My First Cryptid – The Loch Ness Monster

 

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Hey all! I’m swinging by with a quick blog post about Cryptids and my new book, The Rules and Regulations For Mediating Myths & Magic.

The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths & Magic features a main character named Bridger and deals with Bridger’s fears about the upcoming changes in his life due to being a senior in high school. Bridger wants to go far away from his home for college because he believes it’s the only way he can be himself. To afford college and everything that goes with moving across the country, Bridger finds a job—one that has him interacting with cryptids regularly.lochnessrollercoaster

The first cryptid I ever had knowledge of or experience with was the Loch Ness Monster. Growing up, I lived a few miles from Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia. At the time, the biggest, fastest, scariest roller coaster was a yellow monstrosity of steel track with interlocking rings that towered over the Rhine River in the Heatherdowns section of the park. The waiting queue was filled with fake diving equipment, grainy images of a sea monster, and an old video tape played on small television sets mounted in the high corners of the wooden waiting area that detailed failed expeditions to find the creature. Before I was tall enough to ride, I would stand on the bridge under the towering rings (the only interlocking rings in the world) and wait for my older, braver siblings as they screamed through twists, turns, and drops, and went upside down. Riding the Loch Ness was a coming-of-age milestone, something to brag about when disembarking on shaky legs with a raw throat. I don’t remember my first ride—what age I was or who I was with—but I do remember the fluttery feeling I got in my stomach, because even now as an adult, when I visit and stand in line, I get that familiar anxious twist when I hear the click-clack of the coaster ascending to that first formidable drop.

I can’t help but compare the way I felt riding that roller coaster as a kid with the way that Bridger experiences being a teenager—lots of stomach-swooping feelings and eager anticipation for what comes next.

(I would like to point out that the first roller coaster I did ride at Busch Gardens was The Big Bad Wolf, which is another folk tale, and has since been removed from the park. That ride was accompanied by lots of howls and staff members who ominously invited you to ride “at the speed of fright.”)

Though neither the Loch Ness Monster nor The Big Bad Wolf appear in The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths and Magic two other closely related cryptids do – Ogopogo, a Canadian lake monster, and The Beast of Bray Road, a Wisconsin wolf/human hybrid. Researching lesser known American folklore was one of the highlights of writing this book. I loved reading about the sightings and urban myths that populate the Midwest and incorporating those into Bridger’s narrative. I hope readers enjoy seeing how Bridger interacts with those myths as much as I enjoyed writing about them.

The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths & Magic is available now!

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Building a World – Magic Systems in the Broken Moon series

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I’ve had quite a few comments about world building in the Broken Moon Series. So I thought I’d talk a little about the world of Ren, Asher, and the crew of the Star Stream.

One of the first things I thought about when creating the series is how to create magic in space. Which is basically what being a Star Host is – it’s a magic system. I’ve always loved sword and sorcery. I adored the Wheel of Time books and I was pretty heavy into World of Warcraft for a few years. I’ve always loved sci-fi. My love of Star Wars and Firefly is apparent.

The goal was to figure out a magic system in space. What would that look like? Who would be able to wield the magic? What could the magic do? How would that merge with technology? How would I keep the magic in check and keep it from overwhelming the world?

To answer: What would I call them? Star Hosts. And this comes from the myth in the first book where stardust inhabits certain individuals in larger quantities which gives them special gifts.

Who? Anyone who has the innate ability ie anyone who has an overabundance of stardust within them. (See this post if you are totally confused). I liked the idea of the magic being an innate ability rather than a bestowed ability. And that was a personal choice. There are certainly worlds where gifts are innate (X-Men, Harry Potter, Star Wars) versus gifts that are bestowed (Spiderman, myths like Cupid and Psyche where Psyche earns immortality, Robert Aspirin’s Myth books where Skeeve has to learn how to use magic). This is also not to say that just because someone has an innate ability they automatically excel. We have seen that is not the case such as with Harry Potter who has to attend school for years and in Luke who has to learn from Obi-Wan and Yoda to be able to wield the force. Ren is no different – see below.

What and How? It was obvious to me that Ren would be able to use his magic to manipulate technology. That felt like a natural way for magic to be used in a sci-fi world of drifts and spaceships. Ren is a technopath. But like I mentioned above, he can’t be able to manipulate technology all the time or then what would be the conflict? What would keep him from escaping the citadel within the first few pages? What would keep him from taking over the world?

To answer those questions, I created a few obstacles for Ren.

  • Star hosts aren’t well known and their history is hidden. They are myths for reasons that are explored in G&A. This makes it difficult for Ren to know what he is, for one, and it will make it difficult for Ren to master his power.
  • Ren is only just coming into his power and he sucks at it. Let’s be real, it wouldn’t be fun for Ren to find out what he was and suddenly he was able to do whatever he wanted. Ren flounders, a lot, and it’s fun to watch him figure it all out.
  • There is a cost to over utilizing his gift. For all star hosts – there is a danger of losing themselves within the power of the star. It’s like that adage – Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Ren needs an anchor (aka Asher) to call him back to his humanity when he gets lost in the thrall of the circuits. For Cassandra – it’s the danger of being lost in her visions.
  • Ren is tempted constantly. He goes from living on a planet and having very little technology available to him to living on a spaceship and visiting drifts, which are basically large rotating environments made of circuits and metal. The temptation to let go is always there and he battles it to varying degrees of success throughout both novels.

How does any of this change from The Star Host to Ghosts & Ashes?

The magic system stays the same across the books and is consistent. But there are two major differences in the world in the two books. In G&A, I open up the powers of the star hosts and we meet a few more. Here’s a quick rundown:

TSH characters and powers:

Abiathar – suggestion

Ren – technopathy

Cassandra – visions

Millicent – technopathy

G&A characters and powers (SPOILERS):

Liam – dream walking and manipulation

Katherine – suppression

In this book, through Millicent, we also learn that star hosts can have certain skills within their powers that others may not. Ren may be more powerful, but Millicent has a certain ability that Ren does not. She uses that to manipulate her situation to her benefit.

The other difference is that the myths I set up in the first book turn out not to be myths but history. Ren learns that the stories his mother used to tell him were an oral history of the star hosts. Knowing this changes Ren’s world view and adds another facet of Ren’s history and perception that he has to work through.

So there is a little bit about world building a magic system. Or at least, about how I built a magic system. There are, of course, a ton of different ways to do so and different questions to address when thinking about creating a world with magic.

Writers – what are aspects of magic that you think about when world building? Is there anything I missed?

Readers – what are your favorite magic systems?

Drop me a line in the comments. Or hit me up on twitter @FTLukens.

The Star Host and Ghosts & Ashes are available everywhere!

Sophomore Slump – Writing Book 2 (Ghosts & Ashes)

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This is a difficult post for me to write. I’ve wanted to write it for some time but I kept putting it off. But now I’ve run out of excuses so here we go.

Writing Ghosts & Ashes, the second book of the Broken Moon series, was far more difficult than I thought it would be at the outset. I thought it would be much like writing The Star Host which flowed out in four wonderfully hectic months back in 2015.

It wasn’t.

I attempted to start writing G&A in November 2015 for NaNoWriMo. At that time, I had just received word from Interlude Press that they were interested in The Star Host as a series and I was eager to get the sequel started. I thought that going at it full tilt during November would be a great way to get the beginning of a rough draft down in a word document.

It wasn’t.

I floundered… badly. The beginning of the book eluded me. How to start the second piece of Ren and Asher’s story? The Star Host ends on a hopeful note. But the next part of the journey is rocky. How do I get the characters there? Should I time jump? Should I show the events leading to their terse relationship or should I jump right in to the trouble? What about Millicent? What about Rowan? What about the consequences of the events on the drift?

At the end of November, I had a sad few thousand words and was frustrated. So I set it aside.

I normally don’t write in December. I take it off. I use it as my month break from writing and editing and marketing and go back to the well so to speak. I allow myself a reprieve from the “you should be writing always” mentality to keep from burning out. So I took December off and just relaxed. January would be better. I knew it would be. I’d be ready to write in a few weeks.

I wasn’t.

Getting back into a groove was difficult. But I pushed myself. I skipped around and wrote the scenes I had clearly in my head. I made my outline stronger so when the words did come, I had a place to put them. But I still struggled, to put it mildly.wrist1

Then the incident happened.

On January 19th 2016, three days after my birthday, I was assaulted at work. The injury was to my right wrist and hand – my dominant hand. I lost feeling in my ring and pinky fingers. My wrist swelled to the point I couldn’t move it. I was in pain constantly.

The injury started me on a journey of doctors’ appointments, x-rays, MRIs, needles, medications, braces, not to mention pain, which eventually led to surgery in May. It also led to mounds of paperwork, dealing with an unsympathetic day job, and consultations with a lawyer.

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I had an MRI in April, three months after the assault, which showed the cartilage in my wrist was torn.

During all of this – I wrote Ren and Asher’s crumbling relationship, Ren’s PTSD, his anxiety, his pain, his anger, and his misguided perceptions.

I knew G&A was going to be an angsty book at the outset and I knew the ending before I started writing. But I would be lying if I didn’t say that my own personal experiences that were happening during the development of the book didn’t color the prose. The book is darker. Ren is darker.

One of the last scenes written for G&A was Ren’s panic attack that happens on the second page. It was written during the first or second round of edits. I wrote it a few weeks after I returned to work and experienced a panic attack when someone cornered me against my car. I was calm until I drove away but I ended up pulling over and breaking down.

I turned G&A in to my editors on May 1st 2016. I had surgery on May 5th.

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I won’t go into the details of the aftermath of the surgery. But I will say that even with surgical intervention and physical therapy, I still have limited sensation in two of my fingers and I wake up in pain every day. My doctor diagnosed me with a permanent partial disability.

Did all this change the plot of the book? No. Did it change the tone? Yes. Absolutely yes.  And it did change some scenes – like I noted above. And it did change Ren. He’s angrier. He’s less forgiving. He’s wary. But he’s stronger too. He knows he can survive. He is going to come out of the other side.

He believes he can make it.

After a hellish year… I’d like to say that I believe I can make it too. I’m getting there.

Playlist – Ghosts & Ashes (Broken Moon 2)

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I love playlists. If you need a great playlist for busting through writer’s block, Lin Manuel Miranda, composer/creator of Hamilton, just posted a link to his spotify with an amazing playlist. 10/10 Highly recommend.

The playlist that I’ve created here isn’t so much a list of all the songs I listened to while writing Ghosts & Ashes. It’s actually more of a list of songs that fit the mood of the book and I feel related to the story line – especially the relationship of Ren and Asher. If you’ve read the blurb then you know that their relationship experiences a shift and is put under substantial strain due to an imbalance of power. You’ll see that pressure reflected in the songs below.

There are also a few songs which represent Ren’s relationships with other characters. But dDon’t worry. No spoilers here. 😉

Without further intro: Here is the G&A playlist. In no particular order.

  1. Say Something – Pentatonix – Everywhere I would’ve followed you. Say something I’m giving up on you. Pentatonix is not the original artist for this song but their cover is amazing.
  2. Don’t Let Me Down – The Chainsmokers – I think I’m losing my mind now. It’s in my head, darling I hope That you’ll be here, when I need you the most So don’t let me, don’t let me, don’t let me down.
  3. Diary of Jane – Breaking Benjamin – Something’s getting in the way Something’s just about to break I will try to find my place In the diary of Jane As I burn another page
    As I look the other way I still try to find my place In the diary of Jane
  4. Unsteady – X Ambassadors – Hold Hold on Hold on to me ‘Cause I’m a little unsteady A little unsteady
  5. Bleeding Out – Imagine Dragons – ‘Cause I’m bleeding out Said if the last thing that I do
    Is to bring you down I’ll bleed out for you
  6. Second Chance – Shinedown – I’m not angry, I’m just saying Sometimes goodbye is a second chance
  7. Over My Head – The Fray – Let’s rearrange I wish you were a stranger I could disengage
    Just say that we agree and then never change Soften a bit until we all just get along
  8. I Will Follow You Into The Dark – Death Cab for Cutie – If there’s no one beside you when your soul embarks Then I’ll follow you into the dark
  9. The Things We Lost in the Fire – Bastille – I was the match and you we re the rock
    Maybe we started this fire We sat apart and watched All we had burned on the pyre

Reminder! There are several days left of the Rafflecopter giveaway . Enter for your chance.

And I’ll take song recommendations. Based on the above – anything I need to be listening to? I’m always on the lookout for new artists and albums. Drop me a line in the comments or on Twitter.

Stay tuned for more content regarding G&A upcoming – such as a fancast of characters, Easter eggs, sci-fi inspirations, world building etc.

Ghosts & Ashes – reviews

Here are some nice things that have been said about Ghosts & Ashes thus far:

Five Stars. Ghosts & Ashes continues the adventures of the star host, Ren, as he comes to grips with his power and searches for his place in the cosmos. This is a rollicking adventure that blends elements from westerns, sci-fi, YA, and romance into a cohesive page-flipping thrill ride. – Foreword Reviews

This is a wonderfully creative, brilliantly written sci-fi YA series. I adore it to pieces and very much recommend you read it! – Meredith at Diverse Reader

Ghosts & Ashes is a worthy and exciting follow-up to The Star Host. Fans of Star Wars and Firefly will love the Broken Moon series for its space opera-style storyline and memorable characters.Carrie Pack, author of In the Present Tense & Grrrls on the Side

The novel is fraught with complexity and wonderful layers; both at once an adventure and a heart-wrenching chapter in Ren and Asher’s romance as they navigate trust and betrayal and how to best protect one another.CB Lee, author of Not Your Sidekick & Not Your Villain

Ghosts & Ashes is a wonderful sequel to The Star Host and the story is building to a climax that I am dying to read. This continues to be a wonderful series that will appeal to adults and young adults alike.D.E. Atwood, author of If We Shadows

 

Ghosts & Ashes LIVE!

The sequel to last year’s The Star Host is now out in the world. Ghosts & Ashes is the continuation of the story and is a little bit darker and with a little bit more angst. Here is the virtual book tour where you can find out tidbits about the writing process, characters, and read snippets of scenes.

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My Night as An Author

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I did a reading at my local independent book store – Malaprop’s in Asheville. And it was awesome.

I was super nervous, but the staff at Malaprops were inviting and treated me like a ‘real’ author. Okay, yes, I am a real author. I write. I have been published. That qualifies. But I don’t think I felt like an actual author until I walked into Malaprops and was offered a drink from the cafe before my event started. I was a little taken aback. Yes, it was only a drink, but it was a drink! One I didn’t have to pay for!

And then Ali let me know there was a bottle of water under the podium for me. Which was also awesome because I was so nervous my mouth was dry as dust.

Before I began speaking, Ali introduced me. It was the nicest introduction in the history of introductions. I blushed through the whole thing. And I totally snagged a copy.

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Now, I didn’t have a massive turnout. In fact, when I started, there were only three people there. My friend, my friend’s wife, and John from Geek Potpourri. But as it went on, a few more people showed up and the crowd grew to about ten.

Ten whole people sat and listened to me talk about my book, my writing process, my vision for the book, and heard me read two passages from the novel.

After I talked, I sat and signed books and handed out Y’all Means All pins. And THEN Aly asked me to sign my event poster for the store, and sign the entire stock of books they had left. Which was totally awesome. BUT the best thing… the absolute best thing… was signing the MALAPROP’S GUEST BOOK. Every author who has done a reading at Malaprops has signed that book. MY NAME IS NOW IN A BOOK THAT HAS SOME OF THE BIGGEST NAMES IN WRITING.

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Look! THAT IS MY SIGNATURE!

I may have swooned a little flipping through the book.

In conclusion, Malaprop’s is awesome. I’m totally going to do another reading. Support your independent book stores and your indie presses. And much love to everyone who came out and listened to me read and asked great questions.