Category Archives: Blog

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

Don’t Just Read More, Watch More (Audio Blog)


(Download the instrumental version here)

Writers are always told to read more. I say, they ought to watch more movies. Why? Good films do not slip into the same pitfalls that so many novels do.

Good films do not tell you what a character is thinking. The audience has to make observations of their mood, and draw their own conclusions. Good films do not just launch into backstory. If there are flashbacks they appear as scenes. Good films put the events on display, they don’t just put them into a character’s mouth, and expect you to take their word for it. Good films show and don’t tell.

Writer’s could take a cue from this. Just because our medium allows for free form exposition, that doesn’t mean we should use it.

The limitations of film force it to tell a more compelling story. These are limitations I urge novelists to try to bring to their work in progress.

The above audio blog gets into the nitty gritty of the benefits of watching movies. The background music is like a scary movie score put through a trip-hop filter. I’ve heard it described as electro-goth. If you’re looking for good music to write to, you won’t go wrong with the instrumental version of the song.

Seduce the Words out of You (Audio Blog)


(Download the instrumental version here)

This piece first appeared on Loren Kleinman’s blog on writing. Check it out at lorenkleinman.com, and follow her on Twitter @LorenKleinman. The above photo was taken by Keane Amdahl follow him on Twitter @FoodStoned.

Seduce the Words out of You

Writer’s are told to draft everything before rushing in. We’re told to have an outline to refer to when we get stuck. It’s a good check against writer’s block. It’s hard to lose the plot, when you can see every link in the chain. You know what happens next. You know your responsibilities. Your role in the relationship is defined. Continue reading Seduce the Words out of You (Audio Blog)

The Moderator PART 2: The Straw Man

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

In the previous installment of The Moderator, Jeremiah Jenkins found himself outed by a fellow cyber bully. He’d made a death threat and his rival The Straw Man called him on his bluff. That night a cyber mob hacked his accounts and warped his online identity. They posted pregnancy news on FaceBook, turned him into a rogue NSA agent on Twitter, and added terrorism to his LinkedIn resumé. They killed his career opportunities, his relationship prospects, and his reputation. The trolls put his head up on a pike for all the world to see.

In part 2 of this 3 part tale, we catch up with Jeremiah in the middle of a psychotic break.

I owe another debt of gratitude to @Raishimi for catching many of my grammatical mistakes (I love it when people point those little buggers out to me).

The Moderator PART 2: The Straw Man

That night, Jeremiah dreamt he was sprinting down cobblestone streets. Oil lanterns passed by in a blur. He swerved as a horse drawn carriage barreled down on him. He dove to avoid being trampled. When the horses past, he heard his pursuers’ feet stomping behind him. Their numbers had grown. Minute men had answered the call. Pedestrians had been enveloped into the horde. Street workers dropped the tools of their trade, and picked up other ones.

The boots came marching out of every entryway. There was a fugitive on the loose. In this police state, every citizen was on call to catch him. Continue reading The Moderator PART 2: The Straw Man

The Moderator PART 1: Epic Burn

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

I’m afraid of the kind of traffic this story will bring to my blog. There’s some nasty buzz words lurking in these prose. Words I wouldn’t want to show up in a search engine, or across a national security agent’s desk.

The characters who use these words have no regard for their meaning. They sling vulgarities at the wind, with the glee of infants hurling smartphones onto concrete. They make casual death threats. They reference acts of terrorism with the enthusiasm of screenwriters referencing pop culture.

These characters speak their minds with not a filter, but a megaphone. Their real life counterparts have been jailed for things they’ve said in jest. They’ve ruined lives, or worse, played a part in ending them.

If the government makes revisions to the First Amendment, it will be because of something one of these people said.

Don’t worry, I’m not about to berate you with racial or homophobic slurs. These characters have used them so often they’ve lost their meaning. They have to resort to craftier insults to get their points across, to scrape the bottom of the barrel clean through, to mine it for new depths.

They’re a case study for etymologists. Linguists will cite them as the ones who broadened our definition of profanity.

Their real life counterparts will desensitize us to things we hope to never see. They don’t pull punches. If I’m to tell their story, neither can I.

Tragedy plus time equals comedy. The hero of this story has interpreted the quote to mean that making fun of tragedy is funny. He’s about to learn that some words are sacred. Some invocations summon things that won’t go back into the depths. Some threats have consequences.

Especially when he makes his threats here, in the Twilight Zone (sorry I had to do that).

I owe a debt of gratitude to @Raishimi, @FoodStoned, and many others who post under the hashtag #AmWriting. Many of you were eager to let your inner trolls go on a rampage. You helped come up with many of the cyber pranks featured in this story. You’re all very evil people.

I cannot stress how much hair this story had me pulling out. At seven-thousand plus words, I decided to break it up into three different parts:

1. Epic Burn
2. The Straw Man
3. Bridge Trolls

Alright, I’ve built this lumbering monster up enough. It’s time to set him free. Continue reading The Moderator PART 1: Epic Burn

Boot Straps

Photo by @Raishimi  follow her on Twitter. Check her blog here.
Photo by @Raishimi follow her on Twitter. Check her blog out here.

Ever lean on your support system only to find it can’t support your weight? Ever vent only to find yourself plugged up? Ever put yourself out there only to learn there’s a curfew for people like you? Yeah, I know the feeling. You ask for a hand, only to get the low five. Either they don’t get what you’re going through, or they don’t want to.

It’s hard to find a sympathetic ear when they’re all wearing headphones. It’s hard to rest your weary head when they all have such cold shoulders. It’s hard to get the storm cloud out of you when all you’ve got are fair weather friends.

You try to tell your story, only to realize you’ve become a cautionary tale. Continue reading Boot Straps

Carnival of Goals (Audio Blog)

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

This is a story about my first attempt to wow people with my work. I was a kindergartner hosting a Halloween carnival in the middle of July. I poured my heart and soul into the project and got negative returns.

There’s a lesson to be learned in failure: if at first you don’t succeed, you’re doing it wrong. If humiliation teaches us anything it’s how to wear humiliation better. Every artist has to learn to take feed back. Every artist has to develop a callus around their heart, a skin so thick they could stop bullets with it.

This is a piece for those people brave enough to put themselves out there. The ones who go out among the trolls seeking validation. The ones whose bright eyes never dim. The ones who no matter how many times you knock them down, they scramble back up to their feet, and brush their shoulders off.

This is for the people who look to the Internet and say, “I have something valid to contribute and I’m going to keep trying until it finally resonates with someone.”

If this makes us fools. Let’s be fools together.


(Download the instrumental version here)

For those of you who prefer the straight vocal recording, without the music, check out the link below.

Grift the Words Out of You

Mine
Photo by Keane Amdahl follow him on Twitter @FoodStoned

This piece was inspired by a conversation I had with @LorenKleinman on Twitter. You should check her website at lorenkleinman.com

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Persuading yourself to write is like pulling off a long con. You play the parts of both the mark and the convincer. The mark has something you want, time and dedication. Neither you, nor they, want to give those things up willingly. Time scheduled is time spent, and you want to keep your options open. You’ve got a Netflix queue that isn’t going to watch itself. Dedication requires persistence, and you already have enough on your plate. No one wants to feel like they’re clocking into a second job.

You’ll have to swindle the time and dedication out of yourself. You’ll have to get yourself to write without realizing that you’re doing it.

Don’t spend too much time on foundation work, or you’ll get wise to what you’re up to. You’ll see all of those character biographies and get nervous about meeting new people. You’ll see the settings mapped out and your agoraphobia will kick in. You’ll see the scene list and imagine your calendar filling up with X’s. If you let yourself realize how daunting the task of writing can be, you won’t want to do it. Continue reading Grift the Words Out of You

Spare Your Darlings (Audio Blog)

(Download the instrumental version of the song here.)

This was originally posted on lorenkleinman.com a source of much inspiration. This whole piece is the product of a conversation we had on Twitter. You should definitely follow her at @LorenKleinman

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

“In writing, you must kill your darlings.” –William Faulkner

What are Darlings?

When Faulkner says, “Darlings” he’s talking about the poetry that wanders into our novels. He’s talking about the colorful descriptions in our black and white detective stories. The hyperboles that get lost inside our stark realism. The esoteric language that finds its way into modern thrillers.

The Darlings are the details that no one needs to understand the plot. Continue reading Spare Your Darlings (Audio Blog)

Soundtrack for Writing

Statue with Headphones

This entry was inspired by my friend Rachel’s writing playlist on her website celenagaia.wordpress.com. Check it out here. Follow her on Twitter @Raishimi

Music can be a writer’s best friend. A stopgap for the noise pollution around us. A check against the gridlock orchestra laying on their horns, against the food court percussion section scraping the food out of their instruments, against the mouth breathing choir in line at the DMV. Music provides a way to tune out all that chatter and turn up your internal monologue. It adds tone to discord, order to abstraction.

When I write spooky stories, I prefer songs that draw out the tension, rather than rush to the crescendo. I need my conductor to move with a slow and steady hand. To lure my mind into the cellar, to tug me down a long narrow corridor of nightmares.

I prefer atmospheric soundscapes to orchestral scores. I prefer rain and thunder to a bombastic brass sections. I prefer synthesizers to string sections, programmed beats to kettle drums. I prefer beats because they repeat. They keep my mindset consistent. They give my words a rhythm. Continue reading Soundtrack for Writing