Several weeks ago, I created a Patreon account as a platform for a new serial I'm working on, The Adventures of Jack Creature.
John "Creature" Doe is a drifter. An outlaw. A hunter. Constantly on the run from TITAN, the military organization that created him, and with the uncanny ability to spot supernatural activity wherever he goes, John (aka Jack) finds trouble at every turn. With only his wits and preternatural gifts, he must hunt down and destroy the true threats to humanity before being captured or destroyed himself. How long can he last?
New episodes drop every Friday. Join today for only $1/month. https://www.patreon.com/wcmarkham
The second tier allows early access to drafts of new books long before they hit Amazon.
I hope you will join me in this crazy writing journey!
The vast majority of Urban Fantasy books revolve around mythological creatures of one kind or another, whether they be vampires, werewolves, or fairies. Some of the most popular series are a hodge-podge of various cultural mythologies. In The Dresden Files we see the Fae Court, vampires, and even Santa Claus. Iron Druid proposes that the gods and creatures from every arena— Greek, Roman, Norse, Judeo-Christian, and Native American—coexist and intersect with the mortal realm. These are all fantastical portrayals in the extreme that pull out all the stops to give us delightful adventures.
While I enjoy such stories, I also appreciate ones where the fantastical elements are more plausible. It may seem counterintuitive to desire both plausibility and fantasy at the same time, but it is my sweet spot as a reader. I want to read something that makes me wander the world and wonder if that reality might be just out of view, that it really and truly does exist. Gaiman’s Neverwhere did this for me the first time I read it, and I’ve never forgotten the feeling.
As a writer, I wanted to recreate that sense of wonder and mystery in my readers. That’s why Mason Gray’s story begins solidly grounded in the real world and his discovery of the supernatural unfolds gradually. I also include a scene in which he consults with a professor of Religion and Mythology about the origins of vampire lore. In the course of my own research, I discovered that the earliest recorded “vampire” mythology dates back to 500 BC, far earlier than the modern concept of vampires popularized by Romanian folklore (which eventually birthed Dracula).
I also noticed a number of similarities in the mythology of different cultures and decided that would be an excellent place to start my own “what ifs.” What if the reason there are so many similarities is because the mythologies were based on observations of similar phenomena around the world? That question opened up a plethora of possibilities and my imagination went into overdrive. Book 2 and 3 of the series explore these possibilities further. While I never explicitly state who or what these characters and powers are, it is my hope that readers will piece together clues and come up with their own conclusions.
If you’ve read the books, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Be assured, however, that I will neither confirm nor deny your suspicions.
As you know, I write about a character committed to the pursuit of justice. Lately, I have spent a lot of time thinking about what that means. In order to explain, I have to tell a story about something that recently happened to my family.
The other week, my wife and daughter were hit by a drunk driver on their way home from school. He was doing 80 in a 55, swerved to avoid a truck turning into a driveway, lost control, and hit them pretty much head-on, causing their car to roll four times. I'm sure you can imagine my horror upon learning this. Fortunately, they did not suffer any life-threatening injuries, but my wife's foot has a torn ligament which will require surgery to repair.
The driver, who suffered more serious injuries but survived, did not have a license and was uninsured. The state trooper who responded to the collision told us that the driver will be charged with a DUI.
In Virginia, the consequences of a DUI are a hefty fine and suspension of driving privileges—a fine that, due to his financial situation, he will be unable to pay and a revocation of a driver's license that he didn't have in the first place. Where is the justice in this?
I believe that our justice system should serve two purposes. First, it should be restorative, seeking an avenue to restore what was taken from the victim, both material possessions and peace of mind, and to restore the people's trust in the offender. Secondly, it must protect the citizens of the state from further harm by the offender. Ideally, effective implementation of the first should result in the second, though that may not always be the case. It does not seem that the punitive measures prescribed by the current legal system for drunk driving come anywhere close to doing either of these things.
I do not know what recourse we have to seek true justice, but I will continue to explore possibilities. Writing to my state senators and representatives encouraging a change in the law will certainly be on my list. I would rather this man willingly participate in a rehabilitation program of some kind and, perhaps, perform community service with victims of other drunk drivers. This, in my opinion, would be far more restorative and effective at preventing further disregard of human life. But I don't think it can stop there. Anyone caught driving under the influence a second time should be charged with Reckless Endangerment, as they pose a severe and imminent threat to the safety of the general public and should be incarcerated.
We are fond of incarceration in the United States, as we have the highest rate of any country in the world. But almost half of those are for largely victimless crimes, like drug sale and possession. That doesn't seem like justice to me, either. Incarceration should be reserved for those who pose a danger to the public—people who show a pattern of reckless behavior resulting in injury and death.
We need to seriously reassess criminal law in our states, make sure they align with the true purpose of justice, and change them as necessary.
Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.
While the secular world is all about Santa Claus because of the rampant consumerism he represents and many in the Church urge us not to put so much emphasis on ole Saint Nick because Jesus should be the true focus of the season, I have a different take on the matter. I believe that Santa Claus is an integral and vital part of the holiday.
I do agree that Christmas has lost much of its intended meaning for most of the populace and Santa Claus has played a significant role in its degradation, but only because people have taken him out of the context of his true existence. Rather than a saint who delivers gifts to poor and needy children to bring joy into their lives, he has been twisted by the media into an icon of gluttony and greed. But this is not true for everyone.
Some children, likely many children, still view Santa Claus as a magical, mysterious being who comes once a year to bring them a gift they truly long for. My father was a rotund man with a white beard by the time he was 50. He loved to tell the story of the time he was in the airport, and this little girl sitting nearby kept sneaking glances at him and whispering to her mother. Finally, with a modicum of chagrin, the girl’s mother said, “She thinks you’re Santa Claus.” Without missing a beat, he asked if she would like to sit on his lap and tell him what she wanted for Christmas, which she immediately did. Despite the many reasons to doubt his existence, children believe. They believe that he receives their letters at the north pole, that he is able to visit every child on the planet in one night, even that he has flying reindeer. Question them about it and they can explain it all with such certainty that even the most curmudgeoniest heart could start to believe as well. This is the epitome of faith.
Furthermore, while some parents push the naughty or nice list bit in an effort to get their children to behave, in my house, Santa came whether I deserved it or not. And this, I think is the salient point. Santa Claus is Christ in a kid friendly form. Or he should be. The concept of Christ as savior and the Grace of God is difficult for children to grasp, but Santa bringing presents not because they deserve them but because they are loved is something they can connect with. Teaching this has the potential to lay the foundation for a more profound and deeper understanding and faith later in life.
Therefore, I say let Santa live in the hearts of children. When they begin to question, explain that he does certainly exist, just not the way the movies and cartoons show him. He exists wherever there is love for love’s sake. Wherever a child receives a gift because they are loved by another person, Santa is there. He may not appear as a fat man in a red suit. His visage may be that of a mother or father, a teacher who picks a child off the angel tree, a volunteer for the Toy Convoy or Toys for Tots, or any number of other disguises. Then again, you might just see him wearing beard and suit at the airport. You never know.
The other week, I sent out a survey to my newsletter recipients. In it, I asked several questions I wanted answers to that would help me refine my advertising game. However, I left an opening for readers to let me know what they wanted more of, and this is one of those questions. What, exactly, inspired me to write Missing?
To truly answer this, we must travel back in time to 2004. I was living in Chicago, pursuing an acting career.
Acting is my first love. We met early in life and courted each other throughout the years until college, when I decided to make a commitment and become a professional. As an actor, I've always been drawn to interesting characters. The more I thought about how to portray a character, the more I realized that every character has a story to tell, even Spear Carrier #2. And when you're just starting out, you play a lot of those kind of characters. Unfortunately, playwrights don't give you a lot to work with for those characters so a lot is left to the imagination. Exploring the stories that weren't told on stage led me to a greater depth of understanding and eventually to a place where I wanted to tell the stories of those characters.
Gray's story actually began as an exercise in character exploration. I wanted to know what it was like inside the head of a hard-boiled detective from the film-noir genre. It took a long time for his full story to reveal itself, and I didn't have it all on paper until ten years later. I was busy focusing on an acting career, but every now and then, Gray would whisper in the back of my brain, urging me to finish his story.
Figuring out what his story was also took a while, but it was rooted in my experience in Chicago. I knew the setting would play an essential part in its telling, but I didn't know what the events would be yet. Then I saw the third Blade movie. While I wasn't particularly thrilled with it, there were parts that intrigued me. What would it be like to live in a world where vampires didn't lurk in Gothic towers or spooky cemeteries, but secretly ran multi-million dollar corporations? For giggles, I dropped Gray into this world to see what would happen, and that is where the story was truly born.
I didn't begin writing in earnest until I left Chicago. I missed the city immensely, and Gray's adventures let me revisit whenever I wanted. You could even say the city became a character itself, and I wouldn't say you were wrong.
Thanks for reading. If you have any other questions, drop me a line. I'd love to hear from you.
Have a great weekend!
Those of you who follow my blog will know that I am a big fan of The History Channel's show Alone. I am simply fascinated with people who have cultivated those skills necessary to survive on their own. I guess you could say my obsession started with Les Stroud on Survivorman even years before Alone.
While watching the most recent season, I was surprised to see one of the participants, Jordan Jonas, was from Virginia. Because that is where I live, I found myself rooting for him week to week. He had such an easy-going personality, laughing at what many would consider to be terrible conditions and demoralizing setbacks. And then he killed a moose.
He was the first participant in six seasons to take a big game animal. And he was from my home state. It's ridiculous that I should feel pride for something that I had absolutely nothing to do with, but I guess it's just like everyone around here going crazy over the Nationals in the World Series.
Back in September, after school had started up, I began thinking about new and interesting ways to engage my students when I had an idea: why not see if Mr. Jonas would be willing to come talk to them about his experience. He has a rich background and incredible stories to tell, not only about his time on Alone, but from his time living in Siberia with the Evenki people. So I reached out to him, explained who I was, that I was a fan, and offered him a place to hunt. I figured I had all this land that wasn't really being used, so why not let someone else use it. I would also be better, I thought, to establish a relationship before asking something of him. We kept in touch over the next several weeks and eventually worked out a time to get together.
Two weeks ago, I met him and a buddy at my property to show them around and let them bow hunt that evening. I'm not a bow hunter because of the time required to hone such skill, but I have great respect for those who do. Immediately upon arrival, we saw a lot of deer and bear sign. Introductions were made, I shared a bit of the history of the place, and walked them back to where I thought they should start their hunt.
Now, I've met famous people before. I met Sean Astin in August, Kevin Hearne at a book signing event in Richmond, and I met Chris Jericho years ago in LA. But this experience was a bit different, more surreal. It wasn't a meet and greet at some convention or a public appearance with a brief handshake and a few exchanged pleasantries. Here I was, meeting this guy I had watched on television for weeks and lived vicariously through his adventures. We were actually hanging out in the woods. Of course I felt like I knew him, but I was also aware that he didn't know me from Adam. So that was in my head the whole time we talked.
I left them to their own devices and made my way back home. Later that evening, after it was good and dark and I knew hunting time was over, I sent him a message asking if he'd seen anything. The reply was simple. "Phone almost dead. Shot bear. Looking for it now." Holy bear balls, Batman! A bear? I certainly hadn't expected that. A deer maybe, or nothing at all, more likely. But a bear? Talk about exciting.
I didn't hear anything else that night, which had me worried. One of the risks with bow hunting is that it can be difficult to track down your quarry after making a shot. Especially in the dark. I may not have slept the best that night. The next morning he sent me a picture and explained that it had taken an hour to find the bear, mainly because they only had one flashlight. He'd made a good, clean shot and the bear died quickly.
This is where my feelings get a bit muddled. I was thrilled he had a successful hunt and proud that he had harvested a great animal that would feed him and his family for weeks. But I was also a bit jealous. I used to hunt this property with my father every year. I've harvested deer, turkey, squirrel, rabbit, and grouse from those woods. But I've only seen a bear there once. No one in my family, that I know of, has ever killed a bear there. Granted, the bear population in the area has risen significantly in the last decade, but still. So yeah, a bit jealous. Though in reality, I highly doubt that I would harvest a bear anyway. I don't hunt for sport. It was always about food. And at this point in my life, I don't even do that because my wife and daughter wouldn't eat it. When I do hunt, it's for small game, or to spend time with my brother and I let him have the meat.
Ultimately, what it comes down to, is that the experience has made me miss the time I used to spend with my dad in the woods. He's been gone for eleven years, and would be disappointed that I don't hunt as much as I used to. But I think he would be happy that I am sharing the bounty and joy of the woods with others and through them, encouraging the stewardship of the natural world.
Photo courtesy of Jordan Jonas
Last year, while I was part of the SPFBO, I had the good fortune to meet a fellow author named Dyrk Ashton (virtually, of course) and have followed him on several social media platforms. He is a fascinating guy and I've been reading his first book, Paternus: Rise of the Gods. It's a great read, but I'm not here to review it. Instead, today I have an interview just for you. Five questions. Five answers.
1. One of the things that struck me about Paternus is that it’s written in present tense. Usually such writing pulls me out of the story unless it is done extremely well. Fortunately, you have expertly mastered the present tense. What made you choose to use it, instead of the traditional past tense.
DA: Thank you for the compliment, Chris! Honestly, my first proofer/editor strongly recommended that I switch from present to past, but I stuck to my guns. I knew that few adult fantasy books use present tense, especially epic, but including urban fantasy, and was fully aware of that going on. Most of my creative writing in the past few decades, though, has been on screenplays, and those are always written in present tense. I very much wanted Paternus to have a strong cinematic feel, while also being able to take advantage of things you can do in literature that you can’t do in scripts (like backstory’s, inner thoughts and observations that aren’t in voice-over, etc.) so that it didn’t feel too movie-like or comic bookish. Not sure if I succeeded in that, but I am personally pretty happy with the result.
I also read quite a bit of YA fantasy, and was struck by how well present tense was used in The Hunger Games, which I read while still mulling over the first Paternus book. While writing, I also read Red Rising, which has a striking, in-your-face kind of present tense style. Mike Carey wrote The Girl with all the Gifts in a gentler, extremely deftly handled present tense voice that actually changed slightly in chapters from different characters’ perspectives, and I loved that as well. I studied other books written in present, and together with what I had learned writing film scripts, developed the style used in Paternus. I’ve seen some complaints about it, but I still stand by it.
2. While reading Paternus, I couldn’t help but be reminded of American Gods, which partly inspired my own series. Are there certain books that you draw inspiration from?
DA: This list is nearly endless, I’d have to say. Nearly everything I’ve read shows through now and again. Even from books I love, I get a sense of what I don’t want to do as much as what I do. There are some that stand out, though. The standard, The Lord of the Rings, resonates through just about everything I do, but I also can’t help drawing on my love of Roger Zelazny’s work, particularly Creatures of Light and Darkness, Lord of Light, and A Night in the Lonesome October. I also have to mention so many of the myths and fables from around the world I have read throughout my life, as well as superhero films, foreign art films, and graphic novels. Of the latter, The Dark Knight, Kingdom Come, and Watchmen have probably had the most affect on my work.
3. You have fantastic cover art. How did it come to be?
DA: I completely lucked out with that. I’m not sure if you know, but the original cover for Paternus, book 1, had beautiful artwork, but it felt too YA. I decided to try a new style, more adult urban fantasy, but not particularly the standard glowing-hand-wizard-demon-hunter or PNR style. I saw the art for Ghosts of Tomorrow by my arch-nemesis (or nemesenemy), the notorious pants thief, Michael R. Fletcher, and loved it. Luckily for me, he shared the names of his cover artists after I seduced him with grilled-cheese sandwiches and cheap whiskey. John Anthony Di Giovanni is the illustrator, and the designer is Shawn King of STK Kreations. I contacted them, they were available, and it’s been love ever since.
4. It took two years from the time Book 1 was published until Book 2 came out (glad to see I’m not the only one not doing rapid release). Do you think it will take that long for Book 3 to be released? If so, what is the most time consuming part of your process?
DA: Yeah, I’m a slow writer, that’s for certain. Due to day job and life in general, I only get a few hours as a day to write, and not every day, and I’m pretty slow at the keyboard. I don’t write when I travel for conventions and such, and I’ll spend months doing production and marketing work before and after a book’s release. Book one took almost 4 years to write, and came out May 1, 2016. It wasn’t until July 10 of 2018 that book two was released, so two years, two months between. I am getting faster, though. I had originally wanted to release book three late this Summer, 2019, then it was Fall, now it’s more like a nebulous “by the end of the year.”
Part of the reason is there is so much to tie together, follow through with, and wrap up in the last book of the trilogy. Another reason is that author friends and readers have convinced me to do a Kickstarter for special hardback editions (and other fun stuff), which I’m now really excited to do, though it will take some time away from writing. That would still be less than a year and a half since the release of book two, though. So, like I said, faster :)
5. Your books have received amazing reviews from some highly reputable sources. What can you tell us about that process?
DA: I have to say, I have been extremely lucky. Right when I was first preparing to release book one, I was talked into joining Reddit Fantasy. I think the first time I logged in, I saw a thread on the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO), which is sponsored by Mark Lawrence of The Broken Empire fame. The Reddit thread was an interview with the top winners from the first year it ran. I checked the entry deadline, which was right when I’d have the final proofed draft of Paternus finished. I think I was entry 298 out of the 300 allowed.
Paternus is odd in style and structure, and it’s urban fantasy or mythic fiction, not epic or grimdark fantasy (though it has been called grimdark since), so I was absolutely certain I wouldn’t make it past the first cull. I was in Fantasy-Faction’s group, and as it turned out, they liked it, and it became their choice as one of the 10 finalists. That process took several months, and then the final round many more, so all that time, publicity kind of snowballed. Other authors and outside bloggers read and reviewed it, and the other bloggers involved in the competition did as well. Fantasy Book Critic even gave it their highest score out of the final 10. I couldn’t believe it. Everything has built from that. I can’t credit the SPFBO enough. Without it, I don’t believe anyone would even know my books exist. I’ve gotten blurbs from most authors based on that, and building on social media relationships from there.
Dyrk Ashton is a Midwestern boy who spent some time in Hollywood. He teaches film, geeks out on movies and books, and writes about regular folks and their trouble with monsters.
Take a minute to check out his website over at Paternus Books and maybe pick up a copy if you haven't already. You won't regret it.
A couple of weeks ago at an author event, someone asked me what kind of research I do for my books. I love this question. Research is one of my favorite parts of writing. Curiosity has always been an intrinsic part of who I am, and I find that when writing a story, there is built-in direction and motivation for me to learn new things.
Granted, I did very little research for Missing. The years spent living and working in Chicago covered pretty much everything I needed to know. For Stolen, however, I was largely ignorant of the locations and procedures I was planning to write about. Fortunately, there is Google. I used Google maps to familiarize myself with certain neighborhoods. I read about the Chicago Police Department and how it is structured. I discovered facts about the Field Museum that I didn't already know, specifically, the bits about their storage facility. But Google is only a beginning.
As Gray says, "Real investigation inevitably takes you into the field." It is far easier to write about that which you have first hand knowledge. Last summer, I went to Las Vegas for vacation. I have a plan for a new series that will be set there, so I took lots of notes and pictures, especially of the Mirage hotel, where the main character will live. Unfortunately, I no longer live in Chicago, so visiting these places to research Stolen wasn't an option. I could, however, talk to people who did live there. I reached out to the Prior of the Monastery of the Holy Cross to get a virtual tour, and he was extremely helpful in describing the layout and the day to day life of the brothers. I also had a sit down with a lieutenant at my local police department to discuss procedures, paperwork, and how someone could bury a case. He was a font of information both related and not. He also scared the crap out of me when he talked about some of the stuff that happens in our town. I had another meeting with him this morning to talk about ideas for the next book. It's important to me that I get certain facts and procedures correct. As a result, I'm going to have to change the timeline of the next story. To an extent. I reserve the right to take certain artistic liberties. After all, I do write fiction that is only loosely based in reality, but I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
A lot has happened since the last time I posted so I'll try to boil it down for you. Stolen officially launched in March. I attended two author events at local libraries and had a launch party last month. I was thrilled to have several fans show up that had purchased copies of Missing from bookstores and were there to get the next one.
I ran a free promo for Missing in mid-May and reached #1 in Paranormal Mystery. That jumpstarted a number of purchases and May was the best month I've had since starting this whole writing thing. It's far from bestseller status, but it's a step in the right direction.
I also directed the new Murder Mystery dinner theatre which occupied me for the month of April and finished up the school year.
A lot of authors write quickly and do what is called a rapid release of a series. It's a sound marketing tactic designed to drive lots of traffic in a short period of time. I'm not one of those authors. Missing took 10 years to write. Stolen took 2. I'd love to say that I'll have the third book out in the next year, but I kind of doubt it. What I can say is that I've started on it.
My writing process begin with outlining. I discovered early on that I need to have a solid plan for how the story will plat out before I start writing it. That doesn't mean that I always follow the plan, but it's a place to start. So since I finished Stolen, I've been musing over the plot of the next book. I have about half of it plotted out, but it's that pesky second half that's giving me trouble. Too many possibilities, too many paths that could be taken. But I have started writing. Hopefully, I'll have the ending figured out by the time I get to the halfway point.
I have a lot of research to do in the meantime. I hope to get some insights from a real detective as well as a District Attorney. I'm not giving any spoilers or insights into what will happen yet, but stay tuned for teasers.
This is it! The moment I've been waiting for. Well, one of them. I'm still waiting for the moment when I can announce that I'm finally in the black financially. But this is exciting, too!
Stolen is being edited by a professional while I kick back and watch Netflix. (Ha Ha. Yeah right. I have two kids that monopolize my TV.) But I have set a release date of March 16. I will actually be attending the Waynesboro Author Fest that day, so I figured it would be good to have my launch coincide. Otherwise, I'd probably still be working on getting it finished. It's good to have deadlines people.
Because I have a release date, I also have a pre-order link which means I can finally do a cover reveal. So without further ado, here it is!
Now, I know you're all dying to read a sample. So click here.
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