say I expect nothing to come from this full request. I really, really, hope that this full turns into an offer. I think the work is worth it, I think I have a chance. 

But at the end of the day, I have to try to keep some semblance of realistic resistance against the coming barrage of rejections. Still, I know that whenever the response to this full does come, no matter what it is, I will feel it with my entire being. 

Thanks for reading.

February ‘24: The Month of 10,000 Days

Thanks for reading! 

Any support, even just giving these posts a read, is always appreciated.

Recent Updates:

I’m still querying my Dark Fantasy project. Received a couple more rejections and sent a few more out. 

The third entry in my Stephen King readthrough with The Scoop came out earlier this month. Read it here. This one is about THE TALISMAN.

Project Progress:

I am ALMOST finished with the rough draft of this post-apocalypse story that has been haunting me for what feels like a lifetime. I look forward to eventually saying that I finished the son of a bitch. 

Recent Fascinations: Learning to Appreciate Winter

I think I can speak for a lot of folks when I say that January felt like it was about eight years long. It feels impossible that 2024 just started a little over a month ago, that Christmas wasn’t even a full two months ago. At the same time, I don’t think I can identify a single truly productive thing I accomplished during that time. I didn’t finish any projects or make any significant moves in my writing life. It was, if I’m being honest, a month that felt like it was about 10,000 days long in which I accomplished almost nothing. 

I try not to quantify my writing career with progress or achievements, that’s what LAST month’s whole blog post was about, but I think there’s another aspect that applies to how I felt throughout most of January: I hate the winter. 

I don’t mean that as a moment of over exaggeration. I genuinely hate just about everything about Winter, especially the unbearable part of the season between Christmas and blessed Spring. The cold, the dead look of the world around me, the persistent freezing rain, and, perhaps most of all, the short days. 

In a moment of uncharacteristic vulnerability, I will lay out for all my readers that I have seasonal depression (or whatever label you want to give it), which mixes pretty poorly with my grab bag of anxiety disorders. Basically all of my hobbies besides music require me to go outside, which is decidedly difficult when it’s cold, pouring rain, or both. Winter is just very difficult for me, despite the momentary release from the Mississippi heat it offers.

That being said, as January kept trudging along, I started trying to find some joy in the Winter time. Warm cups of coffee on my front porch, evenings on the back patio spent watching the birds tear my dry and dying grass apart. I’ve tried to spend time finding the little moments of beauty in these cold, desolate Winter days. 

Funnily enough, as I’ve started being mindful of what there is to enjoy in the Winter, I’ve found myself making steadily increasing progress on this post-apocalypse project. My mind is preoccupied with finding beauty in a time of year that normally fills me with nothing but disdain, and that has turned out to be pretty useful in writing about the beauty that might come when the world is forced to slow down, even if only a little. 

I also found that it was easier to focus on my essay writing for The Scoop, my hobbies (the indoor ones), and a whole host of other things that there’s no point in going into here. The point is: this whole concept of focusing on the porch-sitting and not the freezing rain is pretty important to the writing process. You gotta focus on the positives of the process, not just the negatives.

A while back I did a blog post about seeing the beauty in the process, and I think this revelation about Winter time is just an expansion on that. Sometimes the weather sucks, sometimes writing sucks, sometimes querying sucks, but sometimes you get to sit on the front porch with a warm cup of coffee and things aren’t too damn bad. 

Thanks for reading.

January ’24: Heading Forward

Thanks for reading! 

Any support, even just giving these posts a read, is always appreciated. 

Recent Updates:

Obviously, the biggest update is that I’ve shifted away from Substack to my own platform, which gives me control over how it works and what I host. If you were subscribed on Substack, you’re already subscribed here. Not subscribed? Do so Here:  

Project Progress:

No major updates. I am still pending queries, I’ve had a few rejections and sent out a few more submissions. 

As always, read my essay work at: The Sinister Scoop

Recent Fascinations: A New Year and Heading Forward

I’m not really one for New Years resolutions, either in my personal life or as a writer. I do keep up with some writing career goals every year, things like getting some stories published or finding an agent, but nothing grand like yearly word goals or lofty ideas. Despite the fact that I’m a pretty perpetual optimist, I’m also a pretty pragmatic realist. 

When 2023 kicked off, I didn’t expect to be moving 10 months later, much less buying my first house and settling into a decidedly different life than I have ever lived before. Building personal resolutions or professional ones is typically just an invitation for life to firmly remind you that you’re not the one that calls the shots, so instead I just try and make sure I am always headed forward. 

Forward progress is something I have focused all of my attention on since I started (trying) to take this whole thing seriously in 2021. I am always trying to improve my writing with each new project. Always sure to submit at least a handful of short stories a year. Always trying to move to the next step in my goal to find traditional publication for one of my full-length manuscripts. No matter what, I always try to keep heading forward. 

Even when something stands in the way, like a surprise life change, if you’re heading forward, standing still for a little isn’t really a big deal. It becomes less a setback, and more like a momentary pause. A redlight. Sure, you’re stuck for now, but eventually the sumbitch will turn green and you can get moving again. 

So if I have any advice for my fellow writers who’re trying to decide what resolutions and professional goals they need to be focused on, it’s that. Just keep heading forward, and when you have to stop, just be patient. 

The light’ll always turn green, eventually. 

Thanks for reading. 

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December’ 23


Welcome to the Newsletter!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you enjoy it and will share it with your friends and family.

Recent Announcements:

The second entry in my Stephen King essay Series “The Long Read” just came out, this one all about Dolores Claiborne! Read it here.

Project Progress:

The sci-fantasy story is DONE. I passed it along to two final readers, but at this point I’m finished making changes to it. The story is as good as I can make it. I’ve queried five agents, and plan on keeping five queries out at a time. As I get rejections for those (or possible full requests, etc.) I’ll make updates here. 

Finishing that story means that it’s time to get started back on my other projects! I’ve already picked back up on the post-apocalypse story’s first draft, and will keep updates for all of that going here too. 

Recent Fascinations, a Very Special Edition:


It’s the first December of my first year writing this newsletter, and in classic writer newsletter style, I want to do a rundown of my favorite reads of the past year. I’ve read a lot this year, 86 books if you count all the manga and comics, 45 or so if you don’t. I count them, and that’ll be relevant later, so we’re going to go with 86. 

First things first, though, I need to lay out some foundational information before I dive into the reads themselves, because I don’t read like a lot of people in the book-space do. I don’t focus my reading efforts on new releases. In fact, while there are some recent releases in the honorable mentions, the newest novel in my top 5 is from 2016. That’s just how it shook out this year. So, to be clear before I get started, this isn’t a “top five releases of 2023.” It’s just my five favorite reads from the past year. 

So, without further delay.


Here are the books/comics/series I read and LOVED this year even though they didn’t break into my top five. I can’t go in-depth on each of them the way I will the top 5, and they aren’t in any particular order. If a book is here, I recommend it with my whole heart. Seriously, if you walk away from this newsletter with anything it should be adding everything I talk about from this point forward to your TBR. 

  • POST CAPTAIN, Patrick O’Brian (Aubrey and Matrim 2)
  • THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW, C.S. Lewis (Chronicles of Narnia 6)
  • SECONDS, Brian Lee O’Malley
  • ESSEX COUNTY, Jeff Lemire
  • MALEVOLENT, Harlan Guthrie
  • THE ROOTS IN YOUR BONES, Samantha Eaton
  • FOREVER WORDS, Johnny Cash

If any of these are something you haven’t read/listened to before, look into them and read them. I promise  you will at least find something interesting in each of them. 


Here they are, the five best things I read this year in ascending order. 


If you’ve been keeping up with the things I talk about here or on social media, or the types of things I typically write essays about, you’ll know I’m a massive King fan. HEARTS IN ATLANTIS knocked me off my feet. It’s a powerful collection of short stories and novellas where each story builds on the last, intertwining the entire thing into an impressive tapestry, all coated with a healthy dose of magical realism. The titular story is the one that clinched the fifth spot for me, with the story of cards-addicted college freshman finding themselves constantly scrambling to hold themselves afloat feeling particularly powerful for me. The entire collection is intimately connected with The Tower, and overall it was by far my favorite King read of the year.

A lot, if not most, of King’s short story collections are great, but this one is really something special. 

4. THE ROAD, Cormac McCarthy

I’m not sure I can describe what this book did to me, and anyone who has ever read it knows exactly what I mean. The story of a desperate man and his young son on the road during what I can only describe as the most hopeless, hellish post-apocalypse I’ve ever seen is so powerful, so emotional, that you really have to read it to understand what this book really is. 

I read a lot of heavy stuff, a lot of literary fiction centered around trauma and the exploration of pain, but nothing I have touched in recent memory has made me feel as deeply as THE ROAD. More than the quiet desperation of a father at the end of his rope, there is also a beautiful, absolute hope beneath everything. Go read it. And remember, you have to carry the fire. 

3. THE DRAGON REBORN (Wheel of Time book 3), Robert Jordan

As I write, I’m about 60% through the fifth book in the WHEEL OF TIME series, and before I was finished with book three, THE DRAGON REBORN, I knew that this series was going to weave its way deep into my being. It’s quickly become one of my favorite fantasy series of all time, and out of the entries in the series I’ve read so far THE DRAGON REBORN shines the brightest. 

The book’s focus on side characters and exploring the broader moments of the narrative while delegating the main protagonist to a background plot element really struck a chord with me. While I’m positive that this plot conceit isn’t unique to this book, and probably not an original idea to Jordan, it felt fresh and exciting when the last two books had been so centered on Rand. I came out of DRAGON REBORN with more than just a new favorite fantasy read, but knowing that the rest of this journey was going to be something truly special. 

2. ONE PIECE, Eiichiro Oda

When I set out earlier this year to catch up on ONE PIECE, I expected to relive some childhood nostalgia and maybe end up falling in love with the series all over again. What I didn’t expect was for the series to turn into one of my all time favorite pieces of fantasy fiction ever. ONE PIECE isn’t just an excellent example of its medium, but instead one of the finest pieces of world building and storytelling to come out of the entire fantasy genre. 

It’s criminal that the only thing that typically comes up about ONE PIECE in discussion is its length. Currently sitting at over 1100 chapters, it is a very, very, long manga, but when compared to landmark prose fantasy series, taking decades to finish a long series isn’t anything unusual. As Shonen Jump has increased its digital presence and made almost all of its material available via a subscription to the digital magazine, ONE PIECE is more accessible than ever. As that accessibility increases, hopefully the degree that people discuss the series’ place in the fantasy canon increases too. It belongs there as much as A Song of Ice and Fire and Wheel of Time, and Eiichiro Oda should be remembered as one of the titans of the fantasy genre.

1. FANTASTICLAND, Mike Bockoven

It is rare that a book sticks with me in the weeks and months after I’ve read it the way Bockoven’s brilliant, harrowing FANTASTICLAND did. I think a lot of my love for this book comes from the time that it was written. In 2016 I would’ve been the same age as several of the main characters, and the way that Bockoven interpreted the challenges and pressures facing young folks in 2016 really resonated with me. 

FANTASTICLAND is one of the most effective thrillers I’ve ever read. From the very beginning I was hooked, waiting on the edge of my seat for the next chapter, the next piece to the story, and that sort of immersion is something I rarely find. It reminded me of how I felt reading as a teenager, discovering many of the stories that would become my enduring favorites. The brilliant plot matches perfectly with the epistolary storytelling to create a book I literally could not put down. I loved all five of the books that made the top five this year, but the gap between FANTASTICLAND and ONE PIECE is pretty significant. It was the best book I read in 2023 by every single metric.

You should read it too.

Thanks for reading!

Thanks for taking the time to read my newsletter.

Check out my website: billyloperhistory.com

Check me out on Facebook at: Billy Don Loper-Fiction

Check me out on Instagram and Threads at: bloperficiton

October and November ’23 Newsletter


Welcome to the Newsletter!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you enjoy it and will share it with your friends and family.

Recent Announcements:

No recent major announcements. See the Scoop for my work with them. https://www.thesinisterscoop.com/

Project Progress:

I have my sci-fantasy manuscript back from my hired editor, so I’ve set the post-apocalypse story aside to work on editing this as part of my NANOWRIMO participation. I hope to be prepared to query by the spring.

Recent Fascinations:

To address the obvious omission in the room, I missed October. In my first year of running a newsletter, I made it nine months without missing one, but there was too much going on in October for me to manage. A lot happened for me in that month, all of it good, but none of it conducive to focusing on a newsletter, or really managing any writing at all. I didn’t manage to get much of any writing done in the month of October, a fact that, for me, is a rarity. That absence of progress on my various projects is something that has dug at the back of my mind as November has soldiered on and led me to think about exactly what all of this, this writing thing, is.

I did attempt to manage some writing, picking away at a short story idea I killed before it drew a breath, and, towards the end of the month, I became enthralled with another of my old story ideas. Perhaps my oldest that still has a chance. For years, I’ve been haunted by an idea for a high fantasy series, much more in line with the works and worlds of Robert Jordan and the other titans of the late 80s and early 90s than the directions that the modern market is headed. But as I made it through the various life changes happening around me in October, I kept finding myself daydreaming about that story, reworking the long-established lore in my spare time, reliving the scenes that have been part of me for a decade. Wondering what writing was supposed to be to me, an aspirational pursuit or a work of my heart.

As any writer can tell you, dwelling on old, unwritten story ideas is a sure-fire way to throw yourself off track on a project that’s currently in progress. It didn’t take long throughout October for me to start looking back on my current sci-fantasy project, which is much more market-focused, and thinking of it as something not worth my time. The project was still with my editor then, and it had been a long, long while since I’d read through it. In a situation like that, the flaws you know exist in the work, and even those that existed in previous drafts that you already ironed out, will start to bore their way into your mind. When those flaws start to linger, it, at least for me, makes any other project possible seem more attractive. It didn’t take long for me to start second-guessing the entirety of my sci-fantasy project, a story I’ve spent three years of my life working on. I managed to halfway convince myself that it wasn’t any good as a story, wasn’t worth my time, and that I should put my focus into that old story idea. That is was just a work of aspirations, not a work of the heart.

At this point, all of this rambling is likely familiar to most, if not all, of the writers reading this. It is something common enough that warnings against it are in almost every writing advice book out there, including King’s ON WRITING and Lamott’s BIRD BY BIRD. In periods of stress, or just a general absence of progress on a project, any other story will seem like the right one in opposition to the one you’re supposed to be working on. But, then I got my manuscript back from the editor. As I read over her comments, trying to decide what I really wanted to do with the thing, I started to fall in love with the story all over again. I saw the pieces of myself I had left behind on the pages, the parts of myself and my anxieties and my compulsions that had been left behind in the characters there. I saw the themes of the story, what they mean to me, and the way they represent where my mind has been since I finished grad school. I saw the heart of it.

In times when there is a general absence of writing, doubts about pending projects can creep into the mind of any writer. It’s important to remember that just because a project has been stagnant or is in the middle of a long period of waiting, doesn’t mean that its worth has come and gone. It’s always better to take a look at what you have before throwing it away for something that could be. To see what heart you put into a work that maybe now feels distant.

Sorry for the absence, but I’m back now! Next month, I’ll be discussing my top 5 reads of the year. 

Thanks for reading!

Thanks for taking the time to read my newsletter.

Check out my website: billyloperhistory.com

Check me out on Facebook at: Billy Don Loper-Fiction

Check me out on Instagram and Threads at: bloperficiton

September ’23 Newsletter


Welcome to the Newsletter!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you enjoy it and will share it with your friends and family.

Recent Announcements:

No recent major releases! Check out my work at the Sinister Scoop to see what I’ve done lately: The Scoop

Information on my publications can always be found at My Website

Project Progress:

My hired editor is working away on the current draft of my manuscript, and I have put all other creative projects on hold in the meantime to focus on other obligations. I do have one short story on submission, and will update with any information about that on my socials. It is likely that this one will be published via a pen name (if it is accepted at all), so expect direct promotion to be lacking.

Recent Fascinations:

a pathway leads to the front door of a large 19th century mansion. It is bordered by towering cyprus on both sides.
Photo: Roanoke Home, taken by me.

I’m preparing to move for the third time in my life. The first time was for graduate school, the second immediately following graduate school, and this time will, hopefully, be the last time for a long, long time. I won’t go too much into that, I demand at least some semblance of privacy in this post-digital hellscape, but I think it goes without saying that the process of buying a house and moving is a pretty significant distraction . Because of that, and my manuscript’s general status being out of my hands at the moment, I’ve been focusing on a few short stories and generally just trying to get by. Still, my mind has, of course, wandered at least a little to the general creative mechanisms that lie behind my writing. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my writing’s relationship to the concept of place. 

For most of my time as a writer, I have called myself a character writer. I’ve often claimed that characterization is the central focus of my stories, many times in relation to at least some degree of discovery writer methodology (which is a topic I plan on covering soon, likely in November). That’s always been the way I framed my writing style, but during the editing process with this current sci-fantasy project, I’ve been forced to reconsider the central conceit of my style. I don’t necessarily mean this in a negative way. Editing is a process that has to happen, and my writing needing more work on characters is not anything unusual. However, the persistent problems I had with characterization in recent drafts was put in sharp contrast with something I, for the most part, seemed to have gotten right the first time: the sense of place. 

As I started paying more attention to my relationship to place, I realized that throughout essentially everything I’ve written as an adult, a sense of rooted, specific geography is front and center. My three published short stories are all set in my own modified version of Mississippi. The natural geography and physical sense of place of the small towns that I love so much about my home state are as much of a character as any others. In my current main WIP, place is so important to setting the tone and delivering the world building that I have spent countless hours ensuring that the way I have crafted this world is as accurate to my mental image as possible. 

I think it’s fitting that as I’m preparing to move I have started paying closer attention to my writing and its relationship to geography, setting, and the general sense of place. From the sloping, meager waterfalls of Tishomingo State Park to the quiet, pine bordered streets of a fictionalized Smyrna, Mississippi, and even into the vastness of an abandoned and strange library, my writing is rooted in a feeling of place. This entire concept is still something I’m working to get my head around, but since I started looking closer at my use of place I’ve noticed that my understanding of my own writing has improved. I’ve started paying closer attention to those strengths, and it has helped me improve my focus on characters too. As I’ve honed that sense of place, so too has the interactions my characters have with the world around them improved. 

As the move is coming (hopefully) closer, and the geography of my life is changing, in turn becoming decidedly more urban, I can feel a draw to focus more and more on the beauty and personality of the rural world that constructed me. That built me up from red Mississippi clay and old growth loblolly. A sense of place, sometimes dark and horrible, but always there. I am a writer made up of geographies. 

Thanks for reading.

Thanks for taking the time to read my newsletter.

Check out my website: billyloperhistory.com

Check me out on Facebook at: Billy Don Loper-Fiction

Check me out on Instagram and Threads at: bloperficiton

August ’23 Newsletter


Welcome to the Newsletter!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you enjoy it and will share it with your friends and family.

Recent Announcements:

My interview with the wonderful Mike Bockoven came out with the Sinister Scoop. Read it here.

Project Progress:

My sci-fantasy WIP is with an editor. Unfortunately I’ve had to put my other fiction projects on hold to get some other stuff finished up.

In September I’m giving a special presentation to my local historical society about a local piece of Civil War history. I’ll be sharing a video of that presentation here in October. 

Recent Fascinations:

I don’t guess I can put off talking about social media any longer, so here we go. I am not an old man, and I am not planning on yelling at any clouds, but that could be how this comes off and I apologize for that. I hate a lot of what social media has done to me as an artist, so if you’re expecting a somewhat balanced discussion of its merits and problems, you won’t find that here.  

I need to preface the beginning of this conversation with a note on some of the language I will be using. A lot of my thoughts on social media have to do with attention span, and I want to be clear that this conversation is not meant to be ableist. I am coming at this discussion from a neurotypical viewpoint, as I don’t have any form of ADHD or ADD or any other neurodivergence that would affect my day to day ability to focus. My omission of that aspect of the conversation is not meant to disregard the additional struggles social media might impose on someone who does have a form of neurodivergence. Instead, I don’t feel I am the right person to discuss that topic. So, from this point forward, just know that I am only speaking to my own experience, not what is or should be normal. 

What started me down the road of reconsidering my relationship to social media was, perhaps somewhat morbidly, the death of one of my idols: Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy, quite infamously, never owned a computer and absolutely never, ever used any form of social media. There were websites and fan pages, but none that the man operated himself. To say that McCarthy, who died just this year at the age of 89, was from a different era would be a gargantuan understatement. I am not 89. I am not from appalachia. I am not a leading figure in the modern west movement. I have never identified myself in comparison with McCarthy, but his death happened to correspond with a wave of Twitter vitriol that, for a lack of a better turn of phrase, broke me. I have no interest in exploring that vitriol here or anywhere else, that is exactly the kind of thing that social media algorithms feed on, but it did send me into an introspective spiral that forced me to consider the role social media plays in my life and my art. 

Twitter, I realized, was, and you’ll excuse my lack of tact here, a withering shit heap of ignorance and false discourse. I made the transition to “updates only,” almost immediately following McCarthy’s death, focusing my efforts on occasional Instagram posts and crossposting to Facebook. I told myself that those efforts would have to be good enough, because I would rather fail to sell my art than let a silicon valley algorithm take a piece of my soul. Social media as a force of nature does something to people that I don’t like. It turns us into content-devouring monsters, hell bent on whip-quick discussions and fiery discourse. That false-discourse is twisted into vitriol, and the algorithm feeds on it. All social media uses its complicated mathematical formulas to control the content we interact with and the things that we see, and it twists it into the thing that will get the most clicks and the most interactions and the most comments. It doesn’t matter if the interaction is positive or hateful, as long as it IS. Within the constant devaluing of nuanced conversation is the constant erosion of our attention spans. People don’t read as much, they don’t focus as acutely, they don’t consider the world they interact with. They just react, sans any context vital to their full and total understanding of a given situation.

When I forced myself out of that ever tightening spiral, a grand Uzumaki of an existential exhaustion, I decided that my relationship with social media would have to change. That I would not sacrifice pieces of myself to a mathematical new god who does not care about me, controlled by faceless demagogues in a state all the way on the other side of the country. My life improved dramatically from the outset. My moods are better, I am reading more, focusing more, my attention span is longer. I am less anxious and less tired. My OCD is the best it has been in a long time. My world is a better place with less social media.

That was where I left things last month, but when Threads entered my field of view, I decided to give it its due consideration. To see if it was another piece of the Twitter pie, or something new. As I’ve gotten to the other side of it, Threads is at the moment something positive in my writing life. Its algorithm is fledgling, and because of that is easily manipulated. My entire feed is all artists and writers and readers. I am meeting new writers and making new professional connections. I am connecting with potential future readers. Because of the general lack of vitriol, Threads also doesn’t feel invasive in my day to day life. I don’t, though, have any naivete that it will stay that way. I am certain that changes will come down the line to turn it into something toxic, as that is the base crab-evolution of all social media. I have, though, decided that when the time does come that Threads cuts me down instead of building me up, that I will delete it without announcement or grandstanding. To people who, understandably, put a lot more value on social media interactions than I do, that might sound cold. Like the connections I’ve made there will be meaningless and easily cast aside. I don’t know. Maybe it is and maybe they are, but I know that I will walk away from anything, Threads or otherwise, that is a pure net negative in my world.

Never again will the algorithmic gods take a piece of my soul. 

Thanks for reading.

Thanks for taking the time to read my newsletter.

Check out my website: billyloperhistory.com

Check me out on Facebook at: Billy Don Loper-Fiction

Check me out on Instagram and Threads at: bloperficiton