Mired in the Blog

Project Semicolon

Project Semicolon (The Semicolon Project) is a faith-based non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and love to those who are struggling with depression, suicide, addiction and self-injury. Project Semicolon exists to encourage, love and inspire.

A little over a month ago, a blog article came up in my “Writers” news feed simply titled “the semicolon project” by Heather Parrie. The synopsis implied it was related to mental health and writing, two topics that are close to me as the creator of straitjacketwriters.com, so I clicked through and read the article.

If you haven’t done so, I highly recommend you do now (convenient link).

For those who don’t have time to read the whole thing right now, the summary from the Project Semicolon website: “A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.”

Depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses are very much (more…)

Writing Prompt – Details are Everything

I like picture prompts. I like to look at them and see the obvious story, then I like to try to come up with something NOT obvious. I do that by looking carefully at the details of the image. Is there a bug in the corner? Maybe that’s the bad guy. Is there a wrinkle in the shirt? Maybe it’s hiding something sinister. Is there a Photoshop error? Maybe this whole image is a hologram. What is it hiding?

Can you do that? Write a quick sentence or two about the obvious story behind the picture, then look for the small details and come up with a couple of sentences to show a not-so-obvious tale.

Speculative fiction, art and poetry are all about the unknown, the unseen, the overlooked. We have to be the ones to carve those moments out and bring them to the attention of others. It’s a higher calling, people. We owe the human race something amazing. And PLEASE! For the love of human interaction, share your ideas in the comments!

NUMBER ONE

waterpeople

Obvious: Diver stumbles across sunken statues of people. (Do not write this!)

 

NUMBER TWO

ladyhitchhiker

Obvious: Chick sitting on the side of the road, probably running from a bad situation. (Do not write about this either! And am I the only one who’s calves get chaffed when I wear boots without socks? Ouch.)

 

NUMBER THREE

invisiblewoman

 

Obvious: Invisible woman reading a book in the park. (Sorry, too easy, come up with something better!)

Hurry Up & Wait

I’m up to my eyeballs in edits and slush for the Summer issue of QFT. The team is digging through submissions as fast as we can right now, but we’re still getting emails from artists, poets, and writers asking – DO YOU WANT ME OR NOT???

 

The answer is – I DO NOT KNOW!

Well, for some of you, I know. But it isn’t time to send out replies yet. Everything has a time and a season here at QFT. We roll in a very carefully organized fashion with lots of time for pool breaks. (The unicorns get restless if we don’t let them swim every afternoon.)

What I do know is – I FEEL YOUR PAIN!

I’m a writer myself. I’ve sent out submissions and queries like a bat on fire and received nothing but crickets from most of them.  It hurts! It kills the little goblin inside of me that is aching to run full speed into the next contract and publication.

But it’s a necessary evil. Just like the big bad wolf, the wicked witch of the west or Voldemort – you’ve got to have the bad in order to appreciate the good. We have to work our tails off and jump through the hoops, then wait. And wait. And wait. And wonder. And wait. And most importantly, keep creating.

Are you sitting down? I have FOUR books out with folks big and small right now. FOUR. WHOLE. BOOKS. I can do nothing with those books until I hear back from those people. Nothing. I have to sit on those stories, maybe write down a few ideas, but really, if I want to make the most of my time, I have to wait. And chances are very likely that all four will get back to me at the same time and my brain will explode.

So in the mean time, while I’m sitting around on my thumbs waiting to hear about my books, I’m reading your stories, going over your poetry, helping sort through your art, and the team is working hard to put together something wonderful for you to read this summer while you wait.

And I can tell you one other thing I know for sure – QFT is the only webzine (that we know of) that replies to every single submission with a personal reply and advice for those who are not accepted for publication. So, sometimes it takes us a bit longer to get back to you. But we hope what you are receiving means something to you. Please remember that it takes a lot to skip the form rejection mode of publication. It takes time, effort and brain cells that a lot of us are running short on (in all three areas) but we are happy to give them to you. And we are very happy that you are sharing your art with us.

Just remember that while you wait, for us or anyone else to get back with you, to stay busy. Start something new. Join a writing group. Try a writing prompt. QFT has great prompts every Thursday. Or hey, join the Unicorns in the pool. After all, life is what happens while we’re waiting around.

Thursday Prompt: Finding your Secret Space

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On Tuesday I talked about podcasts that inspire me as a writer, and I can’t believe I left off my very favorite one! TED Talks! They are the best. Honestly, if you’ve never listened to a TED Talk, just do a Google search and find anything that sounds interesting. There are hundreds of them. I like them because they’re short, fascinating, and have a huge range of topics that can inspire ideas or inspire you as a creative person (like this list of 10 talks from authors).

Today’s writing prompt involves one of my favorite talks for writers, Mac Barnett’s Why a Good Book is a Secret Door.

Listen to the podcast, you can listen online or on your phone or wherever, and inspired by his talk about stores of pirate goods and time travel, tells us about a place you’ve been that inspire you as a creative person. Write it down in great detail–all the tiny little particulars–and use your five senses to relive what it’s like to be in that space. Give your reader a sense of why you feel inspired in that space by showing, not telling, all about it.

We’d love for you to share in the comments!

Podcasts for Writerly Types

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Podcasts are one of my favorite ways to feel engaged with the creative community and feel like I’m learning something new. When I can’t sit and pick up a book, I can often turn on a podcast and listen while I fold laundry or clean the kitchen or drive to appointments. They’re free, easy to download, and they make me feel like I’m being more productive than listening to Taylor Swift’s newest album for the billionth time.

I’ve listened to dozens of them over the years. Some are better than others, and of course different people will prefer different personalities and podcast styles, but here are the top five I think every writer should check out:

ONE: Writing Excuses

This one is in its tenth season, so they have podcasting down to an art. Their tagline is “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.” I like that it’s short and organized and to the point. I like that it has great authors (like Brandon Sanderson) sharing what they’ve learned. I like that there are different types of writers in the cast, and they often bring on guests. The only drawbacks to this one are their tangents can sometimes get annoying (and a couple of the cast are particularly prone to tangents), and if you’ve listened to it for ten seasons, it can often feel repetitive.

BUT. If you’re a writer who is new to podcasts, this is definitely the place to start. They’ve won dozens of awards, and they really know their stuff.

TWO: First Draft with Sarah Enni

This is one of my favorites. Enni travels around the country on a long road trip, interviewing different authors in their homes or hometown. This one is like being part of an intimate conversation with best friends. You get a great sense of each author’s personality, and I like that Enni focuses on authors that are relevant NOW and understand the current markets and publication processes. The only drawback to this one, in my opinion, is that often they’ll meet at cafes or the author will have dogs or kids yelling in the background. They don’t do high-quality recording sessions, and sometimes it’s super annoying. If I wanted to listen to kids yelling, I’d turn off the podcast and listen to my own. Still, this one is a great source of information for aspiring writers, and I think Enni is a personable, likeable host.

THREE: Radio West

This one isn’t writing specific, and I may be biased because it records close to home, but I think it has the most interesting range of topics and ideas. They do shows on everything from authors to religion to science to current events. I think the host, Doug Fabrizio, is one of the smartest, most well read, most empathetic and engaging hosts out there. This week alone, I’ve listened to podcasts about Lewis Carol, Climate Change, FBI Terrorist Informants, and which pirate clichés are true and where they come from. Even topics that I don’t think will interest me often draw me in once they start talking, and I’ve incorporated the ideas into more than a few stories. I also like the occasional break from writing specific chatter, and this one makes me feel smart and well rounded.

FOUR: Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips

This is exactly what the title sounds like—quick discussions on grammar. This is perfect for writers because it covers use of grammar, punctuation, and usage that will make all of us better at our craft. The host, Mignon Fogarty, gives a lot of examples and somehow manages to make the discussion of grammar fun and engaging. You’ll like it so much, you’ll forget you’re learning!

FIVE: This Creative Life with Sara Zarr

Similar in format to First Draft, I like the one-on-one style that Sara Zarr uses to interview various authors. I feel like she has a wide range of genres and categories in the authors she interviews, and she is really sharp. If I had to compare the two, First Draft’s Enni has a list of questions that you’ll hear repeated for each author. I like that format, but I also like that this one seems more organic and the conversation takes different twists, depending on the author and the things she/he wants to focus on. It’s a different style, but still intimate, informative, and fun to listen to.


 

Honorable Mentions (because who can stick to five?)

The Writing Show

This one might not appeal to everyone. The hosts have very distinctive personalities, and it’s not as uniform as other podcasts. The thing I like about it is that it covers a wide range of topics from genres to screenplay writing to rules of writing. It’s a great podcast that brings on established writers to talk about different aspects of their writing and careers.

I Should be Writing/Ditch Diggers

Mur Lafferty runs both of these podcasts. I Should be Writing is her own reflections on writing life and usually a short interview. It’s very personal and introspective. I don’t love her co-host on Ditch Diggers, but it’s interesting because it’s more business focused where I Should be Writing is about creative processes and self. Both are worth checking out.

This American Life

This should probably be in the top five, but this podcast is great with storytelling, setting different moods, engaging the audience—all tools writers need to use. It can be sad or hilarious, but regardless of the topic, it’s always fun!

The Legendarium

This one is more focused on fantasy, particularly Tolkien and Sanderson, but they’ll deviate to talk about Lovecraft, super heroes, horror, new movies, etc. I like that their focus is usually based on current issues and pop culture. For example, not just The Lord of the Rings, but the role of women in The Lord of the Rings. It’s a fun listen if you’re into fantasy and/or pop culture.

Serial

This is a podcast that focuses on one story for an entire season. If you haven’t listened to the first season, GO NOW! It’s perfect for writers because it has spot-on storytelling. It has perfect structure for writing chapters. It gives you just the information you need, as you need it, shows how to incorporate back-story, and makes you feel like you’ll explode because you have to wait for the next episode. We could all learn a lot about storytelling from the way host Sarah Koenig leads us through the narrative. (I must like Sarahs. There are a lot of them in this post!)

The Author Hangout

A great tool for learning how to market books and use social media as an author.

The History Chicks

Awesome podcast that focuses on women in history. It showcases specific women, random groups of women like the women from Oz or Tudor grandmothers, and is an entertaining way to learn more about history from the perspective of women. Great inspiration for characters!

And that’s my list! Hopefully you’ve found something worth checking out. I know that I have a lot of fun listening to podcasts, and I think I’m more informed and a better writer for taking the time to listen.

What about you? Any writerly podcasts you love that I’ve missed?

Thursday Writing Prompt: Karma

Today’s writing prompt comes from Writing Forward.

After a near-death experience, a soldier starts to experience a drastic kind of karma–every good deed he does is almost immediately rewarded and every bad deed results in something horrible happening to him. Is the karma real or just a series of coincidences?

Share where you would go with this story in the comments below.

 

The Physics behind a Superhero Save

At one point or another, most of us have probably seen a superhero movie where someone like Superman, Spiderman, or in this case, Thor rescues another person who is falling to their death. Check out this movie clip from Avengers: Age of Ultron for example:

In this clip, we have a woman freefalling to her doom in her car. Luckily, Thor comes to save the day by grabbing the woman’s arm and flinging her upward for Captain America to catch and hoist up to safety. When seeing this part of the movie, many of us might have been relieved that this woman was saved and thought nothing more of it. My physicist husband, however, did not have the same reaction. This is what he was thinking:

If someone is freefalling for about 12 seconds, they would be going roughly 260 miles per hour (neglecting air resistance). With Thor grabbing the woman’s arm and changing her direction as fast as he did, it would put about 33 thousand newtons of force on her arm. That is the same force of a person trying to hold up 7,500 pounds of weight on one arm.

There is no clear consensus on how much force is required to rip off a human arm (I tried researching this, but unfortunately, there just isn’t much data on this subject), but I have the feeling if this clip were real life, Captain America might be catching an arm without a woman attached.

Feature Friday: Haw by Sean Jackson

Haw just Front Cover Literature has a dramatic effect upon the way we think, socially and politically. It’s just a matter of whether writers want to address these larger issues. I understand the desire to write for a larger audience, but I’ve always felt that if you’re not bringing something new to the table, if you’re not agreeing to a dare of some kind, then you are probably cheating yourself.

Unchecked power corrupts and destroys. That’s the nut graph of my debut novel, Haw. Expanding out from there, I explore the possibility that future generations could become even lazier with holding their governments accountable. You cede more power to a ruling entity, it only craves more power. It’s a vampire-and-host relationship. The people become weaker, the rulers grow stronger. Scarce resources cause white populations to systematically destroy dark-skinned people. Unfortunately, violence is the only remedy to the problems of the future landscape in Haw. I think we’ve seen that in America recently in places like Ferguson and Baltimore.

Mitch Cullin (Tideland, A Slight Trick of the Mind) describes the novel as a potentially seminal work in contemporary American fiction and likens it to Brave New World. I hope Mitch is right. The book takes a straight-on look into a potentially bleak future, unless we can rein in these people who think the Earth is invulnerable and that minorities are disposable. How long can we keep this up? I think Aldous Huxley and George Orwell are more relevant than ever before, more so than even the Cold War era when nuclear war was the looming disaster. I think it’s been a while since widely read American authors have tackled social issues.

And there is a genetic issue similar to Brave New World, only darker: some people aren’t bred to be more perfect but rather more imperfect. Populations of dark-skinned people (the citoyens) are fed into systems of poor nutrition and economic hopelessness so that the white society exists in a matrix of plenty. Huxley showed the dangers of utopian society and I feel Haw depicts an even more extreme and imminent threat, of having wealth-inequality force the majority of people into deprivation so that the depleted natural resources can sustain and nourish a select few. The novel is set during an apocalyptic period, not after it. We see the ruins being made, the downfall in all its sordid pieces.

Across the country, there is what feels like a war against the LGBT community, simply because they have sought equality. It’s a repeated cycle, with the suffragettes, then the Civil Rights marches, and now the rainbow flags are the battle flags for many people. It’s a taboo that many writers want to shrink away from if they are seeking a mainstream audience. I have a transgender daughter and I noticed over the years that if I referenced a work that featured homosexual characters, it was often written by a lesser-known writer. People were saying, by omission, that gay people did not belong in novels. So I created gay characters that are a part of the setting just like they are in real life. It’s weird that this hasn’t been done before.

While I was writing the book, my youngest child was going through a lot of similar issues that the Orel character faces in the novel. That was a motivational factor for me, to write it, to let the LGBT community know how valued they are by adults, especially their own parents. The story just didn’t seem to work without keeping the compelling and unbreakable nature of love intact.

And I am toying with the idea of writing a sequel to Haw.

I would like to thank Harvard Square Editions for deciding to take me and my book on. Their mission—to promote social equality, effect climate awareness—is a great ethic for a book publisher to have. Simone Weingarten at HSE has been great throughout the process, too.

What others are saying …

“(Haw) is one of the kind (of books) I hate to finish, because the world and the characters are so real that I still want to know ‘what’s next?’ and ‘how’s that work out?’ With good writing, you never even consider the writing itself; the story propels you along. That’s how it was with Haw. When is the sequel?” (Dee Langston, The Daily Advance.)

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Connect with the author and novel here:

Haw-authorphoto

Haw is also available at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and indiebound.org.

Writing Prompt: Likable Villain

In my blog post this past Tuesday, I wrote about how I love villains that are likable.

For the writing prompt this week, try writing a story from a villain’s point of view. What would you do to make the audience like them?

The Gray Villian

1984, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451 are some of my favorite dystopian books. These are classics and I highly recommend them if you have not read them yet. Something I love about all of these books is how the author paints a morally gray conflict for the reader. For me, a story with areas of gray is more fun to read than a black and white, good vs evil story.

Something the authors of these books showcase in the societies and antagonists they create is the gray area. For example, in one of the dystopian novels I mentioned, the antagonist challenges the main character’s views on what is right and wrong. In the book, this villain is able to change the protagonist’s worldview from black and white to gray.

Another aspect of a gray area can be the audience’s ability to see things from another’s point of view. In the TV show Breaking Bad, Walter White finds out he has terminal lung cancer and decides to cook meth to make money for his family before he dies. He faces opposition from rival drug dealers, the government, and his wife. Even though he is destroying the lives of hundreds of people, the audience loves him. Why? We get to see Water’s reasons and motivations for his behavior. The audience knows his whole story and knowing his whole story creates gray area instead of a black and white moral dilemma.

Stories from the point of view of characters that are stereotypically the villain fascinate me. I love the ability to see inside the mind of these “evil” characters and love it even more when a director or author can even get me to side with the villain because of all the gray area.