Hear the adventure from the beginning…

Posted by on Apr 2, 2020 in writing life | 0 comments

While everyone is isolating themselves for the time being, children’s authors all over are giving virtual readings of their work.

I’ve started posting my reading a chapter per day to my White Forest Facebook page. I publish each post daily around 12 PM PST.

The story is geared for 9-12 year olds, but anyone is welcome to listen in, of course! 🙂



In Time of Transition (aka The Sloggy Book Launch)

Posted by on Jul 18, 2018 in writing life | 0 comments

Somewhere in the past few months I launched a book. You wouldn’t have known it unless you were paying close attention because there wasn’t much fanfare, no virtual or physical launch parties (not yet, anyway), and only a small amount of wordz as the day passed. Life, yes, life…

I love the cover, though. And it reminded me that it takes a village to build a book (and a book launch). And so I’d like to thank the following people for their hard work and support:

Tod McCoy
fearless indie publisher at Hydra House

Julie Fain
 lovely fantasy artist (who has done all my covers)

Jennifer D. Munro
the best copy editor an author could have
(and a fantastic author to boot)

Early and Beta Readers
Tony Ollivier, Karyn and Kelly Hoskins, Sam Fink-Jensen,
Jona Mani, Heidi and Nerissa Griffith, Iris Cameron
(did I miss anyone?)

and a special thanks to Lynn-Dell at
School House Teaching Supplies
for being the biggest champion an author could have
on my last book tour

It’s strange to think that there is only one book left in the series. I’ve been immersed in this imaginary world for 15 years. I feel like it has a lot more life to breathe and more young readers to entertain, but things are transitioning for me, and I’m not sure where I’m going to land.

I think much of this transition has to do with age & experience, but also what’s happening in our world on a grand scale (politically / environmentally / socially). This space I’ve carved out for myself isn’t really the space from which I feel called to create and communicate any longer. Don’t worry… there will always be a place in my heart for both fantasy and children’s literature. I’m just not hurtling towards it like I previously was.

I’m “in the question” (as my husband says) about where I’m going and how I’m being in the world. Feeling a pull back to poetry, a call to ecology and environmental justice, a craving (almost mourning) to BE more in this place I live (namely the Cascadia bioregion), and a need to engage a spiritual practice that connects it all.

A few tangential notes:

My website went down for about a month and had to be moved to a new server. In this process I lost all of my subscribers. How not upset I got about this shows something about where I am.

I’m adding back the subscribers I know for sure, but I’m not happy with my new subscription widget. Sign up again if you’d like and this time I’ll capture all the subscribers in case I change it.

I was arrested for protesting the Kinder Morgan pipeline / tank farm expansion through British Columbia. I won’t go into it here; I have other outlets for that. If you’re interested, I explain more about it on my PATREON page, where I’m raising money for the expense of the arrest (and beyond). It’s also a place to experiment in other directions of my creative life.

If you’d like ebook review copies of White Forest Book 5 (Voyage from Foraglenn), contact me HERE.

*     *     *

Writing workout?

Sit still in your yard or park or beach or other natural place. It need not be big. It could be a rooftop garden if you live in the city or beneath a single tree in the park. When you feel moved to do so, write.


Right to Speak

Posted by on Mar 27, 2018 in activism, truth and beauty, writing exercises | 2 comments

~   ~   ~

I really dislike the term “thick skinned.” As in…

“Ya gotta be thick-skinned, Danika, to be able to take the slings and arrows of life.”

I have an idea. Why don’t people just stop slinging and arrowing?

This is truly the age of the bully, as social media has given bullies megaphones and permission to use them. To put yourself out there risks a world of complete strangers turning against you. It can be a nasty, nasty place online.


(image by Michael V. Manalo)

There’s a 2015 TED talk by Monica Lewinsky called The Price of Shame. My immediate reaction when I first came across it was why would I want to hear THAT woman’s story? I watched it anyway, and I encourage you to do the same, because my reaction was the whole point. Monica was basically the first public figure to be brutally bullied on the internet. She was “Patient Zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously.” Her talk was honest and moving. I realized I had formed opinions about a woman I really knew nothing about, and that the words I associated with her had been echoes of bully voices.

The public’s response to her talk (17 YEARS after the events) was horrifying. And, sadly, unsurprising. (The good news is that TED aggressively monitored the personal attacks and removed them to make way for the growing support for Monica)

But still… I don’t want to be thick-skinned. It indicates a barrier between myself and others. It indicates a stiffness, a lack of intimacy, a shell. It indicates I’m expecting to be slung and arrowed by others, who then in turn don’t trust me back. When I come across someone with that kind of hard exterior, it’s palpable. I really don’t want to shell myself off, especially since I’ve been told by others that it’s my open heart and encouraging spirit that inspires them.

Instead of a “thick skin” I’d much rather repel all that dung with a beam of light that penetrates other people’s shells. Not so easy, mind you, but I practice.

And I see that other people are practicing using their beams of light, too. I see a turning of the tide because people are done with bullies. It seems the bullies of the world are being smoked out like bees (apologies, bees, for the comparison). When one bully rears its head, it’s getting overwhelmed by a wave of new consciousness and strength. A tipping point of We’re not going to take this any more. Hence all the hash-tagged movements like #nomore and #neveragain gaining momentum.

Yes, the bullies of the world are being smoked out because the same megaphone they yield as a weapon is a tool for the rest of us to find each other. And organize…

Imagine at school one day a gunman starts shooting up your friends. Imagine that terror and heartbreak. Imagine demanding something be done when this has happened over and over again in your country for years. Imagine being afraid to go to school not because you didn’t study for the French test, but because you’re afraid you’re going to be shot and killed? Imagine demanding that your school not be a place to be afraid of.

Imagine, then, a candidate for the House of Representatives calling you a “skinhead lesbian” for speaking out? What kind of world had we created in which this politician thought that would be acceptable? Luckily, one that decided it wasn’t.

I don’t think Emma Gonzalez is necessarily “thick skinned.” From videos and photos of her, she seems wonderfully vulnerable. But she’s speaking anyway, because she knows she must. Fortunately, when the bullies appeared she was defended by a larger wave (and that bully candidate withdrew). This is happening right now. People are standing up and we’re standing up with them. We won’t all be Emma Gonzales, but at least we can be part of the wave.

~     ~     ~

I’ve been thinking lately about how we as individuals can’t do everything, but we’ve definitely got to do something. We are about to see what we’re really made of as the old paradigms fight to stay alive. It’s overwhelming all the things that need to be done in terms of environmental and social justice, so my new motto is: pick something. Pick your cause. Pick one thing be it local, regional, national, international… pick something to stand up for. Because the more we stand up, and stand up together, the stronger we as individuals and as communities will be. Take a stand even if it’s just to tell someone you won’t listen to their vitriol, that it’s wrong to attack people personally, that we must be kinder to each other.

And don’t worry that people will be upset because you’re not focusing on their cause or feel guilty for not being focused or knowing about their cause.

We can’t do everything, but we’ve got to do something.

I’m going on a book tour next month, and I’ve been invited to give a talk about writers and responsibility. My heart and throat chakras clinch when I think about it. “Who are you to talk about this?” I ask myself. “What do YOU know.”

That, my friends, is the voice of the bully. And my voice will be a repelling light.


In your story, what is your character afraid to speak up about? How to they not stand up for themselves in the world? Who do they allow to bully them? Do they witness someone bullying others? It is often easier to stand up for others than ourselves.

Write these timed exercises without stopping, crossing out, or editing.
Just go on your gut and keep writing.

1) SET YOUR TIMER for 5-7 minutes.

Start with the line:

The place in my character’s body that tightens up when they are afraid to speak is…

2) SET YOUR TIMER for 7-10 minutes.

Start with the line:

The moment when my character’s inaction has built up a pressure they can no longer contain happens when…

3) SET YOUR TIMER for 10-12 minutes.

Start with the line:

The world around my character embraces their stance by…



Found Mourning: a poem and writing exercise

Posted by on Jun 13, 2017 in poetry, writing exercises, writing life | 0 comments

In a previous post I wrote about how I grew creatively stagnant after the US election, how I couldn’t convince myself that what I did as an author really meant much in the scheme of things. A few days ago I was wandering about my unfinished pieces of recent work and came across a poem I forgot I had written. It was dated Nov 10, just a few days after the election.

I guess I wasn’t completely creatively stagnant after all. I probably forgot about it because I went numb for a few weeks after that. The same kind of numb I felt after my father had died. The kind of numb that happens when one is in mourning.

Writing through mourning is a great way to work through it. To sort out your thoughts and feelings and place it in the world so others can connect and feel less alone. (See one to my cat Victor here)

Jagged Morning

we are not sore losers we are in mourning
and mourning is a jagged pit that has no where
to go
what is mourning but an expression of love
what is mourning but an expression of loss

I lose every day, pieces of myself, slow loss
like glaciers
they are melting, you know, I mourn the loss of
ice of green of animals I have never seen
I cannot look at the TV for fear I will lose myself

if you have ever been bullied or pulled or pushed
or told you were not good enough or physically
less than      you are
in self mourning
I love the men in my life and they
love me back but they do not know

do not know what it is like to shut up
and play nice do not know
what it is like to have hands on your body where
there should be no hands and not say anything
and in that not saying of anything
become small

I walk among the trees breathing and stop
next to a tree barely taller than I am
I will it to grow through my mourning anger
my mourning anger feels big enough
it is surrounded by other bigger trees and I wonder
if they will allow it to grow
or if it will never be the tall thick tree I see
in a future of tall treeness

we do not know what it is like to be an earth with
hands and tools and machinery where there should
not be hands and tools and machinery imagine a monkey
in a forest and then there is no forest imagine a fish in
the water it cannot breathe
imagine neighbours fighting over your wetness
imagine neighbours burning each other’s houses down
burning you down

we mourn and rage mourn and hold each other tight
mourn and move mourn and act mourn and get up
in the morning
mourn and shine mourn and pound our fists into
the surreality of life the no this can’t be happening
but it is

the Astronaut is dying, terminal cancer, yet
still holds the light of suns
he has seen the pale blue dot from space
how small we are how fragile how we
fight over small bits of land the universe
cares nothing about

the forest is not political it has no stake in
keeping its brothers and sisters down

we mourn and rage mourn and hold each other tight
mourn and move mourn and act mourn and get up
in the evening
the stars look back at the pale blue dot
there is no sound

*   *   *


As humans we are in constant mourning. Not just for people and pets, but for our health, that amazing job we couldn’t take, a TV show that was cancelled before its time (I’m looking at you, Firefly!), a pair of shoes…

Consider something you’ve lost (recently or in the distant past), a large or small thing, it doesn’t matter, it’s simply a jumping off point.

Consider this object or idea or person or pet as a part of yourself. Carry it around with you and go for a walk. Speak to the things you see, the forest, rocks, water, buildings, signs… What do they think about this loss you feel? How do they respond?

After your walk, set your timer for 10 minutes and write. It doesn’t have to be in the shape of a poem, just let the connections come, the images arise, and don’t edit anything until your timer goes off.

(and if you feel like sharing a piece of what you wrote here, that’d be great, too)


Doing the Love is Enough

Posted by on May 9, 2017 in truth and beauty, writing exercises | 4 comments

I haven’t posted in my blog for over four months, which I’m sure is a new record. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to, it’s not that I haven’t started draft after draft… it’s that every time I sat down at my computer to work on a post, what I wanted to write seemed insignificant compared to what’s happening in our world. It seemed unimportant in the scheme of things. How could I, with my little creative writing corner of the internet, face up to the grand global disappointments or another unsympathetic executive order or further descent into madness.

As the EPA was gutted, climate science denied, school and health programs endangered, I sank deeper and deeper into the mindset of, “What I do doesn’t really matter.” How could being a children’s author matter when the ice caps are melting. I felt paralyzed from writing a post while the U.S. headed backwards in terms of environmental protection and new policies (or undoing of old ones) threatened the most vulnerable of us – the displaced, the young, the elderly, the ill, those less fortunate in whatever way.

A few months ago I was riding on my enthusiasm after the Women’s March when I ran into a neighbour enjoying the sunshine. She could tell that I was all riled up on righteousness and feminism, and I began to get riled up about her NOT being as riled up as I was.

I said, “Don’t you feel the need to DO something?”

She said, “I am. I’m holding the space for healing and meditating on peace.”

I was aghast. This was no time to take the quiet road, this was a time to speak up and take REAL action and make some REAL noise.

“I don’t think that’s enough,” I said.

“It’s what I can do,” she said. “It’s all I have the energy to do.”


artwork by Rashin Kheiriyeh

The Buddhist tenant “Do no harm” came to mind. It’s a simple, but strangely radical idea, and difficult for any human to follow. But it’s a place to start. I thought about how our world would look if we all practiced doing no harm. If we managed to raise human consciousness with a wave of doing no harmness. And then maybe we could go beyond that to the undoing of done harms.

You may be an activist and think that my neighbour isn’t really doing anything close to enough. But I’ve sat with this for a while, and after long discussions and getting to know each other better, I’ve learned that her role in this world is to be of service to others. And truly, if each person on the planet saw their purpose as being of service to others, we’d have a tremendous cycle of love and support and mutual respect. And truly, no matter WHAT we do for a living, we can always be of service to others in the doing of it. We can always work from the space of love and support whether we are accountants, police officers, plumbers, or writers.

I finally came out of my stupor with the realization that my work is also one of service, and my life one of trying my best to “do no harm,” working toward that higher consciousness. If this is what I know I’m meant to do, then in the loving of doing it, aren’t I passing my love onto others? Aren’t I, too, holding the space of healing through creativity? Through teaching? Isn’t that enough?

I’m not saying that I won’t make phone calls or march or donate money or practice recycling or vote or stand up when necessary… it’s just that I don’t have to be that all the time. I don’t have to make it a career choice.

This blog was never meant to be political. I reminded myself of that. This blog was meant for writers, students, teachers, lovers of writing, lovers of creativity. It was meant to be a service to those looking for inspiration, support, connection, and community. In my non-political hours, THIS is what feeds me, which in turn, I hope, feeds others. This is how I express my love in the world whether it’s a blog post, a classroom visit, or a story editing gig.

So go out and do what you love, love what you do, and make it an act of service.  However small that may seem, it matters.

~     ~     ~



Set your timer for 7 – 15 minutes per start line
(I usually increase the time with each start line: 7 min, 10 min, 12 min …)
When timer starts: write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.


(use any character, doesn’t have to be your protagonist)

MY CHARACTER feels hopeless / overwhelmed by the world when…

MY CHARACTER feels insignificant because…

MY CHARACTER inadvertently harms others when…

MY CHARACTER can only redeem themselves once they…

MY CHARACTER’s acts of service come in the form of…

MY CHARACTER acts from a space of love when…

Now write!

(NOTE: I will be holding another 50 First Lines Contest in the next few weeks (prize TBD). If you’ve never participated before, go HERE. I held one a few years ago and it was a hoot.)


Help Her! She Spoke French!

Posted by on Dec 22, 2016 in inspirational poop, writing exercises, writing life | 0 comments

Bonjour et bienvenue.

A few months ago I started learning French via the website Duolingo.

Anyone close to me knows just how amusing this is. I have a history of bludgeoning the French language. I’ve dropped out of two French courses. Small children have made fun of me for my particularly bad pronunciation. I can never keep the conjugations for “avoir” (to have) and “etre” (to be) straight.

My husband is from Quebec and speaks lovely French. When we were visiting Montreal, strangers would address him in French and then turn to me and speak in English, as if the words “Don’t even try” were stamped on my forehead. When people spoke French around me, I was sure they were making fun of me.

And still, I’ve always wanted to learn French.

On the outside, I laughed my French language inadequacies off (most of the time). I would say things like, “I’ve been banned from speaking French,” or “I’m wanted for murder of the French language.” Ha ha.

On the inside, I would shrink to the little girl me, feeling embarrassed and stupid. One time I lost it at someone for making fun of my American pronunciation of “croissant” one too many times. I tried to just let it go. Convinced myself I just wasn’t good at learning languages. Told myself I had numerous other talents.

window to the garden

artwork by Stefan Zsaitsits

I’ve had a fear of misspelling, mispronouncing, or misdefining words orally for most of my life. I’ve always attributed it to a specific event in third grade. Spelling Bee season. Each class had a spelling bee competition, then the winners would compete at each school, then each district, and so on until the National level.

It was my first time ever participating in a spelling bee, and I was eliminated in the very first round in the very first classroom level competition. I didn’t know what a “kiwi” was. I’d never heard of one before, so I had no idea how it was spelled. Crazy that for decades later, the same feelings of humiliation, embarrassment, and worthlessness could be conjured thinking about that moment.

(Ironic that I went into language arts education. What kind of masochist was I to go into a profession that required me to know how to spell, pronounce, and define words all the time?)    

I’ve told this story to friends before; it’s simultaneously sad and funny. But for a long time my gut would feel punched all over again if anyone ever said in response: “You didn’t know what a kiwi was?”

No, I didn’t know what a kiwi was.

What I’ve learned over the years is that even though this was a real life moment, the effect I allowed it to have over me was just a story I had been telling myself, which could, in particularly vulnerable moments, spiral into a deluge of negative self talk: I’m not a good speller, I’m not good at languages, I don’t know enough, I need to know more, my vocabulary sucks, people must think I’m stupid, I’m stupid.

I know I’m not the only one who beats herself up in this manner. I’m sure everyone has stories about their talents and abilities and accomplishments, or lack there of. How many of us chastise ourselves for not being “good enough” at something, for not being “good enough” period? I think it’s a rare soul who can just be what and who they are, have the abilities or inabilities they have, and be at complete peace. But perhaps we can get closer to that peace via acceptance or by taking on that which we fear.

Last year, after years of wanting to learn to play the drums, but feeling silly for even considering it, I started taking drum lessons. I’m doing it for no other reason than because it’s fun. I don’t need to join a band, make a living from it, or even do anything beyond jam (by myself or with others). I decided this year I could take the same approach to learning French. I don’t need to teach French or read French literature or even speak to French people. I can just learn for myself.

The thing about learning new skills is that there is always a curve. Sometimes, if that skill is particularly challenging for someone, they will give up when it feels like the wheels are spinning and they’re not getting anywhere new. Sometimes with children (and some adults, I’m sure) this frustration will disguise itself in an attitude of “This is stupid,” or “I didn’t really care about this anyway.”

With drumming, there were a few months I was completely frustrated. I could not get my right hand and right foot working independently of each other. I thought I would never get the hang of it. But since I didn’t have much attachment to being a rock star, I just kept banging away for fun and to get out of my busy monkey mind for a time. And what do you know, after a while, I started to get it. It started to feel like real, actual rhythm and music.

Three months after starting my online French adventure, I’m still not very good at speaking French. I still can’t always keep the conjugations for “avoir” and “etre” straight. But I’ve found that letting go of any expectation has allowed me to be able to do it just for fun, and I’ve committed to saying the words out loud and risk the mispronunciation. Every once in a while, I get something right without even thinking, and I realize that slowly, I am beginning to understand. And for once in my life that’s good enough for me.

What do you beat yourself up for not knowing or for continuing to struggle with when it seems easier for others? Where have you given up when you felt stuck?

*   *   *


What wound has shaped your character’s perception of themselves? How does that hold them back from fully expressing themselves or fully participating in life? What would happen if they came to a place of self-acceptance? What if they faced their fears head on? What might they then accomplish?


Set your timer for 7 – 15 minutes per start line
(I increase the time with each start line: 7 min, 10 min, 12 min …)

When timer starts: write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

(use any character, doesn’t have to be your protagonist)

The wound that shaped MY CHARACTER’S fears looks like…

MY CHARACTER is still emotionally triggered whenever…

MY CHARACTER feels stuck whenever they…

MY CHARACTER must face their fears when …

Something shifts for MY CHARACTER when they begin to…

happy writing


Life Savers

Posted by on Aug 2, 2016 in truth and beauty, writing exercises | 4 comments

“Our lived lives might become a protracted mourning for, or an endless tantrum about, the lives we were unable to live. But the exemptions we suffer, whether forced or chosen, make us who we are.” ~ Adam Phillips*

When I was growing up, there was a Life Saver’s commercial featuring a little girl watching the sunset with her father and just after the sun slips down past the horizon, she whispers, “Do it again, Daddy.” I’ve always loved that commercial. I easily placed myself under that tree at sunset with my own Dad, who I believed knew everything.

I hadn’t thought about that commercial for many years until after my father died. I was brushing my teeth when a vision popped into my head of myself on my own death bed, my father waiting for me on the other side, feeling an immense joy in having experienced the wonderful roller coaster of my human life. In my vision I turned to him and asked, “Do it again, Daddy.” As if he could control not only the earth and stars, but restart life itself.

One of the most painful things to me at the time of my father’s death was viewing all his unfinished business splayed around his office. Projects half finished, goals uncompleted, life interrupted and cut off. I started to want my own life back for all the things I hadn’t done or would do differently or to make up for all the times I had held myself back.

Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 1.34.38 PM

illustration by Gizem Vural

My personal jury is out on reincarnation. I don’t not believe in it; I’m open to the possibility. But I’m more inclined to believe in things like cellular memory, or ponder how the air I breathe was also breathed by Neanderthals or that we’re all made of the same star dust. I’m more inclined to see the interconnectedness of all things or that all of life happens all at once.

Life feels too short at times, and time has gotten slippery as I’ve grown older. I’ve written several times about how, on his death bed, my father turned to me in a sudden lucid moment and said, From a baby to an old man is three days. I’ve divided those days and if what my Father says is true, and the years are merely days, then the months must be hours, the weeks minutes, and each earth rotation a second.

With so little time to live, I grew determined to fill my life up with doing, achieving, joining. I created a pressure to get things done and not leave anything unfinished, even though my own father happily spent so much of his time alone in his garden and greenhouse. It has only been in the past few years that I’ve discovered the secret to having more of life is doing less and being more.

I used to wonder how older people could just sit around and watch grass grow. Hours on park benches, hours on porches, hours in the garden. But now I, too, find myself pulled in the direction of stillness and silence. Instead of filling myself up with things to do, I feel the need to retreat and enjoy and let go of what used to simply feed my ego and my time.

This doesn’t mean NOT participating in the world, it’s just another way to participate. One that allows, at least for me, a way to cherish and appreciate what is. Living in each now moment has opened me up to magical connection and synchronicity. And living in process (rather than product) and community with creativity, whether it’s writing, communicating, observing, or simply breathing allows, ironically, for more fullness, not less.

*FURTHER READING: In Praise of Missing Out



Where has your character lost touch with the “now”? When does ze obsess about the past or worry about the future? Where does ze try to fill in the silence for fear of missing out?


Set your timer for 7 -15 minutes per start line 
(I sometimes increase the time with each start line: 7 min, 10 min, 12 min …). 
When timer starts: write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.


My Character feels disconnected from the world because …

The first/last time my Character felt connected to the world was when …

My Character over-worries about …

My Character fears ze will never achieve …

My Character regrets that ze …

When my Character slows down, ze discovers …

Happy writing!

**I decided to use gender neutral pronouns in my workouts from now on. I was tired of writing “he or she” and “him or her” or alternating… plus I was leaving out my gender queer friends or anyone who has a gender neutral character. My preference is “ze/zir.”








Queer as Folk

Posted by on Jun 14, 2016 in truth and beauty, writing exercises | 6 comments

A few weeks ago I attended an art gallery opening for queer artists. I started chatting with a lovely, quirky woman about upcoming events for our local Pride Week. As we then talked about where we were from and the kinds of things I taught, she awkwardly fished for something else, but I wasn’t sure what she was getting at. Finally, she got flustered and said, “I’m trying to ask if you’re queer, but you’re obviously not, because you’re not picking up on any of the language.”

“I don’t know the secret handshake either,” I deadpanned.

She laughed and offered to demonstrate.

She had caught me off guard. The thing was, neither “yes” nor “no” felt like the right answer. Neither would have been sufficient in expressing my personal journey nor revealing the truth of who I am.

I answered her question:

I’ve always been just me. And I’ve always believed everyone else is just who they are. I’ve loved all kinds of people, but I don’t label myself anything. I’ve tried; it’s never felt comfortable. And I can’t speak for anyone but myself.

As soon as I am categorized, people will assume things about me. I’ll even assume things about myself. Or I’ll try to shape myself into what others think people “like me” are supposed to be.

I don’t think humans exist in binary systems. Each of us lives on multitudes of continuums. Humans are complex and individualized and we assume so much about each other. I’d much rather meet each person as an individual, listen to their stories, and let them surprise me with who they are.

By the expression on her face, I thought I had pissed her off. Then she shook her head into a laugh and said, “If everyone thought that way, the world would be a better place.”

She handed me a flyer for the Pride Picnic.

I like watching birds and the sky, playing the drums, art galleries, dragons and jellyfish, clever rhymed couplets, and Doctor Who. That doesn’t tell you anything about my sexual orientation, my race, gender or religion. It just tells you that if you like watching the birds and the sky, playing the drums, art galleries, dragons and jellyfish, clever rhymed couples, and Doctor Who we probably have something to talk about.

And even if you don’t like any of those things, isn’t it our differences that keep life interesting?

~     ~     ~


Who does your character assume things about and why? What does that character assume about zir? How does this create conflict between them?


Set your timer for 7 -15 minutes per start line 
(I sometimes increase the time with each start line: 7 min, 10 min, 12 min …). 
When timer starts: write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.


When Character A meets Character B ze assumes . . .

When Character B meets Character A ze assumes . . .

Character A is afraid Character B will . . .

Character B is afraid Character A will . . .

Their assumptions create problems when . . .

Character A surprises Character B by . . .

Character B surprises Character A by . . .

Happy writing!

*I decided to use gender neutral pronouns in my workouts from now on. I was tired of writing “he or she” and “him or her” or alternating… plus I was leaving out my gender queer friends or anyone who has a gender neutral character. My preference is “ze/zir.”

Learn more and join the discussion on gender neutral pronouns



Road Trip Book Tour: Part Two

Posted by on Apr 4, 2016 in Book Tour, novel adventures, Road Trips, Tips for Indie Authors, weekly workout, writing exercises, writing life | 0 comments


WINNER of the ROAD TRIP book contest is DEBBY DODDS (how in the world could I resist a book about John Waters hitchhiking?).

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The first Road Trip Book Tour post was more about the Road Trip, this post is more about the Book Tour itself. Even if you never plan to go on a book tour in your life, the information may be helpful in other ways.

I’ve been book touring for six years. And for many years before I started, I led workshops in schools, conferences, and festivals, performed live spokenword, and produced literary arts events. I was used to organizing events, traveling around, and speaking in front of others. But doing these things may scare the pants off of you.

It doesn’t have to.

My tours are set up in collaboration with my publisher in terms of ordering and shipping books, but I arrange almost all the events myself. And the truth of the matter is I prefer it this way.

I’m the one who can “sell” myself best. I’m the one who knows what kind of programming I can deliver. I can answer any questions and share my enthusiasm for what I do. It is in my best interest to speak to the venues myself.

Calling prospective venues or speaking to someone in person has a much higher success rate than simply sending cold emails.

Tip #1 – give your event booking the personal touch. Make connections


In this age of information overload, it’s challenging for a new author to be heard. I believe that the old fashioned way of meeting people is the best: face to face. When we feel connected to someone, we are more invested in them. I think you have a much greater impact when you show up and share yourself with others.

Setting up an indie tour is not easy. It takes tenacity, creativity, and patience. That’s why I also advise you make your tour fun. *See someone you haven’t seen in a while. Take a side trip. On this year’s tour I’m meeting my 2-year-old niece for the first time and spending a weekend with five women I’ve known for 40 years (hilarity ensues!).

by Smadar Levne

by Smadar Livne


Here are some other tips from my The Authorpreneurial Booktour workshop:

  • Assess your talents, knowledge, experience, and expertise
  • Think about who you know
  • Think outside the (bookstore) box
  • Keep trying (persistence pays)


How comfortable would you be performing in front of 300 elementary students? My response is, Bring It On! But many people would run screaming in the opposite direction.

If you are uncomfortable speaking to large groups of people, then don’t. Find a more comfortable number and go from there. After a few small author events, challenge yourself with larger and larger audiences.

Start small. Develop one talk/presentation and one workshop. Create a program around what you already know. Everyone has something to share and teach. Do you play an instrument? I had an introverted YA fantasy writer in one of my workshops who played the harp! I suggested she bring her harp into the schools and teach the students how to write fantasy ballads.

Does your book feature origami? Skateboarding? Juggling? Ballroom dancing? I know an author who learned how to escape a straight jacket for one of his presentations. How does what you already know relate to your book? Offer a talk or workshop around a niche topic that will help you stand out.

How might your life experiences dove tail into a book tour? I love to perform, so I wrote a bunch of songs around my stories. And that’s how I entertain 300 elementary school kids.


Where should you go on tour? I start with places where I know people. I sofa-surf a lot when I tour. Not only do I get to visit with people I haven’t seen for a while (see *why go on tour), friends have kids or friends or friends with kids. This helps build an audience. Friends know the area and can connect you with others.


Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Friends and family want to help you. And it’s easier to book something when you’ve been referred by someone else.

Do be sure not to expect your friends to wait on you or attend all your events, though. Be gracious and kind (and bring bottles of wine).


I hate to be the disturber of debut author dreams, but bookstore readings are not the be-all and end-all of the book tour. Unless you’re reading in your hometown or someplace you already have a fan base, you might find yourself reading for 2 people. Think about it – – how many times have you been to a book store reading for an author you’d never heard of?

I can say from experience, it’s a bit humbling.

If you REALLY insist on setting up bookstore readings out of town, two things that have helped me to get an audience are: 1) Pair up with a local author or two for a joint reading/launch or 2) do some other local events prior to the reading to generate interest.

Better than bookstore readings, where your audience members might have to drive across town in traffic after work just to see you, think of places to visit where your audience is built in: schools (from elementary to university), book clubs, book fairs, conferences, festivals, etc.

I like to book tours around “anchor gigs.” These are gigs organized by someone else with inflexible schedules (like conferences or festivals or literary center events). Once I’ve decided where my anchor gig is, I make a contact list for all the schools in the area and start calling. I also search for any literary or youth centers. Then, only when I’ve got a few gigs in place, do I find an indie bookstore.

For instance, on my first tour I started at a book fair and conference. I purchased a book booth at the fair and taught two workshops at the conference. I then booked two gigs in an after school arts program, four in elementary schools, and one bookstore. The bookstore was small, which made it feel “packed” with 22 people. The bookstore reading came AFTER most of the events, allowing people to get to know me in a town where they hadn’t before.

I have led workshops, performed, and given talks in cabins, in the forest, at parent-child book groups, at schools, libraries, festivals, conferences, youth centers, art centers, detention centers, late-night programs, cafés, wineries, churches, and living rooms.


On my first tour, I made 47 cold calls in order to book 9 gigs. And I didn’t just call once and leave it at that. People are busy. I called, sent a follow up email, and called again. If that didn’t pique any interest, I moved on.

Have patience. Gigs will fall through. Keep at it. I literally just added an event TODAY for next week. Promote like the wind. Make a facebook page, announce gigs (even the private ones, so people know where you’ll be) through social media, tell the papers, offer interviews, ask if the venue has a newsletter, distribute flyers, email friends with said flyers.

And again… be gracious and kind.

If your first event flops: analyze, adjust, and try again. Before you know it you’ll have a file full of talks, workshops, and contacts and calendar full of bookings. It’s taken me years to figure out the best venues for my work and style, the most effective approaches for booking gigs, and the most successful curriculum for my readers.

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If you don’t put your characters into situations that push their comfort zones, you’re missing an important element of fiction writing: tension. You’re also missing out on an opportunity for them to grow. You know the cliché saying “No pain, no gain”? Well, it’s pretty much true.


Set your timer for 5 -10 minutes per start line
(I increase the time with each start line: 5 min, 7 min, 10 min …)
When timer starts: write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

What my character avoids doing more than anything is . . .

My character freezes up when . . .

My character faces his/her fear when . . .

On the other side of this fear, my character discovers . . .

Happy writing!

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Posted by on Mar 23, 2016 in Book Tour, contests, novel adventures, writing exercises, writing life | 16 comments

For the first time in my book touring life, I am going on a “road trip” instead of flying, training, busing, and rental carring.

The Danika Road Trip is a special kind of road trip. Be forewarned when travelling with me. If I see a sign in Nebraska for the Pony Express Station or in Arizona for indigenous cliff dwellings, I will make a spontaneous side trip. World’s largest ball of twine? I’m there.

If I get off schedule, I will drive until I can’t drive any more and sleep in my car. I bring camping gear in case there’s a mesa I have to climb and get tuckered out. I WILL take the scenic route if one is offered. I WILL take the road less travelled (I almost got stranded in the middle of New Mexico when a sudden rain storm turned the dirt road into a slick mud bath). And if there is a sign anywhere for SALT WATER TAFFY, I will stop.


I adore road trips and Road Trip Stories. Every story is a journey, and the enjoyment of the story comes from being taken along for the ride. In this case a literal ride. Every story has an inward journey and an outward journey. For me a good road trip story (aka quest) entails the protagonist encountering a series of unexpected characters and events that precipitate profound change in him or her. What I love is both the anticipation of the unexpected and the twists those unexpected encounters allow.

Even if your character isn’t travelling cross country, you can use the idea of a “road trip” in a microcosmic sense. Perhaps your character is turned away at a club, her friends go in without her, and she must find her way home. When her car breaks down, she decides to walk, cutting through an alley and ending up in one unexpected place after another. On this journey home, she meets archetypal characters who lead her astray, give her tasks to complete, and inevitably teach her something new.

Archetypes are NOT stereotypes. The “gatekeeper” could be the bouncer at the club, the “wise sage” could be a garbage man who gives her a lift, the “trickster” could be a skater girl, the “matriarch” could be the waitress at the donut shop. Archetypes tell us why characters behave the way they do, not who they are. (COMMON ARCHETYPES)


Road Trips in Literature and Film

I think of Homer’s Odyssey as the original “road trip.” Lord of the Rings is also a road trip. Some of my other favourite road trip stories (in no particular order) include:

Libba Bray’s Goine Bovine
John Green’s An Abundance of Katherine’s.
William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways
Kerouac’s On the Road
Thelma and Louise
Little Miss Sunshine
Oh Brother Where Art Thou?
Big Fish

What are some of yours?


While on my road trip I decided to bring along four books to read featuring road trips (how meta of me, right?). So far I have decided on Station ElevenGoodnight Sunshine, and Flaming Iguanas

Help me decide on a fourth Road Trip book to bring along for the ride!

Mention it in the comments below (up to 3 suggestions). Any genre is welcome. I will choose the book I think complements the other three to create a diverse mix. (i.e. you might not want to pick The Road by Cormac McCarthy b/c I’m already reading one post-apocalyptic story). You may not pick one that someone else has already named.

The WINNER will receive a special souvenir from my Road Trip Book Tour along with a $10 Amazon gift card.


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As with the example above, your character might not take a long distance journey, but you can still use the idea of a “road trip” to structure your tale. Give your character a goal (to get home, to buy groceries, to locate a lost dragon, to find the waterfall of longevity), trials and tribulations that stand in her way, characters that help or hinder, and redemption/change (i.e. the better self) through the experience.

Set your timer for 5 -10 minutes per startline

(I increase the time with each startline: 5 min, 7 min, 10 min …)
When timer starts: write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

My character’s “road trip” begins when . . .

On this journey my character is delayed by . . .

Help appears in the form of . . .

By the time my character reaches her destination she has learned . . .

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*ROAD TRIP BOOK TOUR: the series

This series will feature posts on what it takes to create a book tour as an author with an independent press (aka an “authorpreneurial” book tour). I will share my process and strategies and then take you on tour with me.

I have no idea what will happen . . .