Ghosts in the IM: Conversations Between Writers

Christie Yant


Christie is one of the writers I’m happy to be able to consider a personal mentor. When there’s something I need to noodle out about life and career she’s someone I turn to. You probably know her most recently as the editor of Women Destroy Science Fiction.  If you’re not familiar with her fiction peruse the list at her website. As always I recommend you follow her on Twitter.

Minerva Zimmerman: How are you doing this morning? It’s nice but windy here today.

Christie Yant: I’m a little sleepy! I stupidly stayed up way too late last night, doing nothing at all useful. How are YOU? Do you have enough coffee?

MZ: I think that’s our inner children not wanting to go to bed.

CY: Very much so. I honestly feel like a three-year-old at times, mentally kicking and screaming and refusing to go to sleep no matter how tired I am.

MZ: I have caffeinated sparkling water. I always drink coffee with silly amounts of sugar and cream in it.

CY: My tastes changed all of a sudden last year and I started taking my coffee black after a life time of cream and sugar. It was strange. Have you been able to give the Poquito a try yet?

MZ: I haven’t yet because I broke my phone so I can’t take pictures. I’m hoping my replacement comes today or tomorrow

CY: Oh ha! Do you always document it the first time you use a new pen?

MZ: Not always, but I need to figure out if I lost any pictures of the last 4 I took pictures of and I didn’t want to put ink into it yet cause I have ink in so many right now.

CY: /nods

MZ: I’m terrible at not cleaning out my pens so I’m trying to be better about it.

CY: I’m paring my collection down to a few favorites now. Which means that I get to be the Pen Fairy to a bunch of friends. :D

MZ: Yeah I need to figure out some kind of blog giveaway or something.

CY: Good idea!

MZ: I have a few that are just not suited to me or how I write.

CY: The Lamy Safari and Al-Star were like that for me. I just can’t write with them.

MZ: the grip?

CY: They’re a favorite for a lot of people, but they’re just not compatible with the way I hold my pens. Yeah. I got a different Lamy, though, with a straight barrel and grip, and I love it. (The Lamy Logo.)

MZ: Oooo. Yeah I think that’s one I’ve been looking at. it’s a lot smaller isn’t it?

CY: That and the CP1 I think is the other one that looks similar. Yeah, very slender. The Logo is pretty heavy still, despite the small size.

MZ: I have one I need to get a review up that is the smallest pen I’ve ever used. Even smaller than the Petite1!

CY: Ooo! Which one? Or is it a secret?

MZ: Ohto Rook

CY: Oh I have one of those! It was my second…no, third fountain pen.

MZ: I’m kind of excited about trying it as my purse pen

CY: It’s good for that! The cap got dented when I was carrying it regularly, but it is a good little pen.

MZ: I… I kind of like it when pens get little dents and scratches. Makes them have mileage

CY: It says more about the way I treat things in my purse than it says about the pen, of course. And yeah, pens should be loved!

MZ: Hey, I’m the one who managed to dump enough coke into the bottom of a purse to send my phone swimming recently

CY: hahaha erm I mean sorry to hear that

MZ: I was like “That’ll learn me to be girly!” or at least to carry a purse that’s waterproof on the inside

CY: Are there such things? I might need one myself.

MZ: well, apparently this cheapo purse was reasonably water tight it was not the reason I bought it :P I bought it because it was like a super small messenger bag and less than $30

CY: An excellent purchase

MZ: We were talking a bit about short stories last week. I didn’t get a chance to ask you, did editing (and slushing) Women Destroy Science Fiction change how you look at stories you read?

CY: Yes and no–I’d been slushing at Lightspeed for a few years already, so there wasn’t a real shift in that regard. But once I knew what my vision for the issue was, I knew what kind of stories I was looking for. I had to pass on a lot of great stories. Fortunately John bought several of them for other issues, so I didn’t have to feel too badly about letting them go!

MZ: :) awesome

CY: But it also meant that I had to read everything and I couldn’t rely on slush readers to weed things out for me. I always took their comments into consideration (they worked SO HARD) but I still ended up reading every submission myself. That was a crazy couple of months–I was traveling non-stop for my day job, working crazy long days and trying to get through 1000+ submissions, get a TOC finalized, handle a bunch of administrivia

MZ: Oof I hope you’ve been taking some time afterward

CY: Oh yes. The past couple of months I’ve taken time off and haven’t committed myself to any new writing or editing projects. I’m back to just working on short stories on spec.

I owe a revision to an editor for a story coming out next year…hm, I’d better get that done.

For Lightspeed right now I’m just working on a guide for the next Guest Editor (Seanan McGuire), a new website that’ll act as a clearing house for all of our DESTROY projects, and a Zazzle store that is like a month and a half overdue to launch.

MZ: Oooo Women Destroy T-shirts

CY: I really need to get that up before Women Destroy Fantasy and Women Destroy Horror come out on October 1. Yes! And mugs, and stickers, etc. John has been referring to me as Director of Special Projects, which I guess is kind of what I am now. :)

MZ: heh! Baptism by fire

CY: Totally. There were a lot of lessons learned that I can pass on to the next victims–I mean, editors. But short stories! That’s what we were talking about. I love them. If it changed anything about how I read, I’d say it just made me fall more deeply in love with the short form.

MZ: I just had my first slushing experience, which was simultaneously amazing and disheartening.

CY: Oh neat!

MZ: I think the biggest self-realization was that I can tell a story that isn’t ready to be published almost immediately.

CY: I don’t know what your slush pile looked like, but ours tends to be a whole lot of perfectly competent but not particularly engaging, with a few HOLY WOW and a smattering of UGH.


MZ: Yeah the smattering of Ugh was SO UGH.

CY: It doesn’t require reading to the end. When I first started slushing I did read everything to the end, but once I gained a little confidence (and had seen enough of the same thing over and over) it started to become clear in the first couple of pages. Because if the first couple of pages don’t make you want to read on, then it’s not ready.

MZ: (I should mention that UGH = didn’t follow submission guidelines, was torture porn, involved child abuse etc for non-story reasons etc.)

CY: Right

MZ: The other thing slushing showed me is that I can see the difference between good stories and great stories… I’m just less certain entirely what that difference is.

Emotional impact is a lot of it, but totally not the only thing.

CY: What I came up with when I was trying to do that analysis for myself was: voice, structure, and something to say The stories that strike me as great as about something important. That doesn’t mean they’re preachy, or political, or heavy-handed, just that they’re about something that matters deeply to people. The emotional resonance, like you said. And voice–did you notice how much of your slush pile sounds exactly the same? Like the same perfectly competent but not-quite-there author wrote 2/3 of what was submitted That was a major revelation for me

MZ: Yeah, it feels more like “lack of voice” to me

CY: Fair enough

MZ: it’s like a news anchor is reading the story

CY: Yeah! And when one stands out, in my experience it invariably had a strong individual narrative voice

MZ: yeah the story or the characters sound like specific people

CY: You understand the narrative POV from the words they choose. Right. It was a big moment for me when I realized that my stories all sounded like that news anchor and that I was in the perfectly competent but uncompelling category.

MZ: I think I fall short in the structure category.

CY: Have you found any resources that were helpful to you in that area?

MZ: more so for long fiction than short

CY: /nods Yeah it seems like most of what’s out there is directed at screen writers

MZ: Like, I can find the rhythm in a longer fiction piece better

CY: Oh I see, I thought you meant the resources themselves, sorry

MZ: Well, and I come from a screen-writing sort of start, between stage, film, and comics

CY: Neat!

MZ: but that 3 act thing doesn’t neatly translate to short fiction all the time

CY: Right. I’ve had fun with short story structures. You can do a lot with it. I have a blog post about it somewhere, hang on…Here it is:

MZ: I’m mostly not sure how to fix it when its broken. I can see when it works, just not what piece isn’t holding its weight when the thing is lopsided rather than collapsed

CY: I have to pick a shape for the story and then impose it on what’s there. And like you said, three act structure doesn’t do the job. For me, at least.

MZ: That’s hard. I mean it’s totally possible and works great. But it kills the story soul for me a lot of the time. It becomes a chore.

CY: It helps me to actually visualize the shape of it–the length of scenes, the repetition of theme

Ah! For me it does the opposite. So much of the writing life is figuring out what works for us as individuals. Everyone is so different in the way we need to approach a story to get the best out of us

MZ: It really is. I’m struggling with the structure thing. It seems what sort of works is to kind of try on a few different structures on the story to figure out what works. But, that means a lot of re-writing

CY: /nods

MZ: and stories take a long time which isn’t great when you’re trying to hit a deadline for a specific call, or trying to submit more stories

I think I need to let those goals go, and just work on learning structure for me.

CY: I’m getting close to doing this with one work in progress. I’ve been writing scenes–some are strong, some are weak, the weak ones will have to go–but I don’t know how it’s all going to fit together yet. I’m now revising the scenes, cleaning them up, and next I’ll look at what kind of pattern emerges from them and what’s missing to complete the pattern.

I’ve submitted one story all year!

And I’ve given up on the self-loathing over it.

Which I’m prone to. But these are going to take what they’re going to take for them to be as good as they can be and I’m not submitting them until they are. I made that mistake last year–rushed a couple of stories out the door just for the sake of submitting something

MZ: Yeah. The worst is if you rush something out the door and it gets published… so you can’t change it. :)

CY: I had to completely rewrite them later, they were so not ready to go out

That is a legit fear!

MZ: I mean specifically that you’re not happy with how a story turned out and it gets published

CY: Right

MZ: not a story you are at the self-hating point with that is perfectly fine and gets published. That’s similar, but different

CY: One of the things John has always said is that he sees way too many stories that could have been great if the author had just let it cool a little while longer and given it another pass

MZ: Oh yes. There were SO MANY of those in the slush.

Like the concept or characters were REALLY cool but the story just hadn’t been “finished”

CY: Yeah

MZ: I seem to have trouble writing regularly in the summer. Do you have trouble keeping it up while you’re traveling?”

CY: Oh yes, it’s been impossible for me so far.

I have the best intentions to change my schedule so that I go to bed early and get up early to write but I haven’t succeeded yet. Once the day job travel kicks in again it’ll be the only way it gets done, because I’m just wiped out by the end of the day. Right now I’m just making sure that I write or revise in a few short sprints every day. But my schedule is flexible right now, so I can do that.

I’m working on several things at once, which might seem like a bad idea, but for me it keeps me interested in all of them and I can take my time and groom each one carefully

MZ: I find the getting up “early” on my days off helps, but if I do it on the days I work it just means I dink around and am too tired after work

CY: Discipline is…difficult. I have never been good at it.

MZ: I do not have it. Nope. I like being a bit of a scatterbrain in lots of aspects of my life, but trying to discipline myself is hard.

CY: I look at people like Jake Kerr–who is currently a powerhouse of productivity, despite a family and a demanding day job–and am just baffled at how he does it.

MZ: I think some of it really does come down to “They are different people than I am, and that’s OK”

CY: Yeah, I am still working on that “don’t compare yourself to others” thing. :)

MZ: There’s a difference between making excuses and living your own life.

CY: I definitely have a tendency toward procrastination and laziness

MZ: I mean there are people who function totally awesome on 4 hours of sleep a night every night. I am not them either.

CY: NOPE me either

MZ: Me too. But sometimes that procrastination has a purpose

CY: 7-9 or I’m significantly less functional I can get away with 6 ONE night a week.

MZ: so it’s trying to be honest with myself both ways with it

CY: /nod

MZ: sometimes I feel like I’m “procrastinating” when I’m really refilling the aquifer of creativity and emotional bandwidth

CY: True! That is so necessary.

MZ: and sometimes I am quite honestly fucking around

CY: :) I have found that programs like Cold Turkey help me a lot. I have social media blocked during the work day except at lunch. And also most of my other distracting sites (ModCloth, Etsy, Slate, etc.) I can lose hours easily, so I just eliminate the temptation (I still have Twitter on my phone and check it periodically, but it’s such a pain to use on the phone that I don’t say much.)

MZ: Yeah, I am probably due for a good break from online but, I don’t have a social outlet outside of the internet… so that’s also something to keep in mind. Heh, that sounds slightly lamer than it is

CY: No I’m with you–we’re isolated here too

MZ: I live very rurally, so I don’t have a lot of opportunity for in-person socialization and the friends I do have in the area keep moving away.

CY: I only block from 8-5. And yeah, we have no social life here either, despite living in a sizable town. We had a gaming group for years, but our DM changed jobs a few months ago and haven’t seen any of them since

MZ: awww

CY: And two of them were already remote! We would play over Google Hangouts.

MZ: this is very much a retirement community in a lot of ways, so there just aren’t a lot of people our age and the ones who are, are really busy. I mean, only here and in SFF am I considered “a kid”

CY: I am going to the wedding of one of our game friends tomorrow, though! It will be good to see her. They live about an hour away.


MZ: The mayor calls me “kiddo” when she sees me :)

CY: Lots of golf and bridge being played? :) This is why conventions (and social media) are so important to me–that’s where I see my friends.

MZ: golf for sure, not sure about the local bridge clubs. I’m sure there are though

I know the fastest way to spread news around town is to have someone talk about it at Senior Meals

CY: Ha! :D

MZ: There have been a few people who had premature deaths in town because someone got them mixed up with someone else and said they died at Senior Meals, and their family was very concerned when they started getting condolences

CY: Oh no!

MZ: (They were actually alive)

(still are)

CY: hahahah So what are you going to be working on today?

MZ: other than dishes?

CY: Well, yeah. :)

MZ: I am actually taking a novel project and splitting it up into 3 shorter novels and doing their outlines as they currently exist so I can see where the holes are and such to make them into 3 instead of one. I’ve split out the first two and now I need to add a bunch of extra stuff to the 3rd one to see how close in length it is before edits

CY: Excellent! That’s a big project.

MZ: …and dishes, and vacuuming

CY: I’m doing the opposite: working on three short stories related to an existing published one, that I eventually intend to put together into a short novel.

MZ: ooooo

CY: I’m having fun with it. I actually have two projects I’m approaching that way. One fantasy, one SF

MZ: I will say, I do really like how ebooks are opening up these kinds of projects

CY: Exactly!

MZ: And to publish projects that wouldn’t have seen the light of day in the past because of length or not fitting into a normal publishing cycle

CY: The possibility of writing and selling the stories to established markets, and then putting them together after exclusivity is up and selling them as an ebook is a great opportunity. I have one mini-collection out there, but I’ve done nothing at all to promote it

MZ: I’d like to do a mini-collection of stories set in the world I destroyed with tiny unicorns

CY: hahaha awesome

MZ: I have two stories published there, and ideas for 3 more

CY: (Ooo my Metropolitan just ran out of ink. Time to pick a new ink sample to try!)

That sounds like so much fun.

MZ: I am absolutely digging the scented inks. I know it is silly, but I like having that added dimension to the experience of writing

CY: Not silly at all. I started collecting perfume samples for the same reason

MZ: plus the novel project has characters who are associated with particular scents, so it really gets my brain into that world

CY: Totally! I was thinking about trying out a new prompt session at Rainforest based on scents instead of visuals

MZ: Ooooo I can bring stuff

CY: Fun! Let’s do it!

MZ: /highfive

CY: /highfive


Ohto Rook

You know when the “for size” picture features a dime the pen is going to be small. The Ohto Rook is the smallest pen I own.

It's even smaller than the Pilot Petit1

It’s even smaller than the Pilot Petit1

I bought this pen specifically because I like small pens. I’ve been hauling it around as my new purse pen and other than it tends to fall to the bottom of purse pockets, it is doing quite well for that.

Rook and Petit1 without caps

Rook and Petit1 without caps

I’d previously bought a Kweco squeeze converter and thought it might fit this pen too. Nope. This pen is too small to use even that converter.

Rook with Kaweco sport converter attached. Doesn't fit.

Rook with Kaweco sport converter attached. Doesn’t fit. Too long.

It really doesn’t have much for threads so I wouldn’t even attempt to do an eyedropper conversion on this little guy. It looks like it’s cartridges or nothing, but that’s OK. I’m using this as a travel pen.

standard cartridge attached

standard cartridge attached

The pen body is a very light aluminum and it is by far not only the smallest pen in length but in girth. It feels more like holding a pencil than a fountain pen in that fashion.

In hand with cap on back.

In hand with cap on back.

I’m not a fan of using pens with the cap on the back and this pen is no exception. It is super super tiny all by itself.

pen in hand no cap

pen in hand no cap

It’s almost too small, even for my hand. On the plus side it is even lighter than the Petit1 and being so small around I don’t seem to grip it quite as hard.

Writing test

Writing test

There’s nothing remarkable about how it writes, but there’s nothing wrong with it either. It’s a great little pen.

The Good

  • tiny
  • light
  • very narrow grip
  • standard cartridge

The Bad

  • very short without cap
  • not convertible in any way
  • easily lost
  • nothing to stop it from rolling off tables

Overall grade: B

I like it, but I don’t love it. I think the Petit1 beats it out on a practical (and cost) level, but the Rook’s narrow girth and lighter weight makes it have its own charm.

Ghosts in the IM: Conversations With Writers


Andrew Penn Romine

Today I’m catching up with Andrew Penn Romine. Andrew is a writer and animator. He can be found on the internet at and on Twitter.


Minerva Zimmerman: So, the first thing I want to catch up on is how your research went when you headed to the Midwest? Did you visit a lot of places?

Andrew Romine: You’re talking about my trip last year?

MZ: Yes. I haven’t caught up with you in forever!

AR: Hah! I guess it’s been awhile! So last summer, right after I wrapped at DreamWorks, my wife and I took the opportunity to drive back east to see family. On the way back, we decided to route through Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas because my current WIP is set in the Dust Bowl, and I wanted to get a real feel for the country. And I did! It’s flat, hot, and very dry.

MZ: Flat in particular seems such a foreign concept to me.

AR: When I tell folks from those areas that we made a special point of driving through, they laugh and say “well, you only needed to drive a few miles, and you probably had the whole picture.” So you’ve mostly lived along the coast, and mountains?

MZ: Seattle, San Diego, and Oregon Coast

AR: All beautiful areas.  And so are Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas, though especially in the western parts of the states, the beauty is stark. I’ve always been fascinated by the beauty of places like that. I love to drive through the desert. You can see for miles.

MZ: I like the desert as seen from a comfortable car with AC

AR: Haha! Yeah. it’s easy to love it that way.  My sister used to live in Tucson. We have friends who live there now. We love to visit, but try to time our visits in the winter or spring.

So getting back to original question… the trip was mostly driving, though we did hit some small town museums and got some local history. It was sort of an impromptu trip, so I didn’t have time to schedule any interviews or that sort of thing.

MZ: find some good details?

AR: Oh yeah. We even had a little dust storm blow through while we were in Dalhart, tx. You can read about it, you can watch a Ken Burns documentary, but nothing like feeling the sting of grit on your face.

MZ: yikes

AR: (i should say though, what we experienced was not even a fraction of what they used to get though.) I mean, we could still see the sky.

MZ: Yeah, my grandma lived through that. It’s weird to think about her stories cause she got married at 16 and then they left everything behind to go to the West Coast to try and make a new life and still lived in complete poverty, with lasting health effects of the lack of food.

AR: Yeah. Physically and mentally, it’s hard to get over that sort of hardship.

MZ: like, she went gray by 20

AR: Wow.

MZ: I just can’t even fathom that kind of hardship

AR: No, I feel pretty fortunate that for all of my lean times, I’ve never experienced anything that extreme. There are people that do, though. Every day.

And you can look at pictures from that era — and everyone looks about 20 years older than they actually are. To have experienced that sort of hardship, though. To survive it. I have utmost respect. And it’s one of the reasons I write about the period.

MZ: And now you’re back doing animation too. Did you enjoy a break from it?

AR: It’s always good to switch gears for a bit, focus on a different creative task. I was working pretty hard before my trip, and so it was nice to really dive back into writing. And then, yeah, to dive back into animation again!  Oh, so for your readers, I guess I should be a little more specific about what I mean by “animation.” My day job is in visual fx and animation.  And while I’ve worn many hats and done a lot of different types of work, my focus these days is developing and simulation cloth and hair rigs for digital characters. And then running the characters through shots for the commercial, TV show, or film.

MZ: (He’s badass at it too)

AR: In film, especially, a movie gets made by assembly line…

(aw, thanks.)

There’s a different department that handles each stage….

My department is called different things depending on what studio you’re at, but probably the most general term I could use is “Character Technical Director.”

or CharTd

it’s sort of a hybrid artistic/technical job.

MZ: I think it makes perfect sense that you are a writer, cause technical and artistic goes hand in hand with that too

AR: We deal with clothes, hair, fur, fat/skin jiggle. We clean up the performance of the Animation department to fix objects going through each other (ie, a char’s fingers poke through the cup he’s drinking out of, tc) yeah, that’s true! both are all about performance, but you have to know how to get the performance you want. (true of any discipline, I guess.)

MZ: I guess you deal with a lot of artifacts too! Just a different kind :P

AR: Heheh yes! my ways of working are similar.  Lay down the broad strokes first. Get a sense of where you’re going, what you want to accomplish. Do a refine pass.  Then another, then another.

until it’s done.  which sounds simple. it’s not.

MZ: it never is, and no one ever tells you that there’s no good way to know if anything is ever really done, mostly you just get to a certain point and push it out the door and pray a lot

AR: Yeah, though in vfx/animation, the movie DOES have to get released sometime…

MZ: deadlines deadlines deadlines. It is amazing how much inspiration you can get from deadlines

AR: so there’s a fair amount of.. negotiation between getting the shot done right and just getting it done to hit the deadline. It’s a good balance, most of the time. Oh yeah. In fact, my most successful writing ventures of the last year or so have been to antho calls with specific deadlines in mind. Not all of them have ultimately been accepted, but it was a great motivator to get some stuff written

MZ: yeah, me too. Not doing so well for acceptances this year and at least one of the projects I decided to trunk indefinitely

AR: I’m sorry to hear that. Though sometimes, it seems trunking is the best option

MZ: Yeah, i think ultimately it was too specific to the call and more personal catharsis than marketable story

AR: And sometimes you have to write those stories. To practice the craft. To get it out.

And who knows. Nothing has to stay trunked forever.

MZ: I might steal aspects of it at least

AR: exactly.

MZ: I find that happens more and more over time.

AR: Yeah. I can’t speak for all writers (let alone you) but for me — I’m less obsessed about making sure everything I write is 100% marketable. I’m more interested in the experience of writing it. Er, don’t get me wrong. I’d LIKE to have others read it. get paid. Be showered in the adulation of my colleagues and friends…

MZ: Yeah. I had a specific anthology call in mind for this story.

AR: Yeah. and that can be tricky because you get so focused on making sure that one market will love it, and it may not be as successful elsewhere. But like you said. Pull out the guts, rebuild it.

MZ: Well, I think I could have sent it to another market, I just decided that it ended up more catharsis than story.

AR: Yeah. So what are you working on these days?

MZ: I’m actually working on long fiction again. My brain seems kind of frazzled trying to work on short fiction recently.

AR: i know the feeling!

MZ: It’s been nice to get back into longer stories with established characters.

AR: Are you back to working on a previous project, ie, a setting/chars you’re already familiar with or are you starting something new?

MZ: I’m getting ready to dive back into a previous project for in-depth editing.

AR: Nice! I finished a draft of my book last year (sigh) and need to get back to it. It’s hard to start up after a long absence, though

MZ: I find the best way to do it is to involve someone else, so you can piggyback off their enthusiasm so a Beta Reader or involved editor or the like

AR: Mmm. Good idea.

MZ: cause just having someone to talk about story stuff and the characters really gets the writer juices flowing

AR: Yah, for sure.  I’m pretty positive there are going to be some significant rewrites

but hey, that’s part of the game.

MZ: I’m doing a post-write outline right now putting all the scenes into a spreadsheet so I can look at all the different parts in one view

AR: that’s a good idea

MZ: I do something sorta similar but my own version of Justine Larbalestier’s spreadsheet here but I do it after the story is at least 60% done at the earliest

AR: Oh cool, I’ll check that out!

MZ: I don’t like doing an in-depth pre-outline, cause it destroys a lot of the discovery process

AR: I agree. It’s good to have an idea of where you’re going, but discovery is most of the reason *I* write.

MZ: I’ll write up directions, but I don’t draw a map until I get lost. The other thing you’re known for, is being something of a mixologist. Any new favorite cocktails recently?

AR: Ahh. Another fun subject. I was definitely hardcore into mixology a few years ago. My interest hasn’t exactly waned, but the way life’s fallen, I tend to mix (and drink!) less these days.

(Not a bad thing maybe?)

Still, though, it’s a passion of mine

MZ: I got a huge sampler of Fee Bitters recently, and I’ve been using them in seltzer more than cocktails :)

AR: Oh that’s a great idea! I have an army of bitters bottles, and I’ll often add them to soda water as a digestive

MZ: it makes a very lovely non-calorie drink

AR: As far as actual cocktails go, i’ve been focused on the classics these days (o, I bet!)

Manhattans, Martinis, margaritas, negronis. You really can’t go wrong with those.

MZ: I made what ended up being sort of a tequila martini sort of thing, 1 to 1 silver tequila and St. Germain with grapefruit bitters

AR: I’ve been making my margaritas lately with mezcal instead of tequila. And a variation on the Negroni (which is a house-fave)

MZ: I’m not sure I’ve ever had mezcal

AR: Oh mezcal is tasty. Smoky, a little like scotch, but with that sort of resinous mouth feel of tequila.

MZ: Oooo I like smoky

AR: Try mezcal!

MZ: Do you have a brand you recommend?

AR: Well, I’ve tried a few, though for the value, Del Maguey’s Vida is my fave.

MZ: Cool. I’ll have to try that. I’m a big scotch person, so that’s a fascinating new taste to try.

AR: Yeah, if you like smoky scotch, then mezcal should be right up your alley

MZ: Is there anything else you want to make sure to talk about?

AR: I could talk all night about a bunch of things…


I probably shouldn’t…

I’m eager to get back to my writing.


Ghosts in the IM: Conversations With Writers


Sunil Patel

Sunil just recently sold his very first short story! He’s a playwright and an actor in the Bay Area and soon he will be reviewing books for Lightspeed Magazine. He can be found on the internet at and I highly recommend following him on Twitter.



Minerva Zimmerman: So you just sold your very first short story!

Sunil Patel: I did! I keep telling people this and I still don’t believe it.

MZ: That’s so awesome. It’s a big step.

SP: And I’m sharing a table of contents with some unbelievable names, like Ken Liu, Cat Rambo, Seanan McGuire, Andy Duncan…people with AWARDS AND SHIT.

MZ: And you just got back from LonCon

SP: My second Worldcon!

MZ: I really like following you on Twitter because you just get so exuberant about everything. It’s like getting the cliff notes about the stuff I care about

SP: I love turning people on to things I love. I always think about the mark I make on the world, and I want it to be a positive one. Even if I do nothing else before I die, if I was the reason you watched Avatar: The Last Airbender, then I did something good in this world.

MZ: :) I feel like there’s a good chance that if you like something I’ll like something.

SP: And that’s good! It’s good to be aware of people’s tastes. I like to think my recommendations are the best, but they’re only the best if you agree with me and what I look for in things. I tend to be more positive in general than most people, I think, which means I even like things that are generally derided, like the first Transformers movie.

MZ: What was your favorite part about your trip. You seemed to be eating your way through Paris prior to the con

SP: And I just hope the fact that I like some things that may not be objectively good doesn’t invalidate my recommending genuinely amazing things. With regards to Paris, the dinner I had on my last night was definitely a highlight, one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Foie gras (I’M SORRY DUCKS I’M REALLY SORRY BUT OH MY GOD), roast duck, pain perdu, and…you know, I just had Subway. Sorry, stomach, please forgive me, I’ll put something wonderful in you again soon enough.

But another highlight was acquiring some single-serving travel buddies at the Eiffel Tower. Two 19-year-old girls, both from England, I believe, and one of Iranian descent. And they were the BIGGEST NERDS EVER. At one point they were singing the Pokémon theme song. On the Eiffel Tower.

I loved that our geekery bonded us strangers together for one night.

MZ: So random, but so awesome that geekery can bring people together. Though I am realizing that 19 year olds probably don’t remember a world in which Pokemon didn’t exist and that’s sort of weirding me out

SP: And there are so many kids who have never known a world without The Simpsons.

MZ: Yeah, I’ve been watching the marathon sitting here sick on the sofa.

SP: Kids? Adults. Shit.

MZ: And realizing that some of these episodes I remember airing, aired like 20+ years ago

SP: I feel really old all the time, even though I know I’m young. And I keep feeling like I should have started getting serious about writing and submitting years ago. I should have written FIFTEEN BOOKS at my age or whatever.

MZ: Yeah. I get that feeling too.

SP: I know every writer has a different path. There are plenty of stories of successful writers who started late in life, and they’re heartening. But then I hear the stories of people who wrote their first novels as teenagers and I’m like SHUT UP.

MZ: Well, I think there’s partly a thing where you can’t generally start too young because there’s some fundamental amount of work that needs to come first. I mean most people wrote young, but that doesn’t mean they’d learned yet

SP: I wrote a book called The Disastrous Dino War when I was nine. I also illustrated it. I’ll bet you can’t guess what it’s about.

MZ: clowns?

SP: Close! It’s about a dino war. It was disastrous.

MZ: Hehehehe

SP: I will never misspell that word. Never ever.

MZ: I’m on cold medicine, so that’s really funny to me today.

SP: Because the day before I was to submit that book for a contest, I realized I had “Disasterous” on the cover and title page and that was not the correct spelling and I had to redo them both. Disaster-ous! Like a disaster! IT MAKES SENSE. Goddammit, English language.

MZ: oh no. I wrote a book of poetry for a young writer’s contest at like 7, it’s terrible stuff like: “A bear makes tears, A Mom repairs”

SP: “Sandy ate pears”

MZ: but Dear Mr. Henshaw was my favorite book ever, and I HAD to go to the young author’s meeting

SP: “They fell on their derrieres” I loved that book!

MZ: and like you had to turn in a book to go!

SP: (There are so many books today where I say, “I loved that book!” but I was a kid and I have literally no memory of the book, I just know I read it.)

MZ: I was working at the kitchen table trying to come up with a story and I truly thought my life was ending when I couldn’t make anything work. At 7!

SP: What a tragedy!

MZ: I was like knocking back shots of apple juice in despair!

SP: Despair, see, that’s another good rhyme.

MZ: pretty sure I used that, also something about a goblin

SP: “The goblin scares”

MZ: yep, that was it

SP: I feel pretty good about being as talented as a 7-year-old.

MZ: :D So, I try to keep that in mind when everthing seems terrible and I’m never going to be a “real” writer.

SP: For me, it’s trying to put into perspective my writing path as opposed to other people’s. Some people just wrote and wrote and wrote continually since they were children, and then they wrote all the time, and they wrote books, and they couldn’t stop.

MZ: Yeah if you try to navigate by other people’s milestones, you’re going to end up lost.

SP: That wasn’t me. For me, I only wrote for contests as I was growing up. That was what motivated me to write something. The first major story I wrote just because I had an idea and I wanted to write it was called “Polter-Cow,” which I then adopted as my online persona, hence my Twitter handle of ghostwritingcow.

MZ: Heh, I really like the idea of Ghost Cows there is apparently a place here in Oregon that gets them

SP: It came from an enemy in the Sega Genesis game Toejam and Earl 2: Panic on Funkatron.

MZ: ohhhh yeah

SP: But anyway, after that first story I wrote just to write a story, I ended up taking creative writing courses in college, and I wrote a lot in college.

MZ: didn’t that have a really spooky sound effect?

SP: I remembered the other day that I even wrote a short screenplay.

MZ: You’re also really active in theater

SP: I don’t remember the sound effect! Possibly.

Right, I got hooked on theater in college and took a dramatic writing course, and once I got to the Bay Area, I started writing monologues and short plays. And I have to keep reminding myself: all of that, ALL OF THAT was writing. I didn’t just start writing last year and then sell a story nine months later.

MZ: Yeah, I don’t think anyone really does that. I mean everything has to be in your brain first.

SP: I’m in a weird paradoxical mode where it feels like I did that since I only started submitting to SFF magazines recently. But I’ve been writing for years and years, in so many different forms. I wrote a lot in online journals as well.

 MZ: Right, but I mean it’s kind of like making gumbo. First you make a roux, then you start cooking your onions and garlic, and then you start throwing in ingredients from all over and you have something sorta in mind, but it isn’t the same every time.

SP: That metaphor is going way over my head because the most complicated thing I can make is chili and that is dumping things into a pot.

MZ: hahahaha, so is this sorta, but in an order

SP: First you drop in your terrible dinosaur book, mix in a story about a ghost cow, sprinkle in some theater…

 MZ: I mean everyone has their basic writing skills, and then all the books and stuff they’ve ever read, then all their experiences

SP: Who even knows where words come from?

MZ: and then there’s so much writing that has to happen in all different kinds of things before you can put something together good enough to publish

SP: Every time I look at a story I’ve written I don’t really understand where it came from. Words are weird.

MZ: Words are weird. Brains too.

SP: I tried to add up if I’d written my million words of crap. I forget the total I came to but I hadn’t included all my online journal stuff and I think that counts because that was a lot of crap.

MZ: I have a weird question. Have you read a lot of plays?

SP: I have read a lot of plays! Both for class and for fun.

MZ: I had a weird TA gig where I had a lot of free time in the drama department, so I ended up reading all the plays starting with A. I think I got to about S

SP: What was your favorite?

 MZ: I really liked the original Arsenic and Old Lace because all the Boris Karloff jokes make more sense in that character was actually portrayed by Boris Karloff

SP: That play is hilarious. The movie’s great too.

MZ: Auntie Mame too

SP: Really like those A plays, then.

MZ: I did apparently. I wish I’d kept better track of what I’d read

SP: I need to go back through time and ask my past self to update my Goodreads.

MZ: my past self is such a pain in my ass

SP: I like to think that I am currently the best version of me that has ever been because, hoo boy, some of my past selves.

MZ: ahahahaha I just wish I could delegate more or at least have them undo some of their mistakes. I work at a museum, and I’m always telling people to write the records and notes in the records as letters to their future selves telling them what they were thinking at the time. Cause your future self will curse you otherwise.

SP: I am so incredibly grateful for all the journaling I did because it was basically offloading my memory into digital form.

MZ: Yeah I’ve gotten out of the habit

SP: I can read past entries and there are so many details of good times I had with friends that I cannot access in my brain anymore. So I guess they happened. Probably. I can’t really trust what I wrote to be accurate though.

MZ: I wonder if it is a thing that happens in life or not

SP: I think it’s also because now there is so much more Internet. LiveJournal used to be The Place and then Facebook and Twitter sort of became the way people communicated instead. And now Tumblr.

MZ: it’s true. I remember when LJ was most of my internet. I prefer Twitter in a lot of ways, but I can’t deal with Facebook at all.

SP: I feel that I have been neglecting Facebook for Twitter, which is sad because I love Facebook. Facebook is where my friends are. Not that I don’t have friends on Twitter, but Facebook is where the people I have known for years in real life—mostly my college friends and theater friends—talk.

MZ: I never liked the user interface, so I never really got into it.

SP: The response to my Facebook post announcing that I sold my first short story was tremendous. I felt so supported, even by people I hadn’t actually talked to in years. Also being able to use more than 140 characters when communicating is a plus.

MZ: Yeah, I do miss LJ for that. But I feel like people just don’t really comment on journal posts anymore

SP: Which saddens me because it’s the only way I know someone has actually read it. Otherwise I feel like I’m shouting into the void.

MZ: Yeah, but I mean I guess that’s what writing is a lot of the time, so it isn’t necessarily bad… just feedback is nice.

SP: Writing—all art—is a form of communication, an expression of ideas, so it’s nice to know that you’ve reached someone in some way. Even if it’s simply “I have no reaction to this at all but I have heard you and internalized your words and I have no choice but to be irrevocably changed by this experience because that is how life works.”

MZ: I’m looking forward to reading your short

SP: I’m looking forward to you reading my short story! Also dreading. I’m excited/terrified.

MZ: Sounds about right :)

SP: I hear it never gets any easier.

MZ: nope, fraid not

SP: Lord, what fools these writers be.

MZ: Hark, but I do hear the morning lark

wait, no… that’s just a cold medicine hallucination

SP: Nay, ’tis the afternoon ibis.

MZ: /coughcoughcoughlaughcough

SP: That joke is only funny to me because we were all birds on Twitter earlier today because, you know, Twitter.

 MZ: Makes sense. I’m still sort of sneaking up on today. I really don’t recommend this cold.

SP: I resolve not to get it, and I will not recommend it to others.

MZ: Good plan. Well, I think that about wraps it up for this. Anything you want to make sure to talk about?

SP: I did want to put in a plug for Worldcon as a fantastic convention to go to, as last year’s Worldcon was what showed me how lovely and supportive the SFF community is and inspired me to officially join it as a writer.

MZ: Cool. That is a much stronger recommendation to go next year than a lot of things.

SP: I’ve already registered for next year. Hope to see you there!

MZ: Kind of curious how that’s going to go with it being not close to a hub airport

SP: Perhaps they will organize mammoth caravans or dragon rides.

MZ: ooo dragons. that would make it memorable

SP: Make it happen, George R.R. Martin.




Update – I am a talented klutz

Well, it finally happened. I broke a cell phone. I put a bottle of coke in my purse that wasn’t quite fastened and that purse turned out to be water-resistant enough on the inside to send all of the contents swimming. This has put a major crimp on my ability to take terrible pictures of pens and things to update the blog because I had 4 weeks of pictures on my phone. I should hopefully be getting a refurb replacement in the next couple days and I endeavor to figure out what pictures I lost and replace them.

The same day I broke my phone I also managed to flush a piece of our steam cleaner which required a plumber to clear from the toilet. I am REALLY talented. I just wish I was as talented at writing stuff.

Ghosts In the IM: Conversations Between Writers

Andi Newton



Andi is a writer of spooky and unnatural things. She enjoys many things including geocaching and fountain pens. She can be found at and on Twitter as @AndiMN


Minerva Zimmerman: I’ve been looking forward to talking to you because you’re also a fountain pen person!

Andi Newton: Same here! I love meeting new pen peeps!

MZ: And you’re a different kind of fountain pen person than me, so I get to pick your brain about stuff I don’t know hardly anything about.

AN: Different in what way?

MZ: you go to pen shows and get classic pens, which I don’t know hardly anything about

AN: Ah! If you ever get to go to a pen show, you should. It’s great fun, you get to see some really cool pens, and you get to chat with lots of people who really get how much we all love pens.

MZ: It sounds awesome. I just never seem to be anywhere near one

AN: Yeah, I’m lucky that we have one a couple of hours from me in Raleigh each year. And one of these days I’m going to make it to the DC show, which I hear is fantastic.

MZ: I keep looking at antique stores, but they don’t seem to turn up much around here.

AN: I know the feeling. My husband and I used to hit the antique stores a lot looking for pens, but we rarely find any in this area. BTW, I’ve really been enjoying your blog posts about your fountain pens.

MZ: I don’t even know what to look for in classic pens. Thank you, I’m enjoying sharing a writer perspective on using the easily available pens.

AN: It depends on why you’re getting them and what you like. If you’re getting them to collect, you’ll look for a specific type or brand that you like. If you’re getting them to use, you’ll eventually settle on a nib/body/filling system that you like. A good classic pen to try is an Esterbrook. Real workhorses, and not too expensive. You can find them for $15-20 on ebay. If you need to restore it, that’s really easy with an Estie and only takes a little time and about $4 in supplies.

MZ: Cool. I’ll have to look for one. That sounds like a fun project

AN: One of the really cool things about Esties is that the nibs are interchangeable. The Esterbrook company made about 34 different nibs for their pens. To change nibs, you just unscrew the one in the pen and screw in the new one. Fine, medium, even flex! Pretty cool!

MZ: Do you handwrite your first drafts of stories? That’s normally when I use my pens.

AN: Yes, I do. That’s why I started using fountain pens. I was going through a pen or two a week, and I felt bad about tossing so much plastic into landfills. I needed something refillable, so fountain pens it was!

MZ: I like using non-standard ink colors

AN: I’m weird that way. I can only write fiction in black ink. Anything else distracts me. But I love different colors for writing lists or notes or letters. And of course I mark my edits in red ink.

MZ: I use black and blue ink at work a lot, so I like using colors to delineate fiction writing as a different beast

AN: That makes sense.

MZ: I even tend to write different POV in different colors in the same story

AN: BTW, if I’ve never said it before, it is ultra cool that you work in a museum. I’m jealous!

MZ: It has its moments. There’s a lot of unglamorous paperwork I don’t talk much about. :)

AN: Like any job.

MZ: Just my inbox is weirder

AN: One person’s weird is another person’s interesting.  Bear in mind that my husband has a bachelor’s in archaeology and a master’s in history. We’re big museum people.

MZ: I bet you visit all the museums when you go on vacation. I know I do.

AN: We make a list of the ones in the area before we hit the road, and try to schedule our days so we can get to all of them.

MZ: Mondays are bad for most museums. I’m almost always trying to visit a closed museum on a Monday, it’s cosmic irony.

AN: Yeah, I’ve noticed that. Why are most museums closed on Mondays?

MZ: I dunno. I think they have to be closed one day a week and Monday got nominated?

AN: Could be. Especially since they have to be open on the weekend.

MZ: Also lots of museums have relatively small staffs.

AN: True. There’s a historical building in my town, and I think most of their staff is volunteers. So their hours sometimes get reduced when they don’t have many volunteers.

MZ: Our weekday front desk staff is 100% volunteer in fact we only have 1 full-time employee. The rest of us are part-time including the director

AN: Wow. I’m officially adding museums to my list of things that should get far more funding — along with schools and libraries.

MZ: absolutely, but museums have found lots of creative ways to keep going with less. It helps that people feel very strongly about history. I suppose we should talk a little about writing too :)

AN: Sure!

MZ: Are you working on anything right now?

AN: I am. A novel. Which is tough for me because I’m primarily a short fiction writer.

MZ: I’ve been focusing on short fiction lately but think of myself as a longer fiction writer.

AN: Do you find it tough to write short fiction?

MZ: I do because I am a very dialog-heavy writer and that takes space to do a lot of character and world building, which you don’t always get in short fiction.

AN: I know exactly what you mean — because I’m having the opposite problem. I’m so used to writing tight, keeping everything lean because you have such limited word count in short fiction, that expanding it out to novel length without everything falling apart or becoming a contrived, convoluted mess is… UGH!

MZ: I tend to outline longer projects at the half-way or 2/3rds point so I can see where all the dangling threads that need to be fleshed out or built on I don’t like outlining before I write though

AN: I’m definitely a plotter. I like to start with a basic summary, then do a rough outline, and then a step outline. Then write the story. Kind of like building it up into more detail little by little.

In fact, the novel I’m working on right now was originally a short story, so I guess that could be part of the planning stage, too.

MZ: Oooo. Did the story just get away and become bigger?

AN: No,some of my beta readers weren’t really sure what was going on in the story. In trying to figure out how to fix that, I realized that there was a lot more that I wanted to show in that world. And it worked really well as the opening for another story idea I’d been toying with. Plus, NaNoWriMo was coming up, so… For all the headaches this book is giving me, it’s a really fun world to play in. Carnivals, magic, a boy who helps the dead, a little girl who’s a prison. And a female sheriff who isn’t who she thinks she is.

MZ: I’m intrigued.

AN: (And, yes, that’s a little girl who IS a prison, not in a prison. Her name is Oubliette.)

MZ: I’m VERY intrigued.

AN: Cool! Now if I could just get the darn thing to behave itself so I could get it written! LOL

MZ: Wiley stories.

AN: It’s like they don’t even care that we’re supposed to be in charge.

MZ:*shakes tiny impotent fist*

AN:*threatens manuscript with red pen*



Ghosts in the IM: Conversations Between Writers


Luna Lindsey and Jennifer Brozek


Luna Lindsey

Luna Lindsey

Jennifer Brozek

Jennifer Brozek

Luna Lindsey has self-published her novel Emerald City Dreamer and the recent non-fiction Recovering Agency Her blog is at and Twitter is

Jennifer Brozek runs the micro-press on top of working with various publishers of all sizes as a writer, game designer, and editor. Website: Twitter:


Luna Lindsey: How’s it going today?
Jennifer Brozek: I’m finally getting over being sick. Travel takes it out of me sometimes. I don’t usually get sick after a con but when I do, it really messes with me.
Luna: Oh man, that sucks. Yeah, I hate getting con plague. I try to switch into obsessive hand washing mode as soon as I enter the airport :)
Jennifer: Jeff got sick at the con. I catch something on the way home.
Luna: Airports are the worst
Jennifer: Me too. And lots of hand sanitizer. So many people want to shake my hand at conventions.
Luna: But cons are bad, too. I got Swine Flu from PAX, and Norro Virus from Radcon. So.
Jennifer: Yikes!
Luna: I’m still alive to tell the tale! How was the con? It was Gencon right?
Jennifer: People forget that menus at restaurants are teeming with little nasties.
Luna: Worldcon? One of those big cons I’ve not been to yet
Jennifer: Gen Con was great. Tiring.
Luna: I need to get to one of those someday.
Jennifer: Worldcon is in Spokane next year!
Luna: WHOA. ok putting that on my calendar
Jennifer: It’s practically in our backyard.
Luna: Totally. lol from London to Spokane.
Jennifer: And if people love Chicks Dig Gaming like I hope they will, I have a half of a percentage of a chance of maybe being nommed for a Hugo.
Luna: Oh that would be great. Is that your latest release?
Jennifer: That will be released in November along with my Baen anthology Shattered Shields. November will be a good month.
Luna: Very nice. You’ll be quite busy. I’m reading the description. It looks interesting.
Jennifer: I usually am.
Luna: It’s always extra busy the month around a release.
Jennifer: How’s things since your latest book came out? Any hate mail?
Luna: Going well! The aforementioned extra-busy seems to finally be dying down, but it will pick up again if I manage to do more guest posts. No hate mail. Some hate tweets when I advertise, but it’s all manageable. Lots of really good feedback so far. It seems to be accomplishing my primary goal, which was to help exmormons adjust.
Jennifer: I’m happy for you. I was a little afraid that people might jump on you for it. Religion is a very touchy subject.
Luna: I’m still braced for it. If it hits any mainstream outlets, it could still happen. So far, only a few people know about it, which is both good and bad :)
Jennifer: Is that by design or are you looking to push the PR?
Luna: I did get a DEFCON (hacker con) talk rejected because religion was too controversial haha.No, I’ve done my main PR push. I’ve spent a bit on Twitter ads, and had a small investment in a publicist. Time will tell if it pays off? This seems to be a word of mouth kind of book
Jennifer: That works.
Luna: I’m kind of new to the publicity end of things, too :) I’ve only marketed one other book before this
Jennifer: You’ve got a good cover. I recently read an article about most people still shopping online with their eyes. So a good cover is must.
Luna: Yes. Thank you. :) I knew cover would be important.
My artist, BTW, is Ana Cruz. She’s great to work with, and totally reasonably priced.
Jennifer: Blurbs are the second most influential selling point. IE: Hey, I read this and it’s not crap!
Nice! How reasonable?
Luna: lol yes. And I’m starting to get good blurbs now.
$180 for this cover. I think Emerald City Dreamer was $150? something like that. I did my own layout, so that’s just for the art
Jennifer: That’s on part for my cover budget for AIP.
Luna: What I like is she works with me. I tell her my concept, and she does a sketch, and I let her know what to change before she does the post-production I had SO many tweaks to this cover, and she was very patient hehe
Jennifer: Heh. Cool.
Luna: I like the cover on Chicks. It’s nice. What else are you working on right now?
Jennifer: Me too. Mad Norwegian Press commissioned it but the artist, Katy Shuttleworth, worked with me on it. Right now?
Luna: (It looks great.)

Jennifer: I’m writing Karen Wilson Chronicles #4 – Chimera Incarnate. It’s the last in the series. Then I’m going to be writing Never Let Me Leave, which is Melissa Allen #2 – my young adult SF-Thriller series. Plus, I’m editing 2 books for AIP – Frost from Peter M. Ball and The Bringer of War from Dylan Birtolo. Also have a couple of short stories on the horizon.

Luna: Do you find it’s better to have lots of pans in the fire? Or would you rather focus on one thing at a time?
Jennifer: Weirdly, the general answer is “Yes.” I like to work on one thing at a time but I like to have multiple projects going on. For example, I spend 3 days on Frost, doing an editorial letter but I didn’t write. That was on purpose. But this week, I’m doing copy edits on The Bringer of War while I write on Chimera. I write in the morning. Edit in the afternoon.
Luna: That sounds awesome. I have trouble switching gears. So I do better if I can have 5-7 days in a row where I do nothing but the one project, and then maybe take a couple days off or to do “must do” tasks, and then try to get back into the same project again. Which makes it hard to strategically get things done as they’re needed. especially for huge projects like Recovering Agency was.
Jennifer: *nod* Do you have a day job?
Luna: Nope. My partners support me.
So when I’m at the peak of that 5-7 ramp up, I’m writing 8000, 9000 words a day
Jennifer: Or, as I like to say “pays the bills” job. And that’s awesome. I recently figured out that without the Husband, I could make it on my own but I’d be living hand-to-mouth. I’m happy he supports my publishing habit.
Luna: or editing 5-15k words a day. Hehe yes. It’s a shame that writers don’t get paid more. Especially for those of us who work hard and produce solid work.
Jennifer: Nice! I do a steady 2000 a day or so. As for editing, usually 50-60 pages is optimum.
Luna: It’s that myth that creativity isn’t work because “Anyone can do it”
Jennifer: True. The intern at the game store shamefully admitted to me that she wrote fan fiction and I applauded. Fan fiction teaches writers about writing and world building and showed this both how to do it and how hard it is all at one time. Writing is one of the hardest jobs a person can do.
Luna: Yes, and in the end, I think it’s all fan fiction ;) It is. And it’s more than full time. I’m working even when I’m not working I can’t just watch a movie anymore without analyzing plot structure.
Jennifer: Hey, I write media tie-in fiction… which means I get paid to write canon fan fiction! :)
Luna: Yay! I think that since we are building on the concepts of giants, even when we have totally new ideas, they can’t exist without the foundation laid before. So that’s what I mean by, “it’s all fan fic”.
Jennifer: You can’t. You must write well. Tie-in fiction has a built-in audience that will know when you mess up. Plot structure, story, characterization all must be there.
Luna: Exactly. :) I haven’t really written any fan fic or tie-in, so.. Well, okay I wrote some Changeling: The Dreaming stuff 15 years ago. I guess that counts.
Jennifer: It does.
Luna: I thought my ideas were the best, of course ;)
Jennifer: I’ve done Battletech, Shadowrun, Valdemar, Elemental Masters, and I have one coming up that I’m super excited about but, of course, can’t talk about. NDAs and all that. But I tell you, I’d kill to write a Haven book. I really would.
Luna:- Haven? This?
Jennifer: The TV show that was vaguely based on Stephen King’s Colorado Kid. Yep. That’s the one. And I will admit, the only unpaid fan fiction I’ve every written has been Haven fan fiction.
Luna: Ok I’ve somehow not heard of this. I like to get into shows. I’ll have to check it out.
Jennifer: It’s good. Pure Stephen King (whom I adore). 4 seasons out now? Or is it 3? I can’t remember.
Luna: I like some Stephen King, not others. It seems like the “flavor” of King I prefer.
Ok that’s a great start :) I’m starting to finally run low on shows to watch so I’ll add it to my list
Jennifer: You watch Hannibal?
Luna: Not yet. It’s also on my list.
Jennifer: :)
Luna: There are a few shows I have on my list to watch with my partner, Roland, and that’s one. So I’m saving it. I might go ahead and watch it anyway if he doesn’t get a move on hehe
Jennifer: Heh. It’s good. But where Haven is almost pure popcorn, Hannibal? You have to pay attention to the body language. A good half of the conversations are non-verbal.
Luna: Ah, so it’s like Downton Abbey (maybe only in that one way)
Jennifer: I don’t actually watch that one.
Luna: I wouldn’t normally have watched it, but we started watching it as a family. It was pretty good. I was surprised. It hooked me and I watched all four seasons.
So let’s see. I love talking about autism. You mentioned you’re high functioning? When did you get diagnosed?
Jennifer: Cool.
Luna: (speaking of body language lol)(I guess I shouldn’t assume you got diagnosed.)
Jennifer: Let’s see… I was diagnosed shortly after I got here… so around 2003. I was part of a study for adult Asperger’s. I got paid something like $250 to have stuff glued to my head and to answer questions.
Luna: Oh wow
Jennifer: My twin brother has Asperger’s too. His daughter is full blown autistic. She’ll never be able to live on her own.
Luna: So, you didn’t know before you started in the study? It does run in families. My son is most likely on the spectrum. And one of my step kids, which there’s no genetic link there, but it does imply people tend to be attracted to that DNA somehow.
Jennifer: No. But when the study asked for people who did things like: rocking (to get to sleep or when in a specific situation), OCD tendencies, and other such things… also, a couple of friends pointed out that I had a lot of the hallmarks, signed up. But none of my family knew and that was in a tense period between me and my family. So… I was the only one not surprised when my brother’s daughter was diagnosed.
Luna: Ah. Wow that is the most unique way I’ve ever heard of someone finding out. That’s a great story.
Jennifer: I rock when I’m intensely focused, tired, or hungry. I have a thing about sets… and comfort reading/watching the same things over and over. Well, I didn’t want to be … hm. Broken. :\
Luna: I started letting myself rock once I’d figured it out. I didn’t get diagnosed until last year, and hadn’t even suspected until the year prior to that. For me, finding out was both a relief and a grieving process.
Jennifer: But it explains why I didn’t respond to yelling or high praise as a child. My mom used to get so mad because she couldn’t figure out why I didn’t show emotion. She used to call me fish face / stone face to try to get a reaction. That was an interesting conversation to have after the whole thing was discovered. Relief and grieving… I don’t know if I ever went through that.
Luna: Yes, there’s that whole thing where people suddenly “get” you. My sister was able to forgive me of a bunch of stuff I didn’t even realize she was hung up on, after I told her.
Jennifer: It was more. “Oh. So, that’s why I’m like this.”
Luna: Yeah.. Relief for knowing there was an explanation for the many ways I am, and relief for finally being able to learn some new coping mechanisms, and relief that those around me could finally understand me better. Grief in that, many things I thought I could eventually “overcome” were intrinsically part of me and I’d probably always be that way.
Jennifer: It did explain why I did things. Why I spend so much time watching people.
I had to train myself to recognize that certain cues meant certain things.
Luna: Yes, the conscious learning of rules. I’ve always done it. But now I can forgive myself when I fail to do it.
Jennifer: I have slips now and then.
Luna: It also allowed me to be okay with getting medicated for my anxiety. That’s been a huge improvement.
Jennifer: That’s good. I’m glad.
Luna: Yes. :) I still slip up, too. In any situation I’m not familiar with. Having decreased anxiety helps. Plus self-acceptance. And the ability to explain it to people. Do you also have synesthesia? Lots of autists do.
Jennifer: I forget that people get uncomfortable when I openly watch them. No. No synesthesia. But I am a super taster. :)
Luna: Well, you can also say you’re a writer to excuse that hehe Oh nice! Yes, that’s a common trait. It’s nice of course when it means you can enjoy food better. It’s not so nice when all food seems overpowering and gross. I oscillate between the two modes.\ I go to Rainforest Retreat (I think you do, too, but a different session?) and I’ve noticed some common aspie-like traits among writers. Like a tendency to eavesdrop (and the ability to do so because of super-hearing), difficulty in discerning people talking when in a loud area, sensitivity to senses.
Jennifer: I’m getting a new tattoo to celebrate the sale of my Melissa Allen series and I made my tattooist uncomfortable watching him set up. He admitted that and I had to apologize. I do want to have a tattooist in a new series I’m planning. Later we talked about it and I thanked him for reminding me of the social cue.
Luna: And it seems like for some autists, writing can be a huge outlet. So there are some interesting correlations there.
Jennifer: Rainforest! My favorite writers retreat!
Luna: Oh that’s awesome. Congrats on the new tat AND on the sale. Yes :) I <3 it.
Jennifer: Thanks.
Luna: It was my 2nd year this year. I’m in 3rd session next. It’s sad because 2nd session got split. So I couldn’t decide who I wanted to see more.
Jennifer: I use it to train myself to write with people around. I think I do pretty well.
I ended up in the 2nd session for 2015.
Luna: I use it to make great contacts. I do my most productive writing back in the room. Nice. Lots of good people there :) People I will miss!
Jennifer: I average about 10-15K each weekend. And, so far, I’ve sold everything I’ve ever written there. :)
Luna: Nice. Yes, I write my best stuff there, too. I try to focus on short stories so I can have quantity. I usually work on many many projects while there. It lets me break out of my rigid structure and planned projects to go off on tangents and whims.
Jennifer: There’s something about being around a bunch of enthusiastic, productive authors that fills the creative well for me.
Luna: Totally. Hm I think I’m out of questions for you. Got any for me? (I didn’t really plan any questions, but the little thing that pops up ideas is out of ideas hehe)
Jennifer: How’d you get into self publishing? It’s not a career for the weak.
Luna: Oh, good question. I’ve been familiar with the publishing industry my whole life. My parents were both writers (not professionally, but my dad made a sale to Galaxy). So I knew if I ever went fulltime, there’d be this incredibly long arc to getting an agent, making the sale, and finally seeing it on shelves. So when I lost my job in 2010, and was kicking around the idea of writing fulltime, I stared at this really long track. My girlfriend is a huge reader. And she had a Kindle, and suggested I look into it. She mentioned a number of good books she’d read that were published thru KDP.
Jennifer: Neat. You got a kick in the pants from life.
Luna: So I decided to give it a shot. I didn’t even try to get an agent. Just went straight for it. (I do hybrid, tho so I still sell stories to magazines) Yes. :) And my partners were willing to support me through it, which is beautiful and amazing.
Jennifer: I do hybrid, too. You have great partners!
Luna: I do! :D
Jennifer: A writer’s best friend is the one who will support their impossible dream.
Luna: Exactly.
Jennifer: I self pub because I can’t sell the Karen Wilson Chronicles because they started out as a webseries. But, in truth, I do prefer small press and traditional publishing. I guess it’s the pat on the head and the belief the publisher puts in you to do a good job. I’m super excited with Permuted Press.
Luna: That’s awesome. Yes, small press is pretty cool, too.
Jennifer: What is the next thing on your plate?
Luna: I’m glad there are so many options. Once I’m done promoting Recovering Agency, I’ll start edits for Emerald City Iron. I’ve got a number of people pushing me to do it. So that. :) I’d also like to catch up on a pile of blog post ideas, particularly ones on autism I’ve been putting off.
And I need to spend a couple weeks getting more short story submissions out the door. :) But ECI is the next big project.
Jennifer: I still have your first one in my kindle. It’s on my to-read pile.
Luna: Nice :) I read the first one in your series as well :) couple years ago I think
Jennifer: I hope you liked it.
Luna: All these huge to-read piles we all have. I did :)
Jennifer: I’m having so much fun wrapping up the series but I had to remember things like… Oh, I left 2 people in comas. One from book 2 and one from book 3. I need to do something about it.
Luna: haha yes, the tying up loose ends business. I’m reading the Anita Blake series right now and I was like, Oh, Anita’s friend Catherine. I haven’t seen her for a couple of books. I don’t like her. Why is she back? I liked her better when she was just forgotten about.
Jennifer: Speaking of loose ends, I’m sorry but I need to cut this short now. I still have words to get down on Chimera Incarnate to make today’s word count.
Luna: Yes. It was great chatting with you :)
Jennifer: Wonderful chatting with you, too.

Ghosts in the IM: Conversations Between Writers (and Editors)

First of all– I am not dead. I got a cold which tried to take me out like a ninja rhinoceros and had me in bed for a full week. I’m now on prescription cough syrup so I’m going to go quickly to the Conversation here.

Brian White and Wendy Wagner


picWendy N Wagner


Brian White is the editor of Fireside Fiction Magazine and terrorizes Twitter as @talkwordy and blogs at

Wendy Wagner is the Managing/Associate Editor of both Lightspeed Magazine and Nightmare Magazine, a regular blogger on the Inkpunks publishing blog and her recent Pathfinder novel is Skinwalkers and she can be found on Twitter as @wnwagner

Brian J. White:  /waves/

 Wendy N. Wagner:  Hi! Wow, I almost forgot how to use chat. I just realized I haven’t chatted or hung out online in, like, over a year.

Brian:  Where have you been hanging out? In meatspace? You know about the germs, right?

Wendy:  You mean GO OUTSIDE?!? Ack! No! Apparently there’s this giant ball of radiation out there, and it will cook you if you’re not careful.

Brian:  I have heard of this infernal device. I work nights so I only see it as it sinks beneath the hills.

Wendy:  Living in Oregon, I only see it 3 or 4 months a year. It’s pretty terrifying. So how are you this morning?

Brian:  I used to think Oregon was an imaginary place, like Nebraska. But I have met too many people from there at this point, and I am starting to doubt my belief.

Wendy:  If you ever meet Andrew Fuller (editor of 3 Lobed Burning Eye Mag), it’ll blow your mind. He’s a Nebraskan who now lives in Oregon. I’m pretty sure he’s a semi-mythical being.

Brian:  Oh my GOD. This can’t happen. I am still trying to cope with Pluto’s de-planetting. Too much change is bad.

Wendy:  The mind is a fragile thing. That’s why they invented whisky. (As an aside, if you play the game Arkham Horror, you can get the whiskey card and use it restore sanity points. Best. Game. Feature. Ever!)

Brian:  They are wise. (I definitely need a whiskey card.) /hides flask/ But, to your question I am well this morning. Just got a load of postcards to send out to the backers of Fireside’s Year 3 Kickstarter.

Wendy:  Do you actually write on them, like with a pen?

Brian:  Last time I did this, I had, like maybe less than 100 to do, and I handwrote on each. This time I have probably like 600 to send, so I had text printed, and I will sign with a Sharpie. I already have screwed-up wrists, and also shreds of sanity left.

Wendy:  Wow. Thank goodness for self-adhesive stamps!

Brian:  Oh man. I hadn’t even thought of that. /pets tongue/

Wendy:  * giggles at the thought * Do you have a special “editorial” signature that you use? I took Mary Kowal’s advice from her beginning writer’s series and invented a special signature for signing books. Of course, after one or two uses, it just devolves into a squiggly line, like my real signature, so I’m not sure how effective it is.

Brian:  Haha. I do not, but I think I would have the same nice-to-squiggly speed. Focusing is overrated. But my handwriting is so bad, I just aim for a legible B at the beginning.

Wendy:  I was a write-in yesterday, and I currently am without a laptop, so I just write manually. I dread reading the stuff! I can usually make out about 1 out of every 7 letters.

Brian:  Heh. That sounds about right. Do you usually write manually, or is that just a without-laptop-induced thing?

Wendy:  I have a desktop computer, and that’s usually what I work on. But sometimes the world just gets too distracting, so I retreat to the porch or the coffee shop with the notebook and the ball point pen. I don’t usually write a lot when I go to manual, but it really helps me refocus.

Brian:  I am still at kind of the hesitant, beginner, stop and start stage as a writer. Which has meant I have fooled around with a lot of tools, often as a form of procrastination. I love the idea of writing by hand, but it’s hardest on my wrists. I have also used things like Dragon to speak words into text. I kind of like that, but it requires a big mental shift.

Wendy:  I like the idea of dictation, but I am really not an audio person. If I had to dictate a book, it would read like this “The dude looked at her. ‘Like, you’re really cool.’ ‘Uh,’ she said. ‘There’s a thing behind you. One of those dead things that eat you know, the stuff inside your head.'” There would be zero metaphor, no depth, and it would be a babbling, incoherent mess!

Brian:  Yeah, it kind of has the opposite effect of writing by hand for me. Dictation can go so fast, you really have to think rather than just fill up a page of rambling. Writing by hand, I sometimes feel like it takes so long I lose the thread of the next sentence before I get finished writing the previous one. I guess I grew up typing, so that is how my brain works. And is probably also why I have tendinitis.

Wendy:  I think we just need titanium alloy tendons or something. I’m ready for a more indestructible physique! So, complete change of chat topic: what made you start Fireside? I can only assume a head injury was involved.

Brian:  That would make it easier to explain, I guess. It was … the best way I can explain it is I kind of had this slowly growing stew of ideas in my head 2011. I had been on Twitter for a few years, starting out mostly talking about copy editing and with copy editors (my “day” job is as a newspaper copy editor) but I had started to follow some writers and stuff too — Gaiman, Scalzi, Wendig first, and then others. So I was starting to see discussions of a lot of things, and they each got plopped into the stew. “Digital publishing models.” PLOP “Payment rates for writers.” PLOP “Make good art.” PLOP And then the thing that made the stew taste just right. “Kickstarter. Crowd funding.” PLOP PLOP. And I thought, “Hey I could do a magazine.” So I started talking to people — Chuck Wendig, Ken Liu, Christie Yant, and Tobias Buckell — about writing for the first issue. And to my surprise, they said yes. And it just kind of snowballed from there. It’s kind of amazing, how with the tools we have available now, some guy can just say, “Hey I want to have a magazine.” And then he does.

Wendy:  That’s pretty fucking awesome. How many other staff members do you have?

Brian:  As far as putting the magazine out, I do most of that myself. Pablo Defendini designed our website and handles the technical issues. Matt White is our submissions manager, and he and our volunteer slush readers are invaluable. I don’t think I could stay alive if I had to organize that. And, of course, there’s the amazing Galen Dara, who does all of our artwork.

Wendy:  Wow, that’s awesome! We have a fairly gigantic staff of volunteers at Lightspeed and Nightmare. I’d guess that I put in over 20 hours a week working on the magazines (I used to keep track, but I have gotten kind of lazy about it), and I can’t even imagine how many hours they put in. It takes SO MUCH WORK to run a magazine. It’s kind of mind-boggling.

Brian:  It really does. Working at a newspaper, where everything is broken down into small tasks, each done at a different person, it’s been really interesting to do it all, rather than just turn my own widget. What sort of things do you handle at Lightspeed?

Wendy:  Well, I have two jobs–Managing Editor and Associate Editor. On the management side, I maintain the production schedule, so I’m setting everyone’s deadlines and making sure everyone comes through on time. I also deal with a big chunk of the website, uploading the ebooks and all the stories/articles/spotlights. I also produce all of our contracts and make sure they get signed and returned on time. On the Associate side, I oversee the submissions and editorial teams. When we have open submissions, I screen all the story recommendations from the slush readers. I work with most of the authors on the line edits for their pieces, and I work with the copy editor to make sure that any questions about the story’s formatting or errors I missed in my first round of editing get resolved.

Most of my job is poking people, cracking whips, and reminding people about their deadlines. Oh, and I’m the Chief Executive Hugger.

Brian:  Face hugger or regular hugger?

Wendy:  Ha ha! Regular hugger! We artistic types require a lot of hugs to keep going.

Brian:  Yes this is true. I may have a mild sickness here, but that all sounds like a lot of fun, what you’re doing at Lightspeed. I like doing publishing production and background work.

Wendy:  It is fun! I love my job. Of course, the best part is working with all the awesome people. Our staff and writers are some of the coolest, smartest, kindest folks I’ve ever met.

Brian:  That’s something I have come to learn and love about the writing and editing types I have met through Twitter and Fireside, is there are so many smart, nice, and supportive people. Everyone wants to help each other. I guess if none of use are going to make any money, we might as well be kind.

Wendy:  Exactly!

Brian:  So you had your first book, Skinwalkers, come out in March. What’s that been like?

Wendy:  Pretty good. There was some confusion about the release date, so it had kind of a soft roll-out. And I’m kind of a newb about book marketing, so I was really overwhelmed by the whole experience. I really don’t know if I did a very good job promoting the book. But I’ve gotten some good responses to the book, so that’s been nice.

Brian:  Now that you have gotten to the other side of the wall and are a publishing insider, can you share the secret of what kind of cake they serve at the Publishing Gatekeepers Society functions?

Wendy:  I hate to break it to you, but the cake is a lie.



Wendy:  Well, now that I’ve crushed your spirit, I suppose I should sign off. I’ve got parenting to do!

Brian:  /twitches/

It was great talking to you.

Wendy:  It WAS! We should hang out more often. Fingers are crossed that some day we actually meet in real life.

Brian:  Yessss. This will happen.

Wendy:  Have a great day!


Pilot Parallel Pen 1.5mm

Some of you may remember how disappointed I was in the Scheaffer Calligraphy pens. Well, I still liked the IDEA of having a Calligraphy pen so I decided to give the Pilot Parallel a shot, as I’ve been extremely happy with Pilot pens so far. I got the 1.5mm because I want to write with it still, not just do Calligraphy.


Here it is assembled out of the package. It comes with two ink cartridges, a squeeze converter for cleaning (though I’m sure it would work just fine), and a nib cleaner (Oh HEY I had no idea this was a thing and have just been using the edge of my paper for the same purpose. This is way better).

Pilot Parallel with items for scale

Pilot Parallel with items for scale








This pen is designed to sorta resemble a dip pen and has the paint brush-style taper body. I’m not a huge fan of the look, but it works just fine. It isn’t as awkward as you might fear for being so long.




I'm not a huge person, but it's still pretty long.

I’m not a huge person, but it’s still pretty long.



It really is quite a long pen. It is completely convertible into an eyedropper pen, though I’m not sure I’d suggest it… simply because the barrel seems to untwist slightly when I untwist the cap and I think it might occasionally leak because of this even with silicone grease.


nib comparison between Parallel 1.5mm and Scheaffer Fine

nib comparison between Parallel 1.5mm and Scheaffer Fine

width of line drawn with said pens. The stutter on the Parallel is user error not pen.


The Good

  • 3 nib sizes
  • writes nice and wet, great for calligraphy (but bad for cheap paper)
  • nice smooth round grip
  • is FUN to write with

The Bad

  • Looooooooooong Pen is Long
  • requires a proprietary cartridge and converter
  • not really practical for everyday writing, but that’s not what it’s made for

Overall grade: A for Calligraphy Pen, B for occasional wanting to write all swoopy for no practical reason



Ghosts In the IM: Conversations Between Writers

Today’s writers are both photographers as well as writers. They are two people I thought should know each other better but who hadn’t really crossed paths. I’m pretty tickled with how their Conversation went.

Andrew Williams and Elsa S. Henry

Andrew Williams - Photograph by Jon Lavinder

Andrew Williams – Photograph by Jon Lavinder

Elsa S. Henry - Photograph by Andrew Williams

Elsa S. Henry -
Photograph by Andrew Williams












Elsa blogs at is on Twitter

Andrew Williams blogs at: is on Twitter, and has his photoblog

Andrew Williams:  Hey Elsa– I’m ready to do this thing if you are.

Elsa S. Henry:  I’m ready! (Just put my dog up for a nap so I could focus)

Andrew:  Excellent! Surviving the weekend and GenCon preparation then?

Elsa:  Trying to! I have almost all my clothes packed and now it’s just the Other Stuff

Andrew:  Cool. Are you doing any programming at GenCon?

Elsa:  I am, yeah. I’m teaching a class on accessibility for disabilities in game design and then I’m on a panel about inclusivity in gaming and then I’m running the Storium meet & greet as the official community manager of Storium, and then I am running into a panel on cultural appropriation. SOBUSY

Andrew:  Awesome! I didn’t realize you were involved with Storium. And yeah, that sounds kinda crazy-busy… in a good way (hopefully)

Elsa:  Yeah, I was hired as their community manager about 2 months ago. It’s a good gig. And yeah, it’s all good. I’ve just never been to Gen Con before. Have you?

Andrew:  No, I haven’t. Everyone I talk to seems to have a good time, but gaming is one of my weaker links in the geek continuum, as it were. That said, I will be at PAX this year and am looking forward to it

Elsa:  What part of the geek continuum have you fallen down the wormhole for?

Andrew:  I’m primarily a reader and sci-fi/fantasy writer. I love me my John Scalzi, Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, Mira Grant… The last game I played hardcore was WoW, and I escaped with kind of a sigh of relief. That said, I do love playing games with friends, and have been involved doing photography with a company called GamesToGo at their booth at some recent conventions (They sell board games and the like)

Elsa:  And yeah, I hear you on running away from WoW, Mira Grant/Seanan McGuire is currently my new favorite author

Andrew:  I really liked the Feed series. Her urban fantasy stuff is on my to-read list

Elsa:  Feed was SO GOOD it definitely inspired me for some of Dead Scare (the RPG I’m writing right now)

Andrew:  Sweet! Can you give me the thirty-second pitch for Dead Scare?

Elsa:  It is 1953, you’re a housewife alone at home when the Emergency Broadcast goes off and tells you the United States has been attacked and the President is dead.  Then the undead rise, and you have to stay alive. Better red than zed.

Andrew:  Heh. Awesome

Elsa:  Essentially the Soviet Union drops a biological weapon on the United States turning everyone in major city centers into zombies. AN almost entirely female cast for every game. Armed with lawn mowers, cadillacs, and rolling pins

Andrew:  Nice. Sounds like all the old 1950s tropes turned on their heads… with zombies.

Elsa:  Yep, that’s the exact concept

Andrew:  Do you write prose as well or mostly games? (I assume writing games must involve some prose writing, but I’ve never done it)

Elsa:  This is actually my first game I’ve ever written. I primarily do fiction and nonfiction writing

Andrew:  Cool! Yeah, I read some of your blog. You do a good job of tackling major, blood-pressure-raising but very important issues

Elsa:  it is not easy

Andrew:  The sort of stuff I can only blog about once a month or so before my head explodes

Elsa:  I haven’t been posting much recently because of Lots of Life Changes, but I’m hoping to resume a more regular schedule soon

Andrew:  Yeah, my regular blog has fallen off a lot as I’ve been working more on photography this year and trying to something resembling a business running

Elsa:  I saw on your blog that you’re going to Nepal in a few weeks, is that for writing inspiration or photography or…

Andrew:  Yes. Actually, it’s mostly because I love to travel, so when a friend happened to ask if I wanted to go to Nepal, I figured out if I could possibly wing it, and the answer was yes. The sort of trip I’d seriously regret if I didn’t go. I’ve actually never been to Asia, or to a non-English-speaking country outside of Europe before, so I’m really looking to it. Of course, I will be lugging along several pounds of camera gear as I hike through the Himalayas, because ZOMG PHOTOS

Elsa:  Uh. Yeah. Those photos.

Andrew:  And I also have a story I’m writing where one of the cultures is Tibetan-inspired, so I’m hoping to see some things that may inspire me along the way.

Elsa:  Will be amazing.

Andrew:  I CAN’T WAIT. Actually, I leave five weeks from today

Elsa:  EEK you must have so much prep to do.

Andrew:  Mostly just getting stuff together (a lot of backpacking gear which I generally already have). And luckily I won’t have to bring a tent because even though the trek is three weeks long, you stay in teahouses every night at villages along the way

Elsa:  I miss travelling a lots, out of the country anyway. Hoping to go to Sweden next year

Andrew:  That’d be awesome. Scandinavia is on my to-visit list. I’m hoping Finland wins the WorldCon bid in 2017 After Nepal, I’m planning to swing back through Hong Kong and Seoul before coming home

Elsa:  You do WorldCon? I’m considering going to Spokane next year. I went to college out there and haven’t been back since graduation

Andrew:  Yeah, I’ve been to a couple. And of course, being a Seattleite, I’ll do Spokane. I’ve never been there except as a transit point on my way to Montana

Elsa:  I think WorldCon sounds like fun. But granted, I’m terrified of Gen Con, soooo I’m not sure WorldCon would be kinder

Andrew:  Gen Con is really big, isn’t it? Like 40K-ish people?

Elsa:  On the other hand I know Spokane really well. Yeah, Gen Con is ENORMOUS. Not SDCC enormous, but big enough to be a little anxiety attack-y

Andrew:  Yeah, WorldCon generally runs about 7-10K. The tough thing is, because a different group runs it every year, you’re never entirely sure what you’re getting

Elsa:  Interesting

Andrew:  What school did you go to out there?

Elsa:  People give me funny looks when I tell them – I went to Gonzaga

Andrew:  Heh. Y’know, I didn’t even realize Gonzaga was in Spokane until I happened to be reading an article about Desmond Tutu earlier today (he apparently gave a commencement speech there a couple of years ago)

Elsa:  He did! Yeah, super Conservative Catholic Very Not Where People Expect Me To Have Gone

Andrew:  Were you super conservative Catholic at the time?

Elsa:  I raised a lot of hell. Nope. They offered me a very nice scholarship

Andrew:  Heh. That must’ve been an interesting four years (for certain values of “interesting”)

Elsa:  But I credit my time there with why I can talk about blood raising things in a relatively reasonable manner. Interesting is most certainly a word I would use to describe my time

Andrew:  Not planning to go to graduate school at BYU or anything, are you?

Elsa:  I went to grad school at Sarah Lawrence College. My ability to stay calm when people were screaming at me was useful there, too!

Andrew:  It’s a useful ability to have, even if practicing it is a pain in the ass

Elsa:  seriously

Andrew:  I consider myself lucky that I’ve never really had to… part of why I try to jump in now when I see such things going on

Elsa:  I think that’s lucky. I mean, ok ,in undergrad I ran the first ever AIDS Awareness program at Gonzaga my father died from HIV/AIDS in 1993, so educating people on care and prevention is very close to my heart and very important to me. The pro life student group actually protested the event

Andrew:  headdesk

Elsa:  It was one of the harder examples of “Deal with the screaming crazy people without stabbing someone” situations I’ve had to deal with

Andrew:  Wow. I can’t even imagine. Protesting AIDS Awareness is wrong on so many levels I just can’t… even…. but that’s awesome that you followed through on a cause so close to your heart

Elsa:  The fact that I managed to get the Vice President for Mission at a Catholic University to approve me MENTIONING CONDOMS during my talk was a miracle. And that is why they protested

Andrew:  That is, indeed, quite the miracle. I seem to remember reading in the past couple of years that even the Catholic church in Rome has slowly begun to make noises that maybe such things aren’t totally evil in all circumstances

Elsa:  YEP. Also, Pope Francis is almost reasonable on some matters

Andrew: There’s still a heck of a lot to disagree with, but he’s a breath of fresh air compared to Benedict

Elsa:  RIGHT? I’m not Catholic – I’m actually Jewish at this point. But having spent so much time in a culture of Catholicism I actually care deeply about progression and change

Andrew:  I mostly like Pope Francis for his focus on aiding the poor and the less fortunate, and the way he seems to focus on a lot of what Jesus actually said in that regard. I was raised Protestant Christian but I’m an atheist these days.

Elsa:  I married an atheist Jew, but I have faith so I ended up going to Temple

Andrew:  That’s cool. It must have been an interesting experience (sorry to overuse the word, but I mean it in a more positive sense than earlier)

Elsa:  Considerably more interesting, also hilarious

Andrew:  Heh heh. Ironically, I find being an atheist has made me more spiritual than I used to be. In that my own ideas and spirituality feels more internal and rooted in who I am, rather than something imposed by outside

Elsa:  SO, you’re writing your own beliefs

Andrew:  Sort of. I feel like I’m more interested in what might be than in what is. Religion, and different aspects of God, are more interesting to me as stories than as explanations.

Elsa:  Yeah, I minored in religious studies because religion is interesting to me. I find people fascinating

Andrew:  (Most people would call me agnostic, but I prefer “atheist” because agnostic implies that you think the deep truths are unknowable, and I’m not sure that’s the case)

Elsa:  Heh

Andrew:  Oh, totally. I love talking about this sort of stuff with people and hearing their thoughts and ideas. As long as they aren’t screaming them at me. I wrote a long blog post on that once that I sort of considered my “coming out” as an atheist, on stories and beliefs and the nature of what might be vs. what is

Elsa:  Link? I’d be curious to read it

Andrew:  Pretty sure I can find it… one sec

Elsa:  I’m curious how you feel about the skeptic community.

Andrew:  cue headsplode


Andrew:  I actually got involved in the skeptic and atheist community after I moved to Seattle a few years ago… looking for friends and community and the like. And that blog post was part of my reaction/eventual recoiling. It’s a completely cliche thing to say, but I see in the organized atheist/skeptic community a lot of the same things that drive me nuts about organized religion

Elsa:  TRUTH

Andrew:  Putting one’s own personal opinions/beliefs on a pedestal, and defending them with hardcore tenacity while discounting other people’s experiences and feelings, for one. Obviously it’s not everybody in the community (#notallatheists), but I just couldn’t stand the lack of empathy I saw from lots of people. The refusal to see things from other perspectives or recognize that other people have valid emotions and experiences.  I found I didn’t relate to much of the skeptic community. I like being independent, and finding my own way to various truths, which might occasionally include dabbling in things that skeptics would laugh at me for but that I find extremely intriguing (for example, I’ve taken a lot of classes in hypnotherapy)

Elsa:  I know a lot of people both in and out of the skeptic community feel the way you do about the pedestal thing

Andrew:  Part of why I love being a storyteller and creative person is empathizing with other people, in understanding their experiences and perspectives, and seeing certain things (like how that community treated some of the social justice-oriented folks in their midst) sent me running away

Elsa:  Yeeeaaaah

Andrew:  Which makes me sad. Part of why I call myself atheist is that I see so many asshats use the term, and I want to keep them from claiming it entirely

Elsa:  SRSLY

Andrew:  Nor do I particularly like the term humanist or freethinker, for various reasons. So yeah, I don’t know what I am. I’m just a writer.  Oh man, I could totally go off on another rant about how I hate labels, but that’s a whole other three-hour chat. So, what creative project are you working on right now that you’re most excited about?

Elsa:  Definitely Dead Scare. I think its going to be one of those games that makes people think, because I’ve designed it to push people to think in terms of morality and choice

Andrew:  That’s awesome. Good luck with it!

Elsa:  What about you?

Andrew:  Hmm. At the moment, it’s probably my photography. I’m working on a yearlong project where I try to make at least one photographic expedition to a Seattle-area landmark or event every week (you can follow it at And of course Nepal is coming up. For writing, I’m working on a steampunk novel that takes place in colonial Hong Kong called Noah’s Dragon. So I’m excited about that too, and I’m trying to squeeze it whenever I’m not working on photography.

Elsa:  This is my first con I’m going to WITHOUT my camera

Andrew:  What? A con without a camera? /recoils in horror But given your schedule, I can kind of see why

Elsa:  and also, that book sounds awesome

Andrew:  Thanks! It’s partly why I routed my return trip through Hong Kong.

Elsa:  Makes sense

Andrew:  Plus, there’s a British privateer captain in it who’s a mix of Mal Reynolds and Blackbeard, and she is hands-down my favorite character I’ve ever written into a story

Elsa:  Nice!


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