a blank slate

a blank slate

Tag: writing

For the love of writing

I miss my book club. A lot of people I know like to write and love to read. But there is something special about those who make time for it on the one free day of the week. My home town was a fairly culturally-active place. I have been missing that sense of intellectual stimulation in this new city, not because of a lack of it, but because I have hardly ventured out of the daily humdrum of the university. This past week was rather stressful for a number of reasons and I really needed that strangers-geeking-out-over-books feeling again. So I tracked down the next best thing, a writing club that was worth it.
As part of today’s activities, I wrote and read out two things that, if not anything else, at least helped get my entirely dried up creativity flowing again. For one, I enjoyed writing in an actual notebook as opposed to the laptop, I think the pen and paper awakened a new side of me. (The picture is sad, my scrawl does the Moleskine no justice.) I wanted to post edited versions of both stories and make it a regular thing, if, that is, I attend more of the meetups. I will explain the prompts at the end of each story. Ideally, it should stand alone. 
1. Untitled
It was a quiet morning. Mary took her usual route to school, but not without an uncanny worry. She felt as if her shadow had been cut away. At school, the children prodded her, “What is wrong, Mary?” The teachers wondered, “Why do you look so forlorn, Mary?” But their probing went unanswered.

Mary walked back home alone, her heart heavy, her mind in a dark place. “But why!” she asked herself, “but where!” At dinner too, Mary was awfully quiet, gulping down her food, stray tears in her eyes, until Mother asked, a mask of concern, “What is wrong, dear Mary, whatever is wrong now?” It is nothing, she replied in quiet voice. “I thought you would be happy today,” said Mother, “considering how Father took care of that wretched lamb.” 

“What do you mean?” Mary looked up. “The silly thing that has been following you around everywhere, what a nuisance. Your teachers gave us a call, you know.” “What did Father do?” Mary’s voice quivered. “Why, we just had it for dinner last night.”
Prompt: Pick a nursery rhyme and kill the main character. People wrote some really good things! Mine turned out weird, and you sort of see it coming. But it was the best I could do in ten minutes. Plots are not my turf. It was a cool warm-up though, for what was to follow.
2. Blinded

The flesh burned slowly and the night air grew thick with the stench. “Only one more left.” The man whispered to himself, “God forgive me, dear Lord, please forgive me.” He dragged the final corpse to the fire, a single high flame. He cut out the heart and threw it in. It sizzled and crackled. The man shut his eyes and crept away from the fire. He began to chant. Something in the forest came alive at his words, the wind rustled and the trees shivered. The man held out his hands beckoning the nether spirits to this world. Goosebumps flowered on every inch of his body, but he stood still. 

For a moment nothing happened. Then the air changed as something stirred to life. Had the man opened his eyes, he would have seen the fire turn crimson and then black. He did not, but he did feel a presence. The wind curled around his fingers and squeezed. A lump built in his throat. The man dared not open his eyes. Sight, the scriptures say, is the pathway to the soul. One look and a nether creature could eat you alive, but there was no other way. He needed them.

“You are here,” he finally whispered, and the wind howled back a yes. “I need help,” said the man, “I need you so much.” A throaty chill reverberated through the forest air, and in his mind, the man heard an echo. “We can help you, Julian Wyllen. We are here to help. You have served us and we are here to help.” “Oh, thank the Lord, thank you, God.” Julian whispered, and the chill replied, “Not the Lord.” The forest laughed, as the man fumbled with the cross on his neck. His heart thudded in quiet desperation.

“Do you have her,” he finally said, “I want her back. I need her back.” The air around his fingers was fluid now, almost liquid, hard and smooth. It curled around his hand and squeezed again, a tiny icy grip. The breath left his body. “Is she here?” Julian asked the forest. “Yes, father. I’m right here,” came a quiet voice from outside his head. A real voice. “Anne?” the man whispered and clutched at the liquid air around his fingers. It hardened and softened and moulded in his hand. Skin to skin. “Oh my Annie,” the man turned to her, then stiffened. The little hand had dissolved into air. The wind thundered with laughter.

The cold voice echoed in his thoughts, “Not so soon, Julian Wyllen. We offer no gifts. What have you for us?” Anything you want, the man said to himself, I shall give you anything you want. “A life in exchange for another,” replied the forest that was his mind. “Open your eyes. Look at us. Look at what you worship. And look at what we have brought you. Once done, she cannot be undone. What have you to lose.” “Nothing,” said the man. He had worked towards this moment, waited for his girl, for ten years. He had sacrificed everything. Now he would give up the only thing he had left. “Forgive me, Lord,” he whispered and opened his eyes.

The first thing Julian saw was the black fire. For a moment he was enraptured, then his focus shifted and he shouted, “Anne, Annie, my darling.” Julian spun around, bending down to hug her, when his mind caught up with his senses. It was dark, but even in the dull gloom he could see the cracks in her eyes. He cringed. She was a pale thing, the face as beautiful as he remembered, but it held no depth. “Oh Lord,” he gasped and gulped, and she opened her mouth. A rasping voice emerged from the pretty lips, “Thank you. You, Julian Wyllen, have served us and given us life. We shall remain grateful.” The wind howled through the forest. Then the voice changed. “Goodbye,” Anne cooed, as her face twisted into a smile. It was the last thing Julian Wyllen ever saw.
Prompt: This again requires a lot of reworking. I have edited it considerably since I returned home, but I stuck to the first idea I had. Forty minutes are too little to pen a story for me. The activity, however, was still interesting. We picked four books each for the character name, setting, mood and plot. My selections were Julian from Famous Five, a forest from the first page of Eragon, the emotion was distaste, though I forget the book, and the action was a passive waiting. 
Our titles came from a list of cocktails, randomly assigned. My pick was Blind Abbot. I did not directly use it as the title of the story, but I did heavily incorporate it into the theme. Google brings up a nice description for the drink, of coffee liqueur, cinnamon syrup, Irish whiskey, froth and cream, which if I did drink, I might even have liked. Then again, the cocktail has no relevance here, I decided to use the more ecclesiastic meaning of abbot. 
For a first attempt, the whole exercise went quite well. Even if I do a little of this every week, I think I will stay happily in touch with writing. Meanwhile, I would love to know what you think. Are you part of any book or writing clubs, virtual or otherwise? Do you find it helpful?

An Interview with author Hy Conrad of Rally ‘Round the Corpse



About the author: Best known for his work in mysteries, Hy was one of the original writers for the groundbreaking series, Monk.  He worked on the show for all eight seasons, the final two as Co-Executive Producer, and received three Edgar Nominations from the Mystery Writers of America for “Best TV Episode.” In a related project, Hy was Executive Producer and head writer of Little Monk, a series of short films featuring Adrian Monk as a ten-year-old.  His latest TV work was as writer and Consulting Producer for White Collar.
Hy is also the author of hundreds of short stories and ten books of short whodunits, which have been sold around the world in fourteen languages.  Hy’s first full-length comedy/mystery play, Home Exchange, premiered at the Waterfront Playhouse in Key West in May 2012.  He recently authored a humor book called Things Your Dog Doesn’t Want You to Know. Visit the author’s website right here

You can read my review of Rally ‘Round the Corpse. It’s a pretty great book, you can buy it here.
And, I hope you read and enjoy this interview as much as I did!
Thank you, Hy, for this great interview.


1. What inspired you to write Rally ‘Round the Corpse? What led you to the idea of the Abel
Adventures Mystery series? (Also, how long can we expect the series to be?)
Hy: A lot of my early mysteries were created for platforms and
electronic devices that no longer exist, including Clue VCR, a popular game
back in the mid-80s.
When the Internet came around, no one knew what kind of
content would be successful.  I was asked
by Prodigy (an early version of AOL) to write a mystery serial with a different
chapter every day and a different mystery every month.  The result was “Abel Adventures”, with Tom
Abel, a character similar to Amy Abel, who led adventure tours around the world.  This idea always stayed with me, even though
the original stories have been lost to time – and a few computer crashes.
I’m on my way to finishing book two in the series, “If I Die Before the Wake”.  I would love to continue the
concept.  But of course it all depends on
the popularity of the first two.
2. Which are your most memorable writing experiences? On the
other hand, what is your worst experience as a writer?
Hy: One of my favorite experiences, writing or not, was my time
spent on “Monk”.  To be with great, funny writers every day and
churning out a hit TV show…  There’s
nothing better.
My least favorite was when a network, which shall remain
nameless, hired me to turn one of their teenage sitcoms into a TV movie.  Their style was to ignore all my sincere requests
for feedback and then suddenly micromanage. 
“No, that’s not what we wanted. 
What made you think that?”  I
quit, the only time I quit a job, and went to work for “White Collar” instead.
Later I heard from the writer who took my place.  He was put through hell for over a year
before it finally got filmed.
3. Do you have any advice for budding writers, any “five things
to remember” when writing a mystery? What is the biggest mistake, according to
you, that a mystery writer could make?
Hy: Okay.  Five quick
rules.
  1. Pay attention to
    logic.  Mystery fans want it to all
    make sense.
  2. Action isn’t as important
    in a book as it is in a movie, e.g. don’t spend ten pages describing a
    fight or a car chase.
  3. Don’t be afraid of atmosphere.  There’s a reason why Swedish mysteries
    are popular.
  4. Give your characters
    different voices.  They shouldn’t
    all talk like you.
  5. As Elmore Leonard said,
    “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”  How did Cary Grant get off Mount
    Rushmore at the end of “North by Northwest”?  We don’t know and we don’t care.
The biggest mistake of new writers is to create a detailed
outline before starting.  If your story
has good bones to begin with, it will tell you where to go next.
4. Having written mysteries for a long time, how do you think the
genre has evolved over the years?
Hy: I think the best mysteries are a lot better than they used
to be, with great characters and great atmosphere.  The detectives are darker and the crimes more
imaginative and gruesome.  With the
exception of cozies, it takes itself much more seriously than it used to.
On the other hand, the worst mysteries are a lot worse.  With the advent of self-publishing and e-publishing,
anyone with a murderous thought has a book out there, competing for the same
eyeballs and wallets.  Remember, a free
e-book is not free.  You pay for it with
wasted hours and annoyance.

__

Check out the blog tour page for more reviews and interviews.

Guest Post: Dr. Lesley Phillips (author of The Midas Tree)


Today I’d like to welcome to my blog an author, Dr. Lesley Phillips, who has been kind enough to write a really great article for us on writing!


Dr. Lesley Phillips is a speaker, author, workshop leader, spiritual and meditation teacher based in Vancouver BC, Canada. She is the author of the book “The Midas Tree,” a spiritual adventure story for children of all ages.



The Connection between Intuition and Imagination


Since
writing my book, The Midas Tree, I made an interesting observation. What many
writers call their imagination is what I call my intuition. I am a meditation
teacher and intuitive counselor, and I use my spiritual senses on a daily basis
in my work with students and clients.



I Wrote “The Midas Tree” Using My Intuition
My process
for writing is to enter a meditative state. From this vantage point I am able
to see the story unfold before my eyes as though I were watching a film. I can press
pause, fast forward or rewind and begin watching again whenever I like.

The book
outline was downloaded one sleepless night after a lengthy meditation on
clearing limits The Midas Tree is my first novel. So to stimulate my creative
flow and get started, I meditated on becoming a writer. The approach of connecting
with my higher consciousness and releasing my creative blocks very quickly
resulted in a flood of content.

By morning
I had met all the characters of the book and had a very good idea about the
plot, chapter headings and title The
Midas Tree
.

Intuitive Writing is a Common Approach by
Novelists

I
absolutely loved the process because it was so effortless. I never experienced
writers block and writing for me was exciting because I was writing and reading
my novel at the same time.

I have
since read that this is the way that many writers approach their craft. For
example this is how J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter. All the characters were
pre-formed and she watched the plot unfold before her eyes without necessarily
being the conscious director of their actions.

In
speaking with a seasoned author of YA novels, she explained that this was also
the way that she wrote, but that she had always just considered this was how
her imagination worked.

As I am an
experienced intuitive reader, from my perspective this way of writing uses
clairvoyance, which is the ability to see clearly as spirit. What I mean by
spirit is the unseen world, where thoughts have not yet formed into matter. It
is where all material creations come from.



My Previous Writing Experience was
Intellectual

Even
though I found writing “The Midas Tree” easy, my previous writing experience
had been quite different. My background is in science and business and so most
of my prior exposure to writing had been very different. I have written a PhD
thesis, scientific papers, as well as business and marketing plans. I knew how
to research, think logically and weigh up all the pros and cons. Yet here I was
by-passing my intellect completely in order to give birth to a novel.

Now I am
sure that the intellectual approach can work for writing a book as well. After
all there must be as many ways of writing books as there are authors. I have
observed that many aspiring writers do a lot of research, take classes, consult
experts and join writers groups to learn the “correct” way to structure and
write a novel. They decide in advance who their readers will be and they craft
their work to be marketable to that audience.

Taking an Intellectual Approach is also
Common Amongst Writers

After I
had written my book I went to a talk by a famous crime writer. He used to be a
lawyer and wrote his books with great attention to details. He had a clear set
of guidelines that he followed that was his recipe for a successful crime
novel. It even included things like when new characters could be introduced and
what content should be included in the first 60 pages

Obviously
this approach works for many successful writers. But for me it felt too
limiting because the emphasis is on getting it right and on containing yourself
within a set of pre-determined ideas.

I did not even
know who my readers would be until I had completed the novel. Then I had to
take a step back and see what I had created.



I
created a Spiritual Adventure Story.

It turns
out that The Midas Tree
is a spiritual adventure novel that teaches truths about the nature of reality
through an allegorical fairy tale. The hero battles with his ego on the journey
through the tree, which represents the journey of enlightenment.

The book
also includes the meditation techniques that I teach in my classes. It is
written a way that makes the information available to children and adults
alike.

It is my
deepest wish that this book will help children to validate their intuition, as
I did, and use it in the most creative and rewarding way for them.



The Midas Tree is available on Amazon as a paperback or e-book

And the author can be reached at:-
www.themidastree.com

How do you rate books?

While reviewing books, I have always had a problem with coming up with a good rating system, that I can follow irrespective of the genre, type, size and author of the book. I mostly just follow the Goodreads system.

It goes like this:
1 star: Didn’t like it
2 stars: It was okay
3 stars: Liked it
4 stars: Really liked it
5 stars: It’s amazing
I don’t find it sufficient though. For one, it is very relative. I may give a 5-star rating to 11.22.63 by Stephen King as well as The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde; not that the books are in any way comparable or equal. I thought they were both amazing in their own ways; what I don’t get is how to convey this “in its own way” through a rating!
Consider the example of a review copy; where I know it’s the author’s first attempt at getting published. I have certain expectations from the book and when the book fulfills those expectations almost entirely, I give it a 4-star rating; because I do really like it. That doesn’t mean it is even close to being as good as Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, which I also really liked (and hence gave a 4-star rating!)
Secondly, I think five stars are too few to judge a book by. So I either use half-ratings i.e. 2 1/2, 3 1/2 etc. Or I use ten stars. Either way, the first problem persists.
I have seen people rate individual elements of a books separately. For instance, theme, plot and characters, each with its own separate rating. This is, I think, the most justifiable method; but I don’t know how it exactly works. Which different elements would you rate separately and how do you decide the whole rating of the book?
I don’t tend to put much weight in the rating a book holds. Until now I haven’t come across a widely applicable rating system. Unless you have one. What do you base your ratings on?

How To Write a Good Book Review


Let me make it clear that just because the title reads “how to…” doesn’t mean I consider myself some sort of an expert on writing book reviews. In reality, I am not even close to mastering it. I am writing this post merely to express what I consider to be a good book review and to state a couple of things (literally) that I try to keep in mind while writing book reviews; not to mention, get your views on the topic!

1. Avoid Spoilers! It took me a long time to learn how to summarize books without accidentally including spoilers. Personally, finding out the suspense or a plot twist doesn’t really affect my reading experience much. But I know people who are entirely capable of holding life-long grudges because you accidentally told them who dies at the end of Harry Potter.

There is one thing related to this that irritates me very much, and that is a spoiler alert! Something written in the background colour, which can’t be read unless it is highlighted; or in some cases, the words SPOILER ALERT written in bold block letters (followed by a thousand exclamation points) and then the whole plot and twists and everything that should have been withheld spilled out. Such a review just seems very amateur-ish (not that reviewing books is my profession.) Also, anything that comes with a spoiler-alert is probably unnecessary. A good summary, for me, is one that can make a person want to read the book and at the same time, keep much of the plot a mystery.

2. Be impartial; that’s the first rule of writing a review, at least for me. If you don’t like something, don’t be afraid to say it. I understand that every writer puts a lot of effort in his book; but you can’t let that affect your review!
That being said, I don’t like reviews that are too harsh, especially in a vague way. You can’t just say “That book is horrible” or “You shouldn’t read it!” or “It shouldn’t have been published” or simply “It sucks” and expect that to suffice. There has to be a reason behind your not liking something, and it is your job as a reviewer to discover that reason and along with that, a reasonable way to express it.
While we’re on the topic of being impartial, “It’s awesome” isn’t a sufficient reason to recommend a book either (something that I am still working on!)

What about you? What are your expectations from a book reviewer, what sort of reviews do you like and what do you consider to be a good book review??

P.S. – Apparently, today is World Book Day. Not that I need to reserve just a day to celebrate my love for books; nevertheless wish you a Happy Book Day and happy reading!

Characters or Plot?

Musing Mondays is a meme hosted at MizB’s Should Be Reading. This week’s musing asks:

Do you prefer character-driven stories or plot-driven stories?


I always get more involved in a book that has good, engaging characters. But I also don’t like books where you can’t make head or tail of what’s going on, or worse, when nothing really happens. Honestly, neither extreme is desirable. But if I had to give a preference, I’d give it to the characters. A bad story line can’t spoil the book as much as bad characters can.


It would be hard for me to name my favourite book plots, but I can easily name favourite book characters! One of my favourite authors (and I have mentioned him too many times in this context) is Stephen King – I know very few authors, who write can characters like him.

When I can relate to the characters, or when they seem real – the plot doesn’t matter so much. Which is also why I have come to enjoy reading short stories this much.

Authors I would DIE to meet!

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week there is a new Top Ten list complete with one bloggers’ answers.Everyone is welcome to join. All you have to do is link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own post! This week’s topic:

Top Ten Authors I Would DIE to meet:


If I really think about it, I’d like to meet most of the authors that I read, whether I like the book or not. So it’s tough to list ten.

These are, as the question says, the authors I’d DIE (or… kill) to meet. The reason is either that I have fallen in love with their book/books, can re-read them hundred thousand times and would kill to talk about these books with their creators! Or… the authors affected me in a certain way or introduced me to a particular genre.
Here are the top ten authors that I’d want to meet – in no particular order – and the one thing that put them on this list:

1. Terry Pratchett (for the Discworld)


2. J. K. Rowling (for a thousand amazing book memories)

3. Diana Wynne Jones (for taking me back to my childhood)

4. Stephen King (for making me love horror fiction)

5. Yann Martel (for Life of Pi)

6. Mark Twain (for ridding my fear of classics!)

7. Neil Gaiman (for American Gods)

8. Isaac Asimov (for making me love science fiction)

9. Ayn Rand (well… I owe it to my “I-love-Ayn-Rand” high school self!)

10. Enid Blyton (for making me love books!)

(and… if screenwriters count – Walt Disney and Joss Whedon. Lol)

Writing about Writing about writing!

Hasn’t every writer written sometime or another, about writing itself. You know, like the art.



Like Elmore Leonard, for instance (whom I only know as the guy Stephen King called “the great American writer”), in his Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing:

Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle (I wasn’t keen on reading it till I read the last word of the title. Do read the article!):



Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated,” and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.”


I had to, too! In case you’re curious, it means “to affirm”!


John Grisham keeps it (a bit too) simple. He tells young ambitious budding writers to write a page a day as a hobby, for starters! Does it work? You wish. I have done that since I was like three. Have you ever seen me write anything even remotely resembling awesome crime fiction? Sigh.


After reading a bunch of other rules by a bunch of other famous writers, I felt like I had accidentally stepped into the world of the ever useful self-help books. Of course, then I read what Neil Gaiman had to say:


“The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.”


This was the least helpful (i.e You don’t get the kind of help from this that you naturally begin to expect in the world of self-help books – even though that help isn’t really help, but you just don’t realize this while you’re still in that world!) and the most helpful (i.e It brought me back from the world of self-help books to the normal world, where it is actually the ‘self’ that helps the ‘self’!) So, this, as far as I am concerned, makes the most sense. What about you?


Need a Cliffs Notes version to make some sense of this seemingly random ramble? Want to be a writer?


Writing is a good place to start. Off you go!


Unless, of course, you still have that little spark left in you, that tells you there might just be something you left out. Like a secret ingredient that will make you an awesome writer, or something. In that case, do what I’m doing, though I’m not doing it for that reason. *vehemently shakes head*


Reading “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” by Stephen King. An autobiography and writing guide, which might as well end up on my “Favourite Books Ever” list!

Peskipiksi Pesternomi!

So many people have asked me what the hell my blog address is about! I say it’s a very long story. That’s how I avoid sessions of uncomfortable small talk. There is better place to talk about my blog address than in person. Good guess, here I go!


Peskipiksi Pesternomi is a spell that Gilderoy Lockhart casts, or at least tries to, on the Cornish pixies that he accidentally sets loose in class. Nothing happens after he does it, so it’s highly likely that it is not a spell at all! “Pesky pixie, pester no me”, could easily mean, “Pesky pixies stop pestering me!!” And we all know how Lockhart is!

With a very sincere title like Tabula Rasa, I wanted to shove all my goofiness into the blog address. And it had to have something to do with Harry Potter. “Avada Kedavra” or “Nitwit Blubber Oddment Tweak” were far too popular to make the cut. So I went with this! And it’s definitely got a classic Harry Potter sound to it.

Harry Potter reference aside, that still doesn’t explain why it is my blog address. I’ll tell you. It’s a remarkably funny word. That is reason enough, my sister thought so. That’s also all my previously mentioned startlingly bad memory can come up with. But I could always attach a couple of less honest, more abstract meanings to it.

For me, Peskipiksi Pesternomi is a stupid thing done to fix other stupid things, which unfortunately has stupider consequences. Peskipiksi Pesternomi might as well be the story of my life, or the story of the past couple of years of my life. If Tabula Rasa is a new beginning, then it’s Peskipiksi Pesternomi that made it happen. It is the bunch of silly things that I have done, and still do!

Also, when I was little, when I first read it, I used to chant it over and over in a crazy sing-song voice. That was fun.

(As for peskypiksipesternomi, that is a small ‘typo’ that I sincerely apologize for. In my defense, however, that’s what my copy of the book says! Also, is that pixie ugly or what!!)