Thursday, May 10, 2012

Another Agentversary Contest Entry

So I've decided to throw in another entry into Gennifer Albin's Agentversary contest that she's holding on her blog, here: http// Check it out, and enter while there's still time!

My latest entry is here, which I like to call "Color for a Black Heart":

Be sure to check out my earlier entry too, which I like to call "The House of the Crescent Moon", here:

While you're checking out my work there, also check out the other awesome entries to the contest.

Although the entries didn't call for titles, I always try to put names on everything I write, whether it be an overall title for the piece, section, or chapter I'm working on, characters I'm writing about that may not quite be fleshed out yet, etc. Because names have power. Hey, maybe that'll be a topic for a future blog entry.

Anatomy of a Story Idea

First, before I go into the guts of this blog post, I wanted to let you know there's a new sample of my writing out in the Interverse. It's an entry for a contest on Gennifer Albin's blog. For those interested in the contest, post a caption of 150 words or less based on the image she has up on her site (one image and one entry per day during this week) and receive a chance to win a query critique with Mollie Glick of Foundry Literary. Plus, you can find out about Gennifer and her new book, Crewel. I'm probably not doing her enough justice, so check out the contest and her good news on her blog:

My entry is in the comments section for the first day's blog entry:

Go check out the picture and my piece I wrote on it, then come right back. I'll wait.

Finished? Good. Now, on to the subject of where story ideas come from.

As I banged out my entry to the above contest, I was suddenly awed by the whole process of it. Where DID this thing I created come from? Personally, I feel certain elements come from… somewhere else.  Without getting too philosophical. However, in the midst of those little nuggets that don't seem to have a source are some that do have a certain logic to them and follow one from another.

To illustrate what I mean, let me bring you through the process I went through to create the piece for the contest mentioned above.

1)      Stared at the picture for what seemed like a LONG time. When a writer is struggling to find words, a few seconds can seem like a long time.

2)      First, I decided the two characters in the picture needed names. I don't know why, but Nadia popped into my head immediately for the girl's name (again, here is one of those little nuggets that seem to come from outside my brain). I next had to decide what the creature was with Nadia. A wolf immediately sprang to mind, but not just any wolf. This was Nadia's friend, and thus needed a name. Bane popped into my head first, but I rejected it as too obvious, so I played around with it a bit until I came up with the name Bens.

3)      Next, I wanted to figure out what the rest of the scene represented and make use of every visual element. I decided that all structures in the image were buildings. The ones with crosses on them were churches. That just left three other structures: the one with the spires, the one with the crescent moon on its top, and the one whose balcony you can see on the left hand side. Nothing immediately sprang to mind, so I left those alone for a bit.

4)      The idea popped into my head that Bens was once human but was now a wolf through some kind of powerful magic. Nadia had to try to change him back, but how? She was taking him somewhere. Where? To the House of the Crescent Moon. Why? Someone there would help him.

5)      I had to raise the stakes for her. How? She had to sneak him there, at night, so she wouldn't get caught. By whom?

6)      I suddenly had a glimpse of the world Nadia lived in. Men and women worshipped differently. Women went to the churches run by the High Priestesses. Men worshipped at the House of the Crescent Moon, led by Master Henrique.  Both houses believed in magic and a Governor who ruled over all. The High Priestesses believed in a more natural, passive magic, a magic more in harmony with the earth. The Master practiced a more active form of magic and used the Governor's power to force change in the world.

7)      I raised the stakes more for Nadia. She wasn't allowed to set foot in the House of the Crescent Moon. Why? She would be outcast from the houses of worship run by the High Priestesses. They would prevent her from even entering the House of the Crescent Moon, to protect her. I need to raise the stakes even more. If she were to set foot in the House of the Crescent Moon, she would be destroyed. How? Why? Don't really know, but just this fact seemed to fit the small piece I was writing, and details weren't necessary.

8)      Finally, Nadia made a decision to lay down her own life to restore her friend to his former self.

9)      Once I was done with this chain of thoughts, the ideas simply needed to be written down in a nice, narrative format. How I chose the voice, language, etc. for this piece, I'm not entirely sure. It just came out that way, more or less, even before editing.

So there you have it. I don't know if this necessarily answers the question "Where do story ideas come from?", but maybe the process I went through above will shed some light on the subject. There seems to be some combination of "moments of awe", where ideas just beam in from somewhere else, and those ideas that come from asking the questions "Who?" "What?" "When?" "Where?" "Why?" "How?"

So where do YOUR ideas come from? What process do YOU go through to bring them to light? Please feel free to share in the comments section.

Friday, May 4, 2012

You Can't Do That!

Let's talk a little more about fear, shall we? A slightly different kind of fear.

Say you have this great story idea. A teenaged boy's parents die in a car crash, and now he has to live with his uncle who is an alcoholic and cruel to him and…

Wait a minute. You can do that. You HAVE an alcoholic uncle. If you wrote something like that, what would he think? What would the rest of the family think?

OK, maybe this idea. These four kids live in this small town in the middle of nowhere. A circus blows in one crisp fall day. Suddenly, children go missing. After a child is taken, a creepy looking doll is left in his/her place, and…

Hold it. You can't write that either. That's a horror story! What would your mother think? Your spouse? Your church pastor??

OK. One more. A mother loses her son at an early age, and now she has to deal with the effects that has on her marriage and…

Stop, you definitely can't write that. That's too personal and PAINFUL to write about!

So, you can't write about the alcoholic, abusive uncle, and you can't write about evil circus people stealing children, and you can't write about a woman who loses her son and has to deal with the aftermath. Why? Because you're either afraid of what other people might think, or you're afraid of your OWN thoughts about the situation.


If you had to stop every time you put some conflict into your story that touched on a nerve, be it your own or someone else's, nothing would get written. There would be no story, because there would be no conflict. All you'd be left with is fluffy bunnies frolicking in a field of lettuce. Unless you know someone who objects to the exploitation of fluffy bunnies. Then you won't even have THAT.

Now, I'm not saying you need to go out of your way to bad-mouth your loved ones, write a story so horrifying you alienate yourself from every civilized person you know and acquire some new friends who aren't so civilized in the process, or cause yourself so much pain from dredging up old memories you don’t even want to get out of bed in the morning. All I'm saying is, if your story calls for these types of elements, you can't be afraid to write them down!

Think about this. Maybe some of your readers also dealt with an abusive caretaker, and they WANT to read a story like that. They're looking to make some sense out of the situation. Or something horrific happened in their own lives, and they're looking for a safe place to deal with that by reading your horror story. Your story can do that for someone, but only if you're not afraid to write down the details.

Writing can be therapeutic. That's the beauty of writing. You can use it to face your own fears. But writing is even more powerful than that. It also has the power to help OTHERS deal with THEIR fears as well.

So don't be afraid to write it all down. Conquer those fears, both yours and your readers'!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Cupid's Literary Connection's "The Writer's Voice" Contest

Going along with my topic of fear for this week, I'm going to conquer my fear of getting my work out there, because even though I've submitted a lot of stories since I've started this writing thing, every time is still scary. So I'm entering Cupid's Literary Connection's "The Writer's Voice" Contest. Here are the plot summary that I would put in a query letter and the first 250 words of my middle-grade fantasy novel, Oliver and the Underlings. Blog readers, feel free to comment on my entry. Feedback is always welcome!

Although the morning time slot is filled up by now, feel free to pop over to the following link to find details about the evening time slot for this contest:

Good luck to all who enter. And here's a hint. Be quick! The time slot fills up fast!


Oliver and the Underlings Plot Summary:

Oliver Bradshaw wants a normal life. One with a dad, a less freaked-out mom, and no creepy stranger following them wherever they go, or monsters invading his room at night.

When Oliver's classmates begin disappearing, Oliver realizes the monsters are really looking for him. In order to find answers and to save his friends, Oliver must leave the human world and step into the monsters' world, armed with only his wits, his best friend Daryl, and the one monster he has befriended.


First 250 Words of Oliver and the Underlings:

Oliver Bradshaw stared out the window of the rental car as his mother pulled into a parking lot next to a faded red Colonial house. The top floor overshot the bottom floor in the front, making the building look like it had an overbite. A sign reading "Fred's Variety" dangled like a loose tooth from the overhang.

"Why are we here?" Oliver asked.

"To see about an apartment."

Oliver looked up at the second floor again. "I was afraid you were going to say that."

"Fully furnished apartments are hard to come by."

His mother had a point. They really didn't have any furniture. How could they when they'd moved three times in the last five years?

The landlord, a tall, wiry man with silver hair growing in a half circle around the back of his head, met them under the sign. He handed Oliver's mother a stack of papers. The name on the top page was "Joseph Shoute". In his head, Oliver called him "Mr. Shout", but the man said, "My name is Mr. Shoute," pronouncing it "shoot" instead. "I'm the landlord."

"Excuse me Mr. Shout," Oliver said, "I mean, Shoute, but the sign says Fred's Variety. Where's Fred?"

Mr. Shoute's blue eyes narrowed. Oliver noticed they were the same murky color as the ocean water he and his mother had passed as they drove up the coast of Connecticut and into Rhode Island. "Fred's dead. If there are no more questions, I can show you the apartment upstairs."

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Who Am I?

Of course, this being a new blog and all, it's only natural that people stumbling upon this blog would like to know the answer to the question posed in this first blog entry's topic. Before I answer that question, I'd like to talk a little bit about why I named this first blog entry the way I did, and why I decided to start a blog in the first place.

Lately, I've come to a realization. Let's say you, Dear Reader, are asked the following question: "Who are you?"

Some people answer with the basics. "I'm a 29-year-old man", for instance. (Don't I wish.) Others go into their family status: "I'm married with nine children." (I, personally, have slightly less children than that.) Most people then go into their occupation, because for most people, this is what defines them as a person: "I'm a bank teller", "I'm a car salesman", "I wrestle elephants on TV." Whatever. Not hard, right? It should come natural to discuss whatever it is that you do for a living.

Now suppose, for whatever reason, you're ashamed to admit that you wrestle elephants on TV. (Why? I dunno. Seems like a great career choice to me.) So when someone asks you what you do for a living, you either make something up ("I'm a brain surgeon", for example) to make your life sound more exciting, or maybe the elephant wrestling is just a part-time job. Most of the day you're a teacher at an elementary school, so you give that as your standard answer.

Right after you answer the question, part of you is upset with yourself for your answer. Why would you do that? You love elephant wrestling. You took classes at night to learn how to do that. It's been your passion ever since you fell into the elephant exhibit of the zoo as a five-year-old kid, right? So what's stopping you from telling someone about it?

I have recently realized that I am guilty of exactly that same thing. When people ask me what I do for a living, I immediately say to them, "I'm a software engineer working at a hospital." Never once do I say, "Oh yeah, and I'm a writer too." Even that answer sounds like it's an afterthought. If I said it fast enough or soft enough, no one would even notice. When I'm out and about and someone asks for a business card, or if I need to offer some contact information to someone, I never once reach for one of my writing business cards.

It has taken me a long time to realize what I've been doing. I've had other people point this out to me, but like everything, it doesn't sink in until you really starting noticing it for yourself. Once I did start noticing it, I tried to understand why. A quick check of my emotions gave me the answer.

It's fear. The fear that the people I'm telling won't take it seriously. That they'll laugh at me, make fun of me, think I'm wasting my time. After all, what future is there in writing? I'm certainly no expert in it. It's just a hobby, right? I've been doing it for less time than I've been a software engineer. And my day job is a good paying job, with good benefits. Why would I need anything else?

Here's the thing about that kind of fear. That kind of fear is very powerful. It produces a downward spiral. Fear of discussing what that passion of yours is not only makes you embarrassed to talk about it, but more embarrassed to do it as well. Lacking the confidence to say you're an elephant wrestler kills your confidence to actually DO elephant wrestling. The mind is a powerful engine, but that power can turn it into an engine of destruction if you allow that fear to creep in.

How you do combat this fear? It's tricky. As I said, fear is very powerful. But I know how you can start. It all starts with how you answer the question, "Who am I?"

Which is the main reason why I started this blog in the first place. To begin to face my fear.

Finally, here is my answer to the question: "Who am I?"

I am a 41-year-old man, a husband, and a father. I am a pet owner, with 4 cats and 1 dog. I an a software engineer who works at a hospital. I love playing piano, camping, hiking, and bicycling.

And, I'm a writer. I'm PROUD to be a writer. I'm a PUBLISHED writer too, which means someone out there thinks I'm good at it, even though I still feel like a beginner.

Most important, I'm no longer afraid to admit I'm a writer.

So, who are YOU, Dear Reader? Feel free to comment, and more importantly, don't be afraid to.