I have so many stories to tell…

Or show depending on who you ask. At any rate, I have a lot of stories inside that need to get out on the page. This topic comes up as you get closer to querying agents. “What else are you working on?” is one of the questions I’ve been preparing for. I have a very long answer. Besides the books in this series I have plotted out and partially written, I have a whole file of story ideas.

Most are fantasy and a few are science-fiction. There may be a few that deny genre in their rough state, but I have learned enough to fix that since writing out the idea. Ideas are not a problem for me, world building and character generation are kind of my jam. Keeping my butt in the chair to write out the adventures for those characters is a problem. I’m not nearly as bad as I used to be. I like to write.

Agents want to know, so I’m told, if you intend to make a career out of writing, that you have the material to make it work. Man do I have material! From my experience with other writers, I feel like I’m not the only one with too many stories and too little time to share them all. What a sad situation to be in.

When choosing the stories I write, I ask myself which ones I’m most passionate about. What scenes bubble up to the surface of my imagination unbidden? Is there enough story meat there to develop a whole novel or is this just a short story for a single character? If I can string a few more pearls together, it may be the next story I tackle.

Even if I don’t find a fully fleshed out idea for a new story, I don’t discard it entirely. I have a folder with half-formed plots, characters without a home, and scenes that might find a world to bring to life someday. My imagination isn’t linear, it comes in cycles that layer over each other to make an organic whole. That’s a lot like life in general.

The light at the end of the tunnel…

For so long I’ve worked to finish Fantastic America, about three years now. Finally, after drafts and revisions I have a story that is close to what I saw in my mind when I started the process. Now that I have that story I can see a destination coming into view. Not the end of the line, but an important stop.

The light I see ahead is still distant, but at least I can see it. I’ve gone from writing the story to explaining it to agents. One of those agents will help me take the story to the next destination. Having a travel companion will change the whole dynamic of how I write. I am really excited about that.

Finding the right agent, someone who shares the vision I have for this book (and the series) is my laser focused goal. I’d also like them to help me get paid well, get enough marketing support from the publisher to sell well, and maybe get a little nudge to finish the next book. Just being called up to the show will be enough for now.

So I’m still rewriting my query, studying agents and agencies, and researching everything I can think of to make an agent fall in love with my book. The right agent is out there, probably several of them. All I have to do is find one. Hope springs eternal.

Like knows like… Deep calls unto deep.

fashion photography of woman hands on chin with glitter makeup

In the world of Fantastic America, magic users recognize the connection to magic in others. There are categories of magic use, but the characters in the story have to figure that out as they go. Miracle workers are fueled entirely by faith, they are calling on their faith to manifest physically. Arcanists use magic to enhance the world around them. While wizards tap into powers of creation and destruction alike.

Miracle workers intuitively invoke their faith to protect or heal themselves and love ones. That is a potent but simple form of magic use. They do not inherently detect magic use in others, but can sense magic use while performing miraculous acts.

Arcanists draw on the ambient magic around them to cast simple spells, concoct potions, build magical artifacts, and set magical wards. While this use of magic is more direct than miracle work, it is less powerful than full wizardry. Still, Arcanists can, with some effort, detect miracle workers and wizards.

Wizards tap into the power of one of six facets of creation. Each kind or school of magic is distinct from the others. The spells, rituals, and inherent abilities of each kind reflect the facet of reality they are empowered by. Wizards can detect wizardry, arcanistry and miracle work on sight. With practice, they can even discern the kind of magic at use.

In practical (or arcane) terms, this means miracle workers can detect magic users sometimes, arcanists can detect magic users with effort, and wizards can read magic use like the label on a can of soup. They may not know what MSG is, but they can learn not to like it when they see it. Arcanists may have just enough warning to get out of the way when something magical is nearby. Miracle workers require a state of faith in action to recognize magic at all.

Backstory doesn’t have to be part of your narrative…

I’m a plotter rather than a pantser, I’ve tried both, and planning ahead works best for me. I still find plenty of new material as I write, so I’m not against discovery writing at all. Writing with a plot in mind leaves less room for my story to go off on a tangent. With a firm backstory in place, even one readers don’t see, I avoid plot holes and stay focused on where I want the characters to end up.

There is still a lot of room for characters to wiggle out of the scenes I have in mind. They’re slippery lil buggers, I’ll give them that. With my outline as a guide and the backstory in mind, I have all the tools I need to corral their unruly tendencies.

Readers never have to know how close I came to going off the rails either. They don’t have to immediately know why X instead of Z happened. Even if the question nags at them as to why the story went left instead of right, they’ll understand eventually. That is the important thing, the backstory is for the author.

The reader may crave the backstory. If I’ve written the scenes well. Rest asured, I will dole it out to them over time. But giving them the whole picture at once not only overwhelms the reader. It slows the story and creates big chunks of information that doesn’t serve the story at the moment. In Fantastic America, magic waxes and wanes over long period of time. There is a great reason why, but readers don’t need to know it… Yet.

The best method I’ve found for giving the reader backstory is to let the characters uncover it, so the reader learns it at the same time. This enables the story to progress, the character and reader to learn, and highlights the emotions of the characters in a way the audience inherently identifies with. Win, win, win.

Why I write and what I try to accomplish…

A Manifesto of Hope

 Hope. I’ve said before that Hope is my muse. She also leads me to victory. Life and the good things in our lives are worth defending. Evil for me is destroying the good, stealing joy, suppressing freewill, or murder which ends lives prematurely. Larger than life champions aren’t the only means to hold evil at bay. Some evil is so overwhelming or insidious that only by working together can ordinary people shine a bright enough light to stop it.

Hope springs eternal. Even if all is lost, hope can guide us back to the light.

  Do not despair, hope will help you hold on. Better yet, fight back against the danger. Our power is not measured in strength alone, but in our willingness to confront our fears. There is plenty to be afraid of, the news showers us constantly with stories and videos that reinforce our dread. Be a reason for others to take heart. Help those who cannot help themselves, be a source of strength by showing you are unwilling to yield to fear.

 The world seems to move faster than it ever has, situations change every day. I don’t think the world is faster, only our perception with information at our fingertips. The 24 hour news cycle, social media, and in some small part, a media induced paranoia give us a false sense that many of us can’t keep up with, let alone impact these crises. I reject that idea. I hope we can still make a difference, I’ll hold on until I can’t make a difference at all. Then I hope my legacy, whatever it may be will inspire others to hope the same.

  My stories reflect this. The characters I try to bring to life face their fears, do their best to hide from them, or run screaming, but ultimately whatever they have to face will find them. I try to show human frailty and inner strength, two sides of the same condition, the human condition. I hope you will read the stories I write and feel uplifted by the same emotions I instill in those characters.

My debut novel is an introduction to the weird…

Fantastic America is a gentle guide that brings a modern Earth much
like the one we are familiar with into focus. The weird creeps in page after
page. It’s still Earth, but the world you recognize is changing. By the end of
the book, you can see cracks are forming in solid ideas we’ve taken for
granted.

The books that follow expand the weird at an exponential rate, until the
midpoint of the series. From that point on, it will be a matter of holding on
to what we’ve known, or letting go completely. That’s a personal choice for
each character to make, whether they embrace magic, despise it, or just want to
be left alone.

That last option won’t be an option anymore. In a world polarized and
distorted by raw magic, there is no middle ground. Magic, or more specifically,
magical creatures and forces won’t leave any bystanders. The characters adapt
and survive, or they don’t and they die. That doesn’t mean they have to give up
who they are, just that they can’t hide and hope it will all go away. Magic is
here to stay.

Buckle up buttercup, it’s gonna be a wild ride!

Finding an agent is like pulling teeth…

a man in red shirt covering his face

I’m at the point in my journey that I need a literary agent to represent me to publishers. The self publishing route is great if you want more control. No bashing indies here. I wasn’t all that great at it, so I’ve been set on a traditional publishing path for Fantastic America. So I’ve spent a lot of time lately writing and rewriting my query letter.

If you don’t know what a query letter is, think of it as a cover letter for your resume. In this case your resume is a finished, polished manuscript. The query letter is your attempt to get an agent to read the manuscript. Writing a novel is hard, condensing the idea of your novel is harder.

I spent a couple of years building the world in which this story takes place. The settings, characters, events, and undercurrents of this world live in my mind. Paring all of that down into a brief, one page letter that captures the story is daunting. The query is important, but it is only part of the equation.

The hard part for me is choosing the right agent to send my query to. They have to represent the genre I write. Easy enough to look up online (MSWL, Query Tracker, Publishers Marketplace, etc.), but there is more to it than that. What kind of agency are they with, how many other clients do they have, are they an editorial agent, and have they ever represented authors with a book remotely like mine?

This is all to build a list of potential agents, someone who might advocate on behalf of me and the book I’ve written. For the agent and I to be a good fit, they have to believe in the story as much as I do (or close to it). If we mesh well, they will also be my advocate for books to come. Since I’m writing this book as the first in a series, that’s important to me too.

So here I am, with a slowly growing list of about thirty agents (my goal is fifty). I have a query letter that I rewrite at least once a week. And I pour over agent and agency profiles night after night, looking for people who might be (based on the information I have) a good fit for me and the stories I want to tell. I’ll keep you posted on how it turns out!

Ghosts occupy a special place in my stories…

Ghosts are guides…

In the world of Fantastic America some souls linger after death. These are the pale green remnant of people not ready to move on. Ghosts remain close to the site of their death or a location important to them in life. The longer they are disembodied, the more tenuous their sense of self becomes. Only very strong personalities can linger beyond the lifetime of their loved ones.

Two very different ghosts appear in Fantastic America. You’ve met Pearl Barrymore in an earlier post. She passes on a relic from the last magical age to Ashley Monahan. The second ghost is the spirit of a Civil War soldier. He tragically encounters Jerry Farmer near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

After the return of magic, most ghosts perform a specific function among the living. They can act as guides to those who seek them out. Whether those seekers are direct descendants, spiritualists, or arcanists experiencing their spiritual awakening, ghosts can help them find their way. Many spiritual traditions around the world have recognized this process throughout human history.

Their other function is to protect the living from wraiths. These are the ladies in white, banshees, or lantern holders of legend. Their two weapons against wraiths are wailing cries and piercing light. The shadow people have no defense against these attacks. Only distance or shielding in enclosed containers can preserve their corruptive essence.

An incidental function of ghosts is to relay information. Ghosts don’t experience the flow of time in the same way as the living. This means they can sometimes predict future events. Their predictions are usually cryptic and their accuracy leaves much to be desired.

Ghosts can pass on anything they have known in life or witnessed since death. Strong spirits retain a residual self-image. The strongest spirits are free roaming, able to move small objects, and communicate with the living. Since the return of magic, weaker spirits and residual hauntings have disappeared. Those left behind bemoan the loss as a spiritual purge of uncertain origin.

Imposter syndrome is insidious…

sad asian female touched with hands of people

Am I a good enough writer? Is my manuscript trash? Will my work ever be good enough? Questions like these can hobble the most creative mind. The fears attached to solitary writing can hold us hostage worse than any proof to the contrary.

Impostor syndrome isn’t limited to writing of course, and people can attach the same kinds of anxiety to any success. That’s the underlying problem after all, feeling uneasy with accomplishment. Yes, I finished my book, but it was too easy. There must be something wrong with it, or the process I used.

The worst part of these feelings of doubt, is how they stop us from pushing to prove them wrong. Our isolation as writers leaves us open to an endless loop of self doubt and criticism. Often, without any outside feedback, impostor syndrome leads to procrastination. Procrastination can lead to abandoning our dreams entirely.

This is another reason to reach out to other authors, to find critique groups, and support each other. External feedback from others who share our passion for writing is a lifeline for those fighting feelings of inadequacy. Too many people find a way to talk themselves out of finishing their book, or giving up during the revision process.

There is nothing wrong with questioning how well you do something. Impostor syndrome goes beyond that, and questions if your effort is worthwhile. Writing, even if it has mistakes, or could be better, is worthwhile. Your story can’t be told by anyone else, and the world needs that perspective.

There are a million reasons not to do something, but self-doubt is a weed you can do without. Keep writing. Find your tribe. I swear they are out there, listening for your voice in the wilderness. Take another step, then another, until you find them, or they find you. Do it for yourself, and all of us who don’t even realize we’re listening for you.

Eventually, you have to stop tinkering…

abstract art circle clockwork

If you intend to publish your work (traditionally or self-publish). Sooner or later you have to say enough is enough. There will always be one more thing you could change, one last pass to clean up some issue (real or imagined). “We live in an imperfect world… words fall out”, to paraphrase an old high school vice principal.

You can only edit, revise, or strive for perfection for so long. A day must come when you set aside the work that has consumed your every waking moment, or moments of clarity, or odd moments that you found to write. That doesn’t mean you’ll never edit it again. Only that you’ll wait for an editor’s mark up, or the swift passage of time to take another swing at it.

In the mean time, you have a whole other set of tasks ahead of you. For traditional publishing, that means querying. Finding an agent who can champion your work through the traditional publishing route. For self publishing, you have a dozen hats to try on as you thread your way to a finished copy of your book (E-book, POD, and audio-books too). Both paths take work above and beyond writing the book you just finished.

I’ve taken both paths, they both require commitment and learning new skills. You have to decide which one fits your situation better. There is no one size fits all answer, and that ignores the hybrid publishing path entirely. You can get help with what you need (professional editing, marketing, distribution, etc.), but retain more control like many self published authors crave.

For all these scenarios, you still have to have a completed and polished manuscript. Preferably it’s also had other eyes on it (not just aunt sally who taught 8th grade English before she retired). Beta readers who offered honest opinions, and maybe fellow writer critiques with constructive feedback would help. The more heavy lifting you do to begin with, should mean less once you’re ready to publish.

This is my 100th blog post this year!

assorted color sequins

While that isn’t a major milestone for many, I’m looking for wins where ever I can find them. I feel like its important enough to point out, and just a big enough deal to merit a post. A year ago, I wouldn’t have thought I’d make a post like this.

I hardly posted regularly, for the first year or two I had a site, let alone every day. I’ve said before, I’m not sure how long I can keep up this pace, but so far, so good. It’s hard to decide what works and what doesn’t. My main indicators are Visits, page views, and likes. It isn’t much to go on, but I try.

On the plus side, I have a completed, edited manuscript, a working query letter, and a growing list of agents open to the kind of story Fantastic America represents. This blog has helped me continue daily writing, even on days I would rather not get out of bed. That is a big plus in my mind. Even if some of those posts were a bit more rambling than I’d like.

I write better now than I did a year ago, and hopefully that trend continues indefinitely. My confidence has never been higher, and my satisfaction with my work is higher, too. I feel like I’m right on the verge of breakthroughs in storytelling and finding the right agent for my career.

Thank you for reading along. My journey is far from over. 2021 may be my best year yet. Besides my debut novel and Midwestern Magicians, I have several short story projects underway that I hope will add to the world of the novels. Stay tuned for more!

Dialog can make or break a story…

cheerful ethnic couple laughing while spending time in countryside

Conversations between characters can elevate a good story into a great one. While poorly written dialog can easily ruin a great story. Good dialog has to fit the story, sound authentic to the characters, and leave the reader room to fill in the blanks. These are difficult ideas to grasp, sometimes even for experienced writers.

Dialog doesn’t have to be grammatically correct. Most people don’t communicate in complete sentences, especially not with close friends and family. Even in situations where proper grammar might be appropriate, people often speak in their personal shorthand.

Accents can be used to great effect, if they are internally consistent. Editors may hate you for using an accent, but if it fits the story, go for it. My only caution is that you should be intimately familiar with the accent your characters use. I’m very comfortable with Southern and Midwestern accents (A lot of people might think Midwesterners have NO accent). But I’d shy away from New England pronunciations.

Poor dialog can stem from the author trying to cram too much into what their characters are saying. Some examples (especially in Sci-Fi/Fantasy) include, “As you know Bob…”. If Bob already knew, you’re only saying it aloud for the reader, who might resent being spoon fed. Find other ways to share information.

Sometimes you may be tempted to include oversimplified logical deductions. Or you might be tempted to info-dump. Speech can allow you to share information, but that might be better spread through other means. Or leave it out all together and imply it through better methods.

The best dialog comes naturally, sounds like readers expect characters to speak, and leaves unspoken the volumes an author might be tempted to cram into a few short exchanges. Some of this comes down to how well you know your characters, but even with supporting characters, less is more. Don’t shy away from letting them speak, just be aware of how they sound (reading dialog aloud helps!).

One last suggestion about dialog. In addition to using the simplest dialog tags possible, don’t ignore the opportunity to fix your characters in space and show them in motion. Most of us don’t stand motionless as we speak. We sit up, lay down, walk around, and DO things while we speak. Your characters can do all of this, building on the descriptions of setting and action already part of your scenes. Like nutmeg, this is often an under-utilized spice among newer writers.

This is one of those topics that can make up a whole on-line class by itself. There are certainly enough e-books and how-to manuals on amazon and elsewhere. As long as the voices of your characters are authentic, you’ve started on the right path. You can embellish or cut out content later. Fix how characters should sound in your mind, and the rest will follow.

The thing I miss most during the pandemic…

people dancing inside building

Are gatherings. I’m a social butterfly. One of my great joys in life is meeting new people and getting know a few of them along the way. Covid-19 has really thrown a wrench in that for the past year or so.

I was reminded of that last night. Met new people, got to know a few. Realized how much I missed that. Stayed up wayyy too late celebrating nothing in particular. Missed that, too. Today is a new day, but I won’t shake the feeling I’ve missed out for far too long.

I said all that to say I won’t make a detailed post until tonight. I have a lot to do, “and miles to go before I sleep!” Or I may crash and take a long nap later – life is full of possibilities. 🙂

I have to talk about my excitement for a minute…

man in red crew neck sweatshirt photography

I’m still learning how to write well. That may not sound like cause for celebration, but I’m more than a little happy about the realization. I’ve struggled with show don’t tell and repetition since I started to write seriously a few years ago. I didn’t even know what showing was back then. Mastering this skill has proven difficult but not impossible.

I belong to a few online writers groups and they have made all the difference in honing my craft. So part of this post is how much genuine joy writing brings me and the other part is how writers groups specifically help me achieve that joy. I re-read the end of my debut novel, Fantastic America this week. Mirth and joy bubbled up in my heart all over again. I did that.

Not long after that I got critiques back from earlier chapters in the same manuscript. One of my mentors in that group went out of her wat to say my craft has improved. I’m far from perfect yet. The important thing for me was recognition from a colleague far ahead of me in the publishing journey, that I was on the right track. I’m improving.

So if you’re struggling with a character’s motivations, working your way out of a plot hole, a just finding a new way to show vs. tell, don’t give up. The struggle is part of the journey, the prize (for me) is on the other side. No one is more qualified than you to free your voice and tell (or show) your story.

Once you’ve beaten that cumbersome distraction from sharing your voice. When someone else reads your work and you know they absolutely get what you meant to convey. Clarity for your voice, and the invented voice of your characters and story makes the struggle (and triumph) worthwhile. You can do it!

Magic is dangerous, and that’s kind of the point…

red and orange solar flare

In the world of Fantastic America, creatures spawned by magic are dangerous too. The only effective way to fight them is with the magic that lead to their creation. Learning to use that magic is also dangerous, and there are no teachers or manuals left from the last magical age. Trial and error increase the dangers, but are the only choice new magic users have to learn the limits of what they can do now.

Expect mistakes, unintended consequences, and casualties from magical experiments. People aren’t likely to know why something has happened, but there is no ignoring magic gone wrong. Buildings, cities, roads, bridges, tunnels, mountains, forests, lakes, rivers, animals, people, and the sea itself respond to magic, experimental or otherwise.

Spells gone awry can affect them all in good or bad ways. Sometimes the effects are reversible, usually not, at least not by the inexperienced. This is one more reason for people to fear and distrust magic in general. Not that most people need an excuse.

Even if books, scrolls, or a teacher existed, finding them, translating them and learning from them would be a Herculean task. Most new magic users are still coming to terms with the changes their powers bring. Enrolling in a magic school is the last thing on their mind. As if staying alive and under the notice of people quickly becoming anti-magic wasn’t enough.

Magic users may be the only hope humanity has against the dangers unleashed on the solstice. But human fear of the unknown may prevent them from saving the world as we know it. Miracles, monsters, and magic only herald the changes coming to an Earth not ready for the calamities that follow magic unleashed.

My favorite memory…

Yes, Dear…

My favorite memory is my wedding day to Brenda. I wasn’t a fan of how the day started or how hot it was for our outdoor ceremony. What I have always felt good about was our reception. One thing my wife and I know how to do is have a good time. Our wedding reception was a great way to show that off as newlyweds.

The ceremony took place on the hottest day so far that year. Pictures afterwards were just as hot and lasted longer than the ceremony. Once the party got underway, all the troubles we’d encountered (the wrong flowers, a burnt cake, and the logistics of an outdoor wedding versus an indoor reception) melted away.

For my tastes, we threw a pretty lavish affair, but that isn’t what made it special. Everyone ate, we had all the toasts, the cake, along with music, a light show, and a dancefloor. Brenda and I shared our first dance, our friends and the wedding party danced for hours in fact. But that wasn’t the best part either.

Sitting in the back of the venue later that night, surrounded by groomsmen, I had a moment of utter contentment. I gestured to the tables full of our friends, Brenda with her bridesmaids, and the people still dancing beyond them. I shared a toast, “This is where it’s at fellas. Friends, family, everyone is happy, everyone is celebrating. If you can find this, hold on to it!”

That was twelve years ago this June. I’ve had many memories before then and since, but that singular moment of contentment will stick with me the rest of my life. Tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us, so make every day count for something. Preferably something good for as many people as possible, but if not, make it something personally important. Something that will stick with you forever.

Create memorable characters…

woman in gray hoodie beside woman in gray hoodie

A story is usually a vehicle for characters to move from a starting point to a life changing end point. The level of detail you bring to the characters, has a major impact on how readers connect to them. Traveling through the most awe inspiring world building without connecting to the characters is no more than a fancy travelogue.

I like to start with the point of view (POV) character. Who will readers experience the world and the story through? This main character is usually my protagonist, so I want the audience to be sympathetic to this character. In Fantastic America, there are three POV characters. Ashley Monahan, the protagonist, Daniel Forrester, the antagonist, and Jerry Farmer, the villain. Each serves a different function, but needs an intimate level of detail.

The process I go through for each of them is the same. I have a rather long form with physical details (height/hair/body type), social details, connections to other characters, likes/dislikes, and room for a biography. I can add to this over time, but it gives me a good general start. A big part of a novel is their personal journey, so some of the details about a character should change over the course of the story.

For main characters especially, I like to find a picture of someone who fits my idea of their look. If I’ve used a real person as inspiration for them, I’ll use a picture of them. When I’ve invented the character from scratch, I use AI face generators that no one else will ever see.

The final layer I add before writing this character into motion is to give them quirks or idiosyncrasies that set them apart. This can be a simple as their body language or as profound as a health issue. Pretty is rarely interesting. So even my characters who are physically attractive have some inherent flaw or problem readers experience from the inside. Some mental falsehood they believe, emotional trauma they relive, or a loss that isn’t visible at all.

Less detail is needed for non-POV characters, but I never write them off entirely. Early in my journey to write the magic unleashed series, I started writing short stories in the same world. I found a need for secondary or supporting characters to go off on adventures without those main characters.

They became main characters of their short stories. I had their bones already, adding flesh using this method was painless, and let me get to the writing that much faster. So for me, any named character gets at least a one line entry in my world building character list.

Out of all the writing advice out there…

opened notebook with silver pen near magnolia

And there is plenty of advice out there. You can find help for just about any situation, any element of style, grammar, voice, or theme. I suppose there are thousands of sites on the interwebs full of contradictory writing business models. Self-publishing versus traditional publishing, even how to blog (I’m probably doing it wrong). All of that advice is pretty meaningless without this.

Write. Sit or stand or use speech to text. If all you do is research, collect advice on how to write, or what to write, or who to write for, none of that will matter. Seems obvious I guess, but I talk to people all the time about writing. Their favorite quote when I tell them I wrote a book? “Oh, I’ve always wanted to write a book!”

I believe every one of them. I think everyone has a story to tell (or show). The problem is, something else always gets in the way. I got in the way of finishing every book I started, until I didn’t. Until I decided I wanted to finish. Then the obstacles melted away, one by one.

So write. Even if you think its trash (maybe it is, maybe it isn’t). You can always edit trash into something less odious. The first draft is for the author to tell themselves the story anyway. Once its on the page, you can finesse the words, delete some words (gasp), or string together new words to make your story sing. None of that happens until you decide to make writing your goal. Five minutes at a time or five days at a time. No one else can slay your dragon, build your empires, or capture your unique voice. Write.

Arcanists are the literal bridge between different kinds of magic…

There are six powerful kinds of magic in the magic unleashed series. Each one taps into godlike powers. They grant abilities that transform ordinary humans into walking (or flying) weapons of mass destruction. Practitioners of these Schools or Spheres of magic can work together, but their spellwork is all but impossible to blend.

Arcanists work with the less powerful ambient magic that ebbs and flows during the bleak times of no magic. Magic users have gone by many names throughout human history, witches, warlocks, magi, and a host of other less-savory titles. These people are bound to the very magic of creation. More women than men are born with arcane affinity.

Through the bleak times, arcanists formed tight knit groups to pass down their heritage from the last magical age. Not all of these traditions survived, or passed down their knowledge intact. Their imperfect understanding of magic has led to many terrible deeds.

Creation is the only means to connect to arcane magic. During the bleak times, destruction is the only means to grasp the smallest sliver of magical power. Human sacrifice tainted some of these traditions. During times of no magic, this is the only reliable means of invoking magic. Which may account for some ritualized murders dating back thousands of years, often couched in religious or blasphemous ideology.

During the bleak times of no magic, many would be arcanists feel the stirring of their power. Without magic, they are unable to realize their full potential. Like all magic users, unfulfilled urges connected to magical power can lead to debilitating mental conditions.

When magic flows into the world, arcanists experience the stirring as a powerful spiritual awakening. By embracing the stirring in their soul, an arcanist can learn to manipulate the practical magic around us all. They are not magical powerhouses like wizards, but they are still potent magic users.

This common or practical magic is less potent than the magic of the Spheres. It is still a potent tool, and the only way to bring other kinds of magic together. They can bind together other kinds of magic in artifacts of great power. Arcane master craftsmen created the most powerful relics of the last magical age.

With the return of magic, many arcanists feel the stirring. Some will still follow the old ways of the bleak times. Others, unconnected to the traditions of those groups will chart a new path. Conflict is inevitable.