Ten Things TO Say to a Writer

Earlier this week, a hashtag took my Twitter feed by storm. In case you missed it, that hashtag was #TenThingsNotToSayToAWriter, and it quickly had everyone from budding writers to well-established authors bonding and venting about the ridiculous things people say to writers.

Because let’s face it: most people have no idea how to talk to writers. If I had a penny for every time somebody offered me an unsolicited idea for a novel or story, or asked how I made money, or whether I had a real job…well, I’d probably have like $2.50.


But as amusing and on-point the hashtag was, the whole thing also felt a little negative to me. Yes, a lot of people have no idea how to talk to writers, and yes, many of the things they say are awkward verging on offensive. But writing also isn’t the most well-understood of careers, partly because we’re all creatives with different processes, and partly because most of us are solitary little mouses scribbling away in our quiet mousey-houses.

It’s easy to think of the things we wish people wouldn’t say to us. But what do we wish they would? Here are my top ten things people should say to a writer*!

1. “Would you be able to proof-read this document for me? Oh, and what’s your hourly rate?”

2. “Sitting in front of a computer all day, talking to no one but the voices in your head, as you spin entire fictional universes out of the ether? Boy, that sounds really hard!”

3. “Do you want this spare bottle of wine I accidentally bought?”

Six whole dollars

4. “I can’t wait until your book releases so I can purchase it for its full sale price!”

5. “The wifi here is free.”

6. “I always wanted to write a book, but then I came to the realistic conclusion that I have spent zero time devoting myself to the craft of writing and probably have neither the tools nor the commitment to follow through on such a project.”

I wrote a whole book about zombies.

7.  “As a working professional I’m sure you have a set schedule, so I won’t assume you can drop everything to have lunch with me in 2o minutes.”

8. “But if you are hungry I have some free food here I’d love to share with you.”

Writers are always hungry

9. “I have many fascinating life experiences under my belt, but now that I think about it I doubt any of them would make particularly compelling works of fiction.”

10. “Thanks for being a writer. Without people like you, there wouldn’t be any books.”

How do you wish people would talk to you as a writer? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!

*This is meant to be a humorous post. Please do not take offense with any of my silliness.

Five Reasons to Watch Puella Magi Madoka Magica

madoka 3

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably noticed that I recently watched and was completely floored by an anime called Puella Magi Madoka Magica. It’s a well-known and highly, highly praised series in anime circles (to which I really don’t belong), but I came across it because Netflix thought I would like it.

Well, Netflix was right.

The plot centers around a young girl named Madoka and her friends—and what happens when a magical creature offers them one miraculous wish in exchange for signing up to become a witch-fighting magical girl. Sounds simple, but naturally it gets oh-so-complicated.

I’m not an anime expert by any means, but I gather that this show is a deconstruction of the magical girl genre. In that way, like Neon Genesis Evangelion, it succeeds because it’s both the culmination and a critique of the typical genre stories. The beauty of Madoka, though, is that it’s an artistic triumph, quite literally beautiful, and it stands on its own merits as an excellent piece of storytelling.


So here’s why you should watch:

1. The show revolves around the power of female friendship. So many shows center on romantic relationships, whether gay, straight, or something in between, that it’s easy to forget the most important relationships in our lives aren’t all about sex. While some might argue that Madoka contains romantic relationships, on its face, it’s really about female friendship: the depths of our hearts to which friendship can reach and the heights to which it can drive us to achieve.

2. It’s a masterwork of feminism without being about feminism. There are almost no male characters in this show. The magical girls aren’t special because they’re girls who are powerful. Rather, they’re special because of the sacrifices they make to protect the human race. Neither sex nor gender is an issue. To see a show like this beloved by a geeky audience is a huge triumph, particularly when women’s right to enjoy any kind of geekery, whether written works or visual, is constantly under threat. Plus, the juxtaposition of “girly” visuals and genre-elements with true darkness and despair is gloriously true to realities of human nature, let alone womanhood.

3. It’s visually stunning. I have never seen an anime as gorgeously and triumphantly experimental in its animation style. As the characters shift between worlds, the world literally shifts and becomes Other. Each witch has her own style of magic, and it’s hair-raising to see the differences between them. While the human world is beautifully drawn, the supernatural elements are phenomenal. (Sidebar: the music is also incredible.)

4. The plot twists will gut you. Any time a magical bargain is struck, there’s bound to be a price. In this case, the price is so heart-breaking that you’ll feel devastated halfway through the series—and that’s before you even get to the meat of the central story. Despite what may seem like a played-out premise, the story told here is not a simple one. Prepare yourself for heartbreak.

5. Every character is well-drawn, but Madoka and Homura could walk out of the screen. The two main characters have layers of depth that put both onions and parfaits to shame. The timid, girly-girl who initially wants power for its own sake, just so she can feel special, shows herself to have more true compassion than a Catholic saint. And the journey she takes to finally own her power traverses roads through fear and doubt most stories never touch.

And Homura? Well. You’ll just have to see.


Darkness and Starlight – My Eternal Love for Final Fantasy VI

It was the Christmas of 1994 and Wee Little Me was preparing to open his presents, hoping beyond hope that one particular gift was there among all the glittery wrapped packages. It wasn’t that tough to figure out that it was – if you were a nerdy kid in the ’90s you could probably tell the shape of a SNES cartridge, even wrapped up.  I tore into that package, each piece of wrapping paper shed revealed more and more of that treasured box art until it was displayed in all of it’s purple-silhouetted, Moogle-emblazoned, Nintendo-licensed glory. Final_Fantasy_III_(NA)_(SNES) My writing and storytelling is informed by decades of consuming science fiction and fantasy novels, video games and comics, but nothing captured and fueled my imagination quite like Final Fantasy VI did (it was released as III in the US at the time, like the box above says, but it was really the sixth game in the series. Weird distribution issues at the time or something, I guess). The diversity of characters, the intricacy of the plot, the epic scope of it all (the gameplay was excellent too, especially innovative for the times) was beyond anything I had ever seen at that point in my life, and it still remains my favorite game to this day. (Some will say Final Fantasy VII is the best game in the series (or of all time). They’re wrong and they should feel bad for being so wrong). So in today’s post I thought I’d share with you a few reasons why Final Fantasy VI is so important to me as writer and how it’s influenced my stories (and life in general) so much. Spoiler warning for a 20 year old (OMG HAS IT REALLY BEEN THAT LONG) game, I guess?


Final Fantasy VI has enormous cast full of diverse and compelling personalities, fourteen playable characters in all, but the two “main” characters were and still stood out the most to me.

TerraThe game opens with Terra Branford leading squad of Imperial soldier into the town of Narshe, seeking to capture a magical creature known as an Esper. Terra does not do this of her own free will – she is enslaved my the Empire, a magic wielding warrior, brainwashed to serve the Empire’s nefarious ends. Terra has a strange reaction to the Esper, freeing her mind from Imperial programming and setting her on a quest to discover her true nature (she turns out to be half human/half Esper) and save the other Espers from the Empire’s clutches.

What drew me to Terra was not only is she a sword wielding, fire hurling badass, but she’s also a wayward soul, being from both in the human and Esper worlds, but truly belonging to neither. This spoke to me, myself and so many of you I’m sure have had times where you felt astray, unsure of who they are the path they should take.  I like to put this uncertainty into my characters as well, the hero’s journey should not be only to defeat whatever villain is set against them, but it should be a journey of self discovery.


Celes Chere is much like Terra, she works in service to the Empire, but instead of enslaved soldier, she’s an honored general. She becomes disillusioned with the Empire after learning the true depths of depravity it has delved to in making many of its conquests. She battles against her former compatriots, to take down the Empire and expose their vicious crimes.

In the second half of the game, a great cataclysm separates Celes from the rest of the party and for a time, she becomes the main character. She’s alone in a desolate hellscape, but instead of laying down and dying, she takes up the task of gathering the heroes together again and setting the world back the way it was. Again, like Terra, Celes battles not only there enemies in front of her, but her own conflict within. Having spent her entire life being groomed for and in service to the Empire, she’s also astray, trying to find a new purpose. Her strength to battle onward against impossible odds showed me what a true hero could be, and I’ve tried to inject that never-say-die attitude in my most heroic characters too.

What so great is that even though they’re so different, Terra Branford and Celes Chere are two side of the same coin – both were weapons of the Empire, one against her will and one of her own volition. The story of how they fought against forces controlling them, keeping them from becoming who they really are and finally overcoming and them is really quite inspiring.

They were Strong Female Characters before people asked Joss Whedon about them at every single con he attends. Both took hold of their own destinies and carried the weight of the story on their shoulders during different parts of the game. Both eschewed the roles that had been given to them and cut their own paths both together and alone.


KefkaEverybody’s talking about Jared Leto’s Joker right now (I love it, for the record) but let us not forget about another hateful harlequin that inflicted more death and destruction then Mistah Jay could ever hope.

I take a great deal of pride in creating villains that have depth of character, are actually competent in their schemes and a real threat to the the heroes. The main antagonist of FFVI, Kefka Palazzo, informed a great many of those features.

He’s not even the main villain when the game begins, the Emperor is, but over the course of the first half, he manipulates both your characters and the other members of the Empire’s inner circle, eventually grabbing the power the Emperor seeks for himself. He’s equal parts Joker and Iago, an agent of chaos who uses intricate plotting and deception to incite hysteria. He’s smart villain who while sneaking around always feels like a threat and eminently hateable becuase of all his despicable actions (like poisoning the water supply for a whole city). Each move he makes is one step closer to his ultimate goal – absolute power and total global ruin – and guess what?

He actually succeeds.

Manipulating both his enemies and allies, Kefka becomes a god and actually destroys the world halfway through the game. The heroes are soundly defeated and you, the player, are left to pick up the pieces. It was the ultimate cliffhanger – were this the end of a book, I would have begged my parents to bring me to the local Friar Tuck (now that’s a dated reference) to pick up the next volume.

What made Kefka’s villainy so great to me and something that’s been impressed upon my writing, is the fact that his machinations set the heroes up against impossible odds. He destroyed the world and scattered them across its scorched remains. As a kid playing the game back then, it seemed like an impossible task for me and Celes to bascially start all over again. The hopelessness his actions instilled into me and the characters made the journey of gathering the team back together and finally defeating him all the more satisfying.



Just look at that cityscape. Yoshitaka Amano is incredible, isn’t he?

One of the most important things that stuck with me about Final Fantasy VI was the aesthetics of the world. It was a mash-up of old school fantasy settings (which the series had pretty much only been up to this point), but also infused different types of technologies into it. At the very start of the game, Terra and her crew are riding into Narshe in Magitech armor, which are basically huge, plodding magic-powered Iron Man suits. The Empire’s capital of Vector is a sprawling industrial monstorsity of factories and laboratories where the Espers are drained of their magic and made part of the Empire’s engines of  war.

This blew me away as a kid, having never seen this kind of fusion of magic and technology (except of course when I would throw caution to the wind and mix and match my medieval and space LEGO sets, but that was a rare occasion). The amalgamation of classic fantasy & futuristic tech is something I’ve carried with me into my writing too. The capital city of Rooksfell in FATES in designed much like Vector and in RADIANCE OF BLACK, there’s spirit-powered automatons, designed much like the Magitech armors.

The whole magic and machine is probably a bit overused at this point in the genre, but I don’t really care, I still love it and will use it from now until an evil clown destroys Planet Earth.

So there you have it, a few reasons why Final Fantasy VI has been such a huge influence in my writing. What about you guys? What work of fiction had the biggest impact on your writing and why?

Also, Terra’s Theme is the best video game song ever too.

Love Yourself First


Some lessons you just need to get engraved into your skin to remember them.

This summer I feel like I’m emerging from a birth canal. The world around me feels bright and new, and I feel wet and slimy and vary between staring wide-eyed and wanting to cry. On Monday, after fifteen months of separation, my divorce finalised. My last day of day job is next Friday. Three days later, I move into the first ever apartment where I will live alone. A dating relationship is at an end. I got my final royalty cheque from my former publisher. I decided not to move to California.

It’s no wonder I feel a bit reborn.

On Monday at the courthouse, there was one case before us that had to adjourn briefly.  The magistrate called us up, and because it’s a no-contest, no-fault thing, we were asked twenty or so questions and told to fill out a form. Boom bam, baby. While we were filling out the form, the previous case returned. The plaintiff took the stand to testify, and every relieved feeling that had been swirling in me vanished in a puff of  smoke.

Within a minute, the woman was sobbing on the stand. Her grounds for divorce? Cruelty. And her testimony was one of the more brutal things I have heard from another human being. Within two minutes, I could tell she was in full PTSD flashback mode. I had tears dripping into my lap. My friend who came as my witness and my ex husband on either side of me were tense and teary as well. By the time we finished the form and could vault out of the courtroom, all three of us were wide-eyed and swallowing hard.

It’s probably a testimony to the state of my relationship with my ex that when he said, “Aren’t you glad I’m not an abusive asshole?” and I responded by throwing my arms around his neck, that was a totally normal thing to do. He’s a good man. We just weren’t right for each other. And I think both of us are thankful that we were able to high five and hug out our parting.

He left to go have a party. And on the on-ramp to the highway back north home, I turned to my roommate and said, “I want to go get a tattoo.”

I’m planning two large pieces for later this year, and I’d intended to get my back piece first, followed by a partial sleeve. But on Monday, I knew I needed to get a different one first. We drove to downtown, to the tattoo studio my roommate goes to, and they had walk-in time. Three hours later, I walked out with my first tattoo.

My roommate says she needs at least six reasons to get a tattoo, and I like that way of thinking.

Mine is the ogham transliteration of “mo gaol ort,” which means “my love on you” in Gaelic. Here are some of my reasons.

1. This was the inscription on my wedding band, which was entirely my doing. I picked the jeweler, the design, everything about it. It always felt more like mine than a product of our marriage — or a symbol of our marriage. I’m not sure from whom the love was supposed to come in the context of our relationship, in retrospect.

2. I’ve always wanted an ogham tattoo, and this will be the first of at least two.

3. It is a reminder of the good times in my marriage, and a reminder that there were good times. It is a reminder that good times do not necessarily reflect the right relationship.

4. It is a reminder that in that relationship, I was not my truest self. Because of that, I was unable to give myself fully to the relationship, and there was no way the relationship could be successful when I myself was stunted.

5. It is a reminder of the things that matter desperately to me, and a reminder to keep myself focused on those things if I hope to find or create a fulfilling life.

6. Most importantly, by inking the words “mo gaol ort” into my skin, by my own accord, with deliberate and purposeful agency, it is a reminder to love myself. That any love within me must first be my own, for me. It is a reminder that I deserve that. That loving myself is the single most important thing I can do to be a whole person. Whether alone or in relationship to others, loving myself is a prerequisite before I can extend love outward.

Today I read a pair of articles about what it means to “hold space.” To hold space means to allow another person to exist, react, grieve, grow — all without judgement or offering unsolicited advice. It means we journey beside them without trying to guide them. At the end of that article, it links to another very necessary piece, because in order to effectively hold space for anyone else, you have to hold space for yourself first.

Many of the lessons in that second post are layered into the ink that now dwells in my skin. It’s okay to walk away. It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to ask for help. Listen to yourself. Find inspiration. Seek out meaningful experience. Create. Acknowledge your emotions.

Taking care of ourselves is the first step.

HNS 2015 Conference Wrap Up

HNS2015-logo_nd-300x102Hard to believe that the 2015 Historical Novel Society Conference (in Denver) started a week ago today. Talk about a jam-packed four days! I learned so much and met so many wonderful authors. This was my first one and I will forever treasure it.

Here’s a rough idea of how the conference went and my personal highlights:

Thursday – Travel day and dinner at the fabulous Oceanaire restaurant (foie gras, stuffed sole and Prosecco). Went to see the one-man play Defending the Caveman. So hilarious! I recommend it to anyone!

CW Gortner giving the opening speech
CC Humphreys giving the opening speech

Friday – Eight hours of pre-conference workshops with Larry Brooks on story structure. It didn’t occur to me until the workshop started that he’s one of the authors whose books I’m reading as part of my DIY MFA program. This man is amazing. His theories, along with those of Michael Hauge, have finally gotten me to understand the craft part of writing. I can’t wait to apply what I’ve learned to my next book!

The highlight of the evening was getting to hear Shakespearean actor/writer C.C. Humphreys read his poem “We Are Historical Novelists.” I’m going to frame a copy of it and may even get part of it tattooed on me eventually.

Saturday – The day of many workshops began at 7 a.m. These are the ones I attended:

  • A special session on how to build an audience before you get published, which had some great marketing ideas.
  • Primary sources beyond Google for American histfic, where I learned about census records, city directories, newspapers, databases and archives and how to access them. Very cool! I know I will use this for my next American novel (which will be the novel after this one)
  • Right to left -GJillian Bagwell, CW Gortner, Margaret George, Patricia Bracewell
    Right to left – Gillian Bagwell, CW Gortner, Margaret George, Patricia Bracewell

    How to write historical fiction without the famous. I won’t be doing a lot of this because I don’t use many fictional historical characters, but it was still interesting to learn what readers want vs. what writers want to write. After this one entered the Q&A stage, I popped into the agent/editors panel where they all talked about how much they want WWI and WWII era books, hence I’m focusing on my WWII book next. (Wait until I can give you the synopsis. I don’t think this angle has been done before.)

  • Taking biography and turning it into historical fiction. This was one of my most highly anticipated sessions, as this is how I write my histfic. I didn’t take many notes, which must mean I’m doing something right, but the big highlight was hearing Margaret George speak.
  • An author I'd never heard of gave me this!
    An author I’d never heard of gave me this. Definitely a sign from the Universe!

    Selling historical fiction: the good, the bad and the ugly – This was by far my favorite panel, mainly because the panelists were so honest.  C.W. Gortner, whom I love, talked about how it took him five agents and 15 years to get published. Donna Russo Morin, whom I fell in love with, talked about her agent/publisher horror stories. These all made me feel my better about my own bumpy journey. My biggest takeaway was that there are no “overnight” or “out of the blue” success stories. Those books have $100,000 marketing budgets behind them that the houses keep quiet about.

  • Midwifery – this panel was really cool. Got to hear how it evolved (or not) from the 15th century BCE to the 17th century CE. This was the most factual and the one I took the most notes on that day. Diana Gabaldon moderated the panel. I didn’t meet her, but she seemed very nice and was gracious with everyone.
  • Keeping historical fiction real and relevant – I finally got to meet Patricia Bracewell before this panel! We’ve been friends on twitter for ages, but to finally meet her was a dream come true. She is so kind and supportive! The panel was great. Key takeaway: do your best to get rid of your hindsight and live the story as your characters do, biases, worldview and all.
Patricia Bracewell and I - I love this lady so much!
Patricia Bracewell and me – I love this lady so much!

After this was the author signing, were over 50 authors gathered and you could buy their books and talk with them. I bought about 10 books, plus the three I had with me to get signed. Highlights were hanging out with Patricia Bracewell (she asked me to!), meeting CW Gortner and finally getting to meet online friends JF Ridgley, Helen Hollick and Allison Morton in person.

Author Stephanie Carroll and me
Author Stephanie Carroll and me

We had a formal dinner with an awards ceremony, period costume pageant and sex scene readings that night. One of my fellow speakers at a St. Louis festival was one of the finalist for the awards! The highlight of my evening was meeting author Stephanie Carroll when she sat next to me at dinner. She taught me a lot about self-publishing and made it seem really doable. I’m not ready yet, but I’m more open to it than I’ve ever been. I hope she and I can stay in touch!

Sunday – I attended only one workshop, Writing Women in the West, as my next book (after the WWII one) will be a quasi-western. One of the speakers was really good, giving lots of detail on the different types of boomtowns and gamblers in the west. Next, I attended a Q&A session with an agent, which was not as helpful as I would have liked.

My carry-on - about 12 books, weighing in at about 15 lbs!
My carry-on, about 12 books, weighing in at about 15 lbs!

After that, my introverted self was done. I had to take a nap and get some alone time. Then my roomate, Tessa, and I went into downtown Denver to hang out. We visited the famous bookstore Tattered Cover, and of course, bought more books. Then on our way to a wine bar, I tripped over the sidewalk and came down hard on my already bruised knees (did a faceplant at work the week before). So we ended up eating at a local Italian place that was amazing.

I had to leave at 6 a.m. the next morning. I honestly haven’t really downloaded all the information I acquired at this conference yet. It was well worth the time and money and I will definitely be attending next year’s conference in Oxford, England. I already have my first $50 put away!

I have handouts from most of the workshops, so if you want any of them, just let me know.

What conferences have you been to as a writer or reader that you particularly enjoyed? How do you maximize your time there? What’s your favorite part?