Log in

Janni Lee Simner
23 July 2015 @ 09:48 am

That lovely moment in the story when a phone rings, and you let your character answer it so that both of you can find out who’s on the other end.

Really, knowing where the story is going before you get there is overrated.1


Dear Characters,

I’m sorry, but you cannot organize yourselves into one Leader and Four Lancers.2

It just … doesn’t work that way.



Dear Group Leader,

I know, I know. You have to deal with this lot and you don’t even get the benefit of being the protagonist for your trouble.

Would it help if I gave you some angsty back story to make up for it?


1Necessary disclaimer: For my writing process.

2If a Five-Man Band has one Leader and Four Lancers, does the Leader become the actual Lancer?

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner
13 July 2015 @ 11:11 am

Recently, in my search for diverse picture books and especially for books where my child could see other children who look like her in the illustrations, I came upon Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. This beautifully written and illustrated book, for those who haven’t read it, introduces babies from around the world and of many races with the refrain:

And both of these babies—as everyone knows—had ten little fingers and ten little toes.

The strength of the writing and illustrations meant that it took two or three or maybe five readings (because no one reads any picture book only once to their child) for it to hit me that that well-crafted refrain … wasn’t actually true. That the very book I’d bought to help my child celebrate her diversity and the diversity of all children was not about all children.

Because somewhere out there–many somewheres out there–there’s a parent who saw this book that was trying to be about all babies and set it aside because it wasn’t about their baby. Maybe this parent’s perfect, beloved, amazing child was born with polydatyly, or with a limb difference–yet here’s this book about how perfect, beloved, amazing children all have one thing in common–that they aren’t anything like this parent’s child.

At first I thought I was overthinking things. And then I thought I wasn’t. Intersectionality is tricky. It’s easy to say that no one book can be about every child and move on, but really it’s so much more complicated than that.

And this post isn’t about this one (otherwise lovely) book, or about any other one book, though I fear it will be taken that way. It’s about how I then thought a little more deeply about what the stories I tell mean for my child, who I want to embrace diversity not only when it’s about who she is, but also when it’s about the wide world she lives in.

I tell my child hundreds of stories every day, and not all of them come out of books.

Shortly after we finished the second or third or fifth reading of Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, my child handed me her stuffed bat, which had recently lost an eye. She pointed to the spot where the eye had once been, asking without words for an explanation.

I almost went for the obvious story–that yes, the toy was broken, and yes, I could fix it. Then I realized there was another, truer story I could choose instead.

“You’re right,” I told her matter-of-factly. “That bat has one eye. And you have two eyes.

“That’s because everybody’s different.”

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner
10 July 2015 @ 08:34 am

I speak with Mark Mclemore today on Arizona Spotlight! Listen here, or catch me on Tucson’s KUAZ 89.1 at 8:30 a.m. or 6 p.m. today (Friday) or 5 p.m. tomorrow (Saturday). You can hear me reading from Bones of Faerie there, too.

ETA: Here’s an extended version of the interview, along with a link to me reading the opening to Bones of Faerie!

And this weekend, hear me in person at the Pima County Library’s MegaMania, where I’ll be on a writing panel from 2:30-3:15 p.m. with Jeff Mariotte, Marsheila Rockwell, and Tobias Wade. Here I talk to MegaMania about writing, reading, and libraries.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner

Two reviews of Finding Your Sense of Place!

Katherine Cowley: ” I highly recommend it for an exploration of setting and emotion.” (Check out her post on Emotional Beats in Fiction, as well.)

Janet Lee Carey at Dreamwalks: ” These forty pages could change your writing life. I know they’ll change mine.

I’ll be at the Pima County Public Library’s SummerMania/Megamania! July 11. It’s a free mini-comicon sponsored by the library–if you’re around, come on by!

When: July 11, 2015, 2-6 p.m.
Where: Pima Community College, Downtown Campus, Tucson, Arizona

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner

I came upon this embedded into a five-year-old blog post of mine. Some things one doesn’t stop needing to hear:

If you want to cry as well as smile, this longer version ends with a Jim Henson tribute. How many years has it been? (25, says Wikipedia.) I still miss his work and his presence in this world:

And another bit of unrelated-yet-related inspiration, for those of us coming at all this from a when-creativity-meets-professional-life perspective:

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner

While working on Finding Your Sense of Place I wrote about my first critique group, the Alternate Historians, who pushed me to first understand the importance of emotion and description in my own stories. They pushed me understand a lot of things, and they were the first people to consistently show me what was wrong with my writing and how I could improve it, instead of just telling me how much they liked my stuff, the way my family and friends and teachers mostly had until then.

I was so grateful for finally getting that deeper feedback that for a time, I thought every writer was looking for exactly what I was—someone to tell them what wasn’t working and how to improve. So when shortly after joining the Alternate Historians a friend asked me to read her poems, I dug right in. I was proud of the detailed critique I was able to give her.

My friend, however, was appalled. “I just wanted to know what you thought,” she informed me icily.

Hadn’t I told her what I thought? When it became clear my friend had only expected positive comments, I dismissed her in my mind as someone who wasn’t a serious writer and didn’t want real feedback the way serious writers did. After that, when others asked me to look at their work, I was more careful, and asked them what kind of feedback they were looking for—but truthfully, I was doing that as much to protect myself as them. I didn’t want to waste my time giving what I thought of as “real” critiques to those who wouldn’t appreciate them.

I was a new writer. New writers can be harsh, as we take our first stumbling steps toward making our writing a deep and serious part of our lives. We can be judgmental, and we have a bad habit of trying to turn our new-found personal truths into universal truths.

I don’t know when I first began to understand things were more complicated than that, but now I know that they are, in so many ways.

For one thing, there are many ways to be a writer, and writing for publication is only one of them. There are things I’ve done as hobbies that others do professionally: bookbinding, working with rescued wildlife, running, countless other things through the years. If writing is someone else’s hobby—if they just want to have fun with it, and share for the joy of sharing, without don’t want to push their limits in the same ways I happen to want to push them, that’s fine, and more than fine.

And there are many ways to be a professional writer, too. Or, to put it another way, different professional writers need different things.

Years after I met my first critique group, in another critique group and another city I was delighted when a writer who’d mostly just filled her critiques of my work with smiley faces finally told me why a story of mine didn’t work for her. I’d had a nagging sense something was off about that story, and I was genuinely grateful for her comments. Yet when I told her so, she was baffled. “I don’t feel like I really gave you anything useful this time,” she said of the first critique in ages where I felt she finally had given me something that felt useful.

She told me that to her, a useful critique had at least as much positive feedback as criticism, at least as much focus on what was working as on what wasn’t. I was the one baffled this time, because while positive comments felt good to me and while I did want to know what was working so that I could keep doing it, some part of me was always waiting for that part of the critique to be through, so that I could get to the “real” feedback.

Some weeks or months later, this same writer commented more quietly that sometimes new writers just need for other writers to believe in them and tell them their work is worthwhile, because maybe they don’t have anyone else in their lives who believes their work matters. It took a while for that to sink in, just like it took a while for it to sink in that my friend probably wasn’t really talking about other writers, but about herself.

One of the things that sank in—one of the things I now understand—is that not every writer already has someone who believes in them. Those family and friends and teachers who told me my work was awesome without helping me to improve it gave me more than I knew. They gave me something I needed more deeply than I’d understood: the deep belief that my work was worthwhile and worth pursuing. That belief would later help me get up the courage to show my work to others, to ask for deeper feedback, to be able to listen to that feedback and make the most of it, and to send my work out into the world. I don’t know if I would have eventually found the belief and courage I needed on my own, through brute force, with time. I do know that I didn’t find it on my own, but with help and support. And I know that without that basic foundation—a foundation so basic I hadn’t even fully realized it was there—I could never have moved forward.

Thank you, supportive family and friends and teachers who I took for granted. Thank you so very much.

I still ask, now, when I’m giving a critique, what writers are looking for. But I no longer think there’s a right or wrong answer to that question. If I have a chance to tell someone else that their work is worthwhile, to play some part in building their foundation and confidence by pointing to the sparks that are worth pursuing—why wouldn’t I want to do that? Now, I see it as an honor.

Indeed, in the years since my harsh early writer days, I’ve handed manuscripts to others, from time to time, too, and told them truthfully, “I just want to know this doesn’t suck.” It’s easy to be full of confidence in the early years of a writing career, but through the years and decades after that, well, we all need a confidence boost, some years more than others. Long-term writing careers are complicated, after all.

There’s more than one way to be a “serious” writer, and serious writers—all writers—need many things to move forward. We need people who will push our work to the next level, yes, absolutely. But we also need people who believe in us, as we work to internalize that belief for ourselves, and as we work to hang on to it after that. If the push to improve is missing, our work may never sell. But if the belief that the work is worthwhile is missing, that work might never get written in the first place. We need both things, belief and challenges. It’s not an either/or and never was.

Writing isn’t that simple, after all. Few things are.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner
17 June 2015 @ 09:55 am

Today I’m blogging at Christine Kohler’s Read Like A Writer about the ways writers learn.

Put that way, it seems simple. Read enough, go to enough conferences, show our work to enough outside readers, get enough advice, and most of all, simply write enough, and slowly and surely, our stories will get better, improving incrementally as we put in our time.

But it doesn’t work that way, does it?

At least, it doesn’t work that way for me.

Read the rest of Learning in Leaps here.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner

I’m happy to announce Finding Your Sense of Place, a new ebook based on my talks on emotion, description, and setting. Finding Your Sense of Place shares some of the early insights that helped me uncover what was missing from my work, allowing me to begin producing professional work more consistently, as well as providing other tools for bringing settings and their characters to life.

To order your copy, go here—or see below for more details.

senseofplacecover300x450Find Your Sense of Place

Use setting and description to bring your characters to life and increase the emotional impact of your stories.

Setting is about much more than providing a few scene-setting details and moving on. Discover why the descriptions that seem to get in the way of your stories are actually the most powerful tools you have to bring characters to life and make readers care about their stories.

Two decades ago, acclaimed novelist Janni Lee Simner took her writing to the next level and began selling her work when she realized that emotion and description are, ultimately, the same thing. In Finding Your Sense of Place she shares insights and techniques to help you:

• Understand why different characters see the same places differently—even if they walk side by side
• Craft descriptions that help readers connect with your characters on a deeper level
• Make room for descriptive passages that won’t bog your story down
• Select the most powerful scene-enhancing metaphors
• Research your story’s setting—whether your story is set close to home or far away, in the present day or a thousand years ago
• Choose the descriptive details that best convey that setting to readers

Finding Your Sense of Voice is available wherever ebooks are sold. Order your copy from:
- Kobo and their independent bookstore partners
- Barnes and Noble
- Amazon
- Smashwords

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner
16 May 2015 @ 04:58 pm

The last weekend of May I’ll be speaking at Tucson’s Pima Writers’ Workshop about Finding Your (Sense of) Place As A Writer.

I’ll also talk about emotion, description, and how they’re ultimately the same thing. This is the single realization that most transformed my work and turned me into a professional writer, one that continues to inform my work to this day.

Other conference faculty include Cynthia Bond, Monica Drake, Mike Harvkey, Nicole Walker, agents from the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency and John Hawkins & Associates, and more.

Download a brochure for a full schedule and faculty list—and to register.

Here’s my schedule for the conference:

  • Thursday, May 28, 7 p.m.: Meet-the-Authors Reception
  • Friday, May 29, 2:15 p.m.: Finding Your (Sense of) Place As A Writer
  • Saturday, May 30, 11:30 a.m.-noon: Reading
  • Saturday, May 30, 2:15 p.m.: Writing Exercise: Creating Emotional Landscapes

Hope to see some of you there!

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner
28 April 2015 @ 11:25 am

Dear Characters Who Stubbornly Refuse to Become Distinct from One Another,

Each of you has, like, only a couple distinguishing characteristics. You surely know this.

But if we combine you, you’ll have a whole bunch more. Right?



– Me


Dear All Characters on Deck,

See this nice little quest I have ready for you? Waiting over in the corner there?

You … don’t seem to be in any rush to go on it.

In fact, you see determined to DIY your own quest from the materials at hand instead.

But perhaps I’m misunderstanding. Let’s keep writing, shall we?

– Me

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.