Guest Post: Marriage and Writing

Hello, hello!  Welcome to the year’s final guest post.  This month, we have my friend and fellow Stonecoast alum, J. R. Dawson.  In the following post, she discusses the importance of support and being believed in.  It’s pretty awesome.  Read on!

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The lovely J. R. Dawson!

Marriage and Writing

When Shawna asked me to do a blog on her site, I didn’t know what I was going to write about. And then I got sick. And then the deadline came and I was sick and didn’t know what I was going to write about. I assumed I’d end up doing some kind of intro or motivational piece about how to keep on keepin’ on. But then I realized there was something I’d heard discussed a lot, had experienced myself, and had never really seen a blog post about.

I think it’s been simmering since I spoke to a beginning writer a year ago and he mentioned that his wife doesn’t believe in him. She bemuses the fact that he wants to write, but she doesn’t support him. It doesn’t pay the bills, it’s so hard to break through, and she didn’t think he was very good.

“Can you give me something to tell my wife so she won’t think I’m hopeless?” he said. “What can I tell her?”

And I said, “Tell her to support you.”

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Spouses or partners don’t have to be writers, they don’t even have to like your writing, but if writing is your jam and it’s what you do, then what sort of partner isn’t going to back you up?

It seems like such a superficial fact, or maybe it’s giving too much power to this dude’s wife. But for real, if she’s not supporting him in this, what exactly is she supporting him in? It’s total disrespect to look at the person you’re supposed to love and say, “I don’t believe in you.”

Do you absolutely need a partner to succeed? Absolutely not. One of the most successful writers I’ve gotten to work with is a single mother. Some people purposefully do not want a partner, let alone a spouse. But for those of us who do enter into a pair, that other person has got to be behind us.

My past relationships are riddled with non-writers who thought I should give up, or writers who were in constant and violent competition with me.

Then eight years ago, I met my spouse.

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He isn’t a writer (although he’s very talented and I think of him as one, he’s off doing other things). He didn’t necessarily love books when we met. And sometimes we argue over my descriptive style when he wants more active (and grammatically correct) scenes. But he has supported me emotionally the entire way.

Actually, the short story “Marley and Marley” came from him literally jumping into my writing room every ten minutes going, “Keep going! You can do it! This story is important!” My latest publication, “When We Flew Together Through the Ice,” was resurrected from an early grave because he believed in me when I couldn’t believe in myself.

If writing is my heart, and my partner is supposed to love the deepest parts of me, how would he not love my act of writing?

When he proposed, I literally said to him, “This is not going away. I will always have one foot in our life and one foot in whatever project I’m working on.”

And he wholeheartedly agreed. “And so will I,” he said.

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Could I still be a writer without him? Of course. But if I’m going to be with someone, that someone better damn well be with me. All of me.

And does that mean he has to be completely devoted to every move I make with pom poms ready at the go? No. But he can’t tell me, “I don’t believe you’re going to make it.”

My heart broke for the dude with the wife who said such a thing. I hope they figure out their business.

But I guess what I wanted to say, in this here blog, is that you as an artist need to surround yourself with people who will raise you up. And if someone is too close and is pulling you down, you deserve better.

We all deserve to be believed in.

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J.R. Dawson holds her MFA from Stonecoast. She is an Active Member of SFWA and Codex. Living in Omaha, NE, with her pupper and husband, she enjoys working as a freelance teaching artist, writing science fiction adventures, and traveling to Disney World. Her short story “Marley and Marley” was in Rich Horton’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018, and her new story, “When We Flew Together Through the Ice,” is in the November/December 2018 issue of F&SF.

Guest Post: Raising a Novel – Writing and Marketing in Today’s Publishing Climate

Hello, hello!  Welcome to another guest post.  Today we welcome my friend and fellow Odd Stones Alliance member (the writing group we’re in), David Simms.  Between parenting, playing in a band, teaching, and many other awesome things, he’s managed to complete and publish his second novel.  Here, he shares some of his experience with the whole process from writing to publishing to marketing.  Read on!

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Raising a Novel – Writing and Marketing in Today’s Publishing Climate

The birth of a novel in 2018 is a vastly different experience than it was just ten years ago. It begs the question, when you spend years toiling over your story and nobody cares, or reads it, does it count? With the market today, too many authors take the route of simply dropping the book into a forest where nobody will see it, hear it, read it, or know about it. The gestation and birth is easy – barely anyone teaches writers how to raise the damn thing. When I embarked on the adventure to pen my second novel, Fear The Reaper (Crossroad Press), I knew it would be a different experience. My first novel was a blast to write. Sure, it was painful at times, but the writing was pure bliss. The research was 90% imagination and the rest drew from experience.

This time, I decided to take on the behemoth of a mental hospital down the hill from my new house. After learning its dark history and discovering that no other writer had ever published a novel on this topic, I dove in headfirst and cracked my skull on the task of writing a historical thriller. A true historical fiction piece scared me bad enough, but wrapping one of America’s darkest, dirtiest secrets around a fast paced story sounded much more enticing. After poring through several nonfiction texts, studying the town’s historical society while fending off dusty spiders, and interviewing former doctors, nurses, and relatives of patients, I had my story.

Writing the beast of the novel felt like bliss. Getting every detail of clothing, cars, food, drink, and sports team correct felt just right. By the time I hit the finish line, 109 thousand words glared back at me, daring me to edit them. No problem. It took several months, but editing it happened. Mostly, it was a pain-free experience.

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Postpartum (a term meant sarcastically, as I’d never be able to handle that experience), the book sat in my hands and I realized that books need to be raised, like petulant children. In this literary age where it seems a million books are published every week, writers must become warriors to get anyone to read it. Unless he/she is blessed to be with paired with a god/goddess of a publicist with endless funds, the writer must go ballistic and strategic if success is going to hit.

Without an agent or army, I hit the trenches alone and launched the second career of an author – the marketing. This is just as time-consuming as writing, yet without the fun. Thankfully, I’ve met and/or befriended many of my favorite writers, which helps networking – tremendously. Most of this has occurred because of the band I’ve played for. Follow that up with reviewing for four high profile venues and even more doors open. When it came time to secure blurbs for Fear The Reaper, I reached out and nailed down four out of six quotes. That’s better than most newer writers but it happened solely because of connections, not because I’m an amazing writer (I’m not).

My advice here: bite the bullet and social anxiety. Go to cons. Friend fellow authors on Facebook. Talk to them. Ask them for advice – most of them will happily oblige.

The second round hit harder. With a million books out there multiplying like germs in the Oval Office, how could I get my novel to stand out? My publisher is great but doesn’t do much marketing, which is normal (wish I would’ve know that earlier). So I reached out to people who know marketing best. Surprisingly, some self-pubbed authors really nail this aspect of the career. “Run a Facebook ad,” said one. So I did, and it sucked. Then I ran another but was bright enough to share it with a few who had much more experience with it. When I began receiving comments from across the globe, I knew it worked. Leading with one of the blurbs from a NYT best-seller obviously helped. Comparing my book to others (Shutter Island crossed with The Firm with a touch of The Shining – not my words) drew in even more readers.

Does this mean I’ve sold a ton of books? No, but it does mean I’m free from eating cat food for a few months.

I noticed that several of my “successful” writer friends kept posting news of their book tours, multiple signings, and interviews (online, radio, television).  How does one accomplish this on a budget, I pondered. An extreme, teacher budget. Some suggested a publicist. Sure. Once I learned that most of them only asked for my first born and random organs, I decided not to go into deep debt. Upon further investigation, I discovered that much what they offered wasn’t substantially different than I could accomplish on my own. I asked about television. They countered with radio. Does anyone still listen to talk radio anymore? If so, how many would purchase a novel after hearing an interview? Not many.

Yet the other avenues still appealed and seemed within grabbing distance. I sent out swarms of press releases to newspapers, television stations, colleges, libraries, bookstores, and that creepy guy who stands on the corner downtown. Even he ignored my requests. For a book of this importance (the subject, not my writing), one might think there would be interest, especially since it was a local book tackling a horrible part of history that most aren’t aware of. After so many cold shoulders, the offers did trickle in – at glacier speed. But still, I persisted. 

Five interviews later, most reaching across the world, I’m pleased. An invite to a black tie event where I’ll be paid? Sure. A dual signing with an author from California in NYC and DC? Definitely. Selling books by the side of the road before my ghost tours? Awesome.

It seems that there’s a course for just about everything in writing, except for how to actually get people to notice that your book is alive and out there in the wild. The ones that are in existence, that are legit, are harder to find than a unicorn riding a leprechaun. Maybe that should change. For those of us who spill blood on the pages for years to conceive these extensions of our souls, getting the world to notice them would be pretty nice.

But it’s possible. I’m proof of that. Keep reaching out in the dark. Eventually, you’ll find something. Hopefully, it doesn’t bite.

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Bio: David Simms lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with his wife, son and trio of furballs after escaping New Jersey and Massachusetts. A special education teacher, college English instructor, counselor, music therapist, ghost tour guide, and book reviewer, he moonlights in the Slushpile band on lead guitar after co-founding the Killer Thriller Band with several best-selling authors. He gives workshops in three states on using music to help students of all ages to learn and de-stress, getting teens to write, and combating burnout for teachers in schools. He has sold several short stories which have been published in various anthologies, such as TERRIBLE BEAUTY, TRAPS!, and DARKNESS RISING and academic publications on music therapy, creative writing for teens. DARK MUSE was his first novel, a YA musical dark fantasy. FEAR THE REAPER is a thriller that’s mostly true story about the eugenics movement in America – basically, how we directly influenced Hitler and began a truckload of horrors right here in the states.

Guest Post: Joseph Carro On Writer’s Block

Howdy, howdy!  Welcome to another guest post.  This time, we have my friend and fellow Stonecoast alum, Joseph Carro.  He’s got some super helpful tips for working around writer’s block, which I struggle with a lot.  So, read on!

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Joe and I at the Harraseeket Inn.  Pretty sure that was January ’15.

On Writer’s Block

By Joseph Carro

Writing can be an extremely frustrating and hopelessly solitary artistic endeavor, and as writers we know and understand this when we choose it as our lifestyle. Yet it doesn’t make it any easier when we’re holed up in the basement, writing the next big thing on our minds. Whether you’re trying to write a blog post, a poem, a screenplay, or a novel – Writer’s Block afflicts us all. I know that personally, real life usually gets in the way and saps my creative juices with its constant demands, but to keep writing I have acquired several techniques which I use in order to get my brain jumpstarted again. My hope is to share a couple of my own techniques with you. I know that many of you have your own techniques, but as a writer – I usually appreciate any new ways in which I can defeat this annoying affliction. Feel free to chime in with your own methods below in the comments section.


WALK OR DRIVE: Walking, to me, is a lost pastime. And I’m not the only one to think so. If you’re stuck on a certain spot in your manuscript or post or what have you, get OUT of that space for a little while. If you don’t like walking, then just sit outside or maybe take a drive. Anything to get yourself out of your stagnant state. Maybe you’ll see or experience something that will ignite that spark. You just have to step outside your comfort zone for a bit. Fresh air does wonders for the mind and the thought process needed for writing.

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READ SOMETHING: As Stephen King once said; “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Writing is a skill in which you absorb technique and inspiration from reading other writers. To do so, you need to actually read. Sometimes, reading someone else’s work is the perfect way to jumpstart your own. In my case, I will sometimes put aside my writing for one day and try to finish the book I was already reading or start another one. By the time I’m through a few chapters, I’m usually chomping at the bit to get back into my writing project. Obviously, it’s “dangerous” to put aside the writing to do something else (because you can get too much into the habit of doing that), but in moderation I think it works. Just really pay attention to what the authors are doing; their prose, the construction of the novel or short story or poem or whatever, and the way in which the strongest parts of it make you feel as a reader. Try to infuse your writing with some of that magic, without trying to ape their style. Be you.

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LISTEN TO MUSIC: This one is very divisive within the writing community. In one camp, you have people who absolutely cannot listen to music while writing. Or, they at least must listen to very quiet, ambient music rather than anything heady with lyrics. That’s okay, this technique may not be for you either. However – when I’m trying to write a certain scene or a certain tone to my short story or screenplay, I sometimes pick an appropriate piece of music. For a tone, I will generally choose a playlist I’ve created on Spotify or find a playlist on YouTube – for example, if I’m looking for a melancholy tone I will choose a playlist that’s labeled as “sad songs” or “bittersweet songs”. Generally, the mood conveyed through these songs, and the emotions they bring out enhance my writing. It’s all about knowing your tolerance for this kind of distraction while you’re trying to write. This also works if you just need to listen to a song or two BEFORE you write, rather than listening to entire tracks during your actual writing. Just make sure to fire up another song here and there to renew your creative juices and emotions, because sometimes sitting in a chair and writing prose does not automatically generate emotions until you really get into the meat of the story. Writing is both a technical skill and an art, and art comes from emotion. Sometimes, we wade too far into the technical aspects and lose the emotional momentum.

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USE WRITING EXERCISES AND PROMPTS: This method is actually my favorite, and thanks to the internet, there are countless online sources for finding writing ideas. These aren’t necessarily meant to replace the project you’re working on, but are more for trying to write something in general when you’re stuck. However, if you need some distance from your novel, it’s okay to take a brief respite and write something else. A few of my favorite sources for writing prompts are from books I’ve found or have been given. My wife gifted me a sort of “activity book” called 400 Writing Prompts by Piccadilly Inc and that one has given me quite a few ideas. A couple of other books I’ve found to be pretty useful are The Writer’s Book of Matches: 1,001 Prompts To Ignite Your Fiction from Writer’s Digest Books, What If?: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter, and The Pocket Muse: Ideas & Inspirations for Writing by Monica Wood. There are also lots of online sources out there as I mentioned above, and some of my favorites are Writer’s Digest, Poets & Writers, tumblr, and even reddit. Various bloggers like myself also dedicate entire sections of their blog to writing prompts. My own blog, Away With Words, has just such a section that you can find HERE. I try to do at least one weekly prompt, but sometimes I do more.

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These are just some tools for trying to get back into the swing of things, and my hope is that by using these techniques and resources, you can dig yourself out of whatever funk you’re in and get back to writing. Remember – try not to be too hard on yourself. Writing is hard work, it’s thirsty work, and your brain can quickly become parched when it’s dealing with the same tedious task over and over. Give it some variety and keep yourself from getting mired. Good luck!

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My name is Joseph Carro, and I am a Maine-based freelance writer and editor trying to make it in the big world of letters and semi-colons. I work currently as a barista to (barely) pay the bills, and in the meantime, I’m working on a YA novel, currently untitled, as well as various other works like screenplays, comic scripts, short stories, and flash fiction. Heck, you may as well toss in some comic books with that, too.

I live in Portland, here in Maine – with my beautiful wife and our five-pound chihuahua, Brewtus.

Above photo courtesy of Helen Peppe.

Guest Post: How Transmedia Storytelling Can Kickstart Your Stagnant Writing Project

Hello, hello!  Welcome to my first quarterly (March/June/September/December) guest post.  For the inaugural edition, please welcome my friend and fellow Stonecoast alum, Derek Hoffman!

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Borrowed from Derek’s Facebook page.

How Transmedia Storytelling Can Kickstart Your Stagnant Writing Project

By Derek B. Hoffman

You have a story. Yes, that one. It’s the one you know you’re supposed to write, but you can’t seem to crack it (or regain inspiration to continue) and you cringe each time a friend asks how it’s going.

Yet it still calls to you. Whatever else you try to fill your time with, creative or otherwise, it’s the thing that won’t let go and won’t move forward. So what do you do?

Think sideways.

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Think outside of the screen, the pen, the shuffled stack of drafts you’ve shoved in a half-crushed Amazon box. Think transmedia.

I know, what does that really mean? To put it simply, it is a way of telling a story across multiple media. But it’s more than that, it’s also using multiple types of media purposefully because “each medium makes its own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story” (from “Transmedia Storytelling 101” by Henry Jenkins). You can find the wiki here, a couple great resources here and here, and a slew of academic articles here and here. It’s a lot to take in, but what it boils down to is a call to think in 4D about the story you need to tell.

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If you aren’t familiar with the book, you can scroll through Amazon’s “Look Inside” option to get an idea of what’s inside.

Transmedia storytelling uses technology and media to broaden the story and engage a greater audience. In House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, the main book is a series of nested narratives that tell a story about a story, about an event. As a family unpacks in their new house, they discover it contains a mysteriously expanding labyrinth that holds more than a few secrets of its own. The narratives mimic the labyrinth, with text twisting and winding through the pages. Footnotes are peppered throughout, giving it a more academic and researched feel, though only 25% of the references are legitimate.

To give the story credibility, Danielewski published a website before the book release. The Internet was still capitalized back then, and the website played to the interests of an audience seeking hidden truths, long before the doubts of Fake News and strategic disinformation. There were also rumors Danielewski helped the manuscript go viral by dropping it at tattoo parlors and bars as a loose collection of papers tied with a string. The musician Poe (Danielewski’s sister) released an album of songs alongside the novel. Suddenly, readers could actually hear the echoes down the five and a half minute hallway.

More simply and more recently, transmedia storytelling can be seen in the 2017 show Thirteen Reasons Why, about a set of cassette tapes left by a girl who committed suicide. Jay Asher published the book in 2007 with hints to lead readers to, you guessed it, a set of audio tapes he had posted on a website.

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The book can be found here.

So, how does this make your writing easier?

Well, maybe the reason your book isn’t writing itself is that it is more than just a book. Are there:

  • different entry points into your story?
  • multiple audiences you want to engage?
  • different perspectives, voices, or subplots that lend themselves to audio, video, blog, or website?
  • supplemental facts, graphics, maps, or historical details that could add dimension

Let go of the pencil and pick up the keyboard, microphone, brush, or camera to give your story new life.

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What next?

Set yourself up for success 

First, take a moment to set achievable goals. Unless you have an amazing amount of free time, and/or resources, be real with yourself and your story.

  • Spend a weekend breaking down your story to see what areas could benefit (or not) from a transmedia approach and our thinking sideways experiment.
  • Then think about your creative resources (e.g. your own talents, friends and family, and local schools and artists).
  • Take account of how much time and money you may be willing to put toward this endeavor (consider crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter as well).
  • Lastly, remember to think about any ethical impacts your project may have during execution. Don’t worry, I’ll talk more about this in a couple sections.

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Get uncomfortable

It’s time to break your story. What’s left inside when you peel back everything else? What is it that made you want to write it in the first place? A character’s tale that had to be told? An image that haunts you? An intimate, whispered conversation? A political or religious allegory? Or are you determined to buck every trope in a given genre? Whatever it is, find it (or remember it).

Anatomy of a breakdown

Since everyone’s results from this will vary, I’ll throw down first. 

A girl stands in the shallows off the rocky coast of Maine. Her long nightgown is soaked up to the frilled collar. She walks forward into the ocean, grim and at peace.  

Seventy years later, a reporter on hiatus because of a major screwup at her job visits her friend in Maine. Out of her morning newspaper drops a microfiche news story about the girl’s disappearance.

That’s all I had, but it bugged me for a year and a half while I attended my graduate program (in Maine). Every time I watched waves crash against the rocks under a foggy sky, I saw the girl. Six months left in my MFA. It was time to get this going. I thought about:

  • What was in the news story for the girl on the microfiche?
  • What did the reporter’s online newspaper look like? What stories had she written before?
  • Did the girl have a diary? What was her story? Why did she likely kill herself?
  • Maybe the girl had letters from a secret love???
  • Did the reporter have a personal blog?

Alright, that’s a good start for different ways to approach or enhance the story. What else? Since I was in this program with other creatives, could I directly engage them? During the winter, we stayed at a cool, old inn. A ghost story, perhaps?

  • Maybe “accidental” audio or video of the girl from the reporter’s cellphone/camera.
  • Find out the history of the inn. Would it fit with the girl’s story?
  • An evidence bag from the old missing person’s case left at the front desk or someone’s room?

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Whoa. Hold on, now we are moving into ARG territory. ARG? Alternate Reality Gaming. It can totally be done. Check out some cool stuff from Lance Weiler here, but there are some major ethical considerations in going down this path:

  • What if someone believes your story is real? What kind of emotional/psychological impact could it have? Could they miss work or school? Could they report findings to the police? I know this sounds extreme, but you need to consider all of this.
  • Is there a way for people to opt-in/opt-out?
  • If you are performing research while executing your story (e.g. by using analytics on websites) are you obtaining permission? Is there a notice on the site that clearly states what is being collected?

Again, the above isn’t to scare you out of incorporating some really cool ARG into your transmedia project, but you need to be conscious of its potential effects and the rights of those involved behind and in front of the story.

Speaking of those behind the story…

Creative Role Call

Now you have an idea of what can be done. How do you do it? Well, there are several options depending on your social and financial resources.

  • You can form a creative collaboration with one or more trusted creative friends. These should be people whose work you know is solid, even if they aren’t professionals. You don’t want to have to manage people’s egos or confidence. Depending on what the work is, if it will be profitable, what kind of friendship you have, and more will determine how you might be able to compensate your team. Personally, even though I have some friends working with me on a transmedia project, and some have offered their services for free, or at a great discount, I want to pay them what their work deserves. It’s not that I have the financial resources, but I don’t want my creative friends to get burned or short-changed just because they are my friends. How will I pay them? We’ll get to that in a moment.
  • You can go it alone. If you have the skills to perform/create in multiple media, good for you! Make sure you have the time, and that it is worth the “life cost.” And whatever you plan for time, double it.
  • You can find creative resources online and locally. Do you need photos? Check Unsplash. It’s a great resource for free, hi-res photos that can be used however you like. They don’t even require attribution (though I highly recommend it). There is Fiverr for freelance design, translation, video, and more. Check out Artstation for inspiration and some freelance conceptual, environmental, and 3D artists. If you want to build a website for your project, check out Squarespace, Hugo, and WordPress/Themeforest. Also, contact your local community colleges and universities to see if they have a way for you to post what you’re looking for to students who might want some more real world project experience (and please pay them).
  • If there are self-publishing components to your project, check out Lulu and Blurb.

Now that you are finalizing your project plan and team, how are you going to pay for it all?

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Show me the money

Short of your own financial resources, or those of a publishing/media company, you need to crowdfund. And for this type of project, the only option really suitable to the task is Kickstarter. If you have to go this route, you need to look at their tips for creating a successful campaign, and you need to do some math to make sure that your project funding goal includes fees for using Kickstarter, shipping, production, taxes, etc. It’s not just about paying your creatives. And whether you use a crowdfunding site or not, you need to prep your mind for selling your project. Whether it is to people who have cash they are looking to invest in a cool enough story, or people you want to pick up your book, think of how to pitch it, how to package it, and how to sell it. This is the story that won’t let go. Now’s the time to push it out there. You got this.

Which brings us to the why…

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So what?

Maybe you’ve read though this anxiously waiting for the secret to reveal itself on how to move forward with your project. Maybe you found it, but more than likely you are half-pumped, half-scared, half-apathetic, but fully convinced I can’t do math. No, this is about thinking sideways to move forward. It doesn’t matter if you create the most amazing project plan and gather the most talented team of artists, if you can’t finish the story, you’ve got nothing.

You are a writer. Transmedia, whatever you may think of its use to you and your project, is just a tool. One you can put in your rusty, blue, metal box with the squeaky hinges. Put it beside the Passive Voice Detector and whichever Manual of Style you despise the least. But put it in there.

Transmedia can refine how you pitch and define your story by forcing you to communicate with a creative team, and the world at large. It is a storytelling tool as much as it is a marketing tool. And this alternative thinking allows you to more easily evolve your narrative regardless of whether you continue down the transmedia path or simply use bits and pieces of the methodology from your toolkit.

Now, get back to writing.

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Derek B. Hoffman is a writer, designer, technologist, husband to a scientific wonder woman, and dad to two awesome boys. He can be found online at https://derekbhoffman.com and is happy to respond to your transmedia-project-induced cries for help at https://veracitybydesign.com.