Mar 30, 2011

The Dearest Curse

Dugald crossed himself. “Don’t be ridiculous,” said the dog-shaped thing, “the saints are all asleep.” It lounged before the fire and already the embers were dying.

Chelicerate Cowboys

I caressed her waxy cuticle, inhaled the musky fragrance that clung to her back.

Mar 26, 2011

What can David Beckham teach you about writing?

David Beckham was born on May 2, 1975, to a kitchen fitter and a hairdresser. Both were fanatical Manchester United supporters. They would often travel to Old Trafford from London to attend Man U games. Growing up, David’s teachers would ask him what he wanted to do for a living, and he’d say, “I want to be a footballer.” When pressed for a more realistic answer, he would reassert his dream of becoming a professional soccer player. If there ever was a man with a defining passion, that man is David Beckham. Former manager Alex Ferguson has pointed out that he works “with a discipline to achieve an accuracy that other players wouldn't care about.” I respect that immensely, because I know discipline doesn’t come easily, whatever your game is.

In a way, Beckham wears writing on his body. His 17 tattoos include a Bible verse in Hebrew and his wife’s name in Hindi. He also got a special tattoo when his grandfather died, which is an unusual way to mark the moment. As Beckham said, the inks are “all about the people in my life, my wife and sons, who I want with me always. When you see me, you see the tattoos.

So, what can David Beckham teach you about writing a story, novel or play?

Mar 25, 2011

Behold, the Stratospheric Beast

“They take a little getting used to,” said Dr. Postal as the jellyfish floated overhead. You could see through them. Their bodies acted like prisms, turning the moon into a circular rainbow. “So long as they don’t mistake us for plankton,” I said.

O Unicorn, Where is Thy Horn

The unicorn was sick, so I took the company bus to work. None of the plebs were happy to see me -- I’d sold out to the Man. Chester! I used to sit next to him on the bus. Sad bastard puked in my briefcase when I got promoted.

Mar 23, 2011

Let Sleeping Statues Lie

Whoever they were, they buried the statue for a reason. They buried it deep for a very good reason. Now let me tell you why 1981 was the worst twenty years of my life. You might ask, How does that work? Damned if I know. Now shut up and listen.

As the Gladiolus Wilted

Mrs. Hoffmann ran a dripping finger over the piano keys, painting a trail of red pearls. “Now, pumpkin, one more time,” she said to the pale, trembling child. Atop the piano, a gladiolus withered in a vase. “One more time, if you want to see your parents again.”

Mar 19, 2011

What can Edward Weston teach you about writing?

Edward Weston (1886-1958) was an American photographer, born in Illinois to an obstetrician and a Shakespearean actress. Weston started out as a pictorialist but he soon outgrew that particular aesthetic to develop a strong, personal style.

An 1898 ad for the Bulls-Eye no. 2
On his 16th birthday, he got a Kodak Bull’s-Eye #2, a simple box camera, which he took on vacation in the Midwest. When he came back, he was fired up about the whole photography thing, so he bought a 5x7-inch view camera. The Kodak was a beginner’s tool, while the 5x7 was a beast that would allow Edward to flex his muscles. (That’s more than a figure of speech; the 5x7 was heavier than a bag of baby elephants.)

What makes Weston awesome? Oh, so many things. But check this out: in 1907 he moved to Effingham, Illinois where he enrolled in the Illinois School of Photography. The school taught a nine-month course which he absolutely nailed in six months. The sad part is, they refused to give him a diploma unless he paid for the full nine months. Weston refused to do so.

He opened his own business, “The Little Studio,” in Tropico, California (Tropico was annexed to Glendale in March 1911). When his older sister asked him why he didn’t set up shop in nearby LA, he quipped, “I’m going to be so famous it won’t matter where I live.”
Side note: As Seth Godin said recently, the center is an attitude. Weston had already intuited that.

We’re talking about a man who devoted 40 years of his life to photography and was stopped only by the specter of incurable disease. By any standard, Weston was a heavyweight. His passion would have shone through, whatever the medium he chose.

So, what can Edward Weston teach you about writing a novel, story or play?

Mar 18, 2011

Vertical Rain

They came in from the vertical rain with a gaggle of children in tow. One not more than 16, the other already gray, they wore plastic bags for socks, tied around their ankles. Station Manager 4 noticed the non-standards almost immediately.

How to Lead a Dragon by the Nose

Leading a dragon by the nose is easy. You loop a strand of Italian silk through the nose ring, preferably dyed purple (dragons find purple soothing). Then whisper in the dragon’s ear, “Tempo non mi parea da far riparo/contra colpi d’Amor” -- don’t worry, your dragon will understand.  

Mar 12, 2011

What can Chuck Jones teach you about writing?

Chuck Jones (1912-2002), was a celebrated animator, screenwriter and producer. Do the names “Wile E. Coyote” or “Pepe LePew” ring a bell?

Chuck Jones’s father failed at a number of businesses. He sure had a lot of ideas, but apparently none of them took.
To kick things off, he would buy tons of stationery and pencils with the new company name on them. When the business foundered, he’d turn over those office supplies to his children, urging them to use them up as quickly as possible. All the Jones children got lots of drawing practice. They all became professional artists.

Jones got into the animation business in 1933. He worked on countless shorts featuring characters we all know and love, chief among them Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. Some of his post-Warner Brothers work is at once funny and sad, such as “The Bear That Wasn’t.”

So, what can Chuck Jones teach you about writing a story, novel or play?

Mar 11, 2011

Stag Beetles on Main Street

Capricorn was a silent town when Putnam got there. He whistled the song that got the bugs all riled up. A black lump on pinstripe legs ambled onto Main Street, mandibles dripping. It lumbered over a horse and rider, their bones picked clean. Holy Moses! Putnam needed more firepower.

The Kindness of Golems

The golem unbuttoned his jacket as we ran and tossed it in a dumpster. There was a hole in his chest. Red ichor dripped from the wound, dark, fragrant and warm.  “I thought you guys were bulletproof,” I said, with all the breath I could spare. 

Mar 9, 2011

What I learned watching Angel & Farscape

TV shows teach you how to write effectively.
But you have to see past the entertainment value and look into the devices, the mechanics of storytelling.

So, what did I learn from watching these two TV shows, Angel and Farscape? 

Undead Birds of Calaveras

Don’t ask me how they fly. They came from the tower, gliding on rotten wings. A smell of burnt licorice and a company of whispers rode before them. Jeanie's mother called. She was in Copperopolis. “Jeanie,” she said, “that’s no cloud.”


Mar 5, 2011

What can George Soros teach you about writing?

Investor and philanthropist George Soros (b. 1930) was born into a Hungarian Jewish family, who had to change their name to Soros in 1936 to avoid anti-semitic persecution.

Soros emigrated to England in 1947, working as a railway porter and waiting on tables while he attended the London School of Economics, earning a Bachelor of Science in philosophy.

Realizing he was not cut out to be a philosopher, he plunged headlong into the world of banking and finance.

But he never lost sight of his democratic, humanitarian ideals. In the 1970s, he provided funds so that black students could attend the University of Cape Town in apartheid South Africa, and also backed dissident groups behind the iron curtain, which makes him a hero in my book.

He’s been called a “Messianic billionaire” and “the world’s most influential investor.”

So, what can George Soros teach you about writing a novel, story or play?

Mar 4, 2011

3 Terrible Ways to Begin a Story

Stories are a bit like dates, a bit like job interviews. There are only a few ways to make a good first impression, but ten million ways to go wrong.

There are so many ways to sabotage your fiction. You can start...

Don't Cry for Me, Sarajevo

Archduke Ferdinand, decked out in more shiny trinkets than a Christmas tree, turned a sick shade of green, sneezed loudly and dropped the microphone. Ferdinand was halfway through “Ring of Fire,” and the howling Japanese businessmen, arms locked, stopped swinging from side to side like drunken willows in the breeze.

Mar 2, 2011

Don't Take My Hands

The flowers painted on the mirror are fading. So is the woman’s face, one defeat at a time. Once-bright enamel comes off in tiny flakes. “Don’t take my hands,” says the woman to a shadow that lingers in shadows. “I can still work,” she whispers, adjusting her veil. 

47 Magnolias: Dark Is the Tunnel

47 have to die. Each one holds a magnolia and pretends not to listen as their companions are crucified, but they wince at each blow of the hammer. The tunnel is dark and the gate is heavy. It smells of new iron. 

Mar 1, 2011

4 Dramatic Ways to Introduce your Protagonist

A solid beginning to any story hooks the reader, and immediately launches one or two story questions. The reader will keep reading to get answers. There’s an infinite number of dramatic, interesting situations you can employ to get the ball rolling. Today, I would like to suggest 4 different scenarios where the main character simply cannot walk away* from the story.

1. Jumping out of a moving car.

Only heightened emotion -- fear, courage, despair -- would force you to do something so drastic. The reasons behind the jump will reveal who your character is and how they react to danger.

2. During a chance encounter with a bear in the woods.

What’s your protagonist doing in the woods? What time of day or night is it? What if they’re running from something worse than a bear?
3. Bailing water out of a boat, with a flare gun trained on him/her.

Who would be holding the gun, and why? Also, it is a flare gun -- someone is improvising. 

4. Walking into a bank while a heist is in progress, he or she is taken hostage.
Your protagonist could react in a number of ways, depending on how level-headed they are. What they do for a living would also influence the course of events. Someone in law enforcement would act very differently from, say, a florist or an insurance salesman.

*Remember, if your main character can simply shrug and walk away from the whole situation, you don’t have a story. It would be safe to say you don’t have a protagonist, either.