Awesome Times in Tennessee

So, it’s been a while. My apologies to everyone who enjoys reading my blog for doing it so little this year. 2014 ended up having a lot of ups and downs, but I’m pleased to say it’s ended more on the up-side of things. I had some stuff in my head that really needed sorting out, and it appears to be well on its way to being sorted. Also, Locke is doing well and growing large. He’s up to 80 pounds! Obligatory adorable puppy picture below.


In early October I had the good fortune to attend the Writing Excuses Retreat out in Chattanooga, Tennessee, put on by the wonderful Writing Excuses Podcast team consisting of Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler. Unlike Superstars, the focus was largely on craft. Twenty-four of us writers were sequestered with the instructors and staff on a beautiful little woodsy estate owned by Mary’s parents, who often joined us for dinner conversation. The first three days consisted largely of lectures and break-out sessions. My break-out was led by Mary, and the six of us participating had each submitted the first 7000 words of our novel. All the critiques were illuminating in their own way, and I got some good insight from the others on balance between too much and too little worldbuilding, something I continue to struggle with.

The last three days was mostly free-writing time, punctuated by a trip to Rock City, some impromptu lectures, and an enormous amount of pie. Kara, Brandon’s assistant, makes a mean chocolate-peanutbutter pie I can still taste.

The whole experience was fantastic. I made some friends that I hope to stay in contact with for a long time. There were two specific experiences I wanted to highlight:

  •  Mary gave a “wildcard” lecture on writing in dialect, which turned into a broader discussion of writing characters in other cultures. This is a topic rife with pitfalls and one Mary has a great deal of experience with. As tough as it is, I think it’s important, and I don’t know anyone who could have presented the issues better. It really gave me a great deal to think about.
  •  I got a fifteen minute one-on-one session with Brandon. Admittedly, I was slightly cynical as to the usefulness of this, going in. He doesn’t know me at all, and I felt like the problems I was grappling with required more context than I’d be able to provide in the allotted time. Still, I gave it my best shot, giving him a five minute summary of some of my struggles. He made a few general remarks, paused, furrowed his brow, and then suggested that, from what I’d described, I might be overly constraining myself with certain plot choices before other parts of the story were fully developed. This point stayed with me, not least because my friend Sean had suggested the same thing a few months ago. When two people with extraordinary intuition offer the same advice, it’s worth carefully considering. I mulled it over for a few days, re-examined some of the problems I was having with The Wildfire Crown and the current project, City of Stone Wings, and basically decided they were right on the money.

I could blather on and on, but the point’s been made: the workshop was incredible. I’d recommend it for anyone. The good news is, in 2015 they’re doing it again – on a cruise ship. That means no cap on attendees. It does mean a worse instructor to student ratio, but I’m confidant that this group can figure out how to handle that (and they’ve already added at least one instructor). If that sounds interesting, sign ups are available here. 

In other news, work is progressing on my new project, City of Stone Wings, a post-apocalyptic YA fantasy novel. I was really struggling with the middle, but using the insight gleaned from the retreat, have spent the last two months rebuilding the world and back-story to fix a number of problems. The resulting outline is something I’m extremely proud of and look forward to writing. Hope to have a solid draft done in a few months.

Meanwhile, I recommend sending off the new year with Pentatonix, whom I’ll be seeing live in February thanks to a very generous Christmas gift :)

Locke the much bigger puppy!

So my hope to keep this blog updated clearly didn’t pan out over the summer, thanks to usual excuses: work, business, writing is hard, etc. Please look at the pictures of Locke, now 6.5 months, and try to find it in your heart to forgive me.


He’s a touch bigger now, weighing in at about sixty pounds. In particular, his tail has become a weapon of mass destruction that already threatens the existence of hapless electronics such as the laptop I’m typing this post on.

In case you missed it, I have had a couple posts on the Fictorians this summer, one on how much a writer can value small compliments, and one on what to do when you’re not hitting your goals. 

My writing goals are going poorly this year, which has been frustrating. I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on what’s been going on and while I don’t have any answers yet, feel like I’m making progress. In the mean time I’m trying not to get too frustrated and to enjoy what writing I am getting done. There’s still the Writing Excuses retreat to look forward to at the end of next month. I’m hoping it serves as a kick in the butt to get myself going again, not to mention how educational I imagine it will be.

Anyway, all I’ve got to say for now. I’m still excited about some of my projects but it’s going to be a while before I’m ready to show them to anyone. In the meantime, I suggest doing what I’ve been doing and watching Weird Al’s new videos non-stop, starting with this one:


Locke the Puppy!

Apologies once again for the lack of updates. It turns out that puppies are disruptive to one’s schedule and general life style. Who knew? Fortunately, they’re so unbelievably incredibly adorable, it’s hard to hold it against them.

7wks IMAG0242 11wks IMAG0434

As the pictures show, he’s growing super first. He’s seven weeks old in the first, eight weeks in the second, eleven weeks in the third, and thirteen weeks in the fourth. Having him has been both joyful and frustrating, as most worthwhile things tend to be. Perhaps the most important lesson is that having a puppy is the great social icebreaker ever conceived by man. I’ve had more conversations with strangers in the past six weeks than I’ve had in my life to date prior to that point.

At first I got nearly no writing done, but I’m starting to find a post-puppy equilibrium. Right now I’m putting the finishing touches on a short story that will hopefully be included in an anthology that may or may not be themed after purple unicorns. The plan is then to return to Gare and try to do my next revision of Wildfire Crown (which at this point needs a new title, sadly). Hopefully that will be done by the end of the summer and I can jump back into some other projects.

I also posted on the Fictorians this month. The theme was best-novel-you’ve-never-heard of, and I chose S, by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst. Check it out here!

I’m headed toward the east coast to visit friends and family next week. The plane ride will be made all the much more enjoyable by Skin Game, the newest Dresden files novel. If you haven’t started the series, please do so. It’s superb.

I’ll leave you with a “video” that’s really only audio, but still worthwhile: a symphonic rendition of Phantom of the Opera that’s just sublime.



Updates and a Puppy

It’s been a busy couple months. I went to DC for work and Vegas for pleasure, where I got to eat fabulous food with a good friend and see Penn & Teller for the third time.

Writing, unfortunately, took a hit, as I found myself trying to figure out what to do with The Wildfire Crown, as well as trying to work through the first draft of Lanterns of Shadesmere, my newest project. Lanterns is going well but slowly – it’s a far more complicated project than I originally envisioned. In retrospect, I probably should have realized this given it’s planned to be a seven book series in a different world with different magic. I’m taking a break from Lanterns to work on the next draft of Wildfire, based on the feedback I received from an editor. I was stuck for a while on how to best apply his comments to make the book stronger while still preserving my vision, but I feel I’m finally making progress. I’m hoping that I can have the Wildfire draft done by mid summer and a polished draft of Lanterns done by the fall, though that may be overly optimistic.

For a while, I thought I’d be self-publishing Lanterns, but I’m now reconsidering that. That isn’t to say I won’t self-publish in the future, but given the current state of my life I don’t need to rush into anything, and there’s a lot I could learn from working with an agent / editor. No final decision there yet, it’s going to depend on how the revision of Wildfire goes. My main concern is that Wildfire isn’t a particularly commercial concept and I’ll find it a tough sell, quality writing or not.

In other very exciting news, I’m finally getting the dog I talked about way back. His name is Locke and he’ll be arriving this Friday at  8 pm.




I promise there will be many, many, more pictures when he arrives :)

Also, for those interest, I’ve got a new post up on the Fictorians about writing from non-human perspectives:

Heavy Stuff

I’ve written about James Owen a couple times before. I’ve met him at all three of the Superstars seminars I’ve attended, and he drew the cool dragon on the back of my kobo I blogged about last post.

I’ve talked about how inspiring James is. I haven’t mentioned his own struggles with anxiety and suicidal depression, though he’s hinted at them before. A few days after the seminar ended, he wrote about them in depth here.

It’s a moving and worthwhile read. I also recommend reading the follow-up here. 

Suicide is a taboo topic.  That’s unfortunate, because it means for those in pain, it makes it all the harder to talk about. The theme to much of what James teaches is openness. That means being open about the good and the bad. Like him, I believe such openness connects people further, but it takes at times, as his post shows, tremendous courage.

Return of the Return of the Superstars

My plan had been to return home today from the Superstars Writing Seminar, but the thick fog surrounding the Colorado Springs airport had other ideas. Instead I find myself at the Radisson near the airport, forced to spend the evening reading and writing.

I know, I know. A whole orchestra of the world’s smallest violins are playing for me right now.

So, this was my third time at Superstars, a seminar dedicated to the business side of publishing. There are plenty of seminars focusing on craft, but I believe this is the only one that talks purely about business. What’s really cool is that, despite the fact that the last seminar was only nine months ago, nearly half the content was brand new. Publishing is changing that quickly, as  the e-book and self-publishing explosion have forced the entire industry to adapt. I got to hear all about it from established authors, professional editors, and even some successful indie authors.

Some highlights:

VIP Dinner. The idea here is each table consists of five attendees and one panelist. I sat at Kevin J. Anderson’s table this year, and was treated to nearly four hours of talk about publishing, writing, television, dining, and pretty much every other topic under the sun. Kevin’s been in the industry for decades and knows just about everyone. The fact that he’s still so gracious about his time with newbies like me is amazing.  The rest of the group at the table was fantastic too. Hard to beat a night of great food and great company.

Pitching: I decided to practice pitching The Wildfire Crown. I gave Dave Farland the written version and editor Lisa Mangum from Shadow Mountain the oral version. Dave really liked it, Lisa was more skeptical, but they both gave me great feedback and suggested some other approaches that I’m looking forward to trying. One of the key lessons I’ve picked up from all this seminars is that your brilliant novel won’t impress anyone if you can’t give them a reason to start reading it. Hopefully with all this advice I’ll be able to come up with a killer blurb that will sell me a couple million copies (or, you know, more than one at least).

Kobo. Mark Lefebvre from Kobo came back a second time as a guest speaker and raffled off a Kobo Aura HD. Using my tremendous skill at manipulating entropy and randomness, I managed to win the drawing and decided to up the awesomeness-ante by having James Owen draw a dragon on the back (an idea I shamelessly stole from another attendee). The result:

2014-02-07 18.17.28

This post doesn’t even scratch the surface of how cool the seminar is. I had dozens of great conversations and have made new friends.

For any writers reading this blog who want to make a career out of novels, I firmly believe this is the best money you can spend. Check out their website here!