Ever take Cues from Your Subconscious?


Hakone Open Air Museum

The Subconscious and You

My best writing comes to me when I’m not planning it.

The other times, I’m working at the craft, practicing my scales so that when the music happens I’m there to witness and record it as best as I can. Sometimes I don’t do well at the first attempt and my subconscious keeps throwing it at me till I get it right. A lot of my writing is built around similar themes– don’t quite know what they are yet, only that when the raw inner voice comes out and plays, my stories seem preoccupied with similar things.

It is as if I’m the chimpanzee being taught a puzzle in a lab. The humans at the other end are trying to stretch my capabilities, and measuring them, while at it.

This is easy to make peace with when I’m writing flash fiction. I’m reasonably confident these days of churning out five to six a week. Two or three of those might even be good.

Trouble appears when I write a longer piece– it is as if I’m a novice singer, running out of breath when belting out an aria. Some of them begin well, then falter, and take a dozen drafts to catch the high notes I want to hit, or rumble into those base notes I don’t want to lose.

Between passes at that story, days or weeks or months might pass, and there I am again, and the story might just hold together without crashing — like a house of multicolored cards held up in air just so. You see the masters doing it all the time, juggling so many cards in air and making such brilliant villas, mansions, palaces. It’s magic. I’m happy when I can hold together the bare bones of a hut, just so long as it stays in air, without bleeding color or losing balance.

The novel. The novel is a different beast– with it I feel like a dog in front of a mirror. I don’t know what I see, only that I see it. And I’m yet to see a dog juggle.

So many mixed metaphors in this post– but it reflects exactly how I feel these days trying to enter into my novel to begin on the third draft. This palace might crumble before it stands up– but at least I’m learning the art of juggling the bricks to keep the damn building floating in air. And it looks like I’m not alone– other writers compare writing to juggling as well:

“I always imagine it like a whole load of plates spinning, and you’ve got the plan, the research and the plot, and you’ve got to kind of keep them spinning and constantly moving between one and the other.”

The complete article about writing and the subconscious, here.

Who knows, maybe I’m meant only to write at shorter lengths. Not that that is easier to do (well).

I have to discover whether I’m meant for longer stories. The real bitch of it? The only road to discovery lies in writing at greater length.

What about you? What role does the subconscious play in your life, as a writer, reader, artist, gardener, mason, engineer, or whatever it is that you do? Do you ever take cues from your subconscious?

 

Do You Believe in What ifs?


Its been a month since I posted here. Like I said on Amlokiblogs some time back, I’m in a different world these days, which is spinning parallel to yours.  Fiction takes up most of my mind-space, so I have very little left over for life, online and off. But I do revert to my blog every once in a while, because I miss you guys, or as in this case, because I want to send a shout-out to a dear friend.

Today’s shoutout goes to Alex J. Cavanaugh, the Amazon bestselling Ninja Cap’n, who’s busy with the A to Z Challenge these days.

He’s here today to talk about What if’s, and his new book: Dragon of the Stars. Take it away, Alex!

Dragon of the Stars by Alex J Cavanaugh

Dragon of the Stars by Alex J Cavanaugh

As writers, we’re always on the lookout for our next story idea. We become master observers of people and situations. We’ll jot down notes and start storylines that may or may not go anywhere.

Sometimes we have a spark, but it just doesn’t seem to take. Or maybe it doesn’t go in a direction that’s exciting. We’re bummed and tempted to shelve the idea.

Maybe what we need is to explore that idea from a new angle. Flip it around and turn it into something different. That might be just thing to ignite interest again.

What are some ways we can shift the pieces of the puzzle around?

  • Reverse the roles. Take the main characters are reverse their position in the storyline.
  • Change the time period.  Shift the story forward or backward.
  • Change the setting. Urban instead of rural, small city instead of big, desert instead of mountains, etc.
  • Try a different country.  Would it be more exciting set in a different culture?
  • How about a different or additional genre? A mystery in space? A historical paranormal?
  • Go for the worst case scenario. Part of the story isn’t very exciting? Ramp it up – what is the worst thing that could happen?
  • Brainstorm with other writers. Sometimes sharing the idea with those we trust will lead to a revelation.
  • Brainstorm on our own. Throw everything out there, including the kitchen sink. No rules, no restrictions–just go nuts!

Any of those changes can make all the difference in the world. My latest book, Dragon of the Stars, came from a song and a little ‘What If?’ Ayreon’s Dragon on the Sea was about Queen Elizabeth I sending Sir Francis Drake to fight the Spanish Armada. The dragon in the song refers to Drake, but I wondered–what if the dragon was the ship? What if it was a spaceship instead? What if the Queen sent a Nobleman to find that ship? From that point, the story unfolded quickly, with the ending coming from a rather twisted ‘What if?’.

So, if a story needs a little something, try ‘What if?’

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Alex J. Cavanaugh works in web design, graphics, and technical editing. He is also the guitarist in a Christian band. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games. Online he is the Ninja Captain and founder of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. He’s the author of Amazon Best-Sellers CassaStar, CassaFire, and CassaStorm. His latest book, Dragon of the Stars, came out April 7, 2015. Purchase it on AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboChaptersAmazon UKGoodreadsiTunesAmazon PrintOverdrive.  Find Alex here, and on Twitter.

Who else has had a story unfold with a little help from ‘What if?’ What have you been doing this March and April? Taking part in the A to Z Challenge? Have you bought Dragon of the Stars yet?

#AtoZchallenge #flashfiction: Lately he’d been feeling


As part of the A to Z Challenge,  through the month of April I’m posting a story a day based on photographs by Joseph T. Richardson and prompts given to me by blog-friends.
Writing prompt: Lately he’d been feeling…

Provided by: Anna Tan, friend, fellow writer, and one of the magnificent Seven of #TeamDamyanti

A to Z Challenge: L for Lately he'd been feeling         Saturday nights like this, Don returned early, and tried not to get wasted. Martha didn’t like it.

          But today they’d filled his glass each time he’d drained it, and he could smell whiskey everywhere, on his sofa, his clothes, even his socks and shoes as he tugged them off. He felt, warm, fuzzy on the outside, but the booze hadn’t dulled the shrapnel of pain caught in his chest.

         Not that he wanted to talk about it, but lately, he’d been feeling like a dinosaur at a fun fair– on display, paint chipped in places, no choice but to stay put.

          He’d tried quitting, but not very hard, because that might get him iced. In the last few months, on a job, when taking the stairs, he’d catch his breath after each flight. His hands didn’t hold steady on the boom stick no more.

         Slim, Nugs and Toddy eyeballed him every fucking minute, waiting for him to slip from his rung, so they could step up. He didn’t blame them. At twenty he thought the old papi running him a dick wad, who needed topping off.

            If he hadn’t fallen for Martha, taken the slow road because of her, they’d have made him the boss by now, his own plush office, what rum or whisky he wanted, two gun-toting fellas tagging him everywhere. Instead, here he sat, in his underwear, petting the boom stick by the bed. The steel barrel felt cold in his hands, but it remained his only friend, the one thing he could trust.

           The Mac Balla had taken Martha, popped her off at church, and he had to get the slick who’d done it. Each Sunday he was in town, he’d met her at the mass, for the last fifteen years. She wouldn’t marry him, she said, till he changed his ways.

          Now she was gone, leaving the ghost of a bullet hole in his chest. It was covered with skin on the outside, and full of fucking veins on the inside, gushing blood. Don unscrewed the bottle by the bed, tossed the drink down his throat. He willed it to find this bloody spot where Martha had been inside of him, pour whiskey on it, or burn it with hot iron, so the pain would come once, hard, and then be gone.

                 He heard the latch on his back door turn. One of the boys come to do him in, after drowning him in drink? The Mac Balla? He took the boom stick in his shaking hands and pointed it at his chin. He won’t let someone else’s bullet take him. He pushed the cold ring of steel in the jowl under his chin, felt his flesh spill around it.

                 Martha’s scent filled him, the smell of her hair when she washed herself after they’d ‘lived in sin’ each Sunday night. He listened for the next footfall, the whisper of cloth against curtains, the cocking of a pistol.

                He waited. He would find Martha, one way or the other.

~~~~~

Are you taking part in the A to Z challenge? Do you read or write fiction? Ever write based on a prompt? How would you connect today’s prompt and picture?

Is Your #blogging eating into your #writing? : #IWSG


Thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh for again organizing Insecure Writers’ Support Group along with his wonderful co-hosts Tina Downey, Elsie, Elizabeth Seckman, and Julie Flanders! Go here to see the other participants.

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Insecure Writer's Support Group

Insecure Writers!

This month, I’m all tuckered out, been sick and missed a lot of writing. That’s not all of it. I’m co-hosting the A to Z Challenge, (the one blog event worth signing up for, imho) and participating in it via two blogs. I have to pre-schedule everything– that’s 52 posts for two blogs, and I’m not done with even one of them yet– though I hope to change that today.

One of them is going to be all done with 26 shiny posts tonight, if it kills me, waiting to go out into the world in April. I had hoped to avoid doing this work in March, but life, health, and everything else has caught up with me.

I’m trying to get the second draft of my WIP finished as well, and feel as if it is suffering due to my involvement in my blogs! Add to that my freelance writing commitments, and we’re talking serious time-crunch here.

Sometimes I wonder whether I blog too much for my own good, but at others, I realize it is my support system as well, a place online I can escape to and meet friends when my fiction is driving me up the wall. Which, let’s face it, is most days!  I have cut back on blogging this month, one post a week per blog in order to fit everything else in, but I shan’t give up on blogging entirely. Have you ever felt this way– that your blog is running away with you and there’s no time to write?

On a good note for my writing, however, I had a flashfiction piece published in an international feminist journal , When Women Waken, so that was a good feeling. My WIP has feminist overtones, so I think my writing is able to reach out, which gives me a measure of confidence.

Has Your Blog ever eaten into your Writing?

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If you’re a writer clipping away at #amwriting each day, join the Insecure Writers’ Support Group!

Do You think J K Rowling should stop #Writing ?


So this is my plea to JK Rowling. Remember what it was like when The Cuckoo’s Calling had only sold a few boxes and think about those of us who are stuck there, because we can’t wave a wand and turn our books into overnight bestsellers merely by saying the magic word. By all means keep writing for kids, or for your personal pleasure – I would never deny anyone that – but when it comes to the adult market you’ve had your turn. Enjoy your vast fortune and the good you’re doing with it, luxuriate in the love of your legions of fans, and good luck to you on both counts. But it’s time to give other writers, and other writing, room to breathe.”

J K Rowling Lynn Shepherd

J K Rowling Image via Daniel Ogren

This is what I read on my feed this morning. Curious, because the link was to Hufftington Post, I clicked  through to the article. Lynn Shepherd basically says that she hasn’t read a word of Potter, but since Rowling, just by virtue of her fame alone, can turn a non-seller to a mega-bestseller, she should stop writing.

I’d like to say a few things to Lynn Shepherd, who I understand is a literary mystery writer. I’d like you guys to tell me if you disagree/ agree with any/ all of it.

Dear Lynn Shepherd,

1. Writing is like golf, you’re your only competitor. Someone else’s success doesn’t automatically ensure your failure. If you are a writer, it’s because you have a story to tell. What other reason is there? How does someone else selling a gazillion copies play into it?

2.  It wasn’t just that the hype was drearily excessive, or that (by all accounts) the novel was no masterpiece and yet sold by the hundredweight, it was the way it crowded out everything else, however good, however worthwhile. That book sucked the oxygen from the entire publishing and reading atmosphere. And I chose that analogy quite deliberately, because I think that sort of monopoly can make it next to impossible for anything else to survive, let alone thrive.”

The publication of a mega best seller actually helps the ecology of writing: it draws more folks into reading, it encourages publishers to take more chances because their pockets are deeper.

3.    By all means keep writing for kids, or for your personal pleasure – I would never deny anyone that – but when it comes to the adult market you’ve had your turn.”

Writing for children is way harder than writing for adults. So stop patronizing those who write Children’s fiction or YA. Or maybe try writing some.

4. If you’re going to ask an author to stop publishing her writing, you should have read at least one of her books. She worked hard at writing those novels– and kept writing despite adversities.

5. When Rowling first broke into the industry, there were mega-sellers before her. That didn’t prevent her from selling. Amanda Hocking self-published her way to stardom, this was post-Rowling. So, there’s enough oxygen for all of us to breathe.

6. Rowling didn’t expect to sell at all, her agent told her she wouldn’t make any money. She was rejected by 12 publishers. I met one of them, and his fave dinner story was his tragedy of rejecting Rowling. No one knows what will make a book sell, so it is pointless to accuse a more successful colleague of your failure.

Could the Potter books use a better editor? Definitely. Would we have had less of a noise about The Casual Vacancy and The Cuckoo’s Calling if it weren’t for the hallowed Rowling name? Absolutely.

Does Rowling’s work have as much literary merit as Alice Munro or Toni Morrison or Franz Kafka or Ernest Hemingway or Amy Hempel or Lydia Davis?

In my own, very subjective opinion? 

Possibly not. (I have read all these authors, and worship all of them. I loved reading Rowling as well and have read all the Potters, and The Cuckoo’s Calling.)

But does JK Rowling have the right to write whatever she wants, when she wants, and publish it? Hell, yeah.

As long as she has a story to tell, in my not so humble opinion, she should be able to tell it. At the end of the day, that’s why a writer writes at the core of it all, in order to write. Not to please other writers (All Nobel Laureates should stop writing, then). Not even to please readers. (Stephen King would stop writing too, in that case, because his readers are happy).

As a writer, dear Lynn Shepherd, I don’t understand those in my profession who want to pull their colleagues down. And how do you think this article of yours is going to win over more readers and writers to your side?

Damyanti

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Do You, dear reader, think JK Rowling should stop writing just because she sells a gazillion copies with each book she writes? Does Shepherd’s article have anything to do with rumors of a seven-part crime series from Rowling?

Want to talk to the Hottest #Creative #Writing #Teacher I know?


 As part of my ongoing guest post series in this blog, Scott Bryson, the editor of Cigale Literary Magazine answered questions a week ago on what leads him to choose a short story for his publication. 

Today I give you  Suzy Vitello Soule, den-mom for the hottest writing group in Portland with names like Chuck Palahniuk, Chelsea Cain, Diana Page Jordan, Cheryl Strayed,  Lidia Yuknavitch. She talks to us about her famous writing group, her reading, her writing, her teaching, and last, but not the least, The Moment Before, her new book.

Suzy Vitello Soule

The Moment Before

1.  In your experience, what should an author keep in mind while creating or joining a writing group? What sort of group dynamic brings out the best writing from its participants?  

Chemistry, I’d say. Which is a bit of a crap shoot, isn’t it? The kernel of our group began with a local mentor, Tom Spanbauer, and morphed from there. We’re big on “no homework,” meaning, we give feedback on the spot after a participant reads his/her pages. It develops a critical muscle to do it this way, but it also lets loose a knee-jerk emotional response to the work, which is valuable, but takes time to navigate as the recipient.

2. You teach creative writing. Could you tell us more about it?  Where can we find your classes? What do you like best about teaching creative writing and what puts you off?

I’ve found a great place to teach, LitReactor – an online writing community which attracts a wonderful and diverse array of teachers and students. Look for my next class in April. I’ll soon firm up what I’ll be teaching.

What I love about teaching creative writing is that I learn so much from my students as I follow their paths, their stories, their hearts. As far as what’s off-putting, every once in a while there pops up a pedantic know-it-all who seems closed off to the journey. But that is very, very rare at LitReactor.

3. Your writing is vivid and forceful, and I love how you use details to bring your characters to life. Technically, what do you find the most easy part of writing, and which part do you find the hardest?

Thank you! I enjoy the initial foray into new territory, surprising myself. I suppose the hardest thing is to trust that, eventually, the sentences will take shape in a way that approximates the feeling in my heart. Patience is not my strength. I want it all NOW!

Revision is so underappreciated. When you back away from your initial sprint and allow your subconscious to engage, you (magically, it seems) have access to a more technical and objective part of your brain. It’s that combination of authentic outburst and craft and rigor that finds its way into the hearts of others.

4. If you had to give just three pointers on ‘writing technique’ to an aspiring author, what would they be?

1.Read your work out loud.

2.Enter into that space of the unknown by unpacking the smaller moments and following your depth of inquiry.

3.Resist completing energy in dialogue. In other words, take the reader someplace new instead of resolving conflict within scenes.

5. If you had to choose three of your favorite authors and their best works, which would they be? Why did you choose these in particular?

I absolutely adore Laurie Halse Anderson. Wintergirls and her new one, The Impossible Knife of Memory. Her precision with voice, her accuracy, and her fresh approach show me how exciting that sort of discipline can be. I also love stories by Antonya Nelson.  Her irony is masterful. Oh, and Tom Perrotta’s Little Children. A creepily delicious book.I’m a fan of contemporary realism, I suppose. And darkness. Always a pinch of darkness.

6. Which of your characters is closest to your heart, and why?

I’m pretty sure I don’t have a standout favorite. My main characters tend to be heroines who are a bit, shall we say, left of normal. Lily, Brady, Liz and Sisi – they are the four main characters in the three books I’ve written and rewritten recently. What fascinates me about these characters is the ways in which they discover their strengths during their meander through my psyche. They all start out in crisis. All seem to have experienced a level of maternal abandonment, and so, I become their mother as I write them through peril and eventually shepherd them to a better place.

7. Tell us about your newly released book, The Moment Before.

It’s a love story. Between the author and the city in which the book takes place. Between the main character, Brady, and her dead sister, Sabine. And, subtly, between Brady and Connor, the boy who also loved Sabine, but was implicated in her death. That’s more than a run-of-the-mill love triangle, yes? More like a love web.

8. What was the spark of the story, and what was the writing process like? Who is your target audience?

Brady had been living inside of me for quite some time, and when I sat down to write a book that began with the death of a loved one, her voice permeated my every thought. The story crystallized around a plot whereby Brady would discover things about herself – strengths, weaknesses, her capacity to love – as she uncovered more information about Sabine.  

My target audience is young adult, but I’m finding that my readers are less definable by age than by their expectations of story. Looking over reviewer comments, it appears that Moment appeals most to a certain type of indie reader. Readers who tend to enjoy the nuances in humanity and enjoy a more lyric and wistful approach to coming of age. Plus, there’s that Keep Portland Weird vibe running throughout.

Suzy is giving away a copy of THE MOMENT BEFORE book (an e-version), plus an electronic version of Averil Dean’s new erotic thriller, ALICE CLOSE YOUR EYES, to two randomly selected commenters a week after this posts. So if you’re leaving a comment here, you might expect a copy of one of these wonderful books!

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Suzy Vitello Soule

Suzy Vitello Soule

About Suzy Vitello Soule: As a founding member of what the Oregonian has dubbed Portland’s “hottest writing group,” (whose members include Chuck Palahniuk, Chelsea Cain, Lidia Yuknavitch, Monica Drake and Cheryl Strayed), Suzy’s name has graced the acknowledgement pages of many a book. Her own award-winning writing has appeared in a bunch of journals and anthologies. THE MOMENT BEFORE is her debut novel. Suzy lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, Kirk, and son, Carson.

Find out more about Suzy’s projects on www.suzyvitello.com, where you can also read the first chapter of The Moment Before.

Buy The Moment Before here, the linked page leads you to all sorts of places on the web the book is selling at, including Amazon.

Become her friend on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

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Blurb of The Moment Before: “Don’t get me wrong. I loved my sister. I never, not once, wished her dead.”

Brady and Sabine Wilson are sisters born eleven months apart, but they couldn’t be more different. Popular Sabine, the head cheerleader dating the high school hunk, seems to have all the luck, while her younger, artsy sister “Brady Brooder” is a loner who prefers the sidelines to the limelight.

After Sabine dies in a horrific cheerleading accident, grief unravels Brady and her family. Once recognized for her artistic talent, 17-year-old Brady finds herself questioning the value of everything she once held dear. Her best friend betrays her. Her parents’ marriage is crumbling. And the boy everyone blames for the accident seems to be her only ally in the search for answers in the wake of her sister’s death. As an unlikely friendship emerges, Brady learns more about Sabine – and love – than she bargained for.

Would you read The Moment Before? Do you have raging questions related to creative writing or her book that you want to ask Suzy Vitello?

Teaser Tuesday: We Were the Mulavaneys


This Tuesday, it is time for the teaser again, and this time the book came from the very bottom of my tottering TBR pile (I’m thinking of mixing up older books with the new): We were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

We were the Mulvaneys Joyce Carol Oates damyanti

We Were the Mulvaneys

Here are two teaser sentences from We were the Mulvaneys:

During these mad dashes to the wall phone in the kitchen she hadn’t time to fall but with fantastical grace and dexterity wrenched herself upright in midfall and continued running (dogs whimpering, yapping hysterically in her wake, cats scattering wide-eyed and plume-tailed) before the telephone ceased it’s querulous ringing–though frequently she was greeted with nothing more than a derisive dial tone, in any case.”

Blurb: “‘The Mulvaneys of High Point Farm in Mt. Ephraim, New York, are a large and fortunate clan, blessed with good looks, abundant charisma, and boundless promise. But over the twenty-five year span of this ambitious novel, the Mulvaneys will slide, almost imperceptibly at first, from the pinnacle of happiness, transformed by the vagaries of fate into a scattered collection of lost and lonely souls. It is the youngest son, Judd, now an adult, who attempts to piece together the fragments of the Mulvaneys’ former glory, seeking to uncover and understand the secret violation that occasioned the family’s tragic downfall. Each of the Mulvaneys endures some form of exile–physical or spiritual–but in the end they find a way to bridge the chasms that have opened up among them, reuniting in the spirit of love and healing. Profoundly cathartic, Oates’ acclaimed novel unfolds as if, in the darkness of the human spirit, she has come upon a source of light at its core. Rarely has a writer made such a startling and inspiring statement about the value of hope and compassion.

I read the book in about three days– some parts were painful-beautiful to read. All the characters are drawn so poignantly– even though not all of them have chapters from their point of view. This is one of my favorite genre of books, the family saga, with a background of crime thrown in, dark, but not too dark– something I can get lost in and never come out.

Oates has written over 40 novels and much else besides in a career spanning 50 years so far– how did she do it? I have barely scratched the surface of her work, and intend to pick up many more.

How about you? Would you read a book like We were the Mulvaneys ?