Quick update: I’m still writing!

classic close up draw expensive

NaNoWriMo is coming to an end, but my writing is far from over. I have so much to write, and with the holidays, so little time. Not having a schedule to keep to with this blog has been a big help. Although a year ago I was so hyper focused, that I couldn’t imagine the luxury being untethered would give me.

I have a bunch of short stories put together, and both Fantastic America and Midwestern Magicians to edit. With all that on my plate and a house full of grandkids, the work is going slowly, but it is still going. See you in the funny pages- Happy Holidays!

My NaNoWrimMo has been derailed…

accident black and white care catastrophe

I gave myself permission to be free.

Life threw several curveballs at me at once in the past two weeks. A year ago I might not have let that stop my writing at all. This year, I made a conscious choice to step back and put my family ahead of my writing goals for the month. That isn’t to say I won’t pick right up where I left off. The holidays are coming, and I intend to enjoy every minute of family, friends, and fun during the bleak onset of winter here in the Midwest. But I have to write, as long as I’m physically and mentally able.

For the few who noticed, I didn’t even post here last week. That was another conscious choice I made. For the first time in over a year, I didn’t care if my search rank dropped, my traffic slowed, or if I even visited the page myself. It was refreshing and freeing. I doubt I’ll take too many breaks like that, but knowing I could walk away if I need to gave me a greater sense of self-determination.

Expect to see more from me, but I may skip a post here or there.

NaNoWriMo is in full swing…

book opened on white surface selective focus photography

I got off to a rocky start this year, but now I’m focused and excited about picking the story back up. I’ll keep this short so I can get back to work. I’ve got Alex and Liz to get together in the midpoint of Midwestern Magicians. The real fun parts are about to happen, I’ll keep you posted as my progress continues.

One Last Thought On World Building

world map illustration

Story is more important than Setting.

This is one of the most valuable insights I ever learned as a new writer. No matter how incredible my world may be, how intricate and wondrous the characters, or how thoroughly amazing it feels to me, showing it off without purpose is a failure of my imagination. At best, the story will be little more than a travelogue for an imaginary world. At worst, it flaunts my lack of ability to fully realize the world I spent so much time building. The world should stay in the background for the story my characters and their conflicts bring to life.

This doesn’t mean I skimp on description or details. Those elements should serve the needs of the story, not dominate my narrative. Amazing depictions of imaginary worlds captivate us because they mold the action, or add to the emotional impact of a story. I don’t love Tar Valon because of the White Tower, but because Egwene rose to Amyrlin and repaired the breach in the divided Tower. The Mississippi isn’t a fond part of my memories of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because it was dangerous, but because Huck and Jim faced those dangers together.

Effort without purpose is wasted time.

World Building takes a good deal of time and effort. For me, it’s a layered process that includes rewriting sections of the world for the needs of the story. But at each point in the process, each decision as I weave the world together, the story always takes precedence. The coolest idea I’ve ever had won’t make it into a story if it doesn’t serve to bring the audience closer to the characters or conflict.

The opposite is also true, great ideas often propel conflict and deepen our grasp of characters. Luke didn’t want to be a moisture farmer, but he couldn’t abandon his aunt and uncle after all they’d done for him. The Poltergeist wouldn’t have even bothered Carol Ann if the Freeling family’s new house wasn’t built on a cemetery. The story is my focus, not my elaborate setting. No matter how much I love it or how excited I am to show it off to my readers.

I have a terrible writing problem.

person writing on a notebook beside macbook

A problem that isn’t really that bad…

One that I’m sure many writers would love to have. I have too many stories clamoring to get on the page. Choosing which of my children I should give literary birth to first is exhausting. Let me clarify, I’m not complaining about having too much to write, but which story to focus on. I have chapters outlined for Gari on Torthal, dozens of short stories set in the Magic Unleashed series, and a novel worth of material for Ailish from the Centriole. That doesn’t even include old material I want to revisit from The Renegade Galaxy series or older books that I was never confident enough to write.

I’ve already committed to writing the second half of Midwestern Magicians for Nanowrimo in just over a week, but I’d really like to take a stab at a short story between now and then. I’ve had this quandary for days now. The clock is ticking and my sudden paralysis may mean no new material before November. I don’t consider this writers block (something I don’t believe in…) but I can see how hard it can be to overcome self imposed restrictions.

Others suffer in silence, too.

My problem isn’t unique. I’ve lost track of how many writer friends or blog posts I’ve read about deciding where to start or what story to write first. If I’m really honest with myself (harder than it sounds for me) the problem isn’t just organization, but emotional attachment. I can get obsessive when it comes to getting into my characters’ heads, and living a slice of their life. Maybe that is my real hold back, getting too into their space before I settle in to Alex and Liz throughout November.

All is not lost if I don’t write a new story, and I’m well aware that this whole episode is just me beating myself up over something trivial. There are plenty of stories to write, and plenty of time to write them. The problem is entirely a creation of my inner monologue gone awry. “You’re not doing enough. Use your gifts. Don’t squander your time,” repeats in my mind. Eventually, that has an impact, and I guess I’m feeling that right now.

Brighter days are coming.

A month or so from now when I have a second completed book in my series, I won’t think twice about this problem. Today I just needed to vent, and this blog is the perfect outlet for that. My apologies for a rant that might have been better off playing out in my head. Then again, how many other authors out there can relate to this, or need to hear that it will be alright even if the word count drops to zero for a while? I’m not here to judge, just sharing my thoughts as the cold dreary days of winter settle in.

World-Building 101 for Sci-fi, Fantasy, and more.

earth wallpaper
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

One approach to building immersive worlds:

I do a lot of world-building for my writing. Truth be told, I do a lot of world-building because it’s fun for me. It’s been a while since I did an in-depth world-building post, so here goes. This post won’t be a template or outline for building a world, just my thoughts on various parts of the process and why I enjoy it.

First, some background: In the mid-eighties, I was a kid without other kids to play with in my neighborhood. There was no internet yet, so I didn’t have any social networks to scroll through either. Oh, the humanity! I spent a lot of time looking over maps. From Rand-McNally’s American road atlas to National Geographic maps to just about any paper map I could find, I even decorated my walls with maps for a while.

Besides maps, I also spent several years devouring books and modules from the Marvel Super Heroes role-playing game. One of the standout books in my mind was called the Book of Ultimate Powers. Together these books gave my fertile imagination a chance to explore ideas I’d seen in movies, TV, and comic books. Some of them were hits, others definite misses, but it gave me a lifelong fascination with mixing and matching ideas to make something new.

I built worlds with animal-human hybrids, magical realms that barely followed the laws of physics (even with my poor understanding of physics). I also dabbled in science fiction settings that were strange and new to me. Eventually, I gave up on the Marvel approach and started making worlds and characters without their template, and that is where things took off.

Getting Serious

 My first foray into world-building without marvel was the science fiction universe that eventually became the basis for my Renegade Galaxy short stories. I flailed around in the process for years off and on while I was on active duty. I also spent some time more methodically creating a fantasy world more along the lines of Tolkien and The Silmarillion. Bouncing back and forth between those worlds for a decade made them both rich and diverse.

The process I developed over that time allows me to build a world in days that might have taken a decade back then. I’ll just get to the good stuff now that I’ve shared how I developed this process. My method took twenty years to develop, so there were lots of false starts, failed experiments, and a few shining triumphs along the way. If you can avoid the problems and only pick up the good parts, I may save you some headaches I endured.

I have to start somewhere.

First things first, I decide the kind of concept the story requires. What kind of story am I telling? Is this a novel-length story, something shorter, or a format without those kinds of rules like a D&D campaign? Each may require tweaking the process or limiting the scope of world-building.

Next, I determine the setting. Is this story science fiction, fantasy, horror, paranormal, or something else?. Is the story set in some version of the real world, or does it require a mixture of elements? There are as many settings available as there are minds to imagine them. My decisions shape the rest of my process. Hopefully, your process and mine, no matter how similar, produce wildly different but equally valid results. As long as your story maintains internal consistency, I think your readers will be willing to give you a pass on minor details.

Once I know the kind of story I want to tell and have a vague idea of the setting, it’s time to make this world more concrete (whether they have developed concrete or not). To do that, I branch out into one of two directions. If geography (on a single planet) or interstellar distances will play a key role (among stories with more than one world), I draw a rough map of what I want to include. This map allows me to set up different regions, biomes, geological processes, ocean currents, weather systems, and regional climates that may have affected civilizations or societal developments.

Alternatively, change up the sequence.

The other route is to outline the nations and regions without a map. I draw a map of some kind in virtually every world I build, with the rare exception of real world based stories where I can use Google Earth or actual paper maps. (You see why I mentioned maps earlier. The circle is now complete.) This outline focuses on large-scale conflicts between groups and identifies places I may want to map out in more detail later.

At this point, whichever route I took, I now complete the other (map or macro-lens outline). From here, I drill down to cities, landmarks, historical backstory and flesh out the basic ideas I started in the last step. I want to know the types of governments involved, who makes decisions in this world, and what motivates their interest. If they are pertinent to the story, religions, economic factors, trade routes (and information flow) between groups, military organizations (like Starfleet or the Order of Radiant Knights), population numbers, technology levels, infrastructure, and other social institutions come into play here. Unique magic systems or speculative technologies also start to take shape at this stage.

Have you noticed anyone missing?

All of this comes before I flesh out a single character for the story. But, I’ve had ideas for characters first and built worlds around them, too. If all the pieces come together in the end, the world-building sequence is mainly irrelevant to me. Although going another route may cause me to rewrite as I go, which is never a bad thing, in my eyes at least.

I’ll point out here that none of this is set in stone. The decisions I make about one element of the world may influence others in unforeseen ways. That is all good stuff. Make your world unique but consistent. (Or don’t – it’s your world, your rules!)

By now, I have a pretty good handle on the kind of world where the story will take place. I generally use some of this information to build the characters who will populate the story, but not always the POV character(s) yet. Is my setting one of a guild economy? Maybe my character is working for (or against) a guild. Perhaps they are part of a religion I developed, either on the run from overzealous clerics or trying to return artifacts central to their theology. A prince from a neighboring country may have run off with a woman (or man) to start some version of the Trojan War.

It all comes down to how you use what you’ve got.

Whatever the story, I want to weave all the world-building work into the story to make the characters come to life. Sharing that backstory without an info-dump of how I developed the character is the tricky part for me. I spent so much time building this incredible world, and I don’t want to let it sit idly while my characters stare intently at each other across the room. Ideally, they have poignant dialogue amid the ruins of a fallen city because their goal was last seen in that city, informed by all that world-building that finally makes sense to the reader as the scenes unfold.

Being from a specific place should inform the reader, not bludgeon them with how incredible that region may be. In other words, as much effort as I put into world-building, it should complement the characters that inhabit my pages. Some are cooler than others, of course, just like the real world.

Ultimately, readers want characters they can sympathize with, who do extraordinary (or ordinary) things that they will likely never do in real life. The emotional connection to those characters keeps your readers turning pages and coming back for more stories. If the setting has depth, adds to the story, and comes alive in your pages, they may fall in love with your world as much as any character.

November is NaNoWriMo.

person writing on the notebook

What a year, huh?

With NaNoWriMo just around the corner, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on writing a novel. Last October, I finished writing the rough draft for my first novel, Fantastic America, The Magic Unleashed. Last November, I started the second book in that series, Midwestern Magicians, to keep the momentum going. I got over 50,000 words written in that month, or just over halfway through my outline. Book two has been sitting unfinished ever since as I concentrated on short stories, querying (UGH!), and working on my website, The Sorcerer’s Realm.

This November, I’ll be dusting Magicians off and finishing what I started. To accomplish this task, I’ll be using the same tried and true methods I’ve used in the past. Outlining (or at least updating my existing outline), lots of late-night writing marathons (which I love), and gauging my progress each night as I go. Again, my target is around 50,000 words, which is the target for many NaNoWriMo projects. Some nights I may write 3,000 words, some nights 1,000, or maybe I go on a bender and hit 5,000 words. Some days I may only hit 500 words, but as long as I even out, in the end, my goal is easily in reach.

Fortunately, I have the luxury of time to work each night. Some writers struggle to get an hour or less to write each night. It is still possible to write a novel at that rate, it may take longer, but it is doable. I talked to lots of writers who ‘steal’ fifteen minutes here or there to write between their job, family, and other commitments. For me, writing comes down to how much I want the next story to make it to the page. If I believe in the idea, I have to see it through. Not every story works the way I intend it to, but I learn from failure more often than success.

One Chapter at a Time.

My approach to writing a novel is relatively simple (to me). I research the topics I know I’ll need to tackle to write, locations, time periods, cultural references, technologies, or anything that might come up in a scene or backstory. Then I outline the chapters as I see them in my head. Once there is a beginning, middle, and end, I write them out as I imagined them. Sometimes the order changes, ideas develop as I write, or change to fit the story better, which means editing later. But in the first pass, everything goes into the sandbox. I fill it up as I go and worry about revision later. I have to get material on the page to shape it afterward.

Sometimes, I read other authors complaining about editing getting in the way of finishing their novels. There can be lots of reasons they don’t finish, but one I don’t need in my way is editing before the rough draft is done. I’ve edited Fantastic America at least six times now and likely will again before it gets published. Editing and writing are different parts of the same process.

Don’t Get Lost in Research.

It is easy to lose track of what I should be writing while researching. Rabbit holes are very tempting, as I love discovering new information (and sometimes revisiting familiar information). The goal of research is to add authenticity to your writing, or at least to avoid insincerity. Writing what you know is a maxim for a reason.

You don’t have to become an expert in every nuance of a topic. Some elements of a story don’t require more than a cursory familiarity with a subject. It’s up to each of us to decide how much research ends up in a story. Ultimately, what the reader needs to know is all that is important. I’ve spent over an hour on research that only made an informed sentence or two in a story more than once.

Write the story. Research can be fun, bit stay focused on your goal. You can always embellish later if your research paid off with a new way to show a scene, add backstory for a character or share important information about a location. None of that is as important as putting the scenes from your head down on the pages.

Stay On Target

Like the rebels skimming the trench on the Death Star, I have a target when I write. Last November, it was 50,000 words in a month. It is much the same this year, though I will review what I already have written to inform my efforts this year. Having a goal, whether it’s the word count, a certain number of scenes, or some other target, makes writing towards that goal easier (for me, at least). So decide what goal you want to reach and cut it into smaller, achievable steps. Breaking down a larger goal makes reaching it appear less intimidating (if it’s intimidating at all).

After all the prep work, there is only one last ingredient necessary for success. Consistently show up to write. Whether you have a quiet time devoted to writing, sit down with a laptop at a coffee shop, or take a notebook to your favorite cozy spot outside, you have to put in the work. I enjoy writing. Creating a novel would sound like torture if I didn’t like world-building, character development, dialogue, and other storytelling ingredients.

The challenge of weaving all those parts into a coherent narrative is what keeps me coming back to the keyboard. Showing a reader the world I’ve created, introducing the characters who populate it, and displaying their struggles brings me joy even when hardly anyone reads my words. Of course, I want to share those worlds and characters with other people, but the joy of creation is as important to me as views, sales, or accolades.

NaNoWriMo is a chance to dig into the worlds, characters, and conflicts I love. Authors all over will be huddling together or seeking solitude to create new novels this November. I’ll be one of them, and I hope someday, the fruit of my labors are on a shelf in a bookstore for readers to enjoy. I can’t ask for much more than that, but I wouldn’t mind a TV series or movie adaptation before shuffling off this mortal coil. Dream big!

A change of pace – Sing

human hands and us flag

There is no joy in lost lives, loves, or freedom.

Hate for the alien among us is hardly wisdom.

Fallen towers leave each of us coated in ashes and dust.

I grieve for our dead, and mourn our misplaced trust.

The years drag on, but justice is denied.

Vengeance can never exact enough blood for those who died.

I will sing a new song that crusades might cease.

One of hope, and home, and joy, and peace.

Not some idyllic ode to frightened doves,

But a lasting tribute to our loves.

Sing along with me if your heart is moved.

Sing a song of tomorrow, of promises proved.

My first writing update since stepping back from daily posts.

I returned to Torthal.

Back to fundamentals for me…

I’ve been working my way through rewrites of stories I started this summer. I picked up Gari’s story and rewrote almost the entire second installment. This week I’ll share his journey with my writer’s group and barring any more substantial rewrites, I’ll have more to share with you about how he’s doing in Torthal. I have high hopes for these characters and the setting. A couple of things I’m considering changing include some of the characters names, and the title for the story.

My next big project is related to Fantastic America, and Midwestern Magicians. As nanowrimo approaches, I plan to finish the work I started last year with at least a rough draft of book two in the series. I’ll keep on writing until I find my footing for the ideas I have outlined already. I love the version of our world in the Magic Unleashed series, and can’t wait to share the other worlds it leads to.

My other summer project was the Centriole. I wrote it for a monthly writing challenge, but it didn’t quite work for that. The story was imaginative and interesting, but it didn’t have a resolution in the five thousand word limit for the contest. Now that the challenge is over, I can overhaul the story and make it more satisfying to read. At least, that’s my plan for it right now.

If at first you don’t succeed…

Failure is often a great teacher though, and not winning or even placing in the challenge highlighted an area I need to work on. I write a lot of short stories, but they aren’t all that short. Strunk & White taught me in high school that, “Vigorous writing is concise.” One of my lessons learned this summer is that I need to work on the concise part.

A story should have a beginning, middle, and end. If I’m at four thousand words of a five thousand word story, I need to have a plan to wrap it up and make that ending worthwhile for my audience. For all the imagination the centriole contained, it did not end well. Ailish ended her story as if it were the intro to a longer piece (which it may still become) but that didn’t do any good for the contest or the readers who wanted an actual conclusion, myself included.

Stay tuned for more updates!

The struggle bus has been parked at my house for over a year.

man sitting on a hood of a school bus
The struggle is real!

In March 2020, the struggle bus quietly parked in front of my house. I didn’t even recognize it at first, but that changed before the ides were out. Caesar might envy me, but he might just roll over and die rather than face the slow death grip covid has inflicted on the world. I’ve been looking for a brighter day throughout the pandemic, and that is where I’ve struggled most.

I dislike change.

The first change I noticed was when all my doctors cancelled my appointments. Routine check ups, non-essential visits, and even some health issues I really wanted to address were pushed back indefinitely (I’m still a month away from a final appointment I managed to rescheduled from March 2020). How I wish that was the only impact.

Stores and restaurants started to close or cut their hours. I’m a night owl by nature, and loved the weirdos like me who shopped overnight to avoid normal people. We were an early casualty of the lockdowns. Of course flattening the curve was just the beginning.

Masks became important, I bought Pedialyte, extra toilet paper (not every roll I could find but enough to last a while), more bottled water than usual, and downloaded the FEMA guide to surviving a pandemic. I didn’t use anything but the water, and I consider myself lucky at that.

When will it end?

The year wore on. Summer, my favorite time of year, went by with hardly any fanfare at all. No gatherings, even for 4th of July. But few people near me got sick, so that’s a blessing all by itself. Still, the isolation wore at us all. Even though I already avoided people, I missed gatherings. Ironic isn’t it?

I took some wild chances for random nights out with friends and managed to avoid getting sick. A few of my rowdier friends went out more, and weren’t so lucky. None of them died, although covid did take people I knew. Shauna Wolf, one of the best writing mentors I ever had the privilege to work with lost her struggle with the disease. It was real, but thankfully distant from my day to day life.

In 2021 a flurry of vaccines became available. They were designed quickly with new mRna technologies I’d read about, but who wants to be first in line for untried vaccines? I’ve read adverse reaction reports since the 90’s, I didn’t want any of that. But I kept reading, and kept watching the news. There were potential dangers to taking the shots, but definite dangers by not getting vaccinated.

Choices shape our chances.

I’m one of those imuno-compromised people who sought out the vaccine fairly early. Not in the first round of doses, but by May of 2021 I had both shots. I didn’t have any side effects, or even a mild adverse reaction. My body may have remembered all the shots I got in boot camp, who knows.

The vaccine and dropping numbers of hospital patients made Summer better in 2021, but it still wasn’t the same. Backyard gatherings were still hit or miss, although our 4th of July party was more like those we’ve had in the past. Children still swam in our pool, and a few people came out to sit by our fire pit. I went out a few times, but even the rowdy crowd at a local bar was less rambunctious than before the pandemic.

You take the good and the bad, add them up, and there you have…

I finally convinced my wife to get the vaccine, after six months of not becoming a zombie. She tested positive for the disease in 2020, but had no symptoms while she quarantined in our house. She just got her second shot today, which is what prompted this rambling post about the struggles I’ve had. My struggles weren’t physical, aside from a kidney stone that I had to have powdered. The pain of the stone, the recovery from the procedure, and the removal of the stent are all near the top of my Never Again list.

Most of what I’ve struggled with has been internal. Stuck in the house with grandkids, my wife, and my thoughts, hasn’t left me much room to vent. Random nights out when I didn’t expect to find big crowds helped, but that only does so much. My thoughts were still melancholy the next day. I have a few go to coping methods, I write, play games on my PC to escape, read and watch TV or movies as a last resort. Only writing and reading feel truly cathartic for me.

“Difficult to see. Always in motion the future is.”

The pandemic is still raging, new variants are cropping up, and debate is ongoing about booster shots. But I feel lucky. I haven’t gotten sick, not even the flu. Knock on wood. Even just typing that makes me feel better. So I guess as long as we have to worry about covid, there will be fewer gatherings, fewer hours to shop or eat out, and one more worry for those of us who worry about everything.

In the mean time, I’ve written more short stories than I have since 2019. I finished and revised (more times than I can count) Fantastic America, wrote the first half of Midwestern Magicians, and started querying agents. I don’t think any of us are happy there is a pandemic going on, but at least I have hope society won’t collapse from it anytime soon. There are many more human culprits to worry about collapsing the modern world anyway…

I was going to wait till tonight to post.

But since I can’t sleep anyway… I might as well get this post done! I continue to enjoy not having to write a post every day, but I also miss posting in general. My mother often said I just can’t make up my mind. She was right, too.

Anyway, I’d like to point out the new look and images on the site. I didn’t do the work, but I’m very happy with the results. Thanks to Kathy BeMiller @ Blooming Wisdom Social Media. 🙂 The new look coincided with my recent break, but I feel the itch to post more often stirring again. Which leads me to my next announcement.

I’m always on the lookout for new ways to expand my audience, and I may have (re) stumbled onto a good fit for me. I’ve written my first post on Substack tonight, and I’d like to encourage you to read it (and subscribe). I’ll add the link Here. I have no idea how it works yet, but I have plenty of time to write and play with the user interface over there.

Look for more posts here and Substack to come, I have no plans to stop posting here. Maybe blogging between writing stories is where I need to be to feel connected. Whether it is or not, I can hardly keep my mouth shut or fingers off the keyboard. Lucky for me, I think that’s what writers are supposed to do.

A week of heartbreak around the world…

fire burning among branches of trees in forest

It’s been a week since I posted on my blog. To me, it felt like a vacation. But the world kept on spinning, and life, for most of us, kept on going, too. It was a week of tragedy for a lot of people. Fires are still burning out west, flash floods swept away people in Tennessee, and Hurricane Ida left a path of destruction from the Gulf Coast up the eastern seaboard of the US. All of those were local catastrophes for America. Meanwhile, an entirely man-made disaster unfolded on the other side of the world. Western forces withdrew from Afghanistan after a twenty year occupation.

Afghanistan captivated my attention, but first, a disclaimer:

This post is not political, I have little to no faith in either polarized political party in Washington, D.C. beyond their mutual short-sighted self-interest. This post is my opinion as an American, a veteran, and a human being. The American occupation of Afghanistan signifies twenty years of tragedy and triumph, all of which may be swept away and rendered irrelevant in the days ahead. Worse yet, it may spur years of more brutality and oppression.

History shows a longer story, a deeper struggle.

There were lessons we should have studied before launching an invasion. European and American interests have rarely coincided with Afghan needs. But regimes from all over have been willing to squander money and human lives despite failing to understand the lives of the people there. Afghans, or their ancestors, have been resisting occupation since Alexander marched to India. The resilience of the Afghan people is legendary, it’s called the graveyard of empires for a reason. Its people possess an ability to endure and rebuild after outside occupation. But there is a growing fear of what comes next from the Taliban, and how much bloodshed comes with those changes.

I’ve never joined the bandwagon that said we should invade Afghanistan. I supported my brothers and sisters who were ordered to go there, but for me, their mission has always been dubious at best. Twenty years of failed nation building, lives lost, and a people abandoned is a legacy no one wanted. Yet, here we are, far from the promise of a free and democratic Afghanistan.

Those we left behind will haunt us forever.

We left people behind. America promised we wouldn’t. Some of those people are Americans, who we swore not to leave behind. Afghan allies and their families were left behind, even though we gave our oath not to leave them surrounded by those who wanted their blood. We left weapons and equipment behind, because taking it would have been too troublesome. This is not our finest hour.

Years from now, if there are years to be had, history will look back at this event differently. But right now, my emotions are raw over what I’ve seen and read about how American forces withdrew. A handful of honorable Americans risked life and limb to sneak some of our allies and their families out of Kabul under cover of darkness. I suspect Hollywood will make a movie about that eventually. That’s one way Americans deal with tragedy, I guess.

For me, the real tragedy isn’t that we withdrew from the country, and left it in the hands of people who hate us, our way of life and anyone who helped us or benefitted from a western presence. The real tragedy began twenty years ago, when we invaded Afghanistan.

The price is seldom paid by those who make the decisions.

Yes, toppling the Taliban was a good deed. Trying to rebuild Afghanistan so another generation of extremists didn’t grow up under their influence was noble, too. Neither has proved worth the price we’ve paid so far, or the bill we’ve yet to pay for ending our occupation. That bill will come in years yet to come, likely by people too young to know it’s coming. They didn’t start the fires, cause the weather, or invade another country.

365th consecutive blog posts!

pexels-photo-5408689.jpeg

This is my 365th consecutive post since August 28th of 2020.

I set out to prove to myself that I could accomplish a few things. One, to come up with new and interesting posts every day for a year. Check. Two, I wanted to share my writing and my writing process. Double check. My original intent was to share my writing journey as I wrote my debut novel, Fantastic America. I checked that box too, but it went by so quickly, the journey ended before the experiment was half over. And finally, as the experiment grew in scope, I wanted to connect with readers and other writers. All boxes checked.

Now that my experiment is over, and successful, I have to decide where to go from here. My first instinct is to only write once a week from now on, but honestly, writing a post a day has become part of my writing habit. Even on days I didn’t write anything else, it felt good to post something here to validate my other efforts. I haven’t decided one way or another yet.

I learned some valuable lessons.

I have learned a few other things during my experiment. I’m not great at getting people to engage with my content. Something I’ve been working on all year. I’ll keep working on that, whether I post every day from here on out or only when I feel like it. I also learned that I am a poor judge of what will stir people’s interest, or maybe I’m still learning how to judge that. I have plenty of work to do either way.

I also learned a bit about how I write. Early on I identified a couple of problems during editing of my posts that I still struggle with sometimes. It turns out I write long sentences. I’m not sure if that is good or bad, but as I recall, William Faulkner wrote long sentences, too. Not that I’m a renowned author of his stature, but at least I’m in good company. Other problems I found Grammarly to be a great help with, so much so that I ignore them until the program points them out.

All the posts I shared here are just the start, I learned just how many stories I have to tell (or show). Just in the past two months, I’ve created Torthal and Fractal, two very different worlds for two very different stories. Once my imagination is free, it runs loose and I build world after world full of stories to share.

Not quite, “So long, and thanks for all the fish…”

Finally, I’d like to thank those of you who’ve found me and stuck with me over the past year. I can count (usually on one hand) on a few of you to like whatever I’ve posted. Even when it was just a post to say I was sick or in the hospital, it still made me smile to see regular followers checking in on me. That may or may not have been your intent, but I told myself that was what you were doing.

Here’s to the next year of The Sorcerers’ Realm. Huzzah!

I’m breaking my pattern for a poem…

cheerful elderly man listening to music in headphones

I found this poem from two years ago, while searching for something else today…

Sing.

There is no joy in lost lives, loves, or freedom.

Hate for the alien among us is hardly wisdom.

Fallen towers leave each of us coated in ashes and dust.

I grieve for our dead, and mourn our misplaced trust.

The years drag on, but justice is denied.

Vengeance can never exact enough blood for those who died.

I will sing a new song that crusades might cease.

One of hope, and home, and joy, and peace.

Not some idyllic ode to frightened doves,

But a strong and able defense of our loves.

Sing along with me if your heart is moved.

Sing a song of tomorrow, of promises proved.

Proof is in the writing…

I’ve written a lot in the past year about writing, but unless you’ve downloaded the free short story I have hanging out on the side bar of my website, you have no idea if I know what I’m talking about. This post will, I hope, fix that. I am nothing if not a fixer of problems (in my mind at least). So here is a sample of a scene I’ve written, I hope you enjoy it:

Excerpt from, “Midnight at the Sultan’s Palace”

  “The Sultan’s Palace is a bit of a letdown,” Chaz said. He adjusted his glasses and gestured out the van window to emphasize his disappointment to his crew. “I expected a grand mansion with minarets or something. That’s just a fancy three-story house like dozens of others we’ve seen around the French Quarter. We’ll really have to over-sell it to the audience.”

  The pale pink building towered above his oversized van parked across narrow, one-way Dauphine Street. The four men inside craned their necks for a better view of the house. Its’ elegant wrought-iron balconies and railings surrounded the upper floors like the decks of an old riverboat tied to a pier whose passengers were too well off to notice the men in the van below.

  “Three and a half stories,” Barry, his tech guy said. “I found the plans for the place before we came out to film. The house has an elevated basement under the main floor. You can see the little cross-barred windows from here.”

  Chaz couldn’t care less about how many floors there were inside. This investigation was supposed to recharge his audience for the third season of his Spirit Searchers cable TV show. He needed a ratings boost for the network to renew them for season four.

  The Sultan’s Palace had sounded like the perfect December filming location. It was warmer in New Orleans than most places they investigated this time of year. The location had lots of reported activity, from door slamming to full body apparitions. Best of all, unlike Eastern State or Trans-Allegheny, there was no competition from other shows trying to film on the longest night of the year.

Back to writing about writing…


Chaz and his crew are in for more excitement than they planned. Their investigation happens to be on the night that magic returns to the Earth. The spirits of the house come barreling into the present, scaring the cable TV crew out of their minds in the process. I’ll leave the rest up to your imagination until I add this short story to the downloadable content on the site.

The point in sharing this short bit of the opening scene is to show how many of the elements I’ve talked about come together in writing. This snippet grounds you in time and place, New Orleans after the advent of cable TV paranormal programming. It’s 2012 in this case. Description, dialogue, and internal monologue all flesh out the scene as the crew arrives to start their investigation.

Had I shared more of the scene, I could go on about differentiating characters, showing vs. telling, building suspense, depicting action sequences, and showing character growth. All of that is hard to cram into a short story. But once I could do that, scaling it up into chapters was simple. Once I decided I could master the short story, writing a novel length story was well within my grasp.

A change of pace – Gifts in the Dark

serene young woman in maxi dress swimming in lake

Son of Adam, come follow me

And I’ll show you sights

Of hidden immortal mystery

And holy hoary frights.

Come with me child of light

Into the mists untroubled

Where wait treasures of the night

In darkness strangely doubled

Are you afraid little one?

To accept the spell I’ve cast

Across the bridge we’ll run

To a land of futures past

The trip is brief my child

And there’s so much you can do

Just step into the wild

Where the night belongs to you

Once your mother followed me

But she took only half the gift

That’s really how you came to be

And how she clove a rift

Now to you I offer all

That your parents simply wouldn’t see

I know you’ll take up my call

And walk the road to eternity.

I just finished the rough draft for my newest short story, The Centriole.

building steps architecture interior

As much as I prattle on about getting my butt in the chair to write, I don’t always push my self to finish what I start. So every chapter or short story I finish feels like a bigger win to me than it might to others. Tonight was one of those nights, I’ve had less than four hours of sleep in the past forty-eight hours. Somehow, I got the story done, and scrubbed through Grammarly to boot.

I’ll let the story sit a day at least before I try to polish it, then share it with my critique group, before submitting it for the monthly challenge. I have most of a week till the deadline, which should be just about long enough. That sounds hectic to me, I’m used to a much more leisurely pace when I write.

Like Hannibal said, “I love it when a plan comes together.” No matter how often I write, or how many new worlds and characters I create, the joy of finishing a project is exquisite. It never gets old, even if it’s just a milestone like finishing a scene I struggled with, or polishing up a chapter in a novel. Each bit of forward progress is its own reward.

I’m worn out but smiling. Sleepy, but proud of myself. Sometimes, I need that little rush of endorphins that tells me I’m making progress. I few likes from readers does the same thing, but feedback from my critique group helps fill that void, too. Writing in a vacuum leaves my soul stagnant, I like to hear back about what I write. Whether it’s glowing praise or a harsh reality check. As long as my work improves, I’m happy to hear either one.

One way I sleep better, write, and think more clearly.

man walking along road in forest

I recently read a news article that the US military teaches pilots a step-by-step relaxation process to fall asleep quickly. From personal experience, I can see how it might work. When I was a teenager, my dad had a small home library, one of his books was about self-hypnotism. I tried it but wasn’t very good at clearing my mind or relaxing. But I kept the process in mind and tried it again once in a while. The article described the same process.

Fast forward 25 years, long after school, and my military career was over. I was diagnosed with a chronic illness and depressed about being sick with no chance of recovery. Dozens of therapies and medicines later, I tried binaural beats. With binaural beats a listener hears two different tones so that one tone is in one ear and the other slightly different tone is in the other ear at the same time.

The sounds change; they can be virtually any noise at all, but the difference between the two supposedly activates or calms different parts of the listener’s brain. Binaural beats didn’t work perfectly for me. But remembering my self-hypnosis experience, I gave it more than a few tries.

One audio file I tried just after New Year’s Day a few years ago gave me amazing results. The particular audio file I listened to just wanted me to find a relaxing place in my memory. I tried that, but I have a terrible habit of letting my mind wander. In this case, I meandered back to the day I got lost in the woods. You can read about that in a previous blog post HERE.

The woods still call to me after all these years.

I was able to relax while remembering how I got ready to ‘hike’ that day. Instead of a tranquil setting, I imagined the path I walked, and like stepping into a lucid dream, I was back on that path as if I was there in person. The experience overwhelmed me enough that I didn’t have time to marvel at how real it seemed until it was all over. But I did write a FB post right after it, describing how remarkable the experience had been.

In my mind’s eye, I returned to the path I got lost on. I went past the oak tree and horse, down into the creek bed where the trail disappeared. As if for the first time, I experienced a sliver of panic from being lost in the dark. Just as exquisite, I found an echo of the joy from finding my way back home. The experience left me refreshed, but also more at peace than I had been in years. I’d finally stumbled onto something that worked for me.

Is it meditation, or intense memories?

I don’t meditate, if you can even call what I do meditation. All I do is step through the relaxation process from my dad’s self-hypnotism book. I forgo the binaural beats but still imagine getting ready for my hike. The clothes I wore, the walking stick I carried, and the bag of utterly useless stuff I brought along are all integral to my process. The memories are crisp and detailed, right down to the hand-sharpened point I put on my walking stick.

From my front door, I imagine retracing my path to where I got lost. Next, I pick my way along in the dark beside the creek till I’m out of the woods. Then I make the final walk beside the road that led back home. Each part of the trek brings an emotional response from my memories. By the time I’m back home, I’m also more relaxed and at peace than before I started.

Maybe this can help you too…

I still don’t always fall right to sleep, but it helps. Not only does it help me sleep, but I’ve also tried it as an exercise before I write or outline. It helps clear my mind then, too. The sensory details I include in my writing after one of these sessions are exceptional. Perhaps there is an event in your life that will help you achieve a similar result. With or without the beats…

I’d forgotten how deeply Thoreau and Emerson impacted me…


Deep Thoughts…

In high school, I read Thoreau, Emerson, and a host of other essayists and philosophers. I still have a young reader’s copy of Walden on my bookshelf. It sits next to Critias by Plato and Sun Tzu’s Art of War. They impacted me more than most of the Authors I read. Each was as much a seeker of truth as Socrates but much closer in time and space than any ancient philosopher.

Self –Reliance challenged me to awaken from the conformity of everyday life and live a life of purpose. A high goal for a fifteen-year-old kid. Thoreau went further in some ways. Walden and Civil Disobedience taught me it was not only legitimate to rail against injustice. It was my civic duty to oppose the Man and his Machine.

In the years since I first read their work, I’ve thought about how these two, who were friends in addition to contemporaries, changed my outlook on life. As an adult, the tedium of the sleeper crept back over me, but their writing has been my alarm bell a few times. I may not be fully awake, but I’m not snoring, either.  

Before writing this post, I read Self-Reliance and Civil Disobedience again. The words of both men echo in my mind as thunderous sermons delivered from long ago. Yet, I also have a new appreciation for them that I lacked in my youth. Part of that is having lived a life rather than expecting to live one. But the other, more subtle truth is that I know now from living what they meant. I am faithful to myself and obedient to civil authority, only as far as my conscience allows.