A Flash of Flash Fiction

Rifling through notebooks and journals, I find short bursts of writing. Sometimes they turn into flash fictions that find publication, like my piece forthcoming in a Brain Mill Press anthology. But even if they don't find a published home, bursts, or "wildwrites" are great practice. 

Wildwriting gets you into that beautiful creative zone where things happen. It's exhilarating, spontaneous, sometimes meditative, fulfilling. Regardless of the product. Sometimes it's goofy, sometimes intense. Thing, is you need to go to a place where creating nurtures you, mentally, but maybe even physically. Go there, often.

Compelling Questions for Writing Fantasy and Horror

As A Writer, Ask Questions, then Imagine 


Sometimes the most important thing we can do as writers is to ask a question.


I love asking questions when I read authors, especially when they stimulate my imagination and the questions lead to more questions!


Recently, I started reading H.P. Lovecraft, and although his name wasn’t new to me, I’m grateful to the young author whose interest in his stories led me to take a closer look. (Thank you, M!)


I find the 1900s racism of Lovecraft to be blatant and frustrating, but when I look beyond that, there's a vivid and striking imagination that leads to compelling possibilities. 


Here are some elements to apply to your fantasy and horror story beginnings, gleaned from reading Lovecraft. See how many you can weave into your fantasy or horror story, prodding the reader to ask more questions.


Artifacts are key. Is there an artifact in your story? Where was it found? Or, where is it believed to be hidden? What lore or myths surround the artifact?


A corpse, mummy, or preserved body is as an irresistible artifact. Also, if there are remote villagers who tell stories of the above, even better.


A scream, “off camera,” that curdles the blood, will tempt and terrorize us into wanting to know what happens next. Who is the screamer in your story?


Is there a rancid smell? Where does it emanate from? What is it redolent of?


Are there inhuman sounds associated with your story? Creaks, rattles, groans? What? From where?


Is there a family resemblance, of your protagonist, to a long ago eccentric? What is the facial or physical feature, and to whom is the resemblance? Perhaps a great-great-great-something or other? How is it discovered? Does a portrait hang on the wall, or is there a piece of jewelry or other item that has been passed down?


What rumors surround the people, places, and artifacts that seem to have mystical powers, magic, or curses associated with them? Who tells these rumors? 


What other elements are you finding in favorite stories, movies, or books that you could bring into your own work, as you craft your mind-tingling tale?

Protect Your Morning! Protect Your Brain!

In Cal Newport's Deep Work*, we read about the importance of protecting the time we spend in focused work, allowing creative accomplishment otherwise impossible. The Hidden Brain podcast introduced me to his work.

This book has inspired and supported me in my goals of completing fiction and nonfiction.

Right now, the principles are immensely helpful as I write thirty poems in thirty days for the poetry marathon that is the 30/30 Project, raising funds for Tupelo Press. 

Technology entices, especially during the pandemic. Without social media connections and the little zings of conversation, life can feel like a batch of chocolate chip cookie dough in which someone left out the sugar, as well as the chocolate chips. 

What I'm saying, what we don't hear enough, is that foregoing the thrill of online connections is hard.  

And so I try to create tech-free times: an hour or two in the morning, and on Sundays, a phone-free Sabbath. The morning feels especially powerful: it happens every single day. After I'm awake, I have a smooth, fresh, inviting playfield like the sandy beach I get to walk near my Oregon Coast home. It is a beautiful thing to make footprints in newly-minted, barren sand.

Is your morning protected, nurturing? Or is it trafficked every which way with all sizes and shapes of passersby?

From time to time (yesterday, Day One of the marathon) I notice that I am not getting anything accomplished in the day, basically. An honest assessment means usually admitting that my social media addiction is playing a role. As one of my favorite Wildfire Writers, Jessica Slatten says, "It's faux work. It makes you look busy, but you're not really accomplishing anything." 

It helps me to review Deep Work, or Nicholas Carr's The Shallows, or to listen to other sage reminders of what technology is doing to my brain. I am not going off grid anytime soon, though. I must balance my Party Girl with my Monk, my social butterfly-ing with my silent, aloof ascetic. 

I can't ignore the struggle. I can't go numb to it, or enter a sweet denial in which I blissfully hum along, texting, posting, giggling, meeting interruption a hundred times a day and pretending I don't really care whether or not I complete my writing projects.

 I invite you to think critically about the role technology is playing in your life, and in your time. What could you accomplish if you didn't have to constantly tend to it, like a puppy in your lap at all hours of the day? I challenge you to challenge yourself, and set some limits, and find out how you can change your brain to one that pays deep attention to your most powerful goals. 


*The audiobook version pictured lists different authors.

Extra! Extra! Sensory! You've Got More Than Five Senses!

For twenty years, I've been pressing writing students, "Use the five senses!" 

It's a simple formula that transforms your writing. Scenes, stories, poems–they all come alive when you invite us to breathe, smell, taste with you. Senses on every page are a brilliant way to vivify fiction and nonfiction alike.

But now I'm behind the times. Scientists have uncovered far more than five senses in the human repertoire. Your sense of balance, for instance. Write about a dizzying feeling! It can belong to you, or to one of your characters on the page. The fancy word is equilibrioception.

Another sense, which can make any story compelling, is that of hunger. How would you describe the gnawing, yawning, empty, or growling feeling of a belly asking for food?

A third sense is thermoception, which is the ability to detect heat. What is the sensation of trudging through a desert landscape, or simmering alongside a summertime pool? By the same token, we can feel cold within our bodies, from our chest to our toes, to the tips of our ears; or we can sense a chill that comes from the outside.

Another interesting sense is proprioception. This is feeling where you are in space, and includes the giddy feeling standing on a twentieth floor balcony, or the precariousness of walking a tightrope. 

Wake up to your senses - they are legion, and they fill each human moment with possibility! For more, check out Wisegeek.

Letter from the 9-Year-Old Boy on the Bus

Some time ago, when I had to commute for work, I met this kid.

He sat in the back of the bus with a somber expression.

He burnished a Moleskine notebook in his long, thin fingers. He chewed on the eraser end of a pencil.

He spent most of the time writing and looking out the window.

Every now and then he would say something, usually something that made me think.

Currently, with the state of the world, I'm not riding the bus. So I was beyond thrilled to get a letter from him in the mail. We've been corresponding since then.

Every philosopher needs an audience, I guess. So I'm passing along excerpts from the 9-year-old boy on the bus.

Dear Lady Who Carries A Backpack:

Glad you're staying home and mostley happy. But you don't always have to be happy. Some people think emotions can only do one thing at a time.

It’s not true. My emotions can usually do five things at a time, with a sixth emotion doing double time.

Most people who survive awful things are the funniest people you ever met in your life.

Aunt Rosabun, she juggles spatulas between flipping three pans of pancakes, but she lived in an orphanadge once. And my bus driver had his teeth knocked out when he was 9 but his new teeth lasted him all the way to 74, which is now, and he was voted Most Handsome Smile by all the girls at Klamath Falls High School.

Anyway, emotions are interesting if you’re the kind of person who invents things in the kitchen.

Today I found out, too much apple juice in chocolate peanut butter cookies doesn’t work--

IT’S TOO STICKY--but a little is just right.

What I love is mixing sticky and fruity plus crunchy or sour. Plus the dark, heavy feelings. And sprinkle the thin, shredded ones on top. Sometimes you’re in the mood for grainy ones. That can be good, too, if you like nutrition.

You have to be careful not overmixing.

Also, your oven has to be hot.

Also, maybe your emotional taste buds aren’t ready. They have to get mature. You might have to wait to grow up some.


P.S. It snowed right after we got sent home. How weird and cool is that? We'd never be able to make a snowman if we couldn't freeze our fingers off and laugh at the same time.