Bones in Your Bonfire

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Nothing quite embodies the Fall nor compliments its array of colors and scents quite like a cozy bonfire with it’s warm orange flames licking into the night to ward off the chill, but few are aware of its charred history.

Long ago on Samhain, the night when the veil between this world and that of the spirit world is the thinnest, druids gathered to protect their people’s crops and the people themselves from the destructive forces of evil spirits. The druids traveled to homes to request offerings of crops, animals and even…humans. Whether these sacrifices traipsed willingly into the wicker cages or not is lost in the mists of time.

Once they’d gathered their sacrifices, the druids would don an assortment of costumes and light carved turnips to keep themselves safe from the spirits that broke free of the veil. Then, they fed their sacrifices to large fires and danced around the spiraling flames holding the skulls of their ancestors aloft as yet another talisman to ward off the dead. When the fires died naught remained of their sacrifices – crop, animal and human alike – except for ash and bones mingled within the embers.

So the next time you’re cuddled around a bonfire roasting marshmallows and the air is crisp with the herald of Winter, perhaps take a moment to remember those lost to the flames of the past, whose final screams rose to the heavens in the druids’ bone fires. And who knows, maybe some poor soul burns at that very moment in sacrificial fires lit not far from where you sit… (du du du du).

The Road to Hell is Paved With 3x5s

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Hell for your characters that is 🙂

Those seemingly benign lined cards are a perfect tool of torment! Wield them right and the characters will writhe until the very end and with them the most precious of all tormentees – the reader.

Just how do you use these office supplies for creating doom? Why, any way that’s effective for you as an author. Here’s how I use them.

Once the main forces of my novel are set in my head and I have a solid grasp of the characters, plot and The End, I unsheath the Sharpies and haul out the cards. Then it’s time to plot out the gritty and the nitty for the battle plan! Each card represents a scene and each Sharpie color represents a character VP (View Point) so they can be easily tracked on the field. As scenes are written, it becomes clear which are essential, which can be combined and which are not necessary. There’s something strangely satisfying in wadding up a 3×5 whilst proclaiming “Haha! Your redundancy is futile!”

Then, I spread them out on the battle field, check for any gaps and create new scenes to strengthen the whole. This gives me a broad view to assess any weaknesses, where the story might lag, where it needs more speed, less speed, and balance the Force of tension and release.

Once their formation is complete and I’m satisfied with their placement it’s time to pile them up in order and take them to the computer. As powerful as 3x5s are they’re too small to contain exact marching orders, so these are plugged into the manuscript and include everything that the scene is supposed to accomplish – the emotions, the character innards and outters, foreshadows, clues, twists and troubles. As the scenes are briefed, they’re allotted into chapters.

And then…it’s time to write!

Let the games begin! Muahahahah!

Agent Ponderings

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Last week I received an email from an agent regarding my current manuscript Kranken Gears, a fantasy that’s on submission. It was from an agent who knows I’ve already done several R&Rs (Revise & Resubmit) for other agents. Truly, it’s a bit like the R&R Pokey – put more bad guy in, no take the bad guy out, put more world building in, no now take it all out. Put more of these characters in, no, now take them all out (except for the main), bring the word count up, no bring the word count down…*continues to hum the pokey*

Seriously, they each wanted something incredibly different from the other requests so now there’s multiple flavors of Kranken Gears on my drive.

Don’t misinterpret, there’s nothing wrong with any of these R&R requests. What they’ve done is illuminate the basic truth that readers have individual tastes and that is precisely what editors and agents are at their soft, plushy core – great lovers of books. Readers.

Anyway, I digress, she sent me an email with these lovely, thoughtful insights and suggestions on how to make the novel better. I understood and agreed with her assessments except for one – when she said this probably wasn’t what I wanted to hear. That confused me because she invited me to resend the manuscript once it was revised which made it more of an opportunity than anything else. So I couldn’t figure out why it confused me until tonight whilst pondering her assessments and how to best incorporate them in the Sacred Pool (that’d be my whirlpool where Ideas are born). Water, that great clarifier of thoughts, led me to the answer.

Yes, I want an agent – the right agent. So yes, I one day do want to hear an offer of representation from someone who is the right partner for me and my work to help get the story into the hands of publishers and thus the readers. So, yeah, I do want to hear that.

But. And I mean that but most emphatically – was what she said in this email something I didn’t want to hear?

No. It’s precisely what I wanted, perhaps even needed, to hear because the detailed advice within her email has given me more tools to hone my story, to create the very best I can for my readers so that I can one day hear the words I covet. Words from that most precious of people – readers. They perhaps won’t be said exactly this way but the gist will be the same.

“I love your story! The characters are amazing! They made me forget about <enter any of life’s myriad of maladies here>. Oh, oh! And when will the next book be out? I can’t wait!”

That is what I want to hear.

Any advice that comes along that helps in that endeavor, any amount of revisions, any number of hours in the Sacred Pool devising better ways to immerse the reader in my worlds and stories is what I need to hear or do so that one day some reader out there will send me an email that says –

“Omg! It’s my favorite book!”

The Best Way to Endure Submission Hell

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Those of you with submissions out to agents/editors know of what I speak. That indeterminable, roasting hell of waiting for responses that might come right as you’re reading this, or tonight while you dream, or tomorrow, or next week, or next month or next year or the year after that. The query process is bad enough, but when you’re awaiting news on partials and fulls – that’s a whole new breed of purgatory.

It can vex your brain!

So, what can be done to retain what little sanity exists in our writerly worlds?


Yes indeed, that cure to all woes – the pen or keyboard as it were.

While Kranken Gears (fantasy) has been in submissions, I plotted, wrote and revised an urban fantasy novel, Ashes & Bone. It kept me sane during the arduous wait and kept me from incessantly checking my emails for word on the partials and fulls of Kranken Gears that are out. A few agents who have the full of Kranken Gears asked if I have other projects so spending that time writing Ashes & Bone gave me the opportunity to answer them with actual pages instead of some nebulous thoughts on a next project.

So unless you find an agent that’s Hermes fast you can and should complete an entire novel whilst waiting for answers on the first. That’s a win/win if ever there was.

What do you do if you’ve completed that second novel and are still waiting on agents/editors for the first?


Told you it was a cure-all 😉

Tree Pool Vivarium Build for Dragons! Pt. 2

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Custom Foam Background


Now that the Great Stuff background is dried and cut – shown in the picture above – it’s time for the messiest and stinkiest part of the build, silicone and cocofiber/peat mix. I don’t have a picture of the actual process because once started it not only creates a ginormous mess but it also must be done swiftly or the fibers won’t stick.

For the organic material, a 60-80% peat – organic, with no fertilizers or additives in it, mixed with cocofiber gives the background a more natural look than cocofiber alone. It’s best to have more than enough mixed up because once this process starts it must continue! Or again, the fiber won’t stick right.

So, working one side at a time, using black silicone that does NOT have mold inhibitors in it (which are toxic to fish and reptiles) I worked in small segments from bottom to top to spread silicone over the foam and then took gobbing handfuls of the peat/coco mix and pressed it into the silicone. Once it dries for 1-2 hours, then the terrarium is flipped up and all the loose organic material is gently knocked off the wall. Then, it’s cleaned off the bottom and the process repeated for each side.

When it’s done it looks like this –

horned mountain dragon vivarium 1


Oh yeah, and the shoreline is Great Stuff’s Pond foam. It’s used in water areas as that’s what it’s meant for and black looks better uncovered than the cream colored regular stuff. The organic mix only covers the very top of the shoreline.

The next phase is the beginning of the fun part! Prepping to plant!

The land segment needs a drainage layer so the soil doesn’t get soggy and rot plant roots. Almost any non-toxic material can be used, rocks, lava rocks, clay balls etc. Charcoal that’s normally used in fish tanks helps keep undesirable odors out. Over that, place a layer of screening (not metal screening though) to keep the soil out of the drainage layer. Then it is time for…soil!

All my tanks are bio tanks – basically mini eco systems within glass. Depending on what plants are going in the percentage varies but the ingredients are mostly the same – organic garden soil, peat moss, cocofiber, leaf mold and leaf litter, bits of sheet moss, tiny rocks, sand, tiny bits of aspen and/or hardwood bark, aquarium charcoal. This is placed on top of the screen. After the planting process, wet moss and then a layer of leaf litter is added on top of the soil. After all that is in, the clean up crew is added.

Vivarium Planting 1


As you can see, a bare vivarium drives me wonky so there’s some plants in there to green it up until the final and most intriguing stage – planting!

The little squid like plant on the side is an airplant – Josh’s Frogs is the best place to get them. They’re easy to attach with silicone and toothpicks to support the weight until the silicone dries. They don’t like constant humidity, so keeping them near the slit in the door or up by the screen top keeps them happy even in tank that is else wise humid.

Attaching Air Plant


Coming soon – Tree Pool Vivarium Build for Dragons! Pt. 3


3 Tips to Picking the Perfect Agent

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So, your manuscript is spit-shined, polished, gleaming, ready to be presented to agents. But, where should you send it? Why, to the right agent of course! Finding this special someone who’ll love your brain child and stand beside you, cutting through the red-tape infested world of publishing isn’t difficult it just takes a tad of time, just like finding the right anything.

Here’s three tips that’ll help you start your journey to discovering the perfect agent for you.

1.) Don’t use a 3rd party to submit. To date, I’ve never heard an agent say “Wow! A 3rd party submission! I feel so special and so confident that the writer submitting did their research!” And it’s unlikely they will ever utter those words. The writer/agent relationship is supposed to be a long-term thing that takes thought, research, personal choices that only the author/agent can make on their own and a magic clicky juju that generates when two minds are in sync. Kinda like the Vulcan mind meld.

2.) Research. Not just on Writer’s Market or Publisher’s Market Place, nope, though useful tools to finding general info you want to dig deeper. Utilize that ever-so-powerful oracle of Google. Read articles about the agent, interviews, everything you possibly can to make sure that they’ll be a great fit. Why when WM lists what they like all in one page? Because an agent might list Fantasy as a genre of interest but what they might really want is only selective types of Fantasy. Some like high, others low, some like epic some romantic, and so on down the various flavors within any given genre. Knowing an agent’s specific tastes will save both of you time and frustration.

3.) Stalk them. Not in real life, that’ll end with a restraining order or death depending on the agent’s mood. However, stalking on Twitter, Facebook or wherever the agent is most active is an acceptable method of getting to know them. This clues you in to the agent’s current MSWL (aka Manuscript Wish List, search it on Twitter) and some agents post spiffy things like tenqueries or even 500queries where they post what sort of query they received, their general thoughts on it and whether they passed or requested – valuable insights to be had! It’s also a window into their personality, which is important because, as stated in #1, the author/agent relationship is long-term and you must have confidence that you can work with this person through the hills and valleys of the publishing world.

Wishing you the best of luck out there! And remember, the old adage is true – having a bad agent is worse than having no agent so take your time and know who you’re signing with.

Tree Pool Vivarium Build for Dragons! Pt. 1

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This is a cool little build using an Exo Terra 18x18x24 glass terrarium. I designed this to temporarily house two baby mountain horned dragons (they’re soooo adorable!) until they grow another few inches. But I also needed to make the design fluid, so when the dragons outgrow this set up, it can easily be tweaked to accommodate poison dart frogs.

Since both species need water and running water is the best, I started with the waterfall and pool area.



To the left is the land area, to the right is the pool with the fall. To separate the two areas, so the water doesn’t flood the land and create a wretched bog, I cut plexiglass to size, heated it with a heat gun and bent it to make a more natural shoreline. With the shoreline done, I set it in place, marked where it’d sit with a marker and then siliconed the daylights out of it. In this area, it’s better to over-do the silicone than under do it. Ripping up a landscaped area to seal leaks later is a royal pain.

Next, I used egg crate and created a boxed in area to house the pump and hose that’s also large enough for me to reach in there and do maintenance. As a preventative measure, I also siliconed screening to the portion that’ll be submerged to keep debris from entering the pump area and causing cloggage.

Those marks you see on the glass are for where the cork will go. I spent days arranging and re-arranging the wood pieces until I found a combination that I liked.



Here’s the cork bark in situ. The cork tube is temporarily held in place by unused paint stirring sticks. Once the Great Stuff is dry the tube will be secure.



Before setting the main cork in place, I drilled a hole for the waterfall tubing, then snugged and siliconed a piece of pvc into the hole to hold the tubing.



And then…the foaming begins! I prefer Great Stuff’s Gap and Cracks for most work, other than shorelines and filling tubes, because it dries hard and solid. The Windows and Doors dries soft, which might be okay for frogs but not for the claws of dragons. It’s also not solid enough to hold the weight of heavy woods. But I did cap the cork tube with the Great Stuff Windows and Doors to prevent access. I also used Windows and Doors behind the cork on the waterfall to avoid over-expansion.



Working on one side at a time, I foamed in the pieces and waited at least 6 hours per side for the foam to set enough before flipping the terrarium to work on another side.



Once the foam dried completely, the carving process began. Carving the foam gives a more realistic look and allows silicone and the cocofiber/peat mixture to stick better. For carving I usually use a serrated steak knife, sometimes pumpkin carvers too and razor blades.

Stay tuned for Tree Pool Terrarium Build Pt. 2!

Easy Pre-Submission Check List

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You’ve done it! You’ve slogged through the rough draft, rolled with the punches during revisions, murdered your darlings. Your writing area now looks like a scene out of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But what you’re left with on screen is a work of beauty. Art! Dream on paper errr pixels. Congratulations!

So what’s next? Consult this short, handy check list, that’s what.

1 ) Is your manuscript really finished? If so, does your word count fit within genre standards? If you’re unsure, check these sites: Chuck Sambuchino’s How Long Should a Book Be? and Litrejections’ Word Count.

2 ) Then, even if you think it’s ready, run a quick search on some nit words and eradicate them, if necessary. Sentences with words like had, seemed, felt, that, watched, and just  as well as many ly’s can often be revised to make a more dynamic story. Also search for vanilla description and jazz it up. Vanilla words include but are certainly not limited to: ran, sat, walked, looked etc. anything that doesn’t exactly describe how a character did something or doesn’t show the reader some of the character’s mood or personality.

3 ) Take your agent submissions list and double check those agent facts! They open and close to submissions throughout the year and sometimes change their guidelines, so ensure the ones you plan to send to are currently open AND accept your genre. As in for sure accept it. If in doubt, Google them and read their interviews, check out their blogs, check their Twitters – most will post #mswl (ManuScript Wish List). Stalk it. Know it. Love it. Breaaaaathe it. One of the top complaints I see on agent feeds is the overwhelming number of queries they get for genres they don’t represent. Don’t be among the uninformed.

4 ) Do a final read through on your submission packet – query letter and synopsis included.

5 ) Then, the final moment! Prepare each submission per agent guidelines (found on their site) and let your pretties fly! *cackles*