My Creative Process: Generating Ideas

8 07 2021

A stage magician’s soul is forced into a grub eating his mother’s corpse. An abused housemaid is drawn into a world within a kaleidoscope. A steamship doomed by the ghosts of colonialism and personal trauma.

Many people liked my novel “The Flesh Sutra” for the same reason I enjoyed writing it: it had a few digressive “Monsters of the Week” (or rather “of the Chapter”) which added depth and variety to the world, and frankly were also really cool ideas.

I’m working on a sequel and a re-release of an improved “Flesh Sutra”. The sequel’s plot has been fun so far. But the plot is moving too quickly and I think I and the characters need a breather. So I want a “Monster of the Chapter”.

The plot so far: A woman named Gretchen is possessed by Olivia, a transcended spiritualist. Olivia has had keepsakes taken from her and Gretchen is driving across country in a used car, from San Diego to Hartford, to retrieve an item. Olivia is a Strange Attractor and Gretchen sees into the spirit realm. What happens during the road trip? I didn’t want to play where anyone else had played.

The first thing I did was track that trip with Google Maps. I noted what was on that route every mile of the 3000+ drive. (I had decided to keep their car a safe space so as to not disrupt the actual progress). I came up with this list. Then I highlighted the places where I had personal experience. And noted items that would be seen along the way.

List of things along highways: 

Cemeteries, factories, grain silos, truck stops, suburban developments (if you lived here, you’d be home by now), South of the Border, Tourist traps, airports, bays and inlets, bridges (truck hanging off bridge, suicide attempt), railroad, military bases, prisons, rest stops, corn and wheat fields, dangerous turns, crumbling infrastructure, cities, slums, museums, gas stations, zoos, state parks, police barracks, refineries, overpasses driving over neighborhoods (car drives off overpass and disappears), billboard, fairground, racetrack, campground, reservations, recreational farms, casinos, horseback riding services, hospitals, Hard Rock casino, Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk, Blue Gate Resaturant, university, wildlife area, Lake Erie and Sandusky Bay, sports complex, golf course, Splash Lagoon, little colleges, Veterans Administration, museum of glass, Howe Caverns, a museum for an author I found witty but penurious in outlook 

The yellow signifies places where I have personal experience. I put “billboards” in purple because it is a recurring sight and has some horrific potential. The “museum for an author” is the Mark Twain Museum, which Olivia would have an opinion about.

Then I mined TVTropes.com. This wiki is awesome. Its contributors drill down into all media, define their correlations, and link similarities. You can lose hours of your life just wandering through educational, witty, startling critiques. David Lynch talks about “gathering wood” for inspiration, that is, pulling together inspirations. Here’s what I gathered and may use.

An ad for The BBC had a head made of disembodied heads. People complained. 

This Duracell Ultra commercial accidentally evokes this trope. In some of those shots, those little pink Duracell Bunnies look more like a mass of squirming maggots. 

A public service announcement from the USDA APHIS regarding accidentally bringing in invasive species was spoken by a man made out of various insects wearing gentlemanly clothes. He talks to the camera about his desire to spread himself elsewhere, then lifts up an arm and disperses the insects it’s made of. This was intentionally played for creeps. He’s basically the Affably Evil spokesman for their “Hungry Pests” campaign. 

Downplayed example: Azhi Dahaka, a three-headed dragon associated with the Zoroastrian apocalypse, has scorpions instead of blood. 

The Portuguese Man o’ War looks like a floating jellyfish, but is, in fact, a colony of four organisms known as polyps. Its tentacles can grow to twenty metres in length (ten is the average) with a sting that can be very painful. Definitely not something you want to get tangled up with, especially since Portuguese Men o’ War are most commonly found in large groups. 

The Portuguese Man o’ War is one of a number of creatures in the order Siphonophorae, of which there are three suborders. Counted among them is the gigantic Praya dubia, which can grow to lengths of 130ft/40 metres, making them the second-longest marine organism on the planet. 

Clinic is a short film about a series of bizarre, Medical Horror-themed nightmares had by an elderly patient in a hospital. 

Zdzisław Beksiński 

Francisco de Goya‘s “Black Period”. 

Come and See uneasily swirls together the nightmare reality of war with the surreal weirdness of regularnightmares to very disturbing effect. Several sequences in the movie are implausible and downright surreal, and intentionally so. 

The Third Policeman is a darkly comic novel by Irish author Flann O’Brien, best known for his earlier work At Swim-Two-Birds. Written between 1939 and 1940, it didn’t receive publication until 1967, after the author’s death. 

The story concerns an unnamed narrator and his tenant John Divney, both of whom are in dire need of funds (the narrator wishes to publish a commentary on the writings of a philosopher named de Selby; Divney wishes to get married). Divney proposes killing the local miser, Philip Mathers, and stealing his cash-box. However, while the narrator is in the process of retrieving the cash-box, he encounters the ghost of Mathers. Thus begins a series of surreal, disturbing and hilarious adventures as he attempts to recover the money. 

sudden falling 

K-2 is synthetic marijuana that has been banned from Michigan. The drug seems to slow time like regular marijuana, but it gives an extreme high that lasts a short period. It can react poorly in some people and cause them to be confused and dangerous to themselves and the people around them. People who take it can still move freely (if they don’t faint) and can become easily frightened by the strange sensations they are experiencing. Non-violent people will suddenly assault seven people in half an hour. The experience messes with time perception and memory so badly, it can feel like a person has been trapped in some kind of prison for years. It can also cause a user to have periods of what feels like a panic attack monthsafter use. 

There’s also Salvia divinorum, which takes the horror to even more horrifying degrees than K-2. 

These invoked some dread and nausea. Some seemed related to the terrain being crossed, in that the US is steeped in drugs and war. I avoid social issues in writing, because I don’t do it very well. But the drug description had some potential and the war…well…old battlefields and old hatreds fuel a lot of ghost stories.

My next step is to explore this stuff until I’m bored with it. I set it aside and see what ideas pop up this week, next week, whenever.

If you’re interested, I ‘ll keep you posted on what appears.





Writers: Supercharge Your Protagonist

13 09 2018

I haven’t been posting my own comments for a while due to my finishing the first three Lampreyhead novellas (now 90K words total). I’m getting the cover art back from my back-up artist (more about that in a later post). I’ve gone through alpha and beta critiques. I’ve got a launch and sales plan together (another post on that, I promise).

Now, I am trying to write a sequel to “The Flesh Sutra”. Last year, I tried but after almost two drafts at 80K words, I realized I was trying to cram in too much. Did I want a clever revenge horror like Dr. Phibes? Did I want a claustrophobic haunted house like The Haunting of Hill House or something more over the top like Hell House?

Heck! I decided to go for all three and man it went nowhere.

Now, just as I start this next draft, two articles caught my eye and I find them really useful.

This one talks about types of “Leading Characters” with a concentration on Noir tropes. Olivia and Alex fall within the Negative Leads very well, and James Scott Bell at Kill Zone is helping me narrow down which plot type I want to use.

This other post is by Adam-Troy Castro, award winning author of everything from intense and stylish horror to the Gustav Gloop YA series. After 30 years of writing and submitting, I have just begun the character structures Adam so easily describes in his first paragraph. Who would suffer the most? What would a unique character do in an unsuspecting world?

The articles will seem basic to some, and I probably ran into the advice many times before. But the timing is fortunate now and I can use it to best effect in this sequel.





Hey Now! I’m In This!

22 03 2018

Pseudopod.org was one of my first turning points. They liked a story of mine so much, they publshed two of the stories sequels, which became the beginning of my novel “The Flesh Sutra”. This is their 10th Anniversary Special. Look at he names here! Thomas Ligotti! A.C. Wise! Joe Lansdale! If you haven’t tried Pseudopod, please give it a listen. If you know it, maybe donate a couple of dollars. They are great people and at the forefront of making great genre fiction.

Table of Contents I Have a Story for You • essay by Alex Hofelich Notes on the Writing of Horror: A Story • (1985) • novelette by Thomas Ligotti Murmurs of a Voice Foreknown • (2016) • short story by Jon Padgett Stillborn • (1990) • short story by Nina Kiriki Hoffman In the Deepest […]

via For Mortal Things Unsung—A Horror Anthology from Pseudopod, TOC — The Sanguine Woods





This Is How Odd A Writing Life Can Be

15 06 2017

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I’ve been listening to “Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast” so this post is coming out of me in Gilbert Gottfried’s voice.

My new novel is blocked up. I’ve done 80K words on a 50K word novel and at the very least I have another 100K words still to write. I have the bones of a plot but no working POV and the realization that the past nine months have not been fun.

Meanwhile, a friend who has a major publisher connected me with his agent. Great, but all agents are busy and finding one is a part-time job in itself. My publisher sent the agent a copy of “The Flesh Sutra” (WHY HAVEN’T YOU BOUGHT THIS BOOK? NANCY HOLDER SAYS IT’S GOOD AND IT COSTS ONLY 99 CENTS).

No response from the agent, okay. Agents are busy and I’ve got a novel making me question my life.

Response today. Agent wants to know if I have anything in the works.

Yes, my current work is a performance art piece titled “Existential Anguish”.

If you keep submitting for 28 years, you can be like me, a Myers-Briggs INTJ overthinking his existence in a 12X12 bedroom and running low on self-delusion just in time for a big break.

Did I mention that I’m away from my job for three weeks? THREE WEEKS! My writer friends who have lives and families and communities would kill for three weeks off so they can write what would be the next best-selling, multi-award winning novel of the ages. I will probably be watching Netflix and plucking hair off my ears.

The last thing I wanted to do was post about “wah wah the writers life sucks” like all the other writers in Writerdom. I hate being a cliche. I want to offer something useful.

Feh. We’ll see what happens.

 





$0.99 Body Horror: From The Stoker Preliminary Ballot To Your E-Reader

9 03 2017

“I LOVE ‘THE FLESH SUTRA’!”  –  Nancy Holder, NYT Best Selling Horror Author

Only 99 cents to your e-reader from Amazon. Erotic body horror under gaslight. Four Stars on Amazon. Dare to try “The Flesh Sutra”.

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I Seep Toward My Petri Dish: An Update and Story Prompts

5 01 2017

Almost 150 people are following my posts through WordPress. Various others drop by thanks to Facebook, Twitter, and links from where I have published.

Thank you, all of you, for your attention.

I’ve been struggling to figure out what I can do to be worthy of that attention. I can give writing advice, but I keep finding links to other writers that say what I was going to say anyway.

 

feeings-wheel

 

Like this Feelings Wheel. They seem popular, so I’ll keep doing that.

Most of you like strange but true stuff and story prompts.

slime-preview

Like this one where Slime Mold Solves Problems. Read this! It’s so cool! So yeah, I’ll keep doing those.

I’m 35K into a sequel to my Stoker Jury Recommended novel “The Flesh Sutra”.

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Have you read this? Professional writers agree “The Flesh Sutra” is cool.

The working title is “The Flesh Frequency” and it is set in 1971 San Fransisco. It’s not going to be as body horror as TFS, but I’ve got some frightful stuff happening in the Carruthers House as some paranormal investigators go in to figure out strange goings on.
I’m trying to pull a little slight of hand that I saw done in the haunted house movie “Session Nine” (have you seen it? It’s creeeepy!). In the meantime, happy little ideas have allowed me to vent on things I liked about the era, like the music was pretty boss; and about things I do not like, like the predatory sexuality, drug abuse, and the sun-blinded optimism of the times. The Breendoggle makes an appearance. Look that up and get skeeved.

Also, I am working with my publisher Noble Fusion Press to better promote our quality works from our award-winning, attractive authors.

So here I am, my own little slime mold intuiting my way to the petri dish of agar, which for me would be my own quiet apartment in a metropolitan area and a healthy relationship, hoping this year brings you plenty of sugar and other genotypes with which to fuse.

That was forced, yes, but I have to keep an edge.





In Totally Insulated, Unrelated-To-World News, I’ve Got Another Novel and…

10 11 2016

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…I’ve gotten to 13K words in NaNoWriMo.
You all know NaNoWriMo. It’s my first time. I needed some sort of boost, because I’m two novels behind in my Five Year Plan, which ends in December. I’d be needing Beta Readers to give me critiques. Would you like to read the draft?
So far, having a deadline’s been working pretty well. Due to genetics and upbringing, I am suspicious of any sort of organized “fun” activity, but this is working out.
This novel is a sequel to my Stoker long-listed novel “The Flesh Sutra”, which is set in 1890s San Francisco and contains body horror, Tantric sex, ruminations about romantic love, and a dysfunctional relationship between two increasingly powerful mystics. Would you like to be a Beta Reader?
This new novel has a working title “The Flesh Frequency” and is set in 1971 San Francisco.
Weird Stuff count so far:

  • A Jim Morrisson/Brian Wilson analog has his soul imbued in his last recording, to have that recording duplicated over-and-over, so that he is doing the same song over-and-over until his torment goes multi-Platinum.
  • An antiquarian who likes young flesh realizes what coins and lovers have in common, and molds so medallions of smelted gold upon his own body.
  • An aspiring Satanist steals the wrong body and discovers enlightenment is infinitesimally different than death.
  • The protagonist has to choose between a passionless existence and a greater meaning placing all humanity at risk.

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  • Remember Olivia? One word: sokushinbutsu

I have to get to 50K by the end of a holiday month.
Would any of you good people like to be a Beta Reader?

Header photo courtesy of this rather interesting story.





Chewing Out From An Eyesocket Soon At A Bargain Rate

25 09 2016

and other sad fates await later this week! On the preliminary ballot for the 2014 Stoker Awards and ready for your eager eyes. Only $.99 this coming Friday.

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Writing A Light Comedy For My Old Friends Randy and David

6 07 2016

I got back in touch with two brothers I knew in high school, Randy and David. They’ve been living rich, full lives with careers and families and I’ve been Chasing My Muse Lar De Dar.
Back in high school, my nickname was “Exidore” after the character from “Mork and Mindy”. The nickname was quite apt. I was a very wacky kid. I constantly spouted Monty Python, Steve Martin, Robin Williams, George Carlin, Mel Brooks, and all the other comedians from this time the late ‘70s, which was the friggin’ heyday of comedy. I also rattled off character voices, riffed on anything mentioned, and had quite the fast wit. That was the guy they remembered.
So here they were looking up what I had been writing, and I sent them the link to “The Flesh Sutra” which is a study of a dysfunctional relationship in psycho-sexual body horror. To be frank, High-School-Me would have had a morbid fascination with the novel. But I was not one for being into gruesome stuff and had never talked about sex at all.
“Maybe you could write some comedy” messaged Randy, seconded by David.
“You know,” I thought, “I ought to. I should try to get back in touch with that part of myself.” I missed that zany guy I was. That guy was way funny. Surely I can write something in that voice.
I’d burned out my Brit-wit nerve some years ago, no Pratchett or Douglas Adams for me anymore, but I had lots of old Dungeon and Dragons ideas still to work with. So I started writing.
I’d had an idea that the next time I ran in a D&D game I’d try to feed poison to some evil characters and have a dragon eat them. Pretty urgh thing to do, granted, but antiheroes flourish in comedy as long as the people dying are bigger bastards, it would work.
Hmmm. Good antiheroes. Ah! Harry Flashman of the Flashman series! He did some dastardly things and still amused. He’s self-centered and cowardly. Maybe the poisoning is accidental? Nope. Poisoning the adventurers by accident to accidentally poison the dragon is too convenient.
And Kugel from Jack Vance’s “Dying Earth”! Bastardly guy would probably…team up with the dragon. Say, that’s good!
How could he gain the trust of others? Flashman was a sporty and hale looking guy, okay use that. Maybe he’s real young and everyone underestimates him too. He’s an apprentice to a wizard. Not a wizard he kills, that would take away the suspense of being caught by an authority.
The dragon would have to be young, too. Otherwise someone would have killed it already. Okay.
So young wizard makes what…potions? Young potioner, then, and like Blackadder he hates his job and his boss because he’s smarter and more ambitious. So he’s a teen?
Like Beavis from “Beavis and Butthead”? How would he smart enough to make potions? Clueless cruelty like O’Reilly in “A Confederacy of Dunces”? The dragon uses the dope to lure adventurers? Why would the dope keep feeding the adventurers bad potions of fire resistance or whatever. Can’t see that working. The kid and the dragon have to become conspirators.
So he’s callow enough to be maybe sociopathic. By accident, because accidental criminal plots are funny.
OK. The dragon has to be found by accident the first time, otherwise, again, the dragon would have gotten killed way before the story starts. So who’d be dumb enough to wander into a old mine looking for things?
A bunch of aspiring kid adventurers. Why are these kids aspiring adventurers? Because all of society admires adventuring. These kids are the garage band in a culture that reveres adventurers like media stars. The potioner kid wants to be an adventurer too.
The culture is contemporary-ish and the kid is obnoxious. The kid’s name is now “Dagnoxy”.
After the first adventurers are killed, Dagnoxy has to want to kill the dragon. Raise Stakes Number One.
Comes back and feeds group number two the wrong potions. Dragon confronts Dagnoxy. Raise Stakes Number Two.
Negotiates with dragon to bring in groups and split the spoils. Why would the dragon do this?
Because the dragon ate guys who drank a love potion. The dragon is now in love with Dagnoxy.
And so on…
By the end of the draft, Dagnoxy’s killed off maybe a few dozen callow and rude adventurers. Gotten into a tumultuous relationship with the dragon Jilliatrax (I like that name) which yes, had off-screen sex. She is slain by Dagnoxy’s heroes, who turn out to be friends of his neglectful mentor. Facing an odd emptiness from losing the one being who gave a damn about him (and turned out THE LOVE POTION HAD LONG WORN OFF), he sabotages her corpse so her mentor couldn’t sell it for spell components.
By using Vampire Blood. Which turns Jilliatrax into a vampire dragon. She resurrects, promising to reunite later with her lover at an undetermined date.
Mentor is happy to have Dagnox away (lost the “y” to clarify the character is male) and Dagnox pines for the return of his FWB. END.
My writers’ groups beta read and comment. “Is he a bastard or stupid?” “Needs more magic.” My publisher Barbara noted “Show us the pony scene you referenced – I didn’t see it when I read the story.” She is not talking about horses.
I started out wanting to write Blackadder or Ignatius O’Reilly in under a marketable 4K words. I ended up with a 8500 word story about The Talented Mister Ripley murdering a few dozen people and yearning to bump uglies with a new god of darkness.
The market for this story is quite limited. It’s too daffy for the grimdarks, too dragon for the lit-crowd, too murdery for the dragon crowd at “Shimmer” magazine, and not innovative enough for “F&SF” or even “Drabblecast”.
So David and Randy and the kid I once was, have I failed? Dunno. I like the story and frankly have long given up worrying about the state of my muse.
This stuff just happens, man.





I Squeezed StokerCon, Baby.

18 05 2016

I went to StokerCon and got the rewards that’ll build a career.

I want to up my game and begin using conventions to establish business connections. I’ve read dozens of articles over the years on how to network, but had neither the nerve nor the credentials to approach those on the next rung up on the ladder.

  1. This year’s StokerCon was the first to have a full weekend and have lots of workshops with professionals. What did I do?
  2. Assessed my personality. I’m introverted and anxious in general. But if I’m comfortable, I’m glib and pretty damn charming, so I’m told. This was my first “businessy” convention, so to keep up my glibness, I…
  3. …Kept my goals reasonable. If I spoke with editors and agents and was able to pitch my current project, that would be a success. To insure my glibness, I…
  4. …Talked about projects I had described many times. Rehersing would make me nervous (ain’t the way it’s supposed to work, I know, but I’m certain to grow out of this) so I made note only to mention “Diesel Dead” and use “The Flesh Sutra” and its preliminary ballot nod as an introduction/validation. This would work for…
  5. …Speaking with everyone. Not just pros but also my fellow aspirants. We’re all in the same boat, after all. Everyone has something I could learn. This worked well, because…
  6. …Workshops held all types of learning opportunities. Nancy Holder conducted a two hour workshop on discovering physical and mental cues to use when ratcheting up suspense to flat-out horror. Jo Fletcher, Stephen Graham Jones, and agent Ian Drury affirmed what I’d already heard about the market but provided an unexpected opportunity. Another big name’s workshop was a big-time slack-off by said big name, but another attendee found where I can improve another project I’m working on. The convention had other, built-in ways I could learn like…
  7. …editor pitch sessions, which I took one (those slots went quick), and paying a semi-pro editor to review/edit the first 100 pages of DD.

How’d I do?

Three editors want see a synopsis of DD. Ian Drury surprised his workshop by giving those attending a pitch session with him. Had my business card, had my material down, had my glib on. He asked for a synopsis. Meanwhile…

…Nancy Holder’s workshop held a boggling reward. After an arresting two hours, when the attendees milled around waiting to introduce themselves, I gathered my nerve and got out a business card. I walked up to her and said,

“Hi Miss Holder? My name’s Tim Burke and I had a novel on the preliminary ballot for the Stoker’s last year.”

“Really?” she smiled. “I was on the recommending panel. Which one was yours?”

I had forgotten she had been on the panel.

“‘The Flesh Sutra’?”

She gasped. “YOU’RE ‘The Flesh Sutra’? I loved ‘The Flesh Sutra’! I love your novel!”

And Nancy Holder flung her arms around my neck and gave me a big hug.

Yes, this all was worth the money. It’ll be a couple of years before I go across the country, but in terms of business this has helped me in ways I’m still processing.

I stayed a day after the con ended to do Vegas. Ate at buffets: YOU SUCKED HARRAH’S, however CAESAR’S was $60 a plate and was so-o-o good. I hardly ate the next day I was so full.

And I finally got to fire some automatic weapons at Battlefield:Vegas. I’m writing it off as research.

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