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Bad Drawings Make Great Backgrounds: When a Sketchbook Page Goes Wrong

Bad Drawings Make Great Backgrounds: When a Sketchbook Page Goes Wrong

When I travel, I always take a sketchbook to keep a record of the trip (and, honestly, to entertain myself, because there are only so many old churches one can tour in a day).  Here’s a video tour of my latest sketchbook, and you can always see more on Instagram. But what happens when a page in a sketchbook goes horribly wrong? Now, I’ve filled lots of sketchbooks with practice and lessons, and every single page in those books could...

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I’m An Aspiring Author. Do I Need a Website?

Every month in my newsletter, I offer readers a chance to win the book of their choice if they ask me a question. I pick a question to answer in the next newsletter, then I send them their book.  This month, an aspiring author asked me, “I have 2 novels being shopped by my lit agent, at the moment I’m trying to decide whether a website is worth my time, energy or financial investment. Do you think an author’s website is worth having...

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The DIY MFA: How I Got an Arts Education Without Massive Debt

When I was on book tour recently, someone in the audience asked me what I thought about MFAs. I didn’t have much time to answer, but I told her that I have mixed feelings about a university arts education, and that I like the idea of a DIY MFA. That’s what I did. I’ve spent some money on my arts education, but I’ve done it over a thirty-year period and I’ve been selective and intentional about what I studied and why. ...

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Kopp Sisters on the March!

  Advance copies are turning up out in the real world! The fifth Kopp Sisters novel won’t be out until September, but you you can enter to win advance copies all summer long on Goodreads (add it to your to-read shelf to be notified), and if you are a librarian, bookseller, or book reviewer, you can request a copy on NetGalley.  Oh, and I’ll have some extra copies to give away through my newsletter,...

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Paintings for a Good Cause!

Paintings for a Good Cause!

It’s time to throw another art bomb at the patriarchy. I’m offering up a dozen paintings for auction on eBay, and 100% of the proceeds will go to either the ACLU or Planned Parenthood. That’s right, every single penny you spend will benefit one of these two groups–I’m not keeping anything for myself. These are mostly oil paintings, but for the first time I’m including a couple of watercolors. I started doing...

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Develop Your Internal Tutor

Develop Your Internal Tutor

I just picked up this book at Powell’s. In the introduction is the most extraordinary passage–it could apply to any creative pursuit, so I’m sharing it here: “Develop an internal tutor. When you begin drawing, often you’ll find you’re accompanied by an internal critic, pointing out your mistakes and making you question your drawing. This can be more restricting than a lack of ability. You need time to look...

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My Favorite Writing Exercise Comes from Southpark

I watch this video at least once a year. Southpark creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone give this fantastic piece of writing advice about how they put their stories together:  They write up all of their story beats, and make sure that each idea, each moment, each action, can be connected with the words “but” or “therefore.” If they find they can only connect their ideas by using “and”…well,...

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Should I Find A New Agent?

Every month in my newsletter, I invite readers to ask me a question. I pick one that I’ll answer in the next newsletter, and send them the book of their choice. (you can get in on that here.) One of this month’s questions came from another writer. She had a very specific question about a situation with her agent. I’ll rephrase the question more generally, for her privacy, but I thought it was worth answering here. How do I know...

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A Totally True Fact About Writing I Just Made Up

Here it is: A two-hour writing session (I mean a serious session, no goofing around on the internet, but two hours of straight concentration and actual work) is as mentally taxing as taking a standardized test for two hours. It’s as taxing as doing your taxes for two hours. Meaning: after two hours, you are mentally drained. Weirdly, I do not find this to be the case for other kinds of art. I can paint for two hours and I feel fine. I...

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How I Start a Book

How I Start a Book

  I just sent my editor a very early version of Book 6. While she’s reading it and making her notes, I thought I’d start to mull over Book 7. This is just one of many methods I might use to start a novel. I didn’t invent it–I believe this is actually a screenwriting technique. Here’s how it works: Start with one index card. Write the premise of the novel in just one line. It might be something like, “An...

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