ALIEN – Destroyer of WORLDS

We are finally nearing the conclusion of Destroyer. It’s taken a while – months actually – because we play later at night and every other week recently, and not for long. Still, even those short recaps add up significantly, and the overall word count for Destroyer will be 20,000+. So it’s definitely the length of a fat screenplay, which is appropriate considering that it is a “cinematic scenario” as described by Free League and not an open ended roleplaying session. You’ve got your three Acts, rising drama and the final denouement.

That’s one reason why I like compiling the sessions into story format with screenshots; anyone reading it will experience the story as one contiguous event, not broken up by weeks of downtime. It has been great, except that I admit I have a hard time keeping the rules in my head. It’s because we don’t play that often, and in the gaps in-between we tend to forget rule details. But we have some handy cheat sheets to use, and the character sheet for Roll20 someone imported looks great and does most of the math calculation for you.

The ruleset for Alien the roleplaying game is clean and simple and does the trick of making your PC feel vulnerable and scared, particularly as your Stress levels rise and your own mortality is shoved in your face by some metal-toothed horror.

Free League actually has a full Colonial Marine campaign coming out soon, and while it looks interesting, I think after two shorter cinematic jaunts into the ALIENS universe I’m going to take a break from it. I do enjoy it, and would go back to it at some future point, but there are other games and systems to be enjoyed too.

Wisp the Faery- Rebooted

Years ago I wrote a little story about a faery (or “fairy” if you prefer – same thing) named Wisp and her journey from a freshly born ball of light to a winged girl fey. It was eventually expanded on and lengthened into a short novel and published, but sales were poor and it was eventually shelved. But the story that went out wasn’t really the one I wanted out there, for various reasons, so I’ve had it mind for a while to rewrite and reedit Wisp closer to my original vision. I don’t have a timeline for this, and it might not reach fruition, but I’m going to put a link on the blog for continuing chapter updates. The idea is that it will be periodic chapter posts, but without a set structure. Many of the chapters work fine as is; others need heavy rewriting or complete scrapping and toss in the garbo-bin.

The book was broken into three parts originally and actually published as three small tiny books with artwork. Each one focused on a different character (Wisp, Puck, and Nobb) although there was character overlap. I tentatively had the idea to write a series set in that world based around the mythology, the series being called Tales From the Nowhere & Neverwhen. Now, I seriously doubt anything will evolve from that now, but the idea interested me for a while.

So, if you’re curious, some of Wisp’s initial chapters can be found here.

Online Gaming vs. In Person Gaming

Even before the Covid pandemic hit the US officially in March 2020, I had been planning to shift my gaming routine from the tabletop to virtual online. I had a good gaming group and a great game room for physical play, but I had friends out of town where that wasn’t a viable option, and given the leaps and bounds VTTs had taken over the years, it seemed a no-brainer to engage the new technology. Despite my reluctance to learn a new skill and software. And that was really the main obstacle: I love gaming in person, have done it for decades, and I did NOT want to learn an entirely new suite of abilities in order to facilitate the same thing. Plus, I had a hefty amount of money invested in miniatures and models and maps for use at the table. Moving the operation online would invalidate all of that.

DECEMBER 2019 – Lost Mine of Phandelver

Now, at the time I was running Lost Mine of Phandelver. Well, running it for the second time; the first was at the beginning of 5e, but now I ran it for a new group of players, and it was better the second go around. They had even made it all way to the titular Lost Mine and weren’t too far from meeting the Black Spider when – you know. Pandemic happened and everything shut down. Pretty much permanently. Well, for the next 12+ months anyway. I don’t think any of us really saw that coming and just how long the isolation would last.

Anyhoo, my point of all this is that I had to make a drastic shift from in-person to online games practically overnight. I had a few gamers help me out who had prior experience with Roll20, so that was our go-to system. I even purchased Fantasy Grounds, but for some reason that VTT didn’t click in my mind as well as Roll20 did. I think it works fine for online gaming, and the automation is better than Roll20, but I just couldn’t get past the system’s quirks.

The first small campaign I ran was Forge of Fury from the 5e Tales of the Yawning Portal. This was just supposed to be a practice run and not an in-depth campaign, and at first that’s how it went. And yeah, the first two sessions were rough. I didn’t know how to navigate Roll20, the layers and lighting effects gave me an infernal headache, and I honestly didn’t think I was smart enough to wrap my brain around thing. It was depressing. I had lost access to my favorite hobby! Or rather, I now had a pale imitation of my favorite hobby.

Early first Forge session screenshot

Well, I had a better time the second or third session, but during the interim between games I practiced Roll20 about 4 hours a day. I wanted to run this game seamlessly, and I wanted to record it in such a way as I did my old in person games; snapping shots with a camera to edit and upload. I eventually installed a program called Sharex that allowed me to instantly screen grab whatever I needed with the touch of a button, and that let me tell the stories I wanted to much easier. In fact, once I got used to “covering” a 2D map, it was much easier to snap a screen than it was to take photographs of the physical game board. Of course, the 2D maps don’t have the wonderful 3D physicality of the game table, but they have something the table can’t remotely match: dynamic lighting.

I’ve read on forums that some people don’t care about dynamic lighting, or think it is overrated. To each their own of course. Some people also hate gaming with miniatures, and I think you mofo’s are crazy. Miniatures are awesome (but more about that another post). Dynamic lighting let me do things at the virtual game table I couldn’t replicate in person. I could have shadows and darkvision and realistic torches and lanterns and it could all be done visually and not require the player’s imagination.

Was this easy to accomplish in Roll20? Hell no. It took a lot of practice to work out the kinks, but the end result was very satisfying. I think any of the VTT’s that utilize advanced lighting code will have their own quirks to work through.

Forge of Fury – 60 foot darkvision example

So 2020 ended up with me diving into the deep end of Roll20 online play, subscribing to the Pro account and tinkering with codes and API and all that jazz. I will never understand coding but I admire those of you that do. Roll20 needs an overhaul in my opinion, and I’ve only been using it for over a year. Too much of the cool stuff is hard to access and harder to manipulate. But when it works it works pretty well.

On a side note, I have heard that Foundry is an excellent new VTT and although I have it, I haven’t mucked with the mechanics too much yet. I’m sure that will change.

The point of this post those is the transformation that took place the more I ran online games. I liked them. I REALLY liked them. And the more we played every week – multiple times week after week – my appreciation of the medium grew. Access to maps, tokens and props were all available at a few clicks of the mouse. I used to painstakingly print maps and cut and tape them together, roll them up and transport them to my destination. With online play, that’s all a thing of a past, and now I could indulge in fantastic color maps for mundane encounters with no combat needed whatsoever.

I still love gaming in person, but the perks and convenience of playing online can’t be ignored. I’ve had as much fun from the DM side of the screen as I ever did before. I still play with maps and props and miniatures and sound effects and voices and acting. None of that has changed. We don’t use cameras to see each other (that’s a downside) but the benefits of online play in the modern age are still fantastic.

I don’t think I will be giving it up anytime soon.

Master of Ravenloft (1986)

Master of Ravenloft, 1986

Here’s a blast from the past. Going through an old attic box I randomly picked up Master of Ravenloft, and since Curse of Strahd is the 5e campaign I’m currently running, it seemed quite the coincidink. Or…it as FATE would have it. Which seems much more appropriate to Ravenloft. I posted the other day too about the new Ravenloft campaign setting from WotC, so this is just Barovia-lovin’ left and right.

I actually don’t remember reading this one. I’m sure I did, but the details escape me. I recall the earlier D&D Endless Quest books with more clarity, like Return to Brookmere and Dungeon of Dread. I do think I’m going to give Master of Ravenloft a looksee though. I wonder how it compares to the module itself – I6 – or if it is a fairly watered down version. Flipping through I noticed an entry about the fabled Sunsword, and my 7th level PCs just newly acquired the lightsaber from the Amber Temple (after a terrifying trip through its halls).


Well, of course the Choose Your Own Adventure is watered down. You play a lone paladin named Jeren Sureblade (snicker-snicker, Really, Jean?) who is determined to face the Lord of Ravenloft and prevail. Which, we know is absolutely impossible in just about any edition of Dungeons & Dragons unless you’re a super high level warrior or cleric decked out with more magic items than in Demogorgon’s treasure vault.

WELL, , looking at the inserted character sheet (AD&D gamebooks had character stats, unlike the simpler Endless Quest books) Mr. Sureblade is a 15th level friggin’ paladin. So ok, he’s badass. In D&D that’s damn near demi-god status. He’s also got a Rod of Lordly Might in his back pocket, not a shabby weapon at all, no not at all.

This makes me wonder how a 15th level paladin in 5th edition D&D would fare against Count Strahd von Zarovich with the Sunsword and a Rod of Lordly Might and no backup. Would he stand a fighting chance? Could he actually KILL the vampire? In a straight up fight, in a closed environment with no escape – yes. Yes he could. But a smart and clever Strahd has many escape routes, many contingency plans, and many, many, many allies to cover his escape. Ideally anyway.

My party hasn’t reached Castle Ravenloft yet. They did meet Strahd once at a very formal and entertaining dinner where the vampire told them some of his dark history. The PCs were treated well enough, and in a way they gained a deeper understanding of their foe, and a small amount of sympathy. But not too much. They still want him dead, if for no other reason than that they can’t leave Barovia until his grip on the demi-plane of dread is released.

But that final confrontation is coming. It is well nigh, bustling at the horizon like dark storm clouds. Can they defeat the devil of Barovia and find their way home, or will their souls be forever tormented in the Mists of Ravenloft?

Army of the Dead – Movie Review

I don’t normally do movie reviews (plenty of other sites for that) but I watched part of this last night and felt compelled to spout my worthless two cents. That’s how bad it was. It urged me to blog about its inane stupidity in hopes that someone – someone! – out there reads this and doesn’t waste their time on the film. Don’t be fooled by the amazing cover art! Someone else created that, and it does look awesome.

Now, let me preface my tirade with this: I think director Zack Snyder seems like a nice guy. I do. He’s passionate about his craft, he gets money from studios for big budget films, he cranks them out reliably, and he has legions of fans who really admire his work. I am not one of those fans. I do not like ANY of his movies – to various degrees of dislike – but they all do have kernels of good ideas and swaths of great directorial talent. Occasional good ideas makes a good movie not.

Netflix premiered this zombie heist escapade May 21st but it had a theatrical run before that. I’m not sure how well it performed in theaters, but probably not that good and will really find its roll on Netflix.

To briefly summarize the movie, a government secret has gone awry (heard that before? Same trope from Return of the Living Dead, an actual GOOD zombie movie) and masses of zombified humans erupt from the mistake. The zombies are somehow quarantined in Las Vegas and here is where the Ocean’s Eleven-style of heist comes into play. Dave Bautista (Drax of Guardians of the Galaxy) is hired by a rich guy to put together a team and get his $50 million stash out of a hotel in Vegas that is surrounded by flesh eating zombies. See, the government is about to nuke the city so the clock is ticking; get in, get out, get rich.

That all sounds well and good, and ya know, on paper, I would be on board with such a story. If it had the balls of the movies it unsuccessfully tries to mimic, the aforementioned Ocean’s Eleven and…well, every fucking zombie movie ever made. Army of the Dead doesn’t score many points for originality. And that’s part of the problem; this genre has been dug into the dirt for over a decade now, and while still popular (hell, I will always always love zombies and the genre) I feel that to keep the story going you need to add more twists. Zack Snyder tries to do with this emotional plot points and some father/daughter drama, but for me it all falls flat. I didn’t care. On the zombie side of things, he tries to liven things up with SMART ZOMBIES, something George Romero already tinkered with in Land of the Dead long ago.

The Queen Zombie

So yes, now that means we get a smart, logical Queen Zombie who leads other hordes of calculating nasty zombies. All I could think though when I saw the actress slinking about and sniffing enemies was how much she was overacting. Of course, it was overacting at Snyder’s off screen request. “More snarling! More glaring! Good! Good! Perfect!”

I will be honest, I could not watch this whole movie. So this is a half-assed movie review and really just a rant. I don’t care. I was bored by it. I hated all the characters. The acting sucked (Dave Baustista was fine, I had no problem with him). But as far as breathing new undead life into a half-dead genre; no, Army of the Dead did not do that for me.

The current Metacritic score as of today is surprisingly similar: 57 for the Critics, and 5.8 for the Users. That’s a LOT of people who think this was just an average-not-worth-remembering zombie film. Maybe one day Zack Snyder can make a movie that is intelligent AND flashy, but I have my doubts. This is what he’s good at, shallow films with rehashed ideas and moments of great directing that never quite come together. Good luck, Snyder. I’m sure you’ll be just fine.

Harold Book 1 in layout

Well, after many (too many) delays, Harold & the Dreadful Dreams is inching ever closer to self-publication through a small Winston-Salem Press (Empower Publishing). I was able to include all the interior art that I originally wanted, as that was something always important to me and the way I envisioned the book, sort of like an old 1980’s Choose Your Own Adventure.

I’m not expecting any kind of miracle from this publication, but one can always hope. At the very least perhaps it can push the door open to publish more books, especially my story-poem series that is still more or less collecting dust on virtual hard drives.

I have tentative plans for some Harold sequels too, but that largely depends on how this one does.


Level Up – Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2021

Coming Soon to a Game Store Near YOU!!!

I have to admit I’m somewhat excited about this. As a DM who has run 5th edition D&D since the beginning around 2014, while I do like the game, I feel it has run short of options and could use a new coat of paint. I’ve been slapping new paint on it for a while already, and it works well enough. 5e is simplistic in that adding or modifying rules doesn’t really unbalance it much (if at all) so you can house rule to your devious heart’s desire. But lots of people don’t want to take the time, or players themselves don’t trust someone’s house rules unless there is an official codified book they can turn to for answers and clarification.

Introduce A5e – Level Up.

From Enworld Publishing and Enworld, one of the world’s most popular websites for Dungeons & Dragons the past 20 years, Morrus and his team have been busy crafting Level Up with extensive feedback from gamers and playtesters. When released summer of 2021 it will be fully backwards compatible with original 5e (O5e) so you should be able to have a regular fighter and LU fighter side by side in the same party and not have any trouble.


There are far too many to list in this blog, but refer to the publisher’s page for a full rundown of changes A5e is bringing to the game. A few highlights include:

  • A detailed exploration system that utilizes a new Supply mechanic, so that PC supplies dwindle as they explore the lonely and forgotten moors and roads of their world.
  • Combat Maneuvers – to give martial fighting characters a wide range of options similar to spellcasters.
  • Knacks – which are akin to mini-feats that characters acquire as they level up.
  • Monster Legend & Lore, Signs and Behavior; traits the PCs can notice or learn or observe about a monster prior to meeting it or during an encounter.
  • Exploration Challenges, Boons and Monster Sign

And much more. That’s really just a very brief notation on things that Level Up will be addressing. So, if you are a DM or Player who has wanted your 5e game to be a little more complex, a little more challenging and a little more detailed, A5e might be right up your alley.

Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft

Hot off the Wizards of the Coast press is a brand new sourcebook that I’ve been eyeing for a while. As a DM currently running (and loving) Curse of Strahd, this book may come a little too late, but from what I have seen so far it is way more than just “Strahd and Barovia.” Much more.

The cover notably has the quintessential vampire himself, along with Van Richten and Esmerelda (who nearly died herself in my current campaign at the fists of a grumpy golem in the Amber Temple). So while the sourcebook certainly does help one flesh out Barovia, it is much more as it fleshes the Domains of Dread as a whole, which incorporates other demiplanes and darklords other than Barovia and Strahd, including (but not limited to):

Bluetspur and the God-Brain, Darkon and the Inheritors, Mordent and Wilfred Godefroy, G’henna, The Nightmare Lands, Sea of Sorrows and more. It’s a book for DMs and players, but mostly DMs, which is nice because the majority of 5e books geared toward players don’t interest me.


Some of the new rules include:

Seeds of Fear

Aside from supernatural sources of dread and monsters who strike terror in their victims, fear is subjective and often quite personal. A battle-hardened warrior and a reclusive scholar might not deal with frightful circumstances in the same way. During character creation, a player can choose up to two Seeds of Fear to represent things their character finds truly frightening. The Seeds of Fear table offers some examples. These can change over time as characters grow, overcome old fears, and discover new uncertainties. Work with players to determine when their Seeds of Fear might change.

A character never has more than three Seeds of Fear; if you gain a new seed and already have three, choose which of your old fears is replaced by the new one.


An overwhelming foe or horrid monster doesn’t need magic or some supernatural ability to strike fear into the most stalwart adventurers. During any frightful encounter, you can call on a character to make a saving throw to resist being scared. The character must succeed on a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or become frightened until the end of their next turn.

Any of the following circumstances might be reasons to have one or more characters make saving throws to resist being frightened:

  • The character experiences one of their Seeds of Fear.
  • An enemy is immune to the character’s attacks or spells.
  • An enemy demonstrates it can deal enough damage to reduce a character to 0 hit points in one blow.
  • A creature is alien or monstrous in ways the character never could have imagined.
  • An object undermines a character’s understanding of reality.


Charging headlong into terrifying situations is the stock in trade for adventurers. Among the Domains of Dread, though, periods of respite between harrowing experiences can be rare. Even the hardiest adventurers find themselves worn down over time, their performance suffering as they struggle to cope with the dread and despair.

Various circumstances might cause a character stress. Stress can be tracked numerically as a Stress Score, increasing in trying situations and decreasing with care. At your discretion, a character’s Stress Score might increase by 1 when one of the following situations occurs:

  • A tense, dramatic moment, especially one involving one of a character’s Seeds of Fear
  • Every 24 hours the character goes without finishing a long rest
  • Witnessing the death of a loved one
  • A nightmare or darkest fear made real
  • Shattering the character’s fundamental understanding of reality
  • Witnessing a person transform into a horrid or unnatural creature

When a character makes an attack roll, an ability check, or a saving throw, they must apply their current Stress Score as a penalty to the roll.

Now, of course these rules are all optional and are ultimately meant to invoke a sense of dread that pervade the various domains. In my current Curse of Strahd campaign, fear and dread ALREADY pervades the campaign pretty darn well, so I’m probably not going to jump in and make it any harder (except in maybe some exceptional circumstances). The players long ago learned that in Ravenloft you have to pick your fights, and running and hiding is a very viable solution to things you can’t beat to death with heavy weapons and harsh words.

This is not a comprehensive review of the Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft but just a quick heads up and nod to its existence. After I’ve had more time to read and absorb the material I will probably add a more in-depth analysis.

Until then, keep gaming!

Princes of the Apocalypse – Reloaded

I doubt anyone is reading this 6 year old D&D campaign anymore, but if you ARE, I have reloaded and updated all the links to the stories so they should be accessible now. Princes gets some flack in the community for not being that great, but I thought it was awesome. I did change things up some, so maybe that had something to do with it. We never got to the absolute end – maybe one session away – but life interrupted and the campaign had to stop. However, the penultimate session really works well as a campaign capper and was fun as heck, so I’m happy enough with that. My favorite parts of Princes were all the sessions at Feathergale Spire, and the side quest at Yartar that I inserted myself, it wasn’t part of the adventure really except as a passing mention.


This post has no point or ulterior motive or antediluvian intent other than that I was going through some old archives and found something I’d photoshopped well over a decade ago and decided to slap it on the blog. Enjoy. Or don’t. I found the twisty balloon picture online and decided to give it some environmental oomph.


About Pugs (and one pug in particular)

Photo by Sebastian Coman Travel on

I won’t lie. This is my favorite breed of dog.

I know that getting a dog from the rescue or pound is the most humane thing to do (and I fully encourage it) but finding a pug puppy that way is very difficult. We found our dog Penelope (long passed by this point at age 13) at the local state fairgrounds where breeders would bring dogs to sell (they’ve since quit that practice due to do impulse buying and other reasons).

Nellie was about 12 weeks old when we got her and was small even for a pug. Maybe she was the runt. I don’t know. But she started at 5 lbs. and probably never got higher than 18 lbs. She wasn’t your typical pug. Very low energy – lethargic even – adverse to walks, exercise, inclement weather or too hot or too cold for her princess-like sensitivity. Although Nellie adored people in every way, she was never an actual “dog’s dog.” She didn’t care for other dogs. Not that she would be mean to them (she didn’t have a mean bone in her body) but she would ignore them. We took her to a pug meetup at a local park a few times where there would be maybe 20+ pugs romping and roaming. Not Nellie. She’d sit by the gate, staring longingly at the exit that she knew led to the car and eventually back home.

Nellie circa 2002

So yeah, she was a lazy dog, but if you just wanted a lap companion and friend, you couldn’t really ask for more. She slept in a bed every day of her life, and if anything, I wish we’d taken more pictures of her. There’s hardly any of the earliest days of her life.

I’d get a pug again, for sure. Black or faun I haven’t decided yet. In fact, the choice might be so hard that my only alternative is to get a color of each and deal with the inevitable fallout.

And fur.

Curse of Strahd 5e

I have been running this campaign on Roll20 since mid-2020 and it is still going on. I’ve long heard it was one of the best 5th edition campaigns, and now that’s we’ve put the foot to the pedal and ground out a sizeable chunk of the adventure, I would have to agree that it is one of the better ones – if not the best. I never got into the Ravenloft setting in 2nd edition (which I now regret) but I did run Ravenloft I6 several years back (link here) and it was great fun. But Curse of Strahd is a different beast, taking the PCs from 1st to 9th level (more or less) and pitting them not just against Strahd and his deplorable castle of death, but the whole kingdom of Barovia and the myriad NPCs and mysteries enmeshed within. And there are a LOT of NPCs and mysteries.

One of our favorites so far has to be Pidlwick II, the evil Chucky doll. Although the PCs were supposed to meet him much later in the campaign, I loved the picture and idea of the character so much that I transplanted him to Vallaki and included him as part of a Tarroka clue to directly benefit a party member, and used Pidlwick as a permanent ring of regeneration. The player benefiting from P2 loves him so much and would rather have his own PC die than give up the evil doll! Now that is devotion.

Site update 2 May 2021

I added some more gaming recaps to the Roleplaying section. Part of Tomb of Annihilation (5e), Forge of Fury (5e), Lost Mine of Phandelver 2019 (5e), and Servants of the Cinder Queen (Dungeon World). Tomb and Lost Mine were in-person games, while Forge and Cinder Queen were purely online using Roll20.

Site update May 2021

I’ve not updated this blog in quite some time now, but in anticipation of a new book coming out later this year I’ve made a few changes. Most recently I’ve updated the Roleplaying game recaps which some people might be interested. The link below is for the ALIENS rpg, which has been quite fun so far.


Rick & Morty – The Eternal Nightmare Machine

I saw this the other day. If it is not made into a video game in the next year or two I will be shocked.

The Eternal Nightmare Machine.

Into the Woods: Two Weeks at Wildacres

via Up the Mountain, Into the Woods: Two Weeks at Wildacres

Stranger Things Bad Lip Reading

Exploring The Artist’s Way

So this is a book I originally purchased some years back when I was going through a writer’s slump (which most of us do at some point), and it really helped me dig out of it. Written by author Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way has been refueling the creative gas tanks of other writers, sculptors, artists, and every other facet of the creative field since 1992.   And YES, it does work, but you have to stick with it every damn day.  The main gist of the Artist’s Way incorporates the use of MORNING PAGES, and these are to be done IN the morning, every day, three handwritten pages.  Which at first can be somewhat difficult, but it does speed up, and eventually you will come to look forward to your morning pages.  The default length of time for the project is 12 weeks, so that’s a solid 3 months of daily exposition, but Mrs. Cameron encourages her readers to continue the pages well past the end of the book, and incorporate into your daily life moving forward. I think she claims to have been doing them for 25 years, and she is certainly a great success in her chosen field of creativity.

If you have ever done journaling, this is essentially the same thing, but it has more structure to it when combined with the book chapters, which are eloquently and deliciously written, quite the sumptuous feast of words and inspiration.   The book is highly Spiritual in nature, but does not ask you to believe in God, so even if you’re atheistic or agnostic you can still garner a use from its pages.

There is a workbook too that can accompany the core book.  It’s a large, spiral bound book with more white space than actual words, and it is a complementary but not essential expansion to the core book.  I had lost my original Artist’s Way, and when I repurchased the Anniversary edition recently I also included the Workbook.  I don’t regret buying it, but you can really do just fine with the core book, a good sturdy notebook and a bunch of pens.  And I highly recommend getting a big batch of your FAVORITE pens, and maybe some colored pencils for the occasional splash of color.  Just my two cents.

So that’s it, just wanted to share my thoughts.  Check it out. Julia Cameron would certainly want you to 🙂

An Agent’s Blog


Here, publishing agent Sarah Lapolla has some tips and advice on how the world of publishing works and what she herself looks for in the children’s book industry.


Presentation at Westchester Middle School, High Point, NC

Westchester Middle School presentation 2017

Westchester Middle School presentation 2017

I was asked to give a lecture about Wisp the Wayfinder at Westchester Middle School, from which I am an alumni myself when I was 12 years old.
I barely remembered the layout of the facility, and it’s likely changed since my early days there, but the Middle School building was identical and I experienced some brief deja vu.

This presentation was for a small English class of about 30 students and their teacher, focusing primarily on the Creative Process and my early inspirations and reading habits.  The kids loved it!

A Peek into Wisp, Puck and Nobb

So, I am in the process of editing the sequel to Wisp; the title is Puck the Pathwinder.  The original draft of this story was written 2 years ago, the same as the others in the trilogy. The original Wisp story was only 3000 words, really just intended as a children’s book, but my editor at Dragon Scale encouraged me to expand it to meet the lengths of the two sequels, which were much longer.  Well, long as far as middle grade books go, not long in terms of an adult fantasy novel.

Wisp Book 1 turned out longer than expected, and now the sequels are expanding some too as the story grows in new directions.  I’m not so much “writing” these stories as just unearthing them, and I don’t really know how much content is there until I get all the dirt cleared off, metaphorically speaking.

Now, I always liked the first Wisp story, don’t get me wrong, but it was originally intended as a standalone book.  The concept for the sequels of Puck and Nobb didn’t come until later, and now I have had to go back and rewrite Book 1 to mesh better with Books 2 & 3 so they are a cohesive trilogy.  Book 2 and Book 3 were already conjoined at the hip, so that wasn’t so much of a problem.

But adding so much content to Book 1 has created a natural overflow of characters and plot into Book 2, and this will also spill into Book 3.   If you have read Book 1, I can say that all of the boglin characters are completely new.  The scene with the ogre is greatly expanded, and the ending of the book is different.

As a single story over a three book arc, I think it functions pretty well.  The sequels get darker and more action oriented, but that’s just I myself would like to read, and I guess as a writer, I have to write what entertains myself first and just hopes it works for others too!

Bog Thing concept Art from Book 2

Here’s a little color rendition I did a couple of years ago when drawing concept art for Puck the Pathwinder, Book 2 of the trilogy.  I called it a “mugwump” originally, and I guess it kind of does look like a mugwump, right?


Art Preview from Wisp the Wayfinder


Illustrated by Kevin Nichols

Concept Art -page for Sharkzilla 2



The (Not So) Wild Ponies of Virginia’s Grayson Highlands

We will be heading to Grayson Highlands this weekend. Can’t wait to see the ponies!

Travels with the Blonde Coyote

No, that’s not a wild pony. That’s Dozer! I see how you might make that mistake though…

Four years ago in mid-October, I spent a memorable weekend camping on Assateague Island with a group of friends whom had all met at Wyman Dell, the best dog park in Baltimore. The Assateague trip was my sendoff: I had finished my master’s degree at Johns Hopkins and a summer internship at EARTH magazine and was heading out West to spend the winter housesitting an off grid Earthship in New Mexico.

I’ve always said that the best way to cement lasting, meaningful friendships is to go camping together. A lot of people have come and gone from my life in my nomadic last four years, but I’m still in touch with the group from Assateague. Something about walking the beach, sleeping on the sand, watching sunrise over the Atlantic and fending…

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Not Enough: Four Reasons why I Can’t be Satisfied with Self-Publication.

Jessica has some really good thoughts about the nature of self publishing children’s books.

Jessica Crichton

“Why waste your time and energy on querying when you can self-publish?”

It’s a question I’ve grown used to over the years as I’ve posted on Facebook about my querying adventures… which always end in seemingly-obligatory rejection.  Because they love me, fellow writers, family, and friends all want to know the same thing:

“Why do this to yourself?” they ask. “It’s the digital age! You don’t have to deal with agents and publishers anymore!”

Actually, yes: I do. But it’s not always easy to explain why. After all, many writers have found great success in self-publishing, and it’s no longer a huge no-no even among the well-read.

Heck, I actually have self-published, even writing quite a few blog posts about my adventures. In fact, my self-publishing career has spanned longer than most know, as my very first self-publication came out way back in 1998: a story called The…

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The Ocean – a poem


Original Poem “Ocean”
written by Charlie Morris

Adapted and rewritten
by JM Hauser

“The Ocean”

“Goddess cupped Her breath in aery hand
and I, lone Ocean, swelled and swam
below that breath of God on- high,
and I, the Ocean, met Her mid-sky,
reaching up to sweetly meet it,
our palms touching, to briskly greet it…

….and through this effort…
I was Wave.

I was Wave and felt the call of Moon!
Of white-capped rollers on shore soon,
and how I loved that lush liquidity,
this ancient rite of pure lucidity,
pausing at the shore’s crashing edge,
and then I burst  upon that sandbar hedge,
a roaring force of my own momentum,
pouring forth to a new dimension…

….and through this effort…
I was Surf.

I became many, many frothing bubbles
and we were urgent, tossing troubles
of sand and shells and salt and tide.
We all danced together on this ride

under Moon, giving birth
on this living, loving Earth.

We bubbles eventually lay there dreaming
knowing nothing, we had no meaning.

What was left of me dissolved like foam,

sank into sand, sank down alone

but then water crashed harsh o’er me

pulled me back, back to the sea,

back to the ocean, exposing beach,
distanced from my watery reach.

Then Moon smiled again and I rolled into Wave.
Goddess cupped Her breath, I swelled, I swayed,

amid aery mist, cloud and wind,
and then I fell,  I begin again.”


Wisp the Wayfinder preview – Chapter 1

“I feel that what you should illustrate is the space between the words, the betweenness, the otherness that gives depth and dimension.” 

~BRIAN FROUD, artist


The NoWhere was and IS everywhere and nowhere at once; it was and is and always WILL be everything and nothing, crossing all planes and possibilities, a robust reality for some, a crazy confusion for most.  An enigma, a puzzle, a conundrum, a challenge.  The NeverWhen refuses to be defined. And it does so marvelously.

~Book of the Eternal Now


“You are a wayfinder, a pathwinder, a nightbinder.  You exist to the light the dark and show the lost the way.  To unveil the hidden, hail the forbidden, so that the light of truth may stay.”

~Queen Moonbeam







Wherein a new life seeks her purpose and gets really, really lost!


Once upon a time, in a place with no name, in a land not quite like any other, where time had another meaning, if it existed at all, something happened at a flower in a field.

At dawn, three suns rose from the horizon, and accompanied by the sound of tinkling wind chimes, the morning dew and pollen swirled into a bright ball, gasped in a breath of living sunlight, and it became something else.

The newborn ball of light hung above the flower, momentarily confused. The sky arced above her in a cathedral of azure blue and gentle green swaths. The air smelled of sweet grass, loamy dirt and fragrant blossoms. A breeze passed through her light body as if she did not exist.  She doubted if she existed too! She wasn’t quite real yet, ethereal and limber, her mind and identity still forming.

What am I? she thought.

She didn’t know how to answer that.  Her mild confusion was tempered by an even stronger sense of curiosity. There was something she was supposed to do, but she didn’t know what.

She saw something pretty nearby called a “flower” – a name she somehow knew – and, beyond that flower she saw another flower, and another beyond that one, and more and more and more flowers stretching endlessly into a meadow of bright petals bending gently in the wind.

Bees – yes, she was sure they were called bees – hovered from bright flower to flower; big, fat, black bumblers, their deep hum filling the meadow with a quiet drone.

Three fiery suns huddled in the sky, two smaller yellow ones flanking the larger golden one like armed guards protecting their Queen. The ball of light felt their warmth and it…pleased her.


“Hmm. Well, perhaps I am a flower, since I’m here among the flowers. Am I some sort of flower?” she asked the flower beside her.

The flower shook its petal head. “You are not a flower,” it said. “Silly question, little one.”

“Pfft. Well, I wasn’t sure. I’m new here! But why can’t I be a flower?  Doesn’t seem so silly to me.”


“Well, look at you, said the flower, almost as if bored. “You have no petals, you have no roots, you have no enticing aroma.  I’m sure you don’t even know what to do today.”


The ball of light thought about that. It was true.  She didn’t really have anything to do, just a vague sense that there should be something.


So what do you do?” the ball of light asked.

“Oh, I have a wonderful life!  I open in the morning and drink the sun and dew. I dance in the breeze, and I sing with my friends all day long. That is what I do.


“Well then,” said the ball of light, “I must discover what I do too. Goodbye, flower.”


She floated away, bouncing on the wind like a wayward leaf, and actually enjoying herself quite a bit. She drifted to even more flowers, all of them a menagerie of colors, asking each one, “Who am I?” But none of the flowers knew.


When she found the flowers unhelpful she started asking the bees that flew busily from the upturned petals, gobs of sticky yellow pollen clinging to their legs.


“Hello?  Hello?  Kind bee, can you tell me what you do?  Or even better, what I do?  Maybe I am a bee.  You see I–”


“Can’t talk; working,” grunted the bee and it launched off, bobbing uncertainly.


The ball of light followed right behind it.  “But are you sure?  You…you fly.  I can fly!  Maybe…maybe we are cousins?  Maybe?  Could I be a cousin bee?  A sunny bumbler?”


She giggled inside. She liked the sound of that, a sunny bumbler.


“No talk. Busy. Honey time,” grunted the bee with single-minded determination to reach its hive and ignore her pesky questions.

She groaned and peeled away from her pursuit, intersecting a different bee instead, but her inquiries received a nearly identical dismissal.  She followed it all the way back to its hive and gleefully observed hundreds of bees swarming over a honeycomb that oozed with golden, sugary liquid.  She tried to engage them again, demanding answers, but the bees uniformly ignored her queries.


“You bees are terrible at conversation!” she yelled at them.


The bees didn’t seem to care and continued on their bumbling circuits to collect and deposit pollen.  But as she watched them move about she realized that they had a job – a purpose – motivating their every waking moment!

“I must have a purpose too,” she whispered.  “It would be so boring NOT to have one!”

She eventually reached the end of the meadow where a large, dark forest rose before her. She didn’t know the meadow even HAD an end, and the new terrain delighted her, something different from the fragrant field of her birth. She saw the forest growing from a distance, just a wide smudge of blackness at first that turned into a smear of teeth, and then a low row of jagged spines, and finally became full grown trees, stretching to the puffy clouds above, the upper branches swaying in the breeze.

A path wound through the thickets and the ball of light followed it, bouncing childlike and free through the shadows. She was not sure what to expect in these dark woods, but the prospects thrilled her. Anything could lurk around the next bend. Maybe things with gnashing teeth! Or kindly eyes. Or sharp claws! Or soothing words. How exciting to find out!

The trees here were ancient, their woody boles spiraling high into deep clusters of green leaves and endless limbs. Roots as thick as snakes intertwined and wrapped around each other, and the whole of the place was filled with strange howls and hoots from unseen creatures creeping through the brush.

She soon heard running water. Passing over some mossy, wet boulders, she saw two beavers playfully splashing in a stream. A half-constructed dam squatted beside them, and water cascaded from a small waterfall. It looked like fun so she gently glided down.

“Hello,” she said. “You’re certainly having a good time. May I join you? I never swam in a stream before!”

The beavers stopped playing and gawked at her. “You never swam in a stream?” one of them said. It looked incredulously at his friend.

“Never basked on a log?” said the other. “Never pad-pad-paddled your tail in a bubbling brook?” the she-beaver asked.

“Or gnawed on a feisty fish?” added her husband. “Oh, you are missing the grandest things in the world!” they cried together.

“I…I don’t want to miss out,” said the little ball of light, and she dipped into the stream. She saw water flowing over smooth flat rocks.  She saw tiny blue and orange fish darting hither and thither.  She saw a fat red creature with pincher claws that hid from her radiance under a rock.  Giggling, the ball of light burst up from the water and circled the beavers.

“Delightful!” she said. “I like your home. You seem to be very good at what you do. By chance, may I ask you a question? Would you happen to know what MY purpose is, and why I might be here? I asked the flowers and the bees, but they could not answer.”

“Well… you float,” the he-beaver said, nodding to his wife as if this was the best answer possible.

“Yup, yup, yup, you float,” the she-beaver agreed. “Oh, and you glow! You glow very well, in fact. That must be your purpose, you young wisp of a thing. You are a floater and a glower! Ta! Ta! Ta!”

The beavers smacked their tails in the water several times, overjoyed that they could so easily find an answer.

“Oh, well, those are two very good points!” said the ball of light. “Yes, I do float, and I float well. And I DO glow, don’t I? I just realized that!” She looked down and saw her reflection in the swirling current below.


I float and I glow.  I’m a floater and a glower! Float and glow and glow and float!


She was so happy that she had found an answer that she pulsed brightly several times, enjoying her new ability.

“Oh!  Look what I did!” She buzzed around the half-built dam, sputtering and sparking and greatly entertaining herself. The beavers laughed too, sitting on the shore now, slapping their tails in the shallow water and chuckling at her antics.

When she finally grew tired of this new game, she spun down to the beavers.

“Well, what do you do all day; I’m sure it must be amazing.”

“Oh, we have a wonderful life!” said the he-beaver. “We are builders.”

“That’s right, teamwork,” said the she-beaver. “All day, every day, we build, build, build!”

That impressed her. They were a team. One there to always help the other; never lonely, never lost. Did she need a friend on her team too? Team float and glow?

“And a fine job,” she said. “Fantastic dam you have. Much better than I could have built! Well, I should be on my way, beavers. Thank you, and good luck!”

The beavers waved goodbye and the little ball of light careened into the forest, enjoying her newfound flickering. She illuminated all sorts of new holes and hollows, playfully chasing after reddish squirrels or zipping through the webs of startled spiders.  For a short while she was a terrible tyrant, but eventually she grew bored.

“’You young wisp of a thing,’ the beaver had said. How nice. But is that my only purpose? To fly and play and be ever so bright like the suns three?  There must be something else.” So she kept looking.


Cover Art for Wisp the Wayfinder

Created with GIMP

Created with GIMP

Daily Musing – The Art of a Story

I found this on Imgur today, just a random posting from someone.  I don’t know what it is, or who did it, or what it is even about, but it tells a story, the kind of story I would personally like to RETELL and find out how it got to this point.


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