Fiction Craft at Sturgis West

DSCN8359I just wanted to thank everyone who welcomed me at Sturgis West – I had a fantastic time and many thanks to Laurie Carah who wanted me to come in and “warp minds” in the first place. I also loved meeting the English teachers and I am hoping to return and perhaps have a few classes re-imagine The Great Gatsby . . . oh the places we could go with that!

If I do return, we will work on the 10171271_704117049631915_2049348557258414940_nactual art of writing, from honing voices to building luminous scenes and staging action sequences. What does dialog require? When do you lead in? Trail out? How do you make the reader laugh  . . . or cry?

But as I said before, without the daydreaming and the storytelling inside your head, there is nothing to write in the first place. At Sturgis, over the course of three days, I taught my AWESOME students the art of losing themselves to the story. How to ignite their imagination – through music, movies, books, and their own lives. How to build a true character who is not simply a one-dimensional shell, but a hero or villain that will rise off the page and haunt the reader for days.

DSCN8336It’s about daydreams and nightmares and finding your “What if?” question . . . and how crazy you get in answering it. Who are your characters, how do they clash, what scenes and phrases will make the story memorable? What is the story’s destination – that one, big scene that ties everyone together and answers the arch of the “what if”?

Anyone – ANYONE – can be a  fantabulous writer. All it takes is a great imagination, a desire to learn the craft, and a DSCN8358beastly determination to lay your own dreams on paper. Because once written, your dreams and nightmares can be shared with the world. People you have never met, from towns you have never heard of, are suddenly cheering on your characters and your story. You can always upload stories for free to FICTIONPRESS and WATTPAD and have readers from all over the globe review your work.

I will be teaching a FREE, 4-class series of fiction craft classes for teens at the Sandwich Library in July! The spaces are limited and you will work on your own stories, flushing them out, tightening the storyline, perfecting your characters’ voices, etc. Contact the library for more information :)

Below are some of the students’ WHAT IFs (and ALL could become a story). If you were a student or teacher who sat in on my classes (and I think I saw 80 kids??), my email is always open – just shoot me a note through the contact page or find me on Facebook and Twitter! Oh yeah – and we have a feedback page from some of the students! Click HERE.


“What if the world turned into a video game?” – Shannon Glover

“What if our dreams where other people’s realities happening right now in a parallel universe?” – Alexis H.

“What if ink didn’t exist and when you wrote is was actually the paper bleeding?” – Jordan Turner

“What if dirt was actually tiny potatoes?” – Bali Morgan

10253162_812934258736110_245753576_n“What if the sun was a giant pizza?” – Nina Silva

“What if you found your one true love, and he was a ghost?” – Ada Garcia

“What if everything we said was truth?” – Liam F.

“What if we could touch a historical artifact and be transported back in time?” – Bryce Thomas

“What if your best friend disappeared and only left a note – and you had the ability to find her?” – Nicole Asquino

“What if the president was the enemy?” – ?

“What if the Internet had made books obsolete and only one person could save them?” – Brett Legeyt

“What if me and my closest friends could time travel?” – Tommy Andre

“What if Hitler had won?” – Rory Molloy

“What if humans lived underwater?” – Will Hicks

“What if you de-gothed the goth girl and she liked it?” – Sam CDSCN8326

“What if the world ended and the two survivors hated each other?” – Emi Cormier

“What if we were all just part of someone or something’s dreams and we really didn’t exist?” – Alison Cifello

“What if elves, dwarves, goblins, etc existed, but instead of being set in the distant past the story was set in the distant future?” – Jack Doherty

“What if the government took away the ability to love?”  - Alex A.

“What if we knew how many days we had left to live?” – Karon S.

“What if the world was different that what we thought it was?” – Vail C.

“What if music never existed?” – Dylan Lovelace

“What if the only way to talk to each other was through someone else?” Alex Grant

“What if we lived in a giant video game?” – Max S.

Sturgis #selfies

ALRIGHT! I know you have ‘em, so be sure to send them my way – those dozen or so selfies from the Fiction Craft classes!!  Contact me via Facebook (or through my contact form here on Cape Cod Scribe). I would love to post your photos and what you learned from our time together! Learning that I’m somewhat weird doesn’t count . . .

10246660_808593085836883_2388703053409994315_nFor example: Juliana and Christian (left) learned that the three of us are apparently ghosts, revealed in our washed-out selfie. These two haunted me from their spots on my bus last year, and were shadowing me at Sturgis West as well! Proof that they are definitely spooky. :) I miss them on #14. Dying for stories from Christian and Juliana’s old bus? Tries these: InsanityKnight Bus, and Rabid Wheels. FYI – the “Pansies for Peace” story (East versus West) is at the bottom of the page.



Shannon Glover (L) apparently had a ton of fun: “I10171271_704117049631915_2049348557258414940_n absolutely LOVED you coming in and teaching us this different techniques of writing! Please please please have the school bring you back again!!” She also rocked a few quotes that were plastered on her side from the projector! Hooray for technology!

Jordan Plummer also had a crazy time: “I liked everything! It was interesting & provided a twist and fun way to learn about something I was fairly familiar with. Any and all ideas were welcomed and that was cool! Everything we learned seems like it will be helpful to writing! I didn’t plan on being a writer but you made it sound so enjoyable and like something I’d actually like to do! You had so much personality and treated us as friends as opposed to students – I wish you taught at Sturgis because that’s a class I’d take every day!! I would totally want you to come back!”

Both Shannon and Jordan (as well as many, many other students) offered some terrific plot lines and characters that we built upon during class . . . although Jordan did like killing off people – LOL!


10253162_812934258736110_245753576_nBrycee Thomas also didn’t fall asleep in class! Hooray! “I honestly thought your class was one of the most interesting writing classes I have ever taken! And I’ve taken a few! I’ve already starting using a lot of the techniques you showed us haha!!!” We also thought we were quite the set of rock stars in our photo, though I just looked like an escapee from the mental hospital . . . Brycee, however, did look like she belonged on stage with loads of screaming fans :)


Ada Garcia, who escaped the camera’s eye (aka not pictured) added her thoughts about the class: “So I just wanted to let you know that I absolutely positively LOVED your lessons today and yesterday. They we’re so much fun, and they showed us how to be real writers (not that English class doesn’t). You taught it in a fun energetic way and got everyone involved, which was amazing. You gave us great writing ideas, and inspired me a lot. I really hope you come back next year, & thank you so much for being here this year.” Yippee! *dweeby dance from me*


PANSIES FOR PEACE (written for Sturgis West’s Fiction Craft Class)

The rivalry between us and the Easties was nothing new.

But in recent years it had grown, like an endless mold that thrived off our sunless hatred, finally overrunning both schools. It became obvious to the faculty of East and West that we needed to find a truce, especially after Sam’s mean-as-hell curve ball that won us the last game, and turned America’s pastime into an all-out brawl.

No one could come up with a solution, not that we really wanted one. Even our cheerleaders wanted to de-smile the Eastie squad. As for the team and I, we wanted to pound the Easties with our bats, both on the field  . . . and elsewhere.

Easties always saw themselves as so superior, with their midnight blue jackets, centralized campus, and the claim that they were the first.

First to open.

First to win.

First freakin’ everything.

But we WestEnders had a take-no-prisoners approach with baseball, and oddly, cheerleading. We dominated in those two arenas and no one could take that blistering rivalry from us.

Except Principal Carah.

She was my own five-foot tall nightmare.

See, there were three things that were undeniable when it came to Principal Carah: she loved books, hated sports, and was addicted to the school’s garden.

I, on the other hand, avoided the library, lived for baseball, and thought the garden was a place to toss my Hubba Bubba wrappers.

So when she came up with the “Pansies for Peace” idea, I nearly puked . . . along with most of the school.

Her idea, along with East’s principle Mr. Banes, was that our schools would exchange flowers – potted, living reminders that we should share our successes and joys equally.

Uh huh. Yeah right.

Everyone had to plant and grow a friggin’ Pansy. I quickly learned that a flower in my Red Sox bedroom made me look like a pansy as well.

God I hated that weed.

The schools exchanged flowers (along with a few evil glares and decidedly unfriendly fingers), and the days rolled by without anymore of Principal Carah’s lundacris ideas.

But then something weird started happening.

Our student body started acting less like WestEnders, and more like . . . Easties. It started first with Carah’s Garden Club, who granted, were little off to begin with. They began wearing blue more often. Started talking like Easties, saying how great the East teams were, and how cool East’s campus was.

And the Garden Club began growing more of those irritating red flowers from the Easties, handing them out to the other classes. Like, LOTS of them.

My teammates and I always ditched the nasty little things in the garbage – and so did the cheerleaders (and they’re chicks, so their hatred was pretty hardcore to ditch flowers).

Within two weeks, Principal Carah’s Pansies for Peace idea had led to something else entirely. East had invaded our school somehow, taking over the minds of the entire student body with one, devil-red flower.

Now me, and the team, just had to prove it.

Unfortunately our only allies had more spirit ribbons in their hair than the balloon guy at the mall carnival.

But if the pompoms could bring it, then so could my baseball team.

Game on Easties.

Game on.

Sturgis West High School Fiction Craft Classes

Sturgis posterI will be at STURGIS WEST this coming week, teaching Fiction Craft to the entire 10th grade!  If you are a 10th grader, my schedule runs as follows:


APRIL 15th:

Classes D+E will learn about pinpointing the “What If” question and how to build rich characters with voice, body language, music, and attitude.

APRIL 16th:

Classes D+E will learn about story boarding, including details on how the big players like J.K. Rolling would plot Harry Potter. Students will figure out their climax scene, and learn how to build a story web outwards from that scene using movies as an example of storyboarding.

Class G will learn about pinpointing the “What If” question and how to build rich characters with voice, body language, music, and attitude.

APRIL 17th:

Class G will learn about story boarding, including details on how the big players like J.K. Rolling would plot Harry Potter. Students will figure out their climax scene, and learn how to build a story web outwards from that scene using movies as an example of storyboarding.

Some Cool Competitions for Writers

Alright . . . since you are saying, “Hmmmm . . . how shall I use my time to avoid working on my latest literary endeavour?” I shall supply thee with distractions:


UnknownGotham Writers is hosting a ten-word story contest. Click here for details.

The Cape Cod Writer’s Center is hosting its first ever Writing Contest. Click here for details.

Writer’s Digest has a huge list of writing contests as well. Click here for more details.

Bug versus Windshield

8796488My son puked on the bus I drive this morning, and I had no paper towels.

A crack formed in the bus windshield and slowly lengthened as I drove.

I managed to shrink a favorite top to my daughter’s teenaged-size (she was thrilled).

It poured buckets and my parked car ended up an oasis in a grimy pond . . . and I was wearing Uggs.

I tried to take a 10-second nap, only to be woken by the dog, swearing at the turkeys who taunted her from the lawn.

All-in-all, today was one of those days where I was doomed to be the bug, squashed repeatedly by the windshield. Maybe even smeared a few times by the wipers as they dragged me screaming back and forth.

But then I saw this review on Goodreads from The BookNut (aka 21st Century Once Upon A Times) and the whole day was fantastically better . . . though my son DID barf again. Poor kid.

Many thanks BookNut, for I had been the bug, but now I was one awesome slab of glass! WOO HOO!21st Century Once Upon A Time's



This day rocks!

UnknownToday has been a killer day, not only because two great writers (Lisa Burstein and Jim Hill) agreed to partake in the Blog-Tour-Writing-Process-Thing (thanks Trisha Leaver!), but I also finished STORMFRONT. I could actually run around screaming at the top of my lungs, but I would freak out the neighbors . . . though they already think I am a bit weird.

But THEN I found out that I was added to SQ Magazine‘s list of “Bloggers About To Be Huge” and I’ve got to tell ya – that was the icing on the cake. I mean a big, Hollywood-style, melted-my-credit-card type cake!

So, many thanks SQ! I thought I had already hit my allotted “high” for the day, but after that nomination, I went even higher. A freakin’ Magic Carpet ride all around!

Maybe I WILL go outside and scream like a banshee . . . the neighbors seem bored anyway.

My Writing Process Blog Tour

Calvin-WritingI am taking part in The Writing Process Blog Tour, which is a cool way to introduce myself to other authors and readers that may not normally stumble over to my blog. Each author will offer brief insights into their writing processes and, in turn, they will introduce you to more authors. I was invited to participate by Trisha Leaver, YA Horror and Contemporary author whose debut novel, CREED, will be out in November (co-authored with Lindsay Currie). Many thanks Trisha!


What am I working on?

Currently I am finishing up the last couple of chapters of STORMFRONT, which is the second book in the UNDERTOW series. It picks up 35 days after the Newport disaster and is written from alternating POVs between Raef and Eila.


How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I build a complicated mystery, with brand new supernatural characters – no vampires, no werewolves, no zombies. It also write a core set of five characters, though we see their trials and triumphs through the eyes of Eila and Raef. While my books have moments of violence and run-for-your-life-panic, there is also equal doses of subtle humanity, humor, and loads of character development. Much of the psychology behind the series stems from my grandfather and what he told me about his time in WWII on Iwo Jima as a teenager.


Why do I write what I do?

Gosh . . . I guess I never set out to write Urban Fantasy, but the characters I had in my head worked well in that setting. As a Psych major, I always found the question of why one person could hate so recklessly, while another would set their life down for a stranger, to be the ultimate mystery of the mind. The five core characters in UNDERTOW are very different and how their personalities bounce of one another is my favorite aspect of the book (STORMFRONT as well). I also believe that a teen romance can be truly desperate, all consuming, and cause even adults to hold their breath. I have always set out to do that for the characters, especially Eila and Raef.


How does my writing process work?

I write in scenes, or rather know my scenes, and then connect the entire novel together, threading the mystery though everything. I make a point in UNDERTOW and STORMFRONT to make every single scene have another, hidden meaning. While the reader doesn’t always know this the first time they read it, they do by the end of the book. There is usually a lot of forehead slapping and “OH MY GOD – I didn’t see that coming,” but then if you go back, there are hints of what is to come. No one is who they seem in the stories.

I also write “wide” and then cut the story down. Because it is a mystery, with a long standing, centuries-old family twist, it would be hard to “add” scenes in the end to make the book larger. So I write wide and cut down – UNDERTOW (now 100k words) lost 25k words, STORMFRONT won’t need as much cutting however, and will probably be around the same size when it is done.

Once I am happy with the manuscript, it goes to a team of Beta readers who read it for the story, the characters, goofs, and inconsistencies. I value their opinion and if they tell me something is off, then it is changed.

At the end of the day, my goal is to write a story that is brutally addicting and allows my readers to invest strongly in the characters. I have learned that many of my readers read UNDERTOW several times and that makes me feel fabulous.

I write for the fans. It’s that simple.


I have invited the following authors who will post their writing process blog tour in the following week:

918042f3396f50042cc93fbeb1ba1acd_5717Lisa Burstein is a tea seller by day and a writer by night. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University and is glad to finally have it be worth more than the paper it was printed on. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her very patient husband, a neurotic dog and two cats. She is a YA writer published by Entangled Teen and her work is both fabulous and addictive. Her blog is



Jim Hill is a graphic designer by day, working with businesses to improve their branding,securedownload online presence and social media profile. By night he’s a children’s writer/illustrator determined to make kids laugh until milk comes out of their collective noses.

He wears many hats, including computer game artist, actor/writer/director/producer for a family theater, user interface engineer, art director, writer of inspirational silliness, marathoner, father of one, husband of one, and raconteur. You can find his imagination working overtime at


Why I need a Clone

Well – I need to clone myself at some point in the near future.

While I am busy finishing up STORMFRONT, I also like to run in a million directions at once.


2092I am signing books with Katie O’Sullivan at Barnes and Noble in Hyannis on April 4th from 6pm to probably 7pm (thanks NATE!). I then plan to run to the movies and see Captain America. Hot hunk in a skin-tight suit? I can totally get down with that.


Sturgis posterOn April 15, 16 and 17th, I will be at the award winning Sturgis West High School to teach Fiction Craft. Got a nightmare? Perfect – bring it with ya and we will give life to your monsters.




sandwich library fiction craftOn April 19 I will be teaching a condensed form of my Fiction Craft Class for Teens at the Sandwich Library - sign up early through the library website, as the classes are usually packed.





Creed final coverOn May 2nd, I will be at the SCBWI NewEngland taking classes and hanging with fellow writers including, Trisha Leaver. She’s the odd one that writes YA horror . . .




SHS LogoOn May 28th, I will be at Sandwich High School teaching fiction writing and how to build addictive characters.



eila and Raef blog pic 1In May or June, Leslie McKinnon and Colby McWilliams will begin filming UNDERTOW’s book trailer under the directorial eye of Alex Duanis. Please, please let it be warm!




UnknownIn August I hope to be at Harwich Junior Theater with the powerhouse Nina Schuessler for a live reading of some of UNDERTOW.


How I Write the Darkness

night-swimmingWe are what we write, or so I am told.

Some people have been reading the advanced pages of STORMFRONT and have mentioned that some of the most potent scenes are also the darkest, which I believe is true of life. We so often remember the toughest moments, rather than the blissful ones. My mother always accused me of this. She said I had zero memory when she would list the NINE-ZILLION places she took me as a kid, but all I remembered vividly were the darker points in my life.

That said, I believe our past defines who we are as people. If you haven’t gotten that from UNDERTOW, you are missing the point.

The characters of the UNDERTOW series are who they are because of what they have lived through, what they learn about their families, and who they WANT TO BE because of all that they have experienced. When I write for them, I write from a visceral place inside my mind, and draw forward some of those memories that are forever burned into my memory.

What I am about to relay is a true story that only a few people actually know about. If you know the people involved, I ask that you not mention their names. It is also one of many reasons I believe in God and the endless connection we as people have with one another. A link between souls, both here and gone, which is a theme I also bring to the novels. Some will call what happened that night shear luck. Other will call it fate or the will of God. Some will call it the act of a guardian angel.

But here’s the thing – I believe all those possibilities are one and the same. We as humans simply call them by various names. Here’s one of my more vivid memories:

On a hot summer night when I was eight years old, I had been swimming with a dear pal in my family’s above ground pool. As the time rolled on towards 9pm, my friend knew he needed to get home soon. He climbed out of the pool, while my neighbor, a very nice father of two young kiddos, wandered into my yard. His wife and his two children were back at his home in the AC, his kids asleep in bed.

I asked him, in my best, non-nagging eight-year-old voice, if he wanted to come swimming. At first he said “no thanks”, but then he felt how warm the water was with a sweep of his hands and he changed his mind. My mother, learning that our neighbor was going to swim with me, said I could stay in the pool.

Safety in numbers, after all.

He changed into his bathing suit and returned, jumping into our pool. Now, being as it was dark outside, my father had rigged a spotlight to a nearby tree and it illuminated half the pool, but left the edged in shadow. It was favorite thing to do – night swim.

My neighbor continued to jump in, and I would go under the water to see the bubbles he created as they floated past the slants of liquid light. I found it beautiful and I told him he should open his eyes under water to see how pretty it was. He said he couldn’t. That he had contacts, which I had never heard of. I didn’t even know what they were, but for some reason he couldn’t open his eyes under the water.

He climbed to the top of the stairs to jump again and I went under the water to wait for the bubbles.

But after several long seconds, there were no bubbles nor any splash.

I came up from the water and stood in the middle of the pool, looking around. My neighbor was gone, but I figured he was playing a joke. I pulled myself up on the edge of the steel pool and looked on the outside and around my dark yard. I can still feel the ridges in the white rail tops of the pool and how they were so much colder than the air. I scooted back down into the water and started crossing to the ladder, when I finally saw a figure under the darker corner of the pool.

It was my neighbor, hiding under water, waiting to scare me. But then I realized he seemed to be partly floating, just off the surface of the pool floor and his body rolled over.

His eyes were open, looking at me, and I realized something was terribly wrong. I hauled myself out of the pool and ran at full speed for my house, and I can remember feeling every cut of the bull-briars, the sand, the acorns, and how the flood lights at the back of the house felt blinding.

I ran inside, yelling for my mom, and found her in the bathroom, doing something to her face – cream or something.

I started saying my neighbor was under the water, wasn’t coming up. I said it over and over, and finally it clicked with my mom and she screamed for my dad.

My friend, who was inside, realized what was going on and sat on the couch, tears in his eyes. My dad ran through the house, slamming through the backdoor and I watched out the kitchen window as he reached, over the side of the above-ground pool, and hauled a full grown man out of the water and down to the ground. To this day, he said he felt a presence with him that gave him the incredible strength to pull him from the water.

He started CPR and my mom was on the phone with 9-1-1.

I remember hearing a woman yelling and I saw his wife, running from her house through her yard and into mine, and that’s when I finally sat next to my friend.

The rest of the night is more blurry.

My friend was taken home by his poor mom, who nearly had a heart attack when she saw the ambulance. AT some point, my mom told me to go and wait with my neighbor’s sleeping children (2 and 4) even though I was only 8.

I didn’t cry, didn’t let reality sink in. I remember laying on an old couch at my neighbor’s house, still in my bathing suit, and watching my mom call people from his telephone.

Several other close friends arrived, and they sat around the wooden table, illuminated only by an amber-colored light that hung from the ceiling. They were calling down a prayer list.

I don’t remember going home, or anything else, except this: He survived, though he was in a coma for a while.

He had suffered a massive aneurism and had slipped into the pool with me, which was why I never heard the bubbles. Had he been home, his wife would have assumed he fell asleep in a chair. He probably would have died.

There were many acts of grace that summer night – fate, as some would say, lining up perfectly to save a young father’s life.

For me however, God intervened the moment my neighbor changed his mind and decided to swim with his nagging, eight-year-old neighbor.




The Barnstable Patriot and Undertow.

Friday could have sucked.

It could have sucked because I was dumb enough to blurt out, “SURE I’ll drive the band to Rhode Island,” when I really needed to grind through STORMFRONT.

It could have sucked because the dog barfed on my new rug, but only after I realized she demolished my gloves.

It could have sucked for many reasons, but it didn’t because of one chance look at The Barnstable Patriot newspaper.

YUP! The whole day turned to roses and smiles, dog barf be damned, thanks to a glowing review of UNDERTOW by Kat Szmit.