Thursday, May 31, 2018

Questions from a Brave and Stupid Man to a Panel of Women Writers #2: Pseudonyms

Being a white man, I willingly acknowledge I have blind spots, things that while they don't register to me like they perhaps should are things well worth my time and thought and important for me to know and understand in order to a member of a community of diverse writers.

That said, I've assembled an all-female panel of writers to be my teachers.

In the previous discussion someone brought up the issue of using a pen name. I figured we could go deeper into that issue this time.

This is #2 in a series of articles. The first can be found here, and the third here

So, today's discussion is this:

Do you find using a pseudonym helpful or a waste of time? Does it matter if you choose one that can be vague as to the gender or can a male one still open doors better than a female name? Or is it a genre specific issue?

Nikki Nelson-Hicks: I wrote it. I want my name on it. But that's my decision. I know people who use a pen name because they don't want their families to know about their work or they have a professional reputation to safeguard. I'm lucky that I don't have anything like that to hide from. I wrote it. That's my name. Deal with it.

Alexandra Christian: I started using a pen name because I was writing steamy romance while teaching 2nd grade. Apparently women are still supposed to be sexless schoolmarms. I write across a few genres, but I haven’t felt the need to come up with new pen names just yet. Or maybe all my writing is inherently sexual.

Ellie Raine: I've heard a lot of women use male pen names to get more sales in certain genres (and men using female pen names for romance) and it sucks that it continually gets them results. I choose to use my female name despite the genre I write because I would rather help break society's expectations of which genders "writer better (you name it) books". I don't know if anything will change from it, but I'd rather not feed the poison and keep the cycle of these assumptions going. The only way minds will be changed is if they consistently SEE that any gender can write any genre well.

Alexandra Christian: I’ve never gotten an agent, but I queried one book a lot and was pretty much told that my book was too sexy for sci-fi and too sci-fi for romance. I often wonder if I’d queried as a nonspecific pen name if I’d have had more success.

Ellie Raine: I had one agent tell me mine was too paranormal and not epic fantasy enough, and another tell me it was too epic fantasy and not paranormal enough. Funny how no one can seem to place these things... I never considered it may be because of the female/male dynamic, but it would be interesting to know if that was a factor.

Lucy Blue: My first publication was a collaboration with another writer, so we came up with a pen name together -- Anne Hathaway-Nayne. (And yes, it was a joke, sort of - we were writing a tie-in for Forever Knight, and Shakespeare was a character.) Then for my first solo publication with Pocket Books, I used a version of my real name, Jayel Wylie (my actual birth name is Jessica Leslie Wylie, which got shortened to JL, which my mother spelled out as Jayel), and I did three book with them under that name. Then my editor asked me to go in a slightly steamier and more fang-y direction with my next book and told me going in I was looking at one of those oh-so-popular torso covers. Because I wanted to write that book but I didn't necessarily want to always write that kind of book forever, I started using Lucy Blue. And that has since become a brand for me as a romance writer. But I'm still not sure if I'll use Lucy Blue or my real name if I do a non-romance book - it's an issue that I'm hoping is going to come up sometime in the next year, and I'll be open to input from my publisher about it then. And yeah, the idea has crossed my mind of being "J.L. Glanville" instead of "Jessica Glanville" because it's gender-neutral. But my writing, romantic or not, is so very woman-centric, I don't think I'd be fooling anybody.

Stephanie Osborn: I wrote one pure romance novel under a pen name, years ago. It didn't sell to a traditional publisher (mostly because said publisher lost it), so I threw it up indie, and occasionally it sells a copy or two.

For my SF, mystery, and popular science, I use my own name. Sometimes I kinda wish I'd used initials or something, 'cause then the SF might sell better, I sometimes think. But hey, it is what it is. I might try initials one of these days with a new series or something, just to see what happens.

Anna Grace Carpenter: I originally started using my initials because folks in real life seemed to have so much trouble remembering my given name and I was genuinely worried that folks would not be able to find my books on the shelf because they would be looking for Mary Grace or Sarah Jane instead of Anna Grace. (Of course, a couple years after I'd started selling short stories, I asked someone to look at a story that kept getting to the final round on the editors desks and then rejected. I sent him the submission formatted copy which had my real name and contact info on the first page. In his return comments the first thing he said was "I think you shouldn't use your real name because it's really too sweet for someone writing zombie stories." So the bias is definitely real.) I do introduce myself by my actual name and not my author name because my intention is not to hide anything, but I'm not rebranding my work at this point unless it's in a drastically different genre.

Nancy Hansen: I've always written under my own name because I'm proud of what I do, and so is my very supportive family. I figure an entire legion of women labored in obscurity before me, having to hide their identity to get recognized for their outstanding work in speculative and genre fiction, and I owe it to them to celebrate the freedom to be myself.

Herika Raymer: To be truthful, I am most likely still considered new to the field. Mostly because, as yet, I have not encountered any preconceptions about my name -- possibly because of how it is spelled. No one wants to 'offend' me (LOL).But I have to agree, if I wrote it I would prefer my name on it. Then again, there are times when I have considered a pen name simply because of my mundane life. Sometimes what you write should not cross over with your mundane identity. (wink wink)

Elizabeth Donald: People were always surprised that I wrote fiction under my own name, which is the same name I use for my 21 years of journalism. They acted like it would negatively impact my reputation as a journalist, but I didn't write anything I would be ashamed of, and quite frankly, most of my day-job colleagues and sources were supportive or amused. I got a little light teasing for writing romance, but nothing like the negative reactions I saw in the horror/SF world for writing romance and ebooks.

Yes, ebooks. I'm old, so my first couple of books came out in the infancy of ebooks, even pre-Kindle. People said, "I'll wait for the real book," and I couldn't use the ebooks as credits. One con even rewrote my submitted bio to call me an aspiring author. And I've spoken before about the negative reaction to paranormal romance encroaching in horror and SF, being dismissed as "vamporn," difficulty getting on horror panels and being stuck on the midnight sex panel - and the eternal, "So why are vampires so sexy?" panel. (I've started requesting NOT to be on those panels, because it was so tedious to say the same things at the same panels every single time.)

Eventually I vowed that if I would ever write more romance, it would be under a pen name and it would not be open. I found it sadly ironic that while the expectation was "romance will hurt your journalism career," it was really "writing romance means no one will take you seriously as a horror writer." It was not what I expected. Cynical colleagues said it was purely a gender thing: romance is a "woman's genre," and thus it was acceptable as long as I didn't venture into the boys' club - that the negative response of horror/SF to romance was really a negative response to women authors. I like to think that they're wrong, but I haven't found solid evidence yet.

I liked writing romance. It made me a better writer in ways that I could detail if I wasn't already far afield of Sean's question. I didn't like some of the genre's "rules," and I didn't fit in very well to readers' expectations. But in the end, I needed to jettison it from my own name in order to rebuild my brand - and to this day, 11 years after writing my last romance under my name, people who are even good friends and longtime readers will introduce me as, "This is Elizabeth Donald, she writes vampire smut." Sigh...

Amanda Niehaus-Hard: I wrote under diferent names for accounting purposes and to separate out some sections of my life from others. When I started out, I was told that sometimes a romance or women's fic publishing house will want to keep your romance "name" separate from other fiction you might write, but I'm not sure that's accurate these days. Someone recently pointed out to me that tenure-track teaching positions usually require some kind of regular publishing credentials and using a different name might complicate things. Again, no idea if that's true but I'm rolling out all new work under one of two iterations of my legal name, which is associated with my university and hopefully any future teaching I might do.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Nugget #134 -- Foundations Need Walls

 Story narrative is based in what characters see and 
 hear. There’s almost no way around that. Those are 
 the foundations on which you build the frame. And 
 that’s okay. But remember, nobody lives on just the 
slab. You actually have to put up walls.

By Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas or alternatively © CEphoto, Uwe Aranas,
CC BY-SA 3.0,

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

[Link] How to Develop the Theme of Your Story

by Jerry Jenkins

Without a deeper meaning than just its plot, your story remains a shell of what it could be.

A story with a theme answers, what does this mean?

That’s the kind of a story that resonates with readers and stays with them.

Getting Started: What Is Theme?

Plot is what happens Theme is why it happens. Why you’re telling this story. It’s the message you want readers to take away.

In fact, I urge you to determine why you want to tell a story before you even begin. Know why you’re writing what you’re writing. Don’t just write to write. That’s not a good enough reason to be a writer. Write because you have something to say.

Ask yourself:

What will this story teach my reader about life?

If you write to merely entertain, don’t expect your stuff to be memorable.
Clear Theme Examples

  • Aesop’s Fable "The Tortoise and the Hare" (The danger of overconfidence)
  • George Orwell’s 1984 (The beauty of individual freedom and the danger of absolute power)
  • Lord of the Rings by J.R.R.Tolkien (Love and mercy overcome evil)
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (Endurance and perseverance know no age)
  • "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry (The timeless beauty of sacrificial love)
  • The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (The dearest things to us are often found at home)

Allowing Theme to Speak for Itself

Resist the urge to explicitly state your theme in the story. That may have worked in a quaint way with Dorothy at the end of The Wizard of Oz, but readers today don’t need the theme writ large. Tell your story and it should explore your theme and make its own point.

Readers are smart.

Subtly weave your theme into a story and trust readers to get it. Don’t rob them of the experience.

Read the full article:

Monday, May 28, 2018

#MotivationalMondays -- Don't Forget The Hows

by Andrea Judy

I'm a hardcore goal setter. I love planners, my bullet journal, and the feel of the perfect pen in my hand. I can write out every task I have, check them off and keep on rolling. I see what I want and I mark it out on my calendar of when I want to accomplish it by. There's just one problem... I don't make myself a roadmap on getting there.

See I'm great at the what and the when. I know what I want and know when I want it by but I don't put together the how. So, I want to submit a short story for an anthology and their deadline is Feb. 28. I want to send in a story. I know that I need to have it finished early enough to get edited so I plan to have a draft done by the end of Jan. to give me time to get a beta reader (or two) and get edits in.

I plan to submit my story by Feb. 20 so I have some wiggle room in my timeline if something gets thrown out of whack or a beta reader takes a little long to get back to me. That's awesome. It's great to have that laid out on my color coordinated planner. But what that plan doesn't take into account is how am I going to get that story written?

Read the full article:

Sunday, May 27, 2018

[Link] After decades of dwarfs and elves, writers of color redefine fantasy

by Donna Bryson

For decades, the field of fantasy books was dominated by white men penning tales about dwarfs, elves, and other Norse-based mythology. Today, that’s changing as diverse writers are bringing fresh voices to the field, incorporating the myths and legends of cultures around the world. “People have been trying to do this for decades,” says author Tomi Adeyemi. “It’s just that enough people have broken down the doors over the decades that we’re where we are now.” Certainly, speculative fiction writers since at least Octavia Butler, the first science fiction writer to win a MacArthur Grant, have looked beyond Europe for inspiration. But no longer can they be dismissed as niche. From the $1 billion-plus box-office take of “Black Panther,” directed by Ryan Coogler, to the success of Ms. Adeyami's breakout debut, “Children of Blood and Bone,” audiences and readers are flocking to well-drawn worlds inspired by African and Asian countries. As one science fiction professor says, “We are not the field that thinks that what white men say is the only way to say things."

N.K. Jemisin, the first black writer to win the Hugo Award for best novel, packs a powerful idea into a few lines of dialogue in “The Fifth Season,” in which an otherworldly woman’s search for her daughter resonates with the emotions of African-Americans after the Civil War desperate to reunite families ravaged by slavery.

“There’s a hole, a gap,” Ms. Jemisin writes. “In history.”

History suffers when perspectives are left out, Jemisin points out. The same may be said of literature. After decades of dwarves, elves, and other Norse-based mythology, the world of fantasy is changing, incorporating the myths and legends of cultures around the world.

While the field was largely dominated by white men in decades past, today diverse writers are bringing new voices to the conversation, imagining futures based on more inclusive readings of the past, and creating multiethnic worlds that can help people understand their own. Certainly, speculative fiction writers since at least Octavia Butler – the first science-fiction writer to win a MacArthur grant – have looked beyond Europe for inspiration. But no longer can they be dismissed as niche. From the $1 billion-plus box office of “Black Panther,” directed by Ryan Coogler, to this spring’s breakout debut novel, “Children of Blood and Bone,” by Nigerian-American author Tomi Adeyemi, audiences and readers are flocking to well-drawn worlds inspired by African and Asian countries.

“People have been trying to do this for decades,” says Ms. Adeyemi, acknowledging those who laid the foundation. “It’s just that enough people have broken down the doors over the decades that we’re where we are now.”

Read the full article:

Saturday, May 26, 2018

14 Paying Anthology Markets for Spring 2018

The competition may be stiff for some of the well known anthologies, but getting one of your short stories published can open up numerous other publishing opportunities for you, including book deals. But that does not mean you should skim over the lesser known anthologies. There are just as many benefits to publishing in the lesser knowns and it gives you the experience you need to realize that you can be and are a successful writer.To improve your chances of success, always follow the submission guidelines. Make certain that you are formatting your stories correctly, stay within the word counts, and spruce up your cover letter. You want your story to be read and not rejected on a minor technicality. – Elizabeth Yetter

Click for the full listing:

Friday, May 25, 2018

[Link] Bombshells and Bae: Sexism in Afrofuturism

by Balogun Ojetade

I love reading and writing Afrofuturistic and Afroretroistic stories – particularly science fiction, fantasy and horror featuring larger than life heroes and sheroes and eye-popping action. I really do. But I am growing increasingly disgusted by the sexism within a lot of it. I can no longer read books in which people of color and women are constantly oppressed and seen as lesser beings in a world based on fantasy and science fiction – even if WE are the authors of it.

Lately – as the father of seven daughters who are all avid readers of Afrofuturism and Afroretroism – I have become particularly disgusted with the continuing sexism in the writing and in the visual art.

Writers, you can create a world with any rules you choose. In your world, you don’t have to continue to perpetuate the sexist tropes so prevalent in Fantasy and Science Fiction since its inception.

Are you that lacking in creativity that you cannot write something better? Are you that apathetic to the plight of our Sisters? Or have you convinced yourself you have to maintain some sexist status quo to sell?

Bruh. Do better.

Certain tropes have been formed and propagated. Given the overwhelming number of novels set in a sort of idealized, white, medieval Europe; given the grossly oversimplified and homogenized concept of medieval gender roles, stereotypes and sexist archetypes have arisen in Fantasy and Science Fiction and Black male writers are giving us the same old trite bullshit. Some examples of these played out, tired tropes are...

Read the full article:

Thursday, May 24, 2018

To Your Health, Writer! -- #2 Ergonomic Workspaces

Ashly Mixon, the Nerdapist
With Ashly Mixon
(The "Nerdapist")

It's time for another visit with the local Nerdapist, our physical/exercise therapist for writers, geeks, nerds, gamers and the rest of us who spend way too much time in front of computer screens. And thanks again to Ashly for looking out for our muscular health.

If you have a question you'd like to pose to Ashly, just email me, and I'll be sure to put it in the queue.

Now, let's get on with this visit. The Nerapist is in.

What should a writer look for in an office chair?

Vertical Mouse
What tends to happen is the desk is too high and the chair and computer are too low, so you're looking down, hunched forward with your shoulders up to your ears, and you do this every day then come to me with your hands on top of your shoulders and say, "This is where I carry my stress."

Uh, yeah - physical stress! We've regressed to caveman posture, yet wonder why our upper back, neck and shoulders hurt.

Ideally what we want to see are nice 90-degree angles at the elbows, hips, and knees while the spine is upright. Here are some tips to help make your workspace more ergonomic in order to reduce the amount of stress on your body:

1. Starting with the head and neck, I recommend having your monitor straight ahead of you in order to prevent you from having to look down for a long period of time. Your head is quite heavy, and while your anterior neck muscles flex to bring your head forward and/or look down, the muscles in the back of the neck and upper back must extend and fight gravity to keep that bowling ball of a cranium you've got from hanging, which puts a tremendous amount of stress on those muscles. Reduce that stress by finding a way to have your monitor at eye-level.

2. Another thing that can help is a small pillow at the back of your neck. This will assist in keeping your head back while supporting the lordotic curve in your cervical spine. Some ergonomic high-back chairs come with said pillow, as well as one to support your lumbar spine in the same way. I'm a big fan of these chairs! The really good ones also have adjustable armrests, which help prevent elevated shoulders.
Gaming Chair

3. Another item I'm a big fan of for anyone who uses a computer is the vertical mouse. A typical mouse, as well as the pad on your laptop, isn't ideal because it promotes pronation of your forearm, which is the palm-down position. What this does (very simplified) is rotate everything from your hand to your shoulder inward, and that creates stress in your forearm, shoulder, and neck. The vertical mouse works the same way as the horizontal mouse in that you use your index and middle fingers to press the buttons, and some of them have a ball for your thumb for scrolling (good for gameplay!), but it's designed for your hand to be in a more neutral position, which is much more ergonomic. Even better - they're inexpensive. Browse on Amazon or and you'll find a plethora of options all around $20. 
4. Ergonomic gaming chairs can also be more affordable than typical ergonomic office chairs, so I recommend searching for those as well. I found an excellent chair online for my fiancé for $100 with the high-back, cervical and lumbar pillows, and adjustable armrests (they also come in a variety of colors if you like).

Final note: Even in the most ergonomic office space, I must encourage you to get up occasionally and move! Get your circulation going and stretch (remember which areas I noted for lengthening last time).

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Nugget #133 -- The Mad Skillz of Full-Grown Adults

The skill sets you’ll need to plot, organize, and craft 
a novel will not be the same ones you learned writing 
short stories because contrary to what several folks 
may tell you, short stories are NOT INFANTS THAT 
are full-grown adults in their own right.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Derrick Ferguson Kicked the Willy Bobo With Me...

Here's another off the bucket list. I kicked Derrick Ferguson right in the Bobo. Wait... That didn't come out right...

Derrick Ferguson: Who is Sean Taylor?

Sean Taylor: He’s just a man whose circumstances got beyond his control, beyond his control. I’m Kilroy. Okay, maybe not. ...

DF: What do you do to keep the creditors away?

ST: I’ve been everything from a corporate media strategist to a local newspaper editor, and I’ve written comics and short stories and even a novel thus far, but for the day job at the moment, I edit for several places as a freelancers/contractor to keep the bills paid. It’s a dirty job, as they say, but someone’s got to love it.

DF: How long have you been writing and what have you learned about yourself through your writing?

ST: My first magazine article was in 1991, a marketing article about doing a summer reading display for a bookstores to highlight summer book sales. It was a hit, and I kept doing it. My first short story was publishing in 1995 in O’ Georgia: A Collection of Georgia’s Newest and Most Promising Writers, and I caught the bug and haven’t stopped yet.

What have I learned? Well, I’ve learned how to survive close to the poverty line, that’s for sure. Writing and editing is one of those comes and goes industries, and in an economy as volatile as the U.S. one has been during the years I’ve been a writer and editor, it’s bounced up and down several time. But what I learned from all that is that writing is something I make time to do whether or not it’s paying the bills. It’s more a calling than a career choice.

Read the full interview:

Sunday, May 20, 2018

[Link] I do believe in -isms

by Dale Glaser

I signed a contract today to have a short story published as a standalone electronic unit. This is my first foray into that particular distribution model, so I’m really intrigued to see how it all goes. Many more details and reflections about the story will come as it gets closer to release, but for now the only hint I will offer is this: it’s an original superhero story, another first for me in terms of semi-pro publishing, which is nothing short of remarkable considering the sheer percentage of my life for which I’ve been obsessed with superheroes and comic books. Somewhere north of 90%, at least.

Since I’m not going to talk much more about the story itself here, I thought I’d take the opportunity to dissect a couple of questions of terminology. What exactly is a superhero? What, for that matter, is a hero?

Let’s start with the second part first. It’s a little easier to get a handle on the concept of heroism because it’s a real thing in the real world; superheroes are idealized fictional constructs, but there are living, breathing heroes all around us. And yet attempting to define heroism can be surprisingly controversial! Still, semantic arguments that reveal more about the arguer’s worldview than the objective truth aside, the basic nature of heroism is fairly simple and straightforward. A hero risks or sacrifices some aspect of himself or herself for the benefit of someone else.

Note there’s nothing in there about nobility or respectability, and whether or not we should all aspire to living that way. Of course people, myself included, tend in casual conversation to use hero and idol interchangeably sometimes. If you look up to someone, and want to be like them, you call them a personal hero. And that could very well include someone who is perfectly described by my definition above. But it could also include someone who has accomplished something you want to accomplish. A kid playing guitar could point to Jimi Hendrix as a hero, or I could say Stephen King is mine, but that’s a bit outside of what we’re talking about here.

It may be a fair question to ask how much a person has to risk and how much they have to help someone before they can rightfully be called a hero. When we say that soldiers or police officers or firefighters are the real heroes, we’re acknowledging that getting shot at or running into a burning building unquestionably puts their physical safety, and quite possibly their very life, on the line. Nobody can give more than that. And by and large those same people are doing what they do in order to save someone else from an untimely demise. Very little gets as much instant, unchallenged respect as saving lives.

Read the full article:

Saturday, May 19, 2018

[Link] Teaching Creativity & Structure in Writing

by Laurisa Reyes

When it comes to writing well, two things are essential: creativity and structure. These work side by side to construct any piece of good writing, be it a poem, a story, an essay, or an instruction manual.

Let’s begin with structure. Structure isn’t so much the shape or the organization of the writing as it is the rules that govern how we write. It includes spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax, as well as things like thesis statements, plot progression, argumentation methods, poetic patterns, and so forth. Structure is HOW words are put together and HOW they function within a sentence, a paragraph, stanza, or so on. Without structure, things simply don’t make a lot of sense. Also, the rules that form the structure of writing apply the same to everyone.

Creativity, on the other hand, is the freedom to sculpt language the way an artist sculpts a work of art. Every individual creates his/her own style of expression and language patterns. Each person is capable of tapping into his/her imagination to craft a unique written work. The possibilities are truly endless. New songs, poems, stories, news articles, and books are brought into existence by the thousands every single day. In fact, it is practically impossible for two people to write the same story or poem — unless they intentionally copy each other.

In order to write well, which means to express one’s ideas in a way that they can effectively communicate those ideas to others, kids need both the rules that govern good writing and the freedom to explore their own imaginations. To focus solely on spelling and grammar and such is boring and can discourage the budding writer who may struggle to learn those concepts.

Likewise, to allow unfettered freedom without also teaching structure gives kids a false sense of confidence and dooms them to mediocrity in a world where employers and college professors expect quality writing skills.

Read the full article:

Friday, May 18, 2018


Airship 27 Productions is proud to present the very first full length Purple Scar novel written by New Pulp author, Gene Moyers.

A hooded man suddenly appears on the streets of Akelton carrying a strange device strapped to his back. Affixed to it is a nozzle from which enveloping black fog spews forth quickly swallowing everything in its path; to include men, women in children. And just like that the city is thrown into panic as the mysterious villain begins popping up all over the city wielding his eerie weapon.

Realizing he is facing a supernatural threat, Captain Dan Griffin enlists the aid of the city’s own gruesome crime fighter, the Purple Scar. Secretly plastic surgeon Doctor Miles Murdoch, the Scar, with the aid of his nurse Dale Jordan and ally Tommy Pedlar, is quickly on the hunt for the mastermind behind the fog of terror. For in the first time in his vigilante career, the Purple Scar is battling an evil scientific genius whose purposes can only herald doom and bloodshed. It is a battle he cannot afford to lose.

Having contributed short stories to the two previous volumes in this series, Moyers took the next step in writing a novel featuring the Haunted Horror.  “We see it often enough,” says Airship 27 Managing Editor, Ron Fortier. “Every now and then a New Pulp writer will develop a special affinity for a golden age character. Moyers seemed to have fixated on the uniqueness of the Scar’s persona. More than just a run-of-the-mill avenger type, the Purple Scar stories infused a generous portion of horror along with their suspense. It was this added element that fascinated Moyers and eventually inspired him to write The Black Fog. And we couldn’t be any happier.”

Joining Moyers on the project were two amazing artists. Former Pulp Factory Award winner Chris Kohler provided the 9 black and white interior illustrations while British painter Graham Hill the eerie colorful cover depicting the gruesome Scar.  Art Director Rob Davis brought it all together to produce one of Airship 27 Productions’ most spectacular titles. If you think you know the Purple Scar, think again.


Now available from Amazon in both paperback and on Kindle.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Questions from a Brave and Stupid Man to a Panel of Women Writers #1: Because Asking Honest Questions Is the Best Starting Point, I Was Told

Being a white man, I willingly acknowledge I have blind spots, things that while they don't register to me like they perhaps should are things well worth my time and thought and important for me to know and understand in order to a member of a community of diverse writers.

That said, I've assembled an all-female panel of writers to be my teachers.

This is #1 in a series of articles. The second can be found here, and the third here

Today's discussion is this: 

Are there issues in the writing and publishing community common to women that aren't typically experienced by men? What are they, and are they merely irksome or downright systemic?

Alexandra Christian
Alexandra Christian: I think all us chick genre writers have experienced the “girls can’t write horror/sci-fi/fantasy/pulp.” Or “girl’s put too much kissy stuff” are “too emotional.”

Lisa Matthews Collins: I could go on ad nauseam about that topic. :/

Alexandra Christian: And I like kissy stuff (obviously) but good stories don’t have to be devoid of relationships (kissy stuff).

Elizabeth Donald: Oh my god yes this. Nowhere was it more obvious than when I switched from writing vampire thrillers - which were dismissed condescendingly as "vamporn" - to writing zombie action-horror. "That's kind of a guy thing," I was told, and while they were half-kidding, in almost every case I was the sole woman on the zombie panel if I could get on the panel at all. The stereotypes of What Women Write and What Men Write persist.

Lucy Blue: I will never understand why a dude, reader or writer, who is perfectly enthusiastic about a detailed description of the bare-handed evisceration of a toddler by a monster, alien, or zombie gets entirely skeeved out by an even remotely realistic love scene. I can see it now, a new trend in splatterpunk - 'this one is REALLY scary - they talk about their FEELINGS!!' ;)

Elizabeth Donald: I've been to cons. I know sffh fans like sex. :) And yet when I did my first Dragoncon, I was with my then-publisher Ellora's Cave handing out cover cards at my booth for my first novel, an erotic vampire thriller about a serial killer tearing out throats near a vampire-run sex club. A man looked at the description on the back of the cover card, looked at me and said, "The only difference between this stuff and Penthouse Forum is the words, 'I never thought this would happen to me.'" Then he walked about five feet away and threw my cover card on the ground, in my full view. I wanted to yell after him, "That shit cost me money, asshole." Or possibly do something antisocial to him. I did neither, because I was mellower then. :)

Stephanie Osborn: I've had that happen a few times. My response is generally, "I try to write realistic characters with realistic relationships. Are you in a long-term relationship?"

(if yes) "Then you get what I mean."
(if no) "Do you WANT to be in one? Then you get what I mean."

Lisa Matthews Collins
Lisa Matthews Collins: I have had this experience twice...told that I needed to go write another genre because as a girl I didn't know enough science and math to write hard science fiction. Both times by 50+ year-old white men.

Elizabeth Donald: Sara Harvey can talk about being on a panel with a male author who opined that women can't write science fiction. He said it outright; I've been on panels where they obfuscated it behind vocabulary: "The language of science fiction is different than the language of romance, they don't blend well."

Stephanie Osborn: I do occasionally encounter people who don't know my background who try to explain the science to me. Until they find out what I used to do. [Editor's note: Stephanie is actually a rocket scientist.] Then they tend to disappear pretty soon quick.

Anna Grace Carpenter: Male characters are seen as the default, so men writing male characters is part of the norm, but when women focus on female characters (or things perceived to be female "interests") it's shunted into niche categories. (I had a dude at a convention back in January try to convince me that I could not possibly have written my books for him because the narrator was a woman, therefore it must be a book for women, not men.) Because men are the default, when a male author writes "outside his lane" so to speak, whether it's writing female characters or in a "woman's genre" it's usually regarded and brave and insightful, while women writing in genres perceived as "men's genres" are chasing trends or playing the gender card or whatever the current phrase is to indicate that women don't really belong in that space. Also, men can write characters that are either completely perfect or so very ordinary they shouldn't succeed in saving the world, and they won't be labeled as "wish-fullfilment" or "self-insertion" but women writing characters that are competent and skilled are frequently damned by accusations of "Mary Sue" characters.

While it would be nice to think these things are really just annoyances, they directly impact access to reviewers (or rather, how many female authors are reviewed each year), general exposure for their work, and ultimately sales numbers. (Let's not forget that a survey of top-market book reviews a couple of years ago revealed that dead male authors still received more critical attention than living female authors.)

Elizabeth Donald
Elizabeth Donald: There's another aspect of that "male character is the default" that I think is going to take at least another generation to work out. The initial experience of the reader is one of identification, of compassion in the original sense, the ability to identify with the main character and empathize with his or her plight. For the vast majority of English-language literature, male characters were the default, as written by male writers. Women grew up reading those stories, and learned to identify with male protagonists and their sideline girlfriends as well. We learned how to relate to a character different from us, because we didn't have much of a choice. I didn't grow up with Buffy or Katniss; I had Nancy Drew, who kept needing to be saved.

Men didn't have the same identification experience, because most of what they read had Someone Like Them at the center of the story. They didn't have to stretch to identify with a female protagonist written by a woman, because that didn't exist all that much. Without that practice as a young person, without learning that empathy and identification with someone Other, their experiences in fiction were different than ours - and I leave it to others to say how much that affected them in real life as well.

Sadly, we're continuing this today. We still have children's movies aimed at girls or boys, separate toy sections where girls are expected to buy girl dolls and boys "action figures." We see children's entertainment retitled because we think boys won't see a movie with a girl as the main character, defying the entire history of Disney. :) There are parents beginning to read stories about girls to their boy children (vice versa has never been a problem), and I think that will make a big difference going forward.

Anna Grace Carpenter: I cried the first time I read "Dealing with Dragons" by Patricia Wrede because it was the first time I'd found a book that really seemed to feature a character I understood at a gut level. (And there are a lot of other "YA" books from my childhood that I love, but there was something deep in finding a character who reacted like I did, who had similar goals. Something I think a lot of men never have to contend with because so much of fiction is about male experiences.)

Lucy Blue
Lucy Blue: If you're a woman, the assumption is ALWAYS that you write "women's fiction," and "women's fiction" is always assumed to either be romance, True-Story/Lifetime-style trauma fiction (usually with a romantic element), or menopausal tales of triumph (usually with an erotic element). But you know who leaps to that conclusion fastest and makes the biggest stink-face about it? Other women writers in horror, science fiction, fantasy, and pulp--not all, of course, but some. I don't know whether they're so bruised and battered from running that gauntlet themselves that it's made them brutal or they feel like they had to go through it so damn it every other woman should have to go through it, too, or that they want to make sure that the other boys in their genre know they ain't no stupid girly-girl--I suspect it's a little bit of all of these, depending on the woman writer in question. And just like with writers of color, female writers are continually being asked by male writers in traditionally dude-centric genres how to write women better. Sometimes it's a genuinely respectful and heartfelt question posed so that the male writer in question can make the female characters in the stories he already writes better--this panel being a shining example. But sometimes it's a dude writer wanting to cash in on what he thinks is that sweet, sweet romance-infused market of chick readers by writing one more urban fantasy novel with a female heroine with her big boobs barely contained in her dirty tank top on the cover. He wants to be able to say when some other woman accuses him of writing a male fantasy of female empowerment, "that's not possible! I asked three different women what women are like!"

Elizabeth Donald: I have no studies to back it up, but when I began, nearly all my acceptances were from female editors and rejections from male editors. This began to change, however, when I got out ini the con circuit and made contacts among male editors and publishers. They got to know me, and my work, and then they came to me with opportunities or were open to my pitches. It's worth noting that "exposure" at cons is often at the whim of con organizers, so if a con is not particularly 'woke,' you'll find all women on the midnight sex panel and "why are vampires so hot?" and all men on "how to kill a zombie: gun or sword?" I know which panel I'd rather be on, but it's taken some doing.

For the record, those male editors have been almost all delights to work with, and I'd consider them all fairly open-minded, cosmopolitan folk. So I don't know how much of it is simply "we publish the people we know" (which is its own problem), and how much is, "A woman wrote zombies? Is it a romance?"

Ellie Raine: There have been a LOT of times when I tell someone I've written a book, they automatically assume it's romance. Even if I say it's fantasy, they think "fantasy romance". I've gotten into an argument with one man who insisted that women writers always use too much "emotions" compared to male writers, even though William Shakespeare, Edgar Allen Poe, Nikolas Sparks, Brandon Sanderson, James Patterson, George RR Martin, Neal Gaiman, and just about EVERY popular/GOOD author focuses on the character's emotions (which is pretty damn crucial to good story telling) and includes either a romance line or (in Martin's case) more sex scenes than 50 shades of Grey.

Stephanie Osborn
Regarding more industry culture, I've stopped going to formal writing conferences as much because I was tired of showing up for workshops just to have random guys initiate conversations to give me unsolicited advice about how to finish my first novel (even though I had three finished, but they didn't bother asking me first), how to get a publisher to notice you (which I'd already done, but they didn't bother asking), and how to find a man who would stay with me for a long time and eventually marry (even though I was already married and was wearing a wedding ring) and--the kicker--how to navigate high school (even though I was well into my twenties, but they didn't bother asking). It was weird how MANY men(usually into their 40s and up, and--for some reason--all wrote Literary and kept telling you how much better It was compared to fantasy and that I should switch to that if I REALLY wanted to improve my writing) gave the exact same theme of advice, and all of them assumed they knew my age, my relationship status, and my writing level without asking a damn thing. Fan Conventions are WAY better than conferences with this, no one has ever assumed they knew anything about me there and even the people who wrote literary there are chill and engaging. Basically, my experience with formal conference culture is that a LOT of people are there to make themselves feel better about how they've been going to these things for decades yet still haven't gotten a book deal with a publisher (all the men in question informed me they weren't published yet or even self published when I asked them). I don't know, I expect people to have actually gone through the publishing experience either trad or self before they feel free to offer advice on it without anyone asking them in the first place.

Lisa Matthews Collins: I was told I needed to go back to writing female lead POVs in my stories because who would want to read a male protagonist written by a girl?!

Elizabeth Donald: Oh lord... my husband writes horror romance, I write action SF and dark horror. Everyone assumes it's the other way around. He writes romantic happy endings; my books end in funerals.

Lisa Matthews Collins: This is an old thing that is still an issue... being judged by your name...not on any merit of storytelling expertise. I took a gamble on writing science fiction and pulp under my name Lisa M. Collins and not going with the safer route of L.M. Collins. Sadly, it took me awhile to make the decision to go with my name because Lisa is a girl's name.

Lucy Blue: And it's a double-edged sword. If you use your real, apparently feminine name, you get pre-judged. If you use your initials or a more apparently gender-neutral pseudonym, then when people find out you're a woman, you cheated.

Nikki Nelson-Hicks: It's the presumption that, because I have a vagina, I must write "girly horror." That I can't get deep and dirty with it. Once, at a writers' critique group, I submitted a piece and this guy kept saying, "You wrote this? YOU did. YOU?" Yeah, fucker. Me. I really never understand this idea that women can't GET horror. Sweetie, our lives are a horror show. We are a walking chemistry experiment that can explode at any moment. Body horror was MADE for us.

Anna Grace Carpenter
Anna Grace Carpenter: I had an editor tell me I really knew how to write action sequences to the point that he was "recommending them to folks I meet". (And, sure, he meant it as a compliment. But it's not the first time I've heard similar and there is *always* an undertone of "You do this really well for a girl.")

Elizabeth Donald:  I got that one once from an editor. "You write action a lot better than I expected." Thanks? 

I got a lot of criticism for my first zombie book, in which my protagonist is a former Marine paramilitary zombie fighter heading a group of ne'er-do-wells fighting paranormal threats. The criticism? "She swears too much." She's a goddamn fucking Marine zombie fighter, is she supposed to say "oh phooey, they're chewing his face off"? And each time I heard it - every single one from a man - I had to breathe deep and NOT say, "If she was played by Jason Statham and directed by Quentin Tarantino, you wouldn't blink at her use of the word 'fuck.'"

Lucy Blue: Oh yeah, I've heard the "she's not ladylike enough!" comment from everybody from my mom to editors to reviewers on Amazon.

Amanda Niehaus-Hard: My experience is different, but I write under different names, in different genres and categories, and for different age-range audiences, so I've seen prejudice of all sorts, but haven't specifically been a target.

I found it interesting to read Ellie's comments, because my personal experience has been pretty much 180 degrees the other way from hers, as I mostly go to book festivals and writers conferences now (as opposed to conventions) and I've felt MORE accepted at those festivals -- but that's of course only my own experience. I really want to respond to some of what she posted because I think there's a LOT of problems in the conference (and convention) culture that is part of why I think they’re failing financially.

Ellie wrote: “Basically, my experience with formal conference culture is that a LOT of people are there to make themselves feel better about how they've been going to these things for decades yet still haven't gotten a book deal with a publisher.”

Ellie Raine
I don’t get into discussions with people like that any more, but I’ve seen them, and I notice the same ones show up for the same conferences every year, and when they workshop, they workshop the SAME DAMN STORY they’ve been workshopping for a decade! This is an issue that conference organizers need to be aware of and need to do something about. The way workshops usually go is first to pay, first on the list, and they REALLY need to be juried or something, if only to keep the approximate “skill level” the same, so all participants are at the same level and are getting (and expect) the same level of critical attention. If you’re a multiple award-winning novelist, you shouldn’t be in a workshop group with short story writers who are just breaking into the paying quarterlies. If you just started writing last week, you shouldn’t be in a workshop with people who are already selling work and looking at crafting a story collection.

Most general conferences, with the exception of the popular fiction conferences like those done by Writers Digest, are focused around literary fiction, so that whole “literary is superior” canard is ever-present. I honestly think SOME of that bias is starting to fade, as so-called literary authors are experimenting with non-realistic fiction, or fantasy/SF situations. The bigger writing programs are turning out more authors who experiment with non-traditional situations, so when the Iowa grads from 2010 to now start getting the high profile university jobs, I suspect we’ll see a shift away from dismissing genre (or they’ll just claim they do it better.) But either way, I see the snark becoming more about the work itself and less about the shelf category.

Nikki Nelson-Hicks
Ellie wrote: “I don't know, I expect people to have actually gone through the publishing experience either traditional or self before they feel free to offer advice on it without anyone asking them in the first place.”

This is essentially why I stopped going to fan conventions except for a select few that I just attend for fun. I’ve been going to conventions since the mid 1980s, when the scene was COMPLETELY different, and cons were both fun AND a way to get into the business of publishing. The panels were either professionally oriented (how to get an agent with people who had actual agents, or science topics with actual scientists) or they were fan-run and fun, discussing stuff like the sociology of Star Trek.

What I’ve seen of conventions lately is a lot of non-experts talking over actual experts (as in people who actually work as scientists for NASA) or people with no experience in “traditional” publishing sitting on panels about agent queries just so they can advertise their books. (I'm certainly not against self-publishing, as I've self-pubbed some educational materials, but that doesn't make me an expert on the industry.)

It’s only in the self-publishing and micro-press arena that I’ve EVER taken any slack over being female and writing horror, SF, thrillers, romance, YA, lit fic, whatever. My experience with so-called “traditional” publishers (and writers who are published that way) has been nothing but stellar and professional. (Again this is just my experience, and I’m sure it doesn’t echo everyone’s experience.) I could have just gotten lucky and surrounded myself with amazing people, but I can say I’ve never been harassed, dismissed, not taken seriously, or had any real negative experience with anybody in the professional horror community, the SF community, the thriller writers, and the pulp writers community. Pulp writers have embraced me and supported me, and people like Phil Athans and Sean and Tommy and the gang over at Pro Se have been incredibly supportive and encouraging. I have no idea what’s said behind my back, but to my face everyone has been professional and respectful.

The small-press horror community is two-sided. One the one side I’ve had wonderful experiences with people and presses whose work I read and enjoy. I have been treated like gold by my small press publishers and those who publish my friends and whose work I read regularly. On the other side are, frankly, people who can’t write well, and throw together anthologies just to publish their own work. Some of those people have been dismissive of me, but I don’t read their work and I dismiss them as well, so it’s even. The only group I’ve seen overt hostility from is a Bizarro press that I will NEVER buy from again and won’t recommend or review any of their work, let alone submit to them.

Amanda Niehaus-Hard
I haven’t had the same issues as other women in genre – probably because I’ve listened to a lot of their stories and avoided the people and groups they’ve warned others about. Cons nowadays take harassment seriously, because women in genre have demanded they do, so I’ve benefited from that and haven’t experienced harassment as a guest or an attendee. I appreciate that it’s people like you, Sean, who have helped create a more supportive and inclusive environment for women in genre fiction and in fandom, by keeping the conversation going.

Ellie Raine: I'm 100 percent behind the jurying idea for workshops. We don't have freshman undergrads mixed in the same advanced classes as grad students (unless certain exceptions apply), so this solution makes way more sense.


Editor's Note: The panel includes women of various races/sexuality. The authors above were the ones able to respond by the deadline for this discussion.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Nugget #132 -- The Long and Short of Writing a Novel

 If you want to write a novel, start by writing
a novel. Hell, write two or three of 'em, then
when you get that strong, ready-to-show novel,
shop it around. But don’t write a short story 
for practice if you really want to write a novel.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

What To Do for Writer's Block

by William H. Coles

All literary fiction writers have problems with productivity related to ability and individual writing strategies. Writer’s block is a common term but it really doesn’t define a specific problem or suggest a consistent or dependable way to solve and proceed. The symptoms can be devastating—staring at a blank screen or page jilted by inspiration with quashed creativity. Here are famous authors’ solutions that might just squiggle your own path, for better or worse, to recovery.
  • Maya Angelou: “Writing is like any art or sport. Practice makes perfect. Inspiration will only come if you push yourself to keep putting pen to paper." 
  • Neil Gaiman: “Put it [your writing] aside for a few days, or longer, do other things, try not to think about it.” 
  • Mark Twain: “Outline, outline, outline!” In essence, break your “complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks,” and then start on the first one. 
  • Ernest Hemingway: “... keep some inspiration in reserve. “Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day.” Let your subconscious work all the time. “But if you think about it . . . you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.” 
  • Hilary Mantel: “... clear your mind... because your mind is overwhelmed by... thoughts... that are crowding your brain. You need to create a space for your inspiration to fill.” (For detail, see Nicole Bianchi)

You’ll have to judge which and how many strategies might work for you, but here are some thoughts on creativity and desire that may help.

Acclaimed award-winning novel (William Faulkner Creative
Writing Competition) McDOWELL by William H Coles
So, resolving “writer’s block” is more than just the need to plug in your nonfunctioning computer or routinely do hundreds of undisciplined “writing crunches”... or, for that matter, to stop thinking. Consider that inability to create may be a symptom of who you are as a writer and what level of accomplishment you’ve achieved. Are you writing for excellence in creating fiction story as an art form or are you writing to be published to convince others you are an author? And are you intensely dedicated to the life-long learning of writing literary fiction and storytelling, and analyzing (not copying) the great stories you admire that have lasted as art forms? And are you objectively conscious of the immediate effect of your emotional and/or psychological states on your productivity?

If you can believe life’s minicrisies or drained physical or mental energy contribute to difficulty in generating innovative creativity, don’t be hard on yourself by blaming your troubles on a lack of ability and determination, but accept that the individual, day to day process and success of creative writing is always in flux. To weather the inevitable breakdowns that seem to affect all of us, you might try this type of thinking.

Finding a solution to loss of creative productive fiction that is personally satisfying and artistically accepted takes years to develop, like what a professional classic pianist must go through to practice superb technic and perfect performance to create individuality in interpretation and sound, and learn from extensive analysis of other artists how to generate an admirable career.

So, as authors, we must respond to the often inevitable expected downtime in our creativity by thankfully savoring our “writer’s block” writing time to study: writing of craft, developing clear effective prose, analyzing secrets of other writers, improving story structure and character-based dramatic plots, and always looking to other nonwriting personal-skills that require: concentration, mental and physical coordination, focus of attention on individual thinking and skill improvements, and that accumulatively produce synergistic success in reaching goals. It is true, writers achieve success in what we do as well as how we recover from obstacles by delicate adjustments of who we are and truthful self-awareness.

Make sense? Your comments would be appreciated. How do you respond to “writer’s block”? How do you use breakdown-time resulting from loss of productive, creative storytelling?

Respond at the original post.


Thirty-four award-winning fiction stories by William H. Coles:

Sunday, May 13, 2018

[Link] The Eternal Question: What Should I Write?

by Chuck Wendig

One of the questions I get most frequently over email is this:

What should I write?

The question presumably meaning, what kind of thing should I write? What genre? What story? Maybe it’s the first thing you’re ever going to write. Maybe it’s just the next thing in a long line of written things.

And the answer to this question is simple.

That answer is:

How the fuck should I know?

I mean, I’m not you. At least, not until I get my SOUL TRANSPLANT HELMET working, but that’s at least five years off — maybe seven if Elon doesn’t call me back (seriously, Elon, get your shit together, gimme a ring, Musk). Because I am (presently) not you, I have no idea what you should write. Because the advice of what to write is not a thing that has an easy answer — or, really, any answer. You want the answer to be something concrete, something that is the result of plugging variables in and punching the CALCULATE STORY button, but no such thing exists. You can’t “run the numbers” and end up with the perfect answer (“Ah! I should write — let’s see, mumble mumble, carry the three, put the DNA on the slide, shake the shoebox with the cat inside of it, et voila — I should write The Terminator meets The Gilmore Girls as if written by Mary Shelley. Bestseller status, here I come.”)

It doesn’t work like that.

But what I can do is tell you how I come to terms with what I should write next. Because this isn’t a question just some writers have — it’s a question that plagues us all, I think. It plagues us at the start. It plagues us throughout our career. It plagues n00bs, midlisters, even bestsellers. It plagues traditionally-published authors and indie authors. It is a question I ask myself even as I’m writing one thing because I always need to know what’s next? And what’s next after that? If this book is successful, what else can I write in that vein? If it tanks, how do I move to an adjacent track that still makes sense? Where am I? Why am I wearing pants? Is this a curse? Did I spit in the Pants God’s eye? WHY HAS THOU FORSAKEN ME, OH PANTSLESS PANTHEON

Ahem, sorry.

Here is what I do to determine what I’m gonna write next.

Read the full article:

Saturday, May 12, 2018

[Link] What do I bring to conventions?

by Andrea Judy

Getting ready for conventions is always a little hectic. There’s a panic of what to bring, what to pack and what to leave at home. So a few months back, I made a list to help me get my stuff together! I thought other people might find that helpful so I’m going to share it here! Let me know if there’s anything you bring that I’ve not listed here.

Foods (Protein bars, water flavor (I like the mio coffee ones for caffeine fixes on the cheap), fruit, sweets, crackers, shareables!) I try to always make sure I have some at least semi-healthy stuff and that I have enough to share with my fellow vendors.

Business cards, post cards for table

Table cloth and decor

Read the full article:

Friday, May 11, 2018


Airship 27 Productions once again sets sails with author Nancy Hansen in the next thrilling chapter featuring Jezebel Johnston, Pirate Queen.

With Emile Gagnon’s Sea Witch laid up in the French port of Fort Royale for minor repairs, Jezebel Johnston and young Zachary Spencer go into town to trade with the local merchants. While there, they come to the attention of an unscrupulous smuggler named Luc Charbonneau who cleverly manipulates them into being blamed for thievery committed by his own gang. But before he can rally an impromptu lynch party, they are rescued by Captain Ancel Thibodeaux, the real authority on the small West Antilles island.

Thibodeaux is fascinated by the beautiful Jezebel and pressures her and Zachary into joining the crew of his own pirate ship, Mourning Star. Having no other recourse, the two agree and the wily French buccaneer sets about tutoring the lovely mulatto into being part of his elaborate scheme to sail across the Atlantic and raid the rich Barbary Coast.

“Who doesn’t like a rousing pirate yarn?” asks Airship 27 Productions Managing Editor, Ron Fortier. “The Jezebel Johnston series is both historically accurate and filled with enough action and adventure to fill a dozen such books.”   

Once again writer Nancy Hansen unfurls the sails of her imagination in this, the fourth chapter in the saga of Jezebel Johnston as she navigates the dangerous waters of rogues, brigands and scalawags on her way to becoming the greatest pirate of them all!

The book features 12 black and white interior illustrations by Art Director Rob Davis and a gorgeous cover painting by Ted Hammond.


Available now in paperback and soon on Kindle.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

To Your Health, Writer! -- #1 The Main Thing

"One of us! One of us!
With Ashly Mixon  
(The "Nerdapist")

Hey there, blog readers. I want you to meet someone very special to me, a very good friend who has a heart for helping out nerds and geeks like us (because, although you don't have to be one to be a writer, it helps). Ashly Mixon is a professional massage therapist/corrective exercise specialist, and we're going to be talking with her regularly here at the blog to see what we writers who sit at computers for long periods of time can do to be more proactive about our health, particularly our muscular health.

Thanks to Ashly for agreeing to become our official "nerdapist" (therapist for nerds).

Let's start at the top for this first column. 

What is the most important issue writers and other nerds who sit at computers for long periods of time need to be concerned about and what can we/they (because I'm one) do to fix it?

It's difficult to choose just one, because there are a number of overly common pathologies associated with prolonged periods of sitting and/or computer work, but I think I'd have to go with Janda's upper crossed syndrome, which is a postural distortion we see in everyone - not just desk workers. With upper crossed syndrome, the affected individual has a forward and and rounded (forward) shoulders. This distortion is the culprit for numerous everyday complaints, such as headaches, tension in the shoulders, rotator cuff injuries, shoulder impingements, upper back tension between the shoulder blades, and an exaggerated curve in the thoracic spine to name a few. Sitting in chairs with a back on them to support you  is the primary cause of this distortion, while the actual act of working on a computer tends to more exacerbate the issue than actually cause it.

Ever heard the saying, "If you don't use it, you lose it"? That saying doesn't pertain to educational lessons solely, but your muscles as well - especially as we age. Did you know that as early as your thirties you start to lose your muscle mass if you aren't actively challenging them? By allowing the chair to hold you upright, you're not engaging your core to do its job, so you begin to lose that connection between the muscle and the nervous system, and those muscles become inhibited. This is why trainers preach strengthening of your core, even while you're rolling your eyes because you've heard it so often. Without the core to fight against gravity and hold you up the way it's designed to, your upper body will start to slump forward. This results in a muscular imbalance called altered reciprocal inhibition, where (without getting overly technical) the muscles in your chest, the front of your neck, and the base of your skull become chronically shortened, while the muscles in the back of the neck and shoulders, as well as those in the upper back chronically lengthened.

This is what creates a lot of those issues I mentioned earlier. The chronically lengthened tissues are very stressed, which to you feels like tension or pain. To correct this issue, you must correct the imbalances. To do so, we use corrective exercise in 3 steps (technically there are 4 steps, but a trainer or Corrective Exercise Specialist is needed, whereas the first 3 can be done on your own).

Step 1 is probably of the most important, yet most overlooked steps, which is inhibition the overactive tissues (which are the ones doing the pulling, not the ones being pulled). For this step, you use a self-myofascial release tool such as a foam roller or tennis ball to locate tender points in the muscles that need to be released. A foam roller is a good tool for the larger muscle groups, such as those in the leg. For smaller muscles, however, the tennis ball is going to be the most effective. When you locate a tender point, apply gentle pressure (on a scale of 1-10, don't go above a 5), and hold either until the tender point releases or for a period of about two minutes at the most. If the tender point doesn't release after that amount of time, move to the next one. You want to repeat this process throughout the length of the muscle you're inhibiting, then you move on to the next step.

Step 2 is lengthening of the shortened tissues. Now that the overactive muscles have been inhibited, it's time to stretch them. **Please do not stretch the already lengthened tissues, such as those in the upper back. This could lead to a potential strain or sprain.** If you're unsure about how to stretch the muscles, a bodyworker can help you, or you could also do a simple web search. As you go into your stretch, stop when you get to what we call the "soft end-feel," which is that first bit of resistance you get from the muscle when it senses it's being stretched. Hold your stretch for at least 30 seconds, but ideally until you feel that release where you can increase your stretch slightly, but stop after that and repeat with the next muscle, such as the pecs. Many people, including other professionals, usually jump right to this step and ignore the first altogether. This is not recommended, because without first releasing the tender points, your stretch can't be as effective. Think of your shortened, overactive muscle as a handkerchief, and the tender points are knots in your handkerchief. If you jump right into the stretch, not only are you not going to achieve the desired stretch, you could potentially create a tear in the fibers around those knots. So please don't neglect step 1!

Another overly neglected, but much-needed step is step 3: strengthening of the lengthened, underactive muscles. All the stretching in the world won't correct your muscular imbalances alone. Your muscles know how to do one thing: pull. Re-train those lengthened tissues on how to do their job by strengthening them. Just as with stretching, if you're unsure about how to strengthen your muscles, a trainer or CES like myself can help you, or a web search, but be cautious when searching the web! With this step, it's best to have a prescribed exercise from a professional to prevent potential injury.

Following these 3 steps will correct your muscular imbalances, thus improving your posture. Proper posture isn't just about looking pretty; it's primarily about having healthy joints that function optimally, which is the best way to prevent those oh-so-common aches and pains.