Wishtester Chapter 2: Slow Down, Stupid Boy


Wise people know that wish testing leads only to ruin, but Faruq is not a particularly wise boy.

He’s determined to become a wishtester and take his chances with the vengeful Djinn–beings made of smokeless fire who grant the wishes of men. True, the Djinn can bestow almost anything the heart desires, but they are held hostage by the King, each flickering in a glass prison atop one of the four palace towers. Enraged at their imprisonment, they do all in their power to subvert any wish asked of them, turning blessings to curses.

Thus wishes must be crafted and vetted before being sold to the wealthy. It’s a rare person who can afford to make a wish, but wishtesters may petition the Djinn without spending a single coin. And if the wording of the wish is sound, with no loopholes for a Djinni to exploit, a beggar may find himself a rich man in the span of a day.

But if the wish still needs some fine tuning…


The second chapter of my free Novella, Wishtester, is up on Wattpad! Woo Hoo! Please head over to read and vote!

Part 1 is here


Copyright 2014 All Rights Reserved

They soon reached the walkway that led through the outer courtyard to the palace. Green palm trees lined its length, their leaves drooping but vibrant. Never in his young life had Faruq been this close to the seat of the King, and his heart thudded as he set foot on the marble path. It felt almost sacrilegious to walk on the pristine path, but sacrilege or not he had to hurry to keep up with Abdul-Aziz.

Once more Faruq squinted up at the towers, but even this close all he could see were colored flames licking and snapping inside the glass. Abdul-Aziz led him past white fountains that gushed sparkling water up at the sky, past rich men and women who whizzed by in blurs of silk and color and perfume, and past dark-bearded guardsmen whose scowls could be seen in their eyes. But not one of those daunting men impeded their journey. Faruq could hardly believe it.

At last they approached a tall archway carved into the white stone of the palace’s outer wall, and grim guardsmen stood on each side, one light as sand, one dark as soil, the machetes that hung from their hips gleaming and their faces alert and hostile as the boys approached. Faruq gaped up at them, sure that his trek had come to an end. And yet when Abdul-Aziz took off his cap and nodded to the men, they inclined their heads back, albeit shallowly, in greeting.

“Another one for the wishcrafters,” said Abdul-Aziz, gesturing to Faruq. Both narrowed their eyes at Abdul-Aziz, but the dark-skinned man, who Faruq now saw wasn’t much older than him, harumphed and pulled away from the wall.

“Let’s go,” he said, his voice gruff. Faruq started after him but stopped and turned back when Abdul-Aziz stayed where he was.


Read the rest on Wattpad!

Wishtester Chapter 1: Shady Dealings in Shady Alleys


Wise people know that wish testing leads only to ruin, but Faruq is not a particularly wise boy.

He’s determined to become a wishtester and take his chances with the vengeful Djinn–beings made of smokeless fire who grant the wishes of men. True, the Djinn can bestow almost anything the heart desires, but they are held hostage by the King, each flickering in a glass prison atop one of the four palace towers. Enraged at their imprisonment, they do all in their power to subvert any wish asked of them, turning blessings to curses.

Thus wishes must be crafted and vetted before being sold to the wealthy. It’s a rare person who can afford to make a wish, but wishtesters may petition the Djinn without spending a single coin. And if the wording of the wish is sound, with no loopholes for a Djinni to exploit, a beggar may find himself a rich man in the span of a day.

But if the wish still needs some fine tuning…


The first chapter of my free Novella, Wishtester, is up on Wattpad! Please head over to read and vote!


Copyright 2014 All Rights Reserved

A long time ago, in a land lost to history…

Faruq crouched behind an urn almost as tall as he was, the light scent of oranges teasing his nose with every quick breath. He couldn’t let Thamina see him, or he was finished. What kind of luck was this, he thought, that his older sister would be shopping in this area of the market now of all times. She would definitely want to know why he was so far from home, and she would see through any excuse he could come up with.

Wedged between the urn and a table piled with colorful scarves, his face screwed up in discomfort, Faruq could see only dozens of sandaled feet traversing the main market road. When he dared to peek over the urn he had to squint against the midday sun, and the familiar sight of his sister’s pink headscarf was like a beacon. She was bent over examining some fruit. Ahura Mazdaa, he cursed, knowing he couldn’t stay there because even if he turned away, shrewd-eyed Thamina would spot him as she passed his hiding place, and then she would try to force him to go home, not that he would listen. He hated how his sister always bossed him around.

Just as he worked up the courage to dash into the crowd she looked up, as if she could sense his thoughts. Faruq ducked back down. He took a few calming breaths, once more inhaling the fresh scent of the urn’s oranges. He listened, but heard only the noise of the market: vendors calling, hagglers haggling, a street performer warbling off in the distance and a ceaseless, murmuring chatter.

Faruq wiped at the sweat leaking into his eyes from under his turban and slowly eased up until his gaze just barely cleared the lip of the urn. Thamina weaved her way through the throng, coming his way. He gripped the urn, wanting to take off and get lost in the crowd, but he knew that if she saw him he would just have to explain himself once he returned home. He hesitated, chewing on his lower lip and feeling his legs burn from his half-crouch even as she slowly closed in.

But then a gnarled, brown hand reached out and tugged on his sister’s headscarf. She whirled to face her assailant-an old woman. The noise of the market was too loud for Faruq to hear what the woman was saying, but it was clear by the way she gestured, frantic and desperate, that she was trying to sell something. Faruq grinned and bolted out of the little alcove. He chanced one quick look back at his sister, who was politely trying to disengage herself. For a full minute he pushed through the crowd, ignoring the curses and insults until he felt he was deep enough in the crush of bodies to have lost her.

He maneuvered his way to the edge of the crowd and took a moment to reorient himself. Dead ahead were the gleaming, white towers of the palace. The main roof and secondary towers were topped off with large golden bulbs that tapered up to needle-like points. But the main towers, one at each corner, ended in great bulbs of glass, and the King kept his Djinn enclosed, each to a tower, like giant fireflies. Far above, even in the bright light of day, their flames dotted the sky in red, gold, silver and blue. When he awoke that morning, Faruq’s aim was to end the day tucked into a soft bed within a splendid manor, but as he squinted up at the towers the foolish boy dared hope that if all went smoothly, he would find himself living in a palace of his very own.

Since the palace was to the north Faruq used it to navigate, as everyone knew the wishcrafter’s boys congregated in the gray district to the northeast. Old Ayman said they hung around a squat house with a blue door. Ah, Old Ayman. Faruq felt jealousy all mixed up with excitement whenever he thought about the elderly beggar–well, former beggar. He had tested a wish, and quick as an arrow, the vagrant had become a rich man. Now he lived in a big house right by the water with servants, many camels and goats, and he had just married his second wife.

It took close to another hour of besting the crowds, heat and noise of the market before he finally stumbled on the corridor he was searching for. It was practically deserted compared to the sea of bodies he’d been swimming. Shadows from tattered awnings stretched like lazy black cats across sand-colored buildings, and Faruq spotted the blue door, it’s paint peeling. A group of scrawny young men squatted on and around the cracked and broken steps in front passing the long nozzle of a water pipe. Faruq hung back, pressing up against a wall. He watched how the youths accosted the few people who hurried through the narrow street.

What’s your hurry? Test a wish and you could live forever–have all the time in the world!

A thin, weaselly man in a beige robe and turban slipped out of a shuttered building across the alley. He looked deliberately ahead while striding past the wishcrafter’s boys, but one young man who leaned casually against the wall suddenly reached out and snatched the weaselly man’s sleeve.

“My friend! Just one wish could change your whole life. No more shady dealings in shady alleys. Conduct your unsavory business under the shade of the palm trees in your courtyard, like all rich men.”

The man shook the youth off and scurried away, chased by the group’s raucous, mocking laughter. And then they spotted Faruq.

“You there! Little brother.” The young man on the wall gestured for Faruq to come closer. “Don’t be afraid. Come, come!

Faruq pushed out his chest and marched over. “Who says I’m afraid?”

The others ignored him, but the one who’d called him over clapped a hand down on Faruq’s bony shoulder, and with his other hand he snatched the proffered nozzle, took a long, gurgling pull then sent smoke curling out of his nostrils to replace the thin line of hair above his upper lip.

“I am Abdul-Aziz,” he said. “So, what will it be for you today, little brother? Immeasurable wealth? The heart of the prettiest girl in town? Or maybe you’d like to add a few inches to your…” He took another drag of the pipe “…height,” he concluded while smoke once more spewed from his nose. He patted Faruq on the head. The boy ducked and huffed in annoyance.

“I want to become a wishtester,” he announced, quite unnecessarily. The rest of the boys ceased their chatter and looked at him with eyes that seemed to gleam white in the dimness of the alley. They grinned like jackals.

“Wonderful!” said Abdul-Aziz. “Right, let us go to see the wishcrafters, eh?”

Faruq nodded and grinned, pleased that everything was going as planned. “Are you all wishtesters too?”

The young men glanced at each other, and burst into laughter.

“Not us,” said Abdul-Aziz. “All day we lounge and smoke tobacco, with not a care in the world. We have no need of wishes. But you, little brother, the wishcrafters will have something spectacular for you, I’m sure of it. Come! The sooner you get your wish, the sooner you’ll be drowning in riches.” He put a hand to his heart. “I just hope you won’t forget your friend and loyal servant, Abdul-Aziz.” He grabbed Faruq by the shoulders and steered him toward the mouth of the alley.

My Top Writing Tip for Setting the Mood

door-of-sidi-bu-said-6-848399-mLong ago, in a land lost to history, a caliph kept djinn prisoner and pimped them out to grant wishes for profit. But the djinn, who hated all humanity for enslaving them, turned every wish into a curse. So rich men and women used to the services of wishcrafters, who drafted wishes with perfect wording containing no loopholes for the djinn to exploit. But before a wish could be sold, someone had to test it…

That’s the premise of my latest novella, Wishtester, which follows a young wishtester named Faruq. It’s coming soon to a blog near you. Look out for it!

Creating the magical, ancient Arabian world where this story takes place–the greedy caliph’s white palace, the colorful and chaotic market, and the giant, ethereal djinn born of smokeless fire–were a lot easier to do with a soundtrack. I create my best settings when I have music to help me set the mood, and the song I had on repeat for this one was Dub on the Beach by Razoof (East Instrumental Mix by ZEB).

Gorgeous isn’t it?

And here’s another one by the same Duo: High Tide, Lower East Dub (Zeb Mix) 

And finally, some haunting Middle Eastern Oud

You can find all the music on itunes.

Check back soon for the first chapter of Wishtester!

6 Tokyo Hoods I love But You May Not Yet Know

A "live" or concert house in Shimokitazawa

A “live” or concert house in Shimokitazawa

One of the tentacles (oh my God, someone please take away my keyboard) that’s keeping me trapped in Japan is the Tokyoness of Tokyo. In my time here I’ve been all over central Tokyo’s most trendy, grungy, ethnic, fashionable and upper class neighborhoods, but there are a few that I keep gravitating to again and again. Places such as…

Roppongi Hills/Midtown

Here me out. I know you know Roppongi, but it has this reputation as party city for expats, and while it’s true that in Roppongi you’ll find “gentleman’s” bars and the sleaziest clubs this side of a swinger’s hook-up, Roppongi also has this very elegant side, bordering on bougie (urban dictionary, look it up). I feel a bit under dressed no matter what I’m wearing whenever I go to the Roppongi Hills shopping mall, but that’s where you’ll find the best cinema in Tokyo, Toho Cinemas Roppongi.

There are also great (normal) bars and restaurants in Tokyo Midtown, so even if you don’t have set plans it’s easy to find somewhere to eat, or grab a drink. And Hinokicho park is a beautiful place to take an evening walk. It’s not just about the partying in Roppongi.


Ginza is Tokyo’s “rich” neighborhood, though all the neighborhoods seem rich to me. And it’s true that if you want to go shopping out there, it’s gonna cost you a kidney or something. But drinking? It’s surprisingly reasonable. In fact there’s a well-known bar out there slinging 300 yen drinks (about $3 USD).  Ginza also has it’s share of wine bars and a lot of Spanish restaurants for some reason, but I’m not complaining. Far from it. In Ginza you’ll also find Star Bar, were I had some of the most expensive, yet well-mixed drinks of my life. Star Bar shuns the closed-minded conventions of the common man like “drink menus”. Psssh. You just tell the bartender what flavors you like and he’ll come up with something that suites your taste. Pretty fancy, huh?


Shimokitazawa Storefront Art


Love this place. There are a lot of theaters and small clubs where indie artists put on concerts. It’s got this artsy “bohemian” (if we’re still using that word) vibe and that speaks to me man. In Shimokita you’ll find a ton of second hand stores, boutiques, interesting cafes and intimate bars. One of my favorites has a big, fluffy couch and fairy lights strung from the ceiling. There are usually street performers, and many of them don’t sound half bad. It’s a great, laid back place to just chill. In fact whereas I often under dress for Roppongi and Ginza, I overdress for Shimokita.


Student and poor teacher’s heaven. It’s near Waseda university, full of restaurants and everything is cheap cheap cheap! I like Cotton Club, an Italian restaurant that has a cute patio and great cheese pizza. And speaking of pizza, my favorite place in Tokyo, Sempre Pizza, has a branch in Takadanobaba. Their pizza is made in a wood oven and it’s about 600 yen ($6 USD). Compare that with Dominoes and Pizza Hut and the rest, where a small pizza is at least $10 USD in Japan.

Takadanobaba is also home to my favorite ramen/tsukemen joint, Menya Mushashi. There’s always a line to get in but I loooove their tonkotsu, or pork broth, tsukemen–which is like ramen except the noodles come on the outside and the broth is a lot richer, to me at least.


View from the Shin Marunouchi Building

View from the Shin Marunouchi Building

Recently I’ve been hanging out a lot at the area around Tokyo station, specifically the Shin Marunouchi building. The top floor is dedicated to restaurants, including one of my favorite Chinese joints “So Tired” (don’t ask me about the name, I don’t know either.)

In Summer you can eat out on the patio and it has a stunning of Marunouchi area and Tokyo station. I really get that “Wow, I live in Tokyo” feeling whenever I come here.


KorakuenBeautiful. It’s got an amusement park right in the center of a metropolis, two of my favorite things ever. How can I not love this place? Korakuen is an entertainment complex that’s home to the LaQua shopping center, featuring Spa LaQua, a hot spring in Tokyo.

Koichikawa Koraken

Koichikawa Koraken

There’s also Tokyo Dome Stadium, and nearby Koichikawa Korakuen Garden, one of the biggest and most beautiful gardens in Tokyo. If you want to impress a date, this is a good place to take them.

How about you, are there any Tokyo neighborhoods you love, or want to visit?

There’s Nowhere Like Nikko

Nikko is cradled in the mountains of Tochigi prefecture, and is famous for it’s natural beauty, most likely because it’s only 2-3 hours away from Tokyo’s concrete giants. In Nikko it seems no matter which direction you turn there are ranges covered in robust carpet of trees.

Mysterious mountains and Lake Chuzenji

Mysterious mountains and Lake Chuzenji

Nikko is also known as a cultural hotspot, hosting some of Japan’s most well known temples outside of Kyoto. I visited Nikko’s famous Toshogu temple, but I won’t really be talking about it here, because I have to admit something: I’m done with crowded temples overflowing with tourists. A temple or shrine should be a quiet, sacred place and when there are too many crying babies and laughing people and line ups to go everywhere it turns me off, so I can’t say I was particularly moved by Toshogu. Chuzenji on the other hand…



When I first stepped on the grounds I instantly liked the atmosphere. The sun was struggling to force some grey light through the cover of clouds above, which threatened rain. Maybe that was why there were so few tourists milling around. A low, gong-like bell was rang out lazily from a tall, pagoda shaped tower. The scent of incense, to me the scent of prayer, rose up in wisps of smoke from an urn in the centre of the main square. Nikko-MonkMy friend and I joined about five or six other people on a tour inside the temple, led by a monk in blue. He explained the history of the temple and the gods enshrined there (all in Japanese), and then led us to an altar and invited everyone to pray. We all stood silent with our heads bowed. A sharp strike with a his stick on a bowl-shaped gong released a low reverberating chime. The sound was almost something tangible, almost breathable. I could feel it vibrating in my ears, feel it seep into my brain where, joined by the soothing smell of incense swimming up my nose, they coaxed my mind to be still for just a moment. This was the tranquil temple experience I had been looking for.

Next we tackled the senjo go hara hiking trail. At first, when I heard about the estimated three hour walking time, I didn’t want to go (Ugh hiiiiikiiing, but I’ll sweeeaaat). But it was highly recommended, so the original plan was that were were gonna do a half-hour mini hike, up to the next bus stop. But once we stepped into the forest and started the trail we decided to see it through to the end, and here’s why:


Even the sign at the start warning about bears couldn’t keep me from traversing this wonderland, and the hike was easy, more like a nature walk. There was a river to the left of us for most of the walk. and it’s soft bubbling made pleasant hiking music. But though the walk through the forest was beautiful, it couldn’t even hope to compare to when the trees gave way, and opened up onto the marshlands.


No, that’s not a painting above, though at the time I had the dreamlike sensation that I was standing in one, the beauty is so unreal.

We ended the day with a trip to the Yumoto Onsen area. Here there are hot springs so close to the source of heat that there are vents with steam coming right up out of the ground, and the water smells like sulfur. After soaking in an outdoor tub at twilight, the mountains blocky shadows in the distance against a darkening blue sky, I both felt and smelled like a boiled egg. But my skin was tingling with the onsen’s magical powers.

I can’t recommend Nikko enough to any of you looking to come out to Japan. If you get the chance, go!

Budget Japanese for the Cheapskate

If you, like me, are a starving artist, a student, or just suffering from scroogitis, this list of free or relatively cheap resources for learning Japanese should appeal to you.


Free Lang 8 Lang 8

This is a site where you can upload diary entries any language and have native speakers check them, and it seems to be dominated by English and Japanese speakers. You just create a profile, upload your diary and wait for others to come by and check it, although it helps a lot if you go check some of the English diaries people have up. I like this site because people can make correction and comments too if they want. And more than one person can correct the same diary so you can learn different ways to say one thing.

imagesJLPT quiz N5-N1 apps

I’ve got these on iphone and ipad. These are great for practicing before the JLPT (Japanese language proficiency test). Better to use these as a gauge than a study tool though, because they don’t give you much info about the answers,  but based on the JLPT test I took, I’d say they’re in line with the levels.


Tae Kim’s guide to Learning Japanese

This one’s another app, and the only free textbook I’ve seen. I’m not a huge fan of textbooks, at least not on their own. But it does help put the grammar in perspective.


A decent Japanese dictionary app, but honestly, sometimes it doesn’t have words I’m looking for. But eh, it’s free and it works most of the time. It’s that or pay for an electronic dictionary.



Japanesepod 101.com

This site’s very popular, and you’ve probably heard of it. It’s a website full of podcasts, PDFs. and practice tests. I highly recommend it…but a pro membership is about $200usd a year. But this guide is for cheapskates remember? When you first sign up, they give you this “ultimate getting started” offer, where you can get pro access for a month for just a dollar, and all their podcasts are downloadable.

You see where this is going.

If you’re a true scrooge you’ll sign up, spend the month downloading all the podcasts at your level and not renew. However… They’re always adding new stuff. If you sign up for their newsletter they’re always sending out offers, and I was able to get a yearlong subscription for half price. And they have a lot of resources besides the lessons like a grammar bank,  dictionary. great practice tests for the JLPT, and a PDF breakdown of the grammar for each lesson. It’s worth the money.



Looove this one, because I can use it when I’m commuting which is a loooot these days. It’s a website but the also have an app, and it’s primarily for learning vocabulary, though you can pick up some grammar through the example sentences. There’s also a dictation feature you can use to practice your pronunciation. It’s about $70-80 a year.

Volunteer Classes 

This only applies to expats in Japan, but there are a surprising number of free or super cheap (not more than $20USD a month) Japanese classes taught by volunteers. The one I go to has been really great. I only had to buy the textbook. However the focus is heavily on conversation, so If you’re looking to learn Kanji you might need to sign up for “real” classes, at a school or university.

So those are the main resources I use to learn Japanese. How about you?

That Thing You Think You Can’t Do? Here’s Why You Should Do It


As children we’ve all heard some version of “the sky’s the limit!” and “reach for your dreams!” My parents often said these a lot, especially after I brought home a good report card or something. And God bless them for being supportive.

But it’s not until we get older that we realize the sky is a lot closer than we thought and dreams live among the stars. It’s not until we get a bit wiser that we’re able to fill in the second, unsaid half of those common platitudes. “The sky’s the limit…but there’s a glass ceiling in the way that most people aren’t able to break through so you’ll probably end up in middle management like me and that’s fine too.” “Reach for you dreams…within reason you can’t become a music producer you don’t even play an instrument!”

Let me tell you a short, sad story. It’s called. The Worst Feeling in the World.


The Worst Feeling in the World

Long ago, in a kingdom forgotten by time and history, a musician wanted to play a song for a tyrant king. The king was arrogant and mean, but very rich, and his patronage could elevate the musician and his family into a life of luxury. But he feared to play, for there were rumours that any musician who displeased the king was thrown in the dungeon and left there to live out the rest of their days in a dank cave of stone behind iron bars.

One day, the musician’s youngest daughter became very sick. No one in their village could help her, and he didn’t have the money to hire a doctor from town. One night as he watched the child sleeping fitfully with her little mouth open and struggling to breathe, he made up his mind: he must play for the king. So he gathered up his courage, took up his thumb piano made of wood fitted with metal tines and went to the palace.

kalimbaThough he played a lively, tinkling melody, the king’s attendants looked grim. Sweat trickled down the musicians brow as his thumbs flew over the metal tines. But when he finished, a smile parted the king’s coarse, black beard. The musician’s heart soared, and the king let out a joyful laugh.

“What is this pedestrian country music?” he said. “Never have I heard something so unsophisticated! Take him to the dungeon!”

The musician’s eyes were wide with fright as the guards led him away. They told him the king was a terrible miser, and he had no intention of becoming patron to any musician. So all who came to play for him were imprisoned.

“If only I had known!” cried the musician.

They threw him in a  cell so dim he could barely see. His only companion was the drip, drip drip of water leaking from the ceiling into a little pool in the corner. He stayed there for a week, weeping every day, knowing his precious daughter must be dead, until one day he desperately grabbed at the bars, and to his shock, his fingers closed around a sheet. The king was such a miser that he simply painted a sheet to look like bars to fool his prisoners into staying.

The musician escaped the palace, and made his way home, weak with hunger. But when he returned he found his wife and son crying at the bedside of his daughter, who had died only an hour before. His mouth twisted at the thought of the week spent trapped behind a sheet.

“If only I had known!” wailed the musician.

Two days later, he sat on a rock in the middle of a plain, playing his sorrow on his thumb piano when a woman with strange tattoos all over her face came up to him.

“What a sad tune! What troubles you my friend?” she asked.

“My daughter is dead,” said the musician, his eyes bloodshot.

“Is that so? Well lucky I should happen upon you today. I am a witch who can bring back the dead.”

The musician’s eyes went wide, shining with hope. “Is this true?”

“Yes! Come come! We must see her quickly, for I can only revive someone who has been dead for less than one day. Where is your–“

But the witch stopped, staring because the man had thrust his hands into his thick hair, tugging at it.

“If only I had known!” howled the musician.


The moral of this story is DON’T GIVE UP!

Don’t rely on hearsay, assumptions and even statistics to tell you what you can and can’t do. Success is possible, but you have to know what you’re doing. If you have a dream, research it, figure out what you need to do to achieve it, and then give it your all. Even if you think you’ve failed, it’s not over till it’s over. What many of us don’t realize is that often the horrible, sinking feeling like you’ve hit a dead end and you’re just not good enough is the precursor to success. A rite of passage, even. And everybody who’s anybody has been there. The only difference between them and us is:

1) They researched and charted their course expertly and

2) They didn’t give up. They took detours, recalculated, flew if they had to. But they didn’t give up.

Just because I can’t do it today, doesn’t mean I won’t be able to do it someday.

I’ll leave you with this highly inspirational video. I watch it every time I need to remind myself what’s possible. It’s about a man who learned to walk again, even though doctors said he never would. In an interview, he said he wasn’t even trying to walk, he just wanted to lose some weight.

So when you’re thinking

I can’t lose weight. Every time I try to diet I quit after like two weeks, and gain back any weight I lost


I’m too old to have children/go to school/start a business


I’ll never be make it as an actor/singer/writer/podiatrist

Just try. Just try. Explore your options. You could end up going places you never imagined you could.