A story my mother often tells involves a porcelain clown and its subsequent demise at the hands of her favorite son. As legend would have it—yes, legend—my two-year-old self decided the clown was an affront to humanity, and smashed it with a baseball before it could infect the world with its evil. It’s not a particularly interesting story, but it comes up whenever conversation turns to clown phobia, which many people admittedly have. I suppose the story serves as a confirmation for those who are afraid of clowns. It’s a parable that verifies—yes, indeed—clowns are inherently evil, even a two-year-old child can see that.
A not-so-interesting fact never mentioned in the story’s retelling is that while my two-year-old self was shattering that porcelain clown in 1982, Stephen King was holed up in Bangor, Maine, writing his horror classic “It.” For those who don’t know, “It” is a story about children fighting against an evil entity that has taken the form of a clown.
The more I think about that coincidence the creepier it gets. It’s not an earth-shattering coincidence the likes of which would make someone believe in the supernatural and immediately tremble in fear. The fear is subtle; it gnaws at you. It causes that moment of discomfort in the recesses of your brain, and then you begin doubting reality.
It’s an unspectacular coincidence, my mind says. Something like it probably happened to tons of kids at that time. It’s a stupid thought...
But it IS sort of weird…
And then, of course, the overactive imagination takes over. What if King was literally writing at the moment I stopped and turned to look at the porcelain clown? What if it was a particularly grisly scene where a child was being attacked by the big baddie of King’s novel, Pennywise the Clown? What if I stared at the porcelain clown in my bedroom and heard the clack-clack of a distant typewriter just as a chill ran the length of my back? Maybe I grabbed the baseball at that moment for comfort; never letting my eyes leave the motionless porcelain clown, intuition telling me something was wrong. Maybe at that exact second Stephen King was typing the description of Pennywise the Clown reaching toward young Ben Hanscom, while in my bedroom I saw—or thought I saw—the eyes of my porcelain clown move ever so slightly in my direction. Maybe a voice echoed in my head asking me if I wanted a balloon. Maybe it told me I could float. Maybe at that moment the red painted smile of the porcelain clown opened slowly to reveal a row of jagged rotting teeth, and terrified, I threw the baseball as hard as I could, wishing for it all to end.
Maybe our imaginations can run away with us sometimes.
I recently read Stephen King’s “It,” after wanting to see the new movie, but procrastinating long enough that it had left my local theater. Reading the book seemed a good substitute. I won’t review the book here, as it seems a foolish thing to do more than thirty years after the release of said book. Especially when the book is already considered a classic of its genre. My opinion seems rather inconsequential. I will say this, however: “It” haunts me.
I sit and think about why the book haunts me, and it is not just the story, its themes, and concepts I can’t shake. I’m haunted by the real life inception of the book. I’m haunted by the possibilities of what was going on in Stephen King’s head when he wrote “It.”
It would take a lot more writing than a simple blog post to really dive into this topic—and frankly, I don’t really want to dive into it—but boiled down to its essence is this: Stephen King wrote a horror book about terrible things happening to a group of eleven-year-old kids (six boys; one girl), and he began writing this book just a few months after his own daughter had turned eleven. Again, his daughter turned eleven, and King spent the next four years writing about terrible things happening to children of her age. He wrote things violent, he wrote things emotional, and he even wrote things sexual.
Now, I understand that as writers we very often take inspiration from our own lives to create stories. That is not a new concept by any means. I used my own experience with adopting a rescue dog to fuel the story of “The Dean Machine.” To a large degree, I get it. But I just can’t get past the idea of having an eleven-year-old-daughter and then writing “It.”
I suppose if I really think about it, it’s only natural to be afraid that certain things might happen to your daughter. You want to protect her from life and its pitfalls. Your mind might go to some dark places when thinking of the things you want to protect her from, and as a writer you might use your own fears to fuel your work.
But in “It,” the thing that terrifies, and abuses the little girl the most isn’t the clown, or even the outside world. The bad guy in her life is her father. It’s as if Stephen King’s greatest fear for his daughter, was what he might do to her. I can’t shake the feeling that Stephen King wrote “It” to scare himself. Like the book is his own personal worst nightmare.
I don’t know. I’m probably over thinking all of this. But I guess that’s what I find haunting. The idea that maybe our imaginations can run away with us sometimes.
Dylan Lee Peters is the author of the fantasy adventure series "Everflame," the sci-fi fantasy "The Dean Machine," and most recently the epic fantasy series "The Hands of Ruin."
All of my books take place in the same “universe.” What I mean by that is all of my books take place in and around our earth, but a parallel version. This sounds kind of strange, but it’s a very popular concept used in speculative entertainment (books, TV, and motion picture). The MARVEL cinematic universe is a great example. The adventures of the Avengers take place in and around earth, our earth, albeit a very different version. My books follow this same model, and I’ve provided a visual to help explain that, a sort of timeline.
While the Everflame series, and The Dean Machine have almost nothing to do with each other, elements of those stories come together in a new storyline that is The Hands of Ruin series.
The first and most obvious example of this is the introduction of Echo Valkzdokker in The Hands of Ruin: Book One. Echo was the main heroine of The Dean Machine, and The Hands of Ruin, in part, explains what happens to Echo after her departure from the hive. Her story is intertwined with the main characters of The Hands of Ruin and she has a prominent role in both Book One and Book Two.
The second example is the mythology of the Everflame series living on in the land of Ferren, a place featured prominently in The Hands of Ruin. In fact, the four tribes of Ferren are named for characters that fans of the Everflame series are likely to recognize (Whiteclaw tribe, Zehnder tribe, Andor tribe, and Tiber tribe). Below is an excerpt from The Hands of Ruin: Book One that describes two characters walking into the Temple of Origin, a sacred place in Ferren that celebrates the past history of the Everflame series.
• • •
The men walked into an expansive entrance chamber, with glass windows in the ceiling that bathed an ornately sculpted fountain in sunlight. It looked as if the rays of the sun were sent down from the heavens for no other reason than to shine on the fountain. Endemall was not going to admit it, but Gildwyn had been right. The Temple of Origin was impressive, and he found himself closing his open jaw for fear of looking wonderstruck.
“The fountain is sculpted in white stone and is hundreds of years old,” Gildwyn told Endemall as they walked through the main room. “I assume you recognize the likenesses of the Ancients.”
Endemall nodded, still silent in a reverence he hadn’t anticipated. The great sculpture was beautiful, a statue of three of the four ancient creators of man. Tenturo the griffin and Bahknar the dragon were standing back to back, while the beautiful mermaid Chera sat at their side, delivering water into the fountain from her gracious hands. Endemall knew all these deities from the stories of his youth, but he had never been as mesmerized by them as he was now.
However, the beauty of the fountain was nothing in comparison to the majesty of the gigantic mural painted on the far wall behind it. As the men passed the fountain and the sun’s rays now fell behind them, Endemall sighed audibly at the mural that extended up the entire thirty-foot height of the wall.
“You weren’t kidding, were you, Nye?” Endemall was floored.
“I assume you recognize the scene the mural depicts,” Gildwyn said.
“Of course.” Endemall was like a child at the foot of his heroes. “That’s the moon god, Densa, in his battle against the Great Tyrant, and above them is the sun god, Evercloud. My father used to tell my brother and me that story of old Earth almost every night before we were sent to bed. It’s like that mural was painted right out of my imagination.”
• • •
The final example of how my stories come together in The Hands of Ruin might be the most exciting for fans of the Everflame series. I don’t want to give too much away, but in The Hands of Ruin: Book Two we see the return of a major character from Everflame. It may seem farfetched given the amount of time that has elapsed between Everflame and The Hands of Ruin, but keep in mind that Ferren is a place filled with a mystical substance called zulis that Masters wield in amazing ways. Zulis can be used for good, and it can be used for evil. It can be used to destroy, and it can be used to resurrect.
Please check out The Hands of Ruin, and I hope you enjoy!
The Hands of Ruin: Book One is available for FREE on kindle, nook, iBooks, and kobo
The Hands of Ruin: Book Two is also available from the same retailers.
“The power of love is a curious thing.” – Huey Lewis and the News, Back to the Future Soundtrack, Chrysalis Records, 1985
Being an author, I think that I digest novels in a different way than most people. I still immerse and lose myself in the world of the author’s creation. I suspend disbelief, block out reality, and do my best to visualize what the author is writing about. However, when I read a novel there is also a part of me that is searching for the secret. Just like Cline’s protagonist in Ready Player One, I’m digesting every piece of entertainment with the secondary purpose of finding the hidden meaning that sits in the spaces between. I can’t simply allow the author to tell his/her story while I sit back and enjoy it. I have to be the jerk that interrupts them to ask a question that I refuse to save until they have finished. I don’t just want to know what happens in the story, I also want to know what the author was trying to evoke from the reader with each decision they made. And in the case of an author like Cline, who has found commercial success, I want to know how he hooks the reader.
It wasn’t hard to find the secret to Cline’s success. Ready Player One has you invested from the very beginning by using a very sly tactic: it will find something you love and use that to make you care. Namely, Cline uses nostalgia to pull at our heartstrings. Over the course of the first twenty pages, handfuls upon handfuls of entertainment references from the 1980s are slung our way because the book takes place in a futuristic society that is obsessed by that specific decade. Hmm, a society obsessed with the 1980s; why does that sound so familiar?
In truth, the majority of our society will forever be in love with the days of their youth. A time when life was simpler, when we still held to our romantic ideals and thought that the future held nothing but the promise of sunny days. It just so happens that if you fall between the ages of 25-45, chances are you have a bright shiny memory of the 1980s. If you fall into that age group, chances are you have a soft spot for the Super Mario Brothers, Star Wars movies, and the music of Duran Duran. Cline uses this nostalgia against you, and it works beautifully. Hundreds of references from the 1980s are woven deftly into his novel. Readers are bound to have very positive memories associated with many of them.
Now don’t get me wrong, Ready Player One is not all gimmick. It’s a fun read, with pace that is rarely lagging. Cline has a knack for science fiction prophecy that at least harkens to Orwell, and he managed to give an ending that was befitting his video game fetish. As a reader, I thoroughly enjoyed Ready Player One, and would recommend it to anyone. It is deserving of the accolades it has received.
Where Ready Player One truly finds it success though, is in the marriage of a good story with the power nostalgia has over all of us. In my hours away from the book, I found myself purchasing old movies I hadn’t seen in years, listening to my favorite 80s songs as I drove to work. I even downloaded a new ring tone, the theme music to Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, one of my favorite video games from my youth. My wife asked me: “Are you twelve?” And yes, she hit the nail on the head. Prompted by the reading of Ready Player One, I wanted to be twelve again. I wanted to watch Star Wars, play video games, and jam out on a frickin’ Keytar. I wanted to hold aloft my magic sword and say, “By the power of Grayskull, I have the power!”
As I stepped back from my wife’s comment and thought about it, I was amazed at how powerful nostalgia could be. Nostalgia had me spending money on things I didn’t need, and totally geeking-out. And it felt gooooood, like super-villain laughing about a can’t-miss plan to take over the world good. And that’s how I knew I had learned a secret to Cline’s success. I put a little sticky note on the writing portion of my brain.
Pairing a good story with nostalgia… that’s the power of love.
Dreams have always been an integral part of my creative process. I dream vividly, at length, and regularly. For a time during my youth, I imagined that everyone dreamed in the same way that I did. It wasn’t until open dialogue about dreaming, with friends and family, that I discovered dream patterns can be very different for every individual. I was stunned, frankly, to learn that some people don’t even remember their dreams when they wake. The thought was strange to me, mostly because my own dreams were so lucid, regular, and often left a deep impression on me. There have been many days of my life where the previous night’s dreams have affected my mood throughout the entire day.
When I was younger, I suffered through something called Incubus Attacks (though I didn’t know what they were at the time). An Incubus Attack occurs when there is discord between the sleeping mind and the sleeping body. The results can be quite terrifying because, essentially, you can dream when your body is awake.
These episodes didn’t happen erratically, and spontaneously, during the day. It’s not as if I had a form of schizophrenia. Incubus Attacks usually take place in the time when your mind is transitioning to sleep, or transitioning awake. It’s as if the world of dream bleeds slightly into the conscious world.
I was four years old the first time I can remember having an Incubus Attack. I had awaked in the middle of the night, and for one reason or another, left my bed. I looked out the window and saw, at a distance, Grover. Yes, Grover from Sesame Street. Grover turned, looked at me, and then began running toward my window, screaming and flailing his arms. Naturally, I began screaming, and my parents found me crying below the window in my bedroom.
I experienced many Incubus Attacks in my youth, but not all were so lively. Mostly, I would feel something touching me that wasn’t there, or I could hear someone yelling at me that wasn’t there. These specific attacks would usually occur as I transitioned to sleep.
The last graphic Incubus Attack I remember took place when I was fifteen. I woke in the middle of the night and sat up in bed. I looked into the corner of my room and found an orb, glowing and floating about four feet off of the ground. As I watched it, it shot a red laser beam toward the foot of my bed. I got out of bed and walked over to the light switch, which was at the other side of the bedroom, all the while keeping my eye on the orb. When I turned the light switch on, the orb was gone. I was alone, standing in my bedroom, wondering what was happening to me. It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I came across the term and realized that I had been having Incubus Attacks as a child.
Though the attacks stopped, my spirited dreaming did not. I would have to say that I have always had rich dreams on a nightly basis, with rare exception. However, it wasn’t until I began writing that I found a way to make my dreams work for me. In fact, the first two chapters of Everflame were from a dream I had. In the dream, I was Evercloud, the helpless child. I was prisoner to the events going on around me, and I can remember having some distinct connection with the bears that controlled my fate. The dream didn’t detail everything that I’ve written in those chapters, but I can still recall the memory of the mountain and the flame to this day.
As an adult, the types of dreams I have are what I call video game dreams. I’m usually in some life or death situation, where the circumstances are very fantastical, and I have to find some special object, or defeat some evil foe. Very often, the fate of the world hangs in the balance. I suppose I didn’t have much of a choice but to become a fantasy adventure writer.
The book I’m currently working on, The Dean Machine, has a lot of influence from my dreaming as well. The impetus for the book was a real-life event that affected me deeply, however much of the plotline comes directly from my dreams. I can remember being the main character of The Dean Machine, Dan Delacor. I can still feel the panic that overtook me as I ran from the great wall of Yellow City, running as far as I could from the clutches of the evil Chancellor Elgrey Vinsidian. I can remember, quite vividly, the confusion of wandering with my little dog, Dean, not knowing where we were. I can remember the sickness in my stomach as I discovered that I was… well, I won’t ruin it for you. Besides, the book is not finished, and who knows what I might dream up tonight.
And I suppose that’s the truth of my writing, and the source of my imagination. I have no method, no tactics, and no brainstorming techniques. I dream. I simply lay my head down and immerse myself in the unknown. I’ll try to keep you apprised of what I find.
ORIGINALLY POSTED 12/2/2014
As an author, you need to spend a good deal of time with words. Of course this is beyond an obvious statement, but we often look past the obvious in our lives to the detriment of fundamental mastery. Does a master woodworker not need to obsess over wood? Should the master arborist not have a devoted attention for even the simplest and most common of trees? Should I, if in fact I care about my craft, not look at a word as benign as ‘hello’ and wonder where it came from and why we use it? (According to the Oxford English Dictionary, hello is an alteration of hallo, which came from the Old High German word halâ, used especially in hailing a ferryman).
I think it is important for someone in my field to seek this information and have a curiosity about these things. Often, I’ve come across humorous and interesting words. What I wanted to share in this blogpost were a few examples of words and phrases that have left the modern lexicon for one reason or another, and I would argue that they should be brought back. For what reason, you ask? For fun, for perspective, or for no reason other than my own strange curiosity. You are welcome to whichever reason you prefer.
“Tell it to Sweeney!”
Meaning – what you say when you believe something to be untrue, meaning, tell it to someone who is dumb enough to believe it.
Usage – “You say a good book can’t have talking bears? Pfft, tell it to Sweeney!”
Etymology – “Sweeney” referenced the myriad of monikers used in England around the 1800s to describe the stereotypical Irishman.
Meaning – distant, reserved, aloof
Usage – “Isn’t it great how offish Dylan Lee Peters is? I wish I could be that offish!”
Etymology – comes directly from standoffish
Meaning – Drunk
Usage – “Poor Dylan Lee Peters has gone and got himself fuzzled again. Though, it does improve his writing.”
Etymology – derivative of the French word fusel, which means bad liquor
Meaning – A writer of books; an author
Usage – “Dylan Lee Peters is the best bookwright ever. Anyone who says different can tell it to Sweeney!”
Etymology – from book + wright. The word wright deriving from Old English and meaning ‘related to work.’
Meaning – To silently watch someone while they are eating, hoping to be invited to join them
Usage – “Dylan Lee Peters is going to groak you if you eat that taco in front of him. He will groak you like a dog.”
Etymology – I couldn’t find the origin of this word, but had to include it. If you know the origin, please post it in the comments.
ORIGINALLY POSTED 7/16/2014
You must figure things out on your own
So you have a manuscript, now what? Well, the truth is that unless you have a lot of financial backing, then you’d better learn to become a jack-of-all-trades. When I started out trying to figure out what I was going to do with the first Everflame book in 2009, I had no money. I was working a minimum wage job while going to school to get a degree in graphic design. I had to use the resources that were available to me. So, I used a graphic design program, Adobe InDesign, to layout Everflame, and then made it available at Lulu.com, a print-on-demand website. Lulu.com was free to use. They only charge you once you order a book. (Note from Captain Obvious: ordering one book is monumentally cheaper than paying a publisher to print a run.) Now, I was lucky that I had a great program like InDesign available to me, but I had to learn how to use it. It took long hours and persistence. Most computers have a program you can use to layout text. It’s up to you to master that program, as well as any other program or resource you may have to use. When I wanted to convert to ebook, I had to learn to do it myself and find a cheap resource to do so. Professional editing of a book costs roughly $2000. I had to improve my editing skills and resubmit versions of Everflame as I improved. The list continues, and you have to be willing to do research to figure out how to fix your problems and get what you want. Being a self-published author is a fight, and the more you can do, the stronger you will ultimately be.
Getting reviews is the key
The best thing you can have going for your book is good reviews, so spend time figuring out how you can get them. Reviews are the first thing a reader will look for before they will take a chance on your book. If you don’t have any reviews, no one will take that chance. Here is a dirty little secret for you. When I first released Everflame and had no reviews, I created my own reviews and posted them as other people. I had friends and family post reviews. I created online profiles of people that didn’t exist and used those profiles to review Everflame. Was it underhanded? Yes. Did it work? Absolutely.
You’d better have some thick skin
“This reads like a fourth grader's first creative writing assignment.”
Yup, that is an actual quote from an actual reader. Putting your work on the internet for others to read is fun. Another reviewer wrote that Everflame was literally the worst book they had ever read. Isn’t that wonderful? In the end, you have to remember that you can’t please everyone, and some people are just vicious. You take the criticism and work to get better. That’s all you can do. I’m sure those are not the last scathing reviews I’ll receive, but each one makes me grateful for all of the glowing reviews I get.
Get comfortable with promotion
In 2009, I advertised Everflame on craigslist under the free section. It was completely against the policy of the website, and the ad was taken down soon after, but I received a lot of downloads from it. In fact, I spent a lot of time that year finding places that I could post about Everflame online. I joined online fantasy communities just to talk about Everflame, and I filled out every free book listing I could find. I sent bookmarks to local bookstores. I did anything and everything I could think of that was within my meager budget. To this day, promotion is something I’m constantly looking to improve upon. My most recent ideas have been contests to promote fan interaction and I’ve also tried creating Everflame themed internet memes. (You never know what might end up going viral)
Never give up and never stop improving
All told, the number one thing that self-publishing has taught me is that you can never give up. You never know when or where your break might come, but you’d better be ready for it and willing to fight for it. I love writing, and because I have that love I know I will continue to work at and improve my craft. If you love writing, and are considering self-publishing your work, remember Densa at the end of Everflame 4: As the Darkness Waits.
I go forth with my love, knowing nothing can stop me now.
ORIGINALLY POSTED 7/10/2014
I have received comments and questions from readers in regard to some of the names that I use in the Everflame series, and I thought it might make for a good blog post to divulge how I created certain character names. Names such as Tomas and Ben Floyd have no real meaning behind them, they just happened to be the names that popped into my head at the time I was creating the characters. Names such as Evercloud have meaning, but are also explained in the books. “You are a mystery, my son, like a cloud that continues forever. No one can see through to what lies on the other side.” Yet, there are names that I chose for certain characters that were chosen with reason and purpose that the books don’t necessarily explain with clarity. You may have guessed at why I chose certain names, (if you have some knowledge of Latin, the meaning of a name like Lithlillian becomes obvious) but I figured I’d take out the guesswork on a few names for you. So, here… we… go.
The Daughters of Earth and Sun
There is no great mystery involved in how I named these characters. However, I was looking for more than just simple feminine names. I did want names that sounded feminine, but that were also grounded in meanings associated with the earth aspect that each daughter represents.
Harena – the word is Latin and means “grains of sand” or “a sandy land.” As I’ve already said. There is no great mystery as to why I chose this.
Dendrata – dendro- is a Greek prefix meaning “tree.” I simply changed the end of the word to make it sound like a woman’s name.
Nivalia – nivalis in Latin means “snowy.” Again, I made a slight change to the word.
Tallulah – is of Native American origin, and the meaning of Tallulah is "leaping water."
Aella – Means "whirlwind" in Greek.
Lithlillian – litho- is a prefix meaning “stone.” (Are you seeing a pattern here?) I thought Lithlillian sounded melodic.
Selva – selva is Portuguese and means “tropical rain forest” or “jungle.”
Amber – Amber is a semi-precious gem formed of fossilized tree resin, and the name may refer either to the gem itself or to its color. In the Hindi language, Amber is derived from Sanskrit, and means "the sky."
Other notable language derivatives:
King Aplistia – aplistia is Greek for “greed.”
The Kingdom of Nefas – nefas is Latin for “wickedness.”
Have any questions about other names in the Everflame series? Leave a comment and I promise I’ll answer your question.
ORIGINALLY POSTED 7/27/2014
I began writing the Everflame series in 2008 and didn’t finish As the Darkness Waits until somewhat recently. Spend six years doing anything and you’ll get attached to it. I don’t think it would come as a surprise to anyone to hear that writing the last bit of the Everflame series was hard for me. I don’t mean it was hard in the way that I didn’t know just how to end it, after all, I had known how I wanted the series to end since I began writing it in 2008, but it was hard in the way that ending a long relationship is hard. You are really leaving a part of yourself behind as you move on, for better or for worse.
It took two weeks of dragging my feet before I wrote the last chapter of As the Darkness Waits. I was masterful in my procrastination. It really was like a break up, I was avoiding it purposefully. I would recite the words to the mirror, convincing myself I had it right. I thought about it incessantly, even when I needed to be concentrating on other things. It consumed me as I ignored it, and I knew it wouldn’t let me go… until I agreed to let it go.
As I wrote the final words I felt pain. As bizarre as that sounds, it would be a lie not to admit it. I stood from my laptop, walked away, and stared out the window. I was free of Everflame, I was free of the characters, I was free of the land I had created, but I had torn a part of myself away for the prize of that freedom.
Days pass and you feel oddly as if you are in some sort of mourning. I was irritable, sullen and withdrawn. I quickly realized what writing meant to me, and what Everflamehad meant to me. Would I be able to get that back? I knew when I ended Everflame that I had also ended something of myself, but I had always assumed that it would be a part of me I could let go, a part that I could survive without.
My assumptions were incorrect. Yet, Everflame was done.
So I scanned over my new project; my new story; my new source. Could this new story fulfill the role in my life that I so obviously needed? Could I immerse myself into this new world and into these new characters with the same passion and purpose that first inspired the flame?
I’m happy to report that it can. I’m happy to report that I will.
I am 5000 words into the newest chapter of my life, and though I will take my time, cherishing everything that it gives me through the process of creation, I cannot wait to one day share it with everyone. The Dean Machine keeps my heart safe… stay tuned.