Dec 27, 2014

Start Your Novel: The Blog Ends Here, But this Is Not Goodbye

I started this blog in 2011. I wasn’t sure what for.

But I wanted my words to come out of hiding, and a blog seemed like an ideal instrument. Yet it became so much more than that.

Blogging has saved me from personal and creative stagnation, and I heartily recommend it to everyone.This blog has served its purpose multiple times: I made friends, joined profound conversations, turned my life around. Miracles happened. Yes, miracles.

Autumn Tryst, or, The Architect's Daydream
by John Magnet Bell

So why am I winding it up after hundreds of thousands of views, appreciative emails and people coming to me over and over again to show me how my story prompts had inspired them?

Let me offer you a simple reason.

As my life entered a new chapter, I found myself wanting to move a lot of things forward. It’s time I began developing some of my ideas for fiction instead of giving them all away as story premises. And after a long dry spell my interest in photography, drawing and painting reemerged with far greater strength and vigor than ever before. Art calls. I must answer.

That's me like 50 years from now, having answered the call.

Also, I am not leaving social media; no final curtain here. I will be

This blog is not going away, but will remain as an archive. (The hundreds of writing prompts on offer are copyright-free forever.) Note that after January 7, 2015, the site URL will revert to

When I look back and consider what I’ve done with this blog I feel proud. I have created a good thing that has brought joy, laughter, wonder and inspiration to a great many people.

Sunset at the Lighthouse
by Ian Mitchell

Now, I will not sign off without a final story prompt:

The Plaid Vampire Brotherhood of Vampires

It was lunchtime for the normals on the Pacific Northwest. The Pacific churned under a leaden cloud that was mostly water, dirt and airborne bacteria. Somewhere between two ghost towns built for incurable sleepers, Jack and Jane sat up in their respective coffins playing checkers in the dark. Jack and Jane were former human beings who had at one point become vampires through no fault of their own.

Carlyle the Christmas Vampire
by Hector Mansilla

“I’m tired of this cabin,” said Jane.
Jack didn’t say anything.
“I want to move to a mausoleum,” said Jane.
Jack remained silent.
“Raccoon blood just doesn’t cut it anymore,” said Jane. “I need variety. I’m bored,” she said.
“I have a possum,” said Jack, fishing a young possum from a hole in his chest.

See you around. Rock on.

Dog, Running
by John Magnet Bell

Dec 19, 2014

A Musical About the Consequences of Colonialism

A certain Danish astronomer went to sleep in Copenhagen and woke up in Istanbul. It was still called Constantinople at the time, or possibly not.

A certain Turkish potter went to sleep in Istanbul and woke up in Copenhagen.

Wives and relatives were sorely vexed.

Photo by Isabelle Wenzel

The Danish astronomer I had in mind as I wrote "A certain Danish astronomer" is, obviously, Ejnar Hertzsprung. He came up with a classification system for stars that we still use today -- dividing them by spectral type, developmental stage and luminosity.

To the best of my knowledge, Hertzsprung never teleported anywhere, let alone trade places with a Turkish potter.

Ejnar Hertzsprung was born in 1873. Istanbul still thrived under the Ottomans, but the empire itself would fall in a few decades. 

Dec 18, 2014

Bad Apples from the Tree of Learning

Tom’s most prominent facial feature was his hat. Tom never went anywhere with his hat. Tom was a spy.

Tom was an industrial spy. Industrial spies seldom wear hats. Tom worked for several shadow conglomerates and never met his clients face to face. Tom felt inordinately happy about that.

I don't know who took this picture. Also, this is not Tom. I believe this picture was taken in 1918.

Industrial espionage goes back a long way. (I may or may not have written about this before. I cannot confirm or deny.)

Prosopagnosia, also known as face blindness, is a cognitive impairment where people cannot recognize familiar faces. The ability to tell faces apart just goes out the window. Milla Jovovich plays a person diagnosed with face blindness in a mildly interesting movie, her character being told at one point that sleeping with her boyfriend is like "getting to be with a different guy every night."

I'm not sure that's how it works, or how it makes it more pleasurable to have sex with someone whose face you should recognize but don't.

A hat, Wikipedia tells me, is a head covering. Did you know that St. Clement is the patron saint of felt hat makers? I didn't.

Dec 12, 2014

A Brief Conversation on Crime at The Merry Cockroach

So these two thieves meet up, right? These cutthroats, these purse-slashers, these takers of candy from babies, shame to grandmothers, mothers and priests everywhere, and they haven’t spoken in a while.

“Thy recent misdeeds have greatly enhanced thy reputation,” says thief number one to thief number two. Thief number one is called Lucifuge.
“And you still sound like a pompous ass,” says thief number two. His name is Terbias because his mother couldn’t pronounce the letter O in Tobias without sticking an R in there, so the registrar who took down the name thought she meant “Terbias,” and it stuck.
“Pompous ass,” says Lucifuge. “At least I speak with wit and verve, and mingle with the cream, whereas thou… bah.” He waves his long, thin hand dismissively.

Guardian of the Way
by Thomas Rude

“So, you have something for me?” asks Terbias.
“Aye. An abduction. The object is the only son of a wealthy family in Merriweather Trough. Art thou interested?”
“Will I have to dress up like last time?” Terbias says. “You’ll never catch me in a chicken suit again, not after what that mad hamster did to me.”

Horrified by the Sun
by John Magnet Bell

Dec 11, 2014

16 Bars, Pubs and Stores You Would Want to Avoid (Maybe)

These are all fictional, that I know of. Go ahead and use them for anything you like.

1. The Merry Cockroach

2. Surplus Detritus

3. Fangs Fangs Fangs

4. Your Little Corner Nightmare

5. Leather & Blood

6. Pizza-Flavored Wines

7. Chupacabra Central

8. The Saint with a Wobbly ****

Art Snacks: the Hot Dog
by Marija Tiurina

9. The King’s Last Breath

10. Lettuce on a Stick

11. Merlot’s Emporium of Iced Lingerie

12. Spaghetti on a Stick

13. House of Human Sweat

14. Affordable Yak Armpit Sebum

15. Vodka on a Stick

16. Armageddon Lounge & Biomass Plant

See you later!

by Oliver Lake

Dec 10, 2014

The Boy Who Fought with a Comet to Earn His Real Name

or, To Believe in the Future You Must Know the Past

I followed Oma to the edge of the red forest — also the edge of my patience, because I don’t like your wait-and-sees.

We looked upon a clay hill and she said, “After many tomorrows, another you will be born.” She pointed at a rock. “Your parents’ house will stand there.”

Journey of a Thousand Miles
by Budi Satria Kwan
Looks great on a t-shirt -- click here to check it out

Society6 is running yet another promotion and thousands of artists are offering $5 off their products, plus free shipping worldwide. To take advantage of that on my stuff, click or tap here. Promotion ENDS on DECEMBER 14.

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To wrap this up, I bring you music for time travelers and truth-seekers.

See you soon!

Dec 3, 2014

The Underworld: It Is Electric

Lily’s phone was haunted by two ex-boyfriends who had died on the same day.

No, hear me out. The phone was haunted. Somehow the two dead boys rode a current that carried them to Lily’s most faithful companion.

They found a home there, and they would fight for it.

by Amy Hamilton

In other news, and because I fortunately do NOT have to contend with a haunted phone, Society6 is offering a $6 discount on all throw pillows, Plus free shipping. But the discount applies today and today only

Below are a few of my designs. Click or tap here to see them all.

pillows by John Magnet Bell

And finally, because it's Wednesday, here's a mellow tune from the legendary Jacques Brel.

Nov 28, 2014

Perfection Is All to the Misguided Child

I found truth at the bottom of a latte — at least that’s where the search began. Instead of Styrofoam I looked upon a snow-capped mountain. A lenticular cloud hovered above it like a giant amoeba; two men and a woman who wore pelts, beads and feathers crawled up the hillside.

The Tree Witch
by Uberkraaft

Lenticular clouds come in several flavors. They form in the troposphere, the lowest portion of the Earth's atmosphere which, by the way, contains 80% of the atmosphere's mass.

"Virunga National Park Landscape" by Cai 

Lenticular clouds sometimes get mistaken for UFOs or "UFO cover." Being something of a lowlander myself, I saw my first lenticular cloud well into my adult years. They do not form close to the ground.

Nov 23, 2014

Sleeping Babies Drift Up to the Ocean in the Sky

Six hundred priests and devotees of the Baby Tree filed out of their ship humming lullabies, with a poisoner among them. Following a lavender moon the adorants took to the path discovered by their human ancestors two thousand years before. Chi Bo scanned the crowd for the tree killer.

Secret of Flight
by Thomas Rude

This prompt has two or three sources of inspiration -- the art of Thomas Rude, of which I give an example above (he makes wonderful woodcuts, do check him out) -- a recent song by Earth, "Torn by the Fox of the Crescent Moon" and, finally, Gene Wolfe's The Urth of the New Sun, in which I have been quite absorbed lately.

Blogger Romke Soldaat maintains a very entertaining website, Bouguereau Remastered, collecting a large amount of humorous and uncanny reinterpretations of William-Adolphe Bouguereau's portraits. Romke has included my Vitruvian Sisters in his collection, and they find themselves in great company. Go. Peruse, Enjoy.

The Vitruvian Sisters
by John Magnet Bell

Nov 15, 2014

Look at All the Trojan Horsies

Steven Ergasías walked into a meeting room populated with white bunnies in business suits. Ergasías turned to his assistant and barked, “Miro, what is this?”
Miro gripped the ivory phone in his pocket.
“Easter prank, sir?”
“No prank,” said the bunnies in unison. “Prepare for the extrusion of the Goddess.”

Ice Age by "marateaman" via History Receipts Itself

Nov 12, 2014

The Vitruvian Sisters, Who Only Bought Perfectly Normal Art for Perfectly Normal People like Themselves

I smoked too much while I waited for the spy birds to come back. I must have that Pierluigi Carbonnaro that my sister got from her husband, or my name is not Incuria! Its blandness was to me the tepid embers of God’s drowsy mumblings on the eighth day. Or night. Oh, what horrid indifference that banal painting inspired! It must be mine.

Incuria Vitruvia
by John Magnet Bell

She lucked into a remarkable husband, did Nefasta. Not only does Pigsour not mind her four noses, but he only rises from the grave at Pentecost, and always bearing gifts! Gifts, eh, of a cultivated sort, gifts that demand no reaction, neither joy nor disappointment. Could they possibly be more normal? In medio stat virtus, says the inscription on Pigsour’s casket. What a man! What a wraith! What a paragon of death’s uncaring handiwork!

Nefasta Vitruvia
by John Magnet Bell

The Vitruvian sisters are a Photoshop collage I created from a portrait by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. He loved depicting the female form, which he did often -- there are more than 800 works to his name. Bouguereau's work fell out of favor in the early twentieth century, but has since been rediscovered and reevaluated. 

The Vitruvian Sisters
by John Magnet Bell

They look great on a tote bag!

Nov 5, 2014

The Blorf Who Brought Midnight to Daytown

A writer of children’s books hangs himself in Vancouver, Washington and only a little Untouchable girl in India knows why. She is four. A vertigo travels across the Earth to fill her head with awe and necessity.

Will anyone listen when she says the Black Mother is come among mortals?

Celestial Enchantress
by Camille Chew

The Goddess Kali, whose name means "time has come," among other things, could well say of herself _Negra sum sed formosa_ ("I am black but beautiful"). She is alternately presented as benevolent and destructive.

Other goddesses of death and the endtimes have followed us from before the beginning of History: I'm thinking of Hecate, goddess of witchcraft and the crossroads, or the Sumerian queen of the underworld, Ereshkigal.

by Bastien Lecouffe Deharme

The "Untouchables" of India and Nepal, the Dalit, are a product of ancient rivalries congealed into a caste system.

From Wikipedia:
"In the context of traditional Hindu society, Dalit status has often been historically associated with occupations regarded as ritually impure, such as any involving leatherwork, butchering, or removal of rubbish, animal carcasses, and waste. Dalits worked as manual labourers cleaning streets, latrines, and sewers. Engaging in these activities was considered to be polluting to the individual, and this pollution was considered contagious. As a result, Dalits were commonly segregated, and banned from full participation in Hindu social life. For example, they could not enter a temple or a school, and were required to stay outside the village. Elaborate precautions were sometimes observed to _prevent incidental contact between Dalits and other castes._ Discrimination against Dalits still exists in rural areas in the private sphere, in everyday matters such as access to eating places, schools, temples and water sources." (Emphases mine.)

Consider the difficulty in making yourself heard when you don't enjoy high status and don't live in the most democratic of societies. Then add to that the extra burden of a message so crazy, that only you know it makes sense. And if you don't get across to the right people at the right time, your world goes kaboom. That would make a hell of a story, right?

Let's wrap this up with other contemporary representations of the Goddess:

Because the Fox Barks
by Bastien Lecouffe Deharme

Kali Defeats Ratkabija
by Rory Midhani

ma kali
by Rajkamal

Obey Kali
by Tshirtbaba

Oct 31, 2014

Curse of the Man-Pig-Butterfly

The subway car emptied itself around Haruto, but no passengers had left. They vanished into the crannies of a daydream. Haruto looked up from his manga; someone sat at the far end of the car, wearing a torn mask. Strips of pink and brown swayed as the train chugged on.

Monster 3D
by Monster Riot

The Japanese name Haruto is connected with sunlight and with Ursa Major, the constellation. Character names can always be used to suggest interesting personality traits, little quirks, the character's growth in the story... you name it.

There's no Halloween tradition of trick-or-treating in Japan, although the date has become popular in Japan. Popular with adults, especially.

Here's a mini-art flood inspired by Halloween. Enjoy!

Tarot Card: The Magician
by Jazzberry Blue

by Pepe Rodríguez

Another Night
by Hector Mansilla

Red Riding Hood
by Jazzberry Blue

Life Is Cool
by Andy Westface

by Eevien Tan

The Gang
by iheartjlp

La Muerte
by Ururuty

by Martynas Pavilonis

3 Witches
by Michael B. Myers Jr.

Dracula Kid
by Lime

Twisted Cat
by Anna Alexeeva

And I shall bid you adieu with this spoopy android of my own creation, Viktor Droidenstein. You can create your own at androidify.

Oct 30, 2014

Blood for Betty, Because Betty Knows Best

Jake clomped onto the bus and dropped his rear end beside a lady with an extra nostril. It was that day of the week where you wake up with your mouth full of toothpaste and the giant leech in your manager’s office decides you look juicy.

Isabelle Wenzel

Halloween is almost here and, goodness gracious me, it’s going to fall on a Friday. Do you know what that means? Do you realize the import of that dreadful conjunction? No? Don’t worry, ’cos I don’t, either.

Anyway, I have some Halloween recommendations for you!

A blog: Yog-Blogsoth

Illustrator Michael Bukowski draws creatures and deities described -- or sometimes merely alluded to -- by H.P. Lovecraft. They look like something straight out of a comic book, which takes the edge off the eldritch horror. Go and pay Bukowski a visit.

by Michael Bukowski

A movie: The Masque of the Red Death

My favorite Edgar Allan Poe adaptation. Rich colors, dream sequences and a timeless atmosphere that could place the story 400 years ago, or a thousand into the future. It is an indictment of selfishness and misuse of power.

And did I mention that Vincent Price is in it? The Melancholy Master of Spookiness?

A book: The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers

Free book from Project Gutenberg, available in several formats. Wikipedia features an excerpt alluded to in True Detective:

Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink behind the lake,
The shadows lengthen
In Carcosa.

Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies,
But stranger still is
Lost Carcosa.

Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in
Dim Carcosa.

Song of my soul, my voice is dead,
Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed
Shall dry and die in
Lost Carcosa.

Oct 27, 2014

Writing in a Dangerous World - What If You're Doing It Wrong?

Can you smile as you hold up a severed head?
Imagine an IS fighter who poses for a photo with a war trophy, the head of a Kurdish 19-year-old who fought with the Women’s Defense Force in Kobani.

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by Roberto Ferri

What does it take for human beings to engage in wholesale butchery, and what should a writer do when legions of fanatics call for bloodshed?

The answer is not “nothing.” It never is.

This doesn’t mean you should go out of your way to cover current events or foreign policy when you specialize in Albanian cuisine...

A picture of tarator by Wikipedia contributor Ikonact

... but you shouldn’t be afraid of alienating your audience if you mention a cause that is dear to you on Twitter, Facebook or Google Plus. I’ll be blunt: readers who give up on you because you’re not a robot that only writes about tambëloriz — you don’t need them.

So take a stand from time to time. We your fellow writers, who also happen to be your readers, want to know that you care about more than one very specific niche of human culture, and that your passions do not get in the way of your conscience.

Oct 23, 2014

The Cornucopia of Infinite Lamentation


Notes from a Funeral Directors’ Conference aboard the Starship Pegasus

Death was going out of style.
Fifty slack-jawed hippos fed on oatmeal substitute had convened on the Pegasus to fix that.
A woman came up to the lectern, tapped the microphone, and spoke:
“The dead used to outnumber the living,” she said. “Now we creep closer and closer to immortality.”

Alfio Presotto

I realize the subjects of death and funeral directors may not appeal to you very much, not even if you tweak it to have funeral directors in space, so let's wrap up on a positive note.

Ali Farka Touré (video below), the "African John Lee Hooker," was a Malian musician of international renown. His nickname Farka means "donkey." Here, he appears with Boubacar Traoré and they play the sweetest blues song you could possibly imagine. Enjoy.