Writing Excuses 9.45: Tools for Writing from Oral Storytelling

M. Todd Gallowglas is a writer and a storyteller who has spent years doing traditional oral storytelling at renaissance fairs. He joined us at FantasyCon/Westercon 67 before a live audience and talked to us about how this tradition has informed his writing, and how these principles can inform our writing as well. He also schools us (okay, mostly Howard) about how these principles should be informing parts of our podcast.

via Writing Excuses 9.45: Tools for Writing from Oral Storytelling » Writing Excuses.

Debut Author Lessons: Mini lesson on leveling up

This entry is part 19 of 19 in the series Debut Author Lessons

Sometimes I think it’s useful for early career writers to see the things that might  happen to your brain later. I just got an email from my editor that Shades of Milk and Honey is going into its 7th printing.


Between all the US editions so far, we’ve netted 23,793 copies. That’s not counting the UK or foreign language editions.

Now… to me, that seems like a staggering amount of people to have read my book. But, to put that in perspective: Wise Man’s Fear sold more in the first week. At the same time, other writers will look at my 23k and be jealous because they haven’t sold as many copies. This is the tricky thing about being an author. You are constantly measuring yourself against other writers, which isn’t useful. Books are very, very different beasts and you can rarely do direct comparisons.

So on the one hand, I’m looking at seventh edition and feeling like OMG! I’m a real writer now, and also knowing exactly how that stacks up compared to a NY Times best seller.

The point of all of this is that, as you go forward you have to define your own sense of success.

For me? Seven printings is a very nice place to be.

But so was selling a single book.

And so was selling a single story.

And so was just finishing a story.

Those success points are going to change over time, and they should. That’s how you level up as a writer. It’s why imposter syndrome happens, because you attain success and immediately set another goal. When you stop having imposter syndrome. When you stop thinking of ways in which you can improve, that’s when you need to worry.

Meanwhile, enjoy the highs of attaining a goal and then set the next one.

My Favorite Bit: Shallee McArthur talks about THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE

My Favorite Bit iconShallee McArthur is joining us today with her novel The Unhappening of Genesis Lee. Here’s the publisher’s description.

What would it feel like to never forget? Or to have a memory stolen?

Seventeen-year-old Genesis Lee has never forgotten anything. As one of the Mementi–a small group of genetically enhanced humans–Gena remembers everything with the help of her Link bracelets, which preserve memories perfectly. But Links can be stolen, and six people have already lost their lives to a memory thief, including Gena’s best friend.

Anyone could be next. That’s why Gena is less than pleased to meet a strange but charming boy named Kalan who claims not only that they have met before, but that Gena knows who the thief is.

The problem is, Gena doesn’t remember Kalan, she doesn’t remember seeing the thief, and she doesn’t know why she’s forgetting things–or how much else she might forget. As growing tensions between Mementi and ordinary humans drive the city of Havendale into chaos, Gena and Kalan team up to search for the thief. And as Gena loses more memories, they realize they have to solve the mystery fast…because Gena’s life is unhappening around her.

What’s Shallee’s favorite bit?

Unhappening-1b-UPDATE2-FINAL copy


I am afraid of forgetting.

The first time I realized it, I sat on a semi-secluded patch of grass on my college campus, crying to my mom over the phone. Six weeks prior, I had returned from an incredible experience—four months living and teaching in Ghana, West Africa. But now I was home, back to everything like it had never happened. I whispered to my mom through the phone,

“What if I forget?”

I knew I wouldn’t forget the experience as a whole. It was one of those things we say is “unforgettable,” but that’s only true to an extent. Already, I was learning that details fade, and I clung to them desperately, dreaming and daydreaming of them. I tried to hold on to the exact color of a Harmattan sky clouded by dust blowing down from the Sahara, and the precise places where the boards under my mattress pressed into my back at night, and the sound of tiny Benjie’s voice saying, “B is for Benjie!”

Forgetting these things felt like it would make the entire four months unhappen.

It was six years before I wrote The Unhappening of Genesis Lee—the story of a girl who never forgot any tiny detail, until her externally-stored memories started getting stolen. Through this book, I was able to confront my own fear of forgetting.

I got to explore something else, too, and this is my favorite bit. When you forget something, it doesn’t mean that thing is truly gone. A memory is more than a picture playing in your mind of a past event. It’s also the internal change the event created inside you. You became you through these moments, even if you don’t remember every detail of them.

So how does it feel to still be that you…but to have absolutely no memory of the moments and choices and people who made you who you are?

That’s what I got to play with. That’s the fear I got to confront. And that is my favorite bit about the whole book.



Buy the Book





Shallee McArthur originally wanted to be a scientist, until she discovered she liked her science best in fictional form. When she’s not writing young adult science fiction and fantasy, she’s attempting to raise her son and daughter as proper geeks. A little part of her heart is devoted to Africa after volunteering twice in Ghana. She has a degree in English from Brigham Young University and lives in Utah with her husband and two children.

And because people always ask, her name is pronounced “shuh-LEE.” But she answers to anything that sounds remotely close.

In DC and posted chapter 2 of GHOST TALKERS


I have safely arrived in Washington DC where I will be the Toastmaster for the 40th World Fantasy Awards. I took the train because I could. It is, by far, my favorite way to travel and I get SO much work done en route. (Yes, I know about the Amtrak residency and yes I applied.) I wrote 5177 words on the way here.

Which means… I finished a chapter and thus get to post something for those of you reading along. So, if you’re reading GHOST TALKERS, Chapter two is up. Same password as the first chapter.

It’s actually weirdly fortuitous, because the theme of WFC this year is WWI and Ghost Talkers is set during the Battle of the Somme. I brought a bunch of reference books with me. On a panel this weekend? Ask me. I probably have a book you want to look at.

GHOST TALKERS and my annual NaNoWriMo call for beta readers

It’s that time of year, when I once again participate in NaNoWriMo. For those of you who don’t know this, I’ve written all of my novels either during NaNo or using the NaNoWriMo model in another month.

This year, I’m writing Ghost Talkers, which is coming out from Tor in winter 2015. I like having people read along as I go. Think of it like running clinical trials on a new drug. I’m testing to see if the story is producing the effect on my readers that I want it to. As such, I like having beta-readers who report their symptoms as they go along. Specifically:

  • Awesome! (Important, so I don’t ‘fix’ it accidentally)
  • Bored
  • Confused
  • Disbelief

That’s all I need, a report of your symptoms. You don’t have to try to diagnose the problem or provide a prescription to fix it. Just tell me how the story is playing.

Here’s the teaser of the first chapter.

16 July 1916

“The Germans were flanking us at Delville Wood when I died.”

Ginger Stuyvesant had a dim awareness of her body repeating the soldier’s words to the team’s stenographer. She tried to hold that awareness at bay, along with the rest of the warehouse. She ached with fatigue, even with a full circle supporting her, and that would pull her back into her body before her shift was finished. It wouldn’t be fair to force Helen to assume control of the circle early. The other medium was just as exhausted. Around her, the currents of the spirit world swirled in slow spirals. Past events brushed her in eddies of remembrance. Caught in those memories, scent and color floated with thick emotion. The Battle of the Somme had kept the entire Spirit Corps working extra shifts trying to take reports from the dead, and the air was frigid with souls.

The young soldier in front of her had been with the 9th Scottish Division, 26th Brigade, the Black Watch. Pte. Graham Quigley technically still was until his unfinished business was completed and he could cross beyond the Veil. Belatedly, Ginger realized what he’d said. “So you could see the Germans? You know their positions?”

His aura rippled black with remembered pain, but a flash of amber satisfaction shot through it. “Oh, ma’am. Don’t I just. The shell that got me made it clear as all that I’d not live through the day, so I had the boys prop me up.” Quigley grinned. “I saw the Huns set their guns up, not fifteen feet from where I lay bleeding.”

“When did you die? The time. Did you see the time?”

“11:47.” His spirit winked at her. “I had one of the blokes hang up my watch so I could see the time. Remembered my training, I did.”

Want to read along? Just fill out this form.


Ginger Stuyvesant and the Case of the Haunted Nursery

This originally appeared in Talebones Magazine in 2009.
A liveried manservant waited by the front stairs of Fairbairn Hall as if he expected to take the reins of a horse. Ginger stopped her roadster next to him, shaking her head. These Brits had such queer, old-fashioned ideas.

She hopped out of her car, tossing her cloche on the front seat. With any luck, the hat had controlled the worst of the damage to her hair on the drive up from London.

The front door of the manor house flung open. In a flurry of crepe chiffon, Lucy Rhodes hurried down the stairs. “Ginger, darling! Thank heavens you’ve come.” Even in the daylight, circles of fear rippled through her aura.

Ginger eyed her friend, trying to ascertain the cause of her unease. Flashes of blue made her think of Lucy’s son. “Is Eddie well?”

Glancing at the manservant, Lucy smiled prettily, but her aura grew more jagged. “Eddie? Or course. Lovely day for a drive.”

Ginger let Lucy change the subject and followed her up the grand stairs into the manor. Chattering about nothing, Lucy showed her to a splendidly furnished bedroom in the north wing. Heavy walnut furniture gave the room a weight which was balanced by rich green brocade curtains and bed linens.

As soon as the door shut on the hallway, Ginger said, “Now. Tell me. What is bothering you?”

Lucy stood with her back to Ginger, with her hand still on the doorknob. Her shoulders slumped. “I’m afraid I’ve invited you on false pretenses.” She turned, aura circling in a confusion of hope and fear. “It’s Eddie–I think the nursery is haunted.” Continue reading ›

When reporting harassment, you are not the problem.

Some time ago, and I’ve waited to post this so it was far in the past, I was on the safety committee of an event. We stated the policy in the opening session and identified the safety officers. After the event, which went off with no reported problems, we sent a follow-up survey asking if there were any problems that people didn’t feel comfortable reporting at the time.

There had been.

In response, one of the women said she hadn’t reported because, “I didn’t want to be remembered as the girl who had a problem.” So she dealt with it herself.

But here’s the thing. She wasn’t “the girl who had a problem.” She was the woman who stopped a problem. Someone else caused a problem.

One of the things that is so difficult about changing the environment that we live and work in is that we are taught not to rock the boat and to prioritize other people over our own safety and comfort. Let me be very clear, that when you report harassment, you are not the one rocking the boat. I applaud people who take the initiative to deal with matters on their own, while at the same time railing against a society that makes us want to avoid making things awkward.

But… when dealing with someone who has predatory or problematic behavior, you’re never the only victim.

Later, we received two more reports that there was a problem attendee. None of them had wanted to rock the boat.

Please, please know that when you report harassment, you are not the problem. You are brave and wonderful and never, ever the problem. There are some people who will dismiss your concerns, who will claim that it isn’t really harassment but they are wrong. You are not the problem.

The problem is with a society that trains us that we aren’t allowed to object. Harassers harass because they can get away with it. They are savvy and choose their targets carefully, aiming for people that can’t fight back. You will not have been their only victim.

So when you can fight back by reporting? Please do.

And when you can’t, also know that staying quiet and safe doesn’t mean that you are a coward. It does mean that we have a totally screwed up society. But you, you, are not the problem.

Valour and Vanity is a 2014 Nominee for the Voice Arts Award!

VAA_Logo_wTrophy2The Society of Voice Arts & Sciences has announced the nominees for its first annual Voice Arts Awards, and I’m both honored and excited  that my performance in Valour and Vanity has been nominated! The awards recognize achievement in voice-over acting and related roles, and they were established to help raise global awareness of what it takes to succeed in the industry and set the tone for voice-over professionals to follow.

Here’s my category and the other nominees


  • Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan (Penguin Random House Audio), Producer: Dan Zitt
  • Living On Air by Joe Cipriano, Director: Marice Tobias | Original Music: Greg Chun | Sound Design: AJ McKay
  • Lying by Sam Harris (Audible, Inc.)
  • Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal (Audible, Inc.)

You can see the full list of 2014 Nominees.

Bad Writing Advice explained

There’s a bunch of aphorisms about writing that started as good, pithy advice in part of someone’s lecture. Then they got pulled out of context and then misapplied.

Write what you know

  • What people think it means: People think this means that authors should stick to subjects they have personal experience with.
  • What it actually means: When you don’t know a subject, such as what it’s like to live on Mars, you extrapolate from your own personal experience. Never lived on Mars? No. But I have walked in a dusty place and seen the clouds of dust kick up around me. I’ve worn thick winter gloves, and know how hard it is to pick things up. I’ve been far away, without the ability to call home. When I combine what I know, with research, writing what I know can make a story more compelling.

Show, don’t tell

  • What people think it means: People think that it means that you have to write every single moment of the story in excruciating detail.
  • What it actually means: It mostly applies to your character’s internal life, emotions and physical sensations. “He felt angry because the man kept talking. He thought about stabbing him, but upon consideration, thought that would be messy,” reports on your character’s state instead of allowing the reader to experience it along with him. This has the effect of distancing the reader from the character.

    “His jaw ached as he ground his teeth together. That asshole would never stop bragging. Joe slid a hand down to his knife and gripped it. Later. He could use it later.” You know what? That’s still telling. All of writing is telling. What is different is that it gives specific sensations that your reader can experience with the character, creating more of a sense of immediacy. BUT there are times when telling is exactly the right thing to do. Unless it is important to the story, we do not need to experience every moment of a character getting out of bed and getting dressed. “He got up and got dressed” is telling, not showing and that’s perfectly okay.

Raise the stakes

  • What people think it means: People think that it means that they need to make things worse for the character by adding in more explosions and threats.
  • What it actually means: You do need to make things worse for the character, but raising the stakes refers to the character’s personal stakes in the situation. It’s not so much about the external circumstances as how much it matters to the character. For instance, an insult that goes straight to the heart of a character’s self-doubt can be just as much of a stakes raiser as introducing an evil overlord. Raise the personal stakes for the character.

Edited to add:

Kill your darlings

  • What people think it means: Delete the thing you love best in your manuscript. (Seriously, I’ve seen people take it that way.)
  • What it actually means: Just because you have written a beautiful turn of phrase, scene, or character, doesn’t necessarily mean that it belongs in the story. IF it is getting in the way of the story, even if you love it, sometimes you have to cut that bit. Sometimes, but not always, it’s appropriate to kill your darlings.

Writing Excuses 9.44: Getting in the Writer’s Mindset with Peter Beagle

We were thrilled to have Peter Beagle join us for an episode, recorded live at Westercon 67. We talked about the writer’s mindset, and how to get into it. Peter schooled Brandon before the episode even began, and then proceeded to school all the rest of us.

Peter is an absolute delight to listen to. We hope you enjoy this episode as much as we did.

via Writing Excuses 9.44: Getting in the Writer’s Mindset with Peter Beagle » Writing Excuses.