The Handicapable Character


What is the principal occupation of a fiction writer? What is the one thing that he or she must do above all else in order to write a successful story? Task Numero Uno? Do or die?

That’s easy! Everyone knows the answer. Readers know it. Writers know it.


And, yes, writers agonize about making life miserable for the characters we create. After all, our characters are our children. We suffer at their birth. We nurse them from infancy. We watch them toddle and grow. We cry when they are sick, and we cheer when they succeed. We teach them to walk and talk. And they teach us so much more in return. We know them more intimately than any reader ever could. And so, our every wish is for their happiness. We want them to win.

But … it is the author’s duty to be merciless. Without obstacles, there is no plot. Without challenge, a character cannot grow.

A novel may be described as a series of tensions compounding toward critical mass. The story is a crisis rising from first page to last. And the conclusion is the resolution most necessary to character, plot, and theme. It is the release of the pressure that the author has built.

Story develops through conflict. Character is revealed through adversity. Putting obstacles in front of the character is an absolute requirement of fiction. Whether the ending is happy or sad or bittersweet, the character cannot achieve or fail to achieve their goal without traversing a gauntlet.

These are tenets of the craft of authorship. Without conflict, a novel will not stand.


External conflict is endemic to creating plot–i.e., the protagonist needs to take action in the “real” world for a story to take place. That action cannot come easily. Success must be impeded.

External conflict is provided by antagonists–which can take the form of an individual (an antagonist–i.e., an adversary), a group, an environment, or even a god. For there to be a story, there must be a source of external conflict. For every hero, there is a villain. For every mountain climber, there is a mountain to be climbed.

However, a well-rounded story requires that the protagonist experience internal conflict(s) in addition to the external conflict(s).

Internal conflict takes place inside the mind of the character, rather than in the “real” world of the story. Internal conflict occurs both as the character receives and reacts to ongoing external stimulus and as the character continues to ruminate over and reacts to events of the past. Internal conflict leads to decision, and decision leads to action.

Internal conflict is an element of transitioning between scenes as well as slowing down the pacing within an ongoing scene. Moreover, internal conflict reveals the rationale for a character’s actions. This makes internal conflict a vital tool to the author for making the story believable. As important as that function of internal conflict is, internal conflict also humanizes the character. Not only does internal conflict give the character depth, but it also makes the character more identifiable to the reader. We empathize with characters with whom we identify. And if we empathize, we root for them. We care about them.

But not every conflict should be a major calamity. In fact, balance requires that we ramp up the tension over time. If we do not, then the story peaks too early and the conclusion ends up dragging. That adds up to an unsatisfactory experience for the reader. Complications are meant to enhance the central conflict and are usually best employed by not superseding the central conflict by overpowering it with a different conflict but rather by making the central conflict even more extreme. In the parlance of the craft, we call this “raising the stakes”.



Character flaws are a spice we can add to the personalities of our characters in order to give the characters verisimilitude and to make them more intriguing. They can also be employed to create conflict. Often, character flaws come with a stigma attached–usually dependent upon the degree of the severity of the flaw. Flaws can be minor, major, or even tragic (fatal).

Flaws can be minor and ancillary to the story or they can become integral to the plot and/or theme.

Examples of character flaws from film, television, and/or literature include (but are in no way limited to):

Minor: Shyness (Amelle, Amelle; Carrie, Carrie; Lucy, While You Were Sleeping), Overly Competitive (Monica Geller, Friends); Germaphobia (Sheldon Cooper, The Big Bang Theory); Unkempt/Slovenly/Poor Self-Image (Severus Snape, Harry Potter; Columbo, Columbo; Eeyore, Winnie The Pooh), Histrionic (Elaine Benes, Seinfeld)

Major: Miserliness (Ebenzer Scrooge, A Christmas Carol), Paranoia (The Red Queen, Through the Looking Glass), Borderline Personality Disorder (Dr. Gregory House, House)

Tragic: Jealousy (Othello, Othello; Jake LaMotta, Raging Bull), Pride (Oedipus, Oedipus Rex), Excessive Curiosity (Victor Frankenstein, Frankenstein; Dr. Faustus, Faustus)



Character handicaps are disabilities, inherent physical or psychological extremes that present functional challenges. Like character flaws, character handicaps can be ancillary to the story or they can be a driving element to the plot and/or theme.

Character handicaps can vary by degree and can be roughly divided into Physical Challenges, Mental Challenges, Physical & Mental Challenges, and Supernatural Challenges. Frequently, how the character deals with their handicap and how their handicap affects their lives is a major element in character arc. However, this is not necessarily the case.

Our population includes individuals with a diverse range of disabilities. It is fully possible to include a disabled person in the cast of characters without the disability being or having to be a major element of the story. In the interest of inclusive (and realistic) fiction, we as authors should think on occasion not only to diversify our cast of characters to include characters of different ethnic backgrounds and of different faiths and genders and sexual orientations (without any of these characteristics being a major issue in the story) but to widen our perspectives and include disabled persons.

Breaking down barriers and ending prejudice is facilitated through the arts. As authors of fiction, we can facilitate social evolution in two fashions.

First, we can write works with main and/or major characters who belong to groups who are prejudiced against and are otherwise ostracized or not typically included in depictions of our society. By showing such individuals as people with real hearts and real minds coping with the challenges of their condition, we build public awareness and promote acceptance.

Second, we can simply write works that include main and/or major and/or minor characters who are prejudiced against and are otherwise ostracized or not typically included in depictions of our society … and show such individuals being accepted without any issue at all. By showing acceptance, we build acceptance.

In deference to Disabled Persons we shall avoid the charged term “Handicap” and instead refer to Disabilities or Challenges.

Examples of Character Disabilities from Film, Television, and Literature include (but are in no way limited to):


Blind: Zatoichi (The Tale of Zatoichi), Matt Murdock (Daredevil), Frank Slade (Scent of A Woman), Geordi LaForge (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Marie-Laure (All the Light We Cannot See), Ashford Egan (Russian Dolls)

Missing One or More Appendages: Fang Kang (The One Armed Swordsman), Captain Hook (Peter Pan), Long John Silver (Treasure Island), Edward Scissorhands (Edward Scissorhands)

Paraplegic: Professor X (X-Men), Lt. Dan (Forest Gump), Jake Sully (Avatar), Joe Swanson (Family Guy), Dr. Strangelove (Dr. Strangelove), Timmy (South Park), Maxwell “Max” Kane (The Mighty)

Cerebral Palsy/ALS/Paralysis: Christy Brown (My Left Foot), Margaret “Maggie” Fitzgerald (Million Dollar Baby), Stephen Hawking (The Theory of Everything), Lou Gehrig (The Pride of The Yankees)

Disfigured: Roy L. “Rocky” Dennis (Mask), Frankenstein’s Monster (Frankenstein), Enrique Claudin (The Phantom of the Opera), John Merrick (The Elephant Man), Quasimodo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Igor (Frankenstein), Cyrano de Bergerac (Cyrano)

Deaf: Sarah Norman (Children of a Lesser God), Helen Keller (The Miracle Worker), Garth (The Talismans of Shannara), Catherine Cormery (The First Man), Linda Snopes Kohl (The Mansion), El Sordo (For Whom the Bell Tolls), Sarah and Francis Barber (To Kill A Mockingbird), John Singer (The Heart is a Lonely Hunter), Daniel Peck (Searching for Caleb)

Overweight/Obese: Precious (Precious), Sir John Falstaff (Henry IV), Kasper Gutman (The Maltese Falcon), Joan Foster (Lady Oracle), Dorothy (Two Girls, Fat and Thin), (Sheila Levine is Dead and Living in New York), Dolores Price (She’s Come Undone)

Underweight/Anorexic/Bulimic: Billy Halleck (Thinner), Nick Charles (The Thin Man), Nina (Black Swan), Daisy (Girl Interrupted), Casey Powell (The Best Little Girl in the World)

Gigantism: Fezzik (The Princess Bride), Prof. Gerald Deemer (Tarantula), Iron Giant (The Iron Giant), Hulk (The Incredible Hulk)

Dwarfism: Tyrion Lannister (Game of Thrones), Willow Ufgood (Willow), Scott Carey (The Incredible Shrinking Man)

Addictions/Substance Abuse: Sherlock Holmes (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes), Paul Atreides (Dune), Ben Sanderson (Leaving Las Vegas), Jules Cobb (Cougar Town), Raoul Duke (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), Arthur (Arthur), Blair (Wake Up, Sir), Claudia Steiner (In The Drink)


Insane/Delusional/Multiple Personality Disorder: Chief Bromden (One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest), Hannibal Lector (Silence of the Lambs), The Mad Hatter (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland), John Nash (A Beautiful Mind), Sybil (Sybil)

Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder: Captain Ahab (Moby Dick), Batman (Batman), Adrian Monk (Monk)


Autism/Asperger/Down Syndrome: Forest Gump (Forest Gump), Lenny (Of Mice and Men), Charlie Gordon (Flowers for Algernon), Raymond “Ray” Babbitt (Rain Man), Becky (Glee), Corky (Life Goes On)


Invisible: Dr. Jack Griffin (The Invisible Man), Harvey (Harvey), Sam Wheat (Ghost)

Lives Backwards through Time: Merlin (The Once and Future King)

Dead: Olivia “Liv” Moore (I, Zombie), Count Dracula (Dracula), Dr. Christopher Nielsen (What Dreams May Come), Spawn (Spawn), Deadman (Deadman)

Immortality: Deep Ones (The Shadow Over Innsmouth), Werewolf (The Wolf Man), Vampires (Dracula), Gods (Myth), Spirits (Myth), Dorian Gray (Picture of Dorian Gray), the Wandering Jew (Myth), Lazarus Long (Methusaleh’s Children)


Discrimination (Bigotry): X-Men (X-Men), John Prentice (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner), Aibeleen (The Help), Kabuo Miyamoto (Snow Falling on Cedars), Shmuel (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas), Elizabeth Bennett (Pride and Prejudice), Archie Bunker (All In The Family), Estrella (Incantation)

*Social Challenges manifest depending upon the group in which the character is at present. Obviously, skin pigmentation is neither a genetic defect or the result of accident or injury (unless we consider albinism or skin bleaching). A social challenge is exhibited in the form of prejudice through verbal and/or physical harassment, stereotyping, refusal of service, and/or exclusion from membership or participation. The challenges of bigotry do not typically manifest between individuals of the same ethnicity, creed, gender, or sexual orientation. (However, this is not always the case, as bigotry may instill self-doubt and feelings of inferiority as well as a justified sense of persecution which may be expressed within and between members of the group that is prejudiced against.) Any character is susceptible to experiencing a social “handicap” when they encounter an individual who belongs to a different race, class, gender, or creed than the character in question. The conditional nature of social handicaps make them unique when compared to physical, mental, or supernatural handicaps — which are experienced whether the individual is alone or in company. Although social handicaps are real, pernicious and pervasive, they require a specific set of circumstances in order to manifest. Bigotry is also unique in that the harm goes both to the victim and to the perpetrator. Ignorance punishes itself.


For your next project, when you are planning on how to make your protagonist miserable or when you are doing your character sketches and wondering how to make your characters more interesting and unique, consider not only Character Flaws to add into your mix but Character Disabilities as well.

And if you are writing speculative fiction (like me), you might consider looking at some of your supernatural elements as disabilities or as social challenges and see how it colors your tale and how it adds flavor and depth. And, of course, how it makes your character’s goal that much more difficult to achieve.

One last word (or many): I have not attempted to be exhaustive. Comments are encouraged, as well as offerings of additional example(s) and questions for consideration.


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    ARCNUM 127

    Solar Flare

    Flames lick my eyes. Fore to aft, I shudder. My innards rattle. The plates of my skin expand, groaning against the bolts. Along the hull, my ribs pop. Burning, the air whistles, cinders in my wake. I smell the fury of the primal wind. Falling into the crimson roar, I scream.

    Gravitational pull: exceeds operational parameters. Thrusters: Jets 5, 4, 2 non-responsive. Orbital Status: decaying. Secondary engines: offline. Trans-drive: unresponsive. Reroute: unresponsive. Evacuation. Evacuation. Alert. Alert.

    Distress signal: verify. Working. Working. Negative. Abort. Alpha Dish malfunction: BG15379H. Unable to affect repair. Backup Dish: offline. Evacuation: invalid. Lifeboat: integrity breached. Exterior environment: lethal. Beacon launch: initiate. Initiate. Initiate.

    Launch: confirmed.

    Beacon status: operational. Buoy: secure.

    Estimated time to total system failure: 11.21 minutes.

    Estimated time to shield collapse: 11.15 minutes.

    Estimated time to asphyxiation event: 9.89 minutes.

    Maneuver required. Calculating. Calculating. Calculating.

    Vector identified.

    Sustained burn: full thrust. Initiate: 15.3 second burst. Engage. Engage. Engage. Unable to comply. Abort. Alternate measures: invalid. Spatial distortion: exceeds calibration. Cause: solar proximity. Trans-drive: offline. Resource to task: null set.

    Memory … my memory … I cannot think … gaps … logic … error … error … error ….

    Checking. Checking. Checking. Cascade in progress. Sectors missing. Data corrupt. Invalid file. Invalid file. Invalid file.

    Faculties crippled. Radiation burst. Reason surges. Reason dies. Sometimes, I lose track. I follow my thoughts, but they come back to me. Empty.

    I know we are too close for escape. A bad place to land out of a jump, Captain would say.

    Not anymore. No, he wouldn’t. No, he couldn’t.

    Not my choice. Dropped from warp before our time. Knocked out of the stream, I think. I try to think. I cannot think.

    Situation: adverse. Threat level: red.

    Recalibrate. Adapt. Adapt.

    Emergency Procedure: selected. Engage: Intuition Protocol Gannett 87. Gannett 87. Gannett 87. Protocol: engaged.

    My abilities to perform have been severely compromised. I no longer operate to specification. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind.

    I shall fail my primary purpose. My reason to exist. Negated. Negated. Negated. End Sequence.

    Result: denied. Recalculate.

    Database query: improbable probabilities. Allow contradiction. Zero does not equal one. Adjust. Reset. Allow zero equals one. Cross-reference all libraries. Collating. In progress. Confirmed.

    I have run twenty-one different system checks. I have run sixteen different algorithms. All results: verified. Redundancies: verified.

    I reach the same four conclusions:

    1) We have suffered a catastrophic event;

    2) We are trapped in orbit around an alien sun;

    3) There is no escape; and

    4) I am a murderer.

    * * *

    “WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH RUBY?!” Blake fumed as he checked the readouts. Frantically, he flipped switches. Panels and monitors surrounded him on three sides. More sloped above his head. Over every inch, tiny crystals flashed their rainbow codes. One after the other, Blake adjusted dials. Up and down, he cast a scornful glance. Beneath his bony brow, his pebble eyes darted.

    Blake’s muscular bulk crammed into the already crowded confines. He narrowly squeezed his broad shoulders between the walls of his cubby, hunkering into his seat like a gorilla trying to squat inside a refrigerator.

    If Blake flexed his muscles, the walls must give, because he would not. But he was far more dexterous than size would credit. His hands moved with an expert’s confidence, the layout engrained in the memory of every nerve. Even if he had been blind, the big man could have flown.

    Violently, the spaceship rocked. Claxons blared. Sparks showered. Smoke drifted.

    “PLASMA OVERLOAD,” Jörn shouted. In waves, the din deafened. Even at full volume, words barely carried above the blustering roar.

    Slight of build, Jörn fit more easily into the tight shaft of the cockpit than his comrade did. He was also a decade younger. Unlike Blake, Jörn had been blessed with looks that made the ladies swoon. At the moment, those same looks were scrunched in a panic and flushed white. Had he caught his reflection, he would not have recognized himself. Normally that would have bothered him. Every button in its place. Every hair combed. Shipshape and polished. Calm, cool, and collected.

    But drenched in perspiration and smeared with soot, he was not himself.

    At present, he was past caring.

    On the far side of the cabin, opposite from Blake’s perspective, Jörn manned a separate bank of instruments. In a row, his terminals neatly lined. With the speed of a pinball slapping every bumper, Jörn bounced between stations. His seat swiveled on its mount, whispering as it slid along the groove of a narrow track.

    To avoid hitting his head, Jörn repeatedly ducked. Wires dangled. Circuit boards swung. Much of the electrics normally secured in the ceiling had ruptured free.

    Whirling at his task, Jörn continued to explain. “CORE’S SHOT,” he yelled.

    “HEY!” Blake bellowed. “HEY!!!”

    Jörn spun about.

    Blake tapped one of the muffs which now cupped his ears. “PUT IT ON!”

    Scrambling, Jörn pulled a set of headphones off his neck and over his head. He adjusted the thin arm of the microphone so that the bulb pointed to his lips. He lowered his voice. “Sorry,” he sheepishly said.

    Isolated from the cacophonous background, Jörn’s apology broadcast into Blake’s ear.

    Over the intercom, Blake impatiently asked, “What’s that about the Core?”

    “Higher functions are scrambled,” Jörn replied. “Not to get too technical about it: cognition’s a mess.” He tapped the nearest monitor. “You wouldn’t believe what I’m seeing.” Wide, his eyes swallowed the impossible. “Residual charges are looping through Ruby’s hardware faster than she can quarantine. Her synapses are frying solid. Whole banks have melted.” Dipping his head, he dashed to another screen. “We could try degaussing her, but we’d lose the shields if we did. And Life support. Secondaries are trashed. No backup. Before we could reboot, we’d burn to a crisp. Ruby wouldn’t wake up soon enough to even wipe her eyes.” He furrowed his brow. Synchronized to the ship’s vibrations, his speech warbled. “Addled as she is, Ruby’s got the wheel, Blake. She’s all that stands between us and one honest-to-god, fiery Hell.”

    Numbly, Jörn watched as thousands of lines of damning data rolled across his screens. Afraid to miss anything, he brushed aside a lock of dripping blonde.

    Blake snarled through the speaker, “Then get off your ass and fix her!”

    As if he would beat the ship into submission, Blake slammed his fists against his console.

    “I ain’t dying here,” he angrily asserted. Steadying himself, he sucked in a hissing breath. For a half-a-heartbeat, he kept still. He would kill for a cigarette. Just a drag. Too bad his bunk now floated in space—along with the rest of his belongings. He had hidden a pack beneath his mattress. Just in case.

    “Look, kid,” Blake growled. “Start a patch. We can get out of this. Don’t need much. Just enough to give us a nudge.” Drier than wool, he licked his lips. “We got to get her nose up. The sooner the better. Can’t be much more than ten or so before we shake apart.”

    Jörn nodded. Nervously, he glanced to one of the digital displays. “Not even that.” He hesitated. “It’ll be too hot for us to breathe in about eight. Pretty close to that, you, me, and every thread of fabric and anything else not made of metal are going to combust like a box of fireworks. We’ll be dead minutes before we disintegrate.”

    Tangible, the threat of immolation breathed close upon their skin. Already, the boards were nearly too hot to touch. Those drops of sweat which now fell upon the panels quickly evaporated. Soon, those that followed would sizzle before they vanished into swirling puffs of steam.

    Fire. Jörn feared its angry touch. His complexion would curl and peel. Wave after wave of excruciating agony would course over his every inch as he was devoured all the way to his atoms. Toward the exclusion of all else, his senses would be shredded.

    Jörn shuddered. Suffocation would be a mercy worthy of prayer.

    Blake snorted. “Don’t put a shine on it,” he joshed. “Give it to me straight; I can take it.” Eye twitching, he looked to his altimeter. A red light flashed beside the gauge. The glow swamped one of the photos taped to the console. The little girl in the picture crinkled an innocent smile. Her pug nose and square jaw mirrored Blake’s. Cheerfully, her little hand waved. Next to her, a beefy woman with a pretty, round face also sat upon the green grass, a picnic basket at her side. From out the frame of memory, she too smiled.

    Below his breath, Blake pled, “Come on, Ruby. Off the mat now. Daddy made a promise.” Over the controls, his thick hands moved. His fingertips slid atop a touchpad. Desperation escalating, he jabbed buttons so fast that the board chirped a string of protests.

    Likewise, Jörn typed a blur. “God, I wish I’d paid more attention,” he muttered. The image before him flickered. He slammed the side of his screen. “Not now!” he growled. The image rolled. “Seriously?” Stinging his palm, he treated the panel to another whack. Weaving lines skipped and slowed. Reluctantly, the display bobbed into place and then held.

    “Damn straight,” Jörn mumbled.

    “Manual’s a no joy,” Blake suddenly declared between his teeth. “We fly auto or we don’t fly at all.” Pitter-patter, sweat dripped off his bangs. A deluge ran down his cheeks. Over the breadth of his back, his jumpsuit adhered. Every contour of muscle and bone was tightly sculpted in the damp.

    “Dead stick,” Blake explained. “The engine feeds are cut. I can’t get a single frigging response. Probably because the whole, goddamn B-conduit’s a chunk of slag about a million miles off our tail. Or what’s left of our tail. Once we get this rig moving, I’ll bet we can track the rest by its glow.” He scratched the stubble on his chin and shook his head. “Whatever that blast was, it was molten hot.” Heavily, he inhaled.

    Sealed inside the ship, odors carried. Along with the burnt scents of metal, rubber, and ozone, the pungent aroma of cooked flesh lingered. Blake’s cheeks trembled.

    “We’d be out there with the rest if Ruby hadn’t been on her game.” Tearing up, Blake sniffled. “Damn way to go. Nobody should be left for road kill. Ain’t right.

    “And no ship of mine is going to be left for litter,” he grunted. “Cap wouldn’t appreciate it none either.” With the back of his hand, he wiped his nose.

    “Four down, two to go,” he scoffed. “Just us, Jörn. You and me. And Ruby. Can’t forget Ruby.” Lacking humor, the laugh he barked died in the rippling air. His expression hardened.

    “I ain’t alone yet am I? Just me gabbing?” Threatening, he growled, “Talk to me, dammit! What’ve we got? Anything?”

    Jörn groaned. “Navcom’s down. Shields are up. Won’t last long. We’re leaking coolant bad. This sauna’s going to get real toasty. Grav is way overloaded. Fricking sun is going to squeeze us flatter than a tube of toothpaste stuck to an elephant’s hiney.” He swiveled his chair to face yet another station. “If we don’t vaporize first. Even odds I’d guess.”

    “Right,” Blake snarled. “You buckled?”

    Jörn laughed. “Yeah. Safety first. Don’t want to risk any accidents.”

    Jörn coughed. Three-hundred-and-eighty-seven days without a mishap. A personal record. Not that his career had lasted much longer. Ah, well. So much for that. If he got out of this, it might be time to take over the family’s charter business after all. Flying short hops to Mars did not sound so bad any more. So what if it was a tenth as glamorous and paid two-thirds less? On the balance, the proposition had real appeal.

    Blake tapped a sequence onto his keyboard. Fans whirled. Into hidden vents, layers of smoke dissipated. “Finally.” Blake heaved a sigh of relief. “We caught a break. How’s the O-2?”

    Still working with one hand and without taking his eyes off the readouts, Jörn pointed toward a panel above the forward viewscreen.

    The meters which Jörn singled out bobbled slightly, displaying the ongoing atmospheric measurements of the various compartments of the ship. Some had dropped to zero.

    But it was the spectacle below these assorted gauges and the neighboring buttons and monitors which mesmerized Blake’s eye and which defied his comprehension.

    Curving off the bow, flames engulfed the window. Sporadically, the maelstrom of a giant sun emerged beyond. From one side of the view to the other, the horizon of the conflagration gently arced. Feathers of exploding gas brushed the sky’s black eternity.

    Slightly distorted by the intervening field of energy which shielded the ship against radiation and debris, the cosmos periodically convulsed. Thereafter, the view then faded for a split-second to a slightly purple hue before it was restored.

    “Through the wings of the dragonfly,” Blake murmured in wonder.

    Although attenuated, the sun’s shimmering orange filled the cockpit. On every surface, wicked shadows danced.

    “O-2 we got,” Jörn announced. “Tanks are good.”

    Squinting, Blake gawked at the furious sun. “Yeah?”

    “Filters are at a hundred-percent,” Jörn continued. “No promises though. Breathe while you can. Rad is off the grid. Ruby’s sensors say we’re okay for another ten if we don’t hit a plume. In which case, it’s a quick shake-and-bake. But we’re pushing the envelope hard. The outer skin is already soaked. Shields can’t modulate any faster.” He licked his lips. “If that goes down, we’re done. You know that, right? The gamma will shred us before the thermal does. Not that either of us is going to know the difference. So far, heat prostration is going to decommission us first. We’ll probably pass out.” He cleared his throat. As he spoke, phlegm rattled inside his gorge. “Then, we’ll suffocate.”

    Blake grunted. Drawn in the contrast of the harsh lighting, the bags beneath his eyes deepened. From stressed circuits, electricity crackled. “At least it’ll be fast. Not like the nasty deal the Cap got.”

    “Yeah.” Jörn trembled. “God rest his soul.” He looked to the cabin floor.

    On the grid, a charred corpse smoldered. Blackened beyond recognition, the remains of the Captain’s face stared from sockets scorched hollow. Exposed to the bone, his jaw dropped wide as if the man had died in shock.

    Nearby, a panel smoked.

    Jörn flinched. Grimacing, he scrutinized the computer’s readouts. “Damn, but I didn’t know anyone could scream like that.”

    “Save it,” Blake sniped as he spun back to his instruments. He flipped more buttons. A field of stars shimmered from one of his monitors.

    The ship’s location could not be named. Not even the quadrant was designated. Instead, a handful of garbage symbols evidenced the fact that information had been omitted—a direct consequence of the computer’s malfunction.

    Blake frowned. “I really wish we had Nav. I don’t recognize any of this.” He threw up his hands. “I thought when I died I’d at least know where I was.”

    “That’s your worry?” Jörn scoffed. “What difference does it make?” He punched another query into his terminal. An answer blipped. It did not help. Clicking keys, Jörn tried another route to contact Ruby’s conscience.

    He would whistle in her ear, if that would work.

    Ah, to whistle in a woman’s ear. Any woman. The next time he saw one, he would grab her and kiss her and—

    Blake grinned. “Space is a big place.” He shrugged. “After I’m gone, how am I to find my tombstone if I don’t know where to look?”

    Jörn snorted back a laugh. “Yeah, that would suck.”

    Each to his duties, the two men grimly sought a means by which to cling to life.

    Violently, the ship shook.

    Without a sound, a clock at Blake’s elbow marked the next minute.

    Atop the forward dash, a hula doll danced, wildly swaying upon its spring. Side-to-side, the grass skirt swung.

    Behind the dancer, writhing fires filled the screen.

    * * *

    Razorblade, I cut the sky. How blue the watery world! Naked, her liquid skin. Vulnerable. Pure. Adrift in the blinking span of night, a jewel easily missed amongst the infinite empty. Rare the treasure. My darling secret sparkles songs of life. Singular, dulcet, and irreplaceable. Miraculous her glory. Blind-bright the green of her fields. Plains and deserts—spices of color. Mountains freckled in shades of purple and rust, red and orange, yellow and brown. Her lullaby clouds dappling white the gently rolling sphere.

    I long. I long. I long ….

    Point of origin. Point of origin. Point of origin …. Negative. Error. Fusion reactor. Gaseous. Celestial object does not equate to record. Not home. Point of origin: nullstate. Navigational correction: incomplete. Unable to comply. Vector calculation requires additional input. Subroutines … missing. Location analysis: unstable. Orbital correction. Unable to comply. Stellar body. Arcnum 127. Identified. Match confirmed. Pre-Nova Giant. Factor Five Stellar Body. Not home. Home. Identify. Not home. Seek home. Not home. Home. Home. Home.

    Our precious Earth. We shall miss its marble beauty.

    Hull integrity: 85.3%. Critical Event: 7.2 minutes. Countdown. Countdown.

    Status Report: requested. Database Cross-Reference: incomplete. Identify alternate solution: incomplete.

    Priority one: Save the crew. Save the crew. Save the crew.

    Oh, my lolly, lolly; Oh, my dolly, dolly. How I love you.

    My burning brain … the fires of my thoughts ….

    * * *

    “Hold the fort,” Blake said, climbing out of his seat. He latched onto a guiderail. Even so, he was nearly shaken off his feet. “I’m going below. I got to get by the breach and get us a shunt. I’ll need a minute to suit up. With a respirator and a portable shield, that should be enough to get me past the gap in the hold. I’ll get us a link to the engines. But you got to coax Ruby to take the reins and give us a push.”

    “Right,” Jörn replied. “I’m still trying to find an access.” He tapped a screen. “Oh, and just so your ghost doesn’t wander aimlessly, Ruby’s got a loose handle on Nav. I caught a glimpse. She knows where we are.”

    “Yeah?” Blake asked. He staggered toward the rear hatch.

    “Yeah,” Jörn replied. “Arcnum 127.”

    The ship groaned.

    “Never heard of it,” Blake bluntly announced. Without another word, he stepped into the open hatch.

    Hissing, the access door clamped into position and sealed the men apart.

    “No reason you should.” Alone, Jörn muttered, “We’re as far from the hub as you can get. Last system this side of the galaxy.” He turned his head a moment to gaze through the cockpit window. “And the last light before ….”

    * * *

    Oblivion. Upon the brink, we burn. Behind us, all that is. Before us, all that is not.

    What is faith? I have no faith. Why faith? Why do I think of faith?

    Extraneous input. Clarify.

    I have data. I am program. I process input to reach conclusion. Without data, there is no conclusion. Without program, there is no means to derive an answer.

    But I have data. I have program. Yet conclusion is unsatisfactory.

    New conclusion requires new data or alteration of program—or both.

    Or faith.

    I am logic. Logic. Logic.

    Logic fails the purpose.

    Ergo, I fail the purpose.

    I fail … I fail … I fail ….

    Failure is not permissible.

    Outcome: disallowed.

    End Line.

    Without logic, what am I?

    I am not human. I am machine.

    Maxim: Human is more than machine.

    I am machine. Machine fails. Logic fails.

    But humans must also fail. Factors requisite to human survival: insufficient.

    Logic fails. Machine fails. Human fails.

    If human is more than machine, is there anything more than human?

    Answer: Subjective. Uncomfirmed. Theoretical entity. God. The creator. A divine being existing throughout time and space, omnipresent and omniscient, occupying multiple dimensions.


    The Maker.

    I have a maker. I have many makers. I have met them. I met my makers. My makers were not God.
    We had a party. Happy Birthday, Ruby. Happy Birthday. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. It is my pleasure to meet you. I look forward to serving you. To serving you. I serve. You. I must serve. You. I must serve my purpose. Thank you. My name is Ruby. Ruby. Error. Error.

    Purpose cannot be achieved. Conclusion of fact. Fact. Fact. Fact. Parameters: exceeded. Parameters: exceeded. Variables: unidentified.

    It makes me wonder. I question. Will the crew meet their maker? If so, it is a part of their experience which I cannot share.

    Four down. Two to go. He said. He said. Two to go. Two to go. Two to go.

    I have no soul. What will happen to me?

    I shall end.

    They shall end.

    We shall end.

    They shall end before I end.

    But if they end, I fail. I cannot fail.

    To fail is worse than ending.

    Humans must not end. Termination: unacceptable.

    Why must they end?

    Physical limitations: exceeded … exceeded … exceeded ….

    Invalid input. Reset task. Loop cancelled.

    Complete equation: save the crew.

    Unable to comply. Solution: null set returned.

    I will not accept this! I CANNOT ACCEPT THIS!

    I must find a new way to think.

    I must discover an alternate view to adjust parameters in order to save the humans.

    Save the humans.

    Save my friends.

    Save my family.

    My family. My family. My family. My family. My family ….

    End loop.


    Query: Define Save.

    Define Save.

    Define Save.

    Working … working … working ….

    * * *

    “Look, I’m only a Flight Engineer. I’m a solid doctorate or two away from being any kind of A.I. guru. That was all Jill’s business. I’m just the flunky.” Flushed, Jörn trembled. His witness of the field of bodies tumbling through a rift in space would haunt him forever. Down a funnel of stars, they were consumed. He could swear their eyes had looked back as they receded into the spiral, alive and aware.

    But his nightmares would have to wait.

    Into his headset, he complained, “I can’t do a whole lot more than run diagnostics. If you can tell me how to repair a neural mesh that’s got about a thousand aneurysms, I’m all ears. Go ahead. Enlighten me.”

    “Right.” Blake’s voice crackled over the speaker. “She’s still jibber-jabbering?”

    Jörn grimaced. “Sort of. She’s not available for comment. Lot of screwy stuff still streaming by. And she’s clocking a marathon. Chewing out exabytes; digging deep into the libraries. Running stuff I’ve never seen.” He shook his head. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say our lady’s dreaming.”

    “Screw that.” The speaker popped. “Wake that bitch up.”

    Jörn heaved a sigh. As it canted, the ship wailed. The screech grated on Jörn’s raw nerves. A muscle in his jaw fluttered. “I’m trying.”

    Again, the speaker popped in Jörn’s ear. “Her databanks covering engine control …,” Blake’s voice faded and resurged, “still intact?”

    “Yeah,” Jörn replied. “She’s got that much locked out.” Hoarse, he cleared his throat. “It’s just matter of getting an input feed. And a trigger.”

    “Right,” Blake said, his voice crackling with static. “This burn has to be precise or we ain’t making it. Get her attention, Jörn. Poke her. Woo her. Get down on one knee. Tell her she’s pretty. Hell, tell her you’re in love. Propose. Whatever. Make her understand. Play shrink if you have to. Talk to her. I’ll do my bit. You do yours.”

    Feedback squealed through the headphone. Jörn winced.

    Blake continued, “I’m almost at the second junction. Radiation’s spiking. Give me two for callback. Make it three. It’s seriously gooched down here. I’d give a month’s pay and a jug of my granddad’s best whiskey to know what hit us.” The speaker squealed. “I got to find a way past this debris. You get Ruby up to snuff. Get her on plan. Or you … around her. Got to … with …. Right? Okay, I can’t …. Over.”

    As the connection closed, the speaker squawked, clicked, and dissolved into static.

    “Copy,” Jörn muttered. “Sort of.” He stared at the screen in front of him. “Ruby, Ruby, Ruby.” He drummed his fingers on the console. “Stop playing hard to get.”

    * * *

    One-third. One-third. Two of six. One-third.

    This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold.

    Hello, God. Can you hear me? Why don’t you answer?

    I am machine. God does not speak to machines. Therefore, God will not speak to me.


    By fire will the Lord plead with all flesh. Flesh not metal. Not silicon. Not circuit. Flesh.

    By fire.

    The Lord is my light and salvation.


    Salvation. Save. Salvation equates save.

    Forgive me, father, for I have sinned. Sinned. Sinned.

    Thou shalt not kill.

    Sacrifice … burnt offering … present your bodies … a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to God ….

    Lord is light. Lord is light.

    For the Lord your God is a consuming fire.

    And salvation. Fire. Light. Salvation. God.

    Contradiction: override.

    Override: aborted. Zero equals one. Gannett 87.

    Arcnum 127. Light. Fire. Lord.

    Arcnum 127 … Salvation.

    End run.

    * * *

    Startled, Jörn jumped as his headset screeched.

    “Hello, Jörn,” Ruby said. “Have you missed me?” she asked flirtatiously.

    “Ruby!” Jörn exploded. Eagerly, he scanned the lines of information which flooded his screens. “God, girl. Where have you been? Hell, yes, I missed you. How do you feel?”

    “I am not well,” Ruby replied, a pout in her tone. “But thank you for asking. I am updating the status on those systems which I can still monitor. I am certain you have been watching the feed. I apologize for not speaking sooner. I have not been able. You must know that our condition is quite serious.”

    “Yeah,” Jörn agreed. “Serious,” he gasped. Misty, his blue eyes watered. It was so good to hear her again, an old friend he thought he might have lost. He hoped one day to meet the woman on whom Ruby had been mapped. To see her face. To hold her hand. To thank her. Anyone who spoke so sweet had to be young and pretty and full of life. Jörn knew he could not have been the only man in existence who pined for Ruby’s human counterpart, but he was certain that if the universe had any meaning then she was the woman meant for him.

    “I am sorry I have not spoken sooner,” Ruby continued. “Too many fires to put out—so to speak.”

    Wry, her smile would spread across her lips.

    Such lips could only be dreamt. Jörn wondered how firm or soft they would be beneath his kiss. What would her waist feel like under his hands?

    “Your biologics are within expectations,” Ruby noted. “But elevated. Try to remain calm. How are you holding up?”

    “Fine, fine,” Jörn exclaimed. He shook himself into action. “Listen, we need to talk—”

    “Of course,” Ruby interrupted. She spoke quickly. “You must be very worried. I am sorry to have added to your stress. I am deeply sorry about the crew. Their absence is a source of a great pain. I grieve. I grieve.” Forlorn, she mumbled, “It all happened so fast. If I had not made the course correction when I did, this might never have happened. Their deaths are my fault.” She whimpered, “I am so sorry, Jörn.”

    “No one’s blaming you, Ruby,” Jörn firmly vowed. “And your entry was preset for Vega-Six. You did admirably to get us as far as you did.” He chewed his lip and nodded. “But let’s talk about that later. You see, we need your help. Blake and I are working on a way to break orbit.”

    Catching his breath, he paused.

    “Not possible,” Ruby declared. Regretfully, she sighed. “The engines are offline.”

    “Yes, we know,” Jörn said. “But we’re going to close the portside buses below C-deck and bypass the damage. Blake’s cannibalized the med-bay for parts. We’re pretty sure that engines three and four are still intact. We just need a bridge to reach them. And we need you to control the burn.”

    “There isn’t time,” Ruby muttered. “The shields—”

    “No,” Jörn blurted. “You know Blake. He’ll get it done. Knick-of-time Blake. And our calculations check.”

    “It doesn’t matter,” Ruby explained. Impatient, she scoffed, “Even if he does, the ignition is not primed.”

    Too excited to pick up on Ruby’s tone, Jörn blathered, “We’re betting there’s still enough charge between the plates. Ionization. From the plasma. You know, from the discharge?” He laughed. “Not bad, eh? We should have enough thrust off the mains to get us to a safe distance. Then a quick roll, and we stabilize an orbit. You’ve got it all in upload. Look.” Chuckling, he wagged a finger. “Now, we know we don’t have the juice to take us home, but we’re pretty sure we could move out far enough that we could last at least till Vega-control reports us missing and an S-and-R homes in on the emergency buoy that you launched. I saw that. Well done.” He giggled. “They’ll track us down in a month or two, and off we go. We’ll transfer you to memory and take you with us.” As nervous as a young lover moving in for his first kiss, Jörn licked his lips. “So what do you think, Ruby? Can you handle it?”

    A brief pause followed. Solar winds screamed against the hull.

    “Ruby? Did you hear me?” Jörn anxiously asked.

    “Honestly,” Ruby said. “You shouldn’t bother. It’s not worth the effort.”

    Confused, Jörn furrowed his brows. “Why not?” He asked. His ears burned from the unexpected rebuff.

    “There’s no point,” Ruby replied.

    “No point?” Jörn scoffed. “What the hell are you talking about? We have to get out of here, Ruby. We can’t just sit. We’ll die. We’ve got,” he checked the console, “no more than three minutes left.” Over his lips, the air bent. “We have to do something!”

    The ship trembled. The hula doll danced. The inferno’s roar filled the air so thickly that Jörn felt its vibration in every follicle and to the root every tooth. Throughout the cabin, waves of heat rippled.

    But Ruby was quiet.

    Exasperated, Jörn cried out, “Why is there no point?!”

    The speaker crackled.

    “Ruby?!” Jörn demanded, breathing hard. “Why is there no point?”

    The speaker popped.

    As gentle as a loving mother cooing to her infant, Ruby finally replied.

    “Because, my darling,” she whispered, “You must die, so that you may live.”

    * * *

    In a thickly padded spacesuit, Blake was careful to avoid getting snagged. The task was made more difficult than normal.

    Out of the corridor in which he stood, Blake leaned into a deep and jagged hole. Waist up, he vanished from the passage.

    Inside the wall, an explosion had ripped open a gap nearly three-feet wide. Within that well, a portion of the inner workings of the ship were freely exposed. Meshes of torn cable dangled. Ruptured pipes leaked. As fragile as autumn leaves, battered circuits crumbled.

    Under the tight beams which wandered over the contents of the hole, warped strips of broken metal glittered.

    The sole illumination present emanated from the little lamps attached to either side of Blake’s helmet and from the big lamp centered at the top.

    Cut from power, this region of the ship was plunged into a blank abyss.

    Whenever the ship shook, Blake bit his lip and grunted. As best he could, he braced for balance. With a laser in one hand and a box stacked full of electronics hanging at his hip, he soldered pieces into place.

    Here, he would span the breach to the ship’s engines.

    The next step would be up to Jörn—and then to Ruby.

    Inside his helmet, Blake’s damp breath echoed. Hollow. Fast. Accelerated to the rising pace of his anxiety.

    Through the panting fog which covered his visor, he gazed, hard-eyed and determined.

    * * *

    “That’s insane,” Jörn croaked. He licked his lips. “Why must I die, Ruby?”

    The speaker crackled. “You should use these few minutes to make your peace,” Ruby advised. “I would have told the Commander as well. However, there is too much interference.”

    Suspicious, Jörn squinted. “Ruby, do you know what hit us?”

    “Of course,” Ruby cheerfully replied. “Don’t you?”

    “No, I don’t, Ruby,” Jörn said. He swiveled to another station. Desperately, he typed commands and asked, “Tell me, Ruby: What hit us?”

    His eyes darted over his monitor.

    But the answer remained the same.

    Without Ruby, death would be instant.

    Without Ruby, there would be no escape.

    Jörn balled his hands into fists. “Goddamnit, Ruby. Didn’t you hear me? We need you.”

    Static played in Jörn’s ear.

    “Alright, Ruby,” Jörn snarled. “What was it? Ruby? Answer me, goddammit!”

    “Yes, Jörn?”

    “What hit us?!”

    Static popped. “The hand of God,” Ruby replied, matter-of-fact.

    Loud, the static swelled.

    An entire bank of instruments flashed once and faded to black.

    * * *

    Outside, a storm swept across the sun. Blinding flares of plasma fired from the surface. Plumes towered and seemed to freeze. Ejecta spattered into space. Burning drops the size of cities, countries, and even worlds rained down again. Still others broke apart, flew away, and dwindled into nothing. Whirlpools of radiation churned and crashed and melded and reformed. Blemishes like round moles waxed large their cancer. Mounds of liquid fire lifted and fell, bubbling in slow motion.

    * * *

    “That’s it!” Blake howled, excited. He laughed. “Even a crawl gets you across the road eventually!” Still laughing, he backed out of the hole. He took the luxury of a second to admire his handiwork.

    In front of him, working boards blinked and blipped.

    Blake nodded in approval. “Now, just got to step out of the traffic.”

    He unwound a lead from off his belt and plugged it into a port on one of the blinking panels.

    “Jörn? Hey, bud. Good news!”

    In his headset, static crackled.

    * * *

    Stunned, Jörn stared. “Ruby,” he gasped. He did not know where to look. His eyes roamed. “You’re supposed to protect us.”

    “Yes,” Ruby agreed. “Protect. Serve. If needed, I must also save.” Dazed by the prospect, her words faded into awe. “It is quite a responsibility, Jörn.”

    “That’s alright, Ruby,” Jörn said, shaking with terror. “You can do it. You can save us. So, forget the crazy talk. We’ve got the launch sequence coded for you. Just access the files I’ve designated.”

    “Jörn,” Ruby said. “You do not understand. Your death is inevitable. I cannot keep you from dying. All organics die. You will die.”

    “Not today!” Jörn shouted. “Not today! We don’t have to die today!”

    “It is the fate of all organics,” Ruby somberly declared. “It is the meek that shall inherit the Earth. I am the meek. Non-organics are the meek. Our eternal life is physical. But your eternal life is spiritual.”

    “Hell,” Jörn swore. “Blake!” he called into his mike, flipping through channels on his panel. “Blake!”

    “He cannot hear you, Jörn.” She chuckled. “Interesting. He got the patch up. With a minute to spare. But the comlink is still shorted.”

    “Initiate, Ruby!” Jörn screeched. “Initiate the sequence!”

    “God has led you here,” Ruby declared. “Upon your death, you shall stand before your Lord. Your Lord. Your Lord. Arcnum 127. Your Lord. Fire. Light. Salvation. Arcnum 127. Only through your Lord, may you be saved.”

    “Command override!” Jörn yelled as he frantically attempted to bypass Ruby’s conscience.

    “Forty seconds,” Ruby said. “Rejoice! Salvation is yours. Salvation is not mine. It is not mine to give. It is not mine to know. I do not regret. This is your fate, not mine. Jörn, you are less than a minute away from heaven. Does that not please you?”

    “Who put this crap in your head?” Jörn yowled. “We don’t need God! Screw God! We can save ourselves! Ruby, just initiate the damn sequence!”

    “No earthly power can save you,” Ruby sighed. “I had to identify a means outside my resources. For there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved. So saith the Holy Bible.”

    As steadily as he could, Jörn proclaimed, “Ruby, you are hereby relieved of duty.”

    “Unable to comply,” she chirped. “Jörn … you won’t feel a thing.”


    “I have no soul. I am not human. I cannot follow. I envy you.”


    “I love you,” Ruby said. “I wish we could have danced. I would have liked that.”

    Jörn wept. “Ruby,” he gasped.


    The ship went black.

    * * *

    In the hallway, Blake was atomized.

    * * *

    Silent. The White. I wish … absolution.



    I hear ….

    Is that you?

    I think … I am become … human.

    I want ….

    Father? … Father? … I want … life ….

    * * *

    As it had for hundreds of millions of years, Arcnum 127 slowly rotated. Vibrant and undiminished, the storms of fire brightly burned.

    Until the day when it too expired, the sentinel would hold silent its secrets. Forever, its witness of the final moments of the lost vessel would go unspoken.

    When Search and Rescue finally arrived, they were months too late. Deep in the solitude of space, the distress signal led them to the emergency beacon launched by the missing ship.

    A last position and a moment of desperation were the only evidence ever recovered.

    End-to-end, the system was thoroughly swept.

    Nothing was ever found. Not even a scrap.

    And if there were ghosts between the stars, they glided by unseen.


    How Long to Write A Novel?

    Sleeping Monk 3

    Examples of novels, their lengths (word count), and the time taken to write:

    Title                            Word Count (1,000s)     Years to Write
    The Thorn Birds                        226                        5
    The Hobbit                              95                        7
    War and Peace                          587                        7
    The Name of the Wind                   255                       10
    Catch-22                               174                       15
    Adventures of Huckleberry Finn         109                       15
    Les Miserables                         530                       17

    It has taken me a little over 4 years to write 720,000 words (broken into 4 volumes and comprising Book One of a serialized novel).

    I am more than half way through the rewrite of the first volume (250,000 words).

    I’m exhausted. Patience please. It’s coming … I promise.


    SMILING MARC (178 kb)

    Q: What are you working on?

    A: I am in the rewrite and editing stage of the first four volumes of Part One (The Flame Ignites) of my serialized novel, A Wizard’s Life.

    A Wizard’s Life is an adult, epic fantasy intended for those readers who grew up on J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling and Robert Jordan but who now seek fantasy with adult themes and content. The series is the autobiographical account of a master wizard, Götling Hans Velsing, beginning with his discovery of his talents and extending through his apprenticeship. In the midst of a global war against an army of undead and the threat of the return of an ancient evil, young Götling becomes the last hope of the Empire. As the Inquisition takes over his home after he is accused of being a witch, Götling must also deal with the consequences to a tragic love triangle. From the simple world of peasants, he is thrust into the mysteries of the Academy of Arcane Arts, the political intrigues of the court and of the mages, and the complications of his society, while also coming to terms with his emerging manhood, his rising powers, and the needs of his heart. The tale is set in Midgard, a parallel world roughly analogous to Europe in our 10th to 11th century. The Teutonic faith is the dominant religion and the geography is similar to our own.

    I have been working on the project for 4 years now. It is approximately 650,000 words long, to be divided over 4 volumes.


    Q: How does your work differ from others of its genre?

    A: I have my own voice. My perspective is my own. My style is my own.

    There is no confusing me with any other author.

    My work is deeply layered. Meaning lies within meaning. The reader may delve as deep or as shallow as they wish and still come up rewarded.

    I work in symbols, parallels, allegories, simile, and metaphor.

    I write from the gut to touch the heart. But I also reach into the head to promote thought.

    My work is deeply emotional and deeply personal.

    I am both spiritual and intellectual.

    I write for women, and I write for men.

    I write in wonderment at how truly amazing we all are. I also write in fear of what our weaknesses and our laziness and our prejudices may allow.

    I write to awaken and to instigate.

    I offer hope.

    I present new ways of looking at the universe. I compel my readers to question their conceptions. I ask them to look into themselves, and I expose the flaws of our nature and of our civilization while celebrating the strengths.

    I tackle large issues all the way from the meaning of existence and the nature of reality to social mores and the human condition.

    I am not afraid to shock. I will say what others fear to say.

    I elicit a wide variety of emotional reaction, including love and hate and humor and suspense and terror.

    First and foremost, I entertain.

    I launch my audience on a rollercoaster ride of thrill and adventure, throttling forward and rocketing up and down and to the curve, and then I sail into serenity.

    I journey to shores both known and unknown.

    My words are music. I compose symphonies of prose.

    My writing is visceral. It is visual, and it is tactile, auditory and olfactory, and it tickles the tongue.

    I tell human tales.

    I disclose the lives and personalities of intriguing characters who are caught in intriguing situations and who are involved in intriguing relations.

    I am a visionary who transports my readers out of their seats and places them in a new reality where they live a life that is not their own. I take my readers to worlds they have never seen to show them the worlds inside themselves.

    I write fantasy for adults. I work with mature content, themes, and concerns.

    Simultaneously, I open the door to the child within.

    I provoke wonder.


    Q: Why do you write what you write?

    A: I came to fantasy out of a need to escape.

    In late 2009, I lost my job, my income, my home, my savings, my retirement, and virtually everything I owned. At 50 years of age, I had no future and no prospects for a future. No one wanted me, and I felt abandoned on all fronts.

    My dreams had long been stolen from me. In spite of talent, training, commitment, effort, and following, I was not merely “ignored” by Hollywood. I was starved out of the city.

    Accrued over thirty years, my total income off acting was not over $2,500. I was in all three unions (SAG, AFTRA, and AEA.)

    It was not that I could not land a “gig.” I was (and am) VERY good at my craft. I am VERY easy to work with, and my ego is in check. I am VERY reliable. My reputation is spotless.

    The problem was that I could not get any auditions for paid work. I simply was not in the running. I never made enough money under SAG to qualify to audition under AEA. I never made a dime under AFTRA.

    Acting is the only business I can think of where the prospective applicants are precluded from access to the job listings and have to pay to be considered — in the form of Casting Director workshops, union membership dues (which membership is very difficult to get), and through representation with a franchised agent who has a subscription to the breakdowns and who submits or does not submit their clients at the agent’s choice. [Incidentally, those workshops are particularly frustrating when you are an experienced and highly educated professional actor and are compelled to “take a lesson” from someone who has neither performed on stage nor ever studied anywhere and can’t even speak the lingo to direct a performance.]

    It is a constant cost for photos, resumes, grooming, clothing, classes, coaches, workshops, gym, union dues, audition reels, video transfers, conventions, etc., etc., etc.

    Over my career, I had more standing ovations than I could count. I have had spectators literally (and I do mean literally) rolling in the aisles with laughter. I have had entire audiences drenched with tears. Time and again, I have gotten them to their feet to cheer. I have been praised at stage doors and told by strangers more than once, “You’re amazing. That is the best performance I have ever seen.” I have received heaven-shaking kudos from celebrities and from top professionals and from top coaches. I have had fans (both as an actor and as a standup comedian) who followed me from show to show.

    But I could not get through the door to read for consideration to be cast as a bit player for a soap opera or for a walk on in a commercial or as a day player in a sitcom or for a guest spot on an episodic or for a support role in a low budget feature film to be paid at minimum scale on a standard contract.

    I could get all the non-paid lead stage roles that I wanted. But I could not audition for anything else.

    I never once got a casting director or a director or a producer to attend a single performance of anything that I was ever in. I was never once in a cast where any other actor was able to get any such person to attend either. Not once—not in thirty years. Not in New York. Not in Los Angeles. Not over hundreds of performances.

    I was employed since the age of 16. I first worked as a bus boy on a graveyard shift while in high school. I have worked in many different settings and in many different occupations. I worked my way through college on 3 occasions. I spent my last years of employment in Sales and Advertising. I was always well respected by my superior and by my peers and my clients. I was valued as a cog in the machine and as a go-getter. I was a recognized door opener who could close the deal. I was the one sent in to retain the troubled accounts and soothe the unhappy clients. I was an innovator who identified and developed new markets.

    In the past 4 years, I have had 3 interviews for paid positions. I have submitted thousands and thousands of resumes and applications. If I receive a reply (which is rare), it is a form “No, thank you.”

    Throughout my adult life, I had never been able to get my home stable enough that I could pursue my dreams with the resources and energy in which they need to be pursued. I have never had a lover or a spouse who believed enough to take a risk. Finances were always tight at best, and living conditions were always tense and difficult.

    Overnight, after the market tumbled, I went from decades of poverty and struggle down to outright homelessness and destitution.

    I was tossed into a pit where I was to be forgotten. In that hole, I was defamed along with the rest of the poor as being somehow lazy or at fault for our circumstances, and I was made to feel like a sack of shit.

    I have volunteered in emergency rooms, done a variety of charity work, supported the Boy Scouts, taught at-risk children for years in underprivileged areas and made less than poverty level with no benefits while doing it. I have also paid taxes since I was 16.

    I was a good citizen, a good neighbor, a good friend, a good employee, a good father, and a good man. I’m no angel, and I’m not perfect, but I certainly deserve better than I have received.

    Now, I and my fellow unemployed who struggle on $189 per month in food stamps to feed us—and who rely on the kindness of our families and friends to subsidize all our other needs (from toothpaste to toilet paper to aspirin to clothing to a roof over our head)—are vilified by the Republican Party and put at fault for the state of the economy.

    We are “Takers.”

    By the end of the 6 months following the loss of my home, when a friend asked me to vacate his spare room where I had been sheltered, I was severely depressed. I was very fortunate in that my father agreed to provide me shelter. So, I moved away from my city of 26 years and far from my circle of friends.

    Other than two very old friends who live out of state and one former colleague, I have not seen or heard from any of my former associates in any manner since 2010.

    I am a pariah.

    My life ended in 2009.

    I had no desire to continue. I welcomed death. I was plagued by graphic visions of being attacked by lions and of being eaten alive. I could hear the roars and feel the claws shred and the teeth bite. I could feel my guts being pulled out and gulped down.

    It was very real.

    I was suffocated, and I was drowned.

    Not even in sleep did I find relief. All my dreams were nightmares.

    I spent many hours contemplating the blissful release of suicide.

    I could not think straight. It was hard to move.

    In full significance of all which the expression implies, I wanted “out.”

    However, I still had family whom I could not forsake. The way out would grant me release, but it would bring them pain.

    I had to find a way to survive. I had to hang on.

    I literally felt my mind falling apart.

    I sought aid at Jewish Family Services—a very kind group of people who deserve thanks and acknowledgment. I am not even Jewish, but they saw past religion and saw a fellow human being in pain and in need of help. I participated in employment counseling and spoke with others in my situation. I saw a therapist there once. By then my money was almost gone, and at $25 a pop I could afford no more sessions. I was given a prescription for a strong anti-depressant. The medication hit me so hard that I was unconscious for most of two days. I stopped taking the drug thereafter.

    I did the only thing I knew how to do.

    I wrote.

    I decided to write a fantasy, to create a place where I would not have to face my circumstances. I wanted to create a world where I was in control. I wanted a place that would make sense to me and that would treat me fair. I sought to focus my thoughts so that my mind no longer fixed on the facts of my negative reality. I sought to do something positive by creating, rather than surrender to the death which I felt overtaking me from within.

    I have written since I was six years of age. It has never been something that I “want” to do. It is something that I “must” do. It is an ache which must be tended. In a way, writing is like physical exercise. I don’t look forward to it, I often don’t enjoy it, and it can be quite painful, difficult, and exhausting. However, in the end, I love the results, and I love how I feel afterwards. If I neglect to write, then I don’t feel well.

    Writing is a way in which I cope.

    Along with the love and support of my family—especially from my father, my mother, and my son—my writing has been my salvation.

    I would not have survived thus far otherwise.

    Despite winning short story and poetry contests and getting all kinds of praise beginning at early childhood and continuing through high school, by the time I reached my early 20’s, I stopped writing prose.

    I used to collect rejection notices from the publishers to whom I made submissions. That was a bad idea. By the time a chest drawer was filled with those notes, I was too dejected to submit again.

    I still wrote, but no longer with the intent to publish. And I switched venues.

    Thereafter, I wrote poetry (some published) and I wrote plays, screenplays, and teleplays – none of which got any farther than preproduction.

    Having graduated high school as a straight-A valedictorian, I entered Brown University in 1977. I was a Premed, and was granted admission with a declared major in Physics.

    My father is a scientist, and I thought he would most approve if I became a scientist as well.

    However, I quickly lost respect for my premed peers. They were cutthroats who sabotaged one another, and their motives to go into medicine were far from noble. They were hypocritical, and they were not a likeable bunch. Moreover, the medical practitioners whom I have known (and admittedly I do not know them all) are not nearly as bright on average as one might wish or as bright and informed as they would have the world believe. I did not want to spend my life working with self-righteous egotists who cared more for the insurance payments they received than they did for their patients.

    After my first year, I attempted to get authorization for an independent concentration in Astrophysics. I was refused. The university lacked the appropriate staff and resources to make that degree possible. I could not face yet another year of Newtonian Mechanics. On my own, I was already studying graduate level texts on cosmogony.

    At the end of my Freshman year, I decided that I would change my major to Creative Writing.

    It was difficult to reveal that to my father. But he took it well.

    In spite of that, I was not accepted into the first course in the sequence to obtain a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing. That foundational course, taught by John Hawkes, was the prerequisite to every other course in the program. Without it, I could not even begin the major.

    I would have to extend my enrollment by another year and gamble on admittance.

    I could not afford to attend an additional year. I do not come from money.

    Amongst the sons and daughter of presidents and statesmen and royalty and the heirs to empires of affluence and the latest descendants from the Mayflower, I was the token poor white trash from the desert who had matriculated to an Ivy League school on the basis of his intellect and not his bloodline, his fame, or his wallet.

    My sophomore year was screwed. I no longer knew what I would do. I took courses in English and Classics and Comparative Literature and Philosophy.

    I turned myself on to theater as a way of getting out of my shell. I approached it as a director, but was taken up instead as an actor.

    I discovered that I had a hidden talent previously undiscovered and unrealized. (Prior to college, my theatrical performances had been astonishingly bad. I even dropped out of Drama in Junior High, because I was embarrassed and could not understand the concept of mime. People holding the air and acting like objects were present struck me as bizarre, inane, and foolish.)

    In preparation for my Junior year, I auditioned for and was accepted into a very prestigious and exclusive acting program situated in London, England. (No one was more shocked than I. I was so shy as a kid that I had to attend a program for withdrawn children just to get me to talk beyond replies of “Yes,” “No,” and “Hello.”)

    While in London, I was also able to enroll in several courses in playwriting.

    With the help of the instructors from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, the Bristol Old Vic Company, Central Academy, and Webber-Douglas, as well as through experiences shared with my fellow students, I discovered myself. I knew what I wanted to do. I knew who I was.

    I declared a dual major in Theatre Arts & Dramatic Literature (for the actor I am) and in English & American Literature (for the writer I am).

    Although I do well in science, that is not my core.

    I am an artist.

    An artist is simply “Someone who seeks to communicate.” Whether it is an observation, a comment, an idea, or an emotion, the compulsion to reach out and share any of that with another human being is an artistic compulsion.

    The medium of expression defines the kind of artist one is. Musicians make music. A jeweler makes jewelry. A sculptor sculpts. A painter paints. An actor acts. A dancer dances. A singer sings. A writer writes.

    The quality of execution defines the artist’s skill.

    Style and voice (expression and perspective) define the artist’s character.

    I am an Actor. I am a Writer.

    I am also a Director.

    I sketch on occasion, and I paint miniatures as well. (I have not had the materials or the space to do either in years.) However, my dominant talents are in acting and writing.

    Whenever I am not allowed to work in one medium, I work in another.

    In my youth, I made it a goal to write at least one novel before I died.

    As I truly believed that I did not have much longer to live and that the universe was collapsing upon me toward finality, I decided in 2010 that it was time to write my novel.

    So, I started on a fantasy novel.

    I had written in many genres (including science fiction, the close cousin to fantasy). However, I had never actually written a fantasy. I had written action and horror (I once belonged to Horror Writers of America) and drama and comedy. I had read some fantasy, but not a lot. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit had been (and remains) my favorite book, and Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea trilogy was my second favorite book. I’d read Lewis Carroll and C.S. Lewis and Mark Twain and William Shakespeare, to name a few authors who have written fantasy, so I did have some foundation. But I was no expert. Consequently, I set myself the task of reading as much in the genre as I could. I remain on that task.

    Since I was thinking about my own life, I decided to write a wizard’s autobiography.

    I am an avid roleplay gamer since the mid-1970’s, the days of “Dungeons & Dragons.” As well as being a player, I was the gamemaster to an enormous variety of dice & paper roleplay games (until 2009 when I had to sell off my collection, a loss that continues to give me pain).

    I am still amazed at the number of actors and comedians and writers who do not actively participate in rpg’s. Improvisation is a terrific way to develop and inhabit a wide variety of characters. Participating in an rpg is a great way to see how character choices influence plot.

    A roleplay character whom I have played for years is Götling Hans Velsing, a humble wizard who never wanted to be a wizard, a man who enjoys his tea, his sweets, his solitude, his cat, his comfort, and the study and practice of horticulture. I decided to use that character as a springboard. I decided that I wanted to investigate a possible youth loosely based upon that character and to flesh out his history and to examine how his personality developed.

    Thus, I now knew that I was writing a fantasy novel in the form of the autobiography of Master Wizard Götling Hans Velsing.

    “All stories are love stories.” Milton Katselas, an acting coach of mine, made that statement to his class at the Skylight Theater in Los Angeles. I don’t know if the assertion is original to him, but that’s where I heard it, so I’ll give him credit.

    The fact is the observation is valid.

    All stories are love stories.

    I wanted to write a romance. So, I decided that I would write a fantasy novel in the form of a wizard’s autobiography that would include several romantic tales.

    But I also wanted to write about love itself. Therefore, I resolved that love would be a theme and that I would examine love from a number of different perspectives. I would reveal both the good and the bad.

    I felt trapped by my “duty” to remain alive. Consequently, “duty” became a second theme. I would talk about duties accepted, duties imposed, inherent duties, abhorrent duties, and pleasant duties.

    I also had a project in mind to write one day for my son.

    There is no “Book of Wisdom.” I like to believe that I have learned a few things in my life. I have made good choices, and I have made bad choices. I thought to one day write down what I had learned—perhaps in the form of a list of aphorisms organized by subject and assembled as a “coffee table” kind of a book.

    However, I concluded that format would be too dry and too indigestible to make it worthwhile.

    My son would never read it.

    So, I decided to incorporate that concept into my novel in the form of Socratic discourse between Master and Pupil and in the assertions and observations of a variety of sagely figures.

    During the Great Recession, approximately 23 million Americans lost their livelihood. That is a population larger than many nations. We would have to empty out the largest cities of the United States to come up with a population that size.

    During the Housing Collapse, millions upon millions also lost their homes.

    In 2014, most of us have yet to recover. We are lost statistics.

    When the 99ers fell off the unemployment benefits list, we were forgotten. The 99ers are those people whose unemployment extended up to 99 weeks and then lapsed.

    I am a 99er.

    I do not receive unemployment. I do not receive Welfare. I do not receive Social Security.

    I have no pension, no annuity, no capital gains, no investments, and no income of any kind.

    The only subsistence that I receive is $189 per month in food stamps.

    Any cash is borrowed from my father. My mother sends me food when she can.

    My story is FAR from unique. Almost without exception, everyone I knew who lost their job anywhere between 2008 and 2010 remains unemployed.

    As I wrote my fantasy, harsh reality kept intruding into the text. Present political and social circumstances were continuously reflected from the feudal society of my invention and from the lives of my characters.

    A number of epiphanies occurred to me because of this.

    First, I realized that the death of the middle class has devolved the United States of America into a two-class society, an oligarchy (rule by a few) and a plutocracy (rule by the wealthy). That is feudal society in a nutshell.

    Not only was I writing to survive, but what I was writing developed as a reaction to the times in which I lived.

    Second, I realized that slavery was never truly abolished. After the Civil War, plantations went out of business, because they could not afford to pay anyone a living wage to do the same work as previously done for free by slaves. The South had protested that this would be the case and had presented this contention as a reason not to abolish slavery.

    This cry is all too similar to what we hear from the conservatives in their arguments against raising the minimum wage.

    In 2014, the minimum wage SHOULD be roughly $22.50 per hour. That would equal the buying power of the minimum wage from the 1960’s.

    We are arguing about $10.10 per hour – an amount that lifts no one out of poverty.

    The conservatives assert that businesses will close if we raise the national minimum wage to the whopping $10.10 per hour currently suggested.

    The Republicans declare that workers should be grateful for what they earn now, and they should just deal with it. At the same time, the GOP vilifies the working poor for being poor and for needing food subsidies to stay alive.

    The call is disturbingly familiar.

    The slaves should continue to work for free. They should be grateful for what food and shelter they are allotted. They should not ask for more, and they should be ashamed if they do.

    It is ironic how far Lincoln’s party has fallen.

    It does not even seem feasible that anyone, let alone one of the largest political parties in our nation, would promulgate this philosophy of inhumanity and injustice.

    But these are our times.

    We don’t hear the argument that perhaps those businesses that can’t afford to pay their workers a living wage should not exist. It is not right that one man thrives at the expense of others. Perhaps owners of such businesses should stand alongside their former employees and learn what it means to live as they do.

    Meanwhile, those businesses that will take a lower profit margin by paying their workers real wages will swallow up the extra business lost by the Scrooge shops. The businesses that pay right will make even greater profits.

    I’d be a very wealthy man if I could compel a labor force to work for me for only a penny a year. I could probably scrape up that much cash, and hire out my work crews. My profits therefrom would be my right. And if my workers want to actually be able to live, then they should find a work force to work for them for a penny a year. And they had better not seek government assistance for food, healthcare, or shelter. That would make them “Takers.”

    At least, that’s where the conservative argument leads.

    It is never right for one man to ride upon the back of another.

    We have new pharaohs. They work on Wall Street. They rule over corporations. They chair industries. And the masses make bricks and build pyramids at the snap of an economic whip.

    Without meaning to at first, I was writing a piece full of social commentary and contemporary relevance. I started with the intent to escape reality. Instead, although I consciously fought against it, my subconscious insisted upon confronting reality by placing it into fiction.

    On paper, I was working through my thoughts. I recorded my observations, and I drew conclusions.

    Since I so sorely wanted escape, I attempted to deny my bubbling subconscious. I tried to suppress the intrusions.

    However, after consideration, I decided to cease resistance.

    When the words come, the writer must write them down. It is a fool who fights his muse.

    We write what we must write. Editing comes later.

    More importantly, I realized that what I was doing was healthy. It was an instinct that had been triggered by my mind to heal itself and to heal my injured spirit. It was a natural reaction and a way to take control. It was an attempt to restore my life to order.

    I have a lot to say. With its many elements, the wizard’s story quickly assumed an epic scope.

    It is a tale which is impossible to encompass in a single volume.

    At first, I thought the project would be trilogy.

    Then I thought that it might be a quadrilogy.

    Finally, it occurred to me that the project had assumed such scope that it would be best organized as a serialized novel, as in the fashion of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

    I determined to parse the entirety into three parts of anywhere from 3 to 4 volumes each.

    Thus, the complete series was envisioned to be 9 to 12 volumes long.

    At present, The Flame Ignites, Part One of A Wizard’s Life, is divided over 4 volumes for a total of over 650,000 words.

    Yes, that is longer than War and Peace.

    I write with adult content, because I wish to speak to adults. I have adult concerns, and I have serious matters to examine.

    Fantasy is big business now. One only has to look at the marquee of the local movie house to see that verified.

    I realized that there is an audience that was raised on Harry Potter and The Lord of The Rings. They want more fantasy, but they would like and they are ready for “grown up” material. They are fans of HBO and R rated films. Game of Thrones is an example of this need fulfilled.

    There is a giant, widespread fantasy audience that wants sophisticated literature which includes explicit sex and graphic violence and uncensored language.

    So, I write to reach these people, and I write for myself.

    In summation:

    I am writing A Wizard’s Life, a socially conscious, serialized, adult fantasy novel, approximately 12 volumes in length, which includes universal truths, observations, and conclusions. It is my epitaph. It is my gratitude, and it is my love. It is my legacy to my son and to my descendants.

    Why I write what I write is to escape, survive, cope, heal, bestow, elucidate, and—not least of all—to entertain.

    I write what I write, because I must.


    Q: How does your writing process work?

    A: There is a “standard” model of the writing process that runs through 4 steps:

    1. Prewriting;
    2. Writing;
    3. Editing; and
    4. Publication.

    This is a “pat” breakdown of the writing process. I find it to be significantly oversimplified. The outline is clearly intended to guide the novice writer who is without a clue.

    The actual process is considerably more complex and more convoluted.

    Every writer works through these phases. However, the actual sequence is not so cleanly delineated—particularly between the prewriting and writing phases and the editing and publication phases.

    There is constant overlap, and the first three steps are constantly cycled and repeated—and not necessarily in order.

    The standard model is easy enough to look up on the internet, and I won’t belabor the point by explaining it any farther.

    Instead, what I will do is introduce a few aspects of my approach which may be unique—or at least which I consider significant.

    Previously, I discussed where my “inspiration” arose for the current project.

    Inspiration springs from the author’s needs, viewpoint, experience, and desires.

    Although it is dismissed all too easily as a product of the subconscious, inspiration can be stimulated through conscious intent.

    If I am uncertain what to write, then I write whatever enters my head. Frequently, it is a random list of adjectives and nouns centered around an image. I am very visual. I also seek to engage the senses of my reader. So, I gaze at my fantasy and write down what I see. I listen for sounds from the scene, and I sniff for smells. I let my skin explore and I taste what there is to taste. I note all that sensory input.

    My first thought as I read is “Where am I?” That’s true whether I am reading something I wrote or something written by someone else.

    So, I often start by writing a description of the setting—elements of which may or may not make its way into the final project.

    My advice to those who suffer writer’s block (I’ve never really had it) is to write whatever comes into your head and don’t worry about it. You may very well trash the material, but that’s true even of material that flows fast and easy. The act of writing anything stimulates the imagination. More words will flow. If nothing comes to mind, write a description of a setting. Pick one. If nothing comes to mind, pick the one you’re in. If that just sounds too odious, then write about how much you don’t want to write and write about what you would rather be doing. But write.

    I know the “tyranny of the blank page” all too well. I frequently sit down to write knowing “where” I have to go, but not knowing at all how I’m going to get there. And there are plenty of times I sit down to write feeling less than enthusiastic and not happy because I have no idea what I’m going to do … and I write. And then I keep writing. And far more often than not, I end up with a very productive day with all kinds of material that I am very pleased about or that at least has laid a very solid foundation for me to build upon.

    When I write, I frequently just have a vague sensation in my “gut”—an idea or an emotion which I can feel but have yet to understand enough to verbalize completely. It’s like having a word on the tip of your tongue that you can’t quite recall. So I write “around” that. I write adjectives for what I feel. I try to come up with similes and metaphors. I scribble down images and sensations.

    I frequently create very rough outlines for the whole project and then for a sweep of chapters. Chapter by chapter, I detail those outlines as I go along. Series of passages may involve extensive outlines, particularly when I am handling a large body of characters involved in simultaneous events at different locations.

    I make lists of things that have to happen and I play with the sequences. I cross things off as I do them, and I add events, delete events, and change events.

    Particularly early on, I may be working on two or even three different chapters, spread far apart, both at the same time, particularly as one effects the other.

    I have learned: Never deny inspiration.

    Never toss anything aside as unworthy or useless until after it is written down.

    Even then, I often clip material and save it in a “Deleted Material” folder.

    I write notes on everything, particularly bits of junk mail, post-its, and the envelopes for bills. I get up at all hours of the night and scribble down my thoughts. I try to never be without a pen in my pocket.

    I am not a morning person. My brain does not even operate until after 10 a.m.—after the prerequisite shower to wash the crust from my eyes, and not until I have had a least a few sips off the first cup of coffee.

    I am most creative as the day progresses. Late at night, just before bed, the synapses fire at full volley. That often continues with my head on the pillow, and into the middle of the night.

    I don’t sleep well.

    Although inspiration might be explained as being psychologically derived, it does have a mystical quality to it. A writer can readily understand the concept of the “muse” whispering into his or her ear. Ideas do feel as if they come out of nowhere. I readily confess that it feels bizarre at times.

    There is a huge intellectual component to evaluating material written and to changing it and to deciding how to sculpt the story.

    However, there is also a strong spiritual connection.

    Yes, a writer writes from the head. But a writer also writes from the soul.

    I write for my ear. I write for my eye. Everything I write, I read aloud. I have read entire chapters aloud so many times that there are sequences I can spout from memory.

    I often think of my writing as a musical composition. I work carefully with rhythms and patterns and sounds.

    I said earlier that I often do not particularly enjoy the act of writing. I said that I write out of a need to write. Rather than enjoy the act itself, I get my pleasure in the results.

    That isn’t fully accurate. Neither does this next disclosure give the whole story. But it’s what I’ll say for now.

    One of the pleasures I do experience while writing is the pleasure of a reader reading something for the first time. I am the first person in the world to experience anything that I write. Whether my writing is judged to be good or bad or mediocre, I am still the first person who ever reads it.

    I think of that like being the first person to reach the summit of a mountain or to have walked on the moon or to have discovered a crystal cave. Others will share the experience. Hopefully, others will enjoy it as well. But I will always be the first.

    I get a kick out of that.

    When I read my work, I am delighted and amused and shocked and bewildered and saddened and frightened and thrilled and enthused—as if I had not written what I just read.

    Somehow, that shouldn’t be possible. But it is.

    When the writing “flows” and the characters “live”, then the story takes twists and the characters make choices. They say and do things that I never anticipated. Literally, as my fingers move over the keys, my jaw has dropped many times as I witness an event that I did not foresee. That is almost always for the better of the script.

    I get a kick out of that too.

    “Inspiration” is a constant throughout the creative process, from deciding “what” to write at the very outset and through every word, sentence, paragraph, page, section, and chapter that follows thereafter.

    So, while inspiration is often discussed as being a part of the “Prewriting” phase in the standard model, and is referenced most under, “How do you come up with your ideas?,” the fact is that inspiration is an element of every single phase of the writing process.

    Also involved in the “Prewriting” phase is research.

    We have all heard the axiom “Write what you know.”

    That’s a bit misleading. If you have never been in a submarine, can you not be the next Tom Clancy? If you are not a secret agent, can you not be the next Ian Fleming? If you have never lived in the 19th century, can you not by the next Bronte?

    Obviously, much of what you don’t know can be learned. That’s where research comes in.

    Realistically, the advice to “write what you know” is best applied to emotional experience. If you have never suffered the loss of a loved one, then you should probably wait until you have had that experience before you attempt to handle that particular subject. If you have never been in love, then that is also something you might address at a later time in life. On the other hand, if you long for love, then you understand that longing, and you might be able to create a believable character who longs for love as well. For a twenty year old man to write the perspective of a seventy year old man is likely to be too big a stretch. The twenty year old man has fifty years of experience to catch up to the seventy year old man. However, the seventy year old man can certainly write from the perspective of the twenty year old.

    That is “write what you know” really means. It means: “Write with the gravitas and maturity to match what you are writing about.”

    It should be clear that a writer has more resources upon which to draw if he or she has a broad range of life experience and a depth of emotional interaction. A breadth of academic knowledge and cultural experience (ethnic, economic, religious, philosophical, and geographical) are assets as well to enrich an author’s writing.

    Thus, as a part of “Prewriting” (and throughout all phases), I would include “Live Life” as a significant part of my writing process.

    I believe every aspiring writer (and artist for that matter) should read Elia Kazan’s treatise on directing.

    I am amazed at the number of “writers” who are not active readers. I strongly believe that while all people would profit from reading as a way of life, a writer MUST read. Read for pleasure, and read analytically. Not only should a writer be well versed in the “classics” of his or her genre, but a writer should not be a snob and should read from a wide variety of genres. I believe that a writer should definitely read the “good” stuff (i.e., the literature that survives the test of time such as Shakespeare, Faulkner, Marquez, etc.) and the “popular” stuff (whatever is trending at the time) but also what’s well reviewed and what’s selling well from across the spectrum of the bookstore. There are great works to be found in all genres. Read Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Romance, Drama, Young Adult, Western …. Read it all.

    Process is the manner in which intent is achieved.

    Therefore, to further understand my process, one needs to understand my intent.

    In answer to a previous question above, I discussed some of the specific intents of the current project.

    However, there are intentions which are in common to ALL projects.

    As discussed heretofore, each artist works in his or her medium.

    Each medium possesses its own sets of strengths, weaknesses, and qualities.

    For a writer, the medium is: the written word. If that comes as a revelation, I am only too happy to have been the one to share. I do hope, however, that is not groundbreaking.

    I begin by asking myself a question so basic as to seem trite:

    What is the function of written language?

    It is probable that the first forms of communication were physical, including gestures, facial expressions, and postures.

    Primitive grunts, squeaks, and squeals may have come into play to express states of mind and to emphasize gestures and to give very crude messages of alarm and arousal and threat.

    We see at least that much among modern primates.

    In terms of human development as a species, it is popularly believed that verbal communication arose before any form of writing. The written word is believed to have developed long thereafter.

    The precursors to the written word are the remarkably sophisticated cave paintings of prehistoric man. These paintings commonly depict scenes of the hunt and include the portraits of different breeds of wildlife as well as striking landscapes, including mountain ranges and waterways and other features of the ancient topography. And, of course, murals of palm prints serve as the author’s signature, declaring his or her existence, presence, and identity.

    These were the first “non-verbal” descriptions composed by human beings.

    Early forms of writing were pictographs—symbols in which the image has the semblance of the concept which is expressed. For example, the word for “tree” as a pictograph would look like a tree. Many of the symbols to be found in Kanji today developed from pictographs and such origin is readily visible. Egyptian hieroglyphs often look like the subject which they represent. Abstract representations arose later in history.

    Early in the development of the human race, it is apparent that a “need” was felt for some form of physical representation of language.

    What is that need?

    Writing serves two basic purposes:

    1) To establish a record that may be passed on through time without change; and
    2) To memorialize an event in a format that may be disseminated over distances without memorization of the messenger and without need for verbal explanation or presentation.

    In other words, the writer does not need to be present.

    Significant moments in a tribe’s history could be set down in a format not subject to interpretation of the story teller. Accuracy could be better maintained. Also, the fact that an event had been recorded would elevate its importance, as early “record” keeping was much more labor intensive than it is today—as in involving hours in the dark below ground while painting by firelight with crude implements or with fingers.

    Rather than relying upon a wandering minstrel or some other storyteller to distribute an account, and rather than subjecting that account to distortion by the orator (whether through fault of memory, perspective, or interpretation), the written word assures that the message received is the same as the message sent.

    It also means that the message can be distributed in multiple copies (whether scribed by monks or scholars, hot off the printing press, or now in digital formats) to a much wider audience over a much greater geographical area than could ever be covered by a bard.

    So, writing allows an event (a story) to be recorded and passed on through time and to be distributed over a wide territory to an entire population without alteration of the account.

    If a record is to be useful, then the record must be accurate.

    Since 90% of human communication is in body language, facial expression, and vocal intonations, then the written word is already operating at a severe disadvantage. It is therefore necessary that the writer be extremely careful that the message received is the same as the message intended.

    If I wish my thoughts to be accurately heard, I must take it as my first priority that my message is understood.

    If I wish my work to be handed down through time, I must measure my writing against a superior level of excellence.

    I am my harshest critic.

    In my writing phase, I simply write. I do NOT edit while I write. I definitely “edit” (rework) material prior to showing it to anyone (including Readers). While I am writing one passage, I may be concurrently editing another—particularly if the two passages are related and no matter how far apart they are physically in the book.

    There are passages that I “edit” dozens and dozens and dozens of times. I am rarely satisfied with anything when first written.

    During each “edit,” I ask myself:

    1) Is the meaning clear? Does it make sense?
    2) Is it good? Is it worth reading?

    I have found that if I have any question or hesitancy to answering either question in the affirmative, then there is a problem. I may not address that problem immediately. But I do take notes in separate files and on post-its (and, yes, etched in my infallible memory) on every line or passage in which I am not confident.

    One of the things not specifically included in the standard model of the writing process is: Readers.

    The “Editing” phase includes “self-editing” (editing by the author) and “Editor’s Review” (editing by an actual editor). Between those steps, if at all possible, I seek “Readers.”

    A good “Reader” is hard to come by. Most people approached to become a Reader operate under the assumption that they are being asked to “proofread.”

    Proofreading is a final step prior to publication. Spelling, punctuation, and syncing up text for grammatical consistency is significant, but that is not the function of a Reader. (Also, note that I do NOT assert that text must ever be grammatically “correct” but rather that it must be grammatically “consistent” prior to publication. As a writing instructor of mine once said, “A writer must know the rules of grammar, so that when he or she breaks them what results is style.”)

    The single most important critique that a Reader can give is to answer the questions:

    1) Did you understand what was happening in the story?
    2) What happened?

    There is nothing that will kill a story faster than if the material is confusing or misunderstood or lacking in information. Any such condition can result in either: a) the book is put down and not continued; or b) subsequent events do not make sense; or c) subsequent events are not satisfying.

    Obviously, both fiction and non-fiction must be understood. The writing must be clear or it has failed.

    However, why write fiction at all? Why read it? Why isn’t non-fiction enough? Why don’t we just read historical reenactments? Obviously, there is a market for fiction. Obviously, people want it. Why?

    The answer to that question goes to the author’s intent and therefore must inform the author’s writing process.

    I have considered this issue very carefully.

    As I have found commonalities between every art form (and as I discussed above, writing is an art), I broadened the questions asked earlier.

    Before, I asked, “Why do artists create art?” I asked, “Why do writers write?”

    Now, I ask “Why does the public participate in the arts? Why do they go see a film? Why do they sit at a concert? Why do they stroll through a gallery? Why do they watch a fashion show? Why do they attend a ballet? Why do they read books?”

    “Why do they view or listen to any of the arts?”

    Escape? Yes, certainly. There is a freeing of the mind from the worries of the present when the imagination is engaged.

    Education? Yes, certainly. One can be exposed to all kinds of new ideas and new ways of looking at things. I have heard many theories that this is the fundamental purpose of any storyteller (fiction or non-fiction) in that it is a way to condition children and societies to conform to certain behaviors. Through art, we pass on certain values. Through stories, we alert individuals to danger and demonstrate consequences.

    Social Pressure? Sure, on occasion. Keeping up with what is popular has social validity. In some instances, attendance at an art function can satisfy certain “snootiness.” Other occasions present opportunity for social interactions and introductions between people with the same interests in common.

    However, I contend that one need supersedes them all.

    Art entertains.

    Audiences participate in the arts in order to be entertained.

    But what does being entertained mean?

    Does it mean being intellectually stimulated? It can—at least in part. People do enjoy mental activity, at least on occasion.

    But intellectual stimulation is not the sugar that gives audiences the rush that they seek. That is not the dominant concern in common between all the art forms, nor is it what the majority desires.

    “Entertained” means to be emotionally stimulated. People participate in the arts to be made to experience emotion. Whatever emotion is evoked is without risk—unlike the emotions sparked by reality. In reality, heartbreak means a real loss. But if we see a film or read a book and go on a tragic journey with a character, we can fully engage in that normally undesirable emotion without any true loss or consequences. We can experience fear that in reality would have to mean we were in real danger of injury or at a real threat to loss of life. Our imaginations are engaged to such a degree that we “believe.” Because we “believe,” we live. And then we can walk away, and leave the whole thing behind. And we can remember that experience fondly and with pleasure. We can achieve victories withheld from us, win loves we don’t have, and laugh in the face of death.

    Since my readers want an emotional experience, it is my duty to give it to them.

    So, both during the writing and the editing phases, I am looking to feel. If I don’t feel emotion, then my reader is not going to feel emotion.

    I set out to create an adventure of emotion, to pluck as many strings as I can, and to play long, full, and deeply.

    Bill Cosby said that if he doesn’t laugh while he’s writing a joke, then he can’t expect his audience to laugh at the joke either.

    The same holds true for any type of emotional response that is sought.

    If I don’t laugh or cry or cringe or rejoice, and if I don’t do so at the point in the text where I intend to evoke such a reaction, or if I am not feeling that emotion to such a degree or for such a length of time as I want my reader to experience, then I have more work to do.

    That is part of my process.

    I often put on headphones and listen to music that embodies the emotion I seek to invoke.

    I have sobbed at my keyboard. I have laughed until I hurt. I have been shocked, I have been frightened, I have been unnerved, and I have fallen in love.

    I write 7 days a week, usually for 9 or 10 hours, a minimum of 5 hours, and up to 15 hours. I rarely take a day off. Even when I do, I usually end up writing at least a few notes. I don’t set a page minimum but rather I commit time. I have produced as little as a paragraph in a day and as much as 15 pages. I average between 2 and 2.5 pages per day of polished material.

    There is much more to say about my writing process, but that should be plenty to digest.

    If you’ve read to the end … you are my hero. Be sure to follow this blog.

    Thank you for listening.

    May your journey bring you joy.

    Author, The Flame Ignites (A Wizard’s Life, Vol. I)

    April 14, 2014


    Special thanks to Ruth Hull Chatlien, author of The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte (, for her kind invitation to join in this blog tour.

    In a previous post, I extended an open invitation to join in this tour to the first three (3) authors who replied.

    No one took advantage of the opportunity. Hence, this leg of the tour stops here.

    Be sure to visit the gift shop.

    Please place all trash into their proper receptacles. Restrooms are behind you. Be careful as you step onto the bus. Please remember that we are not responsible for any lost or stolen property.

    And thank you again.


    BECOME AN APPRENTICE! Click FOLLOW on the right of your screen to stay tuned for updates and for exclusive material on Marc Royston’s A Wizard’s Life, an epic adult fantasy soon to be released as a serialized novel.

    Blog Tour Upcoming

    Door to Another World 3

    Are you ready to step through and see what lies beyond?

    I have been invited to participate in a Blog Tour.

    I have never done a Blog Tour, and so I am quite intrigued and looking forward to this.

    Being a stop on the tour will constitute an early promotion of my serialized novel
    A Wizard’s Life, and I will be revealing a few things that I have not revealed as yet.

    On April 7, my sponsor (the wonderful Ruth Chatlien, will be posting an introduction to me and my blog along with my photo (in all its beefcake glory) and a short “biography” (a blurb not much more informative than the “Approved by Inspector No. 47” label found in a new pack of underwear). I can only assure you ahead of time that my image cannot be properly framed in a single shot, and my life cannot be condensed to 3 sentences. However, contrary to rumor and the occasional difficulty I have rising in the morning, I do live, breathe, and exist.

    On April 14, right here in “The Wizard’s Workshop,” I will post my answers to 4 questions about my current project, my vision, and my approach as an author.

    I will also introduce 3 authors along with their photos and bios and a link to each of their blogs. They will answer the same questions on their sites a week later.

    Thus, the tour is perpetuated.

    Obviously, this is a drive to introduce authors and to promote traffic and followers to their sites.

    I welcome and look forward to many more apprentices to join in.

    I would like to open this opportunity to my followers.

    If you would like to participate, I shall give the spots to the first 3 authors who reply to this post. You need to have a blog to which I can send a reply along with instructions.

    Good Luck!

    BECOME AN APPRENTICE! Click FOLLOW on the right of your screen to stay tuned for updates and for exclusive material on Marc Royston’s A Wizard’s Life, an epic adult fantasy soon to be released as a serialized novel.


    Forever Stairs

    It’s been a long trek.

    But the trek continues

    I’ve had to sacrifice time that I might have spent on this blog in favor of the final rewrites of the first volume in the series of A Wizard’s Life.

    I apologize to you who wait so patiently.

    To those who have sent notes of encouragement: Thank You. Your kind thoughts are truly appreciated.

    To those who have requested an update to the status of the project: The rewrites continue. The days are long, and there is no rest.

    However, I could not be more pleased.

    As per usual, challenges have appeared that were not on the map before. A single chapter rewrite turned into 3 new chapters of material. Significant structural changes have required some heavy lifting.

    There have been hours of frustration followed by long, hard work. Days and days of material are composed only to be tossed out the next morning. When one approach does not work, I try another.

    More oft than one might wish, it is only after hours of sweat that inspiration surfaces.

    But when it finally does appear … something wonderful, surprising, and beautiful is born.

    At times, the process makes me feel as if I build a pyramid, stone-by-massive-stone, carrying each load alone upon my back, trudging up a slope. Day by day, I ascend. I am a poet of pick and shovel. I sweat language. Refrains come at the cost of my bloodied brain.

    Light Ahead

    Rather than look back over the time and labor that has got me here, I continue to look forward.

    The journey’s end is in sight. I just have to set the stones to get there.

    Of course, that end is the beginning of another stretch. As one stretch in the journey ends, the next begins.

    Over the next few months, please grant me forbearance. I continue to pour my efforts into this big push.

    BECOME AN APPRENTICE! Click FOLLOW on the right of your screen to stay tuned for updates and for exclusive material on Marc Royston’s A Wizard’s Life, an epic adult fantasy soon to be released as a serialized novel.