Friday, September 29, 2017

A Slytherin? Really?

In a blog post a little while back, Twitter friend A.S. Akkalon discussed being sorted into Ravenclaw by the Pottermore website. In a comment, I proclaimed that I was also part of the Ravenclaw club. We congratulated each other's high degree of nerdom and moved on.

Why Ravenclaw you might ask? Well, frankly I'm not quite personable enough to be a Hufflepuff, not nearly brave enough to be a Gryffindor, and certainly not evil enough to be a Slytherin. Besides, "Wit beyond measure is man's greatest treasure" is a motto I could get behind any day.

If you aren't a fan of Harry Potter, this entire post will probably
seem like nonsense. I apologize in advance for that
As time went on, I was intrigued by the notion of being sorted. My declaration of belonging to Ravenclaw bore no official sanction. I was yet another in a sad line of "self sorters" who were, in fact, nothing more than pretenders.

What Potter fan hasn't wondered and even fantasized about what their time at Hogwarts would be like? Would I be a quidditch captain and seeker and end up in front of thousands of cheering witches and warlocks at the Quidditch World Cup? Would I be a troublemaker and romp the castle grounds, probing its every secret passage like Fred and George Weasley? Would I be a clever, clandestine wizard, poking through the restricted section of the library and creating innovative and original magic?

Knowing there was a website, and one officially sanctioned by J.K. Rowling which seemed to lend it some credence, that would actually sort me into my Hogwarts house, how could I resist? I found myself visiting Pottermore for the first time, greedy to discover something of my Hogwarts future.

So the sorting quiz began...

"Your worst nightmare consists of..." "Which animal would you bring to Hogwarts..." "You most want to be remembered as..." The questions rolled on. Though sometimes I found myself stuck between answers (if I interpret it like this I would answer ___ but if I interpret it like that I would answer ___), I provided the most honest answers possible.

Otis is black but he resents even the implication of evilness
At last I reached the final question: "Black or white?" Hmmm... But what does that mean? Historically black is (perhaps unfairly) correlated with evil, and white with good. From a personal style perspective, however, I am not a fan of white clothing. I am much too adventurous and prone to staining for anything lighter than a tan-ish shade of brown. My closet is lined with black t-shirts. I always wear black sunglasses. My dog is black and, unless I'm even a few minutes late feeding him dinner, it seems hard to label anything about him as evil.

This strangely vague question of black or white seemed laden with gravity, like my entire Hogwarts experience might hinge on simple semantic interpretation. If it was meant to be figurative, a stand-in for the moral condition of my soul, then of course I would choose white. I like to think of myself as a person of good-intentions. I always side with the hero, not the villain. But from a simple electromagnetic spectrum standpoint (and the three simple words in the question's phrasing gave no indication it was anything else) I would have to say black fits me better. 

After too-long deliberating, I chose black and reluctantly hit submit.

The quiz was complete. My Hogwarts schooling career was about to begin. The time had come to find out to which House I belonged.....

SLYTHERIN!!! The Sorting Hat projected into the Great Hall. What?!? How could?!? But I...

I was aghast. I was angry. I was ashamed. Such a torrent of emotion did I experience that I leapt to my feet and paced around my living room until the shock wore off. It had be wrong. There must be some mistake. Somebody hacked into my computer while I was halfway through and supplied some devious, misleading and inauthentic answers. But after a amount of time spent feeling angry and disenfranchised, I had to accept the truth:

The Sorting Hat's decision was final. Like it or not, I was a Slytherin.

My new family crest, I suppose. The evil-looking snake
does nothing to assuage my fear of how I will be
received by my Hogwarts colleagues. As a member
of another house, would you still be my friend?
I was stuck with a vision of myself, wary in the corner of the shadowy Slytherin common room, on the fringe of a pack of snaggletoothed Crabbe and Goyle lookalikes, trying not to draw attention while simultaneously trying not to look like I was trying not to draw attention. Somewhere nearby a Malfoy-figure was holding a gathering of the wizarding world's version of the Alt-right and I felt obliged to voice my occasional disingenuous agreement simply in order to ride my broom under the proverbial radar.

Perhaps, however, if while the Sorting Hat rested upon my head, magically penetrating parts of my mind I didn't even know existed, I should have implored it "Not in Slytherin. Not in Slytherin" and it would have taken enough pity on my cause to throw me in Ravenclaw anyway.

I was consoled somewhat by the letter from my new house welcoming me into the noble line of Slytherin. The great wizard Merlin, the letter informed me, was a Slytherin. This is good. I liked the Sword in the Stone. If we are talking about the same iteration of Merlin, I could potentially get behind that.

So do I have some hidden evil in me that the Pottermore Sorting Hat sensed that even I am unaware of? Or perhaps is it that Slytherin gets an unfair reputation based on a few bad examples? Or is it just a silly website and I shouldn't take it so seriously? I never actually put on the actual Sorting Hat, after all. This quiz that functions as a Sorting Hat stand-in surely is little more than a cheap imitation.

Despite this reasonable logic and my numerous appeals to the magical kingdom for justice, however, I had to accept that I was sorted as well as an American muggle can be.

I am a Slytherin.

NOTE: After this blog post was written, I returned to the Pottermore website, created a different account and re-took the sorting quiz and was sorted properly into Ravenclaw as I was supposed to be all along. But was this cheating? Actual Hogwarts entrants get no such second chances.

If you enjoyed this post, consider signing up for my mailing list. When not dreaming about becoming a wizard, I often write about all sorts of crazy, educational, entertaining, and occasionally funny topics from what makes an effective first paragraph in a novel to giant redwoodsmedieval sailboats, the ancient Mayans and more. If you do sign up, you will get a once-a-week update on my posts and NOTHING ELSE! No spam, no selling your email to third parties. Okay, if I ever get around to publishing one of these works in progress that are constantly haunting me, I might send out an email letting you know. In the meantime thanks for reading.

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All writing is the original work of Brian Wright and may not be copied, distributed, re-printed or used any form without express written consent of the author. Find out here how to CONTACT me with publishing and/or use questions 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Author Spotlight: Abby Goldsmith- City of Slaves

As part of my recent effort to support and bring greater illumination to the rapidly expanding demographic of Indie/small press writers, today's post is the third in a planned series of spotlights on less-publicized authors whose books I've read and enjoyed.

The mind reading Torth must be defeated inn City of Slaves
Read a full-length cut of City of Slaves
on Wattpad
In this post the spotlight is on Abby Goldsmith. Her incredible debut novel is City of Slaves, a science fiction tale about an orphan boy named Thomas with mind-reading powers. Early in the novel, Thomas and his companions are kidnapped to a world where a race of mind-reading humanoids called the Torth have enslaved and brutally oppressed a bevy of non-mindreading alien species.

Abby's well-crafted novel yanked me through its pages. The story is packed with well-faceted characters and oozes with macro and microtensions that drive the plot through to a cliff-hanger conclusion.

I supplied Abby with a list of questions to which she was kind enough to provide answers.

Tell me a little about yourself. What is your background? What made you want to become a writer?

I've always been a storyteller. I began stringing words and drawings together into stories at age 3, and by the age of 12, I'd written two novels on a typewriter, plus some home-made theater productions, plus a series of comics. I received a harsh rejection from someone at Random House when I was 13 years old, and that caused me to switch gears away from writing to other forms of storytelling. I graduated from CalArts (the California Institute of the Arts) as a Character Animation major, hoping to become the next Tim Burton or Brad Bird, directing blockbuster films. My student films were screened at the Annecy International Film Festival and the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. But after college, my career path took me into handheld video-games instead of feature films, and my heart found its way back to writing novels.

Have you had any other works published? Where?

My most recent publication is a story in Futuristica vol 2. I also have short fiction in Escape Pod, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, and in a few anthologies. I keep track of my publications at

City of Slaves was reminiscent for me of one of my favorite sci-fi writers, Iain M. Banks, who had great ideas about a post-scarcity intergalactic society of humanoids known as “the Culture” that would surely have butted heads with the Torth. Who would you say are your primary literary influences?

Thank you. I'm ashamed to admit that I haven't yet read anything by Iain M. Banks.  I do read a lot of SFF, and he's been recommended to me by a lot of people with good taste, so he's in my queue of authors to read.

My biggest influences are Stephen King, Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin, and Scott Sigler. I love big, epic scope stories with larger-than-life characters, dynamic character interaction, and really high stakes. If the story is insanely complex and the characters are utterly ludicrous, yet the author still gets me fully invested in their lives and believing every new twist, then I'm in awe.  That's the kind of author I want to be.

Tell me about the moment of inspiration for City of Slaves? How did the tale come to be?

This story was brewing in my head for many years before it bubbled over into a coherent narrative.  I grew up at the dawn of the Internet Age and social media era. I was an avid user of Q-Link bulletin boards, and later an avid user of Facebook and iPhone apps (heck, I worked on a few). I think the internet is changing the way human society communicates, and I don't see this phenomenon explored in fiction nearly as thoroughly as I think it should be. What happens when the majority of people make the laws, instead of lawyers and politicians? What is the end result when winning popularity is more important than proving your merit? What is the impact of valuing emotionless logic over passionate beliefs?

I wanted to explore those questions through the focused lens of SFF. And, of course, I grew up watching Star Trek, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and all those fun 1980s movies. I wanted my epic story to have loads of entertainment value.

The first book of my series, City of Slaves--which I am probably going to re-title as Galactic Minds--gave me a lot of trouble, in terms of introducing the universe and characters. My writing skills weren't up to the task at the time I wrote the first draft.  It's required a few rewrites.

I found your idea of the “macrocosm” immensely intriguing. The near-constant scrutiny Thomas faced when he "ascended" reminded me somewhat of modern social media. Interestingly, you had the Torth mention the humans’ invention of a “primitive macrocosm” in the internet. Can you talk for a moment about the way sci-fi—and all forms of speculative fiction—provide us with useful avenues to approach modern problems faced here on Earth despite being set in a time and/or place quite different?

One reason why I love SFF is because it gives us the ability to laser-focus on one or two particular aspects of our real-life world, and analyze and explore those aspects in new and challenging ways. Let's say a reader prides herself on having a sharp distinction between reality and fiction. She slaughters characters in video-games, but she would never dream of harming a real person. Then she reads the Otherland series by Tad Williams, and she's immersed in a fictionalized virtual universe where the line between fictional character and real character is blurred and possibly irrelevant. That might challenge her to think about the distinction in new ways.

That's the first example that popped into my head, but I could use almost any work of SFF as an example.

Since the internet is so pervasive in everyone's life, and so prevalent, and changing so many factors about our real world, I marvel that so few SFF authors are exploring its myriad possibilities and ramifications. In my opinion, this should be one of the hottest trending topics for SFF to explore. Instead, it seems to be a backwater topic that gets mostly ignored.

In my experience, one of the hardest things about writing a novel is the editing process. It takes far longer than the actual writing. In my opinion your novel read more cleanly and professionally than some independent novels I’ve encountered. What can you reveal about your editing methodology? Did you use so-called “beta-readers”? Did you work with a professional editor?

Abby Goldsmith
You can link up with Abby on her website,
FacebookYoutube, and Twitter
Ugh. I edited it to death. I think I suffer from obsessive-compulsive perfectionism, and I'm actively working towards a healthier methodology. But yes, I use beta readers. This particular novel had over 100 beta readers, spread over multiple drafts and many years. About 60% of them only read variations of the beginning. George R.R. Martin read an early version of the first chapter, and gave an extensive and valuable verbal critique, much of it positive. That was one of my happiest moments at the Odyssey Writing Workshop.

For more than a few years, I was caught in an endless revising loop, where every rejection from a literary agent would send me back to square one. I don't believe that every writer is in danger of doing that. Some novels are easy to sell. Some writers don't invest everything they have into one huge series; they move to new projects before they invest too much time into the first one or two. But if you're like me, prone to endless edits and revisions ... my sympathies.

Anyway, I've found an approach that seems to be working for me. I no longer allow myself to focus solely on a project that needs edits. I have an internal mandate to *always* be working on a first draft of something new, no matter what. That takes priority. I limit my editing time to two evenings per week. Edits get done slowly, but they no longer consume all of my free time or creative energy. They no longer stall my writing career. As a result, my edits are now a lot more productive. I'm not floundering or second-guessing my own decisions nearly as much.

So far it looks like you have done most of your publishing on wattpad. Have you settled on a publishing method for this novel and its sequels? Do you plan to query agents and go the traditional route or stick with self-publishing?

I still fantasize about seeing my novels published by Tor Books, or DAW, or Orbit, or any of the major publishers. Reader feedback for this series is very encouraging, but the style and the potential audience don't seem to be what the Big Five want. I've had to take a few steps back and reassess everything I believed about publishing. At this point, I suspect that the traditional industry isn't taking gambles or risks. A lot of the innovation I see in SFF fiction is coming from the indie author crowd, or authors who were indie before they signed a contract. So that's where I'm headed. I wish I'd had the courage to take that leap before the gold rush got started.

Now I'm learning everything I can about marketing self-published work. There's a lot to learn. The path isn't any easier than traditional publishing, but it allows for more flexibility. I think it suits me and my series.

You left me hanging! When do I get to read the sequel? Some authors find it challenging to make sequels fresh, original and still as engaging as the first novel. Conversely, I find many readers complain about them too. What has your experience been?


I conceived of this series as a single epic story, so I never struggled with how the sequels would play out.  It's all the same story, with each book having its own nested story arc. I set up a story question in each book, and answer it by the end.  In the first book, the story question is "Will they escape the city of slaves?" You find out by the end.  In the second book, the story question is "Will they be able to go home to Earth and/or live in freedom?" You find out by the end. And so forth.

The whole series has its own massive story question: "Will they defeat the Torth Empire and free all the slaves in the galaxy?" You can probably guess the answer, but if you've read any of it, you're gonna wonder "How?" That's the question that will get answered by the end of the whole series.

The sequel will be ready by Spring 2018, maybe sooner. That's my current big editing project. I hope you can beta read it.

Not to overwhelm you, but I also have Books 3, 4, and 5 completed, and I'm currently writing Book 6. The later books only need light edits! I was more skilled when I wrote them, and they've been exhilarating to write, since they're the culmination of so much story and character build-up. Beta reader feedback has been beyond positive. This series will pack a punch, once it's published.

Where can readers and other writers connect with you? Can you send me links to your facebook, twitter, google+, personal website, etc, etc etc?

Here's the link to City of Slaves on Wattpad. The official release won't be until next year sometime.

Thank you for your time and best of luck in all future endeavors!


-Fergal F. Nally: Aes Sidhe
-Cindy Tomamichel: Druid's Portal

This is the third in a series of spotlights on indie/small press writers who deserve your attention. If you enjoyed it, consider signing up for my mailing list. I also blog about all sorts of crazy, educational, entertaining, and occasionally funny topics from what makes an effective first paragraph in a novel to giant redwoodsmedieval sailboats, the ancient Mayans and more. If you do sign up, you will get a once-a-week update on my posts and NOTHING ELSE! No spam, no selling your email to third parties. Okay, if I ever get around to publishing one of these works in progress that are constantly haunting me, I might send out an email letting you know. In the meantime thanks for reading.

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All writing is the original work of Brian Wright and may not be copied, distributed, re-printed or used any form without express written consent of the author. Find out here how to CONTACT me with publishing and/or use questions 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Call of the Sawtooth Mountains

A crisp layer of frost clung to the tent our first morning in Idaho’s Sawtooth Range. It was early September but a cold front had sent the mercury plummeting at our campsite beside Redfish Lake near the town of Stanley, Idaho. Even with an extra blanket and the added warmth provided by Otis, our rescue mutt, my wife, Ella, and I emerged from the tent blowing hot breath into our frozen palms and clamping our teeth to keep them from chattering. A shroud of fog hung over the long lake, and the granite sentinels that had inspired us the day before were now invisible. It was hard to hear the call of the mountains without seeing them.

Redfish Lake, Sawtooth Mountains
The Sawtooth Mountains near Redfish Lake
“What do you think?” I said, fumbling with the knobs on our Coleman stove. A mug of hot coffee was the solution to almost any situation.

“About what?” Ella said.

“The hike today.”

As if on cue, it was raining again, a drizzle so close to snow it turned to ice nearly on impact. My toes, if they were even still there, might as well have been cubes of ice in my boots. We were not prepared for this. When we arrived the afternoon before it had been sunny and in the upper sixties.

“I don’t know,” she answered slowly after a long hesitation. It was our first visit to the Sawtooth Range, and though we had plans for a ten-mile hike, I suspected both of us were warming up to the idea of being talked out of it. I crammed my fingers into my armpits.

“Let’s go to Stanley, get a latte, and see if it burns off,” Ella suggested.

Sounded good to me. I shut down the stove and crammed everything haphazardly into the car for a hasty escape.

The Stanley Baking Company was a thing of legend, and it was appropriately packed when we arrived half an hour later. All the way up from our home in Colorado rumor of this quaint, log-cabin cookery seemed to follow us. Obviously, we were not the only ones with the idea to wait out the cold basking in the aroma of bacon and espresso.

Stanley—a rustic town with a relaxed atmosphere and almost no pavement—feels as if it were plucked from the backwoods of Alaska with its forgotten-by-technology vibe and rugged mountain setting. The entire county in which it resides, Custer County, has no stoplights. With a population of a mere 4,300 in a space covering almost 5,000 square miles, Custer Country is a place where the elk likely outnumber the people.

The reason the name “Sawtooth” is particularly apt for these mountains needs little explanation. These tightly arranged granite tusks form one of the most dramatic segments of the entire American Rocky Mountains. They are also the southern rampart of one of the wildest regions left in the contiguous United States.

Goat Lake Sawtooth Range in Idaho
Goat Lake near Stanley, Idaho 
This broad expanse, which contains the Sawtooth, White Cloud, Frank Church and River of No Return wilderness areas, spans some 2.7 million acres, roughly twice the size of Delaware. The spiny serrations of the Sawtooths cleave the Idaho sky, ruling over the landscape with unchallenged authority. Resplendent with green forests, crystalline tarns, and busting wildlife, the Sawtooth Mountains stand as a monument to the rugged West as it must once have been.

In the 1960’s this area almost became a national park. Frank Church, who spent nearly half his life serving the state of Idaho as a senator from 1957 to 1984, led the conservation vanguard who fought to protect the vast beauty of these mountains. A long battle evolved eventually into a great rift between conservationist camps, one that was further complicated by the discovery of a vein of valuable molybdenum in the Sawtooths’ neighboring range, the White Cloud Mountains.

The war over the Sawtooths’ fate was divided into three belligerents. The first faction proposed that the area undergo a feasibility study to become a national park. The second argued for conservation but worried over the sheer volume of people the designation of national park would attract. The third and final camp was the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO), their shareholders and supporters, who filed paperwork in 1968 to begin construction of a massive open-pit mine to harvest the aforementioned molybdenum.

ASARCO was backed by Idaho governor Dan Samuelson, who claimed Castle Peak (the site of the proposed mine) was “nothing but sagebrush on one side and scraggly trees on the other.” Touting the General Mining Act of 1872, which allowed for private acquisition of mining claims on federal land, ASARCO began to move forward with their plans to construct the mine, an act that galvanized the divided resistance to settle their differences.

The Sawtooth Range in Idaho
Sunset over the Sawtooths in Stanley, Idaho
Governor Samuelson lost his re-election in 1970 to conservation-minded Ceil Andrus. With support mounting nationally to save the Sawtooths and White Clouds from this destructive fate, a compromise was reached between the discordant conservation groups that created the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, a relatively new designation that protected these stunning peaks from both mining and from the over-exposure certain to follow national park status.

“Look at the mountains!” Ella said as we finished breakfast. Sure enough the towering monoliths of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area glistened in clear skies. The distant summits were dusted in fresh snow.

My belly was bulging with eggs, toast, bacon and hollandaise sauce, but what mountain enthusiast could pass on such a place when blue sky was showing and the heavenly glow of the sun cascaded down the shoulders of such spectacular peaks?

“Should we go after all?” she asked.

I grinned and climbed into the driver’s seat.

Twenty minutes later our Rav4 bumped to a stop at the trailhead and we lashed our hiking shoes on our thawing feet. Otis sprinted up and down the parking lot, poking his bearded snout into the dense bush after a noisy chipmunk.

Just a few hours ago I was ready to lick my frozen wounds and turn for home, but now I couldn’t help but think of John Muir as I shrugged on my backpack and marched towards the protected range.

The mountains are calling, and I must go.

NOTE: This article first appeared in print and online for Our Backyard, September 2017 issue, a regional publication that serves western Colorado and eastern Utah.

If you enjoyed this post, consider signing up for my mailing list. I also blog about all sorts of crazy, educational, entertaining, and occasionally funny topics from what makes an effective first paragraph in a novel to giant redwoodsmedieval sailboats, the ancient Mayans and more. If you do sign up, you will get a once-a-week update on my posts and NOTHING ELSE! No spam, no selling your email to third parties. Okay, if I ever get around to publishing one of these works in progress that are constantly haunting me, I might send out an email letting you know. In the meantime thanks for reading.

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All writing is the original work of Brian Wright and may not be copied, distributed, re-printed or used any form without express written consent of the author. Find out here how to CONTACT me with publishing and/or use questions