Thin Ice

My wife likes to remind me on occasion, too many occasions, that I have not started my next novel in two years.

While that may be true, from a certain point of view, in another it is a galaxy beyond the truth. While I have not been typing words for my next novel, there are voices aplenty screaming at my brain where I must go next.

In many ways, I wish I could just complete one tale and begin another, but I cannot. In my addled brain I have one over-arching story that begins with The Rages, The Book of the Shepherds Volume I, and ends sixteen novels later.

I have considered on many occasions the impracticality and impossibility of it all. I have done little to none of the necessary steps writers do to promote their work. I have attended no writer’s conferences, had no book premiers, and my “website” draws little but digital dust. I have done little in the way of advertising, and seldom even mention my secret obsession with those I know.

I finished the first four books, cast them out into the universe, and watched them settle comfortably to the bottom of the vast literary pool.

Why the hell am I doing this?

Because I must, is the answer. It may simply be a “vanity” project, but until I get it out of my head, it will simmer until it boils over and drives me mad.

I promised my wife I would start promoting my work (two years ago), but never have. To do so requires a certain confidence and bravado that I am sorely lacking. I’ll find a way to start this year.

While I have not been pecking words on a keyboard, I have been writing five different novels, only in my head. I set things in place with The Book of the Shepherds, and now I must find a way to remain consistent with the overarching narrative. Every door I close I cannot reopen, so, I need to tread carefully.

The next two books are prequels. As a reader and a fan of anything geeky (fantasy or science fiction), I struggle with prequels because I already know where the story is going. Case in point was the movie Solo. I liked the movie, but I didn’t feel anything was really at stake because I knew the main characters survive whatever threat was coming their way.

For my two prequels, they could almost be novels separate from this story. None of the characters from the first four books are there. But these novels will give details on the story that follows and explain a little bit on who the Shepherds of Chance might be, and a looming threat I barely hinted at in the previous books.

So, for two years I haven’t been Not Writing, I have let my imagination “simmer.”

I am not a “writer,” I just spend a lot of time doing so or thinking about doing so. I have most of my life.

To start writing before it is time to start is skating on thin ice.

I’ve had this idea in my head for forty-five years, and I’ll get it out, one way or the other, before I am gone. But when I write, I need to be sure where I am going, and that depends (for me) entirely on the characters. For two years I have let them bicker and argue on where the story goes from here, and they have finally reached a consensus, so I can begin telling their story.

So, appropriately enough, on April Fools’ Day I will begin in earnest on the next volumes in this series. I think the characters have given me a direction to start, and I am sure they will give me a twist or turn along the way, but that’s the best part of the journey.

I have set my deadlines, and I usually take them to the last possible moment before completion but have never broken one. I am close to 59 years old, and this thought in my head will be exorcised by the time I retire from my day job when I am 68.

When Deer Seek Asylum

By James L. Davis

I was awakened in the middle of the night.

“Stay down. They might be watching.”

“What’s wrong?” I asked, rubbing the sleep from my eyes.

“They’re trying to kill me.”

I’m not used to being awakened in the middle of the night, except by my wife’s dog, who will on occasion yawn to tell me she wants to go outside. Not that she needs to go outside, she just wants to go out in the middle of the night to have a look around.

“Who are ‘They?’”

“I don’t know,” my late-night intruder responded. “But there’s thousands of them, all dressed in orange.”

I reached out and turned on the nightstand light and my wife mumbled incoherently and threw the blankets over her head. I wished she hadn’t because I wasn’t quite prepared to deal with what was in our bedroom. There was a deer standing at the end of our bed, looking rather distressed.

“You’re a deer,” I said, stating the obvious.

“I’m a Buck,” my intruder informed me.

“Well, why are you in my bedroom?” I asked.

“Because they’re trying to kill me!” The deer went to my wife’s drawing table and sat down on her studio chair, shaking his head. “I don’t know who they are. I don’t know what I’ve done. But they’re out to kill me.”

I tried again to rub the sleep from my eyes. “Well, you’re a deer.”

“The dog said you were quick.”

“You talk to the dog?”

“Sometimes she comes out at night, and we chat.”

“That explains a lot. What I meant was you are a deer, and it is Deer Season.”

“Meaning?” The deer began to twirl around on my wife’s studio chair.

“Meaning that the people in orange are hunters and they’re trying to kill you for a reason.”

“What reason? I don’t even know who they are.”

“Well, either to eat you or to cut your head off and put it on their wall.”

The buck stopped spinning. “You’re kidding, right?

“Afraid not,” I said.

“Are you a hunter?” The deer was leaning forward in the chair, either ready to take flight down the hallway or dance a jig on our bed, I wasn’t sure which.

“Nope,” I said. “I don’t care for the taste of deer meat.”

“So now you’re saying I taste bad.”

“I didn’t say you tasted bad. I didn’t realize deer were so hostile.”

“Hostile!” The deer raised his voice, making my wife mumble and bury herself deeper within the covers. “Let me tell you about hostile. I’m getting ready for the rut, feeling pretty good about myself, wanting to strut around a little, and then suddenly BAM! People I don’t even know are shooting at me. Wouldn’t you be hostile?”

“Suppose so. But could you keep it down, you’ll wake my wife and the kids.”

“I’m a Buck.” The deer jumped off my wife’s studio chair and pranced to my side of the bed “They won’t understand me.”

“I do,” I said.

“Yes. But you’re not normal.”

“I’ve been told. What do you want from me anyway?”


“Sorry, all my neighbors are hunters, and I don’t want them storming through the house looking for you. You can take my orange hat and vest if you want, maybe they’ll think you’re a hunter yourself.”

“Fat chance. I’ve got a rack to die for.”

“Interesting choice of words,” I said. “Why’d you come to me in the first place?”

“Your dog said you might be able to help.”

“I’ve got to do something about that dog.”

The deer was pacing now, and I could see he was becoming agitated again. “You’re not going to remember any of this when you wake up, are you?”

“I sincerely hope not,” I said.

The buck turned and bounded out of my room, down the hall and out the door and I was able to get back to sleep.

The next morning, I was quite convinced that I either needed to cut back on my caffeine intake or go immediately into therapy. But then I noticed that my safety hat and vest were missing. There were deer droppings on my welcome mat, and to top it off, what I always thought was a yawn from my wife’s dog now seemed suspiciously like a laugh.

Life Lessons

I do not consider myself a writer, but I write. Because of this horrible addiction, I listen when people say something I consider “interesting” and I file it away, thinking I might use this some day.

Such a thing happened this morning, in the most mundane of places. I stopped at a convenience store for a soda, and when I tried to pay, the card reader kept saying “error.”

The cashier took my card, rubbed her thumb across it and tried. It went right through.

“I guess it just takes the right touch,” I said.

She smiled. “They’re like women. Tell them they’re pretty and bring them tacos.”

I’ll use that quote somewhere, some day.

I told her “great life lesson,” took my card and my soda, and went on my way.

That is all.

A Long and Winding Path

By James L. Davis

Well, that took a lot longer than it had should have. I wrestled with The Book of the Shepherds for forty years, or rather, I wrestled with some of the characters who live in The Book of the Shepherds for forty years.

For me, it was always about the characters, not necessarily the plot. Some readers might suggest that the books don’t really have a plot (I know, because they have told me), and I will not argue their point.

Some of the characters that appeared in the four novels first occupied my mind when I was seventeen and a senior in high school. First, there was Edward Toll, a little old apple peddler who was anything but. Then came the man with the shadows, the Greywalker. Next came Quinlan Bowden, and then Vicki Stark. Surprising, only because of when she first appears and how her story goes in directions I did not imagine as a teenager.

Then came Harley Nearwater, a man who is not a very nice man.

At first the story was going to be a modern-day fairy tale, and I started on the first draft after I graduated from high school. I made it roughly halfway through the story and then put it on the shelf. It wasn’t the story any of the characters wanted to live and they told me so every night when I tried to sleep.

I took more than a decade off writing fiction to fall in love, get married, join the Air Force, and try to figure out how to be an adult (still working on that one). The characters never stopped talking to me though, never relented in their pestering to get after it and tell their story.

I revisited them all when I found myself a single parent with a small boy and girl to raise. That was when Noah and Raizor were born as characters in my head. That might make you surmise that Quinlan is a representation of the author in his story. That is not the case. I am not as good as Quinlan, and not quite as bad as Harley, but I share a lot of their qualities, good and bad, I suppose.

Now, with seven people in my head screaming at my brain, I tried to tell their story again. This time it would be a horror novel with some fantasy elements. That one I completed the first, second, and third drafts on. It was a 227,000-word monstrosity, and when I finally stumbled upon the love of my life, I let her read the book. It horrified her, and I think she slept with one eye open for several months. The manuscript is in a box somewhere in my basement.

Even though I had finished the story, the characters wouldn’t leave me alone, especially Harley Nearwater.

“That’s just not me, son,” he would growl in my ear whenever I had a quiet moment.

But now I had a partner and our blended family consisted of two happy adults and five rambunctious children, so I put the voices in my head in a vault for another decade.

Harley still wouldn’t leave me alone, and I grew to hate him. I imagined him as a viciously mean man with no compassion for anyone. He was to be a minor antagonist who I quickly killed off. I relished the idea of killing him off, but he kept thwarting my plans.

“That’s just not me, son,” he’d say.

I had characters screaming for a world to live in, and I hadn’t a clue where to find that world.

In 2012, my now three adult sons came home for the holidays, and while we were sitting in the living room one evening, I asked them a question.

“What do you think the world will be like in 100 years or so?”

Two of my sons are electrical engineers, and the third earned his degree in history. We talked for hours, debating where we thought we might be heading as a species. We discussed everything from science to medical advancements, politics, poverty, automation, religion. It is my fondest memory of the kind of conversations I always crave, and to have had it with my sons was the greatest gift.

I didn’t take notes, but the characters in my head started clamoring. That was the world they wanted to live in, so a few weeks later I plopped them into the middle of it and waited to follow where they might lead.

It led to all the other characters that populate the books, first Jodi Tempest, then Cirroco Storm and the rest you will meet along the way.

I knew it was going to be an odd blend of fantasy and science fiction, and I didn’t want to give myself (or the characters) an easy out. I wanted an End of Everything, but not an end that could be thwarted. There would be no castles to storm, no armies to defeat. The end was coming one way or another.

Then I waited to see which character would head in an interesting direction, and it was no surprise when it ended up being Harley Nearwater.

Some of the characters living in my head do horrible things in the story, and some of them have horrible things done to them, even endure horrific things. I struggled writing some of it, but I discovered in the writing that I wasn’t telling the story as much as channeling the characters as they told their stories (and yes, I know exactly how that sounds). They were whispering to me the entire time.

And now, finally, it is done. When I finished, the characters who had been whispering in my head for decades stopped whispering, and it was quiet. Too quiet. I took a year off from writing because I wasn’t sure where to go next, or if there was a next.

I have another eleven stories in my aching brain, and slowly but surely characters are whispering which story they believe is theirs. Some of the characters readers of The Book of the Shepherds might recognize.

I hadn’t quite decided to continue with writing because all eleven of these stories reside in the same world as The Book of the Shepherds, some directly, some indirectly, and I wasn’t entirely sure I (or anyone else) would want to spend more time there.

In the end, the voices wouldn’t stop, and I am once again pecking away at the keyboard and listening to voices in my head.

My goal is to get all eleven books written in far less time than I did the first four. One a year or so for the next ten years (I might be more prolific when I retire from my day job). I don’t want these voices still pestering me on my 100th birthday.

The End of Everything Has Begun

Greyland-Book of the Shephard Volume_2018_v2_Flattened

Greyland, the sequel to The Rages is now available. It’s a twisted world inside my head. Not quite as twisted as the real world, but still.

Part III of the series, Redemption, and Part IV, The Vale, will be available by the end of the year. I’ve got some writing to finish.

Welcome to Walmart

I went to Walmart a little bit ago. Don’t be alarmed. I mostly kept my eyes averted and made it out virtually unscathed.

I went in search of a new tube for my wife’s bike. As I walked past the racks of new bikes, I paused and was looking at all the models and the prices.

There was a young couple with their children there as well, talking to an older gentleman. He was dressed in jeans and a wrinkled button-up shirt. He was showing them the different bikes and when they finally settled on one, he wished them a good day.

Then he came to me and asked “can I help you?” He didn’t have anything that identified him as an employee of the store.

Normally I try and get into Walmart (or any store really) without speaking to anyone. It’s one of the things I love about self-checkout. I shook my head and told him, “no, I’m just here for a bike tube.”

He followed me to the tubes and gave me suggestions on how I could cut the old tube and line the tire with it as added protection. I nodded and said it sounded like a fine idea. When I wandered back to the new bikes, he pointed out which ones were on sale and what the best deals were.

A woman looking for a bike for her husband for Father’s Day asked him for help. She had a sales ad in her hand and was looking for that particular bike. He pointed it out and removed it from the upper rack for her and she went on her way.

I wandered off to get a basketball backboard for my daughter and when I came back, he was gone.

I ended up buying my wife a new bike. As I was wheeling it out of the store the man helping others choose bikes was leaving as well. He had a half gallon of milk and a few items of groceries in his hand.

I considered the fact that the best salesperson I’ve ever met at Walmart didn’t work there. It also struck me that perhaps this was his way of being part of something, of having people to interact with.

I hope he isn’t alone, but perhaps he is.

And perhaps I shouldn’t be in such a hurry and avert my eyes from my neighbors anymore.

A Man in Boxers with a Spear

My chosen profession is Safety Manager. I didn’t choose this profession, mind you, it chose me. At first it was an additional duty, perhaps given by my former employer as punishment, or warning to others, I’m not sure.

I pause to consider the wisdom of my profession, from time to time, when I do things that are altogether stupid, which happens at such frequency that I am often left in a dazed state.

One of those times happened last summer, when I found myself a bachelor for several weeks. My wife and youngest daughter traveled to Oklahoma to help family, leaving me unsupervised.

In the middle of the night I was awakened by a sound.


I’m a light sleeper, so the beep at 2:30 in the morning had my attention. The beep was coming from one of the dozen or so smoke alarms on the main floor of our house. The smoke alarms are wired into the electrical system, but they have 9-volt batteries as backups. Whenever the life of the batteries is spent, they beep their imminent demise. Never at 2:30 in the afternoon, only at 2:30 at night. This was one of those times.

I crawled out of bed and went in search of the dying battery.


I thought it was the smoke alarm right outside the master bedroom, which was altogether a good thing. We have vaulted ceilings in our house and the smoke alarm in the hallway was within reach. I went to the garage and grabbed my four-foot stepladder and removed the dying battery. I placed it on the kitchen counter and crawled back into bed.

Approximately 45-seconds later I heard


And crawled back out of bed. It wasn’t the smoke alarm in the hallway. It was the smoke alarm in the master bedroom, strategically placed at the top of our vaulted ceiling.

I am just over six feet tall, but for reasons that escape me now, I took my four-foot stepladder, climbed up and reached for the smoke alarm. I was at least one of me short. Perhaps I thought I had hidden abilities and might suddenly become Stretch Armstrong or Inspector Gadget and my arms would span the distance. I found I possessed no such hidden abilities.

So I stood and stared at the smoke alarm and willed it to be silent.


At this point I should clarify that I wasn’t strictly alone in my house. Our two dogs were with me. They watched what I was doing and, as they often do, went to their beds and covered their eyes with their paws. One of them groaned. I wish they wouldn’t do that, because I find it distracting.

I considered just going downstairs to the guest room and ignoring the dying battery. But knowing the smoke alarm was beeping upstairs (even if I couldn’t hear it) would keep me awake.

Then I remembered. I had a spear.

I have a spear because I like to torture myself (and anyone fool enough to follow me) with the Spartan Race. The obstacle course requires the idiot participants to take part in a spear throw. If you don’t successfully complete the spear throw (or any other obstacle) you have to do burpees. Anyone who has seen me will understand that me throwing myself to the ground and jumping back up again is not a pleasant thing in the least. I bought the spear to practice in hopes of avoiding burpees.

It was in my office, waiting for me.

So I grabbed the spear and climbed up my four-foot stepladder in my boxer shorts, reaching for the smoke alarm.

(For those who have gazed upon me in all my glory, I want to pause a moment and let that mental image sink in; of me in my boxer shorts, spear in my hand, standing on a stepladder reaching for a smoke alarm. Have you got it? Has it seared itself into your mind? Good. I’ll continue.)

With the tip of the spear I was able to pry open the cover on the smoke alarm and pop the dying 9-volt battery from its place. I put it on the kitchen counter and crawled back into bed.

Two hours later my alarm went off


And I considered the fact I was a Safety Manager and had recently done what I encourage my co-workers never to do.

It was then I realized I wasn’t made a Safety Manager as punishment. I was made a Safety Manager as a warning to others.

That is all.

Hold the Light


Hold the light. That’s about the only command I can remember from my Dad growing up. I idolized him, as I think most lucky kids do. So I was his shadow.

Whenever I got the chance I would go to work with him, no matter what the work might be. For a time he wore the hat as town Marshal for Huntington, Utah. What that meant, in reality, was that he was chief of the volunteer fire department, in charge of law enforcement, grave digging, and utilities for the city. He spent most of his time digging ditches, graves, and putting in water and sewer lines.

The vehicle he usually drove while at work was an old backhoe. When I got the chance to go to work with him (I was seven or so), I rode in the bucket (I know, I’m a Safety Guy now, go figure).

When he didn’t work for the city, he worked on the farm. He cut off the handle of a shovel and I would shadow him (my cut-off shovel in my hands, his big one in his) as he checked the fields and irrigated. It was and is the greatest memory of my childhood. There wasn’t anything my Dad couldn’t do.

Whenever one of our cars or trucks would break down, he would go about fixing it with whatever he had on hand, and I would hold the light. I’d climb up on the bumper and hold the light while he changed an alternator, adjusted a carburetor, or switched out a radiator hose. He would tell me “hold the light” and I would do my best, but I have to admit, I let it drift more than I should have.

But he never told me what he was doing. It was always just “hold the light.” So I held it.

I never really learned what he was doing or why he was doing it, and his lips would quiver while he worked, which wasn’t a good sign, so I didn’t ask as many questions as I should have.

As a child, the one time I can remember him giving me clear directions was when I dug out the basement of our house in Murray. I was 13 or so. We lived in a rambler and Dad worked for a construction company. The president of the company would let him borrow equipment from time to time on the weekends and one weekend he came home with a backhoe and the memories of riding in the bucket made me smile.

He dug a trench in the front yard, below the foundation and we stared down at the dirt beneath the house. He handed me a shovel and a pick and said, “Start digging.” But before I did, we got on hands and knees and went into the crawl space. He pointed out each support under the house and told me, “Don’t dig here.”

I spent that summer digging under our house. When the digging got too far to throw it into the trench, he lowered down a wheelbarrow. I would fill up the trench and he would borrow the backhoe to remove what I had dug out.

In the fall the digging was done and he poured concrete and put up cinderblock walls along the foundation. What help I could provide was pretty much “hold the light.” I wasn’t strong enough to haul the concrete in a wheelbarrow. But he was.

When the work was done and it was time to build the interior walls, he took me into the basement and told me “tell me where you want your room.” I drew out a pretty big one, I have to admit. It was much larger than the room he shared with my Mom. And he put up the walls. I stayed there until the day I went out on my own.

As an adult, the only time I can recall him giving me instruction was after I was a father myself.  I was in the Air Force and found myself a single parent without transportation. My car was a 1976 Cutlass Supreme and the water pump had gone out. I had no idea how to fix it and as an Airman First Class, I certainly couldn’t pay anyone to fix it for me.

So I called Dad collect (for you millennials, collect calls were a thing, look it up) and he walked me through how to replace a water pump and I was able to stop carrying my son on my shoulders to daycare while I went to work.

Decades later, the only thing I regret about my upbringing is that my Dad told me to “hold the light” and never explained to me why. What was he doing? Why was he doing it? How did it work?

I resent my Dad for nothing. He was my hero then, and he still is. But I regret the things he didn’t teach me, because I am still in need of the learning.

With most of my children now raised, I look back and think that I wasn’t very good at teaching them what I had learned, either. I didn’t say “hold the light” because I was making it up as I went along (anyone that has seen my work can plainly see this).

So, if you know how to do something well, pass it along to those interested.

I still remember how to run a shovel and a pick, ride in a backhoe bucket . . . and hold the light.

That is all.


Small Talk with a Wave


Our neighbor came over last night to offer us some fresh peaches. We were grateful, because we sure do love peaches. I answered the door, and if it had remained a conversation between the two of us, it would have been a pretty straightforward exchange.

“Would you like some peaches?” My neighbor would have asked.

“We would love some peaches!” I would exclaim.

I would take the peaches, thank my neighbor, and call it a pleasant conversation.

But my wife came to the door with me, and once the peaches passed from my neighbor’s hand to my own, the small talk commenced.

I am not an expert on small talk. I seldom, if ever engage in this alien form of communication. It baffles me, actually. If small talk is a muscle in your body, mine is woefully undeveloped. My wife, however, has a small talk muscle of Herculean strength. So, when the small talk commenced, I exited the scene, because that is what I do. Someone who doesn’t small talk is usually uncomfortable around those who do. I just sit there, trying to think of something to say with a constipated look on my face from the strain of exercising mental muscles I do not possess.

I don’t think I’m an unfriendly person (well, I’m at least not openly hostile). I just think a good conversation can normally be condensed into one word: “Hey!”

H = How are you?

E = Everything’s fine.

Y= Yes, we should definitely talk again soon.

The beautiful thing about the “Hey Conversation,” is that you don’t actually have to say the words. A wave is the sign language version of the “Hey Conversation.” And if your hands are busy, a nod of the head accomplishes the same thing.

It’s a benefit in a relationship to have one person without the ability to engage in small talk. It makes getting things done much easier, like going to the grocery store. I can make a run to the local market three and a half hours faster than my wife. When I arrive home, my wife will ask me if I saw anybody while I was there.

“I saw Bob.”

“Bob? What did Bob have to say?”

“He said, Hey!”

So while my wife and our neighbor engaged in small talk, I went to our bedroom. I napped for a time, clipped my toenails, then fished the lint out of my bellybutton and used it to knit myself a nice pair of socks. After a while I thought I would step outside and watch the moon come up. I stared at the stars, meditated and contemplated the meaning of life.

I listened to the crickets and in a moment of deep insight I comprehended what they had been trying to communicate to humanity all these ages: “The end is coming. The end is coming. The end is coming.” Or maybe it was just “Hey.” It was hard to be sure.

Eventually my wife came out to find me. Her small talk with our neighbor had ended.

She sat beside me, smiled, and said, “Hey!”

Which is why I love her so.

Putting Papa Out to Pasture


My wife and I had the chance to spend most of the weekend with two of our granddaughters while their Mom and Dad were in the hospital to welcome their new sister into the world.

The oldest of their girls, Paisyn, isn’t quite three-years-old, and she reminds me of her mother so much it hurts. On Saturday she was riding her stick horse all over the house. She would gallop into the living room; rub the side of her stick horse’s head and say, “Whoa, boy, slow down. Settle down.” Then she would gallop away.

Later that morning she walked over to me with her stick horse in her hand. She propped it up beside the couch I was sitting on. She had attached a lead rope to its bridle and she handed it to me. “Hold onto him, Papa,” she said. Then she went to her room to play.

Whenever she came back into the living room, if I wasn’t holding onto the lead rope, she would put it back in my hands and sternly say, “Hold him, Papa.”

In the afternoon she came back to me with the lead rope in her hand. She wrapped it around my left wrist, slipped it into a knot, and pulled. It cinched tight (I asked her parents who taught her to do this, and they said she taught herself).

“Come on horse,” she said, and gave it a tug. So, being an obedient horse, I stood up and let her lead me. She led me into the kitchen, where my glass of ice water was sitting on the counter. She let me have a drink, and I was grateful her parents didn’t keep hay (or a curry comb) in the kitchen. Then she led me back to the couch.

She removed the lead rope and smiled, and I smiled back. “Thanks for putting me in the field for the night,” I said.

She looked at me quizzically, raised her eyebrows, and reattached the lead rope, only tighter this time. The circulation in my hand was being cut off.

“Come on, Papa,” she said.

I let her lead me again. We were heading for the back door. “Where are we going now?” I asked.

“To the field,” she said.

“I don’t really want to go to the field, Paisyn,” I said (it may have been a plea).

So she led me back to the couch and removed the lead rope.

That was a close one. I know there’s hay out there. Maybe even a curry comb.