Am I living through a winter slowdown?

macro photography of snowflake

I’ve spent the last few years learning how to tell (I mean SHOW) the stories I want to share. Along the way, I took lots of courses, read books on craft, tried lots of writing software, hired coaches, and joined writers’ groups. Altogether I’ve spent thousands of dollars and many hours relentlessly pecking at my keyboard. I’ve made goal lists, checked off boxes, and patted myself on the back for the content I’ve created.

I have lots of short stories, and a completed manuscript, but I’ve sold next to nothing. The constant stream of rejections has made an impact on me at last. In this overcast wintry period between Halloween and New Year’s Day, I’ve avoided the urge to write. For me, writer’s block has always been an obstacle best overcome by sitting in front of the keys and writing. I might procrastinate, or make excuses, but ultimately I sit back down and write. Until now.

I wrote a post about a health scare I had around Halloween, I went into a diabetic coma for a few hours. That scared me. I changed a lot of habits I’ve developed over my adult lifetime, and could easily use that as an excuse to justify my behavior. That’s all it would be though, an excuse. The slowdown is all on me, and I’m the only one who can fix it.

This post is part of the overhaul I need to get moving again. So, thanks for reading this if you’ve made it this far. Sometimes the best way for me to work through my struggle is to type it out on the page. This is one of those times. I have a lot more stories to write, more worlds to build, and more rejections to log in my excel spreadsheet. It only takes one acceptance to get the ball rolling, right? So I write.

Rome Fires My Imagination…

roman forum with old building facades and columns in city

Years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Rome. By then I’d already read some Roman history and had a detached appreciation for the Eternal City. Walking through the ruins was a different experience altogether. My writing often reflects the two extremes of my imagination and our modern reality.

The glory of Rome faded well over fifteen hundred years ago. The city today is still impressive, but a visit to the Colosseum only shows the bones left behind. Imperial Rome is reduced to a tourist attraction and lives only in obscure literature (or fiction if you write like me). That doesn’t stop me from taking building fantasies from what remains.

What it means for me:

The picture above is from one edge of the Roman Forum, specifically the back of the Curia Julia (the senate house). This building was once the scene of political intrigue and pivotal moments in Roman history. Today its a crumbling shell of long faded grandeur, but that isn’t why it is important to me.

The ruins of Rome, (or a dozen other places that inspire me) are important not because the were once more imposing, but because they are a physical link to the events that shaped human history. I love ruins because my mind can recreate the splendor they once held, fill in the missing scenery with imagination, and bring the past (or some version of it) to life again.

How I use the past for today:

The skeletal remains of the past come to life in my writing, and with those images, I can build new settings. I can recreate what ancient events may have been like, or extrapolate new scenarios based on those events. Ruins are a canvas for my words to paint new images that may thrill and amaze my audience.

Ruins are a common ground other people can relate to before I add a heavy dose of the fantastic. Rome is a personal favorite because I have read so much about its people, places, and its history. That history echoes into the modern day as we grapple with issues the Romans dealt with long ago.

Rome wasn’t all glamor and prestige. It also saw crime, poverty, and corruption. The messy and undesirable parts of the city are just as important to me as the triumphs and monumental architecture that has survived. Rome is an expression of the human condition locked in fallen stones and rebuilt plazas. Tourists come to gawk at the bones (or the art, the architecture, the religious sites, the modern city, or whatever draws them there). For me, Rome is the muddled ideal of what humans are capable of when we work together.

The perfect elements of writing exist.

The problem for me is getting those elements on the page to remain acceptable outside my head. There is so much subjective and connective tissue lost between my imagination and how those ideas translate into words, that I have trouble not feeling like they have become the two dimensional T-rex from the meme above. Other writers may have this problem too, and my only advice for combatting the feeling is to edit the words until you reach the dragon above the T-rex. It is possible, I swear it!

The end of Summer…

sunflower with sunglasses

The past few weeks may be the longest break I’ve taken since I re-started this blog. A lot has happened this summer, from family misfortunes and cancelled plans, to rearranging our home and (my wife’s) gardening before fall. One thing that hasn’t changed is my time in the chair to write.

I’ve made writing a priority for a good long while now, and this summer has been no different. I have some ongoing projects, and some newer characters to talk about. The Crossroads series is still expanding, and I’ve outlined some interesting characters to fill in the countryside beyond Aralan, the Holy City. The latest and greatest story I’m outlining involves a retiring spy for the Aeran Republic, Lydia Antonia Draco.

My Jack short stories have been my other focus lately. Jack Webb lives in a world much like ours, but learns things he’s taken for granted are more than they appear. I have a whole slew of stories planned for Jack, and I’ll share more about those stories as I finish them. Stay tuned, the best is yet to come!

The Crossroads has been my focus lately…

petra jordan

I’ve been expanding the world of Eliantha and building up the characters who will impact the story of the Crossroads. The more I dive into how that world works, its people, history, and magic, the more fun I’m having crafting the narrative. As I learn more about the contests and challenges I’ve entered, I’ll post more updates here. The next announcement I’m waiting on is next Tuesday, the 28th of June.

Another contest, another (brief) update…

strong men doing an arm wrestling match

Of course I mean another writing contest. This time it is also set in the world of Eliantha and the Crossroads. This steps back in time from Aleera’s woodland adventure to the cosmopolitan city of Aralan. The story follows two young wizards who are part of the uprising against the current occupiers of the Holy City. The contest began last month, and I should know something of how I fared by the end of June.

Other stories are passing through my keyboard, and as I polish those up I’m sending them out to editors. When I sell a story, believe I’ll shout out the good news here. In the mean time, I’m building up a back list of stories to polish off again later. Waste not, want not, or something.

Spring is a time for changes

pink flower field

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

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

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

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

April showers…

rainbow in the gray sky above mountains and sea

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

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

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

Come visit the world of Torthal.

Torthal is the setting for the new short story series I’ve written. It’s a complex Earth-like world, far away, but oddly connected to many other worlds. The people of Torthal have spent almost a thousand of their years (circums) recovering from a chaotic dark age.

This world holds many mysteries. The first mystery readers will notice, is that alien species, called outsiders, appear in Torthal throughout this dark age. A young human whose parents came from Earth is obsessed with solving this mystery. The ancient torthans who could have explained the outsiders disappeared in the same event that began their dark age.

Torthans and humans are not alone. Powerful fanirim giants, and deadly plutoryn flying folk come to Torthal, ripped from their homeworlds. Giants are renowned for their prowess in battle, while the flying folk are hunted down as dangerous to all life on Torthal. Humans are a relative nuisance. They are too ugly, have only two arms, and are too emotional for most torthan societies.

That is what makes Gari Garcia so different. Orphaned at a young age, he found a sponsor among an elite torthan institution. Doma Jaylith, a priestess in the Order of Luminous Monks, mentors Gari from childhood. At the Monastery of Eternal Light, Lari learns their mystic traditions, academics, and martial arts.

Gari loses himself in study, advancing from novice to aspirant within the monk’s closed society. He excels in academics, and despite his lack of appendages, is proficient in martial arts. The Divine teachings of the Luminary Priesthood come easily to him under the tutelage of his gentle Doma mentor.

His only problem is, Gari is a human in world that denigrates his species. When the monks find an excuse to cast him out, Gari must find a new path in this alien world. His journey will change how he sees himself, how the world sees outsiders, and change the fate of Torthal forever.

How Google Earth helps me write…

planet earth

A while back I mentioned maps helping my writing process. When I was younger, I loved pouring over maps. I even covered my walls in maps of places I wanted to visit someday. I still have map books to refer to in a pinch, but that is no longer my go to source.

For years I used MapQuest for planning trips. One day, in the earliest iteration of what would become Fantastic America, I needed a map. For whatever reason, instead of MQ, I stumbled onto Google Earth, and I fell in love right away. I use it extensively in planning, research, and during my writing process.

This isn’t a commercial for the program, but I am going to highlight how I use it. For starters, I can pin locations like a real old fashioned wall map. I can pin point some place in the real world or overlay a location I’ve invented for the story. It even lets me add notes to the pin so I don’t have to remember every detail I had in mind (My memory needs all the help it can get).

Speaking of overlays, I can throw highlighted shapes over the terrain. This has been especially valuable when I had an area of effect to visualize or a large structure that doesn’t exist in the real world. When matched with the topographical features of the terrain overlays are even more helpful.

The Streetview function had been even more useful. With it, I can virtually visit just about any place I need to see at ground level. It drops me into cities, parks, archeological sites and more. Even if the detail isn’t great, I get enough information to search other sources or cobble together a decent impression of the location.

A significant amount of my novels take place in the recent past. Google Earth has me covered! I can look back at many locations at least into the 1980’s with supplemental Landsat or aerial photography. In some cases there is even street level data from earlier Google mapping efforts.

The last feature I’ll mention is the wide variety of pictures, panoramas, and location tags the program hosts for context. Tourists, academics, and professional photographers have plastered high traffic locations with great views of their visits. Businesses, museums, and points of interest have location tags that give me a feel for whole neighborhoods.

Best of all, from my perspective, all of this detail is free. For an author on a budget, or someone who finds travel difficult (me on both accounts), a virtual trip makes the most sense. I don’t know if this will help anyone, but the few times I’ve brought it up around other authors, they found the program extremely useful. I hope you do, too!

Spring is my second favorite season…

pink petaled flowers closeup photo

I love the sense of rebirth as plants come back to life, blushes of color pop up everywhere you look. Seeing people out enjoying warmer weather after a long cold winter makes me smile. Getting out of my house to enjoy the growth and beauty of the world brings me joy, too.

Spring is not my favorite season, although there is plenty to like. Putting away winter coats and clothes, spring cleaning to clear out the house, and enjoying the migration of birds and butterflies. My house sits on the pathway for Monarch butterflies every year.

Still there are things I don’t like, the weather in Spring is rainy. That makes my dogs paws muddy. Which in turn leads to a lot of washing clothes and bedding. Along with more sweeping and mopping than I’ve done since I was in the navy. Springing forward to daylight savings time is annoying, but I’ve dealt with it all my life.

Summer is my favorite season. Life thrives all around us. The weather is less rainy and even when it pours, the rain isn’t always cold. The days are long and the nights are warm. We have a lot of cook outs and bonfires. Swimming is a big past time in our backyard. As is our annual Fourth of July party, which we’ve held even during the pandemic.

So I’m happy to see Spring, but I long for Summer all year. The heat doesn’t bother me, but sometimes the humidity catches me off guard. I’d still rather be warm than cold. So happy Spring to you all, but know I’ll be a little happier still when Summer arrives.

Marvel dropped a truth bomb…

cutouts of letters

I’ve been a Marvel comics fan since I’ve been able to turn the pages without tearing them. Certainly before I could read. I’m also a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Seeing characters and stories brought to life on the silver screen has made me smile more than a few times. WandaVision blew my mind during it’s 9 episode run, and I am writing a blog post for that series too.

What I want to address, and I haven’t seen anyone else comment on this yet, is a scene from the Falcon and the Winter Soldier. This is a full on spoiler alert for episode two. If you haven’t seen it and plan to, skip the rest of this post. With that warning out of the way…

Sam and Bucky visit the first black Captain America, Isaiah Bradley. I won’t go into a lot of details about Isaiah, that could be a whole blog post by itself. I will say that his story is tragic from any perspective and a commentary on how the U.S. Government and military have treated African Americans. The visit does not go well. Sam and Bucky end up arguing in the street (it is intentionally not even much of an argument).

Here comes the truth bomb. While they are (heatedly) talking, Baltimore police show up. A black man and a white man are out in public (peacefully) disagreeing. The police immediately ask the white man if the black man is bothering him. Bucky is outraged (for us) that the cop doesn’t recognize Sam. Then the first cop’s partner whispers their identities in his ear. Credit to the actor, he does a spot on interpretation of a man who realizes his mistake too late.

Neither Sam nor Bucky are fazed by this. They don’t go on a rant about racial profiling or police assumptions about race in community policing. The commentary is all for the audience. We see a rare moment where super-heroics meets a real world scenario that all too often ends in injustice.

The scene is brief and ends with a warrant issued for Bucky. In a full reversal, the white man is arrested. A subtle means of turning the situation on its head. The rest of the episode, I couldn’t help but return to those few seconds. We got to see, through the lens of the main characters, an unexpected scenario of inequality.

Marvel has a history of exploring injustice and inequality in the comics. This may be one of the first times I’ve seen the MCU tackle this subject. Even on the small screen. Even without fight scenes, super powers or explosions, this truth bomb will keep me coming back for more. I only hope I can address injustice and inequality with such nuanced, realistic portrayals.

Familiars don’t work quite the way you might think…

photography of cat at full moon

Some traditions identify familiar spirits who aid witches and warlocks (among others) to practice their craft. Usually, these helpers take the form of an animal. In Europe this was often a black cat. Familiars in Fantastic America and Midwestern Magicians do not follow this pattern exactly.

Familiars in the Magic Unleashed series are people with an affinity to magic but who are unable to perform spellwork. Instead, familiars are inexorably drawn to wizards with whom their affinity aligns. Each school or kind of magic has a ritual to empower familiars. This also links them to the wizard they will serve. Familiars are not slaves, they retain free will, and can break the link to their wizard.

Life wizards create paladins, fierce protectors of life. Aqueous wizards create tritons, fast swimmers of the deep. Earth wizards create beastmasters, who link with and empower animals to aid their cause. Necromancers create minions, cold and dark enforcers. Chaos wizards create hellions, infernally strong disciples of destruction. Sorcerers create apprentices, their electrically charged defenders.

Arcanists use practical magic. They do not create familiars, but they do sometimes adopt a totem animal that embodies characteristics they admire.  The fox for its cunning, the owl for its wisdom, the raven for its intelligence, or the smart and lucky rabbit. These animals are all smaller and hardly menacing but can still outsmart and defeat their adversaries.

There is one other type of familiar that may account for some traditions associating animals with the role of helper. Animals from other realities are, in general, ill suited to life on Earth. Animals stranded here will seek out a wizard attuned to their home, if one is nearby. A wizard can help these animals survive if it is at all possible. In return, the animal can aid the wizard or simply keep them company as an exotic pet.

There aren’t many books I’ve read more than once…

There are plenty of movies I’ve watched dozens of times. Wizard of Oz and It’s a Wonderful Life are probably right up there with Star Wars, Empire and Jedi. Once I’ve read a book, I don’t feel the need to revisit it. I think it has to do with how connected I feel to the book.

They say, “The book is always better than the movie.” That feels true for me because I fill in all the pieces of the story with my imagination. No matter how true to the source material a movie is, a director can’t duplicate the stunning world I can create with my imagination. No actor’s performance, no matter how nuanced can capture the mental images I create when reading a story. It’s not even close.

So I guess, for me at least, I revisit movies to capture some of that magic a book gets right by omission. The author gives a reader enough broad strokes to build the world, and a few specific details for their characters, whatever the story needs to progress. The rest of the story should be in my mind anyway. The stories I love the most let me fill in the rest of the details as I read.

That may mean my Emerald City looks nothing like the movie sets, and my theft of the Enterprise from Spacedock looked nothing like Shatner’s heist. They are tiny vignettes of my imagination, inspired by words on a page. Each book I’ve read (usually only one time) has scenes like that, infinitely more real to me than the best film version. Seeing those scenes come to life on screen is exciting, but the internal scene is always better.

Family is more than shared blood.

sharing cherry tomatoes

Culturally humans tend to gather in ever larger groups. The core of this social arrangement starts with families. Families form clans, who form tribes, who form nations, who the historians tell us go on to found countries and so on. This has been the model for as long as I can remember in every social studies textbook I’ve read.

I don’t especially believe it though. My premise is pretty simple, although I may have some personal bias to believe otherwise. I think people today are pretty much the same as people five thousand years ago. Our science and technology may have changed, but people are still people. We act and react just like our ancestors did.

So here is my argument for families of choice rather than blood relatives as the basis for societies before recorded history. People find others they like and avoid people they don’t like. You can see this in kindergarten classes, college orientations, employees, churches, and even retirement homes. Family remains important of course, but close friends are often just as important.

This isn’t just a modern concept, or one especially true in America. I’ve traveled around the world enough to recognize families of choice when I see them. Life long friends come from all over, not just school chums either; neighbors, co-workers, and fellow hobby enthusiasts qualify here. Humans go out of our way to make connections beyond the family.

In my stories families of choice are implied, I don’t always make a big deal of the social structure, but it’s there. Friends are often the only support a character may have if family is unwilling or unable to provide a shoulder to cry on. This observation came to me from my experiences in life, but it is more real to me for having lived it.

Hiking, a horse, and getting lost in the dark…

photo of forest with fog

I grew up in North Carolina surrounded by tall pine trees. Not far from home, stood what was left if an old growth forest. Wedged between ever expanding subdivisions north of Raleigh, these trees were a remnant of a remnant. The forest remained a pocket of accessible untamed nature. It was a wilderness to explore when my mother and grandmother were tired of me being indoors too long.

On those days, I grabbed a cloth sack, filled it with a water bottle, and whatever my twelve year old mind envisioned I might need. It turned out I had no idea what that meant. I also grabbed a walking stick, a sapling tree, whittled down to a spear shape with a further sharpened tip. I thought I’d be ready for anything.

Setting out was a simple walk to the edge of my neighborhood. The end of a high privacy fence marked the edge of the wilderness. I entered the canopy of trees and sauntered off on my afternoon adventure. This leg of the journey was intimately familiar. I had to pass through this small stand of trees to reach my Aunt Beulah’s home.

Beulah lived alone on land her husband had sharecropped before he died. I’d discovered Beulah’s home on an earlier expedition and spent many afternoons on her front porch talking and laughing with her. Today I decided to strike out for the real forest beyond Beulah’s garden.

I waved at Aunt Beulah as I passed her house, but kept to my mission. A small barn and paddock for a horse lay beyond the sunflower field I had to cross. The horse was usually in the paddock, but today he was gone. A red clay road ended at the barn leading back towards Mount Vernon Church road, the same paved road I lived on. It represented safety and civilization, I turned away from it for my first glimpse of the real woods.

A foot trail led under a canopy far higher than the stand of trees I’d passed earlier. A towering oak tree dominated a clearing just inside the tree line. Beneath that tree stood the horse from the paddock. It had reins dangling from the bit in its mouth, but no saddle or signs of it’s owner. I froze.

Horses were alien to me. I’d ridden a pony a few times at the state fair, but that was nothing like a full grown horse staring at me alone under an old oak tree. It snorted in dismissal, I posed no threat. The horse went back to grazing or whatever it had been doing when I disturbed it. I sighed in relief that it didn’t care a thing about me.

Still, I gave the horse a wide berth while I made a way around the clearing to where the path picked up again. I stepped back into the foliage and resumed my mission.

It was glorious. The path, like an animal trail, but I didn’t know or care about that at the time, led me right where I wanted to go. Deep in the forest and away from humans altogether.

I found a creek that bubbled as it wound through the woods. There were birds and squirrels everywhere. Spider webs caught the sunlight as I wandered deeper into the trees. Wild plants, ferns and flowers reached up to the sky to catch some sunlight too. That light faded by the time I realized I’d long ago left the path I’d followed.

Afternoon became evening, and darkness fell. I lost all sense of direction. The woods that seemed so enchanting in daylight now held menacing shadows. My little bag with the water bottle held nothing to help me. Outthrust roots in the banks of the creek I’d seen could easily have been snakes that terrified me even then. Sounds of birds and unseen wildlife could have been anything at all coming for an easy meal. I panicked. In the dark, I didn’t know where to go.

I learned a few tough life lessons that evening in the woods. Sometimes, you get in over your head. Before you know it, you’re lost and alone. No one else can help you in those moments. When the dark and scary world closes in, you can sit and cry about it, or figure out how to get yourself out of that predicament. I decided to find a way out. The creek, as scary as it might be in the dark, was my deliverer.

I followed the creek to the red-clay road I’d avoided earlier, followed the road back to the pavement of Mount Vernon, then I followed Mouth Vernon back to my neighborhood, and finally walked in my front door. My mother and grandmother had just started to worry that I hadn’t come home yet. I was far more relieved than either of them seemed at the time.

I have a much healthier appreciation of dangerous situations since then. Using self-reliance, I’ve found my way out of more than a few scary circumstances. My brief walk in the dark could have gone horribly wrong. That lesson I learned after the fact. I keep that in mind too.

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! – 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!