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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).

RWBY Volume 4 Analysis (Part 2)

(This is Part 2 of a four-part post.)



Con: Roosterteeth Bit Off More Than It Could Chew

My number one criticism of Volume 4 is this: There are far too many separate story arcs.  Miles and Kerry seem to have forgotten that they have only three hours max screen time to work with per season, and, as a consequence, lost control of their story by trying to cram too many plot threads (some of which were unnecessary) into one volume.  All our girls needed to go through their own, individual growth, as did the remaining members of JNPR, but many of the character arcs seemed to lose any purpose or significance in the limited space of an already too expository volume.  If nothing else, I’ll just come to terms with this volume as a transitional season, doing some dull, but clearly needed, work of returning the plot strings into a cohesive bundle after last volume’s scattering.  In part, it had to be done in order to expand to a world stage from the preparatory phase of Beacon, but, without doubt, it could have been handled better.

Pro: Expanding World

Some of the bad news from this volume is because we’ve left Beacon, but a lot of the good news is that we’ve left Beacon.  As sad as I was to say goodbye to the things we love and the innocence of youth, it is super satisfying to see an expanding, diverse world in which the plot can unfold.  From new cultures to new characters, Vol. 4 makes clear that RWBY will ultimately be a grand epic in a fully realized universe, not just a Harry Potter-esque series that takes place largely in a boarding school.  Here’s to future adventures in one of the cooler fantasy worlds to be created in the past decade.

Con: A World of Black and White: Where’s the Gray?

Nope, not talking about Gray Haddock, though there has been a sad lack of Roman Torchwick this season, owing to the baddie’s disappointing demise.  I’m talking about the apparent viewpoints, legends, and history of Remnant, most of which can be categorized as saintly or pure evil, with little in between.  With a few notable exceptions, the fourth volume sank further than ever into the trap of black and white interpretations, especially in the World of Remnant videos.  I literally started laughing out loud at Qrow’s explanation of “The Great War,” which cast the conflict into the starkest terms of good vs. evil.  Vale and Vacuo good, Atlas and Mystral evil.  Only after they were defeated did Atlas and Mystral learn the error of their horrible ways (kind of) and agree to stop their completely one-sided aggression and racism.  Let me tell you something, kids.  Stories with this much black and white never feel authentic, because they aren’t.  They don’t feel realistic because no large conflict has ever been clear-cut.  Tolkien and some few others get away with it because their stories are written specifically as commentaries on the dynamic of good vs. evil, but what’s presented here is a human vs. human (and faunus) conflict, and those are never simplistic struggles of good against bad.  Black and white explanations of events, however attractive they may at first seem, are always likely to be wrong.  In fiction, just as in real life, explanations of this type are going to feel off, unbelievable, to a discerning audience.  So far, RT has slipped into that trap.  Hopefully it’s something they will correct in later seasons, because right now everything about the backstory feels stilted as a result.  To fix it, they’re going to have to start showing differences in perspective that lead to conflict, not straight-up morality against immorality.  They’ve done, meh, okay with that in a few areas, such as dissension within the White Fang, Ironwood’s hard, practical approach opposed to Oz’s calm idealism, etc.  But so far, the series history is descending further and further into explanations of good, reasonable people pitted against others who seem to have no understandable motives.

Con: New Does Not Equate with Better – Departing the Original Style

The frickin’ animation!  I have a love/hate relationship with this new look.  It’s also listed as a Pro below, where you’ll find what I liked about the Maya graphics.  But I’ll get right down to it on what I hated.

Let’s be clear, the visuals have never been the biggest draw for me when it comes to RWBY.  A lot of anime fans I’ve spoken with have said that they couldn’t get into RWBY because the animation is so strange (which strikes me as comical, seeing as they are already fans of one of the stranger niches of storytelling in the world).  I tend to consider solid plot, characterization, theme, etc. over the superficial parts of storytelling.  To me, having great graphics/visuals is akin to a beautiful icing.  When it’s there on an already wonderfully baked cake, it enhances my enjoyment, turning a tasty snack into a delectable delight.  But it doesn’t work the other way around.  You need a good cake – a good foundation – before icing even becomes a factor.  If a tale has mediocre storytelling underneath the glitter of stunning visuals, I can fit all the craps I give about that tale into a thimble.  Luckily, RWBY does have great story characteristics, so this is my complaint about the frosting.  After all, if you put vanilla icing on a cake, I’ll still enjoy it, just not as much if it were chocolate.

When it comes to the animation, my complaint is this: It’s not the same.  I know that sounds extremely petty, and I am aware that there were many extenuating circumstances recommending the switch, but it doesn’t change the fact that the story and characters feel a little different because the look has changed so drastically.  I don’t know why Monty originally decided to go with Poser, but I would hazard a guess that part of the reason was that it had a decidedly 3D look that lent itself well to his vision of a blend between anime and video game style graphics.  While RWBY, in the fourth volume, is still technically 3D, it looks much more 2D than in seasons before.  It’s a change that admittedly brings it closer to a mainstream anime audience, but one which I consider to be a poor trade.  RWBY is awesome because it is so unique, and its visual style has always been distinctly its own.  I would encourage RT to put a premium value on the things that give RWBY its unique flavor in the future, and not discard them unless absolutely necessary.

Pro: And Sometimes New Is Better

Yes, I may prefer what I consider the canon RWBY visuals of Poser, but that won’t stop me from admitting that the new animation looks fantastic.  Everything is more detailed, from facial expressions to backdrops.  Compare similar shots from the first and fourth volumes, and your jaw will hit the floor from the difference.  We’ve come a long way, Roosterteeth, from the black silhouettes of background crowds.  Sometimes change isn’t for the better – I would have preferred a continuation in Poser – but sometimes pushing the boundaries pays off as well.  In fact, I’m having a hard time figuring out how RT Animation plans to improve on the graphics in later volumes.  Yeah – it looks that good.  Gone are the awkward shots of the lower body (Poser had trouble with feet and leg movements), and each individual character looks even more distinct.  Good work, RT.  I’m not a supporter of the animation switch, but I will give credit where it’s due.  And it is definitely due here.

Con: FIGHT! Fight, Fight, Fight…

It seems like many of my complaints can be boiled down to Monty did it different, and this one is no exception.  You see, the combat this volume was just…disappointing to me. Once again, it didn’t feel the same as it has the past three volumes, and I’m going to point the finger at the fact that Monty is no longer at the helm.

See, in the past three volumes, combat has been governed by silent, understood rules that are never explicitly mentioned in dialogue, but can be observed in the fights themselves.  Concussive shots, as from Crescent Rose or Nora’s hammer, can propel the wielder of the weapon that fired them in an opposite direction, as according to physics.  Auras will “soak” damage done to an individual until their aura is depleted, and only then will they be susceptible to physical harm.  Even semblances have rules that govern how they can work.  For instance, Weiss’s glyphs can hold a person or object at a certain angle until released, allowing someone, say Ruby, to balance on one upside down or run up the side of a building lined with them.

Many of these rules seem to have been discarded in Vol. 4 for no apparent reason.  Nora can now fire her hammer/cannon and fly in spirally circles.  Ruby’s semblance now allows her to not just move super quickly, but also semi-teleport as a cloud of rose petals, disregarding the fact that no one has deigned to explain that.  I mean, people are basically flying, changing direction midair on a whim, without any physical explanation for how.  Monty’s fights made sense.  They operated within defined, if only implied, boundaries that made their enactment plausible and their tactics satisfying.  In Volume 4?  Not so much.  Instead, we get fights where the victorious strategy is: “Guys, we hit it harder.”

Yeah.  Even if such a strategy doesn’t make any sense in that circumstance.

The combat, while a huge draw to RWBY for some, is much like the visuals for me.  I loved the earlier fights in this series.  They are so innovative and well-done.  But at the same time, it’s the story and characters that hooked me.  The fights, like good graphics, are just more awesome frosting on top of the RWBY cake.  However, just because I don’t consider something essential doesn’t mean I’m not going to say something when I see it going downhill.  My final verdict is that combat has definitely declined in this volume from the quality of its predecessors, whether because of the new animation, the absence of Monty, or simply changing stylistic choices.

Pro: Music

The soundtrack hasn’t been released yet (unfortunately), but from what I noticed during the episodes, Vol. 4’s music is as strong as ever.  Jeff Williams has had the tone of this show down since the first second, and it shows, because the music has always been one of RWBY’s brightest facets.  From the fun of FNKI to the creepy drawl of Salem’s refrain to the rocking RWBY title themes, this show can be encapsulated in its music, and Vol. 4 is no different from its predecessors in that regard.  Keep up the good work, Jeff and Casey!  I’ll be on the lookout for the soundtrack release!

Previous Page: RWBY Analysis (Part 1)                                     Next Page: RWBY Analysis (Part 3)

A Preliminary Note on Story Analysis

For the last several weeks, I’ve been posting a lot of content on the nature of storytelling, so it’s high time we took a break for something a little lighter.  We’ve yet to actually dig in to any individual plots, which is as key to realizing the power of stories as analyzing storytelling.  After all, stories are the best advocates of their own influence.

Stories I break down on this blog will be separated into two categories: Required and Anathema.  I’ll evaluate a lot of Required stories, but very few Anathema, mostly because I’m largely a nice guy who rarely thinks it proper to firebomb other storytellers’ hard work.  That being said, it will happen on occasion that I detest a story enough to actively work against its creator.  You can assume one of two things about the evaluations I post.  If I post about a film, web series, TV show, video game, book, etc. on this blog, I either 1) love it and think everyone should partake, or 2) believe it should be mercilessly ripped apart line by line.  I will indicate which at the beginning of the post.  Cons that are listed on the former should be taken with a grain of salt, since I am obviously recommending the story while airing any grievances that (I believe) detract from the possible maximum impact of the tale.  The upcoming evaluation I’ll have out on RWBY soon is an excellent example of a Required tale.

As for Anathema, I’ll generally tell you exactly how I feel, with little mollycoddling to blunt the blows.  An example of something that would go in my Anathema folder would be anything I ever post on the Twilight series.

A Random Dude’s Opinion on a New Year

Yes, yes, I know.  Yet another post by an obscure human being (who likely has no significant experience on which to be basing advice) about setting goals in a new year, blah, blah, blah…

I am well aware that now is the time of year in which every Bob or Jane with half a coherent thought is giving life advice.  But I’m a writer that writes what’s on his mind, so I’ll throw my two cents into the general pot.  Maybe we’ll come out with a fortune.

The fact of the matter is this: goals are important.  I don’t care if we’re nearing a new year and everyone’s saying it.  Doesn’t make it any less true.  Now is the time to be thinking about what you want out of life.  Not so you can forget by January 12th, but so you can carve it into your soul or your heart or whatever other internal organ or metaphysical entity you find appropriate.  Goals, people.  The conception and pursuit of what’s important to us makes us who we are.

So set ‘em!  Set those goals and keep them in mind.  Make a mission statement about what’s important to you and recite it daily.  Pull out that dusty ol’ bucket list and start ticking off your dreams.  My list is nearing the length of a novel (okay, that’s an exaggeration, but it is super long), and there’s no way I’ll ever complete it all in one lifetime.  Should that stop me from trying to attain as many of my dreams as possible?  No!  It just means I need to step up the pace to realize as many of them as I can with the time I’ve got!  It’s time to start knocking those suckers outta the park, and 2017 sounds like a good time to hit some grand slams.

The first step is to pick the goals you want to attain (or even just work toward, if they’re big ones that take years).  For example, here are some of my goals: I want to be a New York Times Bestselling author, serve my country, become an astronaut, earn a doctorate degree, and rule the world (just kidding on the last one…kind of).

I can’t do all of that in 2017!  I’ve got to be more selective.  So, first I select the goals I currently have the means to obtain or work toward.  Let’s use the NYT Bestselling Author goal.  This is one I’ve been pursuing for several years now, and in all likelihood, I still have years to go.  But I have the means to get closer to that goal, as long as I keep in mind what is important to me.  That’s the key; don’t let life interfere.  We can’t let the little things make us forget what we really want.  I want to change the world through my tales.  I want to rip and tear and break people inside with nothing but story, nothing but fiction and characters.  I want people to laugh and cry and shout and become inspired because they recognized something beautiful, tragic or stirring in what I create.  Being a NYT Bestseller is a representation of that, and as long as I keep that in mind, every day, every month, every year becomes a good time to reach for my goals.

Because, in the end, we all just want to change the world.  And if we work hard, I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

What about all of you?  Anybody have any goals they’d like to share?  What are you going to do to attain them?  Let me know!

Here’s wishing everyone a happy new year!

Author Interview with ManyBooks

Recently, I was interviewed by ManyBooks about my latest novel, Ironheart, as well as a few other interesting topics.  If you would like to see the interview on ManyBooks’ website, follow this link.

Dakota Kemp – History Buff with a Love for Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Author Dakota Kemp has a knack for crafting intricate and fascinating worlds for his novels and his Steampunk epic, Ironheart, is no exception. It was born from his fascination with England’s Victorian Era, but of course he couldn’t resist working with the science-fictionalized version of the period. Today we talk to Dakota about his characters, why stories are an integral part of life, and what he has in store next for readers.

Please give us a short introduction to Ironheart.

Ironheart is a fantasy novel set in a steampunk world, where powerful deities called Primals rule an empire that is dependent on steam-powered technology. Jack Booker, Ironheart’s protagonist, is an orphan from the slums of the city of Victorian, where he struggles to survive amidst poverty, gang feuds, and harsh conditions. But when a mob boss called Fist embroils Jack in a political feud between the empire’s divinities, he finds himself drawn ever deeper into the Primals’ plots of intrigue and rebellion. Somehow, Jack, a lowly orphan, may have become the most important pawn in a game for gods.

Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?

I’m the greatest ramen noodle chef in the world, as well as a peerless orator. People often run away when I start shouting about topics I’m passionate about. Probably because I’m such a brilliant speaker.

Your book has some Steampunk elements. What appeals to you about the genre?

I’m a bit of a history buff, and I’ve always been fascinated by England’s Victorian Era. The world scene, the popular fashions, and the rise of steam technology at that time are all interesting topics to me, so I had been hoping to write a book in a such a setting for some time. Of course, I’m first and foremost a science fiction and fantasy author, so instead of just writing a story set in nineteenth century England, I naturally gravitated to a science-fictionalized version of that time period – Steampunk. Plus, I get bored when there are no jetpacks.

Did writing about surreal worlds and enigmatic scenes present any particular problems?

It certainly did, but that’s one of the key priorities for a science fiction or fantasy writer: Writing about the implausible in a way that makes it seem plausible. World-building, in a nutshell. Ironheart’s world is very different from our own, so my first priority was to make everything (the characters, plot, cultures, etc.) feel realistic, even as the fantastic was happening all around.

Once you finish a book, do the characters live on in your mind? Or do you move on to a new topic fairly quickly?

I have so many ideas bouncing around in my brain that it would take a dozen lifetimes to write a book about them all, so moving on to other projects is not really an issue. However, that’s not to say that the characters from previous books don’t stick around. I constantly catch myself analyzing scenes, wondering how this or that past character would respond in a particular situation. They all kind of live on inside of you, you know? You created them, after all. Sometimes it’s tough to block out the part of you that created a particular personality when you need to be focused on how new characters should react.

Tell us a bit about the title (without giving anything away). Why “Ironheart”?

Four reasons: 1) It sounds awesome. 2) It’s a very eye-catching, attention-grabbing, brutally stark kind of word. People find their attention drawn to it, so it works great as a title. 3) It has some specific connotations for certain characters in the story and in the plot itself. 4) It’s a symbolic title for the theme, plot, and nearly every other facet of the novel. Ironheart is a pseudo-allegory, so it is packed full of symbolism and layers of meaning. Some people like to read for sheer enjoyment, and that’s okay! My books can definitely be experienced as simple adventure/fantasy tales. But booklovers who look for deeper meaning in the works they read will be able to find questions to ponder behind nearly everything in Ironheart.

How did you come upon the idea for the Primals? What inspired you to create them?

Prior to the creation of Ironheart, I’d been wanting to write an allegorical novel for a long time, which started the thought process that led me to the concept of beings that personified specific aspects of life. I came up with the Primals because I wanted to write a story about the various pieces of human existence. For instance, how some ideals mesh really well, while others can’t seem to coexist at all. The Primals were the product of these musings. They represent pure, raw emotions and ideas in embodied forms.

Why do you feel stories are so important to us humans?

You really shouldn’t encourage me to get on my soap box, because once I’m up there I don’t step down for days. Suffice it to say that everything about human existence concerns stories. Every individual life is a story, every day is a story, every activity, every event. That’s all history is – the best tales, the ones that last. Even religion is made up of stories, the ones that inspire us or motivate us to be better than who we are. How often does anyone go a whole day without watching a movie or television show, reading a book, talking about their day with a family member, or listening to a friend say what happened at the supermarket? It’s all about stories with us, and there is power in stories. We can’t exist without them. Life, after all, is just one giant saga. We’re all characters, and we each have a part to play.

Ironheart is a real page turner. What, would you say, is the secret to keeping your reader hooked throughout the book?

It’s all about characters. A book must have a good plot, well-crafted settings, etc., but what readers really need are characters. Characters they care about and become emotionally invested in. This is true for any story, be it romance, sci-fi, horror, or anything else. When readers care about the characters in a book, they can’t stop reading. They have to know what happens. I’m speaking not as an author, but from experience as a voracious reader. And I only write books that I would like to read myself!

Anyway, that’s the feedback I’ve been getting from readers of Ironheart. Jack may not necessarily remind many readers of themselves – he’s emotionally barren, anti-social, and irritable – but for some reason, readers seem to get him. They come to understand why he is the way he is, and they really start to care about his struggles. When readers care about the characters and what’s happening to them, that keeps the pages turning until the very end.

How did you go about picking the names for your Primal characters?

To convey the story I wanted to tell, I needed some specific ideals and emotions to be physically present as characters. So, I had to use specific characters like Freedom, Pride, and Chaos. It would have been fun to explore certain emotions in character form – such as, say, Sorrow or Horror – but they didn’t fit into the narrative that I was presenting. But I suppose that exploring further concepts is what sequels are for!

Jack Booker is not your typical noble hero. Why did you give him such a dark past?

Jack has a character arc that is both complex and very simple at the same time. To take him through his journey, I need him to be convincing in the role he fills. He shoulders responsibilities that most people would be unable to handle, and in order for him to believably take on such brutal trials, readers need to see a character that personally identifies with the battle he must fight. Hard, driven people are rarely the product of happy lives of contentment. I gave Jack a dark, gritty, morally-questionable past because that’s what was needed to create a realistic character who is determined to overcome even in the face of impossible odds. Also, redemption is a major theme of Ironheart, and Jack’s redemption would have been cheapened and hollow if he had not traveled such a dark road.

Even though the world you created is complex and much different from our own, it is easy to identify with your characters. How did you pull that off?

No matter how fantastic the setting or the plot, stories are ultimately about characters, and characters have to feel realistic. Even if spaceships, magic, or parallel universes are present in a plot, the characters involved need to be rooted in real human emotion and experience. That’s what I strive to do with all of my characters, even the characters who are not actually human. I have been told many times by my readers that my characters are the strongest elements in my books, and I think that is simply because I try to ground all of them in human nature.

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on a couple projects, both of which are sequels. Currently, I’m writing on the sequel to my science fiction novella, Goddess, but I’ve also begun the rough draft of the sequel to Ironheart.

Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?

I have three published works out at this time. Goddess, an adult science fiction novella, The Arrival, a medieval fantasy novel, and, of course, Ironheart. All can be found on amazon. Visit my website at to contact me, sign up for updates on my projects, or read my ramblings about various nerdy topics.