I’m meant to be working on my novel today.  I’m all set up in my comfy chair with my laptop and my coffee, but instead I’m turning to you, blogosphere.  Because that’s almost as productive….

writers block

It’s been ten months since I did anything with COVENANT.  Last spring I revamped the outline and rewrote the first few chapters.  I was really happy with the way they turned out – I even included an excerpt in my application for a major award and went on to earn an Honorable Mention over dozens of applicants.

But then I put it aside.

It was supposed to be just a summer break sabbatical.  My son, the Kinglet, would be underfoot all the time – there would be swimming lessons and summer camp and far too much noise under one roof for me to get anything done.  I intended to start back up in September, but then it turned into a So-it-turns-out-the-Kinglet-has-Autism-but-the-School-wants-to-Fight-Against-Services-Oh-By-the-Way-I’m-pregnant-Hello-Morning-Sickness-Happy-Holidays-More-Morning-Sickness-Get-the-Nursery-Ready-Why-Am-I-Still-Throwing-Up-Oh-Look-It’s-Spring sabbatical.

Don’t you hate it when that happens?

Now my novel is like a friendship left too-long untended… you think about it, you say to each other “we really should get together soon”, but so much time has passed since anyone made an effort that you’ve crossed into awkwardness and no one really knows what to do about that. I miss it – I know I need to do something, especially now, before the baby comes and steals my sleep and every ounce of creative energy, but gah, where to start? Do I even know this novel anymore?


I guess the only thing TO do is just dive back in, no matter how awkward it feels… just open up the file, find the place where we left off and … start writing.  If it’s anything like real-people friendships, pretty soon we’ll be sharing mental martinis and tripping over things to say to each other.


It’ll be like no time has passed at all. Right?


When a friend invited me to participate in an upcoming pulp-inspired “giant monster” anthology, I initially turned him down – something to the tune of “well I don’t… do? giant monsters?” But he asked me to think about it, and I did, and I’m glad. I won’t say too much, as the project is still pulling bits of matter into it’s orbit, but I started with a “what if”, and ended up somewhere I never expected to go:


Mosaic of the Schiaparelli hemisphere of Mars – USGS Astrogeology: Martian Hemesphere Images












I’ve decided I like writing to themes. I like challenging my own habits and tropes, trying out my voice to other people’s songs. The resulting arrangements can be very interesting – like…

pagan gods and terra-forming


‘Sapporo Underground Pedestrian Space Station Road”’ in Sapporo, Hokkaido prefecture, Japan} by 663highland



From http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/women.htm








magic, black-eyed maidens, and destiny –


“the goddess” by Eddi van W.




Mercury Spacesuit – NASA







– on Mars.


Speaking of Mars, and playing outside our comfort zones, here are some interesting Red Planet-related oddities I discovered while writing my story:



942_streamPRINCESS OF MARS – by Chase Toole

Searching for illustrations of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars series, I stumbled across this image by contemporary artist Chase Toole.  I honestly thought at first that it was taken from some 60s pulp cover.  Although the heroine in my story is (mostly) fully dressed, I’m in love with this girl.  Just look at those colors, and contrasts.



Featured recently on NPR, The Mars Society is an organization dedicated to “furthering the exploration and settlement of the Red Planet” through “Public outreach fostering Mars pioneers, worldwide support for government-funded Mars research and exploration, and private-enterprise Mars exploration and settlement.”


I didn’t know there was such a thing – did you?

Want to sign up?

Or, you could just SEND YOUR POETRY TO MARS and touch the cosmos that way.


“haiku” – Monrovia Public Library


A part of the Going to Mars Project, NASA has invited citizens of earth (yes, you!) to write  mars-related haiku.  Three global winners will be recorded on a dvd that’s to be sent with the MAVEN spacecraft into – yeah – outer space.
Everyone who participates will get their name on the dvd, at least.  To find out more, visit Going to Mars with MAVEN.



Want to know more about giant monsters, beautiful (clothed) ladies, and colonies on Mars? WATCH THIS SPACE – there’s more info to come!




Writerly friends: if you don’t already follow Jessica Bell, you should.

jessica headshot - Copy

An Australian-native fiction author and poet, Jessica Bell also makes a living as an editor and writer for global ELT publishers (English Language Teaching), such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, Macmillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning. Her poetry collection, FABRIC, was a semi-finalist in the GOODREADS CHOICE AWARDS 2012 for BEST POETRY. Sellers like Amazon.com offer a selection of her fiction, poetry and non-fiction, including her pocket guide WRITING IN A NUTSHELL series, which offers user-friendly “how to” demonstrations to help writers hone their craft.

Jessica has a warm and witty online presence on social media sites like Facebook and Goodreads. She’s also part of the team that brings us Vine Leaves Literary Journal – a high-quality (and visually stunning – seriously, have a gander) online journal. Taken from the original meaning of the word, “vignette” (“something that may be written on a vine leaf”), Vine Leaves celebrates the kind of short, emotive writing that is too often overlooked in a literary culture fixated on the plot, the plot, the plot. By recognizing that there is also artistry to be found in a moment, a feeling, an array of words – and creating a venue for it – Jessica Bell became a hero of mine. So when she announced that she was launching a virtual tour for her upcoming projects, I happily volunteered.

Adverbs-&-cliches_cover_for Internet

Adverbs & Clichés in a Nutshell: Demonstrated Subversions of Adverbs & Clichés into Gourmet Imagery is the second installment in Bell’s WRITING IN A NUTSHELL series. In this NUTSHELL, Bell tackles those insidious, tricky little linguistic buggers that tend to slip into our writing because they’re familiar, easy, and ready-at-hand. We all do it: unconsciously, habitually, we rely on adverbs to tell (not show!) how something is done. Like a rat on a wheel, we use clichés to get our point across – and thus we keep our writing mediocre, rather than great.

But how, HOW, do we avoid the pitfalls of adverbs and clichés? By subverting them, Jessica says. Identify them, drop them from your repertoire, and replace them with something original. Give details in your prose to show that your character is mad, rather than having her say it angrily. Plumb the treasure trove of your imagination for metaphors to convey his love – don’t rely on his racing heartbeat or the truth welling up from the windows of his soul.

With Adverbs & Clichés in a Nutshell, Bell gives us thirty-four specific examples how to turn adverbs and clichés into vivid and unique imagery. This in itself is unique, so far as I’m aware – tons of writing books and blogs tell you what not to do, but with this guide you can actually see how it can be done – over and over again. Plus, it comes with prompts to practice writing subversions of your own.

Now, I don’t believe adverbs and clichés are always, universally evil. I raise a literary eyebrow when the media buzz tells us what is in, what is out, what defines good writing, and (even more fun) what makes writing bad. (Ten things you should NEVER do! Twelve things every agent HATES! Eleven ways to ensure you’ll never see your work in print EVER!) The pundits say it, it gets circulated and internalized and taken for gospel when, really, what’s good has a lot to do with context. SOMETIMES, clichés work. (They are clichés for a reason, after all). SOMETIMES, adverbs work (saying it quickly can be better than taking up a paragraph with original purple prose to demonstrate how it’s said).

AND, I shall be quick to point out, Jessica Bell says this too, right up front. She gives a very good argument for the whys and why nots of adverb and cliché use in the introduction – the best argument I’ve seen. The danger in my mind is that writers, especially new writers, may accept that these writing rules are (cliché alert) written in stone, and may learn not trust their own instincts, their own voice. But I use the word “danger” loosely – it’s not like writers are going to be blowing things up with adverbs. And there’s nothing wrong with learning the rules well – if nothing else, it may teach you how and when to break them.

The biggest critique I have of Adverbs & Clichés in a Nutshell is that I wish the sample adverbs and clichés (of which there are over a hundred, I believe) were treated individually, rather than clumped together in thirty-four sample passages. Some of the passages are short, but many are quite dense, encompassing twenty or more “problem phrases” in one scenario. This clumping can make it hard to remember which phrases we’re subverting – I had to keep scrolling back and forth to figure out what Bell had changed from the “adverb” and “cliché” examples to the new, original writing. I even thought, in a (very) few cases, that the original “bad” writing was better, if only because the “better” samples tried to encompass so much.

For my purposes, I would have preferred one, maybe two adverbs and/or clichés per example. It would have been cleaner, focusing the reader’s attention on each problem phrase and an example of how to rewrite it, rather than making a dozen or more phrases depend on one another within a scene. It would have made the book longer (hence not a “pocket guide”) but way easier to use.

Still, Bell suggests that the book is meant to be read and then reread, several times over, and I can see how that would help the reader begin to pick out the nuances. And, indeed, that is how a writing book is meant to be used – often, and repeatedly. It is a reference, after all.

And for that, Adverbs & Clichés in a Nutshell is a great resource, and a great buy. At a mere $1.99, I don’t see why any writer wouldn’t want to snatch it up. So go do that.

Here’s how:

Click one of the following links to purchase:
Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon Ca | Kobo

For more information about Jessica please visit:
Website| Blog| Twitter | Facebook

I have discovered that writing short stories is dangerous to my mental health.

I strive for balance. I’ve said this before – my dearest wish is to portion out my have-to’s (housekeeping, exercise, balancing the checkbook, doctor’s appointments, childcare), want-to’s (gardening, meditating, learning), and MUSTS (writing… also, writing) in some kind of predictable routine. I want to feel peaceful, accomplished, and satisfied in life


rather than constantly fighting to catch up with one thing or the other.


As it turns out, though, my muse is a bipolar bitch who refuses to be yoked.

After months of crippling writer’s block, largely due to frustration with my current novel, I started work in February on several short stories I had promised to anthologies. Moving them out of my mental queue would be helpful – obligations to other people always loom large in my mind. I feel guilty, and distracted from anything else I mean to do.

Plus, I figured that short story work would help me transition back into writing the novel – being shorter projects, self-contained and conscripted to a certain theme. Like running sprints to get ready for a marathon.


And I was right – come April, I’ve gotten back in the habit of writing, got the juices flowing, won my confidence back. And I think I’m ready to start the long journey once again, for all those reasons…

but also because, damn. Writing short stories is apt to kill me.

It’s like this: when I start a project, I start out slow. I like the 250-words a day challenge – a promise I can keep on any given day, doable even over morning coffee while the Kinglet eats his waffles and watches Spongebob before school. If I don’t know where I’m going yet, or need to think about a scene, I can write enough to still see the story grow, even if I don’t come back to it for the rest of the day.

Eventually, the daily wordcount gets higher. I get to know the characters, get invested in what’s happening. The project blossoms from something to play with into something I need and want to do. Then – voila – I’m writing a story.

With novel writing, this process works great for me. I can build a routine around it, writing something almost every day, feeling good that I’m chugging along, every day another step in that journey of a thousand miles…

The trouble with shorts, though, is that it only takes a few days of writing before you can start to see the end. For me, that’s where the crazy kicks in.

I think, oh, look. I’m almost there. If I push it, I can make it… just a little farther. Come on now, girl, work it. Dinner? What? No. Mommy’s working. Let me just kill of this character, finish this scene, search and replace all those -ly words, wait. This passage isn’t working, I just need to DAMN IT LEAVE ME ALONE.


No more writer’s block – now I’ve entered into a compulsive, manic creative state. When finally (HUZZAH!) the draft is finished, I look up to realize it’s eleven PM, my child has been sent to bed without a hug, my husband has slunk off to amuse himself with Netflix, my back hurts from sitting so long, and (lately) I’ve chain-smoked my way through an entire pack of Djarum specials. *cough*

BUT THE DRAFT IS DONE. Now what do I work on next? Hmmm. What about that other story…

I’ve completed three shorts since February, two for the anthologies and one I hope to start shopping soon. But I think now, for the sake of my family and my sanity, I need to chill.

Novel writing is hard – damn hard – but at least the end-game madness is a long time in coming.