Megalithic ruins around the world are changing…


In the world of Fantastic America, the return of magic repowers ancient spells and artifacts. The remains from cultures that perished at the end of the last magical age revive spells cast over six thousand years ago. Locations all over the world are all changing from what we’ve known of them in the past.

Archaeologists scramble to investigate entire cities that were unknown before the return of magic. Museums discover that previously ordinary artifacts in their collections are far more than they appeared. Private collectors, and unsuspecting owners of family heirlooms also find surprises as relics of the last magical age reactivate.

Many of these sites and artifacts will only respond to someone with an affinity to magic. Others are all to accessible to would be investigators or relic hunting thieves. Their are more than a few parties intent of finding and taking control of these relics and their places of origin. A race of sorts is shaping up among these factions to reach them first.

Ashley Monahan has a direct link to one of these sites, but has no idea that others are tracking down relics as well. The revelations to come will change everything she thought she knew about the last magical age. More of that story will unfold in Midwestern Magicians, book two of the Magic Unleashed series.

One year ago…

I had a partial manuscript, with a terrible name, and no purpose. It was part of a series. The series was unfinished, directionless, and from what I could see then, years away from completion. I wasn’t even sure I could finish a novel, let alone write a readable, salable book.

Today, I’ve finished Fantastic America, which has found a name in the process. I’ve written six stand alone short stories set in that world. Not only that, but I’ve fully outlined and partially written books two, three, and four. Most satisfying of all, the series has a point now. I have themes to explore, ideas to explain, and and endgame that still blows my mind.

What changed? I wish I could say I had an epiphany and did it all by myself. The truth is, I found a coaching program. One that showed me step by step how to sort through the nonsense I’d been telling myself. My coach and her program led me to complete the rough draft of Fantastic America in just over thirty days!

Don’t worry, I’m going to share the program details with you here. I believe in this method and my coach more than any other program I’ve tried. (I’ve tried a lot of programs.) I’m willing to introduce anyone serious about finishing their novel (or non-fiction book) to her. See if you two might be a good fit for each other. Full disclosure, if you sign up for her program, I get a finders fee. There’s not extra cost to you, and helps me out. Best of all, you get your book finished!

Take Action today at NO COST

Ashley Mansour is the genuine article, a best selling author and the writing coach who helped me finish my debut novel. You can download her free E-book at: https://www.writingcoachla.com/webinar

If you like what you see, I’m more than happy to make an introduction. But even if it isn’t for you, keep writing. The world needs your story, whatever it may be. Readers are waiting for a voice in the wilderness to call out to them. They can’t do that if you don’t bring your unique voice to the world.

The Suicide Forest holds more than ghosts…

forest photography

The Japanese, “Sea of Trees” at the foot of Mt. Fuji, Aokigahara, has been home to a haunted reputation for generations. The forest has been a singular destination for suicidal individuals since at least the 1960’s. In the world of my debut novel, Fantastic America, visitors of another kind joined those people. Japanese authorities have had to hunt down a number of ghostly alien animals.

Vicious wolf-like apparitions, serpents with shocking abilities, and other less-easily described creatures have frightened away tourists. Self Defense Force patrols routinely seek out these invasive species. The patrols use American made taser projectiles to eliminate the threat these animals pose.

The projectiles are part of the folklore based research and development arm of the United States Paranormal Response Agency. The initial countermeasure program launched after the Solstice events of December 2012 necessitated the projectiles design. Professor Nicholas Gimble, the lead science advisor from the National Science Foundation, oversaw their development and tactical deployment.

In Japan, the frequency of these apparitions and their localized nature in the Aokigahara forest has made containment easier. No one is sure why the incursions are focused there. Japanese authorities have not identified any source for the animals arrivals. Lifelong residents of the area have taken extra precautions to ward off the invaders. But so far, there are no reports of attacks on civilians.

I watched the first episode of Loki… Again.

food snack popcorn movie theater

As the scenes that make up the Marvel Studios logo played out, I realized something. I recognized both the scenes from the MCU and the comics they were based on. Marvel Studios is so successful, in part, because they have such a deep well of ideas and storylines to draw from. The comics have been pumping out stories for over 50 years, thousands of fully developed characters and settings from Earth 616 and the Nine Realms to the Negative Zone, to Xandar, to times and places too numerous to list.

My realization was, I’m on track to do something like that too. I’ve built a version of Earth for Fantastic America and linked it to many other worlds to explore in the Magic Unleashed series. My work on “Lari and the Pox” has opened a few more new worlds. And I have a backlog of Renegade Galaxy worlds and notebooks full of settings for stories I haven’t put any real effort into fleshing out in years.

I’ve already built a multiverse for stories I haven’t even outlined yet. My imagination has far exceeded my narratives, but that isn’t exactly a problem. I just have to keep my butt in the chair long enough for the stories to catch up to the ideas. What a terrible problem to have!

I love world building…

I’m working on a short story, “Lari and the Pox” set in a new world. The story is simple enough, it only took half an hour or so to outline. I didn’t outline it until I had most of the world designed. The people are unique and their history has taken shape. I’ve worked out a geography, seasons (five), and unique words to describe the differences between Lari’s world and ours.

All of this I’ve done for a story of less than 5,000 words. I intend to write more stories here, so its not wasted effort. The threads came together so easily, and I lost myself in the act of weaving those threads together to make an entire world come alive. There is now a reason for everything in this short story to happen.

When I was a teenager, I liked to create characters for role playing games. Of course that didn’t satisfy me, so I also had to create worlds for those characters to inhabit. That led me to creating a whole game system and storyline. That storyline eventually evolved into the Renegade Galaxy series of short stories. Someday I’ll have to revisit that universe.

Working on this story and the world I wanted it to inhabit, brought back a flood of memories about how much I enjoy world building. I’ve become a student of the process, diving into geology, sociology, and more to make realistic worlds. I built several worlds for the Magic Unleashed series, but haven’t had the chance to bring them all to life yet.

This short story has reminded me of a joy I’d almost forgotten about. Finding the genuine joy in writing makes the whole process easier. I am happy to have rediscovered this aspect of writing so that I can keep that joy alive, and share it with my audience.

When I’ve worked on one project for too long…

white and black weekly planner on gray surface

Passion for a project can keep me going for a long time. At some point, I have to force myself to move on (even if only temporarily) to a different story. Staying with the same characters, the same plot, or the same settings can curtail my creativity. To keep things fresh, and keep my mind from contracting to one set of circumstances, I have to change up what I’m working on.

My debut novel, Fantastic America, has been my focus for most of the past three years. But even with it, I’ve changed my focus with short stories, and my foray into Midwestern Magicians for NanoWrimo. Now I’m taking a break again (briefly) to write a completely new story with an actual deadline and everything. I’m not a fan of working under pressure (I put enough of that on myself).

This doesn’t mean I will stop querying Fantastic America or thinking about how I might improve my pitch for it. But for a few weeks, I’ll be building a new world, and writing a new story. I started with a writing prompt (something else I don’t usually do) and had the bare bones of the story worked out in less than twenty minutes.

What started out as a lark of a thought experiment grew into a full fledged story that I was pulled into. When I grin at how well a few ideas come together, I have to follow the rabbit hole. I may not see how deep it goes this time, but I can visit again later and dig as deep as I want.

Like En Vogue said, “Free your mind, and the rest will follow.”

Inspiration comes at unexpected moments…

silhouette of man with light bulb at sundown

Aha moments almost have to come from places your attention doesn’t usually focus on. My brain at least, follows predictable tracks. If I want something to steer me in a new direction, it has to come from ‘out of the blue’. I’m a happy writer when something unexpected jolts me into new ideas, or a new way at looking at an old idea.

For example, I have a critique partner who is writing an amazing fantasy story. I held off sending my latest critique to her for a couple of days. There was something in the chapters I’d read that didn’t sit right with me, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. During a live call in another writers group yesterday, a guest developmental editor was talking about prologues, first chapters, and how authors can get too hung up on labels. Suddenly, the idea I couldn’t articulate snapped into focus for me.

I can’t count how many times something like that happens. I could be in a totally different state of mind, listening to, reading about, writing, or discussing an unrelated idea. But in a moment of blessing from my muse, BAM, a fully formed idea erupts from my subconscious. I have to hurry to write that gem of an idea down lest Lethe wash over me and I lose it.

That brings me to a great point I try to point out in this blog often. Explore varied interests, do different things, challenge yourself, expand your horizons, get out of your comfort zone. The results are worth the temporary discomfort. You just might find a few gems that change your writing or your life!

Summer has always been my favorite season…

woman in blue dress standing on green grass field

Spring is all about renewal and rebirth, which is wonderful. It’s especially welcome after the brutal winter months. Fall is beautiful with all it’s vibrant colors, bountiful harvests, and fun holidays. But Summer, long days and warm nights are the way I want to live my life, all year long. I live in a bad place to feel this way, but at least I can appreciate the season while it lasts.

For me, the warm (even hot) summer days take me back to my youth. I was barefoot from May till September, although I can’t imagine going barefoot for more than a trip to the backyard now. The lush plant growth, which my wife has a love/hate relationship with, reminds me of hours spent outside, before the street lights came on.

Summer should, in my mind at least, be a time for relaxation and enjoying time with friends and family. Last year, the pandemic put a hold on most of that enjoyment, but that seems to be lifting, for our family at least. The excited squeals from children in our pool are a testament to that.

I find myself drawn from the comfortable air conditioning outside more than I have in a long while. Evenings in the shade surrounded by people I love has made me appreciate anew what the last year made more precious than ever. So get out (or in) to spend time with the people who are important to you. Tomorrow is currency we don’t all get a chance to spend.

Magic means many things…

Even outside of fantasy stories, magic has many flavors. Magic was how our remote ancestors explained things they didn’t understand. As we learned more about how the world around us worked, magic fell in and out of favor.

In Europe, magic had a public relations problem until the mid 20th century. Africa has a long and varied history with magic and mysticism. Islam also distrusted magic, although belief in Djinn and forces beyond human control were widely accepted. Asia has as many different beliefs in magic as there are different people across the continent.

Australia, and the many islands of the Pacific also viewed magic as a real part of life. The Americas incorporated magical beliefs into everyday life, with different stories and traditions. The modern world views magic as an fossil from our collective history. As people learn more about science, technology, and engineering, magic fades away until there is nothing left.

My book, Fantastic America, explores how the 21st century might react to the sudden reappearance of magic. Would people embrace a power they don’t understand, would they study it to learn more, or might they reject it outright? Religion and magic have often been at odds, especially Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. How would a more secular society react to manifestations of powers and events with no obvious explanation? The Magic Unleashed series will try to answer these questions, and more.

What I’m feeding my inner author…

medicament and fresh fruits and veggies placed on table near unrecognizable person

Food has been on my mind a lot, lately. My relationship with food has never been a priority. Don’t get me wrong, I love to eat. I’ve tasted phenomenal dishes from all over the world. I just never saw food as much more than fuel for the tank. Sometimes it was better than others, but it all ended up in the same place.

My body got tired of that approach, and let me know that in the most unsettling ways as I’ve aged. So, I’ve revaluated how and what I eat. I’m taking portion size into consideration, reading the labels on the food I buy, and watching the carbs in the food I choose like my life depends on it. Which it turns out, is true.

That got me to thinking about other things I consume. As an author, I considered the inspirations I take in. Are they all from the same source? Do I have a bias for one thing over another, or am I reading too much into my comfort zone. There is a lot to examine.

It turns out, I have a pretty eclectic mental diet. I read in and out of my genre (the out parts come from critique groups). My visual stimuli come from movies, TV (not a whole lot of either lately), and the vast (and varied) pins I peruse on Pinterest. The music I listen to is varied too, but most of that comes from sharing space with my loving wife (we often disagree about what to listen to).

In all, I’m feeding my creative side a diverse diet that expands with time. I’m no renaissance man, but I feel comfortable that I’m not stuck in a rut either. Time will tell, but if a stray Beastie Boys lyric makes its way onto my page, at least I’ll know why. Staying mindful…

One morning an ancient Egyptian woke up…

And said, “You know what we need over there? A big old pile of rocks. But not just any old pile, this one should be a pyramid. Bigger than any of those little bent pyramids like my grandpa had built.” Today, we still marvel at the Giza complex. None of that would’ve happened (Aliens notwithstanding) if not for a singular idea and the drive to see it to completion.

The same is true for us, maybe not pyramid building (but hey, if that’s your thing, go for it). I have a vision. Each day, I summon the will to make it a reality. For authors like me, that means sculpting that vision into words on the page. The vision may manifest in waves, first draft, revisions, and a final product. Eventually, the pyramid will reveal itself for all to see.

There are plenty of obstacles between the vision and the pyramid. Life comes up with lots of reasons not to add stones to the pile. The pile itself may need adjusting. The wind may be wrong for my writing mood on any given day. I have to push past all of that, make another deposit on the page, or revise what I’ve piled on before, until the monument can endure without me for millennia.

I don’t actually expect to build a pyramid on the page in my lifetime. My work may not even outlast my lifetime at all. But I intend to add to the pile, adjust as I see fit, until the best monument I can manage emerges. Even if nothing lasting comes from it, the effort will have been worthwhile to me.

Life piles up on all of us…

person using macbook pro on table

Family commitments, housework, actual work, and every other little issue that can come up to keep me from writing does. Like an Author’s Corollary to Murphy’s Law, “Whatever can interfere with writing, will.” Sometimes, being creative and putting my butt in the chair to write feels like the worst use of my time, although I don’t believe that at all.

That was certainly the case with Pitmad today. I planned ahead for it, even made changes on the fly to keep up with it. Traveling at the time the pitch fest started proved to be only a small hiccup. The real show stopper was when I ran out of energy. I missed the last five hours on twitter, because I just couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore.

Still, the day went well, all the appointments were kept. I got some time in to write, and yes, this counts, too! Two out of three pitches went out to Pitmad, along with lots of retweets. I can’t say enough about how the writing community on twitter comes together to lift each other up for pitchfests. Today was no exception.

So yes, life piles up on us all, but it doesn’t have to keep us from what we love. It doesn’t have to interfere with writing, but if it does, breathe. For most of us, there is always tomorrow, thankfully.

There is only one way to learn to write a novel…

macbook pro on brown wooden table

MFA programs can teach you all about writing, the three act structure, character development, setting and so on. What they can’t teach you is how YOU put all the pieces of your novel together. They can’t find your voice for you or discover the themes that are most important to you. That only comes from writing and rewriting your narrative.

That usually means an author’s first book doesn’t work well. For example, it has taken a lot of effort to shape my debut novel, Fantastic America into a sellable book. I’m still tweaking chapters and examining what I can change with critique partners. But none of that is a bad thing. Several authors I’ve talked to threw their fist novel in a drawer hoping for a better second book.

More important to me, from my experience writing a novel. I’ve learned how I write. Last year I learned I can churn out a 100K word novel in two months. I wrote the first 50K words of Midwestern Magicians during Nanowrimo in November. The best lesson of all is that I know I CAN finish a novel length book, easily worth the struggle. No MFA program required.

Not that those programs aren’t a great help, it just isn’t the path I followed. A good program would likely have made my life easier. You have to put your behind in the past, or whatever they said in the Lion King. I’m not the least bit unhappy with where I am now or where my work is headed. The sooner I can share my books with readers, the better.

Speaking of that, Pitmad is today! I’ll be pitching Fantastic America and watching Twitter for likes from agents. Wish me luck or a broken bone, whatever your superstition demands for good fortune. I’ll need it.

Pitmad is tomorrow…

red blue and yellow textile

It hardly seems like the last one was a few months ago. If you aren’t familiar, it’s a pitchfest on twitter for authors to find agents who love their books. I’ll be pitching. If you follow me on Twitter, RT my pitches but save the likes for agents. I got super excited last time for the likes that weren’t agents at all, just interested followers. SIGH – it’s love, but not the hearts I’ll be looking for!

The dead don’t play by the rules…

In Fantastic America, ghosts are an aberration. They exist, but they shouldn’t. Likewise, creatures of necromancy routinely ignore covenants that should keep them from entering the world of the living entirely. That puts a strain on reality no one entirely understands.

There is a lot of poorly understood or plainly unknown activity going on in my debut novel. A portion of the plot is an attempt by all the POV characters in the book to understand what is happening and why. Its obvious monsters, magic, and miracles are popping up around the world, but why? And why now? The answers will come from diligent research, along with a hefty dose of trial and error.

Zombies are a danger that left unchecked would threaten the entire planet. Wraiths, as dangerous as they can be are a limited threat. Ghosts although definitely dead, don’t follow the pattern of the others. In fact, they were here throughout the bleak times of no magic. What sense does any of that make?

The greatest threat from the characters limited understanding, would be someone who could control the dead. Someone who could direct zombies, control wraiths, and expand the list of monsters already dead but still extremely active. That’s the very definition of necromancy.

In Remembrance…

red flowers in bloom
Photo by David Bartus on Pexels.com

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Lt. Col. John McCrae, Physician and Gunner, Canadian Expeditionary Force.
France, May 3rd, 1915

What is magic?

young female astrologist predicting future with shining ball

In real life, Western culture lumps a lot of things together as ‘magic’. Enchantments, spoken incantations, various kinds of spells, curses, hexes, witchcraft, divination of the future, necromancy, consulting ancestral spirits, and astrology all fall under some definitions of magic. Those are useful ideas for the real world, but what is magic in fiction, especially fantasy?

In my debut novel Fantastic America, and the rest of the Magic Unleashed series, magic is a force of nature. It ebbs and flows in the physical universe, but that makes it even more difficult to work out a science based definition. Ultimately, magic is a force that responds to thought and will to cause changes to the world that would otherwise be impossible. That’s a good working definition for the stories I write in the worlds of Fantastic America. Other stories may follow different rules.

Of course, in my stories there is a lot more to magic than that simple definition. There are many ‘flavors’ of magic, different schools or kinds of magical traditions. Within the novels and short stories of the Magic Unleashed series, I explore each of those traditions. Some, like necromancy are unpleasant for anyone outside that tradition.

Faith based miracles, that can save people with little or no magic at all, are a function of belief. The largely instinctive magic of arcanists, fueled by ambient magical energies all around them, operate on a intuitive or subconscious level. The wildly powerful spells and rituals of wizards can warp the very fabric of reality. That is the purest expression of magic in the modern world.

Sometimes I have too much to write about…

wood writing typography letter

For me, sorting the ideas I want to share is often more difficult than not having an idea to write about at all. There is always some idea or another floating around in my head. Deciding which ideas fit together takes up more of my time than writing.

Some of the best ideas I have come as I’m drifting off to sleep. A lot of creatives I’ve talked to have the same experience. The bridge to our subconscious connects at just the right time, and BAM there is a flood of ideas to keep me awake! I have to write them down as fast as I can or they fade away.

The problem, if you can call it that, is that I have so many ideas that kind of fit together, grouping together like ideas isn’t enough. I also have to build some kind of framework that helps these ideas form a bigger concept or at least a coherent narrative. That effort keeps me up late too.

I’m certainly not complaining about having a wild imagination. Plenty of writers struggle to come up with an idea they feel is original enough to write about. My problem is narrowing the field to just the ideas that can carry a story. Working those concepts into characters, setting, dialogue, and description feels easier by comparison.

What a difference a day makes!

male doctor in uniform putting on sterile gloves

Humans take some things for granted. We rely on what we’ve experienced to guide us. When something we rely on fails to match our experiences the change is jarring, to say the least. I spent the past month dealing with a series of jarring episodes.

Most recently, I had a kidney stone removed and a stent put in. I won’t bore you with the messy details, but I haven’t felt ‘good’ in over a week. Yesterday I had the stent removed. Today I feel so much better, it’s hard to believe I felt ‘bad’ at all!

So I’m up early (I slept a lot the past week). I’m working through the list of things I’ve put off doing the past week. I don’t expect this burst of activity to last, but I’ll take advantage of the energy while I can. My posts the past few days are a reflection of how drained I felt.

All that adds up to this, your state of health, mood, energy, and attitude all affect what and how you write. Just as it’s hard to write happy thoughts when you’re sad, writing anything is difficult when you’re not well. I can’t always control illness, but I can control what I eat, exercise, and how much rest I get (ok this last one is always big challenge for me). So that when I sit down to write the words flow naturally.

Magic doesn’t always align with Morals…

woman in black and brown long sleeve shirt with white face mask

Magic is a force of nature. Supernatural perhaps, but still not beholden to concepts like good and evil or right and wrong. Like any tool, magic in the wrong hands can be deadly. Anyone can use magic for ill or good, with one exception. Necromancy is a corruption of life, death, and magic itself. As such, other magic users universally hunt down and destroy necromancers.

Among arcanists who weather the bleak times of no magic, most avoid the temptation to employ dark rituals. Those who do are human in name only. Power in the bleak times comes from the only consistent source of magic, human sacrifice. Foul atrocities like murder and torture gave a handful of arcanists ill-gotten power over the past six thousand years.

Modern magic users in the world of Fantastic America have little or no idea how magic works. Yet even modern arcanists who drew power from murder lost all understanding from the last magical age. Only a few desperate and deranged would-be magicians sought out the lone source of magical knowledge still accessible.

As necromancy is a great corruptor, the secretive Mistress of Shadows is the greatest corruptor of all. She alone has dared to break the ancient covenants that bar other immortals from interfering in mortal affairs. The few who have won her favor have perpetrated the worst kinds of torture, bloody rituals, and depravity. Their mistress’s rewards made them powerful, defied aging, and staved off death itself, for a time.

Magic users of the modern world have no idea of the forces unleashed by the return of magic. Monsters not seen in thousands of years roam the Earth. Unsettling eruptions of magic change familiar locations into places of power. Meanwhile, intelligences older than our oldest ancestors wait for their moment to break the last bonds that restrain them.