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

Fractured story arc for "Denouement"



An Open Letter to John Truby on Branching Stories: Field Report from the Internet

Dear Mr. Truby, I’ve been experimenting with what you call “branching stories” in your book The Anatomy of Story (I call them “fractured stories”; same idea) for the last couple of years. I recently launched this website to house them, and after a few years of noodling, plus feedback coming from readers, I’ve learned a few lessons and had some new insights. Here’s what I’ve found. #1. If a story is branching in this “fraxtory” medium such that it can be read in any order, there is a significant writing challenge involved: that of maintaining narrative tension throughout any given path a reader takes. This is what I discovered as I pieced the scenes for “Denouement” together on a large sheet of (real) paper tacked to the wall. I realized I would have to “sew” them together in such a way as to keep from spoiling the so-called ending of the story in any single branch. Instead of building tension in a single branch, I’d have to spread it out across



Behind the Scenes: The Darling I Killed

When I originally drafted "Denouement," there were five characters in the house instead of four. The character who filled the role of the father figure was a man named Paul, an idealistic researcher who makes a technical mistake that renders an invention of his commercially unviable, which makes him so depressed that his drinking gets out of control and he alienates his son and wife before committing the act that all of the other characters commit to land themselves in an afterlife halfway house. But Paul wasn't necessary, as I explained in a previous post, if DDA could fill the same role. And DDA really needed to take on the patriarchal role so he could have some redeeming qualities, because he was so rotten that I couldn't get him to make sense in the earlier forms of the story. I literally drew up a web of my characters on a giant piece of paper tacked to the wall and listed out all of their characteristics, and it became clear that Paul was really not serving to move the



Something about “Denouement” Embarrasses Me

I’ve lived most of my life without a TV, and I’m kind of obnoxiously somewhere between righteous and hipster snooty about it. We didn’t own a TV set until the summer before I started sixth grade, and then it was a TV and a VCR so we could watch movies on Friday nights—we lived out in the sticks, so there wasn’t enough reception to get a picture or sound for anything else. When I was in tenth grade, we moved “around the corner,” meaning, down a few twists and turns of the dirt road, at which point we could get fuzzy pictures that allowed us to watch the basic channels if you squinted, so we were able to watch Roseanne and I think maybe The Simpsons. There was TV at my grandparents’ in town, but once I was in high school, I didn’t watch much because I wasn’t over there as often. And then in college, my roommate had a TV that was constantly on (love you, Lynn!) our freshman and sophomore years, but you’d think by that point, I’d have had time to solidify my



Why You Should Read These Writing Books

Here are my top three favorite writing books and what’s great about them. 1. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. What I like about Bird by Bird is that it’s perhaps the only book that’s been truly instructive for me—for the most part, all of the discussion in other writing books about story mechanics and diagramming have covered what I’ll call the “symptoms” of good writing, not the way you get there. And in all honesty, the way I get there is how Lamott describes her process: it’s not so much about outlining the plot or having a formula as it is about being disciplined and not worrying until the second draft about whether my writing is any good. For me, outlining a plot and cleaning up my drafts came much, much later. I had been trying to be a novelist for nearly thirty years before I could draw a diagram on my wall and shift things around the way some other books have instructed (see #2 below). Lamott writes honestly about sitting there, quieting (or at



Fractured story website launch

Thanks for direct and indirect support to: Kerry McKay, a great friend and a huge supporter of my creative work. For various reasons: Mel McClave, Pat Yeakley, Michael Crawford, Kathy Nickerson, Sean Vassilaros, David Vanden Heuvel, Anthony Cardenas, Ken Markman, Dan Kline, Cynthia Weber, and Mike Neuman. Jeremy Franz understood this project and programmed the prototype of “Frit.” Jeff Heald showed me how to hyperlink passages in a Word doc so that I could create a facsimile of how these stories would work. Denis Zimmermann and Sweet Buzz Media created the imagery and the site. With love to: Lisa, Rick, and Gina Rutherford, Lucy and Troy Duncan, and my kids: you guys are both the raison d’être and the