You Got This!…Or My Third Annual New Year’s Retrospective


2017, at least for me, was a year of adventure, change and plentiful moments of discomfort. But if I’ve learned anything on this coasting-climbing-dropping ride of life, it’s that being uncomfortable is a necessary component of adventure and change; it’s how we know we are alive.

This year, I made a difficult decision to leave my professional comfort zone. I traded my familiar high school English classroom for a job running a reader-writer workshop at two middle schools (teaching 200 sixth graders!) in a brand new position with no curriculum. Shortly before the school year began, I received an email from my alma mater, URI, and was asked to teach a section of WRT 104, a course I’d never taught. Both of these changes coincided with major revisions of my second novel. Thus began a journey of 100% exhilarating-terrifying newness. IMG_2305

I remember falling asleep in late August, quelling my bubbling anxiety by repeating one phrase:

You got this!

Now, as December comes to a close, I think of all I’ve learned, the new people I’ve met, coworkers and students and new friends, and the many challenges I’ve overcome.

And I feel alive.

So for my 2017 retrospective, I’d like to focus on the other moments in which I left the comfort zone and was left feeling regenerated. In no particular order, I present…


My most recent artwork in progress in oil pastel

The summer evening when I took a pencil to a blank piece of paper and sketched a 3-dimensional pear. I discovered, under the guidance of excellent teachers Claudia and Meg, and with sharp focus and a ton of patience, I can draw, like, actual pictures.

Wandering aimlessly along the chilly streets of Prague in early spring with my friend Ami, making friends with random strangers, drinking lattes and getting lost on cobblestone streets. Despite my complete lack of sense of direction, I learned my superpower is navigating public transportation, particularly when the signs are not in English. Who knew?IMG_2307

Arriving to the pool in July to take my very first swim lesson, and learning that what I’d been doing for years, a bastardized version of freestyle, is not, in fact, the breaststroke.

Participating in the Art of Charm challenge, (learn more about it here) which helped me face my fears and led me to so many of the positive changes that I made this year.

Publishing my most heart-wrenching, personal piece of writing in Good Housekeeping, and the subsequent outpouring of support from friends, family and so, so many former students. A former colleague even reached out via snail mail after coming upon the article online.

Beginning revisions on my second novel, and thanks to my brilliant editor, Stuart, working hard to improve upon my writing blind spots

Sitting down to a well-deserved breakfast after riding a bicycle for 24-miles over four bridges

Running an exhausting and hot 9-mile race on Block Island, then connecting with good friends over wine and snacks.
As I look back on 2017, I also look back on the times I felt inspired by the adventures of others; attending my friend Mike’s first art show, watching a rough cut of my friend Cory’s film, reading Evan’s poetry book and Brad’s novel. I found inspiration in my college student, Sage, who tackled a personal topic in her memoir assignment with such grace and bravery, and Ming, who overcame many of her insecurities about her English language abilities by the end of the semester. And in my friend Pete, who juggles reaching his dreams of music and poetry with full-time teaching. And all those sweet and sassy sixth graders who brave the halls of middle school every day; can you think of a more uncomfortable situation? And so many others who kept going through tough times this year. Last but not least, I’m inspired by my husband, whose love of music drives him to write, record and spend countless hours learning new recording software.

So let’s get rolling, 2018! Let’s make ourselves uncomfortable. Let’s be brave. Let’s get lost. Let’s be inspired and let’s inspire. Let’s feel alive.

You got this!

Go to the Light… A Second Annual New Year’s Retrospective

As we proceed once again through the portal from one year to the next, I offer you my second annual new year’s retrospective, and my opinion on the popular “2016 sucked – bring on 2017!” declarations.

First, my thoughts on year-bashing: Let’s not be so hasty. To quote Ernest Hemingway, “we are all broken, that’s how the light gets in.” And Leonard Cohen, “There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”


Hmmm….I’m sensing a theme, or perhaps plagiarism…tomato, tomahto… the point is to find the light in there somewhere. Take a look back and find the beauty, the wonder, the spangle-light; in other words, the moments of 2016 un-suckage. I promise you they’re there; it might be a feat more irritating than reading Where’s Waldo? or staring cross-eyed at a Magic Eye puzzle, but relax your eyes and look.

Then, I want you to turn and face that magical doorway to the Narnia that is 2017. Because remember, every year will have the evil, stone-turning-wand-carrying witches and the righteous Mr. Tumnuses. (or is the plural Tumni? This will keep me up at night…)

Without further ado, I present my “best of” 2016, in no particular order:

  • Sitting outside on a gorgeous breezy day at the Coquelicot Vineyard Estate in Los Olivos, CA drinking wine and eating snacks from our cooler with the sound of wind chimes above our heads
  • Walking my friend’s dogs down a quiet, darkened NYC street and pretending they belonged to me (also pretending I was totally in control of the situation. I wasn’t.)
  • Riding a ferry boat to Catalina on a summer day and noticing how all the passengers – a boat packed with people of all races, creeds and identities – seemed so content and free and happy.
  • Running a ridiculously strenuous trail race on Block Island that took us through stunning parts of the island we’d never seen before.
  • After months of interminable insomnia, sleeping in on summer mornings and being completely guilt-free about it.
  • Wine tasting along the CT wine trail on a beautiful day in June with good friends, hearing my husband say, “I wish this day would never end.”

  • Attending a flawless and amazing David Bowie tribute concert in Providence, and that moment when the silhouetted couple in front of us broke into a spirited and passionate dance.
  • Watching actors perform a play I wrote and chatting with them after the performance.
  • Weekly movie nights with friends, where I was introduced to some great films.
  • Drinking my morning coffee, reading and journaling on a patio in Beechwood Canyon, watching the fog rise above the city of Los Angeles.
  • Introducing our good friends to the wonder of the Greasy Pole competition in Gloucester, MA.
  • That thirty second encounter with a beautiful, elegant older woman at a crosswalk in New York City where we exchanged compliments on our outfits. (Hers was way cooler)
  • The hearty laugh I had when one of my students told me he’d informed his parents we were watching the The Wolf of Wall Street in English class. He meant The Great Gatsby and his parents were understandably horrified.
  • Sitting around a fire-pit last New Year’s Eve with good people and good conversation.

    lou-reed And all the rest: I conquered some writing hurtles and continued to work on others. I met new and interesting people, attended writers conferences and reading series and book launch parties and art exhibits and plays and concerts. I ran. I went for bike rides. I hiked. I ate great food. I cooked for my friends. My friends cooked for me. I ate pancakes and listened to vinyl on Saturday mornings. I realized I was stronger than my obstacles. I felt necessary. I loved unconditionally.

    So, 2016, time to say goodbye. You gave me some challenges, some goodbyes, some anxiety and some grief, but we had some good times. And hey, 2017, yeah, I’m looking at you. No pressure. I’ll walk in without blinders on, knowing you won’t be perfect, but you’ll still be mine.

    So how about you all? What’s on your “best of” list?

I’m a New Years Cliché, but so what? Musings on Looking Forward and Backward with Wonder…

imagesHere I am, just days before the quintessential “new start”, the threshold of another new year. And I admit it; I buy into the positivity. I don’t just buy into it; I’m like freakin’ Dorothy and her motley group of pals, looking up that shiny road at that even shinier land of Oz.

I can’t help it…I’m the worst of all clichés; the optimist standing at the portal of the new year.

But come on, look at it – it glows! It beckons me. 2016!

Let me make this clear: This isn’t me telling you how 2015 totally sucked and how 2016 will be the answer to everything. No. Nope. Because every year in history has simultaneously sucked and been the answer to everything.

What I am saying is, when you truly reflect on it, even if it’s been a year of 98% AWFUL (and if it has, I’m truly sorry), 2015 has given you something to take with you. More than likely, it will be something that has awakened the warrior in you.

And the same goes for 2016. Right now, it’s got all the glamour of an impending first date. (I mean a good first date, like in 1993 before Tinder and the like came along and scared the crap out of everyone). We don’t know what’s going to happen, and we can believe it’s going to be magical.

And it will be. And it won’t be.

But here’s my suggestion before we all skip off toward the glowing 2016: look back and celebrate the non-suckiness of 2015, the moments when you felt most alive. The times when you pushed the limits, stepped out of the comfort zone or awakened the warrior within.


My “best of” 2015, in no particular order:

Riding a bicycle with two good friends through Manhattan, then over the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset, which I did while wearing a smile of both panic and complete joy.

Finishing my first half-marathon, when only two years ago I wondered how I could ever run further than a half-mile.

Eating the most delicious burrito while watching Jaws outdoors with my husband Jay and our good friends.

Climbing Mt. Monadnock for the third time in my life and realizing I felt stronger climbing at 45 than I did at 41 or 19.

Completely rewriting my novel (with the help of my editor and friend, Stuart, who coached me into my very best writing)

Taking a play-writing class with a great teacher and super-talented classmates. (And getting a completed ten-minute play out of it!)

Sitting on my hammock, drinking my coffee on summer mornings and just being grateful.

Rowing a barge (even though I really stunk at rowing a barge) with good friends as the sun came up over the Seekonk River in Providence.

Watching my students perform at our monthly coffee shop open mic., and knowing they have this opportunity because my colleague Diane and I made it happen.

e37c228d5d0dc9a8bdb6f90f39c2b594There’s more I could add, and I certainly could make a list of the “worst of” 2015; a health scare that resulted in three weeks of near-crippling anxiety or my inexplicable bouts of insomnia or the heaps of writing rejection I receive weekly. I could write about the times that people were particularly mean to me, or the days when I lost my patience or my temper. Or the worry that I’m not a good enough friend, wife, teacher, sister, person. Or the fear that brain cancer or an active shooter is lurking around the next turn.

But instead, I’m going to say I accomplished much, made amazing new friends and experienced life with the ones I already have. I ran and wrote and taught and sang. And I tried to be a good person.

So, as I turn my back on 2015, I do so with two very enthusiastic thumbs up. 2015, you’re no more Kansas than 2016 is Oz, but for a moment let’s all look forward with wonder.

Because, why not?

My Adventure at the San Francisco Writers Conference 2015

BridgeMany writers will attest to this: It’s hard to say “I’m a writer” without feeling like some kind of fraud. It’s so much easier to say I’m a teacher, a baker, candle-stick maker (well, maybe not the last one). And while none of us should be in it for the rewards, rewards certainly don’t hurt.

So when I received the news that I won the Victoria Hudson Emerging Writer Prize, I was just a bit more than ecstatic. Winning this scholarship to attend the 2015 San Francisco Writers Conference meant a great deal to me. “Yippee!” I shouted to no one in particular. “I am a writer–albeit in a mostly unpaid-wallpapering-my-house-with-rejections kind of way–but I’m a writer.” After four days jam-packed with eye-opening and inspiring sessions, where I met cool, interesting people who are toiling away at a plethora of amazing projects, I declare that nobody should be afraid to admit to being a writer. In fact, get a t-shirt or a tattoo. Get both.

I loved my experience at the San Francisco Writers Conference, so I thought I would share a few highlights…

Scholarship Winners

Photo By Dutch Design Photos

1) All Things Pitch

The best part about writing a novel is you can tell people “I wrote a novel.” The worst part comes right after when they ask the follow-up question, “Is it published?” From there, the conversation goes something like this:

“Why not?”
“Well, I have to get an agent. Then once I get someone to represent me, then–”
“What’s it about?”
“It’s about this guy–”
“If it’s made into a movie, can I get a part?”

Pitching agents…I don’t know about other writers, but just the thought of it filled me with dread. I often wondered, is there someone I can hire that will pitch the agent for me, like a pre-agent-agent? And is there someone I can hire to help me pitch my idea to that person?

At SFWC15, the first two sessions I attended were specifically about pitching. In Prepping the Perfect Pitch, agent Regina Brooks discussed the most important elements to query letters and how to build a one-minute pitch. Directly following this was a Pitch-A-Thon, during which participants gave their “elevator pitch” to a panel made up of agents and editors. I didn’t get a chance to deliver my pitch, but listening to other writers speak and the American Idol-style critique of the panelists was worth a trip across the country. I realized pretty early on that my pitch was too long and confusing. Two days later, at 8:00 a.m., I had the opportunity to deliver my new-and-improved pitch during Agent Speed Dating, which allowed each participant three minutes with each agent. It was an awesome experience. I used to get tongue-tied whenever anyone would ask me what my novel was about, now I can say it with confidence in approximately 38 seconds. Full disclosure (and quite frankly, Nerd Alert): I timed myself giving my pitch in the hotel room while my friends were out on the town having drinks.

2) Editing and Revision

While most writers (I hope) know the simultaneous pain and joy of revision, I think many fall into two categories, a) those who feel their work is good enough and b) those who think their work is never finished. It’s somewhere in the middle ground where the successful writers reside. And as I tend to get lost in that middle ground, I was happy to see so many sessions at SFWC15 on the topic of editing. I attended two sessions: The Art of Writing is Rewriting and Finding and Working with the Right Freelance Editor for You. In both of these sessions, developmental editors (these are the peeps you hire before your book becomes a book) discussed the importance of engaging your inner critic and being sure each scene connects to the big picture. I got some excellent tips, such as having friends read your manuscript out-loud, physically cutting the manuscript to manipulate scenes and most important – finishing. The consensus seemed to be tackle your work, don’t tinker. The process should include several drafts before you get to the point of pitching the novel to agents.

3) Craft

Though the San Francisco Writers Conference tends to lean more towards business than craft, I had a few favorites on the craft of writing:

Craft in the Service of Art: Creating Literary Fiction That Endures: A panel of literary authors discussed the art of creating beautiful prose. Most emerging writers will tell you that the fiction labels – literary, commercial, women’s, upmarket – can get confusing, and there are definitely gray areas. I walked away with a better understanding of what literary fiction is.

Setting the Scene: Making the Places in Your Novel Live in Your Readers’ Imagination: The panel here, made up of two novelists and a literary agent, discussed the importance of creating a world in which the reader should become completely lost.

Dialogue and Voice: Revealing Your Characters and Yourself: In this session, novelists discussed the importance of authentic voice and use of dialogue to establish characterization.

Reading Well to Write Well: How Reading Great Books Makes You a Better Writer: Facilitator Kevin Smokler encouraged participants to pitch their manuscript to the group, who then offered suggestions of comparable books and films. This might have been my favorite session of the conference, as it got people talking about their projects and gave us the opportunity to help each other out. Writers, though a solitary bunch, are quite helpful. I got some really interesting suggestions for comparable reading materials.

4) All The Rest

Kristen and Beth

With Beth Deitchman

The experience was just amazing for me! As a New Englander, I relished every minute of my morning runs in the spring-like San Francisco weather. I visited the Beat Museum, spent a small fortune at the City Lights Bookstore and had a drink where Kerouac once sat at Vesuvio Cafe. I met so many awesome, interesting writers, like Victoria Hudson and my (until then) only-on-twitter-friend, Beth Deitchman. I enjoyed hearing the poets share their work at the open mic. night, I hung on every word of keynote speaker Yiyun Li’s amusing and encouraging talk about eavesdropping, and I loved learning about John Lescroart’s winding road to best-selling author. Lescroart also signed a copy of his new novel The Fall and gave me some advice I needed to hear: “Keep at it.”

So thanks, San Francisco Writers Conference and Victoria Hudson for providing me with this very important step on what I hope is a long, productive writerly journey.

I’ve provided a list of links to cool people or organizations I encountered at the conference. If you’d like to give a shout out to a person, place or thing from SFWC15, feel free to add your own link in the comment sections.

Kristen Bookstore

At City Lights Bookstore

Some Links You Should Check Out (in no particular order):

John Lescroart
Monte Schulz
Yiyun Li
Book Architecture
Serendipity Literary Agency
The Victoria Hudson Emerging Writer Prize Go Fund Me Page
Tanya Egan Gibson
Fairbank Literary
Gordon Warnock
Helene Wecker
Kevin Smokler
San Francisco Writers Conference Scholarship Page

Can’t We At Least Try to be Nice?

I am currently adrift in a sea of outgoing queries, revisions, writing, teaching and music and thus should not be blogging, but I need a word-purge of late.

Here’s a question that’s on my mind as we head into the holiday season: Is it that hard to be nice?

2014-11-22 12.55.28

A few weeks ago, my husband and I received a dreadful phone call: our doctor had passed away suddenly from a thoracic aneurism. Not only was this the man we’d relied upon for the past fourteen years to keep us healthy; we felt like we lost a friend.

It might sound like an odd declaration, but we loved our doctor. He was funny, kind, patient, and he loved to chat about books with me and music with my husband. Both of us said on more than one occasion that we wanted to have him over for dinner or otherwise hang out with him in a non-medical capacity, but we never got around to it. As I read through the condolences on the on-line obituary, I realized that there were so, so many people who felt the same way about him. When I spoke to fellow patients at his memorial service, I was met with more of the same, “He was such a good guy. I thought of him as a friend.” As I watched my husband struggle to relay to his wife and daughters just how much he meant to us (because truly, trying to use words to explain why you are glad someone existed is like trying to describe the Grand Canyon.) I thought about how we touch each other’s lives here on this big blue orb.

2014-11-22 12.55.17

I could go on and on about how my doctor helped and comforted me over the years, but what it all boils down to is the fact that he was nice. That’s it. “Kristen!” he’d say, with a big smile, every time he saw me.

Being nice is something I strive for. I don’t always succeed. I don’t always have patience, but I try. The people who impress me the most with their kindness are the ones who aren’t under any obligation to be nice. You know: co-workers, cashiers, receptionists and even more randomly encountered people, like the man who was nice enough to hold back his dog when I jogged by on the bike path the other day, adding, “Sorry to have slowed down your run.”

I have taught high school for over a decade. Some of my favorite students over the years are the ones who greet me with a sincere “good morning” or talk to me about music, movies or – gasp – books. What I find sadly ironic are the ones who are rude or downright mean to me and fellow classmates, but then expect that I am going to high-five them in the hallways when they walk by during the following year. I mean, I get it; they’re teenagers, but part of growing up is being held accountable for your actions.

My students know I am not one of those don’t-smile-till-Christmas kinds of teachers. I try to be myself, which for the most part is laid-back and affable. (Or as one student put it, “mad chill”) One of the best compliments I got from a former student was how she remembered me as the teacher who, during sophomore English, asked her if she was ok one day when she was feeling down. I don’t remember that moment, but it mattered to her; she’d been having a rough day and having someone notice made a difference. This is not to say I am a saint; for every moment like that one, there are many more when I may have been otherwise occupied and didn’t notice anything other than the pile of work on my desk. But since she told me that a few years ago, I have wondered how many others I might have impressed just by being nice.

Being nice is that simple, and that complex. We live in a world where we are becoming increasingly isolated from one another by the moment. Think about social media; we get to be our own personal “Wizards of Oz,” saying whatever we want from behind our curtains. It couldn’t be easier to be mean.

A few months ago, a celebrity I follow on twitter found himself facing an onslaught of name-calling and mud-slinging for a reason I still can’t comprehend. In an attempt to gain more followers for a charity he supports, he told followers he’d stop tweeting till the charity gained more followers. I thought, “that’s a nice thing to do,” then I re-tweeted and forgot about it. I learned later, however, that several of his fans had taken offense to his refusal to tweet, and they called him an arrogant bully, among other things. The string of vitriolic tweets directed at him made me question if I had misinterpreted his original message. I asked my husband and a friend to read it, and they both confirmed that he was just trying to be a good person. He wanted his charity to have more followers. It made me sad to see that so many people were putting so much energy into being hateful to a person they’ve never met.

Which brings me back to my original reason for writing this blog: How hard is it to try to be kind? Think about my doctor. I can imagine many of the people he saw were unhappy, sick or harried. But so many remember him for his kindness, his smile, his encouragement.

At the dimming of the day, I’d like people to say that they remember me for being nice; not just my friends, my siblings or my husband, but my students and coworkers and people on the bike path and the baristas at my neighborhood coffee-shop and my social media friends, followers and connections.

Earth is a crazy-mixed-up place. Some of the connections you make might seem like whispers, but I don’t believe that. We touch each other’s lives everyday in one way or another. We’re not always going to have patience. We’re not going to like everyone we meet. We’re not always going to agree. But we can at least try to smile or say something nice. Make people feel so glad you existed, that trying to explain why will be like trying to describe the Grand Canyon.

It’s that simple. And that complex.

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Why I Write

I was tagged by one of my favorite twitter peeps, Siofra Alexander in a blog hop, entitled “Why I write”. Siofra writes a beautiful dream blog, which you can check out here. You can also read her response to the writing question on her blog as well.

When I first sat down to write this blog, I found myself hitting road blocks. Why do I write? I write because, simply, I love words. But that’s a bit of a short answer, huh? So in order to truly express my love for words, I tapped into my inner Dr. Seuss. The result was the following poem. Enjoy!



Up next on the blog hop is Beth Deitchman.

Beth Deitchman is a writer, actress, pilates teacher, publisher and former ballet dancer. She writes brilliantly descriptive flash fiction and short stories in a variety of genres; she is currently at work on several projects, including a magical book series, Margaret Dashwood, an Encyclopedia-Brown style short, a super creepy story called “Irina Voshnikaya,” about a vampire ballerina and she’s begun research for a realistic novel about ballet dancers. Beth is also co-editor of Luminous Creatures Press, which ran a challenging 500-word flash fiction contest over the summer.

Guest Blog! Author Peter Samet Talks Process

Writing Is Like Remote Alien-guided Farming

This post is my contribution to the “My Writing Process Blog Tour,” a Q&A that prompts writers to discuss their work and craft. I’d like to thank Kristen Falso-Capaldi for not only tagging me (and thereby making me aware of this blog tour) but also for hosting my answers on her blog.

I don’t yet have a blog of my own, but you can learn more about me and my work at

What am I working on?

Right now, I’m working on rebalancing my life. Yeah, I know, that’s not a writing project, but that’s the problem: for the past 6 months, I’ve had no time to write.

This utter lack of free time is a relatively new development for me. Throughout my 20s, I had gobs of it. Same as now, I was a freelance film editor with a pretty good day rate, so like a camel, I was able to horde enough of a cash reserve to go on living for weeks at a time without paid work. I would fill this time with all sorts of passion projects, the latest and greatest of which was ZERO ECHO SHADOW PRIME, my first novel.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but while I was writing ZESP, my life was nearing the end of its extended adolescence. Almost immediately after publication, I got engaged, bought a house, and my day-job kicked into high gear. Suddenly, all the free time I used to spend on passion projects was gobbled up by mundane tasks and worries. I had finally become something I’d never thought I’d become: an actual adult.

This dilemma isn’t intractable, of course. On Twitter, I’ve met a bunch of inspiring people—young parents and high-powered professionals with far more responsibilities than I—who still manage to find time to write. So I know it can be done. I just have to figure out a system that works for me. Because after 10 years of taking my free time for granted, my time-management skills suck.

Although I haven’t been writing in earnest, I have been planning my next move. I have three projects lined up. The first is a short story titled, “I Never Asked for a Robot Army.” I’ll let you guess what it’s about. The second is a sequel to ZESP. The third is a top-secret science fiction novel that may mark a new direction for my writing career.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Whenever I embark on a novel (or any long project), I like to write down my goals. How will this novel standout from the crowd? What kind of thoughts will it inspire in people? How will it engage their emotions?

The purpose of this exercise is two-fold. First, it helps me hone my intentions early on. Second, it provides a compass I can reference from time to time to make sure I don’t stray from my initial artistic vision. Novels, as I’m sure you know, take months (or in my case, years) to write, and it’s easy to lose track of what’s important.

Here, I am listing the goals I had written for ZERO ECHO SHADOW PRIME because I think they can be applied to my body of work as a whole.

Goal #1: To blur the lines between prose and screenwriting. Dialogue should drive almost every scene. If I cannot imagine my words being dramatized visually, as if on a movie screen, I should rewrite them.

Goal #2: To blur the lines between sci-fi and fantasy. Arthur C. Clarke once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” and that’s how I want to convey it. With technology you can fly, turn invisible, slow time, invade people’s minds, share bodies, etc, almost like magic.

Goal #3: To explore the mysteries of consciousness and mortality without dropping a thriller’s pace.

Why do I write what I write?

That’s a very good question, because I could spend my time in plenty of other ways (and often do). Writing is not the most immediately enjoyable activity. Yes, it can be tremendously satisfying when you patch a troublesome plot hole, or when you get two subplots to click with one another, or when you finally publish the damn thing. But most of the time, writing is a slog. It’s also not a very lucrative activity, nor is it easy. In fact, finishing ZESP was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my whole life.

But that’s probably why I love to write so much.

Here’s another famous quote, this time by John F. Kennedy: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

Ok, so maybe writing a novel isn’t as hard as putting a human being on the moon, but it’s frickin’ hard. Writing is a challenge, and challenges are fun. So that’s why I do it.

How does my writing process work?

I like to use a farming metaphor to describe my process. Before farmers can harvest their crops, they must do a lot of prep work—plow, plant, water, etc.

The same is true for writers, though the fields they toil are the amorphous (and temperamental) fields of their own minds. The seeds they plant are ideas, gathered either from preexisting media sources or from the world directly. Because I’m a science fiction writer, I like to stay current with the latest scientific discoveries, and so I read a lot of science news and books.

After I’ve gathered enough sciency ideas, the next step is to grow them, and for that, I have a silent partner who does most of the work: Retep Temas.

How can I describe Retep Temas? He’s a bit mysterious. Often elusive. Retep tends to disappear whenever I need him the most, and he’s never around when I’m sitting at my computer. He’s also incapable of language in the conventional sense. He feeds me plot ideas and snippets of prose by way of epiphany. This has led me to wonder if he lives inside my head, but I cannot be sure. He could be an extra-dimensional being for all I know. Or an angel. Or an alien that has taken residence on the dark side of the moon, flinging thought bombs my way via satellite relay.

Whichever the case, Retep is the real genius of our little partnership. I take all the credit, of course, but Retep is the one who brings the goods. I simply write them down. Though, like I said, Retep is elusive. Whenever I lay my fingers on the keyboard, Retep automatically goes bye-bye. It’s almost like he’s allergic to computers. So if we haven’t prepared any material in advance, then no writing gets done. Except maybe on Twitter.

My most important job as a writer is to figure out ways to coax Retep out of his hiding hole. To that end, I’ve stumbled upon two semi-reliable tactics. First, I pose story questions to him. At any given moment, my WIP will invariably have problems that need to be addressed. I suss out the most crucial ones and reformulate them as questions.

What does the protagonist want? How can I prevent her from getting what she wants? What kind of antagonist would provide the most drama to the story? How does the world’s advanced technology work, and how does it contribute to the story? How can I patch this particular plot hole? Etc.

Then, I simply wait until Retep answers the questions. It does me no good to write during this time. In fact, Retep is much more likely to respond if I’m doing something completely mindless, like driving to work, walking in the park, taking a nap, or taking a shower. Retep sends me more ideas in the shower than anywhere else, which is kinda funny, because he’s almost literally watering my head the way a farmer waters crops.

Ah yes, I nearly forgot my initial metaphor: writing is like farming. Remote alien-guided farming. Once Retep waters the seeds, I can finally harvest the crops (i.e. write words onto the page). Editing follows much the same way as writing does, with me posing questions and Retep answering them. Eventually, I run out of questions to ask, and that’s when I publish.

Tag, You’re It!

Now I must tag other writers to answer these questions. This has been a difficult decision for me, since I know so many talented writers, but I’m pretty sure I have to narrow my selection to three. I’ve chosen an old Twitter friend, a new Twitter friend, and an IRL friend.

Sofie Bird is one of my oldest and dearest friends on Twitter. Conversations with her are little like sliding down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. She will spin your thoughts back at you, infusing them with colorful imagination, and before you know it, you’ve entered this very strange world in which Sofie reigns supreme. So often when I talk to her, I want to ask, “Are you for real?” but I also don’t want to break the intoxicating spell she’s created. It’s like a super-fun drug trip, but without the side effects.

In the limited time I’ve known M.J. Kelley, he has impressed me with his incisive understanding of both the craft and marketing of indie writing. I’m pretty certain that his response to this blog tour would be well thought out and highly educational. And at any rate, I’d like to know the guy a little better.

Mark Landry attended USC Film School with me over 10 years ago, and we’ve been good friends ever since. More than anyone I know, Mark knows how to tell a tight, compelling story, and as co-editor for ZERO ECHO SHADOW PRIME, he has been an invaluable source of ideas, story fixes, and inspiration. He’s a screenwriter by trade, but he recently penned a graphic novel that is out-of-this-world amazing. The project is a bit hush-hush, so I’ll let him talk about it in more detail.

“Rejection is the Apollo Creed to your Rocky” and other pearls of weird-writerly-wisdom…My contribution to the Writing Process Blog Tour ’14

Well, looky-here. I’m writing a blog. About writing. I want to thank my fellow writer-friend, the very talented Beth Deitchman for tagging me to focus on our craft for “My Writing Process Blog Tour.” Though I’ve been writing all my life, (I scored an honorable mention for my Charlotte’s Web rip-off story “The Easter Celebration,” when I was 10, thank you very much) I’ve only just amped up my efforts again over the past year. I am honored to be considered worthy of anyone’s attention.

Are you paying attention? Ok, here we go…

Without further ado – My Writing Process Blog Tour:

What am I working on?

I like to juggle. For me, having a few irons in the fire means a diminished chance of writer’s block. And because I tend to be distracted by shiny objects and reruns of Buffy, I find that bouncing around among various projects helps me actually finish things. And I do finish things, despite pecking at my work like a neurotic little bird. Over the past year, I have completed (ahem) six 3000-6000 word short stories, a novel, a screenplay, lyrics for four new songs and at least twenty 150-500 word micro-fiction pieces. Keeping in mind that I do have a day job that delivers maximum time-suckage, that’s a pretty good cache of words.

Currently, I am working on a short story about a troubled teen in love with a strange boy, which falls a bit on the darker side and a screenplay, which falls on the sad-but-with-potential-for-happiness side. Depending upon my mood, I have been jumping in and out of both documents for the past few weeks.

I also have finished a novel that has been passed on to a few trusted friends for feedback. On the back-burner, you will find 50K words of another novel, created during last years’ National Novel Writing Month contest.

Finally, I am a singer and lyricist, so I have about seven half-finished songs just waiting for me to get a move on.

I see no writer’s block here! OMG, is that the “Band Candy” episode of Buffy playing? Gotta go…

How Does My Work Differ From Others of Its Genre?

Oh, genre-shmenre…I don’t know how to answer this. I guess I would say my work is mostly realism with (sometimes, and quite unexpected) elements of magical realism. My novel is about grief and giving in to your demons. It’s a delightful romp, really. I’ve written micro-fiction and short stories that have started out as realism but ended up becoming magical or psychological in the end. I’ve also co-written a screenplay, Teachers: The Movie, a comedy about my day job, which is best described as a cross between a Kevin Smith flick and a mockumentary-style show like The Office.

I love to read and be inspired by others. Because my writing is so varied, my own reading is cornucopiatic (I just made that word up; see the power writers have?). Right now, I am reading a brilliant screenplay written by a friend, a flash fiction collection about – among other things – werewolf brothels in the old west, a comic book about existential teen angst and pop culture in the 90’s and a 500+ page novel set in 1910 England. I love anything well-written: adult and YA fiction, poetry and song-lyrics, films and TV shows.

Anyway, I am rambling, and I didn’t really answer this question, so I will move on to the next…see what I did there?

Why Do I Write What I Write ?

It’s what I do. No, really. For me, carving out stories from nothing is gratifying and cathartic. My writing is forged from pieces of memory, personality types I’ve encountered and the big questions in life. I do like having something to ponder in most things that I read, so I make an effort to have some kind of meaning in what I write. A theme, a message, whatever you want to call it; I want my reader to feel something.

Maybe it’s cliche to say that writing is therapy (and not necessarily a doorway to bliss), but I do believe writing helps me deal with the day-to-day stuff, the mean people and the ridiculous ways in which humans behave in relation to other humans. We are a strange race of people; writing about it helps me try to figure out why.

I write what I write, and I do it everyday, because I don’t want to be good. I want to be great. I want to be as great as the writers I admire: I’m talking to you, Tim O’Brien. And you, Woody Allen. You too, Joss Whedon. And Bob Dylan and Robert Frost and Sharon Olds and Paul Simon (was there ever a lyric more sincere and steeped in longing than “‘Cathy I’m lost,’ I said, though I knew she was sleeping. ‘I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why'”?) And the talented gang of writers who’ve created complex, layered characters on my favorite TV show, Hell on Wheels. And you, scribes of my twitter-circle – there are too many to mention here – who share your brilliance with me and make me jealous and ambitious at the same time.

It’s pretty basic: great writing comes from absorbing the great writing of others, wanting to be better and practicing your art.

How Does My Writing Process Work?

I just write. Since I do have a day job and I usually practice singing at night, I write every morning at 5 a.m. for about an hour. It’s actually turned out to be a perfect time for me to write, as the house is quiet and the fact that I’m not fully awake makes me less particular about every phrase; it’s hard to mull over every comma when you’ve only got one eye open.

Often, I start with just a first line, something totally random, and I go from there. One of my latest stories began with the sentence, “So my friend ran off to smoke pot with some dirty hippy and I am standing here.” (I swear this phrase just popped into my head out of the blue. Random, right?) Other times, I use a photo prompt, like the ones provided for flash fiction contests like Flash! Friday Fiction, Luminous Creatures Press and The Angry Hourglass, then I just let my mind wander. Or, a memory pops into my head and I use it as a jumping-off point. Or an everyday occurrence triggers one of those big life questions I was talking about. Lately, ideas seem to keep coming, and for that I am grateful.

I don’t worry about the ending of the story. I don’t worry about the middle. I just let the words pour out. I don’t outline. I subscribe completely to the idea that 1st drafts are not for the eyes of others, so I don’t fret over the story till I finish the 1st (sucky) draft. Fretting is for editing. (You can totally have that phrase by the way…use it in your twitter bio or what have you.) Once I finish the 1st draft, then I give it a couple of days and go in with new eyes. Then I think about what it is I want the story to really, truly be about. And I edit and rewrite. Edit and rewrite and revise.

Then, I let someone read it. If I may pontificate briefly: if you are writing and you’re not letting someone read = bad. At some point, you have to send your baby out into the world and let him meet new people. I am so blessed that I have been able to rely on great writer-friends like Cedrix Clarke, Beth Deitchman, Peter Samet, Callie Armstrong, Jason Zwiker, Beth Voso, Larry Rothstein, Brian Burns and of course my Teachers: The Movie co-writer Evan Lancia for feedback. Also, my husband reads nearly everything I write, and he is not shy with the critique (you’d know this if you’ve ever sung vocals in a recording studio for him, trust me).

Finally, I send my stories to literary journals or I enter contests. I try to get my work out there. That’s what it’s for. It’s for someone who lives outside of my house to read. Will that someone reject it? Um, yeah. That’s kind of part of the process. But if you’re afraid of rejection…just…don’t be afraid of rejection. Rejection is the Apollo Creed to your Rocky. So put your inspirational instrumental theme music on a loop and keep running. Train hard and focus on the sequel.

Incidentally, since you are someone who lives outside of my house, maybe you’d like to see what I’ve written in non-blog form. No? Ok…well, if you change your mind, click the “Published Work and Awards” page for links to a few of my very short pieces.

So this is the part where I tag people. When I first joined Twitter a little over a year ago, I had no idea that I would be immersed in a community of talented, funny, profound and encouraging writers who were producing quality work in a variety of genres. I have chosen three of these writers to tag for the next wave of this blog.

They are:

Brad Abraham

I started following Brad on Twitter during the fall of last year. At first, like most twitter followers, we conversed about random topics like food and music. Since he was genuine and wasn’t just looking to up his follower quota, I read his bio and discovered that Brad is indeed a full-time writer who writes, among other things, screenplays and a comic book series. Brad is a cool guy, in that he was willing to offer advice to this newbie screenwriter, and he is the author of the Mixtape comic series. Mixtape is the story of a group of friends coming of age to the soundtrack of the 90’s alternative music scene. I am a big fan of Brad’s work, and I am looking forward to hearing about his process.

You can learn more about Brad at his website:

Peter Samet

Peter is another of my writer connections who has become a necessary part of my Twitter feed. From our earliest conversations I was aware that, like most writers on social media – Peter was at work on a novel. Last spring, I was honored to be among the first readers of his book, Zero Echo Shadow Prime, a well-crafted science fiction dystopian novel about the year 2045, where the merger of man and machine has devastating effects. A film editor by day, Peter has managed to carve out time to write a really solid novel. His characters are essentially clones, yet he finds a way to make each of them unique while taking us through their journey.

Learn more about Peter and his novel here:

Christopher Smith

Up until today, I didn’t know Chris’ real name, but I know him as one of the first people who chatted with me on Twitter. What I like about Chris, besides the fact that he is good with the Twitter-chatting and he has varied and unique taste in music, is that he can spin a clever tale in a number of genres. If you haven’t checked out Dirk McAwesome and the Giant Fire Breathing Space Ants, written under the pen name Richard Junk, I suggest you get yourself a copy. It is laugh-out-loud funny, I promise. Chris (under another pen name, Joriah Wood) is also one of the writers involved with the Whiskey and Wheelguns series, a vividly written, action-packed collection of tall tales that melds the old west with zombies, werewolves and vampires.

You will find Chris’ blog at