Jun 29, 2011

Boardroom Beasties

Trying on faces in front of the mirror: cat won’t do. Senior Board members object. Cats don’t reflect our core values. Bull? No, the COO’s got the monopoly on those. Zebra?

Marcia looks at me through the eye slits of her Great Dane face. We can’t both go as dogs.

When the Crocodile Sits in my Parlor


Wake up, fingers of left hand boring into right forearm. Stinks. Doesn’t matter.


Looking for lighter under mattress, under Velina. Small fly, blue abdomen, on her lip. Rubs legs together.

Feel bones eating through Velina’s hips.  Breathing?


Lighter in my hands. Spoon. We’re cooking the good stuff. 


Inspired by this Independent story on a new street drug, Krokodil.

Jun 25, 2011

What can Georgia O'Keeffe teach you about writing?

Photo by Alfred Stieglitz

“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life - and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” 

Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) was an American painter. She was the second child of Francis Calyxtus & Ida Totto O’Keeffe, perfect names for a swashbuckler romance or a steampunk sizzler. Names are not fate, however. Georgia’s parents were dairy farmers.

O’Keeffe was born near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, a land of drumlin and marsh, where summers are hot and August is the wettest month of the year.

She hated painting flowers, but they were cheaper than models and didn’t move. People were always making shadows. She didn’t like that, either.

New Mexico burns bright on her canvases. Between 1929 and 1949 she spent a good deal of time communing with the landscape there, especially the Cerro Pedernal. Georgia referred to the Pedernal as ‘my curtains.’

O’Keeffe was deeply in love with organic forms. Besides flowers, bones are prominent in her work. She bought a house at Ghost Ranch (originally called Rancho de los Brujos in Spanish, the ‘Sorcerers’ Ranch’) and cowboys would bring O’Keeffe animal skulls and tell her stories about the dead beasts.

So, what can Georgia O’Keeffe teach you about yourself as a writer? What’s she got to say about art and the self?

Jun 24, 2011

The Jagged Word that Stings

Three days Moira kept the carpenter bee under a strainer and brought it lavender blossoms, like the witch said. Got no thanks for it: bees don’t talk. On the fourth morning at sunup it died. Moira wrapped the bee in a kitchen rag and carried it to her daughter’s grave. 

When my Body's been Assembled

People on the street try not to stare at Malcolm. But a woman shows revulsion in a twitch of the lip. A man in a blue tie takes refuge in a Polish restaurant. Malcolm knows Francesca will ask about the hand growing out of his chest. 

Jun 22, 2011

Beyond the Bimini Road

The people gathering on the beach were motionless and grey. Up in the crow’s nest, Conklin stopped shouting.

“Statues,” the chief mate whispered.
“We're casting anchor,” said the skipper.
“I don’t like this, Jim,” the chief mate said.
“We need water.”

Tachyon River

Careful not to rock the boat, I leaned toward Captain Arroyo and held up my watch.

“The second hand is moving backward,” I said. “Can the heat do that?”
“Forget the heat,” said Arroyo. “Look at the water.”

Sometimes pink is the last color you want to see.

Jun 18, 2011

What can John Coltrane teach you about writing?

Lush Life is my favorite Coltrane record

“You can play a shoestring if you’re sincere.” – John Coltrane

Coltrane wanted his music to be a force for good, and I think it has been. One doesn’t have to be religious to find Coltrane's expression of spirituality profoundly moving and important.” – Lewis Porter

John Coltrane (1926-67) was an American jazz saxophonist and composer. He was born in Hamlet, North Carolina, but grew up in High Point, NC, ‘furniture and hosiery capital of the world,’ home to the world’s largest chest of drawers.

There’s an ongoing furniture battle in the area. Towns compete to see who can build the biggest, tallest chair. In 1905 they built a 12-foot tall Mission chair in Gardner, MA. Somebody in Thomasville, NC took notice, so they put up a bigger chair -- 13’16’’. Gardner countered with two noticeably taller ones (in 1928 and 1935, respectively). The war effort put a temporary damper on this unusual competition. Only in 1948 did Thomasville respond with an 18-footer on a 12-foot pedestal.

(I suspect even now they’re designing a chair large enough to accommodate Godzilla. Beats setting your rival town on fire, I guess.)

The original chest of drawers was commissioned in 1920 and has long been a fixture in High Point. Now there are two others.

One can wonder how this fixation on outsized tourist attractions impacted young Coltrane’s mind. Ask yourself: would such an environment make you feel small, or spur you on to great achievement? Would it fan the flames of your imagination?


When Coltrane plays his saxophone, the notes speak to me. I can hear wisdom. Such smoothness and fluency are hard-won.

Improvisation… is anything but. Coltrane plays the way you talk. At first you goo-gooed and gurgled, then you babbled. You practiced with adults, kids your age, your teddy bear, the dog.

Practicing non-stop, you mastered verbal language; now you don’t stop to think how consonants and vowels work, you open your mouth and you speak. You can only improvise when you know the rules.

The saxophone is Coltrane’s voice and music is his language.

So, what can John Coltrane teach you about writing a story, novel or play?

Jun 17, 2011

With Summer Came a Shadow

“Mr. Crumblepants!” Timmy said, beaming.
“Hello, Timmy. Where’s your mother?”
“In the house. Are you hungry? She’ll give you a cookie if you ask real nice.”
“No, Timmy,” said Crumblepants. “Don’t tell her about me.”
Timmy's yellow toy truck was too bright in the sun. Crumblepants bared his teeth.

Elves Don't Respond to Memos

At five past ten in the morning, Don Schneider hid under his desk with four bags of Cheetos, armed against the socialist leprechauns with a heavy-duty stapler.  

Don’s chief analytics officer knocked on his door. She’d half a mind to set the office on fire.

Jun 16, 2011

Iron Lips, Aluminum Heart

The brochure doesn’t tell you: He is almost a man. They come wrapped in translucent skin to stave off temptation. But the skin has pores, and white veins, and silken, invisible hair – a blasphemy of perfection.

“Come,” said Theo, to the golem that avoided her eyes. 

Jun 15, 2011

5 Things You Don't Want in Your Novel, pt. 3

Part Three: The Mildewed Touch of Royalty

What does Princess Leia have in common with Snow White? Why would the ‘last king of Scotland’ desire that title for himself?

Monarchies seek legitimacy in tradition and privilege, not universal suffrage. It is for this reason that they are, at heart, incompatible with democracy. Under kingly rule, men and women are not created equal. By an accident of birth, some are created better than others and deserve different treatment before the law.[1]

The first human beings to call themselves free in recorded history were aristocrats; yet freedom like theirs was available only to a select few and sustained by a legion of slaves. Lest we forget.

Why do so many influential works of fantasy and science fiction include monarchs or royals as characters?

I can think of a few reasons:

Sex with the leggy Russian girl, it is possible.

Her legs were made of silk and peaches and when she uncrossed them the bus driver cursed his regulation pants. The guy beside her wrapped his arm around her waist like a polar bear would. He was a ferocious-looking Santa with a black leather wallet bulging in his front pocket. 


Like Meet Lonely Chinese Girl, this prompt got its title from a subject line in my junk mail folder. Spam suggests rather intriguing possibilities, now and then.

Jun 11, 2011

What can Lauren Bacall teach you about writing?

Lauren Bacall (b. 1924) is an American actress.

I was about seven when I first saw her on TV. The movie was To Have and Have Not. Bacall was 20 and she was eternal: a walking, talking Venus. At seven, I was too young to follow the plot, but I sat in front of the TV that afternoon, spellbound and silent with a half-built Lego fire truck at my feet.

So much of what the characters said and did puzzled me. That did not matter, though, as long as I could hear that voice of hers.

That voice. They named a vocal disorder after her and first husband Humphrey Bogart, Bogart-Bacall Syndrome. Which will provide a strange sort of immortality when she’s gone, I suppose. Having a street named after you – is that better?

That voice. It is a southern wind from a lost equator, an old breeze sailing among cedars. Lauren wasn’t born with it. Howard Hawks found her natural timbre too nasal and decided he couldn’t use her, so Lauren spent two weeks developing the deep, sensuous tone she is famous for.   

A star had come to be.

But the ghosts of the silver screen can be alluring; they don’t have to make good on their promises, need not become real.

Who was the woman behind the mirage? What can Lauren Bacall teach you about writing a novel, story or play?

Jun 10, 2011

6 Normal Searches, and 2 That Make No Sense

Harry Kellar
Sometimes, strange people end up on my blog.

Most visitors who find me through a Google search are looking for answers about the craft of writing. That doesn’t surprise me.

Others, I have no idea what they want.

Basically, search strings leading to Start Your Novel break down into 2 categories: fairly normal, and inexplicable. There’s nothing in-between.

Group One: Fairly normal

1. How to begin a story
2. How to start your novel
3. A funny way to begin a story
4. What you need to know to start your novel
5. Starting your novel with a dream
6. What does fiction teach you

Group Two: Inexplicable

7. Chinese woman sharp teeth pics
8. You will notice the demonic

Numbers 1-6 prompted me to write this post. The ‘how-to’ queries are very common, which means that people want information from someone who’s already dipped their toes in the water.

So I asked myself, what do I really have to say on these topics? What nuggets of wisdom have I gathered over the years as an insatiable reader, teacher and translator? I did some soul-searching and decided to share.

The Day Our Sun Came to Dinner

Every ten seconds, the light in the room grows dimmer by two percent. Pete takes Kajsa’s hand and squeezes. The microphone on the floor is smoking. Behind the black mirror that covers the south wall, the interrogator is silent. 

Jun 8, 2011

Three Heads Are No Better than Two

En Drek pulled the hood over his main head.
“Good?” he asked. Heads two and three twitched and rasped under the moss-green jacket.
“This is never going to work,” said Justin.
“Work,” said En Drek, nodding excitedly.
Justin reached into his backpack and fished out a syringe. 

Mother of Butterflies, Sing me a Song

With pale, seven-jointed fingers, the creature took the apple and sat down beside Trisha. It scanned the red skin and the flavor underneath it.

“Where do you come from?” Trisha asked.
The creature tapped the ground.
“Do you live in a cave?”
It shook its long, birdlike head.

Jun 6, 2011

7 ways to mess with “a dark and stormy night”

If you’re stuck and you can’t come up with a killer beginning, take a cliché and beat the hell out of it.

Nobody wants to read stories that begin with “it was a dark and stormy night” anymore.

Painting by Caspar David Friedrich

Yet somebody wrote that once, and it worked. Now it’s become commonplace. Time to shuffle the deck. Or break some eggs and make a new omelet.

Ladies and gentlemen, for your edutainment, I give you… 

Jun 5, 2011

MVP#3 "If I should have a daughter, she's gonna call me point B"

This was like Pop Rocks bursting in my skull.

From the Project Voice "About Us" page:

"Sarah Kay is a Spoken Word Poet who grew up in New York City and began performing her poetry when she was only fourteen years old. (...)  In 2004, Sarah founded Project V.O.I.C.E. and has since taught Spoken Word Poetry in classrooms and workshops all over the world, to students of all ages.  Most recently, Sarah was a featured speaker at the 2011 TED conference (Technology, Entertainment, Design) on "The Rediscovery of Wonder" in Long Beach, California."

Make sure you check out Sarah's website, too.

The Monthly Video Pick (MVP) is posted on the 5th of every month. I will trawl YouTube for great, often overlooked videos on writers, by writers, for writers, and feature them here. My personal tastes will always be a factor. I can’t promise you will enjoy these videos, but I sure hope so.   

Jun 4, 2011

What can David Cronenberg teach you about writing?

“I’m often surprised -- I expect to be surprised -- by my audience’s reactions to things.” -- David Cronenberg

David Cronenberg (b. 1943) is a Canadian filmmaker and screenwriter.

He paints his nightmares in all the colors of the rainbow. It’s not that his films are devoid of humor – even A History of Violence draws the odd, uneasy chuckle.

Cronenberg's films drag you into that twilight area where parody becomes horror and you become victim and monster at the same time. Disease and disaster are catalysts of personal transformation.

Works like Spider, eXistenZ or M. Butterfly are love/hate letters to your inner freak, that part of you that will never belong anywhere. They explore a profound dissatisfaction with reality, bringing to mind Emerson’s intriguing observation, ‘(…) we grant that life is mean, but how did we find out that it was mean?’

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

Jun 3, 2011

5 Things You Don't Want in Your Novel, pt. 2

Behold! The Dark Overlord of Stupid
and Other Cardboard Villains  

Word to the wise: I’m going to carpet-bomb the Lord of the Rings movies. If you’re a fan, now’s the time to walk away.

What’s a Villain?

Villains do not spring from the bowels of the earth, fully formed and stark-raving mad. They all have backgrounds. Homes. Mothers. And beliefs. Yes, beliefs.

Have you ever wondered why they keep putting Lex Luthor in Superman movies? It’s not just because moviemakers lack imagination.
Lex Luthor is a different kind of Superman. He will stop at nothing to increase his intellect, or expand and fulfill his potential. Lex absolutely detests Superman’s paternalistic attitude, and believes it is dangerous for humans to rely overmuch on the kindness of a godlike protector. Luthor feels that Superman is holding us back.

In their own script, their version of reality, villains are heroes. Saviors of men. Philosopher-kings.
They do terrible, terrible things. But they do them for a reason. “Some men just want to watch the world burn” may describe the Joker in The Dark Knight, but it doesn’t even begin to explain his behavior. Christopher Nolan was savvy enough to give him an abysmal childhood. All it took was a scene where the Joker explains how he got his scar. By means of clever, parsimonious exposition, we find out this Joker grew up in hell.

Bad people have personalities, too. And their actions are rooted in the way they think and feel.

God of the Grasslands

At dawn, the sky over the steppe gave birth to a floating mountain.
Bazar yanked the reins so hard that his pony screamed. The young rider held his breath, torn between reverence and terror. Could that be the shepherd of heaven, fallen to Earth?  
The great mountain sailed towards Bazar. 

Jun 1, 2011

This Little Piggy Went to Crazy Market

“It’s gonna be like coming a hundred times at once,” Bryon said, holding the beetle up to Marenka's lips. She pushed his hand away. “Come on,” he urged, “it’s totally safe. Here.” Bryon reached into the bag of squirming bugs, took one, popped it into his mouth and chewed. 

Birds of my Breath, Horses of my Flesh

The priest leaned on the pylon, breathing hoarsely as a red pool grew at his feet. Far, far away sandals clapped on the flagstones, and eunuchs shouted until darkness swallowed their voices.