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Writer's Digest presents an excerpt from my webinar, "Three Secrets of the Greats: Structure Your Story for Ultimate Reader Addiction."

Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers, interviews me about storytelling, writing, independent editing, and the difference between literary fiction and genre, with an impromptu exercise on her own Work-in-Progress.

Editing client Stu Wakefield, author of the Kindle #1 Best Seller Body of Water, talks about our work together on Memory of Water, the second novel of his Water trilogy.






  • By Victoria Mixon

    omg-its-amy3

    I’m very happy to post this guest essay by the curiously refreshing Amy Carey, author of numerous articles on parenting, fitness, travel, and health:

    I used to think writer’s block was a myth. Maybe writers got distracted or felt uninspired, but certainly they weren’t unable to write.

    Then, for several months last spring and summer, I found myself approaching my laptop with every intention of finally producing a sentence, only to spend the next twenty minutes glaring at a blank Google Doc. Every time I attempted to get something down—even a blog post or an idea for an article—I would eventually wander away, having typed nothing. My belief in writer’s block was cemented after only a couple of weeks of drumming my fingers on my desk and yanking my hair out, strand by strand.

    I finally broke through my block one October, when, desperate to get the words flowing, I signed up for National Novel Writing Month (with little intention of completing the challenge; who can average over 1,500 words a day for an entire month?). I wasn’t even going to tell anyone about it.

    Low expectations aside, I immediately found myself writing. And talking about writing. And blogging about writing. By the end of November, I had a lump of 50,000 words. The challenge of NaNoWriMo—I hate to lose—along with the novelty of writing fiction, something I haven’t done much since high school, fueled me through the month and a bit beyond.

    Completing NaNoWriMo built my confidence as a writer; I could power through those nights when I felt less like writing and more like swigging wine while reading blogs. But the experience didn’t cure my writer’s block for life. I continue to struggle—sometimes daily—with putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. When I do, my inner writing coach spurs me on with a few suggestions for working through the block.

    * Write something else

    Whatever it is that you’re trying to write, it obviously isn’t working. Go a different way. Start a new blog, write a sappy scene for a romance novel, document how to cook cashew chicken. After you get some momentum going, if you must go back to whatever it was you were trying to write, maybe the words will flow more easily.

    * Don’t think ahead

    Put aside any thoughts about, “Who is going to read this?” or “Where is this going?” Wondering who will buy the essay you’ve just started or about all the obstacles that stand between you and getting a novel published only encourages writer’s block. For now, focus on getting something written.

    * Change your venue

    If your brain goes into hibernation at the sight of a blank page in Microsoft Word, buy a composition book and write freehand for a while. Or if sitting on the couch with your laptop inspires you to do little more than play Bejeweled and watch American Idol, go to another room or leave the house altogether.

    * Take on a challenge

    Don’t simply promise yourself that you’ll write for 30 minutes every night. Instead, find a writing contest to enter, compete with a friend toward a measurable goal, or at the very least, set a timer and write as many words as you can in a short amount of time.

    * Deny your inner perfectionist

    When every sentence seems to be coming out wrong, just keep going. You can fix it tomorrow. And for the love of god, turn off the spell checker.

    Amy Carey is a full-time writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has been selling freelance articles since 2000, inspired by her children, what she reads, and where she goes. Her work has appeared in Women’s Health and Fitness, Baby Years, iParenting.com, and Bay Area Parent. Amy is also an experienced technical writer who specializes in software documentation for end users and developers. She is a survivor of NaNoWriMo 2008. Check out her website at: http://www.amycarey.net/

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    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • By Victoria Mixon

    I am very pleased to post this essay by my friend Lucia Orth, author of the 2008 critically-acclaimed Baby Jesus Pawn Shop:

    I came across some old notes in the past few weeks from an interview and the follow-up research I did while working on the early stages of my first novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, set in the Philippines during the Marcos regime.

    I had the title of the novel and the main character, Doming, but I didn’t yet have a feel for the other main character, Rue Caldwell. Her name, to her, does not mean “to rue” as in to feel sorrow, but rather—as noted in the novel—the plant “rue,” also known as the “herb of grace.” (Thank you, Oxford English Dictionary, always a source of evocative connections.)

    In thinking about my years in Manila, I remembered an entomologist I’d met there. Insects! But, of course. As a child I loved insects and had no fear of them. In Manila I’d shown my own toddlers the rhinoceros beetle and the giant atlas moth, both found on our lanai.

    Rue’s occupation would be biologist/botanist, now specializing in rice pests (rice being the basic food of the Philippines). Through common friends, I tracked the entomologist I’d met in Manila down to Washington, D.C., and out of the blue I called him. Why? I just wanted to talk to someone who’d lived in the Philippines, traveled the country—someone who knew its biology and botany.

    “Yes, there’s a lot a biologist might do there. The most important issue right now is a moth, the yellow stem borer, completely undistinguished, that’s the leading cause of blight. It drills into the hollow stem at the egg-laying stage. There’s no damage shown on the outside, but also no yield, as it severs the growing part.”

    “Hmm,” I think, “stem borer, interesting word…cuts off the growth.”

    “So instead of green on the inside, when we cut the stems open we see brown.”

    Beat. Wow, I’m thinking.

    “This damage is called deadheart,” he says.

    He didn’t understand my audible gasp of realization. I had just glimpsed not only Rue’s occupation, but also a sense of who she was, where she came from, and the rest of what the novel might be. I began to understand how she would perceive things, how she would rely on logic, what she would notice, and how, although she could look through her microscope and see the “enemy,” she could not examine her own heart, nor would she look closely at the heart of the country—the Philippines.

    Her work would become both her anchor and her way of seeing the world.

    There have been other times in writing when I’ve found a word—especially from science or nature—that provided a new insight: the transgressive sea (a term from geology) and scotobiology, the biology of darkness. I’ve used both these words in essays. But the word deadheart, and all that it came to mean, stands out as the discovery (other than the title) that gave me the novel Baby Jesus Pawn Shop.

    No reading is useless to the writer—it’s all discovery: science magazines, the dictionary, the newspaper. As Robert Olen Butler said in a workshop I took with him years ago, quoting Henry James, “A writer is one on whom nothing is wasted.”

    From the New World Encyclopedia:

    Entomology is the scientific study of insects. Insects are arthropods (phylum Arthropoda) belonging to the Class Insecta. With around 925,000 described species, insects comprise the most numerous and diverse group of animals, representing more than half (about 57 percent) of all identified animal species, and date back about 400 million years. It is a specialty within the field of biology.

    Lucia Orth-BW-96Lucia Orth worked for a non-profit organization in Manila for five years and now teaches law in the Indigenous and American Indian Studies Department at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas. She spent spring semester of 2009 working in Trento, Italy and presented a writing workshop on “Placing Your Story” at the Writers Garret in Dallas, Texas, on June 20, 2009.

    Departure,” an excerpt from her novel-in-progress, was published in the Asia Literary Review, (Winter 2008, Hong Kong). She is also a contributor to the anthology Because I Love Her: 34 Women Writers Reflect on the Mother-Daughter Bond, Andrea N. Richesin, editor (April 2009). Lucia can be reached through her website.

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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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  • By Victoria Mixon

    budmancover22I’m happy to post this guest essay by the insightful Mark Budman, author of My Life at First Try:

    English is a second language for me. I learned it as an adult.

    The accident of birth and immigration is both a curse and a blessing, but “blessed is the one who is cursed.”

    For example, I struggled with the first sentence of this paragraph. Should it be “the second language” or “a second language”? My first language, Russian, has no articles.

    On the other hand, my bilingual-ness gives me the ability to come up with an unexpected turn of phrase.  Words that are so familiar to the English speaker take on a new meaning to me. I play with them as a child, savoring every syllable.  I twist them, I may even break them, but most times I assemble them into something original and powerful. The end result of the accident of birth is the power of the unexpected and the originality of an outsider.

    When I step away from the English language, I get a foreigner’s view that helps me to navigate the intricate labyrinth of creative writing. Yet, as I mentioned before, I have a harder time fighting the Minotaur of grammar. And clichés—they might sound fresh to me—therein lies another danger. So no matter how long I have been immersed in the sea of English, I’m still a newbie.

    A newbie who yearns and perceives and perseveres.

    Mark Budman’s work appears in Weird Tales, Mississippi  Review, Virginia Quarterly, The London Magazine, Iowa Review, McSweeney’s, Turnrow, Connecticut Review, and the WW Norton anthology Flash Fiction Forward. He is the publisher of the flash fiction magazine Vestal Review and co-editor of both the anthology You Have Time For This from Ooligan Press and a Young Adult flash fiction anthology from Persea Books in 2009. His novel My Life at First Try was published by Counterpoint Press in November, 2008. http://markbudman.net

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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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  • By Victoria Mixon

    I used to listen to the radio so much I actually played it all night while I slept when I was a teenager. Then I stopped for about thirty-five years and just started again this past weekend when it occurred to me it’s a really easy way to listen to music without getting up and changing the CD all the time.

    So I was listening one day when I found myself in the middle of the most wonderful interview with Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriter responsible for A Few Good Men, Social Network, and West Wing.

    Sorkin was promoting his new television drama called The Newsroom on HBO, starring Sam Waterston and Jeff Daniels.

    And I’ll tell you, although I haven’t watched television in fifteen years, after listening to Sorkin talk about writing and storytelling and the work he does I am ready to watch that darn show.

    Sorkin speaks so intelligently and so beautifully about our craft:

    1. dialog

      “I love the sound of dialog. It’s like music to me. David Mamet is the master of writing two people communicating who don’t know how to communicate. I like to take characters who are hyper-articulate and see what happens when you give them a silence when they can’t think of what to say.”

    2. action

      “In A Few Good Men I had Tom Cruise driving along and pull over to pick up a copy of Sports Illustrated. He pulls over, hops out, buys the magazine, and hops back in again. That’s about as active as my action scenes get.”

    3. complex character

      “Don’t confuse me with my characters. I have never in my life written autobiographical.”

      This isn’t Sorkin speaking about himself below: this is a character he created. Study how much contrast, backstory, and information he’s packed into a single line:

      ‘I’m a registered Republican—I only seem liberal because I believe hurricanes are caused by high barometric pressure and not gay marriage.’—Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy, protagonist of The Newsroom

    4. reader investment

      “In thinking about writing a show about the news, I didn’t want to invent catastrophes for my characters to cover. It finally hit me I could use recent news events. That way the audience knows more about what’s happening than the characters, and I can use that leverage.

      “The audience wants to yell at the screen, ‘I know how this is going to turn out! Pay attention!‘”

    5. conflict

      “I have people surrounding me who help me find the point of conflict in a scene: the information, be it the BP oil spill or immigrations.”

    6. theme

      “I like to show that it’s okay to be alone in a big city if you can find a workplace family.

      “And I like heroes who don’t wear disguises in the real world.

      “You think, ‘Why can’t that be the real world?'”

    7. reader sympathy

      “We connect to people who are trying. And we connect a lot to people who are failing a lot. Because that’s what we do.”

    Suddenly, I love Aaron Sorkin.

    DISCLAIMER: I’m probably misquoting him like crazy because I listened to this instead of reading it, but you can get the real quotes from the NPR interview transcript.

    2nd DISCLAIMER: When I worked in offices in the old days, maybe it was just us, but we never french-kissed on the public stairs. We took long lunch hours like civilized people.

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    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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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 four-story city block of 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.

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    —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

    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.

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    —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 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.

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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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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Recently we’ve talked about my cat, who is not a writer (or else who is, depending upon how many opposable thumbs you think it takes). Now this morning the cat is peacefully asleep on my legs, and I am sore all over from working in my garden all weekend.

    So let’s talk about writing and gardening.

    Because you’d be surprised at the similarities.

    1. Gardening is hard work

      This can be news to those of us not raised by gardeners.

      I happen to have been to be raised by farmers, who are gardeners gone mad. My grandparents and great-grandparents owned large potato farms in Southern California, to which they’d migrated from Lodi (when my grandmother told me she was born in Lodi, I said, “Oh, Grandma. Nobody was born in Lodi”), to which they’d migrated from South Dakota, to which they’re migrated from the great Russian steppes, where I have no doubt at all those people farmed potatoes.

      They were Germans. What else would they farm?

      So everywhere I lived in my childhood, I was surrounded by fields and fields of agriculture, mostly potatoes. And everyplace we moved, my parents put in a kitchen garden.

      Now I do it too.

      Which is why my husband and I have spent the last few weekends outdoors busting our heinies in the garden. We happen to have very, very heavy clay soil here, so when I say “busting,” I mean parts of our bodies were actually breaking and falling off.

      You know why I do this?

      So when I come back indoors on Monday I will be all rested up and primed for the seriously hard work:

      Writing.

    2. Gardening is about the big picture

      On my pauses between client manuscripts, I like to lean on my office windowsill and gaze down from the attic upon my garden below. My garden is very nicely-planned, because I am a past-graphic-designer and also extremely OCD. I picture it in my mind bursting with opulent green leaves and massive vegetables and the undeniable good health of a garden well-loved.

      Even though it spends a lot of its life just looking like a whole lot of dirt.

      I know, in the back of my mind, that I do this every year, that every year begins with whole a lot of dirt backed by a whole lot of optimism. Some years I get the opulence, and some years I get a bunch of scraggly dying stuff surrounded by weeds, which all but grabs me by the collar and begs me to put it out of its misery.

      At such times, I ask myself why I keep at it.

      And I answer myself, “Because this is what I do.”

    3. Gardening lies in the little details

      I always worry every spring about the tiny seedlings out there struggling through sun and wind and rain to extend their root systems and buckle down to photosynthesis and eventually maybe—just maybe—one day be the proud green parents of the fruits of their labor.

      Then I go back to my clients, who are also knocking themselves out to extend the roots of their knowledge of this craft and buckle down to producing scenes and maybe—just maybe—one day be the proud bookish parents of the fruits of their labor.

      I know all about how many complicated and even contradictory techniques a writer must master in order to result in a completed story.

      They usually don’t know.

      So I teach them. Slowly and carefully.

      I try not to burn their tender roots with too much information too fast. And I encourage them to produce scenes, while understanding that many of those scenes will not add to the finished story, but will assist in photosynthesizing the fuel for the final scenes. And I keep reminding my clients that the goal is not a whole lot of dirt—as necessary as that is for results—or even opulent leaves.

      The goal is fruit.

    4. You can’t always control the outcome

      Sadly, there are things bigger and stronger than gardeners. We call it weather. We also call it wildlife, insects, fungus, and pure bad luck.

      Part of the craft of gardening lies in learning each of these challenges and the many techniques developed by gardeners throughout the ages to meet them. And part of it lies in learning to be good sports.

      Because life is not just gardening.

      Life is being alive, whether the gardening goes well or not.

      We talk constantly here on this blog—in my books, on video, on my advice column, even on Twitter—about the zillions of techniques of writing craft designed by writers throughout the ages.

      But part of this work lies in learning to be good sports. It’s not always going to turn out the way we want.

      We’re not always going to be up to the task of realizing the visions in our imaginations. And even when we are, the rest of the publishing industry (agents, acquisitions editors, marketers, booksellers, reviewers, other bloggers, and most importantly readers) are not necessarily going to cooperate.

      And that has to be all right—life is not just writing.

      Life is being alive, whether the writing goes well or not.

    5. Gardening is only worth it if you long with all your heart to garden

      Sometimes when I guest post I hear from the readers of other blogs (never here—I don’t think anyone following this blog has any question about the meaning of the work we do) that I seem to expect an awful lot from writers, when they’re really only in the game to make big bucks with this new self-marketing gizmo about which everyone talks so much.

      “I’m only writing to finance my real love,” I hear, “competitive afghan-knitting or professional spelunking or entreprenureal self-marketing or, you know, my art.”

      And I respond with enthusiastic, heartfelt encouragement for them to do what they love.

      Writing is not a way to finance your real life.

      It’s not even usually a way to finance writing.

      In spite of JK Rowling, Stephen King, and Amanda Hocking, writing is and remains a passion. Writing is something we do not because it always bears fruit (it doesn’t) or because the big picture is a snapshot (it isn’t) or because the myriad details ever end (they don’t) or—certainly—because it’s possible to guarantee the results of our writing will turn out just the want we want (they never do). . .

      But because it’s our real love.

    Oh, people. We can’t ask for more of life than that.

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    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

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    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    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? (If you don’t, then you haven’t been paying attention for something like thirty years.)

      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

      I’ve already mentioned my cat’s 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

    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.

    Once again—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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    “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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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, tragic and 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 her three sci-fi/fantasy series based on her dual careers 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 worked on every Space Shuttle orbiter but Challenger. In Casimir Bridge, the first novel of his debut sci-fi series, Beyer uses every bit of 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, which agents had told him to throw away. Read more. . .


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

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