How To Invest In The Most Important Thing In Your Writing Career

How To Invest In The Most Important Thing In Your Writing Career

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The Most Important Thing You Have In Your Writing Career Is You

We know! We know! You were probably hoping for a cool app, or the perfect book about plot beats, but nope. It’s you.

You can’t write if you don’t exist. You write best when you’re doing pretty fine.

So here are the ways to actually invest in yourself.

Stay healthy for your brain

It’s pretty hard to write when you feel like crap because when your brain is all broken. As Harvard Healthbeat says, “First it is important to remember that you need a healthy body to have a healthy brain.”

How do you do that? According to Harvard:

Step 1: Eat a plant-based diet

Step 2: Exercise regularly

Step 3: Get enough sleep

Step 4: Manage your stress

Step 5: Nurture social contacts

Step 6: Continue to challenge your brain

Stay happy or at least okay. Relationships matter.

Your relationships with other people are really important. They help you evolve. There’s a thing called the dependency paradox.

As Kyle Benson writes,

“Our partners powerfully affect our ability to thrive in life. They influence how we feel about ourselves, what we believe we are capable of, and they ultimately impact our attempts to achieve our dreams.

“Even Mr. Self-Actualization (Abraham Maslow) himself argued that without bonds of love and affection with others, we cannot go on to achieve our full potential as human beings.

“Once we choose a partner, there is no question about whether dependency exists or not. It always does. 

“Countless studies show that once we become intimately attached to another human being, the two of us form one physiological being.

“Our partner regulates our blood pressure, our heart rate, our breathing, and the level of hormones in our blood. The emphasis of independence in adult relationships does not hold water from a biological perspective.”

Kyle Benson

There’s a link to Kyle’s post in our notes and it’s just so good, but the part that really rings true for writers and other creatives is this:

“When a partner is supportive, we are more willing to explore and our self-esteem and confidence gets a boost, which allows us to go after our deepest desires. This not only improves the quality of our lives, but it also deepens and enhances our satisfaction within the relationship and our physical health.

“But as many of us know, sometimes our exploration leads to failure, rejection, and painful experiences. When these bad events happen, our biological programming creates anxiety that leads us to seek proximity (physically and/or psychologically) with the person we love.

“If they are supportive during this stage, our stress will go down and we cope with our problems faster, which ultimately leads us to overcome the problem and continue to go after our deepest desires.”

Kyle Benson again

So find those supportive partners and get rid of the rest!

Get some skills!

Carrie resisted the urge to put a z on the end of the word skills in our podcast notes, but here’s the thing: The more you learn, the less you settle. The more you learn, the more capable you become.

Learning and skills come from classes, from reading, and from experience. Mix it up. Learn in different ways.


There you go. You write best when your brain works, when you’re happy, when you have skills and are learning about how to make the best stories possible. So invest in yourself, people. Take care of your health, your relationships and learn.


You can go through your life just barking at thing, but you want to expand your brain and your repertoire and really immerse yourself in what makes you and your body happy.


The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License. Here’s a link to that and the artist’s website. Who is this artist and what is this song?  It’s “Summer Spliff” by Broke For Free.


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Carrie Jones Books is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

Making Powerful First Lines

Everyone talks about first lines and how important they are for establishing voice, setting the tone, hooking your reader and never letting go.

It’s intriguing to see how first lines change or don’t. I checked out some of my first and last lines from my books and they are below and we’ll be talking about first lines for a few posts. This is just the first one.

But before we do, let me ask:

Do you have any favorites from books?

What was it that grabbed you?

Do you do that in your own books?

How Do You Make A Powerful First Line? What are the Traits?

  • You make it mysterious.
  • You make it have a strong voice.
  • You make it surprising.
  • You make it goofy or funny.
  • You make it understandable.
  • You make it authentic.

Here are Some Examples From My Books

Mostly they show how my first lines changed or didn’t. And how they met those above qualities or didn’t. Just like all of you, I’ve learned and evolved or devolved during these years.

Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend

He wants to know why it happens.

He wants to know why it happens.

Love (and other uses for duct tape)


You think you know people and then it turns out you don’t.


You think you know people and then it turns out you don’t.

Girl, Hero

Dear, Mr. Wayne, My mother’s got a man coming to see her.

Dear, Mr. Wayne, My mother’s got a man coming to see her.

Need (2009):

Original: My parents drove me to the airport with the air conditioner on full blast.

Current: Everybody has fears, right?


Original: The dog raced through the Maine woods, keeping up with the little car speeding down the rural road.

Revision For a Long Time: “Remember, you’re not special, Annie,” Mrs. Betsey said.

Final: “Remember , you’re not special, Annie,” Mrs. Betsey told the small girl next to her as they stood on the rickety wooden step of the trailer.

Weird (not published yet, YA paranormal)

Original: Blake and I lie naked on the grass in my backyard, looking up at the sky and we’re all lazy feeling, because, yes, we had sex, and no, having sex is not a big deal.

Current: Blake and I lie naked on the grass in my backyard, looking up at the sky and we’re all lazy feeling, because, yes, we had sex, and no, having sex is not a big deal.


Original: I wake up scared.
Current: I wake up scared

The Fae (not published yet, MG fantasy)

Original: The first cat shuddered and stalked through the yard to sit under the biggest maple tree. 

Current: Somebody had locked him in.

How about you? Have you ever gone back and looked at your first lines then and now. It’s kind of scary. Seriously. Do you want to share?

Sharing is good.





My little novella (It’s spare. It’s sad) is out and it’s just $1,99. It is a book of my heart and I am so worried about it, honestly.

There’s a bit more about it here.


I have a quick, pre-recorded Teachable class designed to make you a killer scene writer in just one day. It’s fun. It’s fast. And you get to become a better writer for just $25, which is an amazing deal.

Carrie Jones Books is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

The World Needs More Lew Barnards

My dad died in 2013. It was his birthday yesterday.

How It Went

It is Thursday and an oncologist whose last name is Snow has just told my father that he has a few weeks to live. Sometimes poets use snow to signify death. This seems appropriate, like all those poets were psychic somehow.

As I wander through the tiny patch of woods off the Glen Mary Road in Bar Harbor, I think that this is actually appropriate in a bad way though I’ve been trying to spin it into something poetic, something that makes sense.

The doctor’s name is Snow.


A lone crow alights from one pine tree bough to another, leading me down the trail. There are superstitions about crows. One crow is meant to signify death.

“I already know,” I tell the bird as he lifts his shiny wings, “but thanks.”

And about five hours away from me and the crow, Doctor Snow leaves my dad’s hospital room and my sister hands my dad the hospital phone so that I can say hi.

“Carriekins,” he says to me and his voice is cheerful somehow.

“Hey Dad! I love you!” This is the only thing I can think to say. I try to make my voice cheerful, too, but it isn’t strong like pine boughs and it can’t hold up the weight of me or even a crow right now or even a dusting of snow.

I try again and manage to sound chipper. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” he says. “How is your day going?”

The first thing he asks, moments after he finds out that he is about to die, is how my day is going. This is how my dad works. He asks people questions. He wants to know how they are doing, what they’ve done, what they think, why they think it. His favorite thing to say is, “I don’t know enough about you. What can you tell me?”

And I never know what to say. I never feel like I have anything to tell. He’s known me all my life. How can he not know enough?

“My day kind of stinks, Dad,” I tell him, stepping on a fallen pine cone. Crushing it  will help to scatter its seed, make new pinecones, but I still feel badly about breaking its form. “I mean, it does stink because of what the doctor just said, but it’s good because I get to hear your voice and talk to you.”

It is the last time I have a real conversation with my dad.

The next day they fill him with morphine and move him to a hospice center. He can’t talk because of the drugs. That is Friday. On Saturday, he can only wheeze into the phone.  I tell him he sounds like Darth Vader and that I will be there Monday after a wedding I have to go to and after I drop my daughter, Em, off at college.

He dies that night or really early Sunday morning right after the sunrise. He loves sunrises.

Doctor Snow had given him weeks. He lasts two days because of a fast moving, wildly spreading small cell cancer that has already officially claimed the area around one of his lungs.

Before we knew he had cancer, he said, “You know I would go down on my knees and kiss the ground and praise God if I could breathe again. Isn’t that something? Isn’t that something you’d never expect to hear from me?”

And it was.

My dad was a hobbit kind of man. He believed in breakfast and laughing. He believed in second breakfast and laughing even more. He believed in dancing and smiling and telling stories and listening and a third breakfast that included cake. He believed in life and people. He was capable of looking straight into someone’s soul and getting right to the core of what made them special and because he had that gift, he forgave everyone everything. He forgave people all the time and he loved them just as much as he did no matter what they put him through.

Backing Up Ten Days

Right after the Boston Marathon bombings, I am sitting in a Cambridge, Massachusetts restaurant with my daughter, Em. People are eating, but mostly everyone is craning their heads, watching the television screen that displays what little information exists about the attacks. My cell phone vibrates and I learn that my dad, who has gone into the hospital three days earlier because he couldn’t breath has tumors. They don’t know if the tumors are cancer. They just know they are there.

On the screen above my head are news people trying to make sense of a tragedy that I have just personally witnessed because I had been at the marathon. I don’t need the television to see the blood and the pain, the hope of people helping, the determination of doctors and civilians and paramedics and cops.

Tumors and Hate

People before me have compared hate to cancerous tumors, compared the way hate metastasizes and invades a society, taking it over the same way cancer takes over a body. It is not new to think about this, but I do.  The hate isn’t in the restaurant this night though. In the restaurant, the patrons and servers are still trying to understand how things like bombs can happen in their city, trying to isolate the type of hate that this cancer was, trying to understand it.

Some things are hard to understand. You can label all different types of cancers (lymphoblastic, Kapoki sarcoma, fibrous histiocytoma, ovarian, oropharyngeal), and you can label all different kinds of hate (misogyny, domestic terrorism, international terrorism, fear, self-righteousness, homophobic, racist, religious, ethnic, sociopathic) but those labels are just labels, they don’t get at the core of the hate, the essential interwoven elements of it.

“Grandpa Barnard has some sort of tumors,” I tell Emily, “and fluid around his lung.”

“It is cancer?” she asks.

“They don’t know yet.”

It isn’t for another ten days that they tell him that it is definitely cancer, and a bad kind. In those ten days, I spew out a blog post about the goodness I saw at the marathon; I talk to librarians; I attend a wedding full of love.  The doctors aren’t sure where the cancer originated. They just know that it is. My uncle who is in his late eighties immediately starts citing statistics about Raydon. My dad was a firefighter for decades, the volunteer kind. They didn’t have great personal protection equipment. He inhaled a lot of things.

My family has never been a family that has cancer. My uncle wants to find a reason. He wants to understand.

But we won’t ever understand exactly what made my dad’s body become cancerous or where that cancer first struck or even where else in his body that it is.

“There is no point in doing scans,” Dr. Snow says on this Thursday, my dad’s last Thursday. “The only point is that we have to keep him comfortable, manage his pain.”

And this is where cancer and violence part ways. Because as a society we always have to do the scans, always have to figure out where the hate started, what tools it uses to kill others, what elements it needs to thrive. Because as a society, we need to feel safe and we need to be a place where nobody wants to destroy innocent runners or spectators or children or each other. We have to be a place that understands hatred and actively works to try to stop it, to turn it into something good and peaceful.

When my dad finds out about the Boston Marathon he says, “Humans can be so horrible to each other, can’t they Carriekins?”

And I say that they could, but I add, remembering what I had seen at the marathon, “They can be good too, Dad.”

“Yes, they can.” He sighs. “I would have liked to been a locksmith. I would have liked to have a nice, simple job just helping people.”

“You helped people all the time, Dad,” I tell him. “You are a good, sweet man.”

“I wasn’t a great success.”

“Yes, you were. You were a success because you made people laugh,” I tell him. “You were a success because you try so hard every day to be good.”

And it is true. Even at the hospital as he is dying, he is flirting with nurses in a non-creepy way, complimenting their bright orange pants, asking them how they were.

Even when he finds out he has less than a month to live, he asks me, “How was your day?”

That is what good is. That is what gives me hope when cancer tries to infect our country or even our own souls with blame and anger and bigotry. People like my dad give me hope. It is the hobbits of the world, the ones who find the beauty in breakfast or a nurse’s fluorescent pants, who find the love inside a angry person’s heart, who find the kindness and joy and laughter inside a hospital room, these are the people who make our world good.  We need more hobbits like my dad. He may have not have been a famous man or a ‘successful’ one, but he was good. Severely dyslexic, he never made it past second grade, always thought he was “stupid” especially compared to his parents and siblings and even me.

But he was the opposite of stupid. He was brilliant. He embodied empathy and kindness. He was unrelentingly good and I miss him. The world needs more Lew Barnards in it. I do, too.





My Patreon site I read and print chapters of unpublished YA novels. THE LAST GODS and SAINT and now ALMOST DEAD.

I also share some writing tips that are also going to be on Teachable as the WRITING CLASS OF AWESOME and send people art.

It’s a super fun place to hang out, learn, read, and see my weirdness in its true form.

And I’m starting up a brand new, adult paranormal set at a Maine campground. You can read the first chapter here.


I have a quick, pre-recorded Teachable class designed to make you a killer scene writer in just one day. It’s fun. It’s fast. And you get to become a better writer for just $25, which is an amazing deal.

Carrie Jones Books is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

The Tension Interview with Steven Wedel, He Who Writes Erotic Werewolf Novels and So Much More.

I interviewed author Steven Wedel, and my cowriter for a couple of books, about where all his writing tension comes from. At first he said his daughter cell phone bills, but then he got all charming and agreed to the interview.

What Steve’s website says about him is : 

I was born in Stillwater, Okla., in 1966 and we moved to Enid, Okla. about a year later. Some of my earliest memories are of watching The Foreman Scotty Show on a black-and-white TV and winning a call-in contest on the show; the prize was a T.G.&Y. gift certificate. I played in the dirt a lot and had a fire engine peddle car I rode like hell on our back patio.

Somewhere back then, I recall my mom and aunt letting me watch Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” That scared me a lot.

Steve is the author of  a bunch of scary books, mostly about werewolves and people.

So, Steve, what do you do to build tension in a scene?

I always come at my writing from a character-first perspective. So, for me, tension comes from creating a character readers really care about. My stories typically start kind of slow because I’m developing the lead character(s). I also write from the POV of the antagonist (keeping in mind that he’s the hero of his own story). This way, the reader sees the goals of both the antagonist and protagonist and can watch as they come closer and closer to confrontation.

Is it a big bang shock sort of technique for you or you more fond of the taking the reader down the dark and sinister hallway?**

Always go down the dark and sinister hallway! Hopefully there’s a big bang shock at the end of it. When I teach my Writing Horror class at the local vo-tech we spend a lot of time comparing Friday the 13th to The Exorcist. In the Friday movies, all you get is the big bang shock. One after another, characters you don’t care about are killed in creative and gruesome ways. In The Exorcist, you see Regan, her mom, and Father Karras in their normal lives. You come to like them before the evil invades their lives. When it does, it starts slowly, with noises in the attic, a quiet conversation about the loss of faith, etc. By the time of the final showdown, you really know these people and are deeply emotionally invested in their well-being.

Do you think that it’s easier to build tension in first or third person? And either way, as a reader (not as a writer), which do you prefer?

Hmm. That’s a tough one. In many regards, I think it’s easier to build tension in third person simply because if it’s told in first person the reader assumes the character telling the story lives. Also, because you can jump heads and show the motivation of the antagonist. That’s something you can’t do so well in first person because the reader can only see what that one character sees, only know what that one character knows. As a reader, I love the intimacy of the first person narrative, though.

If you think of suspense coming in different sizes (small, medium, super-ultra large), do you think it’s best to alternate these or are you into the steady diet of massive (or tiny) suspenses in your book?

I think of it as dating. Let’s say the goal is, umm … the honeymoon night activity. There are stages you go through in getting there.

“If I try to hold her hand, will she pull away and tell me how gross I am and how she’ll kill me if I ever touch her again?”

He thinks about that, stews about it, starts to do it, but she suddenly has an itch and her hand is gone.

He waits, waits, waits, then tries again. Success! She looks at him and smiles. Later, he wants to kiss her. The stakes are higher, so he’ll have to think about that one longer. After all, his breath probably stinks, he’s never kissed anyone before, doesn’t know how to form his lips, when to use his tongue, how long to hold the kiss, all that. But then it simply happens and it’s fantastic and you release a little of that tension. There are smaller goals, medium goals and that super-ultra large goal waiting at the end of the story.

When you write do you think the nature of  your suspense comes from your characters or from the plot?

What? Are you my wife? You haven’t listened to a word I’ve said, have you? Well, I have that affect on women.* Ya’ll just tune me out. I’m like the checkbook trying to say, “Do you really need another pair of shoes?” when you’re already at Shoe Carnival.

Plot is important, of course. You have to have something going on. This is why I don’t get into much “mainstream” literature. Too often, nothing really happens. Interesting people become boring if all they do is veg in front of the TV. Something has to be going on in their lives, and they have to react, anticipate, and act to shape the course of those events.

Last night I finished this new book where nobody was killed, the foundation of the planet wasn’t threatened, and no ship capsized to kill hundreds, but a lot happened to this one fascinating young girl who was writing letters to John Wayne. In the grand scheme of things, what was going on with her was pretty small potatoes, but in her world the events were huge. That’s what’s important. It was completely believable that Lily became a “girl hero” in the context of her story, but she wasn’t going to be defusing atomic bombs in that story. The plot will grow out of the characters.****

I’ve tried developing stories where the plot is more important and I end up with cardboard cutout characters that are just moved across the board like the little plastic pegs in the little plastic cars in the Life game.

Steve, you are awesome! Thank you so much!

*Reader, he does NOT have this affect on women. It is the opposite. I swear to you.
** Reader, we talk about these techniques in an earlier post.
*** Reader, does it annoy you to be called reader? If I sent you strudel would it make it better

**** This is my book he’s referring to. Steve is nice like that.


My little novella (It’s spare. It’s sad) is out and it’s just $1,99. It is a book of my heart and I am so worried about it, honestly.

There’s a bit more about it here.




Carrie Jones Books is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

Make Your Story Tense plus Editor Andrew Karre

This week I’m talking about tension and suspense in our writing and I am happy to announce that awhile ago I interviewed the super cool Mark Del Franco (author), Steven Wedel (author) and Andrew Karre (editor). They’ll all be appearing in posts throughout the week.


Carol Davis Luce gives examples of how to write scenes that are full of tension.

The first is THE BIG BANG

It’s like this
: A writer is happily working away on her new manuscript when suddenly BANG! Her editor calls. He’s leaving the publishing house. He will no longer be her editor anymore. Her whole world is suddenly tilted upside down. It is disaster. Disaster, I tell you!

Wait. No, that’s what happened to me a few years ago. (Sorry, Andrew.)

Anyway, this type of scene seems peaceful. There are no warnings that something big is going to happen. There’s no build-up to the horrible event. The event just happens.

Luce says, “This type of scene lacks genuine suspense, which is best built slowly. It is, however, extremely effective when used sparingly.”

Basically, if you use it too much readers will get annoyed at you. They won’t be stunned. They’ll be groaning, or as Luce says, they’ll feel ‘cheated.’

The second example is THE JACK-IN-THE-BOX TECHNIQUE

This is when the reader knows, absolutely knows, something big is going to happen. She experiences the moments that build up to the big event. She is scared. She cares. Then it happens.

It’s like this: We see the editor hasn’t sent the writer that many emails lately. He isn’t posting as much on his blog. The writer remembers him telling her how much he’d like to pursue middle grade fiction, however his imprint is only young adult fiction. She checks his blog for news. Nothing. The teapot on the stove boils. The phone rings. The caller id shows the editor’s name. He tells her the news.

According to Luce when writing a suspense-filled book, you want to use this kind of scene. You want to vary the pace of the scene, too.


William J. Reynolds says that you should vary the size of the suspense within your novel. Not all scenes should be huge murder scenes where the suspense is large. Some should be small. He calls these the “I WONDER WHAT” moments.

Add a little physical danger and I WONDER WHAT moments become more medium sized.

Add a lot of danger and some more ambiguity and those moments become large I’VE GOT TO KNOW moments.

Examples using the book Twilight:

Small suspense moment: I wonder why that guy Belle thinks is hot is acting like such a meanie.

Medium suspense moment: I wonder how that guy that Belle thinks is hot saved her from the car that was about to crush her.

Large suspense moment: Oh, my gosh. I wonder how that guy that Belle thinks is hot isn’t going to give in and suck her blood and kill her because she is so tempting and her blood smells so good and he is a vampire after all.

Extra large suspense moment: OH!!!! NO!!! Bella is so not going to turn into a vampire on purpose, is she? What kind of crazy is that, girl?

I talked about suspense to Andrew Karre, an editor at Penguin now who has been my editor in the past.

Andrew quoted Hitchcock and said, “There is no terror in a bang, only in the anticipation of it.”

It’s that anticipation that leads up to those jack-in-the-box moments.

Luce mentions a ‘peril detector,’ which she describes as “Something (a gut feeling, perhaps) tells her she is in danger.”

In my book, NEED, I knew I needed a peril detector. I thought of my own peril detector in real life. Whenever something bad is going to happen (Say, my editor decides to leave the publishing house) the center of my hand starts to hurt, just ache. So, for Zara, I needed something creepier, so whenever the pixie king is nearby, it feels like spiders are running all over her skin.

“I don’t have any sure-fire techniques for building suspense. It seems like suspense should come from the plot, and I’m sure it does to a degree, but the degree and impact of that suspense comes in the manner of the telling and that’s character. I find a steady barrage of big shocks will inevitably dull the reader’s senses.”

Andrew Karre

This is why it’s important to vary the pace and kind of suspense. It shouldn’t be one big shock after another. It’s important to remember about character. Steve Wedel discusses that too in one of our upcoming posts.


Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness on the DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE podcast as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. Please share it and subscribe if you can. Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow. There’s a new episode every Tuesday!

Thanks so much for being one of the 253,000 downloads if you’ve given us a listen!





Carrie Jones Books is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to


posted this back in 2006 when maybe fifteen people were reading my blog and I knew them all in person, I think. But I thought it might be good for this week, too.

The official Banned Books Week is Coming Up! Are you ready?

Sparty Dog Inspiration
Sparty Dog Approves These Tips


1. Remember, it’s okay to get ridiculously mad that people ban George by Alex Gino or Captain Underpants or Judy Blume’s Forever or Brent Hartinger’s Geography Club or The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas or anything by Carrie Jones (Okay. I added this last one in.)

2. Remember, it’s okay to think that it’s stupid for people to think kids (and adults) are so weak of mind that reading about a boy being a wizard will make them become Satan worshipers or that ready about potty mouths will make them about potty mouth and etc…

3. Wonder if you’ve ever met a satan worshiper. You know you’ve met a potty mouth.

4. Decide to google (YOUR STATE) Satan worshipers. Then decide not to, because it’s too freaky.

5. Go back to being angry about Banned Books.

6. Why do this? So you can be intelligent while you’re angry read: Kathi Appelt’s exceptional essay about the interplay of fear and banned books. If you can’t find it (Okay. I can’t right now), read someone else’s. 

7. Tell your friends about the essays you’ve read.

8. Argue with someone who thinks it’s okay to ban books. Try not to swear at them and to not go all potty mouthed. It may be hard. Try not to lose your temper. That may be harder.

9. Think about how my favorite line from Kathi Appelt’s essay is “Fear, of course, has a twin: hatred.” Then go all fan girl over Kathi Appelt.

10. Go check out the always the important and insightful American Library Association’s banned and challenged book news and information.

11. Read a banned book. Do better than that. Read three. Buy one. That’ll show them. Who is them? The book banners. That’s who.

How Do You Defy Expectations

When my super cool daughter Em, was in sixth or seventh grade she was in the newspaper for doing this logrolling day with Timber Tina at the Great Maine Lumberjack Show.

This place is where she studied logrolling all summer and is where she battled seven boys, trying to knock them off logs by fancy footwork and all that. Timber Tina (she was on Survivor for one show and then went back for a reunion show, too and is amaze-balls)is a professional world-class lumber jill. The log rolling day was in honor of her son Charlie, this absolutely amazing guy who died that same summer. He was really young, still in his teens.

The picture was hilarious because of the boys in the background staring after she’s knocked off one of their own.

That night the issue came out, Em plopped on her bed, nuzzled under the covers and said, “I can’t believe I’m in the paper.”

I smiled. “It’s great. You should be proud.”

She hugged her stuffed kitty (appropriately named Kitty Kitty) to her chest. “I bet I’m the only cheerleading logroller.”

“At least in Ellsworth, Maine,” I added. “And don’t forget you’re also a stunt girl.”

She as named Stunt Girl at a Stunt Camp in California. It’s this big stunt camp honor. The stunt camp was all about jumping off buildings and stuff. All of this mattered because when people looked at Em, they didn’t think Brave Girl or Logrolling Girl or Stunt Girl. They tended to think Smart Girl, Brilliant Girl, Very Polite Girl, Artistic Girl, Pretty Girl.

“Aren’t you going to tell me I defy stereotypes?” she asked that night, holding out her arms for a hug.

I hugged her back. “You already know.”

Why This Matters And Isn’t Just A Braggy Mom Post

And as I remember all this, thanks to some pretty good written records, I’m sort of struck by how brave Em has always been to defy the expectations of what people think small, brainy, artistic girls are going to be doing. She was a cheerleader and a log roller. She jumped off buildings. She got into Harvard and Dartmouth all on her own. No mommys and daddys buying buildings here folks. She was a field artillery officer in the Army. She studied Krav Maga in Israel, volunteered in Costa Rica, studied film for a tiny bit in high school in New York all by herself. All these random things. How cool is that?

It’s pretty damn cool.

Somehow Em usually never lets other people’s expectations define her.

I wish that we could all be that brave, that we could have the opportunity and empowerment to be that brave, that we could all become who we want to become, define ourselves instead of others or society defining us. How shiny the world would be then, wouldn’t it?


In my family, my sister was the good one. Another sibling was the handsome, successful one. I was the quirky smart one. Another sibling was the angry one.

Those labels are who we were expected to be.

But the thing is that my sister? She’s smart. She’s successful.

That angry sibling? He did some amazing things before he died. Things that make him stunningly successful in my eyes.

And I’m quirky, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the smartest of us.

But those are the expectations, the roles, the labels and those scripts our family’s right for us (both good and bad) can really stick.

How Do You Defy Expectations

Think of who you want to be.

Think of what you want to try.

Think of why you haven’t yet.

If it isn’t about money and resources and you can, give whatever it is a try. Do the thing that people don’t expect you to do (Try not to go to jail though. Legal things are usually a better choice.) and see how it feels. See how you feel.

Do people expect you to be quiet? To be loud? Do they expect you to be an activist? A peace-maker? Think of how you can be the opposite of expectations if you feel like those expectations are holding you back. The first step is to imagine being what it is that YOU want to be, not what your teachers, family, friends, coworkers, employees, bosses want you to be. YOU.

Is there something you always wanted to do, to be, and people scoffed. Show them how wrong they are. Blow their minds. Blow your own mind, too.

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Flour Tattoos and Hyperbole is the Biggest Danger in the World (That’s Hyperbole right there)

Flour Tattoos and Hyperbole is the Biggest Danger in the World (That’s Hyperbole right there)

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So, this woman, Aileen Weintraub on the Huffington Post, has an article that’s headline is, “I’m a Grown Woman and I Still Sleep with a Stuffed Animal.”

“George is my deep, dark secret, and I’m sharing our story now in the time of COVID-19 because many of us are quietly struggling.”

Aileen Weintraub

And the article is sweet and lovely, and poor Aileen had COVID-19 and was terribly sick and was even more stressed because George, her stuffed dog has been with her for thirty years and she didn’t know if her stuffed animal would be able to go with her if she had to come to the hospital.

And she was ashamed because stuffed animals are allegedly “transitional objects.”

She wrote,

“I love my family, but this little hound doesn’t take up much room and he doesn’t shift the sheets. I don’t have to explain myself to him. He doesn’t ask questions and he’s always there, a personal touchstone I can depend on. George doesn’t judge. He never complains and I never have to cook for him. He never rummages through the fridge and tells me there is no food in the house. He doesn’t leave towels on the floor. He doesn’t bark while I’m on a conference call. George gets me.

“When I was quarantined for 16 days as the coronavirus ravaged my body, no one in my family could touch me. I communicated with them via text or through a closed door. But George was there. He is so quiet that it would be easy to forget him. I never do.

“George is my deep dark secret, and I’m sharing our story now in the time of COVID-19 because no matter how strong, confident or successful a person may appear, the truth is that many of us are quietly struggling. When everything seems hopeless, when it looks like we will never get out of the hellfire that is 2020, perhaps it’s OK to admit to finding softness and comfort from something as simple and familiar as an old threadbare stuffy.”

Aileen Weintraub

God bless this lady because if George, the stuffed animal in her bed, is her deep dark secret? What a nice life she’s had.

What Is Hyperbole?

Hyperbole is basically defined as an exaggeration that people use to emphasize an effect. It’s extravagant. It’s bullshit. It comes from the Greek word for “excess.”

I’m not sure if this ‘deep dark secret’ is hyperbole, but it sure feels like one.

And the problem with hyperbole? Is that it’s not truth. It’s inauthentic. It’s the tool of politicians and apparently op-ed writers and we’re all freaking too used to it. We don’t examine the extravagant claims of influencers, writers. Headlines and tweets and speeches and email subject lines are full of them.

 In writing fiction especially, hyperbole can be a brilliant tool. Listen to this Monty Python bit about being completely not rich.

You were lucky. We lived for three months in a brown paper bag in a septic tank. We used to have to get up at six o’clock in the morning, clean the bag, eat a crust of stale bread, go to work down mill for 14 hours a day and when we got home, our Dad would thrash us to sleep with his belt!​

Monty Python people

The Problem

Writers, you can use hyperbole but don’t use it in your nonfiction. Even Aristotle was anti-hyperbole saying it was amateur and childlike and that it was the tool of bad, angry politicians.

Why is it bad?

It’s bad because it’s used to manipulate us and our emotions. It makes normal things suddenly feel over the top, excessive, the deepest and darkest of secrets or the most terrifying moments of existence. It’s when someone yells at you for your opinion or your actions and you call it an ‘attack’ in which you are in fear of your life. It’s when you’re pushing for your agenda and twisting truth so that you can be the savior or the victim and it is dangerous AF.

And it’s normal now. We’re used to seeing the exaggeration of truths becoming lies. No, that article is not going to make you instantly a best selling book writer or super fit in three fast weeks. No, that politician isn’t going to save your country. No, that person with an opinion different than yours does not deserve to die.

Hyperbole pulls us away from the truth. In the excess and exaggeration often comes an otherness, an us versus them mentality that prevents us from finding truths, middle roads, and we become so engrossed in it that we see a story about a woman’s deepest, darkest secret being about sleeping with her stuffed animal and we believe it.

We’ve got to return to truth, to discourse, to authenticity.

And we have to do it before it’s too late before that extremism is the norm, exaggeration is the defacto position for all of us, before we forget what truth even is.


Write truth. Write things that resonate. Hyperbole is a great tool, but it shouldn’t be your go-t0 response.


Don’t hyperbolize the simple stuff.


The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License. Here’s a link to that and the artist’s website. Who is this artist and what is this song?  It’s “Summer Spliff” by Broke For Free.

Continue reading “Flour Tattoos and Hyperbole is the Biggest Danger in the World (That’s Hyperbole right there)”

Five Writing Quotes To Make You Feel Better About Things

Five Writing Quotes To Make You Feel Better About Things

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Carrie is a bit burnt out this week so we decided to take a fast look at the advice and quotes that writers give to each other.

Quote #1

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
—Stephen King

Mr. King has strong feelings about adverbs. He has strong feelings about a lot of things. Just because a successful man has strong feelings about things doesn’t mean he’s correct.

Quote #2

“Know your literary tradition, savor it, steal from it, but when you sit down to write, forget about worshiping greatness and fetishizing masterpieces.”
—Allegra Goodman

This is just here because it has the word ‘fetish’ in it, but the truth of it is pretty obvious. Don’t write because you want to be John Steinbeck or God or Toni Morrison. Write because you want to be you.

Quote #3

“There are no laws for the novel. There never have been, nor can there ever be.”
—Doris Lessing

Many agents, editors, readers and critics would disagree with Doris.

Quote #4 A and B

“The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.”

“I don’t know about lying for novelists. I look at some of the great novelists, and I think the reason they are great is that they’re telling the truth. The fact is they’re using made-up names, made-up people, made-up places, and made-up times, but they’re telling the truth about the human being—what we are capable of, what makes us lose, laugh, weep, fall down, and gnash our teeth and wring our hands and kill each other and love each other.” – Maya Angelou

These are my favorite quotes about writing ever. Writing is about being understood and communicating truths that go straight inside of the reader and helps them see their truths, too, truths and connections.

Quote 5

“Read a thousand books, and your words will flow like a river.”

― Lisa See

Like any craft, when you read other people’s stories, it helps you see how to construct your own.


Advice can be take it or leave it, but try to remember to be yourself.


You can learn a lot about your craft by seeing other dogs’ techniques. Don’t be afraid to be learned.


The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License. Here’s a link to that and the artist’s website. Who is this artist and what is this song?  It’s “Summer Spliff” by Broke For Free.


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What Are These Terrifying Beasts Called Pass Proofs?

So, when you publish traditionally you get this thing called First Pass Proofs.

What are these diabolical little things? Well, to understand that we have to take a tiny jaunt into the copyediting and proofreading world. Grab some snacks!

A Pass

This is when you go through your story and look for all the typos and mistakes and consistency errors. and redundancies.

The Proof

It’s a verb and it’s a noun. You can say “I’m proofing this” when you are proofreading.

But also, when you get your beautiful story manuscript after the copyeditor, proofreader, regular editor, editorial assistant and King Kong have all gone through it, you have pages called a pass proof. This is what your story looks like before it goes to publication. You are to read it all and see if anyone missed anything.

The Fear

I am afraid of pass proofs. 

But they are still super cool.

Why am I afraid of them?

Well, they come after the copy edits, so even if you suddenly realize that having your main character fall in love with a bottle of ALL NATURAL SNAPPLE ICED TEA was important to the plot of the book, you can not magically make this happen now. It is too late!!!!

SnappleIs it ever really too late to make SNAPPLE an important plot choice/love interest? I doubt it. 

Yes, Snapple! It is too late. 

Why is it too late?

Well, the first pass proofs are really what the book is going to look like on the page. It’s sort of all set and ready to go. 

And that’s scary. Your book baby is ready to go off into the world of anonymous reviews and bookstore shelves, and there is nothing you can do now to toughen her up, make her street smart. She is out there on her own very very soon and you just have to pray she won’t be a train wreck and become the kind of book that the paparazzi take pictures of because she’s always forgetting to wear her underwear when she gets out of cars. 

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