Petrichor, Potvalor, Sapid. #vss365

I play some of the Twitter writing prompts every day. There are dozens of them out there. Some are good, some not so good, and some go through bouts of greatness followed by pits of despair. One of the biggest and longest running prompts is #vss365, short for very short stories 365 days a year. It’s big enough that there’s no chance in hell you’re going to read them all on a given day. Well, unless you have significantly more free time than I do.

The way these prompts work is someone posts a word and you can either dig through your existing works or write something new that uses the word. The idea is to use the word in some creative fashion. With some words, like machine which was the theme word for both #scififri and #satsplat today, it’s relatively easy. Machine can mean a lot of things from a physical machine to a metaphorical machine to Sharky’s Machine. There’s a lot of room to play with the theme word.

Then there are some of the words that have popped up on #vss365 lately: Potvalor, petrichor, and sapid. Among other things. Personally, I think it’s telling that Brave’s spell check is telling me all those words are spelled wrong, but because they’re so rare almost no one ever uses them. It’s like fustian or polyglot; outside of certain realms of communication those words simply don’t exist.

So, for those of you scratching your heads and wondering just what the hell potvalor, petrichor, and sapid mean:

  • Potvalor: Courage or bravery from resulting from drunkenness
  • Petrichor: That pleasant smell after a good rainstorm
  • Sapid: Having a strong, pleasant taste

There, now you can use your potvalor and describe your sapid drink and the petrichor next time you’re trying to seduce some hot little number at a party. You’re welcome.

Aside from the sensuous art of verbal seduction, what’s the good of trying to shoehorn potvalor, petrichor, and sapid into writing? Especially when you consider most writing should fall into about the sixth grade reading level. Well, here are two things to keep in mind: If you want to get good at something, do it a lot and if you want to get better at something, push yourself.

As with anything else, writing is a skill and skills can and should be developed and nurtured. You don’t hear about pro athletes saying they’re just naturally so good they don’t bother to train. Want to get better at punching? Punch something. Want to get better at cycling, get a bike and go ride. And each time you do that thing, pay attention and focus on getting better. If you want to get better at writing, write. And just like the athlete that pushes his or her boundaries, break out of your skill set. Write a different genre of story or a different style. If you’re an action writer, try your hand at writing a romance and vice versa. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but the act itself will illuminate things you’d never thought of before. For instance if you’re gonna try your hand at erotica, you’ll be amazed at how many euphemisms there are. Also, writing the word “cock” over and over gets boring. Dig deeper. Tease out those other words. Penetrate your own style. Trust me, the explosion at the end will be worth it.

Now, of course, none of this is to say I didn’t take a few cheap potshots at the #vss365 theme words here and there.

But ultimately, I like to think I rose to the challenge. Words like petrichor, sapid, and potvalor aren’t easy to incorporate, especially if you want them to be interesting and feel natural.

It’s all too easy to grouse at the challenges, but those challenges are what make you better. So, next time someone says, “Work fustian into a sentence without sounding like a pompous ass” you can do it. After you look it up, of course.

In fact, go do that and drop a line in the comments.

Guest Post – Guillaume Sauvé

How to Become a Storyteller Without Writing a Single Word

Did you know that 90% of people want to write a book? It’s true. Unfortunately, most people never even write the first word. Of those brave enough to begin, less than half actually finish. Then comes the scariest part: Submitting the manuscript to agents and publishers. Not only is it a painful process that makes you feel like a total and utter fraud, but your odds of landing a contract are about as good as you winning the lottery. And, if by some miracle you actually get your book published, you’re unlikely to sell more than a handful of copies.

No wonder most people never take the plunge.

Luckily, the days where the above-described scenario was the only option have come and gone. The rise of self-publishing has revolutionized the publishing industry. While better than the mahogany desk approach of old, self-publishing still has many pitfalls. Not only must you pay for all the expenses—editing, proofreading, cover design, etc.—out of your own pocket, but you must master the skills necessary for a successful career as an author. That means learning how to create a website, how to run a newsletter, and how to promote your books because the days where you could just throw a book up on Amazon and watch the sales roll in have long since past. All in all, self-publishing requires hundreds of hours of training and thousands of dollars in expenses.

By now, you’re probably thinking, “Why the hell would anyone choose to be a writer?”

I feel you. Unfortunately, writing isn’t something you choose to do. It’s a calling. I’ve always known I wanted to be an author, but I denied it for many years. It wasn’t until I had a near-death experience that I decided to go for it. Since then, I’ve spent thousands of hours honing my craft and invested over $15,000 into my passion. While I don’t regret it, I know it’s not something most people are willing to do. But I also know how incredibly gratifying it is to hit the “Publish” button on your very first book, so I started brainstorming ways to help aspiring writers fulfill their lifelong dream of becoming a published author. It took a while, but I finally came up with the perfect solution.

Storytellers Unite!

The concept came to me when I stopped thinking as an author and started thinking as a reader. I remembered how popular Choose Your Own Adventure books were back in the ‘80s and ‘90s and realized I could do the same thing. Only, instead of writing a book with predefined paths for readers to follow, I would let them vote on what happened next as I wrote it. Not only would it allow aspiring authors to contribute to the creation of a novel, but it would make my job easier—and way more fun.

I won’t bore you with the details, so here is a quick overview of how it works:

Each week, I write one new chapter and provide three possible options for what could happen next. All you must do is vote for your favourite and watch as the story comes to life.

Intrigued? Good. Here’s a short description for our current collaborative project:

The Memory Thief

There’s a thief on the loose. A memory thief. No one is safe, not even the thief. The main character awakes to a blank mind. He doesn’t know who he is, but the note in his pocket claims he’s the only one who knows the thief’s true identity. At least, he did until his memories were stolen. Now, he must find the clues he left behind and reclaim his stolen memories in time to unravel the mystery and stop the thief once and for all. Will he succeed? Help me find out.

Want to know more? Great! Here’s Chapter 1:

Chapter 1

The world slowly came into focus. Blurry mountains gave way to rundown houses. Fuzzy shapes turned into pedestrians hurrying along dirt roads. Glowing spots of pure light became streetlamps, lighting up the city. Piece by piece, my surroundings emerged from the endless void that was my life.

An aura of hardship infused the landscape, like a scene from an old steampunk novel. The pedestrians walked around with slumped shoulders and grim faces. The buildings—if you can call them that—were pieced together in giant patchworks of metal and wood. Trash littered the streets. Mangy mutts scurried about amid the rat-infested landscape, looking for their next meal.

Where am I? I wondered, scanning my immediate surroundings. To my left stood a sharp drop to a lower level of the rundown city. A makeshift park lay to my right, empty but for a few filthy children playing in the mud. Directly in front stood a statue of a young man. His jaw was square and his gaze piercing. Worn by time and abuse, the sculpture was missing an arm, and a middle finger had been carved into its metallic surface. Whoever this man was, he was despised.

Continuing my study, I focused on the house that lay behind me. Mediocre in both design and craftsmanship, it seemed on the verge of collapse. I’m surprised the pressure of my body pressed against it didn’t finish the job time had begun long ago.

The patch of hard-packed earth upon which I sat was bare but for a few discarded objects. The occasional blur of movement told me I wasn’t alone, but whatever vermin was hiding in the shadows chose not to antagonize me.

The final detail I took into account was the starless sky that hovered high above. Vast and devoid of colour, the expanse hung over the city, like a giant raincloud heavy with impending doom.

Now that my first question had been answered, I moved on to the next obvious one.

“Who am I?” I asked, this time aloud. The rumble of my voice sounded foreign, just like everything else in this strange world.

Ignoring my rising sense of panic, I scanned my body for clues. My clothes were torn and stained to the point where determining the exact colour of the fabric was impossible. My feet were bare and calloused from years of navigating this strange landscape. My hands were covered in scars. My stomach was flat, though I couldn’t tell if it was the result of malnutrition or frequent exercise. My facial features remained shrouded in mystery, but a few quick touches revealed my jaw was square, and a subtle scruff had begun to invade the lower half of my face. The jaggedness of my nose seemed to indicate it had been broken—on more than one occasion—and three of my teeth were missing. The final detail I noticed was the triangle that had been carved into my left forearm. Fresh, the wound was red and swollen.

“Who am I?” I repeated, worry once more rising within me. I scoured my memories in search of a hint, but all I found was emptiness. As impossible as it seemed, I had no recollection of my life before now.

Now more terrified than worried, I leapt to my feet and once more scanned my surroundings. I studied every detail, hoping to jog my memory, but the desolate scene that stretched all around remained unhelpful. As were the worn faces of the pedestrians. It wasn’t until I patted my body for hidden objects that I finally found my first hint.

A balled-up wad of paper had been stuffed into one of my pockets. Crisp and white, the note seemed out of place among the surrounding filth. Hands trembling, I smoothed out the square sheet and read the words written upon it.

Find the clues and solve the mystery. The fate of the entire city rests on your shoulders.

I re-read the note twice more before returning it to my pocket. Though far from helpful, the enigmatic message filled me with hope. Whoever wrote it knew what happened to me. Finding them would mean unravelling the mystery that was my life. Unfortunately, I had no clue where to begin. Fortunately, the burden of choice was taken from me when a dark shape emerged from my right.

I turned to find…

Option 1: …a massive, snarling beast.

Option 2: …an odd-looking robot.

Option 3: …a little girl with tear-stained cheeks and a headless doll clutched in her hands.

I hope you enjoyed the start of The Memory Thief. Click Here to keep reading and become a Storyteller.

—G. Sauvé

NOTE: You DON’T have to join my newsletter to read The Memory Thief, but only subscribers can vote, and you get a FREE book for joining.

Guest Post – Athabascan Languages and Legends by Daniella Shepard

“The Headless Ravine? You mean up Chitistone Gorge? That’s just a legend.”

“Yeah, the Athabascans didn’t name it that for nothing, kid.”

Myths and Legends of all cultures have fascinated me since I was a little girl. One of my favorites is that of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe of the Mojave Desert (near Death Valley). They tell of early times, when the Coyote Spirit carried the First People into the Living Valley (what the Europeans would later name Death Valley) in a basket. He fell asleep, and the people crept out and populated the world. This took place at the Wosa, now known as Ubehebe Crater, a large extinct crater shaped like a basket in the National Park. I always liked to picture the coyote sleeping under the multitude of desert stars, while the curious people wandered away.

As I grew older, my brother, cousin and I would sit around and tell darker stories. Those of the of the Yucca Man and Skin Walkers. The southwest like every region of the world has its own tales of creatures that stalk the empty, uninhabited spaces of the land.

Native Legends

Navajo Legends

Yucca Man

Athabascan Language Groups

When I moved to Alaska in 2007, I became fascinated with the differences and similarities between the legends I grew up with and the ones I encountered in my new home. Something that I didn’t know, and others may be surprised to learn, is that Alaska Natives First Peoples of the interior of Alaska, called the Northern Athabascans, are actually related to the Apache-Navajo tribes of the American Southwest. The Apache Navajo are considered to be Southern Athabascan (also spelled Athapascan). The language structure, verb usage and words are similar, though the two groups live more than 3000 miles apart and have had no contact for many millennia. Some words have become obsolete over time and distance as the languages have evolved, but they have found that if they bring members from the different groups together, they are able to understand each other with some difficulty. I have included some links below that talk in more detail about the Athabascan Languages, relationships, dialects and origins.

Athabaskan Peoples Languages

http://qenaga.org/relationships.html

http://athabascanvoice.blogspot.com/2013/05/athabaskan-languages.html

Of the 31 dialects of Athabascan in Alaska, my particular story, The Dark Land is derived from legend of tailed creatures in the interior of Alaska in the region of the Ahtna (referring to the Upper Ahtna). The Dene, Han, Upper Tanana and other tribes have similar stories and legends revolving around evil creatures in the Alaska-Yukon wilderness, the most complete version resides in the book, Tatl’ahwt’aenn Nenn’ or The Headwater’s People’s Country, transcribed and edited by James Kari.

Cet’aenn Nal’aen’de (When the Tailed Ones Were Seen), is a chilling account of the Upper Ahtna’s encounter with the Cet’aenn (pronounced: Ket-ANN) detailed in the aforementioned book. It described evil, monkey-like creatures* that would come out of the ground at night and watch from the hills. The story describes how the Ahtna vanquished the creatures in the particular area known as Roasted Salmon Place (Batzulnetas), but the implication is that they didn’t eliminate them entirely.

*English translation-no word for monkey in Dena’ina/Ahtna.

Talking with some of my other friends who are more closely related to the Tanacross/Tanana tribes, this oral story/legend is not familiar to them. But they are very familiar with what is known as the Bush Men (Ts’el’eni or Kol’eni) or “Wild Men of the Tundra.” According to legend these men are known for kidnapping women and children and waging war against the First Peoples. There is also fervent belief in “The Hairy Man,” or the Wood Man (Nuhu’anh) what we would call Big Foot or Sasquatch.

http://www.native-languages.org/ahtna-legends.htm

No matter where you go, the theme of something sinister lurking in the woods beyond the shadows of the campfire prevails. No matter what our differences, tales of things waiting to devour those that stay too far from the path permeate every culture. Blending these tales into my own brand of fiction was a fun adventure, at the same time I wanted to share the inspiration. I also wanted to share the reason why I will definitely think twice before investigating the strange noise outside my cabin in the darkness.

Thanks for reading. If you want to read about legendary bloodthirsty creatures stalking the frozen trails of Alaska, you can find The Dark Land on Amazon.

You can also check out more of my blog posts about my Alaska adventures on my website:

http://dmshepard.com/blog/

Daniella’s book, The Dark Land, a wonderful mix of romance, terror, and action will be released May 4th. Yes, I’ve read it. Yes, it’s a lot of fun. Check back on May 4, 2020 for a full review.

You can also find Daniella on Twitter.

It’s All Just Fiction, Right? Right?

A conversation popped up on Twitter not too long ago that left me thinking. Thinking isn’t a common occurrence for me, so my first worry was I have a brain aneurysm. That was followed up almost immediately by me wondering if I’d been a total dick and hadn’t realized it.

Normally I eschew political correctness. Not because I necessarily have anything against it, but because I feel it’s better to subscribe to the “Don’t Be A Dick” philosophy of living. That way when someone pulls a tweet years down the line, I can honestly say, “No, you’re the asshole! Very unfair!”

Just kidding. If someone pulls a tweet of mine years down the road and says, “Hey! This guy was being a dick!”, I can honestly say, “I’m really sorry. At the time, that wasn’t a thing, but I do apologize to anyone who I was a dick to.” And mean it. I really don’t go out of my way to be an asshole.

Anyway, I’m not going to reprint the discussion here, but I am going to reprint the tweet without a link so we can all start from the same page.

“When the walls are falling and the world is singing songs of doom and the record is skipping and everything’s about to go totally to shit, steal that kiss. Because that might be the last time you ever get the chance to.”

It was paraphrased from a short story I was working on. For the most part, people seemed unperturbed by it. There was one negative reaction, though. Fortunately, no one jumped on her for her response and everything moved along civilly. After a little back and forth, she apologized and I apologized and everyone went away happy.

The general gist of her complaint was stealing a kiss was wrong. To be honest, I can’t argue with her. Don’t go kissin’ folks that don’t want kissin’. Ain’t exactly rocket surgery. Just ask Greta Zimmer Friedman.

But it got me thinking about a couple of things. One is you can never be sure how your audience will react to your words. In communication theory we used a model called the Triangle of Reference to describe the phenomenon that different people will have different reactions to things based on past experiences. Think about this way: If you got scratched by a cat and the cut got infected and you nearly lost your arm and wound up with tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills and a hook for a hand, you’re probably going to have a negative view of cats. You also probably got treated in America.

Bottom line on that is words have meaning and it’s not always the meaning you think it is. And there is absolutely nothing you can do to control that. Even if it’s only fiction, words can have an effect you didn’t expect.

Which leads to the second thing. If we can’t control how people interpret our words, should we strive for avoiding all potentially controversial topics knowing full well we could be poking a bear? In other words, should fiction be safe? Or is it better to write with iron fists and damn the consequences?

I know what I think, but I’m interested in hearing what other think. Drop me a comment.

The Art and Science of Selling Out

Earlier in the year, some of my Twitter writing community friends and I were trying to pull a guy back from the ledge. We’ll call him Gunther because, for some reason or another, that name popped into my mind.

Gunther, it seemed, had a problem. His prose was weighty. Dense like a collapsed star, and about as fun to read as stereo instructions. His reviews were coming back with things like “Reading this was like wading through rancid molasses” and “This was so bad, I think it gave me cancer”. Note: not actual reviews, but those were the general gist.

Now, as every writer knows, reviews can be important things. They can help drive sales, but they can also give you an indication of what’s working and what’s not working. I got one a couple of years ago about head-hopping in a story. For the uninitiated, head-hopping is the process of switching back and forth between viewpoints in narrative. It’s part of the third person omniscient style of telling a story and, done correctly, it can be a useful tool because it lets the reader get into each character’s head. The problem is, done poorly, it can be jarring and leave a reader wondering which character was thinking what at the time. That leads to confused readers and the number one rule of writing is never confuse your reader.

Guess which way I did it.

Actually, when you get down to it, that’s really the only rule of writing. You can do anything you want in a story as long as it doesn’t leave the reader scratching their head and wondering where you scored the crack before you started writing. Tell an entire story without punctuation? Sure. Charlie Huston did it in his Joe Pitt books. (Fun fact: Charlie Huston is kind of my hero). Tell a story while you’re hopped up on every drug known to man and drunk as a skunk to boot? Go check out Hunter S. Thompson. (Also my hero). Make liberal use of the word “fuck”? Guilty.

Point is: Huston and Thompson and every other successful writer out there knew how to tell a story without confusing their readers, no matter what other weird chicanery they may have pulled. Gunther lacked that skill. So, not only was his prose dense as fuck, it was confusing to boot. Think of it as a weightier version of Sean Penn’s abysmal writing without the star power to drive sales.

While a handful of us were imploring Gunther to just, you know, change his style to something that people would want to read, he was busy complaining that he couldn’t change his style. And moping about it. And whining.

That was about the part where I checked out. When you’ve got a handful of people giving you some advice, you don’t immediately discard it because “you can’t change”. Advice is like a live-action review and woe unto the person who ignores the review that says a book was so bad it gave them cancer.

Here’s the deal: any writer worth their salt is going to be able to adapt. There’s nothing wrong with adaptation. Like the U.S. Marines like to say: Improvise, adapt, and overcome.

You can call it selling out if you’d like. You can even call that a bad thing if it makes you happy, but what’s worse: Writing exactly like you want and having no one read it or adapting and still getting your words out?

My grandfather used to love to say, “A piece of information is only good if you have a use for it”. Thomas Edison’s middle name was Alva and the Battle of Hastings was in 1066? Unless you’re really into history, that’s useless information. Knowing Edison was an inventor who’s credited with a short ton of inventions is useful. Knowing he was vicious bastard who happily stole inventions from other people and called them is own (*cough Tesla cough*) can be useful. Knowing his middle name? Who cares.

Writing’s kind of like that. You can either be the bit of information out there, all alone and screaming into the void, or you can be the thing that changes the way people look at the world. Gunther, if you happen to come across this post at some point, consider at least trying to do things differently. Trust me, you can do it. You can improvise, you can adapt, and you can overcome. Or you can be Alva. Your call.

Blurbing. Again.

Ask any author and they’ll tell you the most hated part of writing is the damned blurb. Something about condensing down 100k words into a few sentences is breathtakingly terrifying. Spend a year or so writing and editing and then cut that sucker down to something slightly longer than the TV Guide entry for Star Trek V. And don’t forget to make it exciting.

In the latest installment of the epic space series, the crew sets out to find God.

I usually don’t agonize over words in the book, but writing a blurb is a different kind of writing. It has to tell enough of the story that the reader knows what they’re getting, but it has obscure enough of the details that people want to read it to find out what happens. And it had better be coherent.

I’m not usually one to back away from a challenge, though. In order to get a little better at it, I’ve been writing imaginary blurbs in my head, trying to make the most mundane subjects sound dynamic and exciting. My old drama teacher used to say we don’t write plays about people brushing their teeth, but that’s not to say we can’t write a blurb about it.

In the harsh white light of the bathroom, Jake Hughes found a version of himself staring bleary-eyed from the mirror. He didn’t know how he got there or where he was going, but he had a brush in one hand and a tube of something in the other. Would he be able to solve the riddle in time or was his washed-out reflection right when it told him the woman he woke up with was about to burst in and shoo him out?

Jake Hughes was a legend in the cutthroat world of competitive solitaire until a string of harsh losses dimmed his star and left him deep in debt to the mob. He was about to play his last card when a hand with red fingernails stopped him. Now, to get back in the game, he has to learn how handle the cards and the woman who saved his life before the mafia shuffles his deck forever. In the process, he might just learn that even though it’s called solitaire, it doesn’t have to be played alone.

Jessica Hayha has felt the universe’s whiplash smile more than once. Down on her luck and running late for an interview, she feels the cruel hand of fate slapping her again. Of all the socks in her drawer, there’s not a single matching pair. Now, with time running out and the smoky voices of half-caf double-decaf lattes taunting her, she’s got one last shot at redemption before she resigns herself to being a barista forever. Find a matching pair or whither away like so many of her friends.

Anyway. Not perfect, but one of those things I like to do when I need to take a break from programming. And you know what they say, if you want to get better at something, do it a lot.

↓7↑8

We’ve watched Netflix’s Formula 1: Drive To Survive recently. Let me say it introduced me to two things about Formual 1. First, those drivers are fucking amazing. Anyone who can thread a needle when they’re strapped into a massive engine on wheels going 200+ MPH is incredible. Second, F1 has some spectacular wrecks. There were scenes of guys hitting a wall at 195 MPH, or flying upside down over other cars, rolling several times, and skidding to a halt in something that only barely resembled a car.

wreck2

Robert Kubica’s crash in 2007. He survived.

The truly amazing thing was after those crashes, the drivers not only walked away, but got back in a car the next day and kept racing. I was in a car in a friend back in the early 90s when a truck shoved us off the road. To this day, I’m leery of being next to big rigs. And not just because I’m worried that they’re a bunch of cross-dressing pill-hounds hopped up on every goofball imaginable.

Fear is a natural thing. It’s what keeps us alive. The first time you burn yourself you realize fire is a bad thing to play with. The first time you get kicked in the teeth, you learn to keep your guard up. It’s a natural survival mechanism and something to be respected. No one likes to be hurt, so we avoid things that will cause pain. Simple.

The problem is, any F1 driver would probably tell you that crashes are a natural thing in car racing. Just like anyone will tell you fire has some valid uses and any fighter will tell you sometimes you have to take a blow to get in position to land a better shot. Being completely risk-averse will land you a nice position on your couch, surrounded by all manner of security mechanisms, watching the world pass you by while you slowly turn into a non-entity getting more and more entrenched in your ways until all that’s left for you to do is squawk about how thing should be.

In other words, survival mechanisms can keep you alive, but they can also keep you from living. Change is inevitable. Shit happens. Whatever. Pick your aphorism.

Sometimes things kick you square in the balls and steal your wallet. At that point, you can lie there holding your nuts and grumbling about how there’s never a cop around when you need one or you can get up, kick out your mugger’s kneecap and steal his wallet.

rock-dog

This has nothing to do with the text, I just think it’s funny.

Which leads – in a roundabout, profanity-laden way – to the point. I’ve written about how Twitter has become a haven for writers before. For the most part, that still rings true. Sure, there are some dicks out there, but that’s true of everywhere and most of the writers on Twiter are decent folk. They’re happy to listen, dispense advice, and generally be supportive. To a point, anyway.

There’s always that one person who’s going through a crisis of faith in their writing. It happens. You wake up at 3am, convinced you’re a no-talent hack. If you’re like most of us, you fret about it for a bit and then remember there are plenty of no-talent hacks doing all manner of things successfully and go back to sleep. Some people perseverate to the point that it becomes all-consuming and there are only so many times you can say, “Let it go, everyone goes through this” before it gets to be too much work and you go back to looking up dog videos. Especially, when the problem is painfully obvious. For instance, if there’s a fundamental disconnect with your writing style – say, you only want to write in Mayan Haiku – then you either need to change it or accept that your audience is going to be limited.

I get it. It sucks hearing something you poured your heart and soul into isn’t working. It’s the 200mph smack into the wall or the fist in the teeth. It hurts. But if you really want to do something, there are going to be times when you have to work at it. And that means you have to dust yourself off, get back in the game, and learn to get better at it.

truckflip

Got an interesting story (that doesn’t name names), tell it in the comments…

Roadside Attractions – Blurb Hell

Roadside Attractions has been picked up for publication by Kyanite Press. It should come out sometime in 2020 or thereabouts. In addition to the text and the cover (both of which are undergoing modifications), I have to come up with a damned blurb.

Blurbs are one of those things that you have to deal with. I’ve written about how to do them a few times on this blog, but like a lot of things, they’re easier to write about than to actually write. I think I’ve got a decent one, but any input would be welcome.

A piece of Hell exists in a tiny town in southern Arizona.
During a not-so-routine investigation into a haunting, a pair of ghost hunters get a strange text message beckoning them to Dragoon, Arizona. The message promises them a ghost unlike any they’ve ever met and riches galore for investigating the entity. They find the ghost, but more sinister forces are lurking in the town and soon the ghost-hunters – and the ghost they were sent to hunt – find themselves caught between a renegade devil and the hitwoman sent from Hell to stop him. With time running out and no one to turn to, they’ll have to dig deep into science, magic, and themselves to stop a great evil from awakening or the world will suffer an eternity of darkness.

Comments? Thoughts? More rotten fruit tossed at me while an angry mob chants at me to give writing and go back to whatever rock I crawled out from under?

Also, is this a dope-ass cover or what?

RoadsideAttractionsR4Small

When Is It Enough? Showing and Telling and All That Jazz.

the Witch, on Twitter, asked a very interesting question: At what point have you done enought showing? Or telling for that matter? When, for the love of all that’s holy, is it done?

Everyone knows the story is done when it’s done. It may not seem obvious in the beginning when a story will be finished, but as you progress down the road of writing it you’ll soon realize there’s a central conflict (renegade necromancer out to destroy everything because she’s pissed as hell) and perhaps some side issues (vampire with similar problems, but wanting to take over her people instead of wrecking the city) that the protagonist (gun-toting badass with a drinking problem who really just wants to be left alone) has to deal with. Once the primary conflict is wrapped up and the side conflict gets taken care of, the story is done. The denoument should tie all the parts together, slap a bow on it, and call it good. We don’t have to worry about what comes next; that’s stuff for the sequel.

The plot is a necessity, but it’s in the midst of the story is where the magic happens. That’s where you show all of the things that led us to this point and give readers insight into the why as well as the how. So, you could sum up my latest work in progress using the descriptions above and you’d have the basic plot of a book that still doesn’t have a freakin’ title because I can’t think of one even though it’s nearly half written. You could even summarize the ending by saying “Bullets with a side of throat ripping”, but four disconnected phrases does not a book make. Why and how are important. So is building the world the characters live in. Those are the places to spend your time. On the plus side, you could use those disconnected sentences to come up with a half-decent blurb.

In a city where life is cheap, someone is leaving corpses that won’t stay dead. There’s no rhyme or reason to what’s happening, but Ace Colton’s recently deceased on-again-off-again girlfriend just tried to introduce him to the business end of a knife. At her funeral, a vampire finds him and explains that she made a promise to protect him. While everything implodes around them, they’ll make their way through a city where vampires and magic are real, leaders are fighting to imprison every last magical thing, and regular humans are pawns in a deadly game that could decide the fate of a world.

Okay, so it’s not perfect. Sue me. It’s a first cut.

Anyway, back to the magic of the story. What makes a story engaging starts with the plot. If it’s a tale of some doof brushing his teeth, no ones going to care, unless it’s some avant-garde house movie where the audience can convince themselves they saw something that wasn’t there and look down their noses at everyone who missed it. Get a decent plot, make some memorable characters, throw in some sex with a vampire, and don’t be afraid to unleash a bunch of hot lead. That should be enough of a hook to get people interested.

It’s the world of the book that will keep people interested. I wrote a post a while back about why I thought writing urban fantasy was harder than regular fantasy because you have to make all the weird shit seem natural when it’s dropped into a mundane setting like Albuquerque, New Mexico or Tijuana, Regular Mexico. The world building requires more effort because you have to shoehorn in fantasy elements and make them seem like they belong there. And that requires description.

Which, finally, takes us back to The Witch’s original question: When have you shown enough? There’s actually an easy answer to that, but it’s not the easiest thing to understand. It’s done when it’s done. Let’s say I’m describing magazines on a coffee table in a weird sorcerer dude’s house:

The table was covered with half-formed rings of spilled coffee, the kind of thing you only see with people who either drink too much coffee or don’t give a shit about cleaning up anymore. In the middle, staring up from a leaning pile of crusty, dog-eared, and tattered “Big Butts” magazines, a girl in a bikini looked over her shoulder, shoving her ass into the camera. Someone had drawn an eye patch and a fake scar on her face with a cheap ballpoint pen and the ink was smeared from recent use. On the corner of the table, neatly aligned and staring at me with a smirk on its face, was a pristine copy of Jane’s Defense Weekly with a cover depicting the latest in the military application of magical weapons.

There’s a lot of information built into that paragraph, even if it’s not obvious. That’s what I like to call information density. You don’t have to have spell out every little thing to have the world building work, and you definitely don’t have to tell the reader what you want them to realize. That’s showing in a nutshell.

You’re trying to accomplish a few things with world building:

  • Describing the world (duh)
  • Laying out the important points
  • Fleshing out a character

The trick to it is figuring out the important points and that’s the key to understanding The Witch’s question. What’s important? What does the reader need to know to understand where this madcap tale of guns and sorcery is heading? That is something only the author can answer. If your book is about a half-assed sorcerer who’s never done anything important with his life and is catching shit from his parents and the general world around him, the description of a coffee table shed a lot of light on both him and his world. We know:

  • He’s probably an obsessive coffee drinker and that makes his hands shaky
  • He likes to punch the bishop on the couch.
  • The world not only has magic in it, but someone’s working to weaponize it.
  • Our sorcerer has a thing for degrading women and possibly mutliating them.
  • He likes big butts and he cannot lie.

While some other brothers might deny, our sorcerer dude is probably a messed up individual on track to get himself and everyone else in a lot of trouble. If that’s the description of the character you’re going for, you’re good to go. If not, replace the magazines or clean up the coffee table. Or whatever. Just realize when to stop. The table might also have a half-empty box of Kleenex, or a cold mug of coffee, or any number of other things. He might also have a half-empty box of ‘Nilla Wafers in the cabinet and some Chinese noodles in the trash, but you don’t need to say that. In the case of the Kleenex and the cold coffee, we already know he likes coffee and boxing the clown on the sofa, you don’t need to hammer the point home – no pun intended. In the case of the ‘Nilla Wafers and Chinese noodles, who cares? All we know is he likes vanilla wafers and Chinese food and everyone like vanilla wafers and Chinese food. It’s junk information just like saying he owns a pair of pants or breathes air.

All the information in our world building needs to have a valid reason for being there. It needs to describe a character and how they’re different or what their motivations might be, explain some aspect of a world that’s not what’s expected in our world, or leave clues and reasons for plot points that will happen later on. If it doesn’t fall into one of those categories or doesn’t help breath life into a world, let it go. And if you’ve already shown it, there’s not much reason to beat that dead horse some more (also no pun intended). Leave some space for the action that drives the story forward and don’t overload the reader with details that aren’t important. Bored readers put down books and that’s not what we’re shooting for here.

So, to answer The Witch’s question: The showing and telling are done when they’re done. And they’re done when the pertinent information has been presented. Everything else is icing and remember, while sitting on the couch with a jar of chocolate mocha icing and a spoon sounds like a good idea, it gets old pretty quickly.

One final thought on world building: Realize we learned an awful lot about a character from describing his coffee table. Not all character building is obvious.

Follow The Witch on Twitter. She’s worth your time.

How Twitter Became a Haven For Writers

Everyone knows Twitter, that bastion of toxic bullshit that’s driven people off its platform in droves. We’ve all heard the stories about gangs of roving assholes that attack anything they don’t like and relentlessly gnaw at it like a burlap hood filled with hungry rats. Or how it gave a voice to extremists and white nationalists and idiots of all stripes.

While all of those stories are true to some extent or another, there is another side to the platform that Dorsey and crew would be wise to publicize: It’s become a haven for writers to share snippets of their work and interact in a world that’s not actively spying on them like, say, Facebook. Or, at least if it is, it’s not as overt as the clowns running Facebook.

When the Internet first started gaining ground, there were all sorts of wild rumors floating around about how terrible it was going to be for everyone from children to moral adults and everyone in between. There was porn! There was violence! It was a haven for all kinds of bad behavior and you couldn’t turn it on with getting hit in the face with titties! What people failed to realize was while all those things were there – except for getting hit in the face with titties, that’s hard to do over a monitor – they were things you had to seek out. You didn’t just turn on the Internet (whatever that meant) and see naked chicks doing thing that would make the Marquis DeSade blush.

In the early days, the Internet was a lot of Geocities pages about The Simpsons and pilfered Star Wars scripts. It was cheap ani-gifs, dial-up 14.4kbs access, cybersquatting, and chat rooms. Yes, there was porn and stupid shit, but it didn’t bring down the Republic and turn us all into Satanists. If you didn’t look for it – and searching was a dicey affair back in the late 90s – you wouldn’t find it. It wasn’t like you just opened Netscape Navigator and bam! titties in your face.

Twitter’s a lot like that. What you see is largely dependent on who you follow. Somewhere along the line, artists, writers, and other miscreants started flocking to the platform and creating little communities. This is the kind of thing that needs to be shouted about. Fuck the Nazis, screw the incels, take all those worthless hatemongers and toss ’em in the trash heap of history where they belong; this is our time now.

Sure, there’s a bunch of crap out there, but there’s also an amazingly supportive community of writers and artists and an opportunity to branch out and see what other people are up to. There are daily writing games that let you explore and expand your own skills. There are people you can bounce ideas off of and get honest responses.

If you want to start out, start with Steven Viner. He’s the guy that’s pushing the #writerscommunity. Meet people, follow people, retweet people. Explore and expand. It’s that simple.

From there, start checking out the daily games like #musemon, #martialmonday, #btr2sday, #tuestell, #1linewed, #talesnoir, #thurds, #thurspeak, #fictfri, #satsplat, #slapdashsat, #saidsun, #sunwip, #seducemesunday, and the ever popular #vss365. Don’t expect immediate fame and glory, that’s not what this is about, but it is a great opportunity to meet some cool people from the comfort of your couch.

And now, since I’ve been talking about titties in your face, I’d be remiss if I didn’t put up a pic of a nice pair of tits.

tits

By the way, you can follow me on Twitter here.

Got any other good places or people to follow? Drop ’em in the comments.