Why be a writer when it costs you time, money and leaves you open for criticism? Because …

My journey as a self-published author really began more than 30 years ago. A college dropout, with very little education or ambition to show for it, I decided my only option was to join the military. With my background in art and writing, I was offered the chance to be a Navy Journalist. I jumped at the opportunity and enlisted.

During my first few years in the Navy, I got married and started my career aboard the aircraft carrier USS FORRESTAL, stationed in Jacksonville, Florida. I also began a steady diet of playing Dungeons & Dragons with friends, to pass the time during those long deployments at sea. Back then, before video game consoles, the internet and satellite TV, D&D was the only distraction available to pass the time.

That’s where my stories began to develop. You see, when you’re spending a large number of off duty hours playing D&D, missing your wife and newborn daughter while deployed thousands of miles from home, it can mess with your head. In my case, I started having a recurring dream about me and my wife, trapped on an island filled with magical fantasy creatures. The dream changed as my children grew older, they started coming into my dream. Finally, I decided I had to start writing it all down.

During my last deployment in 2001, I started developing the story of Forever Avalon. I used my family as inspiration for the family in my novel, including using their middle names as the names of my characters. It took me a few years to really develop the story until it was finally completed in 2004. The funny thing is, when I finished the novel, I stopped having the dream. It seems there was a purpose to it after all.

From that point on, it was just a matter of finding a publisher. I sent out my manuscript to various publishers but got rejected multiple times. I was finally contacted by James A. Rock Publishing and they offered to publish my book, for a price. Now, I didn’t know a lot of self-publishing at that time and it seemed to be a great opportunity. They helped me get my novel in the proper format, had an artist do the cover and put my book online.

The first thing I discovered about self-publishing was that the publishing companies are not book editors and they don’t really edit manuscripts. After Forever Avalon was published, I sent copies of my book to all my family. My mother, bless her heart, sent me two pages of spelling and grammatical errors she found in the book. That was a truly humbling experience. My publisher let me pull the book, make the proper edits and then sent it back out.

The next thing I discovered about self-publishing is that publishers don’t publicize your novel. I spent every minute of my time calling book stores to see if I could set up a book signing, contact and pay people to review my novel, and set up social media to advertise my book. You wanted to be just a writer, but I discovered that in the world of self-publishing, you have to be a jack-of-all-trades instead.

I took the lessons learned from my first novel and applied it to my second one when I self-published The Dark Tides. That brings me to my third lesson in self-publishing … MONEY. You have to invest a lot time and money into getting your work out there for that slim possibility someone will notice you and maybe, just maybe, you can go from self-published author to best-selling author. That’s the dream but, unfortunately, it’s not always the reality.

Self-publishing can be difficult, time-consuming and expensive, but in all honesty, I wouldn’t change a single thing. Even if one or two people read my book and fall in love with the stories and the characters I created from that dream all those years ago, it’s worth it to me. I will continue to strive to be a storyteller to those who will listen to me.

Forever Avalon is available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The Dark Tides is available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iUniverse.

Thank you Harper Lee for inspiring a new generation of writers

harper-lee_3374329bThis past week, we lost one of the great literary giants, Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird. She was 89 years old. As I was researching her life, I found this one fascinating quote. She said, “I never expected any sort of success with ‘Mockingbird’ … I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement.”

That quote speaks volumes to the life of an independent author. We’re not really looking for that ‘golden ring’ but rather, hoping that someone out there likes your story and gives you the encouragement to write more. This will be an endearing part of her legacy as a writer.

That’s something I found out about Harper Lee that I never knew before. I knew the writer but never knew some of her keen insights to writing. Reading them now, I can see how someone like her could inspire writers to pursue their craft.

She said, “I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career, that before developing his talent, he would be wise to develop a thick hide.” That is so true, especially when you get that first bad review or next to nothing in sales. This is the wisdom from a woman who wrote two books in a career that spanned more than 56 years. It is a testament to her uncanny brilliance.

22BREATHED-superJumboI also found it quite ironic to learn she was a huge fan of Bloom County cartoons by Berkley Breathed. After her passing, Berkley Breathed revealed his occasional correspondence with Harper Lee. It was sheer delight to find out that this legendary author loved Opus as much as I did. His tribute to her this past weekend was one of the best tributes I’ve seen to her this week.

“Any writer worth his salt writes to please himself … It’s a self exploratory operation that is endless. An exorcism of not necessarily his demon, but  of his divine discontent,” Harper Lee said once, and I agree with it whole heartedly. Even as I write today, I see it as a way of putting my heart, my soul, into every word.

Many people prefer to quote her directly from her books, and that’s okay, but to me, that’s only one side of a writer. You want to look at what they write as well as what they say to get the whole picture of the writer.

I want to leave you with one more inspiring quote from Harper Lee. It speaks not only to the writer in us, but the reader as well. She said, “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”

Without magic, what would fantasy writers talk about?

1423642074_magical book wallpaper“Magic exists. Who can doubt it, when there are rainbows and wildflowers, the music of the wind and the silence of the stars? Anyone who has loved has been touched by magic. It is such a simple and such an extraordinary part of the lives we live.” Nora Roberts said it quite plainly, and truthfully, that magic does exist in our world.

You see it in the everyday things from a baby’s smile to the rainbow after a storm. Sure, science has it’s part in all this, but deep down inside, all you can think of is the magic of the moment.

For a writer, that magic is a part of our genre. Magic can be found in the works of every great novelist from William Shakespeare to J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis to J. K. Rowling. We look at all things magical, from wizards to creatures, myths and legends. The question is, where has the magic gone and why do we need it?

Magic is the focal point of many fantasy stories. It turns young boys into wizards and makes us believe in faeries. That’s the great thing about magic. It can be anything you want it to be. In the world of Forever Avalon, magic is the center of the world I created. All magic, that once existed in the outside world, now thrives on the island of Avalon. This magical realm is overflowing with magic, so much so, that everyone on the island can do some form of spell casting. Most can perform simple tasks like lighting a candle or cleaning up with the mention of a single word. More complicated spells takes time, training and a certain amount of patience to coax the magic out.

Magic is a powerful tool for the fantasy writer, but it must be handled with care. Magic, like anything else, can be used and abused. You must cultivate the magic in a way that makes sense to the readers. I can attest to that in my current novel, The Dark Tides, where I explored the combination of magic and technology. I wondered what would happen if technology found its way into a world entirely devoted to magic. The answer was a Gunstar.

Gunstars are magical weapons that resemble a flintlock pistol. The are breach-loaded weapons that uses a special shell casing called a spell shot. The spell shots are a combination of alchemy and magic compressed into a single cartridge, like a shotgun shell, covered in runes. The hammer on the Gunstar activates the runes so that, when the trigger is pulled, the spell fires out the end of the weapon. It could be anything from a fireball to an icy spray or even a “magic missile” if you will (D&D players will get that reference).

This is what I meant when I said magic was a tool for fantasy writers. You cannot replace true spirit, character development and storylines for the sake of magic. It cannot be the focal point of your story, but rather something for your characters to use to help tell the story.

I created the Gunstars as a way of bringing a modern weapon to a medieval world and bridge that gap between the old and new. Most of the older, traditional characters in my novel reject this new form of magic as an abomination whereas the Gil-Gamesh and others see it as just another tool, like a wand or a staff, to utilize magic.

The point of this blog is to say let the magic guide you in your stories but don’t make it the overreaching arch that fills your every word on every page. Don’t let it get away from you, or you may regret it. Remember, in these instances, you are the wizard, so cast your spell with care.

Forever Avalon is available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The Dark Tides is available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iUniverse.

Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, it grows creativity and imagination

shutterstock_171710123Henry Petroski said, “Many of the familiar little things that we use every day have typically evolved over a period of time to a state of familiarity. They balance form and function, elegance and economy, success and failure in ways that are not only acceptable, but also admirable.”

This is how I look at familiarity, from a writers stand point. To me, familiarity is one of four parts of a writer’s psyche, along with imagination/creativity, passion and skill. The last three are easy to define in the mind of a writer. The PASSION for putting words to paper lend to the SKILL of the individual writer and opens the IMAGINATION as seen through their eyes.

But it’s FAMILIARITY that makes the writer believable. It’s hard to understand that when one of the greatest writers of our time, Mark Twain, is very famous for saying “Familiarity breeds contempt, and children!” I never really understood that quote. Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, rather it breeds comfort in our surroundings, our personal being, and our state of mind.

I will say that familiarity can sometimes lead to complacency, and that can be very dangerous. I’ve seen that happen too many times during my Navy career.; but I’m talking about familiarity as it relates to being a writer.

When you’re writing about a particular topic, it is best that you are familiar with the specific interest. Sure, many authors have read up or interviewed people about a particular story, and then put it down on paper. That’s being done at countless universities on a daily basis.

What I’m talking about is combining that familiarity with pure inspiration and imagination. When you find yourself intrenched in a particular topic of interest, it opens the mind to an avalanche of possibilities. That familiarity feeds your imagination and lets it run through a myriad of possibilities.

Recently, I found myself in a rut as I tried for weeks to work my way through a bad case of writer’s block. I am currently writing the third book in the Forever Avalon series, The Outlander War. It has been difficult to focus on the story and break through. I have the ending all planned out (in my head) but I have to get there through the middle of the story.

Now, here’s where the familiarity comes into play. The characters of my story are based on family and friends. I found it easy to develop characters using the same personalities and quirks I associate with the people I interact with each and every day. My wife and children became the wife and children of the hero of my story. I even used their middle names as the first names of their characters.

While this helps me develop my characters relatively easier, it also blocks me when I am having real world issues with them. Let me explain that as best as I can. I lost my job back in November 2015 and it’s been very difficult around my home. Stress and worry about money has hampered my relationship with my wife and kids and led to massive writer’s block. That’s how familiarly hurts a writer.

What’s helped me break through it is the love and support of my family as we work through the problems. As we’ve talked about things, it has improved my relationship with my family and thus, helped me push through my writer’s block.

James Hillman said, “Anytime you’re gonna grow, you’re gonna lose something. You’re losing what you’re hanging onto to keep safe. You’re losing habits that you’re comfortable with, you’re losing familiarity.”

As we grow as writers, we have to hang onto that familiarity within ourselves to maintain the connection with our stories, our characters, and our imagination. If we lose that, we lose that spark inside us to build a new world in the pages of a story.

51nd6H6sATL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_SKU-000941753 Forever Avalon is available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The Dark Tides is available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iUniverse.

Why do humans always hang out with Dwarves and Elves in fantasy novels?

4449747-3801600654-triolEver since I got into fantasy, especially with those long weekends in college of 24 hour binge sessions of pizza, beer and Dungeons and Dragons, there seems to be a pattern with adventure groups. You will always find a human travelling with a Dwarf and an Elf (or some combination thereof). We’ve read it in Lord of the Rings and the Shannara Chronicles and seen it in movies and television. I don’t think you can write a fantasy/adventure story without that combination.

I know that many will say this is the trap writers fall into, creating something that has been seen and used over and over again. I can even remember that God awful D&D movie (with Jeremy Irons, Marlon Wayans and Richard O’Brien from Rocky Horror fame) with the same combination of human, Elf and Dwarf in their midst. It seems to be an endless chain of events in magical fantasy stories.

So the question is, as writers, why do we do it? For one thing, it boils down to diversity. That seems to be the strong sentiment in society today … The need for more diversity in our lives and our media. We’ve struggled with diversity for the past 200 years. It’s hard to bring different cultures and races together and, putting it into stories, is easier for most people to comprehend.

thor-gallery-1-2011-a-lA great example I see is the changing diversity in comic books today. In the past few years, we have seen classic Marvel Comics characters change from male to female, white to black, including Captain America, Thor, Captain Marvel, and Wolverine just to name a few. The same could be said for television and movies. I remember all the trolls complaining when Michael Clark Duncan was cast as Kingpin in the first Daredevil movie or when Idris Elba was cast as Heimdall in Thor. It never bothered me because I don’t look at the color of their skin but at the skill of the actor, and in both cases, they were very successful.

In fantasy, it’s not about the color of the skin but the race of the character. There has always been an intense dislike and  suspicion between humans, Elves and Dwarves. You see it in the characters of J.R.R. Tolkien and others. I too “ran the gambit” when I put together the friends of the Gil-Gamesh in my Forever Avalon series. I wasn’t trying to be similar like Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli from Lord of the Rings. It just seemed natural to me as if I was playing a game of D&D.

To give you an example, here is an excerpt from my latest novel in the Forever Avalon series, The Dark Tides, where the Gil-Gamesh, Bryan MoonDrake meets Dwarf Master Dinius Oddbottom and the Elf Eonis for the first time.


Every man and women wanted to shake the hand of the new Gil-Gamesh, or even just touch him on the arm. Th e talk around the tavern grew louder and louder. Even the bards were already making up songs about the new Gil-Gamesh and how he stood up to Constable Durm.

Bryan sat down as Lily brought him a fresh pint of ale. Th rough all the excitement, he noticed that Dinius never stopped eating and drinking. Bryan was amazed at his ignorance. “Well now, Gil-Gamesh …” Dinius ascertained, “… You sit down and drink with a Dwarf and don’t tell him
who you really are?”

“I apologize Master Dinius,” Bryan retorted, “My deception was necessary to maintain a low profile during my Grand Tour of Avalon, especially now since I’m travelling alone.”

“Alone?” Dinius asked. “I thought Sir Thomas was travelling with you?”

Now Bryan wondered who this Dinius Oddbottom was. How does he know Sir Thomas? “Sir Thomas is heading to Cornish on a personal matter,” Bryan interjected. “He’s meeting me at Strongürd Keep aft er I confer with the Wizard’s Council.”

Dinius nearly choked on his drink when he heard this. “You’re going to Strongürd alone? Are you mad? Th at’s takes you through Blackbriar Forest? Every cutthroat and brigand will be waiting for you in there?”

“Well, I’m going to have to deal with them sooner or later,” Bryan insisted. “It might as well be now. I’m not going to cower like a frightened child.”

Dinius smiled at the brash attitude this young man had. “Well, I am heading back to the Gilded Halls and it just so happens that Strongürd is on the way there. That is, if you don’t mind the company.”

Bryan thought about his proposal. He didn’t know this Dwarf, so it could be a trap for an easy kill to collect the bounty. Before he could answer, an Elf approached their table. He was handsome with long brown hair. His pointed ears stuck out through his hair. He wore a shining chain mail under a green and brown wrap and a long green cloak. A long sword hung at his belt and a bow and quiver were slung across his shoulders.

Salüs dai Tulafáir Gil-Gamesh, I am Eonis,” he introduced himself, placing his hand over his heart and bowing—a sign of respect in Avalon. “I bring you greetings from the Elves of Alfheimer.”

Bryan stood and extended his hand to Eonis. Th e Elf took it as a sign of human friendship. “Thank you Eonis. I hope to be in Alfheimer sometime soon to pay my respects.”

“I will inform Lord Baldrid of your intent,” Eonis concurred. “We will anticipate your arrival.” Eonis quickly turned his attention to the Gil-Gamesh’s companion, whom he recognized.

“Master Dinius,” he said, bowing again with respect. “What brings the Lord of the Gilded Halls to this corner of Avalon?”

Bryan turned to Dinius with a look of disdain at the Dwarf he’s been buying drinks and food for all night. “Lord of the Gilded Halls, huh?” he inquired. Bryan’s heard about the Gilded Halls, the home of the Dwarves of Avalon. It seemed Dinius Oddbottom wasn’t what he appeared to be. “I guess I wasn’t the only one ‘hiding in plain sight’, eh Master Dinius?” Bryan joked.

Dinius gulped his ale, aware that his own deception had been uncovered. “Yes, well, Sam makes the best ale this old Dwarf has ever tasted,” he tried to explain. “I come here from time to time to satisfy my thirst.”

Dinius got up from the table and walked over to Bryan. “Forgive my deception lad, but the Wizard Browbridge mentioned you may be coming this way and, knowing that I frequent the Weathered Wren, he asked me to keep an eye out for you … Indiscreetly that is.”

Now everything was starting to make sense to Bryan. “I suppose Archie sent you too?” he asked Eonis.

“Sir Charles, actually …” Eonis explained. “He asked me look in on you as well. Th is was a logical stopping point on your journey to Strongürd Keep so I came here and waited.”\

“And is there anything else I should be aware of?”

“Besides an embarrassed Dwarf and Elf, nothing at all,” Eonis bemused, attempting a joke, something Elves were not known for. “But truthfully, Gil-Gamesh, Blackbriar Forest is no place for any man to go alone, including you.”

“He’s right lad, just think of us as close companions on your journey,” Dinius added.

Bryan couldn’t believe it. Since his arrival on Avalon, people who never knew him had gone out of their way to protect and aid him. The devotion to the Gil-Gamesh was overwhelming to him.

“Alright, you can accompany me to Strongürd,” Bryan noted. “We’ll be leaving in the morning. Until then, good-night.” Bryan walked over to Sam to ask about his room. Sam motioned for Lily to escort Bryan upstairs to one of the rooms at the tavern. Eonis and Dinius kept a close eye on him until he disappeared behind the door.

“Well, that didn’t go as well as expected,” Dinius lamented. Eonis looked down at him, visibly upset.

“It may have helped if you didn’t scrounge food and drink off him all night,” he declared. Dinius huff ed and returned to his seat.

“A Dwarf’s got to eat, you know,” Dinius told Eonis, drinking down his ale then belching loudly as he finished his meal.


51nd6H6sATL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_SKU-000941753Forever Avalon is available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The Dark Tides is available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iUniverse.