This Is My Stop

This Is My Stop
Stop Request

My husband and I took the U Bahn out of Vienna to a friend’s home in the suburbs. Figuring out transportation abroad can be a tricky puzzle. Careful observation of locals’ behavior and familiar hints like a word that starts with “halt” helped us figure out that this button was a “Stop Request,” before having to ask Google Translate.

In my writing life, I’ve decided that I’ve reached a stop where I want to get off and spend some time. But to do that, I have to press the button. The HALT button. The NO button.

I recently did a terrifying thing: I said “no” to being in a new, local, writing group. It shouldn’t have been terrifying. When someone asks you a yes/no question, in theory “no” is always one of the possible answers.

But for me, it never has been. I avoid “no” at all costs.

I read an article discussing why that may be, and if you’re like me, a first-born, yes-woman, you may find it interesting too:

In this case, the beloved friend, neighbor, and fellow-writer who asked me to join the group was visibly taken aback. In part because, as a recovering no-phobic, I couched my no:

“I wouldn’t be interested in another writing group unless I was getting paid for my time and energy to facilitate it.”

She was right to be a bit shocked. What a shit head response.  But at the same time, I know she recognized the truthful place I was coming from: People ask me to join groups all the time…and I end up managing them. Why? I’m a good manager. I understand the logistics, facilitation, and structure groups need to succeed. I don’t mind being in charge. I have a lot of energy for stuff that many people (especially writers!) hate. I’m always trying to anticipate problems, check in to be sure participants are happy, and be sure there’s a plan in place when inevitably, changes need to be made. I am incapable of allowing any group I am in to fail.

The new group is going to be full of AWESOME writers. It is going to be local, face-to-face, and I know I would gain a lot by being in it. And I want it to succeed, so I run a serious risk of missing my stop. Of going from “participant” to “organizer” without noticing.

I know this. My wonderful friend knows this. Saying “no” is the right thing to do, and yet, I am sad because I am a FOMO suffering wimp.

But I need to get to “yes.” “Yes” to writing this blog post, not organizing a meeting time between a bunch of people. “Yes” to a deep revision of the story slated for submission this month, not figuring out the queue for writing to be critiqued. I need to say “yes” to reading great books, not emailing helpful reminders.

Saying “no” to managing activities allows saying “yes” to the actual work. And I want to be saying both “no” and “yes” – at the right places – with greater frequency for the balance of 2017.

Haltewunsch! This is my stop. I’m getting off. I’m not picking up any more organizing, managing, or coordination work unless it keeps the dog in kibble. Feel free to offer me money to do those things, but I can’t do any more of them (for now) for free.





P.S. Newman: The WXR Tribe – How Introverted Writers Turned Into Social Butterflies

It will be a little while before I can process my own bloggerish thoughts, feelings, and ah-ha moments from the Writing Excuses Retreat (WXR). Technically speaking, it was only 18 days of my life, but it encompassed Cruise, Castle Tour, and Cronies Take Worldcon adventures, any one of which might inspire dozens…hundreds? Of stories.

In the meantime, I’m pleased to introduce you to my new writer friends who are quicker to type thoughts on the page.

Pia and Sven with our ship, MSC Fantasia, in Tallin, Estonia.

In this case, the delightful P. S. Newman, Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance Author of The Nightmare City Series, coming in October. Pia has excellent taste in linen shrugs, is excited to pony up for true local Estonian cuisine, and can read a map. She’s an indispensable resource on any adventure, and I can’t wait to go back to Germany and see her again.

So check out her thoughts about the cruise. Since I was the true *black sheep* of this bunch [EXTROVERT ALERT!!], I’ll share soon how my experience was, well, a little different, but still all good stuff.

Source: The WXR Tribe – How Introverted Writers Turned Into Social Butterflies


Arabella of Mars Book Review

Arabella of Mars Book Review

When I can hear the swell of theme music from words on a page, and happy tears jump to my eyes because the heroine is triumphant in both her quest and her wholly requited romantic inclinations, that means I’ve read a damn fine Steampunk Adventure Regency Romance Novel. Of which I think only this one may exist (along with its successors) written by David D. Levine.

The order of description I gave is no accident. Arabella of Mars has more in common with Horatio Hornblower novels and Treasure Island than Persuasion or anything Georgette Heyer. What sucked me in were the excellently researched portraits of “naval” life, allowing me to learn alongside Arabella about the imaginative addition of airships and hot air balloon sailing between planets. The book is fantasy, it requires suspension of disbelief, but the part of the tale that touches on the impossible is easy to accept as young “Ashby” learns his trade and becomes a member of the crew.

But as a lover of romances, it is the relationships Arabella has with her shipmates, her captain, and her Martian caretaker that give the book a rousing finish.



I gave the novel only four stars on Goodreads for two reasons: The main one was that the prologue, which gave me a glimpse into Arabella’s formative past, did not instill within me a strong affinity for the characters that explicitly motivate and drive the story. Arabella’s father does not fight for her, console her, or evidence the intelligence and affinity that Arabella ascribes to their relationship. That his loss affects poor Arabella deeply didn’t resonate with me.

Similarly, the brief interactions I saw between the heroine and her soft-hearted, beloved brother were so mild that I found myself rolling my eyes when Arabella waxed on about his merits. Her desperate adventure with the sole intent of saving him from a known threat fell hollow and made the first few chapters of the book hard for me to get into.

Once I was in, however, there were plenty of extremely well-written trials, fights, and perilous privateers to hold my interest and deepen my sympathy with Arabella. The pace and the plot of the second act were incredibly enjoyable.

The last part of the book, after Arabella is discovered to be a girl, was again, more difficult for me to enjoy.  Her treatment by the captain and crew was so abrupt that I fell out of the story for awhile, tempted to skim. Similarly, Arabella’s strangely generous nature with the villain rankled, though it was *so very Regency.* In that perhaps Levine accomplished what he set out to do perfectly.

The surprises and emotional resolutions in the last section aptly guided the book into the final resolution, underscoring themes about colonialism, family, culture, and above all else, honorable personal behavior in the face of anger and difficult circumstances.

I recommend this book to everyone interested in any of the genres above, whether romance is your thing, alternate history, pure adventure, or steampunk-ish fantasy. It is fun and has lots for a diverse array of readers to love.


Final Narration Techniques

The last bit of The Body in The Bathtub is happening this week and I’m also recording industrial training narration. The corporate narration is great because the clips are short and I get feedback immediately. I still get to practice all of the tips I’ve written about before here, and here (plus two new ones at the bottom) but evaluating the impact is quicker.


To Review:

Tip #1 – GESTURES – in this case, less about a movement for each character, and more about using my whole body to be encouraging and energized about the learning content.

Tip #2 – WARMUPS – (for my jaw especially) to loosen up my physical performance.

Tip #3 – Nose Breaths – still working on these. I’ve been doing editing on BITB too and I actually think the nose breaths are just as loud as the other kind if I actually run myself out of air.

Tip #4 – Attitude – the attitude for the technical training content is interesting. It is conversational speed, clear, but also warm and encouraging. I do a lot of smiling and imagining a classroom in front of me, but the attitude is pretty much just…Me. Helping people who need to know stuff. Surprisingly gratifying.


New Tips:

Tip #5 – Character Sheets – When I was taking classes at Voice One I was given a sample Character Sheet to complete. The goal is to fill out everything I know about the character, in particular, physicality and vocal descriptions. This is one way to “know” the character so well that the characterization is consistent. But it doesn’t always work. I am doing my homework, believe me. I know a LOT about these characters and have even talked to the author about them as if they were living beings (in some cases the human beings they are actually based on!) It is going back and forth rapidly that is challenging for my consistency.

So I’ve been cheating. I’m honestly not sure if this is OK or not, but until someone comments or “catches” me at it, I’ll keep doing it: I imitate. Yes, I love imitations, and my imitations are not good enough that I’ll sound *exactly* like a person or character, so a lot of the time I’m using characters I love and know well. Like, say…Glinda, The Good Witch of The North. Or The Wicked Witch of The West. Or even Dorothy Gale. (Spoiler Alert! Mary Poppins and Wendy Darling are coming up in Viola Roberts book 6, just wait.)

I’ve been playing at sounding like those characters/people for so many years that the FEEL of them is already in my mouth, my jaw, my posture. So I assign characters in the book who may share characteristics with other fictional characters to BE those characters. Vocally I know I’m ripping off someone else’s work; another actor’s interpretation as a basis for voices in the books. If I was terribly, terribly GOOD at, say, my Lily Tomlin impression, for extended periods of time, I might worry.

As it is, what I’m worried about right now is CONSISTENCY. I want a character to sound like the same person from scene to scene and book to book. If that means they sound a little bit like ‘Yvette doing her Lily Tomlin impression’ ALL the time, I consider that a win (for now).

Soon, I’m throwing in a little Paula Poundstone. When The Body in the Bathtub comes out, you can tell me if you recognize which character name I’ve given that impression. And if it’s bad, you can rib me about how awful it is…but it’ll be unique and consistent.


Tip #6 -Through Line – Mystery. The idea of tip 6 is that as the narrator, I am supposed to discover the narrator’s voice (not the character who is in the moment, but the narrator telling the story later). Then find their attitude and a way to give the whole book a sense of “throughline story.” The Viola Roberts books are mysteries, and my coach encouraged me to find a way to be telling the story of The Mystery!

This is where I admit that tip 6 is still something of a mystery to me. It is very Meta. Express the story about the story. I understand it logically, stepping back from it, but in-the-moment, when I’m reading, when I’m moving, when I’m vocalizing each character, when I’m remembering attitude and what each character wants from the scene….Well…in between, I guess I tend to “forget” the narrator and the through line.

Something to continue getting better at. No one said this stuff was easy. Hopefully keeping it in mind as much as possible is the best way to slowly but surely get better at it. Perhaps one day soon, mid-book, it will just CLICK.

The only way to know is to make more books and have my listeners provide feedback.

(Pssst! That’s you. PLUG: Buy my audiobooks and tell me what you think!)


Competence Strikes Again!

One year ago I wrote the following content. Now that I have a bona-fide website and blog, I am revising and sharing it here.

I am feeling a little competent about something and want to share:

For each character I “voice” (meaning I change my voice slightly in some way to distinguish between characters) I lay down a track with their name on it in a separate audio file. My audio mentor, Phil Mayes taught me to do this so that when the character shows up later in the book, I can go listen to what they’ve said at the beginning and mimic/recalibrate myself. (SIDE NOTE: I also make actual notes in a spreadsheet about how to stand, hold my mouth and what their voice FEELS like.)

I was just laying down a voice track for a new male character and I noticed, because they are all in the same file next to each other, that the vocal signatures –what the waveforms look like– are VERY different from each other.

I can actually SEE in my file that the characters are different. The pacing of their words is different. The roundness of speech is different. And each character has an internal consistency that is visual.

I’m not saying that sometimes I won’t slip and not quite do a voice 100%…it can be hard to remember that Kyle says sure with two syllables, “Shoo-wer” instead of “Sure” like Viola, but I feel good about training myself to be better and better, and notice these things over time!

If anyone I know does audiobook narration or audio-editing work and has more tips like this for me, everything is always welcome!


Santa Barbara Writers Conference Outcomes

Some people go to conferences to study specific topics, focus on particular things. The 2017 SBWC didn’t hold any targeted interest for me. I don’t have a manuscript to pitch, a Work In Progress (WIP) Novel to workshop, or even something I think I’m terrible at that needs rectifying.

All I need is practice.

So my time at the conference was spent emphasizing the generative aspect of writing. In my head, writing has three components:

  1. Generate
  2. Revise
  3. Finish

Most days, if you ask me, there is a final 25% of effort to “writing” that goes into the un-sexy “business” aspects (pitching, querying, and submitting or selling the writing). Those take a lot of work, and though SBWC is great for building those skills too, for now, I have enough of a handle on that.

I’m still figuring out my process for being successful at the generative, step 1. Because step 1 isn’t over after a good idea or an opening scene. It only ends after a beginning, a middle, and an end. Endings – some ending, even if it doesn’t end up being the one that lives on after revisions – is a prerequisite to revising and honing the perfect language.

But for me, endings are difficult to write if they are anything but on-the-nose, something heartily disfavored in fiction. So, while I know I need to become better at being subtle, hiding my motifs and morals more deeply within my prose, for this conference, this girl just wanted to have fun.

Every morning of the conference I met up with my writing group to do warmups and write from prompts. It was a blast! Here are some favorite lines from what I wrote during “free writing” this week:


“My husband sleeps hot, so the bedclothes are a negotiation of layers…”

“That is the function I most appreciate about fog: The muffling quiet of it. The water vapor in the air captures sound and makes the world calm.”

“My own self-portrait, should I ever draw, paint, sketch, or photograph my appearance, would always be a work of fiction.”

“The pressure of a life of abuse, love, powerlessness, fear, leadership, helping, storytelling, coaching, to press words into precious jewels.”

“We’ve been watching, and you humans are full of NOPE.”


I also collected a ton of phrases, reminders in various classes of things I have learned before, but need to remember to utilize. The list is unlikely to make much sense, except to writers, but I was amused enough by my own note-taking to include them here for you:

  • Hook with what you leave out
  • Immediate moment
  • Breadcrumbs
  • What are you asking your readers to track?
  • Immediate scene
  • Let background be background
  • Start as close to the crisis as possible
  • Make and keep promises
  • Conflict
  • 1+1 = .5
  • Track POV
  • In Chapter 1 you are training your readers
  • Structural balance
  • Specificity
  • Foreshadow
  • Pace
  • Show not tell
  • Nuanced characters
  • Bookending
  • What’s your message?


My next steps are no different than they were going into conference week: Finish short stories and submit them in between recording audiobooks and other money making work.

I have one more opportunity, starting in July, to float around the Baltic Sea, finishing and revising all the lovely beginnings I started at SBWC. Assuming my other WIP is finished. “Out the door, make room for more,” is apparently my new (renewed) motto. Wish me luck.


Practicing (ONLY) Six Techniques

Practicing (ONLY) Six Techniques
Warmups in the Booth

Recording for The Body in The Bathtub is well underway. With each book I record, I sincerely try to get better at the process. Farther away from mediocre. More on that later.

As I’ve written, before I started this latest book, I asked for some coaching from Kathy Garver. From her feedback, I picked six (of a million possible) tools and techniques to practice:

Tip #1 – GESTURES assigned to each character (in addition to voice placement, physicality, etc.) The idea here is that the gesture will remind me to QUICKLY access the character, as I switch back and forth during dialog.

Tip #2 – WARMUPS (for my jaw especially) to loosen up my physical performance.

Tip #3 – MOUTH OPEN & NOSE BREATHS are the next tips I am working on. With Kathy watching me, she could point out that I automatically close my mouth when I stop talking, instead of leaving it hanging open. That’s the sort of critically useful feedback a narrator needs and can’t really get working alone. Because I can’t see myself, I wasn’t aware that opening and closing my lips makes a teenie bit of noise. Noise I might be tempted to edit out. To avoid editing, I’m practicing leaving my mouth open when I’m recording, ready for the next line.

NOTE FOR MY FRIENDS: If you see me doing this at a party, please quote Mary Poppins at me under your breath: “Michael, we are not a codfish.”

Leaving my mouth gaping helps with breathing, though not strictly the nose breathing that Kathy recommended I try. For some reason, it is hard for me to breathe in through my nose when I am doing audiobook work. I have that amateur bad habit of sucking air deep into my lungs, which makes NOISE and has to be edited out (by me). That adds time and work. To reduce this, Kathy encouraged me to take little nose-breaths.

This is a bit of an issue, for several reasons. First, I broke my nose learning to ride a bike when I was a kid. I haven’t had it fixed, so my nasal passages are off-kilter. One works much better than the other, but even nose breaths make a little noise when I breathe, because of the blockage.

Second, I don’t get nearly as much air via my nose (I assume because of the deviated septum), and third, I have to really THINK about breathing that way. I’m training my body to do the opposite of what I previously trained it to do when learning to SCUBA dive. So in one lifetime, I have tried training myself to ONLY mouth-breathe, ONLY nose-breathe, and to circular-breathe (which I used to be able to do when I whistled).

I’m practicing the nose-breathing, but I do think it is adding time to my recording. Which is OK, I’m still learning, and I need to allow myself time (but I hope it isn’t TOO much time. I’ve got self-imposed deadlines).

Also, using my nose to breathe is hard because I usually use this amazing technique for breath support that I learned during a singing class. This video by Madeline Harvey helped me FINALLY understand that damn turkey-basting metaphor. HINT: It is about sucking in, not squeezing out.

If you truly use all of your breath and create a vacuum with your diaphragm, you can suck air in fully, quickly, and silently. This gives me HUGE air reserves, for very very very very very very very very long sentences, and reduces the total number of breaths I need.

Ultimately, as all of this technique settles in, I’ll just breathe however it is most comfortable. Until then, my audiobook recording is a lot about airflow.


Tip #4 – ATTITUDE is a quick way to get to characterization in a scene. Just asking “What is my character’s attitude?” is a helpful way to understand them and figure out what is happening…and therefore with their voice and dialog. I’ve learned this half-dozen times at least. Sadly for me, I’m an amateur and I honestly just forget to ask myself this question sometimes.

For at least 70% of the narration, I think it isn’t a big deal. I am reading words, with nice emphasis, and finding all the set-ups and punch lines. If my comedic timing is good, and every word is correct, and the dialog makes sense…that’s close enough, right?

Sure, if I want to STAY an amateur. But let’s face it, I want to be in the Audiobook Narration HALL OF FAME!!! (BTW, That doesn’t exist. Well, I don’t THINK it exists). Seriously, I want to be just as conscientious about creating great narration as I will someday be about writing great stories. As Monte Schultz said in his opening remarks to the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference this week, “Why would someone choose to be mediocre?”

Uh. To pay the rent? Duh, Monte.

So yeah, I have permission from myself to be mediocre as long as I need to in order to pay my mortgage. I can be mediocre while I’m getting better because nobody can be immediately awesome the first time they try.

Though, only because I’m terribly honest, I will point out I was called “outstanding” in my very first audiobook. It’s good to remember there’s always someone out there whose itch you perfectly scratch, and Thank All The Gods For That!



Tip #5 – Character Sheets

Tip #6 – Through Line – Mystery!




My last post was too long ago, and in it, I bemoaned broken hardware. But my Ortho Surgeon friend fixed my microphone, and I was back at recording two weeks ago, not knowing more troubles were on the horizon.

While I was away at the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference I allowed my IT Dept. (husband) to make a full backup of my machine, install the newest iOS, and schedule a trip to the Mac store. All this despite my fear that the learning curve of software updates would decrease my productivity or that I might be without a computer for work that needed to get done.

Regularly scheduled maintenance is no one’s favorite phrase, but one of my ports died (the one I use for my USB mic), and the screen was being jittery in a way that made me glad I don’t have migraines or epilepsy. Then the machine crashed in the middle of a recording session.

I had hoped that the update might fix several annoying issues. It didn’t. And neither did a trip to the Mac Store. Well, I have other USB ports.

So last night I got ready to record, and plugged in my mic, and went to pull up the last chapter I had been recording when the Mac crashed suddenly in the middle…

Gone. All Gone. The recording work I did during my last session was kaput. Not on the drive, not on the backups.

Setbacks like this are the hallmark of amateur productions, and I’m disheartened that even after decades of careful checking and re-checking and personal procedures and checklists to prevent exactly this…I am still fallible. Fallibility SUCKS.

So, let’s move on from the fact that I am going to need to clear my schedule and double-down on recording time this week to make my deadlines, and instead focus on those tips I got from Kathy Garver.

Tip # 1 – gestures! 

In my session after the microphone got fixed, but before the Mac crashed for no apparent reason, I was LOVING the gestures! They were really helping me to ZOOM through dialog keeping the voices clear. Now let’s hope that having chosen specific hand movements for each character, notated them in my narrator doc, and practiced them for several chapters…re-creating them will be easy as eating pie. (Which I won’t do because I’d like to lose a few pounds before gaining them back on the cruise ship this summer).

Tip # 2 – warmups! 

This is one I had already been doing, but in my haste, Kathy caught me starting to record prior to physical warmups. I do do this…almost all the time…but she reminded me that just a few minutes of working out the kinks, the clanks, and the clicks helps energise a performer and help them be ready to bring the BODY to bear on the voice work.

For me personally, this is especially true of my chin and jaw. I hold a lot of tension in my jaw, talker that I am. Making a list of movements and never starting work without completing them is the sign of a “professional.” There are no shortcuts when it comes to physicality.

Join me for Tip # 3 next week, plus more stuff I learned at the conference this week.





All dressed down in my recording duds…

And nowhere to go tonight, because:

1. My hardware is broken.

This screw that holds the thingie that holds my shock mount that holds my mic is busticated. Unclear how that happened.

I *JUST* adjusted it, for the first time in…over a year…on Sunday. Hmmmm.

When I got into the studio today the mic was flopped down. I’m super bummed because I just finished spending my work hours over the last day updating my narrator notes.

I needed to incorporate all the AWESOME 1:1 coaching I got from Kathy Garver this past weekend.

Kathy was an instructor of mine at Voice One in SF, specifically for audiobooks. By inviting her for a mini SB overnight, I was able to tempt her to visit. She took some extra time on a trip to L.A. to spend a couple of hours providing me with coaching.

I work alone and I’m a relative newbie, so it can be hard to evaluate my work and identify how to continuously improve. I asked Kathy to listen to my audiobooks as she drove, and provide professional feedback. When she arrived, I plied her with traditional SB fare (Harry’s Plaza Cafe), the company of friends, and an evening of SB Improv.

2. I am also having a fight with my Kindle app. It keeps telling me that my narration document can’t be uploaded, or converted, or some such nonsense. It will resolve eventually, but the mysterious process by which my Word Doc becomes a Kindle-readable file is clearly snafu-d and there’s nothing I can do but try again and wait.

Based on Kathy’s feedback, I’m trying out 6 new things to improve my audiobooks. Over the next few posts, I will share them, starting with GESTURES. The feedback from her was that sometimes, character’s voices become inconsistent, or fade out. During scenes, different characters will start out nicely different, but by the end of a scene, or when they come back in a later scene, the characters are not as easily distinguishable.

To combat this, I’m designating a gesture of some kind to go along with each character. I “know” that to inhabit the characters I have to change my posture, stance, head position. Usually, a lot of movements make up a character and character voice. Which means that if I’ve made it too complex, it is easy to forget something during the rapid pace of recording, and when the body slides…the voice slides…and if I am not careful, every character sounds just like me.

Bad Form. So to try simplifying and making the voice transitions sharper, I have gone through and picked unique gestures – all hand related – to do as I voice characters. Woo-Hoo! Learning and improving! I’ve practiced the gestures and voices and added hints to myself in my Narration Notes…


…the Narration Notes that I can’t open in my Kindle App and that even if I could, I can’t read and record because I have no way to keep my microphone pointing toward my mouth, not my toes.

So ends a disappointing work night for me. Tomorrow is another day.