Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Game Pod: Creation -- Six Word Inspired Flash Fiction

This week's Game Pod is taken from a little game Alexis and her mom used to play on long road trips. Each Pea was tasked with contributing two words. The Peas then created a story using all six of the words at least once (in three-hundred words or less). And this is what happened:

Princess  Iguana  Cartography  Sanguine  Horizon  Hoarding 

Island Vacation

Lacy stared at the iguana sitting on her hotel bed.

Her mother expressed her fears about her vacationing alone in St. Thomas. She doubted this was the worst of them.

Flicking her keycard at it, the iguana blinked, taunting her with its sanguine expression. It was as if the reptilian beast enjoyed the attention.

“Shoo!” She waved her fingers at it. “This is the fourth night in a row!”

She gazed toward the burnt orange and pink horizon. It was paradise. Just what she’d imagined, sans wildlife. She had to admit, the view was stunning.

She hated feeling like a helpless princess and prided herself on self-sufficiency. When she’d called the concierge last night he’d treated it like business as usual. “Yes, miss. Of course, miss. I’ll send someone over.”

The maintenance man, Jacamo, had suppressed his laughter the first night when he found her in the hallway with her pepper-spray at the ready.

“You have to be assertive,” he’d said last night, rustling the lizard out with a broom. “They’re like dogs. You have to show him who is the boss.”

“I didn’t come here to tame the local wildlife,” she’d told him. “I just wanted come to an island, have a nice guy buy me a drink, and enjoy the beach. This…” she jabbed her thumb at the intruder “…is not part of my resort package.”

She sighed and eyed the iguana. Be brave.

She imagined herself hoarding bravery like coins against her chest. She tried to think of someone who was adventurous. Lewis and Clark were the first to pop into her head. This wasn’t exactly continental cartography she was facing, but certainly they’d overcome wildlife on their adventures.

“Get out, Mr. Iguana.” She glared at it and pointed at the doorway. “I mean it.”

The lizard cocked its head then blinked each eye. It opened its mouth, exposing its fleshy tongue. She shuddered. It took one step and she ran out into the hallway and let the door slam behind her.

Jacamo was there with two unopened beers. He smiled, offering her a bottle. “Tonight’s my night off. Forget him. Let’s take a walk.”

Lacy took the beer and smiled.

(word count 364) by Michelle

The Care and Feeding of Dave

Princess Sidhemana hated cartography. Studying musty old charts and maps made little sense when newer versions were available on microreaders. Yet her father insisted she know how to read the stellar graphs their ancestors had used when they settled on Delta Plantation 9, a planet five star systems removed from their home world of Earth.

Sighing, she gazed out the window at the northern horizon. Epsom and Colga, DP9’s smallest and largest moons respectively, shimmered along the spiny back of distant mountains. Their combined light cast a sanguine glow on the vast altine fields.

Sidhemana longed to lose herself among their indigo stalks and tubular white blossoms. She closed her eyes and imagined the thick sweetness of their fragrance. A rich earthiness undercut with a slight sulfuric bitterness would coat her tongue if she tasted the nectar dripping from the flowers.
Angry voices outside the literacy chamber shattered her daydream. Mother was yelling at Tarken again. Sidhemana rolled her eyes and focused on the tattered map spread on a wide slate table.
“But, Mother,” Tarken’s whine pierced the outer doors. “Dave needs the beetles! He’s a growing iguana and--”
“I understand, but why do you insist on hoarding gosha beetles?”
“They’re Dave’s favorite.”
“Tarken, gosha beetles are disgusting, not to mention dangerous,” Mother lectured. “If they escape, they’ll eat this entire home in less than a week.”
“If they get out, I’ll unleash Dave. He’ll track them.”

“Truly, Mother, you shouldn’t worry.” His voice faded as though he were slowly retreating. “You’re starting to get a crease between your eyes.”


Quick footsteps reverberated through the literacy chamber as Tarken fled their Mother’s disapproval, pulling peals of laughter from Sidhemana.

(word count 288) by Jeannie

*under word count award

Princess and the Pea

Princess took a sure-footed leap across the gap between dilapidated rooftops and settled himself in a sit, his back against a crumbling chimney. He gazed at the vast glittering castle and its verdant grounds. The sun, slipping below the horizon, cast everything in a cherry-gold glow that reflected his unusually sanguine mood. For once, his life was perfect.
He made a clicking noise with his tongue, coaxing a pea-green iguana from the depths of his oversized jacket. The lizard sauntered to his shoulder and shot him a proud, ill-humored glare.
"Our work has paid off, Pea," Princess said, beaming. "The shit ends for us today."
Pea blinked.
"Aren't you excited?" Princess inquired. "No longer will we be treated like vermin on the street! No longer will we have to beg for the food we missed out on because of the other orphans and their greedy hands!" No longer would they taunt him, either, for the clerical mishap that was his name.
Pea stared. Then burped.
"Pea! We want to remember this moment forever. Don't ruin it."
Pea curled his tail into a question mark as if to say, "So?"
Princess shook his head. "Soon, you will have your own room. And you can stop hoarding shiny objects in the pocket of my jacket. Doesn't that make you happy?"
Pea cocked his head.
"And I'll no longer answer to Princess Boy Noname, Pea," he declared. "I will be: PB Nomer, Master of Cartography for the Royal Family." This he said with a grand flourish of his arms.
Then he grinned and snatched the iguana from his shoulders, holding him close to his face. "At least until I get into the map room and use the key you stole to get that treasure."
Pea scrunched his face.
"You do have the key, don't you, Pea?"
The iguana gave him a tiny nod. Then shook his head.
The grin slipped off Princess's face. "Well where is it, then? You had it when we stole dinner."
Pea's stomach grumbled. His face turned uncomfortably.
Princess narrowed his eyes. "Peeeeea?"
The lizard's stomach rumbled again.
"Pea! You ate it?!"
The iguana burped, his breath carrying a distinctly metallic scent.
Princess rolled his eyes and glared at the castle. "Great." He sighed heavily and set the iguana down. "Well, the shit ends for us tomorrow, then."
(word count 409 {yeah, yeah I went over -- but it's my birthday so I can! Ha!}) by Alexis

*funniest/most clever award

Next week...well...we're not quite sure. It'll be a surprise. *grin*

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Judging a Book by its Cover: Michelle's Take

After rereading Jeannie and Alexis’s posts on this book cover business, one thing became clear to me…

Book covers (like books) function and satisfy in a multitude of ways.

Books! Books! So Many Books!
Perhaps that sounds a little like a copped-out response. But, what more could I possibly say on the subject? The passion and the reason have both been addressed by each of my pod partners. Let’s see if I can peel away at the subject from another angle. Romance.

Personally, as book buyers go, I’m beginning to believe I’m a specimen of a dying breed. With sales of e-readers and tablets rising and the doom and gloom of the future of publishing looming overhead (all of this partnered with the supposed empire-altering-power of e-publishing), I’m not sure what to think of the way I buy books -- especially in our current publishing market. Every one I know owns and raves about their Kindle or Nook. I’ve had mine for three years and have (maybe) fifteen books downloaded onto it. (My husband can attest that I have bought near ten times that, annually, in actual books). In my mid-30’s, I’m already one of those people saying stuff like, “Back in my day if I wanted to read a book, I had to flip pages. Actually FLIP pages.” There’s no romance, no nostalgia, in digital files.

I’m nostalgic about books. I like the feel of a book; the look of it in my hand. And even though I know I shouldn’t (in our world of renew, reuse, and recycle)… gods do I love the smell of paper! Both the gluey, inky scent of newly printed as well as the slightly mildewy, dusty odor of pre-owned. (The latter isn’t probably healthy for me, but man, it’s so delicious!) Bottom line, I’m the kind of book buyer who frequents the two big box bookstores in my region (because all the independent stores have since closed). And I visit my local library’s swap bin every three weeks, looking for that gem in the sand. In both cases, I peruse the bindings, cover by cover, and fill my arms until I’ve found the tomes that make the cut.

How do they make the cut?

A lot of it has to do with book covers.

"Which one will give me that come hither look?"
First, I pick up the books that attract me. Books covers are a first impression, after all. You should know that I prefer hardbacks because they look substantial. They make me feel they are dependable. But book covers are ultimately a tall, dark drink of water that one desires to get to know a little better. Often the attractive ones showcase the promise of a twist of darkness, mystery, and high stakes. How do I know? Symbolism, color choices, and enough vagueness to make me feel like there’s a little risk involved. But mostly… I read the back of the book. Then I read the inside jacket-flaps. And finally, I read the first three to five pages. On a rare occasion I’ll consider super-famous-author-X’s one-liner in my decision-making process (if that one-liner is flirty enough, yet transparent enough, to put me at ease). And on an even rarer occasion I’ve been known to “date” a book, see it more than once, or maybe buy it a cup of coffee and fondle it a little before taking it home. But, I digress.

My point? With so many books to read, if I’m not at least mildly intrigued by the premise and the writing before I buy it, I don’t have the time to make a ten to fifteen hour commitment. And my time is precious to me.

But, let’s back up for a second. What is the initial factor that makes me reach for a book?

I had to think hard about this – really hard. As a writer and reader I’d thought this would be a no-brainer. But I found myself stumped. I even talked to my thirteen-year-old niece, a formidable book consumer, because I realized I hadn’t ever thought really hard about why a book cover entices me.

She said to me, “I hate it when books put people’s faces on the front cover.  I don’t want to know how they see the characters. I want to imagine them the way I want to.”

Sound familiar? (see Alexis’s post on Jan 10)

Some of My Favorite YA Covers
So, I went to my YA bookcases (because those are at hand in my dining room) and I quickly hand-selected books that I remembered that I loved the covers of and...something interesting appeared before me.

No faces.

It seems that I, too, don’t like to be told how to imagine a character. I’m an adult after all, and I can decide with whom I want to spend my time. Without you spelling it out to me.

It’s like the whole Harry Potter/Daniel Radcliffe conundrum. After being inundated with the visual bombardment of the movies and media frenzy I can’t -- even in my mind’s eye  -- recall the Harry I imagined and fell in love with when I first read the books. And I felt the same heart-stricken woe Alexis did when Behemoth was released. I totally get it!

A Selection of Other Favorite Covers
So I looked a little harder. I went into my office. I found this goes for my “adult” bookshelves, too. I pulled out some of those. My findings? I lean toward simplicity, suggestion, mood, what feels like originality to me, and above all, promise.

But, wait. Let’s talk Cheetos for a moment. (see Jeannie’s blog on Jan 17)

Yes, those scarily orange crunchy salty empty carbohydrates we pretend not to love but secretly stuff in our underwear drawer and eat in the middle of the night when no one is watching. I’m referring to whatever you find pleasure reading, escapist fiction, genre fiction, A.K.A., pretty much anything that has a clear label on a bookstore shelf and you buy because you expect it to make you think and feel a certain way.) Some of us hide these treats. But, some of us know that the tried and true bag of snack food is meant to be passed along to our friends like a bad case of mono, because we know there’s something so sinful, possibly shameful, and utterly delicious in them. We don’t want to be alone with our guilty pleasures. And because on some deep-seeded level we know eating Cheetos, in the dark, is a one-way path to a lonely addiction. No one wants to be a lonely addict -- we want friends to validate and enable us! After all, only those who drink alone are alcoholics, right? Again, I digress.

What I’m saying is… book covers are at their core, labels. And (as Jeannie said) these are the kinds of labels we as consumers don’t like to be surprised by.

Switch gears. Let’s think about blockbuster films. A vast majority of us would have a bit of a problem if the trailer or poster for the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie promised another swash-buckling pirate adventure but we find these promises are images pulled from flashbacks of previous films. Really the movie is about how Jack Sparrow falls into a time machine that lands him in the year 3027 and he must peril, hopelessly, through a scorched post-apocalyptic earth. In the end, the film is nothing more than Jack walking, endlessly, as he feeds the only stray dog on the planet portions of his own flesh to psychotically hold on to his own humanity. Then, he dies. Most of us would be a little put out. (Though, I admit, if any actor were capable of pulling off that twist, my money's on Johnny).

So what I’m trying to say is… I get it!

Readers like Cheetos. Publishers like Cheetos. Marketing departments like Cheetos. Booksellers love Cheetos! And most importantly… I love Cheetos! Processed, branded book covers are as sure a thing as a nice big bag of Cheetos. Admittedly, I do like a certain amount of risk. But I also relish in the security of knowing I don’t have to take a risk. I can take the safe bet.

So where does that leave me? (With a really long rambling blog entry that basically says what both Jeannie and Alexis already did. So “good on you!” those who have stuck it out this far.) Let me see if I can wrangle this monster of a topic the ground… and put it out of your misery (and mine).

 In the immortal words of Inigo Montoya, "No. There is too much. Let me sum up..."

I collect certain kinds of books for certain reasons. And it’s largely due to the cover. So, in a sense, I collect book covers. I have a growing collection of fine bound books. Collectible books. Many are timeless classic titles in leather, cloth, or are limited release and art cover editions. These books are only about the cover. Personally, I think Folio Society does a great job with moderately affordable fine editions and I love those editions solely for how they look and feel (and smell). They are simple, elegant, and hold the promise of something wonderful between their covers. Then, a couple of years ago, I passed through an airport and spied my first Corelie Bickford-Smith Penguin Edition. It’s the kind of book cover I covet, pet adoringly, and snuggle with at night because it’s an aesthetically pleasing specimen for my book collection whilst being truly affordable. The titles are classics so they're somewhat vetted. But let’s be honest -- owning them is all about the pretty cloth cover.

Then there's the old books. Sometimes they come from used bookshops, thrift stores, libraries, and antique shops. I like those to look like old books should look. Old. Crafted. Lasting. They should look like art pieces that have stood the test of time. And if there's a mysterious inscription on the inside of the cover from someone in the 1880's... awesome!

Timeless, Don't You Think?
In our digital age, buying actual physical books is romantic. It evokes a sort of nostalgia. Book covers are potential lovers and friends. When I buy a book and read it, it then becomes something entirely different. It becomes an artifact from a past relationship. It becomes an experience I’ve had, a memory I’ve collected, a story that evolved me emotionally and/or intellectually in some significant way. It’s not all about a rapid download of information before I move onto the next file. And at the end of my life, I like to imagine I will take comfort knowing when I lose my sight I can put my hands on that artifact, smell it, feel it, and still flip through all those pages.

Book covers evoke a sense of romance. And like any romance, when you take the time to examine it, it can quickly become complicated, layered, and even controversial. Some of us go on blind dates because our friends set us up. Or we have a measure of faith that internet-dating sites do actually weed out some of the undesirables. Not everyone is looking for the same thing. But in the end, I know I will always be a book shopper because I love to scrutinize their covers.

So basically... yeah... what Alexis and Jeannie said.  *grin*

Next week? Something far more interesting and entertaining than this. And shorter. Promise.

Peas Out.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Judging a Book by its Cover: Jeannie's take

Book Covers

First, let me say that I agree with everything Alexis said last week. Publishers will say they want "fresh" material and yet are willing to slap variations of the same cover on dozens of books. Why? The simple answer is because those covers sell. Little will change until those covers stop selling.

Let's step back for a moment and not view a book as a book or covers as art. Let's look at both for what they truly are to publishers: packaging and product.

Think of your favorite snack food. Personally, I like Cheetos--crunchy, twisted, and covered in a neon orange powdery cheese-like substance guaranteed to stain fingers for hours, if not days. I know exactly what I'm going to get when I pick up that orange bag of Cheetos with the grinning, shades-wearing cheetah. It that consistency that appeals to me as a consumer. If we take this same logic and apply it to books, then the reasons for the sameness that Alexis lamented become obvious.

Publishers like to present consistency to readers. They want to send a message that their authors are among the best. The problem is that every publisher is trying to send the same message so when a cover style strikes a chord with readers and sells books, publishers run with it. Unfortunately, this logic creates a sensory overload of sameness after a while. But, as I said, until the sales reflect a significant change in these covers' appeal to readers the Cheetos will stay orange instead of changing to red, green, or blue.

Of course there are other factors that go into the design of a cover, certain conventions based on genre. Take the urban fantasy genre for example. How many female characters (often redheaded women) have you seen wearing leather (regardless of whether or not the character actually wears leather in the book), standing or crouching in partial shadow, and holding a weapon? Probably too many to count. Another trend from a few years ago was to show a female protagonist from the back, never seeing her face, but highlighting the often tribal style tattoo inked on the small of her back. How many of these heroines actually possessed that tattoo? I don't think there were as many as the covers led readers to believe.

Curious bit of trivia... If you pick up a book and aren't sure if it's a paranormal romance or urban fantasy, remember this: if the character on the front cover is female, it's most likely UF but if the character is male and shirtless, it's most likely paranormal romance. Why? I have no idea, but spend some time checking these two genres in your local bookstore. I'm sure you'll find it an interesting experiment. But I digress...

Another reason for the gluttony of similar covers: cost. It's literally cheaper to pull a stock photo from a graphic design file, tweak it a bit, add some eye-catching font for the title and author's name, and limit the color palette to four or five colors for a book that will be printed thousands of times than it is to commission an artist to create a unique work for that same book. That's not to say that it doesn't happen. But think about it. When was the last time you saw the silhouette of a running man on the cover of the thriller and asked yourself if you hadn't seen that same image on a different book from a different author? This also illustrates my point about conventions based on genre. Thrillers have running men. Mysteries often have magnifying glasses. Fantasies will sport dragons, swords, and/or glowing magical objects. These are the Cheetos of the publishing world.

My ultimate point is that there are reasons for the blandness and sameness of covers presented to readers. Do I agree with them? Not always. Do I long for something that's truly new and different? Yes. Do I get excited when I see a cover that is different? Absolutely! Do I pass over potentially outstanding books that unfortunately suffer from an indescribable blandness or an excessive sameness of cover? Yes.

Do I think any of these is likely to change in the foreseeable future? No, and that truly saddens me but as a reader and as a author.

Tune in next week to read Michelle's take. Until then...

Peas out.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Judging a Book by its Cover: Alexis's take

Book Covers

These two simple words inspire a passion of opinion and eagerness to discuss that you'll rarely see from me. Maybe it's my graphic design background, or my creative spirit. But honestly, I think it's just common sense -- aesthetically speaking -- regardless of my profession or hobbies.

It's been hammered into our skulls to "never judge a book by its cover" and as true as that is {for there are several books I absolutely loved which I refused to read in public without first taking off the dust cover and hiding that sucker} they have the saying for a reason. Because we do judge books by their covers. If we didn't, the publishers wouldn't spend so much time and money on cover art and artists to begin with. Covers matter. Plain and simple. They're signposts to the masses, beacons to individuals, tiny billboards working hard to get your attention.

But like billboards, and anything in advertising, not all covers are equal. {Why else would vanity presses and special edition covers do so well?} If the book's cover doesn't grab you, you won't grab the book. It gets passed by. Worse, if the cover turns you away, well... the book is being turned away as well.

Now, I'm not saying that the cover will make or break a book {my experience with Westerfeld's Leviathan/ Behemoth/ Goliath hardcover-dustjacket-redesign-midway-through-the-series-debacle is proof of that}... {I'll get to that later... possibly*}. I believe the title holds a fair percent of the initial pull, your loyalty to a story or author is another consideration, and then, if those things do their job, the back cover copy and the inside flap.

What I'm saying is that book covers get the coveted "first impression" moment. And for a reader {well, a reader like me... and most of the readers I know} that's a big moment.

The problem, lately, especially in YA, is that I'm starting to get a lot of bad first impressions. I'm being turned away. The publishers, who think they've hit gold plastering actual photos of actual people who may or may not look anything like the actual characters or have anything to do with the actual story, are instantly turning away an entire set of customers; those who hate to have images planted in our minds for us {hence why we read the books before we see the movies -- though "movie versions" of book covers are not my target}. It's almost insulting. We, the readers, the cultivators of imagination, are being told how we should imagine. We are, essentially, having to take creative direction on our own creativity.

Where before I'd be drawn to a beautiful, interesting, or original cover -- something that evoked the feel of the book and drew me in {which I have always prided the YA genre as doing} and maybe even inspired me as an artist -- I'm now overwhelmed, dismayed, and put off by the ceaseless sameness that seems to have pervaded the shelves. I skip entire sections... because they're all the same cover. Just a different title. Maybe a different shade of black or a different splash of color {I'm starting to wonder if maybe there's a shortage in cover artists and the YA publishers are just sharing the same person}.

So we have a problem. Luckily, there's a solution. {No, my suggested solution will never be "just switch to digital books and ignore the covers entirely," thankyouverymuch}.

Publishers need to stop regurgitating designs because they're afraid to take risks, constantly going to what's "safe" and what's "working"-- terms I've found they really enjoy. For one, there's no growth in that. Sure, it's working. For now. Just like Twilight-inspired wanna-be stories are "working." {Forgive me for the reference. I feel nauseous using it}. But eventually, safe becomes same and the market over-saturates. At that point, everything becomes a fad. There's no art in that.

Now, I'm not published. But one day I will be. And I certainly don't want the book cover equivalent of 80's hair or parachute pants holding a place of honor on my bookshelf -- with my name on it. I want a reflection of my work and thus a reflection of myself. How can you do anything but be original in your cover design if you focus on the individual in that way? If you stay true to the art? Art is risk. Art is outer expression of the inner. Art is rebellion against sameness and embracing the unique and creative. And book covers are art.

So for the love of the written word... somebody tell those publishers to let their artists create art again.

*for my opinion on this, visit the comments {I'm like, the 12th post. My "name" is Alexis} of a great little article I read the other day about book covers in YA (paranormal romance)... CLICK HERE :)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Pick a Pea: Michelle - Advice, Playgrounds, and an Invisible Giraffe Named Pete

Happy New Year from the Ninja Peas...


     We have an exciting year of blog topics, interviews, and games planned for you in 2012. Thanks for sticking it out in 2011 as we got our feet wet and hands dirty in this new joint blogging effort. We hope it's been as fun for you as it has for us. As we continue on this strange, random, and sometimes amusing journey, we look forward to sharing it with all our loyal readers (and maybe we'll gather a few some new ones along the way). Thanks for showing up! We'll continue to try to make it worth your while.

     Since we're spending the next week or two reconfiguring the blog schedule for the new year,  here's an old post from an old blog of mine to pass the time. I hope you enjoy.

     Until next week...

 Advice, Playgrounds, and an Invisible Giraffe Named Pete
(originally posted 3/3/11 at Under the Influence)

     I’ve heard a lot of advice about writing and the road to “authordom.” I listen to a lot, ignore a little, and manipulate the rest to suit my needs. But the truest and most helpful piece of advice I’ve ever heard was: surround yourself with the people you most want to be like.

     Seems like a no-brainer, right? I want to write and publish books. Therefore, I must surround myself with people who write and publish books. It’s easy in theory but when you spend too much time over-thinking it--like me--it becomes a little more difficult to execute.

     I should tell you that this one tiny piece of advice altered my worldview. (I know! Drastic, huh?) But when I finally understood it, I figured out what the difference between wanting to become a writer and becoming a writer meant. It’s kind of like recess in grade school. Wannabes stand on the outskirts and say, “I can do that!", "He’s doing it wrong!", "Oh, maybe I can’t do that after all...", "Maybe I’m not good enough.” But the real deals? Those are the kids that stop watching, stop over-thinking and jump into the mix, take risks, scrape their knees, and make grandiose plans for tomorrow’s recess.

     When I realized this, my first thought was, “Where do I find these people?” My second thought was, “Oh, crap! This is going to require me talking to people I don’t know.”

     Suddenly, it sounded like the worst advice I’d ever heard.

     Why? I hated recess. I was the kid sitting on the wall, alone, mumbling to myself while the other kids picked teams, made alliances, and subsequently turned on each other like rabid dogs during the chaos of an impromptu tether ball tournament organized by an eleven-year-old third grader named Spike. ::shudder:: Scary.

     Even as an adult I find social interactions stressful, difficult, and (often times) downright terrifying. One on one, I’m not too bad. But get me in a room full of people without a 12-pack of beer and I’m a wreck (and with the 12-pack, I’m a sloppy drunk. It’s a lose-lose situation). Being around people, interacting with them, well, it’s not my first choice of how to spend my day. I’d much rather write, read, or pluck the cat hair out of my living room rug. Those activities are safe--because there’s no risk of humiliation involved (until you post it in a blog or tweet it, but that’s a subject for another day). These activities require no filters between my brain and my mouth. Therefore, my blood pressure stays nice and low. I acknowledge that this sounds antisocial and completely mad. Well, that’s because it is. But I like it that way. I’m stress-free that way. (Now whether or not it’s good for me psychologically? That’s for a therapist to figure out.)

     What am I getting at? I’ve been an introvert since birth--it's true (and somewhat ironic). I was the little loner girl who had imaginary friends (yes, plural) that lived in the many nooks and crannies of the attic, the basement, and backyard. Various gnomes, fairies, unicorns, and a giraffe named Pete kept me company and kept my family in a constant state of confusion (especially when I insisted, night after night, that thirty-six extra place settings were required at the dinner table). My imagination has been my best friend these last three-plus decades, and it has never failed me, smacked me in the head and dubbed me the kooties-monster, or knocked over my science fair project whilst laughing maniacally. I embrace my propensity toward introversion and I believe most writers do to some extent. It’s why writers, especially fiction writers, acknowledge the voices of their adult imaginations without fear or a self-misdiagnosis of schizophrenia via Web M.D.

     My point? Surrounding myself with the people I most want to be like has been, and continues to be, the most difficult--yet rewarding--step I’ve made as a writer. It means putting myself out there in workshops, at conferences, and into conversations with people I don’t know. But the thing I didn’t acknowledge before is: these are my people (and they probably also have...um...had imaginary friends). These people just happened to realize, before I did, that you don’t get picked for a team if you don’t stand in line. Since then, I’ve made myself get off the wall--even when the bile rises in my throat because I think I’m going to say something stupid and everyone on the playground will think I’m weird and laugh at me. It’s right then that I force myself in line. And, in line, I get to hear the stories of the people who have been on the road to “authordom” (or in some cases paved the road to “authordom”) and who have traveled it with success and failure. Their stories make the whole game seem a little less scary. I get to learn from those who know the game. I endeavor to build friendships with them. They tell me how to best appease Spike. And I don’t feel that stab of loneliness when I realize I’ve been talking to a fourteen-foot tall invisible giraffe named Pete.

     Don’t misunderstand; people still terrify me. And I still love Pete. But the thing is, on the playground, the kids are playing the same game I want to play. And they're damn good at it. I want to be like them so why wouldn’t I jump in the middle of it all? The best advice is the advice that puts me on the right playground, with the right kids, and in the right game. And on this playground I hear all the best advice about game rules and improving my skills. That means I’m one step closer to finally getting picked.