Saturday, 26 May 2012

Enigmatic cookies

Another week, another challenge from Chuck Wendig… really? It’s been a whole week? Where does the time go?

This week he had a link for a random sentence generator. [as at April 2013. No longer working, but you can Google one pretty easily.]

By the way this is the most fun I have had in ages. Honestly, the sentences are just awesome! If you are ever stuck for a writing prompt, I would heartily recommend it.

The rule was, less than one thousand words and the sentence has to be the first or last sentence of your flash fiction. I cheated a tiny bit and pressed the button twice, I have put my sentences in blue, so that you can see them easily. Oooh I just did it again and got "the continent studies." bad girl; stop pressing the BUTTON!

Enigmatic Cookies

Every linear antique marries the voter,’ she read to herself.
She looked up at her friends. They had just finished lunch in a Chinese restaurant.
“Do you think this is a fortune?”
“What is?”
She read it out loud.
“I dunno. What’s a linear antique?” asked Mark.
“Something that stays the same value?” she suggested.
“Something that is flat and you know… linear?” suggested Matthew.
“A table,” stated Mark.
“No,” put in Matthew, “it says it got married. So it has to be a person, not a thing.”
“Oh yeah,” she agreed. “Marries the voter,” she read. “Am I the voter?”
“Are you?” Mark was finishing the last of the sauce poured over his boiled rice and spoke with his mouth full.
“Do you vote?”
“Occasionally. If the weather is fine.”
“Ha! Can’t change the world unless you vote.”
“You think?”
“Was that sarcasm?”
“It’s compulsory in some countries, like Australia. You get fined if you don’t vote,” added Matthew.
“People fought for that vote. Especially women. You are letting down the ghosts of the suffragettes. You should be ashamed of yourself,” lectured Mark.
“Pfft,” she disagreed. “Well, do you vote?”
“Always.” He sounded triumphant.
“Rain, hail or shine?” she checked.
“Of course.”
She studied him. “Do you research it, or do you just fill in the ballot paper. Tick the boxes of the people with the nicest faces?”
“Ah,” he looked caught out. “I tend to stick to the same party.”
“That’s worse!” she declared. “You could be voting in some complete moron.”
“At least I vote,” he defended.
“I want a fortune cookie,” Matthew said. He waved at the waitress. “May I have a fortune cookie?” he asked her.
She looked doubtful. “Are you sure? They’re a bit weird today.”
“Only today?”
“All the current batch are a bit…” she looked for a word.
“Confusing?” Matthew suggested.
“Enigmatic,” she chose. “You’re happy with an enigmatic fortune cookie?”
“Oh, yes,” he assured her.
She nodded and gave him a second look. She put the large pot of Chinese tea that she was carrying down on their table.
“Hmmm,” he said as he watched her walk away. “She seems nice.”
“Maybe you’re the voter that is going to marry,” she commented as she stood and refilled their tea cups.
He laughed. “It was your fortune and she’s too young. Not antique enough. Or linear.”
“Old soul?”
The waitress came back with one solitary cookie on a plate. He reached for it after giving her a dazzling smile. “Thank you, Amber,” he read her name tag.
“My pleasure.”
She waited by the table.
He lifted an eyebrow at her.
“I want to see what it says,” she confessed.
“Oooh, me too,” said Mark.
He cracked it open and read out, “When will your machinery fear?” He snorted. “My machinery is all in good working order, thank you very much.”
“Good to know,” said Amber, as she passed him her phone number. She picked up the large teapot and walked away.
“Fortune cookies, huh.” He popped some of the fractured remains into his mouth and chewed. “Well, they taste okay.” He beamed at Amber across the room. She smiled back at him.
The others rolled their eyes.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Flash fiction challenge

Chuck Wendig runs a site called Terrible minds. He has a lot of info about writing and sometimes, fun flash fiction challenges. This week's one appealed to me.
Paint colour titles. 1k words, with colour prominent in the story somewhere. The title had to be a paint colour name, from the following list.

Grasshopper Wing
Bone China
Timeless Lilac
Pageant Song
Burnt Tile
Fuchsia Kiss
Flamingo Dream
Glorious Gold
Mermaid Song
Flint Smoke

This is what I came up with. 785 words, so way under the word limit.

Timeless lilac

by AMGray

She loved that house the second she saw it. She tried desperately hard not to let the realtor see her glee. She knew it might drive the price up. She picked faults with it. It had no garage. The wooden sidings would need frequent repainting. Brick was so much more practical. Who needed a porch that wide anymore? No one sits on their front porch and watches the world go by. Secretly, she imagined that she had already found the perfect swing to go just… there.

And the yard? She stood there shaking her head eloquently. It was a cottage garden gone wild; overgrown and almost hiding the house from the street. It will cost a fortune to have this all landscaped and those large trees removed; they might fall on the house, she opined.

The realtor agreed that the old lady, who had owned it, had been somewhat of a recluse.

She announced, after they trailed through the undergrowth to the front door, that she really didn’t need to see the inside. It was not what she was looking for. The realtor let out a sigh that strongly indicated that she thought she was never going to be able to sell this dump.

She waited two days in a fever of worry and then put in an extremely low offer. It was a deceased estate and the executors took it. She did the Snoopy happy dance silently whilst clutching the phone.

The executors asked if she wanted the furniture and she said yes. She moved her few possessions in by herself. She had no friends to ask to help her and she didn’t have enough stuff, or enough money, to pay a removalist. She hit a charity shop and found a working fridge. They delivered for a small fee.

She spent days cleaning and exploring.

The house was one of a kind all right. Every room was painted a different colour. Mostly shades of purple. Clearly that was the previous owner’s favourite colour. It made her feel like royalty.

She saw her in the hallway one day. She knew immediately that she was not real. An old lady, all dressed in grey and leaning on a carved cane. She had her hair up in a practical bun like Katharine Hepburn had always worn. She didn’t look happy and then she had turned and walked away; leaning heavily on the cane. She hoped it was not because she had bought her house.

The memory of that encounter stayed with her. She didn’t seem malevolent, just sad. She wanted to help her but she didn’t know how. As she tidied up and explored more of the house, she realised something; the apparition had been all dressed in grey. If it was the previous owner, she seemed oddly colourless. She made an excursion into the small town centre and found the local library. She explained that she had bought that house and the librarian helped her find any references to the owner in the local newspaper.

Evelyn Goodbody. Even her name sounded old fashioned. She had donated a large sum to the library and there was a photo accompanying the article. She must have died shortly after, as it was recognisably her, cane and all. She looked displeased to have her photo taken.

The next time she was shopping she found herself picking up a scarf. It was a light shade of purple. Lilac, she supposed. She looked for another one, but they were all brown or black. She bought it.

When she got back to the house she now considered her home, she stood awkwardly in the hallway. “I know it’s not the right colour,” she told the empty corridor. She felt like a fool. “But it was all they had in purple.” She folded it and placed it nervously on the corner of the massive built-in bureau. “It’s here… if you want it.” She patted it again and then left the room.

It was days later when she noticed that the scarf had gone. She thought she was going nuts.

She saw Evelyn again some weeks later. She was wearing the scarf. She nodded and smiled at her. The addition of the scarf had energised her; brought back her colour. She was all in purple now.

The old lady nodded and smiled at her.

She smiled back. She somehow knew it was the last time she would see her.

“I’ll look after the house,” she promised the spirit.

The old lady faded with another smile and she was left alone, with the benevolent feeling that she had felt the first time she saw the house. It was really hers, now.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Writing recipes

I’ve said before, that I read a lot about writing. Early on I just wrote in a kind of stream of consciousness flow. It was easy and the words came tumbling out. But what I hadn’t thought about, at the time, was that it worked for fanfiction where I was writing within a set box of characters, worlds and scenes that I knew all too familiarly because they already existed.

When it came to writing my own stuff, I found some problems. I have a major work three quarters written. I have spent a long time writing and rewriting, to then literally lose the plot. I put the work away and thought that I just needed a break from it. Then when I looked at it again, I realised that in ‘fixing it’ I had mangled it into something I no longer liked. The original story pattern was lost.

I am a scatterbrained person in real life. I forget useful, normal things all the time, but conversely remember useless trivia all too easily. I have learnt to write myself lists. I sit down with my recipe books and I write a menu for the week of what meals we will eat. I can see at a glance if it is balanced; too heavy on the chicken or whatever. Then I write a shopping list and I only buy what is on the list. It’s neat, economical, I only need to shop once and it stops the kids making me nuts asking what is for dinner. It’s written on a white board and is stuck to the fridge. It makes me more organised too, if the night before, I can see what meat to get out of the freezer or what to throw in the slow cooker.

It works; I can see that it works. It saves me money (no impulse purchases). We don’t waste food or throw away things we meant to cook and didn’t get around to using.

So why the hell would I sit down to write one hundred thousand words with no plan?

What was I thinking?

Well I just wasn’t thinking, obviously.

Some people suggest that your book should follow a standard three act scenario, others favour four acts. Jim Butcher writes the Harry Dresden files, and he talks about story arcs and completion of minor plot points in his guides to writing.
I realised that I had unwittingly done a lot of that in my fanfic writing, in my attempt to wind up loose ends. Yay me.

But what everyone seems to agree on, is that you do your research and your homework, first! I laughed when I saw Laurell K Hamilton tweet her followers to ask about the description of a particular room and which book it was in. It was quicker for her to ask the fans than trying to find it herself. She also commented in her blog how a minor character in a series of novels like hers, can suddenly have a greater role in a later book and she doesn’t know what colour his eyes are or what his hair looks like. If you read her books, you will know that she has a serious hair fetish, so it really does matter to her.

Part of what drove me nuts and also allowed such fanfic freedom, is that Stephenie Meyer created such vague characters in her Twilight books. If you read my fanfiction work as mrstrentreznor, you will know that Paul, a member of the wolf pack, is probably my favourite character. At the time I started writing him he had no name, a serious anger problem, an odd barking laugh and he ate a lot (even for a wolf boy). I made up some reasons for him being so angry and wrote a story around that. “What was she doing?”

By the time the Illustrated Twilight guide came out, the Twilight series of books was complete, and NOW SM wrote her shopping list, as it were. Suddenly characters had names. Suddenly there was an extra generation in the family tree. Although she still doesn’t know who Embry’s father is. Picture me annoyed. What a mess, I cried out. Who could possibly be that disorganised?

Oh… wait a second…

I’m that disorganised!

Oh, my god, that’s me!

I am making all those mistakes.

So what can I do about it?

You can find plenty of advice on the internet about writing methods and formulas. You can go completely anal and use the snowflake method, if that works for you. So long as you have a plan. 

I read Ken Follett’s master class and he does a similar thing; building up a whole novel from a one paragraph summary.

If you have a plan, then you can write out of chronological order. You can write the sexy bits when you are in the mood. Write the sad parts when you feel depressed or angry. Write the ending when you feel upbeat and happy. Or whatever.

As long as you are writing.

And, for heaven’s sake, do your research before you start writing. I love the internet, but I always say ‘the journey of a thousand sites begins with a single click’. You look up one thing and hours later, you are clicking on something, no less interesting, but not what you were supposed to be doing. And this all takes time. Time that you are not using to write. And if you are writing and you wander off to do your research in the middle of the paragraph, then your muse will wander off as well. You will come back, a hundred sites later, with no idea of what you were trying to write. Joel Orr  says to make a mark like %%% at where you need to check information or do some research. Keep writing and search for that mark later. Good advice.

So make your world and your characters as real as you can, before you start writing. It will save you many hours of time later to do your preparation first.

So this time, I am going to put that ruined story away and I am going to start again. I will try a quasi-snowflake method. I will write out all the motivations and distinguishing features of my characters. I will give them more than four elements like SM’s Paul. I will have a plan. I will have story arcs and resolutions.

And it will work!

Make it so! (To quote Captain Jeanluc Picard from Star Trek)

Friday, 4 May 2012


Pretty excited for my stories 'Booty Call' and 'The C Word' to be nominated for awards on the she wolf blog. It's a Leah-centric site. And Leah needs all the love she can get, in my opinion.

I was reading Amanda Hocking’s blog and she was talking about how vivid her dreams were, but said that she had never got a story from them. Dreams are supposed to be our brain’s way of working through things while we are asleep, but often, infuriatingly, in ways we can’t comprehend once we wake up.

I’ve had some vivid dreams lately myself. I am forming a theory that it is me being overheated by the central heating. It is winter in Australia and the heater comes on about six am to warm the house up before I get up at six thirty.  I keep dreaming that I am in the back seat of a car and the driver gets out and leaves it driverless. My effort at finding dream analyses said that the car is me. In that case, I’m driverless and out of control. Lol. I assume that this is some kind of expression of my nervousness at trying to publish my original fiction. It is a recurring dream. The driver that bails out and leaves me in the car is interchangeable, but always male. hmmm

I also had a fascinating dream, a while ago. I was at a wedding reception. I was sitting at a table with my first lover and he was with an old High School friend that I haven’t seen (or thought about in many years, nor had they ever met). An older woman was standing on an upholstered chair. The chair was covered in coffee and cream wide striped upholstery. In fact, all the chairs were covered in different upholstery. No idea why I noticed that. She had short dark hair cut in a bob. She had to keep bending at the waist to talk to people because she refused to get down from the chair. She asked me a question; I don’t remember what it was. Something like was I with the bride or the groom?
I got really upset with her and said, “I beg your pardon,” very loudly. I thought she was implying that I was old somehow. Then the guy rolled his eyes and made some comment about me being super sensitive. I said I was just upset because I was at the wedding of the man I thought I was marrying. I held out my hand and I was wearing an engagement ring. “Oh, no. Not you, too,” said the little old woman, still standing on the chair.  But then she leaned down closer to me and she said, “But that’s great grandma’s ring.”
She called out to the groom, who was on the other side of the room talking to guests with his bride. It seemed that she was his mother. My HS friend muttered something and waved out her napkin on her lap. The groom came over and he was Hugh Grant. (Note: I don’t even like Hugh Grant.) He had the bride with him, but I can’t remember what she looked like.  She seemed faceless. Then we had an argument about the rings and what he was doing marrying her? With many interjections from his mother. I don’t think I was wearing a wedding gown; I can’t remember.
Then it just clicked to another scene, without resolution. I was driving in a street; trying to park my car. I had a headscarf and sunglasses on, a la Grace Kelly. The car was a red convertible naturally. (Man, I am stylish in my dreams… lol)  The street and the shops looked old fashioned, almost as if I was back in time. Then I woke up.

So my dreams, if I remember them, are usually pretty intense. Once I woke up with a complete story in my head. It was unbelievably vivid and was about a woman packing up, running away, and buying a house. More scary was the fact that I discovered she really could have bought a house for less than $10,000 in some US states.

She starts again in a small town. The story became ‘SeaChange’.

It was actually freaky weird in another sense. My brother was houseless and was sleeping on my couch for a while. I woke up, came out to talk to him and told him about the dream I had just had. He was reading that morning’s newspaper and he turned it around to show me a story. The story replicated an essential part of my dream. (Can’t tell you what exactly - spoilers).  I swear I had not seen the paper. The story was also a minor one that had caught his eye, as it was his area of special interest, but had not been mentioned on the news. Not that I had watched it or listened to the news anyway. The event described is also extremely rare, so it was not something that happened every day. Prescient dreams? Yep, had those before, too.

Weird, huh? I actually took to writing my dreams down, just in case another fully completed story fell into my dreaming mind.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012


I am often asked for help and advice by new writers. I answer them. I am a big believer in karma; it only takes me a couple of minutes to answer their questions, or to send them a document that I have previously prepared on how to post stories on fanfic or whatever. Who knows? They could be the next JK Rowling and my kind words might have set them on that path. At least I’d like to think so.
I have made it a point to reply to every review in my stories on fanfiction and I kind of miss that connection with my readers on other sites.

I don’t mind if they are polite; it’s the ones who tell me what to do that I dislike. For example: “I’m writing a story and you can beta it for me.” Excuse me? Or one of my favourites. “I really like the ‘Lord of the Rings’ and I noticed you do too. I’m kind of busy right now, so you can write a LOTR Twilight Legolas Bella crossover fic for me.” What the? There is just so much wrong with that sentence, I don’t even know where to start.

One of the big issues for people posting their first story is holding yourself out there; putting your words out in the real world to be read and criticised by others is a nerve wracking experience. It takes a leap of faith that some people are terrified of making. I know I was. Words and stories are personal experiences. Each one has some small part of you in it, or has taken hours of your time. Even if it was just a phrase or an emotional experience that you recall. I remember when I first posted on fanfic, I sat there manically checking my statistics and seeing how many hits my story had recorded and who had reviewed it. I laughed when a new writer I had encouraged, confessed to doing the same thing this week.

I kind of do the same now with my e-books. I found them on the Barnes and Noble website the other day and was stoked to see that ‘Alejandro & Maela’ was Sales rank: 8,681 and had two anonymous reviews. My erotic encounter on a train, ‘The man in the white linen suit’ was sales rank: 8,672 and had three stars from four anonymous reviews. ‘KissingCousins’ has passed one thousand downloads on Smashwords and is ranked 510 at diesel ebooks. All positive reinforcement for me.

I suppose, at least the anonymous reviewers didn’t say anything truly horrible. I think writers have to develop very tough skins to cope with some downright awful reviews. I got one this week that just said, ‘you suck’. Charming. I guess it is human nature that you remember the awful reviews. As I have said before, I got a zero star review because someone objected to the romance tag on Kissing Cousins.

I read a lot of blogs about writing. One, Catherine, caffeinated posted about looking up book reviews on Amazon. In this post she looked up books she loved on Amazon, and read their one-star reviews. As she pointed out, even a book loved by most people will have some people who hate it. Personally I disliked one of her favourites, ‘Eat, pray love,’ so there you go. What tickled her fancy was the reasons people gave for disliking it.

She’s right, it is truly amusing. And as a new writer it gives you some comfort. If the big, grown up writers still get such awful reviews, then it makes me feel better about my own.

I really liked Sunshine by Robin McKinley; a book that Neil Gaiman described as ‘practically perfect’ and I adore his books. I borrowed it from the library, and then ordered my own copy. It just landed on my doorstep from the online book shop today. I will admit that it is crying out for a sequel and is unfortunately on the fanfiction ‘no’ list, so I can’t write it myself, but it is one of those stories that stays with you after you have read it. So, in Catherine’s vein, I looked up its Amazon reviews. One reviewer said “I thought Sunshine was going to be fun and very romantic but it turns out to be a joke. Sunshine is the worst heroine I ever read about. She complains and talks too much! I hate having to read several long pages about Sunshine's personal life and blah blah stuff.” Gosh! Imagine filling a book with the main character’s story? Another complains that the heroine jumps in and out of bed with multiple lovers. What the? By my reading she had one; her boyfriend, but I haven’t reread it yet to confirm. Another accuses the author of having sex with Neil Gaiman to get her good review from him. The question of why women choose to attack other women like this, might have to wait for another blog post, but honestly, would they have said that if she was a man?

A review that is a critique is fine, but a personal attack on the author is unkind and unnecessary. Karma? Remember? It’ll get you. Ilona Andrews said today on her blog that she was very saddened by the back lash from other reviewers when an author posted a review to another author’s story on goodreads. Surely authors are entitled to an opinion, too? One that they should be able to express without people threatening to never buy their books again.

I know there are lots of blogs and websites out there where bloggers spend hours of their valuable time reading and then reviewing books. Let me know if you review my works and I will say thank you, same as I do for other reviews.

The next time you are reviewing, remember those hurtful words hurt. And bullying is bullying whether it’s done in real life or online. Tell the author something useful about why you disliked the story. Did they screw up their tense in chapter five? (I am always slipping in and out of tense... makes me nuts.) The author spent hours writing it and you spent hours reading it. It’s understandable that you might resent the waste of your time, if you really disliked it. But also remember that these days, e-books are editable. If I’ve mixed up a name or made an obvious mistake, for goodness’s sake tell me and I can fix it. If it annoyed you, chances are it annoyed somebody else, too. Probably me, if I knew it was there.

But either way, you keep reading, and I’ll keep writing. Deal?