Category Archives: Random

Eight Writing Tips from Eight Different Writers

Eight Writing Tips from Eight Different Writers

Over the last week, I saw a couple of authors share tips for writing and for whatever reason, they each chose eight as their number. I know there are others who go with more or less, some of which I’ve even highlighted on this blog (Elmore LeonardDave FarlandHeinlein.) I wondered if this was a thing, so I did a little Googling. I found quite a few sets so I figured it’d be fun to gather them up and share them here.

A note before we begin: take everything with a grain of salt. Glean what you can; ignore what doesn’t resonate. What works for one author doesn’t always work for someone else. There is no right path to writing. Be willing to try anything, and figure out your process along the way. It’s easy to get frustrated, but learn to enjoy the discovery, uncovering how you work is part of the fun. So, that said, let’s jump in!

Jeff VanderMeer8 Writing Tips from Jeff VanderMeer

I really appreciate the candid nature of this advice. Unlike others, VanderMeer comes at writing from a very practical standpoint. It’s refreshing.

My Favorite: “Good habits create the conditions for your imagination to thrive.”

Kurt VonnegutKurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules for Writing

If there were a “big eight,” it’d probably be these eight. (I’d theorize that it was Vonnegut who set the precedent.) He doesn’t hold back, and his “rules” clearly serve as guidelines for his razor-sharp prose.

My Favorite: “Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”

Flannery O'ConnorFlannery O’Connor’s 8 Writing Tips

This set wasn’t assembled by O’Connor but rather gleaned from her work. However, it’s a fascinating insight into the way she worked and why her stories still resonate.

My Favorite: “I suppose I am not very severe criticizing other people’s manuscripts for several reasons, but first being that I don’t concern myself overly with meaning. This may be odd as I certainly believe a story has to have meaning, but the meaning in a story can’t be paraphrased and if it’s there it’s there, almost more as a physical than an intellectual fact.”

John GrishamJohn Grisham’s 8 Do’s & Don’ts

There is a bit of an my-way-or-the-highway style to these “Do’s and Don’ts,” but there are some good approaches within them as well. And one cannot argue with Grisham’s results, but as always do what works for you—write to serve the story.

My Favorite: “Don’t — Keep A Thesaurus Within Reaching Distance”

Neil GaimanNeil Gaiman’s 8 Rules of Writing

Gaiman’s rules are as varied and profound as his own work. But they also come from a place of kindness and empathy. Very much worth a read.

My Favorite: “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

J.K. RowlingJ.K. Rowling’s 8 Rules of Writing

This collection was gleaned from Rowling’s various quotes, and she offers some good advice for those struggling through the difficulties of creation.

My Favorite: “I always advise children who ask me for tips on being a writer to read as much as they possibly can. Jane Austen gave a young friend the same advice, so I’m in good company there.”

But wait… even after you read those rules, I should stress that Rowling didn’t assemble these herself. Like O’Connor above, someone else gathered them from various quotes of hers. However, unlike O’Connor, Rowling was able to hit up Twitter and explain her approach.

While the post is absolutely a collection of things she said, they aren’t hard and fast “rules”—think of them as tips or approaches. As I mentioned above, there are no rules specific to everyone and Rowling would agree. You can read more of her thoughts on writing (pulled from Twitter), right over here.

Charlie Jane Anders

Charlie Jane Anders’ 8 Unstoppable Rules For Writing Killer Short Stories

Personally, I’ve never been interested in writing short stories. But they are a staple of science fiction and fantasy. These eight little rules are a wonderful approach and would be effective for any fiction long or short.

My Favorite: “Fuck your characters up. A little.”

C.S. Lewis8 Writing Tips from C. S. Lewis

Lewis’s tips are very similar to most modern writing advice. Just replace the “radio” with “internet” and magazines with the “internet.” Basically, replace the internet with books, people! Get rid of the internet!

My Favorite: “Read good books and avoid most magazines.”

So that’s it! Perhaps yo—

Wait, though… if the J. K. Rowling’s “rules” weren’t really hers, right?  I mean she said them, sure, but they weren’t her rules per say. (The same argument could be made for O’Conner and Lewis, but they’re not around to tell us any different.) That means I owe you someone else! So, here’s eight different rules from eight different authors—they also happened to have won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Nobel Winners8 Writing Tips from Authors Who Won the Nobel Prize for Literature

As you’d expect, there’s a ton of good advice on this list. One thing I’ve noticed as you read more and more of these is that the tips and rules seem to the echo the others—almost as if each set is constructed of similar material but reflected by an inner mirror within each writer.

My Favorite: Alice Munroe’s “Work stories out in your head when you can’t write.”

So, there are eight writing tips from eight different writers writing tips from sixteen different writers! A lot of good stuff, and plenty of interesting strategies. Hopefully, you find something that works for you. I listed my favorites, but I am sure you have your own as well. What stood out to you? Anything you disagree with? Do you have your own list of eight? Leave a comment and let me know!

💀✍ 💀

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China Miéville

Fantasy As A Challenge

“When people dis fantasy—mainstream readers and SF readers alike—they are almost always talking about one sub-genre of fantastic literature. They are talking about Tolkien, and Tolkien’s innumerable heirs. Call it ‘epic’, or ‘high’, or ‘genre’ fantasy, this is what fantasy has come to mean. Which is misleading as well as unfortunate.

Tolkien is the wen on the arse of fantasy literature. His oeuvre is massive and contagious—you can’t ignore it, so don’t even try. The best you can do is consciously try to lance the boil. And there’s a lot to dislike—his cod-Wagnerian pomposity, his boys-own-adventure glorying in war, his small-minded and reactionary love for hierarchical status-quos, his belief in absolute morality that blurs moral and political complexity. Tolkien’s clichés—elves ‘n’ dwarfs ‘n’ magic rings—have spread like viruses. He wrote that the function of fantasy was ‘consolation’, thereby making it an article of policy that a fantasy writer should mollycoddle the reader.

That is a revolting idea, and one, thankfully, that plenty of fantasists have ignored. From the Surrealists through the pulps—via Mervyn Peake and Mikhael Bulgakov and Stefan Grabiński and Bruno Schulz and Michael Moorcock and M. John Harrison and I could go on—the best writers have used the fantastic aesthetic precisely to challenge, to alienate, to subvert and undermine expectations.

Of course I’m not saying that any fan of Tolkien is no friend of mine—that would cut my social circle considerably. Nor would I claim that it’s impossible to write a good fantasy book with elves and dwarfs in it—Michael Swanwick’s superb IRON DRAGON’S DAUGHTER gives the lie to that. But given that the pleasure of fantasy is supposed to be in its limitless creativity, why not try to come up with some different themes, as well as unconventional monsters? Why not use fantasy to challenge social and aesthetic lies?

Thankfully, the alternative tradition of fantasy has never died. And it’s getting stronger. Chris Wooding, Michael Swanwick, Mary Gentle, Paul di Filippo, Jeff VanderMeer, and many others, are all producing works based on fantasy’s radicalism. Where traditional fantasy has been rural and bucolic, this is often urban, and frequently brutal. Characters are more than cardboard cutouts, and they’re not defined by race or sex. Things are gritty and tricky, just as in real life. This is fantasy not as comfort-food, but as challenge.

The critic Gabe Chouinard has said that we’re entering a new period, a renaissance in the creative radicalism of fantasy that hasn’t been seen since the New Wave of the sixties and seventies, and in echo of which he has christened the Next Wave. I don’t know if he’s right, but I’m excited. This is a radical literature. It’s the literature we most deserve.”

China Miéville

I don’t usually post quotes this long, but as I’ve been working on Coal Belly, and after publishing my essay on problematic fiction this quote from 2002 has been kicking around in my head. (Originally from here, but it’s been modified over the years.)

My work has frequently been described as “difficult to categorize”—and while I label the Bell Forging Cycle as urban fantasy for simplicity, it’s no secret that its more accurate description is much more complicated. I revel in this, genre classification is boring at best and writing dangerous or challenging fiction within the “Next Wave” the “New Weird” or whatever we want to call it is exactly where I want to be as a writer.


Who sent me these mysterious books as gifts?

Okay, Who Is Doing This?

Someone has been sending me mysterious gifts, and I have no idea who’s doing it.

There is a reason they’re doing this: I don’t like birthdays. I have no problem with them as a concept, and I don’t mind getting old. My argument against them is curmudgeonly, and I’m sure rooted in my disdain for Facebook (and what it’s done to birthdays.) As a result, I usually keep my birth date to myself which means most of my friends are always trying to guess when it’s my birthday. Which has now led to strange packages arriving willy-nilly.

Several months back—someone, I have no idea who—randomly sent me Judith Schalansky’s amazing Atlas of Remote Islands and with it came a note saying it was a gift for my birthday—whenever it happened to be—I posted about it on Instagram. To this day I don’t know who sent it, and Kari-Lise (who seems to know) isn’t telling.

The mystery gifts and notes
The mystery gifts and notes

Fast forward to this weekend. We returned home from the opening of Kari-Lise’s show in Portland, and a curious little box was waiting for us and addressed to me. Inside was Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours, and it came with a note that read:

 It is not your birthday. There is nothing here for you.

Okaaaay… that’s a touch mysterious. To add to the puzzle, the box was empty, but it still felt heavy. It didn’t take long for me to realize the package had a false bottom, so I flipped it over and broke the seal on the bottom. There I found another compartment, and inside was another book, Charles Pierce LeWarne’s Utopias on the Puget Sound 1885-1915—an examination of five historical communitarian settlements that once existed locally. It also came with a note, and that note bore a single word:


The second mystery book in its little compartment
The second mystery book in its little compartment

The box came from the “DLB-Reinforcement Div” the return address pointed to Des Moines, Washington—a small city south of Seattle. When I searched for the address, I got nowhere. It didn’t seem to exist. This wasn’t entirely unexpected, the first box I received had a return address that pointed to a non-address as well. Strange yes, but also quite compelling.

The mysterious non-address
The mysterious non-address

So, the mystery remains! I have no idea who sent this pair of books. Both books look amazing. I can see how the Werner book will come in handy during my writing and the utopia book sounds fascinating. I knew we had a history of communes here in the Pacific Northwest. I didn’t realize how deep that history goes. I do appreciate these gifts.

Thank you, whoever you are.

The Poison Garden

The Poisoned Garden

This weekend, Kari-Lise and I will head to Portland, Oregon for the opening of VEILS at Talon Gallery where Kari-Lise will be debuting the first five pieces from her 2018 series, The Poisoned Garden. The show opens on Saturday, February 17th, and we’ll both be in attendance. If you live in Portland or the surrounding area come on by and say hello. We’d love to see you. The opening reception is from 6pm–9pm. The exhibition will be on display through March 12th, 2017, and it is both free and open to the public.

I’m so stoked this is finally reaching the public. There is a narrative aspect to The Poisoned Garden that really draws me in as a storyteller, and the series is shaping up to be a favorite. Kari-Lise is really throwing herself into the work, and it shows. Afterwards, you’ll be able to view all the pieces at Talon Gallery’s website, feel free to contact the gallery directly to inquire about any particular piece. I’m excited the initial debut of The Poisoned Garden is finally seeing the light of day.

Kari-Lise Alexander — “The Find” (Detail)
Kari-Lise Alexander — “The Find” (Detail)

Kari-Lise Alexander [Left] “Summer Dream” 10″x10″, Oil on Panel [Right] “Alone Amongst the Irises” in the studio
Kari-Lise Alexander — [Left] “Summer Dream” 10″x10″, Oil on Panel [Right] “Alone Amongst the Irises” in the studio
There are a few more pieces in this set that I’m not previewing here. To see them you’ll need to subscribe to Kari-Lise’s newsletter or come to the show. A collector’s preview is coming later this week, it’s easy to sign up: click here to subscribe.

🎬 Overlooked Details

If you haven’t taken the time, make sure to watch the short documentary about Kari-Lise’s work: Overlooked Details, An Artist’s Journey, directed, edited, and filmed by Scott R. Wilson. (It partially documents her work on Inflorescence.) It’s fifteen minutes long and very much worth your time. It’s a raw, heartfelt, and vulnerable glimpse into her journey. I’ve embedded it below, and I recommend watching it full screen. You can view the full credits here.

🖼 Previous Work

Interested in seeing Kari-Lise’s previous shows? I’ve written about them before, and I’d encourage you to check them out, there is some excellent work, but it’s also amazing to document her growth as an artist:

See you Saturday, Portland!


Sing us a song, you're the Lovecraft Man... sing us a song tonight!

Nemesis & Piano Man

Last week on Twitter, Captain Video noticed that Lovecraft’s beloved poem, Nemesis has the same meter as Billy Joel’s Piano Man. Well, it didn’t take long for the internet to respond and the result was as charming as you’d imagine. You can listen to Julian Velard’s version below or over on YouTube.

This will come as no shock, but I find this absolutely brilliant. Lucky for all of us, it wasn’t the only rendition. The blog Birth. Movies. Death. put together a post sharing several other variations, you can check it out here.

Now, all we need is someone to write a chorus. I’m no poet, and I’m a lousy songwriter, but here’s my amateur attempt.

Spin us a tale, you’re the Lovecraft man
Spin us a tale tonight
Well, we’re all in the mood for a horror story
And you’ve got us feelin’ a fright

💀 🦑 💀

Abraham Lincoln

As a Nation, We Began…

“As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.’ When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty – to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”

Abraham LincolnLetter to Joshua Speed