Saturday, December 15, 2012

Fighting the Hum-Bug

Photo by Nin(j)a .  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.
I have turned into something of a holiday hater lately.  I think my problem is that I always surf close to the edge of what I can accomplish and/or endure.  So the additional stressors that the holidays bring usually put me over the edge.  I become slightly manic.  Last year I was pulling all-nighters trying to finish my second novel right around Christmas.  I'm not doing that this year.  But, even so, I am feeling a strong pull to write.  And, so far, I am having little time to devote to writing.  This makes me feel a bit "Scroogey".

Some good things are happening, though.  I am getting the flashes of inspiration that I rely on to fuel my writing.  And the scenes that are taking time to reach in the manuscript (due to delays in my writing progress) are benefiting from the extra time "in the oven".  They are going to be more vividly realized once I finally get to write them.

I've also been contemplating what I will write after Hemlock Book III.  My latest thinking is this:  while Book III is going to be a strong conclusion to Hemlock's story, it may not be the end of it.  But I will probably write something different after Book III.  Right now I am considering a novel based in a fantasy world called Zhune that I conceived many years ago.  I need to sit down and think about how it would fit into novel form, but the good news is that the "imagineering" is already done for this story.  So I would be able to sit down and just start writing.  That would be a nice benefit to that project.  I also have another novel idea on the back burner.  This one is more of an urban fantasy, and concerns the role of fantasy in our modern lives.

I hope you are feeling more festive than I am.  I did catch an old stop motion animated Rudolph TV show last night.  It brought me back to my childhood years, and I think it helped me "reconnect" with Christmas just a little.  There is hope for me yet!  I wish you all the best over the holidays, and in the new year!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Unexpected Inspiration

Photo by h.koppdelaney .  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.
I just finished reading a great fantasy book.  I won't name the book because it really doesn't matter, and I'm not interested in turning this post into a book review.  Like many good books I read, this one made me take stock of my own writing and think about ways I can improve.  This book started from a place that I typically hold in disdain: it didn't bother explaining much about setting or world, instead relying on the collected conventions and archetypes of the established fantasy worlds that have come before it.  But, man, was it well written within these limitations!  Sure, the book could be branded as an official genre novel for a popular fantasy role playing game.  But, dangit, it was a fun read!  It's a book I never could have written: what with my penchant for odd locales, a touch of weirdness, and heaps of earnest drama.  But this book is nothing less than another author fully realizing their creative vision within their own parameters.  It was an excellent read!

I once read that any good book carries the essence of its author between and among the words of the story.  Each book is an individually crafted set of words that should collectively invoke the spirit of the author.  This book I just read succeeded in doing that.  For instance, one thing I now know about this author is they would make an unparalleled fantasy game master (as a side note I am fortunate enough to have another one of these as a close friend!).  This is also a person who understands emotion and has a sensitivity to people.  His characters were warmly and lovingly rendered.

I think this book will influence my forthcoming novel (Hemlock Book III).  I really admired the characterization and set piece battles in this book.  I typically don't drag out my battle sequences for an entire chapter like this author did.  But his account of a climactic battle didn't descend in miscellany or get boring--rather, it was like a small play unto itself with well defined acts and a satisfying climax.

Sometimes I get tired of reading fantasy because it permeates so much of my life between writing, gaming and media consumption.  But this book has reaffirmed the importance of a genre writer keeping up with the works in their genre.

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season!  I'm not sure if I'll blog again before the New Year; but, if not, please have a safe and happy New Year celebration as well!  I'll be busy writing over the holidays unless I get ensnared by something unexpected.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Metaphysics, Artificial Intelligence, Book III

Photo by NatalieMaynor .  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.
I feel like I've been sifting in the sand for fragments of metaphysical relics only to realize that unbeknownst to me I've been kneeling in the center of Stonehenge.  Over the past few months I've discovered two new influences in my intellectual life: A.A. Attanasio and Terrence McKenna.  I just finished A.A. Attanasio's impressive novel Radix.  It is a sci-fi and metaphysical roller coaster ride of epic proportions!!!  I strongly recommend it.  It's amazing to me that I'd never heard of Mr. Attanasio until recently.  And to think he's written many more books!  What adventures await me!

I've been discovering Terrence McKenna over the past few weeks. I am finding his ideas to be fascinating, and his spoken delivery is utterly compelling.  I haven’t given myself over to McKenna’s world view quite yet (note that I am not talking about his drug use--I believe meditation should be used instead of drugs to achieve trance-like states) ; but I am certainly digesting it and weighing it, and I know I’ll never think the same now that I've been exposed to his ideas.  I recently watched one of his YouTube lectures called “Shamans Among the Machines” ( He seemed to be convinced that the so-called artificial intelligence “singularity” is inevitable. I read a book advancing the same notion by Ray Kurzweil called “The Age of Spiritual Machines”.

As a computer programmer, I’m not sure I agree that machines will achieve true consciousness. If one accepts that we will be able to model the human brain in silicon then I suppose there isn't a strong non-metaphysical argument against machine consciousness. But I believe I recently read that scientists have discovered another layer of complexity below the neuron. What if the brain is like a fractal construct of layered complexity down to the atomic level? On the other hand, the Dalai Lama has stated that he believes a “soul” could manifest through a sufficiently advanced machine.

Outside of the machine "clone" of a human brain, the problem I have is that I can’t conceive of any human writing software that could model our own consciousness. McKenna asserts that complex systems can exhibit spontaneous increases in “order”. I interpret this to mean that he believes that a consciousness might suddenly flicker to life within the aggregate of the internet. I just don’t see how that could happen given the deterministic nature of machines and software. I suppose neural networks functioning on a vast scale would leave the realm of human reckoning and could take that leap. But I don’t see the internet as a vast interconnection of neural networks yet. Maybe down the line. Microsoft’s new voice translation technology IS apparently using neural networks (

I think that as humans pursue A.I. it’s more likely that we will make asymptotic progress toward an A.I. passing the Turing test, but A.I. may never get “there”. I think cyborgs will be far more interesting—perhaps even the brain will be augmented. And then when the animal “meat” around it dies, perhaps we’ll be faced with the question of whether the remaining machinery, assuming it claims sentience, should really be considered so.

I've recently had a few days off to center myself and to write. They've been glorious despite being somewhat compromised by outside pressures.  The good news is that I've officially started writing Hemlock Book III, and I'm feeling good about the direction it's heading in.  The bad news is I didn't make as much progress as I had hoped I would.  I will be shifting into a "mode" of writing more regularly now, so I still hope to have something ready early next year.  It will probably be a shorter, cheaper installment than Book II.  But if I wait until I have the entire arc for Book III done then I might not finish until 2014.  And that seems unacceptable.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Fantasy, Confidence and Success

Photo by traceyp3031 .  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.
Most successful people conduct themselves confidently.  I think they do so based on a foundation of past successes that they recall.  They establish a pattern of success in their lives, and then they expect to continue in that pattern when new experiences arise.  But what happens when people are confronted by a setback?  They begin to question themselves and re-evaluate their approach.  They become more tentative.

Some of this evaluation after a failure is constructive.  Strategies and approaches need to be continuously adapted to meet the challenges of new circumstances.  The challenge comes when the re-evaluation is over and it is time to act again.  A person must try to act decisively even though they may feel much less confident given their recent experiences.  How do people maintain their confidence during these moments of change and adaptation?

Athletes are taught to visualise themselves being successful.  And this practice can be used in other endeavors, as well.  But even without this technique, some internal process has to occur inside a person to make them confident that a refactored approach will be successful.  They have to conduct themselves confidently even though there may not be an empirical basis for that confidence, given the lack of past success under the new approach.

So what is this process that people use to navigate these periods of uncertainty?  I believe it comes down to an application of will, which I would further describe as a surety rooted in faith (not necessarily a religious faith).  And if the chance of success is improbable, then I will further assert that the surety can be rooted in fantasy.

I think fantasy, in this context, is somewhat akin to creativity in the sense that a person trying to succeed against difficult odds uses their will to imagine themselves succeeding, and then they try to make it a reality.  This is often a very courageous act because of the tendency to be tentative in the face of prior failure that I mentioned above.

In the (American) National Football League they often talk about the need for players to have short memories.  If a player makes a bad play, they need to block it out and focus their minds on being successful on subsequent plays.  So maybe this application of will that I'm talking about is really the act of focusing the mind on the potential for a positive outcome, and the rejection of the potential for negative outcomes.

I have had one shining moment of atheletic achievement in my life.  I was playing for a recreational softball team, and we reached the playoffs.  In the late innings of the first playoff game, our team had winning runners on base, and I came to bat.  An uncanny feeling of confidence came over me as I stood at the plate.  I felt certain I was going to hit that ball.  It was like in a video game where a ball of energy forms around a character before they unleash a powerful strike.  I hit the ball, the runners scored and we won the game.  What I remember about being at bat was I lost myself in the moment.  I don't remember seeing the ball, I don't remember swinging the bat.  I just remember making contact and running.

What caused this mental condition?  I couldn't tell you, exactly.  I think some of it was caused by the dynamic of our team mentality in that game.  We were hot as a team, and I think I fed off of that.  I do take some individual credit, as well.  I remember being very determined to succeed in that game.

Unfortunately, we were not able to repeat our success in the next playoff game.  Our team was cold, and I don't think I was even able to get on base.  I remember being frustrated in that game because that magical feeling from the prior game was still fresh in my mind.  But I couldn't re-ignite the magic.  I remember standing at the plate and trying to swing for the fences.  I think my error was in trying to seek that confidence in the physical realm when it was clearly mental in origin.

Success is something everyone has fantasized about.  As the years have passed, I've developed an ever-increasing appreciation for the mental component of success.  When I read thrilling fantasy it fills my heart with a feeling that I liken to that feeling of potential energy I felt during that softball game.  Fantasy is mythological food for the soul.  It fills my heart with inspiration, and then the challenge is to focus that energy with a disciplined mind.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Warrior Blends with Life

Photo by Minha Menina .  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

I own a book by this title, and I've found it to be an engaging and enlightening read.  I've read it a few times over the years, although I haven't read it recently.  But the title of this book came to mind this week, and has stayed on my mind.  If you follow my blog you may have read an earlier post where I mentioned that a person in my life is struggling with addiction.  And, actually, I fear that another person I know may also be struggling with it.

I've been uneasy this week and not sleeping well.  Perhaps it's stress from work, perhaps it's related to these people suffering with addiction, or perhaps it's something else.  I'm not totally sure.  One thing I do know, however, is that meditation has been an invaluable aid in calming me.  If I didn't practice meditation I doubt whether I'd be able to function in the world.  Most writers have active imaginations and analytical minds; and what sometimes comes along with those attributes, at least in my case, is a racing and uncontrollable mind.  Some years ago I read a book called "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying".  It's a tremendous book that I recommend to anyone who has an interest in eastern philosophy and/or Buddhism.  I believe this is the book that gave me my first practical instruction in meditation.  It's actually really easy to do--but it takes discipline and concentration.  I won't go into techniques here--just Google it and you should find a wealth of information.

A Warrior Blends with Life.  What does that mean?  I often think of life as a series of rivers and patterns.  For instance, I was driving this morning and the illusory nature of reality felt palpable.  "How often do I take this drive?"  I asked myself.  "What am I thinking about while I do it?"  Then a thought struck me: "Will I remember any of this drive in five or ten years?"  "Will I look back fondly and wish I remembered it more vividly?"  "Will I feel like I'd pay any amount of money to come back to this day and re-live this drive with my family members?"  "What would I say to them?"  But I think that life is like a river.  You can try to grab a handful of water, but what good does it do?  It's best to accept the nature of the river, become a part of it, and never take it for granted.  When my mind wanders I can find myself disturbingly disconnected from what is happening around me.  Sometimes I like to let my mind wander, but there is always a price to be paid when one "tunes out" from the Now.  You miss things.

So maybe "blending with life" means that we should try to discard unnecessary thoughts and focus our attention on our journey and on Now.  We all have to plan and analyze, but our minds can be undisciplined.  Meditation helps me to control my overactive mind and blend with life; and by blending with life I'm able to be at peace with it, and try to experience it in all of its richness.

Still, even armed with an invaluable tool like meditation, we all face moments of crisis where nothing we do seems to alleviate our suffering.  Intoxication of any kind can distract us from suffering.  I think the constructive purpose of intoxication is to allow us to temporarily step aside from reality so that we can consider it from a new perspective--to let our mind's eye float above the river--looking down on it, and thinking about where we've been and where we can go.  I believe it is meant to be a quasi shamanic experience.  And I think it can become dangerous when it is engaged in with habitual frequency.  The insidious thing about intoxication is it seems harmless until suddenly it isn't.  How many of us can recognize that tipping point?  My friends struggling with addiction couldn't.  I think the addict begins to think that the flying is as real as the floating on the river.  Though they still perceive their real selves floating below them in the water--still subject to the eddies and currents (the implications of their actions)--they continue to remain in a disconnected state.

A Warrior Blends with Life.  Please stay in the river.  Don't make a habit of flying too often; and when you do, do it for the right reasons.  Just some humble advice from someone who, by my own admission, is ignorant and stumbling in the darkness.  But I haven't fallen into any deep pits yet, and I am trying to light my candle.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Danger of Fantasy

Photo by King of Ants .  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.
Fantasy can be used as a tool to help one navigate the passage from the comfortable cocoon of childhood and adolescence to the (at times) stark reality of adulthood.  Fantasy frames what could be perceived as the pointless and brutal struggle of living in the more comforting terms of an epic quest.  Fantasy, when used according to its greatest purpose, helps people cope with and interpret reality: it adds meaning to their lives, enriching them.  

But is there a dark side to fantasy?  I'm afraid the answer is yes.  An overindulgence in fantasy can leave a person un-moored from the realities of life.  And this can cause people to turn toward negative behaviors like addiction.  By overindulging in fantasy I believe a person gradually replaces a foundation of empirical reality with one based on imagination.  Instead of fantasy providing a frame of reference for reality, it becomes a false reality. 

Unfortunately, I'm fairly certain I've witnessed a person traveling down this negative path.  This experience is probably the reason why I haven't written much in recent days.  It's hard when a person that you cherish and that you feel is composed of similar "DNA" to your own comes off the rails of life.  Because of this, I've been doing a lot of soul searching to reassure myself that I'm not heading down a self-delusional path myself.

I've emerged from this recent "funk" with renewed confidence that a moderate indulgence in fantasy is indeed virtuous.  But I also now have a direct understanding that overindulgence can be very dangerous.  I'm still thinking about what impact these recent experiences will have on my fantasy writing.  I've thought of a few things already--and they will be "baked" into Hemlock Book III (both consciously and unconsciously).

In the meantime, if you are a lover of fantasy like I am, just make sure to keep your feet on the ground while your head is in the clouds.  Whatever your reality is--it's fundamentally OK.  Even if you're in an adverse environment--it's best to accept that fact and chart a course toward better climes.  Fantasy can help you chart that course, and to persevere while on your quest.  Use it wisely and in moderation, and be careful out there.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Photo by Okko P .  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.
I am taking a bit of a break from writing, and settling into a routine of work, socializing, and playing a really addictive video game (Minecraft multi-player).  I am still "working" on the next Hemlock novel though.  I have been getting a lot of ideas for the story and dutifully writing them all down.  At some point soon I will probably work up a formal outline of the plot and character arcs and try to pull all of my ideas together into  something cohesive.  But this next step probably won't happen until the fall.  I'm just in one of those interstitial phases where I need to re-charge my writing batteries.

I'm not sure if other writers take extended breaks like this.  But I know I'm just not ready to begin writing the new novel yet.  I tend to need a break between big projects.  And I'm loathe to get too distracted by side writing projects because I *am* working on the next Hemlock novel in the sense that I am in the process of  imagining it.  I've blogged about how I come up with story ideas before, so I won't go into detail about that other than saying that it feels more like a process of discovery than a process of invention.  And the discovery process just takes some time...

So I don't have a lot to report about writing other than to say that I am very excited about finally writing Hemlock III despite not being in much of a hurry to actually begin writing it.  It's going to deliver in terms of wrapping up Hemlock's story.  But (and this was a revelation to me last week) it may not be the end of Hemlock's story.  There could be additional books beyond III.  But III is going to represent a major, major resolution to the conflicts in the series.  Anything that comes beyond Book III will have to be something of a "reboot" of the "universe".  But it will be possible.  And only a week before I was convinced it wouldn't be! So I did get some new ideas, obviously.

I hope you are having a good summer wherever you are!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Hemlock and the Wizard Tower Permanently Free

Photo by Ed_45 .  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.
A few announcements about Hemlock and the Wizard Tower:  first and foremost, it is now free across all platforms in the US (I'm still working out how to offer it for free on Amazon's international sites).

Second, I've gone all "George Lucas" on your collective posteriors and re-written the beginning of the book.  Why?  Well, if you've read the book recently, then you may remember that it was a bit difficult to "get into".  After some recent, candid feedback, I've finally admitted to myself that the first chapter had some severe issues.  It was very heavy on backstory and it was particularly flashback heavy, which several reviewers had commented on.  Although most readers grow to enjoy the flashbacks, I feel that their onset was too abrupt and extreme, and therefore I've dialed them back a quite a bit at the beginning.  Plus, there was the matter of Hemlock's confrontation with the 'legendary defenses' of the Tower.  Many months ago I said in an interview that there was no reason for those sequences to be flashbacks rather than part of the action.  Their origin as flashbacks came from the seat of the pants way I wrote the book.  For this revision I ended up integrating them directly into the action.

You may wonder if there are any new scenes.  The answer is yes.  There is a new scene between Safreon and Hemlock that sets the stage for her entering the Tower against his wishes, and there's also an action scene detailing her encounter with her first Tanna Varran (rather than recalling this encounter as a flashback).

I really think it's a positive revision, and, to be honest, I wish I'd done it a year ago.  Better late than never, I suppose.  For those of you who want the revised version, I will be asking Amazon to offer an update (and Smashwords always offers updates, if you bought there).  For those that can't or won't update, I also plan to post the revised first chapter here on this blog.  Keep an eye out for the link in the toolbar, above.

I'm dubbing this new edition of Hemlock and the Wizard Tower "4th edition".  Just so you know, I've made a vow not to go beyond a 10th edition.  Of course I haven't ruled out non-numeric editions (eg: "Ludicrous Edition").  Like any good politician or lawyer, I've left myself a loophole!

Friday, June 1, 2012


It wasn't that I was particularly inspired or otherwise motivated to begin this treatise--rather it was a strange compulsion that compelled my fingers to rest upon the keys and begin to type.  The typing was frictionless--words flowed unbidden and unhindered, and played upon the kaliedescope of virtual paper like swans floating on a technicolor lake.  They were white in their purity, but no conclusions resulted from their conveyance.  They were immobile: zero force, but their potential energy was palpable.  Something was forming and I couldn't tell what.  Now I see, though.  Words exist in harmony with thoughts and thoughts exist in harmony with music and music exists in harmony with the beats of the cosmos.  There is no beginning or end: only a blending of one into the other.  Polychromatic joy is all that is left when one takes a holistic view.  And I do.

It was upon this flimsy framework that Tiberius Bach was born.  Conceived in a stream of notes and born into a silicon typewriter that framed bytes that formed words but were really just a bunch of zeroes and ones when it came right down to it.  Another frame of reference thing, surely.  But Tiberius floated there and his embryonic form slipped from timeframe to timeframe.  He plotted to have a plot.  He schemed to have a theme.  But none of these were guaranteed and he accepted his limitations.  TB understood that his existence was tenuous.  He thinks that chaos will be his guide and he's write.  But upon the sixty spines of the temporal dragon he ignores the warnings and jumps into the pool of night.  He isn't scared of the anti-infinity there and when death reaches out a skeletal hand TB grabs it.  And so his life/death begins again and he stands on the checkerboard and screams out "Mate!".  But there is no King.

Multiple eddies of the unconscious begin to form around him and the white and black squares fade away.  Suddenly he is fringed in blue and and the Quatrain looms ahead.  The headlight mocks him as it approaches, though he is beyond reproach.  Nonetheless, TB steps aside as the wooden planks of a platform form underfoot and the rushing air whooshes, and then there is silence.  A glistening, black railcar looms in front of him.  He steps aboard knowing full well that there is nothing else to do.  Somewhere a whistle screeches and the iron will shudders to life.  He wanders through a dimly lit car full of boasting brocade that seems wondrous and mysterious--like a heaving bosom--but a passing light spoils the illusion.  TB sits wearily, for the passage into being has tired him.  Tinny vocals fill the train car as he tries to relax.  But his heart is pounding relentlessly in time with the dull sound of of the tracks that glide by beneath steel wheels.  He thinks of the conductor for a moment.  But he's wise enough to sit and wait.

Insular feelings enclose him.  There's still time to listen to Dante and abandon hope.  But there's a station ahead.  It calls to him like a carrion bird.  It holds his greatest pleasure and his descent into madness.  Suddenly, the duality repulses him and he yearns for the yin-yang singularity of the checkerboard.  But there is no shelter in absolutes in the station.  Only putrescent corpses animated and dancing to a thousand songs simultaneously.  Surely the minstrel is a madman, yet the dance continues, and the corpses seem none the wiser.  And how they laugh between wails of agony.  "Is this all I can hope for?" thinks TB.  As the train stops he is filled with purpose.  I conducts his own invisible orchestra with a feral ferocity.  Song number one thousand one joins the party and many decaying faces turn toward him.  He plots to kill the minstrel.  "I am greater!"  But when he finally focuses on the orchestra pit he sees a thousand versions of himself dressed in bloody tuxedos and shooting the finger.  The conductor laughs from behind him and kicks him in the back.  TB hits the platform hard and the ego-sense is knocked right out of him.  "That was a close one," we muses.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

On Villainy II

Photo by iambarr .  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.
I've been reflecting on villains again during my ramp up to writing Book III of the Hemlock series.  A TV show we're watching caught my eye because I think they've actually gone overboard in the villainy department.  We are in the tail end of the latest season of this show, and I've been feeling oddly disengaged from it as compared with prior seasons.  In this show, through various plot developments, all of the heroes have temporarily left the vicinity of the villains, and conflicts are playing out within the two separated groups.  I think this is a narrative mistake.

When you have a conflict between two sympathetic characters I think the reader is almost by definition less engaged than when the conflict is between a sympathetic character and an un-sympathetic character.  And I think the same is true of conflicts between two un-sympathetic characters.

In this TV show, there were actually three villains and an unsympathetic but somewhat less villainous fourth character.  As the plot developed, the fourth character reacted to abuse by the other three by going psycho.  So now you have a very unsympathetic character raining down crazy on three other villains.  As the three react by weeping and further abusing one another, I am finding myself feeling apathetic.  I just don't particularly care whether these villains are suffering.  I don't have a character that I'm identifying with in the struggle.  I'm disconnected.  I imagine the intent of the writing is probably to have the viewer enjoy the irony of the other villains being tormented by another villain, but it's just not working for me.  It just seems like a sad spectacle.

I think a good, compelling story should always be underpinned by a strong conflict between heroes and  villains--especially in epic fantasy.  And I am actually critical of my own work in this department.  I've been a big fan of shades of gray villains, but this recent experience has made me re-think how I'm presenting my villains and my conflicts.  Rest assured that Hemlock "Book III" will have a very strong conflict between hero and villain.

On the book III front, I'm in the process of assembling snippets of writing from the various scenes that are coming together in my mind.  I think I'm getting close to the point where I could create a chapter outline, but I'm debating whether I should.  I don't want to loose the magic of "pantsing" so I will probably wait for a good block of time to present itself, and then just start writing.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Action Brings Good Fortune

Photo by cybaea .  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.
Today is one of those days where writing feels like a labor instead of a liberating trip into the exalted sky of the mind.  You may be wondering why I am bothering to write then?  A fair question.  I'm writing because I am hoping that by doing so I may again discover that spark that will lead to inspiration.  There is a passage in the I-Ching that was quoted by Syd Barrett in a Pink Floyd song, and has stuck with me over the years: "action brings good fortune".  I've found this to be true in my life, so here I am listening to some secret, magical music and writing my way in search of The Muse like a desperate man stumbling through a hedge maze.

I try to take a zen approach to my writing.  And I really can't complain about feeling uninspired because I had a very fruitful writing week last week.  My unconscious must have been digging for story ideas, because by this past Friday I was creatively spent.  I haven't hit a creative nadir like this in quite some time.  I guess the lows come with the highs...  In response I've just hunkered down and tried to have faith that the feeling will pass.  I do find it disconcerting to feel so powerless.  I sometimes find myself wondering whether there's a chance that inspiration may have passed me by for good.  But it always seems to come back.  I feel it's important to respect and cherish the magic in the creative process.  I think taking things for granted is one of the biggest risks in life, and maybe a core source of writer's block.  Historian Arnold Toynbee once said: "nothing fails like success".  So I always entertain my doubts--I never try to squelch them.  It means that I'm never truly comfortable, but I think it also prevents me from falling into habits that could lead to unfortunate outcomes.

Life is often like a hedge maze.  I like to think that, if we're wise, we sometimes find ladders to look over the walls, and help ourselves to determine the right choices.  But sometimes--inevitably--we are forced into choices that are less informed.  Life comes at us like a wild-eyed, axe-wielding Jack Nicholson, and we don't have the luxury of long, measured decisions.  Again, "action brings good fortune".  Brain locking into analysis paralysis at these moments is usually far worse than a quick decision.  The Jack Nicholson in my life is usually my day job, which often causes me to dash and stumble through my writing life.  But Jack is a necessary and positive component of my existence, despite his demonstrable insanity.

I'm getting fairly close to being able to start writing Hemlock Book III now.  That's actually a fairly amazing statement since my intention has been to take several months off before starting to write.  But completing Book II hasn't left me with the same feeling of satisfaction as completing Book I did.  Book II has a bit of an "Empire Strikes Back" syndrome going on.  The events of Book III are pulling me forward like a tractor beam.  I just have to write them as soon as possible!  Like the early onset of spring here on the east coast of the United States, it seems that I'm in the process of an early resumption of earnest novel writing.

Well, this blog post is almost over now.  And I think it had a purpose after all.  I certainly feel better for having written it.  Thank you for reading it!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Go Big or Go Home

 I've started working on Hemlock Book III.  So far it's been equal parts intimidating and reassuring.  On one hand, I know what to expect in terms of process.  I'll be reusing the process I used with Book II.  And this time I'm closer to the end of the story arc that I have planned for the series, so there is less uncertainty about plot and structure.

But Book III is probably going to be the final volume in the series... My magnum opus, if you will.  That aspiration carries some baggage with it.  And some of the things that will happen in this installment...  Well, I guess it won't surprise you that they will be epic (it IS Book III, after all).  But this book is going to be unconventional.  I'd even go so far as to say it's going to be experimental.  But I don't mean experimental in the sense that I'm unsure of the outcome.  I have the utmost confidence it will be the final part of the series that  I set out to write.  I use the word experimental to express the level of deviation it will represent from the structure of other fantasy books I've read.

As the snowboarders like to say: "Go big or go home."

I think this is the cool thing about being an Indie.  If I had a publishing deal and approached an editor with this concept, I have a feeling I'd be gently forced to do something safer.  It's nice to be able to get my unfiltered vision out there, and have an opportunity for it to reach readers directly.

Initial reviews of Book II have been very positive, and that feels great.  I'm having a harder time marketing this time around though.  My energy level for social networking and other marketing has been low, lately.  I remember slipping into the marketing role much more effectively after Book I was completed.  I'm not sure what is different this time around, but since I seem to be more energized to write than to market, I'm going to "go with the flow".  Maybe I'll need a break from writing at some point, and the marketing hat will re-materialize on my head.  For now, it's full-on "imagineering".

One final note: I recently posted a free short story called "The Gene Priest" here on the site.  Check it out if you haven't noticed it.  It's linked from the menu bar.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Knight Vision

Photo by Diveofficer .  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.
I've continued to indulge my Bigfoot fetish over the past few weeks.  I watch a television show called "Finding Bigfoot", and I always enjoy it.  Despite being skeptical that Bigfoot are real, I enjoy the possibility that they could be real; and watching these people who seem to genuinely believe they're real makes it easier for me to suspend disbelief.  Plus, I enjoy the vicarious experience of the wilderness expeditions, and the thermal images and use of night vision give the whole enterprise a distinctly sci-fi feel.

Watching these Bigfoot researchers also has another effect on me.  As I consider their work and watch their endeavors, it gives me a hint of the potentially illusory nature of my own life and perceptions.  If these educated people can devote their lives to the pursuit of something that is not supported by any irrefutable, empirical evidence, then certainly some of my own anxieties could be similarly misguided.  If held to the same loose standard as Bigfoot evidence, maybe the cold, hard aspects of our reality could be seen as comfortingly fictitious.  Perhaps I don't need to go to work every morning, pay my bills, do my taxes and go grocery shopping.  Maybe the widespread discord I read about in the news isn't real.  Maybe some day Bigfoot will pull up in an El Camino and beckon to me with a hirsute arm extending out from a chrome-bordered window.  The El Camino will be a UFO (of course), and we'll fly up to Venus and meet the Venutians.  They will inform me that all of my daily responsibilities and concerns are meaningless, and tell me I should just write 24x7.

All kidding aside, sometimes it's comforting to perceive your life as an illusion.  It can all get so intense.  The Buddhists say that life is an illusion, but they don't mean that it's meaningless.  On the contrary, being born as a human is supposed to represent the result of a series of spiritual evolutions.  And the purpose of this grand illusion that we call life is supposed to be our continuing spiritual evolution.

But some people perceive the insanity of life, and they decide that nothing matters.  I think many people--especially the more intelligent among us--are secretly existential nihilists.  That's one thing you have to give the Bigfoot researchers credit for: they are passionate about their quest.  Whether they are figurative Percivals or Don Quixotes is open to debate.  I suppose there's also the possibility they are figurative Rasputins.  But I'm inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt.

So, when I'm watching the Bigfoot show, I feel an almost serene detachment from reality.  And maybe the thing that I like about the show is that these people are believing in an illusion, and then trying to prove it's real.  I'm doing the opposite in my life:  I'm accepting that empirical reality is "real", but at the same time I'm desperately trying to prove it's an illusion.  Or, to put it another way, I'm trying to experience that there is a duality intrinsic to empirical reality that cannot be measured or quantified.

It's clear that weird stuff happens in quantum physics.  There's that experiment with quantum entaglement where the act of perceiving a particle is the only thing that gives it a determinate charge (to anyone who knows physics, I apologize for this clumsy explanation).  So, at the quantum physical level, perception does literally equal reality.

And I found this quote in a United States Central Intelligence Agency study:  "People tend to think of perception as a passive process. We see, hear, smell, taste or feel stimuli that impinge upon our senses. We think that if we are at all objective, we record what is actually there. Yet perception is demonstrably an active rather than a passive process; it constructs rather than records "reality." Perception implies understanding as well as awareness. It is a process of inference in which people construct their own version of reality on the basis of information provided through the five senses."

I think this passage explains the mentality of the Bigfoot researcher quite well.  Every falling branch becomes a Bigfoot "wood knock".  Every unusual howl in the night becomes a sasquatch call.  But who am I to question them for that when I try to interpret every bad thing that happens in my life as part of a spiritual journey?  In a way, I don't think that much differently than they do.  And maybe that's why I feel like I'm among friends when I watch their show.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Hemlock and the Dead God's Legacy Released!

The sequel to Hemlock and the Wizard Tower has been released!  Amazon Link. It is priced at $0.99 for one week in appreciation of those who have been waiting for it and giving me encouragement during the process of developing it. It will rise to $2.99 around 4/1/12. I can sure use some reviews and/or "Likes" if anyone is so inclined!

Hemlock and the Dead God's Legacy

Hemlock realizes that the life of a leader is more complex and tiresome than she anticipated. Feeling burdened by her many responsibilities, she yearns for the freedom of adventure. When Tored arrives from the Witch Crags with information about the likely location of another powerful Wand, she seizes the opportunity to embark on a new quest.
Before she leaves, she entrusts a secret book into the possession of Merit, a mechanical gnome who is developing an affinity for history and lore. Merit begins to uncover an ancient narrative in those dusty pages--and he soon realizes it's the tale of the creation of the Wizard Tower itself!
Meanwhile Hemlock and Tored begin what they expect will be a simple quest to a mysterious vale nestled deep in the Witch Crags. But the adventure has several surprises in store for them...
Will Hemlock understand her ever evolving role amidst rapidly changing circumstances? And can she unite the City in time to resist the menace of the legacy of a dead God?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


I'm writing this blog post from inside the Wizard Tower.  It's an imaginary place, of course--a place where I might see a wizard stroll by; or hear the call of an exotic animal echoing through the halls, as it is the subject of some bizarre, magical experiment.

So, as I sit here imagining myself in a tower, how do I feel?  Empowered? Protected?  Isolated?  I look out over the teeming City and the sense of height is palpable.  Here the concept of governance leaves the realm of the abstract as I watch the people going about their daily activities like ants in a hive crossection.

I'm fascinated by towers.  And Hemlock and the Wizard Tower is a novel about toppling towers.  In the figurative sense, it's about perceiving the people who occupy elevated positions of power, determining that they are hostile or even evil, and then destroying the source of their power.

I got to thinking about the upcoming sequel to Hemlock and the Wizard Tower in terms of this theme, and my conclusion is that this new book (Hemlock and the Dead God's Legacy) is actually about building towers.  Because in a revolution it's not enough to simply want to change something.  There has to be a vision of what to replace it with.  And that's often much more difficult than the act of destruction.  At the end of a revolution the proverbial slate has been wiped clean, and a new regime has been handed the chalk.  What will they do with it?  This is one of the ideas explored in Hemlock and the Dead God's Legacy.

Another theme is...well...Gods themselves.  I received a tweet from a pastor this week which contained a gentle rebuke for the title of the new novel.  He wrote, "gods may die but God never does."  I didn't respond because I didn't see a point--I don't see Twitter as an ideal platform for an idealogical debate.  And the intersection of religion and fantasy has been examined and documented in great detail.  If he doesn't understand or appreciate that, then I doubt my 120 character response will change his point of view.  I will say this about my novels:  they are not explicitly religious, but they are explicitly spiritual.  The characters in my stories care deeply about their lives and their world.  Many of them have strong feelings of responsibility and altruism.  Some are more Machiavellian than others, but none of them would see themselves as being like that to a fault.

I'd say my novels are intended to be like a black and tan beer insofar as the lighter action fare is meant to accompany and complement the headier aspects of the story.  I never want to beat people over the head with the themes in my stories.  In fact, I'm not sure most readers even notice the underlying themes.  And that's fine.  My primary goal has always been (and will continue to be) to entertain.

Hemlock and the Dead God's Legacy is about midway through the editing process.  I am still shooting for a 4/1 release.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Free Falling (or Falling in Love with Free)

Photo by Kheel Center, Cornell University.  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.
I did my first free book promotion over the weekend through their KDP Select program.  I have to say as a sort of weak disclaimer that I dislike the monopolistic flavor of the Select program, but I felt I had to try it.  It seems to me that free is the new $0.99 in the world of indie publishing (I'm glad there isn't a way for indie authors to pay readers to read their books, because I'm certain that would be the next logical step in the struggle to get out of the "slushpile" of indie obscurity--but I digress).  Amazon's KDP Select program is the only way to go free on their site without violating their contractual terms.  I know many authors use the price match function to go free, but I don't like having to violate the contract in order to achieve freebie status.  So I stuck to the straight and narrow.

Despite my ideological reservations, I have to say I am thrilled with the results of the promotion.  Hemlock and the Wizard Tower reached #2 in free Epic fantasy on Saturday, and spent a good deal of Sunday at #1.  It spent about half of Sunday in the top 100 free titles list, which I hear is a "big deal" in terms of the mystical inner workings of the Amazon ranking algorithms.  I don't really understand those intricacies yet, but it sounds good.  And so far this week my paid sales are actually coming in drizzles and spurts (as opposed to their former trickle).

But a surprising feeling hit me in the waning hours of Sunday as I gleefully watched the free downloads accumulate.  Since then I have been wondering about all of these people who now have my book, and may soon be reading it.  It was easy for me to create an imaginary connection with the trickle of readers I had been reaching before the promotion.  I would imagine a guy reading in Arizona or a woman reading in Liverpool, and that would feel OK--be manageable in some hypothetical way.  But this torrent of simultaneous downloads is different.  Now I am dealing with an auditorium full of imaginary downloaders--a number that my imagination just can't quite come to grips with.  I've ended up visualizing a mass of readers in a big room: but they are faceless--rendered anonymous in aggregate--sort of like the replicating Agent Smiths from the Matrix II movie.  And I'm not sure how I relate to them exactly in this imaginary space.  They are reading something very dear to me, but I am conspicuously absent from the scene.  Or maybe I've been fragmented into a multitude of tiny pieces that flew out into cyberspace with each ebook.

Now, I realize this is a silly way to think.  But remember: I'm a person who sometimes uses my imagination to frame and interpret reality.  So, as a result of this promotion, I have had to come to terms with this sudden expansion of readership; and in the process I've had to let go of the imaginary feeling of connection I'd grown used to.  But, like we used to say when I was part of a company that faced problems related to growth, this is a good problem to have!

A note to potential readers: I'm sorry if you missed the free promotion.  It may happen again, but I can't say for sure.  Rest assured that Hemlock and the Wizard Tower is regularly priced at the lowest possible price Amazon allows: $0.99.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Cover of Hemlock and the Dead God's Legacy!

 Here is the work in progress cover art for Hemlock and the Dead God's Legacy!  I'm super excited to unveil it!  We're still reviewing it, but it's very,very close.

I'm still working through the revisions of the ending of the new novel.  All I can say is: "God bless President's Day!"  In a stroke of good fortune I've been granted a precious day off on Monday that I'll be able to use to write uninterrupted!  What timing!

So I'm rushing around like a busy little wizard adding new ending scenes, tweaking things and generally cleaning up the chaotic mess that ending "1.0" was.  I was telling some friends that if I ever try to release any of my writing with a "1.0" version of an ending again, they should physically slap me in the face, and possibly curb stomp me.  OK, maybe the curb stomping would put my ability to revise the ending at risk, so scratch that.  Maybe instead of a plain slap, it could be a gentleman's slap with a leather glove (or something equally dramatic and injury-free) instead.  That would get my attention!

I don't have anything else to share right now.  I'm busy writing and imagineering, and there's not much more to say than that.  I think the release of the new novel is mere weeks away at this point!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Bigfoot Blues

Photo by Wayne Parrack.  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Whenever I am trying to take a nap I like to put on the TV and tune in to a show about history or the paranormal.  History is good to sleep to because it already happened.  It's not like you're going to miss something if you sleep through it.  Plus the monotone narration is also soothing to the ear.

When I'm drowsy I also like to tune in to these Bigfoot hunter shows.  For one, like history shows, I am certain nothing will happen in the show that I will need to stay up for (come on, they never find anything, do they?).  I also sort of enjoy the traipses through the woods with the UV filter video and the almost juvenile attempts to leverage technology to capture the elusive "squatch".

As a writer, I never want my stories to be snooze-worthy.  And I think this can happen if a story is too reliant on the standard fantasy tropes.  But I also have this need to ground my tales in established mythology, which would seem to conflict with the notion of trying to keep a storyline fresh and innovative.

So how does an author walk the fine line between innovation and mythological resonance?  Maybe further reflection on my affection for Bigfoot shows will shed some light.  Maybe the magic of these shows is the enthusiasm the hunters display as they go about their hunt.  They treat their experience like an adventure--even though the outcome of the adventure is never in doubt.  Somehow these hunters make the viewer suspend disbelief--perhaps only for a few moments, but that's enough.  Maybe they will find a "squatch" this time!  Maybe Bigfoot IS real!

As a fantasy writer I try to suspend disbelief for readers by making sure there are no visible seams in the plot.  Plot seams are the equivalent of seeing the author running around in a cheesy Bigfoot suit.  When the plot is seamless and "organic" I think the reader starts to wonder what might happen next--and by extension feels like anything could happen.  This sense of uncertainty is what makes a novel exciting for me as a reader.  The author may be behind the curtain, but if the curtain is well concealed then the illusory narrative of the story remains seamless.

I've recently been revising the ending of my new novel, and I was feeling really down about it for several days.  I think it was because I was trying too hard to just sew up the plot seams with little regard for subtlety or prudence.  I just had to wait for the right idea to develop organically from plot circumstances instead of trying to "synthesize" something to connect the dots.  As tempting as the Bigfoot suit is for an author, it's best left in the proverbial closet.  Don't worry, the skeletons will keep it company.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Asceticism in Fantasy

Photo by shioshvili.  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.
Thanks to Ilil Arbel's fascinating blog post on the Essenes, an ancient ascetic order, for inspiring this post.

Asceticism is a pillar upon which many of the real world's religions are based.  The core concept is that the ascetic is able to be closer to God by depriving themselves of earthly (sensual) pleasures.  In a certain sense fantasy has embraced this concept with the archetype of the reclusive wizard and the fighter that is part of a secret order protecting the weak.  I believe that asceticism in Christianity and Islam is based on these religion's roots in the harsh desert climates of the Middle East.  In these religions asceticism is often thought to produce spiritual virtue.  There is an element of this thinking in the ascetic traditions of eastern religions as well.

I like to take a positive perspective on the spiritual process, and I think virtue leads to asceticism and not the other way around.  When asceticism is believed to be the path to virtue rather than a byproduct of it, I think the door is opened to religious oppression by those who consider themselves enlightened.  I think asceticism needs to be a voluntary journey in order to reap spiritual benefits from it.  Otherwise it simply leads to suffering.

In T.E Lawrence's brilliant work "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" he describes what I consider to be the basis of destructive asceticism.  On the "arab peninsula" the coastal regions were prosperous--but only could support so many mouths.  This caused a continual flow of immigrants to stream inland into the nomadic arab nations of the time.  These nomadic tribes survived in an incredibly harsh environment where asceticism was a requirement for survival.  And the desert could only support so many people via its sparse network of oasis and wells.  So this caused another stream of immigrants who continued north into Syria and Turkey, bringing their ascetic desert values with them.  This simple explanation of the source of asceticism in Islam is the first rational explanation I'd ever heard or read.

In most fantasy the reclusive wizard or fighter seems to be traveling on a more constructive ascetic path where asceticism is a byproduct of altruism, and the hero is voluntarily relinquishing the comforts of society and civilization in order to protect it.  But in fantasy these archetypal figures rarely turn their backs on all of life's pleasures.  Many heroes are quick to enjoy a tankard of ale or a generous pinch of tobacco in their pipe.  So fantasy heroes seem to embrace what I'll term "dutiful asceticism".

I think this theme of "dutiful asceticism" is one of the key, positive moral and spiritual takeaways from fantasy.  I've reached a point in my own life where the patterns of material acquisition that I've practiced for many years are starting to become increasingly unsatisfying.  I am still tempted by these old patterns of behavior (old habits die hard), but now I see them for the pathology that I think they are.  I am far from an ascetic, but I think I can see the beginning of the path that leads there.  I'm not sure I'll ever walk it, but I consider it a gift to even perceive it.  And I really believe that J.R.R. Tolkien and many other epic dreamers out there helped me to reach this point by weaving undercurrents of wisdom into their fantastic prose.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

After the Sprint

Photo by Ell Brown.  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

As I live I am always searching for a deeper meaning to life.  I am a believer in objective reality and science, so I am searching for something that by the definition of measurable, objective reality will never be found.  Yet I continue to search, and I think the search itself is part of the journey--and maybe the journey itself is the destination.  When I do have spiritual moments, they are often amazing simply because of the way I perceive them rather than being objectively mystical in and of themselves.

When I read I am always looking for themes or signals from the author that they are on the same journey of discovery that I am.  And I have trouble enjoying books that don't wax mystical at some point.  I've heard great musicians described as being able to play between the notes.  This comes close to describing what I am thinking of when I use the word mystical.  The best way to add mysticism is for the author to pour parts of themselves into their book.  I read a good blog post recently where the author urged all writers to write so that they show through in their own writing.  I think this is a great way to think about it.  Since we're all inherently miraculous, if we can write ourselves into the words then the reader will have to have a mystical experience because they will feel the writer infusing the tale and floating over, under and within the narrative of the story.

I think a good litmus test for a writer is whether they love their own work.  This seems a bit like self esteem in that I think the phrase "If you can't love your own story then how can you expect others to love it" applies.  I think some people are perfectionists with their writing--and this can be a negative thing I think.  Love usually involves accepting imperfections, so I think it's healthy to do the same with our stories or else we'd never be "done" with them.  What I've found is that when I write something that I don't love, I feel a strong sense that it could be better.  This feels different than needing to rework, it's more like the scene is too blurry and the focus needs to be sharpened so that its beauty shines through.

My new manuscript for Hemlock and the Dead God's Legacy is in the hands of beta readers.  I am patiently awaiting their feedback (everyone is very busy).  While I've been waiting I've been feeling different things about the manuscript.  First, I think it ends a bit abruptly, so I will be adding an epilogue soon.  But beyond that I have moments where I expect accolades and others where I start to doubt whether the story is any good.  I always pick myself up by reassuring myself that I love the story.  Whether it is better or worse than its predecessor remains to be seen, but I feel like I succeeded in writing it from the heart, and from the most elemental and pure part of my imagination.  None of the scenes were half baked: all were the result of dreams, music inspired visions or moments of true inspiration.  My spirit is inhabiting those pages, for better or worse.

What is a little unusual about this novel is that I felt a titanic urgency to get it completed.  I don't remember feeling this way about the first one.  I hope it doesn't mean that my life is coming close to its end.  I don't think that's the case,  but we never know, do we?  I remember Tarantino feeling conscious of his own mortality after completing Pulp Fiction.  I think I have a similar feeling.  It's almost like part of me has been frozen in carbonite in the pages of this new manuscript.  Maybe what's left behind is now rendered just a bit redundant by the process.  In any case, there's no doubt that strange feelings have been afoot within this writer.  Fortunately, they seem to be abating.  I just hope there's a nice grace period before book three starts to weigh on my mind.

One of the things I'm most excited for people to read in the new novel is an extended sequence detailing the history of the City through the eyes of multiple characters as they experienced these moments.  Some of these events were described in general terms in Hemlock and the Wizard Tower, but now the reader gets to experience them "firsthand", learning a lot about the history of the wizards in the process.  I'm curious how readers will react to one of the main point of view characters in these historical sequences.  Will he be perceieved as a villain or a flawed hero?  I have my own opinion, but I think the presentation is objective enough that there will be some room for diverging points of view concerning this character.