I Might’ve Broken The Rules

Happy March!  How was your Leap Day?  Mine was actually pretty productive.  It was the first day in a long time that I met my “this is acceptable” word count (1000+ words).  I broke one of my golden rules to do it, but the writing is what’s important, right?  Rules are made to be broken and all that.  Or maybe I’m just nuts.  Or trying to rationalize things that don’t really matter.  I mean, it’s not like anyone’s going to punish me for breaking my own rule, right?  It’s just the voices in my head that complain about it.  They’ll deal eventually.  Do you have rules you stick to when writing?  Or is that just something crazy people do?

Nancy Holder!  Blame her for the rules thing.


I suppose the whole “rules” thing started during my first semester at Stonecoast.  Up until then, I had no rules, no discipline, and all I was writing was short stories.  I wrote when I felt like it or when something was due.  Deadline induced panic was an essential part of my process.  Then Stonecoast happened.

I was actually pretty terrified at the prospect of writing a novel, but I wanted to do it.  My mentor at the time was Nancy Holder, and she’s a super supportive type, so she encouraged me to do it.  There was no “try,” there was just “do it.”  Of course, I asked “how?”  Her response was “keep writing!”  Yeah, it wasn’t helpful at the time, but she was right (as mentors tend to be).  So I wrote, got past twenty pages (my usual stopping point), and kept writing.  Around page fifty, I wanted to stop and work on something else.  Nancy said no.

It was kind of like that.


She explained that starting a new project was a form of procrastination that all writers are tempted by.  If you’re constantly stopping one thing to start something else, you’ll never finish anything.  It made a lot of sense, especially for something as large as a novel.  And thus, my first rule (the one I broke) was born.  I’d never start a new novel while one was sitting half-finished and waiting on me (aka one I haven’t given up on).  I’d wait until I at least had a first draft.  It only applied to novels, so I admit to writing flash fiction, short stories, poetry, etc.  Basically anything to give me a break here and there, but that could be finished in a few days was acceptable procrastination.

But, since I’ve been in a slump, I finally decided to say “screw it!” and started a new WIP.  It doesn’t mean that I love the old one any less, it just means I can’t get into that world right now.  Same goes for the screenplay.  I love it, but my heart just isn’t in it.  Hopefully that will change as I get back to a normal rhythm, but for now, I needed something new that no one has seen or heard about.  Something strictly mine.  Something that doesn’t have any expectations to live up to.  It can fail completely, I can trash it, and no one will ever be able to ask “what happened to that novel about that thing?”  Does that even make sense?


I still have a bunch of other rules that I haven’t broken, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s okay to break a rule once in a while if nothing else is working for you.  So, what are your rules?  Have you ever broken them?  Did it help?  Or am I just crazy?

An Art & Words Show

Hi all!  This past Saturday (Sept. 26th), my dad and I ventured out to Fort Worth to attend the opening of Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam’s Art & Words Show.  It was the fourth annual show and the third year that I have attended, so I decided that I wanted to share my experience with all of you.

Bonnie reading for one of the authors who couldn’t be there.

I met Bonnie at Stonecoast.  She graduated in July 2013, so we didn’t have much time to get to know each other very well, but she was the first fellow Texan I found in the program.  When I learned about her Art & Words Show, I had to check it out.  What is an Art & Words Show, you ask?  Well, Bonnie takes submissions from both writers and visual artists (submissions usually open around March if you’re interested), then she chooses roughly 10 written pieces and an equal number of artworks.  At that point, there’s a selection process where the writers choose a piece of art and the artists choose a story or poem, which they then have to interpret (authors write a story/poem based on the art and vice versa for the artists).

Where is the show held, you might be wondering.  It’s held at Art on the Boulevard in Fort Worth on Camp Bowie Blvd (check the website for the full address).  The show runs for about a week, so if you’re in the area and have some free time between now and Saturday (Oct. 3rd), check it out!

Borrowed from their Facebook page.

As someone who loves ekphrastic writing, this whole project intrigued me from the beginning.  I haven’t had a piece featured yet, but I have submitted in the past and plan to submit next year.  It’s like any other project writers submit to, there’s a good chance of rejection, but you have to try.  I actually didn’t have anything to submit this past year, so I volunteered to work behind the scenes (yes, I was a slush reader).  It actually gave me a little perspective on the whole rejection thing.  Narrowing down the submissions (most of which were really good), not to mention picking just 10, is quite a task.  If you ever get the chance to be a slush reader for anything, do it.  It gives you a new appreciation for rejection.

Sean R. Robinson reading.
Karen Bovenmyer reading.

Anyway, on opening night, Bonnie holds a small reception where she invites the writers to read.  A lot of the local artists tend to show up as well.  It’s a lovely experience.  My only complaint is the lack of accessibility (there are no curb cuts or ramps near the place and there are steps between the nearest ramp and the shop), which I fully blame the city of Fort Worth for.  For a place that’s commonly on top 10 lists for accommodations and accessibility, I expected more.  Step up your game, Fort Worth!  Aside from my issues with the location, the show itself is wonderful and I fully encourage both writers and visual artists to submit next year.

Until next time (which will finally be a food review)!

My Stonecoast Experience (Part 2)

As I’ve mentioned, my Dad and I made our last trek to Maine in January, where I graduated from Stonecoast.  I’ve spent the last few weeks sorting through my feelings about it all.  I haven’t even forced myself to look through all of the pictures and videos we took, because that would mean saying goodbye.  I won’t kid myself by saying things like “we’ll keep in touch” or “I’ll see them again,” because the truth of the matter is that I’ll probably never see or interact with 99% of these people again outside of Facebook or email.  But that’s okay.

In all honesty, I’ve never really had many “real life” friends, so the switch to maintaining cyber friendships with these people, my Stonecoast family, isn’t a big leap for me.  However, many of them are less active online than I am, so it’s still a bittersweet adjustment.  I won’t get to see everyone twice a year.  Won’t get to catch up with those I don’t see much online.  And, possibly the most depressing thing of all, I won’t get to be in Maine.

South Freeport (Docks by Harraseeket Lunch & Lobster Co.)

Granted, I’m not entirely sorry I missed the grand snowfall, and it’s not the most handicap friendly of the states, but!  It’s beautiful, and the people are super friendly.  After each trip, when we get home, I always miss Maine more than I ever missed Texas.

In fact, one of my fellow Stonecoasters once asked me what I missed about Texas.  I told her I missed my dog.  Just my dog.  That was a half-truth.  I missed Mexican Coca-Cola.  I missed having easy access to decent Mexican food, or at least Tex-Mex.  I missed BBQ (don’t get me wrong, Maine has something it calls BBQ, but it ain’t the good stuff).   I missed 99.5% of public places having wheelchair entrances.  It was little things like that that I found I missed.

Chewy! (My dog)

It’s all thanks to Stonecoast that I got to experience these things.  Friendship outside of the computer.  Travel.  Finding a home away from home.  Figuring out what I would miss about my current home.  It was all part of my crazy new experience.  I’m thankful for it all.

Yes, I will miss Maine with its moose heads (see below), its wonderful people, and its crazy weather, but it’s time to move onwards and upwards.  It’s time for me to focus on my writing and where I want to go in life and how to get there.  Who knows, maybe when I’m a rich and famous author (a girl can dream big, can’t she?), I’ll find my way back to that home away from home.  Maybe by then, it’ll just be home.

Please don’t fall on me, Mr. Moose. (At the Broad Arrow Tavern in the Harraseeket Inn)

That’s all for today.  Check in next week for something completely different!

The Speech of Doom

First, a little background.  At Stonecoast’s commencement ceremony, the faculty elects a student speaker from each genre (pop fic, lit fic, poetry, and CNF).  Apparently, they decided that I should represent popular fiction.  This meant that I had to give a speech.  On stage.  In front of everybody.  Yeah, not my idea of a good time.  But, it went over pretty well, and people have asked me for copies or to post it on-line.  So, here it is, notes to myself and all.

Giving the Speech of Doom. Courtesy of Joseph Carro.

Speech of Doom

Thank you, Dean Tuchinsky. Thank you, Justin Tussing and Matt Jones. Faculty, fellow students, thank you. And a very special thank you to Robin Talbot. She is the heart of Stonecoast, and she keeps our dysfunctional little family functioning. So, next time you see her, give her a hug and tell her thank you.

*pause, deep breath*

Hello. My name is Shawna, and I, like most of you, am a compulsive liar (also known as a writer). Yes, that includes the CNF folks as well. We all embellish the truth and hide things inside pretty little metaphors, some of us just include more fairies and dragons and zombies than others.

In his dedication of It, Stephen King writes to his children, “Kids, fiction is the truth inside the lie, and the truth of this fiction is simple enough: the magic exists.” He’s right. The magic is there, waiting to be found, if only you’re willing to search for it. We all write lies and hope some universal truth is hidden inside, but what about the magic? Now, I know my fellow pop fiction writers are sitting there thinking “we write about magic every day.” But there’s a difference between writing about spells or wands or potions, and knowing that real magic exists.

In May of 2012, I received my B.A. in English. I had switched away from psychology, from my plan, and majored in English. What the hell was I supposed to do with my life? That was when my adviser planted the seed that would lead me to my own magical path. He introduced me to low-residency MFAs.

I fully admit I had no intention of ending up at Stonecoast, but then Robin called. She made me feel wanted, like I could actually be a part of this family, because that’s what we are. A family. In other words, she uncorked the magic bottled up inside me and it started trickling over the edge. This first encounter with Stonecoast was followed by approximately 30 e-mails and phone calls from faculty and students (now, realize that this was over a period of maybe two weeks). Needless to say, I was a little (okay a lot) creeped out. It was like some cult was out to get me to join. The funny thing is, I was entirely okay with that. If you know my writing, you know I’m no stranger to the creepy and disturbing, so their tactics worked. I became part of this weird cult/family/tribe known as Stonecoast. And yes, I have heard it described as all of those things.

The point is, Stonecoast took someone whose mantra had always been “get in, get the degree, and get out” and turned her into someone who desperately searched for ways to extend her time here. Granted, I never found a way to stay and two years was much too short (just ask any one of us), but if that’s not magic, I don’t know what is. I found friends here, I found myself among the voices in my head, but most of all, I found that magic is real. Stonecoast is my Hogwarts. A sentiment shared by many of us.

So, this is for everyone here, but especially my fellow graduates: find your magic. If you haven’t found it yet, trust me when I say you will. When it hits you, because it will be that metaphorical ton of bricks, don’t ignore it. As you venture back out into that big, scary world, be open to the magic it offers. And remember, we each carry a tiny satchel of never-ending seeds. Do your best to plant those in everyone you meet, so that they can find their magic, too.

Thank you.

Talking to the Voices

I have returned!  I was away most of January, so that I could participate in my final residency at the Stonecoast MFA program.  I graduated with many mixed feelings, which I will talk about at a later date.

I actually came away from residency with many ideas for this blog o’ mine, which I will mention at the end, but first, I want to get into today’s topic.  The voices in my head!

A lot of people ask me how I come up with my characters, but the truth is, I don’t really know.  They almost always start as a nagging voice in my head (at least the main characters do).  It’s going to sound crazy, but I talk to these voices and most of them won’t go away until I write their stories.  I talk with them for many reasons, not just to learn their stories, but to learn their voices.  Their likes and dislikes.  What kind of person they are.

I fully admit that this can be both a blessing and a curse.  Sometimes, I get attached to certain voices and put off writing their stories, because I don’t want them to disappear.  I’ve only really mourned the loss of a couple of voices, but it’s still a sad process.  On the other hand, it makes for some unique characters.  I have less trouble getting into the voice when I’m writing.

Do you talk to the voices in your head?  If not, I certainly encourage it.  Yes, we might come off as a bit eccentric, but what writer isn’t?

I think I’ll leave it at that for today.  Before I sign off completely, I want to talk about “what’s next.”

1.  I’m seriously considering moving my blog to a different platform (most likely WordPress).  Would anyone have any objections to that?  I know I don’t have many readers, so I feel like now would be the optimal time for such a switch.

2.  This will soon be a weekly blog!  Every Wednesday, I will be posting, starting on February 11th.  People have requested that I post my graduation speech, so that’s coming up next week.

3.  I’m hoping to form a more cohesive blog, so forgive me as I dabble in different topics until I find the one for me.

That is all.  If no one has argued otherwise by February 11th, I will see you on WordPress!

My Stonecoast Experience (Part 1)

In May 2012, I graduated from Southern Methodist University with a Bachelor’s of Art in English, specializing in creative writing, and minoring in psychology.

About halfway through my stint at SMU, my Dad talked me out of majoring in psychology (he reminded me that I’m not a people person), so I was left without a plan beyond graduation.  Luckily, my adviser introduced me to the concept of low-residency MFAs.

I applied to five of the top ten programs.  At the time, I had little to no hope about getting in (I wasn’t very confident in my writing).  Of the five that I applied to, Stonecoast was the only one to offer popular fiction.  I had only ever really studied literary fiction, so I thought it might be a nice change of pace, but it wasn’t very high on my list of desired programs.  Of the three that accepted me, Stonecoast was my second choice.  However, this opinion quickly changed.  When I got the call, not even two weeks after I had sent in the application, I was shocked to say the least.  I was already feeling like a potential member of the Stonecoast family after that call.  Add to that the plethora of e-mails and phone calls from faculty and students and I was starting to believe that maybe this place really did want me.  When the acceptance packet came in the mail and it was purple (my favorite color), I was sold.

At my first residency, I had no idea what to expect.  The one thing I did know was that I wanted to hole up in a corner and treat it like every other school experience I had had.  Get in, get the degree, and get out.  My fellow Stonecoasters had other ideas.  They decided we needed to be friends, and since my Dad was with me, he needed to join us.

It was an experience like no other for me.  I was used to Texas, to Dallas, where people ignored my existence for the most part.  Being invisible was a super power I had grown to appreciate.  I don’t know if it was the weather or what, but in Maine, my super power didn’t work.  People expected me to socialize.  Me!  In all honesty, it was pretty damn creepy at first.  Then, it slowly dawned on me that I was making friends and that was kind of cool.

Aside from the weird socialization aspects, I had another new experience.  I learned things.  Throughout high school and community college and undergrad, I had grown accustomed to teaching myself.  It was extremely rare for me to come out of a class (except for Japanese) with that fulfilling notion that I had learned something useful.  At Stonecoast, I was learning things left and right.  Things that would improve my craft.  Things that would improve me as a person.  It was everything I was looking for that I didn’t know I wanted to find.

That was January 2013.  For the past two years, my experience at Stonecoast has continued to exceed expectations.  I’ve even reached a point where I can look at my work and admit that it isn’t horrible.  That’s a huge step for a writer.  One I couldn’t have taken without Stonecoast.

My time at Stonecoast is drawing to a close.  I will be graduating in January, which I have mixed feelings about.  I should be proud and happy to have come so far, yet it’s the first time I’ve ever felt sad to be leaving a school.  I will be exploring these feelings more after graduation, so look forward to that in February!

Next time, I’ll be discussing villains!  Come back and see me in January!