Jul 30, 2011

What can Salvador Dali teach you about writing?

Dalí with a friend. 

“Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.

Salvador Dalí, Marquis of Púbol (b. 1904, transcended earthly shell in 1989*) was a Spanish surrealist painter and sculptor. As J.G. Ballard once put it, Dalí’s work is “an extreme metaphor at a time when only the extreme will do.

(In defiance of museum rules, I touched one of his sculptures once. No alarms sounded; no demons erupted from the bowels of the earth to drag me down to hell. That happened later during a catastrophic Sam Raimi film. I have yet to recover from that.)

Dalí’s older brother was also called Salvador. At the age of five, Dalí’s parents took him to his brother’s grave and told little Salvador his dead brother had reincarnated in him. “He was probably a first version of myself,” Dalí would say later in life.

In 1922, Dalí enrolled in the Academia de San Fernando (San Fernando School of Fine Arts) and pretty much wasted four years of his life – by his own admission – as no-one on the faculty was competent enough to examine him. This he must have proclaimed with such verve that he was promptly kicked out.

The Marquis of Púbol’s work is very much about elephants with stilt legs and tigers vomiting smaller tigers and pale women floating in their sleep.

Did I mention that in Dalí’s world pomegranates can levitate and give birth to mountain-sized tigers? Yeah, there’s that.  

So, what can Salvador Dalí teach you about writing a novel, poem or play?

Jul 29, 2011

Nothing's Certain but Death and Sea Monsters

Ash drifted to the rug as the producer savored his illegal cigar.
“I want an ominous shadow to fall across the Five Goats.”
He spread his arms as if to embrace the landscape.
“Kate,” he said.
“I want a huge body count.”

How Many Frenkels Does it Take

Ms Evangeline Frenkel should have loaded her parasol that morning. The damn nasologist wouldn’t leave her alone. Oh, the small misfortunes one endures: no citric acid concentrate in the parasol’s pressurized chamber. She’d have to fend off the nasologist – verdammt! – with words of power.

Jul 28, 2011

4 Totally Idiotic Ways to Start a Novel

Today, I’d like to give you the opposite of advice. I'm not talking about bad advice; I'm talking about stuff that will never work. Not in a million years.

Bitter medicine, they say, is the strongest kind.

This post is dedicated to the person who found my blog by googling “Wrong ways to start a novel.”

Whoever you are, thank you. Thank you so, so much. 
You have unleashed the apocalypse. In blog form.

So put on your raincoats and brace for the nasty drizzle ahead:

Jul 27, 2011

Songbird Invictus

We drove down to the beach with a cloud over our heads. Manny was reduced to a few pounds of ash in his urn but the son of a bitch wouldn’t stop singing. Alice slapped the urn.

“At least change your tune,” she said. “Stop with the Love Boat already.”

You Should Have Fixed a Salty Dog

Karl Wagner bit off his left finger to make sure it didn’t taste like candy. He chewed pensively. Karl’s sometime lover, Manfred, stood in the hallway slack-jawed, barely holding on to his Sea Breeze.

Mumble mumble, said Karl. 
“What’s that in your mouth, Karl?”

Jul 25, 2011

8 Things that Make Me Human #NicheAmnesty

1. I’m a magpie. On occasion I bring weird little objects home. (None of them hazardous, as far as I can tell.)

Jul 23, 2011

What can Kevin Spacey teach you about writing?

“I find it sad that by not talking about who I sleep with, that makes me mysterious. There was a time when I would have been called a gentleman.”

Kevin Spacey (b. 1959) is an American actor.

He was born in South Orange, New Jersey. What is now South Orange was purchased from the Lenape, an Algonquian group of Native Americans. It’s one of a few towns in New Jersey to retain gas light street illumination. Frank Langella (yes, the other Dracula) was born there as well. Elisabeth Shue and Dionne Warwick also hail from South Orange. Must be something they put in the water.*
 *Other than fluoride.

Kevin’s professional debut was as a spear-carrier in a 1981 performance of Henry VI, part 1. After that he appeared as Oswald in Ibsen’s Ghosts** opposite one of my all-time favorite actresses, Liv Ullman, with whose work you ought to familiarize yourself, like, right this minute.
 **The original title, Gengangere, means something closer to “those who walk again,” i.e., more ‘revenant’ than ghost proper.

Two of his performances have impressed me more than all the rest. You may disagree with me, but let me point out my reaction is entirely subjective.

First, it was his sub-zero portrayal of the killer in Se7en. Within seconds of screen time, Spacey establishes a glacial character that precludes empathy: a relentless, calculating machine that doesn’t even hate. It just works, maiming bodies in theatrical/allegorical ways to send a message. Think of the challenge in conveying such a presence, the mind of such an entity.

Then it was the mental patient in the 2001 science fiction film, K-PAX. Spacey’s character, Prot (rhymes with ‘goat’), may or may not be an extraterrestrial. The film plays with this ambiguity throughout, never delving into the mechanics or Prot’s comings and goings. Spacey plays Prot as someone who keeps a lot bottled up, disguising a deep, soul-disfiguring sorrow with an elaborate, otherworldly composure.

One other thing that impresses me is Kevin Spacey’s attitude to privacy. He wants people to take his work seriously – not his sentimental adventures or domestic arrangements.

So, what can Kevin Spacey teach you about writing a novel, story or play?

Jul 22, 2011

Build Me a Cage and I Will Come

Joanne’s husband-to-be fell backwards and kept on falling when his back hit the floor. He sank into the red carpet like a heavy mist.

Space had rejected his body and recycled the structure that used to be Chuck. 

The Cosmic Gate in my Belly

Vince knew another hit of navel lint might kill him. Vince wanted to swallow it anyway, and fly to the fractal city of the elves.

Driving his forefinger into the deeps of his navel, Vince teased out the pellet of fiber and hair that opened the gates of wonder.  

Jul 21, 2011

Guest Post: Invisible Funnels, Pea Soup and Dark Energy

by Adam Charles (Writer, & Director of iWriteReadRate.com)

Writing feels like someone grafted this huge funnel to the top of my head. Down the funnel someone pours barrelfuls of information, patterns, data, structures, colours, senses, random stuff.  All of this comes together in a thick, smooth, pea-green soup in the Postal Sorting Office of my brain.

My globulous Sorting Office, with the acumen evolution has bestowed upon it, sifts through the soup looking for some semblance of order - don’t ask me how, it's a mystery to me. It breaks down and rearranges all the ingredients, then pushes all of them through the combined filter of my interests and obsessions and out pops a freshly baked loaf.

Sometimes writing feels like I’m channelling a cascading torrent of words and images.  Other times - perhaps when the Postmaster is taking a nap - it feels almost impossible to produce a sentence I'm remotely happy with.  For me, this hints at a subconscious foundation to the process of writing.

I often feel when my subconscious will allow me to write. The clouds part for me then, and I can see,
 smell and touch the sentences. They grow into paragraphs that stretch out their limbs to become chapters and then stand upright to walk on their own.

 DTI Measurement of a human brain. Source
When I think about it, the role of the subconscious in my writing feels like the Dark Energy of the mind. We can't see what it’s made of.  It's an unknown element, and yet it has to exist, or it wouldn’t interact with the choices involved in the act of writing. It wouldn’t bind the separate things I see to produce my character, who I am.

Shovel enough down the funnel, waggle it through the synapses, neurons and whatnots and something new comes into being. Something I have created and should be proud of no matter what - once I've edited it to within a nanometre of its life, of course. It's my very own thought-baby: I hold it, nurture it, and then free it to live out in the cosmos.

I believe I write naturally; I write like a human being. Humans order, create and re-imagine stories from all the myriad inputs around us. Necessity got us down from the vanishing trees and onto the African savannah, but creativity and imagination enabled us to paint on cave walls, master fire, eventually build quaint little mud huts, and well, you know the rest.

I may be sneaking up on a conclusion! Deep breaths now...

How do I write? The way I was built to. Millennia of brain development, combined with my own life journey, enable me to order, understand, reorganise, translate and reinvigorate the world. The primordial soup of the subconscious is ignited by imagination. The initial spark cannot be summoned: it seems to happen when it needs to.

When you're struggling to put a productive pen to paper, why not give yourself a little time?

Let your funnel clear.

Let the soup stew.

Let the Dark Energy bind it all together. 

What do you say?

Photo by Yasson

Connect with Adam Charles & iWriteReadRate on Twitter. Read a sample of Adam's novella, My Tiny Universe, right here.

iWriteReadRate.com is a new website for writers to upload & sell unpublished work, receive valuable ratings & reviews to prove and improve their writing, build their platform, sell their work and be part of a constructive community.

Jul 20, 2011

My Divorce Lawyer Has a Mean Left Hook, But his Footwork is Sketchy

Deirdre’s divorce lawyer, Paul Bellocchio, was sweating before he even stepped on the canvas. Gathered around a 10-foot tower of muscle and hatred, the husband’s legal team discussed their ringside strategy. The titan’s minute, implausible head swung from left to right as he pounded his fists together.

Jul 16, 2011

What can Janis Joplin teach you about writing?

“I got treated very badly in Texas. They don’t treat beatniks too good in Texas. Port Arthur people thought I was a beatnik, though they’d never seen one and neither had I.”

Janis Joplin (1943-1970) was an American singer, songwriter, and something of a miracle, gone from the world too soon. A bit like Jimi Hendrix.

Janis was born in Port Arthur, Texas. Robert Rauschenberg was born there too; pearls come from unexpected places.  

Let me tell you about Port Arthur. In the 19th century, there was this place called Aurora, which means ‘dawn,’ near the mouth of Taylor Bayou on Sabine Lake*.

(*And I so wanted to tell you more about the colorful history of Sabine Lake, but that’s beyond the scope of this article – please see “Further Reading” below.)

Aurora sounds promising, doesn’t it?
Yet the city-to-be crawled from dispirited dawn to indifferent twilight. Originally conceived in 1837, a hurricane tore through it in 1886 and by 1895 mostly everyone had picked up and left. So when Arthur Edward Stilwell founded Port Arthur, he built a modern city over the ashes of a ghost town.

And in Joplin’s day it must have felt like the kind of place where you can scarcely breathe. Where the ghosts of Aurora drain the life out of you. Janis was just too big for Port Arthur. Classmates, she once said, “laughed [her] out of class, out of town and out of the state.”

What can Janis Joplin teach you about writing a novel, story or play?

Jul 15, 2011

Biotic Brains Are a Thing of the Past

The model lacks a mouth, but I could swear the damn thing was grinning.
“This is a 20 kronor piece from Norway,” it said, turning the disc in the light. “Minted 2004.”
“Why,” Cate whispered, struggling to stay conscious. “Why are you…”
“I love coins,” the robot said.


Inspired by this NY Times piece. The prospect of a robot that is "more like us" fascinates and terrifies me at once.

Curse my Polymer Heart

In case you were wondering.

Nothing says ‘good morning’ like the Earth rising against the blackness of permanent night. Except for rampaging, genetically modified water bears that eat space dust. And ceramics. And polyalloys.

Red flags and hysterical horns all over the place. Where the hell is my assistant?

Why’s the temperature dropping?

Jul 13, 2011

The Four-Piece Trio

Kaikala picked up the 1968 Fender bass. It smelled of mold and decades of palm sweat. The strings were rusted over except for the D, which felt warm to the touch. She tried a few notes.

The D-string would not let go of her right hand. 

Souls in the Cloud

Susan is threatening to break out of her partition. I don’t know how she does that, because I’m still made of carbon.

My pad vibrates and a chat window pops up. My boss.
“Are you fudging around with the middleware, Heckmann?”
“What? No, sir.”
 “Then who’s running this unauthorized diagnostic?”

Jul 9, 2011

What can Jimi Hendrix teach you about writing?

“You have to give people something to dream on.”

James Marshall Hendrix (1942-1970) was an American guitarist and singer-songwriter. He played solos with his teeth. How does that grab you?

By all accounts he was a shy, sensitive boy. To Hendrix the guitar was the very rock of salvation. It was his truest voice.

Jimi’s first guitar was a Supro Ozark 1560 S. It was a slim, single-pickup number with a mahogany body. That guitar was stolen after a concert and never recovered. Hendrix bought and sold and gave away dozens of guitars in his lifetime. He experimented with studio effects and fuzzboxes on a quest for the ultimate sound.

Jimi Hendrix’s entire career as a musician can be summed up in one word: devotion.

So, what can Jimi Hendrix teach you about writing a novel, story or play?

Jul 8, 2011

A Diamond Hyena

Plink! The priest leading the silent procession jumped at the sound. Supplicants looked up at the ruined walls that flanked them. A ragged boy with a slingshot perched atop a broken pillar of salmon-colored bricks. 

Servants of the Laughing Machine

When you raise all your left hands at once, you offend somebody. It’s a given. Ron Terrigal could look forward to a disciplinary beheading for his breach of protocol.

The martial philosopher Yagyu, captain of the 5th Pandimensional and the picture of self-control, chuckled on the inside.  

Jul 7, 2011

Tonight We Drink a Bitter Wine, with Revenants for Company

The sun peeks over a black ridge as two men fight over an acorn. The taller one has the back and shoulders of a bear. They roll in the dirt, grunting and yowling. Bear-man doesn’t notice the long-snouted skull with broad teeth that’s found a way to his opponent’s hand.

Jul 6, 2011

The Secret Bias of Silk

Cosimo adjusted the collar of his dress shirt over the V-shaped lump at the base of his skull and glanced at his enemy.
The burgundy thing by the Louis XIV chair taunted Cosimo:
“You’ll make a fool of yourself.”
“Shut up,” Cosimo said. “Ties don’t talk.” 

Jul 5, 2011

MVP#4: John Scalzi vs. Cory Doctorow, and a Bonus

John Scalzi wrote at least two great books, Agent to the Stars and The Android's Dream, and Cory Doctorow, who may or may not be an excellent writer, is one of the masterminds in charge of BoingBoing, a blog I don't really understand but read anyway.

In the video below, they discuss 16-year-old girls and taping bacon to cats.

Bonus: Spoken poetry performance - "If I controlled the Internet"

Sounds like a plan. More power to this guy.

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.   

Jul 2, 2011

What can Alvar Aalto teach you about writing?

“Modern architecture does not mean the use of immature new materials; the main thing is to refine materials in a more human direction.

Alvar Aalto (1898-1936) was a Finnish architect and designer. He was born in Kuortane, Finland, where the houses are unassuming, the trees stand tall, and the midnight sun sails drowsily on through the short summer nights.

His father was a land surveyor and his mother a postmistress. No grand, tragic drama mars his life save for the death of his first wife, Aino, mother to his children Johanna and Hamilkar. Both Aino and his second wife, Elissa, were architects.

If you would know the man, study his work. To me, Aalto often crosses the line into unapologetic ugliness – it’s the way he makes his buildings work with setting that appeals to me the most. His understanding of beauty in organic form is most apparent in the furniture he designed. That’s where Aalto’s lines become truly sensuous and invite the eye to wander.

Like it or not, every last detail in Aalto’s design work reveals a complex, passionate mind with a talent for conveying structured, consistent experiences. The way he defines space reflects a mature and reasoned approach to life and the art of architecture.

So, what can Alvar Aalto teach you about that novel you want to write?

Jul 1, 2011

5 Things You Don't Want in Your Novel, pt. 4

Part Four: It’s Raining Swords

Penguins are kind of cute, if boring. Penguins with swords, though – there’s a cracking yarn.

Swords change the stories they appear in. They have this power which is almost elemental – like money, food or fire. Readers expect many kinds of fiction to include swords. Try to imagine The Lord of the Rings without swords. Or the HBO/BBC hit series, Rome. Go on, try it.  

Swords are at once essential and invisible. That’s why blades in fiction are used and abused. Doubt me? Then you should check out the index page I like swords over at TV Tropes.

Most of us are now ignorant of fencing techniques and need not arm ourselves before we go to work. Our cutting implements are confined to the kitchen or the basement.

Put simply: we know jack about swords. What can you do about that?

Oracle, Lie to Me Now - by @Paul_Wolfe

The house was a monument to stench. I stepped into a fine bouquet of shit, piss and blood – but there was more. Sulfur. A pinch of Devil’s bane for a summoning fire.

That wasn’t the worst.

The wind moaning through the leaves of the birch trees spoke my name.


This tantalizing prompt is by Paul Wolfe, who once ran away to the French Alps and started a band with two other Pauls, believe it or not. He knows a thing or two about putting together successful e-books and teaches the bass guitar online. Check out his blog, One Spoon at a Time.