Kill Your Fear, Kiddos & Spiders are Nerds

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Look at this photo (aka internet meme):


You looked away too fast. So, please, now look at it again. I’ll wait.

For at least half of the people reading this, more than half of the people I know in real life, that is a truly horrific scene. Spiders, they are all eight-legs of terror for some folks.


Now check out this photo:


Click to make larger…if you are brave and daring.


That’s the European Garden Spider (aka Cross Spider) that’s been hanging out near my back patio. I’ve nicknamed her appropriately. Charlotte, as she’s in the Orb Weaver family and spins a new web each and every day. As I go out my patio door to let the dog out, get some fresh air, or tend to my crops, there she is. Working away. My husband has taken to calling the critter my pet spider. In a way, I suppose she is. She’s gone through the whole growing season with me, a daily reminder of the season and again, the impermanence of everything.


One day, she decided to go to the south side of our patio and spin a huge web higher up and see what else she might get. I didn’t realize that initially and was all shocked and a little bummed when she wasn’t in her normal spot, keeping the flies and other nastiness out of my home. I thought perhaps some bird had come by and gobbled her up or something like that, or she just met her end of time. Then I looked up, much like Wilbur the pig, and caught the glint of spider’s silk near the lattice work. The next day, it was if she understood my distress that she was gone – or the hunting wasn’t so hot – and she came back to her traditional territory.


My weird attachment to this spider this growing season, noted by my husband and kids, and even remarked about on my social media sites when I shared her photo, made me start thinking about fear. That word has been so misused and given too much power in the last few decades of my life. (I won’t get into the whole American political arena that has been using fear as an oppressive device for my whole life; I’m not focusing on that – right now – this is supposed to be more personal anyways.) When I took the leap from corporate slave to freelance writer/artist, I kept telling myself to kill my fear. I recited the litany against fear from Dune, “I must not fear. Fear is the mind killer…” I started examining what I was truly fearful of and wrestling those fears in my writing, in my happiness project, and in all areas of my existence. It’s been an enlightening journey, to say the least.


The most important thing that I learned was that fear is a matter of perception. Spiders may scare the bejeesus out of you, but I find them interesting (especially when their keeping nasties out of my house and I’m not naked in the shower). My fear might be something that you find intriguing or natural. It’s all perspective. When I turn my perspective on its ear, I find some common ground – as I did when I was working on killing some physical fears last month. Like I told myself that at my age, Elvis was dead. So, if I’m jogging, or heck, even walking, I’m doing good; I’m healthier. When you shift the angle of what you’re looking at, especially when it’s something you are afraid of, it has the power to allow you to become unafraid. In short, to kill your fear. It’s freeing. It’s empowering.


Just as I was musing about that silently in my head doing chores in my kitchen, my 15-year-old daughter came to me about something that she wrote. She said, “I am not going to be afraid of spiders any more.” This is what she showed me:


“Spiders cannot run for extended periods of time because they have asthma. All spiders are nerds. Even tarantulas. Have you ever seen a spider dating a hottie with a supermodel body? I doubt it. Spider flashing his cash in the club? Nope. Spider pulling up beside you at the light in a Lamborghini? Never happened. They’ve got so many eyes because they love reading. Nerds. All o f them.”


I giggled. And she said, “Yeah, spiders are nerds. They’re alright with me.”


From the mouth of babes, as they say.


I have another angle for you, just in case you’re still scratching your head and feeling all icky:




Please look at it again. Really look at it.


It’s fabulous isn’t it? Such detail. Such utter brilliance. She’s quite the nerd, eh?


Spiders as golden touchstones of bravery.
Spiders as golden touchstones of bravery.


Book Review: Agatha Hattie Queen of the Night

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I kind of wish that my kids were little again – so I could read them this story during D.E.A.R. time (Drop Everything And Read). There’s a new children’s book out, Agatha Hattie Queen of the Night, written by Jacquelyn Fedyk and illustrated by Leslie Nan Moon “for strange parents to read to odd little children…” Considering I include myself in the circles of strange and my children are certainly not mainstream, this tag line on the book’s web site is engaging and makes you want to check it out. You should.

Agatha Hattie is a gothic fairytale where Dr. Seuss meets Lemony Snicket, one I think is poised to become a contemporary classic. Agatha Hattie is a girl who just can’t follow the crowd; it leads her down the path where she meets a vampire dog and dances with him in the fog and the mist, much to the distress of her waiting-at-home parents. The vampire dog bites her and Agatha Hattie’s life goes down yet another unexpected path – which lets readers know why some things in the monster world are as they are.

I loved the unique angle of the story, and like I said, the Dr. Seuss meets A Series of Unfortunate Events slant it has to it – all in a gloriously done picture book. Moon’s art pairs dead-on with Fedyk’s darker, yet huggable, themes in the book – independence, diversity, and embracing opportunity. It reminded me of the The Misadventures of Dreary & Naughty (by John LaFleur & Shawn Dubin)– which is aimed more at a young teen audience, whereas Agatha Hattie can be embraced by children as young those who can hold books and sit still for mom to read to them. – Parental approval pending. As a parent myself, I never assume to know what other parents approve of – since each child has to be individually considered. My point is that I would have read it to any of my kids beginning about that time. The book empowers children to look at dark and scary things in a new light and accept them as whimsical and just part of another culture. I really dig that because it allows children to embrace all manner of differences – and isn’t that a good thing to teach our kids? And why not do it with such a fun book!

Where the story ends leaves the door open for another volume. I hope the author and artist will do more. They probably would if there are enough of us clamoring for more.  Since the team of Fedyk & Moon did a smashing job of independently publishing this book, it’s likely an easier sell than other children’s books. I can see the headlines now:  We Want More Agatha Hattie!

For now, I hope that (eventually) I’ll get to read Agatha Hattie Queen of the Night to some (grand?) children.  In the meantime, I wonder if my teenagers would humor me?

Buy this book.

Note:  Fedyk and Moon will be having their first reading/book launch of the book this Saturday (March 9th) in North Bend, Wash. The event begins at noon at Selah Gifts on North Bend Way. I’ll be there.


My Church: Then you do the watusi, yeah do the watusi…

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I remember when I became set in the ways of becoming writer. It started young – I wrote stories in my head when I went around town with my mother shopping and running stories. I would made up stories up about what was the real truth about the cashier, the dry cleaners where we picked up my father’s work uniforms, the baker at the end of the street, the preacher on the pulpit. I filled notebooks as soon as I could form sentences. Locked diaries, or marbled composition books, or spiral ring binders. It didn’t matter. I wrote and wrote. I sketched now and then. One person plays. Shorts. Poetry. Everything.

However, there weren’t a lot of women writers around. Not that I had been exposed to, at least. At least, not until Patti. The incomparable, Godmother of Punk, the Priestess Poet. Patti Smith did what Jim Morrison wanted to do, but didn’t quite accomplish. She merged rock-n-roll and poetry and storytelling. So, to Patti I owe a huge debt of gratitude for being the first strong artistic influence in my life. Thank you, Ms. Smith.

Nothing told me that storytelling was in my soul like sitting in my room listening to her music, specifically her album Horses. I would sit on the floor, lay on the bed, dance to this one album and pour over its excellent lyrics for hours and hours. The images it put in my head, soothing and bolstering my teenage angst and rebellion all at once, kept me sane. I would rewrite the lyrics in my journal. I serenaded it to my boyfriend at the time – who is probably scared for life now. (“….Johnny gets up, takes off his leather jacket…)

My girlfriends who were all gaga for the boy band du jour couldn’t understand my fascination with Patti. But I persisted. She was teaching me all about art. I rewrote it in my journal. To this day, I can recite each line of the song Horses by Patti Smith. Each.and every sweet word. I loved all the songs. But Horses…changed my life. If you’re not familiar with it, you’re missing out.

It was then that I knew that storytelling –whatever its form was inside me. It was part of the DNA coursing through me. That Patti had spoken to me (“…..I put my hand inside his cranium, oh we had such a brainiac-amour…”) and I had my mission in life. Like her, my course was not a straight line. (“….Life is filled with holes…”)  It went up and down and all around. (Read her Just Kids to know what I’m talking about.).

That life-changing album – HORSES – was ferreted out of my father’s collection. My brother inherited it later on. He’s a Patti Smith convert, too. I’ve converted my daughter, now, too. I have seen Patti Smith a few times in my life now, both as a poet, writer and musician. Going to see her is like going to Church for me. I have to go every so often, otherwise I start to die a little inside (“he felt himself disintegrating…”). I listen to her music every day. If you’re on my facebook, you likely see my soundtrack posts, and Patti is featured prominently.

She’ll be in Seattle in a few weeks. I’ve known for sometime. But, living the artist life with kids – because that’s a whole other animal than just being a starving artist – doesn’t mean you can purchase tickets when the window first opens. Starving artist with kids (SAWK) means concert tickets, poetry reading escapades, motorcycle trips, etc. are on hold for braces, college visiting trips, doctor visits, food (dear goddess the food!), etc. Those that know me know that I never seem to do things the easy way (“…Except for one who seizes possibilities, one who seizes possibilities…”). I had every intention of going, and taking my daughter to this cyclic Church service. We were finally gifted the funds to go. I went to sit down and purchase the tickets this morning. But tickets are sold out. Stubhub tickets are stupidly double the general admission cost. I’m naked in my grief here. It feels stupid to feel so sad over such a thing. But, this was truly one thing I could share with my daughter.

I’m thinking this is what it means when religious zealots can’t do their mission, go to their mecca, share their epiphany with others. “at that Tower of Babel they knew what they were after…”

There’s still time to make this happen. People buy tickets and can’t use them. Contests can be won (it’s happened before in my life). I’m blogging about it to put it out into the universe as I am wont to do to help put energies where they need to be. Also, to give you a little personal glimpse into my upbringing as a writer. Also, if you don’t’ intimately know Patti, you need to get to know Frau Smith now.

Tell me, what’s your “Church?” How do you fund such pilgrimages?

Seven: A writer’s wish list for the holidays

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Whatever your celebration — have a merry one.

Chanukah is coming up. The Solstice is near. It’s time for some Yule cheer. Christmas songs are madly playing. While Kwanza and Boxing Day fill the role of holiday game closer.

You’re making your list and checking it twice, right?

I bet dollars to virtual donuts that you have at least one writer on your gift-giving list.

Here are some things that are probably on their wish list. If not, I bet you still won’t go wrong by getting any of these items.

Notebooks. No writer should be without notebooks. But these are my favorite (next to the ol’ composition books from my high-school days). Moleskine. Every shape, size, color. I keep one next to the bed, in my laptop case, in my purse, on my desks. Each one of my novels has an extra-large, ruled book to go with it. My old-school meta documents on character, plot mapping, summaries, changes, any note that I need as the writer to keep the story straight

Good pens. Each writer has a different favorite. I have several in my writing group that love real ink pens. You know the kind you have tips and ink and can do real calligraphy with? Me? I just like something that doesn’t make my hand hurt when I’m doing a marathon session of freewriting in my Moleskine journal. My favorite is Cross on the spendy side, like the Edge Collection model. Or on the cheap and fill my stocking variety, Pilot G2’s can’t be beat. A set in every color is great for editing. Want to really blow the socks off your writer spouse, lover or friend? Spring for this puppy: Cross’ Apogee Frosty Steel Rollerball Pen. Don’t forget the ink refills.

Books about writing. Most writers are going to own books like Stephen King’s ON WRITING, or Julia Cameron’s THE ARTIST’S WAY. If they don’t, I highly recommend you get them either of those, or BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott, or THE WRITING LIFE By Carolyn See, or ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING:  RELEASING THE CRETIVE GENIUS WITHIN YOU by Ray Bradbury. Beyond that, they will need more “technical” advice. For that, here’s my top five picks:

Books not about writing. Outside of my monthly fiction reads, I always am exploring some non-fiction information. It feeds our stories, helps us create characters, scenarios, etc. So it’s important as reading fiction. Recently I’ve been reading lots of books on spirituality, sustainable agriculture, Autism (my son is ASD), and tattoos. You will have to know what interests your writer, but here’s my top five picks for non-fiction reads right now:

Fuel.  Each writer has different things that fuel them. Mine tends to come in the way of caffeine, whiskey, exceptional food, and chocolate. You know every writer has a favorite coffee shop or pub. Why not give them a gift card to that place. Let them experience a new venue or restaurant – take them out. Let them people watch. One of the favorite things I love to do is go out to a bar or grill and sit and make up stories with my dining partner about the strangers that surround us. Everyone has their favorite chocolatier. Take a peek on the writer’s desk to see what wrappers are there, or even better, give them something they could not normally get themselves on their literary pauper salary. Try to match the chocolate to the type of writing they do:  dark with dark, spicy with spicy, light and fluffy with light and fluffy. You get the drift

Time. A writer needs time to write. So, give them time. Walk their pet one day a week so they can eek out an extra hour of writing. Watch their kids when they are on deadline. Mow their lawn. Whatever you think will give them more time.

Inspiration. Many writers are inspired by beautiful things. Whether it’s a piece of art, handcrafted jewelry, hand-knitted fingerless gloves, a trip to the theatre or movies, specially sculpted book ends, or a trip to somewhere new and beautiful (an unexplored beach, hiking path, mountain top). Give them something beautiful – big or small. Then watch the words flow.

What do you think is the best gift to give a writer? I’m so interested in how creative people get with artists in their lives. Tell me. Don’t be shy. (Can you tell I’m also looking for more ideas?)

Happy gift-giving.


It’s Just Story – Don’t Label It Anything Else

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Leading up to and following WorldCon, there was lots of discussion about genre mashup, new genre, new pulp, existential pulp, new adult, new weird, new Y.A. – just new, new new.

Discussions here, here, here, and here (with more here), made me think that I’m one of those writers that struggles because I don’t fit neatly into a box. Okay, I can hear an evil fey in my ear channeling Nick Mamatas throw a snappy response back about fitting into the “not published enough” or “not good enough” box…but that’s just that constant author’s shadow of self-doubt creating external villains. (For the record, I have much respect for Mr. Mamatas, and have great appreciation for his work, as well as his fiery honesty. Why his face is on the evil fey whispering in my ear…well, that’s just an author’s imagination.)

But, the bottom line is that most writers I know, including myself, just want to write what we write. We don’t want to fit into little boxes. The marketing professional inside of me says, well, sorry, kiddo you have to have labels so that the bookstores know where to shelve your product (book). This whole belief that consumers (readers) only read from a certain shelf is very limited. Are there customers like that? Sure, there is; but, the fact is that most readers read everything. They will read a mystery, they’ll read a collection of short stories, they’ll read science fiction and fantasy; they’ll even read literary fiction. What’s my evidence of this? My book shelves, the book shelves of my friends and family, what I see my community members reading in the library, and it seems some folks in the industry (especially the library side of the house) tend to agree. Oh, and don’t forget the internet – the internet’s bookshelves are endless, as the affable Chuck Wendig pointed out.

However, even when common sense prevails, there is a clear problem with the industry. I say this because I’m seeing such statements from authors trying to thrash themselves away from confining genre labeling and what the industry seemingly expects of them. Writers like Caitlin R. Kiernan or Myke Cole have to communicate – via blogs, interviews, panels at conventions, etc. – that they are only going to write one way until they are taken serious as a science fiction writer (Kiernan), or that men can write romance (Cole) in order to throw off the chains of genre or author branding. I see a problem when people say William Gibson is defeating his author branding by writing historical fiction as opposed to cyberpunk.  Hell, eventually, even the almighty J.K. Rowling has to write something else. Whereas other authors like Harlan Ellison,  Neal Stephenson,  Dan Simmons, and Jean Johnson write in multiple genres with relative ease and no one tries to clamp them down to one genre shelf. Even classics like Orwell and Adams wrote in multiple genres. Of course, then there are folks who seem to have their own genre, like China Miéville or Neil Gaiman. Other times, some folks just bend the language to make being trapped in a genre something good:  Be a specialist, they say. I say Bollocks! to the spin doctoring. Write what you want. If the story is good, it will sell.

Over the years I’ve written everything from non-fiction, fiction, creative non-fiction, and from horror to literary fiction. When I sit down to write a story the first thing on the forefront of my mind is not what genre it is.  I’m writing to tell the story that must be told. It is as simple as that. Nothing more. My protagonists certainly don’t whisper in my ear and say, “I must be on the hard-case crime shelf,” or ‘Hey, you, writer, you better make sure that I end up on the same shelf as Cronin, King, Neville, or Straub.” No, they grab the writer (me) and say, “Tell my story and let the world know.”

I may be being too metaphorical here; however, I despise when I read something that is just rehashed formula made to just sell and not stimulate (I will refrain from naming names, but many of them are sold at Wal-Mart check-out stands or liquidated via Costco). I bore of stories like that. I want to see the writer challenge me – both of us going out of our comfort zone. I seem to be quoting Kiernan a lot lately, but she’s got a fucking good point:  “I am not here to write stories that make you feel good about yourselves.”  Both as a reader and a writer, that’s not what I look for from my literature. Make me think. Make me feel. And for goodness sake, don’t coddle me. If I liked your science fiction story, I’m probably going to dig your historical fiction. If I liked your graphic novel, I’m likely going to dig your young adult project, too. I don’t want my authors to type-cast themselves; I certainly don’t want them to pigeonhole me as a reader.

Given that, I don’t expect anyone to do that to me either. Fuck the genre police. Write your story and don’t let the bookshelf labels hold the pen.

*Writer’s Note:  Thanks to the Twitter-verse for helping my frontal lobe connect more examples for my arguments here. @impropaganda and @chriswhitewrite were especially on point.