Thursday, May 30, 2013

Game Pod Challenge: 4 Phrases

Today's Game Pod challenge rules?

Write a 300 to 500 word count flash fiction or scene that used the following four phrases as dialog, text, theme, metaphor, action, etc. in the work. 

A windmill full of corpses
Passive-Aggressive Post-it notes
Getting drunk on mouthwash
Licking things to claim them

First up, G...

 by J. G. Walker
Three men entered the hotel dining room. As the door shut behind them, Tom--the middle-manager, the one with the most seniority, and the man in charge--spotted a book on a table. 
He pointed. “There!”
No sooner had Tom uttered this than his teammates, Pete and Stig, scrambled away in a blur of khaki and denim. Pete, benefitting from longer legs and an elbow deployed to Stig’s chest, reached the table first.
While Stig sulked, wheezing, Pete picked up the hardbound book, and Tom stepped closer to look at it: An aged, bedraggled knight wielded an enormous sword, leaning back against the door of a rustic windmill. Around the door’s edges, various bloody arms protruded, some with hands, some without. A few hung limp, but others still appeared intent on strangling the knight.
The title: Don Quixote: Zombie Exterminator.
Pete sat on the table, dropped the duffle he’d been carrying, and began to scan the book. He eventually stopped, unpeeling a purple sticky note from one of the pages, reading aloud: “Are you doing your best for the company? Answer: You can always do better. Spread the word.”
He smiled at Tom. “Mark the dining room off the list.” He folded the note and shoved it into his shirt pocket with the other gems of company propaganda they’d collected.
Then he lifted the book to his face and ran his tongue across its dusty cover. Twice.
Stig recoiled. Tom was too stunned to move.
“Why’d you do that?” he said.
Pete held the book out to Stig. “Do you want it?”
“No,” Stig said, clearly horrified. “Not with all your slobber on it.”
Pete looked at Tom again, grinning. “That’s why.” He placed the book on the table and reached into his jacket, producing a bottle, a blue one with a familiar label.
“Is that what I think it is?” Tom said.
Pete unscrewed the lid. “Probably.”
Stig shook his head. Apparently, he knew something Tom didn’t.
“Here’s to me,” Pete said.
Tom watched, amazed, as Pete upended the bottle of Listerine.
All things considered, mouthwash was probably a good idea for Pete. Even on a good day, he could stand it, but especially after licking that book.
He did seem to be drinking a lot of it, though.
Finally, Pete finished, but instead of spitting the mouthwash, he swallowed.
“Gah!” Tom said. “That stuff’ll kill you.”
“Common misconception.” Pete smacked his lips. “Gives quite the buzz, actually. And kills germs.”
“You’re crazy,” Stig said.
Actually, Tom realized, considering Pete’s daily office behavior, the Listerine explained a lot. An question occurred to him.
“Have you licked everything we’ve found this morning?”
“Yup,” Pete replied, then belched. “Which room’s next?”
Tom passed the list to Stig, who consulted it.
“Scullery.” Stig pointed. “That way.”
Tom sighed. “Okay,” he said. “Let’s go.”
Team building exercises, he thought.
A scavenger hunt.
With these two idiots.
Ten more items.
Bloody terrific.

Next up, M....


By Michelle Ladner

Nick knew instantly the post-break-up agreement had been broken. He stood at the door of the apartment he’d shared with Kay and stared at the bright yellow square stuck to the faded green paint. On the note, a scrawl of purple marker read:

Let’s keep things civil, Kay had said to him. There’s no need to get your family involved. You know how your dad can be.
Nick teeth ground together. Jack sure had moved her out, hadn’t he? He plucked the note off the door and crumpled it, stuffing it deep in his pocket.
He turned the key in the knob and flung the door wide. All the furniture he’d charged to his credit card last year with her urging was gone. Worse than that, the artwork his gran painted him last Christmas was gone too. A few odds and ends were still scattered about the studio apartment. He saw more yellow squares with ridiculous purple script stuck to what Kay deemed her remaining things.
The space smelled mustier than he remembered. He paced around, cataloging all the things she’d already taken, their things.
In the middle of the kitchen counter sat a cardboard box. Stuck to the front of it, another angry yellow square with purple script stared back.
He shook his head and rifled through the heaped box, chewing on his bottom lip. He realized these weren’t his things, but instead an odd collection of trash and random incidentals retrieved from under the bathroom sink.
Heat rose to his forehead. He decided to grab a beer from the fridge. She didn’t drink beer.
All his beer was gone. As well as the milk he’d just bought on Monday. Only half a wrapped sandwich stared back. On it, another Post-it…
Nick slammed the fridge door.
He plucked a full bottle of mouthwash from the heart-gouging box of his stuff. Imagining her skinny, slutty body pinned to a windmill full of corpses. He wrenched off the top and gulped down half the blue minty liquid.
After a moment, staring at the mouthwash bottle on the kitchen counter and experiencing a strangely fresh and warm feeling overcoming him, Nick opened the fridge. He unwrapped Jack’s sandwich, peeled it apart, and licked both halves. Carefully, he placed the halves back together, rewrapped the sandwich, and laid it back on the fridge shelf.
He packed everything in the apartment with a Post-it on it into his car. Sitting on the curb, sipping on the mouthwash, he dialed his father’s office.
“Markham and Markham and Whitley,” the secretary answered.
“Hi, Carol. This is Nick. Can you ask Dad to meet me at the apartment at six tonight after all?”
“Sure thing, Nick.”
Nick smiled, hanging up the phone, and downing the rest of his mouthwash.

Hope you all enjoyed our Game Pod! Let's do it again!!!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Guest Pod: The Appeal of Horror by Dean Harrison

Today in the Pod, my long time friend and colleague, Dean Harrison agreed to share a post about the appeal of horror. With the my upcoming attendance to the Horror Writer's Association annual conference this June, it only seemed fitting. -M

 The Appeal of Horror by Dean Harrison

“Why do you write scary stuff? Why not write something the whole family can read? Why can’t you write something nice and happy? Why don’t you write a children’s book?”

Those are a sample of questions about my fiction that I have fielded from relatives over the years and is not surprising.

Many in the mainstream don’t understand the appeal of horror as a genre. They turn their noses up at it and label it as nothing more than garbage lacking in value, and void of any insight into the human condition. They believe it offers nothing but cheap thrills, blood, gore and sex, and  that it teaches no moral lessons beneficial to society.

But if they look beyond the onslaught of splatter-punk and Stephenie Meyer novels, they might find their negative perception of the genre to be wrong. From William Shakespeare to Stephen King, storytellers for centuries have used their talent to shine a light on the darkness within us all, a darkness which some in the mainstream are too afraid to face.
In horror, a character is put in a situation where they must confront their worst fear or else suffer a terrible fate, such as death. Those kinds of stories reflect the good and the bad of human nature, and expose what human beings are capable of when thrust into extreme situations, and the heroic acts they perform when pushed to the brink. I strive to illustrate this in my fiction, and so do the countless others who write within the genre.
Horror evokes a visceral, emotional response and an intense and prolonged feeling of fear. It is one of the oldest forms of storytelling, according to Michael West, author of The Wide Game.
What makes [horror] relevant today, West said in a Facebook interview, is its ability to help us “deal with our own fears, to explore the human condition, real world problems, and injustices through allegory, and to continue to provide a safe outlet for our emotions.”
Horror stories, in essence, are character studies. Just look at such writers as Jack Ketchum (The Girl Next Door), Brian Keene (The Rising), and J.F. Gonzalez (Survivor). You will find stories of human beings forced to rise up and confront evil, to fight for the survival of those they love and the things they care about. Even classics written by the likes of William Faulkner (Sanctuary), Robert Louis Stevenson (The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) and Oscar Wilde (The Picture of Dorian Gray) have something to say about the dark side of human nature.
Some people say we as humans are inherently good, but we all have a bad side. According to Ty Schwamberger, editor of Fell Beasts, it is that bad side that comes out when we watch the news “or almost marvel at the destruction that some madman caused on the highway.”
Michael Knost, editor of Legends of the Mountain State: Ghostly Tales from the State of West Virginia, has a slightly different view of horror, and why it holds such appeal. He says it’s actually beneficial to our mental health.
“Horror is the only literary genre that focuses on the excitements of fear, fright, terror, apprehension and dread,” Knost said. “It is a genre that takes on the goal of making its reader actually feel one of the variants of this emotion.”
And because of the emotional elements involved, Knost said we shouldn’t surprise ourselves with the “mass appeal for these particular styles of literature and cinematic experiences.”
“After all,” Knost continued, “the majority of our emotions are processed by our brain's limbic system. When endorphins reach the opioid receptors of the highly emotional limbic system, we experience pleasure and a sense of satisfaction.”
According to Knost, that means horror emotions are created by endorphins, which give us pleasure, much like those from breathing, sexual satisfaction and hunger.
“Taking all this into consideration,” Knost concluded, “the horror genre is very important to our mental well being, keeping us emotionally stable and as far from depression as possible.”
Elizabeth Massie, author of Wire Mesh Mothers, believes horror is “dread to the nth degree, a state of being that in the first moment of its emergence replaces everything else in the human heart and mind.”
“And in this brutal moment,” Massie said, “some of the most powerful stories of human strength, weakness, compassion, cruelty, courage, and love can be born.”

According to Massie, good horror fiction deals with the most basic of human emotions. Stripping away the fluff of the ordinary day-to-day, it gets “down, dirty, dangerous and gritty to see how characters will either face up to or run from their circumstance.”
When done well, Massie concluded, horror can offer “insight into who we are, why we act as we do, and the quite beautiful desire humans often have to come together and unite with each other against the direst of situations.”
Horror can also have a mix of other genres such as romance, comedy and action all in the same story, said Thomas A. Erb, editor of Death Be Not Proud.

“It is not all about the blood splatter,” Erb said. “It is about fear--internal and external.” He added that everyone loves to be scared.
 “I believe it is in the human condition to wonder about the unknown and to love to fear it,” he continued. “If we can’t explain it, we will let our devious little imaginations create far greater and vile things that truly exist at the bottom of the lake or dank basement of our house.”
Erb also believes that we as a race need to have fear.  “Fear of anything. It is through fear that we truly live.”

“When we read or watch a truly terrifying book or film, we live vicariously through those characters,” Erb concluded.

And it’s when we feel the panic and horror of losing what we have in our lives that we find value in it.

***You can find more on Dean Harrison at his website.
He's also done some previous posts with us: THESE UNQUIET BONES and an interview.

Next time, a Game Pod with me and G. Fun times will be had!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Recap: Daddy's Girls' Weekend 2013

Another year... another Daddy's Girl Weekend. For those unfamiliar with the antics of the Peas' university writing mentor, known troublemaker Carolyn Haines, and her esteemed cohort, Sarah Bewley, each year (for the last three) these ladies have hosted a writer and reader conference in or near the Mobile, AL area. DGWE always proves to be great craft and business advice paired with an unforgettable time. This year was no exception.

 Chris Grabenstien author of iFunny, Dean James AKA Miranda James author of The Cat in the Stack Series, Ben LeRoy of Tyrus Books, Scholastic Editor Mallory Kass, Muse Literary Agent Debbie Carter, friend Ron O'Gorman (whose book Fatal Rythmn with be available from Tuscany Press, Marilyn Johnston, Kimberly Daniels, Robert Warren, Alice Jackson, John Hafner, and Dewitt Lebrano were all in attendance as faculty and panelists this year, offering a wide array of perspectives of craft and business.

This is always a fun event and I've yet to miss a year. Plus, it's always good to get back to your roots. In many ways, Carolyn's classes is what really started this crazy endeavor anyway.

Follow the Con via Facebook at: D. g. Weekend

They are already gearing up for registration and accommodations for 2014. You won't want to miss it (even if just to watch the antics of Carolyn's posse.  ;-)


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Olde City New Blood: February Recap... Eesh!

This is so, so late...

Olde City New Blood

A recap on a conference that happened months ago seems...
Well, I just should've done one sooner.

But it was such an amazing group of organizers, authors, bloggers, and readers--I feel like the Peas owed all of them a little shout out.

Holla! You were terrific!

This was one of the most fun cons for me. Not only did all in attendance have their fingers in some facet of the genre/sub-genres/categories I love, but the attendees and faculty were so accessible. I got to hang with one of my heros (Janice Hardy) and meet a slew of other authors and new faces that were just amazingly generous with their time and willingness to share: Alex Hughes, James R. Tuck, Jenna Bennett AKA Jenny Bentley, Karina Cooper, Delilah S. Dawson, Lexi George, Lea Nolan, C J Ellison, just to name a few that were particularly awesome to me and gave me great advice. Since, I have read a lot of their books since, I am even more glad I got to be in the company of their talented selves. (So if you are looking for a summer reading list and some new authors to explore, start with the links above).

I also met an incredibly talented lady forging her way through this jungle of the publishing world, Cat York. A talented illustrator and writer. And now a friend and comrade for the future.

For news on the next incarnation of this conference... check out Coastal Magic
This is a Con worth following. Give them some love--great things are happening here.


Monday, May 13, 2013

Today's Lost Chance to Hollywood It

Today marks a day of professional growth disappointment. The screenwriting workshop I had signed up for at the local university did not make and therefore was cancelled. I had high hopes of learning the secrets of screenwriting in a two-week long course that would, per chance, enable me to channel Joss Whedon as I approach my next story concept. What's more, to have an affordable way to explore the craft of movie and television writing, right here in my own backyard. Well, to even have the opportunity is a rarity. Imagine my excitement paired with my disappointment as the course was squelched (for reasonable reasons, I'm sure).

Alas, that dream has faded. Today is just another Monday.

Not that I fancy myself a reborn (new born?) screenwriter. I enjoy the wordy exposition of the book format too much. I understand how different the formats of screenwriting versus novel writing are, but that's not to say I don't recognize the similarities as well. After all, a good story is a good story.

I'm a bit of a cinematic writer anyway. I tend to view the scenes in my head that I write much like I'm viewing them through a camera lens. This isn't a method exclusive to me. A lot of writers do it. We (meaning writer folk of the last several decades) have grown up in a society where television and film saturate our perspectives. But there is something innately comfortable with this method of storytelling--lenses, scenes, etc.--probably explained away in some philosophical psychology of the observer in relation the observed that dates back prior to the birth of moving pictures. However, the chicken-or-the-egg argument is not what I mean to highlight. What I mean to highlight is, as novelists, writers of any kind, ie: storytellers, we can learn a lot from experiencing the screenwriting process (I imagine, I had hoped, I still hope). I also think we can do the same by taking time to closely examine films that convey really good story.

This isn't anything new. It's not rocket science either. It's just something I'm pondering today--directly related to the mourning of my lost opportunity.

One thought brambling about up there...
Our film market is inundated (and always has been) with book to film adaptations. What is interesting to me is what works in both, what works exclusively with the confines of each format, and why we are so quick to judge these formats against one another (I loved the book but hated the movie, we often say).

I imagine this inevitable relation is as simple as: they are both ways to tell a story.

As a struggle through finishing my books and then making them really good stories (which I think the finishing is one thing and the latter comes with rewriting and editing) I look onward in awe at those filmmakers and screenwriters that tell really good stories. Until the next screenwriting opportunity shows itself, I'll satisfy myself with rereading Syd Feild's The Screenwriter's Workbook and keep replaying and scrutinizing Joss Whedon and J.J. Abrams series' and films'.
Maybe I can teach myself to Hollywood It? But I'm open to suggestions.


Friday, May 10, 2013

Cumberbatching My Way Back to the Job

I spend an awful lot of time lately lamenting how much or how little time I spend honing my craft and producing pages versus being human and remembering to eat, sleep, and clean out litter boxes so my feline companions and my husband don't walk out on me. I think every writer trying to find their feet does this at various stages, whether they are considered a success (whatever that means) or not. Especially those writers with careers, families, and responsibilities not centered around their creative endeavors. It's part and parcel to the game (I think). Some handle it better than others. I, however, find it all very anxiety-ridden.

I have a lot of idols, writers and other creative types (artists, actors, directors, etc.), that I look up to and I think, "Wow, you've got it so together. What the f*@k is wrong with me?" It's in those moments that I begin to think about all the things I should be doing, but don't do well. Things that are supposed to help bolster my career as a writer (whatever that means): the Twitter, the Facebook, the Blogging, my website upkeep, networking, pitching, querying, and the list goes on. You know the list, it's the one you start to compile when you go to writers' conferences and workshops and every writer tells you what they do, every editor and agent tells you what they want, and you just start to assimilate all of it rather than picking and choosing what actually might work best for you (because you don't have any sense at all. Well, YOU might have sense, but I don't). And it's in those moments that I begin my desent. My downward spiral. It's then that the doubt and the fear and the disillusionment begins. Call it insecurity, call it the artist's lament, either way, if I allow it to get a hold of me, it can take quite a long time for me to dig myself out of it.

So, last night, I was doing what I often do when I'm not writing and worrying about how I'm not writing whilst realizing that the worrying about not writing is just not writing and I'd be better off writing but I don't write because I'm a hot mess and I decide to wallow in my writer's lament...

I googled Benedict Cumberbatch.
(I don't always google Benedict, sometimes it's Joss Whedon, sometimes it's J.J. Abrams or James Hance or J.K Rowling or someone else on that long list of creative people I idolize.)
Last night it was Benedict Cumberbatch.

Anyway, I adore The Cumberbatch. He's one of those amazing creative types (a British actor, if you are unaware) who, I think, will be considered The Actor of my generation. And I mean that quite literally. His birthday is only three months before mine. Why is this important? Well, it goes back to what I said before--Benedict is one of those creative types I idolize and I often think, "Wow! You've got it together. What the sh*t is my problem?" 36-years-old, like me, Ben's part of the successful, well-loved BBC Series Sherlock, and in the last few years he's been a part of some amazing projects: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, War Horse, Atonement, The Hobbit, and Star Trek (just to name a few). Not only is his career exploding, but I believe he genuinely deserves the attention. He's an amazing actor and he's intelligent, charismatic, and possesses unearthly cheekbones.

Ultimately, in this moment of the downward spiral, thinking of Benedict Cumberbatch makes me feel crappy about myself and my lack of success (again... whatever that word means). We're the same age, he and I, and I look at him and I think (because I have engaged in that desent), "I am a waste of air and space. What the sh*t have I been doing the last 36 years?"

I know, I know. I know what you are going to say. "It's not Ben's fault!"
Of course it's not Benedict's fault. I know that! I'm not totally unaware of my accountability in all this. I'm also very aware that the comparison is ridiculous. For one, I'm not British. Secondly, I'm not an actor. I'm definitely not a dude. And even if I lost 60 lbs, I am never going to have cheekbones like his. Ever.

Nevertheless, thinking of him in this way makes me feel totally inadequate as I stare at the mess of a manuscript in my lap and the six other (once promising) novel projects that haven't quite made it off the ground. It's an anxiety-ridden despair that makes me wonder, why the hell am I doing any of this anyway?

But, keep in mind, I've been googling Benedict Cumberbatch throughout this whole desent process.

This is what I stumble upon:

Screenshot from a USA Today Article by Brian Truitt

God love you Benedict and your f*ck!ng amazing cheekbones.

In the last several years of trying so hard to write a publishable manuscript and pave a way to break into the market, I had forgotten this simple fact: I love writing. I cannot imagine an existence without me doing it. And when I'm in it, doing it with passion and without distraction, I really enjoy my job.

Do I want an audience? Absolutely. But not at the detriment of my love for the job which I so enjoy doing. It's so easy to get caught up in all the extraneous things that have to do with writing for an audience, but that doesn't preclude that the first and foremost focus should ever stop being the writing. Without the writing, the rest of it is for naught. That I do know and I often forget that the work is the work.