Monday, October 31, 2011


I woke up one morning, a few weeks back, to discover that it had rained the night before. Little droplets of water were scattered everywhere - even on a spider's web in our front yard. I shared a different version of this photo a couple of weeks ago in a piece that I call, Connections.

You can find the photographed, sized for your desktop, by browsing over to virtual-coffee/wallpaper/

I'm doing my best to share free desktop wallpaper, based on my photography, each Monday.  While I'll miss a week here and there, more likely that not if you swing by at the beginning of each week, I'll have something new for you.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I'll Never Use Brown Sugar Again

In my little corner of the world, I'm known for my cookies.  While the kids readily claim "Dad's the best cook ever," they will actually start conversations with strangers and argue that their dad makes "the best cookies in the world!"  What's funny is that I stick to the classic three varieties - chocolate chip, snickerdoodle, and peanut butter - and never venture outside of that trio of treats.

Yesterday, I decided to whip up a batch of peanut butter cookies.  (Did I mention that I love to cook?  When you actually enjoy cooking - or in this case, baking - sometimes you just get the urge to go make something.)  As I gathered the ingredients together, I discovered that we were out of brown sugar.  The last thing I wanted to do was go to the store.  Going to the store does not equal baking cookies!  So I jumped online and, after reading several options for substitutes for brown sugar, I chose one that I liked and gave it a try.
To create one cup of brown sugar, combine one cup of regular sugar with 1 1/2 tablespoons of molasses.
That seemed simple enough.

We use raw organic sugar and I knew that we had molasses on hand.  Rather than combining the two ingredients together on the side, I simply added the molasses (and the extra cup of sugar) to the cookie dough and stirred them into the mix as I do with the other ingredients.

When presented with the eye test, the "no brown sugar" peanut butter cookies looked fine and the kids got the first one fresh from the oven from each batch.  (We have a tradition in our house where I always break the very first cookie off the baking sheet and the kids have to help me "hide the evidence.")  However, while the peanut butter cookies looked normal, there was a secret waiting to be discovered.

I'll usually have a single cookie out of the first batch.  I love cookies (chocolate chip is my personal favorite), but I get even more enjoyment in baking them for someone else and watching them savor the taste.  In the "no brown sugar" batch, I've had four since last night.  This morning, my wife, Bri, confessed, "I don't usually care for peanut butter cookies, but these may be my favorite cookies ever."  After slipping a cookie in the kids' lunches, there are less than a half-dozen cookies left on the plate.  They're absolutely flying out of the kitchen.  What started as a simple substitution for brown sugar has became a cookie baking secret.  The flavor is significantly better than my normal approach.  Now that I know the secret, I'll never use brown sugar again.

Since I love to cook, each Thursday I'll be offering tips, tricks and recipes that I rely on when I'm working in the kitchen.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

New Music Wednesday: Ed Sheeran

It's no secret that I tend to look to music for inspiration in my own writing.  Ani Difranco's "...I roll over and taste the pillow with my grin," is still one of my all-time favorite phrases.  Sarah McLachlan paints a haunting picture with, "The night is my companion and solitude my guide."  Peter Gabriel's, "In your eyes I see the doorway to a thousand churches," is a modern classic.

It's amazing that a twenty year old musician can stand in their company - and set the lyrical standard - even if he does look a lot like the movie version of Harry Potter's Ron Weasley...

Born in West Yorkshire, Ed Sheeran began his musical career at a very early age and began recording when he was 14 years old.  At the age of 18, with two independently produced albums and an EP under his belt, he moved to London and began playing at every opportunity.  In 2009, he played 312 gigs - to audiences as small as five people.

In 2010, he released his critically acclaimed Loose Change EP, which included what would become his debut single, "The A Team."  The video for the single, a haunting, beautifully written piece about drug addiction, was cost £20 to make.  While he has yet to be discovered by US audiences, "The A-Team" is currently #14 on BBC Radio 1's Official Top 40 Singles Chart.

Proving he's not a one-hit wonder (given the path he followed to reach this point of his career, it really shouldn't be a question), "Lego House" is currently at #18 on the same chart.  Lyrically, it's a little heavier handed than "The A-Team," but Mr. Sheeran once again demonstrates that he paints with words.

When I write, I approach each chapter as a song on a larger album.  While the entire album (or book) needs to be cohesive, I want each chapter to have a certain feeling that is all its own, much like the individual tracks on a CD.  That's one of the reasons why I turn to music as inspiration.  Not only does it create an emotion that I can channel into my own writing, but the way that a songwriter approach his or her lyrics shows me new ways of crafting my own prose.

Since music is such a huge part of my life, on Wednesdays my blog will be devoted to sharing the music that inspires me.  Much of it will be new to you as I'm constantly seeking out new artists in my offline world.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What In The World?

The world of Tapestry, the setting for my first novel (Escaping Destiny) and its sequel (Lost Within, February), has a history that predates the novels by several years.  Both the geography and the history of the world were well-defined before a single word found its way onto the page.  Since I rarely approach anything in the "normal" fashion, let's start from the end of our tale and work backwards to the beginning.

The current map of the world of Tapestry is based off of a map originally commissioned in the late 1800s.  I actually planned this approach in advance, the lands in my novels mirroring real world geography.  If you consider that the Firedrake River is Tapestry's equivalent of the Columbia River that separates Oregon and Washington, the entire map suddenly comes into focus.  There are hints of this connection between the two worlds in both Escaping Destiny (the Gate and maat's close regulation of the artifacts that pass through it) and November's Remembering Tomorrow.  While the latter title is a stand-alone novel, one of the characters appears in both novels.  This connection is also hinted at in the original first chapter of Escaping Destiny, which was deleted during the editing process but appears as an extra on my personal site.

Because I chose to use geography from our world for the world of Tapestry, my maps were already drawn for me - they simply needed some serious first aid.  While I'm completely self-taught, I'm very comfortable in Photoshop and removed all of the place names and the creases in the map before adding my own locations.  (It wasn't quite as simple as it sounds as I had to rebuild the geographic features that had been covered by folds and text.)

You'll also notice that there are only a handful of locations indicated on the large map.  The map reflects all of the locations that are mentioned in Escaping Destiny, the entire tale taking place in only three locations: Cathedral, Raven's Roots, and Node.  With each subsequent novel, more of the map will be filled in.  The series is currently projected to encompass eight books, but that's the minimum estimate.  Lost Within will add additional locations, both in the mortal realm and the lands of the fae.  The third title, A War of Ghosts, will complete approximately a quarter of the map by the final page of that novel.

And so ends Act One.

The Tapestry Chronicles is currently projected to include three acts, which would logically extend the story to nine books.  That's why eight is the minimum number of titles.  I don't want to promise more than I'll deliver.  That said, there is a lot of story left to tell.

Like numerous fantasy authors, I got my start running tabletop roleplaying games (RPGs).  As early as junior high (which was a very long time ago), you could find me with paper and a pencil, a group of friends, and a collection of geometric dice, weaving stories out of pure imagination.  Much like R.A. Salvatore did with his New York Times Bestselling series about Drizzt Do'Urden, the books in the Tapestry Chronicles flesh out a preexisting world.  Mr. Salvatore's focused on the Forgotten Realms campaign from 2nd Edition Dungeons and Dragons.  I'm expanding on a game world of my own.

Between the second and third books in the Tapestry Chronicles, I'll be releasing the core rules to a desktop RPG simply called Tapestry.  Each novel will introduce new character races and classes as well as playable adventures that go beyond the stories in the novels and continue to flesh out the world.  I'm actually very proud of the mechanics as they are simple to use, address countless complaints that I've had with RPGs over the years, and give the player unprecedented control over their character, their skills and development, and how their own story unfolds.

My intent is to establish the core rules, create modules and expansions based on the novels, and open up the development of additional aspects of the game to the desktop gaming community.  Think of it as an open-source RPG.

So there you have it.  If the world of Tapestry seemed to come alive in the pages of Escaping Destiny, it's because there is so much more to the world than appeared on the printed page.  Lost Within will introduce new portions of the world including new races and classes.  After all, what's a fantasy roleplaying game without the ability to play a character who wields magic or is capable of healing your party?

And like everything else I create, expect the unexpected.  Lost Within intentionally shatters some existing paradigms in the fantasy genre, especially where sorcerers and healers are concerned.  I'm excited to share more of the story of Tapestry with you this coming February - and a game centered around the world later this summer.

Monday, October 24, 2011

My Pretties

I've been exploring some new concepts in my photography, experimenting a bit with color and light.  Except for cropping and tweaking the exposure settings, I historically don’t manipulate my photographs.  There’s no posing, staging, or anything artificial about them, so working consciously to set up a photograph and play with the color is very new to me.

Last week, I took a photograph of a spider’s web covered with raindrops and ran it through Photoshop.  After inverting the image (essentially turning it into a color negative), I adjusted the color to shift the photograph into blues and purples.  This was the result.

This week’s photo was pure happenstance.  I was finishing off a glass of water than had sat overnight at my bedside when a small Tibetan salt lamp shined through the bottom of the vessel.  After drinking the last of the water, I grabbed my camera, held the bottom of the drinking glass up to the salt lamp, and took this photo through the mouth of the glass looking toward the base.

You can find the photo of the spider’s web, called “Connections,” optimized for your computer desktop at

The second photo, Oculus, also offered as free desktop wallpaper, can be found at

I realize that I’ve been absent from the blog for awhile, but I promise I’ve been working my @$$ off.  My third novel this year, Remembering Tomorrow, comes out on November 11th.  (The first three chapters are online.)  In January, I’ll be publishing my first non-fiction book, How to Save the World: A Traditionally Trained Shaman Insight On Our Next Step.  I’ve lost fifty pounds and five inches in my waist since June by following my No Excuses Workout.  (Before and after photos will post around the middle of December – I'm wearing my Gap jeans with the 31 inch waist again, but I still have another inch to go to hit all my goals.)  Add a move to a new house in the mix and the beginning of the school year, and it’s taken a bit longer than anticipated to move my schedule around enough to begin regularly blogging again.

That said, I'm have a three-days-a-week blogging schedule in place, so hopefully I won't be such a stranger from this point forward.