I began storytelling when I was a toddler. I wrote my first poem when I was five, my first ‘novel’ as an adolescent, and my first decent novel (unpublished and unpublishable, but it has good bones) when I was in my mid-teens.
In short, I have been writing all my life. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but here are a few things I have learned about writing along the way.
1. It’s never as bad as you think. It’s also never as good as you think. Basically most of the time you can do better, and many times you’ve done MUCH worse. Trust yourself.
2. Don’t write “for the market”.. Don’t write the popular thing in the fond hopes that you can hitch your wagon to it. By the time your stuff comes out the popular thing will be so yesterday. Write what you want to write, need to write, and let the trends set themselves.
3. Don’t compare your life and career to writers more successful than you are, however you define success. A handful of them will ALWAYS be more successful than you but it is not worth your time and energy to waste an ounce of either worrying about it.
4. Don’t think you’ve ever invented anything new. Every storytelling technique was already ancient before you were born. If you have invented a slight twist on one, that is a huge accomplishment in itself.
5. Find your tribe. Have SOMEONE out there who understands. In the dark hours – and those will come – it helps to know you aren’t alone out there with your tiny guttering candle.
6. Practice faith. Even when all the gods and muses are obstinately silent in the face of all entreaty. Perhaps especially then.
7. Know when to let go. Nothing is EVER finished – but you have to know when to stop tweaking. It will never be perfect. Live with it. Get your story as good as you can and then let it step out into the world to seek its fortune. Hope it sends you a postcard to show you how it’s doing.
8. Read other writers. Remember, they are reading YOU.
9. There are times when it is good to walk in the rain. Yes, you might get damp – but there’s a sense of being one with the world in the heart of it, and then there is always the comfort and security of the hot cup of tea when you come back in with new insights.
10. You are unique. Words are common, and easy to find. You can pick them up like pebbles on a beach. But finding the RIGHT words – and putting them in the right order – that’s unique to you. Even given the exact same words, nobody else is ever going to use them the same way as you do. You are unique, and only you can be you, and only you can tell a story in exactly the way you do. Never let that simple truth get away from you.
Now, go write.
15 Reasons Why The English Language Makes Absolutely No Sense
4. Because whoever wrote this poem is a genius: See the other examples HERE
In her book, Love and Trouble, Claire Dederer explains how a book review brought her
“an unforeseen gift, or burden: Suddenly everyone wanted to tell me about his or her sex life. I mean everyone. I heard secrets, nonstop, for months.”
What kind of secrets? Well…
Secret 3: A note from a college friend, via Facebook: “Loved the piece. Struck a chord. These days it seems like I want to Do It all the time and [husband’s name redacted] never wants to. I don’t know what to do. Am seriously thinking about having an affair but HOW???? How do you even do that?”
At BrainPickings, Maria Popova introduces Neil Gaiman’s thoughts on Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ Why We Read, and How Speculative Storytelling Enlarges Our Humanity
“The abiding splendor and significance of the ideas and ideals at the heart of Bradbury’s classic is what Gaiman explores in a beautiful piece titled ‘Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, and What Science Fiction Is and Doe.’ It wasoriginally written as an introduction to a sixtieth-anniversary edition of the book and is now included in his altogether magnificent The View from the Cheap Seats:”
One great quote: “There are three phrases that make possible the world of writing about the world of not-yet (you can call it science fiction or speculative fiction; you can call it anything you wish) and they are simple phrases:
What if … ?
If only …
If this goes on …”
And one more: “People think, wrongly, that speculative fiction is about predicting the future, but it isn’t — or if it is, it tends to do a rotten job of it. Futures are huge things that come with many elements and a billion variables, and the human race has a habit of listening to predictions for what the future will bring and then doing something quite different.
“What speculative fiction is really good at is not the future, but the present. Taking an aspect of it that troubles or is dangerous, and extending and extrapolating that aspect into something that allows the people of that time to see what they are doing from a different angle and from a different place.”
Read the whole fascinating story at BrainPickings HERE
10 Easy Ways to Raise a Reader
1) Have books in the house 2) Have many different books in the house 3) Let your reader read what they want (they will find their own level) 4) Be available and willing to discuss things that have been read; answer questions willingly and honestly 5) Be a reader yourself and share your knowledge and your favorites 6) Make language something to play with and enjoy rather than a burden to be ‘learned’ 7) Don’t be a reading snob – “high literature” is not the only kind of book there is – if your kid wants to read Asimov don’t insist on Nobel Prize winners, or suggest that nineteenth-century novels have to be read in order for the fun stuff to be accessed 8) Get the kid a library card and encourage the hell out of its full use 9) Make reading something to be proud of, not something to hide from your peers because they will think you are “weird” 10) Love books. Period. It’s’ catching.
Publishers Weekly tells us that “Readers are turning out in droves for the chance to meet favorite authors while collecting tchotchkes, autographs, or memorable selfies with artful backdrops.”
And adds: “Increasingly, marketing YA books means meeting fans where they’re at—online—and in municipal buildings across America: New York, Seattle, or San Diego, Calif., for Comic Con; Charleston, S.C., for YallFest; or at Santa Monica High School in California for YallWest.”
If you havent seen Living Literary, the new feature on my Patreon page, let me tell you how it works.
Living Literary consists of writing prompts. If you are a writer, you know all about prompts and have probably responded to them in the past. They are those suggestions that present an idea or describe a situation in a graph or two and then urge you to begin writing with that as a starting point.
Whether you have writers block, or are just trying to keep your hand in with a little warmup writing, prompts are a godsend.
But writing prompts are not just for the committed writer. They can be fun for anybody.
One prompt that I offered in February:
The famous Ringling Brothers circus is closing down after 146 years. A Big Top is like walking through a gateway into the past, back to the days of innocence where we sat there big-eyed and watched the handlers do things with lions and tigers and bears and elephants oh my, and it never occurred to us to wonder what happened to those animals after the lights went down. Once we did, it became impossible to continue enjoying that kind of show. There will now come a day when a generation of kids will NEVER have been to a circus. Have you ever been to a circus show? What stays with you, if you have?… Do you remember circuses…?
The prompts that I offer come in two parts. The first is the prompt itself, and that is for everybody. Just go to my Patreon site to try it out.
The second part contains the essay that I wrote from that prompt, and that can only be read by my patrons. (You can become a patron for as little as a $2 monthly pledge.)
I hope that some of you will share your thoughts about my essay, or share the pieces you yourself write from the prompts in the comments section.
The latest prompt went up today.
When I was growing up, the International Day of Women was a big deal. In grade school, the teachers lined us up according to height, boys and girls, and each boy would have to produce a “gift” for the girl opposite him. I remember one time particularly well because I lined up with the boy who was my crush that year. In the grown-up world, men brought flowers to their wives or girlfriends.
It was a BIG DEAL, but the message was mixed – women mattered, and also, women were these pretty sheltered things to whom offerings of flowers was all you needed. Have you seen much change for women in your lifetime? Tell us what you think.
Rebel Girls has a new video: The Ugly Truth of Children’s Books.
It is an eye-opening and very disturbing demonstration of how girls and women are portrayed in children’s books — if they are visible at all. Watch it and I’m sure you will be as appalled as I was.
Most of my books are noted for strong female characters and I itched to put some of them in the bookshelves the mother and daughter in the video are unloading. My books would have stayed on that shelf, dammit. My Worldweavers books would have, anyway, for that age group. Rebel Girls, have you met Thea Winthrop yet?
~~~~~ ‘Children of a Different Sky: Stories of war and exile — A crowd-funded anthology from great authors. Any money collected beyond the costs of publication will be donated to help the dispossessed human tides of our era. Give what you can at the crowd-funding website HERE
This little town where I now make my home, tucked away in the beautiful foothills of the Cascades, would not be the first place you would think of if you were to consider the establishment of a museum dedicated to electricity in general and radio in particular, but here it is.
When I did a Literature Live event at Village Books for the Worldweavers series, the guy from this museum, Tana Granack, turned up with a portable Tesla Coil and proceeded to wow everybody with a fireworks display never before seen in the Village Books reading room. The museum has a particular fondness for Tesla and he is amply represented in the exhibits. How could he not be, the New Wizard of the West, the man who invented the 21st century. Alma and the Tesla sparks
There are five unique collections which lead into one another. They are a mixture of audio-visual presentations, dioramas, more traditional discrete exhibits on shelves and in glass cases. There’s a little bit for everybody out here – for the kids who come to learn, for the adults who come to indulge in unashamed nostalgia.
You make a sharp right as you come in, straight into the The Dawn of the Electrical Age: Electricity in the 17th and 18th Centuries gallery. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Age of Enlightenment – the time in which electricity began to be more fully understood not as magic but as science. But it was STILL magic, this early on. This was the era of Ben Franklin and his legendary kites, Leyden Jars, experiments with static electricity.
You remember the times you got zapped when you were a kid – I recall climbing down a staircase in our high-class hotel on a winter holiday, and making the mistake of reaching out for a metal banister while wearing a woollen sweater positively stuffed with static electricity. The blue-white spark that leaped between the banister and my fingers – and which HURT! – was a Mystery of Life, the spark of life itself. Dr Frankenstein had nothing on the awe and majesty of the actinic blue arc which spanned the empty space between myself and that metal tube.
It was one of the most fundamental WOW moments of my childhood – it must have been because I can’t have been more than eight at the time and I still have an extremely clear mental image of this event.
This museum – it just brings back that WOW moment. The early age of electricity-as-miracle gives way to the next gallery – Electricity Sparks Invention: Electricity in the 19th Century, the Industrial Age, the entry of electricity into homes where it brought light and a myriad other useful applications, the telephone, the telegraph. The world changed, fundamentally, and the way we all lived and thought and behaved and believed changed with it.
This place has the telephone used in the first transcontinental phone call – how cool is THAT? And how suddenly astonishing and somehow almost unbelievable it is to equate this to the way we take it all for granted today, that we can call somebody in Japan or in Germany and be instantly connected, that we all wander around glued to our cell phones.
This whole thing led to The Wireless Age: The Rise Of Radio. Again, it is difficult to imagine a time when radio contact was not a given. This particular gallery has a room dedicated to the event which helped to bring radio and its blessings into the forefront of human endeavor and imagination – the Titanic disaster, and recordings of the radio distress call placed by the ship as it met its epic end in the icy ocean. This is a living moment of history; listen to the tinny crackling voice on the recording, close your eyes, you’re there, you’re with that proud ship as it begs for help, your heart can’t help but beat faster. You learn – first-hand, from a moment so long ago – what it means to be IN CONTACT, what it means not to be alone. Electricity did this. Radio did this. The science of the human race and kindred did this. WE did this.
These days we can track a ship, an airplane, or a spaceship in trouble, we can communicate with miners trapped a mile underground, we can talk to the stars. We’ve come a long way from the Titanic, baby.
But we had to start somewhere…And we started by adopting this whole new technology, as a given, as our due, and we built a civilization on it – Radio Enters the Home. News broadcasts. Cultural events. The harbigingers of “War of the worlds”. By the end of the twenties almost two thirds of American households owned a radio set… and we were on the threshold of something else altogether.
The Golden Age of Radio. This particular gallery shows off the radio sets which were so much part of an average household – the kind that even I (pipsqueak that I am) begin to remember clearly. The large sets with woven yellow rattan kind of frontages, the large black bakelite knobs you turned to tune the thing and the whine and crackle of static as you rolled across the airwaves seeking the frequency you wanted. They crowd the shelves of the museum, these radios, some of them large enough to be free-standing pieces of furniture on their own. And already they were becoming obsolete, because a new thing was coming… TELEVISION. Poor old radio could not compete. Oh, it’s still around – but it isn’t the same thing that it was all those years ago.
Looking at these magnificent specimens, we’re straddling Then and Now, one foot firmly in the twenty first century as our cellphones slumber in our pockets and one ankle-deep in nostalgia, washing around our toes like the ocean on our first sight of the sea – just as memorable, just as intoxicating, a part of our shared past and our shared curiosity as a species, our history disappearing into the static as the knobs are turned and each new shining discovery is superseded by the next incredible and amazing thing that we have managed to put together, to comprehend, to find uses for. We really can be something special when we set our minds to it.
You step out again, into the real world, feeling just a little intoxicated with it all. It’s AMAZING. And it’s all right here, in little old Bellingham by the sea, unexpected and invigorating and wonderful.
But let me leave you with a story about another aspect of the museum – its sense of playfulness.
You see, it boasts… a theremin. And the last time we were there, the theremin had been discovered by an adventurous four-year-old who had found out that the thing made WONDERFUL noises when he waved his arms at it. And he was waving his arms at it with great glee. We know the kid’s name was George because his father kept on yanking him away from the wailing theremin with a recurring refrain of, “No! George! Stop that! George! Stop it!“ The kid was acting for ALL of us. He had come into a place where astonishing things lay piled on shelves all around him, and he had discovered… joy. And it was your joy, too. You could not help smiling, watching him leaning into the theremin, his small face wearing the biggest grin you’ve ever seen.
And perhaps that was a good envoi for us all. The world is a place where we trip over impossible dreams with every step that we take.
Sometimes it takes a museum to make you remember that.
“I had a great reading year with so many 5 Star reads. And I needed it with so much going wrong. Here is a little sweet to ease the sour of this day. Here are my best Romance Reads…in no particular order. 1. Dark Deeds by Michelle Diener- Excellent Science Fiction Romance.
~~~~~ ‘Children of a Different Sky’: An anthology of war and exile
A crowd-funded collection of stories from many authors. Any money collected beyond the costs of publication will be donated to organizations working to help the dispossessed human tides of our era. This anthology is an effort to help save both the souls and the bodies of those who now need us most. Give what you can at the crowd-funding website HERE
~~~~~ YOU CAN HELP ME WRITE:As publishing changes, most authors need new sources of income. If you would like to help me continue writing about wizards and Weres, Jin-shei sisters, and girls who rise from the gutter to become an Empress, consider pitching in with a small monthly pledge. For the cost of a latte or two you too can become a patron of the arts.Details HERE
Q: What makes the romance community such a fun and vibrant one?
CD REISS:I used to write mysteries…and I picked up a few fans. I thought I really had something going there. But when I started writing romance I discovered what real fandom was. I never met a group of people more passionate about their genre.
I think the reason is that romance touches the heart instead of the mind. When you reach readers who want you to open them up and break their heart, you’re reaching people who prioritize love and understanding.
‘Children of a Different Sky’: An anthology of war and exile
A crowd-funded collection of stories from many authors you may know – e.g. Jane Yolen– and some who may be unfamiliar to you but have a visceral connection with the pain of exile. Any money collected beyond the costs of publication will be donated to organizations working to help the dispossessed human tides of our era.
Back in the land I come from, there is a beloved poet called Aleksa Santic, and a beloved and well known poem entitled, “Ostajte ovdje” – “Stay Here”. Loosely translated it reads:
Stay here – the sun of a foreign sky Will never warm you like this one in your own heaven Bitter is the bread in that place Where you you’re among strangers and not amongst your brothers.
Give what you can at the crowd-funding website HERE
Quote of the Day
“There is always something luminous in the face of a person in the act of reading” ~ Paul Theroux
~~~~~ As publishing changes, most authors need new sources of income. If you would like to help me continue writing about wizards and Weres, Jin-shei sisters, and girls who rise from the gutter to become an Empress, consider pitching in with a small monthly pledge. For the cost of a latte or two you too can become a patron of the arts. Details HERE
Crowd-funded stories of war and exile to help refugees
The time has come for the stories from the ragged edges of silence to be given a voice, stories that will shine a light on some of the most painful conditions that a human being can endure: existence as an exile, a migrant, a refugee.
“Children of a Different Sky” is a crowdfunded anthology of short stories and poems from many authors you know – Jane Yolen, Brenda Cooper, Marie Brennan, Joyce Reynolds-Ward, Patricia McEwen, Jacey Bedford, Irene Radford — and many others, some of whom may be unfamiliar to you, writers who might have a more intimate, more visceral, connection with the pain of exile.
Any money collected beyond the costs of publication will be donated to organizations working to help the dispossessed human tides of our era.
You can learn more about the project at the crowd-funding website HERE
Included on the website is my video explaining how it works and why I think it is so necessary. (Another link below)
I am one of the unmoored myself, although I was not driven from home by war like so many recent refugees.
But at age 10 I did leave the country of my birth, the ground where the bones of my ancestors are buried, where their ghosts walk, where a sliver of my spirit lives still, lives always. I understand on a visceral level what it means to be FORCED to leave a place one calls home.
Back in the land I come from, there is a beloved poet called Aleksa Santic, and a beloved and well known poem entitled, “Ostajte ovdje” – “Stay Here”. Young children of my heritage and culture know these lines – they are engraved on the souls of the humans of my nation.
Loosely translated, with poetic license, they read:
Stay here – the sun of a foreign sky Will never warm you like this one in your own heaven Bitter is the bread in that place Where you you’re among strangers and not amongst your brothers.
This anthology is an effort to make sure that the dispossessed are not forgotten. It is my attempt to help save both the souls and the bodies of those who now need us most.
If you marched in any city in the world…if you had the courage and the fury to join the thousands who protested Donald Trump’s heavy-handed refugee/immigrant travel ban in the last days of January 2017, I salute you.
Supporting this crowdfunding effort is another way you can help.
In a story at Bustle, Charlotte Ahlin writes: “Let’s clear something up right away, though, because some people seem to be confused: refugees are human. 100% of refugees are real, human people trying to survive, like you and your friends… Whether they go on to be famous authors, or Steve Jobs’ parents, or just ordinary, non-famous human people on the planet, every refugee deserves to live in safety.”
At age 12, Ishmael Beah fled his home and family following an attack by rebels in Sierra Leone. At age 13, he was picked up by the government army and forced to fight as a child soldier for over two years. Beah was finally rescued by UNICEF, and eventually made his way to the United States, where he is now an author and human rights activist. A Long Way Gone is his harrowing, powerful memoir of his life as a boy soldier.
HELP ME WRITE: Publishing is in flux and most authors need new sources of income to remain full-time writers. If you would like to help me continue writing about wizards and Weres, Jin-shei sisters, and girls who rise from the gutter to become an Empress, consider pitching in with a small monthly pledge. For the cost of a latte or two you too can become a patron of the arts.
After the exhilaration brought on by the massive Women’s March, I found it both amusing and infuriating to browse through these
Postcards warning men about the dangers of women’s rights
They were put together by Tara McGinley who wrote: “Here’s a collection of totally ridiculous vintage postcards and posters dated from around 1900 to 1914 warning men of the dangers associated with the suffragette movement and of allowing women to think for themselves.”
Except for the clothes, I am not entirely sure that things have changed all that much.
See more postcards at Dangerous Minds website HERE
~~~~~ Feature image: detail from “Horizons” a mural by Robert McCall.
I always remain astonished at the disdain in which the literature of the future has always been held by the here and now.
It’s just so easy to wave a hand and close the door on the science fiction ghetto.
Sometimes I think that the ‘real’ writers are so afraid of how they’ll be shown up by us genre folks that they’d rather just not compete at all and fondly imagine that keeping the gates locked will keep the cooties away. But I have news for them. it’s in HERE that the future lives. The fences and the locks and the keys…keepg THEM out, not US in. We’re already out there among the stars. Have the literati considered the possibility that it is around THEM, rather than us, that the locked gates and the iron bars really are…?
While I am better known for my fantasy than my science fiction (I sometimes combine the two), I believe that if anything, the sheer vision required to create ANY future from scratch should be a feature of literature, not the bug.
Here are two links to relevant articles well worth you time.
Building a Better Definition of Science Fiction HERE
Andrew Hilleman offers
10 Great Westerns You’ve Never Read
My husband, who cut his teeth on westerns, has read a couple of these and urged this link on me. He is still haunted by ‘The Ox-Bow Incident‘, an exploration of mob rule that still echoes harshly for us even today.
Read all of Hilleman’s picks at the PW website HERE
Surprise! Children’s Books Figured Out Life Long Ago
There’s a reason certain children’s books stay with you long after you’ve left elementary school, Crafty House tells us. “Deceptively simple, such evergreen stories absolutely brim with meaning and insight, serving to remind the reader of the most basic but vital lessons in life.”