Sunday, July 5, 2020


By Kasie Whitener

I just delivered a Fan Fictions Basics class on Outschool wherein I told three tween girls to think about a specific who in a story they loved and then consider all the peripheral questions about that who.

For example, we meet the Wicked Witch of the West through Dorothy’s point of view in the Wizard of Oz and are never told 1) why she is wicked, or 2) why she is green. Enter Gregory Maguire’s book Wicked (and the Broadway musical it spawned) to address both the Witch’s backstory and her unique bathing ritual. Not to mention giving us her name, Elphaba Thropp.

Fan fiction is born of a reader’s experience with a writer’s missed opportunities. The reader says, “Yes, but…” and questions the writer about something. The writer, responds with disdain, “That’s not the point of the story.” Or, in George R.R. Martin’s case, simply sneers at the reader or the daring novice who dares to write in Martin’s world.

Fan fiction is that often maligned effort of novices to stay engaged in a writer’s world a little bit longer. In the class, my students said they thought the writer should be flattered that people wanted to stay engaged. I tend to agree. The questions Maguire had about the Witch are what led to his writing Wicked.

What is The Mandalorian but a Disney-studios-backed fan fiction? Rogue One, Solo, and The Clone Wars animated series are all Star Wars universe stories that grew out of fans’ love for the world George Lucas created. In Martin’s defense, fans can get a little silly. Fifty Shades of Grey started out with vampires because the author wanted more Twilight and decided to write the Bella-Edward sex scene we all deserved.

Tweens write fan fiction because they identify with the character, the situation, or the place and want more story. But authors sometimes finish with a character, situation, or place and move on. What’s a fan to do except try writing their own story in that writer’s world?

Platforms like Wattpad have developed communities of fan fiction writers wherein hungry readers can find satisfying re-tells, one-offs, and side-stories for their favorite worlds: Harry Potter, all the Marvel Comics, Keeper of the Lost Cities, and of course, Game of Thrones. Here fans connect with other fans and share complaints of unfinished storylines or underdeveloped characters. Here they reimagine what authors have put forward for consideration.

I am learning to love fan fiction in all its novice awkward tweeness. Though it’s been around for a long time (it’s where we get the phrase “Mary Sue”), it has largely been ignored or derided by the literary establishment. Real writers write new stories, we usually say. But there’s something just fun about jumping in, feet first, to the indulgence of fan fiction.  

You cannot make money on fan fiction, so why do it knowing you’ll never sell this? Because finding insatiable readers can be a payoff of its own.

Sunday, June 28, 2020


By Sharon May

Recently, I’ve had two occasions to discover more about dialect. First, I “zoomed in” on the SCWA Summer Series, which addressed dialogue, and naturally, the conversation turned to dialect. Second, I received a critique of a chapter of my novel. The reviewer suggested I limit the use of dialect. On both occasions, I realized many people think dialect is best found, or only found, in dialogue and in alternate spellings. That is a too simplified and limited interpretation of dialect.

I have learned over the past 60 years that readers and listeners of English apparently believe there is no dialect being used if the tale is told in Standard American English. Not being flippant, but that is a dialect, and actually, the privileged dialect, and thus, preferred by editors, publishers, and maybe even readers because that is what they are most used to.  

After trying to read William Faulkner or James Joyce, most people may hate works that are written in other dialects. These authors take on the task of writing phonetic spellings, which complicates the readers’ task even more.

My narrators, who are also characters, have unique (I hope) voices, each using a form of eastern Kentucky Appalachian English. Note that someone from the mountains of Maine will have a different dialect than someone from my hometown, though both are geographically Appalachian. A speaker in Maine is apt to speak quickly, and often use run-ons, while Kentucky hillbillies tend to mumble at about medium to slow speed, and like my narrator Lafe drop words and thus, have more fragments.

Dialect is more than just some odd pronunciations and spellings. I tend not to use phonetic spellings, which the reviewer suggested as an alternative, since they can mark the narrators/speakers as lower class and/or uneducated, which are both stereotypes of hillbillies.

Dialect is also about word choice, colloquialisms, and sentence structure, which mirror the way a character or narrator thinks and engages with other characters and the audience. Lafe has a tendency to drop first-person pronouns at the beginning of sentences. The reviewer suggested no one really talks like that and thus somewhat distracting.

I know several people who speak, write, and I assume, think the way Lafe does. While I may reduce how often he drops words, I do plan to use this pattern for his voice. It is the way he thinks and speaks. Sounds weird, but he’s been that way since the first time he spoke to me.

The use of dialect isn’t simply to establish characters’ speech, but to immerse us in new worlds. My goal for the novel is to depict eastern Kentucky as it was in the 1980s. To do so, I want to create authentic voices to emphasize the diversity and complexity of the region. That requires the use of dialect to its fullest extent.

Read Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove for examples of effective use of dialect.  

Sunday, June 21, 2020


By El Ochiis

Cats are mascots for writers. More importantly, Edgar Allen Poe had one; Hemingway had twenty-three; and, TS Elliot wrote a poem to them.

I have a cat, yet, I haven’t written anything since the beginning of the pandemic; then, the unrest of protesting for justice came crashing down, tearing at my moral responsibility to fellow humans, further spiraling me into writing silence. I reached out to an old guru who was stuck in self-isolation and asked him for advice to try to get my writing mojo back.

He told me to put down what I was trying to complete and just write, anything. I took this advice, which propelled me into researching other writing advice. It occurred to me that there isn’t a correct way to set about writing creatively. Some writers thrive in isolation; others can hammer out award-winning prose at local coffee shops; whilst others, though a struggle, are able to snatch time between chores and cleaning little, runny noses.

Conversely, it became abundantly clearer that along with a variety of approaches, there are specific ideas and pieces of advice that many writers hold in common.

Here are seven that held my attention that I feel will help you as a writer:

1.  “Writing anything is better than nothing,” -Katherine Mansfield. Don’t get it right, get it written – “Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you are doomed,” -Ray Bradbury.
2. Just take a page at a time,” - John Steinbeck. This advice is spot on: “Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day. It helps.”
3. Get offline,” -Zadie Smith – Take a long hard sigh, and, turn off the Wi-Fi – it’s so much more productive if you can “Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet.”
4. If it sounds like writing, rewrite it,” -Elmore Leonard; Steinbeck too.  
5. Every sentence must do one of two things -- reveal character or advance the action." -Kurt Vonnegut.
6.  “You constantly hurry your narrative … by telling it, in a sort of impetuous breathless way, your own person, when the person [characters] should tell it and act it for themselves,” -Charles Dickens. “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” -Anton Checkhov. “Show don’t tell.”
7. “…what grabs readers isn’t beautiful writing, a rip-roaring plot, or surface drama; what grabs readers is what gives those things meaning and power:  the story itself,” -Lisa Cron.

The best writing serves the reader, not the writer, so don’t sit there waiting for perfect, beautiful sentences – you’ll be sitting there forever. Start out by tripping, you will fall, then get up and fall again – the key is to keep getting up after you have fallen, then, keep writing. Oh, if you were thinking about taking a sip of hard liquor, Leo Tolstoy and F Scott Fitzgerald warned: “Don’t write and drink.”

Sunday, June 14, 2020


By Jerry Pate 

When working on my book recently I hammered away over several days thinking Wow, this thing is moving! only to discover I had morphed into default Radio-TV narrator copy…again. It was interesting but lifeless and didn’t encourage readers to continue. Additionally, I was having difficulty with point-of-view.

On the web I found several articles on narrative voice and POV which were helpful. One of the most interesting for me was a November, 2017 post by Rae Elliott. In it, Elliot provides definitions, examples, and advice on various points of view: 1st person, 2nd person, and 3rd person both omniscient and limited. Elliot’s advice was to consider each character in the story and examine how framing the story from that character’s viewpoint would affect the narrative.

My own work-in-progress has several compelling candidates for POV and as I consider which character or characters to focus the story on, I thought to read some compelling narratives and see what I could learn.

And, while realizing I was not reading nearly enough books, I picked up From Russia With Love (Ian Fleming, Glidrose Productions, Ltd. 1957). It is a great example of Limited Third Person Narrator.

The first three chapters flesh out the book’s primary evil character from the viewpoint of: a masseuse, a flashback to the character’s transformation into a brutal unfeeling teenager, and the impressions of him by a Russian security officer all while carrying the story forward.

After reading the early chapters I realized I must read more books. So, today I have begun to establish a schedule for reading and writing and other activities. Feel free to ask me how I’m doing on this in the coming weeks. Writing is a process, not an event.

Sunday, June 7, 2020


Ruth P. Saunders

Perhaps it was an encouraging word from a teacher that cleared your path to writing. Maybe reading the words of an accomplished author moved you. Possibly you just loved words and putting them together to convey ideas, images, or feelings. Or it could be a combination of things that inspired, motivated, or facilitated your becoming a writer.

Many people influenced me. A trusted high school teacher encouraged me to write for the school newspaper. Before that I had never considered writing, and those first encouraging words unlocked the door to future possibilities. An English professor in college supported my literary writing when I had doubts about my abilities. My professors in graduate school nurtured my academic writing.
But the first and foremost person instrumental in my becoming a writer was my mother. She did this through word and example.

As a child I was prone to frustration if every line of prose or picture did not flow from my fingers onto the page in final form. In exasperation I crumpled incomplete narratives and partial pictures into tight balls and tossed them into the trash—until my mother stopped me. She explained that real artists finish the work before evaluating it. I learned over time to separate the creative process from the editing process, to let the words flow without judgment until later, when it was time to revise and edit.

As many youngsters, I compared my work to that of others and despaired because mine fell short. My mother explained the reality that someone will always be ahead of you in any endeavor. Evaluating your products this way will make you unhappy and stop you from doing the good work you can do. Life is enriched when you learn from people rather than compete with them. My work is enhanced when I engage collaboratively with a writing community.

My mother went to business college when she finished high school and became a legal secretary. She read widely, and there were always books in the house. She read to her children until we could read on our own, and we were encouraged to think, question, and discuss ideas. These early exposures formed the foundation for self-expression in written words.

An adept storyteller, my mother enrolled in college English classes in her 60s at the Walterboro Salkehatchie branch of the University of South Carolina with the goal of becoming a better writer. Being the only older adult in a classroom of college students was daunting to her, but she wanted to commit her stories to paper for future generations.

She wrote and self-published her book, Low Country Children, in 1986. My mother died in 2013, but her work was the inspiration and model for the stories and essays I have shared with the Columbia II Writers’ Workshop for the past year and a half. I will self-publish my collection this summer. I know my mother would be pleased.

Who inspires you?

Sunday, May 31, 2020


By Shaun McCoy

I found some scant comfort, when watching armed protesters storm a state house without appropriate PPE, knowing that human beings have behaved in much more egregious ways in previous plagues. Who could forget the mobs of infected, tearing about the streets of medieval Europe, tossing rags of pus through the broken windows of the healthy.

Comparatively, you could say we’ve grown up. Our temper-tantrums as a species have, in some cases at least, become fairly mild—and as a writer, I find that kind of growth insanely interesting. Much of fiction is finding new and interesting backdrops to highlight human nature—and let’s not forget that there is little a writer likes more than a well-developed character arc.

I think then of the silver linings the inestimably dark cloud of the plague times has brought me personally. I’m extremely lucky in that I get to work peacefully from my couch. I speak to my family now, more than I ever have, in a series of Sunday conference calls. I’ve even gotten to reconnect with my favorite writing group in the entire world, even though I’m in another state. Though my personal interactions with people have decreased, in a weird way I feel more connected to my friends and family, to my global community, than ever before. It’s those connections which I think are key to humanity’s plot arc.

But have we really grown? In times past we thought evil spirits brought disease. We thought that breathing incense or drinking alcohol or saying bless you might save us. Is that any different than blaming the disease on Bill Gates or 5G? Is that any different than the televangelist who promises to blow the plague away? Are we just the same old dog with a few new tricks and free Zoom calls?

Well that’s the thing about storytelling isn’t it. If one were to write this novel, it would be the writer who would decide if we’ve grown.

In reality there is no grand arbiter, no writer, to decide for us whether the story of the last thousand years is a grand arc of growth or the exploration of our tragic inability to learn from our experiences. In the place of an author, we just have those among us writing different narratives. Rather than share mine, I’ll simply ask for yours. Are we the same? Have we grown? What I can say is that in either event, whether we’ve grown or failed to, I find the story deeply compelling. I think this humanity character is one we can keep working with in our stories for many centuries to come.

Sunday, May 24, 2020


By Raegan Teller

At some point, every author must decide if their book is going to be a standalone book or the beginning of a series. Either option has long-term consequences and rewards. You might be tempted to ask, “What do my readers want?” Some readers prefer a standalone book because they don’t want to commit to a series, and they like to explore various authors. But there are also readers who prefer a series and are extremely loyal to those writers. These readers become attached to the characters and anxiously await the next volume.

However, the standalone vs. series decision is more about the characters themselves than trying to anticipate reading habits. At the end of the first book, do the characters have more stories to tell? Are they interesting enough that readers want to know more about them? Is the main story, or any of the subplots, left unresolved at the end? If so, perhaps a series is the best choice.

Let’s say you decide to write a series that tells a “sweeping story” across multiple volumes. In doing so, you’re asking readers to commit to the entire series to learn the whole story. Not all readers want to read every book. And some readers may be upset when they realize the main plot isn’t resolved at the end. Another way to handle a series is to have the protagonist and some or all of the minor characters continue across multiple books, as Sue Grafton did in her twenty-five-volume alphabet series. With this approach, each book resolves its main plot, although some of the subplots may carry forward to the next volume. You must then decide how much backstory to give readers who may start in the middle or at the end of the series. What will readers need to know to understand what’s going on? How much information from the previous volumes are you willing to disclose? Whether you decide to write one big story across a series or a series of discrete stories with repeat characters, it’s wise to do your research and be aware of the pitfalls and rewards of each approach.

Consider also that while each book has a story arc, a series must also arc. J.K. Rowling plotted and wrote the entire seven-book Harry Potter series before she published the first book. I didn’t appreciate her wisdom until I was writing the second volume of my series and had to step back and plan the overall series.

Should you decide to write a series, I respectfully offer a word of caution. Don’t allow yourself to get lazy due to familiarity with the characters or to assume your readers will continue to be loyal no matter what. It’s inevitable that within a series, some volumes will be better than others. However, we’ve all read series that started out good but fizzled and should have ended earlier—or never been a series at all. But a well-done series is brilliant.  

Sunday, May 17, 2020


By Bonnie Stanard 

Any one of my poems has been through hundreds of changes and revisions. Sometimes I’ll change one word, sometimes an entire verse. Am I trying too hard to find the exact words or expressions to put forward a thought or feeling? Probably.

When submitting to journals, I have spotted sentences written by editors trying too hard.
— We want poems that press and push and ache and recede.
— I will be looking for verse that sets my skin on fire.
— send cutting, strange, and daring work

With guidelines such as these, it’s no wonder writers get the idea they should produce heart-stopping poems. Here are more guidelines to give writers a reason to either try too hard or quit.

— We want stunning and unusual imagery and language that compels.
— We seek to publish the innovative works of the greatest minds writing poetry today.
— We want dark and disquieting, fanciful and funny, surreal and surprising.

Let me see... what can I write that is dark, disquieting, fanciful, funny, surreal and/or surprising? Mmmm. It was a lonely, moonlit night with buzzards flying over the pizza kitchen where an ogre sprinkled parmesan on a poisonous crust. Does that fit the bill?

One submissions requirement reads like this: “We don’t want your problematic/hateful garbage.” So they only want unproblematic/loving garbage? Or they want problematic/hateful pearls of wisdom? Obviously the editors of this publication have read some really crappy poems and I’d better not add to their crap pile. Avoiding crap can spiral into trying too hard.

We hope to attract publishers with our work, but trying too hard to figure out what they’re looking for is a dead-end street. I have enough trouble figuring out what I want to say. This may be a leap into a taboo subject, but I fear that life is meaningless. In some weird way, I suppose I can prevent meaninglessness (is that a word?) by writing. The greater the fear, the harder I try. When I convince myself I’ve found meaning, I excel in doggerel.

Okay, so I Googled “meaning of life.” Julian Baggini wrote in an article in The Guardian: “the only sense we can make of the idea that life has meaning is that there are some reasons to live rather than to die, and those reasons are to be found in the living of life itself.”

However, in our search for meaning, some of us are trying too hard at “the living of life itself.” It’s a vicious cycle. I tell myself that I’m not going to figure it out, but that doesn’t stop the questions. Either my life means something or it doesn’t. The moment that I’m writing this is momentous to me. I think it has meaning. But does it?

Poetry tells us life is a mystery with no solution. It tells us to stop trying to find one. It tells us to settle for moments, for feelings, for epiphanies. I’m trying to do that, but I’ll have to try harder.

Good poems can scratch the surface and reveal substance. I scratch for substance and too often end on the surface. I hope some day to be able to write a poem like this one by Dan Collins.

Water may bless
this desert someday. Trees may spring
from this dusty soil; birds
may shelter in the branches—
and they will sing sweetly, maybe,
of terrible choices
they have made. But right now,
the only thing that matters
is this stop light
and this yellow line in the road.

Sunday, May 10, 2020


By Sharon May

Feedback is the goal for attending a writer’s workshop. We want to know what is effective and not effective in our drafts. After a couple of sessions in a workshop, the writer can begin to predict what aspects of craft most matter to their particular readers. One reader may look at structure of the plot, another word choice, and another character development, etc.

Does that knowledge then lead the author to write to the idiosyncrasies of the group? I will admit that a few times, I’ve thought that X will not like this, or Z would go crazy if I didn’t change that. Is that a detriment or a benefit to the work? Could go either way.

We don’t have to change anything readers suggest or complain about. We are in control of the work. How do we determine which suggestions we use? Are we partial to the critiques of certain readers? Or, do we use the “let’s see how many agree” method of selection?

Generally, I follow the advice of readers because they usually are “spot-on.” Not to say there haven’t been a few times I have tried something to see how it fits, and then decided the suggestion didn’t work with my writing goals.

If we do alter our work based on the critic, is it really the writer’s work or a collaboration? I don’t mean criticism on grammar and mechanics, nor simply changing a word or phrase here and there. I mean changes that alter structure, character, plot, setting, etc.

Recently, a writer friend asked I ever considered having Henry Olsen tell the story of his brother’s Frank’s death in the novel I am revising. That question stoked my imagination, and the more I thought about it the more I liked it, particularly when I realized that change would allow me to introduce a sub-plot I had been considering. I decided to draft the idea though I was already half-way through this revision. Now, whose novel is it? Mine or ours?

We read each other’s work willingly and with pure intentions of just helping. Changing, yes, but not owning. Probably the critic/reader just triggered something inside the writer’s unconscious or subconscious which caused her to look at the work in a new way? I know I struggled with other narrators telling the story of Frank’s death in the barroom fight. I wasn’t satisfied until I let Henry narrate.

Some writers avoid workshopping because they are afraid of losing control – of the work, and thus, their own identity. Does communicating with a beta reader make me a sellout to art? I don’t think so. The craft and art of writing lies in my skills. A suggestion can be taken or left on the table. But if something strikes my fancy, I am certainly not going to ignore it because it didn’t originate with me. I will make it mine as I integrate it into the work I’m creating.

Sunday, May 3, 2020


By Kasie Whitener

My favorite quarantine video has been the BBC’s rugby announcer narrating his dogs. The voice is familiar to watchers of the sport, the cadence is familiar to anyone who watches any sports at all, and the actions of the dogs are exaggerated and made into a story by the narrator lending his voice. If you haven’t watched it, click here.

Several things are true about this video. First, quarantine has rendered many of us “nonessential” in the workforce. Sports broadcasters join the ranks of waiters, actors, and retailers when we are all forced to stay in our homes.

Second, pets are a fantastic source of entertainment. Some of the best memes, videos, and social posts have been the Secret Life of Pets revealed. One has a woman’s voice narrating for her own dog who says something to the effect of, “If these people don’t go back to work soon, I swear, I’ll do something unforgiveable.”

And that brings me to the third truth about our BBC announcer’s video: Great narration is underrated.

In writers’ circles, we talk extensively about point-of-view as an extension of the narration conversation. First-person narrators have the advantage of telling the innermost thoughts of the character to whom we’re the closest in the story. Even if that person isn’t the protagonist (Nick Carraway), the first-person narrator makes that character the most important contributor to the story.

The second person narrator and a collective first-person narrator make the reader essential to the story. You Choose Your Own Adventure in those classic 80’s kids’ books, or you become one of the neighborhood boys (we) watching The Virgin Suicides unfold. The second person relies too heavily upon the reader’s interpretation of the work.

The third person narrator perches on the shoulders of characters, trying to see from their point of view but not so close as to exhaust the reader with the mental gymnastics of the first person POV. The third person narrator is the dullest of all. It removes entirely the editorial, the judgement, and the messy reality of being a person. It reflects and reports, like a journalist.

The first-person narrator, while limited to just what the narrator sees, nevertheless delivers a rich vocabulary, the neuroticism of internal monologue, and the skewed and unreliable interpretation of the actions of characters who are not the narrator.

The first-person narrator is powerful. It is (one of) the author’s alter ego(s) springing forth and frolicking through the story. It is untamed. Natural. Authentic. And risky. Because when readers don’t like your first-person narrator, they don’t like your book.

Narrators make the story. They turn nothing into something. They infuse the drama, they raise the stakes, and they drag the reader through the pages. Like the rugby commentator animating his dogs with well-placed vocabulary and inflection, the narrator conducts the story. Without a good one, the story is just lifeless words on the page.

Or dogs lying about on their living room floor.

Sunday, April 26, 2020


By El Ochiis

It’s my humble opinion that behind great pieces of writing, is an even greater editor.  No, Tolstoy, I don’t believe your spouse, Sophia Tolstoy, was just the co-progenitor of fourteen offspring; she copied and rewrote your work – yeah, Sophia polished Anna Karenina and War and Peace, making it possible for you to write the best novels that you could.  

Edmund Malone, not only edited Shakespeare’s works, but, was credited for making James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson entertaining.  It was novelist, Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s astute advice to Charles Dickens, about Great Expectations, that encouraged Dickens to change that final, yet wonderfully ambiguous line, in which Pip sees “no shadow of another parting from her” – in lieu of just a finality wherein Pip and Estella didn’t get together.

TS Eliot was asked whether editors weren’t just failed writers, Eliot replied: “Perhaps, but so are most writers.”  This was a facetiously charming response coming from a man whose famous poem, The Waste Land, was edited by Ezra Pound, who, himself, edited other poets and novelists as part of his job at Farber and Farber.

How does a new writer get his or her manuscript in front of a ‘Pound or Malone’?  Or, when does he/she decide the editorial route? Well, first, you must decide what kind of editor you want; or, which kind you desire to become: developmental; structural; line?

As a writer, you’d want a professional editor who would be as much a psychologist as a prose technician – a sports coach who would get you in the right frame of mind for the race.

As a storyteller with compelling messages to share, I want a seasoned mastermind to brilliantly bring to life, the emerging aesthetics of my story – one whose life goal is to find the next James Baldwin or Leo Tolstoy – yes, I dream big, when not self-deprecating.  You see, writing can be tantamount to giving a chunk of sugar to a raccoon – with its odd fastidiousness, the raccoon will wash the sugar in the water until there’s nothing left – an editor would definitely help with that.
The repetitious advice is to read the jacket of published writers in your genre and see who edited the novel and contact him/her.  My suggestion would be to do what I do when I need a good accountant, I go to the professional organization published by the IRS; There’s one for editors, the Editorial Freelancers Association.   Yes, it’s hard, but it’s my observation that if you can complete a great, or an anomalous, novel, finding the right editor should be the easy part.  Or, maybe your propensity is more editorial:  Do you enjoy developing and shaping content; Can you work with multiple voices; Are you a natural problem solver who’s comfortable delivering constructive feedback?  You could be an exceptional editor who becomes a profound scribe - the next Toni Morrison - an editor whose work was ‘emended’ by one of the most acclaimed editors, Gottlieb - Or, Sophia Tolstoy, sans the fourteen childbirths.

Sunday, April 19, 2020


By Sharon May

Some people are hurriedly drafting works about living in a pandemic. You may be one of them. Occasionally, the thought crosses my mind. Then, I remind myself a few weeks experience isn’t enough to write about. Best to keep a journal and consider writing about it when it’s over, assuming we survive it, and when I have had time to reflect on the “so what” of the experience.

Regardless of what you like to write, I do hope you’re writing something. It obviously can be difficult to do so in times of personal and world turmoil. In 1991, I was supposed to be drafting a thesis for graduate school, and the Iraqi war began. You may remember it: a “live” broadcast on the news, the first time for a war and, so far, the last. My classmates and I couldn’t stop watching, ignoring the fact that we should have been writing. Fortunately, the live battles didn’t last more than a few days, and we returned to our work.

Despite knowing better, I am, at times, more interested in COVID-19 than I am with the hard work of revising a novel. I try to limit how much news I watch, which helps me not to become obsessed. Doesn’t mean I am devoting my spare time to writing.

A fellow writer, and coincidently a classmate who watched the war with me, says the pandemic could be a gift to writers: a mandate to stay at home, lock oneself in a room, and produce reams of work. A wonderful gift if you have the ability to distance yourself from reality and lose yourself in your writing.

But how many of us have that luxury? Some of us are too distracted by the pandemic, too worried about their health. Then there are those tracking down toilet paper, home schooling, cooking meals for the first time in years, sharing space with family that used to be theirs exclusively. Children and animals may want more time and attention, and after all, who can resist that? Then, there are those who are working more hours than ever as “essential employees.”

Even stuck safely at home during a pandemic, we truly do find ourselves with the same daily demands that we must, or can, choose over our writing. We struggle to juggle schedules, to find a quiet time to write regardless of what is going on around us. That is the life of writers. A pandemic just magnifies the demands on artists.

But now is the time to write and create. Consumers are turning to the arts as entertainment while safe at home. And, you could probably use the distraction.

If the muse has left the room, as I’ve said before in other blogs, the key is to write something down on paper (or keyboard as the case may be). Doesn’t matter what you write at all. Eventually, the muse will join you.

Sunday, April 12, 2020


Ruth P. Saunders 

I must confess at the outset that my muse has deserted me, and I don’t know if its absence is a temporary or a persistent state. Along with many others, I am overwhelmed by witnessing the end of the world as we know it. I was not prepared to cope with a global pandemic, but then how does one prepare for that? I find it difficult to carry on ordinary activities, including writing.

My only urge to write in the last several weeks was to return to academic writing, to identify and synthesize information from credible sources to help me understand what is happening as a way of getting through it. That fleeting impulse was gone before I got to the keyboard.

I have been able to write during challenging periods in the past. Some of my best poetry came during times of emotional lows. Something about inner darkness is conducive to deep reflection and expression for me. Finding the right words brings light.

My more recent creative nonfiction writing grew from the pain of losing my parents, first my mother to dementia over 10 years and then my father five years later. I began writing to deal with these losses by focusing on the good memories. The writing process has helped me celebrate and honor the lives of my parents, appreciate how early experiences shaped me as a person, and value the present positives in my life.

But feeling down or sad due to loss are personal responses to the “world as we know it.” The COVID-19 pandemic and the global reaction to it seem to signal a more fundamental and pervasive change in human affairs. The passage of time will provide some perspective on current events, their impact and what the “new world” will be like. For now, we must live with uncertainty.

For this blog, I had hoped to provide practical suggestions for writing during uncertain times. But that would be disingenuous, given where I am with my own work. Thankful for modern technology during these days of social distancing, I searched the internet to learn from other writers.

I found two bloggers with useful perspectives and suggestions for writers during the unfolding pandemic. I am not familiar with the prior work of Jenna Avery, a sci-fi screenwriter, or Tim Waggoner, a fantasy and horror writer. I continue to glean ideas from them, hoping for a spark of inspiration that converts to action. Perhaps you will find them helpful, as well.

In the meantime, I try to be patient with myself and to trust that my muse will return.

Sunday, April 5, 2020


By Kasie Whitener

For the last three episodes of Write On SC, Rex Hurst and I have been discussing Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the national and international response to it. We started with books that feature disease, moved on to the 35 kinds of drama that might create great stories during the pandemic, last week addressed dystopian fiction, and yesterday talked about overused words.

Our mandate as a local radio show is to provide relatable, relevant, and informative content for our listeners. Many of those listeners are not writers.

In the past, I’ve expected non-writers would just have to go along for the ride with our show. If they wanted to keep listening, they would just have to allow that some of what we discussed wouldn’t resonate. Maybe we should be talking to readers, watchers, and listeners. Consumers.

Our radio audience could benefit from an understanding of just how to recognize the stories they’re being told. How to recognize and dissect them. How to understand their deeper meanings. How to read subtext and interpret nuance.

Writers work through complex emotions like grief and fear. We write because we need to put language to the senses, to describe our experience so that others can connect with it, with us, and so we won’t be alone.

We writers, despite being frequently solitary and pensive, are also deeply social in that we recognize the connectivity that exists across this human experience. We write to get closer to sharing it in empathy and love.

There are stories yet to be written about “these uncertain times” and many of those stories, on the fingertips of the writers living them, are a way of metabolizing what’s happening. I say that frequently on the show: writers write to metabolize what they’re experiencing.

So many of us are taking to the page and to the internet these days to help make sense of what’s happening. To provide context and reassurance. Still others are magnifying fissures and exposing failures.

All while consumers read. Listen. Watch. And try to understand what it is we’re actually doing during these uncertain times.

Sunday, March 29, 2020


By El Ochiis

I wrote a short story that took place in the 1850’s, in which one of the characters possessed an advanced, technological object enclosed in a rare metal. An editor, who read my piece, commented that I had created a future, technological invention. Inventing was not in my thought process when I wrote the story; I only imagined making the events in the story believable, to do that, I had to create this object. 

The editor’s position was that our most recent technology had been invented because of ideas gleaned from stories. I meant, what if she was right? She’s an editor, she was always right.   

A few days after our conversation, I got stuck in an airport and decided to re-read Fahrenheit 451. Ray Bradbury had predicted, in this book, the techy toy that I inserted in my ears to listen to music - headphones. I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only writer to honor him. Here’s hoping, however, his other predictions, made in Fahrenheit 451 were less accurate.
Logging onto the internet to find another flight, I gave a thumbs up to Mr. Mark Twain, who was one of the first persons to dream about the possibilities of a globally connected community, in his 1898 short story, from the London Times of 1904, where Twain introduced readers to something called a “telelectroscope” that used the phone system to create a worldwide network for sharing information. No, Al Gore, you did not invent the internet; the writer who wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn did.
The editor wanted to Skype; I preferred video chatting on iMessage. Hold the phones, this concept was described in E.M. Foster’s novel: The Machine Stops: “But it was fully fifteen seconds before the round plate that she held in her hands began to glow. A faint blue light shot across it, darkening to purple, and presently she could see the image of her son, who lived on the other side of the earth, and he could see her.” Skype; iMessage – just call Foster. 

I decided to watch: 2001: A Space Odyssey, a movie from 1968, on my iPad Pro. There was a scene where astronauts watched and read from a pair of flat-screen tablets, called “Newspads”, which Stanley Kubrick developed alongside Arthur C. Clark’s novel – looked strikingly similar to Apple’s iPad. Creepy, huh? 
I edited that piece and uploaded it to a blog. Hold your kilobytes, Vladimir Odoyevsky, whose 1835 Novel: Year 4338, described houses that would be: “connected by means of magnetic telegraphs..." Each house would publish a daily journal or newsletter…," and share it with the world. Yes, that would be blogging.
Bill Gates; Steve Jobs; tech valley – no, it is the lonely writer using his or her imagination – if we writers could just figure out how to get those ideas in front of venture capitalists who specialize in providing capital to tech innovations of the future.
What new technology or historical prediction will you, the next writer of fiction create? 

Sunday, March 22, 2020


By Bonnie Stanard

If it weren’t for the seven-figure advance Jeanine Cummins received for her novel American Dirt, I’d feel sorry for her. Social media has been vicious. Myriam Gurba wrote, “the nicest thing I can say about Dirt is that its pages ought to be upcycled as toilet paper.” Ouch!

The plot revolves around a grief stricken Latino mother escaping Mexico and a drug lord who pursues her. Critics have accused her of cultural appropriation (she is white), a phenomenon flourishing in literary circles and fueled by a revival of segregationist politics. In other words, her detractors believe a white woman has no right to imagine a story about Latino migrants.

Laura Miller, in Slate, quoted a publisher: “I do think that in cases where there’s a mismatch between the identity of the character and author, the value of those books ... will be more closely scrutinized.”

This sounds like an injunction against writers portraying characters unlike themselves. Does this mean that we should write with restraint to avoid offending those who will identify with our characters?

Nesrine Malik wrote in The Guardian, “To demand that writers not encroach upon the experience of others is a death sentence that seeks to limit us not only by what we know, but also by our place in a hierarchy of inequality.” This puts minority writers to disadvantage as well, for they may well be restricted to telling stories that are “native.”

It is disheartening to see us move from a leftist political concern for the disadvantaged to a right-wing movement legitimizing censorship based on sex, religion, and/or ethnicity. When manuscripts are judged on the writer’s right identity as much as the quality of the work, will our novels be better for it? Will we be better people?

It’s taken a long time, but we whites are changing our attitude toward ethnic groups. It’s disappointing to see segregation reappear disguised as cultural appropriation. Identity politics causes discrimination. Most of us want equality for every color of skin. Many of us are dismayed by our history of cruelty and exploitation, especially of Native Americans and blacks. We have passed laws in an attempt to enhance equal opportunity. By no means is this meant to suggest the job is done, but we’re working on it.