On Author Panel Hygiene


Figure 1. Dear Authors on Panels: some of you are not living your best life. 


I dedicate this post to two lovely people:
Carrie Jones, who brought up the topic on Twitter which made me get all foamy about it
Haddayr Copley-Woods, who added foam of her own



1) When you introduce yourself is really the only time you need to mention your book. Probably the book is sitting propped up in front of you. Probably it’s been listed in the program notes. After you mention it, though, LET IT GO. Most people haven’t read it. Don’t bore us with a synopsis about the story we haven’t read. It’s like telling inside jokes to people you’ve just met.

2) Do not use your introduction time to do a “quick reading” from your book. This is a panel, not a reading. And even a “quick” reading hogs up microphone time.

3) The gift of the panel is variety. If the audience wanted a concentrated shot of one or two writers, they’d attend a reading. But this is a panel, intended to offer a buffet of opinions and experiences. It’s also the most prone to being boring and walked-out-on. To prevent this, you must always consider the audience first, your panelists second, and whatever the hell your own concerns are dead fucking last. You want the audience to want to hang out with you afterwards. Because if they like you, are amused by you, find you entertaining, then they’ll want to get your book.

4) Be funny, engaging, entertaining and succinct. If you can’t be at least three out of the four, it’s really going to suck for you and the audience. Don’t just answer the questions. Try to extend the conversation to your co-panelists and the audience. I know a lot of authors don’t have a choice about where they’re sent to promote their books, much less how, and some authors may hate public speaking. Sorry about that. Perhaps you should just aim to be succinct? At least the end result is that you won’t be hated for being a microphone hogger?

5) Listen to your co-panelists. Don’t just sit there and plan your answer. When you listen to the other authors, this ensures that you might a) not repeat the same kinds of answers b) enhance and elaborate on the answers the others gave: “Like Nancy said, I also had a successful day job. But eventually, I got tired of just being a paleontologist. So one night, after I’d covered all my dinosaur bones, I got into my tent and started writing a story about these two mermaids who want to be wizards.” This keeps things flowing narratively for the audience. It also might result in Nancy wanting to buy you a drink afterwards. Collegiality among authors is a lovely thing.

6) It’s okay not to have an answer. If everyone else has already said what you would have said, it’s fine to pass. Everyone will appreciate that. Again, the point is variety of opinions, not equal time slobbering over the mic.


*these are all made up by me and not endorsed by some Author Governing Body. I have no authority in this matter except that I try to follow these guidelines. Not many other people appear to follow them. Do whatever the hell you want, I guess.






 1) Please don’t introduce yourself thusly: “Hi, I’m Joe Schmuckatelli, New York Times Best-Selling Author of ______.” Think about this for a minute. Your NYT-Best-Selling status is probably on your website, your Twitter bio, your business cards, a tattoo just above your genitalia and the fucking welcome mat at your home. It’s also in the program notes. It’s also probably why two thirds of the audience is sitting there. For the sake of collegiality, skip saying it. Remember, the alpha dog is the alpha because she doesn’t go around humping other dogs. Be cool about it already. And hey? Maybe take your co-panelists out for a drink afterwards. Spread some love.

 2) Audience members asking for writing advice are looking for encouragement. They are not looking for you to showcase your genius, how fast you write, how fortunate you are to be independently wealthy, how you constantly get brilliant ideas, how your agent crawled through a desert to get to your door and sign you. Even if all those things are true (sidenote: fuck off), please act like a regular person for a moment. Tell them practical things: your daily writing ritual, how you balance family and work, how you use a typewriter or a quill (sidenote: really? fuck off). Make this shit up if you have to. Even if you think most people are idiots and shouldn’t write. Even if you think publishing is totally difficult and basically a matter of luck. Even if you are like me and find giving advice perilous. Just be magnanimous about it. Remember your co-panelists are listening to you; don’t make them want to spit in your eye, too.

3) Behave on the panel as if your goal is to leave the proceedings with all your co-panelists for a long, rollicking, joke-filled, cocktail-studded dinner. This has never happened to me, but one can always hope.


**Pure fantasy on my part, but just like zero unemployment or anarchy, I think these are beautiful dreams





On NaNoWriMo

Figure 1. This is my husband. Pre-remodeling. He can wear a sweater, can't he? This has nothing to do with anything.

Figure 1. This is my husband. Pre-remodeling. He can wear a sweater, can’t he? This has nothing to do with anything.


I was going to do NaNoWriMo this year but then I realized my current project isn’t in the right place for it. For me, the benefit of 50k in 30 days is about discovering what in the holy fuck it is I want to talk about, not in taking a project that I’ve got a good outline in place for and running it through my machine.

That, and I kinda slacked the first few days, and now it’s too late.

And that I’m taking some writing time off for a bit. It’s been kind of a crazy year.

But I did want to say this about the experience. I’ve done NaNo several times and “won” just twice. I think it’s a great experience and I recommend it to anyone who wants to try their hand at fiction. I don’t have any fussy political feelings about NaNo novels; I think it’s kind of a personal thing. The constraint is helpful for some; the community is helpful for others. Why be a dick about it? It’s not like our culture sits around endorsing artistic pursuits over all else? Jesus. Don’t get the Hate.

A lot of people (myself included) bemoan that it happens during November.

“Why November? What a sucky month! There’s so much shit going on! It’s only 30 days!” <— that kinda thing

The truth is that no matter where you are in your life, writing will be difficult. You must constantly make space for it.

I am reminded of Stephen King, talking about how he wrote his first few books in a trailer, on a desk next to the washer and dryer.

I wrote more the year my daughter was born than I did in the two years previous, when I quit teaching to “become a writer.”

And I wrote two novels and edited a third while living in half of a remodeled house, with no central heat, or walls, or insulation, in the last 15 months.

My point is – writing a book can happen ANYWHERE. November or not. Walls or not. Baby crying or not. You can really do this work no matter your circumstances. So don’t wait for circumstances to align for you give it a shot. Read Charles Bukowski’s poem “Excuses” if you need further inoculation toward this assertion.

And don’t forget to have fun. It should be fun, at least part of the time. Good luck!






What We’d Like To See In Young Adult Fiction by Actual Young Adults

Figure 1. Reedus licking his fingers for no good reason.

Figure 1. Reedus licking his fingers for no good reason i.e. every good reason


Adding to this post by Andrew Karre on sex in YA, I’d like to add a list of what students in our class at the Loft Literary Center also wanted to see more of in YA books.

One thing I’d like to note. While I knew some of the students in this class, they were all strangers to Andrew. And yes, from jump they were talking candidly about sex. It could be that this group has a particular interest/comfort in the topic (they did sign up for a class with this title, after all) but my experience with teaching teenagers has been that their candor and comfort with talking about complex topics is always high. They just need to be given the space and time to talk.

This message should knock on the ears of editors and booksellers and librarians, too. What you might not be able to verbalize as a grown adult, teenagers have zero problem with talking about to ANYONE. The world is changing with respect to sexual mores and attitudes. Our books going forward should reflect this.

All right – I give you THE LIST:


  1. Insta-like v. insta-love
  2. Kids with parents who are alive and not terrible
  3. Girls kicking butt without having to be ‘Strong Female Characters’
  4. The recognition of bisexual people existing
  5. Rushed teenaged hook-ups
  6. Homeschoolers who aren’t socially awkward, super religious or delinquents
  7. Different (and complimentary) descriptions for brown eyes
  8. Flirty characters who can exist without being shamed to death for their behavior
  9. Boarding schools where kids actually go to class
  10. “Sensitive” guys who don’t run their fingers through your hair and write you poetry
  11. Minorities being described beyond their race (Black kids, Asians, Mexicans, etc.)
  12. Gay dudes who have straight guy friends
  13. People who LIKE having red hair
  14. Girls who play video games for fun
  15. Crazy main characters with normal best friends
  16. LGBT characters
  17. Teen pregnancy and abortion conflicts
  18. References/memes
  19. Fetishes
  20. Fewer cliches
  21. YA without any romance
  22. Talking about test results
  23. Getting each other off without intercourse
  24. More  masturbation
  25. Female masturbation treated as a matter of fact and without sappy ceremony — like male masturbation
  26. Masturbation being talked about/thought about during partnered sex
  27. More variety and less romance in sex scenes
  28. Injuries that take a plausible amount of time to heal
  29. More communication around and during sex
  30. Getting comfortable with each other’s bodies
  31. Non-sassy-best-friend gay characters
  32. Fight scenes that are sad on both ends
  33. More girls on receiving end of oral sex
  34. Realistic relationship building
  35. Multiracial relationships
  36. Threesomes
  37. More characters questioning their sexuality
  38. Long-lasting, established relationships
  39. Bad dancing at dances
  40. More trans characters
  41. Bad yearbook photos
  42. Awkward sex
  43. Girls’ perspectives on guys’ penis size
  44. Mutual enjoyment
  45. Mutual amazement during sex–“what the hell are we doing?”
  46. Guys being called sluts
  47. Good, accurate non-heterosexual sex scenes
  48. Opinions and doubts about embarking on non-hetero sex
  49. Verbal abuse
  50. Non-cliched seduction
  51. Detailed rape scenes
  52. Sexual fantasies
  53. More thought processes during fighting and sex
  54. More friend conversations about sexual experience
  55. Bisexual, pansexual struggles and confusion
  56. LGBTQ relationships that are not judged
  57. Dumb arguments that seem like a big deal

Looks like you’ve got a job ahead of you, YA writers! Go forth and get some!

(p.s. those who write paranormal/fantasy stories might also enjoy this list: Paranormal Stories We’d Like To See)




On Genre Snobbery


Figure 1. Jesus Fucking Christ Already


Last August I completed my MFA in fiction writing at the Rainier Writing Workshop of Pacific Lutheran University. A great decision on my part. I learned so much.  My thesis became Sex & Violence and the second half of my program, I began writing what eventually became Perfectly Good White Boy. Most importantly, though, I made so many great friends that I love so much. I love them, across genres and aesthetics and geography, in fact.

This August, I went to watch some of these friends graduate. It was a beautiful, lovely, hilarious nerd vacation – who goes back to sit in on craft talks about writing? – and I’m so proud of my friends and their accomplishments. So happy to see the faculty who taught me so much.

But. Genre Snobbery. It’s alive and well.

Here is something that gets mentioned in MFA environments constantly:

“This is a literary program.”

Perhaps this should be tattooed on all MFA participants heads? It gets said so much that you’d think outside the classrooms, genre authors are lurking, pressing their noses up to the windows and smudging them with their unliterary ideas.

But me pointing out genre snobbery isn’t me wanting to talk up Young Adult. I love Young Adult lit and people being dickish is not going to change that. It’s what I love to read; it’s fun to write; it’s where my concerns as a person are concentrated.

HOWEVER.  I don’t think YA is better than literary fiction. I don’t think #YASaves, either.

I think #ReadingSaves.

And how we make more readers is not by hoping our culture will produce people who shoot out the womb clamoring for Vladimir Nabokov and Marilynne Robinson and Alice Munro and Jonathan Fucking Franzen.*

We make more readers by demonstrating that reading is a pleasure. And since most folks don’t emerge from their mother’s nethers with intense cravings for Donna Tartt and Toni Morrison, we need to get them hooked on prose stories when they’re young.

A person’s journey to Jeffrey Eugenides and Don DeLillo starts with Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone. With Anne of Green Gables. With Goodnight Moon.

Denigrating kidlit and other popular fiction genres because they’re on trend or making tons of money is not going to change that. Go ahead and be bitter about the unfairness of cash pouring into the hands of those who write these books, but it doesn’t change the fact that children don’t generally come to reading with a crushing need for Thomas Pynchon or A.S. Byatt.

Young readers want story, and they will take it any way they can get it. And they can get it lots of ways now. This is not the 1800’s, where the parlor entertainment was a piano and someone reading aloud baroque deathless descriptive sentences.

Now, we have television. We have movies. We have radio. We have the goddamn benighted internet that so many literary-fiction fans hate so much.

None of that can be changed, either.

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents,” said Emilie Buchwald, co-founder and long-time editor of Milkweed Editions (an esteemed literary publisher from my home state, I’m proud to say.)

The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. And the world is full of readers who want all kinds of stories. Mysteries and spy thrillers and dirty romances and science fiction capers. They want them because it’s fun and enjoyable and thoughtful and delicious to read stories. Not everyone will graduate to the upper echelons of appreciating Faulkner. And that’s okay. Because #ReadingSaves.

I want to shake this into people who insist on sneering about genre. I don’t care if it comforts you to sniff at Nicholas Sparks and Clive Cussler and Stephenie Meyer for what you consider their unjust, ill-gotten gains.

If you want a world with more readers, then your snobbery about genre is hardly honey to the flies you want to lap up your work and pay for it.



*this is his real, actual name

I’m Just A Teenage Mailbag, Baby: Even More Student Questions


Figure 1. Sometimes you just need The Rust Cohle Lip Curl

Figure 1. The Rust Cohle Lip Curl. Which can encapsulate some reader reactions to your story’s ending.


Student Question #3

How do you create a resolution/ending that you and the reader are content with?


Short Answer:

Hell if I know. *sighs for 15 minutes*

Long Answer:

Well, depends on if you have one reader who likes the same kinds of stories you like. But in reality, if you publish a book, you’re going to have lots of readers. And not all of them will love what you do with the Fake People.

(ASIDE:  I kinda of quit writing when I don’t know what else happens. Like, I’m just done thinking about my Fake People. I don’t actually know what happens to them in the rest of their lives. My imagination just gives out.

When readers are like, “Does Evan get together with Baker after the end of Sex & Violence?” I’m all, beats the hell out of me. That’s what fan fiction’s for.)

I suppose the main thing I should stress is that above all, you should be content with the resolution/ending. It should feel right to you, whether it’s happy or tragic or ambiguous or whatever. You should think about YOU while you’re writing and try to be honest about who these Fake People are. Consider what makes the most sense for the story you’ve made. Reflect upon reality as you understand it, or upon the reality you’ve engineered, and your story’s relation to that.

I think the answers can also be found in the first chapter. What in the first chapter links back to the last one? You might want to rewrite your first chapter to create a nice link. That’s not cheating, by the way.

The first chapter’s like a suitcase you pack the reader to take on your trip. That’s what Andrew Karre explained to me. Though I think he forgot that he said that.

So the last chapter’s when you look in that suitcase and see what’s in there. More stuff? Less? What did my Fake People gain and lose?

Clearly, this is not a science and it’s really quite a messy problem. A delightful, messy problem, of course, if you’re into that kinda thing. But remember:  you’ve got lots of chances to solve it, so don’t think you have to hit the mark when it comes the ending on the first draft.

Want to read more Teenage Mailbag questions? Go here.