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.

— KN




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.  Uber 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 karaoke 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!


A New Hope


No, not that one, not Star Wars Ep. IV, though it qualifies.

I’m talking about the feeling that comes from experiencing a story with a Happy Ending™.   Not even a Happily Ever After™ ending, but simply the heroine-prevails-in-her-quest ending, whatever that quest may be.  It brings satisfaction that wrongs have been righted, justice prevails, and the worthy find love.  In other stories, something intrinsic to the human condition endures, and we, or those important to us, will be able to partake of it.

I remember how terrible the last half of 2001 was.   The US was attacked on September 11th, and then we took war to the Middle East.  So much pain and national anxiety.  At the end of the year, for the holidays, Warner Bros. released Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  It was a fun movie, I’ll grant you, full of good performances by actors I enjoyed.  But what hit me like a blow was how much hope it instilled in me at the end.  I wept as the credits rolled.  It was all out of proportion to the movie itself, but I felt that if Potter could overcome his trials and tribulations, then we, as adults and as a country, could surely emerge from the pain and hatred and fear we were snarled in.  I felt hope again for our world.

That’s some good, heart-tugging storytelling.

Maybe at that time, I just needed to believe in the possibility of happy endings, and that–like young Skywalker, and the hope he embodied–the sunset would be followed by a new, better day.


Epic yearning!

Epic yearning!

Happy Endings aren’t an American invention, but we do tend to eat them up.  I sort of blame Disney–or maybe Frank Capra–and I’m sort of not kidding.  They’re hard to get away from, and I sometimes wonder if we do ourselves a disservice by not embracing more ambiguity as the curtains fall.  Ambiguity makes us dig for the hope we want, makes us examine possibilities.  Ending with uncertainty is less like hot chocolate and Milano cookies on a cold winter’s night, and more like a meaty borscht–complex and nourishing, but we have to work to get it in the bowl, and we often are unsure of the ingredients.  Ambiguity makes us wonder what’s next?  Happy Endings rarely do.

All this is to say that I wonder about the stories we, as a people, tell.  I wonder in our communal psyche demands the reassurance and certainty of a Happy Ending, even when we know they’re rarely “real”.  I wonder which stories give us the tool to find our way through this crazy world, and if it’s simply a matter of having our Milano cookies along side our borscht.

What kind of endings do you crave?  Which ones satisfy you?  What do you want from your stories?  Inquiring minds wanna know.


"Delicious ambiguity." -- Gilda Radner

“Delicious ambiguity.” — Gilda Radner


Star Wars Sans Spoilers


Don't ruin it for others! I mean it!

The nostalgia is strong with this one.



I was 14 when Star Wars: Episode IV came out in May of 1977.  My father took my brother and me to the now-demolished Valley Circle Theater in San Diego.  I remember being disgruntled at having to go to a movie that Saturday, as I had a book I wanted to finish!  I had no idea what the movie was about.  Star Wars?  I didn’t want to see a war movie.  Whatever!  It wasn’t even a mystery or a musical!

The Valley Circle was a huge venue, and it was packed.  We stood in line for tickets, and stood in line for popcorn.  The seats we found were about 3/4th of the way back in the center section, and over to the left.  I was cranky about that, too, because all the seats were on one level, and I was very short.  Naturally, a veritable pillar of a man sat right in front of me.

The lights went down.  The now-familiar fanfare started.  The opening titles rolled.  The guy in front of me slouched, and I sat up straight, eyes riveted to the screen as a spaceship–A SPACESHIP–flew by, tiny lasers pew-pew-pewing backward at …


An ominously dark behemoth hove into view–a Star Destroyer!

That was the moment my world changed.

Like many of my generation, Star Wars ignited something in me.  A passion for science fiction, fantasy, and orchestral music lit up, and never left. What’s more, there was a BAD ASS PRINCESS!!!!  I’d never seen a girl kick-ass and take names the way Leia did.

Star Wars changed what I believed possible.  A girl could be a princess and a spy and a rebel leader and a senator and someone who shot Storm Troopers with the best of them!  With one defiant look, Leia Organa redefined the roles women could have in any world!

The rest of the original trilogy brought good fun, good adventure, and more of my favorite Princess, even though the ewoks made me a little crazy.  Then came the long, sorrowful years of the prequels.  Okay,  some of I and II were okay, but for the most part, wow, truly terrible.  I honestly tried to forget III altogether as the ending made me furious.

And now we have Star Wars, The Force Awakens.

Say what you will, I loved it.  Was it a great movie?  Hell no.  Was there great acting?  Mm-no, not so much.  Were there any amazing plot twists?  Sorry, nope.  Worse, they used some old, crappy tropes that could have been avoided with just a little writing.

So what did it have?

SW:TFA had a galaxy worth of nostalgia. It managed to conjure up that old Star Wars magic despite (or because of) being mostly unoriginal.  It brought back old friends, and it set the stage for new adventures.  A woman and a person of color were the main characters.  The casting was more diverse than in almost any other recent American-made show.  The CG wasn’t egregiously used, and I liked the action scenes (we can debate why in the comments, if you want).  More, it didn’t take itself too seriously.  It was FUN.

And this time, a girl is having the adventures: a non-whiny, capable, intuitive, kick-ass, Force-sensitive, pragmatic-yet-compassionate GIRL.  This is huge.

I adore the character of Rey, and I’m delighted that she held center stage–right after Han Solo.  She’s been given the central mystery as well as ample room to grow, and I’m looking forward to discovering the secrets of the galaxy right along with her.  Thanks to writers Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, and Michael Arndt for giving us a young woman to go adventuring with, and for someone a new generation of girls can embrace as their own.

Now just give Finn his due, and we’ll be good.

For the rest of you, go see it, if you haven’t already!  Then come back and tell me what you loved or hated about it.  I want to know what you think!!

Swanky -- in that 'the future is now' sort of way. The Valley Circle Theater.

Swanky — in that ‘the future is now’ sort of way. The Valley Circle Theater.


But please, do tell!!


December Nostalgia


Shiny and Bright

Shiny and Bright


December is a rough time of year.  In Seattle, the days are dark and the nights are long.  It’s damp.  It’s cold–not cutting like Midwest- or Canada-cold, just brisk enough for me to complain about.  It’s a time when digging enthusiasm and impetus out from the basement is a brutal proposition.  My creativity grumpily crawls back into bed, telling me to fuck off until February.  Suffice it to say, we’re deep into my least favorite time of the year.

It’s the light I miss most.  A quaver of panic squirrels through me come August when the sunshine shades away from bright gold, and casts the world in a crisp silver light.  That’s how I know the season has truly changed, when the quality of light alters.  I struggle to convince myself that the slowly rising dark is not a sign of imminent doom, and it will all turn out fine.   It’s not that bad.  No big.

Eh.  My optimistic self is a liar.  It is that hard.  Every year.

With my deep and abiding antipathy for our night-filled months, I find it odd my most powerful feelings of nostalgia are stirred by something that only occurred in deepest, darkest Decembers.

My family celebrated Christmas when I was growing up, and we were lucky enough to always have a tree.  This was a real tree, that gave off a piney, foresty scent for days after we brought it home.  Our lights were the big, fat, translucent ones of gold, green, red, and blue, that came out before safety regulations and energy conservation was the norm.  Some  flashed, some glowed steadily, all burned hot and bright.  Tinsel, paper chains and gold garland decked each bough, and the old glass ornaments gleamed even in the daylight.  We didn’t mess around.

When I was small (and even not so small), I used to wrap up in my bathrobe and sneak back to the living room in the middle of the night.  I remember hugging the wall as I descended the stairs–I’d read in a spy novel that the middle of the treads were what squeaked–and extreme quiet was called for, you see, or I’d wake up the dogs, who would then wake up my mom. My pre-teenaged brain was certain that would be bad.  Navigating the black-on-dim silhouettes in the living room, I’d find the switch to the Christmas tree lights.  Then, when they were shining like sunlit jewels in the darkness, I’d curl under the tree, nestling amid whatever presents were already there.  I’d look up through the boughs at the dance of colors and shapes.  I’d smell the resin, and feel the warmth of the bulbs, and gaze in sleepy bliss for what felt like a small forever.

And that was it.  It wasn’t anticipation of Christmas Day and its various celebrations.  It was the sensation of being cocooned in warmth and color, light and shadow.  That was the magic.  That’s what I remember.

So now, though I don’t celebrate Christmas, per se, we still find a way to get a tree.  We haul out the flashing lights along with the memories that come with thirty-years worth of ornaments.  Every now and then this ritual conjures the childhood magic of wonder and comfort, beauty and light in the darkness, driving away the gloom beyond the windows–and in myself–just for a little while.

Or maybe it simply proves that I’m more like my cats than I want to admit.  At least I don’t knock the ornaments off the tree.


What is your brightest memory of Decembers past?



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