Hit Count Isn’t Everything

In this day and age, the ability to work from home is a perk enjoyed by many tech-sector employees. VPN, remote desktop, and reliable internet connections leave little that can’t be done from the comfort of the home office. If you are sick or suffering a case of the stinky-farts, and you have the ability to work from home, please do! I don’t deny the convenience and flexibility the permission to work from home has afforded me, nor would I want to give up the option to do so when it’s necessary. There’s the crux of it: when necessary.

I believe that reputations, not to mention friendships, are built upon communication. Communication works best when it is in person, especially if you are part of a team working towards a group goal. If you aren’t in the office, you can’t make those random, human connections that come with seeing someone in all sorts of weather and throughout the gamut of emotions. You can’t get to know the moods of your coworkers, that one sings when he’s happy and another gets mean if she’s hungry. Consider this: what do you remember from the job you had five years ago? The details of a technical report or the way you laughed and argued with the people you met?

It’s much, much harder to make a memorable, positive impression when you are not meeting in person. How often have you visited a newbie’s blog and found them wondering about, begging for, or otherwise lamenting the lack of comments/visitors/page hits?  If the blogger is saying something of value, I’ll respond. Not because I want them to reach some magical hit count, but because I view a blog post as an invitation by the blogger to engage in a conversation. I have a limited amount of time to spend engaged in authentic, enriching communication and I won’t keep going back to a blog that complains about a lack of popularity, but never says word one in response to my comments. I understand the blogger is busy; trust me, I get that. It takes diligence, time, and effort to respond to commenters, but if you open a dialog with the world and someone responds, reply to them! Okay, if you have hundreds of commenters, perhaps you can’t physically manage that load. Pick a few, though, let us know you still care. If you’re the wondering beggar, do yourself a favor and take the two minutes to reply to your commenters. Not doing so is equivalent to being a new hire in an office and refusing to speak to the people who come by to welcome you. Imagine how often they’re going to come back, how quickly they’ll tell their team-mates to chat you up!

I’ve recently been invited to join a Triberr guild of speculative fiction writers, The Emissaries of Strange. I am fairly certain that if I had never responded to comments or visited and left comments on other writer’s posts, I would not have gotten to know the person who invited me. If it weren’t for the very human act of communication, I would not have  the online support group of writers that I have now. Newbie bloggers: I’m proof that you can build a supportive network of like-minded people in under six months. My page views have gone up, but I  have something better: communication with outstanding writers who also happen to be fascinating people.

Don’t just take my word for it! Visit them, leave a comment. They’ll respond!

Marie Loughin– “I wanna be …”

Jonathan AllenShaggin’ the Muse

Paul DailA horror writer’s not necessarily horrific blog.

Jaye Manus Writer + Readers = Value

Margo LerwillUnsafe Haven

Penelope CroweAs the Crowe Flies

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An Exercise for the Reader

I love fiction, but I really love speculative fiction. Horror, sci-fi, fantasy: the best of any of these poses complex questions about the nature of humanity, what it means to be alive, and who (and how) we want to be, both as a species and as individuals. The otherworldliness of speculative fiction encounters makes it possible to delve into topics normally too uncomfortable or shameful to broach. You need look no further than Caprica, Dollhouse, or Star Trek to experience the deft interweaving of difficult moral and ethical questions into the fabric of science fiction. I was introduced to this pseudo-magical ability of sci-fi to address topical issues by  Arthur C. Clark and Issac Asmimov; much later, Elizabeth Hand showed me the same can be done with dark fantasy. I am thankful to those authors, to the public library, and to my Mom who, although not specfic fan herself, never batted an eye at her strange, strange little girl.

Decades and media delivery formats later, and the strange little reader has become a writer. My debut novel is strictly horror, but my work in progress is a horror/sci-fi hybrid. It’s just about the coolest thing my brain has ever thought, and I’m already working hard to get it written so I can share it with all of your brains. Just make sure you pay your power bill before you read it, because it’s scaring the bleep out of me to write it and, if I do my job right, that scary is gonna make its way to you. You’ll want the lights on – yes, even you!

Fiction can ask serious, humanity-sized questions. It can also ask more mundane, choose-your-own-adventure type of questions. In Stolen Climates, there’s a mix of both, but for this post, I’m going to pose one of the latter. Here’s the situation:

You and your spouse are moving away from the strain of urban life because your spouse has been unstable, and possibly close to accidentally harming herself or your kid. Your remote, not-quite idyllic destination is Breaker, Texas. There are some houses for sale, but all of them have obvious, unlivable defects. Then your realtor shows you one that isn’t as flawed; in fact, it seems just about perfect, if a little odd, what with all the extra shutters on the windows. Still, you’re in a bit of a rush to get the family settled because the office has called. There is a Class-A cluster that you, as manager, need to handle. You’ll have to leave your wife and kid, but you’d like to get them set up in the house first. Your realtor has one more surprise: a condition imposed by the seller. You need to read and notarize that you received the following message:

Potential Buyer –

The house is as good as it seems. The walls are straight, the floor well plumed, the windows sealed against the winter winds and screened against the summer sunlight. The house won’t be your problem.

At first, you will probably love it the way my wife and I did. We were outdoor enthusiasts: hiking, biking, camping. We spent weeks carving trails out of the woods, but the trails we found never seemed to be the ones we made. That was part of the problem. The rest of it, the real crux, are the woods themselves. I’d explain, but it would be a waste of time because you’re either from Breaker or you’re not. Someone in the first category already knows. Someone from the second: buyer beware.


The Lowells

Your assignment is to answer this question: Would you buy the house?

If you choose NO, go to page 73.

If you choose YES, go with whatever gods you have.

Mother Nature isn’t just a metaphor. Stolen Climates / 02.2012


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Writer’s Alchemy

English: Hemingway posing for a dust jacket ph...

Papa Practicing Alchemy – Image via Wikipedia

The wonderful thing about writing is that the writing itself makes life worth living. The things you see, touch, or smell can be used to add verisimilitude to your settings. Any given experience could be the catalyst for that pivotal scene in your novel where everything changes for your characters. Since you can’t know a priori what is going to matter, all of your experiences are elevated. For me, the necessity of observation is freeing and beautiful because it sweeps away existential angst. Maybe I don’t know what my individual purpose is, and perhaps I can’t even be certain I have a purpose.  However, being a writer makes it possible for me to accept that whether or not there is a point is besides the point. My dedication to writing is a self-made purpose that is independent of an existential imperative, buy-in from a higher-power, or fate. With practice, I believe the act of observation can imbue even frustrations with meaning.

Okay, yes. Some meetings I attend feel like waste of time, but they’re a perfect place to watch people interact. Given my imagination, it isn’t difficult to translate what I see in the conference room to what would happen to those same type of personalities given different, more extreme circumstances. On bad days, I can sit in traffic a total of two hours. By leveraging my powers of observation, that time isn’t lost, either. When it’s not over a hundred degrees, I roll down my windows. I listen to the machinery of the cars, the horns, the shouts. I watch the body language of the couple talking in the car in front of mine: are they arguing, making love without touching, staring out the windshield in desperate boredom?

Once, when Hemingway was out with a friend, they saw a dead dog near the train tracks. The carcass was not fresh, and Hemingway’s companion was quick to avert his eyes. Hemingway, writer that he was, declared it our duty to look clearly at everything and to see the triumph in even the nastiest signs of mortality. He understood that active observation is the key to writing. Papa knows best, kids. Just don’t expect your non-writer friends to condone your dallying with the partial remains of deceased animals and you’ll get along fine, I can feel it.

In theory, I can observe in any situation. In practice, I tend to be swept by waves of emotion and lose the serene bit of detachment necessary to conduct useful external observation. Yet even noting my own emotions is the sort of observation that can – has – made an impact on my ability to depict realistic characters. Awareness isn’t a new idea or one specific to writers. Indeed, entire life philosophies are built around the concept of mindfulness. I do think that if you’re a writer, you’re duty-bound to be an observer, regardless of religious or philosophical bent.

Andrew Hudson asked me if I am a pantser or a plotter. For those not up on the lingo, please forgive my deliberate use of cliché and allow me to define a ‘pantser’ as a person who writes by the seat of her pants. A pantser does not adhere to any sort of outline-first, write-later stricture. A plotter is the opposite of a pantser. As I told Andrew, I’m a pantser. I have bright flashes of insight prior to beginning a writing project, but these aren’t held tight to any particular plot. During the weeks or months of drafting, everything and everyone I encounter might reveal a bit of the story I’m trying to tell. It feels like I’m on a scavenger hunt that doesn’t end and where the boon for my quest is always leading me to yet another fascinating quest. It’s enlivening. It’s fun. And, best of all, it’s all right here, every day – life actual!

The alchemy of writing transforms the base lead of life into something golden, pure, and transcendent.  As a writer, it is my sacred duty to pass these transcendent revelations to my readers. Might there be a bit of dirt mixed in with the gold? Of course. I may be a writer, but I’m still human. However,  I am dedicated to refining my observations into increasingly high-quality stories. How? By practicing observation and being open to the whimsy of truth.

Ready, set – transmute!


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In the orchard, a petrified tree – Stolen Climates Sample

The stone tree was leafless, its whited branches twisted by winds long since stilled. Conscious of the woman’s stare and the rows of gnarled trees surrounding them, Genny led Linnae around the back of the car. Together they accompanied Malcolm to the petrified tree.

“I want to go home,” Linnae said.

“There’s nothing to be scared of. See?” Malcolm said. To show her, he touched the tip of the branch closest to him.

Linnae made a frightened noise. It was the same vulnerable noise she made when a bee landed on her their first night away from home. Genny had been unable to move, certain that if she did, the bee would sting Linnae. The insect traversed the back of Linnae’s hand before performing a terrifying ballet on the tender skin between her thumb and forefinger. Then the bee took flight, and Genny had hugged her daughter. She remained full of relief even when she felt the sharp jab of the bee’s stinger and the burning rush of venom. The back of her neck was still itchy and swollen.

“Let’s go,” Genny said. “Laney’s scared. It doesn’t do any good to force her to look at things that scare her.”

“We can’t let her grow up terrified of trees,” Malcolm said.

“You want picture?” the woman with the fan asked. She was standing very close to the Mercers, but none of them had noticed her approach. “Photo?”

Genny shook her head but Malcolm said, “Yes. I think that would be just the thing. Come here, Laney, while Mommy gets the camera.”

“I don’t want a picture,” Genny said.

“Please, just go get the camera.”

Genny took a deep breath, and then tried to pry herself free from Linnae’s clasp. Genny looked at Malcolm. Not without difficulty, he picked up their daughter, her paper crown shifting atop her head.

“I’m scared,” Linnae said.

Malcolm straightened her Burger King crown as he spoke calming words. Genny listened to the low cadence of Malcolm’s consolation, pretending his comfort was meant for her. Behind them, the woman flicked her fan. She waved it around in the dense heat, sighing and shuffling her feet. Genny turned, ready to snap, but the woman was looking past her, watching Malcolm carry Linnae close enough that she could touch the tree.

“Don’t!” Genny said, but her warning was too late.

Linnae pressed her palm to the stone bark. For a moment, everything was as it had been. Then she screamed.

All the orchard’s blighted, gray leaves shook as if there were a breeze. Branches swayed, but there was nothing except the woman fanning herself. Genny dashed forward and swiped her daughter’s hand away from the petrified tree.

“Stop scaring her!” Genny said, blinking at the shrewish sound of her own fear.

Malcolm cradled Linnae, rocking her as he asked, “What happened?”

“It hurt,” Linnae said.

She threw both of her arms around her father’s neck and buried her face in the front of his shirt. Over the top of her bowed and still crowned head, Malcolm and Genny looked at one another. The smell of something going rancid wafted around them and a low hum skimmed and skittered through the preternatural quiet.

“You were right,” Malcolm said. “Let’s skip the picture.” He stepped around Genny to carry Linnae to the car.

Genny moved a little closer to the stone tree. A shuddering darkness not unlike the liquid dark of the road’s heat mirages seeped from the bleached bark. Genny pressed her forefinger into its shadow, but pulled back without touching the tree. The stench was worse now, thick with the gluttonous smell of a carnivore still drenched in the blood of a kill. As Genny backed away, her footsteps left reddish marks in the soil as if the whitestone dust were only a bandage beneath which suppurated a weeping and bloody wound.

With a flick of her wrist, the woman snapped closed the fan and asked, “No photo?”



“I don’t think so,” Genny said.

“Two for one dollar.”

“No, thanks.”

“Ah, then they are a gift.”

The woman went over to the stand and put two peaches in a small brown bag. Then she folded the top of the bag over on itself and thrust the neat parcel at Genny. Inside, the two peaches rolled and bumped together like living things.

“Will you give me a hand over here?” Malcolm called.

Genny took the bag and said, “Thanks. I’m sure they’ll be … peachy.”

She went over to where Malcolm was trying to get Linnae to let go of him long enough to put her back in the car seat. The girl alternated between hiding her face against her father and staring at the petrified tree. Genny touched Linnae’s arm.

“Don’t worry, Laney-loo. We’re leaving now. But you need to be in your seat.”

Linnae wriggled into her seat and sat looking out at the petrified tree as Malcolm strapped her in. When he was finished, she crossed her arms over her chest, a corpse pose. Malcolm closed the door firmly, but without slamming it.

“My blood pressure is singing,” he said, the skin under his left eye twitching.

“Do you want me to drive?” Genny asked.

“No, I’m okay.”

“If you’re sure,” Genny said.

Malcolm opened the passenger door and gestured her inside. When Genny was seated, Malcolm walked around to the driver’s side. He passed close to the woman at her fruit stand. She was chanting, a repetitive sound that mimicked the rise and fall of the hum that started when Linnae touched the tree. Malcolm could make out only the end of the chant. “La Zalia,” she said, but it was nothing that he understood.

“Good day,” Malcolm said.

,” she replied, and then resumed her chant.

Malcolm got in the car and cranked the key in the ignition too hard and too long. In the backseat, Linnae kicked her feet against the back of Genny’s chair. It was a normal thing devoid of its normal annoyance.

Can you hear it, Mommy?”

Malcolm put the car in gear, and backed them away from the trees.

“Mommy, hear it?” Linnae repeated.

“That’s the car,” Genny said. “Just the engine.”

“No! The tree. It’s singing,” Linnae said.

Mother Nature isn’t just a metaphor.  Stolen Climates – online starting 02.2012!


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Stolen Climates: Book Trailer!

The actress is my sister, Erika. She was willing to volunteer her time, her home, and her patience to make the trailer. When our first attempt was ruined by a technical difficulty, she happily volunteered yet another Saturday night. There were eighty-two takes before we could stop laughing enough to record the first line. Someday, I will put together a blooper reel. It’ll make you smile.

Mother Nature isn’t just a metaphor.  Stolen Climates – online starting 02.2012!


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