Tag Archives: Writing

Cliches are the Opposite of Truth: KILLING THEM ALL

14 May


Cliches are your worst enemy as a writer.

They’re death to you because a cliche is someone else’s thought, and, worse, it’s a phrase or image from your culture’s collection of junk-thoughts that are most often said to fill up dead, silent, useless space.

Such words are not golden. They’re trash.

Cliche is the mark of someone who is uncomfortable with their own turn of phrase, who doesn’t know how their own creativity works. That’s the opposite of a writer’s task.

Cliches are fine for office emails. But as a writer, you must l-o-v-e LOVE creating your own original thoughts, striking your own observations. Simply repeating the stock phrases, pieces of wisdom, plot devices, character traits, and story lines of so many others is inexcusable for a writer. Read tons and learn to spot tired cliches (or better, trendy statements that will SOON be cliches). Weave diamonds with your sentences and make reality out of thin air.

To do that, you need to write in the truth of the truth. You can’t do that if your brain churns out cliches, which are sentiments, ultimately. Symbols of feeling, and not a feeling itself.

“That’s the way it goes.”

“It is what it is.”

“I love her more than life itself.”

“Curses, foiled again.”

These are symbols of feelings. They’re melodrama, not drama. You can write a cliche in the first draft, that’s cool, if it’s a place marker for where you can drive in your shovel and dig up the gold later.

Let me show you exactly how to do this. Answer me, por favor: In the story you’re writing right now, what does your main character want more than anything? Write it out in a single sentence as an “I” statement. Make it emotional. Make it hurt. Break your own heart with that sentence.

If you need some inspiration, take Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride as an example: What does he want more than anything? Revenge. He says it when he first meets the Man in Black and repeats it frequently throughout The Princess Bride. He wants to kill the six-fingered man and pay him back for killing his father. Boom. That’s it.

Now…that’s a cliche. And in the storybook world in which writer William Goldman operates, he lets that tired cliche stand through the whole movie. But he is going to deliver a twist that makes it all work and freshens the cliche with real feeling. Goldman knows that revenge is not the heart-breaking “I” statement, nor is it the real truth of Inigo Montoya, the real feeling that his character feels in the pit of his heart. REVENGE is something fine to write on a note card next to your hero’s name. But when writers say “write the truth,” this is what they’re really talking about:

“I want my father back, you son of a bitch.”

That’s the line. Montoya doesn’t want revenge, really, and Goldman knows it. But he holds it back, let’s Montoya come to that line in the most dramatic moment so the line is yanked our of him. Finally, facing the villain of his dreams, Montoya says, “Promise me riches! Promise me everything I desire!” He doesn’t say, “Ha ha! Vengeance is mine!” or “Now I have you!” Goldman is too good a writer for that. In the final moment when Montoya finally has his quarry cornered, Goldman let’s the real feeling out, and it’s like a gunshot. We realize this is not just a cliche storybook fairy tale. There’s a true feeling to be experienced.

That’s your goal in writing your character’s greatest want. If you can’t give yourself a sob, raise a shiver in your own skin, or imagine readers looking up from your book in sheer awe when you distill that character’s longing down to a single sentence (and then use it when it’s most effective in your story), then you haven’t hit the truth of your character’s truth yet. Get closer. Jump the rails and sneak past the symbols of feeling, the sentiment and cliche, the stories your teachers, friends, parents, and family approve of. And write the fuck out of that character.

Novel Progress on The Mad Queen’s Game

5 May

Queen Juana 1 of Castile

I had to make a big decision on the structure of The Mad Queen’s Game that cuts out a major plot line. It adds up to removing half the book.

This cut is a good decision — the two narratives don’t actually fit together, but I thought I could do it with sheer will power and creative force. Silly me. It turns out what I suspected from the beginning is correct, that the second narrative is actually redundant thematically. I pout in shame for not listening to that.

Of course, the material would make a terrific book in itself, a parallel story that’s more swashbuckling and adventurous in the same world. So it’s not lost time, really. I think the way to avoid this in the future is to:


Keep it Simpler, Anderson. Repetition without advancement of theme or mood might mean something needs to be cut. Watch for that early on next time.

2) Outline to Streamline

When in doubt, put the most effort into streamlining the plot. You’re just fine at complicating things later. No need to put more effort into that than you need to early on, Barth.

3) Breaking New Ground is Always Best

Sniff out the fun and new. That’ll allow you to see the plot more clearly earlier.

In other developments, I found a GIF of my main character from a 2001 Spanish movie called Juana la Loca.


Juana the Mad whapping Philippe the Handsome

My book, The Mad Queen’s Game, is about Juana of Castile (Spain) who is slapping her incredible prick of a hubby in this GIF. Yay!

My Juana is very different than the Juana in this movie but it’s still fun to see how she’s presented, especially in her homeland. My Juana is not a basket case for a man, as she turns out to be in this flick: My Juana is mentally ill (and in my opinion she suffered from severe depression if not something stronger) but she had to suffer a mind-blowing Greek Tragedy-level of grief that didn’t have much to do with this dweeb in the GIF.

That said, there’s a lot behind this slap. He deserves a hot one across the chops, and after two years of research, I wanna slap this incredible prick, too.

More: My “Mad Queen’s Game” Pinterest page where I keep images from research about characters and the period (turn of the Sixteenth Century) for inspiration, if you like spying on that sort of thing.

Lot 12A: “The Feast of the Dead” Manuscript (Fiction)

2 Mar


Original short fiction. Copyright Barth Anderson. Appeared originally in New Genre Magazine (2004). 

Lot 12A: “The Feast of the Dead” Manuscript

By Barth Anderson

Antiquary Auctions has enclosed all the information you need to bid on Lot 12A in this convenient brochure with state-of-the-art holo. Below, you will find a description of Lot 12A, pertinent documents from the War Crimes Tribunal (or WCT), and even a rare translation by its infamous founder. From the far reaches to your homeworld, Antiquary Auctions brings you the absolute strangest in alien artifacts.

Blink HERE to read about other lots in the Handrigan estate auction.

Blink HERE to bid.

Description: Lot 12A is easily the most fascinating item in this auction. This curio consists of four one-by-one-meter sheets of dark green, organic material (probably the skin of an extinct, indigenous fauna), and dazzling pictographs cover the surfaces, rendered in lustrous cyan ink. The “parchments” are in fair condition, though water damage renders some glyphs illegible. Each parchment sits in its own Icebox(TM) for customer satisfaction, integrity guaranteed by Cry-O-Matics.

Blink HERE to view holo of Lot 12A.

Blink HERE to bid.

History and Subject Matter: Outlaw archaeologist Dr. Ch’jij, whose barbaric crimes made famous her obsession with the Manuscript, excavated these parchments with her own hands (as it were!). Drawn from the Hearth Temple ruins, she dubbed her find “The Feast of the Dead” Manuscript. Dr. Ch’jij estimated that these parchments were created 1400-1800 years ago, during what the indigenous culture calls Yujich, the most violent epoch of Procyon Prima’s history. Few artifacts survived from this period, making Lot 12A an extraordinary purchase for any consumer on any world.

As you will see from the translation below, the ancient text appears to be an education manual of some kind. Its Narrator uses an ancient linguistic case, the second person parental, offering counsel in martial, matrimonial, and culinary etiquette. Gentlemen, let’s hope our brides don’t take up these customs!

Blink HERE for Rear Admiral Luther Handrigan’s account of first contact with Procyon Prima eighty years ago.

Blink HERE to bid.

Ownership: Antiquary Auctions must warn consumers that establishing ownership of Lot 12A has been problematic since two parties have claimed title to it. The original owner was, of course, Dr. Ch’jij. As a result, the notorious Moons University, where the doctor held tenure, makes claim to this lot. So does the Esteemed Estate of Field Marshall Diego Handrigan, commander of the orbit-to-surface campaign, whom Dr. Ch’jij brutally assassinated.

In its capacity over intersolar trade, The War Crimes Tribunal has named Diego Handrigan’s estate the proper owner of Lots 12A-12T. All funds earned from this auction will go to the Handrigan estate as restitution for the Field Marshall’s assassination and for the unspeakable savagery Dr. Ch’jij and her colleagues performed on his body after killing him.

Blink HERE to view Armada News coverage of Dr. Ch’jij’s murder trial. Blink HERE to read pertinent WCT articles.

Blink HERE to bid.

Translation: So consumers may better appreciate the ancient and mysterious oddity of Lot 12A, we have enclosed the only existing English translation of “The Feast of the Dead” Manuscript. Dr. Ch’jij herself completed it for offworld colleagues, shortly before the Armada’s siege of the M.U. guerrilla compound. Academic buyers may be interested in Lot 12G, a sample of which appears below.

Dr. Ch’jij’s Translation Notes, abridged from Lot 12G:

“We have never found anything like the Feast of the Dead Manuscript before. At a time when our children turn to outsider ways and prefer the infiltrator’s name, ‘Procyon Prima,’ to the proper Ul’jit, we now have an older, richer past than we ever dreamed.

“Translators have previously interpreted the Yujich picto-glyph ‘[chefs/women]’ as compound word ‘war-maidens’. But using a foreign idea such as war says more about modern, cultural pollution than it says about our Yujich ancestors.

“As this Manuscript reveals, the Yujich competed with rival, sentient predators whom they regarded as soulless. This might have the appearance of ‘war’ to offworlders, but to the Yujich women, their rivals were food first and foes second. Accordingly, I have emphasized the word chef in my translation.”

(Translated from the Hijese by Bombardier Rodrigo Toofay of the Armada’s High Atmosphere Wing; Baccalaureate, Xeno-linguistics.)

Opening bids on Lot 12A should immediately reflect its immense value to historians, linguists, and the discerning collector. Provost Marshall Beulah Handrigan hopes that the sale of Lots 12A-12T will raise funds for a second, successful orbit-to-surface campaign for Procyon Prima and draw investors back to this perfectly secure and well-defended planet.

Rest assured, the War Crimes Tribunal Article 21 protects the sale and resale of all items in this auction from future indigenous claims.

Bidding closes at Procyon Prima orbital time 1000:3:37:02, Handrigan Armada Local. All payments must be received in war dollars.

Blink HERE to bid.

“Feast of the Dead” Manuscript

Parchment One

(Extensive water damage blurs initial glyphs.)

. . . with [love/fury] in your third-stomach, hunt these dangerous [trophies/ingredients] to find the-twin-of-your-heart. For [chefs/women] in love are lucky hunters.


Your first trial and wedding-kill will —

(Water damaged glyphs)

— must seize your chosen prey at the base. If you disabled the stamen, the flower will not harm you. Pull. Allow your prey to retaliate, as it will, with muscle-roots wrapping — (Smeared glyph) — subdued by pinching the stem. Beware of the dinner-ending gas from burst stem-leaves. If you did not disable the stamen properly, the prey will now lunge for your [head/helmet]. Do not panic. Grasp the stalk like sad [?] on her mate-hunt, and bash the flower against the ground. This ruins the delicious pollen sac, which may cause you to-eat-your-own-vestigial-organs. But acting so will save your life.

A [nurse/man] will be yours if you cook the pollen sac for his children.

A [metaphysician/man] will be yours if you cook the pollen sac for his brood-mates.

[Strongholds/women] are lust-treasures, but hard for us to woo. They love our feasts, but don’t like sharing their hearths with [chefs/women]. I know what I say.



I cooked that flower for a [stronghold/woman].
But she would not wedding-feast with me.
I eat-last-at-my-own-dinner, for
Now that flower blooms in her litters’ eyes.

The [?] gland is located behind your prey’s eyes. You must kill your prey while keeping the [?] gland intact.

Do not break the prey’s spine or puncture the heart.

Do not cut the prey’s throat.

Use [?]’s maneuver to throw the prey face down and deliver the falling-axe-kick to the back of your prey’s skull.

If you honored your-beloved-ovens, you will kill the [big-eye/sentinel?] instantly. If not, Tribe will steal your entrails and inhale them in the smoking-ritual [laughter punctuation].

Now you may sever the head.

If you choose to wed a [nurse/man] who already cares for a litter, do not remove the [?] gland until you reach your-beloved-ovens. The fresh gland makes [strong/devious] babies.

[Metaphysicians/men] will eat anything with the [?] gland in it, especially ghost-brain-pie in a bread-purse.

If you are wooing a [stronghold/woman], do not make the [?] gland part of your [love/fury]-offering. She will [hit/discover] your future together and see only your quarrels. I know what I say.



I made ghost-brain-pie for a [stronghold/woman],
She dreamed a wedding-feast.
Did she see me bond-dancing her? No: Another.
Mate-hunting is a [mystery/torment].

Execute and read no further.

Parchment Three

For your first [outsider/infiltrator]-trial, the feast-markets and temple-steps of your-beloved-oven yield challenging prey. You are invited to hunt [outsiders/infiltrators], such as the hated butcher-in-the-cellars and the stranglers-who-breathe-water. Or you are invited to cannibalize [heretics/parasites]. Either —

(Water damaged glyphs)

— recommend hunting mask-makers. These liars hide among the sated-stomach-neighborhoods, usually among the temples, where the [metaphysicians/men] like to argue about constellations all day. The audacity of the mask-makers is without limit. They are known to misdirect the precious thoughts of [metaphysicians/men]. They are known to steal babies from [nurses/men].

Killing mask-makers requires strategy, for they are [strong/devious]. Here is a strategy your-ancient-teacher used: Your-ancient-teacher went to the temple-of-the-sacred-many and joined constellation-debates. Your-ancient-teacher did this over [time?] so that I, like the mask-makers, seemed part of debate-brood.

Your-ancient-teacher sought unfamiliar [metaphysicians/men] on temple-steps. I approached an old [star/savant] and called to him, “How are your people?”

The old stranger responded, “My people are [blessed/fed] by the sacred-many.” Because your-ancient-teacher was fat and beautiful, he called, “How burns your hearth, ravenous one?”

Your-ancient-teacher assured him that it burned with bounty. Then I locked-guts and called, “May we lie together on the mating-mat-of-your-brain, intelligent one?”

If the [star/savant] had covered his face, eating-his-own-vestigial-organs, your-ancient-teacher would know he was a real [metaphysician/man]. Your-ancient-teacher would have apologized and offered a feast for not permitting an elder to begin the mate-hunt.

But I knew this old stranger was a mask-maker!

My prey believed that I was [weak/easily tricked]. It responded like an unleashed-salivating-gaze-predator. It shed its camouflage as elder [star/savant]. It looked like a white-eyed water-strangler breaking the surface of a bog.

I was in-my-skin. Your-ancient-teacher attacked the mask-maker like-a-quadruped, startling it so that the mask-maker emitted [feces/clues]. Then I pinned it with high-claws and jaws.

I gutted my prey on the temple-steps as [?] gutted the moon-of-thieves, raking its abdomen with low-claws.

Execute and read no further.

Parchment Two

The purple-green prairies of [?] are bounty-turf for infiltration-hunt. Here a chef may test her skills against Tribe. These bipeds have the ghost-brain and will foresee your intentions —

(Water Damaged Glyphs)

— a delicious [?] gland that makes good wedding-feast when roasted with ocean-beast, hot-tuber, — (Smeared glyph) — and [extensive list of unknown vegetation]. This dish is precious-food during the constellation-debates of the [metaphysicians/men].

In preparing for a Tribe-hunt, do not make ghost-brain-technique. Your [contemplation?/affection/soul] will alert Tribe. Leave your trained-gaze-predator leashed at camp. Walk through the low-green-grass like-a-biped, so that you can gaze-hunt Tribe.

If the grass extends above your [head/helmet], you are in danger. High-purple-grass is where Tribe hunts thoughts of the fat-crazies-with-no-ghost-brain. In high-purple-grass, Tribe will [hit/foresee] you before you infiltrate.

Find the high ground and the lone individual serving as [big-eye/sentinel?] for Tribe. Seek high-purple-grass as soon as you identify your prey. Nose-hunt. Stalk the [big-eye/sentinel?] from behind like-a-quadruped. Your chef-tools of speed and stealth will be tested, but do not be too cautious. Individuals are [weak/easily tricked] when separated from Tribe.

I cut and removed the tongue, placing it in my satchel. I had three [metaphysicians/men] initiate-mate-hunt with me before the last sun set. But that one lust-treasure still tempted my memory so I refused all three.

Most [chefs/women] woo [metaphysicians/men]. Make the memory-perfume from mask-maker tongue. Cook this dish for your mate-prey’s important thinking.

Many [chefs/women] want a [nurse/man], so he may father while they hunt. Cook memory-perfume, and you will convince him.

Here is the secret to wooing a [stronghold/woman]: Do not cook better than she cooks. She must always be the more tempting one.

I know what I say.



Cook for your satisfaction,
Satiate your loved ones,
And make the manner of your wedding-kill
A digestive-aid for the sacred-many.

Execute and read no further.

Parchment Four

Your final wedding-kill is a ghost-brain-hunt. You must [locate/identify] your prey without following its [feces/clues], nose-hunting, or exposing its [den/confidence].

For this hunt, you must let a [heretic/parasite] make you her prey. Be in-your-skin. [Heretics/Parasites] are chef-trained, and while they no longer cook at the hearth of the sacred-many, they will use their chef-tools to end-your-dinner.

But don’t [worry/self-delude]. Ghost-brain-hunting [heretics/parasites] is as enjoyable as cannibalizing them. Use ghost-brain to locate a [heretic/parasite]. Lure her to your hearth with [strong/devious] hallucinations of beast-meat-smell and stewed-[fruit?]-fumes. [Heretics/Parasites] cannot resist free food.

When you see [heretics/parasites], you may feel [pity/scorn]. Remember that they are [strong/devious] challenges to [you-all/my-beloved-children]. They eat but never feed the people. They kill in order to take. They do not have [contemplation?/affection/soul].

You are law. [Guard/save] your people from [outsiders/infiltrators]. Pounce with rampant-heart, twenty-four-claws-unsheathed and scream like [?] did when she slew perpetrator-of-the-ransack.


Present a lung.

[Crush/Clap] the head before her corpse collapses.

Kill and cook. Grind the leg-bones for bread, [chef/woman]. The sacred-many will [bless/feed] you for placing an [outsider/infiltrator] in the funeral-urn of your stomach.


Read further only after executing.

Beloved-child, when you return from your final-kill, sing the songs of your greatest appetite! Spill [contemplation?/affection/soul] on the twin-of-your-heart, and the wedding-[stringed instrument?] will scream!

For now you have accomplished all four trials, and these dangerous [trophies/ingredients] have led you to your bond-dance. Your hearth will burn with bounty and every lazing-mat at every table will be [overflowing/heaped] with your satisfied people.

But remember this:

Your-ancient-teacher danced no bond-dances, nor did I wedding-feast. My mate-prey [fled/parried] me, but I have not eaten-my-own-vestigial-organs. [Utter-refusal/Zero/Futile-hunt]. I require no mate-mat, for I cook with bounty, too much for only two. Either my dinner will end while trailing delicious prey, or hearth-bricks will heat my fat corpse (laughter punctuation).

Until that end comes, I cook with [love/fury], a [chef/woman] serving the enemy to her people.


Blink HERE to bid.

Blink HERE to exit.

Copyright Barth Anderson

Why Aspiring Writers Need to Heed K. Tempest Bradford’s Advice

25 Feb

In this article from K.T Bradford,  “I Challenge You to Stop Reading White, Straight, Cis Male Authors for One Year,” writer K. T. Bradford says she was looking to improve herself as a writer a few years ago and decided to focus, for one year, on reading stories by authors of color, LGBT writers, and writers who were women.

As you can imagine from an in-your-face headline like that, a lot of white male writers (and others) are upset by Bradford’s suggestion. They say it’s reverse racism, white-shaming, it’s punishment/censorship of perfectly good authors, and so on.  Readers can read the article and decide if Bradford is playing race cards or not.

But this post of mine isn’t about race, really and it isn’t for readers. I want to talk to the would-be writers out there, and I want to back Bradford’s suggestion 110%. To me, this is such a self-evident suggestion for aspiring writers that it’s astonishing to read the blowback that Bradford is getting (even from some witers). Reading outside the mainstream pool of white, straight, male writers is something you absolutely need to do at some point soon in your development as a writer, if you haven’t done it already.

A lot of people have dismissed Bradford’s idea as an exercise in political correctness, but that knee-jerk reaction totally misses the point where writers are concerned. Writers are the assessors and observers of culture. Whether young/new writers realize it or not, they are judged by their powers of observation and their ability to translate life into scenes, plots, imagery, compelling description, etc.

What you have to observe about life is what makes you interesting as a writer. It’s also part-and-parcel to why cliches are anathema to good writing. This isn’t just because readers don’t want to read crap they’ve read a thousand times before, but because using or misusing cliches shows very unsophisticated observational skill.  If your characters are simply too easily recognized or your plots are trite or your turn-of-phrase is cliche, it’s because your skill as an observer of life is weak. You’re relying on the work of other authors (television screenplay writers?) to do your observing for you. And that doesn’t cut it. Not remotely.

If you want to be a writer, your ability to encapsulate a character into a stick of dynamite on the page, your ability to craft a great plot with perfect beats, and your golden writerly voice are essential, of course. But a writer’s ability to assess the world effectively, beautifully, and UNIQUELY is unteachable. If you have it, your ability to observe well will separate you from your peers very quickly (all else being equal).

Observing well is unteachable in the sense that if I were your teacher, I couldn’t say for certain if I knew how to give you what you need to become a decent observer of society, of homo sapiens, our emotions, human drive, life. So much of that depends on what kind of observer you want to be, and what kind of observer you are capable of becoming, and that’s almost impossible to assess for any teacher. Who can say what any human mind needs to fertilize itself and grow into becoming a decent writer? An established author could assign you all the reading that was important to him, that helped his mind open, stretch, and become what it became, but, truly, no teacher has a clue how your mind works. Teaching you isn’t a guarantee, and in most cases, isn’t possible.

But you can learn to observe and assess by watching how other, better writers do it. In fact, it’s the only way to become an effective writer: Watch, learn. READ. And try imitating your heroes by writing, writing, writing. You might have had teachers who reached you along the way, but leaving their sides and learning on your own is absolutely essential. Who are your writer-heroes, can you say? I hope you can. Who writes the way you wish you could? Which books fill you with the boiling desire to sit down at your computer and bang out your own words? Make a list. You might be surprised which names spill out.

Chances are, you did something like this in high school, even grade school. Naming your heroes is how you quickened into becoming an embryonic artist/storyteller/journalist/writer. You began honing in on your goal and your pantheon of favorite writers changed along the way. New writers were introduced to you — maybe in school, maybe by respected peers — and these new heroes were more robust thinkers and better storytellers than the ones who originally moved you. And of course, the writers you worshiped at the age of eleven were different than those who blew your mind at twenty-two. At thirty-two.

At least I hope so.

Bradford’s advice is for the writer who knows herself well enough to steer against her own trends and predilections. That’s what she did as a writer, after all. She realized she was slipping into frustration because she wanted to get better as a writer, so she decided to focus her reading, hone in on a certain type of writer. The reason writers develop at all  is because their own sense of what’s entertaining, beautiful, striking, and wonderful becomes more sophisticated, fine-tuned as they grow. And writers who limit themselves to reading mostly (or only) from the predominant culture are self-editing to a degree that’s damaging to themselves as observers. They are swimming dangerously close to cliches, always.

Between 1985 and 1987, I read almost exclusively Latin American writers because I was obsessed with El Boom, coming out of Mexico and Central America. I was so obsessed with this particular brand of “fantasy” and the very words these writers used that I started reading them in the original Spanish, too, and in the case of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I translated certain beloved paragraphs from Spanish to English myself. I did this because I was curious why his words and images hit me so hard, even though I was reading him in translation. Were his scenes of magic butterflies and starving angels hitting me because of the images’ potency or because of the delivery of the prose? I wanted to know how Garcia Marquez’s magic worked, both his word-magic and his stories about magic (I decided it was both — his wondrous imagery delivered via his journalistic, matter-of-fact bluntness was the formula, a technique that works even better in Spanish, to my ear). Breaking down his sentences to the level of poetry seemed the best way to learn how to do it.

I did this earlier when I started reading lesbian writers (again almost exclusively — not quite a year). Andrea Dworkin’s writing was so effective to me because not only was it so radical compared to anything I’d read before, but her prose itself had a steamrolling, hectoring quality. Every word hit like a punch, a kick. Was it hitting me that way because I was a young, straight, white man reading her work so fresh from rural Wisconsin taverns that you could smell the stale beer on me? Sure. But once I filtered out the “bullying” as I thought of her words at that age, I could easily hear her arguments — and I got that same quality from Audre Lorde, Pat Califia, and other lesbian writers from the mid-eighties. Clear-cutting points of view that had to be delivered via potent, condensed prose — so very admirable to me as a young writer learning how words worked.

Reading the literature (the accepted great works by writers who’ve come before you), reading the great works by writers who are writing today whether in your culture or not, and knowing where the predominant trends are in literature and in your specific market are vital to being a serious writer. You need to be a voracious reader capable of digesting great volumes. If not, you’ll limit yourself — damagingly so. You won’t understand why your work is rejected (not an impressive trait for someone who needs to be an assessor, an observer). If you resist knowing where your place is in the larger world of letters, you won’t comprehend why reviewers trash your work as they place you in a context that you won’t understand. Worst, you won’t learn from being in a writers group, because your peers will be assessing you in ways that make no sense to you. Everyone will be speaking a language that you have chosen to ignore.

Conversely, reading outside your culture will feed you. The pepper and zing of words, thoughts, ideas, and points of view from writers writing outside the predominant culture — whomever they are and whomever YOU are — aren’t just spice. They’re your nutrition. At this stage in your career, you need to read different points of view like you need air. Deny yourself to your peril.

So forget the debate about whether Bradford is being a PC race-baiter. That’s just bedlam and noise. If you’re a writer, open yourself to the idea that you need to expand your color wheel and read accordingly.


* Free Issue of Uncanny Magazine to People Taking Bradford’s Challenge

5 Ways for Writers to Use Pinterest

22 Feb

Everyone tells writers that we need to use social media to market and connect, but few tell you how to really do it.

Pinterest is a great example.

The latest in a long line of new social media  “platforms,” Pinterest is deceptively simple, so it’s easy to dismiss. The site is powerful because unlike Twitter, Facebook, or blogging, Pinterest is completely oriented to the visual. Users “pin” photos from elsewhere on Pinterest or anywhere on the net to “boards” that they’ve created, divided into subjects that interest them (“My Style,” “Cars I Love,” “Books I’ve Read,” etc). Friends and followers can see what you’ve discovered and say, “Hey! That’s pretty cool. Imma pin that, too.”

Like Pinterest, I’m visually oriented, too, especially in my writing process. Before I even start a draft, I collect photos on the Internet that help me imagine what I’m writing about. So Pinterest has been very fun for me to play with.

While creating boards for various works in progress, I realized I could do the same thing for two of my books that have already been released. That sparked a couple other ideas that were fun to dol and, simultaneously, helped market the books. Just playing with Pinterest in this way, I now have a pretty decent following on my boards for The Patron Saint of Plagues and The Magician and The Fool (the traffic on Pinterest is swift and bubbling along right now).

So here are five suggestions about using Pinterest, for your creativity, your drafting process, and the marketing of your published works. I haven’t used all of them yet, but I’m very eager to get going!

My "Patron Saint of Plagues" board

1) Create a Cast List for Your Book

Come up with a Hollywood cast list for an imaginary film version of your book, short story, or script. Who would play the lead, the villain, the love interest? Make a “book board” on Pinterest, using the title or working title of your book, and “pin” images of actors there.

Would Jessica Biel or Lindsay Lohan play your lead? Ryan Reynolds or Chris Pine for the love interest? Put them all up on your book board so you can see them and decide who looks “right” for the part.

If you have books published already, Pinterest can be an excellent way to engage with established fans of your work. Email die-hard readers you know and ask them to contribute their own ideas about who should play certain characters to their own Pinterest board.

NOTE: Make sure you have at least one image that links back to your website so people can learn more about you. (Pinterest isn’t great for textual information AT ALL.)

2) Be Your Own “Location Scout”

Movie producers hire people to scout out possible locations for filming particular scenes in their movies. You can do something similar by searching for images of landscapes, buildings, animals, skylines, crowds, maps of locations, or cultural tidbits (food, clothing, etc) from your book.

I did this for my book The Patron Saint of Plagues which is about a horrifying urban outbreak in future Mexico City. The book proved proved slightly “prophetic” in that a swine flu outbreak did occur in Mexico a few years after the book came out. For my Patron Saint board on Pinterest,  I found images of Mexico City doctors and patients from that outbreak to use as location shots for my Patron Saint of Plagues storyboard. This added a fun, creepy note of realism to the book board, I think.

Another tip! Upload videos to YouTube that you yourself have taken of various book locations (maybe in your own city or on travels), and pin the YouTube page to your Pinterest board.

3) Seeds

You’d be surprised how many readers and fellow writers would like to know what you read and which books might have influenced you as a writer. Create a Pinterest board featuring books, authors, and/or movies that influenced your thinking about this particular book. Which reads planted seeds in your brain, inspired and delighted you? Are there scenes from movies that helped shape your book?

Take some time, and dig deep. You may discover there were books that you didn’t even realize had planted important seeds in you.

I was influenced by an array of short stories, movies, and books for The Magician  and The Fool, a thriller about the search for what might be the oldest tarot deck. You can take a look here.

Important: Pin images that link back to your favorite bookstores and give them some all-important, authory love.

4) Soundtracks

Most writers have VERY specific music in mind for their stories. Link to music videos or Grooveshark and Spotify website URLS to create the soundtrack for your book.

5) Action!

Are there scenes in movies that remind you of scenes in your book-to-be? Epic battle scenes, shots of costumes from period pieces, or snatches from documentaries covering topis intersecting with your book can be great to have on hand when drafting scenes.

You can also use movie clips in your writing process the same you way  you used actor pics to describe characters. Video may be even more useful than stills, right? Is there a particular dancer whose movements you’d like to be able to describe when writing about one of your characters? A swashbuckler? What about accents? Limps? Facial expressions?

Maybe there’s a very particular chemistry you want to strike between characters. The delivery of actors in certain scenes from old films (Robert Redford’s humiliated squint after he admits to Paul Newman that he can’t swim in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) can help you improve the blocking of scenes, better characterize emotional responses, sharpen dialog, and otherwise flesh out your story’s action.


My one problem with Pinterest is that it’s not possible, right now, to re-order and organize your pins very easily.  I really wish it had more of a mind-map ease to it, so that I could use it more freely for the brainstorming phase of writing. As is, if you want to create a sequential, linear storyboard on Pinterest, you’d have to design it ahead of time and pin the pics in the order you want them to appear — which sort of defeats the purpose of using Pinterest this way. (For what it’s worth, Facebook photo albums can be reorganized far more easily.)



How to Storyboard (YouTube)


Free Storyboard Pro Software (for filmmakers)


Bubbl.us for Brainstorming and Mind Mapping (I use this)


Sex, Books, and Vomiting: The Life of Georges Simenon

28 Oct

Writer Georges Simenon was The Beast

Belgian detective novel writer Georges Simenon (1903 – 1989) was a writer-killing writer, the kind of writer that mama writers and daddy writers tell stories about to their baby writers in order to make them behave.  Even now, in death, Simenon could kill other writers, making Halloween week the perfect time to honor this horror, this beast.

The New Yorker ran a piece on him in the October 10 issue, and I’m still haunted, rattled by Simenon’s hyper-demonic level of productivity. Get a load of this…

* Simenon’s first novel was published at eighteen.

* Between the ages of nineteen and twenty-six, Simenon wrote 150 novels and novellas.

* During his established “mature years,” Simenon wrote 134 novels.

* His famous Inspector Maigret Saga was 75 novels and 28 short stories (a new installment came out at an average of 2.5 per year).

Were the books crap? Most assuredly were. It typically took Simenon seven to eight days to write a novel and then two or three days to revise, a pace that produced “sloppy” books that “damaged his work terribly,” according to writer Joan Acocella.

Nonetheless, as if in a B-horror slasher film, I am the bikini-clad girl who pussy-foots out into the dark for no other reason than to get a look at The Beast. Cry out to warn me if you will, but don’t you want to see, too? I mean, how on Earth…?

According to Acocella:

[Simenon] said that, upon beginning [a new book], he entered into a trance, in which, chapter by chapter, the plot came to him….When he felt a novel coming on, he cancelled all appointments and had a check-up with his doctor to make sure he could endure the stress.

How stressful was it? During his early novel-writing period,

Every morning, he sat down and completed his self-assigned daily quota of eighty typewritten pages. Then he would vomit, from the tension, and spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing.

No Microsoft Word cut-and-paste stuff either. Typewritten pages. Whatever your daily word count is, writer, you suck.

But if all that weren’t staggering on its own, Georges Simenon also boasted that he had slept with over 10,000 women — to which his long-time mistress Denyse said, “pooh, it was probably only about twelve hundred.”  Even decimated, that figure is stunning and one that begs the same question as above. How on Earth..?

One day, when Denyse was in her study conferring with one of her assistants, Joan Aitken, Simenon entered the room, wanting to have sex. “You don’t have to leave, Aitken,” Denyse said, and she and Simenon got down, briefly, on the rug.

From the novel production to the daily word count and upchuck, to the manic need for moremoremore, reading Georges Simenon’s story is like watching a compulsive animal pacing in its zoo-cage, back and forth, to and fro, waiting for feeding time or whatever craved, biological function comes next. Crapping books and puking breakfast. Acocella says it was a simple equation for Simenon, “The more product he turned out, the more he expected to earn.” And the more he earned, the more he bought (expensive houses, trips to Africa, wolves, a white stallion, prostitutes), and the more he bought, the more books he had to crap out in order to support that lifestyle. Round and round, back and forth, to and fro.

I’m not intimidated by this writer’s output (OK, maybe a little), but I watched Paranormal Activity the other night, and Simenon’s story of undead writer-life scares me a hell of a lot more.

New Blog and The “Food Mystery”

30 Jun

I’m Barth Anderson, and welcome to my new blog Con Gusto.

Con gusto is a lovely junk drawer of a Spanish phrase that can mean anything from “to taste” (as in, adding a spice to meet one’s liking), to accomplishing tasks with pleasure, eagerness, relish. Comer con gusto means to eat with a lusty appetite.

Some of you know me from Fair Food Fight, where I write under the name “El Dragón.” Y’all know that I blog con gusto.

Unfortunately, it’s been a long time since I’ve blogged about writing and books, two of my great loves. I miss writing about writing and reading, so that’s what I’m going to hit here on Con Gusto.

Well, that and food politics. I’m pretty obsessed with that, whether I’m writing at Fair Food Fight or here. And I’ll still write about issues facing small farmers. Oh, movies, too. And, music, probably. And stuff that makes me laugh. There’s a lot that I do con gusto.

I’m also starting this blog because I’ve begun work on my third novel (you can read about the first two books here), and I’m hoping to have a first draft/treatment finished in the next six weeks. This book doesn’t have a title yet, but it’s about a murder that takes place on a dairy farm and the shock waves its discovery sends through the food world. Let’s call it food noir, with a jaded organic inspector, an emergent super-flu, a supertasting clairgustant, and dead bodies getting dredged up in manure lagoons.

These are a few of my favorite things.

So throw me on your blog-reader and you can track the growth of this book from seed to store. Bueno? Claro. Thanks for stopping by.