Welcome to whatever is on my mind!

Some people use the term "nonsense" but I prefer to use the phrase "uncommonly sensed" because it's more reflective of creative types.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

20 Quotes About Writing

I collect quotes. I have notebooks filled with them. So I dug through the secret place in my sock drawer where I keep all these quote-filled notebooks and dug up a list of 20 about writing and ficiton. Here they are.

“Write the kind of story you would like to read. People will give you all sorts of advice about writing, but if you are not writing something you like, no one else will like it either.”
~ Meg Cabot

The reason that fiction is more interesting than any other form of literature, to those who really like to study people, is that in fiction the author can really tell the truth without humiliating himself.”
~ Eleanor Roosevelt

“You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
~ Jack London

“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.”
~ Harper Lee

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
~ Sylvia Plath

“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.”
~ Samuel Johnson

“Write while the heat is in you. … The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with.”
~ Henry David Thoreau

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”
~ Robert Frost

“Keep a small can of WD-40 on your desk~away from any open flames~to remind yourself that if you don’t write daily, you will get rusty.”
~George Singleton

“Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault. Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty. There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.”
~ Oscar Wilde

“Cheat your landlord if you can and must, but do not try to shortchange the Muse. It cannot be done. You can’t fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal.”
~ William S. Burroughs

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”
~ Ray Bradbury

“You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page. Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write.”
~ Annie Proulx

“Writing is like sex. First you do it for love, then you do it for your friends, and then you do it for money.”
~ Virginia Woolf

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”
~ Kurt Vonnegut

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”
~ Louis L’Amour

“I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I'm afraid of. ”
~ Joss Whedon

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
~Ernest Hemingway

“If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster.”
~ Isaac Asimov

“That's what fiction is for. It's for getting at the truth when the truth isn't sufficient for the truth.”
~ Tim O’Brien

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Value Of Life

Let’s assume that you’re in perfect health (no physical imitations, no terminal illnesses, and have the prospect of living another very full 50 years. If someone offered to pay you for those 50 years, would you take the money?

It sounds crazy, and yet many of us are doing this without the knowledge that we’re doing it. Pause for a moment and think about how you make decisions. What criteria do you use?

More of us have shifted to an economic evaluation of most things. We decide how much something is worth based on the monetary consequences. For example, many of us decide which job to take based on the salary or $ per hour we’ll be paid. Some of us even choose careers based on how much money we can earn in a given field. We may even decide how to use our free time based on financial ROI (where to volunteer, what social activities to engage in, etc).

The fact is that most of us make life decisions based on how the outcome will benefit us economically.  Yes, it may be a valid criteria for making a decision but it’s not the only one and certainly not the most important one. But what else is there?

Money is easy to quantify, but that doesn’t make it more valuable. For example, what’s the cost of a sunrise? Seeing your child smile for the first time? The sound of a loved one’s laughter? The peace you get from knowing you did the right thing? Learning you’re stronger than you thought you were? Cuddling up with a pet? Experiencing a work of art? The thrill of accomplishment? There's a lot of value in building relationships, developing character, finding understanding, and connecting with the world around us (just to name a few things). These things are more difficult to quantify, but that doesn't make them less important.

Life is too valuable to be quantified with money. Your legacy is not how much you were worth financially in this life, but what you did with your friends and relationships, your time, and yourself.
“Those who know the exact price of things, as Judas did, often don’t know the true cost or value of anything.” ~ Kathleen Norris

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Girl And Her Gargoyle In Seattle

I've been a little busy in the past few months, so I haven't been posting on my blog as often. Mostly my time has been spent writing for other publications and working on my books, but I also recently took a trip to Seattle with my favorite gargoyle. Here are some of our highlights:

The Underground tour.
If you're not claustrophobic and can stay on your feet for about 90 minutes, this is a fun way to learn about Seattle's history and hear a few stories. The tour goes through some underground spaces to where the sidewalks were located before the great fire that burned the city down. He's a picture of Newton in the underground at the end of the tour:

The Chihuly Garden and Museum is not to be missed. The sculptures are incredible and walking through the garden is like being in wonderland. This was one of my favorite things in Seattle. Note: Gargoyles get in free.

Jimi Hendrix's grave is nearby, so Newton and I stopped there to pay our respects:

The wall of gum (near Pike Place) is one of those strange oddities that make you both want to look and also look away at the same time. Gross, but fascinating. Check out all the colors:

And let's not forget a Seattle classic: The Space Needle.
Newton may be the first gargoyle to visit it in person!

Newton refers to the Space Needle as a "Top Perch" and gives it 2 talons up!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Tips of Writing a Good Fantasy Story

In order for a fantasy world to be believable and accepted by the audience, there are a few things an author should keep in mind when writing in this genre. I’ve compiled these into two short lists of what to do (DO) and what not to do (DON’T).

Use the characters to move the story forward. You can add situations that force them to grow or change or show their true colors, but don’t rely on things outside of the story to move it forward. Situations are generally boring to readers - but how someone reacts in a situation is infinitely more interesting.

Put characters in situations that challenge them. I paired Kelsey with Silence in the Orphanage of Miracles because she lacked patience. Putting her with a mute also helped her to learn more about herself as she watched him interact successfully with others.

Look to everyday life to inspire you and then imagine the same situations and experiences in another world. You may be writing in a fantasy world, but there are elements of the human experience that don’t change - such as the concepts of love, friendship, family, revenge, and war. These elements that are common to our world connect the reader to your story.

Make characters say or do anything that goes against who they are. Your characters have identities of their own outside of you. You can control them no more than you can control your own children. Sure, you can provide them guidance and put them in situations that bring out the good or bad in them, but you can not suddenly make a coward have confidence or turn a basically good person evil without a strong motivation to do so (and that motivation needs to be built carefully).

Don’t rely on magic to move the story forward. The story should still be character driven, because this is how your audience connects to your world. See point number 3 above under “DO” for more information.

Don’t make objects or animals talk just for fun. If you anthropomorphize something, it needs a reason and should be part of the overall story plot and structure. Objects generally serve a purpose and animals have specific characteristics that should be included in the story line. For example, I made death a fox in my books because death is cunning and often sneaks up on people. A fox also shares those qualities.

These aren’t hard and fast rules, and no one likes to break rules more than I do. So feel free to break them, but to do so successfully you’ll need to always keep the reader in mind. The reader is, after all, your primary reason for publishing. So make sure that elements of the story don’t cause them to suddenly ask, “Where did that come from?” Our job as writers is to guide the reader safely through our realms without questioning whether or not it could actually exist. We help them to believe in it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Sonic Highways: A Lesson in Story Telling

 Thanks to a friend, I’ve been watching a set of DVDs which chronicle the Foo Fighters latest recording, a concept album called Sonic Highways. Whether or not you’re a music fan, the way the album and DVD are put together is an outstanding example of story telling.

In the DVDs, each episode shows the band arriving in a city, learning about the musical influences, and then recording a song that exudes the flavor of that space. Each piece usually incorporates a local guest recording artists (such as Joe Walsh in California).

Great music. But how is this related to literature or writing?

There’s a lot we, as writers, can learn from the way Dave Grohl creates his art. First of all, the whole concept of the project stresses the importance of setting. There are things that characters will often do in one location but not in others. As a writer, your story is always a mixture of the people involved and the place they’re in, and what took place in the past in order to create the current environment. A story’s setting isn’t just a location: it’s a place in time that’s the culmination of all that’s come before in that space.

The setting in which you place a story influences actions and sets mood. It’s the same in music as it is in literature as it is in life. What Dave Grohl is tapping into is the subtle differences in culture between cities on the same continent. He's also showing the impact of time on these things. Cities have personalities and atmospheres that have evolved in a particular manner.

Think about the setting in your writing almost as if it’s another character, because it’s just as important to moving the plot along. If you watch these DVDs, notice how different cities produce different musical sounds because of the unique mixture of people who live there or the kinds of struggles and achievements that took place in those locations. These nuances provide the rich texture and context for a story, and these are the kinds of details that bring a story to life.

The tag line on the DVD set is “Every city has a sound. Every sound has a story” and these DVDs tell those stories well. Highly recommended viewing.

Monday, July 20, 2015

How to Kick Monday in The Butt

I’ve been a little busy these past few months. Mostly I’ve been writing books, but I’ve also been reading a lot and doing some research. With so little extra time on my hands, I lost patience with Monday for being difficult. We all know that Monday is the day when Evil peaks (more heart attacks occur on Mondays, more deaths happen on that day of the week, and bad news usually arrives in Monday mail like it’s been stalking us all weekend waiting for the perfect moment to spring upon us).

I’ve been too busy and don’t have time for Monday’s nonsense. While I like to think that kicking Monday in the butt is a super power, it’s really something that anyone can do with the right training and equipment. So here’s my secret formula.

1. Wear sensible heals: the pointy kind. Unless, of course, you want Monday to be able to get up easily after you strike the first blow. Plus you’ll look awesome, and when you’re wearing a great pair of shoes you will feel better about yourself and have more energy. This includes men - remember that great shoes can take you farther than you can imagine.

2. Stay away from jerks. I know that on Mondays jerks are like zombies at a brain buffet, but people who like to make other people miserable will waste your time, and you don’t have time to be miserable - so avoid the source of misery. You’ll get more done.

3. Get up early before Monday knows that you’re awake. You see, Monday expects you to hit the snooze several times, so you can take it by surprise.

4. Eat something with rainbow sprinkles on it. I often tell people that sprinkles are little happy pills, and these can boost your mood no matter how bad things seem at the moment. It’s not easy to be depressed when you’re eating something so colorful.

Finally, at the end of the day remember that Margarita and Monday both start with M for a reason. Celebrate your victory.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

How To Write a Book in 3 Easy Steps

I get asked a lot of questions about writing. One of the most common inquiries is from people who want to write a book but don't know how to do it. So I've come up with 3 easy steps for guidance.
1. Get a typewriter or computer with a word processor.
2. Vomit words onto a page.
3. Arrange the words so that they look appetizing.
Repeat steps 1 through 3 as needed until you have a novel length manuscript.

See how easy this is? Some people choose to ignore the third step, but I find this part to be the most critical. Good luck!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

How To Be Awesome

It's easier than you think. Here's how to do it:
1. Go to bed early. It’s important to get plenty of rest so that your mind is alert.
2. Wake up early. The longer you sleep in, the less awesome there will be for you because everyone else will have gotten it first.
3. Drink a strong cup of coffee. It takes energy to be awesome and coffee is fuel for awesomeness.
4. Eat a light but nourishing breakfast. Again, you need fuel, but heavy meals will weigh you down and keep you from reaching the height of awesomeness.
5. Take a dog for a long walk before doing anything else. A public location with plenty of things to smell is ideal, such as a park or an area where people and/ or animals have been recently.
6. Feed the dog.
7. You are now awesome and ready to start your day.

How to I know that this works?
Because I’ve been doing this routine for years and every day when I get home from walking my dog and feed her she looks at me and says, “You’re awesome!”

Thursday, March 12, 2015

How To Catch A Prince

I saw a book called “How To Catch  A Prince.” To be fair, I haven’t read the book. But how hard could it be? Literature is full of stories about princes, and classic fairy tales have spoken on the subject for years. So I’ve culled together a little advice from these sources. Here are the top ten ways to catch a Prince, according to my reserach.

1. Leave a glass slipper on the palace stairwell after midnight. Don’t let it break. That part is important. Also make sure it fits you and not your ugly sister.
2. Sleep for 100 years. You’ll look awesome after getting so much rest and will be able to marry anyone you want.
3. Learn how to get forest creatures to do your chores. This is a no-brainer whether you want to catch a prince or not.
4. Be a mermaid. Of course, this isn’t without sacrifice. Once you become a mermaid you have to choose between walking and talking, because you either have legs or a voice. Apparently princes prefer less articulate women because legs are mandatory for becoming a princess. Voices are optional.
5. Learn to like frogs and become an expert frog kisser. It’s a numbers game. You keep kissing a lot of frogs until one turns into a prince. This could take your whole life, but the good part is that once the frog becomes a prince he owes you one. So you’d have that going for you.
6. Turn into a swan at night. One of the easier methods, all things considered.
7. Grow your hair out several hundred feet and become a recluse in a tall dark tower. Princes dig Howard Hughes lookalikes.
8. Find a crazy dwarf alchemist who can spin straw into gold and make him a frenemy. Oh, you also need a baby as bait, so that complicates things here.
9. Be a princess first. Like attracts like, so if you’re already a princess you’re more likely to attract a prince.
10. Figure out that you’re worth far more than what you can catch. You don't need a prince to make your dreams come true.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Sound Of The Author's Voice

I’ve been to readings and talks given by writers such as Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, and Malcolm Gladwell. Author events aren’t a new phenomena - these have been popular for decades. In fact, I’ve read that Charles Dickens was one of the first author celebrities and did speaking tours that were highly attended. The book that discussed this topic also mentioned that prior to Dickens most authors had few public events or speaking engagements. It just wasn’t a “thing.”

Recently I’ve come across a number of videos and recordings of authors who have passed away. I’ve enjoyed hearing these authors read their works or catching a glimpse of their personalities through their speaking patterns. What’s often interesting for me is how sometimes the sound of an author’s voice or their speech patterns don’t match what I had imagined.

It’s been fun to get to know some of these authors through video or audio clips.
Here are a few that I like:

Virginia Woolf


Ernest Hemingway


David Foster Wallace


Roald Dahl

And here's an audio recording of Sylvia Plath reading her poem Tulips.

Try doing a YouTube or Internet search for some of your favorite authors and see if you can find any recordings. But don’t forget - the written word has been around for thousands of years, while sound recordings are just over 100 years old. So you won’t find recordings of authors who weren’t alive during the past 120 years. Enjoy discovering new ways to connect with some of your favorite authors!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Consider The Reader: What Your Audience Wants

Last week I talked about defining your audience. That's one of the first steps in marketing your book. But once you’ve identified who may want to read your book, the next step is to define what they want.  There are two parts of this to consider, but both pieces work together. The two parts are what the audience wants in terms of content and what they want in terms of marketing/ outreach.


Every genre carries different reader expectations. If you can deliver those, then your book is more likely to be successful, and readers are more likely to spread the word. Of course there are some genre requirements for all books (solid writing, likable characters, etc), but what I’m talking about here are the things that draw specific readers to that particular type of book.

What experience does the reader expect from a book in your genre? Now take a look at your work and determine if you’re delivering that. For example, detective stories need to contain a mystery with a solution that’s cleaver, difficult to see from the outset, and when the reader reflects back the person should be able to see that all the necessary clues were present within the story.

If you write adventure stories, does your book contain enough thrilling moments to get the reader’s heart racing? If this is an instructional book, does it provide enough detail so that the reader can build, make, or accomplish whatever you’re telling them that they can? If your book doesn’t fit into any genre, then you may be setting it up to disappoint readers because they’re coming in with unknown expectations. If you don’t know what the reader wants, it can be very difficult to deliver successfully. So make sure that your books include enough of whatever the key elements of your genre may be. Not only are readers more satisfied when you deliver on their expectations (which helps with reviews), but now that you’ve identified those elements it will be much easier to write advertising copy because those are the points you want to emphasize when you tell readers about your book.


First of all, let me state the obvious: you need to meet your audience where they are, and don’t expect them to come to you. If you write graphic novels, you should be at places like Comic Con. If you write cookbooks, you should be advertising in cooking magazines or looking for opportunities to speak at home shows or other events that highlight culinary related topics. If you write fiction, you should be on sites like Goodreads and Shelfari.

Secondly, look at marketing expectations within your genre. Some genres have readers who prefer ebooks instead of physical books (or vice versa). This is important if you’re planning a promotional giveaway. Make sure that the book format matches reader preference. If it doesn't, the giveaway winners may never read it.

Also take a look at the way your books are presented for sale. Do your readers like bundles (several books sold together at  discount) so they feel as if they’re getting a better deal? Do they enjoy books that are part of a series? Are short stories preferred over novels? What is the preferred length of a novel (60k words? 100k words?). It may seem silly to a writer who just wants to tell a story, but when a reader expects a short read and sees a 130k novel, they’ll pass on it and choose something else that matches their expectations.

I’d like to conclude by clarifying that thinking about the audience doesn’t mean that you allow the readers to tell you how to write your books. It has more to do with remembering that writing is communication and should be treated that way. If you don’t listen to what your readers have to tell you concerning what they want and how to reach them, then success as an author may be very difficult to find.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Consider The Reader: Identify Your Audience

A number of authors have recently contacted me about marketing their books. So I’m going to begin by providing the best piece of advice I can on this topic, which is to consider your reader. Without taking this approach, I think it’ nearly impossible to market a book. That said, there are two specific components to this:

1. Identify your audience
2. Know what your audience wants

Once you know those two things your marketing plan is much easier, and if you can’t identify those two things, just about any marketing plan is likely to fail.

BUT ... what if my book is for everyone?

Let me begin by saying that it’s not. There are people who are indifferent to and even hate some of the best selling books in history. My point is that no matter how great your book may be, there is no way that it’s for the entire planet. My experience is that if you really believe that everyone is your audience then no one is likely to buy the book. People don’t believe they’re all the same, either, so there’s no way that everyone would like the exact same book. Sure, we have some common experiences (that’s part of being human), but we also have individual differences. This is why there are so many different genres, and that’s a good thing.

What if I just write for myself?

Then consider that maybe publishing isn’t the right answer. Sure, you may have something to say that could be beneficial to a segment of the population, but if you don’t know who that segment is then you’re highly unlikely to reach the people who would get anything from your work. So your book will go unnoticed, and you’ll wind up frustrated. In addition, if you write only for yourself and don’t consider the reader, then the only person you can successfully market your book to is you, and, again, there’s no reason to publish. I'm not trying to be harsh. I’m attempting to emphasize the point that writing is communication and if you’re just talking to yourself on paper then there’s no point in getting frustrated when no one else listens. So ask yourself if you have an audience that you need to define better, or if your writing should simply be a personal exercise.

Defining Your Audience

This may appear to be a daunting task, but it may help if I share my experience. I find that readers of my work fall into three categories:

Some love my work.
Some hate my work.
Some don’t care about my work.

The audience I want to identify is the first group. People buy books for different reasons, but there’s a high probability that the people in that first group share some very similar reasons for the books they choose. These common characteristics may be defined by gender, occupation, location, education, or other combinations of qualities. Some of the things I know about my audience is that they tend to have three things in common: they like children’s literature (many because they are children or work with children), they typically don’t take themselves or life too seriously, and they generally tend to be female.  Does this mean that I don’t have any male readers? Of course not. It simply means that if I market to women I'll be more successful than if I market to men or both. Marketing to everyone wastes your time and resources, so it's best to focus as much as possible.

There are numerous way to figure out your audience. For example, you can find geographical information from sales data and your Facebook Fan Page (this will also give you age and gender information). However, I’ve found that the best way to define my audience is through interactions. When you do a book signing or public event look at the audience and see who took the time to attend. Make yourself accessible online and see who contacts you through your website or friends you on social networking sites. Also monitor the engage different social media posts receive - observing how people respond to your posts tells you what's important to them.

Once you identify who is likely to be in the first group of “some who love my work,” then it’s easier to figure out the next step, which is what they want ... and that will be the topic of my next post.