Promise Kept


At the end of 2017, before I published Kingdom Come, I made a list detailing how I would promote my first novel. The most exciting entry was a promise I would make to the reading community. I would offer new content each month to anyone who would visit my blog. I always knew the content would mostly consist of short stories, various prequels I had written while revising my novel, but I also planned to display some original artwork from Daniel, the artist of Kingdom Come. Naive dude that I am, I had this vision that people would come back each month as I posted the new story or illustration and would wait in anticipation for my next entry.

It didn’t happen quite that way.

After I uploaded my December offering, I looked back and realized that, while the throngs of people eagerly holding their breath didn’t happen, I gained something else equally important. I started the year with six stories and plans for three illustrations. I ended the year with eight stories (one in two parts) and three illustrations. In other words, I didn’t have enough content to cover the year when I started and I was worried I would fail to dream up new stories, or (worse) publish substandard submissions. I’m proud of the stories I wrote this year which were The Dwarf’s Report, Do Not Save the Princess, and The Witch, the Flower, and The Golden Goose. Their ideas, their quality, and how they contribute to Kingdom are as important as the rest of the stories.

The second hurdle was finishing a short story each month. I also decided to finish a huge project at the same time, and I was determined to complete it in 2018. In my priority list, I ranked that second than my monthly short stories because of my public promise though I knew no one was holding me to it. I struggled because my heart belonged to my big project, but my brain knew I had made this promise. I was overcommitted. I managed to make monthly goals and get in the stories while I worked on the project at the same time. As it turns out, the big project hit a significant milestone at Thanksgiving, so I was more relaxed working on the last month’s story.

While patting myself on the back here, the other lesson I learned was the best goals are those we achieve together. This wasn’t only my effort. Daniel Johnson provided illustrations of my novel, allowing me a much-needed break at various points. And Lauren Nalepa and Dan both illustrated front covers for the stories, giving the tales the needed zing required to entice readers. My goal wasn’t achieved strictly through my own toil, I had help, and I cannot express my appreciation enough to my two artists.

I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished in 2018 with this blog and these stories. When I recently met with my friend Dan, he pointed out that my short stories, when combined, are the length of a novel. Essentially, I wrote and revised an unplanned novel in 2018. How cool!

I’ve always worried about what would happen if an agent or publisher did reach out and set a deadline for me to give them my work. Would I be able to handle it? This 2018 promise has given me the confidence I can make deadlines. If the due date is reasonable and I prioritize my time correctly, I can set small goals (i.e. one story per month) to reach major milestones (i.e. an entire novel).

I certainly didn’t achieve all my writing goals in 2018. I wanted to make significant progress on another novel in 2018. Yeah, I didn’t come close to that one. But I learned from that goal as well. I made progress toward it which is important, and I’m not discouraged. It becomes a 2019 goal. Do not let your lack of progress discourage you. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep going. Journey on, and when you reach your goal, you’ll see the work, not the accomplishment itself, is as important as reaching the end.

If you are reading this and have read any of my stories, thank you for making the effort. Know that, without a reader, an author’s work goes unnoticed. My goal is always to entertain and make it worth your time to read my work. I hope you have enjoyed the journey as well.

And maybe the stories won’t stop…

Review of Merona Grant and the Lost Tomb of Golgotha


I should’ve been born in the time of pulp magazines when Doc Savage and The Shadow ruled the shelves. Running home with my latest August Derleth, Henry Kuttner, or titles like “Lagoda’s Heads” would’ve been a thrilling experience. Alas, I was born too late and had to buy reprints. However, my guess is George Lucas did run home with pulp magazines under his arm and today we have a certain ophidiophobic (fear of snakes) archeologist embedded in pop culture, Mr. I. J.

Recently, I spotted Brina Williamson’s Merona Grant and the Lost Tomb of Golgotha on a reading list on Amazon. The fantastic cover harkens back to the great adventure movies of all time, including a film involving “lost arks.” As you can imagine, I purchased it immediately, and it secured a spot as the next book on my reading list. I could not wait to start reading it. Could. Not. Wait.

A few chapters in, I knew I had acquired a well-plotted novel with interesting characters. The book was all-sorts of pulpish joy. I was concerned it would be too much like a Professor Jones adventure as it was similar to the beginning of the first movie. I’m happy to report this book follows its own trajectory.

Merona Grant, self-proclaimed adventuress, is hired to find the lost thirty silver pieces of Judas he received for the betrayal of Jesus Christ. Legend surrounds where the silver ended up. A wealthy aristocrat, a dog sidekick, a doctor from Australia (but not from the outback), and a linguist who helps bring them together join forces when a map to Judas’ tomb is discovered. Merona, in desperate need of money, brings in a pilot who…gads…happens to be the only man in the pack of treasure-seekers. Before you can say “H. Rider Haggard,” bullets and chase scenes ensue. Following that, our heroes fly away (with not one but two cliffhangers in the air) and start following a unique map to the (deep announcer voice) Lost Tomb of Golgotha. There are puzzles and traps galore before they reach the tomb. Unlike in the Bible where Golgotha means “Place of the Skull” for a certain reason, the Golgotha in this novel is a literal skull-shaped place.

Characters are fleshed out more than in a typical pulp adventure story. Merona is no Indiana despite her pugilistic and gun skills, her trademark adventurer’s special “weapon”, and her affinity for her hat. She has a rich backstory and a ruthless manner of which Dr. Jones would not approve. She shares with most heroes a dogged determination and insightful nature which serves her well in this adventure. Her team’s dynamic make for snappy dialog and exciting scenes.

The writing is top-notch and contains just enough description to enliven the story but not too much to bog down the narrative. The settings, which I don’t want to give away, are exotic and on-the-mark for this type of story. The plot devices are imaginative and the way characters deal with them realistic. The enemies are sufficiently menacing, although I wish the final main encounter had lasted a bit longer. Everything you hope for in a novel like this is delivered with enough imagination to fill two books instead of one. The reader will not be disappointed.

I want to highlight three elements of Merona Grant and the Lost Tomb of Golgotha. The first is if you’re going to write an adventure novel, you have to have good pacing. This novel, over 400 pages, rarely lagged. What made Raiders such a classic movie was the breathtaking sequences, each topping the one preceding it. The same is true here. The pacing is excellent and the cliffhangers are not the typical “A car raced toward them.” The heroes are in real danger and they realistically solve their problems. The second is the snappy dialog of Merona. She has some of the best witticisms I’ve read in a long time. An example occurs when a pug-ugly comes to threaten her to pay a debt and informs her her time is up. Her reply? “Oh please. You’re not the “time’s up” kind of guy…No, I’d peg you as more of a first or second warning goon, which means I have at least a month before the real threats start.” I noted at least ten instances when I laughed out loud and the eleventh, a reference to where Merona grew up, is a classic. And the last highlight, but not least, is the author is also the illustrator. The novel comes with sketches throughout which absolutely drew me in and brought the story alive. I refrained from flipping through the illustrations before I read the story. It was hard, but I’m glad I did because it was a delight each time I came across a sketch.

Remember how I said at the beginning that I wanted to hold a pulp novel in my hands and have the fun a young person may have had in the 1930s? This novel will indeed give you that experience. If you remotely enjoy the pulp fiction of yesteryear, or want an adventure story stuffed with thrills, pick up Brina Williamson’s Merona Grant and the Lost Tomb of Golgotha. You won’t regret it.

All images Copyright (c) Brina Williamson

Review of Abbac1


Oh the tyranny of the second book of a trilogy! Bridging the first book to the last, it must still take its place as a relevant member of a three-book series and not exist solely as a pass-through. I’m happy to say Karma Lei Angelo’s second book in her trilogy, Abbac1, is a fine novel in its own right.

The book starts where the first book, Modi Ind0rum, left off. It assumes the reader has read the first entry in the trilogy. Our main character, Ameena Jardine, AJ, reacts to a shocking revelation which ended the first novel. From there, she continues her investigation of the murders of the Fasciata, a dangerous underworld cartel intent on selling a potent drug.

AJ has issues she’s dealing with throughout the novel. She has a partner she doesn’t know if she can trust, an informant who knows too much, a boss who is withholding information, and a missing person who she’s desperately seeking. At home, she continues to mourn her first husband, deals with the illness of her father, interacts with a daughter with a hidden ability, and must choose between not one but two romantic interests. During the course of the novel, no less than five murders occur. Described in stark detail, it becomes clear to the detectives that the murders are not random drug overdoses. When the code is finally cracked, AJ looks to be on the verge of administering justice but then…

I’m purposefully being vague on details, but found this to be an engaging and quick read. I finished the majority of the book over two days. Equal parts thriller and mystery, the pacing never lets up and leads to the reader to that important element of all middle books of a trilogy, the cliffhanger at the end. The last fifty pages make for some brutal reading. I don’t recommended it for the squeamish.

The characters become more defined in this novel as you may expect. AJ in particular grows from a rookie to confidant detective. She can be foolhardy at times and the reader may wonder “what is she thinking by doing that?” but that’s part of the charm of the story. But AJ has real emotions, and must overcome her demons, both in her mind and the ones in the world, to move on with her life.

I took a liking to Conrad, AJ’s boss, more in this novel. He came across, especially at the start of the novel, as more of a protector than a middle manager. While it’s revealed he has his secrets, there’s a sense of paternal guardianship over AJ. Her partner Tony comes across as more quixotic. The author also introduces a trio of new, reprehensible characters associated with the Fasciata who play an important part near the conclusion.

There are winsome and witty passages in Abbac1. When a medical examiner teases AJ about her feelings for her partner, she says, “Oh my, look at the eighty-nine flustered of flavors on you.” And a harmless sleepover by AJ’s partner leads to all kinds of confusion when her mother walks in on them. These scenes are a welcome break to an otherwise tense novel, including a phone call to AJ that forces her to listen in while someone is murdered. The author gives the reader a number of chilling details and then, at the end, uses them to dial the suspense to maximum. The end was certainly the best part of the novel.

Not only is the writing clever and filled with suspense, its elegant prose heightens ordinary scenes as well. At one point, AJ receives a gift of a vase. “The vase whimsically spiraled like a polished strand of DNA. Each spiral edge beveled around, and the light caught every reflection, causing it to shimmer rainbows of colors everywhere.”

Lastly, I know the first novel in the trilogy was well-researched but it really shows in this novel. The author has done her homework in spades. At one point, the main character visits a research center and asks about octopi. A detailed description follows, never slowing the story down but stuffed with information. The narrative, whether in the medical examiner’s room or describing “the breakthrough” is authentically presented to the reader.

This was a fun book to read and I look forward to the next, and last one, in the trilogy.



The Last Dragon Princess


The Last Dragon Princess is a young adult, fantasy novel by Cynthia Payne. I was honored to be a beta reader for an earlier draft, and I purchased and reread it in order to review the official version of the book.

The story centers on a young woman named Danu, a so-called Breeder. Breeders are Hisgeii (aka people) with special marks whose sons will be special. The sons, known as Shifters, can transform into dragons. Depending on the parents’ caste, the dragon will be born with certain powers. As the story starts, Danu’s people are trapped within one city of her world, hemmed in by the approach of an enemy known as the “Creators.” Creators subjugated the Hisgeii until the people overthrew them and cast them into the far side of the world. The planet, one half stuck in sunlight and the other in darkness, is co-inhabited by Hisgeii and creators.

Danu, the last Breeder of the Hisgeii, is about to take her vows when the council requests she choose the next king from the Shifters and marry him. Danu, unaware she was to become queen and choose the next king, is quite taken aback. Demure and reticent, Danu feels the responsibility of the task before her. And at the end of the ceremony, when a renegade Shifter also joins the list of potential suitors, Danu is overwhelmed by her newfound duties.

And this is only the first chapter.

This novel has many interesting elements which come together elegantly into a cohesive story. There’s the reverse-harem aspect of Danu choosing a king, action sequences with the creators, a few romantic encounters, and dragon demonstrations and fighting aplenty. There’s also intrigue: court politics, assassination attempts, and tricky alliances. About two-thirds through the book, the narrative takes a curious twist which I believe most readers won’t see coming but will enjoy. After this turn of events, the tension mounts to an action-packed conclusion. Kudos to the author for an end that is both satisfying and complete.

Mashing her own world with those of Greek mythology, Ms. Payne weaves a tapestry of the fantastic and the regular. She dives directly into her world which takes some effort to understand the lingo and the caste system, but after the new terms become familiar, it’s worth it. What first seems like it will be a “who will she choose” romance quickly blossoms into a much more complex and deeper plot.

Myth-like in concept, The Dragon Princess includes a scene a third of the way through the novel that is as exciting as most other book’s conclusions. It glides along with effervescent ease. I would have never guessed this was the author’s debut novel. As wonderful as it is, there are a few sequences which could’ve been tightened, but most passages are well-paced and nicely plotted.  The characters: innocent Danu, guileful Calmus, roguish Garm, wise Pyrrah, and honorable Hagen, stick in your memory long after reaching the end. The final sequence gives us multiple cliffhangers, an inventive scheme by our heroes, and a realistic yet fantastic character arc. It’s rare when a book gets better the further it goes along, but this one does.

The Last Dragon Princess is a worthwhile purchase. It has all of the elements of a great fantasy adventure: a charismatic main character, a detailed and descriptive setting, and — of course — dragons. So if you’re looking for a dragon story with romance and suspense, look no further.


The Healer of Guildenwood


The Healer of GuildenWood: The Soultrekker Chronicles by Mary F. Calvert is a YA portal fantasy in the tradition of the sword and sorcery novels most speculative fiction readers enjoy. It tells the story of a high school senior Margaret Ann who wants to blend in with the rest of her classmates but is instead pulled into a Tolkienesque fantasy world, not as an eighteen-year-old human, but as a young adult elf. Once she arrives in the world of Bensor, she loses track of key memories of her life on Earth but retains enough to remember basic facts and slang. Now named Arwyn, she begins her new life in a small village, rooming with a benevolent husband and his pregnant and equally kind wife. From there, Arwyn has a number of adventures while gaining the admiration, but never the acceptance, of her neighbors. For in Bensor, elves have moved away from humans and, for the most part, keep to themselves. An elf in Arwyn’s small hamlet is certainly unusual. Without spoiling too much, the story interweaves an unwelcome suitor, a corrupt king, a detailed history, superhuman abilities, and a number of loyal friends into the narrative.


There’s a lot to like here. The world-building is, in particular, well thought out and a cut above most novels I’ve read in this genre. The novel comes with a wonderful map (we fantasy readers love our maps). My one critique of the map is it’s small, and I had to squint to read some of the names. Nonetheless, the detail on the map raised the expectations of this reader for the story ahead. I’m happy to say I was not disappointed. The way the author wrote the novel convinced me she had a story or two behind each location in Bensor. Her descriptions of her settings also engage the reader immediately: “…it was the shining city of Maldimere set high atop a cliff overlooking the cobalt blue Eleuvial Sea…And if the palace was the crown, then the mass of white buildings that spread from the top of the hill and down to the bay were golden hair, shimmering in the light of the setting sun.” The author’s descriptions aren’t only about gloriously beautiful places for her description of the dungeon of Dungard below Maldimere channel the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe—unexpected in a fantasy novel. I could picture Dungard perfectly and really enjoyed the chapters set there.

I applaud Calvert’s use of language as well. She has an ear for an “olde tyme” way of speaking without it collapsing into nonsense (e.g. “early” becomes “airly”, etc.). This is hard to keep consistent when you have one character, Arwyn, speak like an American and everyone else in a different manner. She’s also careful to vary the dialect by a character’s station in life.

Bensor has a rich past as well, and some of it comes out in the first half of the book. While the narrative stops for the history lesson—I’d rather it flowed within the episodes of the book—it speaks to the depth of thought in constructing this world. I won’t reveal it, but this portal world has a connection to Earth, and when a major event occurred in our past, the ripples of it impacted Bensor. I love connections like this and thought this idea especially clever.

I especially enjoyed how the author started the book and the interstitials she uses at the beginning of the chapters. The hook from the first two chapters is wonderful.

Arwyn’s character journey through the book comes full circle by the end. She is a different person than Margaret Ann and on the cusp of something great. While the episodes within Guildenwood are contained, you should know the book doesn’t end in the traditional sense. This is very much a Fellowship of the Ring style of a story, not The Hobbit. That is, you’re investing in a trilogy, not a single novel.

Authors, using only words, are capable of pulling magic tricks, and Ms. Calvert pulled off a special one in Guildenwood. It follows the swords and sorcery tradition fairly closely but leaves behind one major element…the big battle. This isn’t that type of novel. This novel takes care to describe how a displaced elf becomes a force to be reckoned with. It’s truly an origin story.

Minor elements that caught my eye include a nice bit of humor thrown in here and there, the characters were honest and memorable, the names alone of people and places builds a picture in one’s mind, and the writing style natural and fluid. Like C. S. Lewis, the author incorporates religious themes into the work without hammering the reader over the head.

This is a great read, not quite what I expected, but a pleasure to get lost in. It’s almost a frontier tale with magic, sort of Little House on the Prairie meets Eragon. I thought the mashup of the two distinct genres fascinating and The Header of Guildenwood is well worth picking up. Onto book number 2!

Welcome Home Portal Fantasy Traveler


A new trend in fantasy is dealing with the aftereffects of visiting another world and then returning home. It’s no longer Edmund Pensieve’s exclamation of “Oh, I forgot my torch in Narnia!” The movie, Prince Caspian, dealt with this phenomena briefly at the beginning with Susan’s character. Wonderfully acted, the crowd realizes that she had grown up in Narnia and now was stuck in the body of a teenaged girl, no longer queen, living a fairly drab existence in London.

But the movie moves on from this topic to other elements, but a few contemporary authors did not. They wrote in detail how it would be to return from another world and have no one believe you. It is even more complicated if you had powers or learned new skills in the fantasy land. And Earth is no Candyland, either. Those people who have returned are welcomed with suspicion and derision.

First, we have Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, the first book in her Wayward Children series. This book wins the award for one of my favorite titles. The novel explores a school where children go who have experienced a portal adventure when their parents don’t know what to do with their fantastic tales and they have a tough time readjustment. More support group than school, the students all know why they’re there. There are two schools – one for adventurers who want to return to their world and one for those that don’t. The first book is a mystery where some of the students in the school are gruesomely murdered and the rest must deal with the aftermath. Vividly depicted, the novel is a short and breezy read, perfect for a rainy day. The cast of characters is distinct and effectively oddball enough to be interesting. The mystery takes a back seat to the concept of rehabilitation of the portal-travelers and descriptions of their different worlds. It ends too abruptly for me, but the concept is first-rate. McGuire draws a parallel with people who have dealt with a trauma like coming back from a war or abuse, those who would rather continue in an extreme situation rather than conform back to the norms of a society, quite well. Oddly enough, I found myself wondering about the other “school” mid-way through the book. What about the children who wanted to rehabilitate?

Another novel, Just Another Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce, tells the story of Tara who returns after twenty-year absence claiming she has lived within a fairyland (but don’t call them fairies). The story is primarily set in current-day Leicestershire, England around Christmas time. Tara shows up at her parents door looking like she hasn’t aged a day, claiming that twenty years ago, a man convinced her to travel with him, ending up still on Earth but in a place where your heightened senses reveal hidden secrets of our planet that we, in our blind state, cannot see. She thinks she’s only been gone six months but in our time this equates to many years (thank you, C. S. Lewis). Tara, like the characters in Every Heart a Doorway, has a hard time adjusting and submits to tests and a psychiatric treatment. Her family is both suspicious and overwhelmed. A good portion of the story is not told from Tara’s point of view but from the family’s, especially her brother’s and her boyfriend’s. Whereas in McGuire’s tale, the people who haven’t traveled are one-dimensional obstacles, you get a more complete picture in Fairy Tale. The boyfriend, in particular, takes the brunt of her disappearance. Her disappearance has transformed his life, not for the better.

While both books are fascinating, Joyce’s to me has the edge. Many people are disappointed because it’s a fairy tale book that spends little time in the fairy tale elements, but the fantasy land was never the focus. This is a story about what makes a home a home, and the longing people have for it, and how sometimes it’s impossible to rekindle the feelings we have about home even if the physical location still exists. The ending is bittersweet, both reintegration and disintegration at the same time, and I couldn’t help but feel for its characters.

I knew the premise of Doorway but didn’t realize the same premise existed in Fairy Tale. I enjoyed that both were about the same idea but were completely different. I’d like to see more novels like this in the future with different slants as they carve out a sub-genre of the portal fantasy.

Modi Ind0rum


Modus Indorum

Modi Ind0rum is an adult mystery suspense novel by Karma Lei Angelo, the first in a series. In it, a new detective, Ameena Jardine (AJ), former civil engineer turned geomorphologist, is called in to investigate a potential murder on September 2019. When she investigates the corpse, an overdosed drug user, nothing seems out of the ordinary except an item in his hand — a seashell with the number 55 engraved on the inside. From its suspenseful, opening scene to further murder scenes and flashbacks, we come to understand that AJ is in a cat-and-mouse game with a mysterious serial killer and an equally shadowy informant. Meanwhile, she struggles to maintain a decent home life with her new job as well as a partner who is strongly attracted to her.

I won’t reveal more (though the back cover describes more than I have) but the book proceeds in multiple directions from two detailed sequences in Jardine’s life before she became a detective, to politics in an office environment, to investigating multiple crime scenes. The book isn’t limited to the narrative. It also contains maps, surplus front matter, and a number of appendices of information. I love this concept. Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, it brings a fun-filled experience to the ordinary business of reading a book. It’s a puzzle plot so the author has hidden puzzles everywhere.

Please realize this novel is described as both part one of a trilogy and book one of a series. The ending will not wrap everything up with a bow. I did hope the book would’ve taken the traditional trilogy arc where the first book feels more conclusive (think V. E. Schwab’s Darker Shade of Magic) leaving the second novel as the cliffhanger. Instead, it serves the role of the first part of a three-part narrative.

I have a soft spot for puzzle-style mysteries and stories with serial killers who use patterns. From Agatha Christie’s ABC Murders to David Fincher’s Seven to Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders, mysteries where the killer utilizes a pattern are the best. As the author was a civil engineer herself, she uses her math and engineering background in the story effectively. Who knew a driveway could contain a clue to a mystery? But one of the best aspects of the story is the presence of a certain numerical sequence. The serial killer keeps score of the body count in an inventive and original way. Additionally, a enigmatic octopus tattoo plays a large role in what unfolds halfway through the book, opening up the story to more than the typical serial-killer-on-the-hunt plot.

While Karma subtitles her book as a mystery suspense novel, there’s a lot more going on than the murders.  There are a number of family and office scenes interwoven with the main mystery. Some come together into the main plot in a surprising yet logical way. A few others seem extraneous to the plot, but understand I haven’t read the second or third book. Nevertheless, the pacing is solid.

The author did her homework on this novel. From geomorphology to tattoos to police procedures, she convinced this reader the experts were really experts in their field. I spent a summer as an intern in a civil engineering office which means I know 1% more than the average of the population on this subject, but all the engineering terminology rang true. I mentioned before the use of engineering-specific knowledge to solve mysteries was a welcome surprise. There’s no doubt AJ is highly intelligent and dedicated so it surprised me that she and others miss the connective tissue of the murder scenes. I wanted to enter the scene and yell at the detectives at one point, proving how much the novel drew me into its world.

Among the characters, AJ is a complex character who has lived through an alarming event before we read about her on page one. We learn early on she has switched careers and she’s stressed out as the newcomer on the force. This builds multiple dimensions to her personality as well as sympathy from the reader. AJ is both unpredictable and believable throughout the story, and we root for her from the beginning. Karma’s love for her characters is on display here, and her descriptive passages are detailed and intriguing. She includes a number of playful details such as AJ has a daughter with a feather collection, and AJ calls a defect in her boss’s desk a “desk scar.” The author’s dialog is snappy and engaging. I enjoyed when AJ’s mother calls her “saffron in a parsley bundle.”

I purchased the paperback and all the technical details of the book are great. The interesting front cover, the binding, the layout of the end product are all spot-on. This is an author who went above and beyond to bring a quality product to the reader.

As mentioned, I haven’t read the second or third book, but the first is everything I love in a mystery novel and will pick up the other two in the future. Overall, Karma Lei Angelo has put together a memorable novel with Modi Ind0rum.


The Lucifer Ego


The Lucifer Ego is an adult novel by author T. M. Doran. Full disclosure — I am the author’s brother so I won’t rate it or extol it as if I were a disinterested party. You wouldn’t believe me no matter what I write, but clearly I think highly of the novel and believe it’s worth purchasing.

So why the review? My goal is to let people know what the novel is about and what’s on its mind without spoiling it. As an author myself, I know all novels aren’t for everyone. If this book sounds like something you might enjoy, you will not be disappointed.

The Lucifer Ego is tough to categorize. It deftly combines elements of an action adventure, an espionage tale, a mystery, and a dash of speculative fiction. The protagonist’s name is Frodo Lyle Stuart and his name is neither a mistake nor a gimmick to cash in on a famous fantasy trilogy. At the core of the plot, the various characters are in search of a missing artifact which has been stolen from a monastery. The object in question could turn history on its head and would be a holy grail of anyone who studies prehistory. Turns out Frodo, who goes by Lyle in the novel, happens to be an archeologist.

The novel shifts narratives from Lyle’s search to flashbacks of others connected to the quest. It fills in gaps left by the book before it, Toward the Gleam, which support the sequel’s narrative. Tautly written, the novel has more on it’s mind than an adventure to find an “Ark of the Covenant” level relic. It deals with the question of evil in the world and how it subtly invades into our culture. One of the best aspects I found in the novel is how we accept what we hold are truths and how fiercely we argue against so-called scientific facts which are still, in fact, theories. The belief the world was flat was relatively changed a short time ago if you look at the entire timeline of human history. Another key theme is evil in our world. Some nasty characters appear like weeds across the narrative. The novel treads deeper and deeper into the darkness of the heart, the frailty of life, and the profane disregard of the value of a person.

Well-written, tightly plotted, and evenly paced, I want to highlight one element above others. This is a well-researched novel. I bought Lyle was an archeologist and, if I didn’t know the author, would’ve thought he had background in anthropology. His other characters have backgrounds in similar specialized disciplines, and the research serves the book well. It elevates a fantastic plot to a modern world with believable people.


The Lucifer Ego is a sequel to T. M. Doran’s novel — the acclaimed Toward the Gleam. However, the reader doesn’t need to be familiar with the first novel to enjoy this one. It had been a number of years since I have read Gleam and I followed the plot without a problem. Toward the Gleam was set in the past and this novel is set in the present. Furthermore, the main characters are all new. If you read the first book, you will enjoy the references to the first, but the sequel stands on its own merit.

And I can’t end this “review” without a callout to the wonderful cover art by Daniel Johnson who I have used on my novels (more disclosure). It is an engaging illustration and reflects elements of the novel, catching the eye and drawing people in. The layout of the book and technical elements are all professionally done. This is T. M. Doran’s fifth published book and he’s been published in various publications you may have heard of like The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.

The Lucifer Ego is available as an eBook and paperback. Purchase The Lucifer Ego on Amazon.


In Defense of Maligned Fairy Tale Characters


Fairytale characters get a bad rap. The heroes and heroines are looked at as weak, sexist, fetish-minded, duplicitous, and superficial. The current trend is to glorify the villains in these stories because, as the saying goes, the villains are the most interesting characters. Interesting, maybe, but I think people give short shrift to fairy tale characters. I’m going to take three popular and maligned fairy tale characters and present them in a light perhaps originally intended by their authors to show there’s more on their minds than hoping “one day my prince will come.”

Snow White

Poor Snow White. The modern world overlooks and harshly criticizes her. Disney hardly promotes her except when hawking merchandise and hides her behind the banner of “the first fairy tale princess.” One of the latest depictions of her in the television show Once Upon a Time makes her out to be a Robin Hood type character in its early episodes. In other words, she’s a badass survivor.

Snow White's woodsGoing back to Grimm, Snow White has one unique quality. She’s beautiful. It’s because she’s lovely that the huntsman takes pity on her. One of the seven dwarfs asks “What beautiful child is this?” and then they set her to work on the house in exchange for her lodgings. Of course, her stepmother hates her for being fairer than she.

Not a ringing endorsement of feminism.

But then again, she’s not supposed to be. We aren’t all assertive or bold or badass. Some of us, men and women, are shy, reserved, and introverted. This is how I picture Snow White. More importantly, Snow White as a symbol I think belongs to the Bible verse “And the meek shall inherit the Earth.” Meek does not equal weak. The older definition of meek is “gentle, kind” and this is what the Bible verse meant. It applies to Snow White as well. Her beauty alone stays the Huntsman’s hand, but after he decides to help her, my version says “…and it was as if a stone had been rolled away from his heart.” This is why he kills the boar and presents its heart to the queen. Snow White represents the downtrodden, the ones on the edges of society that rely on the help of others because she’s going through a bad time in her life. She’s the homeless woman on the corner, she’s the cancer patient who doesn’t know how to pay the bills, she’s the single mother living in her car. She didn’t put herself in this situation and she doesn’t plan to milk it or stay there. She’s temporarily reliant on others until she can land on her own two feet. In this way, the prince doesn’t “save” her, he’s a symbol of her re-integration into society.

Cinderella’s Prince

We’ve all heard the accusations. Cinderella’s unnamed prince is deviant, idiotic, and disturbed. What sort of a prince can’t recognize the girl he swooned over and danced with three nights in a row, and relies on a shoe to “find” her anyway? Again, on the surface, this seems to be the case, but don’t discount this character yet. Let’s look at the story behind the story. Cinderella, like Snow White, represents a marginalized person. In Grimm, her own father looks the other way at her mistreatment, and it takes her dead mother (not a fairy godmother) to provide her glamorous clothing.

Cinderella asking her mother to go to the festival.
Cinderella asking her mother to go to the festival.

She is a symbol of all of us who are treated like a number, who are discounted, who are overlooked. But suddenly, she’s in the spotlight. This is what we call a Cinderella story, right? And what does the prince symbolize? He represents us as a society in a different way. He’s the other side: the adoring fans of a famous person, a person of power sincerely listening to another person’s story of hardship, the patient parent forgiving a wayward child. He’s the benevolent power figure. Because of a paternalistic society when it was written, power is male and downtrodden is female, but as symbols, gender doesn’t matter. An empathetic female senator listens to a male farmer who has lost his land represent Cinderella’s prince and Cinderella just as much. The final symbol is the slipper. The slipper is not a token of deviant sex–modern society’s newest take on the story. It’s far deeper and significant. The slipper represents the restoration of the dignity of the human person. When the prince places the slipper on Cinderella’s foot, it signifies society saying to the human person “you matter…you are heard…you count.” The prince is anyone who believes their family and friends are important and make a difference, and Cinderella is no less than the story of the value of the human race.


Am I talking about L. Frank Baum’s Glinda, the Good Witch of the South from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, or Billy Burke’s iconic representation “bubble” Glinda from the 1939 movie version of The Wizard of Oz, or Gregory Maguire’s Galinda of Wicked? They are really three different representations. We all think of Burke or perhaps Galinda, but we tend to forget Baum’s original Glinda. For those who haven’t read the book for a while, Glinda does not greet Dorothy at the beginning, and she’s from the south, not the north. She’s not a bubble character.  She’s closer to an empress of the south, surrounded by female soldiers. She’s wise and powerful, an interesting counterpart to the humbug wizard, and she provides the solution to Dorothy to get home (like the movie). When the book was written circa 1900 and women couldn’t vote, Baum wrote about a woman leader. To demonstrate how radical of an idea it was for this time in history, it’s over a hundred years later and the United States still doesn’t have a woman president.

GlindaIn the book, the reader gets the sense that Glinda is far more powerful than the Wicked Witch of the West. She’s not a crusader, running around Oz righting all wrongs. Rather, she’s a person who knows her power and doesn’t abuse it. This makes me respect her even more. Where was she when Dorothy was trapped in the witch’s domain? Why doesn’t she stomp out the witch before Dorothy arrives? Most of us know that, just because you have power, doesn’t mean you always use it. We instinctively understand the saying “choose your battles.” There’s a reason Baum chooses to have Glinda sometimes interject herself (e.g. when she chases after Mombi in the sequel to Oz) but most of the time refrain. She’s an admirable and complex character in my opinion. And while I love both the movie and the play, the version of Glinda in them serves a different role. The original Glinda is a moral compass for all world leaders today.

So the next time you read a fairy tale, take a fresh look at the characters and see if you can spot how the author originally intended them and compare it to how they are represented today.


Writing a Fantasy Sequel – 4 Dos and 1 Don’t


When writing fantasy sequels in a series, there are some basic guidelines to consider when putting your second together. Your first sets the tone of the world you’ve built, but your second sets the tone of the series. First, let me talk about what I mean by “series.” It’s not the second part of a longer story. While both are truly sequels, one is a standalone story that doesn’t require reading the first book. It has a beginning, middle, and end – a true end – one in which the reader could walk away without the main characters experiencing anything else and that’s fine. In other words, Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings are not what I’m talking about. I’m describing Indiana Jones movies and the Chronicles of Narnia.

To illustrate my points below, I’ll refer to a few fantasy novels but I’ll use the Harry Potter series in particular. First, because J. K. Rowling inspired this blog and therefore (obviously) her novels follow these points. Secondly, it is so popular I can safely assume everyone reading this has likely read her seven books.

Do expand your world

Self-obvious but it’s tempting not to keep world-building and focus on continuing a narrative. Though introducing new elements may not move your plot, world-expansions are the spices in your dinner. When a reader uncovers one, it sparks her imagination, and the rest of the details of the book become more vivid.

Expanding your world may not simply mean geography but also new and exciting characters. Add new customs that weren’t in the first book. Go into detail on politics, culture, religion, or art. Have the characters find new corners of a setting they visited before.

For example, HP #2, Chamber of Secrets, includes the actual Chamber of Secrets, Lucius Malfoy, Knockturn Alley, spiders in the Forbidden Forest, Mr. Weasley, and a little diary that becomes important in later books.

We visited Hogwarts in #1, but there’s a new secret room in the castle in #2. We visited Daigon Alley, but not Knockturn Alley. We went into the Forbidden Forest in HP #1, but didn’t know about the giant spiders. And we didn’t know about the fathers of two of the main characters, Draco and Ron. The contrast between Lucius and Mr. Weasley is great in the second book and helps us better understand Harry’s #1 enemy and best (male) friend.

Do pay off teasers from the first book

All authors know more is going on in their book than what is printed on the page. Most of us edit out beloved passages, but that’s the way it goes. It doesn’t make a bit of difference to the first book, but maybe it will to the second one. If you’re like me, you can’t help but drop a sentence or two to hint at something to come. You should kill your darlings, but you’re also allowed to hide some of them in the sub-cellar until the next book sees the light of day.

It’s referenced in the first book that Hogwarts can’t keep a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, and while that remains true in the first book, it continues in the second. Did Ginny really need to be mentioned in the first book? No, but having another Weasley go to Hogwarts the next year is key, right? It wasn’t a “Oh by the way, Harry, I never told you I had a younger sister. Her name is Ginny and here she is.” Kind of a lousy way to introduce a key character to the series. And Hermione’s magical prowess starts paying off with her casting an advanced spell in year 2.

Do deepen your characters from the first novel

You spent a lot of time on your main character in the first novel, and presumably she or he has had an interesting character arc. You’ve laid the foundation, time to build the house. Just like we are all works-in-progress, your main characters are also changing. They can progress or regress, or learn something new. As the author, it’s your job to bring the reader deeper into what makes your main character tick.

With the introduction of Lucius Malfoy, we get a glimpse into Draco’s life and suddenly his behavior starts to make sense. Rowling does a great job describing the Malfoys through another newly-introduced character. For his part, Harry draws the sword from the Sorting Hat. He’s no longer a kid with a stone in his pocket. He’s more active, more brave than ever before. We find out about what scares Ron the most, and yet he sticks with Harry. His loyalty is more tested in this novel than ever before.

Do bring the reader into the world in a different way

I find this pointer to be most effective in portal fantasies where your character has to cross into your fantasy world in some way. For Harry Potter, this is traveling on the Hogwarts Express. Even though the journey isn’t intended to be magical, it has the feeling of transporting to another world.

Start the novel in a unique and interesting way, and don’t repeat what you’ve done in the first novel. This is especially hard in portal fantasies, but it makes for an exciting read. As an example, Harry doesn’t ride the train to get to Hogwarts in book #2. The Pensevie children do not go through a wardrobe in Prince Caspian. For non-portal fantasies, start with a different character. V. E. Schwabb starts “A Gathering of Shadows” (book #2 of her Shades of Magic series) with Lila instead of Kell.

Don’t always think bigger is better

Every time I see a movie sequel with more explosions or more car chases, I sigh. More is not always more and, in fact, usually it’s less. People fall in love with your characters and their quirks more than your action scenes. I’ve seen successful sequels have less at stake than the first novel.

The adult Voldemort, in all of his glory, is not bigger and more alive in the second book. He doesn’t even appear in the third book. While the basilisk is more of a threat to Harry personally, the ending doesn’t feel like it’s bigger and better. Hermione isn’t even present at the end of Chambers. Rowling wisely knows, to build her Voldemort character into the force he becomes, Harry can’t keep defeating him year after year and expect us to believe Voldemort is a real threat by the fourth novel.


These are but a few elements to keep in mind as you outline or draft your next novel. Now go out and extend your characters and world.