Magic (like writing) is Difficult…

spooky sorceress among candles in dark

During the bleak times of no magic, spellwork took inordinate efforts to achieve the simplest of results. Since there are no books (or scrolls) to lead magic users in their craft in Fantastic America, trial and error has become the only way to learn the possibilities magic offers them. Accidents, some deadly, are bound to happen.

An important aspect of using magic is the toll it takes on spell casters. Regardless of the kind involved, mental stamina and sheer willpower control how magic operates. In the new magical age, even the most experienced witches lack the stamina to cast more than the most basic spells. Magical abilities take far less stamina, but also require practice to achieve proficiency.

The energies involved in magic change its users. Each kind of magic has a base emotion that makes that magic more potent. Rage, calm, cold reason, hope, passion, and cruelty, all improve the potency and durability of related spellwork. Contrariwise, the lack of the proper emotional state can harm the spell or decrease its effectiveness. Discovering this through trial and error will pose a steep learning curve as well.

These difficulties make magic tiring. Physically, magic leaves few obvious signs to outside observers. Mentally and emotionally, spellwork takes a heavy toll. Wizards, arcanists, and familiars must rest and relax after using their powers for extended times or major spell casting. The alternative can lead to loss of control, and permanent damage to their ability to use magic at all.

In the short term, magic will be difficult and dangerous to wield, its results will vary widely. Once magic users begin to master the aspect of magic they have access to, the dangers and unpredictability will decrease dramatically. There will always be a human element in spellwork prone to mistakes, but practice and survival will remove the inept from the world, like any other endeavor.

Diversity in Fiction (Especially Fantasy)

photo of people holding each other s hands

White male protagonists, ‘saving’ other ethnically labeled people, are deeply entrenched in modern fiction. So much that audiences take it for granted. James Cameron’s Avatar was the first one that popped into my mind, but there are plenty of others. The white savior is an old idea. He is part of the fabric of novels and films as well. Lawrence of Arabia, Tarzan, Alan Quartermain, Marvel Comics Iron Fist, John Candy in Cool Runnings, even Sandra Bullock in ‘The Blind Side’ reinforce the notion that if not for the guidance of white people, few people of color could succeed in the world.

Of course, this is nonsense, but human societies are ruled by nonsense. There are ways to push back against this conceit in fiction. Writing characters who are perfectly capable of saving themselves and others who also happen to be people of color is one place to start. Writing those same characters without cultural appropriation can be a challenge, but empowering humanity as a whole is a noble pursuit unto itself.

Diversity in my fiction made sense well beyond the absurdity of the white savior. People like to see themselves reflected in the novels they read. I’d feel disingenuous if I didn’t have a red-headed white man in some story of mine, but I haven’t encountered the spot he’d fit into yet. How many Asian, African or Indigenous Americans would like to see characters they can relate to in fiction? All of them, I suspect.

Along the same lines as diversity in characters is another role for modern fantasy: Setting. For close to a hundred years, Medieval European analogs dominated fantasy stories (especially high or epic fantasy). Tolkien directly influenced generations of fantasy writers who have followed his trailblazing, but that vision of Middle-Earth has still hobbled our imaginations. This is the white savior in absentia, his culture (or some slightly disguised version of it) is the one any world would aspire to or ultimately achieve—an equally preposterous (and boring) idea.

Although the setting for my debut novel, Fantastic America, is solidly an analog for the real world, the settings beyond it are as diverse as my limited imagination could manage. There are certainly analogs of elves and dwarves. There are also very alien Djinn, a variety of sentient animal-humanoids, and merfolk living in worlds unlike Middle-Earth entirely. I’ve borrowed liberally from historical cultures around the world to influence those settings, but none of them are inherently Persian, Hindu, or Chinese either.

For me, fantasy is about possibilities, a way to escape the mundane world. I’d prefer worlds that allow us to examine emotions, social constructs, institutions without including a sermon from me about how I see them. An imaginary failed state is much easier for readers to assess than a real one with actual people who lived and perhaps died defending its culture and history. High ideals are wonderful until an entire nation picks and chooses who gets to participate in those ideals.

Fortunately, many more perspectives and unique voices are emerging in fantasy. Increasing diversity in fiction is as apparent as strolling through the shelves of your nearest bookstore. There are financial incentives for publishers to continue this trend, and I can only hope the white savior and associated tropes fade away as more voices join the chorus.

I struggle with complexity…

man wearing black and white stripe shirt looking at white printer papers on the wall

Not in creating the complex fabric of the worlds in my stories, but in how to share that scope with my audience. I don’t want to overwhelm my readers with details, the characters and settings should feel natural and nuanced. The information I introduce builds layer by layer without long tracts of exposition, or at least that is my intent. My problem is that the world of Fantastic America is more elaborate than the real world it’s based on.

More importantly, I have characters who know that deeper history. I haven’t revealed everything about these characters, or how they came by all this information. That’s part of the fun for me as an author, but can still cause that sense of overwhelm I try to avoid. Sometimes, you just have to go for it and ensure your readers have enough information to keep up.

The information these characters dribble out as the stories unfold is important to the over arching plot of the series. Each individual piece fits together to inform the whole picture. By the third act, the audience should scream at the main characters to put the same picture together. They have to put that picture together and that takes time, before they can begin to analyze what they see.

Other authors may have different opinions about how to reveal information. If another approach works for them, that’s marvelous! Giving my audience smaller pieces of the picture over time (maybe with a few larger chunks here and there to spice it up) works. It’s the perfect long term delivery method. The process works for world building, as well as plot, and character development.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing enough…

silver imac displaying collage photos

I write, I blog, I learn about SEO, and I post links where I feel they’re appropriate. Still, I wonder what else I could do, what more I can learn what other way can I get my message and content out into the world? I don’t know if there is a right or wrong way to proceed on this journey, but I do know it sometimes feels fruitless to send my work out into the world only to hear crickets in return.

I have a thick writer’s skin for criticism, but I have to admit some vulnerability to no reply at all. Not everyone is going to appreciate my work, I understand that, but not even clicking a link to read it leaves me wondering where I went wrong. This isn’t my endgame of course, but it keeps me occupied while I alternate between editing and researching agents for the next leg of my journey.

I’m all ears for anyone with suggestions, or happy to commiserate with anyone in the same boat. There are solutions out there, but I have no idea where to find them. Still, “It can’t rain all the time.”

Magic isn’t all terrible…

photo of a woman standing in a cave

In the world of Fantastic America, there is plenty of darkness and fear surrounding magic. Nightmarish monsters have brought plenty of fear with them. These creatures and powers don’t define magic though, they are only aspects of how magic can manifest. Not every world touched by magic is filled with horrors brought to life. Seeing that potential is difficult for most people, and the simplest, knee-jerk reaction is to label all magic and creatures as dangerous. The American government believes everything related to the solstice is dangerous if not outright evil.

Some people, mostly those with an affinity to magic of one kind or another, see magic in a different way entirely. For them, magic is like a missing ingredient from their life. An ingredient they didn’t even know was missing until it found them for the first time. Now that they’ve tasted how sweet it can make their life, the idea of turning their back on it is unthinkable.

Ashley Monahan develops a unique appreciation for magic, magical creatures, and people touched by magic. She sees more potential in magic than she does danger. This puts her at odds with the government, her family, and many well intentioned but misguided people around the world. Her reporting puts her closer to magic and paranormal phenomena than most people, but it only bothers her when those things are truly dangerous.

Ashley’s biggest challenge isn’t learning which things to fear and which to embrace. She has to share that knowledge with skeptics and those already convinced that magic is evil. She will need allies who feel the same hope for magic that she does. Fortunately, her job takes her all around the country to find just such people. If she can convince enough of them to band together, before fear overwhelms civilization as we know it entirely.

I’ve been trying to figure out…

How to get Jerry Farmer’s story out into the world. I knew I wanted to give it away, and I knew that was possible. It took me all this time to figure out how to do that from a technical standpoint. I spent most of today trying to fix that, and I think I’ve succeeded. Access may be far from perfect. I think you’ll at least be able to download and read it now. Something I’ve struggled with for longer than I expected.

Jerry has been a literal troubled soul his whole life. No one believed he could see ghosts as a child. No one believed him as an adult, when he tried to explain that a ghost pushed him to kill their neighbor. Maybe all that honesty falling on deaf ears pushed Jerry too far. Spending years in a mental hospital for the criminally insane may have pushed him beyond redemption. Really, there’s no maybe about it, but I’ll let you decide for yourself.

Follow this link and download your free copy of Bridgewater Bingo today!
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Panic is a heartbeat away…

brown eyes of scared young person

When magic returned to the Earth after thousands of years, fear gripped billions of people around the world. Between unexplained phenomena on the solstice and monsters straight out of a nightmare, there is good reason to be afraid. In Fantastic America, the thin veneer of civility rests on a knife edge, one more scary story on the evening news could send the modern world into self destruction.

Ashley Monahan knows this all too well. The urge to panic, is never far from her mind as she reports on the growing weirdness. She spends as much time as she can calming the nation, looking for the silver lining in stories of darkness and fright. It’s a hard job, but one that needs to be done.

Her work may be under-appreciated, but it is not unnoticed. Powerful forces take an interest in this young, untested reporter. Ashley finds danger where ever she goes, but there is an answer out there. She’s determined to confront the dangers loose in the world before it’s too late.

You can only research so much…

Sooner or later you have to turn that research into words on the page. I’m as guilty as anyone of finding just the right image or description for what I’m working on. Especially if the subject is well documented in other ways. I spent the better part of a year studying New Orleans (pictured above) for several short stories that tie in to Fantastic America and the other books in the Magic Unleashed series. Temporarily, I became an expert on the Crescent City, even though I’ve never actually been there.

The picture I used for this post was part of the research I did for a short story called, Midnight at the Sultan’s Palace. The view in the picture is of St. Louis Cathedral from the ‘palace’ at 716 Dauphine Street. I poured over books, maps (An interesting collection of insurance maps by the way), audio recordings, new articles and thousands of pictures online to get a better sense of New Orleans and its history. Which is all well and good, especially since it served me well for several projects. Also, new Orleans is fascinating.

Eventually I had to write those projects though. All the research in the world won’t do you a bit of good until you write the story. Did I need eight views of the palace (and floor plans)? Probably not. At the time I convinced myself it would add authenticity to the story and help me visualize the characters moving through the building. Once I dove into the narrative, I realized it was overkill and curiosity on my part.

Write. Even if you discover inaccuracies later, you’ll be able to edit those out. Even if you don’t, your work doesn’t have to be 100% accurate. It only has to move your readers and makes sense within the context of the story you want to tell (or show). None of that can happen until you put the words on the page. So, write.

Let’s talk rocks…

stones in different colors

Long summer days under the pines in North Carolina could be very boring without some creativity. Store bought toys had to stay in the house, but I didn’t want to stay inside. My solution was playing with rocks. I built rock cities, simple at first, but increasingly complex and large. I invented elaborate stories for these cities and eventually competing agendas led to conflict.

The cities fielded rock armies, tanks and aircraft, I even developed imaginary technology for the cities to wage war on one another. A handy lead pipe sparking on the rocks as countless battles raged across my front yard gave me a satisfying release I wouldn’t have dared with store bought toys. I even drew a map and worked out a history for the Valley of Nod that I named my imaginary country.

Building and breaking rock cities didn’t seem odd at the time. What I remember most are the stories and building conflict that kept me occupied for days at a time. The first characters I imagined inhabited the Valley of Nod, and the first stories I constructed played out there too. I only wish I’d written them down, instead of narrating them in my head.

When I write now, I have all the years I spent in the Valley of Nod bringing an imaginary world to life to guide me in my world building. The characters and conflict I write about now is more refined, the settings are far different, but a part of every story I tell hearkens back to those summer days under North Carolina pine trees. I’ll rock on, as long as I’m able.

I don’t have an art department…

So I hire artists on Fiverr when I need something done. I’ve tried to draw in the past, but discovered I’m not even good a sketching. So this piece is the latest project I’ve had done. It’s part of a scene in the opening chapter of Fantastic America. No spoilers, but this is a much better depiction of what the main character, Ashley Monahan reports on than I could produce. It isn’t a perfect representation of the image from my mind, but it’s pretty darn close!

If you like what you see, and I hope you do, there is more on the way. I’d like to get at least five more of these to show off here at The Sorcerers’ Realm. They all relate to one aspect or another of the Magic Unleashed series. Some you’ll see more of than others, in the run up to each book in the series. This one you’ll read about first, and it connects to The Sorcerers’ Realm directly, so it was only fitting to have it made first. Enjoy!