Wednesday, November 15, 2017

But for Grace: A #HoldOnToTheLight post

This quote was a favorite of my grandfather's. He was one of my earliest teachers in the most important of lessons: how to be a good person.

Grandpa Ray's empathy was legendary. It frustrated my grandmother no end. No matter how dire their own woes were, he always believed that others had it worse and wanted to be that person who lent a hand and helped to pull them up. I overheard many arguments over the years about one of Grandpa's generous acts that was going to make it harder on his own family. His response was always, "But they don't have what we have." He might mean something like a roof over their heads, or life skills, or siblings, or money, or a car, or any number of things that he was lending or giving away.

The quote is reminder that life circumstances are not always in your control, that even when we don't have many advantages or opportunities, there is likely some blessing in our lives, something that has kept us afloat when others have drowned. There's a humility and gratitude in the quote which touches me. Most of us live closer to disaster than we like to admit. How many paychecks could you miss before your family saw their lives change for the worse?

I'm more selfish than my grandfather was. There are hardships I won't put on my own family to help others--I pay our bills first, then see what's left to give from. But I still have a generous heart. Emotionally, at least, I still live by "There but for the grace of God go I."

Many people around me struggle worse than I do. Maybe they don't have a partner or a supportive family structure. Maybe they lack employment or inspiration. Maybe something within them doesn't work the same way it works for other people: brain chemistry, coping mechanisms, or positive outlook. Maybe we'll never know what the difference is that makes life harder on them.

Our society, especially when it comes to mental health issues, seems to want to regard these problems as moral failings or the results of bad choices. It's a weird and ugly kind of comfort, but nonetheless a common one to grasp: if the suffering person did or didn't do something they should have, then we can BLAME them for their own troubles, and believe it can't happen to us.

But it can. There but for the grace of God go ALL of us.

But we can make it better for each other, too. We can listen. We can donate. We can call others on it when they indulge in the blame game (and stop doing it ourselves). We can work to make a world that wants to see all of its people lifted up instead of a world that gets to the top by stomping down others.
#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.
Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to and join us on Facebook

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Long and the Short of It

I've been experimenting a lot this year, at least in my writing. Trying new genres, new forms, new venues. I've been so focused on building a sustainable career as a writer in the past three years, that I was starting to feel burnt out. All this playing around has really helped me recapture the joy and fun of it.

"The End" is something novelists can wait a long time to be able to write. Even a really fast full-time writer needs a few months usually to write a complete draft of a novel. Some of us have been known to work on a single book over the course of years. That delayed gratification has stopped more than one would-be-writer from seeing a project through.

So, I decided I'd write some shorter things in 2017. Stories. A novella. I wanted to get to The End a little more often.

 In October, I wrote daily flash fiction. Some of the pieces were as short as three hundred-ish words, and others as long as fifteen hundred. But each gave me a feeling of accomplishment just because they were complete. This month I'm writing microfiction, which is shorter yet, with a word cap of one hundred. It's almost like writing poetry, in that you have to defend each word. There's no extra space for unnecessary clutter.

On the other hand, the novella I started earlier this year refused to say small. It demands novel length treatment, so has now become my NaNoWriMo project. I resisted expanding it for a good long while, but my critique partners finally convinced me I needed more space to do the story justice. Here's hoping it'll stay a single book story! I'm not really wanting to start another series…

What's your sweet spot for length when you write or read? Do you like an epic tome or a haiku?

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

#IWSG: NaNoWriMo and Me

It's the first Wednesday! Which means IWSG Day. Today's question: Win or not, do you usually finish your NaNo project? Have any of them gone on to be published?

After you see what I have to say, be sure to check out other posts and our lovely and generous co-hosts:  Tonja Drecker, Diane Burton, MJ Fifield, and Rebecca Douglass!
I love NaNoWriMo. One of my struggles as a writer is persevering when I hit a wall. I can dither FAR too long over small details and stall moving forward on the big picture. In fact, that's what I did for the first forty-two years of my life (okay, I probably wasn't writing much in the first six to ten years): I started things. But finished none. My daily writing habit, my critique group, and NaNoWriMo have all been a part of helping me start finishing things and see them into print.

I'm a four-time participant and three-time winner of National Novel Writing Month. Every year I think I can't do it in November: 50, 000 words during a school month? But then we hit upon the idea of ordering our Thanksgiving dinner from Weaver Street Market and suddenly, I had Veteran's Day, and a four day weekend full of writing time. I can do a lot with a day off school.

In 2013, I wrote the first draft of Cold Spring, a historical women's fiction book which will, someday when I finish it, become a historical fiction trilogy.  Though I feel good about the first book, I'm going to need to devote some serious time to historical research before I can finish this set of novels and I feel like I can't really send it out there for publication consideration until I've finished all three.

In 2014, I wrote the first draft of a middle grade novel: Rat Jones and the Lacrosse Zombies, which I also plan to return to and whip into publishing shape. I still really love Rat, my main character. She just hasn't won the fight to the top of my to-do list again yet.

In 2015 I didn't win, but I wrote 30,000 words towards the book I finished as my 2016 project: Face the Change: Book 3 of the Menopausal Superhero series, which was published in summer 2017!

This year, I'm working on Thursday's Children, a new project (YA dystopian romance). I began the project his summer, hoping to submit it a novella into a book bundle some friends were putting out in September. But the story stalled, and clearly wants to be a longer, fully realized novel and not a novella. I've spent October thinking and planning and seeking feedback on the parts I've already written and I'm going in confident that I can finish this sucker in November. I'm a little nervous since my parents are coming to visit, which will leave me with less time, but my attitude is that even if I don't "win," I'll have more words than I would have gotten otherwise. I'll be that much closer to those magical words: THE END.

So, I don't know if four times qualifies me to speak to what I "usually" do. But I am a finisher, and I do plan to see all these books onto shelves and into digital readers.

What NaNoWriMo does for me is apply some external pressure to move faster, even when the project doesn't have a publisher waiting. It makes me write through, over, and around things rather than just closing the computer for the night when I get stuck. It shuts down my internal editor and charges forward, jumping canyon sized plot holes and knocking down doubts. The camaraderie of knowing that others are sharing the struggle at the same time as me helps. It's all over social media all month which builds excitement and a feeling of being a part of something larger.

What it doesn't do is give me a publishable draft. But revision is my friend. In fact, I LOVE revision (most of the time). I love taking my bare passionate lines and shaping and polishing them into fully realized stories with flow, pacing, and arcs. Now that I've traveled this road a few times, I understand how to revise my work effectively, and faster than I used to.

So, once more into the breach, my friends! See you on the other side!

If you're not already following #IWSG (Insecure Writer's Support Group), you should really check it out. The monthly blog hop is a panoply of insight into the writing life at all stages of hobby and career. Search the hashtag in your favorite social media venue and you'll find something interesting on the first Wednesday of every month.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Pandora's Box of Horrors 2017 Spoken Word Halloween Contest Honorable Mention: Thomas Carty

Honorable Mention: Thomas Carty: Vampire Killed by Love

I was invited to help judge the 2017 Spoken Word Halloween Contest for Pandora's Box of Horrors, and it's my pleasure to introduce you to our Honorable Mention entrant: Thomas Carty.

Thomas Carty's "Vampire Killed by Love" receives an honorable mention for story appeal and literary structure, and a resolved dénouement. However, judges felt the author’s delivery was soothingly incongruent to the horror-themed content.

Thomas was kind enough to answer a few questions about his work for me.

Tell me a little about you as a writer: I have been writing since a child. I come from a people who have a love of poetry and storytelling. As far as I know I'm the first rhymers in the family. We never say "poet" as that's too posh. In our tradition a rhymers is known as a poet but not his works. The works may be known but not the composer. I say composer as in old times a lot of rhymers could not read or write and learned and recited their pieces. Lucky enough I can write as I cannot learn to recite for love or money. I'm a member of Tullamore Rhymers Club and I mage & Poesia among other loose collectives. Living in Galway Ireland, I grew up in Offaly but hope to move back to my parents North Longford in the coming years.

What was the inspiration for your piece for this contest? It's an odd tale. I was advising a friend on her love life that if she loved a lover to let him go if he wanted to as they who love the flower let it grow and don't pluck it. This girl loves vampire stories and a eureka moment saw a tale of a girl who plucked the flower and let her lover sleep in and die from greed and laziness. Thus developed into a sister - a twin - who was the opposite. Then the idea of the healer priest (an Irish Catholic tradition) came in and it fell into place inside an hour. That's how I write in fits of inspiration. I read somewhere it's called "the divine madness"!!!!

Where else can our readers learn about you and your work? 
The best place to start is my website:

Monday, October 23, 2017

Pandora's House of Horrors 2017 Spoken Word Halloween Contest: 2nd place : K.N. Johnson

2nd place: K.N. Johnson: Specter Hill

I was invited to help judge the 2017 Spoken Word Halloween Contest for Pandora's Box of Horrors, and it's my pleasure to introduce you to our  2nd place winner: K.N. Johnson

K.N. Johnson's "Specter Hill" took second place "for spoken word delivery, scare factor, and story appeal of the tale. However, judges agreed that the tale seemed to beg a fuller telling, that it felt incomplete."

K.N. was kind enough to answer a few questions about her work for me.

Tell me a little about you as a writer: My short story “Frigid” won Mythraeum’s Pygmalion contest and is being developed into a short film by Mythraeum, LLC and Loste Films. Filming begins January 2018. My work has appeared in Proximity Magazine and Incandescent Mind literary journal. My short stories are included in the anthologies A Journey of Words, A Haunting of Words, Below the Deck - Tales from the Cellar and Polterguests. My dark science fiction story “Regolith” will appear in Kristell Ink’s upcoming anthology Terra Nullius. “The Clearing” will appear in the anthology On Fire published by Transmundane Press.

What was the inspiration for your piece for this contest? I was researching ghost stories and legends particular to the U.S. midwestern state of Indiana and came across the Spook Lights. There are similar stories of such lights in other U.S. states, but this one is only an hours' drive from my home. It intrigued me that engineers from the esteemed Purdue University even investigated these sightings. While they came up with logical possibilities, they couldn't conclude with exact certainty the source of these lights.

Where else can our readers learn about you and your work? I'm still working on a website, but I'm very active on my Facebook page. I announce when I have new stories published and interesting odds and ends that inspire me. My Facebook shop includes links for purchasing some of the anthologies my stories are included in.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Pandora's Box of Horrors 2017 Spoken Word Halloween Contest Winner: David Lewis Paget

1st place: David Lewis Paget: Myth maker: 

Halloween might just be my very favorite holiday. It's creepy and fun, fueled by sugar and imagination. In other words, it's right up my alley! So, when I was invited to help judge the 2017 Spoken Word Halloween Contest for Pandora's Box of Horrors, I jumped at the chance.

And here's our winner!

David Lewis Paget's "Mythmaker" won "for form and literary structure, for spoken word delivery, scare factor, and for the “totality” of the tale. Judges agreed it had great story appeal, a satisfying completeness of the story, and a well resolved dénouement."

David was kind enough to answer a few questions about his work for me.

Tell me a little about you as a writer: I began to write back in 1966, mainly short stories, but then poetry. I do remember that a love of language was involved, and I was most impressed by some of the Lennon/McCartney lyrics of the time such as, "she kept her face in a jar by the door." They had a surreal ability to open whole new vistas of thought.... "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" etc. I was educated in England, so my exposure was to the old English Poets like Blake, Coleridge, etc. who all wrote in rhyme and metre. I was determined to master rhyme and metre right from the beginning, and refused to go the way of free form, which I always considered to be the lazy way out.

I wrote interpersonal poetry for the first thirty odd years, until I was convinced that I'd eventually meet myself coming back, or begin to repeat myself, which I didn't want to do, Then fortuitously I took a teaching job in China for a year, and was exposed to Chinese Folk Lore which fascinated me. I came to the conclusion that the only poetry that really survives is that which tells a story, so I began to write in a narrative sense. Since then I have written well over 1,000 narratives, which takes my total output to over 1400 poems. I publish through and have seventeen books of poetry available there, for those who would like to check them out.

What was the inspiration for your piece for this contest? The 'Myth Maker' is merely just one of many Gothic Type themes that I've played with over time. I like to wander across a landscape that exists outside what we might describe as 'normal,' where the most improbable things happen to the most improper people. I was a very early fan of Edgar Allan Poe, having gorged on his 'Tales of Mystery and Imagination' at the age of eleven, when my father pointed it out to me on his bookshelf. That experience captured me for life, and I attempt to continue Poe's experimental works in my own style of Gothic Narrative Poetry. As a horror story, I think the Myth Maker hits the spot.

Where else can our readers learn about you and your work? All my poetry is posted onto the timeline of my Facebook Page, as a link to the actual work on I usually post to about 15 different sites, so as to try and gain as wide a readership as possible. So you may befriend me on Facebook, or on WritersCafe to view my work. On Facebook I only accept friend requests from people whose own pages reflect an interest in poetry or literature of some kind. But I usually accept all requests from people on WritersCafe. I hold a monthly reading over Gulf FM 89.3 which is streamed, and may be heard anywhere in the world.This is on the last Wednesday of each month between 12.30 - 1.00pm South Australian time. It's part of the Copper Coast Writers Program.

I also have a number of video readings on youtube, and some audio readings on Soundcloud. Just google my name on those sites to bring them up. In addition, Jeanette Leone Skirvin has collaborated with me on recording some of my poetry as videos, and are certainly worth a look. All on youtube.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

My Year in Books (So Far)

I'm big on setting goals and challenges for myself. I track my word count, my exercise, my meals, and my reading among other things.

In 2017, I set my usual goal of 52 books, one a week. I'm nearly there already and it's only October, so I think I'll make it. But I thought it might be fun to look at what I've read this year.

Not all of my reading is self-selected. I participate in two book clubs. But I chose those books clubs precisely because I wanted to be led to books I might not have found otherwise (and because talking books with other readers is one of life's greatest pleasures).

Goodreads says I've read 48 books in 2017. That's a little off. Three books got counted twice in different editions. One is a book of writing prompts, which I did look through and use some of…but did I "read" it? Not exactly.  So, let's call it 44 books. Not bad, especially when you consider the busy-ness of my life (day job, writing life, two kids, husband, rescue dog, occasional social life).

I had a few things in mind for my reading this year:

Read more people that I know. I have a lot of writer friends. That happens when you're a writer :-)  I haven't read enough of their work. Twenty of these books were written by people I'm acquainted with either online or in real life (Twenty-one, if I count my own book). I've got some truly talented friends and colleagues out there.

I also wanted to read more women. Despite being one myself, I found that I haven't been reading as many women authors as you might expect. Twenty-one of these books were written by women.

I wanted to read more people of color. Eight of these authors (that I know of) meet that criteria.

So, why does any of that matter?

I believe that we are what we read, just as we are what we eat. I read to get to know other lives, to deepen my understanding of the world and learn about things I know little about. Reading is an escape and a solace, but it's also an opportunity to stretch and grow and expand yourself.

So, here's the list:

How about all of you out there? What have you been reading this year? Why? Did you choose it or just kind of end up there?