Friday, January 25, 2013


tasty x ten
I had an inspired meal this week. My sweetie brought me to Travail in Robbinsdale, thinking I'd like it, but a bit worried I'd find it too loud. (It was loud, but with a mix inspired by Gnarls Barkley, I wasn't complaining.) However, it turns out, I didn't like the place.

I adored it. Best dinner out. Ever.

The food is strange, lovely, unexpected, silly, and (literally, in some cases) bursting with flavor. The parsley gel in the rutabaga soup was a bright green, velvety, hillock of pure parsley flavor. A narrow, plastic tube that surely was intended for science experiments, filled with who knows what (cream, lime, fresh thyme, and....?) Moonrocks! Frozen blue rocks that tasted of raspberries and had us breathing out white clouds of breath vapor through our noses. I ask, when was the last time you got to be a dragon at the dinner table?

We'd gotten the vegetarian version of the eight course tasting menu, which included more than eight courses, plus at least four amuse bouche/palette cleansers. The waitstaff are the chefs. The chefs are jazzed by what they do. You get to watch them as they push each other take food and turn it into magic. They bring you their pride and joy. The woman sitting nearest us was giddy with every dish they brought her. I was charmed beyond all belief. Everyone seemed swimming in joy.

Where this connects with writing is here: I've been playing with the idea that that meal was not real.

I don't mean "It was unreal how good it was," tho' it was very, very good. Instead, I mean that it took a real pear and turned it into fantasy, into science fiction. It became an exaggeration of a true pear, a condensation, compressed down to its essence.

And that's a lot like writing. We don't recreate real experiences, real lives. Real lives are filled with fluff, and sleep, and all those dull moments in between. When we write we condense reality down so we can taste the powerful stuff of lives more clearly, more distinctly, more powerfully. It's a heady experience, writing is. At it's best it can thrill us all the way down to the marrow of our bones.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Take Off Your +3 Cloak of Isolation

Cross posted from my blog, Writing and Whatnot


It should come as no surprise to anyone that we writers are a relatively solitary bunch. Regardless of how outgoing we are in our everyday lives, we have to shut away the world to write.

And we like it.

Writers get high from a brilliant plot twist or off the buzz of a perfectly crafted sentence in the same way normal people do from partying with their friends. Ok, writers do that too, but we just do it less often, and even when we are with friends, our minds aren't all that far away from our story, or the possibility of story laying nascent in the gestures of the woman across the aisle, or in the way the light shines through the window and onto the bar.

We writers know that constant churn of creativity is gold. It can only come from within our minds and only we can spit it out onto paper. We have to do it, and we have to do it alone. No one can do it for us.

And that’s where we get into trouble.

Consider all those indie publishers out there. Some of them find success but a lot of them don’t. Now take a look at all those “real” authors out there. They may have the vindication of being published, but we all know that’s no guarantee of financial success. Regardless of our path, the problem all us writers face is the same: How do I become successful?

Yes, we all know the road to success is long and winding, and while we all face the challenges of editing and marketing, we indie authors have one defining challenge that will separate those who fall flat on their face and those who go on to find success: knowing when you are ready.

Now I can’t speak for all writers, but after accomplishing as much as I have, I’m pretty impressed with myself. I kinda think I’m the shit, you know? And I am. I’m pretty damn good. But I’m not ready for the Big Show. Not yet. Not quite.

My writing group (Scribblerati Agents unite!) didn't tell me that. Nor did I wake up knowing that. My editor told me. She didn't come out and say, “Shawn, you handsome, egotistical bastard, you've got something here but you aren't ready to publish.” What she did was point out all the things I need to work on, which in turn saved me from joining the ranks of those indie publishers who publish too early.

So allow me to pass along a little advice. If you, like me, are one of those lonely indie writers who are preparing to knock on publishing’s front door, then start talking to other people in the industry. Make connections beyond the immediate focus of your peer groups. Stretch yourself. Challenge your certainty and make certain that you really are the shit. Find those people who can help with the next stage of your evolution.

The Big Show is waiting. Take off your +3 Cloak of Isolation, get the help you need, and make your entrance with style.

Friday, January 11, 2013

How to pop your clutch

Sometimes that blank page is a killer, right?

Sitting there, staring at you, empty and seemingly determined to stay that way. People say: "Just start writing," and honestly, that's probably the best advice you'll get (except for what I'm about to blog about, of course...). Just start writing. It's just that simple. Don't worry about your amazing Opening Line until later, until after you've started. That's just a stall anyway, y'know, not starting your project because you just can't think of that perfect Opening Line? It's a stall, a smokescreen. It's nonsense. Just start, you can always come back and fix stuff later, in fact, you have to come back and fix stuff later. I mean, it's called a First Draft for a reason, right? Just start. Don't worry about where anything is going or what it all means, just cut those break lines and shove off down hill. Why not? What's the worst that can happen? It turns out to be nothing? You delete it and start something else? Big deal. Just start. No one's watching, what do you care?

Ah... but then, sometimes that blank page seems to actively resist that, right? Just start? Sometimes that is easier said than done.

So what do you do then?

Basically--I have found--you have to trick yourself. Think of it like starting a car with a manual transmission while rolling. Sometimes you have to trick your process to life, the idea being that once you get your pen going, chugging away under its own power, you're golden.

But what's the trick, you ask?

Well, admittedly, it could be anything. What works for you, works for you, right? But for the purposes of this specific blog, we'll focus on this one thing... SO... when you inevitably find yourself in that situation, as we all have, here's a hill to pop your imagination's clutch on.

Follow this link here.

On the other side of that link, you will find Io9, a sci-fi website, and one of the things it does on a semi-regular basis is listed under the tag: Concept Art Writing Prompts. I may have mentioned this link before. It's a lot of random drawings and pictures akin to the book The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. And like that well known book, the prompts you will find there are odd and interesting, and all capable of sparking an idea or a world, maybe short story, maybe even a novel. It's a fantastic resource, who knows what you'll see.

Here's a smattering of what you will find there:

Crazy, huh? What do you see? World War 2 era Russian soldiers dragging the head of a downed robot back from the snowy front? Just another day at the Super-Science Factory? Explorers in the ruins of a long gone world? A street vendor selling the latest in cool nostalgic tech? An off-world Farmer's Market? The last gas before entering the jet stream? The old world huddled in the shadow of the new?

So many possibilities. So if you're out there and you find yourself stuck, unsure, scared and can't get anything going? Well relax, take a deep breath, there's no one looking, it's just you and a bunch of cool and weird pictures. Pick one and start rolling down hill.

Just start,