Monday, March 22, 2021

Learning, Creativity, and Physician Assistant School

 Helping people with coughs and lacerations pays my bills. I love working as a PA, and don’t plan to leave the urgent care clinic even if we have a repeat of 2020.

But there’s another job, the one that ignites my imagination.

I first saw Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson’s Red Box of Awesomeness at about age 6. I had no idea what D&D was at the time, but my dad’s friend, who owned the box, said it was too complex to play when I asked. Then he distracted me with his matchbox car collection. But something about that box and the dice and pictures of swords and dragons resonated. Three years later, when I read The Hobbit for the first time, I was hooked on fantasy forever.

Seeing Star Wars (episode 4) at the drive in as a kid made a huge impression, too. Being a science nerd on top of that, I often found myself wondering what would happen if DNA were tweaked just so, if plants have neurons we haven't recognized yet, or if our brains were wi-fi compatible. I wondered if I could craft fun ideas like that into a story.

The answer is no. I couldn’t. Same with the second attempt. They both sank into the swamp-like Prince Herbert’s father’s castle in Monty Python’s Holy Grail. But his fourth one, and my third attempt, stayed up. One day, all this will be yours.

Bonus points if you just asked, “What, the curtains?”

Since Houses of Common, my first novel that worked well enough to publish, I've written several more. The latest is Space Boots, published by Immortal Works.

The stories that worked resulted from looking deeper and making connections. I wasn’t thinking about sci-fi as I bent my brain to medicine so hard for so many semesters of PA school. But the fiction mixed with the science and bubbled into my consciousness. 

I suspect I wouldn’t have penned these novels had I been in grad school for political science or music. But something else creative would have forced itself out, nonetheless. Learning and creativity are inextricably linked human characteristics. They feed each other. Bill Watterson, my favorite cartoonist and wise man, often mentioned how learning new things got him out from under quite a few deadlines and led to meaningful letters from readers. It also gave humanity ten years of Calvin and Hobbes. Ten years!

Here is the take-away for those looking to be more creative. Grab a book or screen and look up something new that interests you. Jump in. The more intense the focus, the bigger the creative spark. When I need a new idea, I take an academic tangent. I’ll research it until a story forms.

I’ll likely never dive so deeply into learning as I did in PA school. But I’ve found a direct correlation with the effort I put into learning, my excitement for a project, and the creative rewards.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Space Boots: the Audiobook!

 My publisher Immortal Works, my brain who has no name, and voice actor Will Carter are teaming up!

Recording is underway for an end product that will be available on Audible and Amazon. I got a sneak ear peek of the first six chapters, and love how Will is interpreting the voices and characters. Now that more of us are commuting again, we'll help you turn the drive into an adventure.

Stay alert and I'll keep you apprised of YA sci-fi news!

Friday, January 24, 2020

SpaceBoots cover coming, and UNFIT, a dystopian novel by Karma Chestnut

Hey primates. This is Shelly with some news. SpaceBoots, the speciesist sci-fi novel by Derick William Dalton now has an official cover. Not one reptile on the whole thing. And spoiler alert that no one needs, there are no reptiles in the whole novel. Hand over your progressive human card right now, DWD.

If you want to see the cover, the unveiling will be Friday, February 14 at Life, the Universe, and Everything, the sci-fi and fantasy symposium held in Provo, Utah.

Meanwhile, here's a review Mr. Dalton wrote for the dystopian novel Unfit, by Karma Chestnut. Apparently it releases soon.
Karma Chestnut. That name makes me hungry for some reason. Carmel Chestnuts? That's it. They take on that flavor when they lie in the leaves for a season and some worms get in.  Great. Now I'm craving worms, too.

Greeting organisms! (Who's speciesist, Shelly? Oh, wait. She's just audience aware...) 
DWD here. 
I jotted down my thoughts after reading an ARC of Unfit by Karma Chestnut.
Four stars.
Spoiler free.

Unfit is Gattaca meets Shawshank Redemption.
It's a dystopian Gone with the Wind, but this time with a heroic heroine.
In our era if divisiveness and science illiteracy, it will be motivating to readers keen on building strong families and communities and supporting democracy, but it's not fictional enough to be a comfortable read.

Why not three stars?
The heroes are deeper and more faceted than those in Divergent. They're real. They have conflicting interests and views on how to do the right thing. Even the villains have many redeeming qualities, the layers adding depth and interest to the book. Sometimes, this even dramatically obscures the category in which the character will ultimately fall. Prison stories are tough. Karma intersperses enough other plot lines to give a reprieve, using the prison to contrast the story rather than overly darken it.
Several plot twists I did not see coming. I love that.

Why not five stars?
Prison stories are tough. They're dark and unpleasant. How does an author find a balance between what's tolerable to read and the facts of human depravity? Whitewashing it will ruin the story, as will being too accurately graphic. Karma gets close to the line, buts steps on either side of it.
As a health care provider, I'm more easily pushed out of a story than some readers when wounds and healing and illnesses are molded to the plot. Not very fair to the author. There are a few instances where my suspension of disbelief was stretched, but I suspect most readers won't care. Karma does not go overboard with Hollywood violence that has no long-term effect on characters, another reason for 4 stars rather than 3.
A few of the plot twists I saw coming. With some, the recognition made the story more dramatic. With others, it undermined the effect.

The Dad report.
Profanity is mild and infrequent, and mostly used to display poor vocabulary on the part of the character. No drug use, some improper use of medication by antagonist as part of their villainy. No graphic sexuality, only the lead-up between a married couple, important to the plot. Violence and societal oppression such that I'd only recommend the book to my kids 15 and up.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Happy 2020, everyone!

Is it me, or does 2020 look too sci-fi to be taken seriously on my calendar? Now I have to exercise suspension of disbelief to plan my week.

But here's what's happening in some of those weeks:

Lone Wilderlands has another expansion! More than a booklet like Orion's Hoard, Adara's Atlas is a full box of cards. These cards still create the adventuring world as in Lone Wilderlands, but around an extended quest on a partially completed map with settlements and NPCs.

There's also a new addition: Treasure cards!

Take a look at the full game!

                             Image result for ltue logo

In other news, I'll be attending the Life, the Universe, and Everything symposium February 13-15 in Provo, Utah. We're at the Marriott. I'll be in the vendor room or the gaming room with dice, character sheets, and a certain solo sandbox RPG in a cardbox.

In other OTHER news, I got a sneak peek at the first draft of the cover for SpaceBoots, my sci-fi novel that will be published in May 2020. No, this photo isn't it. That's me playing with my LEGOs and my iPhone camera. It does show three main characters, though. Four if you count the kid with the yellow shirt. Anxiously awaiting the final version, you'll all get to see it soon after me.

And you heard me correctly. Not my kids' LEGOs, mine. My own. My preciouses.


Friday, May 17, 2019

Shelly gets upstaged by a mammal: SpaceBoots to be published by Immortal Works

Mr. Dalton has kept me out of the creativity loop for a while now. The most obvious sign being Lone Wilderlands doesn't have a Shelly-inspired, green-shelled, hero-devouring monster lurking in a coin-glittered lair. I suggest you all inundate him with excessively-hyphenated ideas to correct such a travesty.

What's more, he cut me out of the sci-fi editing process. Some publishing company flashes a contract and he ditches me like he does kids on date night. After slaving away for naught but worms on two novels and a short story collection, too.

Warm-blooded ingrate.

This is the depth of my abandonment: My editing genius will molder unused for the next twelve months. Twelve, because he passed it off to a human to muddle up with an overly thoughtful, caring, kind, make the world a better place mentality. Where's the drama in that? And the book cover? Grr. I mean, Hiss. I wasn't invited to that brainstorming session either, so I don't even have any art spoilers to dish out.

If any readers are not incensed at this partnership of reptilian neglect, watch for SpaceBoots in May 2020 from the probably awesome but right now infuriating humans at

P.S.   Hi all. DWD here. Shelly didn't hibernate this winter, and she's a little cranky. I'd edit her post to reduce the caustic effect, but that would only make it worse next time. But what am I supposed to do? Immortal Works doesn't hire reptiles.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Lone Wilderlands expands - and gets fashionable

I had a request for some story starters to accompany Lone Wilderlands. "Cheat codes" was the actual term used. So I made some. It's a book of lore by a character in the game with hints and clues to wisdom and treasure. It's available here.

The cover for Orion's Hoard was so fun to design and photograph, I wanted to see it bigger. And wear it. So here it is!

UPDATE: having some technical issues with Zazzle. Here is the shirt, but it's not yet available for purchase. Working on it...

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Lone Wilderlands - where Shelly can finally be a fire-breathing Ankylosaurus

From sci-fi novels to a fantasy RPG? Why not?

I really liked role-playing games as a kid, but finding a group and a place and a time that worked happened only twice. Scratch that, it was only once, because my friend running the game forgot to get his books and maps out of his room before his mom shampooed the carpet. "What if I walk across the carpet? Your mom won't get mad at me," I said. I was right, but my friend knew it still wouldn't save him from the beholding gaze of his Great Mother. "Unless you have Drow elf powers, we have no game." No treasure type D&D that day.

I stumbled across Mertwig's Maze a few years later, loved it like crazy, and modified it into a solo game I played for hours. Ouch. Did I just admit to that level of introversion? Well, the concept percolated for a long time, and then started to leak out. Rather than plug said leak, I organized and edited and play tested and here you go, an open-ended fantasy adventure game. A little like choosing a hero from Catan with a bigger island. Or adding a storyline and dice to Munchkin.

I figured some less-loner-than-me types might enjoy it too, so I made sure it would work for a group. I also had a professional gamemaster take a look. Really! That's her job title. She pointed out how useful to her it would be for world-building, simplifying her job significantly. Hey, bonus!

Thanks to the print-on-demand board and card game gurus at, it's available right here:

Here is my ever-growing Play Tester List of Gratitude. May you all have a seat in the Halls of Mandos!

Mr. Whitato
El Corona
Fyrecon 2018 students
JW Dalton and Irish younglings