Sunday, December 27, 2015


By Laura P. Valtorta
It took me ten days to write and perfect my two-minute pitch.

In Washington, D.C., I stayed at a hotel called the Windsor Inn that was the dumpiest hotel I’ve ever slept in. My room was underground. The so-called “window” looked out into a hallway. The television didn’t work.

I was the second pitcher to arrive at the venue. Soon all five of us were there, sitting around and twitching. Three pitchers were women, two were men.

One of the organizers came over to announce the order in which we would pitch. I was to go last. That meant an extra hour of sitting around and stewing.

We filed down to the auditorium to check out our video presentations.

How does my video look?” I asked Josh, the organizer.

YOU don’t have a video,” he snarked.

Yes, I do! I have a two-minute promo that I sent in last week. It’s an important part of my presentation.”

It’s not here. Do you have a copy with you?’

I rushed to my notebook and retrieved a jump drive. Luckily it uploaded quickly.

Things were ready to go, but I thought I would pass out from fear.

Meanwhile, the auditorium was filling up. I was glad to be seated on the aisle, and that I had memorized the route to the bathroom.  During the other people’s presentations, I got up twice and headed to the restroom.

None of the other presentations grabbed me, even though several presenters had great ideas. Great ideas were being wasted because of stage fright.

What the hell. I walked to the podium.

Hello, I’m Laura Valtorta,” I began. “Attorney turned filmmaker. My project is ‘Queen of the Road,’ a reality television series about commercial truck drivers.”

My first joke was “These drivers lead exciting, dangerous, and difficult lives, and that’s just trying to find a place to park!” The audience (starved for entertainment) roared with laughter.

I smiled into the camera and made my way a few minutes later to the second joke. “Donna the driver warns me she’s very conservative, but her wife, Carol, is much more liberal.” Big laughter.

The audience loved my video. Several audience members came up to speak to me afterwards.

The bad part was, I lost!

The winner was Ann Marie Dinardo, with her show called “Hostage Heroes,” a narrative re-creation of people taken hostage who talk down the shooter.

After the winner was announced, one of the panel members gave us detailed critiques. He grabbed the arms of me and the winner. “It was between these two,” he said. “They knew what their shows would be, from beginning to end.”

The panelists did not find my truck drivers compelling characters. Jeesh!  If my truck drivers are not entertaining women – I don’t know who can be.

Delivering the pitch was fun, and the cocktail party that evening was a blast.  I met Morgan Spurlock and a bunch of D.C. film people.


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Writing A Novel: Dealing With A Time Thief

By Kimberly Johnson

Yesterday, I browsed the webpage of Writers Digest. Brian Klems’ article, How Long Does It Take To Write A Novel? piqued my curiosity. Mind you, I‘ve toyed with writing a novel, but I lack the discipline. I can write a blog. I can write a magazine article. I can even craft a brief for work. The whole frustrating thing reminds me of the 70s tune: How Long (Has This Been Going On) by Ace. 

After reading that article, I realized that writing a novel is like a Premier League soccer fan in a tattered East London pub. The mate can give you a black eye, if you’re not careful. I want to share some of my time poachers:

Thieves #1 - 2: Outlining and Drafting. It took me Sunday morning and afternoon just to create an outline and draft two chapters. Somebody told me to just write and worry about the grammar, the consistency and other stuff later. That sent me back to the keyboard.

Thief #3: Self-editing. How am I to replace every finely chosen word that I took all day to write? Well, I’m not. Well, maybe. Somebody told me to print out my draft and read it out loud. Hearing the mistakes is a good thing. Somebody also told me to hire an editor.

Thief #4: The 'experts' say a standard novel has 80,000 to 100,000 words. I don’t know if I have that in me. What I’m really saying is that I need to get organized. Carve out some time after work and focus. Somebody told me to write 1,000 words each day as a goal.

Thief #5: The 'experts' say the re-writing process varies: a few weeks to a couple of years. Really?! I guess I’m used to a deadline and then it’s over.  Somebody told me to not put added pressure on myself. If you do, you will rush the process and that’s not cool. Somebody also told me to reward myself each time I hit an “ah-ha” moment.

Thief #6: Listening to the 'experts'. I would typically write three to five pages and stop. Go online and read a few expert-related articles. Talk to some of my old newspaper friends. And get frustrated again. Somebody told me that I am a procrastinator. Set a deadline and stick with it.

Thief #7: Writer’s block. Again, I would type three to five pages and stop. I would watch CSI: Miami, Law & Order, or reruns of Friends. Nothing could get my fingers tapping on the keyboard. Somebody told me that there is no such thing as writer’s block. Somebody also told me to respect my writing skill and put in the hard work.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Cover Stories

By Kasie Whitener 

Several years ago, publishers sought texts that reimagined literary classics with new pop-culture elements in what Time Magazine called a literary land grab.” The frenzy was in choosing which classic texts to twist.

There are a million ways to tell the same story such as Marissa Meyer adopting Cinderella to cyborgs in the futuristic “Lunar Chronicles” (2012). Fairy tales are expected to be revived and re-told (think “Into the Woods”), but really good bent-classic fiction focuses on universal themes to achieve cohesion in the story.

Well ahead of the surge, Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (1995) looked at the Wizard of Oz from a different perspective, examining tyranny and disenfranchisement. Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2008) deftly made zombies as real a threat to Jane Austen’s characters as money, gender roles, and polite society.

Despite some authors’ lament that writers who use another’s work are unoriginal at best and plagiaristic at worst, I’m thrilled by the literary acrobatics of such work.

Recently one of my favorite musicians, Ryan Adams, re-created the Taylor Swift album 1989. This undertaking was remarkable for two reasons: 1) the original album was only recently released (2014) and Adams’ version followed only a year later and 2) he covered the entire album, every song.

A lot of musicians do cover songs. Colbie Callait did this mash-up of “Break Even” and “Fast Car” in 2011. Chris Cornell recently released a cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” a song made famous by Sinead O’Connor in 1990. Many even do it better than the original. Stevie Wonder recorded “Higher Ground” in 1973 but the Red Hot Chili Peppers released the definitive work in 1989.

Musicians cover songs to pay homage to the original artists, to experience the emotions and complexity of the work, and to redefine the art itself. While Johnny Cash’s version of the Nine Inch Nails song “Hurt” seems like a wild mismatch — the former being country music legend and the latter heavy-metal gothic rock band — the subject of addiction created a bridge between the artists and the two interpretations are equally haunting.

When writers interpret one another’s work, either through critique and discussion or analysis and debate, we elevate the art. By identifying and examining themes, we sew ourselves into the fabric of our craft. We are redefining old stories and paying homage to the work that came before ours.

It’s sometimes called ‘fan fiction’ and writers like Stephanie Barron (The Jane Austen Mystery series) have made a living at it. But it’s more than imitation, I think. It’s a way of covering another artist’s work and by doing so, elevating the entire artistic medium of storytelling.

I like the idea that all writers are part of the same quilt, wielders of the same needle and thread, blanketing the world in our stories. When we break out of strict marketing genres and mix styles and elements, we create a world where anything is possible. A fictional world.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Save the Cat

By Rex  Hurst

"Save the cat" is a term coined by the late Blake Snyder in manual of screenwriting of the same name. And while it was created for the purposes of screenwriting I feel that it works just as a well for a longer work of fiction.

The term is used to describe the scene where the audience (or reader) first meets the protagonist. The idea is that the character has to do something nice to make the hero like the character and begin to sympathize with them- that it is important to make the reader's first impression of the protagonist a positive one.

The term incidentally comes from the opening scene of Alien, where the hero Ridley saves a cat named Jones.

This technique also helps to insulate the character from backlash later on if that person makes a decision that is morally questionable, arrogant, or even downright evil. The initial impression is supposed to linger and the audience remembers that the protagonist is not all bad, because he saved the cat.

I recently did an experiment where I wrote two similar short pieces where the main character is attempting to escape from a sinking ship. In one I had him furiously attempting to escape as fast as he could. In the second the only difference was that I had him attempt to save the life of a person who was on the verge of death by carrying him, thus slowing him down.

Overwhelmingly people preferred the version where the hero saves the cat. I know this is just anecdotal evidence, but I'm convinced.

Saving the cat works!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Nine Questions to Steal Your Writer-ly Heart

By Jodie Cain Smith

I admit it. I have a girl crush. And this flame has burned for two decades. So, what dazzling creature gained my unfaltering devotion? Uta Hagen. What has she done to make my heart a’twitter all these years? She created nine simple questions every fiction writer needs to know and answer. Oh, sure, she created the questions for actors, but I find Uta Hagen’s Nine Questions to be as helpful to novel writing as they are on a stage.

If you are staring at a blank screen or have fallen down a rabbit hole without a ladder, or a minor character has hijacked your novel, stop and ask your protagonist these nine questions. The answers are sure to get you back on track and may even fill in some nasty potholes.

1.  Who are you? The answer should include all the details that make your protagonist who he or she is, such as name, age, likes, dislikes, physical description, beliefs, hobbies, career, education, enemies, friends, and culture.

2.  What time is it? Decide the time period, season, time of day, and year. Then ask yourself the significance of that time. Why does your protagonist’s story need to be set in the time you chose? Could it be told in a different time?

3.  Where are you? Country, city, neighborhood, fantasy world with puffy pink clouds and lava for sidewalks are important, but so is the structure, i.e. type of house, size of room, area of room. All of these details will affect the action. And unless your 50,000+ words all take place in one room, you will need to answer this question for each location.

4.  What surrounds you? Inanimate and animate objects fill out a space and a scene.

5.  What are the given circumstances? The past, present, and future have distinct effects on your story and your main character. If they don’t, make bigger choices, raise the stakes. Everything in your story should affect the main character in some way. 

6.  What are your relationships? The relationships you give your protagonist to other characters, events, and setting will move the plot forward.  

7.  What do you want? If your protagonist doesn’t want something, stop writing. Just close your laptop and walk away. Yep, that’s how important goals are. Make sure to choose one big one that trumps all others. Whether or not he or she achieves that goal is the ending, and, for me, the fun part.

8.  What is in your way?  Okay, maybe this is the fun part. What is the point of creating fiction without obstacles, conflict, and twists and turns?

9.  What do you do to get what you want? The answer to this goes deeper than mere plot points and tactics. Ask your character what he or she is willing to do to win. The answer may surprise you. 

Nine Questions. It’s that simple. I heart Uta.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Finding X a Spot

By Kasie Whitener

I’ve been querying my GenX novel After December to small press publishers. I made the decision after doing an agent-pitch last spring.

The agent said nobody wants to read about the ’90s. It’s too recent to be considered historic and too long ago to be considered relevant.

To be honest, I don’t remember that much about the ’90s. We have Trivial Pursuit the ’90s Edition and it’s ridiculously hard.

In the “Tinkering With History” panel at Atoma-CON last weekend, the four writers disagreed that the ’90s wasn’t history. It’s pre-9/11 so the lens isn’t yet blurred by terrorism and war. It’s all dot-com hangover sliding toward reality TV.

They said the agent may not have been the right sales person for my work. Well, duh.

Agent: “Why can’t this guy just be 22 now?”
Me: “Like, a Millennial?”
Agent: “Yeah.”
Me: “But there’d be social media and a big part of the story is his detachment from his friends.”
Agent: “Maybe he’s just not into social media.”
Me: “A Millennial?”

I know some Millenials and they’re basically good kids. But come on. Their value system is very very different from mine. Stripping GenX from Brian Listo is like making Elizabeth Bennett a lesbian. While it might be a doable version of the story, it would be a very different story.

Agent: “Who would read this novel?”
Me: “Book clubs, you know, those GenX moms who drink wine and remember their high school boyfriends? Also possibly college kids now. My beta readers were college kids.”
Agent: “So Millenials are a target audience?”
Me: “Sure, I mean, I read Ethan Hawke’s college-kid-finds-love-and-loses-it novel The Hottest State when I was in college and it resonated.”
Agent: “So then the main character should be one of them.”
Me: (face palm)

You don’t have to make a book about the Millenials. They’ll make the book about themselves. For crying out loud, most of them think DiCaprio originated the role of Jay Gatsby.

The trouble with that agent wasn’t just that she didn’t get it. She couldn’t sell it. And if an agent doesn’t think she can sell your work, she isn’t going to try to rep it.

Industry insiders keep saying that agents reflect what the publishers say they want. So I need to find a publisher who wants to take a risk on a GenX novel.

Publisher: “This isn’t really the kind of work we normally print.”
Me: “I know. You’ll be the first ones in on this new trend.”
Publisher: “We like being first.”
Me: “Honda is putting Strawberry Shortcake and Skeletor in their minivan ads. Marketing to GenX will sell books.”
Publisher: “We like anything that sells.”

So I found a few publishers whose line card includes some edgy stuff and made a list. Now I just have to craft the perfect query and send them the work.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

It’s Getting Harder To Breathe: Writing A Music Review

By Kimberly Johnson

Truth be told, I have been looking for clever ways to add Adam Levine into my blog.  I found it—an entry that shatters my outlook about music review writing. Maroon 5’s front man is my newest crush (Sorry, Blake). Adam is a girl’s daydream: he’s good-looking; he’s on a hit tv show The Voice; and he’s has a breathtaking set of pipes. The song Sugar  is a never-ending vehicle of sensual swagger that drives any girl crazy. 
Your sugar, Yes, please, Won't you come and put it down on meI'm right here, 'cause I need, Little love and little sympathyYeah you show me good loving, Make it alrightNeed a little sweetness in my life, Your sugar, Yes, please, Won't you come and put it down on me

I believed writing a music review was pretentious—listen to a song, tell the reader that it was good, bad or ugly and then collect a check.  Not a bad gig if you could get it. Well I was wrong.  Structure is the basis of a well-reviewed piece. The reviewer employs the universal writing standards, along with the inverted pyramid style —lead sentence, facts, supporting details and a conclusion. The reviewer refrains from using “I” phrases and fanboy worship. The reviewer is an adept researcher, politician and predictor of the next biggest hit.  He investigates the artist’s success and failures on the Billboard charts.  He has to listen to the good, the bad and the ugly and provide an opinion that doesn’t affront the record producers and industry bigwigs.

I believed writing a music review was pretentious.  Now, I believe writing a music review is like
sugar; some sweet, and some not so sweet, yet still hard work.

Sunday, November 8, 2015


By Bonnie Stanard

For some time I thought that a sympathetic protagonist meant only likeable ones. And the advice I got from interviews with literary agents reinforced this misconception. However, I’ve come to realize that bad guys can make for good books. I’m not talking about picaresque rogues of high adventure and rascally wit such as Fielding’s Tom Jones or Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders. Let’s think about serious books such as Executioner’s Song; Palace Walk; Perfume; and Clockwork Orange.

It’s easier to write sympathetic, likeable POV characters and, given that they populate best-selling books, it’s obvious we enjoy reading about them. But there’s a place for bad guys, though they present a challenge to the writer.

How can you make a wrong-headed person sympathetic? Or at least engage the reader and hold his interest. Evil is interesting in the mainstream, as long as it’s embodied as the antagonist or foil to our hero. What does it take to put the antagonist in the spotlight? How can we arouse a reader’s passion for a sinner? Capable writers such as Norman Mailer, Naguib Mahfouz, Patrick Suskind, and Anthony Burgess have proved we can.

I’ve just finished reading A Place for Outlaws by Allen Weir, which ends with a murder committed by the main character, Cole, who is in love with a married woman. She convinces him that her jealous husband is dangerous, though there’s no evidence of this. Cole sneaks into the husband’s house with a .38 caliber pistol, presumably to shoot the husband though he isn’t at home. For a 40 year-old, divorced man, Cole displays a disconcerting lack of moral grounding despite a stable upbringing and loving parents. He doesn’t act very smart for a college professor, his given profession. If he were younger, I could believe he sees the world through a prism of hormones and is thereby so infatuated he loses his senses. In the end, it’s not the husband he kills but his mother’s lover in what seems a sudden attack of an Oedipus complex. So why do I question the character of Cole? What could make him more believable? Here are some ideas.

1.      A background with more clues to his dark side
2.      Rational behavior, even if it’s murder
3.      A connection between POV thought and act
4.      Boldness, even if in wrong-doing
5.      Justifiable motives
6.      A conscience, whether honest or deluded

I worried about the character of the male protagonist of my novel Master of Westfall Plantation because he’s not a good guy. Would the reader become absorbed in his adventures when it’s obvious he’s a cruel, demanding slave owner? In this case, the protagonist believes he is a good person. He is blinded to the harm he brings on his family and associates because he is the product of a destructive culture.

The Heart of the Matter
A successful evil protagonist is credible. He acts based on what he believes. Moral norms are distorted. A happy childhood is not a good starting point. Drugs can only explain so much. He can be creative about being destructive. At that, he has moments when he’s good.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

A Troubled POV That Cost Me $18

By Kasie Whitener

I was forty-five pages in before I finally realized what was wrong with Resurrection Impure. It’s one of the books on a list of vampire books I’m working through as part of my genre research (“The 10 Best Vampire Novels Nobody Has Read”).

I had the vague sense that something was off about this book. I noticed the chapters began with random poetry-like interludes that didn’t seem to make any sense. Whose voice is this? What information is being shared here? Why is this passage necessary?

The narrator was head-hopping, that novice-writer error wherein the narrative shifts the point of view from one character to another seemingly at random. One chapter began by telling us clearly what a particular character was thinking and later in the same chapter, killing that character off.

Even when George R. R. Martin kills off main characters, it’s not done in that character’s actual chapter. How could the narrative continue if the point of view was lost?

So what is Point of View (POV)?

In First Person the narrator uses “I” and cannot report what other characters are thinking or feeling unless those characters share that information.

In Third Person Limited the narrator uses “he” and “she” but focuses on one character’s inner thoughts and feelings and expresses the other character’s thoughts and feelings only when they volunteer that information. Otherwise, the POV character may speculate:

Eleanor guessed Pete felt left out and made eye contact with him, smiled, and winked.

The narrator doesn’t say “Pete felt left out” because that would be from Pete’s POV and the story is from Eleanor’s. Instead, the narrator tells us what Eleanor thinks Pete is feeling. The filter of what Eleanor thinks Pete feels is an important tension-building dimension in the story.

A Third Person Omniscient narrator uses “he” and “she” and provides insight to multiple characters’ POV. Inner thoughts and feelings are available to the reader though obscured from other characters.

But even with Third Person Omniscient, POV must be maintained for established periods. Martin uses an entire chapter with the character’s name. Other writers use spacers between passages when they change angles — like a camera changing its viewpoint.

The real problem with Resurrection Impure is that it couldn’t have been workshopped. Discerning readers pick up head-hopping and ask the important questions.

The most frequent question we ask in workshop is “Whose story is this?”

Knowing the answer can enable the writer to nail down the perspective. With Resurrection Impure, I don’t think the author knows whose story this truly is.

Characters must be compelling. The male leads here are, but the only female character is so two-dimensional and puny that Daenerys Targaryen would surely smite her on site.

Having abandoned Resurrection Impure, I’d really like to have my $17.95 back.

Workshop your fiction before you publish it. Get readers who will figure out what’s off about it and help you correct it. Do the work.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Why Write

By Jodie Cain Smith

Why do I write? The answer begins in early April 2003.

Employed as a puppeteer (that’s an entirely different story), I had spent three weeks driving Savannah’s Veterans’ Drive watching the Iraq War protesters do their thing. Mostly students at SCAD, they waved signs and shook their fists as I drove by in my Ford Taurus. Then, one afternoon, I almost hit one with said Taurus. Dressed in a white toga, the protester stepped in front of my car brandishing a sign that read, “Who would Jesus bomb?” My first thought was, “No one, Jackass!” My second thought was, “Brake! Brake!”

I pressed my brake pedal just in time to avoid catastrophe, but felt a tinge of dissatisfaction. My husband was with the 3rd Infantry Division near Bagdad, Iraq. Nearly eight weeks had passed since I’d heard his voice. I was struggling with being a tough Army Wife, exhausted from worry and angry with everyone and everything around me. I needed somewhere to place my anger and fear.

I parked in front of the Savannah Morning News office and marched into the lobby – a woman on a mission. “You are giving the protesters a lot of coverage, but no one is speaking for the soldiers’ families. Our story matters, too,” I loudly accused the first man I saw.

“Why don’t you write it then?” was his response.

“Fine! I will!”

Thus began my writing life.

I had no experience, no training – just stories to tell, passion to fuel my words, and a Sports Editor nuts enough to give me my first gig. For thirteen months I wrote the column “Married to the Military” until I couldn’t squeeze one more complaint, accolade, or camo-related anecdote from my keyboard.

So, now, why do I still write? Why do you write?

Looking for a simple answer, I turned to my friend Google. According to legitimate sources, Lord Byron claimed, “If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.” Steven King described his desire to write as a path to happiness, a way to enrich his readers’ lives and his own. Gloria Steinem stated that writing is “the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.”

Perhaps George Orwell proposed the most insightful explanation in his essay Why I Write stating all writers fall under four possible intentions, “sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, and political purpose.” Then he cautions, “All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery.”  

So, maybe the answer to, “Why write?” is not simple at all.

My writing may not make others feel good, increase my online followers, or inflate my bank account, but life, the simple acts of living, still affects me, filling me with laughter and rage on a daily basis. No longer satisfied with my true-life musings, I now work to turn my frustrations into fiction. These stories, this life, must come out. I’ve got a bigger car now. I could really do some damage. Therefore, I write.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Pitching to A&E

By Laura P. Valtorta

Recently I got invited to deliver a pitch to the A&E channel, and Im very nervous about it. The prize is a development meeting with A&E.

The cinematographer on the project, Lynn, says, Youve got this!

Yeah, right.

My filmmaking associate, Clabber, is not so sure. He suggests I write down and memorize the pitch. Thats a good idea. So here goes:
Hello. Im Laura Valtorta, attorney turned filmmaker. I grew up in Watertown, New York. Ive practiced law in South Carolina since 1992. I am the producer of White Rock Boxing, a feature documentary available on Amazon Instant Video, and director of the Art House, a short film accepted at 15 film festivals so far, including New York and Los Angeles.  
My current project is Queen of the Road a television series about commercial truck drivers. Truck drivers lead exciting, tough, and dangerous lives, and thats just while finding a parking space. Drivers can be delivering palm trees to a movie set, or working with the oil industry. They might find themselves sleeping in a Walmart parking lot for three nights. They might see their flatbed and cargo stolen.
What’s much more exciting is that with Queen of the Road were talking about female truck drivers. More trouble, more danger, more possibilities.
 We will be following several truck drivers in this series, such as Olivia from Kentucky, who has four children and drives in a team with her husband; Donna, who dreams of moving equipment for a rock band; and drivers like Jae. Ive heard that Jae is trouble, and Im looking forward to that. She lives in her truck with her dog, Mack. Her truck has a hood decorated with a painting of Jack Nicholson as the Joker. 
So far weve been filming Milica Virag a Serbian-American grandmother, who loves art and karaoke and her grandson. You will see Milica in our video. Shes a talented driver who seems to have no fear of anything. When I went out on the road with Milica, I had a blast, and I learned something about truck driving. I know the audience will have fun watching Queen of the Road.


I say this, and then I show my two-minute promotional video.

The problem is, I will be catatonic with fear. But at least the pitch says what I want it to say.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Johnny One-Note

By Leigh Stevenson

We often think of artists, whether painters, actors, writers, musicians, dancers, et al. as endlessly creative. However, I submit that in spite of being engaged in singular creative endeavors, artists can be as dry as numbers on a page or prairie grass in a dust storm.

Regardless of having a reputation for being mostly right-brained, artists may have creative tunnel-vision. In order to balance and feed art its important to draw from other sources. Indeed, the right brain and left brain are housed together and operate in concert with one another. Its a joke among actors that dancers and singers make terrible actors and vice-versa. It could be argued they have poured too much into one skill set. Well, we cant all be Ben Vareen or Michaelangelo.

Contemporary novelist Elizabeth Gilbert took a break from writing and developed a love for gardening. She credits that pursuit with inspiring her novel, The Signature of All Things. Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, a.k.a. George Sand, the nineteenth century French novelist, loved nature and in particular, bird-watching. When she felt depleted she left the bustle of Paris and retired to the country for periods of time to nurture herself.  Painting was one of the creative outlets Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the nineteenth century English writer, explored.

Members of our Columbia II Writers Workshop practice law, act in plays, consult and teach among other things while also producing memorable writing.

In her recent Columbia II blog, Kasie Whitener spoke of finding inspiration while traveling, specifically in airports. Some of what I consider my best work came while in a hospital waiting room. Sometimes by stepping away, stepping out your writing-comfort zone will yield surprising results. Step away from your computer or notebook. Please step away from your hand-held device. Be present. Use all of the tools that make you a writer.

It could be as simple as hiking, applying paint on canvas or as challenging as learning a new language. Did I forget to say you dont actually have to excel at any of these things? Its simply exercising unused muscles to make all the other muscles work more efficiently.

They say that you become old by not trying new things. Its also true that your art can become old and stale. Your art is all of who you are, what you see and experience. Its not just the talent for stringing together lovely sentences or carving an exquisite bowl or photographing the perfect sunset. Its all of who you are and what you do. Enrich yourself. No Johnny-One-Notes.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Latest Addition

Meet a New Columbia II Blogger


Brian Barr is an American author of novels, short stories, and comic books. Brian has been published in various short story anthologies, including Queer Sci Fi’s Discovery, NonBinary Review No. 3: The Wizard of Oz, Dark Chapter Press’s Kill for a Copy, and various short story collections. Brian collaborates with another writer, Chuck Amadori, on the supernatural dark fantasy noir comic book series Empress, along with Pencil Blue Studios’ Marcelo Salaza for the art. His first two novels, Carolina Daemonic and Psychological Revenge, will be published by J. Ellington Ashton Press in 2015.

Writing From Love, Not Greed

By Brian Barr
“Your comics are good, man. You should just write more mainstream stuff, you know? Stuff that sells big on the market. Follow the subjects a mass audience reads, and just write that!”


Seriously. This is the gist of what a fellow comic book writer told me once, a year or so ago. A writer who liked my work but didn’t understand someone writing what they wanted to write, and not what they calculated as the hottest cash cow selling at the moment. How could I not follow a formula, a trend that would guarantee me instant success?

I don’t see the point. I write because I genuinely love to write. The stories I craft, the characters I create, and even the subject matter I deal with all strike a chord with me as a human being. Never have I looked at the bestseller list or a weekly book guide and thought, “Hmm. Goth aliens are in. Score. Gopher apocalypse novels sell big. Imma write me one of them there monster rodent novels! Guaranteed spot on daytime TV.”

Why transform my biggest passion into a soulless imitation of current fads?

We all have our talents. Okay, so let’s say that anyone in the general audience reading this blog is a business figure more than an artist. I get it. You’re like a Bill Hicks standup skit on marketers (my favorite one he ever did, YouTube it). You look at the margins, then strike for the gold. Every project, you’re narrowing down your demographic to whatever is in the top three slots of commercial literary lists.

I’m a literary artist first, an author that truly wants to express myself and have fun doing it. I’m primarily a creator, not a marketer. I strive to be an individual in my craft, not a follower in my ‘manipulation of products.” When people buy my work, I want it to be because they genuinely like my work, not because I found a quick way to take their money. I appreciate their purchases because they truly support what I’m about.

Every talent can be appreciated. We can appreciate a businessman, and we can appreciate an artist. One is even better when they’re a healthy balance of the two, and there are many great artists out there that know how to sell themselves.

The writer who gave me the advice on how to sell out bigger than Reel Big Fish did mean well. He was giving me the jewels for instant success.

I refuse them, because I’m not a sellout.

When people read my work, I want them to know they are getting my heart on a page. These are my words, my interests, my imagination, all without compromise. The Empress comic book project I co-create with Chuck Amadori and Marcelo Salaza’s Pencil Blue Studios mean something to me. The same applies to my novel Carolina Daemonic, the anthologies my short stories are featured in, everything to come. My influences are there, from Tad Williams to Anthony Burgess, Fyodor Dostoyevsky to Clive Barker, only because I’m inspired by these great authors, not soullessly trying to jump in their niches for big bucks.

I have the genres I’m drawn to more than anything, mainly speculative genres. Fantasy, science-fiction, horror, you name it. Never did I look to these genres as a lightning bolt route to the top. These are genres I genuinely like writing!

So, thank you, Mr. Writer for the great instant marketing advice, but it is not great creator advice. I’m going to keep doing what makes me happy, and sharing it with the world, just like my favorite creators do. There is still a market for a genuine love of creativity and self-expression out there.

Don’t believe the hype.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Finding Terminal Stories

By Kasie Whitener

The strangest thing happened last week as I traveled to and from Denver and then to and from Northern Virginia. My fingers began to itch.

Everything in the airport concourse made me want to write: all those colorful bags, rushing late-runners, wide-eyed children and distracted business people.

There’s so much motion in an airport.

I watched the different gaits, walks, swaggers, and charges of the passersby. I listed as many adjectives as I could. What was the posture like? What about the pace?

Was this person excited? Like my friend Kevin who felt so proud of himself for purchasing a book in the bookstore that he strode through the Toronto airport like a deep-thinking scholar?

Was this person frightened? Like the soldier in Japan who was headed home from the Philippines to his father whose motorcycle-wreck-coma may have already ended in death?

Did he cover ground swiftly in paces that are self-assured and oblivious to surrounding traffic?

Did she stagger under the weight of the carry-on, the diaper bag, the baby seat, and the stroller push?

I’ve always written when I travel.

There’s something so irresistibly universal about the experience of airports. We’re all at the mercy of the elements: weather, airlines, security, geography, one another.

There are so many stories in airports: where are you going? Where have you been? Ever had to wait this long? How many times has your gate changed? How many hours have you been delayed?

I love the anonymity of the airport where you are simultaneously one of a million stories that are all the same and also part of a unique experience unfolding as you live it.

I stepped off the plane in Honolulu and my phone lit up with text messages. My Nana had died.

I curled up on the floor under a Delta blanket in Atlanta when we were the last flight canceled and stranded at the terminal under a heavy snowstorm.

I put back two extra shots of tequila in Detroit with another South Carolinian I’d met two hours earlier before racing to the gate bound for Amsterdam.

I watched as the lady next to me in Philly cleaned up her spilled wine when the iPad cleverly propped up in front of her fell over and soaked her and all of her belongings.

There’s a beautiful artistry to the mechanics of an airport. The design of the operation: bags and ticketing and planes taking off and landing. There’s also a clunky human element that makes everyone roll their eyes.

Our flight attendant from Dallas to Columbia actually called all of our names off the printed roster, like the first day of school, to figure out who was on the over-booked plane that shouldn’t be.

In all of it I find inspiration. The human condition: emotions, filth, exhaustion, anxiety. The imperfections of love, family, citizenry, and civility. It’s all write-able.