Writing Relevant Stories

In your writing journey you will often be urged by professionals to write ‘relevant’ stories. While they of the all-mysterious ‘they say’ fame say your stories should be relevant, the term itself is often abused and misunderstood.

What Makes a Story Relevant?

Is George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series relevant because of all the political hoopla these days? If so, does that mean it was less relevant when it was first published over twenty years ago in (by comparison) sedate 1996?

Would you consider The Hunger Games relevant because of its atmosphere of gloom cast by a totalitarian government (which some people feared would be inevitable under a Clinton ‘regime’)? Or is it irrelevant because it is partly based on the ancient Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur?

Perhaps by relevance ‘they’ simply mean it promotes thought among modern people.

If so, then a story about a public shooting and a man’s struggle to find his way back to faith in God should be considered relevant by anyone’s definition. That’s what my short story The Shooting of Amy Rose is about.

Real Gun Control

Brian Collins survives a church mass shooting, but loses his fiancé—and his faith in a good God—in the chaos. Shattered and alone without Amy Rose, Brian experiences a night vision wherein he receives the idea for a device that could protect innocent Americans from any more shootings, all while bypassing useless gun control laws. But even as he builds his device, Brian is faced with a horrible decision: defend his investor, whose actions may mean the device was paid for with blood money, or hold to his own moral uprightness and reveal the truth. Such personal integrity would jeopardize any success wrought by the device.

All the while, he is confronted by a strange dark woman, who gently tries to nudge him toward forgiveness and a return to the God he abandoned. Can a man ever forgive his fiancé’s shooter? Can a machine really do what the government has failed for years to accomplish? Or is the device a trap, designed to keep Brian forever alone and incapable of loving again?

Inspiration, My Motivation

It is my hope that there might be a device (probably not like the one I invented for the story) which could protect innocent Americans from being shot up in public buildings. My highest hope is that it inspires someone to act on its hopeful theme, to work to create a safer public sphere for our fellow Americans.

It (the story, not the device) will be available soon. I will provide a link in the next post, to where it will be available for free for 5 days! I trust you will enjoy it; I hope you will find it relevant and motivating.

Writing Original Ideas: Ichabod Kills Common Tropes

You love reading. You love discovering new characters and worlds. Big time readers like yourself eventually run into the dreaded ‘common tropes’ monster. After consuming a few hundred books, characters and ideas take on a familiar shade of prose.

Too Familiar Writing

You’re like, ‘Ah yes, the love triangle again. How original’ or ‘Oh good, another character whose childhood abuse has made him into a serial killer. Never seen that before.’

This is why I am so proud of my serial killer thriller ICHABOD, and why I am excited to share its opening with you here.

Ichabod is an upper-class playwright with no brain disorders and a past filled with nothing but love and peace. There are no apparent triggers to explain why he does the things he does (and why he believes what he believes).

These things involve experimental murder, mass disaster, and igniting a city-wide gang war, among other nefarious deeds. All of this is in the name of enacting his philosophy: crime rates will drop as the population is decreased.

Embrace the Strange

Another unique aspect of my novel is its hero. Detective Stephen Van Tassel is not the world weary boozer you’d expect in a serial killer novel. Instead, he is young and horrifically afflicted by the very disorder which makes him the one man uniquely qualified to solve the riddle of the chaos in Philicity.

He suffers from synesthesia, a blurring of the senses; he experiences the world like few humans ever have. And he remembers everything. He could tell you what the weather was like when he was having a conversation with a stranger ten years ago, and why the number 7 is a fat man wearing swimming trunks, or what the color red tastes like on an afternoon of 35’s.

‘Ichabod’ pits these two original characters against each other. Hunter and prey, haunted and determined, flawed and perfected.

Please enjoy the opening passages:

Continue reading “Writing Original Ideas: Ichabod Kills Common Tropes”

Fablehaven Book Review

Fablehaven is the kind of series you recall with fond memories and feelings, and regret only that you can never read it again for the first time. But you’ll still read it again, of course.

I recall vividly, certain scenes from these books. An early one in the first book especially sticks with me; it is set by the pool in the sprawling backyard on a bright summer morning. Kendra and Seth, young siblings, are swimming when they notice a small assortment of tiny winged insects, abuzz with delight. Dragonflies and butterflies and hummingbirds are all gathered together, staring at a mirror by the pool. Kendra and Seth watch, befuddled by this strange action. Seth flips the mirror over to see if it is the mirror the creatures like, or their reflections. They seem to prefer their reflections.


This scene sticks with me because it is a foreshadowing of fairies, and also an early sign that the strange supernatural world of Fablehaven is all around them, and not another world separated from the mundane by dimensions or doorways. Plus, the innocent curiosity of the kids grounds them as likeable and engaging characters.

A sense of playfulness, combined with the thrill of discovery is perfectly captured by Brandon Mull in this series.

All the best fantasies create a sense of excitement through enthusiastic characters.

They also ground their fantastic elements in reality through realistic characteristics.

Seth is an 11 year old boy whose adventurous curiosity always supersedes his sense of obedience. Kendra is a teenage girl whose responsibility for her younger brother becomes a full time job when they realize they are in a wonderland of otherworldly mayhem, and that Seth is atwitter with the compulsion to investigate. She wants to go home. He wants to be free to do what he wants. Seth gets hungry. Kendra gets annoyed.

How to Blend Magic with Reality

By blending the real and commonplace with talking demons and flying dragons, readers are apt to forgive the unbelievable by suspending their unbelief so that they might enjoy the tale set before them.

Another thing I love about the Fablehaven series is the growing excitement with each book. The ratcheting suspense never lets up. You also get the sense that each book is building to a larger overarching storyline—and that is what makes good fantasies great. Five self-contained stories punctuated by hints of a grander design or force at work.

You couldn’t pay me to choose my favorite of the five books in the box set. They are all equally outstanding. The first is a great introduction to the world of Fablehaven; it doesn’t get overly ambitious and throw too much at us. It allows the story and fantastic elements to grow, slowly introducing bigger uncanny beings. We are even treated to glimpses of the larger plot, quick snippets of dialogue or passing references to some ultimate baddie. All serving to whet our appetite for more Fablehaven mayhem and magic.

Rate that Series

Out of 10 stars, I would give this series 9. Almost perfect. It has everything I could want in a fantasy series, except perhaps for a taste of adult situations, some more mature elements, like the kind you might find in Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files. But that doesn’t matter much, because these books don’t call for it. My own Young Adult fantasy, W.A.N.D. incorporates similar elements, like the thrill of discovery and flawed, enthusiastic characters, with some hints at mature interests. Boy likes girl and fantasizes. Girl snubs boy and outsmarts him.

Brandon Mull’s writing is what I consider ‘non-distracting’ which simply means the author never intrudes with his agenda or tries to sound erudite by adding third-tier synonyms no one has ever heard before. Short sentences, realistic dialogue, and simple straightforward descriptive passages make for fast reads. It’s a lot like The Heroes of Olympus series, in writing style.

I highly recommend this series. Buy the books, and lose yourself for a few weeks in the strange, exciting, sometimes terrifying world of Fablehaven.