The Captain and The Storm King of Dunderberg Mountain

Here’s yet another fractured fairy tale. I hope to include this one in my Watchmage Chronicles collection, as it’s a variation of an old folk tale of New Amsterdam (the name of New York when it was first colonized by the Dutch).

Note: My Captain Antony Van Corlear is not-so-loosely based off of the real Anthony Van Corlaer…or likely real, anyway.

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The Frog and the Hen: Another Fractured Fable

Once again, I am adding another fable to my collection. I will probably add this one to an anthology I’m working on about stories, fables, and fairytales from the Watchmage Chronicles’ world. Now that The Watchmage of Old New York and Cold Iron are both out, I can work on both these and the third book, The Fiddler’s Bow.

Oh, and if you’d like to jump in on The Watchmage Chronicles, the first book, The Watchmage of Old New York, is only 99 cents. Both books are free if you have Kindle Unlimited.

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Once upon a time, though it happens every day, there lived a frog named Bud. He lived in a swampy pond, not far from a chicken coop. He slept all day and spent all night drinking fly-flavored beer (Coors Flight: “the Buzzy Bullet”) and croaking as loud as he could with his frog buddies, Err and Weis. The croaking was so loud that it kept the chickens awake, and sometimes Weis would play his banjo, making the party even louder.

One day, Henrietta the Hen made a racket, clucking away as loud as she could. Annoyed, (because how dare someone keep him awake) Bud hopped over to the chicken coop.

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Update Update Update…Update

If you couldn’t tell from the title, this is an update. A bunch of cool writing stuff happened in the past few days.

My short story “Skully” is now in the anthology Twisted Tales: 15 Literary Lies and Epic Yarns, published by Readers Circle of Avenue Park I’m in very talented and established company here, and I’m tickled magenta…which is even more tickled than pink.

You can buy it on Amazon for $2.99, or you can get it for FREE by joining their mailing list here

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Watchmages and the Star of Nine

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Watchmages are Wizards that have taken on a role of leadership in the magical world. Each Watchmage rules over a region or a large city, where they are responsible for the regulation, assistance, and justice for all supernormal elements in their jurisdiction.

Watchmages are either appointed by the Star of Nine–the Wizard’s ruling body–or ratified by them. They are expected to abide by the Star of Nine’s rigid laws, and any Watchmage that does not is punished harshly. There’s a saying that “there are no ex-Watchmages.” This is not exactly true, as Watchmages do resign (forever is a long time to hold a position), but Watchmages are not cast out for failure, they are executed.

There are some Watchmages that are not connected to any city or region. They wander the world, dispensing justice as they see fit (though within a Watchmage’s jurisdiction, they (usually) defer to the Watchmage. They are called Shadowmages, and they have much more leeway within The Star of Nine’s Law.

The Watchmage’s symbol is a cane or staff, usually tipped with a Fourth Way Enneagram within a circle. Some have a separate sigil as well.

The Star of Nine rules over the Watchmages. It makes the Laws that all supernormals must abide by, and has final judgment over all. Although all Wizards have a say in the Star of Nine’s doings, older wizards carry the most gravitas and have the most control.

Though The Star of Nine exists to keep the status quo, there are many factions within and political infighting. One might say that it’s the infighting that keeps the status quo.

The Star of Nine’s symbol is an Fourth Way Enneagram without a circle.

A Watchmage’s Duties: A Watchmage’s primary duty is to prevent Warp within their domain. This means keeping a close watch of the Magelings and Dwellers in an area, as an errant spell or visible Dweller can warp and tear the Veil.

Other duties include providing assistance and acting as judge to the supernormals in their domain, and defending the domain from hostile supernormals such as elemnetals, werewolves, vampires, and the undead. They also investigate rumors of new supernormals, usually the product of Warp or magic gone wrong.

While Watchmages have the right of judgment within their domain, they sometimes pass prosecution of major crimes to the Star of Nine.

History of The Watchmages: Watchmages have existed as long as Wizards, though their duties and the name was never defined until the Star of Nine formed. The Wizards acted as leaders and shamans in small tribes, and later on court magicians, kings, or even gods on Earth.

The misuse of magic by Wizards has led to great calamities in the past, such as destruction of whole civilizations. After the Crusades, the oldest Wizards formed the Star of Nine to govern themselves. Since then, there have been no major breaches in reality, though thousands of magelings and Dwellers have been “purged” from our side of reality.

The population surge and technical advances since the Renaissance have changed the nature of the position. Watchmages are often overwhelmed with growing populations, and new inventions, and a changing world that they find hard to understand.  Like Dwellers, they are often lost in the new world, using laws and methods that no longer apply. Magelings have become both a greater threat and greater ally than ever before, for they understand the modern times.

The Star of Nine’s Duties: As mentioned above, The Star of Nine oversees all of the Watchmages and Shadowmages. They appoint Wizards to these positions, transfer them, and “remove” them when necessary. They make all of the Laws and hold trials for Magelings that commit grievous crimes (such as extreme Warp or creating new supernormals).

When necessary, they create new laws and weigh the virtues of new spells and curios, deciding whether to allow or outlaw them.

Although they’re banned from doing so by their own laws, The Star of Nine is very involved in mortal politics. Most of this puppeteering comes from the oldest Wizards whose power renders them free from the laws. Some have lived so long that they see humanity as nothing more than pieces on a chess board.

History of the Star of Nine: The Star of Nine formed after the Crusades in response to Wizards causing and using political upheaval for their own benefit. The original council consisted of nine members, but in 1653, under pressure from the Watchmages, they expanded it so that all Wizards have a say in the government. The original nine members still have the most power by way of influence and magical might. The downside of this equality is that The Star of Nine is incapable of taking swift action, at least with everyone’s knowledge. Instead, it created many clandestine actions and conspiracies within.

The Star of Nine has had trouble dealing with the modern world. The oldest members have the most difficulty. As such, The Star of Nine is approaching a tipping point where they must either adapt or implode.

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Philosophy Explained Through Art…and The Matrix

I enjoy reading about philosophy. I think it’s a writerly thing, especially speculative fiction writers like me. After all, it’s our job to ask “what if?” “What if a great power is awoken, and the only way to stop it is by throwing his ring into a volcano?” “What if there’s a secret wizard society, and children go to a special school to study magic?” “What if there’s a world where the seasons can last for decades?” You get the idea.

I found this page very interesting. It’s almost a crib sheet to the major schools of thought, explained through art. Of course, you don’t have to follow one school exclusively. I find myself shifting from one to the other. Such is the nature of a thoughtful mind. Debating yourself is one of the best ways to learn.

I’ve been thinking about the “Brain in a Jar” theory lately. To summarize, we may be brains within a jar and our reality is nothing but an illusion (like The Matrix). Maybe we are avatars in some virtual reality game, or characters on a TV show? We have no way of proving or disproving this, since we are prisoners of what we can perceive, existing in our own private universes. If we can’t perceive something or perceive it’s effects, then we can’t prove or disprove its existence.

Dammit, I am!

Sometimes I wonder if this theory pertains to fiction. What if we aren’t the brain in the jar, but the ones who put the brain in the jar? When the aliens create The Matrix, are they creating a true reality for us to exist within?

The answer I keep coming to is that maybe it’s not real as we define reality, but it does exist. To exist, something must be perceived or it’s effects perceived. This chair exists in my reality because I see it. The wind exists because I feel it and see it blowing leaves around. That damn jackhammer outside exists because I hear it and see it shattering the sidewalk outside my goddamn apartment (sorry, just frustrated at the construction crew that’s been outside for over a month). Thoughts exist too because others can perceive or be affected by them.

Fictional characters may not be “real,” but they do exist. They affect our thoughts. They make us laugh and cry. They empower us or bring us despair.

We may be characters in someone else’s book or video game or whatever, but maybe not. Regardless, this reality is real because it’s real to me. I exist because I think. Would I exist if someone else thought of me? If a tree falls in the woods…

So if aliens have our bodies hooked up to weird tubes and created a virtual reality or not, I have to assume that it exists either way. We all do. Except for Keanu Reeves. He’s the One.

Like my posts? Follow my website or “Like” my facebook fan page. You can also purchase my debut novel, Song of Simon, at any online bookstore or a real one (they both exist).

How I learned to stop worrying and love the serial

I originally wrote this for the online novel blog, but I felt it was time for a repost

Where I’m Coming From

I’ve been writing professionally (or trying to write professionally) for almost fifteen years, but online serials are still new to me. When I started, the paradigm was print. Literary journals were the way to go, and they were all in paper and only taking the fanciest of the fancy. It was not an easy way to break in.

By the time that mags moved to the Internet, I was already convinced that I was awful and needed to get a real job (“get a real job” being the meanest thing that you can tell a writer), so I missed out on this initial orgy of zine activity. I got into it late, and I got in with reservations. Even now, I miss the scent of newly printed paper…sigh.

The Way We Write Now

It was last autumn. I had just finished my first novel, Song of Simon , over the Summer, and I was looking for a new project. Song of Simon is an intense novel and writing it was emotionally draining. This time I wanted to write something a bit more lighthearted.

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I guess I didn’t get out of that novel-writing state of mind. What began as a short story ballooned into a massive 16,000 word novelette, now known as The Watchmage of Old New York. I would’ve given up on it (it’s near impossible to sell something that size, and I have bills to pay), but I was having too much fun exploring the Watchmage world.

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So now I was stuck with this albatross of a story hanging around my neck. No mag would have her, certainly no paying mag (I make it a point to only sell to paying mags. That magazines will pay nothing for our work and act like we should be grateful is a crime. But that is a different story).

I use Duotrope to find markets (you should too) and that’s where I found Jukepop Serials. A paying market that takes long stories? Sign me up. It hadn’t occurred to me to serialize Watchmage, but how could I resist?

I was biased against serials, I’m ashamed to say. I was a “professional” and serials were for fan fiction. I was an idiot.

Serials are not a new paradigm, they are the old one. Charles Dickens used to write serials, so did Bradbury and Edgar Rice Burroughs. I never realized this until I immersed myself into one of my own.

Healthy, Whole Grain, Serial

If I was going to boil serial writing down to three rules (and I will), they would be these:
1)Outline everything
2)Master pacing
3)Keep a healthy buffer

Outline Everything: I believe in doing this for everything you write, even blog posts. But outlines are especially important when you’re writing a serial. Once you post an installment, it’s there forever. I feel that going back to previous entries and changing them is unfair to your readers. Make sure that what goes on that page is exactly what you want.

This includes noting the important aspects about characters, plot, and the world of the story. In Watchmage, I found that I was uncomfortable with some of the main character’s characteristics. Looking back, I would’ve written him differently (which I am doing in the novelized reboot). You can avoid my mistake with preparation.

Outlining doesn’t stop once you start writing. One of my favorite things about writing is all the interesting people, places, and things that naturally pop up as the story goes on. Make sure you add these to your notes. Don’t forget anything, because you never know what’s gonna be important a few story arcs down the line.

That said, don’t make your plot outside too rigid. Think of it more as drawing with dots, and then connecting the dots. As long as you get from plot point to plot point, it doesn’t matter how you got there.

Master Pacing: Reading online is different from reading in print. For some reason, readers will only read a certain amount before they fade out. The big complaint that I have heard is eye strain. Regardless, a good chapter in an online serial is shorter than one in a print book.

I think that 1000-1500 words is a good length for an installment. You should be able to end at the end of a scene or a cliffhanger. Don’t rely too much on either. Cliffhangers keep the reader coming back, but they get old quickly. Think “tension and release.”

The major difference between a serial and a novel is that a serial is ongoing, where a novel has a finite end. This does not, however, mean that a serial is an open-ended mess.

I grew up reading comic books and watching pro wrestling, both of which I still love. Both are great examples of serial structure. A comic might go on for decades, but it’s broken up into story arcs. A story might go on for a few months, reach its conclusion, and then move on to another arc. Wrestling is the same way. Randy Orton might be feuding with Daniel Bryan now, but in a couple of months (after Bryan does the J.O.B…wrestling fans get it) he might feud with Cody Rhodes or Fandango (yes, there is a wrestler called Fandango). This is the way that your serial should be constructed. It provides closure for the reader without ending it.

For example, Watchmage currently has two story arcs. I could easily write more, but I am rebooting it. You could read one arc and be satisfied, or you could keep going. Readers need closure. In other words: don’t get carried away by your own awesomeness.

Keep A Buffer:

Writers will argue about the length, but you should always keep a buffer of at least a few weeks. This means that you have a few weeks’ worth of story written ahead of your installments. For Watchmage, I kept an eight week buffer.

Writing is like starting a hose with your mouth: you have to do a lot of sucking before things flow. The problem is, too many serial writers post those first few sucks before they realize that they don’t fit. This is why I keep a buffer. It gives me a chance to look back and edit my work before posting it. Remember: what has been posted cannot be unposted (ok, maybe it can, but it shouldn’t).

Another reason is because life happens, and sometimes you won’t be able to hit your deadline. The buffer allows you wiggle room for when you get the flu or your dog eats a Cadbury bar.

I hope this little insight into my conversion to serial writing, and the methods to my madness, have helped. If you disagree, that’s fine too. Everyone works differently, don’t be ashamed of your own technique. Be brilliant.

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