On Writer’s Block

So… both my undergraduate and graduate degrees were in Creative Writing. Not the most marketable degree in the world, for sure (argh) but I did learn some things about the writing process, and one of them came up today.

I spent the last two days trying unsuccessfully to start Act 4 of a 7-act adventure I’m writing for Torg Eternity. Really it’s more like the last four days, because I blew two days doing research to find a sensible place to put it, then had to pick a decent location. All during this process something felt “off” and when I finally lit upon the perfect spot in Google Earth, it felt “right.”

But then when I started to write, I was majorly blocked. I took no less than three naps yesterday, spent hours typing-erasing-typing-erasing, and kept being sucked into social media time killers. Today there were fewer naps but every sentence seemed like trying to extract water from a stone. Nothing felt right. I hated it. In theory it should have been okay, but I could tell it just wasn’t.

In school one of my most insightful professors talked about writer’s block being the unconscious mind exerting pushback. It knows stuff your conscious mind doesn’t, and even through your conscious mind is a better grammarian, your unconscious is a far better writer. If words aren’t flowing, it’s almost always because your unconscious is telling you that a) you aren’t finished connecting ideas and doing preliminary imaginative work, or b) your conscious mind is trying to seize control and do things its way.
When I realized that’s what was going on, I was 800 words in and mostly finished with scene 1. But I realized it would have to be scrapped (I didn’t scrap it yet, just in case I need to steal something from it, but I moved it to the back of the document).

So here I am days later just getting started, but now that I am listening to my unconscious again, I can already tell this is going to be way better!

I was interviewed by Ron Blessing for this week’s PEGshow, Pinnacle’s official podcast for news and discussion! We talked about my new setting, Islands of Fire, for Sigil’s upcoming Savage Sign #2!


The 2nd issue of The Savage Sign is now live on Kickstarter!

This issue features two original settings, one of which is my own Polynesian-inspired fantasy setting, “Islands of Fire,” the basis for my series of novellas by the same name.

This issue also features Eugene Marshall’s Verne/Lovecraft setting “The Depths of Madness,” a ton of new Savage Tales for a variety of settings and genres, new character options, new rules systems, fiction, amazing art, and more.


While tooling around in the Steve Jackson website, it occurred to me to look up my own name. Over 20 years ago I sold an article for Pyramid Magazine, which was dedicated to the GURPS roleplaying game, a game I played quite a bit through the 90s. The article was called “Machine Magic,” and presented a new type of magic that used specially-built magical machines that connected to ethereal gears that (in the fiction) powered everything in the world behind the veil of our reality. The three monster entries I sold to West End Games for their Torg “Creatures of Aysle” bestiary was the first sale I ever made in this industry, but this was the first one that stood on its own. I don’t remember how much I made on that sale—not much, I’m sure, but I might as well have been paid in gold doubloons, I was so excited.

GURPS Dramatic Card Play

Somehow I forgot about another article I sold to them a year or two later. While looking for the Machine Magic article, to see if it was still even out there somewhere, I stumbled upon this gem. How could I have forgotten about this? The idea was certainly inspired by Torg, which uses a specialized card deck to determine initiative and to give the player characters some extra narrative control, but rather than propose a similar deck for GURPS, I offered rules on how to use a standard card deck or Tarot deck to create a similar effect.


The article is free, their way of promoting the other magazine content. After this sale, I went a good 15 years making only free stuff for my own use or as fan freebies. I also moved away from GURPS right around the time this was published. They make some of the most undeniably excellent supplements (I was once almost selected to rewrite their Swashbucklers setting book for a 2nd edition, a job that would have honestly been above me at the time), but the system was just too much for me to handle. It is notorious for being extremely “crunchy,” which in tabletop RPG terms means it has a lot of rules. Plus the 3rd edition of D&D came out right around that same time and I, like most of the RPG world at the time, got sucked into it pretty hard for a few years.

Anyway, it’s such a weird experience to stumble upon your own forgotten writing. My memory isn’t so great, but I would have thought for sure I’d remember another RPG sale!

I’m back with another of my explorations of the “Indyverse,” where I look at the many lesser-known books, comics, games, etc. that are connected to one of my favorite fictional heroes, Indiana Jones. Today I’ll have a look at Book #5, Indiana Jones and the Unicorn’s Legacy.

So far these books have followed one another chronologically, covering Indy’s early adventures in the first years of his professional career in archaeology. The first several in this series were written by Rob MacGregor, who, as I finally realized, views Indiana Jones more through the lens of historical fiction, rather than as connected to the pulp action genre, which is where the character got its start (among the many inspirations for Lucas and Spielberg were the Republic serials of the 40s, comics and dime novels of their youth, and the 1954 Charlton Heston movie Secret of the Incas).

MacGregor’s Indy novels haven’t been very heavy on the action sequences, though each one become more action-packed than the previous—at least, until this one.

After a brief historical scene set in the 1700s, the novel opens with a flashback to one of Indy’s earlier grad school digs in 1924, this one at a French cave with Paleolithic drawings. The expedition is led by a lab instructor named Roland Wolcott, and like happened in a previous book, Indiana Jones and the Seven Veils, Indy manages to find something significant but the expedition leader tries to take full credit.

With him is fellow grad student Mara Rogers, whose specialty is art history. During this scene, Indy first sees references to unicorns, but this all comes full circle later when, five years later, Mara comes dramatically back into his life while Indy is doing some field research on the Anasazi in the American Southwest. She’s on the run from Wolcott, who is working with some dangerous Italian villain, tasked with stealing a unicorn’s horn (called an “alicorn”) from her.

An Anasazi Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde, site of many scenes in Indiana Jones and the Unicorn’s Legacy

Indy’s best friend from college, Jack Shannon, comes to help, as do a couple of other new characters, including a mysterious Native American mystic named Aguila. This man’s name (“Eagle,” in Spanish) references a spirit animal motif that has subtly lurked in these books from the beginning, with the eagle being representative of Indy’s soul (every chapter in these books begins with a heraldic standard of an eagle carrying a sword and sheaf over an ocean sunrise).

Most of the book is comprised of these various characters moving about the desert of southwest Colorado, usually running from bad guys, looking for each other, or both. After a while the chapters start to blur and we crave for something to happen. Of MacGregor’s books so far, this one is the most dull. A shame, because an actual unicorn’s horn would make a great McGuffin, and the sun-baked desert and the mysterious silent edifices of the abandoned cliff dwellings would make a great Indiana Jones setting. But in the end, not much happens, outside of a few fist fights and some car pursuits. The ending relies on mind-altering effects, something MacGregor also used in The Seven Veils, a cliché that lets him write about some astonishing visions while keeping the reader (through Indy’s POV) unsure what is real.

Canon or Not?

This follows so close behind the others so far in this series, and doesn’t do anything to break that, outside of being a bit of a dull read, so I’ll go ahead and consider it canon.

Read It or Skip It?

If you’ve read the first four, this is the first one where I advise some caution. Read it only if you like MacGregor’s sense for historical details, don’t mind a dearth of page-turning action, and want to follow Indy closer to the end of the 1920s. But if you’re short on time or attention, skip it.

I started reading this series back in 2016, when our family took a trip to Disneyland. Getting to ride the Indiana Jones ride again (for the first time since 1995!), popped back into place a love I have for this character and his particular brand of pulp adventures. I vowed I’d read all the novels, starting with a couple I had back when I was younger but, for some reason, never touched.

Indiana Jones and the Genesis Deluge is the 4th book in the series, started by Rob MacGregor. Like the others, this one takes place before the events in the movies, detailing Indy’s early years as an archaeology professor and his first adventures.

It’s Spring of 1927. Indy returns to his university in London, after the perilous events of the previous book (Indiana Jones and the Seven Veils). His wife, Dierdre Campbell, died tragically in the jungle, and Indy is… not in a good place. He snaps at students and walks around in a daze. When told that an academic review board is having second thoughts about his qualifications to teach Celtic History (his expertise so far), he decides to quit his job and go reconnect with his friend from college, Jack Shannon. But Shannon’s family is involved in mafioso dealings, and business is booming during the Prohibition, leaving Shannon a bit jumpy and prone to drive-by shootings and getting arrested.

Thankfully, Indy’s approached by a Russian doctor who, during WWI, came into possession of some information pertaining to the site of Noah’s Ark. He needs someone between jobs and with some experience in archaeology digs — and Indy is perfect!

Cappadocia, which I’d never heard about until reading this book, is hands-down a great setting for an Indiana Jones adventure!

Along with the doctor’s gorgeous (of course!) daughter, Katrina, Indy sets out to Turkey to locate the site. He brings Jack Shannon along with him to keep his friend out of trouble. In the cave city of Cappadocia they get entangled with a mysterious group that seems bent on stopping them at all costs, not to mention troublesome agents from the Kremlin and even local bandits.

I won’t give away too much of the ending, though I was a little disappointed. There was a lot of build-up toward the final reveal, and most of the book was spent first in Chicago with Jack Shannon’s family problems, then in travel, then in an extended sequence in a network of catacombs beneath Cappadocia, and then journeying up the snowy slopes of the mountain. The end felt rushed. I wanted to see more of the site!

Mt. Ararat, where the Bible claims Noah’s Ark came to rest as the water drained from the world.

After some more intense action sequences in the previous book, the action in this one slid back into something with a little less intensity. Not that there weren’t situations of peril, chases, fistfights or gunfights, but they didn’t seem to have the same gravity as in the previous book, or as in the movies. Nonetheless, there were some scrapes and dangerous situations. By this point, the reader can get a strong sense of MacGregor’s view on Indiana Jones — for him they’re more like historical fiction featuring some physical conflicts. I tend to see Indiana Jones adventures within the larger field of pulp, which turns up the dials on action, sometimes at the cost of some realism. It seems MacGregor is always concerned with making his stories feel possible, the action grounded in the real. Which is probably why I find the scenarios acceptable but the scenes sometimes lacking in urgency.

Canon or Not?

Anyway, I like to think of these books as a better “backstory” for Indy than the Young Indiana Jones series. They don’t mesh well, meaning only one of them could be true. I lean on these books as being canon.

Read it or Skip It?

So far, all of these books follow one another sequentially, even though it isn’t truly necessary to read them in order… In other words, this isn’t Part 4 of a single story, just a new book in the ongoing adventures of Indiana Jones. If you’re a fan of Indiana Jones, I’d say read it.

Divine Shadow

I just want to take a moment to mention a project by a long-time friend of mine, Greg Sommers, who owns and operates a video production company in Seattle, Washington. Divine Shadow was a labor of love for him, a 14-part web-exclusive martial arts miniseries available for free on YouTube.

Divine Shadow tells the story of a young woman and her little sister forced to flee from an abusive father, only to find herself entangled in a far-spanning plot that involves a secret society. She must fight for her life, and that of her sister, and channel a strange righteous force rising inside her. The series is a martial arts drama, shot right there on the streets of his native Seattle.

Check out the first episode, and then head on over to YouTube to see the rest of this action-packed series.

Today, as I continue to explore the “Indyverse,” I’ll take a closer look at the 3rd in the book series, Indiana Jones and the Seven Veils. This book was also written by Rob McGregor, and published in late 1991 — making that quite a busy year for both Indy and Rob McGregor!

As with all of McGregor’s Indy books, this one picks up shortly after the previous one left off, and continues to explore the early years of Indy’s career, with his first adventures.

This one involves a famous real-life personage, the explorer Percy Fawcett. His dogged search up the Amazon for the “Lost City of Z” has been the subject of numerous books, and was recently made into a movie. It also forms the basis for this Indiana Jones adventure.

The book starts in Tikal, Guatemala, where Indiana Jones is acting as the foreman of a dig run by Victor Bernard, a fellow archaeologist. With Indy is his girlfriend Deirdre Campbell, whom we met in the previous book, Indiana Jones and the Dance of the Giants. They are falling in love, and end up getting married later in the book. After a harrowing situation inside the ruins involving Prof. Bernard, Indy and Deirdre meet Marcus Brody in New York, where he is presenting some archeological findings at a museum. Brody tells them of the esteemed Percy Fawcett’s disappearance, saying he was convinced there was a lost city in the Amazon settled by Celtic people!

Indy and Deirdre head to Brazil, getting married on their ship during the voyage. There are several scenes involving spies that let Indy know someone is well aware of his quest, including one on a high peak overlooking Rio de Janeiro.

The cable car in Rio de Janeiro, as Indy would have experienced it

At last, he and Deirdre make it deep into the jungle and eventually learn more about the lost city, and the titular “seven veils.” I won’t give anything away, but they have to do with the mysterious mental abilities of the denizens of that lost city.

Of these early books, this one is probably my favorite. It had the most Indiana Jones-like action, from the trapped ruins in Tikal, to the fight on the ship, to the perilous scene involving the cable car, to a plane crash in the jungle. It does get a little weirder than I’d have liked, though. I don’t mind some supernatural in Indiana Jones — it’s been in there since the beginning, in Raiders of the Lost Ark, after all — but in these stories it works best when it is subtle, isolated, and minimalized.

Canon or Not?

One thing to consider is that these books came out before the Young Indiana Jones TV series, which offers a very different view of Indiana Jones’ late teenage years. In the TV show, Indiana Jones went off to fight in WWI at 17, and didn’t get to college until a little later. Here, Indy went directly to college (presumably) after high school, and no mention is made of his service in the Belgian Army, or really any mention of WWI at all.

There also isn’t any mention of Deirdre in any of the movies, or anywhere else, which does make it hard to consider it “canon,” because it seems that Indy being a widower would have come up somewhere. I’m not sure how I feel about her inclusion in the canon, but I like her character.

Anyway, I’ll count this as canon.

Read It or Skip It?

For its adventurous scenes and “Indyness,” I’d definitely recommend it to Indiana Jones fans. If the rest of the books had been like this one, I think I’d have appreciated the series a little more. I’d say read it.

I just began an advertisement campaign for the Kindle version of my mythical Polynesian fantasy series, Islands of Fire. This is the first time I’ve actually advertised or marketed a book, save for mentioning it here or there on relevant forums online. The ad campaign is pretty modest, as far as they go — I’m doing Kindle lock screen previews that have a picture of the first book, Escape from Toko-Mua, and a short blurb:

An island of evil. A desperate flight. A strange relic stolen from a sinister cult. For wily Kina, escaping her captors is only the beginning…

It’s weird and exciting. Though I’m keeping my expectations in check from one little ad campaign, I’m proud of this series, which is high in action, adventure, and mystery, and believe it would resonate with most fantasy readers. I’m looking for other places to advertise, and have set aside a small budget for it. Banner ads, etc.

It would be better if I had at least one more series to offer, but everyone has to start somewhere. In fact, just yesterday I had an idea for (what I believe would be) an amazing pulp action serial set in the 1930s, a sort of Indiana Jones-esque series but with its own identity. I’d love to start writing it immediately, but at the moment my focus is on setting up the college English courses which start Monday, and then I also have two formal writing projects (one long, one short) for other companies on tight deadlines.

At any rate, if you’re a fantasy reader on Kindle, let me know if Islands of Fire pops up on your lock screen! And spread the word…

Today began the pre-Kickstarter teasers for the Cyberpapacy, the next of Torg’s cosms to be released. Once more I’ll be involved in the adventure process for this one, as I was for both the Nile Empire and Aysle, Torg’s “pulp action” and “mythical fantasy” settings.

Being involved in the Torg Eternity line as a contributor is one of the most exciting things that has happened to me as a writer. This is an RPG that I started playing back in 1990, having picked up the box set right after it hit the shelves, enticed by one of the most effective gaming ads I’ve ever seen, which ran in issues of Dragon Magazine (pretty much the only way for gamers to know what was happening in the biz at the time).

Torg’s premise was complex: our Earth has been invaded by beings from other parallel dimensions whose version of reality is very different from our own, and they brought that reality with them, creating a weird, almost patchwork-like world where foreign realities hold sway. In Torg, for example, all of the eastern seaboard of the U.S. has been transformed to a steaming jungle occupied by dangerous plants, even more dangerous dinosaurs, and a race of highly-religious lizard people. Egypt looks like the 1930s again, but out of the pulp serials, with gangsters, masked heroes, and weird scientists, all battling the forces of the tyrannical Pharaoh Mobius. England and Scandinavia have become a fantasy world with knights and dragons. Japan and China are dealing with frequent breakouts of a corporate bio-zombie plague. India has returned to the Victorian era but is overrun with horrors that stalk the dark. Russia is a demon-infested wasteland, a mix of Hellraiser and Mad Max.

Which brings me to the Cyberpapacy. Spanning France, Spain, and most of Brazil and Argentina, this futuristic dystopia imagines a future where an all-powerful Catholic (-ish) church runs an autocratic communistic government, infusing religiosity with high technology, like holograms, cybernetic enhancements, and a VR internet that feels like being in God’s presence.

It’s a gonzo setting for some high-tech action. I dived into it a little with an upcoming portion of the Relics of Power series, set in Belém, Brazil. I’m looking forward to contributing some more to the vision.

%d bloggers like this: