Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

Harlan County Horror

Sometime around the beginning of September, I got an email from Jason Sizemore:

Mari Adkins and I are releasing an anthology titled “Harlan County Horror” under the Apex Publications imprint. All stories will be set or based around Harlan, KY. There’s a rich mountain culture there, the Cumberland Gap,…and there’s also things like the Hatfields & McCoys, coal mine mafia, supernatural weirdness, and scary hillbillies.

I’m not looking to make fun of Harlan. I want to use Harlan and it’s bizarre, rich history to make some good horror.

Would you be interested?

Would I be interested? Oh yes. Yes, very much so.

So, I’ve been reading about Harlan county and toying with story ideas, but mostly I’ve been sitting on the news, waiting for them to make their official announcement about Harlan County Horror.

Here it is.

You guys/gals think you know everything going on with Apex? Nah, you just see the tip of the ‘berg! Our brains work overtime thinking of ways to frighten, to sicken you, the readers.

For over a year now, Mari Adkins has been sharing stories of her past with me. She’s also written a trio of novels, two of which I’ve read. And a handful of short fiction. There’s one thing all her novels, shorts, and dialogues with me have in common: Harlan, KY.

The frightening aspect of this fact? She only lived there for 3.5 years.

I’m hoping to purge Harlan, KY from Mari Adkins. You can call it an exorcism. I will call it an anthology of horror. Harlan County Horror.
Mari will co-edit the anthology with me. Mari will also have the opening story. After all, it is her soul we’re cleansing.

We’ve lined up an impressive list of writing talent to help Mari with her curse. Some names are new, others more well known. All have their own insights into the madness of Harlan Couny.

Mari, Queen of Harlan, Adkins
Cherie Priest
Scott Nicholson
Weston Ochse
Robby Sparks
Kim Colley
Debbie Kuhn
Michele Freel
Alethea Kontis
Mary Robinette Kowal
Geoffrey Girard

Who knows, I might take pen to paper and do my part to squeeze the devil from Mari.

This is slated to be released in the summer of 2007.

Seeing the authors with whom I’ll be sharing the Table of Contest, I’m even more excited and pleased to be in this anthology.

Good Housekeeping again

I edited two stories and submitted them yesterday. My requested rewrite went off to the editor last week, so now it’s just a waiting game. I finished proofing the Autumn issue of Shimmer, which goes to the printer on Tuesday. In short, no more writing reasons to put off Good Housekeeping, so I pulled it out last night and started working.

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41,609 / 50,000

608 words, fifteen minutes.

I should have worked longer, but Rob had rented De-Lovely so we watched that.


God, he was still gorgeous.


Her dark eyes under the tangle of her hair gave Cassandra a half-fey look.

Cut Paper Art

Holding on to MyselfSpeaking of paper art… I love cut paper. I started getting fascinated with it when I was working on Snow Queen, by Hans Christian Andersen. When he was writing a new story, he would tell it to an audience while making a paper cutting. At the end of the story he would unfold his cut paper creation. I used that as the basis of my design. That was neat.

This. This is amazing. Go look at these art pieces made from a single sheet of A4 paper by Peter Callesen.

Mini-review: The Planet Buyer by Cordwainer Smith

The Planet BuyerThis started well with exciting narrative style; it broke rules and I was really looking forward to seeing where it took me. The book opens with Theme and Prologue. Check this out.

Story, place and time–these are the essentials.


The story is simple. There was a boy who bought the planet Earth. We know that to our cost. It only happened once, and we have taken pains that it will never happen again. He came to Earth, got what he wanted, and got away alive, in a series of remarkable adventures. That’s the story.

He goes on with a summary and scene-setting in a way that shouldn’t work, but absolutely does. It’s exciting and vivid writing. He ends the Theme and Prologue like so.


What happens in the story?
     Read it.
     Who’s there?
     It starts with Rod McBan–who had the real name of Roderick Frederick Ronald Arnold William MacArthur McBan. But you can’t tell a story if you call the main person by a name as long as Roderick Frederick Ronald Arnold William MacArthur McBan. You have to do what his neighbors did–call him Rod McBan. The old ladies always said, “Rod McBan the hundred and fifty-first…” and then sighed. Flurp a squirt at them, firnds. We don’t need numbers. We know his family was distinguished. We know the poor kid was born to troubles.
     Why shouldn’t he have troubles?
     He was born to inherit the Station of Doom.
     He almost failed the Garden of Death.
     The Onseck was after him.
     His father had died out in the dirty part of space, where people never find nice clean deaths.
     When he got in trouble, he trusted his computer.
     The computer gambled, and it won the Earth.
     He went to Earth.
     That was history itself–that and C’mell beside him.
     At long, long last he got his rights and came home.
     That’s the story. Except for the details.
     They follow.

One interesting idea after another leapt onto the page. Giant sheep which, through a virus, produce an immortality drug; underpeople, which are humans mixed with animal dna (though before the notion of dna is around); the Garden of Death…

And then, it just meandered and eventually fizzled out. It completely failed to live up to the promises of the beginning.

I was sad.

Edited to add: Mr. Sadhead informs me that the publishers split this book in half and that I just read part one. Ah. That makes more sense. I will now have to track down a copy of Norstrilia, which combines both books and adds some bridging material.

“This Little Pig”, update

I got an email today from Debby Vetter at CICADA talking about the edits of my story, “This Little Pig.” In the body of the email was this line:

We’re hoping to get your story into the January/February issue of CICADA…

Yay! Last week, I saw an interview with her which said that the January/February issue would be about cars, so I had been wondering if my story would be in there. That’s not very far away at all. Since I read CICADA before I started writing, I still can’t believe I’m going to be in it.


Well, I had to delete 1700 words yesterday, because I realized that I had taken two different wrong turns in the plot. The interesting thing with both of them is that in both cases I was clearly stalling while I tried to figure out what happened next. Much earlier in the process, I had made one of those discoveries which was exciting and causes one to revise the plot, except that I didn’t stop and redo my chapter breakdown. I kept writing. That’s all well and good, until I hit a point where I didn’t know what happened next. Then my characters went into holding patterns, vascillating between decisions without actually acting.

This is where writer’s block is your friend. I knew that I had made a mistake and by looking at the types and areas of my procrastination, I was able to spot the errors pretty fast. Too bad I didn’t spot them before I wrote them. But, in the big picture, it’s not so bad to toss 1700 words.

Anyway, I spent yesterday revising my plot outline. While there is still a chapter which says, “Something bad happens to Cassandra” and I’ve got no idea what the “something bad” is, the story as a whole is much more solid. I blazed through the next two chapters and am only 500 words behind where I should be today. Hurrah. So if I write between 2500 and 3000 words today I’ll be back on target.

This is why the weather is gorgeous outside. Temptation.

Reading Aloud 7: Breathing

This entry is part 7 of 17 in the series Reading Aloud

In puppetry we say that breathe carries the emotion. The only time a person notices another person breathing is when it’s important, when it’s carrying information. The simplest example is what happens when you look at someone lying down. You automatically notice if they are breathing, to make certain they aren’t dead.

But there are other things that breath comunicates. If you see someone, whose chest is heaving then you know that he’s just exherted himself. Laughter is a form of breath. And how many characters do you know who have gasped in surprise. The quality of breath indicates how someone feels.

When you are performing a character this is good to remember, but it’s also important to remember when you are speaking as yourself or as the narrator. If your breath comes rapidly, you will convey an unconcious sense of panic to the audience. So let’s talk about how to breathe while speaking.

This is a fairly mechanical way to remember, but it is where I breathe and will help your reading in general. Breathe after every period. If it’s just a quick catch breath, then you’ll convey a sense of urgency so think about whether that’s appropriate. Besides improving the flow of oxygen, it will force you to pause after periods which is generally a good idea.

Really, what I’m asking you to do is to inhale before beginning your next sentence. It’s something you do naturally when you speak or act, because your brain a) stops to gather its thoughts or b) knows how much air you need for the next sentence so it catches it.

The period acts as a stop sign. While you are in that tiny space between sentences, read ahead quickly with your eyes. You’re cueing your brain on how big of a breath it needs to take.

You are also setting the emotional tone for your piece. A thoughtful passage might have longer pauses, while a shorter one will be more clipped with less space for breath. You know when you’re writing an action sequence and reach for the shorter sentence? In part you are doing that because it gives the impression of faster breaths. Allow me to demonstrate. I’ll read the same passage with even breaths and then again with faster ones. Naturally, this affects pacing in general.



See how much the tone changes by picking up the tempo?

So, unless your fiction is full of spine-tingling thrills, remember to breathe. In some ways, you can think of that space between sentences as the space for thought. The more the thought changes between sentences, the more space you’ll want to allow for it.

And really pause for a couple of nice good breaths at section breaks. Not only do you deserve the oxygen, you also are cueing the listeners that things are changing.

Of course, in an ideal world, this would only be for cold readings. You will have practised this at home and will have built the breaths in. In fact, when you are preparing your manuscript for reading, you can use the singer’s mark for breath. Put an oversize apostrophe anywhere you know that you really need to take a breath for the emotional content of the piece.

And deep breath before you go on stage, just to get rid of the tension.

Now. Here’s a special treat, just for Jason. One more way that breath can change a reading.


Why do I only have 1167 words to show for today? Because I spent all freaking day trying to recover from edatarack’s blunder. I’m busily moving every site I hosted with them so that I never have to deal with them ever again. Between that and the Icelandic lesson, I feel very good that I got forty-five minutes of writing in and ticked that I had to waste time on the website. I’ll try to post some audio Icelandic tomorrow. Meanwhile, I promised myself that I would go to bed at midnight.

I stayed up until two o’clock last night and that was a bad idea.

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36,554 / 50,000

1167 words in forty-five minutes


He cleared his throat twice.


“I mean, most parents just tell stories about their honeymoons, you two went on a freaking quest.”

Bada Bing

I headed into Lazytown today so that Jonathan and I could go have lunch. He’s heading back to NYC tomorrow, so this was the last chance to see him for awhile. We had planned on going to Dong Huang, which is the little Chinese restaurant we’d recently discovered.

Sadly, they only offer a buffet during lunch, which today seemed to consist of four empty pans and some half-dried noodles. We decided to pass and went to Bada Bing. I don’t know anyone who’s been there even though it’s the closest restaurant to work. It’s apparently an Italian Thai Icelandic Sports Bar. Yeah. They are non-smoking and fairly vegetarian friendly. By which I mean that when I ordered the Thai Nuðlur með grænmeti (Noodles with vegetables) he was considerate enough to ask if it was okay if they put egg in there. Yay.

Sadly, the noodles tasted largely of soy sauce. Alas.

Afterwords we went back to the studio and I got to watch a couple of the episodes. Hot stuff.

Then, back home to work on Good Housekeeping

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33,103 / 50,000

2,578 words.

Looking at my progress so far, I’m writing slightly more words everyday but my time spent writing each day is shrinking by about fifteen minutes per day. That’s exciting. It also makes me wonder why I’m not doing this every day? I mean, sure, I try to write at least a page, but looking at my times that should only take me ten or fifteen minutes. Why has it been taking so long?


Her heart slipped, beating sideways against her chest.


“Get Grandma and Grandaddy to come stay with us there.”

The face value of writing

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30,525 / 50,000

Today I discovered the perfect writing combo. Facial plus timed writing sessions. I had a facial kit lying around that I’d been meaning to use. Moisturizing is good, but there are times when the winds here have stripped all the moisture out of one’s skin calling for more intensive measures. Each phase of the facial involves massaging the face and then letting the substance sit. So I’d set my timer and write until it went off. Sometimes I had five minutes, sometimes forty.

At the end of the day, I have soft supple skin, a delicate glow and 2504 words more of my novel.


Instantly her mother’s tone changed. “Oh, honey. I’m sorry. I–“


How could she even begin to explain that her husband had vanished into Faerie. “No.”

Restart the clock

As you might recall, last year I decided to stop writing Good Housekeeping during NaNoWriMo after two weeks and 25,000 words. I stopped because we were moving to Iceland and decided that it would make me crazy to get the wordcount done, plus pack, plus go to Woodthrush Woods for the holidays. At the time, I was planning on writing another 25,000 words in two weeks in January. I did not even crack the novel open.

Today, I am going to start again. Let this stand as a notice for my own mini-NaNoWri. I reviewed my chapter outline, story arc, and reread the pages that I’ve written.To finish the remaining 24,457 words of the NaNo challenge, I have until September 20. Wish me luck.

Throwing & writing

Today was an absolutely ridiculous day. For most of this week I’ve been doing live hands for different characters. Today seemed to be all about throwing things. How many people does it take for a puppet to throw things? Usually about three. There’s the lead puppeteer, then the live hands and then an assistant to hand us the things we are throwing.

The tricky thing is coordinating all of these people so it looks like the puppet is a single character. While I’m pulling my arm back for the windup, the lead puppeteer has to twist the body to make it look like the movement is generated there. Meanwhile, below the frame, a person is crouching with the next item to throw. Because I’m looking at a monitor, I can’t see the object I need to grab–if it’s not in the frame, it doesn’t exist for me–so the assistant has to put it in my hand. Tóti is really good at this. Often, we’ll finish a take and I discover that I’ve got a cake or an apple in my hand, with no memory of grabbing it.

Strangely, this coordinated effort has given me an insight into some writing stuff. It’s not an analogy, but there are some related things. When I’m writing, to make a character seem real, I have several different things I have to coordinate in the background, like advancing the plot, revealing motivation and the illusive characterization. If any of those things become unbalanced, if they take too much precedence then I’m calling attention to the process. (Now I get to do an analogy.) It’s like when the puppet’s arm moves before the body turns. The arm movement might be fluid and perfect, but it announces that it is not part of the character by moving on it’s own.

I can’t give a character a line of dialogue to advance the plot if it’s not generated from within. Seems self-evident, huh. It is, but it’s good to be reminded.

And now, my mother will complain that I don’t talk enough about my life. After all of this throwing, Rob and I went to Á Næstu Grösum for dinner. It’s very relaxing, low key and yummy.

Reading aloud 1: The basics

This entry is part 1 of 17 in the series Reading Aloud

I’ve been thinking about discussing reading aloud for a while now and John Joseph Adam’s recent post about Harry, Carrie and Garp brought it to mind again. I know it seems like reading aloud ought to be self-explanatory, but I’ve heard a lot of authors who should not be allowed to read their own work.

I used to compete in Interpretive Reading back in college. (It was a branch of the debate team.) What with that and the radio theater, I know a couple of tricks about character distinction and such which might be helpful for those folks who have readings scheduled with book signings, or who want to record something or who just want to read aloud to their kids.

The first place to start is with your selection. When you pick a story or an excerpt from a novel, make certain that it is something that is suitable for being read aloud and fits your voice. So, what makes something suitable?

Primarily you’re looking for a small cast of characters. The more characters you have, and the narrator counts as one, the harder it will be to vocally distinguish between them. Unless you’re Mel Blanc, four characters, including narrator, is probably your safe upper end. (This will vary, obviously.) Within that cast, it will be easier if your characters are disparate in terms of type. For instance, a woman and a man are easier to distinguish than two women.

Secondarily you want a self-contained scene, so that the audience gets a beginning, middle, and end, even if it’s part of a larger whole. Now, if you are doing a reading to sell your book there is something to be said for ending on a cliffhanger, but make sure that it’s really a cliffhanger and not just a random stopping place.

Thirdly, language that lends itself to an almost onomatopoeic sense. Rudyard Kipling’s Just So stories were written specifically to be read aloud. He uses rhythm and onomatopoeia to make really dynamic sentences that are just plain fun to read–he’s also writing for children. But an extreme example is sometimes useful, eh?

Really, what you want are words you can linger over and play with. Read this out loud and try to bend the words. “He jogged to the train station, three blocks from his house.” There’s not a lot you can do with it.

On the other hand, “…they ate wild sheep roasted on the hot stones” you can do a lot with. “Hot” for instance isn’t a true onomatopoeic word because hot makes no sound, whereas “sizzle” does. Make sense? But it’s a word that you can twist in a lot of different ways.

Try saying “hot” thinking about the following definitions and make the word mean something different each time.
Very sexy

Try the same thing with “wild,” which is a great word.

So, you’ve found a selection with a small cast of characters, in a self-contained scene, with an almost onomatopoeic sense. Those are stories that will sound good read aloud, but are you the right person to read the story? Does it suit your voice?

If it’s a first-person story, you really, really need to be the same gender as the narrator or your audience will have a hard time getting past the audio cues. Even in third person story, you need to be aware that the narrator voice will often echo the thoughts of the Main Character, so picking a section where the gender matches will be easier on the audience. There are people who can get away with cross-gender roles, but it’s not easy. Know your limits.

Next week, I’ll talk about some ways to create character voices that don’t sound hokey. Feel free to ask questions.

Dinosaurs and Screening

In the greenroom we played Bone Wars, a Ruthless Game of Paleontology. I picked it up on a whim at Readercon because Jodi and I had been working on a show about Mary Anning. Initially the rules looked intimidatingly complex, but once we started playing it was loads of fun.

After work, we went to a screening of two of the new episodes. It was fun to see the show on the big screen. Steve is having quite the introduction to Iceland. There’s an event every night this week. Tomorrow we are going to a barbeque at Emily’s and tomorrow we see the Icelandic stage show of Footloose.

I revised my Doctor Who story, but did no other writing.

Eating apples

As you might imagine, the characters on the show spend a lot of time eating “sports candy.” The puppets can’t actually take a bite, so I wind up doing one of my favorite theater tricks. The apple already has bite in it but that part of the apple is held upstage so the audience can’t see it. Then as the character takes a bite, I just rotate the apple so the bite comes into view. We usually use a fake apple with the puppets because we can pin or tape it to their hands, but today I needed to be able to put the apple down. There were also a lot of real apples in the scene, which meant the fake apple would look noticeably fake. (It’s interesting that fake apples are fine unless there’s a real one close by.) Now, the puppetry here is not particuarly interesting. It was fun, but it was basic live hand stuff, and we were standing, so it wasn’t even painful. What was interesting, at least to me, was the bite in the apple.

The first one was just a guy taking a bite out of an apple and handing it to me. But as we continued shooting the bite turned yellow, as apples do, which made a continuity problem. So they had to bite another apple. You don’t think about these details, but the prop guy had to find another apple that looked like the first one, and then make a bite that looked the same. It’s the kind of thing that seems simple until you watch someone go through the process. It was in fact, two bites in order to make it large enough to read.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think these bizarre mundanities are interesting.

Anyway, I spent most of today live handing and was only off set at lunch. Tonight Rob has invited the post-production crew over for martinis. He apparently planned for it to be about seven or eight people, but when we left the studio the number had blossomed to thirty. Knowing Iceland, the party will go until three so I’m not expecting to get anymore writing done today.

Here’s my update.

Once in the streets of Repp-Virja, the bright mosaic of her family shattered the bland crowd.


Each step made her tunic brighter and her crop more naked.

There is only one sentence between the two, but I went back to earlier sections and added some details that I needed. So I wrote 252 words today.