Thursday, December 31, 2009

It's That Time of Year Again

Time for New Years writing resolutions! If you want to have a few witnesses to your good intentions for 2010, feel free to post your resolutions in the comments of this post and we'll do our best to encourage you and keep you honest :) Personally, in the past I have focused my resolutions on meeting self-imposed deadlines or increasing writing time, but this year I am starting by focusing on getting back to the things that make this writing thing fun for me. I am vowing in 2010 to disable my inner editor, at least for a while, since I have found that nagging little voice is really inhibiting me lately. What about you? Whatever you are concentrating on in this new year, I hope 2010 brings you plenty of writing joy and success.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Dangerous Wands

Don't say I never gave you anything for Christmas. This parody of "Dangerous Minds" and Harry Potter is hysterical.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Ghost Stories

I'm talking about the Victorian tradition of ghost stories at Christmas over at Children of the Night Come put a little spooky in your stocking!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Happy Solstice!

My family and I are Wiccan, and one Wiccan tradition for winter solstice is to stay up all night telling stories while the Yule log burns as a way of passing the longest night of the year in the light of community. So, I'm hoping that the stories are flowing freely for all of you tonight. I think that, as folks who love to write and read fantasy and science fiction we have a special understanding of the battle and balance between light and dark, so blessed Solstice to you!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Writing from the heart.

I fell into the creative void. Creative void, you know, the place where all artists go there at some point in their career. Or perhaps it is place where an artist visits over and over again. It feels like a vacuum where nothing – I do mean nothing can get in or out. As I began searching, asking myself, “what is going on?” I realized - I have a great process down: outlines, index cards, treatments, character sketches BUT is there point where writing efficiently can hamper creativity?


OK? Now what?

Take a time out, do something different. Go to bed. (I usually stay up.)

A thought occurred to me this morning: I was trying too hard to be organized. I was micromanaging my world. I had to loosen up a bit. Allow myself to play in the world to maybe write other shorter stories in the world. Follow my heart a bit more….

I noticed,

I write better, when I write from the heart. I make less mistakes. There is passion and energy behind my words.

Whatever your process is honor it.
However, if you should fall into the void, try something different to jump-start your creativity.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Wide World of Goal Setting

The other day I made the most useful spreadsheet, this magical sheet contains every single writing contest and magazine deadline I am interested in. Whereas, I may not enter every contest, however as I finish stories, I have a plan on where I want to send them.

A great of setting goals with out the pressure.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


I'm posting about the connection between tofurky and vampires over at Children of the Night. Put down that drumstick and stop by!

Happy Tofurky Day!

Happy Thanksgiving, Death Pixie people! Your support, your thoughtful critique and your wonderful sense of fun are all on my list of things to be thankful for!

I'm wondering how everyone is coping with finding time to write over the busy holidays. I know that I myself am struggling already, and the winter holidays are just beginning! Are you able to make a date with yourself, in between the festivities? Or do you give yourself a vacation and relax your expectations?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Twilight, Twi-boys, Twi-hards, Twi-moms


That was the sound of millions of teenage girls, teen boys and moms.

New Moon, the movie, is FINALLY out!

I will not project my opinions onto you all until everyone has an opportunity to catch the flick....
(Translation: I will hold off a week or two....)

I had a great time seeing the people I met last time and meeting new people while hanging out in line.....

I'd like to give shout outs to the following:

My Twi-teen-girlfriends, it was great to see you all (again!) good luck with your junior year!

To my Twi-moms, who left the kids at home with the other parent, you have to admit, you had a good time! Sort of makes you feel young again. The lack of sleep is worth the life long smile of finishing the following phrase, "remember when i...."

To the Twi-boys who attended, it is a great way to pick up girls.... Specifically, to Jeff, I really think she likes you ask her out!
(Let me know how it goes!)

P.S.....To Alice Cullen/Alice Cullen's stylist, can I have your wardrobe? Please?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Proper Ettiquette or Hurry the Hell Up Already!

So here is a little conundrum the more experienced writers out there should be able to shed some light on: When it comes to "beta readers" a term I thought was more ubiquitous than it apparently really is, how many do you ask? How long do you wait? And how do you go about gaining compliance from your beta readers? I've heard conflicting reports on this and i was wondering what people thought. I myself handed out three times as many beta copies as I got critiques or responses. What is the ettiquette in these situations? I really would rather not pick at people, since everyone's busy and all, but these are definitely people who actively asked to look my book over. I'm certainly not having hurt feelings, i was just wondering what people thought about this somewhat delicate balance of hopefullness, guilt, usefullness and nebulous non existant deadlines?
"Its not like you need it by a certain time, i'll get to it when i get to it."
True, i'm not under outside pressure, but i sure as hell ain't getting any younger and my brain is screaming "finish that thing and send it off somewhere. How valuable can beta critique be anyways?
So i'm asking, how valuable is it?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Writing Role Models?

As some of you already know (because I've been geeking out about it for weeks!) I am currently taking a class about the Twilight phenomenon-- "Revamp: Writing and the Twilight Saga," being taught by Carrie Mesrobian at the Loft Literary Center here in Minneapolis. At our second class we talked about the fact that the books' protagonist, Bella, is in many ways a clean slate. She has no friends from her former school, doesn't share her memories of her past much, has no real hobbies, etc. Although this may be the secret of Twilight's success (because Bella's character is left so open-ended, it's easy for the reader to imagine herself in Bella's place and vicariously live the romantic fantasy), it flies in the face of what we usually think of as good character creation, which says that the more specific a character is, the better. As an exercise, we gave Bella a character make-over, each of us brainstorming how we would have made her different. The majority of people in our class wanted Bella to be more active, more opinionated, more secure-- more the confident young woman that we wish the YA readers of Twilight would emulate. This raised an interesting question for me: Do we as writers (and especially those of us who identify as feminist, and especially those of us writing for the supposedly impressionable youth) have any obligation to make our characters role models? And if we do, how do we do that without making our characters boringly perfect? How do we keep them flawed enough to have an arc, to have things to learn during the story? Are flawed characters still good role models? What do you think?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Quote for the Day

Heather's post yesterday reminded me of this quote, prominently displayed on my bathroom wall (where all wisdom resides.) Of course, she's talking about a bigger political reality, but I think you could apply the thought to your own artistic visions as well.

"We are not asked to subscribe to any utopia or to believe in a perfect world just around the corner... we are asked to equip ourselves with courage, hope, readiness for hard work, and to cherish large and generous ideals."

-- Emily Greene Balch

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Vision, promises, work....

Perhaps one of my biggest challenges has been, creating a clear vision of what I want out of my artistic career. I know I am not alone in this process.

How does one create a vision?

Make a plan. Whatever comes to your mind. Begin there. You can always revise your ambitions.


Make a promise to yourself, to move towards your goal. Believe in your power to achieve your goal, even through the difficult parts.

Believe in your ability to create what ever it is you desire. You must maintain your vision to see beyond the immediate.


You must be prepared to work.

Step by step.

Day by day.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Books are for Girls

So the other day i was listening to Sherman Alexie talking on MPR. He is a great writer with a varied background and had a lot of really interesting things to say, I suggest checking that interview out on their archives. One, of many, things that really stuck with me during his talk was when the interviewer asked him something about his audience. His response was something to the effect of, well i'd like it if young people and men like my books but since 80% of people who buy them are college educated, adult, white women, that's really who needs to like it.
I found that pretty suprising and I understand that it wasn't intended to be a literal statistic, but I just sent out a bunch of beta copies for the novel i am finishing. Guess who actually has read them and turned in critiques? Only adult, smart, women. My younger lady friend? Nope. My guys friends? Nope. Just the mid twenties plus crowd, so there's a little totally non-scientific survey in that same direction.
Another beta reader of mine said that part of it is that his wife buys them, reads them first, and he only reads the ones that get a good recommendation from her. I wonder about other peoples thoughts on the subject? Most of the people I myself know who actually read, are the ladies.... In fact almost exclusively ladies. I wonder why that is? I mean, I know lots of guys read, I mean I read all the time, but i definitely know way more women who do. Putting it into stark contrast, I gave my parents my book. They were so proud I had finished it, they took me out to dinner, did the whole proud parent thing, blah blah. Both equally gushy, supportive parents.
Bottom line: my mom read it, my dad hasn't.

Saturday, October 31, 2009


...and a blessed Samhain to you all! Wishing you writing inspiration in the New Year!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Quote of the Day

"All that I desire to point out is the general principle that life imitates art far more than art imitates life."

Oscar Wilde

What Teens Read

Fascinating Publishers Weekly article about a survey of YA readers. Although the publishing industry itself has been hit by these hard economic times, I found this survey very reassuring for authors of YA scifi and fantasy.

(X-posted with Children of the Night)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Bear Witness

My current wip is a YA paranormal romance in which one of the characters is a lycanthrope. Recently, I wrote a scene in which another of the characters has to run from him when he is in werewolf form. I casually described the werewolf as bigger than a bear and talked about how fast he was and didn't think much of it. Then, last Friday, I had the fun of taking my son Harrison and my daughter Shanika to the Minnesota Zoo to see the Russian grizzly bear exhibit. Suddenly I was faced with actual bears and I found myself revisiting the words I had written. What does it mean to be "bigger than a bear"? The beautiful creatures swimming just beyond the glass weighed in at 700 pounds or more and had to put on about 400 pounds every year to prepare for winter. What did it mean to be incredibly fast? Although the huge animals looked lumbering, the sign by their cage assured me that one of their running strides was equal to four human strides. As I watched the bears swim, I imagined what it would really be like to run from one. Then I tried to imagine what it would be like to be one, or to be something like that-- that big, that powerful. I left the exhibit with a whole new notion of my scene, a new respect for bears and for my lycanthrope character-- and a new appreciation of writing. Because sometimes seeing the world through the lens of my writing makes me a more curious, interested person. As a busy mom trying to write my first book in my supposedly free time I often have to stay goal oriented just to keep my momentum going. But sometimes it is good to focus on all the benefits that writing brings to my life, like how my writing gives me an excuse to research things I wouldn't otherwise learn about, or how writing has introduced me to a host of fascinating people I might never have otherwise met, or how writing can turn an ordinary trip to the zoo into an encounter with something mythic.

Monday, October 19, 2009

How I spent my November

I love nanowrimo. Making writing a first draft into a month long community celebration just works for me. This year I'll be using the November habit to force open a word production block. What has it done for you?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Future Fangrrl

The Jedi knight is my daughter Miranda who turns two tomorrow. Happy Birthday, Panda, and may the Force be with you!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Cool Trailers

Okay, you all know how I adore book trailers! Here's a link to the three finalists in the Kirkus Review's contest for student filmmakers. Each filmmaker was asked to create a trailer for an upcoming YA novel. I think the results are excellent. Take a look and vote for your favorite.

Friday, October 16, 2009

More Writer Tough Love

I was listening to one of my favorite writers and speakers, Carolyn Myss. She offered the following insights: (paraphrased from memory)

Writing is a job.
You must treat your writing like a full time job. (Even if it isn't.)
Every day, you must sit down at your space and write.

If you cannot commit to writing your novel because you lack the focus, then step away from your novel. Try something smaller, like journaling every day. Practice, talking about your day in metaphors, symbols etc. Also, work on expanding your vocabulary, and develop your voice.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Saboteur on the Road….

The saboteur, we all have one.

What’s a saboteur?

A saboteur is that voice inside your head giving you every reason NOT to do something. Sometimes, it takes the form of the inner critic/editor…. No matter what you call, this ‘little voice’ can hinder us from finishing stories; prolonged side tracking (of goals) eventually leads one to self-destruct. (i.e. NOT finishing stories, revising and NOT sending them out, equals NOT getting published!)

What’s writer to do?

First of all, learn how to spot your saboteur. Ask yourself what is getting in your way; do you need a day off? What is it your afraid of? What are your excuses for not writing?

Secondly, find the solutions to the issues. There is more than one way of doing something, make a list. From the list, pick one solution. Give it a try. Try it for a three weeks (21 days), if that doesn’t work, try something else.

Ask yourself the tough questions: what is it you want? Are you willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen? How far are you willing to go for your dreams? Do you have the discipline, the focus, and the commitment to follow through?
This is a tough conversation to have with your self but an honest one. Especially, if you are not finishing your work (and its year 2, 5, 15 working on your novel.)

In the end, ultimately, you have to go toe to toe with the saboteur. Learn how to be comfortable with your saboteur; you become more confident in yourself.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Friday, October 2, 2009

Write It Wrong

That is my mantra this week. I am coming into the final third of this draft of my book and, although the ending is pretty much written, there are scenes between here and there that don't exist at all. I have tried to plan them out in advance but I know there is going to be a certain amount of trial and error involved here. In some cases I'm going to have to try a few different alternatives before I know exactly how a plot point should go. So my goal is to just get words out without judging them too harshly or over-thinking to the point of paralysis. I am giving myself permission to "write it wrong" and hoping that in the end that helps me get it right.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Multiverse and Visualizing Dimensions

One of my favorite tropes involves traveling across dimensions and through the multiverse. I'll always remember the first time I read A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle, with it's wonderful description of folding the dimensions to speed travel through the universe.

Based on Rob Bryanton's Imagining The Tenth Dimension, this video will lead you step by step through visualizing the ten dimensions (and to the existence of the multiverse) in a deceptively simple way.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Writer Wellness

Please note: the following blog post is NOT intended to replace the advice of healthcare professionals.

Writing & wellness, two words that don’t seem to fit together. In the various writer cons I’ve attended, I only remember seeing this topic only once however; it was under the name, “Writing & Exercise.”
So, here my ideas for maintaining wellness as you write. (I realize that most of these are common sense however, we all need reminders….) ☺

Get Sleep
In the macho sleep deprived culture we live in, sleep is under valued. A good solid night’s sleep does a mind and body good! So turn of the computer, put the mobile phones, PDAs to silent and sleep.
This doesn’t have to complicated nor do you have to devote endless hours, a simple walk is fine, yoga class, bike ride etc. Whatever physical activity interests you. I’ve noticed in my process physical activity clears the head and centers me for hours in front of my laptop.
Eat Well
Food is fuel. A balance eating helps you: think clearly and sleep better.
Feed Your Soul
What is it that inspires you? Don’t know. Make a list of what you like to do, pick one thing. Try it.
Maintain your sense of humor. Laugh. It is good for the soul.
This does not mean hours in sitting in a crazy pose. Keep it simple – sitting in your favor chair, by the lake, in the middle of your living room floor. Take five minutes of deep breathing will help clear your head.
Writing is rather solitary. Take a time to connect with other writers, friends, family and strangers mono e mono. (Yes, step away from your computer and into the tactical world.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Disney Ahoy!

Oh my God, freaking out to hear that Tim Powers' book "On Stranger Tides" has been optioned by Disney so that elements can be used as the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie! How wonderful! Can't wait to see it-- anything involving both Johnny Depp and Tim Powers can't go wrong in my book :)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Publishing: Article from NYT

Great article....

When Publishing Had Scents and Sounds
Published: September 6, 2009
In scarcely 30 years, technology has transformed the office archaeology of the book business.

Spec Fiction Phrases in French

Important spec fiction phrases in French:

Je crois en licornes - I believe in unicorns

Je crois aux fées - I believe in fairies

J'adore les vampires - I adore vampires

Je suis sur l'équipe de Jacob - I'm on team Jacob

Je suis sur l'équipe-Édouard - I'm on team Edward

Où est mon vaisseau spatial - Where is my spaceship?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Your Story Rules

The first short story I wrote in my adult life was about a werewolf. I asked a good writer-friend of mine to read it and he gave me a lot of useful feedback, but the comment I remember most is this: “Monster stories are all about the rules.”

Well, I suppose I should have realized that. After all, I was a teenager in the 80’s with five younger brothers, which translates into roughly six billion viewings of “Gremlins” --probably the ultimate monster rules movie. So once he said it, of course, I knew it was true. When I read a story about werewolves or vampires or zombies, I’m looking to see how the author is going to put his or her own spin on the rules. How will the monsters be made? Killed? What are their powers and limitations? At this year’s WisCon, the feminist fantasy and science fiction conference, I went to a panel on the “care of your vampire,” which was basically a group of vampire book authors comparing notes on the rules they used to govern the worlds of their stories. It was fascinating to hear how different their takes were, given the fact that they were working with the same folklore as a starting point. It occurred to me that, as a reader, I do not care so much what the rules are, as long as they are strongly stated and consistent. Your vampires may sparkle in the sunlight or they may turn to ash and—although both those choices have very different symbolic connotations and change the story dramatically—I am willing to buy either one if the author truly buys it. I am a theatre geek and one thing you learn in acting classes is that, when you play a character, you must make strong choices, regardless of what those choices may be, and commit to them completely in order for an audience to believe in that character. I think the same thing can be said of writing.

Now, I haven’t always felt this way. When I first started writing, I was afraid to give my stories strong rules. I was insecure in my ability to create a plot and I thought that rules would only trip me up, cause me to paint myself into a plot corner or to violate my own guidelines accidentally, invalidating my story. Besides, wasn’t this fantasy? Shouldn’t anything be possible? Since then, however, I have learned more about world building and I’ve come to understand that stories in which literally anything is possible—stories with no rules for their monsters or magic systems or what have you—are actually not that engaging. Reading one is like watching a tennis match without knowing the rules of the game. It’s not very exciting to watch, and you certainly aren’t tempted to jump in and
play. On the other hand, if you do know the rules of a game--or a story--you can easily move from observer to player. I remember reading Scott Westerfeld’s “Midnighters” series, YA novels that take place in a world with complex rules. One of the rules is that the monsters of the story are afraid of multiples of thirteen. In one scene, the characters have stuck thirteen knives in a door to ward the monsters off. When I read that one of the knives had been knocked loose from the door, I felt a real rush of panic. I had internalized the rules of the story so completely that I felt like I was a part of that story.
It’s an experience I never would have had if Westerfeld’s rules had been wishy-washy or the consequences unclear.

Now, this isn’t to say that you can’t have exceptions to the rules. In fact, the premise of many stories depends on there being someone or something for whom the rules don't apply. But you have to set up strong, consistent rules first and then violate them intentionally, for a reason. And if you do, you may find that your story functions on another level. Because monster stories are “all about the rules” in another sense, too: they are all about our society’s taboos and the consequences for violating them. But if we want to use our monster stories as a consistent metaphor for something in the world around us, we have to make the world within them air-tight first.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Writing advice

Below is a link to writer, Po Bronson's website, specifically his advice to budding writers....

Love to know what you think of his insights....

Politics and Social Commentary in the Theme? Yup, especially science fiction and fantasy.

There was an interesting little bit of scuffle over on the Wyrdsmiths Blog. Science Fiction and Fantasy writer Kelly McCullough read about someone making a bigoted remark involving the GLBT community. This guy followed a train of logic he sincerely didn't seem to understand the offensive nature of. Kelly called him out on it. Shockingly a few folks seemed to get a little irritated that a blog about fantasy and science fiction writing would veer, ever so slightly into the political.
Ummm... What? I'm not sure I caught that.
Have people been paying ANY attention to the science fiction and fantasy they have been reading? (The answer is, of course YES, but apparently some people are missing it.) Just to clarify: "it's almost all a metaphor for societal issues." Just about everything has ties into topics of significance. It's not just cheep, diversionary, shallow, dribble. I'll admit it's good for a thrill, but all the good stuff ties in. Hell, even vampires are commentary on sex, fear of sex, and fear of spreading infection through sexual or taboo acts.
Theme is an incredibly important element to writing. Maybe the MOST important. Why do we love Harry Potter? Because everyone had to go to school, grow up, and deal with bullies, and get picked on by people and caught up in situations we felt powerless to alter . I argue that did more for it's success than prose, humor, character, or even magic stuff.
Next time you write a story try picking out the social themes it will parallel first, or close to the start, I've found it actually opens up a huge amount of good stuff with a little creativity.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Writerly Haiku

Fall TV shows start.
So hard to write in prime time.
Characters, talk loud!

Sorry, Officer
Fixing chapter twelve.
Oh! Who put that red light there?
Writing while driving.

Plotted Out
Wish that I could cheat
Send in the damn cavalry
God in the machine!

Key marks on my cheeks,
Random letters on my screen
Fell asleep again!

Got one? Post it to the comments!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

If You Like Vampire Stories

Over on my blog Children of the Night I just posted a book recommendation for a new YA vampire romance anthology, "The Eternal Kiss: 13 Vampire Tales of Blood and Desire" edited by Trisha Telep. It features stories by Holly Black, Cecil Castellucci, Libba Bray, Lili St.Crow and a number of other excellent authors. For more

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Pixar Formula

I'm in the middle of plotting out my WIP, so natually I took a break and went looking for a short cut. A friend had mentioned a formula used by Pixar to balance moments of pathos and fun. I couldn't find that, but I did find a bunch of good posts and articles about Pixar's creative processes and theories of storytelling.

The top three lessons I learned from reading about Pixar:
1. The first draft is just the first draft. Writing is rewriting.
2. Create a safe environment for yourself where you aren't afraid to fail, afraid of criticism or afraid of criticizing.
3. Work like crazy to make your story good, strive for greatness, but know perfection isn't attainable. Sometimes you just have to release it into the world.

And here are a few of the posts/reports I found:
Animation World Magazine recapped the lessons learned at Screenwriting Expo 5 which hosted a panel filled with Pixar writers and artists.

Jim Hill Media's Recap of the talk includes the rules Pixar set up for itself as they developed Toy Story.

The Animation Guild's Recap (amazingly, each blogger tells a slightly different and informative story).

The authors of Mavericks at Work talk about the business model of Pixar which also their creative practice.

Pixar's website posted a series of articles by a critic dissecting each film. Each is a thoughtful exploration of good storytelling.
Toy Story
Bugs Life
Toy Story 2
Monsters, Inc
Finding Nemo
The Incredibles

Finally, because I'm a mother of two girls, I'm linking to Linda Holmes great open letter to the good people at Pixar
Dear Pixar, From All The Girls With Bandaids On Their Knees

And Jon Lassiter's response -- more or less.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Craft of Writing - Revisions

A great story is not written once, it is re-written. Writing a story is a process of revision - characters, plot lines, worlds changing
with mere keystrokes. When writing, one must allow the story to develop and cultivate, if the story prematurely stops, it loses energy.

Next time, you are at the keyboard, take a deep breath: cut, trim and refine sentences. Place the edits in a special folder (you may use the sentence(s) again somewhere else.) Allow the story to blossom to its fullest potential. You’ll be amazed at the results!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Quote for the Day

(Graffiti on the side of a train, near my home in South Minneapolis. I snapped this while stopped at a red light just because it made me smile.)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What does your Writing say about you?

I got mentally snagged by a little piece of a larger conversation the other day. Essentially we were discussing how much do you plan out ahead of time? How much do you have down, A.B.C. and how much is a more organic flow that just kind of happens? I'm sure there are as many ways to go about this as there are different stories to write, but what I was thinking about was how much does the way you go about a project say about you? In my experience the method almost always matches the personality. People and value oriented? Character comes first and they follow them through the story. Procrastinator? Action all at the end. Of course there are exceptions to this and as i got thinking about it I started pondering more about what your writing says about you as a person.
I know they say you put yourself in a story whether you try to or not, and obviously what you choose to write about definitely says a lot about what you are interested in, but i've seen wonderful examples that go deeper. I know a writer who is a loving, caring, thoughtful mother. She also seems to have a tough time with that whole: make bad things happen to your characters to ratchet up the tension part. She wants to nuture her characters. I know another writer who has moved all over the country for school and work, and her latest story is as choppy and fragemented as her life.
Going even a step further out, what does your genre say about you? We fantasy and science fiction folk are definitely the dreamers, and i'd like to propose this as quote of the day, since it's the quote of my life:

"... perhaps maddest of all is to see the world as it is, and not as it ought to be."

That's from man of la mancha. Apparently what THIS particular piece of writing says about me is that I am a little scatterbrained, and a huge theatre nerd.
Not sure if I have anything terribly enlightening to say on the topic, just wondering if anyone had any thoughts on it. I know my own writing is a fairly effective ink blot for my own personality.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

My Top Ten Favorite Writing Spaces in the Twin Cities (in no particular order)

Loft Literary Center – This one goes with out saying, the energy is great.

Guthrie Theatre – This is one of my favorite surprises of the city. They actually encourage people to come hang out in the space. I usually find a nice chair by a window, a cup of tea and write. Free Wi-Fi.

Aster Café – Home to a breath taking out door patio with one of the greatest views of downtown Minneapolis. The Wi-Fi may be a little weak while sitting on the patio however it should not matter, your writing. ;-)

Wilde Roast Café - Fantastic interior, great menu, they have everything from alcohol to coffee. Wilde Roast is especially wonderful on rainy days and in the fall and winter. A word of caution, it is really busy on Sunday mornings.

Second Moon – A popular Death Pixie haunt, it is simply a homegrown coffee shop. The barista’s are cool and if they have time, will ask you what your writing.

Dunn Bros Coffee on 3rd & 3rd in downtown Minneapolis - It is really quiet, almost like a library.

Common Roots – Organic foods, great tea selection and plenty of plug-ins for your laptop.

Riverview Wine Bar & Café – A regular Pixie meeting place.

Architecture library on the U of M campus –One of the best-kept secrets. You can actually sit in cool chairs that you may see in architecture magazines.

My place – I have to admit, I’ve done a fantastic job in creating a writing spot in my flat. Quiet, comfortable and Shakespeare sits in a flowerpot staring at me. What more could you ask for?

If anyone has recommendations on places to check out, please do not hesitate to respond. :-)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Contrast in Characters

"Our interest's on the dangerous edge of things. The honest thief, the tender murderer, the superstitious atheist." ---Margaret Laurence

These words struck me as true. I think that, as writers, we are sometimes tempted to over- simplify characters because we are afraid that a character with too many contradictions in her nature won't be "believable." But sometimes the reason that we are drawn to characters, as writers and as readers, is because of the paradoxes in their personalities. When I first read the above quote, I thought of two things: First, I remembered a more experienced writer who advised me to create antagonists based on people I admired rather than people I hated, because the characters would be that much more interesting and complex. I have tried creating an antagonist based on someone I truly admire, President Obama, and the result was chilling. All the things I found so comforting in an ally--his unflappable calm, his fatherly sense of command, even his devotion to his family-- were truly intimidating in an enemy.
The other thing I thought about when I read this quote was a game I sometimes play in the car. I will read the bumper stickers on the cars around me and try to get a sense of who the owner of that car is trying to present herself to be. Then I'll try to think of something that contradicts that image and imagine a character based on that. For a simple example, that woman with all the pro-life stickers has had an abortion. When? Why? Or maybe it's just that the guy with the Bart Simpson stickers and the mud-flap girls graduated at the top of his med school class or the teenager with the punk radio station stickers is a violin prodigy or the VW van covered with peace stickers belongs to a former army general. I like to imagine what life circumstances would create these characters. I know that we can not make our characters as complex as real people-- this is fiction and a certain degree of simplification is necessary-- but I still find it interesting
when characters contradict themselves a bit.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Science Fiction Resistance

The other night at dinner I was talking to my parents. These are two of the most supportive, open minded people around, just to establish that up front, but i still found myself launching into a long, fervent defensive explanation. This happens all the time actually. What was the point on which I had to explain yet again?
Why write science fiction and fantasy? Why not contemporary stuff? or plays? or drama? Why does it have to have magic in it?
I started with the usual, "It's what I love. It's what I'm good at etc." But i found myself, to my own suprise launching into a full scale defense of science fiction as a whole. I covered how it serves as a metaphor for social issues without being preachy, still being entertaining, and frankly, keeping people reading. Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek and the new Disctrict 9 are three fantastic examples of modern science fiction pushing itself to be socially relevant. Prison camps? The first on air inter-racial kiss? A gut wrenching look at how the human population treats immigrants? The metaphors are almost always clear, and yet no matter your point of view on the subject, people stick around and see the argument, because its presented in a way that is...well... cool.
In my latest story I talk a little bit about the "wierd kids, bullies, over use of psychiatric prescription drugs in young people, and parental sacrifice." I guarantee you a young person would be a million times more likely to finish a fantasy novel with those themes than to read the self help book, or a memior version.
America loves science fiction. Its just that not everyone is willing to admit it. Lost is one of the most popular shows on tv: totally science fiction. The biggest movies of last year? ALL science fiction. So why on earth when i say i write science fiction and fantasy, do I get wierd looks, and find myself explaining why that's what I write?
Any thoughts on Science Fiction Resistance? More importantly is this question: why do we write science fiction? As an artist we should always question our own work, even if the answer we land on is simply: "because its SO cool."

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Quote for the Day

"A poem is a serious joke, a truth that has learned jujitsu."

--William Stafford

Does that mean that it is possible to get your black belt in fiction?

Friday, August 21, 2009


I love clever character names. If I had to say, from my limited, English-speaking USian point of view, Dickens and Rawlings are two of the best namers of characters. And Pratchett, can't forget him. It seems to be all about onomatopoeia, word origins and connotations. If you have a few hours to spend, check out the character lists on David Perdue's Charles Dickens Page.

I have a terrible time naming my characters. I have a tendency to use place-holders, and when I first started, I used an"AAA" and "BBB" system. Now I tend to use the names of similar characters from books and movies or the names of people I used to know or would like to know. I'm trying to match impressions of characters, not facts or reality. When I know them better, I give them proper names, but I wish I could just find the right name immediately.

Are you the kind of writer who just knows your characters names, or do you labor over it like me? Do you have a favorite character name? Am I asking for trouble by admitting I use my impressions of real people in creating fictional characters?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

From Mead to Moleskins

All you need to write is: a pen, a Mead notebook or Moleskin, an idea - you can write anywhere, anytime and place. Diablo Cody penned an award winning screenplay in between stripper gigs in Crystal Court. There are countless tales of writers penning their stories in the craziest places. (I'd love to hear about the craziest place you wrote.) So, what are you waiting for? Bring your notebook and pen! Then next time your in the doctor's office or waiting for your children, whip it open and write!!!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

So I guess I sort of finished a book...

The other night at a Deathpixies meeting I came to learn that I had actually finished the first book in the series i am working on. (I was as suprised as anyone.)
Very simply I was describing the second half of the book when Norma said, "Wait...other half? The section we just read was 15,000 words... how long do you think this is going to be?" I responded that I was pretty sure i'd be able to wrap it up in 80, 000 words. That's when they laughed at me. (totally good natured, friendly laughing of course) "Robbie, the average for your genre and target age group is 35, 000 ish."
Oops. Turns out that my natural tendancy to have a big climax at the middle of the story, inadvertantly lead me to write the climax at the end. My 80,000 word spread had lead me to to the mid way wrap up at around 40,000 (which i hear is a good length for the kind of thing i'm writing.) And that this whole second half I am working on, is actually the second book in the series. Who knew?
Anyone else have any funny stories about stumbling onto things? Having planned things one way and having your characters decide on a different direction? Or a book that started adult and ended up for kids? How do people feel about word counts and how important is it to know and adhere to the industry standards?
And in a totally unrelated matter, how rad is it that I finished a book?

Tate Hallaway's New Series

Over at my YA paranormal blog Children of the Night I'm blogging my excitement over Tate Hallaway's new YA vampire series, set right here in the Twin Cities. The first book is due out this time next year and I for one can't wait. More at

Friday, August 14, 2009

Trailer: Gentlemen Broncos

Here's the new trailer for "Gentlemen Broncos." Teenager, Benjamin, goes to writers camp and meets famous author, Ronald Chevalier, who steals his novel, Broncos.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Someone once asked me, “do you think you’ll run out of ideas to write about?”
Immediately replied, “No, in fact, I am more afraid that my story ideas will out live me.”

Having said that: I need to say that one of my hindrances is the inability to focus. This means many stories are begun but few are finished. Lately, I’ve been soul searching to spot my saboteur when it comes to writing. This journey led me to the I Ching, or the Book of Change. I came across a passage about Limitations, (hexagram 60). Here are some insights (re-capped in my own words...)

If you look at the seasons, there is an order. This order brings balance and boundaries. One must set boundaries to operate within; with out limitations (guidelines) one becomes overwhelmed by possibilities - moving from one thing to the next without the ability to make a commitment to anything.

(Sound familiar to anyone?)

Take the time to acknowledge what derails you, spot your saboteur, try various solutions and you'll discover the path to fulfillment.

If you obsessively worry about: not being good enough…coming to the end of the story, rejection (or any other excuse).

If you think over think matters, you will muddle your intuition and continue to float from idea to idea.

To counter act this:



Make a plan with clear focus on what you want to accomplish.

Know that your confidence in your project will be tested.

Don’t doubt yourself.
Remain confident.

Do not dwell in the past or future. Focus on now.

Stay positive about your project.
Surround yourself with people that can champion you onward to finish.

Know that if you are not in accord with your goals, you may feel indecision and conflict. When you are confident, you have unified thoughts and actions.

It is my hope you all remain confident writers and stick to your goals.

365 Challenge Part Deux

OK, after a conversation with Nola J. Moore, who reminded me about the looming deadlines for graduate school applications. I've decided to postpone the 365 Challenge, it will reappear at some point, I promise! Until then, I must focus. Sorry to have disappointed anyone.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Quote of the Day

"Can't act. Can't sing. Balding. Can dance a little."

--MGM executive's notes on Fred Astaire's screen test, 1928

Even an expert opinion is still just an opinion. Feel free to prove it wrong.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Emotional Soundtracking

Music is the hottest of the muses. I feel in recent years the importance and usefullness of using appropriate music to enhance the writing experience has registered in the writerly zeitgeist. Certainly i have been advocating it in Deathpixies meetings for years, but i also hear writers are putting out playlists of songs to go with their novels. I, myself, could give you, down to the song in each chapter, the playlist of my current novel in progress.
Of course listening to music is a good idea while writing, anytime you are sitting in front of your computer for those lengths of time, putting on a good pair of headphones and listening to music seems like a no-brainer to me. The particular practice i would like to plug here is SPECIFIC SOUNDTRACKING. I find it helpful, and really pretty fun, to use certain emotional themes that match whats going on in the story. No one denies that an effectively chosen song can literally double the effectivness of a scene in a film, why should we shortchange the movies playing out in our heads and going on to the page. Picking a really sad song list to listen to, while having sad stuff happen just psyches me into the right headspace. Maudlin perhaps, but your reader may appreciate you really getting into it. Getting into the emotions of a scene always seems to help my writing, and nothing gets you there like music.
Its gotten to the point where i have completely usurped some songs and now all i can think about when i hear them is the character whose theme they are to me. Music encapsulates emotions and moments, which is just what writers do. It seems a natural combination.

How about the rest of you? How do you implement music into your writing process? And for that matter how emotionally invested do you get? Does your heart rate raise when a fight breaks out in your story? Do you get butterflies when your characters catch eyes across the danceroom floor? Boy mine does.

Monday, August 10, 2009

On reading while writing....

I have yet to meet a writer who isn't an avid reader. Even more so, one of the first pieces of advice any budding writer will hear is "READ. LOTS." This is good advice. One of the best ways to learn how to tell a story is to examine how others do it.

The problem comes when one begins to tell stories of one's own. If, say, you read work you'd like to emulate, you run the risk of your own story becoming derivative or (possibly worse) of the mid-draft-my-work-will-never-be-that-good freakout. If you read things that are very, very different from your own work, you may find it hard to stay within the confines of your own style/genre (for better or worse).

Unfortunately for most of us, this is sort of a trial and error process. What reading will help you stay in the right headspace to write your story?

I've learned that reading YA while writing is a Really Bad Idea. My (very adult, rather dark) work becomes peppered with slang, and the vocabulary shrinks by about 150%. If I read similar (very adult, rather dark) work, insecurity sets in with a vengeance.

It was a really good day when I figured out that reading things with similar "mouth feel" - vocabulary, style, tone - to what I am aiming for is perfect, as long as they're in different genres. This means my nightstand is peppered with some rather diverse folks (Charles Stross has been keeping company with Margaret Atwood, and John Scalzi is hanging out with Toni Morrison), but I can write, and my writing is better for it.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Calling Them As They See Them on Racism and Sexism

Kelly McCullough over at Wyrdsmiths is joining in calling out the new "Mammoth Book of Mindblowing Science Fiction" anthology for the lack of women writers and writers of color. Couldn't agree with him more.

A parallel discussion is going on in the world of YA where author Justine Larbalestier went public with her dismay over the cover that her US publisher, Bloomsbury, chose for her YA novel "Liar." The protagonist of the book is black, but the original cover showed a white girl. Now, thanks to outcry on the internet, Bloomsbury is reworking the jacket of the hardcover edition due out in October with new art featuring a black girl. The controversy has sparked a lot of discussion about whitewashing of covers and about racism in the marketing of YA books. (Brought to mind the whitewashing of Octavia Butler's covers in the world of scifi and fantasy publishing.) For more, check out discussion at Boing Boing and Publishers Weekly

School Starts Aug. 31st

My spouse and I have been talking a lot about how we need to schedule our work lives in order to meet our obligations. He owns his own web development business and has to juggle a work day that includes managing projects, clients and employees, and actually code websites. Not only does it take two separate sets of skills to manage and program, but managers and programmers use time in different way. Last week he sent me a link
to Paul Graham's discussion of the different ways interruptions affect managers and makers. Graham writes,
Most powerful people are on the manager's schedule. It's the schedule of command. But there's another way of using time that's common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can't write or program well in units of an hour. That's barely enough time to get started.
I'm a stay-at-home parent with great kids. They're independent and creative and don't need my constant attention to remain occupied and content, but I still have to carve my writing time between random, intermittent interruptions. There are writers who manage to work, and work well, in these conditions, but I find that I need larger blocks of time, two to three hours at least to get past "getting started" and on to "working hard."

How about you? Are you able to work through the distractions or do you need a large block of uninterrupted time?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

365 Challenge

OK, Pixies, writers and fans, here is a challenge for y’all:

Write a short story, a day for 365 days. The stories can be a long as they need to be but the minimum is:

1 page, typed, double-spaced

Two pages long hand in a regular sized notebook


30 bar napkins


6 pages in a


Insert your own creative form here. (If you need a number, post a comment with: your creative format and I will give you a number….)

I wish I could take credit for this idea however, I cannot - the idea was originally executed by playwright Suzan-Lori Parks. Ms. Parks wrote 1 play a day for a year, each play is wrote was preformed for 365 days. Here’s link to the website for a little more information:

Here are the logistics 365 Challenge will begin on September 1st 2009 ending on August 31st 2010. There will be blog that will showcase stories written. (The blog is NOT up yet). The blog will be linked to Death Pixies site. Any thoughts on the writing process will post to the Death Pixies blog every Thursday.

As I hammer out more details, I will post them…..

However, I am curious to hear feedback from everyone. Good idea? A little crazy? Would you commit to joining me on the adventure?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Making the Most of Your Time at Writers of the Future

This time last year I was getting ready to embark on my Writers of the Future adventure in LA, as a contest winner attending the workshops for volume 24. If you are right now getting ready for the volume 25 workshop (lucky you! The big anniversary year!) congratulations! Writers of the Future is like taking a condensed college course while being a debutante on a reality TV show rushing the coolest, geekiest sorority/fraternity on Earth. It can be an incredible experience if you make the most of it. Here’s my advice on how to do just that:

1. Get to know folks in advance. Our group had a live journal before we ever met and it made our first meeting more like a reunion. Track folks down on line and see if they want to be in touch to swap info about the contest, etc.

2. Be social! Many writers are shy. That’s why we’re writers. But WotF workshops week is a time to shelve the shyness. You will find that it is easy to get to know people at WotF because you have so much in common as writers and as fans of sci-fi and fantasy and because the intensive atmosphere of the workshop makes for quick bonding. These people are your peers and your support group: pick their brains, swap market info, reading lists, whatever. And don’t neglect the artists! We were told that our year was unique because the writers and illustrators mingled so much and I’m very glad that we did. The illustrators tend to be a more international bunch (because there’s no language barrier getting in the way of visual art) and the fact that I got to know them means that I now know talented people all over the world.

3. Check competition at the door. You have a healthy competitive streak-- you wouldn’t have won WotF if you didn’t-- and it may stand you in good stead in the rest of your career. But once you’re at the workshop, no one makes a distinction between first, second or third place (and we are all jealous of the published finalists because there’s a chance they will get to come back and do the workshop again!) Really, there was so little emphasis put on where people placed, I didn’t even realize that my room mate was one of the first place winners until the awards ceremony.

4. Trust that you belong here. Most people in our group admitted that they had a moment of feeling like a fraud, worrying that their entry was a fluke that they were not really good enough to be there. Everyone feels this way, but try to trust the judges. They have read thousands of entries and they saw something of potential in yours. Tell yourself, “I am good enough, smart enough, and dog gone it, I belong at WotF.”

5. Participate in the workshops. The workshops are challenging, thorough and fun. A huge amount of info is condensed into a short amount of time. You won’t be allowed to record, so come prepared to take notes. You will hear things from guest speakers that will blow your mind. Try to ask yourself, “What is the one question only this person can answer?” and then ask them that. Be brave. Volunteer. And if you get an assignment in workshop, follow the rules. You may be tempted to “cheat” to make yourself look good, but Tim Powers is psychic and he will know. Plus, you won’t learn as much if you cheat.

6. Sleep is for wussies. Okay, we want you healthy and shiny, so sleep a little, but basically you can sleep at home. All the best conversations happen post-midnight. Suck up your tired.

7. Talk to the pros. It can be intimidating to talk to writers you admire. You may be tempted to clam up to avoid looking stupid. But these pros have graciously agreed to be a resource for you and they wouldn’t be at WotF if they didn’t want to give back, so take them up on the offer. If you love their work, tell them so, then try to shelve your inner fan-boy or girl and act like a “colleague- in -training” because that is how you will be perceived at WotF. (One of my favorite WotF moments happened after the awards ceremony. Kevin J. Anderson came over to ask me to sign a copy of the anthology. I laughed and said that I felt a little funny having a best-selling author ask for my autograph. He looked genuinely surprised. “Why?” He said, “We’re colleagues now!” You will find that all the pros involved in WotF will be generous enough to show you that kind of respect.) Ask about their process, about the business, about their favorite movies. If you are shy about chatting up professionals, still challenge yourself to sit at their table at dinner, etc. You can learn a lot just by listening to professional writers chat about writing. And when in doubt, ask about their cats!

8.Don’t gripe. I know, you think that if someone flew you to LA and put you up in a nice hotel, you wouldn’t complain, but you might be surprised. WotF is a tight schedule and you will get tired (see “sleep is for wussies”, above.) Also, there are some people who bond through griping, and there is bound to be at least one moment where you feel like you are on one of those reality TV shows. But remember, a lot of people worked very hard to put this week together and one of them is probably within earshot at any given moment. There are thousands of writers who would happily take your place. The WotF people will do their best to spoil you, but it’s your job not to act spoiled.

9. Enjoy the awards ceremony. You may feel nervous about getting an award in front of a few hundred people. That’s only natural. But think of the awards ceremony as an opportunity to express your gratitude to the folks who brought you here by acting like a professional. In dressing, err on the side of formal (Women, go for the floor-length. I mean it. And bring a clutch—it’s a long evening and you can’t be lugging around a purse, but you’re going to want something for essentials like your speech!) Keep your thank you’s under thirty seconds. Speak from the heart. Write it down in advance—you may think you can speak off the cuff, but it’s hard to do in front of a crowd at an emotional moment. Use humor if you want but don’t be flip. The ceremony is photographed and filmed so it will live on forever on line and you might as well make it good. This is your introduction to several hundred potential friends, colleagues and readers who are passionate about sci-fi and fantasy. I put some thought into what I wanted to say on stage and, as a result, several people told me that they took the time to read my story in the anthology first, while they were waiting in line to have books signed after the ceremony. Remember that many people work all year to make the awards ceremony happen and their main reward is to have it come off well, so do your best to make that happen.

10.Keep in touch. Sadly, you can’t live in a hotel in California with a bunch of other writers forever. But the memory lives on. Our group formed a yahoo group to exchange news and it has been exciting to hear about other writers sales and awards, and extremely helpful to swap info on new markets, compare response times, and link up at conferences. We have become a real support group for each other. And if I ever make it to Australia, I have several couches to crash on.

I want to leave you with two of my favorite WotF moments. One happened the last night of the conference. The spouse of one of the winners congratulated me on my success. I thanked her, but said that we contest winners were still on the bottom rung of the ladder. “To me,” she said, “It doesn’t seem like rungs on a ladder. It seems more like a question of who is in the audience and who is back stage, and you just got awarded a backstage pass.” I realized that she was right. Later that evening, my friend and fellow contest winner David was talking with one of our mentors, author and former contest winner Steven Savile. It was our last night of the workshop and we were coming back to earth fast. “How much does this really count for?” David asked, “I mean, sure, my story won but it was only one story.” Steven looked him in the eye. “It’s not just one story,” he said, “It’s your first story.”

Here’s wishing you many more stories, and a truly door-opening time at WotF!

Procrasti.... aww heck i'll finish typing that later.

So... here we are... 4:02 on a tuesday night... or a wednesday morning depending on the angle... this is literally the last minute... the very very last minute. And yet, today is the day i decided that i would blog. I had every intention of getting right at this blogging thing, making the most of it and dropping a blog that would 'wow'. Yet here i am, at 4:02 (4:05 now if we want to get really technical) and i am only just getting to blogging, a thing i most certainly want to do. What in the blue wide spinning world kept me from blogging till now?
Well i'll tell you: stuff.
A myriad of stuff that fills up your day quickly and before you know it takes over.
When I woke up this morning, I walked in and flipped on the Xbox (my first mistake, but i'd do it again the same way, you just see if i wouldn't) and learned that my all time favorite game (fallout 3 a game taking place in a retro fifities future where china and amaerica decided to drop nukes all over eachother) had just released a new download in which, i kid you not, your character is abuducted by aliens and needs to fight his way off of a giant mothership.)
So of COURSE instead of blogging i looked up all the info on this patch, while it downloaded so i could play it of course, and that was the morning.
Then I went to work. The remount of a play, Snoopy the musical if you are intersted, being staged on the Artcenter on 7 mainstage. I thought i might have a few minutes to blog something cutesy via my iphone before rehersal started (i have this whole thing on soundtracking while you write, check in next week) but of course there were set pieces missing, so i had to navigate to the other end of the building past a literal gauntlet of behemoth mini vans and angry parents dumping their children off at summer athletics.
So much for that.
Then I got home and what time was it? 8:34 ... gosh didn't my best friend's bachelor party start at 7? yup...yup it sure did.
Procrastination isn't just for term papers. All of us, aspiring creative professionals or not, procrastinate, push off, leave off or otherwise stall. Why? Why in the world do we do this? ESPECIALLY when its something that we REALLY want to do, and that leaves us feeling so complete. (I literally get crabby if i havn't written in a while and smile like a cheshire cat if i have) The answer is of course something i will get around to thinking about enough to answer eventually....
The answer is clearly not the point. The point is: here i am. Completing the goal that i set out for myself: blog on tuesday. Now it is 4:21. (I listened to a few really good songs by Bat for Lashes and took a bathroom break in the middle) and i am doing what i set out to do.
I think the moral of the bloggy story is that you, and I, and everyone will always put everything off to the latest possible moment, but as long as you have SET when that last possible moment IS, damn if it doesn't get done. For those of us who set out to do something like write a book, the schedule is all ours to make, which is why (in my opinion) so few of us ever finish. The entirety of the scheduling falls into a etheral undecided upon realm and we can keep pushing it back and stalling and hymming and hawwing all we want. But the human animal, under pressure, can really excel and get things done. (4:25 if you are counting) The trick is convincing yourself that the deadlines you set for yourself matter. (this is where a writers group, fan base, or spousy type can really help you be accountable to these arbitrary deadlines.)
So i think we can all learn this tonight...or rather this morning: We are definitely going to procrastinate... but if we are willing to make a few 4:27 finishes, boy oh boy, it might actually get done after all.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Art of Collaboration

I'm a big fan of jazz. So much so that I'm planning a novel where it plays a central role, just so I have an excuse to hear and participate in it more (OK, there's more to the novel than that, but the jazz helps).

Jazz is an improvisational art - you make it up as you go along. You play off your knowledge of the rules of music and how well you can bend and break them. You do your best to tell a story, to convey a mood, a meaning. Sound familiar? If I wanted to, I could stop there. Jazz is a lot like writing, you have to break rules, take chances, practice to be great, blah blah blah... Heh. You know me better than that by now (and if you don't, you will).

The thing about jazz that appeals to me? Jazz is a highly collaborative art. The best jazz happens when a bunch of folks get together and take advantage of each other's brains. One plays a theme, another suggests a variation and the song takes flight, bigger that it would have been on it's own.

Writing, generally, is not collaborative. Most writers labor away by themselves, pushing pens and computer keys, banging their heads against the wall alone when things aren't going their way. At least, that's what I used to think.

Turns out that a lot of the successful writers I know? They practically refuse to work alone. Now, I'm not talking about multi-authored books here. Everyone's working on their own projects, their own babies, but they're doing it together. They're in writer's groups. They workshop. They bounce ideas off one another, talk through plots. They send bits of work back and forth for feedback (or just a "No, honey, of course you don't suck"). They hang out in coffee shops together, hunched over laptops and lattes, sharing energy and insight.

The moral of the story is this: if you are a struggling writer, look around. Who are you talking to? Who are you hanging out with? When was the last time you shared your work? Talked about your struggles? Whined about how every time you sit down to write your cat sits on your computer? Called a fellow writer just to read the really freaking cool sentence you just finished?

Try it. See where it takes you. I dare you...

Friday, July 31, 2009

Smart Stuff

Jennifer Crusie always has smart things to say about writing. This week on her blog she has notes from a speech she gave about Turning Points at the Romance Writers of America Conference in Washington DC last week.

Crusie defines turning points as the "events in the action of the plot where something happens that turns the story around in a new direction, raising the stakes and creating a new, more difficult struggle for the protagonist and, in turn, for the antagonist."

Even if you don't use her structure to help build your plots or analyze the ones your working with, it's an interesting discussion of what keeps readers engaged in a story.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Who Do You Tell?

A writer acquaintance recently expressed dismay because she had told her husband about a bright, shiny new story idea, only to have him nod blankly, say "that's nice, dear," and move on to "what's for dinner?" The writer felt slighted and deflated, as if her great story had been rejected before it was even written. This story made me think about when we share our ideas and with whom. I am lucky to have a spouse who shares my love of fantasy, and particularly YA, and who is pretty easily sucked into my story ideas. But I still find that I have to be careful about when I share my story ideas because telling an idea before it has time to grow sometimes seems to stunt it. It's as if I've already let it out into the world and I no longer feel that burning urge to write it, whereas if I had kept mum I would have been desperate to get it down on the page. And telling a story idea before at least a scene or two are down on paper feels risky somehow, like telling someone that you are pregnant as soon as you get the test. So much can still go wrong! I almost feel superstitious about it. And yet, once those few scenes are down it can feel great to tell someone all about it, particularly other writers and critique group members who know when it is too early to critique, when it is time to just say "Sounds super. Go write."

So what about you? Who do you share your story ideas with? When? How much does their reaction matter?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Quote for the Day

"The rules are simple: start on dry land, finish on dry land."
--Mike Read, on swimming the English Channel

Okay, haven't set foot on the dry land on the other side of my novel yet, but sometimes think I can just make out the beach in the distance...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Buttefly

The Butterfly

(text by author unknown) taken from: boho mag, issue 4, summer 2009 p. 35

There was once a man who found a cocoon for a butterfly.
One day, a small opening appeared. The man sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body though the little hole.

Then, the butterfly seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could and could go no farther. So the man decided to help the butterfly.

He took a pair of scissors and snipped the remaining bit of cocoon open.
It looked as if the butterfly was finally relieved of its struggle.

But something was wrong. The butterfly emerged with a swollen body and shriveled wings. The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time. However, that never happened.

For the of that butterfly’s life, it was never able to fly.

What the man thought he had done in kindness was actually a disruption of what helps the butterfly spread its wings and fly. For what happens in that very difficult stage of life; the struggle, the pressure and the pain, is actually what causes the butterfly to emerge from a simple little caterpillar into a gorgeous colorful winger freedom flyer.

Sometimes we like to bypass our own struggles, yet they are exactly what we need. Problems in life are not God-sent but they are God-used. The strength and knowledge that arises in adversity is what gives us wings.

For the only way for anyone to emerge into a butterfly is not cut short our time in the cocoon. Instead, recognize it’s exactly what we need to grow those glorious wings and start to fly.

I really believe that stories are formed in the same way, they run their own course, on their own schedule. You cannot force a story if it is not ready to be born. All you can do is keep writing and trying, it will come.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Paranormal YA Blogging

I am having lots of fun recommending YA novels over on my new blog about reading and writing paranormal YA, Children of the Night at If you like your teenagers with psychic powers, your vampires with love lives and your zombies with, well, brains, please stop on by!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Quote for the Day

"If you're breathing you are living
And if you're living you are learning
So write and write and keep on writing
Just make sure your life's exciting."

This is from the song "Happy Home (Keep on Writing)" from Kimya Dawson's brilliant children's album, "Alphabutt." Want to listen to the whole thing? Go to click on the "play" button in the black box on the right hand side. (Heather Johnson, there's a line just for you towards the end :)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Getting Over Writer's Block....

Here's is a little helpful hint for getting over writer's block:

"Nothing is written, it's rewritten" (Dov S-S Simens)

The first draft of anything is just that, a first draft. Get the first draft completely written! Then worry about fine tuning the story in the second draft.....

Happy Writing!!! :-)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Quote for the Day

"I don't really have an opinion about the worth of making art. All I would say is that when I've been very down or having kind of a tough time in my life, certain films or pieces of music or books have changed that."
--Rupert Friend, actor, in "Interview" magazine

Has a book ever saved your life or made your day? Ever hope that something you write would do that for someone else? Is that a legitimate "worth of making art"?

Saturday, May 30, 2009


"The only person getting in your way is you."

My personal trainer

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Protagonist & the Honey Bees

My mother is one of many antagonists in my life. I use the term antagonist but not in a negative way, she is continually challenging me to become a better version of myself. Through her antagonizing I have learned to be the protagonist of my life. (After all life does not happen while sitting on a couch for long periods of time.)

She seemingly will push me into adventures with little or no warning. For example, some of the adventures include:

• How to pet hummingbird while in flight. (This is truly one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen/experienced, mom can walk up to a hummingbird and pet it while is gathering nectar from flowers. She has taught me how to do it but I have yet to master it. Conversely, I am able to get dragon flies to crawl onto my hand.)

• How to make an Indigenous flute. (I made friends with a Fluteman of the Lakota Nation. My mom convinced him to come teach flute making classes with the expectation I had to come make a flute.)

• Aromatherapy. (My mother has always had a nose for smell. So, one day she decided to get certified in it. I am her test subject however in return, I’ve learned about the power of smell and aromatherapy.

The above examples bring me to the latest adventure: typing someone else’s manuscript. Ahhh! My thoughts exactly! I can barely finish my own projects let alone help some else with theirs.

Tonight, I popped in to visit Ma & Pa J, with the intention of explaining that I simply don’t have the time to devote to someone else’s work. Upon my arrival, mother J wasted no time whipping out the manuscript. I stared at the tattered blue jean colored three ring binder sitting on the dining room table. I carefully opened cover to reveal, 250 double space, wide ruled, hand written in pencil. (At this point my ice box of an over busy heart began to melt. Suddenly, I felt like I was in sixth grade, having just officially penned my first twenty-page story about a pirate ship that had run aground. )

My mother explained that the author is 93 years old, he been a beekeeper all his life. These are his stories about the keeping and tending to bees. The pages contain both memoir & science behind bee keeping. I really like it because it so different from something I would normally write. Who am I to reject someone’s story? I’ll leave that to the people in the publishing world. Intuitively, I know, there is a place of this story on a bookshelf somewhere. After all, honeybees are endangered.

I will continue to work on my projects, at the same time, helping some else achieve bring their dream to life. I can’t think of a better way to live.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A letter to anyone who needs encouragement.(the e-mail formally known as when one finds herself in the middle of an adventure, one must continue on..)

This is an excerpt from an e-mail I wrote to someone months ago. I happen to be organizing my files, re-read it and realized that parts of this need to be shared with others.

Dear Friend,
My encouragement to you is: continue to follow your bliss. You are on the path your suppose to be on. If you ever come face to face with the shadow of doubt, shoot me e-mail. I will be more than happy to set you straight.
Understand, I am not just saying this, I am moved by the compassion to help others. Free from any personal motives. I believe that every single person is born with something to create. Blocked creative expression is a derailment to one’s well being. Supporting someone else creativity is equally important. Every artist needs someone to look at or listen to or appreciate his/her creation.

Be well & travel lightly,


PS..if anyone does need encouragement, post a comment or contact me personally, I will be more than happy to help! :-)

Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Superhero pick up lines

Here is something for a little laugh....

“Can we just cut through the small talk and jump to warp speed?”

“I am super friend with benefits.”

“Interested in making magic?”

“Is your phaser set to stun?”

“Nice Asimov”

“I’m attracted to your gravitational pull.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Quote for the Day (kinda :)

It's almost WisCon, people. That means it's time to psyche yourself for a roadtrip by listening to what I think of as the Death Pixie theme songs: "Unwritten" by Natasha Bedingfield (for lyrics and to listen ) always inspires me to write. And then there's "Supergirl" by Saving Jane! (For the purposes of this theme song, Robbie has been made an honorary girl :) The video with lyrics is at Get up and dance. You know you want to.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Science of Science Fiction

Here's the link to Minnesota Public Radio's interview with Michio Kaku, the author of Physics of the Impossible.

It's an interesting discussion on the possibilities of warp drive, teleportation, and invisibility cloaks, as well as how scientists and writers inspire each other.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Quote for the Day

"Write drunk. Edit sober." --Ernest Hemingway

Okay, I'm not a drinker myself but I still embrace the spirit of Papa H.'s quote. There's a point in this process where it's good to be "drunk," at least in the figurative sense. You have to be able to let go, to brainstorm, to write more than you need, to fall recklessly in love with your characters and follow their tangents and to lose yourself completely in the story without judging what you are creating. And then there is the literary morning after, when it's time to swallow the hair of the dog that bit you and get down to work. That's when you hold the thing at arms length and try to become as objective as possible. You try to read your own work as if it were someone else's. You bring in the tough love.
I think that, as writers, many of us are better at one side of the process than the other. Right now, I find myself rushing to the judgement part of the process on my wip when in fact there are places where I still need to be drunkenly creating. That means my "inner editor" is inhibiting me by critiquing me prematurely. So today I went back to the drawing board on some world building issues that I had never really settled. I got out a big roll of white paper and some markers and I brainstormed and made lists without any lines. I know that I'll sober up and go back to more rational writing soon, but today it was helpful to create without second-guessing.

What about you? Which part of the process comes easiest? Where are you at in your work? Stone cold sober? Three sheets to the wind?
I hope you are writing well.

Friday, May 8, 2009


"Fear of failure can a motivator or an inhibitor. The latter is crippling and ultimately leads to a life of missed opportunities...."

Timonthy Egan, New York Times, 05/06/09

Thursday, May 7, 2009

2nd chakra.....

Today, I was standing in the kitchen talking to a co-worker, we mused about: creativity, balancing work life and being an artist etc. After wandering through the desert thoughts he blurted out., “if you don’t do something creative you 2nd chakra will create something for you and you might not like what you create.” A moment of self-reflective silence passed between us before my reply, “thank you, I needed to hear that.”

Sometimes the universe sends little reminders of what were are suppose to be doing.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Best. Advice. Ever.

Okay, this is an old essay so chances are you internet savy folks have already read it, but I just read it for the first time today and thought it was brilliant. If you need to check in with the dream (and you do)... .

I hope you all are swimming rats.

Mirrors, fishbowls, muses and blurring lines of fiction

I must begin by saying that magical things happen to on a daily basis. I’ve grown use to the sweet kisses of the universe. However, as of late, magic and I, have been strangers. Until, a few Sundays ago, when I was having tea with a friend of mine, and I was on a rant and rave about writing, art and my unusually mundane existence. She set her mug down looked right through to my soul and said, “ take the daily encounters and create your stories/mythos from there. You stories will be more real and have some truth even though it is speculative fiction.” Those words gave me chills because there is truth behind them.
As the week progessed, my private mythos (of the stories I tell myself) seeped into reality beginning with one small step on a Friday afternoon. Let me explain:
In a panic, I called a friend to give me a ride over to the Loft Literary Center to drop off a mentorship application. On my way back, I walked past a place I refer to ‘the fish bowl.’ (The dry cleaners in the bottom of the building I work in.) Nearly, everyday for the past two years (roughly), I’ve walked past, trying not to gawk at the handsome man works there. Every time I’d pass him, I would make up stories about him. Never talking the time to step out of my head and say something to him. However, on this particular Friday, this all had to change. I went in, asked if he was an “*artist or musician. “ *(I had to ask this question, it was the lead off question of all the stories I’d ever made up about him….) He replied, “both.” From that moment, I was sold, I knew I had to converse with this person. We spoke for a mere five minutes. However, the short -lived exchange ignited a long lost passion of life, art, love, storytelling and conversation. Six days later this gentleman moved to follow his dream. From this experience I’ve come to the following conclusions:
• How important it is to get out of your own head and to experience life.
• A conversation with a complete strange may inspire your next story.
• Share your art with others.
I’m happy to report that the magic is back. Thrilled that I’ve become passionate once again about my artistic endeavors and life in general. I am enjoying the evolution of myself as a writer/artist and a person in my community.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Quote for the Day

T-shirt I saw the other day:

"Plot. It builds character."

I laughed. I guess you could have a whole chicken-and-the-egg conversation about that one, huh? So, does your plot build your characters? Do your characters make your plot what it is? Both, I guess, in my case...
Hope you are plotting away today!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Another great website

I just have to warn you, wandering into TV Tropes might be dangerous. About an hour passed between when I stumbled across "Unfortunate Implications" and came out at "Meganekko."

TV Tropes "... is a catalog of the tricks of the trade for writing fiction... Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members' minds and expectations. On the whole, tropes are not clichés. The word clichéd means "stereotyped and trite". In other words, dull and uninteresting. We are not looking for dull and uninteresting entries. We are here to recognize tropes and play with them, not to make fun of them."

Just a shout out to postmodernbarney where I found the link to TV Tropes.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Quote for the Day

Mayor Chris Coleman of St. Paul talked about going to a leadership training in Atlanta where they visited the Coretta Scott King Young Women's Leadership Academy. "We were greeted by four 7th graders who recited their daily pledge. They said, in part:
I will refuse to be ordinary.
I will devastate mediocrity.
I will take responsibility for my actions.
I will lead the way."

So, start devastating that mediocrity, already, Death Pixies!
Hope you are writing your hearts out!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Discovery, Commitment, Goals

I made a promise to a particular writer friend of mine that I would not have any romances until I finished my novel. (There is a LONG story behind this and some day, I may tell it) The short version, I blamed men, for distracting me from my artistic endeavors. Since, I’ve been going through the self-imposed dessert-dating spell, I’ve internally discovered: that I stand in my own way of my art. Wow! This has only taken me almost two years to discover! Acknowledging myself being the issue, I had to find a solution.

I am challenging myself to the following:
Every week, for the next year, I will write a chapter, short story, scene in stage play or screenplay or poem a week!

My year will begin April 1st, 2009 and end April 1st, 2010.

What happens if I do not follow through? Well, not accomplishing my goal is not an option. I really want to test myself and figure out who I can truly be as a writer/artist.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Quote for the Day

"When I was born I didn't have anything. When I was born I only had stories."
--Harrison, my 4 year old son

Harrison is right that he has always had stories. He has always loved to be read to AT LENGTH. We usually read aloud the name of the author and illustrator of whatever we read and often read their bios as well because I want Harry to appreciate the fact that there are real people who created his books. I want him to understand that "writer" is a real job that he could do some day if he chose. Sometimes, however, I think I've taken it a little too far. The other day I told him that we would have to return a toy we had bought because it was missing a piece. "Huh," he said, "Maybe the author didn't have time to write that piece yet." Later that day he was looking at our fish tank. "Mama, " he asked, "Who is the author of fish?"
Harry also hears Marcy and I talk a lot about "grown-up" books. I am not a sports fan, but I am a fan of Twilight. Today I told Harry that a friend of his would be playing baseball this weekend. He looked at me quizzically. "Like a vampire?" I actually had to explain to my son that humans play baseball, too!
But it could be worse. He could live in a house where TV was even more important than books. (Don't get me wrong. We watch plenty of TV, but books are still king.) Today at the kid's gym I saw a little girl his age jumping on the gym mats. Every time she got ready to launch herself she would count down, "Ten, nine, eight central time..." I laughed so hard. I guess Harry isn't the only one who says the darndest things.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Writers Groups

Read this article in the NY Times today. Very inspiring about how this particular group of writers support one another....

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Wishing for Pixies in the Walls

I'm on the verge of giving up for the day. It's a beautiful early spring day and after an hour of staring at the computer screen without typing anything worth keeping, I'm ready to turn it off and bike to the library. I blame the pixies in the walls. They must be out of dust.

If you're looking for something to do, check out this great talk on the nature of genius and creativity by the author of "Eat, Pray, Love" given at this year's TED Conference.
Elizabeth Gilbert on Creativity

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Quote for the Day

"The muse is attracted to the smell of human sweat. It doesn't want to come around and waste all that lovely inspiration on someone who isn't working."

--Lynne Jonell
(in the current "A View From The Loft.")

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Wiscon Programming Link

Cause they told me too...

The Programming Committee proudly invites you to sign up to be part of
WisCon 33's programming. We've gotten some fantastic programming
ideas. Now's your chance to sign-up! Help us spread the good news.
Put a link on your blog. E-mail your friends. We need panelists. We
need moderators. You can also sign up for readings and to host a
party. Just go to:

Let me just say, I'm counting the days till WisCon.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Interesting Link

I ran across Query Shark while web surfing the other night and stayed up way past my bed time reading blog posts. If you send an agent query to the blog, the Shark may choose to post and critique your letter, and believe me, you'd be lucky if she did. While there are a few glittering jewels, most need some work and their failings are learning opportunities for all of us.

The Shark's advice works for every stage of writing. First, voice is everything. Then, know who your character is, why she is interesting, and how that drives the story.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Tough Choices

I recently read a published YA novel that didn't really grab me. It wasn't that the stakes weren't high enough-- it was a situation in which the whole world hung in the balance. If the protag failed, the apocalypse was at hand. And yet I wasn't on the edge of my seat. So I've been thinking about why, and I've come up with a few thoughts. For one thing, the "whole world" being at risk doesn't mean much to me as a reader. It's simply too much to imagine. I am more moved by the idea that my little brother or my father or even my dog is at risk, because that I can picture and relate to emotionally. They say that poetry is in the specific details, and I think that danger is in the details, too.
But maybe more important than that, I never had any real doubt that the protag in this book would do the right thing. Her task was laid out before her and she was going to accomplish it, or possibly die trying. Although our heroine was faced with a tough situation, she never really had to make tough choices. I am starting to feel that tough choices-- ones which require our hero to sacrifice or risk something precious-- are much more compelling than simple tough situations, and while I work on my wip I am trying to ask myself "Okay, when is she tempted?" because in a truly tough choice there's always the temptation to take the easy way out and those moments of temptation always grab me in a novel because they say so much about the character and what makes her tick. Just my random two cents for today :)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

On Coraline...

In re: Coraline 3D

Go see it.  Now. Before it's not in 3D anymore.

It really is quite lovely.

That being said, don't sit in the third row of the theater to see it.  At least halfway back is crucial.  Trust me.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Quote for the Day

"I can't just write a polemic. I have to be a storyteller and to be a storyteller I have to go to the dark place."
--Joss Whedon (on NPR, talking about his new series, Dollhouse)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Yes, you can pen that novel!
Yes, you can revise the second draft of your novel!
Yes, you can send that short story out to that magazine!

Yes, you can! Repeat this to yourself. Repeat it again until you believe it.

Yes, you can.....

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Quote for the Day

"There are three rules for writing a novel. The trouble is nobody knows what they are."

--Somerset Maugham

"I really believed in Harry. I think you've got to. Even if you've written a lousy book. Because writing is just a lonely slog and you have to believe in what you're doing, otherwise you live a dreadful existence."

--J.K. Rowling

How's that for uplifting? :) But the slog is a little less lonely when you have a good writing group. Now, get back to work on that "lousy book" :)