Daughter 2

The other day I glanced at the calendar and it occurred to me that the crazy kid you see above will be 14 in a few weeks. Not long after that revelation another thought came to mind. The equally crazy kid you see at the bottom will turn 16 in July.

Katie 1

I never thought I’d be the type of parent asking where the time has gone but here I am.

Where has the time gone?

It now makes perfect sense why my grandmother gave me long looks when I was their age. At the time I’m sure it was embarrassing but not anymore. Eventually they grow and we’re amazed at how quickly time has passed.

For those of you who are parents I don’t need to explain how much a child can change your life. But here’s a question I caught myself asking:

How much have I changed in those years?

Physically I’ve added a few grey hairs. I’ve also lost a few that will never grow back. I can recite from memory certain tunes that played non-stop when they were little and, sadly, I discovered a temper deep inside that I had no idea existed.

Quick Example

Major sinus headache – Busy grocery store – Hot summer day – Ages 6 & 4 – No, I will not by you ice cream. We’ve been over this – Stop crying. – Get off the floor. – Clean up on aisle 6!!!!!

For you parents out there I don’t have to explain. For those of you who are not but will be – Your time is coming.

So what happened to me? Am I different? Am I better than I was on that summer morning of July, 2002?

I had to find out

Music Tunes

The first change that I can remember came in the form of music. I wanted them to have their own and at the same time share mine. Immediately both of them understood the magic of music.

On my end I was surprised how easily I began listening to their songs. Not once did I proclaim that my music was better. Surprisingly I found myself asking who was singing and what else do they have.

I also turned into a morning person. Gone are the days I wake an hour or less before work, hurrying out the door hoping I can beat traffic. I am now up at 5:30 and 7:30 on weekends. Turns out my grandfather was right, mornings are the best part of the day.

When it comes to my mouth I have gone from spouting off whatever comes to mind to being cautious. Maybe the world doesn’t need to hear everything I’m thinking.

Sometimes secrets are best.

Why Can’t I

But when it comes to my mind that’s where everything changed. Long before they arrived creativity was a nice dream but far from a reality.

I remember watching them create stories with their color books, their sketch pads and their laptops. At one point I’m sure I asked – Why can’t I?

I listened to their conversations but most of all their questions. Why is a flower blue and why is the grass green? How come our minds are spinning with ideas when it’s time for bed but we’re sleepy when it’s time to get up?

Solid questions but rarely met with solid answers.

Most of all that guy who looked a lot like me, long before they were born, was afraid to try.

The Lessons They Teach

For him it was easy to dream but afraid to fail. Working hard was not in the cards. Who wants to work hard for a dream if failure is part of the deck?

But how could I tell my girls to try again if I couldn’t do it myself? Somewhere along the way I learned.

Now experiencing new things are a way of life and if I stumble a few times I call it learning.

In a blink of an eye my girls will be out of the house living their lives. I’m sure I’ll catch myself asking that same question – Where did the time go? – But it’s the cycle of life and I’m excited to see where their lives will take them.

I’ve changed a lot in these 16 years. The most important thing I’ve learned is that it’s okay to fail. No longer am I afraid of that word.

Someday I’ll thank those two crazy kids for teaching me that lesson but it’ll have to wait. If I do it now I’m pretty sure I’d see an eye roll or two. Maybe I’ll wait another 16 years.

Parenting. The lessons they teach.

Kylie and Katie


Happy Friday Everyone!


Your First Writer’s Conference

Writers Conference 4

A number of years ago I attended my very first writer’s conference in my hometown of Eugene, Oregon.

Living ten minutes away it felt like a pretty good deal. My wife dropped me off in the morning and picked me up at night. I skipped the breakfast and dinner portion and headed straight to the classes.

Looking back I had a lot to learn.

I was wide eyed, a tad overwhelmed, plus I had no idea what I was doing or if I even belonged. When it was all over the biggest takeaway that I had were meeting fellow writers and listening to the equally amazing instructors.

The combination of the two led me to believe that I actually had a shot at this.

Fast forward a few years later to the summer of 2017, August in case you’re scoring at home, I headed north to Portland, Oregon for writer’s conference number two.

I arrived with a bit more experience. I belonged to a couple of writer’s groups. I learned that the first draft was far from the only draft, but most of all I learned that this writing gig was hard on the brain.

Finally I felt like I belonged.

My goal is to attend the Portland conference this summer but my right knee and a possible knee replacement may have a say in all that. But until then, the plan is in the works for writer’s conference number three.

If by chance I don’t make it I thought I’d pass along a few things for those of you who are planning to attend for the first time.

Below is a list of things I wish I had known when I took my first steps into the unknown.


Spend the Night

Even if the conference is held in your home town make plans to spend the night in the hotel that is hosting it. Yes, it’ll cost more but this is an investment and if you are serious into making this a career it is well worth the cash.

Late night conversations will happen. Plus, by staying the night, it will make it easier for you to attend the early morning breakfast.



Writers Conference 6

Connections are made by way of food. Remember that. Writing is solitary work but conferences are not. They are a time for group gathering and socializing. Most of those two things can be found at the breakfast, lunch and dinner table. Never eat alone. Save that for another time.



Writers Conference 9

Study the list of classes long before you arrive. Select the ones that match your writing interest, your genre or pick the ones that sound like fun.

At the same time pick one that is way outside your circle. Conferences are a time to be daring and you might be surprised at the ones you choose.



The biggest mistake I made in Eugene was reverting back to my high-school days. I sat in the back and pretended I was invisible.

Don’t Do That!

Ask questions. Make comments. Argue is you must but be respectful if you do. Remember: You want people to like you. No burning bridges.

Whatever you do take the shy student that’s dying to get out and boot it out the door. They can appear in your work but not at the conference.



 They are the best. It’s as simple as that. Do your best to thank them. Ask follow up questions after class if time allows and be sure to get on their mailing list.



Writers Conference 7

I will give my personal opinion of pitching in a later post. For now I will say it is a nice experience to partake in.

What is pitching, you ask? Pitching is a ten minute conversation with an agent where you try your hardest to sell them your work.

For some this is nerve wracking. The things I saw will require one or two posts to cover but for now let me just say that this nerve wracking stuff doesn’t have to happen.

The chances of a New York City agent being floored by your pitch is slim. They are pros and they have seen it all but it does happen. Not a lot, but it does.

The odds are stacked against you and because of that you have no reason to be nervous. In fact this a perfect time to enjoy the experience of meeting a big time agent.

Oh, one more thing: It will cost you $25 for those ten minutes.



An agent is just a person doing their job. They are nice. They are helpful and they want you to succeed.

The best conversation I had was in an elevator when both of us were headed to the same floor. We spoke for about ten minutes and it was far better than the pitches I paid for and a lot more honest.



Participate in games. Even if you choose not to play at least be there. Their purpose is to laugh, have a drink or two and toss away the seriousness of it all. They come at the end of the night allowing you to end your evening in giggles.




The greatest classroom that I discovered came in the form of fellow writers. I learned more than any instructor could ever teach.

Because of this I suggest you keep your phone handy. Or, if you’re old school, keep a tiny notebook along with a favorite pen.

Get their names, their social media info and so on but most of all follow up after the conference ends. As for you, if you have a blog or any other type of social media page share it.



Writers Conference 5

All around the conference you’ll see tables full of people promoting their books or services. Take the time to look and ask questions. If an author is promoting their book buy one. Some day that person behind that table could be you. We’re all in this together.



When the conference is over set aside a monthly plan to save for the next one. Make these conferences part of your yearly budget.

Writing conferences are by far the most valuable tool in terms of resources and personal support a writer will ever experience. I cannot express this enough. If you want to take your talent to the next level you need to go to one.


My hope is to see some of you in Portland this summer. Fingers crossed my knee agrees.

coffee and rain


The Ant and the Ham

Ant 4

I love the word determination.

To be honest I’m surprised it’s not cemented on my blog with bright sparkly letters complete with a disco ball vibe. Then again, who needs polyester in this day and age?

But it hasn’t always been this way. After all determination comes with a price and the price usually involves achy muscles, grime and the occasional failure. Raise your hands if this your thing?

I’m seeing some hands. No cookie for you.

So what happened to me? How did I go from a happy semi-lazy person to one who is determined to have a published novel, to create better stories and to do what it takes to improve my skills?

Something changed my way of thinking and turned me into the person I am today. But what was it? Was it one thing or several? Did I watch a tragic documentary or experience something horrific. Well….not really.

I tend to avoid tragic documentaries….unless you count Super Size Me…and on the horrific end of things I tend to error on the side of caution.

So what happened?

Well, me being me I looked a little deeper. My mind took me back to the days of badly written short stories and problematic novels containing no plot. At the time I appeared to be quite proud of my less than average achievement. That is until the day I saw the ant and the ham.

Ant 2

I remember we were living in our first house. I lost the coin flip that day resulting in a late morning weed pulling affair.

It was a nice summer day in Western Oregon. 80-ish degrees. A light breeze and a cloudless sky. The beginning of summer was dipping her toes into another fun-filled season.

I remember breaking for lunch. A bag of chips, a ham sandwich and a nice cold pop. Out here we call it pop. You probably know it as soda in your neck of the woods.

I’ve always been a sloppy eater, especially outdoors. So it came as no surprise when pieces of ham and chips fell by the way side.

I paid little attention to the mess I made until a piece of ham, no longer than an inch, began to move. I remember reaching down to pick it up but stopped halfway. A strange curiosity came over me waiting to see how this played out.


Ant 1

Thinking about it now, bugs are pretty amazing aren’t they. We walk past them every day but how many times do we actually stop and watch them work? How many of you have actually spied a garden spider spinning her web from start to finish? Or a rain soaked worm dancing his way across the wet sidewalk.

No, youtube doesn’t count. 

Besides, who has that kind of time? Well, on this particular weed pulling day, clearly I did.

I watched the little ant struggle mightily against a piece of ham that was far bigger than he would ever be. I watched him fail on numerous attempts as he tried to push and pull the giant hunk of meat to his desired direction.

For a moment he crawled on top as if he were surveying the landscape. I swear he looked up at me asking if I could spare a minute. Trust me, I would have declined if he asked. I was curious of his next move.

Realizing there was work to be done I started to leave but as I did the ham began to move. The little guy refused to give up.

I watched as the ham moved further and further away. He found a way to move it forward and dragged it into a crack in the pavement – (pun intended).


Ant 3

It was at that moment that I asked myself, if a little ant can find success through sheer determination why can’t I?

How many excuses, I continued, am I going to make up before I sit down and push that piece of ham…..or in this case, my writing into something worth reading?

In a way all you and I are trying to do is move a piece of ham. Sure, it may take all day, a week or a month….or in my case a whole damn year….but the bottom line is simple: Failure is not an option especially when you’re trying to move something big.

And if you don’t believe me just ask my little ham chomping friend.

For the ant it was all about survival but why shouldn’t our writing goals be the same?

So the next time an excuse comes crawling your way search for the hunger inside of you. Find your determination switch and when you do it won’t be long before it lights up your room.

Don’t believe me?

Try eating a bag of chips and a ham sandwich in your back yard. You will discover goals being achieved all around you.



Happy Friday Everyone!

The Power of Music

This weeks guest blogger is from my good friend Gia Lynn . I was really happy when she agreed to stand in for me this week and I know you will too. I love her words. 

Gia, your on…...

Gia 1


The power that music has over my life is either a sweet blessing or a cruel reminder of all things past – places in my heart and soul that have been brought to the surface by the songs that marked those times. 

If there isn’t a word yet for those of us who are “musically sensitive” someone needs to invent one, as our experience can be profound and disturbing – or, if not disturbing, at least deeply moving. 

I like to say that I am “on the spectrum” – that is, the music spectrum.  Those of us on the music spectrum, much like the autism spectrum, have the complete inability to “tune out” music, are deeply irritated by distasteful music, and get completely immersed and transported by our chosen music.  We also can be completely transported through time and space back to the feelings that took over our fragile existence when being triggered by a song that marked that idyllic, bittersweet, or painful fraction of time.


I don’t think I’m a fan of being brought back to a time period in my life where my existence was pure, my hopes were high, and my dreams were as lofty as the twin towers. 

Gia 2

Why wouldn’t I want to be?  This rose-tinted childhood, full of anticipation like the candy-apple scented wait for the carnival ride under a Fourth of July sky, would be pierced like the towers – the slap of later experiences causing shame, jadedness and a vague sense of deep disappointment that has overshadowed all of the subsequent chapters of my life. 

Hearing a song from that idyllic time – it’s like placing an innocent child in a well-protected bubble with her favorite music and watching her play with full knowledge of what will come and forever shatter her bubble. Painful.

Dan Fogleberg

Gia 3

Every era of music has its own distinct feel, and often entire stages of development are attached by an intergalactic string to that song or group of songs. 

I was triggered in this way the other day by a song that had dug itself deep in to the trenches of my pre-teen psyche – a Dan Fogleberg song with its trademark folk-pop, acoustic guitar, story-telling lyrics, and gentle but passionate vocals. 

 I actually don’t even remember which one it was – Leader of the Band, Hard to Say, Heart Hotel…. It’s quite hilarious that my current Rage Against the Machine-loving-self was at one time so imprinted by the gentle music of folk/pop artist Dan Fogleberg, but I was.

 Dan Fogleberg was a great artist.  I was taken right back to my pre-adolescent heart – sitting in my room quietly listening to his music, hanging on to every lyric as his story unfolded.  I was full of wonder, curiosity, innocence, and sensitivity, and my world was carefully protected from the knowledge of my future. 

I remembered every expectation that I conjured up in my eager mind, and the exciting pull of so many different directions.  There was my budding intellect and all the curiosity that came with it, there were the social expectations, which caused me anxiety because they were diametrically opposed to the intellectual expectation, and there was my burgeoning interest in music, which I wanted to dive head first into but knew that I must keep under a rock as my parents would rather I be a crack dealer than express any serious interest in taboo “rock music”. 

These weren’t intellectual memories, they were feelings – rust orange, like the color bittersweet – more bitter than sweet.  This was a time when the heart of a sensitive soul can be etched like the tracks of an old vinyl record. 

The Dan Fogleberg song brought it all back.  But not too many of my lofty, or even reasonable hopes came true, and hearing songs that marked hope and innocence from the other side of the twin towers is sobering, unwelcome nostalgia – like witnessing a beautiful wax sculpture slowly melt and disintegrate before your eyes.

Gia 5


Sometimes nostalgic music is not painful, and just triggers a bemused train of thought.  From the same satellite station I heard some “smooth sounds of the 70’s” genre, and was immediately transported to a childhood days at the park by my house as a little kid.   – poolside with the scent of suntan lotion or hanging out by the bleachers, closely observing the twenty-somethings,  “Slow Dancin’” by Captain Hook and  “Summer Breeze” by Seals and Croft         brought me right back there. 

I remember women in clogs and shorts flirting with guys who were either completely stoic, completely absorbed in the game, or trying to act tough.

I wondered why everyone was so sports obsessed in that town.  I watched with some combination of fear and amusement, wondering how I would handle such interactions when I was a teenager, but also just enjoying the moment of these small town innocent park gatherings. 

I knew that their weddings and slow dances and adolescent traumas would be marked by such 70s music, and wondered at the fate of people who get stuck in an era whose music they don’t actually like.

Happy Times

Before my pre-teen wonderment were a few years of pretty much bliss, marked by sunny summer days riding my bike, coloring rocks on the front steps, and playing records on our big entertainment console, complete with TV encased behind doors in the center, vinyl turn table on top, and built-in speakers on either side.

Gia 7

I loved that thing, and I was happy.  I would dance around and do gymnastics in the house, and my world was a combination of sunny days, Spirograph, dance routines, chasing barn cats, and following my father around to see if he would teach me to build something or let me drive the tractor. 

“Whenever I See Your Smiling Face” by James Taylor was my favorite song for a while, and I thought I was a bad-ass eight year old because there was a (very tame) guitar solo in this song.  I have heard this song and am transported like a hologram back into my eight – nine year old self – by the console on the shag carpet, in the sunny house that I loved, living a carefree hopeful childhood bubble.   

I wish I could go back and relive those years, and then somehow divert all of the boulders that came pelting from the sky just a few years later to shatter my vision.

Gia 4

More Angst

In this nostalgic journey marked by the soundtrack of my life, I will completely bypass the decade between the seventies and the nineties, as it’s too painful to reference.  Being subjected to songs from that era is like rubbing sandpaper over my internal organs. 

Songs from then bring me right back to the pain, and I get angry when subjected to them.  Admonitions from others to just “tune out” music or careless lack of attention to background music are met with the sinking realization that I and those like me will never be understood. 

Eighties music, I want to shove into a vault and set it on fire after bashing it with the wooden mallet that I just recently fashioned in my survival class.  But I do a good job of tolerating painful musical references in public places, and have restrained myself from running out of the room if I have to hear Madonna.  I would rather control my musical world though, as it’s so precious to me. 

I cannot say that I would rather be devoid of appreciation for music, as it is my passion.  But I do wish my friends and associates would be a little more sensitive when I grit my teeth and beg for another station to be played while riding in their car! 

Until then, I make it my life’s work to be equipped with headphones much like the survival gear that outdoor enthusiasts carry with them, and I know the precise amount of good music to immerse myself in after an unfortunate episode of being subjected to 80’s music while being caught off guard.  

I guess I will nurture my musical sensitivity while gently trying to explain to others exactly why that Tears for Fears song causes me pain!

Gia 6


Be sure to check out Gia’s awesome blog. She is an amazing writer. Huge thanks my friend!!!!!





The Broken Character and Me

Broken 1

I have always enjoyed the discussion of real life vs. the fantasy world that you and I create.

In our fantasy world we give our hero obstacles. Sometimes we make them weak. At times they are so frail that the obstacles we place in front of them are much too large for them to handle.

But in the end they always succeed.

I have always been attracted to the broken character. You know what I’m talking about. They hit rock bottom but somehow, against impossible odds, find a way out of it.

Yes, this story has been told countless of times both on-screen and between the pages but I wonder how much of this broken character that we love to hate comes from the real world trickling into our creative minds.

The broken character entered my mind last week as I was reading a Facebook post from a former high-school classmate.

He was the kind of kid who always had a camera. Throughout our years in school he captured some wonderful moments that otherwise would have become nothing more than a lost memory.

As I scanned the photos cringing and laughing my thoughts of yesteryear came to a screeching halt as a photo of a young girl from my class entered the page.


There she was.

Girl 2

I always had a hunch that the characters I wrote had bits and pieces of me in them. Now I am certain that those tiny bits and pieces are much larger than I dare to admit.

Her name was Annie and I adored her the moment I saw her. On that day of our freshman year when her young eyes caught my attention a romantic tragedy was born and I was the star.

For four years I tried to say hi. I attempted conversations or accidental meetings. Friday night football was always a goal to make polite conversations while conveniently sitting nearby.

But alas, none came to be.


Opportunity lost.

Every year I began with high hopes. We would become study partners, I promised. I would sit next to her on the bus during field trips or I would pass her in the hall with a smile and a hello.

But my hellos turned to a mumble and my smiles turned to jelly. And the field trips? I sat in the back while she sat in front.

A broken character falling flat on his face.

Bang head

But all was not lost. It was our senior year, weeks away from graduation and an all class photo in the football bleachers was scheduled.

As I stood in the bleachers I noticed her and a friend running late. I wondered how close she would be and would I somehow find a way to say hello before all of us said our final goodbyes.

As she made her way to the bleachers I noticed her friend pointing in my direction. To my right a perfect room for two lay waiting. Why was there room for two? Are you kidding me? I’m not ready for this!

She stood to my right. Her shoulders rubbing mine. For the first time in our four years she stood closer than ever before. A classmate called out an idea for one person to relax their arm on the shoulder of the person next to them.

It would be cute, they said. Warm, fuzzy and memorable, they promised.

As the photographer yelled ‘Ready’ Annie laughed, I froze, her arm resting on my shoulder with me forever imitating a lost deer staring straight into the headlights of a runaway tractor trailer. Within seconds the camera clicked.

The broken character forever caught in his finest moment.


Time heals

Six years later I remember buying a gallon of milk at our town’s grocery store. Suddenly a little girl ran into my leg, her mother following close behind. Through the mother’s apologies and the little girl’s giggles the mother stopped and realized who I was. It wasn’t long before I remembered too.

In that moment Annie and I laughed and embraced.

The broken character I use to be had long passed. The frozen glare long thawed as we slowly made our way to the end of the store.  

I followed her to her car as we shared our post high-school stories. Her and her husband lived in Idaho but had come out for a short stay. Her hair was shorter, her eyes brighter and our high-school years seemed so far away.

I placed her groceries in her car while she tended to her daughter. Annie grabbed my hand and wished me well and drove away for a final time. In that moment I realized that the pieces that were once broken had mended and were right where they belonged.

Now I understand why I create the characters that I do. They are me and a girl I once knew. Well…..kind of. They are yesterday and today trickling into my mind, through my fingers and on to the pages that you read.

Is that what writing is all about? Is it all about the layers of our past working their way out of us and onto the pages we create. I hope so. How about you?


Happy Friday Everyone!

Exploration and You: Advice for Pantsters

While I’m on injured reserve Molly Martin has agreed to step up to the plate. My goal is to see you on Friday. Fingers Crossed.

Until then…..Molly, take it away!!!


Molly 4

Congratulations! You are in your favorite writing spot, a fresh page ready, waiting, aching for your words to cast the magic spell that brings life to a whole new world.

In a breathless flurry of inspiration and caffeine, you write. And write. And write. Hours pass by in a bliss known to few but runners, writers, and junkies. Let’s be honest, there are few highs as good as a writer’s high.

But then…you crash. The words stop flowing. Your characters turn against you. They refuse to be interesting, spontaneous, or even interactive. The dialog stumbles along with banal banter.

“How’s the weather?”

“Oh, fine.”


“Well, so nice to see you.”

“You, too.”

You don’t want to write this. No one is EVER going to want to read it!

Oh miserable despair. Oh, Muse, why doest thou forsake me in mine hour of need? Oh, woe!


Stop. Just stop.

Let’s talk.

You’re a pantster, aren’t you? You charge into the wilderness of your story hot on the trail of the phantom lights cast by your will-o-wisp idea/character/setting/whatever drew you to the page.

Molly 5

And that is 100% okay. Understanding what’s happening will help you move forward.

First, consider why you wanted to tell this story. Maybe there’s a character you’re in love with and you want to world to love them, too. Maybe you have a brilliant idea for a type of civilization. Your inspiration might be a piece of music that has burrowed into your bones or a piece of art that whispered its story to you.

Once you identify the core of your story, plant your flag there. This is your base. Now you’re ready to continue your exploration.

Instead of thinking of what happens next and trying force your characters to comply, ask them – what do you want to do? They have their own agendas and are as stubborn as a toddler who wants juice RIGHT NOW!

Molly 6

You need to make a deal: I’ll write 2, 5, 10 pages of whatever you want to do, no matter how it “breaks” the story if you’ll play along.

You probably won’t keep a lot of what you write, but that’s okay. It’s only a few pages and you will find something useful, like a Ranger picking up a lost trail.

The main thing for you, dear explorer, is to continue moving forward, mapping out the terrain of your story. You won’t settle down in every spot you find, but you need to know what’s there, so you’ll know what will make the final cut.

Think of it like exploring the map in Civ. You’re not going to build a town on every octagon, but you need to know where the barbarians are, right? Just nod if you don’t play Civ. If you do play Civ, stop and get back to your writing, dang it!

Resist the urge to worldbuild when you’re stuck. I know, I know. Those other writers, the super cool planner writers with their binders of notes, their charts and graphs and blueprints, never get stuck. Not like you…Right?

They do – trust me. But that’s a post for another day.

Back to you and why you shouldn’t be worldbuilding when you’re stuck. Because what you’re doing is procrastinating – creatively, I’ll grant you – but procrastinating, nonetheless. Your story doesn’t rise or fall based on how well you understand the geological conditions of your planet, how much history you explore, what whimsical magical items you conjure, or how fast your FTL starships can go. You, my dear pantster, don’t need to know these things upfront the way a planner does.

What you need to be doing is understanding your characters because ultimately they will drive your plot. All those other details you can fill in later.

One trick I use is [XXX]. When I can’t think of a name, a piece of tech, a type of magic, a location, etc. I leave [XXX] as a marker to come back to. This way I don’t interrupt my flow state of writing goodness. Just don’t forget to Find+Replace [XXX] before you hit “Send”.

But what about worldbuilding? When do you do that? You can’t ignore it even if you are a rugged pantster writer boldly charting fictional terra incognita.

I recommend worldbuilding when you’re not stuck. When you know what your characters what to do, where they’re going next, what will happen in the following scene. That’s the time to tap into your worldbuilding brain because then your world functions in service to the story, which is a vehicle for your characters.

So when you get stuck, remember:

  1. Find your story’s heart
  2. Explore characters’ motives and agendas
  3. Worldbuild as part of the story, not as a means to procrastinate
  4. Keep writing

Inspiration will only take you so far. If the jungle of your story starts to close in and you think you’ll never make it to the next peak, don’t focus on writing “The End”. Focus on writing the next 50 words, the next page, the next scene.

If all else fails, take a short (SHORT!) break and recharge. Reward yourself for the writing you’ve done. Don’t punish yourself for your writer’s block. Train yourself to write with positive reinforcement when you do well. Forgive your bad days. Be kind to yourself.

I’d love to hear about story blocks you’ve encountered and how you overcame them to keep writing.

What helps you when you’re stuck?

Bio: M. K. Martin is a motorcycle-riding, linguistics nerd. A former Army interrogator with a degree in psychology, she uses her unique knowledge and skill set to create smart, gritty stories that give readers a glimpse into the darker corners of the human mind. Find out more at mkmartinwriter.com

Her viral-apocalypse novel, Survivors’ Club is now available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and at various indie bookstores.

Molly 3


Letter Writing

The lost art of letter writing

A long time ago people wrote letters. We would sit at our desk or under a tree or at the kitchen table and write to someone far away.

There was no instant gratification. The letter would take days to arrive and if the person wrote back it would take more time to receive.

I thought about this a few days ago while watching an old movie. It was a great scene with Betty Davis sitting near an open window writing to her lover away at war.

My daughter entered the room and took notice. After soaking in the scene she left, shaking her head and commenting on Ms. Davis’s wasted effort and time.

Today’s youth – Love ‘em/hate ‘em.

My First Letter

I remember the first person I ever wrote. Living in a small town I never wrote to anyone. Everyone I knew lived a mile away. But on a 4th of July a few weeks shy of my 13th birthday I met two sisters visiting from Alaska.

The oldest was busy flirting with the local boys but the youngest one, she too was about to turn thirteen, decided to flirt with me.

We spent the summer laughing and playing and doing with twelve year old’s do. At the end of the summer she flew home and wrote me a letter. Two weeks later she wrote me again asking why I hadn’t written back.

I can still remember my first attempt. I didn’t know what to say or how to craft an idea or take something mundane and turn it into a thrill of a lifetime.

Under a Tree

To her credit she was incredibly patient. She taught me how to tell a story. To her every day was an adventure and there was no reason why mine shouldn’t be one too. It didn’t take long before I was describing an outing to the local grocery store and turning it into an epic adventure.

Listening and Learning

Looking at it now, I was learning my craft. I was tossing in a hero, me of course, an antagonist or two and finally the heroic ending.

Our letter writing faded like all things do but lucky for me I met someone else years later. She too was moving away and of all places….Alaska!!

What is it with me and Alaska girls?

By then I understood the craft. Letter writing was much more than a simple hello and a brief description of life on the farm. It was an epic. It was an adventure. It was entertainment.

By then I was the teacher instead of the student. I could describe an average day of stepping into a mud puddle and create similarities to Moby Dick.

I was able to take sensitive subjects and slowly build around them until the appropriate time to discuss it. Looking back I credit my twelve year old Alaskan friend for teaching me these wonderful tools

Letters and Novels

I need to credit both my Alaska friends for pushing me in the right direction. Because of them I took creative writing classes, wrote short stories and was drawn to those who did.

I don’t worry about the art of letter writing being lost. People have a way of returning to the past and making it new again. Sometimes we get bored of the present and curious of the past. We’re funny that way.

Don’t get me wrong: I love Twitter, Facebook has its place and texting makes life so much easier but letter writing is an art that requires effort and practice and talent. Sometimes you and I need that.

Especially if we’re writing a novel.

Where did they go

Now that I’ve written this piece I wonder where my Alaska friends are. If I find them I’m tempted to dig up the past and write them a letter. I can only imagine my daughters expression if she saw paper, an envelope and a stamp on the kitchen table.

Oh so tempting.

Let’s play a game, you and I. Think of someone in your past who you’ve been meaning to contact and write them a letter. Think of the satisfaction you’ll receive with pen to paper and stamp to envelope.

But most of all imagine how you’ll feel when they respond.

Letter from a friend


Happy Friday Everyone!





Wednesday Guest Blogger

A long time ago I was taught an excellent lesson: Surround yourself with smart people and listen.

My Wednesday guest blogger is such a person. We met a few years ago when I was a stumbling bumbling writer. In that time I have listened and I have learned.

I am really happy that she found the time to be a guest on my blog.

Molly, take it way…..


Thumbscrews: How and When to Ratchet up the Tension in Stories

by M. K. Martin

How many times have you gotten feedback along these lines: “I liked it, but it needed more tension.”?

Yeah, we all have.

So what do you do? Add some gunfights, maybe a car-chase or a natural disaster. When in doubt, call in the ninjas…

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….ah, not that one. She’s busy writing.

But here’s the thing – you don’t always need tension in every scene. At least, not OMG-I’m-gonna-die action/adventure tension.

You’re overall goal (assuming you are writing a story based in western culture) is to follow Freytag’s Pyramid.

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  • Exposition
  • Rising Action
  • Climax
  • Falling Action
  • Denouement

Another way to say this is to paraphrase John Hartness: You put [the cat] into a tree, you light the tree on fire, you get [the cat] out of the tree.

Each scene should follow this pattern, and so should each story act, and so should the whole story. You end up with a bunch of jagged peaks and valleys of tension. It’s not a straight shot up to Tension Plateau.

Before you rush to fix a “slow” scene, assess the scene, find its motivation, employ the appropriate approach to “break” the scene and get it to do what you want: Advance the story, reveal characters’ inner selves, keep readers interested.

Wait, wait. What’s with all the lingo?

Let me explain.

I used to be an interrogator. I was trained to study the enemy and determine what approach might work best to “break” them. Guess what, folks? Using the right approach to your scene is just as critical for you writers. Just don’t try waterboarding your WIP.

Let’s take it a step at time:

  1. Assess the scene
    1. Why is the tension lacking? Is there too much description, exposition, backstory? Does the reader not care enough about the character because they’re not very complex/relatable or the reader doesn’t know them?
      1. Could that information be moved to a different scene(s)? Could that information be given in scene, rather than summary/narration? Do you really need that information? (Hint: probably not all of it. Sorry)
      2. Flesh out your character(s). Give the reader a reason to root for them. Don’t make them too perfect too early.
    2. Scene’s motivation
      1. Exposition
        1. Give some backstory, setting, character info
        2. Make promises about the future of the story
  • Put the cat up the tree
  1. Rising Action
    1. Delve into backstory, complicate character interactions/emotions, expand setting and/or introduce new ones as characters move around
    2. Fulfill some, not all, promises made to establish reader’s trust in your writing
  • Set the tree on fire (OH NO! Fluffy!!!!!)
  1. Climax
    1. Backstory comes into conflict with main story, characters conflict with each other and/or setting
    2. Fulfill most (all if a standalone novel) of the promises made earlier in the story
  • Get Fluffy out of the burning tree
  1. Falling Action
    1. Characters react to climax and its consequences
    2. Explain resolutions, characters get their comeuppance good and bad
  • Cuddle Fluffy, poor babykins, oh it was so scary, yes it was
  1. Denouement
    1. Mirror beginning to show comparison between old world order and newly established order. Single > Couple, Hobbit > Hero, Farm Hand > Jedi, Child > Adult, Mild Mannered > Spandex Aficionado
    2. Explain any unresolved promises or issues (mostly, you tease!), set up future troubles (if series)
  • Plant new tree and hope Fluffy doesn’t notice
  1. “Break” the scene by applying the correct approach, whether that means adding information, action, tension, or cats
    1. Start, as all good interrogators do, with the Direct. Tell the story. Don’t get fancy. If it’s working, let it work. Until you have completed your first draft, don’t tinker. Write yourself a note if you come up with a brilliant idea and put it in later. Finish your freaking first draft first!
    2. Add the appropriate kind of tension to flat/slow scenes. Again, not everything needs to be a heart-pounding thrill ride.
      1. Foreshadowing – this kind of tension works in the beginning of the story. It’s threats, danger, and promises the reader knows about. Depending on POV, the characters may not know. For example, we know what will happen to the Titanic, but Jack and Rose do not.
      2. Character conflict, misunderstandings, different agendas. In other words, “Let them fight!” This works best in the middle and climax of the story
  • Love stories – get the wrong people together, keep the lovers/loved ones apart. Works throughout the story. Note: this doesn’t have to be only romantic love. This can be friends (Frodo and Sam) or relatives (Katniss and Prim).
  1. But Wait! Think of the peaceful meadow with the mournful hero turning to walk off into the sunset, leaving a fresh grave behind and just as they disappear over the horizon a hand shoots up through the dirt, fingers clutching at nothing. This works at the very end of a book in a series as a means of foreshadowing story problems in the next book. Do not use this is a standalone novel or people will be mad at you. You’ve been warned.

And so endeth today’s lesson. I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions.

How do you deal with slow scenes?

Bio: M. K. Martin is a motorcycle-riding, linguistics nerd. A former Army interrogator with a degree in psychology, she uses her unique knowledge and skill set to create smart, gritty stories that give readers a glimpse into the darker corners of the human mind. Find out more at mkmartinwriter.com

Her viral-apocalypse novel, Survivors’ Club is now available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and at various indie bookstores.

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The Bully

A good bully will make a story. We can call them the villain or the antagonist but we know what they are: The Bully.

In movies, books and unfortunately real life, they are a part of everything we see and do. They are the reason we pull for the hero. They are the reason we cheer at the end and sometimes, in real life, they force us to make decisions.

 A long time ago I saw a movie that displayed the best bully I ever saw. The movie was called My Bodyguard and Matt Dillon played the ultimate bully.

My Bodyguard

He was controlling and intimidating and smart. He fooled you with kindness and dared you to think. He took away your power and your self-worth. He made you believe you deserved it.

Whoever wrote him deserved an award. He was one of the best bullies I ever saw.

The 8th Grade

While starting work on my newest project I thought back on some of the real life bullies from my childhood. Looking back I realized how lucky I was. I was taught at a young age to put a stop at any momentum that a bully may start.

But not everyone thinks the same.

My memory took me back to the 8th grade where the bully of the class saw to it to pick on those who wouldn’t fight back. It was a different time where teachers looked the other way and expected you to deal with it on your own.

We had a new student in our class that year. He was bright, kind and shy. He was also the perfect target for the class bully.

I remember one morning the shy boy showed up in an angry mood. I never knew what caused it but there were tears in his eyes and a mark on his face. I knew he wanted to be left alone so I gave him space.

Unfortunately the bully didn’t get the memo.

I remember the shy boy warning the bully that today was not a good time. It was as if they were role playing but today the role would not be played.

The bully continued his verbal and physical abuse until the shy boy rose and put an end to it.

When our teacher arrived the bully had two swollen eyes, a bloody nose, a bloody lip and later, I discovered, a broken thumb.

Surprisingly the two became friends later in the year with the bully retiring his role and actually turning into a nice kid.

Lessons Learned

Not every story ends the same and that’s a shame. Wouldn’t it be nice if a bully could learn a valuable lesson and actually turn into someone good.

How many of us cheered when George McFly knocked out Biff and in that one punch their lives changed.

George McFly

As a father I taught my girls the same lesson I was taught: Put a stop to the momentum before it gets out of control. I can’t always be there for them but hopefully my lessons will.

When we write we need to create roadblocks for our heroes. We need Biff, we need Matt Dillon and we need the 8th grade bully.

A bully can be rich and complex and so much fun to write. We can dive deep into who they are while bringing out their true identity. Or we can make them shallow and mysterious.

The details are endless.

Whatever they are we need to keep them on the page and off the streets. We live in a good time where no longer the teachers look the other way. Women have a voice that will be heard and hopefully bullying will be a thing of the past.

It is up to us to make things happen.

Until then, be aware of the bullies in your life. They’re out there. If you see one call them out and put a stop to their momentum before it starts.

But most of all, lets keep them in our books and movies and off our streets.


Happy Friday Everyone!!!

The Dying Protagonist

Novel Number 2

On March 27th I wrote a piece titled Novel Number Two. (https://wordpress.com/post/acrackinthepavement.com/114)

In it I touched briefly on the protagonist and how he didn’t work. I want to bring it up again, this time with a little more detail.

To bring you up to speed, the moment I completed my first novel I immediately jumped into my second. I had an idea, I liked it, but I didn’t draw it out as much as I did on the first one.

Looking back that should have been the first red flag.

The plot was interesting, the setting was workable and the side characters were surprisingly deep.

I could see everything but what I couldn’t see was the protagonist.

 I remember not being all that concerned. I’ll figure him out, I promised. He’ll tell me who he is the more I write.

The more excuses I had the more I believed. This should have been another red flag but as you can see I was color blind.

I went ahead and wrote the novel. Whenever he appeared I struggled. When he wasn’t on the page I didn’t.

The side characters did their best to carry the story but it was clear something was missing. He didn’t have a spark that the other characters had. At times he was boring and at other times he was mechanical.

But most of all he was a mystery.

Lonely Protagonist

It was a drag writing him in a scene. He became the guy nobody wanted to invite to the party but always found a way of showing up.

None of this stopped me from completing the novel. I pushed though, convinced I was doing the right thing. But at the end I still had no clue who he was or what he wanted or where he wanted to go.

Realizing this didn’t go as planned I presented the first draft to my writers group. I remember the opening prologue, minus the protagonist, was solid. The feedback was positive enough to create a belief that all was well.

Sadly it wasn’t.

Once he was introduced to the group it went downhill fast. It didn’t take long, after a handful of chapter readings, to realize this novel of mine was in trouble.

Looking back I remember having a balance in my emotions. On one hand I secretly hoped they would disagree with my gut feeling that the protagonist ruined the story. But on the other hand I was glad when they did.

Sometimes things need to die and in this case it was my novel.

After a few readings I convinced myself I could fix it. I tried changing him up. I added a back story, tweaked his personality and gave him a different look.

But the results stayed the same. He fell flat.

The group was patient and helpful but they made it clear I was missing the mark and when the day came to put it aside it was one of my most disappointing experiences.

Frustrated Writer

I felt bad for the story. By not taking the time to draw it out I let the characters down. Not just the side characters who I knew, but the mysterious protagonist as well.

But I knew I was doing the right thing. I was drawn to this idea but I knew I couldn’t come back until something told me it was time.

That ‘something’ was February 4th, 2018. Super Bowl Sunday.

A brief glimpse of a dejected player walking off the field was all I needed. There was something about him that took me back to that stranger who would not open up.

The following day I went back to work and created the protagonist that was meant to be. It was as if he was waiting for me to find him. Who knew it would be on the losing end of Super Bowl LII.

Sometimes it takes something small to unlock a mystery. In this case it took a worn out player finding his way to the locker room to open the door that I had been looking for.

Thanks Gronk!