School portrait of Thurman Ashpaugh



A Belated Sympathy Card for Cliff Ashpaugh

In my mind’s eye, I can see the card in its pink envelope sliding down the clear plastic trash can liner, alongside someone else’s mini doughnut wrapper. The bell had rung, and everyone had already gone to class. It was a sympathy card for Cliff Ashpaugh, a classmate of mine. His younger brother, Thurman, had committed suicide the week before, and although I didn’t know Cliff well—had never hung out with him outside of school—I had known him since sixth grade. He was one of several scrawny, scrappy, long-haired kids in flannel shirts and Vans who hung out in front of the office of our new high school, ironic territory for the stoners to have staked a claim to. I had known Thurman only by sight as an even scrawnier, sweeter-faced version of Cliff, also in a flannel shirt.  When I had heard of Thurman’s suicide, I was heartbroken for Cliff. The year before, the older sister, since graduated, of a popular basketball player named Samantha had died, and during

Architectural photo



Tales from the Intersection: How to Sell Creative Services to a Tech Company

I’m a former freelancer writer and agency copywriter. Now I’m marketing manager at a small tech firm and do freelance work on the side. The beauty of working in technology, science, and medicine is that by supplying your services to firms that need them, you have a hand in contributing to the advances made in these fields. Here are some tips for other marketers that come from my years working on the “client side” in this industry. Tell me, in clear terms and on the home page of your website, what you do. It’s especially important in the tech and science world to be precise and clear, as these are core values in these industries. A few years ago, I was searching for a new agency partner, and my search turned up lots of websites with vague, abstract lingo, infographics about the ideation process, pictures of agency dogs…and only a few that clearly described the services provided. It seems like such a no-brainer, but due to the preponderance of websites that “create

What we are "allowed" to write about



Consider This Your Trigger Warning: Texting with a Friend Re: What We Are “Allowed” to Write About

Today, I'm sharing a texting conversation with a friend of mine, Melissa McClave, who was kind enough to let me use her real name for this post. I was home sick when she sent me a link to a blog post by a woman who walked out on a speech by author Lionel Shriver. Below is our conversation about what we are "allowed" to write about. I write about...whatever I am compelled to write about: Denouement is about four characters who have committed suicide, which I have obviously never done, and The Flower Wars is a story about a modern-day Aztec empire, which doesn't exist. In other words, I'm not writing about my own experiences, at least, not on the level of subject matter. I wrote both of those stories in part to explore ideas and dilemmas that I wondered about, especially aspects of the human psyche that I find fascinating; they were very long answers for myself to my own questions of "what would it be like if...?" I have found this type of work more worthwhile than

Interview notes



How to Interview Someone for Your Novel or Fractured Story

When researching your novel, fractured story, or online fiction, you may want to ask a subject matter expert (SME) for direct insights into the world you’re writing about, or the reality-based pieces of the world you’re making up. This is easier and a lot more fun than you think. (If you'd like to know how to do online or book research, see my previous post.)   I am really fortunate to have had the opportunity to interview some amazing people for both my fiction and my non-fiction work. I’ve talked to a Nobel prize laureate, first responders, a former Marine wounded in action in Fallujah, world-class scientific researchers, the former VP of marketing at a major motion picture studio, a teen who went from obese to healthy weight, and many more. These are some of the most rewarding interactions in my career—I’ve been entrusted to basically dig around with these people through their psyches, which is a kind of cognitively intimate experience usually reserved for

Aztec house (interior, padded)



How to Research Your Novel or Fractured Story

This blog post is at the request of my friend Julie Bonsack, who asked for a “top ten” list for researching fiction. Research is not only one of the biggest perks of fiction writing, it’s one of its most distracting elements. Here are tips that I have learned from researching The Flower Wars, working on other stories, and slaving in the salt mines as a freelance writer for science and technology publications.   At the heart of all of these tips is one key idea: 1. The story is the boss. Once you know that much, the rest becomes intuitive.   2. Plausibility, not accuracy, should be your goal. Look, readers are coming to your fiction to willingly suspend disbelief and be told a story, so don’t get bogged down in historical or technical accuracy. You want something to be believable within the context of your story world. So, if you are writing a story where there is an erupting volcano, yes, you’ll need to do some research on volcanoes to make