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Category Archives: Humor

Miss Sally Sue From Kalamazoo: An Unexpected Transformation

Miss Sally Sue From Kalamazoo: An Unexpected Transformation

The photo below is of an ordinary autumn flower, but the image to the left is that same photo transformed by featuring not its original image but its heat map. Although the original is vibrant, the heat map colors are an eye-grabbing rainbow.

So, too, may bland words gain fire and vigor once the writer takes hold of them.

And sometimes they surprise.

bright flora along the Soldier Creek Nature Trail (c2015, KB)

along the Soldier Creek Nature Trail (c2015, KB)

Monday night’s writers meeting / NaNoWriMo write-in included what has come to be one of this group’s favorite activities: passing around story-starter sheets on which each member adds one element that will then be incorporated into an impromptu short story.

When we have more people than we have story elements, that means each writer will be given a story sheet he or she has never seen. Surprise!

Some of those surprises are unpleasant — second-person POV, for instance, or paranormal romance involving aliens — but the results are usually humorous or delightfully twisty.

Monday night’s session brought me this puzzler and only fifteen minutes to compose a masterpiece:

Character: Miss Sally Sue from Kalamazoo
Genre: Realistic / Magical Realism
Setting: Kansas
POV: 1st
Problem / Conflict: Her mother is ill and Sally must earn money to pay for her medicine
Line of Dialogue: “Oh Sally, why are you my least favorite child?”
Prop: kazoo

My first reaction: “Borrriiiiing!”

My second reaction: “What in the world am I supposed to do with this?”

My third reaction: “Write a children’s poem.”

The result, however, is –not for children. There are few rhymes (noted by the orange font), and little rhythm, but the ending is darkly humorous.

Miss Sally Sue from Kalamazoo
travelled from Michigan to Kansas
a job to find and money to earn,
for her mother lay ill,
and Sally was the only child still speaking to her.

Miss Sally Sue from Kalamazoo
returned to Michigan from Kansas
with medicine and money to spare
for her mother infirm,
but Sally was met by a spurning sigh and a stare.

“Oh, Sally, why are you my least favorite child?”

Miss Sally Sue from Kalamazoo
was not daunted by Mother’s despair.
She measured the powder and water,
offered it with a smile,
then Sally played the kazoo all the while Mother choked as Death caught her.

c2015, Keanan Brand

Before the psychiatrist is called or anti-depressants are prescribed, no, I’m not feeling murderous, and the relationship with my mother is healthy, thank you. 😉

The transformation of words is what I intended, but how they transformed and what they became was certainly not my intention.

Surprise!

Neon Blue permutation of the image above (c2015, KB)

Neon Blue of the image above (c2015, KB)

 

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The Stars Were Right: a review

TheStarsWereRightThe Stars Were Right by K.M. Alexander is a space opera, fantasy, street-gritty noir, crazed-villain sort of yarn set in the far future but filled with analog tech alongside gleaming splendor, and non-humanoid races mingling with humans in the many-leveled city of Lovat.

Waldo Bell is a caravan master who, along with his non-human business partner, Wensem, carts freight between two main metropolitan centers. The most recent journey was hampered by a mysterious, oversized cargo that slows progress, and the caraveners are happy to be off the road and flush with money. While Wensem returns home for a family ritual, Waldo wanders the city in search of food and old friends.

And is arrested for the murder of one of those friends.

He escapes, and goes on the run. In his attempts to seek aid and discover the real criminal, his alleged crimes compound as more friends—old and new—are killed. Hagen, the proprietor of an antique shop specializing in religious and cultic items, becomes a reluctant but valuable ally in the search for the mastermind behind the bizarre, gruesome murders.

And, along the way, Waldo encounters the possibility of romance with a woman who seems out of his reach.

I enjoyed this fast-paced novel, and look forward to reading more about the adventures of Waldo Bell and company.

 

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How to Write Your Best Story: a rambling review

How to Write Your Best Story: a rambling review

edited & reposted from Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I’ve been writing since I was nine or ten years old, and I’ve lost count of the writing conferences, seminars, and classes, and groups I’ve attended, but the greatest learning has come from the simple act of writing (and revising — a lot), and the best advice has come from sitting down and talking to other and better writers. Reading How to Write Your Best Story is rather like one of those conversations: down-to-earth, intelligent, understandable, and useful.

Shortly before publication, Philip Martin, a fellow writer and editor, asked me to read through the manuscript for How to Write Your Best Story: Advice for Writers on Spinning an Enchanting Tale (128 pages, $14.95, Crickhollow Books).

My first conversation with Philip Martin was several years ago at a writers conference. I attended his session (I forget the topic), then asked him to autograph my well-read copy of his recent book, The Writer’s Guide to Fantasy Literature: From Dragon’s Lair to Hero’s Quest, a Brothers Hildebrandt painting of Smaug on the cover, which just makes a good book that much cooler. I’m not usually the groupie / fanboy type, and I certainly don’t go around asking other folks for their autographs, but this time, it just seemed like the thing to do.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming. 🙂

HowToWriteYourBestStory“Never judge a book by its cover” is old advice that isn’t always true. After all, most of us have seen plenty of cheesy science fiction covers with awkward robots or scantily-clad alien women, or trashy romance novels decorated in shirtless men with impossible hair or women in torn bodices. We look at those covers, and we pretty much know what we’re gonna get. The whimsical cover art (by the late Marvin Hill) for How to Write Your Best Story is the reader’s first clue that the contents are written by someone who knows and appreciates a good story, and probably read his share of them.

What I like best about this book of advice is that it’s less about rules and more about principles of good storytelling:

Good storytelling exists in a world outside of formal structural elements of literature. It has intangible aspects, like a beautiful melody or an appealing fragrance. It exists in imaginary worlds you know well, like the 100 Acre Woods, or Narnia, or Lake Woebegone, or in mostly real worlds, such as a humorous journey on the Appalachian Trail with Bill Bryson — or in any number of great books based as much on storytelling as anything else. (p9)

And

(F)or a good number of years, I’ve pondered the question: is there a way to teach good storytelling, in the fashion of Kipling, Steinbeck, C.S. Lewis, O. Henry, Tolkien, or other beloved writers classic and modern — successful authors who we’d all agree knew a good story from a hole in the ground?

What do readers look for in a good tale? What specific techniques do I find myself most often recommending to emerging writers to boost the quality of their stories? (p10)

That’s what Martin endeavors to do in the rest of the book, and he does it with a whimsy to match the cover art, by telling a story interwoven with instructive chapters. After the Introduction, for instance, is the beginning of “The Princess & the Apple”, followed by Part One: General Things about Good Stories, followed by the further tale of “The Princess & the Apple”, which is interspersed among these chapters: The Case for Intriguing Eccentricity, The Case for Delightful Details, and The Case for Satisfying Surprises.

Included are many quotes from the works of famous authors and poets, including this quote from Joyce Carol Oates:

“Storytelling is shaped by two contrary, yet complementary, impulses — one toward brevity, compactness, artful omission; the other toward expansion, amplification, enrichment.” (p25)

That’s a push-pull war in which I constantly engage: what to leave out, what to add, what must be spelled out, what can be implied, what’s trivial, what matters.

A few more examples of advice from the book:

throw out the thesaurus (pp26-30),
juxtapose or fuse two ideas to offer a unique intersection (pp50-51),
listen (pp55-56),
use more senses (pp68-70),
ask what your characters want most (p93),
don’t dodge the difficult ending (pp104-105),

and much more.

How to Write Your Best Story is chock-full of good, perennial advice, but it’s also fun to read. This book will remain in my permanent library, and that’s just about the best recommendation I can give.

 

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Discipline? Can You Give Me Context? Maybe Use It in a Sentence?

Discipline? Can You Give Me Context? Maybe Use It in a Sentence?

(originally posted September 4, 2010)

As a writer, I have no discipline.

That could mean many things:
1) I don’t have a specialty.
2) I can’t control my hands while typppppppping.
3) I write all over the place, and prefer markers on freshly-painted walls.
4) Uniquely constructed sentences I make.
5) 5:00 in the morning is meant for sleeping, not writing. (Unless, of course, one is on a creative spree, and has not yet been to bed.)
6) Focusing on only one project at a time is imposs- Squirrel! (Squirrel Removal in 12 Easy Steps — HI-larious!)
7) I give great writing advice but rarely follow it. (Write to the end then edit.)
8) I find all sorts of activities that keep me from writing, when writing is all I really want to do.
9) An outline is not the Ten Commandments, and is a lot of hard work for something I’m just going to ignore anyway.
10) Planting butt in chair and creating is not something I generally do on command. In fact, there are very few things I do on command, and even then I might pause to think about it.

And the list goes on, but I’ll end it there. (End not to be confused with aforementioned butt.)

Yesterday, I sat on the couch, felt-tip pen and scrap paper in hand, stared into space while a DVD miniseries adaptation of a Charles Dickens novel played in the background, and wrote a couple good pages of material. All rough, of course, but solid.

As I wrote, I thought it was brilliant.

Then, some time later, long after the pen had been capped and I was no longer under the heady influence of Sharpie fumes, I read it again.

Meh. As I said, rough but solid. I can work with that.

As for discipline, well, that’s a concept that looks different to each writer. What really matters is the outcome: What is produced? Regardless of a writer’s method — laptop in the park, legal pad in the coffee shop, scrap paper on the couch — words must be written. Stories must be told.

Bring on the Sharpie!

"Presented in Cinemascope!" facade, Hollywood Wax Museum, Branson, MO (c2013, KB)

“Presented in Cinemascope!”
facade, Hollywood Wax Museum, Branson, MO (c2013, KB)

 

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Books For Sale, Books For Sale!

Books For Sale, Books For Sale!

As is common with editors and book reviewers, I have several books that are proofs / galleys (bound copies of uncorrected books before they are officially published and made available to the public).

However, I also have three published copies of each of these novels — pristine condition, never read, purchased to sell or give away at a book-related event — and I need to sell them ASAP, if at all possible.

Their prices have dropped a little since they were first published, so I’ll take a loss, but I’d rather they weren’t sitting forlorn on my shelf, but being read by folks who appreciate good writing and interesting stories.

Purple Moon1) Purple Moon by Tessa Emily Hall

On Amazon, the book is $11.84 + $3.99 s/h = $15.83, but I’ll send it to you for $13 flat.

Selena’s life isn’t turning out to be the fairy tale she imagined as a kid.

That hope seemed to vanish long ago when her dad kicked her and her mom out of the house. This summer might finally hold the chance of a new beginning for Selena … but having to live with her snobby cousin in Lake Lure, NC while waiting for her mom to get out of rehab wasn’t how Selena was planning on spending her summer. She soon begins to wonder why she committed to give up her “bad habits” for this.

Things don’t seem too bad, though. Especially when Selena gains the attention of the cute neighbor next door. But when her best friend back home in Brooklyn desperately needs her, a secret that’s been hidden from Selena for years is revealed, and when she becomes a target for one of her cousin’s nasty pranks, she finds herself having to face the scars from her past and the memories that come along with them. Will she follow her mom’s example in running away, or trust that God still has a fairy tale life written just for her?

Fatal Transaction2) Fatal Transaction by W. Richard Lawrence

Amazon is offering the book at $11.00 + $3.99 s/h = $14.99. I’ll send it to you for $12.00.

Sara, an expert computer hacker, knows better than to trust anyone certainly not the powerful and crooked business mogul for whom she works. But there is no future for the life of a thief. Determined to find a way out, Sara devises a scheme to double-cross her employer and steal millions through one final fatal transaction.

Desperate and on the run, she finds temporary sanctuary with the mysterious Derry Conway. As the FBI closes in and her former associates seek revenge, Sara tries to escape but finds all avenues blocked. Trapped, she sees only one road out Derry must take the fall and pay for her crimes. But will it work? Is her freedom more important than the life of an innocent man? Or will Sara make the ultimate sacrifice to save those she cares about?

If you’re interested in either or both of these books, send me a private message on Facebook, Twitter, or e-mail. Include your name and mailing address. Payment can be made via check or PayPal. Once the transaction is complete, I will mail the book(s) of your choice.

Many thanks, and happy reading!

 

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Romeo, Romeo

RomeoJulietLooking for contemporary interpretations of Shakespeare’s work?

You just may find your fix in the 2014 version of Romeo and Juliet starring Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad. It’s muscular and creative, and it plays up the humor.

The balcony scene could easily have been set in two separate bedrooms and featured the characters looking at each other through their windows while speaking on the telephone and waiting for the other person to hang up first.

Christian Camargo gives one of the best portrayals of Mercutio I’ve seen, delivering the Queen Mab speech in a comprehensible, conversational fashion.

However, the play can be antic at times, speeding through the scenes as if afraid to sit still, and the actors often deliver their lines by rapid-fire sing-song rote that often steals the power, playfulness, or pathos of the words.

When the play slows to allow the moments to play out more naturally, less frantically, that’s when it shines.

Still, though I like many of the lines and scenes, this remains one of my least favorite Shakespeare works.

 

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The Ghost Box

The Ghost Box

The Ghost Box by Mike Duran is a ghost story, a murder mystery, an urban fantasy, and a love story, but it’s not a romance, and it doesn’t sit still for long.

The protagonist — Reagan Moon, reporter for a publication specializing in the paranormal — is the guardian of a Tau (a cross-like shape based on the Greek letter) left in his care by his girlfriend, Ellie, before she was lost in an explosion. Why is it important?

Why does a famous recluse want Reagan’s help, and why are psychics and mediums being killed?

Framed for the murders and sought by those who want the Tau, Reagan seeks help from Matisse, a former Jesuit priest who is now the keeper of an archive of paranormal arcana. Matisse’s mysterious daughter, Kanya, and a cheeky guardian angel, Bernard, become Reagan’s sidekicks on a mission to take down the forces of evil invading this world and to solve the mystery of his girlfriend’s death.

Along the way, there’s humor, a bit of angst and self-reflection, action, and the introduction of strange goggles that enable Reagan to see into another dimension. (In my mind, they’re clunky steampunk cool.)

The Ghost Box is what might happen if a rookie Librarian ever met the crew at Warehouse 13 and they all chased down Dracula and The Mummy.

Sorta.

But whatever mix of genres or monsters it might be, it’s definitely recommended reading.

 

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Reading “The Warden and the Wolf King”

The Warden and Wolf KingThere are ninety-six chapters in The Warden and the Wolf King.

Ninety-six.

And there are five hundred nineteen pages of story.

Well, five hundred twenty, to be more precise.

Such a book may daunt some readers, but this is one fast read. I knocked out several chapters in each sitting, and didn’t realize it until the time came to replace the bookmark and go about the rest of my day.

I love it when that happens. It signals a great story and excellent writing, and a mind so absorbed that I forget the world around me. The first fourteen chapters were read at the dentist’s office as I anxiously awaited a procedure involving large steampunk needles and growling drills. However, the characters and the writing in this wide, engaging fantasy novel helped me relax, forget about what was coming, and actually become impatient for pauses between steps in the procedure so I could read more.

Stuff like this:

The little men and women sneaked toward the house as silent as the snow, then they divided into two groups. One group skittered like thwaps to the roof of the house and unfolded a large net while the others huddled against the side of the cottage. One of the Ridgerunners dangled from the eaves and nodded to one on the ground. It coughed conspicuously and then stomped noisily through the front door.

The silence was shattered by the troll’s terrible roar and Janner nearly jumped out of his cloak. The ridgerunner dashed out of the house with a shriek, and the troll emerged and stooped on the porch. The troll was smaller than the others Janner had seen. This one had a little tuft of black hair and was only as tall as the roofline, though its bare chest and shoulders were so massive they barely fit thorugh the doorway.

“Leave me ALONE,” the troll said, shaking its fist and stepping down from the porch. (p69)

Not to give away the future, but the young troll (Oood) and the teenaged Throne Warden (Janner) become friends.

Hey, a friendly troll can come in handy. Especially during trouble.

One of my favorite characters is Gammon, the Florid Sword. Think Zorro or the Scarlet Pimpernel or some other masked or caped or secret hero with a noble soul and a comic flair for the dramatic.

Suddenly, a dark figure burst into the tavern. All conversation ceased. Patrons peered at the caped man silhouetted in the light streaming through the door.

With a flourish of his cape, the man leaped ino the center of the room, struck a pose, and said, “Aha! Avast! ‘Tis I, the Florid Sword, and I seek Maraly Weaver with mine own eyes and noble intent!” (p132)

“We fly! Aha! Away!” cried the Florid Sword. He swished his blade through the air thrice, then removed his wide-brimmed hat and bowed low. “Resume the consumption of thy eggish scrumption!” He smiled. “I believe I made that word up. And it rhymed! Gleeful are the delights a new day bringeth!” (p133)

As one can see, this is not a tale for the somber and unamused, or the too-grown-up.

I’ve said it many times before, and I’m saying it again: If I can pick up any book in a series but the first one, and still be drawn in to the story and not lost, that bodes well for the rest. And to think that there are three other books in The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson? Awesome.

Read more about it at other stops on the CSFF Blog Tour:

Beckie Burnham
Pauline Creeden
Vicky DealSharingAunt
Carol Gehringer
Victor Gentile
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Nissa
Writer Rani
Nathan Reimer
Chawna Schroeder
Jojo Sutis
Rachel Starr Thomson
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler

 

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The Warden and the Wolf King

Where should most stories begin?
At the beginning, of course.
Unless they begin at the end.
And that’s where I joined the excellent Wingfeather Saga — at the end.

The Warden and the Wolf King is the fourth and final book in singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson‘s richly-illustrated and fast-moving fantasy series.However, had I not known there were three other books, were those books beyond my reach, I would still think this book a rewarding, fun adventure. I was never lost, never bored, and laughed much.

Today — Monday, July 21 — is my birthday, and there have been activities and family matters since Friday, so this CSFF Blog Tour sneaked up on me. I’ll return tomorrow with something substantial to say. Meanwhile, please visit the other stops on the blog tour to read other reviews of The Wingfeather Saga, a delight for all ages:

The Warden and Wolf KingBeckie Burnham
Pauline Creeden
Vicky DealSharingAunt
Carol Gehringer
Victor Gentile
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Nissa
Writer Rani
Nathan Reimer
Chawna Schroeder
Jojo Sutis
Rachel Starr Thomson
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler

 

 

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Mentors v. Gatekeepers

Just read an excellent article: David Farland’s Kick in the Pants—Why I’m No Longer Cautiously Optimistic about the Future of Publishing. (hat tip to Johne Cooke, who brought it to my attention via a discussion board)

In the article, Farland discusses the shakeup in publishing due to the rise of e-books and the decline of paper books. This affects not only authors’ incomes but the existence of publishers and brick-and-mortar bookstores.

However, Farland is encouraged:

First, the sales of paper books are stabilizing. Sure, they don’t represent the big revenue source that they were five years ago for me, but they’re consistent, and my publisher has managed to hang on over the past few years, along with a couple of major bookstore chains. Heck, the bookstores are even rebounding.

At the same time, the future of electronic books is expanding.

After reading the article, I responded to it with this post on the message board:

Just today, and throughout this past week, I’ve been in conversations that came around to the fact that publishing today is mirroring the original model: private funding and personal involvement of the creators in the publishing process.

Echoes of Distant ThunderI’ve been slowly reading a thick paperback of the history of WWI, not on the battlefield but on the American homefront. One of the chapters dealt with how certain books were written or certain films were produced that directly addressed issues of the day. Early film-making brought about groundbreaking work (even if some of it was racist or propagandistic) that was funded privately. There were no big film studios yet, although those followed hard upon.

There was a time that a book could only be obtained by copying and binding it by hand. Centuries later, authors paid printers to produce copies. Later, publishers started accepting or rejecting manuscripts, though they did not necessarily take on the entire cost of publication; authors still bore that burden. Until recently, if a writer wanted his work to see print, he either persevered through the submit/reject/repeat process until someone offered him a contract or he gave up. If he tried to stray outside that process, he bore the stigma of offering an inferior product. (This stigma was often warranted; it still is. However, the “traditional” route, while better at preventing poor manuscripts from being published, didn’t guarantee quality, either.)

I used to be one of those who looked askance at self-published work. Almost every example I encountered was sub-par, either in need of editing or better storytelling, or both. The same was true of independent or small-company films. As for e-books, I was not a fan. And POD [print on demand]? Folks didn’t understand that is was a new type of publishing, and they spat the term as a synonym for “vanity press“.

Modern means and technology have allowed us to come full circle: The creators, and not the publishers or the film studios, are gaining control again. I’ve adjusted my view of e-books, though they’re still not my preferred source of reading material. They provide a low-cost way to get one’s books to the world. POD does the same, eliminating any need for costly stockpiles of physical books that may or may not sell. I echo David Farland’s excitement. The big houses may disagree, but we are living in a good time for publishing.

end message board response

I mean that.

Part of that confidence and change in attitude comes from my years as an editor, from watching how publishing has changed, from decades of educating myself as a writer, and by submitting my own work for publication.

Articles, short stories, poems, essays have been published by third parties, but my novels? None of the rejections have said the writing is bad or the characterization is incomplete or any other storytelling no-nos. Rather, the structure, the content, the length are objectionable.

In other words, I’m not a bad writer; I’m just not writing what they want.

More and more, I’m learning the difference between a mentor and a gatekeeper. The first one teaches and encourages; the second is most often a bureaucrat.

Gatekeepers can serve a vital purpose. They keep out the enemy, the diseased, the undesirable.

However, who decides who’s the enemy, the diseased, or the undesirable?

This caused discussion this afternoon when I shared Farland’s article with my brother, sister-in-law, and eldest niece, who all share a love for good stories.

“It’s good to have people who are knowledgeable, but they shouldn’t hold all the power,” said Bubba’s Wife. “Some people have a little bit of knowledge but think they know everything.”

“Wisdom lies in the counsel of many, not the counsel of one,” Bubba paraphrased the Bible (Proverbs 15:22 and 24:6 and 11:14; Niece #1 looked up the references for us). “Gatekeepers think they have all the knowledge, but then there are sequential gatekeepers you have to go through.”

He’s in the military. He knows bureaucracy.

Bubba’s Wife added, “Know where to go for the answers.”

And that’s what we can do even more now in this age of rapid communication and technological advancement. Sure, there’s a proliferation of inaccurate information, suppression, and downright lies,but there’s also unprecedented access to knowledgeable folks all over the world. We don’t have to rely on our tiny benighted group who may or may not know what we need to learn, nor must we pay for a crazy-expensive degree that may not lead to success in our chosen field.

No, we can educate ourselves, gather mentors, become mentors, pass along our wisdom and knowledge. Of course, this is predicated upon the notion that we’ll be humble enough to learn and generous enough to share.

We can raise funds from like-minded strangers (via Kickstarter and their ilk), produce our own films, publish our own books. We are the imaginers and the creators. We make the choices. We need mentors, not gatekeepers.

 

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