Friday, December 30, 2011

Living a Writing Life

“I'm either going to be a writer or a bum.” ~ Carl Sandburg

(Image: me trying to decide to write or not to write)

I recall reading an anecdote about a mill worker who dies and his family discovers a hidden book of poetry under his mattress. They wonder: Was he a millworker who wrote poetry? Or was he a poet who worked at a mill?

I feel like that sometimes. No. Not like a millworker or poet, but like a person who is leading a double or triple or maybe quadruple life.

I’m an IT manager, a father/brother/son/husband/friend and writer. Many times the thing I’d like to be emphasizing and focusing on is being THE WRITER, but often he has to take a backseat to all the other stuff going on that makes up plain old life.

In thinking back on this year I couldn’t help but wonder—have I been doing a good job of keeping up on the writing side of my life?

In 2011 some of the ways I expressed my writer-side:

§ Wrote, edited and revised a lot. Results: 3 completed short stories, two novel draft revisions (Blackheart) and more scenes and material for use with my current projects and other projects down the road.

§ Entered two writing contests (one of which was a bust, the other I won’t know until February if I did well or not)

§ Took a “Book in a Month” class (April) at the Loft where I made more progress on my 2nd novel, Sunlight. (And no, I didn’t complete a book in a month… but I wrote many more pages than I might have otherwise.)

§ Went to two writing conferences, one at UW Madison in April and another at the Loft in November (I enjoyed the Madison workshops more, but the networking was better at the Loft). One highlight at the Loft conference was past instructors making a point to seek me out and ask: “How’s Blackheart?”

§ Did an in-person “pitch” of my book Blackheart to two different agents. One asked to see more (which I sent out but have never heard a word back on) and the other gave me a reference to an agent friend who I will be looking up next year.

§ Went to two book events/readings where I got to listen to some authors I enjoy read their work and talk a little about how they live their writing lives (Neil Gaiman and Chuck Palahniuk). I even got to sing with Neil Gaiman at the Fitz (well, it was an audience sing along.)

§ Attended my first Sci Fi convention in St. Paul (Diversicon in July) and sat in as part of a panel with the rest of the Scribbleratti. To say the least we were strange bedfellows—but there were more people in our “audience” than in our panel—so I was happy.

§ Did some research for my next novel, including

o A police ride along including my very own encounter with a “vampire”

o A trip to Duluth, MN on a very sunny fall weekend (both the location and the time of year where one of the scenes in my book Sunlight takes place)

§ Took part monthly in critiquing and being critiqued as a member of the “Scribblerati” writing group and blogged monthly (hey, you’re reading our blog now)

§ Wrote 202 times out of 365 days in 2011. I’d always like this number to be higher. Some days that writing might have been a quality paragraph that made it to the page. Other days it was anywhere from 2 to 11 hours at the writing desk with lots of completed and revised chapters. Most Monday days and Saturday mornings were dedicated to my writing craft.

So what about your writing in 2011? Anything that made you feel like more of a writer than the alternatives? I’d like to hear about it.

Goals for the year ahead

2012 is my favorite year, the Year of the Dragon, and I hope to keep on writing like a mad man. My writing group is currently giving me feedback on the latest version of Blackheart. Once all the feedback is in I’ll let it sit for a month or so and then clean my manuscript up and then start looking for an agent. I plan to finish the last half of Sunlight in the spring. I know I’ve got another short story or two in me. My work schedule is changing a bit, so my best writing times will be Monday, Friday and Saturday mornings. Mostly I’m going to keep on writing in the spare moments, as I am able.

Wishing you lots of great writing in the year ahead.


Friday, December 23, 2011

A very Scribblerati Christmas

It's that time of year again, boys and girls: It's the Holidays! It's time for gifts and eggnog and booze and I don't know... reindeers, I guess, and fat burglars or something and... other stuff... whatever. Anyway, we here at the Scribblerati are not above celebrating for no reason, so...

Happy Holidays to you and yours, everyone!

It's been a good year around the ol' workshop table. Lisa is about to send out some queries. Shawn and Mark are wrapping up their manuscripts. Claudia is knee-deep in her second draft. And I have started work on a brand new project and even managed to sell my first short story to boot. We're all in pretty good spots, all things considered, and the reason we are where we are is simple: We've been working, working hard and working often.


Because that's the trick. That's the whole secret. Butts in the seats, brothers and sisters...butts in the seats.

So in these yule loggy days to come, through the rummy haze of friends and family and wise men, while the rest of them are airing their grievances and performing feats of strength, remember to squeeze in a few moments for yourself. Take some time. Jot down some notes. Plot out some points. Sketch out some characters. Churn out a couple of pages.

Keep writing!

Your pal,

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Ones Who Walk Away

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about Ursula K. Le Guin's short story, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. Partly it's been on my mind because I assigned it to my "Telling the Story Queer" class as a nice example of a story with an unconventional narrator.

I'm not even sure how to classify the point of view in the story. It doesn't quite seem to be third person objective, because the narrator doesn't feel neutral to me. Third omniscient seems closer, but the narrator isn't all-knowing, her ability to tell/create the story is limited and she knows it. What I love about Omelas is that tho' the narrator does not take part in any of the action of the story, she is for me the one fully formed character in it. If you're not familiar with the story, read it now and see what you think. (To entice you away, know this: it is short; it is powerful; it is creepy.) Here.

 Le Guin's narrator is somewhat similar to the overarching narrator of my WIP. Neither of them are protagonists or even minor actors in their stories, yet both are fleshy characters (at least I hope One Potato is fleshy...tee hee.) I think Le Guin's narrator feels so real to me because of the particularity and forcefulness of her voice, and because she directly confronts the reader, telling us we have to help her envision the utopian nature of Omelas. (An aside, I usually hate the fourth wall being broken, but, I think because this is a parable, it works here.) My main narrator is a sentient potato, and so her voice has to be, well, potato-y. If I've done my work well, readers will feel a kinship to One Potato, even though really all she does is sit in her hill telling stories to her spudlets. So one reason Omelas resonates with me: I'm trying to play around with narration in Once We Were Bears and I adore Le Guin's breaking-the-rules narrator.

Clearly, another reason I would like Omelas is that Le Guin is asking a very core philosophical question: should the happiness of many be sought after, even if that requires the misery of a few. This is at base the debate between Kant and Mill. And Le Guin, as a fiction writer, captures what's at stake in this debate more successfully than any professional philosopher I've ever read. When the cellar child pleads with us, when Le Guin writes "It is the existence of the child, and their knowledge of its existence, that makes possible the...poignancy of their music.... It is because of the child that they are so gentle with children," at those moments in the story, the debate comes alive for me. In my WIP, I'm using fiction to reflect on my own philosophical questions about what it means to be human in the more than human again, what Le Guin does here models for me the very best of the sort of thing I'm attempting.

A final reason I've been pondering Omelas. I was recently posed the question, would I rather live forever or die happy. That's such a no-brainer for me. Living forever would take all the horrible ephemeral-ness out of life, but I kinda think it is that horrible ephemeral-ness that makes life so wonderful, so full of wonder. I like to play the Sunday Puzzler with Will Shortz on Sunday mornings. But some Sunday mornings I forget, or am busy, and so don't get to play along. For awhile I subscribed to the podcast. But then listening to the puzzle wasn't special anymore. I could do it whenever I wanted. So I stopped with the podcasting, and now every couple weekends I get a thrill of anticipation--today I get to hang with Will!--and the show itself feels, well, special. So, here's to our own mortality, bringing the special to life.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Today's Literary News (AKA My Dystopian Thursday Morning)

The Tweets just kept coming today, one thunder crack after another signaling doom and gloom for the publishing industry. It was like peering through Twitter's looking glass and seeing into the Big 6's dystopian future.

First there was this:

From @GalleyCat
Adult mass paperback sales plunged 54 percent in September while eBook sales rose 100 percent:
I've been anticipating numbers like that, but it's still surprising to see them in print.

And then there was this spooky bit:
By 2016, e-book revenues from portable devices will reach nearly $10 billion and bookstores that don’t merge digital and traditional commerce may face extinction

Now I'm imagining the pages of old books blowing through empty strip mall parking lots.

And finally, there was this piece of holiday joy: How many Christmases until we see a whole new industry?

Which is neatly summarized by these two quotes:
John Makinson, the global CEO of Penguin, was quoted in a Reuters article saying that the post-Christmas period in publishing coming up is “tougher to predict” than “any time that I can remember”. Asked what he sees in the immediate future, Makinson replied “dark clouds.”

The pace of the digital switchover is quickening. That will reduce the cash available to invest in building a new ecosystem at the same time the urgency of coming up with new answers is rising. It’s enough to make a sober executive, even at a very large, successful, smart, and innovative company, admit to serious concern for the industry’s future 

But in good Hollywood fashion, we'll end with a ray of hope striking out from deep within the gloom:
IndieBound Reader is an ebook reading application [... that] allows book lovers to read ebooks purchased at their local, independent bookstores.

Thank goodness, right? I've been wondering how much longer it would be before the independents began to get their act together.

Oh, and an interesting closing note: The Bookcase in Wayzata (a real nice bookstore, BTW) is where Claudia and I went to see Leanna Renee Hieber, Friend of The Scribblerati.

Aren't you glad I shared?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My pseudo-review of Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me

Disclaimer: this isn't a real review, hence the pseudo. It's also spoiler free. I've tried doing a couple book reviews, but as a writer, I feel all kinda queeby about it. I'd rather just tell you all what I like, and what I thought was interesting and what my writer brain latched onto while reading it. So here goes…

Shatter Me, in my mind, has two very distinct sections: the first three fourths, and the rest. I'll speak about them both individually.

The first three fourths of Shatter Me is a dystopian nightmare. It depicts a horrible not too distant and entirely plausible future where our hero, Juliette, is imprisoned in solitary confinement and is going insane. It is shocking, terrible, and gutwrenching.

But having said all that...


By chapter 2 I was hooked and I didn't leave the couch for three hours. I finished it in two more sittings. This is UNHEARD OF for me.

But back to the book. As the story progresses, Juliette gets a visitor, and that's where things really start to get interesting. I'm not going to go into all the details, I don't want to spoil it, but suffice it to say that along the way we learn things about Juliette, and her visitor, and the world in which she lives and, oh yah, did I say I couldn't put it down? Because it's AMAZING!

The last quarter of the book caught me off guard. Again, no spoilers here, but Shatter Me took a real drastic change in tone and direction. I've never listened to any interviews with Tahereh Mafi and so I don't know this for a fact, but it seems that this was done to set up the sequel's. It wasn't necessarily a bad thing, but it was unexpected and I don't think I would have wrote the same ending. But maybe that's what she intended all along and I don't know what I'm talking about. Entirely possible!

So now for the big question: will I buy the sequel? Abso-frakking-lutely! I wouldn't typically buy a book of the genre set up at the end, but Shatter Me is such a tour de force that the writer in me wants to know what Tahereh Mafi is going to do next.

And don't tell anyone, but I may have a little bit of a fan boy thing starting up here. :-O

PS - more later on Shatter Me and YA in general.

Friday, November 25, 2011


On this friday after Thanksgiving, I'm honoring someone I'm thankful for. Thankful that she exists and writes and draws and helps others to find their creativity. Thankful for her character Marlys. Thankful for her honesty. 

Lynda Barry - Self-Portrait

Dan Kois in the New York Times Magazine (Oct. 27 2011) article, "Lynda Barry Will Make you Believe in Yourself," writes: "Narrative, Barry believes, is so hard-wired into human beings that creativity can come as naturally to adults as it does to children. They need only to access the deep part of the brain that controls that storytelling instinct. Barry calls that state of mind “the image world” and feels it’s as central to a person’s well-being as the immune system."

I've been noticing lately how even when I'm not working on Once We Were Bears, I'm creating story. In telling friends about how I'm doing, I'm telling a story. I don't mean by this that I'm making things up; instead I'm arranging the everything-ness of daily life into a narrative. When I'm planning out a course syllabus, I think of that course as a story with a narrative flow. When I imagine how my life might now change as I live out the break up of a 15-year relationship, I'm fashioning stories. Stories, stories, everywhere.

I'm also thankful to my fellow Scribblerati for their story advice and trusting me enough to offer up their own creativity for critique. Cheers.

If you don't know Lynda Barry, read the New York Times article. Read What It Is. Read One! Hundred! Demons! Read Cruddy.

Your life will be better for it. 

And may you always have access to your image world.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Chuck Palahniuk

The Scribblerati had an e-mail conversation going on recently about “how dark is too dark?” when it comes to writing. It seems like no coincidence then that this week I got to go see Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club) read from his latest book, Damned about a 13 year old dead girl in Hell. If Chuck Palahniuk’s writing has a color, I know it’s dark.

Chuck Palahniuk, to me, seemed intelligent, thoughtful, and witty. His pauses between questions and answers were long, his mind working, as if searching for the best stories, the funniest punch lines. He spoke a lot about death, writing and Paris. Based on one of his stories I recommend that if you are ever in Paris at night you make the extra effort to get to the Eiffel Tower exactly two minutes to midnight and look up and keep looking up (I won’t tell you why, it’ll ruin the surprise).

Here are a few tidbits of wisdom on writing and life from Mr. Palahniuk (filtered through yours truly—so my apologies if I’ve botched any of the quotes):

• Don’t give the audience something to like, give them something they’ll remember.

• Listen. Go to parties and listen to other people’s stories.

• Ways to seize your reader’s attention: Make them laugh, shock them, give them something to remember. This is how you, the author, take control.

• On writing and music: “Every book has its own sound track. As a writer you give up so much of your life, sitting and writing instead of doing other things. So put on music. Make it seem like a party. Even if you’re only the only one who shows up.”

• He told a good Stephen King story (told to him by a friend, Kim Rickets, I believe), of how King at a book signing where 1,500 people showed up wanting his autograph, asked for bandages when his fingers started to bleed from all the signing. Some kid in the crowd heard this and shouted, “Don’t bandage him until he bleeds on my book!” Supposedly King good naturedly smeared blood on the pages of all the books he signed that day.

• “Really drunk people are honest people.”

• “The writer’s perception of their characters is just as erroneous as the reader’s.”

• “Writing is tricking yourself into looking at something inside you that no sane, happy person would look at. Trick yourself and you’ll trick others.”

• Theme is discovered only years after you’ve written your book(s).

• If you are knocked out, stripped naked and sewn into a dead horse, after that no matter how many puppies and kitties die on your shift, it’s still better than being inside that dead horse.

• He says he re-reads Jane Eyre every year, and almost as much, The Great Gatsby

• “Of course the dead miss the living.” (from his new book, Damned)

• “Don’t write until you are 33. Go out a lot before that. People living fun, story-generating lives are out.”

• In most great literature there are three main character types: The Martyr (dies by suicide), The Rebel (destroyed by someone else), and the Witness (who may learn something from the other two types and be better for it)

• Nietzsche is not his thing

• His inspiration for Hell in his latest book? The “Author’s Suite” in fancy hotels that cater to touring authors.

• Someone in the audience asked about his research methods for all the great clinical descriptions in some of his books. The answer? At age 13 he did 1,000 hours of service in a hospital as a candy striper. He described himself as being “Forever marked by the love of Percocet and blood.”

• Mr. Palahniuk says he writes only one short story per year… but then he writes it so that it’s got to hurt people. One such short story is “Guts.” It is a story that makes people throw up and pass out at some of his readings. I’ve included it here, but be forewarned. It’s NOT for the lighthearted (and NOT appropriate for the workplace) to say the least. Click at your own risk: Guts

I have read Fight Club and enjoyed it. Probably would have liked it more had I not seen the movie first (although I like the movie). I also read “Guts”—and although I did not pass out or vomit, and I tend to like my stories dark, this one was not my cup of tea. I will remember it, but I can't say I liked it. Afterwards I was craving a story about cute bunnies or unicorns—or anything else.

I do now have an autographed copy of Damned and am looking forward to reading it.

The Official Chuck Palahniuk Website

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Almost Forgot...

Happy birthday, Jon.

You old fart.

Monday, November 14, 2011

WIP Update: Jaskaran's Tale

Okay, I'm not gonna lie, it feels pretty damn good to sit here and write that I've completed the first draft on my second story. Count it, that's two, baby!

*dances wildly*

Yes, I'm pretty impressed with myself right now. I know it's only the first draft of a novella, not a complete book, and there's still a ton of editing ahead of me, but it's still pretty darn cool to know that within the matter of a few months I should have two different stories ready to be sent out there.

So you want deets? The novella is tentatively titled Jaskaran's Tale. I know that title doesn't reach out and grab you from the front of the shirt like To Kill the Goddess does, but I think in this case that simple name serves my purpose well. Jaskaran's Tale is a companion story to To Kill the Goddess. It's a tragic, YA-ish love story that follows the exploits of Jaskaran, a female character who plays a minor role in To Kill the Goddess. My original plan for To Kill the Goddess was for Jaskaran to be one of the major characters, but it soon became apparent that her story was tangential to the rest of the rest of the novel and so *shredding noise* I ripped her out.

Fast forward a about a year and a half, to sometime in late September. I was sitting in Common Roots, drinking a beer – as I am wont to do before Scribblerati meet ups – and working on plotting out the broad arc to To Kill the Goddess’ sequel when I flipped the page in my notebook and wrote Jaskaran's name on the page. One Surly later I had the shell of her story mapped out and now I have just a hair under 15,000 words completed.

My plan for the next month or two is to edit the heck out of Jaskaran's Tale and have it ready for the Scribblerati to review sometime January-ish. After that? Well, I'm not sure.
Jaskaran's Tale and To Kill the Goddess both exist in the same world and in the same timeframe so I thought about using one to help sell the other. But do I put them out at the same time? Put one out before the other?

Yeesh. Marketing. Now I have to figure that out too!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Blogger, Google+, Tumblr, or Honey Badger?

Blogging is hard. Seriously. Not like writing a novel hard, but still, it takes thought, planning, editing, and the most difficult part of all: a theme. Blogging, at least for me, isn't something I can do on an everyday basis. I mean, I probably could, but then there would be less time for writing, or my lovely wife, or I'd have to give up my day job, etc. and I'm not really thrilled with any of those options.

But on the flip side – I kind of have a lot to say. Or at least, a lot I would like to say, and most of those things really don't lend themselves to a full-length blog. A lot of times it's little stuff like hey I found this article that I thought would be cool to pass along, or so-and-so tweeted this and I'm sure you'd like to know, and so forth. Kinda like what I started doing on our brand spanking new Google+ stream.

Unfortunately, I feel like there are a lot of similarities between Google+ and the tree that falls in the forest. I really like Google+, but nobody's really using it yet. Tumblr, on the other hand, tends to attract a lot of people and it also lends itself to the type of shorter form posts I recently put on Google plus. Although I'm not sure of the extent to which people can comment on Tumbler... Oh, and Facebook is out because their Terms of Service state that they own everything you post.

So I put this out there to you fellow Scribblerati and fine readers: would you rather see short form posts here on Blogger, or on Google+ or Tumblr? Or maybe you, like the honey badger (NSFW) just don't give a [BLEEP]. That's a valid response too!

Monday, November 7, 2011


Yo, The Scribblerati is now on Google+

Add us to your circles and we'll add you back!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sale: "Harris" by Jonathan Hansen

Saturday was a good day for me.

Why, you ask?

Because I made my first sale!

I know, right? Awesome.

So, the sale was a short story entitled Harris. It's about a group of survivors scratching out a life, scavenging among the rubble of downtown Minneapolis in the aftermath of an alien invasion. It's supposed to be a nice little action piece about regular people in a wild setting with insane obstacles and a simple motivation.

I sold it to a local short story anthology called Cifiscape, Vol. 2 (pronounced Sci-fi scape). The 1st volume is pictured below and you can get your very own copy here. The good folks behind the book plan on having a website up soon. When they do, you can rest assured that I will post it here... probably more than once. In the meantime, the book is published by Onyx Neon Press, a small press out of the Pacific Northwest, I gather. In my opinion, they all seem like lovely people, so feel free to check them out, maybe even pick up a copy of Cifiscape, Vol. 1, if you want.

Cool, right? But I know what you're thinking: When is the one with my short story in it coming out?

I don't know.

Probably next year, as the whole editing/book/blah-blah-blah hasn't even started yet. I am told, however, that process will start this month and so... probably next year. When I have a date, I'll let you know... alot... most likely. The really crazy part is that when it comes out, it will be a new frontier for me. I'll exist. Out there. In the world. People will see it (hopefully). People I don't know, even (hopefully). It's strange to think about, exciting to imagine too, but weird. A little scary, maybe. I mean, what if...

Hmmm... Well, time will tell, I guess. Stay tuned, faithful masses, more information will be disseminated as it received!


Friday, October 28, 2011

Characters – Surprise & Contradiction

A friend of mine recently gave me a CD that celebrates Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, with various authors (including Bradbury) reading and commenting on that wonderful book, a book that hasn’t been out of print in the last 50 or so years. As I listened to the first paragraphs where the main character, Montag, is burning books, I was drawn in by the poetry of the piece, but also by the glorious contradiction in his character. He’s a fireman, see? A fireman burning books. Now Bradbury is having a bit of fun, or maybe just showing off his brilliance. If you’re going to write a story of a dystopian world where books are burned, why not make your main character a fireman, someone we readers think of as the person we want to show up to stop a fire in progress—but in this world, firemen are the bad guys. The main character is part of the story’s problem—and has lots of room to grow and change as the story moves on.

When I think of my favorite characters from other books and TV shows, it is often contradiction that makes certain characters stand out and makes them, well, my favorites. Often in the contradiction is the surprise factor—and in that unusual aspect is what makes for a memorable character. Here are just a few of my favorite contradictory-filled characters from TV and books:

Ender, the main character from Orson Scott Card’s Enders Game is the strategic master upon which the Earth’s fate rests. And he’s just a kid (six in the opening scene).

This character spends his days working on the police force as a forensics/blood spatter expert—at night he goes looking for criminals to kill and dispose of. (Dexter from the TV series of the same name.)

He’s a drunk, half-blind U.S. Marshall with a shady military past who is a fifteen-year-old girl’s only chance of finding justice for her murdered father. (Rooster T. Cogburn from True Grit by Charles Portis)

He’s a golden lab. He can also spell and would probably beat you at Scrabble. (Einstein, the dog, from Dean Koontz’s Watchers.)

She’s a restored 1958 red and white Plymouth—and she’s alive. (The car, Christine, from Steven King’s novel of the same name.)

He loves car racing and wants to be reincarnated as a man (Enzo, also a dog, from The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein).

As an android with a positronic brain, he is capable of amazing computational thought—but more than anything he longs to understand human beings and experience human emotions. (Data, from Star Trek The Next Generation TV series.)

Here’s one of the characters from my novel, Blackheart:

Noel August is a 16-year-old girl who likes boys, pop music, dressing in pink and can talk to angels. Hopefully you can spot the contradiction (or at least unusual attribute). Yeah, it’s the pop music thing.

So who are your favorite contradictory characters? If you’re a writer, what contradictions have you given your character(s) to make them strong and memorable?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


First of all, to those of you who thought this was an obituary blog, this post has nothing to do with anyone who has died. So, my apologies.

For the rest of you – score! Once again this blog is about writing!


Actually, this particular post is about reading. Specifically, the fact that I actually read a book. I think this is my second or third book this year, which is both shocking and exciting. Shocking for the obvious reasons, and exciting because with Two Kill the Goddess out of the way I actually have time to do something besides work, say hi to my lovely wife, sleep, eat, write, and do a bit of yoga.

So what did I choose for this momentous occasion? An old book, one I've talked about before: Dan Simmons’ Hyperion.

I first read this book – when was it? Let's see… Looks like this edition was printed in March of 1990. That would be after it won that year's Hugo Award. Let's just say it was a long time ago.

Now, with some of the things I've gone back and recently reread, I have been somewhat disappointed. Case in point: Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s Dragon Lance saga. Holy crap did I geek out over those when I was a teenager. I mean, who doesn't love Raistlin? Another good example would be Melanie Rawn’s Dragon Prince, etc. which was a staple of my early college years. None of those really turn my crank the way they used to. I still like the stories and they do have sentimental value, but now whenever I read my Scribblerati brain turns on and I begin to critique. That was especially detrimental in the case of Dragon Lance, somewhat less so with Melanie Rawn’s work. Some of that, I think, is maturing, but a lot of it is that I now recognize that those books weren't as well-written as I thought they were. They were great stories, but they weren't as well executed as my Scribblerati brain would like.

Dan Simmons’ Hyperion has none of those problems. In fact, I'm even more in awe of this guy's writing now that I was a bajillion years ago. My book, To Kill the Goddess, with its multiple character viewpoints and sprawling world building, rivals Hyperion in complexity, but Dan Simmons takes what I've struggled with and makes it look easy. Hyperion is at once horrifying, mesmerizing, inspiring, and beautiful. And I’m jealous. ;-)

Go buy a copy while you can still find one to put on your bookshelf. You'll be glad you did.

Friday, October 14, 2011

RIP Dennis Ritchie

This probably isn't a face you're familiar with.

Unlike Steve Jobs, Dennis Ritchie wasn't a public figure. He was an engineer, and the programmer, and the inventor of, among other things, the C programming language, and the UNIX operating system.

For most of you reading this blog, those two things probably don't mean much. Today, we take things like computers, and the Internet, and the voice translation software I'm using to write this blog post, for granted. Today, these things are a part of our everyday lives. 40 years ago, however, it was a much different story. 40 years predates the Internet by 20 years, give or take, and the personal computer by another 10 on top of that.

40 years ago, Dennis Ritchie was inventing the things that would make much of what we have today possible.

Just to give you a little perspective, the C programming language and the UNIX operating system, while still in existence today, are more commonly known as the forerunners of much of the technology that runs today's Internet. The programming language known as Java is the direct descendent of C and today Java exists in everything from Internet Web servers to the Android phone you might hold in your hand. UNIX is just as prevalent. UNIX still runs a significant percentage of the Internet and it is the forerunner of commonplace technologies such as Mac OS X, which just might be displaying the blog post you're reading right now.

So grab yourself a beer, or a soda, or the libation of your choice, and raise a toast to Dennis Ritchie because without him this world would be a much different place.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Years ago I was having a conversation with my dad. We were sitting on his crappy couch in the little apartment he'd rented after separating from my mom. I don't remember exactly why I was there because at the time I was married, graduated, and no longer living back at home. I was probably just there to visit, and it probably wasn't too long after him setting up in the apartment.

We talked about a lot of things that day, most of which I no longer remember, but there was one thing he asked me that I'll never forget. He asked me why I didn't have any kids yet. I wasn't really prepared for the question, but I answered truthfully. I said I didn't know and that it just hadn't been a priority. He asked me, “Don't you want something to pass on in this world? Some kind of legacy that will last after you're gone?” I told him I didn't know if I'd ever have kids, but that I hoped that someday my legacy would live on in a book that people could read long after my time on this world was done.

Strange that I finished the beta draft of my first novel a day before Steve Jobs died.

I don't expect to be famous. All I want is to make a nice little ripple in this pond we live in. All I want is for some geeky picked on kid, or some tired and aspiring college student, or somebody's mom or dad to pick up my book and find a little escape from the crappy world that we live in.

If that was my legacy, I’d put that on my tombstone and die a happy man.

I can't imagine changing the world.

Rest in peace, Steve Jobs.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Fall's always hard for a gardener philosopher. This one is more so. Somehow, my life appears to have gone a bit wild without first getting my expressed consent.  Some of the craziness is my own choice, some isn't. In any case, for the last bit, I've been feeling overwhelmed emotionally and intellectually and creatively. So today's blog? SHORT! UPDATES! ADVICE!

Update #1: I am officially declaring my beta-draft ready for my beta-readers. (This is probably something like my sixth or seventh draft.) I will be sending it out to my potential beta-readers today.

Update #2: I've incorporated a blog into one of my classes, Telling the Story Queer, a first-year seminar that's focusing on story-tellers who break narrative conventions. As a way to make student writing more real, (i.e. not writing to an audience of one--the prof,) I'm having them blog about our novels. They've all just introduced themselves; next week they'll start on their reflections on Fun Home, the graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel. I would love it if Scribblerati readers/members would pop over occasionally and comment on the student blogs. Find us here.

Advice #1: Do you feel the need to self-medicate? But do you also need to be prepared to be awoken for the day at 5:30 in the morning when your kidlink stumbles into your bed? Yoga is good, sugar is grand, but Sherlock is better. Last year the BBC updated Sherlock Holmes. Clever, silly, and fun. And streaming on Netflix.

Advice #2: Especially for Ms. Claudia. I've also been enjoying the Forsyte Saga - yummy clothes, especially when they get to the 1920s; yummy architecture, especially the Arts and Craft-y/Deco-y Robin Hill; yummy cast: Gina McKee and Rupert Graves.

Cheerio. By my next blog things should be settling down.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Two years later...

Who would have believed it to be possible, but two years ago, almost to the day, the Scribblerati put up their first post.

We had been around for a while before that, working, meeting, critiquing. We'd had some members come and go, but that first blog post really solidified us as a group. It cemented us as the core, as a team, and it put us out there in the world for the first time. It signified our intent.

From the original text:

The Scribblerati are:

Claudia Hankin Balluff
Was once voted 42nd "Sassiest Girl in America" by Sassy magazine. That's not top banana in the sassy department, but it's still pretty darn sassy.

Lisa Bergin
Philosophy professor; felted creature maker; food grower and preserver; mama who's at her calmest when she can carve out time to write her middle-grade novel.

Jon Hansen
Jon Hansen never wanted anything more than the simple, care-free life of a hammock-tester. Fate, it seems, has plans of its own...

Shawn Enderlin
Is a sci-fi / fantasy geek, foodie, alt music fanatic, comic loving, corporate IT slave who writes and travels with the lovely @mplstravelkitty.

Mark Teats
Author of BLACKHEART, specializes in angels, demons, dark dreams & fast-paced supernatural writing. Per Mayan prophecy his best seller will hit the shelves Fall 2012.

Two years later and we're still here.

We're still working. We're still unpublished, but we're still meeting, we're still critquing, still chugging along and going strong. But where are we? What are we up to? Now two years later, where do the storied Agents of the Scribblerati find themselves? Well... obviously Lisa still doesn't have a personal information page to link to... some things never change... and we recently attended our very first convention (Diversicon) with some all-bound-up-and-pretty samples of our work to hand out for a bit of swag, but other than that, let's see, shall we?

The Scribblerati

Claudia Hankin

Claudia currently splits her time between editing and rewriting the second draft of her novel, Ursala Evermore and the Case of the Man Who Wasn't, a time-traveling, murder mystery set in 1920s England, and promoting her husband's New Orleans dance-hall style jazz band: The Southside Aces.

Lisa Bergin

When she isn't teaching philosophy, working in her garden, or creating terrifying wool-animals, Lisa is circling the final draft of her novel, Once We Were Bears, the story of young bear turned into a girl who, with the help of three children from a post-apocalyptic world, must save the planet  from itself, all narrated by a hill of sentient potatoes.

Jon Hansen

My first novel, Gunslingers of the Apocalypse is currently shelved pending a re-evaluation. You can read a sample of it here. So I'm between projects at the moment. I went on and on about it all, at great length, here. I'm actively looking for a new big project to dive into. It might have Dragons, Super-villains, or maybe some bad-ass, futuristic thieves versus some marauding demons, either way, I'm excited to get back to work.

Shawn Enderlin

Shawn is a self-described IT dude, a yogi, and a foodie who has just finished work on the second draft of his novel, To Kill the Goddess, a dark fantasy, sci-fi, Game of Thrones meets 9/11 mash-up. With the arrival of Fall, most Saturdays can find Shawn whooping it up for his beloved Golden Gophers football team.

Mark Teats

Mark is a father, a fencer, a fisher, and another IT guy (hmmm... there must be something wrong with those types...) who is nearly finished with the 4th draft of his novel, Blackheart, the story of an avenging Immortal, a cancer-ridden Private Investigator, and a psychic teenage girl versus the Armies of Hell, with the fate of all Creation and one very special child hanging in the balance. And when he's not working on that, he's busy forging a path through the first draft of his new novel, Sunlight, the tale of a man trying to survive in a world full of vampires.

So, where are we now?

We're hard at work. We may be called the Scribblerati now, but initially our name was "Gonna Get Published." That's everyone's goal, of course, but we've found that maintaining that attitude has helped shape the way we work together. This means an acceptance of different voices and styles. It means both giving and receiving tough but fair criticism. It means understanding that the goal of the process is to improve everyone's work. Most of all, it means supporting each other and pushing each other to keep at it.

In a nutshell: We're fun. We're funny. We're geeky, and we encourage everyone to write to the utmost of his or her abilities.

Where are we now?

We're doing good and we're still at it.

Stay tuned,

Friday, September 16, 2011

Of Sloths and Men

Over the last week I had the opportunity to have two “behind the scenes” tours. One was at the MN Zoo, the other was a “ride along” with a local police officer (and good friend of mine). The first tour was purely for fun; the ride along was research for my next horror novel, SUNLIGHT (my main character has a police background). Both were fun experiences, and the background from the ride along will be invaluable for certain parts of my book. (Thank you, Officer.)

Here is what I learned, comparing the two experiences:


Sloths: You really have to mess with a sloth to make it angry.

People: It doesn’t take that much to piss a person off, really. Many misbehave with little or no provocation at all.


Sloths: can live in one or a few trees for life. They stay high in the air, except once every 7 or 8 days when they come down to the earth to defecate.

People: most are law abiding and inhabit homes or frequent public places with friends and family. Those that don’t abide the law seem to hangout or wander around in places where they don’t belong, for instance retail stores or homes of ex-spouses where court orders are in place to keep them out. The result? More quality time with law enforcement. Defecation may still be involved.


Sloths: The zookeeper is able to conduct routine veterinary care on most sloths without sedatives. Jangled keys and almond extract placed throughout the enclosure may induce sloths to be more active and curious.

People: The police officer carries a taser, a sidearm, handcuffs and sometimes an AR15 or shotgun. These items come can in handy with some of the more lively human specimens.

Care of Young

Sloths: The gestation period for sloths is 10 – 12 months. Sloths nurse their young and otherwise protect them from harm until they reach the age of maturity.

People: may choose to fight with others and/or exercise poor judgment in front of their children with apparent disregard for the short or long term effects on their own offspring.


Sloths: Lay reclined in a comfortable tree branch in the sun or heat lamp, whichever is available.

People: Have advanced minds capable of deciphering complex problems like space travel—but when bored may seek leisure time activities which can be fun and harmless or may take the form of things like drinking and drug abuse, reckless driving, lying, cheating, stealing, vandalizing, assaulting, killing and/or committing suicide.

I’ll leave it to you to figure out which species is smarter.

Holding Area

Sloth: a small enclosure with bars or metal mesh that smells like wiz and poo

Jailhouse inhabitants: a small enclosure with bars or metal mesh that smells like wiz and poo

Sloth vs. Dinosaur

Named after one of the cardinal sins?


Number currently hiding in witness protection

People: Over 7500 witnesses

Sloths: 1

Who’d I rather hang out with some days?

Sloths—but I need to work on my upper body strength first. I also get dizzy hanging upside down.

I hereby dedicate this post to the zookeepers and police officers who do a helluva job day in and day out. I’m glad you’re out there using your good judgment protecting those under your charge and keeping the animals and/or people in line as needed. Keep up the good work.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Fall Update

Welcome back loyal readers!

It's a gorgeous time of year, isn't it? Everything's still lush and green and yet it's cooled off and dried out and there's just a nip of fall in the morning and evening air. It's perfect weather for outdoor barbecues, Big Ten college football (go Gophers!), and a WIP update from yours truly!

You may recall this post back in February where I said I'd finished my rewrite of To Kill the Goddess. Now I can one up that because I've just recently finished my Beta Draft! That's six months of work for those keeping track. Six months where I edited the heck out of everything, rewrote a few chapters, and generally holed up inside my room for hours on end and disappeared from my wife's life.

Thank God it's over!

I mean seriously, it was a frakking death march.

So what am I up to now? I have to admit, there's a little bit of relaxing going on. One of the big reasons I was making a big push to get done was so that I would have time to watch a bunch of college football without feeling guilty. So I'm doing that. (How about that Jerry Kill, eh?)

I've also been doing some writing. Something new. Something without all the fighting and biting that takes place at the end of a good sci-fi/fantasy novel. It's a little something I've tentatively entitled, "A Red Blooded American Guy and Gal Get Stuck in an Elevator." Yes, it's a little outside my usual genre, okay a lot, and I won't be querying it, but damn is it nice to write something different for once. It's like standing up and stretching after sitting at your work desk for hours on end, only just a wee bit different.

Of course, all this begs the question: Shawn, what are you going to do with this fancy pants novel now that it's done?

Good question.

I've written a lot of posts about self-publishing, and many of them have ended with me saying how happy I am I am I don't have to decide whether I want to self publish or not. Well, time's kind of running out on that.

So here's what I'm thinking. I'm going to query TKTG. Yes, I'm going to take the plunge, but like everything else I seem to do, I'm not going to do it the traditional way. My query letter is going to say something along the lines of: “Yes, I'm seeking agent representation, but I don't really have any interest in signing a traditional contract with a traditional publisher. I want to self publish, or I want to publish through a publishing house that puts e-book distribution before physical book distribution.”

Yeah, clearly I have to wordsmith that, but you get my drift.

So am I crazy? I don't know. What I do know is that every day I see new tweets about some bookstore or another closing and about how e-books are taking a bigger and bigger slice of the traditional market and that just isn't good. The way I see it, it's simple economics. An industry based on physical book distribution can't exist in today's environment, not without change, and I just don't see enough of that happening. Don't get me wrong, it would be a dream come true to publish with somebody like TOR, but I just don't think I can take that risk right now. Like I said here, my worst fear is that I would sign a contract and then in the 18 to 24 months it would take to get my book on shelves, the industry would fall apart and I'd be left with my book rights wrapped up by a company that was either severely wounded, bankrupt, or worse.

I'm just not gonna do it.

So there you have it, folks. Maybe I'm crazy, but maybe I'm not. All I know, is that I feel like I'm standing at the entrance to a long, dark tunnel that has no visible end and I don't know where I'm going to end up, but it's COOL. I feel like somewhere inside that tunnel is a door and just like Roland Deschain, I'm gonna open it, and it's gonna take me to places I've never been before.

Stay tuned….

Saturday, September 3, 2011

NPR's Top 100 Science-Fiction, Fantasy Books

So I don't know about the rest of you fine and devoted readers, but it seems like I've been barely caring my weight around here lately. I blame it entirely on the WIP but have no fear, the Beta Draft is a sword thrust away from being complete!! More on that later…

Here, for your Labor Day enjoyment, is NPR’s Your Picks: Top 100 Science-Fiction, Fantasy Books, along with some thoughts of my own, some nice pics, yada yada…

1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien

well of course

2. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

the first of many that I've never actually read. Every time I say I've never read this everybody's like, what??? I know, I know. But when I was in high school and this was popular EVERYONE was reading it and then just turned me off. Yes, I'm one of those people.

3. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card

I've extolled the virtues of this book before, along with a few others.

4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert

I've read the first one. It's good. Not like, “fourth best book ever good,” but good.

5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin

Okay, so, The Scribblerati kept telling me two things about this book: that it was frakking awesome, and that my WIP was similar. So what did I do? I didn't read it, and I still haven't, but I have seen the HBO series and OMG is it frakking awesome! And yes, there are several similarities between it and my WIP.

6. 1984, by George Orwell

never read it (this is the beginning of a trend).

7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury


8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov

Started but never finished the first one. That was way back when I was just when I was just a young un so to be fair probably I should probably give it another shot.

9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

Uh, no. Noticing a trend here?

10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

Now I have to say, I really don't have anything against Neil Gaiman. I think he's a really talented writer but I just don't honestly get why everybody is all Ga-Ga Pants for everything he writes. It just doesn't melt my butter.

11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

Really? #11?

12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan

I read the first one and I thought it was pretty good, good enough to buy the second and then I was like, man am I tired of all the series where you have to wait forever in between books. I'm just gonna wait until it's all done.

Still waiting…

13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell

OK, I get it, but do people feel obligated to vote these kind of stories or something?

14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson

**embarrassed** I really should do something about this….

15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore

Fascinating. A graphic novel made the NPR list! But then that opens up all sorts of arguments about why this or that graphic novel didn't make the list. And there's some really great stuff out there…

16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov

Oh, that's not what they meant…

17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein

Now here's a “classic” that I actually have read. I read it when I was a teenager, which may be why I haven't read any more like this. It was good, but I was really more into a lot of things that haven't made the list yet.

18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss

Never heard of it.

19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut


20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

oh please…

21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick

Care to guess?

22. The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood

I’ve heard of Margaret Atwood, of course, but not the book.

23. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King

Only #23? SERIOUSLY PEOPLE! Even with the lackluster ending in the final volume this is one of the greatest pieces of literature ever produced.

24. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke


25. The Stand, by Stephen King

I really need to read this.

26. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson

27. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury

28. Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut

29. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman


30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess

No, but the move totally frakked with my teenage head.

31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein

I'm guessing the shower scene in the book is nowhere as near as exciting as it is in the movie.

32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams

33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey

I read several of these when I was really young and I wish I still had them – where did they go?

34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein

35. A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller

36. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells

37. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne

38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys

39. The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells

No, not her. I've never read the book, but I remember watching the classic movie adaptation back in the 80s, when I was 12ish. They were running it on that, what was it? Masterpiece Theatre on TNT? It blew my mind.

40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny

Finally were getting into some good stuff! I must have read the first five half-dozen times and while the second five started out with serious promise they really sputtered out at the end.

41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings

LOVE THESE! Yes they are full of tropes but they are fun!

42. The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Beautiful book. 42 is a disservice.

43. The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson


44. Ringworld, by Larry Niven

45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin

46. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien

This isn't a real book….

47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White

48. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

49. Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke

50. Contact, by Carl Sagan

Great movie. And who doesn’t love Jodi Foster?

51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons

Not even in the top 50 - such a shame! I love these books so much I want to marry them!

52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman

53. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson

54. World War Z, by Max Brooks

55. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

Haven't read it but ...


56. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman


57. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett

58. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson

I read the first one and, well, not so much…

59. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold

60. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett

61. The Mote In God's Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

62. The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind

Another one that I read the first novel of and not any more. No offense to Mr. Goodkind, but it makes me wonder, how many times can we write that same story again and again?

63. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

64. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke

Weird book. I got like 100 pages in and still nothing had happened…

65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson

Okay, I probably should read that.

66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist

These books are like yummy candy.

67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks

Okay, so I probably shouldn't like these as much as I do, but damn I love these. Let me just say, there's a reason that the magic wielding people in my WIP are called Druids and it starts and ends with Terry Brooks.

68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard

Jason moma Man Crush!

69. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb

70. The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

71. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson

72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne

I think those Robin Hobb books should probably be on my list.

73. The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore

Sweet! These make me want to get out my dragon dice.

74. Old Man's War, by John Scalzi

75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson

76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke

77. The Kushiel's Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey

78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin

I read this for a class in college and it single-handedly got me re-interested in science fiction after years of being nothing but a fantasy junkie.

79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury

80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire

81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson

Never heard of it.

82. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde

Or this one.

83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks

84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart

This is one of the first novels I ever read. I don't even think I was 10 and I was slogging through this one page at a time. But if there was one thing that's true then that is still true now, it's that there isn't enough magic.

85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson

86. The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher

87. The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe

88. The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn

Two words: Mara Jade!

These are easily the best Star Wars novels ever written. The only thing that comes close is Michael Stakpole’s X-Wing series.

89. The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan

90. The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock

Oh, Elric of Melnibone, I totally have a hard on for Stormbringer, even if it does eat souls.

91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury

92. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley

93. A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge

94. The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov

95. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson

96. Lucifer's Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis

98. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville

Weird book.

99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony

I don't think I could read this today, but at the time, when I was a teenager, these were full of awesome.

100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis

Well, that's it friends. Thanks for sticking in there. It was a blast!

I'll leave you with this curious omission...