Stories are a Timeless, Magical Gift

The inspiration I’m given to write does not belong to me. It comes from the same source that created me, you, and everyone you love. It comes from Being itself. I’ve always had qualms about selling the fruits of that inspiration. It’s taken years of contemplation, waffling, and facing fear – yes, fear. Fear that by giving away my stories I will be seen as lacking dedication to the literary craft. Fear that making my stories free will somehow hurt other writers who want and need to make money from their art. Fear that even if the stories are free, no one will read them.


I don’t want to be a best seller. Writing isn’t about self-aggrandizement. It is pure gift, and gifts by their definition are outside of commerce. After years of contemplation, I finally realized that the “price” of free says nothing about the purity of my intent when I write. I can give you a gift, and still be dedicated to my craft. My only goal is to keep learning to be a better writer. I’d love for you to join me on the journey.

I’m sorry if you are a writer who feels this hurts you. I respect the effort you put into your creations. I pay for your books – happily. If you are a writer who is following the same path I am, and I read your story, I will click your Donate button. The nature of the gift demands reciprocity. Money (sadly) is still the easiest way to make the return, and to show appreciation.

If no one reads my stories, even free, that is not mine to carry or change. Words move those they are meant to move, and it is not within my control to decide how many people or who or even when my words reach them. That said, empirical evidence on Wattpad and Smashwords indicates people are reading my free offerings. I am working to get price-matching to trickle into Amazon, but even though that hasn’t happened yet, I feel a great soul-contentment to have every one of my published works available for free – as a gift – on Smashwords.

You can find links to free downloads for all of my books on my publishing website:

As always,


Impact of the Unseen


Mr. Aniko and I have been watching a series on Netflix. It is marketed as a police procedural, but is more like a soap opera where romantic entanglements are replaced with murderous collusions. The first three seasons were a shifting kaleidoscope of primary suspects projected onto the backdrop of a platonic relationship between two homicide detectives. This isn’t a “buddy cop” sort of gag reel, though, and the two detectives are sufficiently damaged people to make the shocking shift at the end of the third season acceptable, if not entirely believable. The flawed detectives became that which they spent the previous three seasons hunting: they are now killer and accomplice.

Okay. Here’s where a mistake was made.

Netflix is beta testing adding previews/recaps to the start of new seasons of shows. We didn’t want to risk the preview revealing a spoiler, so Mr. Aniko and I stopped it, and went to watch the first episode in season four. Or… more accurately, what we thought was the first episode.

I was impressed by the boldness of the season’s beginning. The writer chose to omit the pivotal hours just after the detectives step outside of the law, instead choosing to drop the audience into the middle of an emotional quagmire, days after the germinating events. Visual media, and especially television, has a nasty habit of spoon-feeding viewers as if the audience possesses neither intelligence nor intuition. I was giddy to be watching a television series that was confident enough in the strength of the story and the emotional acumen of the audience to avoid spoon-feeding. My emotional investment was heightened because the storyteller gave me room to infer certain aspects of the drama from the psychological tone of the detectives. I LOVED it! I was especially blown away by the (apparent) symbolic mirroring provided by a character under suspicion for committing a different crime. This suspect suffers from amnesia, and cannot remember the traumatic events that make our damaged, nervous-breakdown-having-detectives think he’s the murderer. The amnesia of that character mirrored the “amnesia” that I, the audience, had with regard to the detectives’ early actions after committing their grisly crime. It felt like a clever hat-tip by the show’s writer: I know and you know that something happened, and we both know it’s that gap in your knowledge that intrigues and titillates.

If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.

—Ernest Hemingway in Death in the Afternoon [4]

In literature, I believe authors choose this technique for the exact reason that a trauma is less a part of any character’s story than their response to that trauma. Minette Walters writes gritty, hyper-real mysteries, the hallmark of which is the omission of the primary trauma. Coy glimpses of the trauma leek through a character’s faulty or obfuscated narrative, but the event itself is not recounted. The unseen carries psychological weight – and a great writer knows this. Walters’s stories are the applied praxis of Hemingway’s iceberg theory. In order for this to work, the writer MUST know exactly what happened in the trauma. Her knowing is what shapes a narrative that supports the reader in intuiting the untold truth. This technique can only be pulled off by a master. Walters is one, but so too is Shirley Jackson. It is an unwritten scene in Hangsaman that sets the trajectory for the rest of the novel, and it is breathtaking.

Remember that mistake I told you about? Well, the preview for the fourth season was actually integrated into the first show for the season. When we stopped the preview and went to what we thought was the first show, we actually jumped to the second show. We have since gone back and watched the first episode. Not surprisingly, we found it to be superfluous. Not only did it not give the audience anything other than details (which I intuited anyways based on the outcome), but it robbed the entire season of the psychological edginess it had when it left some things off screen. Where stories begin alters the emotional impact. Not everything needs to be shown, and in fact, not showing can be more powerful.

As ever,


There’s Only One Way to Do the Job

I’m planning to make the shift to giving away all of my fiction for free.  I’ve cut production costs for any given publication by investing in the tools and skills necessary to do formatting and cover design, but editing – that’s a non-trivial expense. I’m not complaining. My editor charges a fair rate for the excellent work she does, and I come away from each piece we produce feeling like we’ve made something worthy – together. However, the shift to entirely free raises the question: should I continue to pay hundreds of dollars per story if I am not selling the books? I am fortunate in that this is a separate question than the one of being able to afford to pay an editor, and yet….  I’ll admit, I considered skipping editing. It gave me a twinge, and whenever something twinges in my conscience, I ask Mr. Aniko what he thinks. He was the one to remind me of the movie Chef, which we watched a few weeks ago.

Mr. Aniko: You remember that scene in Chef, where the son wants to serve the burned sandwich to someone who wasn’t paying, and the father (the chef) prevents him?

Me: Yes. That was one of my favorite scenes.

Mr. Aniko: The chef said that they couldn’t serve the sandwich, and the son said, “Well, they’re not paying for it.” Then the chef explained that to his son that cooking is both an art and a labor of love, and if you love something, you do it to the best of your ability, no matter if someone is paying for it or not.

If I were to skip editing, I’d be casting myself as the son giving away burnt sandwiches. It wouldn’t be respectful to readers. It wouldn’t be respectful of the gift I have been given nor of the source of that gift.

Recently, I listened to a sermon on the nature of God’s light. Each person is a unique expression of love, and this love is produced as light. The preacher meant literal light – as in glowing, white light coming from people who had removed enough of their false selves to let the inner light shine through. It reminded me that we’re all made of star dust. It reminded me that “namaste” means “the light in me reflects the light in you.” It reminded me that readers aren’t some nebulous entities who are there to read&review my stories for my benefit. To give them anything less than my best effort would be disrespectful to them, and through them, right back up to the source of that star dust, that light.

As a former co-worker always said, “There’s only one way to do any job: the right way.”


The Importance of Play

the happy writer:

Mari writes a thoughtful post on the nature of writing, play, and the fast-publishing milieu. If you are an indie writer, this is a post you should read. Mari exposes a creativity-killer, one that walks in our midst but is almost never discussed. She is honest and brave, and this is evident not just in this post, but also in her published fiction. Please take a moment to read, respond, and share your experience with losing the muse – and getting her back!

As ever,


Originally posted on Mari Biella:

© Pnovess /  Dreamstime Stock Photos The way forward is not always a straight line… © Pnovess / Dreamstime Stock Photos

Recently, while tapping away at a work-in-progress, I hit the buffers. The ideas that once seemed fresh and exciting began to look dull, and the words that once seemed so alive suddenly became leaden, lifeless artefacts. Matters weren’t helped by the fact that I was beginning to sense a looming deadline – not, I should stress, a deadline that had been imposed on me, but one that I had imposed on myself. Feeling that time was running out, I forced myself to sit down and write for a certain number of hours every day; yet during those hours, I often found, I actually managed to achieve very little. I was putting in the hours, all right, but I wasn’t seeing the results.

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Why I’m Thinking of Leaving Amazon


Each of us are given a constellation of gifts. We do not get to choose what these gifts are. We do not have to like them – and maybe you will spend years being petty and angry about not getting the gifts you wanted. For example: I wanted to be a scientist, but I was not given the gift of mathematical intuition. I spent years training to be a physicist, and you know, I can force it, but it’s exhausting because there’s no true inspiration behind what I do. It is entirely manmade. Artificial. Artifice. Only after deciding to cultivate a gift I was given – that of being able to write with honesty and intensity – only then did I begin to see my purpose. I also got another gift that I initially spurned, but it is the perfect match for my writing: I am good at testing software. Testing provides for my financial and creature needs, and in a physical, material way supports the transcendent gift of my writing – transcendent because it is the thing I am meant to give back to the world. Trying to force the mundane and the spiritual into the same pen was a lot like my years playing at physicist. It was a pointless fight. I’m finished.

If you read my last post, you know that I’ve been trying to live by some monastic principles. I’m paring back the noise and replacing the question of “What do I want?” with “What is right for me to do?” I see now that there are very few things I must do:

  • Love my fellow man and practice compassion.
  • Be a faithful wife.
  • Write.

Part of my spiritual quest has been to be deliberate about where I spend my attention. I can choose to spend my attention on gaming the publication system, or I can spend it quietly growing into who I am meant to be. I can choose to focus on the superficial, or I can choose to dwell in the numinous. I can keep trying to figure out how to monetize my literary gifts, or I can be grateful I don’t need to figure that out because I have another gift which intersects the realm of commerce. For all of these reasons, I am considering pulling my books from Amazon, and making them free on Wattpad, Smashwords, and my own site,, where three free stories are available now. I just need to find the time to make the transition, probably after my ten-week craft class is over, because there is a lot of behind the scenes effort that goes into such a shift.

I keep thinking of the monk who is purported to have written the Codex Gigas. The Codex is three feet tall, weighs one hundred and sixty pounds, and was written longhand prior to 1295. We know almost nothing of the author other than the remarkable fact that he spent somewhere around twenty-five years working in probable isolation to produce this book. This was an act of faith. I have a feeling he understood the production of the book was never about him, and that his glory was in the act of responding to the call he was made to answer. I want to write with that purity. I want to be absent from the intention. That is humility. And again, it is faith. Someone will point out that the colloquial name for this book is the Devil’s Bible, because of the legend that the monk supposedly made a deal with the devil to write the entire 160-pounds of it in one night so as to save his own life, and also because there is a rather cartoonish illustration of a devil included amongst the pages. Maybe that happened. The picture of the devil-thing is real. However, literary forensics indicates the quieter story, the one of plodding decades of anonymous writing. I think also of Murdoch’s The Book and the Brotherhood (someone help me here! I think that’s the book I mean, but Mudoch wrote so much!). After a character’s death, someone goes through the deceased’s desk and finds thousands of pages of gorgeous poetry, the sort of work that could have brought fame. Murdoch’s point is that there are pure ways of creation that are abstracted from the communal shouting match. Can I be humble enough to stop even secretly hoping my writing will make me visible to the world?

Leaving Amazon is in alignment with my beliefs, although it is in stark contradiction to the clamoring voices who are telling me that’s not how the game is played. I’m choosing to focus on quiet and contemplation. I have faith that the people who are meant to find my stories, will. If no one is meant to find them, not even one person? That’s not up to me, either. My calling is to write and to share; my calling is to practice compassion; my calling is to be steadfast in my relationships. I’ll be a good wife, a kind stranger and, maybe someday, truly become the person I’m meant to be.

As ever,


In a room with one soul.

There is a hollowness in my metaphysical gut. It’s not depression. Depression feels like being a small, guttering flame trapped between a thickening wall of glass and an abyss. It’s not fear. Fear feels like little rat-teeth tearing at your sanity when the clock on the nightstand is stuck at three, always three.  It’s not anticipation. Anticipation feels like seeing the man you love strolling down a long, brick walkway and you are too far off for even your loudest shout to get his attention. This hollowness is none of the things I recognize. It might have something in common with sadness. When I try to put it in words, to explain to those who know me why I’m not smiling as often, I simply say I feel sad all of the time – but that’s not accurate. Words are never accurate.

I have been obsessed with the lives of the monastic religious. There was a rather silly week where I was upset that I can’t be a Jesuit. I don’t meet the four basic requirements: I’m not Catholic, I’m not male, I’m not debt-free (the mortgage counts) and, even if I were to suddenly fit the first three requirements, I’m almost too old to be admitted. Oh, and I’m married. Marriage is kind of a deal-breaker for monastic life. I’m smiling as I write this – hollowness be damned. I love my husband. He’s been a constant friend and ally for nigh near half of my time on this (sad, sad) Earth. He is my magnetic North.


So I can’t be a Jesuit and I can’t be a Trappist Monk and I can’t be a Nun. It seems I’m stuck out here in the secular world. Maybe I can apply some of the rules for monastic living to my life as it is, and find something to replace this hollowness? It was Thomas Merton who got me into this whole examination of contemplative Christianity, so I turned to YouTube and Google (where else?) to help me learn more about the life of a Trappist monk. There are three basic sections of Benedictine Rule, or the principles that shape monastic life. The first is Stability, which is a life-long dedication to a community and to relationships. The second is Obedience, which is to follow the instructions of the Abbot and God’s word. The third is Conversion, which is the willingness to be open to God as he works through you and the people around you. There is much more to the monastic Rule, but these three principles give me a place to start to make my life more meaningful.  Maybe if I can imbue meaning and spirituality into the structure of my secular life, I will find that I am not so far from who I am meant to be. I really don’t know, but that’s my hope.

As is often the case with spiritual seeking, there has been a confluence of input lighting my path. I am reading Foucault’s Pendulum, by Umberto Eco and amongst the humor and the intuitive leaps of the narrator & company, there is a strong thread of the idea of an all-connecting spirituality. Oh, and Jesuits just entered the plot, stage right (they’re EVERYWHERE, once you notice them!). One Friday evening, mind all mush from a week of intense concentration at the day job, I decided to let Netflix entertain me. I picked an indie film named Something, Anything. As is the case for most Netflix descriptions, it was scant and only faintly evocative of the actual story: A woman suffers a loss, and re-evaluates her life. That could be … anything. Or something? I decided to give it a chance, and the huge, intense (and intensely sad) eyes of the lead actress convinced me to finish the film. There is an awful, heart-wrenching scene near the beginning of the movie (the loss) and many quiet, almost shy scenes of contemplation. And, wouldn’t you know it, she ends up visiting Gethsemani Abbey, Merton’s Trappist monastery. Something, Anything isn’t a movie for the general public; there’s no action, there’s no sex; there’s very little dialog. It turns out to have been the perfect movie for me, at the perfect time. Even the exercises in my craft class have these gorgeous lines that speak to me on a spiritual level. In Ode to the Lost Luggage Warehouse at the Rome Airport, Barbara Hamby writes, “…you take a careful waltz through the months, and find nothing in the midst of so much.” In Driving the Heart, Jason Brown writes, “Hearts travel at night.” And those lines connect like the information narrator & company of Foucault’s Pendulum feed into Abulafia (their “super” computer), and I start to sense a vast network of meaning and hope thrumming around me, but nearly hidden by the rush and furious sound of our modern, status-and-thing-focused culture. It’s enough to make me think that maybe, in my own quiet way, I can find what I need.


As ever,


Secret Hunger Cover Reveal and Contest!

the happy writer:

This reblog is to showcase Satin Russell’s latest post, in which she reveals the cover of her debut novel. Satin is a thoughtful commentor, friendly on Twitter, and brave enough to take the plunge and make writing the focus of her life. I am pleased to introduce her to you as my friend.

And now, Satin’s post:

Originally posted on Satin Russell:

Secret Hunger Cover - OFFICIALI’m excited to unveil the cover for my debut novel, Secret Hunger! What do you think? Followers of my newsletter had a chance to weigh in a couple of weeks ago, and I’m happy to say that the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

As most of you know, the release date for Secret Hunger is drawing nearer. Part of the process has been converting my files into something that can be read on a kindle. (Which I’ve been learning how to do today.)

I’ve put together my very first digital ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) and thought it would be neat to give it away to somebody who can’t wait to read it.

So, this is how it’s going to work.If you’d like to have a chance to read my book before it’s available anywhere else, be sure you’re signed up to my newsletter. If you share this post, your name…

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