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Author: KJ West

Books & Beer

Books & Beer

There’s an old writing maxim, often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, that will forever wed the worlds of beer and books: Write drunk, Edit sober. 

A recent Twin Cities event dared to re-imagine that old quote: Write sober….Market drunk.

Ladies and gents, may I introduce you to the Books & Beer Pop-up Bookstore. Love books? Love beer? Love meeting local authors? This is the event for you.

Mid-May I popped in to see the pop-up (hey, you’ve read this blog long enough to know some amount of shameless word play is to be expected) and an impressive line up of Minnesota authors were in attendance. Now, most (not all) writers of literature are painful introverts but the authors at this event were chatting happily over their pints, promoting books, and acting unnaturally extroverted. I think the beer had something to do with it. Hence the new maxim: Write sober, Market drunk

Some Kayla trivia of the day, my favorite things start with B. Baths, bikes, books, blog, beer, baby, oh yeah and Brooke of course. I could go on (but I won’t, you’re welcome). This seemingly incongruous event combined three of my favorite B’s in one awesome literary evening: Books, Beer, and Baby.

The baby was, of course, optional. Husband and I both wanted a beer, and a babysitter – yes, another favorite B – could not be obtained on this particular evening.  But we were not the only parents desperate enough for a creative book-beer pairing to venture out of doors with an infant/toddler. No indeed. Three tiny humans under the age of two were in attendance and Lake Monster Brewing  had a child play area set up. Way to be inclusive Lake Monster! Sweet babies, please take from this experience a love of books and do not grow up to be drunks.

With dark beer in hand and husband/baby in tow, I browsed the long tables and mingled with  Minnesota authors who had set up shop. It was an awesome experience and I took home an important lesson: Drinking local is fun, reading local is awesome.

Our  community is home to so many talented folks. I met fantasy novelists with epic trilogies for sale, youthful poets, and writers of every genre imaginable. I was duly impressed. It was inspiring to see local authors, many self-published or published with small, local presses, confidently promote their books. Many offered friendly words of encouragement when they found out I too was a writer. I am happy to know that when my book is ready I have a warm, open-hearted community to share it with.

Readers and writers connecting, personally and intimately over a brewksi, is not a common occurrence. We often connect over the internet while remaining isolated in reality. But for most of human history storytellers were part of the village. They were community members, just like their listeners. They weren’t celebrity stars who lived far away in a Manhattan tower – inaccessible, unknowable, glamorous – they were your neighbors, regaling you with tales over fermented beverages. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Human nature hasn’t changed. We still love connecting over fermented beverages. We still love stories, particularly when we know the teller.

Go to Paris, Rome, St. Petersburg, New York or any other literary hub and you’ll find café bars where great writers, past and present, started their day with a caffeine hit and moved on to something stronger. Perhaps Lake Monster is destined to be the next Les Deux Magots. I for one hope beer and books become regular and happy bedfellows in our literature community.

The Books & Beer Pop-up Bookstore created an atmosphere where writers and readers could enjoy good books, good drinks, and the company of fellow booklovers and I can’t wait for the next event later this summer. Stay tuned on SS Press and I’ll let you know when it’s happening.

If you’re in need of a book to pair with your favorite beer, check out the local authors who participated in the Pop-Up:

Kimberlee Ann Bastian
Kate Bitters
Julien Bradley
Scott Burtness
W.S. Datko
Anthony Eichenlaub
Jeff Falkingham
William Fietzer
Angeline Fortin
Kara Jorges
Kim Kane
Briana Lawrence
Catherine Lundoff
Patrick W. Marsh
Annie Meehan
Kenneth E. Olson
Dave Oppegaard
Marcie Rendon
Sam Richard
Ozgur K. Sahin
Jeff Smieding
P.V. Tkach
Tony Writ

Indie First! Buy Books Local

Indie First! Buy Books Local

Independent Bookstore Day is a one day national party celebrating indie bookstores and local book culture. Every year on the last Saturday in April indie bookstores open early and play host to author appearances, live music, doughnuts, costume contests, readings, temporary tattoos, and…literary condoms. That last one is a real thing.


Yep, the Indie Bookstore scene in the Twin Cities sure is virile. For the second year in a row the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association has printed an Indie Bookstore Passport for the big day. This year 18 booksellers signed up to be included and book lovers like yours truly spent the day collecting stamps, earning coupons, entering drawings, participating in events, and eating free doughnuts.

Everyone who collected five stamps won a limited edition Twin Cities bookstore map created by Kevin Cannon. Check out this beauty:5e41d9c335802ffc7f0736c8f3da5465

I scored an artsy map, was entered into some pretty sweet drawings, and collected eleven stamps for my passport. That means 11 bookstores in one day with baby in tow. It was a marathon but baby loved it and so did I. We visited many of my favorite shops – Magers & Quinn, Once Upon a Crime, Dreamhaven, Moon Palace Books – and had a blast with face painting, folk dancing, door prizes, bookshop bingo, A Wrinkle in Time read-a-thon (baby loved this especially, that a girl), temporary tattoos, and tasty treats. Besides visiting my favorite places I also discovered a few shops I’d never heard of – Birchbark, Addendum, and Paperback Exchange.

Indie Bookstores aren’t just for in the know hipsters. They stock all the mainstream, pop culture, and YA novel dorkiness you crave. Speaking of which, young adult lovers must check out Addendum. Get this, it’s a bookshop solely devoted to the awesomeness of YA!

If you can believe it all eleven of the shops I visited were within a six mile radius of my house. I am so spoiled. We really do have one of the best literary scenes in the world. Next year baby will be a lot sturdier and I’m hoping to bike us between the shops.

There’s growing public awareness and support for independent businesses. The buzz around buying local is loud and getting louder, but are we being loud enough? Not many among us are willing to call out the biggest threat to local bookstores – Amazon.

Amazon is the evil Empire to the Independent Bookstores Luke Skywalker. is responsible for a third of online sales, and that number is growing every day. This triumphant success is owed to unfair business and labor practices. I’ve attached an infographic at the end of this post if you want more details.

Melville House was one of the first independent publishers to confront Amazon  over predatory and escalating fees assigned to small publishers, as well as the clandestine war on the publisher Hachette, which it carried out by deliberately delaying shipments and hiking prices. Not cool, Amazon. Melville House is now speaking out against Amazon’s  new physical bookstores, which they take issue with because they don’t employ booksellers. I find Amazon’s aggressive efforts to dodge the collection of sales tax particularly distasteful.

Amazon isn’t your buddy. It’s a giant monopoly that will stoop real low to make a profit.

To avoid sounding overly negative I’d like to be fair and point out some of Amazon’s redeeming qualities. It is the biggest book retailer in the world and they get books to places that people used to not be able to get books. I’m all about books getting into hands! And almost every indie author over the past three years has gone into business online, where they can cheaply and easily publish their work as e-books. I’m all about the empowerment of self publishing! (Shameless plug to please support SS Press’s own indie author Brooke Stewart on Amazon!)

I’m not saying NEVER shop at amazon, I’m just saying shop at indie bookstores MORE. Amazon is wreaking havoc on the book industry and local book culture. It’s a challenging economic climate. If we book lovers don’t support the bookstores than they’re going to disappear.

Independent bookstores are not just stores, they’re community centers run by passionate book lovers who want nothing more than to spread the joy of reading. When you enter an indie bookshop you enter a carefully tended universe of ideas, adventure, and serendipity. They are lively performance spaces, with our Twin Cities shops offering weekly readings, signings, live music, children’s storytime, and family games. Indie bookstores connect authors and readers and foster a book-loving community in a way that Amazon never can and never will.

If we support the local shops then they will flourish, grow, expand, multiply. And that’s the kind of world I want to live in. That’s the world I’ll be voting for with my money.

If you’re journeying into the wild waters of self-publishing consider other options besides Amazon. Did you know that you can buy eBooks at your favorite indie shop? All you need is a Kobo eReading app on your device and you can buy eBooks through many independent bookstores in Minnesota. And when you self publish on Kobo your readers can support an indie shop when they buy. In my experience indie shops are also very open to physical copies. I’ve approached local Moon Palace Books and Boneshaker Books and they’re both willing to take on a short comic or story (in the form of a zine) on a consignment deal. Small peanuts, I know, but it will get my stuff out there and gain me connections with local booksellers, a valuable ally.

Choose local whenever possible. You can bypass big business in favor of local entrepreneurs by: choosing farmers market over target, local cafe over caribou, and family bookstore over amazon.

You don’t have to do it every time, but a little effort from all of us will go a long way.

If you’re tempted by the price at Amazon, check with your local shop, their prices are competitive too. In my experience the local place is never more than a dollar or two over what Amazon is offering. A few extra bucks  from your wallet is worth it when you think of the local jobs provided and the awesomeness of having a corner shop in your hood. And if your local place doesn’t have a book in stock they’ll order it for you. I’m on a first name basis with a few shops and I love that. They treat me like family and I return the favor.

“Consumers control the marketplace by deciding where to spend their money. If what a bookstore offers matters to you, then shop at a bookstore. If you feel that the experience of reading a book is valuable, then read the book. This is how we change the world: we grab hold of it. We change ourselves.”

― Ann Patchett, bestselling author and co-owner of Parnassus Books, an Independent Bookstore for Independent People

I’d love to hear about your favorite bookstores, shoot me a comment with any recommendations both here and abroad. If you’re not sure where to find a store near you check out the Indie Bookstore Finder

Here’s that infographic I promised about the evilness of Amazon:
An Hour a Day is Better than No Hours a Day

An Hour a Day is Better than No Hours a Day


Brooke and I are big NaNoWriMo enthusiasts and we write about it a lot here at SS Press…so if you’re sick of reading about NaNo then this isn’t the post for you. Because I’m going to talk about Camp NaNo like the happy little camper I am. Ok, you’ve been warned.

It is day 30 of Camp NaNoWriMo and I just hit the validate project button. Boo-ya.

More than any other NaNo, this Camp helped me start and maintain a daily writing habit. And, yeah, I know I should have developed such an obviously useful and wonderful habitude before now, but hey, better late than never.

I got a lot done this month and the only thing that changed is that I shifted my focus from writing a lot (word count) to writing often (hour count).

My goal was to write one hour a day, everyday in April. That might not seem like much, but that’s the point! One hour a day is only .0416% of the month. The thought was if worst came to worst on a busy day I could always just stay up an extra hour after the family went to bed. One hour of sleep isn’t a lot to sacrifice. I mean, in college I would do anything for an extra hour of sleep but I’ve evolved since then.

Not only did I write everyday, but something magical happened, as something magical ought to do when you plunge into the ocean of imagination, sometimes when I sat down to write an hour…I ended up writing 2…or 3…or 6! Yep, sometimes all you need to do is show up and let the magic happen. And of course there were days when I forced an hour and quit as soon as the timer hit 60 minutes, but more days than not I got on a roll and just kept rolling.

Here’s how it worked. By showing up everyday I developed discipline. When developing a new skill or ability the key is not how much you do it, it’s how often. If you start out spending an exorbitant number of hours in one sitting you’re going to burnout. When a person goes to the gym for the the first couple times, should they A) Workout all day pumping the iron, or B) Do several short workouts a week. B, of course. If this gym newbie gives their wimpy virgin muscles time to heal and grow they’re going to see results, and if they hit the gym a couple times a week and keep that up for a month or two they’ve got a habit. And pretty soon they’re going to be working out for longer stretches and then, voila, you’ve got a Hulk look-a-like.

Here’s advice for those of you struggling to build discipline and form habits:

Don’t write a lot. Just write often. 

Habits practiced once a week aren’t habits. They’re obligations. Like calling your mom. And if you only do something once a week it’s likely only a matter of time before you stop doing it altogether. Unfortunately writing isn’t like your mom. It’s not going to hunt you down and mercilessly attack with disappointed mom face until you are sufficiently guilt ridden and ready to give her as much quality time as her majesty demands. (Mom, in case you are reading this you are an angel and this paragraph is pure FICTION)

Show up, do the work. It’s that simple.

And yeah, it’s also that hard. But I did some amazing stuff this month, and trust me you’ve got an hour per day. It’s only .0416% remember.

Peace & Love, Kayla


Life is a Juggling Act and Sometimes You Drop the Ball

Life is a Juggling Act and Sometimes You Drop the Ball


Life is a juggling act. At work and at home we have things to manage, priorities to balance, and too many balls to keep in the air.

Sometimes  I’m on the ball, pun intended, all areas of my life get some attention, and things revolve perfectly as I toss-catch-throw without a stumble.  Other times…I drop the ball.

I’m a busy lady with a lot on my plate. Big, luxurious blocks of time to write just aren’t possible right now. I can’t quit my job, force my mom to babysit, or stop cleaning/eating/showering/doing life like a passably normal adult. The amount of free time I have now is not likely to increase so I’ve been training myself to take advantage of little snippets of time to write. It feels good to fit writing into my hectic life – even if it’s only 45 minutes every other day.

I was on a roll for a couple weeks as I balanced a full schedule with productive bouts of writing. But then…I dropped the writing ball and I got pretty frustrated with myself.

Which got me thinking, if life in my time-strapped, chaotic world requires juggling, then shouldn’t I learn how to be a better juggler? Instead of complaining maybe I should practice. Afterall, it’s juggling – it’s supposed to be fun!

For some juggling advice I turned to a pro, check out the TED talk. Michael Moschen is arguably the world’s greatest juggler. He’s redefined the art of juggling and it’s been said that calling Michael Moschen a juggler is like calling Michelangelo a stonecutter or Mozart a piano player. Moschen has proven that juggling can be an art.

Anyone can learn to juggle. The odd thing about juggling is that it’s so damn frustrating when you can’t do it and then, when you finally can, you can’t understand why you couldn’t always do it….People always put obstacles in the way of their learning. My job is to help them confront their fear — of hurting themselves, of failure, or of just looking stupid.” – Michael Moschen

So the master of juggling says anyone can do it! But we need to practice and, more importantly, we need to get comfortable with failure. If you expect to do it perfectly every time, right out of the gate, then you are going to get frustrated when you inevitably screw up. We have to first deal with our expectations so that we can loosen up and have fun. Dropping a ball here and there is part of the process.

Balance is essential to juggling — as well as to life. But balance is not an unchanging state of perfection. It’s the ability to respond to an unexpected change. Tiny movements that create a perfect, but temporary, equilibrium. So the key to successfully juggling your priorities is the ability to shift and re-focus. At times, one area of your life will need more attention than the others.f3310d917de4083334075af00dc00a80

I had a great juggling sequence going before I dropped the writing ball. I’d been trying a variety of approaches to scheduling; taking advantage of the hour after baby went to bed, lunch break sprints, and I even did a few words at the co-op cafe before picking up groceries. I was doing great, but then life happened.

I won’t bore you with the details, but something came up at work and then a minor family crisis had me running nervously to and from my hometown. Once the smoke cleared I was a long way from reaching my monthly writing goal, but I didn’t regret taking care of the other areas of my life when they needed it. Becoming a master juggler means learning to prioritize, and learning when to drop a ball or two to keep the others in the air.

So I can’t drop the baby or my health, but writing…for a day or two, or even a week, if I need to drop it to take care of things then I will, and life will go on.

This week I put my affairs in order, finished this blog post, picked up the fallen ball, and started again. I didn’t waste a week. I spent a week caring for things that needed tending.

We’re all jugglers in some way or another, balancing our careers and our families, our passions and our laundry lists.

There is an art to juggling priorities, just as there’s an art to living. Take a look at your time and set your goals. Hold yourself accountable to a deadline BUT don’t sweat it when you need to prioritize life before writing. Try a variety of approaches to scheduling, but keep your mind open and your heart forgiving, because inevitably a variety of emergencies at work and home will conspire to pause your progress.

Try to have fun juggling your priorities, it will make life more enjoyable! It’s not about work-life balance, it’s about work-life flexibility. Be flexible enough to let the rubber ball drop so you can spend time caring for the fragile parts of your life. Beware extremes and respect all priorities.

I had a bad week, but life goes on, and everyday I’m getting better at juggling.

I’d love to hear about how you keep the balls in the air, or manage the fallout after they drop. Stay positive, writing buddies! And stay tuned to hear about our plans for taking on Camp NaNoWriMo as well as some super secret super exciting news about SS Press.

Peace & Love, Kayla

Plunging into Editing

Plunging into Editing

Every winter hundreds of people all over the world willingly dive into a frozen body of water. Insane, right? It’s called the polar bear plunge and it’s done in the name of charity.  I admire these brave and generous souls. It must be scary, not to mention extremely uncomfortable, to strip down to your skivvies and run full tilt into an icy lake.

This winter I will be taking a different sort of plunge. Instead of diving into frigid water, I will be plunging into the wild, wild world of editing a novel.

In a previous post I revealed how long it took me to finish my first draft – too long! I don’t want to repeat that same mistake with editing. Polar plungers know by instinct not to stay too long in the cold water. I mean, you don’t want to end up like Leonardo di Caprio in the Titanic, am I right? A quick icy plunge is all fun adrenaline and happy games, a too long submersion is death by hypothermia.

Brooke recently warned us about getting lost in the editing spiral and I am determined to make my editing journey efficient and mercifully quick. T0 do that I need to get my act together in a major way. So I am making a plan and sticking to it! Here are my five steps to a complete second a draft:

Step 1: Take a break

I’ve already completed this step. I haven’t looked at my story since August, yeesh that’s a long time, whoopsie! I can hardly remember what I wrote, but that’s a good thing for one important reason: I’m coming back to my story with fresh eyes. Fresh eyes are important because if you begin the revision process immediately you are still too familiar with your work. To edit effectively, you need to possess objectivity, which means you need time to forget. I’ve been hiding from my draft for five months so now I’m ready to tackle it with cold, objective clarity. Though I probably shouldn’t have waited longer than three months. It’s hard not to disconnect from your work after nearly half a year off. Oh well, lesson learned.

Step 2: Double check the map

When you find yourself facing a long and arduous journey through confusing, uncertain territory, it’s best to pack a map. The map of your story is an outline. I’m going to put in a lot of time up front in the editing process making sure my plot is airtight. The plan is to spend the month of February combing my draft for plot holes, timeline errors, unanswered questions, and incomplete scenes. These are the problems that cannot go unattended. As Brooke told us in her last post, a story needs to be complete and make sense. I do not want to enter the second draft without a sensical and complete plot. Knowing exactly where the story is going and how it gets there, step by step will save me a ton of editing effort down the road. Plus, a thorough read through will identify the problems that need fixing.

Step 3: Plunge into Editing

Once I have my airtight plot ironed out I’m planning to take that icy cold plunge and jump right into revising. I’ve never attempted this before and I’m a little nervous. I want to do a good job but I don’t want to spend too much time in the icy water. I don’t want hypothermia, I want to finish a second draft! The name of the game is discipline. I’m not yet sure how I will be fitting editing into my busy life but ideally I’d like to commit to two hours a day, five days a week. Stay tuned for an update on my progress.

Step 4: Contact the Beta Readers

Other human beings are indispensable to the editing process. Beta readers can be literary minded friends and family or they can be paid professionals. While they aren’t editors, they are essential. Like in step one, you need fresh eyes on the story. If you don’t get other eyes on your story then you are operating in a vacuum and your story will suffer for it. Another human is going to see things that you will not. Face it, as writers we are in love with our characters and our stories, and love, as they say, is blind. Beta readers will see flaws in your favorite character’s development and they will point out when your descriptions aren’t clear. I’m excited to have a second draft that makes enough sense to share, and I have a few literary lovers in my life who are excited to receive.

Step 5: Make it Shiny & Pretty

I’m not going to worry about step number five until I have a second draft that I can be proud of. While working on draft two I will correct and polish as I go but I’m not going to focus on nit-picking my grammar, word choice, or punctuation. I’m going to save that joyful task for later. After the first round of revisions and beta readers I’ll polish up my sentences and make my story shine. Anyway, it’s for the best if I don’t get too far ahead of myself right now.

“The best writing is re-writing.” -E.B. White


Well, here I go, deep breath, time to edit. Wish me luck! Excuse me while I go stock up on red pens.


Another Year, Another Dream

Another Year, Another Dream


January has arrived! Cue the resolution making, SMART goal setting, and freezing rain (at least in Minnesota).

Freezing rain aside, I love January. After surviving the holidays and end of year busyness I like to treat myself to a month of indoor activities like books, hot cocoa, cozy blankets, and naps. Oh yeah, and writing of course.

As a writer, January fills me with the excitement of the blank page waiting to be filled. It marks a new chapter wherein fresh beginnings can be made, perfect do-overs seem possible, and anything at all could happen.

There’s a mountain of inspirational blog posts out there that will walk you through realistic goal setting. Typical resolution making fosters an all or nothing attitude. But that’s not really my resolution style. Not that I totally disagree with all those rules and regulations telling you exactly how to plan goals that are achievable, measurable, divisible by prime numbers, etc, etc… Ok, I sort of disagree with that last one. Beating a goal to death just so it fits in some sort of measurable box isn’t my thing. It’s not that I think having a plan is bad, I just choose to focus on a different part of the resolution game, the part that is less pressure and more fun!

The fun part is dreaming up the goal. All goals start out as dreams, and it’s fun to dream.  That’s why resolution making is so popular. Humans love to imagine a better future and a better self. We all like the thought of goal setting, but very few actually do set them and even fewer are still working on them by the time mid-February rolls around.

I think that resolutions start out bright and shiny happy dreams but become dull drudgery when we kill the fun with rules, spreadsheets, and all or nothing mindsets.

I’ve been making resolutions since I was sixteen and I used to make them the boring way, and guess what? I never achieved a single goal until I loosened up the rules and started having fun.

Now when I get to the end of a year instead of lamenting what went unachieved I look forward to reviewing my resolutions and making new ones. My log of dream based resolutions is my way of tracking what’s important to me. As I compare last year’s goals to this year’s I get to see what matches, what contradicts, what I’ve accomplished, and how I’ve grown and changed as a person.  Perhaps what is most telling are the goals that remain the same. These are the goals that I am committed to enough to come back to year after year. These are the goals I desire passionately, the dreams that I refuse to let go.

Don’t make it a game of all or nothing this year, because in that game the only winner is nothing, that’s just human nature folks. Until we transcend our mortal shortcomings that rule out perfection I suggest making your 2017 goal setting more of a soul searching. Don’t make your goals boring, and by boring I mean SMART – specific, measurable, blah blah blah. Just kidding, go ahead and make them SMART, but don’t forget the fun part, which is the dreaming up of a new passion or a new life. The dream is what will drive you. Write down your dream and pin it on the fridge. Look at it everyday and keep the dream alive.

As I’ve gotten older my resolutions change very little from year to year. My dreams for 2017 are nearly identical to those I made for 2016. And I can proudly say that I made strides toward all of my 2016 goals and achieved two of the big writing goals: 1) Finish first draft of After the Empire manuscript, and 2) Start and finish a new story in NANOWRIMO 2016.

2016 was a good year and I’m hoping for more of the same in 2017. What are your thoughts on New Year’s Resolutions? I’d love to hear about your dreams and goals for the new year.

Stay tuned for 2017 lit events!

Peace, Love, & A Very Happy New Year to all!


The End: Killing the First Draft

The End: Killing the First Draft


Guess what? I finished the first draft of my first novel!!!! I have 90,00 words of a somewhat coherent story. How does it feel you ask? It feels flippin’ great.

But it took forever. 1.5 years to be exact.

One of the hardest things about being a writer is actually finishing that first draft. We often linger on the details, editing as we go, which in many cases causes us to burn out and quit. That’s what almost happened to me! I almost never finished the dang thing.

So how did I kill the first draft once and for all?

I recognized my perfectionism as a stalling tendency.

The first draft is not the final product, and the goal isn’t to produce carefully thought out and polished pages. Giving up perfectionism allows you to embrace discovery. As Terry Pratchett said, the first draft is just you telling yourself the story. It doesn’t have to be pretty, correctly punctuated, or even sensical. Just have fun with the first draft and don’t let perfectionism get in the way of the story.

I stopped obsessively reworking, rewriting, and researching.

Drafting is not editing, nor is it researching. Don’t do one when you should be doing the other. Instead of wasting time with google searches I noted the idea that needed researching and simply pressed on. Likewise, when I noticed that a passage needed edits I made note of it and reminded myself that I can always fix it later. When I stopped sweating the mistakes I started making progress.

I sent my inner critic on vacation and gave myself permission to write badly.

As soon as I silenced my inner critic I began writing faster, and as I wrote faster, believe it or not, my story improved. When I freed myself from the tyranny of my inner critic my imagination came out to play and I came up with some pretty great ideas on the fly. Sometimes creativity and criticism are mutually exclusive.

I learned a lot on the  journey from beginning to end. Foremost of which, the first draft needn’t (and shouldn’t) take an excessive amount of time. So this NaNoWriMo I was determined to take on a new story and finish the first draft in one month. And I did it! The NaNoWriMo draft was shorter and sloppier than the draft I labored over for a year and a half, but the NaNoWriMo draft was better. It possessed better ideas, was fresh and off the cuff, and unburdened by perfectionism or even proper punctuation.

Both drafts need work but the NaNoWriMo draft was much more fun.  In the future I’m going to write my first drafts quickly instead of slowly. For me at least, it doesn’t matter how much time I invest in a first draft –  it’s still going to need a whole lot of revision. I do believe that there are rare talents out there who can produce a first draft worth reading but for the rest of us mere mortals the first draft is going to suck. I’m sure you’ve come across the perennial words of Ernest Hemingway: “The first draft of anything is sh*t.”

To everyone out there struggling with a first draft. Good luck! I’d love to hear about your novel writing adventure. Stay tuned for an update on lit events in the Twin Cities!

Am I Crazy to Attempt NaNoWriMo?

Am I Crazy to Attempt NaNoWriMo?

The NaNoWriMo season is nearly upon us, and I don’t know about you, but I am not ready. Not at all, and I’m beginning to wonder…Am I crazy to attempt NaNoWriMo? Where will I ever find time to write an average of 1,667 words a day?!? I’m too dang busy.


But isn’t everyone busy? And isn’t the inherent craziness of NaNoWriMo exactly why we love it? I think many of us face the same problem when it comes to our writing lives. We want to write, we love to write, but finding time to write is nigh impossible. Between school, work, laundry, groceries, family, the days slip away in a monotonous blur without us having written a single word. But you know what? Most writers are too busy to write. In fact, most writers, like you and me, have great reasons not to write.

But they do it anyway.

This November my reason not to write comes in the form of a newborn babe. How on earth will I ever get anything done when this tiny human wants nothing more than to be held 24/7 and suckled on demand? Since the birth of my bundle of joy the days have passed in a whirlwind of breastfeed, burp, bounce, repeat. I’ve lost hope of ever sleeping through the night again and most  days I struggle to find time to shower.  I surveyed the veteran mommies in my life and was told not to expect to get anything done until the baby is 5 months old…my little human will only be 7 weeks when November rolls around.

We all have spouses, or children, or dogs, or cats, or houseplants that we’re responsible for. Some writers even have another full-time job that (gasp) has nothing to do with writing. Yet, they still write. Instead of finding the time to write, they make the time to write. Although I’m more than a little intimidated at the prospect of balancing baby duties with noveling, I’m going to do it anyway because that’s the kind of craziness that NaNoWriMo is all about.

If you’re overwhelmed with life and not sure if you can take on NaNoWriMo, you’re not alone. The key to success when you’re busy is strategy. If you ask yourself these basic questions and put together a simple plan, then you’ll be well on your way to victory.


When will you write? The toughest obstacle is finding and protecting your writing time. Maybe you need to set the alarm to an ungodly hour of darkness so you can get words in before work. Maybe you’ll be writing like the wind on your lunch break. Maybe you’ll be giving up facebook and netflix. In our busy lives finding time is hard so plan ahead. If you are committing to NaNoWriMo you need to answer the when question. My strategy consists of writing when the baby is sleeping, eating, or being entertained by someone else. After my little one is fed into a milky slumber at 3 AMI’m going to hit the keyboard before I hit the hay. During November I expect to sleep less, but when you stuff something new into your life something has to give.


Where will you write? The easy answer is everywhere. At work, at home, at the coffee shop. At the kitchen counter in between stirring the soup and bouncing the baby, at the dining room table while the family eats, propped up in bed while the spouse snores. If possible carve out a physical writing space and make it sacred. This means that when you sit in this location (be it desk, couch, or kitchen stool) you are writing your novel, not surfing the internet. Having a space where you can get down to business without being disturbed helps you get into the flow of writing faster and be efficient with your limited writing time. Let your family or roommates know that your writing space is an interruption free zone. Use your writing space as an island of tranquility in your hectic life.


How will you  pull this off? How will I write a novel when the house needs cleaning, dinner needs cooking, and the newborn needs diapering/feeding/constant cuddling?! First of all, let the house fall apart. Would you rather have the house get dusty or hold a novel? As for dinner, make big pots of soup that last several days and thank the heavens for my favorite two words: frozen pizza. How you pull off NaNoWriMo largely depends on your current time management skills. If you have a pinning, facebooking, tumblring, or netflixing obsession than you need to practice self discipline, or give it up cold turkey. What works best for me is breaking up the large task of NaNoWriMo into smaller goals. For example: “I will write 5 days a week and write 2,000 a day” or “Before I go to bed tonight I’ll hit 10,000.” NaNoWriMo is a marathon not a sprint. Achievable goals, however modest, will keep you moving forward toward the finish line.


Why are you committing to this writing goal? Because you love your story. Because you have something to say. Because you love the risk, the challenge, the work itself. There are as many answers as there are writers and answering the why question will help you find the motivation to succeed. If you’re struggling to answer the why question than NaNoWriMo with a major obstacle – like a newborn or high pressure job or general busyness – may not be for you. If you have an answer to the why, if you have a reason that drives you, then you have a motivating force, and thus a means of solving the when, where, and how.

We all have challenges. Many who attempt NaNoWriMo are tired/overworked/underpaid/at-wits-end-and-barely-keeping-it-together. That’s what inspires me about NaNoWriMo, jumping in with all the other crazy  hopefuls, all the other passionate writers who want to see their dream made reality.

Wherever you are in the strategizing process, please don’t panic. You’re going to rock this. I can tell you from experience that the hardest part is simply making the commitment to do it. If you’re looking for ideas, you’ll find plenty of help and resources. Chris Baty’s book No Plot? No Problem! is a great place to start, and if you need help picking a topic check out Brooke’s post.

If you have a novel inside you waiting to get out, write it! You won’t regret it. Remember, if it’s important to you you’ll find a way. If not, you’ll find an excuse.

Godspeed my writing friends.

Will you be joining Brooke and I for Nanowrimo this year? We’d love to hear about it.

The Way of the Zine: Lessons from the Literary Underground

The Way of the Zine: Lessons from the Literary Underground


Hello everyone, thanks for checking out my post about the great lit events happening this fall. As promised I’m here today to tell you all about the obscurely awesome literary genre known as zines.

I kicked off fall with my favorite literary festival: The Twin Cities Zine Fest. TCZF is an annual celebration of zine culture in the Twin Cities and this latest fest marked 12 years of awesomeness. It’s a place for local zinesters to show off their self-published works and for fans to expo, workshop, and hang out with fellow zine lovers.

But what is a Zine? I get that question a lot and to be truthful zines are not easily defined. At the fest conversation often turned to the nebulous nature of zines. Some fans place comics under the zine umbrella, some disagree. Others define zines as a printed blog and are met with outrage at this simplification.

The best way to understand zines is to get your hands on some. I discovered zines a few years back when I first visited Boneshaker Books. I urge you, dear reader, to go yourself because Boneshaker has zines in abundance (also it is a super cool place to hang in Minneapolis and the rumors of the bicycle book delivery service are true!)

At Boneshaker you will find the little publications known as zines. They come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and aesthetics. They are filled with rantings, doodlings, and explosive opinions. Sometimes high class design, sometimes low-class design. Created by artists, dreamers, and ordinary people who just want to make something or say something.

I was hooked as soon as I discovered these tiny booklets with their f*** you attitude. I loved the handmade charm and the range of writing styles, from inarticulate digressions to heartbreaking poetics to political opinions. Zines are radically democratic in that anyone can make one and disperse it. There is no middle man, no publishing house guarding the gates, and because the author answers to no one they can afford to be uncompromising.

Zines are outside the mainstream. It’s for the oddballs. It’s for the misfits. And that’s what Zine Fest was, a gathering of misfits; each bringing their art and their ideas to the table.

In this age of corporate media zines are independent, local, and DIY.  These ultimate do-it-yourselfers urge us to stop consuming that which is made for us and to create our own culture. Zinesters stand for a culture whose value isn’t stocks and markets, it’s connection and authenticity. They aren’t after celebrity. They are everyday, ordinary people, just like you and me. Everyday winners and losers, artists and dreamers. In this sad fallen world of corporate profits, zines are a lesson for all creative types…it’s about the work, not the money. The Twin Cities Zine Fest is an annual, passionate gathering of creators, and I left inspired to make something, just because I can, just because I have something to say.

Stay true to your art, dear writing buddies! Take a lesson from zine culture and write whatever the heck you want. Screw the mainstream. If you’re a zinester let me know because I’d love to get my hands on your work. Are you new to the world of zines and need a recommendation? All you have to do is ask!



Leaves are Falling and the Books are Calling

Leaves are Falling and the Books are Calling

autum-fall-indie-hipster-books-leafs-autumn-leaves-reading-cute-boots-5Ah…Fall in Minnesota! There’s a new chill in the air, a new crispness to the apples, and a new pumpkin-spice monstrosity everywhere you look, and I mean everywhere. I’ve seen yogurt, gum, hummus, and, I kid you not, dog treats. Don’t believe me? Look what I found at Trader Joe’s:

Yes, we all have our reasons to love the autumnal season. I’m not a fan of pumpkin-spice myself (or the ridiculous products it ends up in), but I do love fall, and in the Twin Cities fall is the prime time to check out local literary events. There are so many great events this month – it’s a literal (pun intended) extravaganza!

This smorgasbord of literary yumminess kicked off two weeks ago with the 12th Annual Twin Cities Zine Fest. It was a fantastic event and I’m so bummed that I didn’t post in time to get you folks involved. I’ve had a busy start to the fall season so I hope you’ll forgive me for the lapse. If you refuse to forgive me than I will have you know that I gave birth to my first child early September and if that doesn’t warrant a brief break from blogging then I don’t know what does. Luckily our amazing Brooke Stewart was keeping SS Press alive with her witty and inspirational posts. If you haven’t already read her thoughts on kicking a netflix addiction, you can find it here.

If you missed out on Zine Fest stay tuned for my next post. I’ll be covering the fest and giving you some insight into zines, the most lovable oddball of the literary world!

Without much further ado here’s what’s going on this fall in the Twin Cities literary community:

  • Kerri Miller of MPR is doing another round of Talking Volumes at the beautiful Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul. Tickets are still available to the Ann Patchett and Colson Whitehead talks on October 18th and November 3rd, respectively, but I’d act fast. I lucked out and scored tickets to Gloria Steinem after they were sold out. Thank goodness for the generous book lovers in my life! I was hoping to see Elizabeth Alexander on September 15th but I was too busy with my then five day old babe…luckily we can all see the interview here! I highly recommend her memoir The Light of the World.
  • Head over to the Minnesota State Fairgrounds October 7-9 for a shopping spree. Half Price Books is having their annual clearance event at the Grandstand and you will find some major deals. This is one of the Twin Cities biggest used books sales. Everything is $2 or less! Too good to be true I know. Details can be found here.
  • Since you’ll be at the Fairgrounds on October 8 for the used book sale simply stroll from the Grandstand to the Education Building where you will find the MCBA Fall ComiCON which boasts 33,000 sq. feet of comic goodness!
  • Ok, if you’re not yet sick of visiting the fairgrounds after this weekend come back October 14-15 for the Twin Cities Book Festival. Held in the Progress Center & Fine Arts Building the TC Book Fest is a lovely celebration of the Minnesota book community. Publishers, authors, and retailers will be present and it’s the perfect opportunity to discover new local books.
  • And my personal favorite date idea for the literary lover in your life…RAMSEY AFTER DARK. October 14th take that special someone to the Historic Ramsey House for a moonlit tour exploring the origins of the Victorian Gothic Romance Novel. Who doesn’t love a date that mixes romance with horror?  Sexy, am I right?
  • Last but certainly not least, NERDCON will be rocking out at the Minneapolis Convention Center October 13-15. The tickets are a little pricey at $100/each but since I like you guys I’m going to share the secret code to get $20 off: DFTBA. I am so excited for NERDCON this year! Signings, panels, interactive story art, workshops, live music, even themed yoga – NERDCON has it all. And some big names will be in attendance: John Green, Dessa, Rives, etc…You can see a full list of the celebs here.

Whew! That is a lot of events. As you can see fall in the Twin Cities is about so much more than pumpkin-spice…it’s about books! But who says you can’t mix the two? If you’re a pumpkin-spice devotee now you have some awesome events to enjoy while sipping your fav latte/mocha thingie.

Now that fall is here it is time to start thinking about NANOWRIMO. Brooke and I have started gearing up for the challenge and we’ll be sharing our projects and plans with you soon (although as you all know Brooke is more of a pantser). Do you have a novel idea ready to go for November? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

See you at the book fests!