Why I Write

Image licensed by Shutterstock.

Why do I write?

Writing isn’t easy, especially for those of us who work full-time in a completely unrelated field. You come home from work exhausted. Those very rare moments of explosive inspiration aside, you have to force yourself to sit down and work some more, when all your body really wants to do is eat and go to sleep. You have to face the demons of self-doubt, which hover over your shoulder in the darkness, whispering that you’re not good enough, that you’re a hack, that today is the day everyone will discover you’re a fraud. You have to recognize that you will fail, and you have to do it anyway.

You then have to be brave enough to confront the crap you wrote the next day. You have to take this rough source material, this hunk of dark grey clay forged from the jumbled stilted dreams of the insubstantial mind, and mold it into something half-way decent. You have to revise. You have to revise again.

After the number of revisions rivals even the number of stars in the galaxy, you have to break out of your shell and share your work with others. You have to not only accept but embrace rejection. You have to allow your heart to be broken, and then you have to pick up the pieces and try again. You have to revise. You have to revise again.

If you intend to publish, your not even close to finished. If you go the traditional route, you still have to send out hundreds of query letters to agents, be rejected over and over again, and hope that at least one will take an interest in your work. And whether you go through traditional channels or self-publish, if your book is to have a prayer of succeeding, you’ll still have to hand your work off to an editor, who will point out all the many things that are wrong that you didn’t catch in the first bazillion and one revisions. You have to revise. You have to revise again.

After all this, there’s nevertheless the very real possibility that nobody will want to read what you spent months or years writing. Bookstore shelves are littered with books that will never be purchased, books which will be returned to the publisher for a refund, books written by authors who will never have an opportunity to publish again. The Amazon Kindle store is bursting at the seams with self-published titles that will all suffer a similar fate. And if your books do sell, they likely won’t make anywhere near enough to financially justify all the blood, sweat and tears that went into your writing.

Why would anyone subject themselves to such a torturous and thankless routine? I can’t answer for all writers, but I can answer for myself.

I write because that’s who I am.

It doesn’t matter if I have an audience of one million, one thousand, one hundred, one or even zero. I write for my Creator, the author of the cosmos, because it’s what he called me to do. I in turn write for myself, because it’s my purpose, because composing new stories is what fulfills me as a human person. I feel compelled to write, even when it hurts, when I’m busy, depressed or lacking inspiration. It’s built into my DNA. It’s written indelibly upon the mandates of my soul.

I write because it’s in our own pale and imperfect reflections of the universe that we come to know and love the universe itself.

I write because beauty is important to me. I know that nothing I create will ever be perfect, but I strive for perfection anyway.

I write because I’m haunted when I don’t. The days I spend away from my notebooks and computer are days that I feel anxious and restless. Ideas back up in my mind like a clogged up sink, and their continually increasing weight begins to burn my soul like wild fire. I eventually have no choice but to huddle up in the dark after hours and yield to this all-consuming force.

I write because I have a passion for creating things. I liken the difficulties encountered when crafting a new tale to the pangs of childbirth. When the pushing is over, when you’re finally laying down in bed exhausted, sweat beading on your forehead, when the challenge of giving birth to an idea is finally over, you can at last gaze upon the child of your mind with stupid giddy love and wonder. It doesn’t matter that your child isn’t perfect, because the child is yours and you love it anyway.

In short, I write because I’m a writer. In the end, that’s the only reason that should matter.

Subscribe to receive a free copy of my short story The Sign.

Friday Freewrite

Image licensed by Shutterstock.

What’s Friday Freewrite? Find out here.

Climbing. Searching. Always seeking, never reaching. I lift my eyes, wretched creature that I am1, shielding my vision lest my eyes be blinded by the searing fire of distant perfection.

I’m nothing but chaffe2. I’m nothing but ore; gold riddles my innards, but only sparsely.

Yet, let me be smelted. Let me burn in your fire, so that I may be pure, so that what is gold is3 within me may sparkle and shine with the radiance I have longed so much to see.

Footnotes

1. At the time I wrote this, I was waiting inside a church to go to confession.

2. Should be spelled chaff.

3. Even though I’m not supposed to pay attention to structure while I’m freewriting, when I have a very concrete idea in my head that I want to flesh out, I do usually briefly backtrack to make tiny corrections that would otherwise obscure the meaning of what’s trying to come out of my head.

Subscribe to receive a free copy of my short story The Sign.

5 New Books for 2014

One of my goals for 2014 is to experience as many new authors and books as possible. To kick off the new year, here’s a list of five books, queued up on my Kindle and ready to go. Have recommendations for more? Please, let me know in the comments below!

1. Tithe, by Holly Black

From Goodreads:

Sixteen-year-old Kaye is a modern nomad. Fierce and independent, she travels from city to city with her mother’s rock band until an ominous attack forces Kaye back to her childhood home. There, amid the industrial, blue-collar New Jersey backdrop, Kaye soon finds herself an unwilling pawn in an ancient power struggle between two rival faerie kingdoms – a struggle that could very well mean her death.

Why I Chose It:

I was convinced to read Doll Bones, a middle grade fantasy written by Holly Black, after reading this review. While plot-wise, I felt there were some problems (I’ll be writing my own review in the coming weeks), the language was so beautifully crafted that I decided I wanted to read more of Black’s work.

Tithe, written for adults rather than children, was mentioned in the same review, so I decided to go for it.

2. Un Lun Dun, by China Mieville

From Goodreads:

What is Un Lun Dun?

It is London through the looking glass, an urban Wonderland of strange delights where all the lost and broken things of London end up … and some of its lost and broken people, too – including Brokkenbroll, boss of the broken umbrellas; Obaday Fing, a tailor whose head is an enormous pin-cushion, and an empty milk carton called Curdle. Un Lun Dun is a place where words are alive, a jungle lurks behind the door of an ordinary house, carnivorous giraffes stalk the streets, and a dark cloud dreams of burning the world. It is a city awaiting its hero, whose coming was prophesied long ago, set down for all time in the pages of a talking book.

When twelve-year-old Zanna and her friend Deeba find a secret entrance leading out of London and into this strange city, it seems that the ancient prophecy is coming true at last. But then things begin to go shockingly wrong.

Why I Chose It:

I actually don’t recall precisely where I encountered this book, only that I stumbled on it while searching for blogs related to children’s fantasies like Coraline and The Graveyard Book. I have a weakness for stories that are distorted reflections of real-world places, and I also have a weakness for children’s fantasies. Seemed like a no-brainer to me.

3. Heart Shaped Box, by Joe Hill

From Goodreads:

Aging, self-absorbed rock star Judas Coyne has a thing for the macabre — his collection includes sketches from infamous serial killer John Wayne Gacy, a trepanned skull from the 16th century, a used hangman’s noose, Aleister Crowley’s childhood chessboard, etc.  so when his assistant tells him about a ghost for sale on an online auction site, he immediately puts in a bid and purchases it.

The black, heart-shaped box that Coyne receives in the mail not only contains the suit of a dead man but also his vengeance-obsessed spirit. The ghost, it turns out, is the stepfather of a young groupie who committed suicide after the 54-year-old Coyne callously used her up and threw her away. Now, determined to kill Coyne and anyone who aids him, the merciless ghost of Craddock McDermott begins his assault on the rocker’s sanity.

Why I Chose It:

I bought this on whim while browsing through the Amazon Kindle store. I enjoy supernatural thrillers, and the plot sounded interesting. It’s been sitting in my queue for a while, so I decided it was time to go back and read it.

Recently, I discovered that Joe Hill is a pen name for one of Stephen King’s sons, Joseph Hillstrom King. Stephen King is one of my favorite authors. I’m now curious to see how Hill’s style differs from his father’s.

4. Slayers, by C.J. Hill

From Goodreads:

Dragons exist. They’re ferocious. And, in this novel from C. J. Hill, they’re smart: before they were killed off by slayer-knights, they rendered a select group of eggs dormant so their offspring would survive. Only a handful of people know about this, let alone believe it—these “Slayers” are descended from the original knights and are now a diverse group of teens that includes Tori, a smart but spoiled senator’s daughter who didn’t sign up to save the world.

The dragon eggs have fallen into the wrong hands. The Slayers must work together to stop the eggs from hatching. They will fight; they will fall in love. But will they survive?

Why I Chose It:

This is another book I found through a blog (once again, I forget where; apologies to the author!) I like fantasies that take place in a modern setting, especially when they relate back to something that got its start in the distant past. I have no previous experience with this author, so it was a shot in the dark.

5. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman

From Goodreads:

In the sleepy English countryside of decades past, there is a town that has stood on a jut of granite for six hundred years. And immediately to the east stands a high stone wall, for which the village is named. Here in the town of Wall, Tristran Thorn has lost his heart to the hauntingly beautiful Victoria Forester. One crisp October night, as they watch, a star falls from the sky, and Victoria promises to marry Tristran if he’ll retrieve that star and bring it back for her. It is this promise that sends Tristran through the only gap in the wall, across the meadow, and into the most unforgettable adventure of his life.

Why I Chose It:

Neil Gaiman is one of my all-time favorite authors. I’ve read quite a few of his books. But for some reason, Stardust was always at the back of my list. Now, in 2014, it’s time to change that.

 

Are there any books you’re planning to read in the new year? Then leave a comment and tell me about them 🙂

Subscribe to receive a free copy of my short story The Sign.

Merry Christmas!

Image licensed by Shutterstock.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, this doesn’t constitute a full length blog. I’ve been incredibly busy preparing for the holiday; despite my best efforts, I haven’t had time enough to write. Regularly scheduled blogging will resume next week.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas!

Subscribe to receive a free copy of my short story The Sign.

Book Review: Stephen King’s “Doctor Sleep”

Doctor Sleep BookcoverSynopsis

Doctor Sleep begins when eight year old Danny Torrance is visited by Mrs. Massey, who hails from the haunted Overlook hotel, which burned to the ground in a boiler accident. Frightened (though not entirely surprised) to discover that the Overlook’s ghosts have followed him to his new home, Danny becomes withdrawn and refuses to speak until his mother Wendy calls Dick Halloran, Danny’s friend and rescuer from The Shining, a man who shares Danny’s psychic abilities.

Halloran teaches the boy how to lock these spirits away in the back of his mind, so that they can never bother him again.

Fast forward. Danny is now Dan, a man who’s made some bad decisions. Like his father, Dan is an alcoholic with a raging temper. It isn’t until he hits rock bottom, lands in Frazier, New Hampshire, and scores a much needed job at the Teenytown Railway that he begins to piece his life back together. He admits to his boss Kingsley that he has a problem, begins attending AA meetings and vows to give up drinking.

One day, Dan’s old childhood friend Tony appears and leads him to a hospice, where he’s able to use his abilities to provide comfort to the dying. It’s here that he earns the nickname “Doctor Sleep.”

The years following are good to Dan. Though he’s haunted by past sins, he now has a roof over his head and a purpose for his life. It’s during this time that Dan begins to receive telepathic messages on a blackboard in his room from a little girl named Abra Stone, who, unbeknownst to him, has befriended Tony. Like Dan, she has the shining. For a while, the messages are light-hearted in nature, and Dan contents himself by making the occasional reply.

One day, a thirteen year old Abra suddenly has a vision in which a boy with a baseball glove is tortured and murdered. She sends a frantic message to Dan, saying, “they’re killing the baseball boy!” A while later, a flyer for missing children comes in the mail with his picture. She places her hand on the image, closes her eyes and casts her mind out to where the murder took place, hoping that perhaps she can somehow send information to the boy’s family to help them find closure.

While looking, Abra inadvertently enters the mind of Rose the Hat, leader of the “True Knot.” The True feed on “steam,” the psychic energy possessed by children like Abra. Trading places, Rose finds herself abruptly shunted into the girl’s body. Shocked by her power, Rose decides that she must be hunted down soon, both for her steam and because she knows too much. Realizing the trouble she’s in, a frantic Abra reaches out to Dan for help.

After meeting with her in secret and talking about the shining as well as the murder, Dan enlists the aid of Billy, an old friend and ex co-worker of the Teenytown Railway, and John, Abra’s pediatrician as well as a fellow member of AA. Together, they concoct a plan to deal with the True before they can deal with Abra.

Plot

Doctor Sleep picks up where The Shining leaves off, creating a seamless transition from the latter to the former. Doctor Sleep stands on its own and doesn’t rely on The Shining to tell a complete story, but the two share a profound connection such that both books find their fulfillment in each other.

For a while, it seems as if the details about Danny’s childhood following his experience at the Overlook are disjoint from the rest of the story, and that they serve solely as a bridge into his adult years as Dan Torrance. But these early events, most notably the creation of mental lock boxes into which Danny traps the ghosts from his past, come back to play a major role in the novel’s conclusion, making it an integral part of the whole.

Doctor Sleep unfolds in a world that is far more advanced than the 1970’s in which The Shining takes place. When Abra and Dan begin communicating, they not only use the shining, but ordinary email, making for a perfect blend of technology and magic, a theme that King has explored before.

In the final chapters, we come full circle, to the land where the Overlook once stood. It’s now owned by the True, and it’s here that Dan and Abra fight for their lives. The conclusion is unexpected, and is (not unpleasantly) atypical of many of King’s books.

There are three surprises, each more shocking than the last. The first comes about three quarters of the way through the book, and concerns both Dan and Lucy, Abra’s mother. The second is a ghost from the past, and is related to the lock boxes we encountered in the first few chapters. The third and final revelation comes at the very end. It’s another ghost from the past, one that ultimately plays a critical and unexpected role in Dan’s and Abra’s final showdown with the True.

There were a couple of problems.

First, the True’s infection with the measles, which came from the baseball boy’s steam, was a little far-fetched. Measles is a physical ailment transmitted by an airborne virus; I fail to see how such a disease could be transmitted through a spiritual medium.

Second, there were a few anachronisms in King’s description of the internet that, as a technical person, I found a little annoying. In particular, he used the terms “IMing” and “screen names,” both of which are relics of the nineties and early two thousands and are rarely used today.

Characters

In the first few chapters, Danny, though he’s only eight, seems much older, in both the language he uses and the way he thinks. I suppose this is understandable, given his ability to read minds from a very early age as well as his traumatic experience at the Overlook, both of which forced him to grow up very quickly.

Unfortunately, like Jack, Danny inherits a propensity for drinking as well as a temper, and wastes most of his young adult life in a drunken stupor. When interviewing for his job at the Teenytown Railway, Dan wonders if his experience is like his father’s, when he interviewed at the hotel after losing his teaching job due to out-of-control anger. He even uses the words “officious prick” during his initial encounter with Kingsley. Like father, like son.

Yet, we have hope for a good ending, because unlike Jack Torrance, Dan has not only the will to overcome, but also additional help from his AA meetings. Despite Dan’s initial impression of Kingsley, he goes on to befriend the man, who is himself an alcoholic and who becomes Dan’s AA sponsor. Dan’s care for his patients, and later his love for Abra and his desire to protect her, both give us hope that his own story will turn out better than Jack’s.

The revelation that Halloran was forced to endure sexual abuse as a child at the hands of his uncle was heartbreaking, paling in comparison only to the childhood experiences of Andrea Steiner (nicknamed Andi Snakebite), a member of the True Knot who, before her Turning, was repeatedly raped by her own father.

What’s fascinating about both cases are the different ways in which Halloran and Andi reacted to a similar upbringing.  While Halloran purged the demons from his life and went on to do good, Andi allowed herself to be consumed by hatred for her father, and by extension hatred for all men. Though tragic, it’s no surprise that Andi would eventually be inducted into the True Knot and become one of the bad guys.

Perhaps most heartbreaking of all is the transformation of Abra from a sweet innocent girl to a teenager who has witnessed torture and death, who has seen what no child should ever have to see. She is forever tainted by a desire for revenge. It’s one of many scars, both physical and psychological, inflicted by Rose the Hat.

Style

The writing in Doctor Sleep is just as lucid and dreamlike as that in The Shining, yet more structured and tightly controlled, especially in flashbacks and dream sequences. You can see that King’s writing, like Danny himself, has grown and evolved over the past thirty six years.

King writes from an omniscient point of view. It’s difficult for a narrator to wield so much power without crushing the unique points of view of each character, resulting in a read that falls flat and dry. But King is a master of the craft and pulls it off remarkably well. He manages to delve into the thoughts and perceptions of each character, despite the mostly detached nature of the narrator’s voice. An omniscient narrator also has the power to jump backward and forward through time, yet King only ever steps beyond the strict bounds of the present to foreshadow or add depth to the story, which only adds suspense.

While King has mastered the omniscient point of view, I will level against him one small criticism. The narrator necessarily keeps his opinions mostly to himself, and serves primarily as our eyes and ears, our window into the thoughts and actions of the characters. But on occasion, this transparent voice rises up to express its own unique political opinions in the same detached style, as if they were well established and objective facts. We read sarcastic comments about Bush’s “spectacular war in Iraq” and Ronald Reagan’s “distrustful smile.” These would be fine if they were the thoughts and feelings of the characters themselves, but are inappropriate when expressed as the opinions of an otherwise objective omniscient narrator. With the power of omniscience comes the responsibility to remain a neutral observer.

Other Thoughts

Like many of his books, King makes connections to other stories. While driving out to retrieve the baseball glove that belonged to the boy who’s murder Abra telepathically witnessed, Dan begins to explain the shining to John:

“[…]If you think the shining begins and ends with paltry shit like telepathy, you’re way short.” He paused. “There are other worlds than these.” (Page 300)

Of course, “there are other worlds than these” are the famous last words uttered by Jake Chambers in the first book of the Dark Tower series, The Gunslinger, shortly before plunging to his death in an abandoned mine.

The consumption of steam by the True is reminiscent of the demon Tak from The Regulators, who feeds on the life essence of those he kills.

There’s a scene where Dan helps a dying patient named Charlie cross over. It brought tears to my eyes. I’m not sure if it was just the beauty of King’s words, the fact that I also share some of Charlie’s fears about death or both.

Conclusion

Stephen King is a remarkable writer. The lucidity of his vision and the prosaic nature of his writing has me head over heels every time I read one of his books. I was ecstatic when I discovered that King had written a sequel to The Shining after thirty six years, though I was also trepidatious, fearing that the second book would be incapable of doing justice to the first. I am pleased to report that Doctor Sleep is a worthy successor.

Subscribe to receive a free copy of my short story The Sign.

Am I The Hero or The Villain?

Hero and Villain
Image licensed by Shutterstock.

In literature, there are two roles that manifest themselves over and over again: the hero and the villain.

The hero is the one who’s not only content with living a decent life, but goes above and beyond. The hero doesn’t just meet but exceeds expectations. The hero goes out of his way to save the day.

The villain is the one who not only does evil, but revels in it. The villain doesn’t simply do wrong out of weakness, but finds his purpose in the pain and suffering of others.

The friction between the hero and the villain is fierce, and it sparks the fire that fuels countless stories. Both the hero and the villain tell us something about the nature of humanity; they teach us about the internal forces that motivate our thoughts and actions.

Therefore, when considering who you relate to, you might ask yourself, “am I the hero or the villain?”

Evidence That You’re the Hero

Have you ever stood up for a just cause? It might have been a principle you believed in deeply. Or perhaps you defended a friend or loved one against bullying, gossip or slander. Maybe, in a remarkable feat of love and courage, you went so far as to stand up for a total stranger.

Have you ever loved at the expense of your personal needs and desires? You might have been a friend, a son, a daughter, a father, a mother or a spouse. Maybe you’ve dedicated your life to raising a family.

Have you ever given to someone in need? You might have provided for someone’s material necessities by donating money, food or clothing. Or perhaps you attended to someone’s emotional necessities by providing a shoulder to cry on. Maybe you were present in someone’s life when they were in need of comfort. You might have given something as simple as a smile.

Have you ever found something valuable, discovered who it belonged to and returned it instead of keeping it for yourself?

Have you ever expressed simple gratitude for what you have instead of taking it for granted? Even better, have you ever expressed your gratitude for someone else’s success, instead of envying them for it?

Have you ever been tempted by evil, but refused to act because you knew it was wrong?

While this is by no means an exhaustive list, if you answered yes to any of the questions above, then without a doubt you have played the part of the hero.

Evidence That You’re the Villain

Have you ever been a bully? Have you ever attacked and injured another, either with your thoughts or with your words?

Have you ever stood by and allowed something evil to take place when it was within your power to stop it? You might have refused to stand up for something you believe in, or you might have looked the other way while someone was under attack.

Have you ever stolen something that didn’t belong to you? It might have been worth as much as one thousand dollars or as little as one.

Have you ever lied to someone about something they had the right to know? Perhaps you were scared and wanted to avoid getting in trouble.

Have you ever spent an inordinate amount of time chasing after material wealth at the expense of family and friends?

Have you ever ignored a loved one, friend or stranger in need? Perhaps the need was material and you chose not to give food or money when you could have afforded to do so. Perhaps the need was emotional and you refused to acknowledge them or give them comfort.

Have you ever used someone as a tool for personal gain?

Have you ever harbored a grudge or sought vengeance against another?

Have you ever willfully desired that grave misfortune or harm befall another? Worse, have you ever acted on that desire?

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, then you have certainly played the part of the villain.

“I’m Confused.”

If you were honest with yourself, you probably found evidence that you were both. So, which is it? Are you the hero or the villain?

In practice, the terms hero and villain are relative. The archetypes are two ends of a vast spectrum, with each of us residing somewhere in-between.

Showing off my mad graphic design skills!
Showing off my mad graphic design skills!

Becoming The Hero

While none of us will ever be the archetypal hero we desire to be, with hard work and dedication, we can come close. It’s a slow but fruitful journey from one end of the spectrum to the other, a road paved with self examination and good works.

Everyday, you must sit down with yourself and ask, “how have I been the villain?” You must be honest and you must be willing to face some ugly truths. When you have the answers you seek, you must actively work to purge those villainous desires from your heart so that the next day, you can be better than you were the day before. If you make this a frequent habit, you will find in the fullness of time that you have drifted remarkably close to the role of the hero.

What Exactly Is A Hero?

To be a hero, you need not fight crime or pull people from burning buildings. You must only be courageous enough to recognize and face the villain within yourself, to turn your back on him by doing good. Extraordinary feats of bravery are certainly heroic, but they are not the criteria by which heroism is defined.

There are silent heroes all around us. They are the ones who love. They are the ones who attend to others. They are the ones who do their part to make their small corner of the world a better place.

The archetypal hero is an ideal that we will never fully realize in this life. But that doesn’t mean we can’t come close.

Subscribe to receive a free copy of my short story The Sign.

What’s In It For Me?

I strive first and foremost to be honest and straightforward with my readers. I’ve found that in the great adventure of life, beating around the bush and pretending to be something you’re not is not only wrong, but a recipe for failure. I could pretend that my blog serves no other purpose than to entertain and share ideas, but that wouldn’t be the truth. These things are all an integral part of why I’m here, of course — I wouldn’t waste your time if I didn’t think I had something of value to share — but this blog also serves another purpose.

I’m an author. I’m trying to build an audience for my work so that I can get my stories out into the world.

It’s hard when you’re first starting out, because you’re completely unknown. You’re just another nobody in a sea of nobodies. The market is currently oversaturated, so that there are more books than there are readers. And to make matters worse, many of the books released today are hastily written and poorly edited, which means trust in a new author is automatically very low. I not only have to demonstrate that I have good ideas, I also have to find a way to prove that I can write well before people read my writing. This is not an easy thing to do.

I want to make it clear before I continue that marketing will play a very small role in my blog. I believe that the best way to prove myself is not to climb the nearest rooftop and shout at the top of my lungs, but to engage my readers with meaningful thought-provoking posts, and to let my writing speak for itself.

With that understanding, I want to ask you for a favor. Despite all of the many innovations in social media, the best way to keep in touch with readers and to let them know about your work remains good ol’ fashioned email. Consequently, a mailing list is vital for success. I’m going to provide a link that allows you to add yourself to my mailing list. If you’re interested in my work, I’m asking you to sign up for it.

What's In It For Me?
Image licensed by Shutterstock.

I know what you’re thinking. “What’s in it for me?”

First, here’s a promise of what I WILL NOT do with your information:

I WILL NOT share your email address. As someone with his own personal information to protect, I can assure you, I take your right to privacy seriously. I’m looking for a meaningful connection with an interested audience, not a block of random email addresses to be sold to the highest bidder.

I WILL NOT send you spam. Your time is valuable; you shouldn’t have to sift through junk. You’ll only receive an update from me once a month, and if later you change your mind, you can easily remove yourself from the list.

Second, in return for entrusting me with your email address, here’s what I WILL do with your information:

I WILL give you a steep pre-release discount on all of my new books. My success hinges on your willingness to read my work, and I want to thank you for your support by saving you as much money as possible. I might require financial support to be successful, but that doesn’t mean I need to take you for all you’re worth. Your support is truly appreciated, and I want to return the favor.

I WILL offer you exclusive content that can only be received through the mailing list. I haven’t yet decided what this will be, but it’ll probably include supplemental chapters that add depth and insight into the characters and scenarios you encounter in my books, as well as original short stories.

The SignIf you sign up, I’ll also send you a free copy of my short story on Amazon, The Sign.

Whatever you decide, thank you for reading!

You can click here to join my mailing list.

Subscribe to receive a free copy of my short story The Sign.

The Puddle

Image licensed by Shutterstock.

I remember standing on the playground at school after a storm, my hands numb from the cold, my nostrils filled with the scent of wet earth and asphalt. I peered down at the blacktop, made slick and shiny by the rain, and I scurried to where the water had pooled into a large sprawling puddle. I stared, transfixed by that shallow body that seemed so deep, and my breath caught. Was that just a reflection I could see, or was it, perhaps, some exceedingly rare glimpse of another world?

I felt that all I had to do was jump, and I would find myself falling, tumbling, down and down into endless blue. Or perhaps floating, flying, borne by great billowing clouds and fearsome bellowing winds, up into that vast ocean of upside down sky. Holding my breath, I took a leap of faith and jumped. But beneath my feet to break my fall were the shoes of an upside down boy.

He looked just like me. I gazed down, sad, and he gazed back up with the same doleful expression.

I stepped back, and the boy beneath my feet did the same. I waited, hoping he would go away. But when I slowly craned my neck forward to make sure my path was clear, I saw the boy had returned. I took a deep breath. If only I could slip past him. If only I could trick him into moving away. I cast another furtive glance over the edge of the puddle, but the boy was still there.

I made as if to draw away, then suddenly whirled and lunged into the air with eyes closed. I felt the rush of frigid morning wind as it whooshed and whipped over my arms and shoulders. I was certain I’d outsmarted him.

The puddle shattered as my feet struck the water, and a magnificent spray of shimmering liquid glass rained down around me. For a fraction of a second, I was certain my body would clear that thin barrier between the worlds, tumbling and falling into infinity. But when my descent was stopped short, I opened my eyes. I looked down, and there was the boy, gazing up at me. His face was set in a solemn expression. There would be no freedom that day.

I stood and stared at the boy who had denied me access to his endless world of blue. Only after the bell rang and a teacher took me by the shoulder did I go, and as I proceeded toward the dim and dreary classroom where I would be locked away for the remainder of the day, I glanced back at the puddle, that gateway into another world. The boy was gone, but it was too late.

A captive sun pushed through charcoal clouds, and throughout the day, while I sat at a desk with my head bent low in my hands, it drank up all the water. That temporary portal into another existence receded, falling into itself until at last there was hardly more than a drop. All the while, I imagined the mist that would have risen up around it, the soul of a dying world.

After school, I stood over where the puddle had once been. I mourned the loss of a world. I mourned the loss of freedom.

Subscribe to receive a free copy of my short story The Sign.

What Are Your Favorite Books?

For my sixth blog, I thought I’d try something a little different. Since I love to read, and I’m assuming that you do too, I’d like to learn more about your favorite books.  What stories are you head-over-heels for and why? I’ll kick off the conversation by telling you about three of mine.

The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King

The Gunslinger Cover Art
Book #1 of The Dark Tower series

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

So starts King’s enigmatic work. This lengthy epic revolves around Roland of Gilead’s quest for the Dark Tower, the lynchpin not just of time and space, but of all realities. These are the books that tie together all of King’s other works, his own “literary Dark Tower.”

This series comprises what is, all at once, an epic fantasy and a classic western. Roland of Gilead is the last of the gunslingers, crack shot gun toting cowboys who also happen to be royalty, knights errant, the fabled peacekeepers of old. As a post apocalyptic wasteland where space and time are stretching and running down like a worn out clock, Roland’s world is at once familiar and strange. It feeds on our fear of destruction, not just of the world, but of all existence, for if the Dark Tower fails, all realities will fall into ruin with it.

The Dark Tower explores nothing less than the mysteries of creation and existence. What are space and time? Is there such a thing as fate (known to Roland as “Ka”)? The Dark Tower examines the dual natures of magic and science, and ponders how the two are related.

One thing that stands out is King’s remarkable ability to intertwine other works of literature (not just his own) into the story. In fact, the story itself is based on a Robert Browning poem called Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came. The Dark Tower offers alternate accounts of their origins, origins which serve the Tower, blurring the distinction between reality and fantasy.

This epic tale was strongest in the first four books. I was utterly spellbound. Unfortunately, by the fifth installment, the series fell apart and the magic was broken. Too many last minute additions (things like vampires and the Low Men) as King struggled to find a place in The Dark Tower for all of his previous stories, as well as an anti-climactic and existentially unfulfilling conclusion, made the tail end of the series painful to read.

Why am I counting The Dark Tower among my favorites if the series ended so poorly? Because the first four books were four of the best books I’ve ever read. And to be fair, it must’ve been quite difficult for King to live up to not only the great cosmic questions posed by The Dark Tower in the beginning, but also twenty six years of anticipation and hype.

All things considered, The Dark Tower is a formidable work of literature and a worthwhile investment.

Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling

Sorcer's Stone Cover
Book #1 of the Harry Potter series

I know. Everyone loves Harry Potter. The thing is, there’s a reason these books are so popular.

In one aspect, Harry Potter is the consummate fairy tale, filled with magic, exposing the bizarre wonders which lie cloaked beneath the thin veneer of a supposedly ordinary world. What really makes this series shine and stand out from the typical fairy tale, however, is not the fantasy setting itself, but the characters.

From the smallest details — their mannerisms, physical descriptions and dialog — to more general themes — their emotions, desires and motivations — the characters in Harry Potter strongly reflect the complexities of real people. Like the world of magic, which lies just beneath the surface world of the muggles, a very deep and meaningful exploration of good versus evil takes place just beneath the fairy tale surface.

But Harry Potter is good versus evil with a twist.

The villains (all but a few, at least) are plainly bad, but  conflicted. Draco Malfoy, for example, does great evil, but his conscience is disturbed. By the end of the last book, he’s left standing on platform nine and three quarters, averting his gaze from Harry and his friends, shamed and embarrassed.

The “good guys” are not perfect but flawed, their deeds marred by less than noble acts. The students who ultimately save the day often do so by lying and breaking the rules. Professor Slughorn is not only a coward, but a man heavily motivated by self-interest and greed. We even discover that Professor Dumbledore himself, the man we all believed could do no wrong, wasn’t as innocent in his young adult years as we once believed. This discovery, which comes as a great shock to Harry and his friends via Rita Skeeter’s eposé of Dumbledore’s life post mortem, forces them to come to terms with the morally ambiguous nature of even the greatest heroes.

The humanity of Rowling’s work is undeniable and profound. For that reason, I hope these books will someday find their place among the classics.

The Stranger, by Albert Camus

The Stranger Cover Art
The Stranger, by Albert Camus

Depending on your translation, you may also know this book as The Outsider.

The story opens with the main character, Meursault, thinking about the recent death of his mother. From the very first paragraph, we realize that something is amiss. Meursault is bewilderingly detached. He doesn’t seem to care one way or the other about the passing of his mother, and when the funeral is over, he returns home, undisturbed, to continue living a dull disinterested life.

Through his interactions with others, even as he makes his eventual decent into darkness, we get the sense that Meursault just doesn’t care, that he’s decidedly indifferent about everything, including the evil acts of those he surrounds himself with. Only when the walls begin to close in around him and he realizes that the hollow shell which he calls life is seriously threatened does he begin to consider that he might not want to lose his life after all.

The Stranger is the bitterly ironic tale of a man who doesn’t appreciate his life until it’s in mortal peril, and is, among other things, a sobering reflection on the brevity of life. In pondering Meursault’s fate, we are reminded to always be grateful for what we have while we have it.

How About You?

What books are you obsessed with and why?

Subscribe to receive a free copy of my short story The Sign.

Proof that Magic is Real

Image licensed by Shutterstock.

Magic. The word alone conjures all kinds of extraordinary ideas. It’s the foundation of fairy tales. It’s the stuff of dreams. It’s one of the reasons I love fantasy. Magic is mysterious and otherworldly. It’s a step away from the ordinary, an exploration of the bizarre. It’s a light shone into the darkest corners of existence. Of course, magic is limited to storytelling and the imagination. Isn’t it?

On the contrary, I argue that magic is real.

Wait, hold on. Let’s define our terms. What exactly is magic?

Magic eventually boils down into two categories. There’s supernatural magic, which deals primarily with the conjuring of spirits and the manipulation of a world that lies beyond the physical universe. Then there’s natural magic, which is simply a study of nature and the laws that govern its behavior. When I speak of magic here, I refer solely to the latter.

Merlin, in the 1998 NBC mini-series Merlin, recounts his own instruction in magic thusly: “I studied day and night, learned of those unseen forces that hold this world together.” Those “unseen forces that hold this world together” sound as if they belong in the domain of physics, and why not? At its heart, physics concerns itself with the four known fundamental forces of nature and how they shape the universe.

Yes, that’s right.

Natural Magic is Science.

In any sane fictional world, magic has rules. Thus, the magician is tasked with discovering and refining his understanding of what those rules are. The studious magician of fiction is almost always a seasoned scholar, either of books or of practical experience, and has spent a lifetime probing those secret forces of nature that ordinarily remain aloof of common everyday experience.

The alchemist of old was nothing more than the ancient precursor to the modern chemist. Like the modern chemist, he sought to understand the ways in which materials interact with one another. He ran experiments, made observations and took notes.

That’s science.

But science is so ordinary and mundane! When has science ever produced magical results?

The magician of fantasy and the scientist of the real world have more in common than many realize. Like the magician, the scientist has learned to harness and exploit the laws of nature for technological advantage. In reality as well as fiction, this has lead to mind-blowing breakthroughs. We’ve developed nearly instantaneous visual and auditory communication over significant distances. We’ve developed a means of reliably transmitting incredible amounts of energy, capable of powering great hulking machines and lighting cities at night. We’ve developed a means of traveling by flight. We’ve even developed methods of sending men to other worlds.

Sounds magical to me.

But science is logical. It can be explained. Magic is arbitrary and irrational. It defies understanding.

Well, can the laws of nature as revealed by science be fully explained? True, larger and more general aspects of reality can always be broken down and explained by progressively smaller units of knowledge. Why does an object grow hot when it sits on a stove, for example? Because, among other things, the molecules on the stove, which are vibrating very fast, are bumping into the molecules in the object, which aren’t vibrating as fast. This causes them to bounce around more quickly, which we perceive as heat.

We could break the process of inquiry down further. We could ask why faster moving molecules speed up slower moving molecules when they collide. This would inevitably lead to a discussion of momentum and electromagnetic forces. On and on we could go, descending further and further into ever smaller units of knowledge. But at the end of this long and winding chain of questions and answers is something that must simply be accepted, a philosophical brick wall. Ultimately, why do the fundamental forces of nature exist and behave the way they do? Because they do.

And is magic really all that irrational? On the contrary, a believable system of magic must be internally consistent and obey ordered laws. True, there are concessions that must be made. But that’s nothing new. At its roots, science makes the same concessions. Without an axiomatic foundation on which to build, all of science would crumble to the ground.

The only thing that sets science apart from the magic of fiction is that science is a system of natural magic that happens to be real.

Conclusion

Arthur C. Clarke, in his book Profiles of the Future, wrote that, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I go one step further. I argue that advanced science is indistinguishable from magic because it is magic. The only reason we take science for granted is that it’s familiar. But if the roles of reality and fiction were ever reversed, and some denizen of a far off fantasy world were to stumble across the fundamental laws of nature that we accept as part of our daily lives, they would be mystified. For them, it would not be something ordinary, but something extraordinary. For them, it would be magic.

Subscribe to receive a free copy of my short story The Sign.