My Birthday Celebration!

Steve-mas Eve

Sunday was my Birthday, and like I have for several years, I celebrated the anniversary of my twenty-first Birthday. This year I did something new (for me) and made it a celebration of the twelve days of Steve-mas. The twelve days were recorded on FB and I’m going to repost them here (minus the replies and most of the photos). I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Day One: Welcome, friends! Today is the first day of Steve-mas, a festive 12 day celebration of the nativity of… me! I’ll be posting throughout the season up until Steve-mas Day (May 15th). And on that hallowed eve I’ll be accepting drinks and shots at the Owls Nest in beautiful downtown Ottumwa.

Day Two: Merry Steve-mas everyone! On day two of the twelve days of me, I thought it might be fun to share memories of how we met. Even if you haven’t seen me in years, I’d still love to hear about something that stood out to you from back then.

Day Three: A lot going on today, so I’ll make my day three of Steve-mas post a twofer. Fire safety is important!

May 3, 2010 at 4:43pm ·

My afternoon:

So, this one time when I was burning grass out back and B suggested I use the gas can to light the fire – which worked great till the can caught on fire… then my shoes and pants caught on fire – meanwhile I’ve tossed the burning can away from me to keep the imminent explosion away… so it rolls into the rubber wheel of the wheel barrow. Once I put my pants and shoe out, B and I decided I should get the hose to keep the rest of the back yard from burning up… oh yeah, the can was spilling gas out just fast enough to spread the fire on the ground. I hosed down the wheelbarrow – got it away from the can, which I then kicked to try and flip upright. The can rolled into the only wooden chair out back – so I dashed to save it. Finally kicked the can upright and put out the fire on it. Then I got the ground to stop burning. The whole time, B is laughing herself silly. Five minutes later – she starts calling the girls to share the joy with them. I’m not burning grass anymore. Yeah, that just happened.

Day Four:

A late post for day four of Steve-mas, I thought I’d share a snippet of something I wrote a few years ago. It’s kind of a guiding principle in my writing, “Hope Springs Eternal.”

I only had the dream once, but it has never left me since. It was so real, so perfect, that the images seared into my waking mind. Even twenty years later, the tall, fluted marble columns are crisp in my memory. I walked between them, a cool mist at my feet, before I came face to face with her. A woman in white, young and beautiful. Her hair was black and lustrous, pulled back but still framing her face. Bright brown eyes regarded me with mirth, but no laughter escaped her luscious, pouty mouth. She smiled though, and it sent a thrill through me that I wouldn’t have understood had I been any younger. We walked through the columns and mist together in silence, as she and the temple faded away, I heard a single word that has burned in my soul ever since. My muse said, “Hope.”

Day Five:

For day five of Steve-mas I thought we could play rarely have I ever. It’s like never have I ever, but I can play too! Here are my answers – copy and paste with your own answers, if you want to.

Lost a job? Yes

Been fired? No

Been in a car accident? Yes

Taken a trip to another country? Over twenty.

Been to an amusement park? Yes

Been to a concert? Yes

Had a really bad dream? Yes, more than I’d like to remember.

Been in a fist fight? Yes

Seen a UFO? Yes

Been to a Renaissance Faire? No

Had a huge argument with your parents? Yes

Broken something on purpose? Yes

Written a love note? Yes

Had a close call with death? Yes

Had your phone stolen? No

Ridden a horse? Yes

Had a crush on a teacher? Maybe in elementary school?

Seen a tornado? Yes, I live in the Midwest

Tried to lose weight? Not hard enough.

Fought a bear? Not a grizzly or anything, but I’ve messed up some care bears before…

Day Six: Day six of Steve-mas is upon us! That means we’re halfway through the celebration of me. Since today is also Mother’s Day, I thought I’d share a few pics of my mother. She taught me unconditional love, and I miss her as desperately today as I did the day she died.

Day Seven: Day seven of Steve-mas is here! I thought today might be a good day to share pictures of us together. We started to do that earlier, but it was mostly memories without pictures. I’ll start with some favorites of mine:

Day Eight: For day eight of Steve-mas, I thought I’d say thank you. I appreciate the people in my life, whether you’re family, a friend, an acquaintance, or an example, each of you bring something unique and important to the round table. Here are some pics that remind me of that:

Day Nine:

Day nine of Steve-mas is upon us! There are only three days left, and for today’s post, I’ve shared some of my thoughts on life. It’s taken me almost five decades to get these ideas. Some are clichés, but I’ve found some truth in them nonetheless.

1) Youth is wasted on the young.

2) Just because there is a goalie, it doesn’t mean you can’t score.

3) Breathe. Life comes at you fast sometimes, and it can be overwhelming. The best way to tackle the problems you come up against is to take a second to calm yourself. Breathe.

4) Do the things that scare you, get out of your comfort zone to do it. Even if you fail, at least you tried. I regret the things I didn’t attempt more than the things that didn’t go well.

5) Travel. You don’t appreciate how small our world is until you visit new places. It also reminds you of how good (or bad) you have it where you were. The food, the scenery, the people, all of it is better with a wider sample of what the world is like.

6) Take care of your body. It’s the only one you’ve got. So use it, enjoy it, abuse it if you must, but take care of it till you cross the finish line.

7) Dream BIG. Your life is what you make of it. Make it something extraordinary, don’t settle for mediocre.

😎 Complain in private, but get over it and change things if they don’t suit you. Move somewhere else, get a different job, meet new people, or do whatever it takes to remove frustrations from your life.

9) Build friendships. I can’t count how many times a friend has helped me through rough spots. You don’t have to befriend thousands of people either. Just make sure the ones you trust believe in you as much as you believe in them. Reciprocity makes the world go round.

10) Love deeply. None of us get out of this world alive. One thing I’m sure of, is that love is the secret sauce that makes this whole thing worthwhile. So leave the world a little better than it was when you got here, and be sure to leave an imprint of love in your wake.

But what do I know? I’m still figuring this stuff out as I go!

Day Ten:

For day ten of Steve-mas I’d like to share some of the events that helped shape me in one way or another. Most of them aren’t personal experiences, but big picture events that I happened to be alive to witness (usually on TV). I’ve left out going to Stonehenge, Rome, Athens, and Jerusalem (among others), because those visits don’t fit the theme of this post. I tried to think of the first big deal I could remember as a child, no surprise to me, I nerded out quickly at age five:

I saw Star Wars in a theater in 1977.

I saw Iranians take Americans hostage, even though I didn’t really know what that meant.

I watched MTV launch, and eventually stop playing music videos.

I saw Ma Bell broken into baby bells, before cellphones put unlimited information in our pockets.

I saw 3 Mile Island and Chernobyl unfold long before Fukishima. None of them made a Godzilla – yet.

I’ve seen Challenger and Columbia explode.

I’ve seen the Exxon Valdez foul the coast of Alaska long before BP fouled the Gulf of Mexico.

I watched the Berlin Wall come down, and Tank Man try to stop bloodshed in Tiananmen Square.

I’ve watched Mandela walk free, and become president of the nation that imprisoned him.

I’ve seen the United States go to war and stay at war for too long, too many times.

I saw riots erupt in Los Angeles because people can’t get along.

I’ve watch cultists kill people with ricin, drink poisoned Kool Aid, suicide to meet a spaceship, and burn alive rather than be arrested. I never want to understand why any of that made sense to them.

I saw a bomb blow up a building in Oklahoma City. That didn’t make any sense either.

I’ve seen Mad Cow disease, Bird Flu, Ebola, and Swine Flu arrive, long before Covid-19.

I’ve seen the Twin Towers fall, and the Pentagon burn.

I’ve watched tsunamis and hurricanes wreck coastlines from Banda Aceh to New Orleans.

I’ve filled my top 8 spaces on Myspace before trudging over to FB, IG, and Twitter.

I’ve seen Columbine, Aurora, and Sandy Hook covered in blood. Trayvon, Daunte, and Breonna are names people don’t like to bring up either.

I’ve lived through four Popes and ten Presidents. Neither group has impressed me much.

I watched savings and loans fail, banks implode over bad mortgage loans, and government bailouts of major automakers. Seems like the government always has all the money it needs unless Congress needs more attention and shuts some of it down.

I’ve seen wildfires destroy homes in the south west and blacken the skies of Australia.

I’ve seen cancer, heart disease, pneumonia, and bad decisions kill people long before their four score and six. Covid has taken more people than I care to think about either.

That’s a pretty long list, but it hardly scratches the surface. Life is more than the sum of days and events, it’s the moments in-between, when nothing much is happening. That’s when we live our best (or worst) life, when we lose a loved one, meet someone special, make babies, make mistakes, and figure out what really matters to each of us. What matters is different for all of us, but we all end up as the dearly departed. As one of my favorite authors wrote, “Life is short, but the years are long.”

Day Eleven: Day eleven of Steve-mas is all about you! Comment something you’ve always wanted to tell me or ask me a question. Leave a memory we’ve shared together or repeat some story you’ve heard about me from someone else. (Rumor on the street says I’m pregnant but I don’t know who the mama is…) You get to choose – so choose wisely!

Day Twelve: It’s finally the twelfth day of Steve-mas. Pat yourselves on the back – we made it! Steve-mas Eve is tonight, so make sure you leave out the vodka and coochie by the hot tub for me. I’ll be celebrating at Owls Nest, and at Midnight, I’ll magically level up to the highest level I’ve ever been in the game of life. Join me if you wanna.

And they did!

If you stayed to the end of this recap – I hope you enjoyed some of it, I absolutely loved it. Have a twelve days of you if you like, and feel free to borrow any part of my ideas you find useful!

Spring is a time for changes

pink flower field

Spring is a time of birth and rebirth. Every year it stirs up some fundamental urge for me to start over or restart old projects. This year is no different, I’ve got new stories in the works for challenges, writing contests, and personal growth. I’m also learning Latin, something I’ve always wanted to to do, but never pursued seriously.

Don’t let the idea fool you into thinking I’m grinding away through declensions and conjugating. The app I’m using is, “Duolingo, the world’s best way to learn Latin.” Basically it’s Latin (or any other language I suppose) for sixth graders. Either way, I’m enjoying it and starting to figure out how to say, “Ubi est Latrina?”

The story I started yesterday is for an Autocrit writing challenge. It is set in the Crossroads world where Aleera’s stories take place. This is earlier in time and closer to the Crossroads than Aleera, so it will be fraught with more intrigue and danger than her introduction. I’m excited to dig into the more cosmopolitan heart of that world.

I’ll keep updating here as I go, all sixty-seven of my followers are sure to be on the edge of their seats, I’m sure. 🙂

April showers…

rainbow in the gray sky above mountains and sea

I’ve been so busy this month, that I didn’t realize how long it had been since I posted here. April included a reading streak for me, allowing me to catch up on my TBR list, and wade through the Dresden Files. I’ve been entering writing contests, critiquing in my writer’s group, and looking for writing opportunities online. I have a new fantasy story that I’m working on set in the Crossroads epic fantasy world. We also went on the first vacation my wife and I have taken since before the pandemic.

As the weather has warmed up, my wife and I have done a lot of spring cleaning, gardening (that’s mostly Brenda), and projects that we’ve put off during the winter. As summer draws near, I’m looking forward to getting even more writing done before the school year ends and our house is overrun by grandchildren again. The struggle is real…

In the meantime, I’m still worldbuilding, still writing and editing, and still trying to hone my craft as I go. I’ll try to check in here more often, but part of my process this year has been to limit my posts to balance my slavish devotion to posting 365 days in a row. Anyway, see ya in the funny papers!

Changes in perspective…

Small plane at Turweston Airfield

When I was about 8 or 9 years old, my dad pulled me out of school one day to go flying with a friend of his. I’d never been in a plane before, but I remember how excited I was to fly (and how annoying I must have been to my classmates). My dad worked as a taxi dispatcher at Raleigh-Durham International Airport (before it was international), and he made friends with pilots and frequent flyers who needed cabs all the time.

We went up around noon, flew around for less than an hour and came back to the airport. The pilot, whose name I don’t remember, even let me take the yolk and feel the plane respond to my nervous movements. It was an amazing experience, but it also changed how I looked at the world around me.

The world felt smaller from the air. Moving fast so high above the ground showed me that people and places are tiny compared to the world around us. This was the first shift in perspective I can remember as a child, where I felt different about my place in the world, and the world’s place around me. Once seen, the shift could not be unseen.

New sights make old ones feel different.

After leaving the airport, my dad asked what I thought about the flight. I wasn’t sure how to express my feelings, but I remember saying I felt smaller after seeing people the size of ants. My dad didn’t wax poetic much, but he offered an insight that has stayed with me. He said, “People are as big as they allow themselves to be. If you think small, you’ll be small, but if you let your imagination run wild, there’s no telling how big you can be.” I’m trying to be bigger all the time.

The other change to my view came when I got home, and the next day I went to school. My mother and grandmother asked about my flight as soon as I walked in the door. I gushed about flying the plane, seeing tiny people and buildings, and how fast we flew. At school the next day, I got to tell the story all over again, and it may have been one of the first times I felt like a storyteller. While every word I said was true (as far as I can remember) I did my best to share how the flight made me feel.

In my writing, I try to do the same thing (even if the stories aren’t exactly true). If readers connect with my characters and feel what they do on the page, then I’m at least on the right track with my stories. Amazing settings, powerful adversaries, and complex plots are window dressing to the central idea that people (whatever form they take) and how they feel are the focus of storytelling.

If the pandemic really is winding down, I’m nervous…

extreme close up photo of frightened eyes
Photo by samer daboul on Pexels.com

A sinking thought occurred to me tonight:

It means we can do things, like conventions and conferences in person again. I’m not exactly a shrinking violet, but I’ve gotten used to interacting at a distance. Generally six feet or more apart.

While the idea of attending writers conferences, meeting other authors, editors, and agents is on my to do list, it isn’t in first place. Zoom calls have been my forte for over two years. I even learned how to applaud on zoom finally!

An end to quarantines and self-isolation may be a good thing for all of us, but like any social situation it will require adjustments. Those may be great things in the long run. Just don’t expect me to come running for the festivities right away.

Writing my truth…

Silence isn’t always golden…

For me, writing fiction wasn’t taught, it’s something I’m learning. It’s an ongoing process of revision, trial and error – in fact, too many errors. While I’m sure there are other paths out there, in my experience, the best thing any teacher ever did for my writing was get out of the way, and let me stumble along to the finish line.

The American educational system, such as it is, doesn’t excel at teaching new writers. They may be good at the mechanical aspects of grammar, they are even good at curating good books to read, but building worlds populated by original characters is beyond the scope of any class I ever sat through, including creative writing classes.

I’m sure there are many fine MFA programs out there that could have made a difference in my development. That was not my path, and I can’t speak to that. What I can say as one of the, botched and bungled” writers without that background is that I have learned to write without it. The torture I endured on my path was all self-inflicted, and it left marks I still carry in my prose.

 Writing what’s on my mind, even when it’s unpopular.

Lately, I’ve been struggling with writing what’s on my mind. Not my imagination, but my personal opinion. The characters I breathe life into are a reflection of me, but they seldom share my opinions to any great degree. Even the most noble or heroic thoughts in my stories are lofty ideals that I’d hope to embrace if the situation arose.

But that isn’t what I’m getting at. An outlook on life is one thing, choices in the heat of the moment are another, but cherished opinions unchallenged by time and circumstance are where most humans live. How I feel about race, sex, and creed are vital parts of who I am. I don’t write about any of them.

Or at least, I don’t go out of my way to share that. I should though, even if my opinions aren’t especially controversial. Not that every story needs every bit of who I am in it, but someone who reads one of my stories should have a good idea of where I stand. Up until now, I’ve used the iceberg method to imply my opinions. Avoiding expressing my opinions to avoid offense is itself offensive. I have to stand for what I believe in, and it should show on the page.

A lesson from Huckleberry Finn

When I read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in high school, I’d recently moved from North Carolina to Iowa. Scenes and subjects in the story felt markedly different to me than the other kids in my class. That didn’t stop me from pointing out those differences, and I hope everyone around me benefitted in some way from hearing a different perspective.

Writing now, in light of memories like Huck Finn, has taken on a more urgent meaning. The subjects I want to tackle in my work are more complex, and those nuances weren’t something I felt confident I had the skill to articulate. But I can’t wait forever to write uncomfortable truths. Sometimes, writing them out helps me untangle my emotions and express my opinions more accurately. No matter what those opinions may be.

Words can make a difference!

On smaller US Navy ships, commissioned officers eat their meals in a wardroom, senior enlisted officers eat in the Chief’s mess, while everyone else eats in a common messdeck. The last ship I served on, the USS Connolly, was no different. But one day, a few sailors decided to carve out a section of seating in the messdecks that only paygrade E-6 could sit at. They called it the First Class mess, and wouldn’t let anyone else sit there.

This didn’t go over well with me. So, I wrote a satirical story about the grumpy old men who wanted to sit alone. One of my friends thought the story was better than I did, and passed out a few copies, one of which went under the Captain’s door. He also didn’t think much of the arrangements and summarily canceled the First Class mess citing my story while he made the announcement to the crew.

I should have kept that grumpy lesson in mind.

Since I got serious about writing I’ve concentrated on world building, memorable characters, and craft (too often leaving craft for last). Along the way, while developing my unique voice, I decided on more than one occasion to avoid topics that were controversial. Limiting any need to address ideas that might alienate my fledgling audience. That sounds foolish even as I write it out. That voice on the page isn’t authentic if I avoid controversy for fear of offending people.

Not writing what I believe drained some of the life from my writing. Learning to include my opinion, even if it’s unpopular, only aids my clarity and composition. I’m the only voice like mine in the wilderness, stifling it hurts me and my tribe as they search for a voice that resonates with them. It’s easy to forget others will read my work and be inspired (or revolted) by what they read. Both are legitimate responses and writing to limit the one is a detriment to the other.

I’m doing my best to write my truth, but it might be messy, just like life.

The Gods no longer walk among us…

nativity painting of people inside a dome

So much like the world we know…

Eliantha is a world similar to Earth. In our world at the end of the last ice-age, humans banded together in larger and larger groups to form urban centers supported by agriculture. None of that happened over night, and geographically it was spread out over hundreds (in some cases, thousands) of years. Eliantha also saw people band together, but it was far different for them.

Rather than an ice-age, Eliantha experienced the arrival of Gods from the Heavenly Realms. These immortal beings brought knowledge, civilization, and magic with them. They found mortals living in the world already, but found them sadly lacking the traits they wanted. So they meddled. New peoples arose and were cast off, as the Gods sought out better subjects. While most of these people perished, some managed to survive without the succor of the Gods.

All that glitters…

After the arrival of the Gods, came the demons and devils who had pursued them. Clawing their way into Eliantha from the Nether Realms, the most foul beings assailed the mortal world. They were cast back into the hells they came from by the Immortals who had adopted Eliantha as their home. But there was great suffering from the war the two forces waged. Some of that suffering went unheeded, but the remnants of mortal tribes rebuilt their shattered world.

For their part, the Gods ruled Eliantha, and many wonders flourished. Demi-gods rallied mortals to their causes. Many different tribes spread out across the world and prospered. Grand cities and wonders sprang up in testament to the influence of Immortal grace and power. But not every heart thrilled at the glory of the Gods. Often capricious or uncaring of mortal woes, the Gods allowed suffering and injustice as often as they relieved it.

Power comes in many forms…

The great equalizer was magic. Mortals learned to wield magic, and taught their children. Generations passed on what they had learned and grew stronger than the ones who came before them. While no mere mortal was a match for the power of a God, a hundred mortals could stand against them, and they did. Mages all over the world found ways to bind their deities from interfering in mortal affairs.

Many ages came and went, but eventually, the Gods power waned, and they were banished from Eliantha altogether. Their influence is far from what it once was, but they can still make their presence felt. Gone are the days of maidens taken by a lustful immortal, cities no longer cower from threats of doom from their impiety, but gone too are many of the gifts once bestowed upon thankful worshippers.

Magic glitters, too…

Now the Gods are all but silent. Humans have pushed back or outlived most of the magical creatures from ages past. Those few who remain are incorporated into the very fabric of daily life. Magic in general, has lost its luster. But still, magic, and the Gods themselves are not so distant as many wish to believe. Nor are the immortal enemies of the Gods, demons and devils still plot and scheme in the Nether Realms.

These ancient foes have launched a new campaign against a world that hardly believes Immortals exist. The danger has never been greater, but those who would stand against evil have few of the tools that once held the Nether Realms at bay. Eliantha will need new champions, new weapons, and long forgotten knowledge to defend their world. Will the demons prove too powerful, or will the Gods overcome their banishment to intercede? Can the poor misbegotten mortals find any other option?

Evil in mortal form may be the deadliest kind of magic.

Writing is more than fun and games…

close up photography of yellow green red and brown plastic cones on white lined surface

Enjoy the journey.

Writing should be fun, if I’m going to spend hours at a time doing something as intense as writing can be, it should be enjoyable. But fun isn’t all writing should be either. There are as many reasons to write and ways of experiencing the act as there are people who write. That’s part of the brilliance of writing from my perspective. As the Vulcans say, “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.”

If my message is going to reach an audience, my writing has to be more than fun for me. It has to be readable, fun for others, and my meaning has to translate from the words on the page to my readers’ minds. That takes more than fun and games, it takes time and practice. For me, it also took a critique group.

Writing isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.

Learning to write well takes more than talent, inclination, and good grammar. All of those things are helpful, necessary even. But none of them take the place of practice with feedback from other writers who are on a similar writing journey. Uncle Bob and your next door neighbor might both have great experience with reading and writing, but if they aren’t writing fiction for publication their helpful suggestions are as likely to be wrong as helpful.

For me, finding a critique group of fellow fiction writers has meant the difference between hobby writing, and writing to publish. It wasn’t fun and games either. Learning to my chagrin, that I wasn’t as good as I thought I was hurt. Accepting feedback about how I wrote, and what I was writing was soul crushing.

None of that feedback was meant to hurt, although my ego screamed and gnashed its teeth to the contrary. It was meant to make me a better writer. Which is why I encourage everyone who is serious about writing to find a critique group.

I thought my first submissions to the group I’ve been with for the past few years were gleaming pearls of literary excellence. Those stories and chapters were not excellent, but I had no prior experience working with other authors. I had to learn to let go of a lifetime of writing crutches, uninformed ideas, and bad habits. All of which was no small effort, I assure you.

They don’t teach this stuff in school.

Outside of a Fine Arts program, or maybe some modern online workshops, there is little discussion of how to write fiction, especially novel-length fiction. Most new writers, myself included, have to work through mastering aspects of craft that make our work stand out from the crowd of aspiring writers.

Good grammar doesn’t teach you to show instead of tell (or when telling fits the narrative better). Sustaining an individual Point of View instead of hopping from one head to another doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Grounding dialogue in the physical space where my scene takes place is not common discourse outside of writing circles. I had plenty of talent for writing (pardon my remaining ego), but nothing beats the experience of having your words torn apart and put back together by a more experienced writer. It’s humbling to say the least.

Writing stagnates in a vacuum.

A critique group (online or in person) is essential to improving my work. Not only does working with a group of other writers hone my craft, it shows me things I would never see otherwise. Each perspective in the group is different from mine, and each brings observations about my work that I could not make otherwise. Likewise, reading their work opens my eyes in ways I could not imagine either.

The members of my critique group write stories I would not. They prefer genres I don’t write. And although the stories are decidedly outside of my interests, the techniques they use are the same. I am able to see beyond the genre into the mechanics of the story, and in the process, recognize when they do something I have done (good or bad) before. As much benefit as I get from their critique of my work, I benefit even more from critiquing their work.

If you are serious about taking your writing beyond the hobbyist level, I cannot recommend strongly enough, get into a critique group. Preferably one organized to promote improved storytelling, led by experienced authors. The wrong critique group can do lasting damage to new writers, so be sure the emphasis is on improving all aspects of your work, not just grammar or one writer’s minor pet peeves.

Whatever you do, keep on writing!

A change of pace – “Earth”

stormy sea waving near rocky cliff

A mountain is rising from a turbulent sea.

Bold and striking, yet enigmatic and puzzling.

The mountain is immense, and has many towering peaks.

It has many valleys, some dark and some bright.

There are grim granite visages shrouded in mist,

And sparkling crystalline profiles dancing in splendor.

The chaotic sea pounds at the mountain side.

Each day the ocean erodes a little more rock.

Wind, rain, and wave pummel its stone contours.

To the mountain, the pounding is nothing.

For the mountain has a molten, expanding core.

Each day the mountain grows larger and taller.

New rock strengthens the mountain side,

And its immensity surges tenfold.

Eruptions and earthquakes may topple its summits.

To the mountain, such a loss means nothing.

As new and higher pinnacles thrust up beyond the old.

The ramparts may crumble, the valleys may be filled in,

But the mountain by its very nature continues to grow.

The mountain is rising from a turbulent sea.

The mountain is you, it is us, it is me.

Introducing my newest setting: The Crossroads of Eliantha

brown tomb

Eliantha is a world much like ours, but in our history myths of the Gods interfering were only stories handed down to explain things our ancestors didn’t understand. In Eliantha, the Gods were very real, and very dangerous. They introduced the people of Eliantha to a wide range of knowledge, from survival skills and agriculture, to writing and the arts. They also introduced them to magic and making war.

This world has seen incredible beauty, and tragic brutality. Great cities and vibrant cultures have developed and been toppled by incomprehensible forces. Gods have raised up mortals and immortals alike. While more malevolent forces have broken and twisted countless lives to feed their fiendish desires. But all that was in the past.

The Golden Age is long forgotten…

Magic is in retreat. The Gods no longer walk among the inhabitants of Eliantha. All over the world, creatures of magic have diminished, died out, or disappeared. Humans have adapted to this changing world, and prospered. Now, something has unsettled the Gods once again, despite their tenuous connection to the world.

While many humans scurry about learning the natural world, there are still those who delve into the mystic arts. Magical lore is far from extinct, and ever-curious humans scour the globe for remnants of magical power. Their searching has led some of them down forbidden paths, some relics and arcane knowledge was meant to remain undisturbed. Now there will be a reckoning even the Gods tried to avoid.

Eliantha is no longer home to Immortals

This is the backdrop for the stories of the Heralds. Chosen to represent the remaining Immortals who still care for their worshippers, as they make one last effort to save Eliantha. For all its faults and tribulations, it remains a world so like ours, but so utterly different. The Heralds must reach the Crossroads, where the Gods went into exile after their last war. But there are many obstacles between them and their goal.

Not everyone wants the world to go on. A diabolical conspiracy is afoot to sacrifice millions of souls to see a new Eliantha born from the ashes of the old. The unsuspecting Heralds have no idea these conspirators await them. The chosen ones scramble towards the crossroads like lambs to the slaughter. The Gods may never get the chance to intervene.

An update on “Chantrelle”

An angel gone too soon…

In December I entered a short story I called “Chantrelle” into the Vocal+ Fiction Awards competition. Today I learned that out of over 13,000 entries, my story was chosen as a finalist! Even if I’m not selected to win my category, I already feel like I’ve won. Impostor syndrome can eat away at a writer’s confidence, and too often the only cure is outside encouragement.

Friends and family can tell me how wonderful my words are on the page. But until you hear that from other writers and editors, that vacuum is fertile soil for doubt to grow. Chantrelle reaching the finalist round in this competition has been confirmation that my efforts at improving my craft have paid off. I took the time to thank my critique group for showing me areas I could improve, so that I don’t continue to repeat the same novice mistakes.

If you’ve read “Chantrelle” or Jerry Farmer’s story “Bridgewater Bingo” on Vocal, I sincerely thank you. If you’d like to check either one out I’ve included the links above. My plan is to share more short stories on Vocal, and to shop others to magazines. My dad always said, “People love a winner.” So expect me to share my wins here as often as I can.

The slump I was in over the holidays is over…

green leafed tree

Words are flowing from my fingertips again!

I struggled to finish “Chantrelle” before the deadline for the Vocal+ fiction awards. Honestly, I’d been struggling to write much of anything since Thanksgiving. The mental block I had going on has passed, or I’ve pulled out of it. Either way, I’m polishing up a new story, set in a new world I built to write an Epic Fantasy novel.

As a part of the contest drive I’m pushing myself to undertake, I’ve written and planned out a number of interlocking short stories set in this new Earth-like world. This first short story is an introduction to a corner of that world far away from the events of the longer narrative.

I’ve also outlined a novel set in this world, and both stories will converge through a few more short stories in the pages of that outlined novel. For now, I’ll only say the story I’m finishing up is a fun quick read, but it shows this corner of the world before opening in scope to show the ripple effects of the main story.

New worlds are taking shape…

I’m excited to dive into a totally different world with a different magic system. It has a history of Gods and Goddesses who once walked this world with mortals, and a retreat of those immortals and the magic they breathed into their world. Don’t be too sad, magic still exists, but in the face of losing so much, there are some efforts to conserve what is left.

Instead of the main story, I’d like to share a bit of Aleera’s part in the short story. She and her older cousin are part of a clan of semi-nomadic peoples living in what outsiders call the Great Witch Wood. Appropriately named for the covens of witches who defend what they call the forest. It is home to the last three Sylvan Ladies, and they are the true power behind the witches and the druid clans who live there.

All of the clans, covens, and the Ladies worship the Earth Mother, Vanna. She is an ancient Goddess who once had a much wider following throughout the world. Even in these latter days where the Immortals have withdrawn from the world, Vanna still makes her will known to the people of the forest. Aleera and her cousin learn that firsthand…

Stay tuned for more updates!

Why reading is (still) fundamental.

couple reading a book together

Reading is a topic I should spend more time with on this blog, but too often, I put more emphasis on writing. As important as honing my craft may be, reading plays a huge role in my creative process. Reading not only informs me, it guides my inner editor, and provides the framework for every writing project I undertake. I’ll try to keep this brief but here are three points to consider.

Reading shows me what other writers do.

That doesn’t mean I’ll copy what I see (although it can creep into my thought process). It does mean that I’m informed about my genre, and how other writers approach topics that I will write about. Sometimes other authors show me a great way to share an idea, describe a scene, or portray a character. I’ll take all the help I can get.

Reading is like working out for my brain. I exercise neurons by consuming information. Whether that is a copy of Critias & Timaeus, poems by Bronte, or the rambling narrative of On Writing, my writing will improve by feeding my brain a variety of subjects. Too often, I’ve see (or have been guilty of) staying in the comfort zone of my preferred genre. I wouldn’t understand with nearly as much depth or context without other writer’s works to give me context.

Reading shows me what not to do.

Equally important, other authors can show me things that don’t work. This is as true when I read outside of my genre (often even more so) than when I read the kinds of stories I write. Because craft transcends the type of story an author tells (or shows), it can be easier to see flaws (and successes) when I read a romance story, a detective thriller, or passages from a memoir.

A stumble in bringing a novel to conclusion, missed opportunities in a narrative, or an unsatisfying character arc are easier for me to see in someone else’s writing. In general, I’m too close to my work to be objective about it. I suppose that’s why the Gods invented critique groups. A fresh set of eyes has saved me from myself more times than I can count.

Reading fills my creative well with possibility.

The most obvious thing reading does is expand my horizons. I can see beyond what I can imagine through the works of other authors. There may not be any new thing under the sun, but I have yet to see every old thing either. Reading is the only way to appreciate the vast conglomeration of history, literature, and works of art that came before me. My paltry addition to that mountain of the written word will likely be less than a footnote, but I can’t hope to achieve that without knowing something about my predecessors.

The other facet of that is the pure joy of finding voices that resonate with me. Thoreau, Poe, Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Hugo, Strunk & White, and a thousand other voices that struck a chord with me live on in the words I string together. Without reading beyond my genre, no new chords can join the symphony in my mind. Just the thought of stilling those unheard voices fills me with sadness.

So read.

I may not write about it enough, but reading is just as crucial to writing as practicing foreshadowing, grounding your dialogue in the setting, or raising the stakes for your characters. Conflict is meaningless without context. One of the best ways I know to build those added layers is by being informed enough to weave them into my stories, whether by allusion or directly referencing works integral to modern literary culture.

Creativity is great, until it gets in the way of writing.

abstract colorful background of night star

One of the first pieces of writing advice I ever got was, “Write what you know.” Which is great advice, especially when you’re first learning how to write. Experience is a great teacher, and an authentic voice is impossible to craft without real knowledge of your subject matter. At the same time, I was a high school student. What I knew would hardly have made for entertaining stories.

Twenty years later, when I started to write science fiction and fantasy, I realized writing what you know is a double edged sword. I still try to write what I know, the relationships between people. How people act and react in different situations is equally important. But I use my imagination as much as I do my lived experience.

I write what I don’t know too.

I’ve never seen a dragon in real life, or watched an alien delegation sue for peace against a human adversary. But I have written about both. What I know has informed those scenes, but my creativity has to fill in the blanks. Sometimes I’m more successful than others. I couldn’t write speculative fiction without both imagination and experience.

The problem for me, is leaning too heavily into my creative impulse. I can (and have) spent hours (or days) developing a world for my story to occupy. Characters come to life based on the world I created. And the plot I outline is at least in part dictated by the world and characters who populate it. All of this is driven by creativity, but as I’ve said many times, creativity without substance is futile.

The circle is now complete…

The best stories, characters, and settings regardless of how original or creative they may be also feel real to the readers. The best way I know to do that is by crafting believable scenes with relatable characters. I use what I know to wrap the fantastic elements of my stories in terms my audience can identify immediately.

No matter how original or creative I feel my work may be, I also know there is no new thing under the sun. Twists and turns aside, stories follow patterns, and those patterns are timeless. I may invent a new character, scenario, or setting that is unique. But ultimately, some college student in a creative writing class could classify it with no help from me at all.

2021 in review:

times square new york

I hope those of you who celebrate Christmas, Hanukah and the like enjoyed yourselves. Here we are over two years into a pandemic. Who could’ve expected that? I could go on about how vaccines and boosters changed this year from last year, but I’ll try and stick to my writing instead. In 2021 I wrote a lot, even if my NaNoWriMo didn’t go the way I’d planned.

2021 started with a few short stories, and I’ve finished it with a few more. Speaking of short stories, if you haven’t read Chantrelle over on Vocal – please check it out! Chantrelle is in the running for the Vocal+ Fiction Awards, so a few reads (along with likes and subscribes if you’re so inclined) will go a long way in helping me out there.

Besides short stories, I also finished editing Fantastic America and did a lot of pitching and querying for it. Querying is a tough gig, but I hope I learned enough from the process to move my manuscripts to agents who will appreciate the stories I have to tell. Hope springs eternal, after all.

I also finished a personal challenge this year to write 365 consecutive posts here on my page. Even with a few bouts of illness, I was able to pull it off. The result has been infrequent posting ever since, but one of the challenges I’ll take on for 2022 is to post every week. Maybe twice a week if I have more to say.

Long story short (I seem to be writing more short stories than anything lately), I’m still writing. There are more writing contests coming up and I’m busy creating worlds, characters and plots for readers to enjoy in those. I’m definitely not where I’d hoped to be, but I’m not discouraged by that either. I have to keep learning and trying new things.

New Years is upon us, I wish you all a happy and prosperous 2022!

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.