A Writer’s Tale

Hello, hello!  I was at a loss over what to write for today.  My usual plea for topic ideas proved unfruitful this time.  Then, I realized that I have never shared my journey to writerhood on here.  At least I don’t think I have.  Feel free to stop reading if you’ve heard this story before.

I’ve always written.  Stories, poems, the occasional attempt at a comic strip (but my drawing skills failed me there).  I never really wanted to be a professional, though, so I’m a little different from my friends and fellow writers who have wanted to do this forever.  My crazy job goal was always a fashion designer, but when I figured out that wasn’t going to happen, I set my sights on more obtainable professions.

Dallas Hall at SMU.  This campus is where my plan tumbled down.

 I went through most of my time at college (both community and university) waffling between psychology and English.  With psychology, I could help kids like myself.  After all, all the psychologists I saw walked into the room and presumed to know how I felt.  It never seemed right to me.  At least I would appear a little more relatable than they did to me.  I also kept returning to English because it was easy and I enjoyed it.  In fact, by the time I transferred to SMU (I went in as a Junior), the only degrees I had time to finish were psychology and English.

Since I had a semblance of a plan with psychology, I initially decided to go with that major.  It was going well.  I passed all my classes with fairly high grades (never less than a B).  I really got into abnormal psychology, especially the class that focused on disorders in children.  I aced my research class paper.  But I still kept taking English classes as well.

Try having the debate with yourself.  I still secretly prefer APA.

 Then, that fateful day came.  Dad was walking me to class after a stop at the campus coffee shop and we were talking about majors and what I was planning to do, when he asked the question that shattered my little plan.  “How’re you supposed to be a psychologist when you don’t like people?”  He was right.  I’m not a people person.  I don’t like to pry.  I’ll offer advice when asked, but beyond that you’re on your own.  What kind of psychologist would I be?  I could go into research, but I don’t even like that.  Thus, I became an English major.

Don’t fall for the hype!

 What was I supposed to do with an English major?  I had zero desire to teach.  So, I took some creative writing courses, found out that I still enjoyed writing, and dipped my toe into the big bad world of writerhood.  And that’s how I found myself on a path that would take me to Stonecoast and onto a place where I could live with the voices inside my head without having to worry about people.

How did you decide to pursue the path you’re on?  Did you always know you wanted to do it or did it spring itself on you?  Tell me your story in the comments or on my social media pages!

Writing Challenge Q&A: Blessings

Hello, hello once again!  Are you ready for another round of the Writing Challenge Q&A?  Today’s topic is courtesy of another fellow Stonecoaster, Derek Hoffman.  He’s had some blessings of his own recently what with the newest addition to his family and whatnot, so he chose number 12 (“write about 5 blessings in your life”) for me to discuss today.  I totally admit that this topic was way more difficult than it should’ve been, mostly because I’ve been overthinking it.  My original thoughts just seemed uninspired and simple and things that everyone would say.  Then, I realized that none of that matters.  They don’t have to be exciting or complex or unique as long as I’m being honest with myself and you all.  So, here’s a pretty standard list of my blessings, in no particular order.

My graduating class/faculty from Stonecoast.

1.  If you’ve read my blog posts in the past, you knew Stonecoast (the program where I got my MFA) would be on the list.  It was the first place where I felt comfortable coming out of my shell.  I made some friends for life while I was there.  I miss it a lot, but I’m really happy that I got to experience that kind of community.  Plus, I got to visit the Harraseeket Inn for three winters because of it!  I definitely recommend going there if you get the chance.  Anyway, Stonecoast and the whole experience is something I will always hold dear.

2.  My parents.  It’s overdone, I know, but I have a pretty good reason to include them.  Mom took care of me for 25 years.  Things may not have been great (or even good) between us, but I really do appreciate that she took care of me.  She did everything because I couldn’t do it myself.  When she got sick and passed away, Dad took over.  And even though I probably don’t say it enough, I appreciate him as well.  Plus I get to eat his cooking.  That’s basically a blessing in itself.

The Minion and I.  I’ve probably posted this before.

3.  Friends.  Yeah, I said it.  Without my friends (you know who you are), I wouldn’t be the delightfully creepy person I am today.  From the early Interwebz friends to the handful of local real life friends to the Stonecoasters, you guys rock.  That is all.

4.  The one really weird blessing that people probably won’t understand is the fact that I’m cripple.  Don’t get me wrong, it usually sucks, but I know myself and I have a pretty good idea of the type of person I would be if I were “normal.”  Let’s just say that I like the person I currently am a lot better.  After all, I’d probably be dead or in jail or at least be a cautionary tale if it weren’t for the crippleness, so yeah.  It’s as good as it is bad.

I miss my Julia.


5.  Pets.  I know it’s hard when we lose them, but I wouldn’t give up knowing any of my animals.  They enrich our lives in so many ways.  They give us unconditional love even when we don’t necessarily deserve it.  Pets are wonderful.

Yeah, it’s not a very insightful list, but who cares?  It’s mine.  What are some of the blessings in your lives?

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?

A Month of Giving Thanks (Part Two)

Hello again!  It’s already been a week since my last post?  I suppose time flies when you’re having fun.  Or maybe it’s just because I’m getting older.  I swear I don’t remember the days going by so fast when I was a kid.  Anyway, enough rambling.  A new week means another chance to share more things I’m grateful for!  As I said last time, feel free to join me.

“A Break in Reality” by Xetobyte

1. The Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing.  If you’ve perused previous posts, you’ve probably noticed my affection for this program.  I mean, come on.  It’s the first academic setting where I actually felt like I belonged instead of it simply being a stepping stone to my next life goal.  Of course I’m thankful for it and all of the people associated with it.  I highly suggest applying if you’re a writer.

2. Pretty Asian males.  If you know me at all, you knew this was coming sooner or later!  I’m entirely comfortable admitting that I like eye candy, preferably Japanese and in a dress (but not always in one).  If you don’t like it, that’s fine.  Most of the males I stalk are musicians, so they are also ear candy.  A couple of samples:

Hizaki (Jupiter) and Kaya (Femme Fatale)!
Hiro (Nocturnal Bloodlust) and Sono (Matenrou Opera)!

3. Music in general.  If there’s one thing in life that has kept me (relatively) sane, it’s music.  Yeah, as a kid, I went with the flow (aka listened to the things my friends were listening to), but I eventually came into my own.  I still remember flipping through radio stations once when I was bored and coming across Zip-Lock by Lit.  That was the beginning of my punk days.  The first time I broke away from what everyone else in my world was listening to.  It was so freeing.  My tastes have fluctuated a lot since then, so I now listen to an eclectic selection.  It keeps me going, so who cares what everyone else is doing?

4. Technology.  Without it, I’d not only be confined to one spot all the time, I’d also probably be dead.  When you require help for something as simple as breathing, you learn to appreciate the machines that help you out.  Wheelchairs, ventilators, patient lifts, and all of that delightful stuff is what I’m talking about.  Sure, TVs and cars and radios and all that are fan-freaking-tastic, but right now I mean all of the stuff that helps to make life more or less normal for folks like me.

We’ve come a long way.

5. Stuffed animals.  I know it’s weird for a nearly 30-year-old to admit her love of plushies, but I adore them.  They’re soft and cuddly and cute.  Their beady eyes are next-level creepy, like they’re staring into your soul and getting ready to eat it.  You should know by now that I’m strange.  Don’t act so surprised.  But yes, stuffed animals rock!

I think that’s all for today.  See you next week!

No School! The Feels…

Hello there!  I think I’ll address another question/comment today.  Remember, feel free to send me questions or comments or whatever here or at Facebook or TwitterThis one is from Dallas FunkShe recently brought it to my attention that we aren’t preparing for a new semester, we aren’t panicking to finish up our last packets, and we aren’t getting ready to travel halfway across the country for ten days of writerly business and fun.  How does that make me feel?  Well…


Actually, that’s only kind of right.  Sure, I’m sad, but I’m also a little excited and relieved and not as stressed (though I fully admit to facing new kinds of stress).  I mean, right about now is usually when I’d be starting to prepare for the residency and worrying over the drive that isn’t for another month (irrational fears FTW!) and all that.  Instead, I started writing a new novel this month while I wait for feedback on the other one.  I had been working on a collection of short stories, which was becoming tedious, so I switched projects.  The fact that I’m not working towards a thesis, and that I didn’t have to check with anyone first, made it much easier to convince myself that this kind of shift is okay.  The freedom, man!  The freedom!

I will definitely miss everyone, but this is what happens as we grow.  We lose touch with some and make new connections with others.  Also, I’d normally have a social buffer right around this time to make the transition easier.  A weekend out among other similar minded freaks (granted, these are anime lovers, not writers, but still).  Also known as A-Kon weekend.  But I’ve chosen to skip it this year (that was a dumbass move on my part).  I think that has me more sad than anything.  I knew school was a limited time thing going in, but this is the first time in thirteen years that I’ve skipped A-Kon.

The Minion and I almost ready for the masquerade ball last year.

Don’t get me wrong, it is time for a break from A-Kon, but I kind of regret doing it the same year I finished school.  However, I am trying to stay a little social by going to readings and stuff.  Yeah… I guess that’s really the biggest “sad” part about not prepping for a new semester.  It’s just the lack of socializing that’s got me a little down.  That’s actually a pretty terrifying revelation for someone who never really cared about having a social life.  Gee thanks, Stonecoast!

I guess what all this boils down to is that I’m having feels about the situation, but none of them are really standing out.  Actually, I posted a Facebook status a few days ago that said “It feels weird to not be prepping for A-Kon or a new semester.  I shouldn’t have stopped both in the same year.  Sad Cyn is sad.  In other news, I decided to start a new novel tomorrow.  It’s a standalone.  Much more post-apocalypse (but not really) sci-fi than I’m used to writing.  I’m kind of excited.”  That was when a friend’s mom asked if I was bipolar (jokingly, of course) and I replied with “It’s a writer’s life!  Conflicting emotions are the norm.”  So, that there’s the short version of everything I just said.


A writer’s life… So many feels, bro.  So many feels.

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!