Feb 29, 2012

5 Questions with Robert Hardgrave, Painter & Man with a Vision

Dreamcatcher, 2010
All artwork © Robert Hardgrave 2007-2012.

Robert Hardgrave was born in Oxnard, CA, and raised in southern Arizona. He's been a Seattle resident for the past 20 years. As you will see, he's always looking for the element of surprise in his work. To say that you can lose yourself in his paintings is a bit of an understatement. They have this rich meditative quality that invites you to look at them until you decipher their many subtle motions - as color and form ripple and flow across the canvas - and an openness that lets you see much of yourself in the painting.


Ten Summers From Now I Will Marry a Duende

jukebox 1

Corazón always smelled of yerba dulce and all the boys she punched in the face would like to marry her some day.

Mother sat behind Corazón braiding her hair. The girl was raring to go swim in the creek. Maybe catch a small fish in her jaws like last summer.


Inspired by Robert Hardgrave's beautiful "Jukebox 1," pictured to the right.


Wikipedia: The duende.

Feb 27, 2012

Is Tech the Villain of Your Story? Guest Post by @wonderoftech

By Carolyn Nicander Mohr
Carolyn's Blog | Twitter | Google+

As a devoted fan of both tech and fiction, I'm sorry to report that the two rarely play nicely together.

Personal technology has become a factor that fiction writers can’t ignore. As portable technology pervades our everyday lives, making them easier and more efficient, writers must deal with the ever-changing world of tech while keeping the focus on the story.

Tech as a Plot Device

Few authors can effectively harness their imaginations to anticipate the future of technology efficiently enough to use it as a central plot device. The 1960s incarnation of Star Trek did a superb job of predicting tech that is emerging today. Though no one can yet be "beamed up" we do have communicators, commonly known as cell phones (see Top 10 'Star Trek' Technologies that Actually CameTrue).

  • Minority Report (2002) showed computer displays as holograms. That has not yet been widely adopted.
  • Ian Fleming, inspired by his espionage work during World War II, utilized tech gadgets effectively as plot devices to rescue Agent 007, James Bond, from dire predicaments.
  • Chester Gould, the creator of the comic strip Dick Tracy in the 1930s, envisioned cell phones that were wristwatches. (Many people still eagerly anticipate that device.)
  • Maxwell Smart, a character in the 1960s TV comedy series, Get Smart, used a cell phone in his shoe. (Not many people today would crave a shoe phone).

If you have a forward-thinking imagination, by all means share your vision with your readers. But if you find yourself getting bogged down with tech that takes away from the story, you may want to re-think your plot.

Don't Expect the "Wow" Factor 

If you're enamored with tech and think the latest-and-greatest gadgets will amaze your readers and be the key to a good story, think again. What seems like innovative tech today will look clunky and dated tomorrow.

Stories putting tech at the heart of the plot become outdated quickly as advances in technology make them obsolete before the ink is dry on the paper. In 2008, an action movie called Eagle Eye starring Shia LaBeouf utilized tech in its denouement. [Spoiler Alert!] The climax of this action film involves LaBeouf's character revealing video taken by his Palm Treo smartphone. A key plot point was that the villains didn’t know that a cell phone could capture video. Few people seeing this movie in 2012 would be shocked that a cell phone had this capability.

Avoid the "Giggle" Factor

The ideal for any writer is to have his story become a classic. But tech can mar an otherwise gripping tale, taking the reader out of the moment. If you watch a movie from the mid- to late 1990s, where at a critical point in the film a star takes out a bulky cell phone, you may be joined in giggles by those watching the movie with you. The tension of the scene is decimated by dated tech.  
Try to focus away from gadgets large and small. What appears cutting edge today will probably look funny or implausible to future audiences.

Dealing with Pesky Machines

Today, you need to think through the role of technology to move your plot forward. For example, in writing the story of a damsel in distress, an author must address the issue of the character's cell phone.  If a character is kidnapped and thrown in the trunk of a car, nearly every reader will be wondering why she doesn't just whip out her cell phone and dial 911 (or the emergency number of whatever country where the kidnapping takes place). Your choices as an author are:

           - Show that the cell phone is not in her possession
           - Show her battery is dead
           - Show that she cannot get reception
           - Show that the cell phone is damaged
           - Have the setting of your story occur 1995 or earlier, pre-cell phones

Ignoring the cell phone issue will distract the readers and either make them wonder why the character isn't using her cell phone or erode their trust in you as an author. You’ll make them wonder why you haven't covered all the relevant plot points.

Bottom Line:

Unless you're an inspired tech visionary, tech should be explained away or avoided so that the focus of the reader remains on your story. Gadgetry is too fickle to deserve a starring role.

[A couple of inspired tech visionaries. - JMB]

Have you ever been distracted by tech in a story? Have you ever watched a movie where people laughed at old tech? Let us know in the Comments section below!


Carolyn is a lawyer, wife and mother to three teenagers (including a set of twins). She's a polygadgetist who has been entranced with personal technology for over 20 years. 

Feb 25, 2012

What can John Malkovich teach you about writing?

John Malkovich meditates on his undeniable mastery

“Even if you do succeed most people wouldn't notice anyway.

I have a theory: directors fear John Malkovitch the way Thomson’s gazelles fear the cheetah. No-one makes John Malkovich act unless he wants to and, if you ask me, he seldom does.

But when The Malkovich is in the mood, let him do his thing, for beauty will adorn his gesture and liquid gold shall flow from his lips.

John Malkovich was born in Christopher, Illinois, the kind of place that is mostly content to exist and leave it at that. Small towns have this way of birthing eccentrics, nurturing them for a while and then shoving them off the nest. Best start flapping those wings, sonny boy.
That’s what Malkovich did. In 1976 he became a charter member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, founded in a Chicago church basement by Gary Sinise, Terry Kinney and Jeff Perry.

What does John Malkovich bring to his roles? If nothing else, a dangerous aura. Though in most films John acts with the exuberance of a beached whale, he’ll always have that face, that sinister face that hovers between the expression cold indifference and simmering contempt. Malko’s flat delivery somehow conveys menace -- his tone is that of a too-lubricated robot.

John Malkovich would like you to know
his tongue has earned a PhD
from the Sorbonne.
Only the Coen Brothers were capable of forcing The Malkovitch to act, and the experience must have been traumatizing, because Burn After Reading was the last truly good movie they made.*
*There’s something about A Serious Man that just doesn’t gel, if you know what I mean, and it’s not a lack of Malkovichery.

Listen: I genuinely admire John Malkovich. No thanks to the movies where he’s performed like a giant sloth on Demerol, but for the roles that were clearly suited to him and that he truly inhabited. Eragon is clearly not one of them, but Burn After Reading? Most certainly. Nor will I forget his sleazebag Vicomte in Liaisons Dangereuses.
Having suffered through Transformers: Dark of the Moon, I can tell you that the movie should have been about Malkovich’s character. I did get a kick out of Malkovich playing an ultra-charismatic jerk and confusing the hell out of Shia LeWhatsisface. If only that bit were for real. (Oh, Cybertronian Gods, please heed me.)

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

Feb 24, 2012

The Light-Boned Ambassador

Evangeline took a deep breath, forced herself not to blink and fired her thrusters. She plunged into the dust cloud, tearing against headwinds and glass-cutting crystals. Her two sisters were down there, caught in a Chomper pressure-net.

Hundreds of feet below, sirens wailed and engines rumbled. Chompers on the move.


What else is good on the Internet today?
Gabriela Pereira suggests that you make a Writer's Block Survival Kit.
Fish will follow a robot if it means more efficient swimming.
Owlies live in Owlie trees, art by Sebastien Millon.

Black Maria Can Get Blood from a Rock

There was this girl who sang like an angel spits knives. She made me tingle down there. I got up and swam through the faceless crowd right up to the stage. Stood by a 3-foot speaker with the drums pounding me down and the bass turning my insides to mush.

Feb 22, 2012

Woe to the Kings of Glimmershade

The forest is a sea of thorns that ebb and flow; the city is an egg, ringed by hopeless porcelain walls. 
It was Gael’s first night as sentry and already the flesh-eating woodsmen howled.

“Best you chew the leaves now,” said Gael’s senior, Das. “Won’t be no time for naps tonight.” 

Gentle-folk of the Black Comet

I’m in the business of stain removal -- you travel a lot, meet interesting species and kill most of them. You clean up the stains afterward.

Unless the prospective stains have something you want and wouldn’t mind sterilizing your planet.

Meet the Fel. Nicest race in the galaxy. Very… moral.


To the esteemed netizens who came to Start Your Novel looking for "Picasso formal pants": I couldn't find any good images of Picasso in said attire, so here's a photo of a dog in a lobster costume.

Feb 18, 2012

What can Calvin & Hobbes teach you about writing?

“From now on, I’ll connect the dots my own way.” -- Bill Watterson

 Bill Watterson (b. 1958) is an American cartoonist, best known as the author of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes.
For much of his life, Watterson lived in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, a village of four thousand souls. There, High Street leads into the Whitesburg Park, ending in a dusty teardrop by a shaded lake. The Chagrin river flows lazily among the trees, beavers swim and toil, people come to fish or walk their dogs. Sounds like a place for Calvin.

Watterson is painted as ‘reclusive’ -- I say he’s just private. Since Calvin ended, he’s avoided interviews and generally maintained a low profile.

But this little essay isn’t about Watterson. Calvin and Hobbes, the strip he wrote, penciled and inked for 10 years, ceased publication in 1995.

Maybe the six-year-old hellraiser, Calvin, and his tiger companion Hobbes still get so much love because Watterson didn’t “run the wheels off of it,” as he once told an interviewer.

You can easily cross the line that divides artistic integrity from gross, mercenary self-interest. Bill saw that line and said no, I’m staying right here. The cartoonist wouldn’t sell his soul to pay utility bills or put food on the table.
It is understandable that he never let Calvin & Hobbes be commercialized like the Simpsons. Watterson felt that this move would invalidate anything he had to say.

So, what can Calvin & Hobbes teach you about writing a novel, story or play? Maybe include more dinosaurs? Let’s find out.

Feb 17, 2012

An Emptiness in the Grand Design

Shoshannah turned her back on the golden arena and threw the main switch.
All the clockwork men raised their sightless heads, and the clicking in their chests echoed in the room.

The first pair advanced toward the arena.

One spoke! Yet he shouldn’t have a voice. 
“I will not fight.”

Can You Pin the Donkey for Me

The chairman of the Life is Worth Living Coalition tapped the microphone, leaned forward and grinned as he said, “Testing, testing, 1-2-3.”

His audience chuckled dutifully.

The chairman faced the crowd.
“I have nothing to say,” he told them, “except that I’m a fool. So are you. All of you.”

Feb 16, 2012

Dousing the Fire, Fanning the Flames

I fell asleep on my feet for the first time in my life. 26 of us to a cell.
I no longer cared that I might keel over and the others would pile on me until my lungs were crushed. Too tired. 26 men and boys. Dead-eyed, sweaty and stinking.

Feb 15, 2012

Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, 2012

Maybe this town was the end of the world but it was a new beginning for a smart man. Daniel Cochida wasn’t that man. He waded into the lagoon and the freezing water embraced him like an undead lover.

Would the key still be under that rock? After 12 years?


If you've read my About page, then you know I've been a photographer for a while. Terre Britton, whom I interviewed the other day, put together a gorgeous blog post and mini-interview about my photographic adventures. Please drop by and share your thoughts - Creative Flux is a great, inspirational blog with quality content.

Feb 11, 2012

What can Spider-Man teach you about writing?

Spider-Man in his Future Foundation uniform

This post is dedicated to Adebajo Amusa, fellow comics fan.

Some are moved by ideals. Others, driven by a constant, simmering rage. A few are impelled by guilt. Whatever the root cause of their actions, they don’t stop. Nor do they age, eat or sleep except when the story demands it.

Yes, I’m talking about superheroes -- that contemporary expression of the human need to mythologize. Superheroes attain to their ‘super-identity’ through great loss. Superman’s home planet disintegrates, Batman’s parents are shot in a dark alley, the Punisher’s family is mowed down in a public park, Daredevil loses his eyesight at a very young age... Origin stories are laden with a kind of tension best matched by Greek tragedies. Consider Hercules, who killed his wife and children in a bout of insanity. Hercules had to perform the twelve labors as atonement. This is a superhero origin story.

Superhero comics are modern folklore or, if you will, epic literature for children and teens.* They keep grand narratives alive and, as part of a balanced reading diet, they fire the imagination.
*Although many notable works have been created for adults, with considerable artistry at every level.  

Spider Man was created in 1962 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Peter Parker, the original Spider Man (there would be others), was a shy suburbanite, uninteresting in every way. Always strapped for cash, marginalized by the testosterone brigade at school, he developed an interest in science. A nerdy interest, unlike the normal and healthy concerns of aggressive team sports.

Who was more likely to escape into a world of comic-book adventure in the 1960s? Probably kids for whom physical activity wasn’t that rewarding to begin with.

So, what can Spider-Man teach you about writing a story? How many Lego bricks do you need to make a life-sized statue of Spider-Man? Let’s find out.  

Feb 10, 2012

No Bigfoots Were Harmed in the Making of This Prompt

It was furious love at first sight -- like sudden death from an allergy to flea bites.

He certainly had the fleas to spare. 
“Where have you been hiding all my life?” she once asked him.
And he listened to those weird, meaningless sounds.


Looking for a mysterious creature to write about? I recommend American Monsters. It features so many otherworldly reports, it'll probably give you indigestion. Or dry heaves, I don't know. 

My being a skeptic doesn't mean I can't enjoy reports of chupacabra sightings, or draw on them for inspiration.

Recently, I came across this 3-part story on the uncanny figure of the harlequin over at Mysterious Universe, another blog on the paranormal with a broader scope than American Monsters. The tale is quite engrossing and suggests new fictional possibilities for angels, demons, elves, what-have-you.


Other prompts you might like:
Lady, I Can't Sell You on eBay
Set Your Phasers on Heartbreak
The Secret Sunbather

Elevator Music Is Better than No Music at All

Organic moochers stinking up the office again. Ah, Tuesdays.

Bøb sat down, scanned the crumbling face of his no. 1 client and thanked the heavens he’d lost the ability to bring up his lunch. Bøb’s meals were intangible now. Nothing to regurgitate.

“I want a lottery ticket,” Bøb’s client said.

Feb 8, 2012

Treason Begins in the Womb

The Mind are a gentle master, Halogen told the cubs on their first day of school. It’s the Body you have to watch out for.
“Kena,” asked Phosphor, “doesn’t the Mind control the Body?”
“Shut up, Phosphor,” Halogen said. “You shouldn’t ask questions like that.”
“Why not?”
“Those questions kill.”


Looking for a quick, inspiring read? Amazing pictures and more? Check out my Twitter list, Blogs of Note.

Five-Letter Words Are Difficult

Along my route I have to deliver mail to a guy who is... Who is alive.
“Good morning, Mr. Beacham,” I say every morning.
“Uh,” he grunts, nodding. Never looks me in the eye.
“Here’s another postcard, Mr. Beacham,” I say.
His daughter sends him postcards. She’s alive, too.

Feb 4, 2012

What can Captain Picard teach you about writing?

“Captain Picard is the exact opposite of a Hollywood action-hero.” - Dirk Baecker

“Having played many roles of scientific intellect I do have an empathy for that world. It’s been hard on me because flying the Enterprise for seven years in Star Trek and sitting in Cerebro in X-men has led people to believe that I know what I’m talking about. But I’m still trying to work out how to operate the air conditioning unit on my car.” - Patrick Stewart


That single-word command was a call to adventure. Often uttered at the end of a Star Trek: TNG episode, engage always sounded like a new beginning.

Jean-Luc Picard (b. 2379) was played by Patrick Stewart (b. 1940), a film, TV and stage actor who became bald as a teenager. Maybe he took to the stage to make up for it. (Concerns about the bareness of his scalp were unfounded, as he would come to learn.)

At any rate, Stewart picked up an enviable skill set:    

I can do a wounded elephant! I can do a really good cow! And because of the amount of time I spent in North Yorkshire, I do a variety of sheep. All of which I will be happy to roll out for you!” - Patrick Stewart

Captain Picard of the Enterprise was created by Gene Roddenberry and named after Dr. Jean-Felix Piccard, a Swiss chemist and inventor who developed cluster balloons. Throughout Star Trek TNG, writers drop hints that Picard may be a descendant of Jean-Felix’s.

So, what can Jean-Luc Picard, captain of the Enterprise, teach you about writing a novel, story or play? What can he teach you about developing a character?

Feb 3, 2012

That Long and Dry '13

One day the gods came back from their home in the stars. With demands. Give them what they wanted or they would blow up the moon.

All that gum-flapping about the Mayan apocalypse. Bah!

The damn gods took all my Guinness, that’s what they did. 

Attack of the Bipolar Bear

Marsh picked up the penguin -- it was definitely too heavy for a stuffed toy. He looked for a seam, found one and ripped into the toy bird, allergies be damned. 

There. A camera with a coupled transmitter.

“Beckah,” he snarled, “you’re dead.”

Feb 1, 2012

I Remember All the Fleas On My Back

Jiggerface was actively trying to avoid the new emissaries of the Elephant Clan. They on the other hand were very interested in learning Jiggerface’s whereabouts, considering ol’ Jiggerface had nicked their precious drug vials. 

The Elephant Grandmaster would stomp the emissaries' balls if she got wind of the incident. 


In case you're wondering, I named Jiggerface after this icky bloodsucker.

Bixby's Stout Was Anything but Heavenly

Bixby the tailor did not attend his own funeral. No, when a rare sunbeam struck his eye, Bixby walked out of his father’s shop unseen, hopping from one cobblestone island to the next over glinting mud pools.

Goodbye, clouds of Ireland. Goodbye, old bloodstain by the chimney.