Love Letter


Dear Writ­ers –

… espe­cial­ly writ­ers whose medi­um is fic­tion: genre, lit­er­ary, role-play­ing games, plays, movies, etc.

What we do is hard. Don’t let any­one tell you oth­er­wise.

Nov­el­ists espe­cial­ly. 80,000–120,000 words to sus­tain a trans­for­ma­tion, to imbue a world, to make characters–even walk-ons–live, breathe and some­times die between the ink and the page in a cohe­sive, mean­ing­ful, nev­er-bor­ing heart­felt way. All the while know­ing that what you see and feel and strain to put down is nev­er ever what the read­er will get out of it.

That’s the bless­ing and the curse of the writ­ten word, or the game sce­nario. Because the read­er isn’t us, they can nev­er expe­ri­ence the sto­ry the way we do. But we also can’t expe­ri­ence it the way they do. And some­times read­ers and play­ers are amaz­ing­ly gen­er­ous with their buy-in. Fan­doms are proof of that.

All cre­ators live with con­stant doubt and frus­tra­tion and time con­straints and the inter­ven­ings of real life. It’s hard to chew through it, swal­low, and con­tin­ue on to The End. Over­whelm­ing­ly dif­fi­cult some­times.

So, thanks. Thank you to all the writ­ers of my favorite sto­ries, poems, movies and games. Thanks for slog­ging on through the long process of get­ting your work pub­lished, or out to your gam­ing groups. My brain and spir­it love to roll around in what you cre­ate.

You’ve made my world bet­ter. You inspire me to be a bet­ter writer, and a bet­ter human.

All the love,


Retrospective 2016

[This post was delet­ed by a hack­er.  Look­ing to restore it. — KN]

From Now On


The elec­tion of the 45th Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States did not go as I antic­i­pat­ed, or hoped.  In the two weeks fol­low­ing D.T.‘s elec­tion, we’ve seen a swell in hate crimes, the appoint­ing of white nation­al­ists to chief cab­i­net posi­tions, and a promise to destroy insti­tu­tions which serve all peo­ple in the US, not just the rich.

The call to hide, to keep our heads down, is entic­ing.  But I can’t do it.  I’ve nev­er been good at stay­ing silent.  I’m too old now to shut up.  You get what you get.


Wise words from a wise woman.

Wise words from a wise woman.


Toni Mor­ri­son wrote these words when W. was reelect­ed.  You can (and real­ly should) read the whole inter­view HERE.

I’m still processing/grieving/railing against the elec­tion results.  I hope to have more words soon.  But I’ve been think­ing of you, all of you, and what kind of world we want to have … and how we fight for it in the com­ing months and years.  One way is with our art.

Be well, speak out, stand strong, cre­ate.





Season’s Turning


May your heart be as light .…


Sum­mer is wan­ing.  In the morn­ings, the geese cry to each oth­er as they turn their atten­tion to warmer climes.  The days grow short­er, the sun­shine tak­ing on a fad­ed, old-gold cast.  The flow­ers in my gar­den are long gone, their seed pods spread­ing their trea­sures in the hopes that spring will be a lush one. An equinox looms on the hori­zon.

Usu­al­ly the end of sum­mer tugs a cord of sad­ness in me, and I begin my qui­et spi­ral into sea­son­al depres­sion.  This year, I’m feel­ing the oppo­site.  It feels as if I’ve emerged from the sum­mer of end­ings.  Now I get to rest, to qui­et­ly cre­ate, to look toward what is instead of what is not.

This sum­mer was hard for me, for many.  I lost a friend to can­cer.  I said good­bye to a fur­ry com­pan­ion of 15 years.  Oth­er pets were in and out of the vet’s with too much reg­u­lar­i­ty.  A few friends lost fam­i­ly mem­bers.  A few friends had seri­ous health con­cerns.  So many across the world were vic­tims of dead­ly hate and mal­ice.  And our US pol­i­tics spun out of con­trol.  Friends still argue, divi­sive, about who should take the reins of our gov­ern­ment.

More per­son­al­ly, the words came grudg­ing­ly, and I had to fight every sen­tence before it would let me con­sign it to a page.  It felt like a dust bowl sum­mer, where noth­ing thrived save the heat and the wind, the empti­ness and the nev­er-end­ing grit.

So the cool­er weath­er and soft­er light feels like a bless­ing, an open­ing.  It feels like an oppor­tu­ni­ty to step back into cre­ation, and car­ing, and nur­tur­ing.  The soft­ness lifts the heart a lit­tle, soothes it.  It makes way for won­der­ful new things to peep through the door.  Like a new kit­ten (lit­er­al­ly).  That’s a good thing.

One of the lessons of this sum­mer is to live with­out regrets as much as pos­si­ble.  It’s a les­son that spi­rals around and around, orbit­ing me, mak­ing sure that I don’t for­get it.  It makes me impa­tient to do more, but hap­py to at least do.  It reminds me to savor.  It gives me back my words.

I hope your sum­mers were easy and kind, full of laugh­ter and explo­ration.  I want to hear what you did in your sum­mer.  Please share your sto­ry, even a lit­tle one.

May our autumns be gen­tle and abun­dant with all that is good, true and beau­ti­ful.  May all our hearts be as light as a feath­er.


Literally, a kitty.

Lit­er­al­ly, a new kit­ty.

Different Lenses


Find Cotton Valent on Facebook @CottonGallery

The Star” by Cot­ton Valent


Old pho­tos tell sto­ries.  ::stage whis­per::  They steal your soul, you know.   I joke, but I do love the old­er images that show us a time oth­er than our own.  Not nec­es­sar­i­ly bet­ter, but dif­fer­ent.  Old let­ters tell sto­ries, too, through the paper they’re writ­ten on, the hand­writ­ing, the ink, and of course the con­tents.  Tak­en alto­geth­er and they open a win­dow onto anoth­er time and place, a time of ideas we’ve lost, and mind­sets lim­it­ed by what we didn’t yet know, or were unwill­ing to grasp. We are giv­en the chance to expe­ri­ence life, for the span of the pages, through another’s eyes.

For me, tarot cards open win­dows as well.  I had a ton of them at one point — 35 or so decks–which, look­ing back, seems exces­sive. I guess I felt it was exces­sive then, too, as I gave most away. They should be loved and used.  No point in hord­ing, or keep­ing things in a box.  I feel this way about any­thing “col­lectible” whether rare or not.  You won’t do any­thing with it once you’re dead.  May as well enjoy it.

A few years ago I put away my tarot decks.  Stacked them neat­ly in a tray in their wraps, then let them col­lect dust.  There “wasn’t time” for them, and I wasn’t read­ing for any­one any­more, even myself.  I had no more ques­tions to ask.  Life was life, and you take it as it comes, and you make things work.

I some­times drift away from a pas­sion to nev­er real­ly pick it up again.  I’m famous for dab­bling.  Or–as some­one once told me–I take in all I can from some­thing, and when it no longer nour­ish­es, I slough it off, like a snake does its skin, then move on.  I thought that was a very gra­cious way of putting it.  In this case, how­ev­er, it didn’t feel true.

Last week, I met with two friends who also do the tarot thing.  Before we met, I pulled out a few decks to see if I want­ed to take any of them with me on the vis­it.

In going through the dif­fer­ent cards, I felt I was throw­ing back the cur­tains on a win­dow, exchang­ing my black-and-white view to one of col­or and bird­song.  I had a sense of com­ing home again.

I most­ly used tarot for inspi­ra­tion and sto­ry­telling, for clar­i­fi­ca­tion, insight, and even focus.  And when I call them win­dows, I real­ly mean lenses–often 78 dif­fer­ent lens­es in each deck.  They remind me of the gels I used to use when doing light­ing design back in long ago.  The light fix­tures we used were always the same, but by plac­ing a dif­fer­ent col­ored or tex­tured gel front of the beam, it changed the way we saw what was on stage.  Mood, focus, dri­ve, sub­text all changed with the use of a gel.  And that’s how tarot works for me.  I have a sub­ject I’d like to see revealed or enhanced, or what­ev­er my focus is … and the card gives me a new way of view­ing it, of con­sid­er­ing it.  Pret­ty much as sim­ple as that.  There are oth­er ways of using them, of course.  This just hap­pens to be mine.

For twen­ty years I’d used them.  Some of these decks are old friends.  They fit my puny hands.  There’s a whis­per­ing *whuf­fle* as they’re shuf­fled togeth­er, a worn soft­ness to their edges from repeat­ed use.  The col­ors please my eyes, the illus­tra­tions intrigue, inform, reas­sure, and reveal.  I love how their depict­ed arche­types and inci­dents cov­er the whole range of human exis­tence.

I’d missed them, and not even known it.

Tarot has its lovers and its haters. For me, they’re a tool, and like all tools it depends on what you do with them.  Evil and good come from the hand which wields the tool.  It is one aspect of my life I don’t talk about much, though.  I find it’s less social­ly accept­able to read tarot cards than it is to be a role-play gamer, which is weird to me, but hey, I don’t write the social norms … I just try to change them.

I real­ized that I’d put aside my cards–my form of med­i­ta­tion and inspiration–because I’d also stopped being in a com­mu­ni­ty which val­ued such tools.  The greater world didn’t seem to have room for them, or me as a user of them.  There’s a lot of side-eye to side­step when you pull out a deck.

And that’s fear talk­ing.  I may write about social­ly unac­cept­able peo­ple, but I’ve always tried to pass as social­ly accept­able myself.  Some­how, after step­ping away from that com­mu­ni­ty, my use of the cards made me an out­lier in my own eyes, and set me up for judg­ment.

Guess whose voice was the loud­est Judgey McJudger­son?  My own.

So … all this is to say, “Just do what brings you joy.”  As long as it harms none, go for it.

As for me, I’m back to my old morn­ing rou­tine of a card with my sec­ond cof­fee, and a page of poet­ry.  It sets my brain right, starts the day with imagery and lyri­cism.   And we all need a dif­fer­ent view on the world now and then.


What’s your jam?  What have you giv­en up from imag­ined peer pres­sure, or the real thing?  What would you do again, if you could? What tool do you like to view the world through?


"Ace of Cups" The Druid Craft Tarot. Illustrated by Will Worthington

The Druid Craft Tarot. Illus­tra­tions Will Wor­thing­ton


It’s Personal




Twice a year, like clock­work, I pon­der the cor­re­la­tions between writ­ing fic­tion and run­ning role-play­ing games.  The first is in the spring when I start think­ing about what games I want to bring to Amber­Con North­west (an excel­lent role­play­ing con­ven­tion in Port­land that cen­ters around the Amber Dice­less RP Game).  The sec­ond time is in Novem­ber imme­di­ate­ly after the con wraps and I have to decide whether my games were a suc­cess.

Some writ­ers I know gam­ing and writ­ing are two very dif­fer­ent things.  I beg to dis­agree.  On the gamemas­ter side of things, you’re cre­at­ing plot, his­to­ry, world-build­ing, sec­ondary char­ac­ters, and con­flict.  The only thing that is dif­fer­ent is that the main char­ac­ters are out of your con­trol … though a good GM will find ways of giv­ing play­er char­ac­ters growth through an emo­tion­al arc–exactly what a good writer will give their own main char­ac­ters.

My met­rics for gaug­ing suc­cess of both nov­el-style fic­tion and gam­ing are the same: Did you enjoy it?  Were you engaged?  Or, bet­ter yet, did you have a stake in how it turned out?  Did the end­ing sat­is­fy?  Do you want more?

The mechan­ics for build­ing a sat­is­fy­ing sto­ry dif­fer for each form–or at least I find them to dif­fer sub­stan­tial­ly in most respects.  The thing I have been com­ing back to though, the sim­i­lar­i­ty between them, is find­ing ways to make the plot per­son­al to the main char­ac­ters, whether they’re yours or a player’s in your game.

Okay, I say that like I know what I’m talk­ing about, but this is all a work in progress–a hypoth­e­sis under­go­ing rig­or­ous test­ing.

By “make it per­son­al” I don’t mean that the play­er char­ac­ters are the cen­ter of the plot–though if it’s a small enough group and they’re tied togeth­er in some way, maybe they are!–but that the choic­es they make can change the out­come or move the plot for­ward in sig­nif­i­cant ways.  Their choic­es have con­se­quences, for good or ill.  The plot moves for­ward because the PCs made choic­es.  Even choos­ing not to choose is some­thing which should bring con­se­quences.

And that’s not any dif­fer­ent from mak­ing the plot of a writ­ten sto­ry tie inti­mate­ly to the main char­ac­ter, even when the events pro­pelling the MC into the plot didn’t have any­thing to do with them pre­vi­ous­ly.  With writ­ten fic­tion, we have the lux­u­ry of know­ing our character’s back­grounds, and know­ing which part of their his­to­ry is dri­ving them with each scene.  With gam­ing, not so much, even if your play­ers send you a ten page his­to­ry to work with.  The best–if not only–thing we can do to make a plot per­son­al to them, is give them the chance to make deci­sions which mat­ter.  Each time they move on a deci­sion, there’s buy-in.  Once there’s buy-in, stakes can be raised.  Once stakes are raised, con­se­quences become greater and rewards that much sweet­er.

So that’s my goal for my upcom­ing games (and the sto­ry Simone and I are in the mid­dle of) … to make it per­son­al.  I’m sure I’ll let you know how suc­cess­ful I am come mid-Novem­ber.

How do you make your RP sce­nar­ios and/or sto­ries per­son­al to the main char­ac­ters, assum­ing the plot isn’t all about them?  This inquir­ing mind wants to know.


Writers’ Fuel



It is a truth uni­ver­sal­ly acknowl­edged that a word­smith writ­ing a sto­ry is in want of some cof­fee.”


I’m pret­ty sure that’s what Jane Austen said.  Fol­lowed by, “Gimme some java.”

I write, sure.  I plot and plan.  I noo­dle with friends.  And yes, I’m invari­ably in want of some cof­fee.  But more, I want a love­ly, qui­et, clean place where I can sip and type, or lounge and talk in peace for a few hours.


If you’re in the Seat­tle metro area, give Sto­ryville a try.  Four loca­tions.  Two types of extreme­ly fresh­ly roast­ed cof­fee: Pro­logue for the full caff, and Epi­logue for the decaf.  Break­fast bits.  Lun­cheon stuff.  Beau­ti­ful ambiance.  Com­fort­able seat­ing.  Über kind peo­ple behind the bar.

Also?  Hand-craft­ed espres­so.  This means they don’t push a but­ton and let the machine do all the work.  They actu­al­ly know how to pull espres­so.  It’s a dis­ap­pear­ing art here in Seat­tle, lemme tell ya.

What’s more, they have a won­der­ful objec­tive:

… STORYVILLE is a FOR GIVING com­pa­ny, cre­at­ed for giv­ing. At STORYVILLE, our desire is to sup­port the fight against human traf­fick­ing world­wide until no child, woman, or man is trapped in slav­ery.”

This is a cof­fee com­pa­ny I can get behind.

If they were also open until 9pm, it would be a match made in heav­en.  How­ev­er, they are open 7a-6p M-Th, and 7:59a-6p week­ends. [edit: sum­mer hours begin THIS week­end, so they’ll be open at 6:59a Sat­ur­day and Sun­day.  Wheee!]

Pssst … you don’t have to be a writer to enjoy Sto­ryville Cof­fee.  All that is required is a desire for a bit of some­thing love­ly in your day.

Give them a try.

PS:  They did not pay me for this endorse­ment.  I just loved them.


Have you been to Sto­ryville?  What did you think?  What is your favorite place to write, muse, con­verse, chill?

Open Letter


From Me to You

From Me to You


An Open Let­ter to the peo­ple who have shared their sto­ries and their lives with me lately–mostly strangers–but also a few friends.


Dear­est Fel­low Human –

You may know me, or we may have only met briefly in the Star­bucks line, or through a drop-in flash­point in a game, or from a com­ment made in a Face­book group we’re both in, or stand­ing in the sun­shine on the side­walk.  But that’s okay.  How­ev­er we came togeth­er, you were hav­ing a hard time, and you need­ed a friend.  It’s good we talked.  I’m glad that when we part­ed you felt like you were heard and sup­port­ed.  I’m not always good at lis­ten­ing, so I’m glad I could be there for you in that time and place.

A lot of peo­ple I know are hav­ing a hard time right.  They’ve lost loved ones, are strug­gling with health issues, have too lit­tle mon­ey, feel out of con­trol, fear the future, strug­gle with who they are, or sim­ply are so damn tired all the time.  You’re not alone in feel­ing this way.  Truth.

After we part­ed, I wished I could have giv­en you more.  I want­ed to wrap you in a warm blan­ket, hand you a mug of hot cocoa or love­ly tea, read you a good sto­ry, and let you know things can be okay some­times, even if they’re not right now.

There are a few things I wish I could have shared with you, things I think you don’t know how to believe in, or are for­get­ting just now.  And I don’t want to sound pushy, but I hope that you will believe me, even just for a lit­tle while, as I tell you:

  1. You are worth lov­ing just as you are right now.   You Are Worth Lov­ing Just As You Are.
  2. Your sto­ry mat­ters.  You mat­ter.   I want to hear your sto­ry, in what­ev­er way you want to share it.
  3. We can’t save oth­er peo­ple, no mat­ter how much we want to. We can only love them for as long as they’re in our lives, near or far.  The only per­son you can tru­ly save/fix/change is your­self, and that’s where we need to start.
  4. You can only do your best. Some days your best will be excel­lent, and some days you’ll feel it’s not so much.  Cel­e­brate the good days, and for­give your­self the hard ones.
  5. You’re allowed to feel what­ev­er you are feel­ing, even the ones that oth­ers think are ugly.  
  6. It’s okay to ask for help. Some peo­ple won’t be able to do much, but oth­ers will.  We all suck at ask­ing, but every­one needs a hand or a hug some­times.
  7. Be kind to your­self and oth­ers as much as you can. You deserve kind­ness, and so do they.  Some­times kind­ness is hard to come by, but give and receive what you can, as you can. 


I don’t know if we’ll ever see each oth­er again, Fel­low Human, but thank you for shar­ing your time and your sto­ry with me, and for includ­ing me in your life for a while.  I hope it gave you at least the seeds of what you need­ed.  I wish you gen­tle days and rest­ful nights, and all hap­pi­ness in the days to come.


With love,

The Stranger In The Cof­fee Shop / Online / In That Game You Love / At The Park


Review: Ink and Bone


Ink and Bone


Rachel Caine’s new book, Ink and Bone: The Great Library, is the first in a tril­o­gy set in an alter­nate world where the Great Library of Alexan­dria was nev­er sacked, and infor­ma­tion is tru­ly pow­er — in this case, the only pow­er worth men­tion­ing.  In a life where every­one across the globe has mag­i­cal access to every piece of writ­ing the great Alexan­dri­an Library deems worth read­ing, per­son­al own­er­ship of books is for­bid­den.  Young Jess Bright­well grows up part and par­cel of his father’s Lon­don-based black-mar­ket busi­ness, lit­er­al­ly run­ning pre­cious con­tra­band of real books–not mere copies–to buy­ers with the deep­est pock­et.  When his father sends him to train as librar­i­an at the great library itself–becoming an inside source for orig­i­nal vol­umes, the rarest of the rare–Jess’s pri­or­i­ties become tan­gled, and he ques­tions every­thing he’s ever known about knowl­edge and pow­er, right and wrong, cow­ardice and courage.

I loved this book from cov­er to cov­er.  It is con­sid­ered suit­able for grades 8 and up, but there is plen­ty there which skews old­er (char­ac­ters you like die bloody deaths galore).  The premise is fas­ci­nat­ing and per­ti­nent to our world of dig­i­tal media and ques­tions of own­er­ship vs license.  The alter­nate Earth is inter­est­ing, com­plex and well-devised and the char­ac­ters are as inter­est­ing as they are diverse, with the women as unapolo­get­i­cal­ly awe­some as their male coun­ter­parts (peo­ple who know me will under­stand this is huge in my enjoy­ment of a sto­ry).  Caine thor­ough­ly explores the ideas of infor­ma­tion, absolute pow­er, and the cor­rup­tion which fol­lows hard on its heels, and cun­ning­ly weaves them into a plot which will hurl you for­ward like a feath­er in a hur­ri­cane.

For those of us who are audio­book inclined, I give the audio ver­sion of Ink and Bone, nar­rat­ed by Jules Elfer, five gold stars all around.  The sto­ry was con­veyed so well, that I bought the hard­back for my hus­band (who read it in a weekend–and like­wise loved it), and imme­di­ate­ly pre-ordered the next book in the series.

July needs to arrive so I can find out what hap­pens next!



Rock Band Revelation


Image Credit: Rock Band 4

Rock It Like You Mean It

I love music.  Most kinds.  I love every­thing from 13th cen­tu­ry chants to opera to blue­grass, big band, main­stream rock and even some metal–don’t judge, I’m expand­ing my hori­zons.  I love to sing, but only in my car or in the house when no one is around.

I used to love singing even when peo­ple could hear me.  Then, some­one whose opin­ion I held high­ly told me I didn’t have a voice worth lis­ten­ing to.  And that opin­ion was rein­forced by being involved in musi­cal the­ater where peo­ple are lit­er­al­ly judged by how well they can belt a song.  You want the best on stage.  Total­ly under­stand­able.  But I, in my angsty teenage years, heard only that my singing sucked, rather than I sim­ply wasn’t strong (or clear or what­ev­er) enough as a vocal­ist.  So I stopped singing any­where I might be judged, e.g. in pub­lic.

It’s a com­mon sto­ry.  We’re told that what we put into the world isn’t worth someone’s atten­tion, as if our joy needs to equal a prod­uct for anoth­er to con­sume.  No one ever tells us that the mon­e­ti­za­tion of some­thing doesn’t nail down the only way of express­ing or expe­ri­enc­ing that some­thing.  The mes­sage we get is, if we can’t sell it, it ain’t worth shit.

Thir­ty years pass.  No karaōke for me, no sing-alongs, just solos in my car–unless I’m super tired or tip­sy and my guard is down.

Enter the XBox game, Rock Band 2.

Stick (my daugh­ter), Red (her part­ner) and I start­ed up a band, The Face­hug­gers (we’d just fin­ished watch­ing Alien and Aliens, and we’re geeks–but you knew that).  Red is our kick-ass gui­tarist.  I’m usu­al­ly on drums.  Stick does a lot of the singing, except when the game toss­es out a tune from before she was born … then it falls to me. That ver­sion of Rock Band was pret­ty for­giv­ing about how you played, how you sang.  Ener­gy wasn’t need­ed.  You could whis­per or meow your way through a song as long as you hit the beats and phras­ing, so I could hide even as I was singing.  It takes a cer­tain amount of tal­ent to be self-effac­ing when you’ve got a mic up to your face.

This win­ter, we splurged for the newest ver­sion, Rock Band 4, and every­thing changed.  Now the score is based part­ly on how much ener­gy you put into your per­for­mance.  You can’t tap the drums light­ly, you have to play them HARD.  You can’t mere­ly breathe your songs into the mic. The best scores come from rock­ing it like you mean it. And we’re all com­pet­i­tive enough to want the high scores. We have a tour bus to earn and fans to win!

I had to put up, stop play­ing, or fail out of the game, and no one wants to be a los­er in front of their kids.  So I put up, let loose and belt­ed out an old Pat Benatar rock bal­lad.  And it was glo­ri­ous­ly fun!  In that moment, I had a rev­e­la­tion.  We live so much of our lives ashamed for being nor­mal, ashamed of not being what’s reflect­ed in our media.  I know so many peo­ple who won’t sing in public–it’s not just me–or write, or draw, or gar­den, or sew, or any­thing, real­ly, because they fear deri­sion.  They have joys they keep in the clos­et.

Who are these neb­u­lous gate keep­ers who get to deter­mine how we find our hap­pi­ness?  If we take joy in what we do, what we put into the world as play, as self-expres­sion, isn’t that what is impor­tant?

So sing out, I chal­lenge you. Give your­self per­mis­sion to do what makes you hap­py how­ev­er much you can.  Sing out loud and long.  Paint, dance, yodel, write, role-play, act, build, cre­ate … what­ev­er light­ens your heart.  And for your own joy’s sake, break it out of the clos­et and rock it like you mean it!

See you on the high score list!


Previous Older Entries

Site Secured By:

Gravityscan Badge