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Author: KJ West

Bored & Brilliant Silver Sky Press Style

Bored & Brilliant Silver Sky Press Style


Hello! Welcome to the Bored & Brilliant challenge Silver Sky Press style! If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you’ll want to catch up HERE. Last post I introduced Manoush Zomorodi’s galvanizing book and challenge. As promised I’m back with a report on challenge 1 and motivation for challenges 2-7.

Challenge 1 was a simple observation. I tracked my digital usage with the Moment app and the results were fairly mild. My daily average: 10 pickups and about an hour of time. Not so bad compared to my family and friends, a few of whom spent nearly 3 hours a day and had over 40 pickups!

The reaction amongst my cohort ranged from Yeesh, I need to pick up that darn device less! to Meh, who cares how much life I waste? The second response came from my teenage baby sis. Everyone agreed that merely tracking their usage with a sneaky app made them more aware and more likely to fight the itch to check their phone at every spare moment.

“Boredom is telling you that this is a moment for your imagination, for your creativity, for your identity. Boredom is telling you to pay attention to the world.” -Sheryl Turkle

The friends and family I’ve cajoled into this challenge have stopped seeing boredom as a waste of time. They’re open to the possibility that a little more unplugging may be good for their brains. Most think at the very least they’ll be sleeping better. They’ve started working through challenges 2-7 at their own pace, agreeing to give each challenge 1-3 days.

I think the challenges have the potential to be a powerful experience, especially for creative writer types like us. As I work through the challenges, I’m learning a lot about myself. Deep inhale…I’m a Pinterest addict. Since giving birth to a tiny human 17 months ago I’ve spent more time pinteresting drawing inspiration and reference than actually drawing. Which is why the Gypsy Cats webcomic that I’ve been promising you guys is MIA, or rather DOA.

Since beginning the Bored & Brilliant challenge I’ve deleted every time-wasting app and turned off all social media related notifications. This has necessitated a more intentional use of my phone and thus a more intentional use of my free time. I’m being strict with myself: no phone/internet fun times during work hours, digital free time every evening and morning, and a 15-minute time limit on my daily digital binge session.

These self-inflicted rules don’t feel like a punishment. As the old saying goes: There is great freedom within boundaries. And you know what? For the first time in months, I’ve made some progress on my webcomic dreams!

Not only have I found time to create, I’ve found time to think. Seemingly out of the blue I’ve figured out solutions to a few of the gaping plot holes that have plagued my manuscript.

I haven’t given up social media. I’m not turning into a Luddite. But I am embracing a slower pace of life, technological freedom, and a healthy amount of boredom.

If you’re not up for the gauntlet of seven challenges here’s a quick n’ dirty tip that will get you using your phone less and enjoying a few free moments of thought, and possibly a golden, brilliant feeling of boredom.

Keep your phone stashed away and off your body

According to the original Bored and Brilliant sample group, people who kept their phones stashed away and off their bodies, e.g. in a bag or desk drawer, averaged eighteen fewer minutes of general usage and eleven fewer pickups per day!

Have you read Bored and Brilliant and/or tried challenges?  What did you learn about yourself?

In case you missed it, here’s a rundown of the challenges:

The Bored & Brilliant Seven-Step Program

CHALLENGE ONE: Observe Yourself

Track your digital habits – notice and understand your baseline behavior form the moment you wake until you go to sleep by downloading the Moment app (Apple) or the Break-Free app (Android).

CHALLENGE TWO: Keep Your Devices Off and Out of Reach While in Motion

Keep your phone out of sight while in transit – no walking and texting. But it’s not just texting, the challenge includes all tech off during transit, meaning no radio during your commute. What happens when you switch it all off and just let your mind wander?


No pics of food, kittens, kids – nada. See your world through your eyes, not your screen. This is a digital-image detox so avoid all photo proliferation – you can check out images on social media but don’t like or retweet. Just take a long hard look…reclaim the art of taking a ‘mental picture’.


Take the one app you can’t live without and trash it. Life after Snapchat, anyone? If you’re a game addict, it’s time to let go of Candy Crush, Two Dots, or Clash of Clans. You will lose your level, but you will reclaim your life. It might be the Weather app or Wikipedia, but if you have a smartphone then you have one app that rules them all. Don’t worry, it’s not forever, when the challenge is over you’ll be free to re-install.

CHALLENGE FIVE: Take a Fakecation

A vacation in the form of a break from the digital onslaught that exhausts, distracts, and keeps us from thinking beyond the everyday. The human brain needs solitude in order to focus and really think up new and interesting ideas. This challenge is about being in the office but out of touch, if only for an hour.

CHALLENGE SIX: Observe Something Else

Reclaim the art of noticing. Now that you’ve freed up some attention in the earlier challenges you can train it on the little offline wonders all around you. Go solo somewhere public and hang out for awhile. Watch people, birds, or anything that strikes you. Pause and imagine what a single person is thinking and zoom in on an un-inventable detail. Make a series of small observations you may have missed if your nose were glued to a screen.

CHALLENGE SEVEN: The Bored & Brilliant Challenge

In a culmination of all the exercises, you’ll use your new powers of boredom to make sense of your life and set goals.


If you would like advice on how to implement these challenges, send me a message.

Peace & Love,



Bored & Brilliant

Bored & Brilliant

Writers dream of 5 star reviews and critics proclaiming, unanimously: BRILLIANT! We want to dazzle our readers with brilliant characters, brilliant plot twists, and brilliant words that leap to life as if an incantation of magic.

Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. We all want to be brilliant. So what’s the secret? Well, according to Manoush Zomorodi’s new book, the answer is boredom.


Linking boredom and brilliance seems paradoxical. But think about it – you aren’t the only one who has their best ideas in the shower – could that universal phenomenon hold the secret to unlocking and turbo-charging our creativity?

The book began as a series on WNYC’s podcast New Tech City, of which Zomorodi is host. The series challenged listeners to reclaim the lost art of ‘spacing out’ by disconnecting from modern life’s greatest distraction: technology.

If you don’t think you’re distracted by tech, let me ask you this: When was the last time you got bored and didn’t immediately pull out your phone? When was the last time you had to wait and just looked around for a few minutes, taking in your surroundings, letting your mind wander and dream?

According to Zomorodi’s book the answer for the vast majority of adults is not often. And when we dive into the neuroscience of addictive technology (smartphones, social media, games like Candy Crush) we are bombarded with study after fascinating study strongly suggesting that we get our most original ideas when we stop the constant stimulation of tech and let ourselves get bored.

I was captivated by the brain science behind creativity and addictive technology. Did you know dopamine has little to do with feelings of happiness or pleasure? According to Barry Kaufman, one of the many prominent neuroscientists Zomorodi interviews, dopamine is a molecule that helps influence our expectations. Higher levels of dopamine are linked to being more open to new things and novelty seeking.

Research Shows that great artists, scientists, and other creative types have an abundance of dopamine in their system that allows them to deal with novelty. These brilliant minds are extra motivated to seek out the new and can channel the novelty seeking impulse into being creative. Kaufman refers to dopamine as “the mother of invention” and explains that because we have a limited amount of it, we must be judicious about what we spend it on. Our smartphones activate and hijack the dopamine system. Instead of using our limited amount of dopamine to increase our wonder and excitement for creating meaning and new things like art, we use it up on the easy triggers of social media – “Hey look at those hearts I’m getting on Insta! Hey look at all the new tweets I could scroll through for all of eternity and never never be bored! WOOHOO!!!”

So if we deactivate our Twitter and Facebook will we become better writers? Perhaps, perhaps not. The social animal in me wants to argue for the benefit of community building, both online and off. The more connections we have the more support we have, and the more opportunities for success. Aspiring as well as published authors sink or swim based upon their ability to build a community of readers. For this purpose, social media is an excellent tool.

But sometimes achieving that ideal balance, using it as a tool – not as a sweet pacifier of distraction from the slightest discomfort – is impossible. As Zomorodi shows in her book, the users are being used, the tool has become the master. We have trained ourselves to reflexively grab our phones at the first hint of boredom. A recent study found that mobile consumers now spend an average of 2 hours and 57 minutes each day on mobile devices.

We text, tweet and email-check our free moments away. And when we sacrifice our free moments, are we sacrificing a sacred freedom – a sacred, inner place of quiet, imagination, and peace?

I wouldn’t call myself a smartphone addict, most people in my life complain I’m not consistently quick enough on the reply. Some days I’m out in the world and I leave my phone on the kitchen counter, some weeks I go several days without checking my personal email. Other days, my phone is on my person and I’m pinteresting away those sacred, brilliant moments of boredom.

I’ve noticed that on days when I’m tech free (or as close to it as any of us modern saps can get) I experience a satisfying boost of motivation and inspiration. Freed from my – physically tiny – smartphone, I feel twenty pounds lighter. My mind, freed from the heavy fetter of distracting tech, is a feather floating on the winds of imagination, and my dopamine reserves are sticking around for what matters most: new ideas, new stories, new worlds of wonder to explore.

Zomorodi lays out a seven step challenge that allows readers to experiment with unplugging. Readers of the book have had huge successes with the challenge, reporting that they feel more creative and productive, more satisfied with their lives. Sounds pretty good to me.

This post is my official start of Zomorodi’s Bored and Brilliant 7-Step Program. And as I strive to un-plug I’m getting family, friends, writing buddies, and whoever I can to do the same! If you want to take on the digital detox, send me a comment or message and I’ll add you to the team. You can find more details about the challenge below. I’ll be back with a new post debriefing step 1 of the experiment and sharing the experiences of everyone that I’m dragging onto the bandwagon – so stay tuned!

Wishing you a few moments of tech free peace,



Here’s the synopsis of the program. I’m going to attempt each step for one week, but it’s also ok to do each step for one day or three, find what works for you. Challenge one begins today!

The Bored & Brilliant Seven-Step Program

CHALLENGE ONE: Observe Yourself

Track your digital habits – notice and understand your baseline behavior form the moment you wake until you go to sleep by downloading the Moment app (Apple) or the Break-Free app (Android).

CHALLENGE TWO: Keep Your Devices Off and Out of Reach While in Motion

Keep your phone out of site while in transit – no walking and texting. But it’s not just texting, the challenge includes all tech off during transit, meaning no radio during your commute. What happens when you switch it all off and just let your mind wander? Guess we’ll find out.


No pics of food, kittens, kids – nada. See your world through your eyes, not your screen. This is a digital-image detox so avoid all photo proliferation – you can check out images on social media but don’t like or retweet. Just take a long hard look…reclaim the art of taking a ‘mental picture’.


Take the one app you can’t live without and trash it. Life after Snapchat, anyone? If you’re a game addict, it’s time to let go of Candy Crush, Two Dots, or Clash of Clans. You will lose your level, but you will reclaim your life. It might be the Weather app or Wikipedia, but if you have a smartphone then you have one app that rules them all. Don’t worry, it’s not forever, when the challenge is over you’ll be free to re-install.

CHALLENGE FIVE: Take a Fakecation

A vacation in the form of a break from the digital onslaught that exhausts, distracts, and keeps us from thinking beyond the everyday. The human brain needs solitude in order to focus and really think up new and interesting ideas. This challenge is about being in the office but out of touch, if only for an hour. I’ll share more details and how to’s from Zomorodi when we get to this step.

CHALLENGE SIX: Observe Something Else

Reclaim the art of noticing. Now that you’ve freed up some attention in the earlier challenges you can train it on the little offline wonders all around you. Go solo somewhere public and hang out for awhile. Watch people, birds, or anything that strikes you. Pause and imagine what a single person is thinking and zoom in on an un-inventable detail. Make a series of small observations you may have missed if your nose were glued to a screen.

CHALLENGE SEVEN: The Bored & Brilliant Challenge

In a culmination of all the exercises, you’ll use your new powers of boredom to make sense of your life and set goals. I’ll share more details and how to’s from Zomorodi when we get to this step.



Kayla’s Top Reads of 2017

Kayla’s Top Reads of 2017

If great readers make for great writers than I should be well on my way to literary greatness. I love to read.  My tombstone will probably be inscribed with: SHE READ A LOT OF BOOKS. And I’m ok with that.

Last December, Brooke made end-of-the-year introspection fun by looking back on a big year of reading and selecting the titles that made it into the hall of fame: see her 2016 top books HERE.

This year I wanted in on the fun and proposed a duet. Take a look at my top reads and check back tomorrow for Brooke’s. Between us we’ve got love stories, high adventure, books on creativity, dinosaurs, anthropology, sex cults of the 1960s….and that’s just the normal stuff.

If you’re looking for a new source of inspiration, or just want a good adventure story, our lists may guide you in the right direction. Trust me, one of our fav titles will have you braving icy temps to visit the local bookshop.

I’ll cut the rambling and let you get to it. Here’s my super exciting, top ten books of 2017! In no particular order because choosing just ten was hard enough.


The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill – This is the fantasy novel that stole my heart. A story of a village shrouded in suffering and a girl with magic buried deep inside her. A girl who was mysteriously abandoned and subsequently raised by a witch, a swamp monster, and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon.  Her power is the key to setting the village free, but it means the end of a safe and happy life with the strange creatures who love her. Winner of the 2017 Newbery Medal, technically a middle grade story but written beautifully and loved by all the adult’s I know who have read it. Without a doubt my favorite book of 2017.


Bored and Brilliant by Manoush Zomorodi – I’m not a phone addict, I’m really not, to be honest I hate the little beast. I do, however, love having a computer that fits in my pocket and takes great photo-video, BUT because it’s in my pocket I check it too often and waste too much time on the social medias. Bored and Brilliant challenges us to disconnect from our tech. A recent study found that mobile users now average nearly 3 hours a day on their devices! The way our brains respond to this constant distraction is astounding…and troubling. Many a study is finding that  if we are never bored, if our brains are always stimulated, always packed with information, then we lose capacity for attention, focus, and creativity. If you want to find the time and brain space for creativity this is a must read.


Euphoria by Lily King – This book carried me away to the sweaty jungle of 1933 New Guinea. The story focuses on pioneering anthropologist, Nell Stone, the magnetic and controversial genius (inspired by my real-life hero Margaret Mead). I found the subtle retelling of Peter Pan transporting and transforming. The twisted love story crackled with jealousy as the characters navigated the intoxicating excitement of discovery and the danger of losing oneself in a foreign land and culture. Euphoria is a gem. And the damn ending broke my heart.


Six of Crows & Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo – I was a big fan of the Shadow & Bone trilogy before Leigh Bardugo came to town this fall promoting her gorgeously illustrated collection of short stories: Language of Thorns. I hadn’t gotten around to the follow-up Six of Crows duology but meeting Leigh left me eager to dive back into the Grisha-verse. The books follow criminal prodigy Kaz and his wild team of misfits that take on an impossible heist. If you’ve ever craved a fantasy version of Ocean’s Eleven, this is the series for you.


The Secret History by Donna Tartt – This book has been on my radar for ages, but once I picked it up I could not put it down.  This book is a ride! I lost sleep, it’s that good. At the surface level this book is about a group of college friends that perform an arcane ritual, accidentally commit a crime, and not accidentally cover it up.  But that’s just the surface, you’ve got to read it to believe it. This line from the first chapter sums it up better than I ever could: ‘A morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs.’ Just read it, trust me.


We Were Feminists Once by Andi Zeisler – Has anyone else noticed that feminism has devolved into a popular buzzword used to sell movies, pop songs, and fashion? This book takes a long hard look at how an important social justice movement was watered down, turned into a brand identity, and used to sell us crap we don’t need. Ziesler is engaging and witty as she gives us history, a peek into the future of feminism, and sage advice on reclaiming the power of the movement.


Girls by Emma Cline – A strange and intellectual look at the indefinable time of life that is girlhood. Inspired by the late 1960s infamous cults of free love, it was a thrilling read, disturbing at times, always intense, and definitely unforgettable. Emma Cline is a young author and I felt an affinity with her 20-something female voice. This book was about a past generation, but it had a lot to say about ours.


The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss – This is an EPIC fantasy by a master storyteller. A truly magical experience that has been described as Harry Potter for grown-ups, but, although I love the Potter-verse, I feel that comparison does a disservice to Rothfuss whose books are definitely in a league of their own! I’m really really really bummed that the third and final book hasn’t been released (a date hasn’t even been set!) and the anticipation is more like a fiery sting of impatience that never quite goes away. Do any fellow fans agree?


Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction by Benjamin Percy – A great book for writers, editors, students, teachers…really anyone with the remotest interest in the craft of writing.  But not just any writing, this is a book about writing the kind of fiction that gets under your skin and does something physical to your heart and tummy. Percy’s collection of essays is both wise and funny – the snarky kind of funny that has you laughing and reading aloud to your family at dinner. Somehow these non-fiction essays are also suspenseful, Percy practices what he preaches, even his academic stuff is exciting! I’ve got a copy of his newest novel The Dead Lands in my ‘to read’ pile.


Fen by Daisy Johnson – This is the most bizarre book I have read in many a year, possibly in all of my years. It’s that weird, and that great. Creepy, lyrical, and full of dark instincts. When recommending it to my sister I struggled to come up with a description and ended up calling it a gritty folktale. And that it is, a gritty, sometimes horrifying, folk story set in the flat, eerie fenlands of contemporary Britain. If you know someone who likes weird, dark fic, you need to pass this on.  

How Outlining Saved My Novel

How Outlining Saved My Novel

When I sat down to write the first draft of my first book, I had my protagonist and a handful of scenes firmly in mind. I had a beginning and an ending, and three fun scenes of my character kicking ass and being sassy. I knew who was going to live, who was going to die, who was going to be maimed for life, and a few key points along the way. The rest of the story, I assumed, would work itself out as I typed, flowing from my inner, obviously brilliant, muse.

I was wrong. So very very wrong.

Sixty-thousand words in I found myself in deep trouble. My narrative hadn’t just magically flowed from the goddess of creativity and I’d deviated so far from the main storyline that there was no way to bridge this new convoluted narrative with my originally envisioned ending.

Do you know what could have saved that project from disintegrating? That’s right, an outline. If I would have taken the time to sketch out the measliest plot arch, I would have been able to connect the important dots. Instead I had this: Beginning —> kick ass sassy scenes —> ??????????? —> more kick ass sassy scenes —>End.

Yeah, that wasn’t the best way to begin a project.

Determined not to make the same mistake with my NaNoWriMo 2017 draft I spent most of October pre-writing.

Scene by scene, I plotted the course of my story. It wasn’t an especially literary document, but it did the job. A typical scene entry had a heading, then a few lines and/or bullet points and/or stream of consciousness ramblings that described the main action and goal of the scene. Here’s an example from my outline:

Scene 4: Ashley has her first shift at the Alma House B&B

Show Ashley’s hectic work schedule and financial trouble, as well as her mentor relationship with the owner. Ashley asks for legal advice about Reichenhall and her family’s land, as well as to post an advertisement in the Alma House’s window. At the end of the scene Ashley collides with a stranger who, like Ashley, is a new student at the recently built girl’s campus of the long established Military Boarding School.

Brief, concise, not winning me any awards but exactly the right thing to keep me on track with noveling. Just enough information to remind me about the scene’s content and purpose. Plus, with a complete outline I know what happens next and my writing moved swiftly onward.  

With my scene-by-scene outline in hand I knew exactly where I was headed. I had a map and avoided getting lost in the woods.

This isn’t to say that my story become overly calculated. I had a clear plan to follow but I didn’t follow it to the letter. I like breaking rules, even when those rules are my own, and as I got caught up in the story bursts of inspiration had me scratching off sections of the outline and replacing them with better ideas that came at me out of nowhere in the shower. That’s how it goes.

My outline may barely resemble the finished novel, but I still believe that the outlining was necessary, at least for me. Without a map I wouldn’t have had the confidence to leave the path, to wander in the woods discovering better ways to tell my story.

When it comes to the outlining vs. organic writing debate my only advice is the classic find what works for you. I found that outlining didn’t squash my creativity nor spontaneous inspiration nor the free will of my characters. Writing an outline didn’t kill my muse.

What writing an outline did do is revolutionize my process. This is the first novel length project where I didn’t start floundering mid-way through. I know where I’m headed and  how to get there. I’m making consistent progress on the draft and the end is in sight! Even the pantsiest pantser should give outlining a shot.

If my humdrum scene-by-scene outline isn’t your style, there are many other ways to outlining to try. I plan on doing a future post exploring the pros and cons of each but in the meanwhile here are some useful links to get you started:

Writing a novel is an overwhelming undertaking. Outlining is practical. It makes the task of actually writing less daunting. But is it necessary? No, of course not! The only thing that is necessary is writing. So you do you and I’ll do me. It’s two weeks into NaNoWriMo and I am very happy I did that outlining. What about you?

Happy NaNoWriMo-ing,


In case you missed some of our past Wrimo posts and need a little mid-November pick me up:

Kayla Goes to Fall Lit Events Part 3: The Future!

Kayla Goes to Fall Lit Events Part 3: The Future!

Welcome to the third and final installment of Kayla goes to fall lit events. Instead of telling you about cool events that I’ve already been to, I’m going to tell you about the ones that are coming up and why you should get your butt off the couch this fall and get out to the literary community of the great and glorious Twin Cities, long may they prosper.

October 27: Spontaneous s Combustion Vol2. Authors were given story prompts on Oct 19th and had 24 hours to write. The top 15 stories earned a spot in this story showcase. The authors will read their stories and the audience will vote. 6:30 PM @ Magers & Quinn

October 27 – 31: Victorian Ghost StoriesA spooky night out for literary lovers. Costumed actors present dramatic readings of 19th-century ghost stories in the dimly light parlor of the James J. Hill House. Hear from Edgar Allan Poe, Edith Wharton and the Brothers Grimm, as well as lesser-known authors of the period, plus some “true” ghost stories.

October 29: Caffeine and Correspondence. Host Jessica Lindgren provides stationary, writing implements, and postage for correspondence. A fun and social way to revive the dying art of letter writing. 1 PM @ The Coffee Shop NorthEast

October 29 and November 26: Barbaric Yawp – Literary Open Mic Night. Christopher Title hosts this monthly Literary Open Mic event. Bring your poetry or prose and share the company of your fellow writers. 6:30-8:30 PM @ Underground Music Cafe

October 30: Cocktails and Correspondence. A happy hour version of Caffeine and Correspondence. Jessica encourages the cocktail sippers to think of someone who deserves a handwritten note. Two hours dedicated to the fine art of putting pen to paper on the last Monday of every month. Stationary and postage provided. 4 PM-6 PM @ Hewing Hotel Library Lounge

October 31: Countdown to Midnight PartyStart the month with a bang and get a headstart on your word count before most people have even gotten out of bed.  A classic Twin Cities Nano event.  Come before midnight to eat and socialize, but once the clock strikes twelve, Cinderella’s got to write herself into a novel! 11PM-Wed 12 AM @ IHOP near MOA.

Oct 31 and November 16: Talking VolumesMPR’s famous Talking Volumes series has two events left in the season. Ron Chernow and “Grant” on Oct 31st; Dan Brown and “Origin” on Nov 16th. @ The Fitzgerald in St. Paul

November 1: Birchbark Books Reading Series. Heid E. Erdrich, David Lawrence Grant, Linda LeGarde Grover, and Thomas Dillon Redshaw will talk about their books and engage the audience in a workshop. Curated by Michael Kiesow Moore and Ardie Medina, the reading series features new, emerging, and established writers quarterly September through May. 7 PM @ Birchbark Books

November 1-8: Brain Science to Keep You Writing. As we get into NaNoWriMo, get tips on building and sustaining momentum in your writing project. Discover why you procrastinate, distract yourself and find it so hard to write at times. Harness the power of brain science to show up, sit down and write, no matter what. Taught by writing and creativity instructor and author Rosanne Bane. Great way to share ideas and connect with fellow Wrimos. Various times and locations.

November 1-30: NaNoWriMo Twin Cities Write In’s. Various times and locations across Minneapolis and St. Paul. Meet fellow wrimos and slam out a few words at a cafe or resto. I’m a frequent flyer at the Blue Moon write in (Wednesdays during November and year round).

November 1, 17, & 28: The Beautiful Beginning, The Murky Middle, and The Exhausting Ending Write In’s.  Had to highlight these special write-in’s at one of my favorite bookshops. Snacks, wi-fi, writing prompts, and plenty of places to sit. Plus, all month long, there will be a special sale on journals and craft books. Starting the month 30% off, and then the discount will decrease 1% each day to help youcountdownn to the end of the month. Various times @ The Red Balloon 

November 2: Gentrification, Artists, and the “Rediscovery” of American Cities: A Conversation With David Goodwin and Artspace’s Tio Aiken. This will be a great opportunity for activists and citizens to engage the author in conversation about how gentrification works and how residents can become proactive and retain their power within the community. Books can change the world and spaces like this to discuss important books and critical issues are invaluable. 7 PM @ Magers & Quinn

November 5: Autumn Leaves: An Afternoon of Poetry and Music. Featuring Thomas R. Smith, Ardie Medina and the Asiginaak Singers, Michael Kiesow Moore, and Lars Krogstad Ortiz. 2 PM- 4 PM @ Quinn Violins

November 7: Let’s Talk YA with Livia Blackburne, E.K. Johnston & Sara Shepard.  It’s time for the talk– the Young Adult talk.  The St. Paul edition of Let’s Talk YA.  We’ll be chatting with YA authors about their new books, writing, life as an author, and more. Enjoy a panel discussion, Q&A about why we love YA, themed activities, and great company. 6:30 PM @Red Balloon

November 11: MN Publishing Tweet-up. Another awesome tweet-up is happening at a rad bookstore. Common Good Books is one of my favorite places to peruse;  come for the fellow writers and publishing types, stay for the books and coffee! This will be the last gathering of 2017 for the MN Publishing Tweet Up. It won’t be back until Feb. 2018! 10 Am-12 PM @ Common Good Books

November 19: Maggie Stiefvater, ALL THE CROOKED SAINTS. Bestselling author of the Raven Cycle will give a talk, read from her new book, take questions, and sign books. 7 PM @ The Red Balloon

November 25: Indies First: Author Booksellers on Small Business Saturday. The holidays are here and it’s time to shop local and small! A whole crew of local authors for one spectacular Saturday of shopping known as Indies First. This program is held every year on Small Business Saturday and highlights what makes independent bookstores so great by giving authors a way to support their local bookstores. Various locations.

December 2: NaNoWriMo TGIO. Party location and time TBA, but get this on your calendar! Hang out with the Twin Cities wrimos and celebrate everything you’ve accomplished this fall.

Wow, this turned into the longest thing. This is a lot of events…I may not make it to all of them but I’m going to try my darndest! I’d love to hear from you in the comments about events you’re interested in. Please let me know if I’ve missed something.

Peace & Love,



Kayla Goes to Fall Lit Events Part 2: Twin Cities Book Festival

Kayla Goes to Fall Lit Events Part 2: Twin Cities Book Festival

Welcome to part two of three! If you missed part 1 you can find it HERE and if you want to review last year’s post about why fall is an amazing time of year in the TC book community you can click HERE.

I am thrilled, delighted, elated, positively jubilant to tell you all about this year’s Twin Cities Book Fest. It was rad.

Ok, deep breath, dial down the excitement. It was just that cool, though, I’m telling ya.

kayla j west nortrup silver sky press twin cities book festival fest lit events minneapolis saint paul

Put on annually by Rain Taxi Review, the self-proclaimed ‘champions of aesthetically adventurous literature supported by readers like you,’ the Twin Cities Book Fest is the largest literary gathering in the Upper Midwest.

The book fest is always awesome but this year it was exceptionally so. I haven’t laughed so hard nor felt such temptation to max out my credit card on books in all of my life. From the rock star authors, to the local lit heroes, to the publishers/magazines/booksellers/vendors I was quite literally dazzled. There were panel discussions, workshops, author signings, and discounted books galore. If you’ve never been to the book fest I recommend prior to the event reviewing the authors and subjects, highlighting choices for each time slot, and making sure you’ll be able to get to the presentations you can’t bear to miss.

Early in the day Al Franken made a big splash promoting his new memoir. Some of my favorite local book vendors had festival deals and specials that were overwhelmingly seductive. And best of all iconic cartoonist Roz Chast, of whom I am a long time fan, was there to talk about her life as a cartoonist for the New Yorker and her new books: Going into Town and Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? If you’re unfamiliar with her work, here’s one of my favorites:i-cant-believe-i-ate-all-that-kale-for-nothing-roz-chas

Roz flashed her comics on the big screen and narrated them for the audience, with a fair amount of surprisingly brilliant acting. It was hilarious. I haven’t laughed that hard in a long long time. My sides were aching and my seat neighbor, who I did not know prior to this event, was literally slapping my knee and guffawing as I giggled like a drunk baby. We were not alone, the entire audience was in stitches.  

I also sat in on the speculative fiction geniuses Charlie Jane Anders and Cory Doctrow as they took on a discussion that ranged from gamification to Confucian Capitalism to meritocracy to maker culture. It was intellectual, philosophical, and riotously funny. They spoke in depth about diversity of voice in literature. Both authors challenged world-builders to create diverse communities rich with different people and perspectives. This is something I’ve been struggling with as I flesh out characters for NaNoWriMo with competing worldviews. Does diversity of perspective necessitate conflict or can my characters get along? Hmmm….still wrestling with that one but I left the author talk with fresh enthusiasm.  I can’t wait to read their newest books: All the Birds in the Sky and For the Walkaway.

I ran between buildings to catch as many authors as possible but it was raining so my thrifted-forest-green-wide-brimmed-wool-hat became a droopy mess of beaded raindrops. Strangely, the hat garnered me many compliments, but only after it became wet and pulpy…perhaps half-drowned Odin is a look I should wear more often?

There were author signings throughout the day (including Roz Chast and good ol’ Al Franken author of Al Franken: Giant of the Senate by Al Franken…), a raffle of shiny, glamorous prizes that I did not win, and a nifty Poetry Bus with rotating workshops and activities. Upon entry the bus attendant proudly proclaimed: “Whatever you need, poetry has it!” Please look upon the magic of the poetry bus as it glistens in the setting sun upon the hallowed grounds of the MN State Fair and feel a happiness within you that such a thing exists.

kayla j west nortrup twin cities book fest lit events minneapolis saint paul silver sky press

We have a phenomenal lit scene in the Twin Cities. Journals, publishers, writers, and readers. Our community is bustling and booming and profusely incredible. The Twin Cities Book Fest is a great way to get a little taste of all our local community has to offer. Hopefully someday soon Silver Sky Press will have a booth! 

 Stay tuned for the next installment of Kayla Goes to Fall Lit Events!

Here are links to most (but not all) of the amazing people and organizations that showed up to TC Book Fest and made it awesome: insert links

Kayla Goes to Fall Lit Events Part 1: Comic-Con

Kayla Goes to Fall Lit Events Part 1: Comic-Con

Last year I blogged about how fall is the best time of year for book events in the Twin Cities (for a blast from the past click HERE). This year is no exception! Welcome to the three-part series I will be devoting to this beautiful season and our marvelous lit community. Part 1: Comic-Con

Thank you, Midwest Comic Book Association, for bringing us the awesomeness of a Twin Cities comic-con every year without fail. MCBA is an all-volunteer organization. Without those comic book geeks, we wouldn’t have a con. Take a second to contemplate what a tragedy that would be. I love you TC comic book geeks! Never change.

The con is held at the State Fair grounds and is 100,000+ feet of comic book mayhem and goodness, over 200 guest creators, huge variety of comics/collectibles dealers, and free kid activities! Can I get a…


MCBA will be celebrating 30 years of cons this upcoming spring, so mark your calendars for the sure to spectacular weekend of May 19th and 20th. I haven’t been attending the MCBAcon for thirty years or anything but I happen to be coming up on a decade since my first visit. I know this is going to make me sound old, but the con was a much different scene back then. My first time I brought the then 8- and 6-year-old little sisters. They loved it, one got a flash comic and the other got in trouble. Which is typical.

When I brought my sisters all those years ago they were anomalies. In fact, I was a bit of an anomaly. There were zero children and only a very small handful of young women.

It’s a much more tiny human-friendly event these days with designated kid areas and kid activities: coloring, photo ops, free stickers, all the things kiddies love.  And this year there were just as many women as men. The high rate of costuming made for an ocean of exposed breasts and thighs. Which is why the only pic that is safe for work is my little Batman with the poster-version Spiderman. Every other hero we posed with was nearly nude.

kayla j west silver sky press comic con lit event saint paul minneapolis twin cities

The costumes really were out of this world. I’m talking all out cosplayers, handmade cloaks/weapons/armor, and a legion of storm troopers. I cannot begin to contemplate the level of sewing skills required for the marvels on display. There was a man who looked so much like Hagrid and was dressed so much like Hagrid that for a moment I truly believed that he was there to give me my letter and all these years in the muggle realm truly were a mistake. Sigh. He wasn’t there to give me my letter. But he may well have been the real Hagrid. We may never know.

Because I was a slacker and didn’t prepare until the day of, my kiddo wore batman pjs and I wore a TMNT t-shirt with a red bandanna because Raphael is the best. A Naruto scolded me for dressing the family in contradictory universes. Next year I’ll try to be more on top of it, Naruto, jeez.  

Little bats had the time of her short life. She was toddling around screeching with delight and waving at the fellow con-goers. She made lots of friends. I never made random friends at events the way I do with kiddo in tow. She’s like a magnet for happy, personable passersby. I highly recommended a baby as an accessory to all social misfits. It’s a sure way to make more friends than you can handle.

One woman I chatted with had an itsy-bitsy human tethered to her chest with one of those natural baby carriers. She told me that a few months ago she went to a con out of state and dressed up as pregnant Amy Pond. That lady was one cool mom. I’ll probably never be that cool, but the number one reason I love comic-con is because I get to rub elbows with the coolest, most magical, creative, awesome humans this side of Hogwarts.

As I wandered between the booths – ogling the art, admiring the new graphic novels, making friends, and taking in the novelty of professional drawings of dogs as superheroes – I realized how incredibly important, albeit downright wacky, this festival of comic and graphic books really is. Writers, artists, and fans come together for a day of fun and leave inspired to create new stories, new art, and new cosplays.

I walked away from comic-con inspired and dreaming of the year I’ll have a booth of my own, showing off my art and rubbing elbows with the local creators I’ve long admired.

There was a bit of poignant symmetry this year at comic con. My first year I was living at home, dreaming of college, and taking my little sibs out for a day of adventure. This year I’ve got my own kick ass adult life and the cutest baby in the universe.  Nearly a decade of con-going framed by two vastly different, but similarly inspiring, outings with tiny humans. Happy memories, happy present, and – if the force is with me – many more happy cons in my future.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Kayla Goes to Fall Lit Events!

Peace & Love,



Here are a few links to some of the awesomeness I experienced at comic-con: insert hyperlinks

Kayla is Back with Thoughts on World Building

Kayla is Back with Thoughts on World Building

Hi everybody, Kayla here, anyone remember me? It’s been ages since I’ve been on the blog, sorry about that. But not really that sorry since you lucky ducks have had extra awesome Brooke posts in the meanwhile, and it doesn’t get much better than that, am I right?

This summer I put a hold on structured writing projects and took a break from blog deadlines so that my creative energy could focus on the launch of Mama Terra Gardens. That’s right people, I’m successfully self employed now!

Fortunately I am in a seasonal business and now that fall temps are moving in to kill the plants I get to scale back the garden design/install business and scale up the writing.

That means jumping back into revisions of Witch Girl right where I left off; world-building and the pursuit of making it feel real.

I know what you’re thinking – world-building is for writers of elf-dwarf fantasy and alien universes populated with space unicorns.

But guess what? It doesn’t matter if your protagonist is surviving high school or surviving a quest to Mordor – your story needs a well built, diverse world to be believable.

If you are writing a story then you are building a world.

And if you’re building a world, THEN BUILD A WORLD and make it a good one. A world is diverse, fascinating, real. A world is not a few towns, it is not one accent, it is not one race. That is what makes world building so downright overwhelming and why most writers shy away from fantastical worlds and beasts and socio-economic-political discords.

But world-building is also a lot of fun. As readers we love being transported to impossible, incredible places filled with characters we want to meet or be or strangle. And as writers there is nothing better than making a world come alive in your head and in your heart and then finally upon the page.

So yes, world-building can feel overwhelming, afterall a world is overwhelmingly diverse, but it doesn’t have to drive you crazy. You don’t have to pin down every far flung detail all at once (that’s a good way to drive yourself bonkers). Here’s a simply two part formula that works for me.

One: Start by identifying the core element in your story

The core element might be the main theme, the main character, or the BIG IDEA/AHA moment. The core element is the central beating heart of your story. It is the reason you wanted to tell this story in the first place and it is the reason you stick to this story when the going gets tough and the world building gets tricky.

Two: Spiral out

Once you have that core element, spiral out. Build upon the central idea with relevant details. Then build upon those details. Spiral outward until you have the bones of a world. Spiral out still further until you have the flesh. Your central idea is the pulse and your job is to give it a body.

I started Witch Girl with my main character powerfully alive and ready to live. It wasn’t difficult for me to build a world for my sassy protagonist Skara – teenage orphan/refugee turned runaway/tree-house-building/freedom-fighter. Her character was dynamic, her plot demanded setting and props and side-kicks. First I had my character and then I built  a world for her to inhabit.

Not every writer begins with character but the best worlds begin with a core idea/theme/character and spiral out from there. Building upon the big ideas with colorful, vibrant, sensual details that make the world real.

As you spiral out here are some things to consider:


Trust me, as you spiral out from your core idea the key is research. Research, research, research, research. Ok, once more so you know I’m serious, RESEARCH! You have to know everything you can know about a few things before you can even begin to layer in all the complexities of a world. Of course making things up is the goal, but you need to build the meat of your world on a skeleton of true info so people will understand and believe. Most writers of fantasy love non-fiction. They love military history, linguistics, obscure texts on petticoats… They love this stuff because it helps them write believable make-believe.


Don’t get overly hung up on research. I mean…a petticoat is a petticoat and I’m not very interested in them. A big part of world building is choosing what details to focus on and when. Trust your readers, they can extrapolate quite a bit from a small tid-bit. That’s why I recommend keeping your core element in mind at all times and spiraling out from there. If the details are relevant to the core element they will push the narrative forward. Don’t slow your readers down with the irrelevantMost of the time we don’t need to know (or care to know) the weather patterns and pollen counts in the village two rivers over.


Even with your core element in sharp focus world-building can still feel daunting. Afterall, you could spiral out from any given element in hundreds, thousands, nay, infinite directions! The choices I made at this point of infinite possibility were mostly just about what I wanted personally, and that is a legitimate way to make a choice as a writer, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you want to write about petticoats then knock yourself out and don’t let the likes of me get in your way. So what do you want to talk about? Loss, love, birth, death, kissing? Or maybe the practical details of your world get you excited – family groups, funerary rites, currency, technology, recreation, food… I love writing about food. Do you have any idea how many speculative fiction books I’ve read where nobody ever eats anything? Too many. I personally would love to know what people eat in space or if werewolves are gluten intolerant. Also, why does everyone eat ‘stew’ in questing novels and what is in the stew?!?

Spiral out in the directions you find most interesting (and relevant). Then Research, refine, expand. Steal from the real world. Steal from Napoleon’s battle tactics. Steal from your parent’s year book. When it comes to world building, inspiration is literally all around you.

In summary, there’s a pretty simple formula that makes world-building less overwhelming. Start by asking yourself: What is the beating heart of this world I am making? What is the why? And then spiral out from there.

Best of luck on your world-building quests! I’d love to hear from you in the comments about your literary journeys into worlds beyond.

Peace & Love,




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: