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.





Check this out on Amazon

24 02 2022

Turn Your Fandom Into Cash: A Geeky Guide to Turn Your Passion Into a Business (or at least a Side Hustle) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09FSC7D8H/ref=cm_sw_r_apan_glt_4VGJT68S12DVXEGA14RE

Carol has been a friend for decades. She writes reviews for Fandom and is an Grade A Number 1 Nerd. I’m buying this book because I know there will be fun, useful advice.





What I Learned About Writing While My Guts Were An “E” Ticket

15 02 2022

If you don’t understand the headline, an old head can explain it.

This week I’m recovering from food poisoning, probably from raw honey. I don’t know. This week has been a wash. That said, I’ve been doing more reading and listening to podcasts. The books I ordered while I had Covid had arrived and before this latest fresh hell, I got some reading in. I listened to some podcasts and learned two things to apply to my work in progress:

Writing Excuses. When you leave a red herring, have your most liked character notice it first and be distracted by it. I lucked into doing this right because my novel has few characters. And to have a charismatic villain, just give them a goal and turn them loose. Have them make mistakes and vulnerabilities. Did well with this, thanks to guidance from my writing group Noble Fusion.

Body Shocks: Extreme Tales of Body Horror. edited by Ellen Datlow

You don’t need to be queasy about Extreme Body Horror anymore. It seems that prose masters of gore like Ed Lee are no longer considered “Extreme Horror” and are now called “Splatterpunks”. Now “Body Horror” is less about grotesquerie and more about social commentary, as in Cronenburg or Del Toro movies. Look up Sam Miller’s story in Pseudopod for his sequel to Carpernter’s “The Thing” from a queer perspective.

Or look up Johnson’s “Spar”, which won the Nebula for Best Short Story. The collection span this now-seemingly quaint story of amorphous alien sex, to collectors of anatomy, to forced paralysis, to murder victims. There is a being made of candy and I found that a neat idea. The whole book is worth reading. I enjoyed it. My enthusiasm may be a little wrung out from my recent experience, if you catch my drift.

“The Wide Carnivorous Sky” collects John Langan’s stories. Think Stephen King with less monster, more dread. (This is terribly reductive, but I’m dehydrated okay?) I am on the fence about this collection. He writes dense and compelling descriptions, sets just enough mood, then it’s an info dump of a monster or a rather pedestrian kill. Langan is a college professor who teaches fantastic fiction, and he comes up with great ideas. But these stories seem more set-up than execution, so to speak. He does grittier, more lived-in people than King, though, and should be read if for that reason.

All in all, most of what I read from both books seemed less about sensation than about sensibility.

Yet I’m squeamish about Ed Lee, so your milage will vary.

The body is a skeleton wrapped in a meat gundam suit powered by a bowl of electrical jello that may be haunted, all made from stardust, standing on a rock spinning in space. Any of these elements can fail at any time. You’re welcome.





This Week I Had COVID, So This Is What I Did (Hello DirtySciFiBuddha and Literary Titan)

8 01 2022

I’ve been looking through “Idea Book” by Jack Heffron. Heffron uses exercises to find personal experiences as inspiration. I like this and will let you know how this goes.

Here is a found footage movie review site. It is comprehensive and the reviews are thorough.

I won a raffle at my job and got a $50 gift card, which I spent on books, of course. First in is this anthology. William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki The Ghost Finder has been a favorite. Had no idea so many authors wrote occult detectives, including Robert Chambers and Dion Fortune. Many names new to me in the ToC and I’m looking forward to sampling in the coming weeks.





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.

 








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