How to Support Your Writer

How to Support Your Writer Friend or Family

So this is outside my posting time, but I consider this a writing emergency. I got an email today from a friend’s dad and he needs help. So here I am. And if anyone wants to add on to gifts that could work, please do in the comments below!

Dear Darlene,

You don’t know me, but I know you’re a friend of my son, Max. He told me you know how to help him with his writer stuff. Max‘s birthday is coming up next week and I don’t know what to do. It’s been tight lately and we’re living off of my wife’s salary because my arm’s still in a cast. I can’t go back to work for two weeks. Can you help me figure out what to give him for his birthday?



(names changed to protect the secret birthday endeavor)

Dear John,

I totally get you! Life is hard and when you want to give your child the world but only have a bit of cash for everything including food it’s tough. And then you’ve got list out there with everything from a normal notebook to software that is over two hundred a pop – and these things add up!

First, I have to say that I love your encouragement and support of your son’s creative endeavors. His fiction is awesome and I can say that because I’ve read it. I wouldn’t be where I am without the support (and sometimes cajoling) of my family. So keep it up – he may not say it, but your support means the world to him. Good job, dad!

I’ve put my thinking cap on and compiled a list I think you’re going to like. If this list doesn’t have him covered, just message me and we’ll brainstorm more together!

Best, Darlene

An Emerging Author/Beginning Author’s Support List, or Actions to Support Your Writer on His Birthday or Anytime

Show up

Show up online and support his book release Show up in person at readings and events. I know he doesn’t have an event coming up soon, but in the future if you can, buy his books at those events – it’s important to his future success to see his work as important to you too. (you can do this later)

Share Your Skills

Show up if he needs you – I know you’re computer smart, so share your skills. Help him out with his website, or take a really professional photo for his site.


Share his links! Blogs, amazon links, short stories – he wants to connect with people and share his unique voice. You know a lot of people who might be interested in his work – keep sharing (although this may not be okay for birthday…it works all the time).

Healthy Treats

Supply healthy treats. I know the person in question is a beef-jerky loving, Rockstar-chugging kind of guy, so balance that off with other things he likes.


Don’t laugh – this is one of my favorite things and I’m betting his too. I’ve seen him write by hand. Support his practice – my favorite gift ever was a journal (don’t laugh) my sister gave me – a massive thing with a hard top she bought from an Army reserve store that has tons of blank pages. This thing isn’t going to fit in my backpack – it lives next to my desk and is taken out for special occasions…daily when the writing needs to be inspired. For more information on hacking a moleskin, check out this article from


His favorite pen is a black Pilot Precise rolling ball pen. They come in two or three packs. They are awesome and as he drafts in pen, will be really helpful. (tip: price compare – I have four stores locally that sells them and the prices are varied.)

Time in Nature

Things that lay the groundwork for his creativity – he loves hiking – maybe a certificate so when you’re better you two can go hiking on Mt. Rainier (or wherever) for a weekend.

A Writing Nook of His Own

A place in the house of his own where he can write – outside his bedroom – now this one could take some doing, but would be on the top of this writer’s list – I know you have a fabulous basement that you don’t use except for movies – and you know I love movies – but find a place in that area and have his brothers set up a desk with his two file cabinets and a couple of wood planks. Pull one of the chairs from somewhere in the house and set it up as his writer corner. He’ll love it.

Writer’s Retreat

This one is awesome and I’ve done it myself a couple of times – set up a DIY writer’s retreat, either at home or away – the place doesn’t matter. What matters is the idea – two whole days to do nothing but write. There are times when I want to do nothing but isolate in that kind of space, and I bet he does too.

Crafty T-shirt

I know your wife is fantastic at crafting stuff – could she take a t-shirt and make a press-on saying or hand letter one of his favorite quotes? If you aren’t familiar with them, don’t worry, here are ideas: “writer” (hey, it worked for Castle!), “Leveling Up My Craft,” “Fiction > Reality,” “Write On,” or something writerish.

DIY Writer Kit

Make him a DIY writer kit – pull together paper, pens, index cards, sticky notes, and his favorite candy, and wrap it in a cool bag or box – I have one of these for on-the-go writing.

Monthly Calendar

Make a calendar he can post on his wall. I know he’s in CampNaNoWriMo in April and will probably need a whole month’s challenge. That would be awesome! Put notes on it and for each of the days write a goal of 1,667 wpd. He’ll know exactly what I mean (and wonder how you knew his goal of 1,667 words per day [Note to writers: if you’re thinking about joining us for Camp, you can set your own goals. Max set a goal of 50k for the month])!

Scrabble Saying or Nameplate

Now you’ll never hear me say this, but we don’t play scrabble anymore (it was replaced with Bananagrams), so the tiles from my scrabble board aren’t in use…I took the tiles and the tile holders and created sayings – one of them is on my desk now – it says “write on” and the other is a nameplate. Simple, but effective, and it looks fantastic! Also, check out this website for more Scrabble Crafts (the cuff links are cool!)

Print Cool Wall Art

So I saw an article in the Seattle Times on March 4 about NASA and Perspective…but there was an insert on how to make large prints of NASA images. The coolest shot I’ve ever seen is “Earthrise” astronaut Bill Anders’ photo from Dec 24, 1968. If that doesn’t inspire him to write science fiction, I don’t know what will. It gives me goosebumps every time I see it. There are tons of photos on the NASA image website – and I’m saying this because you could easily print out a couple images and post them on the wall of his new office space… Here is NASA’s image website.

I hope this list has helped you or at least given you an idea of what kinds of things are useful to writers. I know it’s just a start. When I think out of everything on this list, time with you in nature would be the biggest thing – it would also give him an experience to write about. Saving that, go for the home office – we all need our spaces!

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Writing Toolbox: 20 Questions to Ask Yourself and Your Writing

Writing toolbox writing questions darwrites 2017

If you’re like me, you need inspiration and persistence to keep at this writing journey. I’ve been processing a lot lately and wanted to help writers who, like me, are in the thick of work and want to add meaning and more to their work. Here I’ve assembled the twenty questions I’ve asked myself this month about my writing. I hope it helps you and your writing.

Writing Toolbox Questions DarWrites 2017 (PDF)

Write on,







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Art & Yeats: the Wild Swans at Coole


Come with me on an experiment into the world of poetry. During my time at Goddard, I wrote a lot of things, but the coolest (besides the novel) is a hybrid cross-genre of poetry and review. In this piece, I bounce off of William Butler Yeats. Come and join me in a strange land where writers of the present commune with wordsmiths of the past.

Art & Yeats: The Wild Swans at Coole

Emotion-invoking poetry

Unlocks the brain

Through brevity, rhyme and rhythm.

Yeats assembles words

Decadently, mysteriously, magically,

Touching the core of the soul

In a way nothing else can.

Poetry is the breath of life.

Yeats’ poetry is time travel:

In one moment I transport to

Coole (1) then Kiltaran Cross (13) and beyond.

Imagery tickles the imagination:

“The trees are in their autumn beauty, /

The woodland paths are dry, /

“Under the October twilight the water

Mirrors a still sky” (1).

My heart lights up like fireflies in July.

Like his man, his words

“took all my heart for speech” (12).

“Be passionate” he says (23).

“[Sing] till stars began to fade” (18).

I’m not a rhymer, but I love the dance of rhythm on a page.

“You have measured out the road that the soul treads /

When it has vanished from our natural eyes; /

That you have talked with apparitions” (35).

My heart reacts first, then my mind

To words and feels I cannot describe.

“For those that love the world serve it /

In action” (83).

Art, he says,

“Is but a vision of reality” (83)

My mind cannot fathom the depths inside some of his vision,

Nevertheless, I try

“And trace these characters upon the sands” (84),

But like sand paintings, they do not last.

I grasp to hold, but must let go.

He steals my heart:

“May handle nothing and set eyes on nothing /

But what the great and passionate have used /

Throughout so many varying centuries” (86).

Yeats poems translate through history

They dance in our minds because he is humanity—we all want to touch souls.


This book rates three stars.



Works Cited

Yeats, W.E. The Wild Swans at Coole. Norwood, Mass: Bibliolife, LLC. n.d. McMillan

Company, 1919. Print.

©2017 Darlene Reilley All Rights Reserved.

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Mamma Writes: On Writing and Teaching Creative Writing by Alexandra Panic


Mamma Writes

And just in the right moment, I heard the melodious voice of my daughter. “Mama writes,” she said, and the idea sparkled in front of my eyes like her favorite light-up shoes. I didn’t need a marriage of two nouns to define myself. I needed a noun and a verb. I needed a sentence. One straightforward and true sentence. The Hemingway sentence. “Mama writes.” – Alexandra Panic


It is 6.15 am on Monday morning and I get to choose a window seat in the local coffee shop where in any other hour during the day this privilege isn’t possible. The window faces east from where the sun is shyly rising to join me in the scene. This coffee shop had become my office when I challenged myself to pursue the master’s degree in creative writing, and even after I graduated it remained my “writing space.” The room of my own that is only seemingly occupied by so many people. The humming of espresso machines, the splatter of empty plates, the baristas’ calls to their customers whose smoking hot double-shot lattes with various choices of milk are ready on the counter. All these sounds grew to become just a background noise for me, and surprisingly comforting. Like the hums of the white noise machine that, inside the body of a fluffy sheep, lived in the corner of my daughters’ cribs, soothing them to sleep. A mother can find silence in any room emptied of her children’s sounds. And in that apparent silence, she can hear the shy voices from her heart and write.

I have always been a writer. In Serbia, were I was born and lived until 2009, I had three collections of poetry published, my articles appeared in various magazines, and I worked full-time as a copywriter. As all writers, I often doubted my words and tore and threw away many pages, but I kept writing. Never had I thought that I could lose my voice until it happened.

In the fall of 2009, my husband and I moved to Seattle. After we settled down, I felt the overwhelming need to rediscover myself. The continent-swap gave me freedom to do whatever I wanted; to be whoever I dreamed of becoming. I could change my identity; I could even change my appearance because the life I had once identified with had already been transformed.

However, even though exploring new possibilities seemed thought-provoking, deep in my soul I was confident of my vocation. I was a writer. But, at a time I was a writer who lost her language. I became mute, wordless. The world seemed completely erased as if someone had accidentally chosen the option delete all. I took creative writing classes, but I found little sense in my effort: what was the purpose of knowing the elements of the craft when I couldn’t use them without a language?

My first pregnancy changed everything: the baby I was carrying inside me transformed my body and my brain. I found a new purpose. Or I just hid from my disappointment under the pile of parenting books, trying to prepare for motherhood by studying parenting like I studied philology and literature. As I stopped reading fiction, I stopped writing as well. And I felt relief. I had been a writer in my past life, and now I was a mom.

The days and months ran by at full speed. I had my hands full when my daughter was awake, and I was busy cleaning, cooking, and even ironing her tiny clothes while she napped. I stressed about every step we made as parents, mindful of any mistakes that could ruin her development.

And I hadn’t realized how unhappy I was before my daughter made first friends at the playground, and their parents asked me what did I do, and I couldn’t tell. I wanted to say that I was a writer, but I could not pronounce the words. It had been a year or more since I last wrote, and it seemed that I had no occupation other than being a mother. Although being a full-time mom was the hardest job in the world, and I physically had zero time to do anything else, I was tortured by the recurring nightmare of fall and failure. Every night I would wake up from a dream in which I had taken a plunge from a high point. Water, grass, rocks, or asphalt interchanged underneath me while I kept falling and failing. I used to be a writer and now I was a mom. And even though becoming a mom was the most wonderful experience of my life, I still had to answer the what do you do question. If to nobody else but to my own daughter in a few years. I knew I had to claim myself back and to recover my voice. Also, I had to adopt English as my literary language.

When my daughter was nine-months old, I enrolled into a Creative Writing Certificate Course at University of Washington in Seattle; the class offered me structure and a supportive community of writers among whom there were other moms. I was inspired to fight for my voice. A few hours a week at the beginning, in a coffee shop in my neighborhood, or at a bench on the playground when my daughter napped. In those months, our diaper bag was often out of necessities but there was always a book inside and a pen and paper. A wet diaper wouldn’t harm her, but a great sentence, if not written in the moment, would be lost.

Slowly, I got back to writing, but I still couldn’t say that I was a writer. I treated writing as a hobby. Fortunately, my daughter didn’t. Every time I picked up my big tote bag, containing my laptop and my books, and headed out to write, she would acknowledge me, saying “Mama writes.” In those two simple words, two-year-old Jovana defined her mother. And it took me more than three years after I had heard the sentence the first time, and another pregnancy, to comprehend it and to adopt it as a defining essence of who I was—a mother and a writer. For a long time, I tried to separate those two. But separated, the different parts of me suffered.

When I made the best and the crazies of all decisions—to apply for an MFA program in Creative Writing, and my husband supported me unreservedly, we didn’t know I was pregnant again. But we both knew that, at that point in my life, writing became inevitable. I had to write NOW, or my voice would be forever lost. So, I became a pregnant graduate student with solid deadlines, which propelled me to write more and to better organize the little time that I had. Because of the intensity of the program, I hadn’t stop writing not even for my semester-long maternity leave. Once my story was conceived, it started to grow and develop like a human life. And it was unstoppable and so natural.

In my third semester, when my daughters were five and one, I was required to design and complete a teaching practicum. I had taught languages before, and I was looking forward to teaching again, but I didn’t know who should I teach. And just in the right moment, I heard the melodious voice of my daughter. “Mama writes,” she said, and the idea sparkled in front of my eyes like her favorite light-up shoes. I didn’t need a marriage of two nouns to define myself. I needed a noun and a verb. I needed a sentence. One straightforward and true sentence. The Hemingway sentence. “Mama writes.”

A couple of weeks later, I proposed my plan for teaching moms to write, to my neighbor, the owner of a children’s clothing and toy store, who had a classroom built on the second floor of the venue, intending to start an educational program for moms and children. She was happy to offer me her space. As simple as its name, Mama Writes Creative Writing Course began last April on an unexpectedly warm Tuesday night and welcomed eight moms who for a long time harbored a dream, but didn’t dare to act upon it.

The first class was the hardest. I had names of the women who answered my ad, but I didn’t know anything else about them. It was impossible to come up with a structure for the first session without knowing who they were and what were their interests. But my biggest fear, in fact, wasn’t the teaching. It was the sentence I had to articulate in front of my class. “I am Alexandra Panic, the writer.”

I relaxed when my students entered the classroom. I could clearly see on their faces that they were at least as nervous as their teacher. To break the ice, I offered them chocolates and told them about my path to becoming a writer. What I noticed later when they introduced themselves was that almost all began with “Before I became a mom, I was a lawyer / a copywriter / a journalist / a scientist…” The structure “before I became a mom” resonated for days in my head. As if each of them was a different persona before stepping into motherhood. A separate character that now felt left behind.

While I was preparing my practicum, I read Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, so I brought up the idea of having a room of one’s own, which in our case could be the classroom, or metaphorically—half a day each week dedicated to writing. We talked about our daily routines and our schedules and priorities as mothers, trying to figure out where we should pin down our writing hours. In all their answers, I recognized the undercurrent that I knew well—the sneaking feeling of guilt. One student pointed out that mothers wouldn’t even try to do something if they doubted they could do it well. Her thought made me realize what my mamas needed. Most of all—they needed encouragement. They needed to feel at peace when leaving their toddlers with young babysitters, so they could come to my writing class; they needed a strong push to resist the terror of the blank page and to put their first words on paper, and they needed a supportive group of women experiencing the same thing. I left my first class with an exciting determination. MAMA WRITES should inspire and encourage women to start writing, give them enough knowledge so they could write well and create a supportive community they could count on after the class was over. Unexpectedly, with the help of one simple sentence, I found another purpose: I would help women make their way (back) to writing.

By the third class, eight mamas got to know each other better. They came to the classroom ten minutes earlier and jumped into a conversation about their kids, and their challenges in parenting. They exchanged ideas and asked each other for advice. But at five o’ clock precisely, someone would open a discussion about the craft. After each woman had given her answer, they turned to me, waiting for my thoughts. As the classroom filled with an unexpectedly good energy, I acknowledged that my students started to perceive this space as the “room of their own” where they can focus on what interests them. They opened themselves to the wonders of fiction, and they started to think how to implement what they learned so far. They also brought up their concern about their progress. They wanted to do their best because they still felt guilty for claiming time for themselves. I reassured them saying that the greatest reward at this point should be their delight while writing.

When they asked whether they should write only about the things they knew well, like about motherhood, I considered what Robert Frost had said, that a fiction writer should be able to tell what happened to himself as if it had happened to someone else, and vice versa. And Virginia Woolf wrote in A room of One’s Own that fiction must stick to facts, and the truer the facts the better the fiction. But what I saw as the most important and what I decided to tell them was the premise that a writer should approach a theme with excitement. Therefore, we should write what we are passionate about.

When I came home that night, I thought about the purpose of writing, and this is what I have been sharing with my students ever since:

“Writing should be your outlet; your stress relief, your fun, your go-to thing when there is both internal and external pressure in your life. There is an immeasurable freedom in fiction that, when we embrace it, can change our lives in so many ways. In fiction—you can be and do anything. Isn’t that intriguing? Relax, don’t over think, and write. Create a character and let her be.”

Many times, I came across the statement that writing is a journey of self-discovery. We learn about ourselves as much as we learn about our characters. Teaching creative writing proved to be a daring journey of discovery for me, and quite different than teaching a foreign language.

It has been a year since I accepted a role of a writing instructor, promising to be there to support the moms from my neighborhood in their journey into the land of writing, and during this time I didn’t only grow as a teacher, but as a writer as well. I graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing, and I wrote a novel. Every question my students raised resonated for days (and some still do) in my head. I tried to answer their questions primarily to myself, applying what I discovered to my work in progress, and ultimately, I gave adequate answers to them. A creative writing teacher is a guide who carries a flashlight. But there isn’t a right or wrong way. And there isn’t a rule that we cannot break. In teaching creative writing, a teacher should never think that writing is what she knows best. Every step she takes leads to another discovery. Just like in parenting. We can’t teach our kids happiness, but we can light their paths.

As a writer and as a woman, I inhabited many characters, trying to give the best performance in each of my roles: a caring mother, a loving wife, a thoughtful daughter, a supportive sister, a trusted friend, a humble daughter-in-law, a diligent student, a kind and patient writing teacher. Some days are bright yellow, and I think I got it all. Some days are gray, and everything seems to be falling apart. On a gray day, I take my own advice, and I embrace the one role that never weighted on me—the role of a writer.

It is 7.55 on Tuesday evening and the coffee shop where I write and prepare my classes is about to close. My daughters are waiting for me to read them a story before they go to bed. My husband is waiting for me too. And after my family falls asleep, I may have one more hour to write. Or I will continue my journey tomorrow in small increments of time that I have, and that, after I embraced all parts of myself, have become just enough.

Alexandra Panic

Alexandra Panic, photo courtesy Alexandra Panic

Alexandra Panic lives with her family in Seattle, Washington, where she writes, teaches creative writing, and edits fiction for Pif Magazine. She is originally from Belgrade, Serbia, although her soul is Italian. She holds a BA degree in Italian Language and Literature from Belgrade University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. Want to write with her? Check out her workshops in Seattle.

She had three collections of poetry published in the Serbian language, and she wrote her first novel in English. Her words have appeared in The Pitkin, The Writer in the World, and Pif Magazine.

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Surprise! Here’s a Writing Prompt

Darwrites Writing Prompt

Surprise! Here’s a writing prompt from my writer’s journal just for you! Want more? Check out 1,001 Plots to Get You Started.

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Pathos, Ethos, and Logos in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart

Pathos, Ethos, and Logos in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart

by Darlene Reilley

Let every people bring their gifts to the great festival of the world’s cultural harvest and mankind will be all the richer for the variety and distinctiveness of the offerings. – Chinua Achebe (PCSR 76)

things fall apart.png


All African writers are compared with Chinua Achebe, and all African literature is compared with Things Fall Apart. Achebe won the Man Booker International Prize in 2007 and other prestigious honors. Achebe writes about what he knows—African cultures. In TFA, traditional indigenous African cultures are discussed through the telling of Okonkwo’s life—the ups and downs of a warrior’s life in an Ibo village in Nigeria. African culture and Post-Colonial concerns abound in the novel, but this annotation asks another question: how does Achebe succeed in making this “strong man” into a character with appeal? Plato called the techniques ethos, pathos, and logos. Achebe combines persuasive techniques to make a character most would not like, likeable.    

Achebe uses ethos—the credibility or ethical appeal—to create a world the reader wants to believe in. One reason this novel is so successful is because Achebe uses what he knows—he is an African man and he explores indigenous culture. From the beginning the novel sinks into a traditional story as if it were an oral story: “Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond” (1). Achebe sets the scene with “drums beat” and “flutes sang” and “spectators held their breath” (1). Okonkwo is established as “one of the fiercest [warriors] since the founder of their town engaged a spirit of the wild for seven days and seven nights” (1). Achebe uses traditional oral storytelling methods—establishing a tempo, a setting, and a character to create the believability of the story. But he doesn’t allow the character to win without challenges. “During the planting season Okonkwo worked daily on his farms from cock-crow until the chickens went to roost” (13). Okonkwo is a trusted man (72). Okonkwo admits when he doesn’t know the answer to something (133). Achebe sets up challenges that test the boundaries of the character and make him work for what he wants.

Achebe uses pathos. To start, Okonkwo works hard in his fields and in his training as a warrior because of his father’s failure to work when he was young (13, 17). When Ikemefuna, a boy given to the Ibo tribe to satisfy a debt, comes to the village, he is placed into Okonkwo’s care. Okonkwo treats Ikemefuna like a son. When it’s time to complete the council’s order of killing Ikmefuna, Okonkwo goes with him on the final walk (59-60). In the end, it is Okonkwo who carries out the sentence of the council leaders (60). Okonkwo feels genuine remorse and “did not taste any food for two days” and “did not sleep at night” (63). Later, when his daughter is taken by a priestess to a temple in the middle of the night, he follows and offers to wait until she is released (108). Achebe created a multifaceted character in Okonkwo. Achebe creates a character who is emotionally unavailable, but has a deep want to take care of his family and his clan. 

Achebe uses logos. In one scene where a gathering of women helps prepare a wedding feast, a woman cries out (114). All the women flock to leave, but the priestess says: “We cannot all rush out like that, leaving what we are cooking to burn in the fire” and suggests that a few women stay (114). It is logical that someone has to tend the stoves despite a cry for help. Later in the novel, we learn that it is a crime to “kill a clansman” (124). When Okonkwo’s gun accidentally fires, he is forced to flee for his life (124-125). He gathers his family and runs to the only other people who will take him in—his mother’s relatives (129). His Mother’s brother says “Your mother is there to protect you” and that “mother is supreme” (134). This makes sense in their culture—you turn to your mother for comfort. After his seven-year exile ends, Okonkwo throws a feast to thank his mother’s family for all their help (163-167). His wives say that the party doesn’t have to be so large (164), but his uncle understands: “It is good in these days when the younger generation considers themselves wiser than their sires to see a man doing things in the grand, old way” (166). His uncle tells them that it is good they come together—he is afraid of what may happen if they don’t (167). And finally, when the council decides to not let the missionaries into the clan’s culture, they still include them as people by telling a missionary:

“You can stay with us if you like our ways. You can worship your own god. It is good that a man should worship the gods and the spirits of his fathers. Go back to your house so that you may not be hurt. Our anger is great but we have held it down so that we can talk to you.” (190).

Even though the missionaries and conquerors have done everything they can to harm the people, the people see them as people—perhaps misguided, but people. Achebe uses logical appeal.

Through the use of ethos, pathos, and logos, Achebe has ensured that his character is likeable. When Achebe wrote TFA, he wanted to show the world what it was like from the point of view of an indigenous person. He accomplished that, but also went a step beyond—he allows us to look into a world which we may not have the capability of seeing in person. One thing writers do is shine a light on what aspects of humanity we need to explore. Achebe shows us that one part of mankind is more interesting because of their roots. I give this book three stars.



Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: First Anchor Books. 1994. Print.

“Colonialist Criticism.” In The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. 2nd ed. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffins, and Helen Tiffin, eds. New York: Routledge. 1995. Print.


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Review: Frank Herbert’s Dune


Review of Frank Herbert’s Dune

by Darlene Reilley

Frank Herbert’s Dune is a masterpiece. He is a genius because he creates a world with multilayered depths: planetology, society, technology, and more, down to the very worms that create the spice. Dune is the story of Arrakis, the desert planet, fought over because of spice and the whirling satellites of people that inhabit the galaxy that revolves around the spice. The worldbuilding is so deeply layered, the story feels more real than reality—so real that I thirsted for water like a Fremen.

This is such an epic book because of the detail of planetology Herbert envisioned, but it always comes down to: “Arrakis—Dune—Desert Planet” (6). With those words, he created a place that revolves around one thing the planet doesn’t give up easily—water. The strength of Herbert’s vision goes all the way down to the phrases of his characters: “Now here was a pretty kettle of sandtrout” (Appendix I, 799). He describes plants and winds and salt (803). The planet is hostile to outsiders because they do not adapt to the ways of the desert. During a discussion at dinner, the topic is water—those who control it and those who seemingly do not (98-105). It is such a hot button, the Lady Jessica exclaims: “’Everywhere you turn here, you’re involved with the lack of water” (98). Herbert even gave us a map with cartographic notes so we don’t get lost (865-868). From descriptions of the cities to the dunes, this book captures the imagination of the reader because of the setting.

Another method Herbert employs is a buildup of societies, each with its own outlook, goals, and pressure points. He begins with the lineage of Atreides family (3), introduces the Reverend Mother (4), and the CHOAM Company (5). The first chapter is all about Caladan, the Atreides home planet and it is important because Herbert wanted us to understand how jarring the transition to Arrakis is for them. According to the epigraph of chapter two, you need to see both sides of a story (21), and throughout the novel Herbert embraces this idea by showing both the Atreides and the Harkonnens sides of a “kanly” which means “vendetta” (23). Herbert introduces history in a unique way—through a conversation between the Reverend Mother and Jessica. Reverend Mother reminds her: “We’ve a three-point civilization: the Imperial Household balanced against the Federated Great Houses of the Landsraad, and between them, the Guild…” (36). By introducing information through dialogue, Herbert shares  information in an interesting way. The distinct culture of the Fremen is highlighted (71, 218). Even religions are fleshed out—most interestingly with the Fremen ways (813) and even a “common commandment: ‘Thou shalt not disfigure the soul’” (814). All of the religions are different, but some are influenced by The Missionaria Protectiva (81, 90). One of the interesting religions is the Fremen idea of water rights: “’But all of a man’s water, ultimately, belongs to his people—to his tribe’” Kynes said (222). The idea that will live with me forever is the Benne Gesserit litany: fear is “the mind-killer” (370).

The details of weaponry are another example of the extent of worldbuilding. Technology throughout the book is used to solve problems: still-suits are used by Fremen and locals for travel (177-179, 181), “crysknife” is a special knife made from the Maker’s tooth (63, 95), the Fremen move as a military unit (465), and a “doorseal” is used to protect against the desert conditions (467-8). There is also an idea of technology not working the way it is intended—the off-world people have body shields, but instead of protecting against harm, it attracts harm to the users (108). To stay alive and take Arrakis back, the Duke says they need “Desert power” (140), and later Paul parrots this idea throughout the book. I know that I will never write another battle scene without wishing I had the line, “’May thy knife chip and shatter’” 783.

Dune was published in 1965 and dealt with many factors that arose from the 1950s and 60s, such as environmentalism and the Cold War. There was a race to space, and it’s no surprise that Herbert wrote a tale of fighting houses much like the Allied and Axis powers fought over our planet. But Dune is unique even among the elite of science fiction because the world Frank Herbert created was so detailed and original. This novel is five stars.





Herbert, Frank. Dune. New York: The Berkley Publishing Group, 2010 ed. Print.


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The 2017 Reading Challenge

2017 Reading Challenge

Are you up for a fun reading challenge? Let’s read.




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Train to Writing: a Writer’s Journey

If you’ve ever dove off a cliff into a lake, you know the most terrifying moment isn’t when you’re safe on the ground looking down, it’s the moment after you’ve stepped off the ledge and you think, oh, shit, I hope I don’t hit a rock. Then the water rushes as you plunge down to it and you hit and sink and pray. Writing is like that. Confession: recently I’ve questioned who I am as a writer and if I have the chops and want to do this job.


Darlene Reilley, a Writer’s Journey

At Goddard we read masters of writing and hope to emulate, not their words, but how they accomplished what they did. We dug in the white spaces between the lines. We read Borges, Calvino, Homer, or Kingston with the hopes that their writing mojo would rub off on us. We read and reread and absorb the words on the page as if books were nourishing morsels of life-sustaining energy. We stepped out of the real world and onto the shaky ground of our minds, never knowing if what came out would be gourmet or dog food. We prayed to the muses:





Dearest muse,

Come to me and grant me all you will.

I’m here.

I’m open.

Bring it.


And then we decide that praying isn’t enough – we had to don our t-shirts and yoga pants and get to work. Creating isn’t easy. We pressed on because we were not worriers, we were writers. We sat at desks and stared at bland pages. We sat at library tables ignoring thousands of voices emanating from the stacks that whispered, who are you to be among us? They challenged us with whispers. We stood at tables in coffee houses and typed on laptops attempting magic. We practiced everything we thought we knew.

In The Writer’s Journey, Christopher Vogler wrote, “At the core of every artist is a sacred place where all rules are set aside or deliberately forgotten, and nothing matters but the instinctive choices of the heart and soul of the artist” (xvii).

During my time at Goddard, my heart and soul measured my writing and came up wanting.

I did what any reasonable writer who lives among the clouds would do—I tucked into my work. But I couldn’t just press on, something had shaken me to my core and I had to figure out what and why. I read. I wrote. I read some more. I wrote more. My journal hated me.

When you have a lot on your plate, the universe has a way of piling on even more. Things happen to complicate life until I felt weighted down by life itself. I questioned if I could really do it. Who the heck was I to write a novel?

And then at three in the morning one night as I trolled Pinterest, I ran into a website: NerdFitness. The Muse had spoken. I read article after article on people whose lives were changing because they embraced their nerdiness and wanted to live their lives to the fullest. A self-proclaimed nerd, I signed up for the Rebellion. And then I booked a train trip around the country. And it changed my writing life.


My Amtrak Sleeping Car Darlene Reilley


My Amtrak Room Darlene Reilley


My writer’s journey ran the gauntlet of Amtrak stations—from Tacoma, I traveled south to Sacramento, and then northwest to Chicago, and took an overnight into Erie, PA.

Have you ever been three days without internet?

At the edge of civilization there exists a place between the line of houses and nature where signals do not reach. I was blessed to be there. At the core of my journey was a question: is this writing thing still in my soul, and if so, what was I going to do about it?

Nothing mattered on the trip but the question and the search for the answer.

Somewhere between Colorado and Illinois, my computer died. I wrote on paper, and when that was full, I wrote on napkins with borrowed pens.

I didn’t have the answer when I pulled into Erie. I did have the number for a computer whiz, but even he doubted my computer could be saved. Still, he managed to nudge it along.

I drove south, heading to a small town near Pittsburg to pick up Chris Weigand, my writing friend, and we continued on to Vermont where we enjoyed four days at a writer’s retreat. I didn’t write there. Instead, I focused on the question and spent days pouring into a journal my deepest thoughts.

Then my computer died. Again. Luckily I had enough foresight to back it up, but this was a major chain in my life. I go through computers like most people go through books. I love tech, but tech doesn’t love me. So I wrote by hand.

The feeling of the pen in my hand, gliding along the page, led to another state of consciousness where I was one with the page. I haven’t had meditation moments like that before with writing, and it’s something I continue to strive toward. I hit a space in my mind where I agreed that yes, I was a writer—a real writer. A forever-no-matter-what writer. And I was going to finish this damn thing [aka the Thesis] regardless of what it took to accomplish it.

Days after I left, I was back in Erie, and I had another muse moment. Time after time I kept hitting the zen-space of writing. I didn’t want it to stop. On the train ride from Erie to Chicago, I had a tiny roomette, the old-fashioned ones from the last century that still have the toilet in them so you bang your leg on the toilet when you sit and your elbow on it when you’re sleeping. I know they’re older because no one fits in those rooms, especially not me, but I told myself it was part of the adventure, so suck it up. And in the middle of the night as the train swayed, I hit the high moment we all aspire to in writing. I knew something magical was going on. But it was a half-sleep moment and the only thing that’s decipherable in my journal from that night was “believe in yourself” and “find the amulet of light.” The first was to me and the second to my character.

In Chicago’s Union Station I sat in the corner of the Legacy Club, scribbling on my pad of paper. I’m sure I looked obsessed to the lawyer who kept making privileged phone calls and talking to clients. I’m sure some of his language found its way into my writer’s notebook. Then, somewhere between the lawyer and scribbles, I ran out of paper. I scribbled on notecards and when they ran out, I scribbled on napkins. I boarded the train to head to Seattle and I wrote, covering two notebooks.

As the train passed somewhere in North Dakota, it began to snow. And with the snow came an idea. It was a small idea, but it grew and became the massive outline I have on my wall. I’m re-writing my book again, focusing on craft. I will not give up. Nor should you. Trust your instinct. Find your writer muse and, heaven help me, trust it when they say “trust the process.” Who the hell are we to challenge the universe? We’re writers.

Write on.




Darlene Reilley is a fiction writer and graduated from Goddard College with an MFA in 2017. Her thesis, The Divantinum Project, is the first of a YA science fiction trilogy about a half-earthling, half-alien Goddess who has amnesia. For inspiration, check out 1,001 Writing Prompts to Get You Started available at Amazon.

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The Necklace & the World Nomad Scholarship


El Salto del Limon, Darlene Reilley


I applied to the World Nomad Scholarship! Check out my submission, “The Necklace.”



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