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My Contest Entry: James Patterson Masterclass


I was given the James Patterson writing Masterclass for Christmas, and enjoyed the class. Part of the class involved a contest to become a co-writer on a James Patterson book, and a lot of people took a stab at it — including me!

Since the 10 semi-finalists have been announced and I’m not one of them (insert sad violin song here) I get to share what I wrote for the contest! It was really fun coming up with something that might fit the James Patterson style. I didn’t quite succeed (I’m a little too snarky) but I like my concept and definitely had fun writing the chapter. Keeping it short was the hardest part for me since I tend to write long, but both the blurb and the sample chapter had very tight word count limits.

The title (which inspired the whole idea): Dead Date In Hipster Paradise

Here’s the blurb I wrote for the book:

“Hipster in Paradise” was a killer idea for a reality dating show — only it came with a real killer! The murder of a contestant right after she won the first challenge (maple-bacon donut tossing and espresso chugging) is initially assumed to be unconnected to the show. But then contestant Jolie Sanders has her own near-death experience, and she begins to wonder if someone in the cast (or crew) is hunting for the perfect mate, or for the perfect victim.

And here’s my sample chapter:

Chapter 3.

The explosion threw us backwards, directly into the balloon wall. I don’t know which sound drew the rest of the show contestants and the crew — the booby trap on the pretty blue box when we opened it, or the sound of two bodies popping hundreds of balloons.  (I was too deafened by the explosion to hear the balloons at the time, but I later convinced one of the crew to play it back for me from the day’s raw footage, and it was quite impressive.)

The first people bubbled out of the extremely narrow stairs leading to the 2nd floor passenger area of the train car and came to a stop until pushed by someone behind them, who then repeated the stop and get pushed routine. I sat there blinking and listening to the ringing in my ears as two crew members pushed through, camera and boom mic in hand, then rushed toward us. All I could think of was that this probably wasn’t a good look for me. I reached one hand up to check, and yep, I definitely had balloon hair. I turned slightly and saw Jayson doing the same.

“That really sucked!” I bellowed. At least I think I yelled it. I could feel myself yelling, but still only mostly heard ringing. The train jerked around a corner and everyone swayed, grabbing at the wall for balance.

“Wh-ap-ed?” I almost heard from the crew member with the boom mic. I pointed at the remains of the box. Jayson was yelling something at the camera man, and pointing at me.

“The box said “open me if you dare” so we did,” I said, in a more normal tone. “It’s part of the show, right?”

Twenty minutes later Jayson and I had been checked out by the medical staff from the crew car and then abandoned along with the other contestants. Every single crew member was in an emergency meeting, and we’d all been moved to yet another train car.

The small office area with a single desk and two chairs was too small for all 23 of us so some were stuck standing in the hallway between the crew sleeping cabins. Barbie and I managed to elbow our way in together. Scott (the librarian, not the lawyer) and Pruett were trying to quiet us down by vigorous hand waving and polite “Oh hey now” lines when Sam whistled loud enough to wake people three towns away. Most of us quieted and waited politely for someone to play leader. Patricia, Scott and Alison began to rock-paper-scissors as Pruett asked if anyone had any straws.

Meanwhile DesiLynn was trying to look everyone in the eye without actually moving her ‘good side’ too far away from the single visible camera high up on the far wall. “The train…is a deathtrap. We must be…on our guard. And never…alone.”

Barbie mumbled “Asthma?” my direction. I shook my head and whispered back “Shatner school of acting.” A snort from behind me let me know I was still a little too loud.

“Shouldn’t we, you know, try to leave? I mean, explosions. And like death. That’s really not cool.” I couldn’t see who spoke but I could see frowns on other faces.

“Leave now? Before the elimination round? No way. I’m not going to give up that easily.” I couldn’t remember the redhead’s name but she was an accountant-slash-singer from Portland who wanted to find someone who enjoyed the same things she loved in life, like coffee, protest marches, and bicycle riding in heavy traffic.

“I’m still alive, so I’m staying,” I found myself volunteering. People twirled to see me, and some eyes moved over my shoulder. Without turning I knew the snort I’d heard was from Jayson. I put on my brave-yet-soulful expression (version 1.0) and lifted my chin a notch. “The crew might be panicking, but I don’t actually know that someone was trying to kill Jayson and I. It might have just been a dirty trick and unrelated to Karalee’s death. The police seemed to think her ex was involved in that, and there’s no reason for him to be on the train coming after the rest of us.”

“I heard rumors that the whole show has received threats from people who weren’t picked during the auditions!”

“All reality shows get threats,” suggested another voice, and a few heads nodded. We all looked at Kristen and Bradley. He smoothed his fluffy mustache and nodded while she looked wise and world-weary as she flipped her long brown hair back over the shoulder of her fur-trimmed denim vest. I’d seen each of them yesterday evening when I was sneaking around, and they’d definitely been practicing those same Wise Elder looks and poses so I didn’t buy it — but a lot of the other contestants looked like they’d just been blessed by the pope of Reality TV.

I made a mental note to try to separate the two of them the first chance I got, before they gained super-couple status, since that would ruin my chances of winning this. A quick glance at Barbie made me suspect that she was having similar thoughts — she had that dangerous half-smile going and had tilted her head just like I’d seen her doing during the first competition event. She caught me looking and her mouth twitched. It was too darned bad we were competitors on this show — I was really starting to like her.

Pruett cleared his throat and tugged on the bottom of his grey vest. “Folks, I hate to point this out, but we need to discuss the elephant in the room. Karalee’s murderer could be one of us.”

Yeah, like we hadn’t all already wondered that. It put quite a nasty crimp in the dating part of the contest. Instead of the cut-throat competition we’d been promised we all now had to worry about, well, throat cutting. Definitely not cool.

Be a Maker, not a Marketer

I have to rant a bit here.
You know what all those gurus don’t mention when telling people how to market themselves as artists, photographers, writers, programmers, etc.? That no matter how wonderful you are at creating/doing, you have to create or do something that the other person wants before money will flow your way. That’s why the guys and gals who pick up trash or clean houses don’t get told to spend 40+ hours a week on InstaGram — the desire/demand for what they do is already there, and the maker/creator/workerbee doesn’t have to try to create a demand out of nothing.
Most of those “here’s how to market” articles, videos, courses, Facebook groups, and so on, have two premises: first, that you need to *manufacture* desire and demand by “branding” yourself (a pretty name for spending money on things that don’t have an obvious ROI) and then naming your version of the product/service (which is exactly the same as everyone else in your market’s product/service except it has you) something fancy. And second, that there’s a massive demand for whatever it is you do (even though there are zero statistics to back it up) but the reason you aren’t seeing it is you’re not using the special blend of herbs and spices needed to reach those people on social media. The gurus always have stories about someone who went from 1 follower to 5,000 followers they use as an example of why you need to do this, but I have yet to see a single one of those “social media famous” peeps who followed the guru’s teachings driving a mercedes they bought with the profit from selling their actual skills. The guru, however, probably has one, and it was purchased with the profit from selling you classes and stuff…you wanted the fantasy they were selling, and you paid them.
If you don’t have something people want to buy — a novel they want to read, a service they’re willing to pay for, a piece of art they actually want to put on their wall — then all the branding, fancy product names, cool book covers, fancy websites/logos, and IG posting in the world won’t get you paying clients.
Create a kick-ass product or service first, people, then sell it. Stop following the gurus who say you need to build a following for your novel before you write it, or who insist your actual paying clients will care how many followers you have. Unless you’re selling yourself as a marketing guru or selling your ability to post on IG (like some bloggers do with sponsored posts) then your focus should be on making something that’s so awesome it sells itself. Spend that stereotypical 1000-10,000 hours on improving your photos or sketching skills so you have something people want to spend money on, instead of spending your time creating a market for a product/service that won’t be any different or any better than what the guy next door is selling.
And at the end of the day, if there are already 50 people in your market offering the same thing you plan to offer *and* your product or service isn’t 100 times better (not just marketed better) then why are you throwing all that money and time away? Sure, it’s more fun and better for your ego to say you’re a professional whatever than to say it’s your hobby. But you’ll never get all those hours back that you spent trying to create the perfect Instagram following for a product/service that is identical to all the ones that went out of business in your area last year. But those same hours spent on that hobby or interest will not only bring you the joy of time spent practicing and creating, it might just propel you into the rarefied category of an expert.
Keep in mind that if the making/creating is truly your passion, you’ll find a way to write your novel on your lunch hour while working a boring job that pays your bills. If you live for photography or creating art, then you’ll find a way to spend your weekends doing what you love while still managing to survive a soul-sucking job. But be honest with yourself — if the whole reason you *love* photography or desire to be a writer is you hate your job (as opposed to an overwhelming need to write, draw, bake, make, photograph, etc.) then the problem really REALLY isn’t that you don’t have enough IG followers or the right logo.
Be a maker first. Create. Get better at what you do. Spend hours slaving over your ability to make the product or perform the service, rather than over your branding colors. Give it away for YEARS if  you need to. Create and do for the purpose of creating and doing, and not just because you can post about it on social media.
Rant over. Back to our regularly unscheduled program.

Worldbuilding and naming


There was an interesting discussion in one of my Facebook writing groups today, about whether a fantasy novel needs to call a horse a horse or come up with all new beasts and names. The original poster wanted to know if it was OK to use Earth animals rather than coming up with her own. There were some great points about the differences between sci fi and fantasy, and also about how some writers name every single object with some new fancy name and how that slows down the reading.

Here’s what I had to say on this: “In the Little Fuzzy books (H. Beam Piper) the planet settlers were creative, and named the items they discovered on the planet Fuzzies (latin-esque name Fuzzy Fuzzy Zarathustra), Damnthing (as in “one damn thing after another”), and Sunstones. This was sci fi, not fantasy, and it worked because it shows the psychology of how people name things. Here on Earth a “deer” wasn’t a deer until a majority of us called it that and stuck that word in the English dictionary. Call your riding beasts runnerbeasts (as they’re called on Pern) or some fancy name that matches other words in some “native” language if you really need to differentiate that they aren’t horses in order to show something to your readers. For example, you might describe them in the detail they’re described by CJ Cherryh in her Foreigner series if the pain of riding them moves the plot along. But if they’re just part of the scenery, the way carrots, beer, and fountain pens are, then don’t bother jumping through hoops.”

I’m very stuck on “does it move the story” logic right now. I’m trying not to edit myself as I write new sections in my main WIP, but every time I check something already written for consistency I find myself paging back and forth through all sorts of things and writing notes to myself about whether or not to remove certain things. It’s a pretty good thing to be hung up on. Now if I could just get hung up on finishing the last few chapters of that WIP….

2016 NaNoWriMo: concept development and worldbuilding


Another interesting bit of conceptual development from the NaNo worldbuilding forum.

1. What is valued most in your Society? (Money, Family, Love, etc.)

Tesh (my main character) isn’t sure what her people value since she’s lost her memory; as the story progresses she realizes she values independence and knowledge. The La’an race values their Goddess, personal strength, magical/political power, and most of all control. The races that lived in the city where the story takes place before the disaster seem to (from what Tesh remembers and sees of how the city is designed) value beauty, freedom, art/craft, and trade.

2. What is the main cause of conflict in your society? (Is there war? Is there a group of people that no one likes?)

The La’an feel their Goddess has told them to take over the city. Some of their people (accidentally?) caused the magical disaster that flattened the city center and turned most of the city to rubble, and now the ruling council of the La’an trying to find out what exactly happened so they can harness that same power to rule the world. Tesh (main character) wants to get away from the La’an and finds herself trying to prevent them from getting access to the magic. Meanwhile the power/destruction has created monsters called The Twisted (and a killer Plant as well) who want to eat everyone.

3. What is your climate like and what grows there? (You can’t build your characters house out of wood, if you live in a barren wasteland where nothing grows.)

The city before the disaster was the cultural and trade center of a thriving country. Semi-rainforest in most of the country, with hills loaded with trees and beautiful well-watered plains for growing food. Loads of natural resources, fast growing plant varieties (each home had tiny hanging gardens of beans and hemp), and great trade deals with neighboring countries. Now the entire city is flattened, and the Plant is what grows there, feeding off of anything it lures close enough to catch.

4. What do the people there eat? How do they get their food?

What food and water the few people still alive in the city can find is suspect because it’s been heavily dosed with magic.

5. What in our world threatens your main species? (Is there Famine or an Epidemic? Is the planet dying or is there wild predators? No one is completely safe)

It’s more like “What isn’t a threat?” in this story. There are three major visible threats (the La’an, the Twisted, and the Plant), rubble and buildings falling down, no untainted food, no untainted water. It’s only been three days since the disaster, so who knows what sort of diseases will be a threat as time goes on. The Twisted suck out all the magic that makes people/animals live and what’s left is just an empty shell that survives for a few days and then falls over and turns into dust. The Plant lures you (with scent), then stuns you and absorbs you. The La’an will sacrifice you if you get in their way (or maybe just because you don’t look like them, or worship their Goddess). And don’t look now but the magic in the heart of the city seems to be growing…

2016 Nanowrimo plot post


This year I stumbled on thread on the NaNo forums where you were challenged to write your plot like a Pixar plot summary. The Pixar pitch goes like this:

1. Once upon a time there was …
2. Every day …
3. One day …
4. Because of that …
5. Because of that …
6. Until finally …

Example: Finding Nemo
1. Once upon a time there was … a widowed fish, named Marlin, who was extremely protective of his only son, Nemo.
2. Every day … Marlin warned Nemo of the ocean’s dangers and implored him not to swim far away.
3. One day … in an act of defiance, Nemo ignores his father’s warnings and swims into the open water.
4. Because of that … he is captured by a diver and ends up in the fish tank of a dentist in Sydney.
5. Because of that … Marlin sets off on a journey to recover Nemo, enlisting the help of other sea creatures along the way.
6. Until finally … Marlin and Nemo find each other, reunite and learn that love depends on trust.

What a fun way to summarize a plot! But it is tough to fit to this year’s Nano outline, since 1 through 4 is basically the first few paragraphs, and the rest of the book are items 5 and 6! Here’s my Pixar’d plot:

1. Once upon a time there was a city that was destroyed when a magical bomb exploded, leaving the city a ruin and full of twisted magic.
2. Every day the magic spread and grew stronger, creating monsters (and monsterous plants) who were non-living and magic eating. And they began to leave the area where the bomb went off.
3. One day soon after the explosion a mysterious group came hunting for the cause of the magic, hoping to use that power to take over the country. But instead they found Tesh, who had lost her memory during the explosion and who seemed to instinctively know how to deal with the magic-eating plants and zombie creatures.
4. Because of that the rescuers find a small boy trapped in a magical plant, and as Tesh frees him the boy warns them the monsters are coming. And the monsters come, with the rescuers, Tesh, and the boy barely getting away. The rescuers then blame the boy and Tesh for the danger they’re in.
5. Because of that Tesh and the boy run away from their “rescuers” and try to find the source of the twisted magic themselves, in hopes of preventing more monsters and preventing their rescuers from taking over the country.
6. Until finally there’s a big battle with the monsters, the rescuers, and Tesh and the boy, where Tesh remembers a few things and she and the boy work together to stop the magic-eating zombies, slow the spread of the magic, and drive away the rescuers (who are now revealed as the group who set the bomb).

It doesn’t really fit…but it did help me tighten up my rambling 10 point outline into something sleeker.

It’s day nine, and I’m at 7,500 words (about 7,500 below where I need to be to hit the 50K target).

Planner love


I’ve developed an addiction to decorating my planner. I currently use a red cloth DayRunner with the monthly insert that came with it, and some printables. Here’s my latest creative bit: a custom laminated “dashboard” for the front page of my planner.

DIY planner dashboard

Custom planner dashboard with scrapbook paper background and hand-painted decorations

After cutting the paper to size I glued on the hand-painted items on the front side page. All the items were painted with Twinkling H2O paint which has a metallic sparkle. The geometric shapes were from my pattern design class last summer (the Jewel lesson) and the crown and dress form were ones I’d painted in the past but never found a use for. The flip side is solid orange-red scrapbook paper. I laminated with self-stick laminating sheets and then trimmed and hole punched the dashboard.

I’ve also made myself a laminated time zone chart (which you can see and download here) and am working on a few other pages as well as tabbed dividers for the major sections.

Planners are definitely a lot “prettier” than back when I used one in the 80s and 90s, and I’m enjoying using washi tape and stickers on the calendar pages and to-do/note pages as well.

Instagramming my life away


I started Instagraming when I started the MIID courses talked about in previous posts. I think it combines the best of blogging with the ease of Facebook scrolling through multiple people’s posts. I’ve noticed that if the choice is between grabbing my phone, taking a photo, and uploading it to IG with a couple of hashtags, vs finding the right cord to offload the photo to my computer so I can go through the multiple-step process of logging into my blog and creating a blog post IG wins. Except on sore hand days — then the “ease” of typing on a small phone screen is trumped by my comfy keyboard and the speed at which I can type. I think there’s a place for both blogging and the soundbyte methods (twitter and IG) but worry that blogging will go the way of the blink tag in html.

FYI, here’s my latest IG post (as of this writing): planner charms. Did I mention I’m on a planner kick and have dug all my old daytimer/dayrunner/franklin covey things out of their rubbermaid box? It’s already turned into one of my creative addictions and I’ve only been back in the planner world for a short time. Good clean fun, and useful too.

Brief #3 MIID Summer School — Jewels


The third and final brief of the Make It In Design Summer School was centered around Jewels. I immediately began day dreaming about tiaras and other sparkly things and spent hours browsing Pinterest and Google images. But my first sketches went nowhere. As did my second set. And because I was leaving on vacation in just a few days I felt a lot of stress, and didn’t sleep well the night after the assignment was given (Monday). The next day I was groggy enough to sit down for a few minute nap in my favorite chair (a green Lay-Z-Boy with massage and heat, my back loves it). After just 5 minutes I woke up knowing exactly what I was going to do for my pattern — isn’t it funny how the brain works? A few years previously I’d discovered Twinkling H20s, a glittery watercolor paint in a wonderful range of colors — and the set I have is jewel tones. After creating a set of shapes in Adobe Illustrator I printed them out and began to paint.

painted gem shapes on paper

Painting in the jewel shapes for my pattern

Once the shapes were painted I cut them out and then arranged them into shapes and scanned them.

watercolor gem shapes arranged into flower shape

Individual gem shapes arranged into a flower and then scanned

I also created some strands of “pearls” for the background in AI, and then took both the “pearls” and the gem flowers into Photoshop.

swirls made in Adobe Illustrator

Swirls of pearls for the background on the surface design pattern

Once I had all the elements in Photoshop I arranged them and rearranged them until I created a seamless pattern, which I then submitted to the class gallery.

Flower gems as a seamless pattern

Flower Gems repeat pattern

Once the pattern was submitted I decided to apply it to my mockup to see how it would look, and was quite pleased with the result.

repeat pattern on mockup

Flower Gems repeat pattern on product mockup

I’m quite pleased with my design for the third and final brief, and feel the class really improved my skills as well as forced me to learn some pattern-specific aspects of both Photoshop and Illustrator.



Make It In Design Brief #2 — Tribal Theme Pattern Design


The second brief for the Make It In Design summer school program revolved around Tribal patterns. Having never designed anything tribal, I went looking at my childhood in South Dakota and Alaska for inspiration and found lots of beautiful artwork, including some inspiration from things I own.

"Eskimo" doll from late 1960s

Native American doll made from Seal Fur, a present from my mom when I was in grade school in Alaska.

As lovely as the memories were, those styles, colors, and patterns didn’t feel like the right direction for this assignment, so I went back to the brief and centered my exploration on the triangles and lines mentioned in the bullet points.

sketch book with pens and coffee

Sketches of various triangles and other shapes

The not-quite-triangles with the squiggles and some wavy lines ended up being the base for my submitted pattern. The colors are both bright and subtle, and the pattern is a seamless repeat (which I have to say is one of the biggest challenges I’ve overcome in Adobe Illustrator).

tribal pattern for class

The submitted pattern

I’m quite happy with the way the pattern turned out and like how elements of it can be used both large and small.

mockup showing pattern on pillows and aprons

Mockup of “Tribal Notions” pattern on products

Make It In Design Summer School


I’m one of the many folks obsessing over the Make It In Design summer school program this summer — so much so that I haven’t blogged anything about it yet. It’s a six week course, with a brief delivered to participants every other week and that assignment due the week after, for a total of three assignments. The Facebook group is a very big part of the course, with participants from all three levels (beginner, intermediate, and advanced) posting rough sketches, how-to and style questions, and finished designs.

sketch of pattern design

sketch for Brief #1 of MIID summer school

I’ve never tried my hand at surface pattern design before, so it’s been a huge learning curve. I have really, really enjoyed the challenge, even when I was feeling like banging my head against the nearest wall. I was pleased to finish brief #1 before the deadline and uploaded my pattern to the website gallery.

pattern design

Pattern as submitted to MIID Summer School

I felt I’d met the requirements, but wasn’t actually satisfied with what I’d designed. For one thing, it wasn’t a repeat pattern. For another, the colors were bright and tropical, but I could see the weren’t the type of colors that someone would buy in the form of a pillow or a kitchen towel (typical media for patterns).

I decided to leave the pattern as uploaded and be ready to move on to the next class…and then I ended up taking a class from Creative Live on Surface Pattern Design during the week between when I turned my pattern in and when the next assignment was given, and my mind got blown. (Well, further blown, actually, since it was already pretty close to explosion levels thanks to the amazing patterns I was seeing in the MIID Facebook group.) That class taught me how to make a repeat pattern, and how to apply it as an Adobe Illustrator pattern to a vector mockup of a product. So much for doing things like house cleaning or paying bills…I felt that I needed to take my sunny tropical idea of a pattern from true beginner to something a little more sophisticated. So I did.

repeat pattern in two color variations

My tropical pattern from Brief #1 turned into a softer repeat pattern.

I’m very happy with how my revised tropical pattern turned out, and really excited about everything I managed to learn in a two-week period. Making repeat patterns is quite addictive, and I’m sure that I’ll continue to make patterns long after the MIID Summer School 2014 has ended.