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.





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!





Serial Killer In Your Town? A Resource For Writers

3 09 2018

The Murder Accountability Project has gathered more unsolved murder cases than the FBI. They have a comprehensive, interactive website detailing murder clusters around the US.

 





New Fave: “Spooked” by NPR

25 08 2018

spooked

How does a story seem “real”?

How can you tell if a story is “true”?

Part of it is the structure. If someone tells a story that they swear is true, yet that story has three-beat escalation and a clean conclusion straight out of “Save The Cat”, then I’d say that someone is embellishing. Fiction has to have a pattern for it to engage our emotions. Real Life is messy, confusing, and often has conclusions or realizations decades after key events.

This is a podcast called “Spooked”. People have contacted the producers with their experiences of the supernatural. There is some great stuff here. Some stories are obvious BS (“Time Warp Saloon” in the ep “Lost In Time”). Others have been embellished (Tale One of “Creepy Crawly”). But others have that off-key clang of truth that gets your imagination moving. Try “The Iron Gate”, the second story of “Creepy Crawly”, or any of “Borderlands”. Really, try any of these episodes and get your creep on.





Creating Tension: Writing Lessons From Balticon 2018

28 05 2018

At Balticon this past Saturday, I watched a panel about Creating Tension with Scott Andrews, Mark L. Van Name, Gail Z. Martin, and Chuck Gannon.

All agreed that for tension to work, the threatened character must be relatable and the stakes recognizable. Maybe summarize the details of what would happen if All Was Lost.

Andrews: It is best to end a chapter with a cliffhanger to keep the reader engaged. Disquietude can act as cliffhanger by using awe, mystery, or curiosity. Entering an awesome new environment can pull the reader into the next chapter. The reveal of an important question can pique curiosity.

Van: Lee Child says unanswered questions keep the reader on edge. In foreshadowing a menace, heighten tension through proximity. For example: the threat is first mentioned, then later detailed, then seen at a distance, then when the protagonist has to hide from it. Morbid humor works, for that read the memoirs of soldiers.

Gail Z. Martin says that Jim Butcher novels will almost resolve a conflict completely, then introduce a last complication.

Gannon says that tragedy is two honorable characters working toward opposing ends (he made clear this was not an original thought, but I can’t remember who he was quoting). Trust your instincts above any plot formula.

Other panels reinforced reading Romancing the Beat and Save the Cat.

 





Love/Hate In SF/F/Horror: I Like Clowns.

25 05 2018

clowns

I love a good clown. Clowns are way underrated. They have deep history, culture, and skills. I believe an individual can fear clowns, certainly. The courophobia trend in our society is drummed up hysteria and a further example of how innocent love of art is shunned. You want to see a skillful, good human being? Harpo Marx, who is the tramp, along with his brothers in the above photo.

I hate when a character who is a Jesus analog has the initials “J.C.”.  Jesse Cutler of “Preacher”. The martyr/healer/magic black man from “The Green Mile”. Lots of others I have blotted out. Yeah, Garth Ennis, it’s all blasphemy, har har. Steve, we get it…he’s really Christalicious.

I love me an innovative monster design! “The Shrike” in the Hyperion novels. The elk-thing in the movie “The Ritual”. I’ll go to Days of Knights and read AD&D modules just to say “Holy Eff this is cool.”

I hate when a story’s Hell is lifted from Dante’s “Inferno”. I tend to be a stickler for reference material, in that a writer should use all of the material or not use it at all. Even Dante says “Inferno” is an allegory and not a roadmap. I can’t take “Inferno” seriously when Dante reserved the 9th Circle for some local politician he despised.

I love a good jerk who does the right thing. I am discovering they are tough to write. What if we replaced Elric with Ignatious O’Reilly from “Confederacy of Dunces”? Maybe Stormbringer could possess O’Reilly’s book of metaphysics or his stained bedsheet?

I hate when I write a draft and find all my characters are two dimensional, like the women are sexpots, or the minorities there to add “veracity” to the setting. To fix this, I give each character her own goals and character arc. I think of a person I know who fits this character and bring my love of that person to that character. But man, that first draft makes me disappointed in myself as a human.

(You may note that I say “love of that person”. I found that when I write a character based on someone I actively hate, or who supports values I despise, that character comes out flat, irritating, and unconvincing. So far, I’d say the trick to good writing is pitting good people against each other.)

I love a good caper. I haven’t read much Donald Westlake, but man is he great! Like Westlake’s stories, I love movies where doofuses pull together for the prize (“It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World”, “Kelly’s Heroes”, “The Ladykillers”).

I hate when the villain is a corporate toady or a mindless soldier. We are surrounded by business owners who are compassionate contributors to our society. We know men and women in the military who are intelligent, kind, and spiritually deep.

I love intimate, tight, even claustrophobic environments. I love stories where the magic or horror could be playing out next door and you’d never know it.

That said, not crazy about home invasions or serial killers. I like plausible, not Torn From Today’s Headlines.  That’s my quirk.

I love a well-written fight scene. Noir has them. Horror does okay by them. But Fantasy fights read like diagrams from Black Belt Magazine. Even martial arts experts will tell you that fights are bloody, clumsy, and usually stupid. Think of a fight you’ve seen. Was it a ballet of violence? Or a rugby scrum with livestock?

I hate that as I write this I have the voice of some grumpy old soothsayer going off in my head. Harlan Ellison. Or just about every other genre columnist who is 50+ years old. Can’t wait to pontificate in a voice I can call my own.

I love all-you-can-eat Chinese Buffet. Just saying.

 

 

 





Deadpool Is More Edgy Than You Think. Your Writing May Benefit….

24 05 2018

 

 

 

deadpool

Does Deadpool want to be transgressive? Or does Deadpool just want a white picket fence with a beautiful breeder wife and family? Or does he want to do whatever’s funny at the time?

This article from The Guardian wonders.

Contrast it with this article from Film Hulk about creating emotional resonance.

Can Deadpool have depth? Can any horror comedy? For such questions, I make comparisons to “Shawn of the Dead”. Surely Shawn of the Dead was evocative and memorable.

But had Shawn of the Dead wanted to be a franchise like Deadpool, I could see only two options. It would have to put off Shawn’s maturing, which would have made Shawn a glib punchline like Ash from “Evil Dead”. Or each sequel would have to be a new life lesson where the character is changed, which could reduce DP’s zany energy to “The Addams Family”.

All of the movies are horror comedy, sure. But I worry that DP is going to burn out quickly cycling through cartoon shocks, like ED did. I like that DP tests boundaries, not only in breaking the fourth wall and its casual inclusiveness. What other superhero is enthusiastic about having children? What other hero fails with such spectacular realism? What hero isn’t a millionaire living in a mansion?

The DC Universe is gritty. Do you care about it? I have a hard time caring, because the heroes seem to care about so little. Is DCU’s grittiness realistic? Not when Superman destroys whole cities without carnage or remorse.

The only thing DP lacked was Negasonic and Yukio bickering. You know, the thing we never see superhero couples doing, especially teens:

Negasonic: “Just swing the chain.” Yukio: “But you like my Gogo Yubari kick!.” N: “We don’t have time!” Y: “You took like a year to power up!”

The Film Crit Hulk and Deadpool have given me a lot to think about.

  1. Back story creates empathy.
  2. Relationships must evolve.
  3. “Grittiness” is not the same as “realism”.

 





Lampreyhead the Mixtape

28 02 2018

I saw that the YA writer Maggie Stievater create music lists for her writing and I thought I’d give that a try.

This is what I listened to while writing. It became background noise that helped me trak when an hour of writing had passed, and frankly I got more done when the earbuds were silent, but listening to it helped me catch the mood of the book.

It has Pirates of Penzance, Bert Williams, Chick Webb, and Brecht to try to convey the burdens from Ned’s age. But I also needed music to remind me he is shallow and wistful, so I went pop. Heino, a kitchy German balladeer, helped remind me of Ned’s German roots. Robert Hazard, Motley Crue, Dinner, Hot Chocolate, Beach Boys, and Funkadelic reinforces Heino’s pop energy. Last, there’s the goth/punk with Nick Cave, Chelsea Wolfe, Xiu Xiu, Suicidal Tendencies, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and a cover by Brak for his pensiveness.

LAMPREYHEAD THE PLAYLIST





You Never Know Where You Will Find Inspiration

9 01 2018

I easily see my 700 year old rejected vampire prototype protagonist as this awkward guitarist. Give this enthused drummer another ten years of hard living and she could be his outspoken sidekick.  I got fashion ideas for both of them from this video.





While Writing The First Draft of A Horror Masterpiece

14 11 2017

vienna-82647_1280Fucking Austrians with their fucking prancy-dancy minuets.

When the vampire has to get a ride home with the werewolf, who drives? What kind of car?

If Van Helsing was Catholic and Jonathan Harker an Anglican, does than mean the Nicean Creed is right? Would a Mormon with a cross repel a vampire? A Unitarian?

Could Satan postpone the Apocalypse until the heat death of the universe?

People usually keep the accent of their youth. Would a 700 year old still have his original accent?

Is “fumagous” a word?

What does rot really smell like?

If my women characters never talk to each other, do I still pass the Bechdel Test?

Are there disparaging names for “Austrians”?

If he’s a wimp on page one, how can I have him do the Insanely Gross Martial Arts Move within a week?

Is it possible for a neurotic character to have a romance and not be Woody Allen?

Can it still be a paranormal romance parody if there is no sex?

If I insult everybody, is it cultural appropriation?

For the cover, do I go with the comical fishhead in front of the naked woman’s abs, or with a man-fish with naked abs?

 

 

 








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