The Curse of Pirini Lilapa


I met Michael E. Thies in an online writing group over 10 years ago. He was in high school at that time, working on this epic fantasy novel “The Guardian of the Core” that spans across the cosmos. His pitch for the story is an interesting one, “Fantasy set in the far future.” It follows the aftermath of a great war between the gods and the Guardian – the arbiter of the galaxy that prevents any cosmic cataclysms from ever happening.

The first book, “Trials of the Core” was released in 2013. It’s a blend of “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” and “The Hunger Games.” The worlds’ finest enter a competition to become the apprentice of the Guardian. It was a superb piece of work – it’s not perfect, I’ll admit that – but it was damn fun to read, full of action and adventure.

Now, 2018, Book 2 “Curse of Pirini Lilapa” is going to be available this month on the 21st. (That’s today, or tomorrow, depending where you live on this planet.) In full support and excited over this upcoming new release, I bothered Mike with an email, asking some questions and like the cool guy he is, emailed back with all the answers.

Where did you grow up?

MIKE: I grew up in a small town of 5,000 people called Slinger, Wisconsin. I lived there until I went to college but those were still relatively small of around 68,000 people. In my twenties I lived in Santiago, Chile for one year which had 7 million people and now I live in a “small” town in China called Yixing with 1.5 million people.

What got you into writing?

MIKE: I remember reading Goosebumps novels by R.L. Stine (and even meeting him at Disney World.) I tried to create my own stories when I was younger and then in 7th grade I did a short story about gods fighting in a coliseum. That short story eventually evolved into a part of my series called Guardian of the Core. I guess it seems I have always been interested in writing.

Your writing tips to aspiring novelists and writers?

MIKE: The first draft is always the hardest. You need to write it though, it’s not going to write itself. I find a really easy way to accomplish this is 1,000 words/day. Just think about it, there is 365 days in a year; that’s 365,000 words. Most novels are around 70 – 100k meaning that even with time off in between revisions, you could get 3 drafts finished of a novel. For me, 1000 words means perhaps 1.5 hours. Persistence is the key, but this I found is the easiest way to do it because the days of much inspiration is few and far between.

Any advice for self-publishing authors?

MIKE: Don’t worry about the term “Self-Published,” I know that I don’t. The biggest mistake you can do is have your first novel be bad. Why? Because if the first novel is bad, people are going to assume the rest of your writing will be bad as well. So, get yourself to a professional editor; get yourself to a cover designer; a map maker—anything or anyone you need to make your final product look as professional as possible. That first book you will never make money on (unless you are lucky) it is there to establish your name and your credibility in the field; think of it as an investment in yourself.

What’s your current job?

MIKE: Currently, I teach Advanced Placement (AP) English Language and Composition at Yixing High School in China. It is the same as teaching in the United States just with far less students and my students being Chinese individuals who want to go abroad and study instead of staying in China. This has honestly been one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life, especially as an already-published author. Many people you run into while you’re traveling meet authors, and so it is very easy to promote yourself overseas and build more of a fan base. Also, teaching abroad expands your horizons and that expansion no doubt will work its way into your future novels whether subconsciously or consciously. And, because English is the “Language of the World” you can go ANYWHERE and teach English. It’s a fantastic life decision for those who want to experience more of the world and are tired of the monotony.

Tell me more about Book 2: Pirini Lilapa.

MIKE: The Curse of Pirini Lilapa is the sequel to The Trials of the Core and the second book in the Guardian of the Core series. I am very impressed by this book, more so than my first one, and I believe people are really going to enjoy it as well. In this novel you will see the same characters you love (or hate) like Zain Berrese, Prince Hydro Paen, and Eirek Mourse, but by the end of the novel, when the Curse of Pirini Lilapa has finally happened, the readers will see an interesting thing happen: the story will start to branch out. New character perspectives that readers can get excited about are Aiton Paen (Hydro’s younger brother), Conseleigh Iycel, and Brisine Berrese (just to name a few). The subsequent novels will continue this style and you’ll find more and more secondary characters becoming main characters as each voice is important to the galaxy of Gladonus.

Book 2 has a very different narrative structure than seen in most books: Why choose this style?

MIKE: Yes, this book follows a four part structure. The first three parts focus on one main character and a secondary character(s) that directly relate to them and their struggle. In part I we follow Zain Berrese and also Zakk Shiren and Brisine Berrese. In part II we follow Hydro Paen and his younger brother, Aiton. In part III we follow Eirek Mourse and Guardian Eska. Then, in part IV, every character makes a cameo appearance in the novel. Why? This is done symbolically to show that Pirini Lilapa (which begins at the end of part III) affects everyone no matter who you are. Also, the reason why it follows the order of these particular characters is that Zain has the most urgent storyline (rushing home to save his mother). Hydro has a compelling story line as well, but not nearly as urgent. Both of these characters, however, do something that will in turn affect Eirek Mourse (the novel’s main protagonist) in unexpected ways.

You’ve traveled to Chile and now currently living in China, does living in different locations have an effect on your writing?

MIKE: There are plenty of places that show up in my book that remind me of certain cities I have visited or certain structures that I have seen during my travels. Mostly, though, it is the culture that really sticks with me and something that I try to interweave between characters and situations with my novel. If I see a certain nation as people from this particular race, I will always question about how they look and how I can expect them to act based on things I have experienced abroad.

Your book has characters from every corner of the map, how important is culture in your stories?

MIKE: Like I mentioned before, culture is very important. Each nation does things a little bit different and some of these things I have thought up myself, and other things I have taken from interactions. For me, it adds more authenticity to the novel. One of my favorite traditions is the backstory behind why the Paen households let their tears hit the ground. It goes back to their sigil and a tear being pierced by a sword. This was unplanned, but when I started writing it, it seemed to make sense, like it was already there waiting for me to discover it. I think that is one of the coolest things about writing a novel.

It took YEARS between book 1 and book 2. How long can we expect Book 3?

MIKE: That is a good question. The honest answer is, I have no idea. My original plan was to have 4 books in the series, however, after the first draft of book 3, I am now considering dividing it into two separate books as it is quite big now (210,000 words). This depends on a couple of things, the biggest factor being how long the fourth book is. I plan on starting the first draft over the summer, after the release of book 2. When I finish the series completely, and I have a clear idea of how the book ends (and any surprises in the fourth book) it will inform my decision for book three.

What’s your current reading list?

MIKE: I feel bad about saying this as an author, but right now my reading list is very light. I have been putting more time into teaching and writing than into reading. I do want to start getting back into reading though as I do feel it is quite beneficial to writing. I know that after reading the Game of Thrones by George RR Martin my writing increased significantly. I am currently on the Dark Tower series by Stephen King, but they don’t pull me in as much as I’d like in order to continue reading them non-stop.

How about authors that influenced you?

MIKE: George RR Martin has definitely influenced my writing. He is so good at descriptions and sometimes I match him too much which makes some of my stories feel more verbose than necessary. Christopher Paolini also influenced me quite a bit as a writer because he published his first novel so young (at the age of 15). It made me believe that I, too, could write something great at a young age and don’t need to wait until I’m older. Now, Eragon was definitely the best in his series, after that I believe his writing went down especially when compared to Martin. But, he should serve as an inspiration to all.

Hello? Are you guys still here? Oh, thank the Big G. Go grab the “The Curse of Pirini Lilapa” and/or get the first book, “Trials of the Core” if you haven’t yet. I think I wrote a review of the first book, right here on this blog. You should check that out as well.


No comfy

Yesterday, a strong burnt rubbery smell filled the apartment. I freaked out. It’s Summer. A season of fires. Then the wife and I discovered the smell was coming from the air condition.

Ruling out all possible reasons, I have concluded that the motor is overheating. It was a shit thing to undergo. That night, I tested the AC. I lowered the fan speed and upped the temperature a little, so it would’ve overwork itself. 

And just to stay safe, I MacGyver’d a work table using two chairs and several boxes and books, near the AC. So when it begins to smell, I can shut it off right away. 

I was not comfortable in my position. Not at all. But you know what? It turned out to be my best writing night yet.

Within three hours I managed to add some details into my story, edit a huge chunk of the book, and ironed out the plot that had been bugging me. Many of the issues have been resolved and finally I can move on to the second part of the novel. 

I have small conversations with some writers. Advice from them always points out that a writer needs to be comfortable and relaxed. It helps them develop ideas and fine tune the writing.

In my case, sitting comfortably makes me feel like shit. When I’m comfortable, my mind wanders. I end up either going to YouTube or check out any updates on Hayley Williams. If I turn on music, I end up imagining I’m in a group called The Jon Karoll Band, and we’re rocking it from ’70s classics to more modern awesome sauces like Yellowcard… anyway. Bottom line is, I am least productive when I’m comfortable. I fall asleep and I wake up with a stiff neck. I was pretty much screwed.

I’ve made good progress. And I’m going to see how much productivity I can get while feeling uncomfortable in my seat.

Red Whale: Quick Update

On Reddit Fantasy a topic about National Novel Writing Month emerged. Writers everywhere started posting stuff about their work-in-progress. I’m still waiting what exactly comes out of the blender out of all the random stuff I put in the Red Whale. Yet, I gave in, and posted something real quick about the “Year of the Red Whale.” Might as well update it here too for the world to see.

Tyrant emperor turned beggar turned criminal thug, burns empire that starts a world war but he doesn’t give a damn cause he’s busy squaring off against necromancers, witches, and basically everyone else he pissed off while he was the emperor.

That’s a mouthful. I probably could have come up with something better, but I didn’t want to write a sales pitch, just to bring out an idea into the open. My original thought for this novel was to set it at 120K words, then it got reduced to 80K. Having recently scraped much of the material, I feel the sweet spot is going to be between 90-100K. This is, if the plot went out of its way again to complicate things. I could revert back to 80K if I manage to control everything and keep the plot simple.

Now, with this shenanigans over, I’m off back to writing.

By the way, this is Ryukahr, my favorite Super Mario YouTuber/Twitch streamer. Give him some love, will yah?

On a side note, here’s Hayley Williams of Paramore doing a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Everywhere”

Red Whale: Year One Draft

I started writing “Year of the Red Whale” around October, to participate in NaNoWriMo. I made it to 40K words before the month ended, progress that I’m proud of. Since then I barely made it past the 50K-mark, getting stuck on multiple dead ends. The plot thickened to a messy pile of goo. Then all sorts of ugly things started spawning from said goo after trying to patch things up.

I didn’t think much of it until January. The Red Whale was a NaNoWriMo project, not the main WIP, but still it had ended up as my top priority novel to work on. I kept putting deadlines for myself to complete the draft, after all as a journalist I’m trained to submit on time, but I keep letting myself down. The solution was to get back to the main WIP, Project Ashes, but I couldn’t just let go of the Red Whale and busied myself over it.

Now, a year later, I’m still stuck, making no decent progress whatsoever. I had renovated a lot of scenes and redone several chapters. Nothing helped.

Finally, the nuclear option: Change the entire plot. Keep some scenes, some chapters, some characters, but turn things around. It worked. The pace changed, a lot, and I had to remodel my writing style. I had to cut down some action scenes and then add more action scenes. It feels like a brand new work-in-progress at this point, really. My only issue is, should I add more POV characters? There’s a lot going on, but the only thing that matters comes from the protagonists. So there is that to consider.

My final deadline, I hope, is on December.

Since it’s November and it’s a season for Stranger Things, here’s a Alice Cooper “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” I’d put “The Man Behind the Mask” instead, but, meh.

The Simple Advice

I’ve been writing stories since I was in the third grade, I think. I started with horror stories and the following year I ventured to my first fantasy story, which was a bland ripoff of some science-fantasy anime I used to watch.

Anime and film had been my inspirations. Books were never a thing for me until I was much older. So in my younger years, I basically skipped the basics, and did a bunch of experiments I thought at that time were brilliant.

In the end, there were not at all that great. Fast forward a few years later, my first books were Harry Potter one to the “Order of the Phoenix.” I had, at that time, also read “A Game of Thrones” and “The Gunslinger.” And I thought I’ve learned a lot from those.

The first ever epic I’ve written was called “Dragon Wars,” I was in my third year high school, and I’ve gone halfway through it before deciding to show chapters to some friends and to my grandma. Of course my friends liked it, of course they did. Grandma liked it too, so, of course she would give me a pat on the back. However, she added, “You should explore more on writing simpler sentences.”

I refused. I wanted to be eloquent and dramatic! I was thinking, she didn’t get it. She hadn’t read the books I’ve read, which were, what exactly? Harry Potter, Thrones, and Gunslinger. Nah. I wanted to write shit sentences like, “The susurrus of thousands of leaves rustling in the cold and violent night allowed him to see through the prestidigitation and blahblah.”

In short, I was a thesaurus whore, thinking the more complicated words I used, the more lyrical and more poetic my words would sound. I only realized I’d look like an asshole. I looked at Rowling’s books and King’s, and found that all they ever used in their stories were simple words. Words that paint images as soon as you read them. George RR Martin’s prose is just as easy to read, he never used words that would make you flip through a dictionary, or make you pause to wonder what the fuck did that word mean.

As my readings expanded, I learned that most authors just use words so simple, the story moves on in a fluid and comprehensive pace. And it’s a wonderful experience to go through that phase. The problem is this, it’s how you construct the sentences, how you piece together these simple words to bring out readers’ imaginations.

Later I started reading a bunch of books about writing. There’s a lot of useful advice out there that can inspire writers. But I found that “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White to be the best source for writers, because they teach you the most basic form of writing from which you can build upon your own voice.

It’s a lesson I’ve learned the hard way as works I’ve been so proud of were crushed or dismantled by beta readers and critics. It’s an experience worth going through and I like to think that my voice has grown over the years. But I’ll never forget that aspect, where you need to write with simple words to build a story that every reader can understand.

Halfway there

Yup. I am halfway there. Almost passed that massive brick wall that had been staggering my progress. Just need to smooth a few things and production speed should soar.

On top of that I’ve been writing something I shouldn’t even be bothering about. I still have Projects Ashes and Sherlock under development, but like I said, I just can never learn. My friend has been pushing me back and stick into completing the Red Whale. I did not make it to my personal deadline so I’m setting another one in April.

Second week of April should be my deadline with a completed manuscript.

The roadblock had been my unconscious way of making things too complicated. The Red Whale story should be straightforward with just enough twists to keep things interesting. It took me almost two months to finally get those chapters right and no amount of rewrite felt good enough. So I removed them. Six long chapters goes to the trash bin. Nope, not shelved to be used later, trashed them. They just weren’t going to work no matter what. The new characters I introduced in the chapters and some backgrounds will be recycled in another form though. After that bloody ordeal, progress started working again and things finally made sense.

I think I owe it to Marie Lu, author of “Legend.” I started reading last week “Young Elites” and was immediately hooked to finish “Rose Society” and “Midnight Star.” Those stories were, pretty much like Pierce Brown’s “Red Rising” trilogy. The stories were straightforward with just enough twists. Not too complicated. Designed for awesomeness. After reading “Midnight Star” and soaked through all the emotion there, I did a quick reread of “Morning Star” and those paved the way.

Now that this mess has been cleared up, as mentioned multiple times already, the Red Whale is on the go!

Innards #13

I promised never to make another “Innards” post unless I’ve actually made some real, solid progress with my stories. Then this means, I just made some real, solid progress!

It’s only been a little over a month, and my current project, titled, “Year of the Red Whale” has built itself a humble 15,000 words. More are still pouring in as I do my best to type as fast and meticulous as I can. I’m rather satisfied with the outcome so far and things are continuing skyward, much to my satisfaction. Before the month ends, I hope to reach 20,000 words and enough to proceed to the book’s “Part 2” segment, which I aim to become my NaNoWriMo entry. Whether I reach the 50,000 goal or not should be awesome. There is a deeper drive now to finish my stories more than ever.

As I continue the Red Whale, I’ve gotten a chance to check out my older projects, “The Conductor” and Project Scar. Each were started in 2010 and 2008 respectively. Both are around 30,000 words and looking at them now, I’m surprised by how different they are from what I’m writing today. Not in a bad way. The prose was a little bit more florid, the pacing was nice, and world was more imaginative and bigger. On a single page, I’ve managed to cram in a lot of information, without feeling like an infodump. I know what I’m saying sounds egocentric and I’m just blowing air into my head. Not really, I’m just saying, if someone like me, who has little to no talent in writing, can come up with something like that. Then anyone can.

The biggest difference I’ve made was spending a lot of time in those two stories. I remember staying up late at night trying to finish a chapter. Always pushing into my head, one more paragraph. I’d spend entire weekends locked in a room, staring at a blank page, trying to cough up the right words that would breathe life into my stories. I wrote a paragraph. I stare at it and I take it out, unsatisfied. It’s a long, damning process that ended up being worth it.

It was also a time when I’ve done nothing but read a lot of books, nonstop. I suppose all those prose bled out into my subconscious. “Year of the Red Whale” begins to pale in comparison against “The Conductor” and Project Scar. Looks like I’ve a lot of thinking and redesigning to do.

The only advice I ever took was from an Aussie writer: “Read, write, and practice.” He said. I took it to heart, kept reading a lot, kept writing a lot, and got a lot of feedback. I never settled on what I’ve written. If I had to cut out entire chapters just because they no longer fit, so be it. It’s a habit that needs to come back.

These days I only get to write three to four hours a day, at night, after getting back from work, where I’ve spent the entire day writing. It gets dull and sickening, but, that’s all part of the challenge.

I never really relied on any other books that thought how to write. Sure, I got a few, read what advice they’ve got to offer, and I’ve only ended up feeling disappointed, wishing I’ve spent my money elsewhere. There are a ton of forums out there who can give the same exact advice from those books, for free. They can be a little harsher though. The only books that I felt were ever really important, were Stephen King’s “On Writing” and Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style.” The first one, was well, because it was about King telling us how he got into writing and it was damn interesting. The second book, King himself had actually suggested in his book I’ve just mentioned, cleaved a path  on how to write better, how to construct concise and clear sentences. If I had to choose between two sentences where one attempts to sound profound and sophisticated, over one that immediately puts an image in my head without disrupting the flow of the story, I’d pick the latter any time. That’s the most important thing, clarity. Writing is a long process. You’d start with a blank page and by the time you hit less than 1,500 words, over an hour has already passed. That’s fine. That’s how good art is crafted. Savor every moment of it.

On other news: The Wife is insisting I should switch jobs. With my income, I could hardly blame her. She believes I can do better. She’s not the only one, truth be told. Many other folks who have grown old within the company are insistent, I should get out while I still can. The inferiority complex in me is trying to cower behind closed sheets, afraid to take on another professional, meet new people, but, but, potentially earn at least twice as more than my current job. I only earn, in US dollars equivalent, around 280. It’s pretty dismal.

Earlier this week Nintendo has finally unveiled the NX console – the Switch. It looks amazing. It’s a console I want to have alongside a PlayStation 4 when I get one. When they announced sometime ago that Nintendo was working on going mobile, I didn’t expect this. It is a brilliant execution, a potential merging between handheld and home consoles – considering handhelds in these past years, had been Nintendo’s strongest selling point. If ever, the Switch will be my first Nintendo console since the SNES, and I’m really looking forward to it.

It’s no mystery that I’ve gotten myself into reading more self-published books. It started with Hugh Howey’s “Wool,” and followed by Anthony Ryan’s “Blood Song.” I wanted to see what all the fuss had been about and how the independent-segment is fairing. And it’s looking quite good. There are lots of talented traditionally unpublished authors out there. Sure, some of them needs a few more polishing, but the quality of fun and stories they deliver remain to be topnotch. My recent read was Will Wight’s “Unsouled” and it’s something that needs more attention.

Apparently I’m still in-love with Hayley Williams. Her weird iTunes Festival getup in 2013 and the green-haired, tight shirt,  skirt, stockings look in Wango Tango 2014, was just, damn.

Out of boredom I went back listening to some bands I haven’t listened to for a long time. It’s just such an amazing treat to go back and relive the songs that defined my era while growing up and how I started getting into music. Green Day gets the most nostalgia in me with their song, Basket Case, and of course, Boulevard of Broken Dreams. This is quickly followed by Yellowcard’s Ocean Avenue, bringing back old memories from my time in California as a wandering, angry, solitary teenager. I also just found out they’re on their very last tour. That hurts. Finally, there’s Foo Fighters. I haven’t been a fan of their newer songs, while still great, I’d still like to dwell on their songs like Monkey Wrench, Learn to Fly, Long Road to Ruin, and yes, Everlong.

The season 7 premiere of “The Walking Dead” blew my brains out. So, spoilers from here. Based from the comics, I knew what was going to happen. But the first shocker had thrown me off guard, it was an attempt from the production crew to mess with the longtime fans of the series. Something worst was bound to happen. It just did.