Writing Toolboxes

Internet sites talk about writerstechneforfun’ tool
kits as if they were purchaseable equipment, but in truth our toolboxes are entirely inside our minds.  We work in notebooks and on computers, but if we had neither, we could still tell stories to listeners gathered around a campfire.  Writing is making something out of nothing but spirit and brainpower.

“It’s brain,” I said; “pure brain!  What do you do to get like that, Jeeves?  I believe you must eat a lot of fish, or something.  Do you eat a lot of fish, Jeeves?”PG Wodehouse, My Man Jeeves.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers, Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuse: Your use of the senses in your writing is brilliant– puts the reader into your point-of-view character’s skin. Your Writing Muse

Anticipation and Time Management for Writers

Loving the work saves writers time. Actively looking forward to writing is a powerful practice for those of us working to create a writing career within a full-time life. When we love an activity, we prepare for it.

I love my drafting time like I love skiing, and If I know I’m going to be skiing on a weekend, I’ll think about it through the week, with pleasant anticipation. I’ll be ready. I’m not about to waste my skiing hours looking for my boots, or my drafting hours writing with reluctance, or without direction.

Time to do what we truly love is not time we’re likely to approach with worry or distress.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers, Mel.

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuse: Your intense focus as you outline & draft, serves your writing career well. Your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

And the Winner of the 2017 Magpie Award for Poetry is …

Oak Morse of Lawrenceville, Georgia, for his poem ‘Garbage Disposal‘.

Says Judge Renée Sarojini Saklikar:

Everything is working in this fine poem: the six stanzas contain in total 68 well-crafted lines, where form and the longer line work in tandem to please the eye and ear, both sense and syntax engaged.  A great title, not too on the nose. There is unity of voice, were the third person is taken up with confidence and consistently employed. Enjambment, where the sense of one line folds  over and into another, creating opportunity of double-meaning, is a highlight and a measure of why this poem wins first place:  it’s an incanation, precise and yet metaphorically spacious enough that we can read any number of desires within its precise domestic scenario.  I think real poetic skill is involved in creating the longer line and then maintaining tension.  Here we have concrete verbs and repetition doing the work.  Worth re-reading and worth saying aloud. High praise.

‘Garbage Disposal’ will be published in the Autumn 2017 issue of Pulp Literature but in the meantime you can hear some of Oak Morse’s spoken word poetry here.

The two runners up were Leah Komar of Danville, Pennsylvania for ‘Krang‘ and Glenn Pape of Portland, Oregon for ‘Ghost Town‘.

First Runner Up, ‘Krang’:  a tough poem, about tough painful relations.  Raw, authentic, searing.  Unity of voice, in that the speaker of the poem consistently addresses another, “you”, putting the reader in this uncomfortable and compulsively readable situation.  We squirm when we go along with the story.  Strong visceral language.  Packs a punch and then some.  Great title.

Second Runner Up, ‘Ghost Town’:  Okay, I loved this poem, a kind of film noir meets country and western sturm und drang .  Here we have rhyme at the service of both rhythm and longing: the simple line breaks work very well and surprise us with unexpected turns.  Precise verbs, precision images, great cadence. This one I’m gonna carry in my pocket.  Oh yeah. Great title.

Each of the runners-up receives $50 along with publication in Issue 16.

Huge thanks to our judges Daniel Cowper and Renée Saklikar, who put so much time and care into choosing our shortlist and winners.  Here are Renée’s overall comments:

The three winners are to be commended for creating work that pleases the senses, exploring a range of issues, keeping an eye and ear on image and rhythm: there’s music in here, sure, along with plenty of story.  Congratulations to all the poets who submitted work.  A pleasure to reach each one.  Readers will notice that I praise the title of each poem selected: titles, in my opinion, are mystical things, very hard to get right, and each of the poems selected bear titles that are ineffably correct.

Congratulations to our winning poets.  We can’t wait to publish these fine poems!

The Hummingbird Prize for Flash Fiction is open until June 15th.  Guidelines here.  Subscribe to our free newsletter to stay up to date on all contests and openings.

What Mothers Want Most

Flowers, schmowers.  Nine out of ten mothers agree:  what they want most for Mother’s Day is time alone with a good book.  And we’re here to help.

From now until Mother’s Day you can send mum a copy of Stella Ryman and the Fairmount Manor Mysteries by Mel Anastasiou and we’ll send her a copy of Pulp Literature Issue 14 as a gift from us.

Or, if you really want to shower mum with appreciation all year long, give her a subscription to Pulp Literature and we’ll add in both Stella Ryman and the soon to be released Allaigna’s Song: Overture by JM Landels for only $10 more.

Stella + Issue 14, print:  $17.95

Stella + Issue 14, eBook: $6.99

 

Mother’s Day Subscription bundle, print: $60

Mother’s Day Subscription bundle, eBook: $27.99

 

Be sure to drop us a line at info(at)pulpliterature.com to let us know her address, and we’ll even send an e-card on Mother’s Day.  Now all you need to do is arrange that time alone for her to read …

And if this is a gift for yourself?  Don’t worry, we won’t tell. Besides, you deserve it!

Carving Out Writing Time

Of course, we love our work and so we’re motivated to make time for it. But, make time out of what?  Busy lives, demands from family, friends, home, and work appear to fill every day to bursting.

Carving moments of peace for employing our drafting skills — and for anything else, for that matter — is a skill in itself.  We blink, and the better part of the day is gone.  All we have left are a couple of hours best spent not with brandy in the basement, typing madly into the night, but with our loved ones, building lives and memories and getting ourselves and our writing brains  a good night’s sleep.

One way to approach carving out times of serenity is to begin by imagining the goal. Picture ourselves at our favourite time of day for drafting, in our favourite writing place. For many of us, we feel freshest in the morning.  And, we probably have an hour or two, within a morning or two during the week that is at least meant to be under our control.

The next step is to look at this block of time.   What activity fills it now?

Can it be canned, or perhaps chunked through the week, like shopping or cleaning?  Or, if it’s a wonderful activity, could it move to the afternoon or evening?

And if it can’t be canned, moved, or spread throughout the week, for example if you’re dealing with a 24/7 boss, or tiny children, it’s worth remembering the words of a friend of mine:  “There’s a time for everything, and your time will come.”

Because, when life really is too busy to write, that’s when we gain experiences to write about.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuse: Stuck for an idea, you list 20 ways it could happen. Superb writing practice. Your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

Treasures in the nest: The Magpie Shortlist

Our tireless poetry editor Daniel Cowper has been up late every night for the past weeks, reading and re-reading the wonderful poems that our Magpie gathered this year.  The finalists have been passed onto judge Renée Saklikar and we will announce her findings next week.  In the meantime, here are the shortlisted poets:

Angela Rebrec
Cara Waterfall
Glenn Pape
Leah Komar
Natalie Southworth
Oak Morse
Susan Alexander
Troy Turner
Trudi Benford

Congratulations to all of you, and double congrats to Trudi Benford who has two poems in the running.  Best of luck in the final round!

The Hummingbird Flash Fiction Prize is currently open for entries until June 15th.  To stay abreast of all our contest openings, be sure to sign up for our free monthly newsletter.

Walking, Sleeping, and Writing Better

“I have two doctors, my left leg and my right.” Historian G. M. Trevelyan

walkerbanner1We’re built to walk, and our bodies benefit.   Brains too, being part of the body (as I’m always forgetting as I hunch over and straighten up at my keyboard).

Walking helps gut health, as well, and I’m thrilled and baffled to learn that our guts are full of neurons.

Taking a tip from the Italians, who perambulate of a balmy evening, I’ve begun walking in the cold rain after supper, and by heaven, I sleep better.  There’s little better brain magic than sleep.

I’m up to 3 walks a day, at about 13,000 steps average, because, authors, I’m beginning to think that, like actors, swordfighters, and other athletes, we have a duty to our calling and our career to take our exercise, not just more seriously, but as a professional imperative.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuseYou work hard to give your best to the world of readers. We are most grateful. Your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

For more on walking, see my page Walking to Write, with 100 days of writing and other rewards for integrating an hour a day’s walking into a writing life.

Story Spotlight: Candy Apple Baby by Colin Thornton

Here’s a little snippet from Issue 14 to get your engine running this week …

Candy-Apple Baby

by Colin Thornton

It was a candy-apple red, metal-flake, chrome-plated Harley Davidson Low Rider, chopped down, pimped out, and fully accessorized, parked under a misty cone of light from a streetlamp almost as if it was waiting for Zoober to wander by.

For months he had fantasized about owning a motorcycle: tearing down the highway, a big, nasty redhead on the seat behind him, her arms wrapped around his waist, cheek resting on his shoulder.  Money was his problem, or rather, lack of it.  His old man wouldn’t pay for it, that’s for sure.  And there was no way he was going flip burgers for minimum wage like those other peons.

“Well now, looky here.  Someone left the keys in the ignition.”

He listened to the night, scanned the houses on both sides of the street — dark and quiet.  In the silence he could hear that chrome-plated angel calling out to him, whispering in his ear, enticing him, compelling him, daring him to do what most other sixteen-year-old boys would never dream of.

Although Zoober had never been one for going to church, praying, or any of that spirit-in-the-sky crap, he looked up at the stars and with all the sincerity he could muster, said, “Thank you, Jesus.”

 

JD is standing on a hoist, half a dozen fan belts over his shoulder, up to his elbows in the engine of a 1985 Corvette.  He holds out an empty hand, says, “Seven-sixteenths.”  His assistant wraps her fingers around the socket, slowly sliding it onto the wrench with a firm click and a gentle twist.  Brown skin, brown eyes, long auburn hair, naked under her bib overalls.  “Anything else JayDee?” she coos in a soft pillow voice.  Shivers of anticipation ripple up his inseam as she passes him the ratchet.  A smear of grease on her earlobe looks like a drop of chocolate sauce.  He leans forward to taste it …  Tic Tic Tic — Huh?  Tap Tap Tap —  What’s that noise?  Knock Knock Knock …  As Jennifer Lopez fades from his dream, JD realizes that someone is banging on his bedroom window.  Bang Bang Bang —  “JD, wake the fuck up!”  He squints at his clock, rolls over, and peels back one corner of the curtain.

Zoober is standing in the garden, urgently beckoning him outside.  JD shakes his head.  “It’s still dark out.”

But Zoober insists.  “Get out here.”

A beam of light shines through his bedroom door, casting a silhouette of a figure against the wall.  “What’s going on down there?”

“Nothing, Dad.  Nothing.  Bad dream, that’s all.”

“Well, dream quieter.”

Dad mutters something under his breath, flicks off the light and goes back to bed, closing the door behind him.

After a few minutes of quiet, JD slips into his jeans and T-shirt, eases open the back door, and sneaks out to meet his nocturnal friend.

Zoober bounces from foot to foot, arms crossed, shoulders hunched, hands tucked in his armpits.  “Jesus, man, I’ve been bangin’ on your window for ten minutes.”

“It’s four thirty.  What d’you want?”

“I need to put something in your back yard.”

“You woke me up for that?”

“It’s important.”

“What is it?”

“A motorcycle.”

 

Next day, sitting in the school cafeteria after classes, Zoober brags about his previous night’s adventure; the who, what, where, and when, saving the why for last:  “The keys were in it.”

In a lifetime of dumb moves, this ranks high on Zoober’s top ten list.  “Don’t you think …” JD asks, pausing to add the emphasis his slow companion needs, “…  someone might — miss it?”  And just in case the subtle point he was making was also missed, adds, “Might want it back?”

Zoober stares blankly.  Blinks.  “But the keys were in it.”

Before JD can explain the concept of impulse control, the Pappas twins, Chris and Nick, come into the cafeteria and straight over to their table.

Nick says, “Three guys in the parking lot looking for you, Zoober.”

“Big guys,” adds Chris.

“Brick shithouse big.”

“Ugly too.”

“Real ugly.”

“Capital UG ugly.

“Little guy has a cool tat, though.”

“Totally.”

Strangers in the parking lot could be anyone, but the coincidence is too much to ignore so JD suggests they take the back door out of school and cut through the alley to get home.

Seconds after stepping outside, a white Cadillac Escalade with blacked-out windows screeches to a stop beside them.  Three people jump out:  A wisp of a guy in a leather jacket with a tattoo of a snake on his neck and two sumo-sized bodyguards wearing mirrored Ray-Bans.

Minus the scales and fangs, the runt looks a lot like his tattoo — thin and wiry, bristling with aggression and nervous energy.

Snake’s jaw muscles twitch as he steps towards Zoober and JD, sizing them up, nodding and smiling to himself at some private joke.

He locks the kids in a cold-blooded glare, his eyes all pupil, like two lumps of tar.  In a breathy hush that somehow seems to amplify his rage he says, “In the car.”

Zoober and JD are shoved into the back and sandwiched between the two Sumos.  JD watches Snake’s reflection in the rear-view mirror.  His dead fish eyes, pale, cold, and glassy, scanning his prisoners, coming to rest finally on JD.  The intensity of Snake’s gaze feels like a corkscrew boring into his skull.  After what seems like an eternity, Snake smirks and nods.  “Punks,” he says, as if he was spitting a gob of snot.  “Two frightened punks.”

For a instant, Zoober looks at the door handle.  Just a flicker of a glance, a reflex.  “Don’t.  Even.  Think about it,” Snake warns.

He backs out of the service road, drives through the parking lot and onto Main Street.

For a long while they drive in silence.  Snake wants them to sweat, wants them to know who’s in control, give them time to let fear gnaw on their imaginations.  Eventually he says, “You have something of mine.  I want it back.”

Before JD can say turn left at the next stoplight, Zoober starts blurting out directions, leading them 180 degrees away from JD’s house.  Down the avenue, past the church, the strip mall, and Johnny’s Burgers.  Zoober points down the street.  “There,” he says.  “Brick house on the left.  Green garage door.”

Snake parks.  The Sumos haul themselves out of the car to let the prisoners out.  “We’ll be right back,” Zoober says and trots up the driveway to the side door, opens it, and walks in.

“What the fuck are you doing?” JD asks.  “This is Mackie’s house.”

“They don’t know that.”

Zoober walks right through the house, JD close behind.  Past Mackie’s bedroom and up the stairs into the kitchen where Mrs MacNeil is making dinner.  As easily as flipping a switch, Zoober turns on his choirboy charm.  “Hey, Mrs  Mac.”  She’s delighted to see two of her son’s friends.  “We have to study for a math test tomorrow,” Zoober lies.  “Mackie’s on his way.  He told us to wait out back.”

It would never occur to Mrs  MacNeil that her son’s friends would get into mischief like the delinquents she sees on TV.  “Nice to see you boys taking your schoolwork seriously,” she says.  “Are you hungry?”  So nice, JD thinks, the world’s best mom.  He feels like a cad for deceiving her.

“Thanks, but we really should study,” Zoober says, never thinking that the woman he’s dismissed as an airhead might notice that they don’t have any books.

Outside, JD hisses at Zoober.  “Are you suicidal?”

Zoober is so full of hubris it’s leaking out of his sneakers and leaving a slick on the deck behind him.  “I’m not going to let a dwarf and two Neanderthals with glandular conditions run my life.  Let’s get outta here.”

JD would like to kill Zoober himself and save Snake the trouble, but he feels helpless, out of control, as if he’s fallen into a river and been carried downstream into unknown territory.

They go down the stairs, across the lawn, over the fence, through the neighbour’s backyard and down the driveway to the next street, expecting freedom and finding instead a white Escalade — parked, engine running, one Sumo beside each open door.

This time they are thrown into the back seat and squashed between the two bodyguards.  Snake turns to face them — first Zoober, then JD, slowly shaking his head from side to side.

Zoober has an excuse.  “We —”

“Shut up!” Snake shouts.  Zoober’s bluster shrivels and dies like a worm in the sun.

He pulls out a gun, sticks it in JD’s face.  So close, all he can see is the end of the barrel, a silver circle of steel like a giant zero summing up his chances at getting out of this car alive.  He watches Snake’s thumb press down on the hammer and cock the gun with a click that echoes in his ears like a cannon.

“Have I got your full attention?” he asks.  JD nods.  “You’re out of time and I’m out of patience.  You know what I want.”  JD nods again.  “Now, where to?”

Read the rest in Pulp Literature Issue 14.  On sale now!

Colin Thornton studied drawing and painting in college, played music for a few decades while he built a career in advertising.  Today, his paints dry, drums on a shelf, marimba locked in its case, and his advertising days over, he writes short stories.  ‘Candy Apple Baby’ is a chrome-plated tale about theft, fractured friendships, motorcycle envy, and Darwin’s third law.  Colin rides a recumbent bicycle, not a Harley Chopper.

If you’re in New Brunswick you can catch Colin reading at the Frye Festival in Shediac this coming Sunday April 23rd around 3pm.

Writers’ Block Busting

As a mystery writer, I love misdirection, because it sets me to investigating.  Quick and unhelpful answers to writing questions are some of my favourite black boxes.

The knee jerk answer we all get when we ask, “Why am I stuck?” is, “Writers’ block”.  Litmus test on this answer:  Quick?  Sure.  Unhelpful?  Totally.  So why do we accept this answer?  I’ll tell you why some of us accept it, it’s because if we have writers’ block then that’s proof we’re actually writers. So, once we relax and agree we really are writers, just as we have always wished to be, let’s deal with the serious issue of being stuck.

If we’re stuck, it’s like being stuck in any aspect of our lives that is getting us down.  It means we don’t have excellent goals to keep us interested, excited, and on track.  In writing, goals mean outlining.  So, when brainpages adhere one to the other, one way to get unstuck is

  1. Procure a timer
  2. Set the timer for 5 minutes
  3. Outline the beginning, middle, and end of your story for 1 character.  I often use the story evolution page from the brilliant First Draft in 30 Days : A Novel Writer’s System for Building a Complete and Cohesive Manuscript(Paperback) – 2005 Edition 
    by Karen Wiesner

Repeat as necessary, for more characters, until the writing mind is raring to go.

In order to avoid getting stuck at all, outlining this way in odd 5 or 10 minute parcels of time during the week works wonders.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuseWriting down your great goals fuels your writing career beautifully. Admirable practise.  Your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

Become a Patron!