Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Art of the Short Story

Sometimes, writers get stuck. I'm writing my sequel to Mariposa, called Orpheus & the Butterfly. It's actually going pretty well, and is on target to be released this summer. It's the guy's stories, and I think readers who enjoyed Mariposa are going to like it. I'm not really stuck on it, but the writing is slower, and I was in the mood to do something else. Which I just spent three days doing, and just finished up....

But this week, I saw a discussion of cyborgs that made me think. I've actually always wanted to write a cyborg story, and as I wrote this one, I also worked a moment from another source into the story that I've wanted to tell for a long time. It's a very sweet piece of the story I just finished, in fact. I really like what happened there.

I used to write short stories all the time, back when I was first in college. I was taking a creative writing course, for one, and they were our assignments. But I wandered into poetry-writing and also into academia-writing (which is soooooo not the same.) And I wrote my first novel over the course of the years it took to write that (which we will not talk about today....) And I stopped writing short stories.

But I've written a few lately. I suspect they'll all eventually end up in a collection that I'll release, but what's fun about the indie platform is that there are a number of ways to share them. There are amazing anthologies, like the Dragon Chronicles that I'm in (which is releasing tomorrow, by the way, go grab a copy and see "The Book of Sefkhet," my story in it).

A short story can be fun. This one, I came up with a little bit of an idea and thought about and then had this intense night filled with dreams where the first paragraph basically wrote itself. I kept waking a little to hear a line in my head, and I knew that I would be able to remember it. I usually can, in fact. I know some writers put a piece of paper next to their bed so they can write down ideas like that but for me, it's this lucid dreaming, waking dream, that I rarely forget. I've come up with some pretty neat story ideas that way. To be honest, I used to sometimes dream about academic papers that way, too-- don't get me started on the day of dreaming I had after reading the first half of Homer's Illiad.

A short story like the one I just finished is self-contained. Sure, I could maybe develop it into something longer, but it actually stands on its own merits, as well. It has an ending that I am pretty pleased with, that came out a little on the "poetic reversal" side. I kept something a secret through the whole story and then blam blam, there it was. In fact, the characters didn't even really know that secret til that moment. I hope it will make the readers howl/smile/laugh in delight.

Dorothy Parker famously reviewed a book "this is not a book to be set aside lightly. It should be hurled with great force." I love Dot. She has always been one of my favorite smart asses. I would hope you won't hurl your Kindle aside with disgust when you read my story, which will show up when it shows up.  I'll keep you posted as to how it will get itself published. Just long enough for you to have forgotten about it and then be surprised all over again.
© Avava | - Students Passing Notes In Classroom Photo

That, by the way, is what a little gem of a story like this one will do for a writer, too. It's a few days of obsession, followed by getting to know it a bit better and then it's perfect. Sort of like a brief but heated crush on someone. Writers discover it like a love affair, write it a little note which they fold and pass along:

I like you. Do you like me? Check yes or no. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


I miss you.

Maybe we've known each other since we were girls, huddled on a sleepover, before the complications of boys and distance sent us away. When we could whisper a secret and know that it was true because we were there for each other every day. We might have swam in the salty warm Gulf of Mexico all day, our hair messy, skin kissed with sun. Flirted with inappropriate boys, sipped sodas without guilt. I miss the ocean, the beach. But I really miss sitting on it with you.

Maybe we met later, after marriage, when jobs and life took us far from family, when the second family of that life was as close. When we laughed over glasses of wine and long nights out in a town busy with traffic, awash with brightly lit sky-scrapers, feeling glamorous. Dressed up in party clothes with sequins, knowing that you hold tightly what you most value.
© 1000words | - Miss You Written In Sand Photo.

I miss knowing everything-- what you had for lunch yesterday because I was there with you, sneaking a break in between studying, or a shift at the place we worked. We were sure of ourselves, too sure, too unheartbroken.

I miss being that sure. 

Maybe we've never actually met-- I miss you too. I might even miss you the most. Sometimes, I look at the faces of people going by in cars and I think "wait-- do I know you? Are you someone I miss too?" And the answer is yes. I miss you too. What stories would we have told each other? What dramas would we have laughed over, cried over? Do you like the color red, too? Is summer too hot but also the best, like when we were kids, because there's nothing to really do? I miss knowing that.

Maybe we spent ten years every other night meeting up, going to dinner, sharing stupid jokes about broccoli and poodles and tights. Maybe I long to cook you enchiladas, drink icy margaritas on my back patio, a patio covered in lovely green grape vines, the stars at night big and bright. I miss being there again. But mostly, I still miss you.

Maybe we live in the same town, used to go on playdates, carry diapers in purses, sneak one (okay, maybe two) chicken nuggets on the side of our mom-approved salad. Time, practices, different schedules might have made it so that we can't get together except on certain party days. But I miss knowing that certainty of a park-date, of how tired you are too. Miss smiling across the gym. Miss lunch with too many kids to count making the cashier roll her eyes at the group.

Sometimes, the weight of all the people I want to just get to know, to just chat about our day, to consider my good friend, gets so heavy that it makes me think up songs in the middle of the night, write poems, tell stories, eat too much chocolate, drink too much red wine.

I'm too sensitive, too attached. Not a good "detached" meditator on the power of letting go. I don't let go. I hold on, tightly. Maybe too tightly, maybe not.

I'm a hermit; I'm an introvert. I don't like going out to loud clubs anymore so much (although I will admit I miss the fun of anticipation of that, too, because I'm apparently insane today.) But I do miss everyone, and I long to drag everyone here, with me, to just-- share. To share fun, to share tears, to share great meals. (Maybe even share the chocolate, although, on second though, you should bring your own.)

I just-- miss you. I miss you all. Consider yourself longed for, and loved.  

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The White Dragon

My friend Stefan's Apocalypse Weird book launched today! It's called Genesis, If you've already read Hoodoopocalypse, you met his main character very briefly in an Easter Egg in my novel. She's a really cool, strong hero and Stefan is a super cool guy. His launch party is going on tonight here and I will be there at least for a little while before family duties are going to possibly call me away. But launch parties are pretty fun ways to hang out on FB and chat with other authors & fans and win cool swaggy stuff. In fact, the main purpose of this blog post is to list a giveaway where you can win a few cool things from me.

There's a nice description of the plot of the novel here, on Stefan's blog, too, and it actually includes him reading a bit of the book. Seriously, it's worth a listen. There's also a fun interview with him over here at the Chimeras blog.

So go do your homework and read up, and go hang out at the launch party and win some stuff. Oh, and log in below to win one of 5 free copies of Hoodoopocalypse. Cause I'm feeling generous.  (Contests Over).

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Wall: or, Dreaming the end of things

So I have mentioned before that when I am in the middle of writing a story, I dream about the characters. A lot. Sometimes it's because I will deliberately set the goal of having a lucid dream nap to work out a character issue of some sort. I need to know what will happen in a scene, just so, and the freedom of my conscious brain being relaxed and sleepy helps turn the inner critic into something that allows for more creativity. 

But sometimes it's just my brain being weird. 

Last night, I had extensive dreams about a post-apocalyptic world. It wasn't anything like my Apocalypse novel. It was more like something kind of post WW2 meets sci-fi alien invasion. There were monsters, and an extensive language system that sounds a lot like it would have been created by text messaging. The end of the world was called the "Apoc." In the dream, my kids were teenagers, and they both were in training to be "Comp Sci" professionals. You can see how this is going.... if we were all always communicating by text messages, we might like to drop some syllables out. 

In one vivid part of the dream, brick layers were walling up the bottom floor windows of a large,
© Ebolyukh | - Red Bricks Photo
institutional building that had been a shopping mall. We all lived in this place, by the way... it was a cross between the mall and perhaps a school, and our "apartments" (they were called racks) were inside. For whatever reason, I guess the monsters couldn't get in on floors 2 and up, but bricking up the low-level entrances was an answer to keep everyone safe. 

As I write it, it sounds kind of interesting, but the thing that is being left out is that WW2 post England Blitz feeling to the whole thing, too. It felt sort of, what, retro? Like, there would have been sirens in the night and gas masks and people sleeping in the Tube tunnels. (How this meshes with the bricking up of the ground floor don't ask me... my sleeping dreaming writer self wasn't concerned with that.) 

So as I was waking up this morning, my still flexible creative-brainpart was toying with the idea of the story elements, still sort of immersed in that world, as though it were real. It wasn't scary, at that time, and there was something going on with a guy who was trying to rewire an electrical line and some farming for crops... 

It's an interesting look at how stories are born. This is nothing like my Hoodoo world-ending plans. There weren't really any main characters, and I still don't know what the aliens/monsters who we were fighting looked like. As a story, the idea could go to-- nowhere. I could just shelve it and not ever write anything about it. But as a dream, it had something interesting, that made my waking up self linger for a while, exploring the story and poking around at elements that could become something else. 

In reality, I need to go work on my work in progress and write some of that story today. Get another coffee beverage, write for a 1000 word sprint or so and then move on to other things. But that last little moment of sleeping dreaming brain still wants to linger over the image of workers bricking up the entrances, this arched doorway being turned into a barrier, and the shortened slang-like language we spoke. 

So what are you thinking about today? 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Writing about Voodoo

Why witches? Because witches sing. Can I hear this singing? It is the sound of another voice. They tried to make us believe that women did not know how to speak or write; that they were stutterers or mutes. That is because they tried to make women speak straightforwardly, logically, geometrically, in strict conformity. In reality, they croon lullabies, they howl, they gasp, they babble, they shout, they sigh. They are silent, and even their silence can be heard. Xavière Gauthier, “Porquoi Sorcières,” 199.

Today, there's a cool newspaper story about my bookHoodoopocalypse, and I thank Judy Christy for the amazing interview opportunity.  Reading over the interview questions made me think about the content of my story again. Voodoo/Hoodoo.

People have asked me why I changed it to Hoodoo. Most people are pretty familiar with Voodoo (or think they are... I'll get back to that in a sec.) But a lot of folks don't know what Hoodoo is. It's kind of the same thing but also not really.

Hoodoo is a Southern United States version of Voudou. Voudou (Voudon, Voodoo, Vodeaux) is a real religious practice that honestly millions of people follow. It's a religion that is a mixture of Catholicism and the religious practices of the Africans and Caribbean slaves, especially after the 1700s or so. It was a huge part of the Haitian Revolution. The link is great, but it's honestly one of the only successful revolutions against Western slavery in history, and the religion certainly helped.

There's a neat description of "Louisiana Voodoo" on wikipedia, too, and it helps to understand that the practices are this mixture of folklore, herbal magic, witchcraft, and genuine "go to church on Sunday" religion. A lot of what I referenced in the book is from this kind of practice. I'm super familiar with it so it just permeates the made writing the book so neat because I literally could almost do anything. If magic is real, then you can play with every part of reality. This is a gift of amazing proportion for a fiction writer.

The depiction of Voodoo in popular culture almost always involves women dancing around in white dresses, a mean guy with a top hat and a cigar, often with a white skull-painted face. People got upset with the TV series American Horror Story because of this, actually. In spite of having a bad assed real life priestess and one of the most beautiful modern actresses playing her, they still landed on cliché and lazy research. You would think all that the religion needs is a couple of Voodoo dolls and cauldrons full of bones, too.

That is part of what I played with in Hoodoopocalypse, too, but I tried really hard to use authentic images rather than the Hollywoodized voodoo. Baron Samedi is a great bad guy, but he is not the only one out there, and he's not the only Voodoo loa, either.

Voodoo is neither black or white magic entirely. There is a blend, and just like with all human life, there are both good and bad practices. Kalfu, the bad guy in my book, is a dark-half of the Loa Papa Legba, who is a genuine good guy. Yes, there are spells and bad guys and lots of real magic in my book. That's the fictional element of the story. If you go to New Orleans, you're not likely to run into any Guédé who are going to trap you and put you to fighting in the SuperDome. Yet.

But seriously, I changed the title to Hoodoo because I was trying to focus the story more on a kind of home-grown magic practice, and not offend a bunch of folks for whom this is their authentic religious practice. I hope that I did an okay job with that. I have a whole chapter in my dissertation on Voodoo, by the way, if you're interested in it and learning more about how it as a religion actually was part of the slave/master relationship and real, true revolution.

To quote myself a little for a TL;DR moment:
Voudun is an example of a type of religious magic which, in its foundation and innate nature, resists hierarchy, empowers the poor and disenfranchised, and has preserved hope and history in several non-dominant cultures. As such, the greatest real-world magic of Voudun may be its ability to inspire great societal change. As early as 1959, Alfred Métreaux, in his foundational anthropological study Voodoo in Haiti (1959), wrote about the complex hegemonic exchange of power and fear in Vodoun’s history as he asserted about the complex relationship between those with power and those without: 
Man is never cruel and unjust with impunity: the anxiety which grows in the minds of those who abuse power often takes the form of imaginary terrors and demented obsessions. The master maltreated his slave, but feared his hatred. He treated him like a beast of burden but dreaded the occult powers which he imputed to him. And the greater the subjugation of the Black, the more he inspired fear [. . . ] it was the witchcraft of remote and mysterious Africa which troubled the sleep of the people in “the big house.” (15) 
In “troubling the sleep” of those with power, Vodoun gave its practitioners a little bit (and eventually, a lot) of power over their own situation.
Think about that a little, and then go read my book. It's pretty cool, and I'm so glad I wrote it. I hope people will give it a chance to keep them up at night.

Oh, and in my dissertation, I wrote about some amazing books by Nalo Hopkinson (Brown Girl in the Ring), Alice Hoffman (Practical Magic), Sean Stewart (Mockingbird), Chitra Divakaruni (Mistress of Spices), the TV show Charmed, and a whole chapter on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


So recently I finally got my hubs to read Mariposa.  In all the years I spent writing the story, I had read him a few scenes here or there and also we discussed what I was doing. He had a hand in several directions the story went.

But now he's gotten inspired by the story to write. I'm in the middle of writing Orpheus & the Butterfly, the story of what happened to the guys (Tony, Demetrio, Omar, and a few others) during the events of Mariposa. I'm about halfway through the writing now and I have plans for where it's going that are pretty strong.

But Andrew hated a scene I wrote that included some boxing, and since he is a boxer, he said he would "write a little something" to help me out.

Well, a week or so later, he's still writing. And writing. And writing. Honestly, he's written way more lately than I have. I feel a little hijacked, to be perfectly honest-- it's not a bad thing, and I don't mean it to sound bitchy. But he's kind of going to end up with a co-writer credit of sorts for this story because I am actually going to work some of that stuff into my story too. And I don't know if our family can truly survive with two writers in the house.

But it's honestly all good. I do like some of the places his writing is going, and it will be cool to work it into my stuff.

But sheesh. Co-writers. Who knew!?