Ten Years of Complete Victory!

Dandelion Iron Cover - February2016This is the last of my meditations on ten years of writing.

Well, that’s not exactly true. Next week, on the RMFW blog, I’m going to be posting “TEN YEARS OF LESSONS ON WRITING. So, yeah. But this is where I go through my successes.

I talked about failures yesterday, and I was kind of vague because I didn’t want to linger there. I’ve lingered there long enough. And I will change my thinking. I have to. So, here are my very real, very epic successes. If I don’t celebrate my little successes, I won’t celebrate the big ones.

Let me say that again, for me, to change my thinking. If I don’t celebrate my little successes, I won’t celebrate the big ones. And if I take that one step further…if I don’t see my little successes as complete victories, I won’t see my big successes in that light either.

So. Here is a list of my complete victories!

  1. I only have three unfinished projects. Every other book I’ve started I’ve finished. This is huge. This is amazing. This is epic. And even more? I’ve edited most of those projects, and I’m not huge on that whole editing thing. I’ve written well over a dozen books in the past ten years. Every book is a victory as grand as blowing up the Death Star. All three times.
  2. I have over a hundred rejections. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not very many. For me? For someone with my level of fear and self-loathing? It is an epic victory. It is Pelennor Fields. It truly is.
  3. I have had four editors choose to spend their life’s minutes on my books. I say the publishing industry has ignored me. That is NOT true. Four people, with death looming, chose me to work on. This is amazing. Out of all the writers writing, me. These are four victories rolled up into mine.
  4. I have three published books. I have three ISBNs.
  5. I was a finalist in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s Gold Contest in their very competitive young adult category.
  6. My daughter and I were reading one of the books I’d written for her together. We were going slow. One day, she came to me, ashamed, because she couldn’t wait for us to read it together. She had to find out how the story ended. This, my friend, is a victory. My daughters don’t automatically love my books. And for her to be so swept into the story she had to read it, well, if that’s not enough for me…what ever will be? The praise and adulation of strangers? Huh.
  7. At a first chapter workshop in Big Sur, a woman was reading the first chapter of The Never Prayer. She started to cry. She looked up at me and I saw such a depth of emotion there, I started to cry too. It’s been said authors live on the tears of their readers. That should keep me going for the duration.
  8. I auditioned and was chosen to be a part of a critique group of highly decorated authors: Jeanne C. Stein, Mario Acevedo, Warren Hammond. This was huge! Huge!
  9. I won a horror short story contest online for a story called “Deep Woods, True Story”. It was my first win of any sort of writing contest where I wasn’t involved in the voting!
  10. I was invited to be the Emcee at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference three years in a row. Again, I can’t tell you how much of a huge deal this was. I got to rub shoulders with Bonnie Hagan, M.B. Partlow, Chris Mandeville, Sue Mitchell, Jason Henry and a bunch of other wonderful people. I had a such a lovely time at the conference and I loved the audience. This was a big deal. It really was.
  11. The entire 2013 year was hard on me. February 2014, I got my first Kirkus Review for Long Live the Suicide King. It was glowing. I needed it. When I opened up the website to first read it, I squinted, looking for keywords in the sentences. If I saw bad words I was going to shut my eyes completely. If I saw good words, I’d read every one. and I did. It was glowing.
  12. Long Live the Suicide King was a finalist in the Reader’s Favorite Young Adult contest. And I got a five-star review, awesome, and it was great to be a part of that organization. I didn’t win, but I got a sticker to put on the front cover of the book!
  13. Long Live the Suicide King won the Building the Dream Young Adult contest. I am an award-winning author thanks to Kris Tualla, Deena Remiel, Morgan Kearns and the rest of the gang. Thanks for bringing me in.
  14. In July of 2014, Peter J. Wacks called me. We had just published our G.I. story, Post-Traumatic Stress Commander and it was number one in Kindle Worlds. I had an official Amazon bestseller.
  15. In the fall of 2015, I got a basket full of fan letters for Elizabeth’s Midnight. I answered them. Fan mail. How cool is that? While Elizabeth’s Midnight hasn’t performed well, it’s a book I love. And my parents liked it the best out of all my books. It’s a victory.
  16. Quincy J. Allen picked “The Dirges of Percival Lewand” for The Best of the Penny Dread Tales published through WordFire Press. It’s one of his favorite stories. And that story really solidified my name in the local writer community in Colorado. I wasn’t just pretty, but I was talented too. That story really did well for me, and I love it so.
  17. Quincy J. Allen insisted several people nominate “The Dirges of Percival Lewand” for a Hugo. So I am a Hugo-nominated author. Ha! I used that for a while.
  18. Getting into WordFire Press with The Juniper Wars series really felt like a victory. And not just one book, but six. Six books of what I love to write. The books of my heart. I was at a Superstars Writing Seminar and I mentioned I was at WordFire Press. Someone muttered, in awe, “Wow, you must be good.” Dang straight I am.
  19. One of my reviewers who read KILLDEER WINDS, the second book in The Juniper Wars series, said she ugly cried. Now, that, right there, is worth the price of admission.
  20. Ron Cree gave me one of the best reviews of my life for his review of The Never Prayer. When he read Dandelion Iron, the first book in the series, he said, and I quote, “Your other books were good, but this one, this one..”
  21. In 2015 I got a story in Hex Publishing’s Nightmare’s Unhinged. It was the story I’d won for the horror story contest. We decided on a different title. “Deep Woods.” I got to do a signing at the Tattered Cover with a bunch of other writers. It felt like the big time!
  22. I got a story in Hex Publishing’s noir anthology as well. At this point, the story is called “Shoe” and I love it.
  23. While working with Vivian Trask on the first two Juniper Wars books, she said that Cavatica Weller sounded like her when she was a sixteen-year-old Catholic girl. A total victory.
  24. My daughter just finished reading the third book in The Juniper Wars series. She texted to me, and I quote: OHMYGOD OHMYGOD OHMYGOD OHMYGOD. I’M AT THE PART WHERE ….SPOILERS … AND I JUST LOVE THIS BOOK!  And there you have it.
  25. All the praise. All the tears. All the laughter of the people who have read my books. Every reader who finishes a book is a victory. I spent a lot of time writing books people couldn’t read.

I’m sitting in the Salt Lake City airport, on my way home from a writer’s retreat where I won the coveted Edward M. Kovel Prize for Excellence in Young Adult Literature.

I love airports. I live travel and adventure. I am so blessed to be on this quest to make it as a writer. That I get to do this, at all, is a miracle.

Travis Heermann interviewed me for his blog, and he asked which character in literature do I most resemble. Bilbo Baggins.

In the end, I’m Bilbo Baggins. Really, I wanted to stay in my hobbit hole, eat lots of donuts, and watch lots of TV. And suddenly, this adventure has been thrust upon me.

The dragon Smaug awaits in his mountain. I have many obstacles ahead, but I must slay the dragon. And the dragon isn’t the mean ol’ world of publishing, and it’s not bad book sales, and it’s not literary obscurity.

The dragon lives inside my head and I am the beast I must fight.

But I don’t think I can slay the dragon.

In the end, I think I must become the dragon and bathe the world in my fire.

Ten Years of Books

Ten Years of Books

Books. One of the casualties for me in this business is that reading has become a chore. Most of the time. I don’t read what I want to read, I read what I should.

And yet, I’ve gotten to read some great books in the past ten years. Topping off the list is definitely Robert Hough’s The Final Confession of Mabel Stark. It’s the fictionalized biography of a real life female lion tamer who worked the circus back in the 20’s and 30’s. How did I stumble upon such a wonderful book? I used to read all the books of the people who went to writer’s conferences. So I was introduced to this book, Jodi Thomas (who writes books you want to live in), and others.

Some were great! Warren Hammond’s KOP series is amazing. Jeanne C. Stein knows how to write fights scenes better than anyone in her Anna Strong Chronicles, and Mario Acevedo uses a blender of hilarity in his Felix Gomez books. Kendall Grey took Mario’s blender, filled it full of heavy metal and pornography, and used it for her Hardrock Harlots series, which are the pornography of rage. No one under eighteen admitted.

On a completely different note from Kendall Grey’s Killer Buzz Float, I read Jerry Spinelli, Maniac McGee and Stargirl. Loved ‘em. I finished Stephen King’s The Dark Tower books. My favorite! I finally read all of ERB’s Tarzan books. Um, yeah. They helped me sleep.

So yes, I read books I never would’ve picked up because me being a writer means me being a reader, and sometimes the “should” is a good thing. I’ve read more in the past ten years than I would’ve if I had kept on TV.

And sometimes I rebel. I have a big thick omnibus of the works of Richard Brautigan. Brautigan doesn’t really write novels, he writes Brautigans, kind of poetry, kind of not, not a lot of story, but so beautiful.

I snuck away and read Atlas Shrugged, which was naughty of me. It’s long. It’s iffy. It says the same thing over and over again. But I loved it.

Dude, I read Lonesome Dove! Dang, skippy. One of my favorite books ever, in the history of ever.

I was asked to blurb a book, and though I’m always a little skeptical, I read Dead, Yet Dying by B.K. Brain. I was electrified! Hells yeah, I’ll put my name on that book!

I went back and read some of the great literature I’d missed. I read John Updike’s Rabbit series. Awesome. I read the short stories of John Cheever. Even more awesome. I read Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn and that was the most awesomest!

And to get more books in me, I joined Audible and I listen to books. I listened to FIGHT CLUB. Best book ever. I listened to A Confederacy of Dunces. Best book ever. I listened to Ready Player One. Best book ever, but only because of the 2112 reference.

So yeah, I’ve experienced some great literature in the past years.

But I wanted to talk about some of the books I wrote. A little hidden bibliography.

So let’s recap. I started my first novel in spring of 1994. The Dream of the Archer (150K words). I basically finished it by the time I got married in spring of 1997. I then launched my epic sci-fi fantasy trilogy, The Gospel of the Severed Earth (500K words) made up of three books: Everywhere, Everything, Everyone. I finished that roughly in 2004.

So by 2002, I had four novels and I’d written about 650,000 words. Written and revised, revised, and revised. I didn’t query. I didn’t tell anyone. Only Steve Jankowksi, Peter Chittum, Don Bauman, and Becky Hodgkins knew. And my wife.

I’d been writing for eight years.

Then I read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I’d been worried I didn’t have a genre, and after reading more of J.K. Rowling’s masterpiece, I decided I’d write books for the younger audience. Yes. I could write across genres. I would call them all Young Adult or Middle Grade. I’d make it, baby! I’d make it!

I wrote The Storybook, The Turner Brothers, and Eli Kane. It was long. It had a long title. It was a portal fantasy. It was the very clichéd portal fantasy where my characters go into a book. I’d like to think I did some creative things there, but as it turned out, 100K words for a quick little middle grade fantasy was, um, not going to cut it.

I was on a roll. I wrote Summer’s Exile, which is kind of mystery, kind of romance, and kind of middle grade, but not really. It’s a hot mess. Also 100K. I didn’t worry about word count. Books had to be long, right?

In 2005 my second daughter was born, and the nights were endless. Sleep was a lost thing. My first daughter, born in 2002 didn’t sleep, but God wouldn’t do it to us twice, right? He did. While not sleeping ever, I wrote Into the Dream on the Eyelash Shut, which I later re-titled Broken Dreams and Wicked Things because my first daughter talked about broken dreams. It was too good not to use. I was getting faster. This one was only 85K as a word count. That book was about a football star in middle school who gets in a car accident. His little brother dies and he’s paralyzed from the waist down. In a fit of despair, he finds a magic book which takes him to the dream world of Nyx. So, yeah, portal fantasy.

So by January of 2006, I had 650,000 +100,000+100,000+85,000 for a grand total of 935,000 words of books written, revised, revised again. Henry Miller said that a writer had to write a million words before he could sign his/her own name. I was short by 65,000 words. Dammit!

I thought my best, polished book was The Storybook, the Turner Brothers, and Eli Kane, wow, long title, and I took it to the Big Sur Writing Workshop. Laura Rennert explained to me the foibles of my first chapter. It didn’t go well. And my story had five endings. I like endings. I like endings a lot. I like lots of endings.

So, what was I to do? I’d written seven books, but all of them needed to be crafted. I needed to learn how to tell a story. So I took a break from writing and read Robert McKee’s Story and started practicing on short stories. I then read Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat and that taught me how to outline.

Then? I wrote down four ideas and took them to the Evergreen II critique group. We all decided on the top two. Which turned into my suicide book and my grandma book. I hate titles. So I just called them that.

2006-2008 ___ LONG LIVE THE SUICIDE KING – This was the first book on the list my critique group and I agreed upon. And this if the first book I wrote after studying craft. I started reading YA so I could get the voice, and I wrote a draft full of the f-word and how “real” teenagers talked. I had a ton of pop culture references. I sent it out and yeah, got close to a contract with an agent, but in the end, they said no. I always get so close, and I always get so no. I’m learning to be grateful for that. At this stage, a traditional contract might just slow me down. I’m in this to write books. The idea came to me while I was walking to my gym and I passed a yappy dog racing up and down a chain-link fence. They say to write what you know. I know about suicide. Between the yappy dog and my own dark thoughts, the story came to me. I finished it in about 2008. Yeah, the traditional publishing world did slow me down, but back then, well, it was the only game in town.

2007-2008 __ THE SEPTEMBER KING – So I was watching The Lord of the Rings movies, and I wanted to write a mini-epic. The Artemis Fowl series was pitched as Die Hard with fairies, so I wanted to write The Lord of the Rings in your own backyard. It’s a portal series, kind of, where a group of teens are shrunk in size and a mystic realm appears in a mean old lady’s backyard. Denizens of the realm only live for two nights. My tagline is – Would you trade a lifetime of boring days for only two magical nights?

2008-2009 __ ELIZABETH’S MIDNIGHT – This was the second book on the list. Poor Jan Gurney liked my grandma book more than the suicide book, but Diane and I outvoted her. My family in 2008 did a house exchange with a family living outside of Rennes, France, in Brittany, also known as Bretagne. We tourned Saint-Malo and all the medieval cities. It was magical. But the idea for my grandma book actually came in spring of 2006, at the Big Sur Writing Workshop. It was there that I learned the middle grade/young adult market is full of fantasy books. So I had to do something different. I did something different all right. Uh huh. But I love Elizabeth’s Midnight. It was original titled Ladies in Waiting, but I like the new title much better.

2008-2009 __ FLUNG – I tried to start writing books two at a time, one in the morning and one at night when the kids went to bed. So I wrote a book about a kid who teleports, but he has no control and he doesn’t know why. He just appears across the world. It’s kind of a convoluted story, and I have setting issues, and it needs some work. I tried to query, but didn’t have much luck. My first chapter is an alone and thinking chapter. So, yeah, didn’t quite work.

2008-2010 __ THE FOUR KINGDOMS (The Winter Princess, The Spring Princess, The Summer Princess, The Autumn Princess) – So while I wasn’t having any luck with traditional publishing, I decided I’d write books for my daughters. So I wrote a story about four girls from another world who don’t know they are magical princesses until trouble finds them. My eldest illustrated them. I never wanted to try and get them published because they became sacred and I didn’t want to have some editor messing with a story and characters my daughters loved. All four books top out at about 65K I think. They are short. Total chapter books. And our family loves them. Maybe someday. Maybe.

2009-2010 __ THE MAGIC ADDICTS: NO DELIVERANCE – In 2009, our family did a house exchange with a family in Hamburg, and I had this idea of a bunch of teens who were addicted to magic. They go around the world collecting spell components, casting spells, and studying, which involves sitting alone and thinking about the worst things you’ve ever done. You collect up all your resentments and that powers your spells. It’s kind of a convoluted story. Ha. It runs short, so I’d have to add a bunch of words, but at this stage, it’s so back burner, it’s like rice about to burn.

2009-2010 __ ASIYA SIMPKINS AND THE THOUGHSTEALERS – Another book I wrote for my daughter, it’s not really a book, more like a novella, but still, I thought I’d include it. It’s about a girl living in a haunted house, basically, and ghostlike creatures plague her. The thoughtstealers are drawn to people’s idea-chests. Idea-chests are an item you own that you love and it houses your thoughts. If you lose your idea-chest, you lose your soul. My daughter and I came up with the idea and I wrote it. It’s rough. It’s short. It’s, um, not very good. But you know, it was fun to write.

2010-2012 __ THE NEVER PRAYER – So it was at an ACT IV where I talked with an agent who suggested I write an angel book. Angels were going to be the next big thing. So I sat down and banged out an angel book, but mine was going to be different. It was going to be darker and edgier. I called it paranormal romance, but it wasn’t. It was total paranormal thriller with romantic components. Every time I read it I cry. It’s so tragic and beautiful.

2011-2012 __ THE SWEET REVENGE OF THE BAG SNATCHER – This book idea came from a football player’s name. Crabtree. I loved the name. And I wanted to write a kind of classic mystery/horror story about a gang of kids in a small town in the 1970s who open a business finding things for people. But their first client might be the demon terrorizing their town. I don’t like the title, and I don’t like the name of their business, H.A.G., or Hexton’s Acquisitions Group, so I’m thinking about calling it the C.I.A., Crabtree’s Investigations and Acquisitions. Yeah, I like that much better. I wrote it for my daughters. They hated it! I made some changes. They still hated it! But I waited and bam, they love it. It’s for older elementary/middle school. I love it. Not shopped. Yet. It’s my next one to shop around.

2012-2013 __ SPARKED – So before I talk about my epic series, well, I wanted to talk about this book. In December of 2012, I watched all five Twilight movies. I was moved. I sang Christina Perri “Thousand Years.” I was tired of writing weird books that the publishing industry didn’t like. I wanted to write something vanilla, marketable, a pure YA sci-fi romance. Er, yeah, a pure one of those. Instead of vampires or werewolves, I decided I’d do androids. Twilight with androids. Twilight meets Blade Runner. Yes. I wrote it quick, while we were house-sitting in Gratz, Austria. I got the best rejection of my life. An agent at a big literary agency said that the voice was perfect, the structure was classic, but it was too genre. It wouldn’t stick out. Perfect. It is such a victory. I’ll eventually publish this book, as is, but I have a couple of other publishers looking at it. I think the pure vanilla-ness of it baffles them. One publisher who rejected said half the people LOVED it! And half the people HATED it! With no consensus, they rejected me.

2012-2013 __ SASS MCQUEEN AND THE KUNG-FU PRINCESS – it was time to write a book for my youngest daughter, who can be a handful and a harsh critic. We were watching a lot of iCarly at the time, and my daughter loved Sam. I thought, what if I divided up Sam into two characters, one with a mouth and one with fists of fury? And what if I wrote it as this over-the-top Adam Sandler movie type of story? Bam. I’m going to be Indie publishing this one because I don’t want to wait. No. Not waiting anymore. We have a cover. Bree Ervin edited, and really, it’s a love letter to my daughter’s school, which is as good or better than Hogwarts. I want to give this to them before we leave it because it truly is a magical place. My wife and I would go to open houses there and get teary because our lives would’ve been so different if we’d gone to a school like that. And no, the name of the school is Poopenkitten Elementary.

2013-2014 __ BLACK BELLE – So my youngest daughter wanted me to write a werehorse story, but there had to be romance and kissing. So I wrote a quick novella about a girl who moves to a ranch. She meets the town bully. She falls in love with the bully’s boyfriend. A mysterious friend helps her. She discovers a mighty horse who also helps her. SPOILER! And yeah, the mysterious friend is the mighty horse! My oldest daughter hated it! My youngest? We finished and there were tears on her face. And she gulped and said, “That is the best book I’ve ever read.” Bam. And if that is not enough for me, well, shame on me. Jen Greyson, I thought of you while writing about this book. I don’t know if it will ever see the light of day, but it was fun to write. But come on, Black Belle? As in Black Beauty?

2014-2015 __ IN TOO DEEP – I grew up watching The Young and the Restless and All My Children. I love romances. I love rom-com movies and yeah, so what? I’m still a man, though my first penname isn’t going to broadcast that. At this stage, I’m going to be making my debut with Andrea K. Stein as Taylor Stone. Stein & Stone romances. Andrea and I are co-writing a romance series. We are going to Indie Pub. And this might be the only place where I’ll publicly say I am Taylor Stone! Maybe. The first book is about a disgraced celebrity chef accused of poisoning people and a sea captain who keeps losing million-dollar yachts on an ill-fated pleasure cruise. What is the last thing you want when trying to save your career? You don’t want to fall in love.

2010-2016 __ THE JUNIPER WARS (Dandelion Iron, Killdeer Winds, Thorn Sisters, Bindweed Highway) – I was biking, listening to 16 Horsepower and thinking about old Kung-Fu movies where brothers end up fighting each other. And I wanted to write a sci-fi/western. And I wanted it to be epic! I was never going to write it until I watched Joss Whedon’s Firefly. I wept through every episode. This is what I wanted to write. These are the books of my heart. If I’m going to make a stand, if I’m going to pour every cent, every bit of energy I have into a project, it’s this one. So help me God.

So at this stage, these are all the books I’ve written. Some are longer than others.

The Dream of the Archer

The Gospel of the Severed Earth (Everywhere, Everything, Everyone)

The Storybook, the Turner Brothers, and Eli Kane

Summer’s Exile

Broken Dreams and Wicked Things

The September King

Long Live the Suicide King

Elizabeth’s Midnight


The Four Kingdoms

The Magic Addicts: No Deliverance

Asiya Simpkins and the Thoughtstealers

The Never Prayer

The Sweet Revenge of the Bag Snatcher

Black Belle


Sass McQueen and the Kung-Fu Princess

In Too Deep (as Taylor Stone)

THE JUNIPER WARS (Dandelion Iron, Killdeer Winds, Thorn Sisters, Bindweed Highway)

That’s a total of twenty-five books.

Not bad for a start. Not bad at all.

I feel so lucky to have been given the room and motivation in my life to write these books and to love these characters.

This is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. For a guy like me, this is how I should be spending my minutes.

End of blog post here.

It was a good ending. It hit all the right notes.

But I wanna talk about the abandoned projects.

Abandoned projects? Well, not, I won’t say abandoned. I will say that it’s gonna be a while until I circle around to them.

HARD CANDY EYESHADOW – This is my gay YA paranormal romance epic. A suicidal cowboy poet, a self-destructive gay teen, and a wiccan priestess who is also a recovering drug addict have a kind of love triangle. With a ghost. Confused? You won’t be. After this week’s episode of Soap. This was number three on the list that I created in 2006 with my critique group.

THE BLOOD OF THE SEVEN – It’s Hogwarts for teen drug addicts. Seven struggling teenagers are invited to a magic school but the principal has a secret reason for drawing them all together. Forbidden love.

ONE LAST WEDNESDAY – A geeky teen guitarist in a lame progressive rock band trio  is told he has a rare heart condition that has gone undiagnosed. He has 54,000 heartbeats left. That’s twelve hours if your heart rate is seventy-five beats per minute. He has twelve hours to find love, come to grips with his parents, and for one last epic gig. One last Wednesday. I wanna write it from the perspective of a forty-year old music critique who did an award-winning article on the teenager.

Wow. Only three lost projects.

Hmm. Only three.

Not bad, son. Not bad at all.

Ten Years of People

For the past ten years, I have been so blessed to travel all over the country, but stop!

Better than travel?

All the people I’ve met.

I have been so lucky to meet so many people! Who have helped me. Who have loved me. Whom I have loved. Writers are strange creatures, part dreamer, part warrior, neurotic, powerful, but so wonderful. And so I’m going to haphazardly jot down some of my favorite people (not all mind you).

Before I started seriously down the path? Before 2006?

I only had three fans: Peter Chittum, Don Bauman, and Steve Jankowkski. But they were lovely fans, and they read my books before I knew what I was doing. Peter emailed saying Disney would buy up the rights to one of my books just ensure a scene never, ever saw the light of day. I took that as a grand compliment.

Don, ever the idea guy, gave me enough ideas to write stories for the rest of eternity.

And Steve, oh Steve, one time told me I gave just enough information to fire his imagination into a frenzy.

Becky Hodgkins read every word of my epic 500K epic about every person who had ever lived and every place possible. She was nice enough to critique me, and when I fought back, she said, “Fine, don’t change it, but you’re going to bore your readers.” She was right.

And then, 2006.

My first critique. A cold night in January of 2016. A Monday night. Afterwards, I couldn’t sleep. Tuesday morning, I had to call someone because I was so shattered. And who did I call? Lucinda Gerlitz. I haven’t spoken to her for ten years, but Lucinda was so kind. She said, “Aaron, sometimes people have to say something, so they talk about stuff that really doesn’t need to change.” And she said, “You are going to be published. The quality of your writing will ensure you a future in publishing.”

Lucinda Gerlitz. Thank you.

Well, Lucinda and bunch of the Evergreen Critique group split off and left me alone with Diane Dodge and Jan Gurney.

And they made me a writer. Lucinda thought I was good, but undisciplined. Diane Dodge put me on a leash while Jan Gurney cheered me on.

“Aaron,” Diane would say, “you only get to say something once. Not three times. Pick your favorite, I don’t care what it is, but write what you want to say once.” I’d glance at Jan, who would nod and wince and say, “Sorry, Aaron. But Diane’s right.” She was.

And then I went to Big Sur in March of 2006.

Andrea Brown told me the publishing world is always on the brink of utter ruin. Always. It is today. It was ten years ago. It was a hundred years ago. It will be in a thousand years.

Barry Eisler told me I needed to study story structure. He was right.

Laura Rennert was chosen by God to be the hammer of destiny. It was bound to happen to me. I’m glad it was her.

David Spieselman, told me he wasn’t going to stand around and watch me talk shit about my writing. I was saying how shitty of a writer I was, and he said, and I quote, “Why are you fucking yourself? I don’t want to stand here watching you fuck yourself.” It was the Holy Spirit talking through him. It was the divine voice of the universe trying to jostle me out of my selfish self-loathing. Sorry, Diane, but I just said the same thing twice.

If Laura Rennert was the hammer of destiny, Linda Rohrbough was the valkyrie who delivered my broken soul to Valhalla, and to the houses of healing there. She gave me her rules of writing. She told me the secrets of the game. She literally taught me how to dress to be a writer. Now her name is Linda Houser, and it’s a better name. Linda is safe, as safe as houses. She has been my mentor and will always be my friend.

At the Evergreen II critique group, I met Andrea K. Stein. She became my roommate, my road dog, and now my co-author. I thought for sure she was a vampire because she has packed in several lifetimes of adventure in this one. And still we room together. And still we walk this road.

Since I was in an RMW critique group, I needed to go to the RMFW Gold Conference. There I met Chris Devlin. Sister. Comrade. Cheerleader. Task master. I use her for all my copy-writing. I don’t feel right if Chris Devlin doesn’t usher a book out into the world. If I had to choose one person in this world to watch over my soul, I would give it to Chris Devlin. She would take good, good care of it.

RMFW changed my life in a lot of ways, but it really started with Jeanne C. Stein. She is a very patient woman. Every year, I would ask to join her very illustrious critique group. Every year, she would smile, shake her head, and shrug. Sorry. And then? In 2011, at RMFW, I asked, and she said, “Maybe, send me your stuff.” I sent her the first chapter of The Never Prayer and that was it. I joined the PSG Critique Group, where I hung out with Mario Acevedo, who’s like the wise-old uncle, who taught me there is only one rule to be a writer, and that is to be gracious. He’s right. And Warren Hammond. I’ve been with the PSG Critique group for five years. For five years, I’ve had access to the one of the sharpest minds in Colorado. I am awed by Warren, and I feel lucky to have him look over my writing.

While being a part of that critique is amazing, it’s because of Andrea K. Stein and Chris Devlin that I got published. I entered into a contest with each of them. Whoever got to fifty queries first won. I won. Crescent Moon Press found me.

Christine Ashworth talked to me on the phone all about CMP. She wanted me to make sure I knew what I was getting into. Out of all the authors I approached to talk about CMP, Christine was the one who agreed to talk to me, a total stranger.

Lin Browne – she was the first editor to take a chance on me. She loved my book. We would rejoice in each other as we went through drafts. I loved her comments. She loved my writing. It was the best possible first editing experience. And she wrote to me, “Of course your book is going to do well. You’re such a good writer.” We never talked on the phone. We only emailed. To think, one of the most pivotal people on my writing journey is someone I’ll most likely never meet.

Marlene Castricato and Steph Murray, the women behind Crescent Moon Press. Thank you.

So my first book ever was coming out.

And who did I meet at Pikes Peak Writers? Bree Ervin. She was my first publicist, my only publicist, and she is my friend. And she is now editing some of my Indie stuff. She has helped me with every aspect of my writing life. I feel so blessed and lucky to know her. If you haven’t met Bree, look to Longmont, Colorado. That light you see? That is Bree.

In 2012, at the RMFW Conference, my ribbons nearly reached to the floor. I got a Pen award. First sale. I was a finalist in the RMFW Gold contest. It was a night of miracles. And there I met Giles Hash, Emily Kay Singer, and Michelle Graham. You know them as the Beyond the Trope podcast. But for me, I’ll always think of them as new authors, on a mission, to pull down the stars. Giles and I would go out to breakfast, early morning on Colfax, eating grease and talking about publishing. Emily took a turn as my personal assistant, which is a wretched job. And Michelle, man, I hope when Michelle becomes reach and famous, she’ll return my calls.

I was out in the world. I had my books being read by like, real people. I started doing events and starting speaking, but you know what? I wouldn’t be speaking at all, anywhere, it if hadn’t been for Linda Houser and Sue Mitchell.

Linda talked me into submitting my Writing Success through the Twelve Steps workshop for PPWC, but it was Sue Mitchell, faculty director for PPWC, in 2011, who, agreed to give me a try. I got a precious Friday afternoon slot, and it was probably one of the best days of my entire life. I killed it. Then Karen Albright Lin gave me the ultimate compliment. She said, “You were one of the best speakers I’ve ever seen. You could totally be a keynote speaker at a writing conference.” I was flying. Karen travels all over the world teaching classes, she knows about such things.

Through another gig, I met Cody May, a young man publishing books and selling them by any means necessary. Basically, he’s a good-looking guy, and so he stands by his books, young women flock up, buy his books, blush, and fall in love. Cody May and I started the Colorado Author Interview Circle together, and man, I can’t wait to see what he does next. He is a firecracker, that guy.

Kara Seal and Leah Parker? Yeah, they are crazy librarians who I met at PPWC along the way. We have breakfast. We dream entrepreneurial dreams. And we are fellow Penny Dread Tales authors.

So I’d been doing events all over Colorado, but I needed to expand. I needed to go to the show, the Romantic Times Reader’s Convention.

If I talked about the all the amazing people I met at the Romantic Times Convention, I’d be here all day and night. Again, I have to do a few.

Karina Cooper taught me steampunk. It has very little to do with the color brown.

L.A. Witt reduced me to tears, telling me a story about someone who is transgender who read one of her books and it changed their life

Elizabeth Cheryl. The minutes I’ve spent with you in this life have been so precious to me. You have no idea.

And then, hold it. Kendall Grey, Heather Savage, Jenna Barton, and Rie Warren. Hold on a minute, you slags. I’m getting there. We met in the spring of 2012 (most of us), and I’ll get there.

Angie Hodapp. Also in the spring of 2012, with my book about to hit the world, Angie Hodapp joined Chris Devlin and I at a Village Inn off Wadsworth, and Angie said, “Everyone is afraid. At the three in the morning, if you’re awake and terrified, you are not alone.” Those Tuesday nights at the Village Inn, flirting with the waiters, will live forever in my memory. And one of the best classes I ever taught at RMFW was with Angie. We talked about theme. She brought all the content. I brought the color. It was epic! She is one smart cookie and a great teacher.

So my first book was out. Now, I needed a second one.

Deb Courtney and I talked at PPWC in 2012, and she asked about a suicide book I’d talked about years before. I asked her if she’d like to take a look. She’d opened Courtney Literary, and I thought she might help me get something published. She loved the book. She gave me brilliant edits. Long Live the Suicide King lives (pun intended) because of her. Thank you.

But first…but first, Quincy J. Allen happened to me. Thanks to Rose Beetem, who has been so kind to me, got me on a panel at Mile-Hi Con. She let me do a talk with Jason Heller about the movie and music of Heavy Metal, and she let me do a god panel. I love talking about Him, Her, It, They. God(s) that is.

Real quick, first, that talk with Jason Heller about Heavy Metal will be one of the high points of my convention life. Without a doubt. It’s a one way ticket to midnight…

Quincy J. Allen showed up to my God panel, and he said I did a good job moderating. We talked. And though I was scared of his success and Mohawk, I had the idea we might become friends. What happened? We became not just friends, but road dogs.

His girlfriend, Kathryn S. Renta, gave me another break that changed my writing career. It was a Sunday night, and I was checking Facebook, when she messaged me. She suggested I write a story for the Penny Dread Tales III, which Quincy edits. I wrote “The Dirges of Percival Lewand” which garnered praise and solidified my standing in the local Colorado writing community. It’s because of Kathryn, who quotes the exact same lines of Shakespeare that I do, that I wrote that story. And Quincy loved it. He wants to write a screenplay. I’m open.

In 2013, Jenna Barton, one of my RT friends, reached out to me and suggested in 2013 I write a story for Fiction Vale, a new fiction magazine. So I wrote two stories and the pay was good. Jenna Barton is a true artist, a wonderful writer, and an adventurer into the realms of the soul. And while I didn’t have a book come out in 2013, I did have several short stories thanks to Jenna and Quincy.

I gotta say, 2013 was rough. Odd-numbered year. In 2014, Long Live the Suicide King was released and I did a little book tour. In Minnesota, I signed a contract with Staccato Publishing, run by another of my RT friends, Heather Savage. Heather Savage has a passion for writing and books, and once again, I had a great editor to work with. I loved our phone calls. Elizabeth’s Midnight is such a good book because of her insights.

Wait a minute, 2013 wasn’t such a bad year. At Mile-Hi Con (thank you, Rose Beetem), I talked with Peter J. Wacks in the smoking section. I told him about a new series I was working on. It was this crazy idea about cowgirls with machine guns on a post-apocalyptic cattle drive. He told him to send it to him. In June of 2014, I signed a six-book contract with WordFire Press. I used to go over to Peter’s apartment, bring him Thai food, and we talked and planned. He told me that as an editor, you want to make the smallest changes that will give you the biggest results. He didn’t believe in re-writing whole books if you didn’t have to. One sentence can change a book for the better.

Which swirls us around 2015 and my first Superstars conference and my foray into a new adventure. I started working local booths. And I have to say, when I think of working a show, I think of Travis Heermann. He’s in New Zealand. He’ll come back. Colorado will be better for it.

Working shows, going to Superstars Writing Seminar, I met Lou J. Berger. More about Lou in a minute.

In 2015 I also went to South Carolina to hang out with Kendall, Rie, Heather, and Jenna. Working there, watching Rie work, it’s so nice to know there is someone else in the world who writes like me. Rie doesn’t just write, she bashes words until they beg for mercy. She writes like a force of nature.

While I was enjoying some success, three books, and a series on the way, the terror and sorrow I felt on a daily basis threatened to crush me.

And so I started doing something magical. If I was hit with an emotional bomb, and the writing/publishing world drops bombs often, I would call three people and talk about it three times. I would feel better and sleep that night.

Who are the first people I call to get my three? Kendall Grey is one. She is my sister from another mister. She is so much like me, but more brave, and far stronger. You don’t want to mess with Kendall Grey. And yet, when we talk, she understands me, and I understand her. Together, we are Kendaaron. She’s the better half.

Lou J. Berger is another person I call to talk through my feelings. And he is so esoteric, in the best sense. People tell me my mind works differently. No. Lou’s brain works differently. Wonderfully different. I call him and he helps me see things in a new light. He wrote me a wonderful note that I read every night before I go to bed. It has become a kind of mantra to me. Thank you, Lou.

Mile-Hi Con also gave me David M. Daniel (I’m seeing a theme here, Rose Beetem). I meet and read a lot of new writers, but David’s writing actually made me search for more pages to read because I couldn’t get enough of his Sebastian story. And his editing eye is sharp and merciless. I don’t like to talk on the phone. But with David, I can talk with him for hours. Generally, we talk and I’m either on a stormy highway going seventy or I’m in a King Soopers, so afraid, so tired of the despair. And David says, “Every writer has a sucky part of their story. You’re just in the sucky part right now.”

The Penny Dread Tales anthologies gave me Kathryn and Quincy, but it also gave me Jason Evans. We wrote a story and sold it. We wrote another and got a rejection. We eat breakfast. We talk. He is a wonderful beta-reader and an even better friend. And he’s Catholic. When I’m down, he says, “All suffering is redemptive.” We are both going to heaven. We’ll write books there.

Another new friend, a writer, a seeker, is Jennifer Rose. I met her at the Pikes Peak Writer’s Conference and we hit it off. Then we saw each other, again and again, and we had breakfast at Breakfast on Broadway, which is the best breakfast around. I look forward to us working together.

Again, Mile-Hi Con. I met Sheila Hartney, though we are also Pikes Peak Writer friends. Sheila beta-reads, but more than that, she gives me such hope. There is something about Sheila that makes me believe in the dream. And sometimes believing in the dream is hard. Real hard.

And so, in a few weeks, Dandelion Iron will be released, book one of The Juniper Wars series. It won’t have an acknowledgement section, but the second book will. And dang, a lot of people will show up there. People like Melissa Jankowksi, David Myers, Leah Cary, Mia Kleve, and of course Vivian Trask.  All were vital in helping me shape the book. And of course all the folks at WordFire.

I’m at three thousand words. I’m at fifty people. Ish. And again, this isn’t everyone. I have so many more beautiful friends I could talk about. Ian Thomas Healy. Deanna Knippling. James Sams. David Boop. Betsy Dornbusch. Natasha Brown.

Two more.

Dave Butler. I’ve spent three days in your company. I’m hoping this is the start of a beautiful relationship. Anyone who sings my name, well, I dig that.


I told my wife I was going to quit writing forever, one day, one of many. And she stopped me. She said, “You have lived most of your life in a fantasy world. Writing and publishing books is the most real thing you can do.”

She didn’t let me quit. She believed in me. She is my partner in crime, and I couldn’t ask for a better partner.

To bring it full circle, I told Becky Hodgkins I was going to quit, one day, one of many. She said words that still haunt me. She said, “You can’t quit writing if you haven’t really tried.”

I’m trying, Becky. And the thing about the writing game, trying means for the rest of my life. Trying means until they throw dirt on me.

That’s fine. I got my road dogs. I have a path, and I got lots of books in me.

Let’s keep trying together.