Saturday, September 21, 2019

The original Mark of the Castle Outline

I was organizing my studio and came across this tattered old document.  As we’re coming upon the one year anniversary of Mark of the Castle, I thought it would be a perfect time to share the original outline.  

As I completed each chapter, I would fill in the chapter number with a scribble of pen.  The yellow, green, and lavender backgrounds denote the three acts of the story.  I always had a solid path, but I wandered on and off it as the plot evolved.  I’m a very digital person, but sometimes I just need something physical to grip onto and reassure myself that I am moving forward.  This document was only ever intended for my eyes.  It’s not spell-checked, half-thoughts are scribbled, but this is as close to my brain as you can get.

So without further introduction, this is the Mark of the Castle that could have been. :-)

Click here to view the six page outline in full-screen mode.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Spring 2019 Q & A

Here are the top Q & A’s from this convention season:

Is there a third book?  When is it coming out?

Yes! There is a third and fourth book in the works.  I’ve moved past outlining and have written approximately one hundred pages as a skeleton draft for both books. This initial document is essentially a collection of arguments.  There are no transitions from chapter to chapter, sparse descriptions, very little setting other than castle or basement or mall.  This draft is a lot like a sketch, I can move things around quickly and trash unnecessary scenes without wasting time.

When I wrote Mark of the Castle, I learned a harsh lesson on book release dates.  I couldn’t predict death, car accidents, depression, babies, or brain tumors.  So I’ll just say I’m progressing forward towards an undefined deadline.  Just stay with me, keep sharing your books, and I promise you there is more story to come.

Will book four be the end of the series?

Book four will be the end of Jessica’s high school plot arc, but not the end of the series!  Other novels I hope to write include The Dreamspinner’s Journey, which will be the story of how Misa travels to Polaris to gain the knowledge to unlock the Gate.  After that I would like to move either forward in time and write the next story in Jessica’s life or go back to the 1980s when Lily and Beatrix were teenagers. Also on the horizon are an art book/world guide and audio book.

What cons will you be traveling to?

My children are very young so my con schedule is deliberately sparse.  I have been invited as a guest artist and panelist for Anime Boston 2020, so I will be there next April.  I’ll be at Salt City Comic Con in Syracuse, NY in July 2019.  In November,  I’ll be at Night Market in the Sky Armory, (also Syracuse).  I’m open to any con guest invites and love giving panels and lectures.

I bought your book online, will you sign it at a convention?

I want to cosplay Centernia, are there art references for it? is the most comprehensive guide to Centernia art at the moment, as well as this blog.  I’m trying to change this and put together more quick sketches like the two below.  


Why is there so much conflict between the Holy Circus and the Mages?
This topic will be explored more in the next book.  It comes down to political control.  Hundreds of years ago, the Auroriate Circus was heavily populated with mages.  When Castle Nova established the centralized Polaris Academy in the Katanzaarko region, the mages were slowly pulled from the Circus.  Even though the mages now are the ultimate governing body, the Auroriates have a powerful reach into the daily lives of the people.  Every village has a temple that serves as a solid social anchor.  The traveling circuses add to their appeal and strength.  The Holy Circus is able to reach normal people in a way mages simply can’t.  The mages know this and find it irksome.  The mages also have ties to earth and are aware of Christianity and the plethora of religions of this land, which weakens their faith in the Goddess Aurora.  Though not necessarily atheist, mages tend to be more skeptical.  They look down on Auroriates just as the Auroriates view them as elitist.   

How is your health?
My brain tumor is not out to kill me at the moment, so we’re good.  Radiation has stopped its growth.  I have yearly MRIs to check on it.  My facial nerve it stable, my balance is good, and I’m mostly deaf in one ear.  For a person with a tumor on their brain stem, I really can’t complain.  

This June, in celebration of my birthday, I’m launching a new campaign.  There are over 1,000 physical copies of Return to the Castle in the world.  I would love nothing more than for these copies to be loaned out to friends.  If you have a well-loved book, please, please, share it!  

Monday, April 15, 2019

Depression in Centernia

"Centernia is realistic fantasy."  This is a phrase that's been repeated to me many times during convention conversations.  Centernia hits on a variety of heavy topics...divorce, drug abuse, sexuality, economic imbalance...all wrapped up in a wild tale of magic and mayhem. I would like to analyze a few of these topics in greater depth, starting with depression.    

*****Book 1 & 2 Spoilers Ahead*****


Nico is a character who experiences an inordinate amount of trauma.  At the end of Return to the Castle, his parents are dead, Misa is dead, he's been doomed to a life without physical intimacy and he's about to become enslaved in the Mines of Briken.  At the opening of Mark of the Castle, we can add torture, physical maiming, and an encounter with a Sinari woman.  He’s hunted by mages and he fears that returning home may put Teren in danger.  There's not much more that could be done to torture this man.

Through all of Return to the Castle, we established that Nico is generally a very logical, clever and resourceful person.  In response to his tenuous situation, he could hide in the forest, obscure his identity, and send a message to his friends.  What does he do instead?

He attempts suicide.


The cocktail of depression and PTSD.

Many protagonists in sci-fi and fantasy remain unscathed by the mental aftermath of the traumas they have survived, and if they do suffer, it’s mentioned in passing.  Nico is not one of them.  The shattered pieces of his life continuously jab at his psyche and dominate most of Mark of the Castle.

After Nico's suicide attempt is foiled, he’s set on the path to return home.  Again, he doesn’t take the opportunity to reach out for help.  His mental state obscures his better judgment and he becomes stuck in Yellow Valley until Jessica and Jared discover him.  Panicking, he lashes out.  He attacks Jessica and seriously wounds Jared in an act of hostility we can attribute to his PTSD. Jessica finally gets through to him by evoking Misa’s name, and it seems his deceased friend is his only tie to mental stability.

At this point, I’d like to mention Nico’s right eye, which becomes a symbol of his mental state.  In Chapter One, we learned that it was so badly damaged he’s unable to open it.  In Yellow Valley, it’s still severely injured.

Nico and Jessica eventually end up in the hands of the Holy Circus where Nico receives one more emotional kick: his father had remarried and had a hidden family.  He is clearly unhappy about this discovery, avoids his new family, and is prickly when Jessi asks about them.

Odd family situation aside, with the circus Nico finally has a chance to breathe. Aunt Dahlia promises to keep him hidden.  He’s in this sanctuary with Jessi, the one person he’s physically attracted to.

How does he react?

By lashing out, remaining socially withdrawn and lethargic.

“I don’t understand you,” Jessica scowled. “Why are you so angry all of a sudden?”
“I want to be left in peace.” 
“But you’ve been locked away for so long, and all you want to do now is hide in a tent?!”

Nico remains in this state for many chapters until they return to the mining town of Briken, the origin of his despair.  Jessica experiences the toxicity of the poisoned town and burns her throat in the acid rain.  Nico offers her a mild antidote in the Plookory eggs.  He talks about the ph levels of the yolks and his old analytical side comes through.  After drinking the concoction, they converse about their previous relationship and Jessica feels hope that her friend is not entirely lost. 

“It was like a tiny crack in the wall with just a sliver of light.”

A few days later, Nico saves his brother Reese from the needlewasp eggs.  He relies on his logic and knowledge to figure out the source of his brother's fever.  He experiences a major turning point as he sidesteps tragedy and receives sincere gratitude from his father's family.

As his Reese recovers, Nico repairs a clock, gaining the attention of his brethren who are eager to have someone with his mechanical skills.  Nico starts going through behaviors that are more normal as he is tasked to repair the gadgets of the circus.  He finds peace in the work, so much so that he attempts to rekindle his relationship with Jessica by taking her to the dance at Watersglade.  Despite his improvement, he is not cured of his mental health disorder. At the dance, Nico experiences severe anxiety and panics in the crowded underwater ballroom.  Jessica confronts him in the park outside.  He speaks to her about an emotional state anyone with depression knows too well.

“Why did you stop loving me?” she asked.
The question was strange.
His feelings for her had never truly vanished, but had greyed like all of his life.
“I forced myself to eat the cake tonight,” he said suddenly.
Jessica crinkled her face, waiting for his explanation.
“I made myself eat the cake. I know it was good cake, the logical side of my brain said it was good cake. I felt nothing from it, no euphoria, no warm happiness, all the little emotions that go with that first bite of a wonderful piece of cake. I have no appetite for any food. I ate it because I knew you would be sad and ask me why. So, I ate the cake, and pretended I liked it.”
“Okay, so I’m cake,” Jessica smiled at the absurdity of the metaphor, “but this is all of life for you?”
Nico nodded.
“But you are not cake,” he insisted, “and I refuse to lie to you because it would be cruel.”

Several times, Jessica mentions ways to help him, including medication from earth and empathic intervention through Teren.  He shies away from both, fearing a greater mental crash like the one that had destroyed his mother.

Eventually, Nico's friends come to find them in their Holy Circus hiding.  After a brief separation, Nico returns to Aurumice.  As he walks on the castle grounds, we learn that his right eye has gotten a bit better and he’s able to see blurry forms again. 

Hidden in the castle, he comes to terms with another source of his depression, his father’s death. His “eyes adjusted to the darkness of the room” as he explores his father’s untouched office and old memories.  This line is a direct contrast to the opening chapters where his eye is unable to handle the shift in light. 

In Aurumice, Nico’s powers re-emerge slowly and he gains confidence. The castle in danger, he regains a sense of duty.  On the eve of the fight with the needlewasps, he reaches out to Jessica.  She welcomes him, bringing down his fear of intimacy.  His character takes another step towards recovery.

In the midst of the needlewasp battle, he’s reunited with his old friend Savina.  She asks him what happened to his eye, and he replies ‘it’s better than it was.’

In the last chapter of the book, Nico finally experiences freedom as the weight of the Aurumician debt is lifted from his shoulders.  To symbolize his healing, “his eyes traveled up to the crystal apex of the ballroom.”  There’s no mention of the damage and we can assume his wound has healed.  
Nico will always bear the scar over his eye, and I’m certain there will be moments when the shadows of his past will creep up again.  I hope that Mark of the Castle takes the reader on a realistic journey through depression.


On a personal level, I wrote Mark of the Castle when recovering from post-partum depression.  My right eye is permanently nerve damaged due to my brain tumor.  Nico’s struggles are my own, and his triumph likewise echos my recovery. 

Email me or comment if you’d like to hear more in-depth plot analysis like this article! Your feedback is meaningful!

Monday, February 25, 2019

Genericon 2019 Changed my Life

On Friday afternoon I dropped my kids off at my parents’ house, loaded up the car, and traveled I-90 with Octostar Creations for Genericon 2019.  We came back late last night in a blustery and rainy wind storm and I am still in awe of this weekend.

I’ve been to Genericon in 2015, and 2017, it’s one of my favorite college cons.  This time was a very different experience.


It was my first returning con with Mark of the Castle.  The response was insane, to put it mildly.  I was approached by dozens of fans with stories I never expected to hear, from a mom who secretly purchased the book for her daughter and photographed her reaction to someone who had used the morality of Centernia as a topic for a college assignment.  I was approached by artists, aspiring audiobook narrators, and clusters of friend groups who had been passing around a copy of Centernia for years.  There were people who had bought it at other cons, including NYCC 2014, the year I launched this fledgling endeavor.   Four years is a long time to wait and maintain hope and excitement.

I also gained a huge insight into the internet from this experience.  Again and again, I heard how people were checking my website and sundry of social media feeds, waiting for updates.  They knew about my kids, my brain tumor, and everything I had gone through since 2014.  As a content creator, I thrive off of feedback, and I realized that these were people who were silently watching, not always liking or commenting or emailing, but still there.  This shouldn’t surprised me, there are dozens of content creators I have religiously followed for years, and I love them though I’ve never sent a single email or posted a comment.  I am content being the fan who admires from afar.  Centernia has these in greater numbers than I had imagined.

I have more content to share with these people.  Years of artwork stockpiled, because I didn’t think it was good enough, world guides, unpublished blog posts, so much Centernia that I didn’t think people would care about.  Clearly my imposter syndrome got the better of me.

I will be more diligent about blog posts and sharing art!

And YES, book three is happening. There it is, on my playroom wall, between the clouds and the massive collection of legos.  The actual chapters are being written.

It’s coming, no promises when, but it will happen.

And now, I happily update the Centernia Con List, commemorating over a thousand copies sold...

Roc Con 2014

New York Comic Con 2014
Youmacon 2014
Tora Con 2015
Anime Boston 2015
Genericon 2015
Sci Fi Valley Con 2015
UB Mini Con 2015
Cosplay Snowfest 2015
Another Anime Con 2016
Genericon 2017
Flower City Comic Con 2017
Tora Con 2017
Flower City Comic Con 2018
Salt City Comic Con 2018
Wizarding Weekend Ithaca 2018
Genericon 2019

Out in Texas, thanks to MIRANDA BLAKELY for sharing Centernia to new fans at:
Comicpalooza 2015
Dallas FanExpo 2015
Sci-Fi Fest San Antonio 2015
San Antonio Indie Book Fest 2015

In downstate NY, thanks to CATHY RAZIM and her husband JOE PIETRUCH for being ultimate 
Centernia evangelists at:
Eternal Con 2015
WinterCon 2016
First Con-tact 2016 
Flower City Comic Con 2016
Sci Fi Valley Con 2016 
East Meadow Comic Con 2016
EveryCon 2016
East Hampton Pop Expo 2016
Fan World 2016
Fandemicon 2016
Immortal Con 2016
Syracuse Hot Summer Expo 2016
Roc Con 2018
FC3 Mini Con 2018

And finally, look for me at Anime Boston 2019 and Salt City Comic Con 

Monday, February 18, 2019

February 2019 Update

Two new releases of my artwork to hit store shelves within the past several weeks!  I have a collection of four unicorns available through Pacific Trading Co and the Dragon Valley Puzzle from Ravensburger.