Monday, December 21, 2015

The Poet's Fire is MOVING

For four yeas I've shared travel experiences, writing advice, musings, and other thoughts here on Blogger.  Thank you to all of those who've visited, commented, followed, and enjoyed these posts.

Now, The Poet's Fire blog is MOVING permanently to the blog page on my website.
For future posts, please visit:

Friday, December 18, 2015

School of Deaths is FREE

 School of Deaths FREE for a limited time

For a limited time, SCHOOL OF DEATHS is FREE.  
Click the image above, and see why School of Deaths is currently the #2 Bestselling ebook on Amazon in both 
Dark Fantasy and Epic Fantasy.  

Also, WANT a FREE paperback?  Enter the Amazon Giveaway for a chance to win a free paperback version, no purchase necessary.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Fantasy Supervillain

As a speculative fiction writer, I'm always looking for new and interesting creatures. Often villains and magicians in fantasy have special abilities, things they do that are beyond normal,and might be terrifying.

Imagine, for instance, a creature with visual omnipresence. Omnipresence means that you can exist everywhere at once, able to see and witness everyone and everything. Unlike an omnipotent character, who knows everything, an omnipresent character would be able to see everything themselves. It'd be impossible to keep any secrets from this godlike ability, because everywhere you go, whether sleeping or awake, the character's there, watching. Imagine for example, Sauron with visual omnipresence- he takes one look at the Ring- book's over in chapter one. Same thing with Voldemort, President Snow, Darth Vader- you get the idea. Even in history this idea is terrifying. Want D-Day or the next drone strike to be a secret? What if the villain sees everything all the time? In nearly all fiction, the protagonists do things the villains aren't aware of. Crafting a story around this feat is daunting.

Let's make this supervillain more three-dimensional. As of now, he just has a superpower, albeit an impressive one. Imagine the villain also has a supernatural means of transportation. While he's still able to see everything anywhere, he can't actually get to places without traveling. We won't let him fly directly, that's too Marvel Universe for us, so instead we give him a flying car. Yes, he can hop on a flying car and travel rapidly to any location in the world. How fast? Let's assume he can get anywhere he wants within a single night, even making multiple stops. Scared yet? This character can see everything, and now get anywhere within one night. It's like having a TARDIS with the viewfinder always switched on.

The guy's still not interesting enough, though. Let's give him some minions. All villains have them. This character's got dozens of them- all enslaved to his will. They do whatever he says all year round, making anything he asks for. Yeah, now we're cooking, a character with visual omnipresence, able to travel anywhere within a night, who has a horde of servants.

Now we need to stop focusing on the evil/supernatural aspects and give our character some personality. President Snow and his blood breath and love of roses, Darth Vader's persistent asthma and respirator- that sort of thing. Hmmm... well, let's start by making the character fat. Too many villains are really thin and gaunt. It seems the skeletal look usually frightens people, so let's make our character as chubby as possible. In fact, give him nice red cheeks, almost comical looking. 

Let's also give him a backstory. Maybe he used to be a farmer. Yes, he was a farmer long ago, before things went terribly wrong. His mother used to say "Plant, plant, plant! Plough, plough plough!" He's never forgotten the last thing his mother demanded, asking him to hoe the fields, right before the accident. To this day, the guilt around her final words consumes him, and he can't stop repeating them. 

This character, by now, should be truly terrifying. Let's take a look at what he might look like, if an artist was to draw a rendition:

Click HERE to see an artist rendition.

And no, I won't even get into the obsession with little kids. That's too frightening, even for me. :-) 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


Most authors outline, whether they admit to it or not. Even the most ardent "pantser" (someone who writes by the seat of their pants, making it up as they go) has a general idea, even if subconscious, of where the story's going at certain points.

I have been asked many times how I write, but haven't yet taken the time to explore the issue in the blog. I begin any story with a situation, a scenario similar to the blurb you'd read on the back of a novel. I have a journal with about twenty future book ideas, scenarios I've thought about and would like to expand on. I add to the list frequently, adding two new scenarios just this past week.

Scenario: Kid trains to be a Grim Reaper at a school where students learn how to reap souls. Reaping is a job, just like any other. Tensions exist at the school between Dragons- the original Reapers- and the Deaths, who now Reap. At end, kid must pass a test to go home.

The scenario will look something like the above, with no details fleshed out, and not much more clear. I then daydream about what will happen, and in this period, the most abstract creation occurs. As part of this stage, I develop what I call an "image outline." I develop a set of specific pictures, frozen images that I know are somehow related to my story, but I don't yet know how or even what order they'll occur in. 

I'm currently reading Ransom Riggs' novel Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. The book combines authentic old photographs with an odd story about a boy traveling to a remote island off of Wales. I've read that Riggs collected tons of actual photographs and used them to inspire a storyline, which now spans multiple books as well as an upcoming film. 

I originally developed my inspiration for The Scythe Wielder's Secret (and School of Deaths in particular) from a trip I took to Tintagel. The original blog post from my trip can be found here. While I didn't have actual photographs to ply through or inspire me, I began to envision certain pictures in my head. Images I wanted to include in the novel.

Note: all prints below are by artist Jenn Eldreth and are available for purchase. Click on the pictures for more detail or to read a quote from the books about each.

One of the earliest images I envisioned, an enormous metal door in the center of an upward-flowing waterfall (or water-rise?) Didn't originally know what this would be, but it ended up playing a major role in the books. 

The Library I envisioned was partially inspired by the Duke Humfrey's Library Room in Oxford. This is the oldest reading room in the Bodelian and the college as a whole, and was a place I worked on the earliest drafts of School of Deaths. Admittedly, it's also where the library scenes in the Harry Potter films were filmed. I tried to differentiate from the Potter library by adding glowing flower lights and dozens of massive old stones.  

Before even starting book two- Sword of Deaths- I had a single strong image in my head.
A boat, the old fashioned schooner type, on an icy sea. The boat was burning and a Dragon circled overhead. Exploring this image internally helped me develop the plot line for Sword of Deaths. 

After I have an image outline, I start from the beginning and just keep writing, trying to connect images as I go. With my current work in process I'm in much the same situation. I have a clear number of images in my mind, but no idea yet exactly how all of them will connect, and what the final process will be.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Calvin and Hobbes

Thirty years ago today, Bill Watterson released his first Calvin and Hobbes comic strip.

For the first time, the world was introduced to a six-year-old-boy and his best friend. I was five and a half when this strip was released. I'm fairly certain I didn't notice it the first time it came out, or even when it first appeared in our local paper. Yet, within a year or so, Watterson and his creation had become a part of my daily routine, and they'd go on to have a profound impact on my life. The story lines are one of the reasons I became a professional storyteller (both as a novelist, and a theatre director).

For ten years, Calvin and Hobbes delighted readers, but it did far more to me, Calvin and Hobbes was an inspiration every day. I would rush downstairs and look for the paper, just so I could read the strip. Calvin and Hobbes was the first thing I read every day. I was roughly the age of Calvin, and of all the characters I've encountered I've never identified so completely with anyone as with him. I was a very lonely child, and spent hours meandering in circles, telling my parents I need time to "imagine." Daydreaming was a 24/7 occupation. Whether in school, at home, or just about any other time, I'd find myself lost in outer space, fighting dinosaurs, or building transmogrifiers. It was at this same time that I discovered books, and my world opened up. It's no wonder that Pratchett, Asimov, Tolkien, Lewis, and Clark became the worlds I devoured. Speculative fiction mirrored my love of imagination and creativity, my incessant and unending daydreams: the way I saw the world.

In many ways, I was Calvin. To be honest, perhaps I still am. The imaginary best friends running around in my head have found their way onto the page, as well as onto the stages I direct. A student today asked me to draw a groundplan for our upcoming production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. It took me fifteen minutes to draw a complete groundplan. She stared- and said how'd you know what to do so fast? It's there in my head. Same with books- they just pop out.

On a deeper level, I think Watterson first taught me the craft of storytelling, albeit on a subconscious level. At first glance, the comic strips might seem silly or banal, but there are deeper, underlying story lines and themes. Calvin is both idiotic, small minded, and altogether brilliant. Hobbes can be a pacifist, and environmentalist, or a would-be romantic, depending on the arc.

Bill Watterson
In middle school, we were asked to write letters to one person we admired. A lot of people wrote to the President, or to movie stars. I sent a letter to Bill Watterson. His secretary wrote back, or sent a form letter, but to me, he was the hero I admired most.

To this date, I logged on the computer and noticed my avatar is Calvin. There's a Calvin and Hobbes poster, advertising one of the collections, that I swiped from my job at Borders, hanging on the wall beside me. When I'm feeling down, I still pull out a Calvin and Hobbes strip to cheer me up.

And of course, Watterson's also admired for never selling out. It wasn't about the money. He never let people make bad movies or tacky merchandise (merch you see is illegal). He was about the art, and the imagination. I'm not sure Bill Watterson knows I exist, or has any idea how much he impacted me, but someday I imagine him looking at one of my books, and saying- I helped inspire this.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Cauldron of Fate concludes

Cauldron of Fate has now completed, and all four chapters are available on my site. Discover Sindril's past, and learn how Susan was selected to become a Death.

 Cauldron of Fate

Friday, October 16, 2015

Cauldron of Fate

A new exciting FREE event begins TODAY.  Discover CAULDRON OF FATE, a free short story exploring how Mark became Sindril.  Men aren't born evil, but one teenager will rise to threaten the World of Deaths.  Chapters will be released weekly, and will be available only on my website.  Read Chapter one now.