Victoria Mixon, Author & Editor Editing     Testimonials     Books     Advice     About     Contact       Copyright


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

    That’s what love is: learning to love what your lover loves.Greg Brown, husband of Iris DeMent

    Mama taught me to tell my truth.Iris DeMent, wife of Greg Brown

    Your manuscript owns you. This might not seem obvious at first, but it is a fact that every writer (eventually) comes to accept. The manuscript—not the writer—gets to decide when things begin, where things go, and how things end. All the writer can do is cling to their manuscript with all their strength and try to love whatever that manuscript loves.

    So, with no further ado, here are fourteen tried and true ways to love what your manuscript loves:

    1. Blatantly

      Manuscripts, honestly, are even shyer than their notoriously shy authors. Your ms does not necessarily want to be talked about to your friends. However, it does want you to respond when it calls to you and make sure nobody interrupts you or stops you from pursuing it.

      So be a dragon. Stand guard over your manuscript’s tender little personal space.

      Know thy manuscript.
    2. Under a spotlight

      Manuscripts are secretive, so you have to turn the limelight on them and make them dance.

      Personally, I always hated the idea of going on-stage clear up until I won a minor poetry award in college and had to go behind the mic to read my poem. Suddenly I loved it! I could have stayed all night! Maybe they’d like me to read something else while I was there—say, Moby Dick?

      This is your manuscript in front of the footlights. Throw the switch.

      Know thy light switch.
    3. In conversation

      Manuscripts are inveterate eavesdroppers. Speakers are utterly fascinating to them.

      No matter how dull or pointless or rambling the conversation, your ms wants to record it all and then mull it over in privacy. Why did she say that? What was he doing while he wasn’t answering? Where would this have all gone if they hadn’t been interrupted? And how did that interruption catapult them into further complications between them?

      Listen for your manuscript out among the madding crowds, and it will reward you with great riches.

      Know thy ears.
    4. Publicly

      Manuscripts are also unscrupulous spies. They want to know absolutely everything everybody does.

      They want to be constantly holding things up to themselves like clothes in front of a mirror: Would this fit? Would that work? What if I went over there and did the other thing? How would it turn out if I made this happen and reacted to it that different way?

      Be your manuscript’s vision upon the world, and it will reward you with gold in abundance.

      Know thy eyes.
    5. Falling asleep

      Manuscripts are also wicked Imps of Satan and love to disturb your sleep.

      This is because they get the most freedom when you’re too tired to fight back.

      There is a magic moment when you have quit caring about the responsibilities of the day but have not yet succumbed to the wayward randomness of dreams—Proust introduced his entire ouvre, Remembrance of Things Past, with a nearly endless soliloquy on that very tiny space. Guess from whence those seven classic volumes sprang?

      Know thy magic moment.
    6. In a bad mood

      Manuscripts have no shame. Your ms likes you no matter how awful you are.

      In fact, it likes you best when you’re at your wit’s end.

      It especially likes leaning over your shoulder pointing out exactly how you move and speak and think when you’re least likely to appreciate such solicitude. It is your overbearing siblings at their very worse.

      Fight it off, and it just gives it that much more material. And the more you try to ignore it, the more powerfully present is its note-taking. That means the greater detail you will recall later, with a cooler head, when you are done throwing your tantrum and are ready to sit down and convert it into the internal conflict from which all great protagonists suffer like the blazes.

      Know thy rage and suffering.
    7. During inappropriate activities

      Manuscripts like to imagine themselves chronicling what has never been chronicled before. This doesn’t mean you are going to chronicle those things. But your ms wants to know what it would be like if it did.

      So pay a little attention.

      Just the tiniest details, the most fundamentally true elements dropped into references in your scenes can snap a story around and reveal the underlying tension of which your characters refuse to speak. Notice what nobody else has ever mentioned. Ask yourself, “How is this moment, right now, changing me permanently? How will I be different from now on forever?”

      Don’t tell your partner.

      Know thy secrets.
    8. With a microscope

      Manuscripts are so extraordinarily complex and multifaceted that nobody, in truth, ever tells the complete story exactly perfectly. There is always stuff that falls by the wayside.

      But is it the right stuff?

      Your ms doesn’t want to let go of any tiny spec of information about itself without a thorough review, and you shouldn’t either. Those tiny specs are what create three-dimensional worlds in which your characters seduce your readers into their eternal clutches.

      Sondra Day once advised treating emotional baggage as garbage and throwing it out as fast as possible without stopping to sort it. But she wasn’t a storyteller.

      Sit down with your ms and meticulously sort through it.

      Know thy garbage.
    9. With a bullhorn

      Manuscripts also like to whisper and look the other way just when things get hairy. They long to be drawn out. And you’re going to have to be the one to do it.

      You know that moment in Nancy Horan’s disastrous novel, Loving Frank, when the protagonist leaves her husband for Frank Lloyd Wright, only Horan doesn’t show the protagonist actually doing it? She skips right over it and goes on her merry apple-cheeked way to the worst ending to a cute little love story ever?

      Whip out your bullhorn whenever you come to such pivotal, life-altering, load-bearing scenes in your story and yell through it, “She looked at her husband! She said, ‘I’m leaving you for Frank!’

      Know thy story.
    10. Before it matters

      Manuscripts are not born on the page. They are born in the deep, dark roots of your past, somewhere years ago when somebody said that thing to someone else that one time.

      Always be paying attention to the manuscripts you have not yet conceived. Collect details, data, trivia, facts, impressions, faces, names, gestures, ideas. Let them burble around in your subconscious, stewing in their juices. Let them take from each other, give to each other, trade meanings and references. Let them alter each others’ chemical make-up.

      Someday you’re going to need all that stuff in a form you cannot yet imagine.

      Know thy life.
    11. After the fact

      Manuscripts don’t stop needing love and affection when you think they do.

      Please believe me when I say this.

      I see dozens and dozens and dozens of manuscripts, every single one of them polished to the full extent their writers think they can possibly be polished. And not one of them is finished.

      When you have done everything you possibly can for your ms in this incarnation, set it kindly aside and go on to other things. Raise your kids. Do the laundry. Go on vacation. Finish building your house. Start another ms.

      Your ms is still living and growing in the back of your mind, all the time you’re doing other things, and that life and growth are essential to its publishable version.

      Know thy patience.
    12. When you have exhausted all other options

      Manuscripts are an endless dump of everything you don’t know what else to do with, the infinite acceptance of all you are that makes no sense.

      Your ms loves being that for you. Go ahead. Let it be.

      When you have no resources left, when you have been sucked dry and thrown aside, when you are but a shell of the persona you fondly believe yourself to be. . .go back to your manuscript. Sink into your fictional dream. This is why you write—this bond between your story and you.

      Know thy passion.
    13. On the ground

      Then get up out of your chair or down off your bar stool or pedestal or wherever you’ve been hanging out, lay both palms on the ground, and be intensely grateful that it is there.

      The planet on which you live is the source of everything good and bad and creative and fictional coming your way.

      Know thy source.
    14. With your arms thrown open

      And finally stand up and throw your arms wide to the sky and the sun and the rain and the wind and the stars.

      You will never get it all down in words. You will never triumph over the unknowable. And this is your saving grace. Because if you could get it all down in words once and for all—triumph over the unknowable—then fiction as an art form would die, taking all of us who love writing it along with it.

      Know thy grace.

    But what exactly is it that your manuscript loves? This magical thing you’re struggling to love in fourteen different ways?

    Oh, that one’s easy. It’s always the same eternal, ephemeral work:

    Thy truth.


    “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



  • By Victoria Mixon

    Sometimes we travel for my husband’s work, and although we all enjoy the thrill of the open road and the excitement of escaping housework and chores and the incessant arguments over who gets the comfortable armchairs, us or the cats, still—

    It’s always good to get home.

    What is it that makes home home? And why do we return to our writing time and again, over the years, to find those same qualities in the imaginary universes alive in our heads?

    1. Familiarity

    2. Of course. Home is you. That’s why you’re there.

      And that’s why you keep going back to your fiction—in spite of the frustration of never quite being able to bring that wonderful, multifaceted plane of inspiration here into the tangible daily world, in spite of loneliness and failure and exhaustion and conflicting demands upon your time.

      Because it’s you. It’s where you live.

    3. Context

    4. In that familiar sphere, you find the framework you develop throughout your life for understanding the trials of living. Newborn babies have no such frameworks—they spend most of their time crying out in anguish. Growing up is developing the frame of reference you need to stay sane for the rest of your life.

      When you read great books, you’re building framework for understanding life. When you learn from great writing and spiritual mentors, you’re building framework. And when you go into your fictional landscape and live alongside the characters there, meticulously noting and writing down the details of their experiences, you are applying your framework of understanding to the very real ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ with which we all constantly contend, from cradle to grave.

      Storytelling keeps us sane.

    5. Emotion

    6. Writing allows you to feel what goes on inside you, your physical, emotional, gut-wrenching reactions to those ‘slings and arrows,’ without simply disintegrating into a pile of shattered rubble. Newborn babies cry and are comforted—babies who are not comforted die.

      When you use your words, the details of observed and felt life, to record what it’s like to be alive, you give yourself that comfort. “Someone else has lived through these hard times,” you are saying to yourself and to others. “We can transcend our suffering.”

    7. Safety

    8. And the aftermath of those emotions—the devastation of cities, countrysides, relationships, lives—can be caught and named and held up to the mirror so it serves not to destroy you but to temper you, not to compound the darkness but to illuminate the strengths that keep you on your feet, year after year, helping everyone you touch stay on their feet, too.

      We need to confront that aftermath, to break through the terror of the darkness that rings our lives.

    9. Companionship

    10. All those others are here with you—your characters (whom of course you love, “not always,” as Emily Bronte so candidly pointed out 160 years ago, “as a pleasure any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being”) as well as your writing friends.

      This is what the blogosphere has given writers of this generation that writers have never had before: the companionship of thousands. Do not underestimate the power of tribe in your life. You are a writer among writers. You have family.

    11. Epiphany

    12. And finally all that exploration, all that suffering, all that tempering and reaching the depths and reaching out and sharing your experience, culminates in those brief, iridescent moments that make all that survival worthwhile: the epiphanies that convince you there’s more going on than any of us know.

      There is something intangible beyond what we see and do and say every day, even though the only way to find it and illuminate it is through showing tangible characters, with tangible problems, seeing and doing and saying.

      It’s the ultimate paradox, the paradox of living: that the transcendence of the niggling, harrowing, incessant ills of life—the breaking through the familiar to the intangible beyond—is coming home.


    “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



  • By Victoria Mixon

    I have probably over 2,500 books in my house. Something around 1,500 of them are on the shelves my husband built for me in my office. And most of those books I’ve read—many of them multiple times.

    I really, really, really love reading.

    Here’s how to get the most out of it:

    1. Pleasure

      Read once for sheer pleasure. That’s the joy of every serious reader.

    2. Structure

      Then, right away, skim once more for structure.

      Find the 1/2, 1/4, and 3/4 marks and jot down notes on what occurs there or in the immediate vicinity. Find the 1/3 and 2/3 marks and do the same. Then find the 1/8 and 7/8 marks and the 1/6 and 5/6 marks—one of those pairs is the pair of lintels holding this entire novel up.

      You will be absolutely astounded to discover how concretely a well-written novel is structured. The Hook ends just about 1/8-1/6 of the way in. The ‘spin’ at the end of Act I occurs around either the 1/4 or the 1/3 mark. The shift of focus from Hook to Climax occurs at the halfway mark. The ‘spin’ at the end of Act II occurs around either the 2/3 or the 3/4 mark. And the beginning of the end—the build-up to the Climax—starts just about 1/8-1/6 of the way from the last page, 5/6-7/8 of the way in.

      While you’re at it, check out the 1/5, 2/5, 3/5, and 4/5 marks. Find out exactly what this author had in mind.

      It’ll give you chills when you see just how deftly you’ve been lead.

    3. Character

      Could you ever get tired of hanging out with your favorite characters? That’s why they exist—to add depth and texture to your life.

      When you re-read for character, you don’t have to read chronologically. Browse for your favorite scenes. Stumble accidentally on ones you loved but forgot about. Let the novel fall open in your lap and pick up reading wherever it catches your eye.

      Sink all the way into those scenes, soaking up the dozens of little, telling details with which the author has sketched these people for you. Finger them like beads. Copy out your favorite sentences.

      “In vain I have struggled. It will not do. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” That line has been a part of my internal world since I was twelve years old. The marvelous, adroit encapsulation of Darcy’s dignity, pomposity, internal struggle, and genuine, simple passion are all there.

      Memorize your favorite sentences in which your favorite characters come fully to life, and you will be richly rewarded later when your own sentences about your own characters roll out of you in similar detail and rhythm.

    4. Layering

      Nobody ever gets everything there is out of a single reading of a great novel. Read lightly for pleasure and then read the whole thing through again for the deeper meanings. . .consciously, slowly, luxuriously, paying attention to every little development as it unfolds. Follow closely the trajectory of scenes this author has created. Notice how each scene leads inevitably to the next, how they build on each other, shaping the characters and aiming them where they need to go. Notice what’s essential. Notice what the author left out.

      The obvious layers of the story sink into your subconscious as the subtle layers rise to the surface.

      Tom Stoppard said, “Talking to intelligent grad students about one’s own work is like getting caught in customs. ‘Yes, officer, I can see it there in my bags, but I honestly do not remember packing it.'”

      Find even those layers that came out of the author without their knowledge.

    5. Epiphany

      And realize, with the greatest works, why they’re great: because they are packed in all directions with not just a single, high-flying, breath-taking epiphany off the end of the novel, but with hundreds of wonderful, indirect little epiphanies all the way.

      Just yesterday I paused in an early chapter of Nicolas Freeling’s Criminal Conversation at the lovely, hilarious line, “‘There are times, Chief Inspector, when I should like to take a fast run of about a hundred yards at you doing up your shoelace.'”

      A few chapters later, casual commentary on police interrogation technique leaped out at me as advice on great writing:

      “The well-known raid technique: the amiable little domestic pleasantry and the bomb in the same breath. . .After the flash, the burn cream.”

      And I laughed out loud at the 1960s London slang, “fearfully twee!”

    Oh, the utter joy of fiction. You’d better believe—somewhere, sometime, somehow—somebody in one of my novels is going to one day say, “How fearfully twee!”


    “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



  • By Victoria Mixon

    This week I’m going to send you all over to one of my all-time favorite posts (and one of my most popular, as a matter of fact), in which I explain in meticulous and even excruciating detail exactly how to go wrong in this writing life:

    5 Pickles to Write Yourself Into

    You’re welcome!


    “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



    No Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    So, I’ve been writing this blog since 2009, and one year I thought it was about time I shared with you all a few of the unexpected things I’ve learned during the course of it.

    There were some real eye-openers!

    To wit:

    1. Big numbers don’t always mean quality readers

      This is called the quantity-vs-quality debate, and online community managers already know a lot about it.

      Some time in early December 2010 one of my posts, 10 Things to Do to Become a Better Writer in 10 Days, suddenly and rather unexpectedly hit the StumbleUpon Big Time. I got 10,000 hits in two days, and since then I’ve gotten close to 80,000 320,000 views of that one post alone. It leaked over into other posts, so now some of those get tens of thousands of views as well, while that one is still climbing.

      Of those tens of thousands of readers, though, almost none paused to comment (when I still had active comments). Mostly what I picked up in that first year was random marketers. I got a lot more pitches to sell things like washing machines and ski equipment.

      I gained one editing client—whom I love to death, and his little doggies too.

      And I gained subscribers.

      You who are reading this right now, whether you came through StumbleUpon or elsewhere, are the quality readers I’m looking for. You guys are here because you care.

    2. Readers tend to make more negative comments on blogs they never intend to re-visit

      I did get the occasional interesting comment through StumbleUpon, like the long, rambling, argumentative, self-promoting one from Christopher Moore that made it clear he’d only skimmed the list items and not read the post itself.

      As it happens, I know a little about Christopher Moore, who lived in San Luis Obispo at the same time I did back in the early ’90s. I had an intensely pretty and giggly young roommate who used to come home from her job at a coffee kiosk in a theater lobby talking about some guy who hung out there all the time hitting on her and asking people what it would take to sell a book for a million dollars. Apparently, he finally did sell a book to Disney for a million dollars, so she told me his name.

      “Huh,” I said. “Are you going to go out with him?”

      She was not.

      I left his argumentative comment up for awhile, but I finally removed it because pointlessly negative comments discourage other readers from making positive comments, and that brings down the tone of the whole blog. But I thought it was funny that he had nothing better to do than troll the Internet looking for places to brag about his best sellerdom. I guess my pretty young roommate understood him well enough.

      It’s the positive comments—especially the ones sharing your own experiences—that make all us feel like this is a safe place where we belong.

    3. There’s no law that says you have to accommodate trolls

      For a long time, there was a lot of debate about whether or not it’s okay to take down those pointlessly negative comments. Online community managers tend to wait for their communities to respond before they become draconian.

      However, this blog isn’t a community, because you guys have never had the capacity to contribute other than comments, so it’s my responsibility to keep the tone friendly and welcoming to everyone.

      Don’t like a post? That’s okay. Don’t read it! If you have felt compelled to rain on our parade though, I have felt compelled to remove the little black cloud.

      Interestingly enough, one of the things I recommend on 10 Things to Do to Become a Better Writer in 10 Days is trolling and then apologizing. I said this rather ironically at the time, aiming to embarrass trolls by pointing the spotlight on them. But it’s true that apology is excellent for your writing skills, as well as your overall constitution.

      The funniest thing about the trolls is that that particular list item inspired the most indefatigable to include a disclaimer: “This isn’t following your instructions.”

      There is a priceless moment at which the absurdity of the absurd becomes a philosophical school: Absurdism.

    4. Humor is a precious commodity

      So you know what gains me readers?

      Saying things that make people laugh.

      I’ve gotten emails for 6 Personality Types Who Will Fail as Writers about people falling on the floor laughing and crying at the same time. I get the same kind of hysterical laughter for 10 Lies Agents and Editors Tell You. And Why. And those are pretty snarky posts!

      Readers love seeing all our communal foibles reflected as funny rather than terrifying. It makes life in general so much easier to bear. And those who read more than one of my posts know that behind the lunacy is always undying compassion for all of us who elect to paddle around in this lifeboat of writing together.

      The blogosphere is valuable precisely because it gives readers an outlet from dreary, rote jobs alone in veal-fattening pens and a bond with others they can’t get from corporate life, where 50+ hour weeks leave almost no time for socializing and city life can be secretly mighty damn lonely. The rise of the blogosphere has brought back tribal life to millions of us conditioned over the past thirty years to simple hopelessness.

      And laughter is the basis of all great tribal life. Readers who laugh come back.

      Humor is loyalty glue.

    5. Readers want to learn what they’re doing wrong

      You know what else gains me readers? Solid, reliable information. The plethora of bad writing advice out there is phenomenal—really, quite painful—and when writers know they can come here time and time again to get good, solid advice about their concerns that really works when they put it into practice. . .yes, they keep coming back.

      Oddly, what people love most is information on what they’re doing wrong. Three posts—5 Things a Writer Always Overlooks, 8 Lessons to Learn from Screwing Up Your Manuscript, 6 Ways to Shoot Yourself in the Foot—are still getting passed around the blogosphere all these months years after I wrote them.

      Apparently there are an awful lot of aspiring writers out there in desperate need of some relief from constantly looking over their shoulders. They get all the helpful hints and timely tips they can take, but they still have the sneaking suspicion there’s something they don’t know about going on behind the scenes.

      “For the love of Mike, just tell us!

    6. Writers want to pay to learn

      You’d think my advice column would be the most active part of my whole site, wouldn’t you? Freebie advice answering specific questions from specific writers about the problems they’re having with specific manuscripts?

      Actually—not. The more readers I get, the more work I get, but very few writers indeed make use of the freebie help.

      This is why I used to charge for the Lab when it was public: so readers would value it. And whenever I did get a new subscriber, the first thing I invariably heard from them was, “Wow!” While on the subject of the similar-but-free advice column readers remain rather quiet.

    7. Consistency is the lifeblood of both blogging and writing

      Truly, the most helpful thing to writers about blogging is that it trains you into a consistent voice. When you let go of the internal censor and learn to say what you mean to say the way you mean to say it, week in and week out, your language gets stronger and simpler, and writing just gets easier.

      And if there’s one thing readers of all types of writing are looking for it’s consistent voice.

    But the best thing about blogging is tribe. You people are friends. You’re friends to me and to each other. You’re taking turns at the oars, keeping this little lifeboat afloat, while I yell through a bullhorn from the prow and gesture wildly over my head.

    I can show you the way, but it’s all of you who are going to get us there.

    And you know you can count on this blog to be heading where you writers want to go. The only thing you’re ever going to get from me here is a discussion of the art and craft of writing. Everything else that goes on in my life (and it’s a pretty exciting life) is almost invisible in the blogosphere. I don’t need to tell you guys my childrearing adventures or housebuilding travails or bafflement over my own personal, idiosyncratic mental challenges. Are there actually seven of me living inside my head? Who cares?

    This is a blog about one thing only, and what all of us in this tribe have in common is our overwhelming love for it:



    “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



    No Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    Even if [the yeast of intelligence] operates in vain, it remains evolution’s peak. . .: something to enjoy and foster as much as possible; something not to betray by succumbing to despair, however deep the many pits of darkness.
    —Diana Athill, Stet: An Editor’s Life

    Sometimes I get so involved in the daily difficulties of writing that I forget why I ever wanted to become a writer in the first place.

    Then I remember. . .

    1. Whenever my cats object

      . . .to my prescribed determination of their fates—and sometimes just random flexing of my ability to boss them around—I think of my own helplessness at the whims of of the gods. I sometimes find myself wishing in real anguish I had some magical ability to create a portrait of that link between their worlds and mine so I’d feel less crippled by everything I simply can’t do anything about.

      And I remember: I do have that ability.

      I have words, and I have the techniques of fiction. I just need to practice them until I know how to handle them deftly enough, and I can create something vivid and tangible, something I can hold in my hands and revisit again and again, something that truly helps make my life less of a private assault upon me, personally, and more of a resonance echoing throughout the experience of all humanity.

      Something that might even help others, like me, caught in this mortal coil.

    2. Whenever I’m washed-up

      . . .in an airport terminal or doctor’s waiting room or endless meeting I remember the strict injunction I gave myself when I was still a teen: “A writer has no business ever being bored.”

      And I remember that as long as I have words and five senses and something—anything—to write on, my job is to stop feeling sorry for myself and practice my craft.

    3. Whenever I’m suffering

      . . .the reverberating shock of a really bad injury to my heart: walking into my grandmother’s bedroom to see them wheeling out the life support; coming home from sending a get-well card to a beloved uncle and my husband taking my hands to say, “Your mother called. Peet died last night”; holding my grandfather’s hand as his face contorts through the horrible B-movie grimaces of dying—

      I remember that I have something to do with that experience beyond simply being destroyed by it.

      I have words. And I have the techniques of fiction. And I have a deep, immovable longing that has never left me, no matter what I’ve been through in all my fifty years on this planet—a longing to make it all have been worthwhile.


    “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



  • By Victoria Mixon

    Ever since we built our house in the woods, we’ve had a momma deer living on our property. And every fall a beautiful young buck has visited her.

    Now, those deer are not exactly an unmixed blessing in our lives. We haven’t been able to put in a vegetable garden because they come right up to the house and eat everything in sight, including the leaves off the grape growing next to the front door.

    Back in the first year we lived here the deer hadn’t discovered us yet, so we put in a garden. But then the buck did discover us, and that freak not only ate the tops off all my huge, healthy tomato plants, when I netted them so he couldn’t eat them he walked on them instead.

    One day that fall I looked out the front door, and there he was standing right smack dab in the middle of the path through my garden.

    I threw open the door and ran at him shrieking in fury, “Get out of my garden! Get out! Get out!”

    He stared at me for a moment, with his huge chest, black eyes, and extraordinary rack of antlers.

    He lowered his head a bit.

    Then, when I was about fifteen feet from him he turned and cantered slowly in to the woods, pausing once to look back as though he simply couldn’t believe his eyes.

    I stood in the middle of my garden path panting in rage, staring him down. Later, when I told our logger about this, he said, “You know it’s rutting season. They get pretty feisty. I don’t think I’d run straight at any more bucks if I were you.”

    So I didn’t (but I was still furious when the bear came through later and tore down our new fence and in the morning the deer had eaten all the leaves off my strawberry plants).

    Then last Sunday morning my husband and I were sitting in our rocking chairs by the living room french doors, and he said suddenly, “Look.”

    And out of the tall grass beyond the new deer fence came hopping a tiny, graceful, carefree little figure with spots all over it.

    My husband got his camera and said, “There’ll be another,” and sure enough, about a minute later here came the other half of the matching pair, bouncing through the tall grass as though on springs. Bounce! Straight in the air. Boing!

    And in that moment I saw myself perfectly clearly as the protagonist of my own story:

    1. I need my beloved vegetable garden, upon which I lavish such intense work and care.

    2. And I also need to be enchanted. . .by my nemesis.


    “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



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  • By Victoria Mixon

    I wrote this one day a long time ago out of sheer, overwhelming gratitude for my craft.

    And you know what?

    I’m still grateful.

    1. You have all the tools you need

      They’re right there at your disposal: the world, your five senses, literacy, a brain. You will never need anything more.

    2. All you have to do is be a recorder

      Record, as faithfully as you know how, the world around you as you perceive it through your five senses. Even one or two senses will work. Even one.

    3. The more you do it, the more you love it, the better you get at it

      The attention you pay to it makes it flourish. Your passion for it feeds it. Over the course of your life it becomes exactly what you, personally, need it to be.

    4. Writing is a human activity

      It is one of the gifts the gods have given us just for being us. The more you write, the more human you are. The more you reach out to other writers, the more human your world is.

    5. You are not your fiction

      When you create a fictional world, you are multiplying your experience of life. You get to be someone else, living another reality, and at the same time still be you. The more times you multiply your life, the more living you can do in this brief handful of years you have been allotted.

      But the real you, in your real life. . .that’s the one that counts. And no matter what happens in your fiction, you will always have that.

    6. You are not alone

      Now more than ever in history you are surrounded by others—thousands of others—who also love this craft that you love. And the Internet gives you a way to be in touch with as many of them as you like, which is something writers have never, ever had before.

      The community of writers in your lifetime is mind-boggling. Your literary soul mates are out there.

    7. The creation of fiction gives your heart depth

      The exploration of the world through the lens of your individual perceptions and choices makes you a better person.

      Inside every writer burns the wild, unreasoning, piercing hope that life can be transformed through experience into something more than what it seems to be.

      We can transcend the madness.


    “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



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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Some time ago Sabine asked a fabulous question in the comments on Being Interviewed by Rachel X Russell:

    Thanks for that great interview. Your obvious love of literature is refreshing in an environment where there is too much talk about sales and marketing.

    Speaking of vintage mysteries, I know you have written posts about Hammett and Chandler before, but do you think you might write a post about obscure writers from the 20s to 50s that are worth rediscovering?

    Despite having a TBR pile that’s trying to reach the sky (and well on its way to succeed) I’m always on the lookout for ‘new’ authors and I’m sure your readers would be interested too!

    Thanks for asking, Sabine! The answer to this question is actually enormously long and involved, but I will try to keep it focused.

    Every year my family and I travel to Portland, Oregon, home to the infamous three-story city block of new and used books, Powell’s Books, which is where I get a lot of my best vintage stuff. I have to cover my eyes and run past the shelves of vintage westerns and Daphne du Mauriers—vintage mystery is my specialty, and as much as I long to, I simply cannot collect everything.

    So I will just first show you what I’m reading right now:

    What I just read this weekend:

    And what I intend to read this week:

    And I’ll give you a list of authors to look up (just so you know, these are all mystery authors):

    1. Ngaio Marsh

    2. Julian Symons

    3. Georges Simenon

    4. Ellery Queen

    5. S.S. Van Dine

    6. Erle Stanley Gardner

    7. Rex Stout

    8. Mary Roberts Rhinehart

    9. And the famous creator of Winnie-the-Pooh wrote a mystery:

    10. A.A. Milne, The Red House Murder

    11. In addition, there are the little-known:

    12. David Alexander

    13. Cleve F. Adams

    14. Dorothy B. Hughes

    15. Leslie Ford

    16. The dreamily-beautiful:

    17. John Franklin Bardin

    18. The heartbreaking:

    19. Derek Raymond

    20. And my favorite mystery title ever:

    21. Eunice Mays Boyd, Murder Wears Mukluks

    22. Edith Wharton also wrote a collection of ghost stories that are totally worth reading.

    I’ve taken these names from the bookshelves over my desk, and there are hundreds up there, so I’m probably missing some excellent authors. Also, many of these authors began in the 1920s and continued to publish into the 1960s, so you’ll find eras all over the board. But these should get you started.

    Pay attention to the quality of the writing, even in what was once considered throwaway pulp.

    You’ll rarely see such attention to detail, pacing, tension, and reader investment in most modern fiction anymore.

    Also, I’ve reviewed something like a hundred of these vintage mysteries on Goodreads.


    “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



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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Today’s story is even stranger than the one about how gardening is like writing or how dancing makes the Internet humane or even me spattering glue all over myself.

    But it is utterly brilliant, and I never get over watching this woman doodle:


    This is someone named Vi Hart, whom I have never met but I love. She is a something called a mathemusician at Khan University (I think she, like Shakespeare, makes her own words up) and the only artist I follow on Twitter who is not all about writing.

    She explains the most amazing, complex mathematical concepts by doodling apparently-aimlessly all over the pages of her notebooks while she rambles on about how much she dislikes math class and is not listening to the teacher.

    She makes all kinds of doodle videos about math, and I love every single one of them.

    This particular video I’m linking to today is about Fibonacci Numbers and Lucas Numbers (I don’t even know what those are) and how a plant decides where to grow its leaves and why they don’t all use the same system, much less grow them randomly. She shows you the ends of pine cones so you can see the growth patterns, and she slices up a plant stem so she can create a little model out of torn pieces of paper in order to draw her own pattern of leaves.

    It’s all very casual and entertaining. One of the plants she uses she refers to as a “whatever-this-is.”

    In fact, very early on the plants are suddenly wearing googley-eyes and looking at you, and then a snapdragon starts talking to the camera. (Remember being a kid and making snapdragons talk?) She uses googley-eyes to show how scientists have studied repulsion, and she doodles comments as she talks, so the plants demonstrating these mathematical principles are saying, “Hi! I’m a plant!” and the sprouting doodled leaves say, “Go away,” to each other.

    It’s all just incredibly wonderful and hilarious and educational.

    And at the end it turns out the whole point of her story is that she’s just demonstrated the growth patterns of plants are not only possible. . .they are inevitable.

    She says, “That’s why I love math. Because it shows how the patterns of life are inevitable.”

    Which is, coincidentally, exactly why I love fiction.


    “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



    No Comments