Archive for the ‘Writing’Category

Brief Update


I’m nearing the end of my 2nd year in the Ph.D. program.  This means I’m finishing up what I hope is the last of my course work.  I still need to get my committee sorted out and obtain a reading list for the summer to prepare for comprehensive exams.

I have 6 chapters of THE BOOK to finish on draft 2.  But, I’ll need another big revision on draft 3.  That’s the problem with learning how to write a novel WHILE you are writing the very first one. You screw up a lot.  But, I’m cool with that. I want this sucker to be as close to awesome as I can get it.  In no rush!

I do have my name on an academic journal article that’s making the rounds right now.  Crossing my fingers that it can find a home.  It would be my first break into that arena.

No pics.  Sorry.

Okay, I lied… here’s a gif.




05 2015

The Cat with No Friends

So, this is apparently one of my first big writing pieces.  I couldn’t have been older than 7 when I wrote this.



10 2013

M.F.A. and Creative Writing Degrees


This has to pop up on the writing boards once a month.

“I’m applying to M.F.A. programs!”

“Should I get a B.A. in Creative Writing?”

“Do writing classes help you become a successful writer?

“Will my college professor be excited to read my 400,000 word space opera that used to be Dr. Who slash fic?”

The truth is, people have some strong opinions about academia and creative writing.  Very strong.  Like, think of the strongest coffee you ever drank now leave it in the coffee pot all day and add a few tablespoons of instant coffee, let it simmer for another few hours then make it into a coffee reduction sauce.  Wait for it to get nice and thick.  Now drink it.  Or put it on your pancakes.


Anyway, strong opinions.

I have an MFA, so I’ll do my best to answer some of these questions. Just please remember that you’re going to get some responses all over the place, ranging from, “Cool, go for it,” to “Don’t bother. Why do you need an MFA?”

Here’s my experience.

I worked freelance as a writer for years and realized I had no craft, just raw intuition that wasn’t evolving. I got my B.A. in literature/creative writing, then moved right into an M.F.A. (fiction). Here’s the thing, the academic route worked for me. I thrived under those conditions. Others will not. Others will get all of that information without paying for a degree. Others will be amazingly successful without stepping into a college. Ever. Forever-ever. The big question is: which one are you? If you’re certain that the M.F.A. is your way, then read on…..

Most traditional programs are not genre-friendly. If it’s on the top 50 list on Poets&Writers, it’s probably a traditional program that hates genre with the intensity of a thousand suns. It burns us, precious. BURRNNNSSSSSS. What does this mean for you? Well, I chose to step away from genre to learn craft at the literary (raw) level. No bells and whistles, no genre conventions. It worked for me. It was the best gift I ever gave myself as a writer. But that’s my way. We’re back to the, “What is YOUR way?” thing again.

If lit-fic’s not what you’re looking for, then you’ll probably need something like a low-res program. There are some great ones out there that focus on genre and commercial fiction.

Here’s the difference in my mind:
1. Traditional programs will have funding opportunities. (Not ALL, but most). That means you’ll become a GTA, teach comp. and lit courses to freshmen who haven’t read a book in their life and who don’t know where “those thingies around dialogue” go. You’ll teach 2-3 courses a semester. You’ll get your tuition covered. You’ll probably get health insurance too. And you’ll get a monthly stipend. (Mine was $1800/month). It means you’re more strapped for time.  Yes, your writing does suffer, and you might not have much of a social life. But you won’t be 100k in debt by the end of it all. I also had a LOT of internship opportunities (non-paid), but I worked for a lit-mag, did some typesetting, taught at a jail, and so forth. Looks great on the resume.

2. Low-Res programs probably have no funding opportunities. You pay for it out of pocket or you get a loan. You don’t have to teach so you can focus on writing and school work. You come out with a nice, hefty loan that will take you 20 years to pay off, but hey, people do it. AND, from what I’ve seen of low-res programs, many of them focus on the business side of things. They WANT you to get published. They help you meet agents and publishers. The more successful you are, the better the school looks.

One question to ask yourself might be: What do I want to do with my MFA? If you say, “I want to learn about creative writing,” then honestly? You can learn all of that by reading threads on net-forums such as Absolute Write. I’m not exaggerating.  Some online forums rock and you get to know other people who rock and the epic awesomeness makes you cry inside because it’s just THAT GOOD.  There is a downside, though.  Wherever you find the “perfect forum,” you will usually stumble upon its opposite: suck-board, hate-board, critique-make-you-cry-or-pee-your-pants board.  Be careful.  Some writers are dicks and when they fail, they want you to fail, too.

Having said all of the above, I (personally) needed academic structure to grow as fast/much as I did. Reading books and emulating helped, but I needed better one-on-one instruction. Just something to think about.

If you want to teach creative writing, then the best suggestion I can offer is to finish a book BEFORE YOU go into the program, turn that in (piece by piece) to workshop, and get it query-ready over the course of the M.F.A.. Why? Because it doesn’t matter how much teaching experience you have. It doesn’t matter if you have a Ph.D. in “Creative Writing.” What matters the most is that you are PUBLISHED. Not self-published, not vanity published, not published through Donny down the street who makes guerilla book orders. By a publishing house. One that has books in Barnes and Noble. And, it probably can’t be genre, though I’d love to hear a success story from someone who got a full-time (creative writing) teaching position after having published a werewolf series.

If you don’t have a publication before you start applying to teach creative writing, chances are, you’ll be teaching adjunct at a university or community college. Once in a while, you might get a lit course or a creative writing course, but for the most part, you’ll be teaching English Comp..  And probably dying a little bit inside an hour at a time.  Don’t get me wrong, comp. professors are badass, but a creative writing instructor trying to find fulfillment and meaningful andragogy teaching composition is like telling a tiger to go forth and be a vegetarian.  We’re just not built that way;..

There are other jobs out there for M.F.A.-holders. Pals of mine are working at creative firms, magazines, publishing houses. But, they all had internships as editors and typesetters at the traditional universities.

Here’s another big question: Does a degree add value? As in make you more publishable? Or look good on a query? The answer is a big, fat, hairy NO to both.

Having a B.A. in English and an M.F.A. here (fiction) I know that it made me a better writer, but that was my own personal experience. Others will have different experiences. The question is, can you learn the material on your own and through reading fiction/craft books/threads on a cool-ass writing forum and writing your bum off? Or, do you think you’ll do better with the academic structure/rigor?

You may not know the answer right now.  But don’t let one or two bad experiences in the classroom jade you forever.  I see this a lot on writing forums.  “I had a shitty creative writing teacher.  They just didn’t GET ME.  I hate schools and I AM NEVER COMING BACK!”


The first creative writing class I took was awful. The teacher was drunk half the time and seemed to be a failed writer who was taking his inadequacy out on the students. I dropped the course. If I had taken that one experience and said, “Wow, academics is not for me,” I wouldn’t have gotten all the amazing instruction that came after. I tried the class again with another instructor, loved it, and kept going from there.

I thrived in my program, even won a fellowship and averaged two publications per year (short stories).  But in my heart I’ll always be a genre writer and I can take all of that knowledge and use it for the power of geekdom.  I feel like it’s served me well.



08 2013



Different “Tattoo,” but hey, I love this picture.  Anyone growing up in the 70’s and 80’s will look upon this picture and feel their hearts grow warm and fuzzy.  I loved the Saturday line-up: Love Boat followed by Fantasy Island.  I remember a creepy ventriloquist episode.  I still have an unnatural fear of dolls and clowns (and ventriloquist dummies).

Anyhoo, back to the other kind of tattoo . . . .


(Judge JUDY!)

I am researching tattooing methods for the book.  Fascinating stuff!  How did one go about tattooing their skin in medieval times?  In ancient times?  I read a up on the various methods: piercing the skin, puncturing, and cutting.  Paul Roe (tattoo artist) writes:

“Some of the earliest tattooing needles date from the Upper Paleolithic period (10,000 BCE to 38,000 BCE)

Found at several archaeological digs around Europe, the sharpened bone needles pierced the skin easily and the pigment came from dipping the needle into holes in a disc of red ochre mixed with clay.”

It didn’t even occur to me that tattooing and marking the skin went back so far.  Fascinating stuff!  I settled on a cross between the Polynesian method (the comb/rake) and the Japanese method of tebori.


I hope the fusion doesn’t ring false.  I might have some more tattoo-educated pals look at the passages for me to make sure.  I know I’m writing fantasy here, but I also don’t want to shoot myself in the eye on a stupid detail that makes no sense.

These tattoos are an important part of the story–a means to show a character’s progression through the ranks.

I have three tattoos myself.  The first one I got at age 20.  My friend Christy and I decided to “go for it,” and get ourselves a slammin’ tattoo.  Keep in mind that this was 1991, a time when tattoos weren’t all that mainstream.  But, we felt pretty badass walking into that tattoo shop in Golden, Colorado and inking up.  My pal got a delicate butterfly on her hip.  I got a tattoo of Hobbes (from Calvin and Hobbes) on my chest.

First off, awful place for a tattoo.  I regretted the decision a few years later.  It marred my bosom, ya know?  And I realized that when I would show people, I was asking them to look at my cleavage.  I still have it, but will probably get this one removed someday.  It’s all smudgy now.  You can barely see the colors.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Hobbes, but yeah . . . lesson learned.

The second tattoo I got with another pal, Keri.  We were walking out of Macy’s one day and I said, “I want to get a tattoo,” and she said, “Let’s do it.”  So, we drove along Colorado BLVD in Denver and settled on a place called Phantom Tattoo.  It took us 3 hours to settle on a simple Chinese symbol (Strength) that would go on the back of our necks.  I know, I know.  I hear from so many people now about “those stupid Americans who get Chinese character tattoos.”  But, like Hobbes, Keri and I were a little ahead of our time.  We did it when it was COOL.  I swear.  Everyone else?  PSHAH!


I love my “strength” tattoo.  I love that I got it with a pal who embodies the word “strength” in my mind.  I love that we share this.



My third tattoo is a phoenix (tribal in style).  I got this when I quit my 9 to 5 job to go back to school to study writing, to write freelance, to finally take that big leap.  It was a big step for me, a huge deal and undertaking.  The tattoo is on my ankle.  It’s lost some of the coloring and detail, though.


Yes, my feet and ankles are quite hideous, but the tattoo is not hideous!  I love it.

Someday, I do hope to get more, but I want them to hold significant meaning for me, perhaps as they do for one of my characters in the novel.  When the time is right (and when I find the right image) it will happen.

Until then, there’s more research to be done, more writing to finish, and more milestones to strive toward.



07 2013



I have been a writing slacker over the last few days.  I think it all comes down to bad time management.  I need to nip that in the bud ASAP.  Coffee helps, though.  I had some today.  Life is good.


WOW.  I was looking for “bling gifs” to add for my coffee happiness, and I found this picture of Russell Crowe as a bird.  Thank you, internet.  My day is complete.

Now, onto important book stuff . . .

The ending has changed in the book.  I’ve mentioned that before.  I’m looking forward to writing my way there.  It will give the novel more resolution in a sense.  Sure, it’s meant to be part 1 of a trilogy, but from what I’ve read, one simply cannot sell trilogies outright these days. They need to love the first book.  You can pitch it as a trilogy.  According to Sarah Megibow from the Nelson Agency (took her stellar publishing workshop two years ago), you can suggest “series potential” in the query letter for your first book, but in the end, your literary fate is in the hands of bigger and more important publication folks.

Speaking of the query letter, mine starts off with a nice bang, but then fizzles out.  Trying to work in the important stuff without sounding like a kid (and then . . . and then . . .) is harder than it looks.

Anyway, happy Russell Crowe bird day to you all.  Get your coffee in!



06 2013

Fiend: A Novel


Fellow MFA alum, Peter Stenson, has a zombie novel on its way into bookstores. FIEND will hit the market on July 9th and is already getting some amazing buzz.  (From Amazon)

“Certain to invite comparisons to Hubert Selby and Cormac McCarthy…one scalding pressure cooker of a novel, and I advise you to buckle up and hold on tight because you’re in for one hell of a ride.  –Donald Ray Pollock, author of The Devil All the Time and Knockemstiff 

“This is the real meat. The last zombie novel you’ll ever need.”—Warren Ellis, New York Times bestselling author of Gun Machine and Twisted Little Vein

“Peter Stenson has done the near impossible in delivering a savage fire-storm of a page-turner while also enabling a hard and earnest look at addiction and love.  I tore through Fiend with the crazed fervor of an addict, but like all great stories these characters lingered in my thoughts long after I turned the last beautiful and brutal page.”—Alan Heathcock, National Magazine Award-winning author of Volt

“Peter Stenson is the bastard child of Cormac McCarthy and George Romero. In Fiend, he takes the reader on a dark joyride replete with junkies, zombies, and buckets of gore. Here is a novel that will jack your pulse and break your heart all at once.”—Steve Almond, New York Times bestselling author of Candyfreak and Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life

Having written with Peter, I know that I’m in for one hell of a ride.  He writing grabs on and doesn’t let go.  This was evident during our time together in the writing workshop.  Cannot wait to dig in.


06 2013

Writers of the Future Press Release

Here’s the press release (finalists) for the Writers of the Future.  Quarter 2 (volume 30).

Congrats to all of the other finalists!  Good luck to all.  May the literary gods smile upon you.  I kind of picture that looking like this:


Yes, I have a cat thing.


06 2013

Go Go Good Team!





Or am I?


Great news!  I can finally share it.  I am a finalist in the Writers of the Future contest for Quarter 2 (volume 30).  That means top 8 out of thousands of entries.  They will choose the winner (and 2nd/3rd place) in three weeks.

Now, I went into this thinking, “Someone cool might read my work,” and as a geek genre writer, that (in and of itself) is better than waking up on Christmas morning with a hot pink Huffy bicycle under the tree.  The one with glitter-streamers and a mini license place that read “Hot Stuff.”

Don’t razz me.  This was the 70’s.

Naturally, when I received a call from Joni at Writers of the Future, I thought, “Oh (bleep) there’s something wrong with my story.  It got lost.  They forgot to have the judges read it.  A band of raccoons hopped-up on bath salts stormed WOTF headquarters and tore up the servers, then they went house-to-house looking for judges, destroying all evidence of my story. Epic FAIL!”

But then, she gave me the news.  I felt my heart grow three sizes, then it started beating really loud and my hands shook and I lost my breath and then, and then, and then . . . .

Breeeeatheeee . . . 1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . .

Ellipses abuse!

Who knows if I’ll make the top three, but it’s exciting to know I have chance.

Funny how these things come when you need them the most.  I was just sitting down the other day to write a scene that is kicking my ass and I thought, “Self, this sucks.  Writing is hard.  How do I spell T-H-E?  What is the capital of Missouri?  Why am I watching Dance Moms?”

Hard stuff.

Now?  I feel like what I’ve been doing for the last few years just might be worth something.

Anyway, I’m here in the moment.  Will update when I get it.  Until then, this is me:



06 2013

Fight Scenes




Why are they so dang hard to write?  And write well?  I’m struggling with one now.  Well, actually, I’m revising the hell out of an old one that I struggled with last year, only I’m adding another person and two more bad guys, and yeah . . . it’s stressful.  I’m doing this right now:


But, I knock out 2 paragraphs a day.  That’s right, 2 paragraphs.  I’m working on other stuff, but as far as this particular fight scene is concerned?  It needs gentle, slow, love.  Barry White love.

My system is a pretty good one, truth be told, but sometimes I overthink or underthink.

1. I map it out.  Like this . . .


2. I run scenarios this way until I get an idea of how things begin.

3. I write a very rough description of the action.  T moves forward and bashes this guy.  M moves up and does this.  S does that.  Bad guy does this, this and that.

4. Once that’s done, I get into my POV character’s mind (3rd person limited) and decide what that character will see, recognize, note mentally, and understand.  For example, M might not see what T is doing, but she’ll be able to get an eye full of S’s actions.  What is important to HER?

5. I write a longer version of the action.

6. I flesh out.

7. I flesh out some more–adding more details, some internalization, etc.

Sometimes, it takes 10 passes to get it where I need it to be.  But, it works.

Now, I need to find a way to add in new things to an already-written passage.  It’s not easy, but doable.


05 2013

Franken-Eye & Entertainment Babble

I have a new eye.  Okay, new lens IN the eye.  I have early onset of cataracts from a medication I’ve been taking since I was in my early twenties. Nice, eh?  Clear up your lungs, but how about some cataracts with those cortisteroids?   What’s amazingly cool is how my vision has changed now.  Below is a fairly accurate image of the change.


In one eye, things are blue and sharp and awesome.  In the other, it looks like it did in Fort Collins during the High Park fire.  Another three weeks and I’ll be rockin’ the vivid colors in both fronts.

I haven’t done much writing lately because of the eyes and because I’m getting one of my Ph.D. application packets completed.  Writing samples, letters of recommendation, ordering transcripts.  On top of that, I have to finish a grant for the Literacy Center and finish some observational coding for the game.  My break is pretty much over.  Oh well.

In Television News . . .

The 3rd to the last Fringe episode airs tonight.  Looking forward to it but sad as well.  What in the heck are the Bishops going to do?  There’s a reset coming and because this is Fringe, they won’t shy away from it.  How will the show end?

Arrow is getting incredibly good.  It needs to come back from hiatus.  NOW.  Wonderful writing.  You can feel this show is going somewhere.  They’re planting seeds all over.

American Horror Story. WTF, I love you?  Jessica Lange is so full of winning!

Downton Abbey, hmmm.  Not sure what to think.  Seems to have lost its magic.  Why the heck does Mary come across as some kind of crazy gold-digger?  They also need to get Mr. Bates out of jail.  He’s boring in Jail.  He needs to be in the house where he can put the snotty servants in their place.

In Movie News . . .

This is 40 was hilarious.

Need to see Django.

Need to see Zero Dark Thirty.  I’ve been a huge Katherine Bigelow fan since Near Dark. Yes, once upon a time Vampires were Vampires.  I smell a vampire post coming on, one dedicated to the vampires of literary and movie past that don’t suck.



01 2013