Writing a Postcard

Most of y’all know that I submit regularly to the “Postcards” series from Raconteur Press. For those aren’t aware, it’s an open submission call that happens from time to time whenever the gang go to a convention. They send an AI generated image to anybody who asks, and you must write a story of precisely 50 words, no more, no less, inspired by the image. You only have until the Monday after the con to submit the story, so there’s a time pressure added to the word count. It’s a fun challenge, and I’ve made the cut for two of the four volumes.

I thought I’d share my process for any of you that are interested. (BUYER BEWARE: This story did NOT make the cut.)

Book cover for Graphite and Turbulence

Tuesday Book Review: Graphite and Turbulence by Jami Fairleigh

Book cover for Graphite and Turbulence

Graphite and Turbulence is Book Two of The Elemental Artist series by Jami Fairleigh. The first book, Oil and Dust, introduces Matthew Sugiyama, an Artist who has the magical ability to reshape the physical world through painting. The series is set in a post apocalyptic world where the survivors have come together to form small communities based on barter and a minimum of rules. Matthew is on a quest to find his birth family, who gave him up into the care of an Artist abbey when he was very small. His quest is opposed, both by the masters of his abbey, and by other darker forces. By the end of the first book, Matthew has gathered friends and companions on his quest, including a young orphan girl named Akiko, who, despite the prohibion of female Artists, has shown the same magical ability as Matthew. He adopts Akiko as his ward, and leaves with her to continue his search.

And that brings us to Graphite and Turbulance.

Matthew’s quest continues, but now he is caring for a small child and learning that parenting is not for the faint of heart. There are twists, and shocking revelations, and much like the first book, Matthew accumulates injuries fairly regularly along the way. Made of cast iron, he is not. But he is stubbornly persistent, and that takes him a long way towards meeting his objectives.

What I liked about this novel is its depth. The narrative drives everything, as it should, but the story functions on several different levels, as a commentary on current society, and an exploration of what family means for two examples. Matthew learns that the easy answers he was given in the abbey don’t always work in the larger world, and that dealing with people is always messy.

As the title suggests, the series plays a lot with the idea of duality, both in opposition and in support. Graphite, for example, is used as an artistic medium, and as an engineering lubricant. Physical and emotional turbulence abound, and the effect it has on the characters as well as the story is profound as Matthew struggles to find his place in the larger world, and to keep his friends and family safe and whole.

There are some major revelations in the book, and people are not always who they seem to be. Matthew has to learn who he can trust, and that is always a hard lesson.

Once again, Fairleigh has created a series of memorable characters while telling a story that immediately engages and challenges your imagination.

And for those of you who, like me, are not a big fan of cliffhanger endings, you can relax. Yes, it sets up the next book, but it doesn’t leave you hanging. Except for…well, I won’t spoil it for you.

Five Stars.

Weekly Update: Week 1

Happy New Year! I hope you had a great holiday season and are approaching this new year with energy, enthusiasm, and appreciation!

Now, to the update!

  1. Weight – I weighed in at 268 this week. I gained 3 pounds over the holidays. I didn’t want to gain anything, but three pounds isn’t the end of the world. I set a goal for this year to hit 215 by my birthday, June 14. That’s 43 pounds in 26 weeks, or just over 1.6 pounds per week. That’s a very realistic goal, particularly since I’m going to front load it with a short term goal of 15 lbs this month. We’re leaving for vacation Jan 28, and I want to look good for our destination!
  2. Non Fiction – I took some time off over the holidays, but now it’s back to work! Maintaining and growing social media, starting a newsletter and building a mailing list, and posting here regularly are all high priorities. I haven’t set any metrics yet for followers and such. Right now, I want to establish the routine, and build a reservoir of material for new readers to read through. Once I have a solid presence, then I’ll start working to build up!
  3. Fiction – Like I said, I took some time off for the holidays. I sat on the couch and watched TV with my wife, and then watched some football with the cats. I may have scared them a time or too, yelling at the screen. But now it’s time to get back into the harness and start putting words on paper. The weekly short story group started yesterday, and I plan on posting a story to the group every Friday, even while I’m on vacation. We’ll see how that goes! As for novel(s), it’s time to start working on those as well. The paranormal romance still sits at roughly 24k, and I want to have it completed by Jan 28. Then I’ll dive back into Calder Sharpe’s world and see what he’s been up to!
  4. Ukulele – One of my goals for the new year is to learn a new song each week and record at least one per month. This week, I’m concentrating on finishing “Hallelujah” and next week, The Rose (Bette Midler.) Other songs on my short list include “California Dreaming,” “All of Me,” “After the Goldrush,” “Over the Rainbow/Wonderful World,”and “Does your Chewing Gum Lose its Flavor (on the Bedpost Overnight?)” If there’s any song you think I should add to the list, let me know!
  5. What I’m Reading – Since I had time, I finished several books. First, “The Debare Snake Launcher” by Joelle Presby. This is her first solo novel and it is a good one even though it isn’t what I expected. I thought this would be more of a hard SF novel dealing with the construction of the first space elevator. Instead, it turned out to be more of a character study of the family given the contract to oversee construction of a support launcher to put supplies into orbit to build the elevator. We get to watch as the family fights deadlines, supply and construction issues, a volcano, and each other to complete construction of the launcher. Next up was Thief of Aether, by Bree Moore, book 2 of her “Shadowed Minds” series. Like the first book, this is another page turned as Lee is increasingly tangled in schemes and crossed loyalties as she tries desperately to find her way free of the magic that is killing her. Be warned, the book ends on a cliffhanger and we’ll all have to wait for book three to find out how it gets resolved. But it will be worth the wait! And right now, I’m reading Graphite and Turbulence, book two of Jami Fairleigh’s “Elemental Artist” series. It picks up immediatel after the conclusion of “Oil and Dust” as Matthew, a young Artist with the ability to alter things in the real world with his paintings continues his search to find his birth family.
  6. Audio books – The reviews are in (all two of them) and, based on thier feedback, I will be releasing an audio version of “The Name of the Moon” on Amazon to go along with the story. I have a few edits left to make on the audio, then I have to figure out how to post an audio to Amazon, get everything set up, and then it goes live. My goal is for it to go live before we go on vacation, but we’ll see.

And that’s it for this update!

Have a great week!

Hello 2023!

I do believe in setting goals and making resolutions for the New Year. It gives me a focus for the year and a way to measure my progress.

There is a difference between a resolution and a goal that most people tend to miss. A goal is a concrete achievement. It’s very specific. One of the things we teach in our professional development courses is how to set a SMART goal.

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Timed

For example, if I’m setting a weight loss goal, I would say something like “I will weigh less than 215lbs by June 14.” I set a specific target, one that is measurable on a scale, and that involves a reasonable amount of time to achieve, and that has a deadline.

I left out relevant, and that’s because ‘relevant’ relates to a resolution.

Resolutions are not as cut and dried. They’re messy, hard to measure, and tend to be broader. For example, “I resolve to live a healthier lifestyle in 2023.” You see how that is not a SMART goal? But it still has meaning.

My goals must be relevant to my resolutions.

So here are my resolutions along with some goals for 2023.

  1. Be kind.
    • Go out of my way to greet people
    • Help others whenever the opportunity presents itself
    • Swallow my pride
    • Forgive offenses
  2. Be healthy
    • Weigh <215 by June 14
    • End all heart meds by June 14
    • Exercise 1 hour 3 times per week
  3. Be appreciative of the efforts of those around me
    • Praise freely; criticize sparingly
  4. Expand my horizons
    • Learn a song every week on the ukulele
    • Record and post one each month
    • Learn a new language
    • Finish my arcade controller
  5. Grow as a writer
    • Complete 52 short stories by Dec 31.
    • Complete 4 novels to final edit by Dec 31.
    • Publish collection of the best short stories by Oct 1.
    • Submit to 12 open call anthologies by Dec 31
    • Submit to WOTF every quarter I am eligible
    • Submit to both Baen contests
    • Record and publish 12 audio stories
  6. Love

2022 in Review

Looking back over the last year

It’s been an interesting year.

Today is Dec 31, 2022 and for me, it’s a day to look backwards to see where I’m coming from and where I’ve been. I assess the things that worked, the things that didn’t, and use that to lay out my goals and resolutions for the coming year.

2022, was a year of beginnings for me. For the first time, I started treating writing seriously,as something more than “Oh, that’s something I’d like to try. Following some great advice I got at the tail end of 2021, I wrote and sold a story. Since then, I’ve tried a few more, but nothing else has sold.

And that’s okay; I’m still learning this author gig.

I stepped outside of my comfort zone, and did some things differently. Lissa and I went to several conventions this year, and instead of focusing on having fun, I began to emphasize learning more about the job and craft of writing fiction. That journey culminated in 20Books Vegas, where I met some amazing people and learned exactly how much I need to learn to make this a success.

I recorded an audio version of my story and sent it out to a fe volunteers who listened and gave me some very encouraging feedback. I’m incorporating their suggestions in the final edit, and will post it on Amazon soon.

For the coming year, I’m setting several ambitious goals for myself, and I’ll share those tomorrow.

There are plenty of regrets and lots of things I wish I’d done differently, but the only thing I can do about those is learn, and do better moving forward.

And that’s what tomorrow’s post will be about!

Crow Moon cover

Crow Moon by Cedar Sanderson

.Crow Moon coverCrow Moon is a collection of eight short fantasy tales by writer, editor, artist, publisher, and lord knows what else Cedar Sanderson. Sanderson, who did the art for the cover, also produced artwork for each of the stories. something that set this book apart, and made it worthwhile to purchase a physical copy instead of just the ebook.

Each one of the stories carry with it a sense of wonder, sometimes sweet, sometimes sad, and sometimes awful, in both meanings of the word. The characters span a wide range, from simple people and quiet heroes to monster slaying avatars of dark gods, but they are each defined by their sense of duty, or obligation. The stories revolve around what they are willing to do, what sacrifices they are willing to make in order to fulfill that duty. In other hands, these stories could easily become heavy and overbearing, but Sanderson uses a lighter touch. Instead of bearing down on the weight her characters carry, she focuses instead on how they carry it, showing that courage is not always found in fighting a dragon; sometimes it’s in answering a simple question for a little boy.

Sanderson writes these stories almost like an artist’s sketch. Rather than go into great detail about the settings, the characters, and the backstory, she chooses instead to provide just enough detail to bring the reader into the story. Her deft touch leaves plenty of room for the reader to fill in scenes with their own imagination, and to integrate their own emotions into the story. Reading is always a collaborative process between the writer and the reader; Sanderson brings the reader more deeply into that collaboration, which magnifies the emotional impact of each story.

All eight stories are good reads, but for me, three stand out above the others.

First is Milkweed. I’ve never read anything that so well evokes what it means to be a woman, a wife, and a mother.

Second is A Breathe of Air. It’s short, but Sanderson packs so many emotions into each sentence. The impact builds slowly then hits you right between the eyes. It’s a gorgeous story.

Finally, The Domovoi’s Blessing. Styled as a Russian fairy tale, this charming story is a sweet reminder that trust and perserverence can go a long way towards finding a happy ending.

Those are my favorites, but you may like other stories better, and that’s one of the best things bout this collection. There truly are stories here for everbody, no matter your taste.

Highly recommended!

Crow Moon cover

Weekly Update

First of all, do you like the new digs? If you’re reading this via the link on Facebook, awesome! Welcome to my website. I plan on moving more and more of my posts over here. I’ll post links on Facebook back to here, but I prefer doing mjost of my longer posts fropm here.

There’s a couple of reasons for that. First, this is going to be my home on the web. Facebook is fine for short posts, sharing memes, and interacting with folks, but my posts tend to run longer than Facebook readers typically like. Most Facebookers are looking for 20-30 second interactions that they can like and then scroll along. When I write one of these updates, or post a review, I like to take a bit of time and space, and that simply works better here.

Second, I have a much greater degree f control over how my posts look. I can add inline images, host a video, link to a book or somebody else’s page, and all without worrying about Facebook throttling the post because I’ve triggered one of the algorythmically generated and unidentifiable landmines.

Which brings up the third reason, Facebook tends to be somewhat arbitrary in applying their standards and I’m putting too muich effort into these posts to allow them to just disappear becaue a bot doesn’t like a particular word choice I make.

Of course, as I post more here, I’ll be tweaking things to make them work better, and look better. I’ll be doing some other things, like building a mailing list, creating a newsletter, and stuff like that along the way, so keep your eyes opened!

Now, to the update!

  1. Weight – I weighed in at 265 this week for a loss of 3 more pounds. That’s a total of nine pounds lost. We leave for vacation in under 6 weeks and I’ve got a ways to go yet. Onward!
  2. Non Fiction – Everything is still on track. I’m hitting my goals and making my deadlines and interacting on social media. Growth is very slow, but it will come with time and persistance!
  3. Fiction – Horrible week. Truly horrible. And it’s all my fault, of course. I just had to write a post on maintaining a routine. Yep, things happened and my routine took a huge hit. Monday, I had family things to deal with, Tuesday and Thursday I lost to illness, Wednesday, I guess I’ll blame on illness as well. Friday, I got some writing done, but my word count really suffered for the week. But a once established, a routine has it’s own momentum and the only way to really lose that is to sit back and let it happen. So I wrote on the weekend and made up for some lost time, and I’ll be right back at it tonight at 9pm.
  4. Ukulele – I’m working on Hallelujah still. Such a powerful song about love and loss! I’m trying to meld a strumming pattern with fingerpicking, and singing at the same time. If I can nail this, it should be awesome!
  5. What I’m Reading – I finished Cedar Sanderson’s short story collection, “Crow Moon” this week and it is amazing! My full review will post tomorrow, and I’ve submitted an Amazon review as well. The short version is simple. Buy It! Each story is like an artist’s sketch; there’s enough detail to protray the story and to evoke an emotional response, but it invites you to supply details from your own imagination and emotions from your own experiences until it almost feels like you are collaborating with the writer in crafting the story. I’ve started “The Debare Snake Launcher” by Joelle Presby. Presby spins a tale of old and new cultures coming into conflict as the world’s first space elevator is being built in Africa.
  6. I mentioned before that I was working on an audio version of my short story. I finished the raw recording and did a basic edit last weekend and it has gone out to my alpha listeners. Based on their feedback, I will either continue to pursue recording my own stories, (and maybe do some recordings for other writers) or retire from voice work, never to be heard from again. (No pressure, alphas. Just my career. That’s all!)

And that’s it for this update! Remember, tomorrow is a full review of Crow Moon, then Wednesday will be my weekly craft post, then Friday, writer’s choice. WHo knows?

Have a great week!

David Carrico: The Blood is the Life

So what happens when a nice Jewish boy becomes a vampire?

First of all, if you’re Orthodox, like Chaim Caan, you have an immediate problem. Consuming blood is forbidden. He reaches out to a Rabbi who connects him to an organization that can help him.

And use his new abilities.

What struck me most about this story is that being a vampire is not glamorized in any way. No angsty, sparkly pedophiles here. These vampires are fierce, strong predators. Fortunately for Chaim, he finds his way to an organization that helps him harness the predator he’s become, channeling his aggression into the defense of others.

But it’s not easy. The list of deficits severely circumscribes his life and his relationships. There’s certainly no glamor in dealing with blood breath. He’s also limited in his ability to form relationships. He can’t eat, or go out drinking with classmates, nor can he have a girlfriend. And since he has an indefinite lifespan, anybody he manages to form a bond with will grow old and die, while he remains the same.

It’s a bleak prospect, and Chaim must find a reason to live and to fight off the anger that comes with his transformation.

He’s helped by Mordechai, an older vampire who mentors him, as well as a Jewish organization which acts to defend Jews from persecution throughout the world.

I got the feeling that Carrico has more to say in this world, as there are several questions raised, not least of which is discovering who selected Chaim to be turned and why. Turning rarely happens accidentally; it takes effort.

I don’t know whether Carrico is Jewish or not, but he clearly did his homework as Judaeism permeates every facet of the book. Chaim is devout and observant, and this is well communicated to the reader, so much so that I found myself placing my own Christian faith into a new context. I gained a deeper appreciation for the Jewish faith and those men and women who walk in it. It makes me want to learn more about their faith and their culture.

That’s not what I expected from reading a vampire novel, but it was a welcome surprise!

New Feature

My 2 Cents

I’m not getting political.

On the other hand, I can write on the forces behind our political division and give my opinion on causes and potential solutions. This might still be too much for some folks, and that’s okay. My right to speak freely in no way obligates anybody else to listen.

unreeled movie film for nonlinear storytelling

Tangled in Time: Non-Linear Storytelling

As writers, we’re told that we must hook our audience as quickly as possible or we’ll lose them forever, and that’s not wrong. But how far should we go to hook the reader?