Seat of the Pants Writing?

Blame it on my history degree, but when I write fiction I still research to add that desired verisimilitude (one of my favorite words, by the way). Take today’s Friday Fictioneers photo (click on the story link below to see the photo by fellow Fictioneer Sandra Crook), for instance. I wanted some context–where it’s located, what’s its significance, and so on. On closer examination, there is oriental writing, but is it Japanese, Chinese, Korean?

No one except the photographer seemed to know, and she didn’t enlighten us, preferring, perhaps, not to limit our creativity. However, I don’t want to plunk my two leprechauns (Seamus and Declan) down if I can’t establish a good reason for them to be there. Though, I concede that’s an interesting concept, considering the photo’s contents–Seamus, Declan, and the Buddha.

Since this is about creativity after all, I did what every good pilot does when the instruments fail–fly by the seat of his/her pants.

Eastern religion has fascinated me for a while, and I’m but a dabbler. The journey to enlightenment isn’t easy and isn’t supposed to be, but the struggle is always within yourself, much as with Islam. (Jihad, that much-abused word, is the inner struggle to be a better person.) Dukkha has been misinterpreted as suffering, but it is more a state of un-satisfaction that keeps you from enlightenment. Sukha or happiness is, of course, transitory and unattainable, a lesson that’s sometimes difficult to learn.

Which is the point of this week’s story, “Dukkha.”

If you don’t see the link on the title, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab at the top of the page and select the story from the drop down list. To read more Friday Fictioneers’ offerings, click on the icon at the end of the story, “Dukkha.”


Spy Flash – Week 24

Here is this week’s roll of the Rory Story Cubes:

And here is what I saw: l. to r. – a die; thinking/pondering; credit card; building a wall/laying bricks; an alien; carrying/burden; asking permission to speak; dropping something; a magnet.

From all that, I got the story, “Pep Talk.” If you don’t see the link on the story title, click on the Spy Flash tab at the top of this page and select the story from the drop-down menu.

If you’d like to give the Story Cube Challenge a try, write a story of any length based on the objects and actions above and post a link to it here.

Just two more weeks, and we’ll be half-way through the year of the story cubes challenge, which means Spy Flash will become a manuscript and then, come December, it’ll be available for your Kindle or as a paperback from I just know you can’t wait. 😉

To NaNo or Not to NaNo This Year

Before you know it, November will be here. November is National Novel Writing Month–the challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in thirty days. I’ve participated since 2008 and have had great fun. In 2008, I still worked full-time and had a travel schedule that was fairly typical for me then–of the thirty days in November, I was on the road for thirteen of them. So, my first NaNoWriMo was 50,000 words in seventeen days.

In 2009 I was freshly retired and starting a new life in a new town, and I was thrilled with the fact that I only had NaNo to focus on for the whole time of the challenge. The next two years were the same.

This year, well, I seem to have a full plate. I have a manuscript I want to submit to a contest, and the window for submissions begins November 15. The MS is in good shape right now, but, of course, before submitting it, I’ll want to go over it thoroughly.

I have a second manuscript–my Spy Flash flash fiction stories–which I’ll complete in mid-October. I’d like to get that out via Kindle Select in December, which means that November would be formatting, editing, double-checking the formatting, more editing and revising–in other words, the final polish.

I also blog three times a week, every week, and I have a novel MS currently in a critique group, which means revisions on that are on-going. So, will I have time to write 1,667 words per day? That certainly has never been an issue in the past, but before I’ve always put everything aside to concentrate on NaNoWriMo.

Writing, as with everything in life, is balance, something I’ve tried to achieve this past year by establishing a writing work schedule. I’ve stuck to it well, except for the submissions part. I did increase that percentage this year–with two successes out of six submissions–but I didn’t submit as consistently as I planned. However, the manuscript I’m submitting to the contest contains forty of my 100-word stories, which I’d saved and accumulated specifically for this contest. That might make up for my slacking off in submitting. At least, I think of it that way.

I’ve come to enjoy the NaNoWriMo camaraderie–both on-line and during local “write-ins”–so much that I can’t imagine not doing it. And this would be a landmark year for me and NaNoWriMo–my fifth year. (I like collecting the little web badges.) I have a project that’s been simmering for a while that I’d like to flesh out more, and NaNoWriMo is perfect for that–it “forces” you to get that first draft down.

So, to NaNo or not to NaNo? That is the question. I’m still pondering the answer.

Fantasy Friday Fictioneers

Again, I’m loving how writing a 100-word story based on a photo prompt is stretching me beyond my genre comfort zone. Frankly, writing a story about pixies or faeries? Not my thing.

Then along comes a stunning photo, and, pop, into your head it comes, and it’s like nothing you’ve ever written before. Oh, you touch on fantasy with your two, little leprechauns, but this is the first time you write a serious fantasy piece–and you get to impart a message, too.

Today’s story is called “Homo Avis.” If you don’t see the link on the title, then click on the Friday Fictioneers tab at the top of the page and select it from the drop-down menu. To read other Friday Fictioneers’ offerings, click on the icon after the story.

Give Friday Fictioneers a try–as in participating and writing a 100-word story–and stretch your comfort zone.

Spy Flash – Week 23

Wednesday is the day I get two prompts: the photo for Friday Fictioneers and the roll of the Rory’s Story Cubes, which I’ve been using for the Spy Flash stories. The inspiration for Friday Fictioneers usually comes pretty quickly, and I have it at least drafted by Thursday so I can let it rest for a day then refine it before putting the story on my blog then posting the link on Friday on Madison Woods’ page.

It’s Spy Flash that’s been giving me some trouble lately, and quite often I’ve posted the Spy Flash story for the previous week a few hours before the next week’s prompt shows up. Meh, what’s a week, you say? Skip one and let it go.

Yes, I could do that, but that would defeat the purpose of writing more, so I’ve kept at it, sometimes giving a Spy Flash story two or three false starts before I had something I was pleased with. And, yes, that’s part of the writing process as well.

So, today was a big surprise. The Friday Fictioneers’ story came to be within moments of seeing the picture–not such a surprise–but so did the Spy Flash idea. Maybe the “reboot” I blogged about a couple of weeks ago finally kicked in. It was another “write like a fool” day–two stories and a blog post (for Politics Wednesday, my political blog). Yay, me!

Here’s this week’s roll of the cubes:

And here’s what I saw: l. to r. – keyhole; bee/sting; digging/filling a hole; listening/hearing; globe/world/earth; reading; tent/teepee; counting money; light bulb/idea.

This week’s story is “Footsteps” and harkens back to how Mai Fisher decided to become a spy. True to the profession, she got blackmailed into it.

If you’d like to give the Rory’s Story Cubes challenge a try, write a story of any length based on the objects and actions in the photo above; then, post a link to your story on Jennie Coughlin’s blog.

If you don’t see the link on the title, “Footsteps,” above, then click on the Spy Flash tab at the top of the page and select the story from the drop-down menu.

Stirring the Pot

Over the weekend I stirred a small controversy when I replied to a post on Facebook. It was a link to a blog post by someone (and I’m leaving out the names to keep the guilty from suing me) who extolled “unedited self-publishing.” This phenomenon, the person indicated, was fresh and new, and this person preferred the name “alt fiction” or “alt lit” for such work. The important thing, the blogger indicated, was that more people were getting published and essentially thumbing their noses at traditional publishing.

Now, I’m all for making traditional publishing reconsider itself (I have self-published and will probably do so again.), but I commented on the Facebook status that I hoped the blog was a parody because reading unedited writing was a waste of my time and energy. Calling it “alt fiction” was just an excuse for not knowing how to write.

I got a long dissertation from someone–not the blog writer–about how narrow-minded I was. Didn’t I know language evolved? Didn’t I know grammar changed over the years? What followed was several paragraphs, un-punctuated and full of typos by the way, about how I was behind the times and too rigid. The whole “write as well as you can and use an editor” thing was a condescension to traditional publishing and why would we want to be like them anyway?

Okay, that’s a possibility. I’ll acknowledge that I’m pedantic about spelling, punctuation, and grammar because I don’t want to read crap. Experiment with language all you want, but if you have an entire book that is essentially a mis-punctuated, misspelled run-on sentence, you’re not breaking etymological ground. Call it “alt lit” if you want, but your readership will be small; and you’ll be lonely in your self-satisfaction.

And, yes, I’m aware grammar, usage, and punctuation evolve. I taught English lit, for Pete’s sake. However, evolution takes time and has to gain almost universal acceptance for real change. I mean, we’re still debating the Oxford comma.

The thing that gets me is that the resources to assure your writing is grammatical, properly punctuated, and makes sense are plentiful and cheap. Not wanting to use them is just laziness and marks you as uninterested in perfecting your craft. And that makes me uninterested in reading what you’ve “written.”

Believe what you will, but I still consider a poorly written, unedited work dreck, not “alt lit” or any other appellation attached to it as an excuse for, well, not knowing how to write.

Spy Flash 22

Here’s this week’s roll of the cubes:

l. to r. – listening; shouting; an eye; a cane; illustrating/drawing a picture; up against a wall/pushing; ticking bomb/checking a present; tossing/throwing/catching; a flashlight

And here’s the link to the story, “Four Seconds.”

Enjoy–and, as usual, if you don’t see the link on the title, yadda, yadda, click on the Spy Flash tab above and select it from the drop-down menu. If you’d like to try your hand at a Story Cubes Challenge, write a story of any length using the actions and objects in the picture above, then post your link on Jennie Coughlin’s blog.

A Sticky Friday Fictioneers

This week’s Friday Fictioneers’ photo prompt might give you a little shiver. I know I did, but I have this thing against spiders. (For those of you who may share my arachnophobia, the picture is of an intricate spider web, not the creepy creature itself.) Thanks to Rochelle Wishoff-Fields for such a fear-inducing and inspiring photo.

Of course, I went right to my fear of spiders, which likely found its origin in some 1950’s B-movie about nuclear fallout creating giant insects. I know I never looked at an ant the same way again after seeing Them.

It’s no surprise either that for the second time in a few weeks, I included a Star Trek reference. Star Trek was the first television series where I paid attention to the writers, not just because they were some of the sci-fi genre’s finest, but because the stories were so good. I wanted to grow up and write like that someday.

This week’s story, “Tangled Webs,” is more horror than sci-fi, but at least I don’t have to look at that picture anymore. [Shudders]

If you don’t see the link on the story title above, go to the top of this page and click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, then select “Tangled Webs” from the drop down list. To read other Friday Fictioneers’ offerings on the photo prompt, click on the icon after the story.

Enjoy, and I hope you don’t dream about giant spiders tonight.

Remembering 9/11

Click here to view my political blog, “Politics Wednesday.” This week’s post, a day early to commemorate the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, is a reprint of an editorial I wrote within a week or so of the event. The original appeared in FAA Aviation News magazine, of which I was the editor from 1991 to 2002.

More Inspiration–Plus Spy Flash 21

I’ve written before about what writers can use as inspiration–a photo, an overheard snippet of conversation, an idea that’s rolled around in your head for years. Some writers are inspired by television programs or popular books and write fan fiction (which some writers then turn into popular, though ill-written, books and make tons of money). Other writers, myself included, get inspiration from actual events and put a fictional twist on them.

This past weekend my Unitarian Universalist fellowship held a used-book sale, and I promised myself I’d be good and not buy any more denizens for my groaning book shelves. Best-laid plans, and all that. A few seconds into browsing, something caught my eye: Intelligence Wars: American Secret History from Hitler to Al-Qaeda by Thomas Powers. Powers’ book is a collection of essays he wrote for various publications on America’s history of spying. At $2.00 for a hardback, how could I, the spy writer, pass that up?

The Table of Contents is a veritable mine of story prompts: “The Conspiracy that Failed,” “Phantom Spies at Los Alamos,” “The Mind of the Assassin,” “Marilyn was the Least of It,” and “The Trouble with the CIA” are just a few examples. Even more than inspiration, this is an excellent reference for delving into the history of the world of intelligence.

However, it wasn’t my new acquisition that inspired me this weekend. Rather, it was a combination of the prompt for Week 21 of the Rory’s Story Cube Challenge and the ghost of executed Romanian Dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. For quite some time now, the ghost of Romania past has bugged me to write about his timely end. I’m not going into length here about Ceausescu and his equally ambitious wife, Elena. You can Google them and get a number of reputable references about Romania under their rule (remember the news stories on Romanian orphans) and how the Eastern European anti-Communist uprisings in 1989 had their bloody culmination in Romania.

And don’t get me wrong. If Ceausescu were still around, he wouldn’t like my portrayal of him or his wife in my story, “Judas Goat.” That just goes to show, you can haunt someone to write about you, but payback’s a bitch.

Here is the roll of the cubes for Week 21:

And here is what I saw: l. to r. – knocking on a door; evil; shouting in anger/angry; eating; thought/thinking; magic/magic wand; flower; sheep; sadness/dismay.

The object that stood out for me was the sheep, and you’ll get the connection to the title, when you read the story, of course.

As usual, if you don’t see the link on the story title above, hover your cursor over the Spy Flash tab at the top of the page and select it from the drop-down menu. If you’d like to give the Story Cubes Challenge a try, write a story of any length based on the picture above, then post a link to it here.