Friday 22 August 2014

Memoir Writing with T. J. Burns

T. J. Burns is a long-standing member of the Pagan Writers Community team. She is also the author of Writing Wild: Crafting the Pagan Memoir and The Ones Who Dance Alone: Full Moon Celebrations for the Solitary Witch. She is currently working on Slow the Wheel: A Crone’s Guide to Savoring the Seasons. T.J. loves supporting other writers as a writing mentor and spending time at the crossroads where creativity and spirituality meet. She lives in California with her husband, three dogs and one cat. Her favorite hobby is spoiling her grandchildren.

Visit her on her website and Facebook page.

To celebrate the release of Writing Wild with Pagan Writers Press, T. J. Burns will be running a free six-week memoir writing course from 8th September 2014. To sign up, simply register on her website. There is also a dedicated Facebook group where you can connect with other memoir writers.

More details about the course at the bottom of this post, but first a little about T. J. Burns and her reasons for writing memoirs.

Memoir is a Misfit but so am I

Memoir is a literary misfit. Part tell-all and part self-examination, it lacks the gravitas of an autobiography or the scintillating plot lines of a novel. The New Yorker compares memoir to the drunken wedding guest who makes its rounds from table to table, exposing family secrets and embarrassing all the sober relatives. 

Considering the trouble it may cause the author, the shadow-thin chance it will ever be published why should anyone bother writing a memoir?

Because they want to learn more about their family history.

Because they want to learn more about themselves.

Because they’ve gained wisdom through their experiences and want to share it with others.

Because every person’s story matters. Everyone’s.

I first became interested in memoir while earning an MFA. I admit I hadn’t read a single memoir prior to 2006 when my term advisor put Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn on my reading list. Somewhere along the line I’d formed the opinion that memoirs were self-indulgent books famous people paid someone to write for them. In fairness, some are, but most are not.

At the time he wrote Another Bullshit Night Flynn was an emerging writer, but not yet famous and his story, though compelling, wasn’t glitter-frosted or packed with exotic adventure.  His writing was well-crafted and thoughtful. His background as a poet was evident in the pages of his prose. With that one book I learned how beautiful, how real and interesting a memoir can be.

After reading Flynn, I sought out memoir authors who mixed literary styles, who played on the page, who told their story their way. Rebecca Brown, Carol Guess and, of course, Mary Karr are among my favorites. Memoir hooked me, and good. Everyone should do this, I thought. Everyone.

My time in ritual circles enlightened me to the power of the personal narrative. In circle I met incest survivors, people who grew up in active war zones, gay men and women who risked everything to live an authentic life, travelers, artists, activists and parents of special-needs children. In face-to-face situations I had ultimate respect for the idea that everyone had a story. I firmly believed if we all knew the challenges other humans faced most of the prejudice and hate in the world would fall away. Yet somehow I didn’t connect that belief with memoir until I read about Flynn’s struggle to care for his homeless, alcoholic father without getting lost in the world of addiction and depression. 

As a Witch I think it’s especially important for Pagans to write their story, even if they don’t consider themselves writers.  As a community, we are too often marginalized and stereotyped. If more of us shared our stories and the experiences that brought us to our specific spiritual path, I believe we would, as a group, gain more respect from, and build bridges with, mainstream society. 

However, the biggest reason to write a memoir isn’t to tell someone else about your life, it’s to examine it through the practice of self inquiry. Writing is a personal ritual, rich with opportunities for growth and living a more meaningful life. Writing my memoir provides me with an outlet to heal past wounds, understand my experiences and expand my gratitude. True, no major publisher is likely to publish my memoir; I’m not famous and so far my life doesn’t include any super amazing adventures. My story is one of survival, but I understand that surviving fundamentalism is not as marketable as, say, surviving an ill-fated trek through the Amazon. But that doesn’t mean my life or my memoir is less valuable than someone else’s because the value lies in the process of writing.

If I want readers, I can self-publish or find a start-up publishing company that’s hungry for manuscripts.  I can print out a few copies for friends and family or publish my memoir as a blog. Whether or not lots of people read a memoir doesn’t negate its importance. Did I already say the value lies in the process of writing and not in the product? I think I did, but I’ll say it twice because it’s true.

Memoir is a literary misfit, and as such it’s the perfect genre for we who walk a non-traditional path. Write your story because the process is cathartic, because your story is interesting, or inspiring, or  funny or because you’ve always wanted to write, and memoir is an excellent place to hone your craft. Write your story because your story matters.


The Course

T.J. is currently offering a free six-week memoir ecourse to PWC members. The Your Story Matters ecourse discusses:

Understanding Memoir
Selecting a Theme
Personal Inquiry
Creating a Spine for your Story
Fact Checking

The course starts on 8th September 2014. To participate, simply REGISTER FOR THE COURSE on her website. There is also a dedicated Facebook group where you can connect with other memoir writers.

Writing Wild: Crafting the Pagan Memoir was created especially for new writers and non-writers who identify with an earth-based spiritual path. T.J. combines writing assignments and prompts with suggestions for personal ritual, guided meditations and other exercises to help budding memoirists connect with their written story on a deeper level.  There are many books available on the craft of memoir writing, but Writing Wild is unique; it’s practical, approachable and magical. Do you have to be a Pagan to write a Pagan memoir? No, but it can’t hurt.

: Tell me where the road has taken you and what you ran to or from. Tell me what you’ve learned. Share your wisdom because you have some, and the world sorely needs it. Give birth to your spiritual memoir because it may be the seed from which someone else’s healing is born. Write with wild abandon, secured in the center of your own sacred circle.

Sunday 17 August 2014

Don't Tell the Vicar!

Never Mention the Apocalypse to the Local Vicar.

Being asked to write poetry to fill a spot in the local Parish news was, to me, a way to get views. Even though it was run by local churchgoers. It was always known as the 'normal mag', what you read, like, to find out what’s on, init. No one ever read the church bit, but glanced over it to see if the fish and chip shop was around on Thursday.
The editor asked me for a poem for a slot in August. I had a rather humorous poem about potholes. Anyone living in the UK would know the general nuisance of potholes. I thought that it was a great topic for this month’s poetry spot. When I wrote it, I didn’t have the parish magazine in mind. It was a general poem about a make-believe village, written for a day during National Poetry Month which takes place every April.
Of course it needed the odd tweak for village life.

I sent the poem off, and a few days later I received a reply:
Dear Stormy. Thank you for the poem, it is very good but I think the vicar may find it offencive with regards to your line about the apocalypse and the reference to the devil. She may not find it too kindly of you to suggest this idea.

How would you like us to go about this? Maybe if we change the vicar from a female to a man, or remove it?


Dear Editor. First, tell the vicar to get a sense of humour. Secondly, when I wrote the poem it wasn’t even about the local vicar, it was a make-believe vicar from the village of Twitten. Thirdly, I am offended that you have been offended by a poem that isn’t at all offencive.

I was laughing when I typed it.

Dear Stormy. Oh, please don’t take offence. I am sure it will be fine, we will meet the vicar and see if, with some changes, the poem can be printed.

Dear Editor. I have decided to retract the poem, I do not think my poems are suitable for your mag. This is a shame as I have a wonderful ditty about a lesbian bell ringer and a wonderful sonnet about a Vicar in a strip club which I was going to send to you but due to both works featuring the word hell you may take offence.

I haven’t heard back. But that may be because of BT.


Pagan Writers Community are pleased to present the offending poem:


There is a problem to have now in England
A blot on the our land we call fair
The existence of a new type of pothole
a warning to drivers beware

A road near the village of Twitten
has now vanished without much of a trace
The cyclists are annoyed at this problem
because now they have no place to race

From the church to the top of the high street
a crater appeared from the blue
They are missing some tourists from Demark
and a couple who came down from Crewe

The people are all in an uproar
at the state of the road near the mill
There is no way to get pass the river
Since the waters been flowing up-hill

A sink hole appeared down the village
The vicar isn’t doing that well
She thought the apocalypse was a coming
And that sinkhole went straight down to hell

She heard the devil a crying
he yelled, help I am stuck down this hole
with my pet dog, a cow and a tractor
And a ruddy big telephone pole


Stormy Haney lives in England with a selection of furry animals. Her poems and art have been published in a number of books, magazines and blogs. She participates in National Poetry Month. Her friends think she is delightfully bonkers. Follow along on her blog, Perrenial Poetry.

Stormy’s poems also used to appear on a monthly spot in her local parish magazine... not anymore.

Tuesday 12 August 2014

Fangfiction Winner Erin T. McMillon

The following vampire story by Erin T. McMillon won first place in our Jane Lovering Fangfiction competition 2014.

Congratulations Erin on winning signed copies of Vampire State of Mind and Falling Apart.

My name is Alexander. 

It used to be Tony, but who cares?

I like to change it every twenty years or so to keep up with this whole “obsession with being anonymous” crap “the ones like us” always complain about.

I never could say I truly hated anyone before this whole thing started, but I truly hate all of them – except for my Father Gregory, of course. 

They have this ridiculous sense of entitlement; this air of superiority over the human race that makes me want to flay them and lock them in the biggest room of my house. 

But as it stands right now, I’m not strong enough and haven’t gotten rich enough to accomplish this.

If I’m patient my time will come, Gregory says, when I will be able to do whatever my cold, black heart desires. 

But if I go by the whisperings of the others in our clan, he’s an insane low-born who drank the blood of rats until he turned me, which was apparently an accident. 

In the meantime, I’m forced to sit around and listen to their stories.

According to them, “the ones like us” are responsible for everything from the “discovery” of America to winning the Civil War (which I swear they got from some crazy movie about Abe Lincoln that came out a few years back). 

But on our many days alone, my father tells me about how we were also responsible for sending those girls to those burning stakes in Salem. 

“We had to do something. It was us or them. We sat down at our annual conference and collectively decided a few of their girls would be the martyrs for our cause.”

“And what cause was that?” I asked, brow furrowed in gross confusion. 

“Peace! You Fool!” he growled as he banged his tiny fist into the large wooden desk in front of him. “There are times, there will always be, when we have to do unspeakable things to keep living in the shadows. Things didn’t end well between our kind and the Salem covens, but everything that happened was in the name of peace.”

I told him I understood, but I didn’t. 

I just know I have to do what I am told. After all, he is older than me and he feels so strongly about it. 

I learned a long time ago, back in my mortal days, that old people don’t talk just to hear themselves. They’re telling you things because they care about you and don’t want you to make the same mistakes they did. 

It was hard for me at first. I was still holding on to my mortal life. I wanted to be with my family, my real family, and I did until it became obvious they were aging and I wasn’t. 

When I “died” they all came to my funeral. I laid in the casket as the parade of people came up and laid flowers around me. There were a few times when I wanted to giggle, like when my cousin Alberta’s wig fell off in the middle of her uncontrollable crying. I couldn’t understand for the life – for the death of me why she was carrying on like we were best friends. I hated her and the punches to my jaw when we were kids told me she felt the same. 

They buried me that afternoon and Gregory and some of the more athletic members of our coven came to dig me up that night. I tried to thank them for their help, but Father silenced me with a cold stare and sent me to the car. 

“Don’t ever thank them for anything, my child,” he warned as we drove back to the house. “They are paid men. Paid men do no favors that require gratitude.” 

We went home that night to balloons, streamers, and bottles of the finest, warm blood money could buy. 

“Happy Birthday, Son!”


I stayed in mostly after that and the days dragged on, turning into months. People think they get bored, but they have no idea what it’s like not having anything to do when you have forever to live. 

The dullness of my life after death began wearing on me. I started talking to myself and spending hours staring at the wall. 

I had to get out. 

So I began slinking around in a local nightclub for anonymous entertainment.  That’s where I met her. And the alley behind it is where I ripped her throat out with my adult fangs and let her life run smoothly down my throat. 

She writhed with pleasure until the last drop. 

I dropped her and ran, afraid because her death brought me so much joy.

I tried to hide it from my dad, but he came to me as I lay in bed the next morning. He told me he was there with me, like he is everywhere I go, that he loved me, and that he would take care of it. Now, you see the importance of privacy, he said into my head from his bedroom. 

I can still smell her death on your lips from my room.

I stopped going out. 

I don’t do much of anything anymore. I wake up at night, go to the coven meetings, listen to their ridiculous stories and go back home with fists full of bottles of warm blood. 

We have enough money to live ten life times, my dad says, so I mostly hang out around the house talking to him. 

“It may seem like a boring life, My Son, but it’s the best way to live when you’re like us.”

I want to believe him, but my pit is telling me I can’t. It gnaws at me, waiting for the right time to happen.  

I swear I can feel it closing in on me as each sun sets. 

I’m afraid. 


Erin T. McMillon, MSM entered into the publishing industry as an advertising copywriter. She has written for numerous magazines and online media outlets in the U.S. and abroad, including an award-winning music magazine. She was most recent featured in the Summer 2014 of The Horror Zine. Erin is the author of The Becoming of Us, Vol. I and II. Her first collection of short horror/suspense stories, What’s Hiding in the Dark?: 10 Tales of Urban Lore, is due in the summer of 2014. Find her on Facebook at and on her blog.

Monday 11 August 2014

Fangfiction Winner Tiffany Anderson-Taylor

The following vampire story by Tiffany Anderson-Taylor won second place in our Jane Lovering Fangfiction competition 2014.

Congratulations Tiffany on winning a signed copy of Hubble Bubble.

The stillness of the night was abruptly shattered by the sound of rapid footfalls and the scent of rage and fear on the wind.

Cassie Callahan gasped for air, but didn’t dare stop as she ran down the deserted sidewalk. One minute, she was living her normal, predictable life as she headed to her car after a routine late night at work. The next, she was running down an abandoned street after hearing a growl and looking up to see a pair of red eyes glowing with murderous intent in the darkness.

Come on, come on, she urged her tiring legs. Turning a corner, she ran faster.

Suddenly, a huge black shape dropped down from the sky onto the sidewalk before her. Screaming in fright, she tried to dodge this new threat, catching a glimpse of wicked-sharp fangs, but was swept up into a pair of arms that felt like iron bars.

Settle, little one. I mean you no harm. A deep voice whispered the words into her mind as Cassie struggled to get away from her captor. She froze in shock as the large male wrapped his cloak securely around her, then rapidly took to the sky.

She heard the thing that had been chasing her scream its rage as it was denied its reward. Cassie clutched the male, shuddering, as the lights of the city fell away beneath them. She was not normally a coward, but this whole horrifying night was starting to take its toll.

Zylek breathed a sigh of relief as he carefully held the female in his arms. He pulled her closer, taking care that her fragile skin was protected against the cold chill of the night sky.

His Lifemate.

Zylek had first seen Cassie in a coffee shop late one night about two weeks prior. Something about her scent had called to him. As he got closer, he had stilled in disbelief to see the birthmark on her nape beneath her upswept golden hair, in the shape of wings holding a pentacle.

Only Lifemates, the human females fated for the Cognatio, the Vampire Nation, bore that mark. Vampires were born, not made, and only Lifemates could bear the seed of a vampire. And there had not been a Lifemate found for over 500 years.

For centuries, the Lifemates were hunted by the Lost, the monsters created when a hell-demon poisoned a vampire. The Lost wanted to destroy the Cognatio, the guardians of the mortal world, so they could rule instead and enslave all humans.

Destroying the Cognatio Lifemates also meant that no more vampires could be born. For over half a millennium, it was believed all of the Lifemates had been lost.

Until now.

Zylek had brushed against her in the coffee shop, using the contact to scan her mind. Her name was Cassandra Callahan and she was an accountant. At age 16, she had left the foster care system where her abandonment as a baby had placed her, and worked while she finished high school. She then put herself through college and had been working at her present company for six years.

A strong and fitting mate for the King of the Vampire Nation.

Thank the Goddess Zylek had embedded a tendril of his life force within her that night and had been able to sense her fear. It hadn’t been his intention to capture his Lifemate like this, in a haze of fear and fury, but the Lost had forced his hand tonight. Now, she was safe in his arms where she belonged.

He brought Cassie to his lair, a beautiful Victorian at the edge of town. He landed on the top balcony and carried his Lifemate through the French doors into his dark bedroom. As he unwrapped her, he lit candles with his mind, watching as the illumination turned her hair to spun gold.

Cassie stilled when she looked up at the huge male holding her, recognizing him as the man to whom she had been uncharacteristically drawn in the coffee shop several weeks ago. He was well over six feet tall, with raven hair pulled back with a tie and amber eyes that looked at her with heat and purpose.

She hadn’t been able to stop thinking about him since. What were the chances he would be the one to save her from that … that thing? She looked at him with questions in her blue eyes.

“My name is Zylek, Cassie,” he said gently. “I am King of the Cognatio, the Vampire Nation. You were being pursued by one of the Lost.” He searched her face, relieved to see no fear of him.

“How did you know my name?”

“You have called to me since I first saw you, little one. You bear the mark of a Lifemate on your nape, a human female who is destined as mate for the Cognatio. You are the key to our existence and you are mine. Those things, the Lost, want to destroy us and our Lifemates so they can rule the human world, which is why one was pursuing you tonight.”

He touched her face softly. “You are the first Lifemate to be found in over 500 years, Cassie, which means there are more of you to be found. I know this is unbelievably fast, but I need you to search your soul for the truth and to trust me. Let me claim you now as my Lifemate and I will explain everything to you. Rule the Cognatio with me as my Queen as we search for your sisters to bring them home.”

Cassie knew the truth. She knew. She was fated to help save the mortal world. What else could explain the feeling of destiny that had steadily grown within her from the minute she first saw Zylek? She looked at him for a long moment, then tilted her head back and bared her neck to his fangs.

"Claim me, my dark King. We have work to do."


Tiffany Anderson-Taylor is a hairdresser and noted curly hair specialist who has written popular advice articles for numerous naturally curly hair sites, as well as published an acclaimed book on curly hair care. Her love of story writing for friends and family over the past two decades has led her to spread her wings to explore the world of fiction. Tiffany and her partner of almost 20 years live with their nine-year-old daughter, Katherine, in Gulfport, Florida.