Tag Archives: Writing the Other

Gigi Vernon

Happily, I’m still in touch with many of the great people I met at the Writing the Other Workshop and Retreat. Most of the attendees write speculative fiction, but Gigi Vernon doesn’t generally count herself in that group. Her focus is on historical thrillers and crime fiction; luckily she’s a historian by training, so she knows how to research eras and locations for her stories.

The book series she’s currently working on is set in medieval Russia, during the time Russia was ruled by the Tatars of the Golden Horde. One of the novels (working title: A Disobedient Death) is loosely based on an actual unsolved murder that occurred in 1357 A.D. I can’t wait until they come out!

In the meantime, I’m reading her short stories. She’s published many, several of them in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. In her first cover story, “Purse Strings”, there’s kidnapping and corruption, knights in rusty armor, dusty summer streets, and Sir Thibaut the cripple in service to Basilia, a lovely and savvy Jewish moneylender.

Published April 2014

Her story “Show Stopper”, in which high fashion meets espionage, appears in the recent anthology Ice Cold: Tales of Intrigue from the Cold War.


I just discovered a recent podcast of Gigi reading her story “One for the Road”. It’s set in Prohibition-era Detroit and features a gun moll who’s in a lot of trouble. When you have 32 minutes, you can listen to it here:

Click to listen

I enjoyed the heck out of this story, and it made me look forward to reading more of her work. I recommend that you take the opportunity to check her out soon!


Million Word Party — Recap

I wish I had pictures of the singing and ice cream, but I was too busy singing, eating, drinking, mingling, and accepting congratulations to snap pictures.  A couple of days later, I was able to take pictures of the gifts and cards I received, so I’m sharing those.* These mementos were an unexpected perk of giving the party. Featured below are a few closeups of the handmade items.

Tim, knowing of my recent fondness for gnomes (I blame the Writing the Other workshop), made me a congratulatory sculpture, which now lives in my writing area.

Isn’t it fantastic?

In addition to sharing much-needed freezer space, Beth put Al to work. Using his arcane computer knowledge, he was able to offer advice on how to generate the next million words.

I knew the responsible party immediately

Whitey used leather working skills I didn’t even know he had to create this gorgeous journal cover, which he filled with Moleskine soft cover note books. I carry a notebook with me most of the time to note observations and ideas; this will replace what I’ve been using. For all you Doctor Who fans, the cover symbol is in Gallifreyan, the script of the Time Lords. It means create.

Learn to write Gallifreyan here!

I got other lovely gifts and cards as well. There’s Bird by Bird (by Anne Lamott) and a fabulous multicolored set of disposable fountain pens from Jack and Carol. There’s the wall hanging from Dick and Jill that proclaims “The Book was so much Better”.  There were thoughtful congratulatory cards from Sue and Ed and Kim, too.

Sis gave the gift of a venue. With all the traveling this summer, my house was in no shape to receive guests, so she generously offered hers and it was swell, from the living room that was transformed into singalong space through the kitchen which became the ice cream bar to the backyard patio with fire pit.

Cookie and Cookie Junior brought brownies and beverages and gave me the gift of time to actually attend the party by taking over serving and cleanup work in the kitchen. Joanne brought yummy homemade peanut butter cookies.

We all loved the comic Hindi song Kishin and Rita performed for us and the song-leading and instrumental gifts that Jack, Bill, Al and BK provided.

I haven’t yet mentioned several people who gifted me with their presence and good spirits: Camille, Cheryl, Katherine, Barry, Sabrina, Len, Carole, Pam, Cathy, and Kim. I have to admit, though that the attendees who astonished me the most were Bro and his lovely Bride, who came all the way from Houston without letting their intentions slip in any way.

If I forgot to mention anyone or to connect the right person with the right card/gift, I’m sorry. Please blame it on the overwhelm factor.

For those interested in the ice cream, here are the flavors we made for the party: caramel pecan, chocolate, coconut, lemon-orange gelato, peppermint, pineapple sorbet, strawberry yogurt, triple chocolate, vanilla, and vanilla yogurt.

We also created frozen (and other) drinks that required plenty of ice cream, including root beer floats, coffee or chocolate stout floats, piña coladas and grasshoppers.

A lovely time was had by all, or at least by me! Thanks again to all involved.

*Disclaimer: In no way did we expect the party to be a gift-giving occasion. BK and I were just delighted that people were willing to show up and celebrate.

Tuesday with Nisi


Previously on the blog…

I said that Tuesday night of our Seattle/Anaheim trip needed a post all its own because it was so excellent. This is that post.

Here’s what happened: we got together with Nisi Shawl!  Nisi was one of the instructors for the Writing the Other Workshop and Retreat I took last June in Chattanooga. More than that, she (with Cynthia Ward) literally wrote the book—the one called Writing the Other, that is.

Nisi met BK, Lori and me in Seattle’s U District at Shalimar for dinner, which was delicious. After dinner, Nisi and I went to a reading at the UW bookstore.

I squeed when Nisi first suggested the reading for numerous reasons. First of all, it was sponsored by Clarion West. For those unfamiliar with Clarion West, it’s one of the premiere places for a serious science fiction and fantasy writer to move from “wannabe” to “is.” Instructors for the six-week intensive summer workshop have included Octavia Butler, Ursula K. LeGuin, George R. R. Martin and many others, equally as luminous.

The reading/Q&A/signing featured Charlie Jane Anders,  who was one of this session’s Clarion West instructors. I first became aware of Charlie Jane’s writing around Worldcon (Chicon) 2012, when she won the Hugo for her novelette, “Six Months, Three Days.”

Anyway I just happened to have a copy of the July/August issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction, mostly because a fellow Writing the Other workshopper, Annalee Flower Horne, has a story in it called “Seven Things Cadet Blanchard Learned from the Trade Summit Incident.” This is Annalee’s first professional fiction sale, so—exciting, right? Later I discovered that one of the other stories in the issue, “End of the World Community College” by Sandra McDonald has a character named Professor Nisi Shawl. This was another unexpected bonus to the July/August issue, which I highly recommend checking out.


However, another story in the issue is “Palm Strike’s Last Case” by Charlie Jane Anders. I hoped I could get her to sign my issue. (Annalee, you’re next! I just need to figure out when and how we can meet up to make it happen.)

Charlie Jane’s Tuesday night reading (a cutting from a story about a genie after the apocalypse) was great fun. The entire story is set to appear on Tor.com this fall. The reading in itself would have been enough to cap off the evening, but I also got to gush at Charlie Jane and receive the longed-for autograph. Nisi introduced me to many Clarion West people, all of whom were gracious and welcoming. In all, it was a fabulous night.

I was momentarily sad when Nisi mentioned that she would be teaching a one-day workshop at Clarion West this October. Not sad that she’s teaching it—sad that I won’t be able to take it. My travel budget is seriously maxed out for the year, and I can’t plan another trip to Seattle so soon.

Do you write fiction? Can you get to Seattle October 5th? Then go and take the class! The topic—Voice and Voices—is something any fiction writer needs to work on, and Nisi is a great teacher. I asked her to let me know if she ever teaches it as an online class, and she promised me that she would. In turn, I promise to keep you all posted.

Seattle and Anaheim

We’ve done WAY more traveling than usual this summer, and last week was one of our travel weeks. It was terrific fun for me, though BK was operating with a figurative Sword of Damocles  hanging over him for most of the week. More on that later.

Troll statue under a bridge

First we went to Seattle, spending Saturday afternoon/evening with our daughter Lori and son-in-law Danny. BK discovered the joys of Dusty Strings, a jaw-droppingly awesome music store. There were all manner of stringed instruments from luthiers like Taylor, Martin, Collings and many others. Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of instruments just waited for someone to take them down off the wall and play them. There was a roomful of highly diverting small percussion instruments, too.

Sunday was eating day. We had a lovely brunch at the Hi-Life in Ballard. We met Billy and Cris for dinner. They’re Danny’s parents and Lori’s in-laws. Does that make them BK’s and my outlaws? We sampled both authentic and highly creative Chinese food at Chiang’s Gourmet. BK worked on a presentation he had to give on Thursday.

On Monday, we hung out in maybe the best game store I’ve ever been in. Card Kingdom was keen, though I admit to an especially soft spot for the attached Cafe Mox.  It was pricey, but so relaxing to be able to eat lunch there while learning how to play Red November . I believe Lori and Danny chose that game because of my predilection for gnomes, which I gained at Rock City during the Writing the Other Workshop this past June.

Seattle Gnome

Anyway, I’m sad to report that our group didn’t survive the game, but elated that we apparently lasted pretty long, at least in terms of Lori and Danny’s experience.

That night, BK worked on his presentation.

Tuesday, we had lunch with Lori and shopped for groceries. BK practiced his presentation several more times, including once for me and once for both Lori and me. What we did Tuesday night was a huge thrill for me, so I’m planning to go into it in detail in my next post. (Teaser!)

Laguna Beach

Wednesday we finally buckled down and got our keisters to Anaheim. The whole reason for this trip was for BK to present a paper at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Pressure Vessel & Piping Conference. He didn’t have to give the paper until Thursday, so on Wednesday we met an old friend, Matt, at Laguna Beach. Matt is brilliant at a number of things. One thing he can do is to create gorgeous wood puzzles. Here’s a dragon one he made for us a while back.

Matt’s dragon

Then on Thursday, after working on the presentation even more, BK finally gave his paper. He was brilliant, if I do say so myself. Speaking runs in his family; you can ask his brothers. Still, he seemed relieved once he finished.

Coming next time…what happened Tuesday night. It was really cool.



I’m leaving in 3 days. The image above is a visual clue to my destination. If you click on the picture, there’s an audio clue as well.

I’m very excited. And nervous. I call this state “happrehensive” because I like to shove words together to make new ones. Maybe it’s the German part of my heritage.

Anyway, here’s what’s happening: I’m going to a writing workshop/retreat with some wonderful writers-as-instructors: David Anthony Durham, K. Tempest Bradford, Mary Robinette Kowal, Nisi Shawl, and Cynthia Ward. There are also some pretty impressive writers-as-fellow-workshoppers, but the list is really long so I won’t subject you to it. However, many of my fellow attendees have some rather impressive credits, so I’m hoping not to embarrass myself.

Next week you’ll probably mostly see photos in this space—some from my garden and some from vacation. Sis, some cousins and I went to California for a long weekend. It’s a thing we do.

There will be a workshop-related post later. Maybe more than one.

Public domain photograph of the Appalachian mountains by Ken Thomas.

The Cat Came Back – Another Workshop with Cat Rambo

Cat Rambo

I took another online workshop with Cat Rambo. Isn’t Cat Rambo the best name ever? I wish I had one that was as cool.

Anyway, this workshop was on flash fiction, conducted via Google Hangout. You may be asking what I got out of it. Because that’s the point of taking writing workshops, right? Well, it’s one of the two points. The first point is that you get to interact with other writers. There were some terrific writers taking it. I was able to find out the twitter handles and/or web sites for a couple of them – Heather Clitheroe and Sunil Patel – so now I can keep track of them. Cat also shared some markets with us, which is always helpful.

The second point has to do with what I might or might not have learned. All told, I’m glad I took the workshop. I enjoyed the other writers’ work, and I got a reminder about “timed writing”. This is not new stuff, as Cat would say. She took it from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. The idea is—and anyone who’s done word sprints as part of nanowrimo or with a writer’s group generally is familiar with this, even if they don’t know Natalie Goldberg—you write as fast as you can write without stopping. Whatever you write, it’s all good. Okay, maybe it’s not all good. You have permission to write the worst crap imaginable. The point is, you write, whether from a prompt or just on something you already know you want to write about. It may be fabulous, or it may be dreck. Most likely, though, you will at least get some sort of nugget from it that’s worth working up into a story you actually want to write.

In the workshop, we used 3 prompts. First each participant came up with if/then statements. Then we each wrote the “if” portion of our statements in the Google chat window so everyone could see it. The person who posted after you was the “if” portion you used to create your prompt. You then appended your own “then” portion, and wrote from there. Five minutes, flat out, as fast as you could write. Here’s what I ended up with:

If the house is quiet, then you would be very popular. People like a quiet spot for reading, writing, and just generally to keep from going crazy from all the expectations. They work, they socialize, they help others, but then what?

You’d be turning them away in droves. You might, unhappily, end up with a house that is no longer quiet. Then you would lose your cachet entirely. People would look around and see the turmoil and hear the cacophony and say to themselves, “why am I here? How is this better than just going home?”

And they would go home.

Then, finally, blessedly, the house would be quiet again. What would you do with yourself? Would you take a flash fiction class? That’s what I’d do, but really, you have to please yourself. Let’s imagine that you’d like to paint something, instead. Paint your quiet house, with gray clouds looming, but one ray going into one window. That’s your inspiration, the reason for your quiet house.

Mine was clearly not fiction. Also not good. I was nervous, okay? I was going with the ‘it doesn’t matter what you write, just write, there’s no wrong way to do this.”

That might be true, but there are better ways to write, as became abundantly clear after other people read their results aloud. My next two outings were more successful. The second writing came from a written prompt.

-EDIT-I started by including my result from the second timed writing when I realized Cat might want to use the prompt in future workshops, so I’ve removed it -/EDIT-

The third prompt was a picture Cat had saved on her Pinterest page. I also enjoyed the results from that prompt, but it needs work, so I’m going to improve it before I share. Here’s the picture, though:

Image for writing prompt – Georges Méliès via Cat Rambo

So, was the workshop valuable? Yes, to some extent. But I still have an issue that I really need to concentrate on: how do you mine the really good stuff from a timed writing and go from there? This is not the kind of issue that’s easily covered in a two-hour online workshop. It’s more the kind of thing you could spend a lifetime doing. So as much as I enjoyed the workshop, I still have to figure out the next part, which is making my writing not crappy. We’ll see how that goes.

I’m revising a novel right now, which I hope to have a readable draft of by early June, before I go attend the Writing the Other Workshop and Retreat in Chattanooga. Did I mention I’ll need beta readers? Please comment below, message me, or email me if you’re willing and able to help with that. Thanks so much!