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The Epic Pencil
38 minutes | Feb 22, 2021
Epic Pencil: A Conversation with Plottr Creator Cameron Sutter
Late last year, I discovered a tool called Plottr that was described as software for writers to visually plan their stories. I gave it a try with the free trial and promptly became hooked on it’s easy to use tools, the simple drag and drop management of plot points and scenes down to the individual character level, the ability to create a series-level plot that can then drill down to individual books, the invaluable series bible functionality, and the ability to export your plots and other information into other applications, like Scrivener. Best of all, Plottr is constantly evolving as creator Cameron Sutter adds and refines features both as he thinks of things he can use in his own writing as well as from suggestions by the very energetic community of Plottr subscribers. I recently had a chance to chat with Cameron, who has himself published three books, and describes his life mission as one to inspire readers to read the Classics and empower writers to write more powerful stories. Learn more about Plottr at www.pretendingtowrite.com or at plottr.com
16 minutes | Feb 8, 2021
Epic Pencil: Songs and Memory
Enjoy a bit of a memoriam inspired by a recent writing prompt. This time, the prompt provided was to think of a song, think of someone associated with that song, and then tell the story. The pieces that emerged from my writing group was wonderful with reflections on childhood, faith, religion, the cross-generational power of poetry, and more. Mine was a bit more bittersweet and resurfaced a memory I’d almost lost but that, in the context of the story I told, carried more weight for me than I realized in the twenty plus years since the event took place.
7 minutes | Dec 8, 2020
Epic Pencil: Home in Time for Christmas
Another year is coming to a close and with it comes another Christmas for the men and women serving in the U.S. armed forces to be away from home, hearth, and families during the holidays. Likewise, as we come to the end of this Pandemic year, we are all faced with being apart from loved ones during the holiday season. I also find myself thinking of my grandfather, who at 18, was on the far side of the world serving as quartermaster aboard the light cruiser Montpelier in 1943, and I wonder what he was thinking during that holiday season.
38 minutes | Nov 23, 2020
Epic Pencil: A Conversation with Author Dale Thomas Vaughn
Welcome an interview with author Dale Thomas Vaughan. Dale is the author of six best selling books spanning non-fiction like “Wine Snobs Are Boring” to a science fiction novella, “Dr. Mann’s Kind Folly.” He has written and edited millions of words professionally at BootsnAll Travel and the Good Men Project – where he earned a nomination from the Southern California Journalism Awards. He’s also a public speaker and has been featured on BBC, CNN, TED, and many more media outlets. You can learn more about those projects and Dale at DaleThomasVaughn.com or find his previous work on Amazon. As always, I also enjoy your feedback at pretendingtowrite.com.
13 minutes | Nov 9, 2020
Epic Pencil: Changing States
The last five days have been, quite frankly, exhausting, as we come out from the far side of Election Day with at least some level of certainty about how the future will be shaped. I’ve never missed voting in an election and even as a kid was fascinated by the process though not so fascinated that I’d ever had the desire to throw my own hat in the ring. In response to the prompt “Changing States,” I sat down to write and found myself thinking about my own history as a voter and how my attitudes and enthusiasm have changed over time. After I finished and shared it with my writing group, the immediate response was “get it up on the podcast tonight.” Who am I to argue with them? So here’s the new episode, "Changing States."
21 minutes | Oct 29, 2020
Epic Pencil: The Halloween Episode
My vision of Halloween was formed in part by Ray Bradbury’s book, The Halloween Tree, published in 1972. I love the story of Tom Skelton, Wally Babb, and the other kids seeking their lost friend, Joe Pipkin, with the aid of Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud. If you haven’t read this book, I encourage you to. It’s a quick read but one that opened my eyes to the brilliance of Bradbury’s use of language and what Halloween really could be. One thing The Halloween Tree is not is particularly scary. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of scary movies, but a great scary story is a wonder. That’s when I turn to Edgar Allen Poe. I say, skip the candy on Halloween and read some Poe if you really want a rush. So in this episode, in the spirit of Halloween, I share two short pieces written perhaps to get your pulse racing, maybe surprise you, or just creep you out a bit. Have a safe and happy Halloween!
28 minutes | Oct 19, 2020
Epic Pencil: A Conversation with Judy Crosby, Owner of Island Books
This week, we’re diving into the world of bookselling, rather than book writing, just for a change in perspective. For the last 20+ years, I’ve enjoyed visiting Island Books (islandbooksri.indielite.org) in Middletown, RI. I’ve gotten to know the owner, Judy Crosby, and her friendly and incredibly well-read staff. When the pandemic hit, we all know of retail and other small businesses that were hurt and, in many cases, had to close. But Island Books, like so many other independent booksellers, continued to connect their customers and community to books and they are still going strong. I was so pleased to be joined by Judy Crosby recently to talk about her journey with Island Books, what she cares about in the books she’s read, how the store has survived a topsy turvy world, and the future of the store.
10 minutes | Oct 6, 2020
Epic Pencil: The Locked Door was Open
I’m finding that, when writing a mystery, the fun stuff is easy to write. It’s the structure of the mystery, the ins and outs, the red herrings, the complexity that will hopefully make it a fun read…that’s the hard stuff. I recently used a writing prompt that read “The door you had locked is wide open” to kickstart a bit of creative output. As I mulled it over, I decided not to get all personal or memoirish but rather employ it as part of a scene that wasn’t going to end well. So, as with the death of Melanie Buck, revealed in an earlier episode, I’ve managed to kill of another unsuspecting citizen of Shelton’s Cove, Maine, and don’t quite know why. I’m sure that my murderer has a reason. I just haven’t figured it out yet, which, thankfully, doesn’t mean I’m a sociopath…just a writer who has gotten out over his skis on this particular book.
13 minutes | Sep 21, 2020
Epic Pencil: Murder Most Foul
I have a picture in my house, a montage of photos that my late grandmother made for me on my 20th birthday. It had photos of me at school, at holidays, and more from the time I was a little boy through my 20th birthday. There was one item within the montage that wasn’t a photo, however. It was a hand-written business card advertising my services as a detective for the cost of 25 cents per day. This addition to the timeline clearly illustrates two things – first, I hadn’t learned that plagiarism was bad when I was seven or eight and shamelessly ripping off Donald J Sobel’s Encyclopedia Brown. And second, that I was already obsessed with reading mystery stories. So it seemed only fitting that I consider trying it out for myself. I’ve recently kicked off my as-yet-untitled mystery, which ties directly to an earlier piece featured on the podcast, Phantasmagoria. This new mystery is contemporary and takes place in Shelton’s Cove where Jeff McClernand, the great grandson of Hattie McClernand, is now a police officer. I’ve got the place, the people, I’ve managed to kill off two of them, and have an idea of why at least the first one is dead but I’m still building the architecture. I don’t think that’s the way you’re usually supposed to go about writing a mystery but what the hell, I’ll get to the end somehow and it will be a fun journey along the way. Be sure to check in at my website, pretendingtowrite.com from time to time as I’m sure I’ll be sharing update and excerpts as I go.
16 minutes | Sep 14, 2020
Epic Pencil: Message in a Bottle
People write for the purpose of connecting with others, creating an emotional response, or capturing a moment in time. Often, it’s for an audience of one. The act of journaling for example, is often a solitary one. And sometimes, that solitary effort finds its way to another, unintended audience and makes a connection, generates an emotional response, and shares a moment captured in time. Message in a Bottle, tells the story of one such experience that changed my life during my time at the Sea Education Association and led to the writing of a solitary piece that went beyond that audience of one. If you're interested in learning more about SEA and its Sea Semester programs, please visit them at www.sea.edu. With two schooners operating in the Atlantic and the Pacific, the teachers on shore and the scientists and professional crews have brought extraordinary experiences like mine to thousands of students. Plus, they're doing important research into the impact of plastics upon our oceans.
11 minutes | Aug 31, 2020
Epic Pencil: Disruption
I’ve never been much of one for writing memoir as I’ve always been more of a fiction writer. When my wife and I decided to adopt a little girl, then things got interesting. A neighbor asked me how far along we were in the process, to which I remarked “well, if there are one hundred and fifty steps, we’re currently on number six. And so my adoption blog, 150 Steps, was born. It wasn’t so much memoir as an almost real-time, long form public journal of the excitement, the frustration, the heartbreak, and finally, the life-changing result. Tonight’s piece, Disruption, was inspired by those events and triggered by a recent writing prompt, which read “If some things were different, other things would be otherwise,” from the "The Griffin and the Minor Canon" by Frank R. Stockton, published in 1885. If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about adoption, there are many great resources out there. A few to start with include: The National Council For Adoption: https://www.adoptioncouncil.org/ Adoption Learning Partners: http://www.adoptionlearningpartners.org/ Adoptive Families: www.adoptivefamilies.com Creating A Family: https://creatingafamily.org/adoption/resources/
30 minutes | Aug 24, 2020
Epic Pencil: A Conversation with Kirsten DiChiappari
I'm pleased to welcome Kirsten DiChiaparri for this week's episode. By day, Kirsten heads US Customer Success for a global software company. But nights, weekends, and every sliver in between, she's squeezing in the rest of her life. Kirsten has taken the stage to co-produce and perform original work in the Providence productions of Listen to Your Mother, while her writing has also been featured on Scary Mommy and on Medium. During this week's episode, we touched on what it was like growing up with parents who took an interest in our writing, the benefits of having an accountability squad, along with the need to remember to breathe. She also shared one of her recent pieces, a reminiscence of a particular summer’s day, the perfect piece as we approach the end of this long, hot, and very odd summer.
18 minutes | Aug 17, 2020
Epic Pencil: Writing Prompts and What Emerges as a Result
This week's episode looks at writing prompts and what can result. To be honest, I was never a huge fan of writing prompts. I always felt like I should be writing around big ideas, novel length plots, and concepts that I’d considered in depth. That’s no longer the case. Sure, I still have those big plans, but I’m finding that writing prompts, especially when given as part of a group, add a level of accountability and a sense of variety, while exercising those writing muscles. They also force you to work quickly as the writing groups I’ve participated in have set a 30- to 40-minute limit on the writing done in response to a prompt. Sometimes, as I discussed in a previous episode, it can also add a note of panic but that’s manageable. Two of the three pieces shared on this episode were inspired not by words or phrases per se but rather visual prompts. The first prompt is a painting of Anne Hutchinson by Valerie Debrule. The second is a photo from the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park in Lincoln, MA. Both of them are posted on https://www.facebook.com/pretendtowrite so you can see what inspired the pieces. I also invite you share your favorite writing prompts there. I'll be posting prompts from time to time for those who want to play along.
9 minutes | Aug 10, 2020
Epic Pencil: Panic Attack
“The wonderful thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting. The terrifying thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting.” ― J.K. Rowling In the end, I guess Charles Bukowski had it right when he said, “Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all.
35 minutes | Aug 3, 2020
Epic Pencil: A Conversation with Alayne White
Alayne White is a lover of all things beauty, business, lifestyle and a typewriter enthusiast, collecting them and sharing them at events, street fairs, and children’s events. She writes because it feels good and loves to get other people writing. She publishes her almost daily writings on Medium and her own blog. www.alaynewhite.com. I enjoyed the opportunity to chat with Alayne recently about her writing, where she finds inspiration, and her collecting habit.
29 minutes | Jul 27, 2020
Epic Pencil: Circle's Call, Part 3
Women in fantasy and sci-fi literature have not had, shall we say, the most representative and positive of histories. Slave girls and chain mail clad buxom warriors populated your pulpy Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard books. They are largely non-existent in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and even in a longtime favorite of mine, the Chronicles of Prydain, Princess Eilonwy plays second fiddle to Taran of Caer Dalben as a to-be-mooned-over love interest and scold much of the time. Thankfully, a lot has changed over the years. Tonight’s excerpt, A Death in Mummer’s Court, introduces us to a new principal character, nineteen year old Lady Melsera. It is Melsera, more than anyone, who became the focal point for Circle’s Call as I was writing it. That wasn’t the original plan but, to be honest, she didn’t give me a whole lot of choice.
19 minutes | Jul 20, 2020
Epic Pencil: Circle's Call Part 2
Where do we find inspiration? What sequence of events or ideas sets us off on a creative journey. For me, Circle’s Call and the other planned books in the quartet, owe their existence in part to a trip to the South Dakota badlands that I took with my father and sister years ago. We spent time spelunking by lantern light in Jewel Cave National Monument and camped in the Sage Creek wilderness area of Badlands National Park. While in the tent, I found myself sitting up in the middle of the night with my flashlight, jotting down some ideas that I didn’t want to lose. Many later, the inspiration from that trip resulted in my first hopefully-eventually-to-be-published novel (excluding the sci-fi novel I wrote in college that will NEVER see the light of day). In tonight's episode, the sack of Selmar begins and we meet the first of our lead characters.
26 minutes | Jul 13, 2020
Epic Pencil: Circle's Call Part 1
A noblewoman, a soldier, and a teenage boy pursue justice for a devastated city and investigate the murder of a mysterious woman. In doing so, they uncover ties to a war four hundred years past and face an ancient enemy. Welcome to the world of Amastria as we begin another piece of original fiction, Circle's Call.
32 minutes | Jul 6, 2020
Epic Pencil: A Conversation with Esme Devault
Regardless of whether a poem is written with multilayered meaning or simply relates an aspect of real life, I hold poets in very high esteem because I can appreciate, after many failed attempts, just how hard it can be to write a really good poem. That’s why I’m so delighted to have Esme Devault on The Epic Pencil this week as my guest. Esme is an attorney and poet living in Rhode Island with her husband, son, and dog Charlie. She was previously an English teacher and an academic reference librarian. She’s had poems published in Motherscope, Jonah Magazine, The Big Windows Review, and forthcoming in Inkling Literary Magazine and Kissing Dynamite: A Journal of Poetry.
23 minutes | Jun 29, 2020
Epic Pencil: Phantasmagoria Part 4
In tonight’s episode, Phantasmagoria comes to a close. Hattie has another discovery or two ahead of him plus a choice to make between his youthful illusions and taking a step forward into a more realistic but more exciting world. So let’s put pencil to paper and read on.
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