The Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs

Well, I don’t think anyone in Colorado Springs thought this would happen. The wildfires from Waldo Canyon are spilling out into the city. They have already burned several homes, and landmarks like the Flying W Ranch. It’s a tragedy, but thank God there has been no loss of life.

These are some of the photographs I managed to take of the fire.

The dragons have certainly come to Colorado. Today is not a day I will ever forget.

I hope your prayers and support will be with the people of Colorado Springs, and indeed anywhere else in the state where there are fires. Pray for the mercy of rain, and for the fires to be extinguished quickly.

[Edit, July 09, 2012: as far as I know, the fire has now been contained, and two bodies were discovered in one of the burned down houses. Despite the tragedy of this event, I am glad it has finally been dealt with]

The Three Essentials for Character Development

Whatever else a writer seeks to do with their work, the thing readers will care about the most are your characters. I have, rather strangely, been building up everything else and have found the process of making my own make-believe world and plot so fascinating, I could easily forget the characters themselves, and why their particular stories mattered. Thus my fiction tends to be…not exactly cold, but half-thawed and waiting for an oven’s heat. It is in characters, their suffering and clashing personalities and heartfelt needs and desires, where fiction finds its true potency.

Here are three questions I have slowly been learning to ask, the three most essential questions for the most essential reason to write fiction. If you do nothing else to deepen your own characters, ask these questions and answer them in as much detail as you can:

1. What makes them winsome or likable, or at least interesting?

2. What are their flaws?

3. Why should your readers care about them and where their story goes?

Answer these, and you are off to a good start on making your characters come to life. They will start to get more relatable, more understandable, and become a way for author and reader to connect in a profound way. They will form the core of a story that matters, a story that goes somewhere and gets us invested.

Worldbuilding — Magic — The Magic System

Tonight, I read a fascinating article on io9.com with a breakdown of the magic systems in fantasy novels, television, and movies. I had the idea to take a crack at telling you some of the specifics from my world, using the system in the article. You can read it here, if you’re interested. You might find it helpful to answer the same questions if you are writing fantasy and building your own magic system.

All right, so here goes. The rules of magic from The Wolfglen Legacy. Hope they’re not too confusing. If you have any comments, please do let me know. I’m editing the book, after all, and would love any input on making the rules understandable for the reader.

Where does magic come from?

It was given to mankind by supernatural creatures called Founders, who in turn serve The Maker, who created them and the universe. They have allowed a dormant kind of magic to flow through the world itself, like a strip of cloth on the underside of a tapestry. Reserves or “pools” of magic can be found primarily in certain crystals and minerals (created by Founders), the bodies of magic-workers (people who can use magic), and in a few species of plants and animals (also created by Founders).

Magic in Wolfglen is very physical and tangible. Think of alchemy, as opposed to astrology or prophecy. For the most part, it’s predictable enough to be its own kind of science. It can best be described as energy pouring out from another plane of existence. When you cast a spell, you are trying to get the result of properly channeled energy — movement, sound, heat, cold, light, magnetism, currents, etc.

Before it manifests itself physically, it needs a “tap,” something through which it can flow. If an object has a regular and simple molecular structure, magic can flow through it quite efficiently, which is why crystals are such an ideal method.

Most spells are quite temporary and snappy, like fireworks. But there are some forms of limited magic which can linger in an object or place for longer times, like the flame of a candle.

How do you wield it?

Magic-workers use carved wooden staffs with metal tips (merfolk are an exception – they use carved whale ribs). The metal has been imbued with magic that makes the wood a conductor for their spells. Crystals are placed on the staffs, and the magic-worker “flexes” their abilities like one would flex a muscle.

Using mental discipline and the ability to focus, a magic-worker essentially becomes a conduit, mentally channeling the spell through crystal and staff, and allows a certain amount of the world’s dormant magic to flow through him/her. (More talented workers have learned how to put less of their own energy into the spell, and more of the dormant magic) To be released so the spell may take effect, the magic requires some physical jolt. The most common way is to simply hit the staff’s metal tip against the ground.

To make an elixir (various elixirs have different effects and most are very temporary), one may cast a spell over a liquid mix of magic-imbued plants and mundane ingredients, and the occasional pulverized Founder crystal, sprinkled into the mix.

What limits does magic have?

a) Life Force. Spells cannot directly affect living tissue, aside from that of the magic-worker casting them. For instance, you can temporarily change the size of your own ears, but no one else’s. There is a saying that it “stops at the skin,” which is quite literal. You can cast a charm to pick up a book, but not a living creature. So, you have two options to use magic on a life form: the imbued, indirect magic of elixirs or objects with a spell already over them, or you will have to rely on the physical effects resulting from a spell. You cannot kill anyone by cooking them from the inside out, but you can create fire to burn them. In this case, it is the fire and not your spell that…dramatically affects your target.

b) Weight. At any given time during a spell, you can only affect your weight in material, or less. Let’s say you weigh 170 pounds. That means you can only move/heat/burn/magnetize up to 170 pounds of stuff. If you try to affect more, you are dead. As in very dead. As in “your body instantly rips apart cell-by-cell” dead. Even that 170 pounds, though, is something only the most powerful magic-workers can do. Most people can only affect a few pounds at a time, and it gets increasingly difficult to deal with more weight. It takes exponentially more magical energy to, say, lift an 80 pound rock in the air than it would to shove a book across a table.

c) Duration. The longer your spell lasts, the more taxing it is. Normally, you will feel physically and mentally strained after all but the most minor spells. Let’s go back to creating a fire to fry your archnemesis, perhaps by igniting his clothes. If he stops, drops, and rolls, you’ll have to keep igniting it to make sure his burns are too severe to live through. After that kind of fire has been created and maintained, if you are a middle-grade magic worker, you will be physically and mentally exhausted. Think of cramming for your math finals, while pedaling a bike for half an hour. Better make sure you only deal with one archnemesis at a time.

Duration is also an issue when you are creating an elixir, or trying to put magic in an object. Magic has a half-life. A very short half-life. This is true whether you seek to make an elixir that can change the colors of someone’s eyes (great for disguises), or trying to give a lantern a spell that ignites its wick when someone picks it up (very handy, by the way). A relatively weak version of the spell can be cast over the elixir or object if you need the magic to last an hour. For a full day, a much stronger version is needed.

d) Distance. Normally magic-workers need to be incredibly close to whatever they’re trying to affect, though some spells can be thrown over a distance, like hurling a ball. Otherwise, the farther away an object is, the more exponentially powerful your spell needs to be.

Is there good and evil magic?

Not really, but there is “stable, smooth, and light” magic, as opposed to “unstable, rough, and heavy.” Like any technology, magic isn’t good or evil except in what you use it for and why. But if the Founder who created the crystals you’re using has been cut off from The Maker and from other Founders (which is the case with Farhauk, the novels’ main antagonist), his magic will undergo a fundamental change in how it flows, even though the principles and limits are roughly the same. The wires are still connected at both ends, so to speak, but are tangled and knotted around each other. This makes the magic less predictable, and will increase the raw energy it releases. This makes for rough, violent spells that are more akin to pounding a drum than delicately tapping the keys of a piano.

Is magical ability hereditary, or can anyone learn?

Neither. 2%-3% of the population are born with the ability. It seems to be a random selection, across all classes and demographics, and across all the races (humans, elves, nymphs, etc.). In most cases, their abilities become apparent after puberty, but some magic-workers began using their talents in early childhood. Most of the races are pretty equal in strength at similar stages of training and mental discipline, except for nymphs (an all female race of immortals). Up to 4% of all nymphs can be born with magical abilities, and they tend to be faster learners.

Certain elixirs can affect anyone, while others work exclusively on magic-workers.

What’s the secret to defeating magic?

The aforementioned limits can be used against magic. Other spells might also be used, or in some rare cases, the blocking of a magic-worker’s spell is possible. It’s also handy that you can stop a magic-worker by killing them or knocking them unconscious.

Is magic a secret from a primarily non-magical world?

No, decidedly not. It’s pretty much out in the open. There are differing levels of tolerance, though. In countries where they are well accepted or needed, magic-workers usually are thought well of and held to high standards, like monks or nuns or knights in medieval times, and they are very well-paid for their services. Other communities might outlaw them for political or religious reasons, or discriminate against magic-workers of a certain race.

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Sorry about the length of this post. I hope you found it at least somewhat interesting, and maybe a little inspiring with your own projects. Again, I welcome comments and criticisms. Take care, and God bless, everyone!

Quick List of Writing Prompts

For those of you who may need some writing inspiration this morning, here are a couple of suggestions to lend a hand. Hope they are helpful.

1. Out of the lowliest place came my highest moment.

2. Write a couple of different versions of the same scene, dealing with a certain temptation or vice or addiction one of your characters has. Does she give in or not? What, if anything, keeps them from yielding? What are the consequences?

3. “The rain had frozen into a sheet of ice over every tree and branch.” Go from there, and see what happens.

Venus: Once in a Lifetime

Taken through a good friend’s telescope. Nathan Morgan, you have my gratitude for this opportunity.

See that little black spot? That’s Venus. The planet Venus, passing between Earth and our sun, an event which the Solar System’s dance will never again perform until 2117. I was shocked at the clarity my smartphone captured through the telescope lens, but there you have it. I count myself blessed to have seen this.

It gets you thinking about the universe, doesn’t it? Especially about how large it is. Douglas Adams described the magnitude of the cosmos thusly: “…you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

Good for a laugh, but it doesn’t prepare you for a realization that this little black dot is an Earth-sized planet. A planet with its own topography, buried under a crushing atmosphere and choking hot clouds of sulfuric acid, a violent and Hellish realm as expansive as our home. All contained within that tiny dot. And just imagine the scope of the star behind it, a ball of fusion-charged hydrogen which is so vast, it won’t exhaust its fuel for another five billion years. And that is just one single star in one galaxy, one galaxy out of hundreds of billions. Human imagination cannot even begin to spread that far. As we expand out into the universe, we will certainly never run out of places to visit and settle.

I’m sounding rather full of myself by now, I know. Trying to encapsulate the hugeness of our known universe in a couple of hundred words. It’s absurd. But still, it appears humans cannot stop themselves from trying. “There are more things in heaven and on Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophy,” Shakespeare writes…and yet we push on, seeking to feed our fevered imaginings by looking to the stars and beyond. We think and question, enact and take risk. We are not only pushed by instinct, but pulled by hints of transcendence.

Indeed, God paints on a canvas incomprehensible to the human mind, His treasures inexhaustible.

I don’t know what’s more incredible: the universe’s unfathomable size and scope, or the fact that a little black dot in a telescope lens can remind us of it.

Newest Artwork, Venus Transit

Finally managed to get some new drawings done and scanned. Hope your all enjoy them! I really love drawing, and plan to make it a habit again. Dinosaurs and plants seem to be two of the things I do okay with.

Triceratops. Long time since I’ve drawn this beautiful animal.

Just some flowers. No particular species; I just made them up.

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And don’t forget, ladies and gentlemen: tomorrow, at 4:04 pm Mountain Time, the transit of Venus will take place (where the planet passes in front of the sun). This won’t happen again until the early 22nd century. So, yeah. Watch it if you can.

Catch you all later! If you will excuse me, I have some editing to quit putting off. This novel’s going to be finished soon, one way or another.

Worldbuilding — Zoology — Tyrant Dragon

I’ve made the decision to begin a new series on my blog. My fantasy series-in-progress, The Wolfglen Legacy, is going to take place in a detailed world I have been building for the last several years. And I think this would be an excellent place to start introducing my readers to bits and pieces of that world (if you’re interested, of course), even though it’s going to be a while before the books themselves are ready.

What I like about this idea is its versatility. This is a chance to give you anything from cuisine to animals to weapons to a nation’s history, revealing it in detail. Magic systems, politics, natural history, whatever. My plan is to try and give one entry per week.

And with that, I will start with an entry I posted on deviantart.com.

The Tyrant Dragon

The largest known species of dragon that is capable of flight. Like roughly half of all dragons, it is able to breathe fire by using hydrogen gas from its flight lungs.* Easily recognizable by a green body with stripes of black or dark brown, and the presence of four wings rather than two, that extra pair endowed to them by the Founders when this dragon species was created. The wings are colored red with splashes of green on the fringes. Females have a darker red on the membranes, almost like wine or dried blood.

This dragon is rare, but almost universally respected, hated, or feared, depending on whom you ask. Tyrants tend to be much more violent than other dragon species, territorial in the extreme. The mating season occurs in the springtime once every three years. During this period, three or four males congregate in an open space like a prairie or grassland, and collect a small heap of prey animals to display for a local female. The male with the most notable quarry (and the most impressive display of his spread-out wings) wins, and the losers will have to find other females over which to compete. After eating the male’s victims, the female will stay with him for protection and the extra food he can provide. When a month has gone by, the female lays three to five blue eggs in a warm and secluded spot, each one about the size of a human head. The eggs are then abandoned by the parents until they hatch in late summer, and the young creatures will begin hunting mere hours after hatching.

Aside from its great size and extra set of wings, the species is also renowned for what is known as Tyrant’s Madness, a period of heightened aggression when the creature’s wings have been severely injured. Through some unknown mechanism or instinct, the tyrant knows if and when any of its wings have been so extensively injured that they will never heal enough to let the reptile fly again. Once this boundary has been crossed, the animal lands (if it was already airborne) and reaches around with its lengthy neck to bite its own wings off, one at a time. It then becomes a multi-ton berserker, breathing flame and attacking anything within reach until it is almost exhausted. The animal then spends the remainder of its life roaming on the ground, subsisting on whatever it is fast enough to catch.

Few militaries have been sufficiently stupid, crazy, or desperate to use a tyrant dragon in their campaigns (assuming they can capture and tame a juvenile), but the ones who succeed force the enemy’s tactics to change. When flying dragons are part of a battle, usually the opposing force will try to bring the animals down or destroy their wings any way they can: fire bombs, broad-head arrows and crossbow bolts, nets launched from catapults, etc. But thanks to the threat of Tyrant’s Madness, any military force going against this dragon will most likely try instead to kill the animal or exhaust it, rather than risk injury to the wings and having the creature become a far deadlier force on the ground, where more of their own soldiers would be targets for the tyrant’s rage.

* Flight lungs are actually a set of bladders carrying bacteria which produce hydrogen and other lighter-than-air gases to help make the dragon’s body lighter and easier to carry in flight. However, in the fire-breathing species, the gas mixture can be quickly exhausted for producing flame, and the now-heavier animal will find it more difficult, even impossible to fly a distance, until the gas has been replenished.