The Silent Light of a Winter Night


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Casey Horner @mischievous_penguins


It’s that time of year when I’m away from my writing desk to spend time with family out west. I had hopes to scratch a few lines between the happy helter-skelter of being with loved ones. I made a promise to my muse I wouldn’t desert her (see November’s article, A Writer Comes Home to His Beloved Muse).

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Paola Chaaya @paolitta

Presents scattered on the floor like flotsam, bellies full, and kids down for the night, instead of quiet conversation, clutching mugs of hot beverages on a cold winter night, the adults had their eyes glued on smart-phones. I too browsed the cacophony of apps and media distraction. No wonder I can’t think creatively. I tried reading, but the oversized television screen on mute kept drawing my eye.



I stared at the Christmas tree in lazy thought, and shook my head. Peace of mind in the monochromatic world of all things life oriented can be elusive. Our heads are too often pointed downward in the bustling crowd. Even those who live in remote places are as burdened as city dwellers from the incessant distraction of a connected society. I needed to find some quiet – a place of reticence to air out the brain.


I set the book aside, closed my eyes, and imagined a small town, where new fallen snow muffled my footsteps, the only sound that of a hushed breeze though barren branches – and the occasional air pump of holiday yard blimps. I thought of a cardinal balanced on snow-laden boughs, its scarlet feathers a singular lighthouse in a sea of white, and a lantern post, its warm yellow light a beacon against a colorless palette.

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Max Bender @maxwbender


The streets of the small town were deserted, and I marveled at the twinkle of holiday decorations that festooned houses. As if waiting for someone to notice, a lone white bulb was tucked inside a riot of colored lights. Like the cardinal, and the lantern, it impressed upon me the serenity of a simple light in an ostentatious environment. It’s where I needed to get my head at if I had a shot at writing anything.

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Filip Mroz @mroz

I turned, and spotted lighted candy canes on the edge of thick forest. I trudged away from the brashness of holiday décor. Somehow, my whimsical town had disappeared, and I was on a deserted road in a thick forest. I shuffled my foot in the snow to find what powered this odd display, until my eyes revealed a single set of footprints leading into the woods.

A familiar voice that sounded suspiciously like my muse, spoke inside my head. “Why don’t you follow the tracks?”

It’s dark in there,” I whispered.

Let the stars light the way.”

This was silly – me – letting my inspirational muse suggest trekking the woods at night. Sounded like the start of a nightmare, even if it was just an imaginary walk. What the heck. Maybe my brain will slow down enough to focus.

Absent the skittering of creatures during warmer months, the only sound was that of my footsteps squeaking in the snow. It took a moment for the eyes to adjust to a place untouched by disquietude. Before I knew it, I had followed the tracks deep into the forest.


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Taylor Leopold @taylorleopold

I gazed upward at an infinite stellar canopy. First thought that came to mind was how much I’d love to find such a place, maybe share it with my grandsons. The tracks rounded a bend in the trail – and stopped. I studied the snow-covered ground in the starlight, puzzled. It was as if the trailblazer had been clutched from above.

Who made these tracks?”

You did,” the muse giggled.

I opened my eyes to find everyone else had gone to bed, the place darkened except for the Christmas tree lights. I stretched with a smile, my head finally free of the noise.

Then it caught my eye. Through the large picture window, illuminated by an untraceable source, a solitary tree glimmered in a still forest setting. It stole my breath. What magic was this?

Am I still dreaming?”

It’s what you’ve been looking for,” the muse replied.

Like cardinal, the lantern, and a solitary bulb, I imagined the perfect place with the silent light of a winter night.


Dec 2018 casey-horner-1061318-unsplash Compress

Casey Horner @mischievous_penguins


Happy Holidays and best wishes to all in the coming year. 




Authors Note:

All the photographs used for this article originated from, a collection of photographers who offer their work for free. Unsplash continues to be an unending source of inspiration for me. 

Photographs are individually annotated above. Featured in order of appearance are links to the photographer’s @unsplash page and twitter site.

Casey Horner  @mischievous_penguins

Paola Chaaya @paolitta

Karthic Chandran @karthikchandrasekar

Todd Diemer @todd_diemer

Ray Hennessy @rayhennessy

Mira Kemppainen @mirakemppainen

Max Bender @maxwbender

Filip Mroz  @mroz

Taylor Leopold @taylorleopold


My thanks to these talented photographers.

A Writer Comes Home To His Beloved Muse


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I approached the microphone.  “Hi, my name is Dan. My last blog post was September, and I haven’t written a thing since.”

“Hi Dan. Welcome,” replied the back-lit, silhouetted faces of my would-be judges.

Someone in the front row asked the first question. “Are you willing to share with us why?”

“I like to think I had good reasons, even honorable reasons,” I said.  “Since mid-September, I’ve been home maybe a total of three weeks on a travelocalypse that began with a family reunion in Kentucky, a wedding in Colorado, a long planned, prepaid vacation with older siblings in South Carolina, a trip to Singapore, two-weeks with my mother in Florida, ending with Thanksgiving in New Jersey.  Hell, I had to list it in a notebook to keep it all straight. I just got back last Sunday to autumn chores that went undone since it all started – which isn’t going to get done until it stops raining in Pennsylvania?” 

Another audience member joined in. “We’ve all been through this in one form or another. It’s why we’re here.”

“Thanks.” I played with the microphone stand, embarrassed to confess in front of a bunch of strangers. “I’m glad Stephen King isn’t here. He’d be shaking his head, mouthing the word ‘slacker’.” 

“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” the shadowed face said. “Do you try to write while on the road?”

“Yeah, I tried. Packed the laptop and everything.”

“So – what happened?” another participant asked.

I exhaled through pursed lips to gather my thoughts. “Unlike other writers who can pen words to blaring music in a sunny windowed room with views of the birdfeeder, I need the equivalent of a sensory deprivation chamber to coax the muse out of her closet. You see – she’s kind of shy, and prefers I write in a windowless, spare bedroom in the finished basement.” I shrugged. “Just us and the radon.”

I was met with silence.

“That’s about it, I guess.”  I turned to exit the spotlighted stage. An audience member in the third row called out. “Tell us about your muse.”

“Uh, well – she’s kind of a recluse – can’t handle the bustle of daily life, noise, people in general. Even the slightest interruption, like the phone ringing, will send her scurrying into the closet she hides in for refuge. Poor thing hasn’t been out since early September.” My heart squeezed. “It was all I could do to entice her out yesterday for simple edits. She was – so pale – emaciated.” I swallowed hard. “And it’s all my fault.”

I wanted off that stage in the worst way, but I promised I would show up. “She – asked how much time we had before I deserted her again.” I took a deep breath and exhaled. “Told her I wasn’t leaving until December 18. We had lots of time to craft new words.”

I stared at the unlighted empty seats behind my court of peers. “The muse saw right through that lie when she glanced at the 85K manuscript review for a fellow author due next week, two short story critiques I’m behind on, and the excel spreadsheet of blogs I have to post the next three months for a writer’s conference I’m working.”

I had trouble discerning if it was empathy or pity that came off the faceless group in waves. “Then, she spotted the two-month rental lease I stupidly left on the desk. It’s for an apartment in Florida for two months beginning February – my mother is in an assisted care facility – she’s – slipping into dementia. My wife and I want to be with her before she forgets who we are.”

I had to swallow twice before I could get the words out. “That’s when the muse asked – ‘is it over between us’?”

“What did you tell her?” asked the figure seated in the back row.

“No of course. But I don’t think she believes me. I mean – how do I make it work with a muse who doesn’t understand priorities to family and others? I’m trying to do right by her, but she’s so damned reclusive. The least little distraction I get caught in sends her into hiding again.”

Disappointment and self-betrayal burned hot and unforgiving inside me. “Uh, look, I appreciate you listening. I – gotta go.” I sprinted off the stage, but the gathering of strangers blocked my flight toward the exit sign.

Someone I never met before laid a gentle hand on my arm. “You’re not the first to experience this, or have doubts about your writing. We’ve all been there.”

I felt like an errant schoolchild in the counselor’s office. “The muse and I – we’re so different. I’m an extrovert with the social mannerisms of a six-month-old puppy. She’s the complete opposite. I’m surprised it’s lasted this long.”

A person bearing the voice of one with wisdom stepped closer. “I’ve always believed opposites are attracted to each other.”

I shook my head at the most overused meme in history. “I don’t know what to do.”

The group parted to let me pass. The one who asked questions from the back row, stopped me. “Dan, have you asked your muse what her thoughts are – I mean, really asked – without assuming you already know?”

Now I was getting irritated. “Why doesn’t she come out and say it?”

“You said she’s shy. Maybe your muse is afraid you won’t listen if she did.”

Flummoxed, with no ready come back, I nodded my thanks, and shuffled back to the real world.


As I stared at the blank screen of my laptop, I sensed the muse waft into my periphery.

“You’re upset,” she whispered in my head.

“I’m upset with myself. I let you down. I don’t deserve you.”

The breathy tingle I’d become hopelessly addicted, edged closer to my inner ear. “If that were true, I would have never come to you so many years ago. I  could no more leave you than you could forget me.”

“I don’t want to lose you.” I thought of sage advice from a stranger. “How do we make this work?”

“I’ll go with you.”

“You’re always with me – but you’re always hiding.”

She guided my hand to the Florida condo lease. “I read your mind about the place we’re going. It has a two conference rooms that are rarely used. And there’s a nice library down the street with little desks buried behind book shelves. Hardly anyone goes there on weekdays. And your mother. She’s very quiet, happy just to have you near.”

A ponderous weight eased from my shoulders upon realizing what she suggested. “Why the hell didn’t I think of that?”  

“You’ve been preoccupied,” she giggled. “Or shall I say – distracted?” The muse settled alongside me. “Now promise me a couple days a week away from the madding world.”

“I’ll give you more than two days a week,” I promised.

“No more moping, then. Silence the cell phone. We have to finish this blog and get to the fun stories.”

The cursor blinked, waiting. “I don’t know where to start.”

“How about you share our experience with others who might be struggling like you?

“God, I’ve missed you. You always have the right answers.” I didn’t know whether to laugh with relief, or fall at her feet and cry. “Got a title in mind I can launch from?”

I felt her smile. “Homecoming.”

Oh Where, Oh Where, Has The Artist Gone?


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Lost on the sands of unfindable endings for the book I'm writing Photo by Pawel Nolbert via Unsplash

Pawel Nolbert via

Sharing artwork and photographs on Social Media is fun. Sometimes, however, it’s used in a blog article or illustration without citing the artist or photographer. Google’s reverse image search can help find the artist, but doesn’t always yield results.

As a stickler for proper attribution for art or photographs, I check for copyright and always cite the artist or photographer’s name with links.  Unless it’s an established art site, however, searching for the artist or photographer from a Pinterest post, Facebook, or Twitter picture may send you into a desert shouting, Who made this?

I’m always on the lookout for potential book cover ideas, character art, and scenes to give me inspiration.  Like a painter who searches for the perfect model or scene to paint, I glean art sites for faces and places. Pinterest boards are my main go-to, along with a few others like, and

The files I keep are either stored on my Pinterest boards, or file folder for use in a blog article, twitter message, Facebook, or to have as a stimulus for a chapter I’m writing. Wasn’t always this conscientious in past years, where I sometimes linked the Pinterest page or site I copied it from as the source – which often doesn’t identify where they found it.  

Got educated several years ago when I received a “Dear DT” email from the artist who created an artwork piece I used in a blog. He graciously forgave my indiscretion, provided I properly attribute it to his artist website.  Dodged a bullet. Color me lucky – and schooled. I spoke on this in a 2015 blog I wrote, Good Images Speak a Thousand Words – But Is It Legal? 

Picture Search Depositphotos_13870147_m-2015

From: Olly18 –

I stuck to the usual royalty-free stock photo sites for a while, until I realized most of it is business related and they all stock the same boring stuff.  Then I discovered an amazing photo depository of work by photographers who allow use of their work without conditions, not even attribution.  It’s called, and I’m a frequent flyer on the site.  Just for the record, I attribute the artist and source anyway.

How do I handle searching for an artist who wasn’t cited?  Some are easy, like the one below, “Portal of my Dreams” by Kalim Galal via DeviantArt, which I found on Pinterest. Thankfully, it had the artist’s signature.  I did a quick search on the name, and found Mr. Galal on DeviantArt.  Love this graphic. Invoked an idea for a new story.

Others were not so easy, and needed a bit of sleuthing.  Once I found a haunting piece that inspired a new antagonist from a character Pinterest board I follow.

Unfortunately, the link went to someone else’s blog, who found it from who-knows-where.   Since artwork and photographs are usually found on the internet, I discovered Google Images has a reverse Search by Image tab. I selected the little camera icon, chose “Upload an Image”, pasted the picture file, and voila – up came “Mi’kaii” by artist Benita Winckler on CGSociety.


Here’s another one that caught my eye as a picture for a blog article (like this one). It’s popped up on Pinterest boards like crazy. Quick flick of the image search, and Google’s best guess is ….. Pink Floyd Greatest Hits Cover. What the … ?  I don’t remember this cover.

When I clicked forward on search results, and finally stumbled on photographer Bryan Allen, whose work is also found on FineArtAmerica.

Bryan Allen commented on his site about the picture. “Illegal copies have appeared on no less than a bootleg Pink Floyd CD and even an FBI web page. Go figure. Does one sue the FBI or just smile and move on?” 



I loved this next example of a dark witch, another candidate for the antagonist I mentioned. Plugged it into image search, and …… huh? 

Eyes of Darkness

It’s been pinned and used multiple times, and is in the top list for Pinterest’s re-pinned stats.  When Google’s best guess for the image was black magic witch makeup, it smelled like a graphic found in wallpaper sites – the kind of places you find screensavers and posters. The search eventually ended up at Dark Walls, a site specializing in Goth. It appears to be a free download, but I’m always skeptical. Oh well, I’ll admire it, but won’t make my list of potential book covers anytime soon.

Oh, and a word of caution, make sure your malware program is up to date. Some of the URL addresses may take you places you don’t want to go.  Study the link before you select. Much of where it leads is often in the address, and obvious that it won’t offer artist identification.


Finally, there are times when you just hit a wall.  Example in point, a little girl gazing at the full moon from her bedroom window, which left me in awe of its simple yet powerful image.

Moonlight Girl

Wallpaper – Artist Unknown

The best guesses resulted with – full moon & see.  This graphic has been pinned, posted, and used so many times, search results go on for pages. Any luck with identifying the artist?  Nada, which is a shame since it appears to be so popular.  I theorize it’s an old piece which made the wallpaper download circuit, ending up in the internet desert of lost artists.

Now, if you’re thinking it’s all a lot of work and who cares anyway, just imagine yourself as an artist who put hours, days, maybe weeks, into creating that perfect picture or illustration. Imagine seeing your work headlining an article with nary a mention of who created that perfect image. I’d be pissed.  So would you, I’ll venture. Writers, especially Indie authors, are very familiar with the potential for piracy.  The same goes for photographers, graphic artists, and illustrators. There is more to it than potential copyright infringement. It’s just plain courtesy.


I’ll leave you to ponder on that thought with a pleasant image from an enhanced photograph I found a couple years ago.  

Every morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most - Buddha. Art by Zoraya Tonel

Wallpaper – Artist Unknown

This picture spawned many inspirational blog articles and posts. Who created this amazing graphic?  I have no idea, and I’m not the first pinner to ask if anyone knew who made it. Closest I got with search was a wallpaper site in a foreign country without attribution (don’t go there). Yet another artistic work lost in the twilight zone.

If anyone knows who made this, please let me know. If you have alternative methods for identifying artwork or photographs by the image, I’d love to hear from you. 




That header graphic on my WordPress blog – the one of a tree growing through the roof of a dilapidated library?  Found the amazing Lori Nix and her unique diorama artwork. I contacted her for permission, and she graciously gave it. 

Lori Nix Library Print 300

Lori Nix – The Library

Feel free to browse my Pinterest Boards, specifically Searching for Light, Concept Art, Characters, and Dystopian. Many of the pins were obtained from other pinners, that led to other pinners or bloggers.  It’s part of the daisy chain of pinning. I’m just as guilty as everyone else of pinning without checking, but it’s nice to know if I want to use the graphic in a tweet or blog article, there’s a tool to help me find the artist …… or at least some them anyway. 


Little Big Stories


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Toa Heftiba – via @unsplash

This month, I’m the featured author in the Author’s Roundtable, an online quarterly magazine of short stories for the Bethlehem Writers Group (BWG). Based on a theme that changes with every issue, this quarter is ‘Written in the Stars’. 


In Simple Terms

A shell of its former glory, NASA in the near future discovers what Planet Nine really is, and has to convince a skeptical director who doesn’t understand the basics of our solar system.

Planet Nine

Illustration Caltech/R. Hurt – via NatGeo Education Blog


“What’s this all about,” Trevor Stanhope asked his Associate Administrator.

The click of Helen Martinez’s low-heeled shoes kept cadence to Stanhope’s brisk stride as they hurried along on the polished floors of NASA’s subterranean levels. “The note mentioned recent information that needs your immediate attention,” she said.

Six months since Stanhope’s appointment as NASA’s Administrator, President Barbara Preston specifically asked him to shake things up by reining-in expensive projects and the Brainiacs who were too busy looking for ET. “Bring in some solid space science we can use while getting the Mars mission off the ground, like updated satellite reconnaissance and better asteroid killers,” she’d told him.

“Did they send a synopsis, so I can understand what they’re saying when they start throwing those pseudo-scientific terms and acronyms around?” he asked.

“All I got was something to do with all the increased meteorite activity, asteroid close calls, and TNO’s . . . Trans Neptunian Objects.”

“Trans-nep-toonia objects . . .” Stanhope chuckled. “Sounds like that Christmas rock orchestra that pops up every holiday.” A lawyer by education, and six-term, conservative US Congressman before President Preston handed him this job, Stanhope’s grasp of science was limited to high school chemistry. Where did they come up with these names?

To Read More … Click Here


Which leads me to confessing how I got into little big stories in the first place.

Short Stories hadn’t been much of a forte for me in the past. I prefer writing lengthier tomes in the 100K range. I found it hard to write what I wanted to say about the story’s journey in fewer words. How do you really get to know who the character is, and how he/she must navigate the perilous river of the story premise?

That changed a couple years ago when I dipped my toes in the short story waters with an anthology.  Give us something light – middle grade, paranormal if you can manage it, and keep it to 2500 words.  After some head-scratching, I tore into my file of ideas, looking for clues, and located notes about a boy moving to a rural New England town. Entering as a freshman, he discovers there’s more to the newly constructed high school than construction debris.

It was paperback printed with other stories, made the Amazon circuit for a year, then quietly died a lonely death by drowning in the murky seas of literary content. So much for a valiant effort.

Last year, the BWG asked if I’d like a slot in their author spotlight. It had to be under 3K, and in accordance to a theme for the winter quarter, ‘Snowbound’. Back to the archive of un-hatched ideas, I came up empty. Then a friend suggested an excerpt from a book I’d written, preferably something unpublished.

I have a lot of those.

Chose a dystopian tale I couldn’t market some years back, and selected a “pinpoint of time” where a young man on the run from a near future autocratic government takes shelter in a remote, snowbound cabin. Seemingly safe hundreds of miles from any living soul, someone is attacked by wolves a stone’s throw from his cabin.

The editors that publish the online magazine were well-schooled in the art of short story writing, and helped me fine tune the final draft. At first, I thought I’d made a mistake by ending it with a question – a dangling chad, so to speak. However, it generated interest in the larger tome. Without realizing it, I’d opened a door to a book I didn’t think would ever see the light of day. I’m currently in a rewrite of the novel. Fingers crossed.

Click the title below if you’re interested in reading the PDF version of it.


Snow Belt Sanctuary Printed Version

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What was the process I used? It helps to read a few to see how it’s done, and I blew the dust off my small library of anthologies and short stories. FYI, Stephen King is a master of it. Just saying.

 I’m a meticulous researcher, and I went at it with my usual study-before-do methodology. No shortage of ‘How To’ blogs, books, and you-too-can-be-a-writer articles. Just type in “writer short story” on Pinterest and prepare for a flood that will choke your server. I have digital reams in the archive on how to become a better writer, but after a while, it gets repetitive, some of which is less how-to, more ‘buy my stuff’ or ‘follow my stuff’.  One tipster gave a multi-point process that looked an awful lot like the structure for a novel. Somewhere in the endless sinkhole of suggestions, a few bubbles of usable knowledge floated to the top.

I first offer the sage advice of Carol Wright, editor of the BWG Roundtable.

‘Short stories are a big part of what we do within the Bethlehem Writers Group. As Neil Gaiman says, “A short story is the ultimate close-up magic trick – a couple of thousand words to take you around the universe or break your heart.” It’s not an easy trick to master, though. Truman Capote said, “When seriously explored, the short story seems to me the most difficult and disciplining form of prose writing extant.” And Annie Proulx agrees. She said, “I find it satisfying and intellectually stimulating to work with the intensity, brevity, balance and word play of the short story.”  So, we writers labor on, working and reworking our stories, tweaking the dialogue, checking the pacing, trimming any expendable words until all we have left are the precious few that say so much.’

If I was to sift through the myriad of opinions I read, the tips I found most useful are:

  • Write the beginning and end before anything else, (though it may change as I tie the two strings together). Some suggested writing a synopsis first. I’m a hard-core pantser and susceptible to spending more time on a synopsis than just writing the damned thing, but if it works for you, power on.
  • Pacing: You know the drill – character, conflict, journey, resolution – but instead of 70K words to do it, you only have maybe 5K or less. No traipsing down unmarked paths that don’t get you home.
  • Focus on one character if you can, and keep the supporting cast to a minimum. By the time you describe a dozen or more characters in a short story, the word count ‘tank is full light’ winks on.
  • Succinct details: Use only what’s needed to paint the moment, that ‘trimming expendable words’. I’m susceptible to diarrhea of the word-processor, not a good thing with short stories. Literary embellishment that meanders into a lengthy paragraph may sound nice in a full novel, but it eats word count like a starving bear.
  • Keeping it in the here and now (some call this a pinpoint of time), helped tremendously. Anything with “ten years later”, or other significant time gap, makes a reader wonder “gee, what happened in between?”
  • Don’t work in a vacuum: Much of my learning process came from writers who specialize in short stories. A tip of the old fedora to authors Christopher D. Ochs, Charles Kiernan, and  Jerry McFadden, who have written dozens between them.  


What’s next? After swearing off anthologies before, I’m now into little big stories, and contributed to an upcoming short story anthology coming out October 2018.

Untethered Cover

Stay tuned.

Fireworks, BBQ, and Waving the Flag


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Fireworks, Beer, Brots, and other things burned on an open fire — it’s ‘Merica, and the time of year when we celebrate Thomas Jefferson’s break up letter to King George.


Going to be a hot one for us here in PA, which will likely send me to the basement writing office to escape the heat. So I’ll keep it short, and wish everyone a fun, safe Fourth of July.

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Ludovic Gauthier –

May Our Fields of Freedom Never Go Fallow — DT Krippene


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Jean Carcallas –

Oh … and turn off the smartphone. Fireworks are best photographed by the mind.

Desert Inspiration


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Aside from a writer’s muse that never sleeps, I’m used to finding #writerinspiration from mostly colorful photographs and art from a variety of sites. I post the ones I like on my Twitter feed and Facebook page. My favorite place for royalty-free photos without restrictions is Two of my boards on Pinterest – Searching for Light, and Characters, are both galleries of art and photographs used to fine tune the muse when I’m writing scenes.

Desert 2 Edit

This past Memorial Day weekend, I went on a desert excursion with my son-in-law in his off-road 4Runner.  That my young grandson tagged along as well, made the trip extra special. 

But – we were talking about writer inspiration.


How does one go from a visual inspiration of a colorful marketplace …

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… and find inspiration in the homogeneity of a desert landscape?


Unsplash nicolas-cool-107337-Desert Crop


First, you need to get off the beaten track, and into places most vehicles can’t tread. That’s where I discovered it isn’t the visual so much, as it is – the silence.

A critical attribute of a good story incorporates the five senses. If you take one of them away, it evokes an unusual deprivative enlightenment where the other senses become more focused. 

Sense of smell was limited to whatever drifted in the dry, searing heat. Consigned to the tacky flavorlessness of cotton-mouth, water offered no relief to the taste buds. Skin puckered from the unrelenting sun with a reminder to reapply lotion, I was sensitized to the touch of a tiny insect, or the haphazard brush against brambles. 

Discovery of micro-sounds subdued by the cacophony of everyday life, become loud as a truck horn (bit of a stretch maybe, and I made-up the word micro-sound, but you get the point). The skittering of a bug on a rock. The faint rush of a hot dry breeze through spindly desert bushes. Each footstep a thundering dinosaur plod, until I have to break the silence to ask my grandson to slow down with a voice muted by a carpet of sand.


Desert Teddy


Too late for the short flowering season, colors of rust, sand, and dusty-green shrubs dominated the palette, interrupted on occasion by layered sedimentary rock. I found a spot to sit and took in my surroundings. My eyesight slowly accentuated (though it helped to wear sunglasses). The russet browns became less monochromatic to reveal surprises otherwise missed. Recent animal prints and tiny corkscrewing snake trails had yet to be erased by a never-ending desert breath. Eyes on the ground, small rewards appeared with a late season flower hidden by a scraggly briar. A lone bullet shell offered evidence that others had passed this way. 



Normally I write in the solitude of the man-cave, a basement office devoid of windows. Just me, the radon, and a background disquiet of household sounds that resonate like a drum. Let’s not even mention the damn phone or doorbell.

Heightened awareness inside a desert silence kicked my muse into hyper drive. Ideas flash-carded so fast in my head, some hitch-hiked the winds of forgetfulness. Hell of a place to be caught without a notebook. 

Desirous to remain longer, the siren call of my grandson pulled me back to the present. He took my hand and led me back to the 4Runner.

On another visit, my 4Runner guide took a little-used trail that most vehicles would find daunting (not to mention stuck in the sand). We climbed reddish sandstone rocks, and rock etchings inside a deep, natural wash carved by the eons, was another reminder of others who had passed this way a long, long time ago. A story of human existence lost came to mind, and piqued curiosity of what inspired the petroglyph artist. 

Desert Petroglyphs Edit

Back in the noisy pandemonium of civilization, after the senses reestablished equilibrium, a few of those ideas that had dissipated in an arid desert whiff, somehow eddied back into my thoughts. I closed my eyes in a quiet room, and let recent memories of desert inspiration come to life. 

So … if your muse is locked in the prison of writer’s block, find someplace where sound is the lesser input, and let the other senses open your eyes, and inspire the imagination. 





Note: All pictures from Hidden Valley Nevada by DT Krippene, except colorful marketplace by Sam Beasley of



Villainous Nyms and Roller Derby Girls


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I was looking for some good villain names the other day, and stumbled across an article I wrote in April 2014 (amazing what one forgets). I checked the analytics and found it to be one of the more popular articles I’d written, and worthy of a shameless reblog. It may not spark an evil nym for you, but it isn’t for lack candidates from the women of Roller Derby. 




Everybody loves a good villain, even better, a good villain name.  To find a villain name that over time becomes a trademark of evil, the very mention of which instills a chill, is every author’s dream. Hannibal Lector, Darth Vader, Count Dracula, Cruella De Vil, Freddy Kruegar, Dr. Doom, Adolf Hitler – to name but a very few. Marvel and DC comics popularized pseudonyms to associate functional similarities like, Magneto, Dr. Octopus, Mystique, Joker, or Blackheart.

For me, the most inventive process of nomenclature for faux villains are pseudonyms used by Roller Derby girls with altered famous names, such as aptronyms – a name that matches the occupation of its owner, or charactonyms – a name suggesting a distinctive trait.

Everyone has his or her favorite name play-on-words. Rusty Bucket, Crisp E. Bacon, Solomon I. Lands, Dee Lyn Quint. One of my favorite primary school jokes of a fake library book: 50 Steps to the Outhouse, by Willy Makit; Illustrated by Betty Wont. Sophomoric for sure, but we loved it. Example of an aptronym could be Sally Blizzard – Meterologist, or an auto salesman with the name, Henry Ford Carr. Charactonym examples are more common, like Mistress Quickly, Dr. Horrible, or the famous Long John Silver.

Leave it to a once obscure sport to reset the bar on villainous name selection. If you’ve never watched women’s Roller Derby, you’ve been deprived. A main stay for us kids kept indoors on a midwinter Saturday afternoon when television had only four channels, it’s like speed skating with the aggressiveness of hockey and pro-wrestling. What makes the game even more fun is the cornucopia of pseudonyms used by the players. 

With player names like Bruise Almighty, GoreJess, and Amelia Dareheart, what better place is there to mine for unique villainous names? Harley Quinn might be mentally imbalanced, and Dr. Doom might be one of Marvel’s top villains, but Mariah Scary could be the start of a whole new genre.

Until Drew Barrymore’s movie, Whip It, came out in 2009, roller derby had almost become a forgotten footnote of American sports. With names like Smashley Simpson, Babe Ruthless, and Bloody Holly, the movie Whip It reintroduced America to teams like the Hissy Fits, Traverse City Toxic Cherries, Detroit Pistoffs, Eves of Destruction, Murder City Kitties, Left Hook Honeys, Kappa Jamma Slamma, Arkansas Killbillies, Glamazons, Sadistic Sweethearts, and the Trust Fund Terrors. Cruella De Vil has nothing on these dangerous dudettes.

These are women who you don’t want to piss off, and they’re always looking for new blood, pun very much intended.

Courtesy of Buzzfeed, here’s a few names that had me smiling.

Vladimir Naboobkov, Wuthering Frights, Dora the Destroyer, Wolf Blitzher, Wikibleedia, Whoremione Granger, Whistler Smother, Susan B. Agony, Wench Press, Vulva Las Vegas, Velveteen Rabid, Uma Vermin, Tart of Darkness, Artillery Clinton, Skank Williams, Doris Day of Reckoning, Shirley Temple of Doom, Nasty Pelosi, Katniss EverMean, Naomi Cannibal, Kancer, Sigourney Reaper, Toe-Knee Soprano, Addy Rawl, Snot Rocket Science, Raw Heidi, and The Dalai Harmer 

You can find the entire league at Roller Derby Name Registry, and the International Rollergirls’ Master Roster.

You might be inspired to create your own.


You’re about to enter the rink.    The crowd is calling for blood.

What’s your evil name?

I’m thinking of Death E. Dahmer. 

If It Were Easy, We’d All Be Best Sellers


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Sam Bloom via

Writers have an abnormal predilection for planting themselves in a chair – alone – surrounded by nothing – and wait for the words to rain. It just ain’t natural.

The 24th GLVWG Write Stuff Conference™ come and gone, this is the time I take a few days to reflect on what I’ve learned, what I’ve heard before, and why the hell I’m still writing.  

Our keynote speaker and headliner this year was NYT Bestseller, Bob Mayer, a former Green Beret who wrote the Area 51 series, as well as 70 other titles in fiction and non-fiction. That’s me on the right (as if you couldn’t tell).

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We spent a full day with Bob, listening to his advice on the standard elements of plot, story structure, character, the importance of tight narrative, and dangers of going off on tangents that don’t move the story. Anyone who has read my article from last year, ‘The Perils of Captain Tangent – a Pantser’s Writing Journey’, knows I have an issue with side stories that end nowhere.

It was the Day 2 of the conference that struck a chord with me. Bob Mayer spoke about ‘Write it Forward’, with lessons he learned in the military.  He gave the classic pitch, “everyone stand up, look at the person on the right, then look at the one on the left. Only one of you is going to make it.” He reminded us that only five-percent of all writers ever finish a book, that five-percent get to the point of publishing the book, and five percent of those people ever get anywhere with it. In simpler terms, earning enough to buy a case of Yuengling beer is like winning the lottery.

For those writers who’d never heard it before, you could see the eagerness visibly drain from their faces. Reality bites.

For me, the message I took away had less to do with sobering statistics I already knew, or the writing process I’ve been refining for years.  

“Why are you writing, and what’s your goal?” Bob asked. 

He followed it up with, “how passionate are you about what you’re doing?”

Growing up, I had an imagination fueled on nuclear ether.  I tried to harness the chaos of that imagination by penning it on paper. An hour later, finger cramps set in (I can be a bit intense when gripping a pen).  I got a D+ in high school typing class, my fingers unable to master a typewriter without buckets of whiteout and erasable bond paper.  It would take access to a modern word processor, and the ability to backspace and delete with impunity, before I struck up the nerve to start writing again years later.

Thirty-plus years traveling for corporate America offered ample opportunities on flights, waiting for flights, and hotel rooms. I wrote stuff. While living overseas, I got a non-paid gig writing articles for a local travel magazine. It was fun. I actually had a small fan base. When I repatriated, I asked myself the same question Bob did – what do I want to be, besides thirty-years younger?  I read a book on the subject of rebooting life.  It asked tough questions like, what gave me passion in the younger years, before I put down childish things.  What was it I dreamt of as a kid? 

I’m happiest when I tap into the chaotic ether of my imagination and put words to it. 

The stories came easy, but understanding the mechanics of plotting and structure was a different breed of cat. I can quote the basic laws of chemistry, but dangling participles was something I learned on the fly.  My first 300-page attempt was a laughable exercise that simultaneously encouraged (I am a writer, I am, I am, I am), and depressed me (Dear Occupant, thank you for your submission, but …). Not having a pedigree that comes with a Fine Arts education, I had a steep hill to climb.

Who Wrote This

The journey took me on a rediscovery of subjects I’d glossed over in secondary school, like grammar.  The proper use of commas was enough to send me to the nut house. Thankfully, Word spell check kept me from giving up entirely.  I networked with authors, joined writer groups, and went to conferences to learn about the business of getting published.  Surviving a critique process from fellow writers is not for the weak-hearted. 

Rejection by the hundreds required the skin of a stegosaurus.  With the prolificacy of traditional publishing, and indie publishing (an unending tsunami of content in Bob’s words), being published today is akin to the lone salmon going downstream against the horny hoards during spawning season.

Bob reconfirmed what I had to discover for myself a few years ago, “old dogs must learn new tricks”.  Exhuming a passion, buried for decades in a lead-lined box of adult obligations, can be one of the hardest things in a person’s life.  It felt good to hear a professional like Bob Mayer corroborate what I had to learn on my own.

It takes Passion.

It takes Perseverance.

It takes Risks

So why haven’t I published yet? A wonderful agent tried to market two books I wrote a couple years back, but no takers. It amazes that me she still answers my emails after those first attempts.  

Her advice to me – keep writing.

Don’t have to ask me twice. Hell, I can’t help myself. When I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing. I lost count how many times my wife caught me pacing a room with a blank look, lost in the sparkles of the kaleidoscopic pandemonium of my imagination.

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I just finished my sixth novel. Given the commentary from trusted beta readers, I still have some work to do. It ain’t because the story sucks. It’s about making it as good as it needs to be.

But I’m getting closer.

I’ll end it here. I have a story to correct. Got to make my own rain.

Oh, and the hyperactive muse who won’t let me sleep at night, is egging me to start a new idea.

Writing Desk


Hmmm – wonder if I can do both at the same time?



Portable Magic


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As a writer, it’s a requirement to keep one’s skills honed. To quote a master of modern fiction, Stephen King, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write. Simple as that.”

My reading stack is mountainous. Books I want to read, books others want me to read, books fellow authors want me to beta-read, and books my wife wants me to read, which deserves a separate category since it’s usually non-fiction (insert gag reflex). I don’t hate non-fiction, mind you, it just isn’t on my priority list. Unless it’s research for a novel, or a good science article, the real stuff bores me fast.

To quote Mr. King again, “Reading a good long novel is in many ways like having a long and satisfying affair“. Given the occasional stink eye I get from my wife, one wonders if she views my writing muse as the other woman in that satisfying affair. I don’t know what she’s worried about since it’s all in my head.

Do you see the boy in the graphic above wearing glasses by a window on a rainy night? That was me.  I was a middle child of seven, geekish, card-carrying four-eyes by age ten, preferred loner – you get the drill. My second home was the library in small town Wisconsin. That’s where it all started.

Having finished the science fiction novel, I’m between projects at the moment, struggling to decide what to write next while beta-readers dissect the last story with gallons of virtual red ink.  To keep from lying awake all night, or biting my nails to the quick like an expectant father, opening a new book hijacks the mind to undiscovered realms.  Reading let’s me explore someone else’s muse.

What do I like to read? Since I just flogged non-fiction as worse than liver, it’s a sure bet that I like fiction. I write fiction because I like to build my own world. I read fiction because I like to see how others build their own world. If you’ve got some time on your hands, I posted most of the books I’ve read over the years on my Goodreads Profile.

Last year, a group I belong to asked what my top ten all time favorite authors are. No easy chore, I selected authors who affected me more fondly than others.

In alphabetical order.

  1. James Clavell – I read ‘Shogun‘ while living in the Philippines as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Living in Asia during the seventies gave it special meaning, and I became hooked on everything Clavell wrote. I credit the desire to embrace foreign cultures to his books. The chance came in 1997, where I embarked on a ten-year stint in Singapore and Taiwan.
  2. Michael Crichton – Especially intrigued by life sciences in high school, ‘Andromeda Strain‘ introduced me to a bold new world of futuristic thrillers involving engineered pathogens. Crichton’s books were always richly researched and fast-paced. My favorite of Crichton’s is ‘Timeline‘, where time travelers go back to 14th Century France to rescue a professor.
  3. Ken Follet – Where Clavell may have set the bar for historical thrillers, Ken Follet took it to a new level with a 12th Century monk’s drive to build a cathedral in a two book series, ‘Pillars of the Earth‘, and ‘World Without End‘. Follet spares no ugliness in the oft-violent world of the European Middle Ages, but he balances it with the hidden beauty of a simpler time. Follet is must reading for anyone world-building in this time frame.
  4. Robert Heinlein – I was ten when I first read Heinlein’s ‘Tunnel in the Sky‘, about a futuristic final exam for advanced survival that goes wrong and students become castaways in an unknown universe. Must have read it a dozen times as a kid, and I credit Heinlein for starting me on the sci-fi highway, absorbing every novel the man wrote. ‘Podkayne of Mars’ remains a favorite.
  5. Robert Jordan – Author of the ‘Wheel of Time‘ series, no one (except maybe George R.R. Martin), paints a complex fantasy world like Jordan. Admittedly, Jordan wandered inside his plot line as the series grew, and had a tendency for diarrhea of the word processor when drafting a scene. Jordan died before he could finish the series. Jordan’s wife tapped fellow fantasy author, Brandon Sanderson, to bring it all to a close with Jordan’s notes. I loved the damned series, and the awesome cover designs by Darrell K. Sweet.
  6. Stephen King – Believe it or not, King is another key author in my life discovered while serving in the Peace Corps. Try reading ‘Carrie‘ beneath a mosquito net, to the sounds of a sweltering Philippine barrio night, and not get the shivers. I’ve read most of his works, but ‘The Stand‘ remains my all time favorite, an apocalyptic tale that started my love affair with all things dystopian.
  7. Barbara Kingsolver – When asked who my favorite literary fiction authors are, Kingsolver is first on the list. ‘Poisonwood Bible‘ stands out as her most notable, and ‘Animal Dreams‘ a personal favorite, but it was the more recent ‘Flight Behavior‘ that resonated with me. A story of a potential ecological disaster involving Monarch butterflies , a small town, Appalachian mother’s life is irrevocably changed inside an arena of political, climatological, and religious interests.
  8. Dean Koontz – My first Dean Koontz novel was ‘Lightning‘, a story of a young girl’s rescue from a man who appeared on the heels of a lightning bolt. Like Stephen King, Koontz has the ability to write stories that appeal to sci-fi, fantasy, and horror aficionados. Koontz can breathe life into characters like no one else.
  9. Kim Stanley Robinson – A recent entry to my top ten list of favs, Robinson was recommended when I lamented the glut of space operas, and I’d had enough of Einstein-bending captains traveling over light speed and evil lizard-like aliens. I started with a recent novel, ‘2312‘, in a future of colonized planets within our own solar system, enhanced humans, and the dark element of Artificial Intelligence. Not an easy read, Robinson keeps it real by adhering to the established tenets of Einstein and Hawkings, yet offers new ideas of what the future may hold for mankind. I just finished an earlier novel by Robinson, ‘Aurora‘.  Awesome.
  10. J.R.R. Tolkien – What can I add that hasn’t already been said. Another pivotal series in my adolescent years that began with ‘The Hobbit‘, you can’t really get a feel for the richness of Tolkien’s epic fantasies in the movies. You can’t call yourself a Tolkien reader unless you’ve read his other works, like ‘The Silmarillion‘.

I read Neal Stephenson’s ‘Seveneves‘ last month, another mind-bending futuristic tale of human extinction averted by seven women who become seeds of the new humanity after 5,000 years. Might need to start a top fifty list.



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Tanja Heffner – via

I’m a lot older now, but I’ll never grow out of that bespectacled child by the window, or tented beneath the blankets with a flashlight (because I was supposed to be asleep).  One more King-ism for you, “Books are a uniquely portable magic.”

While others sigh in boredom on a long flight, or fall asleep during a movie on their smartphone, you’ll find me immersed in the portable magic of a good book, followed by a WTF expression when we land with – “we’re here already?”



Beginning From An End


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Jaime Street via


After finally finishing my latest novel, I see a whole new set of beginnings coming with it. No time to revel in joy for completing the novel, I’m already looking for that new spark in the wilderness of imagination.

But first, I must reset the way I do things.  Productivity this past year was in the shitter.  I could rail on with a few dog-ate-my-homework memes.  Birth of a new grandson a few months ago, and losing a father-in-law in past weeks would certainly headline the list. Too many times I found myself looking back to say WTF.


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Vincent Van Zalinge via


I made a commitment to finish the book, “The Gravity of Light”, by October. That slipped to November, which then slipped to December. In order to keep up between life events, I slowed my Twitter and Facebook posts, and let this blog lapse for a couple months to focus on typing those final chapters.  Didn’t help matters I was already on version four, and heading into version five after realizing I was caught in a blizzard of plot holes.


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Redd Angelo via


I’m also a slow writer. Yeah, I’ve read all those writer blogs that espouse the benefits of ‘catching-the-story-express’, forget grammar, pacing, scene descriptions, et al.  Just ain’t my style. It’s the ever present ADD muse in me that prefers to stay on the platform.


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Fabrizio Verrecchia via


But it’s done. After more than a year (okay, it was two years), slogging through undiscovered country, I reached the rainbow. I removed hundreds of notes from the margin, changed multicolored sentences to black, and put a nice header on it.  Now, it will make the rounds with agent, author friends, and significant writerly-others I trust.


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Sorasak via


With an ending, come new beginnings.

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