Sunday, February 28, 2010

March Guest Blogger: Phil

It's a new month, and that means a new guest blogger. Meet Phil. He writes over at Tin Can Goat, often posting his 500 projects complete with word count at the end. He'll impart some of his wisdom this Thursday, and again on the 18th. Today is interview day!
1. When and why did you begin writing?
--I began writing after the truancy officer showed up on the doorstep and
informed my parents I had to start attending school. My mom figured it was
better for me to suffer, than her go to jail so she forced me onto the
school bus and my life since, has been one writing challenge after another.

2. What sort of genre do you write?
--I write whatever occupies my mind the moment I sit in front of a computer;
typically horror, suspense, and humor, though a few friends insist I'm not
funny and beg me to stop. I read quite a bit of fantasy, so one would think
I’d write it, but I suck.

3. Have you been published? If so, what titles? Where can we find your book?
--My published history is not glamorous, though I've been published a couple
of times, but I don't consider them as great accomplishments.

In high school, I masqueraded as a Meet the Merchants reporter for the
Owyhee Avalanche, a now defunct newspaper in Marsing, ID. My column
consisted of me walking the dusty street, dodging tumbleweeds and
rattlesnakes, and interview local business owners.

I’ve also managed to get my name published in a couple of comic books. One
was for a contest (published in *Star Brand: Annual #1)*; the other was a
letter to a Batman writer expressing my apology and embarrassment of
confusing him with a more famous writer. He liked my apology and not only
published my long letter (in *Batman: Shadow of the Bat #72*) but he sent me
the original script and autographed it. This is my favorite thing I own.

4. How do you define being a successful writer? What do you do to get there?
--I could drive down the road of clich├ęs and point out road signs that
success is merely putting words to paper, but I think that’s a load of crap.
To me, success is posting your writing out for the world to read and having
someone you didn’t know was a follower tells you that not only do they like
your writing, but they can’t wait to read more.

For years I’ve balked at writing; giving in to vices rather than commitment.
I’ve ignored the successful writers who harp "just write". It’s a lot harder
than it sounds and the time commitment is incredible. I walk away from
4-hours of writing and I am physically exhausted, but the next day I read
what I wrote and just knowing I persevered the night before, motivates me to
make another go at it.

5. What is your writing schedule?
--I’ve tried doing what Stephen King, George R. R. Martin, and others have
said; write early when the mind is fresh and alert, but I’m a night owl. My
early morning starts at midnight and I write until I’m asleep. I edit when
I’m wide awake and fresh. I’m starting to develop a niche in hanging out at
Starbucks with my netbook, drinking Black-tea Latte’s and enjoying the
constant white noise.

6. You come to a fork in the road. Which way do you go? Why?
--The fork littered with corpses. There my stories lurk around blind curves, drop off low branches, and whisper from thick brambles and dark hollows.

7. What books have most influenced your life?
--*The Holy Bible*. It contains great stories I use as the basis for what I
write. Others are Tom Sawyer (The image of Tom flicking a spider in a
candle flame has stuck with me for years); Poe’s, *The Cask of Amontillado*;
Dostoevsky’s, *Crime and Punishment*, Dante’s *Inferno*, and *Spider-Man*.

8. What book are you currently reading?
--Here's the thing, I can't read just one book at a time. I read about 100
pages and then pick up another. The rotation tends to be three books and a
slew of weekly comic books.

My current cycle is Matthew Pearl’s, The Dante Club (I’ve been struggling
through this book reading it for six years, but I vow I will complete
it...gah!); Brad Metzler’s, *The Book of Lies*; and Raymond E. Feist’s, *Jimmy
the Hand* (My mom picked this up in Britain in 2004, and it too has been in
my rotation for six years); and of course, my weekly slew of comics.

9. What are your current projects?
--The 500 challenge, which is kicking my ass. I'm trying to make every day’s
post a unique work and it's difficult enough that many days I just want to

I'm working on a young adult series and my submission for the
*Bridges*contest in March, 2010.

10. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about
their work?
--I hate this question because I really can’t decide; King, Martin,
Flanagan, Brubaker, and others, but I guess the writer to whom I have the
closest connection is John Steinbeck. Mostly because my grandfather—an Okie
who moved his family to California in ’37; the year my father was born—swore
if he ever ran into Steinbeck that he'd kick his ass. Grandpa said he didn’t
like Steinbeck getting famous off of people’s misfortunes and that *The
Grapes of Wrath* was nothing but slanderous trash.

11. Have you learned anything from writing that applies to other parts of
--Yep. Nothing is an easy. Writing takes discipline. Losing weight takes
discipline. Marriage takes discipline. The only things in life that are easy
are those that are bad for you and should be avoided at all costs.

12. Do you have any advice that you would like to share?
--Three things:

· One, have a thick skin regarding your writing and learn to
distance yourself. I know people who get so upset over someone commenting on
their work that they quit writing or lose sleep or drop into depression;
none of which are healthy.

· Two, use find function in your word processor and get rid of all
the *-ly* words. A friend of mine calls them "purply prose" and loves making
me feel like crap as he marks them from my manuscripts, but his advice has
matured my writing.

· Three, the first draft is always crap, but not all crap is bad.
Crap is fertilizer that feeds the growth of a plant; you’ve just got to till
the ground until you get a good mixture. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

13. You're trapped on an island, what five things do you have with you?
--My family, because life is beautiful when your kids are constantly at each
other's throats. Food. Water. Air conditioning, if the island is tropical; a
heater if it’s not (Please have power.) Basketball equipment (Does this
count as one?)

14. Quick, it's a Zombie Apocalypse! What do you do?
--I mimic the zombies as did the survivors in Shawn of the Dead and head
for the local pub.

15. Your computer just died, does this ruin your writing day, or can you
--I'd go out back and finish the fire pit patio I’ve been working on the
past year.

16. Where would you take your favorite author to dinner?
--Phuket (The ‘H’ is silent) in Seattle. Best Thai Food in the Northwest.

17. Why isn't the sky red?
--I don't know, but 6 is afraid of 7, because 7 8 9.

It's Book Review Time

Megan and I have a substantial collection of books on writing. While we love most of them, some, are rare gems, shiny that we refuse to let them stray far from our desks. We thought we'd share some of these with you. Every Sunday you can look forward to a book review. We'll cover writing books we love, like, and hate. We'll also sneak in books and stories that have helped us in our writing somehow.

First up is a book we just picked up: The Writer's Little Helper written by James V. Smith, Jr.

The book is a jewel, containing over two hundred forty pages of Q&A, Tools, and checklists. In fact, that's partially how the book is organized. Amid the greater organization found in the table of contents, you'll find advice distilled down into these three categories.

An example: mine and Megan's favorite out of the book is a tool: "The Scene Card." It's small, designed to be taped to the manuscript, or the notebook, or the folder. The idea is to fill one card out for each scene in your story. It helps you figure out how the scene fits into the structure of the story.

What's on the card? Here's one of the elements. The purpose of the scene: Move the story, develop characters, introduce/worsen a problem? There are others, but, the list is general and comprehensive on what a scene should do. If it doesn't fit one of these? You should probably not have it in the story. Really, I mean it.

So, would I recommend buying it? Yes, to everyone! I intend to buy another one, so Megan will stop stealing this one from me.

- Sam

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Prompt for Saturday

Because koalas are always relevant, here's a site full of cute things.

Enjoy it. Or, use it to inspire you. Take the opportunity to describe a koala to an alien from another planet. Or to a blind person. Or to someone who's lost their sense of touch.

I think I'll take the opportunity to send someone to the zoo. Anything can happen at the zoo.

What do you think about koalas?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


How do you read?

I don't mean "by picking up a book and looking at the marks and deciphering them into words and thoughts and ideas." I mean: "what do you do when you read?" Do you read the words on the page, and allow yourself to be transferred to another world? Do you look for and find hidden meanings and messages within the text? Do you question how the writer shaped the words into what you're seeing on the page?

Personally, I do all three. Though, more and more, I critique the writing that I see. I can't help it. I want to know how the writer made me laugh or smile; what made me have the reaction to the book that I had. How else can I do this if I don't look for it in the writing?

More importantly, how can I know what I'm doing right and wrong if I can't see it in someone else's writing? What better way to learn than from other writers?

There's a writing adage that you can't learn how to write, and you can't teach how to do it. I happen to disagree. Writing can be taught. The teaching just happens in somewhat less-than-traditional forms. The learning happens by the student, by reading, by asking questions, and by seeking answers.

So, I'll ask again: what do you do when you read? What do you do to better your own writing?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Social Writing

A short blog today. Two items on the agenda.

First, I want to remind everyone that the contest is still running, the deadline is the 20th, so get your entries in. You can get more information at the website.

Next, we've been thinking it would be nice to add a monthly social event. The idea is to get together on a Friday or Saturday evening, enjoy some company, some appetizers, and maybe a pint, and share observations on people watching, characters and other such sundry items.

So, Boise people, thoughts? Opinions? Bonus points if you can name the gods Friday and Saturday are named after.

- Sam

Friday, February 19, 2010

What Do You Need?

What do you need to write?

I know, there's the obvious. We need something to write with: pen, paper, pencil, computer, some even prefer a voice recorder to transcribe later.

But, what else do you need? For example, I just need my laptop and an open document. I'm really not even picky about what sort of document is open (though I do prefer software that features word-wrapping). I can be anywhere, there can be anything going on around me. It really doesn't matter. Just a keyboard and an idea, and I'm typing away.

Some people have to be in their writing corner. They go there, shut out the rest of the world, and write away. Some have an entire ritual that must happen before they can write a word. Some have special tools they need, some a tasty snack.

So, tell us. What allows you to be successful? What do you need to write?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

What Do You Do When You Fail?

Here she is again, our guest blogger Miriam S. Forster.

I have a confession to make. We're now almost two months into the 500 challenge and my average... is not so good. About 50 percent follow-through, in fact.

I'm still making it a goal, but it's a goal I don't always reach and that got me thinking.

What do you do when you fail?

I'm not talking about rejections from agents or editors or bad reviews/critiques. Those are things you don't have much control over. But what do you do when you set a goal for yourself and don't make it?

It happens all the time with me. Exercise and diet are the two biggest offenders, but writing is up there. I make a goal, I set out to do it....

And I mess up. Forget. Get distracted. Get stressed. Get too tired. Watch TV.

So what do you do?

I think the biggest key is to focus on the present.

If you aren't making your goals, don't dwell on your past failures. That leads to making excuses, or if you're a self-flagellating type, getting discouraged.

And don't worry about the future. "How will I ever learn to do this?" "What if I suck for the rest of the year?" "What if I NEVER make my goals?" These are not profitable questions, and won't help you.

Focus on the present. It's about you, today, doing today's work. It doesn't matter if you didn't do it yesterday, or the day before, or for the last six months. You can do today's work today.

Maria Killilea in her book "With Love from Karen" says: "Now is all that can be presently profitable."

So that's what I do when I fail. I start over, every day, and do it again. And I try to be patient with myself. I missed many blog posts when I first started trying to blog on a regular basis. I fell down a lot when I learned to ride a bike.

Failure is part of the learning process, and as of this minute, all your failures are in the past.

Focus on the now.

And go write 500 words, too. :)

Have an idea for a guest blogger? Let us know in the comments below.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Alien Thoughts

How many characters do you write that think the same as you? Or, if not the same, very close to it? I know I do it; it's easier. If your character thinks like you do, you don't need to work very hard to make the character act in a real, believable way. I've even been guilty of doing it with different characters in the same story.

Now, how many novels have you read where the different characters are nothing like each other? A lot, I'd wager. I know I've picked up books by the same author where different characters are nearly identical to each other. That, however, isn't a very interesting book when that happens.

So, today, and the rest of this week, I challenge you. Pick the most alien, bizarre, screwed up personality that you can, and write that. Try a new one each day. It's the perfect excuse to pull out the futuristic AI robot, or an alien king on a far away world.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Liar liar pants on fire

Who reading this blog tells lies? Show of hands now.

It's okay, you can admit it. And, if you write fiction, you have to fess up to lying. Writing fiction, and even some types of non-fiction, requires an act of lying: telling a story that isn't true.

Thinking about writing in this particular context puts a bit of a bad light on the act. We shouldn't tell lies. It's morally reprehensible to tell a non-truth.

How do you reconcile this? Why is it okay for us to tell lies in stories, in writing, but not in real life? Do you ever practice telling lies in real life as an exercise to further your craft?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Fixed Form in Poetry and Prose

Today is the second Thursday of the month, which means yesterday was the second Wednesday. We had several writers gather together at Rediscovered Bookshop last night to discuss writing.

We had a writing exercise based on the Fibonacci Sequence. The exercise we did last night can be found on our website.

I wanted to use this blog to relay some of the discussion we had last night, and open up the discussion to a broader range of people.

One of the highlights of last night was a discussion of fixed form, what it means, and how it affects poetry and prose alike. Fixed form is generally found in poetry; the most famous of which is probably the Sonnet, through there are many other forms, such as the Limerick or the Haiku. Each of these forms lends itself to different types of poetry. Most poets would not choose the Limerick form to write about serious questions of human desire and faith. Likewise, men from the Eastern portion of the United States would not likely use a Sonnet form to throw innuendo back and forth at each other, rapid-fire.

Thus, we have the idea that form follows function. Rhyme and meter, or the lack there of, create tension and drama themselves. Add the meaning of the words that hold the rhyme and meter, and the poem really starts to mean something.

But what does all this have to do with prose? Prose doesn't use fixed form. There's one paragraph right after another, each flowing into the next. Characters speak and narrators explain. The story moves forward organically, with no rules.

Though, there are some rules involved. For example, a character that has a deadline to meet, and is running behind, probably won't meander from his car to his office. And a narrator telling a story full of suspense probably won't stop to tell you, the reader, about the scent of the flowers. Short, tight sentences create suspense, and hurry the story along. Long, lingering sentences invite a reader to stick around a while, grab a cup of tea, and relax with the story, rather than rushing through to the end.

What's your favorite fixed form? Why do you like it so well? Do you despise fixed form? Are you vehemently against the idea of the form of words affecting prose? Are you for it? Why? We want to hear from you!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

How about something a little different?

So, yesterday was Superbowl Sunday. My landlord likes to comment that of all the activities in which my husband and I participate, watching football is the only mainstream thing we do.

Let me just add, we really only watch BSU, the Rams when they're on network TV, and the Superbowl. And, mostly, we watch the Superbowl for the commercials.

I'm sure this is entirely too much personal information for a non-personal blog. But, it's a story, that leads me to what this blog is really about: telling a story. How do you tell a story? What tools do you use? What tools are available?

There's quite a bit of experimental story telling out there in the world today. I won't get into it much; Google does a much better job of it. But, I will give you this. It's Google's Superbowl advertisement. And, it's a rather interesting, different way of telling a story. If you already saw it, watch it again with a writer's eye. If you haven't watched it, well, now's your chance.

And you thought your search history couldn't possibly tell a story.

What's so great about the way Google told the story? For me, it was what they left out - the holes the viewer had to fill to understand the story. And yet, even though I had to use my imagination, it worked for me. I liked getting to fill the holes.

What did you like best about this form of story telling?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

What's your excuse?

Writing requires writing.

It seems obvious. That in order to write one must sit down and write. But, how often do you have a story in your head that you circulate, and mull over, and go round and round in circles, but never actually write down? I know I do it. And, I know at least a couple more who do too.

So, how about a challenge for that story that's not written. You know, the one that's stuck in your head, that you've known about since the dawn of time, but that you haven't written down yet. Why haven't you written it? Are you afraid of the first line? The first page? That the scene won't match up to your expectations? That you'll write it, and find you no longer care about the characters?

I say, write it anyway. Get it out of your system. Stop reading this blog, and go write it. Write just 500 words of it (more, of course, is always acceptable). Right now. I'm serious. Then you may come back and keep reading.

Stop. Put the blog away. It'll be okay. The blog will still be here when you get back, I promise.

Feel better? Yes? No? Why? Did you capture the moment? Do you feel accomplished for having started? Do you feel that you sucked? Cause really, it's okay if you did. Don't delete what you wrote. Put it away for a bit, then go back and write more.

I promise you, that story won't write itself. So, be fearless and write it. Put those words on paper. You don't have to release them just yet; just write them down.

What did you write today?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Three Things No One Ever Told Me About Success

Here it is, a guest blog, brought to you by author, blogger, and 500-er (is that a word? it is now!) Miriam S. Forster.

Like a lot of you, when I decided to get serious about writing, I started dreaming. Publication, awards, recognition, success.

But success is a tricky beast, as difficult to catch and hold as vapor. And there are three things about it that I didn’t know.

1. Success takes time

Writing is such a personal thing. Especially when you’re first starting out, everything you write feels so true and deep and precious. You want to argue when people point out weak points, want to believe that this thing you’ve poured your soul into is wonderful.

But the fact is, writing, like any other art, requires practice. You probably won’t play a concerto your first month of piano lessons, and most people can’t draw a portrait the first time they pick up a pen. It takes time. In fact, studies show that you have to put 10,000 hours of work into an art or discipline before you achieve mastery.

But patience and time are not the only things that success requires.

2. Success requires a day-by-day commitment

By time and practice I don’t mean rewriting your first book over and over and over. You have to write something new. New words on a regular basis are the best way of improving as a writer. You can always take what you learn and apply it to your older work.

One thing I learned when I started blogging was the importance of consistency. You can’t build a good blog without posting regularly. Exercise is the same way; a long exercise session once a week is not as effective as smaller ones throughout the week.

Perhaps you work better in long stretches. That’s okay, everyone is different. But whatever you do, keep it consistent.

It’s hard to be persistent though, when you feel you aren’t getting anywhere. And that’s where my biggest lesson came in.

3. Success is something only you can define

Here’s the thing about success. It’s always the place you want to get to next, always the step right past where you are. The unpublished writer wants to be published. The small-press author wants to be published by a bigger house. The unagented writer wants an agent, the agented writer wants a book deal. Most writers would love to write full-time and still be able to pay bills. There’s always something more to want.

What does that mean? It means that if you measure your success as a writer by those things, you will always fall short. Goals are good, don’t get me wrong. But you have to be able to appreciate your achievements for what they are without getting discouraged.

This is the most important thing I’ve learned about success. To quote the immortal John Candy in Cool Runnings, “A gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you're not enough without it, you'll never be enough with it.”

Have you learned anything lately about writing and success?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Oops! I was pushing buttons again. Shouldn't do that. Come back on Thursday, when I've pushed buttons at the proper time.


Monday, February 1, 2010

Febuary Guest: Miriam S. Forster

We're starting off the guest blogging with an interview with an Idaho author, Miriam S. Forster. Her book, The Flute and the Dagger, is due out this year. Keep reading for insights from a budding new author. Then, head over to her blog for some more reading, and updates on her book. Miriam can also be found on Facebook and Twitter. We'll hear more from Miriam later this week, and again later in the month.

1. When and why did you begin writing?
According to my mother, the first book I wrote, I wrote at the age of seven as a birthday present for my younger sister. And writing poems and stories in English class was always my favorite. But I didn’t start to love writing for its own sake until high school. I’d made up a this world on a computer game I had and I wanted to tell the story of it

2. What sort of genre do you write?
Mostly young adult, and mostly fantasy. I like how tight the writing is for that age. And I love the possibilities and wonder of fantasy lit.

3. Have you been published? If so, what titles? Where can we find your book?
I am in the process of being published. Unfortunately the small press I’m publishing with had a huge name change last year that pushed everything waay back. I have heard from my publisher though, and things should get rolling this spring.
The best way to keep informed about when the book comes out is to follow my blog, or join my Facebook Page.

4. How do you define being a successful writer? What do you do to get there?
I think success is a hard thing to define, because no one ever feels like they’ve reached it. Success is always just one more achievement away. And in publishing, a LOT of things are out of your control. So I try to focus on what I can do. Am I writing consistently? Am I improving my knowledge of how publishing works? Am I connecting with readers and networking to the best of my ability? If I can say yes to those things, then I consider myself a success.

5. What is your writing schedule?
500 words a day, of course! I usually try to write after work, before I go home and other things get in the way. If I don’t do that, then later at night generally works best.

6. You come to a fork in the road. Which way do you go? Why?
Probably the road less traveled, or the one that looks like it might go somewhere interesting.

7. What books have most influenced your life?
I can’t think of any specific ones that had a huge impact. I think the thing that really influenced me was that I was allowed to read widely when I was a kid. My dad shares my love of books, and most of his library was open to me. That really encouraged my love of books and storytelling and gave me an open mind.

8. What book are you currently reading?
I got The War of Art by Steven Pressfield for Christmas, and I’ve already read it three times. It’s a simple book, but it shoots straight about a lot of things, including the fight against Resistance and the way we self-sabotage.

9. What are your current projects?
I’m currently rewriting the book I finished in November, a novel about a high-school girl who dies and ends up into the body of a kitten. I’m also doing a lot of research about the Nome Alaskan gold rush for my next book, a middle-grade historical fantasy.

10. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Oh, that’s a HARD question. I love Mercedes’ Lackey’s worldbuilding and Donna Andrews’ sense of fun. Tamora Pierce does awesome female characters like no one else, and Dean Koontz can almost always be counted on for good escapist plots.
It all depends on what I’m in the mood for.

11. Have you learned anything from writing that applies to other parts of life?
I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is to focus on the things I can control. Also, humility and patience.
In writing, you can get too wrapped up in the words on the page, too invested in the work. Writing is a deeply personal thing, but it’s also a skill like any other and needs practice. If you take critiques, rejections, etc, too personally, it can really hurt your ability to improve.

12. Do you have any advice that you would like to share?
Practice, practice, practice. You wouldn’t expect to become a concert pianist the first time you played chopsticks, don’t expect to be an amazing writer the first time you pick up a pen.
Along with that, the best way to be a better writer is to write another book, (or poem or song, or whatever). I spent years trying to rewrite my first book, and it wasn’t until I had another two manuscripts under my belt that I had the experience to make that first book what it needed to be

13. You're trapped on an island, what five things do you have with you?
A book on edible plants and a fishing net, to start. :) Also, a box of pens, a giant box of paper, and a really good, long book.

14. Quick, it's a Zombie Apocalypse! What do you do?
Run and find someone with a really big gun, then hole up in a bunker somewhere.

15. Your computer just died, does this ruin your writing day, or can you cope?
I think I could cope. There’s always planning to be done, outlining, or research. And if I have a scene that HAS to be written, I can always write longhand.

16. Where would you take your favorite author to dinner?
Flying Pie! Or somewhere like it, somewhere you can settle in, eat breadsticks and relax.

17. Why isn't the sky red?
Um, it is, isn’t it? Next you’ll be telling me stop signs aren’t blue! :)

Interested in being a guest blogger? Point us to your blog and let us know.