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Write to the End, Dragon Writers, Shut Up and Write, and other writing groups.

Play on Words San Jose

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Play on Words is a great event which features short fiction performed by actors in front of a live audience. I’ve attended a couple of them since several of my fellows in Thinking Ink Press and the Write to the End group got their works performed at Play on Words.

Wednesday night, the Play on Words troupe performed short fiction by Keiko O’Leary, Betsy Miller and Marilyn Horn-Fahey; if you have a time machine, set the wayback to 7pm at Cafe Stritch (which incidentally has great jambalaya!), or, if your navigation circuit’s knackered, check out the live stream provided courtesy of South Bay Pulse magazine.

If you don’t have a time machine, there’s always YouTube! Find the link here.

And check it out! Next one is about three months out.

-the Centaur

How to Be a Better Writer (the Short Version)

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Recently a colleague asked me if I had any advice on being a better writer. I thought I’d posted about that, but it appears that I hadn’t, so I tried writing up my thoughts. That was too much, so I summarized. That was too much, so I summarized it AGAIN. And then it was short enough to share with you:

The super short version is to be a better writer, just write!

I often recommend morning pages - writing three pages about random topics at the start of your day, even "bla bla bla" if you have to - you'll get tired of writing “bla bla bla" quickly, and this will help cure you of the feeling you need to wait for your muse.

This advice comes from the book The Artist's Way, which is a great course to take; I also recommend Strunk and White's The Elements of Style and Brooks Landon's Building Great Sentences on grammar and style, Ayn Rand's The Art of Fiction and The Art of Nonfiction on writing and structure, and The Elements of Editing and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers on editing.

I also recommend that you read a lot more than you write, especially writing of the kind you want to emulate; take a look at it and see what makes it tick.

For fiction and other similar writing I recommend finding a writing group first, not a critique group; there are several good ones in the Bay Area including Write to the End and Shut Up and Write.

For the kind of internal communications you're talking about, you might try looking at marketing and documentation literature or the great writers internally that you admire - also popular writers, technical and nontechnical, in the computer field.

As for blogging, my recommendation is to just blog - try to do it regularly, at least once a week or so, about whatever comes to your mind, so that you create both a growing store of content - and again, a habit that helps you just write.


I’ll try to expand on these recommendations, but if I had to boil it down even further, I’d say: just write!

-the Centaur


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Hoisted from the archives … it was National Novel Writing Month 2013, and I was at the Write to the End writing group in IHOP and should have been writing on my book MAROONED, but I was very near my goal for the month, I had an idea, and was depressed about various feedback I'd gotten from work and life and editors and AAARGH! so I wrote this anyway.

SO anyway, IHOP. The Write to the End writing group normally meets in the side room, but not that night, and it’s because another group was meeting there. Presumably, they paid for that. Which is sad, because as a volunteer drop-in group we can’t pay for rooms. Nonetheless, IHOP feels like home moreso than most places we have met, even though it isn’t a coffeehouse and doesn’t have an attached bookstore. But I’ve learned, from the writing group, not to assume anything is permanent.

Write to the End has met in places that should have lasted forever, but didn't. Maybe we should have expected the small indie coffeshop Snake and Butterfly to dial back their hours (since they opened later as an experiment, for us), but who’d expect that Mission Coffee would come to an end? It was up the street from a college. People came in there all the time. But the signs were there, literally: walls and walls of pictures of a live music group that no longer met on the night we wrote.

But why should it be this way? We once met at Barnes and Noble, which was in the Bay Area before I came out here, which outlasted Borders, which might be out here after I leave (here’s hoping I don’t). Why couldn't we have been meeting at Café Borrone, which was running long before I came out to the Bay the first time, when I fell in love with writing in quirky coffeehouses?

But things change. Who could predict that physical books themselves might implode? If the bookstore next to Café Borrone, Kepler’s, disappears, so might Café Borrone. That’s why Barnes and Noble didn’t let us keep meeting there: B&N's business model changed, and they needed fewer community programs and more space for toys.

Even coffeehouses might end. Coffee could be made illegal. Alcohol was once. Seriously. Some people think that coffee is simply a drug with no stimulus benefits—the buzz you get off coffee is just withdrawal relief, and coffee has all sorts of health problems. I’m not sure the epidemiology supports that, but the researchers are out there that think that in all seriousness.

Perhaps there will be a new Prohibition. Maybe one day our grandchildren will look back on this and say, oh, how terrible it was that, during the Health Pogroms, coffee was outlawed for ten years. "Of course, we have coffee back now, but think of all the old historic coffeehouses were destroyed." Or even if coffee is not outlawed, we could have a Nazi takeover or a Soviet revolution or a Cultural Revolution that wipes out all of these types of meeting places.

So there are no firm places to stand.

But in Japan, there’s a hotel that’s been running for something like 1500 years — 400 generations in the same family. I know it’s a small bed and breakfast like hotel, but there are taverns in England that have stood since the 1500s. Think of it: we could have been meeting there, for the last two hundred years.

And that gives me hope, that we’re writing in the first two hundred years of the Write to the End group.


Thinking Ink Press Instant Books at the Arsenal

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It's amazing how things come together! Several of the Instant Books created by Thinking Ink Press, the small press of which I'm a part, are now on display as part of the local book section of the Arsenal artist-owned art store in San Jose!

One of the great things about Instant Books is that they seem to be opening new doors. I really enjoy working with traditional publishers and editors like Debra Dixon at Bell Bridge Books, and all my novels are published that way, but working with the writers and artists at the Write to the End group has really opened my eyes to the physical joy of handmade books.

Sure, I've done a couple printed chapbooks for my own amusement, but author and paper artist Keiko O'Leary introduced us to this folded format. Fellow flash fiction author Betsy Miller and I started thinking about the stories we had that fit the format. Writer and editor Liza Olmsted helped us prepare them for publication. Keiko, my wife Sandi, and I provided the art. And creative barrier-buster Nathan Vargas gave us important feedback that helped us push the project home - telling us how the prototype books had an awesome feel, like "snack books" that you can read in a single sitting but still get the feel of reading a traditional book.

Except on much, much nicer paper. It matters. It really matters.

My two titles are the flash fiction collection "Jagged Fragments" and the steampunk chapbook "Jeremiah Willstone and the Sorting of the Secret Post", and Betsy has the flash short "Bees.

So drop in on the Arsenal and check them out, or stay tuned to Thinking Ink Press for more awesome books!


North, South, East, West … and Wonder

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Has it only been 3 days? Since 1:37AM on Friday morning and now, I've written about 10,000 words. And I'm hoping to get 1,000 to 2,000 more words done tonight - ideally, 3,300 which will put me up to date on Camp Nanowrimo, so I can start to RELAX at last. But it's left me a bit loopy, especially with static at work and from neighbors and with my wife's art show coming up rapidly.

Oh hey, a quick aside on that:


You all should go to the Color Me Free show by my wife Sandi Billingsley, which starts this Friday at Kaleid Gallery in downtown San Jose - opening reception from 7 to 11, this Friday, May 1st.

Okay, back to procrastinating on these three thousand words. That looniness has been very, very creative! The story is really fleshing itself out in strange and unexpected ways. I quote a discussion with a fellow writer who's helping me research the science of the magic of the faery kingdom. Looking it over … hmm … seems pretty spoiler-free. So here is what I told her:

I discovered something about the fae in the Dakota Frost universe which I totally think you will appreciate because you also design faerie worlds. I can explain to you more the next time I see you on Tuesday [at the Write to the End group], but I figured out where they're from, why they left, how they got here, why they're so weird about names and fates and everything, and even why faerie is strange and pathless!

Ok, the last one I got from that crocheting book [Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes]: faerie has hyperbolic geometry ... and hyperbolic geometry cannot be contained in normal three dimensional space. It's like having a map with north, south, east, west and one more direction - the map folds up, wrinkles up like those crocheted hyperbolic planes - and the worst part will be the boundary of the human and faerie worlds, where, forced into a place where it won't fit, it ultimately wrinkles over and starts crossing over itself! Neat, eh?

Well, at least I think it's neat. Faerie has five cardinal directions: North, South, East, West … and Wonder! How inspirational! Onward! Only … a whole normal day's writing ahead of me. Aaa!

Still … onward, into wonder!

-the Centaur

The DOORWAY opens at last…

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At long last, DOORWAYS TO EXTRA TIME is released! (Well, tomorrow morning, anyway):

In our busy world of meetings and microwaves, car radios and cellphones, people always wish they could get an extra hour in the day. But what if they could? Doorways to Extra Time is an anthology that explores ways to get extra time (be it an hour, a day, or a decade) and the impact it would have--whether upon a single life, a family or an entire world.

I'm very proud of this anthology and all the great stories and authors: the proactive Erica Cameron, the across-the-pond Martin Feekins, lil ol me, pastcracker L.M. Graham, timekeeper R.E. Gofstein, catwizard Melina Gunnett, the learned Walter H. Hunt, my friend Betsy Miller, Susan "In the nick of time" Mittmann, timemaster Brenda Moguez, mysterian Jenny Moore, demonkeeper Ira Nayman, time twister Errick A. Nunnally, the estimable Jody Lynn Nye, the not-photoshopped Kate Saturday, my other good friend Gayle Schultz, Rich "The Closer" Storrs, gameplayer Keshia Swaim, not-for-sale Aimee Weinstein, and my coeditor and friend Trisha J. Wooldridge … whew!

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Trisha, my coeditor, commissioned the above awesome piece of stained glass from Renee Goodwin at Stained Glass Creations and Beyond … isn't it beautiful? We'll be raffling it off at the DOORWAYS release party, Sunday, September 1 at 1pm at Ray's in the City in Atlanta … just up the road from the Hyatt, one of the main hotels of Dragon Con!

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After Dragon Con, we're having a panel reading by our Bay Area authors at Books Inc in Mountain View:


I'm sure there will be more events, giveaways, and so forth in the coming weeks and months. Like or share our Facebook and Google+ pages for more information, or just go to Amazon and get a copy.

Phew. 2 years of work, and 2 minutes to the cafe closes. So … enjoy!

-the Centaur

The Doorway opens wider

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The proof copy of DOORWAYS TO EXTRA TIME has arrived. I will be reviewing it on the plane and, God willing, we'll have it in time for the premiere at Dragon Con.


I almost didn't get this. By an odd coincidence, I was heading to the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, one of the Dragon Con hotels, right when the proof arrived at the publisher, so they sent it to the hotel, hoping that I could review it over the weekend.


I got off the red eye, scouted locations for LIQUID FIRE, HEX CODE and another Edgeworld project, then checked in to the hotel. No book. I went to the rehearsal dinner. No book. The next day came and went, a good friend got married, but still, no book.


Even when I checked out Sunday, still, no book. I and my friends had a great time at the post wedding brunch, visited the Georgia Aquarium, and ate an awesome meal at Legal Seafood, and then started ferrying friends to the airport ... then a friend suggested I call the hotel.


The proof had been accidentally sent to hotel security.

So at the last minute, I swung by, hung out with the concierge until the guard showed up, then showed my ID to security. Moments later, DOORWAYS was in my hands.

Sometimes, it all works out.


Time to check out the DOORWAYS and make sure they're safe to open. Wish me luck!

-the Centaur

Moving on and turning back

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Well, DOORWAYS TO EXTRA TIME is on its way to the printers. Now it's time for me to move on to new projects, and to turn back to old ones. I'm still planning out a large new unannounced project (some of the information for which you see piled above) but my primary focus is going to be LIQUID FIRE.

The Waiting Game

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Sitting in the Stanford Bookstore Cafe, working on LIQUID FIRE while I wait on the last possible round of edits on DOORWAYS TO EXTRA TIME before we have to send it to the printer.

-the Centaur

I can’t afford to be embarrassed

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I'm a published urban fantasy author with two novels on the shelves, one of which, FROST MOON, won an award. I have two more novels in the can and I've just finished coediting an anthology with twenty stories based on an idea I proposed. I've read extensively on writing theory and even have written a few articles on the subject.

So what am I doing with a copy of WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES?

Doing whatever I can to get better at what I do, that's what.

Once a friend saw the huge stack of theory-of-fiction books in my Library, one of which is "Novel Writing for Complete Morons" or some title a lot like that, and he remarked "wow, it's probably been a long time since you had to look at that one." Well, that happened to be true, but not because I read the book, then wrote some novels, and then grew beyond it.

The truth is, I'd already written one novel - and chunks of six or seven others - when I got "Novel Writing for Complete Morons." Heck, I may have already written FROST MOON at that point. But I'm a book hound, and I look at everything. I came across the book, probably at a bargain bin. And I saw a chapter I can use. So I bought it.

I actually love reading overviews. I can dive deep into a technical book, but sometimes it's only stepping back and summarizing the text - either by reading a summary, or writing one yourself - that enables you to hang the details upon a coherent whole. Even when the overview isn't interesting, sometimes the book itself has details you simply can't find elsewhere.

In the case of WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES, I saw it in a bargain bin, flipped through it - and found a section in a chapter on editing scenes, a task I'd just been struggling with on my third Dakota Frost novel, LIQUID FIRE. So I bought it, and tonight read a few chunks, some of which are good for structuring scenes, others of which were helpful in overall novel structure.

Some of that information is review; other parts are completely new. It doesn't matter. It helped me move forward.

Creative expression is driven by ego, but it's stifled by snobbery. Don't get embarrassed by what you need to do to improve. If you were trying to climb out of a pit, would you hold your hand back from a rung that was candy colored and clearly intended for children? No. As long as the rung is solid, you grab it and pull yourself up.

Anything else is just hurting yourself in an effort to look good.

-the Centaur

Pictured: WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES, atop THE POETICS OF THE MIND'S EYE by Christopher Collins, a study of visual imagination in literature and cognitive science. See how hard it is to be honest with yourself and do what needs doing? Here I had to bring along a technical book I'm reading and use it to prop up the For Dummies book in an absurd attempt at credentialing.

No, I'm sorry, ladies and gentlemen: I may have happened to have picked up THE POETICS OF THE MIND'S EYE at about the same time as WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES, and I may have had it in my reading pile because I was evaluating whether to recommend it to a friend who works in the field of visual imagination, but the one has little to do with the other.

I, a published author, picked up WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES, and it had useful information for a problem I was trying to solve. Don't be embarrassed about things like that: do whatever you have to to help yourself get better. End of list.