Archive for October, 2014

I know getting a bunch of writers together to talk about craft and ambition sounds utterly painful but it was really a lot of fun.

Here are a few key takeaways from the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop conference last weekend:

  • Your work is original. For all the people there in the same genre or with the same ambition – a small cottage in some foreign land where we can just sip tea and write – every person’s story was different. Everybody brings to the literary world a unique perspective. That’s exciting because it means there’s a place for all of us in the literary universe.
  • There is no right way to do this. One of the faculty, Dr. David Coe, said this repeatedly. He shared his way of developing characters and evaluating dialogue but he issued the disclaimer beforehand that it might be total crap. It wasn’t, of course, he’s brilliant; but it was nice to know he recognized that everyone brings his or her own talents and skills to the process.
  • Writers love their own work above all else. I know to be a good writer I must be a good reader and I am. I also know a lot of the people there were good readers. But given the chance to talk about favorite stories, we all veered toward our own work. I’m sure there isn’t a person who attended that didn’t know me as the woman who writes about time-traveling vampires.
  • Like every profession, writing takes focus and a dedication to the craft. The writers we met who are successfully published and earning a living have all been writing with persistence and dedication for years. One of them said he didn’t believe in writer’s block.

“There is no block. There’s only writing. And you have to keep doing it.”

I loved that because I thought, software developers don’t get coder’s block and sales people don’t get prospector’s block and executives don’t get leader’s block. If the job is writing then you write.

That said, all professions have ups and downs and if one is experiencing a challenge, a conundrum, or something that might resemble blockage, then the same basic habits apply: find a new angle to pursue, take a walk and clear your head, focus on something else and come back to the problem.

All of those are work behaviors. Which goes back to the premise of the statement above:

Writing is work. Don’t ever think otherwise.

Luckily, for me and everyone at the SCWW this weekend, that work is something we not only love, but something we are truly proud of doing. It’s great to be at a networking event where they don’t say, “What do you do?” but, “What do you write?”

Some writerly friends shout outs:

Cayce LaCorte

Barbara Vogel Evers

Faith Hunter

Jodie Cain Smith

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We have a guest post today, submitted by Blue Francis Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon and narrator of Seduction of an Innocent, my second novel. Leave comments and questions for Blue below.


I was restless in Vegas. That’s why I started reading. I lifted a worn copy of Atlas Shrugged from under the bar at Sabrina’s. One of the customers saw me reading it and brought in a collection of critical essays on it. I was hooked.

After that, the same customer brought me syllabi from various English courses at UNLV and I read through the required work and the criticism. In the seven years we were in Vegas, I completed about forty English classes.

My favorite work was American Literature. I especially liked the Realism era beginning with Henry James and bleeding over into Stephen Crane. I was drawn to determinism. Sister Carrie moved me in a way I couldn’t really understand.

I knew that destiny and fate were romantic ideas. I knew they were consolation for the seemingly random pain and suffering of the human experience. They worked like religion: the concept of Heaven is merely a draught to help those in pain look beyond their current strife. Like spiritual opium.

Destiny told believers that there was some master plan of which they were simply a part. That the outcomes of their struggles were predetermined.

I didn’t believe that.

I couldn’t.

How could any rational being suggest that my extraordinary existence had been mapped out by anything other than chance? Who could think this shit up?

Car accident, rescued by a vampire morgue employee.

Living in Vegas as a bartender and hired killer.

Guardian over my vampire best friend’s human wife.

Meeting my true love in fucking Kansas of all places.

No, there was no such thing as destiny. There couldn’t be. If there had been, then all of those contracts, the planned termination of other people’s lives, were foretold. And the events leading to that necessary act had been planned by some great puppeteer as well.

What kind of monstrous supernatural being would allow the possession and abuse of young girls?

I killed those men for hurting the girls. That did not make me a sword of justice. I am still only a predator myself. I am survival of the fittest.

There can be no being in charge of all this chaos. If there were, that being is most certainly not worthy of praise or commendation.

Still, fate is a cruel sprite. She encourages fantasy and romanticism. She teases with signs and coincidence.

I read Dreiser and thought about determinism as the sad sister of fate and destiny. While the latter encouraged hope and purpose, the former doomed all beings to clawing at the stone walls of our own dark wells.

To reject destiny and determinism, though, is to become comfortable with chaos. I was not only comfortable with chaos – I didn’t question it, didn’t wonder about it, didn’t reject it – I was an agent of chaos. I encouraged it and perpetuated it. Raven taught me how.

The only regret I have is that I didn’t know I was that – the catalyst for chaos – for a very long time. And that when I did learn, that I experienced for the first time the shame Sara had described to me. Not because of killing people, I’ve already explained that. This shame was over my intentional disruption of other people’s carefully organized lives.

Disruption of Asta’s life. Of Byron’s.

My influence was brutal and had I known, at the time, I might have held back. But I didn’t.

An Interview with Brian Listo, author of Another Long December: Stories and narrator of A Moment When the World is Silent, my first novel. Leave comments and questions for Brian below.


Kasie Whitener (KW): Tell me about Barcelona.

Brian Listo (BL): What do you want to know?

KW: After Tony died, after Kacie gave up on you and Melissa left you, you went to Barcelona. Tell me what you found there.

BL: That was the summer of 1999. It was a lonely time. I was wondering about a lot of things. I was wondering about my future, about my habits, about the various coping mechanisms I’d employed.

KW: The drugs.

BL: Yeah, and the drinking and the sex and the denial. Basic junky stuff.

KW: And Barcelona was better or worse?

BL: At first it was worse. Plenty of booze. Plenty of women. I was working the docks with a couple of guys I’d met in San Francisco, South Africans who’d been all over the world doing that same work and exploring the culture of whatever city they’d landed in.

KW: Was the dock work hard?

BL: Hell yeah. Harder than anything I’d ever done. Back breaking work. I ached from it. But it consumed me. While I was in it, there was nothing else except the work and the pain. It was a respite.

KW: A coping mechanism.

BL: Yeah. A coping mechanism. But then it was over. Suddenly lessened. Like an athlete finally gets used to the workouts and stops developing muscle, finally I got used to the work and it wasn’t so hard and I began to seek other things that would challenge me.

KW: Women?

BL: Christ, yes, the women. Shit. Kacie was right about me regarding that. But like I said, it was a lonely time. There aren’t enough pretty girls to fill the hole left by losing Tony.

KW: And Kacie?

BL: Unrelated. I really saw the two – the other women and Kacie – as unrelated.

KW: So what finally worked?

BL: Literature. Oddly enough, I started reading. I started with classics like Don Quixote and Lolita, at first in English and then in Spanish. I read poetry like Don Juan and The Faerie Queene. Wasteland.

KW: Epics?

BL: And pastoral and romanticism and enlightenment. I read the stuff I’d breezed through in undergrad and tried for a more natural understanding of it.

KW: You’d suffered; perhaps they’d finally resonate?

BL: Perhaps. But they didn’t. They barely broke the surface.

KW: But something did. What was it? Hemingway?

BL: You’d think. The lost generation. All the boozing and death contemplating. But no, not really.

KW: But Jason and Joel…

BL: Yeah, they still call me Hemingway. Mostly to make fun of Tabby once saying he’d drank himself to death as if the same fate would be mine. I’d followed him to Barcelona, certainly. But it wasn’t Hemingway that really spoke to me.

KW: Who was it?

BL: Chuck Palahniuk. Invisible Monsters. Fight Club. Survivor. Lullaby. His work is so raw, so real. The emotion isn’t forced, it’s just apparent. The realism is so fantastic it has to be true. The characters are me, could be me. Are you, could be you. Their observations, their perspectives, I felt like my own were transcribed. I’m not a disfigured beauty queen with a pill problem or a schizophrenic bent on anarchy but I read Palahniuk and I felt exposed.

KW: Broken?

BL: Naked. And real. Breathing in this world on my own but not alone. Whole but not complete.

KW: New?

BL: Healed. Finally.

KW: Another Long December reflects that. Its stories ache on the page.

BL: And there’s renewal in them, too. Some of them.

KW: You’ve shared them with The Crew? Kacie and Chris and the twins and Tabby?

BL: Kacie, yeah. The others came to the book launch in Herndon, my old hometown bookseller across the street from Greene’s Funeral Home, around the corner from High’s where we used to buy cigarettes before we were old enough.

KW: Where Tony got that key chain flashlight that he shined in your eyes whenever you were really stoned.

BL: Shit, yeah, you remember that?

KW: I remember all of it.

BL: Me, too. I’m lucky that way. It took a while for me to realize that I really am lucky to have all that. Being surrounded by strangers, being in a strange place, doing strange things. I finally knew myself and knew what home really was.

KW: And did you want to go back?

BL: Fuck no. That hasn’t changed. I still hate Virginia. But I understand it better now. I understand it made me who I am and I can respect that. But I don’t want to go back.

KW: Another coping mechanism? Emotional maturity?

BL: Sure, that and never flying through Dulles.


For more with Brian Listo, including excerpts from Another Long December, check back with GenX Stories during the second week of each month.