Charleston’s Snazzy French Quarter

currently playing on my iPod: Three Women by Jack White

I spent part of last week in Charleston, South Carolina’s French Quarter. It is a delicious place to visit. Cobblestone streets, crowded graveyards, old churches, and really, really brightly painted houses turn a sweltering July day into a pastry shop for the eyeballs. (Um. Yeah. I shouldn’t write metaphors before coffee.)

One spot I liked was The Pink House. In 1712, it was a tavern. Now, it’s an art gallery. Perfect. With its Bermuda stone, pink walls and creepy-looking gambrel roof, it just looks like a story waiting to happen.


And here’s the Huguenots’ church. (Just so you know, Huguenots are a specific kind of French Protestant, who were kicked to the curb by Louis XIV.) The Huguenots have had a church in this beautiful place since 1680ish. A fire and a re-do later, they have the one pictured below, built in 1844. They still use it as official Huguenots. And they make sure it still looks like a big, ole wedding cake. As one does. It used to be called “the tidal church” because the much of the congregation (some of which were Norman and Carolingian nobles) owned and worked on inland rice plantations. They had to rely on the tides to boat to services in Charleston. The service times reflect tide timing.


Another cool thing about the French Quarter is the cemeteries. Call me macabre, but you can learn a lot of history from tombstones. Dates. Names. Family connections, Artistic styling. Current residents and their ties to those in the ground. It is fascinating. The cemetery near the church holds the remains of many French nobles as well as Henry Brintell Bounetheau, a miniature portrait painter who created likenesses of William Ravenel (whose name you see everywhere in Charleston) and Nathanael Greene (google it–you should know this name).


Charleston’s French Quarter surprised me with its color and history. I had no idea what I was getting into as I left that BBQ brewery and headed down its streets. I hope you get a chance to visit someday.


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Don’t Forget the Fight in Your Write


currently playing on my iPod: Crash Land by Twin Atlantic

On Saturday, I led a workshop for the RWA’s Nashville chapter on writing fight scenes. It was a fun meeting complete with hair-grabbing, knees, and numerous references to Katniss and Kit Harington. Needless to say, fun was had.

A few participants requested I post the gist of my workshop, so here goes.

Writers, when you shape a fight scene, or any kind of altercation, there are three major things to consider.

1. Your Character’s Childhood Mental and Physical Attributes/Experiences

-Were they abused? Do they have triggers that could make them pause or freeze or lose control in a confrontation?

-Are they active? Are they playing sports or training in ways that will show lifelong improvement in their hand-eye coordination and reflexes and speed?

-Have they seen death and pain? How did it affect them?

2. Your Character’s Near Past and Present Mental and Physical Attributes/Experiences

-Are they currently injured? Do they have an old injury that could be a problem? Are they well-rested, fed and watered?

-What are the stakes? What is motivating them in this fight?

-Who is nearby? Their children? No one? More enemies? Help on the way?

-Have they been hit before this fight? Have they been training? People who’ve never been hit, will most likely crumble into a worthless ball at the first real strike. If your character won’t be doing that, you better prep the readers with a specific upbringing or past event to make it believable.

-What is their weight/size compared to the antagonist? No matter your training, size matters.

-How long have they waited for this confrontation? One hour? A lifetime? They just popped out of the closet like Woah?

-Who are they fighting? Evil-faced bad guy? Mom?

3. Setting

-Ground is important. If it’s steady and strong, you can use it to push off from and kick harder. If it’s slick, you won’t land a strike as easily. It hurts to fall on hard surfaces–wrists are broken, elbows injured.

-Weather can play a role. Wind can kick up dirt into eyes. Rain can keep your character from hearing the bad guy’s approach. Heat can drain and slow reaction time.

-Obstacles create opportunities and dangers. If a table sits near the fight, a character can grab another by the back of the head and slam him into a corner. Fight over. Or they could trip over said table. People are obstacles too. If your character wishes to protect them, it changes the fight, the angle, the emotion involved in every little decision in the scene.

-Weapons are everywhere. Your character may be trained in the fine art of invisible swords by purple sparkly dragons, but if Senõr Angry grabs the fire poker, the fight might not go so fantastically. Where walls meet, there are corners great for smashing people into. (Don’t bother me about that sentence. I’m in GRRR mode.) Even the innocent looking Febreeze bottle in your contemporary story could do serious damage to the bridge of a nose. Be creative. *rubs hands together with evil grin*

-Lighting changes things. If it’s dark, dude with the glasses might become your character’s best ally. He has better hearing than everyone else. If your character is trained and knows body mechanics, he will have a better guess as to where the next strike is headed when that lightning blows the electricity at exactly the wrong moment. Smell is important when your character can’t see well. People who have been running after someone, smell strongly like sweat. Maybe bad guy stinks like tobacco or that alien reeks of moon rock algae. Your character might locate them just listening to her nose. ; )

All in all, fight scenes are complicated. Just like real life. Fights are messy. Even when people are highly trained. I’ve worked with professional fighters who train multiple times daily and when they step into the cage, punches sometimes slip. They fall. They are human and they err.

Remember when you’re writing a fight scene, stick with concrete actions. Mick hit Othello and the bigger man went down. Not Mick’s elbow soared through the air like a spear I saw once on a trip to the Egyptian flea market. Give your reader short sentences to keep up the pace. Don’t give them a blow by blow. Only I would want to read it because I’m obsessed. And lastly, make certain to give readers a line here and there to tell us where everyone is. They need some blocking to keep the picture in their heads and not become dizzy.

So get out there and write your fight scene, champ. May the bodies hit the floor.

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Don’t Forget the Music: Tunes for Writing and Other Passionate Endeavors

Photo on 4-9-14 at 9.47 AM

currently playing on my iPod: And If My Heart Should Somehow Stop by James McMorrow

Every once in a while, I focus on some tunes that get me writing. Hopefully, these musical posts give other authors new muses and gift my non-writer pals with something fun/scary/relaxing to enjoy.

Twin Atlantic is an up and comer (in the US market anyway) rock/indie band from Scotland. I’m obsessed. The accent. The raw emotion. The energy. Try out their song Free and maybe Crash Land.  Rock/Indie. Gut-wrencher lyrics. Good for emotionally tortured characters.

Elephant Revival blends floating, raspy vocals with mind-blowing skills on a bucket of different instruments. (Can you tell I’m not a musician? I know zero. I just appreciate!) Play their songs Ancient Sea and Breathe. You won’t regret it. Sometimes instrumental. Folksy. Atmospheric. 

Flight Facilities brings club music. I won’t apologize for its obnoxious nature. That’s why I sometimes love it. Why I need it. This stuff will pump you up and get your fingers flying. Take their Crave You (Adventure Club Remix) out for a spin. Clubby, but mysterious. Sexy.

Ioanna Gika‘s Gone is music from history. After she allows a cool old guy to sing a bit, she takes over with the voice of a Celtic goddess. Haunting. Thought-provoking. Vocal.

The Glitch Mob recently released a new album. I love their older stuff. The song Fortune Days intrigues me and I’m not entirely sure why. I’m guessing… Sexy. Strong. Mysterious.

So there you go. Music as muse. Enjoy! Happy Tuesday!

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Blur the Line Between Fiction and Non

currently playing on my iPod: Romany Dagger by All Them Witches


Recently, I picked up a pack of repro 16th century French playing cards at the Renaissance Faire (Whatever. It’s completely rad. If you don’t think so, you haven’t been.) and was reminded of how important it is for writers, actors, and illustrators to blur the line between fiction and non fiction.

Between real and not real.

With those cards in my hands—all sharp edges, matte faces, and one-dimensional artistry—I was one step closer to knowing what it was to play a hand way back when.

If you need some inspiration, the museum is a great place to get your hands on objects that hail from days past and/or cultures far away. If you can’t touch the actual Lewis chessman, buy a repro. Run your fingers over his curled beard and carved throne. You should leave the paintings fingerprint-free, but you can take home a postcard (so cheap!) of the piece to remind yourself of that one deep red color you hadn’t expected to see.



Step into the world you’re trying to create. Wear jewelry reminiscent of your world. Listen to their instruments. The internet is busting with people playing ancient ouds and fantastic horns we never produce these days. Lie on your back and close your eyes and feel the earth under you. Imagine sleeping on it, if that’s what your characters would do.


I’m currently working on a YA middle eastern fantasy, inspired by the Mamluk Sultanate of Cairo and the Jewish agriculturalists that were conquered. I was lucky enough to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC and get my eyes on turkish blades and a seal with both Hebrew and Arabic inscriptions. On their site, you can check these items out along with a carnelian ring set in silver from nearby Iran. It’s everything to a fantasy writer. I can fully develop their world—weapons, jewelry, language—with the help of real objects.


Blur that line between fiction and non, and your writing will blossom.

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Writing Advice You Should Ignore

currently playing on my iPod: The Wrestle by Frightened Rabbit 

Last week at Nashville’s Parnassus Books, Fierce Reads authors, Marie Rutkowski, Anna Banks, Lindsay Smith, and Katie Finn, doled out some advice they think writers should ignore.

Since you have a very busy day, I’ll sum up and paraphrase below.

1. Most of the world says, “Don’t drink and write.”

In between Sasquatch jokes, Anna said writers should. But stick to coffee. Preferably Starbucks.

2. Most of the world says, “Plan, plan, plan.”

Lindsay Smith told us to keep the end in mind, but allow your path to wander on its way there.

3. Most of the world says, “Kill your darlings.”

Tsking, Marie Rutkowski informed writers they should nurture their darlings. After all, if said scene or line excites you, it may please your readers as well.

4. The world says, “Write every day.”

Katie Finn informed us that writers should take days off sometimes to reenergize, but when writing, should indeed set a word count goal or not get up until a scene is complete. “Get to the end of the hallway and see what’s there,” she said. She claimed it will get you back in the writing chair faster the next day.

Writers, ignore some of that advice so freely given around the Interwebs. Follow your gut and enjoy the journey to the completed manuscript. If you don’t, your readers will suffer right along with you.

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Don’t Miss Living Your 16YO Self’s Dream

currently playing on my iPod: Architect by Frightened Rabbit

A fellow SCBWI Midsouth member (it’s a writing group that wows globally and I fully intend to continue boasting about being a part of it) recently shared a video about living the life he dreamed about at sixteen years of age.

It’s in Paris, people.

And there is painting and an amazing art supply store and bridges and PARIS!!!

Trust me. You’ll love this.

Are you donning your imaginary beret? HERE IT IS.

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Top Five Things NOT to Do in Europe

currently playing on my iPod: Mistaken for Strangers by The National

After gallivanting about the Old World, I have a handful of advice. Take it or leave.

But know this.

If you leave it, you might just make a sweet tween in Salzburg cry his baby blues out.

1. Don’t schedule the heck out of your visit.

*Leave big open holes for wandering. These times are forever my FAVORITES and they were totally unplanned.

*It will stress you out and you’ll forget you’re on vacation. And that’s just lame. You paid big money for this. Enjoy it, dammit.

2. Don’t reserve picture-taking to the biggies like the Eiffel Tower or the castle on the hill.

*The photos I’ve worn out with looking are shots of doorknobs in Paris, cobblestones in Edinburgh, and the flowers in a graveyard near Zell Am See, Austria.

3. Don’t order safe stuff from the menu.

*Be daring. Bring Immodium and Tums, for the love of God, but order brave. Try that dish that has you wondering what part of the animal that actually is. Bring on that tureen of brightly colored somethingorother. Travel is about stories. And that lame-o chicken dish isn’t going to swing it.

4. Don’t stick to one transportation choice.

*Ride a train through the Alps. It’s gingerbread houses and weird door handles on the compartments and the excitement of wondering if you’ve boarded the right one. Hop onto a trolley. Brave a foreign cab. Rent a car. Yes. Rent a car. Learn to drive on the other side of the road as you attempt to understand Scottish road signs. Fear death as you zip through a head-high field of wheat and down a road not wide enough to be one lane but meant to deal with two-way traffic. Stories, people. It’s all about the stories.

5. And here we come to the poor young fellow in Salzburg. Don’t jump to conclusions.

*People in other countries do things differently. It seems common sense, but I’ve heard many tales (not the kind you want to tell) of tourists being rude to natives. I lived one. Where I’m from, if you stare too long at someone, it can be construed as aggression. Especially if the situation tangles with your less than awesome German. FAR LESS. To sum up, said boy only wanted to talk skiing, not insult me. So open your eyes, don’t assume the worst, guess the best, and attempt to respect the area’s culture and its people. When you do that, you might just befriend an Irish barkeep working near the Salzach River. You might find the best local spot for good eats. You might find yourself at an eighties themed nightclub with the nicest group of people you could ever hope to meet.

Bon Voyage!

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