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!

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.