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I haven’t been very good at blogging lately. Pardon me, that’s the biggest understatement I could’ve made since I haven’t blogged in about three years. Probably by now, no one reads this, which is fine for me at this point in time.

Having taken 2014-2015 off from writing, I came back strong in 2016 with renewed vigor and purpose. What was the change? I decided to start investing in my writing career more than I’d ever done before. With that said, here are three areas which I’ve invested in my career to take me to the next level. What is the next level you ask? Well, since doing these things, I’ve been hired to ghostwrite two full length novels, which is an entirely new experience on its own and worthy of a book in and of itself.

 

Investment #1:  Attend Conferences

Conferences are a great place to network and learn. Workshops offer a host of different subjects within the writing community. I’ve been to screenwriting workshops and conferences, huge, annual novel writing pitch-fests, and small, low-key events at libraries where authors are giving a talk about their work. All of these avenues offered me incalculable rewards. Not just in education, as I learn something new about either the business of writing or the craft of writing, but in networking possibilities.

During one conference, I met a consultant, a professional coach, who reviewed my work and provided me a detailed analysis of the positives and shortcomings of my writing. I’d never been so overjoyed at being thoroughly skewered because it gave me perspectives I’d not considered before. Many of these coaches cost money, and, if you have a good rapport with them and like their qualifications, make the investment if its not too burdensome.

Make no mistake, however, this is a significant monetary investment in your career. Workshops and conferences, even for writers, aren’t free. Next month, I’m headed out to New York for the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference and pitch-slam. Factoring in hotel, airfare (I’m using miles so my airfare is free this conference, but that’s usually not the case), food, the cost of the conference, it adds up to a hefty sum. Some can’t afford this more than once or twice a year, however, because the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference has a private Facebook group where we all chat through, there are writers flying in from all over the world to attend.

Investment #2:  Take Classes

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Classes? I already went to college. Yes, classes and no, they don’t have to be with a college. I went online and found James Patterson’s Writing Masterclass. It was $99 and covered eight weeks or so of material, with homework (including reading one of Patterson’s books, which, of course, you have to buy – good rub there). And, before, I’d laugh some of that stuff off because it may have been, well, too generalized for me and I was a specific writer (or rather, more honestly, I thought I was better than the other attendees taking the class and didn’t need it). However, after much debate and eating a few slices of humble pie, I decided to splurge on Mr. Patterson and threw my credit card down for $99 (plus the book, which I bought used on Amazon for $0.10). This was by far one of the best investments I’d ever made. Why? Because James Patterson took you through his exact step-by-step process of how he writes books, including, how he creates outlines. I’d never been much of an “outline” writer, but had been progressing towards that style because of all the time (and words) wasted in extraneous plot I’d removed during editing that didn’t serve the purpose of the story. After working through his process, I found it very satisfying and ultimately, through about a year of tweaking with it, came up with a process of going from log-line, to summary, to full-fledged outline that rooted out all tangents of the story and covered plot holes before I even wrote one word of manuscript. Well worth the $100 investment.

Investment #3:  Want to be the Best? Study the best!

Stephen King said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time to write.”

I read a variety of genres so that my writing and style is diverse and well rounded. I love biographies to study the lives of interesting people who’ve shaped the world, particularly those who come from different ethnic and racial backgrounds as myself. I consume thrillers to find out what keeps a reader on the edge of their seat. Stephen King is a master at suspense and world building, providing you with so much information (and so succinctly too) the reader intimately knows his characters. Lee Child is one of my favorite writers because his stories and plots are relatively simple and straight forward and his writing style matches that, yet for all its simplicity, Lee Child is a thoroughly enjoyable writer. His books taught me that even though I write fantasy, I shouldn’t have to rely on magic and mysticism or complex plots with ninety-three characters to write a great story. The story speaks for itself and the writing is an extension of that. But had I never ventured beyond fantasy, because many writers refuse to read outside their genre, I would have missed out on an opportunity to learn how to craft a heart-pounding story that doesn’t need cheap thrills to entertain.

Yesterday I got into an argument. Believe it or not, it’s not such a unique thing for me to argue. I was raised in a family that valued a good argument, went to school to learn how to argue, and do it for eight hours a day at my job. So it’s no surprise that on a weekend, I got into an argument.

It was a silly, stupid thing, really. I was asked not to do something and yet did it anyway. I won’t go into details – there were conflicting instructions which led to miscommunication and resulted in an disagreement. As much as I’ve progressed in my spiritual journey, there are times I fall prey to my ego; the little voice inside my head which believes down to the core of my being that I am right. Other people don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

This is quite possibly a remnant of the mentality I had while a teenager – so self assured in my own superiority that I was blind to what life really offered. It took twelve years of work to shed that skin and apparently it’s not completely off. I don’t know if it will ever be gone forever. We are all a work in progress. Day to day we struggle with not only the negative energies of others which attack our soul, spirit, and dreams, but we must constantly be vigilant against our own self aggrandizement and on the defensive about our own self-doubt. A fine balance. Be humble, but not so humble that you lack confidence. Be confident in your dreams and skills, but not so much so that you become arrogant. These concepts are not unlike riding the see-saw when we were children. One side goes up, the other goes down. It’s a give and take and yet each day we struggle to find a balance, that perfect equilibrium.

I read a post by a Rabbi this morning. One on this weeks Torah portion.

שָׁמֹ֤עַ בֵּין־אֲחֵיכֶם֙ וּשְׁפַטְתֶ֣ם צֶ֔דֶק בֵּין־אִ֥ישׁ וּבֵין־אָחִ֖יו וּבֵ֥ין גֵּרוֹ

Hear out your fellow man, and decide justly between any man and a fellow Israelite or a stranger.

It is easy to nod your head along with someone who agrees with you. We love it when people support our positions. We find it natural to respect those who do with love, kindness, and compassion. The task becomes more difficult when we encounter someone who disagrees, let alone someone who vehemently dissents. Instead of it being easy to smile, it becomes easy to be dismissive. With a wave of our hand we write off their opinions as nonsense, illogical, or just pure stupidity. Most of the time, we don’t consider what is leading those who diverge to their conclusions. We are quick to judge and even quicker to push away.

Yet, perhaps this is the most crucial time for evaluation. Hot bloodied and full of passion, we’re ready to fist pound our position until the other person gets it. They won’t. That’s not the way to win any argument. It actually achieves the opposite reaction, the gap between you two will be further apart than ever.

If you find yourself in an argument, I encourage you to pause. Breathe. Cool down. Let the rage and heat of the moment dissolve. Consider their position and seek a mutual goal. Once a mutual goal is established, find mutual respect. We cannot solve a problem if we do not respect one another on a fundamental level. I think you’ll find that mutual goals and mutual respect is easily sought and discovered if one looks hard enough. The space between us is narrower than you may believe.

As always, if you liked this post, please subscribe to the blog for more. You’ll get a free book too!

Tim Kasser, a psychologist at Knox College is one of the researchers who conducted a study the correlation between shopping/spending money and happiness.

Although a lot of men and women believe the phrase: “Money Buys Happiness”, the latest research suggests otherwise. Madonna was wrong. Out of four studies, all four found that reducing dependance on material possessions and a focus on the acquisition of money increased their subjects happiness. Here are six suggestions from psychologist Tim Kasser on to limit impulse buys (the following is quoted from Scientific American:

• Try to keep track of every advertisement you are exposed to for four days. Or, alternatively, try to avoid being exposed to any advertisements for four days. Afterward, reflect on the difficulty of the task and think about the purpose of advertisements in our society.

• For one week see if you can go without nonwork screen time: No TV, video games, Facebook, smartphone surfing. At the end of the week, reflect on how you spent your time instead.

• Think about your intrinsic values, which for most people are personal growth, connection to family and friends and contribution to the community or the world at large. Write down how your choices or behaviors uphold each of these values.

• Keep track of every single penny you spend for a month. Then ask yourself how much each purchase fits your values.

• If you are like most people, you will find that your spending does not always fit your values. Ask yourself why you are spending money the way you do. Is it insecurity; to impress people or feel worthwhile; because it is normal in our society to do so?

• Have a conversation with the important people in your life about money. Where does it come from? How much do we give away? How much do we save? What are we saving for? Why do we spend it on the things we do?

These activities are all aimed at shifting our mental focus toward our intrinsic values, which will naturally decrease our materialistic tendencies. Doing so could improve your well-being, according to Kasser’s study and many others.

All religions have it. Health gurus rave about it. So why are we so reluctant to try it?

For most of my life, I didn’t meditate. About 3 years ago, I flirted with meditation. Sometimes I did it once a week, then I’d forget about it to focus on more important things. I claimed I didn’t have time. Weeks would go by without giving it a second thought. But in 2014, I started meditating in a big way. I progressed slowly, beginning with five minutes a day of stillness. In seven months (as of just this week), I increased my practice to one hour a day. Yeah, one whole hour devoted to meditation (I do several small meditations in this hour).

If you’re not convinced about the benefits of meditation, hopefully this may convince you. After a five-year study from Harvard University, John Denninger concluded: “The kinds of things that happen when you meditate do have effects throughout the body, not just in the brain.”

Nobel Prize winner Elizabeth Blackburn from University of California, Los Angeles found that just 12 minutes of meditation a day for eight weeks increased telomerase activity by 43% (the telomerase enzyme slows the cellular aging process).

The following is directly from the Mayo Clinic’s website.

Meditation and emotional well-being

When you meditate, you clear away the information overload that builds up every day and contributes to your stress.

The emotional benefits of meditation can include:

Gaining a new perspective on stressful situations
Building skills to manage your stress
Increasing self-awareness
Focusing on the present
Reducing negative emotions
Meditation and illness

Meditation might also be useful if you have a medical condition, especially one that may be worsened by stress.

While a growing body of scientific research supports the health benefits of meditation, some researchers believe it’s not yet possible to draw conclusions about the possible benefits of meditation.

With that in mind, some research suggests that meditation may help people manage symptoms of conditions such as:

Anxiety disorders
Asthma
Cancer
Depression
Heart disease
High blood pressure
Pain
Sleep problems

So what are you waiting for?

It is necessary to understand the origin of certain spiritual texts, to the extent possible, so that we can frame ourselves in who is passing down the knowledge we seek.

During the 15th century in Florence, Italy, an ancient manuscript was unearthed called The Hermetica. Jubilation and excitement commenced as all who got their hands on the text thought it was written by the Pharaoh’s of antiquity and predated the Torah. For two hundred years the concepts spread over Europe leading to some great thinkers turning into alchemists. This continued until it all came crashing down in 1614 when a scholar analyzed the text and found that not only was it not written in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics – as one would think a spiritual text of ancient Egypt would be – but in Greek. Further, the Greek itself wasn’t ancient (i.e. B.C.E.). The syntax, vocabulary, and grammar led the scholar to date The Hermetica at around 200 C.E. and was written by various authors. But who?

The opening lines of the Emerald Tablets as translated by Maurice Doreal are: “I, Thoth, the Atlantian…”

In Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy’s translation, the speaker identifies himself as: “I, Thrice-Great Hermes…”

Two translations apparently authored by different people. But were they?

It is widely accepted that Thoth, the patron scribe god of ancient Egypt, was used as an inspiration for the Greek god, Hermes. Maurice Doreal claims that Thoth was a priest-king who fled mythical Atlantis before it was demolished, arriving to bestow his knowledge onto the ancient Egyptians. Doreal goes on to claim that this all happened 36,000 years ago and that Thoth, the Atlantian priest-king, ruled ancient Egypt as a god for 16,000 years. Unfortunately, none of this is backed up by any scientific evidence so we’ll leave that theory alone.

Another explanation for who this Thrice-Great Hermes was or Thoth the Atlantian is posed by Jacob Slavenburg in his book The Hermetic Link: From Secret Tradition to Modern Thought. Slavenburg writes: “In the third century B.C.E., Manetho, an Egyptian high-priest historian, wrote about several Hermes.”

The first “Hermes” was the Egyptian scribe-god, Thoth, who wrote down the secrets to the universe and the power of the Creator god, Atum, on stone tablets.

The second “Hermes” was a flesh and blood man, who took these tablets and translated them into ancient Greek. His name was Trismegistus.

The third “Hermes” was a Greek scholar, Agathodaimon, who compiled the Greek translations into 18 “books” known as the Corpus Hermeticum.

The reality is that we don’t know for sure. A lot of people have a hand in the “Who was Hermes/Thoth?” question including Plato. Several academics, historians, and spiritual seekers have gone over this quagmire and the answers we’ve come up with are: 1) the Corpus Hermeticum was most assuredly written by multiple people; 2) it has gone through countless translations; 3) it is undeniably a philosophy of ancient Egyptian spirituality that was passed down orally before committed to writing.

Okay, now that we have that settled (or not), we can move on again.

Subscribe to my blog for updates on this series and the spiritual journey therein.

For the past month I have devoted fifteen minutes each day to the Here I Am meditation. However, before I delve into the details of my experience, I would like to say that I do not advocate any religion over any other, but practice connection with the Light in the way that I know. I am open to all practices and have participated in various forms of meditation from across different religions. This one happens to be Jewish, the faith in which I was born into.

Hineini (pronounced he-nay-nee) means “Here I am” in Hebrew. I encountered this particular Jewish meditation while studying the book Discovering Jewish Meditation: Instruction and Guidance for Learning an Ancient Spiritual Practice. Ironically, I had purchased a copy two years prior and gifted it to my mother hoping that she would be open to including meditation in her life. I confess, I never read the book before turning it over to her.

Hineini comes from a verse in the Torah. Exodus 3:1-4. When God called Moses, Moses replied, “Here I am.” The instructions were quite simple. Imagine a bright light above your crown pouring a luminous white aura down your body while repeating the mantra “here I am.” During my thirty days with the Here I Am meditation I chose to repeat both the Hebrew and English phrases.

We lead busy lives. We juggle work, family, health, friends, personal time, co-workers, bosses, unruly neighbors, broken down cars, bills, etc. The Hineini meditation brings you an awareness of the present. At the beginning my mind wandered, having been used to more guided visualizations. Every time I caught my focus drifting, I corrected myself and brought my attention back to the mantra. What followed was of great revelation.

Buddhism often talks about being “present” or about being in the moment. The Here I Am meditation is along that same concept. It signifies that you are ready for the world and that you are totally an unequivocally devoted to that moment in time. This is a practice that brings you into the now and which opens up your body for a higher sense of consciousness. My thoughts took vivid shape. Ideas that I had never conceived of previously for my writing came to me as if they were there all along and I was just looking in the wrong place. But more than that, over the course of the month I became comfortable with the idea of just being me. Here I am. Here I am at dinner. No expectations. No song and dance. No judgement. No act. No cell phones! Nothing but you and me, focused on each other without reservation or hesitation. It was as if the layers of who I thought I had to be in the presence of others was torn away, the mask ripped off my face and who I am – who I really am – was allowed to be there.

The Here I Am meditation brought a clarity of focus on who I am that no other meditation had previously. Though I must confess again, I am quite the novice when it comes to meditation. But this past month, I found this a very powerful and moving experience. To sit comfortably, allowing a stripped down, raw, Josh to be open to receiving the Light.

I was listening to Wayne Dyer’s Wishes Fulfilled: Mastering the Art of Manifestation on the way home this afternoon and arrived at the part where he discusses his interpretation on I AM that I AM. If you aren’t familiar with this segment or haven’t listened to any of Wayne Dyer’s seminars and talks, he is quoting a passage from the Torah (or the Old Testament). Moses asks God what he is to say when he returns to the Israelites informing them that the god of their fathers has sent Moses to them and they ask for God’s name. God replies, “Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh” (Exodus 3:13). In the translation of the Torah which I own, there are three possible meanings.

Translation 1: “I am that I am.”

Translation 2: “I am who I am.”

Translation 3: “I will be what I will be.”

A fair amount of time is spent discussing this in Wishes Fulfilled and quite frankly, it’s the center piece to the whole book. The concept is that if we are made in God’s image and he is that he is, meaning he is not defining himself by any objective measurement (height, weight, occupation, affiliation), then God and we are energy based beings of spiritual souls. I couldn’t help think about my series The Legends of Amun Ra because it shares such spiritual principles with the aforementioned. In my studies of Egyptian mythology and spirituality with an emphasis on the Hermetica, I’ve noticed parallels to Judaism and Christianity. At times it seems as though all the texts I’ve read scream one universal truth. No matter how we try to divide ourselves, we’re all searching for something ineffable: the mind of the divine. Some people do not prefer the term God given that it’s so ingrained in a religious dogmatic approach to spirituality. Instead they choose words like Light, Divine Essence, Cosmic Consciousness, the Creator, the Divine, the Higher Self, the Divine Purpose, etc. I think you get the idea.

Legends of Amun Ra is a seven book fantasy series inspired and based in the spiritual practice of alchemy. However many are confused by what alchemy is. Some say it has to do with the Philosopher’s Stone (highlighted by J.K. Rowling’s first book in the massively famous Harry Potter series – and for us Americans, known as the Sorcerer’s Stone). Others declare alchemy as being a superstition and an early form of chemistry, where medieval scientists attempted to transmute lead into gold. Finally those who seek an understanding beyond the words, find spirituality behind Hermes Trismegistus’ text.

In my studies I’ve found two plausible etymologies for the word alchemy. The first is the Greek word chemeia, meaning the production of precious metals. The prefix “al” is of Arab origin. Putting the two together, the result is: “of precious metals,” obviously referencing the scientific pursuit of the transmutation of lead into gold.  The second plausible explanation, and one I think far more likely, is that chemeia, as the original Greek word was not necessarily relating to the production of precious metals but a befuddled way the ancient Greeks pronounced the name of ancient Egypt: khem. “Khem” meant black, in ancient Egyptian, and they called their country “The Black Land.” When we add the prefix “al” into this interpretation of alchemy, we have a new possible meaning: “Of Egypt.”

Now that we have an understanding of the origin of the word alchemy, we can dig deeper into the nature of alchemy and what it means for us. I’ll continue with a second part to the What is Spiritual Alchemy series. Please subscribe and keep growing.

2013 in Review

Ah, 2013, what should I say about you? The first thing that comes to mind is good fucking riddance. I don’t say that to be melodramatic, but 2013 was a bum year for me personally. It started with losing my grandfather, followed by the death of two of my family’s dogs, and then my other grandfather’s health began to fail, oh and did I mention 2012 ended with the death of my last grandmother? No? Yeah. That happened too.

Don’t get me wrong there were bright spots. I went to Singapore, England, and China and Seattle, Denver, and Chicago. I had an opportunity to see the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City, and the Terra Cotta warriors with my amazing wife. In England, although that was mostly work, I traveled to Stonehenge, saw Big Ben, and crossed the London Bridge (and it didn’t even fall down!).

For those of you who don’t know me that well, I love collecting swords (preferably real functional swords made of high carbon steel graded 1050 or higher); they can be swords from any age or time or even fantasy ones. This year, I picked up the Conan: The Barbarian sword and it is a fucking beast (picture below of it stabbed into my backyard).

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In April my guitar died. Sad face. We’re still mourning its loss.

My car hit 100,000 miles in 4 years (we’re way past that now, buddy). – Sorry for me this was a milestone. I’ve never owned anything that’s lasted so long in my life.

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I went to a few amazing shows and a few not so amazing shows. Notable mentions include the epicness that is Comikaze Expo in Los Angeles and Denver Comic Con. The others shall remain nameless.

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Book 2 of the Legends of Amun Ra series, The Soul of the World, debuted in November and I’ve been really happy with some early reviews. Two comments about The Soul of the World made me literally laugh my ass off. This one:

“As for the detail in the book… all I can say is Wowza! Was this guy a hardcore D&D player? I was having flashbacks from my brief time attempting to play Rifts (it’s an RP game much like D&D) and all I could think was “This guy had to have been a game master!” I don’t think I have ever read a story that was so detailed in all my life.” – Melissa.

And this one:

“Shirin is an absolute psycho…” – Amanda

But all in all, we’ve got 26 reviews in for Soul so far and are hovering at an average rating of 4.30 – a huge step up from Emerald’s average of 3.7. So that’s something to be proud of. Yay me.

On top of that, I’m just a few short days away from completing the manuscript for book 3, The Island of Shadows, and will be sending that off to beta readers shortly. Let me tell you something, this book is a beast, coming in at a hefty 243,000 words (or about 700 pages depending on how we end up formatting it). Island was a grueling ordeal and quite frankly, kicked my ass up and down the field. Hopefully ya’ll like it.

Which now brings us to some more awesomeness: I decided to write two more series. I know, I know. You’re saying, “Josh, you just complained about how exhausting it was for you to write Islands, how in the world are you going to add more to your plate? Truth is, I have no fucking clue. But I want to so deal with it.

The first series is going to be first released (if we can get the funding for it) as a graphic novel and it’s called A Spirit of Hate (Typhon Rising, 1). Here are some awesome test pics to check out.  “Hate,” as I like to refer to it, tells the story of Typhon who is the daughter of the Red Lord of Violence, Set. Born a monster and shunned by her homeland of Heliopolis, Typhon finds refuge on Earth and falls in love. Everything’s going according to plan until Q.T.A.R. (who you’ll recall was Alex’s company in The Emerald Tablet), gets ahold of the Pillar of Thoth. Then things go haywire and a bunch of awesome shit happens that you guys will love.

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The second series is going to be children’s/YA series which focuses on the last oracle, Eos and her experience growing up as an oracle in ancient Potara. That should be a fun series – the first one is entitled A Conspiracy of Queens and has to do with a young Eos getting a vision of her father, King Rohir, murder. Since it’s a children’s book it will obviously be less intense than the Legends of Amun Ra series.

Other than that, I read 72 books this year and by far my favorite was Brandon Sanderson’s Way of Kings. All I can say is fucking awesome. It blew my mind away about what could be achieved with epic fantasy – the flash forwards – the flashbacks – the mystery, intrigue, the new planet – all of it was mind blowing.

Until next time. Keep writing.

15753977Summary:

From different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths…

Until June’s brother is murdered, and Day becomes the prime suspect.

In a shocking turn of events, the two uncover what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths to which their country will go to keep its secrets.

Review:

Holy shit balls, Batman. This was an awesome story.

The year is 2130. America, as we know it, has collapsed. The western territories (California, Nevada, and Arizona) have formed the Republic and they are in a war with the Colonies. In the Republic, the divide between rich and poor has never been so large, as millions are crowded into slums and suffer routine outbreaks of a devastating, ever-mutating plague that claims countless lives annually. The Republic requires all of its children to be subject to the Trials when they turn 10 years old. A combination written, oral and physical examination, a high Trial score means a life of privilege and service – and a failing grade means a life sentenced to labor camps, never to be seen by family or friends again. 

Enter June, a young, 13 year old who scored a perfect score on her Trial, which sets her up with a brilliant future of glitz, glamor, wealth, and success within the government and military. Enter Day, a 13 year old boy and the Republic’s most wanted criminal and who I think of as a modern day Robin Hood. Reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, June and Day were born on the opposite sides of the tracks. One lives in the slums; the other lives the high life. But when June’s older brother, Metias (a Captain in the military), gets murdered, the mysterious Commander Jameson pulls June out of training early to hunt down her brother’s killer, Day. And so begins this tale of lies, and betrayal, and secrets, and sacrifice. Because of course nothing is as it seems, especially not in June’s world when you’re working for the corrupt government.

That’s the set up for you. The novel is thrilling. Marie Lu does an exquisite job of how she structures and organizes her book (with chapters devoted to June’s point of view and Day’s point of view) instead of single person POV. This gives us a great insight into each of these character’s lives. Like most YA books, it doesn’t have the detailed world building that high fantasy does, but in this case, it’s very unnecessary anyway. Legend creates and holds the tension between the hunted and huntress with heart pumping action sequences such as street brawls, tracking, recon missions, kidnapping, and plenty of fight scenes.

By far the best thing I would say about Legend is the emphasis and tone of the story. I am generally highly critical of most YA, because there are many stories where the focus is on the romance and love rather than whatever disaster is actually happening (i.e. I feel like Mortal Instrument is more about a guy and girl who fall in love and they happen to be trying to save Clary’s mother). Whereas Legend feels like it’s about a girl trying to avenge the murder of her brother who happens to develop feelings for her brother’s killer whom she’s hunting. That is great storytelling.