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Authors


MILLLICENT G. DILLON, represented by Harold Ober Associates, is the world’s expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles. She has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb. Read more. . .


SASHA TROYAN is a Professor of English at Montclair University and author of the critically-acclaimed novels Angels in the Morning and The Forgotten Island, both Booksense Selections, beautiful stories based upon her childhood in France. I worked with Troyan to develop her new novels, Marriage A Trois and Semester. Read more. . .


LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth. Read more. . .


BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s best-selling debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by Pan Macmillan. Read more. . .


SCOTT WILBANKS, represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, is the author of the debut novel, The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster, published by Sourcebooks in August, 2015. I’m working with Wilbanks on his sophomore novel, Easy Pickens, the story of the world’s only medically-diagnosed case of chronic naiveté. Read more. . .


SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway. Read more. . .


M. TERRY GREEN enjoys a successful self-publishing career with multiple sci-fi/fantasy series set in the Multiverse, based upon her expertise in anthropology and technology. I worked with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. Read more. . .


DARREN D. BEYER is an ex-NASA experiment engineer who has worked on every Space Shuttle orbiter but Challenger. In his sci-fi Anghazi Series, Beyer uses his scientific expertise to create a galaxy in which “space bridges” allow interstellar travel based upon the latest in real theoretical physics. Read more. . .


ANIA VESENNY, represented by Beverly Slopen Literary Agency, is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny’s debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights, and her second novel, Sandara. Read more. . .


STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited Wakefield’s second novel, Memory of Water, and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water. Read more. . .


GERALDINE EVANS is a best-selling British author. Her historical novel, Reluctant Queen, is a Category No 1 Best Seller on Amazon UK. I edited Death Dues, #11 in Evans’ fifteen popular Rafferty and Llewellyn cozy police procedurals, which received a glowing review from the Midwest Book Review. Read more. . .


JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with Dunn to develop and line edit her memoir of reconciling liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland. Read more. . .


LISA MERCADO-FERNANDEZ writes literary novels of love, loss, and friendship set in the small coastal towns of New England. I edited Mercado-Fernandez’ debut novel The Shoebox and second novel The Eighth Summer. Read more. . .


JEFF RUSSELL is the author of the debut novel, The Rules of Love and Law, based upon Jeff’s abiding passions for legal history and justice. Read more. . .


LEN JOY is the author of the debut novel, American Past Time. I worked with Len to develop his novel from its core: a short story about the self-destructive ambitions of a Minor League baseball star. Read more. . .


ALEX KENDZIORSKI is an American physician working in South Africa on community health education and wildlife conservation. I edited Kendziorski’s debut novel Wait a Season for Their Names about the endangered African painted wolf, for which he is donating the profits to wildlife conservation. Read more. . .


ALEXANDRA GODFREY blogs for the New England Journal of Medicine. I work with Godfrey on her short fiction and narrative nonfiction, including a profile of the doctor who helped save her son’s life, “Mending Broken Hearts.” Read more. . .


In addition, I work with scores of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this wonderful literary art and craft.

  • By Victoria Mixon

    Here’s my story for you guys for this week.

    Because I’m a storyteller:

    1. Start innocently

      Yesterday I was at the kitchen table while my husband baked a complicated type of Italian bread (in between bouts of gardening—the man’s a miracle to live with).

      I was doing our monthly household bookkeeping, which I do with old-fashioned pen and paper in a big ole binder like my bookkeeper mother did and her businessman father did before her.

      I do this partly because I have always done it this way and partly because I want my son to see that handling money is a tangible, three-dimensional, non-virtual thing that plays a very real part in real life (and partly because I’ve learned too many software programs and plug-ins for social media, so my brain is already full).

    2. Prepare your patience

      Now, this bookkeeping yesterday happened to require that I cut-&-paste a tiny little piece of bookkeeping paper over something that someone (me) should not have written they way they did (in ink).

      And when I say “cut-&-paste” I don’t mean click-&-drag, I mean “cut with very old and dull scissors” and “paste messily with Elmer’s Glue.” (There is of course an even more old-fashioned way to paste, but that stuff was rumored to be made out of horse hooves and tasted like peppermint. Not that I would know. That’s what the other kids told me.)

    3. Assemble your tools

      Bookkeeping paper isn’t difficult to find around our house. They sell it at our local art store, and I keep piles of it in a drawer in the creaky old pine hutch in our kitchen.

      Elmer’s Glue isn’t difficult to find, either. Between me and my bookkeeping and my son and his zillion projects throughout childhood, there are always a few almost-empty containers of Elmer’s in the drawer in the hutch where we keep all the broken pencils and pens that don’t work.

      However, Elmer’s Glue can sometimes be a little difficult to access, because of course it dries around the nozzle.

      And it’s—um—glue.

    4. Apply force

      So I sat at the kitchen table wrestling valiantly with a brand-new container of Elmer’s while my husband kneaded dough.

      I didn’t want to have to ask him to open the glue for me because I actually have pretty strong wrists, and besides, you know, he bakes bread. So when I couldn’t get it open I simply concluded it was “too new” and returned it to the drawer in exchange for a container I knew for a fact I’d opened numerous times with success.

      That one was stuck too.

    5. Take a chance

      So I said brightly, “Want to see me spatter glue all over myself?” and before he could answer I whacked that thing on the edge of the table to loosen the dried glue around the nozzle.

      The nozzle shot straight across the table, trailing an arc of glue from its blast zone all over my jeans and T-shirt and bookkeeping as though I’d planned it. The result was so sudden and unexpected—and yet inevitable—that it was exactly like having a literary epiphany. . .covered in glue.

    6. Duck!

      But you don’t need me to tell you this step.

      If you’ve been writing for any length of time at all, you already know about this step.

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    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Cats don’t act as though you’re the one bright ray of sunlight in an otherwise clouded existence.—Raymond Chandler

    You all know my cat. He sits on my blog banner staring into space with the impassive expression of someone who is being prevented from walking on a desk that he knows perfectly well he walks on all the time when I’m not looking.

    He’s my inspiration.

    And he should really be the writer in our family. Because. . .

    1. He is undeterrable

      When he wants something, he gets it.

      If it’s not lying around where he wants it, he yells. If I don’t respond, he yells louder. If I still don’t respond, he comes and finds me.

      If it involves walking on a desk upon which he is forbidden to walk, he waits until I leave the room and then he walks on it.

      This is how writers act about the stories we so desperately want to write. Time and again, our stories fail to come out right. So we write them again. And again. And again. And again. . .

      Until we get what we want.

    2. He knows what he likes

      Specifically, what he likes is lying on my shins.

      Now, do I always want him on my shins? No, I do not. Sometimes I want to move my legs once an hour or so, at which point I disturb him, and he gives me a look that tells me exactly how heartbreaking it is to own an insensitive writer for a human being.

      Then he settles back down again. Because he likes it there.

      This is why we write what we write. Not because someone tells us to. Not because writing is going to make us rich. Not because we have a guarantee that if we write something we find boring and insipid that it will morph our lives out of what they are now into some daily routine for which we have always longed.

      But because we like it.

    3. He’s passionate

      I know—cats are known for being indifferent hipsters in black turtlenecks and berets.

      “I am zo tired of zees world before me,” says the caricature cat. “When will zey understand my geniuz?”

      But cats aren’t indifferent at all. In fact, they’re the most emotional pets I know. Dogs like sticks and barking. Horses like eating and running. Rabbits like hiding. Canaries like flinging seed. Turtles like pretending to be rocks. But when was the last time you heard any of them purr?

      Writers don’t write because books are sticks or food or shelter or things to be flung. (Well, sometimes that.)

      We write because writing—exploring the vast panorama of human nature through very specific character traits, following devastating motivations wherever they naturally lead, picturing events in which wherever those motivations lead is just exactly where the characters don’t want to go, and then polishing, polishing, polishing the prose through which we’ve create these scenes until it does to the reader exactly what we want it to do—makes our insides feel good.

      Writing makes us purr.

    4. He doesn’t mind complaining

      I have yet to meet a cat too demure to object. And I’ve lived with a lot of cats.

      Some snarl. Some hiss. Some fight back. And some take you apart from the elbows to the wrists whenever they feel it’s necessary.

      But they do not roll over on their backs and expose their bellies if they feel threatened.

      We writers, especially in the early years, must fight an enormous urge to make things nice for our characters. We like our characters! That’s why we hang out with them! But happy characters are excruciatingly dull characters when they are put into their settings, the stories that bring them alive.

      What readers really want is protagonists willing to scratch and tear and claw their way out of every single situation they don’t want to be in.

    5. He trusts his own judgment

      Oh, it’s so easy for us to get derailed. It’s so easy for us to doubt ourselves and begin to wonder whether or not this whole business of writing is not just an inanely bad idea.

      But not him. He makes decisions about his life and follows through on them, no matter how hard I try to convince him that he’s wrong.

      Does he feel like carrying his food, piece-by-piece, out of the cat room and dropping it in the kitchen traffic lane, where he eats it at his (extremely slow) leisure?

      Then that is what he does.

      Does he feel like crying at the front door five minutes after he’s just come in because he likes seeing his human beings turn the knob, even if he has absolutely no intention of going outside again?

      Then that is what he does.

      Does he feel like expressing his displeasure with my decisions about what he is allowed to do or not to do—regardless of how or why—by leaving little calling cards that I will later have to clean up, in high dudgeon, with a sponge and bucket of soapy water, roundly cursing him and all cats that came before him?

      Then that is what he does.

      Has any of us ever managed to convince him that these ideas are not, in fact, the sterling guidelines for successful living that he so fervently believes they are?

      No.

      No, we have not.

    6. He spends practically all his time in dreamland

      He eats, drinks, sharpens his claws, and bathes. Then he kicks his brother’s butt, curls up with him, and goes back to sleep.

      Now, he happens to be a fortunate creature in that someone else buys his food, provides his clean water, and gives him someplace to sleep in comfort out of the weather.

      But I also yell at him for sharpening his claws on perfectly good claw material—especially the leather armchair I inherited from my grandfather—and give him all holy hell for the fur that his bathing leaves on my furniture.

      So the business part of his life is kind of a draw between us.

      Fortunately for him, though, a good three-quarters of his life has nothing whatever to do with any of this. He’s someplace else. . .living the lives of innumerable thrilling imaginary kitties.

      Oh, yes.

      A writer should be so lucky.

    Dedicated to my blog cat, my beloved Grey Terror, who went to live in the Land of Imaginary Mice in 2015 at the ripe old age of 14.

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    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    We travel a certain amount in our family—partly because my husband is a community manager in the computer industry and organizes a lot of conferences, partly because my son loves O’Reilly Media’s Maker Faire, which is held within a few hours’ drive of our house, and partly because we live way the heck out in the boonies and occasionally get the wind up and just feel like seeing the world. And today I’m going to tell you why I never take my cat.

    1. He does not like to share

      My cat and his brother have a long-standing routine in which one of them finds a comfortable place to sleep and the other turns up two minutes later and tries to lie down in the same place. Often they try to lie down on each other’s head. This is, naturally, quite annoying to the one who owns the head, so after a certain amount of mutual grooming their conscientious tidying-up turns into bear-trap locks on each other’s spinal column, and suddenly everyone is screaming.

      Maker Faire ‘Makers’ and writers, however, have one big thing in common: we like to share.

      We like to share so much that we’re willing to spend practically all our leisure time (and an unrecorded amount of ‘work’ time) sharing the visions that inhabit our teeming brains.

      Makers envision shareable material that can be built in their kitchens out of papier-mache, alligator clips, small motors, and a whole lot of duct tape.

      Writers envision shareable material built out of words.

    2. He thinks he’s more important than anyone else

      You know Zaphod Beeblebrox of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the two-headed narcissist who gets himself elected the President of the Galaxy and then kidnaps himself so he can steal the one-of-a-kind spacecraft Heart of Gold with its bizarre Improbability Drive?

      And when Zaphod is put into the ultimate torture machine, in which you’re shown the entire universe and your own teeny, tiny, inconsequential place in it so that your brain implodes, Zaphod comes out utterly pleased with himself because it’s shown him the entire universe, and he’s the most important thing in it?

      Yeah.

      That’s my cat.

      But Makers and writers are not the centers of their universes. That’s the whole point.

      Makers live in universes populated by other Makers, with their infinite communal potential to create cool stuff nobody has ever created before, like the Leave Me Alone Box (which, when turned on, opens up so a hand can come out and turn it off again).

      Writers, of course, live in universes populated by our characters. We’re not the centers of those universes. In fact, we’re not even visible in those universes.

      We are the Divine Scribes watching from on high and frantically recording everything so we can share it later with the occupants of other universes, universes to which we do not have the keys.

    3. He can’t take deviation from his routine

      My cat has extraordinary faith in his own judgment, which leads him to do things like sit in a prominent place during dinner every blessed night (the top of a stepping stool, the middle of the kitchen floor, sometimes even one of our chairs at the table) with his back facing us so that we will get the message it’s time to stop dilly-dallying and give him his bedtime snack.

      He has the most articulate—and aggressive—back I have ever seen in my life.

      However, Makers and writers can’t afford to be locked into routine.

      If Makers refuse to open their minds, they’ll be stuck inventing the same things over and over again. Lightbulb! Wow, amazing. Lightbulb! Yep, there it is again. Lightbulb!

      And if we writers refuse to open our minds, we have no reason to write. We can’t all write Pride & Prejudice over and over unto infinity, although I know some people would like to try. Jane Austen already wrote it, and she wrote it beautifully, and nobody else is ever going to write it again. Really. . .done.

      We must write new stories, develop new characters, have our own special new perspectives, explore the same classic themes through the infinitely new variety of specific, perceived, telling detail that is the stuff of life on this earth.

    4. He poops in the car

      And I’m not even going to elaborate upon this one.

      Suffice it to say, I’ve never met a Maker who pooped in the car. That’s where they carry their cool gadgets that they’re taking to Maker Faire. It’s their transportation, the way they get where they want to go. If they ruin their cars, they go nowhere.

      Now, we do see a lot of fouling of nests going on in the publishing industry these days. But writers’ imaginations are our transportation, it’s how we get in and out of our fictional universes, it’s where we carry the virtual pens and paper on which we record everything our characters go through. If we ruin our imaginations—skating on the thin ice of imitation and television and brand names and movie-inspired gore and instruction-manual sex and quick marketing-crazed lunges for easy bucks—we’ll never write anything we can be proud of.

      So I’m going to condense all of my writing advice to you down into five simple little words, and I hope that you take them to heart. They have certainly served me well in my decades as a professional writer and editor:

      Writers—don’t poop in your cars.

    In honor of my blog cat, my beloved Grey Terror, who passed on to the Great Cat Heaven in the Sky in 2015 at the age of 14.

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    We’ve been running a grammar expose this month: tackling first third-person singular pronoun and then the ever-popular (or -unpopular, depending upon your point of view) of serial vs. Oxford comma.

    So now let’s go after that other big issue that continues to plague writers, which plaguey behavior—unlike the behavior of the others—actually has a basis in current correct usage:

    That vs. Which

    But first I am going to stoop so low as to say to a certain tech writer at a certain computer company at a certain time many, many years ago who would not shut up about this: I’m right, you were wrong, you should’ve looked it up.

    That vs. which is an issue because it’s based upon the difference in usage between American and British English:

    • British English

      That and which are pretty much interchangeable. So if you want to say:

      They came around the corner and smashed right into my car that was in the road

      . . .you can.

      Although if I were your editor, I’d probably cut it down to:

      They came around the corner and smashed right into my car in the road

      However, if you want to say:

      They came around the corner and smashed right into my car which was in the road

      . . .you can do that too.

      The Brits aren’t picky. They’ve been using those words for a very long time, through an awful lot of lingual evolution, so they just let it ride either way.

    • American English

      However, in the US we make a distinction between a qualifying phrase that is essential to the meaning of the sentence and a qualifying phrase that is not.

      (Notice the use of that in that sentence, folks.)

      So if you want to say:

      They came around the corner and smashed right into my car, which was in the road

      . . .you need the comma.

      The reason you need the comma is that you’ve set your sentence up so that the whole point can be conveyed without this qualifying phrase. Qualifying phrases that we don’t need we set aside with commas.

      This means the sentence gets across its whole point just as well with this:

      They came around the corner and smashed right into my car

      However, if you want to say:

      They came around the corner and smashed right into my car that was in the road

      . . .you can do this too. But you leave off the comma. That makes the information—my car was in the road—essential to the whole point of the sentence.

      However, again, if I were your editor I’d probably edit it down to:

      They came around the corner and smashed right into my car in the road

    Now, there’s one other question about that that turns up a lot when editors get together to harangue each other about calmly talk over our differences of opinions, and it’s the use of “that” in general.

    It’s called a relative pronoun, and I used it right there in the paragraph above. I used that to connect the question and the fact that it turns up. (Did it again!)

    It’s not always necessary. A lot of editors eliminate that as a matter of course. And this urge to eliminate dates back—yes, indeed—to journalism and the journalist’s need to cut any and every word they possibly can for the sake of saving space.

    I used to eliminate that unless it was absolutely necessary.

    But now I play it by ear. Because the whole point of writing is for the story to move from the page to the reader’s mind magically, as though the words were invisible. And this means that every time the reader is forced to pause and re-read a sentence in order to get the whole point, the words become visible.

    This is a bad thing.

    If the only way to make your words invisible is to use a few extras like that and in order to, then do it.

    Remember: we write our stories in only those words absolutely necessary and no others. Your goal is always the beautiful magic of invisibility.

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    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Last week we talked about the third-person singular pronoun.

    So this week let’s stick with our grammar expose and tackle another question that I continue to be asked, even though the answer is simple and has been established for a very, very long time:

    Serial vs. Oxford comma

    Luckily, I only get this one from English majors. Nobody else has ever heard of the debate, which I consider a good thing. Because it’s a complete red herring. There is no actual debate. The answer is not in question. And it makes complete sense.

    • Fiction

      In fiction, we put a comma after every item in a list.

      Except, of course, for the last item, which gets whatever punctuation belongs at the end of that particular list.

      Angela ate a chocolate bunny, a chocolate heart, a chocolate rose, and a chocolate elephant! In that order.

    • Non-fiction

      In non-fiction, we put a comma after every item in a list except the penultimate item.

      And except, of course, for the last item, which, again, gets whatever punctuation belongs at the end of that particular list.

      In other news today, Angela Lansbury ate a chocolate bunny, a chocolate heart, a chocolate rose and a chocolate elephant. According Lansbury, she ate them in that order.

    See? Simple.

    The issue isn’t a matter of editorial style or even idiomatic distinction between American and British English. The issue is fiction versus non-fiction. And the only reason the question exists at all is the journalistic necessity—which has created so very many of the questions of grammar that seem to plague English students today—to compress space.

    Journalists are always in need of space on the page. So they make up little rules for themselves like dropping commas and other stuff in order to squeeze more words into smaller space. I wish I could say this is because journalists simply have that much news to report. But I’m afraid it’s more likely because they simply have that great a need to compress the news to make room for more advertising.

    C’est le vie.

    And now you know!

    NOTE: The other issue is the complication of all this by using different terms for this type of comma usage: serial and Oxford. The are not terms for the opposite types of comma usage. They are the same thing.

    NEXT WEEK: That vs. Which

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    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”—Margaret Mead

    #NeverAgain: Hundreds in Victoria Add Their Voices to Students’ Call for Gun Safety

    Yesterday, my son and I attended the March for Our Lives here in Victoria, British Columbia. This photo of us turned up in the Vancouver Times-Colonist a few hours later:

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    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    I don’t usually futz around with grammar issues here, but this one came up and it’s kind of an exception, so I’m going to give you a little grammar lesson today.

    You all know me well enough to know I don’t make too many grammatical howlers, and you probably also know that I use ‘they’ and ‘them’ for third-person singular construct. But so far (ever since 2009) you’ve all been quite accepting of that and not questioned my reasoning. Then someone linked to a post of mine, but when they quoted me they felt obliged to insert a ‘[sic]’ after ‘they’ to let their readers know they know they think it’s ungrammatical. Which was very conscientious of them.

    So I thought I’d better explain: this is not an ungrammatical error; this is a deliberate editorial decision.

    One I made thirty years ago.

    Back in the early 1980s, shortly after the women’s rights movement had finally put Equal Rights for women into a Constitutional Amendment (a no-brainer, right? it still hasn’t been ratified), there was a lot of hoopla over the correct third-person singular pronoun in the English language. Because, of course, we don’t have a neutral third-person singular pronoun, and historically English grammarians (mostly men) had made the decision that all third-person singulars must be considered male until proven female.

    An extremely odd decision, all things considered, since more than half the people on this planet are female. You’d think it would go with the majority, wouldn’t you? But no. A female was male to all strangers in print unless she could give a really good reason to refer to her as female. It seems simply being female wasn’t a good enough reason.

    And the feminists—rightly—took issue with this.

    There was a little book that came out around then called The Tao of Pooh, which I liked a lot. So when the author wrote a sequel, The Te of Piglet, I ran right out and bought it. And what do you know—the author had decided that the great success of The Tao of Pooh had transformed him magically overnight into an authority on all things literary, and he devoted a whole chapter in The Te of Piglet to this grammatical contretemps and his personal opinion that any female who objected to being considered male sight-unseen was a hysterical freak and should simply be shouted down. His argument was that it didn’t hurt anybody, it was easy to get used to, and feminists were making a big old flapadoodle about nothing.

    And he had a point.

    So I sat myself down and wrote him a letter—in those days we didn’t have email, so when you wrote an author a letter, you wrote a real letter, put it in a real envelope, stamped it with a real stamp, and mailed it off to their publisher—in which I agreed with him wholeheartedly. Such a trivial issue didn’t hurt anyone in the slightest and could easily be considered a whole lot of flapadoodle about nothing, as I could prove by having taken to using the female third-person singular pronoun for everyone, which I’d gotten used to almost immediately. And I thought this author, when she’d had a chance to think about it, would throw her weight behind me as well.

    Sadly, in spite of my enthusiasm, The Te of Piglet failed as a philosophical treatise, and nobody ever heard from that guy again.

    I was kidding, of course, about using the female pronoun for third-person singular. You could. Just as easily as the male, and with a little more logic, seeing as how you had better odds of being right in a world dominated by the female gender. But it would miss the point that respect is a pretty fundamental attitude to hold toward our fellow humans, and respect for each of us as a member of our own gender is pretty close to most of our hearts.

    Fortunately, I saw a simple solution that didn’t involve either the awkward constructs he/she or she/he (I was always surprised nobody seemed to choose the latter) or some variation on randomly messing with everyone’s gender in general.

    And that was in the natural evolution of language and—slightly lagging but still evolution—of grammar.

    Grammar was not handed down from on high the day the English language was invented, never to be deviated from again. Grammar is a product of usage, and all language usage evolves first in oral tradition, only to be accepted in written grammatical forms eventually, even if at a slightly later date. So that, for example, when the use of ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ dropped out of common daily usage, it was some time before grammarians realized it no longer made sense to insist upon it for the English version of the Romance Language variations on the Latin intimate second-person singular, ‘tu.’ Nobody insists a writer use ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ anymore, even in dialog between parents and children. I’m pretty sure.

    In the same way, common usage had already, even thirty years ago, solved the third-person singular pronoun dilemma. In oral communication, we all simply used ‘they.’

    “Who was that jogger? They just threw garbage in front of my house!”

    “I got the weirdest call the other day. This person said they had a hot deal for me, but it turned out they didn’t know what it was.”

    “I know you always think a pundit’s clever so long as they’re fast with a pun, but I’d like to see them disagree with themself once in awhile.”

    It seemed a simple step to adjust my grammatical compass to accept this common-sense solution to such a sticky problem. So I did. In fact, I even use the third-person singular reflexive pronoun ‘themself.’ I’ve been using it for thirty years—in speech as well as in writing.

    Now that we’re well into the twenty-first century, with all its flapadoodle flapping in the breeze in all directions, I’ve simply stopped worrying about it. Am I on the cutting edge? Or am I just going with the flow?

    Either way, common usage has proven for decades now that it’s grammatically correct.

    UPDATE from Christine Kidney:

    Oxford’s New Hart’s Rules says: ‘Note, however that it is now generally regarded as old-fashioned or sexist to use he in reference to a person of unspecified sex, as in every child needs to know that he is loved. The alternative he or she is often preferred, and in formal contexts is probably the best solution, but can become tiresomely long-winded when used frequently. Use of they in this sense (everyone needs to feel that they matter) is becoming generally accepted both in speech and in writing, especially where it occurs after an indefinite pronoun such as everyone or someone.’

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about the demise of blogging, which was brought home to me by a friend who said, “Just when I decided to start a blog I was told blogging is over!” At the same time we hear more and more in the self-publishing arena about How to Turn Your Blog into a Book. So it would appear, on the surface, that the whole blogging movement is segueing into a whole book-authoring movement.

    But is it?

    Well. . .

    Here’s the thing: it’s true that blogging is writing. It’s fabulous practice at developing confidence in your voice and ease with words, as well as focus, dedication, and a solid understanding of the importance of getting to the point (not to mention the inevitable epiphany that writing enough words to fill an entire book is a whole darn lot of writing).

    But blogging is a very specific form of writing. It has very specific purposes. And it has very specific readers.

    These are not necessarily the same readers a writer needs in order to succeed with a book.

    1. Blogging is conversation

      Blogs are about the writers, not the readers.

      They have to be.

      Free, largely invisible, and sometimes—when visible—lifted without permission by less-visible bloggers who don’t know about the DMCA of 1998, (most) blog posts give their owners none of the usual rewards of massive publication:

      • reputation
      • income

      Yes, some bloggers are famous. As Andy Warhol said in the 1960s (and without knowing about coming the blogosphere), “In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.”

      However, most of us are not.

      And yes, some bloggers make money by monetizing their blogs. But unless you’re using your blog as the portal to a service or product others find both intensely helpful and worth a considerable amount of their hard-earned money. . .

      most of us don’t do that, either.

      And because of this—the basic lack of tangible rewards—blogging can really only be worth the blogger’s time if it provides intangible rewards. For most bloggers, these are the same rewards as those of unpublished writing: the thrill of self-expression.

      Oh, blogging is great fun. Whee, doggies! I had plenty of fun at it even when no one but my husband and one friend were reading.

      But then you folks started reading, and it turned into an extraordinary, unexpected party. All of you friendly and amazing people who love this craft I love, coming here to talk with me about it and saying kind things, all you people I never would have known otherwise!

      Suddenly I understand why people get up on soapboxes under Marble Arch in Hyde Park and wave their arms and pontificate to the crowds.

      Talking about what’s important to us is utterly invigorating.

    2. A book is a monologue that costs money

      Because books cost money, they are about the readers, not the writers.

      A guy named Paul Ford once wrote a fascinating post about blogging: The Web is a Customer Service Medium. Boy, do I love Ford’s theory that blogging is all about addressing the question: “Why wasn’t I consulted?” But even more than that, I love the old James Thurber bio that describes him as someone always thinking about what he’s going to say when the other person stops talking.

      This is a typical blogger.

      This is, coincidentally, also a great blog reader.

      “Nice blog post,” the blogger hears (if they’re lucky). “You know what I think. . .”

      And thus begins the conversation between a blogger, a commenter, and all the other readers of that particular blog post.

      But this has nothing to do with reading books, where the reader is alone with the words and their own imagination, absorbing in utter privacy something for which they have paid hard cash. They don’t really care about the writer, beyond imagining that writer would, if they only knew, like to be their best friend.

      The writer doesn’t fit into the book equation. It’s entirely between the reader and the book.

    All of which is what we’re missing when we talk about the popularity or demise of blogging and How to Turn Your Blog into a Book:

    1. the difference in purpose between:

      • tangible rewards
      • intangible rewards
    2. the great, yawning abyss between the needs of:

      • the person who writes
      • the person who reads

    So when you’re wondering:

    • Is blogging over? or,
    • Should I turn my blog into a book?

    Try shifting that to:

    • How am I thinking about blogging and books in terms of my own needs?
    • How am I thinking about blogging and books in terms of the needs of others?
    • If blogging is quote unquote ‘over,’ does that mean it’s automatically not worth it to me?

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Hey, guys, I just spent the entire day trying to develop video for this blog. Guess what? That’s right. So let’s talk about how my experiment with video mimics the experience of writing fiction:

    1. It always seems like such a good idea at the time

      Who has not begun a story with the gripping, overwhelming conviction that this is the best idea ever?

    2. It gets intensely complicated, overblown, and unwieldly really, really fast

      Writing fiction is enormously complex and involves far more facets than can ever be entirely remembered or even explained. We try and try and try to simplify the basics so we can build a sense of competence and an inner sensory map—a body memory of how to navigate these complexities—but the sheer number of layers always makes the overall picture invisible from any particular vantage point.

    3. It involves a whole lot of little, nickpicky details you simply can’t see coming

      Fiction is all details: the details of character, the details of plot and subplot and plot thread, the details of setting, the details of tens and tens of thousands of words and sentences. Detail overload. . .and yet every one of them is essential.

    4. The exact aspect of any and all illumination is crucial

      If we don’t have complete control over where we shine the light when we create, we can’t hope to show our audience what we want them to see.

    5. Repeated attempts to accomplish the same piece of the project over and over again becomes something akin to hammering jello on porcelain

      Revision is massage taken to the point of pummeling. The breakage can be, eventually, deafening.

    6. Stagefright is a constant

      Although the camera acts as an audience in the external world, our critical faculties act as an on-going internal audience, so that the accumulation of silent tut-tut’s can be paralyzing if we listen.

    7. Halfway through, you’re guaranteed to forget what you’re doing

      We are a simple species, and one of the most predictable of our reflexes is the urge to mentally step away when things stop being fun. This is especially true right about when we’ve acquired 36,000 of the 72,000 words we need.

    8. Freezing in the headlights is sometimes the only thing that makes sense

      Fortunately, the fact that none of this is live means we can freeze for as long as we like. It’s never detrimental to the final product, and it’s often the key to quality.

    9. It turns out you don’t actually have a single, consistent voice

      Did you know this about yourself? Even when you’re talking? Me neither.

    10. The longer you struggle, the more obvious it becomes that this can’t possibly end well

      I really don’t have an answer for this.

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    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    I’m going to introduce you all today to my grandmother, to whom I was very close and who gave me most of the instructions that now guide my life.

    1. If you can’t say something interesting, don’t say anything at all

      This, of course, is not what she really said. But it is the cardinal rule of fiction.

    2. Sit down nicely and share with your sister

      This one she said all the time.

      Because it’s not about me. It’s not even about you. It’s about sharing this amazing, complicated, poignant world with the reader, and if we can’t share nicely the reader’s not going to follow us around begging.

    3. If you don’t learn to make your bed, no one will marry you

      This one she also said, to which I replied with adolescent wit, “I will marry a man who makes the bed himself.” Suffice it to say that we were both wrong.

      However, she was correct that if we don’t learn how to shape and tidy our manuscripts no one will ever read them. They’re incredibly lumpy, uneven, and full of missing socks in their early drafts. Readers find them extremely uncomfortable and cannot relax.

    4. Don’t be a smart-aleck

      We’re all very clever and amusing people, I know, in the privacy of our own heads and usually a number of hours after it doesn’t matter anymore. I infused my own early novels with a whole plethora of snarky asides and snappy comebacks.

      Turns out Grandma was right on the money with this one too, though.

      Readers don’t want untutored attempts at snark. They want either real, one-of-a-kind, death-defying humor that makes them spontaneously laugh out loud—or no smartypants nonsense at all.

    5. Stop kicking the table leg

      No kidding, people. I know we all get intensely frustrated at the state of the publishing industry these days. It is indeed an intensely frustrating time, in which unknown writers become less and less likely to see publication every single time someone buys a best seller at Walmart.

      But the truth is that we were already complaining about the state of the industry decades ago, when it seems in retrospect that we actually had it fairly good.

      We need to just stop annoying people and buckle down to the hard work.

    6. Wipe your feet before you walk on my clean floors

      Leo Buscaglia tells the story of meeting a famous Buddhist lama and walking in the garden with this gentle little man, yammering on and on and on about himself and his big, brilliant ideas and how important they all were, until the gentle little man turned suddenly and slapped him right in the face.

      “Stop walking in my head with your dirty feet!” the lama exclaimed.

      This is excellent advice for all of us—especially for writers.

    7. Keep your sticky fingers off my wallpaper

      Again: the reader has their own big, brilliant ideas, which they love far more than they are ever going to love ours. It is our job to show them their own lovely wallpaper, not muck it up getting our fingerprints all over it.

    8. Don’t make me tell Grandpa

      You know who Grandpa is? That’s right. The reader. And Grandpa always gets the last word.

    9. Machst gut

      Actually, it was my great-grandmother who said this, the German granddaughter of pioneers, a woman who lived to be 93 and, at the end of her life, began seeing the ghost of her husband in her room at night.

      Make it good.

      If you’re going to be haunted, you know, it had better be worth your while.

    10. You can cry on me

      And Grandma also said this, for which I will always love her.

      There’s a lot of grief in first struggling for years to get our beautiful dreams down in words and then finding someone who wants to read them. I don’t care how brilliant or talented or experienced we are, our kindness to each other is truly the most important thing we have to give.

    11. Come back and see us again soon, honey

      Because when you get right down to it, it’s all about dedication and long-term commitment—commitment and good-heartedness and being in this world with others. We’re able to share our wonderful fictional adventures with the reader only if they add significantly to the reader’s life.

      And if we can’t develop the habit of producing great stories—not just one, but one after another, for as long as we expect others to pay attention—we must content ourselves with being readers.

      Everyone loves them.

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    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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