More Art, Plans for the Blog, Cameroon Voyage

I’ve been painting a good deal more than I have been writing, to my regret. But the writing is coming back to me, thanks to some writers groups I have been a part of or leading for years.

At least I'm enjoying the artistic results.

At least I’m enjoying the results of painting.

The blog is going to have more musings, sharings, rants, and oddjob add-ons in general. A little bit of everything. Which might sound eccentric, but I’m a painter now and like Bob Ross said, “Us painters are supposed to be a little weird.”

That goes for writers, too. Oh, terrific. Now I’m doubly crazy.

Crazy like a Triceratops. Who writes.

Crazy like a Triceratops. Who writes.

Additionally, I have set a goal to voyage to Cameroon sometime in the near future. Ideally, I will be ready to travel within one year. It would be partially for researching a novel, partially for exploration, and partially for missionary/material aid efforts. Not looking forward to the humidity and heat of Central Africa, but there’s a lot that’s drawing me to that country in particular. I’ll comment more on that in a future post.

New Paintings, and I Got Interviewed!

"Budding for Spring." 4 x 6 inches.

“Budding for Spring.” 4 x 6 inches. Done as a birthday present for my wonderful mom.

Good morning everyone! I have a couple of new acrylic paintings to share. Sorry I haven’t gotten much writing done, but that’s changing this afternoon, God willing. There’s stories to be finished in them there hills.

In other news, I got interviewed about my artwork by the New Falcon Herald, a local newspaper. The article should appear in their April edition. It was a very welcome surprise, and will hopefully lead to more commissions. Might even be able to support myself with the artwork, sooner or later!

"Sentry." 4 x 6 inches

“Sentry.” 4 x 6 inches. Donated to Crosses for Losses.

I am also working on a fourth science fiction story for Amazon Kindle. It’ll be the fourth episode of the Arrivers series, which is made up of the three stories on my Author’s Page now.

Happy Friday everyone!

The First Six Paragraphs of My Book

I realized I’ve done a lot of talking about writing, and the writing writers who write about writing. Did I mention it involves writing? Well, that’s enough of that. Not writing in general. Just writing about writing. Let’s go back to storytelling! I’m resuming a journey back to the dragons and engraved swords, the buildings of high beauty and strange color — the beautiful things that drew me to writing in the first place.

Time to throw some specificity into the recipe. I’m sharing what are currently the first six paragraphs of my novel in progress. If you’ve got a work in progress as well, I invite you to share the first six paragraphs in a blog post of your own.

These words are completely open to suggestion and critique. If you’ve got something to say, feel free to comment or email. As if I even need to say this, but copyright belongs to me. Obviously. Hope you enjoy it!

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Heavy eyelids opened at a hint of light. The young man’s sight was unfocused, as if underwater, and his body burned. Every movement ground his nerves like a file. He tried to moan, but his sore throat only permitted a gurgle. A blanket’s weight pressed on him. He could make out the walls of a small room and murky shapes of furniture. His only illumination filtered through a window to his right.

Memories were scattered and fragmented, retreating like a swarm of moths when he tried to grasp them. At first he thought it was just a dream. But the blanket’s itching fibers scratched him too coarsely, the sore muscles hurt too much. Where was he? How did he come here?

The young man couldn’t even remember his name.

Heavy footsteps pounded from behind a door at the room’s other side, a door as tall and black as death itself.

His heartbeat rushed. He stumbled around the corners of his brain, probing for clues, for any inkling that could remind him who might be outside. Still the moths fluttered about, turning to dust and forgotten as soon as he caught them. The footsteps receded, leaving him in silence again.

Then his mind grabbed hold of something, tiny and fragile. A name, the most familiar name to him. Josh. Yes, that sounded like it ought to be his name. Josh…Kingston, he thought. My name is Joshua Richard Kingston.

Characters: Conflict vs. Suffering

Characters are the reason fiction exists. Or so I am told. And this means it is most important to ripen your characters until their stories satisfy the reader. If you focus on plot before character, you’ll get a cool summary of events, but it reads like a news story, and it will be virtually impossible for readers to be immersed and feel like it’s happening to them. If your emphasis goes to worldbuilding, you might get a nice 400 page travelogue (whether or not it’s a world you made up), but again it will be a little cold and aloof — two things fiction are not supposed to be.

Characters are important, is what I’m saying. And one of the basic commandments for a writer is “Make things difficult for them.” Often this has been spoken of in terms of a character “suffering.” It might also be referred to as “conflict.” Interest can only be maintained in a story if something prevents a character from getting what they want.

For the sake of honesty, I’ve lately discovered that I prefer the second term. Maybe that’s just for me individually. I haven’t lived an especially hard life, and like most people I hate the idea of bullying or making anyone suffer. For me, there’s something deeper and more painful than mere discomfort that springs from the idea of maliciously forcing a person to go through a hard time even if it’s for a good end, like writing a satisfactory tale. Just because I want a character to rescue his/her one true love from an assassin and want to make the task overwhelmingly hard doesn’t mean I’m going to do something I hate. If you can do this (to fictional people, mind you) and still tell a great story, then you have my utmost respect and admiration.

However, I can still make the character’s journey difficult and keep myself inspired and glad to be writing at the same time — if I tackle the same problem from the approach of “conflict.” For some reason, that approach gets my own gears turning. Ideas pour out onto the page when I’m not putting some obstacle in the way of a protagonist out of some hidden malice, but because they need a problem to solve that is interesting, urgent, or high-stakes.

Probably a matter of semantics, I know. Nevertheless, even if the character is traumatized and suffers because of the “conflict,” I still need to treat it like a puzzle, and hope to God that I don’t end up with cold, aloof fiction. The approach may be a little more detached, but I take more joy in it, and still realize its final result must hit home for the reader and engage them emotionally.

By the way, yes, I know these characters exist only in my head. It’s still my job to regard them as colleagues and human beings. After all, I’m telling their story, and trying to make readers care about them.

How about you? Do you like approaching characters from a standpoint of suffering or conflict, or something else altogether? I’d love to have some input and get a discussion going. That is, when I’m not frantically trying to finish my own novel’s edits.

Thanks for putting up with another of my dry, abstract ramblings. I do appreciate it!

Writing Suggestion: Fictional Gambling

Having trouble coming up with new ideas for a story? Here’s one possible solution: Gamble.

But not for money. Almost certainly, the spinning roulette wheel is just going to be the accretion disk around a monetary black hole. The house always wins, and writers make little enough money as it is. So instead, gamble for ideas. All you need is a little bit of creativity, a die (with any number of sides you want), and a list of possible outcomes.

Let’s say you’re having trouble finding the personality and occupation of a character to write about in your story, and you have a six-sided die. You can write a list that might look a little something like this:

1. Hard boiled bounty hunter.

2. Optimistic surgeon.

3. Big-hearted bouncer.

4. Alcoholic florist. (Don’t ask)

5. Kleptomaniac plumber.

6. Philandering cyborg.

Then, of course, you start developing the character that the die rolls on.

One advantage of this is the variety, both in outcomes and in the aspects of story creation it can be applied to. Thousands of combinations can be found if you write similar lists for possible plot developments, character fates, worldbuilding, possible villains, subplots, inciting incidents, and possible stakes in the story.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of this game, however, is that it can be ignored. If the die rolls on the philandering cyborg but you really wanted to write the alcoholic florist, then of course you can dispose of the bucket of bolts and overactive flesh. Sometimes just thinking about different options gives you the push you need.

Now go create, and may your imaginings never run dry.

The Everwind Times: A Newspaper for Another World

Author and friend Janden Daniel Hale (a pen name for Dan Donche) has begun promoting his dark science fiction series Everwind in a lot of unique ways online. There are the posts on Facebook and the interviews a lot of authors do, but I like his unique style in using spoken word and graphic design to build up a deeper online picture. So far he has a few short stories published on Amazon here and here, but there is a lot more to his world than that (you can read another short story for free here).

I’m posting about him here to show you one of the ways he is promoting his series: a newspaper chronicling events in his intricately built and detailed fictional world. The Everwind Times is a refreshing, creative way to immerse readers, generate interest, and show you more of the gritty, harsh setting Hale has created. The fascinating articles include topics like “1 in 3 Eggs Sold Are Bad – Here’s How to Tell Them Apart” and “String of Murders Linked to Cursed Deck of Arcanum Cards.” If you’re a worldbuilding nut like me, this is one site that is especially worthy of your attention.

Even if dark sci-fi isn’t your thing, I recommend giving it a look, especially if you’re a writer fixing to do some promotion on your own. Marketing is an area where more authors than ever before are taking the reins. The internet (and physical promotional objects, from coasters to pens) has taken this marketing in a lot of strange but exciting directions. Maybe it will give you some ideas as well.

Are there any neat strategies like this that you’re using to promote your work? Are they more physical promotional tools like paperweights, decorated coffee mugs, or T-shirts? Or are you using the many available tools online to pique peoples’ curiosity?

Fiction: Allosaurus Attack

Another brief fiction exercise. Forgive me for not posting for a while. This has been a very fast week. I hope you enjoy this, one of the writing prompts I did at a workshop last week.

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The man didn’t make a sound except for his annoyed grunt. He willed shivers away, despite the freezing water coating his skin as if to encase him in ice. The hem and lapels of Carter’s trench coat slapped him like wet flippers. Needlelike rain and temperamental winds pushed on him, the shelter of the barge’s wreckage enticing him to come back and leave the newly opened clearing. His feet planted all the harder in the mud, plasma rifle as steady as stone in his callused grip, his gaze searching the splintered trees and wounded earth. He swore there was something big behind the foliage the antigravity barge had cleared on its way down. Something from nightmares and horror movies.

How much longer until the beacon’s cry for help could be answered? Carter didn’t look away from the jungle to check his wristband’s readout. The jungle on this continent needed to be watched. Always. Rescue teams would get here when they got here.

A glint of white teeth showed behind the branch of a giant tree fern. He cracked off a round of sky-blue light, an involuntary “Aha!” fired off with it. The big something bellowed out a cry like an avalanche when the bolt flashed against its hide, like a lightning strike.

It strode out toward Carter, three clawed fingers flexing on each hand, legs bent and rippling with power. The leviathan pressed on in furious strides, resisting the momentary sting of more rounds of plasma.

Why? Carter thought. Why was he still shooting? Why did the cannons all have to break when the barge dropped out of the sky? Why didn’t he have anything effective?

Scaly jaws with fangs as long as a hand opened and descended on him with a revolting stench. Rotten meat. Hot decay.

Carter only ripped away from the trance just in time to veer off at a 45 degree angle, tripping on a stone hiding under the ferns. A flaying pain traveled over his leg, and the plasma rifle was gone. He searched for it through the undergrowth, but the roar seemed to catapult him into the jungle.

Blinded by the rifle’s rounds, with hardly any of the overcast sky to light his way, he shot through the jungle, into denser vines and trees until he was sure the monster wouldn’t follow.

He groaned and winced at the wound his stumble had opened, the pain that forced him back to reality. What had he been running from?