The Unasked Question: Emily Randolph-Epstein Asks Why

It seems the safest question to ask when you meet anyone new: “So, what do you do for a living?” Did cocktail parties of the 50’s give us this dreaded question? Because I wish it would die already, or become as much tongue and cheek as “How about those Dodgers?”

I do so many things.

Do I talk about how I make money today?

Or the thing that I’m studying that I plan will someday be the way I earn a living?

If I tell people about my last career or my current actual consulting business their faces display flat incomprehension. And though it’s useful for avoiding blank stares, nobody enjoys, “It’s complicated.”

Emily Randolph-Epstein has a system for answering.  (High five and you-go-girl for making this work for you!) She inspires me to give this issue more thought, especially because right now I am at the Jane Austen Society of North America Annual General Meeting, meeting new people. And I’ll have to tell them something.





Melanie Marttila: The Writing Excuses Retreat, part 3

Melanie lapped me again on the track of travel blogging, so I’ll share her version of Part 3 to keep your appetites whetted.

Some things were different for me:

  1. I didn’t wake up at stupid o’clock because I spent two days in Vienna, adjusting to the time zone shift.
  2. I thought the gorgeous islands on the approach to Stockholm looked like Lake Tahoe, and suddenly comprehended, deep in my guts, why one of my favorite historical sites, Vikingsholm, was given that name.
  3. Melanie held back on the intense drama of having an off-the-rails tour guide in Stockholm. NOTE 1: Groups need water and snacks on a tour that starts before lunch, and ends mid-afternoon. NOTE 2: If there are children on your tour, and you are not going to see the reindeer DO NOT MENTION THE REINDEER. NOTE 3: NEVER SPLIT THE GROUP NOTE 4: Don’t be a racist jerk.
  4. Melanie was ON IT: Sunsets! From a boat! AWESOME. Never occurred to me. I was probably to busy trying to describe ‘washcloth’ to some poor steward. Again. (Yes, EVERY. DAY.)


Melanie Marttila:





What’s Casper The Friendly Ghost Got To Do With This?

What’s Casper The Friendly Ghost Got To Do With This?

A day after my post about ending friendships and not wanting to be “ghosted,” the brilliant Emily wrote a piece offering an opposing viewpoint. I’m reposting it below and coining a new term: Diablog. (might not be new. didn’t bother checking)

I strive to be fair and have open discussions about important things. Like childhood cartoons.

What was Casper’s problem?

He desperately wanted friends, but everyone was scared of him because he was a ghost. I relate to that so deeply. I mean, I wasn’t a ghost, but I also wasn’t seen.

I was a smarty-pants, “bossy” girl, who could pick the game and save the day…but no one liked her.

My sense of self is as intertwined with a desperate desire for friends as Casper’s was. But what constitutes labels like “friend,” “best friend,” “ex-friend,” “un-friend,” or even “ghost,” is a conversation I continue to find fascinatingly relevant. It comes down to Relationship. Are you in one? How do you end one? Is it “better” if both sides participate, even in the ending?

Check it out and leave comments, or join the diablog, make it a triablog (no, that’s just silly), and continue the discussion in your blogsphere!

Confessions of a Ghost


More Castles with Emily Randolph-Epstein: My Life as a Fairy Tale Character

More Castles with Emily Randolph-Epstein: My Life as a Fairy Tale Character

If you are subscribed to my monthly newsletter you’ve seen a few snapshots of Mark and me touring castles in Germany and heard what I thought about cruising. If you are not a subscriber, you can sign up here, or read the wonderful post below about someone else’s experience of the castle tour.

My over-simplified view is that castles were built atop hills across Europe for two main reasons: 1) power base 2) safety. Defensible structures of stone, with 360-degree visibility, allowed the Haves to protect their Have nots without risk to their own possessions.

Thus in this European descendant’s unconscious, castles are the ultimate symbol of safety. We can lock up the most precious things in castles, and be warned if any monsters are coming to try to take them away.

It also explains why castles are filled with gloriously pretty things. Never underestimate the fact that throwing gold on everything is an overt way to shore up your power base: Don’t cross me, or I’ll use the gold on this statue right here to hire someone to ensure you don’t wake up tomorrow.

Once a person is safe, they want to be comfortable. They prefer warm tapestries to cold stone walls; plump cushions in colors that put them at ease, and of course the Got Mad Skills craftsmen want to serve and impress the Haves. With the power and the safety of King of the Hill comes a lot of people who want to shelter with you.

So touring castles to soak in the comfort, history of power struggles, and a deeply inspiring architecture, can have the effects described beautifully by today’s featured blogger, Emily Randolph-Epstein. In My Life as a Fairytale Character, Emily does a superb job of capturing more about the tour I was on with her, and what it feels like to return home if, like me, you’re a filthy liberal snowflake.

Because frankly, for me, touring castles was like a more fun version of stopping by an open house for a property I know I can’t afford. I admire and romanticise the inherent lifestyle I don’t have, won’t have, and wouldn’t choose to have unless all my Have Nots would fit and be just as protected.

Emily alludes to a difficult fact, and like her, I’m also struggling with days where a defensible castle, filled with loved ones, sounds like a reason to book group fares and file emigration paperwork. Sadly, that’s not the sort of fairytale I’m in. My country is a scary place for people I love right now. I do not have a castle on a hill to retreat to, so it is time to figure out what “fighting the bad guys” looks like for me. It is a different, but equally important part of the fairy tales: Ensure that evil does not prevail.


Story Prompts For Non-Verbal Thinkers, Part 1

Story Prompts For Non-Verbal Thinkers, Part 1

This week’s guest post is courtesy of Mark Bessey. Mark is renowned among his acquaintances as a teller of funny stories. Lucky for us, he has finally decided to write them down. He blogs about software issues at Another Day in The Code Mines.


It’s accepted wisdom, maybe even a truism, that writers love words. But some writers are not inherently verbal thinkers. For me, whether I’m trying to work out a plot point, or imagine a scene, I usually start with a visual impression. I see a little movie play out in my head, and then I write down the dialog and describe the scene from there.

I often find that traditional writing prompts leave me cold, like those from Reddit’s /r/WritingPrompts, or the ones at the end of the Writing Excuses podcast. When I’m looking at an empty page, and a bunch of words in a prompt, it can be hard for me to get the writing engine engaged.

If words alone don’t always work for you either, tune in over the next couple of weeks for writing prompts that go beyond just words. First up: Story Cubes!

Rory’s Story Cubes
Nominally, this is “a storytelling game” for all ages. But it’s also a fantastic brainstorming tool. It’s a set of dice, but instead of a number, each of the faces has a simple line drawing of a thing, an action, or an idea. You can roll the dice, and see where the images lead you. For me, this works remarkably-better than sitting and staring at verbal prompts for a while, feeling increasingly frustrated. The visual prompts frequently lead immediately into a story idea.

For example, while on the Writing Excuses Retreat Cruise, we were given an opportunity to do a Lightning Read of 350 words of one of our stories. I didn’t have anything that I really felt like reading out loud to an audience, so I decided that I’d write something new (within the next hour), and read that – because why not make something that was already going to be really hard for me even harder? I pulled out the cubes, and I rolled this:

The pyramid and the mobile phone make a wonderful juxtaposition, don’t they? And what’s the deal with that globe? From this, I got the inspiration for a story, which I’m calling Project Manager – a short comedic sketch about a time-traveling(?) telecom engineer, and the origin of the Great Pyramids of Egypt. I don’t think I would have come up with this story without that visual.

I’ve used the Story Cubes as writing inspiration for a few years. Originally, they just had the one set of cubes, but they’ve branched out into a huge variety of add-on sets.

The “big” sets (9 cubes each) are Original, Actions, and Voyages, which are broadly applicable to all sorts of genres and styles. They’ve got a bunch of sets with more-specific themes (3 cubes each), covering themes like horror, sci-fi, and fantasy, as well as branded sets for the Looney Toons and DC Comics. You can often find deals online on multiple sets offered together like this one.

I’ve got the three big sets, as well as Enchanted, Prehistoria, Clues, and Powers (actually Superkräfte, because I bought that set in Germany). I gotta say, I don’t find that Prehistoria is really very useful unless you’re actually writing a story about dinosaurs. I’d highly-recommend any of the other sets, though.

Next Monday, we’ll follow up with some more non-verbal writing cues, including auditory and kinesthetic techniques. See you then!


Tenacious Accountabillibuddies Build Empires

Tenacious Accountabillibuddies Build Empires

Say This Three Times Fast: “Tenacious Accountabillibuddies Build Empires!”

by Silver Webb

Yvette Keller (FLOF) and Angela Borda (Silver Webb)


They say, “do what you love and the money will follow.” Well, some people say that.

My mother says, “You should get a job at the bank and work your way up to manager.” I am here to affirm that it is perfectly possible to do what you love, pour your passion into your art, and find that no money follows, not even a penny.

But it is also possible to become a paid writer or artist. The catch is that it takes an enormous amount of effort. Like more work than you will ever put into a 9-to-5 job. I am a blogger, food writer, novelist, and editor. Some of these things pay. Some do not. And they are the reason I am lucky to get seven hours of sleep a night. I have been working on my current novel for five years, and at some point in the near future, my friends are going to band together and *pay* me to stop working on it.

I also blog about my life adventures (visit me at, eating good food, taking pretty pictures, and turning it into a narrative that I hope readers enjoy. That might be the sum story of me. An editor who has the delightful hobby of writing.

But. BUT! I have two things going for me that assure that my path ascends higher: a refusal to give up and an accountabillibuddy named Yvette Keller, who has kindly invited me to write this guest blog here on her website.

The tenacity part is self-evident. It takes tenacity to query 60 agents about your book. Tenacity to keep revising and writing, even in the face of “your book is not a good fit for the agency at this time.” And more tenacity to keep pitching article ideas to editors.

I was fortunate enough (or tenacious enough, you decide) to develop a working relationship with the editor of a local food magazine, and over the last year and a half have become a regular, paid contributor. It wasn’t anything more dramatic than sending an email asking if I could write an article for him…but that one reply with “sure you can write an article” came after a lot of “no” emails from agents and editors. Now I am writing some new articles on spec that I will begin to pitch to national magazines. I expect there will be a lot of “no’s”…but if I keep at it, I bet you there will be one “yes” and then another and then another.

So, that’s tenacity sorted. My other secret weapon, as mentioned, is my accountabillibuddy Yvette. She is my buddy in accountability. It sounds terribly unglamorous, like something you have in a 12-step program. And it *is* terribly unglamorous in that empires are built on heavy bricks that you have to keep laying day-by-by. But it is wonderful to have support.

We coordinate and discuss our goals, check in on each other’s progress, brainstorm on ways those goals can happen more quickly, offer help when we can, read each other’s work, give feedback, and encourage the heck out of each other to keep going. At least once a week we sit down and evaluate, usually with tea and treats in hand. If you read Yvette’s fabulous newsletter or my blog (where Yvette goes by the moniker First Lady of Frosting, or FLOF), you’ll also get the picture that we have a lot of fun! Usually baking, occasionally sipping cider, often in costume, and always, always writing.


Celebrating success is a critical component of being accountabilibuddies!

Over the last year, with tenacity and a LOT of work, Yvette turned a great voice and a microphone into a career of audio book narrator, created her amazing website, published one of her short stories, polished even more stories, edited books, blogged every week, and constructed the bones of her forthcoming novel. And that’s just Year One. I couldn’t be prouder of her, or more thankful.

So that’s my advice for anyone reading this who has talent and a dream. Work hard. Be tenacious. And find yourself a buddy to help you build that empire!



Guest Post: Local Travel

This week I’m the guest blogger over at Eva Barrow’s blog. You may recall that last month Eva shared with me about starting her Literary Journal, Imitation Fruit, on it’s 10th anniversary of publication.

I’m returning the favor by sharing images and thoughts about Mesa Lane Steps. Please go check out the cycles of change at my local beach, plus BONUS: Cute dog pictures!

Olieo and his favorite “float” toy during the king tides – Photo by Yvette Keller




A Decade of Imitation Fruit Literary Journal

A Decade of Imitation Fruit Literary Journal

Guest Blogger Eva Barrows is a San Francisco Bay Area freelance and fiction writer with a comedic bent. Eva blogs about local places, people, and events on her writer website She founded Imitation Fruit Literary Journal, in 2007 and has enjoyed promoting fellow writers and artists ever since.



Years of pent up technical knowledge about all aspects of publishing gathered in my brain. Tired of searching for an established outlet to release my talents, an all-consuming idea struck me. I would start my own literary journal! I revealed this novel idea to my husband John when we were waiting for our food order at a local restaurant. I was so excited that I twisted a red straw meant for my soda into a small wad of un-usable plastic. When I announced, “I’m going to start my own literary journal!” tingles of excitement radiated through my limbs.

At the time, I was still trying to come up with a name for the journal. I tossed possible names out to John over dinner. I wanted something inclusive, a wide net with a side of whimsy. As we all know stories aren’t always true to life but some quality in them is true. So how about the word “imitation”? And each story, poem, artwork is the reward of creative labor – the “fruit.” And this journal I’m creating would be the basket that holds all of the Imitation Fruit!

Cover Art by Eva Barrows

My curiosity with the world of publishing took me on a path of discovery and learning through high school, college and beyond. In high school, I was fortunate enough to have a teacher who created a collaborative environment in her literary journal class. I was able to participate in all aspects of creating the school’s literary journal. When in community college my friend Jenny and I attempted to create a student-led literary magazine, however, our attempt was hijacked and squashed by the established school newspaper. I went on to San Francisco State University and was a part of the undergrad literary journal, Transfer where I evaluated some of the stories that were submitted to the journal. After graduation, I landed an internship at Travelers’ Tales publishing where I participated in the entire cycle of producing a book from submission to star-studded launch party.

Thinking back on it now, I’m amazed that I didn’t feel afraid about the decision to start a journal. I wasn’t scared of failure because I knew what I was doing. Or at least I was confident in the skills that I had built up over the years to realize that I could figure anything out that had to do with making Imitation Fruit a success. There were things that I didn’t know like how to set up and design a website. Instead of letting that stop me, I bought manuals on HTML and CSS and walked myself through the process. It was challenging and still is when I need to tinker with the design of the website. I have lost hours and even days trying to figure out various technical issues but eventually, I find a solution.

What I’ve created in Imitation Fruit is a community of contributors and readers. The reach of the journal started out small. I got as many creative friends and family members involved with the journal as I could. They made up the first issue along with some local people who found my ad for contributors on Craigslist. After the journal initially got going I advertised in the magazine Poets & Writers for submissions and started getting content from all over the U.S. The journal has a pretty good sized email list now. I keep in touch with everyone once submission time rolls around each year. I enjoy finding out about the successes of Imitation Fruit contributors, such as authors publishing new books and artists getting new exposure on other platforms.

Cover Art by John Barrows

It’s important to me that Imitation Fruit be an uplifting experience for readers. The submission guidelines ask for “fun and upbeat” content. Many literary journals that I’ve studied publish some well written, albeit depressing stories. Personally, I want to focus on reading and writing stories that have necessary tension but ultimately the characters can overcome hardships in some positive way. And I always appreciate content that can give me a good laugh.

Imitation Fruit is also unique in its peacock display of color and artwork. I use the layout software Adobe InDesign so I can control the colors used on the pages and place the graphics wherever I want. I suppose this would be possible to do in HTML/CSS but that’s a little over my head…I’m an editor, not a web design aficionado! In the beginning, I admit I went a little crazy with the background colors and designs. As the issues progressed I streamlined the background color process which saves me time and made the layout less cluttered. The journal went from “arts and crafts” to a more sleek presentation but I’m the one saying it’s sleek now…hopefully, that’s correct.


“Oh yeah, this is going to be a great issue!”


There are two stages in the process of creating an issue of Imitation Fruit when I feel the most fulfillment in the process of publishing. The first time I feel really excited about an issue is when I come up for air after three rounds of review. My long-time friend Jenny assists me with the final review of content. Once I compare her marks with mine, the finalized list of poems and stories appears in front of me. Always, I think to myself, “Oh yeah, this is going to be a great issue!” Then I go back into the thick of it and produce the issue. Producing the issue encompasses a series of highly organized processes such as editing content, contributor permissions, sourcing artwork, layout design, web layout, editorial content, link-up website and then upload to the website. After all of that, I don’t celebrate. I let the issue simmer for about a week online then I take a look at all of the work I did along with all of the work the contributors did and then I give myself a second pat on the back.

For the past ten years, Imitation Fruit has been my main creative outlet. This opportunity I created for myself has paid off in many ways. I’ve succeeded in my goal to keep up my publishing skills, and have learned a lot along the way. The journal itself has fostered a community of contributors and readers who eagerly await the release of each issue. I’ve stayed in touch with several contributors and I am always happy to see their mounting triumphs in the world of publishing. Most of all I’ve enjoyed the opportunity the journal has given me to publish content that makes me smile, and I hope it makes you smile as well.