The Pro Con

“Professional”. I have… feelings about this word.

So often when I see it bandied about – particularly as it pertains to the publishing industry – it seems to have most or all to do with appearances. Writers are told to look professional, as if professionalism were an aesthetic. That rubs me wrong, because it sounds so superficial and snotty. Look like what the infamous They have decided counts as professional, or you’re assumed to be lesser than.

This is professional art.
This is professional art.

I’ve always understood professionalism to be more a matter of competence, and of attitude. My “professional” means punctuality and promises kept. My “like a pro” evokes skill and confidence. In my world, the pros are the ones who know what they’re doing. …Or the ones who fake it like whoa.

You want professionalism in publishing? Treat it like a profession. Sure, that can in part mean showing up in your power suit – your fancy book cover, your elite-approved font, your slick with the killer coding. I’m not knocking those things. No shame in putting your prettiest face forward. That is, after all, exactly why I ran that GoFundMe campaign: To pay the photography and design professionals to make my next Outlaws of Avalon novel looks its beautiful best. But that stuff’s hardly number one on the list of “must do”s, if it belongs on the list at all.

Writing’s never struck me as a power-suited position. Dressing for the job I want involves an assortment of hoodies. And possibly a wizard’s robe. …or a Dark Lord’s.

You want to come off as a professional writer? To me, that’s like math homework: Show me your work.

I’d rather not see a slapdash cover, an illegible font, and a messy web presence not because it says “automatic amateur”, but because it makes me question how much time and care you put into it. I want you to demonstrate that you take your work seriously, whether or not you’ve yet come to the realization that neither you nor any of the rest of us have a clear clue what we’re doing. More than the visual itself, that means a sure command of language. That means engaging with your peers and your public with basic levels of courtesy. That means giving your writing career the best you’ve got.

Also professional art.
Also professional art.

And personal bests will vary – from person to person, and from Past You to Present You to Future You. Some people will like some bests more than others. That’s individual opinion, which everyone’s got a right to. That’s subjectivity, which for better or worse is the name of the game, in the arts. That’s why I don’t want you telling me or anyone else what their work has to look like to count as professional. Go for what you’re going for, and give it your 120 percent.


Unapologetically Yours

I’ve been seeing something in the social media world that disturbs me.

It’s this idea that if an author – (or any kind of person with an accomplishment they’d ideally like to be paid for, but we’ll use authors as the example, since that’s kind of my crowd) – wants to tell the world about their book, they’ve got to do it a certain way.

They’ve got to be all super-casual, or just kind of sneak it in, or try to be cute about it in the hopes that the cuteness will offset the fact that, le gasp, they dared to inform the public that their book is available for sale. I’ve even seen a tweet with the phrase “sorry for the shameless plug”.



The discord between “sorry” and “shameless” aside, why in the world is this person apologizing?

Why is it frowned upon to just boldly say, “I’ve finished a book! It’s available here! Go buy!”? You’re not twisting anybody’s arm. They’ll check out the link, or they won’t. They’ll buy the book, or they won’t. It’s not a gun to the head, it’s an advertisement.

Let’s go back to basics for a moment, here. Quick pop quiz. What is a writer’s job?

a) Writing

b) Selling what they write

c) Devoting their creative word energy to hilarious/relatable/inspirational tweets/statuses about anything but their book and hoping the power of positive thinking will be enough to write and sell their books for them

d) Mostly a), with some b) thrown in, in the hopes of maybe possibly earning a livelihood

Newsflash: The answer isn’t C.

Newsflash number 2: Declaring in your own webspace that you’ve got a product for sale is not spam.

Jumping into someone else’s space and plugging your book? That’s a no-no.

Butting into a conversation with nothing to say but, “Hi, buy my book”? That’s obnoxious.

Flooding people’s inboxes with a lot of cloned messages about your book, your book, your book? Just don’t.

Those things are invasive and rude in the way wallpapering your neighbor’s house in self-promotional flyers is invasive and rude. (And, y’know, vandalism.) But guess what? You can wallpaper your own house anyway you like, because it’s your house. Just like your website/blog/social media account is yours. Yours on which to say what you want to say. Is posting absolutely nothing but links to your books the most entertaining thing in the world? No. But neither is it a crime (unlike vandalism), and it’s nothing worth receiving dirty looks for.

Look, authors (and artists of all stripes). I know confidence can be hard to hang onto. Doubting yourself and the worth of your work is par for the course. But you poured your heart into this. You dedicated hours – weeks and months and years of hours – into this work of art that the world would never have had in quite that form without you. After nine months of pregnancy, does a mother deliver a baby and then shamefacedly whisper the birth announcement? NO! After years of study, does a researcher make a scientific breakthrough and just kind of hope that somebody will notice? NO! After I-don’t-even-know-how-long of training, does a marathon runner cross the finish line and never speak of the race again? No, no, NO!

Fellow authors, you have achieved something that, for many, is nothing more than a dream – that, once upon a time, was no more than a dream for you. You created a story – a product that can potentially touch people’s lives in a way so very few things can. The laborer is worthy of his wages! You deserve, at bare minimum, to be able to say, with all due levels of pride, that you wrote this thing! You have every right to point to it and claim it as yours, without apology!

Now, make like an introvert with stage fright and sociophobia who spends her summer weekends at a Renaissance Faire interacting with strangers anyway, and hold your head up high in the name of what you love.

Author and proud.
Author and proud.

How to Make Characters Fall in Love

I can see it now: A mob of angry characters jabbing their fingers at this page and demanding, “What kind of a title is that?!

Okay, maybe “make” is too incendiary a word choice. How about, “How to Guide Characters into Love”?

Better,” they might concede with a grumble.

Alright then. Before we get into the “how”, we’ve got to talk about the “why”. Why bother putting any real thought into this? Why not just jump in with something along the lines of…

Once upon a time, Boy met Girl, and each became obsessively devoted to the other on sight.

That’s a little something they call “insta-love”, and while it was a technique par for the course in fairytales of old, a lot of readers today won’t go for that.

A song at first sight is a great start, but not much of a middle and end.
A song at first sight is a great start, but not much of a middle and end.

They want to know why Boy and Girl love each other. What do they see in each other, and how was that discovery made? “One look in the princess’s eyes, and he fell straight into the depths of goodness in her heart” cannot be the go-to. We need more than a look. We need…

Conversation. You want characters to develop emotional attachments among themselves? Have them talk to each other!

Have them bond over hopes, dreams, and fears, the mutual sense of feeling trapped in their current situations, and reminiscence about that time they ran that impromptu apple heist in the marketplace.
Have them bond over hopes, dreams, and fears, the mutual sense of feeling trapped in their current situations, and reminiscence about the time they ran that impromptu apple heist in the marketplace.

What people say to one another (and, often enough, what they don’t say) can reveal a lot about them – their personalities, opinions, and sense of humor, their likes, dislikes, views on life’s big questions. One meaningful dialogue between characters can make all the impact in the world on their feelings toward the other guy. And the more they talk to each other, the longer and more twisted of an emotional journey you can take them on.

“He said this? We’re soul mates!”

“He said that? Ugh, I can’t stand him!”

“Wow, the way she phrased that… Be still, my heart!”

“I don’t know what she’s going on about, but sheesh, what a total turnoff.”

“Not gonna lie, I wanted his head on a platter … until that beautiful, humorous, heartfelt apology. *swoony sigh*”

And the best part? All those hypothetical quotes don’t apply only to the characters doing the talking; the eavesdropping readers get to experience the ups and downs, too!

Environmental Aid. …Or, as Sebastian put it in “The Little Mermaid”, you’ve got to create da mood. (And that crab really had his work cut out for him since, with Ariel’s voice gone, conversation with Eric was drastically impaired.)

Kiss the Girl GIF

While it’s not always necessary to throw your characters into an atmospheric song number (though, as readers of “The Song Caster” and any other minstrel-infested story of mine will come to learn, a song number is totally an option!), there are environmental cheats storytellers can perform to turn up the sense of romance in the air. Stick the characters in inspiring settings – a lovely garden, perhaps, or underneath the stars, somewhere with a breathtaking view… Places like these can work on both conscious and subconscious levels to put the characters in a dreamy or passionate state of mind.

Speaking of passions, take those of the characters into account! Not everyone’s into gardens and stars, but if Boy’s wild about marshlands or Girl’s captivated by some old semi-haunted shack of a cabin or they’re both intrigued by historical ruins or iffy back alleys, these unconventional locations may stimulate their feelings far better than somewhere more generic.

Work Smarter, Not Harder. Want Boy and Girl to fall in love? You can make it leagues easier on everyone if you put in some thought during the story’s planning stages about what kind of person they’d be attracted to. Be a savvy matchmaker. What traits do they admire and value? Do they have a “type”? Which actions can you see turning them on and off?


Remember, not everybody’s looking for the same sort of guy/gal. Plenty of people aren’t looking at all! A character actively against falling in love will need to be handled differently than one who dreams every night of True Love’s Kiss – handled differently by both their author and by the other half the author wants to pair them with. The more strategic you can be from the beginning about how to orchestrate this romance, the smoother sailing you’re likely to have.

Don’t Force It. Truth is, short of a love potion or something (which can be a valid plot device, though I’d use it sparingly, were I you), the angry character mob is right: You really can’t make them fall in love. You can set everything up beautifully, but if they’re not feeling it, they’re not feeling it, and trying to play it off like they are when they aren’t would be a crime against truth in fiction. So listen to your characters’ hearts on this one. If a pairing’s meant to be, true love will find a way.

Love Will Find a Way

Spontaneous Build-a-Stories

It’s practically inevitable: Get two or more writers together, and the next thing you know, they’re making things up. Often enough, it’s just a lot of trading entertaining lies back and forth. Every now and then, though, you end up with something resembling an actual story.

Like, with a plot.

And death. There is frequently death.

Sometimes, the story-making’s intentional from the get-go – like the time I joined the Creative Writing Club of Wisconsin Lutheran College for an off-the-cuff writing game. Other times, it kinda just happens – like that other time on Twitter when Sarnic Dirchi* and I somehow found ourselves with a phantom dentist on our hands.

(* Yes, that Sarnic Dirchi – she of the awesome author-to-reader interview centered ‘round INSPIRED.)

Y’know what’s great about both these times? I’ve actually got documentation of each story in my possession, meaning I get to share them with you! *the peasants rejoice*


Story 1: “It’s Never Happened This Way Before…” by Danielle E. Shipley, Katyln Rogers, Nathan Kelly, and Megan Ann Jacobs

It’s never happened this way before.

He usually just makes my drink without any sort of social interaction.

Now he’s asking after my family, how work is going, and have I finished that book yet?

The strange thing is that I don’t remember ever telling him about my book.

I don’t remember telling anyone.

Has he been watching me?

Cautiously, I sip my drink as he tends to the other patrons.

The drink tastes funny.

At once, I remember every murder case the news ever aired.

I also remember the case I was working on last month.

No culprit was ever found, but we had a clue.

The man making me my drinks.

I sip more slowly, my mouth stalling for time as I try to puzzle out the flavor and what it might mean for my continued health.

Suddenly, I recognize the taste, and my heart leaps within me.

Apples!, the flavor the murderer used to mask his poison!

I rushed to the payphone, knowing it was too late.

The Mackintosh Murderer has killed again.


Story 2: “#PhantomDentist”, a tale told in segments of 140 characters or less by Danielle E. Shipley and Sarnic Dirchi

And so it begins…
And so it begins…

*creeak* The girl turned, brushing her hair out of her eyes. “Hello?” she asked uncertainly. Behind her, a drill whirred.

The hollow eye sockets of the phantom dentist bore into her like a root canal. A chilling whisper: “Let’s see those chompers.”

She gagged as decay and drilled bone whiffed over her. She should be screaming. In fact, she would. “AAAHHH!” She turned to run.

The phantom dentist’s chair ro-o-ose into the girl’s path. Escape cut off, she was yanked back by a lasso of unwaxed floss.

This was her worst nightmare come true. “Let me go!” She struggled. “I floss twice a day! What more do you want?”

The phantom dentist leaned in, uber-whitened smile gleaming. “What more I want,” he said, “is your wisdom teeth. OPEN WIDE!”

“But I got them out two years ago! You can’t take what’s not there Mr. Crazy Ghost Dentist.” She firmly clenched her mouth shut.

The phantom dentist wailed. “Then what is left for me?” W/ a chill in the air sharp as spearmint mouthwash, he vanished.

She exhaled. “Hopefully a date with the Tooth Fairy if, she’ll have you,” she muttered, looking about. “Hey! You need to untie me!”

She received no answer but for the endless suck, suck, suck of that tube dentists stick in your mouth, little knowing…

…the tube was sucking her life force away. Soon, she would be as the phantom dentist: Cursed to roam for teeth…forever.

Her skin paled as the tube sucked away her life, taking on a see-through quality. “Help me,” she whispered, weakening. “Please.”

But none could hear her, their ears all numbed by the phantom dentist’s last malicious gift: Aural Novocain.


Like I said. Creation and death. We writers ARE the Circle of Life!

Mic’s on you, readers! How’d you enjoy the stories? ~ Any favorite lines? ~ Have you and your friends ever found yourselves creating spontaneous build-a-stories of your own? ~ If you weren’t scared of the dentist hitherto, how ‘bout now?

In Which the Author Interviews the Reader

Once upon a time, a young lady known as Sarnic Dirchi read a book.

“…And I was like, wow,” she says. “This is amazing! I really want to go all crazy questions to the author about so many different things that happened, but I also would love for the author to ask me questions, too! I mean, when I have people read stuff I’ve written, I have a million and a half questions for them. So wouldn’t it be fun if an author interviewed a reader and asked them the questions that they want to know the answers to?”

To that end, S.D. posted a Tweet suggesting that very thing, secretly hoping that the book’s author would take her up on the offer. “Cus I didn’t want to go all crazy fan girl on [the author] and out of the blue message [her] saying HEY INTERVIEW ME AND ASK ME HOW I LIKED YOUR BOOK!, as that would be rather freaky methinks,” S.D. confesses. “But [the author] read my mind and took me up on the idea!”

And that author… *solemn nods*… was me.

Sarnic Dirchi tweet

And that book that inspired it all is, appropriately enough, INSPIRED.

And between reader, writer, and book written, a lovely dialogue was born.

“Reading. Love it to pieces,” says S.D. “It’s always been important in my life…though I didn’t get into serious reading ‘til 4th or 5th grade when I discovered mysteries. Plus it helped that my school started up an A.R. program and I just had to get those points! Whoosh I was off! Tearing through the pages so fast people assume I skim read…which I don’t. I just read fast.”

From there, S.D. went on to become a fantasy fan. “Dragons, magic, different worlds, shape-shifters, epic adventures. That sort of thing. I love stories about the ‘underdogs’ like thieves, slaves, poor peasants and their triumphs at the end.  I do occasionally venture out into other genres, but it’s not often.”

Though not strictly a part of the fantasy genre, S.D. found plenty of fantastic characters in INSPIRED. Musing on muse Lucianíel, she says, “At first he seemed like the ‘father figure.’ The ‘high and mighty’, the ‘all knowing.’ He felt removed from the story; part of it, but not really part of it. The shepherd to the flock, etc. And then he went down the dark path…” Some of Luc’s actions got a real reaction out of her, driving her to cry at the pages, “No! Bad choice! Bad Choice! Don’t do it! … Yikes. Totally scary muse. But oh, the feels!”


While the character of Jean had a smaller role with far less page time, “From the brief glimpses I got of her, I liked her,” S.D. relates. “She seems a lot like me. Taking inspiration from dreams for possible story ideas. Hasn’t gotten quite around to writing them yet in hard form. … Reading her sudden death was what piqued my interest in this book. … If the author is gone…what then? It also sent me to that ‘AH!! I NEED TO GO WRITE!!!… BUT I WANT TO READ!!!’ tug of war when I actually started reading the book for a bit before I decided to keep reading.”

With the special place in S.D.’s heart for shape-shifters, it’s no surprise she enjoyed the character of Abishan. “I love how he was able to change to different cats,” she enthuses. “He wasn’t just a jaguar, he could be a lynx, a lion, a house cat…and then he can turn human like? Oooo! … Most [shapes-hifters], stick to one shape; him, not so. He’s much cooler than that. … [And] he was excellently portrayed like a cat.”

Of Wilbur’s character, S.D. says, “I loved his introductory chapter. It’s just the sort of story that I gravitate to. Farmboy becoming the great warrior! I loved the writing, the scenery, the details. … It’s like Ranger’s Apprentice, but of course, different. And how Annabelle continues to write him, was great. Adventures all around! … I admit I don’t quite get Annabelle’s obsessiveness over [him]…okay I do get it, but the way it came across, I was like O.o But, but there are more characters! Focus on them too! I want to find out their story! However,” she goes on to theorize, “considering she has ‘angelic Luc’ as her other muse…Wilbur seems so much more forgiving. So I often placed them as Ying and Yang in my head. Wilbur is the sort of muse that Annabelle wants. Luc isn’t.”

Uri, she labeled, “…A surprise. Lol, she seemed like such an out of place character in the beginning of the book. I mean, what teenager goes around thinking in biblical verses and signs and such? Especially when she doesn’t come across as the religious sort at first? I really just marked it down as an author’s idea for a character quirk.” Until S.D. reached the revelation of Uri’s surprise backstory, which she declares to be, “AWESOME.”

As for S.D.’s favorite character, that honor goes to Yves. “He’s the sort of character I gravitate to. Quiet. Has a secret. Could be a dark secret. May have a power that could be harmful. To know that he’s aware of it, and doesn’t share. … The mystery of his background, of what his story was? Interest caught, and not leaving until it has an answer. And then to get the answer. ()_() … Yes. [He] is my favorite. No hesitation.”

Which isn’t to say there wasn’t some love left to throw Annabelle’s way. “I totally admire her…for being able to interact with the characters like they’re real people standing right there in front of her. I’ve only been able to do that with a couple of my own, and so to have her so freely having them surrounding her, interacting with her on a day to day basis, doing activities with her, encouraging her when she doesn’t want to do things, or helping her through problems. Wow. Props to her.”

Standout scenes/images for S.D., who loves getting ahold of mental visuals when she reads, include, “Wilbur’s practice yard. Abishan’s jungle. Yves dancing on the bridge and then high above the ground… Oh! And definitely I enjoyed how you described each character. It wasn’t a list of characteristics, but you worded things in such a way that the image just stuck in the mind. It made it easy to keep picturing them and not have to think ‘Wait…what color was Uri’s hair?’ But definitely the one that stuck in my head and had me replaying it for a couple of days afterwards was [*spoilers, spoilers, move along, nothing to see here*] …  I keep repeating that scene, hope it’s not sounding like a broken record, but I really liked it. Seriously, I can’t get that out of my head.”

When asked if she was struck off the top of her head with songs that matched INSPIRED’s cast, S.D. admitted, “I’m not one of those people who matches characters to music, often. …I’m lucky if I know the name to a song…even luckier if I know the artist. Most of the time I just know the lyrics.”

Even so, she was able to come up with a bit of music for a handful of the characters. “When Wilbur is first introduced in the practice yard I think of the song: “United We Stand” from the movie Quest for Camelot. Uri gives me the impression of: “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons. With Luc a song that comes to mind is called “Home for Me”, by BYU Vocal Point. … But the rest, it’s overall impressions of scenes, most of them, unsurprisingly centering around Yves.”


I owe S.D.’s discovery of the novel to a mutual friend: Kimberly Kay. Says S.D., “When she was working on the One More Day anthology, she talked about you a lot, and if she likes someone, they’re definitely someone to like! Especially if they’re funny, and the interviews between the two of you are great! So I meandered my way over to your blog, Facebook, Twitter…etc. And tada! That’s how I found out about you.” Whether or not that alone would have been enough to make S.D. pick up the book for a read, there was one factor that pushed her over the edge. “The beginning sequence of the book, that you shared on your blog, ending with Jean dying sparked my interest. It sounded like my type of story. What happens when your creator suddenly dies? No idea, but I was about to find out!”

While S.D. enjoyed INSPIRED a great deal, she’s still on the fence about delving into my fairytale novella series. “Knowing what Inspired is like makes me want to try out your Wilderhark Tales, especially Edgwyn’s part of the stories as he is my type of character! But at the moment, the series as a whole hasn’t really struck my fancy. However,” she goes on to say of my someday-beyond-the-Wilderhark-Tales Outlaws of Avalon trilogy, “I would love to read about Will Scarlet and the Robin Hood Gang; again, that sort of tale is up my alley in ‘things I like to read.’”

Regarding the possibility of an INSPIRED sequel, S.D. is of two minds. “I’m totally intrigued to see what crazy antics can happen next! But then I’m like O.o why do you need a sequel? As really, Inspired felt like a standalone book. I was happy with the ending (as happy as a reader can be when they want to know more about characters and don’t get the info they crave…), and that it actually felt like an ending and not a ‘wait another year and you can see book 2!’ sort of thing that’s become all too common. That being said, I’m hopeful that a book 2 will expand out the current set of characters…and introduce new characters. I’d also love to see how everyone has evolved since the first book. So yah! I’ve decided that I would look forward to it. What will happen to them next???”

Also on S.D.’s INSPIRED wish-list, “I wish to read everyone’s stories as a whole! The tantalizing pieces I read in Inspired have me wishing to actually have everyone’s books in my hands. Wilbur, Yves, Uri, Shan. I want more!”

Time will tell what my own muses prompt me to deliver to S.D. and her fellow readers next. I can only hope that getting the chance to chat with the author about the story has helped to sweeten the wait. Her closing words would suggest that is the case.

“Thanks so much for the interview D.S! This was a ton of fun. ^^”

The pleasure was mine, S.D.! You’ve been a wonderful audience, and I am nothing but delighted that reading my work filled your imagination to bursting. Now get out there, write your own masterwork, and do it all over again for some other reader. ;D

P.S. – If any other readers o’ mine out there are ever interested in doing something like this, you know how to reach me!

In Which I Arrive at Fame and the Big Four-Double-Oh

Today’s post, ladies and gentlemen and assorted rogues, is my 400th on the Ever On Word blog! A very special occasion! …for which I had no special event planned. (I mean, I have a giveaway going on that you should totally enter because it’s awesome, but that’s incidental.) So I thought this would be a fine time to tell you about an even more special event that took place a few weeks back: My first ever live, in-home author interview with two young girls named Mira and Caroline.

It’s Not What You Know. It’s Who the People Who Know People You Know…Know.

Gotta love having friends in high places – or in high fashion, in the case of a designer friend o’ the family who was fantastic enough to talk me up to some folks who work at a local bookstore. And those folks, in turn, somehow ended up giving my name to a school with a couple of girls looking for an author to interview.

Once I was done dancing giddily around the house to a little song that went “AAAAAAUGH, bookstore people are recommending me to schools! Children have been conned into thinking I’m famous! Shiny new levels of legitimacy, unlocked!” (sing along if you know this one), I e-mailed the school to express my eager delight at the prospect of accommodating the girls in their pursuit of firsthand authorial info.

Be the Awesomeness You Want to See in the World.

Upon receipt of my number, Mira phoned me on behalf of herself and her colleague to arrange a date and time suitable to come a-calling. (Don’t tell her I said so, but she was so adorable, it turned my voice to sugar. I will never sound nicer than when talking to children innocent by virtue of having yet to be proved guilty of obnoxiousness.)

I was a little nervous about letting the kids and whoever ferried them hither into my house (i.e., my bubble of protection against agonizing social situations). But, Come on, I told myself, think of the Awesome Points it would have added to your childhood if you’d gotten to sit down for a chat with a not-entirely-unfamous author in his/her home! Put that way, I saw no compelling reason to say no.

The Truth, the Whole Truth, and a Little Bit of Fiction Thrown In. (Also, Hair.)

My interviewers, aged 9 and 8, were relentless in their interrogation, frequently throwing out questions so fast, I could scarcely spit out half an answer! But among the questions I was able to address were…

“When did you start writing?” (Since I was younger than you, kiddos.)

“When did you decide to be an author?” (Not ‘til age 16 or so.)

“When you were a kid, what did you want to be?” (All sorts of things. Farmer, librarian, actress…)

“How many books have you written?” (I lost count ages ago.)

“How long did it take you to publish your first book?” (Somewhere around 8 years.)

“What is your favorite book you’ve written?” (Let’s pretend my upcoming “Outlaws of Avalon ” trilogy counts as one and say that.)

“What is your favorite book to read?” (Robin McKinley’s “Outlaws of Sherwood”. Mad love for the outlaws!)

“Do you like having curly hair?” (So long as it’s dry. Can’t do a thing with it, when wet.)

“Do you live here?” (Yeah, seemed easier to meet you in my own home than to kick somebody else out of theirs to use as our interview space for the morning.)

“What was your sister’s name, again?” (Dianne. *we all wave at Dianne, who’s fiddling with some electronic device in the next room*)

The gorgeous headshot that inspired the unforeseen line of questioning.
The gorgeous headshot that inspired the unforeseen line of questioning.

“Why did she shave her head?” (I don’t know. Dianne, why did you shave your head? *Dianne mumbles her hair’s journey over the years – blonde, shaved, Mohawk, the works*)

“When she dyed her hair blonde, did it grow blonde, or grow black?” (*Dianne and I guide the girls toward a greater understanding of hair dye*)

“How tall was her Mohawk?” (*Dianne holds her hand above her head for visual reference*)

“Is she wearing a hat?” (You’re looking right at her, Mira dear. You tell me. *we agree she is wearing a hat*)

“Why is she wearing a hat?” (*Dianne is bewildered past the point of surety*)

Along the way, I also learned much about Caroline’s reading tastes (she particularly enjoys mysteries and Roald Dahl’s “Matilda”), writing goals (among other things, there’s a mystery story of her own in the works), where she keeps what she calls “documentation” on her family (in her backpack pocket next to the forks, of course), and the perils of hiring very tall boys to play Peter Pan (harness issues).

But probably the moment that touched my heart most was when the girls shared their early concern that an author celebrity like myself might have been too important and busy to reply to an e-mail request for an interview with a couple of kids.

No, little dear ones. I am not (and hope I never shall be) too important and busy for the likes of you.

You Know You’ve Arrived When…

You Know You've Arrived When...

…Or actually, maybe you never do. I used to think there was a single line separating here from there, ambition from success, me from the famous author I intend to be. But where is that line? When you’ve written your first book? When an agent or publisher accepts it? When it’s bound between covers and available for sale? When a stranger buys a copy? When two little strangers, curious and precocious, come to your house looking to you for some answers on the recommendation of friends of a friend?

Looking backward and ahead from where I stand, there is no one line. There’s a whole sidewalk of them, marking out a trail of irregular squares, with exciting landmarks and milestones along the way I hadn’t even known to look for.

I have arrived, and am arriving, and shall someday arrive, this 400th blog post just one more line crossed along the way.

Thank You Note from Caroline and Mira

Pics or It Didn’t Happen

The “Inspired” blog tour marches on! (Or Aprils on, by now.) Why, just look at what went down this past week:

Friday saw me interviewed on the JeanzBookReadNReview blog, talking writing, inspiration, favorite characters, and more!

Monday on the blog of Julie Antonovich Reece, I guest posted on my favorite type of hero. (Spoiler alert: Robin Hood’s name may come up. …I may also have used the term “spoiler” somewhat loosely.)

And Wednesday, I reminisce with The Parasite Guy on “Inspired”s fulfillment of ancient prophecy.

We’ve still got a few tour stops still to come (full schedule available on my website’s homepage), and the fantastic book behind it all is still gloriously available for purchase. So if you feel thus inspired, make sure to get your copies!

And don’t forget to enter my giveaway for a chance to win awesome free “Inspired” goodies…of which I now have pics! Check out the charms on these bookmarks, baby (photographed with tons of love in an effort to make up for any lack of skill)!

Inspired Bookmark, Abishan

One lucky winner’s bookmark will come with this sweet kitty – the great jungle god Abishan, portrayed here in housecat form.

Inspired Bookmark, Wilbur

Another’s bookmark will sport the figure of a chess set knight, a fitting representation of the chivalrous Sir Wilbur.

Inspired Bookmark, Uri

Our gal Uri may not be overly endowed with charm, but with this rockin’ little skateboard  attached, this bookmark couldn’t scream “Uri” louder if it had a set of lungs!

Inspired Bookmark, Yves

Finding the right charm for Yves took some doing, but I think those who know him will agree that this little bird in its pretty cage suits the boy quite well indeed.

Inspired Bookmark, Annabelle

I haven’t forgotten Annabelle! What better for a young lady of letters than a charm like a journal in which to scribe her beloved words? ^.^

And for Luc… oh, for our muse Lucianíel, I could scarcely believe my good fortune when I happened upon this little gem. Whichever muse inspired the making of this entirely perfect trinket, thank you! A dozen-dozen times, thank you!

Inspired Bookmark, Luc

Like I said, folks: This is a giveaway you don’t wanna forget to enter!

Psst. Just curious: Which of the bookmark charms are your favorites? ^^

10 Lessons We Can Learn from “The Magic School Bus”

“Please let this be a normal blog post.” “With Danielle? NO WAY!”
“Please let this be a normal blog post.”
“With Danielle? NO WAY!”

Life Lessons

1) Even in a series founded on scientific learning, we’re taught our lessons by a woman who routinely does the implausible, if not the straight-up impossible, on a bus that can only be described as magic. There’s room in the world for both quantifiable facts and firm belief in the unexplainable.

Magic School Bus, Phoebe's Old School

2) Just when you’re thinking you should have stayed home today is sometimes when the coolest adventures get rolling.

3) Never mind how they did it at your old school. Fix your gaze ever onward and embrace the wild and wacky changes that take your humdrum life up a level.

4) There will be recurring characters in your life who don’t seem to serve any function other than to make a nuisance of themselves where they don’t even belong. These people probably deserve to be left on Pluto. Be better than these people deserve.

Arnold, nooo! Don’t be a hero!
Arnold, nooo! Don’t be a hero!

(Seriously. Janet. In Arnold’s place, I would have kept my space helmet on and abandoned my obnoxious cousin to her fate.)

5) Piggybacking on that, don’t discount the biggest weasely wimp in the group; he may end up doing some of the most courageous things.

(Props where they’re due. The boy chased down a dinosaur so he could return a paleontologist’s fossilized egg. That’s a sense of responsibility you can’t buy!)

6) Forget the naysayers. If only for one glorious half-hour a day, let yourself believe your teacher’s a vampire, the sound museum is haunted, a hastily manufactured robot will do all your chores, and you are totally Weather Man.

Shika, shika, ka-BOOM!
Shika, shika, ka-BOOM!

(Dream on, Ralphie. Dream on forever.)

Writer Lessons

Magic School Bus Plays Ball

7) Just like when trying to play a baseball game, things work much better if the story has friction.

8) Creating a distinctive ensemble cast is totally doable. Snazzy catchphrases and signature outfits/color-combinations work well. Don’t forget to include dynamic relationships within the group!

(Again: Friction.)

9) You don’t have to do anything explicitly romantic; the fandom will still ship your characters like nobody’s business.

(Carlos/D.A. and Ralphie/Keesha, anyone? C’mon, everybody knows they belong together. It was there in all the friction.)

Lesson with an Arguably Narrow Window of Applicability

10) The first time you eat your classmates, it’s an honest mistake. After that, it’s just carelessness.

Magic School Bus For Lunch

“Super” or “Guest Post at Moonlight Gleam’s Bookshelf”

Moonlight Gleam button

Every superhero has an origin story. That goes for us super-writers, too. ;D

What started me off on my relentless quest to bring forth new books from the depths of my heart and share them with the world, you ask? ^^ Well, Lucy from Moonlight Gleam’s Bookshelf asked first, so if you want the answer, go check out my guest post on her blog!

She was also good enough to throw a spotlight on, “Inspired”, my upcoming novel which is something of a love letter to super-writers, their super-characters, and the super-joy of story-creation. Thanks for hosting me, Lucy!

“Advice” or “3 Ironic Tips for Writers”

Writers write about writing a lot. Go figure.

I don’t actually blame us. This is something we care about, so it’s something we talk about. It’s also one of those things where, no matter how good you are, you want to be better. …Unless the idea of attaining perfection repulses you, in which case I doubt you read many blog articles aimed at improving your craft.

For the rest of you who do read such articles, perhaps you’ve noticed some pieces of “recommendation regarding a decision or course of conduct” come up a lot. Like, all the bleeding time. To the point where you stop listening and start looking for ways to entertain yourself by pointing out the irony inherent in the advice’s continued use.

…Am I the only one who does that? Oh, good. Then you’ll probably be able to read my alternate take on these 3 done-to-death writer tips without any sense a déjà vu.

1) “Avoid clichés.”

The irony: The criticism of clichés, in itself, has become a cliché – trite, hackneyed, and so overly commonplace that it’s lost potency.

Why it bugs me (apart from the fact that I hear it all the bleeding time): Life is a cliché. You can only get so original before your story stops making sense and nobody wants to read it. Readers, bless their/our contradictory little hearts, want originality and creativity both. They want to read something they’ve seen a million times before without it feeling like they’ve seen it a million times before. They want old made new. They want clichés dressed up in a WOW factor. They want the same old heroic journey/love story/tragedy with new characters in a new setting and a new reason for them to give a hoot.

My advice: Don’t focus on what makes your story the same as the rest. Focus on what makes it different. Because, as the Backstreet Boys sing it, that’s what makes it beautiful. (No, One Direction, not knowing your own beauty does not make you beautiful. It makes you oblivious.)

2) “Show, don’t tell.”

The irony: People will be forever telling you this instead of showing it.

Why it bugs me (apart from the fact that I hear it all the bleeding time): You know what writers are? Storytellers. “Storyshowers” isn’t a word. Unless we’re talking about silent films or picture books completely devoid of text, there has to be telling involved. We’ve got to tell to show. Call me a literalist, but these are just the facts.

My advice: Tell the darn story. Just tell it in a way that shows the story, rather than laying it out in dry summary. “Ollie died, and this made Joey sad” gives you less than “Joey wept over Ollie’s fallen body”. I’m telling you both examples (as opposed to showing you, which would necessitate pantomiming the whole thing for you on video, or something), but doesn’t the second one make you feel a little closer to the action? If “storyshowers” were a word, it would be the characters’ job description, not the writers’. The characters show, we writers watch, and then we tell what we see.

3) “Kill your darlings.”

The irony: This seems to be a darling phrase of writing advisors everywhere.

Why it bugs me (apart from the fact that I hear it all the bleeding time): Notwithstanding my frequent fantasies in which I knock somebody over the head with a large stick, I don’t actually like violence. And this phrase – much like talk of slashing at your first draft until it bleeds red ink – strikes me as unnecessarily brutal. Editing does not have to be a slaughter! Does a surgeon hack mercilessly at the patient on the operating table like a Viking berserker? If your answer’s not “no”, change doctors now. A qualified surgeon enters the problem area with delicate skill, gently removes the unsightly tumor, and disposes of it in the proper receptacle. Tumor removal: Still a nasty metaphor, but so much more elegant on an artistic level, not so?

“Alright, Nurse – it’s time to painstakingly extract the darling.”
“Alright, Nurse – it’s time to painstakingly extract the darling.”

My advice: No matter how much you love a thing – that character, that scene, that witty phrase – if it does not serve the greater good of your story, it is an abnormal growth of tissue that possesses no physiological function and needs to leave for the body’s health and quality of life. Put on your surgical gloves and work some writer magic.

What think, fellow writer-types? Any writing advice clichés you’d like to put under the knife? Show Tell me in the comments.