Today’s Featured Author: Phil Duncan

Today I welcome author Phil Duncan to my blog to discuss his latest book, Wax, a young adult novel about a boy who comes back from the dead with a whole bunch of new problems.


Where were you born and where do you call home?

I was born and raised in a small farming town in Eastern Washington State. After an eight year stint in Seattle, I now call Portland, OR home.

How much of yourself, your personality or your experiences, is in your books?

While there is no one character in Wax that is based on me or my life, I see bits and pieces of my personality scattered and amplified in all of the characters — both my attributes and flaws. I see a lot of my hometown in the story’s high school, so while everything is changed a bit and fictionalized, former classmates of mine who have read the book recognize certain settings.

How do you conceive your plot ideas?

I usually have dozens of ideas for stories in my head at any given time. Slowly, one will emerge as the squeakiest wheel and start snapping in place. Once I can clearly see the story from beginning to end, then I’ll sit down and start fleshing out the characters, plot points, and everything else.

Do you outline your books or just start writing?

Outlining is the most labor-intensive part of my process. I spend a lot of time mapping out each scene in the book before setting out to write the first draft. With a good outline in place, I can focus on more nuanced things while writing, without worrying about the direction of the story.

Please tell us about your current release.

Wax is a young-adult novel that follows Yancey Muncy, a hapless 15-year-old who after a tragic accident ends up dead. However, this fate is short-lived as Yancey is brought back to life by a scientist only to be blackmailed into using his new and improved body to do the scientist’s bidding. This forces Yancey to not only readjust to his ordinary life, but to make decisions that that have huge consequences.

What inspired you to write this book?

I was a little tired with the “zombie” genre, but thought there was still some interesting, unexplored ground to cover. I was drawn to the Shelley’s Frankenstein — the original tale of the undead — and wanted to toy with the idea of a modern “Boy Frankenstein” and see how a “second” life would play out within the frame of typical teenaged life — gym classes, high school crushes, sibling interactions, etc.

Is there a specific place in the house (or out of the house) that you like to write?

Wax was outlined and written mainly in my neighborhood 24-hour coffeeshop. I tend to make a lot of notes in longhand before transferring them onto a computer, because I like the freedom of just having a notebook with me whether I’m at a cafe or park or wherever. When it comes down to the editing process, I usually lock myself up in my home office.

What book are you reading write now?

I tend to read a lot of comics and graphic fiction, which I think is probably obvious to anyone who’s read Wax. I like very visual storytelling and find comics such as Chew and The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service to be great inspiration.

Book Description

Wax_book-cover-1Yancey Muncey is dead. Or, he was. Raised from the grave by the shadowy figure of Dr. Blankenship, Yancey is now back in high school, hanging out with his best friend, and working up the nerve to ask the girl of his dreams to the upcoming Halloween carnival.

But not everything is the same as it was before: Yancey’s eyes are yellow, his skin is blue, and he’s indestructible. As if that weren’t bad enough, Dr. Blankenship has made it his life’s mission to hunt Yancey down. Because the only reason Yancey is alive again is to help the good doctor destroy his rival.

An average boy with a new lease on an extraordinary life, Yancey must battle high-trained security and high school bullies in his quest to get back to normal. What’s the worst that can happen after all? He’s already dead.

About the Author

PhilDuncan_WaxHeadshotPhil Duncan is the author of Wax, a young-adult novel published by RainTown Press, as well as of various short fiction published both in print and online. He is a graduate of Goddard College’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program and the University of Washington’s English program. A former Jacob K. Javits Fellow, Duncan recently served as a Creator-in-Residence at the Tokyo Wonder Site-Aoyama in Tokyo, Japan. He currently lives in Portland, OR.

You can learn more about Phil on his website.

Wax can be purchased on Amazon.

Keeping your story believable

man aiming gun uid 1102594You are watching an action movie, and during the fight scene, the two sides shoot and shoot and shoot some more. And while you are engrossed in the action, somewhere in the back of your mind you are wondering “Shouldn’t they run out of bullets or at least need to reload?”

Just like watching that action scene momentarily jars you out of the story, many things in your novel can have the same effect on your reader. And there is nothing worse than reading and enjoying a book when you come across something that pulls you out of the story. It can be anything. It can be that your hero traveled 200 miles in one day on horseback or that a camp side stew was made in the time it took to set up camp. (Just for the record, a horse can travel about 30 miles in a day, and a rabbit stew takes a minimum of two hours to cook and that doesn’t include prep time.)

Sorry, I am a fantasy writer so my examples are based on situations that will come up in my storytelling but this holds true for all writers. For example, you don’t want to have your character fly across the country in just four hours when it takes at least seven on a commercial airliner or travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco in a two hours when it takes six.

Creating a spreadsheet or map to keep track of distances between locations in your novel can help you determine how far of a trip it is and to be consistent. Your reader will notice if it took them a week to get to the capital but only two days to return home.

Another area in the fantasy realm that you need to make believable is magic. You need to clearly define (at least for yourself) what can and cannot be done with magic. There must be limits on magic otherwise the person using magic would always win and there would be no conflict in your story. There are countless ways to limit magic: power is drawn from magical lines through the ground, and if you aren’t near one then you have no magic; magic is based on knowing spells so you are limited by your knowledge; magic makes a sound other sorcerers can hear and thus can find you, and the list goes on and on. Decide which rules you want to use and then make sure you stick to them in your story.

Being consistent with your details whether they are about magic or something as simple as what your character is wearing (a blue shirt one moment and red one the next) are very important in allowing your reader to be immersed in your make-believe world. And when it comes to areas that you aren’t knowledgeable about (perhaps traveling a long distance on a horse), then make sure you do the research so you can accurately portray the scene in your novel and not jar your reader out of the story with something as ridiculous as a gun that never runs out of bullets.

Establishing House Rules

Last month after an afternoon of bickering by the kids which escalated into a screaming match, our House Rules were born. house rulesThat evening I sat down and wrote up a list of possible house rules – no hitting, no teasing, no yelling, no whining, no throwing things….It wasn’t hard to figure out which ones our house needed.

Now our kids are 5 and 8, and I didn’t want to overwhelm them with a huge list of rules so I began combining some of the rules.

The first rule became about how we should speak with one another. We asked them to speak nicely (which includes please and thank you though it isn’t listed on the actual rule.) Lexie can be quite demanding so that got addressed in this one as well.

Rule 1 – Speak Nicely – No yelling, whining or demanding

Our kids are usually quite good about not hitting or kicking each other though sometimes they do push each other’s feet off the couch. And I was shocked one day last month when Lexie actually bit Jase enough to remove some skin. She had never done that before and thus Rule 2 came about.

Rule 2 – No hitting, biting, kicking or throwing things

It is a constant battle to get the kids to pick up after themselves. My husband often says that they need to put one toy away before playing with another, but their play typically involves lots of toys at once. Also my kids seem to run around in their underwear at home a lot. This means that they take off their clothes within minutes of coming in the door. If we don’t clean up, then the house is overrun with toys and dirty clothes.

Rule 3 – Pick up your own toys, shoes and dirty clothes

It never fails that when my husband and I begin a conversation someone interrupts it either because they need something, or because they have something to say that obviously just can’t wait.

Rule 4 – No interrupting adults when they are speaking unless it is an emergency

house rules fullNow there are tons of other rules we could have written down, but we decided to start with these four. I printed them up on a sheet of paper and hung one on our refrigerator and one in our computer room. We sat the kids down and discussed the rules with them. We stressed that every family member was to follow them.

So far, it has worked out pretty well – though they still struggle with #3. The kids will even remind my husband and I if we are arguing that we are supposed to “speak nicely.” I am sure over the next few months we may need to adjust our House Rules, and we will probably add to the list but for now, these are working out great for our family. I really think having them written down and posted makes a big difference.

Today’s Featured Author: Michele M. Reynolds

Today, I have author Michele M. Reynolds on my blog. Here she shares one of her favorite parts of Trail Swap.


This scene takes place after Swap and Levalot take refuge from the rain by sleeping on a playscape.

“She’s not DEAD,” a whispered, little voice projected over Swap. “If she were dead her eyes would be open.  That is how my grandfather looked when we found him in the living room.”

“No, she would be in a black bag or have a sheet over her face like this,” a loud girl screeched.

Swap woke to three little kids hovering over her and to a fourth one rummaging through her pack.

“Good morning, sleepy head,” a little, red headed girl hugged Swap tightly. The morning air smelt wet.

“We thought you were DEAD!” the boy exclaimed.

“No, I didn’t,” the screechy voice with blonde braids made clear.

“Oh, um,” Swap was very aware that she was pantless. “Good morning.” She smiled. She was usually good with children, but in this situation it was a bit awkward.

“Excuse me,” a boy stepped over her and started to steer the playscape helm. Swap hoped he was voyaging for the trail and could drop her off.

“Are you a bum?”  the boy who thought she was dead asked.

“No, not a bum that is not nice,” the red haired girl scolded.  “She is HOOOME less.”

“Are you?” screechy blonde asked.

“Well,” Swap grabbed her soaked shorts off the floor and pulled them into her sleeping bag.  “Actually I am homeless at the moment.”

“She’s homeless,” the fourth boy at Swap’s bag yelled down to the playground floor.  Swap became aware of the giggles, running, vast squeaks of swings and realized that her visitors were not limited to these few kids. It only made sense knowing that she was on school property.  Swap slipped her legs into the shorts and pulled them up.  She buttoned them and started stuffing her sleeping bag into its sack.

“Honey,” Swap motioned to the fourth scavenger. “Can you please put that stuff back in my pack.” She needed to recruit some help for a smooth escape. He nodded and complied.  She rang her socks and then slipped her aching still pruned feet into them and then into her boots.

“You leaving?” the red head asked. “If you stick around you can have my snack.”

“Yeah, there is a homeless person sleeping up there,” a group of children could be heard whining. It was in a tone that Swap knew well.  They must be tattle-tailing to an adult. Swap peeked over the edge and saw two adult women with dropped jaws staring back.

“Oh great,” Swap said as she sat back down and tied her boots tightly.  She wondered if Levalot was having a similar experience down on the next landing.  She wondered how the kids had gotten passed his enormous body and made it up here.

A little boy ran up the stairs, “They’re calling the police,” With that, Swap’s sleeping bag went into her pack.  Within a minute a siren was heard in the distance.  She saw the woods close by to disappear into.  She exited the cathedral and sat down at the top of a brown, spiral slide with her pack on her lap.  As she sat there her four-alarm-clock children gave her a shove.

“Bye,” they yelled. As her feet hit the ground she saw that the teachers had quietly taken to rounding up the children.  They looked like mother hens trying to protect them from Swap the hawk.  She ran toward the road and her little leeches followed.

“Janie, Zack, Ben, Sandy, Maria,” a frantic voice called and was followed by a stern, “Stay here!” They stopped at the road.

“Leave her alone she is just a nice bum,” a boy yelled back to the frantic voice.

“Hope you find a home!” the red-headed girl called.

The sirens and “hope you find a home” rang in her ears as she tripped over dead, fallen branches, and exposed rocks.  The woods grew thick and served as her coverage as she forged in a diagonally straight line into trees, rocks, and nothingness.  She jogged with her lopsided pack and came to a small clearing. There she stopped and peered back to the woods she had just exited.  No blue bobbing uniforms and no sound of sirens.  She looked down the clearing and saw it was a path.  She naturally walked north using the newly risen sun on her right as a guide. She came to tree bearing the tattoo of a white rectangle.  She was home, on the trail.

With each step she shook off the paranoia of policemen jumping out of the forest, restraining her to the ground and cuffing her.  She could hear the court case, “Young lady did you sleep half-naked in a playground in the presence of children?”  She would plead guilty and spend the winter in jail.  It was a gamble each town she visited to see how they treated hikers. Most were welcoming as long as you did not stay for long.  She was trespassing on school property and she was sure that would not go unnoticed.

Book Description

trail swap coverSwap and Farryn search for direction in their lives. Swap throws a pack on her back and heads north on the Appalachian Trail. She is nursing a recent love loss, and is trying desperately not to fall for anyone on this trip. On the journey she runs into memorable fellow hikers Leavalot, Turtle, Average Joe, and Evil Jesus. The townies she runs into are equally memorable and she puts her life in their hands with each hitch. Farryn travels south and is Florida bound. Her road blocks are in the form of a little bad luck, love interests, a tractor, a 10 year old boy, and southern charm.

Author Bio 

michele reynoldsMichele M. Reynolds is an Indie Author of  Trail Swap, Off-Trail, & Tunnel WShe is creator of the a blog Writer + Wilderness Girl Under It All. She lives in Western Massachusetts with her family and several pets. Her writing can be characterized as somewhat witty, usually humorous, sometimes romantic, and always entertaining.

Find out more about Michele on her blog.

You can purchase Trail Swap on Amazon.

Check out the FREE Prequel: Off-Trail: Trail Swap & short story Tunnel W on Smashwords.