Writers and their Beasts: Tina Gower/Alice Faris

My guest today writes under more than one name, which can cause confusion, but I know her as Tina, so that’s what I’ll use. And she’s kindly here today to tell us about her Beast.

1) Let’s start with the obvious: Tell us about your pets.

I have an 8 month old Chocolate Labrador puppy [Napa, pictured below]. She’s sweet, but also has a goofy streak (Typical Lab!).

IMG_2356 (2)

We got her over the summer and my intention was to train her as a therapy dog. I’d love to do volunteer work visiting rehabilitation facilities or a children’s reading with dogs program. It all depends on how her training goes for the next few years and if she can manage to calm a bit as she matures. Napa will be my first therapy dog, but not the first working dog I’ve trained. I also have trained Guide Dogs for the Blind.

2) How do they help/hinder your writing?

At first, it seemed like any writing would be impossible, but we crate trained and that helped a lot in those first few weeks. I also go used to sprinting for word counts when she’d fall asleep. It became a game on how many more words I could get before she’d wake up. And because the weather was beautiful over the fall I would take outside in our fenced yard and let her roam while I sat in the shade with my laptop. I got creative, so I wouldn’t fall behind.

3) Do they appear in any of your works?

She doesn’t appear in my work, but some of her personality aspects maybe do at times. I’ve had dogs in my stories, but they don’t resemble her or any other pet I’ve had at all. I tend to be the same with my characters. I don’t use any people I know in real life to model a character after and I guess it’s the same with my pets.

4) How does being a pet owner affect your writing?

In my opinion, animals teach us a lot about empathy. They show love in a different, maybe sometimes purer way. Also how they read our body language. Watching animals helps me understand those more emotional parts of life and ultimately fuels those scenes that need the extra emotional boost.



Upcoming from Tina Gower!

Romancing the Null (coming soon in February 2016)—The Outlier Prophecies Book One:

ebook (2)

There are three kinds of lies.

Lies the fates spin as half truths.

Lies of destined love.

And statistics.

As a fateless, Kate Hale is immune to the first two, but the third kind of lie is her profession. After spending years as an actuary for the Traffic Department, Kate is promoted to Accidental Death Predictions. It’s all she’s worked toward, and her career is finally on track. But when an oracle delivers an impossible death prediction and insists on her help to solve the case, she might lose any chance of impressing the brass.

Her only hope comes in the form of the police liaison assigned to her department, latent werewolf Ian Becker. Becker can grant her the clearance to find answers, but he’s a wild card with a shady past who doesn’t play well with others.

Every prediction has a loophole, but if Kate can’t solve the case before the crime is fated to occur she won’t just lose her job–she’ll have the blood of an oracle on her hands.



CnpvipvrTina Gower grew up in a small community in Northern California that proudly boasts of having more cows than people. She raised guide dogs for the blind, is dyslexic, and can shoot a gun or bow and miraculously never hit the target (which at some point becomes a statistical improbability). Tina also won the Writers of the Future, the Daphne du Maurier Award for Mystery and Suspense (paranormal category), and was nominated for the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart (writing as Alice Faris). She has professionally published several short stories in a variety of magazines. Tina is represented by Rebecca Strauss at DeFiore and Company.

You can find Tina at:

www.smashedpicketfences.com (blog) and www.tinagower.com (author website)


Twitter(Tina Gower) / Twitter (Alice Faris) / Facebook:




(I will be suspending this feature until Mid February, since I have a book coming out next week and will probably be horribly self-centered for a while! I will be resuming with Lawrence M. Schoen on the 9th and Pat Esden onf the 16th.)


The Grand Patreon Experiment

Patreon.jpgIn the arena of things I’m trying to do to get my readership/constituency up and to put out more stories/ebooks, I’ve established a Patreon.

Now, if you don’t know what a Patreon is, imagine your favorite writer as Public Radio. Instead of trying to get $300,000, they’re trying to reach $300. A little different, but in the same vein. We ask for money from contributor to help defray our costs. Patreon’s a little like Public Radio’s ‘sustaining membership’, except that you can start at $1 or less per month.

Why would I consider this? Because I’m in the middle of trying to revamp my current ebooks and put out a handful more.

It costs money. While I could spend a couple of months and learn to format ebooks myself, I won’t get any writing done. I could shell out for a copy of Photoshop and take a couple of classes on design, or I could hire someone to make covers for me (which are surprisingly full of requirements and rules and stuff on how to get everything to fit on the bookseller and that.)  I don’t think I actually have any design skills, so classes would only take me so far.

And therefore, I’m hiring people to do it. And that costs a lot of money. I’m still firmly in the red on The Seer’s Choice, even though it’s been out there for almost 4 months now.

So I’ve decided to try using Patreon to help defray those costs.


To figure out the best way to pitch this, I turned to the Public Radio playbook. (There are a few online, btw.)

Here’s my favorite: (shortened a bit because of TL:DR issues)

BREAK #6: The Meaning of “Member Supported” Radio Patron Supported Writing

The theme for our spring membership drive is , “PSW, your renewable resource.”

Like all renewable resources, PSW is there for you every day, 365 days out of year, powering you through your day with great music, local and international news  writing. But like all renewable resources, it takes wise use and careful stewardship of that resource to keep it flowing.



Okay, I honestly shortened that a lot. But you’ve heard the pitches, and there’s nothing particularly new I can say.  I’m not great at sales. I couldn’t sell you a used car if I tried.

But I can write fiction. I won’t send you a coffee cup or a sweatshirt of a copy of Downton Abbey Season 28 (subtitled: Everyone Gets Old), but I can provide content that will go to the Patreon supporters first.

So if you’re interested in supporting writers (I’m -not- the only one with a Patreon these days!), then go over to their site and look around.

Here’s my link, J. Kathleen Cheney is creating Fiction. (It’s also at the top of the sidebar.)






Writers and their Beasts: Kat Otis

Today my guest is Kat Otis, short fiction author, fellow Codexian, and cat owner:

1) Let’s start with the obvious: Tell us about your pets.

I have two cats.  Aurora is the calico (well, technically a “tortoiseshell-over-white”) and her favorite activities include climbing trees, climbing on her human, climbing on furniture, and chasing acorns.rao_26640A (2)

(This gets my vote, by the way, for Most Photogenic Pet Photo)

Macavity is the black cat and his favorite activities include eating, napping, destroying cardboard boxes, and escaping to run amok through the neighbors’ yards.  They both feature in my standard author bio as they are amazingly tolerant of my peripatetic lifestyle, which means they generally spend at least 10 hours a month in the car.IMG_1178 (2)


2) How do they help/hinder your writing?

Aurora is an accomplished author in her own right!  She often steals my computer to edit my prose, visit chatrooms, Tweet, and write long, impassioned emails to her grandparents complaining that I don’t let her outside enough.  She even ghost-wrote a few words for a friend’s story – for which she was of course paid professional rates of 6 cat treats per word.  She’s also quite skilled in opening iTunes when I need inspiration and shutting down my laptop when it’s obviously time to take a break and pet her.

Macavity is less literarily-inclined but he has been known to prop up books for me when I’m researching.  He would prefer to prop up something lighter – like an iPad – but unfortunately only his grandmother regularly reads e-books.

3) Do they appear in any of your works?

Neither of them appear in my works explicitly, but their personalities have snuck into a human character or two and the experiences they’ve put me through definitely inform some of the experiences my characters have. If you ever see a POV character panicking about another POV character being lost, injured, or dying, I’m probably drawing on my experience as a cat-mommy!

4) How does being a pet owner affect your writing (philosophically?)

One of the hardest part of being a pet owner is knowing that you’re investing all your time, energy, and love in someone who is going to pre-decease you.  Unless you have a pet tortoise, your pet is going to have a significantly lower life expectancy than humans.  My fiction often grapples with questions of mortality and immortality – or at least extremely long lifespans – and how that shapes the relationships between my characters.

How does your immortal cope with the fact that most of the people around them are going to die and their relationships can’t be anything but fleeting?  Do they withdraw from mortal society?  Do they set themselves up as gods and see mortals as inferior?  Do they bash themselves against the cliffs of loss until they’ve broken themselves entirely?  And on the flip side, relationships between immortals must have thousands of years of history behind them.  How do those relationships morph and change over the centuries?  How much strife can they endure before they are irreparably broken?  And is there such a thing as “never” when you’re going to live “forever”?


Kat Otis lives a peripatetic life with a pair of cats who enjoy riding in the car as long as there’s no country music involved.  Her fiction has appeared in Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Daily Science Fiction, and Flash Fiction Online.  She can be found online at katotis.com or on Twitter as @kat_otis.

And about some of her recent work:

One of my favorite new stories, first published in 2015, is “Whistles and Trills”.  In a fantastical version of World War II with giants, sea serpents, and intelligent birds, a plane goes down in a blizzard over the Alps.  How will the passengers survive?  Pick up World Weaver Press’s Corvidae anthology to find out!



#SFWA pro





The Non-Exclusivity of Ideas…

I’ve posted about this before. Ideas come to multiple people, often in fairly close configuration. This week, I got my most recent demonstration of that.


Yes, I’ve been watching Dark Matter. Yes, it’s a series chock-full of tropes. I’m still enjoying it….but it was episode four that really got my attention!

In episode four, we’re introduced to a concept in passing (via a video commercial in the clinic) that shows a futuristic alternative to travel: faxing yourself somewhere else, and then uploading the memories acquired by that copy before that short-term body expires.

Uh…that’s pretty much the back drop for my 2008 story Taking a Mile. (Click over to the FREE FICTION header on the navigation bar, and you’ll find it there.)

That story appeared in an well-known anthology, so it did get around Hollywood, I suspect. Is it possible that someone read my story and incorporated the idea into the TV series? Sure, it’s possible.

But it’s not too likely that if it happened, I could ever prove it.

I am, however, very curious to find out whether the double who’s appeared in the TV series turns out to be, like my story’s heroine, a copy who refuses to die as scheduled. It will be interesting to watch the remainder of season one and find out.

However, this is part of creative life. People have similar ideas. I actually mentioned in the anthology’s intro for that story that a lot of my ideas for it were formed by reading the works of Ansen Dibell, who wrote a series of novels where multiple copies of the same person were made (although not at the same time). Her series shaped a lot of my personal perceptions of consciousness, and therefore, she might have looked at my work and wondered if I’d copied her…


(I would love to know how many other people have found their ideas reflected in someone else’s work…)



The Social Stigma of Writing Romance Literature

I’ve followed the blog Teach Me Tonight for years now, ever since I accidentally found out they’d cited one of my stories on an academic blog. (Still surprised at that.) It’s a blog primarily dedicated to academic studies of Romance fiction, although there have been some spirited discussions there in the past.

Earlier this week, a summation was published of a study done about the social stigma of writing Romance literature.  This kind of study has been done about Romance Readers before, but this concerns the writer, and that inevitable moment of “Oh, you write…Ro-mance….”

Book with pages forming heart shape
Source: Getty Images

I have been dinged on the romantic elements in my work.  I’m up front about them. Most, although not all, of my published fiction involves a romance of some sort. I like that stuff, and I refuse to cut it out just because some people look down on it.

It’s what I love to write.

But it was interesting to me to see how universal the tendency to either leer or sneer at Romance Writers is.

It’s not going to change any time soon.

E-readers have really freed up the reader from being seen with the lurid covers that people have wanted to hide in the past, but for the writers, it’s still there. When I tells someone I write ‘Romantic Fantasy’, I often follow that up with an explanation that it’s not X.  Or Y.  Because, you know, X and Y are….oh, I guess I do it too.

I’ll have to work on that…


How (Not) to Talk to a Writer # 13 (Memory)

I haven’t done one of these in a while, but for the last few days, I’ve been reading some of my older work.  (I uploaded the old word files to my kindle.)

There are scenes in there I don’t remember.  121228_PANDEMIC_ScaredReader.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-large

I found myself going….oh, yeah…I think I remember what the plot does now….


When you approach your favorite writer, if you ask them, “Hey, in that book you wrote twelve years ago, on page 37, why did ____________________?”

They may not have an answer for you. They’re not being coy. They’re not being evasive. They may not remember.

If you look at the publication date of their book and then shift back a couple of years, that’s probably when they wrote it. Maybe even before that.

Since that time, they’ve written a million other words, some good, some bad. Some are more beloved that others. Some get edited once, and thus have appeared fewer times before the writer’s eyes.

It was interesting to me to go back and visit the world of The King’s Daughter and The White Queen (the two oldnovels I was reading through.) I have written other things in this ‘world’ since then, an entire novel set 50 years later, and I’ve outlined several others.  This ‘world’ is my writing passion.  I love these people with a white hot fire.

Going back, it was interesting to consider what I would actually change to make these two novels fit better with what I’m currently looking at.  I was surprised how little would change.  No, I wouldn’t be willing to publish these two as is.  TWQ is actually a first draft, the ending left off. (I’m -sure- I wrote it, but it didn’t make it into this file. I just have to find it.)

But it’s reassuring that my writing wasn’t too bad a decade ago.

And it’s amazing to me how much I’ve forgotten….


Best of year summaries…

This isn’t mine, I promise. I’ve been thinking instead about a recent group blog post I did over at SFSignal, where several writers talked about the books they liked best in 2014. They did not have to be new books….just books that the authors liked this last year.

One thing that got me thinking was the person who said “I am surprised that none of the Mind Meld guests had [Book X] on their lists, given the book’s popularity”…

Yeah, that’s a bit of a problem. When you ask writers what they’ve read for 2014, you’re probably not going to get the same list of books that readers read.  Here’s why….


1) We are often hopelessly behind on our TBR list.  Hopelessly.

As in, when our best friend’s book comes out, we don’t have time to read it. It sits on top of the dresser with 20 other books that we mean to read one of these days.

Also…for me, it’s actually difficult to read in genre while I’m actively writing. I have a great deal of trouble shutting off the internal editor at those times, and struggle not to whip out the red pen and rewrite the book I’m reading. Oddly, I have less trouble if I read out of genre. I don’t know why that’s the case.

Not every writer struggles with that, but it’s been a persistent problem for me for years.

I also have a huge TBR pile for research, which is part of the job, and usually takes priority…



2) We have writer friends. Lots of them.

Writers don’t make a ton of money, so we tend to use what funds we do have to buy our friends’ books first.  In fact, most of us can’t even afford all our friends’ books.

So have we read Popular Author X? Maybe not. We may not have had the  money or time to splurge on their books, no matter how popular they are.



3) Given 1 and 2 above, we often make our reading choices specifically to support other writers. If I have a friend with a debut novel coming out, I will almost certainly read their book before I spend time on the book with 6500 reviews on Amazon.

Of the 3 books I recommended on that blog post, 2 are by authors whom I know personally. Because given my limited reading time and limited budget, those are two that I actually made an effort to purchase and set aside time specifically to read (both while on vacation, so they wouldn’t interfere with my writing.)

FWIW, I also read and enjoyed all of Ashley Gardner’s Captain Lacey Mysteries during that period, several Romance novels, and a handful of other genre novels.  But then I had to get back to work, and reading time became research time…


Anyhow, writers often haven’t read that popular book. (And people -regularly- ask us that, by the way…so I’ll say here that I’ve never read anything by G.R.R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson, or Robert Jordan.  You don’t need to bother to ask me….)









I recently watched the PBS special called Hitmakers. It’s an hour focused on the music industry and how it’s changed over the decades, particularly in reference to who controls the industry’s hits…

Chicago record store
(Do you know what those are?)

I find this very interesting because in a lot of ways, it’s the same as the book industry. Or at least, it used to be. There were people who specialised in going out and finding the musicians who had ‘it’. Records were made, and radio stations were told to play the same songs on and on until they became hits…or failed.

Things changed, though, with the advent of the internet. Radio stations have lost the control over what people hear, and thus what becomes a hit. Now it’s about YouTube and various streaming services. The listeners now chose what’s successful.

I see some parallels in the book industry.

1.) The YouTube thing is a bit like self-publishing in that anyone can make a music video now and slap it up there. Some are excellent. Some are not. Some go viral, but the majority accrue a few hundred views and then fade away. Self-publishing (which I’ve done) can be like that…and it’s difficult to pick which book will go viral and which will never be purchased. No gatekeepers other than the final listener.

(In the special, they talk to Melissa Etheridge who is releasing her new album not under a record label, but by herself to get a larger cut of the profit. Sound familiar?)

2.) They also talked about streaming, in that makers are paid very little for things that are streamed. The majority of music makers (not the big ones, of course) don’t make their money with their creations any longer. Instead, the artist they interviewed said that to make ends meet (she wasn’t talking about getting rich, but about being able to pay her musicians at the end of the night) they have to tour and sell t-shirts and other things.

That was a bit worrisome to me because if the writing industry continues along the path that the music industry has…what exactly would we sell? I can’t imagine touring would ever turn a profit for a writer unless they were Richard Castle popular. So do we sell t-shirts? Patches and stickers?

3.) One of important points that the special made was that the gatekeepers who picked out the hitmakers didn’t always get it right. There were a lot of one-hit wonders out there. Or no-hit wonders.

But for every big hit, the special said, the profit covered the losses on 9 groups that didn’t hit it big, allowing the music companies to try out new artists and take some time to build their careers.

I think that the traditional publishers are still doing this, picking up writers like me and giving us a chance because they have other writers who are bringing in enough money to cover those of us who aren’t a big deal. I really appreciate that, but fear the day that the industry–like the record industry–decides it can’t afford that any longer.

It will be both interesting and scary to watch over the next decade to see how far down this path the publishers follow the music industry…



I’m one of those weird people who really doesn’t get Halloween. At least, not Halloween the way it’s generally observed: costumes, parties, and randomly visiting strangers’ houses.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. It’s just not my kind of holiday.

I think the main problem is that I don’t ‘get’ the costuming aspect.

This week on Blackish (TV show), the father said something like “it’s the one day you don’t have to be you.”  That really struck me. Why would I not want to be me?  Why would I want to be a pirate? Why would I want to be a unicorn?  This has always been the greatest mystery of costuming for me.

But I also tend to think my costume should be perfect, and therefore, no costume is ever going to be good enough. I recall thinking in HS that my best friend who was in SCA should actually weave the fabric and hand-sew her costumes, because people in the middle ages wouldn’t be able to visit JoAnne Fabrics to purchase fabric…nor would they have a Singer at home.  (I even illustrated a couple of their newsletters for her, but didn’t go to meetings, because I felt weird about it. Go figure.)*

Yeah, my brain works that way. I’m worse than Sheldon.

On the other hand, I love seeing other people’s costumes. Some of you guys are really amazing. (Some people don’t make the same effort, though.) Keep at it, because I’m really impressed. (I also know how difficult it is to sew some of those things, so I am doubly impressed by some of those home-made costumes.)


But the other aspect of Halloween that baffles me is that it’s a party holiday. I don’t enjoy parties. Never have. (This is why you’ll rarely see me at a party at a con.) So the holiday doesn’t resonate with me in either way.

That’s OK. We’re not all required to like the same things.



You guys all have fun. Be polite to each other. Don’t scare any little kids, smash other people’s pumpkins, or egg anyone’s house. Be good.




*FWIW, I’ve also never thought time-travel would be a good idea. At least, not more than a year or two.




Professional Jealousy

Back at FenCon, an author friend and I were talking about Professional Jealousy.

I gave her a quote that I wrongly attributed to Oscar Wilde, but was actually said by Gore Vidal:

Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little.

The Wilde quote is very similar in meaning, although worded a bit differently:

Anybody can sympathise with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathise with a friend’s success.

Both men were, if you don’t know, wildly successful authors in one way or another…so there was no reason for them to begrudge other people’s successes. And yet…they still said that. Why?

The truth is, this is a very common reaction in my industry. (Or in any artistic venture, I suppose. Or any venture at all.)  It’s human nature. It’s more or less normal for us to look at each other’s successes and wonder why X didn’t happen to us.

The other writer and I were, at the time, talking about reviews. Why do some writers get so many? Why do other writers not? Why are some so good? Why are others mixed? Why did I get hit by a troll? Why…why…why….????

FWIW, I have great reviews for my first two books. I just don’t have many. So I  glance at the Amazon pages of my friends and angstily wonder why I don’t have as many reviews as they do….at the same time consoling myself with ‘but my overall ratings are good!‘  In actuality, Amazon promotes books with more reviews more heavily, so that even a lackluster rating helps an author more if it came from a high number of reviews.  This turns out to be a problem for writers who get great reviews…but not many of them.

But this particular reaction stretches through all aspects of writing, not just reviews.

When I was trying to get an agent, I had that sort of reaction every time one of my friends landed an agent. Yay, you got an agent!  then slinking off to suck down too much Taco Bell because they’d gotten an agent and I hadn’t and that was probably the last agent in the world and there are never going to be any more agent contracts ever and my shot is gone now because my friend got my agent….

When I was working on a book contract, it was the same. Every book contract was followed by a celebration and then a private session of self-pity and angst over the fact that they’d gotten the last book contract in the world!

And it’s not just limited to that. Short story publications, award nominations, book options, auctions. Whenever one of our friends hits any mile-marker that we didn’t, we can seethe with jealousy–perfectly aware the whole while that thisisstupid.

Yes, we know it’s stupid to be jealous.

And, yes, we truly are happy for them.

It’s just the weltschmerz talking…



Turns out the Germans do have a word for this (because they’re evidently a very comforting people.)

Writers are no less subject to this than anyone else. We think we should have gotten that promotion, not Dave. We think we should have gotten that group of students to teach instead of Louis. We think the world’s unfair when Jeff gets the nice car and we didn’t.

And we have to console ourselves with the fact that our successes are different in nature than theirs. We make lemonade out of our lemons (Or we don’t, and drive everyone else in the teacher’s lounge crazy.)

It’s normal and, (so long as we don’t let it consume us), we’re OK.


Here, as a parting shot, are some lyrics for what I consider my personal Theme Song:

“You Can’t Lose Them All” by Kim Richey  (abridged)

I got good luck in my pocket
and a good shine on my shoes
I got a silk shirt in my closet
that I’m not afraid to use
A little fortune cookie told me
help is on the way
the tables may be turning
it could happen any day.

I could go down in history
I could go up in smoke
could be the center of attention
or the butt of every joke
But every time I get shot down
I justify the risk
because I come a little closer
to a hit with every miss.

If I’m playing on the B-team
or I’m sitting on the bench
it ain’t for lack of trying
or a lack of confidence
When I reach my full potential
when somebody gets my drift
the stars are gonna line up
and the tides are gonna shift.


So artists have to remind themselves to get back out there and work harder. Because that’s the only way we can ever succeed. We try and try again. And even if our friends are doing better, that’s no good reason to sit around and complain about it. Yes, we’ll feel jealous for a bit (and then usually feel guilty for feeling jealous), but we can’t let that ruin any friendships or stop us from doing our own jobs….

As artists, we have to believe. We have to believe, every day, that the next time is our time…