Giftwrapping an Idea

Most gifts are tangible things, items that occupy space and have weight. But writers tread the realm of visions and dreams, thoughts and imaginings. You can’t give those things as gifts, can you? Well…

Author Andrew Gudgel and I were exchanging gifts at holiday time a few years ago. He’d been talking (for well over a year) about a story idea he had. I thought it was wonderful and kept urging him to write the story. Instead, as a gift to me, he said, “You write it.”

There were some tangible things he also gave me, the notes he’d compiled while preparing to write the story. But the real gift was the idea, and he’d given it to me.

I know, I’ve blogged before that ideas are the easy part, the trivial part, the dime-a-dozen part, and I’ve said the hard part is actually scribbling down the story and polishing it until you can sell it.

Let me caveat that now. Some ideas are more valuable than others are. Some are gold. Some are more valuable to a writer other than the one who thought of them. Such was the case with Andrew’s idea; he sensed I loved it more than he did, and that I would not hesitate to run with it. For him, it was in the ‘I’ll get to it someday’ bin.

From Andrew’s idea came my story “After the Martians.” In partial payment to him, I named a character in the story after him. If you add the value of that to the value of whatever silly gift I gave him that year, you’d still fall far short of what he gave me. I was out-gifted, plain and simple.

As Andrew so eloquently put it in his blog: “’Ideas rot if you don’t do something with them,’ said the writer Edd Dumbill. I agree. By keeping a creative idea locked away in your head/on your hard-drive/in your notebooks, it’s not free to enrich the world. Think about it this way: you may be fated to conceive of the idea and to give birth to it, but not to be the one who raises it to maturity. That may be someone else’s task. So, if after a period of sober reflection, you come to the conclusion that you’re not going to make use of an idea, give it away—throw it to a creative friend, put it on your blog, launch it out into the public sphere—and give someone else the opportunity to enrich the world with it.”

For completeness, I should mention another, earlier example of giving an idea as a gift, though this still causes me anguish and shame.

Many years and several critique groups ago, I was in a group with Raymond (not his real name). Each month, Raymond contributed a new chapter of the novel he was writing. One day, we found out Raymond had died. I don’t recall the circumstances, whether illness or accident, but he was far too young.

I got a letter from his widow saying that in his final days, Raymond had told her he wanted me to finish his novel, and she was asking if I’d do that.

Wow. Tough dilemma. On one hand, I couldn’t refuse a request from the widow of a friend and fellow writer, could I? She wasn’t asking for that much—just complete the story he’d almost finished and send it out for publication. She wasn’t asking for a portion of the payments, if the novel made money.

On the other hand, I didn’t have the passion for the story that Raymond did. I didn’t think I could do it justice. The novel involved a plot and genre type that had already saturated the market. It didn’t seem to me that readers were begging for another such novel.

In the end, I turned down the offer, with regrets. Perhaps I should have taken it, but I didn’t. Raymond’s idea deserved a champion who cared about it as deeply as he had. I was not that writer.

As you can see, it is possible to get wrapping paper, ribbons, and bows around something as insubstantial as an idea, a whim. If you’re struggling to do it, and can’t quite figure out how to cut and enclose, fold and tape the darn thing, if you need an expert guide, call—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Are All the Good Story Ideas Taken Already?

You’d like to write a story, but every time you think of an idea, you realize someone else wrote that one already. You figure all the good story ideas are used up. That’s it. There are no more. The last original novel has been written.

I don’t think so. New books, movies, and TV shows are coming out all the time.

no-story-ideasNo, you protest. Those aren’t new. They’re just rehashes or remakes of old ideas, with some new flair added. They’re just old stories brought into modern times, well-used story lines put in a new setting, or known plotlines with the main characters’ genders reversed.

If so, that’s great news for you. It means you don’t have to think of something completely original, either. If rehashes or slight twists work so well, then you can succeed with that method, too. That’s the message Melissa Donovan delivers very well in this post.

I think what you’re really telling me is, you’re stuck for an idea, and every time you think of one, you recognize you’d be copying what someone has already done.

There’s a particular genre you enjoy reading, and you consider yourself knowledgeable about that genre, and you’d like to see if you can write a story yourself. But you see that field as being well-plowed already. For every story idea, you immediately think of the existing, published story that used that idea.

You’re just in a mental rut, that’s all. It’s possible to climb back out.

Here are some suggestions for coming up with story ideas. These might work for you, or they might spark thoughts about other ways to accomplish the same thing:

  1. Do Internet or Twitter searches for trending key words. Combining seemingly unrelated key words might result in the nugget of a story idea. I’m convinced that’s how Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird came up with the idea for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
  2. Search websites in your genre for words or thoughts that are trending. Those might suggest story ideas.
  3. Try the Suzanne Collins method. She came up with the idea for The Hunger Games while flipping TV channels. That turned out all right for her and might work for you.
  4. Pick two books at random off your shelf at home and see if you could combine the two in some way. If not, pick two other books.
  5. Try the generational/nostalgic method. Look for what was popular 25-30 years ago, and update it. First you have a new audience who wasn’t around when the original came out. Second, the older folks in your audience will appreciate the nostalgic trip down memory lane.
  6. Take a song you like (either instrumental or voice), and think of the story that might go along with that song.
  7. Take an interesting picture or image from anywhere (web, your own life, magazines, etc.) and think of the story behind that image.
  8. Take a favorite character from a book or movie, and consider what you enjoy about that character. What if that character was completely different in appearance? For example, if that beloved character was a handsome, young, athletic man, what if you wrote about an older, plump woman with the same abilities and faced with similar conflicts?

Your next story idea is out there. Be open and receptive, and let it find you. Oh, and be sure to send a comment thanking—

Poseidon’s Scribe

September 12, 2016Permalink

After the Martians—the Story Behind the Story

It’s the question readers ask authors most often: “Where do you get your ideas?” I’ve blogged about that before, but today I’ll reveal the birth of the idea behind my just-launched book,AftertheMartians72dAfter the Martians.”

It wasn’t my idea at all.

My friend, fellow author, and critique group partner, Andy Gudgel, thought of the idea. Heaven knows where he got it. At one of our critique group meetings, he mentioned he’d like to write a sequel to H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, but his story would deal with the aftermath, with dead Martians lying around, but also their technology. After all, the tripod fighting machines would be still standing where they stopped. The assembly machines would be intact and stationary near the landing sites of the Martian projectiles. Even a few flying machines might be available.

Andy’s idea was that humans would then use these weapons in a very different version of World War I.

This notion captivated me, and I urged him to write the story. Each time he sent us manuscripts of other tales, I’d ask him about the Martian story. “This one’s good, Andy,” I’d say, “but when are you going to give us that War of the Worlds sequel?”

Then at one December meeting, (at which we exchange little gifts to each other), I unwrapped his gift to me, and there were all his notes, and his copy of H.G. Wells’ novel. A note stated he was giving his story idea to me. I should write the tale, since he would not likely ever get around to it.

Wow! That could be the greatest gift one writer could give to another.

I say ‘could be’ because of an emotionally painful event that happened to me some twenty years earlier. At that time, I belonged to a different writing critique group. One other group member had written more than half of his novel. As I recall, it involved a modern-day (well, mid-1990s) nuclear attack on the United States.

Sadly, this writer died young. He had not completed writing that novel, let alone sent it to any agents or publishers.

His wife wrote to me to say how much her husband had appreciated my critiques of his work, and said he’d wanted me to finish, and seek publication of, his novel.

With a heavy heart, I had to decline the offer, but found it gut-twisting to tell his widow that. To write a story, I must have passion about it and care deeply about it and about the characters. I just didn’t feel that way in this case. Moreover, even if I’d had that enthusiasm, I would have had to rewrite large portions of the other writer’s novel to make it mine, and would have felt terrible about not honoring the deceased writer’s wishes exactly, or not living up to his hopes.

In the case of Andy’s WotW sequel, he hadn’t started writing yet. He’d compiled some notes and a rough outline, but I decided to take the story in a different direction than he’d planned. I didn’t feel badly about that, since he hadn’t begun the actual writing and my passion drove me toward the story that became “After the Martians.”

That’s the story behind the story written by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Arte/Scienza

Here is the fifth post in my series. I’ve been discussing how the seven principles put forth by Michael J. Gelb in his book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci relate to fiction writing. Today’s principle is Arte/Scienza, or “Development of the balance between science and art, logic and imagination, ‘whole-brain’ thinking.”

ArteScienzaIn the book, Gelb demonstrates how Leonardo embodied the kind of balanced thinking intended by the term Arte/Scienza. His artistic paintings contain precise mathematical shapes and geological features. His scientific and engineering drawings are, themselves, works of art. Da Vinci didn’t distinguish between the two.

Sure, you’re saying, that’s all very well for ol’ Leo, born way back in 1452. But a lot has happened since then, particularly on the science side. There’s too much to learn to be an expert in both art and science. The two are way too different these days.

Artists are all about brushes and canvas, lighting and shadow, color and imagery. They’re out to discover beauty, or deliver a message, or say something significant about human nature.

On the other hand, scientists groove on equations and numbers, test tubes and Bunsen burners, experiments and technical papers. They’re out to discover truth, and to solve the mysteries of how the universe works.

In our modern world, we’re used to a high wall between Arte and Scienza. The two are so specialized, require such different talents, and their practitioners use such different jargon that it’s difficult to imagine one person combining the two in equal measure. Even books discussing Leonardo da Vinci separate the chapters for his artwork from those of his scientific endeavors.

Today we speak of being left-brained or right-brained, as if each of us is putting only half our brain to work and leaving the other half idle.

Michael Gelb discusses how you can use the philosophy of Arte/Scienza in your everyday life, and promotes the use of mind maps, which I also advocate.

My purpose is to discuss how Arte/Scienza applies to fiction writing. Most fiction writers identify more with artists than with scientists. They consider fiction writing a kind of art, and believe their creative temperament matches that of painters more than that of researchers. (The exception would be science fiction writers, who must use science in their writing.)

Here are some ways that even an author of magical fantasy, a writer who disdains all things scientific, can benefit from applying the Arte/Scienza principle:

  • Use mind-maps to aid in the writing process. These combine the logical orderliness of outlines with the free-form, colorful, image-laden right-brain preferences. Mind-maps can help you solve plotting problems, create characters, even plan book promotions.
  • Apply the experimental method to the development of your craft. The heart of science is the experimental method, used to expand the boundaries of human knowledge. You’re trying to become a better writer, so experiment!
  • Add a scientifically minded character to your story, even if he or she is the antagonist, a person of pure evil. Pour all your negative feelings about science into that character. You may just find, as you develop this antagonist, that he or she becomes one of your more engaging and interesting creations.
  • Embrace the overlap between art and science. If art searches for beauty, and science seeks truth, are those really that different? In the end, you’d like your book to say something new about the human condition, to expand reader’s knowledge about the theme you’re exploring. While working your art, haven’t you just committed an act of science?

Listen to your inner artist and your inner scientist. The more you do, the more you’ll find them getting along well together, and your writing might improve, too. So far, it’s working for—

Poseidon’s Scribe

September 27, 2015Permalink

Missing People, Unsolved Crimes

Today I’ll let you inside the thinking process of a writer as he tries to flesh out a story idea. In this case, it’s the idea for the story that would become RippersRing72dpi“Ripper’s Ring.”

I had read about the Ring of Gyges and thought it would be a great idea for a story. There’ve been many famous novels with invisibility rings, so I needed to separate my story from those in some way.

While thinking about how to form a story about the Ring of Gyges, I wondered what would happen to the ring over time. It occurred to me that an owner would not pass it to his own child. First, the ring’s owner would be unlikely to tell anyone about it, even his own children. Second, he would be unlikely to relinquish it to anyone while he remained alive. Third, possession of the ring ends up being a curse, so the owner would not want to pass that on.

Therefore the ring would remain on its owner until the owner’s death, and someone would likely remove it from the finger of the corpse, or, if long enough afterward, the skeleton. I realized the ring would leave behind a long string of owners who had either vanished mysteriously, or who had committed crimes no one could solve.

Wikipedia contains lists of both unexplained disappearances and unsolved crimes. I could select any one of these for my story, or more than one if I wanted. As a writer of steampunk, I focused on Victorian times, and therefore to the crimes of Jack the Ripper. Although there have been many stories about that killer, I think the addition of the Ring of Gyges sets mine apart.

Still, I was unsatisfied. I wanted to convey the explanation of the ring’s creation, as well as the notion of its passing from owner to owner down the centuries. But how do I do that with a story told from one person’s point of view? I hit on the idea of giving the ring one more property in addition to invisibility—the ring allows owners to see visions of past owners, all the way back to the jeweler who created it. My Jack the Ripper character would see all these visions, and the reader would understand not only the history of the ring, but also project beyond my story, and wonder where the ring is now.

In my story, I briefly mention these visions of past owners. My ‘Jack’ character only gets vague impressions of clothing and surroundings, of course, not names. The ones he sees are the rebel slave Spartacus (71 B.C.), the Roman general Valens (378 A.D.), the Egyptian Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah (1021), vague mentions of others, the diplomat Benjamin Bathurst (1809), and finally gun manufacturer William Cantelo (1880s).

Once the reader grasps the idea of a single ring causing strange disappearances and unexplainable crimes through history, it’s a short mental leap to realize such a ring could also explain the unidentified Zodiac Killer (late 1960s), and the disappearances of D.B. Cooper (1971), Jimmy Hoffa (1975), and many others from our time.

Now you see how I came up with the idea for “Ripper’s Ring.” Enjoy the story, and leave a comment with your thoughts about my process for developing and maturing the idea for the story. If I’ve helped you along the way in your own writing journey, that’s the sincere hope of—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Recalling the Moment

When people ask, “how did you get the idea for that story?” it’s useful to be able to remember that exact instant when the lightning struck, when the light bulb glowed, when the muse whispered. For some of my stories, I can. For others, I have no idea.

People expect you to remember. They want to hear about the light bulb moment. After all, that’s a bit of a story in itself.

220px-Suzanne_Collins_David_Shankbone_2010Suzanne Collins, author of the Hunger Games series, has a great story for how she came up with the idea for the first book in the series. As reported here, she was channel-surfing between a reality show involving a competition among young people, and some news coverage of a war. The two TV shows blurred in her mind, and she came up with her book idea. She also claims that the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, which she read at age eight, became the inspiration for the plot.

This is often how it happens. Two or more ideas get merged in your mind, and they can be widely separated in time. Some of these ideas could be something half-remembered from childhood.

On occasion, an entire story coming to a writer in a flash, so that it becomes a race to get it written down before the memory degrades. Other authors refine and mature a basic idea over time before they are ready to write. Whichever method you use, it’s still a good thing to write down the initial idea right after the bulb illuminates, perhaps in a daily journal. That way you’ll be ready when people ask.

What’s that you’re thinking? You’re wondering how I got the ideas for some of my recent stories? How nice of you to ask.

A Clouded Affair” came from a clash of two ideas. I was in a dieselpunk mood, having never written in that subgenre. Then I saw the call for stories for an anthology titled Avast, Ye Airships! Clearly, they wanted steampunk. What to do? How about a battle between a steampunk pirate and a dieselpunk pirate?

For “Time’s Deformèd Hand,” I was responding to a planned anthology of Steampunk Shakespeare stories. I wanted a lighter tale, so I reviewed the Bard’s comedies, and selected “A Comedy of Errors.” Clockpunk seemed a better fit than steampunk, so I went with that. While my story didn’t get picked for the anthology, it found a happier home as part of my What Man Hath Wrought series.

The Cometeers” is one story whose genesis I don’t recall. For some reason, I must have been thinking about save-the-Earth-from-destruction plot lines, and thought about how I could set such a story in the steampunk era.

Here’s a sneaky notion, to wrap things up. Since you won’t always recall the “ah-ha moment” when a story idea occurred to you, and since your zillions of fans will demand to know how it actually happened, it’s probably okay in this instance to make up a story. After all, you’re a fiction writer—making up stories is what you do. Moreover, who would say your explanation is wrong? Certainly not—

Poseidon’s Scribe

The Story behind “The Cometeers”

As I mentioned in my News page, Gypsy Shadow Publishing has accepted my story, “The Cometeers” which will be published as part of the What Man Hath Wrought series. The intended launch date is in early September.

TheCometeers72dpiHere’s the marvelous cover, designed by Charlotte Holley.  Yes, that’s a planet-destroying comet headed right toward the Earth.  But if you look closer, you’ll see an silvery man-made projectile on an intercept course.  Just possibly, its occupants might save the entire world.

Inquiries have been streaming in from every corner of the planet (and from some of the comets), asking what this story is about. Far be it from me to deny my fans information about my latest tale.

Here’s the book blurb: A huge comet speeds toward a devastating collision with the Earth, but no one will launch space shuttles filled with nuclear weapons. It’s 1897. Instead they’ll fire projectiles from the Jules Verne cannon and try to deflect the comet with a gunpowder explosion. Commander Hanno Knighthead isn’t sure he can motivate his argumentative, multinational crew of geniuses to work together. It turns out one of them is a saboteur. Then things get worse. Only a truly extraordinary leader could get this group to cooperate, thwart the saboteur, and jury-rig a way to divert the comet. Lucky thing Hanno brought his chewing gum.

Armageddon-poster 1998If you recall the 1998 movie “Armageddon,” then you can think of my story as Steampunk Armageddon.

I don’t recall the exact inspiration for this story. As stated in this post, and this one, I use the “seed and twist” method of coming up with story ideas. In this case the seed is the standard save-Earth-from-destruction idea, and the twist is to set the action in Victorian times.

My problem became one of technology. They just didn’t have sufficient know-how in the Nineteenth Century to divert or destroy a comet. It’s an open question whether we really have the technology today.

640px-From_the_Earth_to_the_Moon_Jules_VerneTherefore, I assumed the world of Jules Verne’s novel From the Earth to the Moon.  In that world, men had already achieved space travel in 1867. With funds from many nations, the Baltimore Gun Club had built a 900 foot long cannon outside Tampa, Florida, and launched a projectile containing three men.

My story is set thirty years later and no one has used the cannon since, due to the enormous expense. With a giant comet on the way, however, something must be done, so every country contributes what it can.

You can’t simply launch projectiles full of gunpowder at the comet and expect to hit it. The target is too small, the distance too great, and the calculations too imprecise. You must send men up also, in separate projectiles, to travel with your gunpowder bombs to make the necessary course corrections along the way.

That plan should work.

Unless something goes wrong.

“The Cometeers” will launch in September. For further updates, keep visiting this blog and reading the posts by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Don’t Refuse Your Muse

Is your brain in a rut? If so, you’re not alone. Today I’ll examine this tendency and suggest what you can do about it.

For all its desirable features, the human brain suffers from a love of the familiar and a fear of the unknown. This served as a good survival trait for our ancestors in their world, but it’s no advantage for a writer today.

Dont refuse museThis hard-wired preference probably prevents many people from becoming writers in the first place, since that can be a scary unknown. Even for those of you who’ve chosen to writers, this unfortunate brain feature keeps you using the same vocabulary words, writing about the same topics in the same genres, writing stories with the same themes and using very similar characters. It thwarts your creative urge, putting you at war with your muse.

As I’ve said before, your muse gets bored with the familiar and seeks the new and fresh. She grabs your arm and pulls you away from the safe and the known, beckoning you to explore the untrodden path. Her brain is wired in a different way.

Perhaps you disagree, thinking you don’t suffer from the malady I’ve described. You deny being a creature of habit who rushes to the familiar and avoids the unknown. Fine. Here’s your test. Tonight, before going to bed, hide your toothbrush. Let’s see how Mr. or Ms. Creativity handles things the next morning. Good luck!

For a great illustration of the problem, I encourage you to read “The Calf Path” by Sam Walter Foss. This poem paints an amusing metaphor of how our brains work.

Advertising Director Gina Sclafani wrote about dealing with the phenomenon. I find it interesting how she thought at first the task would be easy, since she prided herself on being open-minded. Then she well describes the difficulty, the inner resistance, to any steps outside the mind’s comfort zone. In the end, she’s glad she did, because the rewards are great, but she warns it is a journey pitting one part of your mind against a powerful counteracting part.

Here’s a three-step method you could try as a writer to push yourself out of your comfort zone. I’ll illustrate it with story genres, but it could also work with characters, themes, settings, style, or any aspect of story-writing in which you’re stuck.

1. Make a list of story genres you’d never consider writing about. Include the ones you find stupid, abhorrent, unseemly, etc. It’s no big deal, right? After all, you’re never going to write in any of these genres.

2. Spend five to ten minutes thinking through each genre on your list. Think about each one as follows: “I’ll never write in this genre, of course, but if I were to do so, here’s the story I’d write…”   You needn’t write down any of these ideas, just think through them.

3. Now let some time pass. A few days, weeks, or even months. This allows your muse to do her thing. You might well find she’s yanking on your arm and leading you down an unfamiliar path toward writing in one of those unwanted genres.

A similar thing happened to me. I knew I’d never write in the horror genre. Then I noticed a publisher seeking stories for an anthology to be called Dead Bait. I dismissed it, but my muse didn’t. She worked on the idea for a story she made me write called “Blood in the River.” I’m still not a horror story writer, but it felt good to get out of the comfort zone.

One final thought. At one point in their lives, each of history’s greatest contributors (think of da Vinci, Shakespeare, Bach, Edison, Einstein, etc.) had to leave a comfort zone in order to develop his or her eventual talents. Imagine the loss to mankind if one of them hadn’t taken that step? What if you could become a popular, successful, or timeless writer if only you stretch your mind in a direction it doesn’t want to go?

You’ll have to excuse me. This calf-path I’m walking along is nice, but some woman wearing a chiton is tugging at my sleeve. “What’s that? Where? But that’s off the path and looks terrifying to—

                                                                   Poseidon’s Scribe”

The Life Story of a Short Story

AlexandersOdyssey9Hello.  I’m a short story.  Since Poseidon’s Scribe never got around to blogging about the whole short story process, he invited me to guest blog today.  My title is “Alexander’s Odyssey,” and I was written by Steven R. Southard.  My life story is typical of other tales, and might be obvious to many of you, but the steps weren’t clear to Steve when he started.

Idea1.  Idea.  I started as an idea.  You did too, I suppose, but with stories you only need one human with an idea, if you know what I mean.  Getting a story idea isn’t as difficult as most believe.  Ideas are all around you.

Outline2.  Outline.  This can take many forms, not just the standard I-A-1-a-(1) type.  It can be a mind-map, for example.  An outline can keep you focused as you write, but don’t be afraid to deviate from it if the story takes off in a different direction.  Steve used an outline for me, but if you don’t want to, just skip this step.

Research3.  Research.  You might have to conduct research for your story like Steve did for me.  Use the most authoritative sources you can.  Steve didn’t include all the researched data when writing me, just a tiny fraction.  You might enjoy research, but don’t get stuck at this stage.  At some point, enough is enough.

First draft4.  First Draft.  Steve wrote my first draft fast, without caring about quality.  He didn’t even stop to correct typos.  He got it all down, the emotions, the drama, and the character interactions.

Edits5.  Edit.  Steve did several drafts of me where he corrected typos; deleted extraneous stuff; added in foreshadowing, metaphors, similes, and symbolism, etc.  Don’t get stuck at this stage either; some stories never even get submitted.

Submit6.  Submit.  Steve located a suitable market, and had to modify me a bit to conform to the submission guidelines.  After much hesitation, he submitted me.   These days, you writers have the option of self-publishing us stories, so you could skip this step.

Reject7.  Rejection.  Actually, I didn’t get rejected the first time, but I know the feeling.  I don’t understand why writers take rejection so personally; the editor is rejecting me, not you.  Just shake it off and submit your story to some other market.  Keep us moving!

Accept8.  Accept.  I was pretty happy when an anthology editor accepted me, but Steve was positively giddy.  I’d never seen him so thrilled and, frankly, the details are embarrassing, so I’ll just move on.

Rewrite9.  Rewrite.  The editor suggested Steve change me a bit.  He agreed the changes would do me good, and made them.  I’ve seen Steve agonize over suggested changes to other stories, though.  I’ve even seen him push back against the editor.  In the end, they always reach agreement and Steve signs the contracts.  I guess he could always refuse and walk away if he wanted.

Launch10.  Launch.  These days, publishers don’t just publish us, they launch us.  It does make me feel like a rocket going off, sort of.  Again, Steve seems really happy when a story launches, and again it’s awkward to watch.

Market11.  Market.  If I’d been picked up by one of the top publishing houses, they’d spread the word about me.  Steve didn’t send me there, so he had to do it.  Boy, does he hate that part, though I’ve heard some authors like marketing.  Use social media, newsletters, writing conferences—anything to advertise.

Read12.  Read.  My favorite step.  When a reader buys me and reads me cover to cover, that’s what I live for.

Reprint13.  Reprint.  When the rights to me reverted back to Steve, he submitted me for publication as a reprint.  After three rejects, another market accepted me, but asked for significant changes.  My reprint version states where and when I was published the first time.

Spin-off14.  Spin-off.  Oh, I hope, I hope I can get spun-off into a novel, a play, or even a movie.  Hey, a story can dream, can’t it?

That’s my story.  Forget about Steve, or Poseidon’s Scribe.  Address your comments to—

                                            Alexander’s Odyssey

December 8, 2013Permalink

The Seed and Twist Revisited

I’ve mentioned a couple of times before (here and here) my method of coming up with story ideas.  I call it the seed and twist.  The seed is some humdrum, everyday thing.  The twist is where you look at the seed in a new way, give it some novel alteration.

By way of illustration, I’ll discuss the seed and twist for each of the stories I’ve had published to date.  Don’t think of it as a glimpse into how my mind works; you don’t want to know.  Think of it as a jumping off point for coming up with your own story ideas.  Sometimes my seed ideas aren’t very everyday things.

  • Target Practice
    • Seed:  a prison
    • Twist:  It’s a prison of the future, underwater, and prisoners are made to drive weaponless mini-subs to serve as targets for the country’s submariners.
  • Alexander’s Odyssey
    • Seed:  the legend that Alexander the Great descended in a diving bell
    • Twist:  How would the sea-god Poseidon react?
  • The Sea-Wagon of Yantai
    • Seed:  some obscure references I found that someone had made a submarine in China around 200 BC
    • Twist:  make it a tale pitting war against peace
  • Blood in the River
    • Seed: your standard vampire
    • Twist:  This is an Amazonian vampire-fish known as a candiru, that shape-shifts between human and fish forms.
  • The Finality
    • Seed:  the disaster to come in the year 2012 foretold by the Mayan calendar
    • Twist:  The disaster is the universal end of time itself.
  • The Vessel
    • Seed:  a ship and its crew returning home
    • Twist:  It’s a ship from Atlantis, and their home has sunk beneath the seas.
  • The Steam Elephant
    • Seed: the huge, mechanical elephant from a Jules Verne story set in India.
    • Twist:  Take the same characters, with a newly built steam elephant, and set them in African in 1879, in time for the Anglo-Zulu War.
  • The Wind-Sphere Ship
    • Seed:  the little steam toy invented by Heron (also spelled Hero) in 1st century Alexandria
    • Twist:  What would happen if he’d used steam to power a ship?
  • Within Victorian Mists
    • Seed:  a steampunk romance
    • Twist:  Lasers and holograms get invented early, in the late 1800s.
  • Seasteadia
    • Seed:  a story of young love between opposites
    • Twist:  The story is set against the backdrop of the world’s first permanent sea colony, or seastead.
  • A Sea-Fairy Tale
    • Seed:  a man learning that the world must have some fantasy in it
    • Twist:  He learns this from an oceanid, a mythological sea fairy.
  • Leonardo’s Lion
    • Seed:  the life-size clockwork lion built by Leonardo da Vinci in 1515
    • Twist:  It’s about fifty years later and the lion is found by a small boy who finds a secret hidden inside the lion.
  • Against All Gods
    • Seed:  a journey to visit all seven wonders of the ancient world
    • Twist:  The gods of Greek mythology are angry with a pair of mortal lovers and will stop at nothing to ruin their love for each other.
  • A Steampunk Carol
    • Seed:  Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
    • Twist:  The story is played out using the characters of “Within Victorian Mists.”
  • The Six Hundred Dollar Man
    • Seed:  the 1970s TV show, “The Six Million Dollar Man”
    • Twist:  It’s set in steampunk times.
  • A Tale More True
    • Seed:  the notion of man travelling to the moon
    • Twist:  The story is set in a time even before steam power, when the most powerful man-made source of energy was the metal clockwork spring.

It’s one way of coming up with story ideas.  So far, it’s worked for—

                                                        Poseidon’s Scribe

October 27, 2013Permalink