Beth Deitchman

Reader, Writer, Knitter, Slayer

Category: Writing (page 1 of 2)

Musings on writing

Emily June Street Blog Tour!

When my Luminous Sister Emily and I started writing together in 2012, she sent me several chapters from a beautiful fantasy novel that takes place in a world called Lethemia. Her poetic language hooked me immediately. The intricately imagined details of the story’s world—its fashion, magic systems, cultures, and languages—fascinated me. The epic story enchanted me so much that after three years and several revisions, I still love to read it. Now that story is finally available for everyone to read and to love! Luminous Creatures Press released The Gantean, Tales of Blood and Light Book One yesterday. To celebrate, I’ve invited Emily to answer some questions on my blog. She covers a lot, including how her writing process works, how she developed her love for editing, and the trouble with the STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER. Enjoy!

You’ve been working on this series—especially book one—for a long time. What has surprised you over the course of writing / revising / editing the books?

Mainly I’m surprised that I’ve kept at this particular story for as long as I have. I still don’t entirely know why I’ve spent so long on it—I have suspicions, but it’s also just another story among many I want to write, yet for some reason I’ve trained my determination on it for decades. So many times I read it and thought—this just isn’t working. Or: I clearly have no idea what I’m doing. Even so, I’d start over again and try to make it work.

One reason I’ve invested so much energy in a story that was so difficult is that I’ve written other books in the series, and I want to make the whole series happen. This first book is an essential piece of that puzzle. All the Lethemia books have been difficult, and all for the same reason: they flowed directly out of my unconscious without any structural planning. I’ve never been able to sit down and plot a Lethemia book at the macro-level. They are character-driven and complex. For many years, I also never had what I would call “a point” for The Gantean. I only knew I wanted to write it, and the reason I wanted to write it was because I wanted it to exist.

My revising process lacked focus for a long time. I didn’t know what this book had to say on a global, abstract level, and I didn’t like not having that as a touchstone. I figured out at least part of why the story was important to me about a year ago after some beta readers were making complaints about my main character, Leila, being too passive and wanting her to be a stronger, more hero-like heroine. When I first begin writing TG, I was a twelve-year-old girl, a weird mix of tomboy and ballerina. The fantasy stories I loved—Arthurian legends, Lord of the Rings—generally had heroes, not heroines, and if they did have heroines—or female characters of any note—they fell into three categories: 1) love interests, 2) slightly annoying secondary characters, or, a bit later, 3) STRONG FEMALE CHARACTERS trudging the hero’s path.
The twelve-year-old girl in me wanted a character who felt—perhaps as I did—both insignificant and important, able to act but afraid to do so, and—and most important, a character who adapted and accommodated instead of constantly taking charge. I still believe there is a great feminine strength in this capability, and we do a disservice to female characters in all kinds of books by forcing them to follow the hero’s path. That belief has kept me gnawing at this piece. Though it has been a difficult story, it has been important for me, personally, to explore this character, even if it meant throwing away the mold about how to write a fantasy on my very first attempt.

As I deliberated (and agonized) over comments urging me to turn my lead into a more typical active character, I realized I wanted to stay true to the girl I’d been who wanted a different heroine, who wanted to see more of her own psyche reflected in a lead character—a lead both passive and active, who rarely turns to violence to solve problems, who is introverted, quiet, shy, and strong all at once. A lead who questions who she is, what she stands for, and never entirely knows. A lead with a fluid, watery identity. A lead who sees the value in adapting rather than struggling.
I guess I’m surprised by how steadfast I’ve been able to be, while making “risky” choices with The Gantean, knowing that it won’t appeal to some readers, knowing that I was wrestling tricky issues that I maybe should have avoided on my first attempt at writing a novel…

As always, the world of your books is richly detailed and thoroughly imagined. What research did you do to help you create the language, customs, architecture, belief systems and other areas that make up Lethemia and Gante?

Two things I knew right from the beginning: 1) I had a stark northern culture and 2) the element I wanted to represent in my heroine was water. Both of those are pretty standard fantasy tropes—connecting a character to an elemental power and having a “northern” cold culture pitted against a “southern” warm culture.

I wanted to do it a little differently. I didn’t want Leila to actually have an elemental power relating to magic; I wanted her to have a watery, fluid presence, a way of being in the world that was represented by water’s ability to adapt and flow and become whatever vessel held it. I see this ability to react to change fluidly as an underexplored aspect of what it means to be a “strong woman character.” It has been the condition of women for centuries to adapt—to life in their husbands’ families, to the changes brought on by politics and wars, to the cyclical fluctuations that are the essential part of female existence. This is an uncelebrated strength of women the world over, this ability to adapt and survive despite changing conditions over which they have historically had little control. I wanted to show that strength in Leila—not that she be some fantastical warrior assassin. I wanted her to be able to move like water around stone.

As far as the cultures go, one of my Pilates clients grew up in an Inuit village in Alaska, and I picked her brain about what it was like to grow up in cold, survival-intense conditions. She gave me great insights about the deep importance of community in this kind of culture—how if you get abandoned by the community, it’s essentially a death sentence; you cannot survive without the group’s support. I used this notion of interdependency to shape Gantean culture, though I took it several steps further by tying the magic into this communal way. I also took communalism to possibly negative extremes, giving the Ganteans rigid and unbending rules of how to behave and what to believe. I wanted the Ganteans to have a dark side—and this rigidity offered a starting point for that.

I researched people living in cold climates—the Inuits, the Sami, the people of the Siberian Steppes—to understand how Gantean society might survive, as well as to decide which natural resources they might use. Ultimately these details fused with my own ideas about what I needed, story-wise, to make something bizarre and (hopefully) unique. The Ganteans are certainly not meant to represent any particular culture, though I did use the Inupiat and Inuit language sounds to help guide my Gantean language—most of the Gantean words are made up, except for a few, which I loved too much not to use: tormaq, Pamiuq, The Cedna (a variation of Sedna, a female figure from Inuit mythology). I investigated the plants and animals that might survive in cold conditions and tried to make some of these species relevant to the Ganteans. I also wildly invented: snowcats (apparently no species of cat does all that well in Arctic conditions—their delicate ears freeze), Shringar fish (like sharks, but not), and arctic musk goats (I wanted to Ganteans to have access to wool, so I gave them some goats).

For the magic system, I really wanted the Ganteans and Lethemians to have different beliefs that described the same phenomena, similar to how all the cultures on earth have different beliefs that describe the same basic problems of existence: what happens after death, how the world was made, etc. So the two magic systems—Gantean and Lethemian—dovetail to hint at a universal logic of magic, while diverging to help show what the two cultures value.

Lethemia was an easier culture to shape than Gante, as it more closely resembles something common in fantasy books: a western feudal society. I gave the Lethemians a great deal of power and a great deal of magic. I also made them pleasure-loving, a more emotionally free people to contrast with Gantean starkness. They have a culture of privilege. That was fun, because I could include any extravagant or depraved thing in their world. I turned to other wealthy, powerful societies for inspirations, mostly empires of the past that commanded vast wealth and resources. There are dark realities underpinning all this luxury: the use of unpaid labor by the power classes to get work done. Lethemians own slaves and slavery helps power the economy on many levels. Nobles command nearly all the power, and the castes beneath them lead more difficult lives.

For Lethemia, I looked at lots of pictures online. Whenever I saw some detail of architecture or costume that inspired me, I collected it for future use. You can see some of these pictures on my Pinterest boards:

Imagine that you have full creative control over the film version of The Gantean and that money is no object. You get to hire everyone:

I’m not that much of a movie or TV watcher. I try, but I usually end up opening my book halfway through. I prefer my stories in words. But everyone always wants to know the answer to this question, so I’ll try.

I picture Leila looking like a cross between Adriana Lima and Vanessa Hudgens, but could either of them pull her off as actresses? I don’t think so. So I’m going to go with Ksenia Solo, who has the right eyes and build, and is, apparently, a solid practitioner of her craft.

Costas could be Hayden Christensen, though I find him hit or miss as an actor. Max Irons would be a better choice, but either of them would need some contact lenses because Costas has noteworthy amber eyes.

Laith might be Jonathan Rhys-Meyers. He certainly has the edge, if not quite the more Arabic or Persian look I imagine. He’d be able to handle what’s coming in Laith’s story after The Gantean.

Miki would be a previously undiscovered major child talent, of course.

Tiercel might be well played by Richard Armitage.

Ghilene Entila, I just have no idea.

The Cedna could be Saoirse Ronan. She could do the acting, and her look is great (with a few modifications). She could also manage the age span that The Cedna has to go through in the series.

Angelina Jolie really is the only possible Lady Malvyna Entila. Hopefully she’ll consent without too many contractual add-ins.

Whew, I find this very difficult and would like to hand the rest of the characters over to a casting director.

Director: Someone who can handle complex fantasy without making it cheesy. Ang Lee was suggested to me.

Cinematographer: whoever did Peaky Blinders, so it’s nice and artsy.

Costumes: Sandy Powell, who did Disney’s recent “Cinderella.” She has a great sense of history and fusion.

Production Design: Patrick Tatopoulos, who did Dark City, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and 300, for that darker edge.

Locations: Gante: Iceland or Greenland. The Hinge might be Reed Flute Cave in China. I fear Lethemia would largely need to be a built set, though some parts of Ireland or New Zealand might serve for the surrounding countryside.

Thank you for your fabulous answers, Emily!

About The Gantean

The Gantean

After she is violently kidnapped from her stark existence on the cold island of Gante, Leila must learn to survive in a southern culture her native people hate. She has no choice but to adapt to a foreign new world. In this lush, intricate society, exotic temptations greet her at every turn, including a dangerous love affair with a man she never should have known. When civil war threatens, Leila is forced to choose between southern love and northern rituals.

But at what price?

Her choice may have widespread consequences even she cannot predict.

Available at Amazon!


Emily June Street is a true Gemini: she teaches people Pilates by day and edits, writes, and formats by night (and very early morning). She is the author of three novels, The Gantean, Velo Races, and Secret Room, and her short stories have appeared in numerous publications. She likes to pretend she’s a superhero on her bike, and she has a collection of magic wands. She lives in California with her husband and her shoebox puppy, Stella.

Learn more about her writing and freelance editing, formatting, and self-publishing coaching at: or



Liebster Award


My sister in Luminosity, Maestra of Pilates, and Mother of Dragons, Emily June Street, tagged me to write this post. Although I’m not sure what the Liebster award is, I’m happy to play.

Here are the rules:

List eleven random facts about yourself.
Answer eleven questions posed by the tagger.
Devise eleven questions for the people you tag.

And so:

My eleven random facts:

1. Pizza is my favorite food.

2. I started keeping a diary in second grade. The entries are hilarious.

3. I first drank wine at my bat mitzvah. After singing the Kiddush, I threw back the wine, expecting it to taste like grape juice. Manischewitz does not taste like grape juice. I grimaced and said “Ewww.” Everyone laughed. So much for gravitas.

4. Fall is my favorite season. Spring second. I like the chaos of the changes.

5. I once got drunk with Judi Dench’s daughter.

6. Baby birds give me the creeps, but snakes and spiders fascinate me.

7. I prefer towns and villages to big cities. (But I hate the suburbs.)

8. I love thunder storms.

9. I have an Oscars speech ready just in case.

10. The music of the eighties makes me happy.

11. I like grammar.

And on to Emily’s questions:

1. What was your dream career when you were a kid?
Ballerina and manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. I planned to wear a yellow and black tutu and yellow and black pointe shoes during games. That only lasted for a few months (after the Pirates won the World Series). Then I just wanted to be a ballerina.

2. What is one physical activity you want to do before you die?
I would like to ride a horse at a fierce gallop.

3. What is your favorite trip or vacation that you’ve ever done and why?
It’s a tie: hiking the Southwest Coastal Path in Cornwall in October of 1997 by myself and a two week trip to Tahiti in December of 2005 with my husband, Dave.

Cornwall: This was my first solo vacation. I wasn’t sure how I’d do with that much alone time, but it turns out I really like alone time. I spent every day hiking by the sea, encountering very few people along the way. I also made only one hotel reservation in St. Ives for the first two days of the trip. After that, I planned to wing it. I’m not a winger of things, but it worked out–except for a terrifying moment in a tiny village called Zennor where the hostel had closed for the season. Luckily, there were a few people in the village who let rooms to wandering travelers, so I didn’t have to sleep outside. During that trip I discovered the joys of an afternoon cream tea and that when left to my own devices, I do very well. Two good things to learn in my late twenties.

Tahiti: Pure gorgeous luxury with my favorite person on the planet.

4. Do you dance?
Every day. Usually in my kitchen.

5. Editing or drafting?
Editing. Dear God, editing. I love shaping stories, finding the perfect word, moving sentences around, fleshing out bits that seem thin–all that. The drafting. Oy. That’s a necessary evil to get me to the fun part.

6. Your favorite myth or fairy-tale and why?
The Arthurian legends. I’m having a hard time articulating why. There’s something about ancient, stony, misty, green England that appeals to me, although it is on a visceral rather than an intellectual level.

7. Where (and when) did you grow up and how do you think it shaped you?
I grew up in Evansville, Indiana in the 1970s and 1980s. We lived in a solidly middle class neighborhood near the school I attended for nine years from kindergarten to eighth grade. Farmland surrounded us–mostly corn and soybeans. Today it’s almost all gone, built over into strip malls, car dealerships, and subdivisions. I miss the huge stretches of green.

I think I have an earnestness that one might ascribe to being a Midwesterner. I’m also fascinated with mountains and the ocean since they did not form the landscape of my childhood; Southern Indiana is flat and landlocked. We had lakes and rivers, but those have visible boundaries. And don’t smell of salt.

As for growing up in the 1970s and 1980s: I remember the heart-pounding anxiety of calling a boy and hoping his mother didn’t answer the phone. I miss receiving letters, but I don’t miss busy signals. Technology still throws me a little for a loop, although that could just be part of my personality. I’m torn between appreciating the convenience of cell phones and being bothered by always being reachable. I harbor nostalgia for a simpler time, but who doesn’t?

8. You have $100 that you must spend on yourself by the end of the day. What do you buy?
A really fancy lunch and some books.

9. Pick any three objects or people to be stranded with you in a lost spaceship.
Dave, Ralphie, and a fully loaded Kindle. (Dave would also have a fully loaded Kindle and its charger in his pockets.)

10. What’s your favorite piece of music and why?
Beethoven’s Third Symphony. I love Beethoven, especially the boomy symphonies. My dad introduced me to the third symphony and we used to pretend to conduct it together. That’s a fond memory.

11. Pantser or plotter?
Pantser all the way. I never know where a story is going until I’m several drafts in.

And here are my questions for Jessica Grey, baseball aficionada and author of modern day fairy tales; Kristen Falso Capaldi, singer, songwriter, screenwriter, and all around cool lady; and Callie Armstrong, writer of hauntingly beautiful stories and bad ass Mama:

1. What was your favorite game when you were a child?

2. What is your favorite game now?

3. List five fantasy professions (besides full-time writer).

4. What is your perfect day like?

5. What is the first thing you ever wrote? Did you share it with anyone?

6. What name would you choose for yourself if you needed a new identity?

7. Where is the farthest place you have been from your home?

8. Where do you write?

9. Are you a morning person or a night owl?

10. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be and why?

11. Spike or Angel? (alternate question: Mr. Knightley or Captain Wentworth?) Feel free to answer both!

Final week of the Winter of Whimsy and Wyrdness Flash Fiction Contest!

Today begins the final week of Luminous Creatures Press’s winter flash fiction contest. Emily posted the photo prompt on the LCP website this morning, and you have until Sunday at 7 AM (PST) to submit a 500-word story based on the photo. We select up to four winners a week whose stories will be featured in our upcoming anthology Five Hundred Words of Magic. All winning stories include some element of magic. You can submit your story in the comments section of the post.

Photo by Christian Miller

Photo by Christian Miller

The Awesome Power of Grammar and Punctuation, Part One

I have many reasons to be thankful for my writing partner, Emily. I’ve written about some of them before, and one day I’ll compose a post about our evolving partnership. Or I’ll simply provide a link to the post she writes. We make a good team, or as Emily told me last week, we’re part of the same Ka-Tet whose mission is to write great books. Along with some complementary differences, we share a number of attributes, including a wonderfully nerdish devotion to grammar and her sister, punctuation. During our bi-monthly writing lunches (and on many other occasions), we conduct passionate discussions about the importance of clear punctuation or sentence structure variation. I find these conversations exhilarating, though I imagine some people might not share our enthusiasm.

I understand why the topic could seem less than thrilling. For so many, the word grammar evokes memories of stern English teachers lecturing about the dangers of split infinitives, comma splices, and dangling modifiers. These infractions of grammar rules sound truly horrible—splitting, splicing, and dangling, oh my! It’s no wonder people cringe at the thought.

But our nerdy devotion allows Emily and me a different perspective on grammar and punctuation from that of the terrified high school student. We see those rules as tools for making meaning, both for the writer and the reader. A thorough grounding in grammar gives writers the freedom to make all kinds of choices for communicating their ideas and for telling their stories. And a keen understanding of grammar helps readers interpret what they read. Grammatical mistakes, however, cloud meaning, putting a barrier between the writer and the reader. For example, a misplaced comma can radically alter the sense of a sentence: “Let’s eat, Grandma!” vs. “Let’s eat Grandma!” One tiny mark changes that statement from an enthusiastic invitation to a cannibalistic exhortation. That is some awesome power on display.

Other tiny marks bear the same power. Consider a sentence such as, “I like Tuesday’s.” That apostrophe combined with an s signals ownership, so as a reader I’m left wondering what it is belonging to Tuesday you like. Take out the apostrophe and you get “I like Tuesdays.” Aha. So do I. I like Tuesdays, too. My friend Tiffany Aldrich MacBain has a fabulous post on her blog about just this issue.

Grammatical errors have the same result—confusion. Take the ominously named dangling modifier in this example:

Walking to the back of the room, heads slowly turn to watch me as they perform the traditional inspection of each person who enters.

In this case, “walking to the back of the room” modifies—clarifies, defines, describes—something in the full sentence that follows the comma. As you can see, there is an (amusing) error, and the italicized phrase modifies “heads.” But that doesn’t make any sense. The mistake takes the reader out of the narrative, forcing her to try to figure out what is going on. Sure, I can guess what the writer means, but, as I used to tell my writing students, what if I get it wrong?

The writer well versed in grammar, however, can choose to break rules to create specific effects. Take the passive voice; anyone who works in Word knows that it prefers active voice, alerting us to our “mistakes” in green. It has a point. The passive voice doesn’t provide a lot of information—we can’t identify the subject of a sentence structure in passive voice. There is no actor, in other words, as this famous example demonstrates: “Mistakes were made.” Sure, but by whom, Mr. President? Yet the passive voice can be valuable if, for instance, you’d like to use sentence structure to highlight a people’s plight: Native Americans were forced from their land and made to walk across the country. Here, using passive voice underlines the powerlessness of the Native Americans—they did not choose to leave their lands. Of course, if you wanted to spotlight the perpetrators, you would make them the subject of the sentence: The US Government forced Native Americans from their land and drove them across the country.

Like the passive voice, the well-placed sentence fragment can do a lot of work for a writer: Derek couldn’t sleep. His mind kept turning and turning. All damn night. Those three syllables, so abrupt and technically ungrammatical, emphasize Derek’s insomnia. They also create a rhythm for the passage, a short little burst of words next to a longer clause. (Isn’t this freakin’ cool?)

My final example for this post: the run-on sentence, while generally something worth avoiding, has its uses:

“Mom told me to go outside and play but I said it was too cold then she did that thing where she rubs her head and says oh Jeffrey and then told me to put on a coat so I did and I found the tree stump and came here—” He drew a breath.

I took this passage from a flash fiction piece I wrote a few months ago. Jeffrey is only six, and I wanted to communicate his enthusiasm—the kind associated with children telling stories as though they have to get all their words out on one breath. I left out punctuation to achieve that affect. Correct punctuation would actually have failed me:

Mom told me to go outside and play, but I said it was too cold. Then she did that thing where she rubs her head and says, “Oh Jeffrey” and told me to put on a coat. So I did, and I found the tree stump and came here.

There are too many pauses breaking up the stream of Jeffrey’s breathless recitation of events. It’s an adult’s voice, not a child’s.

I’ll be doing more of these posts in the weeks to come because I’m a grammar nerd and want to share my love with other writers. In the meanwhile, here are some of my favorite sources for answering grammar and punctuation questions:

The Elements of Style (William Strunk)
Style: the Basics of Clarity and Grace (Joseph M. Williams and Gregory G. Colomb)

Purdue Online Writing Lab: Grammar
Purdue Online Writing Lab: Punctuation
Grammar Girl

Backwards and Out of Order: My Writing Process Blog Tour

Introduction: My Writing Process Blog Tour
Several months ago I saw this blog tour making the Twitter rounds. Several writers I follow posted marvelous accounts of their writing processes, and I secretly longed to be invited along. So when Karl A. Russell asked if he could tag me in his post, I was thrilled, not only because I get to join the tour, but also because it was Karl who invited me. I made Karl’s acquaintance through Twitter and the weekly flash fiction contest The Angry Hourglass hosted by Rebecca J. Allred. His stories consistently impressed me with their pure, cinematic style blended with poetic leaps. That a writer of his caliber had named me as someone whose writing he admired, well, let’s just say I’m still smiling. Thank you, Karl, for the invitation!

And so, here we go…

What am I working on?
I’ve got a few projects in the works right now, which seems to be my constant state. Book two of my Regency Magic series, Margaret Dashwood and the Enchanted Atlas, is currently in the hands of three marvelous beta readers. I’ve got more work to do on Margaret, but I’m not thinking about her until September.

Meanwhile, I’ve been writing short stories. The daughter of a good friend is in the hospital, so I’ve undertaken a little project to entertain her. I sent the first story, “Vivian MacBain and the Case of the Itchy Feet” (she likes Encyclopedia Brown mysteries) about two weeks ago. I’m planning to write at least one more before the summer’s end. This week I started work on “Vivian MacBain and the Case of the Purloined Puppets.”

I just finished a second draft of a super creepy story called “Irina Voshnikaya,” affectionately nicknamed “Vampire Ballerina.” Emily Street, my writing partner (about whom you’ll learn more below), gave me the idea after I confessed that I prefer theatre to film when I’m acting because I like to “borrow” the energy from the live audience to feed my performance. Emily thought that would make a great story. I agreed. At first I envisioned it being a story about an actress playing Hedda Gabler—she would need all the energetic help she could get. But since that would involve re-reading Hedda Gabler, I revised the setting to a performance of Swan Lake, and “Irina Voshnikaya” was born.

Although I’ve been absent for a few weeks, I try to get a story in to The Angry Hourglass as frequently as possible. I love writing flash fiction, but I’ll talk more about that below.

Finally, I’ve started research for a new novel about (non-vampiric) ballet dancers called Anna’s Piece. I’m planning to start the first draft in October—provided Margaret Dashwood edits go smoothly. So far by research I mean watching documentaries about ballet dancers, contacting a friend who attended North Carolina School of the Arts for an interview, making a list of all the dance books available, and reading Dancer by Colum McCann (a lovely book). I have every intention of dragging this old body back to a ballet class or two just to remind myself what it feels like. (And I’m dragging Emily Street with me!)

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
This question stumps me a little as I am not consistently faithful to any one genre. My two Regency Magic books, Margaret and Mary Bennet and the Bloomsbury Coven, straddle at least two genres: Jane Austenesque fiction and fantasy (of the Harry Potter variety). From the first genre, my work differs because it includes magic and from the second, because it’s set in Jane Austen’s England and borrows Jane Austen’s characters. I invent many of the characters, too, and they tend to resemble ones you’d find in Harry Potter. Both books feature young heroines rather than young heroes–so that’s another point of overlap and difference.

As for my other work—I’ve written a few horror stories for Ungodly Hungers, the first collection of short stories (actually the first book) that Emily and I published as Luminous Creatures Press. Having read only some horror—Dean R. Koontz years and years ago and Stephen King, also years and years ago—I can’t say how my stories differ, except that women populate them in higher numbers than men. However, I love Edgar Allen Poe, and I’d say that my story “Lucine’s Gaze” has Poe-ish qualities.

Our section story collection, The Painted Dog and Other Stories, fits more squarely in the fantasy category. I’m not sure how these stories differ from others in their genre. I aspired to a Neil Gaimen-esqueness in the real world settings I’ve chosen, but I don’t think I really succeeded.

After I finish Margaret Dashwood and the Enchanted Atlas, I’m taking some time off from Regency Magic to write a couple of novels that I think will fit more squarely under the heading “general fiction.” While Anna’s Piece got its start in a fantasy / magical realism short story, I’m going to explore keeping everything rooted in this world—specifically in San Francisco and the San Francisco Ballet. I’ve also got plans to write a historical fiction novel about a woman who grew up during the Depression. It’s based on a piece I wrote for The Angry Hourglass months ago. I have no idea whether or not these books will differ from others of the same genre in any significant ways, but I think that’s okay.

Why do I write what I write?
Regency Magic got its start in a tiny story in which Mary Bennet from Pride and Prejudice finds a magic book and becomes a sorceress. I had played Mary in a stage production of P & P and felt she deserved a little adventure of her own, which led me to think the same for minor characters in the rest of Jane Austen’s books. Plus I really like inventing magic spells. I intend to write five more books in the Regency Magic series: one each for Jane Austen’s published works and a final book currently called “The Avengers” because all the Regency Magic heroines will work together.

While the Regency Magic books adhere to an Austenesque style, I’m still discovering my own voice and style. I aspire to clarity, precision, and elegance in my writing, which is why I was so happy to discover flash fiction. It has taught me to write with more economy, lending more power to my writing. I’m also learning what I can leave out, allowing the reader more play for interpretation. That learning process has been revolutionary for this ex-academic who was trained to take readers by the hand and guide them through an argument rather than trusting them to supply the missing bits for themselves. Other writers posting to the Angry Hourglass have taught me so much, too: Karl Russell with his cinematic clarity, Kristen Falso-Capaldi with her ability to reach in and tug out my heart with the simplest words and images. The flash fiction community is filled with lovely writers who support each other’s work, which is an added benefit to joining it.

As for genre and that sticky question of fidelity, when Emily and I first started working together, I was certain that I would write fantasy fiction. We had bonded over reading George R. R. Martin, Mary Stewart, and J.K. Rowling. (We also bonded over our shared past as ballerinas and many other things). Emily writes marvelous fantasy with beautifully drawn worlds, which is why she often gives me notes like “how does this magic system work?” and “who made that law about magic?” But aside from the authors listed above, I don’t read much fantasy. My favorite authors are John Irving and Kate Atkinson. I’m keeping my eye on Anthony Doer, too. (If you haven’t read All the Light We Cannot See, go get it.) Lev Grossman has an interesting piece in the NY Times about moving from literary fiction to fantasy. For my next few books I’m moving in the opposite direction.

How does my writing process work?
When I started thinking about this blog post, I jotted down a few notes. The first one for this section reads, “Backwards and out of order,” which sums up my basic process. I started writing my dissertation by working on the final chapter. Then I wrote chapter four. Next came the chapter that ended up second, followed the chapter that leads the whole thing off. I wrote the third chapter fifth. Then I re-wrote the last chapter because I had finally figured out what the dissertation was about between writing chapters two and one. That’s when I realized I didn’t need the fourth chapter, so I cut it. Finally, I wrote the introduction. Naturally the finished product bears no resemblance to the dissertation prospectus I had written for my oral exams. (That’s a whole other story about how I don’t outline.) I’m planning to begin the first draft of Anna’s Piece right in the middle.

With all this backwards and out-of-order-ness, I go through a lot of drafts, leaving plenty of time in between for things to simmer on my mind’s back burner. I give myself permission to write pure shit for at least two of those drafts. No one sees the first one. Ever. Not even Emily, who reads all of my work. I find the first and second drafts painful, especially when I try to write things in order. On the other hand, I love revision. I love finding exactly the right word, making my sentences as crisp and clean as possible, and clearing out anything unnecessary—I have no trouble killing my darlings. Well, okay, I don’t so much kill them as move them into an outtakes file, but you get the point.

I tend to think best in writing, so I’ve always kept a journal for working through whatever is going on in my life. Now I keep a freewriting journal for each project to help me make sense of my stories, figure out sticky plot points, and generate ideas. Entries might be small notes like “start Anna’s Piece in the middle!” Or they might be long explorations of events in a book—how to get Mary Bennet back to Hertfordshire from London (with the Folding Spell, of course!). I’d be lost without these files.

And now it’s time to introduce three writers whose work I admire:

Callie Armstrong


A Southern writer transplanted to America’s Midwest, Callie writes haunting stories that linger with me long after I’ve finished reading them. She develops rich characters in beautifully drawn settings. I love the brutal honesty of her writing. She’s also one of my favorite tweeps.

You can find many of her stories and her musings about writing on her website.

Kristen Falso Capaldi


Kristen is a high school teacher, a singer / songwriter, and a writer of fiction and award-winning screenplays. She writes with clarity and complexity, even in stories of as few as 150 words. Somehow Kristen manages to create stories that grab me and leave me breathless without any trace of sentimentality. Like Callie, Kristen is another favorite Twitter friend.

You can find Kristen at her new blog.

Emily June Street


Co-owner of both Luminous Creatures Press and Flow Pilates Studio in Fairfax, California, Emily is a reader, a writer, a cyclist, an archer, a trapeze swinger, and a Pilates instructor. She is also the mother of two adorable canine dragons. Emily packs her richly imagined stories with excitement and gorgeous imagery. I count myself very lucky to have her as a writing partner and a friend.

You can find Emily at Luminous Creatures Press and her new blog.

Confessions or #IheartTwitter

Dear Twitter,

I feel like I owe you a big apology. You see, when I first heard of you I thought you were the stupidest thing ever invented–and that’s saying a lot since there are all those really dumb inventions that you can find on late night infomercials to compare you to. I remember hearing about Tweeting and thinking, “Seriously? We already have Facebook. What more do we need?”

Then I started writing again for real. And Emily and I started Luminous Creatures Press.  Like a good self-publisher, I read all the stuff about how to get word of your books out to the world. Twitter suddenly seemed a very important part of being a writer. I thought, “Oh, great. I fucking hate Twitter and now I have to join it? Ugh. All right.” Actually, it came down to either Emily or me joining Twitter. Since I am inherently more social, I volunteered. But I didn’t like it, and I did precisely what I wasn’t supposed to do: I tweeted pretty much only about our books.

As you can imagine, I didn’t get much out of you, Twitter, by just tweeting about our books, my disdain for the whole enterprise leaking into my tweets. But I didn’t believe all those blog posts that said that Twitter is a great place for finding a community of writers. All I saw were other writers like me selling their books and telling me to like their Facebook pages. And posting links to five-star reviews of their books. For such a crowded and noisy place, Twitter seemed so desolate.

Then you told me to follow Jessica Grey, which led me to discover Indie Jane. And a strange thing happened. I started having conversations with people. At first awkward and tentative, but conversations nonetheless. From there Jessica reviewed my book, and I read hers (which I liked a lot.) Around this time I also learned that the Jane Austen community is enormous. Who knew? Well, Twitter did.

I started taking more of your advice about whom to follow and that’s how I ended up following Kristen, Allie, Cedrix, Jason, and Clive. (And Willow and Tess and Charlotte…) That’s how I learned about Friday Phrases, which is an awesome game that provides a real feeling of writerly community, and about flash fiction contests on The Angry Hourglass and Flash! Friday. I even met Diane who lives around the corner from me.

When I finally embraced Twitter, I discovered my people, a community of writers and readers whose interest and support I can feel even though we are scattered around the world. Last spring even Emily joined Twitter.

So, what I’m getting at here is that I’m sorry I called you stupid, Twitter, and I’m sorry I hated you. Actually, it turns out that I love you.

Sincerely yours,


p.s. I also love that I can follow the entire cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Watching them interact warms my geeky little heart.

The First Draft Blues

As of today I’m declaring myself about half way done with writing the first draft of Margaret Dashwood and the Enchanted Atlas: Regency Magic Book Two. I’ve made this declaration based on word count rather than plot because I have only a vague idea of the story at this point. A few things have started coming into focus: I sort of know how it will end, I know who the good guy is and who the bad, and I’ve got some cool spells worked out. Plus there’s the enchanted atlas, which is slowly revealing its secrets. Otherwise, every day when I sit down to write, I’m winging it, coaxing the story out from wherever it’s hidden in my mind, figuring out what the hell I’m writing.

But for a few weeks now, I have had the sinking feeling that my story is a great steaming pile of poo. Probably because it is. How could it be anything else? It’s a first draft! Yet as often as I have started new projects, I cannot seem to get beyond my desire for everything to come out perfectly formed from the moment I sit down at the computer until the moment I type “The end.” You know, like that scene in Shakespeare in Love when Shakespeare sat writing Romeo and Juliet in a fury of productive genius, inspired by his love for Viola de Lesseps. If only it were that easy, right?

It’s funny that I should torture myself with such ludicrous expectations. Before I left my fabulous acting career for my glamorous life of Pilates instruction and writing, I taught writing (and a few literature courses) at  UC Davis. With unbridled enthusiasm I used to encourage my students to write really crappy first drafts so that they could get the damn things done and then begin to revise them. Met with their blank, sometimes fearful, stares–I don’t think they had ever been given permission to do really crappy work and they didn’t know how to react–I would repeat myself. “Seriously, guys, just get it written. You can fix it later. That’s what the revision workshops are for,” I would say, doing my best to reassure them. “Tell your editor brain to take a few days off and just write!”

And yet, like a hypocrite, every day when I sit down to write, I find myself sinking into that self-judgy pit of despair that comes with allowing my editor mind to weasel her way into the drafting process. So I’ve decided to bring in a little help. Since I know that I am not alone in suffering these first draft blues, I’ve turned to other writers, compiling a list of quotations about first drafts that I find reassuring. I hope you do, too.

“The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later.” Anne Lamott

This is one of many helpful and reassuring nuggets from Bird by Bird. I read it a few weeks ago because of this Margaret Dashwood anxiety.

“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build sandcastles.” Shannon Hale

I found this one on Twitter in another writer’s pictures. And I like it a lot.

“There is no great writing. Only great rewriting.” Justice Brandeis

My husband reminded me of this one the other day, which I thought was nice of him. He’s very comforting.

“Every first draft is perfect because all the first draft has to do is exist. It’s perfect in its existence. The only way it could be imperfect would be to NOT exist.” Jane Smiley

What more reassurance could I need?

Except maybe this one:

“The first draft of anything is shit.” Ernest Hemingway

Right to the point.

If anyone else has a favorite quotation about shitty first drafts, I’d love to hear it!

And Genius Scratches Its Ass

About a week ago I let myself get distracted from writing with a “quick look” at Facebook. Half an hour later I was watching Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk on creativity and the creative genius. It is very much worth a watch, so if you want to take a moment to do that before you finish reading this post, I’ll totally understand. If you don’t want to, I’ll get to the most salient point as quickly and with as much eloquence as I can. Gilbert begins by talking  about the crippling fear faced by artists when they sit down to work on a new project, especially in the wake of success (in Gilbert’s case it was with Eat, Pray, Love, a mind-boggling success that took her by surprise). This fear can understandably inhibit the creative process and has been known to drive artists mad–or at least to drink and do drugs. In order to combat this fear, Gilbert began looking for ways to understand the creative impulse, what we sometimes call genius, and she raises the marvelous possibility that genius is not something that comes from within but is something external to the artist, something that can be invited into the room to give the artist a little help, like, as she says, Dobby the house elf. There’s more to this TED talk, so you really should watch the video when you get a chance.

After the video ended, I finally pulled myself away from the Facebook and went back to work, inspired and relieved. I did a little experiment and extended an invitation to Dobby the House Genius to join me. Ralphie, my dog, was curled up on one end of the couch, but there was ample room for Dobby on the other. And damned if the writing didn’t go just a little bit smoother. The slog was a little less sloggier. I didn’t feel tortured at all, which got me to thinking about something that I’ve been thinking about for some time: a mixture of images and ideas that are best described as the portrait of the artist as a tortured soul, so burdened by the weight of his genius that he goes mad.

When I was younger–in my teens and twenties especially–this portrait fascinated me. There’s just something so special, I thought, about that artist so driven to do his or her work, so driven by his or her genius, that they can be held apart, distinguished, as somehow better than other mortals. Somehow less mortal. It’s a seductive image, especially for an adolescent, because, among other things, it gives permission for a lot of very bad behavior. “I’m an artist. I commune with the divine. I don’t have to live by bourgeois rules.” Who doesn’t want to have permission to say something like that? From the other side of forty, however, I can see quite clearly how that is not a very healthy idea, how, no matter the distinction it brings, genius is not a burden I wish to bear.

But when  I was  a freshman at UCONN, I reveled in that image. Early in my first semester,  I took some time one afternoon to craft a sign to hang on my dorm room door whenever I was writing a paper. First I wrote (in as elaborate a script as I could manage–we didn’t have computers in our rooms back then) “Abandon hope all ye who enter.” Then I poured coffee over the sign and hung it to dry. Later I charred the edges with my friend Paula’s cigarette lighter. I was very pleased with my sign, not just because I had made it myself but also because it was an awesome prop in my ongoing performance of being a Writer. The purpose, of course, was to let everyone on my floor know that I was WRITING and that things could get crazy because that’s what happens when someone is WRITING. I embraced this role because I thought that’s how an artistic person should act, and I was nothing if not an artistic person. I cringe now to think about it, and I realize that I had very indulgent friends, especially my roommate Kim, who happily studied downstairs in the cafeteria so I could write in our room. No one laughed to my face about my pretension. They just kind of took it in stride.

Of course, behind the door with my awesome sign, I was doing the work. I didn’t just sit at my desk, pulling out my hair. Fueled by coffee and chocolate, I wrote draft after draft of my papers, crossing out lines, cutting bits and pasting them–or taping them–to other bits, and then when it was ready, typing the whole thing to be turned in. Without really understanding it, I was actually doing my duty as a writer. For, as Gilbert makes clear, that is the artist’s only job: showing up and doing the work–sitting down to write and writing, no matter how awful or wonderful the words, bringing paint brush to canvas, warming up the body to dance, running lines before a rehearsal or performance, whatever the work, it is the artist’s job just to do it. Genius belongs elsewhere, to Dobby, or to whatever one chooses to envision. And that is a remarkably freeing idea for a type-A-must-get-it-right-and-be-perfect person like me.

It was freeing for Elizabeth Gilbert, too. While she was deep in a draft of the book after Eat, Pray, Love (or maybe it was that one, I can’t remember), she looked up from her work one day and addressed a corner in her office, saying something like, “I showed up. I’m here doing the work. So if this sucks it isn’t my fault.” That moment helped her turn a corner and actually finish the book. Whether her genius showed up or not didn’t really matter after that.

The one problem I have with Gilbert’s notion of genius is that she connects it to the divine. To me that connection undermines the whole pressure-relieving notion of genius as separate. I don’t want to worry about a deity occupying any corner of my house. How am I to keep from taking myself too seriously if I believe that God has taken some time out of His busy day to make sure that my writing doesn’t suck? Isn’t that the point of removing the burden of genius from myself–so that I can get on with my work and not be so tortured? Besides, I’m not a big believer in gods.

As a reaction against this invocation of the divine, I’ve been refining my vision of the genius that I welcome to my office every day, searching for something a little earthier, a little baser. So now I imagine a combination of Dobby the house elf and Tom Hulce from the movie Amadeus: it’s helpful like Dobby, but also crude and irreverent like Hulce’s Mozart. When I sit down to write, I invite this Dobby Mozart to join me. While I’m slogging away, my genius is sitting on the couch with Ralphie. Looking out the window, maybe, or watching me or just, I don’t know, geniusing. If, as I am going about my work, I start to take myself too seriously, my genius looks at me and pointedly scratches its ass.









I’m not embarrassed to admit that the interweb still frightens and confuses me. I’m a little technologically challenged, so there is A LOT out there that I simply do not understand. Among so many other things, apparently the internet is a great place for the independent author who knows how to navigate her way around Twitter’s hashtags and retweets, Facebook’s likes and pokes, and Goodreads’ giveaways and widgets. Because I had to be dragged into the twenty-first century, I’m amazed by people who actually know not only what all that stuff means, but also how to use it. My friend Milton, for instance, has been blogging for years, and his blog is filled with all kinds of media and icons and, I am pretty sure, widgets. And while I put the link to his blog in this post myself (here’s hoping that it works), I still haven’t managed to figure out how to make my blog look pretty, much less how to navigate my way through all these newfangled thingamajigs.

Nevertheless, I’m trying, and, the other night, frustrated by my inability to follow simple instructions about how to use the Goodreads Author program to my advantage, I asked Dave, “What the hell is a widget?”

As he usually does when I ask an impatient question about technology, my tech savvy husband smiled before responding with a mixture of patience and amusement. “I’m pretty sure I’ve already explained that to you,” he said.

“Well, clearly I have forgotten,” I replied with more than a hint of sass. “So can you tell me again?”

Unfortunately I can’t remember what he said (because sometimes when people talk about things I don’t understand, they sound like the adults in Peanuts cartoons), but I think his response was that it is a general term for a tool, not a specific thing. So I’m still not really clear about what a damn widget is because the Google was not much more specific. But I do know that I’m supposed to use them to encourage people to buy Luminous Creatures Press books and add them to their Goodreads bookshelves and write reviews so that other people will buy the books and add them to their bookshelves and other people….

If I’m really honest, though, I will confess that my fear of technology masks an entirely different issue. Behind my reluctance to learn how to use these technologies lies an aversion to self-promotion–specifically the shameless variety. I don’t mean other people’s shameless self-promtion. Just mine. I see people like the great monologist Mike Daisey on Facebook employing it almost purely as a tool for marketing. And he navigates it like a master. First of all he accepts friend requests from everyone. I know this because I sent him one after I saw him at Berkeley Rep a few years ago, and he accepted it. He also posts article after article and review after review of his work. He must issue thousands of invitations to performances every day. But what strikes me the most about Daisey’s use of Facebook is the complete lack of self-consciousness that I see. He clearly does not feel even the least bit awkward tooting his own horn. Or if he does, he hides it very well.

I do feel awkward. Terribly awkward. I resisted posting status updates or putting up a profile picture on Facebook for at least a full year after my friend Jill convinced me to join. Why on earth would anyone care what I’m doing or how I’m feeling in any given moment? Now any one of the five hundred or so Facebook friends I have could tell you that I’m obviously over that. Then came this blog, which Dave convinced me to write. I’ve also begun tweeting (a verb that still makes me shudder). I signed up for a Twitter account after Emily and I released our first short story collection because the books about marketing your self-published work suggest it. I believe I’m up to a whopping thirty-two followers. That after harboring nothing but disdain for Twitter since I first heard of it. Yesterday I did my first hashtag (does one do hashtags, employ them, or what? What’s the verb here?). And today I retweeted. All with only a little embarrassment.

So I’m learning, and bit by bit I’m getting over my fear or aversion or whatever hinders me from doing what every other successful artist seems perfectly willing to do–tell everyone how awesome their work is. In fact, I am very proud of the work Emily and I do. So much so that I am willing to sit down and learn to make use of the technology I’ve avoided.I think I’m making progress in teeny tiny baby steps. In this blog entry alone, which I’m posting to both Facebook and Twitter, I’ve set up two links to promote my work. And I’m okay with that.

As for the Goodreads author widgets: last night I asked Dave to show me how to use one. I cannot tell you how pleased I was that he had trouble figuring it out.

Luminous Creatures Press

About a year ago my friend Emily and I started a writing group of two. We meet every other week at a cafe in Fairfax, CA and talk about the writing we’ve sent each other. We also eat lunch–generally the same thing every week, so whenever we change our order someone raises an eyebrow. They’re really nice at the Barefoot Cafe, so if you ever find yourself near there, check them out. (The warm spinach salad with grilled chicken is good.)

Then one day in June when we were talking about what to do with the things we’ve written, Emily suggested that we start an e-publishing company. It sounded a little daunting and kind of crazy, but also exciting, so I said why not? It turns out that Emily had already done quite a bit of research about ebook publishers, so a lot of our early work was already done. We got our name from a writing exercise I had done for fun one week. I had an opening sentence but no story, so I drafted five possible beginnings to five different novels. There were luminous creatures in one of them. (That’s not the one I ended up working on, just in case you wondered). It’s a great name for a fantasy fiction publishing company, isn’t it? Luminous Creatures Press.

So flash forward to now, and we’re just about to launch. The website will go live tonight (once our tech guy, Dave, finishes playing with Ralphie). We’ve already got a Facebook page, and I’m thinking about signing up for a Twitter account (although just the idea of Twitter makes me want to run away). Our first book, a collection of short stories called UNGODLY HUNGERS, will be out next week–Emily has done the painstaking work of formatting it for both and Smashwords. She’s going to teach me so I can take on half of that work. I’ll have to get over my aversion to all things technical, but I think I can manage that.

We’ve also started work on a second collection of stories: THE PAINTED DOG AND OTHER STORIES. That should be out in early spring. Next comes the first of our Regency Magic series of books, MARY BENNET. And in the fall / winter we’ll begin releasing a gorgeous trilogy written by Emily. I’m very proud of this work, and I think people will like it!

I’ve envisioned many things for my life–some of them pretty outrageous like being a ballerina who also managed the Pittsburgh Pirates–but I never imagined I would start a company of any kind. Yet when I was traipsing down the corridor at the Marin County Hall of Justice on my way to file a Fictitious Business Name with the country clerk, I felt like I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing.

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