I run out of ideas for posts…

person with difficulty and questions in studies

Coming up with interesting topics every day has been exhausting. Sometimes, I’ve needed help. I’ve scoured other bloggers posts for ideas, and read lists of their favorite topics. Not all of that has helped or made into this blog. But I have managed to get a post of some kind rounded up for almost 365 days in row now!

That may not be a huge accomplishment, but I’m excited to cross it off my writing bucket list. I have no idea if I’ll post that frequently after I pass the one year mark, but right now I’m leaning towards cutting back to one post a week. Maybe special posts for special events or announcements. That makes more sense to me.

I have more projects coming up too. Gari in Torthal is continuing his journey. As the plot has expanded, I’ve needed to rewrite his introduction story in, “Gari and the Pox”. Expect an update for that when I have it polished up. I’m working on some new short stories unrelated to Gari or my Magic Unleashed series. The ideas are still percolating, but I’m excited to share more about them as they come together.

I’m also still querying agents for Fantastic America. The process is torturous for me, but I’m a glutton for punishment, I guess. My critique group is also still writing and critiquing. We added a new member this week, so I’m excited to read her work. I have plenty to keep me busy at any rate. And I’ll have more to post about now that I have all these projects coming together.

This weekend reminded me that human connections are the most important part of my life.

happy ethnic guests carrying bride in white dress in countryside

Outside of my writing life this weekend, two of my friends lost their husbands, one of my dearest friends got married (I helped!), and I re-connected to a family member I haven’t heard from in years. It really drove home how crucial relationships are. How humans relate to each other is the major draw for readers of most fiction. Connections are literally what gives life meaning. It’s easy to lose sight of that, but not too late to remember.

Loss of a loved one is tragic, and my friends have to grieve that loss with their children. There are no words that can console a loss like that. All I can do is give them space, help out with other things they still need to do but can’t, and hope they can regain some version of happiness on the other side of their tragedy.

This post may be shorter than most, as I’m still chatting with my niece. For every darkness, I hope for a brighter event to balance it out. Family and friends aren’t the focus of everyone in the world, but they are my main focus outside of writing. Having a chance to mend broken connections, and strengthen others has made my heart happy today. I hope everyone who wants that chance can enrich their lives, too.

A change of pace – Call to Your Land

city sunset water skyline

Call to your land,

Before the walls are built.         

We the people are outcasts.         

Cast out by your rules.

The same rules that protect you,

Force us from our homes.            

Call to your land,

Before time runs out.

We the people are searching.

Searching on the streets.

The streets are all you’ve left us. 

You’ve left us nothing at all.      

Call to your land,                  

Before your towers topple.          

We the people are coming.           

We will rewrite the rules.          

You have the right to remain silent,

Though thistles choke your fields.  

Call to your land.                  

Lest it cry out to you.             

We the people are listening.         

Your land is all that matters.      

Your rules forbade our living,      

But your land will take us in.

Call to your land.

Magic has been here all along…

earth wallpaper

Magic, or the potential for magic, is always present in the world of my debut novel, Fantastic America. Even in the bleak times of no magic, there are means (some more abhorrent than others) to work magic. The majority of these means are difficult to achieve, or unpredictable in nature. This is especially true considering most of the knowledge was passed down in spoken form. Writing actual magical instructions poses numerous dangers, some more obvious than others.

Still, magic is powerful, when it works, even in the bleak times. Traditions from all over the world have persisted, despite the dangers their knowledge represented, with wildly different mystical practices. Most of these groups adopted some form of secrecy to maintain their legacy. Few of them retained a full understanding of magic in the absence of flows from other worlds.

The return of those magic flows to the modern world, brings a new dilemma to people who still hold any magical knowledge from long ago. They must decide whether to remain in hiding or reveal themselves to the world at large. For most, enforced secrecy is too integral to their identity, and sustained magic is too new to reveal themselves. However, the best laid plans of mice and men…

Summer is slipping away…

macro photography of black sunglasses on sand

Summer in Iowa is a little different from the season I grew up with in North Carolina. There isn’t as much shade in the middle of farmland as there was under the pine forests I wandered in as a child. That said, Summer is still my favorite season. Seeing it draw to a close is bittersweet for me this year.

Until this year, my son spent the season with us before going back to school in Colorado. This year he’s more focused on the next steps in his life and I’ve missed him terribly. In his absence, the house has been filled with grand children, there have still been hours of pool parties, and visits by friends. Cook outs, story time by the fire, and our annual Fourth of July party also bounced back from the pandemic.

One thing that has been missing over the past few weeks (or longer) is new fiction writing on my part. I wrote the introduction to Gari on Torthal, and am rewriting that. Otherwise, I haven’t put nearly the effort into new writing that I expect. I plant my butt in the chair as always, but I’ve worked on other projects. I’ve caught up on critiques, read books on my TBR, and found every other excuse to keep busy without writing new material.

The end of Summer means the house will quiet down again. Kids go back to school, my wife goes back to teaching, and maybe the solitude will help me get back to what I love, creating new adventures. The characters are there, my muse is patiently waiting, and new worlds await my fingers on the keyboard. I’ll be sorry to see the cold weather return, but I’ll be glad to get back to the strange company I keep with my stories.

Writing habits can be good or bad.

person writing on white paper beside white ceramic mug on brown wooden table

I write every day. At least the post for this blog. I may not post here every day for the rest of my life, but I’m almost to the end of a 365 day cycle. I wanted to prove to myself that I could write original content every day for a year. Like Bruce said, “I see this as an absolute win!”

Most days, I also work on other projects. I still have my toes in the water for Ashley Monahan and Fantastic America, and more than that in Gari Garcia in Torthal (a project that is changing as I write it). I also read and write critiques with partners in a couple of groups each week. So I’m never far from my keyboard for long.

Good Habits are helpful.

That brings me to the topic for this post, the habits you develop as you write can help or hurt your writing. Every author is different, like every person is unique, but there are a few constants in writing that I’ve found helpful. There are far more that I’ve found distracting or harmful, but I’ll get to them in a minute.

The first helpful habit to get into is the most basic advice I give throughout all my posts, write. Put your butt in a chair (or on the floor or stand if you have to) and put words on the page. Daily. It may help to write at the same time every day, structure is great for many writers. But I write at any time of the day or night that suits my lifestyle. Each to their own in how you live and fit writing into that life. Just write.

I need peace and quiet to write, my wife and I have a lot of grandchildren here in the summer, so that time is precious to me. If you need quiet to focus on your words, find some. Children sleep, pets sleep (we have four dogs and two cats), and devices can be silenced. There have been times, I had to get work done but couldn’t wait for quiet to fall at our house. Headphones and music is a good substitute for me, at least it masks the majority of the chaos around me.

Bad habits can ruin the best of intentions.

Procrastination is my kryptonite. The worst excuse I make about writing is to put it off for some other task, or to find a reason I can’t put words on the page. Most of it is nonsense, and this is true of most of the procrastination in my life. Once I am in motion to get something done, it takes far less time and effort than I built up in my resistance. But that brings me to another point, resistance.

Resistance in writing usually has another source. I hesitate to write a scene I’m not completely comfortable with, or tackle a project I haven’t thoroughly examined in my mind’s eye. Uncertainty can manifest as doubt, it can cause delays or avoidance (for me) to even attempt to write. So I spend some time examining where resistance is coming from.

Outlining helps me overcome this problem, I can settle the doubts with a plan and get words on the paper. They don’t always survive, but effort build momentum, writing and rewriting move me toward completion. Even if the words are terrible, I’ve found what doesn’t work, and can write something else till I find something that does work.

Find what works for you.

Develop your routine with what you want to accomplish in mind. I have a different mindset for ‘exploratory writing’ on a new subject versus the sandbox method I use while writing the first draft of a novel (pile everything you can into the sandbox edit it later). Both of which are different from blogging, writing poetry, or editing work that needs more attention. Only you can find the methods that fit your writing style.

Maybe you need to shut off devices, close browser windows, and tune out the world around you to do your best writing. Music in the background (or other noises) may help you. Turn off your phone, or set a timer if you think you might write for too long (gasp!). Read blogs to find other suggestions, for every problem you encounter, another writer ahs probably written about their experience along the same line. Help is out there, if you seek it out.

Ultimately, my advice is unchanged. Write. Write well. Repeat until you have something to share with the world. Find people and places to share. Then write more and share that, too. Writing can be solitary, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, I’ve found the best of my writing came when I planned to share it with the world. You may find the same thing.

Reluctant heroes, and why I like them.

person in black shorts floating on water

This is the opposite of the Chosen One. An ordinary person sees a need and steps up to help. They don’t have an agenda, or ulterior motives, just a sense of right over wrong. Maybe it stems from all the 80’s movies I watched as a kid. The group or lone wolf who wants to change the world for the better still resonates with me.

Destiny forces the Chosen One into saving the world. The reluctant hero decides they have a moral obligation to risk life and limb. Of the two, I’d prefer the latter over the former. Both are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The reluctant hero can be any of us though. The Chosen One is set apart. Destiny doesn’t care how they feel about it.

I’ve lost track of how many Chosen Ones bemoaned their fate. “Why me? I didn’t choose this!” The Reluctant hero doesn’t ask why me, they ask, “If not me, who will?” It has a more honest, more human, feeling to how any of us might respond given the situation. That is the core of the idea for me. Whether it’s the lone office worker stopping tanks on their way to Tiananmen Square, or the guy fed up with red tape taking on the system directly, defiance is my jam.

I’m not trying to encourage random acts of violence either. The movie, Turk 182 comes to mind when I think of this trope. Non-violent protest and civil disobedience can still bring change. It may not be as sexy as a kill-dozer, but not every story has to include death, destruction, and mayhem.

In my lived experience, the right person, in the right place, at the right time, can make change happen. Others have to embrace what begins with one voice. The chorus is powerful because they sing together, not because of the soloist. No matter how great that single voice may be.

A change of pace – The Ruler and the Rule

fashion man love people


What do you hear?

Is that the soft sound of stillness

Brushing past your ear?

Or the rushing roar of wisdom,

Ripping out your fear.

And that,

Are those images the same kind?

A fleeting glance of nothing

Playing with your mind.

Or just the touch of a passing shadow,

That your eye can never find.

Don’t speak,

You’ll ruin the moment.

Scent and touch that tell so much,

Are never truly silent.

So we find our senses tell us nothing,

But rule us as a tyrant.

I toured Masada in the 1990’s

Masada and the Snake Path

The desert is hellish, dry and hot. Not somewhere I’d want to to go again. But in younger, healthier days, I toured this unbelievable historical site. The stories surrounding the fortress, and the infamy of what happened there is not the focus of this post. Although they are great stories, and have inspired generations of people around the world. this story is all about me.

Picture a younger, more impetuous, Steve. One who was invincible, overconfident, and dangerously stupid. First, a bit about the tour. A group of sailors set out from Haifa for a two day tour. We spent the first day in Jerusalem, I got to visit “the manger” in Bethlehem, the Garden of gethsemane, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We spent the night in Tel Aviv, then floated in the Dead Sea, visited a revitalizing spa, and toured Masada before returning to Haifa.

The Dead sea is incredibly salty, enough that you can float on the water. I don’t recommend trying to pee in the Dead Sea, don’t ask why, just trust me! But all that desert heat and salt water dehydrated our tour group. Fortunately, the next stop was the spa. Dead Sea mud is supposed to rejuvenate your body, and I can attest to that. By the time we reached the Masada tourist center we were all brimming with twenty-something energy.

The tour included a cable car ride up to the mountaintop, a tour guide to highlight the history, myths, and mysteries about the palace and rebel stronghold. All of that was fascinating. Again, I’m setting the scene for my near death experience. Here it comes.

After the tour, we were given the choice to ride the cable car back down (about a half an hour wait), or we could take the snake path down the mountain immediately. The tour guide told us it would be about the same amount of time to get back the the tourist center and the bus back to Haifa either way. The hook for me was the authenticity of walking down the only route to the palace before the modern, tourist-friendly cable car was installed.

You guessed it, I took the path less traveled by… I was doing well for a while, too. There are a lot of switchbacks on this path, you can see them clearly in the photo above. At about the third one from the top, I lost my footing. I’d already seen an older shipmate in our group wipe out higher on the path. I didn’t have time to process the merits of falling, but I was sure I didn’t want to walk the rest of the way down the mountain bloody.

My split-second decision instead? RUN! The rocks were loose and sharp between the path, but I was close enough to the turn to leap down to the next section. I figured I’d catch myself after the hair-pin turn and go back to my leisurely pace. I was wrong. Once I’d built up momentum, the path was just steep enough to keep me running.

So I ran down Masada. Then jogged up the gulch beside it, passing tourists from lots of different countries along the way (Canada and Norway stand out for some reason), and reached the tourist center in less than fifteen minutes. Fortunately, the center sold bottles of cold water. Authenticity has seldom been as important to me since this event. I needed the whole ride back to Haifa to recover. Ah, memories that last a lifetime. 🙂

Revision is harder (for me) than writing…

rewrite edit text on a typewriter

I’m on the writing spectrum some where in between a pantser and a plotter. I like have things planned out, but I also like to see where the flow of words will go naturally. When I wrote the short story introducing Gari and Torthal, I pantsed. When I started a follow up story, expanding on that introduction, I tried to pants it again, but failed. So now I’m plotting out his next series of adventures.

So here I am, writing a new story bible, filling in the blanks I left, and following an outline. Gari has a bigger story to tell (or show) than I expected. One that is appropriate for the times we are living through. Although he is as far from those events and ideas as possible, the world seen through his eyes will be hauntingly familiar. Gari examines prejudice, fear of change, and what it means to be human. Heady ideas indeed!

I’ve also expanded my ideas for Torthal. The kernel was already there in, “Gari and the Pox”. Now I have a deeper purpose behind how I approach this strange new world, and the distant civilization it represents. The world of Torthal will be a character in Gari’s story as much as any person he encounters.

But my revision of the second installment is where my mind is right now. I want to bring the world to life around Gari, and my first attempt fell far short of that. The great thing about words on the page is that they can be rewritten, deleted, or replaced with new words. So that is what I’ll be doing for a while, rewriting for Gari’s sake.

Critique partners keep me humble…

man and woman holding each other s hands as a team

Not that my head had grown too big for my hat, lately. If it had, one of the writers groups I’m in would gladly have brought me back down a size. Having critique partners is invaluable. Not only have I learned more about writing from them, but they’ve kept me grounded after making progress.

There is a kind of magic critique groups can wield. When you find a group that wants everyone to improve, whose members offer more than a casual read of your work, that’s golden. The best critique groups lift up writers who are struggling to find their voice, and share the tools to set them free.

Admittedly there is some terrible advice out there. Some writers have it all figured out, and anything that upsets their view cannot be tolerated. Others honestly believe every rule they learned should be followed every single time they write. Grammar trumps story for these folks, but they are pretty easy to spot. When you find them (especially if they are running the group) RUN!

I can’t stress enough, especially for new writers just starting out, find your tribe. There are people out there who want to hear you, who need to hear you. Those people will enrich your life as much as you will theirs, but you have to make your way out of the wilderness. You have to sort through the good and bad advice, learn the fundamentals, more than just mechanics. Then you’ll be able to reach the readers who need you.

One kind of magic is Ambient…

spooky witch among candles during ritual

Or in the Magic Unleashed series, Arcane Magic. Arcanists have many names across many cultures, but all are able to tap into the naturally occurring magic of the Earth itself. They have a wider variety of skills, but are generally less potent than wizards, empowered by distinctly different forces. Their link to earthly forces gives Arcanists a different view of magic in general, leading to a wide variety of magical traditions.

Arcanists are able to feel magic tugging at them. Even during the bleak times of no magic when other magic users can not. This is not always positive, as seeing things others can’t see leads to questions of sanity. In past ages, it has also lead to accusations of witchcraft and consorting with unclean powers. While a few of those accusations were warranted, most were pure nonsense.

At certain places and times, Arcanists can access their magical gifts even when no magic flows in the world. These times are difficult to predict, but there is a ready substitute. During the past six thousand year absence of magic, some arcanists have turned to human sacrifice to fuel their abilities. Some magic users adopted this practice by themselves. Corrupting entities whispering from the shadows influenced the others.

With the return of magic, Arcanists have regained the full spectrum of their abilities. From communicating with ghosts, manipulating probability, projecting physical force, locking spellwork into physical objects, to joining wizardly magic together in specialized constructs, Arcanists have a major role to play in a world awash in magical power. Though they have less raw power than Wizards, Arcanists are still powerful magic users with abilities others do not possess.

Arcanists are more numerous than Wizards

Readers will meet their first Arcanist in Fantastic America: The Magic Unleashed. Jerry Farmer, the psychopathic escapee demonstrates the havoc even a novice magic user can wreak on the modern world. Jerry could see ghosts before magic returned, and this is often a sign of greater abilities to come. Even so, he has become more powerful than he might have been otherwise with the help of shadowy wraiths.

Other Arcanists will follow, many have standalone short stories set in the Magic Unleashed world. Chaz Buhrman hosts a ghost hunting reality TV show, finding more than he bargains for on the night magic returns to the Earth. Dr. Moses in New Orleans follows the traditions of his family in watching over the Crescent City, even before the return of magic. Gavin Dalton serves the self-styled Dragon Emperor in New York City. And Adriana Rivera travels the world in search of relics from the last magical age.

Sometimes I make things too complicated…

photo of golden cogwheel on black background

In my quest to write stories that entertain readers, I often go through multiple iterations of the same ideas. Sometimes I mix and match those ideas to give them a fresh look or spin. But in the end they are just variations on a theme.

The worst situation I find myself in as a writer, is when the mixing and matching has written me into a corner. Complex situations make it problematic for me, even if it’s not always a problem for the characters. When I’ve had some time to sort out why a scene is bothering me, it usually comes down to unnecessary complexity.

More than a few times I have leaned into that preposterous complexity. It can be fun to see how absurd I can take an idea while keeping it somewhat believable. The easiest solution is usually to cut out the complications and simplify everything. Easier, from an editing point of view, but not from a writing perspective.

I the Magic Unleashed series, the first four books in the series happen at roughly the same time. Scenes from one book have immediate repercussions in the other books. The characters don’t all meet right away, or interact much at first, but when they do, it caused me some logistical problems. How does character A get to location B in only X number of hours? Can they still be back in location Y in time for event 76? Spreadsheets saved the day, but so far, it’s taken almost a month to reconcile everything.

The Chosen One and why I hate the idea…

boy wearing crown statue

A few years ago, the Chosen One trope was all the rage in fiction. Rand Al’thor was the Dragon Reborn, Neo was The One, and a kid from under the stairs was about to take on He Who Shall Not Be Named. Readers loved it, for a while.

Today the trope has fallen out of favor, and I for one, am happy to keep it that way. Even as a child, I didn’t appreciate the idea of predetermined destiny or fate. I remember reading Shakespeare in high school, and my English teacher explained the Fates and Furies to the class. A lot of the really terrible poetry I wrote after that included lines about fighting against both concepts.

In the Magic Unleashed series, I turn the Chosen One trope on it’s head a couple of times. One Chosen One is a villain, chosen to wreak havoc on the living. Another character believes the lie that he is the chosen one. He’s just being manipulated, but he wants to believe he’s special. Both characters challenge any notion that destiny is unavoidable. Like Captain Kirk in the Kobayashi Maru simulation, I prefer to make my own luck.

There is enough cause and effect in the world to consign ideas about fate and destiny to the books of the past. Sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence. In my limited experience, the universe doesn’t make a habit of aligning to create a perfect situation that can only be solved by a single special individual. I understand why that trope is popular, and I’m sure many authors out there still have Chosen One stories to write. I’m just not one of them.

One kind of magic is Death Magic…

abstract anatomy art blur

Or in the Magic Unleashed series, Necromancy. Death Magic is a spiritual force, that opposes Life Magic. Other magic users universally shun Necromancy. Unlife, a major component of Death magic, is a corruptive source of misery for all living things. In combat, necromancers rely on undead minions under their direct control, along with constructs and weapons of hardened shadow.

Necromancers are at home among graveyards, mausoleums, and forsaken ruins. While most Death Magic spellwork requires fresh corpses or living victims, any dead flesh will do in a pinch. Only carrion eaters and animals that assist decomposition will reluctantly answer a Necromancer’s call for aid.

One of many horrifying practices of Death wizards is haruspicy. This is a type of scrying that uses the still warm liver and entrails to seek hidden knowledge. Like other forms of scrying, the necromancer may glimpse the future, lost things, or learn new skills. Haruspicy is intuitive, but also relies on the intention of the haruspex and what they seek.

Readers will meet fledgling Necromancer Vincent Deveraux in book four of the Magic Unleashed series, Raising New Orleans. Formerly a morgue worker and mortuary student, Vincent is initially unaware of the changes around him. He has a potent advantage over other newly empowered magic users. The ghost of Marie Laveau is his mentor in the collection and use of unlife.

I thought the world was changing…

planet earth

I went to Europe the first time when I was 20 years old. The continent was exciting and exotic to my wide eyed innocence. Changes were on the horizon, but I had no idea what that meant. For me, everything I saw was new and different from what I’d known in America.

The Berlin wall fell, the Soviet Union imploded, and the specter of nuclear war faded a bit from the headlines. Maybe, I thought, the peace and prosperity the world wanted was finally at hand. That wasn’t the case, but I remember hoping, even expecting a lasting change.

Today, Russia is a growing power again, though they’ve learned some hard lessons along the way. China, has joined them as a dangerous little brother all grown up and ready to prove himself on the world stage. Europe has undergone a raft of demographic changes, but remains haunted by the scars of incessant warfare. There have been changes, but few for the better.

Meanwhile, America has stood by and either ignored those changes, or pushed an agenda on other parts of the world that never made any sense to me. Withdrawing from Afghanistan, after a decade of occupation has brought more chaos to that corner of the globe than our invasion ever could have. Iraq is not much different, but America has an incentive to stay there, if only for the oil Iraq produces. We became Imperialists despite the best of intentions.

So, I guess I was right. The world was changing. It is changing. The world is always changing, because people are always changing. The problem is not that things change, or even how they change. The problem is allowing those changes to frighten us into making decisions about those changes that make world more dangerous. More dangers are coming.

A change of pace – The Surf

focus photography of sea waves

The surf rolls on                      

Over corals             

And sand                

The surf rolls on       

Over morals and man     

The breakers surge over 

On rocks                

And on reefs            

The breakers surge over 

On locks                

And beliefs             

Life is the ocean       

That surges            

And rolls               

Life is the ocean       

That purges our souls               

One kind of magic is Aqueous…

silhouette of moutain

Or in the Magic Unleashed series, Water Wizardry. Aqueous magic is an elemental force, the opposite of Fire magic. Water, and the creatures who live beneath its surface respond to water wizards. In combat, Aqueous wizards manipulate water and dissipate heat to wield both liquid water and ice as potent weapons.

Water wizards are at home on or beneath any body of water, but prefer the open sea where their power is greatest. On land, Water magic is limited by the supply of water or ice available. Creatures who make their home in or near water are responsive to the call of Aqueous wizards, and will help them if asked (or in predators cases, commanded).

Water wizards also have access to water scrying. By entering a trancelike state, Aqueous wizards can use water as a medium to find lost things, learn new skills, and see possible future events. These visions are unpredictable, and only as reliable as the intention of the scryer. But they do offer glimpses of what may become reality.

Readers will meet Aqueous wizard Mariah Davis, a marine biologist PHD candidate. She is on sabbatical when magic returns to the Earth in book three of the Magic Unleashed series, The Steaming South. Mariah embraces her watery gifts and makes a scientific study of her newfound powers. She is the first modern wizard to write grimoire of her spellwork.

Dreams and how they affect my writing…

high angle view of lying down on grass

This isn’t about manifesting your dreams into reality. I have author friends who are all about that woo-woo mindset matters business. This is about how parts of dreams I have make their way into my stories.

I don’t remember everything I dream about, but I can lucid dream on occasion. When my mind isn’t too lazy to put in the effort at least, I have vivid dreams. Some of those dreams involve fairly complex plots, interesting characters, and wild action scenes. Those are the ones I wake trying to scribble down details from before I forget them.

I don’t keep a regular dream journal, that may be a thing for some people, but not me. Instead, I have a note pad app on my phone. If I have a really intense dream, or remember some crazy plotline, those go into the app as fast as I can type. I don’t keep my phone by my bed, so sometimes i still scribble notes while I’m half asleep.

My subconscious is sometimes even more creative than I am. At least I feel that way when a fully developed story plays out through a long winter’s nap. Some of the best ideas in the Magic Unleashed series came from dreams. Either as I woke up, or more often as I’m trying to drift off to sleep. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve had to jump out of bed to jot down the perfect solution to a writing problem. What a terrible problem to have.