Why do I blog?

I have several reasons for blogging. Partly to share my writing journey. To share bits and pieces of the stories I’m writing. Maybe even to share a bit of who I am as a person. Mostly though I started this blog to build a group of people who share some of the ideas I do. I weave those ideas into my stories, so the hope (pun intended if you’ve read prior posts) is that you’ll like them too.

Jerry Farmer’s short story is the only preview of the Fantastic America world I’ve made available for download yet. He’s terrible, but my beta readers and critique partners love to hate him. Truth be told, I’m not terribly happy with the cover I put on that story either. At the time I wanted to get something out for people to read. Since it was free, I just ran with what I had. Maybe I’ll revisit that as time goes on.

(I’ll also leave the link to that free download at the end of this post if you haven’t read Bridgewater Bingo.)

I also blog to get clarity for ideas may or may not end up in the stories I write. Just because an idea resonates with, doesn’t mean it’s a great idea for those stories. Sometimes sharing those things helps me focus and make creative decisions that would be harder to do without blogging.

Finally, I have a bit or fun sharing things and seeing people react to what I blog about. My journey from first idea to published page is the recurring theme here. But other ideas make their first appearance here too. Maybe a part of my DJ style lives on in the variety of posts I write. What good would a blog be if it wasn’t fun?

At least I haven’t run out of posts to make. I may reevaluate these daily posts when I’m too busy with deadlines and such. So far, I’ve been able to write, and blog as part of my process. If that changes, I’ll be sure to let you know right here. So stay tuned!

https://fantastic-writer-2554.ck.page/68b9b00627 – Click here to download your free copy of Bridgewater Bingo!

My writing process in 4 ½ stages:

modern computer screens and keyboard in dark room

 My writing process begins with ideas. Usually I ask a what if question. If the story takes place in the same setting as another story, I may explore some other part of that setting, the characters, or how something in that world works. Always there is an underlying idea at work, something that ties it all together.

 Then I fill the sandbox. I throw everything I can think of at the moment into that story. I hope it makes sense as I write it, but I can fix, add, or subtract from it after the sandbox is full. All I have to concentrate on in this stage is putting what’s in my mind on the page. It won’t all stick, and that’s alright too.

 Whatever my word count is for the story, that’s my objective. I may fall short of that goal and have a story. That’s ok too. There are plenty of ways to embellish ideas, rearrange scenes, or whole chapters. The important thing about a rough draft is for me to tell myself the story. The next stage will sort the rest of it out.

 Stage three is where I evaluate what I put on the page. Not every part belongs in every story. I’m still looking at story elements at this point. Does what happens on page one make sense when I reach “The End”? If not I tackle those things first. Once the plot and sequence of events is fleshed out, I have to look at descriptions, dialogue, and characters.

 I can still cut, add, or change things. In fact, some of my best ideas for the story don’t find their way onto the page until I’m here. Details I missed before or that need to change as I edit are on the chopping block again. Word count still matters, so somethings that go are replaced, while others are gone forever. I don’t always delete these though. I have an errata file with deleted sections of whatever I’m working on at the time.

The final and longest stage comes next, actual editing. By this point I’m pretty close to my word count target. At this stage I’m focused on how I wrote each section. This is challenging whether I’ve written a short story or a novel. Every word counts in a short story, there is no room for extraneous ideas, or long paragraphs when a short sentence will do. In a novel there is a lot more room for extra words, but as Strunk & White try to remind me, “Vigorous writing is concise.”

 Editing takes multiple passes, I’ve rewritten the debut manuscript for Fantastic America at least six times since my developmental edit. The story starts and ends the same way, but the chapters in between have all changed several times. Rewriting is writing, and sometimes it’s the only way to get from mediocre writing to exceptional storytelling. Don’t skimp on the editing, but don’t think you have to rewrite every sentence either.

 Once I’ve done what I can, without driving myself insane over the details of the story, I let it sit for a while. Think of this stage as four and a half. Giving myself time to let it go before I give it a last look takes some willpower, but it’s an important part of the process. Authors are too close to their work when it’s fresh on the page. Depending on the deadline I’m facing, I take some time to relax and keep my mind off the pages waiting for me.

I find plenty of things I didn’t notice when I come back, but I try not to be too drastic with any last minute changes.  This is the same writing process for all my fiction, whether it’s a short story, novella, or full length novel. Everyone is different, but this is what’s worked for me so far. I expect my process will evolve over time, but for now, this is it!

3 transcendent quotes and what they mean to me:

 TANSTAAFL ~ Robert Heinlein. This quote appeared in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, itself an allusion to, “The Sea is a cruel mistress.” The acronym stands for: There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. The saying is adopted as a national motto by the loonies of Earth’s separatist lunar colonies. Many of the interconnected outposts were penal colonies like Australia in Heinlein’s novel. They band together to declare independence.

 The motto is more than it first appears. Of course there’s always someone or something to pay for lunch (survival, peace, or any other worthy endeavor). It also sums up both the loonies’ determination to live free, and their self-reliance to build a better moon for their children. A lot of the story in the book revolves around changing appreciation for the motto and independence.

 Next I chose: “I must not fear. Fear is the mindkiller. Fear is the little death that brings obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. When the fear is gone I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone will be nothing, only I will remain.” ~ Frank Herbert. I memorized this in high school and found it useful on more than one occasion.

 Herbert created a galaxy sprawling world for the characters in his Dune series. The “Litany Against Fear” quoted above, is a tiny sliver of Paul Atreides training. Paul uses it first to withstand the pain box test administered by Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam. Threatened by her poisonous Gom Jabbar, Paul recites the litany to endure searing agony. The use of the litany is the first glimpse readers have that Paul possesses will and latent abilities beyond his extensive physical and mental training.

Finally, from one of my favorite fantasy series. “Almost dead yesterday, maybe dead tomorrow, but alive, gloriously alive, today.” ~ Robert Jordan. Mattrim Cauthon, a Two Rivers contemporary and fellow Ta’Veren with Perrin Aybarra, Goldeneyes, and Rand Al’Thor, the bloody Dragon Reborn, dropped this beautiful line. Mat is a trickster, loyal friend, and eternal soldier from the Wheel of Time series. This line sums up the life Mat cherishes against the struggles he knows will come again.

 Mat is a fascinating character. He’s not ultra-powerful like Rand, or an animalistic dream walker like Perrin. He carries so many memories of so many lifetimes he can’t sort them out, and doesn’t bother trying. He likes what he likes, and says what’s on his mind, even if the consequences turn out for the worst. As the Hornsounder, Mat’s guaranteed a place at the Last Battle. Still, no one foresees him leading the forces of the Dragon, or helping Rand and Perrin at Shayol Ghul.

I’d love to hear some of your favorite quotes, feel free to comment and add them!

When did I get serious about writing?

people dancing inside building

I wrote as a hobby for years. Life threw a lot at me, and those parts of my life took priority. Work, relationships, raising my son, helping other people get back on their feet, all of which were noble pursuits were my focus. I adulted, and in the process stifled my creativity by ‘finding time’ here or there to write.

What I didn’t realize at the time is that it was safer for me to ignore the pursuit of full time writing. I couldn’t be judged or critiqued if no one outside my small circle of friends and family ever saw my work. They weren’t writers. They wouldn’t have told me (or known) how much work I had to do to write better.

So what I wanted to write stayed in notebooks. Stories and characters stayed safely tucked away from eyes that could have warned me of the learning curve I had ahead. Eyes that could have told me of the potential I had (still have). I got close to submitting a few times, but nothing came of it and I remained a hobbyist.

A couple of years ago that all changed. I got serious about learning to write for publication, dusted off those notebooks, and made a dedicated effort. Turned out I knew little to nothing about publishing, and writing fiction. More than a few times I thought I’d gone as far as I could. I thought maybe my stories, characters, and settings might never see the light of day. Anyone who knows me can tell you I’m stubborn. I persisted.

I managed a nightclub in the small Iowa town where I live. The bar was only open three nights a week, and I wrote a bit on the other four nights. Then the owner of the bar sold the building, and we closed down. That was the best thing that could’ve happened to me. Not only did I focus on writing full time, I believed in myself and my work.

Writing is still my focus, I’m still learning to write better (I hope I always find ways to improve my craft). I have other writer’s eyes on everything I produce. Feedback directs my revisions of the words I put on the page. The best part though, is that I’m finishing what I started, and improving what I’ve finished. It’s been a long road for me, but I couldn’t be more excited about where I am and the possibilities ahead of me!

2 of my favorite fictional characters:

gray steel chain on orange surface

I chose one of my favorite fictional heroes, and one fictional villain. I chose each of them, because they taught me something specific. You might be surprised at why they made this very short list!

First up, from Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, is the Dragon Reborn, Rand Al’thor. I chose Rand for the hero in this article, though he’s also done some pretty terrible things along the way. Rand had great power thrust on him by the pattern itself. He didn’t choose to be the Dragon, or fight sightblinder in the Last Battle. Rand is also a redhead like me, but that was a bonus point rather than my first consideration.

Ultimately, I chose Rand because his motive is the purest I can believe in. He did the right thing because it was right. Not to rule the world. He didn’t believe in a divine right because of an accident of his birth. Rand had the biggest fight of all time to get ready for, and no time to ask people to help. He forged a united front out of broken and far flung lands to take the field against Shaitan’s army. Rand never intended to lead that force. All he wanted was to end the threat of the Dark One and his Forsaken.

Next up, a villain! I chose Ozymandias, Adrian Alexander Veidt, from Allen Moore’s and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen. The comics and movie versions are close enough. Adrian could be viewed as an anti-hero. I reject that idea based on the lengths he went to in order to out maneuver Dr. Manhattan. Adrian is the opposite of Rand in almost every way.

He has no powers, but is exceptionally smart, and the pinnacle of human physical fitness. Adrian chose his path to greatness. Although he inherited a large estate from his parents, he gave it to charity. He built a new life for himself without his family’s wealth. As Ozymandias, he gained fame using his abilities to fight crime. Before the Keene Act made masked crime fighting illegal, Adrian retired and monetized his heroic alter ego. This was the source of his fortune rather than inherited wealth.

Adrian’s master plan was to save humanity from destroying itself though nuclear annihilation. His major obstacle was Dr. Manhattan, a being of godlike power who could stop his plan at any time. Adrian used advanced technology, secrecy, murder, and deception to prevent Manhattan from undoing his carefully executed plan for world peace through fear. The ends justified the means for Adrian, and for me, this is why he makes such a great villain.

And now for something completely different…

eggs in tray on white surface

Here are ten odd things about me:

1. I live in Iowa but grew up in North Carolina. (I have Southern sensibilities and Midwestern tendencies)

2. I got frostbite on my ears waiting for the bus during my first winter in Iowa. (It still hurts when they get cold!)

3. There are four Steve Anderson’s in my family. (That I know of!)

4. I’ve been in the Navy, maintained and operated guns and missiles, been a paid tax preparer, sold insurance, run a car donation program for purple heart veterans, DJ’d, bartended (poorly), and managed a bar. (Jobs defined me until I decided to redefine myself!)

5. I’ve crossed the Atlantic Ocean and transited the strait of Gibraltar four times, been to Europe, Africa, transited the Suez Canal twice, been to the Middle East, prayed at the Wailing Wall, floated in the Dead Sea, crossed the Red Sea twice, and visited several islands in the Caribbean Sea. (Stockholm was the most beautiful city I ever visited!)

6. I felt more spiritual at Stonehenge than in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. (Those pagans were on to something!)

7. I’ve dropped out of college five times. (No plan for a sixth!)

8. I got lost at the Museum of History in Athens and ended up climbing the Acropolis. (There was a path most of the way to the top…)

9. I got drunk off wine at lunch in Rome but sobered up during a Vatican tour. (I bought my ex-wife a rosary at the Vatican Gift Shop and asked a priest to bless it. He had on a red beanie and belt, but he was kind enough to humor my ignorance!)

10. Before the pandemic, I enjoyed singing karaoke. (I once sang at a karaoke bar in Nice, France, until after 4 AM. I was the only American around. I couldn’t buy a drink if I’d wanted to. Fortunately, the bar patrons bought them for me!)

My 5 top writing distractions:

gray scale image of xbox game controller

Writing can be challenging. It takes consistent time and focus, commodities many of us (hand raised here) find difficult to master. Sitting in a chair (or however you write) day after day (night after night – whatever) can seem like a chore without positive feedback. For me, writing is a solitary task, without any feedback most of the time. So how does anyone keep their butt planted and write?

I’m easily distracted. Between my favorite PC strategy games, research for my books, TV shows, and Movies, Going out with friends, and reading the news online, I’m surprised I get any work done at all. I guess that’s my secret. I indulge myself once I’ve done the work.

Do something productive. Once my work is done, I can start a new game or check out the latest article I’m interested in. It may be as simple as updating the settings on my website or writing an email I’ve been putting off. I have to make some progress before I can do anything else guilt-free. Progress is even more important if I’m in the middle of writing something new or editing something I already wrote but need to polish.

I don’t know if that will help anyone struggling with productivity. Still, I’ve finished Fantastic America. Edited the rough draft. Worked through developmental edits. And polished the results over the past few months. I’m ready to query, but I would never have reached this point if I hadn’t kept my butt planted and focused on what needed to go into the manuscript. Try it. Get some work done before you take time to play!

Snakes, and why they scare me:

photo of snake
Why’d it have to be snakes?

At about the age of three I contracted Scarlet Fever. A brief visit to Old Rex Hospital, where I was born, the nearest hospital emergency room saved my life. That hospital was over ten miles away. I have no memory of the trip, but the motion of the car induced the first fever dream I ever had.

The dream began in a familiar place,. My father worked for a propane delivery service, and I pictured myself in the back of one of the white painted work trucks he drove. I comfortably bounced around a few times in the truck bed, dreams don’t have to make sense when we’re awake. My fever may have spiked at this point, because the truck bed was suddenly filled with pins and needles which bounced around with me. They hurt.

The tailgate of the truck fell down. The pins and needles, and I fell out together. The truck left me behind, in a swirl of red dust, like the red clay I’d known from my front yard up until then. I landed (amid more pain) in a red clay desert landscape, completely unlike the pine forests I grew up around. But the cacti and scrub brush didn’t hold my attention for long, every square inch of desert moved.

All around me slithered every kind of snake I’d ever seen. Granted, I hadn’t seen many real live snakes, but my imagination is one of my most potent attributes. There were big snakes, little snakes, medium snakes, and my tormented and feverish self image. They slithered closer, they hissed, they bared their fangs, and snapped at my sweaty, incoherently frightened body. I’ve hated, and been unreasonably afraid of snakes ever since then.

As an adult, the fear this dream represents shows up in what I write. Danger, disorientation, pain, and mind numbing fear writhe their way into scenes that need it. Years later I use my lingering fear as a source for my characters reactions. I hate snakes, like Indy, but they help me write anyway.

How I use maps, pictures, and video in my writing.

flat lay photography of person touching silver ipad on world map chart beside black hat

I’m a visual creature. Maps, pictures, and videos help me write. The first story I tried to write came from a map I hand drew at age twelve. Images of all kinds inform me about how to describe a setting. They also let me visualize movement, obstructions, and actions that would be impossible in that location.

When I wrote Midnight at the Sultan’s Palace, I needed to envision the inside of a mansion in New Orleans. I spent way too much time researching the house (which is an apartment building in real life). The visuals I found from rental sites, and historical archives online were still invaluable. My process gave me a clear picture of how the characters and horrors moved through the house.

I’ve used the same process in Fantastic America. ASAIC Daniel Forrester spends a few days in a ferry terminal as a base of operations to fight zombies. I started with Google Earth, got some basic facts from Wikipedia, and then found youtube videos from people who had been there. I may never visit that ferry terminal in my life, but I know the layout and described it for the story.

Authors find inspiration all around us, and I’m no different. I have worked out a system that lets me find real-world locations and explore them as well as I can from a distance. Visiting in person is always my favored investigation method, but I haven’t been to Rome or Athens in over thirty years. The internet is the next best way to refresh my memory and fill in the blanks that have developed over time. It works for me, and if I’ve done my work right, for my readers, too!

Editing takes so much longer than writing (But it’s supposed to)

rewrite edit text on a typewriter

Taking words already on the page and massaging them into a better version than what you started with has been my daily chore for weeks. I don’t mind the work. The payoff is a better book. I even found a fun exercise to make the hours of rewriting boring sentences fun.

Even with all the fun and games, it gets a bit boring. No surprise to me, I’ve found plenty of reasons to limit my time in the chair. I still wrote, still added notes of ideas in my phone, added character, setting, and plot ideas. The one thing I avoided, this week, was editing.

And I’m OK with it. I’m not on a schedule for anyone else, yet. The only deadlines I have right now are the ones I set for myself. Soon enough I’ll have to deliver top notch writing on time for an agent or editor. I’m not entirely procrastinating, the work is still being done even if I drag my feet. So I take a breath, open Word and find my place in the manuscript. This book won’t edit itself!

The Sorcerer’s Realm is waiting to be discovered…

Not the just this website, but the fantasy setting its named after. Readers won’t encounter the Realm right away, and I won’t spoil all that in a post, but you’re in for a real treat! Only sorcerers can regularly access the imperfect reflection of the waking world. Other spirits exist there, and sorcerers can find echoes of magical creatures there. This is the first sign that a person is attuned to sorcerous magic.

Sorcery is magic of the mind, and the Sorcerers Realm allows the expanded mind of a sorcerer or sorceress to explore their abilities. The powers they unlock and learn to use there will be available to them in the waking world, but they all take practice to master. Nightly practice in the Realm gives sorcerers and sorceresses an advantage over other practitioners of magic.

Fantastic America is an introduction to a world changing after the return of magic. Midwestern Magicians introduces you to two of the different kinds of magic. Newly empowered sorcerer Alex De Luna, takes his first hesitant steps to explore what he calls astral projection. It isn’t anything he expected it to be, and it may be more dangerous than he ever imagined.

Hell Hounds signal a change in the world…

Fiery canines from a hostile environment, Hell Hounds cannot survive long on Earth outside of active volcanic sites. They thrive in heat that most Earthly organisms find deadly. Fortunately, another energy not present in our world sustains their imitation of biological processes. Hell Hounds have been spotted in Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America. None have survived more than a single day outside of an active volcano.

Mount Vesuvius, near Naples, Italy, hosted the first and most famous encounter with Hell Hounds. Italian TV broadcast the event live on international TV. A pack of four of the beasts emerged from a previously dormant vent. Technicians investigated the monitoring equipment, but found molten monstrosities instead.

The hounds next charged a group of school children, but a miraculous display of faith by their chaperone, Sister Mary Rizzo, saved them from harm. Bullets fired by responding police proved ineffective against the monsters. Firefighters at the foot of Vesuvius with water cannons responding to fires started by the hounds higher up the mountain stopped the hounds.

Other monsters emerged after the Italian Hell Hounds sent ripples through communities around the world. The Vatican quickly pointed out and eventually celebrated the faith of Sister Rizzo miraculously defending her class from the monsters. The Catholic Church used the event to promote their successful attendance campaign of “Faith Defends the Faithful.” Record attendance numbers at places of worship surged in the weeks following the broadcast.

Every character has an agenda…

anonymous people standing on street among smoke during protests at night

Knowing what a character wants and what they need is critical to giving that character agency and realism. There may be other paths to reach the same goal, but for me, knowing my characters requires understanding their motives. I have to know what they actually need as well as what they believe they want, and those aren’t always the same.

In Fantastic America and Midwestern Magicians, the three POV (Point Of View) characters believe they want different things. Ashley starts as a seeker of truth, Daniel is a protector, and Jerry is a psychopath. Jerry doesn’t change, but Ashley and Daniel set off on different paths by the end of the book. Their changes feel real, grounded in what those characters want and need. The plot gives them reason to change, but the characters make realistic decisions based on what we know of them before the story unfolds.

This isn’t all that special. Characters should change from the book’s opening scene to the end of a story. In order for a book to grip your readers and hold their attention, characters need parfait like layers. We need to know the emotional ravages the plot has inflicted on someone before their triumph over adversity means anything. Once compounded by physical tragedy, and mystical events beyond their control, you have the start of a great internal character parfait.

Take all that raw emotion, inject a whole cast of characters, all carrying an internal parfait, and add conflicting agendas. The story is primed for the climax. An event that shows not only the conflicts, but the stakes for failure and success. Why did Luke turn off his targeting computer? Will Ariel be able to go home without her prince? Should Arthur have left that stone in the sword? The climax tests the true mettle of the characters we dreamed up as a vehicle for our story. Their agenda may lead them to the moment of truth, but the character still has to sink or swim.

I’d like you to meet Doctor Moses…

The long shadow of Marie Laveau

Moses Legendre is a respected hoodoo conjure man in New Orleans, Louisiana. His family has been part of the fabric of the crescent city since before the United States bought it from the French. Over several lifetimes, he and his predecessors have worked to undo the lasting influence of his infamous ancestor, Marie Laveau. Marie’s evil legacy goes deeper than most people, even students of history and the paranormal know.

Moses, like his mother, possesses the ability to call and speak with spirits. Marie used her ability to seek out forbidden knowledge only the dead could provide. With it, she held New Orleans in the grip of her mix of voodoo, blackmail, and, intimidation. The city suffered over the course of her unnaturally extended lifetime.

To make amends for all the harm Marie caused, Granny Philly and her descendants have tirelessly helped the residents of New Orleans. Moses is the latest in a line of those who oppose the cult of La Mere, Marie’s Erzulie Sisterhood. They are all that remains of her once powerful illicit empire, though they are a pale imitation of the Sisterhood at the peak of Marie’s power. With the return of magic on the Winter Solstice, Moses searches for the prophesied arrival of both the Raven of the Night, and his opponent, the Hindered Warrior. Neither knows the role they will play once magic is unleashed. The warning only says the Warrior must be protected until he is ready to face the Raven. Moses has another mission, a destiny to confront Marie herself.

Make sure you know what you’re looking for…

distant person on labyrinth path
The truth can take you to unexpected destinations.

In Fantastic America: The magic Unleashed, Ashley Monahan is a TV reporter and the protagonist. No matter how weird or ugly it may be, she has to seek out the truth, . One of her central dilemmas is what to do with that truth. release it to everyone, or share it with those you know can handle the frightening reality it represents. Her antagonist, Agent Daniel Forrester, believes some truth is too dangerous to share with everyone. They both have good reasons for their beliefs, but Ashley is a starry eyed idealist.

When the truth leads Ashley in an unexpected direction, she has to make a difficult choice. She can stick to her idealism and share what she believes is the truth, frightening a country she has reassured over and over again. Or she can compromise her lofty principles and protect everyone from her awful realization. Neither option sits well with her.

Her choice comes down to following her ideals, reinforced by a lifetime of faith, or accepting the changes miracles, monsters and magic have brought to her world. The dangers she encounters erode her naivete and give her a different perspective. Balancing the two views is impossible, but she gives it a try.

Wraiths are a plague on humanity…

monochrome photo of woman

Known in paranormal investigator circles as a shadow person, or black mass, these spirits are a mockery of human ghosts. They can take any shape, change their size, and blend into any shadow. They are physically week, but can move small objects, and once strong enough, can scratch or cut human flesh. Fear emboldens a wraith.

Some of their ilk have waited since the last magical age to venture from their hiding places. A few have bedeviled the living, feeding off the suffering and fear of their victims. Despite their corrupt nature and ability to possess human hosts, they are not demons or in service to the Devil at all. They are not of this Earth. Rather, they are a twisted parody of human ghosts from another world entirely.

Only after the return of magic and the ghostly purge of the winter solstice have the wicked spirits become a true danger. Often during the bleak time of no magic, human ghosts kept the shadows at bay or limited the danger they posed to the living. With few ghostly protectors, more wraiths than ever have risked leaving their darkened lairs to seek out new human victims.

Communicating with wraiths is difficult and foolhardy. The dark spirits have little interest in humans beyond a source of energy for their ultimate objective. Beyond tormenting the living, wraiths all around the world are searching for something. What they seek is a mystery, but they are willing to fool anyone and do anything to find their prize. Do not trust a wraith.

A brief summary of characters…

decorated table for party in cafe
The table is set, here are the guests!

Fantastic America: The magic Unleashed is a sprawling story of changes. The book examines a version of the modern world we all know in real life. Now is a good time to refresh everyone’s memory of the cast of characters in the book. I’ve written about some of these characters before. I hope you enjoy them all, maybe enough to go back and read previous entries about characters you find interesting.

First and foremost, Ashley Monahan is the main character and protagonist of the novel. She begins as a local TV reporter in Salt Lake City, Utah. She is an overnight celebrity who reports exhaustively on paranormal, miraculous, and magical events throughout the book.

Assistant Special Agent Daniel Forrester starts as the supervisor for a watch team at the situation room in President Grander’s White House. He is the antagonist to Ashley throughout the book. His reactions shape much of the narrative she reports on the evening news.

Jerry Farmer is a convicted murderer, who has recently escaped from the Bridgewater State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Jerry is the irredeemable villain of Fantastic America. He serves as an example of Daniel’s greatest fear come to life.

The first secondary character on this list is Herbert Allan. At first glance, no more than a retired history professor, Herb appears to be no more than a victim Ashley interviews. He suffered a fresh trauma before Ashley arrives, but helps her push back against the dangers facing their world.

Agent Sylvia Morris is Daniel’s assistant, and right hand support operative. She organizes the support staff and operations center for Daniel’s response to the events of the story. Without her, Daniel could not send out field teams to fight the monsters unleashed by the return of magic.

Bingo the wraith is an inhuman creature of darkness and corruption who ‘befriends’ Jerry at the hospital. He is unprepared for Jerry’s surprising grasp of magic. Bingo has motives Jerry doesn’t understand, but gives the wraith no alternatives. Bingo will do or say anything to escape jerry and survive to return to his mysterious ‘Mistress’.

Editing is like a parfait… Parfaits are delicious!

four chocolate parfait on clear glasses

Donkey was right all along. As I dig into deeper edits of Fantastic America, I’m finding layers to the story I didn’t know existed. My writing is better since making these discoveries, and hopefully, the story is stronger for having made the changes.

Like a parfait (or onions if you’re an ogre), stories have layers. The first layer, for me, were the crumbs at the bottom. These were heaps of raw prose I dumped in during my first draft. There’s a reason writers call it a rough draft. I needed to be refine these chunks of story (more than a few times). That’s the next layer, a broad redefinition of the story from a developmental edit.

Those suggestions from an editor still required me to go back through the novel and accept or reject the changes. These were more than just questions about words on the page. I was defining how the story elements flowed together. Often they didn’t flow together at all. But I had to find ways to smooth the elements together to tell the story to the audience better.

There are more layers still, but I’ve moved from big story elements to line edits in how the words fall on the page. I looked at dialogue, removed talking heads, added description where I didn’t before, and looked for filler words and filter words. All of that helps make the novel more coherent and readable.

My focus is on the actual words I wrote. Can my verb choice strengthen the way the pages read? Of course they can, and next time I hope to avoid a majority of these edits. I’m also searching for pet words, written crutches I use without realizing it that weaken the prose. The surprise for me is how much I enjoy finding and fixing these little moles in my story.

The story should leap from the page into the readers mind. That’s the goal anyway. If my edits are worthwhile, the story will be as far as I can take it. My hope is that a literary agent and acquisitions editor agree that the story is ready for prime time. Only one way to find that out – wish me luck querying!

Writer’s block, my muse, and the truth…

woman holding fireflies

I have a writing routine that helps me consistently produce workable words on the page. I also go a few days at a time ignoring that routine or allowing life to get in the way once in a while. None of that stresses me. I do not believe in writer’s block. There are times I’m not mentally or emotionally able to write, but those are my reactions to external causes. I can always write, even if it’s rambling gibberish that I discard later.

My muse is hope. I’ve discovered she’s a fickle goddess. She embraces me when she will, and I am at her mercy when she comes. Whether I’m already writing, moving towards my desk, or settling in for a long night’s sleep, when inspiration strikes I’ve learned to transcribe as much onto the page as possible. When she doesn’t inspire me, I have to do it myself. I’m getting better at that part.

The truth is, whether the words are reluctant to come, or spew onto the page from some hidden well of ideas, I still have to write them out. No one else can pull exactly the same idea from their imagination as me. Another author might have similar ideas, but even those ideas need to be shaped into plots, scenes, characters and stories. My versions are vastly different than anyone else’s take on the same ideas.

3 ideas behind my debut novel:


Fantastic America: The Magic Unleashed didn’t start out the way it’s ended up. But there are some ideas from my original inspiration that are still part of the novel (and series) today. Magic returning to the modern world is the first premise and one that has only expanded as I wrote.

I explored how people, groups of people, and governments would react to a literal change to the status quo. Would they embrace the changes? How would religious institutions react? On an individual level, how would people behave as magic, miracles, and monsters came to life around them? Finally, how would people changed by magic see their place amid all that chaos?

Next I wanted to make this world more layered than the one we know. So I’ve created a larger canvas with societies in the distant past. Groups who experienced the last magical age that came and went before recorded history. Creating places and people so dependent on magic that their way of life disappeared when magic failed was more fun than I expected. I can’t wait to share those traditions (and the traces they left behind) with my audience!

Finally, I wanted to explore more of the canvas I created to explain the origin of magic, miracles, and monsters. Worlds beyond Earth that have been an unknown part of life on our planet for millions of years. That story is the connective tissue between the return of magic, our ancestors use of magic, and the bleak times of no magic. The bleak times shaped a world that forgot magic was possible to begin with. Which was all fun and games till magic flowed into the world again.