Working storytellers Mark Bellusci and Dan Chichester serve up an energized, fun two punch combination of a podcast I enjoy, Street Writers. Each chapter is honest, entertaining and only takes you away from, like, actual writing for ten minutes.
Mark and Dan riff off each other to share practical knowledge and actionable advice distilled from decades of what they like to call “bare-knuckle writing for stage, film, editorial, marketing and comics.”
Because as writers – as creators of any discipline – we could all use tips to focus and lower our basic human resistance to following through creatively.
I’m not a big fan of the concept “inspiration,” but I guess that applies to Mark and Dan’s content, too. Everyone has great ideas that might make great writing. But ideas are easy. The difference between a writer and non-writer is not about ideas. It’s about seeing ideas through to focused, developed, lean, mean delivery.
Listening, I welcome the fact that Mark and Dan both understand The Writer’s Paradox. That is, what am I talking about when I say, “I am a writer.”
Am I swollen with bravura pride with my big swingin’ creative genius?
Or am I begging your forgiveness for even daring to open my mouth, when all I do is make stuff up all day? (You know, “imposter syndrome.”)
I actually have to believe both 1 and 2 to make it to 3, which is getting the job done on the page.
Faced with a blank screen, I must embody writing as if I write great stuff all the time. I have to lower all resistance. I have to swing.
AND faced with my first draft – once I get there – I have to live in the humility and gratitude that if I put in the work, I will improve with honest editing. Work the craft. Drive to the finish.
Interested? Give a listen here or wherever you podcast.
When I lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn, I used to love to drive up the Hudson River Valley, especially during the Fall. It’s a city cliche, I know, but cliche for good reason. Fall is beautiful here in Sleepy Hollow Country and points north, and many valley villages fill every weekend with farmers’ markets, sports, concerts and, best of all, Halloween activities for all ages.
Sunday, I drove my family to Cold Spring, about an hour north of the city, at the invitation of an awesome indy bookstore, Split Rock Books.
Of course, with my history of dark stories for both children and adults, everyone has the idea of inviting me the weekend of Halloween. (I had to politely decline a few attractive invitations to come read, sign and share my work after booking both days this weekend months ago.) But Diane and Olivia and I are glad that Split Rock Books hosted us Sunday, because we felt right at home with booksellers Heidi and Michael Bender, a couple who — after over 10 years working as booksellers in New York, journeyed to Cold Spring to open up their own store.
Like some of the other great stores I’ve blogged here, this is a book store for book people: literary fiction and non-fiction, indy press and deeply into children’s books and other forms of graphic storytelling. The Benders’ Instagram seems to host as many images of visiting pets as books, giving you an idea that yes, this is a warm, welcoming place for warm, welcoming living things. And on top of that — thoughtfully curated books!
I found the Benders while searching the Hudson Valley for great, kid-friendly indy stores within an hour of our Westchester home, via their (Literary Hub) essay published as they prepared to open their store earlier this year. Reading the musings below, I knew these were people I would invite to sit down at our family table. (Hey, if I wouldn’t want to break bread with you, we probably wouldn’t enjoy each others’ company at a book event, either.)
“For us by far the strangest commentary is people who volunteer ‘I don’t read’ and who then extrapolate this quality to the rest of humanity via the follow up questions, ‘Does anybody read anymore?’ and ‘How do bookstores even survive?’ Frankly, we’re more curious about how tanning salons survive, but I guess the answer is that not every store that exists serves the entire population of earth. We don’t need everyone to read, we just need the people around here who read to find us and to shop with us.”
Real booksellers know personalized service and a sense of community distinguish them from chain stores and online drone retailers, and Split Rock offers every kind of book event you can think of, including story time for kids. Of course, this week, kids in costumes received a goodie bag from the store, a popsicle stick Little Creep puppet from the Quinns and a chance to participate in the story and take home a signed book.
“Keep darkness close, shut out the Sun/Hold on to our little ones.”
And I signed every copy left in the store before we left, so if you hurry, you may capture one for your own.
Thank you, once again, to my pal Bumblebee and all the creatures, creeps and heroes who helped me sing my lullaby to classic monsters, hitting every boo, bloop and arrrooo! I’m going to miss you all terribly on November 1 when the world shifts gears to the next holiday… and I am one of the few, the proud, the Still Spooky.
Sunday afternoon I joined fellow Penguin Random House author David Neilsen at one of my favorite local bookstores here in Sleepy Hollow Country, Scattered Books.
Repeat “family favorite” in Westchester Magazine, Scattered is a family business and a welcoming, spontaneous celebration of creativity. Down to earth book lovers of all ages are welcome. Yes, kids are welcome. Coffee is welcome. Even pets are welcome. (Four bunnies, Instagram famous, rule the floor and romp, each at his or her own speed and personality.)
The selection of books and gifts is both deep and tasty — and if you can’t find it, Laura Schaefer and company will find it for you. In conversation with Laura, Diane and Olivia and I felt graced to be talking to someone who lives and breathes the pleasure of stories, learning and curiosity.
I think this skill and passion have powered her to become one of the best independent business owners we know. Laura impressed me so much, I asked her to partner as my bookseller for my non-store meet and greets, like the event we plan for December at The Harvey School.
So, Sunday after a browse around that yielded a huge stack of must read books to buy — including David Neilsen’s latest — my family and I settled into our roles.
Despite the sad cancellation of the day’s Ragamuffin Halloween Costume Parade, we still had a steady stream of kids of all ages, many in costume. Diane helped them assemble “Little Creep” popsicle stick puppets, crafted from photocopies of Ashley Spires’ lovable designs from our book. A face painting artist decorated hands and faces. Olivia photographed them. Bunnies bunnied them.
And the two authors read to them and signed their books.
And read we did. My colleague with the older kids, including Olivia, and me with the tiny terrors, really getting them booing with Ghost Baby, blooping with Gill Mama and Gill Baby and howling when Wolfgirl lets loose to sing down the Moon at dawn.
A Maze in Pottery — and yes, that is Olivia painting in the background with our friend Edith, one of the amazing artists and the manager of the business
Sunday morning we instigated art and entertainment — including some fine howling at the Moon — at the first of two Spooky parties for young people at A Maze in Pottery, a paint your own pottery studio for all ages. I became friends with the artists here over years of painting here with Olivia; she’s made a dozen projects for her Mom here since she was very young. I think we bonded with founder Agi Shah, not only over fun, but also over a deeper shared belief that making art can be vital to our lives, our personal expression. And not just for capital A Artists — for everyone!
As we said in the invitation to the party online, “NO ART EXPERIENCE NECESSARY.”
When the kids and even, sometimes, the parents, joined in to shout out the Mamas, Dadas, Arrrooos and Boos.
And thanks to expert artist Nancy, this room full of little ones were armed with their very own Wolfgirl paper bag puppets, based on the cunning creature in the book envisioned by Ashley Spires.
Then it was time to paint — today’s project perfect for Autumn and Halloween. A dinner plate featuring a cute, funky Little Ghost that incorporates a child’s handprint, with cameos by a Baby Frankenstein and Wolfgirl created by the child’s thumbprints. Fun and personal.
Once painted, the adult artists glazed and fired each plate — and I’ve updated this series of photos to include some of the final pieces of original pottery the families took home with their puppets and signed books!
Agi and Nancy join me to howl, “Happy Halloween — and may all your nightmares be little ones!”
My Wolfgirl with one of Nancy’s Wolfgirls
Olivia took time to make Micro Jack and Dapper Ghost, who happens to be a salt and pepper shaker.
A Maze in Pottery, North State Rd, Briarcliff Manor, NY (914) 502-0088
“How do monsters get ready for bed? This rhyming verse shows monster parents putting their wee ones down for the day—vampires, mummies, ghosts, zombies, bigfoots (bigfeet?), and more. There’s actually nothing particularly scary in this one—it just depicts all the monsters as loving families with sweet bedtime routines.”
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Chinese School occupies Saturday mornings during this school year for the Quinns; Mom bakes treats for our breakfast club fundraiser, Dad volunteers as Co-Chair and Ke Ting (Olivia) works her eighth and final year of Mandarin language and cultural studies, including Art, Calligraphy, Dance and Kung Fu.
When we adopted our daughter in China in 2006, we promised we would ensure she had an opportunity to learn Mandarin and enjoy open access to her heritage. It’s really just a slice of her interests in total, and I know some years the added homework seemed a chore, but its a culture we all feel close to, especially after so many volunteer hours in our welcoming community.
I don’t write this (just) to promote the value of the school. (Though you are welcome to visit us any time if you want China in your family’s mix of study and fun!)
Speaking of fun and fundraising, this week the school offered books for sale and I signed for friends who bought copies to support both me and the school’s 50th Anniversary Fund.
I projected the beautiful pages of the book — thanks to my illustrating partner, Ashley Spires, and the team at Crown Books for Young Readers, design maven Liz Tardiff, assistant editor Elizabeth Stranahan and of course, our editor and publisher, Phoebe Yeh — and read the rhyming lullaby while the kids all chimed in on the monster baby word balloon sounds!
I am your Saturday morning cartoon.
“We’ve had a wild and woolly night, now come give Daddy one more bite.”
“Sing it with me, BlupBlupBloooop.”
“What does the Wolfgirl say?”
Kid Cthulhu and Baby Ghost Cupcakes by Diane Quinn