The first full draft of “Echoes from the Valley” is complete

Whelp, it took…four years? Five? I honestly can’t remember. At any rate, last week I finished the first full draft of Echoes from the Valley: The Uncanny Files of Emil Fitzhugh. This one, like Darkness in the Valley, ended up being much longer and more involved than I anticipated, so we’re looking at a 105,000-word novel/story cycle, or around 425 pages.

Today I printed the full thing off, and seeing it all in one place — beginning, middle, and end – was a great feeling. Of course there’s still a lot of work ahead. Parts of it that I finished quite some time ago have been through several rounds of revisions, but at least a third of it hasn’t been edited in any form. I also tend to go through my projects, however large or small, with a fine-toothed comb. So keeping my general schedule in mind, I expect another two years or so will pass before this is published…but it will be.  

I can’t presume to have much of an objective opinion on it yet, but authors are often the worst judges of how their own work will be received anyway. That said, even at this stage I do feel this one works. Over the last five weeks, while I was working on the final 70 pages virtually every day, everything connected, and the way forward became crystal clear.

I love that feeling…of going out, setting up, knocking out several pages, ending the day’s work on a high note, then repeating that day after day for weeks. I genuinely couldn’t wait to finally write the ending I’d visualized for several years, and when I got to it, there was no uncertainty at all. That doesn’t mean it was easy work, but it was smooth. It took years to get to that stage with this project, but I did get there.

That brings to me a point I’ve made over and over again, but which I can’t emphasize strongly enough: if something means a lot to you, it’s worth doing, and if it’s worth doing, it’s worth finishing.

Like I said, this wasn’t an easy book to write. It has a lot of moving parts, and figuring out how they all connect (not just with each other, but with the first two books), even with a focal end point in mind, was a big challenge. Beyond that, I took breaks to write Dark Nights and Candlelight and Magic Things, handled some significant life changes, and kept up with teaching (my “day job”).

The solution was in recognizing the truth of the old (some might say threadbare) cliche, “Take things one step at a time.” If you can take one step, you can take the next. There may be more (sometimes many more) steps than you planned, they may be steeper (sometimes much steeper) than you anticipated, but in the end, there should be no quitting on what you truly care about, and that’s the way forward. If it means something to you, keep putting one foot in front of the other, and eventually you’ll get there, no matter how long it takes. It’s as beautifully simple as that.

Speaking of long-term goals, just last weekend we drove the 500 miles to Chicago, and then on to Waukegan – which, as any good Ray Bradbury reader knows, is “Green Town,” the town where he was born and lived until he was 13, and the inspirational setting for many of his greatest stories. I’ve wanted to make that trip since I was 17. So it took 27 years, but I finally got there.

It was, I’m thrilled to say, everything I hoped it would be. More on that soon.

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“Magic Things” is now available for Kindle…

I’m happy to report that Magic Things is now available for Kindle! I’d hoped to make this a free e-book, but Amazon requires a minimum price, so I set it at $.99. So you can now pick up the Kindle edition for under a buck, the paperback for $3.99, and the hardcover for $11.99.

Thanks to everyone who has bought a physical copy so far. Magic Things seems to have legs to it…Several library systems across the country have bought copies for their branches (which is perfect, considering the subject matter of the book!), and the paperback edition in particular is doing very well. So I’m very grateful, and I hope you like the next one just as much. I’m still anticipating an autumn release for that one, and right now it looks like the final title will be Departing the Station: A Chapbook.

Happy Spring and more soon,


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Now Available: “Magic Things”

I’m very happy to announce that Magic Things has been published and is now officially available. It’s a small book, just 71 pages, but a great format for presenting two short stories I think are intrinsically connected, and a labor of love for everyone involved. A huge thanks to John Randall York, Anne Hardin, and Alexis George for their invaluable contributions, both to this project, and to my life.

Magic Things is currently available in both paperback and hardcover form. The paperback is $3.99, and the hardcover (which takes a bit longer to ship) $11.99. The Kindle edition will join them within the month, but until then I’d like to give people a chance to buy old-fashioned, physical copies exclusively. Much as I appreciate digital books, there really is nothing comparable to a book that can be held, flipped through, and kept on a shelf; to paper and cardboard and glue and ink. It makes me happy to think that the book’s first readers will experience it that way.

Beyond that, I’m beginning work on a companion chapbook to this one. Tentatively entitled Arrivals and Departures, it will be about the same length as Magic Things, and contain three new stories, all of which focus on time, change, beginnings (some calculated, some unexpected) and endings (some inevitable, some most decidedly not). It will be out in the fall.

As always, I hope everyone enjoys this newest publication – another offering to the gods. It’s been a pleasure seeing it through to completion, and now I’m happy to know that it’s in your hands.


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Introducing “Magic Things”

Well, it’s been quite a while! And it’s been an eventful seven months, too. But everything about this little book is now done, except for the final formatting. Here’s the completed cover:

We decided to have fun with it this time around, and John created a beautifully garish illustration that echoes the book’s celebratory (albeit dark, at times) nature. So we got there, delayed by a few months as I figured…but who’s counting? Like I’ve said before, the important thing is that eventually the finish line is crossed – not necessarily when. With writing (and so much else in life), being the fastest doesn’t mean anything. Getting it right does.

So as always, when this one comes out, I hope you feel I got it right.

Anyway, two new short stories and an afterword are included. The stories are “Magic Things” and “Applause.” As I rediscovered when working on the afterword, “Applause” is the last of my short stories that Ray Bradbury knew about. Unlike so many others, however, he never read it; I talked about the idea with him as his health entered its last decline shortly before he passed, and he loved it. But I didn’t feel ready to finish writing it until last year, a decade later.

Again, being fast means nothing. Getting it right does. Also again, I hope you feel I did.

So now it goes off to the talented Anne Hardin for formatting, and before too much longer I’ll post here again to announce its publication.

With so much going on in the world right now to be concerned about, both widely and in daily life, I hope everyone reading this is finding comfort and joy in the things they can control. And I also hope you’re safe, well, and ready to embrace 2022 if it behaves itself and tackle it if it gets out of hand.



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New Projects and Summer Plans

Phew! Now that it’s late-June and I’m firmly in the thick of my summer writing schedule, I’m happy to be able to announce several pieces of good news on that front.

First up, John Randall York and I will soon be publishing a short, 8,500-word book called Magic Things. It’s a pairing of two new short stories, both heavily illustrated by John, along with an afterword. It came about after I finally finished a story called “Applause,” which had been percolating for years, but needed that time to come together. After reading through it and editing it, I realized “Applause” and the title story, “Magic Things,” made a good match. I sent them on to John, and the project was born.

As it stands now, the stories are more or less polished. Also, John has already completed five interior illustrations (out of a projected ten or so), and is at work on the final cover, which (in my humble opinion) already looks beautiful. His work never ceases to amaze me. This will mark our eighth collaboration in 12 years, and I couldn’t be happier or more grateful for the forces that brought us together. It’s hard to believe we have yet to meet in person, but that certainly hasn’t slowed our collaborations down. Below is one of John’s finished pieces for it as a small teaser.

“Goodnight Moon,” by John Randall York

If all goes well, the book will be out in October or November…our projects tend to find their own timeframes, since rushing invariably equals sloppiness and poor quality. But considering how far along we already are, that seems a reasonable estimate. It will be published as an inexpensive paperback, and also as a $.99 Kindle e-book.

Beyond that, I finally feel comfortable stating that the third Uncanny Chronicles book has now found its legs. Writing each Uncanny book is basically like fitting pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together – but I also have to create the pieces. I’ve now created enough for this one that the basic overall picture is coming into firm focus, so I’ll be able to knock out the rest then finish arranging them. That will mark the completion of the rough draft. Then I’ll have to rearrange how some of them fit together, editing as I go – and once that’s done, the second draft will be too.

So after several years of working on it, with a big break in there to write Dark Nights and Candlelight and a short break to write what will soon be Magic Things, the completion of the rough draft for Echoes from the Valley: The Uncanny Files of Emil Fitzhugh is in sight. That’s my summer goal, and I’m enjoying the hell out of it. It’s been a big challenge, just like Darkness in the Valley was, but the challenge is a great part of the enjoyment and satisfaction.

Also, in the past I’ve hinted about another project in the works, and some have been asking about it. I meant to drop more specifics a while ago, but I still don’t feel comfortable expanding on it too much too soon – Covid put a hold on it, so there is little new to report, and in general, the process for these sorts of things tends to involve a lot of “hurry up and wait.”

What I can say is that The Uncanny Chronicles has been optioned for television and streaming by a very reputable production company that has created work I’ve greatly admired in the past. Being optioned is NOT the same as being green lit for actual production, but one can’t happen without the other, and the producer and director are very enthusiastic about the project. Will things move forward with it? Time will tell. But it’s an encouraging development that I think about now and then, even as I focus on what I can directly control.

Last but not least, I’m so happy summer has finally come around again after such a difficult year. I’m proud of how we tackled the challenges of teaching during the pandemic, with all the stresses, pitfalls, and learning curves involved, but I’m also hopeful we never have to face those particular challenges again. As part of the summer “detox” process from the ’20-21 school year, I’m taking a few small trips – the longest being what basically amounts to a “Van Gogh tour” to Manhattan, Hartford, and New Haven, to explore some museums I’ve wanted to visit – or revisit – for many years. All of them (with the exception of the Mark Twain House, which I’m also excited to see) are home to some truly breathtaking works by Vincent. So with any luck, this time next month I’ll be standing in front of “Starry Night” at the MoMA, “Two Sunflowers” at the Met, “The Night Café” at Yale University, “Vase with Red Poppies” at the Wadsworth Athenium, and several dozen others I’ve read about and have a deep desire to see in person. There is nothing quite like seeing an original Van Gogh, and now seems like the right time to finally begin making my long-term goal of seeing as many as possible a reality. His oeuvre is spread across the world, so the process will also open up a world of travel and new experiences. I’m ready.

Until the next time, here’s hoping you soak up the summer sun, admire the summer rain, and enjoy the little things in life as well as the big.


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A Step in the Right Direction

Someone just informed me that I haven’t posted here in roughly six months. I couldn’t believe it, but turns out she’s right! So more in the days to come, but in the meantime, I hope everyone who can get vaccinated in the days, weeks, and months ahead will jump on the opportunity and help stop the spread. By early summer, if everyone does their part, we could be living in a much safer world — forever changed, yes, but reassuringly familiar in ways we’ve missed, and that matter most. We’re due.

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Very Much At Home: A Brief Update

Hi Friends,

Just a quick update on the new Uncanny Valley book and related stuff, since some people have been asking. My goal over the summer was to write another 30,000 words of it, but my divorce and the move that went with it took up most of my time and focus.

With that in mind, I only ended up writing 22,000 words this summer. That said, just yesterday I took a look through my writing log and realized those 22,000 words include 12 new story-chapters, all completed over a six week period. The book is now 66,000 words long (about 220 pages, divided into 33 story-chapters), and I’m estimating it will take another 20,000 words, about another dozen chapters, to wrap up the rough draft. So there’s still much to do, but I’m also happy with what I was able to complete in the midst of a very unusual summer. Besides, keeping personal deadlines is great, but simply crossing the finish line is more important, regardless of the detours that have to be made or how long it may take. I crossed several important finish lines this summer, and will cross those related to the book in due course.

So now I’m in my new apartment, completely unpacked and feeling very much at home. And while teaching, especially during Covid, takes up a lot of my creative and professional focus at the moment, those 220 pages of the new book have found a semi-permanent home on my new kitchen table, so I can dig in, revise, and edit whenever I have the time, and take inspiration from my new library/living room just across from it.

For example, this morning, over coffee, I was skimming through a biography of Zelda Fitzgerald and came across this beautiful quote from her:

Nobody has ever measured, even the poets, how much a heart can hold.

Truer words have seldom been spoken.

Until the next time, stay well and Happy Fall,


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Happy 100th Birthday, Ray Bradbury!

Today, August 22nd, 2020, is the 100th birthday of Ray Bradbury, one of the greatest writers of modern times, and a dear friend.

It is difficult to believe that he passed away over eight years ago. Time is like that, of course…It sweeps us steadily forward, so you hardly realize until you stop to think about it just how far away from shore you actually are. But his influence also remains incredibly strong, so there is a fine and positive reason why Ray still feels so present, too.

Ray speaks to us now through what he left behind. And what he left behind, in addition to the memories of those privileged to know him personally, is a life’s work of immensely powerful creativity spanning eight decades, in multiple fields and just about every imaginable genre. Through it, one can still kindle a deep connection with the powerful, brilliant, quirky, hilarious, serious, angry, kind, optimistic, inquisitive, dedicated, and caring mind of a truly singular human being.

On my final visit to see Ray, in April 2012, just six weeks before he passed, the day had come to an end, and night had fallen. Ray was very ill and totally bed-bound, but we’d enjoyed a good, quiet day together in between his periods of rest, watching Looney Tunes (a favorite), talking, and reading…When friends came to visit during that last year or so, we would read to him, either his own works or the works of his favorite authors — a routine he loved.

As I was packing up to leave in the den adjacent to his room, I heard Ray’s evening caregiver ask him about his day. “Oh, it was wonderful,” Ray replied. “I had a wonderful day.”

I learned so many lessons from Ray Bradbury…about writing, and about living. But the lesson perfectly encapsulated in the final words I ever heard him say in person is perhaps the most profound: Life is worth celebrating, even when the limitations are great. Ray once told a mutual friend, “Every day is a good day.” That’s not to say certain days aren’t filled with great tragedy, loss, anger, illness, or hurt. But they are our days. We are here. And that in and of itself is a gift that should never, ever be taken for granted.

And for as long as Ray’s work continues to be read, he will teach others that same lesson, along with many more. Here, then, are ten other things I’ve learned from him over the years…just a few from the wondrous pile, and in no particular order, some in my words, some in his:

1. Celebrate your existence. We are, as Ray said, the eyes and ears of the universe. That is an extraordinary gift.

2. If people ridicule you for what you love, let those people go; cut them right out of your life. Ray said, “I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows, or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.”

3. If you love what you’re doing, see it through. Get it done. No matter what obstacles and detours are thrown in your path, no matter how long it takes, every challenge that matters to you, big and small, should be met with vigor. Ray said, “You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.”

4. As a continuation of #3, Ray also said, “I have two rules in life: to hell with it, whatever it is, and get your work done.” When I would call him, or he me, I’d naturally ask how he was doing, and he invariably replied, “I’m getting my work done.” If he had a setback health-wise, or in some other way, he’d mention it briefly, then add, “Well, to hell with it,” and chuckle. The setbacks did not deter him from pursuing his goals. He had things to do, and life to live.

5. Intuition is the key to creativity. Ray used to keep a sign posted above his typewriter that read, “DON’T THINK!”

6. “‘Stuff your eyes with wonder,’ he said, ‘live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories. Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal. And if there were, it would be related to the great sloth which hangs upside down in a tree all day every day, sleeping its life away. To hell with that,’ he said, ‘shake the tree and knock the great sloth down on his ass.’”

7. We stand on the shoulders of those who taught us, loved us, and believed in us, both here and gone. Our success is therefore partially their success, and in that way their lessons, their love, and their belief in us blossoms, and they live on in us.

8. “Self-consciousness is the enemy of all art, be it acting, painting, or living itself, which is the greatest art of all.”

9. Enthusiasm is the vehicle by which we challenge ourselves, triumph over adversity, and find our happiness. And love is the engine that powers it…the only thing that truly matters.

10. Never be afraid to say, “I love you.”

Ray’s greatest wish, he once told an interviewer, is that one night, in some future year, a child will read a copy of The Martian Chronicles in bed, under a blanket, with a flashlight…on Mars. Today, exactly 100 years after his birth, I remain absolutely convinced that his wish will eventually come true.

He is still very much with us. He always will be. What a gift that is. And what amazing things love can do.

Happy Birthday, Ray.





October 2008 copy

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“A Cult of Ignorance”

A few weeks ago I was cashing a check. Since my bank currently allows only a certain number of customers inside at a given time, I ended up standing outside with some other people while we waited our turn.

One man, probably in his late-fifties, struck up a conversation.

“Nice mask,” he said.

“Thanks. Yours too.”

“My neighbor’s daughter made it. It’s my third one in two months. In construction you tear right through them. Lungs get a good workout, too. Kind of sick of the whole thing, but what can you do?”

And so on. He asked what I did for a living, and I told him I’m a teacher.

“Oh, I feel so bad for the kids,” he said. “Especially the high school seniors. They lost the whole end of their year. Same for the college kids. It’s a sad way to end things.”

I agreed, and so we chatted along like that for another five minutes or so. He was a friendly guy, affable and kind of funny. It felt good, having a nice, unexpected conversation with a stranger. The last few months hadn’t provided many chances for that.

“But that Bill Gates,” he said abruptly, during a lull.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.

“What about him?”

“I don’t trust that f_____.”

I exhaled. “What? Why not?”

“He’s developing a vaccine. All that money he’s giving to charity to get it made…He’s going to make that back ten times over. And you know what else?”

“No,” I said quietly. “What else?”

“They’re going to implant everyone who gets it with a microchip to track us. He wants our information. F___ that. No way in hell I’m ever taking a vaccine. Especially from him.”

Sometimes less is more, so I kept my response brief: “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” I said.

And that ended that.

But the whole thing kind of broke my heart. I like exchanging pleasantries, joking around, and meeting different people. That moment outside the bank was a small, nice chance to simply interact with someone new…And there had been plenty of common ground.

Until, suddenly, there wasn’t any left at all.

The thing is, when it comes to certain issues, I just don’t have the patience any longer for ignorance…willful or otherwise. The man outside the bank was a nice guy, except for…

And that’s what I can no longer overlook: the “except for,” that awful blind spot on an issue that grown people simply can’t afford to be blind about. It’s a deal-breaker. A brake slam. Years ago I might have overlooked it, but these last few have been eye-opening. A statement like that is now all it takes for me to step back and say, “I don’t want to know you any longer,” because it’s the kind of absolute nonsense that costs people their lives.

One of my favorite quotes is by Isaac Asimov. It’s been making the rounds again lately, since science, education, and fact-based knowledge (as well as a great deal of common sense) have been taking some hard hits these last few years:

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’”

I find myself simply unable to excuse that cult any longer. “Well, that’s just how she was brought up,” doesn’t cut it. Neither does, “Oh, he’s older, and his generation believed…”

And as for, “Well, everyone’s entitled to their opinion,” please re-read the quote above.

The same arguments are used to defend racists, too. Our little exchange outside the bank, by the way, was just days before the horrific murder of George Floyd. As I write this, worldwide protests against systemic racism and police brutality have entered their 11th day. I wonder what the gentleman who thought Bill Gates was out to get him thinks about that? I wonder what he’d randomly bring up in conversation now?

I’ll never have to find out.

Sometimes people disappoint us. Sometimes they anger us. And many times they can be forgiven. Hell, we all make mistakes, even big ones, and if not for the understanding of others, none of us might find the strength to change for the better. But when it comes to some issues, explicit, clear outrage toward ignorance – and the hate that often goes hand in hand with it – is appropriate. And when faced with it, the ignorant can either try to change, grow, and learn along with the rest of a maturing society, or be held accountable for their inability – or unwillingness – to do so. For me, holding them accountable includes dropping them like a bad habit, and if they ask why, telling them. “Putting up with it” or “letting it slide” is accepting it, and that is no longer acceptable. Anger is healthy when the stakes are high enough.

Now is not the time for silence. Without doing harm, speak up in your own way.

Without doing harm, be loud in your own way.

And make sure everybody hears.


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Some New Glimpses of Uncanny Valley…

I’m extremely happy to report that John Randall York, who has done the covers and interior illustrations for all my books since 2009, is on board for the third installment in The Uncanny Chronicles. Entitled Echoes from the Valley: The Uncanny Files of Emil Fitzhugh, I’ve been working slowly but steadily on it, and currently have 25 story-chapters written with around 15 more to go. Meanwhile, a few months ago I began sending some of them along to John, and he’s already completed several interior illustrations. Below are three, showing, amongst other things, some extremely traumatized citizens of Still Creek, the town closest to Uncanny. Beyond that, I’ll leave them here without comment, save for the story titles. I think they serve as a good taste of what’s to come…at least in part. There is always another side at work, too.

When They Come Calling J York Fini copy

“When They Come Calling”

Learning to Fly 2020 J York copy

“Learning to Fly”

The Fire Hag j York copy

“The Fire Hag”

Thank you, John, for going on another adventure with me.

Exciting things are under way for this series on another front, too. I can’t say more yet, except that there has been significant outside interest in adapting the books in a different medium, and a contract has been signed. But with so much still up in the air, I’ll leave it at that for now. That said, it makes me so happy to see The Uncanny Chronicles gaining additional recognition from people I highly respect professionally, and at a time when I’m having so much fun exploring that world once again.

This summer will therefore be a “deep dive” into the remaining chapters of the new book, and I’m sure that as I work, I’ll still encounter plenty of surprises along the way. Endings may seem clear at times, but we seldom wind up exactly where we expect when we begin…or even as we go along.

Isn’t that wonderful?

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