Book Review: Fire in the Dawn

fire in the dawn cover

Justin Fike contacted me in the summer of 2009. It had been a little while since he’d graduated from Brown University and he was trying to decide whether or not to commit to being a writer. He had a book in process, but the vision was huge. It might end up being a trilogy, he thought, and it seemed like a lot of work. Could he really make it as a writer?

I did five coaching sessions with Justin (he’s given me permission to share that publicly) and he did decide to push on. Some time later, he asked me if I’d write a letter of recommendation for the Master’s in Creative Writing program at Oxford University. I felt a little under-qualified, but I did it. Justin got in, graduated… time went on… he still hadn’t finished that book.

Justin and I have been in touch ever since. In 2016, we met again at a conference in Thailand, and decided to write a series of action-adventure/comedy books called the Stetson Jeff Adventures. Our main character is a cross between any Chuck Norris character (he really only plays one guy, right?) and Forrest Gump, three books have been published and several more are drafted as I write this.

But that story he was working on in 2009 still wasn’t done, until this weekend Justin finally published Fire in the Dawn, the first book in his Twin Skies Trilogy.

I give you all this background just to say that sometimes people with huge ideas and lots of talent can take a LONG time to get that book out. This in itself commands my respect.

I have learned a lot from Justin about story beats: the aspect of writing that involves keeping the reader engaged, tools and techniques to make you want to turn the page. Justin is whiz-bang at this, and I have a feeling that by the time we’re done with 9 Stetson Jeff books and he finishes the rest of his Trilogy, he’s going to be at a level we’d have to call masterful. So here is my review:

Fire in the Dawn is set in a fantasy world similar to Medieval Japan. Justin taps into a deep knowledge and understanding of cultures to construct a world that feels real, with a political landscape that has treachery on every side. There are social and racial themes throughout that keeps you guessing about how his main character will be able to accomplish his goals, and intriguing alliances. Like any good fantasy story, there’s a bit of magic thrown in that refers to the power of qi but some deeper magic too.

All told, if you’re a reader of lots of fantasy lit, you’re going to love what Fike has done with the genre. He’s gotten away from the trolls, orcs, dragons and wizards, and done something exceptional, fresh, and exciting.  And if you’re not into the fantasy genre, that’s okay– Fire in the Dawn has a literary quality that’s appealing to a broader-than-fantasy-readers audience in a way that’s similar to how I experienced George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. Justin’s work isn’t as gory and doesn’t have the perverse sexual violence of Martin’s Game of Thrones, nor does it have the same immense complexity of a cast of characters of hundreds you have to track, so it’s definitely lighter reading in several ways. The comparison is being made strictly based on the fact that it’s literary. Fike’s world has plenty of depth and texture to explore, and a certain amount of intrigue. He keeps the action moving, so you never bog down with lengthy explanations of the world. The first few chapters you may find yourself wondering what is going on, and where you are, so it will be helpful to refer to the map!  I’m eager to read the second book in the trilogy.

Also, check out that sweet cover art. Top notch professional work!

Justin’s promoting Fire in the Dawn on Amazon for free at the moment, but the promotion ends today, so get it now!

Also, if you’d like to check out the work that Justin and I have done together, here’s the link to The Stetson Jeff Adventures, Volume 1, which includes “Beatdown in Bangkok”, “Mayhem in Marrakesh”, and “Pandemonium in Paradise” plus a bonus short story, “A Very Stetson Christmas”, available in paperback and as an e-book.


Stetson Jeff #3 is here!

Announcing the release of Pandemonium in Paradise, the Third in the Stetson Jeff series by Cha’am Cowboys Publishing (Justin Fike and Adam G. Fleming). Stetson Jeff goes to Amish country in pursuit of some banditos, and does his best not to buy the farm. Moon pies are his newest delight, and he has to learn how not to fight, to fight Amish-style. It’s available right here on Amazon! If you have not read Stetson Jeff #1 (Beatdown in Bangkok) it’s here. You’d probably also want to read Mayhem in Marrakesh (#2).



Pursuing Lifelong Goals

Publish ten books. That’s one of my lifelong goals.

I’m at 23.33%. (I count the recent release of Beatdown in Bangkok as one-third of a book  based on the fact that after we have three Stetson Jeff Adventures on Kindle we’ll make a paperback version, Volume One.)

I’m 42 years old. I was 38 when I published my first book. Will it take until I’m 54 to finish the task? Perhaps; there are plenty of ways my progress could derail, unforeseeable major life stressors like a death in the family. But I’m working on a lot of stuff. Right now, I have a book of poems that’s perhaps 40% complete. And a long literary novel at 115,000 words. And the rough draft for Stetson Jeff adventure #2 in the can. I have MOMENTUM! 

I have to yell it or I forget. I was probably around 34 when I began book one. The first twenty percent of a goal is the hardest part! It took me seven years to finish that first twenty percent. But after that, you find a groove.There’s a good possibility I’ll get to sixty percent in another two years.

Numbers aren’t always a writer’s best friend, but do the numbers: if you begin working and you stick with it, attainable lifelong goals can and do happen!

Special Blog: Post #172!

A hallmark number, to be sure, the number 172. Nice and round, full-bodied, plus-size, curvy, sensual…

It’s the one-year anniversary of my blog. That’s a post on a whopping 47% of the days in the last year. There are posts from Congo and Thailand, as well as a lot more from my desk in Indiana.

What did I learn?

When you write you will mostly get ignored. Maybe this is why Jesus did not write. It made more sense to relate to a small number of people in a short time span.

When you write something controversial, more people will read it, but they might not even let you know they have a problem with what you’ve said. My most-viewed blog to date elicited a response from a local pastor, and I’m very glad he said something. Being misunderstood isn’t the end of the world– it’s the beginning of finding your voice!

When you stop caring if people will like it, and beyond that, whether they will even read it, you’ll write even more. Develop thick skin this way, and when you start getting negative reactions, you’ll see that people are reading it, and you’re probably not saying anything new, just more clearly, and you’ll know you’re on your way.

Don’t post just to post. It’ll be crap, and not get you anywhere. With that being said, post to write, and do it often. It still might be crap, but it’s better than posting just to post. If you don’t see the difference, it’s as simple as this: work on your craft. Make, and make again. Make yet again. Make art. Write.

I care less now about being famous and more about being productive than I did a year ago. That’s good because that’s something I can control.

I learned I am also a poet. That’s exciting, somewhat frightening new territory. Missed reading my poems? Here are a few of my favs from the last three months:





If you’ve enjoyed my blog, today’s the day to pick up one of my books. They’re available on Amazon or at my bookstore.








Writers: know it.

There’s an old adage that you should write what you know. In the nonfiction world, it’s easy to get hooked into providing tons of references. White reading lots of material is great, and certainly plagiarism is bad, very bad, there’s more room than we realize to simply assert what we know.

The content your readers want is uniquely you. Good writing is going to include finding creative new ways to say what many people already know.

My favorite reason for quoting other authors is to pull disparate sources together into one place, to use multiple ideas together to say something new. In other words, if you’re just repeating, don’t bother. But if you can take an idea from over there and mix it with an idea from somewhere else to say something new, then it’s worth quoting.

If you’re addicted to quoting others, maybe it’s time to take a break from reading, so you can spend time asserting yourself more!

grab a pencil, Charlie Brown

In a favorite comic strip, Charlie Brown attempts to write to his pen pal (“Dear Pen pal,” he begins) but his pen splotches ink all over his page. In the final frame we see Chuck start again, this time with a different writing utensil. His letter now begins “Dear pencil pal,” and we presume he’s able to complete his letter with no further inconveniences. (Knowing this character, though, we might not be surprised if his pencil breaks in half, and he ends up finishing the letter with his blood, sweat, and tears.)

We’ve talked about setup before in our videos (see my writers’ group page in the sidebar) but sometimes our normal setup doesn’t work for a variety of reasons.

This week the keyboard on my Surface Pro 3 stopped working, a modern situation similar to that good ol’ blockhead’s ink problem. I had some time to write last night but I was too frustrated with using other keyboard solutions. Besides, writing on a computer keyboard usually also means I’m writing something I intend to publish, while last night I just needed to journal out my frustrations (while I write about authenticity a lot that does npt mean I need to pathologically spread my negative attitudes across the web while I’m having them). So not only did my objective change, but my setup changed, too. I grabbed that good ol’ pencil and a notebook and off I went.

Later on in the evening, calmed down enough to tolerate the frustrations (and backspace button excess) of typing on the tablet’s virtual keyboard rather than the magnetic, clip-on keyboard I prefer, I was able to come back to the computer to work on my next book outline, which I’ll use in a proposal.

The point is, we need different setups for different purposes. We also need backups and redundancies so that we have an outlet for creativity or activity of any kind. Instead of breaking the flow when things are not working, we need a backup plan. This doesn’t only relate to writers, but for backhoe operators, fitness fanatics, painters, dieting, dating your spouse, pretty much anything we have a personal dedication to doing regularly. What’s your plan B? What’s your version of a pencil? How will you get it done when you’re at your most frustrated state?


Writer’s Thursday: From Whence The Evil Writer’s Block?

From Whence the Evil Writer’s Block?

In a previous article I noted that

The question of “what is art” is a deeply involved philosophical question which I don’t intend to address in full here (or perhaps ever) but one critical aspect of artwork is that it is a product of some sort of intentional working out of a problem or puzzle that often times the artist has created for themselves. It means finding a way to say something, to address an issue in society, in a fresh way, and that takes intent. Much of writer’s block can be said to stem, then, from a lack of hope. Intent-crushing despair. Such despairing statements as “nobody will publish this book anyway” or “nobody reads this blog anyway” or “nobody understands me” kill the working out of the puzzle, while the statement “I will make myself understood” is a statement primarily of hope, for we feel that if we are understood, someone may also come to a life-changing conclusion, we will have made an impact. Once we’ve made that statement, we have voiced an intent to do it. What we speak with intent is what we do.

We need to back up here. If you’re an aspiring writer—who has been an aspiring writer for some time—without actually writing, it may be time to reevaluate. It’s easy to fall in love with the idea of being a writer. As readers, we begin to learn to admire writers while we are still young. They have made us giggle or ponder some wonder of the earth, say, dinosaurs. It’s harder to begin to believe that we actually have something unique to say.

Saying that unique thing which comes from us, while referring to writers who have gone before but without plagiarizing either their voice or content takes some development. Developing our voice is a stylistic thing, to be sure, but it goes along with content. An example from a voice I admire: Kurt Vonnegut’s voice always matched his message.

When I was a college student, one professor encouraged me to continue to speak up in class. “We need your perspective,” he said. I still remember that when I wonder if anyone will care what I have to say. My professor recognized something valuable even then.

Should everyone who admires writers try to be a writer? Probably not.

How do you make that determination? I can’t say in general, though I’m confident in a few conversations I could help someone sort that out. My friend Doug Fike says that each of us has a message, and people to give that to, and a delivery method. Perhaps writing is your delivery method, perhaps not. I think it could be quite freeing to discover that writing is not your medium. The same sort of relief I felt when I stopped carving stone.

Once you’ve decided for sure that writing is for you, and begin to develop your voice, matching it to your message, you’re going to need regular infusions of hope, like a daily cup of coffee. I’m not saying it will be as easy to get as coffee is. Hope is connected to your wish for meaning and connection with others, and it’s so critical in getting past writer’s block.

What good is a voice with nothing to say? My wife says that until she was four years old she hardly spoke. Her mother took her to the doctor or a speech therapist or some other “authority”, and they said, “She’s perfectly fine. When she has something to say, she’ll speak up.” Perhaps it was just that her older sisters anticipated her needs. “Mom, Megan is hungry.” She was also taking a lot in, no doubt about it.  If you think you might be a writer, and might have something to say, but aren’t sure, then just keep taking it in. Read. Read a lot. This is such common advice for how to become a writer that I’m going to leave it at that.

But where do you get hope, then? Intellectually, it’s optimism. Emotionally, it’s positivity. Spiritually it’s acceptance of your voice as valuable to the world.

Ultimately, if you’re grappling with writer’s block, one question to ask yourself is “do I have hope for this project? Do I have hope for the people who experience this project?” If the answer is yes, perhaps there’s another problem. After all, a lack of hope isn’t the only thing that keeps you from writing.

I’m curious to hear your take, readers. What other issues do you think cause writer’s block?

Writers: Big Blocks vs. Legos

I played with Legos as a kid. Along with baseball cards, Legos were pretty much my favorite toy. As a younger boy (back when swallowing a Lego might have meant I’d perish) I played with bigger blocks, building towers and gleefully knocking them down.

When it comes to time management, though, I think the block of time you need for writing something may have something to do with the end result length of what you’re writing. For writing a novel I like big blocks. Blocks of time allow me to immerse in the fictional universe. The big blocks also allow me to complete larger chunks of the tower that is to become my novel. If you ever tried to build a tall tower with Legos, you know that they don’t have the integrity that large blocks of wood have. This is why we build actual houses out of wood blocks called too-buh-fawers.

For writing non-fiction, I prefer Legos, er, I mean short blocks of time. The non-fiction world is something I’m already immersed in, and it’s not as much fun to write about. Also the length of what I’m writing is much shorter, like this blog for example. Hmm. I thought of a comparison. I threw the idea out there. This is how I believe nonfiction should go. Tell the idea. Then, the piece is over.

Writer’s Thursday… on Saturday?

Why not move Writer’s Thursday to Saturday when I feel like it? I know we’re supposed to be consistent, but I had another issue I wanted to talk about on the 31st. So I did.

Everyone else is writing about resolutions, but we often don’t take time to celebrate our accomplishments. The last day of the year is a great time to celebrate what you’ve accomplished over the last 365 days. I want to hear from you what you did!

As for myself, beginning at the very end of April, up until today, I’ve posted over 100 blogs on this site. That’s almost one every two days!

At the end of November my second book was published by a traditional publishing house. That means I wrote a book proposal and put well over 70,000 words through the editing gauntlet with an editor as well. (Lest you think that all that writing is in addition to all the blogs I just mentioned, not so. Many of the blogs were used as the rough draft material for the book.)

My next novel(s) now have some 95,000 words. I expect this series to close in on 200,000 by the end of next year. I also think there’s a good possibility I’ll be taking all the Intentional Community blogs and fashioning a book out of them as well, perhaps by the end of 2016.  But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit here. I really got a lot written this year and hit some pretty significant milestones! Hooray!

If you wrote a lot this year, or achieved some other milestone, make a note in the comments! Or, if you consider yourself a writer but feel that you don’t have much to show from this year, now may be the time to join a writer’s group. Luckily for you, I lead one, and you can join it! Two of the guys in our group will be finishing their first novel’s rough drafts within the next few weeks, and the group works because we’re accountable to produce every month! If you want to join, the cost is only $30 per month and you can just reach out to me via email: and I will get you the relevant information. Not sure? Check out the videos in the Writer’s Group page on this blog and get to know me and Justin a bit better.

Want to write down some Resolutions? We’ll help you make those attainable and help hold you accountable to getting it done, so that next year, when I post a similar blog, you’ll have something to celebrate too!


Writers keep on a writin’

Hey writers, it’s writing Thursday again here on my blog, and I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Motivated New Year (not just January or November, either).

In our writer’s group last Thursday night (meets monthly for accountability and support) we talked about setup. Here’s our video on the topic.

Knowing your basic setup is great, but how do you maintain disciplines of writing (if you write daily or even once or twice a week) or really disciplines of any kind (how many calories you consume) when your normal setup gets upset by holiday travel?

Maybe you’re hosting people, maybe you’re with relatives, but usually a holiday week means somethin’s gotta give, and there’s a good chance your normal setup will suffer.

My main tip here is pretty simple: have a plan. You may know what your situation is going to look like, and there’s always Uncle Harv who arrives at the last minute throwing everything off kilter again.

The second tip is that you may have to squeeze it in the cracks instead of having a nice three hour block.

The third thing is, to avoid discouragements, appropriately adjust your expectations. Maybe you usually write 10,000 words a month, adjust that to a lower number. Or, if you’re like Justin, you have two weeks off school and you actually have more time. Find space to push yourself, either way. That’s how you get it done!

Again, everybody have a wonderful holiday and keep on a-writin’.