In the wake of the two mass shootings last week, we are once again thrust back into the discussion about new gun control legislation with conservatives accusing liberals of overreacting and trying to take all the guns away from law abiding citizens and liberals taking up their eternal call that conservatives are fervently pro-life until the baby is actually born. It's one of the most divisive issues in the country and I often ask myself why. Let's unpack the Second Amendment, sensible gun control measures and how to combat mass shootings.
First, we need to unpack the exact words of The Second Amendment, since the concept that, whatever is in the Constitution goes is paramount to how supporters defend their position. "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed." That's it. That's the entire Second Amendment. Seems simple. The pro-gun lobby will point to the words "necessary", "security of a free State", and "shall not be infringed" as indisputable proof that guns are not only a right but a necessity to keep the people secure against a tyrannical government. Liberals and those in favor of more gun control will point to the phrase "well regulated Militia" as argument in favor of stricter regulatory measures and as proof that the Second Amendment in its original form is a relic of the past. (We don't have state Militias anymore).
Here's the thing, if you really dissect how the words are written, and bearing in mind the interpretation of retired Supreme Court Justice, John Paul Stevens, the pro-control lobby has a point. The Constitution was written in 1787, and the language of it is not exactly congruent to today. The phrase "regulated Militia" doesn't mean "regulation" like we think of it today, i.e. controlled, etc. Recall that throughout the Revolutionary War, the standing Continental Army was actually very small and much of the fighting force was made up of state Militia units, dubbed "regulars". Additionally, the phrase "State" with the capital S did not mean to the Framers what it means to us today, "The State" being a euphemism for the country as a whole. The original Constitution did not have the 50 state, united nation in mind when it was written. The Founders, in spite of the fact that they were creating a Federal government, still saw the States as a loose confederation and The Second Amendment was specifically written to protect the States from having their Militias disbanded by Congress and left vulnerable to the possibility of a Federal Army taking advantage of them.
Now, there are some people out there who will look at that previous paragraph and say, "You proving my point that guns keep me and my family safe and the Founders are clearly saying so!" Well, random stranger who I just made up in my head, that's not the argument I'm making. The argument I'm making is, we don't live in a world where we have to worry about one state infringing on the rights of another. We are no long that loose confederacy that the Founders envisioned. We no longer say "The United States are...", we say "The United States is...". The world and the country has changed since its founding and the Constitution can, too. It was created with the idea in mind for it to be a living document. In much the same way that a private business kicking a user off its platform for not adhering to their protocols is not a violation of the First Amendment, I don't see certain gun control measures as a violation of the Second. Besides, the Supreme Court already ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment upholds all citizens right to bear arms, so relax.
That does bear out the question though: "How do you reconcile gun control measures and laws against infringing on people's rights?" It's a "gotcha" type question that the pro gun lobby always uses, and to this day I can't believe the counter argument isn't presented more often. Laws don't infringe on rights. As a person living in the United States over the age of 16, I have a right to drive a car, but I must first demonstrate my ability to safely handle it by passing a test and getting a license and I have to keep my automobile registered. As a part of my "pursuit of happiness" guaranteed by the Constitution, I am allowed to pursue having a business in Real Estate, but in order to practice, I must again, pass a test, secure my license and continue to maintain said license with continuing education and renewal. And perhaps most baffling, when you really think about it, as a hunter, I am required by law to have a license to pursue that which I want to do with my firearms, but am not required to have a license for the firearm itself. That's like saying I need a license to drive my car around the local racetrack but not on the city streets.
And the thing is, the majority of Americans agree that some form of competent gun reform needs to take place in our country in order to allow for law abiding citizens to continue to pursue their various fire arm hobbies while keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of those who only intend to do harm with them. To me it looks like this: (a) Licensing for all gun owners over the age of 18 to be completed before owning a firearm. (b) All firearms sold in the United States must be registered to a national database. We do it with car titles and registrations, why not guns? (c) Each gun registration is also like a car title in that you register it to its new owner when its sold and, potentially, pay a one time registration fee or tax of, say $75 (again, like a car title transfer). In my view, this will partially close that loophole that many gun control advocates point to; the gun show sellers. By at least documenting what guns are being sold to whom, at minimum we can hopefully at least curb the sale of firearms to those who we would wish to not own them. And think of all the revenue we could generate. Hunting licenses basically provide the budget for the Federal DNR, imagine adding gun licenses to that budget and what that could do at a minimum for the preservation of our natural resources. Or, even better, for funding more firearm education programs. (d) Tighten up criminal punishments for gun related crimes. Example: add harsher mandatory minimum penalties for using a gun in commission of a crime and have steadily increasing penalties if the gun is registered but not to you and even harsher if it is an unregistered/illegal firearm.
But I think the question we have to deal with as a society even more is simply: "Why do you want to own a gun?" And this is coming from a gun owner. My answer is simply, because I like to hunt. I have a 12 gauge shotgun for bird hunting and I have a .308 rifle for deer hunting. They live in the basement, not under my bed and I don't plan on teaching my son about them until he's 12 and can take hunter's safety (if he even shows any interest at all). I know my way around a handgun and am a pretty good shot in a relay, but I don't shoot silhouette targets of people to sharpen my "deadly aim." For me, and I would hope for most, a gun is simply another tool that I use for a specific task. The danger, I believe, comes when a firearm stops being a tool and starts becoming, in its basest form, a means to assert control. I strongly believe that the most ardent pro-gun voices who say any regulation is unacceptable and everyone would be safer if we had universal concealed carry and could execute vigilante style justice when confronted with one of these mass shooter situations are not coming from the purest place. I have argued in the past that inside the genetic make up of all humans lies a primal savageness and innate wish to harm. I know personally there is a reason I in particular do not maintain a concealed carry permit and my home defense weapon of choice against a burglar is a Louisville Slugger. (A) As much as I pride myself on being a safe and responsible gun owner, I know my temper and I recognize the potential of a gun on my hip being the first resort in any top of conflict instead of the last and (B) my primal savageness lends itself more toward personal hand to hand combat anyway. But joking aside, the question that every gun owner has to ask is "Do I want to own this thing for the right reasons?" or is there that innate little voice that tells you "This hunk of metal is the real equalizer. With this, you never have to be afraid. With this, you can be God"?
Because that's the last thing about guns. They have the ability to cause great harm, pain, and loss of life, but they do it at a distance. And it's in this that we have to examine the psychology of a mass shooter versus any other form of mass murderer. One of the Sheriffs in Georgia was criticized last week for saying that the guy who went in and shot up 3 separate Asian massage parlors was "having a bad day." A callus sounding thing to be sure, but when you think about it, not entirely inaccurate. From my research into various serial killers for my novels, I have come to the conclusion that these individuals kill to satisfy something inside themselves. And it's not something that can be helped by any amount of therapy or medication. Mass shooting, on the other hand, I would argue is usually the result of a build-up things that explodes in one horrific act, with no real plan and no real desire to survive the encounter. It's the difference between Ted Bundy craftily stalking and strangling women for years and a guy taking an AR-15 into a Denver theater and opening fire. The intimacy of seeing life leave the body versus shooting "paper targets". Mass shooters don't, in my opinion, kill out of need. They kill because there is something else inside of them that might have been otherwise treated if we were only paying attention.
And that's the final point. Pro-gun advocates want to sit in committee in the Senate and scream about doing things that make sense rather than a "liberal wish list", then how about we stop stigmatizing mental illness and reach out and help the next person before he goes out and mows down a group of people? I strongly believe that funding more community outreach programs and making counselors and therapists more readily available to those in need of such things would do monumental good, not just in the prevention of more of these events, but for the health of our society in general. We should never underestimate the value of listening and feeling listened to.
But that's just the take of one hippie-dippy liberal gun-owner. What do you think? Is this all just a lost cause? Is the occasional mass shooting just the price we have to pay to maintain the status quo as it relates to our Second Amendment rights? Or do you agree that we can maintain the spirit of the Constitution while still installing some common sense safe guards in our laws?
I don't write comfortable fiction. Certainly, I wouldn't recommend anyone under the age of, say, 16(?) read it at least. The themes that I explore, especially when it comes to the brutality that one person is capable of inflicting on another, isn't, to the outside observer, congruent with the man you'd imagine raising a son with all the love and tenderness that he is capable of. There would seem to be a disconnect there, yes? Well, let's unpack.
I will acknowledge that the deep recesses of my imagination are home to some pretty dark things. In stepping into the world that I inhabit, I became very interested in the motivations of people. Why do they do what they do? Especially when it comes to the commission of atrocities against their fellow human beings. Who hurt you, Adolf? Do you really hate glasses that much, Pol Pot? Donald, why do you and seventy million of your friends think that red hat looks so cool? Okay that last one is really only about the killing of morals and not people, but the point stands. Inside every person, I firmly believe, there is a savageness. I personally, believe myself perfectly capable of extreme violence if it meant defending my wife and son from harm. But, then, I've always thought that about myself, so in this case, no, becoming a father hasn't really changed me at all.
That's not to say that a change hasn't come over me in the 21 months my son has been on this earth. From the moment I first held him I was a different person. Up until that point, for the entirety of my adulthood, I was very guarded with my feelings. That is not to say unfriendly, but I spent so much time as a volatile teenager (to my detriment) that I worked for years (mostly after college) to refine my emotional reactions to things in order to try and maintain an outward even keel. Don't get me wrong, I'm still a roiling sea of feeling under the surface, both positive and negative, but for the most part, I was able to remain in a state of constant meditative stoicism. I don't recall a tear falling from my eyes between the age of 19 and 31. (Someone will probably fact check me on that). Now here I am, soon to be 36 and thanks to my little boy, things that used to bring a lump to my throat that I could push back down after a moment now have me blinking and digging a fist into my eye. After months of attempts, I still can't make it through singing him "Puff The Magic Dragon" without having to stop and collect myself as my voice waivers. When the Capital was attacked on January 6th, I picked him up and burst into tears. And every little new thing that he does brings me more joy than hitting the Best Seller list. Some might lament the idea that once you become a parent, your life is no long your own. I don't. It's the greatest thing I could ask for.
So, did having a child affect me as a writer? Short answer: I really don't know. I have a lot less time to write, that's for damn sure. Even banging this blog post out took several pauses to make sure he at least stayed where I could see him. What I know for sure is that becoming a father undoubtedly changed me as a person and I can't imagine it wouldn't have an effect on my writing. But since I'm incredibly close to my work, it's possible I'll never see it. I don't want to change subjects. To the contrary, exploring the themes that I do becomes even more important because when you imagine the things that happen to characters in my books happening to your own child, it makes you that much more committed to ensuring that the villain gets what's coming to them in the end.
But, you, the readers will be the real judges. For perspectives sake, Unholy Shepherd was written before my son was born. A Perfect Victim was written after. You'll have to tell me if anything changed.
The last blog post I did was pretty serious in nature and, while I will be focusing a lot of my blogging efforts on literary analyses, my views on what's going on in our modern world, and the like, I thought it would be fun to sprinkle in some different content from time to time. Considering that The Demon Sight is centered on a concept that usually exists outside the "norm", I believe it would be both appropriate and enjoyable to take time to discuss other paranormal, cryptozoological, and spiritual questions that we come face to face with in our lives. These are my opinions and are not meant to indicate any sort of expertise on any of these topics. Okay, let's have fun with: Bigfoot!
For most people my age, Bigfoot is associated with those pseudo-scientific television shows that rely heavily on big starring personalities with little regard for method and research. Every piece of information they look at is conclusive proof (it's a real problem in this country on many different topics, but I digress). The shows, which fill cable television channels that used to be a source of actual educational programming (cough, cough, not naming names), last for an hour and in the end, the outcome is always the same. We believe it's there, but we didn't get any conclusive evidence. This time. (Or, "well clearly this, this, and this - which any person with three brain cells to rub together can tell isn't enough to provide any conclusion - is proof!").
The thing is, I LOVE watching those shows. And I love watching them for one simple reason: I can't get enough of criticizing their "scientific method" and clever editing. This is not for the reason you may be thinking. Quite the opposite actually. I do believe there is enough compelling evidence of non-human bipedal primates, especially in remote areas of the Pacific Northwest and the island rain forests around Indonesia. And there are plenty of scientists who openly believe that more research into the legend is warranted. Chief among them, for all Squatchers out there, is, of course, Dr. Jeff Meldrum, a professor of anthropology specializing in the study of the human evolution of bipedal locomotion. Put simply, this guy has spent his life studying why we walk on two legs. In his book, Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science, describes the certain supporting evidence in the over 300 foot casts that he has collected showing foot morphology containing a flatter sole (a creature that size wouldn't have an arch) that still contains a mid-tarsal break which allows for enough flexibility to walk an two legs. Dermal ridges (fingerprints for feet) and longer toes for gripping rough terrain are also observed. These particular specimens, he says, represent those that he's studied that cannot be debunked as forgeries or misidentification of a known animal (think bear's back paw stepping into its front paw to create something that looks like one big human-like print).
Next, we have to consider the lore of the indigenous peoples. Legends of large, hairy men in the forest have existed in their culture for hundreds if not thousands of years, even occurring in cave paintings next to known animals like deer and foxes. The fossil record indicates the existence of Gigantopithecus living in Eastern Asian around the time of the Bering Land Bridge and it is not outside the realm of possibility that they crossed with the early ancestors of modern humans, evolving separately in the remote forests. And science has proven a real world analog for the Indonesian legend of Orang Pendek (short person) in the fossils of Homo floresiensis, often called, "the real hobbit". The name Sasquatch is derived from the Halkomelem tongue of the first peoples of the Pacific Northwest. Many of these people even believe that Sasquatch is a benevolent protector of nature. I like to think they're right.
And, of course, discussion wouldn't be complete without touching on the Patterson Film. This has become, perhaps, the most scrutinized film in all of zoology (crypto or otherwise). For me, listening to locomotion and kinesiology experts give testimony on the near impossibility of faking the creature's distinctive gait and film experts enhancing the 16mm film to be able to discern breasts on the subject and muscle movement beneath the fur give me plenty of reason to accept the authenticity of the film. John Chambers, Academy Award winning artist responsible for the movable faces for Planet of the Apes has stated that he is "good, but not that good," when asked if he created a suit for Patterson. Additionally, no other Hollywood design company has claimed responsibility for creating a suit, though many state they could, but at a price tag of at least $10,000 (far more than Patterson could have afforded). Now, this is not to say there aren't problems. First off, Roger Patterson set out to Bluff Creek that day to specifically film a Bigfoot movie he hoped to sell to a production company. Patterson was also known as a bit of a story-teller and a huckster. He also died in 1972, so he never had the opportunity to really be questioned over a period of time. His partner that day, Bob Gimlin, on the other hand, notes that they never made any money from the film and, despite severe damage to his own reputation, asserted that they had seen what they filmed for the next 40 years of his life. I don't see a reason for Gimlin to lie. His friend and partner was dead, he didn't want the notoriety, and yet he sticks to the story. I still look at the film with a skeptical eye, always trying to find something new that can conclusively disprove it. I just haven't found that smoking gun yet.
So there you have it. We could go further into the Shipton photos in the Himalayas or the reports of the government relocating a family of Bigfoot during the Mount St. Helen's explosion, but that would go on forever. Is Bigfoot real? I think there's a very good possibility. When you think about the hundreds or thousands of new animals being discovered every year and consider the sheer wilderness that is still out there undiscovered, you can't help but wonder what we will find in the future. After all, the gorilla was thought to be a myth until the early 1900s. What else is out there?
In case you've been living under a rock for the last few weeks, it was announced by Dr. Seuss Enterprises that they had decided to cease production of 6 books deemed to contain racist/culturally insensitive imagery. The firestorm of backlash on this decision from certain outlets (mainly conservative, and mainly, let's be honest, being used as a distraction tactic while the current Administration passes the much-needed relief bill) gave me pause to consider what was actually going on. Are we, as a society, descending into authoritarian rule where thoughts can't be expressed for fear of censorship? Are a beloved children's author's First Amendment Rights being ruthlessly trampled on? Is Dr. Seuss another victim of "Cancel Culture"? Dear God, where does it end?!?!?!?!
I'll take those last two first. Uh...No. I mean, duh, right? The pragmatic answer is, of course, that a) this was a decision made by the very foundation whose mission is to "preserve the legacy of Dr. Seuss" and b) the government had nothing to do with it (which is the very definition of the First Amendment, i.e. "Congress shall make no law infringing upon...blah, blah, blah"). Dr. Seuss Enterprises, after over a year of consideration, research, and consultations with experts, made the decision - feeling that this was the best way to uphold the legacy of Theodore Geisel in these modern times - to cease publication of those 6 books (which, I might remind you, are not exactly among his top sellers. Sure, Mulberry Street is referenced in Oh The Places You'll Go but other than that I hadn't heard of or read any of the others. Despite what certain government officials will have you believe, Green Eggs and Ham, isn't going anywhere, folks!). Also, note they said they will cease publication and sales. Guess what? Despite the rhetoric of certain dissenters, there will not be a mass confiscation and ritualistic burning of all previously published copies of these books. So don't worry, if you really feel the need to "exercise your free speech" and show your toddlers those dated caricatures of Chinese and African people, there's still Amazon.
So that's the Seuss issue in a nutshell, but what about the claim that this is "just the tip of the iceberg [for what the "radical left" want]" or "now that we've cancelled Dr. Seuss, who's next?" Well, to my mind, these questions that typify this situation reach down to a much deeper issue. And that is: Are we allowed, either as authors, writers, or, even more broadly, as society in general, to change our minds about things, especially things we ourselves have created? Are we allowed to grow and progress in our thinking, embracing new ideas and leaving behind others? Let's take, for example, perhaps one of the most controversial books in American Literature, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. There are, to my mind, two schools of thought on this book. Some literary scholars would argue that, knowing Mark Twain's views on slavery and given that the rest of the novel satirizes the parts of society around him that he found absurd, he employed the use of N-word as much as he did to point out the absurdity of white people conferring that sort of title on a black man. Others would simply point out that he was using language of an archaic time that has no place being taught in the modern classroom. (For the record, 20 years ago, when I read it in my high school English class, the first school of though was taught and for the most part are class did not have a problem with this explanation. I personally, at the time as now, despise that word and am very uncomfortable saying it - often mumbling it when it was my turn to read out loud in class. That word along with a certain derogatory for a woman beginning with C are two words a cannot force myself to say aloud in any circumstance). Still, no matter what your stance, you'd have to agree that the book is polarizing to say the least, and I would accept the notion that we don't need to teach it in the classroom anymore. Despite all the controversy of one book, though, Mark Twain is still a giant of Literature and has never been anything but respected for his talent as a writer, and, for the time period in which he lived anyway, a fairly progressive thinker.
So maybe that's the answer. Maybe intent is the key. Maybe if we argue that if certain words and images that, as we as a society grow more attuned and empathetic to the feelings of others, are deemed offensive, racist, misogynistic, etc, are used with the intent by the creator of an artistic media to draw attention to and critique elements of society that they find unacceptable or abhorrent, that they can remain in the zeitgeist while the works containing the same words and images which were created to demonize and disparage those to whom they are targeted or whip up sentiment against said people (think Mein Kampf) can (and should) be removed from polite society. And, maybe, just maybe, in the case where, like here with Dr. Seuss, the artist (or those representing the artist in terms of legacy) have themselves grown to have a deeper understanding of the evolving nature of the world and decides to self-censor some of their past works in the name of progress and a feeling of moral obligation to themselves and others, we can all just shut up and let them manufacture their work as they see fit. The distillation of a few works does not constitute the expulsion of the whole. After all, the Seuss Enterprise took it upon themselves several years ago to paint over a long-standing mural at the Seuss Museum in Springfield due to its portrayal of a negative Asian stereotype and yet, the American Library Association still names their yearly award for the book deemed "the most distinguished American book for beginning readers" the Geisel Award. As for DSE themselves, all you have to do is read directly from their official statement regarding the closing of publication on the certain books to understand their intent, stating it is "committed to listening and learning and will continue to review our portfolio."
The real point is this: No one who is raising arguments against Dr. Seuss Enterprises is actually concerned about the "integrity" of the work itself. What they are concerned about is they see this as another threat to their authority and power within our society. It's about using the right words to whip up a large enough segment of society to hopefully hold back the tide of progress that the next generation is threatening to sweep them away with and keep our country firmly planted in 1981. Any pretensions otherwise are disingenuous to say the least.
There is plenty more that could be said but I'll close by posing the following questions. Should artists be able to alter or erase their work as they see fit? And if the minds and sentiments of a society as a whole are shifting in a different direction, is it really detrimental for artists to adjust previously completed works as well? Or, are the conservatives right and are we becoming too soft and if you can't take certain words and images, you're simply a weak-minded, overly-sensitive person and need to "get over it"? I think it's fairly obvious where I stand, but I'd like to hear from you. Comment below.
When I sat down to write my first novel, I realized one thing very quickly. I had NO idea how to write a novel. The accepted school, I would suppose, according to my high school English classes, would be to do the following: Establish your concept, prepare a preliminary outline, do some research, refine and finalize the outline, write, edit, re-write, final edit, hand in. I mean, it works with research papers, right? I wrote dozens of them throughout my scholastic career and used this model successfully for all of them. The problem is, writing fiction isn't writing a scholastic work. There are dozens of ways to produce a manuscript according to what I've read. When Tolkien sat down to write Lord Of The Rings, it's well-known that it took him 12 years to finish because he simply began to write, and wrote and wrote flow of conscious until he got stuck, then scrapped the whole thing and started over, repeating the process until it was finished, then threatened the Wrath of Eru on anyone who tried to edit it. I follow Brandon Sanderson on Twitter and he gives updates on his novel progress as xxxx/xxxxx words completed, indicating that he's pre-planned his novels down to the letter and deviates from it very little if at all. George RR Martin? Who knows. Stephen King, I swear, that man can think up, write and publish a novel in one bathroom trip.
As for me, when I write - being firmly entrenched in the TV generation - I picture the scene as though I'm watching it play out in crime procedural on television and then simply write down what I see in my mind. (After all, we all fantasize about our work being picked up by Netflix or Amazon Prime and optioned for media rights. It's natural). I began Unholy Shepherd as a series of tent pole scenes that I knew needed to happen in the confines of the story and I wrote those. They were in no particular order, though I had a general idea of where they needed to happen. The climax is always easy to set in stone and I wrote it early on. Knowing who did it and why and how they are brought down, at least in my mind, makes creating the rest of the narrative leading up to the final pages much easier. Once I had those pages (some 50 to 70 manuscript pages worth) nailed down, I actually went back to my initial concept and fleshed out a beefed up version of what might look like the back cover summary of the novel as a whole. I went through and named the important characters and jotted down important character details, some lines of dialogue that I knew I wanted to use somewhere in the book but just didn't have a place for yet, and outlined a rough chronology of events. Then I put it aside for a few days because each time I tried to force words from my brain into my fingertips poised over the keyboard, nothing seemed to flow.
I've never had any problem coming up with ideas. Each time I had one, I'd excitedly run to my computer, open up my outline document and type it in below the last one (or punch it into my phone's notes app). So somewhere in that jumbled mess of notes and sentence fragments, I had a story. Not only that, I found I had begun to think beyond the first novel, and this was the time I began thinking about where the series as a whole would go, developed a story concept for each subsequent novel, and began to write in plot points and concepts into Shepherd that I wanted to pay off in the future. But I was still stagnant on the actual novel.
And so I made the decision to show a couple of the early chapters to some of my friends and family. When they read it and excitedly told me they were dying to know what was going to happen, it gave me the boost I needed to buckle down. It took me 13 months total to write Shepherd (which most writing advice blogs and online articles will tell you is WAY too long for a 100,000 word book, but, f- 'em, right?), but at least 3/4 of it was written between Christmas of 2018 and the end of March 2019. I credit the rush of positive reinforcement, but also the impending birth of my son, as motivation. During this time, as I got more and more chapters hammered out, the final picture of the work finally emerged and I went back to my outline document and finally charted what each chapter would be, whose POV it would be from, etc. In this way, I was finally able to stitch the book together in a cohesive narrative.
When I wrote my second book, A Perfect Victim (look for it around Halloween this year! Buy it! Buy all my books! Send my kid to college!), I made the conscious decision to learn from what I believed were "deficiencies" in my work flow. Believing I was taking the advice of my editor (i.e. "show don't tell", watch your stupendously long sentence structure, etc.) I made the fateful decision to self edit as I wrote, trying to curb my flowery use of descriptive words and phrases that led to my editor editing out nearly 20,000 words of my original manuscript for Shepherd. And I tried to write the book in order. It took me 11 months to finish. The result was a 95,000 word manuscript for Victim where very little was cut out, but it took a massive re-write after the first edit to actually knock it into a logical, readable manuscript and I actually ended up disliking it for a long time until my publisher informed me that they liked it.
The lesson in all of this: There's no "right" way to write a novel. There's what works for you and what doesn't. For me it's simply writing the parts that are most clear in my mind at the beginning. And I do this, weirdly enough, mainly on my morning and evening walks with my dog. In that silent time, when I'm not chasing around a toddler, cooking for the family, or running errands, I retreat into my imagination and "watch" the television show in my mind that is the next book. As I repeat this over several days, the tent pole scenes solidify in my mind and are ready to put to paper. Then I do my research on the certain details that are important to the plot and ensure that my suppositions of how they work in real life are appropriately represented. Then I sketch out the full plot line and the I repeat my visualizing/writing/research process until I have a full book. When I hit a wall with a certain scene, I either just leave a couple of spaces on the page and go on to the next part that is more clear in my mind, or move on to another part of the book that I have an idea for. If I get stuck there, I go back or start another chapter. I'm 30,000 words into my third novel, Tag, and I have some dozen chapters, not all of which are fully complete, but I'm less stressed than before and the ideas are flowing much freer. I'm excited to finish and have it out next year.
So, there you go. My "Process". It's not exactly a study in efficiency, but it is my own. I don't think I could learn to do it any other way, nor do I recommend any other writers to do what I do. Whenever someone asks me how to write a book, I just say, "Just write it." In my experience, everything else involved in creating a book takes care of itself once you get the damn thing on paper.
But, hey, that's just me. What do you think? Would you use my method to write your own book? Do I just make it sound like I'm just a dog chasing a car with no real plan? Comment below.
I don't know if you noticed or not, but I am a man. A straight, white, American male. True, I like to cook, 5 days a week I serve as primary care giver to my son, I do the shopping and dishes, and I make way less money than my wife, but I also love football, boxing, hunting and Stars both Wars and Trek. Still, despite my interests being quite renaissance in nature, the idea of using a female as the central protagonist of a modern suspense series is quite the unique undertaking for a male author. Many would cock an eyebrow at the audacity of such an act. For all intents and purposes, I'm too old to be considered a true Millennial, so the idea that I'd have been exposed to the type of empathetic and progressive thought that many older individuals often - with more than a whiff of condescension - associate with said generation is debatable.
So the question remains: Why try to write from the point of view of a woman if you're a male? The answer could be multifaceted. Maybe I was looking for a challenge. Maybe I simply believed a female would make for a more believable psychic. (After all, society tends to think of woman as the more empathetic of the species lending to more credibility.) My adolescent crushes were Sarah Michelle Geller's Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly's River Tam. (Yeah, I love Joss Whedon's badass female characters. I don't condone the way the man himself treated the actresses, but the intellectual creations stand on their own merit.) So maybe I was creating another version of my high school dream girl? Well, in actuality, the answer is a lot simpler.
Maureen is, in her simplest form, a amalgamated tribute to several other characters in art and in my own life. In her first incarnation, Maureen was going to be able to talk to cryptically speaking murder victims in her dreams, akin to Jennifer Love Hewitt's character in Ghost Whisperer. One of my favorite book series (second only to LOTR) is Wheel of Time and I was always a fan of how Robert Jordan turned conventional fantasy tropes on their heads and made females the primary heads of state and household in his world. The feminine prowess was embodied no greater than in his Aes Sedai, the ageless women with access to the "One Power" - the mystical, magical force that allows them to do any number of supernatural things. Maureen's name is in fact a direct tribute to one of these characters, Moiraine Damodred (who I am personally very excited to see Rosamund Pike portray in the Amazon series). And her physical description is modeled very closely to what I imagine my step-mother would have looked like in her 20s and 30s.
But, then, you may ask, if I have such an affinity for strong female characters, why does it seem that I put Maureen through so much shit? Well, simply put, I also have much stronger affinity for flawed characters. I find them more true to life. We all have our virtues. We are all broken in certain ways. As I stated in an earlier post, when I think of what a real clairvoyant would be or act like, I would think of someone who was carrying a burden that they would wish they could be rid of. I decided to have Maureen persecuted and broken by her formative years so that the any growth (and admittedly the personal growth will be small and incremental in nature because, let's be real, if you went through what she did and lived like she did for over a quarter of a century, would two weeks in a random Missouri town really make you just do and about face on your outlook of life?) really makes the reader feel something.
In the end, I don't necessarily view The Demon Sight as a female supernatural mystery series. It's the story of a person who happens to have supernatural abilities, just happens to end up using them to help solve crimes, and just happens to be a woman. It is not, nor has it ever been, my intention to turn Maureen into some kind of superhero or Deus Ex Machina for law enforcement. The series is a story of a person accepting her place in the world, growing, learning to trust, and slowly making her way to becoming whole. She might never get there - and she will certainly never drop her acerbic ways - but the journey is what is important.
Being that my current authorial milieu is suspense and mystery, one would be forgiven for believing that I devour mystery novel after mystery novel in my free time, searching for inspiration, etc. In point of fact, I actually read very little in the way of thrillers or mystery novels. To date, I've read three of Dan Brown's novels and a smattering of others. I've never read Stephen King or John Grisham. Can't ever recall cozying up with a James Patterson or Lee Child novel. So, why do I not read the genre that I write? On some level, it's to avoid being overly influenced by other writers and find my own voice. On another, I am such a consumer of true crime that I find myself over-analyzing most mysteries that I read to the point where it almost prevents me from enjoying the book.
So what do I like? Simply put: Give me swords, spears, bows and arrows and I'm a happy boy. Add in comprehensive world building, and I'm in heaven. And of course, this means that my god in this regard is J.R.R. Tolkien. I was barely 5 the first time my father sat down with me to read that funny titled book that I had seen around the house which I thought was a misspelling of my name. (Cuz on the old paperback, it really looked like - to my naive child's eyes, anyway - that the cover artist had meant to write Robbie and not Hobbit). By the time I was 8, our bedtime ritual revolved around jumping in bed and working our way through Lord of the Rings. Soon I was reading both books at least once a year (and still do to this day) and delving into the rest of the Tolkien mythology, familiarizing myself with the material to the point where I honestly believe I could interview to be Stephan Colbert's best friend and often argue out loud with certain Tolkien YouTubers' interpretation of the work. (To the mild bemusement of my wife). The world of Middle Earth served as a gateway to Wheel of Time and, naturally, eventually to A Song of Ice and Fire.
However, I don't just crave fantasy novels. I also enjoy historical fiction. History in itself is really just a story that we all agree on. History is not always fact and even facts aren't always true. So it's great to sit down and read an exciting novel that is set in a real historical period and, while you know the author made up what you're reading, if you have any scholastic knowledge of the events in question, you can almost allow yourself to imagine that you are reading a true account of historical events. The undisputed king of this, in my humble opinion, is Bernard Cornwell. Being that I have an affinity for Anglo European History, I have read the entire Saxon Tales Series (the basis for Netflix's series The Last Kingdom) and The Archer Tales, set during the Hundred Years War. The Warlord Chronicles, a re-imagining of Arthurian Legends, is likely up next, though I believe I will be skipping The Richard Sharpe novels, as I don't actually share the same interest in the Napoleonic Era as I do in other eras of Britain.
Aside from that, I tend to steer toward satire, history, and even politics in moderation. I believe I may have singlehandedly kept Cracked open for years and even toyed with trying to become a contributor. (Further research into stories of those who had done the same convinced me to reconsider). I'm currently reading First Principles by Thomas E. Ricks which discusses the education of our first 4 presidents and discusses the neo-classical influences on their thoughts which embedded themselves in the fabric of our government. It's pretty interesting, though, spending most of the time I'm not writing chasing around a 20 month old toddler means reading is basically confined to my morning constitutionals.
So that's about it. What are your favorite books? Would it offend your sensibilities to learn that I've never read a single Harry Potter book? Comment below.
When I first self published Unholy Shepherd, I admittedly didn't sell many books. But those people I did sell to expressed a great deal of interest in where the story was going. Would Maureen begin to embrace her clairvoyant abilities? Maybe she would even learn to control and refine them? Is she ever going to find out what happened to her brother? Well, without spoiling much, here is a quick breakdown of my plan for the series (basically the cover teasers for each of the five planned novels).
Unholy Shepherd (Previously Self-published, Re-release 4/13 Ten16 Press) - For her entire life, Maureen has done nothing but run. Run from her past, run from her nightmares. But when she finds herself intertwined in the investigation of the brutal murders of two young boys, her dreams my hold the key to helping a struggling local detective find justice.
A Perfect Victim (Manuscript Completed, Target release of late October Ten16 Press) - After being asked to help track down a serial killer stalking the Rocky Mountains, taking the inner organs of his victims, Maureen runs afoul of the lead investigator, who would like nothing more than to see her removed from the case. But when another body turns up, they must set aside their differences if they are to track down the murderer. What follows is a game of cat-and-mouse leading to a chilling revelation: His next target just might be Maureen herself.
Tag (In progress, Targeting a late summer/early fall release in 2022) - The child of an up-and-coming California politician has been abducted and Maureen is flown in to help. Upon arriving she soon finds out that she is not the only psychic on the case, and worse, her clairvoyant abilities seem to be compromised, casting her as a detriment to getting the child back alive. The seedy underbelly of the political world is laid bare as Maureen and her FBI partners race to find the kidnappers, always seeming to be just one step behind.
In Darkness It Rises (Working Title, anticipated release summer or fall of 2023) - As Maureen begins to be frustratingly aware of her growing notoriety, a notorious serial killer seems to have reemerged after years of peace in Central Arkansas. Since the authorities couldn't catch him before, they decide they need fresh eyes on the case and turn to Maureen and bold, young, FBI Agent, Yvonne Royle. The two women set out against the killer whose true motives for murder might be even more disturbing than the mutilated corpses he is leaving behind.
*Note - this story will be difficult for me to write as it centrally revolves around the LGBTQ community and I really want to get things right. I research all of my books to ensure that they are true to life, but this one I anticipate spending double to triple the time on to ensure that I, a straight white male, can still bring an acceptable level of authenticity.
And All Shall Bow (Anticipated release by the end of 2024) - Maureen's fame has continued to spread, despite her deepest wishes. But all fans are not adoring ones. A shocking murder in the same town where her career investigatory began partners Maureen back up with some familiar faces and a mysterious woman with strange kinship to Maureen herself. As they trail a shadowy organization who is playing a much more sinister game than they imagined, Maureen must battle her own desire for vengeance.
So, there you have it. How do you think Maureen's character arc will play out? Sound off below.
I am going to preface this with something that is very important: I DO NOT BELIEVE IN PSYCHICS!
Okay, that's not entirely true. What I mean is, those "celebrity" psychics that are and were a part of daytime and basic cable television. As far back as Harry Houdini we have the playbook that these people read from; cold reading, targeted guessing, prior research, plants, etc. These folks are no more psychic than I am when I predict the off-tackle cut back lane that's going to be wide open to the opposing team's running back when they play the Packers. (Strap in, there's a very good chance that I might use this platform to rant about my favorite sports teams' shortcomings from time to time).
HOWEVER, I do believe that the universe is all interconnected by an unseen tapestry that a select few may be able to sense on a deeper, more powerful level than the rest of mankind. I tend to explain it this way; all of our acts pluck this invisible network like a guitar string and send ripples out into existence. Some acts, especially those that are malicious or evil, pluck these strings harder than others and certain human beings are simply naturally predisposed to being able to pick up on the vibrations.
As I state in the Author Notes at the end of Unholy Shepherd, it is also my firm belief that the ability to do this would not leave a person wishing to be put in the spotlight, but would instead more likely find themselves troubled by the burden of being able to see what they see and feel what they feel. And so it was with those ideas in mind that I created Maureen's ability, which I titled The Demon Sight. Simply put, the way she perceives these "ripples" in the fabric of reality is that she sees directly through the eyes of those committing such atrocities when she sleeps. She doesn't dream any other dreams and she can block them out with enough drugs or alcohol to prevent her from "normal" sleep. But the dreams will always eventually return.
Maureen's ability also serves as a discussion point on the ideas of the role both God and destiny play in our lives. I will discuss this in future posts, but for right now, I'm curious to know the following:
Do you believe psychics or clairvoyants exist?
Have you ever had or witnessed a psychic experience and would you like to share it?
If you've read the book, do you think Maureen will develop her ability, or will she keep running from it?
Looking forward to the discussions,
For the majority of my formative years, I rejected who I really was in favor of who I believed I needed to be to achieve the most success in life. And by success, I mean money. I grew up in a lower-middle class household in the suburbs of Milwaukee. Neither of my parents held an advanced degree (my father left behind his Associates Degree and career in electronics for the day to day grind of carpentry and my mother was a lifetime secretary, first for various area lawyers and then for the school district I attended). They were married very young (20 and 19 respectively) and I didn't come along until 11 years later. I would be their only child.
My childhood was fairly basic. Benefiting from my parents' sole attention, I developed intellectually at a very high level. I was reading before age 3 and spent any time I was alone making up stories and adventures for me to go on in my own room. My parents couldn't give me everything I wanted as far as material things, but I had everything needed (and looking back, a good amount of what I wanted). School was easy for me, I scored top marks on every standardized test, and I easily got myself accepted at the University of Wisconsin (though I wouldn't today, I don't think). I excelled in music, drama and English and I was a fairly devout christian. (It is my given middle name, after all).
So what was the problem? Short answer. I was also really good at math and science as well and believed the media and government propaganda of the time that "math and science are the way to your future". So I decided that I needed to force myself into a major that most students take six years to complete, one which you're not even supposed to start your prerequisites for until your junior year, right off the bat as a freshman. Meanwhile, I filled out my schedule with more science and math classes and by the time my sophomore year ended, I was on academic probation, partying and drinking more than I was going to class and had completely imploded personally and scholastically. Fortunately, by this time, my parents had finally decided they could divorce now that I was no longer living at home so, as some sort of compromise for that, I was allowed to find my own path.
This path led to forming a couple of bands, eventually pursuing an education in music technology (which is a degree I never even came close to using), getting a steady job with a hotel group, where I did well enough to make enough extra money to pay cash for pretty much anything I wanted for the next eight years before I hit the ceiling in hospitality and moved over to dabble in real estate. Somewhere along the way, I developed my interest in true crime and serialized crime and detective series. And I would begin my first drafts of several different mystery novel concepts, none of which made it past a few chapters.
I soon met an amazing woman and decided I wanted to make her my wife (which she thankfully agreed to). In the first year of our marriage, I began to develop the in-world mythology that would for the basis of The Demon Sight, mainly as a story I would tell in my head to entertain myself as I walked the dog in the wee hours of the morning. Slowly, the first novel began to form, but still, I was a real estate agent first and a writer in my spare time. Then we found out we were pregnant. Suddenly, thanks to the flexibility of my job, I was going to be working from home and accepting the duel role of stay-at-home-dad and taking on only a handful of clients each year. With my wife's encouragement, I decided it was time to buckle down and finally finish Unholy Shepherd before my son was born. And I did.
The two year journey from finishing the book to where we are now, re-releasing the previously self published debut novel with Ten16 Press in Wisconsin, is a tale of trial and error as I learned the lessons most a lot of independent authors learn and maybe one day I'll go into that in further detail. The main point is, after 35 years, I've finally embraced who I was meant to be. When I was young I went through the laundry list of the usual "What I Want To Be When I Grow Up" things: archaeologist, architect, landscape architect, electrical engineer, athlete (golfers are athletes, right?). Yeah, I was a weirdly focused kid. But I never put the things that I was truly best at on the list: writing, music, performance (I mean, come on, I was in every play and musical there was during my time in high school but never joined math club or robotics or even took a shop class. What did I think I was going to end up doing?). Am I going to go on and sell a million books and become a household name in the literary world? I'm going to try, but in some ways, I've already succeeded. I am who I was always meant to be. I am a story-teller. I am a world-builder. I am a writer.
I don't just write novels. I just like to write. This blog will not be polished, it won't be edited closely. There will be spelling and grammar errors and it might drag on in places. But it will be fun, off the cuff, genuine, and hopefully interesting to read!