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The Power of Stories

“There’s power in stories.” – Varric Tethras

I’m a bit of an oddball.  Always have been.  But I’m not ashamed of that fact.  It makes life more interesting for me.  I like to imagine it makes me enigmatic as well, but that’s probably just me indulging my not inconsiderable ego.

The point, however, is this: I’ve got some unusual ways of looking at the world.

For instance, if you asked everyone on the planet about the meaning of life, what do you suppose the answers would be?  They would be far-ranging, but I think we could expect a dozen or so common themes around which the majority of people’s answers would cluster.  We’d hear about love and service to others, adventure, experience, survival, proving your worth and living simply.  We would most certainly run into people who believe life was about serving God, just as we would discover that many people believe life has no purpose at all.

But me?  I think everyone is wrong.  And I think everyone is right.  Because I believe the meaning of life is all of these things.  It just depends on what story is being told.

The purpose of this website is the same as that of life.  Story.  In the end, everything comes back to story.  Everything about human existence concerns and hinges on narrative.  Each individual life is a story, every day is a story, every activity, every event.  That’s what history is – stories that last.  Even religion is made of stories, the ones that inspire or motivate us to be better.  Stories are all around us, in everything we do.  Life, after all, is just one vast saga.  We’re all characters, and we each have a part to play.  It’s all about stories with us, and, in the words of expert storyteller Varric Tethras, there’s power in stories.

That’s why storytellers do what we do.

The careers of all storytellers – authors, filmmakers, playwrights, video game developers, even songwriters – are built on the assumption that stories are powerful.  That stories change people.  They challenge us to grow and explore, to look at the world in new ways.  They cause us to re-evaluate the world and our place in it.  Research is beginning to suggest what storytellers have known for eons: that stories affect how we think, how we perceive life and the world around us, and, by extension, the way we act.  But we don’t really need new research to tell us that, do we?  The evidence is around us in daily life, and it is apparent in even the most cursory glance through the past.  Stories have proven throughout human history to be far more than just art or entertainment.  They are often radical agents of change.  To demonstrate this, I could cite a number of stories from any one of the major religions in the world, but that seems a bit too obvious.  How about The Illiad?  Homer’s epic influenced generations of Greek tradition which ultimately, in turn, affected every aspect of western civilization.  It also kept in place a Greek warrior ethos that radically reshaped the world through the actions of Alexander the Great.  (Funnily enough, Alexander was not Greek, but the Macedonians of his time adored Greek culture and emulated it in almost every way.)  Alexander was raised on The Illiad.  He was greatly inspired by the ethos it espoused, and he believed himself to be a continuation of its epic.  A new Achilles for a later age.

Where would the world be now if not for The Illiad’s influence on one of the great shapers of history?  Somewhere very different, that is certain.  This is just one example out of thousands, tens of thousands, of examples that could be used.  Stories are powerful; the world in which we live has been shaped by story as much as man.

So, have I gotten my point across?  Are stories powerful, or am I just a ranting lunatic?  (The latter is very probable.)  If you agree that stories have almost unlimited influence in our lives, then I invite you to subscribe for more posts.  I’m going to try to get some discussion flowing in the future, that way you don’t have to read only one person’s highly biased opinion.  After all, the internal and external conversations brought about by stories are what unleash their change-creating potential!

#FridayswithBQB – Interview #5 – Find Your Inner Steampunk with Dakota Kemp

Bookshelf Q. Battler recently asked me to participate in an author interview for his regular column, “Fridays with BQB.” Take a look, and check out BQB’s other hilarious content while you’re there!

Bookshelf Battle


Author Website

Amazon Author Page

North Dakota? South Dakota? He’s just Dakota. Dakota Kemp first flew under my radar when he asked a question of my resident alien brainiac, the one and only Alien Jones. After participating in that tomfoolery, I knew he’d fit in as a friend to my fine blog. He grew up in Oklahoma, which, as you may have heard from the musical of the same name, is the place where “the wind comes sweeping down the plains.” Odd, I never really thought of Oklahoma as a windy place. Seems like there’d be a lot of dirt, and hot weather, and rattlesnakes and tumbleweeds, perhaps a vulture circling around in the air, waiting for you to drop from heat exhaustion so your carcass can be his next meal.

But I digress. Note to self: don’t insult your subject’s home state. Anyway, Dakota’s an officer in the U.S…

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The Witcher: Soon to be a Netflix Original

The Witcher! Geralt the Riv! Ahhhhhhh!

Okay. Sorry. I’ve calmed down now.

So here is the deal: Netflix is producing a television show based on Andrzej Sapkowski’s Polish dark fantasy series. I know, I know – old news. But I’ve been out of the loop (aka in training camps) for about eight months now, so it’s new for me since I missed the initial announcements.

The Witcher Assassin of Kings

Promo poster from CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher II: Assassin of Kings.

For those of you who don’t already know, I am a huge fan of The Witcher novels, as well as the critically acclaimed video game adaptations that helped the enormously popular fantasy series gain major traction here in the U.S. The Witcher novels are fantastic in their own right – I’ve read all the books several times and I love them – but they were famous mostly only in Poland because they never received translations into other languages. CD Projekt Red (a Polish video game company) changed all that when it bought the rights to produce a RPG franchise based on Sapkowski’s novels. That could have been the end of it. After all, many ambitious projects have flopped horribly upon release. But CDPR was different. They had great respect and love for the books behind the project. That passion and dedication to stay true to the source material produced one of the most critically acclaimed franchises in gaming history. (The Witcher III alone won over 250 Game of the Year awards). The world, characters, cultures, and politics felt so real, deep, and complex for a video game. RPG gamers around the world were mindblown. The Witcher universe exploded in popularity among English-speakers, and the book industry capitalized on this, rushing to put out translations for the books so that fans could get more Witcher – so they could get the original Witcher.

What fantastic novels. What incredible games. What real characters and what powerful themes. In my personal opinion, from Sapkowski’s first short story about Geralt to the last game, the Witcher universe has been handled very well.

Which leads to my extreme excitement for a television series.

Despite the author’s recent departure from the Netflix project, I have high hopes that this could be one of the best television shows ever. It just has so much potential behind it. (Sapkowski is notoriously hard to work with when it comes to his books, so I’m not terribly concerned that he is not participating in the television production. The fact that he has not completely denounced the project is decent proof to me that the adaptation is being handled with care.) Many of the people who were involved in the book-to-game adaptation process are also at the helm of the Netflix production. They clearly care deeply about the source material, as shown by they’re dedication to bringing the essence of the books into the games, and I can only hope that they will continue to show the same fervor.

The Last Wish - amazon

The Last Wish – The first of The Witcher tales by Andrzej Sapkowski, The Last Wish is a collection of short stories about Geralt of Rivia, and a must-read for fantasy readers. (Caution: Don’t give these to your kids. The Witcher novels are quite dark and can be very graphic.

Of course, I’ve been let down by people I’ve trusted before. (Peter Jackson, what happened between The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies? Seriously? Talk about losing sight of the intrinsic soul of a story. I’ve never seen such a 180 degree turnaround. LOTR was a masterpiece adaptation; The Hobbit movies were traditional Hollywood letdowns.) BUT I’m choosing to believe we’re going to get a great translation for The Witcher. It’s all right there on a silver platter in the books.

Netflix, don’t mess this up for us. Geralt is important to many, many people. He is such a unique character. DO NOT turn him into just another macho, monster-slaying, wench-laying, tough guy. Does he have those characteristics sometimes? Absolutely. But he is so much more than that. Such a nuanced, wonderfully-written, complex character. Just like all characters in The Witcher. I can’t wait to see them all brought to the screen.

Anyone else out there Witcher fans? I, for one, am ecstatic Netflix is trying to capitalize on HBO’s success with Game of Thrones. Do you think their adaptation will be loyal to the source material? Or will it be another Hollywood book mutilation? Let me know!

Tribute to Ursula K. Le Guin

News for all my fellow science fiction and fantasy fans: it has come to my attention that one of the great sci fi and fantasy writers – indeed one of the founders of modern fantasy – passed away in January. Ursula K. Le Guin’s death was as markedly quiet as her work, though her writings somehow managed to combine that quiet success with insight, lyricism, and a world’s worth of endlessly compelling themes.

Unfortunately, I’ve not read many of Le Guin’s contributions, but the few I have experienced had special influences on my journey both as a reader and a writer. In particular, A Wizard of Earthsea, that classic of fantasy literature on par both in style and prose with The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, touched me deeply. It was perhaps the first book where I realized what profound meaning, symbolism, and import could be infused into the pages of a written work. I don’t think I’ve ever fully recovered from the powerful conclusion of that tiny volume, which managed to hit me as hard as any thick tome.  What a powerful tale she wove with Ged, one that mirrored in many ways my own, as I’m sure it has for many a reader over the years. That struggle of growing up, at once both unsure and utterly confident, climbing to the top of the world only to fall upon reaching the zenith. Pride has knocked the wind out of me on many occasions, just as it does Ged. But confronting our faults and continuing on is one of the true themes of Earthsea, and I found myself bettered by the experience. Truly great stories remind us of powerful lessons we already know, and the reminder is often beautifully given. A Wizard of Earthsea gave me a great many such touching reminders, and for that I will always be grateful to Mrs. Le Guin. If you’ve never read Ged’s tale, I encourage you to pick it up. It is a lyrical, poignant journey delivered in sparse but haunting words (and it’s the original book to introduce the “Hogwarts concept” of a wizard school made famous by J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter). Other groundbreaking works by Le Guin include The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, The Lathe of Heaven, and The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.

Thanks for all the wonderful stories you brought to the world, Mrs. Le Guin. Your ability to touch us both emotionally and intellectually will be missed.

Have any of you been moved by Ursula K. Le Guin’s stories? Which are your favorites? Are there any that affected you as Ged’s did me?

Are We Ready?

“Somebody has to start. Somebody has to step forward and do what is right, because it is right.” – Dalinar Kholin, The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

We all fail sometimes. Right? Or is it just me who never seems to live up to who I should be?

I messed up yesterday. I crossed a line that I shouldn’t have. I did something that was wrong – and that I knew was wrong – all because I wanted something.

How disgustingly selfish.

It wasn’t some horrifying crime. Not according to the arbitrary scale we use to weigh severity of wrongness. I didn’t murder or rape anybody. I didn’t even steal something.

I lied.

I didn’t technically even say anything untrue. I simply didn’t divulge all the information I possessed. A little white lie. That’s all it was.

And that’s what pisses me off.

Because if I can’t be trusted with the little things, why should I ever be trusted with big things?

I don’t know if this is common or not, but I have always felt like I was put here on earth – in this time, in this place – to do great and terrible things. Not terrible as we would use the word, but as Tolkien would. Worldshaking things. Things that make people feel Atlas give a mighty heave beneath them. I am here to move mountains, and I will someday.

“When I think of destiny, I don’t think of a predetermined fate you can’t escape, but rather some sort of final goal. Something you work towards your entire life.” – Pyrrha Nikos, RWBY

Pyrrha NikosBut sometimes I wonder. Why has it not begun yet? Why has the ability to shake the world not entered my grasp? I’m ready. I feel ready. I put in the work, I strive daily to be the best man I can be, and I want it. I want it so bad it makes me clench up inside. I want to change things for people, to make this place better in drastic ways. I know I’m destined for it. Why am I still denied the pebble I need to start an avalanche?

And I think I know the answer now: I don’t deserve it.

With great power comes great responsibility. It’s ridiculously cliche, but that doesn’t make it untrue. The power to change things is terrifying and should be entrusted only with overwhelming caution. That’s something we (as humans) have clearly forgotten.

But God hasn’t, and I’m grateful. Perhaps He doesn’t just want me to change things. He wants me to change things for the good.

At the end of the day, I don’t think either He or I can be sure that’s what will happen if I am afforded that destiny right now.

I can’t be trusted with it yet. I’m too broken and selfish to handle it well. That sucks, but it’s also fortunate. There are few things more terrifying than a man receiving power he’s not ready for. I knew the lie was wrong and I did it anyway. It was just an insignificant, tiny, infantile evil. But…

If we can’t be trusted with the small things, we can’t be trusted with the big things.

It’s that simple and that difficult.

So let’s try to be better. Every day. Not because we might get a payoff in the future, but because it is right. We’re human, and we’re going to mess up. But if we keep reaching for the vision, keep struggling to become that glittering ideal we always wished we could be, maybe someday we’ll look in a mirror and realize that’s who we’ve become.

Am I the only one who often let’s themselves down? Do you have a vision of who you’d like to be? Why can’t we ever seem to get there? Share your words of wisdom below.


Commissioning as a Second Lieutenant

Graduation - Family

My parents and youngest sister (Emilie) came to see the commissioning ceremony at Ft. Benning, GA. It was wonderful to see them after months spent training!

Formal - Emilie 3

Emilie and I at the Officer’s Formal, just a few days prior to graduation. She was gracious enough to be my date for the evening.

Formal - Emilie 2

In a venue filled with many a gorgeous woman, there was not a single date more beautiful than mine!

October 31st, OCS graduation finally arrived. It’s been a long, arduous journey, but I am now a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army! I feel quite a sense of relief to be finished with the initial training and moving on to the actual business of being an officer. I made some good friends along the way at Boot Camp and Officer Candidate School. Without both their support and the support of those of you cheering me on from home, I would no doubt never have made it to commissioning. Thank you to everyone who sent letters of encouragement and prayer!

Graduation - Kenah, Laans

Myself and some of the aforementioned friends who’ve been by my side since the beginning. Both James Kenah (center) and Jonathan Laansma (right) will be fine officers. The Army is lucky to have them!

Graduation - Stage, Award 2 (2)

Receiving the Distinguished Academic Graduate Award at the Commissioning Ceremony was a great honor. I’m grateful to have merely graduated, let alone chosen for such a distinction.

Now that training is over (for the time being) and I have some measure of free time, I can get back to working on my writing projects. I appreciate all of my readership who have patiently waited while I did everything except finish the sequels you’ve requested for so long.

Training…and Its Eventual Conclusion

Hello Everyone!

Wow. I know it’s been a long time (approximately four and a half months) since my last post, and here I am just now getting back in touch. The bad news here is that I’ve still got 4 – 5 weeks of Officer Candidate School remaining, so I can’t dive back into writing Ironheart‘s sequel just yet, but available free time is finally on the horizon. The good news is that I managed to graduate from Boot Camp in early August, and I’m well on my way to finishing OCS as well.

Phase Up

Classing up into Intermediate Phase at Officer Candidate School in Fort Benning, GA. Boy, was I ever happy to put on that blue ascot!

Squad STX 2

Squad STX training out in Fort Benning’s swamps and forests.

So there’s a brief update on what’s been going on. Thank you to everyone who’s been keeping up with me and sending mail throughout my training stages. Your letters have been a joy to read! I promise to get back on my current writing projects soon. You’ve all been so patient waiting for books that were forced to take a back seat when a chance for service took priority. I’ll keep pushing forward here, and, with a little luck, I’ll be back to writing about Primals, heroes, and villains soon!


Announcement – Putting the Writing Career on Hold

I received some exciting news yesterday. Well, news that is exciting for me, but which will prove to be a drain on this blog, my current book projects, and my writing aspirations on the whole. In short, I was selected for a slot in Officer Candidate School in the U.S. Army. That means: A) I will be out of contact for up to a year in various training camps, and B) that even after I finish with training I will be working 40+ hours a week in a profession not particularly conducive to a budding writing career. I may even be deployed for long periods of time with no chance whatsoever to write.

So, both a happy and sad day.

On the one hand, I’ll get to live a life of service to others – something that has always been important to me. On the other, my dream of becoming an influential storyteller will slow to crawl. But that’s life. Sometimes we have to put one dream on hold to fulfill another. I will be able to write for decades to come, but serving my country is something best done while I’m still young and physically capable.

Anyway, the point is that I will continue to write and post and market and build a following while serving as an officer, but it will likely be much slower than before, and may halt completely for the better part of the next year. That being said, I’m considering having a proxy (friend or relative) continue running my blog, social media accounts, and marketing efforts while I’m in training, so be on the lookout for some occasional content from him or her.

Thank you to everyone who has followed and/or stopped by to read my thoughts or support my writing endeavors! You’re all the best. I’ll get back in touch in about a year (or sooner if I’m able).