Tag Archives: The Art of Writing

Memory Lane: Marx Jungle Animals

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Boy, oh, boy, did I love these when I was a little boy! Marx jungle animals–I still have dozens of them in my toy box. I think I was five years old when Aunt Millie gave me my first little set of them.

I used these as characters in “stories” that went on all summer, or all winter, or whenever. I gave them names and put them in adventures. Some of those pictured above are newer than any of mine, but ten of them are originals from the 1950s.

Sometimes my brother or my friends would join me in playing out these little dramas, and sometimes I played alone. Once I started getting dinosaurs and cavemen, too, the stories got more exciting. Lost treasures, nasty big game hunters that had to be dealt with, lost worlds full of monsters–whatever popped into our heads, often inspired by a movie or TV show, we used. Unusually, I rarely played with little army men. I was committed to the animals.

Do kids still do this kind of play? Or has it all be buried under a mass of video games? I don’t know. Maybe some of you have children or grandchildren who use their toys to act out stories. Careful–they might grow up to be fantasy writers.


The Next Book… ?

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Spring is in the air, and once it’s here for good, I’ll want to get busy with the next Bell Mountain book.

I don’t think I’ll be using the lake monster from The Temple, but really, you never know.

The way it works, I have to wait for the Lord to give me the seed of a story. It might be a dream, or a new character that pops into my head, or a compelling incident, or something as simple as a title. Then I can get going. I can’t actually generate one of these books on purpose. It doesn’t work that way.

Of course, I did leave some loose ends to tie up, as I concluded His Mercy Endureth Forever–with, I might add, a climax that was completely unexpected but also wholly logical. Who’s in charge, in Obann City? Whose ships are those, out there on the sea?

I wish I knew!

‘Murdering Fantasy’ (2016)

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People wonder why I got so mad at the library director when she assumed my books were self-published. Well, gee–“self-published” means no quality control. As in the following example.


It’s bad enough, you populate your fantasy with stock characters whose every action and reaction is totally predictable. Bad enough you name your lead characters after popular pain reliever products. But to do both at once is to create something monumentally bad.

I find it hard to get my books reviewed because so many potential reviewers and interviewers say, “But that’s just fantasy.” Like it’s all verbal cliches and stupid unbelievable characters named Feen-a-Mint or Tylenol.

Sometimes every step’s a struggle.

If I Could See What You See

There’s something I would love to be able to do, which no writer can do–and that would be to get inside the reader’s head, as it were–and “see” the people and places and scenes I write about as the reader sees them. Ever since I announced the Bell Mountain Movie Contest, I’ve been thinking about that.

On two occasions–and even just one is extremely rare–my cover artist, Kirk DouPonce, working from live models who are just kids in his neighborhood, painted one of my characters exactly as I imagined her: Ellayne, on the cover of The Cellar Beneath the Cellar, and Gurun, on the cover of The Glass Bridge. It is as if these two fictional characters that I created were real people, after all: so much so, that somehow the words “I created” seem rather silly. I can’t create real people!

It would be eerie, to meld my own imagination with the reader’s and look with his or her mind’s eye on some place in Lintum Forest, or on the great Temple of Obann, or the cloud on the summit of Bell Mountain. What if they looked to the reader exactly as they “look” to me?

I hardly know what to make of that!

‘When You Hear the Bell, Come Out Writing’

If only for what is probably the best headline I’ve ever written in my life, I hope you’ll click the link and read this: requested by my editors at Chalcedon, here’s me telling you all about what goes into the writing of my Bell Mountain books.


Somewhere we also have a brief interview with cover artist Kirk DouPonce, complete with photos of the models he used to create the covers of my books–mostly local kids from around his neighborhood. Must be a kick for them!

Anyway, the article above is a must–if you like my books and this blog.

Spring Is on Its Way

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Yes, it’s still cold out, it could still snow, and Patty’s garden looks like something left over from the Day of Fire–but Spring is on its way.

Yesterday we had robins, this morning they were singing, and just now I spotted the first little shoots of daffodils coming up from the ground. God has not forgotten His promise to keep the seasons coming.

Warm weather–well, sort of warm: less cold–means that soon I can start writing another book, as soon as the Lord gives me a starting-place. I can hardly wait to see what that first image will be; and I have no idea at all where the story will take me next. I do love those surprises.

Anyway, before you know it, we’ll be seeing baby squirrels coming out of their nests, little green shoots popping up all over, and snowdrop flowers on the front lawn.


‘I Almost Review “The Last Banquet”‘ (2013)

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You know a writer’s getting desperate when he reviews his own book. Such was my situation a few years ago. No one else would do it at the time, so I had to.


Oddly enough, The Last Banquet seems to be the book most tapped by readers as their favorite in the Bell Mountain series. Well, I was rather clever with the ending, wasn’t I? Sorry, there I go again.

Insensitive Things to Say to Authors

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What with self-publishing so common nowadays–it used to cost a fortune–there aren’t a lot of people who remember how blisteringly, punishingly hard it used to be to get a book published by someone who would actually pay you for it. In fact, it was just this side of impossible.

Not that many people understood that, at the time.

When I finally got a novel published, it was only after enough fruitless work to sink the Bismarck and enough frustration to discourage Hercules. Understandably, I couldn’t fight the urge to tell everybody that I’d finally accomplished this.

When I told my next-door neighbor, his eyes lit up and he blurted out, “Wow! When’s it gonna be a TV movie?” Not, “Where can I buy a copy?” Not even, “I hope it gets made into a movie.” No–he wanted a TV movie so he wouldn’t have to pay anything, perish the thought that he should buy the book.

Then there’s my hometown library. When the library director was my friend, she used to make sure the library purchased each of my books as they came out and displayed them in the Young Adults section, where people could see them. But then came a new director who knew not Joseph, and next thing I knew, my books weren’t there anymore. I searched, and finally found them exiled to the Local Authors ghetto, one step up from being hidden in a crypt under the floorboards.

I asked the new director if my books could be moved back to Young Adults where I thought they belonged. She gave me the kind of look one generally keeps in store for cranks and twaddlers and answered, “You’re self-published?”

I’m afraid that hit me on a raw spot. “No, I am not self-published. I am a real author. I am paid for my books.” Like, I only wanted some respect. Didn’t get it, though.

Sorry–didn’t mean to diss any of you who have opted for self-publication. But I come from another time when self-publication was not an option unless you were rich, or prepared to shoot off your life savings to publish a volume of your poetry. Really, when I started writing, it was virtually unknown. To me, it just isn’t real, the job just isn’t finished, until I’ve been paid for it.

I don’t go to the freakin’ library anymore.

‘Do I See It as I Write It?’

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My wife says reading one of my books is like watching a movie. She wants to know, “Do you see it as you write it?”


My books are fantasies about people and places that never existed, so in a literal sense I can’t “see” any of it–I have to imagine it. That might be the toughest thing about writing fantasy in particular and fiction in general: first you try to see what isn’t there, and then you try to make the reader see it. If that sounds easy, well, it ain’t.

The artist, Kirk DouPonce, uses live models for the characters on my books’ covers. I can’t do that. The most I can do is try, in my mind, to cast known actors and actresses as characters in my story. When that works, it works very well.

Try it sometime.

I Had a Dream

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I often work my dreams into my books; and I had one the other night that ought to fit in somehow.

I dreamt I discovered a neighborhood in my home town that I never knew existed–lovely old houses, street shaded by overarching trees, beautifully paved streets; long, sweeping hills; and nobody else around. I rode my bike up and down the neighborhood, exploring it, wondering how I’d missed it when I’ve lived here my whole life.

One street led to the beach, and I got off my bike and enjoyed that for a while. People playing in the surf. Kids playing tag.

Exploring another street, I found it gave way to a vast green meadow, sparkling green. I parked my bike and walked out onto the field. There a lioness was waiting for me; she rose up from the grass. I don’t know why I wasn’t terrified, but dreams are like that sometimes. Instead of being afraid of the lioness, I shared a romp with her–chasing each other back and forth. The lioness leaped and capered like a kitten.

Then I woke up.

I think that encounter with the lioness is something that must have happened, or soon will happen, in Obann.

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