Snow Day!

Today we had a snow day at our school. It’s a wonderful gift of a day. Woke up to a bright, snow covered view, walked through unplowed paths, snow halfway up to our knees, and relaxed while icicles dripped in the sun.

Tomorrow I’ll go back to pulling myself out of bed at 5am to write in the cold, dark morning. But today is a gift we only get when it snows :)







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Book Review: Hollow World

Hollow WorldHollow World by Michael J. Sullivan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book hooked me from the first pages. Way back in November, when Michael J. Sullivan first released a preview of the book, I knew it was going to be something I absolutely had to finish. I expected to be entertained, and thrilled–put on the edge of my seat, but I never expected the many moving surprises this book had in store for me.

At first glance Sullivan’s book appeared to be a fun story about time travel, but as I got further into it I saw that time travel was simply a tool Sullivan was using to explore a lot about our culture in it’s current state. The future Ellis Roger’s encounters is at first fascinating, and drew me in to the story deeper with a desire to find out what would happen next, but I slowly became aware that the future was a mirror, which allowed Ellis Rogers to reflect on the life he’d had, as well as for the reader to perhaps see our current culture and society from a new perspective.

This book tugged on my heart strings more than once, and had me thinking about–as well as appreciating–the relationships in my own life. Hollow World is so much more than an entertaining story about time travel (though it is that, too). It’s a story about people and their relationships, like many of the great stories are. I highly recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a story that is both thrilling and emotionally fulfilling.

Sullivan’s best work thus far, in my opinion.

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Top 3 Books of 2013

This year has been a strange year for me as far as reading goes. There’s been a lot of starting & stopping, and the stopping is, I’m afraid to admit, winning the battle. I have quite a few books on a permanent pause right now, and they’ve been that way since spring time.

I did a lot of re-reading this year. I re-read Wicked, House of Leaves, American Gods, Latro in the Mist, and The Shadow of the Torturer. Lately I’ve been re-reading a lot of Jack London’s work, too.

Re-reading books as I mature (both personally and as a writer) is really a lot of fun. I can look at books from different angles, find a deeper, more meaningful empathy for some characters, catch things I’ve never noticed before, or see more clearly what an author is doing, and try to learn from it.

And with authors like Gene Wolfe, I find that his books get better each time I read them, which is truly amazing.

I also published my first book this year, and that was an undertaking that often got in the way of my reading. There were lots of days where, instead of doing the reading I might have liked to, I worked on the book–or aspects of it–instead.

So, I didn’t get as much new reading done as I would have liked to, but that’s okay. I still found three new books (new to me at least) that really stood out this year. This list is not ranked, but here they are:

The God Delusion By: Richard Dawkins

I thought this was such a beautiful, profound book. I don’t really like all of the drama that goes on between Atheists and Believers, nor do I pay much attention to it, but I thought this book underscored a very fundamental rule that I try to live my life by, which is to deal with those around me as kindly as possible. Dawkins, despite whatever evidence he provides about religion being a folly for man, does a wonderful job of showing the fragility and alarming beauty of life, and how preciously we should protect it, but often times don’t in the name of dogma.

You can read my full review of the book here.

Into the Forest By: Jean Hegland

This book was stunning, and is so close to perfect it makes me want to give up writing. Hegland wrote a book in which almost every single word used is perfect and necessary. The music of her prose alone could move me without the heartbreaking story she tells, or the wonderfully real characters we follow throughout. Many times the book felt nearly voyeuristic as I read the narrator’s journal entries about surviving in a world which has collapsed.

You can read my full review of the book here.

City of Thieves By: David Benioff

I’ve never appreciated eating a warm meal, in a warm home, more than I have after reading portions of this book. Benioff doesn’t give you a break. Not once. Before I’d even finished this book I said to my wife, “I’ve never lived a hard day in my life! Any thing I’ve ever thought I did that was hard, was nothing other than a privilege.”

You can read my full review of the book here.

Those are them. They aren’t books that were put out in 2013, just books I read this year that not only stick with me, but made a real, lasting impact on my life. There are certainly things that can make me recall any three of these books, and the lessons I gleaned from them, at any given point throughout my day.

I hope you’ve read some wonderful books this year, dear reader. And I hope we all find some prose that moves us in 2014.

Thanks for reading!

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Book Release!

photoIt’s finally out! Our Forgotten Fathers: Dreaming Beyond Gaia, Book I is out and available in both Print and eBook!

It has been a long time coming, but putting out my first book is a dream come true. It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was in the 4th grade, and finally, with the help and support of some wonderful friends and family, it’s out.

This past Sunday, November 10th, we had a book release party. It was so much fun. It was something I didn’t want to do when my wife brought it up, but I’m so glad she twisted my arm. It was one of the most special nights in my life.

Signing for my pop

Signing for my pop

We had lots of people show up, all smiles and congratulations, and I was grinning the whole night. It was a blast getting to sign books for people, and write them a little message about how much their support has meant to me.

And, by the end of the night, we’d sold just under 100 books! Neither my wife or I could believe it!

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The State Fair and the Art of Description

Wow. I haven’t written here in quite some time. Keeping up a blog can be tough–not sure how some of you do it. I decided a few years ago that I was only going to post when I had something to say. Doesn’t do much to build an audience, I suppose, but it keeps me from writing superfluous things just to fill space. There’s enough of that on the internet already.

So, moving on. I meant to post this several weeks ago while the Minnesota State Fair was going on, but, it slipped through the cracks. Sorry. This post is going to be me “nerding out” on an article written by an author named David Foster Wallace.

Wallace wrote a book titled Infinite Jest. It’s a book that many writers love to praise as an example of true mastery of the craft. The book (and Wallace himself) is something that many people dote over with a certain level of…snobbery, almost implying that they understand his writing, as well as his tortured genius, much better than you possibly ever could.

I haven’t read Infinite Jest, or any of his other books for that matter, but I am often and continually planning on it.

The thing is, Wallace was brilliant. Stephen King said in his book On Writing that you can’t make a bad writer into an okay/good writer, and you can’t make an okay/good writer into a great writer. Great writers are born, not built, and their ranks are very, very limited. They include such wonders as Hemingway, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, and, yes, Wallace.

I’ve only ever read short works by Wallace, but they’ve been, by and large, wonderful, and I think there’s a lot us hopeful writers can learn from him. That being said, I’d like to write about something I have trouble with from time to time, and that’s description.

Ticket to the Fair was published by Harper’s in July, 1994. It was written by Wallace, on assignment, vising the Illinois State Fair. One of the most marvelous things about the piece is how compelling Wallace makes a simple trip to the fair seem. Perhaps to someone who’s never been to a mid-western state fair, that isn’t a great accomplishment. It’s easy to make something foreign compelling. BUT for anyone who’s grown up going to the fair year after year, reading about one might seem like an absolute waste of time.

Let me tell you, the article is far from a waste of time, even if you’re not a nerd about writing.

The article is filled with observation and insight from a former mid-westerner (Wallace) turned East Coaster. It’s not without it’s snobbery–looking down his nose from time to time at those of us who enjoy the fair–but what I think makes Wallace’s condescension work is his ability to be both pompous and self-deprecating all in the same paragraph. And it’s genuine, too. He’s not forcing the self-deprecation to make the snobbery easier to swallow, he’s genuinely looking at himself and finding his own flaws–his own short-comings–while passing judgement on others.

While the article might be long, please, believe me when I tell you, it is absolutely worth reading.

By far the best thing in this article–in my opinion–is Wallace’s talent for description. I revel in it, especially his ability to bring about real imagery with very few words.

It’s a hard thing, description. Too little and you leave your readers not knowing which way is up, too much and, well, you’re boring. Really boring, at times. There’s a certain book (that I’m not going to name) in which the author took an entire page–one solid block of text–to list each tool that was in a workman’s bag. Why in the hell would I care? And why didn’t an editor make them cut it? I could understand leaving it there if it became important later on to know each tool, but it didn’t. The tools were never brought up again. Not even one of them, so why was it there?!

Okay. Sorry. But that’s an example of over-description.

Below are a few examples of Wallace’s brilliance when it comes to description, quoted directly from the article itself.

The heat is all too familiar. In August it takes
hours for the dawn fog to bum off. The air is like
wet wool.

– – –

The sun is a blotch in a sky
that isn’t so much cloudy as opaque. The com
starts just past the breakdown lanes and goes right
to the sky’s hem

Both bits come while Wallace is referencing his long drive through open fields on his way to the fairgrounds. The August heat is a big part of this article, and Wallace brings it up often, but each time he does, it’s in a new, fresh way.

“The air is like wet wool.” That’s a wonderful sentence, isn’t it? It sums up the way a hot, humid day clings to you, weighs you down, and tires you out. And it can be itchy, too–slapping the back of your neck, convinced another god damned mosquito is drinking its fill of you.

“The sun is a blotch in a sky that isn’t so much cloudy as opaque.” Simple, and to the point. He’s not going out of his way to tell you that the sun is a white, small circle with no “rays” of sunshine coming off it, in a sky covered in dull white fog. He builds the image quickly, and with just enough room for you (the reader) to fill in the blanks yourself, which is a crucial part of description. There should always be enough room for the reader to envision their on reality from your words.

He’s also great with character description.

We stand near the back. I gather that “Little Jim” Edgar, the governor, isn’t much respected by the press. Governor Edgar is maybe fifty and greyhound-thin, with steel glasses and hair that looks carved out of feldspar.

This was the first bit that made me just sit back and think, “whoa.” I honestly stopped and read the lines several more times. It’s good.

I envisioned that guy (the governor) with stunning clarity. In my version of him, he’s got a mustache, like Spiderman’s boss. Does your version have a mustache? If he does, isn’t that interesting, how your mind filled in the rest? And if he doesn’t, what do you see that Wallace never even mentions.

I’ll tell you what mine looks like, based on that one sentence, and we can see where ours are either the same or different. My governor has a short-sleeved button up shirt on. It’s white, doesn’t fit him correctly, and has a rumpled collar. He’s got a tie–black or some dark, muted color, and dress slacks that drape over his brown shoes. His glasses continually slide down his nose due to sweat/looking at notes, and he stammers, but remains wholesome, the way a governor should. He actually looks a lot like Michael Douglas’ character from the movie Falling Down.

All of that from one sentence. Man that’s cool.

You can do the same things with the environmental description as well. When he describes the August heat, I start to hear the whirring of cicadas, the creaking of corn under the sun, and I can almost feel a breeze that’s more warm than cool.

What’s great about description, and what’s important for aspiring writers to learn, is that no two people see the same thing, and that’s okayThe reader doesn’t need to see exactly what you see, they just need the right idea. The look of a character is only a part of them. It’s a part of their personality, their behavior, and their actions, but it isn’t the whole thing. A character’s look can say loads about them when first introduced, but over describing them isn’t the way to do it.

Over description is a manual. Good description is…vaguely precise. It’s something to really pay attention to while reading, and to practice while writing. It’s something I’m routinely trying to get better at it, and Wallace is a great place to learn.

As an exercise, try picturing the governor that’s in your head and then try to understand what about Wallace’s description gave you that image. How do the cloths fit on your governor? Are the tight, snug, exact? Or do they hang off him? Did the words “greyhound-thin” determine what you saw? What little bit of description helped you color in the rest?

There’s so much more in Wallace’s article that we could go over, but I won’t, that might be over doing it 😉

Thanks for reading.

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Book Review: Into the Forest

Into the ForestInto the Forest by Jean Hegland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Into the Forest was a wonderful book. It is the closest bit of fiction I’ve found to a real world, post-apocalyptic experience. There are no great evils, no great wars, and yet the book remains a wonderful adventure without those things, written with absolutely stunning prose.

The author, Jean Hegland, has a wonderful way with words and is able to break the reader’s heart and then piece it back together all within the confines of one paragraph. The words she’s put down here seemed almost voyeuristic, as if I was reading the real life journal of a young woman trying to survive after the world has left her, and her family, to a way of life that hasn’t been seen by mankind for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

The ordinary struggles of our narrator and her family become enthralling–surreal and beautiful like romantic memories or dreams of summer on a cold winter night. I personally found myself walking around the apartment a more grateful person, happy with the stunning bounty I have all around me, astonished at how profound a trip to the grocery store actually is.

This is a wonderful, creative, imaginative book that clearly poured directly out of Hegland’s heart. I would recommend it to anybody, but specifically to lovers of the “post-apocalyptic” genre. Into the Forest is a fresh, unique take on an archetype that’s been done over and over. Pick up a copy today!

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Outlining to Produce a More Fulfilling Writing Experience

My past two posts on writing/self-publishing have been written on a downward note, so I think it’s about time to write something positive.

A little less than a month ago I started writing the second book in my series, and it has been going spectacularly well. So well in fact, there were a few days I was convinced that what I was writing was absolute garbage–that it had to be if I was writing it as fast as I was.

I’ve written several book length things to completion, as I’ve said before, but only one of them–in my opinion–was good enough to continue working on, and call a book. Each one was a struggle to get through, taking many months or even years to complete, but it’s gotten easier, and I think I can tell you a part of the reason why.

Firstly, the book that’s with the editor currently, Dreaming Beyond Gaia, I have written a total of three times. The first time I wrote the book it took about seven months, and when I was finished I put it away and didn’t come back to it until two years later. When I did come back, what I found was a mess, but not a disaster, and I thought I could make it work if I re-wrote the first 10,000 words or so.

I started to do that, but quickly found that the new stuff I was writing was much, much better, and changed the story in such a big way that I decided to re-write the entire book. The general journey of the characters stayed the same, however, so I had something of an outline to work with, and that made things infinitely easier. Before this re-write I had never worked with an outline before. I would generally get an idea for a book, tinker around with it a bit, and then just start writing. That method produced some terribly frustrating days.

Quick side note, I was listening to an episode of The Self-Publishing Podcast this morning, and they pointed out that doing continual re-writes can be a pitfall if you keep doing it over and over again as a way to never put anything out. I think that can certainly be true, and is something to watch out for.

Anyway, It was around this time that I discovered Scrivener, which turned out to be one of the greatest tools/assets I have ever discovered in all of my years of writing. This program is phenomenal for outlining and building a book to completion, and has forever changed the way I write.

I discovered it because of a post from author Michael J. Sullivan that you can check out here. It’s a great post on the basics of the program, and how one might go about using it.

So last spring I took a week off from work and spent the first entire day building a complete outline into the program, using Sullivan’s post as a guideline, and tweaking things to better support my own needs.

It worked wonders, and I was finished with this new draft before the summer was over.

To make a long story a bit shorter, I went back through this new draft several months later, and did a few more substantial re-writes (although not another full re-write). It was much simpler using Scrivener to plan out what needed to change ahead of time.

Then, back in February, I began to seriously work on the next book in the series, which I’m currently writing now. I spent a solid two months doing nothing but outlining, writing histories of various things, and building maps, all of which I was able to put into my Scrivener doc. The extra time, effort, and planning has paid off wonderfully.

I’ve been writing for almost a month now and I’m already 30,000 words in, and show no signs of slowing down. I’ve been able to produce roughly 1,200 words a day, give or take.

My point is that, for me, outlining works wonders. This is the first time I’m writing a book with one and I’m loving it. The experience is much more fulfilling, I’m having more fun, and I’m able to get a lot more on the page, in a much smaller amount of time.

I try hard with this blog to talk about what works for me, rather than telling other writers what they should do.Outlining may not be the answer for everyone, but if you’re a writer, and you’re currently stuck, I’d say it’s worth a shot. Download the free trial of Scrivener, plug in what you’ve got, and make an outline for the rest.

It’s worked wonders for me, maybe it will for you too.

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Rainy Mornings & Reading

This morning in Minnesota is cold, gray, and rainy — perfect for snuggling up with the dog and reading a beautiful book with some wonderful prose. I’m reading “Into the Forest” by Jean Hegland. It’s a great read so far, written by an author who has a truly breathtaking way with words.

Hope you’re all having a good morning as well.


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More Self Publishing Fears and Remembering to Have Fun

As I draw closer to releasing my first book I’m learning that an entire litany of fears accompanies the long awaited day of publication.

I have spent the last eight years of my life pursuing this goal. I went to school for it, I’ve studied it, and I’ve written several books to completion, none of which were any good at all. They were learning experiences, attempts at finding my own voice, and discovering how to say what I wanted to say.

And now, after eight years, I have something that I finally think is ready–something I think is good enough to attach my name to and put in your hands…the hands of hopeful readers just like myself, searching for another great adventure.

Getting a book to that point–a point where I feel like what I’m giving you has worth and value–took eight years.

And now I have to do it again.

I’ve been working on the new book for a little more than three weeks now. It started with some rough outlining, and then moved into more detailed plotting, which is what I’m doing now, but occasionally I’m overwhelmed by this thought–or maybe feeling is a better term–that I have no idea what I’m doing.

Most of my fears seem to come back to my previous post about wanting a little validation, or confirmation, that I’m on the right track–someone to tell me that I’m doing all of the right things in all of the right ways.

But it’s not something I have and that’s okay.

I think one of my biggest problems (and a potential problem for many other writers who are on the same path) is that I put too much pressure on the success of my writing, which can make it way less fun at times. There’s a part of me that thinks if success doesn’t come now, with my first book ever, it’s never coming at all, and that can make some days real shitty.

They are days where all you notice are the flaws in your writing, and you try to convince yourself that you’re not just flying by the seat of your pants, drifting aimlessly with little to no direction, playing pretend in your head. They are days where you have to work real hard to convince yourself that what your’re doing has substance, and depth, and can be fulfilling to someone other than you.

Recently I’ve been having these days while preparing the new book. I haven’t started a new book in over a year and there’s this part of me that feels like I’m doing everything wrong. In those moments it feels like I’ll look back on these days as a waste of time, and I’ll still be so far away from achieving my dreams.

But that’s a part of this process, I suppose. Eight years, in comparison with many, many authors, isn’t that long. In all likelihood it’s going to be another eight (and probably more) before I get to a point where I’m finally able to spend all of my time putting down on paper the stories that swirl in my mind.

When those awful days come around what I have to ask myself is, “are you still having fun?” If the answer is no it’s probably because I’m putting too much emphasis on the success of my books, and not enough on getting lost in the process–on submitting to the joy that brought me to writing in the first place, and letting myself get lost in a different world for a bit.

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Lack of Guidance and Self Publishing Fears

Things are getting wrapped up with my first ever book (well, first book I haven’t thrown out when I was done writing it), and my mind is a constant carnival ride of ups and downs. I sent the 3rd draft copy off to my editor on Monday, and I’ve been busying myself with working on the second book while I’m waiting, but some things have begun to nag at me as the final day draws closer.

For anyone who doesn’t know, I plan on publishing the book myself, for a number of different reasons, some of which I’ve talked about here. One of those reasons is that I get to put the book out on my terms, without doing all of the extra leg work that comes along with finding literary agents, and publishers.

As publication gets closer however, I’m seeing one advantage to traditional publishing that I’ve overlooked until now. Validation.

I’m sure, to many, this isn’t a knew idea, but it never occurred to me that I would have to be the person saying my book was finished. I mean, it did, but not in the strict sense that comes along with the now approaching reality of actually putting the book out there.

In my gut, my head, and my heart, I feel that the book is ready, but it’s hard to tell because when it’s your creation — your art — it can never really be finished. It’s hard for me to move away from a project I’ve gone over so many times — a project I know so intimately.

Painting a room in your house can actually be a good analogy for the way I’ve feeling right now. Let me explain: When painting a room, you’ll get real close to the walls, especially when you’re doing corners, trim, or the spots around the ceiling, and you’ll notice all of the little inconsistencies in the paint, all of the tiny mistakes you’ve made. You’ll stare at them, thinking the flaws are so clearly apparent, and yet when you step back, and the paint drys, everything looks marvelous — nearly perfect.

BUT, if you move in close again, you’ll see that a lot of what bothered you in the first place is still there, and seems glaringly obvious — move back out and they disappear again.

This is where I find myself currently, nitpicking over foibles, and I would very much welcome someone who’s done this all before telling me that everything is ready — everything is ok. I’ve had beta-readers, I’ve had several intense rounds of edits, I’ll soon have the revisions back from my editor, but ultimately it’s me making the call, and it’s honestly a little daunting.

The way I’ve been reigning in my thoughts when they get too out of control is by telling myself that all of this — all of life in general — is a learning process. If my book comes out and proves to have not been ready, my only option will be to learn what lessons I can, and move on.

I believe the book is ready, though. I believe it’s fun, and exciting, and interesting–maybe even thought provoking, and I’m ultimately ready to put it out there for the world to see.

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