Protag problems.

Have you ever gotten into a book only to discover part way through that you hate the protagonist?

It’s a lot like relationships.

You start off being attracted to the cover and blurb, you read a few chapters, and you get excited about the hours you’re about to devote to the new relationship. Then the protag you have a literary crush on does something you don’t like and you have to decide if you want to go further.

When the protag does something you just can’t get past, it’s your ‘deal breaker’ in the relationship and you’re either going to stop reading or finish for the sake of finishing.

I remember how angry I was when the supposedly feminist protag of a sci-fi novel fell in love with her rapist. I did NOT finish that one.

In another book. The protag went from one kind of hero to a very inconsistent one whose voice seemed to change. On more than one occasion she said one thing and then did another. I could tell it had been over-edited. I finished that one but wanted my money back.

I could go on but you get the point.

In thinking about this over the past few days I noticed something.

The characters I write, I really have to love, or it gets to be too much for me. They are my family.

The ones I watch I don’t have to like, I don’t even have to respect them, I just need the story to be compelling. They are my hook-ups.

The ones I read though, that’s intimate, I need to be able to respect myself in the morning after taking them to bed. They are my life mates.

Is that weird?


Art Note: Photo is mine from a study on did on the London subway system. I loved that place and spent hours lurking down there waiting for people to leave the scene so I could get a purely architectural shot.Subway 1






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Being Witchy

Henri Jean Guillaume Martin

If you’ve met me you’re probably suspicious that I’m a witch of some sort, I dress in mostly black, I wear a pentacle, I have an extensive knowledge of all things paranormal and occult… so lets’ talk about that.

I was born into a non-church going family. The beliefs in my house were not especially religious but we were intensely pragmatic and frugal. Holidays were basically non-secular and conforming.

My ancestry on my mother’s side is Catholic, Protestant, Mennonite and Puritan. On my father’s side it’s Catholic, Amish, Protestant, and possibly Quaker. Which probably explains the stern atmosphere and lack of humor on both sides.

When I was in Junior High my best friend started taking me to a Lutheran church and I became Born Again. Then we somehow ended up going to a Baptist Bible Camp in Williston, North Dakota.

Here is where I learned that there was an entire group of people who believed the Devil was actively seeking us out for conversion through innocuous means like music and games.

(Insert eye roll here.)

We were taught that when your ancestors died the Devil might use them in ghost form to convince you of an afterlife. To lead you away from God and his salvation. It just so happens that my Great Grandfather died that weekend and everyone was worried for my soul.

Long story short, I got to witness mass hysteria when the entire camp went nutso from a nightmare one child had that cascaded into everyone seeking refuge in the church, throwing themselves on the floor, and confessing their sins. The elders sat at the back of the church nodding in self-satisfaction at the souls they saved via. psychological terror.

(Insert deep sigh.)

When I went home, (and they were glad to see me go because I asked too many questions and was therefore trouble,) I decided to do some library research,(It was 1980 and the Internet wasn’t a thing yet,) on other religions and went from being a Born Again Christian to Wiccan by the time I was sixteen.

I loved Wicca. It was Female Empowering, Earth Loving, and Kind. I felt empowered rather than shamed and I found a connection to the universe like nothing I’d ever experienced. (Other than that time I did mushrooms.) Covens were open, my best friend was Wiccan friendly, and the existence of Circle Sanctuary made me feel like anything was possible.

Unfortunately I also met quite a few intolerant Wiccans, some of whom were anti Male, anti Trans, and anti anyone who wasn’t them. Just like in every other religion/philosophy I’ve explored. There was no one pure religion where I didn’t find some form of hate toward some other group. And what was worse, they had inner disagreements and superstitions I just couldn’t reconcile with Our Lady Science.

I learned a very valuable lesson: No one religion/philosophy is correct therefore they are all incorrect on some level. So don’t be a jerk about yours.

Anyway back to me. So by the time I was thirty-five I realized I wasn’t a Wiccan anymore… I was a Humanist, one who believed in Knowledge and Kindness above all else.

But what of my first love… Witchcraft?

I still adored the trappings of Wicca and all the Witch branches of the philosophy/religion. My identity is very comfortable steeped in the Occult and Paranormal but shaped by Science and Knowledge. So what do you do when you can’t/won’t walk away from something that is so deep within you but you know others are afraid of?

Oh wait, didn’t I tell you? I’ve been blackballed, taunted, laughed at and feared because of Wicca.


When I lived in North Carolina there were those that thought I should be ‘burned at the stake,’ seriously… someone who saw my pentacle thought they had a right to tell me that. My first in-laws from Kansas and Oklahoma thought I should have my child taken away from me.

My son was taunted in school when he told them he wasn’t Christian. (North Carolina) His teacher informed me that as a military based school they had a right to force him to pray in class. (Seriously, there was a pamphlet they gave Air Force families in the 90’s that stated religion is Christian, marriage is man and wife, and sodomy was not allowed.)

When I lived in Wisconsin I was more open about my faith and they seemed to be more accepting in return but I kept coming across Catholics that seemed to think it was their job to get me banned from every and anything.

People were genuinely afraid of me to the point of anxiety. One was so afraid she thought I’d placed a curse upon her. There are still several people here who, when they see me, have a moment of panic. And just for the record, I have never placed a Curse or Hex on anyone… nor have I ever threatened or committed any violence upon anyone… ever.

Edited to add:(Oh wait, there was that one time that drunk guy slammed me in the back of the head so I threw him to the ground and punched him, but in my defense it was a long time ago and I was also inebriated.)

So back to now.

When I tried to get a counseling degree I kept running into the problem that charities and agencies were almost entirely religious. The non-secular ones were few and far between or they weren’t as non-secular as they stated they were. And everyone up here is just a few people from knowing everyone else so without wearing black and displaying my pentacle people already knew who I was.

There’s also the small matter of me being a big old nerdy geek. People here don’t seem to get that someone can make a living as a writer or an artist. They also don’t seem to get that I’m a Feminist, and that I only have the one grown child, and I don’t condemn people who don’t think like me.  I could go on with this list but my point is that Green Bay is essentially the biggest small town I’ve ever lived in… and I’ve lived in a lot of towns.

Long story short, I couldn’t find an appropriate internship. So I’ve given up trying to finish my counseling degree. Instead I’ve switched to my dream of being a novelist. And what are my first books about?

Being a Witch.

I write about the fantasy of living in urban areas while being Magick. I write about witches, werewolves, vampires, and mundanes. My protagonists are dealing with their secrets, the afterlife, and the challenges of getting by while staying safe.

So yea, you can call me a Witch, but it’s more of my authentic persona than a religion.

PS. I promise i’ll never cast an ill spell and I will always be open to a ‘Well Meet’ and ‘Blessed Be.’ I also won’t get offended when people wish me a Merry Christmas. I will however ask you to refrain from the ugly witch crap at Halloween.

Image is, Fascination by Henri Martin.



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Table of Contents

Leon--Jean Basille Perrault Meditation

I’ve put together fifteen anthologies and there are many steps in the process but my favorite is putting together a table of contents. There is no guideline to doing this and of all the anthologists I know, and I know quite a few, no two do it the same way. So I want to share my method.

But first, why am I sharing this?

Because I hear authors saying they got the favored spot, or the shame spot, or the buried position in the middle. I also hear other anthologists saying the same things, perpetuating these myths.

KLH method of TOC building:

I first place the story of the author whose name is on the cover, no matter what, because that’s the name that sold the anthology and that’s the story the readers most want to see first.

If I don’t have someone on the cover then I look at my best sellers and see who I think will help sell the anthology. If I have multiple best sellers then I go with strongest story first.

The anchor story at the end is generally the longest story for me. I tend to think a short story reader wants to save the longest for last. It also helps the anthology flow if I have a fast reader who likes to take things in order.

For the middle I look at the mood/genre/setting set up I have for the theme of the anthology. I don’t want two depressing/dark/disturbing stories next to one another if I can help it. I also don’t want two funny/light/capricious ones next to each other.

In other words, I’m setting the middle in a fashion that best showcases the stories without making the reader walk away.

It’s that simple.

So stop obsessing about why you took the 3rd, 10th or 15th spot. You sold a story. It got published. Go do it again. Now.



Image is Meditation by Leon Jean-Basile-Perrault




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Collateral Damage

Black Cat and Skull

Collateral Damage

I’m a big fan of showing collateral damage in fiction plots.

I’m not talking about the military summations of who died on either side.

I’m talking about showing what happens when your protagonist does something that profoundly affects someone else. When you come across someone in your plot that has been harmed by the poor choices your characters make.

It’s one of the reasons I don’t often like or enjoy superhero or action movies. Too many of the Non-Player Characters are just used as body count or a means to an end. A great deal of the Named Secondary Characters are merely props to further the emotional instability of the Main Character protagonists and antagonists.

It’s also one of the many reasons I’m enjoying the Jessica Jones series. Now there’s a character that’s dealing with Collateral Damage. Victims become heroes, heroes fight the bad guys, but no one is the same when it’s over. There’s no reset button.

I’m on the fifth episode, and I really hope I still like it by the end.

Since becoming an editor, my ability to enjoy fiction has been seriously dampened. I could even say the more I learn about plot building, the more collateral damage there is to my ability to sit back and enjoy a movie. I can’t help but do a body count of NPCs and times that the writer ignores their own worldbuilding rules.

Speaking of movies, I really liked Deadpool, even though the unaddressed collateral damage was pretty high. I think it’s because we saw that the protag was an antihero. It’s also because some of the NSCs discussed the potential CD with the MCs, and our Protag Anti-hero acknowledged the CD without making validation excuses. He knew what he was doing was terrible. I’m trying not to look further so I can still enjoy the movie.

Which brings me back to writing about collateral damage.

What is too much? When should you do it? How do you do it? What if my belief system about culpability isn’t the same as my main character? What if someone who reads my book doesn’t like how I’ve addressed the collateral damage? What if what I’m doing is just another trope?

Don’t worry too much about that.

Just look at your plot and ask yourself, is there some collateral damage here that might help move along the development of my character, the world I’ve built, or the storyline? Yes? Go for it. No? I doubt that. Every story has an element of CD. Even if it’s only in how much your MC doesn’t care about the NPCs.

Remember this:

There is nothing new to write about and no new way to do it. There is no right way or wrong way. There are only stories you like and stories you don’t like, ones you can sell and ones you can’t, audiences who hate you and audiences who love you. If you have the mechanics down on writing, you can tell a story. If you understand collateral damage, you can tell a great one.

And by the way:

I like seeing collateral damage in fiction. I don’t like it when writers do collateral damage to one another. You know what I mean. Stepping on each other’s money. In-fighting amongst groups and organizations. Accusing one another of being hacks, posers, snobs and artistes. My genre is better than your genre. I’m not even sure that stuff would work in a fiction novel. Boring.

Now excuse me… I’m going to go watch the sixth episode of Jessica Jones before getting back to my own novel.

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Lattes Trent Gudmundsen


The life of freelance is one where you have to be your own boss, co-worker, and marketing department.

You also have to provide your own inspiration.


Community is a thing too. It’s hard to find other creative people to share experience and frustration with.

Especially ones that won’t suck you dry or trash you once you leave the room.


This attitude, this feeling of Meh is your enemy…it’s also your friend.

It means you’re paying attention but probably too much attention to the noise around you and not enough to your output.

If you’re introverted it means you need to take a break from stimulation, turn off everything, take a walk, feed the ducks.

If you’re extroverted it means you need to go do something exciting, see a movie, work out, go to a game.

Then you need to get back to work.

Because it’s not going to change.


Post this under Advice To Myself.


Image is Lattes by Trent Gudmundsen






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Hugs & Handshakes

ophelia02Hugs and Handshakes


In the past I have been free and open about hugging people in greeting and in parting. Honestly I just want to share joy, love, and comfort with the world. In a business situation I have never declined a handshake. However, I now want to announce that I will no longer do the hugs and handshakes thing.


Why? Germs and Courtesy.


The germ thing is fairly easy to explain. Conventions are amazing pools of fandom, friends, and networking, but they are also the breeding ground of something we like to call Con-crud. The more conventions you attend, the more often you get a virus. Not the same virus every time, that’s not quite how they work, but different ones that pop up here and there from year to year in different strains, like the flu.


Now you might be one of those people who think that people should just ‘get over it’ and ‘live in the real world’ by allowing themselves to be exposed to sneezes and coughs but many of us can’t afford to get a virus. (Don’t get me started on how many rude people I’ve encountered who think it’s fine to shame people who are trying to avoid an avoidable illness. Or the kooks who believe the flu vaccine is a hoax.)


Many of us have compromised immune systems (like me) or we are elderly, or frail, or fighting cancer, or we have friends and family who must avoid viruses for the same reasons. Some of us are still recovering from the last virus. Some people just want to make sure they live healthy for another year.


In other words, just because you are privileged enough to have good health doesn’t mean every else has good health. And while I’m on this point I want to make something very clear: No one has a right to know what illness, handicap, or limitation you are dealing with unless it could affect them and their health. You can ask politely but don’t press the issue.


Then there’s the whole touching thing.


Too many people think a handshake should be firm. Or they use it to assert their strength. What if that person has arthritis? What if they have nerve damage? Same thing for hugs. People get too squeezy from time to time and creepers use it to mash up against women’s breasts. (See last week’s topic.) Many people just don’t like to be touched.


If you want to hug someone I suggest you ask politely first. I’ll be the first to admit that I have hugged many people who did not want be to hugged but I didn’t notice until someone else pointed it out. My bad.


Some celebrities, like Wil Wheaton, have traded in the hugs and handshakes for a polite bow with the arms crossed across the chest. I intend to do the same at conventions but will gently decline the H&H in all other situations except for close friends and family. Or maybe I’ll just flash the peace sign, perhaps do fistbumps?


I may even have a button made up that says, No hugs or handshakes please.


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Inappropriate Nice Guys

Phuoc QuanInappropriate Nice Guys

I’m going to talk about a sexual harasser that doesn’t get a lot of attention; the Inappropriate Nice Guy. Hereafter referred to as an ING. I like this acronym because it’s literal and also means, “I’m no good” in text speak. It also denotes the behaviors: trespassing, harassing, commenting, stalking, grabbing, and stealing (kisses, hugs, time.)

In general I apply all my comments about bad behaviors to both men and women, but in this case men are the overwhelming transgressor and women the main victim. As for children, you will see this bad behavior in relation to pedophiles grooming children for victimization and bullies indoctrinating victims into passivity.


I’m also keeping this post in the realm of conventions and workshops and other creative groups and gatherings. Mainly because we all (generally) know what to do when someone in the regular work place is being an ING. We go to HR and HR handles the problem, but in the freelance and fan world there is no HR, so once I explain the situation, I will make a few proposals that I want everyone who attends these venues to consider and share.


So, back to the Inappropriate Nice Guy: the ING is the guy who makes comments that are uncomfortable and often thinly veiled as compliments. They show up wherever you are and to crush and creep on you in a manner that makes it clear they want sex and intimacy from you on their terms.


Some of you are probably thinking that handsome guys get a pass on this, but I’m telling you that they only get a first pass from many people in the same manner that all women tend to give good looking and/or well groomed guys a first pass. We are all looking for companionship on some level, whether it’s a casual friendship or a life-mate. But when someone says ‘no thanks’ in whatever way they say ‘no thanks,’ the person needs to back off.


Here’s where conventions, workshops, and other fan/freelance gatherings come in, and I’m going to refer to them as gatherings from now on.


Those of us who show up at gatherings are often there to promote ourselves and interact with fandom. We are often there because we are either paid guests or volunteers. We are nice to everybody because in general assholes don’t get invited back, and they don’t get as many fans as everyone thinks they do.


Many of the attendees are there to find new media to geek out over, or to improve writing and costuming skills, and generally bask in the wonder and joy of sharing common interests.


A good portion of gatherings are comprised of people trying to improve their skills and network until they can become a paid guest or volunteer. Many have aspirations to climb to the top and be known for what they do.


This is the feeding and hunting ground of the ING.


We all know him.


He seems okay, seems to have a lot of friends, and everyone likes and/or feels sorry for him. He certainly can’t be as bad as the Inappropriate Butthead, who doesn’t care how crass and nasty he is because Freedom. He has never been reported for sexual assault of any kind. He’s also not quite the Awkward Creeper, but he may masquerade as one if he finds it more effective.


The ING is the guy that stares too long at your physical assets when you aren’t in costume, and leers outright when you’re wearing one. (There’s a difference, just ask any cosplayer.) The ING offers compliments that when you take them apart, are just a way of saying they’re having fantasies about you in the shower tonight and you can’t do anything about it. He doesn’t offer a hug so much as take one, and if he thinks he can get away with it he’ll steal a kiss and then hope you’re too surprised or befuddled to stop him. If you object, he’ll be the first to apologize, sometimes with a tear in his eye, and say he misread the situation.


Damn, but I hate this guy.


I used to be nice about it. I figured I was just being too sensitive, too harsh, too afraid. He probably didn’t mean it. Maybe my style of dress made him think I liked that sort of thing? Maybe all these damn ‘rape promoting’ movies and ‘bodice-ripper books’ made him think all women want that? Maybe what I think he said isn’t what he really said?


See what I’m doing there? You’ve done this too, I’ll bet. Blame yourself because society blames you.


Or maybe you have complained, told him to back off, told others what happened. And you weren’t believed.


People offer excuses:

“But he seems so nice?”

“That’s just the way he is.”

“You’re being too sensitive.”

“Maybe he’s just…(fill in the blank with whatever lame excuse lets you sleep at night).”


I’m telling you, the ING is counting on this.


He hides behind our weird obsession with being liked, our desire to be seen as a cool chick, our need to be included rather than shunned.


He counts on the friendliness we have to cultivate to be comfortable in the public eye, and our good manners when we promote ourselves. The worst villains hide behind their friendships with other people who have power in the industry, or behind their own power.


And everyone knows that a woman who complains is a bitch, and one who adds drama is a psycho. It’s so easy to trash a person’s character when all you need to do is say she’s ‘crazy’ or ‘over-sensitive.’


But wait…what if I’m wrong? What if that guy is actually innocent? What if he really is new to the whole human interaction thing, and just getting a bum rap? After all, without an HR department, who tracks the complaints? And what do you do when you get enough complaints? Can I trust the people I’m being asked to report bad behavior to? What will happen to that person? What will happen to me? Will people line up to dox, troll, threaten, and otherwise make my life a living hell?


Therein lies the solution.

Every gathering, be it a convention, workshop, or other paid attendance event, needs to have a system in place. When someone rapes someone, or indeed commits one of the levels of sexual assault that qualifies for involving the police, we have an automatic system. (Unfortunately, not everyone knows what the procedure is, and I personally feel it’s every gathering’s job to know what it is for their city/state, and be able to direct someone to proper services immediately.) For the transgressions that the ING does, we also need a system in place. This is not easy, and anyone who coordinates gatherings knows what a nightmare it is to herd cats and monitor transgressions without proper procedures and back-up. Even when procedures are in place, it’s extremely uncomfortable.


I have experience in counseling sexual trauma and assault, and in the psychology of communication. I also have experience in workshops and conventions, so I offer the following advice:


Every complaint can be anonymous, and every complaint should be believed.

(Yes, I know people lie, but if you look at the statistics for rape, it’s 1% in adults. It’s higher in children, but that may be because they are pressured to redact. And we aren’t talking about rape here, that’s another conversation, we are talking about women being empowered to protect themselves from harassment and stalking without exposing themselves to physical abuse.)


Paperwork should be generated and stored by someone in charge who will make sure the paperwork is protected and dealt with, and not just tossed in the trash when the convention is over.


EVERY complaint needs to be investigated and dealt with.

Every convention or gathering needs to have a three-strike rule. The first strike is a private counseling, preferably by someone with two big people as back up and to witness. The second strike is firmer and they will have to sign something saying they have been officially warned and understand the consequences. If they don’t want to sign, they have to turn in their badge and go. When the third strike happens, the offender’s badge is taken away, and the person is now uninvited, and therefore a trespasser. If they don’t leave or they show up again uninvited, they get banned for life. If they get ejected twice, they get banned for life and their name is shared with other convention organizers.


Have a system of reporting that is visible and post the guidelines everywhere: I suggest using the color sky blue as a way to unite and alert. Make flyers with directions to the reporting area and make that area safe. Train the volunteers on this, and do a background check on them if you want to be extra cautious. Volunteers should always be in pairs. Women are preferred when women report, and men when men report. (Because there are Inappropriate Nice Gals, too.)


We all have a stake in this. I further suggest that when a woman feels like someone is an ING, she should be able to rely on her friends to back her up.


Men: Don’t act like this, and don’t tolerate it in your fellow men, especially your friends and family. Loving someone means you’re willing to call them out on bad behavior.


Women: Don’t excuse bad behavior. Please be supportive of one another when ING crap happens. Supporting someone means believing them without judging them. Also, feel free to snap a picture and circulate it on Facebook as a warning. If they can do it, you can do it, and it isn’t illegal because they are in a public space.


People who are sensitive and/or have sexual trauma in their past: I know you want to do more. I know you want to stand up for yourself. Have a plan for when you start to get triggered by a person or situation. Someone close to you can be your convention buddy. As soon as something happens, tell them about it, and report it if you are able to. But always take care of yourself first.


Bystanders: I know you aren’t involved, and no one wants to start a scapegoat/monster hunt, but you can do something. Tell the ING to knock it off if you feel it’s safe to do so. Tell the targeted person, (the victim,) they can report and where to do so. Report it yourself, if you don’t want to get involved in the actual situation. Take a picture of the guy, or group of guys, (Sometimes the asshats dress up and get in groups to hoot and harass women in cosplay. I mean it’s all in good fun, right? <insert sarcasm and eyeroll here.>)


Guests, moderators, volunteers, and officials:

You have more power to do something about this than you realize. Demand the conventions you attend have an enforceable policy. Give them this one if they don’t know where to start.


And Finally:

Don’t downplay the importance of this. The Inappropriate Nice Guy in counting on you to look the other way. They know how to act at gatherings, and may very well be rapists and sexual predators outside the gathering. They are another form of sexual predator.


Be safe,

Kerrie L. Hughes



Feel free to comment or ask questions but I do not tolerate negging and trolls.

Image is

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