Review of Stephen Zimmer’s Thunder Horizon

Review of Stephen Zimmer's Thunder Horizon

Genre: Fantasy

Author: Stephen Zimmer

Title: Thunder Horizon

Series: Dark Sun Dawn Series

Thunder Horizon by Stephen Zimmer

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Thunder Horizon in exchange for a fair review. When authors send me a book, they know that I will take my time getting through it and will look at the pros and cons before rating the book. That said, I’m human and try to be impartial, but I try. As a Book Dragon, I claim responsibility for this review. May the powers of the Book Dragons be with you. For more Book Dragon info, check out my post How to Read Like a Book Dragon. Oh, and this isn’t the first Zimmer book I’ve read – I read Exodus Gate, Crown of Vengeance, and Heart of a Lion.


About the book: This is the second book in the Dark Sun Dawn Series, published in 2017 by Seventh Star Press. Rayden Valkyrie is a warrior from a Northern tribe who fights for her code of honor. Rayden leads warriors through wit and experience. She makes friends and enemies along the way.


About the author: Stephen Zimmer is a fantasy writer who wields a pen like a sword. He is a filmmaker and author. He wrote the Fires in Eden series, the Harvey and Solomon tales, the Hellscapes collections, and the Rising Dawn saga.


Novel Breakdown

Rayden Valkyrie returned to the Gessa after years fighting enemies only to find more trying to kill the tribe that took her in when she was a child. She takes on mortal and supernatural antagonists while standing by her code and her friends.



With each stage of the book, the enemies got eviler and stakes mounted.

I got to see Hamicar again – I love that character.

Blood, death, and gore! I love the fight scenes. Each time I read them, I learn a bit more about grueling death scenes. Also, the characters in the book follow consistent logic – and when what’s happening is questionable, they explain why it’s that way – this is good because it separates this world from our own – not all animals will act the same, and if spooked by an enemy, will go closer to settlements and not the enemy it’s most afraid of.

“Rayden’s axe opening a growing cavity in the beast’s back, blood, bits of flesh, and fur flew.” Stephen Zimmer, Thunder Horizon

There is a unifying theme of the book – we’re in a fight for all humankind, not just one tribe. Eigon said, “Sometimes being a human is a greater bond than the tribe one is a part of.” Solid quote – and so true.

My favorite line: “The blood is not so different as you may think.” Eigon, Thunder Horizon by Stephen Zimmer

Okay, I’m adding a character to the pros – Manak of the Varganir was interesting. I also liked the differentiation of the Varganir’s speech patterns – it set the species apart from the humankind. I do want to know where Manak learned the human language, but that’s a story for another day.



It was difficult for me to remember which species was which – mostly because the names were similar, but after a while it worked it’s way out. I was hoping for new fantasy creatures as antagonists, but the Arguntier were possessed animals – that was interesting, but I was hoping for darker original enemies.

No spoilers because I don’t do them, but one of my favorite characters was killed off – okay, that’s not necessarily a con, but I liked the character…and it was necessary to the plot. Okay, I just wanted him to live for forever in the halls of wherever they go after death…

There was one point where I think it was just violence for violence sake – the death was drawn out and could have been quicker.



Bad guys in the shadows, rising tension, blades, axes, friends, and enemies…this is a book to read when you want big action and characters who get into hot water and somehow try to wriggle out of it. Rayden Valkyrie is a solid character who fights both supernatural and mortal enemies. I want to know what happens next.

My rating: 4 stars


Kindle Version

Print Version

Barnes and Noble


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Heart of a Lion Book Review

Heart of a Lion Review

Genre: Fantasy

Author: Stephen Zimmer

Title: Heart of a Lion

Series: Dark Sun Dawn Series

Heart of a Lion by Stephen Zimmer

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Heart of a Lion in exchange for a fair review. When authors send me a book, they know that I will take my time getting through it and will look at the pros and cons before rating the book. That said, I’m human and try to be impartial, but I try. As a Book Dragon, I claim responsibility for this review. May the powers of the Book Dragons be with you. For more Book Dragon info, check out my post How to Read Like a Book Dragon.


About the book: This is the first book in the Dark Sun awn Series, published in 2015 by Seventh Star Press. Rayden Valkyrie is a warrior from a Northern tribe who fights for her code of honor. On the journey home from the South after long years of battle, she fights for those who can’t fight for themselves. On the way North, she fights beasts and men. Rayden leads warriors through wit and experience. She makes friends and enemies along the way. Oh, and this isn’t the first Zimmer book I’ve read – I read Exodus Gate and Crown of Vengeance [reviews on those to come].


Stephen Zimmer

About the author: Stephen Zimmer is a fantasy writer who wields a pen like a sword. He is a filmmaker and author. He wrote the Fires in Eden series, the Harvey and Solomon tales, the Hellscapes collections, and the Rising Dawn saga.



The first go through, I read books for fun. Then in the second dive, I go into details. I scheduled a few days for the fun read, and then ended up staying up all night reading it in one go. It was engrossing and pulled me in. You know the moments when you get sucked in and the rest of the world disappears? It happened here.



The characters – Rayden is unique – she’s the kind of warrior you want to have dinner and a drink with and listen to her stories. She has a personal code and sticks to it – she fights for those who can’t fight for themselves and lives by the warrior code which is similar to the code of the Knights.

She’s not the only unique character either – there are other developed characters like Hamilcar, a boy Rayden saves from being sacrificed to his people’s gods.

The action moves across the world of the story from southern city, across a desert, over water, and through war-filed lands.

My favorite line:

“No day spent in this world is safe or promised. I can only travel my world as best I can.” – Rayden Valkyrie

When I go through a book, I process the pros in yellow, things I loved in pink, and questionable things in orange. Looking through my notes, there are tons of yellow and pinks.

As a writer, I would turn to this book to learn the elements of Epic Fantasy, description, and action scenes. I’d focus on the last as there are several good battle scenes that translated well from reading to visualizing it in the mind.



No books are perfect. It might have been the anthropologist in me, but I wanted more cultural links. Also, I had questions when Rayden interfered with another culture’s religious practices. From her perspective, she had reasons which were explained. I don’t know – that would require further exploration [note: I’m not condoning the religious people actions – but the idea of a character interfering in another culture’s religious practice is where I have reservations. Another person could read it and be fine. I’m not sure what I would have done in her shoes.]

There were a few moments where the “ew” factor of gore was so descriptive, I was uncomfortable. This happens when I read this type of books, so it could be just me.

I wondered why other characters didn’t have as much agency. Yes, they were background characters, but some of them were there to drive Rayden’s story, and didn’t feel as if they had stories of their own. Example: a character I loved at the start of the story faded away twenty percent in…and I wanted more of him. I kept hoping they would meet up later.


Overall: A good fantasy story! Readers who love to dive into story will enjoy reading it. Writers who want to work on their action and cinematic skills will find this helpful.

My rating: 4 stars


Would I read it again? I read it twice…and will read it again!




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Rayden Valkyrie: Behind the Scenes by Stephen Zimmer

Hey, writers! Hope the writing is going well! This week we’ve got a special surprise – the awesome Stephen Zimmer is visiting DarWrites! Stephen is a fantasy writer of Rayden Valkyrie Stories, The Rising Dawn Saga, The Fires in Eden Series, Hellscapes, The Chronicles of Ave, and Harvey and Solomon Stories. He is also a screenwriter who just finished a pilot episode for The Rayden Valkyrie: Saga of a Lionheart. Rayden is a tough warrior who fights for what she believes in. I wouldn’t mind going for a drink with her and her compatriots and picking their brains about fight scenes! Thanks for visiting, Stephen, and for giving us a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to shoot a TV pilot! Take it away!

Behind the Scenes by Stephen Zimmer

Rayden Valkyrie: Saga of a Lionheart Trailer

The Rayden Valkyrie: Saga of a Lionheart TV Pilot production was both challenging and exciting.  Taking on a genre like fantasy, on a small budget at an independent level, is never going to be an easy road, but with extensive planning and the involvement of a great many volunteers and in-kind support, we were able to achieve a production environment that could match up well with productions supported by much larger budgets.

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We were very careful with our location selections, eventually finding a mixture of both private and public-owned sites that matched well with what we could do in terms of transportation, distance from the main hotel site where cast and crew from out of the area were staying, and catering needs.  Some locations used are very celebrated sites in Kentucky, such as Cove Spring Park, near Frankfort, and Cumberland Falls, the site of the only remaining moonbow in the world!

The needs of many scenes were met on a sizable farm property that had a lot of wooded acreage with varying terrain, creeks, and other natural elements.  The center of this property had a large cleared area from which trails radiated to other parts of the property.


It was ideal for a base camp, which we setup with RV’s, tents, trailers, porta potties, and other elements.  It was less than a mile away from a house we were given access to for our caterer’s needs and our costuming/makup departments.  Together, the two sites served to support the entire production, even when away from these sites.  Wardrobe and props could be stored and secured, our caterer had a solid base to work from, and other advantages.


The weather was hot in June, which meant countless bottles of water had to be purchased and kept at the ready for cast and crew, and the outdoor, woodland setting of the shoot also meant a need for bug spray and the like, but at least the rains stayed away with the exception of one cloudburst near the end of one shooting day.  Fortunately, we were able to catch back up later in the schedule to get what we missed that particular day.


We had one interior setting involving a cave and a few night shoots that brought in some variety with additional challenges and needs (such as more lighting, and powering those lights), but these were scheduled deeper into the shoot and by then everyone was working together very well.


As with all levels of production, everyone came together to meet all of the challenges of an independent production on location.  The production was completed on schedule, and while heat and bugs made some days more difficult than others, the settings looked fantastic on screen.


Behind the scenes it was very active, and involved loads of planning and support elements, but a true indie production spirit prevailed in meeting every twist and turn head on!  Lots of smiles and laughs, blood, sweat, and tears too, but a really special production was achieved; one that I believe has a very solid chance of growing into much more in the future!


StephenZImmer_AuthorPhoto.jpgStephen Zimmer is an award-winning author and filmmaker based out of Lexington Kentucky. His works include the Rayden Valkyrie novels (Sword and Sorcery), the Rising Dawn Saga (Cross Genre), the Fires in Eden Series (Epic Fantasy), the Hellscapes short story collections (Horror), the Chronicles of Ave short story collections (Fantasy), and the Harvey and Solomon Tales (Steampunk).

Stephen’s visual work includes the feature film Shadows Light, shorts films such as The Sirens and Swordbearer, and the forthcoming Rayden Valkyrie: Saga of a Lionheart TV Pilot.

Stephen is a proud Kentucky Colonel who also enjoys the realms of music, martial arts, good bourbons, and spending time with family.

Twitter:  @SGZimmer


Instagram: @stephenzimmer7



Want more? Check out Stephen’s novels! [Darlene is reading … and will review on Thursday and Friday! Teaser: I read the first book in one sitting…overnight…with coffee and it kept me turning the pages!]


Heart of a Lion

Rayden Valkyrie. She walks alone, serving no king, emperor, or master. Forged in the fires of tragedy, she has no place she truly calls home.

A deadly warrior wielding both blade and axe, Rayden is the bane of the wicked and corrupt. To many others, she is the most loyal and dedicated of friends, an ally who is unyielding in the most dangerous of circumstances.

The people of the far southern lands she has just aided claim that she has the heart of a lion. For Rayden, a long journey to the lands of the far northern tribes who adopted her as a child beckons, with an ocean lying in between.

Her path will lead her once more into the center of a maelstrom, one involving a rising empire that is said to be making use of the darkest kinds of sorcery to grow its power. Making new friends and discoveries amid tremendous peril, Rayden makes her way to the north.

Monstrous beasts, supernatural powers, and the bloody specter of war have been a part of her world for a long time and this journey will be no different. Rayden chooses the battles that she will fight, whether she takes up the cause of one individual or an entire people.

Both friends and enemies alike will swiftly learn that the people of the far southern lands spoke truly. Rayden Valkyrie has the heart of a lion.

Heart of a Lion is Book One of the Dark Sun Dawn Trilogy.

Kindle Version:

Print Version:

 Barnes and Noble Link for  Heart of a Lion:



Thunder Horizon

A deadly menace stalks the shadows of the lands to the north, stirring the winds of war. Farther south, the power of the Teveren Empire spreads with every passing day, empowered by dark sorcery. Formidable legions bent on conquest are on the march, slavery and subjugation following in their wake.

Within the rising maelstrom, Rayden Valkyrie has returned to the Gessa, to stand with the tribe that once took her into their care as a child. No amount of jewels or coin can sway her, nor can the great power of her adversaries intimidate her.

With a sword blade in her right hand and axe in her left, Rayden confronts foes both supernatural and of flesh and blood. Horrific revelations and tremendous risks loom; some that will see Rayden’s survival in the gravest of peril.

Even if Rayden and the Gessa survive the trials plaguing their lands, the thunder of an even darker storm booms across the far horizon.

Thunder Horizon is the second book in the Dark Sun Dawn Trilogy.

Kindle Version:

Print Version:

Barnes and Noble Link for Thunder Horizon:



Want more?

Tour Schedule and Activities

8/16     The Temple of the Exploding Head  Guest Post

8/16     The Page Turner     Guest Post

8/16     BOOKS TO CURL UP WITH   Author Interview

8/16     Bookishly me  Author Interview

8/16     DarWrites     Guest Post

8/16     Sheila’s Guests and Reviews    Guest Post

8/16     Sapphyria’s Books    Guest Post

8/16     Deal Sharing Aunt   Top Ten’s List

8/17     DarWrites    Review

8/17     Bookin Around Town    Author Interview/Podcast

8/17     Full Moon Bites      Character Interview

8/18     BOOKS TO CURL UP WITH     Review

8/18     The Sinister Scribblings of Sarah E. Glenn  Top Ten’s List

8/18     I Smell Sheep     Guest Post

8/19     Paranormal Pleasures    Review

8/19     The Page Turner     Review

8/19     Bella’s Book Reviews   Review

8/19     Jeni’s Bookshelf   Guest Post

8/20     3 Partners in Shopping, Nana, Mommy, & Sissy, Too! Guest Post

8/20     The Seventh Star Blog  Guest Post

8/20     Stuart Thaman Books  Guest Post

8/21     MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape  Author Interview

8/21     SpecMusicMuse   Author Interview

8/21     Jordan Hirsch    Review

8/22     Beauty in Ruins   Guest Post

8/22     Discover New Authors   Author Interview

8/22     Butterfly’s Booknerdia Blog   Review

8/23     The Occult Detective   Review

8/23     Bookishly me  Review

8/23     Jeni’s Bookshelf  Review

8/23    Jorie Loves a Story   Interview

8/23     Readers Life With Trisha Ratliff   Review

Tour Page URL:



Ragnar Stormbringer, played by Brock O’Hurn, photo by Silvio Wolf Busch


Rayden Valkyrie, played by Sol Geirsdottir, photo by Silvio Wolf Busch



Posted in Fantasy, Writers, Creative Writing, guest bloggers | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Life Changer: Inspired Fantasy Writing

I thought this week I’d share my response to the fantasy writing prompt I posted this morning. Enjoy!

Life Changer Darlene Reilley

Life Changer

Darlene Reilley

She sat cross-legged in a cold room at the base of a retreat in Tibet. It was a stark environment for four hundred dollars per night. She cleared her mind and tried to think calming thoughts, as she should be meditating, but the heat of someone’s gaze stirred her out of her ruminations. She opened her eyes and looked around—as usual, she was alone. She requested it that way—she came here to get away from the hustle and bustle. She stretched her neck and turned to the painting the Lama told her to focus on. As she blinked, she caught a whiff of sandalwood and vanilla.  A shimmer of light on the wall caught her attention. The light twinkled and shot to the right.

She followed it with her eyes over the painting. The glow was ethereal—the light hit a spot high on the wall. The entire wall illuminated with a blinding brilliance which heated the room.  After a moment, the light faded and she opened her eyes.  The lines of the drawing on the wall pulsated with energy. She glanced over her shoulder, but she was alone.  She approached the painting.

It was a collage of scenes from a battle. Black on one side and reds on the other, she was drawn to the fierce jade dragon in the center of the battle.

As she looked at the dragon, the black paint on the wall started to reach off and come toward her.  A song played in her head—it was one she was familiar with; they played it all over the retreat.

“Am I dead?” She asked.

“No, human,” the dragon spoke.

“How can a painting talk?  If I’m not dead, am I going crazy?”

“No, you are not crazy,” the dragon chuckled.  His voice was deep and had a somber tone. The green dragon swirled around and the black paint reached her fingertips.  The dragon walked through the air and stopped just in front of her nose.  She felt his breath on her skin—it was as large as she was.

“I am Soren.  I have waited a long time for you, my human.”

“Are you nuts?  Paintings can’t talk.”

The dragon chortled.

“Hey, none of that; if you’re a dragon you’re ancient and serious, right?”

“I have lived here for many generations, Chloe.”  Soren said.  She furrowed her brow.

“How do you know my name?”

“I know everything about you: you have a scar on your right knee from a fall from a bicycle when you were five and you were first kissed by Tomas Gregoras at the age of eleven behind your Aunt Maeve’s garden shed. Shall I go on?”

“No,” Chloe said. She gasped as the dragon shimmied. “How is this possible?”

“Anything is possible, and more things are probable than in your little imagination.”  Soren said.

“Now you sound like an ancient pain in the…”

“Dragon.”  He finished.

“That’s not what I was going to say.”

“I know,” Soren laughed. He stood nose-to-nose with her. “I have missed you, Chloe.”

“Missed me? We haven’t met before. I would remember that.”

“Are you sure?” He asked.

“Talking to a wall painting of a dragon?  Yeah, I’d recall that.”

“Will you touch me?” Soren asked. She hesitated. “I don’t bite.  Much.”

Chloe hesitated, but reached out a hand to the area just in front of her.  She didn’t go the whole way.  The dragon reached her hand. He was smooth and supple with scales.

“What do you want of me?” She gasped. Raw power rippled under her hand.

“Are you ready?” Soren asked. He didn’t wait for a response, but leapt at her.

Erica put up her hands to defend herself, but his paws met with hands. With the single contact, the world exploded. She was no longer staring at a painting of a dragon; instead, the dragon was now inside her. She looked out from her eyes, but his as well. When he spoke, it was from a place inside her. She closed her eyes. When she opened them they were soaring in clouds.

“What happened?  Where are we?” The sound echoed.

“We are together, as we were always meant to be, Chloe; here and on the Earth.”

“Where are we, who are you, and what did you just do?”

“Your destiny,” Soren said. “We have been together before; you felt that. Now we are together as we should be in this lifetime.”

“What do you mean…before?”

“In another life, a long time ago, I was your human.”

Her mouth dropped.  “You mean I was a dragon?”

“Yes, and I was your human. Each time the Earth needs a protector, we are summoned into being. And until that time we wait, and see what happens during the time of humans.”

“And we’re needed?”

“Yes.” Soren’s black eyes flickered with hints of silver. “A darkness is coming.  We must protect this place. We must hurry; his forces are almost here.”

“Here?” Chloe asked.  She looked around—it was cloudy and perfect.

“Here on the Earthly plane. We must wake and tell the others; they must evacuate the Monastery, or all will be lost.”

Chloe opened her eyes. She lay on the ground, looking up at concerned faces. Cole stood on one side and the Lama on the other. The Lama muttered something about Americans never following rules. Chloe saw others out of the corner of her eye.  As she breathed, it felt strange as if she were warmer from the core out.  She opened her mouth to speak, but words didn’t come; instead, a bolt of fire burst from her mouth, shooting up three feet in the air.  Everyone jumped back. Chloe closed her mouth, slapped a hand over it.

“Sorry.” Soren chuckled. “Try it now.”

She opened her mouth and a puff of smoke came out.  She coughed. Someone handed her a glass of water.

“That’s not going to stop it.” Soren chuckled.

“It’s a human habit, Dragon. Chill.”

“We must hurry.”

Chloe took a breath.  When she looked up, the Lama stood above her.  “You got to get everyone out of here—this place is in danger.”


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A Fantasy Writing Prompt

Fantasy Inspiration Prompt


Fantasy Writing Prompt 2


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Coffee Talk and Writer Secrets the one with the Spilled Secrets

Coffee Talk and Writer Secrets Spilled Secrets

Hey, writers.

How’s the writing going? Did you write last week? Are you planning to write this week?

Do you have your beverage? I do – and since it’s a billion degrees out today, I’m drinking water. Lots and lots of clear, blue…wait, that’s not water. That’s tea! Who snuck that tea in here?




It’s transition time for me.

I hope your work went well last month. I was all over the place. I had a few really high highs and a few strange curve balls. But all together, the month was successful.

My freelance life took a strange and fantastic turn last month when I was offered a job as a photographer.

What does that mean?

It means I’ll be writing and taking photos. I’ll still be available for projects [yay!]. I an opportunity to level up skills and make money which is good because bills are bills. While I’ve been a shutterbug all my life, I never really noticed how it has impacted my life until last month – I’ve gotten paid for hundreds of photos for businesses, parties, and the like, but never really saw it as a viable income strategy until now. Looking back, I realize that I’ve actually been snapping photos and getting paid for them as parts of jobs since 2010 – and that’s kind of strange, but true – it started with writing and merged into writing and photography…it was so gradual, I didn’t notice until now.

Has that ever happened to you? Has anything ever chosen you instead of waiting for you to choose it? And by the time you think about choosing it, it’s too late because you’re already in up to your eyeballs. Life works in strange ways.

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but DarWrites the website is under construction. A mentor offered to look at my creative life writer plan and she made a few suggestions. The biggest one was to split my websites up to be more efficient and effective. Thanks! I’ve separated DarWrites from my freelance writing business. Note to all freelance clients, you can find me at Darlene Reilley.

DarWrites will be the inspirational and teaching arm of my creative plan. I am so excited to see hundreds of writers here every post and more on Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter.

I’m working on another website for my fiction. My mentor first encouraged me to keep DarWrites as, well, Dar writing, but then she saw the interactions and thought it best if I separate the fiction from the rest. That’s a change that will happen in the next month or so. In fact, she suggested two separate pages, one for science fiction and one for romance.

I mention these changes because maybe her advice would be helpful to you, too. Do you have a website set up for your work? This is a place where people can go and check out your stuff online. I would recommend it.

The best advice I’ve heard this month is to make a plan and work your plan. So my challenge for you is to create a plan of action – where do you want your writing to take you? And follow through – make concrete steps to achieving your dreams.

I’ll let you know how the writer-photographer thing goes.


Special notes for the week:

First, A. R. DeClerck has a rerelease!

Between A R DeClerck

I’m stoked about it. Check out the details for Between by A. R. DeClerck.



Secondly, special thanks to Stacey Oberle for stepping up and kicking off this month’s special topic – fantasy writing! Stacey, your art is awesome and your poetry is too! Keep it up!


Thirdly, I’m really excited that Stephen Zimmer is coming to DarWrites later this month. If you don’t know him, check out his work – he creates fantastic worlds with characters I want to have drinks and tell stories with!


If you are an author who has submitted your novel to DarWrites and was accepted, please note that I have you in queue and am reading and reviewing as fast and thoroughly as I can – I want to make sure that I get the good details of each book and don’t want to rush it.

If you are a writer wanting to submit your novel to DarWrites for a fair and honest review, please note that I have a backlog at this time and will not be accepting books until mid-October. Thank you for understanding!

And last, but not least, there’s a new freelance website out there. Have you seen it? It’s pretty. Look here: Darlene.

I’ll keep writing. I hope you do too.








Posted in Creative Writing, Fantasy, Inspiration, writing craft, writing life, Writing Secrets | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Breaking the Rules by Stacey Oberle

Breaking the Rules by Stacey Oberle

Hey, writers! I’d like to welcome back Stacey Oberle and thank her for her contribution to DarWrites! We are so inspired when artists join in! Thanks, Stacey!


Breaking the Rules

Stacey Oberle


My muse has multiple personalities. She urges me to write a novel, but she speaks to me in poetry and hands me a paintbrush. Trying to reign her in is like herding cats… blindfolded. This combined with the fact that I am terrified of failing, terrified of disappointing anyone, is a nightmare.


So when Darlene asked me to do a guest post, as excited and flattered as I was, I was mortified. She asked for a creative piece on wizards. I asked if she’d like a writing/art prompt for her readers or a creative piece of my own, to which she replied, “What would make you happiest? Let’s do that.” And then she added the worst part – “I trust you.” While most people consider this a positive thing, it kicked my self-doubt into overdrive.


I’ve never been creative on a deadline before, at least not one that someone else was relying on me to meet, and with next to no instructions or guidelines, there were infinite possibilities. You might ask how on earth I could fail, but all I could ask was how could I not?


I tried to remember, at which times in my life have I been the most creative? Somewhat afraid to admit it, being the hardcore rule follower I have always been, I realized that I am most creative when I break the rules. Once upon a time in ninth grade, I learned that poetry doesn’t have to rhyme, and it was like the world broke open and I could do anything.


So, I started drawing with markers and added some watercolor. I came up with my wizard – a little boy who wants nothing more than to be a wizard. To find out why, I switched over to a web diagram to brainstorm. Naturally, this just gave me way too much material to organize in the week I had to get it done, but at least I discovered that he escapes to an alternate world where he actually is a wizard.



My dreams don’t come to me in chronological order, and I can’t see them straight on. It’s like watching a jumbled foreign movie with nothing but peripheral vision. My ideas for writing and artwork come to me the same way – I have a rough idea, a feeling, and while it’s incredibly vague, it’s also incredibly, infuriatingly specific. I’ve always struggled to figure out how to translate them into something that makes any sense.


Break the rules, my muse whispered to me.


So I got out all my art supplies – paints, both acrylic and watercolor, oil pastels, colored pencils and watercolor pencils and markers and brushes – and I wasted a lot of paper. Honestly I think my muse does drugs, and while I see her very unlikely potential of someday making me a brilliant success, I seriously want to strangle her.


Ideas by Stacey Oberle

Here were some of her suggestions: Create a graphic novel! (except I have never done that type of artwork and wouldn’t even know where to begin) Try found poetry! (except I am surrounded by a hundred dollars’ worth of art supplies and she wants me to go out and buy a newspaper?) Mix media! (Which media?) All of it! Write a fairy tale! Write a novel and have it finished and polished and ready to go in seven days! (Except I have a husband, three children and a job and have never actually completed a novel before… not to mention this is for a blog, and I highly doubt that’s what Darlene had in mind)… The list could go on, and believe me, it did.

Wizard by Stacey Oberle

I used a random name generator I found online. I googled children’s wizard costumes. I watched part of a tutorial on comic book art. I spent a lot of time falling down a rabbit hole of infinite possibilities. I knew I couldn’t waste time making the wrong decisions, but I wasted plenty of time not making any.

My challenge to you today is to play.


Put away your phone and laptop, step away from electronics. Dust off and don your wizard hat; allow yourself to be a child again. Pick up your wand, may it be crayon or marker or paintbrush (and yes, you can break the unspoken wizarding rules and have as many wands as you’d like), and grab some construction paper and glue. Get a canvas or paint on rocks. Create a mixed media picture by using leaves you find on the ground. It doesn’t matter if the end result is visually beautiful or hideous. Remember that this is a journey. Take the story you feel inside of you and instead of writing it, give yourself a day to express it in some other form. See what happens.


The second part of this challenge is that this is going to be about a wizard. Before you put too much thought into it, start drawing (or painting or making a collage) to see if you can get your wizard to materialize without using words. If it helps, here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • What does magic look like?
  • If you were the wizard, would your magic come from your wand or from inside of you? What do your bones feel like when you do magic?
  • What does your wizarding world look like? Is it fantastic, or is it mundane?
  • Draw up some wand designs that aren’t traditional. Maybe they’re disguised in some way – a pen, a paintbrush, a candy cigarette?

Once you’ve gotten some visuals for your story, challenge yourself further -if you usually write poetry, try a short story. If you usually write novels, try poetry. See what happens if you integrate words with pictures. Take all the rules you think you know and break them all.

On this amazing journey that I’ve embarked on this past week, I realized that I’ve only just begun. I’m getting closer to having a vision for this story that now I have no choice but to tell. I’m not sure if it’ll be a short story or a novel or a picture book, but I’m going to stop limiting myself to what I think I should do. The best self-improvement wisdom that I ever received was this: ‘Should’ is a guilt-producing word. I should feel this way, I should write that way, I should do the laundry and dishes and clean out the gutter before writing or painting or playing. Creativity is not about what you should do, and if you stop wasting so much time worrying about it, the possibilities really are endless.

Happy rule breaking,




Stacey Oberle is a mentor, teacher, writer, and mother of three awesome girls. In her off-time she enjoys chugging coffee and writing epic poetry.

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From the Archive: Secret to My Success

From the Archive Secret to My Success

When I was in 10th grade, I played sports, did most of my homework, and worked a job after school to help out with costs. I was a latchkey kid, and often saw the TV more than I did my Mom, but I didn’t fault her-she did everything she could to keep a roof over our heads.

But one day, while procrastinating on homework, I made a decision that would change my life forever. I decided that no matter what, I was going to follow my dream of being a writer.

And though it took me over 13 years and a lot of elbow grease to publish my first novel, I wouldn’t give it up for anything. That decision changed my life. Believing in your dreams, and following up on the dream is very important. You are the only one who can make your dreams come true.


2017 Update: Between the books and the ghostwriting, I’m not on book #10. So keep writing. And don’t ever give up on your dream. You were given it for a reason.


© 2011 Darlene Reilley

All Rights Reserved.


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Leap of Faith

Leap of Faith.jpg


Hey, writers. How’s it going? Have you written? Are you writing?

It’s time to take action.

Earlier this week, I wrote a poem from my future self talking to my present self – and telling 2017 Darlene to write.

It’s easy to say something. It’s a whole other thing to actually do it.

So this morning, I was walking the Malamute, Shasta Kookaburra, who decided she didn’t want to sit and let me write, but would rather get our exercise in one massive block. We did. But something happened on the walk today – I had a moment of revelation.

Does that ever happen to you?

You’re doing your normal thing and suddenly something happens and a puzzle piece falls into place.

And I was thinking about that moment in the Assassin’s Creed games where Ezzio and the other Assassins take a leap of faith. Later in the day, I got to talking with a writer buddy about leaps of faith.

How to focus on what you really want requires a big leap of faith.

You have to be brave.

You have to tell yourself that this is the thing that is worth the time and effort, even if no one sees it right now.

You have to have faith in your abilities. I believe we are given gifts for a reason – we are given longings to write because there is something that must come out. You’re on a cliff and you look over and can’t see anything but clouds below and you pray and hope that there is a net or water down there.

And if it’s the right time and if you have faith and if you have worked hard enough, it will come together.

And you will write.

So have faith, writer, in your abilities. Have faith that you were given this message at this time for a reason. You were put in just this circumstance so your words would be told in a specific way.

How to focus on what you really want requires a big leap of faith. You have to be brave. – Darlene Reilley

Yes, there will come moments when your confidence crashes…and you realize it’s all uphill from here. But you are writing. And then you chat with a writer buddy and it just makes sense.

You had a dip in faith.

Your mojo is there, waiting, so are the words – they’re waiting for you to get caffeine or do what you have to do and will be there when you bounce back.

Fly, writer.

Fly off that cliff and grow your wings.

You are the only one who can.

Write on,





Warning: geek girl here.


What To Do When Confidence Crashes


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A Letter-Poem Work in Progress

A Letter-Poem Work In Progress.jpg


Dear Writer Girl,

You say you want to write.

But you’re not.

Babe, you said years and years ago when you started this

that you were in it for the long term.


But it comes in ebbs and flows.

You have conflicting feels about that, I know.

I see you in the wee hours

staring at white screen

that little cursor blinking as if it were a heartbeat.


You play Bohemian Rhapsody

And your heart soars and dives

With the words of Queen.

You pray that it will happen…

And then your fingers meet the keys

And the dance begins


And you stare at the last sentence of your work in progress

And all that comes out

Is this sad poem




I don’t know why.

Sometimes, I wish I never started this project.

But then where would I be?

Would I be happy?

Would I be dancing barefoot on a beach with the man of my dreams?


I see a little silhouette…

But it’s not that.

I bet Galileo never had this problem.


My heart dances around words like dream inspire create hope work wild

And I wish that I could soar as high as the guitar strings

While I bang my head and rock out to my favorite song.

But then it comes back down

And I wonder why I do this to myself.


I put myself here.

In this room.

In this chair.


With stacks of paper.

And a blank, white screen.

With nothing on it

But this little blinking black line.


And it is my heart beat.

Because sometimes the best part of the universe flows

Through me

Through my fingers

And into the doc.

And when that happens,

it’s magic.

And art.

And work.

And craft.

And delight.

And life.

And love.

And that’s why I breathe.

So, go.

Write your damn novel.



Your Future Self [Who is Writing]





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