The Idea Vat (A Post on Writing Process)

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One of the most frequent questions I get as an author is “Where do you get your ideas?”

As though there’s some central Idea Vat into which we writers dip in and pull out ideas.

I’m always puzzled when it comes from people who claim they want to write, but don’t know what to write about; most writers I know have far more ideas than they’ll ever be able to explore.

Non-writers are fascinated by the writing process (so are writers, but for different reasons). Writers tend to be fascinated by anyone’s process to do anything, because it’s all material.

There is no Magic Writing Bullet or Potion that will suddenly make one a creative genius churning out best-sellers and winning every award. Even the innately talented have to put in the work. I’ve had many talented writers in my workshops who were not willing to put in the necessary work. The ones who could outwork the more talented are the ones who usually end up sustaining a career.

I find the world an interesting place. Almost everything can be interesting, if approached from the right angle. Everyone has a unique story, which can be interesting, but too often is spewed out there for catharsis without being crafted. Catharsis is great, but sometimes it makes more sense to keep it in your private journal until you find the best way for that unique piece to be shared.

Where do I get my ideas?

From everywhere around me. A line in someone else’s story gets me thinking, “What if?” A fragment of an overheard conversation gets me thinking, “What if?” A news story or something heard on the radio or seen on social media gets the wheels turning. Visiting a new place inspires.

For me, setting is an additional character, and emotional geography is just as important as physical geography.

Paintings inspire me. If I’m stuck or feeling frustrated in my work, I go and look at paintings. A beautiful painting will inspire me to go back to the page — either because I’m no longer stuck or because the painting inspired a short story. Edward Hopper’s work, in particular, has inspired several short pieces.

Historical places and people inspire me. History is comprised of people and what they do. It’s not just events and dates — it’s the struggles, joys, and sorrows of those immersed in those events at those dates. Visiting an historical site often inspires me.

Soundtracks DO NOT inspire me. Soundtracks are created to support someone else’s creative vision. If I use a soundtrack when I’m writing fiction, unless that particular piece has relevance to the plot or character, it derails my work and bleeds into it.

I can always tell when my students have written something with a show or movie soundtrack on. I can usually tell what it is. Because it warps their writing.

If I have music on while I write, it’s instrumental, unless I’m listening to something specific to the plot or the character.

After the inspiration comes the work. Research, what I call “percolating.” I get an idea. I jot down notes.

I usually work from character first. Even if it’s inspired by a painting or an historical site or event, until I have my central character, I can’t do anything with it. Character, more characters, situation, then “what if?”

Then, I can work.

I usually write my way in to a new piece for about four chapters (if it’s a long work; if it’s short, I usually know within ten pages and can adjust). Four chapters (40-80 pages) gives me a good handle on whether or not this idea is viable.

Then I percolate for a bit, thinking about the idea while I’m doing other things. That negates the mindfulness in which we are supposed to do all things, but I often get my best ideas in the shower, or driving to the store, or cooking, or doing yard work.

Once I’ve percolated for a bit, I sit down and do my Writer’s Rough Outline.

For those blank-pagers (I loathe the term “pantser”) who are moaning — hey, do what works for you. This is my business, not my hobby. Writing is how I keep a roof over my head and food on the table. In order to do that, I have to juggle multiple projects. My time is as limited as anyone else’s. I don’t have the time to stare at a blank page or a blank computer screen. When I sit down in a work session, I need to be able to drop into whatever project I’m working on and produce my quota for that work session. Having a detailed Writer’s Rough allows me to do that.

It also allows me to move from project to project without losing the individual project rhythms, or having them bleed into each other.

Once I have my outline, I research what’s necessary and gather research materials to which I might need to refer as I write. I prefer to do that than put in a placeholder and look it up later for a different draft. Right now, I’m on too tight a deadline schedule for that to be viable.

I have X amount of time each day where I’m reading research for any number of projects, taking notes, making my bibliographical lists. This is separate from writing time.

Then I write. When a fiction or script project moves into “Primary” position, it means I do my first 1K/day of it first thing in the morning, at least six days a week. If I fall behind and have a deadline looming, I raise the quota to whatever it needs to be to get it done.

Once I have that first 1K done, I can move between whatever other projects are on contract and deadline and client work. If I can or need to have another fiction or script session later in the day (often on a different project), I add that in.

At the moment, I’m doing 2K/day on one novel, first thing in the morning, and then 1K/day later in the day on a different novel (with a slightly later deadline). And pulling together research for a play, while researching something that came up for one of the novels.

I prefer to edit in the afternoon. It needs a different approach. When editing/revising a novel, I do 3-5 chapters a day. And there is always more than one revision. before I turn it over to my editor. We usually have at least two rounds of revisions before it goes into production, and then as many rounds of galleys as needed or as can fit in to the schedule.

Because galleys are for copy edits and catching mistakes, NOT for major revisions. You have to train yourself to catch what needs to be caught in each phase of book production. Because it’s not just about YOU. It’s about the entire team working to make the book the best it can be.

Every book has its own rhythm and process, but the overall structure I talk about here is working for me right now. When it stops working, I’ll change it. Creativity is a process, and each piece you work on teaches something and makes it possible for the next to be better, artistically and in craft.

In a way, I suppose I do go to the Idea Vat, dip in a ladle, and pull out an idea. The Idea Vat is another name for the Creative Unconscious.

 

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Learn more about Devon’s books at www.devonellingtonwork.com

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A Toe in the Surf: Introducing Emily Montgomery

I met Emily initially online during one of the National Novel Writing Months we both did. Can’t remember which one. But she stepped into the breech today, so to speak, stepped up to the plate, and all those clichés, so may I introduce someone I think is a terrific writer: Emily Montgomery.

Hello. My name is Emily Montgomery and I’m an introvert.

Not unusual for a writer, is it?

I love books and writing. I decided I wanted to write my own, because there were characters who kept telling me their stories and wouldn’t quiet down until I put them on paper. I don’t even have a website yet. I don’t blog (this is my first blog post ever); I hate Facebook, and Twitter overwhelms me. I do have an editor interested in my unfinished manuscript, which means now I have to finish it.

I was named after Emily Brontë, only I decided I wasn’t going to die young of consumption. It was a romantic idea when I was about thirteen, but life is much too interesting to leave it until I’m old and ready. I used to fantasize I was Emily of the New Moon series written by Lucy Maud Montgomery.

I’m an unpublished writer without a website or a contract, so what am I doing on A Biblio Paradise?

Funny story, that.

I’m visiting Devon Ellington, who runs this blog. The person who was scheduled to post today backed out yesterday. I was here on the Cape visiting Devon, on an impulse.

I never do anything on impulse.

Devon and I met during National Novel Writing Month. A friend of mine got tired of listening to me say I wanted to write a book “someday” and signed me up. I saw, on one of the forums, that Devon had something called “30 Tips for 30 Days” where she emailed a tip every day during Nano. I asked to be on the list. It gave me motivation, especially on days when I thought I couldn’t face a blank page.

National Novel Writing Month demands that a writer create 50,000 words over 30 days, in November. I figured that would force me to write every day.

I wrote every day.

The problem is, I am a slow writer. I learned the most I can write is 500 words on any given day. It doesn’t matter if I write for one hour or eight hours. 500 words is it for me. I have a confession: there was one day where I wrote 497 words, and I added three adverbs to make 500.

I’ve cut them since, I promise.

But 500 words a day times 30 days equals 15,000 words. That’s 35,000 words short of the goal.

I figured Devon would never speak to me again, because, on a good day, it seems like she writes a bazillion words. I know her minimum is 1000 words. From there, it’s until she falls over from exhaustion. During Nano, it’s usually around 2500, because she likes to be done by Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, I struggled to hit 500 words for the day while stirring gravy.

But she did speak to me again. In fact, at a post-Nano event at a bar, when I was standing in the doorway wondering why I was there, someone smiled at me across the room, waved, and said, “Pull up a chair and join us.”

It was Devon.

I hardly spoke all night, but I listened a lot. We were an ever-growing table of writers, who wrote in different genres, read a lot, and had opinions. So many opinions! I felt I’d found home, even if I didn’t have a lot to contribute.

I love words. I love characters. I almost wrote that I love “people,” but that’s only true if I don’t have to deal with too many of them all at once. But words have power. I don’t believe “sticks and stone may hurt my bones, but words can never harm me.” I believe that words are more powerful than sticks and stones. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can tear my soul.

Nano taught me that I also love the writing. I don’t care about “having written” as much as I love to sit down, every day, and write out the stories that play in my head. I love the words themselves; I also love what’s between them, under them, around them. I love the writing.

Words can also help me create the world as I wish it would be. The better world I believe we are capable of creating, if we stop making the easiest choices and letting other people make decisions for us. We need to be engaged every minute of every day, even when it scares us. Especially when it scares us. We must both bear witness and become architects of a better history, not a repeated history.

Devon and I kept in touch. A few months ago, I asked if she would give me an opinion on a handful of chapters I’ve worked and reworked. She said yes. I spent the time from sending them to hearing from her in a state of constant nausea.

Her response was, “I don’t know what the hell this is, but I really like it. Call it literary fiction and you’ll cover the bases.” Considering she didn’t like what I’d worked on that first Nano, I figured she meant it. With her encouragement, I submitted to a couple of editors who were willing to look at partials. Most said no, but one editor said she liked it, and now I have to finish it, within a reasonable time frame. If it goes under contract (there or elsewhere), I will have to write another book. Even at 15,000 words a month, I can write a book in a year, if I show up every day and write. Eventually, I’ll have to have things like a website and maybe even social media accounts.

Why put myself through it? Because I love my characters and my story. I love the “what if?” and then “if then.” I love the process of discovery. People are interesting. The world is interesting, even when it breaks your heart.

Virginia Woolf stated she understood the world by writing about it (I’m paraphrasing). That’s how I feel.

I’m spending a few days in Boston. I took the bus down to Cape Cod to visit Devon. We were sitting on the deck, enjoying a glass of wine and some snacks, talking about books, when an email came through; there was a problem with the post that was supposed to go up on this site today.

Devon said I should write it (once she finished swearing). So here I am.

Maybe there’s hope for me yet. This post is over a 1000 words, and it only took me a couple of hours. But, no matter what, I will show up at the page and do the best I can. Every day.

Bio:
Emily Montgomery is a writer. In the foreseeable future, she will have a website, and, with craft, persistence,and luck, a published novel.

Guest Patsy Collins: Leave Nothing But Footprints

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Q: What was the inspiration for LEAVE NOTHING BUT FOOTPRINTS?

Patsy Collins: You know how we’re always told to write what we know? Well, I do much of my writing whilst travelling with my photographer husband in our campervan. The novel is about photographers in a campervan… The storyline isn’t at all autobiographical, I promise, but getting two people to share such a small space is a good way for the reader to learn about them and watch their growing relationship.

The natural landscape is one of my interests, so I’ve made Eliot an eco campaigner. Mostly I want the book to be a fun, lighthearted read, but if it also encourages readers to take slightly better care of the world around them, I’ll be extremely pleased.

Q: How did Capri influence the story?

PC: Capri is used as a contrast to the main part of the story which takes place in South Wales. It’s an expensive, unusual destination, chosen by Jess simply for the luxurious facilities offered by the spa hotel. Capri represents the life Jess had before meeting Eliot. She enjoyed her holiday there, but it also highlighted the emptiness of her life. It’s not until she travels to the apparently less exciting Welsh coastline that she begins to find the sense of purpose she’d been lacking.

Q:What makes Wales the perfect place for this, and why does Wales make it different than setting it elsewhere?

PC: Partly it’s the fact that Jess and Eliot live, and work from, the campervan. They stay in empty fields and on quiet roadsides rather than on busy campsites – something which is entirely possible there, but much less practical in many other places. There’s none of the luxury Jess is used to. Learning to cope with that, whilst working hard and learning new skills, helps both reveal and develop her character.

The hills and beaches of Wales are rugged, spectacular and beautiful, but they can also be moody, forbidding and hard work. Kind of like Eliot. There’s not much that’s gentle and easy about the landscape, but the climbs and long hikes are definitely worth the effort. That’s reflected in Jess’s emotional journey.

Q: In general, how do you feel place affects your writing? What kind of details do you use to make your locations unique?

PC: The locations are very important to me, so much so that I do first drafts wherever the stories are set. That helps me get a feel for the place and of course makes research much easier.

With Leave Nothing But Footprints, I walked where Jess and Eliot walked. I climbed up to see the views which they photographed. Just as they did, I went out early in the morning and late in the day, to watch the effects of the changing light. I literally put myself in their place and noticed what they’d notice, tried to feel as they’d feel and react as they would. It’s a technique I’ve used before and found effective.

I don’t attempt to write a travel guide to any of my locations. Instead I try to capture the atmosphere with a few small details. The sand on the path, flowers which bloom alongside it and the sound of surf pounding onto the rocks below, form the background to one scene for example.

Q: What is your process working on a book, from inspiration to completion?

PC: First I create an outline of the plot and do some basic research, if needed, to ensure that plot will work. I pick the location and begin to think about the characters. Although there will be little to show for this stage, probably around 500 words, it can take months.

Then I start writing – on location if I can. Ideally I’d write the first draft all in one go, but that’s often not possible. I may hit a snag with the story, lose enthusiasm, or something unconnected with writing may cause an interruption. When the first draft is finally complete, sometimes years after I started, I leave it and write something else. That gives me the distance I need to start editing.

I’ll rewrite and leave the story as many times as necessary to get the novel as good as I feel I’ll be able to get it on my own. Then it goes to my fantastic beta readers. I’ll rewrite again, using their feedback. During each rewrite, I’ll research anything I don’t already know. That process will also be repeated until I’m satisfied with the book. After that, it’s just the usual copy editing and proofreading to arrange.

Q: Do you have any unusual rituals or objects you need around you when you write?

PC: Not really. Whether I’m in the campervan or at home I use the same laptop computer (I always write straight onto that, rather than on paper) and I drink a lot of tea.

Q: What are you working on now?

PC: I’m doing a ‘cosy crime’ story for NaNo. Four of my previous novels have had crime elements in them, but this will be the first one in which crime is the main genre. The action will be split between my home town and another seaside location I know well, so I’ve already got the settings fairly clear in my mind. I’m hoping that this time I really will manage my idea.

Thank you, Patsy, for joining us!

Blurb:
Jessica Borlase always gets what she wants. From cocktails in the exact shade of her manicure, holiday on Capri with friends, to a spacious apartment, her father’s money makes it possible. She enjoys the luxurious lifestyle and is grateful for his support, but frustrated to always be treated as Daddy’s pampered little girl. She tries to break free, by leaving Borlase Enterprises and studying photography.

Now what Jess wants is the utterly gorgeous Eliot Beatty; a world famous photographer who often uses his talents to benefit conservation projects. Her father attempts to bribe Eliot into taking Jess on an assignment in order to teach her the skills she’ll need to develop a career. Although annoyed at the interference, she’s delighted to discover this means two weeks with Eliot in the beautiful countryside of South Wales and close confines of a campervan. Trouble is, the man can’t be bought.

Jess eventually manages to persuade Eliot to take her. She believes she can earn his respect and that she’s ready for the hard work, long hours and living conditions far short of those she’s used to. She’s wrong on all counts. Can Jess learn to cope with the realities of the trip, and is Eliot really worth the effort?

Book link myBook.to/LNBF

Author Bio:
Patsy Collins will write anywhere she can reach in her campervan. She’s the author of five novels; four contemporary romances and one coming of age story with a difference. Hundreds of her short stories have been published in magazines in the UK, Australia, Sweden, Ireland and South Africa. She’s also co-author of From Story Idea to Reader – an accessible guide to writing fiction.

Patsy blogs about free entry writing competitions – http://patsy-collins.blogspot.co.uk and runs the womagwriter blog http://womagwriter.blogspot.co.uk which is handy for magazine guidelines.

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Recalibrating with Claire Cook’s NEVER TOO LATE and Jeff Vandermeer’s BOOKLIFE

One of my recent goals is to take a step back and do some recalibrating on my writing career, my goals, where I am, and where I want to be.

Professional life is a living entity, and one has to constantly change the expectations and reassess the realities. I’d hoped working part-time at what I thought was a dream job would support my writing; I was wrong. It drained me. My writing suffered, and my output suffered. The shock of the position’s elimination, the few weeks at another “part-time” job and then trying to meet all the demands on me for the following months took their toll, both personally and professionally.

I’d been miserable on the treadmill of pressure from demands for quantity and speed over quality — not that much was offered in return. I was (am) miserable about the lack of reciprocity in this region, as opposed to other places in which I’ve lived. There’s a lot of yapping; little doing.

I was miserable in the demands that I dumb down some of my work, to appeal to a so-called “reader” I have no interest in courting. I write intelligent people who get things done. Stupid people wind up dead or worse, in my books. I have a low tolerance for stupid people in real life; just because they’re in power right now doesn’t mean I have to pander to them.

I’m also sick and tired of all the information out there stating that THIS is what you HAVE to do. I don’t like being forced into doing things I don’t agree with and am uncomfortable with. No, I don’t HAVE to do it. No, I am NOT going to dumb down my work. I am NOT going to do or write things I’m not passionate about.

Nor am I willing to stop writing.

Instead, I took some time to recalibrate. Meet with trusted advisors, and decide how I want to reshape my writing career on MY terms. The first session was a day-long meeting in mid-May. We didn’t get through everything, but we got a lot of discussion done, and I’m taking actionable steps on my lists to make changes. Some of them are even already paying off, although many of the goals on my list are longer to implement and longer on return. But once the returns start coming in, they should be pretty steady.

Two books that are helpful in this recalibration are NEVER TOO LATE by Claire Book and BOOKLIFE by Jeff Vandermeer.

I met Claire when she was the keynote speaker at the Cape Cod Writers Center. I was either still on the board and just about to rotate off at the end of my term, or I was recently off the board. I’d read her WILDWATER WALKING CLUB book and loved it, then rushed to read the rest of her books –which include MUST LOVE DOGS, the book for which she’s best known. I was one of the people in charge of making sure everything was taken care of for her at the conference, and running interference if necessary. Along the way, we had a chance to have a couple of fun, high-energy conversations (usually in transit from one location to another).

She had her newest (at the time) release with her, and that was her primary topic: NEVER TOO LATE: YOUR ROADMAP TO REINVENTION. I was in a negative job situation that was draining the life out of me, and knew I had to change, but didn’t know how; I also knew my writing was suffering, and that was one reason I was at the conference — because the CCWC is for DOING not just attending panels and being talked at, I knew I’d get some work done (I started a fantasy novel that was then further developed in Vermont). Conversations with her also inspired a novel I started (and am still working on) called TIE-CUTTER, which, once it’s ready to go out, will be dedicated to Claire, since without her, I would never have had the inspiration to write it.

Anyway, Claire signed my copy, I read it, I liked it, I got caught up in things again.

Until I re-read it these past few weeks. When I sat down and re-read it.

The voice was fresher and livelier than ever, and she felt like my own personal cheerleader. It’s the same quality that makes her fiction so appealing — reading Claire’s work feels like spending time with a friend. Someone who will tell you the truth, but support you no matter what. I worked my way through the book, pulling out ideas I was confident would work, and also a few things that I wasn’t sure about, but thought I would try anyway. I’ll let you know how they work out! We’re similar in that we write consistently, we carry notebooks everywhere, we GET IT DONE. She’s now moved from the traditional publishing world to a more hybrid version, which gives her the freedom; she’s built her readership, and they’ll follow her from place to place.

I’m still in the process of building mine.

But the freedom factor appeals to me.

I’ve never met Jeff Vandermeer, but I’m familiar with both his fiction and his nonfiction. I’d read this book several years ago, when I was feeling exhausted and needed emotional fuel.

BOOKLIFE is split into the public booklife and the private booklife. I re=read the public section before my recalibration meeting, and found it helpful. His ideas gave me a foundation for honestly assessing what I do and don’t want to do as far as putting myself out there for my work. Just because “that’s what everyone does” doesn’t mean I want to — or will — do it.

In fact, when people put elements I don’t want to do in contracts, I either negotiate them out, or I walk away from the contract. Just because someone offers you a contract, you don’t HAVE to sign in. I also don’t sign boilerplates. The contract offered is where negotiations START. If the other side says, “we don’t change anything in our contracts”, my response is, “I’m not signing that. Too bad we can’t work together.”

AND I WALK AWAY.

Vandermeer’s book helps sort out what one is comfortable with and what one isn’t, and also the consequences of saying no. Frankly, saying no and continuing the search for the right partner, in either life or work, is a much better choice than saying “yes” to something that will make you miserable. He also helps formulate the right questions, so you can find the resources you need to build what you want.

What he calls the “private booklife” is something I’m pretty happy with, for the most part; it’s the public elements I need to work on. But he points out something important to remember and easy to forget: that there’s a difference between “process” and “habit.”

Both books help you trust your gut in decision-making. It’s easy to over-think and over-complicate. But when you trust you gut, it works out for the best. That doesn’t mean the road will be easy, or that there won’t be consequences. But when you’re true to yourself, that makes it worth it in the long run.

That’s really the message from both books: Build the career you want by being true to yourself. Then, you’ll get both satisfaction and joy from it. Neither book promises “get rich quick” stuff; both are realistic, enthusiastic, supportive, and, above all, practical.

From the Stacks at Marstons Mills: BEG, BORROW, STEAL by Michael Greenberg

BEG, BORROW, STEAL: A Writer’s Life by Michael Greenberg. New York: Other Press. 2009.

As I’m getting to know the stacks of the Marstons Mills Library here on Cape Cod, I’m picking up random titles that catch my eye and writing about them. This one is a memoir by writer Michael Greenberg, a New York writer. Since our time in New York overlapped somewhat, I felt guilty about not knowing him or his writing while I lived there.

The book is a series of chapters as memories — some are of his childhood, some are of incidents in contemporary time that spark trains of thoughts or send him on adventures, such as riding a subway on Christmas with a friend who got a job as a motorman or investigating Hart’s Island (aka Potter’s Field). There are very few chapters actually about writing — although one, about adventures as a for-hire writer, is hilarious and very telling to any of us who job out. Many of the chapters seem to be about NOT writing, doing other things.

But, really, isn’t that the “life” part of a writer’s life? Something catches your attention, your interest, you decide to follow it, and you find someone to pay you to write about it. A writer gets to live many lives, sometimes more than an actor. Actors often have to wait to be cast — a writer gets to write his own reality.

The writing is thoughtful, funny, and makes one think about all those places and people one passes every day, living in New York, without giving them a second thought.

If you’re in the Barnstable area, you can stop by Marstons Mills Library and check it out — who knows what else you’ll find in the stacks? The library’s jewel is its theatre collection. If you’re in CLAMS network — order it. If you’re far from the Cape — contact your local independent bookstore and order it!

DEATH SPARKLES ROUND TABLE INTERVIEW

Several of the DEATH SPARKLES contributors were able to take the time to answer some questions about the process. It’s always fun to see how these things evolve!

Devon Ellington: How did the story spark from the prompt and grow?

KT Wagner: I was googling related phrases, desperately searching for inspiration, when I came across a news story about a young man in New Zealand who had purchased a diamond ring, and then his girlfriend rejected his proposal. He set up a treasure hunt and gave the ring away, but not before he created some controversy by profiting from click-throughs – money he donated to charity.

Faith Dincolo: I found the process of visualizing a dead woman with diamonds dangling from her hand, to be fertile ground for creativity. In “Persephone’s Progeny”, the diamond necklace was a catalyst for Persephone to grow as a robot. The prompt really helped me to think outside of my usual story telling process. I would recommend a prompt to anyone struggling with writer’s block, as it opens up the creative flow.

Diana Holdsworth: When we got the prompt, I was rusty at short story. My first version came out like the compressed outline of a novella. The necklace was used as an example of greed over common sense, and the prompt line was stapled in near the end of the story. I brushed up on my short story skills and realized the first version wouldn’t do. Starting from scratch, I tried again, but nothing came. I didn’t think I could manage it. Then I reached back into my life and a tale came to mind that resonates for me on a deeply emotional level. The story poured out with ease. The necklace in “A Girl’s Best Friend” stands for something quite different from the one in the first version. As for the prompt line, no staples required.

PJ Friel: I’m not a fan of horror so when I read the prompt, I knew it was going to be a challenge for me. My solution for this was to discuss the prompt with a friend, Jessica. I find that my imagination really kicks into gear during lively conversations. Focusing on the necklace and the meaning behind it was key for me. What was so important about that necklace? Jessica and I threw around some ideas and then I went home to begin my research. With some facts and pictures in hand (visuals are very important to me), the story started to flow. Oddly enough, I really didn’t know where the protagonist was going to take me. I always know the ending of my stories, but not so with this one.

Killion Slade: As soon as I read the prompt, I immediately knew I didn’t want to write a simple murder scene. My horror muse truly wanted to be fed and pushed me out of my comfort zone. I wanted the piece to seem surreal, confusing, a bit disorientating, and downright uncomfortable. From initial beta readers, I was asked to take the story further, deeper, and then once I added sensory elements, it truly took off on a life of its own.

Nina Benneton: A day before the assignment was due, I’d listened to a conversation between two sisters and their dialogue was so rich, I went home and fictionalized the characters, taking advantage of the dialogue’s rhythm.

DE: What was the hardest thing about writing to the prompt?

NB: This particular prompt screamed mystery or thriller or horror to me, but my muse was not cooperating. She wanted humor instead, so I relented and let her be. After all, I had a deadline.

FD: How and where to place the prompt was a big issue for me. I wanted a seamless use of the prompt that didn’t jar the reader and make them say, “oh yeah, there is the prompt.” This was a challenge for me, because putting the prompt as the first, or last sentence, seemed very appealing. Make it obvious and blatant, then this little voice in me asked, “is the prompt more important than the story, or vice-versa?” When I wrote the story, the prompt fell naturally into place at the dark point of the story.

PJF: The hardest part about the prompt was that it didn’t come from within. It’s difficult for me to take someone else’s idea and build around it. This prompt was especially hard because it was drawing me into a genre that I avoid. I could have worked the sentence into a fantasy story, which is my chosen area, but I felt that the point of the prompt was to write something outside of the norm. I’m glad that I didn’t take the easy way out. I don’t think I would have been nearly as satisfied with the results.

DH: I knew the story I wanted to tell before I knew where to put the prompt line. The muse is a subtle creature: I believe my creative self understood where the prompt line was meant to go long before my conscious self did. During the writing process, my big worry was that the prompt sentence would stick up like a nail in the road. By the time the story was done, the prompt line slipped into place naturally.

KS: I would say the hardest thing about the prompt was the tense. Writing in first person created a challenge to meet the prompt. It also was the style of the death. Immediately, when I think of diamonds dangling from a dead woman’s hands, I think of her stealing them, getting caught, and being poisoned in some sort fashion. So trying to come up with a unique situation for this woman and why she was dead and had diamonds dangling that was not cliche’ in my mind was indeed a challenge.

KTW: Other than some terrible cliched ideas, I floundered around seeking inspiration for far too long. I remember one night lying in bed staring at the ceiling and playing word association games when I should have been sleeping.

DE: Do you see these characters in any other pieces besides this story?

DH: In a sense, yes. My recent Victorian Gothic short, “No Tongue Can Tell,” is similarly themed, with similar characters in parallel situations. Writing “A Girl’s Best Friend” allowed “No Tongue Can Tell” to pour out with ease, even though I’d never written a Victorian Gothic before. Creativity feeds on itself.

NB: Not until this question. Hmm. I think I might like to see Catarina and Nipolita showing up to help the priest at the orphanage in Guatemala.

KS: Devon Ellington taught us how we can use our short stories to ‘put the feelers out’ for new characters. Let them try on their story, so to speak. We also learned how to incorporate older characters into new situations where we normally wouldn’t see them in, to find out more about what drives them. I have not considered writing more for these two characters in “The Trophy Wife”, but it could becomes a twisted little mini-series of short stories based around the unique world built for them.

PJF: While the protagonist is certainly an interesting character, I don’t think I could spend an entire novel inside her head. It’s a rather scary place inside her noggin and I’m a big chicken.

KTW: The motivations and rationalizations of people like the main character fascinate me, but no, I won’t be writing about these particular characters again.

FD: I always see my stories as bigger pieces. Short stories really turn on the creative flow, and get me thinking about all the possibilities that I could do with that story. I find that it can be very difficult to write a short story, because the story wants to grow. I envy short story writers that can see their stories in a few pages.

Bios:

Nina Benneton always wanted to be a priest and save orphans in third-word countries, but ends up writing romantic comedies; for now. Visit her at www.NinaBenneton.com.

Faith Dincolo writes horror, sci-fi comedy, and creative non-fiction. She can be found at https://www.facebook.com/FYDincolo.

PJ Friel is a writer and artist, dwelling in the land of fantasy. Visit her online at http://www.amberstar.net.


Diana Holdsworth writes novels, novellas, short stories and memoir. Visit her at http://www.DianaHoldsworth.com.

Killion Slade comprises of a married writing team who met in the virtual realms of Second Life and virtually enjoy everything. Read More at http://www.killionslade.com.

KT Wagner writes science fiction, Gothic horror and steampunk, novels and short stories, with the occasional forays into other genres and her garden. Visit her on-line at http://www.northernlightsgothic.com

Purchase DEATH SPARKLES here.

DEATH SPARKLES releases

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s here!  The Death Sparkles Anthology is available.  Here’s the Kindle link, and it will also be available on B&N and Smashwords.  I wrote the introduction and have the final story, “Sea Diamond” , a science-fiction mystery that introduces the ass-kicking, take-no prisoners Fiona Steele.  We WILL see more of her.

Nine authors contributed to this anthology, inspired from the prompt “the diamond necklace dangled from the dead woman’s hand” and nine very different interpretations of that.  The wonderful PJ Friel did the cover AND is a contributor, with “The Needing”.