Tag Archives: inspiration

Origfic Bingo Card 01-03-14

Aaah! I finally got up the courage to sign up for a bingo card. I picked the origfic bingo community to start with because they have rolling signups at the start of each month and a more relaxed structure. So! Here is my card:

passion playing hard to get exchanging vows childhood romance lost and found
nightmares exhaustion massage holding one’s ground promises made
betrayal bad news FREE SPACE change of pace pillow talk
forgetting wound(s) hatred romantic gift pet project
a favorite place keeping warm learning a skill cutting edge brand new

(The html gets a little squashed by WordPress, so you can also see the card here as an image.)

I plan to write mostly for my Team Hotel ‘verse. Some of the stories will be made available here to read for free. Some will be set aside for mailing list bonuses. (I’m working on getting a TH list ready for signups, so hang in there!) Some will be assigned to future TH collections and books, depending on how far in the future I end up writing. (Have I mentioned I already have about half a dozen books planned? Including an Alternate Universe collection? And a historical one? Ehehe…)

Prompts will be underlined as I fill them and linked to any stories made available. I know it’s early and no one has seen much of Team Hotel yet, but if you have a character you would love to see more of or a question about something that appeared in a previous story, let me know! I’ll keep it in mind as I write toward my prompts.

Working Review: Our Daily Toast

This time, I am headed over to Toasted Cheese, which is a literary journal, writers’ forum, and writing prompt provider. They have a fantastic monthly calendar, which provides prompts for each day. March particularly impressed me because every Saturday was a genre challenge and anyone who encourages writers to experiment with many genres deserves a pat on the back. Unfortunately, April does not include Saturday genre challenges; I suppose it would be difficult to find enough different genres to do it every month.

The nice thing about these calendars, as opposed to a book of writing prompts or other collections of them, is that it really encourages writing as a daily habit. I know for me, especially now when I am juggling House of Cats and a list of anthologies for which I want to write, writing often turns into something about deadlines and quotas. If I don’t have a deadline hanging over my head, I don’t want to write at all. I start to think, I’ve put in my time for the day, the week, the month, now leave me alone.

But ironically, the discipline of a daily habit makes writing less about what you have to do and more about the joy of storytelling. Because even if I say I must write each day, there are no rules and no demands about subject or, heck, even quality. This is writing as play, as an adult’s recess, as indulgence.

Tuesday’s prompt is “Bangles and Beads: she was obsessed with making jewelry.” But I feel like I should be giving you a bit more than just hi, here’s a site, here’s a snippet, good night. So let me break down for you my process of developing an idea when presented with a prompt.

First of all, my best brainstorming occurs in the shower. The combination of quiet solitude and the automatic movements of washing leave my brain free to tinker with ideas. The shower is where I conquer all my worse blocks and develop ideas from nothing. I break down the elements of the prompt and ask questions about each one. So:

Jewelry: who makes jewelry? –> women, craftsmen, metalworkers, children (I am envisioning the macaroni necklaces I foisted on my mother as a child)

What can they make it out of? –> metal, gems and stones, rope, wood, macaroni, found objects, glass, beads, pearls (found objects and pearls are speaking to me at the moment)

Why do they make it? –> to wear, to sell, to pass the time, to preserve objects, to repurpose objects

From this, I’ve got bored children using found objects to make their own jewelry and pass the time.

Obsessed: what sort of person obsesses? –> perfectionist, hyper focused, avoidance of other issues

Under what circumstances does obsession develop? –> has little else to occupy mind, stressful situations, way to block out unpleasant realities

From this, I’ve got someone in difficult circumstance who can’t do anything to change them, but who needs to focus their attention on something to cope with that stress.

After that, I get to the part that I can’t explain or map out. Once I’ve picked out the details in the prompt and found variations and interpretations that speak to me, my right brain really kicks in and starts putting the tinker toys into new and attractive configurations. I get an image, usually, or a character or a bit of plot. The parts stick together into something that resembles story. Right now, it is the idea of a child in a new land, maybe even a new planet, entertaining herself while her mother works, and the image of a necklace made out of a huge and luminous pearl-like object, which floats above the child’s head in zero gravity while she tries to sleep.

Once I have that kernel of an idea, I can start to develop. POV character is the child. I’ll need a theme if it’s going to be much more than a vignette. Number of words to shoot for and number of scenes I can get out of that based on my average words per scene. Lines describing each scene. A sentence describing the core of the story.

Joanna washes her cereal bowl in a sink with running water, which is a nice change from buckets pulled up from wells or rivers. The bio crisis planets are usually more advanced than the famine planets. Their cottage is right on the beach, so it makes no difference to her if Dr. Claudia Shipman spends the day treating the local livestock — something like a llama and something like the mega rabbits on XMV-671 — for the virus that is killing nine out of every ten. Joanna can amuse herself. If she gets bored of playing by the water, she can go inside, where there are books to read and half-strung necklaces to finish and math lessons to not do.

In the tide pools, Joanna finds a strand of seaweed caught on a colony of anemone-like creatures. She teases it loose from their waving fingers and retreats to the dry sand with it. Where each leaf attaches to the vine, there is a pearl, a bud, a buoy and when the sun has baked some of the water from the vine, these pearls float in the air. The ends of the vine drag in the sand. Looking through its parabola, Joanna sees a knot of tall children scuffing towards her through the sand. She plucks the vine from the air and retreats to the house. She locks the door behind her.

When Joanna lets Dr. Shipman in, she stinks of sick animal. There is mud up to her knees and the mostly washed off remnants of blood on her arms. “Why did you lock the door?”

Joanna shrugs and goes back to the little kitchen table, where she has a thick sewing needle stabbed through the stem of one of the pearls. Its skin is thick and hard like bark. She uses a pair of rusty forceps to pull the needle the rest of the way through. Dr. Shipman goes into the tiny water closet. The water turns on. Joanna slips the needle from the thread and puts it safely away. She holds up the two ends of thread. In the middle, the pearl bobs. Joanna opens her box of beads. She slides a blue stone onto the thread and takes it off again. She tries faceted glass and polished stones. The pearl sags with their weight and floats free again when she takes them off.

The water shuts off. Dr. Shipman sits down at the table wearing the battered flannel robe. “Hey, kiddo, what did you find?” Joanna only thinks of her as “mom” when she wears it. The rest of the time, she calls her Dr. Shipman like everyone else on every planet they visit.

Joanna tries red and orange and yellow beads, all down the list of colors she has neatly organized, and takes every one off again. “Found it on the beach,” she says.

“That’s called moon tree. The floaters are filled with lighter-than-air gasses. That’s how the plant floats high enough to get sunlight underwater.” She goes to fix dinner when Joanna just keeps working.

Over chicken and rice MREs, Dr. Shipman says, “It looks like we’ll be here for a few more weeks.”

Joanna pushes her fork through her food. “Fine.” At eye level, the pearl drifts, the ends of thread looped around her off hand.

Dr. Shipman lets out a loud sigh. “Do you want to go to classes at the school?”

“No, thank you. I’ll do my lessons here.” When the table is cleared, Joanna just knots the ends of the thread behind her neck. In bed, with the two moons shining through her window, Joanna catches the pearl in her mouth. It tastes of sea water. She lets it go and a third moon rises over her planet. It is a moon she can carry with her when she leaves in two weeks or two months, whenever this assignment ends and the next one comes in.

I think I must have been reading something written in present tense because I did not notice until the second section that I had started writing in it. I’m a strictly past tense sort of person usually. I feel pretty strongly that I would like to finish this story some time. It hits a whole bunch of my favorite things: new worlds; awkward childhoods and parent-child relationships; animals and medicine; crafts; weird flora and fauna; rural settings; and issues of loneliness and independence.

I did not in fact go through all the development I described earlier, since I knew I would not be doing the full story within the confines of this article. So I can see that I don’t have enough overt conflict driving the story forward. I’m still just drifting in the area of “mood,” which is fine for practice, but makes for deadly dull fiction. But it is exactly what I imagined when I first started thinking about someone obsessed with making jewelry.

This is the first time I have written science fiction, though I admit I have taken the soft science approach. Which is another fringe benefit of following these calendar challenges: if you write long enough and often enough, it is my belief that, to keep from boring yourself, you will eventually have to branch into new genres. This, as I mention, can only be a good thing.

Divine Revelation

I was in the bookstore today, browsing the writing reference section, from which I have been rightly banned by my loved ones who keep having to lend me money for books, when I came across Illustrating Children’s Picture Books. The first page I opened to was a case study on Elusive Moose, illustrated by Clare Beaton, which has hand-sewn artwork made from linen and felt and rope and all manner of goodies.

Whoa. Full stop. My god, the ways in which I want to do this, this of all things. Yes, please.

I’m planning how I can do an illustrated version of Save Yourself. I am slightly hindered by the fact that I have absolutely no experience with anything even loosely labeled as “art.” But I am not going to let that deter me. I am full of stitchy goodness and I am on a goddamn mission. This will be amazing.

Working Review: Acceptable Randomness

Apart from a collection of books on writing, I also have a handful of writing programs on the computer. Sometimes I found them because I had a specific need – note card programs, for example – and sometimes I just stumbled upon them and thought I might have need of them someday. One is WriteSparks!, which is a sort of combination of Write or Die and a book of prompts. The program has a built-in timer and window to write, but it also has a series (shorter or longer depending on how much, if anything, you pay for it) of prompt generators. It can give you random words, a first line, or even a sketch of theme and character.

When I go looking for a prompt in one of my books, I go in with an eye for “no.” No, I don’t want to write any prompt about my childhood. No, I don’t feel like writing about a teacher today. No, this sounds boring. No. This is not a bad thing necessarily. I’m looking for a prompt that clarifies what it is I do want to write. Something to which I can say, yes, that hits the spot.

But the more I allow myself to reject ideas because they don’t sound right, the harder it becomes to write outside of my comfort zone. I find prompts that let me write the same thing over and over. Sometimes, though, even if I don’t want a challenge, I need one. So this time, I’m going to dive into WriteSparks!, let it hurl randomness at my head, and just write what I can. Back in twenty.

There was once a chance I didn’t take, which sounds a lot more sensible than it really was. Looking out the windows of our sixth-grade classroom, James and I could see out over the town and watch the greasy smear of rain that had started to fall a few miles out.

“If it’s not raining here *yet*,” I said while morosely pushing a red toy race car across my desk, “why do we have to spend recess inside?”

From his perch in the window, James clouded the glass with his breath. “Dunno. Hey, Ms. Patrick, how come we’re stuck inside if it’s not raining?”

Ms. Patrick, our teacher, gestured out the window with a wedge of apple from her lunch. “It’s cold and windy. And probably will be raining in ten minutes.” She took a bite of apple. “Besides, there’s lightning out there,” she said around the slush of apple. Ms. Patrick was young and too fun to be a real teacher. We suspected she was secretly a FBI agent, undercover to infiltrate of ring of child slavers. James and I read a lot of comic books and pulps in those days.

“Lightning’s better than nothing,” James said.

“Well I haven’t seen any,” I complained.

James clouded the window again and drew a bolt of lightning, like the Flash’s logo, on the pane. “There you go,” he said.

“Gee, thanks,” I said and pushed my car so it raced off the edge of the desk and clattered to the thinly carpeted floor. I bent to pick it up, but James had already swept it up. He twirled his chair around and set it by my desk. When he sat, his legs stretched under my seat. Across from him, mine seemed to barely touch the floor. James had started growing early, the same time as all the girls, so that only Megan, in her knee socks and braces, looked down at him.

“Quit yer whining, or I won’t show you what I found,” he said in a low voice. He had both his hands jammed deep in the pockets of his blue school windbreaker.

I leaned forward, keeping one eye on Ms. Patrick, still seated at her desk behind James’s back. With any other kid, I might have expected an interesting bottle cap, a dirty magazine stolen from a big brother’s room, or maybe a particularly weird bug. But when James found things, there were different. “What is it this time?” I asked, boredom forgotten.

James took his right hand from his jacket with theatrical slowness. He opened his loosely curled fist and held out his palm. It was about the size of an eraser or a cigarette lighter. It was green, mostly, except where some dark slag of metallic rock crusted it like barnacles. The unblemished parts had been cut or chipped into uneven planes, like the way the Indians made arrowheads, to form a slightly serrated blade.

“Is it sharp?” I asked as I reached for it. “Where’d you find it?” I picked it up between two fingers kept carefully on the lumpy parts. The light shone through it, casting pale emerald shadows on my khaki shorts. I kept it low in my lap, out of sight for the twenty other boys and girls in the room, occupied with games of checkers and B.S. and truth or dare.

“Dan picked me up from school yesterday with his friends.” Dan was James’s oldest brother, seventeen and mean enough that the bullies in our class left James alone, for fear of infringing on Dan’s territory. “They dumped me at the old house at the top of Bradley.”

The Bradley place was the local haunted house and was home, according to rumor, to a bewildering array of witches, vampires, ghosts and demons. The brave tested their spirits and their luck by running up and knocking on the door, an act punishable by the loss of your soul. If anyone lived there, we never saw them.

“You went inside?” I asked. That was reckless, even for James.

“Naw, I went around back. I found this sticking up out of the dirt.”

I turned it over in my hands, but carefully. “What do you think it is?”

“Dunno. A spearhead? Maybe–”

I saw Ms. Patrick move before she really had. Years of being lookout for James made me good at reading body language. So by the time she said, “Boys,” in a stern voice, I had tossed the strange stone back to James. He hissed when he caught it, but shoved his hand in his pocket before I could see if it had cut him. Over James’s shoulder, I watched Ms. Patrick move away to scold Chris and Nick instead of us.

Coast clear, James took his hand out and looked at his fingers. I expected to see a cut, maybe even blood. Being a twelve-year-old boy, I actually expected to see bone. But there was nothing. Not in the sense of no injury. Where the tip of his middle finger should have been, James had empty air. We looked at each other and we looked at his hand. In unison, we said, “Amulet of invisibility,” with immense respect. A little more of him disappeared each second, spreading to his other fingers like a widening puddle.

But when I reached out to touch his invisible fingers, my own just kept going. They met no resistance. James flexed his hand. “I can feel something,” he said, sounding a little scared under all the excitement. “Like warm sand or something. And a breeze. I think there’s something there.”

“Quick, give me that,” I said, reaching for his jacket pocket before he could try to fish the stone out with just his palm still left. The chance I did not take was that James would go off on an adventure without me. I would not be left behind. James was disappearing faster now; most of his right arm was missing. I slid the edge of the stone across my hand. There was a flash of perfectly ordinary pain and I thought for a moment that it had been good for only one use.

But when I looked, there was a window in my finger through which I could see the carpet and my shorts and, when I raised it, a sliver of James’s face. And while the rest of me felt the cold and damp in our classroom, one inch of my hand felt heat and pebbly sand. James grinned and grabbed my remaining hand in his. Around us, the other kids played normal games in a dingy room. James and I closed our eyes and faded away.

Ah, refreshing! That was really fun, though definitely more than the twenty minutes I originally set aside. My prompts were: “there was once a chance I didn’t take” for first line; the mixed proverb “lightning is better than nothing”; and the random words little boy, glass, school playground, and race car. The stone started out being broken glass in my mind and the playground was in the story only in terms of its absence, but I think I got everything else in there.

When I read the prompts, the whole scene appeared for me, except for the ending, what happens after James gets cut. But it gave me the spot I needed to make it a fantasy, not just a slice of life scene, because where would I be without fantasy? I do find it funny, though, that after making my list of no’s above, I ended up with a story about childhood and teachers (I’ll leave the question of boring to you). I tried to stay as far out of my usual areas as possible: first person instead of third; males instead of females; and young kids instead of young adults. I have tried to write children before, with fairly disastrous results, but I’m rather happy with this. It felt more like something out of my own, real childhood than my earlier attempts have.

WriteSparks! Lite, the free version, “contains over a month’s worth of sparks,” according to their site, all conveniently accessible from the one window. Some, like random words and first lines, are fairly traditional. I found the mixed metaphor and mixed proverb categories intriguingly different from the standard prompt fare. The free version is, I think, a good value. The Premium version, which promises fifteen generators instead of seven, costs $77. This seems a bit steep to me, when you could use random generator sites like Seventh Sanctum and the timer and word processor combo of your choice to do this on your own. But if you like the all-in-one package, which lets you have timer, prompt, and typing area in one plain, distraction-free, full-screen window, WriteSparks! might be a good investment.

Other People’s Brilliance…

…always inspires me to do more. Holly Lisle just posted an announcement about her next project, a collaboration between her writing and her daughter’s jewelry making. It sounds incredibly cool from the perspective of a potential reader and buyer of unique jewelry (one of my many financially prohibited interests).

But from the perspective of a writer, I am greedily rubbing my hands together, saying, “That! That is what I want to do!” I love multimedia crossovers of any shape, form or description. Within in that I include such traditional creations as illustrated novels and comics and such new oddities as Level 26 (which I really, really ought to get around to reading, as long as I have a copy from San Diego Comic-Con). And I want so badly to do something like this for myself.

Even as I work on HoC, I am envisioning what I would like to do next for Sunday Brunch. I’m no where near making a decision on what that will be, but news like this from Holly just makes me more determined to step up my efforts next time. I’m learning as I write HoC what works and what does not. I’m slowly building a picture of what that next project will need to look like and what I’m going to need to do to make it happen. But I’m also becoming more confident with every chapter that goes up as proof that I can really make this happen. And that confidence is driving me to do something really wild.

For the moment, I have HoC to concentrate on and NaNoWriMo goals to meet. But in the back of my mind, wonderful things are taking shape. I can’t wait to know what they will be and share them with someone else. I can’t wait to see what I’m capable of. Good things are waiting out there in the future for me; I’m sure of that much at least.