The forest, the trees, and grooming the path

I have been working on my latest manuscript fairly hard over the last two years and been a bit quieter on the posting side, but that hasn’t stopped me from thinking about craft. In fact, I’ve been inundating myself with it as I edit, like a sponge in a soapy sink (yes, I’ve been doing dishes too).

Now that I’m done the manuscript, I’m hoping to put some of those craft thoughts here, although as readers are aware, my life is a bit of a whirlwind these days, with a demanding job, kids, and a desire to actually finish stories on a regular basis.

So back to craft, what do I mean about the forest, the trees, and grooming the path?

There are different skills in writing. It is not a simple craft, although the accomplished make it seem so, and sometimes it is helpful to be reminded that you don’t just need to master one piece of it. Think of yourself as an owner of a nature park in an uncharted area (owner of an idea that you want to write in some cool genre), but at the moment it is just a tangled mess that would require a parachute to visit (like my kids’ rooms. I mean, a vague story idea). No one is going to drive two hours to see your plot of land, much less pay money for it (buy your book).

So where do you start? You have to get a sense of what you want to show your audience. Do you have a vision of a certain hillside shoulder giving a ten-mile view with an amazing pine-scented breeze, or a cool bubbling creek with smooth onyx rocks that people could dip their toes into? Well okay, you have a couple of cool points on your trail that you can work towards, but also require some investment of time (clearing trees to get up the hill, building a neat pine bridge over the stream). These are events along your story and you can sit down with a pencil and paper and map that out somewhat early. Not to say there won’t be unexpected problems in clearing the path or unexpected magical corners of the woods that will call for detours later. But you can plan the length of the trail and how hard you want the climb to be, and even what subtle signage you might plant along the way (manuscript length, genre, and themes).

These are all things that require time and thought, and writers get better at them over time. But what I wanted to touch on today was the grooming of the trail.

I feel like I spent more time grooming the trail on this last manuscript. And this is an interesting decision to make because it is the most laborious and time-consuming of the steps. You can hack your way through the woods with a chainsaw or you can dig out the stumps, set gravel down in spongy spots, and lay smooth cedar boards on top. Cut back roots that could trip the walker and smooth the rail of the bridge to avoid splinters. These things remove the annoyances that could take your nature trail from getting a four or five-star review to a two or three (or one, if that splinter really stung).

But here is the analogy with a book. It takes confidence to want to groom the trail. To read the words aloud, pick the better verb, avoid clunky repetition, and ensure clarity. If you are a beginner at laying trails and you put the path in the wrong spot, or your view overlooks a four-lane highway with smog that burns your hiker’s eyes, no one is going to care anyway. No one will get past the query pitch. It’s tempting to want to do it AFTER you see how people like the trail. But sadly, that isn’t the road to success.

The experienced trail layers worry less about this. They’ve got the five-star ratings, they know how it works, and are sure the effort will pay off.

I put a chapter of my recently completed manuscript on the Online Writer’s Workshop last year. I was thrilled to get an “Editor’s Choice” from Judith Tarr. Definitely made my week. But I found the accompanying review (or at least how I absorbed it) to be very interesting. It boiled down to ‘interesting story, intriguing premise, but make sure you pay attention to word choice and construction’. In other words, I had an interesting beginning to my nature walk, with a cool view and a nice breeze, but I’d left a root that tripped her and some mud splashed her ankle, things that could be cleaned up.

So in this manuscript, including my edited first chapter, I’ve spent more time on this and hopefully improved it.

The path has been swept. The view is revealed. Hopefully, the hikers enjoy.

A new book.

It’s been a while and so I’m delighted to release a new book (and old manuscript) into the e-book universe. Black Diamonds is a book that I started working on a number of years ago and finally cleaned up to my satisfaction. It’s been brushed and scrubbed and hopefully you enjoy!!



Julian Krane has trusted his genius older brother, Devlin, his entire life. But that trust will be tested when their mother is killed by a steel-twisting assassin, the brothers are hunted by a paranoid Emperor, and Devlin comes up with a daring plan of revenge. To succeed, they must infiltrate the Emperor’s deadly school of magic, buried deep in a mountain, steal the secrets of all Four Facets of magic, a crime punishable by death, and turn themselves into something not seen in centuries—Black Diamonds.

Some YouTube sketching fun

I’ve had a bit more free time in the last couple of weeks and have been doing some creative stuff, which makes me happy. 🙂 One of the things I’ve been working on is the front cover for my second fantasy novel, Black Diamonds. I thought it would be fun to do a work in progress video for the sketching of it (and hopefully later the coloring in, as a separate video). You can see it here:


And… StoneDragon is HERE!


This feels a lot like when we had our first child. It happened late at night. It felt like the world changed, in a small way that was deeply fundamental. And with a lot of exhaustion and feeling like it should be celebrated more than with a deep nap–but that a nap would be really good…

StoneDragon is here.

My first book. My writing and creative offerings may get better from here–or this be as good as it gets. 🙂 Regardless, StoneDragon is a world that lives and breathes, with darkness and beauty and magic, and hopefully I did it justice.

So with no more ado, please enjoy…











A deadly time-shifting city draws warriors from past and future—and isn’t ready to go quietly into the night…

For the past decade, ex-gunslinger Clay Halloway has survived as a soldier-for-hire in StoneDragon, a time-shifting city where warlords from the past and future battle for power. Where monsters exist and technology doesn’t. Clay wants to leave his life of violence and obsession behind and open StoneDragon’s first detective agency. Unfortunately, his very first client will neglect to mention a couple of important details–like that powerful and angry Earth gods are hunting her and are willing to tear StoneDragon apart stone by stone to get her back. The only thing in their way is one unsuspecting cowboy…

(PS, I’ve set up a free give-away for the next few days, as a thank you to my early blog readers. So please sample and PLEASE leave a review. A new book is like a new plant. It needs some watering…)

A Digression on StoneDragon Art

I try to talk more about writing than art on the site, although as you can probably tell, I like to make the site pretty and put lots of scraps of drawings and paintings here and there, limited mostly by time. As I’ve mentioned before, I wasn’t sure how much time I wanted to put in the art of StoneDragon. I knew I wanted a detailed cover (done, although not yet revealed on this site in all its glory), a map (also now done, also still to be revealed, sorry!), and I knew I wanted some art inside the chapters, although I struggled with how much, as a detailed piece of art per chapter would be a massive time investment and only having a couple of pieces would make the book somewhat lumpy in its art offerings. I was leaning toward the latter anyway, when I came across a compromise that I like: doing some simple black and white images as part of each chapter heading. The software program that I’m using to compile the book (Vellum) makes that an easy thing to do, which I’ve had loads of fun with. So as a bit of a treat, and to celebrate how close it’s starting to get to release day of StoneDragon (I think the latest it will be is December, and very likely earlier), I thought I would share some of this style of drawing. The featured images is one, and there are three more below (completed: 12, ultimate total: 53, yikes!).

These are early drafts and I may or may not polish them up further–or even rotate them out entirely, no promises on final content at all, he he. But I quite like the style in general, and how it looks in the book. Hopefully you will as well!

Best of writing and reading as we creep into the end of the summer. Hopefully it’s been good for you.

PS, the images are pen on paper, and actually intended to appear smaller than they appear here, so they may look a little rougher in this post than in the final book (I couldn’t manage to shrink them further in wordpress, sorry).