Thursday, December 24, 2015


Sometimes in the act of writing a book, unusual creative events occur that have no easy explanation. Such is the case with the trilogy of novels I'm currently working on. The first novel, Race the Sky, is something I've been working on for close to fifteen years. The second book, The Hammer of Amalynth, was originally a novel about relativism and the third book, The Fire and the Anvil, started out as a short story collection. Each book had its own individual problems that seemed insurmountable at the time.

But then something funny happened. One night I decided to experiment and I put all three ideas "side by side". Over the course of an hour, many of the initial problems disappeared and plot elements (and characters) from the individual books started solving the problems in the other books. The third book turned into a novel and the Secrets of the Elements trilogy was born.

In my previous post, I listed the probable back cover copy for the next novel, Race the Sky. Like any first book in a series, there is some setting up of larger narrative arcs and several of the characters in this novel will return for the other two. All three books will follow John Sayers (a stormchaser) and Madeline Kinney (a cult researcher). In the second and third books, Dr. Ferganut will join them (from the short stories Dust in the Whirlwind and Firebugs). At that point, the Dust in the Whirlwind and Firebugs will takes on whole new meanings.

More updates will be coming shortly. Race the Sky should be available sometime in January of 2016.

Friday, December 18, 2015


When hiking up a mountain trail, sometimes it's difficult to see the summit, especially if the mountain is covered in trees. Although it is encouraging to think about the view at the top, often times a hiker has to focus first on the obstacles before them such as tree roots, rocks, and mud. Even near the top, when a hiker knows the summit is near, it can be easy to want to call it day due to exhaustion.

When you finally make it to the top, though, the view can be worth all the effort. That's where things are at with the novel, Race the Sky. There were some unresolved narrative issues with the manuscript up until recently. Suddenly, as if reaching a summit vista, the final pieces "clicked" into place. This all occurred as I was trying to hammer out the back cover copy for the book.

Here, then, is a glimpse of that vista and a working version of the back cover copy:
John Sayers is a storm chaser determined to crack the mystery of the violent weather that is ravaging his home state of South Dakota. He crosses paths with Madeline Kinney, a cult researcher who is pursuing a nefarious "church doctor" across the region. Together, they find there is more to the secrets of the sky and the church doctor than just anecdotes and hard data.
Of course this is subject to change, but it gets the idea across.

More novel news soon. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Editing Update - Race the Sky

Just a brief editing update today. I'm still working through the edits of the next novel, Race the Sky. I figure there are probably at least 2-3 more editing passes left to go. The reason this particular book is taking so long (along with the cover art) is that it sets up the foundation for the other two books to follow. Things are still on track for an early January 2016 release, however. I'll also making an audio version of the first chapter available soon.

After that, a new science fiction short story collection, Windows Out, will be released. The stories are finished, but they still need some editing before I'll publish it. One story from Windows Out, Fermat's Last Theorem of Robotics, is available here.

And...if you haven't seen it, The Chronopticus Chronicles is available here, here, and here. It contains the short story, The Mines of Mars Part I, along with Fractal Standard Time, Ionotatron, and Chronopticus Rising. Here is the book trailer for the entire series, too. This collection is on sale for a limited time.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Power of Posterboard

Today is the first of a few "craft" related posts I hope to write over the next few weeks. In future posts I hope to cover such topics as outlining and rough drafts. These ideas won't work for everyone, but they might be of some use to someone.

One of the techniques I came up with years ago was to use a piece of poster board when outlining a novel. Any thin and cheap piece of poster board will do (I use ones that are 50 cents or less), and a piece that is 12" x 24" or bigger works best. The purpose of the board is to sort out narrative arcs and find plot holes. I find it to be especially useful for novels where there are multiple points of view and multiple story lines going at once.

For example, here is a poster board graph I came up with for the novel, Theft at the Speed of Light:

The final version of the book ended up being different at various points, but the main story "beats" (significant moments) can be seen here. On the left hand side of the board are the character names and along the bottom axis is a timeline. With other books, I've labeled the bottom axis with chapter numbers.

Each curve represents a character's inner journey. Note that not all the points on a particular character's narrative arc end up in the novel. As an author, I need to know what is going on with each character throughout the book at any given moment, but whether I share that or not with the reader depends on the situation. Also, the shapes of the curves are more indicative of the overall "inner condition" of the character rather than representing rising/falling actions. For example, in the graph above, Charles' condition deteriorates as the novel progresses, while Alex's generally improves.

Using this technique can also help spot holes and other potential problems with the plot. In the case of an upcoming novel, The Hammer of Amalynth, I first wrote an outline for the book and then drafted a poster board graph. I quickly realized that the novel needed more subplots and more characters. Had I decided to plow ahead and write the novel anyway, the first draft would have only been thirteen chapters long and in need of extensive rework to make it bigger. I'd rather spend my time fixing the outline at the outset rather than spending days trying to diagnose and fix the issues later on.

Although this isn't a foolproof method, it does tend to help cut down on errors. I also only create a graph after I've written (and rewritten) the outline of a book. After the graph is created I go back and edit the outline further to fix any obvious issues. Then, and only then, will I start in on the rough draft.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Book Release: The Chronopticus Chronicles Box Set

The other day I released the Chronopticus Chronicles box set. This includes the short story, The Mines of Mars, Part I, along with Fractal Standard Time, Ionotatron, and Chronopticus Rising. I decided to keep everything in the order that it was written, mainly to keep the "fractal" structure of Fractal Standard Time intact. It was a fun series to write and at some point it would be nice to revisit the world by writing a new series based on some of the characters.

Other versions of this box set will be released shortly for Barnes and Noble, iTunes, etc.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

F is For Fermat

Here's a short story from an upcoming collection I mentioned in a previous post. It is titled, "Fermat's Last Theorem of Robotics". The title is a bit of a play on words. The plot asks the question: can humans and robots co-exist indefinitely?

The story comes from a new collection titled "Windows Out", which will be available in a few months. Additionally, the first novel in a new series, Race the Sky, will be made available shortly.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Race the Clock

It feels like an eternity since I started the rough draft of the novel, Race the Sky. Although progress is slow, I think in the end it will work out. The main story line is relatively straightforward, but there is a lot of complexity on a metaphoric level. This novel also lays the groundwork for the next two books in the there is a lot riding on it. The rough draft is nearly finished, however, and I anticipate the other two books will go much faster.

So what, exactly, will the release schedule look like? Race the Sky will drop first, probably in the fall, followed by The Hammer of Amalynth, and then The Fire and the Anvil. All three novels will feature the same core group of characters, and the third book will tie in with the short story Firebugs (found in Corridors) and the standalone short story, Dust in the Whirlwind. Somewhere in the mix I'll drop another science fiction short story collection (untitled right now). Most of the stories for that collection have already been written. I will also release a Chronopticus Chronicles omnibus, which will include the three books in the series (Fractal Standard Time, Ionotatron, and Chronopticus Rising) along with the short story that started it all, The Mines of Mars, Part I.

If I can find enough covers in time, I might...just might...drop all five of these books within the next six months. Stay tuned.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Long Range Forecast

It's been quiet around here lately, but there has been a good reason. I've started on the rough draft of the first book of a new trilogy. I've also assembled a basic outline for the other two novels. It will be a unique series that revolves around the weather and two characters who meet in the first book, Race the Sky. The other two books, The Hammer of Amalynth and The Forge of Midnight (this title might change), will follow their ongoing adventures across the Great Plains and the Midwest during several summer storm seasons.

I have no idea how long this first book will take, but this is a novel that I first started back in 1999. It has gone through a couple of iterations, but I think this version will be the best. This time around, I wrote up over one hundred pages of notes, did tons of research, and watched endless hours of storm footage. Mix in some first-hand observations and...

I'll have more details on the first book soon, but for now the best way to describe it is that it is a like a supernatural version of Twister.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Weather Report

When it comes to the weather, sometimes conditions change in a hurry. The same goes for creative writing.

Four months ago, I was planning on finishing one novel this spring: Race the Sky. Then, along came a couple dozen short story ideas that went in a myriad of directions. Some of those short story ideas morphed into novel ideas, and suddenly I found myself looking at yet another trilogy idea where Race the Sky was only the opening act. Sounds great, right?

Over the past few weeks another two dozen short stories sprang to life. And, well, as creative things go, that means there is another book in there. Or two, if I am patient enough. It has no title as of yet, but there are at least 15-20 stories that will make the cut. The rough draft is about halfway done and I will likely be able to make it available in the next two to three months. Then it's back to the novel.

In some space related news, the MESSENGER mission finally ended by crashing into the planet Mercury. Back here on Earth, there was New Shepard's first test flight, which is a rocket built by Blue Origin. I hadn't heard of them until today and was surprised to find out the company is a private aerospace venture founded by Jeff Bezos (of Amazon fame).

Friday, April 10, 2015

Drawing on Description Lists

Sometimes when writing a book it is easy to get stuck on a particular scene or setting. It may take a while to find the right words to describe the exact mood or feeling of the moment. Or, it may be difficult to visualize the scene before starting to write it. I seem to encounter this problem at various points in almost every manuscript, so over the years I developed a technique to overcome it. I call the technique writing up "description lists".

With any given manuscript, I can usually anticipate these problematic scenes well ahead of time. Often, it may be because I have never visited a particular location before or in some cases (such as Mars), I can't go there at all. With certain settings I can usually find images online or in books that match what I want to convey. With science fiction, though, I often have to describe technology or settings that do not exist in real life. Once in a while I can find a piece of concept art that matches the idea, but other times I have to draw multiple sketches to visualize it properly.

After finding a picture or drawing a sketch, I then write up a long list of words that describe the image. The purpose of the list is to brainstorm a vast range of ideas so that when the time comes to write the scene, the descriptions flow easier.

For example, in Fractal Standard Time, I wanted to use nanobot-generated statues that could morph on command into different shapes. I had this visual in mind of the statues of Easter Island and so I printed out a copy of the one of the images on the Wikipedia page.

Then, I wrote up a list of all the words that described the image. The list went something like this: statue, rock, pumice, tall, sloped nose, oblong ears, stare, basalt, large brow, slender face, etc.

For another novel, I had to describe a painting of a forest in late fall. Since there happened to be a group of trees just outside my window at the time, I wrote down everything related to what I saw. The list included words and phrases such as branches, bark, snow, reaching, dead sticks, squirrel, leaves hanging on, brown, rust, faded leaves, dry leaves, dead leaves, crunch, forest floor, etc. Then I wrote up a list related to the act of painting: brushes, wooden frame, stretched canvas, oils, tempera, water, palette, crunch (the sound a dried brush makes when pushed onto a surface), easel, etc.

Some lists end up being more lively than others and may even lead to metaphorical ideas. The ideal time to use this technique is before you start on the rough draft of the manuscript. That way when you arrive at the points in the story that worry you, you'll have an abundance of raw material to work with in order to shape the scene.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Thumbnail Novels

Writing and publishing a full-length novel can be a huge time investment. For me, a short novel can take over 300 hours to outline, write, and edit. That doesn't even include the time it takes to research or to test out ideas as short stories.

So today I'd like to mention a technique I've been using for years that can save a writer some time. I never had a name for it until now, but after watching these two videos from FZD Design School, I think I'll call the technique "thumbnail novels". By the way, if you have never checked out Feng's tutorials, I highly suggest it. Even though the videos are related to visual design, many of the concepts are interchangeable with the processes a writer goes through.

In one of the videos (Creating Worlds, #79), he talks about an idea generation technique that involves putting together different environments that appear to clash at first glance. Although the environments involve gaming, the concept easily applies to writing (especially science fiction and fantasy). In video #80, Mixing Surroundings, he goes further in depth but also discusses obstacles to creativity that an artist can face such as the unneeded stress that comes with thinking your work has to be perfect all the time.

Like drawing, a writer can draft quick sketches just to see whether an idea will work or not. I frequently do this through short stories, character sketches, scenes, rough novel outlines, etc. None of these sketches are ever published by themselves, but they are very useful before spending hundreds of hours on an idea only to find out there are major flaws in the characters or the plot that will take hours and hours to fix or worse, the whole thing is unworkable in the end.

For example, for my short story collection Corridors, I wrote about two dozen short stories. The settings ranged from underwater cities to Mars to a steampunk airship to a fishing boat in the Gulf of Mexico. Only fourteen stories ended up making the cut, and one of those stories became the basis for an entire series set on Mars. The rest of the stories were either incomplete, did not have enough "interesting" ideas in them, or were only made up of single scenes. Some of those ideas may never go anywhere or I may revisit them in a few years.

I went through this process again a few weeks ago and generated two dozen more short story ideas in matter of a couple of weeks. Although some of the ideas were incomplete or just too strange to pursue further, others were full stories, and a handful ended up becoming the basis for quick novel outlines. With two of the quick novel outline "sketches" I noticed several plot holes and a lack of solid character development right away. Meanwhile, I had previously developed another novel outline that was ready to go, but really needed something to make it technologically "unique".

I kept swapping ideas around (which generated another fifty handwritten pages of notes) and suddenly something clicked. When I took the characters from the well-developed novel outline and plugged them into the two other quick novel outline sketches, three completely different ideas converged together into a trilogy. I then took the wild technology from the third outline and dropped into the first book and the series became energized even further. I never anticipated that result.

So what would a quick novel outline look like?

First, I often set aside a few notebook pages for characters. I set aside space for their histories, traits, personalities, habits, etc. Then I write up another few pages for the novel theme, structure, POV, and title ideas. Then I brainstorm plot ideas, but I don't put the ideas in any particular order. Over the next few days or weeks I then plug in different ideas and may even rewrite the plot section as a basic outline. I might change the environment of the story entirely or remove old characters and put in new ones. Then, I set it aside and or, if it seems like the concept has serious momentum, I'll keep reworking the idea until it starts to come together. This whole process takes only a few hours total, as opposed to the hundreds of hours that a full novel would take. The outline at this stage is very basic, highlighting major plot points, important scene details, or changes in character development. The purpose is not to get too hung up on any particular detail because often a better idea will come along in time.

The other aspect of this technique is that it removes the pressure of trying to create something "marketable", which can work against the creative process in general. As a result, a writer may end up generating numerous ideas and then can pick the best ones to develop further. If you have ever watched any behind the scenes documentaries of movie making, especially those related to science fiction and fantasy, it's amazing to see how many concept art ideas, props, and costumes that are generated that never make it into the final movie.

I'll post more process-related ideas soon, but for now, I have more outlines that need assembling.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Random Tech News and a Book Update

Here's a story on a material called carbon fiber. I mentioned carbon nanotubes before, but this is a little different. Expect to see a lot more of this material appearing everywhere in a myriad of products.

Then there is this development. It's a long article, but if you've read Theft at the Speed of Light, there are some eerie parallels here. Enough said.

Here is a story about a rarely documented phenomenon called a fire tornado. In this case, the fire pushed enough heat, moisture, and energy into the atmosphere to generate a cloud called a pyrocumulonimbus. Underneath that, a tornado developed, causing up to EF-3 damage in some places.

And finally, a book update. There are more delays on the novel, Race the Sky. This is a good thing, though. While I was taking a "break" from it, I ended up starting two dozen short stories. A handful of the stories then morphed into novel ideas. In fact, one of those ideas was so strong that it generated another thirty pages of handwritten notes. Those notes turned into a rough outline and after some more tinkering around, I think I've assembled a unique trilogy of novels: Race the Sky, The Hammer of Amalynth, and The Tesseract Rose (this last title will change). The trilogy will follow the adventures of a storm chaser and a cult researcher as they track down the causes of strange weather over a period of a couple of years. I don't have a series title as of yet but that will change soon.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

...and Then There Were 24 More

So much for getting a novel finished by the end of March. Apparently, two dozen short stories (some of which may turn into novels) have come along for the ride. In a few weeks, I'll put a handful of them up onto Amazon. Then, later in the summer, after the next novel is released, I'll put a bunch of them together into another collection.

In the fall, I hope to get around to working on the novel, The Tesseract Rose. Really. Then Dust in the Whirlwind and Firebugs will take on more depth and meaning.

Some brief tech is an article about chips and copiers. Only the chips are in more places than just the copiers.

Here is an article about software that turns plastic brick ideas into 3-D files. And here is a product I never noticed until now: Lego Architecture Studio. Worth a look.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Goodbye, Radio Shack?

This is a sad story, but not surprising.

It's been a long time since I visited a Radio Shack store. The last time I went, it reminded me more of a mobile phone outlet than anything else. It seems that over the years they drifted away from being a parts supplier/geek toy outlet to become a generic electronics device store. At that point, I think a lot of people could see the end was near.

The Radio Shack of yesteryear used to have racks of electronic parts (diodes, transistors, resistors, etc.), unique electronic handheld games, radio controlled vehicles, Tandy computers, and electronic kits. The kits were great for learning electronics since they taught you basic circuit design principles and in the later years, integrated circuit logic. The kits also let you build an AM broadcast station, games, sound effects generators, etc. For a kid in the '80s and early '90's that was into electronics or computers, it was great.

Now, of course, many of those items have moved online. Some of the kits live on through a brand called Elenco, and are still available through Amazon. Here is also another retailer the sells project kits. Despite all the changes in the world of technology, it will be sad to see Radio Shack go, if only for nostalgia reasons. Yet, nowadays, there are even more powerful electronics kits available...especially with the development of the Arduino (one among many microcontroller kits out there).

Even if all the stores close out for good, hopefully someone will still maintain sites like this one, which houses all the past Radio Shack catalogs over the years.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Random Tech Bits

Some recent tech news from around the 'net:

Here is a short video on researchers are trying to figure out how to fly helicopters on Mars. I hope they are also working on ideas on how to fly in or recover from a dust storm. Back on Earth, there was a fire at a greenhouse that was part of a mock Mars mission.

For some, the future of artificial intelligence is worrying...see the recent articles here and here for more information. Also, on the tech front, Microsoft recently announced and demonstrated HoloLens. See here, here, and here for more details. The technology is nice contrast to the all-virtual reality headsets such as the Oculus Rift.

Finally, researchers have sent "micro-machines" (nanotech) inside of mice for the first time.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Chronopticus Trilogy Trailer #1

Here's an audio/radio trailer for the entire Chronopticus Chronicles trilogy. Thanks to the folks at Chapel Hill Media for making this possible.

Friday, January 16, 2015

A Novel in a Picture

Although there are numerous digital art sites across the internet, the other day I stumbled on one in particular that is pretty interesting. It's called Concept Art World. My only comment is that when I see some of the incredible work that these artists create, it suddenly becomes easy to write stories. I've said more than a few times that I could probably outline a novel or write a short story in a matter of hours based on a single concept art image alone.

Another great site for inspiration is Feng Zhu's blog and his associated FZD design school channel on YouTube. Check it out...there are many very informative videos there.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Calm Before the Storm

So I decided to take a brief break between novels (after wrapping up Chronopticus Rising and before writing the rough draft of Race the Sky) and instead I find myself writing more than ever. Nothing serious at this point, but just dozens and dozens of short stories, character sketches, and other random structure ideas I've been thinking about for awhile. Some of the sketches will lead to novels, while others will lead to short stories, and others will just remain freewheeling experiments.

Stay tuned...