Friday, December 31st, 2010

Writing Prompt: Injured!

Kelly A. Harmon's Injured FingerI hurt my finger.

Baking Christmas cookies.

I kid you not.

I bake a lot of cookies, dozens of cookies, a gross of dozens of cookies each year for gifts and to put out for Christmas dinner.

I make biscotti and pizzelles using my Italian grandmother’s recipes. These recipes call for kneading the cookie dough, and in the case of the pizzelles, squeezing hard knots of the mixture between wooden-handled irons over the flame of the stove.

(These are not the sissy, liquid pour-and-bake that you buy in the store, or that many folks resort to making because they can’t find the old-fashioned irons.)

I literally wore out my hands kneading the dough. It was so bad by the end, that I couldn’t squeeze out a sponge to wash down the counter tops.

It’s getting better now that I’m wearing a splint, which I’ll likely sport for a few days more. It’s been incredibly enlightening to see how such a minor injury has affected the activities I do daily: signing my name, brushing my teeth, typing.

And strangely, this one injury has beget another: a blister has formed on the pad of my middle finger. From what? I know not. Perhaps the minor rubbing upon it as I still try to do things with this splint (like knit!).

Here’s Your Prompt: Injure your character. Make it as minor as a finger splint or as major as the loss of a limb. See how it affects the plot of your story. What things can your character still do? What things are out of the question?

(Believe it or not, I’m typing with this splint. It’s slow, and I can’t feel the keys I touch with it, but it’s working…)

Do personal research: pretend you’re injured. Put nails in your shoe to make yourself limp. Put a popsicle stick on your finger and pretend it’s broken. Try walking without using your leg. What kind of frustrations do you experience? What thoughts do you have? Attribute these to the character in your story.

If you’re journaling, instead of writing fiction: describe a time when you were injured. What happened? What did you hear? Feel? Think? Was it an accident, or did someone injure you deliberately? What did you feel afterward? What are you still feeling about the injury?

Friday, December 24th, 2010

Writing Prompt – In Honor of the Moon

Eclipse - Photo by Kelly A. Harmon
I think I’ve already mentioned that I have a thing for the moon.

There’s something mysterious about it that never fails to captivate me. I take time to gaze at the moon nearly every day.

The recent Solstice Eclipse, therefore, was something I was not going to miss. The Husband of Awesome™ set the 2:30 a.m. alarm and out into the cold we went.

This photo, as I’ve mentioned on Facebook, is my inexpert attempt at capturing the event.

So, in honor of the moon, here are some moon-related writing prompts….snippets of poetry and sentence starters…not the detailed suggestions I usually offer.

I’d love to read what you come up with….feel free to post in the comments or send me something via email.

Here are the Prompts:

  • “It’s a marvelous night for a moondance…” (Van Morrison lyrics)
  • A walk on a monlit path…
  • Write about being moonstruck.
  • What counsel has the hooded moon… (James Joyce)
  • “Fly me to the moon, let me play among the stars…” (1954, written by Bart Howard)
  • Write about an eclipse.
  • The purity of the unclouded moon has flung its atrowy shaft upon the floor… (William Butler Yeats)
  • Write about a honeymoon.
  • Each night, as the moon rises…
  • It’s only a paper moon sailing over a cardboard sea…” (Arlen, Harburg and Rose)
  • Write about the cycles of the moon.
  • “Everyone’s gone to the moon…” (Johnathan King, 1969)
  • Write about the Harvest moon.
  • Tubas in the moonlight, playing for me all night, Tell me what I want to hear. (Bonzo Dog Band, 1968)
  • And finally, here’s a short list of “moon” words to spark your writing:

moonbeam, moonbow, mooncalf, mooned, moonflower, moonless, moonlight, moonlike, moon maiden, moonrise, moonscape, moonseeds, moonset, moonshines, moonstone, moonwalk, moonward, moonworts, moony

Monday, December 20th, 2010

A (Brief) Review of “How I Write” by Janet Evanovich

Cover: How I Write by Janet EvanovichI read a lot of “How to Write” books. I love to. I find it fascinating, as I think many other writers do, to witness the writing process of another writer.

Some books are good. Others are duds.

This one, for me, is a dud, mainly because the information is very basic.

The book is divided into sections (Creating Great Characters, Nuts and Bolts, Structure, Revising and Editing, Getting Published, and more) each with an introduction by Ina Yalog.

These introductions are, in my opinion, the best part of the book. They contain most of the valuable nuggets of information.

The rest of each section is set up in Q&A format. From the length of many questions, I assume that these are real questions that Evanovich has fielded from aspiring writers, taken verbatim from email or letter. In fact, a few of the same questions are still on the FAQ of her Web site.

Evanovich’s answers are short and to the point. Quite clearly she stays on topic of “How I   Write.” It’s not often Evanovich does more than answer the literal question as asked.

It wouldn’t have taken much, I think, to put in a bit more effort — to answer questions more completely — and create a more comprehensive, more useful, book.

Some points are illustrated by snippets of prose from Evanovich’s many Stephanie Plum series books. Although useful, these sometimes felt like an advertisement for the books. Coupled with the brevity of Evanovich’s response to many of the questions, the entire package feels like she is simply cashing in on the questions of her readers.

Sadly, much of the information provided can be found elsewhere on the internet, albeit without her dry wit and a bit of background about the Stephanie Plum series characters.

All that being said, new or inexperienced writers may find much of the information useful. For them, Evanovich’s book could be a good starting point.

My rating:
Chewed Pencil
One Chewed Pencil
Sunday, December 19th, 2010

I Promised You a Knitting Photo…

Kelly's New Scarf She Knitted HerselfSo here it is.

I’ve *finally* finished the hooded scarf I’ve been working on for months. I wanted to get it done before it snowed…and I just about made it.

I made it long enough so that I can toss it back over my shoulders if I want to.

The lovely thing is, I bought enough yarn that I’ve got some left over for mittens. I’ve already started working on those. The pattern I have, with a single cable across the top of the hand knit up in a few hours.

So, if I can find a few spare hours over the next week or so, I might just get those finished, too.

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Writing Prompt – Write What You Know

Hand Writing on a Page“Write what you know” is probably the most hackneyed phrase spoken in writing classes.

Some people think the statement is way off base. How can you write a futuristic science fiction tale if you’ve never flown in a rocket?

I think these people are taking the statement too literally. Or perhaps teachers aren’t explaining it well enough.

I think you can take practically anything you know, and it apply it to any genre. And, I think writing what you know is also the easiest way to make your words seem completely realistic to the reader.

I have a personal example:

I was nine when my grandfather died.

He and I were close, even in the last years of his life, when, jailed by his broken body, he sat confined in a wheel chair. The numerous surgeries that reduced him to this half-life also removed his ability to speak. He communicated with pencil and paper: jagged scribbles made by a stroke-palsied hand, punctuated with slashed underlines when he couldn’t make himself understood.

His sudden death surprised me.

I’m sure the adults saw it coming, but I hadn’t been privy to those hushed and furtive conversations about Grandpop’s condition.

It rained the day of his funeral, making the church gloomy with darkened, stained-glass windows. Cloying incense filled the church, the funeral rites seemed interminable, and the priest droned on.

I remember standing on the steps of the church afterward, waiting for the coffin to be loaded into the hearse. The moment the pall bearers pushed the coffin outside the double doors, the clouds broke and a sunbeam burst through. I had a sudden feeling that Grandpop was finally at peace.

So, what do I know? And how can I apply that to my writing?

  • The antiseptic smell of a hospital, the quiet discussion of visitors, the squeak of a nurse’s shoe on tile set the scene for a horror story.
  • So too does the odor I remember: the gauze-wrapped wounds, the paper tape, iodine or some other chemical…and the decay of a body still living.
  • The hospital-room machinery seemed space-age through the eyes of a child. As an adult I can write about the digital displays, the symphony of beep and whine and hum of the collected devices, and the intent of the machinery in a science fiction tale. I can extrapolate what I remember into futuristic appliances — decision making robots, even — which not only perform a dedicated task but make decisions about the patient’s care.
  • I’ve used portions of my grandfather’s graveside service for a funeral in one of my fantasy stories. The weather alone sets the scene: a sunny internment preceded by pouring rain and a single ray of sun.
  • Finally: in any genre, I can use the emotions. To my nine-year-old self, my relationship to my grandfather was nothing out of the ordinary. I accepted his disabilities because it was, for the most part, the only way I’d known him. Though I missed him, I even accepted his death as the next stage of his life.

    On the other hand, I remember my grandmother’s tremendous grief, her stoic bravery in public and her weeping in private. I remember her saying that she could not live without my grandfather, and realizing that a large part of her spirit did, in fact, die with him.

    I remember witnessing the numbness of others in the family.

    Any of these emotions can be attributed to the characters in my stories, either singly or as a composite.

Here’s Your Prompt:   Dissect your life. Choose a memory that stands out as the most exciting, or most monumental, or even, most sorrowful. Journal your memory. What do you remember seeing or hearing? Did it take place inside or outside? What was the weather like? While you’re writing, include details and imagery from all five senses (seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling).

When you’re finished, review what you’ve written as a basis for a story. What details can be extrapolated or built upon and used in a different scenario or setting? What were you feeling at the time that could be attributed to a character? Can you use anything in a story you’re writing now?

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

The Best of Intentions…

When I got home from the day job today, I was going to:

  • bake three dozen cookies
  • finish up the soap-making I’d started for gifts for Christmas, and
  • whip out a blog post

I started with the blog post, and it’s 9:25 p.m…. Where did the time go?

I did manage to finish the knitting project I’ve been working on for several months (should have only taken a few weeks, but who has the time?) I’ll post a photo when I can find someone to take the picture. Maybe next week.

I did come across an interesting web page useful for anyone looking for short story ideas. (I’d planned to use it in an another post, but it’s too good not to share now.)

Here’s the link to Short Story Ideas where, according to the site owner, flashes of inspiration are only a click away.

The site has several idea generators, including first lines, story titles, characters and scenarios. For those more visually attuned, there’s even a random image generator. If you don’t like what’s generated, a click of your mouse will provide an alternative.

The web author touts it as a short story idea generator, but it could be used for novels or even poetry just as handily.

I promise to get my post on generating story ideas finished by…next week. In the meantime, I’m off to wrap packages and sip some egg nog…

Friday, December 10th, 2010

Writing Prompt – What Do Your Characters Collect?

Sinister Minister and Bad HabitI collect dolls. The more unusual, the better. I have several mundane and beautiful specimens, but the unusual ones are the ones I like the best.

Sometimes, it’s a defect that attracts me. For instance, I have a Geordie LaForge (Star Trek) action figure with two left hands. (I’m still wondering how that got off the assembly line.)

Or it’s the rarity: I have a tiny little boy doll made in 1960s Italy which is anatomically correct.

I absolutely love my Living Dead Dolls: Sinister Minster and Bad Habit. Toddler dolls, dressed as a priest and a nun, laying in a coffin. They come with their own death certificates. This I find clever, and I like clever very, very much.

Like it or not, we all collect….and our collections reflect something about us. It provides useful information to the people who know us.

For instance, I also have a collection of Matryoshka dolls, sometimes called babushkas: Russian nesting dolls. The collection started when I inherited several from a great aunt who brought them over from the Ukraine. The mass produced ones you can buy these days are horrible — so generic — but hers have genuine character. Collecting them rules my actions:

I scour estate sales and yard sales. I search for them on Ebay. I put them on my Christmas list.

Some people collect unconsciously. Others have collections thrust upon them. Some people display them prominently, some people hide their collections away like dirty little obsessions.

Here’s Your Prompt: Develop a character for a short story or novel (or use one you currently have) and give him a collection. Show us: is it something he or she decided to collect, or did he or she inherit (or simply receive) it in some fashion? How does the character house that collection? Is it displayed prominently? Is it well-kept? Perhaps items are simply acquired and tossed in a drawer.

Next, take a moment to explain how the collection defines your character. What does it tell about him or her? What does how your character’s care of the collection tell you about him?

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Remembering Peal Harbor

Bombing of the USS Arizona - Photo from the National Georgraphic Web Site

Quoting myself from last year:

I’m remembering history today, as the attack occurred decades before I was born. I can only imagine the anguish it caused– and the sheer pissed-offed-ness — that this kind of attack engenders…

Thank you, WWII Veterans. Thank you, service men and women of today.

Additional Pearl Harbor Information:

National Park Service – History of the U.S.S. Arizona

National Geographic’s Pearl Harbor Pages

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Organizing, anyone? I’m Open to Suggestions…

OrganizedI’m trying to get organized.

Every once in a while when things seem to get out of hand, I decide I need to be more organized.

The fact is: I am really organized. I’m just trying to do too much. I don’t have enough hours in the day to fit everything in.

(Whenever anyone asks me, “What do you want for ___ — fill in the blank: Christmas, Birthday, Other Special Event — I always answer “more time.”)

With the holidays approaching, I’ve reached crunch time again and I feel like everything is going to pieces (even if it’s not). So, I’m back in organization mode (and a bit of procrastinating, too…funny how those seem to go hand-in-hand.)

A while back I tried a “personal wiki” to get things organized, and I loaded one again tonight. I’m using the “GTD Plus” wiki which I can run on a thumb drive. It’s going to take some configuring to make it work, but it does have more going for it than the first version.

I’ve got some novel edits to finish (and then send off to prospective agents), I’ve got a short story to finish for a contest, and another to finish just because it needs to be done, and I’ve got “shared world” manuals to read so that I can submit some stories for that…

….and oh, there’s the cookie baking, and the gift shopping, and the wrapping, and house cleaning… Well, you get the idea.

So,how do you get it all done? What can I do to squeeze more time out of a day? How can I automate things to get more done?

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

Holiday Sale! 25% Off Blood Soup plus a Freebie

Sale CouponHere’s a coupon!

If you purchase an electronic copy of Blood Soup from my publisher, you can save 25%.

Use coupon code 19BloodSoup#72 in the shopping cart.

Here’s the link.

I’ll sweeten the deal: if you purchase a copy of Blood Soup, I’ll email you an electronic copy The Dragon’s Clause. Just send me a copy of the receipt.

(I’ll honor this for folks who’ve bought Blood Soup any time this year.)

Happy Holidays!