Friday, March 30, 2012

I Hear Fictional People

I have this little problem.  Sometimes I feel like Cole Sear.  He heard dead people.  I don't.  I hear worse.  Let me tell you about it

I don't know if I should tell him.  I almost told him last time.  I'm not a normal boy.  I hear fictional people.  They talk to me, want me to do things. They don't know they're fictional.

This is my dilemma.  I've been this way a long time.  I try to be brave because it can be scary sometimes.

But sometimes I like it.

Should I tell him?  The doctor already thinks I'm crazy.  He just wants me to pay him to tell me so.  Must have something to do with all those diplomas, certificates and degrees in pretty, wooden frames hanging on his wall.  I suppose he feels entitled.

I bet he doesn't hear them.  He listens to real people.  Real people like me.  People who hear fictional people.

Sometimes I write down what they say.  They don't care.  I think they like it.  It makes them feel interesting.  Like people want to know what they have to say.  People who can't hear them for themselves.  People who have to hear it from people like me.

The doctor says he can make them go away.  Give me pills to make them stop.  I don't know why he says that.  He doesn't believe they're even there.  I like the fictional people.  They like to talk to me.  And I like to listen to what they say.

But sometimes they scare me.  They want me to write down the bad things they do, the mean thoughts they think and the bad words they say.  I don't know why they want real people to know.  But real people do want to know.  Sometimes real people scare me too.

But I like it when they make me laugh.  They do that sometimes.  They're funny when they want to be.  And I like to write those things down.

Yes, I hear fictional people.  Can't you hear them too?

(This is what happens when the muse wakes me up in the middle of the night and won't let me go back to sleep.  Spooky, huh?)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Books I've Read Throughout the Years

...And what they taught me...

There were many that I read. 
Here are but a few that have always stuck out in my mind.

Little Toot
This is the first book I remember reading on my own.
(Taught me that reading can be FUN.)

Charlotte's Web
(Taught me to accept the sad times and cherish the happy times.)

Chief Black Hawk
(Taught me that books can enlighten as well as entertain.)

Then I got a little older.  (Think teens)

Lord of the Rings
(This is the series that ignited my imagination--for life!)

Then I grew up
(According to everyone but Mom.)

 Wheel of Time series
(Image isn't from the first book, but this one was my favorite.)
(This is the series that made me want to WRITE!)

Sword of Truth series
(Taught me that sometimes less is more.)

The Farseer Trilogy
(Taught me that even bittersweet endings can be good.)

There you have it.  Tolkien introduced me to a world beyond our own.  I went there and got lost.  I've never found my way back.

Which books have had the biggest impact on your life?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

03/25/12 FWC-Challenge (Give it up, Joe)

This was my response to the March 25th, 2012 Fantasy Writer's Challenge.
The week's challenge was: "Surrender.

Give it up, Joe. 

"You’ve already caught it, Joe.  Give in."


"You will."

"I can’t.  I won’t."

"We’ll see."  I’ve been trying to convince Joe now for days.  Once you catch it, you don’t shake it.  Just can’t be done.  I told him what it was, but he’s still in denial.  It’s a virus.  An addiction.  And it doesn’t go away.

"It’s too tough.  I don’t have what it takes to do it.  I shouldn't have ever said anything about it."

"It’s going to eat you alive no matter what you do.  Might as well surrender to it."

"I can’t believe you’re saying this!  You of all people know how difficult it is."

"Hey, fighting it’s the hard part, Joe.  Giving into it’s for the best.  Trust me.  I’ve already been through it—every single stage.  I know."

"Just because you came to terms with it doesn’t mean I will.  I’m not you, okay?  I’m too old anyway."

"You’re never too old, Joe."  I can’t help but grin.  I do, however, manage to contain my snicker.  He’ll surrender.  I’ll make sure of it.

"Listen, man, I am old.  I don't want to squander what time I got left."

"And you think doing this is squandering your time?  Hogwash.  It’s growing inside you man.  Right now.  Right there in your gut!  There’s nothing you can do about it.  It’s always going to be there.  You’ll be happier if you just accept it and deal with it."

"You know I can’t stand being cooped up at home day after day.  I’ll go nuts!"

Now the snicker escapes.  "You’re already nuts, Joe.  I want you to prove it.  Prove it to me.  Prove it to the world.  Stand for something.  Anything!  You’ve got it inside of you.  It’s not going anywhere.  I can promise you that."

"No, I'd love to, man.  Really, I would.  I just don't think I can do it."

"Look, Joe.  Don’t your wife and kids deserve to hear what you have to say?  Your grandchildren?  Don’t you want to leave something behind for them?  You've got it in you, I know you do."

"I don't know how to say what I want to say.  I’m just not good with words."

"Listen, Joe.  I’m here for you.  I’ll help you any way I can.  Just write the freaking book!"

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Personal Muse Hotline

Okay, the time has come.  I promised to tell you what happens when my muse doesn't answer my call.  Here's a glimpse.  Please remember that this is an abridged version of the encounter.

:::ring:::  :::ring:::  :::ring:::

"Hello!  Thank-you for calling Personal Muse Hotline.  Please hold.  Your call is very important, but keep in mind you’re not the only writer stuck in the mud right now.  I’ll be with you momentarily."  Afternoon Delight begins blaring through the earpiece.

"Great, even my muse puts me on hold."

Seconds go by.  Minutes.  I start singing along.  Gonna get my baby gonna hold her tight, gonna get me some afternoon delight.  Skyrockets in flight, afternoon delight!  I'm even doing the sound effects with it now.  The realization hits me that I'll be singing this song all day long at work tomorrow.  And someone will hear me.  Probably in the elevator.

"Please continue to hold.  I'm currently working with other writers.  You wouldn't believe how lame some of you guys are without me."

Aaarrrg!  It cut in right at the best part of the song!  More minutes pass.  Now it's K. C. & the Sunshine Band!  What's worse than getting caught in the elevator singing Afternoon Delight?  Getting caught in the elevator singing Shake Your Booty!  Mental note: Call in sick tomorrow.

"I'm sorry you're still having to wait.  Your call is important.  I'm helping you poor saps in the order your call was received.  There are currently seven-hundred-twenty-six callers ahead of you.  They need me.  Please continue to hold."

"Seriously?  I'm number seven-hundred-twenty-seven?"  At this point, I realize that 24-hour support may also mean 24-hour hold times.  I need to check my contract.

No!  Not Debbie Boone!  I will NOT sing about anybody lighting up my life at work tomorrow!  I have a reputation to protect!

"I'm sorry, but I'm still assisting other writers.  Have you considered finding assistance by using my new web site?  I've loaded it with prompts and included landscapes of places that would be perfect settings for your novel.  You can find all this and more at"

I close my eyes and sigh.  I'm surfing this very second, but I will not go to your website.  You're probably tracking my IP address.  You'll see me log on and disconnect my call.  Nope.  Not gonna fall for it, honey.

"If you don't want to check my website, I also offer an automated self-help directory designed to help you overcome the more common causes of writer's block."

"Oh no you don't!"

"For eye color, hair color, or height and weight suggestions, please say "What does my character look like?"

I say nothing.  I don't like using these "tell me what you need" phone systems--at all!

"For names of characters, places, races, or off-the-wall magic systems, please say 'What do I name this?'"

At this point, indentations form in my forehead from the impact of the telephone handset slamming repeatedly against it.

"For all your other I-can't-think-for-myself questions please say 'I need you more than I need to go to the bathroom' or stay on the line and I'll be with you shortly."

"Bathroom?"  Thanks, doll!  Now I do have a problem.  I stand.  No good.  I sit again.  I can hold this.  I know I can.  You can't outlast me, Miss Muse.  I know the game.  You don't know what I'm capable of when I'm desperate.

"I'm sorry, I didn't understand.  Did you say 'bathroom'?  If you did, please say 'yes' now."


"Thank-you for calling.  I'm happy you were able to work out your problems on your own.  Please go to the bathroom.  And have a nice day."


I then proceed to sob like the toddler that just dropped his lollipop down the toilet. 

Do you have a muse that puts you on hold?  Do tell!

Friday, March 23, 2012

You Can Run...

...But you can't hide.  I ran.  I hid.  But alas, I was caught.  Seized.  Tagged! 

Jack Flacco was it, but no longer.  He tagged me.  Now I'm it.  (And a few others that you can find mentioned over there on his blog.)

I'm kind of honored, actually.  Being tagged for these things indicates that a certain level of something has been attained or achieved.  I'm telling myself that the something in this case is writing a blog that's so stupendous, so gripping, informative, insightful, tantalizing, invigorating, and so genuinely genius that people need medication just to survive the hours they must endure between my postings.  Telling myself all this is okay.  Really.  No one lies to me better than I lie to me.  (I do strive to provide an enjoyable read though.)

Jack Flacco gave me the Liebster Award!
Liebster Blog
My Very First Blog Award!!!

I put on my sleuth suit, grabbed my magnifying glass (because face it, the bifocals aren't always enough) and set out in search of this award's history.  What follows are items of note or interest that I found along the way.
  • Liebster, in German, means favorite, dearest, or beloved.
  • This award was created to give love and attention to blogs with smaller (under 200) followings.
  • This is an award for a blog considered to be a "best kept secret."

So, Jack, my sincere gratitude.  Thank-you.

The rules that must be followed under penalty of being used in my next novel:
  1. Thank the person that nominated you on your blog and link back to them.
  2. Nominate up to five other blogs for the award.
  3. Let them know via a comment on their blog
  4. Post the award on your blog

Now I strip off the sleuth suit, don the sweat suit and chase down another batch of qualified, under-recognized blogging souls that deserve the love too. I shall catch them.  Seize them.  Tag them.  And they shall be known as it.

There were also others I wanted to tag, but they either didn't qualify or I found that they had been tagged previously. (And I can only tag up to five!)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Why I Don't Outline (All That Much)

Many who know me well are astounded that I didn't outline (i.e. plan every little detail of) my novel before I started writing it.  They know who I am and what I do for a living.  (For those of you who don't know what I do for a living, I write computer software for a Fortune 500 insurance company.  My title is "Lead Applications Developer."  Sounds impressive, huh?  Yeah, thought so.)

Writing software was a dream of mine since my teens.  I studied like you wouldn't believe and aced my major.  I earned a degree in it.  I practiced it.  I read about it.  I watched others do it.  I worked for companies large and small as a self-employed consultant.  I taught curriculum and continuing education classes on how to do it at the local community college.  I tutored and mentored people on the subject.  Then I got old, needed more stability and less travel, hence my current position for the past fifteen years.

Why the bio barrage?  Because anyone who knows anything about computer programming knows that logic is paramount.  I mean, you can't get much more logical than software development.

So these people who know me so well know how logical I am.  They know how much I cherish structure, predictability, cause and effect, all those things that make me such an incredibly exciting person in the world of real.  So why would I forsake everything I value and not use an outline when I write?  Because my outlines look like this:

Gee, doesn't that look exciting?  Bet you can't wait to split the cover off that book and read all about those points, right?  Yeah, me neither.

To be fair, all those little points must happen in order for me to tell my story.  Those are the crucial plot elements, the moments when characters grow and evolve.  They are the events that drive the plot, the things that take the reader from one phase of the tale to the next.  Without those little points, the climax is rather... anticlimactic.  Unfortunately, if I write to my outline, the whole thing ends up anticlimactic. 

I need a little excitement if I'm going to write an entire novel.  So here's what I do.  I find that logic switch in the back of my head and flip it.  You know the one.  Yeah, that one.  I pull it hard and hold it there.  It must remain firmly in the OFF position!

Then, I call my muse and hope she answers.  (I'll tell you about her voice mail system in a future post.)  I tell her, "Hey, I got this idea for a book!  I've got all these little points mapped out in my mind.  It's going to be great!  I just know it!"

Then comes the part where she hesitates before asking, "Then why are you calling me, Jeff?  Write it!"

"I can't," I tell her.  "It's too dry.  Got time to stop by and give me a hand?"

Fortunately, she usually does.  She wants to know about Point A.  I tell her about it.  Then I start with Point B and she throws up a hand and shows me her palm.  "Just A, Jeff.  One step at a time."  Then her face takes on that pondering expression that no one else in the universe has.  And it begins.

The next thing I know, I have this really cool intro.  Then a paragraph.  By page four I notice that I'm suddenly coloring outside the lines.  I peek at the outline, but she backs up to my desk and sits on it!  I keep writing, making it up as I go.  I glance again.  She stands, stuffs it into her pocket and tells me to write.  I do.

All this is to say that she only lets me see three points at a time: the current point, the next point and the last point.  She doesn't care about the others.  So, after she's visited a few times my outline mutates into something like this:

And it's great!  So what if Point D became Point C½ and I threw Point E out the window?  The new Point E was even better!  Dialog took me there.  New landscapes and cities took me there.  New characters that only she knew about took me there.  I discovered it as I wrote it.

But be clear on this: I never lost sight of the last point because that was the whole point of the story.  Even she reminded me of that.

So now you know way too much about how my logical brain writes.  And I don't think I could ever do it any other way.

So, how do you do it?  I really do want to know!

P.S.  I apologize if this post is a little longer than usual.  Encapsulating it into a single post just seemed...yeah, logical.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Downside to Discovery Writing

Discovery writing can be such a joy.  I marvel at what my muse does, what she shows me and where she takes me.  I enjoy nothing better than discovering my story as I go.  But, I've learned there is a downside to writing this way.

March 17th, 2012, minutes before midnight, it happened.  I didn't mean for it to happen.  It just did.  It wasn't my intention. From out of the blue it came.  I stared at the monitor in shock, unable to accept that my fingers had typed the words.  I was horrified at how chapter 32 was ending.  I all but wept.  I had killed a character.

This is not a trivial matter.  Not to me.  This character was pivotal.  I liked him.  A lot!  It doesn't matter that his death was valiant and noble.  It doesn't matter that my protagonist is where he is because of him.  The deed is done.  And now I'm mourning the loss.  I was not prepared.

This was a wise character, a gentle soul.  His voice was uniquely his own.  I had plans for him.  He had a revelation to share with the protagonist.  Now that revelation will have to come from elsewhere.  He enriched the tale.  And he was a joy to write.

This wise character would tell me it was necessary and show me how and why things will be better because of it.  He'd point out to me the numerous avenues where this tale can go now, the many plot lines that will develop as the result.  He'd tell me these things and try to comfort me.  I know he'd be right, but it doesn't change anything.  Not really.  I saw the impossible unfolding before my eyes and kept on writing.

I knew he wasn't destined to last until the end of the series.  I've known for a very long time what his final words were supposed to be.  He never said them.  He never got the chance.

I'm rambling a bit.  I realize that.  But we do that sometimes when we lose someone we love.  We try to make sense of it.  Why him?  Why now?  Why did I keep going?  I wanted to turn off the computer and forget to click Save.  Never before have I loathed to click that toolbar button.  Never until now.

The upside to Discovery Writing is that it gives you wonderful, unexpected gifts: unplanned scenes, beautiful dialog, enticing settings and even enthralling plot.  The downside to Discovery Writing is that it can take away those very same gifts.

This was a sacrifice he was willing to make.  It seems he was more willing to make it than I was.

Rest in peace, beloved.  May your journey to Dreyhurst be swift.  
You will be remembered.  You will be missed.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Hardest Part

I'm mere chapters away from completing the initial draft of my novel.  And I'm finding it difficult.  It's got to be perfect, you understand.  Believable.  Exciting.  Fun and engaging yet steeped in tension.  I intend to drive the reader to tears, to shouts of joy, to wondering why they've bitten all the nails off their fingers.  And of course, to pondering the inevitable woes to come.  I think, for me, the ending is the hardest part.

I know what has to happen.  The goal is clear.  The climax and its aftermath are not in question.  It's simply a matter of getting the setup just right.  The beginning was easy.  And writing the middle was loads of fun.

You see, I'm essentially a discovery writer and offer no apologies for it.  Were I to treat my outline like the Gospel According to St. John or the Pentateuch then writing would be a chore or a (gasp!) job.  (I already have one of those and it pays better in a month than I'll probably earn in my lifetime as a writer.)

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. (1842)
It amazes me.  All I need to start a story--even a novel--is a simple line of dialog, or possibly a stimulating opening statement without a clue where it will lead.  Two little words launched this current NIP (novel in progress) of mine.  Oh, if wrapping up all the loose threads were as easy.

This is the point in my writing where my muse goes on vacation.  She's done her job.  She inspired.  She dropped impressive vistas, titillating events and dynamic characters right into my lap and let me play.  She smiled as I did so.  But she doesn't write the book.  She doesn't dig plot.  She cares little for consistency.  And she despises grammar.  All that, she leaves to me.

I hear many say they can never get started or they become mired in the muddle in the middle. Some complain of writing themselves into a corner or of losing inspiration or enthusiasm.  I'm sure I'll experience all these hindrances at some point.  I haven't really done so yet with this book.  For the most part it's flowed like a serene stream.  At times it's been a rushing river.  Of course there have been times when I crawled and clawed my way through scenes or meandered at plot detours or fiddled with a setting until I could get it just so.

Now I must master the mechanics.  Now is when the skill must arise.  To reuse my previous metaphor, I'm at bat.  The bases are loaded.  It's a full count.  And the pitcher is winding the payoff pitch.  Will I choke?  Will I swing and miss?  Will I stand idly by and watch the ball sail perfectly through the strike zone?  I'm being sifted and measured.  Do I have what it takes to knock it out of the park?

My epic fantasy needs an epic climax.  Perhaps an epic climax requires an epic struggle on the part of the writer?  I think that before I'm finished, the fingertips without fingernails will be my own.

Is this a dilemma unique to Jeff-the-aspiring-novelist?  Care to enlighten this suddenly frightened writer?  Have any insights or recommendations you'd care to share?  I'll let you borrow my muse. :)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

March 18, 2012 Fantasy Writer's Challenge

This was my response to the March 18th, 2012 Fantasy Writer's Challenge.
The challenge: "Describe an unappealing place for a travel magazine."

Perfect Copy

Rodney Rat pulled the sheet from the typewriter.  His grin grew so wide that his whiskers tickled his ears.

Mona Mouse sat at her desk across from him, typewriter forgotten.  Munching straight from a box of Cheez-Its, she had her beady little eyes fixed on him again.  "What now, Rodney?  Another perfect copy?"

"It flows like butter, Mona.  Slices right fine when it’s hot."  And hot it was.  Next week’s commission would have him rolling in peanut butter.  Rhonda Rodent flashed in his mind, his date come Friday night.  She likes peanut butter.  A lot.  His grin grew wider and he squeaked out a giggle, remembering how he liked the way she nibbles.

"So where are you sending them to this time?  Paradise Pub for a night?"

"Better!  A whole weekend at Bernie’s Bistro.  You know the place, right?"

"I don’t travel Maple Ave.  There’s a Terminix at the corner of 17th street."

"Ha!  Bernie’s is at the 21st Street intersection.  Terminix is not a problem."

"Well, come on, let me hear it.  Somebody’s got to proof it before Gerry Gerbil gets it.  You know how he hates typos."  A Cheez-It fell to the floor.  "Rats!  Five-second rule!  Called it!"

Rodney shook his head and began to read.  "Bernie’s Bistro: Hedgehog Heaven."

"Oh, please.  Really, Rodney?  Is that the best you can do?"

"Hush, Mona.  Listen while you munch, okay?"  He watched her force another Cheez-It in her mouth.  The whole thing!  "Manners, Mona?  Is it too much to ask?"

"Just read."

"Two luxurious nights on the wharf.  Amorous aromas for lovers of life."  Mona choked and sent the soggy Cheez-It flying across the room.  It missed his eye by millimeters.  He squeaked his frustration and continued.  "Stay in one of Rodentia’s Twin Green Towers overlooking Bernie’s to the west and the rubbish-laced wharf to the east.  Leave your sunglasses at home and enjoy the shade only the Rodentia’s Towers provide.  They can accommodate your entire family.  Have your meals delivered by drop-in, their taste pre-tested by patrons of the establishment."

"Mmmm," Mona moaned.  Her tail, the only slender bit left on her brown body, rose.  "Leftovers."

"Should you choose to leave the luxury of the Towers and take a leisurely stroll, you’ll find the sleek brick and mortar walls doused daily with fresh refuse.  A manhole cover sits nearby, capping the perfect excursion for you and yours."

"Doesn’t sound so bad.  Maybe I’ll check it out."

"You wouldn’t like it, Mona.  Bernie’s requires a deposit and doesn’t serve Cheez-Its."

"Oh, just go take your copy to Gerry.  I got work to finish."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Night of Firsts

Tonight was a night of "firsts" for me... Several of them, in fact.

My wife and I went to see John Carter tonight.  A movie date with my wonderful spouse of twenty-seven years was not a first.  Watching the movie in 3D was.  (Yes, I know what you're thinking.  No, I've never watched a 3D movie before now.  I'm old, takes me a while to get around to doing all these newfangled things, okay?  And yes, I know I can never appreciate the wonderful world of 3D unless I've seen Avatar that way.  2D was sufficient.  I will survive.)

So, the whole 3D experience was my first first tonight. My second first was spending less money at the concession stand than I paid for admission.  And I got a BIG tub of popcorn (with loads of salt and butter because I like a little popcorn with my salt and butter, thank-you) and a whopper diet coke.  (Tons of butter is perfectly fine as long as you wash it down with calorie-free drinks.)

My third first was watching a movie made from a book before I read the book itself.  That's okay too because I have the e-book queued up in my Kindle reader (via my Android tablet.)

My fourth first is blogging about a movie.  I mentioned in an earlier post that I intended to give the movie a shot and see how I liked it.  Well, I'd have to give it a 6.5 on a scale of 1-10.  It started about like I expected based on what I had read online.  No real surprises.  I loved the immortals, but the movie left a lot of questions about them unanswered.  (Either that or I was too daft to glean the answers.)  There was plenty of character development.  The dialog was okay.  The storyline tested my suspension of disbelief at times, but I saw the effort undertaken to keep it from shattering.

They did a good job making you feel for the characters--even the computer-generated ones.  The movie's ending nicely tied up the questions it presented at the beginning.  The real question, I suppose, is "would I go see it again?"  The answer: not at the price I paid for admission.  (I'm cheap, remember?)  And no, I'm not the type to reveal the plot so don't ask.

All in all, I don't consider the time spent wasted.  I was entertained and engaged, and that's what it's all about, right?  Drop a comment and let me know what you think of the movie (or the book) if you've watched or read them. 

I guess I'll wrap up the post here.  The belly isn't too happy with me right now.  Must be all the popcorn.  It can't possibly be the butter.

Monday, March 12, 2012

March 12, 2012 Fantasy Writer's Challenge

This was my response to the March 12th, 2012 Fantasy Writer's Challenge.
The challenge:  "When I Close My Eyes"

Call me Carolyn, Dad

"I can't.  I just can't."

Father clasped my hand.  "You must.  We all have to eventually, Carrie."

"It's Carolyn, Dad.  You promised.  And you don't understand."

"Everyone has bad dreams, Carolyn.  You'll have good ones soon enough.  Who knows?  Maybe even tonight."

"They're never good, Dad.  Ever.  He'll come again.  He always does." 


"The friar.  He's always after me.  He wants me burned or drowned.  He won't stop chasing me."

"They're just dreams, Carrie- I'm sorry, dear, Carolyn.  They're not real.  Just dreams.  That's all."

"They're real enough.  And it'll happen too.  I know it will."

"Sweetheart, trust your father.  Nothing bad's gonna happen.  I'm always here.  I'll always protect my little girl."

I wanted to believe him.  God in heaven knows I wanted to.  But he never did.  Not in the dreams.  "You didn't protect Mom."  Father's face grew long.  He kept silent a long while.  No doubt he was trying to find the perfect lie to soothe me.  It wouldn't work.  I might be young, but I remember.

"Your mom was different, Carrie.  I couldn't help her."

"She was no different than I am, Dad.  You know it's true.  You won't help me.  You can't."

"Never say that.  I'll never let anything happen to you.  You're all I got now."

"And it pains you, doesn't it?  A witch daughter?  Born from a witch mother?"

"She was no witch, Carrie.  She was a good mother and a wonderful wife.  She loved us both."

Loved.  Past tense.  That was the key.  No more.  The dead don't love.  They can't.  She's only a memory now.  Mom, I need you so much.  You'd understand.

"Carrie, listen to me.  Had I known what would happen we'd have left Edenton.  Gone someplace safe."

"Safe?  Where's that?  A friar's a friar, Dad.  Edenton's no different than anywhere else.  Burn the witches.  Drown them.  Purge the village of their wickedness.  There's no place safe.  You know that.  And I know it.  It'll happen, Dad.  Just like in the dreams."

"They're just dreams, Carolyn.  They're not the future."

"No?  Then why are they all the same?  Mom had them.  She told you about them all the time.  I heard her.  You didn't listen.  You told her they were just dreams too.  And then they came.  Just like she said they would.  And you just stood there and let them take her."

"I had to keep you safe, child.  Your mother wanted you safe.  If I'd have resisted they'd have taken us all.  You too.  Your mother did what she did to keep you alive.  So did I.  Don't make like I didn't love her or didn't care. God knows I did."

"I didn't say you never loved her.  I said you didn't protect her."  I tried to take the sting out of my voice.  He hurts for her still.  I know he does.  And he'll hurt for me too.  Soon.  "How can I make you see, Dad?  I've done everything you've told me to.  I don't talk to anyone else like I do with you.  They don't know.  I speak like the other children when I'm not home.  I play their silly games and laugh when they laugh and go where they go.  I pretend like I don't understand what the grown-ups talk about.  It's just not enough.  The friar knows.  I don't know how, but he does.  He knows I'm different.  I can tell it by the way he looks at me when he thinks I'm not watching."

"You're just imagining it, sweetheart.  You've done everything perfectly.  He can't know."

"You think because I'm young I don't understand."

"You are young, Carrie.  Despite your dreams.  Despite your gifts.  As remarkable as you are, you're still young."

"I'm old enough to burn."

"Put it out of your mind, Carrie.  Carolyn.  Go to sleep now.  It'll be okay.  I promise."

"Save your promises, Dad.  I know.  The dreams will come true.  And you'll stand by as they take me just like you did when they took Mom.  I'm the seven-year-old abomination, the devil's child who thinks and speaks beyond her years.  It's okay.  I understand."

Firelight flickered through the window.  Soon was now it seemed.  "They're coming.  I can hear them." 


I stroked his cheek and he grabbed my hand and held it there.  "It's okay, Dad.  I love you too.  But call me Carolyn.  It'll be easier for you."

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Pure in Life, Not in Word

Okay, it's personal quirk confession time.

I like things pure, my chocolate, my peanut butter, my girl scout shortbread.  I'm a rather bland-loving soul in many respects, I suppose.  Take pecans.  I love them, just not in my brownies.  Peanut butter is great for sandwiches, but don't get it on my Hershey bar.  I like my life a bit on the predictable side.  I'm comfortable with routine and shun the unexpected.  Not always, of course, but as a general rule.

Maybe that's why I love to be surprised when I read.  I like to guess how it's all going to play out and be completely wrong, yet still find the ending satisfying--as I did with Ender's Game.  But even then, I don't want my suspension-of-disbelief shattered.  Shaken is okay.  I cringe when cowboys fight aliens or spaceships land on worlds where magic rules.  It's like a brand new batter walking up to the plate with two strikes already on the board.  That's not to say it can't be done and done well, nor does it mean I discount it out of hand.  It just has to grab me right off the bat and make me believe.  I need to be so enraptured that I can accept the premise--and the sooner the better.

Did I watch Cowboys & Aliens?  Nope.  Didn't want to pay money for something starting off with two strikes against it.  John Carter?  The movie has the look of fantasy with all the elements of science fiction. Yeah, I plan to give that one a shot.  What's the difference?  Tough to say.  It doesn't help that Westerns are low on my list of likes.  Science fiction and fantasy are at the top of the list so maybe that's it.  I'll give them all a chance eventually, but not at theater prices.  (Another quirk: I'm cheap.)

Wrath of the Titans? Oh yeah, that's a go.  The Hobbit too.  It seems I'm more forgiving when my investment is a couple hours of watching rather than hours upon hours of reading.  However, it's the same for me with cross-overs within the same genre.  Alien vs. Predator?  Watched it, but was glad I didn't do so at the theater.  The premise and setup was okay, I guess.  I mean, there has to be some plausible way to get these two races together.  On EarthWithout defenseless humans suspecting.  I guess it wasn't a total strike-out, but the bases were loaded with a full count.  The payoff pitch forced the run.  Nothing sailed out of the park.  (At least for me.)

Some people love cross-overs and write fan fiction simply because it doesn't happen enough to suit them.  Not me.  I don't want to see Luke Skywalker strolling along the bridge of the Enterprise.  I don't want to see Dr. Who or Flash Gordon addressing the Imperial Senate.  And I definitely don't want to see Emperor Palpatine lecturing Gandalf on the power of dark side, although that could make for a cute tongue-in-cheek comedy sketch.  Some things, in my opinion, should be kept pure.  Like my chocolate.

What about you?  Does Captain Kirk wooing Princess Leia tickle your fancy?  I'd love to know!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

March 4, 2012 Fantasy Writer's Challenge

This was the result of the March 4th, 2012 Fantasy Writer's Challenge.
The challenge:  "Get out of the house now!"

Now, there's a story behind this story...

Todd, another Fantasy Writer's group member wrote A Whale of a Tale the week before. It was about a man seeking a peaceful afternoon fishing only to be boarded by a couple of Pirates of the Caribbean clad guys in a pink paddle boat attempting to commandeer his little vessel.  Long story short, our group's members were left wondering and debating whether the man's wife had put these guys up to ruining her husband's afternoon.

Since Todd was happy allowing everyone to draw their own conclusions, I decided to tie up the loose ends the following week with my 250 word submission to the new challenge.  I did so without his permission, hence the otherwise meaningless "Unauthorized Sequel" title.  This was the conclusion I chose.

Note: I highly recommend you read Todd's A Whale of a Tale prior to reading my continuation of it.  It's short and quite amusing.  And he graciously posted it on his Todd's Shorts blog just so I could link to it for you.

The Unauthorized Sequel

"Get out of the house!  Now!  And stop sloshing all that water through my living room!"  Wanda pointed toward the door with one hand and shooed with the other.  "And take off those ridiculous clothes."

"Calm down, Wanda!  Bernie and me got paid this time!"

"Bernie?  You didn't bring him here, did you?  Where is he?  He'd better not be messing up my bathroom!"  Wanda turned and peered down the hallway.  "Bernie!  You in there?"

"Coming Wanda!"

"You better hurry it up, Bernie!"

The bathroom door opened just enough to reveal Bernie's bald head and dangling earring.  "Sorry, Wanda!  I'll be right there!"

"Good Lord, Jack, he's as stupid as you!  Where the devil have you two been anyway?  And looking like that!  Get back to the door at least!  You're dripping water everywhere!"

"We went to Teach Cove.  Got paid for it too."

"Some fool paid you to prance around in that?  In that??"

"Yeah, she gave us fifty bucks each and even rented the boat." 

Bernie came traipsing up the hall wearing nothing but his ripped, black jeans and a t-shirt.  Wanda stopped him with a hand to his chest.  What's that say, anyway? 

Bernie grinned.  "I got it this morning.  It says 'Drink Up Me Hearties!'  You like it?"

"What I'd like is for you and Captain Jack Sparrow here to get your wet butts out of my house!  Now!  And don't you come back inside either until you dry off!  You bunch of Caribbean crackpots.  And half of that fifty's mine, Jack!  You hear me?"

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Inspiration, Discipline and Senses

My last post dealt with lingering in the creative moment with the muse for a while before putting fingers to keys, how doing so can pull from the imagination the details one needs for full sensory writing.  After all, writing is more than just seeing things and hearing what people say.  Well written pieces--at least pieces of any length--should stimulate more than just our sense of sight and sound.  We're also creatures of smell and taste, and perhaps most importantly, touch.  More often than not, it's touch that elicits the most pronounced emotional reactions within us.

A gentle touch, hold my hand, a shoulder to cry on, a tender kiss, a comforting embrace, all these phrases and so many more are proof of our need for physical contact.  I'll take it a step further and claim that these other senses can bring more life to what we write than merely painting images of landscapes, buildings and clothing in the readers' minds can ever do. 

Writing, especially in the genres of science fiction and fantasy, so often forgoes contact between individuals apart from combat or the occasional budding romance between the protagonist and her main squeeze.  I believe readers want more than the infrequent kiss or caress.  They want to feel the sun bearing down on them, feel how wet the grass and weeds are after the rain, and the biting cold of ice and snow.  They want to smell the bitter coffee, taste the overly-spiced tea and burnt mutton the cook at the inn served.  They want to feel the stiffness of stale bread and smell and taste the globs of butter used to make it palatable.

Lingering in the creative moment not only tells what was served for dinner, but how it smelled and tasted.  It calls to mind how the patrons received the meal.  We not only see the server, but smell her perfume and feel the itch in our nostrils as it makes us sneeze.  We not only notice what the other customers are wearing, but empathize with them for the despondency on their faces and the tone of sadness in their voices.

Upon reading my last post a couple times, I realized how serene it seemed.  It came across as so casual and peaceful, yet it was written in brief minutes.  It wasn't rushed.  The thoughts and words just came easily that time.  Trust me, putting words on the page is often an arduous task.  I relish the moments when words flow like a rushing river, the moments when I can't type them fast enough for fear they'll be forever lost downstream.  That's when writing is easy.

The difficult moments are when we fight for each word, hold down the backspace key, highlight and delete, or click the New File button on the toolbar.  Those are the times when our discipline as writers must pick up where the muse leaves off.  The odd thing, for me anyway, is that the inspiration can still be there.  The imagination can still be running in overdrive.  We just can't phrase our thoughts in a way to satisfy our critical minds or adequately convey what we're trying so desperately to express.

Inspiration is a gift to writers.  You can't summon it at will.  It just comes.  And when it does, lingering in the moment enables you to evoke the senses that makes it real to the reader.  However, that lingering requires discipline.  And that discipline only comes with diligence and practice.  Take the time to linger, to be the protagonist, to be the antagonist, the silly sidekick or the single scene waitress.  Doing so, for me, opens a whole new perspective and that--quite often--fires the imagination that opens the dam's floodgates.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Is it the Soap?

I often wonder why my muse appears when she does.  Rarely does she drop by while my rump is flat in my chair and my fingers are poised over the keyboard.  She wouldn't have as much fun then, I suppose.

Actually, I think it's so she can get my attention.  And keep it.  You see, getting my attention isn't difficult.  Keeping it is.  That's why she likes it when I'm cornered.  Trapped in traffic.  Slumbering on the sofa.  All buff in the shower with suds of Irish Spring streaming down my skin and Prell lathered in my hair.  But seldom at my desk.

She doesn't like to spark a thought and watch me run away with it before she's finished.  She likes to take her time and give me little hints.  She likes to lure me into a forest's edge and wait as I ponder what she's up to now.  She knows I want to write, not stroll through oaks and evergreens.  But she insists.

"What do you think is in there?" she'll ask.  It doesn't matter how I answer.  I'm wrong.  And she proceeds to show me why.  "No dragons in there," she says.  "No trolls, no fawns, no hares."

I squint and try to verify.  "You sure?"

"Look," the muse whispers.  "Nothing's been in this forest for years.  Nothing.  Why?"

The possibilities are endless.  So this is my story?  Write the why of it all?  I don't have to speak to her aloud.  She hears my thoughts.  A smile stretches across her face.

"Not just the why, Jeff.  Write the who, the when, the how.  Show the reader how this came to be.  Show them who lived here once and where they are now.

"So they're still alive?" I ask.

Her smile widens.  "Walk with me, Jeff."

Why can't she just answer when I ask?  It's a simple question.  I'm not looking for a dissertation or a history lesson, just an answer.  She nurses her secrets sometimes.  So I follow her deeper into the shade.  She leads for a while and pauses, turning to see if I'm noticing what I should be noticing.  She'll wait until I do.  She's patient like that.

"What do you smell?"

I take a deep breath, flaring my nostrils for good measure.  "The forest," I finally answer. 

Her beautiful smile fades.  "Just the forest?  No whiffs of honeysuckle?  No aroma from the pines?  No mildew from last night's rain?"

Again I try.  "Yes, I think I can smell that."

"You'd better," she answers sternly.  "And what do you hear?"

"Not much," I say through a grin that utterly fails at hiding my disappointment.

"Listen.  The pines are whispering.  You can't hear that?  The chatter of leaves rustling in the wind?  The rush of the brook?  Over there behind the rise.  Hear it?"

"Ah, yes, now I hear it."  She accompanies me as I go for a closer look.  The water runs clear revealing the rocks and mud, pebbles and leaves that lie serenely beneath the gentle current.

"How does it feel?  Taste?"

I cup my hands and dip them beneath its surface.  "Feels cold," I answer.  "And wet."  Bringing it to my lips, I drink.  "Not bad."

"Not bad?"

"Well it's, I mean, it's water, you know?"

"Water?  It's snow that melted last week on peaks beyond the horizon.  Ice that fell from the barren limbs of maples when the winter sun finally warmed them just enough to shake it free.  Does your tongue tell you none of this?"

I stand and brush my hands against the legs of my jeans.  Not dry, but drier.  I remind her, "You still haven't answered my question."

"I can't answer them all, Jeff.  I can bring you here.  Show you what there is to see, make sure you hear what there is to be heard.  I can make you stop and smell the aromas, taste what can be tasted, and feel what can be felt.  But I'm not yours alone, Jeff.  Others need me too."

"I need you," I say, "more than you know.  Before you, I just saw the forest."

"Then you lingered," she replies.  "Remember that the next time you're in the shower.  It's the imagination that excites me, Jeff.  Not the soap.