Saturday, August 22, 2015

Writing Exercise: Sending Someone Away to Your Personal Hell

The postcard arrived from what I'd have thought of as hell. Silence, meditation, farmland. I'm a city guy, feet grounded in concrete and head full of smog. This guy, on the other hand, was full on hot air about the country. Fresh, hot, manure-scented air. He loved every second--said it gave him "inspiration". Even his handwriting was pretentious. Tiny loops where they weren't needed. Written in fountain pen, which I knew because I'd seen him use it--slowly, with great pomp and circumstance, taking painstaking time to waste no ink.

"greetings" the wretched practically chimed at me. "Hello" wouldn't have sufficed and "hi" was right out of the question, I guessed. "I'm having a perfectly lovely time out here the air smells so rustic and the people are so Earthy." That was his classist way of saying 'poor'. "I've been eating lots of potatoes and running extra as a result." Lies. He barely ran at home. "And the cats have taken an immediate liking to me." That's because he doesn't shower enough and he smells like tuna all the time. "Lots of quiet time in which to get my book done." Okay, I know you don't work without headphones--an electronic banned on the farmy retreat, but sure. "You'd absolutely love every second." false, and he knew it. "Hope to see you soon." More lies, he never visits. "Lots of love, your brother, Edward." That was the first expression of love he'd made towards me in fifteen years.

Maybe I was missing something. Maybe the shit-air suited him. Maybe things were about to change-and for once maybe it was for the better.

--writing prompt from The Write Brain Workout.
Writing time: ten minutes

Monday, June 8, 2015

Collaboration: Working Together

I’ve been writing for almost fifteen years now, and this project is one of very VERY few that I chose to collaborate on. Typically, I play well with others, but when it comes to writing I waffle between overly confident that I can do it better, and far too self-conscious to produce much of anything. This project, however, is a beautiful exception to my normally wise rule.

Alright listen I know it's a different word but I love this video.

When collaborating on any project of any kind, for any reason, there are a few things you should keep in mind in order to make that project (and that collaboration) a success.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Don't Choose Your Target Audience: Your Target Audience Chooses You

Like many other small children, I was taken to Disney World at a very young age. I went for the first time when I was barely over a year old--most of the trip lives on in videos my parents took while painstakingly documenting every single time I misbehaved. 
Since then I've gotten a little taller and it's only slightly less cute when I make new friends waiting in line for Splash Mountain. When I was in college, my sister and I took our first trip without our parents and realized there were whole sections of the parks we had never explored. As our week sped on faster than we would have liked, we also realized that taking a trip without small kids following us around was an entirely different experience. Our "party of two" often got ushered to the front of lines, to round out a family with an odd number. We spent mornings sleeping in and evenings riding Rock N Roller Coaster until we were dizzy. We made friends with cast members and sat in cafes, splitting cupcakes and trying new flavors of coffee.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Chapter Five: The Chapter I Haven't Titled Yet

Dezi and Reg had watched what felt like a billion hours of crappy television by the time her mother came home from work. Frannie was home to by that point, but she couldn't be bothered with the television or her sister or her sister's weird friend with the dreadlocks. She was in her room, probably doing something boring like actual homework or possibly (rather probably, in fact) watching the same crappy television on different channels.
"Thank you for not leaving the house, Desert Orchid"
"I wasn't going to be able to get away with anything when you were calling every five minutes."
"I did not call every five minutes." She had called something more like every ten.
"You know, if you didn't want me going down town you could have just not mentioned it." Reg laughed as Dezi’s mom raised her eyebrows. "It's not like I just spend my time looking for trouble." This time he outright guffawed, and Dezi kicked him from across the couch.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Researching A Novel

I don't know about you, but I love reading as much as I love writing. I love when a new project has me learning history or looking at photos of unfamiliar terrain. It's the best. Here are some tips I've discovered when researching for a large format project like a novel or full-length play:

1. Start Simple

In Starbuck McLaw, when our titular hero wants to know more about his past, he goes to the children's section to see what the basic building blocks were in Ancient Egypt. I didn't pull this idea out of nowhere: I start in the kids section, too. I like to start with a broad-strokes approach to research, especially when the topic is something about which I know very little. If I can't get to a library, I will check Amazon for kids books, or even skim wikipedia articles and take notes on topics I'd like to learn more about. This will help me lay groundwork for more in-depth research later. It also helps me understand where my knowledge is at the starting point, and know where to build up my weaker areas.

2. Visual Learning

Photography books can be a writer's best friend. If you're looking for inspiration, or need to know how Times Square looked in 1908, you're bound to get a lot of information very quickly from photographs rather than anywhere else. Sometimes when my inspiration tank feels particularly low I'll spend a day at an art museum and focus especially on areas I may not be initially drawn towards. This can either jostle something I didn't expect, or it can solidify my instinct to go in a different direction.


Don't be afraid to put the books down and write one of your own. I can get very wrapped up reading about a whole lot of things that are only tangentially related to my project. Or, I might be reading about something unrelated all together. The reason you or I are doing this research is to enhance our own writing--and the writing won't get better if we stop doing it. So take a break after you've learned something that piques your interest. Write it down somewhere--try writing how your main character would react to that information or when they first learned it. Never forget to go back to your own writing.

4. Ask the tough questions!

So okay sometimes you'll come across dubious sources. Sometimes you need to do a little digging into where ideas come from or who did/funded the research you're reading. Sometimes you have to ask questions that haven't been answered yet--and sometimes that will lead to the best writing you've done in a while. If the questions haven't been answered you can take your time exploring a whole lot of possibilities, and no one gets to say you're wrong!

5. enjoy ya life.

If researching isn't your jam, then okay. No problem. But you SHOULD know the facts about what you're writing about. So then stick to the bare minimum, to make sure you actually know what you're talking about. But of course there's always a place for alternate history, broken laws of physics, and worlds built entirely of cotton candy and lemon drops, those worlds need to have consistent rules or reasons for no rules at all. So yeah. Enjoy ya life.


Friday, March 20, 2015

Chapter Three

Dezi was in school again. She moved through the day slowly, plodding through the halls from class to class. She hated the hallways, but didn’t mind sitting in classes, because there at least she could watch the videos she had taken over the weekend silently on her phone. In fact, in her computer class she could do whatever she wanted because she was sitting at her designated laptop with nothing to do. Sure, there was the class assignment, but it was a design project and she was designing a site about “paranormal sightings and their rationalizations” and that meant she could upload the videos and get them on the web. Not only did it mean she COULD, it also meant that’s exactly what she was doing. Double whammy. Five minutes after the bell had rung, the teacher had already explained the assignment for the day and most of the class had settled into website design, when Dezi’s friend Reggie sat down next to her.
“Reginald. You’re late again.” The teacher, Mr. Satri stated rather sternly from behind his newspaper.
“How did he see me?” Reggie whispered to Dezi.
“I didn’t need to see you, Reginald. I heard the door.” Mr. Satri folded the paper down. “Do you have a pass?”
“It was the last class I was in, sir, it ran over again!” Dezi knew for a fact that Reg’s last class was study hall. Unluckily for him, so did Mr. Satri.
“We will discuss this after class, Reginald. Get to work.” He unfolded his paper back up to its full height. “Immediately.” Reg logged in to the computer system no quicker than he normally would.
“What the hell is up his butt today?”
“Probably the fact that you’ve been late almost every class for the last two weeks.” Dezi whispered back. “And that you told him you’d like to design a website that tells you where the best boob scenes are in popular movies.”
“Hey, now. That probably would get more traffic than most of the site designs people are working on in this class. Hell, it probably would have gotten more traffic than most sites on the internet.” Dezi couldn’t help but laugh. Reg was probably right.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Character Sketch: Steven Allredo


Steven Allredo, though he is frequently referred to as a shadow or a shrouded splotch of darkness.


Younger than he seems, but older than he looks.


Evil Genius? Does it count as an occupation if you're doing it without getting paid? Steven is also an assistant in the laboratories at the Other School.

Physical Description:

Steven in extremely pale--partially because he spends too much time in the dark, partially because he's underfed. He has a messy mop of hair on his head and he wears glasses too big for his face.

Personality traits:

Steven is incredibly intelligent and he doesn't let you forget it. He is very devoted to his experiments, and his "plan". He doesn't get along well with others, and tends to spend his time alone in his lab.


Steven is incredibly intelligent so he started college very young. He was not bullied, he was not left behind, he was not specifically mocked. Steven is a scientist and he starts his experiments in the pursuit of knowledge. Once he realizes he can create life, however, he was determined to build an army and take over the world. That's as far as he planned.
He was specifically challenged to bring the mummy in the basement of the Private School's library back to life. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Writing When you Can't Even Think

Saturday night I got a voice message from the artistic director at the theatre company where I work. He asked me to call him immediately, and when I did he had news that I couldn't have imagined for myself. A body had been found in the men's bathroom, and it turned out to be one of our cast members.

I had left the building less than three hours earlier. The cast member, whose name was Chris, had been there when I left. It's a few days later and we still don't know what happened--the police performed an autopsy and could not determine a cause of death. His family lives in Illinois, so friends in the area are taking over making arrangements for his service, but that's all we know so far.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Chapter One: Starbuck McLaw

Chapter One: Zombies are very "in" this season.
Technology has always been an important part of moving forward with our lives--and in some cases, (like the case of Starbuck McLaw), it keeps us moving forward far longer than we may like. Seventy years ago, in the middle of the 20th century, the information age was just peeking around the corner. Technology was developing, new discoveries were being made, and suddenly we were on the moon. Everyone stopped what they were doing when we went to the moon--gathered around their tiny television sets and watched as we took one very small (or very large, depending on your perspective) step, changing the landscape of our only natural satellite forever. Today the moon is in our pockets if we want it--the whole solar system and our high score on space tetris are all in there, too.
Rarely are we impressed by something so meager as a factory that manufactured the batteries that the spacemen used in their flashlights in case of power loss. However, that’s exactly what East Hollystock, New Jersey hangs its hat on. East Hollystock is a funny place, because first of all, it is in West New Jersey. It's called East Hollystock because it is further East than West Hollystock, which is almost Pennsylvania. Some GPSes will tell you that you are, in fact, in Pennsylvania, but anyone who has been to both places knows there is a distinct difference, and that even if you’re only barely in New Jersey, you are still definitely not in Pennsylvania, but you will wish you were.
In the 1950s, like most of North-West New Jersey, East Hollystock had a factory that built batteries that went on to travel into space. According to the townspeople of the time, that meant they may as well be housing NASA and sending rockets even further than the moon. Because they were so futuristic and forward-thinking, their water tower needed to reflect this truth. The town became "The Crossroads of Tomorrow" as opposed to "The Crossroads of America" which it had considered itself before the factory. A painter who had made it big and was returning to town just for the occasion painted the new logo. The clean, crisp shape of the atom, a rocket ship and an outline of Saturn took the place of the old, loopy letters that had started to fade and chip away. Years later, the rocket ship got defaced, of course, and the atom shortly thereafter. Eventually, someone painted boobs above the whole affair.
But before that, East Hollystock was at a crossroads between tomorrow and what I guess was another tomorrow, because the motto was just "crossroads of tomorrow" instead of "the crossroad between tomorrow and…" anything else. The defaced pictures were painted over again, and by the time this story begins, they were in pristine condition, which makes them the only thing in East Hollystock that could make such a claim. The factory was in disrepair and overgrown. Its unsightly state of made it the perfect hiding place for shadowy figures to set up entirely unorthodox laboratories. The factory made a nice place for all sorts of shadowy activities, as it had been abandoned when the crossroads of tomorrow stopped leading anywhere interesting.
This is how it came to be that on a fine, spring day, when there was little sun peeking from between the numerous clouds in the sky, and the factory was full of the most unsightly of creatures, the people in East Hollystock did not know anything was going wrong.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Character Sketch: Desert Orchid Booker


Desert Orchid Booker (Dezi for short)




High School student. Dezi also runs a blog about weird things going on in her town. She gets paid in loving comments from people who are definitely not trolls. 

Physical Description:

Dezi is thin and long limbed and has looooong black hair. She has an olive complexion. She wears her hair in lots of braids, and dresses in oversized coats and jeans that are soft from being washed a lot.

Personality traits:

Dezi is stubborn and too smart for her own good sometimes. She investigates anomalies. As an older sister she feels like she needs to protect a lot of people around her. She watches the world through a camera and writes about it through her blog--holding a lot of things at arms length.  It's a safety situation.


Growing up in a lazy New Jersey town can drive you crazy. Dezi has taken the opportunity to spend all her down-time writing about supernatural things that she sees happen "in reality". 
She and her sister were very close when they were very young, but they're not as close anymore. 
Curtain up on this story, and Dezi is chasing one shadow in particular, a shadow that keeps running in and out of trees after squirrels.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Organization of Ideas

Hi. My name is Jen and I am a pantser.

In the world of NaNoWriMo, there are two basic types of writers: the plotters (who have cute story maps that take them neatly from November 1st all the way to the 30th) and the pantsers (who typically spend thirty days insanely chasing ideas around in circles with no idea of journey nor destination). It's pretty obvious where plotters get their name, but pantsers get theirs from flying by the seat of their pants...and/or running around making you think twice about those loose fitting sweatpants, no matter how comfortable they may be.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Final Draft Friday

THIS is the prologue to my novel "The Continuing Adventures of Starbuck McLaw" Massive thanks to Kaitlyn D'Agostino who helped with editing.


Once Upon a Time in Wild West Jersey, there was a man who overcame insurmountable odds--the first of which being the he was a shriveled up mummy lost to time in the basement of a college library.

The man had another man's brain shoved unceremoniously into his ancient skull (hollowed out empires ago by men with much more tact), was zapped with some electricity (probably), and rose from a rusty operating table more confused than when he had died. At the beginning of it all, he was something less than a man; some considered him a creature or an artifact, or a monster even before a man. But by the end, he was a super hero by everyone’s standards. His name was (and still is) Starbuck McLaw.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Character Sketch: The Sheriff of Wild West Jersey


Starbuck McLaw


Has been reanimated for approximately one year. Was born originally during Egypt's "New Kingdom" period.


He spends most of his days hiding so...Hermit? He enforces the law by day and night in equal measure which I think might disqualify him from super-heroism. Maybe just heroism.
Pest control--specialty in squirrels.

Physical Description:

Well....he's wrapped in mummy cloths. His eyes (as well as all his internal organs) were harvested from the science lab at the great big University. They are a pretty hazel, and he is rather proud.

He wears sunglasses and an oversized cowboy hat, as well as ill-fitting clothes he found in the library's lost and found. The way he figures it's not stealing because he FOUND the clothes someone else LOST, so he doesn't feel bad about taking them. Most of the time the clothes consist of some type of denim, a huge letter jacket, and mis-matched running sneakers.

Starbuck has all his limbs. 

Personality traits:

Lawful good. Loyalty. Curiosity. Slightly behind the times on colloquialisms. Has a squirrel issue.

His brain was taken from an old police man from Colorado, and he has taken on some of the man's former speech patterns and more than just some of his sensibilities for law-enforcement. It frequently matches poorly with the notions he still somehow has from his days in Egypt.


Starbuck was originally a young pharoh in ancient Egypt. His name from the time is still unknown, though Steven could have found out if he'd bothered to check while unceremoniously removing him from his coffin. Steven reanimated Starbuck a year ago, after several unsuccessful attempts at Mummy sidekicks to help him lead his revolution.
While Starbuck certainly wasn't the first of these experiment that Steven deemed a "success", he is the most impressive as he's the only once capable of speech.
When Starbuck was first "alive", he would help Steven to dig up more dead bodies, steal more organs from the morgue at the University, build proto type and then full-functioning "zombies" for his irrational plan to take over the world. Along the line, however, his desire to enact the law and protect the citizens of East Hollystock (located in scenic West Jersey), caused him to rebel against Steven's bidding.

That's pretty much a run down of our leading man. Want more? Leave it in the comments below.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Billboards and Basements: The Germination of A Novel

I've been writing since I was in middle school, as anyone who's been reading this blog for a while probably knows. 

After over ten years writing I've gotten used to grabbing a notebook and jotting down notes no matter where or when inspiration strikes. So a couple years ago when I saw a billboard for a mummy exhibit at the Philadelphia Science Center, and asked my friend Dom why mummies have been left out of the "sexy science fiction stories" trend, I took a second to write the question down.