Spontaneous Combustion – Writing a Story in 24 hours

For those that are interested, I thought I’d share a bit about my experience with writing a short story in less than 24 hours.
*** This has some spoilers. If you haven’t read “Forever Portend”, you should, and you should vote for it ASAP so I can get into the Spontaneous Combustion 2 Anthology 🙂 ***
Note: The stories don’t display on mobile or tablet. You’ll need to use a desktop or laptop. You can vote from mobile or tablet, though. You’ll need to create a Patreon account (free to do), and then you can vote for your favorite story.
OK. About writing that story in a day…
I recently did this as a participant in Sic Semper Serpent’s Spontaneous Combustion “Book-in-a-Day” contest. A bunch of authors gathered at a local bookstore to get the rules last Thurs night. After we were given the rules, the ‘gun’ went off, and we all scurried away to go write. We each had to submit a story within 24 hours.
Writing a story in 24 hours was a really fun challenge – especially when, in real world terms – I had a lot less than 24 hours (you know, day job and stuff). It was a good exercise in going with an idea and committing to it. With such a short time frame, there’s no time for take-backs or do-overs.
The rules for the contest required that the stories be spec fiction and that each story have the following three things:
– A balloon sword used in place of a real sword
– Sage advice from a non-human entity
– The line of dialogue, “Uff da. This lutefisk is limp!” (lutefisk is fish soaked in lye. It’s Scandanavian, and just awful. Really, really awful.)
My story starts with a person contemplating all of the colors of a black eye, and wondering why, of all the colors, none are black. I think environment influences ideas, and I’d started writing the story at a bar/arcade that I like a lot. I had a beer, played a couple of video games, like Samurai Showdown and The Walking Dead pinball. I think that’s where the idea of a black eye started, since I’d been virtually punching stuff for about an hour before I sat down to write.
(Yes, after the proverbial gun went off, I went to a bar and played video games. What can I say? It seemed like a good idea at the time…)
Anyway, with a black eye as a starting point, I felt like I already had conflict. Someone had punched my main character. I just had to figure out why.
The next element I wanted to work with was the ‘sage advice from a non-human entity.’ What to choose? A cantankerous talking cactus? A multi-dimensional spatula? Everything that popped into my head seemed ridiculous and over-the-top. My wife texted to say hi, and I signed off with ‘Love you.’ I had a moment of thinking about the little electronic box conveying my love for my wife, and my brain jumped to those old fashioned carnival machines that ‘measure your love.’ (here’s a video). With that idea, I not only had the second piece of my story – the sage advice from a non-human – but a setting.
One of my favorite books/movies is “Something Wicked This Way Comes” by Ray Bradbury. The second I thought of an old-fashioned carnival, I wanted to create something that felt like Ray’s carnival.
So. I had conflict. I had a possibly magical machine. I had a setting. I had a dark and ominous tone. The rest of the story started falling into place. After a fast draft, I started to flesh it out. An element here and there to make it other-worldly. Since I started with colors, I made sure to put a lot of visual stuff into the rest of the story. Buttery yellow, brightly striped, wetly gleaming red, etc. A couple of things to better define my characters, like Jan makes casserole, and Nathan scrawls directions by hand instead of using navigation.
The hardest part was coming up with the ‘love notes’ the machine created, but that was also the most fun. I wanted each note to ‘portend’ another part of the story. So Jan’s note suggests two may compete for her heart. Even Nathan’s fake note, “… a love for the ages you’ve found this night,” alludes to his impending fate.
Writing so quickly meant I had to just take ideas as they came and trust my gut, and then make them work. That’s not to say I didn’t toss ideas out. At one point, I started writing that the carny that punches Nathan is actually Loki in disguise. That potential story was WAY too big to write in 24 hours, so I quickly discarded it. But for the most part, once the frame was in place and I had a couple of anchors for the story, I just let the rest fill in around it.
So that was my experience writing a story in 24 hours. If you haven’t tried that particular challenge, I say do it! Get a few friends to do it with you, and then share/critique your stories after. It’s a great exercise and a lot of fun.
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When Writers Read Their Writing

Writers.

We’re an odd bunch. We sit in dark corners, keep erratic hours, talk to imaginary people, and have a Google search history that would land most folks on a government watch list at best, and at worst, in a sanitarium. We pour our hearts and brains onto the page so that hopefully, someone will READ what we’ve written and be entertained, informed, enlightened, disturbed, or some bizarre combination of all of the above.

The key word up there is “read.” We’re totally fine with people reading our stuff. That’s kind of the whole point of being a writer. And then someone says, “Hey! You should totally read your stuff! Out loud! To a room full of people!”

And we smile, scream, and run for the hills.

But a few of us come back, tap the mic, cringe a bit at how loud the speakers are, and actually read our shit out loud. It’s agonizing and intoxicating and terrifying and wonderful. We hate it. We love it. We regret it. We can’t wait to do it again.

If you have the chance to see a writer performing their own work, take a moment to appreciate how damn unsettling the experience probably is for that person. Tell someone who is afraid of heights to try the high-dive at the community pool. Tell a champion ping-pong player that they’re going to wrestle Hugo the Huge or Slammy von Turnbuckle. You’ll get the same reaction you’d usually get when asking a writer to read.

And when they’re good… When they have not only written something wonderful, but own that mic and give that story a damn good telling…

You’ve just witnessed someone going waaaaay out of their comfort zone to share something really special with you, and they pulled it off with flying colors. It’s magical. Just magical.

I had the opportunity to see a group of Minnesotan spec fiction writers perform yesterday. The MinnSpec Meetup Group hosted their annual Wordbrew, where folks mingle, drink, and then sit back and enjoy writers performing samples of their work. There wasn’t a single performance that I found wanting, and there were a couple that were pure gold. Seeing those writers give their stories their all, and feeling the crowd response was a fantastic experience.

So the next time you have a chance to see a writer perform their work, jump on it. Go. Open yourself up to the experience. That writer will be immensely grateful, and you’ll be better for the experience.

A Cold and Gray Rainy Day

It’s the perfect Saturday.

I’ve never been one to mind a rainy day. Given the choice between mid-50’s and overcast, and mid-90’s and sunny… I’ll take the cold and gray every time.

Here’s a perfect example. My wife and I were in Miami, FL a couple of years back. We eschewed the beach and found the darkest pub we could, one complete with dim lights and dark-stained wood and thick, rough tables, and proceeded to hide from the sun until nightfall.

Is it any wonder I wrote a book about a vampire?

Back to the present… It’s a cold and gray rainy Saturday. I’m in a local cafe, with one eye on my little laptop, and the other on the drippy, dreary day just past the window. I’m putzing with a few projects. Downloading a ton of photos from the cloud to work on a photo book, putting a few more words into a short story, flipping through FB posts, researching what conventions to table at in 2018, and yes, blogging in my usual, pointless way. I have nowhere to be. I have very little of importance to actually do, and I am in no hurry whatsoever to do those few things that probably should get done. The dark roast coffee is delicious. My hoodie is the perfect weight for the temperature. The barista is streaming a Beatles station.

Like I said, a perfect Saturday.

Chapel Con, Here I Come!

Another weekend, another con!

Tomorrow, I’ll be heading down to Albert Lea, MN for the first-ever Chapel Con. The organizers run a comic shop and tattoo parlor, and really wanted to give folks in southern MN and northern IA that couldn’t make it to the HUGE San Diego Comicon something to do.

We’ll see how it all comes together, but judging from the prep work they’ve done and the awesome celebs they’ve lined up… it’s gonna be a damn good con.

If you’re in the area, stop in and say hi! If you’re not in the area, hop over to my Facebook page for some pics and updates during the weekend.

Work In Progress

I released Undead Cheesehead, the final(?) book in the Monsters in the Midwest series, back in March. Since then, I’ve been… Um. Working really hard. At, you know. Writing stuff.

OK. That isn’t totally true. It isn’t not true. It’s just not 100% accurate. If I’d simply said, “I’ve been writing stuff,” that would’ve been true. I’ve written my name on receipts at bars. I’ve written emails at my day job. I’ve written a bunch of tweets and comments on Facebook. But I don’t think that quite adds up to ‘working really hard’ at writing stuff.

So let’s tweak the above a bit and say I’ve been writing stuff, and working really hard at other stuff. Like what, you ask? Well…

Marketing. You may not know it, but getting people to know you have a book or three is exhaustingly tough. So I’ve been doing promos on Amazon and tabling at conventions. I’m a sponsor for a cool contest for indie authors called ShoreIndie (@ShoreIndie on Twitter). I run a series of events for Minnesotan authors called the Books and Beer Pop-up Bookstore and have been planning the next event. All of that ends up taking a lot of time.

Drinking beer. Yes, I have been working really hard at drinking beer. And as with most things, the hard work is definitely paying off. I’ve put back at least a pint of beer damn near every day. This is important, because science says it’s good for you.

Reading. My TBR list is longer than… something really long. Over the past few years, my reading time had dwindled to a couple hours a week. At that rate, I was barely getting through 2-3 substantial books a year. That’s no fun, so I’ve been carving out more time to read.

There’s been other stuff, too, and one of those ‘other stuff’ things has been writing. I’ve been chipping away at some short story ideas, getting some thought down for a new steampunk comedy series, poking around with a more serious sci-fi piece. But since we’re being honest, the writing has been pretty low on my list the past few months.

Don’t worry, though. While I’m not working really hard at the moment, I will be soon. Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe not the next day. But soon…

And when I am, I promise the next “Work In Progress” post will be much more satisfying 🙂

 

Oops, I haven’t blogged yet

I totally meant to. Really, I did. I’ve had all sorts of interesting observations, thought up loads of funny anecdotes, gleaned numerous important lessons, and survived a multitude of unexpected experiences, and I absolutely, positively, without a doubt intended to blog the hell out of all of it.

But… I didn’t.

(No, wait. That’s too definitive. I need to keep you folks on the hook, keep you wondering, keep you taut with anticipation.)

But… I haven’t. Yet…