A Character’s Time to Die

“We aim for the point where everyone who is marked for death, dies.”
– Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

My wife and I have been working our way through a TV series recently, and one of our favorite characters just died. (I won’t mention the name of the show or character, so as not to spoil it for those who have not seen it). This character’s death did not come as a complete surprise to us. The storm clouds had been gathering around him for a while, as it were, and there had been hints that he wasn’t going to make it out alive. From a narrative standpoint, his personal story arc was pretty much over, with nowhere left to go. It really was his time to die.

Nevertheless, his death still was still difficult to witness, and not just because it was a rather violent and shocking death. We mourned the loss of this character because we had been following his story since the first episode. We had watched him struggle and grow as a character, and we felt like we knew him-in many ways, even better than other characters on the show did. We liked him, and we miss him. His absence in the story after his death is as significant as was his presence beforehand.

I know that you know exactly what I’m talking about here. Even now, you’re thinking of the death of one of your favorite fictional characters, aren’t you? I’ll bet you can still recall in vivid detail where you were when that character died. It’s fascinating to me how we can feel genuine grief over the loss of someone we intellectually know was never alive in the first place. But they felt real to us, didn’t they? Such reactions are evidence of good writing, and the sort of connections that all storytellers hope to create with their audience.

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Death is one of the most powerful tools writers can use to impact their readers. The death of a character can elicit a range of emotions, ranging from anger, fear, and sadness, to catharsis, joy, and even humor. (Admit it: you laughed when the Boba Fett fell into the Sarlaac and it burped).

As I have reflected on the death of this particular character, I’ve come up with five lessons about using death as a tool to strengthen your storytelling.

1. His death was earned.

You remember on Star Trek, when Captain Kirk and his crew would beam down to an alien planet. Everyone knew that Kirk wasn’t going to die, and neither were Spock, Dr. McCoy, Sulu, or any of the main characters. But those unnamed security guards in the red shirts? Yeah, we all knew they would be the first to go. And what’s more, we didn’t really care. Their only purpose in the story was to be cannon fodder or monster chow.

This character wasn’t a red shirt. He had earned his death-or rather, the powerful emotions that came from it-because we had known him from the beginning of the story. We had invested time in learning his story, and thus his death had meaning to us.

2. His death had meaning to other characters.

It wasn’t just us as viewers who were upset when this character died. Part of the emotion of the moment came from seeing how the other characters in the story reacted. We mourned his death partly because we saw his friends mourning, and we knew what he meant to them.

Death will always bring with it a certain shock value, especially if the reader doesn’t see it coming. Much of the horror genre depends on the tried and true “jump scare” type death, or the “who’s gonna get it next?” approach. But gratuitous deaths, or deaths for their own sake, will never carry the same weight or meaning that the death of a solidly developed character will.

3. His death moved the story forward.

This character’s death came at a critical point in the story, and his death served as a primary motivation for the other characters going forward throughout the rest of the story. Virtually everything that happened thereafter in the plot was directly or indirectly related to his death.

Death is a powerful motivator, and is often what sets the hero off on his or her journey. It’s the death of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru that motivates Luke Skywalker to leave home and go with Obi-Wan Kenobi. It’s the death of Mufasa that causes Simba to run away from Pride Rock. In fact, Disney has built an entire empire on the corpses of dead parents, few of whom ever even make it out of the prologue.

But while a death near the beginning of a story can be a natural reason for your character to start their journey, it’s by no means the only place where it can happen. Lenny isn’t killed in Of Mice and Men until the very end of the book, for instance, because in that case, the whole story has been leading up to that moment in one long crescendo. The same holds true for Old Yeller, and Where The Red Fern Grows, where the story is about the loss of one’s pets.

4. His death reflected his life.

He got to go out in a blaze of glory of sorts, voluntarily sacrificing his life to save three of his friends, including his best friend. This was in keeping with how this character was during his life, constantly looking out for and protecting his friends. His death therefore felt natural, and even right.

The manner of death should also fit the tone of the story. It’s best not to include a gruesome or graphic death in a story that has been fairly tame thus far. William Wallace’s death in Braveheart-where he is hung, drawn, and quartered-is gruesome, epic, tragic, and inspiring all at once, and is perfectly in harmony with the tone of the rest of the story. Such a death would feel out of place in

Even a death that feels random and even senseless can be impactful if that is the story you’re telling. In The Walking Dead, pretty much anyone can die at any time, without warning or fanfare. That’s the reality of living in a zombie apocalypse-death is always right around the corner, and that sense of fear is what the story is all about.

5. His death was remembered.

In the next episode, the other characters hold a wake, and they each put remembrances in his coffin. Each character is given a chance to say their goodbyes and pay their respects. It’s somber and formal, and very cathartic for everyone involved, including the viewer. It’s our chance to say goodbye as well.

When people die in the real world, we eulogize them. We remember their life and honor their death. Character deaths need a similar eulogy. When a fellow hunter dies in Supernatural, Sam and Dean Winchester give them a “hunter’s funeral,” full of meaning. When Gandalf drops off the bridge of Kazahdum with the Balrog, there isn’t time to stop and fully remember him until the Fellowship arrives safely at Lothlorien, where Sam composes a poem about Gandalf’s fireworks while the elves sing a lament.

This doesn’t mean that there has to be a formal funeral service for every character death, but there should be at least a moment sometime where other characters can reflect and remember their loss. The Wolverines in Red Dawn take time to carve the names of their fallen friends on a rock before moving on with their war. Wilbur the pig is saddened by Charlotte’s death, but is happy seeing all her children living on.

Death is a part of life, and will always be so. It’s quite natural to incorporate death into our storytelling, and we should. Because part of the reason we tell stories in the first place is to keep memories of those we love alive for future generations. In this way, stories have the power to transcend death itself.

Depression & Writing

I went months without writing.

I sent lots of emails and drafted blog posts and proposals and such, but when it came time to really look at my fiction, to really dive into the craft, I could find all kinds of things to do besides write.

There were some big life changes that happened. I’d like to say it was just that.

There were some nuances I had to figure out with my mental health and body chemistry. I’d like to say it was only that.

But the reality was I was in a sort of writing depression. I felt like, for the most part, I’d gotten the big D depression that impacted my overall life under control, I’d been able to return to a new normal in most of the other aspects of my life, but when I thought about sitting down to write, all the negative everythings started swirling, growing ever heavier, and I started to look to TV episodes I’d already watched, mindless games I wouldn’t normally play on my phone, EVEN laundry during my free time. I didn’t care what it was as long as it felt like an okay excuse justify my reasons for not writing.

I was scared of my book.

I don’t write scary books.

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I had to really explore where my fear was coming from. When I started this story, I was at a writing retreat and cranked out 16,000 words in two days. I knew this story, knew where it was going, knew what the character arcs were – I was cruising. But when I came back from that retreat, I started realizing I was, in fact, engaged in a wrestling match with my mind, one that I thought I’d already won. I tried to work on this book but couldn’t. I took months to play around with another book, started to like it, then received a recommendation from my agent that this one, this really hard one, was probably where my writing should go next.

And I just – I couldn’t. I wasn’t sure that I could write this book. I felt – still feel – strongly that this is a story I can tell, that it can resonate with readers in a way that will be meaningful.

So . . .


The first thing that I did was go back to the drawing board. I looked at the story I had, where I wanted to the story to go, where things had become stuck before. I got insights about character arcs from my critique partners, I read craft books, I looked again and again at this document, and then closed it, making myself keep focused on the story I wanted it to be.

And I put A LOT of effort into taking care of my writerly self, just as I have learned to do with my mental self. I fed my mind words – good, good words – to remind myself what they looked like. I took the time to find representatives of my characters, to dive into their personalities, where they live, what they want. Still didn’t write a word in the manuscript. I went to movies – the movies that were getting great buzz – and let myself sit and absorb and fall back in love with story.

And then I revised the first two chapters. It took a long, LONG time. And I sent those two chapters to my critique partners and held my breath. I was prepared to hear that they needed to be dismantled, re-written. I was ready for them to say I needed to start over again.

They didn’t.

The whole meeting, the critiques were super nit-picky. Do you know what that means?

The foundation of the story was good.

As anyone with mental illness will tell you, the moments when you can tell what is truth and what is just a thought with no power, when you can identify the source of the thoughts, things start to get better. This is also the case (and has been the case) when I have these kinds of slumps. I have to fight, and clear all the distracting chaos. I have to be able to see the things that my not-quite-well brain & writerly mind have tricked into existence for what they are – lies.

Yes, this kind of thing can happen to all people. Maybe it’s a little worse for people like me who have regular mental health issue. And I know there are all kinds of people who say there is no such thing as writer’s block, but there is absolutely a kind of creative block. Our job is to do the really hard work to determine, first, what we are experiencing; second, if we need to push through or pull back and heal, and third; have the courage to open the manuscript, to trust our creative soul, and to craft again.


Tasha Headshot Color

Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. She is passionate about helping women nourish their creativity and is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, where she serves as a board member. The former high school English teacher now assists in managing the award-winning project-based learning program (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven and is the mom of three teens. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.

Naming Things

I have a dog named Dog. All right, that’s a slight exaggeration. I have a dog named Puppy. His collar says his name’s Ptolemy, but no one in the family has ever called him that. Ever since he wandered into our lives, he’s been Puppy. And really, that’s probably a good thing, because who knows how to pronounce Ptolemy?

I get the embarrassing task of responding to each question of, “Oh, what a cute puppy! What’s his name?”


And then I follow up with the story. Once upon a time on a December 26th, a puppy showed up in the culvert under our driveway like a belated, growling Christmas present. We called, we coaxed, we offered turkey scraps, but nothing would induce him to come out. We ended up calling Animal Control to evict him. Of course, by that point the kids had fallen in love with him.


So we fostered our little squatter until the animal shelter people were sure no one was coming for him. During that whole week, he was The Puppy, and by the time we were finally sure he was ours, the name was firmly attached. (In case you were wondering, Puppy’s “real name,” Ptolemy, came about because we had another dog named Cleopatra.)

The point of this whole tale is to show you that I’m utter crap at naming things. Dogs, cats, kids, blog posts. But novels, especially. In fact, I’m positive that overall, I spent less time choosing names for my children than I’ve spent on manuscript titles.

I end up with ridiculous working titles like Middle Story, which I then spend months trying to change. Because there are working titles, and then there are titles that have terrible work ethics. They slouch around the house, eating all the snacks and watching TV, and they just won’t leave.

As I suspect that I might not be the only one with this problem (and judging from everything out there on the topic, I’m not), I thought I might compile some of the material I found, with links to a few excellent articles.

So why bother coming up with a great title, you might say? Won’t a publisher change it anyway? Possibly. But it’s still important to stand out from the slush pile. So what follows is my list of the most informative and thought-provoking bits of advice I have found. It’s by no means inclusive. It’s simply a summary of all the ideas I found particularly helpful.

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First of all, the obvious (but always worth a reminder):

  1. A title should be memorable. I think The Hobbit is a great example. It’s an easy but unusual name. Short, simple, and evocative.
  2. A title should be attention-grabbing. Titles such as Fahrenheit 451, Neverwhere, or Strong Poison can be positively chill-inducing. As a kid, I bought (and enjoyed) The Undertaker’s Gone Bananas solely because of the title. Years later, on my bookshelf, it caught my teenage daughter’s eye, too.
  3. It should give an idea what the book is about. Pride and Prejudice. Harry Potter and the (magical artifact).
  4. Make sure the title fits with the story and also isn’t badly out of place with the genre. If you pick up The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, you probably know you’re about to read a fantasy. On the other hand, a title could fit in any number of genres and still be memorable, such as Winter Garden.
  5. Make sure it hasn’t already been used recently, or is the title of a well-known book or movie. Titles aren’t copyrighted, so you can reuse them. It just might not be in your best interests to do so. So do a Google or Amazon search to make sure that Twilight, your epic novel based on the Norse legend of Ragnarök, hasn’t been used anywhere before…

Some great advice I hadn’t considered:

  1. Make it easy to pronounce. Something like Phthamlxatl and the Pachyblepharon—maybe not so much.
  2. Offer a mystery. What is a hobbit (I imagine someone asking in 1937)? Or take, for example, The Other Boleyn Girl. (Wait, there was another one?)
  3. Make a promise to the reader. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Enough said.
  4. Try not to make it too embarrassing to read in public—unless you’re going for something meant to be read in the privacy of one’s home. Imagine sitting on an airplane reading something called Sex Tips for People Who Are Really, Really Bad at It (I’m pretty sure I made that one up. Apologies if I did not).
  5. Be precise. Spend plenty of time choosing the perfect words. After all, Death on a Train isn’t nearly as evocative as Murder on the Orient Express.
  6. Think about multiple meanings—good or bad. A Separate Peace has one, obvious, meaning at the outset. At the end of the book, the reader realizes the title could refer to many different things. (Full disclosure: I bombed that symbolism essay in high school.) On the opposite side, the name Isis has a different meaning to most people today than it did even twenty years ago.
  7. Avoid overly trendy titles, like The (Something)’s (Relation). (Although having just thought up The Geneticist’s Cousin, I’m tempted to write a sci-fi story of forbidden love.)
  8. Don’t make it too short or too long. One-word titles don’t often stand out, unless you’re a Disney film (Frozen, anyone?). Conversely, leave Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships to Jonathan Swift.
  9. A title should be original but not distracting or obscure. Poor Phthamlxatl.

What to do:

  1. Study other titles in your genre.
  2. Brainstorm lists of 10-20 titles, then refine them down to the top two or three.
  3. Poll other people on what they think of your choices.
  4. Figure out what your book is really about. Write down some key words that you think describe it, then construct a title from one or more of those words.
  5. Find something from your text that speaks to you. Maybe it’s something one of the characters says that defines the theme of the book. Or maybe it’s an original twist that you think is unique—an unusual world (The Night Circus), event (The Hunger Games), or an intriguing protagonist (The Ghost Bride). Perhaps it’s your character’s unique perspective (Bridget Jones’s Diary). Add imagery and/or alliteration (Blood Rose Rebellion).
  6. Finally, if you’re really, really, really stuck, there are always the online title generators. A Google search will give you an obscene number of hits. Here are only a few:
    1. Completely random: http://booktitlegenerator.com/
    2. This title generator (http://www.fictionalley.org/primer/title.html) generates ideas that actually have something to do with your plot. It uses key words that you input.
    3. And finally a fun one: this title generator by Tara Sparling (https://tarasparlingwrites.com/book-title-generators/). You use your name, birth month, and so on to generate the title of your masterwork. Looks like I need to get started on my chick-lit book, Where Smiles Would Speak. Or perhaps my autobiography, My Breathtaking Pilgrimage.

Great references:

Appel, Jacob M. 7 Tips to Land the Perfect Title for Your Novel. http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/write-first-chapter-get-started/7-tips-to-nail-the-perfect-title

Bottcher, Saul. How to Pick a Title for Your Book. http://www.indiebooklauncher.com/resources-diy/how-to-pick-a-title-for-your-book.php

Buttars, Marla. Choosing Your Fiction Title. http://www.eschlerediting.com/choosing-fiction-title/

Farndale, Nigel. Naming a Novel: Nine Months of Angst. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/books-life/7075095/Naming-a-novel-nine-months-of-angst.html

Max, Tucker. Picking the Perfect Book Title. https://bookinabox.com/blog/how-to-title-book/

Kris Bio Pic.jpg
Kristina Starmer lives in Southern Utah and writes renaissance-era historical fantasy. She read—i.e. memorized—her first book, The Owl and the Pussycat, when she was two. She likes to think this is where she got her first taste for thrilling adventures in magical lands, spiced with a touch of romance. When she’s not working as a university chemistry lab manager, she enjoys spending time with her four independent children, an adventure-loving husband, and more dogs and cats than she likes to admit. She is passionate about traveling to new places, ice cream with lots of mix-ins, and the peaches from her garden.

Life After Querying: Publication Insights from Authors

For writers who are interested in pursuing traditional publication, there are all kinds of tools and resources for drafting writers and revising writers and querying writers. There is hardly anything that then allows a writer on submission with publishing houses know what to expect. And if a writer publishes with one house — even a few times — and then doesn’t resign? It’s like trying to walk a maze in the dark with a blindfold on.

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With this in mind, I put together a survey to see what the “typical” experience tended to be, how writers negotiated time expectations when writing and marketing, and asked for some advice. Over 50 authors jumped in to share their experiences. I’m going to get out of the way and let you peruse the results.

How many times have you been published?

Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 2.33.01 PMWhen was your first book released?

1990s – 4
2006 – 2
2009 – 2
2011 – 5
2012 – 4
2013 – 6
2014 – 6
2015 – 8
2016 – 6
2017 – 4
2018 – 1

Did you publish the same book that you were querying when you signed with your agent?

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How many publishing house read your book before you signed? Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 2.57.44 PM

How many books were included in your first contract?

42 authors signed a single book deal.
6 authors signed a two book deal.
5 authors signed a three book deal.
One author signed four books, and one author signed six (this one was direct author to publisher)

Has the entirety of your publishing career been with the same publishing house? Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 3.03.02 PM

If you have changed publishing houses, which book was it with? screen-shot-2018-01-19-at-3-03-33-pm.png

Considering the amount of time you have available to write, what % is spent crafting and what % is for marketing?

(for reference, the 1st number is crafting/the 2nd is marketing)

7 – 90/10
1 – 85-15
10 – 80/20
3 – 75/25
6 – 70/30
1 – 65/35
5 – 60/40
14 – 50/50
4 – 40/60
3 – 30/70

What advice do you have for authors who just signed their first contract?

  • Don’t be shy about communicating with your editor and publicist when you have questions or ideas.
  • It’s never too soon to start working on your next book
  • Always be writing.
  • Enjoy the honeymoon
  • Don’t stop learning. Book 1 is part of the journey, but keep writing, keep honing your craft so future books can be even better.
  • Market a lot at first, keep writing too
  • Read and understand what you’ve really agreed to.
  • Don’t compare to other authors!!
  • Get an agent.
  • You’re not done waiting.
  • Enjoy the giddy, crispy delight of having done this amazing thing. Then take a deep breath, because there’s way more work than glory ahead. ??
  • Keep writing. Book one is just one piece of your career.
  • Make sure to read the contract before you signing you don’t understand it ask for help
  • Build a mailing list!
  • Keep your day job
  • Be clear on the expectations
  • Be careful and read the final print of the contract. Make sure you have an agent who has your back.
  • Start writing the next book! One book does not a career make.
  • Try not to fret social media
  • Connect with other authors who are in a similar situation. It really helps when questions come up.
  • Don’t be a jerk
  • Build relationships based on commonalities and a desire to support others–not on hoping people buy your book. Have your agent be ultra-involved in marketing plans with an aim toward getting you as much support as possible. Remember this is a long game, a marathon not a sprint, and focus on your next book, and your next, and…
  • You make your living writing, not waiting. At first, I was nearly frozen with fear as I waited for edits or notes from my editor (agent) but I’ve quickly learned that that time is golden. It is time to try new ideas, work on my craft, build the next book. Oh, and become friends with your cover artist! Getting to know her/him will be a HUGE help if you need additional art for swag etc. They will also LOVE to help spread the word for you on their social media channel because it is their work too.
  • Be patient and keep writing
  • Focus on the good parts and celebrate them
  • All your marketing efforts are a drop in the bucket. If I were going back, I’d focus on a few select things I like or really want to try and would just spend the rest of my time on the next book.
  • Don’t rush to sign a contract. Don’t rush to fire your agent.
  • Get marketing savvy. You still have to do a lot yourself.
  • Remember you have little control about what happens next. Focus on editing your book to the best it can be and let go of the rest.
  • Before you sign, don’t rush. Don’t settle. Read it twice. If you sign, be cautious. Be clear. They’re not doing you a favor. This is your career.
  • Begin your next manuscript as soon as possible. Do not stop writing.
  • Write your next book and consider going indie. 😉
  • Breathe. Ask questions. Advocate for your book and your career. Meet your deadlines.
  • Nothing is as big a deal as it seems. Things will happen that you’ll be sure are going to ruin the book, the events, your career. It won’t. Don’t sweat it. Just keep working.
  • Everything is going to be fine.
  • Lay strong marketing groundwork now. Build relationships with people.
  • The first contract is just the beginning, not the final milestone. Enjoy all the little successes, because there will be lots of things that don’t pan out the way you expect them to. Cultivate gratitude and try to keep your eyes on your own paper–envy is hard to avoid, but poisonous to creativity.
  • Enjoy it!
  • Treat the time between signing and actual release day as a learning experience.
    It depends on whether they signed via an agent or not. If it’s an experienced agent, let them handle it. Ask for twice the number of finished copies they offer. Ask for print ARCs. Remember that while your sights are on a single book your editor is juggling multiple titles. All are important to him or her; keep that in mind when emailing, etc.
  • Keep writing, keep making connections like you’re still trying to get published
  • Start networking!
  • Just keep swimming
  • Keep your head down and work on your craft. There is so much out of your control.
  • Try not to compare yourself to other writers. Everyone’s journey is different, but all are valid.
  • Expand your platform as much as you can now. Be gracious. Watch out for people who just want to take your money. Ask around before signing up for marketing/promo services.
  • Be prepared to do a LOT of marketing on your own, no matter how you are published.
  • Ask questions!
  • Be informed. Stand up for yourself. If you’re panicking, you’re in the majority.
  • Be willing to make your own magic happen– your publisher likely won’t do it for you.
  • Make sure you have a lawyer look over the contract. Watch out for contracts that want to claim all future works or who will force you to purchase your rights back.
  • Editorial feedback is not always direct, so trust your gut. “We need a bigger plot point here” may mean “you need to make us care more here.”
  • Have an attorney review it. Don’t get sucked into the hype of the moment.

What advice do you have for authors who have to go on submission after having worked with a publishing house?

  • Be patient and prepared for change
  • None. I’m about to do the same thing.
  • Understand this happens to everyone. Publishing houses make mistakes and editors get fired or hired away, all of which are to of your control. Switching publishing houses is not necessarily a bad thing.
  • Sometimes the journey is hard and ugly. But it’ll get good again eventually.
  • Be patient and start working on something else
  • Keep writing.Keep submitting.
  • You’ve got this.
  • Keep moving forward
  • Evaluate how your agent or publisher has performed for your book and don’t be afraid to jump ship.
  • If you have to start over trying to find a new agent or new publisher, I would say gird your loins! And never give up, and stay busy on a new project.
  • Keep your chin.
  • It’s not the end of the world. Many authors end up publishing different works with different publishers. You’ve got a leg up in the process since you have books out there in the world and a web presence already.
  • If you want to publish traditionally, don’t give up.
  • Don’t think about it. Write the next book instead.
  • Hang in there. You did it once, and it will happen again. Maybe even at a better house than your first turned out to be.
  • It takes time. Oh my goodness, so MUCH TIME! Before finding a publisher that was a fit for me, we went out on submission to at lease 20 different editors/houses. I piled up comments, collected them, then finally started writing something new.
  • Before we had even collected all of our responses I had a new book ready and THAT is the book that finally found a home. Did I mention it takes a long time?
  • Solidarity, friends.
  • Don’t take any contract if it means changing your manuscript in a way you don’t want to.
  • Good luck and keep writing.
  • Being on sub is the worst anticipation. Fill your time with non-related writing activities as much as possible.
  • All the eggs in one basket is not the norm. It’s okay to be at more than one house, and self-published at the same time.
  • Most of us do have to chAnge publishers from time to time. Don’t be discouraged
  • Consider going the indie route. 😉 My indie book makes more than my book with a publisher…and I get paid every month and can see all the numbers.
  • Take courage. Believe in yourself and your writing. Absolutely write the next book, and focus on the things you can control!
  • Keep your tribe close. There are no guarantees in this business. You’ll need them more than ever.
  • Submission sucks. Be kind to yourself. Remember that your worth is not tied up in your writing–and even your worth as an author isn’t solely dependent upon whether or not a publisher buys your books.
  • It’s brutal out there. Believe in yourself and enjoy the act of writing.
  • Keep trying. There’s a home out there for it somewhere.
  • Best advice: never get angry in publishing (agent, editor, copyeditor, PR folks). It’s not personal–though it certainly will feel like it is.
  • Patience, grasshopper, it only takes one YES
  • As much as possible, try and write the next book and forget about the one on sub. It can take a LONG time, but that is no reflection on the quality of your work.
  • My bias is toward finding an agent you trust and who believes in your work 100%. That might include telling you a particular book of yours doesn’t have a market right now. This is certainly harsh to hear but I really do believe agents know and understand the market better than most writers do.
  • It’s OK to feel bad. Submission isn’t fun. Stock up on junk food and binge watch your favorite shows when you need to.
  • Develop a nice, thick, shell. I’ll be “out there” again after book #2, and at least I know now not to take rejection personally!
  • Get writing on something new
  • Turn the MS over to your agent and forget about it. Do something else, write something else. That book, for the time being, is not in your hands.
  • Find other things that bring you joy, and focus on them.
  • Each house has its own business plan. Whether or not your project is a fit may have nothing to do with the quality of your manuscript. Reality is, if they don’t know how to sell it, they aren’t the publisher for you.
  • Persistence outweighs skill 10 times out of 10

How do these experiences align with what you’ve experienced or heard? Have any advice you’d like to add? 


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Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. A co-founder of Thinking Through Our Fingers, she is the managing editor of the writing-focused website as well as a contributor to Writers in the Storm. She is passionate about helping women nourish their creativity and is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, where she serves as a board member. The former high school English teacher now assists in managing the award-winning project-based learning program (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven and is the mom of three teens. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.

Merry Christmas!

Most of our contributors celebrate today as one where we gather with family and friends (and then escape our loved ones for good books).

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We hope that you and yours have a joyous day, that there is a little more light in your life than normal, and offer our gratitude for your support and engagement with all the Thinking Through Our Fingers contributors.


What Makes You Happy?

I had a moment of transcendent happiness a few weeks ago. Now, I’m not an unhappy person, as a rule. Though my family may disagree, I believe I tend to stay pretty evenly keeled. My bouts with crushing, wrenching despair are probably as rare as my bouts with supreme joy. But this moment struck me, and because I’m fairly scientific by nature, I spent some time trying to analyze just what the formula for that sort of happiness was.

I was in the French Quarter of New Orleans, sitting at a restaurant with my husband and my in-laws, and we were two long days into a road trip from Utah to Florida. (Which on the outset sounds more like a recipe for tearing one’s hair out than bliss, doesn’t it?) New Orleans wasn’t a stop on the quickest route, but my mother-in-law had never been there, and my husband and I hadn’t been back since our honeymoon, so we decided it was worth the extra couple hours of travel time. So we fought our way through narrow, crowded streets, found parking, walked for a bit, and did a quick online search for good lunch spots. And now here we were, seated next to French doors opened wide onto the street. It was mid-November and seventy degrees. Rock music and jazz battled it out in the distance, with additional percussion provided by road work a couple of blocks over. Traffic bustled past—foot, vehicular, and horse-drawn carriage. The scent of fresh manure floated in on the breeze, courtesy of the latter. From within, there was a noise of clattering dishes and people talking. Over everything was a tantalizing odor of Cajun food.

And I realized I was happy. Purely, blissfully, incredibly happy.

(No, it wasn’t the drinks, thanks for asking. They hadn’t even arrived yet.)

There are words for supreme happiness, but none of them seem to fit. Terms like rapture, beatitude, and ecstasy imply a religious angle (or a sexual one, which is an odd but not incomprehensible intersection of meaning). But it’s not about religion. Or about sex. It might be akin to the feeling one gets when falling in love—that magnificent sense of everything being fated. The conviction that no one has ever, ever felt this way before—that you’ve discovered a grand new emotion.

But really, I suppose, it’s just—being in the moment, being completely content. Knowing that this instant, this right now, is where you are supposed to be.

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If I ask you what makes you happy, chances are, you’ll talk about the things you love most in the world. Spouse, family, children, to start. And I agree. Don’t get me wrong—I agree. But that sort of happiness, at least for me, has always been fraught with so much else. With my children, for example, I’ve always tempered happiness with worry for their futures, responsibility for their wellbeing, guilt over not doing the many, many things the world tells us a good parent should be doing. There’s always something left undone when I’m dealing with the people I love, something niggling at the back of my mind that tells me I might be inadequate.

What about a good job well done? What about writing? I understood two things, that moment in New Orleans. First, that this is the same feeling I get sometimes after a good day’s writing. And second, that for me, there are some profound similarities between writing and that afternoon in a crowded restaurant.

Writing is also fraught with worries, of course. Once you share your words with the world, you open yourself up to criticism. What will the reader/agent/editor/publisher think? If writing is a career, the worries compound exponentially. But there was that nugget of joy, wasn’t there? That pure moment when you said, “Yes, this is where I’m supposed to be.”

That day in New Orleans, I discovered three reasons for my happiness. First, I was exploring a strange and exciting new place. What was around the next corner? My feet itched to wander, even if only for a few minutes. Second, I was sharing my admittedly limited knowledge of the area with others. I’d been there once before, but my mother-in-law hadn’t. I wanted to show her around, and I had just enough confidence in my abilities to feel good about that. Thirdly, there was the immediate prospect of good food—always serious business for me (ask anyone).

When we write—and maybe what I’m saying is particularly specific to fiction, but I think it applies to nonfiction as well—we’re leading our readers on a journey through a wonderful new world. We’re their guides, knowledgeably showing them the highlights, the things that could touch their souls. And there’s just enough of the unknown in it for us as well that it’s still exciting to see what’s around the next bend. (But what about the good food, you ask? Believe me, if I could add it to my manuscripts, I would.)

Is there stress, worry, guilt? Of course. But sometimes we get lucky and all that fades into the background, and we set off into the wild—intrepid leaders following the trail of story.

And now it turns out I have a word for that type of happiness after all. Because out of all the ways I’ve phrased it above, one of them keeps resonating with me. Maybe it’s the season, but that word is joy.

May we all have joyful writing in the coming year.


Kristina Starmer lives in Southern Utah with her husband, son, dog, and more cats than she likes to admit. When not working as a university chemistry lab manager, she can most likely be found rereading one of her favorite books. She is passionate about traveling to new places, ice cream with lots of mix-ins, and the peaches from her garden. Her favorite children’s book is The Owl and the Pussycat and her favorite element is copper. She writes renaissance-era historical fiction topped with a generous scoop of magic.

Being Courageous & Vulnerable: Writer Edition

I have had numerous conversations lately with people who have had questions about something related to publishing, something that their agent or editor might know, but for reasons including mental health issues, insecurity about writing, or a desire to not be that client, they have each paused and let the stress fester a little.

It can be a very scary thing to send an email to someone who you respect, but with whom you have some feelings of frustration, whether it be something that you don’t understand as well as you should, feedback that wasn’t provided when you thought it would be, or writerly imposter syndrome in general.

For these kinds of situations (and so many others in my life) I reach into the vault of brilliance provided by Brené Brown – this time from her book Rising Strong.  In it, she states over and over about the importance of us acknowledging the story we are telling ourselves. Please note that this isn’t the story that is true or the story that is rational – it is the story we are telling ourselves.

For example, I endure depression. I don’t like to say I suffer from it, though sometimes I do. So, the voices that tend to visit me circulate around being enough of whatever the flavor is of the day. I talk to myself as I’m getting ready for the day, greeting those thoughts when I am able to recognize as depression thoughts by their name (our theme song for this meeting is The Sound of Silence. The Disturbed version is best for me). If I am able to tell when I’m in a depression cyclone and when I am having valid concerns, it helps.

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Then, I choose key moments to share this reality with the professionals I work with. I do NOT recommend this conversation take place at the beginning of the relationship; however, it is something that I think should be shared in close partnerships, and a quality agent or editor relationship should be a close partnership.

With that out of the way, the courage comes in. There are some key things to keep in mind when starting such a conversation:

  1. DO NOT WRITE/CALL WHEN YOU ARE ON AN EMOTIONAL ROLLER COASTER. There are going to be times when the initial response to something sends your thoughts and feelings on unpredictable loops and that is not the time to talk. I have a colleague who has a sticky note on her computer that says “24 hours.” As soon as she has an email/voicemail/hears of a conversation that gets her heart racing, she looks at it and waits. This is wisdom for many situations. Practice it often and even in excess.
  1. Always, always, start with a humane greeting, a sincere inquiry into how things are going, an expression of gratitude for what has been done. Agents and editors work very hard for a lot of people, and you have the opportunity to be part of that. That’s amazing. Express your gratitude often.
  1. Lay the foundation for where you are coming from:
    • “One of the things that I was wondering . . .”
    • “I’ve always been the kind of person who . . .”
    • “A question that I have had for a while is . . . “

One of the things to remember with this part is that you can come across as accusatory VERY easily. That is not what you want to do.

This is where Brené Browning comes in. You have to convey the story you are telling yourself. It can be incredibly scary. It can feel terrifying. But honest, true expression wins over and over and over.

  1. Present options for resolving the issues you feel need to be addressed. This can be asking for some particular document that you have heard about but not seen. This can be a request to talk more in-depth in the future. This can even be an estimated timeline to receive feedback.

Some candid advice about this kind of openness: one big course correction every once in a while is necessary, but equally necessary is that you, as the author, do everything in your power to make the minor modifications as the journey toward your publication goals continues. It is not healthy for individuals within the relationship or for the relationship in general to lock everything up, let it build, send an email full of courage and vulnerability, and then start over.

There is so much uncertainty within the world of publication – the relationship you have with the people who are help you meet your goals should not have that uncertainty. And if you aren’t certain if what you are sharing has the appropriate tone, ask a trusted confidant/friend/spouse to do a read through for you. For many writers (too many writers) these kinds of moments have made them realize that the relationship they have with their agent or editor isn’t what they thought it was. That brings a whole other blogpost for another time, but please remember that you are working together in a professional partnership. If the relationship you have with your agent/editor is as strong as you’d like it to be, vulnerability and courage will reward you with peace of mind, and that is priceless.


Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. A co-founder of Thinking Through Our Fingers, she is the managing editor of the writing-focused website as well as a contributor to Writers in the Storm. She is passionate about helping women nourish their creativity and is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, where she serves as a board member. The former high school English teacher now assists in managing the award-winning project-based learning program (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven and is the mom of three teens. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.