How I Find Time to Write

When I have a full-time job…

I work in the school system. It’s a school counselor by day, novelist by night sort of thing. However, it’s more than that. Because of my job, I have more opportunities to write than some, but I feel like everyone can make time for writing a book if they really want to. So, when you are first starting out as a writer and you have a separate full-time job, what do you do to make time to write? Below are some tips I have used to get time in which to write seven books so far.

Utilize a Smart Phone: 

I remember seeing Apple’s first press release talking about the first iPhone. I was mesmerized! I knew right then; this thing is going to change everything. It was like a Star Trek communicator had come to life. With that though, today, much of my writing is done on one of these types of devices. The “notes” section of my phone is jammed packed with notes about stories, articles I want to write, and ideas. As well as full sections of chapters that are later transferred over to my main document. This article itself was started on my smartphone. What this allows for is the use of downtime in everyday life. Everyone has moments throughout the day where they have 10 minutes here or there. Normally you might just scroll through Facebook, which I still of course do, but I also use that time to write. 

Use Screen Time:

As modern American humans, we use screens a lot. If we aren’t on our phones, we are on our computers. If we aren’t on our computers, we are watching TV or playing video games. Replace some of that general entertainment screen time with writing time. Some of this just seems obvious, but in a lot of ways, writing is just sitting down and doing it. Making the time when you think you don’t have it. Discipline is important. I have actually scheduled time to write on my calendar to make sure I sit down and do it.

Carry a Backpack:

I have a whole ethos dedicated to things I try to keep on my body and carry on my person. If you have never looked on YouTube for the acronym EDC which stands for Everyday Carry. There is a whole subculture that is nearly obsessed with the idea of what is in a person’s pockets. It’s fun if nothing else. That being said, carry a backpack, and in that backpack pack your laptop. Why? I can’t tell you the number of pages I have written while waiting in the doctor’s waiting room, or the dentist’s waiting room. My daughter goes to the Wednesday night church for teen group. My particular church doesn’t offer any classes or groups for adults on Wednesday night, and we live like thirty minutes away from our church, so my going home and coming back is silly. So I spend the time I would normally have been waiting, playing on my phone, or just sitting around; writing. That’s a solid hour and a half of uninterrupted writing time I get every week almost. Bring your laptop with you in your car, in a backpack and you will discover there are a lot of opportunities to write.

Use Vacations Wisely:

When I go on vacation, I try to utilize the experiences in a productive way. I try to experience different things; foods, historic sites, and oddities. A wide array of experiences gives the writer a full template to pull from. I’ve often told other writers to write what they know. When you pull from real things, the writing can come alive in a way that’s often unparalleled. Also, I try to find places to sit and write. For me, that’s a public place with lots of people. I know that’s not a good environment for writing for some people, but for me, that’s ideal. So I have sat on the beach writing, around a pool, in a tropical garden, etc. For me, I have summers and most holidays off due to working in the school system. That is prime time for writing for me. Many days of my summer vacation days are spent down at my local library, sitting at a table and writing. 

Create a Writing Space: 

In my house, we have three wonderful kids and I have a beautiful wife. These people make life worth living, but they also get in the way of actually getting writing done. So I have set up a little corner in our basement with a plastic table and a chair to set myself apart from the rest of the family. That way when I am there, the kids know what I am doing and tend to let me have my time. A side note: noise-canceling headphones help with that separation. I also talk with my family and explain what I am doing and what my intention is. 

So these are just a couple of the ways I work to find time to write when I hold down a full-time job. True, I do have some advantages over others, with having nearly every holiday off and summer vacation, but I think if you take the time to really think about your own time, you will find ways to get it done. J. K. Rowling wrote the original Harry Potter novel while she was a single mom working a full-time job through most of it. That gives me hope. I might not be able to pump out a thousand-page novel in a year like Brandon Sanderson, but I can get my novel done. It just might take me a little longer. Hopefully, I still have years left in my life to devote to this craft. Maybe I can even finish the full story I want to write before I leave this mortal coil. I guess we will see.

D. Michl Lowe

Being an Author with ADD

As a writer, I am often split in my attention. While I might be talking to someone or doing a task, my brain is always going over some aspect of my book. Maybe I am considering some part of the world of the book, here recently that’s been the magic system and religions of the people there. How do those things work? Why are they the way they are? Who are the major characters which will interact with those aspects of the world? How will the plot play into these things I am thinking up? All these types of questions are constantly running back and forth in my brain. I even dream about these things. The other night, I woke up and had to grab my phone to write down parts of my dream that would play into the story.

I have been told since I was a kid that I have my head in the clouds. Every single report card I ever got in grade school said that, “Michl is a great student, very smart, but he has his head in the clouds”. I get that I was ADD as a kid (it was undiagnosed), but I think that might continue today, but with very different distractions. Sometimes my wife will talk about how I don’t listen to her sometimes when she is talking. That might be true, but sometimes I think some of those times might be me being in my own head, running through characters, plots, world building, magic, and other things. Now to be clear, this isn’t a huge problem in our marriage, Alicia and I are actually doing pretty well.

However, I wonder if other authors have the same process in their minds. I keep notes on my phone and in my computer, but these things are never ending. There are always more notes, ideas, and characters to dream up and think about. I get inspired by a lot of things and new ideas constantly come into my brain.

I was rewriting a section where one of my characters is teaching a class. I decided to have the character open up to his class about a different part of his personality that I thought would be neat to explore. The issue was, I hadn’t written out that aspect of the character yet, so for the last couple of days my brain has been running through that part of his nature. I finished writing that new section yesterday and feel good about it, but it just makes me realize how much more I need to unpack the characters beliefs.

Am I alone in being borderline obsessed with the book worlds I am creating? I feel like it’s hard to talk to people about my ideas though. Partly because I don’t want to always be talking about my books, but also because there’s a part of me that doesn’t believe my writing is good. I think every author feels that way sometimes, but it’s still something I am acutely aware of. Does anyone else have feelings like this? Let me know in the comments below.

D. Michl Lowe

Smoke, Magic, and Books in the World of Pillar

Smoke and Magic:

In Warrington and the other countries that make up Pillar, Smoke when capitalized and spoken of in reverent tones should not be confused with a common substance coming from a common camping fire. When referred to most often on Pillar, Smoke is referring to a substance that is present in nearly all permeable things in the world. However, depending on what the thing is, Smoke reacts differently with that thing. Even within larger subsets of things, like biological life, Smoke appears to function differently within each of them. As an example, within Enlightened beings, such as Humans, Brown Dogs, Flemi, and other Enlightened Races; it is understood that Smoke causes those beings to combust and self-cremate fifteen seconds after their death. However, in non-Enlightened biological creatures, while it is believed they contain Smoke, just like Enlightened beings, they do not combust upon death. Smoke is present in plants and even within microorganisms within soil. However, so far as can be understood, Smoke has no effect on these things. Smoke does not appear to be in inorganic objects like rocks, metals, or actual soil. However, since smoke can travel in the air, it does appear to be in a small concentration in air and water. Smoke should not be confused with normal smoke as when a person burns wood or paper or other things. The Smoke within a person is different from naturally occurring burning smoke. Not only do they smell different, but they appear different as well.

Smoke from a fire can have an acrid smell depending on what is burning and chokes a person who breathes it in. However, Smoke from within a biological thing is not acrid smelling at all. It is hard to distinguish between the two Smokes when, for example, a plant is burned since both types are produced, but when a human is combusted, there is no smell at all. In fact, scientists have done experiments with this Smoke and it is possible for a person to breathe this Smoke normally as if it were normal air. Religious communities condemned this scientific experiment when it was conducted, however, given that most religions believe that a person’s Smoke is akin to their soul. So, it is believed that breathing in a person’s soul was sacrilege in some way. As such, few other experiments were done on the subject. However, what is without contest is that normal burning smoke and Soul Smoke are two different things, both by smell and by how they behave.

To speak to differences in behavior, Smoke is often seen as aware in some sense. Because of its apparent ability to understand when an Enlightened being has died and then it is believed that the Smoke itself is what causes combustion within enlightened beings, to some degree, the Smoke appears to understand when this happens and then to also react with combustion upon realizing this. It also appears that while Smoke does inhabit plants and none-enlightened creatures, it does understand to not combust those. As such, Smoke has some form of awareness.

While it is not widely understood or common knowledge in any sense, Smoke is also able to power certain devices and allow certain devices and/or persons to achieve certain outcomes depending on the circumstance. More on this topic in the Section below on Magic Books and the connection to the Smoke and the section entitled The Beasts and Smoke.


Upon the death of an enlightened being, fifteen seconds after death to be precise said being’s flesh will be consumed in fire. However, the fire is never large enough or frenzied enough to catch on to other things or people around them. Often, even the person’s clothing is largely unburned. It is recommended that if a person combusts while another person is touching them, they withdraw to several feet away, just for general safety, but honestly, physicians usually regard this as unneeded since the fire is very inward directing and largely safe. There has never been a report to the local fire authorities about a structure catching fire due to combustion. As far as is known, only enlightened biological creatures combust.

Magic Books and the connection to Smoke:

While there are traditional books within the World of Pillar there are other books that do not function like normal books. These are known as the Opus and Opuscula books, and while there are many Opuscula known to exist, the full scale of how many there are is not known. Specifically, the Opus and Opuscula books use Smoke to achieve something. The pages of these books are known to change. The words often scroll across the pages or change outright. There are limited pages in the books, but the knowledge contained in the books is not limited to what is currently on any one or all the pages. The books often rewrite the pages within them, depending on the needs of the user.

Many of these books are locked. Often, metal brackets and locks keep these books closed until a key is used to open them. This can be a physical key or some other form of device or word that can unlock the pages within. Until the book is opened, only limited options are available for the user. Verbal commands are often used by the books themselves to interact with the users. This is not to imply that the books are sentient, merely that interacting with these texts can take place in a verbal manner. The user is required to speak, but the books themselves can speak directly into the minds of the users if that user should so desire. Asking for information or for specific text to be displayed on a page is just some of the reasons verbal commands may be needed.

Opus Books use Smoke to achieve whatever they do. The initial interaction with a book, specifically when a book is closed, will utilize the user’s personal Smoke to create additional Smoke to create an effect. Even something as simple as awakening the book, bringing up knowledge on the pages, or having an Ash Fairy verbally presenting knowledge will draw power from the user’s body. The Smoke of the person will then the book will utilize personal nutrients to accomplish its functions. When the person has used all their personal nutrients in their body, the book will prompt the person to transfer use of the book to another person so that their nutrients may be used. If the answer is yes, the book will begin using any nutrients within that user to create new Smoke for utilization.

If the person goes further in using the book to accomplish tasks and the user’s nutrients are used up, the book will then warn the user that these stores have been used up. If the user attempts to continue, the book will warn them that continuing could result in physical harm, and then ask if the person wants to utilize vital biological stores. If the answer is yes, then the book will begin to utilize the person’s fat within their body to be converted to Smoke to continue accomplishing tasks. If the user continues beyond this, the book will again warn the user and upon obtaining permission, the book will begin using the user’s musculature and internal physical structures to create Smoke to accomplish the tasks asked of it, even to the point of the death of the user.

Depending on the task presented to the book, the book may or may not be able to accomplish the task asked of it, depending on if the data is available to it within one of its chapters. As an example: Nicodemus’ obtains an Opus underneath Riggleman Manor and it is an Opus of Conception, but specifically only contains chapters on Cooking. Since the book is locked, and only has access to minor cooking spells, he can accomplish only a couple of things;

  • Create a jet of steam, reaching a maximum of 6 ft.
  • Set a small fire, like striking a match.
  • Create a small jet of fire, reaching a maximum of 6 ft.
  • Conjure a chef knife, as hard as a diamond and much stronger than a steel knife of similar make. 
  • Conjure a stream of water, as if from a garden hose.
  • Heat something, like how a stove might heat a pot.
  • The book can also dictate numerous recipes.

Currently Known Types of Opus Books:

Opus Quotidian: These are general texts with the purpose of providing limited knowledge. They function as a real book might, but the pages are non-permanent in the sense that the words can change. There are many of these known to exist, but many of them have also been lost. They range in size and scope of the content.

Opus of Fate: These books provide a generalized understanding of possible futures and how to obtain those futures. It does this based on probability models of known events and situations. As a user of this book journeys with it, it will gather data about the user and the world and circumstances around said user, and its predictions can become more accurate. However, outside forces and unknown circumstances can create unforeseeable outcomes or randomized outcomes. Use with a degree of caution. Nothing said by an Opus of Fate should be taken as complete truth.

Opus of Conception: These texts allow a person to connect to the Smoke in the world around them and through the book, they can manifest certain abilities and functions. Smoke is the substance that allows everything to function and enables the forms of manipulation of reality we see when people use an Opus of Conception to create spells. Opus of Conceptions only have certain “chapters” in them. While closed they only have limited access to those chapters. Like a guest account on a computer. Additional chapters can be added once a book is opened, and when placed in a Mammon Engine and the proper chapters are available within the memory of that Mammon Engine. Only certain chapters are available at each Mammon Engine.

Fixed Opus Books:

Some of these books are directly connected to machines within the world and cannot be removed from these machines. Normally one would see them either directly connected to the machine or near the machine affixed to a pedestal of some kind. They operate as a control for the machine.

Opus of the Eternal: The ultimate book. This book has a direct Smoke connection to the Eternal Information. As such, not only does it allow access to all known knowledge, but also access to all known power as well. However, knowing of power does not guarantee unlimited power, since the power is still limited by the abilities of Smoke itself.

The Beasts and Smoke:

The Beasts of Legend are synthetic biological creations. Originally, they were created to combat the threat of the Armatites; large ten-story creatures genetically engineered to combat humanity and to create Pillar. The Beasts are several tons in weight and including the length of their tail, are said to be around 100 feet in length. They have long necks and large heads. Their bodies are covered in a layer of soft down, interspersed with feathers. They have wings that are also covered in feathers and appear like the wings of large birds of prey. Their heads are often described as a dog’s and/or horse’s head combined. They have four legs and the feet of each leg are dexterous, like the hands of a human. Their tails make up the bulk of their length and are prehensile. Some have been seen to have horns or spikes around their necks that protrude backward toward their tails.

The Beasts are mentioned here because they also contain a different form of Smoke than what is normally observed. Beasts can manipulate Smoke to create effects much in the same way that an Opus of Conception does, but instead of drawing in Smoke or using their own Smoke to create effects, it appears as if the Beasts are able to change Smoke into a different form. As such, whenever it has been observed, the Smoke which Beasts use is white instead of black. It is hypothesized that this form of smoke has unique and yet unknown properties when compared to Smoke in other situations. There are rumors of other synthetic beings as well which possess similar abilities to those shown in the Beasts. These rumors however are largely exaggerated and most certainly untrue.

Known limits on Smoke Magic:

  1. Ordinary people can only use smoke magic if they have a proper channeling device; IE: an Opus.
  2. The smoke within a person is limited and in the cases of enlightened beings, required for life. As such, an enlightened person may not get rid of their smoke without causing death in said person. Additional smoke will be created within the person by use of nutrients first, body fat second, and finally the vital structures and organs of the body itself; even to the point of the death of the individual if said individual pushes the use of smoke to that limit.
  3. The use of an Opus is limited to what chapters are available within said Opus. An opus without a chapter on the creation and use of fire will be unable to produce said effect.
  4. Use of smoke by a book that has not been cleansed, will not pull smoke from the person, it will use the person’s personal smoke to consume their body in the creation of additional smoke.
  5. Use of smoke to the point of allowing the Smoke to cannibalize your physical body will result in several physical signs that it is destroying your body. Over time, the following physical symptoms will result; hair loss, slow wound healing, frequent sickness due to loss of immune functions, dry and/or rough skin, easy bruising, swollen gums, depression, muscle pain, night blindness, infertility, and blood clots under the fingernails. As such, continued use of Smoke in this fashion will result in permanent damage to the body or in extreme cases, death.

Ash Fairies and their Connection to the use of Smoke:

Ash Fairies are semi-intelligent entities that are somewhat common throughout Pillar. However, it is a well-known fact that a single white Ash Fairy will always be with a Beast. It is not always visible, but they are frequently seen alongside them. Also, users of Opus Books are also known to attract a singular Ash Fairy. However, their Fairies tend to be black or grey in color. Opus users have stated the Ash Fairy works as an intermediary between the book and the user, providing verbal and/or mind communication to the user. Synthetic humans like Christoph are followed by a white Fairy as well. Ash Fairies allow Christoph to access certain abilities he would be unable to use otherwise.

Ash Fairies and Summoning:

Ash Fairies are sometimes connected to an entity within Afterlife. These entities are dormant until called upon by a fairy to be used. In this case, the fairy then takes on the aspect of this entity and in essence, becomes this entity in the physical world. These entities often take the forms of elemental demi-gods, but can only remain in the physical world for a short period of time as their physical structure is made up of only Smoke.

Nicodemus Pandit, Head Librarian for Riggleman Manor Archives

Taken from On Smoke and Magic, by Nicodemus Pandit, Chapter 6, Section 3, Year: NL20317

I Saved Over The Book I’m Writing! 😳

At the beginning of the week, I deleted my book. Well, to be clearer, I saved over it in Microsoft Word. As soon as it happened, I realized the error. Hours later, I couldn’t get it back. The whole thing was seemingly gone. I paced back and forth, extremely upset. It wasn’t anger at the computer or really anything other than anger at myself. It was my mistake. I thought that OneDrive had been backing up my documents for me, but it hadn’t. If I were a man who cursed, there would have been cursing.

After a while, I remembered I had uploaded a version of the book to Amazon as a test a while back. I logged in and downloaded the document. It was mostly complete, save for about two of the newest chapters and hours of editing. Another issue was that the document was not in Word, it was a PDF version. I can convert a PDF to Word, that’s not an issue, but the formatting would be all off, which it was. So, in the end, I had to take my blank book format and recopy the PDF page by page into the blank book document formatted how I do my books.

This entire week, I have been working on and off trying to get myself back to where I was on the project. Currently, I am working on the last chapter that I had deleted. Most of the edits have been re-completed now. While I was at it, I also did some major formatting that I had been meaning to do anyway. Since I was going page by page, I might as well get that done while I was at it. Near the beginning of the week, I sent my author friend Justin Crary, author of Archangel, a message detailing what had happened. He replied, “Look at it this way, what you write now will inevitably be better and if God intended it to happen, it will be exponentially better. Heck, even if He didn’t intend for it to happen. He works all things for good.”

I sent a message back to him, “-glare- there you go, bringing spiritual truth into my anger…” But he was right of course. As I am working on this last chapter of the book that I deleted, I already can tell it’s better. The narrative isn’t as rushed, which I often have trouble with. I am calmer in writing it and better paced. I feel good about my mistake. It isn’t clear to me if it was divine providence yet, but for all, I know it could be. Sometimes, God must take you by the scruff of the neck and tell you to slow down. To look at what you are doing and make sure it is honoring Him. I hope everything I write honors Him. Even the fun stuff, like a fantasy novel.

D. Michl Lowe

The New Fantasy Book Project: Update 1

So I have been busy writing notes, plot outlines, and other details of this new fantasy book before diving into actually getting the nitty-gritty of the core writing done. That being said, I couldn’t help myself and started working on the Introduction of the novel. Now, this isn’t the final thing, of course. This is a complete rough draft, not editing at all. Just playing with the ideas and the character of Thistlewart Mink. As of now, the working name of this project is Pillar of Smoke. It will be book one in a series of books. So this is a sneak peek at the Introduction to Pillar of Smoke, by D. Michl Lowe an upcoming fantasy novel.


~ Awakening ~

Year: NL3670

The clouds rolled out of the vent pipes at the top of the cavern that was Bolster Heart. A great country that resided inside the enormous Pillar, a creation of God from the beginning of time. These clouds happened every morning and throughout the day, and as a result, it rained often. But the clouds did reflect the lights from below, which helped with the general dimness of the place. This morning though, the mist had fallen low to cover the streets and the lantern lights along the paving stones had made a milky light that obscured the view more than enhanced it.

Thistlewart Mink, a stubby little fellow, was shuffling along down the sidewalk towards his job at the Bondwarden Keep, a prison of sorts. He was often teased. His neighbor at the domicile would often flip off Thistlewart’s hat as he passed him in the hall. Thistlewart was not an intelligent, clean, or even likable Flemi and was often looked down upon and made fun of for a myriad of things.

His room at the domicile was a closet-sized hole with barely enough space for a cot and he shared the single sink washroom with about thirty other Flemi, there was no toilet, there was only one of those two blocks away. They were rarely used anyway and only the richest Flemi had them actually where they lived. He had tried to get close to one of his neighbors once, an attractive female Flemi named Nass, but she was quick to laugh at him and make fun of him as well. He had cried himself to sleep that night.

His job, as it was, was mopping up the seepage from the center block of the prison. Every day, he walked the half-a-mile stretch down the boulevard, dodging the other people pushing carts or hauling goods on their backs, to the outskirts of the southeastern edge of Skalholt Prefecture, where many of the down and out Flemi lived.   

While it might have been the center of all of Bolster Heart, Skalholt was also the place the poor lived. The good King Pompi had tried to solve homelessness and poverty by providing cheap one-room housing in Skalholt Prefecture, but it had just resulted in a rise in crime and other unfavorable situations. However, while Thistlewart may not have been the smartest Flemi, he was willing to work and although it wasn’t much, he got by.

Muttering to himself, he passed the bakery on the corner and smelled the fresh rolls that the baker had just put out. He had stolen one of those rolls once when the baker’s wife had brought out a pan of them to place out front and left them unguarded for just a moment. He had felt a little guilty about that, but it was honestly one of the best days he had ever had. It was much better than the tough biscuits the breadline gave out. You had to soak them for quite a while before they were even edible. As such, it was soggy on the outside and still rock on the inside, not pleasant. But the roll from Victor’s Bakery was just about the best thing he had ever eaten, even if he had done it in an alley, scared that he would be discovered.

As he came into the temple block, he was taken again by how much it didn’t remind him of an actual prison. There were prisons for the Flemi who committed crimes of course, but this was nothing like those, this looked for all the world like a grand temple, and in reality that’s exactly what it was, but it was also a prison and Flemi referred to it both ways. It was said that this prison held one of the Great Beasts, legendary creatures that came from the time of creation. Of course, Thistlewart didn’t know much about any of that, he was just happy to have a job. It paid for his room and the stops in the breadlines, but not much else. Still, what was a Flemi to do?

As walked through the large iron gates that surrounded the building, one of the trucks nearly ran him over, “Out of the way, you grub!” a man from the cab yelled and Thistlewart jumped to the side. The man wore a ripped tweed ivy cap with his ears bulled back behind it, a common way to get the long ears of a male Flemi out of the way, he spat out the window as the truck moved on through the gate.

Lady Flemi tended to tie their ears back with ribbons or a kerchief. Thistlewart’s ears dangled into his face more often than not, their edges clipped and nicked from the years he had worked in the automobile factory. The machines were always taking bites out of the worker’s ears. He had lost that job when one of them had caught his leg and nearly tore it off. He had recovered, but he wasn’t able to run from machine to machine any longer, so they had let him go.

Bum leg or not, Thistlewart was late today and while the Flemi were typically thought of as punctual, it was just a stereotype. The thought may have come from the fact that the Flemi resembled rabbits, their long fur-covered ears often being long enough to rest on their shoulders and their pronounced whiskered faces were a complete mimic of the animal. But of course, their bodies were much more like a human’s body, only covered in fur.

In literature, rabbits were always thought to carry pocket watches and always be on time, but still. Even as that thought skittered through his mind, Thistlewart looked up at the large inlaid clock on the outside of the main temple prison’s stone-worked facade, 9:09 a.m. He might be a little later than his original thought. Nothing genetically gave them a greater sense of time or reliability. As it was though, he picked up the pace.

“You’re late Wart,” his manager Mr. Ruffle said, as he walked into the little office that held the equipment he would need for the day’s work. He punched in on the time clock. Everyone at work called him Wart. A thistlewart was a relatively common flower on the cliffs of Husavik and his mother loved it, thus his name, but he was resentful of it, always.

“Sorry sir,” he mumbled and walked to the closet in the back room. “I’ll try to be on time tomorrow, this old leg of mine is acting up again. I’ll do better.”

“See that it doesn’t,” Mr. Ruffle grumbled. “I got a whole city full of little pukes just like you that I can fill your spot with. You remember that!”

“Yes sir. I will sir, thank you, sir.”

He grabbed the tunic that he was required to wear over his trousers and button-down, then belted on the little tool belt over it. 

“Hey, I’m gonna need you to go into the dome room today and manage the valves in there.” Mr. Ruffle said.

“The dome room? I’ve never been in there sir. That’s usually Calbert’s job.” He said.

“Yeah, well Calbert got canned for messing about and not doing his job. So even though you’re a pitiful excuse for an employee, let’s see how you do with this one. A pretty important job. Just don’t go messing around with the dome itself or staring in at that monstrosity inside, it’ll give you nightmares for sure.”

“No sir, I won’t sir. Thank you, sir. I won’t let you down sir.” He stammered a flush rising in his cheeks.

“Well?” Mr. Ruffle said. “Get to it then!”

“Yes sir!”

He rushed as fast as he could down the hall from the main passage. He took a doorway to the left. He came to a large steel door, that would lead him down to the dome. The door was massive, easily twenty feet tall, and carved all over with images of the Beasts. Mr. Ruffle was right, seeing one of these would give him nightmares for sure. It had to be that large, of course, to get the occupant of the room inside. It would have taken a door that size for sure. He stepped to the side of the door to a smaller one, this one designed specifically for Flemi. Opening this smaller door, he stepped through into the chamber beyond. These places were nearly all the same. Ratcheting the locks and door bolts back was second nature for him by now, the whole temple was full of these types of doors.

He closed the door but pulled out the small lamp he kept on his belt, so he could see somewhat. Walking over to the valves on the side of the room he began cranking the wheel to start the motors running so the dim lights would blink on, then he could see the remaining valves and levers that needed adjusting just above him, the rest of the room remained dark while the system booted up. He stepped on a wet spot on the floor, a common thing. “Dang, the valves must be leaking,” he said to himself. These systems were always springing leaks and needing to be replaced or fixed. He wasn’t sure how long the whole system would last and with Calbert slacking off, who knew what all could be breaking down in this area.

The system had made it this far though, so he suspected it might last another couple thousand years before smarter Flemi than he would have to fully fix the system. He noticed the liquid he had stepped in was black and little boot prints were leading to where he now stood. He adjusted his tunic. Luckily the Beast within this place was one of the sleepers. All of the known Beasts were asleep, but this one was different. While the Flemi didn’t like to say his name, Thistlewart had heard it mentioned several times and of course, had learned it in school when he was a boy.

This sleeper was Dumont, a Beast many said was equal to the leader of the Beasts and arguably the whole world, Ashlynn. She was said to be beautiful, elegant, and kind, while he was said to be dark and supremely cruel. All the beasts save for Ashlynn had been terrible when they were first created, but Ashlynn had tamed them all, save for Dumont, it was said he was untamable and too powerful to bend to Ashlynn’s will. But none of that mattered to Thistlewart, because the Beasts were all asleep and any good or bad, they might represent was locked sleeping away in each of their temples, including Dumont in the one he stood in now.

He twisted a wheel on the wall and it creaked slowly, the hum of the engines within the walls began to give off a sickly-sweet smell that he wasn’t used to smelling. The lights farther in were switching on now as he turned around and he nearly fell back. In the brightness of the now fully lit lamps around the hall, he saw the sleeper’s chamber, a dome the size of a small house, but several of the cords connecting it to the machines within the temple were hanging loose, black fluid dripping from their dangling ends.

He hobbled over to the window of the dome. The metal door was Flemi sized and he wondered how the beast could have gotten into the dome. Even though Mr. Ruffle had warned him not to look in, he stood on his toes to do just that. The sleeper’s chest was still rising and falling as it should have been. Dumont was a great creature indeed, easily the size of a small truck. His long neck was covered in hair, but thick, like quills. His head resembled a horse, but the teeth that jutted from their sides reminded Thistlewart of the pictures he had seen of the animals’ called alligators. His body was covered in a thick short blueish black fir, and his tail again reminded Thistlewart of an alligator, but much longer. He had wings like an eagle that were folded along his back, but they were limp and brushing the floor.

There was more of the black liquid here and it was pooling around the creature. Its wings appeared to be edging into that liquid, staining their bluish tips black as it seeped up into the plumage.

He started for the main door, ready to rush back out to the main hall, to let Mr. Ruffle know about the problem and he thought that the Counsel of Three or even King Pompi would want to know about this, it was serious business! A problem with the dome that kept Dumont sleeping was a big deal. He might even wake up and what would that mean Thistlewart wondered. It wouldn’t be good, that was for sure.

As he was beginning to turn from the dome, a smell of burning metal seemed to waft towards him. It took him by surprise, that he could smell it. In Bolster Heart, that smell was fairly common with all of the machines around, but that is why it surprised him, he was used to it and this was a much more pungent version of that smell.

“Would it not be nice, if your boss was nicer to you?”

The voice was soft-spoken but deep and sonorous.

“Who?” he began. “Who is this? Who’s there?” He looked around the room, but there was no one, no one but himself.

“I can make him nicer to you. I could do even more than that for you. How would you like to run this entire facility? I could do that. I’m willing to. I am a very generous person.”

The voice tickled the back of his mind and he looked around again.

“Seriously, who are you? Where are you?” he asked again, turning in circles now. “Is that you Brontly? Are you playing your tricks again?”

The acrid metal smell then became almost too strong, so much so that he actually covered his nose with his hand and then sneezed. It moved from a burning metal to a blazing fire of magma, just inches from his nose – so strong that he was getting a little dizzy now.

“My dearest Thistlewart, you have lived such a difficult life. You still do. You are disrespected at your work, ignored where you live, and you have not even touched a female in years. You are alone and sad.” The voice was empathetic and kind. This person cared for Thistlewart; he knew that.

“Friend, I know what it is like to be alone. I too have been alone for so long.” The voice said.

Thistlewart felt tears sliding down the fir on his cheeks and he wiped his eyes, he hadn’t even realized he was crying until he had felt them. The sadness of his life was weighing upon him now, but he wasn’t sure why. What had happened? All he knew was that this voice cared about him and loved him. It had always loved him, how had he not known that before?

“I can help you, friend. I can bring you peace and happiness. I just need something from you first. A simple thing. Nothing of consequence at all. Will you do this simple thing for me?” the voice cooed, there was a trail of white smoke slowly curling up out of a place where one of the hoses had been attached to the dome.

Thistlewart walked slowly back towards the window. The dome’s slanting metal sides were glistening with perspiration as if the inside of the dome was cold. He pushed up on his tiptoes and looked again through the little window in the barred door. The beast was still inside, still not moving, but white smoke curled from its nostrils and was slowly filling the top of the chamber within.

“Are you… the one talking to me?” Thistlewart asked, a little scared of the answer he might get.

“I am,” the voice said. “And I am not what you have heard about. Do I sound as if I am evil? Do my words sound as if I am ready to bring about doom and dread?”

The voice was calming, despite the harsh metallic smell in the air. He slid down the door and sat back on his haunches, considering and thinking. It was all so obvious to him now, as it always should have been. He was embarrassed it had taken him this long to realize the truth about this creature. “So, you aren’t evil, like they say?” he asked, already knowing the answer.

“Do I sound evil to you? I want to help you, but I can only do that if you first help me. That is fair, is it not? That I would help you if you first would help me? You wish to be fair, do you not?”

Thistlewart did want to be fair. Wouldn’t that make the world a better place, if everything was fair? He thought.  

“I know you have been treated unfairly your whole life. The God so many would pray to does not even provide enough money for you to live on.” The voice was sympathetic.

“You know, I could even heal your leg, and make you whole again. I can make Nass love you if that is something you would want. I can do great things Thistlewart and I am willing to do those great things if you do but one small thing for me… you must release the rest of those cables from this dome.”


Tolden Ruffle came into the heart of the temple after hearing the squeal of ripping metal. Everyone in the building came running in. People would have heard it for miles. He had to push through the throng of Flemi that crowded into the doorway leading to where the dome was located. When he had pushed his way in, he stopped, bent over, and nearly lost his footing. The dome looked like the petals of a flower, peeled back and opened. Inside, it was empty.

The pipes and cables which normally connected to the dome were hanging from their ceiling mounts, the connectors not torn away, but neatly disconnected. The black liquid that had kept Dumont sleeping for as long as anyone could remember was pouring out onto the floor. In the middle of that pool were the ashes of what had been Thistlewart Mink, the small pile soaking into the black and disappearing. Tolden nearly vomited right there. He reached over to steady himself on his friend Monty who had just walked up and stood beside him.

“The fool,” Monty said, shaking his head. “He’s doomed us all, he has.”

Tolden Ruffle merely nodded his head. Doomed us all indeed he thought and tears began cascading down his cheeks.

This has been the Introduction from Pillar of Smoke by D. Michl Lowe. Sign up to get emails alerting you to new blog posts and announcements about new books. As always, your comments and critiques are welcome.

D. Michl Lowe