Thursday, March 31, 2011

As Easy as A, B, C

Tomorrow is the start of the A to Z Blogging Challenge... 
The premise of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge is to post something on your blog every day in April except for Sundays.  In doing this you will have 26 blog posts--one for each letter of the alphabet.   Each day you will theme your post according to a letter of the alphabet.
Join me for a journey through the alphabet, starting tomorrow with the letter A...

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What's in a Wor(l)d?

As an author, I seek to breathe life into the novels I write.  A tremendous amount of energy goes into the development of each character, not simply their personality and story within the framework of a book, but their history and background which the reader may never see.

The same amount of planning goes into the surrounding world.

Nestled among towering evergreens and worked into the contours of the surrounding landscape, the human village of Cathedral is the first settlement the characters encounter in Escaping Destiny.  As the story unfolds, the heroes travel to Raven's Roost and Node before finally venturing into the Wildlands.  Other locations are mentioned in passing, but never explored.

When you create a fictional world to hold a novel, the little details become important.  Environment, terrain, and habitat are just as critical as the creatures that live in those places.  Successful towns and cities are historically located along trade routes; the hubs which a civilization revolves around tend to have significant transportation advantages in the form of major roads and waterways.

Several years ago, in preparation for writing Escaping Destiny, I sketched out the land of Tapestry in a spiral bound notebook, drawing the world in blue ink.  It was a "back of the napkin" moment in my world as the world came to life on lined paper.  Thousands of miles of landscape were created, forming an intricate, living world in which to place the story.  When it became clear that the characters' main form of transportation would be on foot, I found it necessary to dramatically reduce the size of the world simply because of the time it would take for the story to travel from one location to the next.

The first map for the Tapestry series is completed, focusing solely on the places explored in Escaping Destiny.  Additional expanded maps will be released with each sequel. (The next book in the series, Lost Within, will be published in February 2012.)  When I originally laid out the storyline for the trilogy, I didn't anticipate Escaping Destiny being as wildly popular or as well-received as it has been.  With an entire world, countless cultures, and a myriad of landscapes left completely unexplored, all I will say at this point is that the world of Tapestry will continue beyond the original three books.

To create the map of Tapestry, I began with an actual map from the 1800s.  After digitally repairing the stains, creases and tears - and removing all of the place names - I began moving, deleting, and altering the existing terrain.  Countless hours later, my a detailed mirror of my original sketch appeared and the first of several maps of the world of Tapestry was completed.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Lyrical Mirror

I woke up this morning, reflecting on a common bit of writing advice that I received long ago - one which fits my approach to writing like a sweater that shrunk in the wash.

"If you're going to write genre fiction, you need to read as much of that genre as you can get your hands on."

I read very little fiction and almost zero fantasy.  The last fantasy novel that I picked up was a well-worn paperback in my sophomore year in high school.  My reading appetite leans almost exclusively to non-fiction and I'm much more likely to pick up a book on science or history than I am to browse the fiction best sellers list.  When I do curl up with a novel, it's usually a fun and easy read (young adult literature is a secret passion of mine) or a literary classic (like Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima - my favorite book of all time.)

I understand the advice and the intent behind it.  We all need perspective on our own writing, a mirror to look into to take measure of our abilities and decide, "What do I want to improve?" just like we look in a real world mirror and appraise the extra pounds we'd like to lose.  While I prefer writing genre fiction (and Escaping Destiny is certainly epic fantasy), my novels can't be placed in a single box.  The Awakening comes out in May and is best classified as a supernatural thriller.  In November, I'm publishing a novel called Remembering Tomorrow that straddles the middle ground between contemporary fantasy and speculative fiction.  If I don't read within the genre that I'm writing, where do I find my mirror?

Typically, I compare my writing against the reflection I see in music.

Songwriting is the perfect example of descriptive writing and pacing bundled into a three and a half minute package.  We're told as writers that we need to "show instead of tell" and songwriters are faced with the same challenge.

For instance, the rap act, The Streets, paints an utterly heart-wrenching break-up scene in the song, "Dry Your Eyes." 
She brings her hands up towards where my hands rested
She wraps her fingers 'round mine with the softness she's blessed with
She peels away my fingers, looks at me and then gestures
By pushin' my hand away to my chest, from hers
It's a song where the lyrics are stripped almost completely bare of "tell" and infused to overflowing with "show."  What's more is that it's a brilliant example of balancing action with dialogue to show the competing emotional dynamics between two people.

Ani Difranco's track, "Shy" from her album, "Not a Pretty Girl," uses masterful snippets of lyrics to tell a story.  My favorite is the following sample...
The door opens, the room winces
The housekeeper comes in without a warning
And I squint at the muscular motel light
And say, "Hey, good morning"
As she jumps her keys jingle
And she leaves as quickly as she came in
And I roll over and taste the pillow with my grin
The old saying is that a picture is worth a thousand words.  When we use a phrase like, "And I roll over and taste the pillow with my grin," we paint with words, offering that picture to the reader's imagination and allow them to fill in the white spaces on the page.

What's more is that a well-written song provides us a mirror for our pacing.  Lyrics build to a certain point and then shift to the chorus.  That chorus either emphasizes what has been building to that point or it offers us a countering emotion or concept.  As authors, our books do the same thing.  The novels that we enjoy reading are well-paced with the same push and pull that happens between lyrics and chorus in a finely crafted song.  Each of us has opened a book that we simply couldn't get into - or one that seemed to drag on and on, the author expanding upon each scene until we found ourselves skimming passages to get to something new.  Songs don't have that luxury.  With few exceptions, they run less than four minutes.  They move; they flow; they paint a story as simply and vividly as possible.  By their very nature, they present us with countless examples of pacing and descriptive language.

While it's valuable for an author to read extensively - whether it's within their chosen genre or elsewhere in the literary landscape - there are countless other sources to turn to in order to compare and contrast our writing.  While I enjoy a good book, I'm consistently inspired by music - and I'm forever grateful that music's inspiration also provides me with a mirror for my own novels.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Finding Inspiration

I love a good story, especially one that's rooted in history.  In the same way that readers disappear into a good novel, I do the same thing with non-fiction.  Much of the inspiration for scenes in my novels is drawn directly from history, science, and nature.

When something grabs my interest in the real world, I'll often consider the themes that it holds and ask myself why that moment stood out from the page or leapt off the screen.  Sometimes it's an emotional connection; other times, especially with nature documentaries, it's simply something that I think is really cool. 

Chapter 15 of Escaping Destiny finds our heroes sitting around a table in Mallia's inn, listening to three of the warriors taking turns as they tell the story of The Battle of the Wildlands, each wrestling with the memories of the tale and the demons that haunt them to this day.  While Lo'claera 'no Wae (as the fae call it) exists only within the pages of a book, it's inspired by multiple historical sources.  The story told around this table draws primarily from The First and Second Crusades, The Battle of Culloden, and the Westward Expansion of the United States and the massacre of the native population. 
Mallia coughed and wiped clumsily at her eyes.  "When you watch fellow warriors so lost in their bloodlust that they cut down an innocent," she began, her voice wavering as she clenched her eyes tightly closed, a single tear escaping to slip down her wrinkled cheek.  "There was this woman," she began again, raising her face toward the ceiling and opening her eyes, the tears streaming down her face as the memory rushed into her mind.  "She was kneeling in the dirt; weeping; holding a dead child to her breast; screaming inconsolably.  She was a threat to no one.  I can still hear the horrible silence as a knight I had known for more than two decades cut her down.  There are nights when I'll awaken in a cold sweat, when I know, beyond any doubt that it isn't sweat at all, but the woman's blood that splattered across my cheeks and forehead as I watched her die."
This paragraph was inspired by a testimonial from a book called Chronicles of The Crusades, which collects countless letters and journal entries from both sides of the conflict.  After the crusader army captured Jerusalem the night before, the following event took place on the morning of July 16, 1099. "In the morning our men climbed up cautiously onto the roof of the Temple and attacked the Saracens, both male and female, and beheaded them with unsheathed swords.  The other Saracens threw themselves from the Temple."

Rather than drawing upon the actual event, I'll write from the space I found myself in when I connected with that particular piece of reality.  Sometimes it's to exorcise the emotion that I felt when I uncovered that piece of our collective past; other times it's to give those nameless souls a voice or their own.

When I prepare to write a scene, I'll first revisit and familiarize myself with the pieces of history that I'm drawing from, not the details, but the feeling that I had when I first discovered it.  Then I submerge myself in that emotion and I begin to write.  While writing the chapter referenced above, I had the song "Culloden's Harvest" by the Celtic band, Deanta, playing in a loop, listening to it over and over again as I typed.  It's a beautiful, haunting song and created exactly the emotional space that I wanted to express in the scene.  I'm a pretty passionate guy and feel emotion strongly.  They say, "Write what you know."  Personally, I'd add to that, "Write what you feel."

I keep a pretty wide range of music on hand, including the soundtracks to numerous motion pictures.  Music allows me to turn an emotion up or down, to create a space inside myself that mirrors the scene I'm trying to write.  I find that the words flow much more easily when I take that approach than when I simply sit at a keyboard in silence.  Inspiration from the world around me coupled with emotion from the world within, offers me tools to break through writer's block and keeps the story flowing.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Cowboys Don't Sleep With Their Guns On

I am deep in the midst of writing the sequel to Escaping Destiny, but I didn't want any more time to pass without sharing something with those of you kind enough to follow this blog.  Please join me as I brush the dust off a blog from 2001 when my eldest daughter was still a toddler...

I was a four year old bundle of energy, a blonde-haired tornado with grass-stained knees who spent his days in treetops and ankle-deep in local streams. In my mind I was the lone sheriff in the white hat. The tree was the high bluff overlooking the badlands; the speed with which my well-stained sneakers raced over yard and field became the wind felt from the back of my trusty steed. To fight the outlaws, I wore a pair of six guns, my imagination containing more firepower than the caps the plastic revolvers had been designed for, my sidearms slung low on my hips from a leather-like vinyl holster.

I still remember the day well. It was a beautiful summer afternoon and I wanted nothing more than to dash around my grandmother's backyard, the fenced perimeter main street in an old west frontier town. I'd spent the morning practicing my draw, winning again and again against an old walnut tree, the speed of its limbs no match for my deadly reflexes or the righteousness of the star I wore pinned to my chest. But into every childhood fantasy, a parent sooner or later treads and I was sent off to my grandmother's spare bedroom, assured that I needed a nap, that the villains would wait for me to get a little rest and a little more lunch.

My sneakers were kicked off at the foot of the bed, but my six-guns would remain at my side. The Sheriff couldn't be caught unarmed; there were too many villains whose criminal companions had been gunned down by a dirty scowl and a rat's nest of blonde hair.

"Let's take them off," my mom said in that motherly voice so used to struggle that the sound had become a resigned monotone.

"But mom," I protested, unsure of how to explain that it was just like the Hampton brothers to wait until I was asleep to wreak their vengeance, that they were lily-livered cowards with a streak of yella as wide as-

"Real cowboys don't sleep with their guns on."

I was stunned, my mind shocked into silence. Had I been wrong? Could the young sheriff be something other than a real cowboy?

I came to my senses as she tried to thread my vinyl gun belt through its plastic buckle.

"How do you know?" I asked, grabbing my holster, demanding some kind of proof. "Why wouldn't they wear 'em while they sleep?"

My mom stood up, leaving my treasured possessions in my grasp. "You wouldn't want them to go off while you slept, would you?"

Suddenly I was back on the farm, an honest sheriff with a home-cooking type of mother. The kind that knew why chickens laid eggs and how come milk came from cows.

And why real cowboys didn't sleep with their guns on.

"You're sure?" I asked.

She nodded, holding out her hands.

The gun belt came off and I reluctantly accepted a kiss, preparing to drift off into dreams of the saddle beneath me and the wide open prairie stretching as far as the eye could see.

I do my best to remember that day as I raise my own children, as I watch them grow up before my eyes. Sometimes, it's not so important that they embrace my reality as is it is for me to understand where they're at.

When my daughter was in that magical realm between one and two years old, when every day was filled with new discoveries, I would watch her hold her arms out straight from her side and spin in circles until she fell down, laughing, rolling in her self-induced dizziness. Was she simply embracing the sensation? Was there a fantasy filling her mind as strongly as my gun-toting alter-ego gripped my own?

The thing was, I didn't know. I had never taken the time to enter her world, to let go of the fantasy that I was a responsible adult who was too mature to spin in circles until I fell down, laying motionless as the world continued it's circular dance.

So I did the bravest thing I think I've ever done.

I looked my daughter square in the eye. I smiled. And then I stretched my arms out and began to turn in circles.

We fell down together, laughing. She didn't have the words to explain her perspective of the event, but she did have that look in her eyes. It was the same look I imagine I held when my mother told me that my six-guns were filled with lead. That I couldn't wear them to bed. That she didn't want them to go off and shoot me in the foot while I slept.

Every so often, not quite every day, but more often than not, I try to take a moment or two and enter my daughter's world. She turned two this last April. Words are beginning to come in short sentences rather than in single entries from the dictionary. She's discovering the magical abilities of "please" and "thank you." I'm rediscovering how exciting it can be to realize that something is blue.

But more than any of that, I've come to realize that my daughter is a person. She may not have the vocabulary to express everything she's feeling or the maturity to temper her emotions with responsible reactions, but she is certainly not an inane little entity that so many people seem to think children are. There are too many people in this world that believe there is a mystical age where children suddenly develop a personality, when they grow intelligence or become someone worth spending time with. In the third Indiana Jones movie, Sean Connery's character tells his son Indie that the boy left, "Just when you were getting interesting."

My daughter is one of the most fascinating people I know. She has the freedom to dance whenever a song captures her. She will draw with an indescribable focus and want to show the entire world the pictures she's created. We can look at a photo album a thousand times in a row and each and every time she is so excited to see "Papa" and "Mama" displayed there in a series of photographs I now know by heart. She can laugh like there's no tomorrow, beg to be tickled so she can laugh some more, and cry in my arms like she knows there is nothing that I can't protect her from.

There are some that say they would give anything to recapture their childhood. I revisit mine every day with my children. I used to wonder how two children could play together, without any rules, somehow adapting as the parameters of the game slowly changed. I don't wonder any more; I play those games again. There are days that I dance with my daughter in front of our big picture window, not caring if the entire world stares as they drive by. I find that when I create something I'm proud of, I now want to show everyone I know, not to receive their praise, but to share with them something magical I brought into the world.

I always thought that life was a gift that parents give their children. I was wrong. Life is something that children remind their parents how to live.

So I'm patient when I pull toy after toy out of the inside of our stereo speaker box. After all, I have no idea what game, what thought process led them to their sacred storage place. Uneaten cookies continually appear behind the couch in our playroom and instead of thinking about the waste, I wonder how the untouched treats continue to call that particular spot home.

After all, my daughter does have a certain passion for cookies.

I think we understand each other, my daughter and I. I take the time to explain things to her, regardless of whether we're exploring something new or she's being corrected for a behavior she knows she shouldn't have continued. Sometimes I lose my temper; sometimes she loses hers. But in the end, I'm the guy racing across the yard with her laughing as she holds on tight on my back and she's the girl who pats the carpet next to her when she slips into her private spot behind our overstuffed chair and invites me with a simple, "Papa."

There are even days when she's on my back, when she's laughing and goading me on with her plea of, "Fast," that my sneakers once more become a horse's hooves and the sheriff of old is racing across the open plains with his young daughter behind him in the saddle.

And if you're wondering, my holster stayed on the chair beside my grandmother's bed while I slept that day. But not the revolvers. They found their way under my pillow.

Just in case.

Monday, March 14, 2011


One of the themes that is present in my novels is that, if we believe and give our all, we can overcome any challenge.  Sure, there are things that are beyond our reach in this moment, but to limit ourselves to what we can touch in this instant simply doesn't work for me.  All of us grow - sometimes consciously, sometimes as a simple response to circumstances - but from the moment we took our first breath, each day we become more than we were the day before.

I've been approached by a fairly large number of people who are interested in writing a novel of their own.  Somewhere in the conversation the phrase, "I can't," appears.  It may be as blunt as a declaration or as subtle as a wistful, "I'd really like to," that has no conviction or belief behind it.

Each of us faces challenges.  The journey isn't in teleporting beyond those challenges, but is found in the strength and perspective we develop while overcoming the obstacles before us.

Take writing novels, for instance.

Most people assume that if you've published a novel, the writing process must be reasonably free of challenges for you.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I often transpose letters and numbers in strange mirror patterns - such as the number "4" and the letter "h."  On top of that, I suffered a nearly fatal illness as a child which created great difficulties for me when I try to work with words that sound similar to each other.  For instance, my brain will take a word like "typically" and write "technically" instead.  Almost two years ago, I suffered a massive hemorrhagic stroke that primarily hit my communication centers and left me completely unable to write.  When I attempted to speak (due to a condition known as Broca's aphasia), I knew what I wanted to say but my brain couldn't put the words in any sort of order.  I was limited to "baby talk" and sentences that consisted of no more than three or four words strung together.  Any more than that and my brain would lose the meaning of what I was trying to say.

In the midst of those challenges, if I focused on the end result I hoped to achieve - for example, publishing a novel - it would put my goal far beyond my reach.  How can you publish a novel if you can't even write?  What I do is break my challenges down into pieces that I can engage with, those things that I can reach out and touch.  It's not, "Today I'm going to relearn to write," but, "Today I'm going to write a sentence."  If I looked at the journey before me as, "I'm going to write a 100,000 plus word novel," I'd find that the goal is beyond my reach.  I can't engage it; realistically I can only work with what's right in front of me.  Instead I look at the journey and say, "Today I'm going to write the first sentence," or, "Today I'm going to write the first paragraph."  That's where I begin.  That I can do.

As you approach the goals you set for yourself, don't qualify them.  Give yourself room to be human; to be flawed; to be real.  When I'm writing a novel, I don't allow myself to edit the book until the manuscript is complete.  If I focused on making the first chapter "perfect," the second chapter would never be written.  Take pride in what you do accomplish and don't qualify your successes.

Engaging your challenges in such a manner will do more than simply help you reach your goals.  Each step of this journey will deepen your strength and your perspective.  As an artist - and all of us are artists in one manner or another - we draw upon who we are to create our stories, fill our canvases with color, or add beauty to the relationships we hold dear.  They say, "Write what you know."  That process starts with you.  Know yourself.  Believe in yourself.  Set goals you can reach and engage them.  Grow.

Lao Tzu wrote, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."  I'm preparing to publish my second novel in May and I had to relearn how to speak and write.  Just imagine where your own journey can take you.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Friends and family have joked that I've evolved an additional appendage called, "Jeffrey's camera."  Not only do I tend to carry a camera with me wherever I go, I have a reputation for taking pictures of seemingly mundane things that catch my eye.  Sewer grates, fallen leaves, and broken glass can't hide from my lens.  Where other people collect junk drawers filled with odds and ends they refuse throw out, I collect hard drives filled with photos.  Some are blurry; some would seem to be less than useless.  Yet blurry or in focus, relevant or completely random, the photos continue to pile up in heaps of colorful pixels.

In July of last year, we went for a family walk.  As I passed one of the older buildings in town, I noticed a fallout shelter sign posted above a stairwell.  "Click."  Another pixilated bit of reality for my collection.

Yesterday, as I began working on the third teaser trailer for my up-coming second novel, The Awakening (May), that memory became the first scene in the video.  A little color correction, a little cropping, and the wall of a local building became something more.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Breathing Characters

One of the comments that readers have made about my first novel, Escaping Destiny, is that it breaks from the expected.  You don't know what's going to happen next.  In all honesty, that's intentional.  I will write a scene and go over it again and again, looking at it from different angles, asking myself, "If I read this, where would I think it was going?  Can I send it in a different direction and, by doing so, improve the overall story?"

Instead of working with an outline, I have a destination in mind that the characters need to reach to continue the story.  The characters, their interaction, and the world in which the book takes place fill in the blanks.

Free from an outline, one of the things that I do is explore various ways that the character could go from Plot Point A to Plot Point B.  For instance, I'm writing the sequel to Escaping Destiny (the working title is Lost Within) and the character, Kai, needs a reason to travel to meet up with another character.  (Shhhh... no secrets shall be revealed!)

My original thought was that he'd journey on foot until he reached his destination and show readers another bit of Tapestry's landscape.

But, ya know what?  That's not very exciting.

Then it seemed like travelling via a portal and exploring more of the connection between the fae and the environment might be more interesting.  That be much cooler than simply walking out the door!  Upon further reflection, I decided that there was still plenty of room left to "crank things up a notch."

A few edits later...

As things stand now, a massive creature, formed of earth and stone, attacks without warning, slaying countless people, leaving Kai for dead, and giving our favorite mortal warrior reason to go in pursuit after he slowly regains consciousness.  Nothing in my "map" changed.  Kai still needs to travel from Plot Point A to Plot Point B to continue the story.  However, the third approach seems like a much more exciting way to go than having Kai wave and call out, "See you soon," as he whistles his way through the countryside.

But you know, there still may be room to crank things up a notch or two... and I already have some ideas...

That's one of the beauties of working without a map instead of an outline.  It gives you the freedom to focus on the story rather than the writing process.  The addition of a rampaging earth elemental adds in all sorts of questions.  Why did it attack them?  Where did it come from?  Where did it go?  What's the behavior and habitat of such a creature?  Did it deviate from normal behavior and if so, why?  The answer to each of those questions changes the story in its own way.  Writing with more of an open format allows me to accommodate those changes and allow the characters and world to breathe and influence the story in their own way.

Lost Within, the sequel to Escaping Destiny, is coming along beautifully and is scheduled to publish in February 2012.  My second novel, The Awakening comes out this May.

Even better news?  The scene described above is from just the second chapter of Lost Within.  Hold on, because we're going to hit the ground running in Book Two of the trilogy.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Views from the Road

I was taking a much needed Pocky break, when I came across some old blogs in the dusty corner of my hard drive.  Join me as we travel back to 2005, when gas was $2.25 a gallon, Green Day's "American Idiot" ruled the airwaves, and I watch my last movie in the theater (King Kong - seriously, I haven't been to the movie theater in ages)....

Over a period of eight days, I traveled to Washington State twice, drove almost five hundred miles on a business trip (to our field office in Medford, Oregon), visited an active volcano and snapped a handful of photos at Stonehenge.

Not bad for a week's work.

Of course there are endless observations and insightful moments unveiled over long stretches of highway and deep thoughts that were born, processed, and carefully filed away as the road sped by.

But, just for a change, let's get all mundane instead. Let's take a look at random moments in the life of some guy named Jeffrey and shine a little too much light into the scary depths of what makes him tick...

When you've been driving for almost four hours and it's 103 degrees outside, there is little better than a thick peppermint milkshake purchased at a total dive of a roadside diner. It doesn't matter that said diner is composed of several travel trailers welded together. It doesn't matter that the health inspector probably isn't even aware that the location exists. And it doesn't matter that the milkshake, ordered in the health conscious "small" variety, still costs four bucks. All that matters is the initial orgasmic burst when that cold sweet pepperminty goodness hints your taste buds and you get hit over the head with a nostalgic burst of childhood joy like someone filled a baseball bat with happiness and took a swing at your noggin'. Oh yeah, baby!

There comes a moment when you realize that no matter how well you dress, no matter how much you bench press, that no matter how "washboard" your midsection becomes, you're still a nerd. Okay, it was two moments. The first was when I debated for way too long over whether or not I should purchase a really cool biography on Nikola Tesla, mostly because it had a really in-depth description of the concept of the resonance of radio waves. The second was when, still holding the book on Tesla, I exclaimed out loud, "Oh my goodness! I've got to see if they have the Michio Kaku book!" and ran off in search of the quantum physics section of the bookstore, much to the chagrin of my fellow browsers who were standing within earshot of my sudden revelation.

No matter how bad a movie is, no matter how horrific the costumes, plot and dialogue, when you look over and you see your four-year-old son smiling so broadly at the screen that neither his eyes nor his mouth could open any wider, the price of admission is worth every penny.

Hearing your daughter giggle during the same movie every time something romantic happens on screen will immediately transport you into the future. A future where she's a gorgeous teenager and you're trying not to be obvious as you wait to scope out her date who she is obviously giddy about seeing. What's worse, is you'll simultaneously be taken back to a time when you were a teenage boy and hoping to appear all innocent and respectful to the girl's father when neither characteristic was the foremost thing on your mind. When your daughter is only six, that unexpected time travel is very unsettling.

You'd be amazed how many childhood tunes and American folk songs you can channel when driving with two young kids. For hours. In Eastern Oregon. Unable to pick up a single radio station. I honestly didn't realize that I knew multiple verses to "O Susanna" or that there were words to the song that the General Lee used for a horn on the Dukes of Hazard. "O, I wish I was in the land of cotton, Old times there are not forgotten, Look away! Look away! Look away! Dixie Land..."

NASA could solve all of their problems with the space shuttle's insulation if they'd simply visit a single misadventure in my kitchen. I discovered that substituting the wrong cheeses in a simple homemade macaroni and cheese recipe will unlock the alchemical properties of dairy products. Mozzarella, a seemingly innocent food that is most frequently eaten by my children in the form of "string cheese," takes on the consistency of a tennis shoe's sole when mixed with milk and other cheeses over heat. If allowed to dry in the same pot that was used to melt it, the cheese suddenly is viable in an entire range of applications. Holding the shuttle's insulation on during liftoff would be one obvious use. Creating slightly edible hazardous weather survival gear would be another. Completely destroying an SOS green scrub pad while attempting to remove the transformed cheese from the original pot, even after a night of soaking in soapy water, would be an obvious third option.

No matter how magnificent the scale of a life-sized replica of Stonehenge may be, no matter how majestic the commanding view of the Columbia Gorge is from said monument, the children will most remember you stopping the car on the way home and leading them out into an abandoned meadow to catch grasshoppers.

Never eat pizza at a place called, "Spooky's." There's a reason it's called that. I believe it was named for the sounds your stomach makes once you're back on the road.

Riding for almost five hundred miles with an ex-long haul trucker in your passenger's seat will teach you that there is a hidden life to the highway. You'll discover that danger lurks around every corner, that those straps holding that load of pipes onto the trailer are only wiggling because the load is unstable and that, in hot weather, the lug nuts on trucks can shoot off with enough velocity that they can pass right through your car. The metal parts of your car. You'll also learn that a certain percentage of truckers drive naked, that all sorts of things happen way up in that cab where you can't see them, and that if you wait three days to fill up your truck, the five dollar shower at the truck stop is free of charge.

If the woman ringing up your geeky books talks endlessly about the Tesla documentary she saw on PBS, but immediately shuts up when your female friend that had accompanied you to the bookstore walks up to you, that means she was flirting. Even I figured out that one.

The best business sign seen during the series of road trips? "J. Arlie Bryant, Inc. - Portable Crushing." I'm not sure what it is, but someone is obviously living out their childhood dream.

If you're driving through the countryside and the radio commercial starts with, "For your next party or slaughtering event," turn around. You've already gone too far.

Don't try talking with a southern accent, no matter how "small town" the place is you're driving through. It's really, really hard to stop once you start. Doubly so if you were already tired when you began.

The best moment of the week came while driving back from Stonehenge in the middle of the night. We were in the Columbia Gorge and one of the few towns in the area (I believe it was The Dalles) had just pulled into sight. There it was, a thousand tiny lights twinkling in the darkness. From the backseat of the car, Gavin's voice whispered in awe, "Moira, isn't the city beautiful?" To which she replied in an equally hushed voice, "Don't touch me."

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Birth of a Cover

Self-publishing my first novel, Escaping Destiny, involved more work than you can possibly imagine - and there is so much more to come. My wife, Briana, thankfully has a background in desktop publishing and handled the layout of the novel in Adobe In-Design. A number of good friends (who I'll thank by name in a blog devoted just to them), were kind enough to volunteer their eyes as proofreaders. And while I obviously wrote the novel, I also designed the cover and put the site together. Now we’ll shift our efforts to promotion and marketing, while I began editing my next novel, The Awakening, which is due out in May.

There's never a dull moment in our world.

The cover began with a photograph that I took on October 10, 2010. I tend to carry my camera with me whenever I'm out and about and have actually exhibited my photography. When I walked downtown to pick Bri up from work, I had our dog on a leash in one hand and my camera thrown over the opposite shoulder. In the midst of a handful of photos from the commute, the leaf and its shadow on the sidewalk stood out. I don't pose or stage the subjects for any of my photos. The leaf and its shadow were simply waiting there on the sidewalk for someone to notice them.

When I went to put the cover together, I needed a photograph that offered the parallel between life and the "shadows" that we leave imprinted on the larger flow or reality. This photo conveyed that concept for me.

The only problem was that the scene that was captured through the lens was too small to use the way I wanted. If I turned it at an angle (as it is on the cover), the edges of the photograph clearly showed. What I needed was more photo - and in this day and age you can do exactly that.

Opening the photo in Adobe Photoshop, I turned it so that the seam in the sidewalk ran horizontally across the photograph. Doing so simply made it easier for me to match lines and angles. Using different sized brushes and Photoshop’s clone tool, I began creating more sidewalk to work with. If you compare the length of the sidewalk's seam in the two photographs, you can see how much I had to add.

From that point, it was simply a matter of turning the photograph so that the leaf appeared how I wanted it for the cover. The rough edges of the image were airbrushed out. The cover began to come together. All of the obviously cloned parts would be cropped out for the final cover.

I chose the two colors of text for the cover so that they matched the leaf and its shadow and tied the elements of the cover together.

Escaping Destiny Trailer

I'm working on creating trailers for my books.  Considering that I've never made a trailer before, it's an interesting journey.  "What does this button do?  What are these symbols?  Why did everything I've created just disappear?"

Anyway, here's my first attempt at a video trailer.  It's for my first novel, Escaping Destiny.

Monday, March 7, 2011

FREE Epic Fantasy Novel - Read an Ebook Promotion

We're giving away FREE copies of the highly rated epic fantasy novel, Escaping Destiny, as part of Read an Ebook Week.  Is the novel worth your time?  You've never read an ebook and don't know how to begin?  You don't want to spend money on an ebook reader?  Is the novel really free? What if I you want a paperback copy?

Don't worry.  We've got your back.

First things first - yep.  The novel is being offered completely 100% free of charge as part of Read an Ebook Week.  It currently has "Five Stars" reviews across the board on Here are snippets from the reviews to give you an idea of what people are saying about Escaping Destiny:

Escaping Destiny is an extremely impressive first novel! I was transported to another amazing world and found it difficult to pull myself away from this story! From the depth of each character to the mesmerizing description of their world, I was truly swept away. Jeffery Pierce is an up and coming author you'll want to keep your eye on! This is one of the few novels I have read that I would dearly love see in movie form, it would be a block buster without a doubt!!!! Five stars really isn't enough to rate this one.


I found this book to be so absorbing that I couldn't put it down. Finally had to just pace myself or nothing would get done in the house, plus I wanted to savor it.

It holds you spell bound. I would go oh I will just finish this chapter, and next thing I knew I was on another chapter.


The characters are colorful, believable, and consistent, and their journey through the book is riveting!


I found myself completely absorbed by each character as they struggled to overcome their personal and collective trials. I used to say that science fiction was not my forte in choosing my books, I can no longer say that. I give "Escaping Destiny" five stars and am anxiously waiting for the next one in this series.


I cannot say enough about this first novel by Jeffrey Pierce. From the first sentence, you are transported into a world completely unlike our own and, yet, strangely familiar. Lush visual landscapes and well-developed characters fill this story and you become a part of it. You willingly join their journey, sharing their glimpses into a dark and unsettling future. Your heart will race with fear, as you frantically turn the pages to see what happens next, and you will laugh out loud at some of their foibles. Is everything truly set before them or can they escape destiny? Pick up this book, settle into a very comfortable chair, and step into Escaping Destiny to find out!


I highly suggest Escaping Destiny! Read it even before it becomes the cool thing to do.


I am a picky reader, if I don't like it in the first 5 chapters it doesn't get read. I couldn't put this book down, very well written!! I am excited for the sequel!


I read a lot of novels, and I find many story lines to be regurgitation of the same old themes. This book however is completely different, and SO good! You absolutely will not believe that this is a first novel. The characters are well fleshed out, the world is rich and beautifully described, and the plot will have you turning pages until you finish it. If you start this book in the evening make sure you can sleep in the next morning because I guarantee you that you will be up all night! The only downside will be the wait until the next book comes out, because you will be dying to find out what happens next. I've never reviewed a book before, but this was good enough for me to want to encourage people to give this new author a try.


From the first page, I found myself inside the story but without having to suspend disbelief, because this tale is told in a way that makes it all feel plausible.


From the very first page, you are swept away into a land of beliveable fantasy. Jeffrey's characters draw you to them, pulling you to them like warriors to a fight. The lands they inhabit are richly drawn, full of contrast, light to dark, beauty to stark brutal reality, love and hate, and glory to despair. Until you read the final page, you will keep this book close, sneaking a page or two at every opportunity, sleep is optional once you begin! I cannot wait for the 2nd book of the trilogy!


Being an avid bibliophile it's unusual for me to come across a book that will keep me up all night. "Escaping Destiny" by Jeffrey Pierce, did just that.


I found myself completely absorbed by each character as they struggled to overcome their personal and collective trials. I used to say that science fiction was not my forte in choosing my books, I can no longer say that. I give "Escaping Destiny" five stars and am anxiously waiting for the next one in this series.


I read a lot of fantasy and sci-fi and I haven't found a book that excited me like this one in a very long time. I picked it up as a curiosity (it was a free promotion) but once I started reading it, I couldn't put it down. I stayed up way too late and read the entire book straight through. I'm paying for it by being tired today, but it was worth it - the book equivalent of a really good movie. I highly recommend it.


Crazy good! I don't typically love most books, but this was one of the best I've read in a long time.


This book easily earns 5 stars from me, and makes my "Favorite Books of All Time" list!


How Do You Get Your Free Copy?

We're giving away ebooks editions of Escaping Destiny for free.  Seriously! There's no catch.  It's a promotional offer to support Read an Ebook Week.  Go to and use Coupon Code RE100 for a 100% discount when you update your shopping cart.

New to eBooks?

I don't own an ebook reader.  What I did was download Calibre (which is free) and installed it on my laptop.  It's a little bigger than a Kindle or Nook, but it works just fine.  Calibre is availabe for Windows, OS X, and Linux.