Category Archives: Writing

Build Your Own Monsters

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

There’s a reason why vampires still rise out of crypts. It’s the same reason why packs of werewolves roam the countrysides, ghosts linger in abandon lighthouses, and demons wait in attics beside Ouija boards and Twister mats. There’s a reason why every flash of bright blue light hides an alien vessel, why squadrons of witches streak across the moon, and why zombies clog the interstate. It’s the same reason why Bloody Marry is on call behind every reflective surface, why trolls make living rooms of covered overpasses, and why every tomb, no matter how far from Egypt, is stacked full of mummies.

These monsters have stood the test of time. They’ve been vetted by generations of storytellers. Each creature has deep cultural roots and instant brand recognition. We see elongated canines, dripping with blood, and we know what to expect. We hear doors slam, see furniture stack, and we anticipate a chill in the air. We see a sickly girl chained to a bed, shouting obscenities, and we expect her head to spin like a sprinkler firing pea soup across the walls.

These creatures have the staying power to crawl up from the pits of the public domain. Their mythos are classics. New works based on them are never dismissed as fan-fiction. Good writers borrow, great writers steal, and if you’re going to be a thief you might as well steal from the best.

Writing a story about vampires or werewolves is like filling out a mad-lib in reverse. The character attributes are already there, all you have to do is come up with the situation. Writers who take on these monsters are like DJs remixing mythologies. The tune never changes, all they have to do is drop a fresh beat. Like grade school students passing a story around, writers using these monsters contribute to an ongoing plot. They expand a vast universe that’s populated with characters with strikingly similar names.

What do you do when you want to tell your own story? Continue reading Build Your Own Monsters

#YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen Part 3

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This is the third collection of my best Tweets under the hashtag #YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen. Click here to catch up on the first part. These were inspired by @KMWeiland. Her blog is an excellent resource for writers looking to become authors.

These come at the special request of Jessica West (@Wes1Jess on Twitter). Be sure to thank her if you get some amusement out of these.

Backups Continue reading #YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen Part 3

Eviction Notice

What happens when you pit a landlord against a tenant that’s possessed by a demon? Find out who is the greater of two evils.

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Eviction Notice

Dean eased the door open. A funk washed over him, ran down his throat, and turned his stomach. The room stunk like a raccoon carcass cooking in the bowels of an outhouse. There was a silhouette on the bed, a lump beneath the covers. He flipped the light switch. Nothing happened.

Patience waited at the door, double-fisting rosary beads, praying into her knuckles.

Reaching into the Velcro pouch between his keys and his tape measurer, Dean produced a flashlight. He clicked it against his thigh, while his free arm cradled a stack of documents.

Ignoring the bed, Dean surveyed the rest of the room. There were splinters, wood chips, and glass shards in the entryway. Fragments of light bulb led to the scattered remains of four wooden blades. There was a twinkle at the foot of the bed; the gold housing of the ceiling fan, several steps from the motor, and the chrome mounting device.

Dean shook his head. “The floor’s going to need to be refinished, and that fan was vintage.”

Patience mouthed the words. “She did that.” Her breath whistled through her teeth in ever increasing intervals.

Dean shrugged. He shined his light on the gap where the fan had been. A pair of wires dangled from it, waiting for a gust of wind to make them whole again.

“That’s a fire hazard.” He thought aloud.

A stain streaked across the ceiling tiles. It was as black as tar at its thickest point and as yellow as piss at its faintest. There was a clear splatter pattern; an arc of bile from the bed to the closet on the other side of the room.

Dean pinched his nose. “That biological hazard is gonna have to be bleached out.”

Patience motioned to the lump on the mattress. Continue reading Eviction Notice

#YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen Part 2

TITLE IMAGE 2This is the second collection of my best Tweets under the hashtag #YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen. Click here to catch up on the first part. These were inspired by @KMWeiland. Her blog is an excellent resource for writers looking to become authors.

These come at the special request of Jessica West (@Wes1Jess on Twitter). Be sure to thank her if you get some amusement out of these.

Conflict Continue reading #YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen Part 2

#YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen

TITLE IMAGEYou know you’re a writer when you realize that you have some form of psychic ability. Your words are telepathic messages. You can communicate with people you will never meet, in places you will never go, in eras you will never live. You can get inside their heads, make them see what you want. You can evoke emotions and plant ideas. You can change minds.

You know you’re a writer when you realize that daydreaming is the purest form of lucid dreaming. That reality is subjective, that it’s within your means to change it, to doctor the record after the fact.

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You know you’re a writer when you go from dabbling with an outline, to compulsively refining a novel. You know you’re a writer when you steal away like a drug lord with a second cellphone, like a spouse concealing graphic sexts, or a politician trying to dodge a blackmail scandal.

Inspiration strikes and you have to answer the call. If you’re on the clock, duck into the bathroom, hide behind the coat racks, or crawl beneath your desk. You’ve got to jot something down before it evaporates. That clever phrase won’t last long on ice. You’ve got reach for your notepad, type on your phone, or scrawl the words across your arm.

HR might call that time theft but that’s their corporate culture. You’re the counterculture.
You’ve got a secret life to attend to.

You know you’re writer when you realize that your thoughts have value. That there ought to be a record of them. That immortality is an attainable goal to a scant few that are bold enough to go for it.

Barista

The first time I saw the #YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen hashtag was in a post by @KMWeiland. She writes advice for writers working to becoming authors on her website. She deserves the credit for introducing it to me.

On Twitter #YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen has been my goto hashtag. It’s a quick way to spark my creativity on a fifteen minute break. It’s a springboard for conversation. It gets me thinking about my process. Sure it’s riff on Jeff Foxworthy, but it’s come to mean something important to me. I’d like to see more writers using it.

Giving credit where credit is due, this post is the brain child of Jessica West (@Wes1Jess on Twitter). I’d been posting these for over a year. She suggested that I post a collection. This is the first part. Continue reading #YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen

Gimme Some Truth

Why Writers shouldn’t Succumb to Peer Pressure from Social Media

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“All I want is the truth. Just gimme some truth”
-John Lennon

As a writer, I know that no publishing house will have me until I have an established presence online. It’s up to my peers to vet me. Agents just look at the metrics. So I’ve reached out and found some like minded folks. They’re all in the same boat, but have different ideas on how to get to their destination. While some participate in the discussion, others shout into a vacuum. While some share their ideas, others push a product. While some explore the current environment, others make themselves a destination. Some seek friends, others seek fame.

Writers who seek meaningful interactions band together. They guest blog, host challenges, call for beta readers, and write reviews. They collaborate, happy to spread the credit around. They unite under the banner of the same hashtag. They make us noobs, feel like we belong.

Sadly, if there’s one rule on the internet, it’s that the moment you have a thriving community, it becomes a marketplace.

Here come the self promoters, the over sharers, the brand builders, and the platform growers. Here come the life coaches, the inspirational entrepreneurs, the goal setters, and the list makers. Here come the social media gurus, the analytic mystics, the reach readers, and the clout crunchers. Here come the quote bots, the platitude programs, the advice automatons, and the stock phrase generators.

They’ve found the last refuge of genuine sentiment on the Internet. They’ve come to put a dollar sign on it. Continue reading Gimme Some Truth

Playing with Fire

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

Have you ever had the nightmare where you’re being chased through an endless subterranean maze? You can never put enough distance between yourself and your pursuer. They’re breathing down your neck. They’re hot on your heels. One false move and they’ll bite down on your jugular. How would you like to be on the other side of that chase scene?

Here’s your chance to sneak into someone else’s nightmare, to be the monster on the prowl, to see through its red luminescent eyes. This is your chance to be the urban legend that terrorizes urban explorers, to be the name they’re too afraid to whisper.

“Mr. Soot.”

This was going to be the introduction for an article on mixing genres called Contrast is Cool. My favorite stories defy expectations by merging two elements and making them clash. This was going to be the example that illustrated my point; R rated horror versus a young adult fairy tale. Turns out, it was clever enough to carry itself.

This story owes a debt to @Raishimi who edited it and offered many useful suggestions along the way. Her contributions make this one of my best pieces. For solid writing advice and the stories to back it up, check out her site here.

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Playing with Fire

The caves echoed with laughter, the free spirited cackles of youth. They were too far away for their words to retain any meaning, but their tone bobbed up and down with flirty inflections. One voice was giving, the others were receiving.

This was the wake up call Mr. Soot needed. It was time to go to work. He yawned from his perch among the bats; cracked his neck, and let go of the stalactites. Belly-flopping onto the stones below, the impact was enough to loosen the tinder in his lungs, but not enough to get the fires started. Interlocking his fingers, he stretched his arms out, cracked his knuckles, and brought them down on his solar plexus.

His shoulders quaked as the fires revved up, only to sputter to a stop. The spark had flared, but there was no ignition.

Hitting his chest again, he felt a surge of adrenaline, followed by a surge of gasoline. His fingers blurred as his engine came roaring to life. Continue reading Playing with Fire

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

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

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