Coffee & Conversation: What is your #1 priority in the morning?


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I could probably leave things there and be pretty freaking accurate. Reality is, I have a love/hate relationship with this liquid. It’s delicious and wonderful and perfect and yet hateful and traitorous. Caffeine is awful. Caffeine is glorious. Sometimes decaf is necessary. Why must something so bad for you taste so good? I’ll just leave this here: Ode to Coffee.

Okay, as for the rest of my morning priorities: feed the cat (so she doesn’t kill me), water and turn the plants, open the window blinds (again, so the cat doesn’t kill me), check my phone (so I can think about answering…maybe later), pick up and love on the cat (until she wants to kill me).

I’m so normally boring it hurts.


Canvas Blues – XVIII: Yesteryears


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Vignettes Regarding the Artwork of Brendon Kotes

XVIII: Yesteryears

When Brendon bought his first canvas—cheap, came in a package of ten—he sat in front of his easel and stared at the white for an hour. He’d mix a color on his plastic palette, dip his brush, hold it aloft, then frown, consider, and clean the brush off. Chewed on the end of the handle until the red paint of the plastic flecked off into his mouth.

He had nothing to show but wasted paint when his mom came to tell him it was dinner time. Shame crept into his soul, prickly pain that poked and prodded at places he didn’t understand.

All around his room hung cars—Firebirds and Camaros and Le Mans, close-ups of engines and exercises of chassis—and superheroes—spandex and magical swords and high tech gadgets—but none of them inspired him. Not like they did Casey or Robbie.

That night, he ended up painting a vase with daffodils and tulips as a mother’s day gift. His mom liked it enough she hung it in the entranceway, right where every visitor would see it, where every knocking stranger couldn’t miss.

The tulips had been lopsided, the daffodils all facing the same direction and the vase had a mistake in perspective along the left-side’s curve. But only Brendon saw these things. The abundance of flaws, his mother called it, right before she kissed his forehead and told him that she had an abundance of flaws too and didn’t he still love her?

He did. So he made her more: a crescent moon over a hay field (hung in the dining room), the swing she’d had under an ancient sycamore growing up (her bedroom), her vanity in shades of gold and gray where she claimed magic happened, more with each passing year (propped against the very same vanity). The highchair Brendon and each of his siblings before him had used, now empty and clean, waiting for grandchildren in the back of the downstairs closet (kitchen, naturally).

Every one had an abundance of flaws. And every one was perfect.


Next Chapter Coming June 3rd!

Coffee & Conversation: Are you a planner (plotter) or spontaneous (pantser)?


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I am, like most folks, some combination of the two.

Interestingly enough, for a good long time I was completely a pantser in my writing (no outline, just sit down and start writing with an idea (or an inkling of an idea)) while in my life I was a planner. The sort who memorized school schedules and maps and directions because otherwise my brain would freeze up on the spot.

This opposite behavior made some sense though, given in writing, it doesn’t matter how many times you get a sentence wrong, you can always go back and change it until it’s perfect. Could craft witty character interactions with hours or even days in between their responses to one another. You’re like a god or goddess meddling in people’s affairs. Powerful!

In real life there are no do-overs. It’s one and done. You say words backwards, you can’t suddenly unfuck them. You head for ten minutes in the wrong direction, you’re going to inevitably be late for everything, and if you sit in the wrong class or pull up to the wrong building you’ll get the immense pleasure of feeling like a moron when someone points out that you don’t belong.

Spontaneous behavior in life is freeing though. It breathes a sort of carefree happiness into your actions and there’s a lot to be said for its ability to alter your mental state. In a positive direction.

And outlining before you write can unfuck problems long before you fucked them up in the first place. (I guess that’s the purpose of planning, isn’t it?)

Which is all a convoluted way of saying that while I’m still a planner, I’m learning to be more spontaneous (though I do have to recuperate after each time), and while I’m still a pantser, outlines before you start are actually quite handy (even if I throw half of it out partway though).



Canvas Blues – XVII: Present


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Vignettes Regarding the Artwork of Brendon Kotes

XVII: Present

Mr. Livesey paid for lunch with a black card and a dismissive wave at Brendon’s ten. Then they walked back to Brendon’s studio, suit pants and painted-splattered jeans clashing. The shadows grew longer than normal, the cumulous clouds fat and lumpy enough to cut the heat.

Upstairs, Brendon gave Mr. Livesey a tour of his studio, murmuring shortened explanations of his display paintings as Mr. Livesey gazed on with narrowed eyes that missed nothing. Not the vase of knives on the background table in the alien ballet studio, What Pointe. Not the single opening between the glass in the Mirror of Mazes. Not the smoke-swirled backward words in the reflected ponds of Lake Country Crossing.

“I presume no one has ever been affected by these paintings.”

“Of course not.”

Mr. Livesey turned away from the last canvas and Brendon let the sheet fall back into place. “So this car painting, the one for your friend, is the only picture you know had the same effect as Erikson’s?”

“I don’t even know if it had the same effect. It probably just altered Casey’s dreams, like we thought.”

Mr. Livesey made a sound of quiet disbelief. He wandered over to the workshop side of the studio and perched himself quite comfortably on one of Brendon’s paint-splattered stools. Out of place, a man of order surrounded by chaos, Mr. Livesey still managed to seem capable of wrangling his setting. Wrangling Brendon. Continue reading

Coffee & Conversation: What do you think should be censored?


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Personally, I’m in the camp that any and all adult fiction or non-fiction should not be censored at all for the adult population.

But you’re probably aware I purposefully said the word “adult.”

I think most people (or at least I hope most people) would agree that children’s fiction should not have high (or perhaps any) levels of gratuitous violence, sexual activity, swearing, hate, etc. And that’s simple enough to say when the child in question is reading board books, picture books, chapter books, etc.

But things begin to get slightly dicey when we reach middle grade, where certain levels of violence or difficult situations may, in fact, be favorable to show coming-of-age story lines or excite children who want to read about dragon-riding or dinosaurs or space battles where the heroes come out on top.

Then there’s YA, strictly in a camp all its own. And that camp is a complete and utter mess, if you ask me (which you weren’t, but I’m answering anyway).

YA, despite its moniker of young adult, is generally considered aimed at children between the ages of 12/13-18. Which, again, if you ask me, is a pretty huge disparity. Children at age 12 might not even have begun puberty, where at 18, you’re not only considered an adult in most countries, but you’ve probably been faced with many adult decisions concerning your own health, sexual activity, future, life choices, relationships, etc. One would hope that at 18 you’d have enough past experiences, enough common sense, enough knowledge to think analytically. Sure, you’ll still make mistakes, but we all do at any age.

However, I have a distinct problem with YA authors aiming their books solely at that higher range audience and forgetting that children as young as 12-13 will also be picking up and reading their work. No, I’m not going to say that all violence and sexual situations should be removed. However, I do adamantly believe authors of YA have just as much responsibility as any other children’s fiction author.

LET’S TAKE AN EXAMPLE: Continue reading

Canvas Blues – XVI: Yesteryears


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Vignettes Regarding the Artwork of Brendon Kotes

XVI: Yesteryears

On some afternoons, while the jays screeched in raucous cacophony, Brendon sat in Casey’s house at the kitchen table with its grooves and stains and cat hair. A game murmured on, announcer’s voice like screeching devils and the air smelling of cheap beer and cigarettes. Casey’s mother was usually at work, leaving Becky to watch them despite their father sitting out in the living room wearing a jersey over his gut.

They played marbles across the table, the rolling of them loud enough Casey’s father shouted here and there, though ended up just increasing the volume on the TV. Things were said though, every time there came a shout of, “Casey! Another!” or “Becks, get off the damn phone! It’s not nine yet!”

Nothing was ever directed at Brendon, not fully. But some of the mutterings, such as, “Damn boy better not be getting into our food. Parents should be watching him better,” made Brendon wonder whether his parents weren’t watching him well enough. A question he generally forgot to ask, but stuck with him until the day he realized that the words had been self-admonishing, though Casey’s father was unaware of the fact.

His arm late that autumn had been bandaged tight. The left one, used defensively when some beast—a dog, a wolf, a fox—had sprang for his face one night in his own kitchen. A strange smell entered Casey’s house during that time, one Brendon called “sadness” when his mother asked what he’d meant. He later found the same smell at the hospital, that too-clean, antiseptic, alcohol wipe, and coppery blood air freshener flavor.

Brendon had still been nine, birthday fast approaching and Casey’s party in the winds by a month.

Things had changed rapidly after that. A separation. A divorce. Private dating and remarriage in the case of Casey’s mother. A string of girlfriends before a final steady one in the case of Casey’s father.

It was the loss of his job, murmured Brendon’s father to his mother. The surgeries that never quite fixed things, least of all the sense of worth Casey’s father had lost. The scars on his arm, the lack of full use of his muscles, turned into a visceral reminder of why he’d become a gopher on the job, fallen from the bucket and the lead.

“Always thought it’d be an ungrounded line that zapped me out of commission,” muttered Casey’s father, too deep into a hole that had meant to be a high, baggy sans weed on the table, a couple of fruit flies crawling over empty can lips. “I never even owned a dog. Can’t believe that woman left the window open. Can’t believe.”

He’d try to make a fist with his left hand, then abandoned the task.

Casey whispered to Brendon that “that woman” meant his mother and that she swore she’d locked the house up that night and that Becks must have snuck out despite Becky promising otherwise.  Ultimately, blame games happened and no one ever quite wanted responsibility. So no one ever took it.


Next Chapter Coming May 20th!

Coffee & Conversation: How do you handle two-faced people?


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Not in your real life; I’d think that’s a loaded question with too many answers to count. But in writing, things are a tiny bit simpler. Tiny bit.

There are two main different situations where you might find yourself writing a two-faced person.


This situation can be as complicated or as easy depending upon how self-aware the character happens to be.

An incredibly self-aware character, one who knows and accepts their two-facedness, can easily show their true colors through their interactions with other characters and through their own internal thoughts. Their internal thoughts will align completely with their actions, giving the reader a double whammy of explanation. This is where you can write simple, uncomplicated statements, such as “He/I lied” or “He/I didn’t care who he/I hurt” inter-spaced with other, longer internal motivation that will bolster the character’s actions and give the reader a complete sense of what kind of character they’re dealing with.

This is, by far, the easiest two-faced character to create. However, if the character is completely morally ambiguous, you’ll have a much more difficult time convincing the reader to have empathy for him. To improve empathy, you’ll have to show his likableness by 1) having him engage in ‘nice’ or ‘kind’ behavior, 2) by showing other people enjoying his presence or comparing him favorably, or 3) by giving him a clearly defined motivation that readers can identify with.

A character lacking in self-awareness (a type of unreliable narrator), will cause slightly more difficulty given their actions and their thoughts will not align. This is the character who thinks of himself as correct, moral, or a victim in situations rather than a perpetrator. A character who does not take responsibility for the negative outcomes of his actions because he believes in his own false narrative. In this situation, you can’t write “He lied” ever because as far as the character is concerned, he isn’t lying. Continue reading

Canvas Blues – XV: Yesteryears


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Vignettes Regarding the Artwork of Brendon Kotes

XV: Yesteryears

Third wheels, to Casey at least, had always meant a limping car, a blowout during a NASCAR race. “Drag,” he’d say. “Drag that swings you all about, like some ragdoll who shouldn’t have been on the track.” Brendon always got the impression Casey was quoting someone.

Third wheels, to Brendon, began to a look a little like himself.

Casey had this way, this all-or-nothing desperation about him. A need for speed. A crash course. And where Brendon had been that canvas Casey could tug about, Robbie was something new, something different. Someone who pushed back.

There came a few years of ping-balling, Casey’s attention caught and lost like a firefly flash as he bounced back and forth between what he wanted and what he couldn’t have.

While Brendon sketched in silent appraisal of angles and light and possibility, a neon-green ninja turtle pencil cutting sharp lines across his sketchbook to capture the dilapidated state of the Le Mans Casey sat in, Robbie put hands back on his hips and laughed.

“It’s a car, like the others. What’s so special about it?”

Casey popped his head out of the driver’s side, one hand on the crumbling leather around the wheel, the other on the glass-empty window edge. “It’s a Le Mans!” As if that should be explanation enough. His eyes wild and wide.

“It’s a broken car,” corrected Robbie.

Brendon’s pencil hesitated.

“It’s one of the most iconic cars in existence. A creation of perfection!”

“And it’s a rusted pile of trash now.”

They shot barbs back and forth until Casey yelled at Robbie to find his own car and they’d race. Robbie crawled into the driver’s seat of a truck—a useless, ugly ‘80s F150 according to Casey—and the two of them pretended to race down a straightaway

By the time Robbie declared he was pulling off the road to grab a milkshake from the Cow’s Udder shack and promptly derailed Casey’s race, Brendon had finished his sketch. It was a mishmash of a thing. Wrong. Tortured even. Some conglomeration of a sleek Le Mans in its heyday and the twisted, dilapidated state it was in today. A twist between Casey’s vision and Robbie’s.

That sketch lay for a long time. Never forgotten, but not quite understood. A quandary Brendon couldn’t explain and struggled to move beyond every time Casey ping-balled back after a fight with Robbie.


Next Chapter Coming May 13th!

Coffee & Conversation: What is something you continually procrastinate on?


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Okay, I thought this a suitable question.

When it comes to writing, the writing part is actually the easiest. It’s just you and the blank page. No one watches. No one sees the mess-ups. No one sees the tangential paragraphs where you go on for two, three, four hundred words about how you have no idea what the next plot point is or repeatedly asking yourself why this character is even in this story. It’s a private affair. Where doubts intermix with excitement.

On the other hand…

Edits require you to dull the creative part of your brain. Force it into a little box with air holes that it might leak out, but only at appropriate times.

Formatting requires you to completely lock the creative side of you away. Forget it exists. Staunch it until it’s just a murmur begging to be let free.

Social Media requires you to plant your feet firmly in the here and the now, in a place where the date matters and the story is just a story and never an overactive part of your mind where you just want to linger forever.

Synopsis writing requires you to take your entire story, every living, breathing part of it, and turn it into something bland, dry, and dull that fits on two pages.

These are the things I procrastinate on the most. They are antithetical to everything writers tend to love. The clean-up at the end of the party.

Oh, we know we shouldnt procrastinate on them. The longer they sit needing to be done, the larger they loom. The more stories you complete in the meantime, the more end work accumulates. Yet, they sit out there still, demanding to be done by you and only you because someone else might do it all very wrong and you know it.


Canvas Blues – XIV: Present


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Vignettes Regarding the Artwork of Brendon Kotes

XIV: Present

“I had a friend,” Brendon began.

Mr. Livesey sipped his stout unconcernedly, blue eyes sparkling and his manner attentive, giving Brendon the impression the man waited to pounce.

“Casey Mattingly. We grew up together. One of the first paintings I crafted on my own stretched canvas was a gift to him. A car—a Le Mans—with fire roaring out the exhaust and under the tires like he was tearing up the devil.”

There’d been no future in that picture. The road blending into the black background, sky and land a void. Casey had loved it, claimed the world was just as dark and mysterious, waiting to be discovered by anyone brave enough to floor it down the drag.

A middle-aged woman, with a flour-spattered apron and a soft-spoken voice, arrived then. She set down a panini for Brendon and a simple BLT sub for Mr. Livesey, a small complementary crab dip and crackers going between them both.

Once she had disappeared and Brendon had something other than calculating blue eyes on which to focus, he went on. “We’d thought it a bad dream he had.”

“You and this Casey?”

And Robbie. Robbie especially, a pragmatic mind to calm Casey’s hysterics and Brendon’s imagination.

Brendon nodded. “He said he found himself on a long, dark road, tarmac hot from the day.”

Beastly hot, Bren. Clawing at your skin hot. Like the devil lived underneath.

“There’d been the roaring of an engine.”

A beautiful Le Mans, popping now and then, a tiny misfire fudging up the rhythm. Exhaust stuttering like that boy in Compass who always joined our pickup basketball games during recess.

“And he saw a light. A fire.”

Like eyes at first, Bren. Burning into my soul. Maybe the devil wasn’t too fond of those things I said to my sister the day I found her with that damn teacher, whats-his-name, Mr. Tallir.

“It came toward him down the road, roaring, the light turning into a streak.”

He fell into an introspective silence that Mr. Livesey didn’t break.

Another couple, a man dressed in khakis and a button-down with a base pass tapping against his buttons, the woman in navy pumps and a cream blouse, sat down at a nearby table, breaking the silence as iron chair legs screeched against pavers. Casey would have thrown them a caustic glare. Robbie would have wondered why, given he’d have been wearing khakis and a button-down as well.

“Brendon.” Mr. Livesey’s voice had gentled, become soft, soothing. “Brendon, how many original painting have you sold over the years?”

“I don’t know.”

“Too many. The sign of a success. An artist reaching toward his prime.”

Something in Mr. Livesey’s tone made Brendon lift his eyes from the picked at label of his ale. Mr. Livesey tapped knuckles lightly against the table. Absently. His BLT only half-finished, tomato leaking out of the bread like a red light of warning.

“How many that might cause grief?”

Brendon swallowed. “I don’t know. I don’t know. I just…don’t know.”

Mr. Livesey’s hand, warm from the sun and the wrought iron, settled over Brendon’s. “Don’t you think you should find out?”


Next Chapter!