Developing Characters – the Johari Window

Filed under: Jeff's Blog — January 15, 2015 @ 6:49 pm

One of the most satisfying things about reading a book is watching how characters progress. Robert Olen Butler talked about human yearning being the key driver of any story, that writing “is the art form of human yearning.” In the Muirwood Trilogy, Lia hungered to learn how to read, then to serve the Medium, and finally to save her precious abbey.

One of the things I learned during my career at Intel was a concept called the Johari Window.


It is pretty self-explanatory when you look at the four quadrants. Each of us has traits (good and bad) that we know about ourselves. Some we keep hidden from others. Some we are blind to but are obvious to others. Then there is the black box, those things we do not understand about ourselves, that others do not see either, yet they impact our lives greatly (often negatively).

In Terry Brooks’ epic tale ”The Sword of Shannara”, the main character learned that the Druid blade’s power was not in its sharp edge but in its ability to reveal truth to people, difficult truths about themselves they did not even realize. Holding the sword offered you a glimpse into that black quadrant…often with perilous consequences.


I enjoy developing characters and watching how they react to adversity. It is overcoming that adversity which leads to growth and makes them interesting to me. If all went well constantly, they would never change.

So think about using the Johari Window idea if you are every trying to flesh out a character you want to write. It may be helpful in understanding how they see themselves, how others see them, and maybe that critical flaw (the black box) which overcoming will help them succeed.

I shared this with my kids recently and revealed some of my weaknesses — one of which is a tendency to be sarcastic. I encouraged them to call me out every time I slipped by looking at me and saying “Dad, Johari Window!” It has been amazing how quick they were to help out (grins) and how much I have been catching myself…sometimes saying “Johari Window” on myself instead of the biting remark. It’s made a difference in our home and now the kids are working on some of their blind spots. A good thing to think about for New Year’s goals.

Wishing you a great 2015!




There is power in persistence

Filed under: Uncategorized — December 10, 2014 @ 4:57 pm


There is power in persistence. I have told this story several times to friends and family, but I do not think I have shared it on my blog. There was a time, three years ago, when I was tempted to quit writing.

In 2011, I had self-published the Muirwood Trilogy and the reviews were good, but I was feeling a little discouraged because there were still so many typos that needed fixing. I have since learned that even with a whole crew of dev editors, line editors, and so forth, those pesky typos still get through. But at the time, I was a little discouraged. My biggest regret now about self-publishing was not hiring a capable copy-editor. Word to the wise – it’s worth every penny!

During Christmas breaks I usually took a few weeks off of work from Intel. A friend/fan in Australia had offered to send me a list of the typos she had found reading her Kindle version and I was grateful for the help, since I came to the realization that I could not spot them on my own. On a wintery afternoon, I was fixing them all, one by one, feeling a little gloomy and sorry for myself. I was tempted to quit, I will admit. I struggled to balance all the parts of my life and wondered if it was even worth it juggling my writing too.

Gratefully, I had read a story in Napoleon Hill’s book about a man who had quit his goal prematurely and regretted it. The story goes on that most success comes just after a moment of discouragement. I was also motivated by a 2009 TED talk by Simon Sinek called “Start with Why”. It’s a great talk ( and it made me think about why I was a writer. Watching that video led me to write something in December 2011 which I dubbed “A Manifesto on Virtue” and posted it on my blog that month. Here we are, 3 years later and it still resonates with me.

I fixed the typos in Muirwood. I re-posted the Kindle versions and fixed the print versions too. Two weeks later, I did my first Kindle Direct promotion. I still have a screenshot from the night I checked the result and saw that over 10,000 readers had downloaded Wretched. I stared at the screen, trying to breathe, and was soooo grateful I had not succumbed to the fleeting temptation to quit. A few months later, I got a call from 47North.

Never give in. Never, never, never give in.


I just received this gift from my publisher to celebrate my favorite book (Blight of Muirwood) reaching over 100,000 sales. Looks like I will be doing some reading over the Christmas break on my new Kindle Voyage! And fixing typos too. I’m still doing that, even though it’s hard and tedious. Status update: I have finished writing the rough drafts of the first two new Covenant of Muirwood books and have started on book 3. This is the fastest I have ever written a novel in my life, let alone two. I’m on track to have the third book finished by my birthday in March. Cover art for Poisonwell is almost ready to be revealed. And the team doing my first Muirwood graphic novel is assembling. I love my new life as a full-time writer. Thank you, dear reader, for making all this possible.

Merry Christmas!



More announcements! (Write On and Jet City Comics)

Filed under: Jeff's Blog — November 7, 2014 @ 3:46 pm

I loved New York Comic Con! What a great experience is was being back on the East Coast and visiting fans and friends during that trip. I enjoyed, taking lots of pictures, and even meeting some of you there. Great times!

There are two things I want to announce today.

First is Write On by Kindle ( Years ago when I was in college and taking creative writing courses, I joined the Online Writers Workshop in order to have my stories critiqued by fellow writers. What I didn’t like about the experience is it was mostly writers critiquing other writers. Amazon’s approach is a little different with Write On. It’s a place for writers of any skill level to go and put their work out to the world as a way of getting feedback from readers too. Feedback is absolutely crucial in learning the craft of writing. I can think of many of my early readers and how motivating it was to learn how my books were resonating with them. Write On is just that — a forum of writers *and* readers who mix and mingle and share ideas and help each other. It’s not just writers helping writers. The role of the reader is absolutely crucial.

Next week (November 10-15) I will be the ‘writer in residence’ at Write On and will be reading various stories, offering feedback and encouragement. The staff interviewed my wife Gina and I, and you can read the interview on the site. If any of you would like to register (it’s free), you can use the code JWHEELER. I’m happy to support the folks at Write On and encourage any of you fellow writers to drop by and maybe post something to the site for feedback. I’ll be lurking there, so send me a note if you’d like me to read something you submitted.


Second news – which I’m just as excited about. I have signed a contract with Amazon’s Jet City Comics to do a Muirwood graphic novel! This as been in the works for many months and I’m so happy to be able to share it with you. Those of you who have read the author notes of the Muirwood Trilogy know that I reference a novella I wrote years ago called Maia as the first story ever told in the Muirwood world. This novella was supposed to be the prequel of a fantasy trilogy, which I am now writing called the Covenant of Muirwood trilogy. I wondered what to do with the novella, since it was designed as a stand-alone piece yet it introduces the plot and main character of the new series. Jet City Comics approached me about turning this story into a Graphic Novel with plans to launch it in the middle of 2015 (ahead of the Covenant series expected in 2016). The graphic novel will be serialized and the final segment will be ready before the new series launches. I am thrilled to be able to work with Jet City Comics and their script writers, editors, and artists to visualize this story which has been a favorite of mine for many years. I have removed the story from my blog now and look forward to being able to share it with you in full color!

For those of you who don’t  know about graphic novels, they are like comic books where the story is told frame by frame. Jet City Comics did George R.R. Martin’s Hedge Knight graphic novels (below).


Link: here

Also, if you did not see my earlier announcement, pre-orders for Poisonwell went live this week on Amazon. The official launch day is Feb 24, 2015 on Kindle. You may have noticed that the print version is coming out in April. There was a schedule slip in getting the print version done in February, but 47North committed to get the novel out in Kindle so that you didn’t have to wait to extra months. Reminder for those who like both versions, with the Kindle Matchbook program, if you buy the print version, you can purchase the Kindle for $0.99 any time later. It’s a great deal!

This is all the good news for now…but there is more in the works! Stay tuned!



Jeff’s schedule at New York Comic Con

Filed under: Jeff's Blog — September 25, 2014 @ 1:29 pm


I’m excited to go to New York in two weeks to attend Comic Con. Here is a schedule of where you can find me. On Friday, Oct 10th, I will be signing books at the 47North booth at 6pm. I would love to meet any of you who can drop by. Then I will be speaking at a panel at 8pm. Watch the program announcements for details where or drop by the booth and ask. I plan to attend Comic Con most of the day on Friday so if you see me walking around, say hi!

My first trip to New York City was pretty memorable. I was invited as a guest speaker at a labor economics conference at Columbia University back when I worked for Intel. There was a dinner after the conference at the university, which I attended. During dinner, I checked the subway schedule to figure out a way back to my hotel, and I saw that there was a subway station nearby, so I started off that direction. Strangely, the station was closed, so I went to the next one. Then the next one. Before you know it, I discover that I’m walking through Harlem in a suit late at night. Let’s just say that a lot of interesting people were staring at me. I finally found a subway entrance that was open and as I was walking down, a guy came up behind me really fast. My heart started pounding, wondering if I was going to get into trouble. Having had some Bhikhu training, I decided to use the Uddhava – so I stopped, moved over to the site, and reached into my coat pocket as if I was stowing a gun. The guy swerved away from me, went down into the subway, jumped over the rail instead of paying, and then boarded the next train.

Not all that exciting, but it was memorable, and I was relieved when I made it back to my hotel.


Comic Con New York 2014!

Filed under: Uncategorized — September 6, 2014 @ 6:10 pm


It’s official – I’ll be attending Comic Con in New York next month! My publisher invited me to participate in a panel, so I will be on my way to New York the second week of October. I’ve been to Manhattan twice before and it is truly an exciting city and I love going there. This is also my first official author appearance at a book signing too. 47North will arrange the signing at their booth on the floor, so stay tuned for details. The panel and the book signing will happen on Friday, October 10th. If any of you live in NYC, please stop by to say hello! I would love to meet you in person.

I will post more details as they emerge. Hope to see some of you there next month!




Jeff’s special announcement – big news!

Filed under: Jeff's Blog,Novels — August 15, 2014 @ 4:27 pm

I’m so excited to share this news that I wanted to do it in person (well, via Youtube anyway!) instead of a blog posting. You can watch it here:


Jeff’s big announcement


Coming in 2016: the Covenant of Muirwood Trilogy

Make sure you subscribe to my mailing list because there is even more news coming in the weeks ahead!

(Go to my website: and look on the right side of the page)


Servant by John D Brown (good read!)

Filed under: Jeff's Blog — July 29, 2014 @ 4:54 pm

I normally plug books that I read via my Goodreads account, but I thought this one was special and wanted to give it a little more exposure. I recently stumbled on John D Brown’s book Servant and was impressed with the story, the magic system, and especially the tension. Even better, it was clean and had a strong Virtus theme.

Servant (The Dark God Book 1)

If you like the writing of Brandon Sanderson (like Elantris) or David Farland’s Runelords works, I think you might like this as well. It was not a D&D adventure and had very strong and realistic characters. There was a great blend of humor with the tension, which kept increasing as the story progressed. It kept me up a few nights reading late.

No disclosures – I don’t know the author, I bought the book (wasn’t given a freebie copy), and no one asked me to write this. I believe the next in the series is coming soon and I’m looking forward to reading it.


The Imagination Muscle

Filed under: Jeff's Blog — July 8, 2014 @ 4:41 pm


From time to time, I get requests for writing advice. I’m not very big on offering writing advice because I truly believe there isn’t one way to do this business and what works for me won’t necessarily work for someone else. Instead, I’m a believer that practicing writing is the way to go (such as Stephen King’s quote about writing a million words and Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 hours to master a skill).

Lately I have been reading James Altucher’s book Choose Yourself and he referenced something else from Stephen King’s memoir that jumped out at me as being profoundly true:

“Stephen King, in his book On Writing discusses an accident he once had that prevented him from writing for several weeks. When he started to write again he could feel the difference. He said how the words just weren’t connecting right. His writing muscle had atrophied. He needed to exercise it again in order to continue writing the nonstop, bestselling thrillers he’d been writing for thirty years.”


“The idea muscle is no different than the writing muscle. It’s no different than your leg muscles, for that matter. If you don’t walk for two weeks, the muscles will atrophy.”

What great insights, which I totally believe in myself and it has to do with the habit of persistence. I’ve seen writers finish their first books. Then they go through the discouraging process of trying to find an agent or a publisher, or maybe they self-publish it and hope it sells. They wait to start writing the next book until…what? Until they have feedback from a real publisher? Until their readers have weighed in on the book? Their writing stalls because they have not achieved some goal with the first? They have stopped after writing their first.

My advice is to keep writing. Even while waiting for the rejection letters from agents or publishers. Even while waiting for the copy-edits to be done on the book you are about to publish. Keep writing. Keep exercising the imagination muscle.

As I thought about this, I realized that I have been doing it for years. When I finish writing one novel, I begin immediately to start working on the next, whether it is a sequel to the first or a brand new trilogy. After I had finished Wretched of Muirwood, I tried getting an agent. I was insecure and wanted feedback to know if it was really good enough. I also felt the atrophy kicking in and so I started on Blight after a few weeks delay because I believed an agent would be more impressed if I had an entire trilogy to sell and not just one book. After Muirwood was done, I started on the Mirrowen series. It was fortunate because when 47North called me, they were excited to learn that I was still writing one novel a year and a new series at that. They offered me a six book deal–three I had already written, and the next three I was going to write.

Now that I have finished writing the Mirrowen trilogy, I have already started on my next project–which I hope to announce very soon. I did not realize until reading Altucher’s book that the habit of flexing my imagination muscle is one of the guiding principles in my craft.

Ralph Waldo Emerson put it this way: “That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not that the task itself has become easier, but that our ability to perform it has improved.”


Filed under: Jeff's Blog,Novels — May 24, 2014 @ 4:50 pm

I turned in the manuscript of Poisonwell yesterday to 47North. What comes next is rounds of editing, collaborating on cover art, formatting the final book, recording the audio version, all preceding the launch day of Feb 3, 2015. I can’t wait to share the final adventure with you. Feedback from my early readers has all been very positive. I think you’ll like how it all weaves together.

I’m very visual and keep a ton of pictures on my computer that inspire different scenes or ideas. I can’t show all of them to you, but I wanted to share a few snippets of things that helped inspire my imagination. I hope you enjoy them.

Poisonwell is an intense journey. Venture into the Scourgelands with me at your peril!




I’ve been having discussions with my publisher regarding my next project and will have some exciting announcements to make on that front very soon. Stay tuned! Thanks for being part of this amazing journey with me.



Destruction and Creation

Filed under: Jeff's Blog — April 14, 2014 @ 4:02 pm

I read a great essay many years ago by a famous US Air Force pilot named John Boyd. He had a very interesting life and there’s a great book about him called Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War. Reading that book led me to pursue some of John Boyd’s original writings, including his essay “Destruction and Creation” which was written in 1976. I’d like to credit him and his OODA Loop theory as the origins of the Uddhava in the Mirrowen Trilogy.


“Destruction and Creation” is an essay about where new ideas come from. It describes how we break apart old ideas we’re familiar with in order forge something new, and then break that apart and create something newer still. The process is dynamic and iterative and what struck me about it was that it’s the process I use to create new stories. I think most writers do this.

I read an interview with Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins where she described the origins of her famous story being a mix of the Greek legend of Theseus and the Minotaur that merged with another idea she had while channel surfing about reality TV shows and war footage. The ideas blended together and Katniss Everdeen and Panem were forged.

For me, sometimes an obscure passage in an obscure book becomes the fount of inspiration for a new book idea. I then strip away parts that don’t need to be there and add in other bits and pieces I’ve found, including the characters or personalities of real people that I know. These ideas tend to ferment inside my mind for many years before coming out into a story that you pick up and read.

The process of Destruction and Creation is very messy, but it’s something I love about the arts. There are an infinite supply of new ideas waiting to be found, just but mixing and stripping away things that work and don’t work from legends of the past.

As the wise writer of Ecclesiastes put it, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Eccl. 1:9)

There are always new ways to tell old stories. Discovering something old leads to the creation of something new. And for me, that process never gets old.