Creativity: Crushing and Glorious


Creativity is a crushing chore and a glorious mystery. The work wants to be made, and it wants to be made through you. ~ Elizabeth Gilbert

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A Writer’s True Compensation

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A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul, and that, I am sure, is why he does it. ~ Roald Dahl

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An Interview with Author Keith Pyeatt, Part 2

Keith Pyeatt is an engineer turned novelist who writes paranormal thrillers with a psychological twist that he calls “horror with heart.” Living for ten years in an isolated cabin in Vermont may have influenced his choice of genre, but his empathetic nature is what helps him create a variety of characters — “likeable, despicable, tortured, and those ‘gray’ characters you can’t quite decide whether to love or hate.” Keith has four published standalone novels including Struck, Dark Knowledge, and Above Haldis Notch, with Daeva (October, 2015) being his most recent. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook, and his website


Your latest novel Daeva “pits supernatural manipulation against human devotion when a powerful demon with a grudge against mankind stands ready to gain access to the world.” What makes this novel unique in the paranormal market?
I think a lot of an author’s storytelling style is revealed in how he or she develops characters. Character development and the heavy use of psychological tension are what make Daeva unique.

Your main character in this novel is Chris, an inherently good guy who was raised to host a demon in his head. Tell us about your other main protagonists.
Sharon, Chris’s sister, was largely ignored and ridiculed as a child, but because of her inner strength, she matures into a confident, well-loved character. Her biggest weakness is her blind devotion to those she loves, and that trait makes for an interesting twist late in the novel. Her initial goal is to free her brother from the demon’s influence, but she ends up trying to save her brother’s life and spare the world from the demon.

Rick is a childhood bully turned nerd turned hero. He’s meek, insecure, and not particularly bright or capable, but he loves deeply and has great focus. He is madly in love with a woman who will always love him only as a friend, and he inherits a big chunk of the responsibility for saving mankind.

Which point of view did you enjoy writing the most, the protagonist’s or the antagonist’s?
I have the most fun when I’m writing from the point of view of a character with interesting motivations. In Daeva, I used multiple point of view characters, but I didn’t really have a favorite. The protagonists are all working on their own agendas, and they keep dark secrets, often from each other. That aspect made writing from each point of view very fun for me.

Is there a scene in your book that you’d love to see play out in a movie?
I visualize heavily as I write and edit, so I’m always “seeing” the scenes playing out in my mind. I’d particularly love to see any of the scenes involving Minnie’s cabin and the surrounding woods (portraying beauty and eeriness, isolation and loneliness). Many big moments that trigger a wide range of emotions and turning points happen there.

I’d also love to see the ending climax that’s set on a small bridge during a winter storm. There’s a lot of turmoil going on inside the head of each character, and there are many questions hanging in the reader’s mind. It was a fun but complicated scene to write. I never revealed exactly where the rarely-used bridge led, by the way, not even to the characters. I decided that defining a destination wouldn’t add as much atmosphere as leaving it unknown. I like that they’re all on the bridge for the climax, and no one knows what’s on the other side.

My last pick may sound like a strange scene to want to watch because there’s almost no action in it. It’s a scene two-thirds of the way into the novel where the psychological tension really ramps up. Rowena, an older, eccentric woman, comes up from her basement. She’s highly emotional as she tries to accept something horrible that she must do, and as the last light of a fading winter’s day angles in through the window, she studies the heroine Sharon standing in her kitchen. I love the contrast between all the inner turmoil and emotion surging through Rowena and the peaceful kitchen in the magic light of dusk. The last light of day fades, and the kitchen darkens as Rowena looks through loving eyes at Sharon.

When readers turn the last page of Daeva, what do you hope they will take away from it?
The ending is emotional with big twists and a firm resolution. I hope readers will be completely satisfied and happy that they spent time reading Daeva. That’s really what I shoot for, creating a novel that’s a temporary and satisfying escape from real life. If there’s a takeaway beyond good entertainment and a strenuous exercise for your emotions, I guess I’d like it to be the high value of loving and being loved.

AboveHaldisNotch150Do you have a message or a theme that recurs in your writing?
All my novels have themes and messages that help bind the story together. Daeva has a power-corrupts theme. Above Haldis Notch has a vengeance-is-poison theme and a family strength/family burden message. Struck has an acceptance theme. Dark Knowledge has a theme about every life being equally important and a very obvious theme that good and bad can’t always be separated, especially when it comes to people. You’d better learn to accept the whole package, because you’re not getting sunshine without darkness. I do have a recurring message about the value and power of friendship that someone pointed out to me once. The main characters in all of my novels have a very strong friendship, and that bond is critical to the main character and to the plot.

How do you come up with your titles? Your character names?
Sometimes names and titles just pop into my head and feel right. Other times, I use a baby naming website, either to peruse for inspiration or to look up names that have a certain meaning. For example, Barry, the name of the protagonist in Struck, is based on a name that means warrior. The word “haldis” in the title of my afterlife thriller, Above Haldis Notch, is based on a word that means stone spirit.

What are the hardest kinds of scenes for you to write?
Internal struggles that take place with little physical activity or dialogue are hard for me to write. That sounds like a weird difficulty for someone who writes novels that depend on creating lots of psychological tension, but those types of scenes are always my biggest challenge. Like with any good challenge, it feels great when I finally get it right, so there’s a reward for hanging tough through the process.

How has the Paranormal market changed in the last 10 years?
Trends come and go (vampire, zombie, etc.), but the market seems to have changed, too. The lion’s share of paranormal novels now seems to be romance and/or erotica. I’ve had two publishers publish a novel of mine and then stop publishing (or supporting) paranormal novels that don’t have a strong romantic or erotic focus, so it hasn’t been a welcome or kind change for me.

Struck-150When did you know you were a writer?
I lived for a decade in a log cabin in rural Vermont on twenty-five acres of wooded land with an amazing view. I had a wood stove for heat and a dog at my feet. How could I NOT end up writing novels? I knew I was a writer when I finished writing the first draft of my first novel. I was certain I’d do it again and again.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m plunking away in a stop-and-go manner that’s definitely not my usual writing style. It’s an alternate world, paranormal novel that I call Sirens of Sayhurn. The alternate world lets me stretch my imagination, and it’s very dark with lots of addiction, lust, danger, and heart. I really like what I have (about a third of a novel). I need to lay out a block of time to devote to nothing but writing so I can finish the first draft.

To learn more about Keith and his writing, go to Part 1 of “An Interview with Author Keith Pyeatt” on

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Every Book Demands its Own Thing


You’re the kind of writer that you are. You have a process. Maybe that process is slowly and painstakingly crafting a novel over many years—a dedication like that of a watchmaker’s artifice. Or maybe instead you prefer to write like a squirrel covered in fire ants…every book demands its own thing. It takes the time that it takes.
~ Chuck Wendig

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A Writer’s Approach: Plotter, Pantser, Hybrid

Here’s a repost of my 2013 article from

It’s been said, and much debated, that there are two kinds of writers—those who outline and plan before starting a writing project (plotters) and those who dive in and write “by the seat of their pants” (pantsers). Many writers, myself included, are hybrids who fall somewhere between the two, combining the traits or techniques of both to one degree or another.

…imagination is limitless. Do not, therefore, reduce your story to outlines and sketches, notes and 3×5 cards. You will make your story finite this way and it will suffer because it cannot grow beyond your outline. ~ David L. Robbins

BNkS6XBCEAMNJKlPlotters have a lot of tools and techniques at their fingertips to help plan out their stories: outlines, scene cards, storyboards, character profiles and personality charts. Many plotters have folders filled with things like diagrams and photos, notes on history, culture, and languages. There are two possible problems in this type of approach. First, a writer could get so bogged down with accumulating information, building plot structure, and the need to plan, that he doesn’t write. And second, creativity could be sacrificed for structure, leaving the story as lifeless as a textbook. The positive side to being a plotter-type is a writer will always know what the next step is. He will probably not suffer from writer’s block. And by the time the first draft is complete, he won’t have to worry about things like plot holes and continuity issues.

A pantser needs to plot on the fly so she can stay enthralled with her story. Her creative psyche requires a challenge in order to operate optimally. ~ Kathleen Baldwin

BNkTCLSCEAELyUuPantsers tend to throw themselves into a story and go for it, letting the characters reveal themselves and the plot unfold as they go. There are two main problems that can arise from using this approach. One, the story—though truly character-driven—often suffers from either too little or too much plot. The main plotline can become convoluted or there might be so many sub-plots it’s too hard to keep track of them all. And halfway into the project, the characters can easily drive the story into a corner. This leads to the second problem. The very nature of pantsing means the writer doesn’t know where the story is going, and that can translate into writer’s block and unfinished projects. Pantsing is a fun and creative way to write, but at the end of the first draft, much research still needs to be done, along with structuring, etc.

Chase your story, believe in your characters and follow them. Do not predetermine every step they take but record what they do, and do the recording breathlessly but with control, as if you just came inside to report…a marvel you have just witnessed. ~ David L. Robbins

Hybrid5So it seems that too much of a good thing is not so good a thing. Enter the hybrid writer. Not to say a plotter isn’t creative or a pantser can’t write a coherent story, but combining the techniques of both could make for a better story overall. But whether a writer tends to be a plotter-pantser or a pantser-plotter, story plot and structure still need to be addressed at some point in the process.

Author Janice Hardy takes a hybrid approach to crafting stories. She creates the framework first but keeps the story fresh in her mind by giving her characters free rein within the structure (see her excellent article “Going Both Ways: Outlines for Plot, Pantser for Character“).

In my own writing, I jump into a story without an outline but only characters and a vision of the story landscape as a guide. After a few chapters of writing this way, I usually know where the story will end up and I begin a loose outline. I continue to write and craft my outline, adding notes to aid in continuity and reminders for research. This process keeps me moving forward but leaves room to let the characters drive the story. I still have work to do after the first draft is finished but catering to the way my pantser-plotter brain works is worth the extra effort at the end.

In the article “Writers—Plotters or Pantsers” author Trish Jackson discusses the differences between the brains of a plotter and a pantser. She believes plotters predominately use the left side of their brain which controls logic and order. They’re more likely to create a detailed plan and write plot-driven stories. Pantsers tend to be more right-brained—creative but disorganized—and tend to write character-driven stories.

woman_spinJackson’s article also includes this graphic of a spinning woman. To see if you’re right- or left-brained, watch the woman. If she spins clockwise, you’re using your right brain. If she spins counter-clockwise, you’re using your left. And if you can change the direction of her spin, you’re a little of both—and probably have hybrid tendencies.

If you find yourself struggling with a writing project, keeping a tight grip on your writing approach could be the problem. A consistent struggle with writer’s block or finishing a project might be helped by stepping over into plotter territory. And if your story seems a bit on the lifeless side or you’re not enjoying the process, letting your pantser-self loose for a while could be the answer.

 Are you a plotter, a pantser, or a hybrid of both? According to the spinning woman, are you left-brained or right?

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Is History Myth?


History is the present. That’s why every generation writes it anew. But what most people think of as history is its end product, myth.
~ E.L. Doctorow

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NaNoWriMo: How to Make the Time to Write a Novel in 30 Days

NaNo2015Header2015 will mark the 17th year thousands of writers from around the world begin National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) on November 1st. Few would argue this is a crazy journey—attempting to write a 50K-word draft of a novel in thirty days. Some might say it’s an impossible feat, but in 2014 over 58,000 participants completed their novel drafts (out of the 325,000+ who signed up). Most of those who didn’t “win” still made progress, still wrote more words than if they hadn’t stepped onto that road to give it a try.

Whether you’re planning to participate in NaNoWriMo or committing to your own writing schedule, finding the time to meet your daily word count is essential to success. For NaNo, that means writing 1667 words every day (or however you want to break it down). Here are a few things I’ve done to make the time to write and cross the NaNo finish line three years in a row.

1. Make friends with your calendar
♦ Mark off whole days or partial days in November that you know you absolutely won’t be able to write (like birthdays or Thanksgiving).
♦ Block off daily/weekly time for writing—before/after work or school, during commute time, lunch hours, your child’s naps. Get up earlier or go to bed later than usual. Even finding 15 minutes here and there will add up.
♦ Plan catch-up or get-ahead days. Make up for the days you know you can’t write and build in time for unexpected, but inevitable, glitches in your perfect plan. Weekly writing marathons can push you ahead after a setback. Local NaNo chapters often schedule write-ins.
♦ Reschedule and/or avoid setting appointments that can wait until a more convenient time.

2. Plan meals for the month
♦ Make slow-cooker meals, sandwiches, breakfast-for-dinner. Pick one night a week (or more) for fast food.
♦ Don’t forget Thanksgiving or other celebrations. Delegate to family/friends, if possible.
♦ Cook extra servings in October and freeze for November meals.
♦ Stock up on favorite snacks (for NaNoWriMo, popcorn and your favorite caffeinated beverage is considered a meal).

3. Get your writing space ready
♦ If you’re writing at home, de-clutter your writing space and prep for battle victory. Remove distractions, except for favorite writing quotes tacked to the wall.
♦ If you can’t write at home, scope out one or more places that will work for you. Local libraries are great if you like quiet or a coffee shop if you don’t mind the noise. I used to write in my car on my lunch hour.

4. Enlist help
Letting family and friends know how important this commitment is to you should elicit help with daily/weekly chores, like laundry and dishes, and vital responsibilities such as childcare.

5. Restrict television viewing and social media
Reward yourself with these when you meet your word count. Record your favorite shows to view later or build in time on your calendar.

6. Restrict socializing
Again, reward yourself after meeting word counts or build in this time. Or just say “no” and schedule a post-NaNo celebration with friends/family to make up for your transgressions.

7. Prioritize
Plan to do those things that are necessary and let the rest slide. This can be a difficult thing to do, especially if you’re a perfectionist, but doing so will make a huge difference in how much time you have to write.

8. Embrace your OCD tendencies
Be relentless in pursuit of the time to write those 1667 words per day.

If finding the time to write has been a stumbling block in the past, being fanatical for 30 days can get you into a routine and make a difference in your writing career. At the end of the month you’ll know how important your writing is to you, how committed you are to it, and what you’re willing to do to succeed. And if you keep on track, you’ll have a rough draft of a 50K-word novel as a result of your sacrifice and hard work.

Need more convincing? Check this list of WriMos who have gone on to publish their NaNo manuscripts including Jason M. Hough (The Darwin Elevator), Hugh Howey (Wool), and Sara Gruen (Water for Elephants). Read about the history of National Novel Writing Month and sign up to take the journey that begins November 1st.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? What’s your favorite trick for finding time to write?

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Write, Regardless


Publishers want to take chances on books that will draw a clamor and some legitimate publicity. They want to publish controversial books. That their reasons are mercenary and yours may be lofty should not deter you. ~ Harlan Ellison

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Highlights from WorldCon 2015

Don’t tell me the sky’s the limit when there are footprints on the moon. ~ Brad Foster (from a pen and ink drawing, 2012)

My first Worldcon [sigh].

SasquanSharingImage-FosterRaven2For years I dreamed of attending the largest convention gathering of speculative fiction fans held annually in different cities around the world. I couldn’t swing the time or expense when Worldcon came to San Antonio, Texas in 2013 (LoneStarCon 3) or London, England in 2014 (Loncon 3). When I heard the 2015 convention would return to the U.S. in Spokane, Washington (Sasquan), I decided this would be the year.

I knew it would be somewhat of a lonely drive for the 3000+ mile solo round trip, four days north and east from New Mexico to Spokane and three days back. But the two-week adventure also included visits with family members in three cities along the route.

What I didn’t expect were the overwhelming choices once I got to the convention and the mad scurrying to and from meeting rooms. I stayed up late each night trying to decide which panel or workshop to attend the next day. But the madness was my own fault—since this was my first (and maybe last) Worldcon, I didn’t want to miss out.

On Thursday alone, the first full day of the convention, the program listed over 175 events between 1:00 am and 10:30 pm. It would have been fun to watch some anime, a fan film or two, or to make a pair of fairy wings. But, doggone it, I wasn’t attending Sasquan to have fun. I was there to glean knowledge about writing and publishing from the experts. I passed up discussions about Discworld, steampunk, and the Klingon language for talks I thought would serve me better on my writing journey. I made some hard choices, such as sitting in on workshops about worldbuilding, ambushes and counter-ambushes, and how to develop a realistic economy, instead of learning about the future of government, the future of military SF, and medieval science and engineering. That was just the first day.

On other days I learned about the effects of low gravity on the human body, how the experts edit anthologies, and the future of short fiction (from the editors of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, Galaxies Edge, and Lightspeed/Nightmare magazines). I took pages of notes on two of my favorite workshops that dealt with how to build an empire (double workshop) and the craft of short fiction, both of which I’ll cover in future blog posts.

But my convention experience wasn’t all a frenzy of learning. I allowed myself a Stroll with the Stars along Spokane’s Centennial Trail behind the convention center, a reading with one of my favorite authors, and the experience of a lifetime at the Hugo Awards. Here are a few more highlights:

John Scalzi:
Mr. Scalzi read from two of his manuscripts (one a work in progress), then entertained the audience with a song on an attendee’s ukulele and a fun question and answer period. At one point, he referred to his list of twelve “Standard Responses to Online Stupidity” posted as a resource on his website. Everyone who surfs the internet has probably read this list, but it was new to me. He compiled it because “from time to time, in your ordinary exercise of the delights of the online world, you may find yourself accosted by clods.” The list begins with, “I don’t care what you think” and ends with “My attention is a privilege, not a right. This is all you get.” I like #4: “You’ve attempted logic. Not all attempts succeed.” But according to Mr. Scalzi, his favorite is #8: “It appears an ***hole has hacked your account and is posting in your name.”

Brad Foster:
I took home two small pieces of artwork by Brad Foster who was one of the convention’s guests of honor. Copyright prevents me from posting my favorite of the two—an original 6×8, black and white pen & ink drawing of a cute alien looking up at a crescent moon. The quote penned as part of the artwork is great: Don’t tell me the sky’s the limit when there are footprints on the moon. (After Worldcon 2015 ended, I learned that Mr. Foster draws robot portraits, caricatures he calls “inner robots,” for a reasonable price at the conventions he attends. He also takes orders anytime through his website.)

Hugo_Logo_1_200pxHugo Awards:
Despite the controversy surrounding the voting process for the Hugo Awards, hosts David Gerrold and Tananarive Due did an awesome job of keeping the audience entertained. I went to the ceremony expecting to be bored at some point but ended up enjoying the entire three hours. Lots of laughter, some tension due to the possibility of No Awards in many of the categories, and a touching moment when Mr. Gerrold was overcome with emotion at the number of his friends on the in memoriam roll. A list of winners is available at the Hugo Awards website, as well as statistics that include the No Awards. And if you weren’t as lucky as I was to be in the audience, you can watch a replay of the ceremony on

One final takeaway: If I decide to attend another Worldcon, I will (a) take a plane or share the drive, and (b) make sure to have some fun.

Have you attended a Worldcon? What was your favorite part of the experience?

“Worldcon,” “Hugo Award,” and The Hugo Award Logo are service marks of the World Science Fiction Society, an unincorporated literary society.

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An Interview with Author Joyce Hertzoff, Part 2

Joyce Hertzoff retired from a profession grounded in fact and science and now uses the power of the pen to write mystery and fantasy stories. Her first novel The Crimson Orb was published in 2014 by Phantasm Books, an imprint of Assent Publishing. Under Two Moons, her second in the series, is forthcoming. Read a complete list of Joyce’s published works on her SWW Author Page. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter, and visit her at and

TheCrimsonOrbWhat was the spark that led you to write your first fantasy novel The Crimson Orb?
I love to read fantasy stories, but I had never written one until I decided to give it a try for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in 2008. My third NaNoWriMo (2010) produced the draft for The Crimson Orb. I’ve participated nearly every year since then, even doing two NaNo Camps. Each time produced a 50 K draft of a story or the second half of one: two romantic mysteries and the rest fantasies. I’m hoping to do it again in November to get started with book four of the Crystal Odyssey series.

You’re in the process of completing the third book in the series. What is the most challenging aspect to this multi-book project?
Each book has tons of characters. I need to keep a notebook so I can be consistent when I write about any of them. Nissa, the main protagonist in the series, meets many people during her travels and, as much as I love to develop each of them, coming up with names and remembering them all can be challenging.

If you had an unlimited budget, how would you spend your money for marketing and promoting your books?
There are paid services for publicizing books, but I’m not certain they are worth the money. I’d love to do a video trailer for The Crimson Orb.

Do you have a message or a theme that recurs in your writing?
Totally. It’s a combination of: 1) females can do anything and should be given opportunities they sometimes aren’t; and 2) every lesson and experience is important in the growth of a person.

What are your strengths as a writer, and what do you do to overcome your weaknesses?
I’ve been told I write very natural, believable dialogue, but also that I sometimes fail to describe both characters and settings. When I edit, I always add more descriptions. The trick for me is adding them without taking a reader out of the story.

You spent over four decades in the scientific information business. How did your experience writing nonfiction impact your fiction writing?
I’m naturally left brained and also compulsive. Combined with my previous experiences, I’m almost driven to make sure my stories make sense, that the science is at least possible, and that the details of the worlds I create remain constant. But years spent writing stark just-the-facts abstracts of scientific papers probably contributes to my problems with providing descriptions and extraneous information.

You’ve been active in the fan fiction community for several years. How did fan fiction impact your journey to publication?
Writing fan fiction (which I still do) gave me lots of practice in developing convoluted plots and complicated characters, since I always build on the canon characters of each fandom by adding OCs (characters outside the canon). It also gave me the confidence to attempt to write original stories. I agree with all of the pundits who say the best way to develop writing skill is to write, write, write. I guess it doesn’t matter what. [Her fanfic on and Archives of Our Own are under the name hilandmum.]

Who are your favorite authors? Who do you wish you were more like in your own writing?
My reading tastes are eclectic. Too many authors to list. I don’t particularly want to write like some of the more successful writers, though.

How do you break through writer’s block?
I don’t tend to get writer’s block, although if I do, I’m usually working on so many projects, I can always switch my attention to one of the others. I do sometimes write myself into a corner; when I do I let the piece sit, and at the strangest times, a way out occurs to me.

What projects are you working on now?
I’m working on the third book in the Crystal Odyssey series (working title Journey to Fartek), as well as another fantasy series, a couple of murder mysteries, and a post-apocalyptic story. My head is full of ideas for more, too.

For Part 1 of this interview, published on the SouthWest Writers website, click here.

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All who wander are not lost. ~ JRR Tolkien

CampNaNoWriMo Winners Badges Apr_Jul 2015
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