Writer's Life


Do I Really Have to Move Today? Crafting Challenge in a World of Comfort

crafting_challegeI am a runner, so are so many other writers. Perhaps we run for clarity, or concentrated problem solving, or even for the lovely void of thought that may open and swallow us whole after a certain timespan of feet pounding on pavement. I run because when I do, suddenly I have arms, I have lungs that fill and burn and push and pull. I have legs and they are strong!

Not training properly for my recent half-marathon might have been a sub-conscious strategy. What would happen if I faced a challenge that wasn’t easy? What would happen when I hit a wall, or when I felt real pain?

Comfort infuses my life. I wake at reasonable hour, push button for instant caffeine, slip on whatever for the five-minute drive to drop kiddo off at school. Entrenched in my cushy chair in my home office, gazing out a window at golden morning light, probably not even wearing pants, I push the button to power up my screens. Snacks on my right, coffee on my left, big dog plopped over my bare toes. Hours pass.

How easy it is to forget you dwell in a body when you make a living using solely your brain, with occasional interfacing with the physical world through minimal hand movements.

My husband and I each bought those Fitbit bands to track and encourage daily movement. A minimum of 10,000 steps sets the bar. No sweat. A couple walks around the neighborhood gets that done licitly-split. If I make it out for an actual run, I’ll soar past the goal.

Imagine my horror when I discovered that some days I didn’t even come close to the goal of 10,000. After a day of click-clacking away, a casual check of my steps revealed that I barely broke 2,000. In fifteen waking hours, I’d only walked the equivalent of four laps around a high school track. No wonder my flesh seems to be filling and softening. No wonder fatigue comes over me so easily.

Regular runs help, but still fall short of some primal need. Yes, better fitness habits and routine improve not only my body, but also my mental health and over-all productivity. The tightened muscled in my thighs and calves provide much pleasure and pride. But soon those neighborhood jaunts feel ho-hum. It’s difficult to reach the void, to push hard enough that those little anxieties and concerns quiet down so that breathing may receive the full attention it deserves.

“I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong, but to feel strong, to measure yourself at least once, to find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions, facing the blind, deaf stone alone with nothing to help you but your hands and your own head.”

From Into the Wild

So I sign up for a half-marathon, even though I’ve only been running four miles at a time. The day before the race, some strange compulsion overcomes me. My plans for eating lean proteins and fibers falls flat. My husband brings home a box of day-old donuts for the kids. Cutting out 1-inch “tastes” at a time, I somehow manage to eat two entire maple bars, a jelly donut and a bear claw. In the evening, I drink two glasses of red wine. I do remember to hydrate, sucking down water whenever I think of it. I’m not a complete idiot.

Morning of the race I realize my horrible food choices have completely backed up my system. Oh well, I’ll just have to carry it with me.

I squeeze into hard-working compression pants, wrestle a sports bra over my torso and make the drive into the countryside for the race start.

Can I do this? I think I can do this.

Alone in the tightly-wound pre-race crowd, my nervous thoughts ping-pong around the corners of my brain. There is no guarantee. It will be entirely embarrassing if the aid team has to carry me off the course.

The race begins. I force myself to plod, to not let insecurity or intimidation spur my pace to match those of the runners gaily lopping by me.

This is easy, so easy. But I’ve only gone two miles. Eleven more to go.

At the five-mile marker, I’m certain a mistake has been made. Surely this is about halfway, more like seven, right? My GPS confirms 5 miles, but my legs beg to differ.

At eight miles, after I’ve passed the much anticipated turn-around point, my earlier insistence on plodding pays off. The crowd around me thins and slows. No one passes me anymore. I pass runners one by one.

At 12 miles, my legs feel like spaghetti noodles, but still keep cycling. I pass everyone – fit or flabby, male or female, young or old, gliding along on endorphins and relief. You made it this far, just don’t think about what you’re doing or how you feel and soon you’ll be at the finish.

There it is! The clapping crowd, the giant arch, the man with the megaphone. I kick hard, knock off a couple more runners before crossing the line, just because I can.

Walking somehow seems more difficult than jogging. Standing is worse. I can’t even think about sitting down. Another runner hands me a big red cup of water.

“Good run,” he says.

“Yeah,” I say. “You too.”

But really we’re saying, I just did that! You did that too! Wow! Life is amazing! Wow! Everything is awesome! I am awesome! Wow!

After I’ve stuffed myself on halved bananas and sample protein bars, I limp back to my car to head home. When I get out of my seat after the hour drive, my legs barely bend. I hobble like the tin man up my front steps.

My husband and kids nod at me, say good job. I don’t think they understand the depth of what I’ve just accomplished. The endorphin high I shared with the other finishers clearly does not transmit through proximity. I feel as though returning from war. There was this thing and I didn’t know if I could do it. I tried and it was really hard and then I did it. Everything is awesome!

I go to bed at 7 o’clock, very well aware of my body and still delightfully incapable of deep thought.

The week comes. I sit again at my comfortable desk. I plan, strategize, implement. I market, compose, organize. I think. I click, click, click.

Thursday morning my skin crawls. I can barely sit still. I can’t focus at all. I go for a run, eight miles. Ahhh, that’s better.

As an encore event, my husband signed us both up for a Tough Mudder the very next weekend, a 12-mile course containing 20 terrifying obstacles. I haven’t trained properly. My legs are strong now, but I have no idea if my arms can lift anything heavier than a venti green tea. Can I do this? I don’t know. I think I can do this.


Notes: This post was inspired by this brilliant piece by Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal). The half-marathon was the Beat the Blerch. Very fun. Do it with me next year! The 12-mile obstacle course was Tough Mudder. We finished moderately intact. Three days later, I'm still blowing mud out of my nose.

Two Contemporary Authors Helping Me Fall Back in Love with Science Fiction

in_love_with_science_fictionFunny how the science fiction writers of my youth are now classified as literary. I'm talking Kurt Vonnegut, Ursula K. LeGuin, Margaret Atwood and Madeline L'Engle. I love science fiction, particularly when authors choose to use creative strokes to illustrate a lesson in society or human behavior. I do believe that Kurt's Harrison Bergeron is the best short story ever written. When Ursula showed up in town to read from her new poetry (!) book, I brought my daughter along in the hopes that some of Ursula's powerful thinking would magically rub off on us. I named by first car "Ananda" based on a note that Madeline L'Engle scrawled in my copy of A Wind in the Door at a reading.

There came a point, however, when the genre exploded in a great and terrible way. Writers pumped out books faster than boobie-ful space explorer covers could be painted. Plot lines featured more violence and war than thoughtful exploration of society through artful prose. I thought to myself, these books are not for me. I lost interest in the genre and no longer visited that section of the bookstore.


That's me and kiddo hanging out with Ursula at Elliot Bay Books in Seattle.

How grateful I am that Hugh Howey came along. I first heard about Hugh through self-publishing world. He wrote and published his own books and they were wildly successful. This garnered some attention. I knew more about Hugh and his publishing process than I did about his actual books. One Friday evening, I decided I better read one and see what all the fuss was about. I downloaded Wool, the first book in his Silo Series and and stayed up until I finished it. I immediately bought the next, then the next. I spent my entire weekend sitting on the couch reading his books. These were days well-spent.

Reading Hugh's books taught me that there are still authors with interesting things to say publishing in the scifi genre. When Kindle released it's "unlimited" program, I decided to browse the best sellers in the dystopian section to see if there was something that caught my attention. I discovered Marcus Sakey's Brilliance series. The same thing happened. I read the first one in one sitting, read the next one the following day. How horrified I was to learn that the next book in the series won't be available for months. For the first time in a long time, I am anxiously awaiting the publication of a science fiction novel.

Aliens Killing Humans AGAIN? Memes in Science Fiction Writing

aliensThis is a guest post by award-winning author Terry Persun, who happens to be teaching a science fiction writing workshop next month.

I know that Stephen Hawking has been quoted saying he thinks that if aliens exist that mankind should avoid contact with them. He claims that aliens are most likely to treat us similar to how the Europeans treated the Native Americans. That they’d look to conquer or colonize our planet.

And, of course, most movies and television shows indicate that aliens are strong and healthy, they have poisonous claws or teeth, and we look like food to them. A lot of scientists think that aliens would show up to mine Earth of its minerals and that maybe we’d become their slaves in doing so. (Why they wouldn’t just use their superior intellect to create a machine for that purpose is beyond me.)

So, yeah, I’m a science fiction author (part of the time), but even if I have criminals in my fiction, it doesn’t mean that I think every human on Earth is a criminal. So, just because some of my aliens are bad…come to think of it, many of the aliens I write about haven’t tried to take over the Earth at all. In fact, some are just trying to protect themselves against us, and some are (hold it, I don’t want to give this away)… My novel, BACKYARD ALIENS just came out and it doesn’t have that type of alien in it—pretty much, anyway.

I like to think that perhaps the aliens who find us (if they do) are the Greenpeace type of aliens. They’re out to protect us, not exploit or eat us. They are out to learn from us. Perhaps even share what they’ve learned, have philosophical dialogs, explore ideas on the meaning of life in the universe. Why not? If I were to answer that question, there would be more than one answer, as you probably know by now.

If I were to write about aliens again, perhaps I’d explore the ones out to do us harm in some way, whether they think so or not. Perhaps the aliens would come here to help us and in trying would kill us anyway. Perhaps the aliens might want to work with us, learn from us, and we wouldn’t have any of it. Our fear and mistrust would have us fighting back even though we wouldn’t have to. (Anyone out there read Arthur C. Clarke’s CHILDHOOD’S END?)

The truth is, as a writer, I like to explore ideas that might be different than the norm, but they still have to be interesting ideas, and the stories have to have some action, and be fun to read. So, if I were a lazy writer, I might have only the monster-type aliens, the bad ones. But, let’s think outside the box. Let’s explore all the options. Writing isn’t only entertainment, it’s intelligent entertainment (much of the time), and can help us to see the world differently—even a world with alien invasions.


Would you like to write a science fiction novel?

Join us for a memoir workshop this October taught by award winning author Terry Persun, Develop and Write Your Science Fiction Novel. You can get $25 off the lowest registration rate when you use the code get25.

Take this webinar if you’re ready to tackle that science fiction novel you’ve been thinking about, or if you’ve already written it and want to understand the genre better for your rewrite. More details here.

Terry Persun holds a Bachelor’s of Science as well as an MA in Creative Writing. He has worked as an engineer, has been the Editor-in-Chief of several technology journals, and is now marketing consultant for technical and manufacturing companies. Over a dozen of his novels have been published. His science fiction novel “Cathedral of Dreams” won a ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Finalist Award, and his historical novel, “Sweet Song” won a Silver IPPY Award. His latest science fiction space opera, “Hear No Evil” was a finalist in the International Book Awards this past year. His sci-fi and fantasy novels have been on the top 100 (sci-fi categories) on Amazon several times in the past year.


Six Lessons about Memoir Writing

lessons_about_memoir_writingThis is a guest post by bestselling memoirist and friend Abigail Carter.

Abigail attended a writing workshop in Sonoma hosted by Theo Nestor, author of Writing Is My DrinkWhat follows are the lessons she learned about memoir writing at this retreat.

1. Ask the questions

One of the things I was reminded about in the workshop, and the reason I was there in the first place, was to formulate the basis for the book. It really comes down to a couple of pointed questions. The tip that Theo provided was to “adopt the attitude that your life is important and ask the question, “If you were really important, what would you be writing about?” What is the most essential thing you need to share through your story?

When I think about what I should be writing about in relation to the house, I think about what it is the house means to me, which I can more or less summarize in one word:


I get lost in another time reading Betty’s books and visiting her house (weirdly, I still think of it as her house and not mine) provides me with a similar escape. The moment I enter the house, it’s as if I have opened the door of the wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, into a whole different world. I can physically feel myself relax. I get excited about cooking, and writing (with pen and paper), about curling up on the couch to read a real book.

In my regular life, I spend hours behind my computer only to stand up after hours of addictive-like behavior feeling dazed and foggy, and my only reprieve comes in the form of a small dog who incessantly leaves her toy at my feet for me to throw.

I refuse to hook up Internet access at the house because I know the moment I do, its magic will be lost. I need Vashon to remain my escape from a plugged-in world into a time where life was simpler, or at least lived in real time.

2. Dance into your writing

Tanya Taylor Rubinstein was one of the day’s speakers and she speaks from the perspective of a solo performance artist. My favorite moment of her talk was when she began to wiggle around the stage, doing what a writer might call a “five minute write” but in oral story form as she waved her hands around and did a little twirl and a wiggle. “It’s a whole different way of coming at the story, and if you’re stuck it might help you.” She then had us find a partner, look them directly in the eyes and tell that partner a story about a moment that changed our life. To stay in the moment, I told my partner the moment I found the Vashon house and she shared with me a powerful story of the moment she discovered she had breast cancer. By the end of five minutes I knew I had made a new friend.

3. Be “Passionately Confused”

I also liked Theo’s idea that you must be “passionately confused” about your topic. Here the question is “what is the obsession that is imbedded in your story?” What are you curious about? It is this questioning that will make your memoir compelling because as you discover answers, your reader will as well. This is the crux of memoir, the transformation of the narrator. The narrator at the beginning of the story cannot be the same as the narrator at the end and you must be clear about what that shift is. Candace Walsh, another of the speakers backed this idea up when she advised to “live the questions now. Live your way into the answers.”

As Theo spoke and the other speakers, Candace Walsh and Tanya Taylor Rubinstein continued their workshops, I began jotting down ideas about what the themes in the book might be: slowing down, motherhood, spirituality, my relationship to money, healing, food, feeling overwhelmed by life, marriage, sex.

4. Let your subtitle frame your subject matter

Another of Theo’s points was that the subtitle of a book often frames the overall idea embedded within the book, kind of like a thesis statement in an essay. It sums up the essence of what a memoir is really about. Examples of this include: “Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison” and “Poser: My Life in 23 Poses.” I’ll be living my way into writing the subtitle too, it seems.

5. Fame/writing memoir won’t change you

The excitement of the day was a talk by Anne Lamott, who shared her own brand of wisdom. I have long admired her work – poignant, humorous, thoughtful, and slightly sarcastic, and maybe it was because she was recovering from the flu, or something else is going on with her, but I found her words to be threaded with sadness. She told us to not expect the writing to change us, or perhaps it was to not expect fame to change us, it wasn’t quite clear. I do believe that the process of writing memoir does change you. If you follow Theo’s wisdom on the matter, writing memoir is all about the transformation.

So perhaps it was the fame thing. I have never cared about fame, and if anything I shun it. What I seek is the change in a reader who has read my work. A transformation, a comfort, a healing. It struck me as I sat in that huge hotel ballroom how many stories were represented there – hundreds of big, tragic stories that each sought an outlet. To be a memoirist of Ann Lamott’s fame must take a certain amount of strength of spirit, a sense of responsibility to those stories. What came across to me was how fragile Anne Lamott is, and how fame must be debilitating to her in a lot of ways.

6. Carry a pen and paper at all times

I did like her advice to always carry a pen and paper wherever you go and was charmed by the idea that she writes on her hand and then “transcribes her hand” when she gets home. I am horrible with writing little things down, maybe too busy living in the moment, to remember to stop it and jot it down on a piece of paper and so I felt somewhat lacking without my Moleskin and Montblanc.  Still, I so admire her turns of phrases, her metaphors and no doubt, her jotting is where they come from. Time to get a notebook and a pen!

And so, I came away from Petaluma percolating with new ideas and resolutions to jot, which was my goal for the weekend. I also made some lovely new friends who I look forward getting to know, at least inside this screen, my little virtual 2014 world.



Fear, Loathing and Writing a Memoir

Perhaps you love to write. Perhaps you dream about writing a memoir. Before you begin, the fear sets in. What will my mother think? Like two writerly super heroes, Anne Lamott and Dorothy Allison swoop in to set you right.





You gather courage, pull up your writing britches and sit at your desk. Memories scroll through your mind like flickering images on a screen. You think, this is ridiculous. Who cares about my story? I am neither famous or mighty. What makes me think my story is worth telling?

In a great cacophony of noise all around you shout Maya Angelou, Annie Dillard, Thomas Cirignano and Saul Bellows.







You can no longer resist. At last you think yes, I will do this. You stare down at the blank page, take a deep breath, wonder where the courage will come from. Here is Stephen King, at your side.


And so you pick up your pen and begin. The gods of writing cheer.


start_writing_your_memoir_tinyAre you ready to start writing your memoir?

Bestselling memoirist Abigail Carter leads a workshop next month call "Start Writing Your Memoir." This is your sign.



How I Got My Literary Agent to Notice Me

literary-agentBy building an author platform and getting my writing out into the world, I was able to attract a literary agent without writing a single query letter. I am now happily signed with Gordon Warnock of Foreword Literary.

Here are the exact steps my agent took before he decided to reach out to me.

1. He saw my Kickstarter campaign.

I funded my Book Lush project through Kickstarter. While researching another potential publishing project, Gordon stumbled across my Book Lush Campaign. I had a compelling video, professional graphics and a clear description of my book project. Also very important, my Kickstarter campaign contained links to my author website and social media networks.

Lesson learned: Just do it. If I never took a chance on crowdfunding, it's likely my agent would have never noticed me. If you have a project in mind and need funds to get it going, don't wait for a publisher or agent to approve it. Try using crowd funding platforms to raise the money and gain your first readers. I'm going to try Pubslush for my next campaign.

2. He visited my website.

Gordon clicked from my Kickstarter campaign over to my website. Using a custom wordpress template and my own graphics, I created a professional website presenting myself as an author. From here, Gordon was able to learn much about me. Amazingly, I only had my website up for about three months before Gordon found me.

Lesson learned: Don't wait until you're well-advanced in your author career to get your website set up. Do it now! Even if you have no books to promote, you can still host a blog and other samples of your writing.

3. He checked out my social media networks.

From my website, Gordon was able to click over and view my Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest accounts. These demonstrated that not only do I have an existing audience, but I am willing to use social media as an outreach tool.

Lesson learned: Start building your online community now! Consider it play and experiment with different networks and content strategies until you find what works best for you. Show that you will be a savvy marketing partner for your own books.

4. He bought my books on Amazon.

Just six months prior, I published my Breakup Girl collection of short stories on Amazon. Gordon was able to easily get a sample of my writing and see if my style and voice was a match for him.

Lesson learned: Get your writing out there! If your writing is ready for publishing, find a channel and send it out! A word of warning, some agents and publishers will not consider work that has already been self-published. If you have a novel you would like traditionally published, consider publishing a short story collection, or articles on various media sites, rather than the work you hope to get picked up.

5. He sent me a message through my site.

One of his first questions was something to the effect of, "Do you perchance have a novel as well?" Why, yes! I've been working on a novel for a good eight years (gasp) and am polishing up the final draft now.

Lesson learned: First, have an easy way for people to contact you through your website. I have a contact form. Second, always be planning and working on your next writing project. If you desire a writing career, rather than a single experience, you should have at least one more project to follow whatever you're working on now.

6. He gave me a call.

I got the first call from Gordon when I was on my drive home. I ended up sitting in my car in my driveway for about an hour talking to him about books, writing and publishing. We have the same beliefs about the pleasure that comes from books and the brave new world of publishing. We were clearly a match.

Lesson learned: Perhaps you don't have to like your agent for your books to be successfully published, but it sure makes the whole experience a lot more pleasurable if you do.

So what can you do now? If you haven't already, start building your author platform! Get your website up, start building your social networks and get your writing out to readers. There is no one way to publish or become an author. You have your own unique path. However, your path may well be very long and difficult if you do not get yourself and your writing out into the world where readers, agents and publishers may find you.

If you need help building your author platform, I'm leading a course called Small Town Writer, Big World Audience on Gutsy Creatives. If you enter the discount code BLOGGISH you'll get $25 off the cost of the full course. Click here to register.

You can even preview a sample lesson here!

Best of luck on your publishing journey!


How Do You Become a Writer?


When do you know that you're a real writer?

Is it the first moment you pick up the pen and scratch out a sentence, or is it back when you are thinking about wanting to write. Is it when you get an agent, or when your first book is published? If you publish traditionally, are you more of a real writer than if you publish independently? Is it when you sell a hundred copies, or become a bestseller? Perhaps after your win a big writing contest you'll be a real writer. Maybe it's when your mom introduces you, "This is my daughter. She's a writer."

So often we wait for external validation to confirm the identifies we long for. We may wait a really long time.

I first admitted out loud that I wanted to be a writer when I was 21 years old. I was living in the French Quarter of New Orleans, furiously scribbling away in black journals while sipping sugary coffee at back alley cafes. My favorite writing spot was right next to the William Faulkner house. My lines dripped with imitated southern gothic sentiment. Certainly I was an artiste, even if I kept a day job at Shell Oil and hadn't actually published anything ever.

When my daughter was born a few years later, it became clear that if I expected her to follow her dream, I better damn well follow mine. To move this whole writer fantasy out of the dark alleys and into the light of day, I signed up to finish my four-year degree at The Evergreen State College, my concentration listed as writing. Here I learned that writing is a craft, something that may be learned and improved upon. Excellent mentors such as Bill Ransom, Steven Hendricks, Bruce Benderson, and Leonard Schwartz taught me how to evolve my prose to something both meaningful and readable.

After a couple brief years of admittedly dramatic improvement, I deemed myself brilliant and ready for the world. I self-published a book of short works and queried at least 50 agents and editors. Thumbing through one of the 500 copies of my book I had printed in advance of certain fame, I realized that perhaps I could have benefited from the assistance of an editor. I found quite a few grammatical errors. Oh well, surely a few spelling errors would not diminish the overwhelming genius of my work, right?

Not so much.

I received about 20 rejection letters, the rest simply ignored my queries. With no distribution, platform or marketing channels, the error-ridden books I paid for with my limited fund simply rotted away in my mother's barn.

Too soon. I went out too soon.

Disheartened, but a tiny bit wiser, I took a job teaching English over seas. Life in Japan inspired me to start work on my first novel. I wrote with abandon. Most importantly, I also read and lived with abandon. I collected experiences and authors as though storing up a great war chest - my writer's war chest.

Ten more years I worked on my craft, starting my own writing group and getting regular feedback, reading across genres and periods, learning about the business of publishing. When I compare myself now with the writer I was when I was twenty-five, I can see how far I've come. I know also have a sense of how very far I have to go. How do you become a writer? You write, read and live. Repeat.Street art by Eddie Colla.

"If you want to achieve greatness, stop asking for permission." - Eddie Colla

No one will point at you and say, "You are a real writer." It's not their job. It's your job. You declare, "I am a writer." And then you write and you learn and you read and you write.

I had stopped waiting for permission when finally an agent knocked at my door. Youthful impatience be damned, it was all those years working on my craft and learning about the publishing world that made me suddenly a beacon for those I once considered gatekeepers. When I had my author platform built, when I had well-written (and professionally edited) stories self-published and available on Amazon, when I was out in the world joyfully working on publishing projects, that's when I got the call from the agent.

Here's the secret...

 There is no gatekeeper.

There is only what you do and what you don't do. It doesn't matter if you want to be a writer, or an entrepreneur or an airplane mechanic, the path is the same. Name your dream. Practice. Learn. Live. Repeat.


My Favorite Writing Game

writing-gameI saw recently on ye olde Facebooke that one of my favored professors from Evergreen has a book in a Kickstarter campaign by Starcherone Books. While of course I hope you all hop over right now and donate your twenty-five smackers to get his book, it would be foolish of me to think you would do so without a compelling reason. So first, I’m going to give you all something Steven Hendricks gave me.

Steven gave me a great many things; such as clever techniques for book binding, a doodle I can deliver on a cocktail napkin that suddenly makes post-modernism easy to understand, and the understanding that my unearned privilege comes at the direct expense of another soul’s power.

However, the best thing he gave me is a writing game.

We played this little game at our writing group, an oddball mix of professors, staff and students. All of us ridiculously earnest and playful both. So enraptured with this game was I, that I continued to play it wherever I traveled after my college years. Whenever people gather in some intimate place, I pull pens from my bag, start tearing scraps of paper and ask my companions to indulge me.

I have played this game with countless friends and writing groups since. I played this game with Yakuza in a Juso bar. I played this game with every would-be suitor and certain lover. I’ve played with young students, my kids, with retirees, with drunken conference attendees.

Each time is different, each game contains delight and at least a fraction of wonder. Steve's gift to me, I now give to you.

Here’s exactly what you do.

1. Make sure every one has a pen and a scrap of paper.

2. Ask everyone to write a question, any question, that begins with What is…

This can be simple, such as What is this?, or complex, such as What is the reason the young man takes up his bag and sets to walking when his heart is broken?.

3. Make sure everyone knows to keep their question secret from their neighbor.

4. Ask everyone to turn over their paper so their question is hidden, then pass to the left (or right depending on your whim).

5. Without peeking at the question, ask everyone to write any statement that begins with It is…

Again, this may be simple or complex. It does not need to be connected to the prior question at all. The only rule is that it must begin with It is…

6. Once everyone has written their statements, they may flip over their papers and see the question.

7. Ask everyone to read the question they received and their answer out loud.

Before we read the results, I usually say something like this…
You just wrote a surrealist poem. When we write, we often already have some meaning or message in our mind. We search for the correct words or match our meaning and communicate our message. The game we just played, invented by the surrealist writers in Paris, reverses this process. We put down the words first, and get the meaning after. You, as the artist, have little control over the final product as you have no control over half your poem.

Most often, wonderful pairings arise in the little poems. Sometimes, the mix falls flat. If the questions are droll (what is your favorite color), then all the responsibility for compelling image falls to the answer.

I find that when we repeat this game multiple times, the pairings get better and better. Of course, alcohol helps the process as well.

So next time you meet with your writing group, or sit down for dinner with interesting people, tempt them into this game. If, like me, you find the results fascinating, you may scoop up the scraps of poetry after and keep them as mementoes.

Now that you have this game in your repertoire, it’s time for you to hop on over to Steven’s kickstarter. His book, Little is Left to Tell, will be published by Starcherone Books. The Kickstarter raises the much needed funds to enable the independent press to distribute and market the book effectively. Personally, I recommend backing at the $25 level or above so that you can receive a copy of the novel when it’s available. The book, like Steve, is certain to cause you to suffer a splendid case of wonder and perspective.

Be awesome and back Steven's book now!


My Daughter Lies: Karma Bites a Writer in Her Skin-Tight Dress

liesMy daughter lies in the best way possible – in her writing.

For her sixth grade language arts class, she wrote a story based on an experience from her life. She titled the story “Betrayal.” It opens with me telling her we’re going to get a new member of the family.

The early version that I helped correct varied greatly from the final draft that came home in her end-of-the-year mass of papers. When I first saw the final, I thought, Oh, she changed the title. I read on. This copy included a line that read, “My mom wore a fancy skin tight dress that looked more like a swimsuit than a dress.”

She described my car as poop-colored, wrote that it smells like left over fast food and that mysterious stains cover the upholstery.

A flash of embarrassment and anger flickered in my chest. My car doesn’t look like poop! My dresses aren’t that tight, are they? These thoughts quickly gave way to, wow, those are really good details.

The story documents the day I took her to the rescue center to get her a pet cat. You’d think I’d be the good guy in this story. No. Not so much.

She thought at first that we going to adopt a child. She writes of how all she’s ever wanted is a sister in her world of loneliness and step-brothers. When she learns that we’re just getting a cat, she feels “heartbroken and betrayed.” The grand resolution comes when she meets her cat for the first time and deems her perfect in every way.

My reaction upon finishing the story: My daughter sure is lucky she has such a dynamic mom to give her messed-up experiences to write about.

When I view myself from her eyes, I am an extraordinary creature. I move her around the world, sometimes to live, sometimes to visit. Her earliest years she bore witness to my rotating cast of loves. I wear heels and tall boots. I get my hair done. She watches me start companies, win investments in San Francisco, but spend weeks at a time in jogging pants while working on writing projects at home. Sometimes we are wealthy-ish, sometimes we haven’t a single dollar to our names. I’m a great character!

I really did leave it open to interpretation when I told her we were getting a new member of the family. I didn’t think she’d believe me and it would be funny when she learned she was finally going to get a cat. I didn’t anticipate that she’d instantly go all-in on the idea of bringing yet another kid into our cramped apartment. The day that story took place, I learned that my daughter has incredible capacity for love and generosity. She learned that her mean mom thinks it’s funny to trick her sometimes.

I do still think it’s funny. She’s so damn savvy. I have to work really hard to fool her these days.

The lines I’ve written about my own mother horrified her. For the sake of story, I limited the perspective to focus on particular aspects of personality. I chose details that reveal, that make her human, that show impact. These were not the ones she wanted to see recorded. I know a little bit better how that feels.

I do occasionally wear tight dresses. My daughter says they look more like bathing suits. Exaggeration, but oh how it improved the paragraph.

The fact that my daughter is a writer shouldn’t surprise me. Even if she never writes an another story her entire life, she’ll always be a writer. She knows how to carve a page, how to build from nothing an entire world populated with character, emotion and action. How grateful I am to be a part of the world she creates, even if I play the role of wayward mom.


The Poet's Advice: Don't Write Crap

crapWhen I told my writing group that I planned to write one blog post per day in June, Kay, a poet, gave me a warning.

“Don’t write crap.”

I laughed, promised her I’d do my best. My goal was to set habit, routine. I’m a decent writer, so I figured the content would be decent.

“A little crap may creep in,” I said, “But I’ll aim a higher.”

Writing quality content every day proved to be more of a struggle than I imagined.

Even the fact that I use the word “content” reveals part of my problem.

For years, I have been a content machine. I post how-to’s. I share articles. I record tutorials. I think in terms of traffic, clicks, reach and relevance.

Fiction, or creative work of any kind, may completely lack discernible relevance. Creative work may have no goal other than to exist, resonance with another soul the only bonus.

The first two weeks weren’t too hard. I could write some cute little pieces and fill in the dry days with new summaries of old work. My posts are decent enough. Go take a look.

Then, on a Tuesday night date at a jazz club, I heard a vocalist sing a song so beautiful, so full of story and raw emotion, that it arrested me physically. I held a mouthful of wine for an entire song.  I gulped it down at the applause, just as my husband leaned in to kiss me, fearing he’d notice I’d been holding a swig of alcohol in my mouth.

Oh. That’s what art looks like.

I’m fighting my way back to art. I write my way past business and expectation, through weary and worn, shallow and slighted. There is art in me, though now years of key word excrement may coat it thoroughly.

It bothered me that I had this revelation while I was drinking. I don’t drink much anymore. Not since my mother’s intervention. However, I’m better when I’m tipsy. Honest. Accessible. Those careful bars I erect to protect myself become but gossamer threads. If you take a deep breath, puff it out in a burst of air, you’ll knock down all my defenses. And there I’ll be, unobstructed, soulful. Brilliant.

My notebook from that night is full of inky scribbles, fragments, paragraphs and single words to illuminate whole ideas or impressions. If I wish, I have a week’s worth of great content to mine from those pages.

Date night passed, fully sober, I set myself to the task of keeping the door open on my guts. Try not to lose access. I have to go deeper. I need to know what makes me this way and how I may survive myself.

My mother is an alcoholic in the early stages of recovery. Her psyche may currently lack the stability to bear the searching questions of her youngest daughter.

My grandmother doesn’t drink. Did she ever? My dear Renny, from whom I inherited my love of lists and forward motion, does her soul perch on the skin of her fingertips, or does it dwell somewhere deeper, only accessible when the mighty walls have been marinated in moist drink?

This weekend I will drive the windy, tree-lined road up to her ranch. I’ll sit her in the plastic chair in her garden, send my daughter to run wild in the woods as all good young women do, and I will demand answers.

Why am I this way? Why do I fear people? Why does my family drink?  Why did all my aunts despise my grandfather? Why does my sister resent me? What about those old stories I heard, about your husband, my wizard, your sister, a divorce and a remarriage that never happened.

Perhaps if I learn the secrets, I will be free.


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