Starting from Scratch

My kids think I can build or fix anything and this past weekend they asked for a pirate ship.  So after carefully surveying the collection of scrap wood and various other bits and pieces of raw materials in the basement, garage and recycle bin. This is what we ended up with:

It won’t win any prizes but they had a lot of fun helping me build it and making decisions about how they wanted the ship to look, and what amenities would be included. We had some things that didn’t work, we experimented, we were creative, and most of all we had fun.

I didn’t start out trying to teach them anything, but when they tell people the story of how they built their pirate ship, they are very proud of their contributions, and glory in the telling of how we problem solved.
Listening to them, I realized that beside being a really fun day, they had also learned a little bit about being resourceful, using what you have, and starting where you are.

I feel the same why every time I start a writing project. I inventory my lists of story ideas, found objects, interesting news bits,  and old story files to create something. Any creative project starts with an idea, a whim, a scrap of thought, a problem to be solved, or a request.

Many people say to me that they want to write but don’t know what to write about. This is my answer: Use what you have, start where you are, and don’t expect your first draft to be perfect. Just like our pirate ship, it needs the rough edges smoothed, and a coat of paint. That is what editing is all about, but you can’t edit a blank sheet of paper.

Even if you don’t have little pirates in your life asking for ships, take time to build /create/ write /draw/ photograph something. Quit staring at life waiting for something to happen, and make something happen.

Happy Sailing!




Fiona Zedde: Delicious Desire_ A Year of Women’s Voices

I met Fiona Zedde in 2011 when she came to speak at the College of Wooster. We hosted her in our home. She was lovely, engaging, and totally forgave my goofy dog for destroying an intimate article of her clothing. She gifted us a copy of Dangerous Pleasures (2011).

Being the voracious reader that I am, I finished it in a day, and just like one of her characters, I was hungry for more. More women secure in their sexuality, secure in their desires. Many understanding that they want a protective father as a partner, and more of Fiona’s luscious writing. Her word choice, and character development are exceptional. Her writing is sultry, seductive, and tantalizing. Fiona’s stories feature lead characters that are smart, introspective and passionate. Her novels achingly explore the intersections of love, hate and desire.

In addition to her contemporary novels and stories of lesbian love and desire, Ms. Zedde also has written two urban fantasy novels, Every Dark Desire (2007) and the sequel Desire at Dawn (2014). Her vampires do not sparkle, and would rip your throat out for even suggesting it.

Urban fantasy is one of my favorite genres. I devoured Every Dark Desire (2007) and had to wait, not so patiently for Desire at Dawn (2014). Be warned! Her writing is so engaging that I neglected to notice a bat flying around my house while absorbed in Broken in Soft Places (2013). If you start reading one of Ms. Zedde’s novels you may not stop, even for a bat!

My favorite Fiona Zedde books/stories:

Dangerous Pleasures (2011) Risk, longing, denial, death, surrender, and love. What more could you ask?
Every Dark Desire (2007) and Desire at Dawn ( 2014) Hot, sexy, lesbian vampires, no sparkling. Did I say hot?
Bliss (2005) Edgy sexual exploration that leads a woman to her true self. A coming out story that captures the initial confusion and ultimate delight of becoming who you are.
Nightshade( 2012) An assassin makes her way through this collection of stories, kicking ass and taking hearts.
When She Says Yes (2014) A collection of provocative short stories, perfect for (adult) bedtime.

As a writer this is what I have learned reading Fiona Zedde:

1. Word choice is key in provoking emotions and driving narrative.
2. Don’t back away from the hard scenes, show them, warts and all.
3. Character growth is story.
4. Complex relationships create a compelling read.
5. Present the reality that is racism, homophobia, and class conflict in your stories.
6. Make your characters, even the vile characters, live on the page.

Here is the link to Fiona’s website: and a short biography:

Jamaican-born Fiona Zedde is the author of several novels, including the Lambda Literary Award finalists Bliss and Every Dark Desire. Her novel, Dangerous Pleasures, was winner of the Readers’ Choice Award for Best Lesbian Novel or Memoir of 2012. Her new vampire novel, Desire at Dawn, is available now. 

Alisse Waterston: Making Theory Accessible with Intimate Ethnography

This is my sixth post in my Year of Women’s Voices blog
series, and features my review of Alisse Waterston’s ethnography My Father’s
Wars: Migration, Memory and the Violence of a Century 
(2014).  In this intimate ethnography of her father, Dr. Waterston
has written a frank portrayal of her father as a man, a survivor, a soldier, an
entrepreneur, husband, and father.  Her
writing honors her father without maudlin sentiment.  She frames her father’s lived experiences
with migration and violence, and uses his experiences to illustrate social
theory in a way that makes it accessible for non-academics.
Her writing is crisp, clear, and rich with detail. She
chooses a concise series of her father’s life events that create a reading
experience that is informative, and moving. The reading experience is enhanced by the companion website that
contains photographs, documents, audio files, and videos of her interviews with
her father as she worked on this ethnography. The book becomes a much more intimate experience through watching the
interactions between Dr. Waterston and her father, observing their body language, and listening to their voices.
 As a writer I appreciate Dr. Waterston’s explanation of her
struggles in her dual roles as daughter and ethnographer, and her process of
conducting research. I truly appreciated her discussion of the discipline it
took to not be distracted by the numerous ideas for other projects that called
to her during this project, especially when the experience of the project
became difficult.
If you are interested in ethnographic studies, social
theory, history, Judaic studies, anthropology, or if you are looking for an
extremely readable book that might help you understand how the experience of
violence shapes lives, this is the book I would hand you.
 What I have learned as a writer:
  1.    It is okay to include yourself in the story.
  2.    Stick with the project even when it is hard, or
    other projects beckon seductively from your research.
  3.   It is possible
    to portray unflattering behaviors in a way that is not overly sympathetic, nor  vindictive.
  4.  Multimedia
    can make a non-fiction project a richer experience, and allows the writer to
    include    research material that would be otherwise not be available.
  5.   Write the story that is hard to write, be
  6.    Don’t be trapped by conventions of disciplines
    or genre.
 I am grateful that
Dr. Waterston has created a work that is compelling, and readable on a subject
that is difficult to read about. When
confronted with violence, most of us want to turn away, to shield our eyes and our minds from horrific events. Dr. Waterston reminds us that even if we
want to look away, we must not, we need to understand.
For a biography and more information about Alisse Waterston and her other books, this is the link to My Father’s Wars website and this is the link to Dr. Waterston’s home page



Embrace Your Attention Issues: Terese Ramin Interview


The bar. Again.

I met Terese Ramin at my first writers’ conference. Chicago-North RWA Spring Fling 2012 to be exact. I was loitering at the bar waiting to register. I noticed Terese’s conference badge, and struck up a conversation. She was presenting at the conference. We spent
most of the evening laughing, talking, and getting to know each other over
fries and good beer.

Terese is gracious,
encouraging, and supportive. She is also has ADD/ADHD, and is a successful novelist, and editor. She very kindly agreed to do an interview for this blog.  I have enjoyed Terese’s books.   This is the link to Terese’s Amazon page.   Her biography follows the interview.

1. When were
you diagnosed with ADD/ADHD?

 Terese: **I
was officially diagnosed with ADD in 1996 when I took my son for diagnosis at
his high school’s request. I took the test with him to be supportive.
Was there a specific event that caused you to seek a diagnosis?
son’s high school requested that he be tested (and put on medication).
Do you think having a diagnosis helped?
Terese: **Yes,
it helped *me* realize what had always held me back / been “wrong” with me, and
why there were “bad conduct” marks on my school records. Girls didn’t have
ADD/ADHD when I was in grade school.
Have you faced any discrimination because of your diagnosis?
Terese: **No.
As an adult, the only people who know about my ADD/ADHD are those I choose to
tell. And since being ADD/ADHD affects my entire life, I let people know. My
son, on the other hand, didn’t want people to know, didn’t want to take meds,
etc., because it would have labeled him in high school as “one of those kids”
who got called out of class to take a prescription medication. We worked with
his ADD/ADHD in other ways and, boy, am I glad! He’s very successful as a
teacher now.
How did you organize/ focus yourself to write books?
Terese: **When
was first diagnosed, I saw a therapist who gave me suggestions to help keep me
focused – creating a CD that looped with the question “Are you on task?” played
at 5 and 10 minutes  intervals.
also used a CD called High Focus that essentially
plays white noise. It was highly effective, especially played softly. I also
used guided meditation and a couple of “In the Zone” CDs that are used to help
athletes maintain focus while they work out.
What is the biggest challenge for you when writing a novel?
Terese: **Oh
man. <G> For writing a novel, I need to get to the place in the book
where I can go into hyper-focus. Hyper-focus is something I’m good at – as long
as I’m being stimulated by what I do, or as long as what I’m doing is a
relatively simple, repetitive task (I’m a great editor due to hyper-focus, and
I’m pretty good at detail work – as long my brain doesn’t decide the details
are boring.) Boredom is my biggest problem.
thing that works is for me to be able to get up and wander around doing simple,
non-thinking tasks as I write – taking care of the laundry, loading the
dishwasher, dusting, etc. Those are things I hate to do, but when I do them
during the process of working on a novel, I don’t have to come out of the
“zone” or the story to do them. Doing
simple tasks allows me to daydream the next line, paragraph, or scene, and
return to the computer able to write a few more pages.
Are you an Outliner or Pantser?
Terese: **HA!
I wish I could outline a novel or create a beat sheet, then just fill in the
blanks on the pages. The moment I start to do that, my brain screams “lunch!”
and refuses to budge – it’s that boredom thing or the restless ADHD thing
kicking in: an outline causes me to tell the story to myself, which means I’ve
already written it, which means “bored now” when it comes to trying to write
all 70-85,000 words.
counter this, I give myself a blurb to remind myself where I need to get to
from here, post that on the wall where I can see it, and slowly make my way
toward the end goal: a completed novel.
How do you handle the distraction of the internet?
Terese: **Badly.
I have a routine of getting up in the morning, handling my email, reading the
online news, doing a little Facebook / Twitter / social media to keep my name
out there, but that means I also use up my best creative time. I might be
finished with all of those internet things by 8 a.m., but then the dogs need
attention, there are dirty dishes that need attention, the laundry needs to go
into the dryer, etc. It would be far better for me to revise that routine and
start with writing, but it takes a long time for me to create a routine that
works for me. It’s much easier to fall back on the routine I have. The bottom
line is that I’m much much more productive
if I follow a daily routine, but creating the right routine takes thought and discipline that I sometimes don’t
Do you think that it would have been helpful to be diagnosed at an earlier age?
in today’s climate, yes. Back when I was growing up? Maybe – at least then my
parents and teachers would have understood the reason for why I was the way I
was. But being diagnosed earlier – especially back in a time when using
ADD/ADHD medication properly was still pretty new – might also have meant being
medicated, which brings up a whole new world of issues.
What advice would you give writers struggling with attention issues?
Terese: **Embrace
your attention issues. I look at my son who’s always done seven or eight things
at the same time – and that worked for him. When he was in school, if he wasn’t
listening to at least one sporting event, playing the guitar (or the bassoon,
or something), reading a book, talking on the phone, trolling the internet AND
doing his homework, I knew he wasn’t getting his schoolwork done. He’s never
needed to be medicated and I’m proud of the man he’s become.
I also look at the way he innately handled his ADD/ADHD and I realize that my
own process of staying in the zone by doing housework while I’m writing is much
the same thing. I just need to “stay on task” get back to that routine.
 I hope that reading Terese’s interview inspires you to start writing if you haven’t and to keep going if you have stopped.
Terese Ramin is the award winning
author of eleven novels and numerous short stories. Her autobiographical essay,
“Two-Puppy Theory”, is included in the anthology The Sound and the Furry, sales of which benefit the International
Fund for Animal Welfare. The Cured,
her most recent release with author David Wind, is her first suspense-thriller.
Her next release will be an urban paranormal romance with writing partner Dawn
Aside from writing, Terese works
as an editor, ghost writer, book doctor, and a paranormal investigator. She
lives in Michigan with her husband and a bunch of rescued dogs.

The Lush World of N. K. Jemisin: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

I love N. K. Jemisin’s  The Inheritance Trilogy (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, The Kingdom of Gods).  If you like speculative fiction I can not recommend this series enough. Even if you think you don’t like speculative fiction you should read this for the sheer joy of reading a story that is so well written. I first came across N. K. Jemisin’s  writing through a short story collection Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories (2011).  Her short story “The Effulent Engine” featured strong, intelligent women, and I was hooked.

As a reader I love stories that pull me deep into the character’s world. Ms. Jemisin creates a world that is rich with conflict, full of complex characters coping with cultural beliefs, manipulation, grief, oppression, murder, betrayal, and love.

The environment that the characters live, love, and die in is essential to good story telling. So many speculative writers lose focus when it comes to the world their characters live in, taking short cuts,  they end up creating a cardboard world. That is not the case here. Ms. Jemisin creates a world that is original, enchanting, and essential to the the story. Her writing is tight, focused, and a pleasure to read, the writing never distracts from the story.

As a writer this is what I have learned from reading N. K. Jemisin:

1. Main characters come in all genders, shapes and sizes.
2. Create your own world, make it real, make it sing to your readers souls.
3. Speculative fiction is custom made to explore complex issues.
4. Write tight, make every word count.
5. Weave environment and culture into your story.




Powerful and Evocative: Octavia Butler


Give me the thorns…

It was 1981 when I discovered Octavia Butler’s fiction.  I fell hard, reading everything that I could find that she had written.  As an long time fan of Science Fiction/Fantasy, I craved stories that featured women as more than objectified window dressing. Octavia Butler’s writing is populated with women who are intelligent, strong, survivors, and creators.   Her writing is evocative and powerful. Crisp and clear, her pacing forces you to read on, long after you should have turned off the light.

Octavia Butler was not afraid to write about pain, death, rape, slavery, the future, sexual violence, power dynamics, and racism. The difficult topics that so many writers look away from, or gloss over in their work, she featured front and center in her stories.  Her writing pulls you close, and forces you to keep reading, even when part of you wants to look away. Her language is intoxicating. Her voice draws you into her world, and everything else falls away. Be warned: Ms. Butler will make you think about things you might not want to think about.

My favorite books/stories are:

1. Blood Child- (Blood Child and other Stories, 1995)  Insects, male pregnancy, power dynamics and love.  This story won both the HUGO and the Nebula award. It was the first of her works I read, and the one I go back to when I need a fix.

2. Fledgling (2005) Vampires, Race, and Society.  A welcome twist on the vampire motif. No sparkly vampires here!

3. Kindred (1979) Nightmare fantasy, time travel, and slavery. Read it at least twice to get the full effect. Her ability to weave past and present events is exceptional.

4. Lilith’s Brood ( Xenogenisis Trilogy- published as omnibus editions since 2000) – Genetics, third gender extraterrestrials, sex and power dynamics.  Lover or master? Rescued or captured? Or all of the above? This collection of stories is seductive and terrifying.

5. Parable of the Sower (1993) Dystopian future, Race,  the power of learning, a new religion, and hope.  This novel reminds me that there is always a way forward for those that strive to make their own way.

What I have learned as a writer reading Octavia Butler:
1. Don’t be afraid of exploring and writing the hard stuff: Race, gender dynamics, sexual violence, power dynamics, hate, and love.
2. Wrapping difficult topics in a captivating story makes them provocative and powerful.
3. Story construction and pacing is as important as word choice.

Octavia Butler left us in 2006. I still grieve for the stories she had inside that we didn’t get to read.

You Have to Crawl before You Run: Tarts and the Craft of Writing

Ohau 2011
So what the heck to tarts, a crawling baby, and writing have to do with each other? You fall a lot, you try different things, sometimes you cry, eventually you stand up and take your first steps, then you run.  
Asparagus and Mushroom Tart
I love to cook. I love trying to master new recipes and different cooking techniques. This is a picture of my first tart. I didn’t own a tart pan, and had to make do with what I had. It tasted okay, but the crust was wrong. This tart asparagus and mushroom tart was dense and tasteless, with too much cream, and too much sharp cheddar. I know that learning to make a good tart is going to take time, practice and analysis of what works, and what does not.  
Walking,  making a good tart, and writing a good story, take practice, experimentation, and time. 
The way to become proficient at walking is to keep standing up and taking steps, the way to become a good cook is to keep cooking, and the way to becoming a good writer is to keep writing. 
I did not become a good cook over night. I started cooking when I was fourteen. Over the last forty years I have studied, taken cooking classes, watched cooking shows, experimented, and kept cooking. I have had my share of kitchen disasters, but I never stopped cooking. 
 Leaning to write is like learning to walk, and learning to cook. You just have to keep practicing.
 Take your time.  Write everyday. Write for yourself. Try different things. Practice. Submit a manuscript. Deal with rejection. Keep writing.  

Why I love The Bloggess AKA Jenny Lawson


Hanoi Airport, 2009

This is the second installment in the year of Women’s Voices series and the featured voice belongs to Jenny Lawson aka The Bloggess. Her book Let’s Pretend This Never Happened ( A Mostly True Memoir  is funny, heartbreaking and full of weirdness.  Her memoir is an open discussion of her struggles with depression, distraction, and anxiety. I adored her twisted tales of family, love, death, and taxidermy.

As someone who has had my share of weird adventures that are tragic/comic, reading this book felt like I was a sitting in a bar with an old friend. In our family and in my circle of friends, when things are bleak, we always find something to laugh about, even if we end up crying at the same time. This book is like that. Be warned, some might find her humor and style offensive. If you are at all freaked out by discussions of taxidermy, this is not the book for you.  If you want to sample her writing style before committing to the book, check out her blog here .

As a writer, the lessons of story and craft that I gleaned from this book are:

  1.  Be honest, except when an exaggeration will make better copy.
  2. Swearing is okay if done artfully, and she is a freaking Picasso with curse words. For those of you who know me: she swears more than I do, which is saying a lot!
  3. Do not be afraid to talk about the hard things, for example: exhuming dead pets, losing a baby, and taxidermy puppets.
  4. No matter how weird it gets, it can get weirder, and funnier.
  5. Truth can be funnier than fiction.
As a fiction writer I don’t have any plans to write a memoir, but after reading Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir),  I know that if I did, I would strive to be as funny and as honest as Jenny Lawson.

Geek Love Or What Would You do for Love?

Vietnam 2009

Thank you Liza Barry-Kessler for suggesting this book. I have had it on my to-read list for quite awhile.  Written by Katherine Dunn, and published in 1989 this is a gut- punch of a book.  As a lover of sideshows and all things freakish, I loved this book. Be warned, it is not for the faint of heart or those who are disturbed by graphic descriptions of human wonders. As an exploration of the theme “who are the freaks here” it exemplifies what we love and hate about ourselves and each other.

As a blatant gender non-conformer and heavily tattooed person I have often felt like my own sideshow. This book will resonate with anyone who has ever felt like an outsider, alone, freakish, uncool, and/or weird.  It will also resonate with those of us who are happy in their differences, reveling in their own brand of freakishness. It will resonate with those of us who believe that the great joke is on those who believe that they are superior, simply because they are “normal”.  It is also a love story, asking the eternal question “what would you do for love?”

As a writer I am impressed with Dunn’s ability to create characters that you love and loathe, sometimes simultaneously. The characters in Dunn’s book are unique, multilayered, and anything but typical.  The art of giving your readers characters that they care about enough to find out what happens next is the essence of story telling.  Dunn’s ability to weave plot events and character story arcs in meticulous detail  is a literary demonstration of the Butterfly Effect. I also loved Dunn’s voice, her language is graphic, visual and rich with out being gaudy or poetic.

I have very vivid memories of finally being old enough to go into the sideshow.  It was love at first sight, and I could not get enough. I went through that sideshow tent three times, mesmerized by the human wonders, and geek shows.  I am as captivated by Dunn’s book as I was my first sideshow, I know I will read it again.

Have your read Geek Love? Did it resonate? What would you do for love?


Simp Heister Wayne County Fair 2013


A Year Of Women’s Voices

Halong Bay, Vietnam 2009

 Starting this week, I am embarking on a year long reading project that will focus on women writers as a way of acknowledging that women encounter resistance in getting their work published, reviewed, and taken seriously.

I was inspired to start this project after reading this post 100 Best Lesbian Fiction Memoir Books of All Time . After a little research I also found these two lists,  10 Novels / Memoirs by and about Black Lesbian, Bisexual, and Queer Women and Feminista’s 100 Great 20th Century Works of Fiction by Women .  I am not alone in dedicating this year’s reading to women writers. There is a Twitter hashtag #readwomen2014, and this Note from the Editor: Critical Flame Dedicates One Year to Women and Writers of Color .  After reading through each list with a highlighter, I felt like I had been living in a cave.   I had only read about half of the books listed.

I should explain that I read four or five books per week.  I am as likely to be reading a natural history of earthworms, as I am the latest release from my favorite romance/erotica writers.  I read literary fiction, memoir, non-fiction, creative non-fiction, mystery, romance, suspense, erotica, fantasy, science-fiction, and horror.

As an obsessive reader of all manner of books, and not content to follow someone else’s list, I decided to create my own list.  I asked my friends for recommendations in person, and on my Facebook page. The response was wonderful. I have so many suggestions that I may have to do this again next year!  I am looking forward to reading new books, and rereading a few books that are favorites.

Why reread? Books speak to you in different ways at different times in your life. You can’t step in the same river twice, and you can’t read a book again for the first time.  This time when I reread some of my favorites, I will also be reading as a writer.

Prior to a recent milestone birthday, writing for publication was a nebulous idea.  I wrote in journals, and spiral notebooks. I never considered myself a writer, or showed anyone my writing.  It was my secret.  Then I hit the half-century mark. I decided to gift myself a writing conference, and to take the craft and work of writing seriously. It was the best gift I have ever given myself.  Reading a book as a writer is different than reading as a reader.  As a long time reader I knew I loved some books, as I study the craft of writing, I understand why I love them. My posts will talk about the books I read in two way. One as they resonate, or not, with me as a person, and how the books are crafted.

Thank you to my friends who contributed ideas for the book list.  I appreciate your help.  Each month on the blog I will publish the list of books for the month.

Books have been my refuge, my solace, my escape, and my teachers for as long as I can remember. They have inspired me to take great adventures, change my thinking, and appreciate life. 
Do you feel the same way about books? Come along on the grand adventure. 
Halong Bay, Vietnam 2009