Friday, January 31, 2014

Dream stories: A Dangerous Walk

I’ve talked about my dreams quite a bit here, and about how I’ve used scenes and imagery from them in a lot of stories.  I’ve said that many of my dreams have coherent story lines that actually work as stories. Probably the most frequent use of dream materials is found in my horror collection, In the Language of Scorpions.

However, not all my dreams are suitable for such use, certainly not without major overhauling. Some are just full of capriciousness and sheer weirdness that make me laugh when I finally wake up. Last night’s dream was an example.

It started with me and a friend heading out for a nature walk. The friend was my friend in the dream, but not someone I know in real life. In most such cases the “friend” appears to be a composite of at least several real folks. We were going into this big open field of grass, with a creek running through it and wooded hills in the background. There were a lot of cattle in the field.

After we cross the barbed wire fence to the field, I look at the cattle again and realize they are really deer.  I excitedly point this out to my friend and we continue on. I realize there is a commotion among the deer and stop to figure out what. My friend keeps walking. I suddenly call for him to stop as I realize the commotion is caused by a very large grizzly bear trying to catch one of the deer. A huge buck deer, with antlers like an Irish Elk, charges in and gores the grizzly, driving him away from the fawn he’d been trying to catch. The grizzly starts in our direction, looking distinctly angry.

My friend sees the grizzly coming and runs back toward me. His cap blows off. As he stops beside me, I look back at the grizzly and realize I’ve been mistaken. The “grizzly” has gotten quite a bit closer and it is clear to me now that it is actually a scowling young girl of eleven or twelve with blonde braids and wearing a green uniform.  Yes, in fact, the grizzly is a Girl Scout.

Only, I realize suddenly that my friend and I are actually young boys of nine or ten, with said friend being quite a bit smaller than me.  So, the Girl Scout still looks rather menacing to us with her face all angry. My friend darts toward her to reclaim his hat and I scream at him not to risk it. The “Scout” is almost upon us. He grabs up his hat but then realizes the girl is too close. She charges toward him and I rush to get in her way. She tries to go around me to get at my friend and I get my hands up to try and keep her away, yelling as loud as I can in hopes of frightening her off.  Maybe that would have worked on a grizzly. Not on the much more dangerous Girl Scout.

I woke up right about then and had to lay there and chuckle a bit. Of all the imagery in this dream, the only piece I understand the origins of is—strangely enough—the Girl Scout. Lana informed me not long before bedtime that I had purchased six boxes of Girl Scout cookies that day. I did not recall doing so but was assured that it happened and will dutifully fork over the appropriate amount of money. And I have seen some Girl Scouts who I’d be scared not to buy cookies from. 

Pleasant dreams!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Inhabiting Your Setting

 Actors sometime talk about “inhabiting” a character. As near as I can tell, they mean that they try to get inside the skin of the character and live—at least for a while—as if they are that person. They want to ‘think’ like the character so their actions will come natural.

We writers generally can’t do the same thing because we are writing “many” characters. We can’t inhabit just one or all our characters will sound and act the same. What we can do, however, is inhabit the setting our characters move through. Setting has a powerful influence on character thoughts  & actions. It affects every character.

Take the woods, for example. I grew up in the country and spent a lot of time in the forest. I’ve been there in daytime, in fog, in mornings & evenings, at night. I’ve camped out. Explored. I’ve been cold and shivering there, felt awe and fear. While writing the book Cold in the Light, which was set mostly in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, I took many long walks in the woods at night to try and get back the feel for such wild climes. I was putting my characters through that kind of experience and wanted to feel what they were supposed to be feeling. I think it worked, and parts of that book made me distinctly uncomfortable while writing them.

Anyone can experience the woods, of course. But what if the story setting doesn’t actually exist? Under the Ember Star takes place on the frigid desert world of Kelmer. I’ve never been. So how did I ‘inhabit’ that environment?  First, my wife and I took a trip several years ago to Arizona & New Mexico. Lana is a photographer and took many pictures of barren, desiccated landscapes. We toured a slot canyon that showed the power of water in a desert setting. I spent a lot of time in those places, soaking in the feel. I also read a bunch of books about living in desert environments, such as Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire.

Then I did lots of imagination work related to the story. Not just on the storyline. I imagined and worked through scenarios in my head for all kinds of settings in the book. I asked questions like, what if I had been there a few hours before an event in the book took place, or a few hours after? What would the temperature be? How much dust would be in the air? Would there be bugs? Would there be any food?  How would the plants look? I followed these questions up, if needed, by Googling photos and chronicles that might help me.

A writer’s primary job is to get the reader to ‘experience’ what the characters are experiencing. Inhabiting the setting for a story is one way to do that.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Taleran Language Lesson

When Wraith of Talera is published, sometime this year, I hope, it will contain a fairly extensive glossary of Taleran places, races, mythology, and terms. I've spent many fun hours over the years developing this material. I use it as my guide in writing the stories, but I also just enjoy working on it even if some of it may never see light in the tales themselves. I thought I might post a little preview of the glossary here, focusing on some Taleran vocabulary. Below we have the Taleran words on the left side, with their equivalent meanings in English on the right. This is only a sample of some of the more common terms.

Ahy – Greeting. Basically “hello.”
Dihn – A small coin of little importance.
Dhu – Hundred.
Efrinore – Druid-witch-shaman. A magic woman of the forest. Herbalist.
Gleene – Blade.
Hyr – Half.
Jaikil Raptor.
Jhesan – Lord (or sometimes Prince).
Jhesana – Lady (or sometimes Princess).
Khi – This is an important concept on Talera. It means, among other things, soul, spirit, psychic energy, charisma.
Khiang – Warrior, in the Nyshphalian tongue.
Khisan – Warlord, one who rules by the Khi.
Kyr – King.
Lehr – Outlaw.
Mercredi – A mercenary who serves as infantry.
Mordai – The name for the 1st hour of the Taleran day, the hour after midnight when the veil between the living and the dead worlds is said to be thinnest.
Munt – Monkey.
Phoros – Healer or Physician.
Phrer – Priest or monk.
Rhanvin – Fighting slave, gladiator.
Saar – Polite title, like Sir.
Saaress – Polite title for a woman. Madam.
Saysa – Term of endearment, equivalent in English to “baby” or “honey.”
Verdredi – Mounted mercenary.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Dark and Stormy Night Effect

Everyone knows the phrase: "It was a dark and stormy night." Those of us who are writers often get a little chuckle out of it. But that chuckle doesn't mean there isn't something important happening in the background here. 

What this cliche phrase tells us is that the environment in which characters move is, in most cases, at least as important as the characters themselves and the actions they take. In my first novel, Cold in the Light, for example, much of the action takes place at night and in the woods. The villains in that story are at home in the dark woods. The heroes are mostly city folk, and like all humans they are at least a little bit afraid of the dark.

Pitting the characters against harsh nature raises the stakes for those characters, and ups the suspense that a writer can wring out of a scene. It's a very effective way of adding depth to a story. I personally love to read these kinds of stories, where the characters must face not only other humans or wild beasts, but such forces as brutal cold, desiccated landscapes, mountains and wild seas, rain and wind. These kinds of settings tend to engage me in ways no amount of dialogue between two people sitting in a parlor somewhere ever could.  

Jack London was a master at using harsh nature in his tales. One of  his most memorable is available online. "To Build a Fire" is a virtual lesson in how to pit a character against nature. I highly recommend it. 

Also, one of our own, Randy Johnson, has gone into the hospital. I haven't been able to find out how he is doing but I urge everyone to keep him in your thoughts. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Talk Scheduled on January 25

On Saturday, January 25th, I’ll be giving a presentation on generating suspense in fiction at the Biloxi Library from 2:00 to 4:00 pm. This is the branch at 587 Howard Ave., Biloxi, MS, 39530. The phone number I have listed for them is 228 436-3095. My talk is being sponsored by the Gulf Coast Writers Association but is free and open to the public. If you’re interested, here is the GCWA’s website and facebook page.

Suspense is what keeps readers turning the pages. At the simplest level, it is about wanting to know what happens next. I’ll be talking primarily about dark suspense, which is the kind you find in thrillers, mysteries, and horror fiction, but most of the elements I’ll discuss will have relevance to any kind of suspense, including romantic and comedic.

If you’re going to be in that area on January 25, I’d love to see you.


Thursday, January 09, 2014

School Almost in Session

Faculty meetings yesterday. That makes for an official first day of school for us teachers. Today and tomorrow mark registration and classes start next week. I had a busy morning with registration but the afternoon has been slower so I have a few moments to blog.

I'm waiting on final word about a big project I will need to get started on, but in the meantime I'm working on "Gods of Talera" and having fun. I managed 1000 words yesterday, and wrote most of them while in a faculty meeting. Good to kill two birds with one stone.

Blogging will be more hit and miss now that we are back in school. Just depends on how much work I have piled up in the mornings. I've got to carve out more writing time from my schedule too so that may slow down blog production.

I'll be teaching the Writing in Psychology class again this semester. I have 17 enrolled so far. I'll be posting some blog posts related to that class and how it is going. Last time I taught it I did not end up happy. I was working very hard but several students complained at the end of the semester and I felt like I was doing more work than they were for their grades. It's been about half a hear since I taught it, though, so maybe this time around will be better.


Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Dreams of Talera

Although I have some big projects coming up soon that will prevent me from finishing Gods of Talera, the sequel to Wraith of Talera, I've begun doing some writing on it until I know exactly what those other projects will entail. I've only done the first couple of chapters on "Gods" but last night had a dream about Talera that essentially gave me the ending to the book. A very nice twist that I don't think anyone will see coming. Jotted it down and now I have to write toward it. Thank you unconscious!

In other news, faculty return to school at Xavier tomorrow. I don't know how the Christmas break got over so fast. I got some writing done, and a lot of reading, so it wasn't unproductive. I finally got to see my son, Joshua, yesterday. He'd planned on coming up earlier but got the flu. We went out for Sushi, and Lana accompanied us. Then had peameal bacon and eggs for supper.

With school starting up, I'll be blogging today but probably not tomorrow. We'll see how much work is piled up Thursday and Friday to see whether I have a chance to blog or not.


Friday, January 03, 2014

First Blog of 2014

Only a few more days of break and then back to school on January 8. I’m already working on syllabi, of course, and hope to have them done by the end of the day. Since I no longer allow myself to be overwhelmed with social obligations during the holidays, I tend to be able to relax and do a lot of reading. I finished a number of books, which I have dutifully reviewed on Goodreads.

Two surprises came for me at the end of the year. I made two end-of-the-year lists. I think it may be the first time it’s ever happened to me. And both were lists of ‘good’ things. I know that’s never happened to me. So, for the first blog of the new year, I’m gonna put up a couple of links.

First, over at Adventures Fantastic, Keith West put up a blog entitled “2013: An Assessment.”  How neat it was to see my name about halfway down, and the mention of my 2013 titles “The Machineries of Mars” and “Under the Ember Star.”  Thanks, Keith! Glad you liked ‘em.

Second, on Wednesday, Sandra Seamans posted her “Top Ten Story Picks for 2013” on her blog, and “Eye Spy” by this Charles Gramlich guy popped up.  Wow, that was published way back early on in 2013 and I’d almost forgotten about it. Cool to see that someone remembered it. Thanks, Sandra!

And now, time to run some errands before I get to work on my syllabi. Maybe I’ll grab a burger while I’m out. Hope you are all enjoying a great 2014 so far.