Do what you are afraid to do: writing as a daring adventure

Me, Dave, Max & a bit of Philo's head.

Me, Dave, Max & a bit of Philo’s head.

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.―Helen Keller

David Farland, the New York Times bestselling author also known as Dave Wolverton, ran a Professional Writers’ Workshop over March break. He’d told me it was a business class, but since we each submitted 20 pages of our writing beforehand, I liked the idea of combining business with craft. Dave had a completely different approach to novel marketing from what I was used to, i.e. from Dean Smith, Kris Rusch, and Mark Lefebvre.

Dave’s approach is to use traditional publishing.

I’d turned indie in 2011, so this was a shocker. If you haven’t heard about author woes in legacy publishing, Kris outlines some of them in this article.

The whole point of indie publishing is that you don’t have to wait, you choose your partners, you decide how good a product to put out, and you pocket the profits. I like it.

Except for the sales numbers. I’d prefer world domination.

I listened to Dave and realized that he acknowledges all the problems that plague traditional midlist authors. But his solution is this: don’t be a midlist author.

Be a lead. Be a super lead. Go big or go home.

“I think you’re doing yourself a disservice by releasing Stockholm Syndrome as a small book,” said Dave, at our lunch over Italian sandwiches. “There is no question that you can write. You’re a Writers of the Future winner.” He’s the coordinating judge, so he sees a ton of stories every quarter, and sends just eight finalists to the judges every three months. “I was hooked on the proposal. There is nothing missing from it. I could see it as a movie. I’d like to see you go big.”

He knows big. He has guided several New York Times bestsellers like Brandon Sanderson and the one I know the best, Stephanie Meyer. You know that’s a good teacher.

I mulled this over. I’ve been writing for decades. I was a Writers of the Future winner in 1999. I’ve been working on my writing very seriously since 2003, a dozen years ago. My writing has progressed to the point where, yes, I’m shortlisted for the Derringer award this year, and also, perfect strangers on Amazon comment that my books get better and better.

Stockholm Syndrome focuses on a hostage-taking at a hospital, so that’s topical.

I’m a doctor writing medical thrillers. That’s marketable.

Of course all the curses of traditional publishing could befall me. I could not sell my book. I could get a crummy advance. I could lose the rights to my characters, if I didn’t know what I was signing.

But I’ve been learning the business all this time, too. I have the resources and the resolution to hire an intellectual property attorney.

And if I don’t sell it big?

Dave’s solution is to trunk the novel and keep writing until your skills and the traditional market converge and you get the deal you want.

My solution would be to go indie.


Me and Dave, with Justin in the background


Okay, I’d lose a year or more of indie sales by going traditional. But that’s not significant. I’m not reliant on our writing income, so I can afford to gamble.

I’m not doing it for my other books. I’ll keep writing short stories, essays, poems, and books of all stripes. It’s just the one Hope novel.

It sucks for my existing fans. I know that. They’ve supported me for the past few years, and now they’d have to wait years for the next Hope book.

It’s also scary for me. Dave already made some suggestions that shocked me like, “Oh, you could just throw in a sister who got killed, so that’s why she solves crimes.” Or, “Could this be the first book? Her first day on the job?” and wipe out three novels, a radio drama, and a novella in one swoop.

But I don’t have to deal with that yet. Just the possibility that, for this one project, the stars may align with trad pub. Or not.

If the stars align on indie, I get to keep building my world, building my craft, building traction until lightning strikes.

Of course, lightning may not strike.

I’m glad I did this workshop. I’m glad I’m learning from different people, including my classmates.


Dave asked Max to join the picture. I told Max he’d graduated from our class.


For some reason, I didn’t expect to make friends. I didn’t expect Jenn, Tara and Jeanette to offer us rides from Salt Lake City or Jacqui to drive us back and stop at two museums along the way. Y’know what I was saying about generosity?

And knowledge! I sat beside Ali Cross, the bestselling author who co-founded IndieRecon who does martial arts.

Jacqui worked as a nuclear chemist before she decided to throw down, learn everything she could, and write full time for the next two years.

Jean, Jeanette, and Janet are building second careers as writers–I really admire people who succeed at one profession and then set their sights and skills on scaling another.

Jason came all the way from China. He and Philo and Dave and Jacqui got to chat about the middle kingdom.

Justin and Brock are like me, hands full with a demanding day job but carving out time for writing.

Tara writes in a multitude of genres and Brit is an indie writer, like someone else I know.

Jenn and Katy are brand new fiction writers. Jenn had written articles before, but she met Dave at a conference and leapt right into a professional workshop with a dozen writers. Katy is a multiple Nanowrimo winner who excelled at asking other people questions without bragging about herself, but it turned out that she has eight children and offered that her husband could look after Max too, so you know how good she is. The fact that new writers trusted us with their work humbled me and reminded me that you should always be compassionate when you critique.

I didn’t get to know everyone, but it’s exciting to hang out with passionate people.

My whole life, I’ve been risk-averse when it comes to big ticket/tent pole aspects of my life. Choosing medicine first and writing second. Not having kids until I finished my emerg exams, but we started trying soon afterward. Paying off our mortgage ASAP. Investing conservatively. Holding on to my writing earnings in cash because I may never earn another penny from my words. The only way I let myself go was by writing whatever bizarre stories caught my fancy, by jumping into indie publishing, and by wearing funky clothes. Basically, I took a lot of artistic risks–my motto when I was 16 was Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Do what you are afraid to do”–but not for “real life.”

Well, guess what? I’m ready to experiment now. Medical-wise, I got privileges at two new hospitals last year and started speaking at health care conferences. Financially, I did a lot of research and moved our money (including my sacred writing money!) into low-cost index funds and a few GIC’s. Writing-wise, I’m focusing on mysteries now, but I’m doing a fantasy workshop with Kris in April, just for fun. And I want Stockholm Syndrome to light up the sky.

Soar, eat ether, see what has never been seen; depart , be lost, but climb.―Edna St. Vincent Millay

If you knew that your life was merely a phase or short, short segment of your entire existence, how would you live? Knowing nothing ‘real’ was at risk, what would you do? You’d live a gigantic, bold, fun, dazzling life. You know you would. That’s what the ghosts want us to do – all the exciting things they no longer can.
Chuck Palahniuk

Zen Pencils did the best cartoon for daring greatly, both the Roosevelt and the Brene Brown quote.

Want to quit your job? Here’s the best rallying cry, by Jon Morrow.

And if you’re free tomorrow, come celebrate Fifty Shades of Grey’s Anatomy in Williamstown at 10:30!

Stockholm Syndrome talks about a Nickelback song, so now I’ve got these stuck in my head. And Wayne Gretzky could’ve stuck to hockey, but he took risks here:

And this is a revolution, no?

The Kindness of Strangers

“In the cherry blossom’s shade
there’s no such thing
as a stranger.”
― Kobayashi Issa


I wasn’t expecting to like Utah.

“Why are you going to Utah? To see the Mormons?” asked a colleague.

“It’s a writing conference,” I said. I’ve long wished that my writing teachers either lived close by or staked their territory in, say, Thailand.

But David Farland posts intelligent writing tips from Utah every day. I knew I would learn from him. This was a writing conference on both business and the writing craft that coincided with my finishing the first really coherent draft of my latest novel, Stockholm Syndrome. And, when I asked if I could bring my eight-year-old son Max, he wrote something to the effect of, I think he would be fine. Once Stephanie Meyer brought her children to one of my classes at BYU. We might even be able to find him a babysitter.

Well! I knew Utah would be family-friendly, but this was the ultimate. I booked our flights.


“I don’t know why you’re bringing him,” said my husband, Matt, who was volunteering to stay home with our daughter.

I wasn’t so sure, either. I started getting more stressed, especially when it looked like Dave might not be able to find a babysitter, and when I found that we couldn’t take the fast train from Salt Lake City to Orem on Sunday because, guess what, the train doesn’t run on Sundays! Aaaagh!


Alternative transportation with Elise


At the last minute, though, they gave me a name and number, and Dave’s niece, Marie, sounded super friendly on the phone even as she wrangled with three young children. She lives outside of Orem, so we’d have to rent a car to get to her house and then back and forth from the workshop, but not only did she offer to babysit Max for free, but she said, “Why don’t you both stay at our house?”

“Uh…” I couldn’t imagine inviting two strangers into our home 24/7. But I also didn’t think it made sense to drive two hours a day, shuttling Max back and forth from the hotel.

“We can put you up! It’s no problem.”

I hesitated. I usually don’t stay with people I’d never met. I’ve done airbnb, but when I mentioned couchsurfing, Matt absolutely vetoed the possibility. But Matt wasn’t coming. So I said, “Well. If you don’t mind.”


Then she ended up e-mailing me to say, “How about we pick you up at the airport?”

“Well, thank you, but we’re flying in on Saturday, so we’re staying at the Airport Inn, and then we’re going to explore Salt Lake City on Sunday and either do an airbnb or rent a car.”

“Oh, no. We’ll pick you up from the airport on Saturday. It’s only half an hour away. And then I have a minivan. We’ll tour Salt Lake City on Sunday together!”


Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such hospitality in my life. Honestly. And one of my stresses in travelling, especially with a kid, is trying to organize everything single-handed. So here was a native offering to do everything for us. What could I say?

“Thank you.”


IMG_4590Much as I love my parents, generosity and hospitality to strangers was not high on their priority list. They’d fight over the group restaurant bill, but my mom’s motto might be, “Family first.” Even “Family only.” So I’ve had to consciously learn kindness to strangers, thanks to people like Marie and Dave.


Generosity is giving more than you can, and pride is taking less than you need.
―Khalil Gibran

Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish.
―Richard Dawkins

If we don’t change from a world society that worships money and power to one that worships compassion and generosity, I think we’ll be extinct by mid-century.
―Patch Adams

This is my doctrine: Give every other human being every right you claim for yourself. Keep your mind open to the influences of nature. Receive new thoughts with hospitality. Let us advance.―Robert G. Ingersoll, The Liberty of Man, Woman and Child

P.S. I’ll leave my Fifty Shades of Grey’s Anatomy excerpt up for another week to celebrate the debut party on Wednesday at the Williamstown Library at 10:30 a.m. The perfect way to celebrate April Fool’s!

My Ideal Work Space: ER/Writing/Motherhood

So Bullish asked me about my ideal workspace. Only I have at least three.


I had to do a fire safety course at CHEO. That red thing I’m wearing is a baby vest. I could transport 3 infants in front and 2 in the back!


Emergency Department

  • Cool patients
  • Fun colleagues
  • Learning-oriented environment
  • Money. No one wants to work for free. Unfortunately, this is at odds with a learning-oriented environment.
  • Close to home, although I did enjoy working with the Inuit.
  • Shifts that aren’t too long. Some doctors relish 12-24 h shifts. I am not one of them.


  • Innovative topics and styles. I’m the kind of person who generally won’t write the same story twice.
  • Money. Sadly for me, the way you cash in is generally build up an audience is by branding yourself and delivering a 100-book series. So I’m trying to consolidate a bit.
  • I’d really love to travel and incorporate different cultures into my writing.
  • I like the challenge of workshops and am looking forward to studying novels & business with Dave Farland in March and Kris Rusch in April this year. For the first time, I’m bringing my son to a workshop (March). Should be interesting.

Me, writing Max’s Magic Hat longhand when Max was 6 weeks old. I thought about not including this picture because it shows skin, but neither of us are R-rated, and it does illustrate how I like to write anytime, anywhere.


  • My kids are my life.
  • However, today I learned that Anastasia has mucoid serous otitis media with hearing loss, so I feel like that shoemaker whose kids have no shoes. This explains why I’m now sitting with her, watching Caillou (guilt).
  • My ideal work space for them would be more space: more time, more patience, more love.
Motherhood unite! Iris, Carolyn, Julie & me with two of our offspring.

Motherhood unite!
Iris, Carolyn, Julie & me with two of our offspring.

What’s your ideal work space? If you need any ideas, my Bullish colleagues have some suggestions. Cheers!