Fake It Until You Make It

IMG_4323I am not one of those writers who writes only what I know. I do not chalk up my research to life experience. I do not believe that method writing makes one story more genuine than another. Nor do I believe that every fiction author is secretly penning their own memoir. Though I often write to wrench the weight off of my chest, it is not my sole reason for doing it.

I write about what I am passionate about, but I don’t always have a manifesto in my back pocket. I have something to say, but I don’t always smuggle my closing arguments into a narrative. Sometimes my subtext is just a plot thread that’s been left there to dangle.

My imagination can take me far away from my obligations, but I don’t always write to escape.

Sometimes I write just to see what will happen. To tinker for the sake of tinkering. To experiment and see if the results surprise me. To feel like I’m outside of myself, just because it feels funky.

I believe that life experience can make a story feel authentic. It helps describe the lay of the land. It gives you a quote for specific scenarios. It puts ready made thoughts into your characters’ heads.

That said, I do not believe you have to live through something to write about. You may have to research it. You may have to interview others who have, but if you dwell on it enough to bring tears to your eyes, you can write about it. Just respect your readers enough to handle difficult subjects with care and nuance. Continue reading Fake It Until You Make It

Ridicule is a Bad Investment (Audio Blog)

(Download the instrumental version here)

If you’re going to invest your time writing, find a better subject than ridicule. The marketplace of ideas is saturated with it. It’s trading at its peak. Sell sell sell. You don’t want to be caught mocking someone when the market shifts. You’ll just seem like a jerk.

I know that cruelty can make your voice seem more authoritative, but the world doesn’t need another dictator. Trust me, I know that ranting can seem like a safe guard against receiving ridicule yourself. It takes a thick skin to take it on the chin.

This audio blog, this rant, is my critique on baseless criticism. As a written entry, it’s one of my most popular pieces, this time I brought a bass-line with me for backup.

Mental Illness as a Plot Device and Other Bad Ideas

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Photo by Keane Amdahl follow him on Twitter @FoodStoned

My forehead throbbed. It felt like it had taken on weight, like I’d played a Klingon on an episode of Star Trek and fell asleep with the prosthetics on. My teeth had gone out of alignment. My bite was crooked. My jaw had shift to the left. It wouldn’t go back. It had locked itself into place.

My eyes wouldn’t focus. The lenses refused to align. The depth of field shift from the railings in the foreground to the light in the background. The bulb was too bright, especially when my vision split it into two. The room spun.

I tried to look down, but my head refused to take the command. My neck had gone stiff. I was in a robot’s stranglehold. Its metal fingers ran from my chin to my collar. Its claws dug deep into my deltoids. It pinched my nerves. The pain wrapped around my back. It pressed my shoulders against a harsh cold surface.

The room smelt of chlorine, of summers spent at the YMCA. I expected to see water reflected on the ceiling. I couldn’t help but wonder, what kind of pool kept the temperature this low?

Goose bumps ran down my arms. My feet recoiled beneath a blanket that was too short and too thin to do any good. A breeze ran up my thighs. It occurred to me that I wasn’t wearing any pants.

I raised my hands. My palms were scraped. My knuckles were black.

There was a bracelet where my watch should have been. Something like a sundial jut out from my inner elbow. It cast a shadow that seemed confused about its light source. Its silhouette shift back and forth. It pulsed with the throbbing in my forehead.

My mind had all the pieces it needed to put the setting together, but it couldn’t. Continue reading Mental Illness as a Plot Device and Other Bad Ideas

Keane & Drew Argue About Time Travel

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FADE IN:

INSERT TITLE: The following is based on actual events. All
dialogue is quoted verbatim. All action is presented exactly
as it happened.

EXT. COFFEE HOUSE – NIGHT

The seats overflow with PATRONS, young and hip, their faces
lit by smartphones and tablets.

There’s heavy foot traffic. A rainbow of skinny jeans and
bandanas. Every face is a pin cushion full of piercings.
Every arm is a blur of sleeve tattoos. One side of the
Patrons’ heads are shaved. The other sides are bleached or
dyed jet-black.

DRIVERS lay on their HORNS. The gridlock stretches across
the windows. A SUBWOOFER blares. The bass sends ripples
through the coffee cups.

A fist SLAMS down on the metal. A tray lifts up, ashes burst
into the air. They land on an iPad on the other end of the
table. It’s owner lifts it up to his face.

DREW, unshaven, unkempt, looks like he’s been 29 for a long
time, blows the ashes from his precious tech. He reaches
into his pocket, produces a keychain light, and checks the
ports for signs of damage.

A napkin falls over the side of the table and glides to the
ground. It’s covered in dotted lines and X’s. Continue reading Keane & Drew Argue About Time Travel

Kill Your Tropes: Give Them a Goal

Photo by Keane Amdahl follow him on Twitter @FoodStoned
Photo by Keane Amdahl follow him on Twitter @FoodStoned

“Every character should want something. Even if it is only a glass of water.”

– Kurt Vonnegut

The castle looms on the horizon. Its shadow stretches across the kingdom, a beast with many heads, each poised to devour the villagers below. Its walls are aglow with an aura of amber. They lose their definition, as the sun dips behind the mountains. The spires disappear into the dusk. They join the stars, as the guards ignite their lamps.

Down below, the embers flare. The tavern owners light their lanterns. Revelers spark bonfires. Lighthouse keepers throw kindling into their furnace. They aim their mirror out over the harbor.

Still, no light in all the land can compare to the one that shines from the bell tower. The windows are lined with candles, a rainbow of wax that bleeds over the sides.

Villagers try to make out a silhouette, but all they see are the flames dancing across the giant bell, a blinding reflection, a second sun.

Lords and ladies gather around the fountain. They exchange crude telescopes. Some claim to see movement. Others say it’s a trick of the light, shadows at play.

The town crier announces, “Our grand tower has been topped with yet another ornament tonight.”

Offenders try to follow the plot from their place in the stocks. They shake the tomatoes from their ears. Peasants whisper of “The King’s trophy,” as they go to find a better view from the gallows.

The moon rises above the tower, a halo of white light. It reveals the gargoyles perched among the shingles. It brings clarity to their horns, to the curve of their wings, but not to the figure inside. Continue reading Kill Your Tropes: Give Them a Goal

Grift the Words Out of You (Audio Blog)

Photo by Keane Amdahl follow him on Twitter @FoodStoned
Photo by Keane Amdahl follow him on Twitter @FoodStoned

Writer’s block doesn’t always come from the lack of inspiration. Sometimes it comes from the abundance of inspiration, from having too many ideas to choose from. It’s hard to know which ones will leave you with a sense of accomplishment, and which ones will leave you feeling spent. Why invest the time, if the time is going to payoff?

Writer’s block is a fear of failure. If you never try you’ll never fail. The trick is to get yourself to try without realizing that’s what you’re doing. To grift one of those stories out of you and onto the page.

This 13 minute audio blog runs through all the cons I use to get the job done.

(Download the instrumental version here)

The instrumental version of Grift the Words Out of You is the perfect background music to write to. There are layers of ascending melodies stacked over ambient synths, with a rugged a trip-hop beat. The blog entry itself mentions The Cure’s Pictures of You. That song rubbed off on the soundtrack. Depeche Mode and M83, rubbed off on it too for good measure.

Party of One

Photo by Keane Amdahl, follow him on Twitter @FoodStoned
Photo by Keane Amdahl, follow him on Twitter @FoodStoned

What follows is an ode to self-defeatism. To those of us who over-share when someone asks, “How’s it going?” To those of us who proclaim our circular reasoning until we sound like broken records. It’s about when we need emotional reinforcement, but lack the language to ask for it. Unable to get into the specifics, we say whatever comes to mind. Too bad our minds are scrambled. Our conditions create a language gap, an abstraction, an anomaly in the exchange of ideas.

Like broken computers, we don’t communicate. We spout off an error code. We kernel panic. We blue screen of death. We say we need our space. Then we forbid our guests from leaving. We ask for brutal honesty. Then we accuse them of ganging up on us.

This is an ode to those ironic cries for help. The attempts to lure people in only to push them away. When we walk out of our job, because we want a raise. When we duck out of the party, because we want people to talk to us. When we give the Batman goodbye, because we want people to notice us. We’re quiet, because we want to be heard. We hide, because we want to be found. We run, because we want to be chased.

We want to get under your skin. We want to get into your head. We leave messages on bathroom mirrors, in magnetic poetry, stashed in paperbacks to be discovered later. We soak our boots, step over welcome mats, and leave footprints down hallways. We key cars, impale pillows, and shatter portraits. We burn letters in the sink. We leave messes. We leave evidence.

Here’s to those of us who vague-book in the middle of the night. Who say something serious we can always accuse our commenters of reading into. Here’s to the divas, the drama queens, and the boys who cry wolf. To those of us who keep it real, in the hopes that someone will call us out on it. To those of us who get sloppy in the hopes that we get caught. To those of us who wear our injuries like merit badges, only to rediscover our shame.

This is about the fixes we discover when left to our own devices. It’s about the moment we spot the evidence of our own self-sabotage. When we face palm at the revelation that we’re the ones who are hitting ourselves. No one can fix our heads, until we realize that we’ve encrypted our thoughts. We’re the ones with the most at stake. We’re the ones who have to break the code.

We have to identify this pattern: stress from without creates stress from within that creates stress from without. Continue reading Party of One

Ridicule is a Bad Investment

Photo by Keane Amdahl, follow him on Twitter @FoodStoned
Photo by Keane Amdahl, follow him on Twitter @FoodStoned

Ridicule has over-saturated the marketplace of ideas. It’s frightened off potential investors: authors, poets, and screenwriters. They bury their spark in their portfolios, when the market could be nurturing it. Investors see an abundance of taunts, and a scarcity of discourse. They horde their assets, because they know what happens to the people that share them.

Inspiration is taken apart by market analysts. They are not creators themselves. They lack the language for artistic analysis, but they fake it all the same.

Every one of them has a harsh word on the tip of their tongues, and a scathing review on the tips of their fingers. Every one of them is entitled to their opinion, and they treat their opinions like facts.

The problem is: when everyone is a critic, criticism loses its value. With the bar set this low, there is no more room for growth.

The demand for ridicule has been inflated, by a handful of traders with nothing but put-downs in their portfolio. Their sole product is their ability to defame. To ride the uptick of an artist’s epiphany, just to crash it on the way down. To pump it and dump it. To treat inspiration like a toxic asset. Continue reading Ridicule is a Bad Investment

The Residual Blues

3rd Blue Rose

They say that lizards can feel
Where their tails used to be
They say the same thing
Of amputees
You took my heart with you
When you parted with me
But I still feel the space
Where our love used to be

My phantom parts
Call me from afar
Like secret agents
They tell me where you are
You took an arm and a leg
Now I’m out on my last limb
Left with the chore
Of filling the empty spaces in

Clipped and severed
Left with only the stem
There’s a phantom image
Where a flower would have been
You left your aura
Your essence behind you
Open my eyes to
A residual shade of blue

Residual Blues cover

You made me feel

Like another person entirely
Now that you’re gone
That person’s here to haunt me
The ghost of moments past
Squealing like a banshee
Scaring me shitless
Making dissonance of my harmony

Did you hear a thump in the night?
Did you feel a chill?
When you think of what we had
Do your arm hairs stand still?
Don’t get too close to mirrors
Don’t even say my name
My ghost is breathing down your neck
Just waiting to be summoned

Clipped and severed
Left with only the stem
There’s a phantom image
Where a flower would have been
You left your aura
Your essence behind you
Open my eyes to
A residual shade of blue

2nd Blue Rose

I took up smoking

To taste more like you used to
You put the nicotine in me
Before I started to
Our love has been ashed
Right down to the filter
But whenever I cough
I know it’s still there

Clipped and severed
Left with only the stem
There’s a phantom image
Where a flower would have been
You left your aura
Your essence behind you
Open my eyes to
A residual shade of blue

(There’s a gallery of roses after the jump)

Continue reading The Residual Blues

The Memory Palace Mystery

An author tries to solve a mystery from inside the pitch of his own story.

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My story’s pitch starts in the parking lot. The lot is empty apart from a lone convertible, a rusty old stepladder, and a thick layer of slush from last night’s snow.

The convertible is a classic, fully restored to its original mint green. Too bad someone thought to wheel it out in this nasty weather. The fenders are caked with black slush. There’s an awful mess in the interior. The windshield does little to hide the line of cocaine on the dashboard. There’s nothing but powder from the wheel to the glovebox. It looks like last night’s blizzard happened on the upholstery. A log sits on the passenger seat, too small for a support beam, too large for kindling. It leans forward. Its bark is nose deep in the fresh fallen blow.

I pace around the vehicle and wonder why the log was staged to look like it overdosed. This is the weirdest damn crime scene that I’ve ever seen. What business does a log have with such an epic line? Then it occurs to me. This is a terrible pun. It’s a “log-line.” Every pitch has got one.

A logline is the main idea sentence of a story’s pitch. It’s the bait that get’s the audience on the hook. I must have staged this mobile drug den to remind myself to lead with my logline. Continue reading The Memory Palace Mystery