Monday, February 28, 2011

The Best Bad Music Weekend Ever

L.G.C. Smith

I’m writing this in the Nashville airport after the best weekend I’ve had in a lot of stressful months. One might think, considering where I am, that my days and nights had been filled with wonderful live music. The live part is fairly accurate, but wonderfully unique hits the mark closer than an unqualified wonderful.

The inn where I stayed with my group of Very Special Writer Friends had a music room with a grand piano, an acoustic guitar, a mandolin, a folk instrument I’ve forgotten the name of, a big harp and a little harp. That’s as technical as I can get at this point in my life. Deb brought an electric guitar that her husband built to sound like a 1966 Strat. I heard that phrase a lot. The guitar had a nice tone. Not that anyone present had the chops to do much with it. That wasn’t the point.

The point was to have fun, and Mary has been taking guitar lessons for a year. She deemed the rest of us a supportive audience for her public premier. I felt honored and proud of her as she played four or five Eagle’s songs. Even with a broken finger on her right hand, she acquitted herself well. It was fun. That was the point.

Jules played the piano and a bunch of the rest of us sang, and I use that word loosely, show tunes. I know very few show tunes. Not my genre. Again, not the point. Nor was it the point to discover the exact limits of my out-of-voice range though I now know I can’t reliably hit an E anymore, and a lot of the Ds were downright wobbly. No, the point was that we sang pretty badly, and it was still fun. No judgment. Just doing. Not unlike preschool in some respects, except that I’m a lot less worried about other people’s opinions now than I was when I was four.

As we sat upstairs in a cozy library filled with comfy sofas and armchairs, loads of snacks, coffee, and tea on hand, a mandolin lesson went on down in the music room. Now there we heard some wonderful music, wild, climbing melodies that seemed ready to leap into the treetops and dance on up to the sun. But they came in fits and starts, as lessons are wont to do. I loved them better for that.

There was canned music, too: Elvis snapping out “Jailhouse Rock” in the ladies room at the BrickTop steakhouse; the soothing bluegrass our hosts put on the house music system. Then some of us wanted to hit the honkytonks.

We ended up in Tootsies Orchid Lounge that just happened to have the worst band in America on show. After half an hour of desultory warming up, they launched into the crappiest country rock imaginable. And again, that it was crap didn’t matter as much as just going and seeing what we could find. Plus, I got a good reminder that I don’t go to small, crowded clubs that draw a lot of bachelorette parties for several reasons besides being old enough to receive AARP junk mail. Public vomit, crowd farts, anonymous groping, screeching feedback. All endurable once a decade or so, and possibly worth it had the music been good.

I used to think music had to be at least marginally good to be enjoyable. Ha. In my life, music hasn’t been about performance for a long, long time. It’s about participating. Listening. Playing. Singing. Sharing. When it all works – yay! When it falls a little short of ideal – well, that works, too.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Nicole Peeler belly dances, listens to baaad music, and still teaches at a prestigious university

So one day Rachael and Sophie and I were talking about great bloggers and --swear to God-- we all stopped, gaped at each other, and said, why hasn't Nicole Peeler blogged for the Pens? WTF? Do you think she could take time out of her busy schedule of belly dancing and molding young minds and writing smut to be our guest on Pensfatales?

Nicole said yes, of course, because she is all kinds of awesome and her superhero quality is to be funny and creative and genius on demand.

Check out her Jane True series of Urban Fantasy novels -- you'll thank me. Really. Nicole is h-o-t hot, and so are her books.


Well hello there, Pen Fatales and Readers! I am stupidly excited to be here. I haven’t had the chance to meet all of the Pens, yet, but if I were to begin waxing poetic about Juliet Blackwell, Sophie Littlefield, and Rachael Herron, I would have to write an EPIC. An epic, people. Because that’s how much I adore them.

So when Juliet asked me to guest blog here, I was super excited. I also knew I had to really dig deep, and really share. Nothing else would do for the Pens but brutal honesty. And so that’s what I did.

I like a lot of music. In fact, I would say that, for the most part, I’m pretty hip, pretty happening, pretty “in the now” when it comes to music. Except for one secret I keep buried . . . a secret so dark, so painful, I keep it hidden for fear of reprisal.

I freaking love Roxette.

I love them. I’m sorry. I know that’s like claiming allegiance to Twinkies, or to Hanson, but it’s true. I love the saccharine gooey sweetness that is Roxette. And here’s what I love about them:

  • I love that I can take a power stance, and sing along with their songs in a REALLY dramatic way. The way I might, in other scenarios, herald the impending apocalypse, or sing of my lover having fallen on the battlefield, or announce that Sarah Palin has become our President.
  • I love that the lyrics often mean absolutely nothing when you actually think about them. Roxette presents us with a philosophical conundrum akin to Schrödinger’s cat: If a song is sung about nothing, but with tremendous passion, does that song actually come to mean something?
  • I love all of that spikey, spikey hair.

If you’re still not convinced, try it out. First, take a power stance--legs apart, arms akimbo, and head back so you’re READY TO WAIL. Now play this song and sing along as loudly as you can:

Enjoy the drama and the meaningless, all while imagining your own hair in all its potentially spikey glory. It’s infectious! Granted, it’s infectious in the same way that sexually transmitted diseases are infectious (caught doing things we know we shouldn’t be doing, with people we certainly shouldn’t be doing them with) and yet it’s SO MUCH FUN.

At least it is to me.

Stop judging, meanies.

Cuz I bet y’all have your own secret sin music! But who is brave enough to share?

Bio: Nicole Peeler writes the Jane True series of Urban Fantasy for Orbit Books. She’s also an assistant professor of English Literature and Creative Writing at Seton Hill University, where she mentors up and coming writers in SHU’s MFA in popular fiction. In her spare time, she travels compulsively and belly dances badly, but with great enthusiasm. You can find out more about Nicole and her books a

Thursday, February 24, 2011

So I Married A Musician

--Adrienne Miller

I don't have great deal of musical talent. And that's probably being generous. I can't say that I don't have any. About a year ago I discovered that I have a knack for the harmonica and there are a couple of lullabies that, if I sing them really softly, my kids will settle down. So, hey, that's something. But other than that, I've got nothing.

I can't sing. I can't keep a beat going on my own for more than thirty seconds. I tried to play the clarinet when I was in sixth grade and was politely asked at semester's end by the music teacher to find another elective. (Which reminds me, I should totally do a post some time about all the things I've tried and been asked to never do again. The list is surprisingly long. When I fail, I do it spectacularly.)

But I love music. It's my go-to inspiration, my muse. Drop me in the middle of nowhere and as long as I have my ipod, I'm good. Some people need silence to create, but not me. Just about everything in my life plays to a soundtrack. Stories, car trips, even laundry day, they all have their own playlist. 

So, it shouldn't come as a surprise that I married a musician, and a really good one to boot. Tom is the opposite of me in so many ways. He's a self taught musician who can play just about anything with strings-guitar, bass, piano, ukulele. Oh, and drums too. He writes music. He improvises. He has a freakin' degree in jazz theory. I didn't even know there was a theory behind jazz, let alone a degree you could earn in it.

It became apparent pretty early in our relationship though that we did not hear or experience music the same way. I listen to a song the same way I look at a painting like Van Gough's Starlight Over The Rhone. I see it as one thing. I feel frenzy in it, the crazy. I'm moved by the visceral reaction I have to it.

Tom, on the other hand, sees each individual stroke, each little brush of paint. There is no totality. It's not a painting, it's a thousand touches of paint. He might see them as cleverly applied, but they don't fill him with abstract inspiration. 

This has led to a couple of polite disagreements about music in our household. We each have the bands and playlists that can only be turned on when the other one is out. There was the time I told him we had to leave a Dream Theater concert at intermission if there was going to be any hope of saving our marriage, or the time that I drank my way through a night at a combo jazz club just to keep my sanity. 

It goes both ways, of course. There are bands of mine he outright hates - Foo Fighters,  Kate Bush, Counting Crows - all for things he sees as 'musical sins'. And here you didn't even know there was divine morality in notes, did you? He teases me mercilessly about my love for Damien Rice. After seeing on iTunes that a song of his was twenty-one minutes long, he commented, "What is it, five minutes of singing and another sixteen of him quietly weeping in the corner?"

Will we last? Probably. But where some people advise that separate bathrooms or bank accounts make for a happy marriage, I advocate for separate playlists.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cheer Up Sleepy Jean: The Deep Philosophyical Underpinnings of the Monkees

by Juliet

I know what you’re thinking. This blog post should have been in the religion section.

No? All right, maybe you're thinking that Juliet is FAR too young to have listened to The Monkees as a child. And you're right, of course -- they were before my time.

But I’ve always been out of step. When my older sisters went on to listen to Abba and the Bee Gees and the Eagles and Journey on the stereo, I inherited the Close-n-Play record player along with their discarded albums -- the Monkees among them.

(I still insist I am a better person for having skipped right over some of the hits of the late 70s. If I never have to hear Hotel California EVER again in my life I'll die happy.)

But The Monkees...these guys were a revelation. The spoke about Real Issues, like suburban angst. I give you Exhibit One: Pleasant Valley Sunday. Just listen to those lyrics for a moment. Rows of houses that are all the same, and no one seems to care.

This was heavy stuff for someone who happened to live in such a house.

Later one of my sisters, in a fit of pique and older-sibling piousness, pointed out that The Monkees were a soulless group put together by corporate forces to make money. It didn’t matter.

I closed and played the Close-n-Play and listened, glassy-eyed and mouth agog, to
Zor and Zam. Remember that one? There are these two kings, see, the King of Zor and the King of Zam, and they called for a war...But nobody came.

I’ll give you a moment to really think that one through. What if everyone saw through all the war stuff and just didn't go? My best friend Diane and I pondered this for days. We couldn't believe no one had thought of it before. We could have saved the country from the debacle of Viet Nam, if only we'd been older and had our Monkees albums tucked under our arms.

Of course the Partridge family had David Cassidy, and he was cute, so I watched the show without fail. But their music somehow lacked the…gravitas of The Monkees. (Recently I was told the Mondrian-inspired Partridge family bus was bought by porn producers. Can't wait to see what they do with it.)

The Beatles were classic, of course, but even my sheltered twelve-year-old mind could tell they were often referencing drugs and/or sex, which made me uneasy. The Monkees kept it in the comfort zone. They spoke about middle class ennui and the stultifying air of the suburbs. They spoke about how we should all have fun and be nice to each other. They spoke to my soul.

Years later I confided the secret Monkees fetish to my then-husband, and he decided this accounted for my absolute lack of sense when it came to anything political. I insisted people should grow up and be polite to each other, and then at least we'd have something to build on. He pointed out that the world was motivated by money, pure and simple. The marriage didn't last all that long.

Ah well. Guess I'm just a Daydream Believer.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Since it's still my day to post, I'm hijacking this post from myself (see below) to announce

AFTERTIME is out today!

By our own Sophie Littlefield, I have this to say: I loved this book. The writing is gorgeous, the language spare and precise and moving.

And it's the scariest thing I've ever read. Seriously. Sure, you think zombies and you think (or maybe it's just me): cheesy. It's gonna be high-pitched-scream in-the-theatre scary.

But no. Sophie's gift is making it real. As if it's something that could happen (AND IT COULD) in the near future, given chemical warfare and political upheaval. It got to the point where I couldn't read it at night, because the nightmares I was having were so awful. Sophie's writing is affecting. It's unavoidable. It's look-at-this-NOW writing, and I loved every scary minute of it, and the main character Cass broke and rebroke my heart, over and over again.

Go do yourself a favor give it a read. Congrats, Sophie! We're so proud of you.

Rachael Serenades You

I'm from a musical family. My mother played the piano beautifully, and my dad plays anything stringed you set in front of him. When I was little, he'd tuck us up in bed with a song of our request -- I usually chose The Peanut Butter Tree (which was a Dad original).

We grew up singing together and not finding it weird. We three girls, when we sing at karaoke or Christmas caroling, usually shock the hell out of people -- our voices work together like one, and we LURVE some tight harmony. We keep saying we'll form a band, but out of all of us, only Christy knows how to actually play anything (the bass, guitar, and drums). I can play chords on the guitar, badly, and can play piano a little, but nothing to write home about. I didn't play anything when the family sang together, out camping at bluegrass festivals, and I kept my hands busy with knitting while everyone else jammed.

So a while back, I tried picking up the ukulele. Four strings! How hard could it be? (Hint: Not hard.) I bought a crappy one, loved it, and then sold some yarn to the knitters to fund a new, nice uke. I posted this video the night I got my new one, so I wasn't good at playing it (or changing chords) yet, but I think it shows how I love it.

Certainly won't win any awards -- except for the FUN award, perhaps, which is a really important one. I love my uke. (There's another little song here, with friends, and a primer to starting to play the uke yourself!)

Monday, February 21, 2011

How I Foisted Music On The Kids

by Sophie


I'm a silence person. I don't like a lot of sensory stimuli, including jarring imagery or sound or texture. With the exception of first drafts and driving solo, both of which I find best accompanied by loud music, I am content to rattle around with only my thoughts taking up aural bandwidth, if such a thing is even possible. (Do you "hear" your thoughts? I think I do.)

It wasn't always that way. Between the ages of 8 and 18, I played the cello - rather seriously, as a matter of fact. (I know that some people don't know what a cello is so here's a picture of Yo Yo with his.)

Then I quit cold turkey and I doubt I could play any more, though I'm tempted to try and probably will when things settle down around here.

Here's a picture of me with my string quartet and our advisor when I was my daughter's age, going-on-sixteen. I'm the one on the left. (Those of you who remember Gunne Sax dresses will notice two nice examples on Jenny Shallenberger - 3rd from left - and the other girl, whose name I've entirely forgotten. Of course, I made my own dress.) The older gent was our advisor, Mr. Spotts. Isn't that a marvelous name?

And here's a picture of Junior last summer at music camp - drumsticks are a little easier to haul around than a cello:

I include these pictures because I've been thinking of the role music plays in my kids' lives. Right or wrong, I decided early on that music ought to be part of the curriculum and since it was given cursory attention at best by the education people in our state, I made it a rule at home that the kids had to give it the same attention they gave any other subject - and that meant half an hour's practice 3 or 4 times a week. I told the kids that when they reached high school they could choose whether or not to continue, but for five years they had no choice other than which instrument to play.

They complained bitterly. I didn't care. I'm hardly a tiger mom but on this subject (and that of TV, which I regulated with such a complex set of rules that the result was that we hardly ever watched it unless it was something I wanted to see, a hypocrisy I sort of regret) I was resolute. And sure enough, when the time finally came for them to quit, neither wanted to. They played on, and my son will join an orchestra when he goes off to college next year.

There's all these studies - if you're a parent, you've heard 'em - that show that music helps kids with everything from math to languages. Arguably, the study of music gives you a bit of snob cred, though I imagine my whole family is weary of me going "I played that" whenever a classical music piece is co-opted for a television ad.

That wasn't why I made my kids play, though. I'm not sure I can put my finger on the reason. Nostalgia, certainly, and a vague feeling that there should be some depth to the experience of music as funneled through pop culture. But I've loved hearing them practice, even back in the terrible early days of cacophony and missed notes.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Bethany's Buddy

Religion was always on the milder side in my waspy family. We did Sunday service, provided it was followed by donuts on the beach. We worshipped in a non-descript wood-paneled room. We were quiet about our religion.

Naturally, like my holy roller sister, I grew attracted to the exact opposite. Loud, glaring religion. The multi-hued glass windows, jewels, and gory reliquaries of Catholicism. Dancing nekkid, widdershins, during the full moon, as I read from my Llewellyn Wicca Handbook. Making a metanoia and lighting candles in front of golden icons in the Greek Orthodox cathedral. Ooo, and stigmata! Stigmata was the very pinnacle of ostentatious cool.

As I aged, I developed my own personal religion, flamboyant but lighthearted. I studied religious history, and decided which bits of the bible made beautiful, wonderful sense, and which bits were essentially political propaganda centuries out of date. Love is love, whether you’re gay, straight, asexual, or poly, and I dismissed any words to the contrary as necessary growing pains for an ambitious religion - the best missionaries are 12 little versions of yourself, right? I felt guilty about my presumptuous take-it-or-leave-it attitude, but I couldn’t help think that my Buddy Christ™ roadside shrines were my own modern way of proselytizing. And a much healthier way, at that.

It got a bit harder to laugh about my faith when Mom got sick. Mom was the one that took me for doughnuts after Sunday service. Mom insisted on the advent candles on the dinner table. Mom sat with me in Maundy Thursday services, where we shared muffled, inappropriate snickers when the pastor would awkwardly duck behind the teeny lectern, his skirt-clad rear sticking out, so that no one would see him whacking a saw to mimic the sound of the nails being driven into Christ’s feet.

I tried to blame it on oxygen saturation and medication side-effects, but near the end, when she couldn’t communicate anymore, religion sure didn’t seem to be a comfort to Mom. She was scared, and confused, and visits from the pastor or reading aloud from the bible only made her more so.

I can’t express what a hit that was. Mom was the model for all of my religious beliefs. If in the end it meant nothing to her, what on earth was I doing with my life and soul?

It wasn’t until recently that I realized it wasn’t her religion that was challenged in that moment, it was my own. Her responses were difficult to interpret, at best. It was all about the meaning I laid on them.

I can’t know for certain what she felt when she died. I can only believe that her faith was with her, and that my fuzzy, loving, it’s-all-sweetness-and-cherries God was with her. And I do believe.

Buddy Christ™ is back on my dashboard now, by the way, and we’re spreading the good news in a Ford Van, reaching out to my quivering brethren. But it took a while to find my way back.

Bethany Herron is an urban fantasy writer, freight-train conductor, and RWA Board Member living in the Bay Area. She has the blessed fortune to be connected to the Pens by blood, and blogs at

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I'm Loving Angels Instead

by Gigi

I love hanging out in cemeteries.

No, I was never a Goth kid. But I've always felt a profound sense of beauty and peace in cemeteries.

One of the first plots that ever came to me was a ghost story about two teenagers who are drawn to an angel statue above a grave in a cemetery from California's Gold Rush days.

I'd still like to do something with that story someday, but I learned that writing YA is different than mystery, so I've got a lot more work to do before I can finish it. But you know what? I loved writing that story, regardless of what comes of it.

Based on that attitude, it was suggested by one of the Pens that I'm the most likely among us to become a Bodhisattva. I'm good at the Buddhist practice of calmly accepting the things around me. I accept that the cup is already broken; the things around me will all break at some point, but I'm not going to spend my life worrying.

Even when things go "wrong," it's all part of life. I've screwed up at a lot of things in my life -- being turned down for fellowships after college (which led to me taking off for London instead), getting myself on the wrong life path that I didn't quit until age 25 (which led to me meeting the love of my life a month later), not getting right that ghost story I love (which perhaps I'll find my way back to when I'm ready). By accepting these failures for what they were -- broken cups, not a broken life -- I was able to let them go and move on.

I think I'm good at that practice because most of the time I succeed in living in the moment, appreciating the people and experiences around me, instead of being focused on striving for some future payoff.

It's especially easy to appreciate the moment in beautiful spiritual places like cemeteries. You can feel the universe there. How can you worry about the petty problems in your life when surrounded by such serenity?

I've tried to capture the ethereal nature of cemetery angels through the lens of a camera. Below are a few of my photographs that show how I've experienced these peaceful places.

p.s. If anyone missed the reference in the title of this post, you're missing out on the highly entertaining Robbie Williams.

Addendum: Not five minutes after I wrote the original draft of this post, I was putting dishes away and broke one of my favorite martini glasses. Now that's a good lesson for practicing what I preach ;)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Martha Gets Religious (about writing)

Nothing brings out unsolicited advice like the declaration: "I'm working on a novel."

"What about?" strangers/friends/family ask.

It doesn't matter what you say, they will offer friendly advice. You could literally quote Genesis, and you'd get the response, "Wouldn't it be cool if you make the universe is three days instead? Three days seems more urgent."

Pile that advice on top of whatever you get from your critique group, writing friends, writing forums, seminars, and Oprah.

That's a lot of advice. The only way to anchor yourself in your story is to keep a central tenant of writing commandments. Things you know in your heart to be true about the world, about writing, and about yourself. Things you will not compromise on even as your story grows and changes under the care of others. Things that keep your story yours.

Martha's 10 Writing Commandments To Herself. Not To You.

1. Thou shalt have a female main character point of view. No offense to guys. But there's enough from your point of view in this world.

2. Thou shalt try thy bestest not to let any characters bite their lips. At least not until thou makest a friend who actually does bite her lip. Because really, thou doesn't knowest anyone who does this in real life.

3. Thou shalt not have two women fighting over a joint male romantic-interest. If the two woman shall fight, it shalt be over something substantial. And interesting. Not a dude.

4. Thy characters shall not have pets, unless they intend to eat said pet, or do something grotesquely interesting to said pet, because otherwise all they will do is feed and pet said pet, and what do you really have to say that is interesting about pet ownership? Nothing.

5. Thou shalt not write a character having a dream. Thou knowest that listening to someone's dreams is hella annoying, even when they are thine own. So why make someone pay to read them? (I should note - I have written characters waking up from nightmares but not in the process of having them. It's a thin line, but they're my commandments, so I'm cool with it.)

6. Thou shall write characters of ethnic diversity but not dwell on said ethnic diversity creating a "we are all the same at heart" message because thou knowest, as someone of diversity, that thou feels this message is total sentimental crap undervaluing the very point of diversity in that difference is beautiful and not something to be feared. Besides, when was the last time thou wantest to be the same as anyone? Never.

7. Thou shall keep thy word count under 60,000. Nothing thou hasest to say is interesting enough to hit 100,000 words. Ever.

8. Thou shall make thy books as awesome as possible. Thou knowest thy is asking for Publishers to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in personnel, materials and overhead to produce said work so make thou shit worth hundreds of thousand of dollars.

9. Thou shalt write whatever the hellest thy wants. Else, what's the point?

10. Thou shall make holy any day thy wantest to rest. Because again. See above.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Secret of Everything

L.G.C. Smith

So. Religion. In 500 words or fewer. Really? I can’t do it.

Instead, I’m resorting to one of my stories. I’m old enough to repeat myself if I feel like it, so here goes.

In my first year of grad school at Cal, I arrived late to campus one spring morning after a gutting fight with my husband. I don’t remember what it was about, but it was the kind of fight that made me wonder what the hell I had been thinking to marry this person, and what ever possessed me to think I had the slightest inkling of who he was inside because clearly, I didn’t, and my judgment was so wildly off the mark as to call into question everything I ever thought I knew about anything.

I know what was wrong now. He had bipolar disorder. At the time, however, as I parked in the Northside lot and scuttled down to the corner of Euclid and Hearst to cross onto campus, I despaired. Something was wrong, very, very wrong, and no amount of therapy or constructive action on my part seemed to make any difference.

As I reached the crosswalk, the light turned red, and I was stuck in front of a bakery with a homeless guy with a big beard and a little collection box for the Berkeley Free Clinic. My guard down, I made eye contact.

He smiled. He didn’t ask for my spare change. “What’s your favorite shape?”

Well, that was a different approach. “A triangle,” I said.

“What’s your favorite color?”


He pointed to the sky behind the redwoods to the west of the North Gate. “Look up.”

I did.

He traced a triangle with one finger against the clear blue sky. “There’s a blue triangle for you. Love and fear. That’s all there is. You decide.”

The light turned green and I went to my class, and on with my imperfect marriage and my own deep flaws and foibles. Those words have never left me.

Three short sentences spoken in a profane and painful moment, with the humble gift of an imagined blue triangle sketched in the air bore a lesson as resonant as the teachings of the world’s greatest religions.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Heroes and Heartbreakers

by Lisa Hughey

I know what you're thinking. What does that title have to do with religion?

Not a damn thing. I'm firmly in the camp of, however you choose to worship (or not) is your own business. I won't show you mine and don't show me yours :)

Instead I have some fun news. I'm also going to be blogging over at a new publisher sponsored website:

The site launches TODAY. :) So stop on by and take a look. And feel free to let me know what you think!!

Happy Valentine's Day from the Pens!!!!


Friday, February 11, 2011

And the Winner a few other tips for aspiring writers

Comment number 9 (we use the totally impartial to generate our winners :) )

So...Michelle!!!!! You have won a copy of

Writing Romance—The Ultimate Guide on Craft, Creation and Industry Connections

So here are some writing tips straight from the Pens:

1. Write. This one sounds simple but sometimes it isn't. Don't say you want to write. DO IT!! Put your butt in the chair, hands on the keyboard and type away madly. BIC HOK TAM

2. Celebrate. Every single milestone that comes your way. Finish a chapter, yay! Finish a draft, yay!! Final in a writing contest, yay! Get a good critique, yay! Sent out to an agent/editor, yay! Got a rejection, yay!

3. Submit. We've met people terrified to submit their work. What if no one likes it? Well what if they LOVE it? Use the internet tools to find agents/editors interested in what you write ( and SUBMIT.

And last but not least: we wish all of you GOOD LUCK on your publishing journey!!!!

Love, The Pens

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Big Truth

--Adrienne Miller

I remember the first time I was informed I would be going to hell. I was about eight years old. My sister and I were riding in the back of my grandmother’s van. She was up front, tsking and clucking over the terrible fact that neither of us had been baptized.
“Such a shame that they’ll be going to hell,” my grandmother’s friend said. Her tone was so matter of fact she could have been talking about eggs going bad. Well, if you leave them out on the counter, of course they’re going to be rotten.
But she wasn’t talking about eggs, she was talking about my soul.
I waited for my grandmother to contradict her, to say something, anything, about how that wasn’t true. We were good kids. Polite kids. Nice kids. But my grandmother just sighed and nodded.
My eyes went wide as I looked to my sister. My lovely sister, Lisa, a few years older and far more firmly grounded in reality than I ever have been, just rolled her eyes and shook her head. Neither one of us would be going to hell, she assured me. 
Lucky for me, I believed my sister, but the whole incident never left me. Not because I worried about burning forever in a pit of fire, but about why a woman who knew me, and who I knew loved me--deep down, really loved me--could believe such a thing. 
My grandmother would always take us to church when we spent the weekend with her, and I loved to look at the stained glass windows that lined that nave. I was fascinated by  the symbols they contained, swords and trumpets, demons and angels. They were beautiful, filled with more symbolism than I could comprehend. I knew there was something big there, something more than the simple linear story they told, something just beyond my understanding. 
Even at eight I knew I wasn’t seeing what my grandmother was in that illuminated glass.  She saw answers there. She saw a way to live a life. She saw a pathway to redemption.  But even when I tried my hardest I couldn’t see what she found there. Reason always battled with belief.
As I grew, my fascination with mythology grew, but I still could never find the kind of absolute truth that my family and friends found in their various religions. As an adult I was able to cobble together an unorthodox patchwork system of spirituality that I hold close to my heart.
But time doesn’t heal some hurts. I know that my grandmother went to her grave believing in her heart that she and I would be separated for all of eternity, but I’d like to believe that the Truth is bigger than our worldly struggles for understanding and sense. I’d like to believe that the Truth is big enough for all of us...and yes, I mean all

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Finding one’s helpful demons

By Juliet

I'm not what you'd call a church-goin' gal. Maybe because I've never felt a true calling, I find religious faith fascinating. Especially how it inspires creativity: art, music, and writing.

For instance, what happens when you shut a bunch of men away for hundreds of years, tell them not to have sex, and scare the crap out of them with tales of the devil?

Above: President Buer, 10th demon

They think a whole lot about demons. And they come up with really interesting characters. And spin some great tales about them.

There are seventy-two major demons in the Christian demonic pantheon, and they all have names and unique personalities and --at least to this heathen-- sound like the sort of characters with whom one wouldn’t mind sharing a bottle of wine and swapping stories.

Here's the really interesting thing: You don’t summon these guys to inflict B-movie horror tricks upon your neighbor in retaliation for weed-whacking at 7 in the morning.

Instead, these guys are helpful. They help people. Seriously. The conjurer, also known as the exorcist, calls these fellows up for a chat, then uses them to learn about science, or literature, or to get some serious work done. Even Noah was said to have called on the demon Shamdon for help in planting the first vine.

It’s all written down in grimoires and tomes with names like the Pseudomonarchia Daemonum and The Lesser Key of Solomon, consisting of the Ars Goetia, Ars Theurgia Goetia, Ars Paulina, Ars Almadel and Ars Notoria. These books describe the spirits and the spells needed to compel them to do the will of the conjurer

Right: Marquis Ronwe or Ronove

The demons are referred to as kings, princes, earls, marquises, dukes, counts, and presidents.

I love the ritzy titles. They’re all royalty, and they have some really interesting talents.

Vapula is a powerful Duke of Hell that commands thirty-six legions of demons. Depicted as a griffin-winged lion, he teaches philosophy, mechanics, and sciences. Leraje is a mighty Great Marquis of Hell who has thirty legions of demons. He inspires battles and disputes, and makes gangrene wounds caused by arrows. He is depicted as a gallant and handsome archer clad in green, carrying a bow and quiver.

Or my personal favorite, Dantalian, of whom the The Lesser Key of Solomon says: "He is a Duke Great and Mighty, appearing in the Form of a Man with many Countenances, all Men's and Women's Faces; and he hath a Book in his right hand. His Office is to teach all Arts and Sciences unto any; and to declare the Secret Counsel of any one; for he knoweth the Thoughts of all Men and Women, and can change them at his Will. He can cause Love, and show the Similitude of any person, and show the same by a Vision, let them be in what part of the World they Will. "
Above, Duke Abigor, desribed as a "goodly knight" riding a steed given to him by Beelzebub

The Pseudomonarchia Daemonum describes the demon Phenex: "Phoenix is a great marquesse, appearing like the bird Phoenix, having a child's voice: but before he standeth still before the conjuror, he singeth manie sweet notes. Then the exorcist with his companions must beware he give no eare to the melodie, but must by and by bid him put on humane shape; then will he speake marvellouslie of all woonderfull sciences. He is an excellent poet, and obedient, he hopeth to returne to the seventh throne after a thousand two hundredth yeares, and governeth twentie legions."

It's easy to get lost in this stuff. So if you’re looking for inspiration for a novel, you might want to check out the antics, talents, and tragic figures in this list of demons. Most of them command many legions of lesser demons, so there are thousands more where those came from.

And here’s the great thing: these demons were full of knowledge, wisdom, and beauty. From them one could learn the secrets of the world. But if they weren’t controlled, if they took over, there was hell to pay.

Hmm. Seems like there's a metaphor for the creative life in there somewhere....

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Holly Roller

You wouldn't know it to look at me, but I was a holy roller for a time. I swung from the rafters.

Yep. I'll wait right here while you get over that.

Okay? You all right? Good.

I have a theory that in high school, a teen turns to sex, drugs, rock'n'roll, or religion. There might be sports in there, too, but since I can't hit the wall with a spitball, that was never for me. And sex... well, I was a little confused about that one, so that wasn't my choice. Drugs scared the bejeezus out of me after I read Go Ask Alice--I was convinced I was going to drink a Coke that was laced with acid and end up clawing my own skin off. Rock'n'roll, well, I was really into '40s big band, so that didn't work, either.

I was left with religion. It started when I was a freshman--my new best friend Nicole brought me to her church, and I fell head over heels in love with the LOVE. Everyone loved me! They thought I was funny! Smart! They wanted me there! They hugged me all the time!

The Pentecostal church was nothing like the Episcopalian one I'd been taken to as a child with my mother. They raised their arms while they sang and prayed out loud with their eyes closed. They said, "Yes, Lord" and "Praise Jesus" while the pastor prayed. They spoke in tongues (and eventually I did, too, something I don't actually like to think too much about). They stayed in church from 8am till noon on Sunday, and Wednesday night service was encouraged. People came to the altar to get saved at least once or twice a service, and someone was always confessing something (and that something was often BIG--they'd cheated on their spouses, they felt attracted to the opposite sex, they'd started drinking again).

And they were loved, too! Those sinners were loved so hard that it was easy to stay once you came in the doors of the church. I felt God's love, sure, but what I craved was the love of Patti, the youth minister. When she smiled at me from the wisdom of her twenty-two years, I could fly.

I also loved LaRae. She was a hard-knock case--didn't come from the best family, had done lots of things that maybe she shouldn't have, and she was a grade older than I was. She both scared and thrilled me. When I was a junior and she was a senior, she'd pick me up to go to school in the mornings, and we'd sit in her little brown Honda Civic in the high school parking lot, the heater running, clutching each others' hands tightly as we prayed as hard as we could. Pray that we could witness to others. Pray that we'd ace the geometry test. We'd pray for just about anything or anyone, but what I remember most was the way her hands felt in mine.

I dropped out of the church in my senior year when I realized that yes, maybe I was interested in girls, and maybe the church was a little bit too intolerant on that one. Of course, this was twenty years ago, and I didn't say these things out loud to many people. I just remained in love with my new best friend (Monica) and went about the business of growing up.

Years later, I tracked down LaRae and called her. "So... are you still in the church?"

She laughed. "Hell, no."

"Are you...?"

She laughed harder. "Gay? Hell, yes."

But I believed in that religion I'd found in her Honda between our chastely clasped hands, and I'm still worshiping there. Love, friendship, kindness, acceptance. That's really all the church I need.

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Freedom Worth Not Taking For Granted

by Sophie


Every once in a while I get a reminder that the religious freedom I take for granted (and trust me, I take it entirely for granted) is scant in the rest of the world.

Right now in Afghanistan, though the official constitution guarantees that people "are free to exercise their faith," the courts rely on Islamic law in some cases, including religious conversion. Under some interpretations of Sharia - and I'm cribbing from the NYT here - leaving Islam is punishable by death.

People converting from Islam in Afghanistan, then, run a daily risk of beatings, persecution, and worse.

Some Afghans think so little of the Pope they burn him in effigy...

In our household, we have free and open discussions of religion. One of my children is an atheist; the other deeply faith-motivated. We practice the sort of loosey-goosey Christianity so prevalent in the 'burbs: church on weekends when there isn't anything more compelling going on, most of the major sacraments observed, stints in religious ed and family/faith gatherings - but I'm openly critical of our church's leadership as well as the Vatican. I refuse to participate in some parts of the Mass and openly abhor - and I mean with every fiber of my being - many of its teachings. And yet - there we are, week after week. No one bars us entry; no one has tried to eject us; no one's even called me a hypocrite (probably because I beat them to it).

...but then again, this guy could stand to learn a thing or two about tolerance, too.

I'm always surprised at the level of contempt and mistrust of people from other cultures, out here in the affluent zip codes. It's made worse, of course, by the presentation of the "news" by some of our media. I wish that everytime someone in my community is about to make a dig - subtle or not - against the folks down the street who came from elsewhere and practice a non-Christian faith - they would instead remember with great gratitude that our freedoms aren't worth a whole lot if we don't extend them to every citizen. And freedom from persecution doesn't just cover not getting beaten in the streets - it ought to preclude the ladies at the PTA meeting wondering aloud if that new family is "like, Islamic-Islamic, or, you know, American."

Okay. Rant off. I'm a little cranky today. Since I do try to bring my blog posts around to writing at some point, I'll add this thought: when I considered all the books I've completed that will see publication (so far that's a total of eight) I was surprised to conclude that every single one of them touches on the protagonists' personal faith. As my daughter rightly points out, faith is a whole different can o' worms than religion, but I reference churches and worship in every book as well (not always in a positive light) and believe that a faith journey is an important part of each protagonist's arc.

Huh! I found that interesting, since it was not something I set out to do consciously. I'm neither proud nor not-proud of this - but I do find, on reflection, that I like what I've done so far in this arena. And I imagine I'll do more of it.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Contest ends at 5 pm EST today

Okay. We're too impatient. We can't wait until Valentine's Day so you've got until 5 pm. EST or 2 pm. Pacific to comment on last Friday's post.

For a chance to win a copy of our SFA-RWA book. Good luck to everyone. It has been GREAT reading your comments about your writing journey. Thanks for letting the Pens participate!!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Fury of the Damned

by Gigi 

Many people once believed that the stone gargoyles high atop old churches were the trapped souls of people who hadn't lived a virtuous life.

I'd look pretty furious, too, if I'd been trapped in stone.

The purpose of this interpretation of gargoyles was to convince people to attend church so that their souls wouldn't end up like the unfortunate tormented figures. 

Here are a few gargoyles I photographed that look furious and frightening enough that you can understand why people might have believed these creatures to be damned souls.

Gargoyle at Westminster Abbey in London whose eyes seem to follow you wherever you go.

Gargoyles at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. These fellows sit on a lower level than the most famous gargoyles of Notre Dame, and have a more unnerving appearance.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Martha Loves A Furious Franchise

The Fast And The Furious franchise has grossed nearly one billion dollars over four movies while costing 1/4 as much. I'm sure the impending release of the fifth on April 29th 2011 will push revenues over that mark, and I haven't even begun to count up DVD or merchandising sales.

How can you reconcile the film's success with its critically panned driftless characters and cheesy one-liner script?

Well, sure there's this:
(thanks Google Images)

But actually, the reason is more simple.


People underestimate awesome. Me included. When I write, I get caught up in meaningful symbolism or character journeys or blah blah blah blah, but really, as a reader and a viewer, I want awesome. Lots of awesome. I want to jump out of my seat because of an unexpected or perverse twist. Because of a surprising stunt.

The filmmakers also seem determined to give fans exactly what they want, no matter how far fetched.

Seen the same car stunts? Throw in some drifting!
Miss the core character's hiatus? Bring them back!
Think the same characters keep doing the same thing? Add Dwayne The Rock Johnson to the mix!

When creating your own vision, your own story, it's worth stopping and thinking - what's the MOST AWESOME thing that could happen right now? Whatever you originally planned might be what the character needs, might be what the story deserves, but is it AWESOME????? If not, just consider throwing it in. For fun. A billion dollars is just around the corner.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Quiet Fury

by Lisa Hughey

So I was driving along mentally composing ideas for this topic, thinking about the physiological effects of fury (I’ll get to that later) when I noticed the SUV in front of me had a rainbow shining over the back windshield.


But I continued to drive along, moving onto thinking about another aspect of fury which is the ability of small children to induce a certain level of fury in their mothers. And yet, if you threaten their child, that same mother will turn on you with a ferocity unmatched.

And then, I saw another rainbow on the windshield of a truck coming toward me. Pretty again. Before I can even move on to the next potential slant for my fury post, another rainbow!

Beautiful rainbow picture courtesy of

By now I’m completely distracted because it hasn’t rained here in days, the sun is shining, none of the vehicles are wet. So where are these rainbows coming from? I can’t figure it out. Then I decide I really don’t need to know, I just need to appreciate them. My point being, I’m more about rainbows than fury.

However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t ever get furious.

My kids have been the target of my fury, the red-faced, spittle spewing, so angry you feel like your brain is going to burst right through your skull and splatter all over the walls fury, when they drove me to think brink of craziness. It’s only happened a few times, but I’m here to tell you that I happened to glance in the mirror as I stalked toward my son, screaming, just in case he couldn’t hear my already off the charts decibel level (he’s usually the one inducing me to insaneness) and I looked scary.

My totally East Coast WASP-y upbringing leaves me nearly incapable of expressing fury most of the time. A quiet tightening of my chest until the effort to breathe is in peril and the thud of my pulse in my forehead as my brain struggles to hold in the rush of sheer emotion is usually accomplished with nary a word being uttered. But just because I don’t scream and shout doesn’t mean that underneath my cool, composed appearance I am not seething with fury.

I have a quiet fury. I don’t scream. I don’t throw things-even if I do feel like it. I don’t break things. I don’t cut with mean words. I just...disengage.

Overall, I’m a live and let live person. My first inclination if you do something I don’t like is to wonder why you are having a bad day. I might even ask if everything is okay. I think sometimes I get taken advantage of because I’m so easy going. And by focusing on what is really important (like rainbows), I let a lot of things go. But at some point, and the tip is never the same, I expect to be treated properly and if you’ve tipped over the edge. We’re done.

In the words of the mafia, “You’re dead to me.”

That doesn’t mean I won’t ever talk to you again. Far from it, I will be polite, smile, ask how you are, and as soon as I’ve met my social obligation, I will walk away. And you will never, never, never be my friend again.