Saturday, December 27, 2014

Guest blogger Pendrah Gilson: No Shoulds

Back in our 'hippy' days, my husband and I were 'seekers'. We studied so many Eastern and Western spiritual paths, we could have become smug. We went so far as to give up all our stuff and go to an ashram in Arizona with our two year old. To make a long lived life short, no matter what we studied, it always boiled down to three actions to have a calm, spiritual, happyish life: eat good stuff (see Longevity Kitchen by Rebecca Katz and Mat Edelson), meditate (any kind that works for you), and exercise (whatever kind keeps you moving 30 or more minutes per day without causing the dreaded ennui). All of which helped lead us to right thought which is everything.

And so it is in writing. No matter how much I write (a  lot of skits, poems, songs for school; guest blogs-only two so far; letters; essays and stories-not yet published) or how much my friends write (and get published--Sunny Fraizer, Christy Bristol mysteries and Che Gilson, Carmine Rojas, Dog Fight) it all seems to come down to the same things:

1. Positive self-talk. Tell yourself what you want to hear: "I can...", "I am...", "I will..." Forward thinking. See yourself where you want to be whether it's giving a book talk for your newly published book or going on a spending spree with your earnings, or sitting at home reading an e-mail from a friend thanking you for writing. Revel in even the thought of success (no matter how you describe it to yourself) not failure.

2. Ignore the 'shoulds', even those that come from you. You are you and it is okay to write how much you write each day, how many websites you peruse, how many contacts you make. Your style, your format, your energy. You will know when it's time to try something else. You can listen to 'experts' without shoulding yourself to death, Assimilate what you are told then decide what you will try. "If you want to be successful, you need to write six (five, ten, one, etc.) hour per day" is merely a suggestion. No matter what you think success consists of, there is more than one way to achieve it.

3. You don't have to be the best writer in order to make a living writing. If that were the case, there might be a hundred or so writers per generation and as you all know, that is not the case. Like any other joyful work people do, you learn your craft, practice, and keep learning.

4. Focus on the joy of writing and you will have the energy and clarity to see opportunity. Focus on what you want out of writing, not what you don't want.

5. Be prepared to be challenged, to move out of your comfort zone. Whether you see success as making a living writing, writing for your own edification, or writing letters to the editor, there will be opportunities to move beyond where you are now.

No matter what you are doing, whether it's writing or doctoring or whatever, making your life successful (however you define that) will usually consist of positive self-talk, focusing on the joy of the job rather than 'shoulds', realizing that you don't have to always be the best to contribute, and being prepared to be stretched beyond where you are.

Hey, mostly, just write!

Pendrah Gilson is a native Montanan, one-time teacher on a Native American reservation, GATE teacher/trainer, VAPA (Visual and Performing Arts Resource Teacher), 'regular' teacher, now a sub trying to be a retired person so she can write and do other stuff.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Setting as Character

I recently had to write an article on setting and this made me reflect on some of my writing. Most reviewers of Café au Lait, from professionals in magazines to random readers on Amazon, have commented on the role of setting in the novel. This is not something I set out to do intentionally--at least not that I can recall--but the setting of that story, Trinidad and Tobago, is so much a part of my psyche that there was no way I could write a novel where the place, time and social context were not significantly intertwined with the psyche of the main character. Setting is ever-present, not simply as a picturesque backdrop but influencing the thoughts, feelings and actions of the characters. The impact of the setting was brought home to me when one reviewer on Amazon UK said she followed the characters around on Google Maps while reading the story.

When I compare that novel with my second romance title, there is a striking difference. This one is set in South Florida, and although I spent close to two years there the place is not so much a part of me as my homeland is, and this distance shows. Is the setting a character in Give Me the Night? I like to think it is, but here it plays the role of a minor character and not a main character as in the first novel.

When I look at other stories I have written that are set outside of Trinidad and Tobago, the settings tend to play minor roles (with the exception of one post-apocalyptic story). Then I glance at my recent short stories set in my country and here again, the setting tends to play a major role. In two works in progress, now that I think about it, the setting is the main character. How does this happen? With me it's an intuitive process that apparently depends on my familiarity with and attachment to the setting.

What elevates setting to the status of character in a story? Based on my own experience, I'd say it's a combination of the following:
  • The use of telling details that create images of place, time and context (the basic function of setting).
  • The use of elements of the setting as symbols of important themes or issues within the story.
  • The use of pathetic fallacy which is the perception of nature as sentient--sympathetic or responsive to human issues in the story. (Examples: the angry sky, stealthy shadows, uncaring desert, the rain as tears...)
  • Characters' emotions, thoughts, and/or actions being affected, catalyzed or constrained by elements of the setting.
  • The setting changes over time, just as a well-drawn character must.
  • In other words, making the setting personal, and not simply a static background. 
My favorite stories are almost always those in which the setting lives and breathes and deepens the tales in memorable ways. In my own writing, although much of it is still intuitive--at least in the first draft--by the time I get to the editing phase one of the things I check for is an active setting that works as a reflection of, an ally, an antagonist, mentor or source of inspiration to the other main character(s).

How do you handle the issue of setting in your writing, and how important is it to your enjoyment of a story?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Holiday Gifts for Writers

Yep, it’s that time again! The festive season once more is upon us, and depending on which holiday you care to observe, chances are that gifts are going to be exchanged.

It’s also that time of year when you receive a lot of wanted and/or unwelcome advice about what gifts to get for those special people in your life. Gifts for kids, for parents, for significant others, the mail carrier, the guy who cuts your grass or cleans out your gutters, your kid’s teachers, and so on and so forth. We also get a lot of tips on gifts to get for someone based on their chosen vocation, which brings us to why I’ve gathered you all here today.

(Yes, I know that, “Gathered you all here today,” really means, “I posted this and hoped you might read it on your way to something more interesting,” but the other way sounded so much cooler when I read this out loud.)

So, what to get the writer in your life? Maybe you’re the writer in the lives of those around you, and you’re hoping they might see fit to give you something useful or desired as you chase your muse. With that in mind

NOTE: Some of these are “for realz,” and others less so. I leave you to decide which is which:

Books! Every writer loves books, right? We all need to let our mind recharge after a long day at the office or a weekend spent pushing through to meet a grueling deadline. Leisure reading is still a preferred method of relaxation for many people, especially writers. One suggestion I’ve seen elsewhere is giving a book that has a special meaning to you, as a cherished title—perhaps something you’ve loved since childhood—offers insight into your own reading tastes. Meanwhile, an autographed copy from the recipient’s favorite author is usually a guaranteed home run.

Tea, Coffee, or other Favorite Beverage. Whether it’s black coffee, herbal tea, and/or hot cocoa, we all have our fuel; the special elixir that helps get the words moving. I’m partial to vodka, served intravenously, with the occasional diversion toward Monster Energy Drink if I’m really in the zone and want to keep typing until my fingers bleed. Whatever the nectar of choice, just start it flowing. We’ll tell you when to stop.

Water bottle. Carrying on from the previous idea, I’m not talking about those designer bottles with the formed handgrips or the retractable straws or the ones with a compass, survival matches, emergency poncho, lightsaber, and ninja stars packed into the lid. Instead, I mean one of those jobs like they use in hamster cages, with the tube extending from its bottom and the little ball on the end. These should hold a gallon of water (or, again, preferred beverage), and be mounted above the writer’s desk or other workspace. Be sure to follow the instructions for proper cleaning.

Notebooks/writing pads. There’s something about good, old-fashioned pen and paper that almost always gets my creative juices flowing. Many a story has begun as a series of hastily scribbled notes on a legal pad or one of those composition books like we used in elementary school. I still use them today. Something a bit fancier, though, makes for a simple yet elegant gift. Oh, and they’re also handy for making lists, such as things to buy at the grocery store, or household chores you hate doing but suddenly find compelling when faced with getting some actual writing done. Tell me I’m wrong.

Food. Face it: Writers tend to eat like crap, particularly if we’re neck deep in a story and all other considerations and priorities have been rescinded. If we’re not skipping meals, then we’re eating junky snacks. Feed us, for crying out loud. We’re writers, so we’re poor. Take us out to lunch once in a while. This has the added benefit of exposing us to social interaction with other members of our species, which works out for everybody.

Shock Collar. You know the ones I mean: They link with a wire that’s run around the perimeter of your yard, and if you put the collar on your dog it gets a little jolt if it wanders too close to the “invisible fence.” I think something like this is marvelous for writers who are always finding excuses not to write. You can zap them when their fingers stray too far from their keyboards. I have friends who tell me these things can also be used recreationally, but that’s none of my business.

Sweatpants. Because the best writing is always accomplished in a soft, comfortable pair of sweatpants, assuming you haven’t yet mastered the art of writing without pants of any kind.

Chocolate. For better or worse, I think this one’s rather self-explanatory (see “Food”).

Books About Writing. These are always appreciated by serious writers, who are always students and never stop learning how to improve their craft. However, serious writers also tend to hate those plodding, pretentious tomes that spend too much time whining about how writing is art and it has to grow and suffer and be nurtured, blah blah blah. Writers who write want to know how to get on with the writing and finish what they’ve started so they can get on with writing something else, while figuring out how to repeat those first two steps as often as possible. They want books with titles like Get off Your Butt and Write Right Now, which may not be the title of a book anywhere in the known universe except my head. Still, I figure there’s something out there following a similar theme.

Massage. I have to admit, I saw this one on another list and thought it was a great idea. There’s nothing better for working the kinks out of shoulder and lower back muscles after you’ve spent a month or more pounding your keyboard to finish that novel. I happen to be a big fan of Thai massage, which lets the therapist bend and twist me in all sorts of innovative ways while allowing me to retain my clothing (see “Sweatpants”) and therefore some small shred of dignity. Your mileage may vary.

Okay, as you’ve hopefully deduced well before now, I wanted to have a bit of fun with the typical lists of this sort we see every year. However, most of these actually do make great gifts for that writer on your shopping list (I’m still on the fence about the shock collar). Be you gift giver or hopeful recipient, do you have your own suggestions, sincere or otherwise?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Blogs: The Good, the Bad and the Boring

(I wrote this piece for Buried Under Books and Liane asked if I would re-post it over here. I'm glad Liane liked it so much and felt it was worth sharing. Oh, and I gave a shout-out to Novel Spaces!)

The word “blog” is the abbreviated form of “web log.” First appearing in the mid-90's, they became an equal opportunity promoter. Here was a chance to explore one's thoughts and share with the world.

I'm one of these people who holds back when new things appear on the horizon. Unless the idea is of my own concoction, I wait and watch the pros and cons play out. I had a suspicion that writers would burn out quickly if they tried to keep up a daily or even weekly blog. It would suck up time and the well would run dry of ideas.

Yep, that's what happened. Bloggers started reaching out to other writers to fill their pages. I was willing to hop on board that train. When Lelia asked me to be a returning guest blogger, I was more than content to contribute content every 6 weeks. I also committed to blogging over at Novel Spaces once a month and the occasional guest blog elsewhere.

I believe less of me is more than enough. I want readers and fans to look forward to my rants just to see what I'll say next. If I'm going to take the time and energy to blog, I'm going to make it an EVENT. By using compelling titles and promoting with teases, my goal is to lure people over to read what I have to say. Site owners love a hike in readership, which is one way to become a valuable blogger.

The important thing is having something real to say. Before posting, I ask myself “Would I take time to read this blog?” Ego aside, I gear my topics to what is important to my life and career: the writing industry. Not how to write but promotion, social media, reaching fans, helping other writers, sharing my tactics and offering food for thought.

While I'm serious about the subject matter, there's no reason not to have fun. People who follow me know I'm a brat. I don't mince words while making mincemeat out of conventional wisdom. I'm okay with rocking the boat and causing people to squirm. It's just one person's opinion. Write a retort, riff off my thoughts. Let's get a dialog going!

That's what I look for in blogs I read.


  1. Don't water down your words.
  2. Take a stand knowing you will please some and offend others.
  3. A little humor never hurts.
  4. Offer fresh ideas. Give a new spin on old topics.
  5. Don't point out problems without offering solutions.
  6. Don't make observations on the obvious.
  7. Promote compellingly.
  8. Use interesting verbiage.
  9. Attitude is everything.
  10. Keep it short. This article is 457 words. I've said enough.          

Sunday, December 7, 2014

How to Not to Write a Novel #3

And I'm back with the next installment of "How to Not to Write a Novel." So. Word count. When starting out writing a book is a pretty daunting task. Especially for the beginner. There is a lot of pressure to get those words out! Authors post about getting thousands and thousands of words a day and the NaNoWriMo tallies are even worse! 

So what happens when you aren't cranking out 10K a day? Well, feel awful for one thing... But, you aren't alone. Some authors can get two or three books out a year. Some get out one, some maybe one every other year. 

The hardest thing to accept, if you aren't fast, is respecting your process. Maybe you can get 1K a week. Maybe only 250. Maybe you go for a week or two without writing anything then get 3k in a day. 

It's easy to compare yourself to other writers. To feel bad that you aren't doing more, writing for five or six hours with only a fifteen minute lunch break. But not everyone writes the same way. Maybe you edit as you go, working carefully before putting new words down. Maybe you just charge to the end and vow to fix it later. 

No matter how you write, books get written one word at a time. 

Lastly for the interested- I already did the bloghop! It's on my Wordpress Blog!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Blog Hop 4

I'm excited!! I was nominated by my fellow Novel Spaces author, Carol Mitchell, to Blog Hop reading my current work (in this case recent work) - and so here I am, ready to hop, write and roll!!! Thanks, Carol!!

1.   What is the name of the character?
The main character is Mahogany Cooper. She's been with her husband, Julian Cooper, a prominent sportscaster, for ten years, and married for seven. On the first Sunday of the New Year, Julian tells her he's leaving for his side chick, a female friend from college named Golden Thomas, and he's moving out. That is when the drama begins - the first word, sentence, page, chapter.

2.    When and where is the story set?
This story is set in the south, in Atlanta, GA.

3.    What should we know about him/her/them.

Mahogany Cooper is the youngest of two girls, born in Atlanta, GA to a white father and a black mother. Their father died in a car accident, and Mahogany has anger issues with her mother, Aretha, because her mom did not allow them to attend the funeral. Unlike her mother who now only dates married men, Mahogany is determined to be a wife, and have a happy home. Being the side chick, like her mother, is a situation she will never accept, nor understand.

4.    What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

The main conflict for Mahogany is that her husband Julian wants a divorce. Mahogany feels as though their marriage was just fine, and is trying to accept his decision and figure out what went wrong, and also understand how Golden could have stabbed her in the back, when she had been so nice to Golden through the years. After Julian moves out. Mahogany struggles to keep it together, missing work, feeling depressed, drinking, and feeling as though she won't make it without him. At times she's sad and at times she's angry. Her sister, Garcelle, and her best friend, Desiree, try to encourage her to get it together and move on, but in spite of what they say, she prays to God to save her marriage.

5.    What is the personal goal of the character?
The personal goal for Mahogany is to get her husband back and keep her family together so that their 3-year old daughter can grow up with her mother and father in the same home. She believes that getting him back will take her out of her misery. But, there is someone from her past who appears, who could be just the distraction she needs. And, there's something else . . .

6.    Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?
Never Breathe Again is the title. You can read more about it on my website, at

7.    When can we expect the book to be published?

Never Breathe Again was just released on 12/2/14.

For the next Blog Hop I nominate Velda Brotehrton to take up the challenge - hey Velda!!!