Joe Robbins on Classic versus Craft Cocktails

My favorite place to grab a drink is a local bar: Chinatown.

Yes, it’s also a restaurant, and they serve up a mean Kung Pao, but more often than not I stop by for a drink only. The regular bartender—Sonny—makes a honest-to-goodness worth-the-money martini. They have the old style big glasses, and when Sonny is done pouring from the shaker, I take that first sip carefully to avoid spilling any.

Anyway, last Thursday, I stop in around six, figuring I deserve a little reward since I’ve been working hard all day. (Actually, I’m between gigs, so working hard involves a two-hour exercise routine and reading a lot, but life is short.)

I stroll in with Bombay Sapphire and olives on my mind. But as I round the corner of the bar and step toward my usual seat, I notice something: No Sonny.

Instead, standing there with a curvy figure and curly hair is a new bartender, or maybe I should say, a mixologist.

She’s in a white sleeveless shirt with an open collar and has these unbelievable tattoos on her hands. They are Wonder Woman tattoos. Gold in color, sparkly even, they cover her fingers, hands, wrists, and the first six inches of her forearms. Having lived in Austin for years, I’m as unflappable by tattoos as the next person, but my eyes linger just long enough that when I glance up, I know she knows that I’ve noticed.

“What can I get you?” she says. Big smile.


Suddenly, the old style martini seems flat, like I’m not with the current generation of hip. The craft cocktail revolution has gone mainstream. If you’re drinking whiskey straight or a gin and tonic, it’s like you’re wearing khakis with pleats. Sonny never cares about that stuff. But Wonder Woman?

Sure enough, she turns the handwritten menu my way.

“We’ve just published the latest,” she says. “Chinatown originals.”

“Uh huh.”

“New spins on old favorites. The Singapore Slang drops the pineapple juice and triple sec and subs in mango with a touch of cinnamon bitters.

I nod.

“The Piña Piñata swaps tequila for rum and is punched up with chili liqueur.


Now I rub my chin, like I’m thinking things over, but inside I’m flipping. All I wanted was a quick Sonny special, a little something to take the edge off of life, to make the streaming Netflix waiting for me at the condo a little more interesting. Maybe I should leave.

“And then there’s the Sloe Comfortable Shrew Down the Hall,” she says, “which keeps the sloe gin but drops the Southern Comfort in favor of Campari. That’s the shrew part.”

“So many great choices,” I say. “Gosh, it’s tough. Feels like I’m choosing a college major or something.”

“Over the top, right?” she says, shaking her head. “I went to classes to learn how to make all this stuff. Mixology school. Two thousand dollars and eighty hours of instruction.”

“I don’t doubt it.”

“The thing is, when I’m drinking on my own time, sometimes I like straight up booze unencumbered by all the sweet stuff.”

“For real?”

“Some nights you just can’t beat a MACALLAN neat.”


“So what can I get you?”

“Um, a martini? Bombay Sapphire?”

Her eyes scrunch. “Wait. Are you Joe?”

I chew on my lip.

“Sonny told me you might drop by . . . said you always order the same drink. Joe’s usual. I got it.”

She gets right to it: ice in the shaker, long pour of the gin, a trace of vermouth, and shake, shake, shake. She moves fast, lots of energy. With an eyebrow cocked, she smiles again. Her curly hair bounces on her shoulders. She has a beautiful neck.

How old is she? Late twenties? Thirty? I’m mid-thirties myself. Okay, so I’m pushing late thirties. If she was thirty-two, that would be okay, right? When is younger too young? Should I ask her?

“So,” I say, “are you going to be working here steady now?”

“Nah, just subbing. I’ve known Sonny forever. Too bad, though, I like it here. Nice people.” She slides the big martini glass toward me, and even though it’s filled to the brim, she doesn’t spill a drop.

Sometimes classic beats craft like a champ beats a chump.

Best, Joe


Disclaimer: Joe Robbins is a fictional character. Even so, his opinions leap from the keyboard unbidden, and thus, out of necessity, the author and the publisher disavow any responsibility for his words.


Joe Robbins, an amateur detective with mixed emotions, is the hero of three novels: A Fateful Greed, A Just Rage, and A Siren’s Love.

Joe Robbins on the Prospect of a Shrinking Population

Joe Robbins here: free-lance CFO, amateur boxer, and occasional sleuth living in Austin, Texas.



Three hundred thousand years ago—pre-Homo Sapiens—the world looked like this.





During the following hundred millennia, the first of us was born, and from that small beginning, we grew to number over seven-and-a-half billion.IMG_3166


Now the world looks like this.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge Sponge Bob fan. Who isn’t?


But many people fear that our very success as a species will eventually bring about our ruin.


Have you ever wondered how we’ve managed to dominate the world? Many factors have contributed to our success, not the least of which is a powerfully strong fertility rate.

Okay. So what exactly is a fertility rate?

The definition can get a little technical, but basically, the fertility rate of a population is the average number of children born to a woman over her lifetime.

So, a key to our success is that we have procreated prodigiously. Ten thousand years ago, the world’s population was somewhere in the neighborhood of ten million people, the same as that of present day Michigan.

In the succeeding ten thousand years, we grew slowly, up in good times, down in bad. But during the modern age, we floored the population accelerator: a billion people by 1804, two billion by 1927, four billion by 1974.

Nevertheless, there are now signs that our growth may soon come to an end. Why? Simple. A declining fertility rate. Check out these stats: (source: Wikipedia/UNdata)

From 1950-1955, the global total fertility rate (TFR) was 4.95.

But by 2010-2015, the TFR had fallen to 2.36.

That’s right. Our TFR declined by more than half in a mere six decades.

Does that mean the world’s population is declining? No. For growth to turn negative, the TFR would have to fall below 2.0. But our rate of increase is declining. In 1965, our numbers were increasing 2% annually; now we’re growing at just over 1% per year. (Source: The World Bank)

Why the rapid decline? Let’s take a closer look.

Of the one hundred and ninety-five countries in the world, these ten have the highest fertility rates. (Source:

Niger 6.62

Burundi 6.04

Mali 5.95

Somalia 5.89

Uganda 5.8

Burkina Faso 5.79

Zambia 5.67

Malawi 5.54

Angola 5.31

Afghanistan 5.22


And these ten have the lowest fertility rates.

Singapore 0.83

Macau 0.95

Taiwan 1.13

South Korea 1.26

British Virgin Islands 1.29

Bosnia and Herzegovina 1.3

Montserrat 1.33

Poland 1.35

Romania 1.35

Slovenia 1.36

Andorra 1.4

This is a BIG range. Women in Niger birth an average of more than six children; while in Singapore, they birth an average of less than one child. Why do some countries procreate like mad while others hardly procreate at all?

Research has uncovered many drivers of fertility rates: social structures, religious beliefs, economic prosperity, average age at marriage, infant mortality rate, urbanization, levels of female education, employment opportunities for women, accessibility of birth control, abortion rates, and income levels.

Does anything on the list surprise you? My attention was drawn to one factor: levels of female education.

Why would educated women have fewer children? This World Bank blog post explores that question.

It’s not hard to understand. Under the best of circumstances, a poor single woman who wants to get ahead has a steep hill to climb. But if she has three kids, the hill becomes a mountain that is nearly impossible to scale. An educated woman understands this. She knows about family planning and birth control. And apparently, she decides to have fewer children.

Who can blame her? The emotional payoff of having kids is huge, but the economic costs are high. An educated woman may well decide to accomplish other goals before taking on motherhood, and when she does have kids, she may stop with one or two.

If enough women become educated and make these kinds of trade-offs, fertility rates will continue to decline, and eventually, instead of expanding, our population will shrink.

Would this lead to the demise of the human race? Not anytime soon. If every woman decided to have only one child (i.e. a global fertility rate of 1.0), it would take 1000 years for the world’s population to decline to 10 million, the same number we had ten thousand years ago.

A world filled with people is good. Life with no one else to talk to, or laugh with, or share a meal with, would be deathly boring. Only a hermit could find such a life worth living.

But at the same time—you know—maybe we have enough people now. Maybe we don’t need any more. Perhaps a shrinking population would be just fine.

Best, Joe


Disclaimer: Joe Robbins is a fictional character. Even so, his opinions leap from the keyboard unbidden, and thus, out of necessity, the author and the publisher disavow any responsibility for his words.


Joe Robbins, an amateur detective with mixed emotions, is the hero of three novels: A Fateful Greed, A Just Rage, and A Siren’s Love.

A Joe Robbins clip — Amateur Boxing

January 17

Boxer fighting

Boxer fighting

Fight Night

“Don’t knock him out too early,” Neil said.

I sat on the stool in the corner of the ring. Neil knelt before me and tightened the laces of my gloves. He had brown hair, a fat face, a pointy chin, and close-set eyes.

“I don’t think that’s going to be a problem,” I said.

The fighter across the ring was Hispanic, with short hair and a mean sneer. He had to be six-feet-five or -six and weighed two forty or more.

“He outweighs me by a good twenty pounds.”

Neil looked over his shoulder. “He’s a pussy. Just don’t go too hard too fast. That’s the only thing I’m worried about.”

“What about losing? You might worry about that.”

“Confidence, Joseph. Confidence.”

“Why don’t you call me Joe?” It was a back-and-forth line between Neil and me. He never called me Joe.

“Okay. . . . José.” He patted my cheek and gave me a broad grin. “My bet is as good as won.”

“I haven’t seen that dude around campus. Have you?”

The boxers were supposed to be students of the university. My opponent had tattoos that ran from inside his gloves to his shoulders. They were flames of orange and black.

Neil looked again. “Yeah, he might be a ringer. Maybe that’s why I got the two-to-one odds against you.”

We were the last fight of the night. Fight Night was a charity event run by fraternities at the University of Texas, Arlington. The ring was official size, centered in the ballroom of the Worthington Hotel in Fort Worth. Four hundred spectators, mostly men, occupied the ballroom. They had paid a hundred and fifty bucks a seat to eat hotel steak, drink table wine, smoke cigars, and watch amateur boxing. It was between fights, and nobody paid us the slightest attention.

“Have you seen Rose?” I asked.

“Stop worrying about that chick, will ya? You’ll see her later at the house.”

“She said she might make it. I gave her a ticket.”

“Don’t even think about it. Focus on boxing. Try to knock him out in the third round. I have a side wager that the fight will go three rounds and another that you’ll knock him out.”

“I can’t stop thinking about her.”

Neil looked right in my face.

“Shut up. We can talk about that later . . . all night. Right now you need to concentrate on kicking this guy’s butt.”

Hot lights shined down on the ring, leaving the round dinner tables in relative darkness. A cute co-ed in a swimsuit stepped through the ropes and circled the ring with a sign that read “1.”

“How much did you bet?”

“A thousand dollars . . . and I can’t afford to lose it.”


We were up. As the announcer went through the drill, the fighter looked right through me, no emotion, no anger, nothing.

And then we were at it, dancing around each other in the ring, trying to gauge skill level, strengths and weaknesses. He came at me soon, quick jabs at my face, trying to get in close enough to land something real. He’d had training; I was certain of that, probably a year or two in a gym like Frankie’s, the place where I had learned. But he wasn’t a pro. That much I knew within fifteen seconds.

He threw two jabs and followed with a straight right at my head. I rocked back and felt the air on my face as his punch missed by an inch. I countered perfectly with a right hook to the side. The punch landed hard enough for people at the tables to hear. A chorus of “whoas” sounded from those who watched. We had the crowd’s full attention now.

We were both good enough to know the score. He was stronger, but I was faster and had better skills. Barring something unusual, I should win. Based on those factors and my knowledge of Neil’s bets, I developed my plan for the fight. Fight Night matches went three rounds maximum. I would dance around the ring for the first two rounds, taking his jabs and counterpunching when a clean opportunity presented itself. In the third round, I would crank up the pace in hopes of winning.

He wore bright orange silk pants to match his tattoos and had a hairline scar over his right eyebrow. He had a big flat nose and brown angry eyes. His footwork was good, up and back, side to side, always moving, but he telegraphed his punches.

I stole a quick glance at my fraternity’s table. Rose’s seat was still empty. A few of my frat brothers stood to shout encouragement.

“Come on, Joe!”

“Knock his head off.”

A left hook came hard, and I dipped my right arm to block it. Whew. Too close.

The bell rang to give us sixty seconds of rest, and then we were back at it. The second round unfolded much like the first. I scored me with a slight advantage, just where I wanted to be going into the final round.

In the break, I sat on the stool while Neil wiped my face with a damp cloth. My eyes strayed back to the table. Still no Rose.

“Stop that!” Neil slapped me. “Now look, Josephina, it’s time to ditch the wimpy act and crank it up. You need to knock this guy out.”

“I’m not trying for a knockout.”

“Are you crazy? You can kill this guy.”

“You shouldn’t have made the knockout bet. This is Fight Night. We throw a few punches, have a few laughs, and everybody goes home.”

Neil looked over his shoulder at my opponent. “You think that’s how he’s playing it?

The fighter didn’t look tired, and if anything, he looked meaner than he did at the start.

“Maybe not, but that’s how I’m playing it.


My feet were comfortable, the shoes a perfect fit. I sped up my footwork. The fighter noticed. I worked in closer, throwing a few jabs of my own to keep him busy.

I worked in a left hook to right hook combination that caught him by surprise. Slam! His eyes winced at the pain, and he shook his head to clear it. I backed up to let him breathe a little.

“Hit him, Joseph! Go on. Knock him out!”

The ringer came at me quick and threw a southpaw roundhouse punch that I easily slipped to the outside. I countered with a straight right to his head. The punch landed just above his eyebrow and snapped his head.

He was a street fighter. If we had been in the alleys of south Dallas, he would have beaten me, no question. He would have used his superior strength to throw me to the ground and kick me senseless. But we were in the ring, and there were rules.

He came at me with another wild swing, a nervous look in his eyes. I blocked the punch and countered with a solid uppercut. A loud crack rang through the room. The crowd gasped. They sensed my victory at hand, but I backed away again.

I gave him a second to recover and stole another glance at the table.

There she was, my beautiful Rose. She wore a white dress that showed off her dark complexion. The frat boys around her cheered, but Rose stood quiet, her shapely figure compelling, and her brown hair falling around her shoulders. On her face was a look of serious concern. I wanted to tell her I was fine . . . everything was going to be okay.

I turned my head back with an instant to spare. There was no time to put up a glove, barely enough time to lift my shoulder and scrunch my chin behind it before the wild punch slammed full into my temple.


I was on the canvas. I don’t remember putting my arms up to break the fall. All the sound shut off. The lights went off briefly and came back on again, but everything was out of focus. Time slowed to a crawl. I blinked and faces appeared, cheering faces, screaming at me, but still no sound. I lay still and breathed. I counted my breaths: two, three, four. Still no noise.


There it was. The referee’s first count. I kept breathing: five, six, seven breaths. All sound returned. The cheering continued for me to get up.


It was a slow count, a lucky break for me. The ref was surprised by the knockdown. I inhaled deeply: eight, nine, ten breaths.

The referee continued counting out loud. “Three . . . Four . . . Five. . . .”

He sped up the pace. I glanced at the clock, just under two minutes. I’d have to work fast. First, I’d use every instant of the count to recover. I flexed my feet and hands to get ready.

“Six . . . Seven. . . Eight. . . .”

I rose to my knees and then to my feet just before he finished the count. Breathe in . . . breathe out. The referee studied my eyes to make sure I was lucid. He looked surprised.

My opponent almost ran at me, dying to finish me off. I side-stepped the charge and punched him hard in the ribs. It pushed him sideways. I bounced on my feet, faster than before. He turned to face me and ran into a left-hook to right-uppercut combination that pummeled his face. His gloves were out of position. He shook his head and came at me again.

He threw a quick jab in an attempt to recover his momentum, but I slipped it outside, stepped to the right, and hit him three times in the side.


He took a couple of hesitant steps to his right and tried to pull his gloves up to face me. I danced in close and feigned a punch at his middle. He took the gloves down, and I came back with a straight right to his head, followed by a hard hook to his left ear.

His eyes grew bleary. He lost control of his legs and took two side steps that were off balance. I threw one more punch to the right side of his unprotected head. It wasn’t even a hard punch. He took one last step, and his knees buckled.

He was a strong guy and remained conscious, but he couldn’t stand any longer. He fell to his right knee and put an arm out for support. The referee was on time with the count, but it didn’t really matter; he could have counted to thirty. My opponent kept sinking until he lay on his stomach with his legs and arms flat to the mat.

I stood tall over him, my gloves at the sides, staring, breathing heavy.

The crowd screamed on and on. Neil ran in and lifted my arm high while the ref lifted the other. I stood flat-footed and continued to stare at my opponent.

First, I had been stupid but lucky. After that, his overconfidence had made it easy for me.

“You won, Joseph. You won! I’ll clear four thousand bucks.” Neil’s mouth was at my ear to be heard above the noise. “Friends forever, Joseph. Friends forever!”


Originally part of the prologue to A Just Rage, this Joe Robbins clip was deleted during editing.       – P. K.     April 12, 2018



Joe Robbins, an amateur detective with mixed emotions, is the hero of three novels: A Fateful Greed, A Just Rage, and A Siren’s Love.

A Joe Robbins Clip — Dog Fighting

Ferocious barking came from the back of the cabin, followed by a man’s shout and then nothingdoberman-untouched. I got out of the Jeep and walked toward the door. A faded blue Mercedes sat parked in the sun. The covered porch was made of unfinished hardwood.

As I approached the porch a movement caught the corner of my left eye. I glanced that way and saw dark shapes moving across the ground, sleek, fast, and quiet. A low guttural noise came at me, interrupted by inhalations of air to feed the charge.

The Dobermans sprinted toward me, closing from a hundred feet away.

Pressure surged in my chest. I ran for the porch, my heart thumping as my toes dug into the dirt. My eyes tracked the lead dog, his teeth bared, his legs stretching fully with each stride. I stepped once more on a bare spot of dirt, and then leaped to the porch to grab an upright beam. I scrambled up the beam, sucking in huge gulps of air, my hands grabbing, slipping, and grabbing again.

I got a hand on the porch roof, the shingles tearing at my skin. The lead dog jumped, his jaws open, his body in full flight, and I shot a kick in his direction that glanced off the left side of his face. His jaws clacked shut on empty air, and he slammed into the beam. His mate ran behind him. She slowed her pace to study me. With eyes wide I pulled myself up, my other hand on the roof and legs wrapped around the beam. As my legs began to sag they fell into range. The bitch ran onto the porch and leaped from there, her jaws closing around my left shoe, pinching my heel. Her weight pulled my leg from the beam just as the male jumped again. I kicked blindly and clubbed him in the snout with my right foot. He whined and fell to the ground. The weight of the bitch stretched my arms as I kicked at her, finally landing a hard enough blow to loosen her jaw.

I wrapped my legs around the beam again, my chest heaving, while the dogs barked insanely. They took turns attacking, snapping jaws at the apex of their leaps. Each time they jumped my stomach tightened, my legs retracted, and I stared as their jaws snapped. My arms ached. Sweat stung my eyes. I had battled them to a temporary stalemate, but how long could I hold on? No more than a minute, maybe two.

A man laughed.

He strode toward me at a leisurely pace. He wore work boots, khaki pants and shirt, and a safari hat. A dog leash hung from his right hand. He shook his head as he continued to laugh, big chuckles that crashed against the cabin and thundered out to the hills.

“My, my. You’re up a tree.”

“Get your dogs off me.”

“Lady. Heel.”

The bitch immediately left the porch and stepped to her master’s side, silent. The male kept barking and jumped again, his jaws snapping as they closed on empty air inches from my leg.

“Brad. Stop that.”

Brad barked again, coiled for another attempt. His master deftly looped a choke chain around his neck and pulled him from the porch.

“You can come down now,” he said.

I eyed the female suspiciously.

“She won’t attack unless I give her a command.”

Unwrapping my legs, I dropped to the porch, exhausted and out of breath. My hands shook; I leaned to press them against my knees. I focused on breathing in and out, inhaling lungsful of air, until I could stand upright again.

“Those dogs are vicious,” I said.

“They’re protective. You’re trespassing.”

“You should post a sign on the gate.”

“Yeah, I meant to do that.”

The bitch sat obediently at his side, panting. The male growled low in his chest and struggled against the chain.

“Anyway,” he said. “Why are you here?”

For the first time I studied the man carefully. Tall. Blond hair. He looked a little different without the fedora and sunglasses, but I recognized him.

“Hey,” he said. “I know you. I’m not talking to you.”

Suddenly, standing there, still breathing heavy, it all seemed worth it: the hours of driving on back-country roads, the frustrating answers from county clerks, even the mad scramble to stay clear of the dogs.

Lady began to growl. I didn’t worry much about her so long as Brad stayed on the leash. One dog I could handle. Two were a problem.

“You’d better talk to me,” I said. “You help me, and I’ll put serious coin in your pocket. You don’t, and I promise the police will be out here tomorrow.”

Lady continued to growl. Cunningham considered my offer with a snarl on his face. If he made a move toward Brad’s leash, I planned to run two steps and kick Lady hard in the stomach.

He smiled an ugly smile. “Or I could just let these dogs loose and watch them tear you to pieces.”

“Do you really want to add murder to your résumé? Murder? Or would you rather make some money?”

He cocked his head to one side as if listening for something. For a moment I thought he was going to unleash Brad. Lady thought so, too, for she stood on all fours and growled louder. We remained like that for long seconds, with me ready to move on Lady, Lady readying herself for battle, and Cunningham trying to decide what to do.

“Lady. Heel.”

The dog obediently returned to a sitting position. I inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly.

“Is there someplace we can talk more peacefully?” I said.


This thriller scene was taken from chapter 20 of A Siren’s Love.


Joe Robbins, an amateur detective with mixed emotions, is the hero of three novels: A Fateful Greed, A Just Rage, and A Siren’s Love.


A Joe Robbins clip — Suicide at the Driskill Hotel

As we walked through the front door, the clip-clop of a horse-drawn carriage drew near. We stepped down to the brick sidewalk and turned left. In the middle of the sidewalk, just outside the entrance to the hotel, was an azure pump with a three-inch heel lying on its side. “Look at that,” Rose said. “Someone’s lost her shoe. It’s like Cinderella.” She turned to look at the carriage. “Where is she?”

Just then the shoe’s twin dropped on the sidewalk, almost hitting Rose. At first I thought someone on the balcony above us was throwing their clothes over the side, but when Rose turned to look, she drew a quick breath. The smile on her face disappeared, instantly replaced by fear.

I hurried to look, my pulse quickening.

iPhone July 2013 535

The inciting incident occurs on the balcony of Driskill Hotel

Above the sidewalk in front of the Driskill was the large balcony that extended out from the ballroom-level floor. Above that, a second balcony extended from a master suite on the fourth floor. Standing on the concrete rail of that higher balcony, in her azure dress and bare feet, was Amanda Sorenson.

I stared at her without blinking. I raised my hands, palms open, every muscle in my body tense.

She stared straight ahead and took the ballerina’s first position, her arms circled in front. She did a plié and then lifted her right leg straight up in a stretch; her raised hand touched the heel of her foot. She had replaced the strand of pearls around her neck with a thick, dark choker.

My heart pounded at my ears.

“Amanda!” I shouted, stepping closer. “Get back from there. It’s dangerous.”

She must be drunk, but no . . . she didn’t appear drunk; her movements were sure, but at the same time dreamlike.

The carriage behind us stopped, and concerned voices talked in whispers. Passersby pointed. For the first time Amanda noticed that others were nearby. She looked down at Rose and me and smiled.

“Step back!” I shouted again. My throat was dry, my voice hoarse. “Amanda! Step back.”

But she didn’t. She smiled at me again, gave the slightest wave, and jumped. As she began to fall her dress floated around her thighs.

I lunged forward with arms outstretched, as if to catch a child.

A sickening snap sounded, like a flag blowing in a stiff breeze, only lower and dull. The woman in the carriage screamed. Amanda Sorenson hung between the two balconies; what I thought was a choker around her neck was actually a rope. An acid feeling rushed through me. The pounding in my ears moved to my brain and pressed against my skull. The sound I had heard was the rope snapping taut.

She made a grim spectacle in the light from a nearby lamp. Her feet quivered a few seconds and were still. Those pretty white arms hung to the side. Her blond hair covered her face. Inanely, I wondered if her toenails were painted the same azure color as her dress and shoes and fingernails.


This excerpt is from Chapter Two of A Fateful Greed.


Joe Robbins, an amateur detective with mixed emotions, is the hero of three novels: A Fateful Greed, A Just Rage, and A Siren’s Love.

So you think you want to write a book


In March of 2015, I taught a workshop at the Tucson Festival of Books entitled Getting Started – Your First Book. Fifty budding authors attended, and they had many great questions. The following are my bullet points for the presentation.


1.  A test to determine if you should you write a book:

Shut yourself in a room with no distractions and write for four hours. Don’t worry about the quality of the writing; the quality will improve with time. If you enjoyed those four hours, you passed the test.

It takes a lot of time to write a good book. Why bother if you don’t enjoy it?

2.  Keep Writing.

To become a good writer you must practice—a lot. Write as often as possible and for as long as possible. Write everyday if you can. You will enjoy this time. It doesn’t feel like work.

3.  Read a lot.

Stop watching television and read. Read good books and bad books. Read your genre and other genres. Read literary greats and popular fiction greats.

Read about writing. Read grammar books, books about writing by authors, books on the craft of writing. Read anything that doesn’t bore you.

4.  Study.

There are some great books that teach the elements of fiction writing: Character, Plot, Description, and Dialogue. Read these books to learn about technique. Improve your craft by working through the exercises.

DSC_00055.  Bring the reader into the scene. – Setting and Dialogue.

Some writers of popular fiction forget to bring the reader into the scene. This is critical. Readers read to escape; they want to feel as if they are living the story.

Include enough description to pull them into the scene but not so much as to put them off. Use all five senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste.

Dialogue is magic for bringing the reader into the scene. When a character starts talking the reader pays attention. Make the conversation worthy of eavesdropping.

6.  Finish the first draft.

The magic of writing comes with revision, but without the first draft there will never be a second draft, third draft, or final draft.

Don’t worry that it’s bad—keep pushing until you get that first draft done!

7.  Rewrite each scene until it shines.

  • Keep revising until you’re making few or no changes with each subsequent pass.
  • Keep revising until you really like the way it reads.
  • Read it out loud or in your head. If part of a sentence reads awkwardly, revise it.
  • Great prose should sound lyrical; it should flow like classical music.

8.  Beta readers and writing groups.

Ask someone else to read your work, but wait until you’ve polished away all the awkward sentences. An inexperienced critic will not know what to tell you, but their encouragement will renew your strength.

Writing groups have various agendas. Try one if you want and keep attending if it works for you; if you don’t learn from the group, quit and use that time for writing.

9.  Editing

An experienced, qualified editor is essential to writing a good book. Warning: this can get expensive, and the feedback can be painful. A good editor will be a great teacher; she will force you to elevate your writing and help you to write a better book.

10.  Inspiration

Lean on whatever inspires you to continue the journey.

You may never be a great writer like Tolstoy or Faulkner, but you should know this: if you love to write, and you work hard enough and long enough, you will write a good book.


Along the way I read some great books on writing.

  • For detailed instruction on the elements of writing I recommend the Write Great Fiction Series, which includes separate books for Plot, Character, Setting, and Dialogue.
  • Stephen King’s book, On Writing is a an insightful look into the mind one of the most prolific writers of all time.
  • Francine Prose’s book, Reading like a Writer, will encourage you to continually strive to become a better writer.

Thank you for reading. Readers make the world a better place!


Evolution of a book cover: Joe Robbins in a Fateful Greed

When I started writing Hill Country Greed, I had no idea of the marketing imperative of securing a great cover. I didn’t know anything. I was too busy learning how to write an entertaining story to worry about marketing. But after I had invested five hundred hours in the story and was ready to share it with friends and family, I wanted a visual image to accompany the manuscript.

The first book cover, inspired by the prologue

The first book cover, inspired by the prologue

The working title was We Happy Few, a snippet of Shakespeare that appears several times in the novel.

My vision for the first cover was inspired by the nightmare described in the prologue. I sketched that vision with pencil on pad and asked my daughter Alex to turn it into a full-color image. Alex produced this cover in about an hour, and it was distributed to eight beta readers.

My beta readers encouraged me to keep writing, and I invested more hours in polishing the manuscript. I also began to research marketing a self-published book and learned of the importance of a compelling book cover.

A dramatic scene at the Driskill Hotel

A dramatic scene at the Driskill Hotel

I had heard from several readers that the dramatic Driskill Hotel scene was the hook that compelled them to read the entire book. Hoping to capitalize on that sentiment, I hired a professional cover designer and asked him to create an image of that scene.

By that time, my working title had changed to Beware the Brass Ring.

I found too ghoulish for my story. My beta readers felt the same way.

Over the course of writing the book I took several day trips around Austin to do scene research.

Climatic scene occurs at bluff overlooking the Pennybacker Bridge

Climatic scene occurs at bluff overlooking the Pennybacker Bridge

On one of those trips I took several photos from the Overlook above the Pennybacker Bridge. That location is important to the story, and I thought the view might make a good cover. For the second time I asked Alex to help. The title had changed again and was now: Hill Country Greed: An Austin, Texas Mystery.

I really like this cover.  Alex did a fantastic job; she created the clouds and changed the hue just enough to give the cover a suspenseful look.

Meanwhile, I continued to research book covers and learned about the importance of visibility of the title on the Thumbnail-sized photos that are shown on retail websites. The title was too small on the third cover, and I couldn’t envision how to make it bigger with the bridge as the central focus.

Final cover photo is from the Overlook

Final cover photo is from the Overlook

So I hired a second professional designer–Jason Alexander of Expert Subjects, LLC. To begin, I gave Jason several photos I had taken from the Overlook. The next day he gave me three different cover concepts to consider, including what would become the final cover. At first, I found the different font sizes of the words in the title and the bubble-effect of the letters strange, but they grew on me day by day. The first edition of Hill Country Greed was published with this cover.




One year later, a marketing expert told me this cover was not suitable for a mystery. He thought it looked more like a non-fiction book, so I hired a new designer and republished the book in late 2016 with a new cover.HC Greed ebook final v4 1.8MB


Finally, in 2017, I rewrote the entire Joe Robbins series, with new titles and new covers. Here is the cover for A Fateful Greed.AFatefulGreed_eBcov_FINAL



A Fateful Greed is available on Amazon.