Category Archives: The Famulus

Deleted Scene

Season of Frights, Volume 2 of The Famulus series, is now available. This book went through many changes, including a title change. The original title was A Study in Emerald, which was a nod to the Sherlock Holmes book title A Study in Scarlet. Aside from a superficial reference to Sherlock Holmes, the connection wasn’t strong enough to use that title. The other issue was that there’s a Neil Gaiman story by that title, and I didn’t want to confuse people or look like I was trying to use his popularity to draw attention to my book.

In my story, “Season of Frights” is the name of Brett’s podcast, and one of the characters uses this phrase in the story. I also wrote an epigraph using this phrase and attributed it to the fictional author mentioned in the first book, Miles Denham. This quote is where Brett got the title for his podcast.

Besides changing the title I’ve been calling this book for years, I also deleted a scene that came from a project I was working on even before I started the Famulus series. I like this scene, especially the end, but I cut it for a few reasons. The chapter slowed the pace of the story, as the whole chapter was a flashback. It didn’t affect the plot at all. And I wasn’t sure if the conversation made sense. Paul Madley, the professor with whom Emerald is working on a book about the history of their town, is supposed to sound philosophical here, but I worried the scene came off as just me as the author trying to sound smart.

Here’s a sample:

“The truth is,” Paul said, “we all secretly believe we’re the exception, and this isn’t real life, not really. It’s just the slow waste of time that’s supposed to be preparing us for the real Show-with-a-capital-S, but like many forms of authority, it’s ineffective and constrained by things it should be able to ignore with a flip of the good old middle finger. So, it’s not really our fault that we’re underpaid and not as attractive as we wish we were and stuck in the crappiest dying towns of middle America when we should be off on some tropical island like you see only in commercials for resorts. Do you follow?”

Emerald wasn’t as impressed as she’d hoped to be, but she tightened the corners of her mouth in a small smile and nodded.

Paul uncrossed his legs and leaned forward over the table, conspiratorially. “The real truth of the matter isn’t this entitlement we claim to have and the belief in which we keep to ourselves in varying degrees of tact, but rather the fact that we all believe we are the only one in the entire world actually entitled to it, even if we realize that everyone else believes the same thing. As in, ‘Sure, we all believe we’re the exception, but I alone am the actual only exception.’ What I’m trying to say is that it’s our nature to think we’re special, no matter what anyone tells us.”

“But are we or not? Special, I mean.”

Paul finished off the last drops of his drink. “It goes both ways.”

The more Emerald thought about it later that night, she realized the reason she hadn’t been so impressed in the first place was because she felt as though she’d heard all those things before. But Paul was one of those prophet-like people who could pluck something out of the air as if it’d been hanging over her head in a giant thought-balloon she hadn’t known was there.

I really like the last line, but I felt like I was trying too hard with the conversation. As a rule, any time I feel like I’m purposely inserting philosophical conversation into a story, I should just cut it out immediately. It’s self-indulgent and often embarrassing.

Writing For One Person

A standard piece of writing advice that gets tossed around is that you should write with only one person in mind as your audience. Write for that one person to enjoy your book and forget about everyone else. If you try to write a story that will make everyone happy, the story will fall flat. It will have no real direction or won’t risk enough.

The one person I wrote The Famulus (and the sequels) for was myself. My twenty-five-year-old self, to be specific, which was the age I was when I began this story in the fall of 2014. I felt like I wasn’t living up to my potential. I wanted so much more out of life but felt as though the world wasn’t giving me a chance to prove myself. At the same time, I was worried I would fail any challenge thrown at me.

Aberdeen, the main character, embodies my fears and insecurities. She’s generally lonely, but she worries she can’t maintain any form of relationship due to a personality flaw on her part. It’s so easy for her to spend every evening at home with her books, but she knows she can’t do that forever without her whole life passing her by. She just has no idea where to start.

Half the first book is told from John’s perspective, so it’s no secret that he plans to use her. He wants to pass his immortality curse onto her, but he can only do that if she agrees. Convincing her to accept is his challenge throughout the series, as he doesn’t want to move too quickly and scare her off. He’s an impatient person, so this is a struggle. As suspicious as Aberdeen is of other people, she shouldn’t trust him easily, but she’s so desperate for anyone to show appreciation for her and what she can do that she’s willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Throughout the series, she grows in confidence. I have all the big events plotted out through the end of the sixth and final book. There are two ways the story could end. One way might not be true to Aberdeen’s character, but the other way might bend too many rules of the magic system, unless I leave careful hints along the way. Although John is the more dynamic and interesting of the two of them, my priority in the series is Aberdeen’s personal growth, and I need to keep that in mind as I consider how the series will end.

I plan to finish the edits (finally!) on books 2, 3, and 4 this year, as well as an unrelated novel you can read about on this page linked here, all of which I hope to publish before the end of the year. Aside from those novels, I’m trying not to write any new novel drafts this year, focusing instead on short fiction and doing some total rewrites on books 5 and 6. The Famulus is available as a free e-book across platforms. Links are on this page. If you read slowly, maybe I’ll have the second book available by the time you’re done with it!

Killing My Darlings

A few months ago, I decided to pull my self-published book from the market. I didn’t like the idea of strangers reading something that had so much of my heart in it. As a creator, it’s often hard to separate myself from my work. In the last few months, I’ve gained more confidence in myself and my work, and I’m proud to say I’ve re-published The Famulus, with a few changes.


The biggest change I made was to some of the names of the characters. Even before I introduced an element of magic to the story, it was always about a character named Aberdeen Scotland. She had two brothers, named Edinburgh Scotland and Yard Scotland (for Scotland Yard, which I felt the need to explain in each of the six books in the series). When I gave it more thought, I realized I was subtly telling readers not to take my book so seriously. “The characters have unusual names; they must be quirky and weird and not at all real, so I shouldn’t judge them too harshly.”

I’m not saying book characters can’t have unusual names, but if a name is going to draw attention to itself, it should serve a purpose. There was no reason for me to give my characters such “Scottish” names. They’re as American as I am.

Aberdeen is still Aberdeen. None of the new names I tried to give her felt right. But the family’s last name is now Oberon. I have no idea where that came from. Ed is still Ed, but it stands for Edwin now, rather than Edinburgh. Yard became Brett, after several failed attempts to rename him, only to discover the new name was too close to someone or something else.


This made a bigger difference in the paperback version than the e-book. I had divided the book into seven sections, a new one each time the POV character changed. The story is told in third person past tense, alternating between Aberdeen and John. Each gets four or five chapters (out of 30) before I switch back to the other. After each section, I would insert a page in the paperback that said “I. John” or “II. Aberdeen” before starting the next chapter on the next odd numbered page.

These section breaks did little but add an extra ten pages to the paperback version. The new paperback book is only 4 pages shorter than the old version because I increased the spacing from 1.15 to 1.25.

Trying to format the e-book with a separate page for each section proved to be a nightmare for me, so the old version would have chapter titles like “Chapter 1 ~ John” and “Chapter 5 ~ Aberdeen.” I decided that if readers couldn’t tell whose point of view the chapter was in, I hadn’t done my job as a writer. I simplified this as well by simply naming each chapter as “Chapter 1” etc.

Kill Your Darlings

As I edited this new version of the book, I titled the file on my computer “Volume 1 KYD,” with KYD standing for Kill Your Darlings. Whenever I’d first heard this famous writing advice, I’d thought it was advising writers to kill off their favorite characters. I’ve since learned it means not to leave something in your story simply because you like it. For me, this was the names.

As I reread the book for the first time since last October, I realized how much I had grown as an author. The book underwent more editing this time than I had expected to do. I cut out a few other passages or lines of description that didn’t serve a purpose. I killed more darlings.

I’m the type of writer whose first drafts are always shorter than the final project. When I first wrote this, I was so excited to pass 70,000 words that I didn’t question whether everything I’d added needed to be there.

Moving On

My work will never be perfect. However, it won’t do any good to keep it to myself. I believe there’s an audience for my books out there somewhere, and until I find it, at least I love my story and my characters.

For those wondering how making such a huge change after the book had already been published will affect the people who read the first edition: I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people who have copies of the first edition, all people I know personally. If any of them are interested in continuing with the series, I will either give them this new version of Volume 1, or I will print personal copies of the rest of the series with the original names in them. I’m seriously considering doing this for myself at least, because that’s the kind of sentimental person I am. I might have killed my darlings, but I can bring them back as ghosts.

This is why I self-publish. 😉


Like Someone’s Listening to Me

The following is an excerpt from my novel The Famulus. It introduces Aberdeen, the main character, as she discusses books with her coworker, Sebastian.


Aberdeen Oberon had missed her appointed “Orientation to Life” session or been placed in the wrong metaphysical homeroom in that strange wonderland where all the young souls hung out before birth. Whatever it was, she was sure everyone else had been born with some kind of innate sense that instructed them how to make friends and convince others they were someone good to dance with or hire for a job or buy a drink for and basically just how to get along in life. She was lacking in something, although she didn’t know what.

It was a rainy Thursday afternoon in October, and she was working at the Buy Back counter of Reads & Rereads, a used-book store in Kilkenny, Indiana. Despite the self-pitying nature of her thoughts, she was having a good day. A customer had brought in four large boxes of books to sell back, and it would take no stalling on her part to make the processing of the new inventory last until it was time to leave for the day. Pricing and organizing the books was Aberdeen’s favorite task at her job. She liked giving each book individual attention, like they were stray pets taken in and she was giving them the only love and care they might receive for days or weeks at a time.

“I’d like to toss the whole lot,” said Sebastian, her shift manager and one of her favorite coworkers. A long-haired graduate student, Sebastian had a bit of a cult following online due to a series of scathing yet hilarious book reviews he wrote. He not only read more than Aberdeen had time for, but he was the only person in her circle of acquaintances, small as it was, who shared her hobby of writing fiction.

“How can you say something like that?” She exaggerated her outrage by hugging a book to her chest but put it down again when she smelled the combination of stale cigarette smoke and basement mustiness.

“I don’t have time for trash,” Sebastian said. “If something’s not relevant or important, I’m not going to read it.”

He had a long face that always made Aberdeen feel like she was talking to a horse that had been anthropomorphized into a human. His hair, longer and fuller than hers, reminded her of a wild mane, which he never subjected to a hair tie or the confinement of being tucked behind his ears.

“That’s personal preference. There could still be a handful of people, or even one person, to whom that book could make a difference.”

He squinted one eye at her, giving her a look she had come to know too well from him. His expression implied she should have been smarter than what she was presenting. It had taken months, but she’d finally learned not to take him too seriously.

That look was the reason she would never ask him for a critique of her writing. She knew it wasn’t up to his standards. His characters were all dark and tortured and psychologically unstable and didn’t do much besides get drunk and sleep with each other, while hers learned powers of teleportation and stole artwork and went on the kind of cringe-worthy first dates she was sure she would have, although they could laugh about their shortcomings and fall in love despite doing everything wrong.

He held up one of the books. “If a story about a cardboard, alpha male, super spy rescuing what looks like a beauty pageant contestant—if this cover illustration is to be believed—is going to ‘make a difference’ to someone,”—he made air quotes with his free hand—“then I’m willing to bet there’s another book out there that will do the same job.”

“So, you support the practice of books going out of print?”

“Of course. If libraries didn’t occasionally weed out their collections, they would run out of shelf space. And information becomes outdated and inaccurate, so who’s to say the same thing can’t happen with fiction, so it’s no longer relevant to anyone in the modern world? Besides, there’s no shortage of books to be read.”

“You would just wipe out the life’s work of some poor author.” She tried to pour all her disdain into her tone, but she couldn’t be sure he would pick up on her disapproval. Or that he would care.

“It’s nothing personal. But not every book can be a classic. Far fewer deserve it than those people give the name to these days. You have to decide what kind of mark you want to make on the world.”

“But who decides what’s a classic and what isn’t?”

“There are medical doctors to tell you what’s healthy to eat, and there are liberal arts doctors, PhDs, to tell you what’s healthy to read. And it’s not always what’s best-selling, either. So much of what’s popular these days is classless and all-around bad writing.”

“There’s got to be a better way. That sounds unfair.”

“Unfair to whom? Do you realize there are books in this store that have been here longer than I’ve worked here? No one wants them.”

“Maybe they just haven’t found their audience.”

Recently, Aberdeen had stumbled upon a few lesser-known and self-published books, stories about witches who solved crimes, secret organizations that controlled society, and ghost hunters. She devoured those books in a couple days or sometimes only a few hours, eager to lose herself in the story and in the company of characters unlike people she encountered in real life. Those books had assuaged her loneliness by inviting her into a world as real as only a book could create, filled with people she brought to life by lending them a bit of her time and attention.

She doubted one thing about her current reading trend would meet Sebastian’s standards.

“It’s like people,” she continued, her argument fueled by his obstinacy. “It’s so hard to meet people who relate to the same things I do or are interested in the same things I am,” she said.

“Like what?” he asked. “What are you interested in that no one else is?”

“Me.” She’d been fishing for laughter, which he gave her, but she had meant what she said. “Sometimes books are all I have. I’m serious. I can’t figure people out, and that puts so much pressure on me to be around anyone. I never know what I can say to keep them from mentally tuning out because they don’t connect with me. When I read, it’s like someone saying to me, ‘Hey, I think those things, too.’ And when I write, it’s almost like someone’s listening to me, even if no one ever reads it. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

“You want someone to listen to you? What do you think I’m doing now?”

She refused to smile at his joke. “But if you think about it, you’re being paid for your time right now.”

“But not by you.”

“Doesn’t matter. You can’t honestly tell me you think we would hang out if we didn’t work together. If we were really friends, we’d already be making plans to go out for drinks.”

She regretted saying that, not because she was worried she would offend him, but because she didn’t want him to challenge her and make the suggestion she said he never made. As much as she liked talking to Sebastian at work, having to sustain a conversation with him over the course of a couple hours without customers or other work-related tasks to distract them would be too stressful.

Maybe that was why she didn’t have many friends.


Setting a Project Aside

The Famulus is a six-book series that has consumed the last five years of my life. It stands at around 327,000 words now, not counting how many words of older drafts I’ve tossed out over the years. Some books have had more than ten drafts completed, while I’ve jumped from one scene to another in others and never finished their first draft. I worked on all six books at once, with the first one self-published until I pulled it this month.

This series is my heart and soul.

I came to an important realization that probably anyone reading this will think was incredibly obvious. Just because I want to be a published author doesn’t mean I have to publish everything I write. Some books can be written only for myself. Although I’m going to continue to revise and add to this series, I have no plans to send it out into the world.

I’d always thought the overwhelming fear I felt about anyone reading my work was natural and it was just something I would have to get over. Promotion of my work frightened me. I didn’t want anyone to read it, which led me to ask myself why I had published it in the first place.

What I settled on was that I published it because I wanted to be a published author and reach people with my work, and the way to do that was to put it out into the world so people could read it. Like any creative work, it has its flaws. (The largest flaw in the first book is probably that the stakes aren’t high enough.) It’s not that I’m not proud of it that I’m keeping it to myself. I’ve learned so much from writing this series, and now it’s time to take what I’ve learned and apply it to new projects, building them from the ground up with a good foundation instead of throwing all these characters, emotions, and plot points in at once and hoping they sort themselves out.

I started writing The Famulus when I was 25. The main character, Aberdeen, is so similar in spirit to me (although hopefully not a self-insert Mary Sue, since I try to play on her flaws). Loneliness is an important theme in the series, because I was incredibly lonely when I started writing it. Those books might be fantasy, with magic and immortal characters and supernatural abilities, but the loneliness is real. The story said what I needed a story to say to me at that time in my life, but I realized I couldn’t release it and let other people’s reactions affect the way I thought about it.

Yes, of course, I know not to let other people’s opinions affect my own. But when an author publishes a book or any type of artist releases their work into the world, they lose control over it, and it belongs to other people at that point. I’m selfish about this story, and I don’t want to share it with anyone else.

The only reason I might eventually republish this, years down the road, is that I know the power stories have—how books can save lives, show us we’re not alone, and prove that someone else out there thinks the same weird things we do. I would gladly share it if it would do that for someone else, but I just don’t have enough confidence that I can find those people—my people—right now.

This series helped me discover what I think about some things. It’s my credo. Just because I won’t be sharing this series with anyone doesn’t mean I can’t present those ideas in other stories I’ll write. If those ideas and beliefs don’t show up in anything else I write, they must not have the weight and importance I think they do. Besides, if I thought this was the only good thing I would ever write, why bother with anything else?

The narcissistic side of me wants to share parts of these stories here to give an example of my writing style and voice so you can decide if you’d be interested in reading anything I might publish in the future, like the project I’m currently working on. I haven’t yet decided if I’ll post excerpts (with some context given) or if I’ll reframe them as independent short stories, but I’ll put a few up in the next couple of weeks.