It’s almost time!

We’re two days and change away from the official release of Mark of the Dragon, the first story in the Urban Dragon series.

2016-317 3d render book transparent background, Book 1We’re two days and change away from the official release of Mark of the Dragon, the first story in the Urban Dragon series.

If you’ll be in Indianapolis this weekend, come down to Indy Reads Books for the official series launch party, where you can get a signed early edition of the first three books in print.

If you’re tragically not in the area, you can still preorder Mark of the Dragon online at:

Barnes and Noble
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Content Warnings

There’s always been some controversy about content warnings, whether they come in the form of #TW: tags, the annoying little black box in the corner of your screen when you’re watching a TV show, or that stupid R-rating that (should) keep children out of a mature movie.

Some people call content warnings a form of censorship; for my part, I view them like labels on foods at a buffet. As much as I love spicy things, I’d like to know that something’s spicy before I eat it– especially if I just drizzled it all over my ice cream. In the same vein, something dark or disturbing can be really thought-provoking or even cathartic when you’re expecting it, but can completely ruin your day if aren’t.

Oddly enough, books rarely come with warnings. So I’ll be compiling a list of (as much as possible) spoiler-free warnings for each book. I’ll try to get the ones I notice, but if there are any that I missed, I welcome any contributions that my readers might catch.

Here there be spoilers

The Fence

  • Death
  • Body horror


  • Body horror
  • Gore
  • Explosions
  • Aftermath of war
  • Loss of bodily autonomy

Urban Dragon – The entire series is rife with examples of:

  • Blood
  • Body horror
  • Gore
  • Profanity – F-bombs abound, folks
  • Sexuality
  • Graphic Violence
  • Death

Mark of the Dragon

  • Sexual assault

Dance with the Devil

  • Sexual assault
  • Sex work
  • Stalking
  • Mention of drugs

Potnia Theron

  • Major depression


  • Mental and emotional torture

Crusader Non Grata

  • Genocide
  • Lynching



Only the Sith deal in absolutes

If you’ve applied for a job online in the past fifteen years or so, you’ve probably had to take one of those awful personality tests.

You know the ones. They come with statements like “I enjoy meeting new people” and “I sometimes make mistakes”, and then you have to select whether you “strongly disagree”, “disagree”, are “unsure”, “agree”, or “strongly agree”, or any of about a dozen permutations of that whole rigmarole.

As it turns out, the only correct answers are typically either “strongly agree” or “strongly disagree”, because companies want employees who are “confident” and “sure of themselves” (or who have read articles on the subject).

It’s a kind of absolutist thinking that really doesn’t work well with writers.

See, as soon as you give me a statement like “shoplifting is always wrong,” I immediately think of Jean Valjean spending nineteen years in prison because he stole a loaf of bread to feed a starving child.

Source: (x)

Any kind of blanket statement is going to come with exceptions and fuzzy areas. This is one of the reasons why contract law is so damn complicated– because it tries to guess at every possible scenario and deal with them all at the same time.

What does this have to do with writing?

Stories in which all things are absolute can get two-dimensional and boring. Especially when the thing being decried is a particular behavior, it can feel like a bad after-school special (do you guys remember those? Do those still exist?), or they can feel like straw man arguments. If they’re about groups of people, they can come across as racist, sexist, etc (depending on the kind of group being identified).

The easiest way to combat this is to show exceptions to a given rule.

  • We’re told that all people from the Capitol are shallow and lack empathy, but then we meet Effie and Cressida.
  • We’re told all Death Eaters are fanatical and evil, but then Narcissa Malfoy saves Harry’s life.
  • We’re told all Masks are ruthless and terrifying, but then we meet Elias and Helene.
  • We’re told all Hobbits want to live calm quiet lives where they can smoke and eat and be at peace, but then we have Bilbo running off on adventures with complete strangers, and then we meet Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin who are all adventurous in their own right.

When a rule has exceptions, it opens the door to so many possibilities. Instantly there’s an opportunity for conflict (it can be as small as other Hobbits finding Bilbo weird, or as big as betraying one cause to fight for another). We have a chance to see a more diverse scope of perspectives. Characters and settings have the chance to feel more nuanced and multi-dimensional. There’s even a chance to consider why a rule applies to some elements and not others (is Bilbo adventurous because he’s got Took in him, or because he grew up on Gandalf’s stories, or is it something else altogether?) (Why did Narcissa join the Death Eaters in the first place? Was she ever a believer?) It also opens up the idea that other exceptions exist that we haven’t come across yet.

In sum, it invites the writer and the reader both to engage in critical thinking. And that’s always a good thing.


Appreciating a moment

If you’re reading this, then it’s because you have access to an internet connection. Maybe it’s on your phone, or in your home, or at your library, or through a friend. Maybe you live next door, or maybe you live oceans away from me. But no matter who you are or where you live, you’re reading this.

I’d like to take a moment to appreciate just how amazing that is.

In Goethe’s iteration of the tale of Faust, the titular doctor is frustrated (quite literally) to hell. He’s an academic at heart, but he’s at the limits of what he can learn with the resources available to him, so he summons spirits and elementals so that they can help him continue his education. That same thirst for knowledge eventually attracts the notice of the demon Mephistopheles, who offers Doctor Faust the education he craves in exchange for his immortal soul.

And this wasn’t an isolated incident, apparently. Books like the Ars Geotia and the Dictionnaire Infernal listing off demons and spirits who could be summoned to teach you astronomy, herb lore, or liberal science. And in a time and place where most of the population was illiterate, books were worth their weight in gold, and medical students had to hire grave robbers if they wanted to study human anatomy, summoning a demon might have seemed like the only possible way to learn more about the world around you.

In the modern day, there’s still some soul-selling involved in pursuing an education (these days we just call it student loan debt), but you don’t have to summon a demon to pursue knowledge. There are literally dozens of websites curating free online university classes to those who want an education (if not the degree that comes with it). Literature is opened up to the masses through libraries, ebooks, and sites like Project Gutenberg. Youtube is brimming with tutorials for anything from applying makeup to properly repairing a dishwasher. You can talk to people from around the world and learn about perspectives you never would have imagined possible. Anywhere you go, you’ll find websites and applications devoted to teaching you to speak new languages, to code, to design games, to meditate. And if all that fails, a little bit of courage and a working email address (or social media profile) can get you in contact with experts in any field that exists.

We live in a world where a fifteen-year-old Canadian kid was able to grasp such an intricate understanding of Mayan astronomy that he was able to predict the location of a lost city– and then contact a team of archaeologists to confirm his find. 

We live in a world where you can tweet your science questions at Neil DeGrasse Tyson, for crying out loud.

We live in a world of miracles.

The Labrador Test

I’d like to propose a new test.

We’ve got a slew of them already.

  • The Bechedel Test (in which there are two named female characters who talk about literally anything that isn’t a man)
  • The Mako Mori test (in which there is a female character who has her own plot which isn’t about propping up a man)
  • The Sexy Lamp test (in which a female character couldn’t just as easily be replaced by a sexy lamp)
  • The Fleshlight-with-a-Post-It Test (in which a female character can’t easily be replaced by a fleshlight that happens to have a single piece of plot-critical information written on it with a post-it note)

I’d like to add The Labrador Test: In which a female character can’t easily be replaced by an adorable dog that a male character is just so gosh-darn attached to.

Guess who’s ready for her close-up?

And dear God, I’m so sorry we still need for this test to exist. I’m sorry that female characters are still being sidelined to the point where the entirety of their dialogue could easily be replaced with a soulful gaze and a wag of the tail while the male characters are given all the lines that actually move the plot forward. I’m sorry that their contributions to plot lines add up to the hero not wanting her to die, and (on a good day) occasionally barking at something interesting and/or dangerous so the hero can do something about it.

You see it even in the recent Deadpool movie, where we’re given four female characters who spend an awkward amount of their screentime following silently at the heels of a male character who actually advance the story. And I’m glad that they’re given screentime and lines at all, I’m glad that we get a whole whopping four as opposed to a single token lady (or none at all) as still happens so very often. I’m glad that at least two of them aren’t sexualized (especially considering one is a minor and the other is elderly).

But would it kill the writers to make them actually relevant to the plot?

I get it. Wade loves Vanessa. And she’s important because he loves her. She makes him happy. And she affects the plot because he doesn’t want her to get hurt. And… really, that’s it for her, isn’t it?

This is not me picking on Deadpool. It was a fun flick, and I enjoyed it a lot. But it’s also a one of the latest in a trend that we’ve seen all too often, and it’s one we’re going to keep seeing.

Vanessa’s role is the exact same role played by the dog in I Am Legend. And by the dog in Shiloh. And, really, any other movie that has a non-talking dog in it. In dog movies, it’s not uncommon for the protagonist to lay down some exposition or work through personal problems by venting to their animal companion.

I’m not saying that these characters are necessarily unlikable. After all, I enjoyed the dog in I Am Legend, and the dog companions are always adorable (if sometimes trying) in games like Fallout and Skyrim. BB-8 and R2-D2 in the Star Wars franchise are also wonderful and lovable, but notice that while BB-8 was being lovable and in danger, we still had Rey and Maz and Leia actually being active and moving the plot along. And let’s face it, BB-8 and R2-D2 both still have a whole lot more bearing on the plot of their respective movies than a lot of female leads do in theirs.


Please, guys. It’s 2016. Let’s try to do better.

Stories for your ears

I’m a big fan of podcasts. I especially love them while cooking dinner, walking the dogs, driving places, etc– all those places where my eyes can’t be plastered to a page. As it turns out, it’s really dangerous to handle books and knives at the same time. Who knew?

I could give you lots of recommendations for podcasts (and point you at plenty of people who could give you even more), but I’d like to narrow my focus to two podcasts that hit on my oldest passion: stories and their storytellers.

downlo1adSinging Bones – Clare Testoni

Singing Bones is still a relatively young podcast, with only four episodes out while I’m writing this, but it’s got a bright future.

So far it’s been focusing on what we think of as the Western canon of fairy tales, stories like Beauty and the Beast, Jack and the Beanstalk, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and the Pied Piper of Hamlin. But Testoni goes a step further and talks about where these stories come from and how they overlap and change, and what significance they have in our modern lives (she also explores how fairy tales changed with their telling, which is a big deal to me). I highly encourage you guys to check this one out, because it’s got a ton of potential.


Lore – Aaron Mahnkedownload.jpg

Don’t be surprised if you’ve heard of this one. Lore was awarded iTunes’ Best of 2015 podcast award, and for a good reason.

Lore is all about folklore and folktales. Sometimes an episode will focus on one particular place, like lighthouse with a sordid past. Sometimes it will focus on a single event, like the the vampire hunt that inspired Dracula. Sometimes it’ll compare various incarnations of particular folktales, like those surrounding fairies and little people, that show up around the world with eerie similarities. As an added bonus (for a horror fan like myself, anyway), they veer dark, and most of the stories are either unsettling, eerie, or downright gruesome. I can’t recommend this one enough.


Presenting: Sideshow

Ladies, Gentlemen, and everything in between!

Come one, come all, to the unveiling of a new anthology by twelve fantastic writers. The genre is horror, but it’s infused with enough hope and triumph to keep you excited throughout– as well as lovely illustrations accompanying each story.

The Sideshow has come to town! This isn’t your usual freak show, we have wonders to show you that you will not find anyplace else. Marvel at the Human Illumine, lose yourself in the Amazing Mirror Maze. Come for the Last Show of the Day! We have it all. But be careful, not all is as it appears…danger may lurk in the shadows. There are some things that should be kept in the dark.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000446_00069]

You can find Sideshow on Goodreads, on Facebook, and on Amazon after March 22

Everybody needs a happy place. Some place where they feel safe and comfortable and recharge from the stresses of the world. When I learned that my publisher was closing its doors and wouldn’t be publishing Urban Dragon, one of the first things I did was retreat back to mine.

And like a lot of writers, I’m sure, my happy place is a bookstore.

Back in 2012, the store was still being refurbished

Way back in 2012, a couple of weeks after I finished my BA, I happened to be passing a building that was undergoing renovation for a new bookstore that would be opening its doors soon. I needed something to do with myself, so I wound up volunteering there– first to help with the renovations, and then to sort donations and shelve titles and run registers and all the other little side jobs that a bookstore needs to run. I wound up having to take a hiatus from volunteering when I entered grad school, but as soon as I had the chance, I dove right back in again. I needed my happy place.

Most of the books that fill the shelves at Indy Reads Books are donated, which means that the air is rich with that old book smell. The high ceilings and enormous windows make the store feel open and full of natural light. The building is an old one, and before the first level was a bookstore, it was a bicycle repair shop and a karate school, among others. Now it’s a staple of downtown Indianapolis, and one of the only remaining bookstores in the area. But the building isn’t the only thing revitalized.

In the United States, 1 in 7 adults can’t read. That number rises to 1 in 5 in Indiana. Illiteracy predominantly affects poor and marginalized populations (in prisons, the illiteracy rate is estimated to be roughly 3 in 5), and it contributes to a vicious cycle of poverty. Illiteracy acts as a major obstacle in getting a job, especially one that pays a living wage, and parents who are illiterate often raise children who can’t read. There’s also shame and stigma surrounding the issue, where the illiterate are unfairly labeled as stupid or lazy, despite the fact that the issue has more to do with schools that are overcrowded, underfunded, and unprepared to help the estimated 20% of students who have learning disabilities.

Indy Reads is one of many programs working to fight the tide of illiteracy in the United States and around the world. They train volunteer coaches and connect them with adult students, and bring literacy education programs into prisons. All these services are provided for free, so the funds come from charitable donations and the profits raised by the bookstore.

(If you’re interested in other places that have a peculiar lasting effect on psyches, check out my post on the Potato Room)

Pardon the mess…

(My website and social media pages are still under construction while I get my act together. In the meantime, enjoy some photos)


Don’t worry, this isn’t my house.

It was a doctor’s office once upon a time, then an auto shop, then an unofficial dumping ground for the local area. The spot of light on the right is the scar left over from when a car skidded on the ice, went through the wall, and wound up in the building’s basement.
Yes, it has a basement. It’s that massive thing that is even now being excavated so the building can be cleaned up, renovated, and given new life.



Buildings like these are a testament to the whims of time. Prosperous places can fall into ruin– but with enough hard work and determination, they can become new sources of pride and prosperity in their communities. And that’s something that should be celebrated.

So what’s with all the abandoned buildings?

Urban Dragon takes place in what’s known as the Rust Belt, where abandoned buildings, derelict factories, and unused railroad tracks are part of the everyday scenery.

An electrical room from a now-demolished factory that was less than an hour’s walk from downtown Indianapois. Photo taken 2015.

Continue reading “So what’s with all the abandoned buildings?”