Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Where the Wild Ideas Are

Today's chain question comes from Shaun whose book, The Deathday Letter, you can (and should) buy right now just by clicking this link. Just think of it. That little purchasing high after clicking the buy button. And then the pleasure of knowing something will soon arrive in your mailbox that isn't a bill or an annoying advertisement for something you don't want. And on top of all that - you also get an awesome book. Win, win, win.

Okay, and now on to the question.

From where do you get your inspiration for stories? Give me the oddest, coolest, things that have inspired you.

Usually I start with a character as my jumping off point. My first novel had a heroine who was a telemarketer - a position I know personally and painfully well after a three month stint the summer before my freshman year of college.

My urban fantasy started with the idea of a main character who stole people's identities, and when she steals the wrong person's (or creature in this case - that's where the whole fantasy part comes in) identity, and people believe she actually is that person... well wackiness ensues. I think I was partially inspired by those great Citibank commercials about identity theft.

In the end that character changed while I was writing and I dropped the whole identity theft angle altogether, which is how it often happens for me. I'll start at one place, and end up in a completely different one once the story gets going and takes over things.

What about you - where do your ideas come from?

And for more blog chain goodness check out Shannon before me and Amanda directly after!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


I'm last in line this time on the blog chain, which is actually a pretty great place to be, because I get to read all the excellent responses of all the amazing writers who came before (with Shannon over at daily pie directly before me - definitely check it out.). Amanda brought us our latest question, and from what I have read it seems to be a question that is incredibly relevant to every writer's life:

What do you do to keep yourself motivated when you feel like you're not making any progress in your writing career?

Sitting down and stringing a story together word by painstaking word is not backbreaking labor, but it is hard. There are so many distractions and so many other things that are so much easier to do - like surfing the Internet, or reading a book, or watching TV, or picking your nose. I can - and have - burned away hours where I meant to be writing, but first I need to check out that shoe sale online or have a little Gmail chat and then - oops - the kids are crying, nap time is over, and the window has closed.

Honestly, for me, motivation boils down to two things.

One is habit. I always find it easier to sit down to write when I get into a daily routine. And I always find it more difficult after any extended break - whether that be weeks or days - to get back into it.

Two is how I make myself get back into it after those extended breaks. And how I do that is... well, it's the same way that I make myself climb onto the elliptical and sweat through thirty minutes of either the "cardio" or "fatburn" program three times a week. Or the same way that I make myself walk on by the Little Debbie and Krispy Kreme displays in the grocery store.

Okay, yes, just like sometimes I can't find the motivation to write, I also sometimes can't find the motivation to exercise or to resist the lure of mass-produced baked goods. But most of the time I do, and that's because I remind myself that denial of what I want in the now, will lead to greater rewards in the later. And whether that reward is being able to fit into my jeans or having a writing career - it all comes down to listening to that internal drill instructor.

You know what? I just realized there is a third part to staying motivated. I find that motivation goes hand in hand with inspiration. Now this doesn't mean I only write when the writing fairy comes and sprinkles her magical idea dust over me. No, that writing fairy is a fickle little witch. No, the inspiration I'm talking about is when you read something that reaches all the way inside of you and just kind of shakes you fully awake. It takes you inside and out of yourself all in the same moment.

I've recently come across two poems that gave me this feeling, and although they are both a bit long I want to post them both here. Maybe they''ll give you a little shake too.

The first poem was written by a man who was permanently paralyzed at age 12 by a bicycle accident. He has also written a memoir, "One More Theory About Happiness" which you can read an excerpt of here.

User's Guide To Physical Debilitation

From 'My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge'

Should the painful condition of irreversible paralysis
last longer than forever or at least until
your death by bowling ball or illegal lawn dart
or the culture of death, which really has it out
for whoever has seen better days
but still enjoys bruising marathons of bird watching,
you, or your beleaguered caregiver
stirring dark witch's brews of resentment
inside what had been her happy life,
should turn to page seven where you can learn,
assuming higher cognitive functions
were not pureed by your selfish misfortune,
how to leave the house for the first time in two years.
An important first step,
with apologies for the thoughtlessly thoughtless metaphor.
When not an outright impossibility
or form of neurological science fiction,
sexual congress will either be with
tourists in the kingdom of your tragedy,
performing an act of sadistic charity;
with the curious, for whom you will be beguilingly blank canvas;
or with someone blindly feeling their way
through an extended power outage
caused by summer storms you once thought romantic.
Page twelve instructs you how best
to be inspiring to Magnus next door
as he throws old Volkswagens into orbit
above Alberta. And to Betty
in her dark charm confiding a misery,
whatever it is, that to her seems equivalent to yours.
The curl of her hair that her finger knows
better and beyond what you will,
even in the hypothesis of heaven
when you sleep. This guide is intended
to prepare you for falling down
and declaring detente with gravity,
else you reach the inevitable end
of scaring small children by your presence alone.
Someone once said of crushing
helplessness: it is a good idea to avoid that.
We agree with that wisdom
but gleaming motorcycles are hard
to turn down or safely stop
at speeds which melt aluminum. Of special note
are sections regarding faith
healing, self-loathing, abstract hobbies
like theoretical spelunking and extreme atrophy,
and what to say to loved ones
who won't stop shrieking
at Christmas dinner. New to this edition
is an index of important terms
such as catheter, pain, blackout,
pathological deltoid obsession, escort service,
magnetic resonance imaging,
loss of friends due to superstitious fear,
and, of course, amputation
above the knee due to pernicious gangrene.
It is our hope that this guide
will be a valuable resource
during this long stretch of boredom and dread
and that it may be of some help,
however small, to cope with your new life
and the gradual, bittersweet loss
of every God damned thing you ever loved.

David Rakoff's "Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace"

from This American Life #389: Frenemies. (I actually heard this before reading it, and hearing it read aloud was amazing - totally worth downloading the program on ITunes just to have a listen.)

Nathan, at one of the outlying tables,

his feet tangled up in the disk jockey's cables,

surveyed the room as unseen as a ghost

while he mulled over what he might say for his toast.

That the couple had asked him for this benediction

seemed at odds with them parking him here by the kitchen.

That he turned up at all was still a surprise,

and not just to him, it was there in the eyes

of the guests who had seen the mirage and drew near

and then covered their shock with a "Nathan, you're here.."

and then, silence, they had nothing to say beyond that.

A few of the braver souls lingered to chat.

They all knew...

It was neither a secret nor mystery

that he and the couple had quite an odd history.

Their bonds were a tangle of friendship and sex.

Josh, his best pal once, and Patty, his ex.

For awhile he could barely go out in the city

without being a punchline or object of pity.

"Poor Nathan" had virtually become his new name.

And so he showed up, just to show he was game,

though, his invite was late, a forgotten addendum.

For Nate, there could be no more clear referendum

that he need but endure through this evening and then

He would likely not see Josh and Patty again.

Josh's sister was speaking, a princess in peach.

Nathan dug in his pocket to study his speech.

He'd pored over bartlets for couplets to filch,

he'd stayed up until three, still came up with zilch,

except for instructions he'd underscored twice,

just two words in length and those words were: "Be Nice"

Too often, he thought, our emotions betray us

and reason departs once we're up on the dais.

He'd witnessed uncomfortable moments where others had lost their way quickly,

where sisters and brothers had gotten too prickly,

and peppered their babbling

with stories of benders,or lesbian dabbling,

or spot-on impressions of mothers-in-law,

which, True, Nathan thought, always garnered guffaws

but the price seemed too high, with the laughs seldom cloaking

hostility masquerading as joking.

No, he'd swallow his rage and he'd bank all his fire,

he knew that in his case, the bar was set higher.

Folks were just waiting for him to erupt.

They'd be hungry for blood even though they had supped.

They'd want tears or some other unsightly reaction

and Nathan would not give them that satisfaction.

Though Patty, a harlot, and Josh was a lout,

At least Nathan knew what he'd not talk about.

"I won't wish them divorce, that they wither and sicken

or tonight that they choke on their salmon or chicken.

I won't mention that time when the cottage lost power

in that storm on the cape and they left for an hour.

And they thought it was just the cleverest ruse

to pretend it took that long to reset the fuse.

Or that time Josh advised me with so much insistence

that I should grant Patty a little more distance.

That the worst I could do was to hamper and crowd her

that if Patty felt stifled, she'd just take a powder.

That a plant needs its space just as much as its water.

and that I shouldn't give Patty that ring that I bought her.

Which, in retrospect only elicits a 'Gosh,

I hardly deserved a friend like you, Josh'.

No, I won't spill those beans or make myself foolish

to satisfy appetites venal and ghoulish.

I will not be the blot on this hellish affair."

And with that, Nathan pushed out and rose from his chair.

and just by the tapping of knife against crystal,

all eyes turned his way, like he'd fired off a pistol.

"Mmmhmm, Joshua, Patricia, dear family and friends,

A few words, if you will, before everything ends.

You've promised to honor, to love and obey.

We've quaffed our champagne and been cleansed by sorbet,

all in endorsement of your ‘hers and his-dom’.

So now let me add my two cents worth of wisdom.

I was racking my brain sitting here at this table,

until I remembered this suitable fable

that gets at a truth, though it may well distort us,

so herewith the tale of the scorpion and tortoise:

The scorpion was hamstrung, his tail all aquiver;

just how would he manage to get across the river?

“The water’s so deep,” he observed with a sigh,

which pricked at the ears of the tortoise nearby.

“Well why don’t you swim?” asked the slow-moving fellow,

“unless you’re afraid. I mean, what are you, yellow?”

“It isn’t a matter of fear or of whim,”

said the scorpion,

“but that i don’t know how to swim.”

“Ah, forgive me. I didn’t mean to be glib when

i said that. I figured you were an amphibian.”

“No offense taken,” the scorpion replied,

“but how about you help me to reach the far side?

You swim like a dream, and you have what I lack.

Let’s say you take me across on your back?”

“I’m really not sure that’s the best thing to do,”

said the tortoise, “now that i see that it’s you.

You’ve a less than ideal reputation preceding:

there’s talk of your victims all poisoned and bleeding.

You’re the scorpion — and how can I say this — but, well,

I just don’t feel safe with you riding my shell.”

The scorpion replied, “What would killing you prove?

We’d both drown, so tell me: how would that behoove

me to basically die at my very own hand

when all I desire is to be on dry land?”

The tortoise considered the scorpion’s defense.

When he gave it some thought, it made perfect sense.

The niggling voice in his mind he ignored,

and he swam to the bank and called out: “Climb aboard!”

But just a few moments from when they set sail,

the scorpion lashed out with his venomous tail.

The tortoise too late understood that he’d blundered

when he felt his flesh stabbed and his carapace sundered.

As he fought for his life, he said, “tell me why

you have done this! For now we will surely both die!”

“I don’t know!” cried the scorpion. “You never should trust

a creature like me because poison I must!

I’d claim some remorse or at least some compunction,

but I just can’t help it; my form is my function.

You thought I’d behave like my cousin, the crab,

but unlike him, it is but my nature to stab.”

The tortoise expired with one final quiver.

And then both of them sank, swallowed up by the river.

The tortoise was wrong to ignore all his doubts —

because in the end, friends, our natures will out.

So: what can we learn from their watery ends?

Is there some lesson on how to be friends?

I think what it means is that central to living

a life that is good is a life that’s forgiving.

We’re creatures of contact, regardless of whether

we kiss or we wound. Still, we must come together.

Though it may spell destruction, we still ask for more —

since it beats staying dry but so lonely on shore.

So we make ourselves open while knowing full well

it’s essentially saying, “please, come pierce my shell.”

Sorry about wonky formatting - anytime I try to copy and paste into blogger it is a complete mess.

And to end this very long post - a question - How do you stay motivated?