Matthew Arnold Stern Matthew Arnold Stern
Words that inform and inspire
Inside my writing process and an upcoming event

In this issue, you're in for a special treat. I'll talk about my newest work in progress and give you insight into my writing process. I'll also announce my next book event in Orange County, CA.

But first, a word about my featured book: The Remainders
Information about The Remainders

A homeless son and troubled father must reconnect in a novel called a "powerful page-turner" and "a fascinating story about real next-door people." Get The Remainders now on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited and in paperback wherever books are sold.

My latest work in progress and my writing process

After writing three novels in my Reseda series (AmigaThe Remainders, and Christina's Portrait), I wanted to start something new. I also didn't want to keep going to panels at Loscon without having some speculative fiction in my portfolio. It took me a while to figure out what to write, but the pieces fell into place. I'm now actively writing my next book.

I'll share with you how I brought my ideas into a workable story. If you're struggling to get started with your own book, my experiences might help you.  

Deciding what type of story to write

This novel is a post-apocalyptic comedy adventure. Here's why I chose this combination.


I chose the post-apocalyptic genre because catastrophe seems to loom on the horizon. We are also watching apocalypses happening in many places around the world, and we worry if (or when) something like this can happen to us. The threat of apocalypse also forces us to reexamine our values and way of life. I talk more about post-apocalyptic fiction in this TikTok video.


I always consider humor an important part of storytelling. Even in my most serious of stories, I use humor to give readers a chance to breathe and provide moments of levity to set off the heavier scenes. With a topic as serious as societal collapse, I need to lean more into the humor. As someone who grew up with the irreverent humor of the 1970s, I know how humor can get us to listen to truths we don't want to hear.

While this story uses more humor and social satire, it won't be a ha-ha chuckle fest from cover to cover. To set up the stakes, there have to be serious moments. Just as humor offsets the darker parts, dark parts highlight the humor. 

You can read more about my thoughts on irreverent humor in this post.


A great way to force characters to grow is to set them on an adventure. You send them on a quest where they must achieve or obtain something. They face obstacles that challenge their values and force them to learn. You put them in danger. One character gets tied up, not just once, but twice. You can't tell this type of story without characters getting into situations where they lose their agency.

When they reach their goal, they find the thing they need is not the thing they sought to get. 

Picking the right characters

Once I decided on the type of story, I needed to pick the right characters. World building, humor, and set pieces mean nothing if readers don't care about the characters. There are several characteristics I wanted for the people in my book.


I want readers to picture themselves in the story. My main character is an ordinary middle age woman. She has no hidden superpowers. (This isn't a wish-fulfillment type of story.) But she has the intelligence, physical stamina (she played soccer in school and is an avid hiker), and—most importantly—morality and compassion to triumph in this adventure. I want readers to look at her and say, "I can picture myself in that situation, and I would hope to make the same decisions she did."

Wants vs Needs

My characters start out with a set of wants, but those aren't the things they actually need. The plot of the story exposes the limits of the characters' desires and forces them to work towards what would make their lives better. One of my characters feels he has to steal to fend for himself. What he really needs is the love and support of a family, like the one he lost. Each step in the adventure forces the character to reexamine his beliefs, but he struggles to accept what he really needs. That's how you develop character arcs.

Fit the theme

While the characters have to be engaging on their own, they also need to fit the theme of the story. My main characters are competent, but they can't solve problems on their own. That reinforces my theme about the importance of community for our mutual survival. When characters act selfishly, they suffer consequences for it.

Characters help us tell the story. By choosing the right characters, we can draw in our readers so we can give them the messages we feel are important.  

What's next?

I'm currently writing my first draft. As of today, I'm over 5,000 words, and I'm still just telling myself the story!

As my new book takes shape, I'll provide details in upcoming issues of my newsletter. 

Upcoming event in Southern California

Here's where you can see me next:

  • Saturday, March 23, 1–5 pm, Bargain Book World, the Shops of Mission Viejo. 
    I will sell and sign copies of Amiga, The Remainders, and Mastering Table Topics. Learn more about this event and other happenings at Bargain Book World from their Instagram account.
Would you like to be interviewed?

In previous issues of my newsletter, I interviewed authors Marissa Bañez, T.C. Correy, and Yvonne deSouza.

If you are an author who wants to be interviewed, send me an email to with the following information:

  • Your name.
  • A brief bio (100 words or less).
  • Your books.
  • What you would like to talk about in your interview.

By supporting each other, we can all grow!

Thank you for your time and attention

I hope you have enjoyed this newsletter. If you have any comments and suggestions, feel free to email me at 

If there is someone who you think would enjoy this newsletter, pass it along and encourage them to subscribe. A simple subscription form is on my website.

I'll be in touch again next month with more news and content.

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