Monthly Archives: December 2014

The Ghost Box

The Ghost Box

The Ghost Box by Mike Duran is a ghost story, a murder mystery, an urban fantasy, and a love story, but it’s not a romance, and it doesn’t sit still for long.

The protagonist — Reagan Moon, reporter for a publication specializing in the paranormal — is the guardian of a Tau (a cross-like shape based on the Greek letter) left in his care by his girlfriend, Ellie, before she was lost in an explosion. Why is it important?

Why does a famous recluse want Reagan’s help, and why are psychics and mediums being killed?

Framed for the murders and sought by those who want the Tau, Reagan seeks help from Matisse, a former Jesuit priest who is now the keeper of an archive of paranormal arcana. Matisse’s mysterious daughter, Kanya, and a cheeky guardian angel, Bernard, become Reagan’s sidekicks on a mission to take down the forces of evil invading this world and to solve the mystery of his girlfriend’s death.

Along the way, there’s humor, a bit of angst and self-reflection, action, and the introduction of strange goggles that enable Reagan to see into another dimension. (In my mind, they’re clunky steampunk cool.)

The Ghost Box is what might happen if a rookie Librarian ever met the crew at Warehouse 13 and they all chased down Dracula and The Mummy.


But whatever mix of genres or monsters it might be, it’s definitely recommended reading.


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Someone says Y, so he must be Z.
Another person believes A, so she must be B.
Someone else reads W, so he must be X.
Yet another person listens to C, and therefore must be D.

Sometimes, knowing certain details about others can be quite revealing, perhaps more than those people intend. However, when we use only those particular details to build entire profiles and think we know people as a result, we delude ourselves. We live in prejudiced assumptions and narrow-minded ignorance.

People are so multi-dimensional that sometimes we don’t even know ourselves. We hold contradictory thoughts or beliefs. We say one thing and do another. We ride motorcycles but prefer classical music. We appear to be so outgoing that we’d be the life of the party but what we really prefer is a quite cuppa and silence. We speak little, but — dude! — can we dance.

The speaker in this morning’s service said something so simple that it was profound: “Relationship is found in conversation.”

So, talk to someone. Ask questions. Listen.

Put aside hair-trigger or knee-jerk responses and listen. After all, this isn’t about you.

You may not agree with that person, but you will learn.

And, in the process, you might gain a friend.

Young Love copyright Keanan Brand

Young Love
copyright Keanan Brand

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Posted by on December 28, 2014 in Journeys, Life, Uncategorized


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If Not Peace, Goodwill

If Not Peace, Goodwill

Today and tomorrow mark the 100th anniversary of “The Christmas Truce” (herehere, and here), which sometimes gets a dismissive response, because, after all, the war continued after Christmas, when the same guys who sang carols and exchanged gifts returned to their guns. And yet I am still awed that such a thing happened at all. Fear and enmity were set aside for one night, for one day, and people were simply people, longing for home and hearth and for peace on earth.

c. KB, February 2013

c. KB, February 2013

Our world is being torn apart by people who, by way of violence and fear, try to make everyone bow to their version of a god, to their version of how the rest of us should live or think or believe.

We demand a certain vocabulary, a certain perspective, and call it tolerance. We slap labels on those who do not conform. We shame, we shout, we misconstrue. We judge and assume and abrogate. We elevate externals and miss the heart.

Every time I watch the episode “War Stories” from Firefly and hear the part about the apple grenades, I think of The Christmas Truce. (Weird, yeah, but that’s the truth.) I recall friends whose smiles hid betrayal, and wish it were not so.

Familiar sayings — blowing out someone else’s candle doesn’t make yours burn brighter; crushing someone else does not make you stand taller; shouting down your opponent does not make your message heard — can become meaningless slogans, but I have always admired folks who stood for what they believed and did not back down. I’m not talking about belligerence or violence or arrogance, but a true, firm belief that right was right and that someone must stand for it, even if standing alone.

This is, perhaps, a disjointed post, but it reflects my thoughts after reading this morning’s round of news stories: more death, more mayhem, more confusion and lies. For one day, may we have peace on earth. Or, if not peace, at least goodwill.

* —– * —– * * —– * —– * * —– * —– * * —– * —– ** —– * —– *

For the next twenty-four to thirty-six hours, I’m out. Time for a mind cleanse and a fast from internet news and social media. I can’t bring peace to everyone, but I can bring perspective and a bit of calm to my own corner of the world.

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Posted by on December 24, 2014 in Journeys, Life, Stories


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Released Into the Wild: Dragon’s Rook

art & design c2014, Suzan Troutt; background photo c2014, Keanan Brand

art & design c2014, Suzan Troutt; background photo c2014, Keanan Brand

It’s been a long journey — twenty years — but Dragon’s Rook is finally going to see the great wide world.

This book could have been released much sooner, but I would have been less happy with the results. Some publishers wanted to chop it into smaller pieces, some wanted to mine it for a particular plot while ditching the rest, some thought it too derivative and some too different, so I stopped seeking a publisher and decided to go independent with it.

The publishers who wanted a shorter book were not wrong, but I simply could not meet their tiny word count. Still, I knew the book needed work, so I tightened the writing and the story itself, cutting tens of thousands of words in the process.

Even on the day Dragon’s Rook was uploaded as an e-book, I made revisions. Considering how easy revisions are in this digital age, if I’m not careful I could tweak this thing into oblivion, but I’ll back away and let it be. There are other stories to tell.

And this one is only half-told. The second book, Dragon’s Bane, was the subject of this year’s NaNoWriMo effort, and is still a long way from complete.

But back to publishing: It’d be great if I could finance the printing up front — hefty paperback, dust-jacketed hardcover, nice marketing materials — and oversee the entire process, but since I’m a rookie at this type of publishing, I’m using Smashwords and CreateSpace, releasing the e-book first and then the printed version. In the future, though, I’d like to do this right.

Currently, the EPUB (Nook) version is available for pre-order, and the MOBI (Kindle) format will be available soon. The price is $3.99, and the book will be available for immediate download on January 26, 2015.


If readers are interested in a PDF of the novel and are able to make payments via PayPal, they may leave comments on this post or send e-mail, and I will be happy to oblige.

Also, I will be happy to make free e-copies available to a select number of reviewers. If interested, please leave a comment or send e-mail [].

Finally, for those interested in the artist — Suzan Troutt — she blogs at Jade’s Journal, and  sells jewelry at Gothic Tones. Follow the Gothic Tones page on Facebook for contests and special sales.


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Discussion on Point of View

Today, I answered a friend’s instant message containing questions from another friend regarding the use of third-person omniscient point of view:

Moving between different people’s thoughts (“head hopping” is the pejorative term for it) is the norm for 3rd person omniscient. More modern style calls for staying close to one character for a solid block of time. I guess there are two problems that can come up: 1) Abrupt, incoherent changes, like in the middle of a sentence. 2) Excessive switching, even when it is clear who is thinking.

I’m pretty sure the book doesn’t commit sin #1. Every change of character gets a new paragraph. I try to put any words, actions and thoughts for that character in the same paragraph. Thoughts are treated just like dialog, but internal.

The question is, do the places where it switches minds cause the narrative to lose effectiveness? Is it harder to read? Does it lose emotion?

Maybe the issue is that true omniscient viewpoint pulls further back from the characters so you can see all of the more equally. Maybe the modern reader doesn’t want that cold isolation. Maybe they want to embrace one character very closely and go through the story with her.

…(A)ny thoughts about whether or not “head-hopping” is not canon, loses emotion, is even a modern writing thing?

My response below was written ad lib, and so may be missing elements, but I hope it is of use:

Third-person omniscient is, for the most part, eschewed in modern writing, although we all know it was quite prevalent in the work of past generations of writers and in the classics.

However, it is rarely handled well, and often marks the writer as an amateur, and as lazy or old-fashioned. Old-fashioned isn’t bad by any means, but the writer had better handle that POV well in order to make it effective in the story.

Third-person omniscient (hereafter TPO) can bleed away the tension and the suspense in a story if the writer clumsily inserts “meanwhile” statements, or “if he only knew” statements, etc.

If may be better for the reader to NOT know what a particular character is thinking, saying, or doing in a scene, and yet — if writing in TPO — the writer may feel compelled to reveal that information anyway.

TPO does create distance with the characters, making them seem like puppets or action figures the author is making dance to his tune, to serve the purpose of the plot at his whim without any real connection to the reader or to reality. TPO can pull back so far that the reader never really gets to know the characters beyond one or two dimensions, and therefore — in the reader’s mind — the flat, unknowable characters can become interchangeable and forgettable.

This distance/shallowness can also lead to confusion, perhaps because the reader isn’t allowed to really care about the characters or what happens to them, and so he may be reading along but not truly differentiating between one character or another. People are doing something somewhere and it matters to someone, but, eh, the reader shrugs it off because he’s not emotionally invested in the story. Not enough to realize that Frankie’s dead because Tim forgot to pack a gun. Not enough to fear for Sally’s safety or to remember which of the villains is pursuing Mehitabel.

Used well, however, TPO can become like a movie camera, pulling out the zoom for a panoramic view of the story or pushing in for closeup with a particular character or group of characters. It can reveal a background character’s suspicious expression, or pan across a room, or cut away at just the right moment to conceal who’s standing behind the door. When and how this is done requires thought and skill.

Most of the modern TPO I’ve seen as an editor and a reader is so awkward, thoughtless, and haphazard in its application that it is easy to see why the accusation of amateur or lazy writing is (rightly) applied.

On the other hand, I have read a few modern novels written in TPO that actually grabbed my interest and weren’t jerky and mishandled.

That said, a well-written book can be excused many things, even the flouting of convention. Some readers refuse to read first-person POV, second-person POV, present tense, anything with flashbacks, anything told in a non-linear fashion, but I like a good story well told. I may have to settle in to the unusual manner in which it is told, but that manner should enhance the story, not intrude upon it.

For example, in Dragon’s Rook, a book written in third-person limited point of view, there is one chapter written in first-person present tense. It’s a long section of one character speaking, and all those quotation marks made it look awkward, and it was clumsy to have to include actions, pauses, reactions from the listener, etc. Therefore, I ditched convention and gave the monologue its own chapter. The passage suddenly gained interest and became compelling, and the tension ratcheted up, too. Many readers have stated that’s one of their favorite chapters because it’s unexpected and it reveals much about the speaker, the circumstances, and the person he’s addressing. The chapters that bookend it on either side also enhance the effectiveness of that one odd chapter.

Don’t be afraid to “mix it up” and play with how a story is told. The Unmakers is a mix of chapters written in first-person present tense, and chapters in third-person limited past tense. One character — the lead — gets all the first-person material. Everyone else is in the other POV/tense. I didn’t set out to do that, but it happened while writing, and it felt natural to the way the story flows.

If you have questions, suggestions, a different response, please do join the conversation.


Posted by on December 10, 2014 in Books, Characters, Classics, Creativity, Editing, Reading, Stories, Writing


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Sunday Drives

a view of the Three Sisters across a ranch outside Sisters, Oregon (c2013, KB)

a view of the Three Sisters across a ranch outside Sisters, Oregon (c2013, KB)

Reminiscing with Bubba about “gentle Sunday drives” with our parents, and the life lessons we learned as a result:

1) Orienteering — Dad often insisted he was turning onto the proper road, but we learned to develop a keen sense of direction so that we might actually arrive at our intended destination.

2) Pioneering — Dad just knew that an indentation was indication of ruts and therefore a proper road, but it was most likely just a low spot in the ground, as we discovered after several bumpy rides across country.

3) Engineering — Our Datsun B-210 being high-centered on a rock in the middle of one of those pioneer roads gave us a perfect opportunity to study the function of a fulcrum, and how difficult it can be to dislodge a well-balanced vehicle from said fulcrum.

4) Telling time creatively — Dad’s shortcuts gave rise to “two hours in to a half-hour trip” and a skittishness whenever someone dared mention how much time we’d save if we just took such-and-such shortcut.

Good times.

northern Nevada (c2013, KB)

northern Nevada (c2013, KB)

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Posted by on December 2, 2014 in Characters, Family, Journeys, Life, Photography, Stories


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