Wednesday, August 24, 2011


My good friend Jon Balog recently interviewed me concerning my novel Edge Country.

Jon has written for Bmore Live, Punk Planet, The Sentimentalist, Jive, and  His very enthusiastic article for can be read here and his guest blog for can be read here.

Why is fantasy fiction important?  Why should people care about creatures and places that don’t really exist?

Fantasy can be as important as realistic fiction when it makes points that are relevant to real life.  It’s no secret that the best sci-fi/fantasy isn’t really about spaceships, talking animals or zombies.  These books involve issues such as war and childhood (Ender’s Game), hate and apathy (Rot and Ruin) and the public’s obsession with the media (The Hunger Games).  In a way, sci-fi/fantasy novels act as a funhouse mirror.  They reflect our world but distort them so at first glance they appear to have nothing to do with reality

But let’s be honest.  Most fantasy authors don’t start off writing novels to express ideas.  They start because they have a story to tell, and it just so happens to contain fantastical elements.  Fantasy is important to me personally because it’s the only thing I feel completely comfortable writing.  There are tons of realistic stories I love reading, but ask me to write something grounded in reality, and it’ll go nowhere.  Ask me to write a story that tackles realistic issues but involves talking animals, underground cities and psychotic demons and you’ll get the first chapter in an hour.      

We often tell young authors to write what they know.  This is excellent advice.  However, it is often misunderstood.  For example, young writers often know what it’s like to feel as though the world is against them.  They could express these feelings through a realistic story (which is commendable).  However, a writer could also express these feelings through a story about a lone survivor trapped in a city full of zombies.  The author is still writing about what they know (feeling lost, betrayed, even victorious), they are just using different tools to get their points across. 

You open Edge Country with a quote from Joseph Campbell. How did his ideas about myth and symbolism influence the book?

I would list Joseph Campbell’s book The Power of Myth as one of the top five influences on my novel.  Mr. Campbell was a genius at finding similarities between mythologies.  He could then connect these similarities to pop culture.

My narrator, Lee, spends the story living a double life between modern day America and Edge Country, a mythological world filled with talking animals and ancient spirits.  Throughout the novel, Lee has to deal with backstabbing friends, heart breaking crushes, and a neglectful father.  To a certain extent I wanted him to be an adolescent “everyman.”  However, I also wanted to connect him with mythic heroes.

Odysseus could probably dropkick Lee, but the two share similar qualities.  They are both trying to reach seemingly impossible destinations.  They are both strongly influenced by love for their families.  They both overcome their adversaries using trickery.  In no way did I set out to base Lee on Odysseus (my character isn’t nearly as popular with the ladies) but Joseph Campbell’s book helped me find ways to connect my story and hero with those from other cultures and make them a part of a broader scope.  I would recommend that all storytellers try this.  

You’ve been open about the influence of Calvin and Hobbes. The parallels there are pretty obvious—both chronicle the adventures of young boys as they deal with the horrors of the real world, the horrors of the imagination, and the blurry place where the two worlds meet. One thing I’ve always liked about Bill Watterson is that he celebrated the wonders of youth, but said that he “never understood people who thought of childhood as an idyllic time of life.” How do you personally think of childhood?

I sometimes have a very cynical view of childhood.  While I do have some great memories from growing up, childhood is also a time filled with uncertainty and fear.  Children have little control over their lives.  If an adult is unhappy they can often at least strive for improvement (assuming they are motivated).  Children seldom have this opportunity.  Also, people can get away with being crueler to little kids.  If my boss was half as harsh as my second grade teacher he would be fired.

There are several similarities between Calvin and Hobbes and Edge Country.  They are both about boys who experience the darker sides of growing up.  Both boys are fish out of water among their own peers.  This is in part because they have access to worlds no one else can experience.  Similar to Calvin’s fantasy worlds, Edge Country has both positive and negative effects on Lee’s life.  It offers refuge and friendship but also causes Lee to say and do things that confuse his mother, teachers and friends.  Lee disrupts class to confront an adversary from Edge Country and he is often caught talking or arguing with individuals other humans cannot see. 

Despite its heavy influence, there are some differences between the two works.  There are few examples of Calvin having positive interactions with characters outside his personal world.  While this was perfect for the strip, Lee spends most of Edge Country very aware of how his actions must look to others.  Also, a great deal of the story involves Lee trying to find balance between Edge Country and the human world.

Another work I’d compare Edge Country to is Sam Kieth’s comic book The Maxx. The Maxx told the story of a man who spent half his life in an alternate reality. While definitely a work of fantasy, it addressed some very real-world issues, like homelessness, rape, teen suicide, and avoiding reality.  Edge Country, likewise, deals with things like bullying, self hatred, double lives and abandonment. Was this at all in the back of your head while you were writing?

I would say that these themes were bouncing around in my subconcious, but I wasn’t completely aware of them until later rewrites.  I’m always a few drafts into a project before I realize what the underlying issues are. 

The only exception I can think of is that Edge Country was always about a boy leading a double life.  I have read a lot of novels where the hero goes through the wardrobe/looking glass/train station platform and spends the rest of the book in the other world.  I love these stories but wanted to write a novel where the hero moved back and forth between the mundane and fantastical and had to face challenges in each.

You say writing fantasy is the only thing that comes naturally to you. I'm always surprised to hear people say that, because it seems to me it should be the other way around. When you write something set in the real world, the pieces are already set up for you. With fantasy, you have to reinvent the whole game. Why do you think you're wired that way?

Keep in mind that I only write fantasy set in the modern world (or “contemporary fantasy”).  Writing something in a Tolkien universe feels just as unnatural to me as writing something completely grounded in reality. 

All of my stories are set in modern America with cars, laptops and iPods but the characters just happen to have access to talking animals and hidden worlds.  As I mentioned earlier, the double life theme is enormous in my stories.  My characters often have both grounded and fantastical sides of their lives.  In a way I’m not completely creating my own worlds.  I’m building them on the foundation of our world. 

I honestly don’t know why I’m wired to write this way.  What happens is that when I’m driving my car, hiking in the woods or staring into space, a story will hit me.  It just so happens that almost all of these ideas belong in the contemporary fantasy genre.  I guess you could psychoanalyze me but that always open up a messy can of worms.  My best guess for why I write stories like Edge Country is because I love the juxtaposition between the mythic and the mundane.    I can have my hero be tormented by bullies and face demons in the same chapter.  In a way, having a down-to-earth setting will make the fantasy more relatable.  Also I can draw connections like those between the demons and the bullies. 

You said on the phone that there's nothing you love more than "spending a few hours at the end of the day working on my own world." Do you think there's something godlike in wanting to create your own fictional universe? Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the responsibility that entails, knowing that if you screw up once the whole thing could come crashing down?

To answer your first question: yes, I absolutely think there is a godlike feeling to creating my own universe.  I don’t mean this as blasphemy, I’m just admitting that at times writing a novel does provide a sense of complete control.

However, when my writing is going well, the story controls me.  I very often feel like the story is being told to me, and I’m just the one writing it down.  For example, I recently wrote a chapter where the narrator is standing on the edge of a cliff.  I planned for him to back away, but he jumped off the edge before I could stop him.  I had no choice but to follow through.  The jump was officially a part of the story (at least in this draft) and taking it out would be a lie.

As for your second question:  I often feel overwhelmed by the complexity of plots and characters as well as the publishing world.  However, I never feel overwhelmed by responsibility toward my universe.  Early drafts won’t be perfect, there’s no way to get around that.  There are moments when the universe does come crashing down, but I always build it back up again.  I have complete faith that if I keep on working I’ll eventually get it right.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

TWO PENNY SAGA: Grandpa's Visit

I took a random sentence, used it as the first line in a story and wrote for five minutes. This is what I got.

I was not expecting what was waiting for me just as I rounded the corner.

"Grandpa!"  I shouted dropping the files.  "How did you get out of the nursing home?"

"It's your lucky day Marty!"  My grandfather giggled prancing up to me in a purple suit and top hat.  "Today your pappy is taking you to CANDY LAND!"

I glanced at the surrounding cubicles.  Most of my co-workers were on the phone or trying to send e-mails, but no one was doing anything interesting enough to distract them from this.

"Grandpa," I murmured taking his arm and trying to guide him to the exit.  "Maybe you should go back to the home."

"Really Marty?  You want me to go back to the old folk's home?  Or do you want me to take you on a cruise down the chocolate canal and a safari among the lollipop lions?  We could fly my licorice plane through the cotton candy clouds!"

I could see my boss Mr. White walking toward us.

"You really need to get out of here grandpa!"

"Are you suuuuure Marty?"

"Yes!  I'm sure!"  I stammered gathering up the files I had dropped.  "I need to send these faxes now, but I'll go to Candy Land with you after work.  Do you need me to call you a taxi?"

My grandfather's face drooped.  "No, that's alright."  He sighed.  "I can find my own way out."  He reached into his purple jacket and pulled out a candy cane, which he stuck into the wall.  What had been hard plaster pulled back like a curtain revealing a landscape filled with gumdrop trees and toffee mountains.  "See ya Marty," Grandpa sighed and stumbled on through.

Kelly, one of the more attractive associates, walked past me.  "That looked embarrassing."

I shook my head.  "That was nothing.  You should've seen what happened when my Uncle Ryan the Lord of Rainbows showed up."


Thursday, August 11, 2011

TWO PENNY SAGAS from the past 2

Here are some more Two Penny Sagas I wrote before starting this blog. 

“Oh no!” Mom shouted when she saw what Grandma had chosen for our bedtime story. “You are not reading that to them!”

Grandma held up the bundle of yellowed pages she had pulled off the bookshelf. “Why not, Emma? I am sure they will find it very educational.”

“What is it?” my sister Laura and I squealed.

“It's called Henry Rabbit and the Sack of Severed Heads!”

“Mother!” Mom growled. “I'm warning you...”

Grandma went on. “It's a story of friendship, honor, courage and exploding intestines! You children are familiar with the term 'unnecessary surgery' right?”

“Read it! Read it!” we squealed.

“No!” Mom snatched the book out of Grandma's hands. “She's going to read you something decent. How about Goodnight Moon?”

“That's boring!” I cried.

Grandma looked up at Mom, “Emma...”

“No buts mom! They are my children and I won't have you reading this trash to them.” Mom dropped the bundle of papers into the garbage can.

“Fine,” Grandma groaned and flipped open the picture book. “'Goodnight Moon...good night room....”

Mom stood in the doorway watching Grandma read to us. After a few minutes her phone rang down the hall. As soon as Mom turned the corner, Grandma pulled the bundle of papers out of the trashcan and began reading it. “This is the story of Henry Rabbit and the Sack of Severed Heads, written and illustrated by Emma Frost.” She looked up at us. “You know, your mother was about your age when she wrote this.”

She could not believe what she found in the glove box of her boyfriend's car.

“Oh Lord! What is that thing?” Claire pressed herself as far back into passenger's seat as she could go.

“What? What's wrong?” Christopher shouted almost swerving off the highway.

“I opened up your glove compartment to find your GPS and there's some ugly shriveled up thing in there. Is that a monkey's paw?

“Oh, that,” Christopher mumbled. “It's nothing.”

“It sure smells like something!”

“Okay, okay, it's something,” he groaned. “I guess I should tell you about it.  I bought it off of this old guy outside the mall a few months ago. He said it would grant me three wishes.”

“You're joking.” Claire glared at her boyfriend.

“I didn't really believe it at first, but I was holding it after I left and figured I'd give it a shot. I wished for more money. I thought if it really was magic I would get a pile of gold or cash or at least a winning lottery ticket. Nothing like that happened.”

“Were you surprised?”

“Well, the next day I did get that huge promotion. With an eighty percent salary increase.”

“Yeah, but that was just a coincidence.”

“After that, I wished I wasn't so lonely. Two days later Oscar, my cat showed up, eating out of my trashcan. He was just a kitten so I took him in.”

“What did you wish for after that?”


Claire stared at him. “Chris, what are you....”

“I'd had a crush on you for months. You're the reason I kept going back to that stupid coffee shop.”

“I know. You already told me.”

“So I held the monkey's paw and said, 'I wish that cute girl at the coffee shop would fall in love with me,' and the next day were talking."

“Chris! That's a self fulfilled prophecy. It had nothing to do with this shriveled up old paw.” She stared at the glove compartment. “You don't really think that the only reason why I love you is because that thing's magic do you?”

Chris shrugged. “Maybe. I don't know.”

Claire shook her head. “No.  I don't believe it.  I love you willingly.  Nothing's forcing me to.  Really!"  Neither of them said anything for the rest of the car ride.  By the time they reached their destination Claire couldn't take her eyes off the monkey paw. 

PROMPT: Most kids set up a lemonade stand to make some money, but not us.

We set up a Divination Stand.

One summer morning my little brother Matt and I dragged a card table out to the corner and wrote “Fortune Tellings – 25 cents!” on a sign in front of it.

We didn't have any customers at first, but after an hour or so Mrs. Cole walked by with her little dog Max and I asked, “Would you like me to read your fortune Mrs. Cole?”

“Well, if you hurry.” She sighed.

I gave her some Juicy Juice to drink. When she was done I looked at the drops on the bottom of the cup. “Uh,” I mumbled, “The spirits are telling me that you have sweet purple globs in your future.”

“Well isn't that nice,” Mrs. Cole sighed and walked on.

Not long after that my Dad came home for lunch. “What're you boys doing?” he asked.

“Performing Divination,” I grinned. “I can tell you your future for a quarter.”

“Well, alright,” Dad sighed checking his watch.

I'd heard that people used to read fortunes from the guts of small animals. I didn't have any small animals around so I tried to read Dad's fortune from Mark's guts. Dad made me stop, though, and said, “People used to read fortunes from how birds flew. Why don't you see what those pigeons are trying to tell you.”

One of the pigeons flew over dad's car and pooped on it. “Uh...” I turned to Dad. “I'd tell you what that meant but you'd probably wash my mouth out with soap.”

“Fair enough,” Dad sighed and gave me a quarter.

A few minutes later, Greg Thompson, the fifth grader from down the street, came by and snarled, “What're you little turds doing?”

“Performing Divination,” I stated. “Do you want your fortune read?”

“What a pair of losers!” Greg laughed and started to walk on down the street.

“Wait!” I shouted. “This one's on the house!”

Greg stopped and turned back to glare at me.

I looked up into the sky. “I will use that cloud to see what the spirits have in store for you Gregory Thompson!” I stared up into the bright blue sky that only held one fluffy white cloud. I turned back to Greg, “Beware things that are fluffy and white!”

Greg laughed, punched me in the face, and stole both our quarters.
After that Mark and I gave up on reading fortunes and went on inside to watch TV.

The next day Mrs. Cole inherited a grape jelly company, my dad ate too much fast food and was stuck on the pot all afternoon and Greg Thompson was hit by a cotton delivery truck. I guess that's what you get when you doubt the spirit world.

PROMPT: My life would be different if I'd never met the old man.

Every town has a house like number Twelve Oak Drive. It's the kind that's all boarded up with an overgrown lawn and a single elderly resident who may or may not be a serial killer. Basically, no one would take you seriously in seventh grade until you broke into the house and came back with a trophy.

I left my friends on the corner and climbed up the side the porch. When I was on the roof I found a window that was open a crack and crept in. It wasn't until I was all the way inside that I noticed the candles. A tall, bony man sat in the middle of the room surrounded by strange patterns drawn on the floor with chalk. He looked up at me and smiled, “So, you have finally arrived.”

“Arrived?” I mumbled.

“Yes,” the man smiled. “I have spent a month summoning you from the shores beyond the mist. You are my new spirit servant. Now, I am hungry. Bring me food!”


The old man leaned across his candles. “Wait, you are a spirit servant aren't you?”

I was about admit that I was just some kid who'd broken into his house on a dare, but then realized what would happen. He would call my parents, my dad would come pick me up, and I would be grounded for a month.

“Sure, I'm a spirit servant!” I grinned. “Just give me one of those candles and I'll get you that food right now!” I crawled out the window, climbed down to the street, handed my friends the candle and then ran to the grocery store where I used all my money to buy some hamburgers and chips.

After I cooked the old man dinner he wanted to hear some music from the spirit world so I brought over my trumbone and played “Louie Louie.” He then wanted to hear tales from “the shores beyond the mist,” so I told him about what happened last week on The Jersey Shore.

Now he's wants me to build him a solid gold palace. I don't know where I'll get the gold but I've spent the last few weeks digging the foundations in his back yard. Every time one of my friends asks me if I want to come over and hang out I have to say, “Nope, I gotta be that old man's spirit servant after school.” All in all, I'd almost rather be grounded.

My prompt was a photograph of people eating in the ocean.

"Please pass the seaweed," said Rick, god of the ocean.
"Get your own damn seaweed," mumbled Becky goddess of forgiveness.
"Look Becky," Rick mumbled, sipping his Budweiser, "I know you're think you're the hottest deity in the universe but maybe you can stop being such a bitch all the time."
"Shut up Dad!"  Shouted Sally, goddess of volcanoes, at the other end of the table.  "At least she lets people forgive each other, you just drown them!"
"Oh!" Rick exclaimed.  "You think she's the better god do you?"
"She's a hell of a lot better than you are!"
While the father and daughter bickered and the mother goaded them on, RJ, the youngest child, and god of music, turned up his I-Pod and glared at his food.
Finally, Sally leapt up fromt the table and bellowed.  "I hate you guys!  You can all die for all I care!"  She stormed off to her bedroom slamming her door so hard it woke up Chester, the hound of plagues.
"See what you did!"  Rick spat at Becky.
"Shut up Rick!"  Becky threw her plates on the ground and stamped away.  "I want a divorce!"
Rick sat at the table silently eating the rest of his cold dinner.  He didn't even notice RJ standing up and leaving to meet with his friends at Burger King.  All four gods were so upset no one remembered to feed Chester.
Across the globe the oceans clashed sinking doezens of ships, friends and family refused to forgive each other for slight offenses, volanoes errupted burying cities in ash and lava, plaques spread across continents, and the music industry collapsed. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Two Penny Sagas from the past

Below are five Two Penny Sagas I wrote before starting this particular blog.

The first two had photographs for prompts.

It was just another day in Tankyo city. Flipper and Gilly were going for a swim around the tiny castle that blows bubbles, completely unaware that danger was lurking nearby.
A dark shadow fell across the watery metropolis. The fish looked up and stared in amazement and terror as an enormous orange feline face stared down at them from the dray air above.
“Look! It is Catzilla!” Flipper said with words that didn't sync with his lips. “King of all Felines!”
The fish swam as fast as they could, stampeding over one another as Catzilla lumbered through Downtown Tankyo breathing fire and gobbling up guppies by the mouthful. He hit the power lines and left a path of wreckage in his wake.
Airplanes flew in and attacked Catzilla with machine guns shooting barnicles. This just made the monster roar louder.
Finally, the fish military knew they had no choice. They launched the scooping net used to deposit dead fish out of the tank. The net hit Catzilla who roared with fury and was flung out of the tank onto dry land once again.
“Our city is saved!” Declared Flipper with a voice that still didn't sync. “But for how long?”

While I was helping my Grandmother clean her attic I was shocked by what I found in a trunk.

“Grandma! Why do you have a cookbook called The Joy of Cannibalism stowed away in the attic?” I ran down the stairs and almost into my grandma who had been sprinting up to the steps.
“Oh! That!” She said looking down at the dusty leather bound volume in my hands. “That's nothing. It's just a prop.”
“A prop?”
“Yes. You know how I used to work in show business?”
“Well I did. And I worked on this one movie that....”
“Grandma, this is awfully detailed for a prop.” I said flipping through the yellow pages. “There's a recipe in here for Leg Lasagnia and another for Backbone Brownies.”
“Well, I don't know sweetie,” my grandmother said. “I haven't looked at that thing in years....”
“But on the title page it says, 'To Grandma, I hope this improves your cooking.' And it's signed by Cousin Mable. 'Christmas 2008.'”
“Yes, well deary,” my Grandmother gently took the book from my hands. “I've get easily confused these days. I can't recall ever seeing that book before. I'm sure it's nothing.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Yes, now come downstairs. I just finished baking some brownies.”

 For the next ones the prompt is in bold

The countdown clock for Christmas was ticking. Santa's elves were working their magic on the assembly lines, but the line came to a screeching halt when rumors leaked that one elf was going to be let go that day.
“WHAT!” Evergreen Jones shrieked at Mistletoe Wilma. “They're firing an elf on Christmas Eve?”
“That's what Noel Nick says,” Wilma whimpered. “Apparently one of the elves has been sneaking 'inappropriate' gifts into the big man's bag.
“Um...inappropriate presents?” Jones mumbled.
“Yeah! Why? You don't know anything about this do you?”
“Well...” Jones shifted his belled feet. “You know that distillery me and Eggnog Nichole started. Well, we haven't gotten that many purchases yet so I thought it might be a good idea to send out free samples to the children of the world.”
“What?” Wilma's pointed ears turned bright red.
“I didn't think it would be labeled 'inappropriate!'”
“What's wrong with you? You'l be exiled from the North Pole and forced to live in Middle Earth with the rest of the elf outcasts.”
“No! Wilma please!” Jones shrieked. “I'll never make it! I'm too pretty! They'll trade me around for pouches of halfling weed!”
“I'm sorry Jones,” Wilma took a step back. “But I'm going to have to turn you in.”
She was about to go when a slender red and white arm grabbed her. A candy cane giant was glaring dow at her. “Mistletoe Wilma!” He boomed. “I have a warrant for your arrest.”
“What? Why?”
“For the distribution of inappropriate presents. Did you really think that Saint Nick wouldn't discover that you were the one building violent video games?”
“But that's not my fault!” Wilma screamed. “All the kids want violent toys this year! Even the girls!”
“That's not what Christmas is about!” The Candy Cane giant placed his gingerbread handcuffs around her wrists and began to lead her away.
He had only gone a few steps when he turned back to Evergreen Jones. “By the way, the big man found out about your little bootlegging operation. We're short on doll houses this year. Make you you produce enough booze to make the children of Europe happy.”
“Uh, yes sir!” Evergreen Jones saluted.
And that boys and girls is the story of how the happiest Christmas in history came to be.

 "What's the worst present you've ever received"

Michael,” my grandmother smiled, “Your birthday present is waiting for you in the garage.”

My heart leapt. It was a sure thing that if my present was in the garage it had to be that new bike I'd been wanting all summer. Grandma, Mom and Dad followed me as I ran out the back door. Grandma grabbed the remote door opener, pointed and pressed.  The garage doors began to lift and my eyes grew wide, eager to see the beautiful red bicycle.

But when they were up all the way up I saw that there was no beautiful bike in the garage. Instead, there was a full grown bengal tiger.

“His name's Ernie!” My grandma squealed. “I found him at the humane society the other day and he needed a home!”

“Oh, my isn't he a darling!” My mom gasped. “Michael, what do you have to say to grandma?”

“Thank you.” I murmured staring at the bengel tiger that paced back and forth glaring at me, licking its chops.

“Would you like to feed it?” Grandma said, pulling a crate out of the back of her pickup truck. I could hear the frantic squeals of a baby pig inside.

“Um, maybe later.” I murmured.

“Michael!” Mom gave me a warning glare.

I opened the crate and threw the pig into the garage. The tiger devoured it ferociously.

“He is so sweet.” My mom cooed.

“He is a handsome animal.” My dad nodded.

Grandma gave me a hug.  “Maybe if you're real good your father will let him sleep with you.”

 "It was half Past Midnight when the paperclips revolted...."

"I was working late in the office when I heard whispering behind me.  I turned around just in time to be blugeoned over the head.
"When I came to I was tied to the floor surrounded by thousands of paperclips.  'The time for revolution is at hand!' they squeaked.  'In the darkness of night we will be the ones clipping you!'  They came in around me and I struggled against my bonds, which were fortunately masking tape, and broke free.
"'ROAWWWWR!' I roared and grabed at the mutinous clips like Godzilla in an unbearably cheap monster movie.  Caught in the moment I gobbled the paper clips whole, devouring their families and crashing through post it note sky scrapers.  Finally, the paper clip empire was no more.
"So, that's why I ate all the paper clips in the office.  Needless to say I have a stomach ache this morning and I won't be in today."

Monday, August 8, 2011

Beginning Les Miserable

Tonight I began reading Les Miserable by Victor Hugo.  I am surprised by how quickly I got beyond page 40.  Of course the book itself is 1460 pages so I'm really just over 2% of the way through the book.  I am almost to the part where the musical begins.  We have not even met the main character yet.

I think one challenge many modern authors have is starting a book right when the story itself begins.  We no longer need a first page that pulls us in.  We need a first sentence, first phrase, first word, first syllable that is so interesting that it grabs the reader and never lets go.  While this can be a challenge in upon itself I think what complicates the situation is that most writers have read books like Les Miserable where the author can spend 50 pages setting up the story.  

While this  style works perfectly for books written centuries ago, most modern readers (and agents) will not give books by unknown authors this kind of patience.  Therefore, an author might be influenced by a classic but end up shooting themselves in the foot if they copy the style by having a long introduction.  There were many agents at the workshops I have attended who complained about having to read 50 pages before they reached what should have been the first chapter.  Reading classics is vital but we need to be aware of what styles are actually being published today.   

Thursday, August 4, 2011


I took a random sentence, used it as the first line in a story and wrote for five minutes. This is what I got.

Only the flimsy wall of my tent separated me from the low rumbling growl.

"What was that mommy?"  Ashley cried clinging to my sleeve.

"Nothing baby," I whispered, clutching my flashlight.  "It's probably just a possum."

The growl came again, shaking the tent walls.  Whatever was outside was circling us.  I could hear it crushing branches and huffing out deep breaths.

"It's the Pennsylvania Rat Man!"  Marcus squealed clutching his favorite transformer.

"There's no such thing!"  Ashley snapped.  "Right Mom?"

"That's right baby," I rubbed her head.

"Yeah there is!"  Marcus insisted.  "It's this gross mutant that the government built from DNA they found on an asteroid that hit this nuclear power plant in Russia!"

The growl came again.  It was right outside the tent.  I searched for a weapon and only found my water bottle.  "You two get to the back of the tent," I whispered.  "I'm going to scare it off."

I could hear my children scrambling behind me.  I grabbed a hold of the zipper and counted under my breath, "One...two...THREE!"

I tore the tent flap open and jumped out shining my flashlight, raising my water bottle like a club and screaming mindlessly.

It only took me a second to see what had been making the noise. 

Standing in front of me was a real thin creature covered in black scales.  It's narrow body was supported by fifty enormous spider legs.  It's eyes glowed like embers and thick streams of saliva dripped between it's yellow fangs.

"Kids!"  I shouted.  "Don't worry!  It's just Arthur!"

"Arthur!"  Marcus and Ashley squealed and ran out of the tent to give it a hug. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

TWO PENNY SAGA: The Sweet Trap

I took a random sentence, used it as the first line in a story and wrote for five minutes. This is what I got.

The headlights were coming straight towards Peter and he couldn’t move.

He desperately struggled against the gallons of caramel that stuck him to the factory floor, but he was completely encased.

“I have you now!” Charlie bellowed from behind the wheel of the steamroller. “Stuck nicely in my sweet little trap!”

“I’m sorry!” Peter bellowed. “I didn’t mean to get you fired!”

“Too late big guy!” Charlie snarled. “Time to crush you like you crushed my dreams.”

“You were a janitor in a caramel factory! How were you fulfilling your dreams?”

Charlie stopped the steamroller and jumped up onto the seat. “I had dreams Peter! I was around Caramel almost twenty-four hours a day! It is the most delicious…most noble of all deserts!”

“No, chocolate is!”

Charlie dropped to the factory floor. “An ounce of caramel has more integrity and flavor than a whole vat of chocolate!”

Struggling against his sugary bonds, Peter shouted, “Chocolate tastes better, is healthier and has a more interesting history!”

“Please!” Charlie rolled his eyes. “Don’t fall for that propeganda. I….HEY!” His feet were stuck in the puddle of caramel where Peter was lying.

“Gotcha!” Peter shouted. “You fell into MY sweet little trap. Now you’re stuck here until security show up tomorrow morning.”

“Oh yeah!” Charlie bellowed. “I’ll still kill you!” He pulled his feet out of his boots but toppled forward landing in the pool of caramel. For a moment the two men struggled but it was hopeless. They were both stuck.

Finally, Charlie mumbled, “I can’t believe this! Stuck in my own trap! And I’m going to miss the Red Sox game.”

Peter managed to turn his head. “Yankees are better.”