Friday, July 11, 2014

A Peck of Villains

As you may know from previous posts, I spent my winter and spring reading the novels and stories from Le Guin's Hainish World. I made sure to request later editions from the library so I could read the introductions. Written by Le Guin well after she wrote the pieces themselves, they are full of her later thoughts on each piece, as well as her ruminations on writing.

In her introduction to City of Illusions she touched on something that I find I'm struggling with in my own WIP.


Le Guin's thoughts:
Real villains are rare; and they never, I believe, occur in flocks. Herds of Bad Guys are the death of a novel. Whether they're labelled politically, racially, sexually, by creed, species, or whatever, they just don't work. The Shing are the least convincing lot of people I ever wrote.
In the series of integrated stories I am finishing up, I've got some baddies that I'm just not all that satisfied with. They are called Thority (a "what if" spinning out of a world in which the transit authority ends up as the sole organization, and having access to resources they can wield quite a bit of power.)

Mostly these baddies are in the background, just another feature of a world that has newly fallen apart, one of the many defining features of the new environments within which my characters must make their decisions about how best to live their lives. That's probably one piece of why I'm dissatisfied with them: there are no unique Thority members as a characters, so they are all just a grey wash of badness.

As the stories have evolved, I've found myself needing to explain why they are bad. I didn't want it to just be because Power Corrupts. Maybe that impulse was a good one, a step away from the grey wash and the Herds of Bad Guys that Le Guin regrets in her own writing. If you give the bad guys a story, rather than just having them fit a category, maybe they will be more interesting. More real.

But the story I have told has explained away their moral culpability. They've got soft-wiring that's gone glitchy. And right now it feels again that I'm taking a step back toward category-badness. I didn't set out to write a zombie story, but in way I think Thority have ended up fitting into that trope.

Which has gotten me thinking about the Zombie trope itself. Given that it has been so popular, it seems that many folks are convinced by the mass-bad-guy. Or is it that zombies work as background, but never as real characters in a story? The real enemies are ourselves, and other folks just like ourselves: unique individuals with individual histories, wants, and needs. Individuals who all must interact with one another within the environments they find themselves (which may contain zombies like Jon's Gunslingers or zombie/vampires like Mark's Sunlight or as in my story cycle: radiation, strange new diseases, the reemergence of old diseases, self-aware plant/animal trains, and zombie-like Thority-figures...).

So maybe Thority really aren't the villains in my stories. Maybe no-one in them is. Maybe all my characters are each doing the best they can with what they have, even if that best sometimes results in a whole lot of pain.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Getting back to it

Recently I broke my computer.

This is not to be confused with the time my computer died. That time was the laptop's fault. It was old and slow and not meant for this world anymore. But this time? This time it was my fault. I went to open the cover and instead of doing that, I just kind of pushed it off the table. Luckily, I had paid for Tech Support previously and the various replacement doo-dads and what-nots were not too expensive. Plus, it turns out I really am blessed with wisdom of the very Gods, because I had thought to put my Microsoft Office download code in an obvious place, the first place I looked even. I barely had to tear up the attic. I hardly swore up a blue streak at all. In the end, it wasn't too much hassle. I took the whole experience as a Teaching Moment: Don't push your computer onto the floor. You might want to write that down.

Or, maybe that's obvious to you.

Anyway, the crisis has been averted, we got greens across the board, people. We're in the pipe, 5 by 5. The laptop is fixed. But you know how it goes, right? You think you've handled one problem, only to find yourself facing another...

I was working on a story when my computer took the Big Leap. A novel, maybe. A book, possibly. A story. My Work in Progress. I was in the middle of it, trucking along and then... boom... break time. It's hard to get back into things when that happens, as they sometimes do. So what do you do?

What am I doing?

Jon's Handy-Dandy Suggestions for getting back into your shit, yo

I've talked about stuff like this before...

1. Start from the beginning

Every time I sit down to do some work on whatever story I'm working on, I usually start off by re-reading/editing the last part I worked on. It's kind of like warming up the engines and taxing down the runway. Doing this helps me get back into the rhythm of the piece. It helps me to re-ground myself in the work. Where am I? What am I doing? What's the next step? I find that it's all much easier once you get the juices flowing. this is a good habit to get into, I think. It not only helps to maintain a consistent direction, but it can also alert you to the fact that you might need to adjust that direct. Story-awareness, my friends. Story awareness.

2. Work on a side project

Sometimes it helps to step away for awhile. Some people suggest doing chores or something like that, but... yeah, fuck that. Chores... pphhbbtt. Whatever. Anyway, I suggest working on other projects. You have other projects, right? Things on the back-burner, maybe some other stories in various states of readiness, yeah? During my forced break I was not only pondering my current WIP, but two others I have in limbo. The one upside to my unplanned writing hiatus was the hatching of a couple of ideas. I thought I would jot those down quick before getting back to the heavy-lifting that is the current WIP. Think of it like stretching before a workout. Of course, this can be a tricky thing. You want to be careful you don't get sucked so far into a new project that you end up abandoning your old one. You'll never get anything done that way, so stay vigilant, friends.

3. Blog

Okay, maybe the temptation of those shiny new and unblemished story ideas is too much, especially when compared to your more worn and lived-in WIP. Maybe you don't think you're strong enough. That is understandable. If this is you, then I suggest other types of writing to warm-up with. Blogging is the amuse-bouche of the creative process after all, so indulge. Talk about your Writing Process. Write some flash fiction or a book review, gush about your favorite TV show, fill out a survey, or maybe recommend some comics... sometimes several comics. Be a smart ass. Whatever. It doesn't matter. In the end, the only thing that does is that you shut up and write.

And that's the most important take-away from this bit of nonsense, kids: Shut up and write.

At least, that's what I plan on doing...

Until next time,

Saturday, May 31, 2014

On Not Taking Short Cuts

I'm just returning from Wiscon and am on a writing spree. All I want to do is write - for hours and hours. I have to tell myself to stop so I can get all the other necessaries done. And then I don't listen and keep on writing over the growling of my stomach.

So, for me the conference was a success. The panels, the readings, the conversations about reading and writing all helped re-awaken those creative muscles. (Plus, it doesn't hurt that the semester is over and my reservoir of ideas isn't being tapped by planning classes.)

One of my "conference sparks" flashed during the writing workshop. I got good feedback on the story I'd submitted, but some of the conversation surrounding another participant's story has, so far, helped me the most.

In that workshop Kat Köhler offered her view that she's personally tired of reading stories about abused women. Because her comment wasn't in reference to my own story, I wasn't taking notes, but this is some of what I remember of her thinking: Abused-woman is a very common theme that has been overdone (making it seem as though this is what women have to accept as the reality of their future lives.) Also, it is often not done well because the healing from the abuse is too easy and/or unrealistic (quick fixes like finding a new partner.)

And I realized I'd done exactly that in the story I'm currently revising.

So, I thought I'd try something different to see what might happen to the story. And in the process of re-visioning, I realized that the abused-woman side-story (at least in my own story) was just a short cut, a cheat. I wanted a quick way to bond Cecily and Zamzam, and what better way (I thought) than to have Zamzam be instrumental in Cecily's getting away from an abusive boyfriend. It was all quick-quick, and no thought. Because woman-as-abused is a cliché, you feel as though you can just fall back on it without inviting or offering any real exploration. (And of course, when I say "you," I am really meaning "I"!)

Rather than offering a clear vision of a unique life or inviting the reader to think/feel deeply, that device, it seems to me, merely offers up to the reader an empty box. A place-holder. A throwaway. And it feels now that this might be the heart of the matter: who wants their words to be empty boxes? Writing isn't about taking the easy way out. That's the very opposite of creativity. Creativity is meant to offer something new to the world.

I've been having fun exploring how to rewrite the scene. I think it is better. I know I understand my characters better. I also know it became more personal: rather than using an empty box to stand in for real writing, I wrote out of my own experiences.

Here's a taste of the before:

Zamzam wasn't fooled by my lies about bumping into the cabinets. Twenty years younger than me, but twenty years wiser. She hauled me to the self-defense class she led for Somali women.  
I stood out, the only one in the room without a hijab. At first they kept their scarfs on because of me, but eventually they must have decided I was alright, and they'd take them off for the rough and tumble.  
It wasn't what I learned in that class that gave me what I needed to end that eight year on-off with Nicky. It was knowing I wouldn't be able to look into Zamzam's clean brown eyes if I ended up sporting another bruise. Nicky came at me for the last time and I crushed his cheekbone, put him in the hospital.  
Never saw him again. 
By the time he would've gotten out, the restraining orders were in place and we'd moved away.
And now that scene after the revision:
One evening when Nicky was out late with friends, Zamzam invited me for dinner. I remember we ate Somali tostadas that first night. Urbano in the kitchen making the flat bread they called canjeelo. It became a regular ritual: Urbano cooking, while Zamzam and I got in his way, picking at his ingredients, the two of us chattering away, laughing.
But Zamzam saw through the brightness of my smiles, my joking complaints about Nicky. She teased me years later that it was the way I watched her and her husband; always the scientist, compelled to explore the unknown.  
And I did watch Zamzam and Urbano. I noticed the way a smile would creep into her whole body whenever he entered the room, I took in how when he would put a hand on her hip or the small of her back, needing her to move out of the way of his chopping, and she would lose the train of her words. I heard the subtle vibrations in their voices as they so casually called to each other from across the apartment: Amor de me vida. Gacaliso. Amorcito. Habibi. I heeded those observations; the world was trying to tell me something. Being with them, that’s when I first saw a truer color of love. One that might flow between two people and fill a room, reeling anyone paying attention into its embrace. 
Thirty years younger than me, but forty years wiser, Zamzam hauled me to the yoga class she led for orthodox Somali women. I stood out, the only student without a hijab. At first they kept their scarfs on because of me, but eventually they must have decided I was alright, and they’d take them off for the vinyasas.   
It wasn’t really what I learned in that class that gave me the centering I needed to end that thirteen year on-off with Nicky. It was knowing I wouldn’t be able to look into Zamzam’s clean brown eyes if I explained one more time how Nicky was not so argumentative, was less dismissive when it was just the two of us. How things were good enough for me. Good enough for now. 
So I called it quits and I found myself gathered up into a more true family. The Telarañas: Zamzam, Urbano, and me. 
Some closing thoughts. Writing empty boxes is quick: they really are short cuts! The new version is much longer. And, as Mark nicely reminded me at Scribblerati's last critique session, even short stories need to be mindful of word count. I haven't really done that kind of trimming work since I started focusing on short stories.

May I find that balance between the real and the compact.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster was one of the first movies I ever went to. I was about eight years old, and not to date myself too much, but this was the era when parents didn’t seem to worry about their kids. My friend Brian (also eight-years old) and I were dropped off by my mom at the local theatre with enough money to buy some tickets and a pack of Milk Duds. The audience was filled with elementary school kids just like us, there to see the Lizard King up on the big screen. Godzilla (and the Smog Monster, Hedora) delivered exactly what we wanted. There were explosions, mutated monsters stomping buildings, monsters punching the crud out of each other (with the Smog Monster you can take that literally). We were in heaven.

Now, more years later than I’d like to admit later, Godzilla is once again on the big screen—for the 29th (?!) time. In my family the apple doesn’t fall far from the Kaiju tree, apparently. Last weekend my son chose to take a group of his friends to see Godzilla for his belated 11th birthday party. You guessed it, there were explosions, mutated monsters stomping buildings and monsters punching the crud out of each other. When the movie was over, I asked the kids how they would describe Godzilla (the movie or the monster) in one or a few words. Here’s what they had to say:

Godzilla is:
The best
Hard to kill
A protector

When asked to rate the new movie on a scale of 1 to 10, my son’s response was:

What did I think of the movie? I’m usually happy to give away some spoilers, but I have plans to see Godzilla again with some friends next weekend, so I’ll let you discover the movie for yourself. I do recommend it and agree with the kids’ assessment(s) above.

For me the Godzilla movie delivered. It has some good effects and a few surprisingly human moments for a kaiju film. Godzilla the monster kicked butt. What would I give it on a scale of 1 to 10?

My inner 11-year old says: Infinity.

~ Mark

Friday, March 28, 2014

Alternate Universes and Time Travel and Witches, Oh My!

I  pretty much stopped reading children's and YA fiction when I discovered Lord of the Rings at the age of 11. Then it was all Epic Fantasy and Science Fiction and American Classics and Gothic Romance and even a little Kurt Vonnegut. 

I, like everyone who actually peruses these posts, was reading "at a college level" (whatever that means) before I hit puberty, and I had very little interest in fluttering back to the YA nest once I had spread my wings.

I read Anne of Green Gables when I was in my mid-teens, but other than that, I can't recall one children's or YA novel I read between the ages of 12 and 30. Sure, I'd peruse an Edward Gorey or Shel Silverstein book here and there, but none of the fantastical kid's novels I'd enjoyed as a child.

Then J.K. Rowling came along and ruined everything. Heh. I tease. She made everything awesome again. Much as my experience watching Peter Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time in the theater shot me straight back to the unadulterated thrill I got when I first saw Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark, Harry Potter made me feel like I was 8 again, reading under a bedspread tent with the aid of a flashlight. (Lumos!)

I devoured the Harry Potter series; I adored them; I speculated online, between books, about where the plot was going; I read them again and again - even out loud, twice, to friends, in their entirety. But then they were done, and I could never read them for the first time again.

 Eek! Expelliarmus! Stupify!

So, I started searching for Harry Potter Withdrawal Novels. I found some good ones too, among the best - Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy, and To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. (The former is considered YA, the latter is not)  But years passed, and the more I tried to dive into an exciting YA series, the more disappointed I became. The Hunger Games was 'meh' to me, Twilight was unreadable.

I was almost ready to give up, when I discovered Diana Wynne Jones. The mistake I'd been making was looking for new fantasy fiction. Diana Wynne Jones wrote a lot in the 80s, and once more, it's clear that she was a very strong influence on J.K. Rowling.

(Also, Jones wrote Howl's Moving Castle, which was made into a lovely film by Hayao Miyazaki.)

The first books I read of Jones's were the Chrestomanci Series. The order in which you're supposed to read them is not the order in which she wrote them. Here's a handy guide:


You could actually read any of the books in this series at any time - they are each stand-alone novels, essentially, but the whole picture becomes clearer if you read them in order. And why wouldn't you? The series takes place in multiple, parallel worlds, so each of the books inhabits very different settings. The one character who appears, to some degree or another, in every book, is the Chrestomanci himself, an extremely charismatic, powerful, and dandy-ish enchanter.

And that's all I'll say, except her books effortlessly balance some very complex ideas, and at the same time they're funny and charming. Also, she captures the awkwardness and awe of adolescence very well. But the original cover art is often atrocious. What can I say - YA fantasy in the 80s.*

Since the Chrestomanci series, I've read The Homeward Bounders and A Tale of Time City, both good. I just checked out 6 more of her books from the library today.

Packing them into my backpack, I felt that thrill of being a kid again.

*The art for newer additions, however, is lovely.

Monday, March 24, 2014

More recommendations

Hello friends,

I've been a bit remiss with my contributions here at the Scribblerati blog lately, unfortunately--or maybe: Yay, me!--I've been too busy with my own writing to have much to say on the actual subject of writing. I still don't have much to say on the actual subject of writing honestly, but in an effort to pick up the slack a bit, here I am. And I've brought along a few recommendations for you.

I've done this before. 

I've recommended some comics. I've recommend some books, some movies and some TV. Over on my own personal blog, I've recommended a pretty cool short story by a very handsome individual and I'm currently keeping track of some films I am looking forward to. It's a nice fall-back topic when you need content. Plus, who knows, maybe some of you lovely people out there will come across something here that interests you. That's my hope, at least.

So, what will I be recommending to you today?


Sure. Why not?

1. Black Science -- Grant McKay is a member of an anarchist collective of scientists and the creator of something he calls The Pillar. With this device, he has punched through the walls between realities and has traveled to alien dimensions, on the hunt for unknown truths and amazing new discoveries. Unfortunately, the only thing he finds is terror and chaos, and now he and his team and his children are lost in the multiverse, cast adrift on a sea of infinite and unimaginable worlds, desperately trying to get home again alive. 

Written by Rick Remender, with art by Matteo Scalera.

Sounds pretty classic, right? It's definitely very rooted in pulp sci-fi, that's a big reason I was initially drawn to the comic. I am a sucker for alternate dimension stories, after all. Another big reason: I was kind of a fan of Sliders, but I was a huge Voyagers fan back in the day, but hey... who wasn't, amirite? Anyway, I was drawn in by the premise, but I have stayed for the story. And if you know me and my buying habits (which you probably don't), this would be kind of surprising, because I haven't been a big fan of Rick Remender's stuff. His Marvel stuff, while hitting some interesting notes, just doesn't quite work for me. The characters are too shallow. This might not make sense to some of you, but they seemed too much like DC characters to me, too much mask and not enough man behind the mask, y'know? Maybe not, either way... here, he not only gets to stretch and be crazy, but his characters seem much more unique and real. They're quickly identifiable too, despite the series starting in media res, which instantly plunges them into danger, so the story moves. It's fun and exciting and full of twists. What more could you ask for from a dimension-hopping adventure? Giant turtles with cities on their backs? Well...

The book is soaked in pulp sci-fi tropes, but it's setting is a modern one, and it hints that Dr. McKay's original dimension is probably not our own too. It's not what you would expect, which is a big part of the fun, and it's still early in the series, only the first 4 or 5 issues are out, so it's a good time to jump on. Also, if tracking down the back issues seems like too much work, a trade paperback collection will be released after issue 6. Take a look, it's a good-looking and good quality book.

2. Deadly Class -- It's 1987 and Kings Dominion Atelier of the Deadly Arts is the deadliest high school on Earth; it's where the world's most powerful governments, richest corporations, and top crime families send the next generation of assassins--their children--to be trained. Here, the classes are murder and the hallways are even worse. Marcus Lopez is wanted by the police, he's an orphan and currently homeless, and he has found himself suddenly enrolled. He's the new kid, and just like in any school, that's something that puts a big target on his back.

Written by Rick Remender, with art by Wes Craig.

Holy crap, TWO Rick Remender comic books? But... but... I thought you weren't a fan, Jon? I'm not. Or at least, I wasn't, but what can I say? The guy has a damn fine pair of comics here. Never let it be said that I am not open to re-evaluating previously set opinions based upon new output. The fact of the matter is, Remender has done a really good job with both of these titles. I am now looking forward to each new issue. I know, shocking. I trust if anyone out there decides to pass on my sudden change of opinion to the man, they will first take a moment to make sure he is sitting down. So anyway, right off the bat I liked this book for two reasons. 1. I love the style. It looks great and I'm a fan of the skate/punk ascetic. And 2. One of the things that's always stuck with me about Harry Potter was that, during the Goblet of Fire, you didn't see the American School of Magic. Why not? But then I thought about it and realized that we probably weren't invited because the American School of Magic is most likely filled with crazy assholes, dangerous idiots, and outright criminals... we would have totally ruined that whole Goblet-tournament thing. You think a bunch of trashy Americans give a shit about Voldemort? We're a hundred times worse than Voldemort. Fuck Voldemort, stupid no face having jerk... So what does this tangent have to do with anything? Well, this book is basically all about the American School of Magic, with all the killer assholes and dangerous idiots intact, only... without the magic.

There are only two issues out so far, so right now is the perfect time for you to swing on into your friendly neighborhood LCS (local comic shop, natch...) and check it out. The art is fantastic and Remender does a great job of introducing the cast and setting while keeping the story moving. I'm very interested in seeing where this book goes.

3. Jupiter's Legacy -- In a world where WWII was headed in a very different direction than in our own, a group of explorers discover an uncharted island and receive strange gifts that changed their world forever. Now, the children of the world's greatest superheroes struggle under the pressure of that incredible legacy. Can they ever hope to equal their parents or do they have plans of their own? 

Written by Mark Millar, with art by Frank Quitely.

The Utopian and Lady Liberty are the leaders of a group of superheroes, they are the greatest among them. They are good Americans, they believe in the system. Hugely powerful, nearly Gods, they love their country. They respect it. They have saved it, and the world, many times over. But in the years since, their children have grown up to be spoiled, drunken and nearly-invulnerable celebutants with the ability to fly and punch through mountains. And that's not the worst of it, either. With no super villains left and with the Utopian refusing to allow any of their number to interfere with the day-to-day operation of society--fearing what a person with so much power might become--the super-powered population has grown bored and restless. That boredom has led to a seething resentment, a fire stoked by a jealous rival until it flares up into murderous betrayal and open rebellion. During the chaos, the daughter of the world's greatest heroes--a fallen super powered former party girl now pregnant with the child of her reformed super villain boyfriend--must go into hiding, on the run from the unleashed rage of the vengeful superhumans. It's pretty great so far. Quitely's art is, as always, amazing. It's written by Mark Millar, who can often be problematic, douchey and/or incredibly terrible, but occasionally he ignores his stupid shock-tactic bullshit and does something good. I think this is one of those titles... so far.

Like the previous two, this book is also early in it's publishing schedule. Only four issues have come out, so its bandwagon is primed and ready to be jumped on. The only problem is they're a bit slow with the delivery of this one. It's supposed to be every six weeks, but they were late on a couple--a ridiculous and disappointingly common issue with some comic book companies--so some of you out there might want to wait for the eventual trades. I wouldn't, but some of you might want to.

Okay, so there's three new comics to check out, if you're so inclined. Who knows where they'll go from here, but for now, I think they're showing a lot of potential. I know I'm going to stick with them. Plus, as an added incentive, they're all still new and relatively stand alone, so you don't need any pre-loaded comic knowledge if you want to check them out. And you should, because they're good.

Questions? Comments? General unrelated nonsense?

Let me know,

Friday, March 7, 2014

5 Writers on: Inspiration, Rituals, Writing Tools, Fav Authors, Advice for Beginning Writers, Characters like us...

It’s been a while since we’ve done an update on what we’re all up to with our individual writing. Mark decided to take it easy this month and interviewed the 5 writers who make up the Scribblerati—their answers wrote this blog. It's a long post, but we hope it's worth you while. For you fellow writers maybe there is even some shared wisdom here you can use. All is revealed--thanks for reading!

Our Current Writing Projects
Claudia Hankin: I’m still struggling through the 3rd draft of my novel, Ursula Evermore and the Case of the Man Who Wasn’t.  At this point, sadly, there are more hash marks in the ‘challenge’ column than the ‘enjoy’ column. I just want to be done and onto the next step (finding and agent, a publisher). I think every author goes through this, or a version of it. I have so many ideas for new projects, but, I’m stubborn.  As Neil Gaiman advises - “'Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finish...” The question is, when is it time to let go?

Shawn Enderlin: I’m currently working on two projects: finishing up my final round of edits on To Kill the Goddess and working on the first draft of the sequel, which has a working title of Moon Sister. Both are exciting in different ways. On the one hand, I can’t wait to be finished with To Kill the Goddess! On the other I’m having fun exploring and tackling new challenges.

Jon Hansen: I've started a new WIP that I'm about a third of the way through on the first draft. I've got another one waiting for me to start its 2nd draft and a third on the backburner while I think about the intent of the story, plus its goals, purpose, and approach. Right now, at least with the new WIP, I'm really enjoying the freedom and the focus. It's flowing really easily. I have a good idea what I'm going to do for the whole thing and a pretty good half-formed idea of what I'm specifically doing at the end that I'm letting simmer for now. All in all, I'm feeling confident about the final product. I anticipate having a 1st draft done by summer. The most challenging part is just the usual stuff right now: Specific words and a general fear of whether or not it will all come together. (Jon)

Lisa Bergin: I'm working on a series of related short stories that I think of a post-apocalypse utopia. They are my response to a common philosophical position I hear from students: that people are at core egoistic and just out for themselves. I've never really bought that view and this is my attempt to explore it, putting people in a bad situations and thinking through what decisions they would make. And they are always making decisions based not (only) on their own well-being, but the well-being of others.

Mark Teats: I am balancing the polarity of being an MFA creative writing student and being an independent writer these days. The thing I'd most like to work on is my vampire-apocalypse novel, Sunlight. It’s not getting as much attention as I’d like these days. Simultaneously I’m also working on a new required short story for my class, working title Encounter. This has been fun/challenging/different because each week so far we have been asked to rewrite some aspect of the story (including doing a complete re-write from scratch without looking at the original). It’s being both fun and challenging. It’s making me think a lot about aspects of story and how to approach a story differently than I might usually.

Where We Find Inspiration
Other art. Any kind. It all inspires me to make my own creation. (Shawn)

I just like to do it. I also don't wait for inspiration, I think it's a trap. Dedication and discipline are more important, I think. I believe that if you want to get it done, you just have to get to it. Some days are harder than others, sure, but mostly I just sit down and start somewhere and sometimes it leads to something and something it doesn't. Other times I see/read/hear something that I liked the idea, but not the execution, so I try to write my version. (Jon)

This series started with a dream. So that's one place. Also: other stories, science reporting on NPR. I think I often find inspiration just in the act of writing from the perspective of a character. (Lisa)

Lately, reading lots of really phenomenal short stories by other writers (lots of class reading). (Mark)

Claudia: Many sources. I once wrote a play based on a dream. Another play came from a chance encounter with a transvestite. I am a huge movie and TV buff, and even when I see a bad film, I like to rearrange it in my head and make it better. With good movies and television, I pay attention to the writing - I’m not often surprised, but when I am, I take note.
I also am the administrative manager for a theater company, The Moving Company (for you Twin Citians, it’s made up of former members of Theatre de la Jeune Lune). It’s inspiring to being around people who are that powerfully talented. They’ve been creating art so well and for so long, that making something extraordinary is the least of their worries. It’s hard to wallow in Writer’s Blockdonia when you’re around that kind of energy.

On “Sacred” Writing Spaces and/or Ritual(s)
No. Sometimes I write at the dining room table. Sometimes at this little TV table in front of the TV. Sometimes at the coffee shop. Mostly I just need to be left alone and sit at a table/counter comfortably, then I'm all right. (Jon)

Not sacred so much - but I'm usually sitting cross-legged on my couch with my laptop.
Tho' when I'm first trying to find my way into a story I often have to write with pen and paper.

Sacred is too strong a word, but I do have a bit of a ritual. I like to write in the mornings, which means I start out by making a cup of coffee and then sequestering myself away in my room, with my standing workstation, iTunes banging out some good house/trance, and my voice translation software listening to me ramble away – and doing the typing for me! (Shawn)

Not really. I flit around. Maybe I should get myself one of those! (Claudia)

My writing space is in my man-cave, nick-named "The Fortress of Solitude." Most Friday and Saturday mornings are mine for writing, so on those days I head to my writing desk (framed in by walls of books, fantasy arts and loads of D&D and other gaming figures), light some candles, incense and write in the dark with all but my computer and a couple desk lamps turned on. If I'm editing/re-writing sometimes some heavy metal music is needed to set the tone.

Favorite Writing Tools We’d Recommend
voice translation software. I loooove not having to type! (Shawn)

Laptop (Jon)

Scrivener! (Lisa)

... computer? (Claudia)

My Mac computer, a paper notebook I keep near me at all times, and for managing larger manuscripts, Scrivener. (Mark)

Authors We Admire
I love Joe Abercrombie's imagination and storytelling. I love Cormac McCarthy's prose and descriptive powers. I love Stephen King's easy flow. And I love Truman Capote. But then, I try not to emulate anyone in particular. (Jon)

I default to my favorites, Ray Bradbury for his poetic descriptions, Dean Koontz for his pacing and Stephen King for his ability to write characters that I want to know and spend time with. Harlan Ellison can craft some damn fine sentences and short stories with loads of attitude. (Mark)

F. Scott Fitzgerald is kind of the gold standard for me. His use of language is exquisite- but honestly, I’ve never aspired to be the Great American Novelist. I love authors who effortlessly  ground the fantastical in solid characters and stories. I’m fond of wit. Jonathan Lethem, Connie Willis and Michael Chabon leap to mind. And P.G. Wodehouse makes me laugh until I snort. True confession. (Claudia)

There are a lot of authors I admire, but none I really want to write like. I want to forge my own style and my own way, to have people like my writing for itself, not because it reminds them of someone. However, if I may be so presumptive, I like to think my writing style is most like a blend of Dan Simmons, Judith Tarr, and Stephen King. That sounds totally snobby! (Shawn)

Ursula K. LeGuin. I've been reading a lot of her lately. I've always liked authors who on the surface write very sparsely and without a lot of flourish and yet manage to convey more depth than seems possible with that seemingly spare language. (Lisa)

Something That Advanced Our Writing We’d Recommend to A Beginning Writer
Writing group! Just doing it. Reading great fiction. (Lisa)

The thing that’s most helped my writing in the last few years is hiring a professional editor – hands down. But I wouldn’t recommend that to a beginning writer. What I would recommend is sharing your work with other writers, to get their feedback. It’s tough to learn how to see your own flaws, much less accept them. (Shawn)

Take some classes and some workshops and interact with some successful smart writers in real life. Find a supportive and healthy writing group. Learn to listen to criticism. But mostly: sit down, shut up, pen to paper, repeat. (Jon)

Classes at The Loft are great, if you live in the Twin Cities.  If nothing else, it’s a terrific way to meet other aspiring authors, and start a writing group, which I can’t recommend strongly enough. The Scribblerati is the best thing that’s happened to my writing. (Claudia)

Form a critique group. Having to submit my writing to a group of like-minded peers and also reviewing their work regularly has helped me grow a lot as a writer. Also (as a student) I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't say, “Take a writing class” or attend a writing conference. The Loft is great. All these things have helped me grow my writing skills. (Mark)

Which (of our) Characters We Are Most Like:
I'd like to say Black Magic Jack, but Noelle Easter's sarcastic voice is probably the closest to my own. Also, I'm expecting Bill the Minotaur might hit a little close to home. (Jon)

All of my characters are a part of me, but I can’t say that I’m really most like any one of them in particular. (Shawn)

Because of my cancer thingee I guess I'd have to say I'm most like my character, Clayton Jaeger. Granted, he has brain cancer vs. my neck/throat cancer, and I did write him years before I ever got sick. But getting sick really made me question a lot of things in my life and made me come to terms with what it is to be mortal. I think this is a big part of Clay’s character. Unlike Clay I have not started to see angels. Yet. (Mark)

Hmmm. I think I'm like them all. Especially the protagonists. I think I'll have matured as a writer when I can stop doing that. (Lisa)

Hmmm... The first play I ever wrote had two main characters, and they really represented two sides of me at that time. Confident, cynical wit; and  shy, romantic doormat.  I think as my writing matures, my characters become less like me. I wonder if that’s true for most writers. Of course there’s a piece of me in every character, even the nasty ones. (Claudia)

When Not Writing, We’d Rather Be…
Fishing, reading, seeing an action/fantasy movie. (Mark)

Listening to live traditional jazz. Watching movies, reading, playing games. I’m crazy about any group game that utilizes intelligence, creativity and humor. (Claudia)

Reading a book or watching a movie. I like my stories. (Jon)

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing, at work, or hanging with the Lovely Leann. But I’ll go with drinking beer at Republic or Dangerous Man, or going to a Minnesota Golden Gopher football game. (Shawn)

Reading, doing yoga, crafting, cooking, working in my garden, (those are the g-rated answers....) (Lisa)

Why You Should Check Out Claudia Hankin’s Writing and Characters
She’s the berries. Everyone’s going to say MacGreggor, aren’t they?  All of my beta readers liked him a lot. I’m thinking he’s going to need more scenes, to keep up with his fan base. I hope it doesn’t go to his head.  (Claudia)

Her vocabulary (that's mostly just a joke). She's got an amazing handle on humor and dialogue. Ursula of course - time-travelling, dixie-land jazz aficionado. (Lisa)

Claudia does a fantastic job of blending the old and the modern. (Shawn)

Claudia has done some exceptional research to make her 1920's setting come alive. From clothing, music, terminology, she provides enough details--and the fun, interesting details--to create a world that I believe and want to hang out in. Her vocabulary and word choices are superb--even if I do give her grief about that, sometimes. I think Ursula is my fav character of Claudia's: tough, sexy, funny and quirky in just the right ways. (Mark)

Claudia has a great sense of humor and scene and can really draw distinctive characters. Ursala is my favorite. She's a classic hero. She's both smart and quick and capable, but she often ends up in situations a bit over her head because of her own stubborn nature and fiery temper. She's fun to read. (Jon)

Why You Should Check Out Jon Hansen’s Writing and Characters
Jon’s writing is clean and to the point. Most of his stories have a "gritty" quality combined with humorous observations. He brings the horror and the visceral reactions. His main characters are great, and often his secondary characters are just as much fun and easy to visualize. “Noelle” from his Gunslingers’ novel is my favorite of Jon’s characters. She’s witty with lots of spirit. She copes well with the tough and terrible world around her. (Mark)

Jon’s writing is vivid. You can see everything as if you were standing there yourself. (Shawn)

Oh man... so many to choose from. He's my favorite writer, so I don't know if I can pinpoint any one thing, all I know is: That guy is pretty awesome. And he has impeccable taste. Good kisser too. (Jon)

Jon’s descriptions: working with all 5 senses and his characters, all unique yet recognizable.
Favorite character is hard with Jon - he's got so many great ones - of the recent ones, I really liked Juniper Silverbell. (Lisa)

Jon is a superstar. He’s great at description, and uses sound really well - also, funny. Very, very funny.  Perhaps my favorite thing is that he writes terrific female characters, which sadly seems to be a rare gift in a male sci-fi/horror writers. I like the combo deal of Jack and Noelle, from his zombie novel. They have a believable and touching relationship, very down-to-earth, lots of clever banter in the midst of, you know, the apocalypse. (Claudia)

Why You Should Check Out Lisa Bergin’s Writing and Characters
Lisa's writing is very lyrical and smart. Plus, she has such a unique imagination, but such a clear and consistent vision. I really enjoy the way she'll decide to portray things. Beryl is an easy choice for favorite, a close second for me, but my favorite characters are the three philosopher kids: Tommy, Momo, and P Boy. They were good stuff. (Jon)

Lisa makes you think. It’s not just the obvious allusions to her philosophical background, but rather the style and tone, which challenges you to pay attention to something altogether special and different. (Shawn)

Lisa is the Queen of voice. Her characters all sound unique, and use words, terms that show (not tell) what is going on in her world(s). This is more apparent than ever in my favorite character of hers, Beryl, the girl lead in her novel, Once We Were Bears. Beryl has a charming voice that is both endearing and thoughtful in the way she approaches a world of humans that she is trying to understand. (Mark)

Lisa has an incredibly unique voice. I couldn’t emulate her folk tale/fairy tale/post apocalyptic style if I tried. Her stories are very warm, but take place in very harsh worlds. Her characters at first glance are very simple, but ultimately are nothing but. I love the animal characters from her books. She captures what a goat, bear, chicken and squirrel would say, what they’d sound like, their senses of humor (or not) - and it all somehow makes perfect sense. (Claudia)

Why You Should Check Out Mark Teats’ Writing and Characters
Heart. Mark’s writing has heart, even when the subjects are thousands of years old demons. (Shawn)

Mark was my first fellow writer I met who shared a similar vision/interest and was also going through a lot of the same situations as I was. I like how Mark's writing usually concerns darkness and horror and blood and all that, often in some pretty cool ways, but it is also full of heart. For all of its edge, there's still a classic sense of good and evil. I like that. My favorite characters are probably Blackheart and Noel, especially when they're together. I love their chemistry. (Jon)

His skill at pacing - and making sure the reader always knows what's at stake -
Blackheart, because he gets built back from death by creature's carrying his bits in their mouths - he's invulnerable, and yet is dependent on these tiny animals. (Lisa)

In my latest writing class people critiquing my work said that they thought I was imparting a lot of data in short, descriptive sentences, and that I was clearly a genre writer. I was happy with this summary. In the past I've always felt some of my descriptions have been "too thick" (I've been working on it) so maybe I am making progress? Blackheart is hands down my favorite character. I think I've spent the most time with him. He is probably the toughest yet most sympathetic character I have. When I write him I can always hear his voice. (Mark)

Mark has a way with a turn of phrase, he rocks at the similes - and he creates striking visuals. One of my favorite of Mark’s creations is the Psychopomps. When his main character dies, whatever little creepy creatures happen to be around - scorpions, crappies, etc., travel to Hell to retrieve his flesh, one little nibble at a time, and reassemble his body.  Horrific and terrific.
My favorite character of Mark’s is Blackheart, definitely Blackheart. Cursed for eternity in a human’s body, unable to die - a character worthy of his own Dark Horse Comics series.

Why You Should Check Out Shawn Enderlin’s Writing and Characters
Shawn is a great world builder. He is not afraid to take on a huge host of characters, and a vast world (worlds!) with a long history. His mythology and use of magic are excellent - he takes some of the great tenets of high fantasy and makes them his own, as well as adding to the genre.
I love Kaytlyn in To Kill the Goddess. She becomes possessed by an evil entity, and her struggle to free herself is very intense. What she becomes after the struggle is even better. (Claudia)

Shawn thinks big and complex. His stories are epic. I like how he balances lots of different plots--all full of interesting characters and all in their own exciting stories--and how he keeps them all moving and brings them together. I also like the way he mixes science fiction, horror and fantasy. He has a lot of good characters, but I think Cassondra and Colt are my favorites. (Jon)

My favorite thing about my writing is that it is so fucking much better than it ever used to be. Way to go, me! (Shawn)

The scope of his work - spanning worlds and multiple points of view. It’s a lot to balance and he's done impressive work at it. I’ve always had a soft spot for Tea Leaf - even tho’ she's a minor character. I’ve always loved her - I think her name really clinches it for me. (Lisa)

Shawn is the King of world building. Faeries, unicorns, saurians, druids, lasers, elves and space travel all in the same story? Shawn does it and does it well. Mana-use in his TKTG series is awesome! My vote for his best character is Katelyn (who has to deal with some dark shit, like being possessed by and alien being). She is compelling and convincing (a great female character written by a male). Second place goes to Tea Leaf the faerie. Best. Faerie. Ever. (Mark)

Thank you!
If you made it this far, you're our number one fan. Thanks for taking the time.

~ Mark/@manOwords on behalf of Shawn, Lisa, Jon and Claudia
aka The Scribblerati