Monday, July 28, 2014

Hidden Spark

It has been over two years since I've published a poem here on The Poet's Fire.  This came to me yesterday, a poem about inspiration:

The Hidden Spark

It begins with stellar pain:
An explosion of flame.
Fire erupts,
Casting light, a burning light, a searing light
In every direction.
Dancing away from the cradle,
Wondering why space isn’t white
From so much rushing light.

It never ends, the mental pain:
Wait, try, struggle, cry.
A circle of doubt,
Leave the stove on? Pay the bill? Do they know?
Am I happy?
Stumbling away from the cradle
Wondering if life ever eases
In a sea of confusion.

Dawn breaks, masking the hidden spark
It waits behind the brazen sun,
A blanket of gold and blue,
Hides its ancient idea,
That tiny dancing flame.

You gaze up at the empty sky
An empty shell yourself
Sun draws away; the waiting star falls
Tumbling from heaven.

Down it dashes, jumping in your eye
Catching hold of the doubt
Burning it away
An idea.

Sunday, July 20, 2014


In my novel School of Deaths, Suzie is the first Death in a million years.  Why a million? A million is a far longer time frame than most people can even comprehend.  This length of time boggled some early readers, including my wife.

For some comparasions to other fantasy novels, as well as historic equivalents:

500 years - length of time J.R.R. Tolkien's One Ring lies dormant with Gollum, between Sauron's rise and the War of the Ring.  *

500 years ago today, Henry VIII was negotiating peace with France, while Coppernicus published his theory that the earth revolved around the sun.

2,500 years - length of time CS Lewis's Narnia exists, from its creation to its destruction *

2500 years ago, nearly five centuries before Jesus, 300 Spartans fought at the battle of Thermopylae.

12,300 years  - length of time in George R.R. Martin's Westeros, between the First Men and the current events in the Song of Ice and Fire series. *

roughly 12,300 years ago, Ancient Engyptians and Sumerians used sickles (early scythes) as part of the Agricultural revolution *

30,000 years - length of the "Dark Age" in Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series between the First and Second Galactic Empires. *

roughly 30,000 years ago, the first Americans crossed over a land bridge in the Bering Strait region.

1 million years - length of time between the War between Deaths and Dragons, and the events in School of Deaths.

I chose to set the prehistory of the novel this far back, so that it could account both for the creation of the World of Deaths as well as a flawed, obsessive narrative of the Deaths' own history.  I also wanted to heavily emphasize the idea that everything dies, not just human beings.

Dragons ferried souls for as long as there was life on Earth. The current scientific data shows the earliest life forming on earth roughly 3.5 billion years ago.  Dragons eventually learned to shape and create life, forming creatures similar to their own image, which accounts for 150 million years of dinosaurs.

Click here for an interative timeline of early earth history.

In School of Deaths, it's revealed that ferrying souls became more complicated when some souls gained self-awareness.  This event is impossible to date, however the genuses of early primates and hominids which eventually evolved into humans have been on earth for several million years.  The first tool use is estimated at roughly 2.6 million years ago, and the control of fire is estimated to be roughly 800,000 years old.

Click here for an interactive timeline (through the Smithsonian) of human evolution. 

A million years ago:

The Dragon's creations had vanished, consumed by shadows. Only the primates, pale shadows of the Donraki, the Dragons' failed experiment, remained. Calling themselves "Deaths" a war loomed. Rights to most precious commodity in Creation hung in the balance. 

Rights to the dead...

Can Suzie uncover the truth about what happened a million years ago, or has it been lost to myth?
What will she do when she learns the terrible secret? 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

From Stages to Scythes

Read an interview today, discussing how I wrote School of Deaths, on author Heather Greenis's blog:

Also, be sure to check out the new FIVE STAR review for the novel on Amazon, saying the book is "Too Good to Put Down."

Monday, July 14, 2014


In Fantasy writing, one of the key elements to any story is the world.  Fantasy readers enjoy escaping into an alternate place, a world with different rules, sights, and sounds.  These fantasy realms are often shown in a map.

Fascination with maps, strange lands, and even monsters is nothing new. As long as mankind's walked around, there have been people who dreamed about what lurks beyond the horizon. The map below shows Scandinavia as one cartographer imagined it, surrounded by sea monsters.

Carta Marina - printed 1539

Today, many epic fantasy novels feature a map drawn by the author.  I, myself, was unable to start writing School of Deaths until I'd sketched a quick reference map on a sheet of paper. I remembered all of the fantasy worlds I'd encountered as a child.  Wonderland isn't a story about Alice, it's a story about a magical place. Tolkien never considered having Gandalf hop onto an eagle and toss the Ring down the open top of Mt Doom, because the readers wouldn't be able to fully immerse themselves into the richly imagined world he'd created.

Tolkien's Middle Earth
When creating a map for a fantasy world, it's important to keep several things in mind.  First, the world must look familiar enough to be recognizable.  In the map of Middle Earth above, the primary elements are mountains, ocean, forest, and rivers.  These features aren't fantastic at all, so we feel we can understand the map. The magical elements are then woven into the features we already recognize.  The features on a map in a quest-based story, such as Lord of the Rings, also have to be arranged in a progression.  In the map, obstacles are conveniently located in a line.  Connect the top and bottom mountains in Mordor, and you'd see a snaking arrow, mirroring the direction that the action takes.  At each point on the journey, the struggles become harder.  The map then serves as an anchor to the reader, so they can gauge how far along the journey the characters are.

Title Credits- HBO's Game of Thrones
Another consideration in most fantasy writing is to make the world interesting and fantastic, but not the main focus. No matter how exciting an author's worldbuilding skills, the plot and characters ultimately drive the story.  HBO's television fantasy Game of Thrones, is an adaptation of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series.  Martin creates a vivid fantasy world, including fantastic elements such as an enormous wall of solid ice.  Yet again, these elements are rooted in ideas we understand.  My parents just returned from a trip to the Great Wall of China.  In the Game of Thrones television series, the opening credits feature a map coming to life. It is the ultimate expression of active worldbuilding. Yet in both the books and television series, it is the characters' struggles, and not the location, which creates the primary interest and plot.

School of Deaths is not epic fantasy. The characters know and begin in our world. However, setting a novel in a location that trains Grim Reapers opened up many avenues for a fantasy world.  The World of Deaths is home to struggle between three races: Deaths, Elementals, and Dragons.  As I work on the second novel Sword of Deaths, the nature of their struggle has taken new shape, and I find myself drawn repeatedly to the map of their world.

The World of Deaths
 When I'd originally sketched the map, I'd been focusing on where the College of Deaths sat in relation to the other races. I used recognizable elements (rivers, forests, mountains, and ocean), and made sure my world would not overshadow my characters.  I then began to emphasize the fantastic nature of some of the locations.  My personal favorite on the above map is the Door (lower right of map).  The Door to the Hereafter sits in the middle of an upward flowing waterfall.  A narrow beach stretches from horizon to horizon, surrounded by a cliff of perpendicular stone on one side, and the wall of water opposite.  When readers look at my map, I hope they envision such fantastic places and feel more drawn into the story.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Growing Up on the Fourth of July

This past week has been a whirlwind. I normally write a weekly post about writing or inspiration, but this week's post is about life, and growing up in a flash.

Our first summer,Rachel and I met and courted. Second summer, we planned a wedding. This summer, we got married and started shopping for houses.


On June 30th, we visited a house both of us liked.  We'd visited a dozen houses already, and this was the first that felt right.  On Thursday July 3rd, we spent 3 hours at a meeting with our broker, and placed an offer on the house.  We started budgeting, and looking at retirement money. We didn't expect to hear back for some time, due to the holiday weekend.  We both looked forward to the Fourth, we'd made plans with a huge group of our friends, and were tired from the househunting.

At 9 pm, my brother called.  My sister-in-law was having contractions 3 weeks early, and my parents are out of the country.  He asked if we could be "on-call," especially to watch my nephew, who's 2.  Rachel and I looked at each other.  Neither of us had ever babysat.  I make a living out of working with children, but know nothing about toddlers.  We started youtubing videos to learn how to change a diaper.

At 3 am on the 4th of July, having not slept a wink, we picked up Owen, my 2-year-old nephew at the hospital.  We brought him to our house, and spent the next 12 hours trying to entertain him. We changed our first diaper (apparently backwards), dealt with a few tantrums, and had a good time overall.

After returning Owen, and hearing that my new nephew William had been born successfully (we met him the following day), Rachel and I cancelled our Fourth of July plans, collapsed on the couch and slept for 11 hours straight.  Wow, having a kid seems like exhausting work.  We also got a phone call- our offer on the house had been accepted!  

To sum up: In a single day, Rachel and I bought a house, waited to hear about contractions, learned to change a diaper, took care of a 2-year-old, and planned our retirement.  Talk about growing up in a day!