Goodbye Harry Potter - A Love Story

Howdy folks!  I've been on a once a week blog cycle this summer, and while I've certainly missed the catharsis involved in sharing my thoughts with you fine people on a more frequent basis, I must say it has alleviated some of the bulge in my 'to do' list.  I'll get back to my regular 3-ish postings a week at some point, but to be honest I'm kind of enjoying stretching my legs a bit.

I previously posted about the runaway summer I've been having, and was relieved (in a morbid sinking ship kind of way) to see how many of you were experiencing a similar amount of 'nuts'.  In conclusion, I think it's just the season to get distracted.

Perhaps the single biggest indication of just how much my time has gotten away from me this year was my delay in getting to the newest (and last) Harry Potter movie.  You see, over the last 9 years I've managed to be at the theater on opening night for the previous 6 films.  I missed the opening for the first film because I had no idea who or what a Harry Potter was, and I couldn't have told you the difference between a muggle and a mud cat.  Ultimately, I decided the movie might be worth a shot after a couple of weeks worth of strong recommendations from friends and coworkers.


I can still remember that night vividly in my mind.  The girl who would soon become my wife asked if I could make an evening showing after classes, and of course I agreed.  In retrospect it was never really a decision, because 1) I was crazy about her and would have agreed to drive to the moon to fetch lemonade if she'd have asked it of me, and 2) I was--and still am--in love with the big screen too.  I'll watch just about anything once.

I recall walking up to the theater holding her hand and suddenly letting it drop as I saw a line of a couple dozen people formed outside our tiny cinema.  It was two weeks out from opening night and there were still droves of people (keep in mind we attended college in a VERY small town) lining up to watch it!  "This must be some kind of story," I thought as we finally were allowed in to find a seat.


Backtracking a bit, you should know that I was not a big reader at that point in my life--at least not fiction.  In my teens I'd become a pretty BIG fan of Stephen King and spent a fair amount of my time nose-in-book.  Unfortunately, when I started college I put away the fun reads for textbooks.  That trend continued all the way through grad school and the first Harry Potter film.

You should also know (for the sake of this story) that my wife and I were somewhat star-crossed in the love falling department.  We first met in May of that year (2001), I asked her to marry me just shy of two months later.  As we lay on her tiny dormitory bed listening to Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong sing a duet, the idea came to my mind that I'd never be able live another day without her, so I asked if she'd make sure that never happened.  She thought I was joking, of course, but thankfully said yes.

That might sound crazy to you, and in hindsight I'd probably agree that it was, but there really wasn't much else for us to do BUT get married.  I'm not exaggerating when I say that we had EVERYTHING in common.  It was like we'd been walking on opposite sides of the same road our entire lives completely unaware that the other person was there.  All of a sudden we found ourselves in the middle of the road staring at each other.  From that point on, continuing to wander that road alone no longer seemed like an option.

When Harry rolled around, I'd found the hidden love of my life only months before.  Little did I know that I was about to rediscover a lost love, and gain a new one all in the same magical evening.


"We have to get the books," my wife said on the drive home.  The next day we had all four and began to tackle the hardest part of any relationship: sharing.  Luckily she wanted to read the first one to see if the movie matched the book, and I was already eager to start the second to find out what happened next.  Who knows, if she'd have wanted to start with book 2 we might not be celebrating our tenth anniversary next year!

I read the next 3 books in a week.  I'm not a fast reader, and keep in mind that I hadn't read much of anything in the way of fiction in years.  Suddenly I found myself in love with reading again, and all of it thanks to some kids' books about wizards.  I also started to see some of the children I worked with at the counseling agency reading them.  Naturally, I explored what value they were getting from them.  Seems that these kids, many of whom had absolutely awful home lives, could really relate to this orphaned boy who was terribly mistreated by his adopted family.  It was escapism of the highest importance, in my eyes.

That's when I decided I'd like to be able to write those kinds of stories.  Stories that could make adults remember the fun of reading, and stories that could truly mean something for people without much else to hold on to.


Nearly ten years later, last night I once again clutched the girl's hand in a darkened theatre as we watched the opening credits of a new Harry Potter film.  Only this time I knew it was the last.  I squeezed her hand and asked, "You going to make it through this?"  Only half-joking, because I knew what it meant for her as well.

We fell in love with Harry in much the same way we did with one another.  It was instantaneous, inexplicably familiar and lasting.  Our relationship has evolved with Harry, and so many of our fondest memories together have come at his wand.  Staying up all night to purchase (and read) each new book, laughing at the costumes people wore to the theaters, snuggled together in blankets on rare free weekends to re-watch the movies, and hashing out the meanings and relevance of the books over countless dinners.  That's not to mention the number of friends we've made just because we had a shared love of Mr. Potter.    

Like so many others, to us Harry Potter has been much more than a book or film franchise.  Harry Potter has been a companion in our lives.  He has marked the passing of time and provided us with a lifetime of special moments to look back on.  Trying my best to sum it up, I'd say Harry Potter has proven to me that sometimes the journey truly is the destination.


HELP! I've been hit by a runaway summer!

Hey folks!  Ever feel like life just darted by and you somehow managed to snag its tail only to end up being dragged through the dirt, thistle and mud?  Yeah, it's like that for me right now.

This summer has been crazy busy, and most of it not by design.  Last minute trips, visitors, appointments, dysfunctional air conditioning, etc. have left me sifting through the rubble of my seemingly once ample free time.  Now, as I sit scratching myself with the proverbial shards of my broken ambitions (Holla at your boy, Job!  Sorry, vague biblical reference. :-), I see it's mid-July and I have two more trips out of town before the month ends.  *cue Bella Swan eye roll*

At any rate, this is more of just a check in to see how YOUR summer is going?  Getting good writing done?  Lots of family time?  Need a drink, preferably stiff?  Have you attended any writing related workshops or conferences?  Have a book coming out?  Read anything awesome?

Also, what do you think about the new Blogger dashboard design?  I about flipped because it was so naked I thought all of my stuff was gone!  I'm digging how it clearly displays page views, though.  (In a morbid 'watching a car crash' kind of way.)

Let me have it in the comments so I can hopefully live through your exciting summer exploits!


A Game of Groans - Harsh Writing Lessons From George R. R. Martin

Howdy gang!  Hope you're all doing well, and not nursing burns from the heat and/or fireworks.  Not much posting for me this week and last week due to the holiday, travel, etc.  I have been reading, though.

Specifically, I've had my nose buried in my eReader devouring George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series.  The newest book in the notoriously slow-to-birth (A Game of Thrones, the first in the series, was published in 1996, and he's just now to book 5!) set arrives next week, and I want to be all caught up and ready to dive in as soon as the download warms my hard-drive.

The books first grabbed my attention when HBO announced several months ago that a television show based on the novels was forthcoming.  I'm a huge fan of HBO original series.  From Rome to True Blood, they consistently offer some of the best production values, acting and entertainment in all of TV.  Books ALWAYS being better than their visual interpretations--yes, like mountains being tall and heavy, it's a fact--I wanted to be sure to read the stories before I started watching the show.  Nothing worse than a bad show spoiling a good book, right?

These stories came with the reputation of being some of the best in fantasy writing since The Lord of the Rings, so my expectations were sky high.  They didn't disappoint.  Like Tolkien/LOTR, G.R.R. Martin grounds the fantastical elements of the story with richly crafted histories and exceptionally detailed and realistic settings.  So much so that you often forget you're reading fiction.  In many ways the books are more akin to reading political history from a textbook than reading about dragons and such.  Now, that might not sound like a formula for entertainment, but when that political history involves some of the most colorful, deadly and unseemly characters to ever grace fiction--well, let's just say there's never a dull moment.

Warring families, ruthless enemies, dragons, zombie-like creatures, love, friendship and death (LOTS of death ... but I'll get to that) are all commonplace in Ice and Fire.  At times it's like reading a soap opera with swordplay, and other times they read like the classic 'buddy movie' Stand By Me, except there are dragons and giant wolves in place of a dead bodies and town ruffians.  There's plenty to offer for just about every kind of reader, but that isn't to suggest the books are perfect.

Many have taken the author to task for his callus treatment of beloved characters, his penchant for dragging a story out, and for pulling a few punches with chapter transitions.  In fact, I'd suggest a  few rules to keep while reading the Ice and Fire books.

First, never expect to have anything TRULY resolved.  Sure, certain plot points will work themselves out, but it typically just creates ten more.  The books always end with major questions and characters dangling in the wind, and most of the chapters do as well.

Second, never--EVER--get attached to a character.  Nor should you believe conventional storytelling wisdom will prevail as it relates to endearing characters sticking around for the reader's sake.  Martin will focus on a character for three books, making you think the series hinges upon them in the process, and then kill them with the swift swipe of a broadsword as if they weren't there at all.  I can't tell you how many times I've had re-read a few paragraphs at the end of a chapter or scene to actually get my brain to register that a character actually died.  It's that shocking!  Absolutely no one is safe, which is both compelling and utterly frustrating.  Seriously, some of the stuff he pulls would be the story equivalent of killing off Han Solo at the end of the first Star Wars movie.  Martin is that bold, and that cruel, of a storyteller.

Lastly, disregard all that you know about the natural flow of storytelling.  Lots of authors have mined the open-ended chapter/scene closure with varying degrees of success.  If done properly, a cliffhanger can prompt the reader to stay up way past their bedtime to figure out what has happened.  (Stieg Larsson's Dragon Tattoo books come to mind.)  If overused, it can feel like a gimmick or lazy storytelling.  Dan Brown comes to mind as an example of the cliffhanger abuser.   It might read something like this:

James opened the door only to find a gun in his face! -end scene-  
-next chapter- "What a cute water pistol you have there, Billy," James said, opening the door further so the child could scuttle by. 

Not cool, DB.  Not cool at all.  So long as you follow through, I personally feel there's nothing wrong with leaving the reader on the hook.  In fact, it's usually a sign of darn good writing.  I find Martin's storytelling to be a mixed bag on this front.  On the one hand, when he leaves a character in great peril or facing some momentous discovery, the stakes typically stay high when you resume.  A good thing.  On the other, you  might have to read half of the book to find out what happened.  Not always a good thing, because you can sometimes forget why it was important in the first place.

Judging by his fan base and the rate at which I'm devouring his words, it's safe to say that Martin does way more right than wrong.  As such, I think he offers some excellent--if a bit extreme--examples to those of us who study the craft.

First, I'm not sure you can ever be too cruel to your characters.  If the story demands they meet an awful end, have everyone they know die in exceptionally cruel ways, or simply remain oblivious to the freight-train bearing down on them,  it's probably the right thing to do.  You'll just have to figure out how to make it work.  (That's what writers do, right?)  

Second, never be afraid to leave the reader with questions--even at the very end.  I mentioned my preference for words over film earlier, and I think the magic that makes it so is the ability to fill in the gaps a written story leaves with my own images, thoughts, etc.  Due to the compact nature of a film, almost everything has to be expressed overtly.  Books have no such limitations.  In fact, it's often best to leave certain details to a reader's imagination.  It kind of goes against a storyteller's instincts to NOT tell, but the best authors know how to do it, and do it well.

Lastly, never underestimate the reader's patience.  I know I'm personally guilty of trying to guess what a reader will and won't tromp through to get to the good stuff.  Sometimes you just have to tell a story the way a character would live it.  That might not be as expedient as killing them off when they've served their purpose, and you might also risk ticking off a reader who feels they've invested in a character only to have them yanked away.  However, you're the storyteller, and if it makes the story better it's probably worth the risk.

If it is written well and I'm confident that I'll be rewarded with an excellent story, I've learned I'll stick with just about all of the hijinks and devilry an author can unleash.  So I guess more than anything Martin has taught me to be bold with my ideas and words, because in the end the struggle really does make the story.  Even for the reader.


Author Interview - L. Carroll

Howdy gang!  I'd like to introduce author L. Carroll to the Open Vein.  It was a real honor to be able to interview her as part of the "400 Hours to 400 Days" blog party.  You can learn more about it HERE.  We talked about her newest book, Four Hundred Days, her experiences as an Indie author, and writing/publishing in general.  I think you're going to easily see why I'm now one of her biggest fans.  (She's a Harry Potter fan, need I say more?) Enjoy!

E.J. - Welcome to the O.V., L.C.!  :-)

L.C. -  Hello E.J., and thanks so much for having me! I'm honored to be here on The Open Vein blog and want to sincerely thank you for taking your time to host the "Four Hundred Hours to Four Hundred Days" blog party!

E.J. - The good stuff first. Tell us about your books, Lor Mandela – Destruction from Twins and the forth coming Lor Mandela – 400 Days (July 15).

L.C.Well, let's see… "Destruction from Twins" is about the far away world of Lor Mandela which is facing full-scale obliteration, due to the selfish acts of a twin enchantress. There is only one person able to save it -- a young girl named Audril Borloc -- but when she vanishes shortly after her fourth birthday, all hope seems lost.

In a desperate effort to save themselves, a group of Lor Mandelan spies travel to Earth in search of the little girl with black hair and blue eyes, traits that on Lor Mandela are exclusive to Audril's ruling family. Instead, they find sixteen-year-old Maggie Baker. While the age difference between the girls is obvious, Maggie has the Borloc traits, so the spies conclude that she MUST be Audril. Following a strange incident at her bedroom window, Maggie begins bouncing back and forth between her boring hometown of Glenhill, Iowa, and the not-so-boring lands of Lor Mandela, where she comes face-to-face with a ferocious two headed monster, is abducted by a lawless clan of Shadow Dwellers, and falls head-over-heels for the son of an evil dictator. As Lor Mandela nears death, Maggie discovers that uncovering the truth about Audril's disappearance and stopping the destruction of this mystical world may depend entirely on her.

Book #2 in the series, "Four Hundred Days" continues Audril's story later in her life. (I suppose that's a bit of a spoiler…yes, she gets found in the first book). She goes to Earth to save one of her dearest friends from a power hungry tyrant who has begun systematically obliterating towns and cities to get her to turn herself over to him.

On Earth, she meets a wildly eccentric old lady named Teedee Venilworth whose imaginary butler/fiancé supposedly holds the key to her success. But how can someone help if he doesn't exist?

This book is an action-packed whirlwind of intrigue and fantasy that takes the reader to the haunted corridors of Alcatraz Penitentiary, an ancient castle on the cliff shores of Ireland, and to the picturesque Northern High Forests of Lor Mandela, where friends can become foes; enemies can turn into allies; and just because someone dies, it doesn’t always mean that they’re dead.

The series is technically listed as Young Adult Fantasy, but I've received some very nice compliments from twelve year olds as well as sixty-five year olds, so the young adult classification is a little loose. 

As to my inspiration…it began as a dream about an epic battle where a young woman was kicking some major booty, despite being heavily outnumbered. Just as the battle turned ugly, she raised her sword into the air and yelled out a cryptic phrase, and everyone around her disappeared. The battle now only encompasses one chapter, and it's not even the first one in the first book, but that was the starting point for the Lor Mandela Series.

E.J. - Sounds like my kind of story, which is to say unbelievably fun and exciting!  Most of The Open Vein's audience are writers or are interested in the craft. Can you tell us about your writing process, and maybe some of the writing challenges/successes of the Lor series?

L.C. - If you've ever read my blog posts, you've probably gathered that I'm slightly wacky. (E.J. - So are all of my followers, so you're in good company!) There are a couple of quirky things I do when I write. First of all, if I'm in a blasĂ© or grumpy mood, I have to put on my "crazy lady glasses". They're these absolutely horrible, plastic-rimmed, white, pointy things with no lenses. They always make me feel goofy and light-hearted. I can't write unless I'm in a good mood…even the dark chapters!

The other thing that I do (which my kids all dread, especially if I'm wearing the glasses) is act out every scene before I write it. I do this to make sure that the story flows in a believable, realistic way. Let me tell ya, this does wonders for writer's block!

My biggest challenge, I think, is finding the exact, perfect word that I'm looking for. It's so frustrating to me to know what I want to say, and not be able to say it. Thank heavens for thesauruses! I don't know how any author can write effectively without one, (and/or "crazy lady glasses")

As far as successes go, every time someone tells me that they enjoyed reading my book, it's a success. There's nothing better than a glowing review. I had one that even likened "Destruction from Twins" to the Harry Potter books! That was a great day!!!

E.J. - I think it's very cool that you're so into your process.  I've said many times that I think it's important to be able to conjure the writing mood if you're truly serious about getting better.  Great authors don't write when the feel like it.  Tell us a little about your reading and writing background. What are your favorite reads? How did you get into writing?

L.C. - I have such eclectic tastes; I enjoy books from several varied genres. I adore the classics… Austen, Lewis, Lawrence and Bronte (both of 'em). I devoured the Harry Potter Novels, and that's just the first time I read them! I love a good ghost story (as long as it's believable), and I read a lot of great motivational non-fiction as well.

I've never really had any formal (beyond high school) writing instruction, but I've always been a story teller. The dream that I mentioned before is really what started me writing. When I woke up the following morning, I remember thinking, "That dream would make an awesome movie scene…or a great basis for a book." The very next thought to pop into my head was, "I wonder if I could write a book." As they say, the rest is history.

E.J. - More proof that the great writers are great readers!  Many of my followers are very interested in the booming Indie author scene, and the massive change the publishing industry is undergoing. (Let's talk about the 500 lbs gorilla in the room, shall we? :-) Tell us your thoughts on the shift from the traditional publishing method of write/query/agent/editor/publish/rinse/repeat to the DIY method. 

L.C. - I think it's terrific that self-publishing is taking off. I've gone down the traditional road of querying agents until I was blue in the face. The fact of the matter is that these poor agents (and publishers) can't keep up with the demand.

I'm guessing that the story of a homeless gal who wrote seven books about a boy wizard, and who now holds a spot on Forbes' list of billionaires may have contributed. With success stories such as this, is it any wonder that there are so many authors now? As long as there are tales the likes of J.K. Rowlings' and Stephenie Meyers' I doubt this trend will slow. True, their both traditionally published, but one of these days (no doubt soon), the story will belong to an indie author…I'm positive!

Yeah, there are pros and cons. The first pro to self-publishing is that you retain the rights to your work. This is a big one, and the reason I ultimately chose to self-publish! Manuscript changes, movie or television rights, available formats…as a self-published author you make the call.

Typically, royalty percentages are better as a self-published author, and you'll see your finished book much quicker than if you go the traditional route.

On the flip side, because you're in charge, you are your own marketing/publicity department, (unless you pay to hire one). If selling your book is your objective, you must be prepared to pound the pavement and the computer keys…a lot!

The other drawback to self-publishing is one that I hope the current trend will smash. It is the general perception that indie authors are "rejects" or sub-standard authors. Many indie authors are phenomenal at what they do, and I've read some traditionally published books that weren't worth the paper they were printed on. I think we'll know when the trend stops being a trend and becomes the norm when indie author isn't a term we use anymore. If someone has a published work, they'll simply be called an author, regardless of the road they took. (E.J. - PREACH IT, SISTER!)

E.J. - Can you offer any tips for writers who might be considering a career as an Indie author? 

L.C. - Absolutely! First, get a great editor! Even if you’re a spelling stud or a grammar guru, you'll miss stuff. Not only that, you've developed your story and it makes perfect sense to you, but will it make sense to someone who is looking at it for the first time? In my opinion, a good editor is the difference between a polished, professional book and one that looks homemade. Traditionally published authors have editors, and so should you!

Second, do your research! There are plenty of companies out there that will take your money to turn you into a published author, but if you haven't done your research, they might just take a lot of your money! You can spend anywhere from a few dollars to a few thousand dollars to self-publish. (I prefer the first option). Check with other authors and get their feedback. Find out what services companies offer, (ebook publishing, distribution channels, royalty percentages, hard cover availability, printing options, etc.) to make sure they fulfill your needs. Oh, and if a self-publishing company (sometimes called a vanity press) says they'll market your book, be leery! From what I've heard, (and experienced *blush*), you're not going to get much of a bang for your buck where that's concerned!

E.J. - Back to the good stuff! Tell us where we can find the Lor Mandela books, and give us three reasons why they should be the next books on our TBR (To Be Read) list. (Hey, we ask the TOUGH questions here on The OV! :-)

L.C. - Oh my goodness! You certainly do! Right now, "Destruction from Twins" is available in paperback at or

It's available in ebook formats at or

"Four Hundred Days", will be available on July 15th at both and, and will be available on Amazon, B&N, and a bunch of other websites about 2-3 weeks later.

Here are the reasons you should read "Lor Mandela - Destruction from Twins" and "Lor Mandela - Four Hundred Days"!

Reason #1 (Amazon Review) "It has romance, action, adventure and so many twists and turns all rolled into one. What a great book!"

Reason #2 (Goodreads Review) "Lor Mandela is a captivating world that I enjoyed escaping into. Everything this world has to offer is something I loved being a part of."

Reason #3 (Goodreads Review) "I was drawn in from just reading the summary and then when I started reading the book, wow. Let me tell you this is such a wild ride from beginning to end."

Hopefully you'll forgive me for cheating a little here! When I say these things, it's bragging. It just sounds better coming from someone else. From my heart though, I hope you enjoy reading any and all of my books! Thanks again for this interview! It's been a pleasure!

E.J. - Thank YOU for sharing so much with us!  I truly wish you all of the success in the world, and I know you've made a few more fans today!