The bag of marbles – a civics lesson


Suppose I stood in front of you with a bag and I reached in and pulled out a marble.

A White marble.

I set it down in front of you

The next time I reach in the bag, I pull out a black marble. I set that next to the white one.

And then I reach in the bag again and pull out another black marble. And I reach in the bag again and pull out yet another black marble. And I reach into the bag 10 more times and I pull out 10 more black marbles

You are staring at the marbles in front of you and you see one white marble surrounded by a dozen or more black marbles.

And I reached into the bag again.

Another black marble.

Would it be reasonable to assume that the bag is filled with mostly black marbles?

And then I let you look inside the bag. There are loads and loads of white marbles and no remaining black marbles at all. Hundreds of white marbles are in the bag and the only black marbles that existed had been pulled out and put on the table.

But that’s not the biggest thing you see.

The biggest thing is, the biggest volume of marbles inside the bag was green marbles.

But from what I showed you, you would conclude the bag was filled with black marbles and your probably wouldn’t even consider green or red or yellow or any other color – because you were only aware of what I showed you.

Now of course you are smarter than that and you know me so maybe you knew where this was headed.

Allow me a second bite at this particular apple.

Once upon a time I was listening to a female friend complain to my wife and me about her boyfriend. My wife and I were friends with this particular friend for many years and I think we may have been at dinner or at some kind of social function, possibly a party. The friend went in and on, complaining about the guy and explaining why she was breaking up with him.

Afterward, on the drive home, I said wow, her boyfriend is a real piece of garbage!

Of course, I didn’t say garbage, but…

My wife offered me an interesting point of wisdom. She said, well, don’t take her side too strongly and say anything bad about him to her because when they get back together you’re going to look like a schmuck.

I was amazed! I said, after all the bad things she said about him, they are obviously breaking up, right? And he is obviously a piece of garbage.

My wife said if they get back together you’ll have said things she’ll remember. She was with him for a long time. He has redeeming qualities; she’s just mad at him and she’s not looking at those right now. She’s venting so she’s not giving an accurate picture of their relationship or of this guy.

I thought about that for a long time.

She was right. They got back together. I still didn’t trust the guy and many years later when they finally broke up I didn’t didn’t care. In fact, I pretty much was as arms length as I could be around him. The only information I really ever got from her about him was when she was mad at him. She was more my wife’s friend than mine and that’s just how that particular thing worked out.

But I learned something from it.

I learned about the marble bag.

And I have seen the marble bag employed over and over and over.

Mostly from our news media.

I’ve said it before, I’m a proud Republican.

I voted for Donald Trump and I’m glad I did. I’m not even gonna couch that with some kind of a coward ass phrase like “I don’t agree with everything he does or did or blah blah blah…”

Come on.

People who supported Obama didn’t agree with every single thing he did and almost nobody who supported Hillary Clinton agreed with everything she did.

Let’s not play that stupid game here.


The marble bag.

Why do so many people in United States dislike our President? In fact, why do so many people around the world dislike our President?

Well, the main reason is because Republicans never fight back when people try to smear them. They just run away. Sad to say but that’s the truth. Our guys are so dang afraid of what the media is going to say, they’re so afraid that one person is gonna be upset by one thing a Republican does, that they tend to turn tail and run at the first sign of bad news. And running away – acting like a coward– encourages your opponent, a bully, whatever.

How do I know this is true?

Well, I’ve been fortunate to travel to many different countries. Aruba. The United Kingdom. Canada. Mexico. France. Italy. Bahamas. Other Caribbean countries. Other places.

What I see in the hotel televisions and in the airports is just shocking.

There was an incident in Miami and in Tampa during the 2000 election where the news media was showing people rioting in the streets – or so it seemed. As it happens, I live here in Florida and I was present for some of those things. What our local news showed us or what we saw ourselves driving around was nothing like what they were putting on National TV. If there were 20 people gathered at a stop sign, they would zoom in and when the lights and cameras would come on, those people would start screaming. As soon as the lights and cameras turned off, then went back to sipping on their Starbucks and chatting like normal people. In other words, they were playing to the cameras. Oh well, isolated incident – right?

Only it wasn’t.

I watched on the evening news every night as they misrepresented situation after situation after situation.

And I thought, wow. They’re really really getting this story wrong.

And then I went overseas!

Oh my God, we have the worst news media – except for every other news media in the world.

I was in Italy. I was watching how they would take snippets of things here and there and play them over and over in the news, and the commentator would expand upon it, but then I would open my phone and go to my local newspaper and watch the actual video unfettered and think, wow they really got it wrong. And why were they focusing on that anyway?

Black marble.

I went to the UK. I talked to an actual reporter in a pub. And he said things like, “You are the smartest Trump supporter I have ever met.”

And I said, no I’m not.

Do you really think they’re going to come over here and open their mouths in London? Where they know it’s a far left situation? Come on. We’re not here to insult you guys or pick fights, we’re here for a vacation.

But, but, but…

Black marble.

You don’t have to believe me but I have seen this. I watch lots of news channels. I was shocked on election night because I figured Trump was going to lose. Jenny will tell you, she asked me before the election and I said well he’s never been leading in the polls so hopefully we can elect enough congressman and Senators to counterbalance whatever crazy stuff Hillary’s going to try…

On election night I couldn’t bear to watch, so I put on a movie.

Two hours later Dirty Harry was over and I put on MSNBC to see what was going on. They look like they were attending a funeral. I couldn’t figure out why but I didn’t hang around. I flipped over to CBS. Gloom. ABC. There they finally were saying that based on the returns Hillary had almost no chance to win. I was shocked – because

… Because black marble.

Because for months this woman refused to go to places like Michigan, so Michigan said if you don’t care about us we don’t care about you, and they didn’t vote for her. They voted for the guy who said, hey Michigan – how about we try to bring some of those automotive jobs back?

White marble?

But nobody bothered to really show that too much. Oh, I mean, they did, but they were running around tripping over themselves trying to get the next interview with their queen in waiting instead of reporting the facts.

Like what facts?

One of the news people who was a far left guy said he was driving through Pennsylvania and he said, “You know what? It’s Trump sign after Trump sign after Trump sign…”

And in my neighborhood and in my area, which voted for Obama in the prior election, I didn’t see any Hillary signs. I saw very few signs at all but the ones I saw were Trump signs. And I figured oh I’m just driving through a Republican neighborhood. Except I wasn’t.

White marble.

And so what I realized was our news media is extremely biased. When they took a poll – an anonymous poll – of how people in the media voted, 90% of them voted for Democrats. You can say they are unbiased in the reporting but if you watch more than one channel you will see they are not. Most of the channels say the same things and one or two other channels say something different and all of a sudden you realize there are different marbles in that bag.

But there’s something else.

What if the marble bag was clear?

What if it didn’t matter what I put in front of you, what if you could see right through to what was still inside the bag?

What if you could see the truth?

Then the person showing you the marbles would have absolutely no power because you could see for yourself what the reality was.

Shame on me for not getting to know my friend’s boyfriend better.

But I’m gonna pat myself on the back for watching a little news when I traveled to different countries.

Because I can figure things out for myself.

And so can you.

The myth of adverbs

img_2351-16You’ve heard repeatedly that adverbs are the devil and that Stephen King said the road to hell is paved with adverbs.

You also probably had an experience with an editor that said remove “was“ from your entire manuscript, or friends or critique partners have explained about what filter words are and why they ruin your story.

And you did your best to try to write and not use adverbs or filters or wases.

And then you read something like The Shining or Pet Sematary or Game of Thrones, and you said wait a minute! Game of Thrones is filled with filters!

My friend said this 100,000 word book would be 6,000 words if he would take out the filters. King used adverbs so often I was wondering if he was being ironic in his statement about how the road to hell is paved with them.

And what do we learn from this?

Well my friend said once you’ve made it big you can do whatever you want.

J. K. Rowling used lots of filters and it didn’t seem to hurt her.

And just by pointing to these three famous authors, I took away different conclusion.

I took away that if the story is strong enough, it will overcome all minor flaws.

When I used to work for a certain Fortune 500 company, they said “revenue hides all sins.”

That means, if your branch or region is making enough money, then if it’s bringing enough money, if it’s going fast enough, then $1000 that would be 10% of an expense might now only be 8% or 5% or 3%. And as a percentage, a 1% expense is not as critical as a 10% expense. Revenue has that effect. It makes all the percentages – because they are a percent against revenue, less. Therefore your numbers are better.

In other words, if you’re not bringing a lot of money and you have $1000 in expense, it’s gonna be frowned upon. But if you’re bringing in money hand over fist, that same $1000 is such a small percentage of the business, it almost becomes inconsequential.

Now, a smart manager manages those things anyway. But a smart manager manages the big things first. Priorities

So if we are obsessing over adverbs and filters while we write crappy stories, we screwed up.

And as I said repeatedly, you guys have sent me your stories. I’ve seen them. Most of them are very good. It’s the little details the trip you up. Stuff that, were you to remove it or enhance it, would take your story to the next positive step level instead of keeping it on the same plane.

That’s why people like you and I need to watch adverbs and dialogue tags and filters. Especially filters. There’s no reason George RR needed to have so many filters. He just didn’t. And maybe it was just the style and everybody said you know what, he’s got connections or whatever, I don’t care. They didn’t need to be there. Same with J. K. Rowling, but she was writing for a very different audience – and you know what? There weren’t so many that it bothered me. The story won out.

With George RR, it did bother me because I thought, you know, you’re better than this.

And I’m going to try to be better than this.

But in other areas he’s blowing the doors off, isn’t he?


What did Stephen King do that was so great?

What did J. K. Rowling do that was so great?

What did George RR do that was so great?

They came up with unique, creative story ideas.

There were wizards and witches and castles and magic before J. K. Rowling. She made little kids go on a mystery and created all kinds of new things for them to do while they were doing it.

I don’t know about horror stories before Stephen King, but he created some really creepy unsettling ideas in his horror stories.

George RR took swords and sorcery and created a new world with it – multiple worlds, I guess – and interwoven story lines – and made it very complex. That had all been done before. But he created unique and compelling characters that were fun to watch.

They did other things too, but for me that’s the gist of it.

They brought a great story idea forward.

They had the pace of that story move along quickly and in and engaging manner.

And when you’re engaged, you’re willing to forgive adverbs and filters.

So learn to write a more engaging story. Learn to write a unique idea. Fill it with interesting and engaging characters that readers care about.

And then

Scrub it for filters and adverbs.

You have questions. Ask away.

your humble host

This blog has long been a friendly place to come and learn, and what better way to learn than to ask?

You have questions. Writer stuff, marketing, motivation, you name it.


Your questions. Your challenges. Your issues.

If I don’t know, we’ll put it out to my vast network of author friends and get an answer. Or I’ll make something up.


Many people helped me when I was starting out because I was willing to ask what I needed to know.

That shortened my learning curve substantially.

– Dan Alatorre

So go ahead. Ask me anything.

Nope. Not a USA Today bestselling author. Yet.

Looks like I didn’t make USA Today’s bestseller list.Inked46498199_1139517739563463_4808405089771323392_n_LI

The list came out and I wasn’t on it.

We had a lot of people make a terrific effort, but we fell short. That hurts, but I swell with pride that so many of YOU believed in ME and rallied to help me shoot for the stars.

I won’t forget it.

And I’ll be back soon enough trying again.

Thank you!

I figured it out.

I figured it out. I know how my new novel is going to start.

Today around 4 PM I find out if I am a USA today best selling author or not.

That might be posing a distraction for me, I don’t know.

Also, my brother‘s funeral was last week. So that could be posing a distraction, too.

My good friend is in a funk, so that’s troublesome…

But mostly what has been a distraction for me is what’s a distraction for all of you – work, kids, the looming holidays, everything. Life.

And it’s a distraction from what exactly?

From writing, of course.

I’m not blocked for words. I never am. I’ve been chomping at the bit to start this novel for weeks. But I knew that as soon as I started, I would make it a priority and everything else would fall by the wayside. Instead, I tried to do the right thing and jot down notes whenever I got that writerly urge (which is all the time, especially when I have to get on the treadmill – got writers block? Get a treadmill. Instant cure the moment you step on it to run.) So I still try to maintain my focus on the other things so that they could get taken care of in the timeline they need to be taken care of.

But you say, wait. Your job is writing.

Yes. I am aware.

I also have to do things like go to my kid’s biome day at school, and I have a few young author clubs that are coming up on their Christmas parties. they need stories typed and gifts bought. Presents for teachers and administrators. (Oh, and a gift for my wife. Better write that down, too.) Christmas declarations to hang. Just… the normal stuff we all deal with this time of year. (And I need to mow the lawn because I live in Florida.)


As often happens when I go to step on the treadmill to commence my work out, I’ve been getting amazing ideas for my story. My sequel, that is, to my smash hit Double Blind which is the one that might be making me a USA today best selling author at 4 PM today. Not like I’m counting it down or anything.

The fact is, we did a lot of hard work marketing and we might not make the USA today bestseller list. That would suck, but that’s a possibility.

Also, we might make it. I don’t expect my life to change as a result. Nobody’s going to show up with a check for $2 million and the keys to a yacht that awaits me in the Caribbean. There’s probably not even going to be a bottle of champagne opened.

Well, maybe.

So as I have been holding back on starting the next story and trying to finish the various books I’ve promised people I will edit, I keep getting ideas for my next book.

And a fair portion of why I had not started is because I wasn’t quite sure where do mystery element was. I knew there would be a killer and I knew there would be a cop trying to catch the killer, but I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to create the mystery element of the murder mystery.

That’s kind of important.

That might seem a little odd to most of you, but I like to have things outlined a little before I begin.

Anyway, I got on the treadmill yesterday and it came to me.

I knew the mystery element.

I had probably written down some notes a month ago that took care of the mystery aspect, but it seemed a little thin, and if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a sequel that doesn’t live up to the original. I wasn’t going to do that. If this ends up being a series, each book has to be better than previous one. I’m kind of anti-repeating myself, so if I’m going to do a series it’s going to be amazing and better with each passing book. That’s the goal. Not just to have a series but to blow your mind in different ways with each book.

And yesterday I figured out how I’m going to do it.

So today while I avoid writing in make an attempt to finish the projects that are sitting on my desk including mowing the lawn (which I can see out my window from my desk and let me tell you that’s normally a great view, but when it needs to be mowed it’s kind of antagonizing me all day) I will do so secure in the knowledge that I will be creating a mystery that will be filled with twists, turns, action, a fast pace, and brilliant characters once again.

Oh, and I just might become a USA today best selling author at 4pm.

Not that I’m thinking about it.