Paul’s Blog

Writing prompt: A whisper on the stairs. (1)

Sometimes I write a short piece starting from a writing prompt. One of those prompts was “A whisper on the stairs”. As an additional challenge, I decided to write 2 different short pieces on that same prompt. Following is the first one.

A whisper on the stairs. (1)

Harmony ran down the stairs as fast as she could. “Argh, this drives me crazy!” she exclaimed, bolting into the living room with her hands over her ears. “Why can’t anyone DO something about it?”

 Melody and Reed looked up at their sister. Reed shrugged and did not feel the need to answer Harmony. This was old, very old, and never got them anywhere.

 Cadence shook her head and made her harp screech, while Sonata didn’t react at all.

 Harmony sat down and looked annoyed. “And my room is up there,” she complained, not compensating the serenity that had run out of the room as she had run in.

 Melody sighed. “My room is up there too. Don’t get so worked up about it, sis. We all knew that we could expect this. We were warned when we bought this house? Remember that man who told us about it being haunted and stuff like that? We laughed at it. We laughed even harder when we heard how cheap the house was. Now we know why. So get yourself together, for God’s sake.”

 Harmony looked angrily over the cushion she held in front of her. “I know, I know, but that doesn’t make me like this. Why is it me that the ghost always tries to grope?”

 Reed put down his book about Mozart. “That is indeed a bit of a worry, Harmony. But he only pinches your bottom, nobody sees the blue spots there.”

 The cushion flew and landed in his face. “Don’t give me that, Reed. It’s not my fault I don’t have a boyfriend.”

“Not your fault, but clearly your problem,” Reed calmly stated as he put the cushion next to him.

Melody glanced at her sister. “Maybe we should try and talk to it.”

“Talk to it?” Harmony stared at Melody. “Are you nuts, Mel? Come on, I hit Reed in the face with the cushion, not you.”

Cadence put her harp to the side and said she was going up to the kitchen. “Anyone want something from there? Coffee, orange juice?”

Sonata nodded without taking her eyes from the Top Gear magazine she was reading. She always did. And so she always got the wrong thing to drink, but that was no one’s problem except hers.

Cadence shrugged, then left. Harmony started talking about the new song she was going to sing soon, when their sister cried out from the hall. The other siblings, even Sonata, stormed through the door, to see Cadence halfway up the stairs, clutching her skirt around her knees. She screamed again as something clearly tried to pull her skirt, then her blouse.

Reed ran up the stairs, put an arm around Cadence’s shoulders and guided her down. “See, nothing’s wrong, dear sister.”

Harmony and Melody looked at each other. Nothing wrong, my ass.

Sonata helped Reed to get Cadence back into the room, so the other two went up to the kitchen and returned with the coffee and the juice.

Then Melody sat up. “I have an idea. Harmy, come with me. I need you for that.”

Harmony growled. She hated to be called Harmy, but followed Mel out of the room anyway. The two were gone for quite a while, and when they returned they grinned and giggled.

Harmony rubbed her behind before she sat down, but looked smug.

“Reed, can you go up the stairs and see if the windows there are closed?” Melody asked their brother. “It looks like rain’s coming.”

Reed sighed as he put down his book. “Mozart will never forgive you,” he declared. Then he left the room.

 “Mozart’s problem,” Harmony said.

 “What did you do out there?” Cadence asked. “The ghost attacked me, it really did. I swear.”

 “We know,” Melody nodded, “that is why we went up the stairs. And there we whispered.”

 “You what?” Even Sonata looked up.

 Before Melody could answer, a loud alarming cry came from the hall. It sounded very much like Reed.

 The three sisters left the room and found their brother doubled over on the landing, halfway up the stairs. The spot where they had been ‘handled’ by the ghost.

 “He grabbed my balls!” Reed kept yelling, “he grabbed my balls!”

 “Looks like it worked,” Harmony grinned. She and Melody did a high-five.

 “What worked?” Cadence insisted.

 “We convinced the ghost that he’s gay.”

Writer’s block

Strangest request ever (so far). A friend called me and asked if I could help an author friend of hers. This author lady hit writer’s block and hopes I can help her through that. Oy. I thought up a few things and sent them to her. She said they actually seem to work!

I’m going to list here what I advised her to do. This is not a prescription that will work for anyone, it is just something I thought of.

What I told her to do:

– write down a number of key words on the subject you are trying to write about. Write a word on a separate line and add some white space between the lines. No need to have the words make sense, random is fine.

– beneath that, write down a number of key words that are entirely unrelated to the piece you are trying to write about. Add the same amount of white space between those words. Again, random is fine, and don’t think about them.

– next thing to do is to just write down a few lines about how you feel about the piece you’re writing, even if it is not finished yet. Is it fun to write about? Does it fascinate you? Do you hate it? Curse all you want if you need, these lines are just for you. Loosen up your emotions.

Now you go back to the key words. Pick one and write a short sentence that relates to the word. It is not important if it is a word that connects to the piece or not, just write something. Even if it is a nonsense sentence.

Wait a few minutes. Do something entirely different than writing. Then come back and tackle another word. Now take one from the other category (the non-related if you did a related word or vice versa). Write a sentence with / about that. Then you return to the sentence you wrote before this one. Is it a good one? Stupid? If you see something you can improve, change that in this sentence.

Repeat this exercise with each word. Leave it for a bit, tackle the next word, and look at the previous sentence (just go back one word, not all of them). Again, it does not matter what you write, just that you write. If you think that a sentence is okay, leave that and take on another word, another sentence. Once you handled all the words and sentences, try and add a new sentence to each block/word, in the same way.

It is important to keep yourself going with this. Also note that this is meant to be a fun exercise. Be silly if you want, and only slowly change things towards what you are trying to achieve. There should not be any pressure. Pressure will lock you down again and make this exercise a complete waste of time.

When you are able to make all these sentences, and at a certain point you wipe all of them together, you already have a lot of material to work from. To expand. To write your book from.

When you hit a brick wall with these words, think up some more key words. Try to find them from different perspectives, like a person inside the story (if it is a story), or a narrator, an observer, the protagonist, or the antagonist. If you write something non-fiction, try to find ways into it with other words, from other viewpoints, from old and young people, from interested ones and from those who don’t care. And do not forget to also write the nonsense words, because they are important. They are meant to distract your mind. They force you to look at things in another way.

Good luck.

Let me add that this all happened several weeks ago. And yesterday I received an e-mail from her that she finished the book and did so well within the deadline.

How Hilda the Wicked Witch was “born”

Back in 2009 I often wrote stories together with a number of writer-friends. We competed in Nanowrimo and had a lot of fun.

One day, someone had the idea not to wait for November, but to start our own little competition, writing 20,000 words in 2 weeks. Of course, we all were game and so decided to do it. Which brought the big question: “What am I going to write about?”

The race would be off only a day or so later, so I had to do some very quick thinking on a subject. I needed something that would give me a lot of flexibility in the story. No matter how much I try to render my internal editor unconscious, I do need my stories to make sense and be coherent. I really don’t know anymore how exactly it happened, but I thought of a witch. And I wanted her to be wicked without being mean. Definitely not a Glinda the good witch from the North, from the Wizard of Oz. Plenty of good witches around. But the witch should not be mean and horrible. I don’t like mean or horrible.

I think I succeeded with my witch.

Yes, she can use strong language. Yes, she mercilessly does things that are not mainstream. But those are the traits for a wicked witch.

I’m proud of Hilda.

Nanowrimo 2009

Now why would I bring up something ancient like a story from 2009? And you may ask, dear reader, what is a Nanowrimo?

Last things first: Nanowrimo is a challenge to write a novel in a month. A novel of at least 50,000 words. This amounts to around 1680 words per day, and more if you slip a day. Think of a book of about 100 pages, for easier reference.

In 2009 I did Nanowrimo for the third time. The story developed from a very short story I had written on the prompt of a friend. The prompt was: “Did they use Bactine?” At that time I was not even aware that Bactine is a first aid liquid, as it is an American product and unknown in the Netherlands.

The story is about a soldier on a star base who gets hurt badly, fixed up, set up, thrown out of the military in a halfway decent manner and ends up with a ‘special assignment’. He is sent to a planet far away, where a number of interesting things are waiting for him in an equally interesting environment.

It came out a cross between science-fiction and steampunk, at least that is how it feels to me. I am currently editing the book (trust me, writing 136,000 words in one month desperately calls for editing), so it is acceptable for publishing on Smashwords and affiliates.

If you, dear reader, have an appreciation for scifi and steampunk, it might be an idea to keep your eyes open for “Bactine”. Of course, I will keep everyone informed about the progress on this book, on this very weblog.

Below is a small snippet from “Bactine”, at the point where Daniel has returned from a mission that almost went wrong. It is the point where his future will change dramatically.

Continue reading “Nanowrimo 2009”

Ebooks Ltd.

How sad it is that many publishers still think that the world is as limited as they want it to be.

Often I find  it it hard to buy a certain e-book.

Thou shalt not shop

Whenever I see such a message, I shake my head. Does the publishing world not see that they are limiting their own income? They hold the rights to distribute books everywhere. Instead of allowing someone to hand them money for a digital copy of the book, they prefer to wait until someone buys the rights to distribute the book in a certain region of the world. I am sure that, once such a sale is made, this is much more profitable for the publisher than selling the few copies that they could manage themselves. But… if they only sell a few copies, would that not be the same for the person buying the rights?

Would you buy an expensive right for selling only a handful of books? Hardly, unless you are a philanthropist. Lots of e-books will never be sold in my part of the world, simply because there is not enough audience for them, making the sale of the rights to them very unlikely.

I have engaged in a few e-mail discussions with publishers about this strange behaviour. And the strange reply I have received more than once is: “No, you can’t have the e-book. But you can buy the paper version from us!” Uhm… I did not buy an e-reader so I can buy more dead-tree books. Another interesting reply I once received was: “The author did not tell us to distribute the book world-wide.” Uhm, hello, aren’t you as the publisher in some way responsible for perhaps reminding an author that there is more than the United States in this world? That there are more people who want to buy the works? An author is someone who writes books. A publisher, to me, is someone who should have a good view on publishing and distributing these books.

For now the publishing industry makes the same mistakes that the music industry made many years ago. L’histoire se répète, history repeats itself. Why would they learn from each other, right? Everyone is entitled to their own mistakes.

This is one of the reasons I am grateful for places like Smashwords, where I never had the misfortune of seeing a message as shown above. Another reason to be happy is that more and more authors are looking at self-publishing, to avoid these weird publishing restrictions.

I do not want to pirate the books I want to read. I am more than willing to pay for good books. So, publishing industry, let me give you my money.