Monday, May 25, 2015

Two-Years Cancer-Free

       Two years ago on May 10th, I spent five hours in surgery and then the weekend in the hospital, recovering from the removal of a squamous carcinoma tumor, all the lymph nodes on the right side of my neck and my right tonsil. Recovery from surgery stretched on for five weeks, my tongue thick and bruised from where it had been clamped down during surgery, my throat burning and raw from where the tonsil had been removed.
Before my throat and neck were fully healed, a full month of radiation treatments began. A work colleague of mine, learning of what I’d be going through, correctly stated, “Today there are no good or kind treatments for cancer.” Compared to radiation treatments the surgery was nothing. 30 days of showing up for a treatment that made me feel worse and worse each day, killing my taste buds and making it painful and virtually impossible to eat anything other than liquids and ice cream. I lost close to sixty pounds during that time (about forty pounds more than I could spare to lose). Each visit to the doctor’s office brought on another discussion about how I should consider having a “permanent” feeding tube put into my stomach—and each time I resisted this idea (which is what I’d still recommend to anyone who has to make this choice. From what I understand many patients who go this route never eat normally again.) For a while the radiation treatments also stole my voice. My wife fondly refers to this time as “the month when she won all the arguments.” :-)
But this is all behind me now, past history. I’m officially two-years cancer-free. Cancer Free! That’s a big deal, and I’m happy to be here to write this. I’ve picked back up thirty pounds of weight and my taste buds have returned. As bad as the disease and the treatments of it were, I’m glad there was something that could be done to stop this terrible disease—and to reduce the likelihood that it might come back. As awful as radiation treatments were, the benefit is that they reduced my chances of a second recurrence of neck/throat cancer by about 35%. Being two years out from my diagnosis also greatly reduces the likelihood of the disease coming back. All reasons for me to celebrate.
So what else can I tell you about being a survivor of throat cancer?
I should probably tell you about HPV, the human papillomavirus. As I wasn’t a smoker, HPV is the most likely reason I got this form of cancer. From what I understand, 90% of all adults in the United States have been exposed to this virus. If you are a parent of a child ages 9 to 26, get your child vaccinated against HPV. (This vaccine didn’t exist when I was a kid, but if I’d had this vaccination, it may have prevented what I went through.) Adult males over the age of 40 are at greatest risk for neck and throat cancer. Statistics seem to vary on this, but one that sticks in my head is that this cancer is the fastest growing type of cancer for men in this age bracket, and 1 in 67 males will contract it.
Smoking: Another great way to encourage throat cancer. Don’t do it.
Health insurance: I remain thankful that my employer offers great health insurance—and that I had it when I needed it. When I finally tallied up all my bills for the time period when I was sick it was a six-figures number—almost all of which was covered by my insurance. To be uninsured at this time would have meant bankruptcy. I hear plenty of complaints about “Obamacare”—the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—but under the ACA people with cancer or a history of cancer cannot be denied health insurance coverage. Obviously as a cancer survivor I’m a fan of this idea.
After effects: I still feel the results of my cancer treatment daily, although to an outside observer I probably seem completely normal (or as normal as I get). There is always a little pain in my neck and mouth, both from the surgery and the radiation treatment. It’s usually not much, maybe a 2 on a scale of 1-10, but it’s there—and worse on days when I move wrong, sleep wrong, on the weather changes drastically. My doctor tells me this is my new normal, and is probably how it will always be. Eating/swallowing and talking are all a little more complicated for me these days. Radiation treatments have the effect of constricting/tightening all the space between tissues in the treated area—my mouth, neck and throat—meaning my “swallow” is somewhat broken, my throat a smaller space than it once was. Certain foods are harder for me to eat—for instance, I’ve given up on steak and many raw veggies just about completely—as they are more a choking hazard than nutrition (for me). I also suffer from “dry mouth”—the radiation f’d up my salivary glands, too—so that I now usually need to have a tall glass of something to drink with anything I eat to avoid choking. On the talking front, my voice had gotten a bit deeper thanks to radiation. I also don’t get a lot of volume out of my voice anymore, and yelling is just about impossible—but I think that’s OK. These side effects are all things I signed up for when I decided I wanted to take radiation treatments to prevent my cancer from coming back. Time will tell if it was all worth it—although so far it seems like it is.
My Thyroid: may it rest in peace. There was a 1 in 3 chance it would die after treatment, and it has. I now take a little pill daily (for the rest of my life) to replace what my thyroid used to do for my metabolism.
Exceptional support: I remain thankful for my support network of family, friends, work colleagues and of course my doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals who helped me get through my ordeal with cancer. I was thankful for them then and am thankful now—especially for the high level of care I received when it came to my medical treatment. I remain in awe of the doctors and nurses who spend all their days helping others fight horrendous diseases like cancer.
So I think I’ve blathered on long enough in this post… mostly I’m just trying to say I’m happy and fortunate to be here, healthy and writing, but I must leave you with this final thought: Do you have a lump or bump somewhere that it shouldn’t be? Do you suspect something is wrong with your health? Then go and get checked out—NOW! (And don’t skip your routine physicals.) When it comes to cancer early diagnosis and treatment is half the battle. When I first felt a hard lump under my right jaw two years ago I’m thankful I went to see a doctor. I could have just as easily ignored it—which would have been a dreadful mistake.

Well wishes,

Saturday, April 4, 2015

My Experience at the 2015 Madison Writer’s Institute Conference

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the 26th Annual Madison Writer’s Institute. This was my second time at this conference, and if you are a writer in the Midwest, I highly recommend you check it out!

Here are some of the highlights of things I experienced, enjoyed and learned while in attendance.

John Dufresne was a fun keynote speaker. I’d like to check out his books on writing, Is Life Like This? or this one The Lie That Tells A Truth. A few of my take-aways from his address:
  • Sit your ass in the chair. (One of the secrets of writing.)
  • Writing is a choice—and so is not writing.
  • I liked his comparison of revision as sculpting—where what you throw away is an important part of the process.
Inspirational Writing Quotes (heard at the conference)
  • “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.” Chuck Close, painter.
  • “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” ~ E. Hemmingway
  • “Critics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it's done, they've seen it done every day, but they're unable to do it themselves.” ~ Brendan Behan
New Terms
  • Movellas – (trending in Japan, apparently) are novels written entirely on mobile devices, like a cell phone. Most can be read in fifteen minutes.
  • The Unicorn Effect – when your book’s characters are so great at everything in life that they are no longer real characters but rather they become unreal mythical creatures that poop rainbows and fart glitter.
  • Sex-camp = slang term for college (I hadn’t heard this before, but I like it.)
Good Writing/Good Writing Habits
  • Write to please yourself.
  • Learn to finish things.
  • Be willing to fail at bigger and bigger things.
  • People need to see their lives reflected in stories.
  • Connect with your readers in an emotional way on the page. Emotion comes first before action. Make the readers care.
  • Make sure it’s clear what’s at stake/why things matter for your characters.
  • Beware authorial intrusion: don’t summarize emotion for the reader—you (as a writer) should be invisible except in terms of voice.
  • Good stories have mystery.
  • Scenes in your story must move us from hope to fear or fear to worst fear or hope to fonder hope.
  • Characters: make them sympathetic and don’t be afraid to hurt your protagonist—a lot.
  • Writing is a collaborative act between the writer and a reader. The writer starts the process, but the reader finishes it (often filling in the blanks with their own experiences and baggage).
There were lots of great workshops to attend, and I got to most every one I wanted to. Some ideas/tips I gleaned from them:
  • In her workshop, “Putting Power in Your Novel..” Christine DeSmet talked about a lot of things, but one tidbit that stood out to me was how she talked of setting. Setting: Think of it as a character in your story. As you revise, ask yourself how does your setting change (as a character). Ask: why this setting, why now? Does your setting have a fatal flaw?  I thought this was a cool idea.
  • Ann Garvin spoke at the conference and also held a couple writing workshops. She was great. I did not get to her “Anatomy of a Query” session, BUT the handouts she supplied for that session are fabulous—and were very helpful letting me think about my story and how I might frame it up for a potential agent or publisher. (Practice for my agent pitch sessions.) Ann also used the Maya Angelou quote during one of her talks, “At the end of the day people won't remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”  To her point, the thing I most remember about Ann was that she made the audience (including me) laugh. I’ll also try to paraphrase something that I believe Ann Garvin said during one of her talks at the conference: “Write so that your reader wants your story like a 15-year old boy wants a girl.” Good advice.
There were plenty of opportunities to chat with other writers between sessions and also some lunch and after-hours opportunities. Mostly I failed at taking full advantage of these—but I did meet some very nice fellow writers, a couple of which I hope to hear more from in the future. Some (published) authors have told me that at many conferences the best place to actually pitch your writing is in the bars after the day’s events are officially over. (I opted to hang out with friends and family instead—which I have no regrets about. We had fun together in Madison!)

Social Media
  • Twitter tip: During lunch one day a mystery writer named Heather told me about the Twitter hashtags #Pitmad and #mswl. These are ways on twitter you can either pitch your own book’s “log line” or find out what agents are looking for.
  • I heard a rumor that some agents present were telling people if they had no online presence, that this might significantly hurt their chances for publication. So, if you are looking for a reason to start blogging, tweeting, facebooking, etc.—this might be it.
  • I also attended a session on “Using Video to Promote Your Book.” There were some good tips given, although I was hoping for more of a “how to” session. I plan to do this with my books. The examples shown in the workshop also made me want to go out and buy some of the books from the trailers shown—so I think it works. Here’s one for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
Critique Groups
Many a time throughout the conference I head about the importance of belonging to a writing critique group. As a person who belongs to two (and has actually considered joining a third—don’t know where I’d find the time so this won’t happen) I concur. One recommendation I heard from one person in particular (sorry I don’t recall the source or I’d cite it) was that in their writing group each person is required to submit at least 10 pages per month to the group for feedback. This sounded like a great idea to me, as setting writing goals (a certain number of pages or words over a certain amount of time) seems to be a practice that works well for a lot of writers.

More and more I’m becoming a fan of the idea of self-publishing, mostly because of how the money comes to you, the author. There was a great session on “Assisted Self-Publishing, Done Right” with April Eberhadt and Mary Driver-Theil that reinforced this idea for me.

Success Stories.
In my opinion, a strong focus of the Madison Writer’s Institute is about publishing and publication. If you are in a place where you’ve advanced enough as a writer to consider publication, this is a great conference to attend.
  • One success story in particular that was shared was by guest speaker Amy Zhang. I have not read her work (sorry Amy) but her story is amazing. As a high school student she wrote and sold her first book. Now as a college student (age 19?) she has another two-book deal (six-figure $$$$$$) that she is working on. Her story is so fabulous that I, as a fellow author (who has been writing longer than she has been alive!) sitting in the audience, I could not help but feel a little like Salieri to her genius Mozart. Throughout the conference anytime I would see her the sounds of Mozart’s Requium would play through my head. For this reason I did not attend more than one of her sessions. J
Young Adult and New Adult Writing
There were some good sessions on both, and for me I learned the distinction between them.
  • New Adult is about characters age 16 – 24, who may be in situations where they have to behave legally as an adult—but they don’t have their act together yet. The characters are probably experiencing a new setting, like going off to college, or maybe graduating college and starting a new job. They may be suffering from a “quarter-life crisis.”  YA or NA writing is not a genre, it’s a category (of audience).
  • The big question people seem to have about writing YA or NA is around things like sex, drugs, etc. You don’t necessarily need to add or exclude things like this to make your book fit into these categories—most importantly the advice I heard was don’t add artificial elements to your story to try to make it fit a category.
  • My personal finding: I don’t have a desire to write either YA or NA, at least for now.
Misc. Writing Resources
Trends in Writing
There was a pretty good session on “Trends in Science Fiction” (and that incorporated Fantasy) by John Klima. He was very informative and had lots of charts showing the good, the bad and the ugly of current sci-fi trends—but, my take-away from this session, and others that talked about writing trends was: Don’t write to trends! However I must mention (as someone with a horror novel about vampires) that on the very bottom of all the bad lists, just under books about toe fungus and killer garden slugs, was horror novels about vampires. #$@$%&^#!

My interpretation of the current downward trend in Paranormal Fiction - and the lowest of the low, Vampires
Agent pitches
My book wasn’t necessarily pitch-ready, but as I wanted to go to this conference, I decided to “pitch it” anyway. The agent I most wanted to see cancelled, and I went with the “automatic replacement” agent. Not sure if that was a good call on my part, because my book Sunlight is of the horror/paranormal variety that wouldn’t necessarily appeal to all agents.
  • My first pitch went OK, but the agent declined on two counts. 1) Vampires—they’re not selling now and 2) No Hollywood ending.
  • My second pitch session went even better, the agent in question saying that my pitch might be one of the best she’d heard all conference—but she still wasn’t interested—for the same reasons (Vampires, non-Hollywood ending).
  • As I’m committed to my book and me loves me some vampires, I don’t think I’ll change anything at this point. My belief is when I find the right agent and the timing is right, my book will sell—or I may self publish. Note: I’ve intentionally excluded the names of the agents I pitched to. I neither wish to promote nor disparage them in any way. I’m sure they are both good at their jobs and have good, financial-based reasons for why they choose to work with whom they work with. I wish them all the best.

Writing Contest
For people who know me, they already know the contest was the highlight of the conference for me. I entered the “1 page” contest in three writing categories—and came away with three prizes. I was both shocked and pleased! I won Genre Fiction (1st prize), Flash Fiction (1st prize),  and Poetry (3rd  prize). All 3 of my pieces will be published in the 2016 Midwest Prairie Review.
My take-away: Contest rule! And if you don’t enter it, you can’t win.

Biggest Personal Learning
I heard it said over and over again in different ways throughout the conference, but to summarize:  If you are driven to write a certain story, write it! Write what you love.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my recap.

Keep on writing! Oh, and POWER TO THE VAMPIRES!


Disclaimer: This post is for informational and educational purposes only.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Scratch Scratch Scratch: Work of the Hand

I've been playing around with my writing method.

Until recently my writing practice has really been typing practice. A bit of hand sketching here and there, but almost exclusively I typed my stories into Scrivener from first drafts to last. I love Scrivener. I often have something of a mathematical formula for my stories (not the same formula, but each story has it's own pattern of interwoven POV, narrative, poetry hoo-ha) and Scrivener works well for the formalism I like to play with. So, again, I love Scrivener.

What I don't love is staring at a screen for so much of my day. And so I've been thinking about what it means to expand out beyond typing.

One help has been Jeff Vandermeer's Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction, Wonderbook. A great title, extremely evocative and inspiring illustrations, so much advice that I feel like I'm missing huge chunks of it. And so I'm reading very slowly and playing around with his advice.

One piece of advice I've tried for a couple of months now is to use notecards to create story. Notecards are low tech, you can have them everywhere, you can jot down ideas and later arrange them to your liking. It makes a lot of sense, but it just doesn't seem to completely work for me. While I like the portability of the notecard, I seem to always want to get more written on them than I have space for. I do still have them around my haunts (work desk, dining room table, backpack...) for when inspiration hits. And they have been really helpful for not losing ideas. In past, I would have an idea and work on imprinting it in my brain until I was confident I'd be able to recall it later when I had a chance to write it down, especially when if felt like such a freakishly cool idea....and then poof! there it went, sucked out of my head and on to the great idea miasma in the skies. So, thumbs up for adding in a bit of notecard scrawling.

Trying out notecards evolved into wondering more about the value of handwriting story. I loved Mark's recent blog about reading your work aloud; I very, very often do that and I think it has helped my writing have the right cadence. Reading out loud also gets more of the body involved in the writing; the breath, the throat, the tongue. For someone who thinks and writes a lot about body, that's a gift; I'm always looking for ways to integrate the mind and body more fully. And handwriting, too, seems to do that integration work as well.

Two events got me really thinking a lot about handwriting. I heard about some research concerning the value of handwriting in making neural connections in the brain, just as a friend sent me a blurb about a recent Lynda Barry book, Syllabus, in which she offers up her handwritten lessons from her writing workshops.

First the research, as summarized from The New York Times article: "When the children composed text by hand, they not only consistently produced more words more quickly than they did on a keyboard, but expressed more ideas." Now I'm a wicked fast typer, so I'm not sure whether or not I produce more words handwriting or typing, but that last part of the quote, about producing more ideas while handwriting, that gets my attention because I want my writing to be full of ideas. For me one of the joys of writing is to really explore ideas, even to come to them through the act of writing.

Now, Lynda Barry. Cartoonist, Novelist, Artist, Teacher. I love Lynda Barry. I once lived in a co-op house we called Marlys House after a favorite of Lynda Barry's characters. She is one of the reasons I am proud to be a human, that our species has produced this woman. Please if you have not read anything by her, do yourself a favor. Cruddy. One! Hundred! Demons! What It Is. Etc. Etc.

Lynda Barry is big on handwriting. Or better yet, she is big on playing with different ways of drawing words in order to get to your story. She is big on slowing down. She is big on using the hand. I love what she has to say about the creative connections between story and art. She didn't type her novel, Cruddy. She didn't write it with pencil and paper. She painted it. She used a paintbrush on legal paper. That's how she got her ideas down on paper. And it's a stunner. Read her thoughts about the process here.

My son goes to a Montessori school and every day they get to draw, but his teacher calls it "Work of the Hand." I love that phrase.

And I've been trying to do more of it. Practicing the work of the hand.

And it seems to be helping me re-invision what I have in the past thought of as my incredibly slow coming-to-new-story-ideas process. I now think I maybe just didn't have the right process for generating ideas. Instead I might all along have just needed to put a pen, pencil, (paintbrush?) in my hand and let that hand start to scrawl and scratch and those dark lines would be just the opening for ideas to seep and flow. Because that's exactly what they're doing, those ideas: seeping, flowing. Like a tight, selfish fist has relaxed, opened up and what wonders are written there on the palm.

I'm gonna try it some more, this old-style technology, this fancy handwriting. See where it might take me.

Next up ~ Shhhhh: the Role of Quiet.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Why Blog?

At the end of our last writing group meeting, the Scribblerati all fessed up that we haven’t been that great about keeping up with our monthly blogging assignments.  We once again got into the territory of “what’s the purpose of blogging” and “why blog?”

I’m not sure we came up with a definitive answer, but here’s a response from me on why I blog—I wrote it a while ago, but it still holds true for me today.

Why I Blog
By Mark Teats

I blog because I have no choice. Blogging is addictive like alcohol, crack, or nacho cheese Doritos.
I blog because it’s the right thing to do.
I blog because good blogs don’t write themselves.
Bad ones don’t either.
I blog because once as a child I ran headlong into a sharp-cornered wall at full speed, knocking myself unconscious. If I touch just above my forehead, under my hairline I can feel the cleft in my skull where my brain tried to leak out, where it was permanently damaged, and more particularly, the region of the brain that decides if you blog or not. Brain damaged? You’re probably a blogger.
I blog because George Takei has not posted anything fun for me to repost in the past hour. Don’t worry, my other geek friends who also follow Takei will share, post and repost many times as soon as George has found another jewel. We’ll all know. Ohhhh Myyyyyy.
Because all the really good material in my head is gone and only the garbage thoughts remain. Blogging is kind of like taking out the trash. You get rid of that junk idea and make room for the new, shiny, good stuff.
Because the crap in my head is more interesting than the crap in your head. (Scott Adams said something like this, once. It’s true, right?)
Because I agreed to do this once per month for my writing group.
Because blogging is what you do when you can’t get on with the real writing.
When blogs are outlawed, only outlaws will have blogs.
Blogs don’t kill people—oh wait, yeah, they kinda do. Only on the inside. The “little death,” I think the French call it.
I blog because everyone in the world wants to know what I think.
I blog because NO one in the world wants to know what I think.
I blog because of the 356 blogs I follow and seldom read. Sorry my brothers/sisters in blogging arms. I’ve failed you.
I blog because once as a four-year-old child I got on my trike and rode, the wind in my sun bleached hair, and I almost got away, free from my parents, from The MAN, made it a whole mile, close to the river that could easily have drowned me, before a kindly old man, a stranger spoke to me, and said, “Young man. You’re a long way from home. Shouldn’t you be somewhere blogging?” He was right. I turned that tricycle around, put on my shades and pedaled for all I was worth. It was another 25 years before I saw the Internet. But I was ready. Good blogging starts young. It starts at home. It knows the fury of a runaway child on a red tricycle; it knows the kindness of a blog-loving strange old future-man who smells like ass and day old donuts.
I blog because blogs don’t write themselves. If they did, I’m guessing they would blather on about something no one cares about. They’d post themselves frequently, and never be read. By anyone. EVER.
I blog because the technology is there. Computers are like genitalia. You were given this equipment for a reason. Use it. Flail it around. Get the feel for it. Yes, yes, yes, that’s it! Hit post. Hope you used protection.
I blog because every time I blog a buxom, bat-winged, red-skinned succubus in skintight black nylon and high, high heels, gets a new cat o’ nine tails. Ouch! Or so I like to imagine. Do I smell sulfur and brimstone? No?
I blog because it’s the “In” thing to do. Everyone is doing it. Do you have a blog? Why not? Come on! Don’t be a chump! Blog early, blog long, blog frequently, outright rant, go on and on and on. Don’t hold back. Still no blog? You are so sad. You make puppies and angels cry.
Don’t be confused. It’s time to blog. It’s always time to blog. Now. Blog. Come on! Do it, do it!
I blog because I am immune to peer pressure.
I blog because of that one time I drank too much, and almost died. I had a vision; I was a disembodied soul, floating in the void. Everywhere there was blackness, darkness, nothingness. I was reduced to spirit, pure energy, as I whimpered, “I want to live” and a voice—was it God?—spoke unto me, cut through the darkness, all powerful, all knowing, said unto me, in a voice not unlike Morgan Freeman, or Jim Caviezel, or some other actor whose name escapes me who once played God or Jesus in that bad movie once, He said, “Blog. It’s the only way to go. Now get back there and stop wasting my time.” I’ve sworn off Jager Bombs ever since. But I still blog.
I blog because everyone wants to know about my favorite episode of “Kolchak the Nightstalker” (it’s the one with the invisible space monster, or maybe the one with the boogie man) or about when they should stop reading the original “Saga of Swamp Thing” comic books (about episode 21 is a safe place to stop, they got kinda stinky and or eco-preachy after that), or what my favorite Stephen King book is (The Stand, or course).
I blog because it’s a word count race to the death and only the swiftest of bloggers will make it to the finish line. Blog eat blog, as it were.
Blogging, the gift that keeps on giving, the curse that has no end.
31 million of us bloggers can’t be wrong. That’s in the USA only. Bloggers in other countries are not counted. They do NOT matter. In exotic countries like Uruguay, Macedonia, and Columbus, Ohio if you blog and the government finds out, you’ll never be heard of again.
I blog because I could not stop for Death, and he has not yet kindly stopped for me—so in the meantime I have plenty of blogging time to kill.
I blog because I’ve always wanted to disappoint my parents and had neither the courage nor talent to go into acting nor the ability to become a poet laureate.
I blog for love.
I blog for life.
I blog for the pursuit of a really good French dip with fries, and maybe a Coke.
I blog for you. I’ve always done this for you. A perfect, selfless act. I was never there when you needed me, but you let me go, and I came back, like that butterfly in that saying, and here I am, just a boy, with an eight pound head, standing in a doorway, the black gaping void doorway to the infinity of information and porn that is the Internet, putting it all out there, giving it everything I’ve got for you. To live the dream, to write the unthinkable, the unpublishable, the unfathomable, to write about that which will never be seen nor spoken of nor cared for again.
To blog.
That, that’s not quite true.
None of this was for you. I’m lying.
Nor was it for our blog’s one reader or 37 followers.
I blog for myself.
Only for me.

professional blogger to the stars

PS> OK you bastards. It’s your turn to blog. Get to it.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Writing: Reading Out Loud

For best results please read this post out loud.

As an IT guy who spends my whole day in front of a keyboard, as a writer who then goes home and spends more hours at that same keyboard writing and editing, as someone who always tries to carry a notepad and a pen with me—or at least in my car, as someone who keeps a dream journal and pen next to my bed to capture my first thoughts by hand when awakening, as a reader and favorer of paper books with shelves and stacks of them cluttering up my house, it’s easy for me to always think of writing as the written word.

A first attempt to convey ideas by written symbols or images may have been with the earliest cave paintings (approx. 30,000 years ago) but many sources would point to the Sumerians and then Egyptians with their first efforts putting down symbols indicating individual whole words or ideas about 5,000 or so years ago. Fast forward to the invention of the first printing press (1400AD) and then into our modern world with our copying machines, personal computers and the Internet—for anyone living today written language is everywhere, easily accessible and often taken for granted.

But before language was ever written down, it was first spoken. The ability to use language--spoken word--is one of the uniquely human abilities that separate our brains (cerebrums) from that of other animals. According to some sources whatever variety of human beings were walking around on the planet a million years ago were already speaking to one another.

For the past many weeks I’ve been in a creative writing poetry class where frequently our teacher, individual students or the whole class will read/recite poems out loud. It’s interesting to me that a poem that I read silently to myself from our assigned book that didn’t make much of an impression on me—when read out loud suddenly works—certain words, phrases, maybe even the entire poem taking on new interest and meaning when put to a human voice.

My class also had the benefits of having some wonderful visiting authors who read their work to us. The difference of the emotional tone that can be heard when listening to an author read his/her work out loud, the words they choose to emphasize, the places they choose to pause, sometimes blew me away.

So where am I going with all this? The next time you read something, I encourage you to read it out loud, listen to what is on the page or screen. It may bring greater understanding to the material. But, especially if you’re a writer, and you’re editing your own work, I think it’s especially important for you to try to read your own work out loud as another way to improve your editing. (And believe me I am working to do more of this with my own writing and editing.)

When we read to ourselves our eyes tend to ignore/skip over problems that may be there—but when we read out loud, awkward phrases, skipped and/or incorrect words stand out. Sections of dialogue in prose, I think, are great candidates to evaluate aloud. As you read does it sound natural or not? Your ear will know.

This last week I had the cool experience of attending a reading by poet, Jamaal May. I really enjoyed his book Hum and the emotion he put into his live reading (performance, I should say—he memorizes most of his poems and recites them) was phenomenal. Based on this experience I have spent some time recently seeking out more poems to listen to by various slam/performance poets. I’ve included a few links below that I think illustrate how powerful writing can be when spoken (in case you haven’t already found these artists on your own).

Thanks for reading—out loud.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Where are we?

Hey there.

As many of you have no doubt noticed by now, we, the varied and sundry Agents of the Scribblerati, have not been too active here on our blog of late. Now, I'm sure over the course of the last few days/weeks, many of you out there wanted to write or call and give ease to your desperate rush of concerned questions. I'm sure some of you, in your panic, maybe even considered contacting the authorities. Completely understandable, completely, but ultimately unnecessary. Everything's cool. Everything's fine. I'm here to calm your fears, my friends, to soothe your nerves, to grammatically rub your back in slow circles all while whispering: "Don't worry, my friends, we're here now."

But where have we been?

Good question. The short answer is: We've been busy. But how busy? Well, that's a longer answer. Read on, my peeps, read on and let the Scribblerati make their own excuses...


I'm doing lots of writing lately--filling notebook after notebook with of all things, Poetry! This is first most on behalf of my "Groundings in Poetry" class--part of my MFA program at Hamline--but I'm really enjoying it. (My instructor Deborah is also awesome--very supportive and encouraging.) My default when writing is to write fiction (and often novel)--but poetry forces me to write differently (shorter, for one) and write about "truths." I think it is also acting as "therapy" for me--about half of what I'm writing is about dealing with recovering from cancer. I won't say it's good writing--but I'm getting it out of my system. A requirement for this class is to also complete a 30-page chapbook. It is taking shape!
My undead novel, SUNLIGHT is about 30 pages away from being a complete 2nd draft. My goal is still to knock this out before the end of January.
This summer I also joined a second writing group in Eagan through my local church. It's been fun meeting other writers who live right in my neighborhood. There are all levels and styles of writers in that group--and it's been great having a different audience for me to give/receive feedback from. (A shout out to Bruce, Rich, Jodie, Roxane and Kate!)
I've sent out a couple short stories this year in hopes of publication. So far only rejections on that front--but I'm also not trying very hard. I do have a poem entered in a contest that will be judged in early December. Fingers crossed....


Where's Shawn at? On the one hand, procrastinating. On the other, in the weeds. To Kill the Goddess is done, pending a copy edit. When will that happen? Once I get further along with Book 2, which is in said weeds. I have a little over one third of the first draft done, but this book is a bear. Book 2 is – at its heart – an old school order vs chaos fantasy epic (think Michael Moorcock) and the writing of it pretty much embodies the topic. The story wants to cut loose and go every which way. For now I'm letting it, but at some point I'm going to have to impose some order and wrestle the darn thing into shape. Elric would sympathize.


Claudia has temporarily set aside her book to pursue her passion for herpetology. It turns out, however, that the snakes won’t enact the little scenes she writes for them, so she’ll be heading back to her 3rd draft of Ursula Evermore and the Case of the Man who Wasn’t soon.

Lately, Claudia’s writing has consisted mostly of press releases. She feels pretty lucky in her day job, where she gets to work with The Moving Company, a national theater company based in Minneapolis. She’s been busy this month helping to launch their production of Love’s Labour’s Lost. A review. It's now showing in Minneapolis, click here.


1). She's finished trying to weave her five post-plastic apocalypse stories together into a novella and awaiting Scribblerati's comments on how successful she was
2). Has tried her hand at a fairy tale, trying to get at the power of fear of our deepest desires. What she likes most about the hero of the story (Birch) is the tattoo of an octopus arm that she was given by the sea; what she likes most about her anti-hero (the flat-chested woman) is the lengths she will go to quiet her fears. Lisa also likes the trees which were once whales an awful lot too.
3). She's contemplating her next story. She thinks it will involve a girl and an acorn. An acorn of a girl? It's still shadowy.


And me?

I'm currently finishing up a small writing project. I've talked about it on my own blog. Long story short? After my last WIP crashed and burned, I have been spending some time on a quartet of story ideas, writing a rough 1st Chapter for each one. I'm just about done with the fourth and final one now. It was a fun exercise, a creative workout, and I'm hopeful one of the eventual results is a ready and waiting springboard into future projects, plus, that it will stop those nascent, but very insistent book ideas from rattling around in my head, clamoring for my attention, and generally distracting me while I'm busy trying to focus on my next project.

What is that next project?

I intend to return to a former WIP that I finished the 1st draft of about two years ago. I wasn't very happy with that draft at the time, I felt it needed a lot of work. So, after it was done, I set it aside to let it stew a bit. In the time since, I've just been kind of thinking about it in the back of my head, and I've finally hit on some ideas concerning what to do with the book moving forward. I'm ready to dive back in. So that's my plan for the new year. Hopefully by Fall I'll have a brand spanking new 2nd draft all done. Hopefully.

Also, there was this here: My Short Story. I was a bit busy with that too.


So, that's it. That's the news. That's where we've all been lately. Time marches on, and the Scribblerati are busy entering a new phase in their careers.

Keep an eye out for us, folks, we're doing stuff.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

ON SALE NOW - Harris by Jonathan Hansen

You may or may not have heard by now, but... my short story HARRIS has been available for download to your various e-reader devices for a few days now... well, pre-order, but hey... why would you want to waste time, right? Beat the rush. The early bird gets the worm, as the kids say.

But now the long pre-order nightmare is finally over, kids. Today. Finally. Today you can go online, you can order my story, and you can get it, all within moments. Think of the instant gratification! You know how much you like instant gratification, right? I know I do.

And you can find it all right here.

Muy convenient, huh? You're god damn right it is. Check out my sweet cover too. Totally sweet, right? Now, some of you out there probably remember the last time I was talking about this story (remember?), back when it first came out in the local sci-fi anthology Cifiscape Vol. 2--which is still available here, btw--Well, this is the same story, almost the same. I've added some new content, nothing major, just a bit of fleshing out here and there. If pressed, I'd say it's a deeper experience... but if pressed. If you've read it before, you probably won't notice, so read it again, what are you doing that makes you so busy, huh? And if you haven't read it before now, oh boy, are you in for a treat. And let's not forget about the price? $.50 direct? $1.00 from Amazon? Come on, man! That's a bargain, baby... That's a bargain!

Also, if you love it, leave a review.