Cascade Writers Approaches!

Writing workshops.

We gotta talk about em, folks. Writers go to these things, and sometimes they come away inspired and ready to take on the world, and sometimes they come away discouraged and angry. Sometimes, I hate to say, a bad workshop can really break a talented writer.

If you aren’t familiar with the world of writing workshops, they last anywhere from a few days to a full summer. In the science fiction world, there are some prestigious, by-audition-only workshops: the Clarions, Viable Paradise, Taos Toolbox.  However, a new, or cash-strapped, writer is much more likely to attend a short open-enrollment workshop like my local events Chuckanut, Chanticleer, or, the little workshop-that-could I’ll discuss shortly, Cascade Writers.

(I think Cascade is a cut above 99% of local workshops, but I’m also on the board, BUT, I joined the board because it was a cut above… more in a moment on why.)

These things are meant to attract new writers who need some networking, some schmoozing, and help those writers push their writing, and subsequently their careers, up a little higher. It’s a chance to interact with agents, editors, and mentors. A good workshop can give you some incremental pushes. You might take a class that helps you identify your strengths or weaknesses, or meet critique partners. You might learn things about the agent-querying or self-pubbing process that help you get your stuff out there.

They can also be a major stumbling block. It doesn’t take much to be a successful writer invited to conferences (I, for instance, have about 20 short story sales, and only about 5 are truly prestigious), and someone with a platform could spread disinformation or outright colonialism.

(I know James’ blog post linked above is really long, but if you care about indigenous issues in fiction, you owe it to yourself to read the whole darn thing. It’s brilliant and incisive and says it all.)

One also needs to understand the culture of the workshop. Some workshops (like Chanticleer) cater mostly to self-publishing, while others cater to traditional publishing. Any person or workshop who adopts a favorable extreme is going to spread some bullshit; there is a right way to do self-pubbing, and a right way to do traditional publishing, and both are a ton of work. You want a workshop that promotes respectful dialogue, information about all publishing paths, diversity and inclusion for all people, and zero tolerance for harassment.

I began taking myself seriously as a writer when I attended a workshop: David Farland’s Outline workshop in 2004. There, I met Eric James Stone and joined his writing group. I am also a teacher, and I work mostly with a historically underserved minority. So I am pretty invested in making sure new writers, of diverse backgrounds, have a good workshop.

And hey, now’s where I tell you that I think Cascade Writers is the best damn new-to-intermediate-to-advanced workshop I’ve been involved with. I’ve been going, either as a pro or just an attendee, since its inception, but this last year, I joined the board. I’ll let you explore the website, but I’ll just say that, with everything I’ve detailed here, we all try to make this the most helpful, worth-your-dollar workshop for everyone. We have a few memberships left for our Tacoma workshop next weekend. Although all our critique sessions spots are taken, this membership will still get you a “flash edit” with one of our publishing pros and entrance to all the classes.

Oh and, uh… I met my agent and one of my editors there. So, here’s the other thing about writing workshops: sometimes, sometimes, when you’ve done your dues, (to be fair, I had submitted a bazillion short stories and novels before this)  they REALLY work.



Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 8.40.38 AM

Okay, since the date isn’t there, it happened about 2 weeks ago, and we signed a couple of weeks before that. Still, LET’S ALL GET EXCITED ONE MORE TIME!

I’ve been sending out novels and short stories for publication since 1999, although I haven’t made a real serious effort with agents until recently. I sent out a monstrously high school novel around 2002, after a few years of revising; bounced; sent out a slightly better monster around 2005; bounced; got mired in longer and un-revisable projects in the following years and didn’t get another novel out to agents until 2014, then finished and sent off a couple MORE short novels in 2015-2016 aaaaaaand boom.

I previously worked at a literary agency for two years, slaving away over my boss’s slush and occasionally trying (note the lack of a successful completion verb) to sell the gems in the slush she didn’t want to invest in. So while I was familiar with the business, and while I could write a decent query & cover letter, it took quite a few years, lots and lots of rejected subs (including a few to Sara) and three novels to land the agent.

So. Big step. Chocolate eaten. Next step awaited.


Choosing Your Favorite Baby

Hey blog! Long time no see.

A couple of updates: BEHOLD MY EDITING & PROOFREADING SERVICES PAGE! I’ve been editing & proofreading for years–eight years, actually!–but I have never officially hung out my hat. Hat is hung. If you or someone you know needs mentoring, editing, proofing or just some guidance, hit me up.

Also, I’ve posted a few drafts from my current songwriting project to Soundcloud. Nutritious liquid lunch for the ears.

I did an interview at the most talented Rachel Swirsky’s blog.

I’m currently staring down the end of my most productive Saturday in ages. I ran! I wrote (a little) and I went out with the family and I painted a room. The productivity gods, they are with me.

Left with a couple of hours before bedtime, and the family running errands, I… don’t know what to work on! I have three, count em THREE big projects that I am excited about. One’s science fiction, one’s historical, and one’s fantasy. All are saleable, I think, to various editors or through self-pubbing.

And they all look so shiny. I am reminded of the time my grandmother took me to Toys R Us, showed me the shelves full of amazing Transformers & said “pick one.”


What’s your criteria for picking a project?

NorWesCon Schedule

Urrrgh, blog, I love writing in you, but this has been the worst quarter. So much sick. So little writing. So much REMODELING. but I’m at Norwescon today, and tomorrow, and here is le schedule!

Fri 1:00 PM-2:00 PM – Evergreen 3&4
Comics on TV
Nina Post (M), Spencer Ellsworth, Lilith Whitewolf, J. Rachel Edidin

Fri 3:00 PM-4:00 PM – Cascade 13
More Than Just Scorned Victims
H.M. Jones (M), Laura Anne Gilman, John (J.A.) Pitts, Spencer Ellsworth

Fri 6:00 PM-7:00 PM – Cascade 10
Creativity & Disabilities
Kevin Mathews (M), Liv Rainey-Smith, Mark Chapman, Luna Lindsey, Spencer Ellsworth

Fri 9:00 PM-10:00 PM – Cascade 5&6
Indie Comics -v- the Big Two
Ogre Whiteside (M), Spencer Ellsworth, Brenna Clarke Gray

Sat 11:00 AM-12:00 PM – Cascade 7&8
Why Fantasy Matters
Cat Rambo (M), Peter Orullian, Catherine Cooke Montrose, Carol Berg, Spencer Ellsworth

Sat 12:00 PM-1:00 PM – Cascade 7&8
…But It Was Always So Awesome!
Mickey Schulz (M), J. F. High, Lisa Bolekaja, Spencer Ellsworth, John Lovett

Sat 1:00 PM-2:00 PM – Cascade 13
Hyper-Sexualization vs Power Fantasy
Mickey Schulz (M), Spencer Ellsworth, Torrey Stenmark, J. Rachel Edidin

Sat 2:00 PM-3:00 PM – Grand 2
Autograph Session 1
Amber Bariaktari , Caroline M. Yoachim, Dave Bara, Dean Wells, Erik Scott de Bie, G. Willow Wilson, James C. Glass, Jennifer Brozek, John (J.A.) Pitts, Kristi Charish, Django Wexler, Frog Jones, Rhiannon Held, Sonia Orin Lyris, S. A. Bolich, Morgue Anne, Robert J. Sawyer, Spencer Ellsworth, Steven Barnes, Tori Centanni, Cat Rambo, Don Maitz, GregRobin Smith, Jeremy Zimmerman, Laura Anne Gilman

Sat 7:00 PM-8:00 PM – Cascade 3&4
You Can’t Take the Sky From Me: Mixing Genres
Nina Post (M), Raven Oak, Spencer Ellsworth, Adam Rakunas

Sat 8:00 PM-8:30 PM – Cascade 1
Reading: Spencer Ellsworth
Spencer Ellsworth (M)

The Secret History of the Writer Cave

The writer cave is… COMPLETE. (Okay, there’s still a thing I have to figure out. Oh, and I should probably install a wall heater at least before next winter. But.) There’s a floor and decent windows and it’s painted and… here’s a picture:


From before I did the molding and unpacked everything:



When we moved in, this was a converted garage with a very moldy carpet laid directly on concrete. It had what I now refer to as “prison windows” whose bottom sill sat about 6 inches above my eye level. You can get a general idea from the move-in pic here, and then an in-progress pic from after the pouring of new concrete and before the installation of new window:



I am NOT Mr. Home Improvement Guy. Never done anything more complicated than mud up a hole in drywall. So this was a huge project and I had no idea where to start

With the help of a contractor who actually knew what he was doing, I removed the windows and shut up the holes, then added two vinyl windows I bought off Craigslist that are actually at eye level. He did the work of moving the electrical outlet, but I am confident in saying that I could probably install a window without help now.

I poured a self-leveling concrete floor that… didn’t level. So I had to do a bit more concrete. And of course I screwed up the drywall and a number of other things, but finally, this last week, got it painted and got the click-lock laminate floor installed.

I’m amazed how much work it was, and how much money. But also proud. Funny story: much of it was financed by short story sales. What did you do with your funds from writing, Spencer? Made a place to write in.

Now to unpack my books! Yay!


Uh… there are most books here…


And the finishing touch, of course.


Star Wars & Me, Episode 3: Return Of The Monomyth

It is 2016 and I have seen a new Star Wars movie. This time, my date was my daughter.

Who kinda had to be talked into it.

Okay, confession time: my kids have still not seen the original trilogy all the way through. We’ve tried. They made it halfway through A New Hope and Empire, then got bored and ran off. When it came time to watch Return of the Jedi, I started it halfway through so we could do the ending and get them to bed.

They liked the Ewoks okay.

I can’t really blame them. They are swimming in awesome speculative fiction. They’ve got Harry Potter, and even more crucially, Avatar: The Last Airbender. Both of these series are rich, full of deep characters struggling with the war between light and darkness, and tend to have better representation as far as female characters go.

Star Wars is kind of slow. And boring. And, until recently a sausage party.

So even though the films are really gospel to me, they have nowhere near that pull on my kids’ imagination.
I had to really sell my daughter on The Force Awakens. Daddy-daughter date. Candy and popcorn. (I’m cheap enough that we snuck the popcorn in. It’s like a dollar a bag at Trader Joe’s!) And I promised to get her home in time to play with her friends. For an eight-year-old, she was already doing a good impression of teenaged bargaining.

So we saw the movie. I was rather moved by the central father-son conflict, of course, and thought Harrison Ford hammed things up appropriately. Daisy Ridley came straight out of the Hermione Granger School of Heroines, which was okay by me. Other bits–like the obvious Save-The-Cat formula used for the script–were annoying.

But I was mostly interested in my daughter’s reaction. Would the mythology that shaped me be interesting to her, here in its new form?

“So, did you like it?” I asked as we walked out of the theater, aware that the franchise closest to my heart was competing with a whole lot of other, possibly better, stories.

“Yeah! I like Rey!”


Workshop Envy

Twitter tells me today’s problem: it seems that Neil Gaiman, for once, chose his words badly. He has shared the following, out of enthusiasm for Clarion, a six-week summer intensive science fiction workshop.

This is not pleasing to many people.  Including me. Because Clarion is expensive already, and it mandates six free weeks in summer. I don’t have the money now and I don’t have the time. Luckily, half my friends went to Clarion, I myself went to the one-week Viable Paradise,  I’ve had enough stories published that I feel confident I don’t need Clarion, etc (plug here for my own best story of 2015).

But if you, like me, can’t take that time off and can’t get someone to watch the kids and unlike me, you’re just starting out as a writer, that tweet might make you pretty darn depressed.

I’m sorry.

I know how it feels.

I have three small children and two jobs. I get on the bus at 6:15 every morning so I can write from 7 to 7:30 at work, and I get a couple of hours on Sunday morning to revise that writing.

It’s nowhere near the time some of my friends have.

But to paraphrase a younger (perhaps wiser) Neil Gaiman, I get what everyone gets. I get a lifetime.

You don’t need Clarion. You need to write on a regular schedule, and possibly get a (GOOD) writing group, and you might want to study craft in some way, but you don’t need Clarion.

However… now’s the cautionary tale. Please don’t be an ass to those who CAN go.

They have a rare opportunity, and they only get a lifetime, too.

When I was young and a much worse writer, I applied to Clarion several times and never got in (shortlisted once). I did this because I had no kids and my parents supported artistic commitments like writing workshops and I was in college working a succession of disposable jobs. In 2005, I decided to apply to a “backup” workshop–Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp. If I didn’t get into Clarion, at least I would get the one week intensive with Card.

Right before I attended OSC’s camp, I ran into a friend and gushed about the cool experience I was about to have at Literary Boot Camp. To my surprise, my friend, who was a struggling new mom, got quite cold. “How can you afford that?”

I was honest. “My parents paid for it.”

“Oh.” Colder. Ice cold. Freezing. She said, “Well, I can’t just ask my dad for money.”

Ouch. I felt terrible after that. I felt terrible that she couldn’t go, I felt terrible that I could, I felt terrible for being overprivileged, and I certainly wasn’t about to mention that this (much cheaper) workshop was my BACKUP and I’d actually planned to go to a six-week workshop in Seattle, but didn’t get in.

When my dad changed jobs, and started trying to retire, and I started having kids of my own, I understood a little more of how she felt. These days it’s all I can do to go to an occasional con. I would have to be between jobs and financially well in the black to go to Clarion. I managed Viable Paradise, which is one week, five years ago, only by grading papers and teaching online classes while I was there.

There are writers in a position to go to Clarion. A lot of them go on scholarships, especially writers of color. Many of my good friends went in college, or went in between periods of employment, or went when they could take advantage of family support. I’m encouraging some of my students to apply.

You may never be in that position, but if you were, you would take it. So have a little compassion, and remember that it’s not a magic ticket either. I didn’t sell any stories until well after I finished both Boot Camp and VP.

It’s a lifetime.

Star Wars & Me, Episode 2: Attack Of The Girl

I imagined a lot of stuff when I was a kid. Space battles, fantasy worlds, robots and dragons and hobbits oh my.

Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Transformers, with their mix of myth and pulp sci-fi, and their almost entirely male casts, made the tentpoles of my imagination. They made me want to tell my own fantasy and sf stories.

But for all that, I didn’t often imagine, y’know, women as heroes.

In 1992, I read a little something called Heir To The Empire. And I have to credit Timothy Zahn, to this day, for Mara Jade. Fighting compulsion for free will, shading between light and darkness–Mara’s journey was one of the first epic, serious tales I read for a female character. She wasn’t overly sexualized, or made a plot device for the male characters. She was everything good about Luke, Han & Leia, and the Thrawn trilogy worked because it was her story.

However, after I’d read enough of it, the Expanded Universe became… ah, unwieldy is a good word.

So is lumbering slobberbeast created by a barn full of drunk writers only allowed to refer to each other by call signs.

Three years out, in 1995, I stopped drinking from the fire hose of EU novels and comics. Not before, though, I gave, I not you shit, young Jedi, a presentation explaining the EU to my high school freshman English class.

After that presentation, the girl I had a crush on actually walked with me to the bus, and talked to me for the first time. I was fairly shocked. Hadn’t I just outed myself as the world’s biggest nerd? It never occurred to me, even though I had Mara Jade to guide me, that my crush could 1) be a nerd herself, 2) actually find someone interesting when they expressed their passion, no matter how nerdy, or 3) a combination of the two.

Here is where it would be nice to say “Reader, I married her,” but no. I stuttered through one or two conversations with her.

Instead, I decided that conventional wisdom had to be right. Girls didn’t dig nerds. I traded the EU for neo-Beat cool. I dropped all my regular comic buys and dialed down the nerdiness in all aspects of my life for a while. (This is why I am the only fantasy writer in the world who never played D&D. )

Based on religious programming, cultural programming, and yes, the lack of women in the stories I grew up on, I ignored Mara Jade and bought into the idea that women were like another strange race of beings, and couldn’t understand the nerdy boys’ world.

And then, as hope was lost and nerdiness lay fallow behind pseudo-cool, the prophecy came true.


Okay, sonny, you really have to try to understand how COOL that sounded.


For this movie, I accepted that I would go full nerd again. I waited for the midnight show tickets. I watched Empire Strikes Back a good thirty times in the months leading up to Phantom Menace. (I also watched Trainspotting, to brush up on young MacGregor, and learned the hard way that one wasn’t much of a date movie.)

I saw it aaaaaand…

I loved The Phantom Menace!

At first.

Specifically, I loved the bit setpieces. I maintain that Episode 1 has the shape of Star Wars–cool lightsaber fights and a space battle and a podrace–but after the fourth showing, there was no soul behind those set pieces. All the story beats felt wrong. Why were we wasting time on midichlorians and trade agreements? Why was the movie about Qui-Gon, with Obi-Wan relegated to a supporting player? Why was Jar-Jar such a one-note doofus, with zero redeeming qualities?

The story, if you really squinted, was a good one–young Anakin Skywalker, a slave with nothing to his name, becomes a Jedi and helps save the galaxy. But it didn’t flow! The characters didn’t connect the right dots! This obscure dude  Timothy Zahn was able to write a realized, complex character like Mara Jade, and George Lucas couldn’t make Padme and Anakin interesting?

I began obsessively rewriting the movie. In retrospect, it was very good for me as a writer, if not as a Star Wars fan.

My experience with Episode 1 was more positive than negative. It showed me that I was going to be both a normal successful adult and a raging nerd and that there was no way around it. Sometime in 1999, I realized that all people, men and women, worked on a balance between a dreamy-eyed kid and a practical adult.

(I soon had the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, X-Men and Spider-Man movies to make things better, although not entirely on the female representation front.)

So when I met a girl in college who liked comic books, and we were having a good time together, and I was trying to 1) keep the fun times moving, and 2) find out just how nerdy she was, I asked the fateful question.

“You want to see my Star Wars toys?”

She did. This time, reader…


She doesn’t even like Star Wars, and here’s the crazy thing: it’s because she felt pressured to like it as a teenager. She’s a raging geek otherwise, who loves anything animated, tried to change her name to Harley Quinn, collects Legos, and still makes a fortnightly trip to the comic store with me.

My wife might not get it, but she and I both owe a little hat tip to Mara Jade, now erased from canon, but not my heart, and my mind.

Star Wars & Me, Episode 1: The Nerd Awakens

My first Star Wars movie, my parents tell me, was Return of the Jedi, in 1984 on a pirate VHS copy, before the mass release of the film. According to my folks, who had obtained the tape through dubious means, I jumped up and down excitedly, spewing out explosion noises through the entire battle on Endor and finished the film draped in a sheen of sweat.

I don’t remember this.

My first memories of Star Wars occurred after the fateful viewing, and they are of playing with the figures and knowing who the characters were, creating scenarios where Han was hunted by Bossk. At no point do I remember realizing, hey, Star Wars is a thing.

And that might be the best way for me to explain the effect of Star Wars on my psyche. Star Wars is a Jungian monomyth, or so people say. In my case it’s literally true; it’s seared into my unconscious.

I was really sick when I was a kid. Celiac disease was way underdiagnosed in the 80s, so when I was about four I lost all my energy, puked all the time and looked like a famine victim. My first memories involve: a) throwing up after eating pancakes, b) being too tired to move around, because of said throwing up, and c) watching Transformers and playing with Star Wars toys when I was too sick to move.

Most of my memories of the house we lived in circa 1984 are of the bathrooms.

I didn’t become a big geek because of celiac, but it certainly helped. My body didn’t work well, but my imagination worked just fine.

The gluten-free diet worked, mostly, as I got older, but I would never be a jock, or even someone comfortable in his own body.

I watched those bad pirated tapes for years, until we could tape the films off TV, and eventually, (gasp) buy our own VHS boxed set. But films pshaw; I remember the toys. THE TOYS. We now take for granted the cross-promotion in cartoons, movies, comics and TV that was only made possible by Ronald Reagan and the FCC in the 80s.

The hardware store had a row of Star Wars toys, as did Walgreens and just about every other store at the time. Every time my dad had to buy anything, at any store, I could usually talk him into a toy.

The paradise didn’t last. In those days, the thought of an ever-present toyline without media tie-ins was crazy. I still remember the moment when my baby brother bit the head off one of my last surviving toys. THE PAIN. THE TOYS.

I still collect toys, and I’m conflicted about them. On the one hand, they’re money drains that I don’t pummel to death like I did when I was a kid, and they draw on vast quantities of petroleum and take advantage of the poor. But when I see a rack of Star Wars toys, I am five again, and my imagination is suddenly the best place to be, way better than this lousy physical world.


“Clockwork of Sorrow” & “About The Bear”

I have two new stories out!!!!!! THE EXCITEMENT!!!!!

The first is “About The Bear,” a flash fiction at Podcastle, who also published The Child Support of Cromdor The Condemned.  Podcastle had an open call for stories about bears. Truthfully, they had a pun-tastic call for stories about bears. “Pawedcastle is seeking koality stories that will not be polarizing.”

I love that sort of stuff.

I wrote the story in about an hour. It was a simple matter of mating a true story, about a friend who wrestled a bear (not kidding) with a fantasy world I have been working in for several stories and a novel.

The reader absolutely slays it. And you get to hear four other fantastic bear-themed stories, plus my pun-tastic list of previous credits. I’ve been published at The Magazine of Furtasy & Science Furtion, Urson Scott Card’s Intergrowlactic Medicine Show, etc…

Um. You get it. Bear pun.

Clockwork of Sorrow was written entirely for the great anthology Ghost In The Cogs from Broken Eye Books. This was a fun prompt: steampunk ghost stories. I was really happy to be part of Broken Eye, which puts out wonderfully creepy books with amazing covers. Look at that cover! Holy crap dudes!

This story ties into my novel The Great Faerie Strike, and takes place in the same world. The novel is still being shopped around, but you can get a glimmer of how the world works in this piece.