Cool Kids

At some time in our lives, I think we all want to be in with the in-crowd. There’s an allure to being part of a group that’s seen as cool or with it. The things that define the group—the activities, the accouterments of coolness—vary by time and place, by circumstance and context. Today’s guest tells us about his relationship with cool. Nathan Lowell presents…

P. C. Haring

I suppose I should start out with a confession about myself and I hope you’re sitting down for this one—

Growing up, I was never one of the cool kids.

I was the last one picked on any school yard team game. While my classmates surrounded themselves with dozens of people at all time, I could count the number of friends I had on one finger, and none of them were cool kids either. When I finally did join a team in high school, it took me almost three years of non stop working to earn the respect of my teammates. When I was in college, while my entire floor was out partying drunk on Halloween, I was studying for my music theory exam and looking at the accounting major. My Friday and Saturday nights were spent in dormitory basements throwing 20 sided dice to see if I hit the evil dragon with my war axe.

I was one of THOSE people…

Shocked? Surprised?

No, neither was I.

I was never truly grounded in reality. My mind always wandered to vast outer space, worlds beyond our own, and the huge ships that traveled between them on amazing adventures. For some reason, I felt more comfortable in the made up worlds of my mind, than I did in my own shoes in my hometown. The few friends I had kept me from becoming a true social outcast, but while my high school classmates surrounded themselves with hordes, I only had one or two or three at any given time. But that was easy. We were all like minded and so when I started up a message board RPG on the internet, they were more than happy to join and play.

But after one too many RPGs died away due to lack of interest, and one too many characters withered on the vine, their backstories (carefully crafted to give the DM an opportunity to explore hanging threads in side plots) unexplored, I grew tired of building characters only to not be able to tell their stories.

Soon after one of these RPGs died, I found myself with a dilemma…enrollment for next fall’s semester was coming up and my existing class schedule was three credits short of a full time course load. I had not yet declared a major, and the Gen Ed and minor classes I needed were unavailable. I needed an elective…that I could do to fill the schedule, something not too hard that I could blow off if I needed in lieu of the more important classes for my minor. I started paging through the course catalogue and it showed itself up —

Reading and Writing the Short Story.

I shrugged and signed up.

Ultimately I walked into that short story course not knowing what to expect. Sixteen weeks later, I walked out with five writing assignments, all focusing on a character from one of those dead RPGs, and two ‘short stories’ that read much closer to a chapter 1 and 2 of a novel. Oh and an additional 8 chapters of said novel written. By the end of that academic year, I had another five chapters written and by the following summer I finished the last five chapters of my first book.

So cool! I wrote something 98,000 words long! Those college term papers can go screw themselves now! Twenty pages in the wake of 98,000 words is nothing. Nothing I tell you!

But I’ve got this manuscript. What do I do with it now?

A lot of edits and revisions ensued. More than I cared to admit. Writing was definitely a solitary task, but I found myself driven to make the project better. Even so, by the time I came to the completion of the project I had a manuscript in the proverbial drawer and no idea what to do with it.

Then I was introduced to podcasting and I realized there was a market out there for free fiction in audio form. One thing has led to another and here I am today. I have one novel finished, another three on the way, and at least three others simmering in a brainstorm. I have met an impossible number of people along the way— writers, podcasters, scientists, lawyers, designers, developers, listeners, readers, fans, and more.

Say it Proud. Screw the crowd!
-Felicia Day “Game On”

I used to hide my geeky nature. It wasn’t cool. I used to hide that I spent hours in my dorm writing while my classmates were out getting so drunk they wouldn’t remember it the next day. I used to accept that writing was ‘a solitary process’. But no more.

Today my geeky, writing, podcasting, accountant, viola playing nature is a badge of honor. It’s my own personal xBox award (Achievement Earned: Geek! — 10G).

What started as a ‘solitary process‘ of writing and podcasting has exploded into a fantastic community of love and support. I have met some of the best people I will ever know. I am simultaneously honored to call them friend, and humbled when they say the same of me.

I am not one of the cool kids. I am not a well known, New York Times best selling author. Will I ever be? I don’t know.

But I am P.C. Haring, accountant, writer, podcaster, and musician. I am doing my thing, meeting people, and no longer will I hide that badge of geek pinned to my chest. This is who I am and who I want to be.

Being ‘uncool’ has never been so cool.

Learn more about P.C. Haring on his blog. His novel–Cybrosis–is now available online wherever fine ebooks are sold.

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Rock the Boat

Even in the most exotic of situations, we can find ourselves caught up in the familiar. The pressures of the day-to-day push us onto the path of least resistance and put blinders on our awareness of the world around us. Today’s guest has experienced this phenomenon first hand and reminds us that–sometimes–we need to rock the boat. Nathan Lowell presents…

Darusha Wehm

For the last three years I’ve had the great fortune of living on my sailboat and traveling the Pacific. In that time I’ve lived in twelve countries, picked up a few words in five languages (not counting American and kiwi English) and written five novels.

All my life I’ve had a yen to travel. When I was a teenager and trying to figure out what I wanted to do as a career, my mom asked me instead to think of what I’d like to do for fun, then find a career that let me do that. I realized then that I wanted most to travel, which let to a brief flirtation with the foreign service, resulting in a degree in political science, an intimate knowledge of the Canadian political system of the early 90s and a strong aversion to foreign policy.

My plans for the diplomatic corps sputtered and died, but my love of travel certainly didn’t. I’ve often wondered if my wanderlust is perhaps because I’m an avid reader. To me, the impulse to travel is very similar to what drives me to devour books – both take you to new worlds, introduce you to new people, allow you to share different ways of living.

In my travels I’ve had the incomparable experiences of climbing the steps of ancient Mayan temples, swimming with sealions, stingrays, sharks and whales, and seeing the sun sink beneath an endless plate of blue ocean, myself and my partner the only human beings within view. I’ve been in a shipwreck (not my ship!) and been the first European-decended person ever encountered by a young child. On the other hand, through books I’ve ridden along on missions into deep space, hunted for spies and been a fly on the wall in families as singular and extraordinary as real people.

The experiences are different, of course. Certainly, travel is more immediate than reading fiction: when the wind is howling, the spars are creaking and salt water is smashing onto the hull like Poseidon’s mighty fist, if it’s happening in a Horatio Hornblower story, I can always just put the book down. When it’s happening while hanging on to the wheel while crossing an ocean in real life, taking a break is less easy.

But, then, fiction can take you to places even a sailboat can’t. One of the reasons I chose the nautical gypsy life was because of a lifelong desire to take to the stars. Sadly, space travel still is the purview of only a few. So, I chose the next best thing – a life at sea. Luckily, I can still visit the vastness between the stars in stories that span the galaxies of imagined universes.

However, one of the surprising things I’ve discovered in my travels is that regardless of how far a person roams, it is still possible to get stuck in a rut. Those of us who travel on our own boats tend to congregate in anchorages and marinas, and we often see the same folks from one port to another. This is a wonderful situation in many ways, being a part of what is functionally a small community that splits up, moves and reforms in a slightly different configuration every few months.

It is fantastic to run into friends we’ve known for years in all kinds of places, and the security which comes from this sense of community can’t be overestimated, particularly when something breaks in a remote place (and those are the only places where things ever break). But having a built-in community wherever we go has its pitfalls – it’s easier to stay with the friends you already have, rather than go exploring or meet new people. And, more dangerous, it’s easy to forget the wondrousness of where we are when the immediate view is of the same boats we’ve seen for years.

This kind of ad-hoc community has often reminded me of fandom – fans of a particular author or genre can find great camaraderie with other enthusiasts, and it’s wonderful to be able to talk about my favourite books and authors with like-minded readers. Indeed, I’ve found lots of other great reads from fellow fans that way. But I’ve also found that when I spend a long time reading in just one genre, I tend to forget the rest of the fiction world and can easily miss out on all the other great stories the world of fiction has to offer.

With ebooks and audiobooks just a click away, each of us with a decent internet connection has a inexhaustible supply of stories in any genre or style to choose from. Like for travellers, it’s easier to stick to the familiar mother ships rather than venturing out in the jolly boat and landing on unfamiliar shores. But the rewards for venturing beyond our comfort zones are the very reason we seek adventures in the first place.

Stories introduce us to new people and places and allow us live in those worlds for a short time. As we do, we learn about ourselves in the process, and maybe even have a fun time doing it. In order to make the most of those experiences, sometimes we all have to get off the boat, go ashore and take a look at what’s behind that weird-looking old tree. Because it is the variety in the world – and in fiction – that makes the magnificent stories of life.

M. Darusha Wehm is the two-time Parsec Award shortlisted author of the novels Beautiful Red, Self Made and Act of Will. The third book in her Andersson Dexter series of SF detective novels, The Beauty of Our Weapons, will be released in early 2012. You can get pre-release copies of the ebook and paperback or limited edition signed hardcovers by supporting her release fundraising campaign at IndieGoGo.

Since 2008, she has lived on her sailboat Scream, sailing from the west coast of Canada to the US, Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Ecuador, across the Pacific via French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand and Fiji. She is currently at anchor back in New Zealand.

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Voices In Our Heads

Whatever the creative endeavor, most of us suffer from a little voice in our heads that says, “Not good enough.” Most often that voice starts with somebody else. Amanda Palmer wrote a song about the phenomenon. Today’s guest tells us about the voice in his head and what he does about it. Nathan Lowell presents…

Mobashar Qureshi

Mobashar Qureshi portraitGrowing up in Nigeria my love of reading came from my father. I remember him reading the graphic albums Tintin and Asterix & Obelix. The albums, although visual, still told a great story. I would read the same albums over and over again. Sometimes I would copy the artwork but create my own dialogue balloons. I didn’t realize at the time that this was my first foray into writing.

Later when we moved to Canada I became immersed in comic books. Again they were visual but the stories had become a little more grown-up. I read Batman, Spider-man, Superman, X-men, Spawn, and countless other titles. I eventually moved on to more mature work by Frank Miller and Neil Gaiman. I wasn’t particularly interested in the writing, though. I was more interested in the artwork. I wanted to be a comic book artist. I drew every day, on whatever pieces of paper I could find. I was sketching non-stop. The only problem was in order to break into the business I would have to move down to the States and I didn’t think my mom would allow a 15-year-old to do that.

Around this time my brother introduced me to the books of Michael Crichton. Jurassic Park was huge at that time and until then I didn’t know that movies were based on books. So I immersed myself in all of Michael Crichton’s works. I couldn’t believe books could be just as entertaining as comic books. But being a writer was still not something I aspired to.

In grade 11 English Class the teacher gave us an assignment. We had just completed reading a novel (I can’t remember the name of it now) but we had two options. Option one: continue the story from where the book had ended, or option two: write a completely different story. Most, if not all my friends and classmates chose option one. They knew the characters and story. Why not just tell what happened next? I, on the other hand, chose option two. I thought this would be my chance to display my writing prowess.

I sat down and brainstormed all sorts of ideas: aliens, robots, monsters, but nothing I could develop a story around. Then I remembered a story that my uncle back home told us about this witch who wore a white dress and, at night, stood on the side of the road. Whenever anyone would pass by her she should would follow them and call out their names. If they turned she would kill them. The only way to tell she was a witch was that her feet were turned backwards (how she managed to walk or run I still don’t know!).

I poured my heart and soul into this story. It was going to scare the daylights out of my teacher. He would be so impressed that he would proclaim me the next great writer. When the marks came back, all my friends and classmates, who had not worked as hard as I had, got A’s and B’s. When I received my masterpiece, it had a big C- on it. I was crushed. I went up to the teacher and asked him why I had gotten lower than all the other students. I added that unlike them I had written an original story. He said although it was good (maybe he was being kind), creative writing might not be for me.

This was a double-whammy. First, I couldn’t become a comic book artist and now I wasn’t good enough to be a writer. So I put it all aside and continued on with my studies. Basketball was a big part of my life so this became my focus.

In my final year of high school I was taking a class called Contemporary Issues when one day the teacher said something that changed my life. He told us that he had written a textbook fifteen years ago and he was so proud of that fact that it was still in print. Until then I didn’t know anyone who had written anything, forget the fact that they had actually gotten it published. The writers of the books I had read seemed to me as if they were from another world. They were special beings from another planet who had created these extraordinary stories. Now everything had changed. I thought if a mere earthling like my teacher could do it, so could I!

This revelation ignited a passion in me. I read voraciously. I read classics as well as contemporaries. I became a student of novels. I was particularly interested in mysteries and suspense.

During my second year in university I decided to write a novel. “How hard could it be?” I asked myself. For two years I wrote at every opportunity. I wrote in the mornings. I wrote at nights. I wrote in between classes. I wrote in the library. I wrote on the bus. Eventually I had a 250-page manuscript. I then began the process of finding and submitting to publishers and agents. Like the old story goes, I was rejected and rejected and rejected.

I graduated and got a job ‘in the real world.’ I gave up on writing. I was done. It was time to focus and get serious, on my career. But then I met a man who was not only my co-worker but became my mentor and friend. With his encouragement I started writing again. In fact, I began to write short stories just to entertain him. I was so impressed that he had a collection of 3,000—which have now become 4,000—books. He was a great support in my writing my next novel, RACE. The passion to create had returned!

Again, I poured my heart and soul into writing. I spent six months researching it and another nine months writing it. After going through the rejection process for my previous novel I waited. I spent another year editing RACE. I made sure that it was the best book it could possibly be. I then began submitting to agents and publishers. Again, I was rejected. But this time I knew I had a good book.

Finally, after over a hundred rejections one publisher in Toronto accepted the novel. RACE came out to positive reviews. It was even reviewed by a national newspaper in Canada (The Globe and Mail). I was named one of the ten rising Canadian mystery writers to watch by Quill & Quire, a respected literary magazine in Canada that was launched in 1935. I used to read Quill & Quire when I was in university. I didn’t think I would actually end up having my photo in it years later.

Now I’m not trying to toot my own horn. No. I’m only stating that one should never give up on one’s dreams.

Still there are times I doubt myself. Times when nothing is going right–the writing is not flowing, the books are not selling, or whatever else is not working–that I think of that grade 11 English teacher and a voice pops up in my head that says, maybe he was right. But I know how to jettison that annoying little voice now.

I just sit down, turn on my laptop and start writing another book.

Mobashar Qureshi is the author of over a half-dozen volumes of fiction including the supernatural thriller, The Paperboy’s Club. Find out more about him and his writing at his website.

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Buried Treasure

As children some of us played pirate, fearless buccaneers sailing the high seas in search of treasure. The lure of the treasure map and ‘X marks the spot’ can be irresistible. Fortunately we grow up when we realize where pirates get their treasure and how. Sometimes, though, even as adults we find something of value buried in the sand of a beach or lost in the soil of a building plot. Sometimes it’s hidden in plain sight and one only needs to look to find it. Today’s guest tells us what treasures he’s buried. Nathan Lowell presents…

Richard Jackson

Richard JacksonLike a lot of writers, I like to draw on my past experiences and childhood. This is all well and good. It’s one of those win win situations. You have a huge supply of stories waiting to be told. Each little incident from your past can form the foundation for an epic tale. If you’re feeling particularly brave, you could even write your memoirs.

Here’s the thing. I had a very screwed up childhood. No, no. I wasn’t beaten or abused. I had a very loving and supportive home environment, but it was far from normal. The closest parallel I can come up with is that it was like being a male growing up on Themyscira. There were no father figures to look up to. The men didn’t last long. They had probably run in fear when faced with the grim reality of dealing with my grandmother, my mom and two aunts.

In this environment, I learned all sorts of things that probably wouldn’t have been taught in another household or taught differently. It had to be that way. The part of the Bronx where I grew up wasn’t a place of white picket fences. New York in the sixties and seventies could be a pretty rough place.

The first lesson was that the matriarchs of my family wouldn’t and couldn’t fight my battles for me. There was only so much they could do. They had to work long hours to provide for us. I’m amazed things turned out so well considering some of the incidents that would make Manchild in the Promised Land seem like a comedy. I learned early to stand up for myself and to look out for my younger brother and cousins.

The second thing I learned was to pick my fights carefully. There were people you really didn’t want to mess with. There were situations best avoided. This helped me avoid a lot of trouble of which there was no shortage. If I had to pick a fight, it was in the time and place of my choosing. And before you can ask, I can move pretty fast when I need to.

The last thing I learned was to fight dirty and to win. My grandmother had never lost a fight. To my knowledge, she had also never been in a fair one. A woman her age couldn’t be expected to deal with a six foot tall mugger that outweighed her by a hundred pounds on even footing. She came out of that fight about a hundred dollars richer and quite pleased with herself.

Yes, there is a story there that I’ll share at a later date. I’m just waiting for the right time and place. Anyway, I took all of these lessons to heart. Now some of you are probably thinking I’m some kind of violent maladjusted psychopath. I’m not. The voices I usually listen to encourage me to write and tell stories. All of these things I was taught actually had very little to do with violence. It was more about standing up for your rights and not being afraid to fight for what you believe in. It was also about being smart about the causes and people you supported. Those lessons carried over to school, work, romance and even parenting. They’ve helped me in more ways than I can imagine and for that, I’m very grateful and damn lucky.

So why am I mentioning all this? With the holidays approaching, I felt like getting this off my chest. My family is now a lot smaller but their memories and lessons remain. A few things I could have done better or differently but there are far more I could have done worse. When you read my books and stories, there are bits and pieces of my childhood tucked away in my writing. You might get a glimpse into the twisted way my mind works sometimes. More often, I’ll actually include an incident or two from the good ole days to let you know where I’m coming from. Sometimes these little gems will be hard to find but that’s one of the things I enjoy about reading. I like finding those little treasures buried by the writer.

Fall From GraceRichard Jackson was born in New York City and raised in the Bronx. He has been writing off and on since high school. His interests include the martial arts, costuming, travel, gaming and just having fun. Find his book, Fall From Grace, along with his other titles online at Amazon, B&N, and other find online establishments. You can learn more about Richard and his work at his blog, Kyrin’s Insight.

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Brow Beaten

When we embark on being creative, sometimes the little parts of daily life sneak up on us in unexpected ways. Parents, for example, often find inspiration and grist for the creative mill in their progeny. Today’s guest is an author, parent, and fellow Ridan author who understands the beauty of having children around to help preserve a sense of wonder. Nathan Lowell Presents…

Todd Fonseca

One of the great things about being a parent of four boys is the endless supply of material they provide. To be honest, there are days where the boundary between laughing and crying is a tenuous one. But that’s the beauty of creative writing. I can take these experiences, remember the best parts, and capture a memory forever through the lens of humor. Take, for example, a story about my fifteen-year-old son.

In his younger years, I would cut his hair. Well, “cut” makes it sound a little like I knew what I was doing. In reality, I used one of those electric clippers we had purchased from Walmart. Connect one of the three clip-on attachments, plug ‘er in, and shave away – done in five minutes. Fast and effective. Not to mention easy to manage. Wash and dry in five minutes tops.

But as the young boy grew to be a teenager, the buzz cut apparently wasn’t the acceptable fashion sported by most Minnesota teenagers. Instead they tended to go for a mop-head style referred to affectionately as “hockey hair” though to me it looked a lot like a mullet. One of the unintended benefits of such a style is its ability to mask personal hygiene… ah…mishaps.

Let me explain, my oldest boy had started shaving though not nearly frequently enough for me. Being a typical Minnesota “towhead” (note: many people mistakenly believe the phrase is “toe head” but in fact the first word is “tow” referring to the tousled mass of light yellow fiber resulting from combing out the fibers from certain plants into thread; since these pale fibers resemble human hair the term “towhead” is occasionally used to describe blond children which I honestly didn’t know until I wrote this piece – thanks!), all of my son’s facial hair is very light and it takes a few days for a noticeable “Shaggy-esque” type whiskers to emerge.

On one particular morning where this was the case, I made it clear that he shave before school and that I didn’t want to come home from work to see an unshaven face. Fast forward to late that day. I’m sitting down to our family dinner and my wife says to me, “Notice anything different about your oldest son?”

I glanced down the table, and the boy stops eating and stares forward not quite avoiding my gaze but not looking at me either. The first thing that hits me is his hair is combed. This in itself is usual given his shark like tendencies he has to simply eat and sleep all day resulting in a scraggly mess of hair. But now it actually looks pretty good.

“Hair washed and combed today?” I reply.

He smiles and my wife shakes her head.

“What?” I say.

“Told you it wasn’t noticeable,” my son replies triumphantly.

My other three boys are laughing now.

“Well I noticed it right away,” my wife counters.

It’s at this point I’m starting to feel a little stupid for missing whatever it is I should be seeing. I felt a little like when those “magic eye” books came out in the early 90’s and everyone else is quickly spotting the 3D unicorn and all I get is a headache unfocusing and straining my eyes. “Just stare through the picture…look behind it…don’t focus…”

Finally she hints, “Check near his eyes.”

Given the length of his hair and the fact he has combed it down, his eyes are a bit hidden but then I see it.

No eyebrows.

They are completely gone. His brow is smooth as can be. I’ve always wondered what eyebrows were for and most experts would say to keep sweat, water and debris out of the eye. But at the moment I’m thinking their needed to look…well…normal.

“What the heck,” I mutter. “What happen to your eyebrows?”

Now the other kids are in an uproar and I get the feeling this isn’t the first time this conversation has taken place in the day.

“I had an accident,” was my boy’s guarded reply.

Shaking my head I struggle to understand this. What kind of accident results in your eyebrows disappearing?

A deep sigh later the story unfolds. “I was shaving this morning with the electric razor and stopped paying attention for a moment and nicked part of my eyebrow…”

While my son continued the story, I must stop here to tell you what was going through my mind. How does one stop paying attention when shaving? What could be so distracting that staring in the mirror with a battery operated cutting device vibrating at high speed which grabs away at little hairs pulling and cutting them clumps at a time one loses the location of said device? Even if you look away from the mirror for a moment, it is impossible not to know where it is by tactile nerve impulses alone. I imagine the elbow of his “razor arm” resting on the side of the bathroom counter while shaving and somehow it slips off and he over compensates and “bam” there goes a chunk of brow? Honestly, the truth of what really happened may never be known (I don’t what to even speculate further). What I do know is the outcome.

“So, wait a minute,” I interrupt. If you just nicked a part of the brow, how is it that both brows are entirely gone?”

Through whimpered cries of laughter, my wife explains. “He thought it would look better to shave them both off then to have one just missing a small piece.”

Of course.

Why hadn’t I thought of that?

I suddenly fear a large investment in eyebrow pencils is coming and shudder at memories of my grandmother’s painted brow way up on her forehead and quickly let my oldest know in no uncertain terms will he be allowed to start drawing in his facial features.

Having set yet another new ground rule in place that I never considered I would have to verbalize, I realize that this entire experience gave new meaning to the term “brow beaten”.

P.S. From that day forward, my favorite nickname for my oldest has been “Meister ‘Brow'” – though I must admit I find it far more amusing than he does.

Todd A Fonseca is not only the father to four energetic boys but the author of The Time Cavern middle grade books where his experiences as a parental unit are fused with a creative and distracted mind offering young readers an adventure they won’t soon forget.
Learn more about Todd and his writing at The Time Cavern

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Pay Attention

Being creative doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Before your art can reflect life, or vice versa, you first must have a life. For some of us, the life is mundane and common. For others, life is a grand adventure. Both circumstances hold grist for the creative mill as long as we heed the lessons. Our next guest explains how the act of creation becomes an exercise in paying attention. Nathan Lowell Presents…

Sophie Nicholls

Sophie NichollsThey never told me that the ink gets under your skin.

I spent most of my childhood escaping into books. I read on the front step or curled up on the windowsill in the sun or under the duvet with my pocket torch, long into the early hours.

I wrote too – stories on miniature sewn-together pages and, much later, diaries in careful calligraphic handwriting. In those teenage years – italicised! Capitalised! – part of me was always somewhere up high on the Yorkshire Moors, the rain in my face, the wind in my hair, with Charlotte Bronte, the writer I most admired in the world. I wrote to escape my life in a small town where I never felt that I fitted in. But Reader, he never married me.
Continue reading

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Sometimes A Great Notion

Every creative person has had a great idea–an epiphany so profound it casts his or her life into a new direction. Unfortunately, for many of us, that epiphany occurs as a result of a decision that was, perhaps, in hindsight, not such a great notion after all. Today’s guest shares his great notion. Nathan Lowell Presents…

David Dalglish

David DalglishA few years before my Creative Writing professor lectured how self-publishing would be the end of my career, I came up with what I thought was the most brilliant idea: running a Dungeons and Dragons campaign based on my novel-in-progress. It’d take place far in the past, and through them, I could try out different ideas, see how these events might take place before later incorporating them into the book. Surely no one had ever thought of that before!

In hindsight, relying on these guys for inspiration wasn’t the best of plans.

So I created a campaign I thought would be crazy epic. The whole thing revolved around a war between two deities, Karak and Ashhur, and I’d let them choose which side they’d join. They started in a tiny little town, and in came armies of the two deities, one to claim the land, the other to protect their independence (and then claim the land). Gathered together, they witnessed an awesome spectacle of warring gods. I was riding high. When the dust settled, they had a choice: go with Karak, or join Ashhur.

There was just one slight problem. My friends are assholes.

“What’s up there?” my brother asked, tapping the map. It was an empty wilderness, not yet settled in that early timeframe.

“Nothing,” I said, completely oblivious. “Why?”

“Because that’s where we’re going. We’re going to rebuild our town.”

Insert weeks of planning here.

Trying not to panic, I laughed it off. But they were serious. Fine, I say, but do you have the food? Supplies? Way to cross the river? I thought I’d bury them with the nitty gritty, and they’d give up and decide, you know, maybe we want to slaughter armies and defeat gods instead. But no, they hand me lists of paper detailing how many wagons they have, cattle, poultry, feed, amount of both men and women survivors from the village, how many active hunters they had, their estimations until they ran out of water, etc. I wanted them to experience the Silmarillian. With Ashhur, they would have seen the wolves and hyenas stand on two legs, granted intelligence, and sent to tear them to pieces. At Karak’s side, they’d have laid siege to Mordeina, and after three days of assailing the walls, witnessed Ashhur raise the dead to life to repel their attack. Instead, we’re playing Oregon Trail: Fantasy Edition.

I can save this, I thought. Maybe I could have them name a few creatures and landmarks. They were going into an area I’d developed very little information for. Yes, this could work. They’d flesh out an area I’d left vague. The first naming opportunity was the main pass entering into the area between these two rivers. It was a gap in the hills, forming a natural path. What did they name it?

Sorta ruins the epic.

In between sobbing and Mountain Dew filled fits of rage, I kept hope. This was their idea, their plan, and they’d take it seriously once they got the jokes out of their system. But understandably pissed, I had one of the deities try to wipe out this little upstart town. Stumbling upon a massive pack of hyenas, they watched as a god infused them with demonic power. They stood on their back legs, grew longer arms, and glance about with heightened intelligence. In short, they looked like this:

That’s a gnoll from World of Warcraft. It’s important you know this. Why? Because after a brief skirmish with these hyena-men, my friends were presented with the opportunity to name them. I planned to use this name when they made an appearance in a later book of my Half-Orc series, figuring it’d be a much more natural name than anything I came up with. So they thought. And discuss. And then one of my friends looks at me, and he’s got that look in his eye, a look that says he knows he’s an inch away from getting bags of dice thrown at his forehead.

“So we saw this all happen from a hill, right?”

Already I’m terrified.


“Was it grassy?”

I’m baffled. Totally baffled.


“So it was a grassy knoll we first saw them from? Awesome. Let’s call them knolls.”

The campaign died a merciful death not long after.

Clash of FaithsDavid Dalglish writes epic fantasy and still plays games. You can learn more about David from his blog and find his books wherever fine POD and ebooks are sold. This prolific author already has three series and some standalone novels out. His newest series, The Paladins, will debut on later this year with book one–Night of Wolves.

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Voice In The Wilderness

Sometimes we need to find a voice we can listen to. There’s a comfort in hearing someone else engaged in creative efforts trying to explain how it all works. Today’s guest explains why there is, sometimes, a bit of a problem in listening to the voices that aren’t in your own head. Nathan Lowell Presents…

Mur Lafferty

The weirdest thing about writing – or any creative pursuit – is that so little of it is taught. Sure, you can get some workshops going, or take a class, but then you encounter a teacher who’s subjective and hates your genre, or is bitter about their career and how they’re reduced to teaching bright eyed young writers who look like they once looked before the world served their genius a poop platter. So we turn the Internet, or other authors, or other authors on the Internet, for advice. We buy writing books by the dozen, hoping someone will tell us the exact way to sacrifice a cow in order to get that magical break through.
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Creature Feature

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the serious business of writing that we forget why we do it. Like many people, our next guest set out to have fun, to pay homage to the campy, rubbery, oh-so-cheesy past of creature features and late night movie marathons. At least that’s where he started. The whole strange trip took a few detours along the way. Nathan Lowell Presents…

Paul Lagasse

Paul LagasseLast year, I felt like writing a story on my blog.

That may not seem like much of a deal to you, but it was a real surprise to me. Up until then, I had never felt much of a tug to write serious fiction. I’ve been a freelance writer and editor for over a decade, happily plugging away on articles and textbooks and policy reports. Sure, I wrote the occasional short story in writing workshops, and I did have one idea for a novel that I finally wrote and self-published in 2006, but after that came out I figured I had gotten the fiction-writing bug out of my head and so I went right back to writing factual stuff for a living.
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