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Cari’s 4-Point Plan for Yoga, Writing, or Anything Else

Cari’s 4-Point Plan for Yoga, Writing, or Anything Else

Over the weekend, my friend Cari came to visit, and I thought it would be fun for us to go to yoga together on Saturday morning. I’ve been practicing yoga for eight-plus years, but Cari just started a little over a year ago, and I wondered what level class she’d feel comfortable in.

“There’s a level two at 9:15,” I said. “Or an all-levels vinyasa at nine.”

“I’m fine with level two,” Cari said. “What type of class is it?”

On the schedule it was called Big A&#! Yoga, which I assumed meant a big, challenging class. I looked online to read the description. “This fun, challenging, and inspiring class is designed especially for bigger woman and men ,” I read. “Oh no, Cari. We can’t go to that one.” Cari and I both have rather small asses.

So we went to the all-levels class. Afterwards, we both agreed it was much too easy.

“I didn’t even break a sweat!” Cari said as we walked to my car. “To me, all-levels means they should give easier modifications, but they should also give more challenging modifications, too.”

We decided to go home and do some more yoga on my living room floor.

I led us in a few rounds of sun salutations, followed by a series of warrior poses. “Can you do side crow?” I asked. I assumed she wouldn’t since I only learned how to do the arm balancing pose last summer, but Cari said she did, and then she went into a more difficult version of side crow than the one I was doing.  I’d seen people do it before but never even attempted it myself.

“Oh my gosh, Cari, wow!” I said. I couldn’t believe she’d only been doing yoga for a year.

We moved on to inversion practice. In the past year, I’ve learned how to do a headstand, handstand, and forearm stand. Cari knew how to do all of these poses, as well as more difficult versions of all of them. I was amazed.

For years I thought headstand was impossible.  Then I actually tried it.

For years I thought headstand was impossible. Then I actually tried it.

When I first started doing yoga at the age of twenty-five, I went to a beginner Hatha class once a week for a year. After that, I started sampling different classes at studios in New Orleans, DC, Cape Cod, and Richmond, VA. Because I move around a lot, I rarely got to the point where I was familiar with any particular studio or teacher, and normally I only went to yoga once or twice a week. Most of the classes I took were “all levels,” which tended to mean the instructors didn’t do anything that might scare away a beginner: no headstands, no arm balances.

Occasionally, I would go to a more challenging class where the teacher would, for example, tell us to go into side crow. But I didn’t know how to do side crow, and it looked difficult, so usually I didn’t try unless the instructor gave step-by-step instructions, and often he/she didn’t. Instead of asking for help, I’d just do regular crow or some other pose I already knew how to do. The same with headstands. On the rare occasion that an instructor told us to do one, I might give it a try, but often I felt stupid and frustrated, so I would go into shoulder stand or some other easy pose instead.

It wasn’t until I moved to Seattle and started working at Yogalife that I really took my yoga practice to the next level. Because I worked there, I not only went to the studio regularly for my shifts (we were allowed to take the class after we signed in the customers), but I got free, unlimited yoga. I started going to class four or sometimes five times a week.

Yogalife had incredible teachers and a large selection of challenging classes. For the first time, I started attending Level 2 and Level 2/3 classes. The classes were tough, and the instructors expected us to try new things. They gave us step-by-step instructions for more difficult poses and time at the end to practice inversions and ask questions. And since I went to class regularly, I started to feel more comfortable asking the teachers for help with the things I didn’t know how to do.

In one year, I went from thinking I’d never be able to do an inversion to being able to do a headstand, handstand, and forearm stand.

This is forearm stand.  Mine doesn't look quite this pretty.

This is forearm stand. Mine doesn’t look quite this pretty.  photo credit.


And yet, sitting in my living room watching Cari do a series of insane arm balances I had never even seen before, I realized I still had a lot to learn.

I wasn’t jealous like you might imagine. I know (although I sometimes have to be reminded) that yoga is not a competitive sport.  It was more like I felt disappointed with myself. What had I been doing all these years if one year was all it took for Cari to have come so far?

I was sort of ashamed that I hadn’t been seeking out more challenging classes. That I hadn’t been attempting difficult-looking poses and asking instructors for help on how to do them.I felt the way I sometimes feel when I hear about authors who are younger than me writing award-winning or best-selling books. They’ve been at it for less time than I have, and already they’ve surpassed me. Am I not putting forth enough effort?

When it comes down to it, Cari did learn and accomplish an unusually large amount in one year.  The question is, how did she do it?  I think it comes down to four things:

1. She goes to yoga almost every day. 

2. She obviously goes to a great studio with teachers who know her and challenge her and give excellent instruction. 

3. She’s not afraid to try new things. She’s not afraid to fall. 

4. She loves yoga. 

Cari and Eva, drinking beer after yoga.

Cari and Eva, drinking beer after yoga.

I think “Cari’s 4 Point Plan” is a great prescription for how to learn and accomplish a lot in writing as well.  First, you have to put in the time.  Write nearly every day, and you’ll make progress.

Then, at some point, you need good teachers, even if those teachers are just books. Ideally, you need people who know what they’re talking about to read over your writing and point out where you’re not in alignment, where you need more strength. You need teachers who will challenge you.

You can’t be afraid to fail or look stupid. You have to put yourself out there and admit that you’re a writer. (Something I was afraid to do for a long time.)

And, of course, you have to love it. If you don’t love writing, it’s hard to put in the time and dedication you need to really make progress.

I do have these four things when it comes to writing. At least, I have them now. It took me a while to work up to where I am now. I wasn’t always so dedicated. I wasn’t always so willing to put myself out there and risk failure. But I got to this point eventually, and in the past few years I think I’ve made significant progress with my writing career.

It’s the same with me and yoga. I didn’t plunge in head-first the way Cari did. I dipped a toe in and then slowly waded out to the deep end over the course of many years. It wasn’t until this past year that I started putting in the time with great instructors who challenged me. But once I did, I learned and accomplished a lot fairly quickly.

In the end, it’s not about how fast you make progress. It’s about getting there eventually. But if you do want to make great strides in writing or yoga, or anything else, following Cari’s 4-Point Plan is not a bad idea.  And although I don’t want to make yoga into a competitive sport, I do want to challenge myself.  I found a level 2/3 class that I’m headed to tonight, and I’m thinking about signing up for a handstand workshop. Just because something isn’t a competition doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for ways to challenge yourself and learn new things.

Crow pose.

Crow pose.

The Greatest Weekend: A Terrible Story

The Greatest Weekend:  A Terrible Story

Leo Tolstoy once said, “All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” It makes sense because both are ways of introducing immediate conflict, and we all know that you can’t have a story without conflict.

I don’t know if this counts, but this past weekend, my friend Cari came to town, and we went on something of a crazy journey around Minneapolis. It was pretty much the best weekend ever.

Cari arrived Friday morning. We walked around the ruins of the old Gold Medal Flour mill then took the train to Mall of America. It was cold, windy, and overcast, and hence the perfect day to spend at the mall. We had margaritas and Mexican for lunch then went shopping and found the dress I am more than likely going to wear for my wedding. We had three dollar beers for happy hour then saw the movie Gone Girl. We met Paul downtown for dinner at a Thai place, where we had a good laugh because I accidentally ate a hot pepper, thinking it was a bean.

The ruins of the Gold Medal Flour Mill in Minneapolis, MN

The ruins of the Gold Medal Flour Mill in Minneapolis, MN.  photo credit.  

Saturday, we woke up early, and Cari and I went to yoga class then came home and played around with inversions and arm balances in the living room. Paul fixed us lunch then Cari and I went for a walk on Historic Hill in Saint Paul. It was a quintessentially perfect fall day: sunshine, blue skies, brilliant orange leaves, and just enough of a chill in the air to put apples in our cheeks. We gawked at the turreted mansions on Summit Avenue and strolled past F. Scott Fitzgerald’s childhood home and the house where he wrote This Side of Paradise.

We then met up with Paul, and the three of us walked to 612 Brew in Northeast Minneapolis where we had one of the most interesting beers I’ve ever tasted: Indian Spice Ale, which was basically like drinking chai tea-flavored beer. We talked and laughed and tried to play 80’s trivia before walking to Sociable Cider Werks, where we drank hard cider and played cornhole. (Fun fact: in Minnesota they call cornhole “bags,” and they call Duck, Duck, Goose, “Duck, Duck, Gray Duck.”)

Cari and Eva at 612 Brew.

Cari and Eva at 612 Brew.

We started to walk back downtown because we had bought tickets for a play at New Century Theater, but we realized that at this rate we weren’t going to have time to eat dinner and make the show. Luck was on our side, however, because a bus was coming down the street, so we hopped on, and magically this bus deposited us at the Whole Foods a mere five blocks from the theater. We ate delicious healthy things from the salad bar and bought adorable pink cans of Sofia Coppola champagne.

But we had dallied too long at Whole Foods, and now there was less than five minutes to curtain. Laughing, we ran through the streets of Minneapolis and arrived at the theater just before curtain. We had second row seats, and we drank champagne while watching Eating Raoul, a ridiculous but fun musical about a couple who resorts to cannibalism. Afterwards, we walked home and had popcorn, the most scrumptious pumpkin cake in the world, and an impromptu dance party in the kitchen.

In the morning, I drove Cari to the airport, and even though I had something of a headache, it went away immediately after eating a yummy breakfast of bagel with cream cheese and lox. As Paul and I cleaned up popcorn and deflated the air mattress, I marveled at what a perfect weekend it had been. We’d done everything we’d wanted to do, and everything had worked out perfectly.

It was one of the greatest weekends in history, and yet, I realize, it makes for a terrible story because there were no conflicts, no obstacles, and even running to make the play added to our fun. So Cari coming to town wasn’t the stuff of great literature, but once in a while I don’t mind not having a very good story if it means I can have such a great time.

At the end of our epic Saturday.

At the end of our epic Saturday.

My Brain Idea: Ways to Beat Writer’s Block

My Brain Idea:  Ways to Beat Writer’s Block

The number one thing that gives me writers block is plot. Once I have a general idea of where my characters are going and some of the things that will happen along the way, I can happily chug along for weeks, writing 5 to 10 pages a day until I get to the end of a 250-page novel.

This is what I was doing with my latest novel until I got to page 90 and realized it wasn’t working and I needed to rethink the plot. So I reread parts of John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story. I read Chuck Wendig’s awesome post on 25 Ways to Unstick a Stuck Story.

For a few days I sat in front of my computer asking myself over and over again: “What’s her desire? What’s her motivation? How is she going to change in the end?” I wrote the same things over and over. I knew her desire and motivation, and I knew how I wanted her to change. I just didn’t know what should actually happen. You know, the plot.

Finally, when I couldn’t take the frustration any longer, I went outside for a walk.

In all the other places I’ve lived, New Orleans, Virginia, Cape Cod, Seattle, taking a walk was a daily (sometimes twice daily) occurrence because I lived in neighborhoods where I could easily pop outside for a pleasant stroll. But since moving to downtown Minneapolis, I haven’t been walking as much. Partly because I live on the 19th floor. There’s something about having to ride the elevator all the way to the ground level that makes me question whether Ireally need to leave my apartment. And although there’s a nice walking path along the Mississippi River, to get to it means crossing several large roads, and nothing interrupts the flow of a brisk walk more than having to stand on the street corner, breathing in car fumes, waiting for the light to turn green.

But, I was stuck on my novel, and no progress was being made, so I headed outside into the blustery fall day. The wind smacked me in the face, and I looked up, noticing how fast the clouds were moving against the blue backdrop of sky. Without trying, poetry began to form in my mind:

The clouds move fast here. The days whip by. Without any mountains, there is nothing but sky. The wind holds me back, but it wants me fly.

As I looked out at the waters of the Mississippi and the crumbling stone ruins of the old Gold Medal flour mill, I felt more like myself. I’m a writer, but that doesn’t mean I should spend all my time in front of a lap top. Sometimes I need to get out into the world and observe. I need to be alone with my thoughts and listen for any whispering words that might be carried to me on the wind.

By the time I got home, I hadn’t figured out my plotting problems, but I felt invigorated and hopeful. Here was part of the solution to my writer’s block: go on more solitary walks. Creativity comes when I feed my senses and give myself the time and space to breathe.

The ruins of the Gold Medal Flour Mill in Minneapolis, MN

The ruins of the Gold Medal Flour Mill in Minneapolis, MN.  photo credit

I don’t know if it was the walk or what, but shortly after arriving home, a brilliant thought popped into my head. It wasn’t the complete answer to my plot problems, but it was an important key that unlocked a vast room of possibilities.

When Paul got home and asked me how my day was, I was excited. “I had a brain idea!” I said. I probably meant to say “brainstorm” or “great idea,” but I decided not to correct myself.

“Oh yeah?” Paul laughed. “What was your brain idea?”

And so I tried to explain to him the plot of my novel and the brilliant idea I’d had.

“But what about…?” Paul asked, pointing out a gaping hole in the plot that hadn’t occurred to me.

“Hmmm….” My brain reached in all directions, trying to find another piece of the puzzle, one that would fit perfectly into that hole and add meaning to the overall picture. Suddenly, I had another brain idea! I explained my thinking to Paul.

“Yeah, that could work,” he said. “But what about…”  (The boy’s a mathematician, so he’s always examining my logic.)

For the next half an hour, we brainstormed about the plot, the theme of the book, and how what happens throughout the story could make the main character to grow and change. Paul’s questions helped me flesh out the plot, and our discussion expanded the room of possibilities for the entire novel.

And so here was the other part of the solution to my writer’s block: discuss my ideas with others. Maybe I need to join a writing group, or maybe I’ll just use Paul for awhile. Either way, bouncing ideas off of someone else is a great way to generate more ideas and solidify the ones you already have.

Now I have a pretty good notion of where my characters are going and what’s going to happen to them along the way. I’m content to chug along for a while. But I know writer’s block will strike again. And now I know what I’ll do when it does: go for a walk by myself, then find someone thoughtful to talk to.

photo (4)

Eva and Paul play it cool around writer’s block.

Review: Beauty of the Broken by Tawni Waters

Review: Beauty of the Broken by Tawni Waters

I will post my usual blog entry tomorrow, but today, here’s something special!

If you will recall, I interviewed Tawni Waters over the summer.  You can reread the interview here.

Her debut novel, Beauty of the Broken, was recently released by Simon Pulse, the YA division of Simon & Schuster.  You can read my review of the novel here.

Happy Wednesday!

Beauty of the Broken by Tawni Waters

Beauty of the Broken by Tawni Waters



Facing My Roller Coaster Fears

Facing My Roller Coaster Fears

When I was eight I almost threw up after going on the Music Express at Busch Gardens. (The ride that speeds around a circular track while also going up and down in a wave-like motion — no wonder it made me sea-sick.) After that brush with near-vomit, I was done with amusement park rides, and though I’d never gone on a roller coaster, from then on I refused to do so because I was sure it’d make me puke.

And so, all through my youth, amusement parks were stressful. At first, my friends would laugh and yank on my arm, trying to pull me into line for a roller coaster, but when I pitched a fit and absolutely refused, I was deemed boring and lame. I was left hanging out with the chaperone for the rest of the day, waiting around while my friends rode the “fun” rides.

I didn’t go on my first roller coaster until Freshman year of college. My friends and I went to Busch Gardens, and the guy I was sort-of dating at the time (we’ll call him Matt) literally picked me up and carried me into the line for Apollo’s Chariot.

“Nooo!” I screamed. “I can’t go on this! I’m pregnant! I have a heart condition! I’m under 52 inches!” Everyone just laughed.

“It’s fun. You’ll like it,” Matt told me. But I was not having fun. I was freaking out. At the time, Apollo’s Chariot was the tallest and fastest roller coaster in Busch Gardens, and I was sure I was going to puke my guts out.

Apollo's Chariot (Busch Gardens Europe) 01.jpg

Apollo’s Chariot in Busch Gardens, Williamsburg, VA

In those years since the near-vomit experience on the Music Express, I had built up my fear of roller coasters. Never having been on one had made the fear even worse — I could only imagine how horrifying and nauseating it was going to be.

As we neared the guy manning the ride, I increased the volume of my screams. “Nooo! Let me go! I can’t go on this ride! I’m going to die!”

No one batted an eye, and the next thing I knew, I was being deposited into one of the cars and the seat restraint was being secured. This was actually happening. I was going on this ride, and there was no way to turn back now. There was a horrible clicking sound as the cars began to make their ascent. I gripped onto the bar in front of me and took a deep breath, trying to slow the wild beating of my heart.

For a split second, we were perched on the edge of the world, and then we spilled over, and my stomach plummeted. I didn’t scream. I squeezed my eyes closed, clamped my mouth shut, and waited for it to be over. Two minutes later, it was.

“See, wasn’t that fun?” Matt asked as I stepped shakily from the car.

I didn’t know about fun, but it was wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. “Well, I didn’t puke,” was all I could say.

The SpongeBob Squarepants Rock Bottom Plunge inside Mall of America, Minneapolis, MN. 

I was reminded of this experience yesterday when Paul and I went to Mall of America. “Ohh! Let’s go on that,” Paul said, pointing to an aquamarine roller coaster called the SpongeBob Squarepants Rock Bottom Plunge.

I took one look at the ride with its horrifying first drop and series of loop-de-loops and was suddenly flushed with my old freak-out feelings.

“No, no, I’m too scared.”

Then it was just like old terrifying times:  Paul was laughing and pulling on my arm, trying to yank me towards the line, and I was starting to feel panicked. “No, no I can’t. I can’t ride that.” He kept pulling my arm, and the fear kept rising in my throat. I was nearly in tears before Paul backed off. People who love roller coasters have a hard time understanding those who don’t.

So Paul and I rode a baby roller coaster instead, and I actually enjoyed it. In fact, I almost wished it was faster and scarier. That’s when I realized that since the Apollo’s Chariot experience fifteen years ago, I’ve gone rock climbing and done ropes courses and taken flying trapeze lessons. Why was I so scared of the SpongeBob roller coaster? I knew I wasn’t going to die, and chances were good that I wasn’t going to throw up either.  I wouldn’t even get smacked in the face by a bird because we were inside the mall.*

I waited while Paul rode the Rock Bottom Plunge alone, and although most of me was relieved, part of me wished I was in line with him. Because the more I watched the ride, the more I realized it wasn’t that bad, and even if it was, it was over in less than a minute.  Besides, sometimes being scared can be fun, and the people leaving the ride had huge, crazed smiles on their faces.

My immediate freak-out reaction had been a conditioned response. Over the years, I had trained myself to be afraid of roller coasters, and maybe it was time for some retraining.

Every so often, it’s good to take a look at your fears and reassess.  Are you really scared, or are you just reacting with fear because that’s what you’ve always done?  All I know is, if Paul and I go back to Mall of America, I’m going to go on the Rock Bottom Plunge.  I will definitely be scared, but I probably won’t puke, and who knows, I might even end up enjoying it.

Paul and Eva

Paul and Eva

*Fun Fact:  When Busch Gardens held the opening ceremony for Apollo’s Chariot on March 30, 1999,  and Italian fashion model was brought in as a promotion.  During the ride’s inaugural run, a bird hit him in the face and broke his nose.

Subplots and Hair Extensions

Subplots and Hair Extensions

Over the weekend, Paul and I went to a hair salon so I could have a consultation about hair extensions. I realize this is sort of ridiculous. I’m not Kim Kardashian. I don’t have nine hundred bucks to throw down on some chunks of fake hair. But I was curious.

I’ve been joking about getting hair extensions for years, and there’s always been a part of me that wasn’t really joking. Because, like all girls with fine hair, I have a longing deep inside my vain little heart for a head full of thick, beautiful hair that I can braid and brush and use to keep my neck warm instead of a scarf.

And I feel like it’s now or never. I’m getting married in April, and if ever there’s a time to splurge on your appearance, it’s your wedding, right? I plan on spending $200 or less on my dress, and I’ll probably do my own make-up, so maybe hair extensions can be my splurge.

If I don’t do it now, then when? Pretty soon I’ll be pregnant (that’s what happens after you get married, isn’t it?) and I can’t have sticky baby fingers tugging on my pricey fake hair. Besides, once there’s a sticky baby in the picture, all spare time and money goes towards baby. Twenty-five years later, when baby is finally out of the house (we hope), I might not have any hair of my own left to attach extensions to.

No baby fingers tugging on MY fake hair!

No baby fingers tugging on MY fake hair!

So I’m considering it. And by considering it, I mean that I keep having the same back-and-forth argument in my mind. The pro side says, “Come on, you only get married once (probably), so why not have beautiful hair for the occasion?” The con side answers, “Because it won’t be your beautiful hair. It’ll be fake. You’ll be fake.”

Then the pro side says, “Lighten up, Grumpy. It’ll be fun! You’ll look amazing.” The con side replies, “ But you won’t look like yourself. You’ll look like someone who’s trying too hard to be pretty instead of being content with the way you are.”

Sample hair extension.  (If I got them, they would be slightly lighter than this.)

Sampling hair extensions at the salon. 

On a seemingly unrelated note, I’m having a strange problem with the YA novel I’m working on. Unlike when I normally write a novel, the plot for this one came to me fairly quickly, and it seemed, at the time, to be a pretty solid plot.  So every day I’ve been writing a little bit, hitting all the major plot points, and now I’ve written the climax already, which is great, except that the whole thing is only 28,000 words. My other YA novel is 60,000 words. Meaning this new one needs to be twice a long.

“Maybe I need to add in a subplot, or a love interest,” I said to Paul last night. But I felt a little apprehensive. After all, I’ve already told the story from start to finish. Would adding in subplots and other characters only clutter things up and turn the novel into something more frivolous?

That’s when I realized: I’m considering adding extensions to my novel.

Day 2:  Trying and failing to recreate the salon look.

I’ve written an absurd number of blogs about my hair.  Like this one and this one.

There are a lot of things to consider when getting hair extensions, but I think the most important ones are probably the quality of the hair and the quality of the person who’s applying it.  Extensions have to be incorporated into your own hair so seamlessly that no one can tell they’re there (except for the fact that your hair suddenly went from shoulder-length to butt-length overnight.) The extensions should look and act like they are a natural part of your own body.

I still haven’t decided if I should get them. They’re expensive, and they require a lot of careful maintenance. But it would be awesome to have long hair for six months. As much as I worry about the vanity of it and the fakeness of it, I wouldn’t really be changing the way I look. I would just be enhancing what’s already there.

And I think that’s how I need to approach my novel, too. Adding in a subplot and extending the length isn’t a bad idea. Right now, the main character has no friends and no love interest. There are absolutely no deviations in the plot. In other words, the book is too skimpy, just like my hair.

So I’ve decided to create a friend for the main character, and create a conflict with the friend that relates somehow to the main conflict or theme, and weave this subplot into the main story. I’ll have to make sure that the subplot is still quality storytelling and that it is incorporated so seamlessly it seems like a natural part of the original story.  I’m hoping this will make the novel more interesting, more textured, more complete.

And I’m hoping that if I decide to get hair extensions, I won’t feel vain and fake. Instead I will feel like a beautiful woman who decided to add a little length and volume to the great stuff that was already there.

The Best American Cities for Writers (Hint: Not New York)

The Best American Cities for Writers (Hint:  Not New York)

The list below is the best cities for writers, according to me. Yes, it is an extremely biased list because I have lived in all of these places. That’s how I know they’re great cities for writers. Duh. I’m not going to endorse a city I’ve never lived in.  And if you don’t like my list, read someone else’s.

The Best American Cities for Writers (According to Me):

Seattle. Those months of rainy, dreary days make for perfect writing weather, and maybe you’ll go into a crazed, Kerouac-style writing spree while hopped up on great coffee. On sunny days, you can let yourself be inspired by the astounding nature all around: lush Northwest rainforests, the sparkling waters of Puget Sound, and Mt. Rainier perched in the clouds behind the city. The Hugo House (down the street from famous Elliot Bay bookstore) hosts writing classes, open mic nights, and literary events, and the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference is a great place to pitch your manuscript to an agent.

Mt. Rainier inspires poetry.  At least for me it does.

Mt. Rainier inspires poetry. At least for me it does.

New Orleans. Kate Chopin, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, William Faulkner, Anne Rice… The list of famous authors who have called New Orleans home is long and impressive. Besides its rich literary tradition, New Orleans is a great place to gather characters, settings, and stories, whether you’re wandering around under the dripping balconies of the French Quarter in a rum-soaked haze, or riding the streetcar uptown to where grand mansions mingle with tropical-colored shotgun cottages.  Plus, Mardi Gras is always only a few months away. The Tennessee Williams Literary Festival and the Saints and Sinners LGBT Literary Festival happen every spring, and the Hands On Literary Festival and Masquerade Ball, hosted by Burlesque Press, is an annual event each New Years Eve.

Paul and Eva at the Hands On Literary Festival and Masquerade Ball in New Orleans.

Paul and Eva at the Hands On Literary Festival and Masquerade Ball in New Orleans.

Washington, DC Metro Area. Besides being home to AWP (The Association of Writers and Writing Programs) and The Writer’s Center, DC is an intellectual town, chock full of writing groups and schools where you can study writing such as American University and George Mason. Riding the Metro gives you time to read, brainstorm ideas, or observe the wide variety that comprises human nature, and when you’re in the need for some culture to stimulate your writing, head to one of DC’s many museums, or check out a free daily performance at the Kennedy Center.

Our Nation's Capital ain't a bad place for a writer to be.

Our Nation’s Capital ain’t a bad place for a writer to be.

Minneapolis. Not only is the AWP 2015 Conference being held in Minneapolis, but the months of snowy, icy weather (temperatures like to stay below freezing for a good chunk of the year) will encourage you to stay inside, writing and drinking hot cocoa. When you do venture out, head to the Loft Literary Center, which hosts writing classes and literary events. And the Minneapolis Writers Workshop, established in 1937, meets each Wednesday, providing all authors a free place to give and receive feedback. If you write for children or young adults, the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Children’s Writers and Book Illustrators (SCWBI) is supposed to be one of the best.

View of the Mississippi from my downtown Minneapolis apartment.

View of the Mississippi from my downtown Minneapolis apartment.

Richmond, VA. If you’re into writing historical fiction, Richmond is the place to be. There are Civil War reenactments going on constantly, and Patrick Henry gives his famous speech at the historic St. John’s Church on a regular basis. Not far away, you’ve got Colonial Williamsburg, a recreated colonial city, as well as the College of William and Mary, the alma mater of both myself and Thomas Jefferson. If history’s not your thing, let art or nature spark your creative engines. Richmond’s got plenty of both, including urban hiking trails, downtown art galleries (check out Gallery 5 in a converted fire station), and my personal favorite: the pipeline trail that takes you past a heron rookery and all the way to Brown’s Island where bands play on weekend nights in the summer. The James River Writers host a conference every fall, and nearby, in Virginia Beach, you can attend the Hampton Roads Writers Conference.

Richmond, VA. photo by Deven Langston

Cape Cod, MA. After Labor Day, the tourists start to head home, and after Thanksgiving the shops that haven’t closed yet pack it up and hibernate until spring. Cape Cod turns into a cold, quiet ghost town. Depressing? Maybe. But it’s a great place to get some writing done! The weather outside is foggy, and it’s the kind of damp cold that just won’t quit, so you’ll be motivated to stay inside and keep warm by the light of your laptop. When the weather warms up, get inspired by the beaches and bays and marshes and stunning sunsets. The Cape Cod Writers Center hosts literary events, classes, and writing groups, and Cape Cod is home to hundreds of artists and writers, especially those of the retired variety.  Visit playwright, author, and illustrator Edward Gorey’s house for a little gothic whimsy, or drive to nearby Boston, where Grub Street provides writing classes and literary events.

Eva in Cape Cod

Eva in Cape Cod


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