Sunday, June 27th, 2010

How Not to Find Inspiration

We’ve been reading a lot of “Frog and Toad” books around the house, lately. They’re juvenile, but I’m really enjoying them. The author, Arnold Lobel, has an understated wit that sometimes flies over the head of youngsters, but is quite humorous.

Right now we’re reading “Frog and Toad are Friends.” (I HIGHLy recommend it. It’s a Caldecott Honor book, too, if you need more than my endorsement to pick it up.)

In the book is a short story called, “The Story,” in which Toad’s friend Frog is sick in bed and he asks Toad to tell him a story while he is resting.

Toad’s game for this, but he isn’t sure where to begin. So, for inspiration, he sits down and thinks about it for a while. He can’t come up with anything he likes, so he goes out on the porch to pace while he thinks. Unfortunately, this proves as fruitless as sitting and thinking. So, he comes back inside and stands on his head.

Toad Standing on His Head

“Why are you standing on your head,” asked Frog.

“I hope that if I stand on my head, it will help me to think of a story,” said Toad.

Toad stood on his head for a very long time. But he could not think of a story to tell Frog.

Next, Toad tries water as a stimulant.

Toad Pouring Water On His Head

“Why are you pouring water over your head?” asked Frog.

“I hope that if I pour water over my head, it will help me to think of a story,” said Toad.

Toad poured many glasses of water over his head. But he could not think of a story to tell Frog.

Then, Toad banged his head against the wall.

Toad Banging Head on Wall

“Why are you banging your head against the wall?” asked Frog.

“I hope that if I band my head against the wall hard enough, it will help me to think of a story,” said Toad.

This scene just makes me laugh.

There are days, like Toad, when I feel like banging my head against the wall when approaching a particular scene. I usually make myself a little note in brackets [write fight scene here] and then move on to the small stuff. I come back to the troublesome prose later.

Poor Toad’s problem was that he wanted a “good” idea for a story. My opinion: he should have run with whatever he came up with first. A bad idea is still an idea. It can be used up, embellished upon, and discarded (if necessary) later. Any idea is one you can work with. Dressing it up usually leads to others.

If you’re stuck: try writing about the first thing that comes into your brain. Use it as a thoroughfare to your next writing destination. You don’t need to keep it forever. Edit it out at the next pass. But use the idea to stimulate others.

In my opinion, there’s no such thing as a bad idea. There may be better ones, but how do you know until you’ve written it?

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

Mentioned by Night Owl Reviews – 4.25 Stars!

Bad Ass Fairies 3: In All Their Glory Book CoverThe Bad Ass Fairies Volume 3: In All Their Glory received a 4.25 star review from Night Owl Reviews!

Of the 21 stories in the anthology, two were singled out for attention: John L. French’s and mine! Here’s that nugget, along with a mention for editor Danielle Ackley-McPhail:

Particularly enjoyable were the John L. French tale that alternates between worlds yet explores the horrors of the drug trade upon two disparate cultures, the Kelly Harmon tale that explores another use for the selkie fur and the editor’s exploration of the Wild Hunt.

Read the entire review here.

Friday, June 25th, 2010

Writing Prompt – Anger Management

Angry MuppetsI got angry this week.

That’s not unusual….but this week I got really, stinking, spitting, crying angry when I heard the freaking, rotten news about…

…well, I can’t get into it here. (For my co-workers who read this blog: nope, it wasn’t about Thursday.)

How did I release the stress?

I did something I haven’t done in a long time. I put my “angry song” on the car stereo and played it over and over and over again about a million times on my way to work…at about a million decibels loud.

I’d forgotten how cathartic it is to literally SCREAM away the hurtful feelings while belting out the lyrics.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m still spitting angry about the situation…but that initial hot-faced, head-pounding feeling is gone. I’m on a low simmer. Worse, there’s nothing I can do about the situation because I’m not in control. Well…I could air my feelings to the offending party, but that’s only going to cause hurt feelings all the way around and still not change anything… I’m stuck.

(Those of you who know me very well know that I can’t let this lie for too long. Otherwise, it’s just going to fester. I need to get it out before I explode. Timing, of course, is everything…)

Here’s Your Prompt:  Write a scene where the main character hears something that made him the angriest he’s ever been. (This character could be you, btw.) What brought on the anger…betrayal? A lie? An accident? How about a revealing, devastating truth?

Show your character’s anger, don’t tell it. Relate how your character initially felt upon getting angry. Did the anger strike all at once? Or, did it bloom from something less? What physical symptoms did you character feel? Pounding head? Hot face? Burning eyes? Chest pain?

Write it so your reader can feel it, too.

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Writer’s Block – Like Smashing Wasps

Wasp Nest I found this wasp’s nest under my eaves on Sunday. I was stunned by its size…completely amazed at how fast this thing got there.

Suddenly, I was facing a very unpleasant experience. How was I going to get this thing down without a zillion stings? (And believe me, I know what a zillion wasp stings feel like–ask me later.)

The Husband of Awesome™ and I dithered over what to do. We had some wasp and hornet spray, but using it meant getting within 20 feet of the nest, according to the can. Was that far enough away?

We could try shooting from the upstairs window. Very awkward.

Not only that, we’d used this spray on tiny nests, beginners, if you will. Would it work on something this big?

We considered knocking the nest off with a broom, again from the upstairs window. This would mean shoving the entire broom out the window and swatting at the nest with little leverage. And what if we knocked that nest into the window?

With one good swipe, we might be able to drop both nest and broom to the deck below and slam the window against angry wasps. Could we do it?

Are you seeing how this relates to writing, and more specifically, writer’s block?

For me, getting through writer’s block has always been about knowing where I want the story to end up…and just maneuvering to get there. I don’t have to know all the details to keep the story flowing and the words coming.

Here was an interesting twist: I had my ending (So long, wasp’s nest!) but I was blocked by the consequences of what my actions could cause. Paralyzed by indecision. There were so many possibilities, I didn’t know which was best or most appropriate. Have you encountered this problem with your writing?

Here’s what we did about the wasps:

  1. We waited until 11 p.m. (hoping the cooler air would make the wasps more sluggish) and used the spray from the upstairs window.
    • This resulted in some VERY ANGRY wasps. (Do you know the sound of a zillion wasps rumbling within the confines of their own nest? Frightening. And louder than you might imagine.) They poured out of the nest like gasoline. It was all we could do to shut the window.
  2. We learned that 5:00 in the morning is cooler than 11:00 p.m. (Duh.) and decided to give the spray a chance from the deck below.
    • This resulted in some less-than-stellar results. The spray mostly dissipated into a cloud about 10 feet from the can as the propellant lacked the oomph to reach the eaves. The narrow stream of insecticide that reached the wasps only served to rally them. Coolness was obviously not an issue.
  3. We abandoned the broom idea, even after examining all the brooms we own and choosing the heavy-duty push broom from the garage.
    • I really wanted to try it, but the Husband of Awesome™ didn’t relish the idea of spending the morning in the ER with me…

And that’s when he got a brilliant idea. Why not use the hose?

And there was the answer to the writing dilemma…when multiple possibilities loom, try them all. (I attempted all ideas, even the “bad” one. After all, the broom had been considered, approved, chosen, and carried to the window…) What’s the cost of writing it all to see which works best…some words tried and discarded? Time lost doesn’t count: it’s a wash when compared to what may be lost in indecision.

Working through all the possibilities gets the creative juices flowing. In the midst of apparent defeat, a new idea may be, as ours was, formulated, considered, and executed.

The next time I’m faced with similar writing circumstances, I’m going to write each possibility to see which one fits the situation the best. I hope that doing so leads me to that final possibility: the one I hadn’t considered at first (or even thought of) but is the right one to conclude the situation.

Decimated Wasp's Nest
So long, wasps!
Friday, June 18th, 2010

Writing Prompt: Landmarks and Legends

When the Husband of Awesome™ and I were in Italy on our honeymoon, we walked across the Bridge of Sighs in Venice. Each of us, without knowing what the other planned, took a deep breath and sighed loudly as we crossed. We broke into laughter then, and I’m tickled every time I think about it.

Built in 1602, the bridge connects the city dungeons with the interrogation rooms in the Doge’s (The Duke’s) Palace. It’s made of white limestone, is fully enclosed, and the windows are barred with stone so that prisoners could not escape by jumping into the river below.

This last fact is suspect, as the bridge was popularized by Lord Byron only in the 19th century (he named it). And, he quite probably spread the rumor that it’s name evolved from the fact that as condemned prisoners crossed the bridge to their fate, they sighed at the beauty of Venice–the last thing they saw before they were executed.

In reality, according to Wikipedia, “the days of inquisitions and summary executions were over by the time the bridge was built and the cells under the palace roof were occupied mostly by small-time criminals.”

Still, I find it a beautiful piece of architecture. I’m glad I had the opportunity to cross it.

Rumor has it that lovers will be granted everlasting love if they kiss on a gondola at sunset under the bridge. (I’ve no idea what it means if two young lovers cross the bridge, sigh simultaneously, then guffaw in shared comedic bliss. But I’m certain those floating lovers have got nothing on us.)

Here’s your prompt: think of your favorite landmark or monument and discover if there are any local legends or false-histories about it. If you enjoy world building, create your own monument or landmark. Write its history, and its legends.

Consider: Why was it built? Does it honor one person, or many? Or, does it honor an event? What is the significance to the local population? Or, what if the local population has been conquered and nearly eradicated or absorbed…what kind of meaning is endowed to it by the conquerors? Did they try to tear it down? How long has it existed?

Once you have your landmark and legend, write a story or a scene or a vignette based on the rumor and the history.

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

A Few Days Off From Writing…

TiredI’m too tired to write.

It’s been a craptastic™ week so far with me getting up way to early and going to bed far later than is actually good for me, and spending a lot of time on the road (over 500 miles in the last few days). I’m just a tad stressed.

My brain is fried. (I can feel it taking way longer than it should for me to hammer this out…)

Fiction, tonight, is not going to happen.

That’s a hard statement for me to type. I try to write fiction every day. Daily writing is a good method for keeping in the groove. If I let a few days pass without writing — for any reason — I sometimes have a hard time pushing past the inertia to get the words to flow again.

I keep a little spreadsheet (okay, it’s kind of a big spreadsheet) where I record the statistics of my writing. I despise typing in a big fat ZERO on any day of the week (because, let’s face it, once I do, it populates through about a dozen columns of tallies and percentages and MOCKS me). It’s a fabulous motivational tool, but the flip side, of course, is the letdown. I don’t like to let myself down.

But I knew heading into this week that fatigue was going to play a major role. Making my (self-imposed) word-count minimums would be a real struggle. After all, it’s hard to write when your brain won’t function. I’ve done it before…but it takes so much longer than when my mind is fresh.

But this week I decided to give myself a break and take a few days off, just until I can get a good night sleep, and get the mileage under control. I bought a handful of new books yesterday afternoon, and resolved to read them all. (I’ve read them all, but one, already.) And I’ve made a good dent in the knitted sock project I started. Tonight, I’m going to finish the last book, and (I hope) get to bed at a decent hour.

Tomorrow, I think, I’ll be ready to write. I caught myself daydreaming about my WIP on the long trek home from work tonight. Usually, nothing busts through the fatigue when I get like this. Maybe there’s something to be said for ignoring the taunting voice in my head.

I still have to write ZEROS on my spreadsheet…but I’ll annotate them to remind myself that time off can be just as valuable as pushing through the fatigue.

Monday, June 14th, 2010

Guest Interview: Jason Kahn

Jason Kahn is an author published by Damnation Books, a sister company to Eternal Press. He and I met through the author boards and found we have a lot in common. His story, The Killer Within–available from Damnation Books–has racked up some impressive reviews.

The Killer Within by Jason KahnKAH: Who is Jason Kahn?

JK: I’m a husband, father of two boys, journalist, and writer of fiction when I’m not busy being any of those other things. My brood and I live in Park Slope, Brooklyn, but I grew up in Rockville, Md., just outside of Washington, DC. I attended the University of Michigan as an undergrad and NYU for graduate school for a degree in journalism and science reporting. In my day job, I run a daily news service for cardiologists that is owned and operated by a research foundation. I began writing fiction seriously after college, and started getting published a few years ago. I have a handful of short stories and an e-book to my name as well as a continuing online series and an agreement to write a hardboiled crime novel for Fireside Mysteries, a small press house.

KAH: You work full time as an editor/writer for a large cardiology foundation. Do you feel that this helps or hinders your creative writing?

JK: If anything it helps. In my job as a news editor, I come across a ton of scientific material every day that I have to sift through in order to decide what’s worth writing about. A lot of these items, and I mean a LOT, lend themselves quite naturally to the realm of science fiction and/or fantasy. As a matter of fact, I contribute a monthly blog for Abandoned Towers Magazine in which I present news items I’ve collected from my job and describe how they can serve as springboards for really cool stories. Here’s a link to my latest one.

KAH: What do you do when you feel burned out on writing?

JK: I wage a continuing struggle to find time to write. I wish I had so much time that I had the opportunity to feel burned out. Alas, that has yet to occur.

KAH: Tell us your latest news.

JK: I have a few things going on at the moment. I have an e-book titled The Killer Within that was released by Damnation Books in late 2009. It’s a hardboiled crime thriller with just a dash of the paranormal. I also write an online detective series published by Abandoned Towers Magazine called The Dark InSpectre. This is also hardboiled crime fiction, but very noir and much darker, with a much more supernatural edge to it. New episodes are posted every two weeks. In addition, I have a fantasy short story titled Cold Comfort scheduled to come out in the July issue of Abandoned Towers. It’s about the true nature of love, and the terrible consequences that can occur when love is thwarted.

Incidentally, I believe you know the managing editor of Abandoned Towers, Crystalwizard? Didn’t she do the artwork for the cover of one of your books? She is also a supremely talented editor.

[KAH: Interrupting to affirm that Crystalwizard created the cover art for my story, The Dragon’s Tale.]

And lastly is the agreed-upon crime novel I mentioned earlier for Fireside Mysteries. I need to have a plot overview and the first three chapters by August. So between writing The Dark InSpectre and the novel at the same time, my little brain is quite occupied most of the time!

KAH: When and why did you begin writing?

JK: Academically, I was always drawn to it—high school newspaper, stuff like that. I was headed toward a journalism degree my second or third year in college, so I knew then that I wanted to be a writer. But it wasn’t until the summer after my senior year that I discovered I wanted to be a WRITER. I’d been reading scifi-fantasy books since I was a kid, and during my senior year, my then-girlfriend, now-wife, said to me, “hey, why don’t you write one of those?” Incredible as it may seem, the thought had never occurred to me before. That summer I started writing, and haven’t stopped since.

KAH: When did you first consider yourself a writer?

JK: It changes. Sometimes I think it was after my first short story sale. Sometimes I think it was after my first (and thus far only) professional short story sale. Sometimes I don’t really consider myself a writer at all because I don’t write fiction for a living. Sometimes I think that’s ridiculous because I do make a living writing and editing, just not fiction. Then there are other times when I think that if and when I have an actual novel published, like I hopefully will with the one I’m writing now, that I can honestly look in the mirror and say, Chum, you’re a writer, you are.

Jason Kahn - Dark In SpectreKAH: Have your personal experiences shown up in your writing?

JK: A personal experience that did actually turn up in my writing derived from my inspiration for the Dark InSpectre series. It sprang from a dream I had, which turned into the first scene of the story. It involved the psychic ghost of a dead girl leading the main character, a telepathic cop (me in my dream), into a room with four prisoners (brothers) encased in blocks of semi-translucent material. Yes, I know, very strange dream. But more important than the actual scene was the mood. It was futuristic and very dark and brooding. I mulled over my dream for about a month as I wound a story around it. I saw it as a cross between L.A. Confidential and the psi-core of Babylon 5. And at heart it was a hardboiled crime thriller.

KAH: What authors have most influenced your writing?

JK: Many, many authors have influenced me: Raymond Feist, JRR Tolkien, Ursula K. Leguin, Anne Bishop, Patricia McKillip, Steven Brust, Katherine Kurtz, Sheri Tepper, Fritz Leiber, David Eddings, Stephen Donaldson, Michael Moorcock, Neil Gaiman, and James Ellroy to name a few.

Early on, I would say Feist and Eddings influenced me the most as I tried to write fantasy-adventures, but over the past few years, much more Ellroy as I’ve been writing more noir crime fiction. I read several detective fiction authors as I worked on The Dark InSpectre. Raymond Chandler, Peter Lovesey, and then I read James Ellroy. The Black Dahlia, L.A. Confidential, and many more. I wasn’t prepared, my mind exploded. I could not put them down.

The first-person narrative style he uses in some of his novels and the way he illuminates the darkness that dwells in the souls of his protagonists is very compelling. And his prose hits you like a hammer.

KAH: What book are you reading now? What do you like, or not, about it?

JK: I just finished reading At End of Day, by George V. Higgins. His most famous novel, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, was a crime drama that was the forerunner of much of James Ellroy’s and Elmore Leonard’s work. So after I finished that book, I read At End of Day, which also involved Boston-area crime figures. This book, though, was not nearly as good. It was almost entirely dialogue driven, to the point where I found myself wishing the characters would just stop talking for a single second. Still, I did learn a few things regarding the genre. Higgins’ knowledge of the mundane details that make up the criminal world is like a treasure trove, and his dialogue, while over used, is still right on the money in terms of how real people speak.

KAH: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

JK: I’d say the biggest challenge is finding the time. Both to write and to just think about a story, to work it out in my head. I’m a news editor by day, and my job is extremely busy. I’m also a husband and father of two boys in elementary school. I’ll write whenever I can, but long stretches can go by during which I’m not writing. It can be very frustrating. I go on business trips about 4 times a year, and I find that I can get a lot of writing done on the plane if I’m traveling by air. It’s great getting a few hours of uninterrupted writing time during a flight.
Sometimes the writing itself can be hard. Not the “big scenes,” those are usually pretty well thought out. It’s the little scenes, the transitions, the mundane stuff. That can be extremely hard for me to write.

KAH: Do you have any advice for other writers?

JK: My advice for other writers is simple and direct. If you want to be a writer, sit your butt down and write—something, anything. But write. It doesn’t even have to be good. In fact, when you start, it will probably be crap, and that’s okay. You have to write a lot of crap before you can start writing goodly (see?). It’s how you learn. Write and submit your writing to people other than your family members and loved ones. That’s another way you learn. You’ll get criticism. Accept it graciously, even the stuff you don’t agree with. And above all, keep writing.

KAH: How can we find you? Website, Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc. – please share your links.





Friday, June 11th, 2010

Writing Prompt: Found on the Side of the Road

Leg BraceLast week on the way home from work I saw the most interesting thing. It was an old-fashioned leg brace–perhaps the kind people are fitted with when suffering from polio–standing upright near a guardrail.

It struck me as a very strange object to see on the roadside.

I’ve seen plenty of missing shoes, singles and pairs, usually looking as if they’d been tossed or accidentally pushed out the car door while stopping for something else. I’m sure you’ve seen tennis shoes, laces tied, hanging over telephone wires. Never have I seen something appearing to stand at attention, drawing my eye, as this forlorn shoe did.

The brace was standing upright, turned toward the woods as if the owner simply stepped out of it and into the trees, never more to be seen. Perhaps this was the residue of a miracle?Guardrail along wooded roadside.

I began to think about this brace: who could have worn it? How old was it? How did it get left behind? Why was it standing? (And lucky for me, if it hadn’t been, I may never have seen it.)

The day I remembered to drag my camera with me, the brace was gone, probably knocked over by mowers. So, sadly, you’re stuck with these imaginative photos rather than the real thing. But I think you get the idea.

Here’s your prompt:

Imagine the brace and the situation. As above, who owned it? How did it get there? Why was it standing? Don’t answer these questions literally. Tell the story. Show what happened. Bonus points if you leave the story in the comments.

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

No More Text Books: Enter Kindle

It was only a matter of time, right?

Students at Clearwater High School in Tampa, Florida are getting Kindles instead of text books in the fall.

From the story:

Though the school hasn’t settled on a vendor, school officials are negotiating with Amazon Kindle to try to equip all 2,100 students with the 10-ounce devices this fall.

Already, the school issued e-readers to all 100 of its teachers.

Principal Keith Mastorides said he was inspired to make the switch earlier this school year after campus surveys revealed a desire to integrate more technology with classroom instruction.

“When you think about students today, three-quarters of their day is spent on some kind of electronic device,” Mastorides said. “We’re just looking at textbooks a little differently.”

It makes sense to me. Teens are so connected these days that I can see them embracing electronic texts with more passion than they do hard-copy ones. And no more leaving text books in the locker overnight because they’re too heavy to carry home.

There’s also the cost factor: electronic texts are less expensive than their hard-copy counterparts. And losing a Kindle doesn’t mean losing all the texts stored on it. Those files can be transferred to a new device.

Read the full story here from the St. Petersburg Times.