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.

One Last Thought On World Building

world map illustration

Story is more important than Setting.

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

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

Effort without purpose is wasted time.

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

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

I have a terrible writing problem.

person writing on a notebook beside macbook

A problem that isn’t really that bad…

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

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

Others suffer in silence, too.

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

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

Brighter days are coming.

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

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

earth wallpaper
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

One approach to building immersive worlds:

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

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

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

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

Getting Serious

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

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

I have to start somewhere.

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

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

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

Alternatively, change up the sequence.

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

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

Have you noticed anyone missing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November is NaNoWriMo.

person writing on the notebook

What a year, huh?

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

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

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

One Chapter at a Time.

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

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

Don’t Get Lost in Research.

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

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

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

Stay On Target

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

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

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

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

A change of pace – Sing

human hands and us flag

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

Hate for the alien among us is hardly wisdom.

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

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

The years drag on, but justice is denied.

Vengeance can never exact enough blood for those who died.

I will sing a new song that crusades might cease.

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

Not some idyllic ode to frightened doves,

But a lasting tribute to our loves.

Sing along with me if your heart is moved.

Sing a song of tomorrow, of promises proved.

My first writing update since stepping back from daily posts.

I returned to Torthal.

Back to fundamentals for me…

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

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

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

If at first you don’t succeed…

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

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

Stay tuned for more updates!

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

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

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

I dislike change.

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

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

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

When will it end?

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

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

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

Choices shape our chances.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was going to wait till tonight to post.

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

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

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

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

A week of heartbreak around the world…

fire burning among branches of trees in forest

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

Afghanistan captivated my attention, but first, a disclaimer:

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

History shows a longer story, a deeper struggle.

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

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

Those we left behind will haunt us forever.

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

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

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

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

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