Taking the Slow Road

Posted: October 20, 2016 in Writing
Tags: , ,


So I’m doing a targeted and substantial revision of my daughter’s and my middle grade novel.  I mean, another one.  The first one was actually an R&R (Revise and Resubmit) requested by an agent who had read our manuscript, and for that one I felt compelled to get the revisions done in 2 months.  I wanted to have time to consider and polish the changes the agent requested, however I also didn’t want her to lose interest or think we were non-responsive.  If we were going to have a professional relationship with this agent, I wanted her to see us as professional and reliable.  And we got the revisions done in time.  The agent still didn’t sign us, which I understand is not uncommon.

This time, though, our revisions are based on some feedback from a CP (critique partner) and an editor who generously gave us a three chapter critique, which together pointed out some key issues and offered similar ways to fix them.  So, like many of you have done or will do, we’re holding off on querying for now and taking on a full-manuscript revision, chapter-by-chapter.

But this time we’re taking it slow.  It didn’t start out this way.  In fact, at first I imagined I could get the new revision done in few weeks — after all, I had already been down this road once before.  But the more I examined all the ways these changes in chapter one were going to affect all of the following chapters, the main character’s emotional arc, and the tone of the book as a whole, the task of revising stopped resembling cosmetic surgery, and began to resemble a brain transplant.

There’s a scene in the 1984 movie, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, where the hero is performing brain surgery, and says to his assistant, “No, no, no — don’t tug on that. You never know what it might be attached to.”  That’s exactly what this revision feels like. Except that I have to tug on things, and even rip them out completely.

Rebuilding is going to be a delicate operation, and I’m inclined to take my time at it.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  I think there is a perception in the writing community that you must produce all the time and get so many words down every day. And if you make your living entirely from your writing, yes, that may be true.  But for the rest of us, we need to get it right.

So if you are inclined to take your time but feel pressure or guilt, I’m here to support you. Slow and steady wins the race. It’s okay to take your time, as long as you continue to stay engaged.


If what you’re looking for is a beta reader or critique partner who will tell you your book is wonderful no matter what, and spare your feelings — this isn’t that.

That is a unicorn.  I suppose you could find one, if you looked really hard.  But what would be the point?  It certainly won’t advance your writing skills, let alone your writing career.

No.  A sensitivity reader is a professional you hire who’s job is to read your manuscript with special emphasis on how you portray people from marginalized groups or key historical events that involved those groups.  Marginalized groups includes women, people on the fringes of the economic scale, people with disabilities, people in the LGBT community, and of course people of color.  Also, if any of your characters practice a faith, have weight issues, a non-traditional family arrangement, or are victims of sexual assault, they can be considered marginalized.  Historical events that affect those groups might include the Holocaust, the Civil War, 9/11, and so forth.

We are in the midst of an unprecedented and far-reaching change in the books we read and write, and the books agents and publishers want.  Books are becoming more diverse, and at the same time, people are more sensitive to the way groups they belong to are portrayed in literature.  Negative stereotypes are no longer ignored.  And that includes the stereotype that all characters in a book should be white, or all soldiers or superheros should be male, and so forth.

Which means, as you write your book, you will most likely be including people unlike yourself.  And in so doing, you begin to write outside your comfort zone.  Which is fine — you want to write outside your comfort zone.  That’s how you grow as a writer.  But if your book contains both men and women, people of difference races, and a gay person, chances are you aren’t 100% familiar with all of those cultures.  And through no fault of your own, even despite extensive research, you may write something in your story that inaccurately portrays a marginalized person or puts them in a bad light.  If for example one of your characters suggests that a person with mental illness is somehow weak, you are stigmatizing mental illness as a weakness, which is a negative and inaccurate stereotype mental health professionals have been trying to erase for decades.

A sensitivity reader will read your manuscript and point out places where you might want to revise to remove problems like this.  But like any reader you pay to evaluate your manuscript, be prepared to make changes — even major changes — to your characters or story line.  After all, you will have paid for their advice.

So where can you find a sensitivity reader?  Here is a links to get you started:

Writing In the Margins

Shop before you you buy.  You will want to find a reader who specializes in your particular topic — woman’s issues, gay issues, mental illness, etc.  At present sensitivity readers are not especially expensive.  Typically $250-$300 per manuscript.  Also be aware, these readers are looking for a rather narrow range of issues within your writing.  Don’t expect a sensitivity reader to serve the same function as a professional editor.

Good luck, and keep writing.




I’m talking about myself, here.

Last week I wrote about cultural appropriation.  Badly.  I called the piece “Cultural Misappropriation” because I thought there was a difference.  I thought I was being clever, and I thought I had enough information to write intelligently.

I was wrong on all three counts.

I’ve had several conversations and read a number of essays, and while I by no means can speak with authority, I think I can speak without embarrassing myself again. It is entirely possible I am wrong about that, so I welcome your comments, positive or negative.

Let me state right up front that I was writing (had been writing for some time) from a place of resentment. It would appear that this is common among white people (coupled with ignorance, often willful, as in my case), and I understand how that is frustrating to people of color and other marginalized people who have a much more clear understanding of white privilege than I did.  I read a very informative post by Lori Lakin Hutcherson about that, and along with some patient and sage advice from Tessa Gratton (@tessagratton) a switch flipped somewhere in the depths of my lizard brain and I got a glimpse of clarity.

Here’s what I now believe: White privilege is not a form of blame, any more than you can blame someone for being young or tall.  I think the blame, if any, comes from a white person failing to understand that they are in a position of privilege and as a result of that failure harming a person who does not enjoy that privilege.

Before that switch flipped I resented being called out for writing what I wanted, not having taken the time to understand that what I had written was insensitive, belittling, and putting myself above my critics. I read comments along the lines of: white people who complain about being told they can’t write what they want just hate being told “no.” That they resent it due to white privilege. And when I read that I didn’t understand it, because I felt like I was being accused of having white privilege. But I believe now that isn’t really what’s happening.

I think it goes something like this: White people who complain about being told they can’t write what they want fail to recognize their own place of privilege. In this case it’s the privilege of living a life without being constantly questioned because of the color of our skin. So when a white person is called out on their writing by a person of color, I think it can be perceived as a new experience – being questioned by someone different than ourselves. Some people respond to this by making an effort to understand what they did wrong and making an adjustment. Others – myself among them – deny our own ignorance and make things worse by continuing to speak without taking the time to understand. I’m hoping to switch groups.

I got a lot of feedback on my post about cultural appropriation, last week.  The feedback from people of color was swift and sharp and to the point.  They were direct, spoke with absolute conviction, and within a few hours had moved on. I was just another white person who didn’t get it, in a long line. And that’s fine, because it’s nobody’s responsibility to educate others about this.

But the feedback I got on my post from white people went on and on for days and was mostly less helpful, because virtually all of it came from a position of privilege.  It was actually quite illuminating if for no other reason than it gave me the chance try out the nascent understanding I was coming to grips with. Where people of color had pointed out I was whining about criticism and conflating it with censorship (I was), white people mostly wanted to reinforce their right to write whatever they wanted and felt any criticism was unjustified.  I attempted to clarify my poorly-made point from my new perspective, and was met with anger.  Who was I to tell an “artist” their work should be anything other than “pure?” My response: But if it is about marginalized people and also wrong and hurtful, those people have the right to point that out.  Oh, yeah? Shouldn’t I be offended then when Hispanics speak English poorly? Isn’t that them appropriating my culture?  And are you saying I’m not allowed to complain about Liberals?  Me: So this is what people of color have to deal with every day.  My white privilege became pretty obvious. I still have a lot of learning – and unlearning – to do, but I think I can see it, now.

Look, nobody is telling anybody not to write whatever you want or about whomever you want – it’s just being perceived by people in privilege that this is what they are being told.  All anyone asks is that you do it well.  And be prepared to receive criticism from the people you write about if you get it wrong.  Because nobody is above criticism.  You’re a writer; do your research.  Tessa Gratton said it best during one of our conversations:

All marginalized people ask is that people with privilege do no harm, and do everything in our power not to erase their experiences.

Cultural appropriation really is a thing. But there’s nothing wrong with creating art from or with cultures outside your own, as long as doing so does no harm – does not insult, degrade, stereotype, or nullify the living people from that culture.  Ignorance is not an excuse, nor is a desire to remain “pure.”  What does that even mean?  I think you mean “raw” and that’s not a recipe for good writing.  If you have questions, seek out a sensitivity reader.  And above all, be open to feedback.  You’re a writer, nobody should have to tell you that.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: After posting this I received many comments pointing out several ways this piece undercuts the point was clumsily trying to make (It’s OK to create art using material from other cultures, as long as the results do no harm). I learned that am guilty of tone policing, straw man arguments, centering white authors, and conflating critique with censorship.  I encourage you to please read my follow-up piece, which is an effort to correct these mistakes.  Thank you.


Svetlana Mintcheva nailed this topic in Salon on Monday.  In case you missed it, the current conversation around the writers’ water cooler is about Lionel Shriver’s address at the Brisbane Writers Festival, about “cultural appropriation” on September 8.  And in case you missed that, here’s some of what she said:

The author of Who Owns Culture? Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law, Susan Scafidi, a law professor at Fordham University who for the record is white, defines cultural appropriation as “taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc.”

What strikes me about that definition is that “without permission” bit. However are we fiction writers to seek “permission” to use a character from another race or culture, or to employ the vernacular of a group to which we don’t belong? Do we set up a stand on the corner and approach passers-by with a clipboard, getting signatures that grant limited rights to employ an Indonesian character in Chapter Twelve, the way political volunteers get a candidate on the ballot?

I am hopeful that the concept of “cultural appropriation” is a passing fad: people with different backgrounds rubbing up against each other and exchanging ideas and practices is self-evidently one of the most productive, fascinating aspects of modern urban life.

But this latest and little absurd no-no is part of a larger climate of super-sensitivity, giving rise to proliferating prohibitions supposedly in the interest of social justice that constrain fiction writers and prospectively makes our work impossible.

Lionel Shriver spoke at length.  She cited a case at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where, during a private tequila party in a dorm room, some of the party-goers wore miniature sombreros.  When photos from the party circulated on social media campus-wide outrage ensued, the party-goers were placed on probation, and the party’s hosts were ejected from their dorm and impeached from the student government.  The hats were labeled “cultural appropriation” because people of color, especially those of Mexican heritage, felt their use created an environment where they did not feel safe.

Shriver talked about how this attitude has spread to every minority or disadvantaged group to the point where nobody else is allowed to touch any tradition, experience, costume or way of doing or saying anything — look but don’t touch.  The majority of her talk was about cultural appropriation in fiction.  She said:

The moral of the sombrero scandals is clear: you’re not supposed to try on other people’s hats. Yet that’s what we’re paid to do, isn’t it? Step into other people’s shoes, and try on their hats.

Look, there’s cultural appropriation and their’s cultural misappropriation.  One is insensitive, hurtful, unethical, and unfair, and the other is speculative fiction.  In this time when “We Need Diverse Books” is a huge movement, how are writers supposed to write about diverse characters if we can’t touch anything that might fall under the definition of “diverse”?  This begs a vision of the future when books must be written by committee, and when memoirs can only contain a single character.  Because what if a brunette is offended by a dark-haired character written by a blonde author?  The entire children’s market will evaporate until children learn to write novels.  And historical fiction will go the way of the dodo.

I understand why individuals and even entire swaths of society are offended by Amos and Andy or Sambo’s Restaurant or any of the thousands of other cases of cultural insensitivity created for the sole purpose of making a buck.  And I understand that when books misrepresent the details of a culture, it can perpetuate stereotypes.  I have great respect and high hopes for the “Own Voices” movement; share your culture with us so that we can learn the truth about it and have a proper perspective.  But….

There are a few voices out there who loudly oppose Shriver’s view.  As always, the backlash is not representative of the whole and those that lash out in anger often do so because they are truly, legitimately angry, fighting to be understood every day of their lives.  But like waves in a pool after a cannonball dive, one backlash leads to another in the opposite direction.  The conversations I am hearing now are non-marginalized writers asserting their right to write what they want. Kaitlyn Greenidge wrote eloquently about this.  True or not, some writers feel they are being told they should not color outside the box — not write about cultures or events outside their personal experience, because doing so is cultural appropriation.  And maybe it is, but my point here is that cultural appropriation is part of the whole fiction deal.  Yes, Virginia, a white writer can write about the Asian experience, because research.  But if it is done in an exploitative or hurtful or inaccurate way, then it becomes misappropriation.  I think there is a difference.

Suppressing writers — of any culture — is never a solution.  The notion that minority characters should only be written by minorities is a dangerous dead-end.  There are plenty of white writers who stereotype white people in their books.  Read pulp, read romance, read men’s adventure.  Who’s to say that when only black people are allowed to write about black people the stereotypes would stop?  I’m gonna go out on a limb and suggest they wouldn’t.  Silencing writers won’t solve that problem.  Because who do you silence next?

I think a lot of the legitimate anger in the diversity movement stems from one very real fact: most of the time, a book about a cultural minority written by a white author will outsell a book written by a member of that culture.  It has happened time and time again.  If I was one of those authors I would be furious , too.  But the answer is not to suppress the white authors.  Most of the time when those white authors write a popular book about a minority group or specific cultural event, awareness and interest goes up which increases sales of other books on that subject – by any author.  No, instead I think real change in the industry must come from the publishers.  Awareness is growing slowly, but it could grow faster.  Publishers see marginalized voices as a risk, but I think it is a risk that could pay off.  The publishing industry is white-dominated, but if more people of color became part of the publishing industry, that would help, too.

I’m a write writer.  Not a damn thing I can do about that.  But I can take the time to see both sides of an issue — even if I will never quite have the perspective of the other side. I can try on the glass slipper, but it will never fit.  I won’t go into the issue of white privilege, other than to say unlearning is hard.  Maybe having that attitude is white privilege, too.

The primary and overarching message behind the diversity movement is clear: write what you want, but write it in a respectful and accurate way; in other words, do it well.  There are far more voices in the diversity conversation that are respectfully educating the writing community than those who shout their anger.  If you are yourself from a marginalized community, share it with us, raise awareness, be heard.  Feed the popularity.  If you are not, you can play, too. But remember — people from other cultures are gonna read your stuff, and if you misrepresent — misappropriate — the soul of their communities, they have every right and every reason to point it out.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: After posting this I received many comments pointing out several ways this piece undercuts the point was clumsily trying to make (It’s OK to create art using material from other cultures, as long as the results do no harm). I learned that am guilty of tone policing, straw man arguments, centering white authors, and conflating critique with censorship.  I encourage you to please read my follow-up piece, which is an effort to correct these mistakes.  Thank you.


Last week I talked about the importance of stakes in your fiction.  Basically: get some.

Fine, but how do you find them?  Where do you put them?  How do you make them work?  To clarify, “stakes” are the thing the hero of your story is after.  The thing they are invested in.  The thing that makes your reader want to turn the page to find out if they succeed.  Most tension is derived from the stakes, because if we don’t care about them, roadblocks won’t bother us.

There are two basic kinds of stakes: Personal Stakes and Public Stakes.

At first glance, you might think Public Stakes are automatically bigger, and therefor better for your story.  Saving the world, or the town, or even just the clock tower are bigger than your character, and so the obstacles are naturally bigger as well.  However Personal Stakes are often more emotional, and if you have a character in which your reader can identify, those personal stakes become magnified.  An orphan boy who is forced to live under the stairs is automatically more sympathetic than a local official.  So if that boy’s stakes are to become a wizard, say, your reader might be more interested than the governor trying to save the town from bankruptcy.  Surely, keeping thousands of people from ruin is bigger than one boy becoming a wizard, but which do you prefer to read about?

Of course, of you can include both kinds of stakes in your story, that much better.  But if you have to pick just one, stories with strong personal stakes tend to be more popular and sell better.

So you have your stakes.  Where do you put them?  My advice — as close to the beginning as possible. Certainly within the first 50 pages.  It’s not absolutely necessary to put them on page 1, but the earlier the better.  Getting readers (and agents) to turn the page once they are invested is easy (well easier). But how do you get them invested in the first place?  Your stakes.  They have to want it as much as your character.  So if you can build you stakes into your hook, you’re golden.  The natural place to define the stakes is the Inciting Incident, which is the first major plot point, but stakes = tension, and tension = suspense, and all of those = reader interest.  So if you’re struggling to find a way to make your opening irresistible, consider introducing your stakes early.

Okay, you’ve gotten your stakes and introduced them.  Now, how do you make them work for you?  Simple: you add suspense.  That boy who wants to be a wizard?  Make his family block his efforts, introduce a bully, make him powerless to pursue his dream.  Oh, and put him in the dark about his past and any advantage he might have.  Create roadblocks.  Add time limits.  Let him fail and lose faith and momentum.  Build the tension and suspense.  The purpose of all this is to force your character to act, and give him/her opportunities to fail, which in turn further raise the stakes.  And the purpose of all of that is to make your reader unable to put your book down, because they need to know what happens next and what happens in the end.

And that’s all there is to it.  Easy as becoming a wizard.



Last week in That “Aha” Moment I talked about how you never know when a good idea will strike, and also about when you may have to let one of those ideas go.  I closed by telling you how my new Critique Partner and a professional editor both pointed out what was missing from our book, and that I would share with you what that was, in case it applied to you, too.  It was really quite a game-changer.

What’s been missing from my daughter’s and my book were the stakes.

  1. something that is wagered in a game, race, or contest.
  2. a monetary or commercial interest, investment, share, or involvement in something, as in hope of gain: I have a big stake in the success of the firm.
  3. a personal or emotional concern, interest, involvement, or share: Parents have a big stake in their children’s happiness.
  4. the funds with which a gambler operates.


In fiction, this means the goal or outcome the hero wants. And more importantly, what is in the way of achieving that goal?  Another word for this is “suspense.”

To be fair, we did eventually get around to adding in stakes to our novel by the time we got to the end.  And we went back and diligently hinted at it in the early chapters, too.

This is, apparently, not sufficient.

Our first clue (ignored) was when we struggled to come up with a longline, or 35-word pitch.  For sure, this is not easy under the best circumstances, but the crux of the pitch is the stakes. If you can’t figure out what your main character has at stake, there is a problem with your book.

We began writing THE LAST PRINCESS by the seat of our pants, without an outline, and letting the story evolve as we progressed.  In fact, we never actually intended the story to include a villain, but one sort of appeared organically, and we added him to the story.  In the end the final conflict is rather juicey and full of hard choices — stakes — but that suspense, that energy, that urgency, is simply not very apparent at the beginning.

It needs to be.  In fact, I’d suggest that by page 50 (page 30 for children’s books) it should be clear to your reader what is at stake for the hero, and just as importantly, what will happen if she or he fails.  And remember, failure is an option.  It depends on what kind of book you want to write.

What does this look like?  Imagine I told you I had a guaranteed winning lottery ticket worth millions, and I was willing to let you have it.  Now, imagine I told you the only way to get it is to climb up the outside of the U.S. Capitol Building and retrieve it from the top of the dome.  Before midnight tomorrow.  Now you have some suspense.  Can you do it?  How will you do it in time?  How will you get past security?  Do you have the skill and equipment?  What if you get caught?

It doesn’t have to be that dramatic.  A woman is engaged to a horrible person but falls in love with a different, wonderful man.  But she must marry the first in order to save her dying sister.  A boy has a dream of becoming the best cornet player in New Orleans, but he lives in poverty and can’t afford nice clothes to audition for the band.

So how do you sharpen the stakes?  Pour on the pressure.  The engaged woman learns the wonderful man loves her back, and he’s rich, too.  But her fiancé is the only surgeon qualified to perform the life-saving operation.  And when he gets jealous he drinks.  The cornet player earns the money to buy a nice suit, but his mother loses her job and can’t afford to buy food for the family.  If you really want to lay it on thick, add a time-bomb: The band auditions are this Friday, then the talent scout is leaving town. The sister’s condition is worsening by the day.

For our book, we need to put the conflict with the villain right up front, and make it clear what the hero has to lose — personally — if she fails to defeat him.  That’s the thing about stakes, they have to be personal.  It’s not enough to just save the kitten from the fire.  The kitten has to be personally important to the hero.  Ask yourself this question:  What would happen to your hero if he/she fails?  If their life could pretty much go on unchanged, your stakes aren’t high enough or personal enough.

This’s what was missing from our book.  We had stakes, but they weren’t personal enough.  It came own to saving other people or going back to her normal life.  Not enough suspense.  But now we know how to fix that.  We’re going to have to let go of some of our favorite lines, even favorite scenes.  But the results should help make our manuscript irresistible to readers — particularly agents.


Ideas come at the oddest times.  In the shower.  In the car.  In the middle of an unrelated conversation with your spouse.  At that last possible moment before you drift off to sleep.  You never know when you’re going to get one.  Which makes ideas precious.  So precious, in fact, that sometimes you’re compelled to hang on to one tooth and nail.  This can become a problem if you are committed to selling a novel.

Writing a novel, that’s the easy part.* Hanging onto ideas is a necessary skill; sometimes they get lost betwixt “Once upon a time” and “Happily ever after.”  But the harder part of writing a novel is re-writing a novel.  It turns out this is a huge step in the process of selling a novel.

Think of climbing Everest as an analogy for selling a novel (no, I’m not being overly dramatic — you try it.)  Doing your research, psyching yourself up, taking the training classes, getting in shape, buying all your gear, and getting to the base camp — that’s writing the novel.  Planting your flag on the summit — that’s signing a contract with a publisher. All of that mountain in between the base camp and the summit?  That’s re-writing (also known as slogging).

This is where you will find you need to begin to let go of some of your precious ideas.  Ideas that have served you throughout the writing process, informed your characters, served as a framework for your plot.  Because it will take lots of people reading your manuscript and giving you constructive feedback to work out all of the hidden hitches and subtle slowdowns you can’t see yourself. And by “people” I don’t mean your mom (unless she is an accomplished novelist or literary editor).

My daughter’s and my novel, THE LAST PRINCESS, has been “finished” for over a year.  We’ve workshopped it and rewritten the first several chapters, taken the advice of beta readers and editors, and revised and resubmitted to an interested agent.  But despite these spasms of retooling and polishing, we do not yet have agents lining up for a chance to offer us a contract.

Then we got two more people to read it. One was a #PitchWars mentor from whom we won a three-chapter critique, and the other was a shiny new critique partner we found though #CPMatch.  They both noticed something — or at the very least described something — that no other reader/agent/editor had ever pointed out before. And bang! we saw what was missing.

That “Aha!” moment.  This idea means we will have to rewire a lot of things in the book.  Disconnect A from B and attach Q.  Find a new place to plug in B without short-circuiting F-J.  And do it in such a way that all of the original buttons, dials, bells and whistles still work correctly.  Or, hopefully better than before.

Wanna know what the editor and CP pointed out that will make our manuscript magically delicious?  If you eat all of your vegetables and promise not to complain when I say it’s time for bed, I’ll tell you next week.  Stay tuned; it’s a good one.






*I know this; I’ve written two.


As an aspiring novelist— No, strike that. As a novelist who is aspiring to be published, I’m beginning to see how reaching my goal is something like achieving the speed of light. As one approaches success, one finds it becomes exponentially harder to keep moving forward.

Of course, for writers, the answer to the question of how to continually improve one’s craft is simply to keep writing. And I’m doing that. In fact I’m doing that this very moment. This blog is as valuable or more to me as it is for anyone who reads it and learns some tiny fragment of wisdom or gets a momentary smile. I’m also working hard on my third novel and have plans for several more. I have a loooooooong way to go before I am going to run into the issue of struggling against my own momentum.

No, what I’m talking about is actually getter my most recent book published. We move closer and closer to success by increments – some of them only measurable by highly sophisticated scientific instruments in some high-tech lab – but with each rejection, each bit of feedback from a contest judge, each new insight from a fellow query-trench commando – my daughter and I learn somthing which we can apply to our manuscript or our query to better entice an agent. But I fear the big easy fixes are all past, and the only improvements ahead are increasingly more subtle. Or more difficult.

We have run our first several chapters and query letter through countless beta readers, workshops, critique groups, and contests. We’re getting requests. But still no offers. I’m beginning to suspect if there us something wrong with our book, it is somewhere in the middle. One of the things that drives me so enthusiastically into many of these contests is that if we get in we can have our whole manuscript edited by a professional editor with a proven track record of success. Because we can not afford to pay a decent editor.

This is where a dedicated critique partner comes in.  He or she can be your personal editor, your cheerleader, and your writing partner all rolled into one.  If you can find a fellow writer who gets your writing (and whose writing you get), and with whom you get along, it is better than an editor.  For one, it is free.  Of course, you have to be willing to give as well as you get with regard to reading and critiquing your partner’s work, but as I’ve observed in the past, giving critiques is as good or better for you writing than receiving critiques.

So where do you find a critique partner?  Find your CP wherever fine writers are sold.  Or, less cheeky, fin them on Twitter, joining contests, querying, and looking for advice and tips just like you are.  Last week there was a #CPMatch Twitter party, and these happen all the time.  Sometimes writers host these parties, where you pitch your book on Twitter with the #CPMatch hashtag, and other writers seeking a CP will look for someone with a book that appeals to them.  Sometimes writers host these on their blogs and announce them on Twitter.  Or, you could just send out a call for writing partners through your own social network.  However you do it, be aware it may take several tries before you find a compatible partner.

Hey!  Just like dating!

Edible Writer’s Blocks?

Posted: August 24, 2016 in Not Writing
Tags: , ,

Gummy LEGOs

Today I’m taking a break from my endless font of writing wisdom to share a fun project I did for my kids while they were on summer vacation. In a previous post I spoke about taking on another creative project as a way to deal with writer’s block.  Here’s what I did:

Home-made gummy LEGOs.

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I started by building a custom form in which to pour liquid silicone, which in turn became my candy mold.  This frame is just perfect for a standard one pound liquid silicone kit, available at hobby shops or on the Internet.

The individual LEGOs inside the frame represent the pieces of candy the mold will eventually make. Make sure you press down firmly on all the LEGOS to reduce gaps.




The liquid silicon kit consists of two parts you mix right before you pour.  One part is white and the other part is blue, so you can see when everything is fully mixed.  If you see streaks, the silicon won’t harden properly.

TIPS: You only have about 30 minutes before the mix starts to set, so mix quickly.  I recommend using a bowl with  a round bottom and no corners, then transfer the mix to a second bowl to make sure it is completely streak-free.  It will have the consistence of spun honey.  I suggest you pour slowly from about a foot high to reduce bubbles.  Just pour into the center of the form and it will slowly spread out to fill the whole thing.

IMG_7322Once the silicon is in the form, tap it around the edges to dislodge any bubbles that may have formed.  Don’t worry about any bubbles on the surface; they won’t affect your mold. Let it dry for 24 hours.

IMG_7323When the mold is dry it will look exactly the same, but will be hard and rubbery to the touch.  Now it’s time to remove the LEGOs.

You will probably see some “flash” or thin little flaps where the silicon seeped between the LEGOs; you can just tear those off with your fingers.




The silicon is food safe and very flexible, so you can bend it quite a lot to get the LEGOs out of the mold.  You’ll need to do this to get the candy out, too.  Notice that the mold is so perfect you can actually see the word “LEGO” stamped on each of the little studs.




5116d71e40a34aea4af05689e7ac03d5Now the candy.  I use one small (3 oz.) package of Jello, any flavor (not sugar-free), plus two of the small packets of unflavored gelatin (these typically come four to a box).  I also include corn syrup, like Karo (clear, not dark). Here’s the recipe:

In a half cup of COLD water, stir in a quarter cup of corn syrup until it is completely dissolved.  In a sauce pan add all of the gelatin and Jello to the water, and mix with a spatula until it is completely dissolved.  This make take some time.  If you don’t so this, the candy won’t come out clear.  Next, heat the mix on medium low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid burning.  You will probably have some foam on the top, which you can skim off if you’re REALLY patient.  But here’s another way to get rid of it:

Pour the mix into a tall glass and let it sit over night.  Once hard, you can wiggle the giant gummy glob out of the glass and cut off the foamy part with a knife.

Now you can reheat this mixture either in a saucepan on medium low or in the microwave (about 30-45 seconds).  To get it into the mold, you may have suIMG_7328ccess pouring it (if you have the right kind of container to pour from). I ended up making a mess.  I tried using a straw with my finger blocking the top end and dribbling it in, but in the end I used an eye-dropper.  Try to fill just exactly to the top.  Next take the flat LEGO base-plate you used to build the form, and brush on a little bit of vegetable oil.  Then you can use it as a cover (the studs will fit perfectly in the mold’s holes).  This will make the candy “functional” so they can be stacked just like real LEGOs.  Be aware that if you over-fill, you will get over-spill, like I did.

Let this sit for a few hours — I found putting it in the refrigerator made it way easier to get the candy out.


(This is what happens if you overfill!)

Enjoy the blocky fruits of your labor.  Now you have something fun to munch on (and play with) while you go back to your writing!


In just the last few hundred words of our work in progress, THE LAST FAERIE GODMOTHER, my daughter and I moved our heroes and our story from modern day America (with fairy-tale creatures) to Northern Ireland in 1507 (chock full of faeries).

From a writer’s standpoint, this is like waking up on Mars.  Without a spacesuit.

How did people talk?  I don’t mean just how to write an Irish accent, but what words do they use?  Many, many turns of phrase we take for granted when writing modern dialogue didn’t exist 500 years ago.  And things had different names.  Not to mention, they had an entire vocabulary of words for objects and activities that no longer exist today.  They had different greetings, different common expressions, different superstitions.  And they surely talked about other things than we do today.

What did people wear?  Believe it or not, there are not a great deal of books with pictures or descriptions of what average people wore in Ireland in the 16th century.  I know; I’ve looked.  I can tell you what nobility or soldiers wore in England in the early 16th century, but that doesn’t quite work, does it?  I’ve read that the Irish of that time wore yellow, since the association of green with Ireland is a much more modern occurrence.  But I need slightly more detail to describe what my characters are wearing than “yellow.”

What did they eat?  What was their daily routine?  How did they travel?  Where did they sleep?  How did they treat strangers?  What did a house look like?  A castle?  A dungeon?  What did they buy and what did they make themselves?  Where did they get money?  What did a market look like?

I was so excited when we finally got to this much-anticipated point in our book.  This is the “inciting incident” that sets up the whole rest of the book, in which our heroes must pass for natives and figure out a way to get home to the present.  But as my fingers hovered over the keys, itching to write the next scene, I found I could not make them type.  I don’t know where I am!  I can’t describe anything, write any dialogue, or even understand what my characters should see upon waking up.

Gah!  It’s like being a virgin writer all over again, except without the benefit of that cocky naivete that lets you just bully your way through a story despite your utter ignorance.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: virginity [in a writer] is overrated.