Every character has an agenda…

anonymous people standing on street among smoke during protests at night

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

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

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

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

I’d like you to meet Doctor Moses…

The long shadow of Marie Laveau

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

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

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

Make sure you know what you’re looking for…

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

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

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

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

Wraiths are a plague on humanity…

monochrome photo of woman

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

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

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

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

A brief summary of characters…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editing is like a parfait… Parfaits are delicious!

four chocolate parfait on clear glasses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

woman holding fireflies

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

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

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

3 ideas behind my debut novel:

pexels-photo-2479882.jpeg

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

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

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

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

I’ve always wanted to write…

brown book page

But life got in the way. I wrote poetry in high school and went to young writers workshops. People said they liked my poetry, but I didn’t see anything special in what I wrote. I wrote essays and commentary that I liked, but my attempts at short stories or prose sounded awful. After high school I enlisted in the navy, still wrote some poetry, and kept notes for an epic fantasy series (that I never tried to write). I got married (and divorced) but still never got serious about writing.

I made copious notes in science fiction settings to explore in a connected universe (before Marvel). Over a decade, I dreamt up at least six full notebooks of worlds but never wrote about them. Even after I left the navy, I just couldn’t keep my butt in the chair to discover what might be possible. What I did was a hobby, nothing to compare with actual writers.

All along, there was a smoldering fire in my belly when I’d read someone else’s story. Anyone can critique another writer’s efforts on the page. As years dragged on I grew convinced that I could do what they did. I might even be better at writing than some of the stories I’d read. Still, I had a child, health problems, and more than enough excuses not to write more than a few notes here and there.

In 2017 that changed. There were no more excuses, my son was growing up, my wife and I were older, and my health was stable for a while. I dove into an old notebook and wrote my first short story. It wasn’t short, more of a novella, but I didn’t know that yet. Nothing Ventured, and it’s second half, Nothing Gained, were soundly rejected, rewritten and rejected again. In frustration, I self published a couple of short stories. They were terribly written, but I was sure that couldn’t have been the issue.

At some point it occurred to me to change gears, and I wrote the first version of what would become Fantastic America: The Magic Unleashed. Over the three and a half years it has taken me to finish the book, I also wrote a series of short stories set along side them. They helped me define the world, hone my craft, and become a more confident, more capable writer.

F/A is done, edited, and polished as far as I can take it at the moment. I’ve outlined and partially written three more books in the series. The smoldering fire in my belly all those years has flared up. My only regret is that it took me so long to get serious, to put in the time and effort to improve my craft to reach this point. Now I’m excited to continue the journey.

PitMad is almost upon us…

red blue and yellow textile

Since I’m finally at the querying stage, I’m getting ready for #PitMad as practice for pitching Fantastic America. I’m hoping Ashley, Daniel, and Jerry can find an advocate to take their story to the next stage in publishing. Fingers crossed, I hope for hearts during the event, but honing my pitch and query letter are important to me as I pursue a career as an author.

To double down on that idea I signed up for Kathy Ver Eecke’s Pitch Perfect Five Day Challenge. She has a course designed to prepare authors for #PitMad. Part of that process teaches writers how to pitch their work successfully no matter what format that takes. So far, I’ve at least made some new contacts with other authors on Twitter as we get ready for #Pitmad.

I’ve done some practice runs with #DVPit and #PitDark so I’m at least I feel competent with Twitter. Of course, I have a ton of other things going on the day of #PitMad, but it only takes a few seconds to copy and paste a tweet. I hope it goes well, and if I get any hearts this time, rest assured I’ll share that here. Wish me luck this Thursday!

This is my 200th blog post!

person pouring champagne on champagne flutes

This is a minor milestone for most, but I never expected to keep up this blog to begin with. I let the most of the first two years I had a website go without a half dozen posts. So for me, this 200th post is a bigger deal than it might be for others. For those of you who’ve stuck around for my rambling, I thank you!

My books are shaping up I ways I did not expect. There is more to the characters and their journey than I thought I could come up with. I’m reaching a depth with the stories I hoped to achieve but had no idea how to translate that from imagination to the page. Now I am sure I can accomplish all that and then some.

For those of you who are new to the Sorcerers’ Realm, the ride is far from over! In fact, I’m just getting started with the themes I want to explore. I have so much to share, but writing takes more of my attention than the bits I can share here before publication. Expect the Realm to broaden as I finish more books and explore more of the Fantastic America / Midwestern Magicians world.

I’ve been writing my debut novel for three years.

It has taken several starts and stops, reorganizations, and rewrites to reach this form. As it is now, I started writing Fantastic America: The Magic Unleashed from scratch in September of 2020. This blog has more or less kept pace with all of my excitement and frustrations along the way. If you’ve been here through that process, you know I’ve been learning as I went along.

My rough draft was ‘finished’ in October, and I took November away from the MS for Nanowrimo (to work on the next book in the series, Midwestern Magicians). F/A went through a professional developmental edit between Christmas and the end of January. From January till now I’ve been working through those edits, beta reader feedback, and chapter by chapter suggestions from my online critique group.

Tonight I reached another milestone, one that kind of caps off my efforts over the past three years. My goal in September was to write a 90K word contemporary fantasy novel. I came in way under that goal at 75K words on the page. Tonight, after a lot of writing and re-writing, I came in at 90,997 words. The book reads better, and I am overjoyed to have finally finished the book! (At least until an editor tells me differently – which I’d still be overjoyed to hear…)

The following is not public knowledge:

white and black moon with black skies and body of water photography during night time
The sea holds many secrets…

In Fantastic America, on the same night that ravenous undead poured into the world, another menace swam into Earth’s oceans. Actual sea monsters, described by witnesses as varying from giant tentacled creatures to long
serpentine monstrosities. Observers spotted monsters thousands of miles apart in the North Atlantic, North Pacific, and Indian Oceans. At each location, the monsters briefly surfaced, then dove deep underwater, and evaded further detection by modern naval vessels sent to investigate.

Although there were eyewitnesses to these arrivals, most news reports of the solstice events glossed over their accounts. Without direct evidence of their existence or clear dangers from sea monsters, stories were forgotten, especially after the coverage of so many other frightening phenomena. The United States, United Kingdom, Russian Federation, Peoples Republic of China, Japan self-defense force, and Indian Navies are all actively searching for these creatures. It is only a matter of time before sea monsters cause further panic and damage to international shipping, fishing, travel, and tourism.

Daniel Forrester has tasked his research and development team with finding countermeasures for these monsters. A collision between humans and sea monsters is inevitable, but these measures effectiveness remains untested. A nightmare scenario involving international cruise ships and a group of terrifying creatures is on many world leaders’ minds. Much like the zombie curse and its cure through prayer, nations aware of the danger have kept this looming catastrophe from the public.

I’d like you to meet President Grander…

Michelle Leigh Grander (R) – Michigan. President Grander became the first woman elected president of the United States in 2008. She succeeded the scandal ridden Presidency of Troy Cameron (D) – California. When Fantastic America begins, she is fresh off a landslide second term victory. Considered hawkish on international affairs, her domestic policies stirred controversy throughout her first term. The solstice events that usher in the weirdness of Fantastic America totally derail her plans to overhaul immigration and naturalization.

President Grander personally tasks Daniel Forrester with developing a Federal response to the solstice events. She folds his plan into a larger effort to address the issues around the world, specifically those threatening America after the solstice. She provides Daniel and his teams with any resource he might possibly need.

The President is as proactive in this crisis, or series of crises, as possible. She sends help to American allies abroad, keeps our armed forces on alert, and looks for solutions from any avenue. She’s also responsible for building up Daniel’s Paranormal Response Unit into a force to be reckoned with. Her press conference the day after the solstice helped calm the nation, and her repeated voice of calm and steely resolve have kept panic from overwhelming America since then.

Querying is part of the journey…

man in black suit sitting on chair beside buildings

Though in some ways it is a more daunting task than writing a manuscript. Searching for a literary agent for Fantastic America is new for me. I’ve queried (and gotten plenty of rejections) for other short story projects. Querying for a literary agent is much more involved than submitting a story to a magazine editor, but the principles are similar.

At times, the sheer amount of information can be overwhelming. There are thousands of agents, at hundreds of literary agencies. Narrowing down my search to an agent that is looking for books in the genre I write, who are open to queries is a challenge. A challenge I repeat over and over to get a good number of submissions going at once.

Once I’ve found an agent that might be a good fit, learning more about them takes a bit more research. What do they like, what don’t they like, and is my story something they could believe in? Following their submission guidelines is fairly straight forward. Waiting is not easy. Having more work to do while I wait is essential to my sanity.

So I’m a bit frazzled right now. Tracking submissions on my excel spreadsheet helps me stay on task. Of course the point of the spreadsheet is to remember on the page what my memory might not recall without it. Have sent anything to this agent before, did I hear back, has it been long enough to query anyone else at that agency? All of this and more, is part of how I manage my queries. Without a tracking sheet, I’d be lost.

I’d like to introduce you to L.o.R.E.

central park with skyscrapers in new york city

Henry Boyd Raft founded the League of Raftean Examiners in New York city in the 1930’s. Raft was an eccentric journalist who witnessed the disappearance of Cecelia Tremaine in central park. Henry spent the next thirty years of his life devoted to investigating weird and esoteric phenomena around the United States. Raft enlisted colleagues in journalist and academic circles to research events he could not investigate personally. He also founded the Raftean News, a monthly magazine that highlighted oddities for the public.

After his death in 1962, the magazine passed among several of his investigators until 1972 when it was shuttered. In the ten years between Raft’s death and the last issue of the magazine, the League of Raftean Examiners established their national organization. This was also the first year of the national LoRE Convention.

Since then, LoRE has remained a loose network of academics, journalists and amateur investigators. They still seek out unexplained (or poorly understood) phenomena like ball lightning, the Brown Mountain Lights, ooparts, spontaneous human combustion, rains of unusual animals or materials, and UFO’s. The most recent convention in Chicago counted over fifteen hundred attendees. Lectures included collecting, sharing and publishing data on a variety of unexplained phenomena.

Herbert Allan, former history professor at Valparaiso University, and his wife Ginny were major organizers for the annual LoRE convention. Allan still maintains connections with many of his former Examiner colleagues. Many of these colleagues have begun an uncoordinated investigation of paranormal events since the solstice.

I’ve taken a deeper dive into backstory…

When I made the decision to reinvent the history of the Earth of Fantastic America I only went back a short distance. I’ve discovered a need to go further back, and its difficult for me to stop once I get started. A new path allows new wrinkles to the story. Writing with that in mind is fun for me, and hopefully for my audience as well.

My most recent dive into the history of this world has taken me to the 1860’s. July of 1863 to be more precise. A small town in Pennsylvania that will change the course of the Civil War and American history. The little nudge to what happened here is unremarkable to recorded history, but will have ripples through the entire story in modern times. I won’t ruin the surprises in store, but I’m almost giddy with how well it’s working out!

The changes go deeper, so my dive will continue. I have more than a few ideas that may not show up until after the first book in the series. I’ll keep writing, and keep posting on this blog, so stick around for clues and explanations you won’t find in the books. This is already a wild ride, it only gets weirder from here.

I’m often surprised at how ideas come together…

shallow focus photography of paintbrush

I had very specific ideas for Fantastic America when I started the project. Back then, it wasn’t even called that, but I still had a plan. Eventually, I had too much material for one book, or even four books. Rewriting and expanding the ideas, I lost some of the focus on ideas that became less important in my rush to finish the manuscript. Editing and rewriting didn’t bring those ideas back right away either.

Fortunately, rewriting is a long process. I was inspired to add in an idea that addressed shortcomings I found in my latest round of edits. That idea brought many of those older ideas that had fallen by the way side back into focus. As often happens, the way opened for all those ideas fit together more neatly than I could have planned.

Now, I have a perfect method to introduce concepts, names, and events that I want to plant as seeds for the rest of the series. There is a bit of mirth and joy that bubbles up out of no real attempt on my part. I often credit my muse for a good deal of my personal creativity, and this may be another example of how she helps me write.

I fell in love with my book all over again…

Fantastic America has gone through dozens of re-writes since I finished the original manuscript. Rounds of self editing, expansion, developmental editing, and polishing have (I hope) focused and refined the story. In that months long process, I kind of lost that loving feeling for the book. It wasn’t what I envisioned, and I wasn’t sure how to fix it. I hear a lot that the only way to learn to write a book is to write a book, and I believe it.

I have learned a lot that will help me with Midwestern Magicians and every other book I write in the future. Those lesson fortunately came before I tried to send my first book out into the wide world. Which brings me to my new appreciation of FA. It sings to me again. The characters are deeper, their struggles have more impact, and their service of the larger narrative is back in harmony with my original vision.

I can’t wait to share that with the world (or at least my small audience within the world)!

Phantom Beasts.

gray timber wolf

These creatures first emerged after the solstice events in aokigahara forest, Japan. Also called ghost animals, they can take on the appearance of virtually any animal they encounter. The beasts shed their animal form when threatened. They take on the terrifying aspect of an eight foot tall, clawed and fanged wolf-like creature. Likely meant to frighten away would be attackers. In all their forms, they give off a pale blue glow and are semi-transparent.

Since Japan, phantom beasts have been sighted in forests in India, Russia, Europe and North America. No single specimen of phantom beast has survived more than three days on Earth. Leading experts believe their home environment is incompatible with life as we know it. The same experts have developed a short ranged electrical taser projectile that disrupts and kills the beasts regardless of what form they take.