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,


The Importance of Play

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,


© 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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Secret Hunger Cover Reveal and Contest!

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:

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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Revision: Wanna See How the Sausage Is Made?

DIY Book Covers, Fiction Template #17

Cover Design based on DIY Book Covers Fiction Template #17

I love the freedom of the first draft. The only thing I love more is revising the ever-living bleep out of the first draft. Today, I’d like to share the revision the first paragraph of my surreal short story, MIXED MEDIA. Originally titled REPRODUCTION, I wrote the first draft in 2008. The first draft is full of gory detail, bombast, and sins against English. I’ve chosen three examples of the first paragraph to illustrate my revision process. Now, let’s make some sausage!

Here is an exerpt from June 12, 2008:

My name is Mario Santa Maria.  On Tuesday I walked into a museum where all of the paintings were black.  In the bright foyer of the visiting exhibit, natural light fell upon black canvas after black canvas, making the uniform paint gleam and reflect dark rectangles on the honey-golden floor freshly buffed.  I read the names of the works:  “Surreal Forest,”  “Cloud Ninety-Nine (As Seen from Easy Street),” “Submissive Ocean.”  Each canvas was a straight hung, edge-on-edge perfect patch of night set flush to the walls, and none of them more colorful than a square or rectangle of deep-space pitch.   The brochure describing the exhibit extolled the sensuous representation of Nature, and how each painting (various media) had captured the essence of light and life.  I chuffed a bit under my breath.  What a statement, to fill an entire gallery with such a nihilistic representation on modern life or modern Nature!  It was, I decided, a gutsy if artless venture.

I warned you about the bombast and the sins, no? This paragraph is an Ouroboros, choking on  its own tail. I’ve gone beyond overboard with adjectives. The floor is not just “freshly buffed,” but also “honey-golden.” The paintings aren’t just on the wall, they are “straight hung,” “set flush,” and (ouch, this hurts!) “edge-on-edge perfect patch of night.” I think we all get it that paintings in a museum are hung in an orderly fashion upon the walls. Almost none of that description was necessary, and I may as well take a stick and poke it in the reader’s eyes: “You! Know what? Paintings hang on walls!” I used the word “chuffed,” because Steven King used it in a book; which book, I no longer recall. It’s a fine word, but overbearing and pompous in this paragraph. This paragraph is a “gutsy if artless venture!”

It was also the pinnacle of my ability at the time that I wrote in in 2008. I’d been writing three years, and for the equivalent of a literary toddler, it isn’t bad. Another thing that’s not bad is that I knew I wasn’t ready to publish, and I put the story aside,  took several writing workshops, studied, wrote tons more, completed my first and second novels, and then (then!) came back to revise.

Here is an excerpt from May 5, 2014:

My name is Mario Santa Maria. On Tuesday, I walked into a museum where all of the paintings were black. I walked the perimeter, pausing to read the names of the works: Surreal Forest, Cloud Ninety-Nine (As Seen from Easy Street), Submissive Ocean. Each canvas was a straight hung, perfect patch of night set flush to the walls. The exhibit placard extolled the sensuous representation of Nature, how the paintings captured the modern essence of life. It was gutsy, if artless, to fill an entire gallery with such a nihilism.

This is better. I cut entire swathes of needless description from the paragraph. I kept the first sentence and maintain that simple phrase was always the exact right opening for the story. I replaced the awkward double-quotes around painting names with uber-swank italics. I got rid of “chuffed.” I’ll have you know I actually, sadly struggled with that decision. “Chuffed” is a good word, not oft used. I wanted to bring it back. Or get it started, like a party. I cut it, though, and that was the right decision. Writing is funny, because as a writer, you fall in love with the strange bits you are pretty sure no one else will ever love. You really believe those bloated phrases like “straight hung, perfect patch of night” are simply misunderstood, and if people had sense (SENSE!) they would know what was good for them and LOVE it. Luckily, I have an editor. Her name is Jacinda Little. She doesn’t let me get away with atrocities against my readers. I sent her the version from May 5 for her to edit. I think you’ll agree that with her input, the opening paragraph turns into something that doesn’t make you want to gouge out your own eyes.

Here’s the final revision to the opening paragraph, from June 1, 2014, nearly four years after the first draft was penned:

My name is Mario Santa Maria. On Tuesday, all of the paintings at Vos Museum were black. The works in the visiting gallery had names like Surreal Forest, Submissive Ocean, and Cloud Ninety-Nine (As Seen from Easy Street). Their placards extolled the sensuous representation of Nature. The nihilism was gutsy, and I wondered why there hadn’t been a bigger media splash.

Ahhh, isn’t that better? There are specific details to ground you in the scene, both the painting names and the name of the museum. I no longer try and painfully describe that paintings hang on walls (!). I also finally tell you why the fact that this is gusty matters to Mario or to you, the reader: no one else has noticed or mentioned that there is an exhibit of paintings that are just black canvases. It immediately gives you the interesting fact that Mario alone is remarking upon this particular phenomenon. I’ve also clued you in that Mario is in the museum on a day when most grown-ups are working, and possibly you wonder what’s up with that, which would be great, because a reader with a question is a reader who keeps reading to find the answer. Perhaps I could have come up with shorter names for the paintings. I think they’re clever, and Jacinda didn’t object, so they stay. I hope we can agree that the removal of “chuffed” improves this paragraph.

May your sausage making be guided by an excellent editor!





Story Blurb

Mario Santa Maria is an artist who has lost his dreams – literally. Insomnia, unemployment, and a failing relationship are his lot. Things are going badly, and then things get strange. On a visit to the Vos Modern Art Museum, Mario discovers he has the ability to intercept the communication between art and a viewer. MIXED MEDIA is a surreal tale of masterpieces, Delphic sugar cubes, and the promise of new perspectives.

What’s hidden by what we see?

You can read MIXED MEDIA for free (PDF), or purchase it on Amazon (5.0 out of 5 stars). If you enjoy the story, please consider leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

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