Daily Thoughts 119: NeuroTribes

Cover art for NeuroTribesLately, I’ve been listening to NeuroTribes by Steve Silberman. To say I’m enjoying the book is true, and a bit of an understatement. I appreciate that it covers the historical context of discoveries around autism, painting portraits of the people. Silberman shows the horrifying history of how people have dealt with neurodiversity. It’s terrifying. I’m looking forward to finishing the rest of the book.


I’ve been busy this week and haven’t found time to work on my sketches or writing. I have a number of deadlines coming up for my courses, so that’s going to take most of my attention.

Annabelle: Creation

There’s a new trailer coming for Annabell: Creation. A prequel to the previous movie. Not sure about it.

Daily Thoughts 118: Favorite Authors

Cover art for VisitorWho are your favorite authors? Why are they your favorite authors? What is it about their work that you enjoy? When did you start reading books by that author? How has their work changed over the years? Which authors were a favorite but no longer are? Why not?

To reread, or not to reread?

That is the question. With a finite lifespan, as hard as it is to admit it, there is a limit to the number of books you’ll have time to read. Apparently, I can expect to read somewhere in the ballpark of 1,850 books if I live to a ripe old age. Not so many, is it? I easily have more books than that in my house (even more when you count e-books).

Given the facts (limits on how many books I’ll read each year and the number of years I might live), do you spend those limited book dollars on books that you’ve already read before? How many books do you read multiple times?

If I’m going to reread a book, it’ll likely be a favorite book, but not necessarily a favorite author (though often that is the case). Rereading, for me, means reexperiencing the book. Few books are enjoyable solely because of the surprise of the outcome.

Favorite vs. Bestseller

What would you rather have on your book cover, New York Times Bestselling Author or Tom Hiddleston’s Favorite Author?


If you’re going to ask questions, ask the hard questions!

I don’t much care about the bestseller lists. As I’ve posted before, I’m writing for my own reasons. I’d be far happier hearing that I’m someone’s favorite author (just not a creepy Misery sort of way). It doesn’t have to be Tom Hiddleston, it could be anyone and I’d be just as happy.

Favorite Authors

Who are some of my favorite authors?

  • Kevin J. Anderson
  • Clive Barker
  • Stephen Baxter
  • Terry Brooks
  • Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Octavia Butler
  • C.J. Cherryh
  • Julie E. Czerneda
  • Stephen R. Donaldson
  • Alan Dean Foster
  • Laurell K. Hamilton
  • Peter F. Hamilton
  • Frank Herbert
  • Stephen King
  • Anne McCaffrey
  • Frederik Pohl
  • Tim Powers
  • J. K. Rowling
  • Kristine Kathryn Rusch
  • Clifford D. Simak
  • Dan Simmons
  • Dean Wesley Smith
  • J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Karen Traviss
  • Sarah Zettel

That’s just looking around at books on my shelves. It’s a fairly small group, and not at all including everyone that I really enjoy. I may have missed some favorites. Even among my favorites, there are different degrees. Some authors, I’ll preorder the hardcover, might end up with paperbacks, e-books, and different editions (e.g., now collecting the illustrated editions of Rowling’s Potter series). Like classic Nintendo games, I find myself buying favorites more than once. I’ll buy copies to give as gifts. I’ll suggest them to other people.

I’d rather write books that people keep close and reread. Popular or not.

Daily Thoughts 117: Celebrate Creativity, and the Myth of Universality

Author's SelfieI’ve been thinking a lot recently about creativity and the ways that creativity gets judged and considered by others. I’ve written about having fun first and about allowing others to be bad (whatever that means to you). It’s a theme that I keep coming back to because people tend to have trouble with the idea. I thought I’d tackle a few of those myths because we are often more critical of ourselves than others. We can be very unkind to ourselves. Here are five myths and ways to dispell them and celebrate creativity.

Myth of Universality

This view holds artistic efforts up to an idealized view of what is universally good. It’s the sense that there is some sort of rubric that can be applied to any work and determine if it is good or bad. It may stem from scientific fields in which something may be more pure or measured with increasing degrees of accuracy. When Cavendish measured the density of the planet, he set a new benchmark for future measurements.

By this myth you could picture a software program that could analyze a novel, painting, or a piece of music, and measure the degree of ‘goodness’ in that work. It may not exist, but we act as if it does exist in our heads.

I see this in the library during conversations about books. Someone might say that James Patterson’s work is terrible. I have to laugh. Patterson and his co-authors have created a genre around his name. Like many other genres, it includes many subgenres of thrillers, mysteries, teen fiction, etc. Readers picking up one of these books anticipate an experience that they associate with the Patterson genre. Each reader will determine for themselves whether or not they are satisfied with the experience provided. Someone else may hate Patterson’s writing, his popularity, his method of working with other writers, the way he laughs, or anything else about him. If someone loves a Patterson book, the person who can’t stand him may look down on that person because Patterson’s work doesn’t meet their idea of ‘good.’

The fact is (like it or not) many people like books (and movies, comics, etc.) that you don’t. Writers can turn bitter, wondering why their work doesn’t get whatever they think it deserves while works they consider inferior achieve success and acclaim.

Nothing—not even Patterson—is universally loved, obviously. Yet a writer may publish a book and despair when it doesn’t meet dreamed of success or recognition. Or the writer may find themselves depressed over negative reviews, discounting positive response. The truth is, neither matters.

It comes down to a question of extrinsic versus intrinsic rewards. A novel, or a story, or a poem, is an internal meditation shared with others. Or not. It doesn’t matter. If it is shared, whether anyone likes or dislikes it has nothing to do with the writer’s experience of creating the work. This is true of all art.

Some works of art achieve wider acclaim, providing greater external rewards to their creators, than others. The lack of that sort of response, or a negative response, should not retroactively change the experience the creator had while creating their art. Imagine watching a movie of a joyful solitary child playing in a sunny field. Do you feel the need to criticize how the child plays? To comment on their technique? To point out flaws? To explain how you would do it if you were playing? Maybe their game doesn’t appeal to you. That’s fine. Move on. Find a game you enjoy and simply appreciate the diversity of our creativity.

You’ll Float Too

Because, you know, let the good times roll.

Daily Thoughts 116: Writing for Fun

Author's selfieWhen I was younger and decided I wanted to write, I had a very clear dream. I wanted to make a living writing. Everything fed my writing. My grades improved. I wrote stories and novels. I submitted my work to markets and gathered rejection letters from the time I was a teenager and onward. Even as I got older and my life changed, making a living remained the dream. A couple years ago that all changed.

Having Fun Writing

I ditched the stress I put on my writing. I let go of the dream. I didn’t let go of any of my true plans for my writing, of having fun creating the books and stories I wanted to write. I had let go of external validation. Sure, I like it when things I write are read and enjoyed. I’m very grateful to anyone that purchases a book. I deeply appreciate the support.

The fact is that I have a richly rewarding career working in libraries. The library makes a difference in the lives of the users. As I write this, I’m sitting in one of our smaller libraries (2,112 sq ft) while a couple young boys play with Thomas the train tracks and their mothers watch, intervening over squabbles. Other library users spend time on the computers, get library cards, or borrow material. Even in this small Northwest town library, people are making use of the library. It has an impact on their lives.

Unfinished self-portrait sketchThe point is that I don’t need to making a living writing. I’m free. Free to experiment, to do whatever I like with my writing, illustration, games, and all the rest. I don’t have the financial pressure on what I write, at least not to the same extent. Library work doesn’t always pay well and as a single-income household, any additional financial support is much appreciated! It’s not that I don’t want to generate income with my creative work—I definitely do! As I said earlier, I deeply appreciate the support. Like anyone, we have our share of debts I’d like to pay off and all the rest. I think it’s only fair and reasonable for creators to be paid for their work! I happily throw money at my favorite creators (such as Matt Dixon’s latest set of books on Kickstarter, available to pre-order if you missed it).

I’m looking forward to the rest of the year and new progress on my projects!

Daily Thoughts 115: Mice and Mystics

Author's selfieGetting things done today, hanging out studying, reading, watching lectures, and playing an incredibly complicated, cute, and involved RPG—Mice & Mystics. Playing the game wasn’t just for fun (though it was that), it was also for a class assignment. Yep, I got to play a tabletop game for class today!

Mice & Mystics

Thanks to Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop on YouTube, we’ve discovered many fun games. This one combines RPG and tabletop elements into a fun fantasy adventure. A complicated adventure. For a sense of that, check out the first video on how to play.

We took pictures and stopped playing. Why? Because figuring it all out made my brain hurt! I gradually developed a headache and needed a break so we stopped after clearing the first room, flipping it and starting on the next, leaving our mice in the raging waters below and surrounded by cockroaches.

Daily Sketch Challenge

Mice and Mystics sketchInspired by the game, I attempted a short sketch. I didn’t get as far as I’d have liked. The weird thing? The unoccupied hammock chair moving in the background. Spooky.

Under the Bridge

Cover art for Under the Bridge

Devon found the streets better than the risk of living with his father. Even when he slept under a bridge instead of in a bed.

He met all sorts. Or thought he had, until he met the shirtless kid. A freak of some sort, but okay.

Getting out of Aberdeen, that was it for Devon’s plan. He never expected where it would lead him.

A standalone story in the Goblin Alley universe.


Devon hitched his backpack straps up over his coat’s padded shoulders. The coat pulled tight across his chest. It was too small and purple, but it was warmer than no coat at all. He peered up at the bright gray skies with suspicion.

It wasn’t really raining right now. Not as cold as it had been lately either. He rubbed his nose on his sleeve. Flowergies, the lady called it. That wasn’t right. He knew that. Allergies was the word. But the lady in the yellow caddy had called it flowergies, and he liked the sound. It was better.

The lady wasn’t his mother, but he wished she were. She had given him a ride back to Olympia from Aberdeen, that was all. An hour out of the rain, out of Aberdeen, and out of his father’s reach. Devon had long since given up worrying about whether or not his father would come looking for him. The bottom of the next bottle was the limit of his father’s focus.

Devon kicked at the cracked asphalt at the edge of the path. He could head on up Boulevard, maybe check out around Ralph’s Thriftway to pick up something to eat. Then down to the library when they opened, but that wasn’t until eleven anyway. The sun was just up, so that was hours away.

Better to move on out from under the bridge anyway.

Someone sniffled.

Devon turned, looking around carefully. Up on the other side of the bridge, across the stream and right up between the dirt and the bottom of the bridge a small gray shape moved in the shadows.

Jeez, a little kid. At fourteen, Devon had seen other kids living outside. Some with adults, so not. This one had been quiet, he hadn’t heard the kid when he settled down late last night.

It was hard to see anything except ratty blond hair, what might be a gray hoodie and a skinny little body. The kid was all tucked back up into a ball just in the dirt. No pack. No blankets that Devon could see. It was warmer last night, but still plenty cold.

“Hey, Kid?”

The little kid squirmed backward further under the bridge.

Scared. Who could blame him? Devon kicked another piece of asphalt. His stomach growled.

Hell, he’d tried. He wasn’t going to risk falling into the stream and go climb up there. What good would it do?

“Whatever,” Devon said. “I’m heading out anyway.”

He left the cover of the bridge and started up the trail to the switchback that would take him up to the road. It wasn’t that far to walk down to Ralph’s, and someone might help him out with bus fare money. That was the easiest. People coming in and out would give up a couple bucks for bus fare. Not that he’d use it for that. Why would he? He could walk anywhere the bus went.

Rocks rattled behind him.

Devon didn’t stop walking, but he slowed down and glanced back. The kid was standing on the dirt slope. Dust rose from the rocks that he had dislodged sliding in the loose dirt.

Big white eyes stared at Devon, white except for a big dark pupil. No iris at all, it was freaky. The kid’s whole body trembled. He was just like a rabbit, paralyzed for a moment before it bolted off into the bush. Except there was something wrong with the kid.

For one thing, he was skinny. His rib cage showed easily through his gray skin. It wasn’t a hoodie at all. He wasn’t even wearing a shirt — it was his skin that was gray. He did have on pants at least, a pair of worn, holes-in-the-knees blue jeans.

And he was sort of hunched, with a hump that Devon had taken as a hood on his back. More than that, the kid had thick spikes sticking out of his elbows and a jutting underbite with two fangs or tusks that thrust up out of his mouth.

That wasn’t right at all. Devon’s breath caught in his throat, and he forced himself to take another breath. The kid was some sort of freak. Like a mutant or something from comics.

“Hey,” Devon said, and his voice cracked. He flushed and took a breath.

“It’s okay, right? I was just going?” Devon pointed up the trail.

The kid’s fat bottom lip stuck out more. He said something, but it was all gibberish as far as Devon was concerned. Not only was the kid a mutant freak, but he also didn’t speak English.

Whatever this was, it was some deeper shit than Devon wanted to get into.

“Look,” he said. “I didn’t understand that, but I’m going up there. To get food, okay? I’m hungry.”

Devon patted his belly for emphasis.

The kid drew his hands into together into his belly, clenching them tight and wincing.

Shit. Shit. Devon looked away, rubbing his jaw. He couldn’t go out there, not with the kid looking like this. It would screw everything.

He shifted his pack, and the coat pulled on his shoulders. Hell, it was getting too small anyway. Maybe he could get a poncho or something, then it could cover his pack too which wasn’t waterproof.

Devon slung off the backpack and unzipped the coat. He pulled it off. A couple fluffs of white stuck out of the places where the outer fabric had gotten snagged, but it was still a decent enough coat. The air was a lot cooler without it, but not bad. He still had his hoodie and two t-shirts on which was three layers more than the mutant kid.

Picking up his backpack, Devon held the coat out toward the kid.

“Here. If you’re coming, you’ve got to cover up man. People will stare.”

It was crazy anyway. What did he need with this kid? He could find someone, maybe from social services but any kid like this was going to have a hard time no matter what. And was it really up to him? The kid was out here for a reason, probably. Looking like that didn’t help. The kid couldn’t do what Devon did to pass himself off as someone just trying to get home. It’d get harder in a few years when he was older, but maybe by then he could get a job or something. The main thing now was staying on his own. That was safer.

The kid still hadn’t moved. Devon lowered his arm. “Look, if you don’t want it, I’ll keep it. It’s kinda getting small, but it still helps keep me warm. I can just leave.”

He took a step away.

“Bak! Bak!” The kid jumped down the loose slope, stumbled and nearly fell.

An instant later he was up, jumping up on the concrete footing. His feet were bare, dirty and had thick claw-like nails. He jumped off the concrete and landed knee-deep in the stream with a splash.

“Bak! Bak!” the kid said again as he splashed across the stream.

Reaching the other side he stopped, wrapped his arms around his middle and shivered. His pants were now soaked nearly to his crotch.

“Jesus Christ,” Devon said. He pitched the coat at the kid.

It fluttered to the ground in front of the kid who just looked at it and back at Devon.

“Put it on,” Devon said. “Or not. I don’t care. I’m going.”

He turned around again and started walking. This kid was too freaky. He needed to just get out of this. He had tried to help — had even given up his coat — so that was enough.

He heard the coat rustle and didn’t look back. I’m going up to Ralph’s, that’s it.

There was the sound of a zipper, and then feet slapping the asphalt trail. Devon looked back. The kid was running up the trail and stopped when he saw Devon looking.

The coat swallowed the kid like a purple coat-monster. The kid had the hood up, which helped hide the fact that his face and eyes were so weird. It hung down to his knees. It didn’t do anything for his feet, but if the kid sat down with his legs crossed and kept his head down no one would notice anything.

Well, they might get more bus fare if they were brothers trying to get home. It was worth a shot.

“Okay,” Devon said. “You can come. Let me do the talking, okay? ‘Cause they wouldn’t understand you anyway. I don’t know what language you’re using, but I haven’t heard it.”

The kid didn’t move. Probably didn’t understand a word Devon was saying.

Devon beckoned. “Come on. Let’s go.”

The kid took a couple more steps closer. Devon smiled and nodded. “Good. Keep up.”

He started walking, and the kid followed, soon catching up to walking right behind Devon. It was sort of freaky, having him right behind him like that, but each time Devon moved to one side or the other the kid also moved, so Devon left it alone.

They went up the switchback to Boulevard and then on down over to Ralph’s. It didn’t take too long to get there. Along the way, Devon explained the plan.

“I don’t know if you’ll understand, but maybe we can figure it out.”

When they got to the store, and there were people about, the kid walked so close he was nearly attached to Devon’s butt. It was impossible to do anything with him so close.

Devon led him over near the bus stop, but not on the street side. Devon turned around, and the kid stepped back, blinking his big eyes and his lip bulging out over those fangs. The kid needed some serious dental work.

Devon pointed at the ground. “Sit.”


The kid said it so seriously that Devon couldn’t help but grin. The kid’s grinned back and showed off a hellish display of sharp teeth. It wasn’t just those big fangs, but his other teeth were also pointy and sharp.

“Yeah, no,” Devon said. “Sit, not shit. You don’t want to shit. At least I hope not.”

The kid closed his mouth and didn’t move.

“Like this. Sit.” Devon sat down on the ground, crossing his legs.

“Sit.” The kid sat down in front of Devon.

“Great!” Devon stood back up.

Immediately the kid popped back up. Devon shook his head. “No, no. You sit.”

Slowly the kid sat back down. Devon smiled. “Good. That’s right. Wait there.”

Devon backed away, and the kid whined, just like a puppy or something whining. Devon came back closer and crouched down.

He pointed at the low brick wall of the grocery store. “I’m going to get food, okay?”

He pantomimed eating.

“I’ll come back here.” He pointed at the ground, and then the kid. “I’ll bring you food, okay? You wait?”

“Wat. Wat. Bak.”

Good enough. “Right, wait here. I’ll come back.”

There wasn’t anyone standing at the bus stop in the rain, and even if there was, a lot of the bus riders carried passes, not cash. At least not that they’d give it up.

People shopping, those were better. They had cars and felt bad for anyone needing to catch a bus in the rain.

A young couple came out of the store right as he got closer. They looked like a possibility. He looked back. The kid was still sitting there, hunched in the coat, he did a great job of looking miserable.


He hurried over to address the couple before they were gone. “Excuse me, I’m embarrassed to ask this but my brother and I —” he pointed at the kid, “— are trying to get home to Yelm. Could you help us with bus fare?”

The woman was already shaking her head before he finished, but the guy reached for his wallet. “I’ve only got a couple bucks, I’m not sure it’ll be enough.”

“It’ll help, thank you,” Devon said.

He accepted the wrinkled bills that the guy pulled out of his wallet, pretending not to notice the twenty the guy tried not to let him see. The woman wasn’t happy even with what he got.

“Thank you,” Devon said again, as the couple moved off.

He stuffed the bills into his pocket and walked back to where the kid waited. When he got close, the kid looked up.


Devon shook his head. It had to look good for the couple. “No, not yet. I’ll be back. Wait here. That’s good.”

“Wat,” the kid said, slumping.

“Yeah. Hang in there.”

Several rejections, and a couple givers later, Devon had eight dollars in his pocket. Plenty for now. Stick around too long, and there was the risk that one of the store employees might tell him to leave. Through it all the kid stayed where he was told.

Devon went into the store and came out with a day-old loaf of bread, some string cheese and a bag of older discount fruit. All of it perfectly fine, but people didn’t want to buy apples if they weren’t flawless. It was crazy, but they’d pay way more for waxed and polished apples than one that had a tiny ding in the skin.

He carried the bag over to the kid and held it up. “Hungry?”

“Shit wat?”

Devon laughed. He motioned for the kid to get up. “No more waiting. No more sitting. Food. Let’s eat.”


Devon handed the kid a string cheese. The kid hooted and quickly pulled the plastic open and took a big bite. That was good, Devon had thought he might have to show the kid how it worked.

“Eat, that’s right,” Devon said. “Come on. Let’s walk while we eat.”

The kid was obviously hungry. He finished the string cheese and looked confused about what to do with the wrapper until Devon took it and put it back into the bag.

He handed the kid slices of bread, and an apple, and there was even more hooting. Then the kid looked between both hands like he couldn’t decide what to eat first. It was so funny that Devon laughed again.

“I’ll tell you,” Devon said around a bit of string cheese. “That scheme with a younger brother and all, it worked great. Even when it didn’t pay off, it was still better.”

The offers to call a parent had taken some explaining. No cell phones at the construction job where their Dad worked, seemed to take care of suspicion. It was a good line for those people.

Walking down the hill, Olympia spread out below them. Lots of houses, and businesses in houses in this part, but down there was the downtown area. It was nicer than Aberdeen at least, especially down on the pier and that area. When it was nicer he liked to go up around Capitol lake and hang out, read library books.

Not today though, not with this rain. At least the kid was walking beside him instead of right on his butt like before.

He looked at the kid, finishing the apple, all of it even the core. The kid just munched through everything. “You want to go to the library?”


“Lie bare ee,” Devon said.


“Close enough. Yes. The library. They have books, computers. You can get online. Places to sit. It’s not too bad if you don’t attract attention.”


“Yes, great. We’ll go there.”

The kid finished the last of the apple and eyed the bag Devon held. “Fud ut?”

“Not now,” Devon said, switching the bag to his other hand. “Wait. Later we’ll eat more. Got to make it last.”

“Wat ut?”

“Right. Wait to eat.”

The kid made a grunting noise and kept walking.


They’d gotten as far as Chestnut when Devon turned to head over to 8th and get over to the library, when the kid suddenly hooted and ran ahead of Devon.

“Hey, wait!”

The kid stopped a second later at the mouth of an alley. It was a dirty old pink building on one side, and a rusted metal building on the right. There was one of those big new State buildings or something across the street, but the kid was just staring into this alley like it was something special.

Devon didn’t see anything unusual. A narrow paved strip, some weeds and dirt along it between the buildings. Nothing exciting.

“What is it?”

“Gob bak! Gob bak un wan!”

Devon shook his head. “I don’t understand kid. The library isn’t that way.”

“No liberery, gob bak un wan!”

Getting nothing from Devon the kid blew air out of his wide nostrils like he was trying to get rid of snot and then headed off up the alley.

What the hell? Devon stared after the kid walking along swallowed in the purple coat. After everything that Devon had done, the kid was just leaving? What was down there anyway? It didn’t look like the alley went very long at all, just to the ends of those buildings before it opened up on one side to a parking lot or something.

The smart thing would be to just leave the kid here. Obviously, he wanted to go that way for some reason, he was a mutant freak of some sort, so who knew what went on in his brain? That might not even be a language he was speaking, but some sort of gibberish that the kid had made up himself.

He might even be dangerous.

“Gob bak un wan!” The kid jumped up and down and started running.

Hell. Devon took off after the kid, sprinting down the alley after him. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid!

But he couldn’t just ditch the kid. Not now.

The little guy was fast, but he was small. Devon’s longer stride quickly closed the distance. The kid was just out of reach when he went all blurry. A bright light hit them, flooding the alley and lighting up the big brick building that rose up several floors on the right side of the alley.

Devon put on the brakes. The kid was dancing in a circle in front of him. Devon squinted against the light, raised his hand to shield his eyes and turned to look up at the massive building that hadn’t been there a second ago.

Four stories tall, balconies with sliding glass doors, some sort of apartment building or something. There were plants and clothes hanging out. And on one balcony a massively large woman with a tiny white thong disappearing between her twin globe pink ass-cheeks. Not a pink like she was flushed or something, but a pink-pink, a medicinal pink. She was wringing out something, and then flicked it out onto the railing.

Devon looked back at the kid. He’d thrown the hood off and beamed up at the bright sun in a crystal-clear blue sky.

“See?” The kid said, perfectly clear. “Goblinus! Back home!”

“You’re back home?” Devon said. It wasn’t just the apartment building, the building on the other side was concrete and even taller, rising up to glass and steel at least ten or twelve floors up. And beyond these two were more buildings, and past them a street that teemed with people walking. There were voices, bells ringing, something hammering somewhere, a dog barking, but no sounds of traffic. Even with all of the noises, it was quiet.

“Wait,” Devon said. “Where are we? How’d we get here? And how come you can talk here?”

The kid laughed. “It’s Goblinus! Everyone understands here, duh! But you should go back.”

The kid looked around. “Now. We have to go before the Royal Guard shows up. You’re not supposed to use the Goblin Alleys.”

“The what?”

The kid came at him, pushing his hands at Devon. Devon backed up.

“You need to go back!”

Devon turned around. The alley stretched on behind them much longer than it had a moment ago. And the big state building wasn’t there. Instead, there was an even taller building of dark glass and steel that climbed up at least twenty stories. A pedicab rolled past the alley being pedaled by a muscled shirtless guy. A guy with green skin, and tusks like the kid except smaller.

“Go where?”

The kid grabbed Devon’s arm. “Come on! The way back is closed anyway. We’re too late.”

Someone screamed, back up the other way. There was a sound like hoof beats.

“Come on!”

The kid took off running back down the alley toward the big dark building that hadn’t been there a moment ago. The sound of hoof beats was getting louder, and there were snorting and squealing noises. Shouts and more screams.

Yeah, maybe the kid had the right idea. Devon sprinted after him, the bag of food banging against his leg as he ran.

They left the alley, and after that the kid was in charge. Devon kept on his heels now, bewildered by the changes all around them. This wasn’t Olympia. This was big and insane. There were normal-looking people, but they were out-numbered by the strangest people that Devon had seen. Like the kid, many had tusks, but they came in different sizes and skin colors that definitely were not normal.

The kid mostly went West, zig-zagging through streets and alleys. Finally, he slowed down and stopped running so fast. They were on a quiet street. The kid stepped over into a doorway and leaned against the chipped concrete wall. He grinned up at Devon.

“Lost them, I think.”

“Lost who?” Devon moved into the opposite side of the doorway, watching the street. No one was paying attention to them.

“Royal Guard, Boar-riders. Navigator’s Guild doesn’t like people using the alleys without a license. You’re supposed to register.”

“I’m so confused. Start over, where are we?”


“What’s that?”

The kid shrugged, gesturing at the buildings around them. “The goblin city. You really don’t know?”

Devon shook his head.

“Weird. The Goblin Alleys connect Goblinus to every city on the Otherside, where you come from.”

“And there are goblins? Are you a goblin?”

The kid’s lip curled. “Naw. I’m a troll. Goblins killed my parents, made me a servant. I ran away when I sensed the alley connection, but then I couldn’t get back.”

The kid glanced out and around. “Looks like you’re stuck now unless we find another connection.”

It was incredible, but Devon couldn’t deny what his eyes were seeing. A woman walked past in the street. She was tall and elegant, with flowing white hair and eyes that didn’t have any color to them, like the kid but she didn’t look much like him otherwise. There were others, men and women, with her, but they wore thick body armor and carried guns openly.

“Who are they?”

“Trow,” the kid said.


The kid shook his head. “Trow, and I’d stay out of their way too. Evidently, there’s a whole big thing going on with the Goblin King, the trow, and the Erlking.”

“Who’s that?”

“He leads the wild faerie. Come on, we shouldn’t stay here.”

The kid stepped out of the doorway.

“Wait,” Devon said.

The kid looked up at him from the purple coat.

“What’s your name?”

A big toothy grin split the kid’s face. “Evil Boy.”


The kid smirked. “That’s what the goblins called me. I don’t remember my troll name.”

Devon chuckled. “I’m not calling you Evil Boy. How about Neville?”

“Neville? Okay. Yes! I like it. What’s your name?”


Neville nodded. “Okay! Let’s go.”


With no other option except to trust Neville, Devon followed the troll kid through the goblin city. It was obviously huge, bigger than any city he’d ever been in. Both Aberdeen and Olympia would only make small sections of this city. At one point Neville led them up a small hill, but even looking back down the street there was no end in sight. An orange smoggy cloud hung over the city to the South, but they were moving away from that section. The oddest thing was the lack of cars. It was just people and bikes and pedicabs. Even some on horses, and once he was sure he saw an elephant down one street before it passed out of view. In the clear skies overhead a massive zeppelin floated through the sky.

“Where are the cars?” Devon said as they walked.

“Only on the highways,” Neville said, gesturing off into the unseen distance.

“Are there subways?”

“Some districts do, but you don’t want to go down there. Safer up here.”

Neville turned down a wide avenue lined with trees and street lamps. Walking past one of the lamp posts, Devon happened to look up, and there was a tiny naked woman with wings inside the lamp looking out at him. She clutched her hands together, and her tiny red mouth moved as if she was begging him for something. Behind her other, other naked, what? Fairies? Whatever they were, they stirred and started to rise. Men and women fairies, some of them lying on the glass, or curled around each other. Several took off and hovered in the glass globe.

It was a warm day, they had to be baking.

“Come on,” Neville said.

Devon pointed. “But there —”

Neville slapped his arm. “Stop it! People will notice.”

“I don’t—”

Neville pressed close, his lower lip trembling. “Come on. Now.”

The kid was right. He didn’t know what he was doing. He tore his gaze away from the fairies and followed Neville down the street. It was all cafes and stuff, with tables out in small fenced areas, the bright red brick street weaving between them. Spicy odors that brought to mind pizza floated along the street and made Devon’s mouth water.

There weren’t many humans here. And no one that looked like Neville. Mostly it was goblins, greens and grays, with a few pinks and dwarf yellows. Devon got a few unfriendly looks and after that kept his head down. This place didn’t feel very safe.

They left that area behind and entered a section of the city that was more shabby and in disrepair, and Devon felt more comfortable. The graffiti and broken glass, the faded paint and chipped concrete was all a lot more familiar.

Neville’s pace slowed.

“What was that back there?” Devon said.


“In those lamps. Where those fairies?”

“Sure. Nasty fairies, so what?”

Nasty? Devon let it go. This was all incredible enough without sticking his nose into it. The little fairy woman hadn’t seemed nasty, but what did he know?

“They’re fake,” Neville said. “Magic disguise, you know?”

“No, what do you mean?”

Neville huffed and scratched his head. Then he hooted. “Camouflage, they don’t look like that. Not really.”

“What do they look like then?”

“Bugs.” Neville nodded confidently. “Ugly bugs. Bloodsuckers.”

Devon waited for the laugh, but Neville just stood there looking at him. Finally Devon said, “Really?”

“Yeah. Bloodsuckers.”

Oh. They were still walking, but now Neville lifted an arm to point out a building ahead. It was a concrete structure, lower floors boarded over with graffiti-tagged gray wood while the upper windows gaped wide open. Except a few had dirty sheets and plastic bags strung across the openings.

“We can stay there,” Neville said. “I know someone.”


Neville had been telling the truth. There was an old woman, a goblin, with wrinkled gray skin like she’d come out of an old black-and-white movie. She was swaddled in layers of bright, colorful fabric. Neville found her on the third floor, tending fire pit near the windows. A couple pots hung from spits, and the smell was somewhere between chicken soup and clam chowder.

The woman’s face beamed when she saw Neville.

“Evil Boy!” She threw wide her arms. “Come give Mancher a hug!”

Neville threw himself against her generous bosom. Then she thrust him back and fingered the coat. “Where’d you get this?”

“Devon gave it to me.” Neville pointed at Devon.

Mancher sniffed at Devon. “Othersider?”

She spun and shook her finger at Neville. “Evil Boy! You promised to stay away from the alleys!”

“I didn’t mean to,” Neville protested. “Geists chased me!”

“What’re you doing around geists?”

“There was a shopkeeper, and —”

“And I know all about it. You bolted and didn’t pay attention to where you were going.” Mancher squinted up at Devon. “Why is this Othersider here? Plenty of trouble, you bringing me.”

“Didn’t mean to, he crossed. Couldn’t leave him to the pigs.”

Mancher’s face softened around her tusks. “No, I guess not. But you’ll bring ‘em here.”

“Look,” Devon said. “I can go if you’ll look after Neville. If you can tell me how to get back.”

Mancher looked at the kid. “Neville, is it? You think of that?”

“No, Devon gave it to me.”

“I like it,” Mancher said. She looked back up at Devon. “Not a good time right now, to find a crossing. Early, just before sunrise, that’s the best. We’ll go then.”

“Mancher used to work for the Navigator’s Guild,” Neville said. “She knows the alleys.”

“Okay,” Devon said. “If it’s better then.”

“We brought food,” Neville said. He gestured to Devon.

Right. Devon pulled the bag from his backpack and handed it over to Mancher. She took out the rest of the loaf of bread, two remaining string cheeses and the apples, chuckling with pleasure over each.

“This is fine,” she said. “Thank you, he called you Devon?”

“That’s right.”

She beckoned. “Come sit by the fire. It’ll get cold.”


A hand shook Devon awake. He started to say something, and the hand covered his mouth. The smell of Mancher’s unwashed bulk filled his nose as her hot breath tickled his ear.

“Boar riders. Don’t make a sound.”

She pulled back and released him. Devon rose carefully. There wasn’t much light. The fire had died down during the night and ashes had covered the coals. Faint moonlight came in through the open windows. Mancher moved like a dark cloud across the moon, a shape just briefly passing the window before she crouched and woke Neville the same way.

Devon quietly stuffed his blanket back in his backpack and rolled up his sleeping bag. It only took him moments to tie it beneath the backpack and Mancher was back pressing against his side.

“Follow close. Don’t make noise.”

There were loud snorts, and rough voices outside that chilled him more than the cold night air. Somehow the goblins had followed them here. Or they were just searching likely places. Either way, it was time to go.

Mancher moved deeper into the dark building, and Devon stuck close to her, with Neville bringing up the rear. None of them spoke. Away from the windows, Devon couldn’t hardly see his hand in front of his face as they went deeper, so he grabbed onto one of Mancher’s cloths. She didn’t object. Both Neville and Mancher seemed to have better night vision.

Crashing wood and squeals below floated up through the floors. There were shouts from other squatters and the Royal Guard.

Soon Mancher led them into a narrow staircase, folded back into the corner of the building. The steps were wet and narrow. Devon couldn’t see anything at all and had to trust Mancher’s presence as he made his way down. He knew Neville was behind him only by the kid’s soft breaths as they made their way down.

It took a long time before Mancher stopped. She grabbed Devon’s arm and pulled him close to whisper in his ear. “Basement. Tunnels here. Stay close and quiet.”

“Yes,” Devon whispered.

“It’ll be okay,” Neville whispered. “Mancher knows all the ways.”

There was a lot of crashing noises above, and a scream abruptly cut off. Apparently, the Royal Guard didn’t like other squatters.

The tunnels stank of shit and stagnant water. Devon was just as glad not to see where they were going, except for the time when the ground crumbled and he nearly fell. Neville helped catch him. After what seemed like an hour of walking there was finally a light ahead. It seemed like an illusion until they got closer and Devon could make out dim light coming in the mouth of a tunnel.

Moments later they came out on a hillside, a cutout designed to catch water. The sun wasn’t up, but the moonlight was still bright compared to the darkness of the tunnel. Devon breathed deeply, glad to be out of that place.

Neville gave him a toothy grin. “Go back now?”

“Not back in there,” Devon said. “But I wouldn’t mind going home.”

Mancher was already climbing up the hillside. “Come on. Don’t have much time. Easier to cross now.”


Unlike the bigger city environment that they had left, more of the buildings in this area were smaller. It almost reminded Devon of Olympia, with a sort of mix of houses and more commercial buildings, but nothing bigger than a few stories. The city still seemed to go on without end, maybe like Los Angeles would seem if he was suddenly dropped into the middle of it.

Mancher stopped at an alley that extended between two apartment buildings. She pointed at the narrow space. “Go on, there. You can cross if you go now.”

Devon stepped into the opening of the alley. “It’ll take me home?”

“Back to the Otherside,” Mancher said.

Neville said, “It might not be your city.”


“Go, or you’ll miss it,” Mancher said. “Hurry!”

“Goblinus connects to all the cities,” Neville said.

“So I can end up anywhere?”

“No time to map it,” Mancher said. “Go!”

A distant squeal floated through the morning streets. The Royal Guard was still out there, looking for him. Did it make a difference where he ended up? He’d been on his own for years now. He could start anywhere.

“Okay.” He looked at Neville. “Take care kid.”

“Yeah, you too.”

“Go!” Mancher said.

Devon turned and ran down the alley. It was only an alley, nothing else special about it except it was in a goblin city. There didn’t seem to be anything unusual about it. Maybe Mancher was wrong —

— rain hit his face. And it night time, but lit with electric lights.

The buildings were different. Pale walls closed in on either side. The one on his right looked pale yellow in the light from an electric lamp on the corner of the building at the mouth of the alley. The alley was paved in interlocking stone tiles. Balconies looked out into the narrow alley, with plants and laundry hanging over the railings.

Devon made his way down the alley — hearing laughter and the sound of cars — and stepped out into a narrow street. Small rounded concrete barriers blocked off a section of street and sidewalk. Across the street was a wide walkway within the building there, with a long row of arched openings. More balconies stuck out over the street, which wasn’t black asphalt but more rectangular stones at angles. The buildings were all about four stories high and seemed to hang over the street. Cars parked in a row along the way in front of the arches, and there was a strange pay phone with a curved plastic shield over it.

Back, but not Olympia. He walked out along the street and studied the signs in the shops. Some had familiar words. Audio Video, PlayStation on one shop. Others, he didn’t recognize. French? Italian? It didn’t look like Spanish. He didn’t speak any of those, but some of the signs were in one of those languages. At last he came to a street sign. It wasn’t like the familiar green and white signs back home, but it was places and arrows pointing.

Roma. Napoli-Caserta. Duomo.

Roma? Rome? Was he in Italy? Devon still had his backpack, with his spare clothes, sleeping bag, and blanket. It was enough for now. He’d gone from meeting a troll under a bridge in Olympia, through a small stretch of Goblinus, and ended up around the world in what looked like Italy.

There had to be other people who knew about the Goblin Alleys. Just like back in Goblinus, there were probably people here that knew about the other world where faeries were trapped in street lamps. He’d have to be very careful not to give things away, but if you could find your way around? He could travel anywhere. Neville said that the alleys connected to every city.

Devon kept walking. For now, it was enough to learn this city and figure out where he was, and where he might get his next meal. The universe was a lot different than he had imagined, and it was going to take time to figure it all out.

When he did, he wouldn’t be sleeping under bridges anymore.



Author’s Note

This story is the 93rd short story release, written a few years ago in March 2014. It’s a standalone story set in my Goblin Alley universe.

If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. Next up is my story, Shermmies’ Planet.

Daily Thoughts 114: StarCraft

Author's selfieMy phone gave me the best notification this morning—the StarCraft remastered trailer was posted.

I spent most of the day out running errands and doing other things, but I wanted to post a bit about StarCraft.


The game that changed everything. I’ve loved this game, replayed it, and come back to it again and again. I haven’t had time to finish the StarCraft II campaigns, but this is one of my absolute favorites. I’ve waited for years for Blizzard to officially announce the remastered edition. I can’t wait. I hope they do a beautiful collector’s edition. And it comes out in the summer when I’ll actually have time! I can’t wait to play through this whole story again.

It’ll keep me busy for a long time. At least until WarCraft Remastered.

Daily Sketch Challenge

Zerg sketchI watched the first episode of Tabletop’s Mice and Mystics game while sketching this one. Really excited about the upcoming release!

Daily Thoughts 113: Pen Names, Kate N. Ryan

Author's selfieThis morning provided a rainy walk in the dark. Enjoyable, actually. My sleep was interrupted last night, but the walk proved refreshing. I enjoyed working at the Oakville Timberland Regional Library today. It is always nice to be in a library. Around noon the rain clouds parted and I enjoyed the sun coming out for a while.

Pen Names

Cover art for Many GenresWhen I first started publishing my novels I used pen names for different genres. The last big change I made in my plans was retiring the pen names with a goal to put everything under my own name. I’ve gone back and forth on the topic, and even published an article “One Writer, Many Genres” in Many Genres, One Craft edited by Michael A. Arnzen & Heidi Ruby Miller.

In consolidating my work under a single name I felt it made it easier for people to find my work, and I trust that readers are capable of judging for themselves (given good covers and descriptions) whether or not a book is of interest. Most readers can see if a book is going to be science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, or romance. I have plenty of titles that also blur those lines, and yet I had different pen names. I don’t think that is necessary for most of my work.

With one exception.

Cover art for Watching You SleepRomance. I write romance. At least, I’ve written a couple romances. I wouldn’t (and couldn’t) have written them without Kate’s support, insight, and encouragement. I enjoyed both, and plan to write more. After talking to her about it, I’ve decided to keep the pen name used for romances—Kate N. Ryan. It’s my favorite pen name, and also the most accurate description for these books. When I get to the new massive reboot project, that will be the one pen name I keep. It’ll be an open pen name, I’m not trying to keep it a secret at all. But I think it’ll also fit with reader expectations and it will draw a point of distinction between these books and my other (predominately science fiction, fantasy, dark fantasy, horror, and mystery). I enjoy these books. It’ll be good to keep them with this pen name. I’m looking forward to the new editions and a new website!

Daily Sketch Challenge

Character sketchThis evening I enjoyed some time trying a character sketch. I’ve talked about relaxing and not worrying about being “good.” People are challenging! All the more reason to keep giving it a shot. Especially with the reboot coming up since many of the covers (all?) will feature artwork around characters!

Daily Thoughts 112: Rogue One, Quick Sort

Author's selfieI enjoyed my walk this morning. Sticking to the strategy I posted about yesterday, I went out first thing and didn’t turn on the computer until after I got back well over 7,000 steps later. I’ll finish the rest of my 10,000 steps during the day.

Rogue One!

I’m excited that Rogue One is out today (streaming). I’m looking forward to watching it again as soon as I have time. I do have a backlog of movies I haven’t watched yet.

Quick Sort

Want to organize your books? Learn how to sort quickly with this great video.

So What?

Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic posted about the main point in a visualization with So What?, a blog post about being clear about the point we’re trying to make. This is an area I plan to spend more time on in the future but haven’t done so lately due to time constraints.

The post reminded me to think more broadly about the question and it’s application to things like illustration and cover art. A book cover must communicate with a reader in an instant, catch their attention, and convey something about the experience offered by the book. It is something to keep in mind as I approach my massive reboot after this semester. I need to take the time necessary to develop each aspect of the books. Not to the point of obsessing over perfection, but to the point that I’m satisfied it is the best effort I can make at this time.

Daily Sketch Challenge

Daily Sketch ChallengeBefore settling in to study this evening, I wanted to spend a few minutes working on a sketch. Time passes quickly in a flow state, so I was surprised when my sketch break ended!

Daily Thoughts 111: Walking

Author's SelfieThis morning I enjoyed a nice walk with Zombies, Run! keeping me company. It reminded me of the importance of just getting outside and moving. It’s really easy to slip into the “I don’t have time” trap. Recently, I’ve done that more than I’d like. Some days I do need to prioritize other things (like sleep), but I find I stick to something when I don’t give myself an option, when I remove willpower from the equation. Our brains get tired of making decisions. Removing the choice has proven effective for me in the past. For a long stretch, I walked every morning because I didn’t leave myself a choice. There was just no option. Get up, go out and walk. The more barriers eliminated, the better. Wear the clothes you plan to walk in to bed so you can get up, put on shoes (unless walking barefoot), and head out decision free.

Stepping Up

Screenshot of FitBit dashboardWith all of that in mind, I’m want to aim for a challenging goal (challenging for me).

10,000 steps every day

I’ve done that successfully for periods of time. Now, I’m going to emphasize it a bit more. My strategy for meeting this goal is to get out and walk first thing. I have a few ideas to help me meet the goal.

  • No excuses, no decisions. Walk first thing after getting up.
  • No computer until over 5,000 steps.
  • Make a plan for handling unusual days and put it on the calendar, set an alarm, whatever it takes.
  • No going to bed until I have in 10,000 steps.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch wrote a post about writing with chronic health problems. It’s worth checking out.

The best exercise for you is the one you’ll actually do. The one you look forward to. The one you enjoy.

That is key. Like Kris, I enjoy walking. I may work up to running. I might not. Sometimes I turn on the zombie chases and run a bit. We’ll see. Regardless, I’m going to stick to the 10,000 steps goal. Miss a day? I’m not going to beat myself up, I’ll just start again. I like streaks and find them motivational. Like posting to this blog each day.

Multitude of Projects

I have no shortage of projects to work on.

Once I finish my MLIS classes, I’ll have more opportunities to pursue some of my other plans. I’m going to keep working on my writing challenge and the sketch challenge. Until I have more flexibility in my day, I may not get much more than that done. With only about 6 weeks left in the semester, the end is fast approaching!

I have some fundamental objectives to work on this year. I want to improve my illustration, design, coding, and writing skills. All of those will play roles in my massive reboot. I’m planning to do more with a number of projects around my creations.

Attitude Shift

Back in 2009, when I first attended the master class for writers on the Oregon coast, my goal was clear: get off the day job and write full time. Things change! My focus shifted as I rededicated my attention to my career in libraries. That shift helped relieved the pressure I put on my writing. Now I’m creating what I want simply because I want to! Any writer (even those writing full time) needs to write first for themselves, but it’s hard to do when you put the pressure of supporting yourself and your family on your writing.

With this attitude shift and the reboot project, I plan to release new editions, new titles, and other projects with a different focus. I want to get my books, stories, etc., into as many hands as possible. I want to share widely and keep the price of items low. I’m not focusing on the greatest profit. It’d be great to break even at this point! Regardless, I think time spent on creative efforts is worthwhile.