Learn “Deep Yes” so You Can Say “No”

JustineMuskLast year, I was on the verge of burnout and a friend sent me the most wonderful list: Justine Musk’s 25 Badass Ways to Say No.

I’ve always had a hard time rejecting requests, whether they’re from a family member, a friend, a coworker, or a total stranger. I want to be the perfect hostess, making sure everyone enjoys the time spent with me. Making sure everyone likes me.

My exhaustion last year didn’t only depend on not wanting to disappoint people. Life threw me a few hurdles: my dad’s fast onset of dementia, my mom’s reoccurrence of cancer, my husband’s shoulder injury, which although not life-threatening required caretaking duties. A person saner than me would have recognized that these events demanded less commitment elsewhere. But I barged on, over-committing myself to write a grant, organize a physics conference, join work committees and initiatives, and keep up with my regular volunteer duties in the community.

Hence the burnout.

Even when life doesn’t throw huge boulders in our paths, creative folks don’t always recognize that it’s okay to say “no.” It’s okay to set aside time to practice our art. We’re not being selfish. We’re not being entitled. We’re just doing what’s necessary to nourish that part of us that feeds our soul.

Justine’s list didn’t cure my tendency to instinctively say “yes” to any and all requests, but it I am learning to be more protective of my writing time. I’m not yet brave enough to say all the things on the list out loud, but it’s so much easier for my mouth to utter a “no” when my brain is thinking one of these:

-Life’s too short to do things I don’t love.

-My ladyballs are not that big.

-There is a person who totally kicks ass at this. I am not that person.

-The idea is bad and you must be punished.

-I no longer do things that make me want to kill myself.

-It would cause the slow withering death of my soul.

It’s easy to think that until we are published, sold our first photograph, or recorded our first song, we don’t have the right to turn down a request in favor of writing, painting, creating. But actually, we do.

Actually, we must. Read more »

What Would You Ask a Panel about Paths to Publication?

GetLit14I’m reaching out to the esteemed readers of Bark for much needed help. During this year’s world famous Get Lit! festival, I’m moderating a panel on the many publication options today’s market offers.

A Brave New World: Finding Your Path to Publication in Today’s Market with Rebecca Zanetti, Danica Winters, and Shoshanna Evers. 

Never before have authors had as many options to get their prose into the hands of readers as they do in today’s market. But how do you know which publishing model is right for you and your writing? Join authors Rebecca ZanettiDanica Winters, and Shoshanna Evers for a frank and honest discussion of the benefits and disadvantages of current publishing options. Together, these three successful and multi-published writers bring expertise on just about every path to publication you can imagine, including small presses, digital firsts, traditional big 5 houses, self-publishing, and hybrid models. Bring your questions! Moderated by Åsa Maria Bradley. 

Time:  12:00-1:30 p.m.
Venue: Spokane Convention Center
Room: 205

If you were to go this panel, what would be the questions you’d like answered?

It would be great to see you at the panel, so you could get your questions answered. However, if you can’t make it, I’ll see if the authors would visit Bark for an extended discussion.


The Making of Good Writers

WriterLeslie Jamison thoughtful and smart essay “Which Creates Better Writers: An MFA Program or New York City? examines the issues brought up in MFA vs. NYC, an essay collection edited by Chad Harbach. The collection is an extension of the questions Hardbach asked in his 2010 essay by the same title, which was written in response to Mark McGurl’s  2009 book The Program Era.

I remember some of the arguments debates that heated up the internet four years ago, and it seems like the collection continues those discussions.

The Los Angeles Times thinks the book ‘ponders whether getting a master of fine arts degree in creative writing is a good idea.’ Though in the article that follows this headline, reviewer Carolyn Kellogg broadens the issue: ‘The larger question is whether institutionalizing a creative endeavor benefits our culture.’ In the New York Times, Dwight Garner calls it a ‘volume that asks whether fiction writing can, or should, be taught.’

Jamison expands these questions in her essay and clarifies why the debate will probably never be settled.

“Not so much whether writers can be taught but what it means that they are getting taught, and what it means that we keep asking this question about the legitimacy of the discipline; what our anxieties about the institutionalization of writing might teach us. The volume asks who pays the bills, and how; and also how these flows of money—the pressures they generate and the institutional affiliations they produce—affect the work itself.”

Reading this article right after AWP resonated with me. It’s been four years since I last attended the conference and yet many of the panels this year discussed the same issues as the talks I attended then, including “…the legitimacy of the discipline; what our anxieties about the institutionalization of writing might teach us.” And many of the students in the audience again  brought up variations of “who pays the bills, and how; and also how these flows of money—the pressures they generate and the institutional affiliations they produce—affect the work itself.”

I’m not sure we’ll ever get concrete answers. I kind of hope we don’t, because I like the landscape of the writing market to be as fluid and diverse as I hope new writers (and writing programs) will continue to be.  And so, I’m quite happy to debate these issues, now and in the future.

Editing Life

MyLifeAt a an author reading at Auntie Bookstore’s last year, Craig Johnson talked about how much he liked Robert Taylor’s audition for the role of Sheriff Walt Longmire in the A&E TV series based on Johnson’s novels (Viking). That is, he liked it until a breathy “Oh, my” escaped from his wife’s lips when she saw Taylor saunter across the screen. She quickly defended her reaction by describing Taylor as a taller and slightly better looking, “TV version” of her husband. (Nice save, Mrs. Johnson.)

This made me wonder what the TV/film version of me would be like. I pictured a polished, skinnier Asa, with better skin, thicker more lustrous hair, wearing expensive designer clothes and shoes. She would know how to walk in high heels, have an infectious tinkling laugh, and use a clever repertoire of insightful comments during conversations. And she would look good in hats.

Later that night, I uploaded some pictures from the author event to social media and realized the edited version of my life already exists: Facebook.

Here are some of the director choices I’ve made for the Facebook version of my life:

Major Milestones:
My husband and friend arrange an amazing 40th birthday party—show pictures of guests, especially cute children of friends playing with dog. 

Turning 40 means spending an alarming amount of time in front of a magnifying mirror tweezing coarse hairs that sprout on my chin—CUT!

Ziplining in Costa Rica—post photos of posting with hubby in matching helmets, include video of me whizzing down a very high line at fast speeds.

Spending hours on the toilet, purging from both ends due to Costa Rican amoeba entering gastrointestinal system—Are you crazy?! Nobody wants to see that. CUT! Read more »

Does Geography Determine Creativity?

MapEyeAs a teenager, I thought I had to move to a big city to be a writer. Growing up in a small Swedish town (3000 people), I had my sights set on London, Amsterdam, or in a pinch, Copenhagen. Berlin seemed pretty cool too, but when it came time to pick a third language in seventh grade and my school offered German and French, I for some reason picked the Romance language. When after three years I still hadn’t mastered the French vocabulary, I scratched Paris off the fourth place position on my list.

At seventeen, I moved to the US to study and learned quickly that in this country, the only place to become a successful writer was New York City. Young creative people still flock to this vibrant metropolis, but according to Candy Washington, sometimes they need a vacation from the “hustle-and-bustle of the NYC grind.” In her recent article for PolicyMic, she writes:

New York can be a great environment for the creative 20-something — but only if you’ve got endless funds, patience or both. And as the city continues to price us out, it’s important for young artists to consider other equally exciting and inspiring places to call home.

Ms. Washington suggests the following five cities for creative living:

1. Wilmington, NC: The new film and television hub
2. Little Five Points, GA: Boho-chic in the South
3. Providence, RI: The new ‘Creative Capital’
4. New Orleans, LA: More than Mardi Gras
5. Portland, OR: Stay weird

I would add San Francisco, CA to this list because of the video games influenced increase in creative jobs such as graphic art and game story writing. I’d also add Seattle, WA because I read somewhere that it has more published authors per capita than any other US city. And I’d add Austin, TX because it’s the city that first coined a marketing term that included the word “weird” (Keep Austin Weird) and because it offers live music of any genre any day of the week.

None of these cities were on my radar by the time I arrived in America and I didn’t pay much attention to New York either. Science had taken over as my main focus. I still did some writing, but not with my previous fervor. Being immersed in a second language also did weird stuff to my brain. Paragraphs would end up half Swedish, half English, and sometimes wholly in a new language I named Swenglish. Writing was hard and when I wasn’t studying, I was more interested in spending time with my new American friends and my new American boyfriend. None of them were interested in writing or any other type of art. Read more »

In Memorandum: Danny Rice


Alumni Danny Rice (07 – 09) passed away suddenly on December 28th. His family had a memorial service on January 3 in Oakland.

I was a year behind Danny and remember him mostly for fantastic writing and great conversations over beer at the Elk. Plus, his glorious tattoos.

I heard about Danny’s passing from Terry Owens, here’s what he said on Facebook earlier today:

Danny was obviously one of the kindest, most caring, friendliest people I have ever known. And what a hella great writer. I’ll always remember good long craft talks at Sunset Junction, his ridiculous tattoos, and working as Assistant Managing Editors of Willow Springs with him

Ellie Kozlowski posted the news in the EWU MFAers group:

Whether or not you knew Danny Rice, he was an amazing, kind, sweetheart of a human being.

Please consider helping Danny’s family offset some of the cost of his memorial service by donating to the Danny Rice memorial fund through Give Forward.

Zombie Writing, or How Much 2013 Sucked

BrainDrainNew Year’s Eve is traditionally a time to take stock of the past year and make resolutions for how to be a better person, make better choices, make a better new year.

My 2013 sucked. Even if I’d followed through on my 2012 resolutions: lost weight, exercised more, been kinder to people, given more to charity, volunteered more, the end result would still have been a shitty year.

There were good times: meeting up with my brother in New York, visiting my best friend in St. Louis, having my sister come stay with us for a week, hosting various visits from American and European friends through the summer, backpacking in the mountains, going to several writing retreats and conferences, staying on a houseboat on Lake Powell. I remember enjoying these activities, but the details are fuzzy and vague. I have to look at my calendar to recall what time of year it was when they happened. That’s because one major change dominated all of 2013. It has to do with an issue many of my generation are facing: aging parents.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew it would eventually happen to me. I just didn’t know how it would take over my life and obliterate my creativity. I’d never experienced mental stress to the point that even when I wanted to write and had the time to write, my brain just couldn’t cope. Sentences were impossible to create.

Both of my parents are in their early seventies. Until the end of 2012, they were self-reliant and took pride in how active they are. Despite my mother’s slow, yet stubborn, breast cancer spreading to bone cancer a few years back, and her rheumatoid arthritis, my parents used to go for daily long walks, volunteer for various organizations, and keep up with a social calendar that I found exhausting. My mom is also a prolific textile artist and always working on a quilt, wall hanging, or decoration special ordered by impatient customers.

And then my dad started mixing up some words. He became confused about time spans. Tomorrow, yesterday, fifty years ago didn’t have any meaning anymore. His body stopped obeying easy commands. Sitting, standing, backing up, and turning was impossible. His limbs stiffened and become unyielding. People only he could see, strangers, insisted on sitting next to him, or across the room, silently staring, judging. Sometimes, he no longer recognized his wife. Read more »

Amazon Prime Air: Way of The Future or Pure Craziness?

Amazon’s new venture aims to have products in customers’ hands in thirty minutes or less by using unmanned air crafts. Here’s some footage from one of their test flights:

YouTube Preview Image

The company says it needs a few years to improve the technology and to work out FAA regulations before one of these drones will land on your doorstep. This morning, a friend from the UK Tweeted a suggested missed delivery slip.



For more thoughts on the Amazon Prime Air, read Mother Jones’  Why America Isn’t Ready for Delivery Drones, if only for the pleasure of paragraphs such as:

“Administration (FAA) is expected to open up US airspace to unmanned aerial vehicles in 2015. But after that date, Amazon’s blender-delivering drones will still face big obstacles, such as the states and cities that are hostile towards drone-use; potential accidents with passenger planes; GPS and privacy concerns; and roving bands of laser-wielding package bandits.”

How do you feel about drones landing at your house? Any additional check boxes that should be added to the delivery slip?

Used, but Infinitely More Interesting

On their way to make s'mores.

On their way to make s’mores.

In the romantic comedy Serendipity, Kate Beckinsale’s character writes her phone number in a used book and tells John Cusack’s character that if faith wants them to meet again, the novel will find its way back to him. The movie isn’t very interesting after that, but that scene outside the bookstore made me think about the treasures I’ve found in used books.

In a copy of Drowning Ruth, by Christina Schwarz, a picture of two young women had been used as a bookmark by a previous owner. I bought the book because it was an Oprah’s Book Club pick, but never finished it. Maybe because the unknown people in the picture were more intriguing than the plot. They’re wearing summer dresses, smiling, and posing in front of a pine tree. I like to think they’re at a gathering of good friends in a back yard somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. After the picture was taken, they lit the outdoor fire pit we can’t see, and sat down to drink wine and make s’mores.

A friend of mine lent me her copy of The Magic Circle by Katherine Neville. My memory of the plot is hazy, I confuse it with The Eight by the same author, but I do remember how much I enjoyed the process of reading the book. My friend comments and underlines while she reads. I’d find “Who’s this guy again?” or “How much more must she endure?” in the margins. Plot twists were underlined and “Whaaaat?!” written above. Reading her book was like having our own private book discussion, or maybe more like a private peep-hole into my friend’s mind. Read more »

The Uniqueness of a Character’s Voice

bad-day-for-pretty-240hVery early in my writing life, I shared a story with some local writers during an event at the library where I lived in California. My prose told of an adventure involving pirates, pick-pocketing urchins, and buxom wenches. The writers read my tale and after a long moment of silence, one of them politely stated that she had problems distinguishing between my characters.

I had worked hard to create a unique quirk for each of them. My hero often cursed and my heroine had a certain way of flipping her hair. When I asked for clarification, the writer said, in a crisp English accent, “They all have a bit of a potty mouth, you see, at times a little too much.” She pointed to a page where she’d circled each swear word. Two males and one female were speaking. None of them uttered a sentence that didn’t contain the word “fuck.” If I hadn’t included a dialogue tag here and there, it would have read as one long manic rant. It still kind of did.

I revised and proudly showed up for a second evening of sharing at the library. Now, only the hero’s sidekick dropped the f-bomb. The hero instead used “shit,” while the heroine preferred milder profanities such as “crap.” The writer’s facial twitches made me snatch the pages out of her hand. Before leaving, I checked out a few books on the craft of writing.

As writers, we know that it’s not only what our characters say that is important, but also how they say it. The challenge is to make sure that each character has a unique way of speaking, moving, and thinking—and then stay consistent through the story

I new favorite author I recently started reading is Sophie Littlefield. I love her books because she is a master of close third person point of view. My favorite books of hers are a series of crime novels rich with humor and quirky characters. Told entirely from the main character’s POV, her sarcastic witty voice colors the story in ways that make it impossible not to laugh out loud. Read more »

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