Epistle of Doff – Main Characters

NaNo 2013 kicks off at midnight—a few short hours from now. Figured I ought to post a final entry before the wordcount on that little widget starts climbing. >>>>>

I’m a visual dude. I write pretty visually. Thus, I’m popping my central Epistle of Doff characters right here. For easy reference. Image collection can be fun, but also frustrating. A lot of times, you have to get as close as you can and still twist the image a bit in your mind.

Doff’s story is set in an alternate present. All the world religions are woven into a syncretist faith known as Kamiism, which thrums with ritual and magic. The world is split in two—those who practice Kamiism, and those who do not. But even within those two halves, there are factions, individuals belief systems, those who embrace the magic in the world, and those who do not. Zealots & Squelchers. The faithful & the rebellious. Those who follow the established rules & those who blow them to bits.

Another aspect of this alternate present is that individual races no longer exist. Because of the longstanding interweaving of belief systems, there is little distinction in the color of the world’s inhabitants’ skin. They are all within a small range of nearly indistinguishable, lovely warm mid-tone. Race is not an issue in this world, but the characters have found plenty of other means to distinguish, judge, and rank one another.

Thus, I have to correct these source images in my mind, and paint them all in that beautiful tone.

Best - DoffBest - Athan


Best - Isca Best - Lazni Best - Matine Best - Ramsey Best - Tio

There they are: the central cast members. I have Pinterest boards for the other players, as well as the Iconography, Mythology, Settings, etc. The pitch for Epistle of Doff is here: https://johnlucashargis.wordpress.com/epistle-of-doff-the-most-blasphemous-monker/ [Subject to change, but I doubt by much. Because: far-thinking plotter.]

It’s almost go time! Breathe, my lovelies, breathe.

Epistle of Doff – Hands On Research #LucasArmKnitExperience

Athan - Knitting - Illustration

So an odd/fun/random/spur-of-the-moment thing happened.

It started with my NaNoWriMo project. The love interest is a trainhopping, attachment-free, badass. So, I decided he needs a hobby—something completely unexpected for that persona. And it needs to be something he can do to pass the time while catching out [i.e. riding the rails; hopping trains.] Something “soft”, traditionally “non-masculine”. I rolled through a few possibilities before settling on knitting.


Knitting is reportedly therapeutic. It’s a practical skill; need a blanket while on the road? Gank some yarn and make one. But I ended up with a slight problem there since the process can take a while…

Yesterday, while searching for images to represent this aspect of my character, Athan, I initially had a HARD time finding images of guys knitting. I was getting quite frustrated. Then Twitter folk helped my search. And one link led to another to another until I ended up creating an entire Pinterest board: Men + Yarn

In the process, I discovered Arm Knitting. That’s a thing??? Yes. A cool thing. Knitting using your arms instead of needles. And, using heavyweight yarn, the process goes quickly. Aha! A quick, no-tools-needed way for Athan to pass the time trapped in a rattling freight car. And since the world has an ingrained magic system where the purpose of an object [and thus it’s color, texture, density] can be warped, Athan has access to a limitless supply of “yarn”. He simply needs to transform tiny sections of the metal forming the train car.

As icing on the cake, this idea of weaving two separate skeins together is a perfect symbol of the central conflict my MC is facing. It’s also gloriously symbolic of the romance subplot. Perfection, I say.

Athan is highly gifted at warping & knitting. During long train rides, there is the obvious opportunity for him to teach that skill to my MC, Doff. Oh.the.moments. The symbolism. The ways Athan can playfully take advantage of Doff while his hands are bound in yarn cuffs.

But before I can write that into their story, I need to know how to Arm Knit, what it feels like. So, with the help of a YouTube vid: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqvC1xlm86U&feature=youtu.be, I learned. Today. For the hell of it, kinda accidentally, I ended up live-Tweeting my learning process & the emotions that went along with it. If you’re so inclined to check it out, I used the hashtag #LucasArmKnitExperience.

Quickly, folks tapped into my virgin arm knitting experience & turned it into a beautiful, fun conversation.

After the highs & lows, the successes & failures, photos became a necessity. So, obviously, an impromptu photo shoot  showing the end results of my first arm knitting attempt was required.

The whole live-action-learn-a-new-thing experiment was fun. Not only did I learn a new skill I can teach my characters, I also experienced the feeling arc of curiosity/frustration/peacefulness/accomplishment/celebration. Doff will feel that same progression. On top of all that, other folks decided to catch out with me. And, perhaps, I can recreate that excitement & willingness with Doff & Athan’s story.

I just need to write it first. NaNo, here I come.

Reference images for these two train kids & the rest of the cast of Epistle of Doff:

NaNoWriMo – One Thing I’m NOT Doing


So, for this blog post, this is me using Dragon NaturallySpeaking to dictate without any editing. So far so good. But if this goes like everyone in my other experiments than these words within a completely jumbled and out of whack.

See. Just like that.

I’m considering whether or not I should use Dragon Fernanda Reimann [TRANSLATION: for NaNoWriMo]. So far it’s not looking too promising. I’ll look another complete sentence that was written correctly. And that should be “oh” not I’ll. So frustrating.

Something is coming more of a pain in the bot or a headache that it is going to be helpful. See? That line doesn’t even make any sense. If I enunciate like I’m in speech therapy, then it will type perfectly like this sentence. But oh my gosh I can’t talk like that for an entire novel. [But see their, entitled the previous sentence correctly. But not this one. And it misspelled their. Again.]

So even though I might be fun to try and use Dragon, I believe the editing would be a nightmare. I don’t think it’s really do work Fernanda Reimann.

TROPES – An Exquisite Rabbit Hole

alice falling

Writers: You will deeply love me and curse my name by the Seven Suns after this.

Unless you already know of tvtropes.org… In which case, you are most likely well-versed in tumbling down this exquisite rabbit hole.

I can’t even put words to how amazing, inspiring, AHA!, and helpful this site is.

Looking to flesh out a character, or simply want to label one you already have?
Check out the Archetypes: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ArchetypalCharacter

Hunting guidance on a specific genre, or just want to explore what’s out there?
Check out the Genre Tropes: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/GenreTropes

Need to amp up your dialogue? Give it some variation and tap into new flavors?
Check out the massive list of types: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Dialogue

Need a…?

Want to…?

Curious about…?

Stuck on a scene…?


My apologies in advance.

[But not really.] Happy tumbling.


Navigation pointers: The site’s main navigation is awkwardly positioned at the bottom of the far left column. Once you open a specific page, dozens of hyperlinks will be nestled within the text. PRO-TIP: Depending on your browser setting, clicking these may automatically open a new tab. If not, hold down [CTRL] as you click, to generate a new tab. Or a hundred…

Developing A Raw Idea Into a Premise


It’s time for the next novel. Like many other psychopaths, I’ll participate in NanoWrimo [again] this November. Some writerly friends are also joining in the mass hysteria. What’s scary for me—on their behalf—is that many still have no idea what story they’ll be writing. Hell, I outline short stories & flash fic, so I can’t imagine beginning a novel without a SOLID, well-defined premise worthy of investing thousands of words and hours into.

That investment is too damn crucial to be left to chance.

It’s like settling for cheap fishsticks when melt-in-your-mouth sashimi is available at the other end of the table.

Constant waves of ideas batter the shores of my mind, bringing the little fishies close. Some get caught in the riptide, or flow right back out to sea. A few actually launch themselves on the beach and flop around until I toss them back in. Most don’t have the sacred combination of  freshness, strength, deep-diving ability, beauty, and tenderness needed to nourish an entire novel.

So how do I decide whether a concept is an idea-fishstick or premise-sashimi?

If an idea wants to swim near the surface for a while, I let it. It will either develop, morph, and flash silver in the sunlight, or it will sink out of sight. A few keep on bobbing. They tread water and refuse to go away.

When a concept lingers, I lob rocks at it. Does it have enough inherent conflict? Is it determined and feisty? Is it really a novel-length idea—something I want to spend months and months chewing on and living with? Is the concept unique? Is it weird enough to plumb & entertain my imagination? Does it sparkle? Does it burn? Is there at least one character begging me to tell his/her story? Is there gut emotional appeal at the heart of it? Does it break through the static of all my other thoughts? Am I kinda obsessing over it?

If a stubborn concept has stuck around this long, it deserves a chance. I haul it onto the sand and slice it open. I pick it apart and look at its innards, sample its freshness—its rawness. This filleting is done at my desk with pencil and paper, while driving, in the shower, upon waking, while clipping my fingernails, during meals. Few make it to this stage. Even then, about one in three concepts survive and move on to next level. And for me to haul it home, the concept has to be a big, juicy, tasty, gnarly Great White of a story.

Now I decide if this thing is truly edible. A lot of the testing has already taken place, but this is where I make sure. This is my (fish-analogy-free) development process:

How far-reaching does this concept go? How deep can I make it? Who is my MC? What does s/he want? What is stopping him/her from obtaining that? What is the core conflict? What subplots can feed into that central component? Can I interlace internal and external conflicts so they ride on parallel rails?  Who is the antagonist? For all characters: what is each one’s role and purpose, motivation(s), strengths and (especially) faults? What is the world like? What are its rules? How can I make this idea stand out from the millions of others out there? What are the settings? What do I already know about the topics involved? What do I need to learn? What emotions will this story elicit? What strings inside the reader will it twang? Can I tie ALL these things together in one gorgeous, beautiful whole?

Mic Check
This might seem out of place, but I draft the first scene at this point. Even before I know the nuances of the story, I know how it begins. Before I invest any more time in this concept, I need the assurance that there is a fresh voice waiting to breathe on the pages. This is all about style, and word choice, and what the character has to say in his/her own words. This might take a few iterations—like asking a ouija board the same question a few times—but the character should come alive on the page. Once I’m confident I can channel this character’s story and give him/her a voice, I keep developing.

By this point I have a haphazard pile of scribbled post-it notes, notebook pages, sharpied napkins, a OneNote file full of details. Which is cool and all, but do I have a solid premise? My way of testing this critical aspect is to write the pitch as though crafting a query letter. This takes a lot of work. Like, a lot, a lot. But, if the core of the concept is strong, the basic structure and details quickly fall into place. I don’t worry about “voice” at this early stage of pitch crafting. This won’t produce the final pitch, but this version should clearly show the premise, MC, conflict, and stakes. A second part of this process is then boiling the pitch down to a single sentence. If it feels close-enough-to-solid, I’m golden and move on to outlining.

At this point, I’m absolutely sure my premise is as solid as it can be. I still have months of writing & revision ahead of me, but I’m confident that I have sashimi. In such a subjective industry, I have no idea how the premise itself will be received by agents, editors, or readers. I can’t change another person’s tastebuds any more than I can change the type of stories which swim and splash in my imagination. What I can do is lay a firm foundation on which to build those stories. And if I continue that same level of purposeful development until I have a polished manuscript, there won’t be a fishstick in sight.


See the where this process led me in prep for NaNoWriMo:

Short Story: Until It Pops

water gun game clowns

As part of the Dark Carnival, I created a short story and an illustration using The Water Gun Game as inspiration.

I was an early-adopter, so was able to choose from a wide range of topics. Always loving a challenge, I decided to select a random element of the carnival—one which wouldn’t necessarily be others’ first choice, one which would force me to get the creative juices flowing. It was impulsive, a way of pushing myself. When I requested the Water Gun Game, I had absolutely no idea how I would creep it out or what the story would become. No concept, no characters, no dark twist. Nothing.

I went into this project with three things in mind:
1) Treat it like a novel. Include the elements of a complete arc, conflict, tension, rich setting, 3-D characterization, heart, surprise.
2) Somehow twist those things into darkness.
3) Infuse emotion throughout. Make the reader feel something.

Please judge me.

This is my first horror(ish) piece. I believe I met my challenge to myself head-on, but the point of sharing our writing with others is to spark something new, fresh & alive within them. It can be caring, new thinking, anger, love, dreaminess, self-realization, fear, ickiness, or a myriad of other thoughts & emotions. The point is: our words should rub something raw inside the reader. Our creations should have an effect not easily forgotten.

Until It Pops can be found here:

Be sure to thank & follow the ladies who provided the venue & will continue to work through the whole month of October to share the Dark Carnival imaginings of my fellow carnies:

How Hot Is Too Hot?

Man on fire 1

I like hot stuff. On a scale of vanilla to battery acid, I prefer food heat levels somewhere in the radiator vicinity.

A fear years ago while travelling down in Louisiana, my companion and I selected a loverly little spot to grub on some ribs. The waiter took our order, including what kind of sauce we wanted the ribs soaked in.

I sat up straighter, pushed my shoulders back, and looked him dead in the eyes. “Hot. Like, super hot.”

“As hot as you’ve got,” my companion added.

“The Inferno’s the hottest we suggest.” His top lip quirked up. “But we do have a sauce that’s not on the menu: Petey’s Insane in the Membrane Melt Your Face Off Sauce.


Mr. Waiter warned us. He tried to talk us out of slathering it on the ribs, and offered to bring a cup of Petey’s on the side. Helz naw! We were living the life. If we were gonna go hot, we were gonna go hot.

My companion & I tucked in our napkins. Kerosene fumes assaulted our noses as we closed in on the flammable meat. Eyes locked, we took our first experimental bites. The sting was immediate. We chewed, eyes watering, sweat erupting on our cheeks, not even pretending like the agony was worth it. Then the liquid lava kicked in. Holy hell was it insane. In our membranes, our tongues, teeth, tonsils, our very souls. We cried, coughed and chewed, somehow choked down the first napalm chunks.

And then our faces melted off.

Bread didn’t help. Drinking tea was like tossing water on a grease fire. We scraped our lips and tongue with our napkins—to no avail. Once the feeling returned to our limbs, we squeegeed the ribs with knives and napkins in an effort to strip off the incendiary barbecue paint. Damn that sadistic Petey and his murderous sauce!

Last week, I posted about a personal experience with an offer of rep and the reasons I declined. Going into the drafting of that post, I definitely weighed the risk of sharing it with the world. Sure, I could have kept it all tucked in, buried in the shadows, vaguely hinted at, or completely cloaked from interweb eyes. But I had a burning in my gut; sharing the experience would help others. This wasn’t just about me. And, perhaps, by openly sharing my experience, reasoning, and process, other querying writers might pause, and breathe, and assess an offer of rep not just with emotion, but also with tempered wisdom.

I know too many amazing writers who jumped at their first offer, only to regret that quick decision later.

So, tiptoeing onto the tightrope, I sought a way to share my story, while giving enough specifics to be genuine, but not too many that I’d tip over into unprofessional. I sought to be truthful, to speak with candor, while only naming one party—myself. Personally, I believe I stayed on the tightrope.

The positive response was overwhelming. Something in my words obviously struck a chord. My personal favorite DM: You’ve got balls of steel, man. Kudos. An agent took the time to send me an encouraging email regarding the post. Folks engaged in active conversation about the topic. Which is to say: this hush-hush thing was laid out on the table where everyone could see, poke, and discuss it.

As in all public things, which are open for judgment, my post received a few tsk tsk tsks.

My thoughts?
Opacity helps no one.
Transparency can actually hurt the sharer.
– But a Translucency exists between those two extremes.

And you know how random synergy seems to pulse through the writing community? [Eerie that…] Parallel conversations on complimentary topics cropped up. Things like a Twitter convo about how much is too much to share regarding rejections. And, in another synergistic moment, Oversharing was the focus of the loverly Fizzy’s post from earlier this week. And scroll back to @millercallihan’s Twitter feed from Wednesday to see her thoughts & advice.

If this isn’t apparent yet, in every facet of my life, I burn white-hot: creative ventures, work, relationships, emotions, humor, opinions, writing. Passion sears through me and ignites everything and everyone within warming distance. Rarely does any of that go up in flames. Instead, my life glows with heat, and adventure, and love, and surprise, and beautifully insane randomocity.

I have no doubt that some believe I burn too hot at times.

But some things remain opaque. There are things I absolutely know NOT to share. Specifics and stats you will never, ever know. These are the sacred things, the things which are nobody’s business but my own, things which—by sharing—would be of no help to anyone else. These things, while they may still blaze and spit flames, remain safely caged behind the fireplace screen and out of the public eye.

I’m curious what you all think. Some things are an enigma to me. Like how querying writers, as a rule, shouldn’t publicly share stats on rejections, but as soon as that writer is repped, those stats are almost a requirement in the announcement post. I suppose it’s okay to share that once-taboo detail once you’ve crossed into the promised land?

So, how hot is too hot?
What are the things best left opaque?
What are some translucent areas you feel are left up to circumstance & personality?
Are there times when you’re actually scared to Tweet or post something, out of fear that it might sour an industry pro’s view of you or your work?
At what point does a writer/author’s transparency cross from Inferno into Melt Your face Off with Cringe?

FTR, I don’t have a problem with sharing rejection info—to a point. I’ve posted a few pie charts detailing the different yeses and nos in my querying process. But I chose to share percentages, not numbers. Another off-limits for me is naming specific agents or agencies. Super blasphemous. As is submissions & rejections to publishers once over on the other side of the river in the promised land. For what my opinion’s worth. 😉

ADMIT ONE: Dark Carnival

The Dark Carnival


Darkened laughter, cackles, screams
Harmless fun, draped in night
Beneath the cotton candy fluff
A carnival which breathes your name


Step right up! Come inside!
Pen and Muse, and the carnies posing as writers & illustrators, invite you to explore the secrets of the Dark Carnival.
Every Friday in October, sneak close enough to smell the fried foods & feel the wind whizzing off the rides.
Step closer still, and let the tales of the creepy, eerie, strange, horrific & macabre seep into you.

Out of the kindness of my heart, I provide you this ticket for FREE Admission to the Dark Carnival.
The question you must ask yourself, is whether my heart has already been won over by its darkness.


Preview the topics, Writers & Illustrators.