Kij Johnson on Good Ideas

13 05 2022




More Thoughts On WIP and Magick

11 05 2022

Currently figuring out the big climax. All the characters are in one location. I realized I could resolve the Doppelgänger character by having the protagonist realize her core personal conflict. But I’ve got unwieldy cursed tumors and a near-immortal antagonist. How do I deal with them? Rather than be overwhelmed, I waited. I gave myself space and took a couple of days off.

A random listening to the “Psycho Analysis” podcast about Frankenstein gave me an idea — maybe THE idea as to how to resolve them to gruesome satisfaction.

I’m starting to look at publishers and I’m feeling my chest clench again. So, one step at a time. Get it finished first.

It’s worth mentioning that when I began this novel, and was writing from Alecsis’s perspective, I was doom- scrolling seven websites every day, several times a day. My spiritual concerns were limited to “what version of Christianity will keep me out of Hell?” I gnawed at decades-old regrets. My mind had a constant drumbeat of “must do”, “get done”, and “be more”.

At the same time, I was painfully aware that I had only one life, maybe only one opportunity at anything, and I should NOT SCREW UP. Which made mistakes and learning curves difficult.

Now, writing from Olivia’s POV, I am down to doom-scrolling only political Twitter, still several times a day, but a vast improvement. I am accepting that I do not understand myself. I relax more in the moment and do more of what I enjoy. I am comfortable that each person is their own solitary religion, picking through everything that came before. I am a more comfortable and accepting person, and am trying to forgive my mistakes and misunderstandings.

Olivia quested after meaningful goals, while Alecsi worked toward redeeming a mistake that couldn’t be undone. Olivia and Alecsi had both killed Thomas, and both had pledged to improve the world to atone. But in time, Olivia settled into accepting what they had done and making the best of her situation. Alecsi still wanted to be perfect.

I wouldn’t have tried Olivia’s POV if it weren’t for my friends in Noble Fusion Eastern Court. Life dictates Art which guides Life.

Many people I know needed to change their lives so dramatically, they changed their names to allow for that radical growth. Patty put her traumatic childhood behind her by embracing her nickname Bunny. Al put his past behind him by using his middle name Randy. Pseudonyms allow exploration of personas uncomfortable for the artist. Artists performing under their own names talk about their “stage persona”, sometimes referring to that persona as a separate being. Performers talk about how the audience expectations shape their performances, even their performing styles.

This is all kind of Jungian. The story is outside and inside, waiting. It may not be an ingenious work, but it must be told for you to grow.





Is Writing Magick?

3 05 2022

As mentioned before, I am nearing the end of my first-ish draft of “Saints of Flesh”. My primary writing group Noble Fusion Eastern Court have been impressed at how I’ve kept a lot of plates spinning in the plot. The problem now is bringing the plates together while still spinning, stacking them together, then lowering them to the floor to rest in a satisfying manner.

Some days I look at descriptions of other books and think “damn, my stuff is a bit goofy”. Then I look at other books and think “maybe my book is supposed to be a little over the tops like these guys”. I can’t honestly say that I’m writing a book that I’d want to read. I am writing the book that is there in me right now.

There are so many small press publishers out there. I am encouraged by this because having read many small press through Kindle Unlimited, I know I have a solid book. We all know the trick with small press; get a publisher with a good track record. I had been interested in one publisher with a good track record, but then they published something controversial and now have gone to ground. I passed on going to the writers’ fest in Williamsburg VA because I have nothing to market quite yet and I have a reflexive aversion to try to work into existing social groups.

The good thing here is that I do enjoy writing every day. It’s becoming easier to focus on that. Writing has been fun lo these many years, but lately I’m wondering if my subject matter is harming my outlook.

I am anxious and depressed, less so than I used to be, but still it’s something I work on. I had quite an interest in writing humor. Over the years, though, as I discovered that good writing comes from the heart, I lost a lot of my mirth. Jokes still come when I talk with people, but not so much when I write.

Jokes were my way of distracting myself and being endearing to others. Placing a distancing TV frame around everything helped my anxiety. That frame is my earliest childhood memory. So I realized that joking was not so much a choice as a compulsion. Did I choose to daydream all the time? Did I choose to create? Maybe I did.

Humor has disappointed me in these past years. My stabs at sketch comedy and movie production lost their momentum when I needed to risk my ego by going to the next level. I could go on about how comedy in the U.S. relies way too much on improvisation, and how Lorne Michaels is killing creativity, and that I don’t laugh at movies because I can see the stitching in the fabric. I’m still sussing out how I feel, but it just may be that no one makes anything quite to my taste.

Horror became a means of being outrageous with catharsis.

I’ve realized that horror reinforces my anxious view of the world. Someone said somewhere that Horror is Fantasy for atheists, and I agree with that. Is writing horror bad for my health?

A last thing I have noticed: writing is cathartic, but it also helps to process problems at a less-than-aware level. Concentrating on Alecsi in “The Flesh Sutra” reinforced a doomed romanticist perspective. In this book, Olivia is more proactive and does a mind-bending amount of personal examination and growth. These reflect my states of mind during their creation. I would like to experiment with writing a Marty Lou for the purposes of hacking my own psyche, much like Grant Morrisson did with King Mob.





Nearing The End of Draft One, Here Is How My Supernatural Stuff Works

26 04 2022

I’m at 41K words into “Saints of Flesh”, a sequel novel to “The Flesh Sutra”. As I write, I’ve developed a working theory for superhuman capabilities, how they may be achieved, and how societies have appropriated stories of these abilities to support established religions. Join me, won’t you?

The Science of “The Flesh”

  1. Supernatural Ability Latent Within Humanity

Supernatural capabilities seem more created by discipline than by virtue. While discipline does encourage virtue, the powers of the holy seem prevalent among only a select few within those adhering to the discipline. Not all nuns come back as visions.

Superhuman capabilities can be learned. It follows that those predisposed to ability can have the ability enhanced through discipline.

Supernatural or numinous experiences can be provoked by specific stimuli. Magnetic fields, infrasonic sound, strobe light, extremes of exhaustion and pain, concentrated repetition of any type, etc. Religions use resonant spaces, patterns of color, group invocations, and other stimuli to create numinous experiences. These create changes in the brain.

Resistance to cold, heat, fire, fatigue, suffocation are well documented, as well as physical abnormality and genetic mutations that enhance these abilities.

Learned abilities and traits can be inherited genetically.

Generations studying an ability will create generations for whom that ability will be second nature or even enhanced beyond normal capability.

Genes can become latent or regressive.

The human record encompasses over forty generations.

Stories of the paranormal abilities have considerable consistencies that span cultures.

Stories telling of abilities outside these consistencies can be attributed to cultural propaganda.

An ability does not have to be understood by science for that ability to be valid.

Given these statements, we can assume humanity is capable of these abilities: survival of severe mutilation; resistance to fire, cold, suffocation, and electricity; precognition; post-cognition; generation of illusions; influence over people and animals; speaking with spirits; banishment of spirits; remote viewing; astral projection; levitation; bilocation; teleportation; communication with the dead; regeneration even of dead tissue; the curing of illness; revivification of the dead; reincarnation.

Many abilities did not make the cut: telekinesis, telepathy, pyrokinesis, walking on water, control of weather, invocation of earthquakes, creation of matter. These abilities are not generally found throughout the world’s folklore.

Note also there is a difference between a human exhibiting these abilities versus the invocation of an outside force; Moses (who may have not existed and may be propaganda) did not part the Red Sea, but invoked God to do the work.

This is not to say that humanity cannot learn new abilities. That happens in this novel.

This is where writing has led me so far. I’m half-persuaded that this is the truth.

2. How Is It Cultivated?

Supernatural abilities are most often associated with those engaged in sacred rituals or working in sacred spaces. What do these rituals and abilities have in common?

Sensory discipline: the deprivation or over saturation of sound, sight, or activity. Monasteries deprive acolytes of stimulation and force repetition to subsume the ego. Cathedrals and mosques subsume the ego by overwhelming the ego with resonant sound, colorful patterns, and ritual. I have tiny knowledge of shamanisms and other religions, but can make a case the use of drugs or frenzied activity redirecting consciousness.

Inspirations: being told that others have achieved the desired abilities.

3. Conclusions

By distilling the most effective sounds and color patterns, an “ur-sainthood” could unlock latent abilities.

4. But Godhood? And Reincarnation?

Just as science can be mistaken for magic, this ur-sainthood would be mistaken for a supernaturally empowered superiority.

Gods, devils, angels, demons throughout history and all over the world behave like really dopey people. Because these beings are really dopey people who have achieved this ur-sainthood. Religions are attempts to understand these unwieldy, even dangerous beings.

Reincarnation beliefs around the world implies a spiritual realm similar to the Akashic Field or an astral plane, that is a nil-space of pure consciousness. Religions are attempts to understand this realm.

These ideas aren’t new. How do they fulfill the needs of the story?

Two tropes in fantasy fiction bother me greatly. The first is “achieving ability without sacrifice”. Gandalf seems pretty well adjusted to wielding Godhood, which he wields by being born into power. Hogwarts students study books and wave their wands, which works because they were born into it.

IMO, this is bunk. It implies that by luck of birth, the reader too could be supernaturally enabled. It implies that such an enabled person could become well-adjusted within a “Third Age Muggle” world.

It is bunk because in reality, anyone who excels sacrifices anything resembling a normal life. Olympic athletes socially stunt themselves, become exposed to abusers, become the focus of mania and vitriol. Garth Ennis’ “The Boys” better reflects how Gandalf and Hogwarts would be treated in reality.

Related to that, supernatural “sacrifice” is always some variation of something the average bookish person would really want. Gandalf is a loner? Hogwarts keeps to themselves? How are these sacrifices? I cannot speak to other magic systems from other authors, but even if a magician is cutting off body parts to empower themselves, these pains are all voluntary. Did he really need that finger compared to rearranging reality itself?

The second trope that bothers me is “Devastation, Oh Well”. How much carnage have we seen in superhero movies, in both Stars Trek and Wars, in even the Potterverse, and dang no one seems traumatized or shunned. The best example to me is “Supernatural” where as the seasons progress the writers have to up the ante of shock by killing families, then filled diners, then hospitals, then entire towns. But to create pathos, the writers ran out of ideas except for killing every woman character (until the fans got po’d and the two sheriffs were spared).

My preference is for power beyond reason, my characters should suffer beyond reason. For the story to remain plausible, everything should be so small and personal that the world will not notice.

I did that with “The Flesh Sutra” and I’m truly enjoying doing that with “Saints of Flesh”.





Writing Groups! What To look For!

24 02 2022

Breadth of experience. My main group of 20 + years Noble Fusion Eastern Court has Dr. Lawrence Schoen, Nebula nominee and a PhD in Psychology; Barbara E. Hill, a novelist and pharma marketing professional; Buck Dorrance, a retired Navy submariner and nurse anesthetist; Sally Weiner Grotta, who is a global journalist, photographer, and freelance reviewer; and Cathy Petrini, former ghost writer for Sweet Valley High and professional magazine editor.

They cover a range of expertise useful for horror writers from health care procedures to religion to travel.

I have a second group, a less ambitious, more sociable group. My more sociable group has librarians, a degreed physicist, editors, and generally huge fans of fantasy and science fiction.

Very few of these good people are horror fans. So I belong to Online Writers Workshop, which require an annual fee. Check out their website. The rates are reasonable and I was able to read Nicole Cushing and others before they made it big. And it’s nice to be praised by Leah Bobet or Jeanne Cavalos of Odyssey Writers Retreat.

As mentioned in previous posts, always find people who know more than you. Find people more accomplished than you. They inspire and encourage.

This post is brought to you by Main Root Blueberry Soda! I discovered it at a restaurant and man it is filled with blueberry goodness. I found it at a local co-op, but its available online or in some big box stores.

Acclaim is like carving an ice sculpture on a hot summer day. Is it possible to cherish that effort?

Remember to exercise and take your vitamins.





Ok, I’m Inspired by Alexkansas Channel on YouTube.

1 12 2021
THESE VIDEOS ARE WONDERFUL! FUNNY AND CREEPY!




Learn To Write Horror From A New, Unexpected Text

21 06 2021

When I was starting out, I had problems with writing pastiches and using templates. I did not want to have derivative ideas or predictable structure. I admit now that this attitude slowed my progress by many years. Pastiches, fan fiction, formula, filling off the serial numbers are all valid ways to learn craft and I wish I had done that sooner.

It is difficult to find a book on how to write horror. There are essay collections from horror authors. There are “How To” books where one author describes a method of building character and scene. There are books of horror prompts. But there are no books that give a nuts-and-bolts template for horror, plus collect prompts together in one cover.

Now there is a comprehensive text for writing horror and it isn’t even for writing fiction.

I’m talking about the new “Ravenloft” rulebook from Wizards of the Coast.

The tables for character creation are, as usual, great starting points for prompts. However, there are also tables for motivations, settings, plot points, abilities that come with a curse; all of them have at least one cool idea. Some of the settings have analogs to gothic horror, dark folk tales, mythologies, cosmic terrors, ghost stories, and more. The descriptions rival TVTropes.com.

Best of all, it has an actual outline for an adventure with a haunted house, and that outline can be adapted for other horror templates.

How thorough are these tables? Under “Creating A Domain”, I discovered my central character is undergoing all six trauma types listed in “Endless Torment”.

All that and it brings back my favorite playable undead “Brain In A Jar”. Fans are called Jugheadz





I Didn’t Get Published Until I…

16 06 2021

…was honest.

I started submitting stories in August 1989. It took nine years for me to get a story in published in any market. What made the difference? What did I learn?

I stopped looking for the idea that impressed me and went with the feeling that challenged me.

Before, I wrote and rewrote ideas that had striking images. Ones that come to mind: a group of high school friends ditch the body of a police detective investigating their gun cult; a Luftwaffe pilot is washed ashore in his fighter; Romantic Love manifests as a kaiju to destroy civilization; and oh so many more.

Each idea presented a premise, but I did not realize that a premise is not a story. It’s the kernel of a story, sure, but the problem, I had was that I was in love with the inspiring image. Many times, the inspiration of a story does not make it to the final draft. A lot of times, the inspiring image stalls the plot.

The high school students had ditched the policeman on the way to shoot up their school. I had intended to make this scene the Rubicon for these friends, and also the climax of the story. But all they did “on screen” was ditch a body and encounter the ghost of their suicidal friend. I think we all see the story potential is in having the friends disagree about what they had done, up to and including the actual mass shooting. That would require character interaction which would have eclipsed the striking image I had loved.

The Luftwaffe story was the final image of the story. I thought out, well, what would have led to this? I imagined a pilot in 1941 about to crash in the Channel. Suddenly, he finds himself flying around in a fairyland. He panics and flies away with the fairies in chase. He crests through a shimmering light and ends up on the beach, decaying in his cockpit. As George Scithers put it, “both he and the story fall apart.” I did not give the pilot any agency, obviously. I knew something needed to happen in that fairyland, but all the ideas I had would have brought the short story to novella length and probably eclipsed the neat final image.

The Love Kaiju story was a mess. I wanted to write something that really stuck it to the idea of Romance, because hey I was bitter. I wanted to bring home that Romance Destroyed Us and have it happen in our world to bring home that Deep People’s Poet Point I wanted to make. So the Kaiju was in an alternate Earth and the protagonist escapes to our world, only to find the Kaiju was Society. Great Monstrous Image of a rose red kaiju with an immense heart shaped skull, smashing all in its path. But the protagonist had nothing to do but survive and activate whatever to get to our universe.

I had lots of ideas.

What I needed to do, and learned to do, was place a “me” in a real situation and let the situation spool out, and for “me” to react to. So my first story was “me” looking for an introverted friend last seen in a dance club. The club was home to a new craze that included Spooky Health Drinks. I described the puzzlement of finding the friend dancing with abandon. The concern that all in the club looked emaciated and diseased. The alarm that all of the dancers seemed to be one pulsing organism. The terror of discovering that yes, they were one pulsing organism.

I allowed my character to live their lives and I went along to document their feelings. The characters cared about each other. They experienced a range of emotions. The “pulsing organism” image that had inspired the story was still there, but I allowed the story to grow past it.

This became my first publication.

My point is that inspiration is just that: inspiration. The inspiration should not be the end-all of whatever story your characters reveal. “Reveal” is the important word, because it is active. They should work to get to the mind-blowing image, but also work to reveal something about their world and about themselves.





Good Movies Made By People At Home

8 05 2021

These movies have different comedy to horror ratios. If you can handle “X-Files” episodes, you’ll like these movies.

Murder Death Koreatown: This movie leans hard into its Found Footage premise in that there are no production credits at the end, nor any credits in its IMDB page. What looks like a True Crime story turns to Weird Horror.

The protagonist has been laid off from his job and is producing little video projects on his phone instead of looking for work. The townhouse he shares with his sullen girlfriend has an access street behind. One night there are gunshots. A neighbor shot her husband and instead of running for help, he staggers to die near a set of garages. Our protagonist is puzzled and records his investigation. The investigation does a neat trick in riding the edge between the protag’s dissolution and a realization of a Weird Horror. The filmmaker used elements of his neighborhood: bodegas, graffiti, anonymous storefront businesses, street corner preachers, to hint at otherworldly connections.

On Amazon Prime

Leaving DC: Why don’t White people leave their haunted house? “Leaving DC” comes up with an off-beat, elegant answer.

The protagonist is a tech engineer moving from Washington DC to a rather nice house in the West Virginia mountains. Ghostly stuff happens, etc. The man’s money is tied up in the house, but that reason to stay always came up short in other movies. Why doesn’t he leave? *Because he is chronically compulsive*. We first meet him in DC with his OCD Therapy group. We watch him move into his spotless house devoid of personal affects. We watch him crater his relations with a visitor, who then leaves because his house creeps her out. Does he leave? No, he will not be bullied. He will understand what is happening by buying cameras and microphones and scrutinizing the late night flute playing, the apparitions, and the Mysterious Signs In The Woods. Then he will formulate a detailed action plan. The end is inevitable, but like I said, elegant.

On Amazon Prime.

Creep: Movies with tiny casts work if the cast is compelling. This movie’s co-writer and lead Mark Duplass radiates charm.

When his character hires a videographer to come to his remote house and record sentimental messages, you pay attention. Mark’s character reveals traumas, only to admit he lied. He takes menacing objects and gives them absurd histories. The videographer is pulled between getting paid, politeness, and fleeing Mark’s increasing menace.

On Netflix along with its sequel Creep 2.

I guess I like these stories because they are efficient. As writers we are taught to write characters who are flawed with a recent tragedy highlighting those flaws. (Note that Duplass subverts this expectation by implying then denying any tragic backstory, which frustrates and adds to the unease). Writers are told to keep the motivations simple and relatable. Last, stories are to be economic in word and action.

A common criticism in the Amazon comments is that these movies lack strong endings. That makes sense, because none of the characters are given resources for a satisfying character transformation. “Murder Death Koreatown” and “Leaving DC” remains committed to their goals to their unfortunate endings. The time constraints keep the writer from introducing a secondary plot to give impetus to transformation. Changing their minds and fleeing would also bump up their budgets. That said, the videographer in “Creep” does flee and his arc is the more satisfying for it.

Or maybe I’m wrong. The movie “The VVitch” was shot with a cabin, a farm, and a bonfire. The parents each had a heartbreaking transformation. Certainly that movie was great and had few resources, but then it comes back around to character portrayals.

Strong character voice and motive. I’d been fixated on compelling images, but I need to work on characters more.

PS: Happy Birthday, Me!





Hey I’ve Done Artsy Things! Here’s Some Advice…

2 03 2021
I had Chili with Pancakes. This has placed me in an expansive mood. It could have been A Mistake.

As stated in my bio, I’ve been published professionally and have had a novel be received to some critical acclaim. I’ve produced two movies available on Netflix (DVD only) with a clip appearing on “Americas Funniest Home Videos”. Performed sketch and improv comedy on stage. Lived a life and had some struggles. The struggles include clinical depression and anxiety, which I think I’ll write about more as I become comfortable with sharing.

So! Advice about Art! Heed me!

Go Where No One Else Goes. Try music no one else listens to. Read things no one else is reading. Try an unusual movie. It’s not just being into something “before it was cool”. It means finding ideas, plotting, descriptions, moods, to expand your expression. Conversely, if you’ve seen it before, set it aside or find a personal analog. “Why play in someone else’s sandbox?” says Darryl Schweitzer. You could write a werewolf story, or you can sift and find what scares you about werewolves, then come up with your own creation. Use what is unique to you in your work. I watched way too much TV as a child then became a video producer. Readers say that I sequence action, block characters within space, and do dialogue really well. I owe that to my education outside of writing. What do you do well?

You Are Not The Idea. You are not learning to write to turn this one idea into a story. This idea may be a bad idea. You are learning to write storiesssss. You are on a journey of continual frustration which will never end.

The Best Symbolism Is Accidental. “Go deep for the big fish” says David Lynch. I take that to mean that you can tap into deeper emotion if you work with something personal, even idiosyncratic. Every story an editor ever liked was based on my personal experience. When I tried inventing a story from whole-cloth, the plot had no tension. When I tried forcing a moral onto a story, the characters would be flat. Just write a story.

Embarrass Your Mother. I don’t know who first said “write something that would embarrass your mother” but yes, allow yourself to express something unorthodox. Three things will happen: you will discover many others already expressing that same thing; you will clarify a belief you held; or you will make an ass of yourself. You will discover your vulnerabilities and prejudices and you will survive the embarrassment. Which brings me to…

Love Your Accidents. An accident can take you in unexplored directions. If a person looks at our writing and says “I love how you did this obscure thing”, do not say “what the hell are you talking about?”. Your proper response is “yes, I particularly love that obscure thing and you are ingeniously perceptive for having noticed.” This obscure thing has a whole universe of potential behind it. Explore its possibilities. It is a surprise to you, so it will be a surprise to your audience if you maybe explored the accident further.

Keep Your Editors Close, But Keep Your Beta Readers Closer. We write for ourselves, yes, because otherwise we write mush. But when we send the stories out, choose your publications well. Cultivate a relationship with your favorite publishers. Send to them as frequently as possible. Greet the editors at conventions, remind them that you met, tell them what you liked about their recent editions. Be sincere! Editors deal with liars every day and can sense meaningless flattery. As for beta readers…they are your greatest asset and your greatest vulnerability. I have been working with my writers group for almost 30 years. They may know more about me than my family or my counselor. They have allowed me to be base, dumb, disgusting, hostile, and have coached me into writing stories people enjoy. Be gracious to beta readers! Help them as they help you! Forgetting to mention them in an Acknowledgments may turn into a flame war on File 770.com.

Remember: we are always talking to the phantoms of our expectations.








%d bloggers like this: