Saturday, December 31st, 2011
The presents unwrapped, the (delicious!) Rock and Rye all consumed, we loaded the car and came home from my Mom and Dad’s… the first Christmas we’d spent there in a lot of years.
My little home town sported this big “Welcome Home, Troops” sign and flag at the traffic circle a few miles from my home.
Welcome Home, Troops!
Friday, December 30th, 2011
We’re a people who live on hopes and dreams.
We make a wish on a falling star, crack open a fortune cookie with hope, and blow our desires into the wind on dandelion seeds.
It’s like we’ll find any excuse to make a wish:
- blowing out all the candles on a birthday cake
- seeing the first star of the night (Star light, Star bright…)
- tossing coins in a well
- breaking wish bones
- when the clasp of your necklace touches the charm (while you’re wearing it)
- an eyelash that’s fallen out
Let’s make good use of those wishes by writing about what comes from them…
Here’s Your Prompt:
- You’re walking down the beach and you find an old scotch bottle half-buried in the sand. The cork is in place, and it’s been sealed even further with one of those wire cages used to keep champagne corks in place. On top of the wire is duct tape, making certain that cork never comes out.
But you can’t help yourself: off comes the tape and the wire, and out comes the cork. A stream of dark blue smoke snakes out of the bottle and solidifies into a genie. He or she is beautiful beyond belief, and in age-old style, offers you three wishes for rescuing him (or her) from the bottle.
It’s not until after you make the wishes that you find out that the genie is really a demon, and it has it’s own special way of fulfilling your desires…
- Have you ever wished for something good for you, that might have been detrimental to someone else if it came true? Write what might have happened. Or, use this idea as a springboard for a story: the wish is what starts the trouble…
- You’re granted a wish where you can choose two of the following: love, health, success or wealth. You’re life will be filled with the opposite of the two you don’t choose. So, if you don’t choose wealth, you will be poor. If you don’t choose health, you will be sickly, etc. Which do you choose? How do you cope with the other?
- Use the above scenario in a story. Here’s the twist: One character may choose any of the four attributes for himself, but he must bestow the other three (one each) on three of his friends. (None are ‘penalized’ with an opposite of the other gifts.) How does your character make the choices? Does he tell his friends what he’s done? Why or why not? How do these changes affect their relationships?
- Someone says to you, “I wish you were the President. Things would be a little better around here.” Poof! You’re the president. How would you make things better? How do you rally the House and Senate around you to get things done? What happens if you can’t convince them to see your point of view?
- Don’t want to fight the House or Senate? Poof! You’re a tyrant, a despot, a dictator, or (simply) the leader of a country with no governmental checks and balances. What beliefs have you built your country on? How is it working? How do you fix things when they aren’t working to your satisfaction?
Thursday, December 29th, 2011
The latest Broad Pod Podcast is available.
The theme is about Faith and Fear and contains a snippet of me reading from “On the Path.” The podcast contains five authors reading about five minutes from their stories…just enough of a juicy tidbit to (we hope) get you interested in the rest.
You can download (or just listen to it) from here: http://broadpod.posterous.com/december-2011-faith-and-fear.
All previous Broad Universe Podcasts can be found on the BroadPod blog.
If you’re interested, you can find my previous BroadPod readings on the blog at:
Friday, December 23rd, 2011
Things have been pretty quiet around the blog lately. I’ve been baking lots of cookies, and working more than I want to at the day job, but it’s been hard to concentrate on the writing stuff — mostly — because I was being sued and had to go to court.
In short: I was leaving a parking lot nearly three (3!) years ago when a man backed out of a parking space and struck my car. He brought suit against me this July. He claimed it was my fault, and he sought recompense for doctor’s bills, pain and suffering, damage to his car, etc.
The amount he sued me for elevated the case out of the lower court and we had to go to trial.
My lawyer successfully defended me, so all is well. (Now, maybe I can get back to the writing.)
A funny part of the story: I learned I was being sued by advertising. I received three letters in the mail, all from attorneys offering to represent me, before I’d even been served.
Here’s Your Prompt:
- Involve one of your characters with the law: have them be sued (or sue someone) and need to go to trial. Or, have them witness an event at which they have to testify. Worse, have him or her be held up at gunpoint, or be standing at the register when someone comes in to rob the establishment. Tell what happens.
- Create a fictional legal system to use in a short story or novel. Design the laws (and the reasons for them), how they are broken, and what the punishments are. If the punishment includes working off the debt, define how this is accomplished. If lawbreakers are punished with incarceration, design the jail system and holding cells. If punishment includes banishment, include information on where people are banished to (the living conditions, the environment, what they’re provided with, etc.). What other ways are people held accountable for their deeds in your world?
- Imagine a world where no laws exist. How does the world function? Is it a good or bad place to live in? How do people protect themselves against (human) predators? How could a legal system evolve? Would people want it to?
- Define our legal system as you would to a child.
- Write about the time you broke the law: Have you broken the speed limit? Ignored a ‘Do Not Litter’ sign? Walked off the path in a public park? Were you caught? What happened? Did you talk your way out of the situation? Did you have to pay a fine? Did you go to jail?
- Imagine being arrested for a crime you didn’t commit. The evidence against you looks bad. It’s so bad, that if you didn’t know you hadn’t done it, you would have thought you’d done it. Does the jury find for you or against you? Write how the trial proceeds.
- Imagine you are an attorney when “the case of the century” is handed to you to prosecute or defend. You know the outcome of the trail will change the world as you know it. What is this case? What is your argument as the prosecutor or defender? What will happen if you win or lose the trial?
Friday, December 16th, 2011
Today is the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, a key event in the American Revolution.
On December 16, 1773, after officials in Boston refused to return three shiploads of taxed tea to Britain, a group of Colonists boarded the ships — some dressed as Mohawk Indians — and destroyed the tea by throwing it into Boston Harbor.
(Governing officials thought Colonists would give in, accept the tax, and purchase the tea. They had no idea that the burgeoning American Spirit would incite such rebellion.)
Here’s Your Prompt:
- Write about rebellion: a time in the world’s history, or a time in your history. Have you ever gone against the establishment? Or fought for something for which you believed you were in the right?
- Write a rebellion into your current manuscript: it could be a tiny little thing (breaking a small infraction) or the telling of a war.
- Write about tea. Do you like or not? Do you drink it often? If not, when are you compelled to drink it? Are you a ‘ritual’ tea drinker…. following a precise set of rules for the heating of the water (and the teapot) and the correct timing of the brew? Or, are you a ‘boil a water and toss a bag into it’ kind of person?
- Do your characters drink tea? How about coffee? Beer? Soda, whiskey, wine? (Do you find your characters consume the same foods you do?) Write a scene where one of your characters drinks something other than what you have him normally drink. Do his actions change? His thoughts? Does this make the scene better or worse?
Thursday, December 15th, 2011
So, one of my roommates asked to borrow some wrapping paper to wrap a gift. This is what happened.
Note the strategic placement of granola bars to hold down the corners to commit this atrocity.
The worst part? The gift is apparently for me.
Saturday, December 10th, 2011
Gary W. Olson is a writer of horrific and fantastic stories. In his own words, he says his “fiction tends to blend aspects of the genres of science fiction, fantasy, dark fantasy, and horror, if only because I don’t believe that the boundaries of these genres are or should be all that firm in the first place.”
His book, Brutal Light is recently released from Damnation Books, and he’s kindly stopped by to discuss it, the writing life, and things that scare him…
As is my wont, I sent Gary a list of a bazillion* questions and asked him to answer 6 or 8 of his choice. In return, he’s offered to give away a free copy of his book to one lucky commenter…
Tell us a little about Brutal Light.
The story centers around a young woman, Kagami Takeda, who has a connection with an enigmatic and godlike sea of light she calls the Radiance. This connection affects others around her, either causing some form of insanity (in the case of her family) or bestowing heightened abilities (in the case of her lover, Nick Havelock). As a result, she has all but withdrawn from human contact, save for those few she’s already affected. But there are many others who covet her for the power they believe she can be made to yield, and when she is provoked to use this power, they come after her. Worse, the Radiance itself appears to have manipulated her into creating her own nemesis, with the power to destroy her.
The action takes place in both the ‘real,’ physical world and an unreal world that I’ve named the Noumenal (loosely inspired by Imanuel Kant’s definition of ‘noumenon’ as an unknowable, indescribable reality that in some way underlies observed phenomena). In the book, it mainly takes the shape of a primal, dark forest, with all sorts of beasts hidden within, but this is because Kagami’s connection with the Radiance is so dominant she can force a shape to it that others have to accept. Left to its own, it is a free-flowing mix of dream, nightmare, and memory–save that if you encounter something that is a memory, there’s no guarantee it will end the way you remember it, or that it will even be your own memory. It gave me a way of having present action take place within flashbacks, and a rather unnerving way for characters to learn what other characters would rather stay hidden.
What scares you?
An assortment of things. Very intense-looking guys with axes, for instance. Torture–I probably shouldn’t be entrusted with any state secrets, because I’d spill it before the first scalpel is waved at me. Mental trauma, especially–either something that leaves my mind intact but unable to operate my body or speak intelligibly, or something that affects my ability to think. I’d almost rather face the guy with the axe.
Then there’s loss of identity, in all the many forms it can take. We work so hard to define ourselves by our work, our physical characteristics, our locations, our beliefs, and those who we let in, and when any of these are shaken or stripped away, we have to face what we’ve been covering up. There’s the lurking idea that, beneath it all, there’s nothing there–there’s an emptiness beneath that nothing can fill, for which death would be a mercy. I sometimes think my motivation in writing now is to push against this fear, to find something beneath it all that is not simply a bandage over the abyss.
Have you ever written something that you’re afraid to let other people read?
I had a general trepidation about letting people read my writing. In the case of Brutal Light, it was pretty heightened, because of all the dark places in my mind I felt I was baring. It’s not just a matter of worrying about what people will think about the violence or the sex — it’s about whether people will read the book and start wondering if, like my characters, I have murderous thoughts or a bad case of self-loathing or what have you.
And since the book is sprinkled with true thoughts, albeit distorted or amplified and mixed in with made-up ones, being understood is almost as second-thought-provoking as being misunderstood. But one of the most valuable pieces of advice I ever read (from a source I sadly no longer recollect) was “If it doesn’t make you squirm, it won’t make the reader squirm.” That to me means facing your fears and your dark places, writing in a way that is honest, no matter how vulnerable that makes you, and ignoring the internal censor that asks ‘but what are people going to think about you when they read this?’
What is the toughest part about being a writer and how do you get past it?
There are two tough parts for me: getting started and everything after. Getting started in particular because I have a tendency to get bogged down in outlines, and trying to make sure I’ve thought every last thing through. Sometimes I just have to set to writing and trust that what’s coming out will lead somewhere.
The other tough part comes once I’m past the initial idea and plotting and I’m deep into writing the story. The excitement of the new has faded, and there’s still this long road to go until I reach the end. Inevitably, on that road, there are other ideas that come to me that seem much more exciting than what I’m working on at the moment, and the challenge is to stay focused and see my current story through. I don’t know if it’s true of writers in general, but I have to work hard at avoiding bright, shiny distractions.
What are your thoughts on the future of books?
Bookstores are slowly fading, and e-reading is on the rise. I count myself as a recent convert to e-reading, thanks to the Kindle app on my smartphone. I think that this trend will continue, though it will be a long time before paper editions of books entirely disappear. That may be a long time coming, if it ever does–I think regular print books will become for certain readers like vinyl records are now for certain music lovers–an aesthetic choice as much as a means of reading stories. But as more and more kids enter the world of reading through electronic gateways, and grow up thinking that it’s ‘the way’ to read, I think paper books will see an eventual end.
How long did you write before you had anything published? What was your first story or novel that was published? Where was it published?
I started writing in 1989, for a humorous shared-universe fiction group called Superguy, and it was through one of the friends I got to know who also wrote for the group–Greg R. Fishbone, who’s gone on to published writing success of his own–that I got my first publication in 1996: a serialized novelette called ‘Electricity in the Rain.’ Unfortunately, Mythic Heroes, the magazine it was in, folded before the serialization was done. I had a couple short stories published in Outer Darkness magazine in 1999 and 2001, but for the most part was focused on my first novel.
That took a long time, both for life reasons (getting married, moving around, etc) and because I was dissatisfied with the novels I’d attempted. Finally in 2004 I started on what was to become Brutal Light, finished my final draft of it in 2007, and spent another four years looking for a publisher. The good side of this is that I feel I learned a lot about writing during this time; my next work should take much less time.
How do you feel now about your earlier works?
The temptation I always feel is to look at them and see the flaws–the awkward phrasings, the paucity of necessary detail–but after a while, I generally come to see the parts I liked and made me feel as if I’d done good–the storytelling, some bits of incisive dialogue, things like that. Sometimes that backfires; I can take a look back on something I wrote and say ‘wow, that was good… so why can’t I write that good now?’
Where can we find you online?
I am far-flung across the net; my user accounts are legion. The hub of it all is my website, GaryWOlson.com, which hosts my main blog and has information on everything I’ve written, what I’m working on, where I’m going to be, and so on.
The full list of these journals, RSS feeds, and social media sites–which, since it seems like I’m always adding stuff, I’m usually good about keeping up-to-date–is on my links page.
There’s also a slightly abbreviated version on the right-side column of every page of my site.
Excerpt from Brutal Light.
When Kagami appeared in the front seat, Nick Havelock knew his night was only beginning. Her hair was wild and dirty, her skin brown, green, and red. Intense light snapped across her eyes and in the spaces between her fingertips. She smiled, revealing the red in her teeth.
Havelock kept his cool. She was not his first vision of blood.
“It would be good,” he said, “if you let me get off the freeway first.”
He was on westbound I-696, just passing the Southfield Freeway. The Telegraph Road exit was only a few miles further. The eleven o’clock traffic was light, and he thought that with a little luck, he could be ready for her in his apartment in ten minutes. Kagami leaned close. Freeway lights gave her a pulsing beauty.
“Nick,” her voice came in a whisper. “Let the monkey drive.”
“No,” he answered, as the memory of doing exactly that two nights before came to him. “You said it was dangerous, and it was.”
“There’s no time to be safe,” she replied. “Are you going to do this, or am I gone?”
She gave him no time to answer. A blink, a shiver, and she was nothing.
He stared at the empty seat. His heart hammered his ribs. His eyes could go no wider.
A car horn’s blare snapped his attention back to the freeway. There was a merging SUV to the right, a Camaro nearly in his blind spot to the left and back, and a U-Haul truck in front. He accelerated, and then shifted hard into the lane to his left. SUV and Camaro horns blared.
Screw ’em. I have to get home. I have to–
I have to go.
Nick passed the U-Haul and shifted right. The Camaro sped past, giving him one more horn blast in parting. He paid it no mind, instead focusing on the hypnotic blur of yellow strips. He let his breathing grow regular, and let the road fill his mind. The hum rose all around. The road uncoiled. He opened his mouth and drank in her noise–
Only it was not just her noise anymore. There were other sounds, other tastes that lingered on his tongue and in his mind. There was blood in the stream. Bestial roars in the white noise of the world. They spoke of fear and terror.
He felt his body quake. It felt so far away.
The abyss drew him down again.
Buy Brutal Light
Amazon.com (Kindle edition)
DamnationBooks.com (.mobi, .epub, .pdf, .pdb)
Links for of all other vendors (continually updated)
Print ISBN: 978-1-61572-539-7
Digital ISBN: 978-1-61572-538-0
* A ‘bazillion’ is somewhat exaggerated. The list was closer to thirty…
Friday, December 9th, 2011
Today (December 9) in 1884, the US Patent Office issued Levant Richardson a patent for his invention of ball-bearing roller skates. (This made skates much, much faster.)
About a century later, I asked for, and joyfully received, a pair for my 13th birthday.
I don’t know why, but they’ve become the symbol of “home” for me. I moved out of my parent’s house when I went away to college and got my own apartment. Little by little, all that was mine migrated from my parent’s house to my apartment…
…except the skates.
When my parents decided to sell the house I grew up in, they brought me the skates.
And when they moved into their new house, I found a closet there to stash them in.
They moved again, and we repeated the process. When Mom found the skates that time, she threatened to throw them out if I didn’t come get them. I explained to her that as long as they were at her house, that it was as though the house were mine, too. It felt a little more like coming home, than visiting in my parent’s new house when I came to see them.
I’m not sure she gets it.
The fact is: the skates aren’t the issue, it’s what they represent. I could have fixated on anything to be my little slice of home at the new house.
I’ve got a lot of fond memories associated with those skates, including the ones which have nothing to do with skating (that is, the little squabble with my folks over where they should live.)
Do you have any fond skate memories? What about something else that might symbolize home?
Here’s Your Prompt
- Write about skates: roller skates, ice skates, in-line skates. If you have no memories, make something up.
Did you ever wish for skates? Do you have a scene in a book which includes skates? Write that character’s back story related to the skates.
- Write a story about something that symbolizes “home” to you. You could write fact, fiction, memoir, or poetry. Be specific. Include descriptions of how you feel, or what you think, when you encounter these things.
Wednesday, December 7th, 2011
Here’s my highly-opinionated view of gift-giving for writers. In case you’re wondering…and even if you’re not.
What Not to Give
Unless your writer friend mentions or asks for any of these things, stay away from:
Think About Giving:
- Books. Really. You can’t give a writer too many books…but not just any books. Buy the latest books available in the genre your writer friend specializes in. Writers need to be widely read in their field in order to keep up with trends. It’s impossible to buy all the books published in a given year in a particular category. You can help.
- A Magazine or Journal Subscription. Ditto above. Get something in the writer’s field. I frankly don’t want a subscription to The New Yorker even though it’s highly respected. Give me Asimov’s, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Analog…
Does your writer friend write poetry or literary fiction? Then a sampling of several different literary magazines might be on target. (It gets expensive ordering copies of litmags just to see if you want to submit.)
Note: If your writer friend is anywhere beyond the beginning stages of writing, stay away from “how to” magazines such as Writer’s Digest, The Writer and Poets & Writers Magazine. (Unless they ask, of course.) Ditto how-to books.
- A gift certificate to a book store.
- An E-reader, like the Kindle, the Kindle Fire or Nook. (There are others… and as with all these suggestions, do your research before purchasing!)
- A portable hard drive to back up all their manuscripts.
- A small digital recorder he or she can carry to record story ideas and thoughts.
- The new Asus Transformer Prime (quad core) tablet with keyboard accessory, available December 19. (To be sure, a gift to be given by a really close friend or perhaps a Husband of Awesome™.)
Gifts that “Go Away”
I’m a big fan of gifts that get consumed (so the house remains uncluttered):
- Good coffee. (And don’t just go to Starbucks, not everyone — ahem — enjoys their over-roasted, burned up beans.)
- A nice bottle of wine or spirits.
- Chocolate. And do make certain it’s fine chocolate. You don’t have to buy a lot when you buy the good stuff: a little goes a long way.
- A gift certificate for a massage (to help relieve that deadline stress and endless hours sitting at a desk) or for a manicure (because typing is hard on the hands).
Inexpensive Gifts, or Gifts from the Self
Every writer I know can use a little more time in their day to get their writing stuff done. Since the time machine hasn’t been invented yet, you really can’t lengthen their day…but you can give gifts that will save your favorite writer some time.
Of everything mentioned on this list, these are my favorites:
Bake a casserole, make a lasagna or some other kind of “toss it in the oven, crockpot or microwave” meal that can be put together in minutes. If you can’t cook, there are lots of ready to serve items in the grocery store!
- Coupons or gift certificates (that you can easily make yourself) for:
- running to the store to pick up a few things
- baby sitting or child care (especially useful on deadline days)
- researching their next project
- updating their web site (or building a new one)
- taking digital pictures they can use on their blog or Web site, (or)
- taking their portrait (every writer needs a good photo for their Web site and book jackets!)
- Read what they’ve written, and write a thoughtful, honest review at:
- library thing
- your own blog, or any other review sites you’re familiar with.
- Help with their marketing by:
- “friending” them on Facebook, Google and other similar sites
- following them on Twitter – and re-tweeting their clever and witty tweets
- “liking”, digging, stumbling upon, +1-ing and “whatever else-ing” their blog posts on all the appropriate social media channels (super mondo bonus points if you go through your writer friend’s entire blog and do this for every appropriate post)
- “tagging” all their books at amazon.com
- adding their blog to your ‘blogroll’
- linking to their Web site from your own
Better yet: come over and make dinner (and stay. Writers are notorious for spending too much time alone.)
A Final Note
It’s nice that you think of your writer friends, and want to give a gift to highlight that fact, but, writers are people, too. Writing might suck up their entire life, but they’re not all about writing. They have interests outside the written word. (Would you buy your construction-worker friend a new pair of steel-toed boots for Christmas?)
In short: you don’t have to give a writer a gift related to writing.
And if you have no clue: ask! If you’re close enough to give a gift to someone, they’ll appreciate that you want to give them something they’ll like.
Which also means: if you don’t know them well enough to ask, maybe you shouldn’t be buying a gift. That would be like stalking. Ick.