Despite the tide of dark and frightening events in Fantastic America and Midwestern Magicians, there are many reasons to hope for a brighter tomorrow. Magic is wild and follows rules that people have yet to decipher in this new magical age. There are signs of goodness and light to push back the darkness. Prayer, an early discovery that strong faith can protect people from the dangers loose in the world sustained millions. While those protections are a boon to the faithful, magic users themselves will prove even more potent in pushing back the forces that would tear apart the Earth as we know it. Whether those magic users will have time or be free of meddling by governments around the world remains to be seen.
The last magical age on Earth came to an end over six thousand years ago. The years between those ages are known in certain circles as the bleak time. During the last six thousand years, magic has seeped into the world in virtually random drips and drops, wholly unsuited to spell casting. That did not stop some dedicated practitioners and their descendants from seeking out alternative sources of magical power. These zealots and their extended families called on dark forces, performed evil rites, and conducted abominations against life itself. Murders, mutilations, and ritualized human sacrifice fueled their bleak time spells. Even these diabolical methods produced only trace amounts of magical energies for use in the simplest of spells. Now that the bleak times are over, these dark rituals are no longer necessary, but they may have stained those who participated in those gruesome rites beyond redemption.
Not only because it can pull you down the rabbit hole, but because research can fundamentally change the way you see your work. I’m guilty of both, to be honest. I’ve plumbed the depths of unrelated research, gone on tangents, and delved into minutiae that would never make it into my book. On the other hand, I’ve found material I never expected to discover that required serious rewriting of pages in my manuscript that I thought were ready for publication. Either way, research, as important as it is for a good factual foundation, can suck you in and hold you for hours on end. That may be good or bad, but if time is a constraint, as it is for many writers, beware the trap research represents. It may seem like a necessary activity to support good writing. It certainly is, but research can easily turn into a bottomless pit that takes as long to get out of as it does to climb down into. Writer beware!
The dangers facing people in Fantastic America are many and varied, but there is reason to hope. Magic, for all the dangers it represents, is also the best defense against those dangers. While there is no one from the modern world with mastery over magical forces, there are people learning to use powers no one has had access to in thousands of years. Some of those people are just as dangerous as any monster from another world, but for every one of them, there is a more potent wielder of magic to hold back the darkness those magic users would cast over the world around them. The difference between the two camps may not be apparent to outsiders, but you may still judge them by their actions. If anyone can see beyond the powers they wield since the winter solstice.
Can humans adapt to an overwhelming force that sets loose incredible creatures from other worlds to a rapidly changing Earth? Monsters, miracles, and magic spread to every part of the the world in Fantastic America. How people react to the return of magic is an understandable mix of fear, bravery, disbelief, and acceptance. While Ashley Monahan reports on the paranormal events around the country, Daniel Forrester sees his team of Federal agents as the only defense America has against the surge of monsters that could collapse modern civilization. Either of them could be right, or they could both be unprepared for what comes next in a world of magic unleashed.
Death has snuffed out a brilliant light taken far too soon. I needed a critique group, but didn’t know how bad I needed other authors. She helped me with my craft, took a chance on me when I didn’t even know how rough my writing was, and gave me a safe place to stretch my wings before I took flight. She’ll be missed by many, and rightly so. She was a terrific human, a great writer, and a passionate supporter of emerging voices. I wish her family whatever comfort they can find amid their sudden, unexpected grief.
Gaming can also interfere with my productivity, but that isn’t what I mean. What I’m getting at is that gaming experiences give me a better frame of reference to describe settings, events, and characters. Table top dungeon crawls with friends, solo missions in dozens of MMORPG’s, and enough turn based strategy games to fill the hard drives of most of the PC’s I’ve owned, gives me a rich treasury of fantastic imagery. I’ve waded through armies of undead, breached the walls of countless castles, forged mighty empires across time and space, and built thriving civilizations from a ragged band of settlers. So when I write about things pulled from my imagination, it’s flavored by all those hours of gameplay, cut scenes, and the internal monologue that accompanied those hours. I’ll admit though, sometimes its harder than I’d care to admit to stop playing a really good game to work on stories in the worlds I’ve created and populated.
In Fantastic America, the world you knew bears only superficial resemblance to a world of magic unleashed. Familiar things are not what they seem, places are no longer what they were, and people everywhere are desperate for something solid to hold on to. Religions give people hope early in the return of magic, prayer and faith give many people hope. Even a practical defense against the unknown. As magic power increases, and the threats that brings spiral beyond the reach of prayer or faith, what can beat back the weird that encroaches on everyday life? People in the world of magic unleashed will need to learn new skills, or find new methods to survive the changes magic brings to the Earth. Even if those new skills are thousands of years old.
But that was before the return of magic. We took for granted our position at the top of the food chain, and in the bleak times between magical ages, that made sense. Long ago, our ancestors believed there were more dangers than a few hungry animals outside in the dark. The world after magic returned is far less familiar, and there are enough threats of one kind or another to make the bravest among us afraid. There are actual dangers from the things that go bump in the night, and so far, there isn’t anyone to bump back. People stay indoors after dark, but that doesn’t guarantee safety. Sometimes, that just makes them a meal in a box. If fear is the new normal, maybe its time to try some of the protections from the past. People will try anything: prayers, herbs, hex signs, anything that might hold the weird at bay. We called it folklore, and smiled at the simplicity of olden times, until the monsters they described turned out to be real.
Even as a new writer, you have to trust yourself to know when something is or isn’t working. You may need to leave a scene or whole chapter alone and come back to it later to find not only the right way to approach it, but the best way to tell (or show) the story. In Fantastic America I’ve always felt the beginning was a bit rushed, but didn’t trust myself to change the way I’d written that first page. I’ve tweaked that page but it has remained mostly what it was the first time I wrote it, over two years ago. With editorial feedback my instincts were validated, even though I’d never said a word to my editor about that scene. I could have save a lot of time if I’d just followed my instincts about that scene. There are lots of examples of this in my work, sometimes I’ve listened to that instinct and sometimes, to my detriment, I have not. Listen to your writer’s gut, save yourself some time, but if it isn’t working at all, don’t give up on it!