Oct 29, 2011

What can Hunter S. Thompson teach you about writing?

“Call on God, but row away from the rocks.
Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005) was an American journalist and author. Born in Louisville, Kentucky to a public insurance adjuster and a librarian, he would famously claim that ‘the truth is never told during the nine-to-five hours.’

HST acquired something of a reputation thanks to years of self-abuse, an excessive love of guns and a… passionate hate-on for Richard Nixon. The Economist printed an obituary for Thompson that begins with the telling line: “There were always way too many guns around at Hunter S. Thompson’s farm in Woody Creek.” As for Nixon, Thompson claimed the former US President could only be honest about football.

Thompson is hailed as the father of Gonzo journalism which, fortunately, does not involve writing about muppetsHe always said there was more truth in fiction than in any piece of journalism. A gonzo reporter plunges headlong into the subject he or she writes about, and chucks out any claims to objectivity. That approach gave us such phenomenal reports as Hell’s Angels and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

So, what can Hunter S. Thompson teach you about writing a novel, story or play?

Oct 28, 2011

These Tokens That Ate my Life

Salt weighed his bag of bird skulls and sniffed the air. The morning mist that settled among the pines smelled of dead mushrooms. An upright lump of rags shuffled toward Salt, picked its way in the mist. “Turn back!” he shouted. “You’re not getting my skulls!”

Waiting for the Borasco

Leif studied the man in western dress that slung a Nikon over his shoulder, bumping a telephoto zoom against a pillar. The lens was a foot long. It could fetch enough in the black market to feed a family for a year. What’s your game, friend? Leif wondered.

Oct 27, 2011

How do You Write Powerfully? Part 2

A while back, I asked my readers – how do you write powerfully?
Blogger and fellow Triberr member Stan Faryna was kind enough to highlight my blog post here. (Thank you, Stan.)

Now, if you don’t know Stan Faryna, let me tell you that acumen is among his chief attributes. My original list of self-exploration strategies for powerful writing included 6 items. Stan added a seventh:

7. Ask uncomfortably sincere and meaningful questions.

OK. Here are some questions of my own:
What is justice?
What is the future of the human race?
If a democracy is broken, how do you fix it?

How do you answer these questions without offending a lot of people? Is that even possible? Is it desirable?

Writing powerfully, it seems, is about breaking some eggs. This applies to fiction and non-fiction alike.

The Power of Questions || 10 best ways to harness the power of questions

Oct 26, 2011

Alien Corn

The chief told Ruth to go home after they found the body. She crawled into a closet and huddled in the dark, trembling, clutching a quart of Polish vodka. Ruth had all the psychic powers of a cow pie -- how could the dead girl be in that ditch?

Gone Are the Training Wheels

The goblins walked backwards into the walls with jerky claymation movements and left Patricia alone and unguided with Mr. Kosovich. Patricia held the silent drill over the patient’s gaping mouth.

Kosovich posed a question with his eyes, but Patricia had turned to stone. 

Oct 22, 2011

What can Terence McKenna teach you about writing?

“People are so alienated from their own soul
that when they meet their soul they think it comes from another star system.

Terence McKenna (1946-2000) was an Irish-American researcher, speaker and psychonaut. 

I realize ‘psychonaut’ is an unusual job description. Where do you train for that? Jan Dirk’s A Dictionary of Hallucinations maintains that, at present, ‘psychonaut’ is “a generic term for individuals who seek to investigate their mind using intentionally induced altered states of consciousness.”

You have amazing consciousness-altering tools at your disposal: meditation, prayer, self-hypnosis, lucid dreaming, sensory deprivation and a few others. McKenna’s absolute favorite was DMT, a naturally occurring psychedelic compound of the tryptamine family. DMT is an entheogen. Explaining the transformative effects of psychedelic substances isn’t easy.* You have some DMT in your cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), though not enough to put you in touch with the worlds beyond.
*LSD is a semi-synthetic drug derived from LSA (ergine), which is commonly found in morning glory seeds or Hawaiian baby woodrose.

Terence McKenna saw human culture as an Operating System and also as an intelligence test. He believed that, if you can analyze culture, you can change it too, and recognize cultural manipulation for what it is. “Culture, which we put on like an overcoat,” he said, “is the collectivized consensus about what sort of neurotic behaviors are acceptable.

Despite a decades-long preoccupation with psychedelics, McKenna was not a New-Agey type – to him, actual experience came before dogma. His methods and beliefs have been questioned; which is for the best, as extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence.

McKenna was a visionary in more ways than one. Half quack, half shaman, all crazy.

So, what can Terence McKenna teach you about writing a story, novel or play?

Oct 21, 2011

Guest Prompt: Lee Ann Murphy

I asked a group of writers I know to send me story prompts – because I like to feature other people on this blog. The first one to take up the challenge was Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy. Thank you, Lee Ann!

This is her offering to SYN readers:

A lakeside resort that has seen better days, guests in five of ten cabins, wicked weather coming in and one of the guests is hiding a major secret.
{Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy}

And this is my take on it:

In the darkness April put a line of willows between her and the cabins. The lake was a void under the moonless sky, lapping on cold sand. She walked until the water kissed her toes, hefted the gun and tossed it away into the murmuring lake.
{John Magnet Bell}


Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy is a full time romance author.  Her novels include A Time To Love, Witness Protection Program, Kinfolk, Love Never Fails, and the Love Covenant series. This is Lee Ann’s blog, A Page in the Life. You can also follow her on Twitter.


Would YOU like to contribute a story prompt? 
There are only two rules: 
1. Fifty words or less.
2. Use your imagination.

See my About page for contact details.

Snow White You're Not, Buddy!

It was like a flood, but with dwarfs instead of water. All of them begging for a job.
“Guys,” Branson shouted above the din, “there’s nothing I can do. Dwarf tossing is illegal now.”
“Come on, Bran,” said the oldest dwarf, “we know Mr. Cook’s got something goin’ on.”

Oct 19, 2011

What Should Writers Blog About?

Your fiction is stellar. I know it is. Beauty comes a-skipping when you give Her a call. The Muses bow to you. But writing for the Internet is not about pleasing the Muses. You see, imaginary beings from ancient Greece don’t give a fig whether you run a successful blog or not. Flesh-and-blood readers do.

The best blogs around share a few attributes: strategy, focus, discipline and simplicity.

Can people describe your blog in one sentence?
Unless you have a vision for it, no, they can’t.
“Oh, I write about things and stuff.”
Right. How often do you update?
“Uh, sometimes it’s like twice a day. But I haven’t posted anything for six months.”

Let’s take a brief look at 2 fundamental components that I, a reader, look for in a blog:

Who Will Keep History Safe Now

Red is bad, blinking red is even worse. Page poked her boss.
“Liz? Someone broke into the archive.” 
The boss’s avatar looked serene.
“Did they… download anything?” the avatar asked.
“All the racial slurs from the past 200 years,” Page said.

Oct 15, 2011

What can John Lennon teach you about writing?

John Lennon (1940-1980) was an English musician and a founding member of The Beatles. He was born in wartime England to a merchant seaman and a waitress. 

Lennon’s mother, Julia, taught him to play the ukulele. She also bought John his first electric guitar. Julia was witty and impulsive; Alfred, the father, “couldn’t resist having a good time.”

In time Lennon planted a little seed. He called it The Quarrymen, named after Quarry Bank High School. The Quarrymen were a skiffle group. Rock ’n’ roll is a glorious bastard child: born of many parents, it has a bit of skiffle in its DNA. This is what it sounds like:

With Paul McCartney, George Harrison (who auditioned for the band at the age of 14!) and Stuart Sutcliffe, Lennon founded The Beatles. Their name was intended as tribute to a band both Lennon and Sutcliffe liked, The Crickets.
Sutcliffe, "the fifth Beatle," left the band to pursue a career as a visual artist.

The Beatles cut their teeth playing in Hamburg, seven nights a week, traveling back and forth between Germany and the UK over a period of 2 years (1960-62). They performed a staggering 1,200 times before they were even famous. In German strip clubs and dive bars. For hours on end. Was that the sound of your jaw hitting the floor?

John Lennon took a lot of chances in his life and his music. He captured something that needed expressing, some spirit of the times. He was a free spirit, a phenomenal creative being who knew how to reach people.

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

Oct 14, 2011

The Last Edwardian Stylite

Mr. Nott of 3 Fenwick Close nailed a fish crate onto a 12-foot pole he got from his brother-in-law. When the pole was up he climbed it and sat in the fish crate, looking forward to months of fasting and meditation.

His wife threatened to call the local paper.  


What inspired this prompt?
The Stylites were deeply religious people. I don't think there are any left.

Close Your Eyes and Sign on the Dotted Line

Wrong city, wrong body, wrong parents. Jellybean crumpled up the Bespoke Agreement in a frothing rage, as if she could wring Clause 12 out of it.

She tried her new legs. Ghastly stick-things fit for a dead mosquito. Couldn’t hold Jellybean’s weight.

Oct 12, 2011

How do You Write Powerfully?

  • Go where it hurts. Pain teaches.
  • Be honest, but recognize the story isn’t about you.
  • Have an opinion. Piss people off.
  • Feel guilt. Repent. Write about your regrets.
  • Tackle controversial topics that you feel strongly about.
  • Learn not to rant.

As for laying out your pain on the dissecting table, Emily Dickinson did it best.  

Empty my Heart, of Thee - 
Its single Artery - 
Begin, and leave Thee out - 
Simply Extinction's Date - 

Much Billow hath the Sea - 
On Baltic - They - 
Subtract Thyself, in play, 
And not enough of me
Is left - to put away - 
"Myself" meant Thee - 

Erase the Root - no Tree - 
Thee - then - no me - 
The Heavens stripped - 
Eternity's vast pocket, picked -

Continued in Part 2, which is a quick read. Promise.

Too Many Preachers In this Town

You don’t worry about ethics when you’re starving. Meerkat didn’t even know the word, didn’t care ’bout right and wrong – the oranges in the basket were too round and fragrant and his stomach too empty. 

Oct 8, 2011

What can Teddy Roosevelt teach you about writing?

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) was the 26th President of the United States.

Let’s put that picture up there in context: Roosevelt lived at a time when people were deeply suspicious of horses. Behold:

(Their failed experiments with alternative mounts led to the invention of the automobile, and we all know how that turned out.)

Roosevelt was born into a wealthy family, but that doesn’t mean much, because action and character are still born of individual choice. Idleness is an easier path.

As a weak, asthmatic child, Teddy stayed home and read up on natural history. By the age of nine, he was quite the amateur taxidermist and zoologist.

To combat his asthma and overcome his physical weakness, Theodore took up boxing and strenuous exercise.

He’d put several dents in the world as a hunter*, State Assemblyman, writing more bills than any of his New York colleagues did; as historian, setting forth an epochal study of the navy’s role in the war of 1812;  as a remarkable US President, obviously; and as a man’s man’s man in general. 
*Roosevelt's name now means "he that kills the crap out of everything" in several animal languages.

Friends remarked that Teddy read one book before breakfast, every single day. So, what can he teach you about writing a story, novel or philosophical treatise?

Oct 7, 2011

Is that Your Favorite Hat, Mister?

Hoyden Macaw leaned on the weathered rail and briefly forgot the rope coiled at his feet. Summer was over. A woman ran toward a boy of nine or ten who’d never flown a kite before. The sea was angry silver.

Woman and child stopped running. Seagulls froze in the air.

The Azeri

Under the Angelica St. Bridge, right now, there’s a twentysomething man building a castle out of pencil stubs, biting the insides of his cheeks. A woman is cursing her Camry and rooting in her bag for an old cell with a crack across the screen. What they see -- 

Oct 5, 2011

Nighttime at the Heart of Everything

A blue neon rose swam in the dark beneath as the plane banked.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Ministry of Transportation,” she said.
“Looks like a sign for a car dealership,” I said.
“They sell cars there,” she replied.

No More Green Meadows

The moon sank behind the wall and the cold pressed even harder against the girl’s bones. On the other side of the wall, somebody laughed. The girl crawled into a pothole. Just before dawn, things put on human skin and went on the prowl. 

Oct 1, 2011

What can Napoleon Bonaparte teach you about writing?

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte was the ‘Emperor of the French’ from 1804 to 1815. You can’t swing a hornets’ nest in a Starbucks* without hitting at least one actor who’s portrayed Napoleon in a movie.
*In all seriousness, I do not recommend this.

Born in Corsica to Genoese parents, Napoleon would rise to prominence as a soldier and install himself as First Consul of France via coup d'├ętat in 1799. Later, in an overly complicated ceremony heavy on esoteric symbols of wealth and power, Napoleon would be crowned Emperor of the French. I’ll say one thing for Bonaparte: he knew his propaganda. This is how the Emperor saw himself:

Martin van Creveld, a Israeli military historian, described Bonaparte as ‘the most competent human being who ever lived.’ He was rather good, as far as warmongers go. The way a minor earthquake is ‘good.’

Make no mistake, however. Napoleon was tough as nails. Reaching the heights of political power is like climbing the Everest with a broken foot, and staying at the top is even harder. Six times he fought against transnational coalitions that included the Russian and Habsburg empires, the United Kingdom and other nations, winning victory after victory. By 1812, the First French Empire ruled over sixty million subjects.

So, what can Napoleon Bonaparte teach you about writing a story, novel or play?