My Writers of the Future Acceptance

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My acceptance is at 1hr, 33 minutes, 51 seconds. If you have the time, grab some popcorn and watch the whole thing, including Astronaut Leland Melvin’s amazing story, some wonderful performances, and the acceptance remarks of my very good friends, the WotF class of 2013.


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Tonight, Sunday, April 13th, 6:30 p.m. PST, I’ll receive my Writers of the Future award on stage at the Ebell of Los Angeles. Orson Scott Card, author of Ender’s Game, will also be honored. Watch live at .

Hurray For Hollywood

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nh131-1fce31cc-2182-49aa-8f06-32615c1fa3bf-v2Well, I’m off to Hollywood. I’ve been in California before. Once to dip my foot in the cold pacific. Once to chase a starving coyote through death valley. This time I’ll be wearing a tux and eating cheeseburgers with the guy who wrote one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. But not at the same time.

Should be fun.

On Sunday, April 13th, at 6:30 PM pacific time, I’ll be at the Wilshire Ebell Theater accepting my award. They put on a hell of a show, and it’s shorter than the Oscars, so mark your calendar and watch it live at:


Hurray for Hollywood

Posted on Updated on

nh131-1fce31cc-2182-49aa-8f06-32615c1fa3bf-v2Well, I’m off to Hollywood. I’ve been in California before. Once to dip my foot in the cold pacific. Once to chase a starving coyote through death valley. This time I’ll be wearing a tux and eating cheeseburgers with the guy who wrote one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. But not at the same time.

Should be fun.

On Sunday, April 13th, at 6:30 PM pacific time, I’ll be at the Wilshire Ebell Theater accepting my award. They put on a hell of a show, and it’s shorter than the Oscars, so mark your calendar and watch it live at: 


Meet the Winners: K.C. Norton

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Next week, I join the rest of the 2013 Writers of the Future winners in Hollywood for a week long writing workshop and gala. I’m getting excited! But before I head out, join me in rounding out the dozen with second quarter winner, K. C. Norton.

Stuart: Welcome aboard. Tell me something surprising about yourself.

K.C.: I like to scuba dive. Apparently this surprises people – I guess they assume that when I’m not working, I’m curled up in a hole to write, which is true roughly 51 weeks out of the year. Open water diving is the closest I’m likely to get to space travel, and almost as alien.

Stuart: No, there aren’t many other activities where you get to hover upside down. What got you into writing?

K.C.: Reading, definitely! I read the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings when I was really young, and then fell in love with the world of Harry Potter. I loved exploring imaginary worlds. I spent a lot of time by myself as a kid, and my family didn’t have a TV, so I spent a lot of time telling myself stories. Writing was a natural progression from there.

 Stuart: I imagine so. And how’ve you evolved since?

K.C.: Well, I started writing stories with plots. I wrote my first stories when I was ten, and thank goodness most of them have vanished into the aether, but I have a few things that have stuck around in various files and binders. A lot of my early work was based on things I’d enjoyed reading. For example, I read ElfQuest, and then wrote a story about elves who ride dragons – not original, but a little different. The more I write, the weirder my stories get, and hopefully they’re more original now! That said, I do write a lot of retellings of older tales… my WOTF story, for example.

 Stuart: Are you a pantser or a plotter?

 K.C.: I cannot plot to save my life. I have to have a draft out before I go back to make it coherent. When I plot, everything sounds awful and wooden. When I just fly by the seat of my pants, I find myself including weird details that end up being important later. Occasionally I’ll have a whole story come into my head at once, but I don’t know all the details. Other times I’ll write a few pages and wait months and months until the story comes together. When people ask me about “process,” I cannot tell a lie – I don’t have one. I would like to have one. Plotting sounds very convenient. I envy people that can plot consciously in advance.

Stuart: Describe your writer’s cave.

K.C.: I mostly write in my bed. I have a writing desk set up in my living room, with a super comfy chair, but my dog complains when she can’t snuggle me, and when I lie in bed or sit on my oddly small couch she can squeeze herself in beside me. Otherwise she goes batty.

Stuart: Do you have any unusual talents or hobbies?

K.C.: Like, do I play the nose harp? Alas, no. I do occasionally fire breathe. And I studied archaeology in school. I can tell you more than you probably want to know about Greek and Egyptian mythology or random architectural features. Other than that, my hobbies are reasonably normal.

Stuart: Star Trek or Star Wars?

K.C.: Must I pick one? I love Star Wars, but in my heart there are only three movies, and there will only ever be three movies. (Han Solo was my first love.) And TNG is pretty good, but I’m a die-hard TOS girl. I do not acknowledge any captain more recent than Picard. My apologies to George Takei on this subject.

Stuart: Oh I don’t know. I thought Captain Janeway was pretty impressive. If you had a superpower, what would it be?

K.C.: Flying. No doubt about it. I would fly all the time.

Stuart: Everyone says flying, but no one considers the bugs in the teeth. ;-) Do you ever dream about writing?

K.C.: I dream about stories that I later write down. I don’t dream about the act of writing – when I dream about work, I dream that customers are in my apartment and I have to serve them drinks. I think I’d prefer to dream about writing.

Stuart: Ha ha. I remember when I was a kid, I worked at a burger joint. I used to have nightmares about all the beeping timers. What was your favorite toy, growing up?

K.C.: Oooh… well, I had a Gizmo doll, from Gremlins. I tortured that poor stuffed monster. That’s a close tie with my Littlest Petshop menagerie. I think I had every cat available. Come to think of it, I think I still have them. I would spread them out all over the living room and talk to myself for hours.

Stuart: So sweet! If you adopted a wardrobe tag, what would it be?

K.C.: I would probably wear a monocle. Or a dapper hat.

Stuart: I like the idea of a monocle, or maybe a nez perce. Do you have a quote that inspires or amuses you?

K.C.: I love Neil Gaiman. His books are crazy awesome, his comics are sweet, his screenplays are outrageous, and his reading of Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham is Oscar-worthy. It really changed how I read the book. But the best advice he ever gave me (and the rest of the world) was: “Cat exploded? Make good art.” It’s funny, but then on days when your cat actually does explode, and you don’t know what to do with yourself because your life is a wreck… well, now I knew where to go from there.

Stuart: Thanks, K.C. See you next week!


 Learn more about K.C. at

Why We Write

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Well, it’s happened. People are now asking me for advice on getting their nephews and nieces and friends-in-law’s butlers started in a writing career. Honestly, my best advice is, “do for something else.” The writing life is harder than you think. It’s harder by roughly the amount that building a nuclear reactor out of beer cans and Quick-Crete is exactly as hard as you think. Except that you can definitely build the reactor given enough care, study, time, and disregard for international law and your own best interests. To become a writer, all that’s not enough. You also need talent and luck.

But you don’t want to hear that, oh youthful aspirant, oh denizen of dreams and fancies made manifest. You have something to say. Or the neurons linked to your typing fingers get all fancy-dancy when you use a gerund just right. Or you need something to do with the endless observations and semantic putterings that pour from your noggin forming an impenetrable socio-repulsive cloud at parties. Good. That’s why we write.

Just don’t think you can become the next J K Rowing. You will never become the next J K Rowling. J K Rowling will never become the next J K Rowling. No, you have to become the next you, whoever you are going to be as an artist. And while that’s a thrilling walk through the undiscovered country, chances are good that it’s a country of broken dreams and empty cabinets. So get a day job, a good one that provides the sort of isolation and free time that drives normal people to drink whiskey and run with scissors. Crewing a containerized shipping freighter is ideal. Take an electronics course so you can fix things and learn to clean an assault weapon so you can handle pirates. Stock the MP3 collection with Vangelis and Paganini. But no Wagner. If you can write while listening to Wagner, something is broke in you that no advice can correct.

So okay. Good. Rock that prose. Maybe, one day, you’ll be able to retire from the sailor’s life and swim in Hemingway’s pool. Maybe not. Either way, you can pay for wifi and coffee, and that’s all a writer really needs anyway, right?.

So now you can concentrate on writing, and that’s a wonderful thing, because in this age of special effects and infinite distraction, we need good writers like never before–both to provide quality stories and to make textbooks and documentation clear so that we can work well together.

It’s easy to write, hard to write well, and damn near impossible to write well enough that anyone will pay to see your work. I went back to college to study craft before I had any real success. Fortunately, though, there’s a lot of good information available to you for free.

My own advice is, start by knowing your goal. If you’re writing technical documents, you have a certain understanding in mind that you want to reproduce exactly in your reader’s head. That may call for very precise, dry wording, tables, and even pictures. When you’re writing a story, though, you have to let the reader fill in the details of the world you have in mind. No two readers will see the same world, and your imagination will never seem as real to a reader as her own. That’s why people who love novels are often disappointed by the movie–no matter how good the effects. If you are writing plays, you have to leave most of the scenery details up to others, so it’s all the more important that you focus on what you want the characters to say and do.

This leads to the single biggest key to good writing, in my opinion, be a guide, not a lecturer. Carefully choose “telling details” that give your story life and leave the rest to the reader. From that one idea comes (one way or another) almost every other bit of good writing advice.

What? Still here? Well good. You must have your priorities straight. Or you may be trapped under something with a tablet opened nearby, and in that event you are probably wishing I would add a link to YouTube right here. Instead, here are some Internet resources you may find helpful on you journey:

First – critique: The single best resource for any writer is feedback from other readers and writers. I highly recommend or Both are good, provide plenty of opportunities for feedback, and I don’t believe either has an age limit. It’s helpful to start by reading and then posting in the “newbie queue.” And remember, no gift is more precious that constructive criticism. Even if you disagree with a critique; remember that at least one reader saw it that way. That’s gold. Rhodium, even.

Writing Advice and general resources:

On the business of writing:


Never let a computer to fix your writing–only you can do that–but these can help you see your work from a fresh perspective and are free at least to try:


  • The OED – THE definitive English dictionary:
  • List of cliches:
  • Get hold of “Zen Comma.” It’s cheap, and it’s the best single reference in existence for what is arguably the most-misused element of punctuation in the English language.

A writer must work hard, take rejection in stride, and be energized by every tiny, incremental achievement. She must sacrifice to her craft, but balance its demands against those of the rest of her life. Write if you love it and have something to say. Write if you love it so much that no amount of failure or rejection can dilute its joy. Write seriously only if you can find that joy in no easier, healthier way. If these things are true, then write. Be the very writer best you can be. We need you.

Meet the Winners: Terry Madden

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As the Writers of the Future workshop draws near, Californian and 1st quarter winner, Terry Madden drops in on our interview series.

Stuart: Welcome, Terry, and once again, congratulations! To start of, what’s something that those who know you might find Imagesurprising?
Terry: I teach high school chemistry, and most of my students are surprised that I have Metallica listed on my Pandora channels right next to Anuna. I would say my taste in music crosses all kinds of lines.
Stuart: Eclectic is good. I lean toward Louis Armstrong, but I stick to acoustic when I’m writing. How about you? How’d you get started?
Terry: When I quit my job as a research tech in a genetics lab to stay home with my two small children, I had characters talking and acting out scenes in my head. My sister-in-law was into writing and had taken some workshops. She encouraged me to start writing scenes as they came to me and worry about figuring out the story later. I had never even read a book on writing, so I just started stringing things together. After ten years and a few writing workshops and conferences, I had a historical novel set in 12th century Ireland. Of course, as a first novel, it was a training ground and remains in a box in the basement.
Stuart: How’ve you evolved since?
Terry: I like this question a lot. I feel that writing is a means of exploring your own soul, at least, that’s how it’s felt for me. I started writing historical fiction because it was what I was reading at the time; it was what interested me (and still does.) But as you grow as a writer, new experiences and insights open new inroads into who you are and what your place in the world might be. A writing instructor encouraged me to try my hand at screenwriting, which I did and placed very well in some script competitions. I optioned a script to producer, Michael Phillips, who did “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, “Taxi Driver”, “The Sting.” I learned immeasurable skills from story meetings with him and his junior producers, but the story never got off the ground because I had not yet found the key to it. Now that story, in a very different incarnation, will be in volume 30 of the Writers of the Future Anthology.
Stuart: Suuweet!
Terry: However, at the turn of the century (it’s kind of fun to say that), I had some challenges in my personal life which included the death of my brother and my house burning down.
Stuart: Oh no!
Terry: All of my writing (including the backup disks which sat next to the computer) burned. Whatever I had in hard copy in the basement survived, which was one piece–my first novel. I gave up writing and went back to work teaching; it was a redefining time for me. I didn’t write for 13 years until one of my students started pestering me about a story idea he and I had cooked up in a discussion during an astronomy class. I started sketching an outline, and ultimately writing a fantasy novel, Three Wells of the Sea, which should be coming out this summer.
Stuart: Awesome! Well better late than never, right?
Terry: Were those 13 years wasted? I would like to say no, because without the relationships and experiences I had during those years, I wouldn’t be writing the things I’m writing now.
Stuart: Sure. Some things you just can’t plan. Which leads me to my next question. Are you a pantser or plotter?
Terry: I would have to say pantser, though I try desperately to impose some kind of order to my notes and outlines. I agree with Stephen King who said, “I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible…” Excessive plotting can kill the realism and the growth of characters; it can come off as mechanistic rather than organic. Some people handle that very well. Just not me.
Stuart: I agree, but a writer also has to produce, right?
Terry: That’s not to say I don’t sketch my acts and turning points. I have used three act structure for so long, it enables me to impose over-arching goals. Since I am now primarily a novelist, I set the turning points as targets and allow characters to find a way to get there. I’ve always been in awe of people who color code their scenes and create intense time lines with every story beat incorporated. I just can’t do it. I have a vague idea of where I want my characters to be at the end of a story, but I don’t really know until I get them there.
Stuart: That sounds about right. So where do you do your writing?
Terry: I write in a spare bedroom on a big oak desk that looks out over a beautiful valley. It can be distracting because there’s always something to watch out there. My desk is about 8 inches deep in notes in the form of notebooks, receipts, scraps of paper and random newspaper clippings. It’s a pile. Like my brain.
Stuart: Ha ha. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Terry: I would have to say Battlestar Galactica and Firefly. Sorry. Star Trek and Star Wars are about equal on my Scifi meter.
Stuart: I agree. If you had a superpower, what would it be?
Terry: Whatever it is, flying would have to be involved. I think transforming into a badass dragon would work for me.
Stuart: Good answer. Do you dream about writing?
Terry: The idea for my winning story for Writers of the Future came to me in that fog just before you fall sound asleep. Dreams often give me some deeper understanding of my work, and great imagery.
Stuart: When you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?
Terry: Breyer horses and matchbox cars, often interacting in vast melodramas. I used to build roads and little stick houses and the matchbox cars would drive all over.
Stuart: Jordie had his visor, Sherlock his deerstalker. If you adopted a wardrobe tag, what would it be?
Terry: I think I would want a leather vest with wings on the back like Darrel in The Walking Dead.
Stuart: Ha ha! Did you bring along a favorite quotation?
Terry: Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks’ character) in “A League of their Own” says, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”
Stuart: Truer words, never spoken. Well thanks Terry. See you in LA!

Learn more about Terry at