Sunday, July 27, 2008


Up to this point I had never done any WWII research. In fact, most of my knowledge had been through watching war movies. But I knew that if I was going to write a WWII-based novel and eventually publish it, it had to be factual. So I spent a good three years reading history books and articles on the Internet. I watched documentaries and movies to have a greater understanding of why we were fighting this war. I learned about weapons and war strategy and about the underground forces that assisted the Allies in sabotaging the Nazis.

I searched for a specific German forest for the story to take place. I found the perfect setting in the battle of the Hurtgen Forest (often spelled Huertgen). This took place in September - November, 1944 just prior to the Battle of the Bulge. The Hurtgen Battle is not discussed very much in history books, because it was a part of the war where the U.S. and British forces suffered a lot of casualties and gained little ground for months. I got really inspired by this painting from James Dietz called "The Huertgen Forest Patrol."

The Hurtgen Forest provided the best setting for my novel because it was always foggy and rainy. Infantry soldiers gave it nicknames like "The Meat Grinder" and "The Green Hell." It matched the setting I had created in my original short story. I saw the G.I. centered in the painting as my hero Lieutenant Jack Chambers leading his platoon into certain doom.

One of the biggest complaints of the G.I.'s who had to go into the fog-enshrouded forest was the mist was so thick they couldn't even see the Germans. This inspired me to change my title from "The Refuge" to SHADOWS IN THE MIST.

Even though this is a supernatural horror novel, I wanted it to ring true and for the reader to feel a sense of realism. I wanted it to feel like you as the reader are experiencing the war as if you were a soldier in the platoon, and you can hear the explosions and feel the bullets whizzing by. To know what this felt like, I interviewed retired veterans who fought in the Hurtgen Forest. I learned what they ate and how they slept and what fighting the Germans was really like for them. I even traveled to Germany for three weeks by myself, with nothing but a backpack, camera, and journal, and walk through the very woods where the battles happened. Even today, the woods are creepy. Here are a couple photos I took.

To learn more about this story and see photos visit this page on my website:ürtgenforestgermany.html.

SHADOWS IN THE MIST is a cross-genre novel, combining military history, espionage, with supernatural horror. The supernatural aspect is actually based on historical facts about the Nazis and their fascination with the Occult. To read more on this visit this page on my website:

Because of all the research, it took me over four and a half years to complete the novel. But through the process, I discovered that researching a novel is just as much fun as writing one.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


Looking back now at my days at the University of Texas, it was both my screenwriting classes and creative fiction writing classes that led me to writing SHADOWS IN THE MIST. The story started out as a short screenplay that I wrote for one of my assignments. It was originally titled "The Chapel." Our assignment was to write a script for our favorite TV show. Being such the horror fan, I chose to write an episode of Tales from the Crypt.

"The Chapel" was set in WWII Germany, in a foggy forest. Four U.S. infantry soldiers are running from something in the fog. They're shot up, dragging one of their buddies who has a wounded leg. They take refuge in an abandoned Catholic church that's just rotting away out in the forest. The four soldiers are frightened, confused, and screaming at one another. We learn quickly that their entire platoon was just slaughtered and something unearthly was chasing them through the woods. They explore the church's basement for a better hiding place and discover a Nazi bunker where the Nazis had been practicing the Occult. At that time, I knew very little about World War II and did zero research. I just wrote what I thought was a fun horror story, and for some reason, made WWII Germany the setting. I literally wrote this off the top of my head. I didn't know what the soldiers were running from until I got to the end of the story. I believe I got an "A" on my thirty-page screenplay. I thought about submitting it to the producers at Tales from the Crypt, but the show canceled soon after I finished.

I loved "The Chapel" screenplay, but didn't do anything with it while in college. I was more focused on writing a couple of novels, developing my craft. Because I changed majors midway through, it took me five and a half years to finish college. I finally graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Radio/TV/Film with a minor in English. While my friends were getting jobs that matched their majors, I looked at the career world and said, "Now what?" There was no firm out there ready to hire an aspiring novelist and pay a big salary, or even a small one for that matter. So I got into video editing, cutting together corporate videos, TV commercials, and documentaries. Did this for the next fifteen years. It paid the bills while I continued writing on the side. Video editing has actually helped my writing, because it taught me how to compose and edit a story, and think in terms of scenes. I also learned how to start and finish creative projects.

Okay, back to writing Shadows in the Mist. During my early twenties, I went through a period of writing short stories and poetry, as much as I could churn out. It was a very prolific time. I plan to share some of these early writings in a separate blog. That's one of my next projects, so be looking for it on my website in the blogs section.

So during my Renaissance period, I came across my script, "The Chapel" and dusted off the pages. It had just been sitting in a folder. I read through it and thought how it was one of my most inventive stories, and here I was doing nothing with it. As writers, we all have stories or poems that are just stored away, waiting to be read. I was really getting comfortable writing prose, so I decided it would be fun to re-write my WWII horror story in the format of a short story fiction. It was fairly easy, all I had to do was change the tense from present tense to past tense and put quotations around the dialogue. I changed the title, calling it "The Refuge." I added a little more depth to the soldier characters and the Nazi Occult mystery they were desperately trying to solve. I tried to submit "The Refuge" to a couple of magazines, including Playboy, but I couldn't get much interest in it. So back in the folder the short story went, and it was forgotten about for years.

I have to share that at this point in my writing career I was getting really discouraged. I wrote and re-wrote my first novel SKINNERS on and off for about eight years. I was doing everything I could to publish my first novel. Back then we didn't have the option of self-publishing, just the old fashioned way: submit your manuscript to a literary agent. The agent represents the author and shops the manuscript around the publishing houses up in New York. Problem was for the life of me I couldn't get a literary agent. That became my biggest barrier. I was waiting months and months and getting so many rejection letters before an agent would even read my manuscript. I was extremely frustrated and was just about to give up on this whole career of writing novels. I decided to just take a break from it all. I put SKINNERS on the shelf and stopped writing for awhile.

Then in the year 2000, nearly ten years after I wrote the original screenplay "The Chapel", a producer/screenwriter I was working with named Tim asked to read one of my short stories. I gave him the revised story, "The Refuge," and he loved it. Tim kept telling me it was such an original story and could easily be expanded into a full-length novel. Inspired, I read through my short story, trying to imagine how I could expand the story from thirty pages to four hundred. I asked myself questions, like what led the four soldiers to the abandoned Catholic church? Who were the Nazis they found dead down inside the bunker? I just kept thinking about the story, visualizing it in my head like a movie. Then one morning I got the inspiration I was looking for as my creative muse filled my mind with a vision of how the story could play out as a novel, and perhaps even a movie. I felt such a surge of excitement I started writing.

I added a dozen more characters. Instead of four soldiers, I now had a full platoon. I added depth to my platoon leader, Lieutenant Jack Chambers. I gave him some back story that explains how he earned the nickname, "The Grim Reaper." Every protagonist needs an antagonist, so I created Lieutenant Pierce Fallon, Jack Chambers's nemisis. The two fought together in a platoon unit in Africa before everything went hell and both men ended up in an English hospital together with severe burns. I'm a sucker for a good love story, so I also added Eva, the love of Jack's life, an English nurse he meets while recovering in London. Most of the book and it's supernatural mystery take place once Chambers and his platoon go on a covert mission behind German lines and come across the abandoned church and discover the deadly secrets down inside the Nazi bunker. I also came up with a cast of Nazi villains, based on real Occult Nazis who were part of a secret brotherhood called The Black Order. This is true historical fact. The novel's opening scene takes place at the Wewelsburg Castle in Westphalia, Germany. This place truly exists. I show the Black Order, led by none other than Hitler's second in command, Heinrich Himmler, gathered like kights of the round table, which they did.

I came up with the idea of starting the novel with Jack Chambers as an old man suffering from nightmares about what he experienced during the war. This inspiration came from my own grandfather who would never talk about the war. Captain Dawson "Hank" Moreland" flew C-47's over Normandy, dropping off paratroopers and delivering supplies. You can read his full story on this page of my website:

As a kid, while staying with my grandparents, I once came across an army footlocker that was locked. I asked my grandfather what was in it. He said photos and letters from his war days. I asked to see them, but his eyes clouded over and he said he could never open up that locker. That filled my young, imaginative mind and I wondered what horrors my grandfather must have experienced. That he had this secret past life that he wouldn't share with the family. So the retired Jack Chambers is based on my grandfather. After a near-fatal heart attacked he is visited by his grandson, Sean Chambers, whom I based after myself. Jack Chambers finally decides to tell his grandson the secrets he's kept all these years. He gives him a war diary and it tells the whole story of the horrors that slaughtered Chambers' platoon back in 1944. Next I'll talk about I how researched the novel.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Brief History of Writing Fiction - Part 2

Spring semester of my sophomore year at U.T. I changed majors from finance to Radio/TV/Film. I knew I wanted to be a novelist first and foremost, but at that time (1989) there was no major for it, other than an English major.

I've always been a huge movie buff, so I studied film and screenwriting. I believe this helped my fiction writing, because I learned to write in scenes, and like movies, my novels are very scene-driven. I don't spend a lot of time with description or author monologues about philosophy. My characters play out scenes like actors; they do something to move the story forward, then I cut to the next scene. I like to keep the scene moving with dialogue. Being a film/video editor for the past fifteen years has helped me develop this concept of telling a story with dramatic scenes and intercutting them so they have a more powerful effect. I love cliffhangers and end my scenes with cliffhangers as much as I can to build suspense.

I also studied Creative Writing: Fiction, and learned how to structure and write short stories. My professor gave me some great feedback and I learned more that writing fiction is about crafting a story. It doesn't all get written perfectly in the first draft. I write many drafts, often thirty or more before I feel like a story or chapter is complete. I equate it to painting a picture. I'll write an initial scene from a place of inspiration. Write from the heart first and then let my logical mind work with it. I write it as I feel it in the moment, and that's my rough sketch of the scene. Then like adding details to a painting, I go back over the scene several times and add visual details, sound effects, tighten the action, and refine the dialogue to so it's efficient and powerful. Even though I write supernatural and horror, realism is very important to me. I don't like campy horror movies or books. I like horror that explores beyond the boundaries of what's seemingly possible and makes it feel real. I keep asking myself, "Does this ring true? Would the character really do this or say that? Can I make this scene even more riveting, more scary? Can I up the stakes? When writing suspense I often ask what's the very worst thing that could happen to this person? Then I put that into the scene.

Next, I'll talk about how my first novel, SHADOWS IN THE MIST, came about. Stay tuned.

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Brief History of Writing Fiction - Part 1

I discovered writing in college. At age 19, I decided to write a novel just for the fun of it. I also thought it would make me a millionaire quickly. Little did I know that becoming wealthy through writing novels was going to be a long and winding road.

So here I was attending the University of Texas at Austin Fall Semester, 1987. A Business Finance Major destined to be a banker or President of my own company. I didn't even know I had a creative side. Well, Christmas break of my Freshman year I had three weeks off and was staying with my parents, who then lived in Dallas. (That's where I grew up, by the way, in a little suburb called DeSoto).

While the Christmas season was in full swing, I brainstormed on becoming a novelist. Not to put out great literature, but because I thought it would be a profitable business venture. Back then I was a reader of mostly spine-tingling horror: Stephen King, John Saul, Robert R. McCammon and Dean Koontz. Stephen King was constantly on the bestseller list and every book he wrote became a movie. I wanted his success. I also read Dean Koontz's Watchers and Phantoms and I was a hooked Koontz fan for years. John Saul and Robert R. McCammon were also major influences. I loved reading mystery combined with fast-paced action and edge-of-your-seat suspense. I also loved stories that included monsters or ghosts. I enjoy the adrenaline of being scared or wondering what's making that strange noise in the basement. Just love it!

Anyway, I used to visit book stores and stare at all the cool book covers. Especially the small paperbacks. The artwork always captured my imagination and told me their own stories before even opening the book. I loved opening a paperback and smelling the pages. It was some kind of strange fetish I had, I guess, but it seemed like every time I was at a bookstore, I would flip the pages near my nose and inhale the words written there. Maybe that's how I became an author. I just inhaled the wisdom and creativity of those who came before me. Reading Marvel comic books also influenced my imagination.

So, back to my first horror novel at Christmas break. I started writing it in a spiral notebook. I came up with seven characters--all of them college students like me. The girls were hot and the guys were cool. I gave the book a really bad title called The Degba Dynasty. It was about seven college kids who spend Spring Break at a remote cabin in the Colorado wilderness. While hiking, they come across, of all things, an ancient pyramid in the Rockies that somehow no one has ever discovered. It was hidden in a thick forest where "man was never meant to go." At that time, I thought the concept could work. Now, after hiking near Boulder, and visiting towns like Aspen and Vale, I know there's no place in Colorado that man has never set foot. There are hikers and mountain bikers everywhere. Reality didn't matter back then. I was writing a horror novel for the sheer fun of it. I didn't need to get bogged down with whether or not the story was plausible.

Between Christmas and January of 1987, I defined my characters and outlined the plot. I returned to school for the Spring Semester and was pumped to write out the novel. We didn't have personal computers back then. But the university had a computer lab. I was there when it opened at 8:00 a.m. and they had to kick me out every night at 10:00 p.m. I discovered something about myself. I had a passion for writing fiction, and especially writing novels. I had never even written a short story. I just delved into my first novel and never looked back. I often describe writing a novel as visiting another dimension or a dream world. The fictional people around me seem so so real, so alive. I can see, touch, and hear everything around me. That's why I can stay in writing mode for six to twelve hours, only taking breaks to use the bathroom and maybe eat a little something.

Okay, I digress. The Degba Dynasty turned out to be a fun little story I wrote in about three months. It was violent, scary, and had some great sex scenes. I was a hormonal nineteen-year-old and didn't have a girlfriend, so I was living vicariously through my characters. I was also influenced by movies like Friday the 13th and Halloween. The basic premise was the seven college kids are out hiking and come across this undiscovered pyramid. It's buried underground except for the apex which juts out of the earth a couple stories high. They explore the pyramid's tunnels and discover some strange things in there (I'd rather not tell in case I decide to revisit this story and publish it later). Turns out there's a small town nearby with a bunch of hicks whose main role is to make sure no one ever finds the pyramid and leaks out that it exists. The backwoods hicks turn out to be alien half-breeds who can shape shift into seven-foot-tall creatures, something like werewolves, but with some alien features. I wrote this shortly after the movie Aliens came out. Both Alien movies blew me away and changed the way I looked at the horror genre forever. I was also blown away by one of my all-time favorites The Howling. So, I guess movies, even more than books, influenced my story telling. In fact, I'm often told that as people are reading my novels, they feel like their watching a movie in their heads.

Back to The Degba Dynasty. Once the college kids get caught exploring the pyramid and learn its true reason for being here, their lives become in jeopardy as the town of alien half-breed monstrosities wreak havoc on them. Then the book just becomes an act of survival.

My first version was a slight 120 pages, but I was proud of finishing a first draft of The Degba Dynasty. So proud that I paid thirty bucks to have it bound together with a solid black hardcover. I wanted to hold it in my hands and feel it as a book. Smell the pages. My mom and dad still have it sitting on their book shelf. Within four months I wasn't just a writer playing around with starting a novel. I had completed a whole manuscript. My story had a beginning, middle, and cataclysmic ending. It had romance, humor, scary scenes, tragedy, and incredible acts of heroism. It was horror, adventure, Sci-Fi, and mystery all rolled into to one book. Like I said, I was reading a lot of King and Koontz during that time.

After my real Spring Break was over and I got back to school, I wrote the second draft. By this point I was skipping all my classes and just writing all day long and into the night. My grades suffered that semester. All my finance and accounting professors wondered why my seat was always empty. Who had time to study? I was off in Colorado fighting aliens and saving the planet. I was also having the best time of my life. What more could a lonely, introverted guy ask for? My characters became my closest friends. A bit sad maybe, but I was a small-town kid trying to find myself at a university of thousands of students. I had grown up thinking that money and power were the pathways to happiness, but through my renaissance period my Freshman year, I was discovering that creative self-expression was the pathway. At least for me.

Well, I revised and edited my manuscript all the way until May. I was also reading a great writing book, How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey. I started learning the structure of a novel, as well as improving plot, characterization, and dialogue. I remember that May, the last day of school was approaching. I finished my second draft and the book was even better than before. I had added new characters and scenes and gave more history to the town and why they were hiding among us and protecting this pyramid.

I saved my entire manuscript on one floppy drive that I treated like it was plated with gold. Then tragedy struck. One day I go into the computer lab, slip the floppy into the computer for another writing session, and the computer blips and the screen reads: "Do you want to format this disk?" I didn't know what format meant, so I hit "yes." It deleted my entire manuscript. My only digital copy. Six months of typing--gone. I was crushed. A night of heavy eating of pizza followed. I couldn't believe I had lost my entire novel. Back then I was very new to computers. It was the late eighties and computers were mostly IBM, green letters on black screens, with a single floppy drive. I didn't know about backing up files. I just knew how to boot up and start typing then save to my floppy. So it was a hard lesson about computers and formatting disks, but it turned out to be a godsend. Did I give up? No. A true writer keeps writing, no matter what. Persistence, persistence, persistence.

I had the whole story in my head. I knew the characters by heart, how they talked, their attitudes, beliefs, likes and dislikes. So I went back to page one and started typing. What happened after that amazed me. The story began to flow out easily and differently than before. I was coming up with new scenes that were richer. The plot went off into new, exciting directions. And new characters began to emerge. New villains that were even more sinister. And the title changed from The Degba Dynasty to Skinners. After writing two drafts, the third came out even faster. Just a few months after deleting my manuscript, I had rewritten the entire book and had it saved on multiple floppies. A savvy novelist was born.

Through the process of writing my first novel in college, I developed a belief in myself that I was not only a committed novelist, but destined to one day hold a paperback of my book in my hands, hold the book to my nose, and smell the pages.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Adventure Begins!

Hi, and welcome to my blog. In the past couple of years, I've begun to see some successes from self-publishing my first novel, SHADOWS IN THE MIST, to landing two book deals, one here in the U.S. with Berkley/Penguin and one in Germany. SHADOWS IN THE MIST is being translated into German. It is also finding readership in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Denmark. Three years ago I was losing all hope in ever seeing my manuscripts in bookstores. I now have a literary agent, an editor, and publicist. I've seen both sides of publishing, as a self-publisher and working with a traditional publisher. My second novel DEAD OF WINTER is coming along great, and I'm finally realizing my dream to be a working published author.

The dream began back in college twenty years ago. (I turn 40 November 28th.) Amazing how time flies. Hitting my midlife crisis at age 35 really pushed me to finally get myself to complete my first book and just get it out there, even if I had to do it myself. And I did. I believe that any writer can complete a manuscript and get their work published. You just have to push past all the internal and external obstacles and keep going for it. Keep believing in yourself. As a published author and success coach to writers, my mission with my blog is to inspire others to keep following your dream.

My intent is to reach readers and writers alike. And to inspire people to read, write, and go after their own dreams. I'll even share about life in Hawaii and Texas and my travels, if your interested. I'll do my best to keep you entertained as I share the adventures of a professional writer's life. Thanks so much for visiting. More entries to come very soon.