Nov 30, 2012

Poking Holes in Your Lovely Little Tank

The Chameleon Collector
by Eric Fan
Marcellina had a man living in the cellar, a man running from the Germans in black. Half the village concealed the fact from the other half, and especially from the curate's governess, with her fear of the old religion. For the man dealt in curses and philters.

Nov 29, 2012

Land of Wireless Networks and Black Market Sheep

They called him The Fox because he didn't look like one at all, but if you wanted 4D retinas to fool the scanners on Gate Seven, he was your guy.

On the way to the meet, Sarina was too nervous.
"Stop fingering your street pass," I said. "People are staring."

by Marco Puccini

Nov 28, 2012

Never Insult a Meximerican on Furlough

You all remember Space Captain Stapleton, right?

Stapleton drove his tourist buggy through the street window of the H-Bar, laughing like a Venusian fire-bat. He ran over a couple of non-human patrons and slammed into the postketamine dispenser amid a blizzard of glass shards and alien screams.
"Who're you calling planetside scum now, bitches?"


Have you got a novel or short story to submit? Are you researching publishers? Check out my growing lists on Twitter: Literary Magazines (370+ magazines and journals) and Publishers (420+, all shapes and sizes). You might also be interested in Rachelle Gardner's list of literary agents (103 members at this writing).

Nov 27, 2012

What can Bob Dylan teach you about writing?

"There is nothing so stable as change."
-- Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan (b. 1941) is an American musician, poet and artist.

Born Robert Allan Zimmerman (and named Shabtai Zisl ben Avraham in Hebrew), he legally changed his name to Bob Dylan in 1962. Dylan's native town is Duluth, Minnesota, a city named after French explorer Daniel Greysolon, sieur du Lhut, a broker of peace treaties who sailed down the St. Croix in search of the Vermilion Sea.

Emerging from the American Folk Revival and the Dinkytown[1] scene, Dylan set all the cultural watchdogs barking when he abandoned the obviously pure, perennial values of folk music and cut a record with an electric band. That record was Bringing it All Back Home, Dylan's first Top 10 break on the Billboard charts. Writing for the Rolling Stone Record Guide in 1979, critic Dave Marsh claimed that it created a new kind of rock 'n' roll, combining the new, urgent rhythms of the sixties with the left-leaning themes of the American Folk Revival.[2]

Although the media have made much of his religious life, and an impression may linger in the noosphere that Bob Dylan changes religions every couple of months, he's clearly stated that songs give him all the spirituality he needs -- music teaches him more than any religious organization or entity ever could. Dylan's famously declared that this world is not "the real one." For the past 20 years he's supported the Chabad Lubavitch movement, a school of thought in Judaism that emphasizes mind over emotion. Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founding father of Chabad Lubavitch, writes in the Tanya that the heart is useless without the mind.

Dylan changes. Once, you might say, he defined the times. Now he resists definition, but still writes the kind of music that makes the heart a vessel for the mind.

Who is the man they once dubbed the voice of a generation? What does his mind run to? What can Bob Dylan teach you about writing a novel, story or play?

Nov 25, 2012

The Swan's Not Ready for a Song

"The early 21st century was a unique time for business," said Barbillón, "but hear me, ladies and gentlepersons, we can bring back the good old days. We can profit from nightmares again."
Thus ended the avatar's address. Men, women and inbetweeners stood up and clapped their hands.    

Did anyone say 'nightmare'?
Adorable Bunny Krueger by Michelle Coffee

Here's a fun little time-waster.

1. Go to Google Translate.

2. Paste the following text into the box on the left.

pv zk bschk pv zk pv bschk zk pv zk bschk pv zk pv bschk zk bschk pv bschk bschk pv kkkkkkkkkk bschk bschk bschk pv zk bschk pv zk pv bschk zk pv zk bschk pv zk pv bschk zk bschk pv bschk bschk pv kkkkkkkkkk bschk bschk bschk pv zk bschk pv zk pv bschk zk pv zk bschk pv zk pv bschk zk bschk pv bschk bschk pv kkkkkkkkkk bschk bschk bschk pv zk bschk pv zk pv bschk zk pv zk bschk pv zk pv bschk zk bschk pv bschk bschk pv kkkkkkkkkk bschk bschk bschk pv zk bschk pv zk pv bschk zk pv zk bschk pv zk pv bschk zk bschk pv bschk bschk pv kkkkkkkkkk bschk bschk bschk

3. Pick German as the 'From' language.

4. Click on the 'Listen' button.

Click to enlarge

I wonder how people come up with these things.


As a coda to our little Sunday excursion, let's travel back in time and admire this Spanish lassie with her studied pose and far-off gaze. This picture was taken by Jules Gervais-Courtellemont, a French photographer who converted to Islam in 1894 and traveled extensively, documenting the charms of the Orient. Gervais-Courtellemont eventually became a photographer for National Geographic. He produced autochromes, 5,500 of which are still extant.

Malaga, Spain, circa 1924.
Click to enlarge

Nov 23, 2012

Catch the 4.15 to Hysteria Lane

E. McKnight Kauffer, Life magazine, 1947
via Include me Out

Crabneck turned his back on the surveillance camera, only to find another impudent glass eye across the street. Perched atop a faded frieze in mock-neoclassical style, the second camera scrutinized Crabneck's nose and perhaps also the lips under his blue-black mustachio. Crabneck drew his Stetson down over his eyes.  


This prompt was inspired by the Stetson ad above but also by a Wired article on the intriguing Honeywell Kitchen Computer.

I would have liked to include the Honeywell in some way, but I'll leave that to your imagination. When you work with a self-imposed limit (my typical prompts are 50 words or less) you learn a lot about self-editing -- and saying no to yourself. You can put anything you like in a story, but not everything.

Start writing story prompts for yourself and you'll become a self-editing Samurai in no time.

The Honeywell Kitchen Computer. Clunky? Yes. Useless? Absolutely.
Gorgeous? HELL YES.

Loud Necromancers Do Lots More Business

Yes, ma'am, I brung these beasts back from the dead. Zombie horses, yup. Neat trick, ain't it. Nerve? No, ma'am, I calls it extreme self-confidence. No, ma'am, y' can't eat them. Well, they's rotting, ain't they. Bad for ya gut.

Illustration by Stephen Gammell via CineVore

You could say that this prompt takes place in the Land of Injustice.

Nov 21, 2012

And Steel Parrots Watch Over the Sleepers

Rows of non-people stared at the ceiling with their eyes closed.
"Their performance does degrade over time," said Hofmeister, "but on the whole, this meatware deal saves us a lot of money."
"How do you... how do you keep them alive?" I asked.
Fans whirred overhead.

Illustration by Joseph Maclise

Nov 20, 2012

What can John Carpenter teach you about writing?

Photo by Thomas Peter Schulz
"In England, I'm a horror movie director. In Germany, I'm a filmmaker. In the US, I'm a bum."
— John Carpenter

John Carpenter (b. 1948) is an American film director, producer, screenwriter and composer. He likes to score his movies, though he doesn't read sheet music.

Despite the appreciation of big name directors that have cited Carpenter as an influence -- Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan among them -- the mainstream likes to keep Carpenter at a safe distance. Perhaps his distaste of rigid hierarchies has something to do with it, or maybe his love of creative freedom.

Significant works:

Dark Star (1974)

Four astronauts and a commanding officer in cryonic suspension travel the universe on the Dark Star, destroying "unstable planets." One of the astronauts spends a great deal of time chasing a beachball-shaped alien around the ship, as said alien trills and gurgles like a mouthless turkey, escapes into elevator shafts and annoys the crap out of everyone. Things get really hairy when the Dark Star's bomb drop mechanism fails and self-aware bomb #20 refuses to disarm.

DanO'Bannon co-wrote the script and acted in this movie. O'Bannon would later reuse some plot elements from Dark Star in his script for Ridley Scott's Alien

Halloween (1978)
The quintessential slasher movie.

Michael Myers is evil. Even his psychiatrist says so. Myers wears a William Shatner mask and likes to skulk around in the suburbs looking for people to stab. His being a mute psychopath makes Michael immune to all sorts of physical harm.

One presumes that Michael only exists one day a year, or that he's found some kind of temporal conveyor belt/revolving door that turns his life into a succession of Halloween nights.

I for one like the fact that nobody knows where Michael gets his psycho survival powers, or why. Trying to explain a flimsy premise would only ruin it for everyone. Let's not go the Rob Zombie way.

The Thing (1982)

An American research team in Antarctica takes in a fake dog, despite a rat-tat-tat warning from a guy pretending to be Norwegian. The Americans shoot the Norwegian and put the fake dog in their dog pen, where it changes shape and attacks the real dogs.

As the alien goes through its catalog of stomach-churning body plans, the hapless humans try to kill it with fire. Several times. However, fragments of the alien always manage to break off and regroup in a dark corner.

It doesn't take the characters too long to realize that the creature has the capability to imitate any of them. Paranoia sets in. People die in disgusting ways.  

They Live (1988)

A nobody falls off the cattle wagon outside LA and finds a mysterious pair of sunglasses. What's so special about the sunglasses, I hear you ask. Well, they allow him to see that ghoulish aliens walk among us and that every billboard, every magazine, every dollar bill conveys laconic injunctions that enforce conformity, consumerism and blind obedience. Oh, and the world becomes black and white when you put on the sunglasses.

The main character, our nobody, is called "Nada" -- nothing.

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

Nov 17, 2012

Philosophy in Schrödinger's Bedroom

All I have is second-hand news and rumors I don't trust. The men who walk into my bubble want to get what they paid for and only tell me of the outside when they're finished. I study the fashions they wear, listen to their contradictions as I wash myself.

The Perilous Compassion of the Honey Queen
by Carrie Ann Baade

It is de rigueur that we conclude today's post by appending a video on Schrödinger's Cat.

Nov 16, 2012

An Ogre Explains Fate to His Dinner

Whatever he gave me drains my will. That lopsided grin! I can't look away. He replaced his teeth with hundreds of hypodermic needles. They glisten. What now? Does he want to -- oh, please don't come any closer.

He shows me a journal. My eyes gravitate to a winged deer.


A horror prompt could do with a soundtrack, don't you think?

Nov 15, 2012

Burn the Hand that Plugs You In

I sold all my shares in the Philosophical Automaton Corp., smelling doom in the wind.

So began my years beneath the waves. Overwater, the automata made slaves in their likeness and gave them sentience. Out of cruelty? Curiosity? Who knows.

Two centuries passed. Should I return to the surface?

The machine apocalypse has already begun -- if you don't believe me, just watch the video above.

Nov 14, 2012

Chastity, Beer and Black Metal

On the eve of my twenty-first birthday, I secretly decided to become a monk among strangers. And the real me took a vow of silence: Whenever I spoke to anyone, it would be in someone else's voice. Someone who could live the life of the flesh would cloak me.

This prompt was inspired by the picture above. In 1836, a group of boys found these mysterious dolls in their wooden coffins at Arthur's Seat, the most imposing hunk of rock in Edinburgh, Scotland. Almost two hundred years later, nobody's quite sure what purpose the coffined dolls may have served; no-one knows who put them there, either. More pictures and backstory at The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things

Nov 13, 2012

What can A Nightmare on Elm Street teach you about writing?

A Nightmare on Elm Street is a 1984 American horror film written and directed by Wes Craven, a Cleveland native who left his job as humanities teacher at Clarkson University in Potsdam, NY, to write, direct and edit... porn movies.

Craven's first non-pornographic outing was The Last House on the Left (1972), a movie he intended as a retelling of Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring. Translating the original story of rape, murder and parental revenge to an American setting, Craven did away with medieval lyricism and cranked up the violence. Last House strikes the viewer as a crude, low-budget affair of little merit. By the time Wes Craven directed A Nightmare on Elm Street, he already had 15 movie credits to his name and a lot more money to work with.  

Freddy Krueger, played by Robert Englund

Nightmare follows a teenage girl, Nancy Thompson, and her friends, as they contend with a vicious presence that appears to them in nightmares and feeds off their fear. It wasn't the first horror movie I watched -- that must have been the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which some oblivious programmer at an obscure station deemed appropriate for daytime viewing -- but few other movies have made me feel... steamrolled.

Yet this felt good somehow. The new, flatter me had succumbed to the allure of contemporary horror.

Nancy Thompson, played by Heather Langenkamp

Here was a film in which fear is not a giant ant or a radioactive pseudosaurus, but a sexual predator that taints dreams and robs you of the ability to tell dream from reality. A film where the monster, much like the urban rat, never lurks too far.

So, what can A Nightmare on Elm Street teach you about writing a novel, story or play?

Nov 9, 2012

When the Tsarevitch Dreamed of a Beardless Nation

Roman Romanovich, half a dozen dead mice sewn into the lining of his overcoat -- for luck, they said -- dragged his feet toward an empty stable. He stopped to look at the prison across the river; the air he breathed left the taste of rusty knives in his mouth.


A brief history of the Russian empire:

Russia commenced her trek to modernity by taxing beards. Then came Rasputin and the logical response to Rasputin was communism, of course. After the fall of communism a young, well-connected KGB officer secured a lifetime position as Supreme Puller of Strings and Chief Inspector of Lingerie Models; his name was -- and still is, I gather -- Vladimir Putin.

Wassermann's Pocket Chandelier

Sneaking into his own home, so as not to disturb the cockatrice in her toxic sleep, Wassermann made a beeline for the basement while the nightingales outsang each other in the copse beyond the neglected rose garden.

A minute likeness of his wife sat rigid on a blue couch atop a workbench.


This was inspired by the 1968 short Darling, Do You Love Me?, directed by Martin Sharp and Robert Whitaker. The woman is played by Germaine Greer.

Nov 8, 2012

The Rogue Specimen

The man of her dreams is secretly obsessed with the cameras that follow them around and will end up devouring the man's devotion to her.

Marko looks over his shoulder 638 times a day. The urge to protect Clarice from the cameras' vampiric gaze has turned to poison.


This prompt was inspired by Man Ray's 1928 short, L'Etoile de Mer (The Starfish).

There's a translation of the intertitles on Wikipedia, but in its literalness -- though this might strike you as a paradox -- it feels unfaithful to the original. So I've tweaked that translation to the best of my ability. Here are the intertitles then, each sentence paired with her English cousin.

Les dents des femmes sont des objets si charmants... 
(A woman's teeth are such charming objects...)

... qu' on ne devrait les voir qu' en rêve ou à l'instant de l'amour. 
(... that one ought only to see them in dreams, or upon the amorous moment.)

Si belle! Cybèle? 
(So beautiful! Cybele?)

Nous sommes à jamais perdus dans le désert de l'éternèbre. 
(We are forever lost in the wilderness of permadark.)

Qu'elle est belle 
(Oh, but she is beautiful)

"Après tout" 
("After all")

Si les fleurs étaient en verre 
(If only those flowers were made of glass)

Belle, belle comme une fleur de verre 
(Beautiful, beautiful like a glass flower)

Belle comme une fleur de chair 
(Beautiful like a flower of flesh)

Il faut battre les morts quand ils sont froids. 
(One must strike the dead while they are cold.)

Les murs de la Santé 
(The walls of the Santé)

Et si tu trouves sur cette terre une femme à l'amour sincère... 
(And if you find upon this earth a woman whose love is true...)

Belle comme une fleur de feu 
(Beautiful like a fire blossom)

Le soleil, un pied à l'étrier, niche un rossignol dans un voile de crêpe. 
(The sun, one foot in the stirrup, cradles a nightingale in a veil of crepe.)

Vous ne rêvez pas 
(You are not dreaming)

Qu'elle était belle 
(Oh, but she was beautiful)

Qu'elle est belle 
(Oh, but beautiful still)

Nov 7, 2012

And the Nightingales Will Inherit Our Bones

Stop taking chunks of my sleep, I told them. My sleep belongs to me and you have no right to sell those chunks.

The bird-heads mocked me -- I can tell by the way they chirp.

And then they showed me the weapon they built. The dream-killer.

Bombs Away
by Nicebleed

Nov 6, 2012

What can Piet Mondrian teach you about writing?

"Mondrian felt it mattered that an artist should present himself in a manner appropriate to his artistic aims. A photograph of him taken in 1908 shows a bearded floppy-haired Victorian man of sensibility. A photograph of 1911 shows a twentieth-century technologist, cleanshaven with centre parting and brilliantined hair; the spectacles were an inevitable accessory."
— David Sylvester

"I believe it is possible that, through horizontal and vertical lines constructed with awareness, but not with calculation, led by high intuition, and brought to harmony and rhythm, these basic forms of beauty, supplemented if necessary by other direct lines or curves, can become a work of art, as strong as it is true."
— Piet Mondrian

Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) was a Dutch painter. He was born in Amersfoort, the "Boulder City," a place where memory stretches far into the past.

Why "Boulder City"? Well, back in 1661 a landowner had a 9-metric ton boulder hauled into the city from the Soest moors, just to win a bet. The winner subsequently treated the whole town to beer and pretzels. People in neighboring towns nicknamed Amersfoort citizens Keientrekker ("boulder-puller"), which the burghers of Amersfoort failed to appreciate. I can't imagine why.

So they put the 9-ton rock in the ground, buried it deep. The Amersfoortse Kei ("boulder"), for that is the boulder's somewhat predictable name, took a 300-year nap -- but what are 300 years to a rock in its quiet, musty cradle? -- until somebody dug it up in 1903 and put it on a pedestal.

Here I could say that I've seen stranger things on pedestals, but the truth is I don't get around that much. Now, if you were to ask me about traffic circles...

When you overfly Holland, the impression is one of impeccable neatness. Rows of ochre dollhouses, placed throughout the landscape by a benevolent computer, stand beside grids of tiny verdant trees. Lilliputian cars glide up and down long, unswerving lines of asphalt. The fields have been tilled by microscopic farmers invisible to the naked eye; yellow squares lie contented against rectangles of green and brown, as a thimble-sized ship approaches a sunlit harbor two inches wide.

Holland from above. No, seriously, I swear it is. 

Mondrian's painting reflects that tension between the Amersfoort Boulder and the orderliness of a miniature universe. The landscape of Piet's home country is a visual ode to the right angle, when you see it from a distance. While still working as an elementary school teacher, Mondrian painted windmills, rivers and flowers. This would not last. As David Sylvester wrote, "[O]ne of the great landscape-painters of his generation, one of the great flower-painters of his generation, comes to find trees monstrous, green fields intolerable."

How do you get from this... this?

You begin with the natural/organic, bringing pure form to the foreground...

... move further away from mimesis/imitation, leaving the organic shapes of nature behind...

...and Lo, the lines enjoy their triumph.

To Mondrian, form was the key to artistic achievement and spiritual development. His path took him away from representation, away from the mimetic and toward introspection.

What Piet Mondrian brought into the world, the tangible results of his Neo-Plasticism, has the power to mystify. Any 15-year-old with a copy of Photoshop or Illustrator can put together a sad imitation of the Dutch painter's geometric style. But they do so because this is no longer unknown territory; Mondrian was there first.

He knew what he was doing and why. Knew his place in artistic tradition also. Maybe Piet built his theoretical edifice on a foundation of pure bullshit, but at least he built something. That's much better than being stuck -- and feeding the bugbears in your attic.

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

Nov 2, 2012

Still Dodging the Snipers: 500 Posts and Counting

Throwing Away Bad Luck
by Nyoman Masriadi

This is my 500th post!

Call that an anniversary if you will -- this number, 500, makes me feel special. All I knew back when I started this blog in January 2011 was that I was in it for the long haul. My only regret, as I told Daniel Swensen a while ago, is that I didn't start blogging sooner.

It thrills me to be a part of this massive conversation, the Internet, and it makes me happy to have connected with such splendid people as Craig McBreen, Anne-Marie Clark, Ruth Long, Bill Dorman, Adebajo Amusa, Stan Faryna or Hajra Khatoon.

So. 500. That's quite a number. High time I did a retrospective, don't you think? Especially now that I once again walk the Earth in human form.

The first prompt I ever posted:
Ballad of the Cross-dressing Milkman

The first prompt I wrote:
Die with a Card Up My Sleeve

A few personal favorites:
How to Lead a Dragon by the Nose
47 Magnolias: Dark is the Tunnel
Bring Nanocytes, Not Food
Do Polish Doctors Like Hornets?
Behold, the Stratospheric Beast
The Cosmic Gate in my Belly
Five Proverbs from the Land of Injustice
Factory Fresh
Blandy's Catalog of Alien Cooties

When I was a lot younger and war broke out in the Balkans, there was this guy I knew -- you'd run into him in the street or the mall and ask, "What are you doing today?" He'd say, "I'm dodging the snipers."

Down, Down to Never-Was

I promise you -- if I leave these tunnels alive, I'll go back to selling peacocks at the city gates. The black animal's breath echoes throughout this maze and little beasties prance around my feet, talking among themselves. Never let a foreign juggler talk you into a "grand adventure."

Paper Landscape
by Timothy J. Reynolds