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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

    Remember, we’re all lost together, everywhere the same.
    —Garry Schyman, Alicia Lemke, & Matt Harding, “We’re Going to Trip the Light”

    Here’s another story for you all today about how life works and who we are.

    There’s this guy named Matt. You might know about him. He’s a perfectly ordinary American who lives in Seattle with his wife and baby. Some years ago Matt and a friend made a short video of Matt doing a bizarre little awkward dance he does, in dozens of quick moments in dozens of countries, all edited together and set to music.

    He called it Where the Hell is Matt?

    And he released it on the Internet.

    It went viral, and by the next year he was getting pretty well-known for his random global dance (he calls it “bad dancing”), and he got a sponsor. So he made another video, this one slightly more coordinated. In some places he’s dancing in front of historical monuments, and in other places he’s dancing in nowhere in particular. In Rwanda a small gang of laughing children dances with him. But he’s still mostly just dancing his heart out alone, all across the planet.

    He called it Where the Hell is Matt? 2006

    And again he released it on the Internet.

    Then something utterly extraordinary happened.

    It occurred to Matt that the small gang of laughing children in Rwanda is the whole point of his story. (You all knows about the whole point of a story, right?) So he and his crew made another video, this one set to a haunting piece of music, “Praan,” sung in Bengali by a young woman named Palbasha Siddique. In the beginning of the video there’s Matt, still dancing like a fiend all over the world, one scene after another, the sheer epitome of optimism about this great world in which we live.

    And then people start running into view around him, scene after scene, while Siddique sings. And suddenly, in a sort of primeval explosion of exuberant insanity. . .the crowds of people are dancing with him.

    One scene after another. Madagascar, San Francisco, Tokyo, Botswana, all over Europe, all over Africa, all over Asia, all over the South Pacific, with native tribal dancers of Papua New Guinea and children from every continent—there’s Matt, lost in a crowd of people dancing their hearts out in their own random awkward little global dances, all to this haunting, beautiful song. There’s a single, brilliant moment when he’s dancing with a group of women in India and he suddenly breaks character to do their choreographed dance with them.

    The result is beyond moving. Simply seeing with your own eyes the unbelievable diversity and beauty and humor and humanity we all share. . .it will make you cry.

    He called this video Where the Hell is Matt? 2008

    And my husband found it on the Internet.

    When I saw it I suddenly realized what an unprecedented force for good the Internet can be. Yes, I know it’s teeming with lowlifes and spammers and hackers and thieves. I know our shared etiquette of what’s honorable and what you just don’t do to other people has taken a massive hit through the advent of trolls.

    But, still, the open, grassroots nature of the Internet can unite us, every human being alive in this moment of coordinated (and uncoordinated) joy. Our entire species can be given to us—homo sapiens—by a handful of lunatics inspired by one person who just keeps pursuing what they love and know to be good and true.

    In 2012, Matt and his crew went beyond, again, the bounds of their last video. Again, he saw the whole point in that one, brilliant moment of dancing with the women in India. So this time, although the crowds are bigger and more enthusiastic than ever, it’s no longer just random awkward dancing.

    It’s thousands of people from all cultures all over the planet moving in choreography to music, creating beauty out of their bodies together.

    Where the Hell is Matt? 2012


    “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

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

    Because I’m a storyteller:

    1. Start innocently

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

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

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

    2. Prepare your patience

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

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

    3. Assemble your tools

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

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

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

      And it’s—um—glue.

    4. Apply force

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

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

      That one was stuck too.

    5. Take a chance

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

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

    6. Duck!

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

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


    “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

    You don’t have to floss all your teeth. Just the ones you want to keep.
    —dentists’ motto

    Ever since I began this blog in 2009, everyone in the publishing industry has been weighing in on the big question: “Do you really need to hire an independent editor? Don’t agents love you just as much without one?”

    This is complicated by the use of “editor” for three different jobs in the publishing industry: someone in charge of the writing staff of a periodical (a magazine or newspaper editor), someone who acquires manuscripts for a publisher (an acquisitions editor), and someone who, independently and freelance, works with an author to translate a manuscript from talented amateur to talented professional.

    Most folks point out that the blogosphere is absolutely ripe to bursting with amateur critiquers peddling themselves as independent “editors” without actually offering more than what you could get from a moderately-accurate grammar- and spell-checker.

    And this is an excellent thing to point out.

    Always hire a freelance independent editor with whom you feel comfortable,
    knowing exactly what you’ll get for your money.

    I don’t mean they’ve just taped Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules to their monitor, either.

    I mean:

    • They know how to read a synopsis and/or manuscript and help the author create from their original vision a concrete, smooth-moving, tension-laden plot to grip the reader from hook to climax.

    • They know how to disentangle a currently frustrating manuscript and show the author what’s redundant, what’s sagging, and where to write new scenes to move the plot powerfully forward.

    • They know how to find out what’s going wrong when a seemingly beautiful manuscript comes back time and again from agents with a “not quite” rejection letter.

    • They know how to line-edit paragraph after paragraph after paragraph of both first-draft and heavily-polished material into professional style without losing the author’s unique voice.

    • They see enough manuscripts to recognize rookie mistakes and common overuse of specific techniques.

    • They’re familiar enough with the mechanics of publishing to know what authorial tricks publishers are likely to baulk at, especially from newbies.

    • They know not to put a comma between a subject and verb, no matter how long the subject or how wispy the verb.

    • They’re also keeping a keen eye on the Gutenberg-sized shake-up of the publishing industry.

    • And they even know what’s wrong with Leonard’s 10 Rules and why.

    I mean they have glowing, enthusiastic, explicit testimonials from previous and current clients, both published and unpublished, explaining exactly what those clients like about their services, posted somewhere easily-accessible to all and sundry. (You shouldn’t have to ask. Why keep such things secret?)

    In an ideal world, there’s actually some way for you to engage them in brief conversation about their deeper understanding of the craft before you even discuss their editing services.

    I mean they know a hawk from a handsaw, people.

    If every manuscript being queried today had been through a really good (not just copy edit) professional edit first, the quality of manuscripts agents saw when they opened their inboxes tomorrow morning would jump like a kangaroo. (Just as the quality of the manuscripts publishers’ editors get from agents is—hopefully—measurably greater than what they get through direct submissions.)

    So why doesn’t everyone recommend good independent editors for all aspiring writers?

    It’s mostly confusion.

    Independent editors are on the cutting edge of the changing face of publishing. Unless you know what you’re looking for, reputable independent editors are impossible to differentiate from amateur critiquers trying to make a quick buck off the industry. There used to be very confident, definitive-sounding explanations out there written six, five, even just four years ago assertively claiming that edited manuscripts are no more attractive to publishers than unedited manuscripts.

    Well, this is silly.

    Of course well-edited manuscripts are better-written than unedited manuscripts. Even Hemingway’s manuscripts were better after Maxwell Perkins got his hands on them. Even Kerouac’s scroll manuscript was unpublishable before he and Malcolm Cowley spent a month working it over. Even publisher’s editor Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye had to be edited.

    Agents and publishers just don’t want you to think professional editing—even really good professional editing—is a guarantee of publication.

    It’s not.

    There are no guarantees.

    It’s also partly a very real sense of responsibility. Although my list of requirements for potential independent editors is reasonably exhaustive, many publishing professionals don’t know where to find such an editor on short notice, particularly one they can personally vouch for.

    And it’s also financial.

    Independent editors get paid.

    In today’s publishing industry, the burden of paying the editor very often falls on the shoulders of the writer. And so—as the number of aspiring writers continues to explode, while traditional publishing houses continue to unload anything they consider ballast in their efforts to make their cash flow as lucrative as possible—the modern aspiring writer takes on yet another chore.

    However, you know what? That’s okay. Because decades ago, the aspiring writer expected to spend years and years learning their craft before publishing.

    And now they don’t. They expect to be published within a year or two—even less than a year—after they begin learning to write. Amazingly. . .sometimes they even do!

    They have freelance independent editors to thank.


    “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

    We’re talking this month about the mechanics of the publishing industry: understanding author bios, understanding freelance independent editors, understanding agents.

    So today let’s talk about understanding writer credentials.

    There’s something very important that you should know.

    Dashiell Hammett wasn’t the world’s greatest writer. He wasn’t even the world’s greatest self-marketer. But he had something essential to success as an author:


    Hammett had been a professional private eye for the San Francisco Pinkerton Agency for years when he began writing his ground-breaking, gritty, realistic PI mysteries set in—you guessed it—San Francisco.

    The British author Ivy Compton-Burnett was one of the eldest of an enormous mixed family full of malice and intrigue. Her twin youngest sisters committed double-suicide in their locked bedroom on Christmas Day, while the rest of the family was sitting down to dinner, and are now suspected of having been lovers.

    Compton-Burnett was once told by an incredulous interviewer that real families don’t act the way they do in her fiction: secretive, back-stabbing, prone to multiple marriages and bare-faced lies and theft and suicide and even murder by neglect.

    “Oh, but they do,” she said.

    Stephen King uses a medical expert.

    So what does all of this tell us?

    Successful authors have great credentials.

    If at all possible, you should have professional experience in the subject matter of your fiction. Failing that, you must become a professional researcher and find an expert who does. Interview. Study. Read the books, watch the documentaries, analyze the reference material.

    When an agent reads an author bio that says, “I don’t have any experience in this field, but I can picture it,” I’m afraid that’s a donation to the circular file right there. However, when they read one that says, “I’m a retiring homicide detective with the Chicago PD,” for a mystery about an unsolved series of murders in Chicago’s notorious Englewood neighborhood or, “I’ve been the head of ER at the Las Vegas Valley Hospital for eight years,” for a novel about a recovering gambler turned doctor who gets embroiled in a local casino scam that implicates the head of a fictional Las Vegas ER or, “I spent two years interviewing young streetwalkers in the red-light districts of San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, and LA,” for a white slavery horror novel set in the underworld of West Coast prostitution. . .then that agent’s going to sit up and take notice.

    Even Compton-Burnett—who wrote literary novels entirely based on inner-familial warfare—could have said, “After sixty years as the matriarchal eldest sister of a mixed Victorian family of twelve, four of whom died young and all of whom bear intense hostility toward each other, I have accumulated a certain knowledge of human nature within the confines of the traditional Victorian family milieu.”

    Of course, the quality of her writing helped.

    If you’ve been on this planet long enough to learn how to write business letters to total strangers (queries), then you’ve been here long enough to accumulate complex, persuasive, and utterly intriguing data on human existence.

    So do yourself a favor.

    Use 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

    We’re going to spend this month learning to understand the players in the publishing world: freelance independent editors, agents, and writers.

    But first let’s get a little silly as we examine the whys and wherefores of an excellent author bio.

    Have you ever wondered why agents want to see an author bio paragraph in a query letter that is—as least ostensibly—supposed to be entirely about selling them on one particular book?

    They don’t want to hear about your other unpublished novels or ideas, but they do want to know whether or not you have any published books, even if they’re not the same type. They don’t want a detailed plot of this particular book, but they want hear what you do for a living if it matches your subject. They don’t even want to know the ending of your story (which they’re such sticklers about with synopses), but they want to know if you’ve won a major writing award, although it obviously didn’t lead to literary representation.


      Sterling Lord
      New York, New York

      Dear Mr. Lord:

      A hopped-up madman and a psychotic angel shift the steering trannie into neutral and roll silently backward down Hyde Street into the San Francisco dawn of 1949.

      “America is my soul,” says Sam Eden as he and the saint with God in his eyes creep out Brody’s steep San Francisco driveway toward the sunrise. Sam and Brody roll all the way to the pencil-thin heaven-piercing masts of Fisherman’s Wharf in a turgid, angel-heavy silence under the clouds, leaving Brody’s cigarette-girl wife from the alleys and red velvet backroom paradises of the International Settlement to wake to the grainy dawn between the baby in the sad sheets and the god-who-is-not in her womb. They are off to find the roads of America. Before they’re done, they’ll have met and kissed all the hobos and streetwalkers and tired seraphim turning crumpled bills into salvation on this cusp of the last mid-century before God’s throne falls with a crash to shake the ages through the blood-bellied sky.

      I am seeking representation for my literary novel, BACK ON THE ROAD, completed at 70,000 words.

      Unfortunately for you, I am a belligerent drunk and an idiot. I style myself on my hero, Jack Kerouac, whom I am certain wiped his feet on women and despised his social inferiors as much as I do. I write exactly the way he did—putting a roll of paper towels in my typewriter and letting the words just breathe out onto the page in all their original genius and life force, after which I allow no one to edit a single word. I’ve submitted this query to I don’t know how many agents, all of them complete morons who couldn’t tie their shoelaces without their mommies, and gotten it bounced back in my face faster than a speed-addict’s rubber band. You might think I’m a joker, but actually I’m just a mean son-of-a-bitch who’s been convicted of assault and battery against at least three of those agents, not counting the ones who were afraid to press charges. I feel terribly sorry for myself and am only interested in an agent I can call up at all hours and insult horribly in my frequent black-outs. If you don’t believe me, ask around.

      I keep submitting my stories to magazines, but they are staffed entirely by my unknown enemies who know I can write circles around them any day. I wouldn’t waste my time on contests, which are beneath me. Even you are beneath me. But what choice do I have? I hate you already.

      Over-professional demeanor is not one of my glaring faults.


      The author who will never get representation because now the agent knows what kind of person they’d be dealing with if they took on this project.


    “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

    Those of you who have read The Art & Craft of Fiction know that I first came to tightly-structured plot through Syd Field’s great book on scriptwriting, Screenplay.

    Field is one of the top two scriptwriting teachers in Hollywood.

    The other is Robert McKee.

    So last year I finally read Story, McKee’s canonical work on writing. I know—kind of late to the party. McKee is credited with naming and defining such essential writing techniques as the ‘inciting incident,’ ‘plot points,’ and ‘set-ups and pay-offs.’ He’s been doing this work forever, and his name is probably the best-known and most-revered among scriptwriters. It’s worth knowing what McKee has to say.

    However, I actually learned to use three-act structure for fiction from Field. When I wrote about three-act design in The Art & Craft of Fiction in 2010, structure was a dirty word in the online writing community. ‘Pantsing’ was the popular mode of creating stories. And prose structure based upon scriptwriting was considered just ridiculous. So I had mixed feelings about venturing into the piranha-infested waters of the blogosphere with what I already knew was an unpopular idea.

    I did it.

    But I was wary.

    And I got pushback. “Entirely different forms!” I was told. “Novels and scripts can’t compare to each other.” “Don’t confuse yourself by writing for the wrong audience!” With perhaps the most insidious and spectacular of bad advice: “Don’t plot. It sucks the creative juice out of your story.”

    By now we all know that this is craziness. Both forms of storytelling rely heavily upon dialog to establish and develop character while illuminating subtext; both are best shown in scenes rather than exposition*; and both need solidly-designed structure.

    I’m not sure why, but these things were either unknown or simply ignored by a lot of writing teachers in those heady days of the mass explosion of aspiring writers onto the publishing scene, when the number of people hoping to become professional writers escalated so quickly that new writing terms had to be invented: “POV,” “WIP,” “pantsing.” (Writers who have been writing since before that era even now don’t necessarily know what those terms mean—they’ve only existed since the birth of mainstream blogging and its attendant rise in aspiring authorhood.)

    Now there are plenty of books on writing that address structure. And this matters. . .because structure is the most important thing, I believe, that Robert McKee ever contributed to the teaching of our craft.

    So check him out: An Interview with Robert McKee

    * In fiction, exposition is a type of narrative summary that ‘exposes’ anything the reader can’t get from the sensory experience of a scene. In screenwriting, though, everything is set in scenes—so exposition is a term used for explanation and/or background information, which usually appears in dialog. And in playwriting, exposition refers to the second act, in which the first act is illuminated through essential backstory.


    “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

    Today, as promised, I’m going to teach you my super-secret formula for how to write a blurb.

    I taught this at a major writers conference—not because it was part of my class on genre fiction, but because I had some time on my hands the evening before and it suddenly seemed like a good idea. I looked up some movie blurbs and applied my two-sentence formula to them to create the most succinct blurbs I could. I was exhausted, and my head was full of fiction, and I liked the results.

    So I took them with me in the morning, and this is what I opened my workshop with:


    Former models Derek Zoolander and Hansel find themselves thrust back into the spotlight after living in seclusion for years. Invited to a major fashion event in Rome, the estranged friends are surprised to see how much the business has changed. Even more shocking is their encounter with Valentina Valencia, a special agent who needs their help. Someone is killing famous pop stars, and it’s up to Derek and Hansel to help save the world’s most beautiful people from a similar fate.

    When former models Zoolander and Hansel are invited to a major fashion event in Rome after years of seclusion, they find someone killing off famous pop stars. Now, special agent Valentina Valencia needs their help to save the world’s most beautiful people.


    Travis Shaw is a ladies’ man who thinks a serious relationship would cramp his easygoing lifestyle. Gabby Holland is a feisty medical student who’s preparing to settle down with her long-term boyfriend. Fate brings the two together as Gabby moves next door to Travis, sparking an irresistible attraction that upends both of their lives. As their bond grows, the unlikely couple must decide how far they’re willing to go to keep the hope of love alive.

    When feisty medical student Gabby Holland moves next door to ladies’ man Travis Shaw, the spark of irresistible attraction upends both their lives. Now, this most unlikely couple must decide how far they’re willing to go to keep the hope of love alive.


    Wade Wilson is a former Special Forces operative who now works as a mercenary. His world comes crashing down when evil scientist Ajax tortures, disfigures and transforms him into Deadpool. The rogue experiment leaves Deadpool with accelerated healing powers and a twisted sense of humor. With help from mutant allies Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, Deadpool uses his new skills to hunt down the man who nearly destroyed his life.

    When former Special Forces operative-turned-mercenary Wade Wilson is disfigured by evil scientist Ajax, he is transformed into Deadpool. Now, with accelerated healing powers and a twisted sense of humor, Deadpool must use his new skills to hunt down the man who destroyed his life.


    After four years of college, young Alice decides she needs a break from her long-term boyfriend Josh. Excited and ready for new challenges, the eager grad moves to New York to take a job as a paralegal. Helping her navigate her way through an unfamiliar city is Robin, a fun-loving, wild co-worker who enjoys partying and one-night stands. With Robin as her freewheeling guide, Alice can now learn how to get free drinks, meet men and enjoy the single lifestyle.

    When eager college grad Alice takes a break from romance to become a NY paralegal, her fun-loving, freewheeling coworker Robin guides her through a party-time of free drinks, one-night stands, and the wild single life.


    In the early 1950s, Eddie Mannix is busy at work trying to solve all the problems of the actors and filmmakers at Capitol Pictures. His latest assignments involve a disgruntled director, a singing cowboy, a beautiful swimmer and a handsome dancer. As if all this wasn’t enough, Mannix faces his biggest challenge when Baird Whitlock gets kidnapped while in costume for the swords-and-sandals epic “Hail, Caesar!” If the studio doesn’t pay $100,000, it’s the end of the line for the movie star.

    After 1950s film ‘fixer’ Eddie Mannix at Capitol Pictures is assigned to a disgruntled director, beautiful swimmer, singing cowboy, and handsome dancer, he finds himself unexpectedly handling the $100,000 kidnapping of Baird Whitlock from the set of the studio’s biggest blockbuster.


    In the 19th century, a mysterious plague turns the English countryside into a war zone. No one is safe as the dead come back to life to terrorize the land. Fate leads Elizabeth Bennet, a master of martial arts and weaponry, to join forces with Mr. Darcy, a handsome but arrogant gentleman. Elizabeth can’t stand Darcy, but respects his skills as a zombie killer. Casting aside their personal differences, they unite on the blood-soaked battlefield to save their country.

    When a mysterious plague turns 19th-century England in to a war zone, martial arts and weaponry master Elizabeth Bennet joins forces with handsome but arrogant country gentleman Mr. Darcy. Now, with contempt for Darcy but respect for his zombie-killing skills, Elizabeth must fight alongside him to save their country.


    While exploring the uncharted wilderness in 1823, legendary frontiersman Hugh Glass sustains injuries from a brutal bear attack. When his hunting team leaves him for dead, Glass must utilize his survival skills to find a way back home to his beloved family. Grief-stricken and fueled by vengeance, Glass treks through the wintry terrain to track down John Fitzgerald, the former confidant who betrayed and abandoned him.

    When legendary frontiersman Hugh Glass is injured in a brutal bear attack while exploring uncharted wilderness in 1823, he is left for dead by his best friend. Now, grief-stricken and fueled by vengeance against the confidant who betrayed and abandoned him, Glass must survive the winter terrain to return home to his family.


    Thirty years after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, the galaxy faces a new threat from the evil Kylo Ren and the First Order. When a defector named Finn crash-lands on a desert planet, he meets Rey, a tough scavenger whose droid contains a top-secret map. Together, the young duo joins forces with Han Solo to make sure the Resistance receives the intelligence concerning the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker, the last of the Jedi Knights.

    Thirty years after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, young Finn, defector from the evil First Order, crash-lands on a desert planet, where tough scavenger Rey has just bought a new droid carrying a top-secret map. Now, under the guidance of legendary Han Solo and before the First Order tracks them down, Finn and Rey must smuggle the droid to the Resistance to find Luke Skywalker, the last of the Jedi Knights.

    Yes, this last one is a bit longer than the others. That’s because the backstory is what sells it. Without Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, this would just be one more space opera like any other. We need to work them in there.

    So what’s my super-secret formula?


    When [identity] [protagonist name] [does something], [something happens]. Now, with [time limit/restrictions], [protagonist] must [do something brave] to [accomplish great achievement]/ or [sacrifice high stakes].


    “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

    This is a warning post. I’ve been talking about the San Francisco Writers Conference, where I recently taught “Make Your Genre Fiction Irresistible.” I had the time of my life there meeting scores of wonderful editors and writers. Wow. Thank you again, Michael Larsen and Elizabeth Pomada, for inviting me!

    This is about “Fair Use.”

    I happened to be asked at SFWC about quoting other writers without permission.

    I explained that the current thinking that “Fair Use” gives you permission to quote others without their permission is a fallacy.

    It’s not based upon what’s right or even what’s entirely legal. It’s based upon lawyers’ personal issues, which are generally invisible to writers:

    • Lawyers have no particular investment in preventing copyright lawsuits

      A lawsuit can be incredibly costly for the writer, but quite lucrative for the lawyers. This is why the lawyers who advise writers to abuse Fair Use are so incredibly careful never to say, “It’s legal.” They can only say, “My opinion is that it’s legal.” Only a lawsuit will determine the actual legality.

      And a lawyer will do exactly what you ask them to do—if you ask a lawyer, “Can you defend me in court over bending the law to violate someone else’s copyright?” the lawyer will say, “I’ll do the best I can. Fair Use is in hot debate right now, so push it to the limit. Why not?”

      There are reasons why not. Some are about staying out of court. Others are about having morals.

    • Lawyers must by nature be comfortable with being morally wrong

      At least the lawyers are who advise their clients to risk lawsuits.

      Pretty much all lawyers work at some time on cases in which they know their client is morally wrong. It’s part of the job.

    • MOST IMPORTANTLY: Lawyers have absolutely no insight into the world of networks between writers

      Networking is incredibly valuable to writers and their careers. Networks are built upon trust and respect. Trust and respect are completely trashed when one writer deliberately abuses the creativity of another.

    • Besides, it’s just the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Easy math!

      • Imagine if someone tried to use your own hard-earned words without permission, and you didn’t want them to

        It doesn’t matter why you didn’t want them to. The fact is, they’re your hard-earned words. So you get to choose.

        And it doesn’t matter whether or not a lawyer could win a copyright lawsuit in favor of the offending writer. Nobody knows the outcome of a lawsuit until it’s all over, and in the meantime lots of money has been handed over to the lawyers, while the offending writer has done something incredibly toxic to their career: irreversibly offended a writer they need.

        You would never do that person a favor again. And, believe me, there is every possibility that you would be in a position at some point in your careers in which they needed another favor from you.

        Also: writers talk. I know you already know this. The reputation of the offending writer among all the writers you know would be instantly mud. Just think for a minute about the ripple effect from their one act of hostility toward you.

        That’s permanent.

      • Alternately, someone might take the opportunity of asking permission to strike up a relationship with you

        It should go without saying that they probably wouldn’t want to quote you unless you were a writer they admired.

        By taking this opportunity to show you trust and respect, they could earn all kinds of goodwill from you—even lifelong personal friendship! It’s happened to me, when I took the opportunity to reach out to writers I deeply admire. And I have close friends in high places to show for it now.

        Certainly, some of the most famous friendships between writers in history have sprung out of the most basic act of kindness. But never out of an act of hostility. (Except the time Dylan Thomas got in a fist fight with a little boy in school and wound up friends with him. But that other boy wasn’t a writer.)

        TIP: Don’t count on schoolyard bullying to help your adult career.

    Now, I have dealt with people trying to use my work without permission more than once since I’ve become an author and blogger. In every single instance, the person claiming Fair Use was unable to claim (much less prove) that they were legally (much less morally) in the right—only that they “believed” they were—so they were forced to Cease and Desist. Yes, they absolutely were. This includes an extremely well-known lawyer in the online writing community.

    So you’ll want to remember this whenever you hear the advice that Fair Use allows you to violate the Golden Rule.

    Remember what your parents and grandparents taught you: Never take without asking.

    It seems kind of obvious when you look at it in terms of morality, doesn’t it?

    Just ask.


    “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

    This week I’m answered questions on my advice column about authorial control, transitions, exposition and how to tell a really good joke.

    Please feel free to hop on over and join me!


    “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

    Wowza, did I have a fabulous time at the 2016 San Francisco Writers Conference!

    That was one busy weekend.

    The photos here do not do it justice, I know, but I was in too much of a whirl to make time for posterity.

    I arrived Friday (two days late, as I’d stayed home to be house manager for my son’s high school improv show) and went straight to work doing 8-minute Independent Editor Consults with a constant stream of wonderful writers all afternoon.

    I had my own little round table with a white tablecloth, my name on a sign, and a handful of candy. I ate all the chocolate quickly so that it would not interfere with my editing. classI took a break mid-afternoon to run upstairs and teach what SFWC calls a short ‘breakout’ of my Monday workshop: “The 3 Secrets for Making Genre Fiction Irresistible.”

    The room was absolutely packed—writers on the floor against the walls with their computers in their laps and even sitting behind me where I stood at the podium. Such excitement!

    I don’t remember much about this, except that I answered questions with such enthusiasm that the volunteers in charge felt bad making me stop.

    Then I was back downstairs meeting with more writers.

    So many stories! So many ideas! So many beautiful, heartfelt writers coming forward with the light of hope in their eyes!

    I also got to spend some time between consults getting to know my fellow editors, a lovely bunch whom I had met briefly at a luncheon last autumn. There were about eight of us in a room, supervised by editor Mary Knippel. The decibel level when we were all talking at once was impressive.

    I went to the Gala Event Saturday night, at which presenters were expected to mingle with attendees. We got free drinks to mingle. I abused the privilege. I met more wonderful writers!

    Saturday morning I was back at my little white table with my name on a sign. More chocolate to tidy up. I spent all day Saturday in eight-minute consults, meeting writer after writer, hearing story after story, helping design one climactic nightmare after another. It was great! The chocolate probably didn’t hurt either. class.croppedI took a break mid-afternoon to run upstairs again and appear on a panel of independent editors explaining how to find and work with the right indie editor. I got to hang out with more fellow editors. It was marvy.

    Then I was back downstairs meeting with more writers.

    So much light, so much fiction, so much hope!

    We editors got punchy late in the afternoon, when someone began playing opera on his cell phone. It was suggested that we all get up on our little white tables and dance, and we almost did.

    Also—and this is huge—Saturday I got to have lunch with my long-term editing client, Eli Potter. Eli is actually responsible for getting me involved with SFWC, as she sent me email while she was there last year, which is what inspired me to contact Mike Larsen, the literary agent who organizes SFWC every year.

    Eli and I had such a terrific time meeting in person for the first time in our three-year friendship! (And you should have seen the chocolate dessert.)

    Saturday night I was just plain tuckered, but I did go to the Presenters-Only Party at the Hospitality Suite somewhere upstairs. I had been warned by my fellow editors that it would be crowded and noisy, and it certainly was. I met some very young, charming young NY agents as well as the rep from Writer’s Digest, who had been sent by his boss, Chuck Sambuchino, with whom I happened to be in talks at that moment over my articles for the 2017 Children’s & Illustrator’s Market. I sent Chuck my salutations.

    Then I appeared on a panel Saturday night 9:00-11:00 (I know!), critiquing first pages. I sat with several very nice agents and an author, moderated by Sorche Fairbanks, listening to innocent writers read aloud their first pages so that we could tell them what was wrong with them. I was absolutely humbled by the courage in that room. At the end I had a coughing fit, neatly drawing all attention to myself so that the writers could feel slightly less exposed.

    Sunday I lay on my bed in my hotel room all day pulling myself together.

    And Monday morning I got up bright and early to teach my 3-hour workshop, “The 3 Secrets for Making Genre Fiction Irresistible.”

    That was the capper on the whole affair—three fantastic hours first teaching my secrets and then walking each writer in the room through their own story in order to identify the strongest possible climactic nightmare for their protagonist. I was lucky to get through every single writer. The volunteers who had come to hear me speak kindly offered to skip their turns so that I could focus on the paid attendees. We all had a tremendous time!

    And that was it.

    It was over.

    I immediately drove my son to San Francisco Airport and flew to the Pacific Northwest for a week.

    However, the SFWC lives on in my heart. And in gratitude to SFWC organizers Mike Larsen and Elizabeth Pomada and all the incredible writers who attended and those could not attend, next week I’ll teach you all how to write a blurb—just as I did at the beginning of my workshop that amazing Monday morning.


    “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


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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.