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Fuf

I’m late getting this out because… Honestly, I could make excuses, but I just forgot. The Renegade Count was stalled for a few days, and finally I got the story knot untied. I was more focused on pushing the novella forward than on preparing this blog ahead.

Anyway, I feel like I owe you a story, so here goes.

In the curriculum I’m teaching, they have me giving nonsense names for common objects, and then working with the students on what properties the object has. Today’s lesson had a silly word for a shovel: fuf. I was supposed to explain that a shovel is a tool, so a fuf is also a tool. A shovel has a handle and you use it to dig. So a fuf also has a handle and you use it to dig.

It’s probably obvious that “fuf” sounds a lot like a different word. A word that students normally are forbidden to use at school. A four-letter word.

Long story short, I couldn’t get these third-grade boys to stop laughing. We talked a bit about how the people who wrote the curriculum might have thought a little bit more before they put that particular nonsense word in the text. Anyway, I’m pretty sure the boys will remember this lesson, but forget everything else about it except for “fuf.”


Have you read one of my books? Then it would be great for you to leave a review! Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about me and my work, check out my web site, Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter.

Once upon a time… Okay, until about two years ago, this blog was totally focused on dragons. So today I’m returning to my roots and reviewing a book that’s all about… dragons! How did you guess?

The Cloud Roads is the first in a series, Books of the Rakshura, about a race of shape-changers who can shift between humanoid (groundling) form and something more like a bipedal dragon. Rakshura can easily be mistaken for a much more malevolent race called the Fell, and this causes constant friction with other groundling societies.

Moon is the main character. Orphaned at a young age, he knows that he’s different from other groundlings, but doesn’t even know the true name of his species. Soon after the book begins, though, he’s found by another Rakshura named Stone, and recruited to join Stone’s community. Naturally, it turns out that Moon has rare gifts that make his presence both hotly resented and desperately needed.

As an outsider, Moon is confronted by a lot of unknowns. Finding his way gives the reader a chance to get acquainted with Rakshura life. This is a device that a lot of authors use, and in some ways, Moon’s situation is not much different than Harry being bullied by Malfoy in the Harry Potter books. Since this book is for older readers, there’s an added spice of romance and some complicated political intrigue. But still lots of dragon battles!

Wells creates a really interesting world where groundlings come in all shapes and sizes. It’s kind of nice that they don’t judge each other (except for the Fell) based on physical differences. Wells also hit one of my sweet spots by littering her Three Worlds with relics of past civilizations. Not just assorted ruins on the ground, there are sky islands drifting around, their origins lost to history. This seemed like a callback to Hayao Miyazaki’s seminal animated film, Laputa. As a Miyazaki fan, I enjoyed that.

The Cloud Roads was first published in 2011, so I’m coming a bit late to this party. On the other hand, the series is already complete. No fear of waiting for the next one to be released. There are five books in the main sequence, with a number of story collections and side stories focused on individual characters. If you’re a dragon fan, this series is worth a look.


Have you read one of my books? Then it would be great for you to leave a review! Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about me and my work, check out my web site, Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter.

What’s Happening? I am happy to say that I got my greenhouse to stay up in the wind. We had snow last week, but I’m confident that my seeds can germinate in relative warmth. In addition, I’m experimenting with a slightly different form of online seminar, with a gardening webinar series called Cabin Fever. There are sessions on Monday and Wednesdays evenings, which unfortunately go across dinner and writing time. However, I only have to attend the ones I’m interested in, so it shouldn’t slow my writing too much.

What I’m Working On. As related in my previous post, I’ve reached 15,000 words on The Renegade Count and the complications are multiplying. Berisan has been busted as a mage, and is thinking he should get the heck out of Dodge. But that would mean abandoning Yamaya. I’m working through a gap until Yamaya gets her turn at being busted as a former bandit. Given her past, Yamaya’s turn is likely to get messy.

What’s Next? SpoCon, the local convention where I volunteer as programming director, is still hoping we can hold an in-person event next October. I’ve started the process of inviting speakers and getting ideas for what activities the convention will include. As a fund- and awareness-raiser, we’re hosting an online game in early April, which requires a few rehearsals. I’ve seen the face rigs they’ll be using, so if the players are talking to a dragon, the person they’re talking to will actually appear to be a dragon. It is going to be really cool.

Fun and Games. Right now, the only video game I’m playing is Animal Crossing. The one-year anniversary of my village is coming up, which is pretty incredible. The rest of my relaxation time has been split between reading (gotta keep up with my Goodreads goal) and building jigsaw puzzles.


Have you read one of my books? Then it would be great for you to leave a review! Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about me and my work, check out my web site, Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter.

No Good Deed

With all my recent posts being about RadCon, you might think I’ve ground to a halt on my current novella. I’m glad to say, you would be wrong. If I hope to get this one ready by May, I’ll have to hurry, so I set myself a goal to write 500 words a day (roughly two pages), five days a week. That gives me 2,500 words per week. So far I’ve kept up with that pace. It helped that February has a couple of minor holidays that gave me a day off work, so I had extra time for writing.

Currently, The Renegade Count is about 15,000 words, or half way to my goal (maybe). My two main characters, Berisan and Yamaya, have a slightly uneasy alliance. In this week’s work, Yamaya’s village market was disrupted by a couple of thugs — people she knew in her shady past. Berisan stepped in to help out a woman who was being dragged around, and ended up revealing that he is a mage. The village headman (the guy who was supposed to protect the residents but hid instead) is now demanding that he protect their village every time the bandits come back.

Since Berisan is a pacifist, he refused, but now the headman is threatening to call the Count’s guards if he doesn’t cooperate. In Skaythe, no good deed goes unpunished. Meanwhile, Yamaya is afraid that her former associates will rat her out. That could mean she loses the farm she and her late husband tried to build.

This is where things stand right now. Moving it forward next week should be… interesting!


Have you read one of my books? Then it would be great for you to leave a review! Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about me and my work, check out my web site, Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter.

The Power of Story

Last time, Alden kindly said that he was going to preserve my quote about the power of stories to bring about change. So I made it into an image.

You’re welcome!


Have you read one of my books? Then it would be great for you to leave a review! Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about me and my work, check out my web site, Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter.

Last Saturday, right about this time, I was “at” Virtual RadCon, waiting to start a panel called “Why Story?” Luna Corbden and I began with the basics. That people are inherently social and therefore any kind of gossip intrigues us — even made-up stories. We talked about how the Hero’s Journey and other frameworks help people find logic and order in a world of confusion.

When things got exciting for me was when someone in the chat asked whether stories are just momentary diversions. Do they matter beyond the time it takes to read them? Can a story change the world? My answer was yes, because stories can start people thinking.

A good example (although I neglected to bring it up in the panel) is Rachel Carson’s seminal work of environmental reporting, Silent Spring. The issues Carson raised in 1962 opened a lot of eyes. Her words ultimately led to legislation such as the Clean Air Act of 1970, that we now take for granted as protecting public health.

Another, more current example is Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, A Handmaid’s Tale, which effectively vocalizes women’s dread of oppression based on our gender. Although, its dystopian setting of an environmental and political disaster zone certainly resonates with many other groups.

This was my opening to talk about my own series, Minstrels of Skaythe. How it sprang from my recognition that in so much fiction, we solve every problem at the point of a gun or a sword. My main characters are trying to live without violence, while surrounded by it. How will that even work?

Although it’s always great for panelists to mention our stuff, the point I was trying to make is this: if we want the world to change, we first need to imagine the change. Then, we have to write or illustrate the change, so other people can also imagine it.


Have you read one of my books? Then it would be great for you to leave a review! Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about me and my work, check out my web site, Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter.

A virtual convention had lots to offer. I got to be on panels and chat with friends, even if it was in the form of a 3″ x 4″ image on a screen and their voices held a hint of audio buzz. Because I was physically at home, I was able to drop in and out, and still finish a few routine chores. Also, it was interesting to see the attendees come together and develop a few customs on the fly. For instance, everyone but the panelists having their microphones muted and cameras off, but all the while typing questions and quips into the chat room associated with the panel.

As usual, a couple of ideas stuck with me. One of these was about zombies. Which are not my favorite critter, I think I’ve mentioned before. A friend said that zombies are a reflection of the Black experience of slavery. Being chained so tightly that you can’t run, only shuffle. Being robbed of your voice until you can only moan. I said it’s particularly cruel that zombies are often blamed on Voodoo, a folk religion based partly on traditional African faiths.

But I also mentioned that zombies not only reflect the suffering of the enslaved, but the guilt of the slavers. They know they are part of a great evil. No matter that they control the whip and chains. No matter that the law and their own religion tell them their actions are acceptable. In their hearts, they know the truth. The slow and relentless zombie is the nightmare they can never awaken from.

Considering the widespread denial of how systemic racism still shapes American life, I’m afraid that the specter of zombies will be with us for some time to come.


Have you read one of my books? Then it would be great for you to leave a review! Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about me and my work, check out my web site, Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter.

Learning Experience

This will be quick, as I’m rushing to get through my morning chores before I hop back over to RadCon.

The convention started last night, with… well… technical difficulties. I completely sympathize with the con runners as they found out about the limitations of their platform. Especially since these entities exist entirely online, and there probably wasn’t even a live salesman to talk with them about the video sharing capacity they needed.

Not so long ago, I was running my first groups of students on Teams. I remember the stress and embarrassment when I tried to share documents that didn’t work, while my students waited for me to know what I was doing. Ah, fun times!

For me, this is especially a cautionary experience because our own convention might have to move to some sort of hybrid format, and this lets me know what questions we should ask about our base platform. It is also giving me some ideas for publicity meetings that I might do myself.

Anyway, I’m going to show up for my appearances, and be gracious and positive and focused on my topics. I’ll even share a few links to my books. Cheers!


Have you read one of my books? Then it would be great for you to leave a review! Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about me and my work, check out my web site, Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter.

Here’s what I’ll be up to this weekend! Unless otherwise noted, I am a member of the panel and not in charge of things.

Friday, February 12, 6:30 pm — Dragon Age Meet-up. Gather at the virtual Hanged Man, bring your own cheese and whine, and we’ll all talk about Dragon Age! (I am the host for this one.)

Saturday, February 13, 11:00 am — Why Story? The Psychology of Narrative. According to Jung’s archetypes theory and Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, humans seem to need story the way we need sunlight and air. What is it about stories that makes them so compelling to our nature? Why do we seek them out and how do they help us? Can a story do the opposite of helping? If you are a reader, movie watcher, or even a creator, come learn the behind-the-scenes mental mechanisms of why we like to watch the journey of someone else.

Saturday, 4:00 pm — Writing Non-Human Characters. From aliens to furries, we’ll discuss how to write the non-human POV, how to create an character that is still relatable without coming off as a human in alien skin, and how to capitalize on unique non-human traits to make epic alien, animal, and inanimate objects come to life on the page.

Saturday, 8:00 pm — Publishing in the Age of Pandemic. Even before the pandemic threw publishing schedules into disarray, the publishing industry was facing enormous change. The change from physical to electronic books, blurring of boundaries between traditional, small press and independent authors. What is our industry becoming? How can writers plan for the future? (This is one where I moderate.)

Sunday, February 14, 11:00 am — Using Tropes Effectively. Tropes are one of the building blocks of stories, but they can be misused, overused, and just plain worn out. How can you use tropes effectively in your writing? What are some stories that have done to well? Let’s talk about using tropes, with and without flipping them around.

Don’t forget, it’s virtual, so anyone can join the fun. You do have to register — but registration is free. So if you’ve ever wondered what a genre convention might be like, this is your no-risk opportunity to get a taste of it.


Have you read one of my books? Then it would be great for you to leave a review! Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about me and my work, check out my web site, Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter.

I Regret My Choices

I frequently mention that I enjoy playing video games like Dragon Age, Skyrim, and Fallout. For a lot of people, video games seem like an idle entertainment, but you could say the same thing about the stories we write. Right? And we surely hope that readers will find something of value in the idle entertainments we create.

For me, these role-playing video games fill some of the same space that reading books does. It’s a form of story-telling where you participate in the action. Rather than reading about a desperate mission behind enemy lines, you/your character carries out that desperate mission. You meet interesting people, some of whom are human and some who aren’t (depending on which game it is). You can help “write” the dialogues that get them to be friendly or make enemies. You can even fall in love!

In a good role-player, the player is making choices that shape the outcome of the game. Or so it appears. As a writer myself, I understand that it is all scripted and the player is not really changing them. Especially not the ultimate outcome of the game’s story. The game writers have a right to make the point they want to make. So I’m pretty tolerant of scripted outcomes.

When I regret a choice in a video game, it’s usually because I joined a faction or romanced a character that is too divergent from my own beliefs. A good example is the Brotherhood of Steel, one of the factions in Fallout 4. In my first playthrough, they struck me as too militaristic, so I passed on my chance to join them. For my current playthrough, I decided to try the Brotherhood. I built my character so their philosophy would appeal to him. It wasn’t enough.

First they say they’re here to save humanity from the monsters of the wasteland. Okay, cool. But then they encourage you to threaten settlers in order to establish supply lines with dialogue like “You know what to do.” Even if you purchase the supplies, your faction then “controls” the settlement rather than being “allies.” I started calling them the Brotherhood of Steal. When they wanted me to attack other factions to gain more control, my character stopped doing their missions. He definitely regretted his choice. Now I’ve joined a different faction that seems like they might fight against the Brotherhood. If so, that is something I/he will not regret.

This is not, specifically, a complaint about that faction. As I writer, I learn a lot from these games. One thing is how to engage readers/players without dragging them. “Let’s save humanity from monsters” is a great hook. But I also enjoyed how the game writers slowly upended the Brotherhood of Steel. While my character was furious, I admired the writers’ skill.

Also, it reminded me not to put my reader in a place where they regret cheering my characters on. Unless that is my point, of course. For instance, in The Tower in the Mist, some of my characters slowly realized that they were on the wrong side. If I showed this well enough, the readers will have come along for the rest of the series.


Have you read one of my books? Then it would be great for you to leave a review! Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about me and my work, check out my web site, Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter.