Jun 29, 2012

You Take that Nightmare by the Horns

People in business suits clouded the sky.
“Must be a hologram,” said my partner.
“We have to look into this,” I said. “Finish your drink. Let’s go.”
“Big-ass hologram,” he went on, dead-eyed. 
The glass slipped from his hand, fell to the floor.
“Fossmeyer?” I shook him. “Are you OK?”


Coincidence is a funny thing. On the very day I post a story prompt about a haunted coat (the protagonist calls it "infected" as the coat is an embedded computing device), this pops up on my blog dashboard:

Ghost URIs. I'm getting hits from nowhere. Surely there's a reasonable explanation but right now I'm too amused to care.

The Wearable Ghost

“My favorite coat is infected,” I told my boyfriend. “It thinks it is a person.”
Jim raised his left eyebrow.
“Are you sure? You said the same thing about your car last week.”
“It’s been texting people I don’t know,” I said. “While I sleep!”

Jun 27, 2012

Thief Among Sleepers

Take away their mirrors and they can’t see. But they can still hear you. I go barefoot among them and try not to breathe. Echoes are merciless in the catacombs.

One drop of poison on their lips is enough. One drop, then I pry out the jewels with my needle.

Hypnos and Thanatos, by John William Waterhouse

Through the Holes in my Peach-Gray Curtains

Because they withheld her raspberries, the scrivener went on strike.
The burgomaster* succumbed to a sharp pain in his chest and fell from his chair when he heard the news.
Who would draft official documents now? Even worse, who would dictate them?
The scrivener sat hungry by the window.

*I just love this word, burgomaster.
More words I love:
Jersey Devil

Jun 24, 2012

What can Max Ernst teach you about writing?

“All good ideas arrive by chance.”

What is surrealism? What is it for? Should we even ask such questions?

Max Ernst (1891-1976) was a German painter, sculptor, poet and – you won’t get this from Wikipedia – magician. OK, so he didn’t banish himself to the fringes of polite society the way Austin Osman Spare or Aleister Crowley did… Does it always matter how you get there? Max himself noted that “when the artist finds himself he is lost.”

Third of nine children, Max was born in Brühl, now home to an amusement park called Phantasialand. Fitting, don’t you think, that Brühl should be known for two things – Max Ernst and a ‘Land of Fantasy.’ So few charming coincidences in the world, eh?

I’d like to tell you that Max rode his little broomstick to the witches’ Sabbath at the age of four and there pledged allegiance to Ronald McDonald in exchange for demon painting skills, but the truth is far more interesting. Max’s father was a strict disciplinarian, a convenient authority figure to rebel against.

Max Ernst studied psychiatry and visited asylums where he studied paintings by crazy people (bear in mind that ‘crazy’ is not a clinical term). He fell in love with and even married more women than maybe he should, including Peggy Guggenheim. While he did that, he founded dada, surrealism (Yes! All by himself! *wink wink nudge nudge*), and delved into philosophical alchemy.  

Max Ernst with Leonora Carrington.
Leonora was smitten with Ernst before they even met. He didn't
treat her all that well.

She was a gifted, visionary painter.

So, what can Max Ernst teach you about losing yourself/finding yourself and writing something good in the process?

Jun 22, 2012

3 Radical Science-Fiction Scenarios You Can Play With

As I pointed out before, most of the time I work under a self-imposed restriction: My prompts must be 50 words or less.

Not all ideas can be corseted like that. More breathing room is required. So here I am breaking my own mold once again because, you know what, variety’s the spice of life.


Government on a Jupiter moon is run by 9-year-old psychopaths. Grass roots movement opposes psychopathic government. Aliens arrive on the scene with unreadable intentions, stay in orbit, do not attempt to communicate. 9-year-olds decide to turn their guns on the alien craft. Hilarity ensues.


We humans have evolved to become perfect empaths, adept at reading body language and verbal cues. Everyone is rich and successful because we’re all very open, accepting, dynamic and generous. Social exclusion and individual isolation are things of the past, because you can always find someone who’s passionate about the same things you are.

One 16-year-old girl shocks everyone by undergoing a surgical procedure that will leave her blind, deaf and dumb for six months.


A Siberian shaman, having died three thousand years ago, is reborn as a character in a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Game (MMORPG). He doesn’t understand why certain words must come out of his mouth when odd “people” approach him, nor why he must supply them with an endless stream of objects created from nothing in exchange for yellow circles that flash into being for a moment and then disappear.

Programmers panic and a virtual town plunges into chaos when the shaman decides to leave his shop and engage with the players – in rather unconventional ways.

Fortune by Ruben Ireland

Jun 21, 2012

What's Good on the Internet Today? Make Your Own Luck Edition


Spring by Young Ju
The ever-bubbly Angela Ackerman is over at Janice Hardy's fine blog discussing how writers should make their own luck. Meanwhile, Janice Hardy devotes her acumen to matters of style.

Sample quotes
Angela: "It would be nice if Success would be decent enough to slide over an inch or two and meet us, but life doesn’t work like that. So we need to grab it. And how we do that is by..."

Janice: "One pitfall of a first person point of view is that you sometimes end up with a lot of sentences in a row starting with I."

Ava Jae is asking her readers what the difference is between an idea for a novel and one that'll just work in a short story. 

Sample quote
"You see, novel ideas have to be big—and I don’t mean that they have to have explosions and ridiculously awesome action scenes—I just mean that while you’re working with your new idea, you have to be able to develop enough nuances, subplots and layers to sustain 80,000 (or however many) words."

Join the conversation.

Tania Dakka tells you about exorcising your writing fears with exercise. Health, prosperity and creativity usually go hand in hand. 

Sample quote
"Regular exercise boosts your mood, your immune system and your focus. People who exercise feel the benefits in their wallets, as well."

Dave Gamache, designer at Twitter, brings you Doing What You Love and Doing it Right. His insights apply not just to home improvement projects but to writing also.

Sample quote
"Craftsmanship is not a destination; it's a life-long discipline."

Sarah Arrow warns you about the dangers of optimizing your blog posts for search engine spiders. For Bloggers, by Bloggers. 

Sample quote
"How much did the search engine spider spend on ebooks last year?"

Bill Dorman, who's never been one to beat around the bush, tells you how to get an invite to any party. A quick, valuable reminder to take good care of yourself and maintain your self-esteem.

Sample quote
"Avoid depressing topics. Don’t make people avoid eye contact with you because they know the first words out of your mouth will not be uplifting."


Someone told me that my piece on HR Giger left them with a lot of questions. So I updated that blog post. There is now a coda explaining what Giger means to me. 

Speaking of, this gas station in the Czech Republic strikes me as somewhat Gigeresque.

Jun 20, 2012

And In the Beginning Was the Speculator

I’m addressing you out of common courtesy, said the Investor. I’ve been parked in the magnetic field long enough to know how you think. United Nations, you call yourselves. Well -- to me you’re squatters.

There are a few reasonable members of your species; maybe we can do business.


Inspired by the video below.

I almost called this prompt "Second Coming of the Original Landlord," which then suggested "What Landlord Slouches Towards Bethlehem?"

But sometimes I'm afraid of being too cryptic and what's more, not everybody reads Yeats on a daily basis.

Think of the alien Investor I portrayed as someone almost unthinkably old and civilized. As Bill Maher once remarked, civilized people don't kill each other, they sue each other. You could also describe him as a space-faring turbocapitalist.
So his attitude could be summed up as, 'you overproud apes be reasonable and vacate my property before I bring the full force of intergalactic law down on you.'

Here's some historical background on land speculation.

Sweet Syllables of Exile

by Hans Walør
Where I come from, women don’t say hello. Not of their own initiative. 

These nomad women talk. The words they use are strange: Fish sounds like songbird and fire sounds like wave.

But hark! Here comes the one with the blue swirls on her cheeks.

Jun 18, 2012

Don't Port Me to Another Molecule

‘Sin’ was not a word in my dictionary until the day Ben came to me holding a bottle with a weird label on it. He beamed. On the label, the molecule resembled a butterfly.
“Drink,” said Ben, “drink and she’ll talk to you.”
“Her name is Maja,” he said.


Inspired by this documentary on Sasha Shulgin, the creator of MDMA.

Jun 17, 2012

What can HR Giger teach you about writing?

Subtract Giger’s vision and you wouldn’t have Alien, but yet another silly movie about a bug-eyed beast hacking away at terrified spacemen.[1]

You wouldn’t have Prometheus, whose visual vocabulary is heavily reliant on Giger’s style.

Nor this popular rock album cover.

Emerson, Lake and Palmer: Brain Salad Surgery, 1973

Hans Ruedi Giger (b. 1940) hails from Chur, Switzerland. His father was a chemist who loathed the prospect of his son becoming an artist. Young Giger wanted to design palaces and castles and ghost train rides.

Little Ruedi always enjoyed making things with his hands and running experiments. A regular customer of the Giger family drugstore, whom the burghers painted as crazy, taught Hans Ruedi how to fix firearms – to solder, change and temper springs and other parts. Although he lost interest in ghost trains and weapons upon kissing a girl for the first time at the age of 14, Giger’s obsessions would resurface in his art. And how. An exasperated teacher once blasted him thus: ‘Giger, stop drawing things that look like cows’ necks!’

He didn't listen.

So, what can a painter of extraterrestrial cows’ necks teach you about writing a novel, story or play?

Jun 15, 2012

Lady Fortune, of Round and Glassy Face

10 days into the siege, an hourglass materialized before the city gates. No ordinary hourglass but one as tall as an elephant.

Tall and empty.

“A trick,” said the Duke, shivering in his marten furs.
“A distraction,” said the burgomaster.
“An opportunity,” said the drunk wizard, picking his nose.

Jun 13, 2012

When Your Body Denies the Truth

Sam, Toll and Lia had an opaque baby. This was a first in years.
They took it to the Round Hut where Lia’s grandmother boiled moon-milk for the hoverflies.
“What’s it going to eat?” Lia asked her grandmother.
“Bark, like everybody else,” the old woman said.
“Are you sure?”

Guns of the Seneca

The second boom thundered across the lake and the preacher dived under the wagon, howling like a dog with an arrow up his arse.
I reached for my pistol but an invisible force slapped it out of my hand.
“Warned you,” said Onatah. “I am safe, but you? Who knows.”


Earthquake Booms, Seneca Guns, and Other Sounds

Jun 10, 2012

What can Gustav Klimt teach you about writing?

All art is erotic.
Gustav Klimt

You probably know Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) though you've never heard the name before. This is the reason why:

The Kiss, 1907/8

Gustav Klimt was an Austrian Symbolist painter born in a small town which was not, strictly speaking, a part of Vienna. So it was a satellite town and back then if you wanted to make something of yourself you gravitated toward the big city, Vienna. The seat of Austro-Hungarian power.

Vienna had it all: a Rat House (no, I’m just kidding), an Opera House and a University. It was the New York of its day.

One of Klimt’s teachers once told him that it is dangerous to please too many people. I concur. Sexton Blake, a fictional character that appeared in 4,000 penny dreadful & pulp adventures, is nonetheless terribly obscure. Now Childe Harold, brought to life by one who was ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know,’ got much better press over the ages. But I can’t go into Lord Byron right now, lest I forget about Gustav Klimt and do both of them a disservice.

Maybe the secret to immortality lies in being your own crazy self and enduring the stings and barbs of pigheaded critics.

Klimt sure got stung. Because his women were too fat, too thin, too young, too old, too much. Because they were naked,  because they looked two-dimensional, because they reclined in obscene positions, and how dare he paint Zeus as a golden shower!

Danae, 1907 - a painting which came under fire for oh, an infinite number of reasons.

So, what can Gustav Klimt teach you about writing a novel, story or play?

Jun 8, 2012

Cold Rainbows

Photo by Lee Eunyeol

The pale naked boy sat beside Mendel and fastened his deadly, sea-colored gaze upon him.
"Begin the andante espressivo," said he to Mendel, whose trembling fingertips came to rest on the ivory keyboard.

"Steady," said the boy. "I need a proper door. You do want me to leave?"


I can't beat the feeling that these two characters are in space.

Here's a nice andante espressivo for you. I can see the stars dancing slowly in my mind's eye as it plays.

Mr Firedrake's Pageant of Ghosts from the Future

Gael's mark is on that smoke-belching contraption that runs on felled brothers and sisters.

Black train hissing and chugging to a halt. Everyone around Gael smells of damp and mothballs. The past is complete in charming ugliness.

Too much disgusting iron. Gael steps back from the lip of the platform.

Jun 6, 2012

Secret Message from a Neutron Star

Cade and Agnetha had spent all night communing with each other and Jimi Hendrix's ghost on tape. No radio, no phones, no nothing.

The Northern Lights leapt flamelike out of the dark as the lovers slept. Beings of vapor and light sighed down to Earth around the cabin.

Say a Prayer for the Confidence Man

The tolling bell shook the villagers from their leaden sleep and one by one they rose barefoot and wondering. No curses; it was the church bell, and there must be a reason for the reveille.

Only the sacristan knew and the thief that bade him tug on the bell rope.


Because this is a Western-inspired prompt, here's one of the best scenes from one of the very few Westerns I like: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966).

Sometimes I try and write like Cormac McCarthy, but no-one's yet achieved a better parody of his style than EDWLynch, who runs Yelping with Cormac.

Jun 3, 2012

What can Mark Rothko teach you about writing?

"If I have faltered in the use of familiar objects, it is because I refuse to mutilate their appearance for the sake of an action which they are too old to serve"

Mark Rothko (1903-1970) was a Russian-American painter born in Dvinsk, a city so nice they named it nine times.

Russian-American is a simpler way of saying ‘born in a vassal state of the Russian Empire.’ In truth Mark’s family were Latvian Jews. Rothko’s father Jacob Rotkowitz, a pharmacist, gave his boys a mostly secular upbringing. Despite Jacob’s modest means, the Rotkowitz children learned to speak Russian, Yiddish and Hebrew.

When Mark came to America, in 1913, he picked up his fourth language – English – and, graduating from Lincoln High School in Portland, went to Yale on a scholarship that ran out after a year. He dropped out after two.

Rothko’s later paintings are offensively good because they resist interpretation and at the same time stubbornly refuse to be taken as mere decorative objects.

So what can Mark Rothko teach you about writing a novel, story or play?

Jun 1, 2012

Lips that Touch Liquor Ought to Be Welded Shut

There was no proper drink for Elizabeth in Boozetown. She marched into the first tavern on the left clutching her painted sign and planted herself in front of the bar.
“I’m protesting this here locale,” she said, “this pigsty of intemp’rance.”
“You got some nerve, lady,” the bartender said.


Because there might have been a Boozetown.

The Savior Loop

He should have died before he hit the ground, but there was no ground to hit, so he didn’t die. Instead, John Castriot found himself naked on horseback and 26 again. 

“Is this Heaven?” he asked himself. 
“Almost,” said the horse. “It’s a place to right some wrongs.”