Your Setting

Surround yourself with things that make you want to write.

This is a lesson I’m learning more and more.  As you learn more about the world, you begin to find a million things that lead you in all directions.  Watching a foreign film makes you want to learn French.  Reading about adventure makes you want to travel the world.  Meeting a champion juggler makes you never want to juggle ever, and that’s that.  All these are great.  If you’re like me, you know that most things are within reach, and with a little work you can achieve them.  Learning French, traveling the world, never juggling— all worthwhile goals.

But do you remember the moment you decided you wanted to write?

If you’re a different kind of artist, or your career lies elsewhere, substitute your dream whenever I say the word “write”.  This applies to anything.

As a kid, I read a lot of Brian Jacques books, and I’ve posted before about how much they mean to me.  Through reading and imagining, I began to dream about writing my own stories.  For the past four years, that’s what I’ve been doing, and I love it.  I love daydreaming about it and pushing toward that goal.

The path has its ups and downs, though, like anything.  You start off shot from a cannon, propelled by your amazing inspiration and genuine love for what you’re doing.  Then, of course, comes the letdown when you actually realize you’ve got a long way ahead of you.  But you pick yourself up and keep moving, and you enjoy the work for a while.  Then you poke your head up and look around, and start comparing yourself to other people, and you wonder what you’re actually doing. (more…)

Puffins, Pebbles, and Prattling On

Today I delivered a lecture on the steps to becoming a certified evil genius.  Of course, I know nothing of this.  After half an hour of thinking up obvious tests, I was out of ideas.  Donning a professor-style jacket, I found a suitable audience and lectured them.  Laser pointer in hand, I explained to my stuffed puffin all the ins and outs of becoming an evil genius, hoping it would spark the creative inferno I needed to char-broil the short story simmering within me.

It didn’t.  But I gained an appreciation for talking.  And puffins.

Though I say a lot on this blog, I don’t tell you everything.  Myriad ideas pop into my head every day, and in paroxysms of paranoia, I usually refrain from telling them to you.  If I can’t write enough about a subject, I don’t post it, so most of my sentence-long ideas don’t get published.  Unfortunately, to become real, those ideas need the opposite.  Repetition fleshes out ideas.  Sometimes you must slow yourself down and clear your mind.  You must become one with the harmony of the universe and all that stuff.

Not really.  But it is important to slow yourself down and think about your words.

For the Teens Can Write, Too blog chain eight months ago, the prompt was “Why do you write?”  The last paragraph of that novel-length post says this:

[Writing] is a way to clear thoughts.  It has the same capacity to aid you as talking to yourself does.  Both things help get your thoughts into orderly fashion, and thus will help you think about them better.  I’ve had ideas floating around in my head for days and weeks at a time, during which period I don’t progress at all in their development.  Then I write them down and new ideas flood in.  I suppose I could also just go around talking to myself all day, but my friends think I’m crazy enough already.

I have only two things to add: What friends?  And who says you have to talk to yourself in public?  My puffin is an excellent audience.  My whiteboard is an excellent whiteboard.  My laser pointer is an excellent laser pointer.  What more do I need?

Some people have living dogs, cats, or mutant hippopotamuses.  Some people have friends that stand their ground when you explain time travel.  (Personally, I can’t imagine running away from any time travel conversation.)  But in the end, it doesn’t matter who you speak to– the act of speaking clarifies your thoughts, whether you have a live audience or a pebble.  Speak naturally, though– introduce yourself to your audience, explain things in depth as if your pebble actually has the brains of a pebble, and make jokes at your audience’s expense.  If you feel like you’re talking to a pebble, your imagination is pathetic.

Try it sometime.  Get an audience and explain to it the most complicated concept in your thoughts at the moment.  If you do it in a different accent, I shall salute you.


Today I played in a four hundred-strong youth orchestra that could barely keep the tempo and key through each piece.  I’ve played in the same orchestra, with the same conductors (a different one for each piece), with the same pieces, for three years now.  This massive orchestra played its music in the middle of a shopping mall, surrounded by a crowd of parents mixed with people who only wanted to get to the food court.  The acoustics were horrible, the players varied from amazing to mediocre, the ages varied from eighteen to eight, and it wasn’t an astounding performance by any stretch of the imagination.  These pieces were so familiar to me, I played half of them by memory.

I had so much fun.

There are things in life that aren’t fun.  There are things in life that are boring.  There are things in life that deserve to fall from the roof and spend the next three months in a coma, dreaming about purple canaries.  But all of that can change, without ordering today– just call the number on your screen! (more…)

5 Ways to Explain “What’s Up”

Whenever I am asked the question “What’s up”, I never know how to respond.  The old, sarcastic response of “the sky”?  That’s been used too often.  Should I answer with the real answer to the question, a summary of what is happening in my life?  Since the phrase has come into common use, it’s no longer thought of as a question of what someone is doing, but just as a generic greeting.  Nevertheless, some answer is required, and an awkward silence should be avoided at all costs.  In order to utterly destroy awkward silences in this end of conversation, I give you a list of 5 ways to answer the question “What’s up?” (more…)

Once… Twice… Thrice!

First of all, I wanted to call this post The Power of Three, but that sounds cliched, useless, and rather like I’m writing an Avengers fanfiction with only three people on the team– The Revengers Reassemble.

Bad post titles aside, however, this post is just to share a link I thought very interesting: Rule of three (writing) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  Skim through that.  It’s quite an interesting idea– that things in three are inherently funnier and more satisfying than other things.  Take, for instance, the comedic triplet I used in the first paragraph to describe my failed blog post title.  For some reason, things in threes work.  No idea why.

Anyway, I don’t have anything to add to that article.  Enjoy.


There was recently posted on a friendly blog a list of tips from the author Heather Vogel Frederick.  You can find that at the link blow:

Guest Post: Heather Vogel Frederick.

That was really helpful.  I can’t say I really like the author, though long ago I read some of the author’s works and enjoyed them fairly well.  I don’t remember much, but I do know that the storytelling was vivid and the characters seemed real– that was enough to make me pay real attention to this list.  I encourage you to do the same, if you’re interested in writing.


Oops, I’ve Created Something Evil

Here is the third interview in a series of character interviews from my August novel, Fathoming Egression.  We have interviewed two side characters already: Theo (David) and Captain Victor the Coat-peg.  Now it’s time for the one and only villain I have ever created to be introduced to the world.  His name is Egress, and he wants to rule the world.  Great start, right?  Time for the interview.

  1. What is his occupation?  He is one of the five rulers of Vorse.  Invincible, he can only die from natural causes– no malicious intent allowed.  A perk of his job is getting energy from the vast supplies that Vorse sucks in from its living and moving occupants; instead of having energy taken from him, he receives it, giving him a longer endurance, faster movement, and longer life.
  2. What are his obsessions?  Would it be overkill to say “world domination”?  As a ruler of Vorse, he has sworn to keep the human race safe from mass suicide, such as killing each other over the right to say nasty things about their respective mothers, or all migrating into the far reaches of inhospitable outer space.  But he takes this to a new height: in his mind, the only way to keep humans from getting themselves killed is to repress them.  He wants to enclose the Earth in a way that no one would have the desire to explore anything, and thus would never go into dangerous places.  Trash couldn’t be dumped into outer space, and radioactivity would never really disperse– thereby reducing pollution of the globe and wanton nuclear demonstrations.  It would take humans a few years to get used to the fact that anything they do affects everyone, but they’d get used to it.  He is working for a good cause, but the only way he can think to do it is to rule the world with an iron fist. (more…)

Everything You Need to Know About Your Favorite Coat-Peg!

Following my recent success with a character interview for the blog event Beautiful People, I’m going to do some more, outside of the blog event.  Since I’ll be outlining Fathoming Egression‘s plot (working title), I’d better outline the characters, too.  I will use the same questions for each character, however, because I don’t have the time or energy to make up new ones each day.  Here is Captain Victor “the Coat-peg”.  Victor is, as his nickname implies, a coat-peg.  He is a gold coat-peg however– that, of course, makes him infinitely better.  He lives in Vorse and has no correspondent on Earth.  Now, on with the interview, shall we?

  1. What is his occupation?  Victor is a coat-peg, first and foremost.  He is situated at eye-level on the back of a wooden door aboard a schooner called the Silver Spike.  He also captains the Spike.  He never leaves his cabin, never eats, never sleeps– and doesn’t need a single crew member.  He sails the Spike completely on his own, able to manipulate the wood of his ship with utmost precision.
  2. What are his obsessions?  He collects maps of Vorse, usually made by his good friend Theo.  Since the islands of Vorse change position and shape every 326 days, he needs a new one every year.  His cabin wall is plastered with outdated maps– records of how the world used to be.
  3. What is his dream?  To captain a flying ship.  As a coat-peg, he can only go where his ship can sail, and thus cannot travel on land or through the air.  When he was human, his wanderlust could be sated, but as a coat-peg he was deprived of many liberties.  Whether a ship can actually fly in Vorse remains to be seen. (more…)

Beautiful People– David and Theo

Beautiful People is a blog event hosted by Further Up and Further In, designed to force writers to get to know their characters.  I’ve looked at it over a few months and eventually decided to try it.  Usually there are ten questions asked by the instigator of Beautiful People, but this month people are so busy that they have left that task up to the participants.

I will be interviewing a character from my Camp NaNoWriMo August story, which hasn’t really come into being yet.  The character’s world is Earth, as well as Vorse, also called SUn 1 (working names– Supporting Universe one), the entrance to which is found in the sewers of Gooplebury.  The time is the present, though on Vorse the people have been forced to live in the past due to that world having to feed on the energy of everything and everyone inside it– all types of energy.  Fires burn cooler and not so brightly, things move slower (even kinetic energy is affected), people age more slowly.  Thus, mechanics are not too effective, and electricity is next to useless.  The character is David (while on Earth) or Theo (while on Vorse). (more…)

Firsts, Fours and Forgetting

I got a haircut a few days ago, each snip of the scissors meaning my head had less protection against crazy ideas like this:  I’ve had a new story idea including (but not limited to) the Gooplebury Sewage Works, recurring amnesia, a land of lakes, and the four corners of the Earth.  These ideas have come from anywhere and everywhere.

The first idea (the sewer one) was sparked by this innocent statement:  “If I were a giant semi-cylindrical object, I would be a water slide,” said by La Stranezza.  I, in turn, asked this question: “How many children’s fantasies have been set around a magical land found in the sewer?”  You can see how my mind works.

The second idea was sparked mostly from Brandon Mull’s Beyonders, book one.  In that story, the characters go into a cave where there’s a certain type of puffball mushroom that causes them to lose their previous memories, until the scent of puffballs is no longer in their nostrils.  It created a strange type of conundrum.  What I’m going to do is different, so I won’t be convicted of plagiarism, but it’s like that.  It will be a very interesting way to tell the story, let me tell you.

The third idea was sparked in the grocery store when I saw a package of Land-O’-Lakes cubed lard butter.  I began to think of a land of lakes, then an island community, then that connected with the sewer system.  Perfect!  Just don’t drink the water.

And the last idea was found this morning, when I was actually trying to get my plot straight.  (That’s a first for me!  Hip hip, hooray!)  The four corners of the Earth aren’t thought about, written about or hypothesized on much anymore, because as we all know, there are no corners to a sphere.  But I shall prove you all wrong!  Later.

There is one thing you can help me with…  What’s a less cliche, yet still awesome, artifact shape?  Let me put it in different terms.  You know the stone of Orthanc, from LotR?  It’s a glowing ball.  As are crystal balls, scrying spheres, elemental spheres, and any other really cool swirly-design artifact thingy you care to mention.  The fact is, spheres are cool but people use spheres a lot.  So I want something different.  A cube?  A pyramid?  An irregular geometric solid?  A bucket of gelatinous masses?  Or, I know!  Four ninety-degree angles, kept in the same temperatures.  I need your help.  What do you think?  Or should I make five corners of the earth?  Or thirteen?  That’s a bit hard to keep track of…

Anyway, I think this idea is one of the most thought-out ones I’ve gotten, as well as the most crazy.  I can’t wait to start it.  Well, I can because I still don’t have any characters.  (This one will have an antagonist, too!  Another first!)

The first chance I’ll get to write this is probably going to be this summer, in August, Camp NaNo.  I’ve still got two months to think it through.

Tips on Irking Young Cellists

Cellists are often irksome to non-cellists.  It’s not their instrument that’s bad; it’s their cockiness about the instrument, their disregard for the needs of other string players.  Their Subaru Outbacks become the targets for many angry looks as they putter around whistling Lalo or Popper etudes.  The younger members of this clan are even more exasperating.  Here are some easy things to do to annoy a young cellist.

Cases.  A cellist’s case is always in the way.  You leave the room for a short time and when you come back, the path to your seat is littered with cello cases of all colors, sizes and varieties.  If the cellist in question has a hard case, the solution is easy: give it to someone to use as a wheelbarrow, or better yet, a doorstop.  Even as a hiding place for bored younger siblings.  If the offending case is soft and floppy, an even better solution is available: umbrella.  If it’s raining, hold the case above your head, keeping yourself dry and giving the case back sopping wet.  If no inclement weather is scheduled for rehearsal day, no fear!  Doormats are always welcome.  Perhaps you need a stretcher because a violinist got a hangnail.  The possibilities are endless.

Endpins.  Cellists are so picky about their endpin length.  They play the instrument a little, then pull it onto their laps to pull the pin out a bit more.  If they don’t get it exactly right but still have to play, they’ll grimace horribly through the whole piece, giving more than one violinist and violist indigestion.  What can you do to rid them of this incessant problem?  What will make that pesky endpin difficulty go away forever?  Steal their endpin, of course.  Just slide it out of its little ring and slip it up your sleeve, to be used later for swordfighting practice in the back room.  No one will miss it.

Chairs.  Cellists are notoriously picky about their chairs.  It’s too high, it’s too low, it’s too saggy in the middle, it’s too bumpy around the edges, it’s color is too strange, it seems to channel the air uncomfortably.  Cellists can’t play without their perfect chairs.  You’re in a small concert hall where everyone has to stand?  Guess who can’t.  Yup– the cellists.  So what can we do?  Steal their chairs when they aren’t looking and replace it with a footstool or some such piece.  They’re too uncomfortable to play, but they’ve got to go on anyway.  It’s a flawless plan!

Dynamics.  Cellists go all over with their dynamics.  When they see pianissimo on the page, they go for it with full bows, closed eyes, rocking back and forth in their chairs, wide vibrato– and all this time they’ve been playing forte.  When it’s fortissimo, they play forte as well.  Their dynamic contrast is virtually nonexistent at best and completely nonexistent at worst.  What can we, the true musicians in the orchestra, do to fix this?  Con sordino.  When our friends the cellists aren’t looking– while they’re watching the clock and their watches by turns to see if one is slow, or when they’re telling their friends about the latest video game– slip the little mute up and over their bridge.  They won’t notice a difference; they’ll have their eyes closed.  The orchestra and audience will notice, however.

Tuning.  No matter how off their tuning is at first, a young cellist will only use his fine tuning pegs.  He doesn’t do the in-tune, out-of-tune, in-tune thing violins and violas do to get the pitches right; they just tweak until they can’t tweak no more.  It doesn’t matter to him if he’s still out of tune; he’s done the best he can.  If he’s called out for it, well, he’ll just ask the conductor to tune for him.  So what can we do to make his tuning experience… educational?  Tune his strings each to perfect fourths.  Now, if you’ve ever switched from any other string instrument to string bass or vice versa, you’ll know how devastating this is.  All of a sudden the strings are reversed.  Intervals are opposite, open strings are untrustworthy, and whatever you do, you cannot find the harmonic you wanted.  The perfect comeuppance for an imperfect cellist.

Use these tips and you’ll soon be the mortal enemy of everyone in the cello section.

Note: the opinions stated in this post are not the opinions of the author or any of those affiliated with the author.  The author claims no liability for any results of the procedures described here.  The author, believe it or not, is actually a nice person who likes cellos and most of their owners.