More than a review. About SISTER OF GRENDEL as epic story-poetic novel

“This work of literature—epic story / poetic novel–deserves a place on the shelves of serious readers of literature, and Susan Thurston, an award-winning Minnesota poet, deserves more critical attention and acclaim.” — Tracy Lee Karner

A cultural critique about epics and SISTER OF GRENDEL

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Spring equinox and other returns

A mango-fleshed sun harrowed the horizon yesterday evening at certain, centered west. The dog and I stood awe-fixed-silent as spring circled close, without regard of recent flares of divisive politics, flaming ignorance, or the gob-smacking greed of those who believe themselves entitled. I tucked my late mother’s navy trench coat a bit tighter, glad to be wearing it well into another decade, tugged gently on the dog’s leash, and with each step back to the house, mentally spiraled through past springs. Last year’s especially, when actor Cynthia Uhrich, musician Andrea Een, and narrator Tim Clausen unfolded my debut novel SISTER OF GRENDEL at Illusion Theater. I wanted a launch event that wasn’t about my reading aloud from my work; I wanted it to be about this other world, this other season, created anew through the voice, the interpretation of others. It worked beyond all expectations.

On that day, I was surrounded by a sizable crowd, made golden by my favorite people: daughter Madeleine and son Samuel. Cake, wine, flowers, and conversations gilded the spring lily of an event.

At the center of it all, the story. Yes, the story. This video of the performance piece underscores the root of the universal story: a shared longing and search for community, for the return to the garden, for the promise of spring.

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Make new work, but keep the old. One is silver, the other…needs to be mined

A hoarding habit is to be avoided in almost all other areas of life, but not with our writing. Shelve the broken-spine journals. Tuck away the idea-scrawled cards. File the half-paged drafts.

Then, when you read about the contest or run into a call for submissions, delve into your word-wine cellar, brush away the dust, and you’ll discover the perfect line, the luscious paragraph, or the story that’s ready to realize its full strength.

In 2014, I attended the San Miguel Writers’ Conference & Literary Festival ( The community and event enchanted me and I promised to return one day. Each year since then, when I read the call for submissions to the San Miguel Writers’ Conference Competition, I mined my drafted work and took out the piece that spoke the loudest. My eye and ear could read and hear which lines held true, which clusters needed pruning, and how the rhythm, breath, and breaks needed to fall on the page.

After I worked the piece to the finest finish possible, I took a breath, filled out the submission form. And. Sent. It. Off.

This time, I received the ultimate reward.

Rapunzel Takes a Stand ( garnered the prize in poetry. The award included publication of the poem on the conference website, the cost to attend the full conference where I would have the opportunity to give a reading of my work and sell my books, and the privilege of being hosted by a San Miguel de Allende regular.

In a few weeks, I’ll board a bargain flight to join hundreds of other writers and readers in the splendid, many-chambered heart of Mexico. I’ll savor sights, sounds, flavors, and conversations–most of which will be about writing. The experience will inspire new work. After all, I need to replenish that word cellar.

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FaceTime Book Club: Seven Ways to Ensure It’s Almost Like Being There

I love book clubs: A small group of curious readers come together to parse a selected volume. The discussion is often enhanced by some savories, sweets, and libations. The community of the page is hard to beat.

As an author, my experience as a book club’s guest always leads to fresh insights and new friendships. And now with nearly-perfect ease of remote access, I can be a part of a discussion anywhere in the world so long as there is at least a smartphone.

As a guest author joining the group via Facetime or other live streaming format, I might not get in on the warm social part of the exchange often enhanced by savories, sweets, and libations, but by satisfying seven key components, everyone can have a richly rewarding and personal experience.

  1. Work with a rock-solid book club contact. I had my first FaceTime book club discussion with a group in Costa Rica. The coordinator, a friend since childhood, was the key to its success. Shelly easily earns the title of The Best Book Club Coordinator in the World; she made certain everyone in her group accessed my novel (most purchased an e-book copy at well in advance of the discussion; and she took care of the on-site arrangements.
  2. Send along a set of guiding questions. The book club members appreciated having key questions to consider while reading the book. I sent the coordinator a set of framing thoughts about the novel right after receiving the invitation to be the guest author.
  3. Do a tech-check a week or so before the discussion. The Best Book Club Coordinator in the World reached put to me via FaceTime several days before her group met. This way she and I ensured our connections worked.
  4. Get preliminary questions from the coordinator. Just as my guiding questions helped frame the readers’ experience of my book, so did their pre-discussion questions help me prepare responses that were thoughtful and on-point. We didn’t waste any time waiting for someone to ask that first question and could launch right into a lively discussion.
  5. Be ready to adjust. Despite the pre-event tech-check, we still needed to fine-tune the day of the discussion. Because we linked up a few minutes before the scheduled discussion, we had time to try a few approaches and discovered we had a better connection with my calling Costa Rica. We also knew that the worst-case scenario would also have worked: audio-only with speaker wouldn’t have been the end of the world.
  6. Check to see if club members will be fed and watered. The social portion of the gathering took place before I my electronic arrival. Again, credit goes to The Best Book Club Coordinator in the World. No one was cranky from thirst or hunger. It also reduced my wishing I could be there in person (i.e., there you all are in gorgeous Costa Rica, relishing all things tropically delicious and here I am…not!).
  7. Say please and thank you. After the discussion and before we disconnected, I politely asked for their help in spreading the word about my novel. Don’t be shy about asking for reviews on every format and platform possible. A lot of readers don’t realize stars and reviews on everything from Goodreads to Amazon equate an electronic word-of-mouth life-blood to an author’s success. And don’t forget to say and write your thanks. The coordinator beat me by a few minutes with her note, and I was certain to send my thank you to her for great preparation and for their time.

By covering these seven components, the club members and I enjoyed a perfect 30 minutes of book-talk  bliss. Sterling preparation meant we got to the heart of the novel and made the most of our time. I can’t wait for the next one…maybe yours? Reach me at

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Create winning copy with 4 principles of fiction writing

I’m a writer who earns her living working with organizations that depend upon clear communication leading to a desired behavior. In my role as a copywriter, I wrote an essay for LinkedIn and share it here:

As copywriters, we strive to choose words and craft sentences that are engaging and persuasive. By adhering to four key principles of writing good fiction, you can transport the end user to a world you’ve created and take your reader where you want them to go.

1. It’s all about the story.

“The world is made of stories, not atoms,” wrote Muriel Rukeyser. Think about your favorite brand and its most recent campaign. There’s a good chance it’s the story that captured you.

Exposition. Conflict. Resolution. Exposition equals establishing an irresistible setting or character. Conflict means presenting the problem or question. Solution is offering the call to action or benefit

2. Show, don’t tell.

This fiction writing mantra transfers most easily into the realm of copywriting, because we focus on the visual whole and not only the linear line of text.

Distill your copy to its spicy, active voice essence. Blend it with savvy design. Imagine the word or words as graphic elements. Insist each word work for its place on the “page.” Offer up something surprising and you’re showing the story in the strongest and most intriguing way.

3. Know your subject.

In fiction, every character needs a back story. Only thin slices of it earn their way into the final story, but all of it is essential to create fully-realized characters.

Back story also is vital in your copy. Work with your colleagues to reveal exactly what needs to be accomplished. Find out everything you can about the topic. Dig out nuggets from every source: What is the organization’s history? What’s on their Twitter feed? How are they viewed against their competition in a Google search?

Just as in fiction writing, most of this will not go into the final copy, but all of it informs your choices. Go deep and you will see what makes the product, service, company, or organization distinctive and warranting attention.

4. The more you read the better you write.

Good fiction writers are fierce readers. It’s research.

Everything you read can inspire your copywriting. When reading prose, take note of how the author chooses words, crafts sentences, builds tension, and constructs a story arc. “Read” classic ad campaigns and explore what is lauded now. Set aside a few minutes each day to sample what’s getting attention on the web. Deconstruct your favorite brochures in terms of verbs, images, color palette.

And when you have the “dang-wish-I’d-done-that” moment, pay attention.

Apply what you observe to your copywriting. Play around with those fresh words. Chip away at the chunks of content. See how all of it can inform and inspire your own work.

Follow these tenets of good fiction writing when creating your copy, and you’ll capture the keen voice, accurate tone, and luminous attitude needed to produce best-seller-list-worthy content.

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Oh, Sister

Last Saturday, I was honored to be a part of the St. David’s Society of Minnesota’s Prynhawn Llawen – a lyrical celebration. After sharing a few portions of SISTER OF GRENDEL and talking a bit about the novel, I savored the rest of the program and the social time. Member Richard Lewis Rames asked me about the source of my protagonist’s name. I swallowed a last bit of currant-rich Welsh cake and launched into how after writing for months about Grendel’s Sister, I “asked” her to give me her name. At my computer, I put my hands to home position, closed my eyes, and typed a few strokes. When I opened my eyes, “Rhesotis” gleamed back at me from the screen. Honestly. True story. Just another part of how this story more often felt like an experience of channeling than crafting. My agent Diana Finch recommended reversing the “h” and “e” for the reader’s ease, but other than that, it stuck.

Richard listened politely, but I had a sense he was disappointed when he started to frown.

“Oh,” he sighed. “I thought for certain it was an anagram for ‘Oh, Sister.’ “

I took a step back. It hadn’t dawned on me. Then we laughed. After decades of living and bending over this tale, of calling upon Rehsotis for more strength, clarity, and creative vigor, not once did I rearrange the letters of her name into such a fitting declaration.

At every reading, book club conversation, discussion about SISTER OF GRENDEL, more is revealed. And it’s because SISTER OF GRENDEL is manifest and pulsing on its (her) own out in the reading world.

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Reviewing Books

The more you write, the more you read, the more you read, the more you…review? As a book reviewer, I put myself in the role of perpetual literature student. When I enter the world of the book I’m to review, one clue that the writer is successful is that I forget I am reviewing the book. The harder I have to work to maintain the distance of analysis, the better the book.

It’s been an honor and joy to review books regularly for the Los Angeles Review. The journal is produced by a core team of passionate writers and readers, and the quality of the paper and electronic version is breathtaking. Read the online version here:

Here’s my most recent review about THE INFERNAL by Mark Doten:

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In the Meanwhile. Meanworld?

And the now becomes a meanwhile. Take every layer of definition of that word, and apply it. Life is all meanwhile. And so are books. Meanwhile insinuates between each section and line and word–in the writing and the reading–of them.

In this meanwhile, as my novel SISTER OF GRENDEL moves through the content-review stage, and while the queue of future work shifts and reorders, I will create a listing:

Books of Meanwhiles and Other Worlds.

My list is pretty much complete. And I’m noodling with the notion that the 26 installments will lead right up to the launch for SISTER OF GRENDEL– definitely a novel of a meanwhile and other world.

The list will be restricted to one book for each letter, alphabetized by author’s last name. Right now there are a few gaps. So, I need your help. Please send along a recommendation that might fit. Good stuff.

The kind of novel you didn’t want to put down and missed when you did.
The kind of novel that saved your life.
The one that surprised you.

It just needs to have happened in a meanwhile. Or a much different world. And because of that much different while and world, you learned something immediate and important about your current world. Should we call that a meanworld?

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Push “Send”

I wait for the clock to read 10:10. Just for the balance. And I am too tired to stay up until 11:11 (my favorite time offers the same front-to-back and back-to-front). A candle flickers–the one purchased at the Bette Midler concert with my daughter. I need bold. I need bodacious. Even in a candle. A polished stone from a friend gleams–a Chinese writing stone. The starry markings are heads tilted back in cheers. My heart races. On the eve of a blue moon, I push “send.” And off goes the submission document, the manuscript, the free excerpt, and the images.

My novel SISTER OF GRENDEL rests in the hands of others, and in several weeks, I hope it will be in the hands of…countless others. And in reading it, they will tilt their heads back in cheers.

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Ritual for the Muse

Ritual marks moments that need to be honored and noted. The culture of this country does not support or encourage as much ritual as I crave, so it must be created. When my daughter returns for a visit, I place fresh flowers upon her bedroom table. Each evening I light candles of intention and set them upon my hearth. With seasonal changes marked by the moon, I change the tokens and charms hanging from my mother’s gold chain. And now as my novel Sister of Grendel moves toward its entrance into the larger world, I realize it is time to create a ritual for my muse. It is something I should have done long ago. It will be personal, evocative, as pleasing as a cathedral and as intimate as a coin in a pocket.

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