J.R. Geoghan

Novels and Writing

Category: creative influences

Music to Write By – Hybrid Orchestral Epic Music

In the last month or so, I’ve became more and more aware of a genre of digital music – “hybrid orchestral,” also called “epic music.”  This came out of my using movie soundtracks as background music for my writing times.  I wanted more than what was available, and began poking around YouTube.

There are many, many examples of this type of electronic music available on YouTube.  Hours and hours of it.  One of my personal favorite channels is Pandora Journey.

Most of the recordings are compilations from cinematic score composers who put together literally mountains of orchestral tracks for use in the gaming and movie/TV industries.  A great upcoming example is the Trailer 2 for the 2017 movie “Wonder Woman” featuring a great track “Catapult” by Position Music.

Other composers are looking to create a piece of electronic (hence the “hybrid”) orchestral music that has a message/story all it’s own, rather than something created for a movie studio to incorporate into a soundtrack.  The example above, Tales of the Forgotten “GRound Zero  is part of an outstanding hybrid orchestral trilogy of EP-length pieces, concluding with this also-excellent “Ep III: Devolution“.  Another favorite of mine is a composer known as Varien – love The Valkyrie Trilogy:

After awhile I do admit to growing weary of the genre, and will segue into worship music or my short list of all-time favorites such as Acoustic Alchemy.  But, these days orchestral tunes keep drawing me back every few weeks as I am pondering a new chapter of a character’s life…  Here’s another post I wrote about music to write by.  Enjoy!






O Come to the Altar – My Favorite Songs

Are you hurting and broken within
Overwhelmed by the weight of your sin
Jesus is calling
Have you come to the end of yourself
Do you thirst for a drink from the well
Jesus is calling

O come to the altar
The Father’s arms are open wide
Forgiveness was bought with
The precious blood of Jesus Christ

Leave behind your regrets and mistakes
Come today there’s no reason to wait
Jesus is calling
Bring your sorrows and trade them for joy
From the ashes a new life is born
Jesus is calling

O come to the altar
The Father’s arms are open wide
Forgiveness was bought with
The precious blood of Jesus Christ

Oh what a Savior
Isn’t he wonderful
Sing alleluia, Christ is risen
Bow down before him
For he is Lord of all
Sing alleluia, Christ is risen

O come to the altar
The Father’s arms are open wide
Forgiveness was bought with
The precious blood of Jesus Christ

Bear your cross as you wait for the crown
Tell the world of the treasure you’ve found

When Death Was Arrested – My Favorite Songs

Alone in my sorrow dead in my sin
Lost without hope with no place to begin
Your love Made a way to let mercy come in
When death was arrested and my life began

Ash was redeemed only beauty remains
My orphan heart was given a name
My mourning grew quiet my feet rose to dance
When death was arrested and my life began

Oh your grace so free
Washes over me
You have made me new
Now life begins with you
It’s your endless love
Pouring down on us
You have made us new
Now life begins with you

Released from my chains I’m a prisoner no more
My shame was a ransom he faithfully bore
He cancelled my debt and he called me his friend
When death was arrested and my life began

Our savior displayed on a criminal’s cross
Darkness rejoiced as though heaven had lost
But then Jesus arose with our freedom in hand
That’s when death was arrested and my life began
That’s when death was arrested and my life began

Oh we’re free free
Forever we’re free
Come join the song
Of all the redeemed

Yes we’re free free
Forever amen
When death was arrested
and my life began

Add People, Not Characters…

"Swords of Flame"

Characters… are people too!

Adding a new “character” to your story is one of the most fun, most daring things you can do as a writer.  Whether they get only a few minutes onstage or end up being a major player in a series, new characters stretch your imagination while grounding you in reality… of a sort.  But in reality, what you’re adding are people:

“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.” ― Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

And it’s a learning curve – sometimes you’re adding a “person” with no precedent to work from.  For me, creating an angelic character meant rereading Biblical references and then adding my imagination to the “what if” for them.  Rereading demonic references and asking “what if” they were standing next to me and spoke… Or there’s the more commonplace folks like an Hispanic small-town female cop.  Or a hard-bitten, almost-stereotypical security chief.  And the list goes on.

So where to get ideas?  How to tie the fantastic to the commonplace?  My suggestion is to start taking notes.

Interesting people are all around us. We’re known dozens of “characters” in our lives and probably done a fairly poor job of taking note.  I would suggest you take a few minutes a month and jot down the names of people you work with and live around.  What makes you grin about them when they come by, the things they say and do – mannerisms grounding in reality.  When  the time comes to add somebody to your story, you’ve got a war-chest of “people” to mix and match from.

Oh, by the way, heed the advice of Donald Miller –  “When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.”  Whether we agree with them or not, the people around us deserve our attention.  I think God would agree with me on that one…

There’s another side benefit to taking notes on the people in our lives – we tend to leave them and forget.  In just my life, I’ve been grounded for several years at at time in New York, Sand Diego, Los Angeles and Pennsylvania.  When I think of people from past iterations of my life, one of the sad things is that there are people who I’ve forgotten about, especially as I grow older (ahem).  Faces without a name, or a fond moment in time with the people left out.  These things sadden me…  and perhaps this has happened to you as well.

So dig out the pen or tablet and look with a smile to the people in your life, taking notes.  I think you’ll learn something new and even get an inspiration for a “character” in your next story.



The Santa Fe Depot in Downtown San Diego

Santa Fe Depot – San Diego Union Station

The scene of a pitched battle between the demons and their controlled humans and the team defending the Governor and Vice President is Union Station in historic downtown San Diego.  In the middle of course is retired Sergeant Chris Carter, doing what he knows best in the middle of a firefight.

The station, also known as the Santa Fe Depot, was first opened in 1915 and is one of the most interesting structures in San Diego – which is why I didn’t blow it up (completely) in the book.  It’s Spanish Colonial Revival style is echoed in other buildings downtown, in particular it’s domed turrets.  The photo here was taken in the mid 1990’s when I lived in San Diego.  The station is only a couple of blocks from the waterfront harbor and is still an active Amtrak station, with the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner running up the coast from San Diego to Los Angeles (which also figures prominently in Swords of Flame).  The local San Diego commuter train, the Coaster, also run from the Santa Fe Depot up the county coastline and back.

It was fun weaving some local San Diego architecture & history into my story.  Will Chris return one day?  Who’s to say!

San Diego Amtrak Union Station – The Santa Fe Depot


Julian, California – Home of Chris Carter

Julian California building - courtesy of the Julian Chamber

Julian California building – courtesy of the Julian Chamber

So in my book series, Chris Carter has landed in historic Julian, California and purchased the Konacup Coffee Shop on Main Street across from the local hotel.  He plants himself at his window seat to watch the tourists roll by and try to forget his combat experiences in Iraq, until the day the body shows up on his doorstep…

Wait, I shouldn’t give too much away.  Sorry!

Anyway, Julian is of course a real place and is really a cool place.  I fell in love with the area around Julian when I lived in San Diego for a few years in the early Nineties.  As a motorcyclist, I particularly enjoyed riding up (and it is “up”) from the coast and making a stop along Main Street to grab some apple pie and vanilla ice cream.   The pace in Julian is about as relaxed as you’ll find within a few hundred miles of Los Angeles.

The natural beauty of the San Diego at 4,220 feet above sea level is incredible.  It’s not Yosemite, but the Cuyamaca Mountains that the town is nestled in are part of a chain that includes Mount Palomar and the famous observatory, running all the way to the east to spots where you can see out into the Arizona desert.

Julian got it’s start in 1870 during the California gold rush when someone noticed something glinting in the sunlight in the stream… and the rest was history.  This town has the sense of being untouched by the march of development elsewhere in the Southern California, and the architecture still resembles more of a Nineteenth century gold town.  You will absolutely forget that you are in SoCal during your stay there.  Chris Carter did…


Ask the Author – Characters

novel charactersWhich one of your Chris Carter series characters can you most relate to?

Since this is the first book in the series, we are still learning about the core characters like Chris, Sarah, Travis and the Gages.  Some will step into the background as the series progresses and other,
new folks will enter the stage.  I think that the Chris Carter character is a bit of a composite of people I have known in my life, and certainly not a little about me.

Do you believe in cliffhangers for your characters?

I’m always in the middle; I like having the immediate story line wrap up by the the end of the book, movie or show.  But I also like when there is a bigger unresolved story that potentially looms over the characters.

Who is your favorite character in Swords of Flame?

I like them all, of course!  Even the bad guys, because they are all important to my story…  If I had to pick one who makes me smile the most, it’d be Sarah Medina.  She has a fun energy and loves a challenge, even when it may get her knocked around.

Music to write by

music-influences-writingMusic is a big part of my writing process; I have the earbuds in most all of the time when jamming through pages of text.

The categories of what I shove in my ears would be as follows:

  1. Christian Hard Rock – typified by my favorite band, Red (Just got their new album “of Beauty and Rage”, awesome).    Also Day of Fire and Building 429 are favs.
  2. More Hard Rock – Stuff like Linkin Park.  I’m a huge Evanescence fan as well.
  3. Classic Christian Rock – nobody plays this stuff anymore; like Dogs of Peace, early Kutless and Justifide (9 out of 10 is a true classic metal song).  Jaci Velasquez, anybody?
  4. Movie soundtracks – I have a collection of full soundtracks and bits/pieces of others.  It’s fun to play the Iron Man 3 soundtrack or Gravity and see how many times the mood of the piece matches my character or setting mood in the book.
  5. Classical – I’m a huge Rachmaninoff fan.  Can’t play Piano Concerto No. 2 enough.
  6. Old pop – still loving Depeche Mode, REM and Seal in a pinch.  “World in my Eyes” is a personal favorite.


My recollections of San Diego

The first novel in my Chris Carter Series takes place mostly in San Diego County.  San Diego is the furthest southwestern major city in the United States – only a dozen miles from Mexico.  I had the privilege of getting to live there for several years in the early 1990’s, years I won’t soon forget.

The county covers the gamut of landscapes, from the downtown waterfront to the high, remote mountaintop of Palomar Mountain.

san-diego-baySan Diego Bay at night

I frequently call San Diego “my adopted home town,” and when I wanted to use a local familiar to me as the jumping-off point for my novel series, I immediately decided on someplace in S.D.  Julian, to be exact; more on that town in a future post!

I especially loved riding sportbikes out past Palomar (frequently right through Julian) and almost out to Palm Springs and back.  There are some wonderful wild vista in north and eastern San Diego – you can see the ocean in the distance in one direction and the desert to the east.  The roads are all-but perfect to hustle a performance motorcycle along.  I would spend an entire Saturday roaming the backroads…

As a surfer-escapee from the east coast, I found the beaches of San Diego to be a dream.  Almost the whole length of the county is accessible to anyone, unlike the private beaches of the shores of Long Island where I grew up.  The waves were plentiful, and we usually got up early to surf with the dawn when the Pacific Ocean was perfectly “glassy.”  I had my favorite surf breaks and would drive around at dawn with a coffee in hand, looking for the best spot to dive in.

The food in San Diego is awesome, IF you love Mexican.  Roadside stands manned be folks making the real thing – yum!  I loved Robertos and similar-named restaurants; little places where you walked up to a window and ordered, then sat down at a bench.  Did I mention that the weather is 68-70 and sunny all year?  Winter is when it rains.

I am glad that Chris Carter chose San Diego as his home base; that way I get to rediscover it in my writing!  Looking forward to going back some day…

Writing ’til all hours of the night…

night-woodsPeople have asked me about when I find writing most productive.  Since I’m a night owl, I tend to get rolling at my keyboard after the kids are in bed and things are quieting down.  Then, around midnight, that burst of energy kicks in and I can roll on until 2 or 3 A.M. on bad days.

Here in quiet Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, it’s far from a 24/7 lifestyle… very far.  I remember living in Southern California and running out at 2 A.M. to get some burritos and a coke.  Not so much anymore.  Oh, well.

I was very glad for the time afforded to me this past May as a result of a total hip replacement!  I was able to really focus on finishing my first full-length novel Swords of Fire and work up an outline for future installments in the saga of my main character, retired Sergeant Chris Carter.

I expect I’ll always be using the “me time” surrounding the midnight hour, with or without caffeine.


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