Beasts in the Magic Unleashed series…

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Animals from the world of Fantastic America and the worlds beyond it, play an important role in telling the stories related to to series. You get a glimpse of some of these animals through reports Ashley Monahan follows in her part of the novel, as well as Agent Forrester’s attempts to eradicate errant creatures who have strayed into their world. What I can’t wait to show you is the great biological diversity (and lack of diversity) in those worlds beyond the physical universe. There are so many creatures from mythology, animals and almost animals I have curated for the series. Some are instantly recognizable, but others may leave you wondering, just what was that thing???

A note about Wizards…

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You’ll meet Wizards (capitalized on purpose) at the very beginning of their magical journeys. They have to figure out how to use their newfound gifts, and will have no idea how those gifts will change them. There are reasons for them uncover that will motivate them to embrace or reject both those powers and the responsibilities that come with them. Using their abilities will tie them more tightly to those responsibilities whether they want them or not. The changes they undergo are the heart of Midwestern magicians, but that is only a footnote to the expanding story of how magic is changing their world. The action and mysteries are amplified as the story unfolds, the weirding has begun!

Life has a funny way…

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Of getting in the way of writing. This week has been a fine example of all the little things that can come up to derail my writing routine and editing plans. From laundry piles, fixing clogged pipes, taking care of pets, and helping my son with his English homework (Chaucer is still rough to read!), life threw plenty my way in just the past three days to slow any progress I hoped to make. Fortunately, I’ve still gotten some work done, not as much as I might have hoped, but I’m still on a self-imposed schedule (I really can’t fall behind at this point). When that changes due to an agent or editor with deadlines, I’ll have to power through the same way I did when writing Fantastic America to begin with. At least I know I can do that still. Anyway, I intend to have a good week, and I hope you do, too!

I’ve put my editing cap back on…

For Fantastic America! With Nanowrimo well finished, I’ve set aside my work on Midwestern Magicians to focus on the first round of edits by a professional editor (not me). While I’m excited to get through this process, I suspect I will have more than a few stressful moments. Even within my critique group, I’m still often reminded of my novel writing inexperience. I expect the same to be true with the developmental edit, perhaps even more than the group process, because the whole point is to shape the raw story into an easier to read, more enjoyable book, that still says all the things I intended to say originally. At least, that’s my hope going into this. Best case scenario, I learn a great deal and write even better books going forward. I’m the first to admit I have a lot to learn, and this is a great chance to learn by doing. Wish me luck!

I spend a lot of time on Pinterest…

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I mean, if I’m on my computer, including right now, Pinterest is an open tab on my browser. I check it out whenever I have a few minutes. Usually it has results from searches for specific ideas I’ve had, sometimes I just browse for content I haven’t seen before, or maybe I’m looking for a perfect picture to inspire my already over active imagination. There is a lot more to Pinterest though, and lately I’ve been studying how other people use the site for marketing. That’s never been my focus before, but as I get closer to publishing Fantastic America I’ve been looking for all the ways I can spread the word (pardon the pun) about my work through every channel at my disposal. I’ve watched tutorials, read articles and snooped around a bit to see what sense I can make of Pinterest for that purpose. As with most projects technical, it will really take a lot of effort on my part to figure it out. When I do, stand by for the fireworks!

A little planning goes a long way…

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I started out writing as a pantser, but found I really need some planning to reach the finish line. As it turns out I’m not the only one who found working out the details between books challenging. Patrick Rothfuss spent years writing the story for his Kingkiller Chronicle only publishing the first book after a long editing process. The second book took a few years to get right and now it’s been almost a decade between the second and third books. The main problem he’s had according to the articles I’ve read are in balancing what he’s published with his original drafts of the story. Personally, I don’t want to take that long between books, so I’m investing some time now to reconcile issues I’ve already encountered between Fantastic America, and Midwestern Magicians. I’m a bit of an over achiever in some ways, so I’m also reconciling books three and four tentatively titled, The Steaming South and Raising New Orleans, with all the short stories I’ve written so far. I’d hate to make anyone wait a decade between books!

The only way to write a book…

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Is to put aside everything else for a while and write. You can get lost in writing a story as easily as reading one, but you’ll never finish what you start without putting the time in to write. That doesn’t mean other things aren’t necessary, like research, list building, blog posts (chuckle), or other writing-related efforts. Writing, though, even if it’s terrible and you don’t keep what you’ve written, is the key. Craft is great, plotting or pantsing is fine, and all the twists and surprises in the world you make are terrific, too, but without words on the page, keystroke after keystroke, none of that will ever matter. I’ve seen tons of advice on creating a writing habit and sticking to a routine, which is wonderful in and of itself. Until you occupy a chair (couch, bed, or convenient spot to work) and put those words in your head on the page (be it paper or electronic), none of that advice is especially helpful. I can find thousands of excuses not to write, but that’s all they are: excuses not to do the one thing I know I am good at, that feels rewarding, and will move my author aspirations ahead. So, when you’re ready (if you aren’t stuck in the first place), get in your spot (whatever form that may take), and write your next masterpiece, even if it’s terrible! You’ll never get better if you don’t practice anyway…

Just a sniffle…

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I keep telling myself it’s nothing. Allergy season is past its peak now. I take my meds, drink some extra Vitamin C in my honeyed tea, and call it an early night. I’ll most likely wake up in the middle of the night and write some more. For now, I’ll cuss my compromised immune system and go back to bed. Goodnight 🙂

Inspiration comes from all around us…

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My inspiration is virtually unlimited. I get ideas from nature, music, memories, dreams, pictures, maps, books, films, TV shows, commercials, interactions with my friends and family, and of course putting all of those things together in my mind in different ways. Like jigsaw puzzle pieces that might only go together one way, until you look at it differently and realize there are a dozen other ways to use those pieces. I scroll through Pinterest all the time looking for ideas, art, and concepts to bring my creativity to life.

Some of my best ideas come to me just as I settle in to go to sleep. If the idea is good enough, I’ll even get out of bed to write it down. This has come in the form of dialogue, plot ideas, character backstory, and whole scenes I struggled with wide awake. There are plenty of folks who ascribe that kind of inspiration to the Muses, or a shifting between awakened consciousness and the subconscious reaching out to solve problems that you couldn’t imagine awake. I don’t care what the source is, honestly, I’m just glad to find a solution.

Music helps me write…

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Sometimes it just helps drown out the chaos around me, dogs yapping, TV playing, or children running around. In general though, music helps me calm down, or pump up emotions I need to write a scene. I love a variety of music from classical to pop to hip-hop to rock to 80’s electronica (Not a big country fan, but there are a few in my playlist). The best music for me to clear my head with are intros – songs from TV shows or movie theme songs that evoke a specific response in my mind. I’ll give you a sample of that playlist, there is little or no lyric in any of them: Battlestar Galactica (1978), Star Wars (several), Star Trek (Next Generation), Dr. Who, Knight Rider, A Team, Avengers (from all the movies), Game of Thrones, and Stranger Things.

Little details matter to me…

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Whenever a setting takes on any significance in a scene, I try to bring out what I imagine is enough detail to make the setting real to the reader. I try not to go overboard about it, but if there is some bit of local flair about the setting, I try to capture some of it for the story. That isn’t always possible, and even when I try it doesn’t always translate well, but I still give it a shot. This is true for famous locations, big cities, and rural settings, anywhere that the setting is important to the narrative. Dashing through a location isn’t quite the same as exploring it in detail, but given the chance, I can’t help but include something about the environment the characters are in or moving through.

The picture I chose for this post is an example. It is a view from Central Park in New York City, of a specific building that plays a major role in a companion short story to the novels in the Magic Unleashed series. I spent a lot of time researching the building’s history as well as the physical layout of the penthouse apartment before changing it to suit the story. It soon became the Aerie for the main character’s employer in “The Dagger of Haxamanes”. Sometimes I make my writing life harder than it has to be…

I met Harry tonight…

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Dresden, not Potter. I write contemporary fantasy, Fantastic America and Midwestern Magicians along with a bunch of short stories starring secondary characters from the novels. Jim Butcher also wrote his Dresden Files series as contemporary fantasies. I’ve avoided reading the series while I fleshed out the nuts and blots of my magic system and how my characters interact with magic in general to prevent the sincerest form of flattery I know from creeping into my books. I’m glad I waited, Butcher’s magic isn’t like mine in the broadest sense, his rules are different from mine, his magic is a permanent fixture in Dresden’s world, and I’ve invested enough time and effort that our worlds will never be confused for the other’s. But there are some points where we do cross paths along the way, and that’s ok. When you’re writing about magic in imaginary people’s lives, there are bound to be some similarities inherent to the words that describe such events, emotions, and story elements.

The lens a reader sees Dresden through is closer, more immediate, and in many ways more raw than I have even thought about showing my characters. That isn’t bad or good, but it is a different perspective and gives me food for thought. Not that I intend to go change anything about my books because of it, but seeing that close deeply personal POV throughout the story does throw you right into the heart of the action. I got to know Harry (and a bit of Butcher too) throughout the course on the night it took me to devour Storm Front.

That’s another good take away, the stream of consciousness Dresden narrates his adventure with made for a real page turner. Not only was I repeatedly surprised by the latest cartoon anvil to fall on poor Harry’s head, but waiting for the next surprise to blow up in his face kept me engrossed in the action. I was disappointed when I reached the end of the book, like the last ride of the night on my favorite ride at the amusement park. Good thing for me, there are twenty some novels in the series, I suppose!

I’ve always been fascinated by ruins…

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As a kid ruins of old places (or even recently vacated places) struck a chord in me. I built miniature ruins in my yard from cinderblocks or rocks, whatever material I could find to elicit that sense of awe real ruins stirred in me. Even in my travels as an adult I couldn’t get enough of dusty Masada, the Acropolis in Athens, the Colosseum in Rome, or the time worn stones of Salisbury Plain. Even the more distant ruins I’ve wanted to reach but never visited, like the collapsed civilization of Easter Island, abandoned Angkor, and mysterious Nan Madol tug at my imagination today.

What were these places like in their prime? What were their people and their lives like? What secrets do they still hold that might bring them and their people to life again if we can tease the information out of them? Those questions burn in my mind even now, far away from the tiny ruins I made as a child.

In Fantastic America and Midwestern Magicians, you’ll get glimpses of ruins from a previous magical age. Those ruins and their people are unrecorded in human history, but they are no less real in the books despite their long silence. The loss of magic destroyed all of the previous magical cultures, but the return of magic brings a shadow of their former glory back to the world. They may be distant in time from the modern era, but the cultures who embraced magic long ago still influence the characters and events unfolding in the series. My childhood fascination has come full circle.

I started out as an optimist…

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I came of age as the Berlin Wall fell, the Soviet Union collapsed, and Tiananmen Square seemed as though it might work out. Years later I’m still hopeful, although the last four years has been a test of that hope. The trouble is, despite all the hope of my youth, things haven’t substantially changed much. There may be more awareness of the problems the world faces, or at least more coverage on the evening news. Unless there is change though, awareness is not enough. Problems need solutions.

So in my stories, you’ll find hope, you’ll find multiple points of view, and you’ll find solutions. They may not be perfect. In fact, expect they will cause as much mischief as they solve (at least at first). Characters in the books may rail against these solutions, defy them, or wholeheartedly support them. One thing you can count on, they will reflect the real world in some way, good or bad, but seldom, if ever, indifferent.

Happy (Belated) Thanksgiving!


I know this year has been weird for some, devastating for others, and the holidays are about as far from ‘normal’ as possible. Whether you stayed home like us or travelled to be with loved ones this year, I hope you are safe and content. While you’re being thankful this year, keep in mind those who are not as fortunate, those who defend our country, far from their homes and loved ones, and those who have no home at all. This is also the perfect time to recognize the marginalized people whose tribulations shaped the development of our nation. Slavery is a blot on our conscience, and the land the United States is built on was not our ancestor’s land to take. We wouldn’t have the bounty and blessings we enjoy today without either, but celebrating without acknowledging them has always felt hollow to me. So it’s a conflicted holiday for me for more than one reason. Hold your loved ones close. This world is fleeting, and in the end, all of us end up as memories in the minds of those we leave behind. Make those memories special for as many people as you can. Happy (Belated) Thanksgiving!!!

If I’m being honest…

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I’m not as good at the tech side of things as I’d like to be. Setting up an email campaign has been frustrating for example. The good news is, I can still learn (and find better ways to do what I was trying to do without help). That may be a singular strength for me, I learn but I also ask for help. The only thing that beats being able to do something yourself is finding someone who can do that thing so well, I can get back to my main priority… Writing. So that’s where I’m at as Nanowrimo comes to a close, finding ways to automate and concentrate my efforts on writing this far more ambitious book two!

I almost gave up…

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I’d been writing for almost a year with nothing worthwhile to show for it. My work was in a vacuum, with no craft input to speak of, and only rejections from every magazine I submitted to reinforce that I wasn’t good enough. I had self-published two short stories on Amazon, but neither of them sold much at all. Looking back they weren’t well written, and I had no idea how to promote them, so it was no surprise they didn’t sell. Still, when all your validation is negative reinforcement, it’s hard to keep putting in the time. That time is the only means to get better though, and I’d just about given up on even figuring out what I was doing wrong.

Fortunately, I’m stubborn. I kept reading, I kept writing, and I looked for some positive reinforcement. Two things changed the trajectory I was on at the time. First, I found, a site for Kindle readers and authors. On KBoards, I found a post by Hugh Howey, an author I’d never heard of before. And a FB post I almost didn’t answer.

The KBoards post was about how been in almost the same place I was at the time. The parts that stuck with me were when he found his tribe and when he realized he was on the right path. KBoards was that place for me at that moment. My tribe was there, doing what I was doing, maybe better than I was, but that just meant I had room to grow. Despite what were failures in my mind up until then, the path I was on was still the right one for me.

The second event right after that, was that I tried to find more of my tribe, this time on FB. I joined a lot of writers groups on FB, but didn’t feel that same connection I had before. Then I answered a post for a critique group that wanted new members. The critique group consistently tore apart the best work I sent them. They even got exasperated that I wasn’t learning from the torn apart work I’d submitted before.

The one thing they didn’t do was kick me out, or tell me to give up. So I learned. With agonizing slowness, perhaps, I fixed the things I didn’t know I needed to work on. Each critique cycle, I worked on my dialogue, the tags and the thoughts between speaking, showing versus telling, and writing visceral scenes that drew readers in and held onto them page by page. Eventually, they didn’t tear apart everything I wrote. Although I still have plenty they do tear apart, that’s what critique groups are for, in part.

So here I am today, still learning, but certain I’m on the right path and among the people who can show me the right way. I’ve also sorted my voice from all the words I’ve put on the page, and learned to listen to that voice and my instincts as I write. Otherwise, the book I’ve written would still be unfinished, and the one I’m working on now might never be done. I didn’t give up, and if you are considering the same thing, I’d beg you to reconsider. The world needs art, humans need stories, and readers need what you have to share. At the very least, I’m glad I didn’t walk away from all that.

I’ve reached another milestone!

Fantastic America is out for editing! While I’m still working on Midwestern Magicians, the march towards publishing the first book in the Magic Unleashed series continues. The process is moving on, and my darling first draft is going off to grow into a mature manuscript. I’ll keep everyone posted about the editing struggle, but I’m pretty excited to have gone from the writing and revision stages to this first round of editing. There were times when I wondered if I’d ever get this far. Looking back, my biggest regret is not finding my way here sooner. Like Pumbaa said, “You gotta put your behind in the past…” or whatever he meant. I’m making progress and learning more than I knew I didn’t know as I go. No complaints here! (Except for the snow and ice outside – the warm fall is gone for now – Iowa weather… Ugh!)

Magic in my stories is multi-faceted…

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There are miracles fueled by faith, spells fueled by magic, and spirits tethered to the world of the living throughout eternity. Faiths of all kinds can produce miraculous results defending people from dangerous magic and monsters loose in the world. The power of faith has brought a revival to religious institutions around the world, churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and shrines have an unprecedented surge in attendance.

There are many kinds of magic in this world, but those people who’s abilities are awakened have no idea how to use them. Relics of the previous magical age reappeared once magic returned as well, how they might shape this new magical age remains to be seen. Learning to use magic may be as dangerous as the monsters appearing around the world since the solstice, but not learning will leave them more vulnerable to the dangers yet to come.

In addition to all this, the ghosts of people long gone or recently departed linger to provide guidance to those left behind. Like most things human, their advice may be tainted by personal bias, misunderstanding, or outright deceit. Magic users, miracle workers, and modern day spiritualists must navigate all these unknowns to adapt to their fast changing world.

This week I’ve felt the Rona closing in…

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Despite news of vaccines and experimental treatments, people close to my family continue to test positive for the virus. I’m generally a stay at home kind of person for other health conditions, but even I like to get out and socialize once in a while. Not so in the past week. My wife, who works in education, sees more students and staff quarantined every day. It’s come as close as people she works with, and people she spends time with outside of work. All week, every little tickle in my throat or odd cough has been suspect. The worry is enough to derail my efforts to write, even when my mind is brimming with possibilities for the story. I’m pushing through as best I can, but paranoia in a pandemic is as dangerous as any other time. Fear vs. Hope – so far, hope wins!