Wednesday, May 26, 2010

How Fashion Survives without Copyright

Johanna Blakley, in a talk at TED.

I love TED!

The best part of this talk is when she talks about how much money copyright protected industries make versus non-protected industries.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Listening to Critique--no more "don't touch my baby"

What is it with us writers? "I'm an artist--my story is my vision--you mustn't change a word." "But it doesn't really matter if I use a lot of adverbs, does it?" And my personal favorite: "You think I should change something? You must be saying I'm a bad writer!"

These make me want to scream! Why do writers believe that they are the only people in the world who don't need coaching?

Let me run a scenario by you. You're Tommy, a ten year old boy who likes playing football. You love football. You eat, sleep, and breathe football. Your mommy likes watching you play football.

You're good enough that you get on the high school football team. Your coach says, "Tommy, you're telegraphing which direction you're about to run. You need to not turn your head." You say, "Coach--I'm an athlete. My body is my tool. I have a vision of what I should be doing. I won't change."

"SURE!" says the coach, nodding enthusiastically.

You make it onto the college football team. Your college coach says, "Tommy, you need to pick up your feet more." You say, "Coach--it doesn't really matter if I pick up my feet or not. I still play well enough to win games."

"SURE!" says the coach, nodding enthusiastically.

You get onto a pro football team. Your coach says, "Tommy--you need to spend more time stretching. You're not limber enough." You say, "Coach--you think I should change something about myself? You think I'm a bad athlete. I'm going to take my talent elsewhere,to a team that appreciates me."

"SURE!" says the coach, nodding enthusiastically.


Tommy wouldn't last one year on the high school football team, much less make it into college football or go pro if he wasn't willing to accept coaching.

Why, as writers, do we feel that we are somehow exempt from needing to accept coaching? Writing seems to be the one profession where anyone can sit down, with no training or experience, and expect to turn out a fantastic novel. Why is it a bad idea to represent yourself in court? Because the lawyer knows more. Why is it a bad idea to try to treat your broken leg yourself? Because the doctor has the tools and training to handle it.

Please don't be afraid to learn more about your craft. Don't be afraid to take classes. Don't be afraid to join a critique group. Do be afraid of any group or any reader that tells you that you're perfect. Granted, you can't take everyone's advice, or you'll end up with nothing at all, but do be willing to learn.

I am so grateful for the Pikes Peak Writers--a great organization dedicated to helping each other become better at our craft. They've taught me 80% of what I know about writing. Without them I'd still be writing in passive voice, sprinkling my text with adverbs, and changing point of view three times in the same sentence. If you want to write, and you want to be successful, find a writers' organization in your area, take a course at your local college, or team up with some others and form a critique group. Be willing to be coached.

Monday, May 10, 2010

I interview local mystery author: Robert Spiller

Good morning! Today I'm please to share an interview I had with Robert Spiller, a local mystery writer.

Robert Spiller is a mathematician by trade and weaves his profession into his mysteries. He is the author of the Bonnie Pinkwater mysteries (The Witch of Agnesi, A Calculated Demise, Irrational Numbers). His high school teacher sleuth uses mathematica and her knowledge of historic female mathematicians to solve murders in the small Colorado town of East Plains. Robert lives in the Pikes Peak region with his wife Barbara.

1. What’s the most unexpected thing that happened to you when you became a published writer?

I got to speak to groups of other writers--and they actually listened to what I had to say. They laughed at my jokes. They wrote down my opinions. They wrote me e-mails asking for clarification of something I said in some workshop I led. And did I have a handout from that workshop. Don't get me wrong, having an ego the size of Texas, I enjoyed the notoriety, but I'm the same guy I was before I got published.

2. What’s the coolest thing that happened to you because you had a book published?

Well, I don't have a fan club but lots of folks have bought me drinks and dinner. The coolest thing is still when after a book tour, I get a couple a dozen e-mails from all the places I traveled to from folks telling me how much they enjoyed my books and how they can't wait to read the next one. I never get tired of that.

3. Have you ever had a negative response to something you wrote?

Believe it or not, the most negative response to my books came from my mother. She is a devout Christian and objected to the curse words in my novels (I really don't curse all that much--readers believe me). She said she couldn't finish the Witch of Agnesi because my female math teacher sleuth Bonnie Pinkwater said she was “too old for this S**T.

4. You write about a woman. What is your response from your female readers? Do they feel you capture what it’s like to be a woman? Why did you chose to make your protagonist a woman? Wouldn’t it have been easier to write from a man’s perspective?

I get e-mail from many female readers and their responses have always been positive. They think Bonnie acts like a strong woman would act in the situations she finds herself in (danger, in trouble with her bosses, chasing down murderers). I do write other material with male main characters, but they are no more fun to write for than my female leads, and definitely no easier to control.

5. Are you what you wanted to be when you grew up?

Actually, I have become two out of the three things I wanted to be when I grew up. I got to teach math (I retire at the end of this year after thirty-five wonderful years). I got to write--and still am writing. I never got to be a spy.

6. If you could wake up tomorrow as a different person who would you want to be?

What a great question! I asked one of my eighth grade Algebra classes the same thing this week. Mostly all of them just wanted to be themselves. I think I feel the same way. I love what I do in both my occupations (writing and teaching). I'm still in love with my wife, after 17 years. I love my children and my grandchildren (I have a brand new grandson.) I love the few friends I have.

7. If you could beat the world over the head with a lesson, what would it be?

Perhaps two lessons. Keep your word, once you give it. It may be painful sometimes but in the long run it will be worth it. The second lesson is a close relative to the first. You have no more precious possession than your integrity. Be faithful to those that count on you. Be someone who is fair and honest in all his doings. Okay maybe a third lesson. Laugh as much as you can.

8. What advice do you have for new writers?

First of all write. That was the advice Twain gave to writers and there is none better. Second, always be working on your craft. Always be learning, improving. Writing is like Zen--best approached with a beginner's mind. Lastly, I wouldn't write to trends. Write what you want to write, what you need to write.

9. What are the titles of your books, where can we buy them, for how much, and what's next?

The Witch of Agnesi, A Calculated Demise, and Irrational Numbers. You should be able to get them (although they might not all be on the shelves) at any bookstore, or Amazon. (Here's a link to buy them.) Being paperbacks, they are generally under ten dollars. As for what's next, my agent is currently trying to find a home for a YA series I have and am penning.

10. Anything else you'd like to share with us?

I am very grateful to be a member of this fabulous writing community we call the Pikes Peak Writers. In it I became acquainted with my current critique group, have broken bread and laughed with other writers, have learned so much that I can't even quantify it. I don't think I would be where I am today if I hadn't attended that first Pikes Peak Writers Conference in 1999 (I attended my tenth conference last month in May). In addition to this, I am grateful to be counted a writer. It occupies my time and fills my senses. I love what I do.

Friday, May 7, 2010

How Gaming Will Change the Future

Talk by Jesse Shell: Is Your Life Just One Big RPG?

One particular thought I liked was that we will start reading better literature as more and more of what we do in life is recorded. If we know that our great-grandchildren will know what books we read, we’ll say, geez—I don’t want my progeny to think all I ever read was candy, so I’m going to read X, Y, and Z.

If you have the time, watch this half hour talk. It’s enlightening!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mother's Day Poetry

Jessica's 2nd grade class wrote poetry in honor of Mother's Day. Here's the result.

The acrostic poem:

Mother, Mother I love you so.
Oh, how you are nice.
Today I love you. I will love you
Hugs and Kisses.
Even if you are mean sometimes.
Remember me, Jessica.

I like how Jessica says how nice I am then hedges her bets with "even if you are mean sometimes!

The haiku:

You have rosy cheeks,
Your green-hazel eyes sparkle,
You shine like the stars.

I didn't know Jessica even knew what hazel meant! We always underestimate our kids.

The cinquain:

Love you
oh your wavy hair shines
oh lovely, friend, you are to me

The free verse poem:

I like how you take care of yourself
when you wake up in the morning
you always smell so sweet
I like when
you make cinnamon toast
on tasty wheat

Without punctuation, it's hard for me to tell on this one if she meant, "I like how you take care of yourself when you wake up," or "when you wake up you smell sweet."

The shape poem (it wraps around a shape--in this case, a paw print that Jessica made from a heart):

You're the heart pawprint of my eyes.
I'll love you forever, oh Mother, oh Mother.
I love you a lot.
You have rosy cheeks, your green hazel eyes sparkle.
You shine like the twinkling stars.
You take good care of me, putting me under your wing.

Who can resist, "you're the heart pawprint of my eyes?"

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Katherine came home today and announced, "Well, I just found out that so-and-so likes me. That makes fifty-one boys who like me now."


"Well, I asked my friend how many boys like her, so she counted them all up. So then I decided to see how many boys have ever liked me, and I started counting, and by the end of the day I came up with fifty boys. So now it's fifty-one."

I go inside and tell John. He says "fifty-one BOYS?"


Katherine walks in. "Oh, are you telling Dad now, too?"

"Yes, Katherine. I found it amusing."

"Well, it might not actually be fifty-one boys."


"Yeah--I might have miscounted. It might actually be fifty-two."

" . . . "

On another note entirely, riddle me this: why does water from a water fountain (the good kind that chills the water) so much better than anything I make at home? I can get cold water at home. I can put ice in it, so it's really cold. So why is water from the industrial water fountain at church so much better than the water I can get elsewhere? Is it because it's aerated?