Panic is a heartbeat away…

brown eyes of scared young person

When magic returned to the Earth after thousands of years, fear gripped billions of people around the world. Between unexplained phenomena on the solstice and monsters straight out of a nightmare, there is good reason to be afraid. In Fantastic America, the thin veneer of civility rests on a knife edge, one more scary story on the evening news could send the modern world into self destruction.

Ashley Monahan knows this all too well. The urge to panic, is never far from her mind as she reports on the growing weirdness. She spends as much time as she can calming the nation, looking for the silver lining in stories of darkness and fright. It’s a hard job, but one that needs to be done.

Her work may be under-appreciated, but it is not unnoticed. Powerful forces take an interest in this young, untested reporter. Ashley finds danger where ever she goes, but there is an answer out there. She’s determined to confront the dangers loose in the world before it’s too late.

You can only research so much…

Sooner or later you have to turn that research into words on the page. I’m as guilty as anyone of finding just the right image or description for what I’m working on. Especially if the subject is well documented in other ways. I spent the better part of a year studying New Orleans (pictured above) for several short stories that tie in to Fantastic America and the other books in the Magic Unleashed series. Temporarily, I became an expert on the Crescent City, even though I’ve never actually been there.

The picture I used for this post was part of the research I did for a short story called, Midnight at the Sultan’s Palace. The view in the picture is of St. Louis Cathedral from the ‘palace’ at 716 Dauphine Street. I poured over books, maps (An interesting collection of insurance maps by the way), audio recordings, new articles and thousands of pictures online to get a better sense of New Orleans and its history. Which is all well and good, especially since it served me well for several projects. Also, new Orleans is fascinating.

Eventually I had to write those projects though. All the research in the world won’t do you a bit of good until you write the story. Did I need eight views of the palace (and floor plans)? Probably not. At the time I convinced myself it would add authenticity to the story and help me visualize the characters moving through the building. Once I dove into the narrative, I realized it was overkill and curiosity on my part.

Write. Even if you discover inaccuracies later, you’ll be able to edit those out. Even if you don’t, your work doesn’t have to be 100% accurate. It only has to move your readers and makes sense within the context of the story you want to tell (or show). None of that can happen until you put the words on the page. So, write.

Let’s talk rocks…

stones in different colors

Long summer days under the pines in North Carolina could be very boring without some creativity. Store bought toys had to stay in the house, but I didn’t want to stay inside. My solution was playing with rocks. I built rock cities, simple at first, but increasingly complex and large. I invented elaborate stories for these cities and eventually competing agendas led to conflict.

The cities fielded rock armies, tanks and aircraft, I even developed imaginary technology for the cities to wage war on one another. A handy lead pipe sparking on the rocks as countless battles raged across my front yard gave me a satisfying release I wouldn’t have dared with store bought toys. I even drew a map and worked out a history for the Valley of Nod that I named my imaginary country.

Building and breaking rock cities didn’t seem odd at the time. What I remember most are the stories and building conflict that kept me occupied for days at a time. The first characters I imagined inhabited the Valley of Nod, and the first stories I constructed played out there too. I only wish I’d written them down, instead of narrating them in my head.

When I write now, I have all the years I spent in the Valley of Nod bringing an imaginary world to life to guide me in my world building. The characters and conflict I write about now is more refined, the settings are far different, but a part of every story I tell hearkens back to those summer days under North Carolina pine trees. I’ll rock on, as long as I’m able.

I don’t have an art department…

So I hire artists on Fiverr when I need something done. I’ve tried to draw in the past, but discovered I’m not even good a sketching. So this piece is the latest project I’ve had done. It’s part of a scene in the opening chapter of Fantastic America. No spoilers, but this is a much better depiction of what the main character, Ashley Monahan reports on than I could produce. It isn’t a perfect representation of the image from my mind, but it’s pretty darn close!

If you like what you see, and I hope you do, there is more on the way. I’d like to get at least five more of these to show off here at The Sorcerers’ Realm. They all relate to one aspect or another of the Magic Unleashed series. Some you’ll see more of than others, in the run up to each book in the series. This one you’ll read about first, and it connects to The Sorcerers’ Realm directly, so it was only fitting to have it made first. Enjoy!

I have a deep well…

Creatively that is. I see connections in all kinds of unrelated things. Not all of those connections make sense to other people, but once in a while I stumble onto something that really works. The best of these ideas form some part of the stories I tell. In a perfect world they resonate with my audience and enhance the story I try to tell.

One of my favorite thought exercises is to collaborate with other writers to create ideas and themes for their work. Not only am I helping someone else, but the ideas spark more connections for my work as well. A real win – win for all of us. I don’t get to collaborate like that as much as I’d like to, so I jump on the few I am able to join in on.

How do ancient legends impact the modern world?

egyptian symbols

For most of us, the impact may be negligible, but in the world of Fantastic America and Midwestern Magicians, many of those ancient legends have come to life. How those legends came to be has become less important since the winter solstice reintroduced magic to the world. Far more important now, are what those legends can tell the modern world about protecting themselves from the weird creatures our ancestors encountered long ago. Giant sea serpents and fiery Hell hounds show up on the evening news. Dealing with these emerging threats is not only part of the news story. Congress debates what to do while similar discussions break out in coffee shops around the country. As the weird grows more potent, modern weapons seem less effective. Sooner or later, bullets and missiles in arsenals around the world may not be enough.

There’s not enough wonder in the world…

colorful polar lights over snowy mountain

At least, there isn’t enough appreciation for the wonder in our world, in my opinion. There is such a variety of wonderful and fantastic things in the real world, that I almost forget about the terrible and mundane things. Almost, but not quite. A child’s laughter, the sun sparkling off ocean waves, snow falling from a sky backlit by a small town’s streetlights, all of these things, and a million more besides can make me smile involuntarily. That doesn’t negate the awful signs of hate, discontent, and malice in the world. It just holds a candle up to push back the dark until the sunrise.

The fantastic elements of stories are an exaggeration of those wonderful and awful things. They provide a way for us to see in bolder terms or with bigger stakes, the same ideas in the real world. Life doesn’t need those elements from our imagination. Sometimes it’s hard enough to deal with punching in to work, paying the light bill on time, and keeping food on the table. Humans yearn for more than survival though, we want the dragons, soaring castles, and enchanted forests to challenge us safely from the confines of a story. There is joy and wonder in triumphing over adversity, real or imagined.

So next time you feel a wave of self-doubt, lingering sadness, or cloying fear about this world we live in, hold on to the wonder you’ve felt before. My advice may not be a panacea for every situation. But I believe hope springs eternal, nourished by such small sources of joy as these. Our collective experience of living, is made up of the sum of all the highs and lows we feel. Choose joy when you can, find strength in yourself, and give others what grace you can manage. That’s all any of us can do, with all the wonders and horrors in the world aside.

Writers are their harshest critic… (And that’s Okay!)

white printer paper on green typewriter

Long before a book is ready for the world, writers (hopefully) spend many hours to shape it into the best possible story it can be. Writing, rewriting, editing, and polishing this jewel of thought and care into a newborn book for audiences to enjoy forever. At least, that’s been my experience so far. I’ve talked about beta readers and editors before and how important it is to have their feedback in my process. What I haven’t talked much about is how I process that feedback and inject it back into my work.

Some things are obvious once someone else pints it out, and I have berated myself for not seeing that flaw myself. Other feedback outright enrages me, because the reviewer didn’t understand what I was trying to accomplish (usually my fault as well) or want to impose their idea over what I have on the page. The best feedback shows me something I hadn’t considered, and wouldn’t have thought of without a question or comment in the margin. Ultimately, the audience only has what is on the page to guide them and explain the story to them, just about anything they don’t understand or are unclear about falls back to me to have included on the page.

That is why I put so much effort into making each page, each paragraph and each sentence read exactly as I intend. I seldom feel successful, but when I do, it is glorious indeed. The highest praise I can expect is for a reader to comment about how a scene or character created the emotional response I intended. So be hard on your work as you write, but also give yourself some grace to improve your craft, to hit all the important points, and build up your work as you go.

Humans, man… Humans.

We’ve had this planet to ourselves for so long, we take for granted how fragile our hold is on so many things. Humans have long been at the top of the food chain, masters of natural resources, founders of empires, creators of art, inventors, scientists, and builders of civilization. We’ve patted our collective back for our dominion over the Earth, smiled as we bent nature to suit our needs, and been content that everything we see belongs to us for our children to inherit. We’ve forgotten how quickly that can change.

Fantastic America, and Midwestern Magicians shows just how humans would react to a sudden change in our collective circumstances. If we were no longer the apex predator on Earth, no longer the only master of forces that can contend with nature, or science, or faith, how long would the modern civilization we take for granted survive? Humans may not be a universally pretty species, we stumble and fall far too often, but the one trait that has saved us from collapse so far is our adaptability. If we can adapt to ice ages, desertification, and overpopulation, maybe we can adapt to a a world of magic, monsters, and miracles.

What if…?

sunny-luck-ipad-business.jpg

Possibilities and questions about what could happen inspire most of my work. Fantastic America and Midwestern Magicians examine what would happen if magic returned to our modern world. Other stories I’ve written (however poorly) examine other questions. Like, what does it mean to be human? What do we share in common as a species (like food, sleep, and death) and what differences (cultural, religious, and technical) are there besides that? Sometimes especially in a novel length work, several questions come up through the narrative. What is the right thing to do in a given situation, and how do you choose when there is more than one ‘right’ choice? How does the toss of a coin, or roll of the dice change what could happen into what does happen? Choices my characters make and the repercussions from those choices are one of my favorite topics to explore. Not making a choice at all is great to explore, though it can be tough to show how restraint is the best choice of all sometimes.

While in the Navy, I was once put in charge of firing a missile at a drone off the coast of Crete. We spent weeks preparing, days arming the missile before the firing event, and the whole ship was expecting to see a launch and explosion. On the day of the exercise I was ready to shoot. Tension was high, other Naval vessels were taking part in the exercise as well. My ship lined up to fire and everyone on board expected me to shoot down this drone. (Drones were new and untested in the Navy back then.)

I had the drone lit up on my radar, but it kept drifting out of the safe firing zone. When I finally locked on again, it had drifted too close to a trailing ship. My finger was on the launch button, but firing would endanger the ship behind us. The firing range reported seconds later that they had lost control of the drone. They recovered what was left of it on the shoreline later. If I’d shot that day, I would have put over three hundred fellow sailors in harms way. I chose restraint, but that is hardly as sexy or exciting as Luke’s run on the Death Star.