Monday, June 30, 2014

Book, Movie, Both

by Holly West

I am, above all things, a lover of stories. The reason I write isn't because I enjoy the act of writing, it's because I love a good yarn, told well, and I aspire to entertain and touch people the way I've been over the years.

As a story lover, I'm also enamored of movies. They entertain and inspire me differently, but no less so than books. I have a bachelor's degree in screenwriting, which was the first serious writing I ever did and I still use a three-act screenwriting structure to outline my novels. The tidiness of the format appeals to me, and while these days I'd much rather write books than screenplays, old habits, as they say, die hard.

I think most will agree that in general, the books that inspire movies are better than the movies themselves. But today, I'm here to discuss the movies that are as good as, or better, than the books that inspired them. Welcome to a little game I call "Book, Movie, or Both."

The Player
Novel by Michael Tolkin
Movie directed by Robert Altman
Verdict: BOTH (but especially the movie)

I was tempted to say "movie" on this one, because frankly, the movie is better. But the novel is definitely worth a read--in fact, I think the story itself is so good that it's fun to compare the two, almost as if reading the book and watching the movie are a complete package.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Need Inspiration? 3 Simple Creativity Hacks

Giant Guitars at Austin Airport
On a recent trip I visited Austin, Texas, and was intrigued by the display of creativity that welcomed me to the baggage pickup area. Giant, colorful guitars -- a nod to the music for which Austin is known -- dot the luggage carousels, and create a sense of gaiety and fun for the weary traveler.
Adding a dash of creative thinking to your day can spark a host of new ideas. Many people grasp new ideas that emerge from their mind during the night. The mind is at rest; new ideas flow with ease. Without a jumble of emails and meetings clogging the mind, creativity has a clear path.
How many of us keep a notepad by the bed for those nocturnal ideas? Why not try it -- my last book title came to me during the night. Many writers know the value of this simple tactic to capture fleeting ideas.
During the day, it's easy to confuse busy-ness for productivity. But some of the most important discoveries have broken through during moments of daydreaming. These are the what-if moments that can change your life, or the lives of others, the spot where daydreaming meets creative thinking.
So, how can we replicate the early hour between sleep and wakefulness, when the mind plays with ideas and ah-ha moments emerge? How can we intentionally foster creativity every day?

Friday, June 27, 2014

Standing Up for Authors

I'm typing this blog while standing up. I spend a lot more time standing these days because I've taken to heart (or at least to hindquarters) the research that shows that sitting is killing us.

Why Read and Write Stories

Maya Angelou said there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.

Every time I read that quote, I think about the concentration camp survivors we hosted during a Holocaust presentation at Rogue Community College in Grants Pass, Oregon. Most of them were quite old and they’d just begun to tell the stories they’d kept inside. I was horrified and I was mesmerized by their words, by their courage and humility. One man, over dinner at our kitchen table, said something I will never forget. When asked how his life had been changed by his years in a concentration camp where he lost his entire family, he replied. “It made me more kind.”

Stories are our conscience. They teach truth and a respect for the past. Stories are like our connective tissue, they link us to the lives of others. If we keep telling and writing them, perhaps they will keep us human. Anne Frank was a thirteen-year-old child who wrote a diary while hiding in an attic. She didn’t survive, but her words did—inspiring and haunting us for generations.

After hosting those Holocaust survivors and hearing their stories,  I needed to write something—to connect in a heartfelt way—to add my voice and speak for the ones who'd died and were not heard. I needed to imagine myself as someone who'd experienced at least something of the horror. This poem came out of that need.


All night I stood waiting
for sun to fill the room’s small window,
the glass still black where I paused
looking out as if for a signal
and remembering how dawn
releases the trees, mountains and each
fence from its shadow.
Still holding the nightfall between my hands
I whisper, “It will come.”

The dark yields slowly and this day
might have traveled here from the other side
of the earth, an avenue in Warsaw and a house
where a man has paced since midnight
the musty stillness of his attic, thinking
each time a board creaked that soldiers
moved on the stairs and imagining
that these would be his last moments.

Words like moths kicked up
from the tall grass could
trace his story back to its ink.
He knows the meaning of all time is words—
those small, unstoppable sounds
that fold, finger by finger,
across our bodies.

He would understand morning
is a kind of reprieve, its slow coming
the affirmation of everything night
called into question, and he might believe
that light passes from country to country,
one man to another, a sharing
that becomes personal like the space
between the living and the dead—
that otherness inside us we never touch
no matter how far down our hands might reach.

Time has passed since we housed those Holocaust survivors. We now have a granddaughter, Shenoa, who is the age you were when you wrote your diary. I think of her, I think of you. I salute your courage, Anne Frank. The way you left a message, a legacy, a poignant reminder of what it means to be human. I pray Shenoa will be brave like you. That she will have the courage to speak her truth, that she will never lose faith in mankind. That she will always believe in the goodness of the human heart.  

Susan Clayton-Goldner was born in New Castle, Delaware and grew up with four brothers along the banks of the Delaware River. She is a graduate of the University of Arizona's Creative Writing Program. Susan has been writing most of her life. Her novels have been finalists for The Hemingway Award, the Heeken Foundation Fellowship, the Writers Foundation and the Publishing On-line Contest where she received a thousand dollar prize. Susan won the National Writers' Association Novel Award twice for unpublished novels and her poetry was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Susan's novels are currently represented by Elizabeth Kracht of the Kimberly Cameron Agency. 

Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies including Animals as Teachers and Healers, published by Ballantine Books, Our Mothers/Ourselves, by the Greenwood Publishing Group, The Hawaii Pacific Review-Best of a Decade, and New Millennium Writings. Prior to moving to Oregon and writing full time, Susan worked as the Director of Corporate Relations for University Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona. 

Susan shares a life in Grants Pass, Oregon with her husband, Andreas, a blue-eyed feline named Topaz, her fictional characters, and more books than one person could count. Visit her website at 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

Just like so many other authors and writers out there, I have spent the past few years living split lives; having two personalities, if you will. In one life, I'm Mia Thompson, Author. In the other, I'm nameless and merely one of many employees who works eight hours a day, then picks up their modest paycheck every two weeks.

The general public may not realize how many of the authors they see on book shelves are still nurses, accountants, store clerks, and waiters. For most of us, writing is our passion, and work, only something we do to feed our needy bodies, pay our pesky bills, and afford clothes other than the PJ's we wear in front of the computer.

Meet the Author

I often feel I'm living two secret lives. At my day job, creativity is not welcomed. The rules and orders we are given aren't meant to be bent or questioned, but followed to a T. Me, and the girls I work with, are not expected to be talented, intelligent, or to know the difference between who and whom. We are simply there to be friendly and fun while we execute Corporate's will.

I hardly ever mention to my customers that I'm an author. When I do, it seems to confuse them. Perhaps it's because they feel I don't look like an author (whatever an author is supposed to look like?) or perhaps, it's because I'm working and not sitting in front of a desk with a quill in my hand, quoting Whitman. Often they look at me as if I have ruined they way they see the world: a place where nurses are nurses, accountants are accountants, and the guy who picks up your trash will never be the one to write the next Great American Novel. Because of this, I find it easier to pretend that during nine-to-five, the author doesn't exist at all.
What our costumers and clients rarely know, is that while we scan your groceries, drawn your blood, calculate your receipts, and wipe the crumbs off your table, we are miles away. We are actually adventurers, spies, warriors, aliens, and kings of places you've never heard.

Meanwhile, at my other job, which I like to refer to as my career: My mind and my creativity are my most prized possessions. The title Author, automatically comes with a stamp of authority (whether you feel it's accurate or not.) You are the brand. Without you, the writer, there is only a blank page.
So, just like I don't mention that I'm a writer at work, I don't mention what I actually do for a living, as an author. In every blog, tweet, and interview, I shy away from the subject. Why? Because I don't want to ruin any possible image the reader may have of me and my books.
What the reader rarely knows (with the exception of NY best sellers) is the author they love, might be the very same person who sacks their groceries, draws their blood, and picks up their trash.

Living these two lives: the worker, the author, is much like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde...minus Hyde's tendencies of beating people to death, of course. In each of the two personalities hides another. Behind Dr. Jekyll's smile, there is a creature with a deeper will waiting to get out. Within Mr. Hyde's wildness, there is a calm, presentable, man waiting for his turn to come out and be social.

Perhaps, a comfort, to me and my kind (author-who-are-yet-to-live-off-their-writing) is that one personality could not live without the other at this moment in our lives.
Perhaps without the mindless jobs which pay our pesky bills and feed our needy bodies, we would not own the same ability to dream ourselves away at will.

Mia Thompson is the author of an internationally bestselling New Adult Thriller series.  Her first two novels, STALKING SAPPHIRE and SILENCING SAPPHIRE, were published by Diversion Books in 2013.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Serial Killer

The serial killer has become wildly popular in crime fiction.  Maybe they are so fascinating to us, as readers, because they are complicated creatures.  They are deliciously bad.  We, as writers, are told never to make our antagonist (bad guy) all bad, or our protagonist all good.
Dr. Hannibal Lector is a perfect example of this.  Especially the one depicted in the television series, Hannibal. 

Dr. Hannibal Lector-- played by Mads Mikkelsen-- is a brilliant forensic psychologist and culinarian (although some of the ingredients in his dishes are questionable).  In one scene we see his soft side with Dr. Alana Bloom, and in the next, he is slaughtering people and arranging them in dramatic convoluted poses.  Far beyond what is necessary to end their life.  He’s an artist when it comes to designing a shocking display for the FBI.  Yet, part of me loves him!  Why?  Because nothing is black and white with him.  He’s justified in his actions, which makes him a perfect character.  However, in the real world the serial killer is a frightening creature.  And one I never want to come in contact with in a dark alley, or anywhere else for that matter.

I have done a lot of research into serial killers and what makes them tick.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Ascending by Conrad Tuerk

Watching the World Cup has transported me back to Brazil, where my wife and I visited last April.  What we saw was spectacular.  “God is Brazilian,” the natives proclaim, and at times their hyperbole seemed justified. 

In Rio de Janeiro I woke early and wandered the streets of Santa Teresa, a charming, colonial neighborhood high on a hillside overlooking the city.  It made for ideal exploration.  I could follow the steep streets down to the city, descending by stairs in spots, or climb into the lush rain forest along winding roads.  No matter the route, the views were stunning.  Through broken clouds, I caught glimpses of Christ the Redeemer, atop Corcovado, his outstretched arms reaching to embrace the city.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

On the Origin of Zombies: 7 Must-See Zombie Films

Zombies have never been more popular than now, as evidenced by the smashing success of AMC’s ongoing television adaptation of the comic book The Walking Dead. Add to that the film adaptations of Max Brooks’ World War Z and Isaac Marrion’s Warm Bodies along with the original film Zombieland and a slew of zombie video games, and you have a veritable pop sensation. Sadly, most casual zombie fans have no idea where the genre got its start.

Unlike most monster genres (werewolves, vampires, mummies, witches, etc.), zombies as we know them are actually a product of cinema rather than literature, although literature certainly served as inspiration. Here are seven must see movies that chronicle the rise and evolution of the modern zombie.


1. White Zombie (1932). This is the first zombie movie ever made, and it more or less stays true to the Haitian Voodoo origins of the zombie, or nzumbe. In Haitian myth, a nzumbe is the name given to a corpse that has been reanimated by a boko (basically a voodoo sorcerer). In White Zombie, it’s non other than Bela Lugosi who plays the evil boko out to steal a beautiful American woman from her fiancé.

In Defense of Dark Sexual Fantasy

A few months back I met with a man who told me his sexual fantasy involving oral sex with honey-soaked Rice Krispy treats. There’s something about the texture, he explained, that would enhance the experience. A woman I met in New Orleans shared her fantasy – she imagined herself licking chocolate off of a man’s leg “stump” after amputation. I wish I could try it...I just can’t stop thinking about it. A young man shared his ultimate sexual turn-on involving urine-soaked cinnamon buns during sadomasochistic sex with his wife. Needless to say, his wife was not entirely on-board with this idea. She said she’d try it…if it weren’t for the smell. 

These stories are extreme in nature, but everyone has a kinky layer to their imagination – whether it’s been realized or not. Sexual fantasies are a natural byproduct of our creativity. Yet, many people feel uncomfortable realizing the darker sides of our daydreams. We are happy to watch the fantasies conjured up by authors and screenwriters; but, when it comes to penetrating the deeper layers of our mind, many of us just can’t go there. And despite our best efforts to avoid our darker dispositions, our fantasies creep up into our consciousness, often without warning and usually at the least convenient times.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

5 Steps to Nail Historical Fiction—Faking it Right

In my last post I talked about why I love Historical Fiction—a great novel in the genre can teach us not only who we are, but also who we were. I love the brackish headwaters where history and fiction collide and transform into something magical. But there’s an art to the genre, the art of faking it so no one realizes!

That’s right, you’ve got to sell it as good, or better, than Meg Ryan as she embarrasses the hell out of Billy Crystal. Just like the old lady at the end of that scene, you want your readers to raise their hands and say: “I’ll have what she’s having!”

But how do we get there?

To me, there are 5 critical elements to writing a great historical. Whenever I pick up a novel in the genre and something doesn’t feel right, I can almost always trace it back to one of these few issues.

Ocho, Part Two

This is the second installment of the serialized novella, Ocho. See May 23 for Part One.


Honor de un Hombre (A Man’s Honor)

They drove across the prairie lit silver by a waxing moon. Zefarino dozed to the rhythm of the Chief bouncing along the two-track, unable to sleep deeply with a 15-year-old at the wheel. Teaching Lucas to drive had challenged the old man’s patience. The boy quickly mastered the stick shift mounted on the steering column, but had a heavy foot on the gas pedal. Zefarino held tight to the dash-mounted handle, softly asking Lucas to slow as the rear tires slipped around bends and corners in the road. Eventually, the boy had acquiesced to the old man’s instructions, but Zefarino suspected Lucas did as he pleased by himself. This worried the old man.
            “While I’m gone, you must listen to the patron, do as he tells you.”
            “El es un pendejo…I’d rather work for you,” Lucas said, as he took a fork in the road too fast for the old man’s liking.
            Zefarino chuckled at the boy’s borrowed Spanish, then frowned. “He is still our jefe…our boss…no?” He waggled a finger at Lucas. “You must be a man, now.” He loved the boy and hated to scold him. But sometimes a teacher must be harsh. “Where will you go without this job? Who else will take in an orphan?”
            Lucas said nothing, his smile fading as he sped around a dog leg in the road, sagebrush scraping the side of the truck.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Planting the Clues in Crime Fiction

I recently taught at a two-day writers' conference in Kauai. One of the classes I led concerned the structure of writing mystery, the various tropes and techniques. Seemed to be a hit. So I'll share it here. The trick to writing a mystery is ...

You write backwards.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Confessions of an Accidental Atheist

by Holly West

When I first dipped my toes into the writing community, a fellow writer expressed surprise that I identified myself as an atheist in my Facebook profile. He wondered if I was concerned about the possible negative repercussions of it. Back then, my main concern was just finishing my damned novel--my author platform was minuscule and I hadn't given any thought to the ramifications of being honest about my "religious beliefs" on Facebook. Why should it matter, anyway? There's no shame in being an atheist.

I've since realized that identifying oneself as an atheist to the world at large might be somewhat akin to being openly gay: "I have no problem with atheists, but why do they have to keep forcing it down our throats?" Of course, I have no interest in "forcing" my atheism on anyone, but being open about it is important to me.

When I refer to myself as an atheist, I'm not claiming that god doesn't exist--I'm simply acknowledging that there is, at this point in human history, no sufficient evidence that God exists. On this basis, atheism is, for me, a lack of belief in a god or gods, but I don't explicitly deny god's existence. It's an important distinction, and one that sometimes gets overlooked, ignored, misunderstood, or misrepresented.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Misfitting In

I’m a misfit. Even in the world of misfits that are my writer friends, I’m the odd duck, the third wheel, the square peg, the weird red-headed kid with the freckles who goes to the prom by herself and is okay with it.

When other authors and I go out to lunch, they talk about the research they’re doing on the history of filbert farming for their latest nonfiction book or how they’re going to kill off someone in their crime novel. I talk about ideas I have for a new bumper sticker or the song I’m working on for a musical about a group therapy session comprised of fairy tale characters.

He Was, After all, My Father

Carrying on with my thoughts about stories and why they are important, I want share this one in the hopes it will illustrate the life-sustaining power of stories. And the way hearing someone tell their life story can change how we perceive them--maybe even lead to forgiveness.

My father, Walter Stephen Hamm, was a complicated man, wounded by the circumstances of his childhood and then wounded again by a grenade that blew up in his hand during World War II. As a child, I believed that grenade had blown up in the hands of his unborn children as well. His mother died when he was six years old. His father descended into his alcoholism and his six small children were either farmed out to relatives or adopted. When my father entered the military, he was a carpenter. When he came out of the VA hospitals he'd spent more than three years inside, he was a carpenter who'd had most of his right hand blown off, who would wear a steel brace from thigh to ankle, and would battle osteomyelitis for the remainder of his life. The grenade exploded when my oldest brother was an infant, before I and my other brothers were born. My father was angry and when he drank that anger exploded in some pretty frightening ways.

Most of my life, I kept a safe distance from my dad. I loved him. And I thought I hated him. In his late sixties, he developed an aneurism that could not be repaired in the ordinary way because of his osteomyelitis. He needed an aortic transplant. I traveled from my life in Oregon to Baltimore where I sat by his bedside for weeks that changed my perception of him forever. I wrote something in my journal on the way home from that amazing time. Now that my father is dead, I wish I'd shared what that time with him meant to me. Each day, he told me a story from his life. I'd listen and then at night I'd return to the motel room I'd rented on the Johns Hopkins campus and write what he'd said that day. If my father cried the following morning when I read it to him, I knew I got the important things right. I wish he could have known how I changed as a result of hearing his life story. Perhaps understanding someones story is all we need to find forgiveness. This is what I wrote on the plane:

Thursday, June 12, 2014



Father's Day 2014: A Memory of William J Hogenkamp

William J Hogenkamp, Sr

I miss my father: it is as simple as that. I plan to dedicate my upcoming book to him (when the time comes) but the the dedication will be short:

 to Dad, who meant the world to me

Although that fragment probably says it best, I wanted to flesh it out a little, if for nothing else than writing about him is the best way for me to spend some time with him.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014



Art Kerns

While doing research for my latest novel, The African Contract, I ran across an entry in one of my travel journals. It recorded a visit to a friend’s village miles away from the nearest African city. Strolling among the homes, Dingane introduced me to his relatives and friends, while giving me a history of the region.
            I asked about health services and he told me they were limited. “Malaria, is the main illness,” he said. “Then there is dengue and Yellow fever, but there are other concerns.”
            “What other problems do the people have here” I expected to hear about bandits, rogue soldiers, or corrupt officials.
            Dingane smiled and gave his hand gesture that meant the answer would not be coming quick and simple. “Your people travel here to see Africa’s wildlife. You take photos, enjoy seeing them, and then leave. We are happy you come and enjoy them, but we must stay and live with them.”
            A group of children ran up and interrupted him. They laughed and wanted to touch me, the foreign visitor.
            When we were alone again, Dingane continued. “The snakes are always a danger. They come into our homes, lie in wait on the trails, hang from trees.”
            “Cobras scare me,” I said.
            “The Black Mamba scares us.”
            I remembered speaking with a herpetologist who told me the mamba was the one snake that scared the shit out of him every time he had to remove it from her cage and measure it.

Out of the Darkness-- part two

Author’s note:  When we first met Scarlet she was suicidal over losing her husband and her sight in an automobile accident, caused by a drunk driver.  She daydreamed about splaying open her wrists in a bubble bath. Her live-in nurse, Evaughn, jarred her awake and announced that she had something special planned for Scarlet:  a walk through her rural neighborhood-- alone.  Reluctant, Scarlet agreed.   She ambled down the road-- her walking cane tapping side-to-side in front of her-- and her mind wandered.  When she snapped out of her reverie her surroundings had changed.  
This is where we begin part two, with Scarlet’s nerves jumping like hot oil in a cast iron skillet.  Alone and terrified.  

Out of the Darkness
Part 2
Something was different.  I couldn’t hear the dog barking anymore.  The children’s voices trailed around the corner and vanished like vapor.  There were no familiar sounds.  The sun faded.  And a coolness chilled my bare arms, sheathing my skin in goosebumps.
I must have wandered off the road somehow.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Never Join a Club That Would Have You As a Member.

Take risks as a writer.
I hate hearing that suggestion. (In fact, I hate that sentence. It's nearly a tongue-twister. Go ahead, say it five times fast.) For a guy who’s spent his life taking risks, priding himself on squeaking through perilous positions unscathed, it sounds like an insult to be told I’m playing it too safe as a writer.

The amount of you gottas I hear. You gotta try some journalism, you gotta take a stab at a children's book. Forget reading out of your genre, you gotta write out of your genre. You gotta edit as you go, you gotta rewrite the rewrites. You gotta blog, you gotta Facebook, you gotta spend less time online, more time on Twitter, gotta, gotta, gotta ...
Take this blog for instance. My initial reaction to joining a regular blog with twenty other writers was Hell No

Monday, June 9, 2014

Faking it…the Importance of Historical Fiction

In the last few days our nation, and large parts of Europe, gave pause to remember a monument in the history of the 20th century—D-Day. I’m sure there is little need to revisit the event in any detail, especially with the amount of press coverage for the past few days as we mark 70th anniversary this year. At first, making a spectacle of the 70th anniversary seems a bit mute, it doesn’t ring out like the 50th anniversary, or even the 100th. But as far as marking great events in terms of decades, this year holds extra significance. Few veterans from that day are left among us, and more take their leave of our world with every passing sunset. When we come to celebrating the 80th anniversary, it’s quite possible it will be a remembrance only, with no first-hand stories to hear. Living history is passing as I write this.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Everyone's A Critic

Photo by Anne

The ice cream shop was an independently-owned gem in the back of a strip mall, offering a dozen homemade offerings like espresso fudge swirl and vanilla praline crunch. A curved glass case showcased hand-dipped chocolate truffles and butter creams, and the aroma of warm caramel mingled with the smell of fresh coffee. My son zeroed in on neon blue bubble gum ice cream, which a young woman at the counter generously scooped into a homemade waffle cone.

Tantalizing bags of candies dangled from wall hooks at kids’ eye level—French burnt peanuts, powdery lemon drops, gummi cola bottles and malted milk balls.

Amidst this confectionary fantasyland was a hand-written warning sign taped up near a display of hand-crafted lollypops:

Never mind the distracting lack of punctuation—the foreboding message felt jarringly out of place in the charming little shop. For someone whose middle name is Kluttz with a capital K, I was nervous as I nibbled my mint chocolate chip cone. “Don’t touch anything!” I hissed at my son. We maintained a five-foot space bubble between ourselves and the lollypops as we left. Was this why we hadn’t returned to the shop for two years? Perhaps.

Last week we needed refreshment on a hot afternoon, though, so I did a quick Yelp search to see if the store was still open. There I found something interesting.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

If It's On My Facebook Wall, It Matters, Right?

We love talking about ourselves. In fact, research shows that talking about ourselves triggers the same parts of our brains as when we're eating or having sex. The need to share aspects of ourselves isn’t so surprising. All you have to do is attend a cocktail party. In almost every corner you will hear conversations about a person’s life, their family, their jobs, how many networking contacts they have, the parties they attended, and how crazy they got last Friday night. People get excited when given the opportunity to share their story. And along comes the Facebook “gathering” to fulfill this need we all have.

Fantasy Rocks: 8 Rock Songs Inspired by Fantasy Novels

In the last decade or so, it’s become cool to be a nerd, but that wasn’t the case when I was growing up. In order to avoid getting teased in high school, I had to hide in the locker room during lunch time to finish up whatever fantasy novel I was reading at the moment, and there were a lot of them. David Eddings, Raymond Feist, Stephen R. Lawhead, Anne McCaffrey, Katherine Kurtz, and Katherine Kerr, were just a few of the authors who I couldn’t get enough of.

It wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized being cool was all about being confident in your own skin. Looking back now, I realize I should have just owned being a fantasy nerd, because I was hardly alone. If I’d just opened my eyes (and ears), I would have seen that even rock stars—arguably the coolest people on the planet—love fantasy books too.

So, as a public service to other fantasy fans who are self-conscious about their reading habits, here are 8 songs inspired by fantasy novels to prove to everyone that fantasy rocks.

1) Any discussion about fantasy-inspired rock has to start with Led Zeppelin, a band that was unabashed with their love of ancient mythology and fantasy, namely J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. You can probably find a half dozen or more of their songs with Lord of the Rings references, but the standout has to be “Ramble On.” Damn that Gollum for creeping away with her…

Friday, June 6, 2014

Living for Stories

I’ve been exploring some of the reasons we tell, write and read stories. And why they have so much power over our lives. In many ways, we live for stories. They keep us from feeling alone and allow us to experience other lives and other places. We tell stories so that others might understand us better. Stories comfort, explain, excite, and touch our hearts. They record our histories and give our experiences shape and meaning.

Stories allow us to spend time with the living and the dead. In the acts of telling, reading and writing them, we discover truths--things we didn't know we knew. I’m often surprised by where the words and memories take me. I write to discover my life and share it with others. Sometimes a poem or story will connect two, seemingly disconnected events and bring new insights. The following is a story poem about my favorite aunt  She is an old lady now, but each time I read this poem she grows young again and my dead brother is brought back to life. This poem rose out of an exercise to make a list of "off the bell curve" characters we'd known, choose one, and remember a specific moment in time. When I began to write this story poem, I had no idea it would lead me to my brother and the heroin addiction that killed him.  


I am ten years old and she, perhaps thirty,
Chanel #5 and whiskey.
She leans against the basement pool table,
Strikes a sultry pose, like Lauren Bacall,
Cigarette balanced in her right hand.
Her long, autumn-leafed hair brushes
Against the yellow collar of her shirtwaist,
Cinched in with a grass-colored belt,
Matching stiletto heels,
A purse the size of Portugal.

Lillian Nel inhales. Her cigarette
Glows ruby-colored gems,
Birthstone rings on every finger.
My brother’s dazzling smile,
Humphrey Bogart eyes, lures her to his game.
As white smoke curls into the light,
Hovers above her, a vaporous halo,
She takes her cue, looks up at me through
Spider-leg lashes and shoots—the white ball
Clacks against a triangle
Bright as Easter eggs dyed last night
Because Jesus rose from the dead.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Very Nice Man

Every writer knows how tough it is to write a piece of flash fiction that feels finished and complete. For my first post on Prose and Cons, I want to share one of my favourites bits of flash fiction. This story isn't remarkable because it makes you laugh, it's remarkable because it gives you an insight into a character that doesn't feel incomplete in any way. Paul Bassett-Davies is one of the great unsung British writers. He's written for many great T.V. shows and has recently published his first novel. Follow him at @thewritertype. Enjoy!

A Very Nice Man
by Paul Bassett-Davies

The woman opposite me was crying. 
I’d been engrossed in my book since the train had left Bristol, but when I heard her snuffling I glanced up. She looked about forty and her face was pretty, even though her eyes were red and swollen. She was on the large side, and the sober business suit she was wearing seemed a little small for her. I noticed that her shoes had very high heels.
“Are you all right?” I said.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Details of de Tales

When my husband and I visit historical sites like Sutter’s Fort, I read plaques, and he stares at the machinery. We occasionally trade roles, but it’s our go-to process. I put the whozit into a historical context for him, and he explains how it works. Details enrich our experience, and in both history and literature, they bring the inanimate to life.

For the details to feel true, they need enough accuracy or plausibility to keep the reader engaged. I know that international spies never call attention to themselves. But, when James Bond walks off with eighty million dollars after winning in baccarat, a reader simply turns the page for more. Ian Fleming, author of twelve Bond novels, created dapper Agent 007 with sufficient meat and bone and sinew to fill a proper tuxedo.

Exacting nouns and precise adjectives are the paints clinging to the hairs on my authorial brush. It doesn’t matter if I’m describing a denial-of-service attack, showing a robot clean the house, or riffing on the underbelly world of the deep web. If I put a single dot on a canvas, it looks marred. If I fling the brush, it looks like a Jackson Pollock.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Give and Take: The Relationship Between Author and Audience

Writing is sorta a pain in the ass. Minus the "sorta." Don't get me wrong, I love that I am a novelist. But I heard an adage once: Writers don't like writing. They like having written.

I get that some people actually love the act of writing. But that just reminds me of this quote by Bob Odenkirk (of Better Call Saul!):

"Whenever someone says, 'I love writing,' I always think, You probably suck at writing."

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Politics of Silence (Redux)

by Holly West

Note: A previous version of this post appeared on my blog in May 2012. I've updated it here to reflect my current feelings on the matter.

About two years ago, I made a decision to stop posting on social media about most controversial issues. I'm a lot happier because of it, mostly because now I'm much more likely to think before I speak (or post, as the case may be).

I'm kind of a hot head, you see. I'm quick to anger, and while I'm also quick to forgive, many times the damage is done before I've taken the time really think about whatever it was that got me riled up in the first place. Social media just makes it so easy to tweet, retweet, follow, unfollow, friend, unfriend, post, share... you get the picture.

With one simple click, I've said something I'll likely regret.