What Halloween Means to Me

I love Halloween.  Haunted houses, mazes, pumpkins, cool fall breezes, and of course candy.  But what does Halloween mean to me?  Why, it means my favorite Stephen Lynch song of course!  I linked a couple of youtube videos for your Halloween enjoyment (I’m too cheap to purchase the upgrade that would allow me to post them directly to the blog.  Maybe one day…).  No copyright infringement is intended.

First, we have the all time classic, and my personal favorite, the “Halloween Song.”  If you haven’t heard it, here’s a gem of a line: “Letting the children inside to drink beers. Razor blades hidden in Three Musketeers.  Screams from the basement of kids begging to be set free.  That’s what Halloween means to me.”  And my other favorite line:  “A pinch of your brother a teaspoon of you, with the head of your sister would make a good stew.  I’d give you a taste but your tongue’s in the stew, irony.  That’s what Halloween means to me.”

Next, I give you “Beelz.”  Not exactly a Halloween song, but close enough.  My favorite lyrics:

My real name is Beelzebub, but you can call me Beelz
I love to watch Fox news and then go club some baby seals
Then I’ll take a bubble bath and drink a zinfandel
Try to wash off that baby seal smell
And then I’ll make a toast to me
Hey, here’s to my hell…th
My name is Satan. Ah Hah!

To carry on my evil ways I went and had a son
And now he makes his living as a singing comedian
I’m in every Zeppelin album
I’m in all Rush Limbaugh’s rants
I’m the reason that the Boston Red Sox even had a chance

Hope you enjoy! 

No Original Ideas?

I’ve heard many people say that there are no more original story ideas.  That everything has already been done in one form or another.  Is this true?  Have we run out of completely original ideas?  I don’t know about you, but that thought depresses me as a writer.  It’s like I’m doomed to repeat what someone else has already done better.  It reminds me of an episode of South Park (yeah, I watch it.  Believe it or not Trey Parker and Matt Stone weave some really poignant social commentary into those foul mouthed cartoon kids).  On this particular episode, Butters has an alter-ego called Professor Chaos who wants to take over the world.  He enlists a side kick and sets out on his journey for domination.  Every time he has a new plan, however, the sidekick chimes in, “The Simpsons tried that in episode 149” and so on for every plan until it just becomes “Simpsons did it! Simpsons did it!”

Are we all Butters/Professor Chaos, destined to redo things that have already been done?  It seems Hollywood has completely given up on original ideas with all of the remakes and sequels (prequels, three-quels, four-quels, five-quels; I wish I was exaggerating).  I mean, seriously, how many different plots can The Fast and the Furious come up with?  The first one was bad enough.  I love Indiana Jones, but do we really need 5 of them?  They just remade Footloose, are remaking Dirty Dancing, have yet another Mission Impossible and Step-Up movie coming.  Seriously?  When will it end?  I’m trying to think of the last time I saw a completely original (recent) movie and I’m drawing a complete blank.  Is publishing destined to fall into this well of repeats?

I write YA, so I constantly scan the shelves and read the book jackets in the teen sections of my local bookstores.  I read query critiques on agent blogs and on the AW forum.  I can’t tell you how many of the same story I keep reading.  How many variations of girl falls in love with vampire/werewolf/angel/fairy can there be?  How many times can the normal-teen-discovers-they’re-the chosen one/has magical powers storyline be done?  I literally read four book jackets in a row with that story.  Of course, they’re getting published so I guess they’re doing something right (or hit the trend at the right time).  Right now retelling of fairy tales and angel/demon books are popular, but even these stories are the same.  As much as I love Harry Potter, a boy wizard in a magic school wasn’t original either.  I read something similar when I was in the seventh grade (which was in 1995) and that had been out for a while.  And anyone who thinks the Hunger Games is original should take a look at The Long Walk and The Running Man by Stephen King.  I love Collins’s series, but she basically melded those books and made the main characters teenagers.

Personally, I get so frustrated when I come up with what I think is a great idea for a story, only to find out its already been done.  I think trying to come up with an original idea is part of the reason I’ve felt writer’s block lately.  Of course, I’ve read lots of agents and other writers who say it doesn’t have to be a unique idea, a new twist on an old story would work (such as Wicked), and while this is a great and interesting approach, it doesn’t answer my question: are there any original ideas left?  Or must we face the fact that everything has been tapped out and relegate ourselves to recycling?

Flash Fiction- “Hunger”

Last night’s flash fiction prompt on the AW forum was “Hunger.”  Here is my story based around this prompt.  If you like to write and haven’t seen the Flash Fiction Challenge, head on over and see what you can do with the prompt.

                                                               “Tantalizing”

It had been three weeks since the game had started. Jack paced across the kitchen floor like a zoo lion who can smell the zebras and antelope in the neighboring pen. The tantalizing aroma in the next room was almost too much. But he couldn’t give in. Not when he thought about the source of those smells.

Just that thought was enough to stop his stomach from growling for a little while. He had to win. It wasn’t just the money on the line, although a million smack-a-roos would change his life, his sanity precariously teetered like a playground seesaw. Even the smallest nibble would send him over the edge.

Hell, he thought he’d go crazy just smelling the barbecued flesh next door. He’d seen the spread. They had showed all of them on the first day. A buffet table ran the length of the long room, piled high with meat cooked in every manner possible and replenished daily. Stews, steaks, ribs, hamburgers, fajitas, cheesesteaks, chili…

Jack crouched and leaned his too thin frame against the kitchen cabinets with his hands over his ears. Like that would stave off the hunger. He rocked back and forth and tried to focus on something else. Anything else.

His stomach rumbled. He thought of roaches and maggots crawling through the meat. Of the food floating in slimy green cesspools. He thought of where the meat came from. It was enough…for now.

Then he heard footsteps and the sound of breaking glass. Someone was in the next room. He tried not to listen but the groans of pleasure were too loud. A lion had breached the fence and snacked happily on a gazelle.

Without realizing it, he’d risen to his feet and approached the door. His hand touched the knob. He forced himself to retract it, to wait. He had no idea how many others had given in to the temptation. They switched rooms every day. Some were closer to the dining room than others. Since he’d been in the kitchen, he’d heard two other people dining on the disgusting spread.

How many were left?

How much longer would he have to hold out?

How much longer could he hold out?

Jack knew humans could survive a long time, weeks, months even, without food. But how long could they make it knowing food was just next door? His stomach growled again. He grabbed the knob. If he turned, if he looked, there would be no going back.

Just as he twisted the knob, a scream erupted from the other side of the door. The most pathetic, horrific, insane scream Jack had ever heard. He released the knob like it was on fire. Loud crashes followed. Something hit the wall and clattered to the floor.

Jack stumbled back and fell on his rump. A glint of silver shone through the crack under the door. Beside it, a chunk of meat stared at him. Tested him. Tempted him.

He lay down and looked at it. The explosion of sound had ceased in the buffet room. The contestant must have been carried away, losing more than just the contest.

Jack inched closer. Smelled the meat. He could almost taste it. Surely one little lick would be okay? He wouldn’t really be eating it, right?

The buzz of the loudspeaker interrupted his thoughts.

“Congratulations to contestant number twelve, Jack Kreacher! Winner of the tenth annual Tantalus Contest!”

The door burst open and a man in a sleek suit appeared.

“Mr. Kreacher, you’ve just won a million dollars! What do you have to say?” He shoved a microphone under Jack’s nose.

Jack looked past the mic to the room beyond the man. At the smashed table and the scattered human flesh. It was over. He couldn’t believe it was over.

“Mr. Kreacher?” the man asked, a nervous twinge to his voice. “You just won. What do you have to say?”

Jack turned to the man, and sighed. “I think I’m a vegetarian.”

 

Flash Fiction

I frequent the forums at Absolute Write (which is an excellent source for any writer, aspiring or published.  There are forums for query critiques, beta readers, questions about agents/agencies, and the answer to pretty much any writing and publishing question you might have.), and have recently found the Flash Fiction Challenge.  Basically, every Sunday night, a moderator posts a prompt.  You have 90 minutes to write and edit a story based on the prompt and post it.  It’s a great exercise to get your mind working and to get you writing.  I decided to start posting my flash fiction here each week.  Bear in mind, these are things I came up with on the fly, so they won’t be perfect.

To kick things off, here is last week’s story.  The prompt was “Pleat”.  What kind of story (or poem) would you write based off the prompt?

“In”

Maria smoothed the wrinkles out of her skirt and took a deep breath. A thin sheen of sweat covered her arms and face. She slid over to the nearby water fountain and took a long drink. Don’t throw up. Whatever you do, just don’t throw up. There wasn’t time to be sick. And this was her only shot at proving herself.

She glanced at her watch. Eleven minutes til two o’clock. The second hand crept around the face. Maria closed her eyes and breathed deeply again. The bell clanged from somewhere up the hall. Doors flew open on either side of the hallway and students poured out, yelling to one another and chattering about whatever class they’d just left.

No one noticed as Maria slipped into the throng, weaving seamlessly among the actual students. She glanced at the other girls’ skirts as she passed. I didn’t do such a bad job after all. Her hand rubbed the pleats again. It didn’t seem like anyone would notice her homemade skirt anyway. They were all too absorbed in their own worlds. Talking about the classes they just left, or the boys who passed them notes.

This would be easier than she thought.

A large clock on the wall caught Maria’s eye as she passed. Eight till. She’d need to pick up the pace. She hitched up her backpack and quickened her step. The crowd thickened as she approached a bank of lockers. Maybe I should have done this during the class period after all. She pushed through, keeping her head down but her eyes on the prize. No. I’m less likely to be noticed in a group.

The hallway intersected with another, making a “T” shape. There, centered on the wall was the statue. A twelve by ten gold leaf eagle. Its wings were tucked in and its eyes stared directly at Maria. She pushed towards it and swung her backpack around to her chest. Within seconds she had it unzipped and ready.

It was now or never. She’d only have one chance and if she flubbed, well…she would have more to worry about than whether she got into the Anchor Society.

Maria approached the statue and in one fluid motion swept it off the base and into the backpack. It just fit. The hall was too loud to hear her skirt rip, but she felt it snag on the corner of the pedestal as she walked away. She zipped up the bag and slung it back over her shoulder, then glanced at her skirt.

One of the pleats was torn. A single red thread waved in the wind she created as she hurried to the exit. Oh well. Not like I’ll ever wear it again.

The cry erupted as she reached the double doors at the end of the hall.

“Hey! Where’s Spirit?” a boy shouted.

Maria didn’t wait for a response. She pushed open the doors and strode out into the warm afternoon, pleased with herself. By the time the bell rang for last period, Maria had put good distance between her and the school. They’d have to let her in now. No one had ever stolen such a grand prize for their admission challenge as this. And from their rival, Weston Prep!

The golden eagle in her backpack was her ticket to popularity. She’d have to make sure and wipe her fingerprints off of it before handing it over to the Anchor Society though. If she played her cards right, it wouldn’t only guarantee her a place in Carson High’s elite, it would be the first rung on her climb to domination. The second would be unseating Amanda Malone from the top of the food chain.

And Amanda’s fingerprints on a stolen statue would do the trick nicely.

Maria stepped into the bushes in a nearby park and stripped off her homemade Weston Prep uniform. By the time she stepped out back on the sidewalk, she was just another scantily clad teenager walking home from school.

No one noticed the plaid pleated skirt and red sweater she left behind.

Locking in, Uniforming, Book Burning, Blood Letting

Those words from R.E.M’s “It’s the End of the World” capture how I’m feeling today after reading a troubling post.  There’s something going on that most of the public have no idea occurs.  Something sad and depressing.  Book burning.  No, not a bunch of uber-conservatives trying to rid library shelves of material they claim is “pornographic”, “lascivious”, or “disturbing” ala the original Footloose (I have no idea if its in the remake- I can’t bring myself to watch it).  No, no.  This is much worse.  This is the libraries clearing shelves to make room.

I’m not talking about chucking a few into a bonfire out front either.  I’m talking hundreds of thousands of books being destroyed in secret.  And not just overprints of Twilight.  First editions of Hamlet and Moby Dick.  Copies of Shakespeare from the 1700s with calligraphied messages from the original owner on the cover.  These aren’t just books, they’re books!  The creme de la creme for any book lover.

I know the new craze is e-books, and I’m not in total opposition.  Okay, I’ll admit, I was initially, but I can see the good in e-books.  Lower costs of publication, which means a greater chance for an aspiring author to get their work out there; appeal to the younger “technological” generation, kids who might not have picked up a paperback might be more likely to grab a Kindle or Nook.  I bought my husband a Kindle and have read a few books on it myself.  I can’t, however, make a full switch.  There is nothing quite like holding a book.  Feeling it’s heft.  Turning a page.  Especially an old book.

The picture at the top of this page is from my own shelf.  Of all books, old ones are my favorite.  The musty smell.  The thick, brittle, tan or brown pages.  The coarse leather and cloth bindings.  Picking one up makes me wonder who else has handled it, read it, owned it, loved it.  Centuries of hungry eyes gobbling up the words and turning those same pages.  It’s not just a book, it’s history.  It’s life.

I scour thrift shops and old bookstores searching for these ancient tomes.  Nor do I always care what they are.  A first edition of a book of poetry, or a collection of stories in an old schoolbook.  I love them all.  I’ve always wanted the library from Beauty and the Beast.  You know the one.  The one that finally gets Belle to notice Beast in a new light.  Floor to ceiling, wall to wall, with the giant rolling ladder.  Ahhhh.

And now I find out that libraries are burning these treasures.  They can’t give them away or sell them or toss them in the trash because it takes too much time and effort to strip the markings and sensors from each one first.  Library workers can’t save any they come across because it would encourage sifting through them.  You can read all of the reasons at Cracked: 6 Reasons We’re in Another “Book Burning” Period in History.  It makes me too sad to go through it all again.

Of course, I keep thinking there has to be a way to save these books.  Volunteers at the library to strip them?  Some benevolent millionaire willing to buy them all?  Or am I forced to accept the reality that innumerable pieces of literature will meet their end in a fiery furnace?

The Waiting

There’s a Tom Petty song called “The Waiting” that has been running through my head for the past few weeks.  The chorus goes “The waiting is the hardest part, every day you see one more card, you take it on faith, you take it to the heart, the waiting is the hardest part.”  Isn’t that the truth?  For me, waiting is sooo hard.  I even have trouble waiting to give people presents. I want to see their reaction, I want them to go ahead and enjoy their gift.  I can never hold out on my husband; it never fails that I buy his Christmas or birthday presents early and get all proud of myself for my foresight, but then they sit in their hiding spot calling to me, begging me to go ahead and give them.

Patience is something I’m constantly working on.  My husband helps me out with this a good deal (i.e. forcing me to be patient when he leaves coffee rings on the white counter or takes off his shoes in the middle of the floor and leaves them there), and I’m getting better, but I have to make an effort.  One area I’m having to exercise some real patience is querying agents.

I am an inquisitive person by nature, I think that’s one reason I’m a good attorney.  I have to know things.  Where, when, what, why, how?  I ask questions and feed on the answers.  In court, that’s how you move forward.  Each question propelled by the answer before it.  What happened? So you ran into another car, how fast were you going?  Okay, at 65 miles per hour, did you try to brake?  You hit your brakes but the roads were wet, did you skid?  I drive my husband crazy sometimes with questions.  I’m not sure why I need to know, I just do.  That’s the way I’ve always been.  It’s why I hate math so much.  Yeah, okay, you multiply these numbers by these, but why

So patience is especially hard when I’m waiting for an answer.  I just sent out a batch of queries and was thrilled that I got a couple of positive responses right off the bat!  But now I’m waiting again.  Waiting to hear from the agents who haven’t responded yet, waiting to hear from the agents who are reading my stuff, just waiting….  I try to forget about it.  Put it into a box and shove it to the back of my mind, but my stupid inquisitive nature pokes its little puppy nose under the lid, anxious to know what’s inside and what’s coming next.

I’m doing better than I used to though.  When I queried my first book I was a wreck.  Constantly checking my email to see if I had a response.  Then re-checking in case someone responded while I was looking away and the screen hadn’t refreshed.  Back in June I submitted a work to a writing contest.  It was difficult to put it out of my mind, but I’ve more or less been able to do just that.  Mostly because I knew it wouldn’t do any good.  The results are being announced this coming weekend.  That means I’m getting nervous again though, soooo ready for this weekend to be over so I can know the results, but mostly so I can get my submission back with the judges’ critiques.  More than anything I want to know what they said about it  and what I need to work on.  For me, it’s better when I have a time frame.  “We’ll post the results in October” or “We’ll get back with you in six weeks”, but by October, or week 6, I start checking and re-checking my email again.

How do you handle the waiting?  Work on something else?  Pretend you aren’t waiting on anything?  Darn some socks?  Or are you a wreck too?

Writer’s Block

Those are two of the worst words in the english language.  I shudder when I read them.  I want to cover my ears with my hands when I hear them. and sing “lalalalalala, I can’t hear you!” like it doesn’t exist.  Except it does.  And I have it.

I have been trying to write a particular story for a long time.  I posted the first chapter a little while ago (see “The Terminal Circle”).  The story won’t come to me.  I know the general plot and what happens to the main character, and I finally know who the main character is, but I just can’t get past the first chapter.

Heck, it’s taken me over two years to get the first chapter down.  I sit at my computer screen and beg the characters to come to life.  I lay down and close my eyes and try visualize them.  How they act, talk, and walk.  What they say and how they say it.  Their movements and mannerisms.  I just can’t do it.  I’m afraid that I’ll never be able to, which then causes me to seize up like a kid about to bungee jump.  I’m standing on the platform all suited up and ready to leap, but my feet won’t move forward.

What scares me the most is that this isn’t how I write.  This is a plot my dad and I discussed.  It was his idea, not mine, but he wanted me to write it.  Now my dad isn’t here anymore and I can’t even discuss it with him and talk it through, which usually helps when I’m stuck.  The big problem, though, is that I write spontaneously.  I’ve written two books so far, and both of them came from middle-of-the-night-can’t-sleep ideas.  They weren’t something I thought through and analyzed.  For both, I laid there in bed and saw the characters every time I closed my eyes.  Before I fell asleep, I knew their names, saw their faces, knew how they moved and acted instantly.  I knew what they were going to do and why.  When I woke the next morning, I put it on paper and just didn’t stop writing.  Of course it needed polishing, but getting everything down in a first draft was a snap.  For the most recent manuscript, I had a first draft done and to betas within two months. (So thankful for beta readers by the way!)

I’ve written short stories in this manner as well.  It’s like the story comes to me and begs to be written down, no matter what I’m doing at the time (even while studying for the bar exam…okay, especially while studying for the bar exam).   However, I have short stories that I’ve tried to write that don’t get past the first few pages, even though I know I have a good idea, because I sat and thought it through too much. 

I recently read “On Writing” by Stephen King (excellent read whether you’re a fan of his or not), and he describes writing as finding a fossil.  You trip over it in the back yard and start digging, then keep digging until bit by bit the fossil reveals itself to you.  I completely agree with this analogy.  The characters I’ve written about, I don’t feel like I’ve created them so much as found them.  Then I just had to keep writing to discover more about them until I had the whole story.

These stories that I’ve found, they write themselves.  Sure, I’ve had to put some thought into it, but once I sit down and my fingers hit the keys, it’s like my fingertips take on a mind of their own.  They fly and dance over the keyboard and before I know it, I’ve got 60 or 70 thousand words.  It’s like that in my legal writing as well.  I always had to wait until the mood struck me to write.  Sure, I would get things out by the professor’s deadlines in school (in my working life I was left to my own devices), but I did my best work when my fingers could think for themselves.  Sometimes that was down to the wire, but I’ve never missed a deadline in class or the real world and never made a poor grade (or below an A minus for that matter).

So I’m not entirely sure what to do with this…writer’s block (shudders like the hyenas in the “Lion King” when they hear the name “Mufasa”).  Do I try and push through and write the story anyway, or do I let it breathe and hope the characters come to life?  I’ve already let it breathe for two years, but maybe that’s not enough.  Stephen King said he encountered a block when writing “The Stand” (one of my favorites) and only got unblocked when he realized that his characters were too comfortable and needed a shake-up (i.e. a bomb in a closet).  That was a mid-book block though.  Mine always occurs in the first stages of a manuscript, and so far have all been stories I eventually abandoned (bless their little hearts.  I see them now, huddled in a forgotten folder on my desktop.  Ragged shawls draped around their shoulders, tin cups at their feet, begging for me to revist them, to try again.  I want to help, but what can I do?  So I ignore them and keep moving with hollow promises to one day return and do what I can). 

How do you handle writer’s block?  Do you work through it, or take it as a sign that the story isn’t meant to be written right now and move on?