Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

Balticon A Blast — and Exhausting — as Usual

I had a wonderful time at Balticon this year, as usual. I pulled in late yesterday and could barely keep my eyes open. Long nights (at late panels) and early mornings (on early panels!) conspired against me.

I made some new friends, and re-connected with others. That’s always the best part. A con is like one great, big multi-day party.

I finally got to meet Melissa of the My World…in words and pages blog. If you love to read, you should check it out. Her site is LOADED with information, reviews, links to books, interviews, etc. (Melissa’s on Twitter and Facebook, too.) Wish we could have spent more time together chatting.

D. H. Aire dropped by the Broad Universe table while I was there, and we talked about lots and lots of stuff — too much to mention. I need to pick up a copy of his Highmage’s Plight. (It sounds fascinating!) And, if you want, you can become a character in Aire’s book and take on a role in the Highmage’s Plight at the Web site. D. H. Aire is on Twitter and Facebook, too.

Roxanne Bland, Trisha Wooldridge and Rose Mambert
Fellow Broads: Roxanne Bland, President of B.U. and A Novel Friend Web site: Trisha Wooldridge and Rose Mambert of Pink Narcissus Press

Much of my time was spent at the Broad Universe table in Artist Alley, which happened to be across the hallway from the artist, Robert Quill. (A nom de guerre? I’m thinking, yes.)

The Artist Robert QuillArtiste Quill sold sketches and prints from his naughty and nice notebooks and commissioned one-of-a-kind artworks of con attendees, soliciting them with such enticements as, “I can draw you as your beautiful self…without your pants.”

I paraphrased the first part there, but not the second.

The pitch sounds so much better coming out of his mouth, with its tiny hint of (faux) accent, and accompanied by the quirk of an eyebrow. And “for only hundreds more” (another of his catch phrases) you could have your sketch colorized and matted. He really knows how to work it (as evidenced by the many teeny-boppers who flocked –and remained — at his booth).

Showmanship aside, he does terrific work. I especially loved his Medusa, a striking piece inspired by his leggy, gorgeous wife.

Steampunk, anyone?

Fellow Broad and steampunk author Emilie P. Bush also had a table in Artist’s Alley. Steamduck, illustrated by artist Kevin Petty, turned out to be pretty popular. Steamduck is part of the one and only steampunk children’s book out there. You should check it out.

Emilie P. Bush

There were book launches and knitting and the Steampunk Ball and so much more to talk about! I’m sure it will wind up in later posts.

Friday, May 25th, 2012

Writing Prompt – Using Tarot and Other Divination Tools to Build Plot and Character

Five of Swords Tarot Card from The Artist's Inner Vision Tarot DeckWhat do you do when you’ve got the inclination to write a story, and the time, but nowhere to go? You’ve got nothing: no plot, no character, no idea at all.

Why, to the same place you’d go if you were facing this same dilemma in life!

A tarot card reader, a palm reader, your spiritual advisor, and the like. Someone who will give you direction and/or tell you about those special characters who may be showing up sometime soon in your life.

(Yeah, I started out tongue-in-cheek there, but didn’t want to offend anyone. Kinda gets watered down when you do that… So, don’t do that when you’re writing for real.)

A tarot deck is a deck of playing cards, usually 78 in number, with four suits and a group of “major” cards, all of which have been assigned specific meanings. Generally, a question is asked of the cards before they are shuffled and dealt to their spread. In this case, you could simply ask, “What story should I tell?”

Depending on the spread, or the layout of the cards, much can be predicted (that is, randomly generated) for a story.

I-Ching, Runes, and tossing chicken bones could also be used.

If none of those appeal, you can use the Bible to suggest interesting plots or characters as well. Randomly open the Bible to any section, close your eyes, and drop your index finger down on a passage. Use the single verse you’ve pointed to as a scene or story starter.

For more complexity, open several random sections in the Bible and drop your finger down. Some verses will speak of people (use those to build your characters); some verses will relate events or tell stories (use those for your plot). Combine several different verses to come up with an interesting idea.

The wonderful thing about these tools is that the pieces are plentiful, and the combined combinations offer thousands of plots and characters. Don’t rely on the first one you come up with. Try several different tarot spreads or variations of other tools to find something you really like.

Here’s Your Prompt:

Pull out your trusty deck of tarot cards and lay out your favorite spread. Pretend that what you see isn’t affecting your life, but the life of a character in your story.

If you don’t have your own deck, or just want the convenience of an online dealer and layout, here are several sites you can use to generate a layout:

The Artist’s Inner Vision Tarot Cards
The Tarot Goddess

Use I-Ching, Runes or other tools to find similar ideas.

The I-Ching Online
Flytrap Interactive I-Ching
Free Runes

Use the Bible (with the method described above) to generate a story plot or character sketch.

Likely, a lot of the ‘fortunes’ you will receive will be obscure. You might need to give them some thought before the story reveals itself – but then, you wouldn’t want to be handed a story on a silver platter, would you? Good stories always take some thought!

Good luck!

Tarot Card Image from The Artist’s Inner Vision Tarot Deck

Friday, May 25th, 2012

Balticon Schedule

Balticon Science Fiction Society Logo - BalticonI have my preliminary Balticon Schedule…yay! The Con God’s were clairvoyant when they scheduled me lightly this year, knowing in advance that my foot injury would flare. So, lucky, lucky me: I’m only on three panels.

The cool thing is: I’ll be at the Con all four days, thanks to other commitments, so I’ll be around (either at the Broad Universe Information Table or in the Con Suite if you want to come hang out) pretty much from dawn to dusk every day.

And I’ll have books if anyone wants to purchase and not pay shipping fees. Yay!

Here’s my schedule:

5:00 p.m. – Swords & Sorcery – Salon B (50 minutes)
How Has It Evolved, panelists contrast New Swords & Sorcery to that of earlier decades.

9:00 a.m. – The Back Story – Salon B
The experiences authors had that inspired them to write the novels they wrote.

9:00 a.m. – Readings by Brand Gamblin, Mur Lafferty and Me. – The Chase Room

1:00 p.m. Broad Universe Reading – Salon B
Includes Readings by: Jean Marie Ward; Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Roxanne Bland, Emilie P. Bush, Elaine Corvidae, J. R. Blackwell, Trish J. Wooldridge, T.J. Perkins, S. J. Tucker, and me! Six-minute readings Rapid Fire readings from some amazing women/authors.

5:00 p.m. – Publishing Nightmares – Pimlico Room
Self explanatory! I’m moderating this one…

8:00 p.m. – Teen Writers Collaboration – Parlor 1041
Teens put their heads together to write a fantasy short story.

Stop by and say ‘hello!’ if you’re around.


Friday, May 18th, 2012

Writing Prompt – Tokens of Remembrance

Tea in a clear teacup with a slice of lemon on the side.I have a tea set that belonged to my Grandmother Spina. It’s a lovely shade of periwinkle blue with matching cups and saucers. Not really a feminine color or style, yet feminine all the same because it’s a tea set.

I keep it in the same curio cabinet as my doll collection, and I see it everyday, reminding me of her, keeping her spirit alive.

I love that about the pot. I’ll never make tea in it, never shared tea in it with my grandmother, but the memory of her having it is there all the same.

Things, like my teapot, become talismans, lucky charms, or bridges to the past. Touchstones. Reminders.

They can be motivators, or de-motivators. They can represent loss, or terrible things. Depending on what they represent, their presence can implore you not to act a certain way or do a certain thing.

The “thing” doesn’t even have to be tangible. It can be a once-held conversation, a fleeting thought or a note written on a card.

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Write about a special token from your past. Why do you keep it? What does it mean for you?
  • Write a story about a character who has such a token, and then loses it. What happens?
  • Go through your closet and put your hands in every coat or jacket pocket until you pull something out. Write a story or poem or journal entry about this thing. Or, use this ‘found’ item in a scene or vignette of one of your story characters.
  • Write about something you brought home from a journey.
  • “..a shield lifted up above the side of the ship, and the point of the shield was upwards, in token of peace. And the men drew near, that they might hold converse.” ~ from Bullfinch’s Mythology: IX. Branwen, the Daughter of Llyr. The Mabinogeon. Vol. III: The Age of Chivalry.
  • Write about:
    • a token of love
    • a token of hate
    • something that belonged to your grandmother (or grandfather, sister or brother)
    • a hand-me-down, a used article of clothing, a hole in your shoe
    • something you found in a book (a scrap of paper, a bookmark, a ribbon, or a passage)
  • Enobarbus: How appears the fight?
    Scarus: On our side like the token’d pestilence, Where death is sure.

    ~ William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra, Act III. Scene VIII.
  • Write about something you found.
  • Write about something you want, but can’t have.
  • Conversely, write about something you wanted and received, but that doesn’t mean as much now that you have it.

Good luck!

Friday, May 11th, 2012

Writing Prompt – Man Made Storms and Storm Chasing

1935 Image of Colorado Dust Storm from Library of CongressOn this date in 1934 a huge dust storm sent 350 million tons of silt and topsoil catapulting eastward from the Great Northern Plains, some of it reaching as far as New York and Atlanta.

The reason?

When the plains states were settled in the mid-1800s, the land was covered by prairie grass which kept the ground moist and kept soil from blowing away during hot, dry times. When farmers began plowing the grass under to plant crops, the soil dried and had nothing to keep it from blowing away.

Worse, the U.S. involvement in World War I in 1917 created a huge demand for wheat, and farmers plowed under more and more grassland, thanks also to a new invention: the tractor. Farmers continued to plow after the war, as even more powerful tractors came on the market. (In the 1920s, wheat production increased by 300%, glutting the market by 1931.)

In the early 1930s, a severe drought caused crops to die, and wind to carry the dust from the fields. Storms increased yearly until 1934 when the number of them decreased, but the severity increased, causing the worst dust storm in history on May 11. The New York Times reported, dust “lodged itself in the eyes and throats of weeping and coughing New Yorkers,” and even ships some 300 miles offshore saw dust collect on their decks.*

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Write a poem, essay or journal entry about being unexpectedly caught in a storm.
  • Write about being caught in a dust storm, wind storm or any kind of storm other than rain or sleet or hail. Was it a small storm, or a large one (affecting your town or the entire state)? Did you need to seek shelter? If so, where?
  • Write about:
    • biting the dust
    • dusting it up, or dusting it off
    • gathering dust
    • when the dust settles
    • dry as dust
    • dust bunnies
  • Theorize about how something we’re doing today could unintentionally cause a catastrophe such as the dust storm of 1934. What would we need to do to prevent it? How could we fix the problem if we don’t?
  • Would you ever consider being a storm chaser? Why or why not? What do you think the risks would be? What do you think the rewards would be?
  • Scientists risk their lives chasing tornadoes in hopes of learning about them. What do you think these scientists are trying to find out? What do you think the benefits will be for society if scientists find these answers?
  • I’ve seen the dust so black that I couldn’t see a thing,
    I’ve seen the dust so black that I couldn’t see a thing,
    And the wind so cold, boy, it nearly cut your water off.

    I seen the wind so high that it blowed my fences down,
    I’ve seen the wind so high that it blowed my fences down,
    Buried my tractor six feet underground.

    Well, it turned my farm into a pile of sand,
    Yes, it turned my farm into a pile of sand,
    I had to hit that road with a bottle in my hand.

    ~ From the Dust Bowl Blues, Woody Guthrie

  • “Charge it to the dust and let the rain settle it.”
  • Write about any other natural disaster, such as a tornado, a landslide or avalanche, a tsunami, or an earthquake.
  • Write about a storm that personally affected you in some way. What kind of storm was it? How did you get caught in it? What were the consequences?
  • Write a story where a storm is the inciting incident. (The inciting incident is the action or event that sets in motion the central conflict of the story.) Or, write a story in which a storm plays a major role.
  • Write about:
    • the calm before a storm
    • the eye of the storm, or being in the eye of the storm
    • weathering the storm
    • stormy weather
    • any port in a storm
    • a storm is brewing
    • storming out of a room
    • taking something by storm
  • We are the voices of the wandering wind,
    Which moan for rest and rest can never find;
    Lo! as the wind is, so is mortal life,
    A moan, a sigh, a sob, a storm, a strife.

    ~ The Deva’s Song, Sir Edwin Arnold

Good Luck!



* Quote from History.com’s May 11 entry.
Image Credit: A dust storm strikes Powers County, Colorado, in April 1935. Image: Library of Congress, FSA-OWI Collection, Repro. Num. LC-USF343-001617-ZE DLC.

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Back from Retreat – A Few Takeaways

Cacapon Retreat GoalsBefore I left for my writer’s retreat I set some pretty ambitious goals. When I got there, I wrote them down on a wall poster and hung it in the room where I did most of my writing.

(You’re seeing an early version of it here in the pic to the left. By the end of the retreat, I’d finished many more items than indicated in the photo.)

When I completed a task, I made an “X” in the box to the left of the task and moved on.

Other members of the group also wrote their goals on the easel pad and hung it, and as we worked, we were surrounded by these wall posters of what we wanted to accomplish. (It was gratifying to see that I wasn’t the only one who’d listed projects that should have been done months — if not years — ago.)

It was interesting to see the different styles by which we all worked. My list had no priority order, and I chose the easiest/quickest items to complete first and cross of my list. For me, it was motivating to see items checked off, and I built momentum as we went along.

Another member prioritized his list, then started from the top, working on each item in 30 minute intervals. Once 30 minutes passed, he added a tick mark to the item and moved on to the next: his method for avoiding writer’s block or getting discouraged by the length of time one item might take.

Another member just started from the top of her list and worked her way down.

When we rented the cabin earlier this year, we’d planned to work on card tables in our own rooms, but the “great room” of the cabin was so spacious (and contained a fire place!) that we decided to work together at the large dining table.

I wasn’t certain how that was going to work at first, and it felt a little bit like being stuck in “study hall” in high school, but it worked splendidly. We were quiet and industrious, with the occasional question tossed out to the group. I liked it better — and got more work done — than our previous retreat (though I enjoyed that retreat very much, too).

During the previous retreat, we lived and worked in separate rooms, dormitory style, and only saw each other for meals (at which time we weren’t allowed speak to each other).

I found this retreat much more enjoyable, even if we tended to spend too much time (IMO) socializing at meals. As a group, we’ve already decided to rent again at this location next year.

I find the benefits of “communal” retreating to be:

  • Having the camaraderie of like-minded, motivated people who are on hand immediately to bounce an idea off of or ask for a quick critique
  • The “immediate” presence of other writers encouraged me to write, even when I didn’t feel like it.
  • By the same token, the presence of other writers discouraged web surfing, excessive solitaire playing and general cat waxing. (In fact, I didn’t goof off AT ALL…and didn’t feel deprived, either.)

Another thing I learned: Don’t take too much stuff.

All of us over packed, including on food. “Starving Writer” would certainly have been a misnomer for us.

Beyond food, we brought a printer, extra cartridges and reams of paper which we never touched, as well as office supplies, some writing prompt books, and other things we never used. I brought two novels to read. Although I read voraciously at home, I found when I tumbled into bed after writing all day I was too tired to read more than a page or two. I’ll leave those at home next time.

We did coordinate supplies: a “you bring this and I’ll bring that” kind of coordinating, but I think we’ll do more of that next time.

On the last day, I packed up my goals poster and brought it home. It’s now hanging on the wall over my desk. There’s nothing like staring at a list of “unfinished projects” to keep you moving. When I’m done with it, I’ll likely grab a new easel sheet and start another. And although I’ve got a ton more things to do than what’s on the list, I like the “finite” feel of the limited size of the wall poster.

Along with the poster, I’ve got an electronic “to do” list of things I need to accomplish now that I’ve returned. Many items on that list take the form of: “Send suchandsuch project to suchandsuch venue.” I’ve done a few of those tasks already, but I’ve more to do: all related to manuscripts completed on retreat (which might not have gotten done if I hadn’t gone away).

All in all: A huge success. It was a blast, and I’m ready to go again.

Friday, May 4th, 2012

Writing Prompt – Home Sweet Home

Kelly A. Harmon on the porch of Cabin 19, Cacapon State Park, West VAI spent a few days last week and this on a writing retreat with my face-to-face critique group. We traveled out of state, to Cacapon State Park in West Virginia, and hunkered down for a few cold and rainy days in the mountains.

The cabin was beautiful with hardwood floors and paneling, a stone fireplace, and set in the rustic location of the woods.

It was modern enough to have a full kitchen – with microwave – as well as forced air heat (and cooling) if we needed it.

It was everything you could want in a home, and yet, it wasn’t home.

There’s nothing better to me, than arriving home after being away. (And I don’t care if it’s a vacation I’ve gone on, or a visit “home” to my folks’ house, or just being at work for a full day…I enjoy coming home.)

Home is safe.

It’s more comfortable than any other place. It’s got my things laid out just the way I like them.

It’s mine.

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Write about coming home.
  • Write about the old neighborhood.
  • Write about something quirky in your house which drives you nuts, but you wouldn’t change.
  • Write an essay: though I live ____________, my real home – my heart of homes – is ______________.
  • Write a story where your character is homesick and can’t return home for a long while (if ever). How does he cope?
  • If you journal, write about a time you were homesick. How did you feel? When were you able to go home? What did you do to alleviate the desire for home while you were gone?
  • Write about:
    • something in the closet (or the basement)
    • knocking down walls (figuratively or literally)
    • a room of your own

  • Write about running away from home.
  • Write about:
    • moving out
    • moving into your own apartment for the first time
    • buying a new home
    • losing your home

  • Write about a world in which there are no homes left. How do people live? What if there were no space on top of the earth, so new apartment complexes are built down? What if the moon were able to be colonized and governments were offering homesteads to folks to move there?

Good luck!