But What If It Was Real?

Stephen King once said that the impetus for The Mist came from a trip to grocery with his son and wondering what it would be like if there were prehistoric insects in it. From there, he no doubt wondered what they’d be like, how they got there, and what it would be like. King, being King, imagined a worst case scenario involving monsters, people losing their shit, and no end of mist covering the land.

It was kind of like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, only with more monsters and less hope. And, of course, it predated The Road by almost three decades.

This is how it is to be a writer. It’s all imagination. It’s like the games we used to play as kids, pretending all manner of adventures with talking rabbits, dogs with machine eyes, and Farmington’s vast wasteland behind my house that became any number of terrifying things. Are those flashing lights in the sky satellites, planes, or something more sinister? What if that noise you heard in the night wasn’t just the cat knocking things off the counter because she’s bored?

In other words, what if it was real?

Not real, but for a moment, before you saw the pole, you had a spark of belief, didn’t you?

We recently took a trip up to Edwards, CO – a small town close to Vail, but without the associated snobbery. The road took us up through Alamosa, CO, and onto a long, empty stretch of highway that cut through the Colorado plains like a knife. Just north of the Colorado Gators Reptile Park (yes, it’s real. You can go see live gators living in the natural, snowy habitat) lies the UFO Watchtower.

The UFO Watchtower is an out-of-the-way place dedicated to, among other things, documenting UFO activity in the area. You can stop and visit for only $2 a person or $5 a carload. It’s not a big place and in the bright sun it’s not much to look at. But remember, this isn’t about what it is, it’s about what it could be.

There’s something eminently creepy about this.

At night, you’d be able to see for twenty or thirty miles in every direction in a place where light pollution simply doesn’t exist. In the pitch black, standing on the roof of the watchtower, you’re likely to see all manner of amazing things.

That’s neither here nor there, though. UFO watching is an American pastime and there are more spots dedicated to watching the skies than you can shake a stick at. What made the UFO watchtower interesting wasn’t what was happening in the skies, it was what was happening on the ground.

You see, according to the woman who was running the place that day, there are numerous energy vortexes in the area where you can talk to the spirits or even, I suspect, travel to other places. To a casual observer, it looks like people have dropped off rubbish, bits of things, and the odd bra, and it was all left in situ to create some monumental bit of performance art – a modernist ode to the disposable American spirit, if you will.

It looks like a field of trash, but look a little closer.

That, however, is not the case. The ground is dedicated to small plats where people have left offerings to the spirits, hoping for a little goodwill or help with terrestrial problems. There’s a certain organized chaos to the place, like this wasn’t the ramblings of a diseased mind so much as one that had seen something beyond the pale.

Of course, that could all be marketing and a lot of available free time.

The point is, there’s mystery there. It’s something odd and unique. It may or may not be real, but what if it was? What a story that would make! The UFO part can be interesting on its own if it’s handled well (the X-Files did a marvelous job with it), but the addition spirits and energy vortexes adds a whole new dimension.

All the detritus out there is something that was important to someone, something they felt was worthy of handing off as an offering in exchange for some help. It may look like trash from the distance of Internet and time, but in the heat of the moment, that might have been a powerful experience for someone.

Now take that feeling, and turn it into a story. Then take it a step further and ask yourself what if it was real. Or, at the very least, start wondering. If you want to write, you need to look at things not as they are, but as they could be. And don’t be afraid to be amazed at things.

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Book Review – 13 Wicked Tales of Witches by Avrin Kelly

Proving yet again, that Twitter isn’t just a vast wasteland of racism and horsefuckery, I found this book – and its author – on Twitter in one of the many writerly communities that have popped up over time. Avrin Kelly is a horror author busily injecting her own style into a genre that can easily get stale and predictable.

At some point in the past, witchcraft was considered the most heinous of crimes. Religious leaders likened it to harlots cavorting with the devil and the mere idea that a woman could be a witch was enough to ensure her untimely demise. See Salem, MA for information on what can and has happened in the past.

Witchcraft has taken a nose-dive as an addition to the horror genre in recent years as more and more people have come to the realization that a bunch of women cavorting with nature isn’t necessarily a bad thing and – gasp! – some of that old-timey nonsense about being Satan’s brides might be total bullshit flung by folks who didn’t understand what was going on or didn’t like the idea that women might have some power.

Avrin Kelly has taken witches back to the bad side of the tracks and let them work their magic on an unsuspecting populace. While it would have been easy to write thirteen tales about women turning people into newts, she took it multiple directions with nary a newt to be found. In some of the best stories you don’t even see the witches, but you feel their eerie powers poking at you in the woods.

These are clever horror stories, running the gamut from creepy-but-kind-of-amusing to Lovecraft-would-dig-this-if-there-were-more-apostrophes-in-the-names. My personal favorite was the last story in the book, a nice slow-burn yarn that didn’t end where I expected it to, but there are plenty of good short stories about witches to be had in here.

Whether it’s around Halloween time, or one of the other 11 (boring) months out of the year; you are going to love these 13 stories from Avrin Kelly…

Dear Reader,
I present thirteen stories to horrify you, make you question existence, and even those around you. Thirteen tales of treachery, magic gone wrong and spells done right. Stories about people, just like you, who had a run-in with a Witch… or who are Witches themselves.
You won’t know who the villains are until the end. You won’t know who the monsters are until they strike, but isn’t that the best part about horror?
The unknown?
If you are feeling particularly brave, I encourage you to explore the uncanny world of Witches, with me as your guide. Snuggle down with this creepy read, and come with me into the depths of wickedness and strange magic. To a place where nothing is ever as it seems, where the danger could be lurking in the shadows behind you or right beside you, in the light.
Thirteen tales of terror; every one of them involving a Witch…

– A handyman recalls the horrifying details of a job he wishes he’d forgotten.
– An overly curious English teacher gets way more than she bargained for when she sets out to solve a mystery concerning her next door neighbor.
– A Witch out for revenge on an unfaithful lover, finds he may have beaten her to the punch.
– A veteran cat burglar underestimates a wealthy old woman in the dead of night.
– A young handyman tells what happened when he went to work with his father one Saturday afternoon.
– A Warlock in college is having issues with his unruly doppelgänger.
– And more… Read “Thirteen Wicked Tales Of Witches” and treat yourself to some twisty, turny (is that a word?) Halloween frights!!!
Signed Sincerely,
Your Guide

avrin

Get it on Amazon

Find her on Twitter

Check out her blog

Check out her YouTube channel

WATWB – Try Talking, It’s Easier Than Fighting

Victor Hugo once said something interesting about enemies. Most people think it was Winston Churchill, but there’s no evidence he ever said “You have enemies? Great. It means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” There is, however, plenty of evidence that Victor Hugo said something similar:

“You have enemies? Why, it is the story of every man who has done a great deed or created a new idea. It is the cloud which thunders around everything that shines. Fame must have enemies, as light must have gnats. Do not bother yourself about it; disdain. Keep your mind serene as you keep your life clear.”

A little less punchy than the supposed Churchill quote, but also more eloquent. Such is Victor Hugo, I guess. On the other hand, Churchill stomped Nazis, so he gets a pass if he was less eloquent than a professional author.

On a somewhat less than related note, I got my first Twitter block last week. I don’t know if that counts as an enemy, but since I’ve only got one, I might need to step up my game.

Anyway, enemies are a part of life and everyone just needs to get cool with that because you can’t please all the people all the time. Even if you manage to find a way to agree with everyone to their faces, you’ll still have enemies; they’ll just smile warmly as they drive daggers into your back. At least with the angry enemies you know they’re coming.

But that doesn’t mean you have to be a dick to everyone you don’t agree with.

I think it would be an understatement to say there’s a crisis of communication in this country. While it would be easy to point fingers at the Tweeter in Chief, I think he’s just a symptom of a long-buried disease that’s been festering under the country’s skin. Not getting along with each other has long been an American tradition. Sure, it’s gotten more and more out of hand, but here’s the thing: It doesn’t have to be that way.

Now, I’m not going to whine about getting along and not making waves. By all means, make waves. Make your voice heard. Speak your opinions. Just realize that not everyone is going to agree with them. And you know what? That’s okay. We don’t all need to share the same thoughts just like we don’t need to make everyone else think the same mad thoughts we have. It’s okay to disagree. It’s actually good to disagree.

In a small room in New York university, researchers are studying how people have difficult conversations on topics ranging from abortion to the Israel/Palestine conflict in the hope that their research will eventually teach people how to talk to each other without ripping throats or resorting to childish Tweets.

Eventually, the research should give us a better understanding of how to have a conversation with someone with strongly-held opposing beliefs. Because, like it or not, we’re all stuck on this rock and need to learn how to get along with each other.

Except Nazis. Fuck those guys.

Read the whole story here

If you’d like to connect your blog and help spread a little joy (or snark, like I do), it’s easy to sign up. Just ask and ye shall receive. Or go check it out here: here.

Our co-hosts for the month are the lovely and talented:
Simon Falk, Mary J Giese, Dan Antion, Shilpa Gargand Damyanti Biswas

~~~GUIDELINES~~~

1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible.

2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.

3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.

5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.

6. To signup, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

This is a Blog Hop!

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Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

And now, your moment of Zen.

aroo
Arooooo.

Book Review – Close Your Eyes by Paul Jessup

One of Orwell’s key ideas in 1984 was the notion that language shaped thought. It wasn’t an altogether outlandish idea, even if he used it in sinister and double plus ungood ways. We need words for our brains to conceptualize things and explain them to other people. Without arguing the efficacy of communication or whether the intended meaning is delivered along with the rest of the message, it’s easy to understand how the languages we use can shape the way we think. Even Abbot’s Flatland touched on this idea when one of his characters was trying to describe the concept of “up” to a group of two-dimensional beings.

As I recall, Abbot’s character got locked up for the heresy of discussing extra dimensions beyond the required two.

Language is at the heart of Paul Jessup’s Close Your Eyes – a collection of two novellas and one short story stitched together into a novel. Each bit has its own flow, but they all work together to tell one meta story.

Jessup uses language as both the crux of the story where language is a virus and he uses language like a surgeon wields a scalpel as he weaves together the tale of a ship adrift in an ocean of stars. In the course of their adventures they stumble across a particularly virulent strain of language that rends sanity in twain. It would seem that even in a world of automatons made of wax and hyper-intelligent ship’s computers, the bug that strikes people down was something no one expected: Language.

It’s a unique way of dealing with diseases. The language in question is almost like a computer virus that infects, propagates, and ultimately consumes its victim’s minds. The novel alludes to the fact that the language has already decimated entire planets.

Jessup has his own style of writing that is unique in all the books I’ve read. At times it’s punchy, direct, and almost Spartan in its usage, at other times it flows with the symmetry of poetry. As if his concept of linguistic viruses wasn’t enough, he uses language to great effect to heighten the more surreal aspects of his world.

Think of Close Your Eyes as sci-fi with a purpose. It would be easy to say the ship’s AI is reminiscent of HAL from 2001 or the linguistic virus as similar to Stephenson’s Snow Crash, but Close Your Eyes goes in different directions. Even if the idea that there is nothing new under the sun is true, that doesn’t mean existing things can’t be rearranged into new and exciting things.

All in all, a good read.

“Language is a virus. Open this book. Read the words. Feel them infect you. Identity is a disease. Flip the pages. Stay up all night. Watch it transform you. You cannot deny it. You cannot close your eyes and shut out the changes. You know you want to. You really want to. But it’s too late. You can’t.

Critically acclaimed author of weird fiction Paul Jessup sends puppets to speak and fight for their masters. Welcome to a far future universe that stretches the imagination to breaking, where a ragtag crew of post-human scavengers rage and love on a small ship in the outer reaches of space, and moon-sized asylums trap the unwary in a labyrinth of experimentation in both identity and sanity.

Welcome to Close Your Eyes, a mind expanding surrealistic space opera that not only includes the out-of-print classic Open Your Eyes, but takes it to whole new level in a much awaited sequel.

Go ahead. Pick it up. Read it. Let it infect you.”

Get your copy on Amazon

Check out Paul’ Blog

 

An Interesting Note About Twitter Writing Tags

When I was learning to program, I didn’t really get coding until I had to do it for a living. It’s all fine and good to understand how variables work or what LINQ does or how to stuff data into a database and get it back out later, but until I was given a task – write a program that will do this thing – I didn’t fully get coding. It was the act of being given a set of requirements and having to figure out how to convince a program to make those requirements work that taught me more than any class ever could.

The same thing happens with martial arts, or digging ditches, or writing blog posts. The theory is one thing, the actuality is something completely different. You can’t learn to dig ditches from a book, you learn to dig ditches by digging ditches. And if you want to get better at digging ditches, dig a lot of ditches.

martialshovels
Ditch digging martial arts. Yes, those are shovels. Trenching shovels have been used as weapons almost as long as they’ve been used as shovels.

It’s a common theme among writers that if you want to get better at writing, write a lot. Practice, after all, makes perfect. As long as the practice isn’t just further encoding bad habits like ending every sentence with “motherfucker”. Unless you’re Samuel L. Jackson, you don’t get to end sentences with “motherfucker” motherfucker.

Writing is supposed to be this free-form exercise of expression – and it is that to a certain extent – but it’s still nice to make some money doing it. To do that, you have to write things that people want to read. There are writers out there that refuse to sacrifice their artistic integrity to make a buck. It’s all fine and good to put on your black turtleneck, grab your ultra lightweight Mac laptop, and sit in a coffee shop all day writing wry observations about things, but if no one will read what you’ve written you’re just wasting time and turtlenecks.

That means writers need to be flexible enough to write things that people want to read, but clever enough to do it their own way. Because unless you’re Sean Penn, your book had better not suck if you want someone to read it. And sometimes that means you need to write something that doesn’t consist of wry observations or an awful lot of anxious alliteration, or , in my case, witty banter and explosions.

This is where breaking out comfort zones is a good thing and one great way to do that is to just do it. Just like with me and programming, sometimes you have to be given a task – write something – and not be able to write what you want about what you feel like writing about. There are writer’s groups out there that emphasize exactly this kind of task. Or you can go a different route and try playing some of the Twitter writing hashtag games. The writer’s group will give you better feedback, but you can play the Twitter games stone drunk in your underwear if you want.

The way all these games work – and you can usually just check Free Writing Events for up-to-date info – is there are daily hashtags that let you write something up and tag it for other people playing the game. Then everyone goes through and checks out the Tweets. Sometimes the themes are tricky to pull off creatively, sometimes they’re just fun. For instance, this morning’s #Thurstale theme was just “Favorite Line”, so Tweet out whatever your favorite line is. This is one of mine from 06/07/18.

#ThruLineThurs, on the other hand, had a distinct theme: Red Herring. There are a lot of ways that could be interpreted, so I decided to have a little fun with it:

Most of the games will have a theme that the Tweet should adhere to. Ideally, you’re supposed to pull a line or two from whatever book you’re working on, but that’s not strictly a requirement. #SlapDashSat is one of the few that’s completely theme-free.

As an added bonus, Twitter writing games are an excellent opportunity to gauge how well a particular line will be received. I’ve had a few lines that I thought were brilliant, but they just laid there like a bored hooker when they hit Twitter. On the other hand, a few throwaway lines like the one about Jennine above, did pretty well and this morose bit of dark humor did great (by my standards, anyway):

The point is, there are very good reasons to play these games. You might not win anything, but the chance to stretch your writing legs and test a few things out is priceless. Do yourself a favor and try ’em out. Let me know and I’ll even retweet you.

Word Up, Yo

Here are some fun (if disputable) facts for you. The total number of words in the English language – at least according to the Oxford English Dictionary – is 171,476. Apparently there can be some dispute about what constitutes a word, so that number is just the total number of words they have listed in the dictionary.

Of that 171,476 words the average person knows between 20,000 and 35,000. Average is the key word here. Not everyone knows what fustian means, let alone cares, so most people tend to avoid that style of writing and speaking. Compared to 171,476, 35,000 seems like a small percentage, but it’s still 35,000 words rattling around in the average person’s skull. Some, like fustian or pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis are just hanging out waiting for an excuse to make the user sound smart, others like instantiate or concatenate pop up frequently in specialized jargon or argot but aren’t used in regular speech or writing.

So, how many words does the average person use during the average day? Anywhere between 1200 and 2000.

That’s it. It’s also been estimated that 95% of writing and speaking can be easily understood with just 1 3/4% of the available words in English. With a vocabulary of only a couple thousand words, anyone can usually get by on a day-to-day basis.

And, to make things even more fun, there’s a theory that most writing should be capped at about the 7th grade level. Why? Because it’s easier to digest information when it’s presented in a simpler format. I’ve read books that rely on complicated sentence structure and flowery prose. While I applaud the author’s linguistic skills, the resulting book is exhausting to read. The reason is because it takes time and effort to parse out the language to get to the heart of the meaning. And, ultimately, it’s all about the meaning. Without meaning, a book is just a bunch of pretty words.

So, why do I bring this up? Well, there’s a little program called Pro Writing Aid that, among other things, analyzes the level of writing in your manuscript. My recent one is showing a 7th grade reading level.

When I first ran the analysis and found that out, I was a bit pissed off. I’ve got a damned Master’s degree after all. How did I manage to write something at that level? Shouldn’t it be at least High School? I mean, sure, I’ve got a penchant for sophomoric humor, but I thought I was presenting it at a higher level. After a little research, I felt a little better because, as I pointed out earlier, the more complicated the sentence, the longer it takes to read and you don’t want to leave a reader feeling exhausted after reading your book. Enthralled, ecstatic, elated, or eviscerated, sure. But not exhausted.

How do you keep writing at a 7th grade level when, unlike me, you’re actually trying to? It turns out a lot of the “rules” we accept as writers wind up dropping us into that magical realm. Short, punchy sentences, avoiding passive voice, keeping things simple instead of going for the complicated words. All these tips to increase readability inadvertently drop the writing level to right around 7th grade. And that, as it turns out, is a good thing.

goodjob

Just for a lark, I ran this post through Pro Writing Aid and let it work its magic. It turns out this post contains 568 words, 274 of which are distinct. The most unique words are:

  1. fustian
  2. pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis
  3. punchy
  4. sophomoric
  5. concatenate

It’s got seven easy-to-read paragraphs and one slightly difficult-to-read paragraph. The average sentence length is 15.4 words (good) and two long sentences (over 18 words, bad). It’s also written at somewhere between a 7th and 8th grade level, which is a little higher than it could be, but that’s probably just the evil effects of fustian and pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.

There you go, your interesting but useless bit of trivia for the day. There’s a very good reason for keeping thing simple: It makes it easier to read and easier-to-read stuff sells better.

Further reading:

Oxford dictionaries

The Economist

Quora

BL Copywriting

#WATWB – Your Monthly Shot of News That Doesn’t Suck

The normal way this monthly shot of good news is supposed to work is I say some witty things and point at a story I found in the news that’s uplifting and then everyone goes away happy.

I’m going to shake things up a bit this month because reasons.

I don’t have  feelgood story to share this month. That’s not necessarily because there’s nothing good going on in the world, I’m sure plenty of people had great days, many kisses were exchanged, and at least one person decided to not scream at that jackass in the Prius who was going way too damned slow and get in the slow lane that’s what it’s there for jerk. Instead, he took a deep breath, turned up the music, and sang along with the Hilltop Hoods.

I’d like to point something out. There’s this prevailing philosophy among Americans that things were better in “the good old days”, back when everything was shiny and new and things were just better, gosh darn it. It’s utter hogwash, if you ask me. The “good old days” were really only good for a certain pale-ish, male-ish segment of the population; everyone else got the shaft. Those days were marked by a lot of social upheaval and violence. Go back even further and you’ll find pestilence, war, famine, crime, disease, you name it.

The point is, it’s easy to look around and say everything sucks. There certainly is a large amount of suck still lurking in the alleys and under the beds of the world, but there’s less suck now than there was. So, why do people pine for the “good old days” when things really aren’t that bad right now?

When I worked at Kinko’s (yes, I did once answer the phone with, “Thank you for calling Kinko’s, your new way to evil), we had to go a week-long brainwashing training session in the basement of the main Albuquerque Kinko’s. I remember two things about that: 1) I hate basement corporate brainwashing events, and 2) people tend to focus on the negative things.

That’s why we like to think things suck ass nowadays, because we perseverate on the bad stuff and ignore the cool stuff going on all around us. We live in a magical time where you can access all the information in the world from your phone, or reach out and communicate instantaneously with people on the other side of the planet, or learn a new language in your pajamas.

So, to help focus on the good things, here’s a list of bad stuff that’s not as prevalent as it used to be. Sure, the world’s not a perfect place, but it gets better bit by bit as long as we let it.

Just to shake up WATWB a bit further, you’re gonna get some homework. Spend a little time thinking about some good stuff and leave it in a comment. Rather than finding the traditional feel-good news story, let’s create our own feel-good stories.

If you’d like to connect your blog and help spread a little joy (or snark, like I do), it’s easy to sign up. Just ask and ye shall receive. Or go check it out here: here.

Our co-hosts for the month are the lovely and talented:
Peter Nena, Andrea Michaels, Inderpreet Kaur Uppal, Shilpa Garg and Damyanti Biswas

~~~GUIDELINES~~~

1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible.

2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.

3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.

5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.

6. To signup, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

This is a Blog Hop!

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

And now, your moment of Zen.