Category Archives: Writing

Why Creative Writers Should Read History Books

The other day I learned something surprising about bananas.

Did you know that bananas were nearly impossible to find anywhere in England during World War Two? As a perishable fruit that had to be imported, it simply wasn’t possible for the government to keep this food source available while there was a war going on.

People improvised all sorts of creative mock banana recipes during those years. One of the most common replacements for this beloved fruit involved boiling parsnips, mashing them, and then adding a little banana essence and sugar. The resulting mixture could be spread on a piece of bread and eaten.

The world changed dramatically between the early 1940s and my childhood. I never would have guessed that bananas had been so hard to find or that people needed to invent replacements for them in the twentieth century. When I was growing up, they were one of the staple snacks in my family due to how inexpensive and healthy they were. I’d often eat a banana after school to tide me over until dinnertime without thinking twice about it.

Study History

True stories like this one are why I think creative writers – especially those in the speculative fiction genre who are often responsible for creating worlds that are very different from the one we live in – should read books about what life was like decades, centuries, and millennia before they were born.

What you and I might consider to be so commonplace that it doesn’t even need to be mentioned was often unthinkable a few generations ago, whether we’re talking about a child’s afternoon snack, a standard medical treatment for a particular disease, a fashion trend, or what the average person might have thought of a specific hot-button issue of their day.

Yes, it’s true that some of these societal shifts are taught in school. There simply isn’t enough time for students to study most of them, though, even if they have a teacher who understands the value of showing exactly how much a society can change in a few short years.

Will I ever write about a world where bananas suddenly don’t exist anymore? Probably not! (Well, unless the Cavendish variety really does go extinct in our world like it was predicted to a few years ago.)

Knowing how a society responds to the loss of a cheap and much-loved type of food can be invaluable, though, if you’re ever hoping to write anything about scarcity or characters whose lives suddenly become slightly worse through no fault of their own.

You never know when a historical anecdote might prove useful. Most of the history books I read tend to be focused on the lives of common folks. That category is broad enough to cover anything from typical diets of a particular age to the evolution of social mores to how different parts of society reacted to certain epidemics, but you can easily specialize in reading narrower slices of history than that if there’s something specific you want to research.

Discover Patterns

Let’s shift gears and talk about Stonehenge for a moment. When compared to what we know about World War Two (and bananas), our knowledge so far of what purpose Stonehenge was meant to fill, who created it, and why they went through all of the trouble of making it could fit into a thimble.

Too much time passed between when it was erected and when future generations developed the tools they needed to study it in depth. The individuals who planned and built it had been gone for so many generations by that point that some of our questions about it will never be answered. All of their knowledge was lost with them.

For example, I don’t think we’ll ever figure out how prehistoric people who hadn’t invented wheels or pulleys yet were able to pull and push such large boulders into place. (I sincerely hope I’m wrong about that, though!)

On a positive note, the cool thing about studying history even casually is that you’ll begin to see certain patterns emerge from one era to the next even if we no longer have all of the details about how something worked. Stonehenge wasn’t the only culturally or religiously significant place that was built and then later abandoned in our world by any means. There are so many other examples of this happening that I can’t possibly list them all.

Extrapolate From the Past and Use It

Our languages, customs, diets, and clothing might have morphed a lot over the course of recorded history, but human beings themselves haven’t changed much at all since we first began writing down our thoughts.

There have been multiple societies who ignored the warning signs of their coming collapse and who crumbled because of that.

There have been many people who were ahead of their time and whose words weren’t taken seriously by most folks until after they’d died.

There have been all sorts of inventions that dramatically improved the lives of the people who adapted it.

There have been diseases, natural disasters, and conflicts that radically altered how a society functioned for as long as humans have been around to form societies.

The more you know about how, when, and why these things happened, the better equipped you’ll be to come up with how similar events could play out in a dragon-infested medieval village or onboard a high-tech star ship thousands of years in the future.

 

10 Pictures That Are Begging to be Turned Into Stories, Part Four

If you’re looking for some inspiration today, keep reading.

A year ago, I decided to start doing something with all of the beautiful, haunting, bizarre, creative, and otherwise unique photos I kept finding on the various stock image sites I have on my RSS feed. That was how this series of posts originally came to be, and today I have another entry in it for you.

As usual, there is a brief description underneath every photo for all of my readers who can’t see the photos for any reason. I’ve also included my thoughts on how I’d use them in a story, poem, essay, or other creative work, but feel free to let your imaginations run wild.

I can’t wait to see how you all react to these images and what you do with them.

This is a picture of a tree stump that’s been carved into the shape of a person. The person’s head is tilted back, and he or she is gazing at the sky. There is a large crack in the tree that is splitting this carving’s neck down the middle.

Step one: carve the perfect sculpture into a tree.

Step two: magically convert all of the knowledge you’ve gained from this project into the energy to carve your greatest work into stone so that it will last for an eternity. When the carving is complete, bring the wooden sculpture back to your home and put it somewhere safe. As long as it is still standing, you will remain alive and well, too.

This is a picture of someone wearing a Guy Fawkes mask looking at a red flower that is sitting on the palm of their hand. 

All I can think about when I look at this photograph are the protests that used to happen in Toronto a few years ago. People wearing these masks often played a large part in those protests. It was fascinating to see how someone behaves (in a totally law-abiding way) when no one knows who they are. Their body language is more relaxed and their movements are freer than one generally sees in a stranger on the streets of this city.

Would you or I behave the same way in that situation? I’d like to think so. Maybe we’d even pause to admire a flower before jumping back into the protest.

 

This is a picture of a young woman whose body is covered in skimpy bandages and whose face is covered in indecipherable writing. She is staring directly at the person who took this picture. 

The first thing to pass through my mind when I saw this was: “why must so many Halloween costumes for women be ‘sexy’?” I have no problem at all with people of any gender choosing to wear revealing costumes on Halloween, but it bothers me that men’s costumes are generally made to look as realistic as possible while women’s costumes are usually made to look as revealing as possible.

As hard as I tried to find some supernatural or science fiction spin on this picture, the only thing it would inspire me to write is a long essay about the intersection between capitalism and sexism.

 

 

This is a picture of two discarded artificial legs lying on a dusty wooden floor. One of the legs is bigger and longer than the other one. 

These legs belong to the same kid. As that child grows up and needs larger artificial legs, they always make sure to pause and take a picture of the limbs they’ve left behind before moving onto the next one.

This isn’t a sad moment to me. It’s a happy one. Look at how much that kid has grown!

This is a picture of someone holding a piece of green moss that has had two googly eyes glued to it. 

After forgetting to buy a birthday present for her preschool-aged son, the main character decided to surprise him with a pet moss. She wasn’t expecting him to love it as he did, and she definitely wan’t expecting the pet moss to grow legs and begin scampering around the house one night.

This picture, titled “Cosmic Winter Wonderland,” is of region NGC 6357 in space. It is a birthplace for new stars. The stars in the photograph are surrounded by large clouds of dust that resemble the clouds made of water we have on Earth.

How did life first begin? Many people have wondered that over the years. I’d like to think it happened in a place as beautiful and peaceful as this one. Perhaps it could even be witnessed by aliens or other beings who were intelligent and long-lived enough to see it all play out.

 

This is a picture of a green parakeet. It is staring directly at the photographer. 

This bird looks slightly annoyed to me. Is it actually annoyed, though? Do birds have a similarly difficult time reading human body language?

If the first sentient aliens we ever met were avian-like, how well would our species be able to understand each other? Would they find us endearing the way humans often squeal over birds on Earth?

Why can’t I stop thinking about this scenario?

 

This is a picture of a barefoot woman who is sitting in a grocery cart. 

I love everything about this photo other than the fact that the subject is barefoot. It seems like such a dangerous place to walk around if you’re not wearing shoes.

Of course, the subject has probably heard this a thousand times before. She no doubt has some sort of invention to keep anything from cutting her feet as she runs around. Maybe she’s a scientist or a magician?

This is a picture of a man who is cosplaying in the forest. He’s carrying an ornate walking stick and wearing a green cloak and other Medieval-esque pieces of clothing. 

Anyone else would have been terrified by the sight of a dragon appearing in the sky and landing in the park one summer day. Marvin had played so many rounds of Dungeons & Dragons, though, that he was sure he could get it to fly home again.

This is a picture of an empty playground that is covered in fog.

What if Stephen King’s The Mist wasn’t just a story? We know how it ended in the parallel universe he tapped into while he was writing, but maybe this is how that tale will begin in our universe.

Previous posts in this series:

10 Pictures That Are Begging to be Turned Into Stories

10 Pictures That Are Begging to be Turned Into Stories, Part Two

10 Pictures That Are Begging to be Turned Into Stories, Part Three.

How to Survive a Paranormal Storyline

 

“Cara Mujer” by Cesar Tort.

Congratulations on your new home, job, vacation spot, construction project, antique gift, or other plot device that has invited a restless spirit into your formerly-peaceftul storyline!

While most of the characters who take the time to look up what to expect in a haunting are the protagonists, I’d like to give a special shout-out to all of the supporting characters who were attentive enough to realize that something was seriously wrong with this new development in your lives. The fact that you figured this out so soon speaks well of your chances of making it to the end.

On the topic of the changes you’ve noticed, you’re not hallucinating, exaggerating, or imagining anything. Those noises you’ve been hearing late at night when no else is around are real, and the spirits are only going to amplify their attempts to grab your attention if you don’t act now.

Unlike post-apocalyptic storylines, secondary characters aren’t doomed to die in these tales, and not every protagonist is guaranteed to survive either. Sometimes everyone lives. In other cases, everyone dies. Every haunting is unique in this regard.

So much depends on what sort of spirit you’re dealing with, how quickly you figure out that they are a threat, and how intelligently you respond to the escalation in their behaviour after that.

All characters regardless of their role in the plot should follow these rules if they want to survive:

  1. Escape through one of the rare and usually obscurely-marked exit doors. If you happen to notice what is really going on before the end of the first scene and the spirits have shown themselves capable of any violent behaviour at all, this is by far your best chance for survival. This technique generally doesn’t work, though, which leads me to the rest of this list…
  2. Research the history of the haunted item or location. Visit your local historical society, library, senior centre, nursing home, or any similar place that may have first-hand accounts of how your ghost died and what he or she may needs in order to move on to the next world. If the first hints of a haunting happen when these places aren’t open to the public, looking up any information you may already have online is an acceptable substitute as long as you follow up on any leads you found first thing in the morning.
  3. Don’t tolerate any distractions until you’ve completed the previous assignment. Any character who attempts to downplay your concerns or delay your research for any reason at all is a threat to your survival. They almost certainly will not be doing this on purpose, but this doesn’t make them any less dangerous. Avoid them as much as possible until after the climax has ended (assuming they survive that long).
  4. Look for discrepancies. Sometimes newspaper articles, diaries, eyewitness testimonies, and other pieces of evidence are incomplete, accidentally inaccurate, or even purposefully fabricated for any number of reasons. If the various accounts of the spirit’s life and death are contradictory, keep digging until you’ve found more clues about what really happened. Do not discount any records immediately, but also avoid assuming that you know the whole story this early on in the plot. You almost certainly do not.
  5. Never split up the group in a haunted building. Does this even need to be said anymore? No matter how tempted you may be to speed up your exploration of the grounds, we all know that this never ends well for ghost-hunting groups that attempt it. Stick together and stay alive.
  6. Call in a psychic. Yes, I know that they aren’t always helpful in these sorts of plots. Some of them act like they’ve never met a vengeful spirit before, and others honestly don’t seem that psychically sensitive at all! I’m not saying you should take everything they say as the unvarnished truth, but they may be able to provide pieces of the puzzle that no one knew about at the time of the victim’s violent or sudden death.
  7. Listen to the psychic’s recommendations. If they tell you the spirit is violent and dangerously uncooperative, follow their instructions on how best to deal with such an entity without delay. This includes moving away from your dream home or giving up on that desperately-needed trip if that’s what they recommend. Nothing is worth risking your life over.
  8. Don’t bother throwing away or destroying haunted objects. As thrilling as it might be for readers who are brand new to this genre to see the horrified look on your face when that doll or other item magically ends up right back in your home in pristine condition, everyone else know that this is nothing but a waste of time. Call in a second psychic instead if you really insist on dragging out the rising action or climax.
  9. Burn the bones. If there’s one thing that Supernatural has taught me, it’s that the fastest way to permanently get rid of a ghost is by finding their grave and burning their remains. Make this a priority if appeasing the spirit in other ways doesn’t work the first time you attempt it.
  10. Double-check your work. Just because you think you’ve found the right grave or performed the correct ritual doesn’t mean there are no loose ends flapping around out there in this part of the plot. Don’t let down your guard until you’ve made sure that you’ve destroyed everything that’s tying the ghost to this realm and you really have reached the conclusion after all.

Final Thoughts

A few of you are probably wondering if you’re actually in one of those rare paranormal stories that involves a completely harmless spirit. The fact that you read this far means this is extremely unlikely to be true. Even the most mischievous ghost who had a truly friendly nature would stop immediately and reveal their identity if they frightened someone. It’s only a joke if everyone is laughing along!

The fact that you’re worried enough about your haunting to read this essay means that you’re not dealing with one of those rare spirits that is only rattling your dishes or opening your kitchen cabinets as a lighthearted attempt to grab your attention.

Listen to your intuition. If you do that and follow the steps listed above, you still stand an excellent chance of living long enough to either see the ghost move onto the next world or transferring to a safer place to live yourself.

Previous posts in this series: 

How to Survive a Post-Apocalyptic Storyline.

5 Reasons Why You Should Become a Reviewer for Long and Short Reviews

Today’s post is a little off the beaten path when compared to the topics I normally blog about here, but it’s something that I’ve been thinking about discussing with my followers for a while now.

First of all, you might be asking yourself what this site is and why I’m telling you about it. Well, Long and Short Reviews is a book reviewing site that I’ve been a huge fan of for many years. They are the most professional, trustworthy, and well-run review site I’ve discovered so far, and I’ve spent countless hours researching this topic.

Long and Short Reviews comes to mind every time one of my author friends talks about their need for more book reviews. There are so many amazing stories out there that really deserve more recognition. One of the best ways for them to be discovered by people who would love them is if reviewers take the time to write about them. The more reviews an author can get, the more chances they have to find their perfect audience.

There Are Many Books to Choose From

Long and Short Reviews receives more requests for reviews than it’s current pool of reviewers can read.

Whether you’d like to read erotica, romance, mysteries, science fiction, paranormal, horror, fantasy, young adult, or children’s stories, there’s something for every reader there.

They have short stories, novellas, and full-length novels in all of these genres, too. The vast majority of the books they have available for review are e-books, so it doesn’t matter what part of the world you’re from. Any reviewer who is comfortable writing in English is encouraged to apply.

Every volunteer reviewer is also free to review from as many or as few genres as they please. Some of them only read one genre while others are known to write reviews from a wide variety of genres. No one is ever assigned a particular story. They are always free to make that decision for themselves.

All of the Reviews Are Honest and Snark-Free

One of the biggest reasons why I like Long and Short Reviews is their policy of only posting honest, snark-free reviews.

If one of the reviewers notices an issue with a story, they aren’t afraid to speak openly about what didn’t work for them and why that part of the plot, character development, pacing, or other aspect of the storyline could use some more development.

Nothing is sugar-coated, but it’s also never snarky. Any criticism a book might receive is always written with the goal of helping the author become a better writer in the future.

The kindness of their reviewers is seen in every review, from the ones that receive the highest possible score to the ones that receive the lowest possible score. I’ve seen multiple examples of authors thanking reviewers there for pointing out the parts of a story that didn’t work for them and explaining their reasons for feeling that way.

It’s a Great Way to Support Authors

As I alluded to above, writing reviews are one of the best ways to support authors. I have a wide circle of friends who are writers, and many of them talk about the difficulties of finding potential fans out there.

Every review that is published increases the chances of someone stumbling across an author they’ve never heard of before but are going to love.

I always read the reviews before I buy a new book or borrow it from the library. Doing this has steered me towards certain titles and away from other ones on many occasions.

Not every story is going to appeal to every reader. By taking the time to type up reviews of the types of books you like, you increase the chances of them being discovered by other potential fans.

Yes, I’m including less-than-stellar reviews here as well. While some criticisms that are objective like not using standard punctuation marks, many other parts of the reviewing process are highly subjective.  One person’s pet peeve in a particular genre might be stuff that another reader doesn’t mind or even really likes.The more reviews a book has, the higher the chances are of it being found by new fans who are in the market for that exact kind of story.

The Community Is Warm and Supportive

The comment sections of the reviews and blog posts on Long and Short Reviews are a wonderful place to browse if you have some free time this week.

I’ve met so many interesting people as a result of spending time on this site.

Some of the authors there have been submitting their books for years. They’ve built up relationships with the reviewers and their readers over that time that occasional spills over into the comments section.

There are also relationships being built in Saturday Seven, the weekly book meme this site created a few weeks ago that you may have noticed I’ve been participating in. It’s going to be a lot of fun to see how that community grows in the future.

You May Discover New Favourite Authors

This is by far the most subjective point on this list.

I obviously can’t promise when it might happen for you or even if it will happen at all. So much depends on what you like to read and what kinds of tales are sent in for possible review in any given month.

With that being said, Long and Short Reviews has many Indie authors and small publishers who are regularly featured there. I’d never heard of most of them before I began following this site.

A few of the authors I first discovered on this site have since been added to my very short list of authors on my I Must Read Everything They Write list.

Given how much of my free time I spend reading and how high my standards are for my must-read list, this is a pretty big compliment. If an author makes it to that list, they’re virtually always bound to stay there for good.

If You’re Interested…

If any of my readers are interested in signing up to become a reviewer, this page has all of the rest of the information you’ll need to apply. Go check them out on Twitter or the book reviews section on Long and Short Reviews to get a feel for the kind of casual, conversational writing style they’re looking for.

Don’t hesitate to speak up if you have any questions. The people who run that site are quite friendly and helpful. Of course, I’m happy to help you out, too!

10 Pictures That Are Begging to be Turned Into Stories, Part Three

I come across the strangest and most interesting images when I’m searching for stock photos for this blog. It always makes me a little sad when I realize that nothing I’ve written so far fits them in any way.

This is the third instalment in my series of posts about these kinds of pictures. As always, I included a brief description of  each photo directly below it for anyone who isn’t able to see them.  If you use of these images as a writing prompt, I’d love to know how you interpreted it! Send me a message about it on Twitter.

Picture description: two young girls are crouching underneath a stone doorway. They are gazing at something that is just outside of the scope of the photograph. 

I don’t actually see anything horror-related in this image at all. The girls in it look well cared for and only mildly startled. Maybe they were visiting a kind relative and playing hide-and-go-seek with their cousins? It would also make sense for them to try to sneak out of the house to buy more candy only to be caught by a slightly-annoyed parent just before they made their final dash for sugar.

Picture description:  there are three glowing glass bottles filled with some sort of liquid. One of the glasses is blue, one is teal, and the final one is purple. 

I have one word for you: spells. If spells really existed in our world, Don’t you think this is exactly what they’d look like? Bright, pretty colours like these would probably have happy effects. It’s the dark, cloudy bottles you’d need to be careful with.

Picture description: a man with a large barcode tattooed onto his face is staring out directly at the audience. One half of his face is obscured by shadow. 

Is technology going to save the future or ruin it? I’d argue it will do a little of both, but the barcode makes me think that this dystopian setting isn’t going to give the main character many chances to turn things around before everything falls apart. On the flip side, maybe the tattoo will give him the camouflage he needs to slip through the shadows and live well just outside the reach of mainstream society.

Picture description:  a group of businesspeople are wearing conservative suits and shiny leather shoes. They are facing the camera and pulling up the legs on their pants, revealing colourful striped socks on their legs. Their faces aren’t visible.

These people – and no, not all of them are men – grew up together. The hours they spent constructing imaginative worlds as children followed them into adulthood. Every once in a while, they take a weekend away from their adult responsibilities and revisit the magical places they’ve been telling each other stories about for as long as they can remember.

Their colourful socks are a dead giveaway that one of these weekends is about to begin.

Picture description:  a human skull and bones are partially buried in the woods. They are lying on top of and next to a very old flight of wooden steps. 

No, this person didn’t have a violent death. It was a good one, and their soul was at rest until this happened.

Here’s the problem: they had a wooden headstone and the graveyard they were buried in fell out of use a few decades after they died. A few hundred years later, the family who was planning to build a house here accidentally dug them up alongside the remains of a dozen or so other forgotten plots.

They will all be reburied soon. On an even better note, their headstones will all be made of stone this time. Soon they will at rest again, and this time it will be forever.

 

Picture description: smooth, grey stones that have been glued together to look like a flock of birds. 

I’m imagining  a lonely old man who recently lost his spouse and their dog in the same year. The man has been an artist for decades, but he’s never had this much free time to fill. Adopting a new dog from the animal shelter helped him fill up much of that time, especially since Oscar the dog loved going on walks even more than his new human did.

One  day he discovered some smooth grey stones while they were out on one of their walks. After collecting them for a few months, he began to glue them together to make little birds. He noticed a flyer that was advertising a community art event at the library. They were looking for more local artists to participate in it.

On a whim, he signed up. Not only did he sell nearly all of his birds, he met several other artists there and quickly developed strong friendships with them. Nothing could ever replace his wife or previous dog, but he wasn’t lonely anymore. He now had friends, a rewarding hobby, and many reasons to wake up in the morning.

 

Picture description: a blindfolded woman who is wearing a loose dress standing beside the ruins of an old building. 

Some books like to straddle genres. Half of the plot of this one would be a chilling ghost story about an old house that was so haunted it had been abandoned entirely. No one could ever convince the angry spirits who lived there to move on.

The other half of it would be a spicy romance between the main character – a psychic who believes that ghosts are more willing to talk to you if can’t see them – and the EMT who rescued her in in the first scene when she fell off the steps and badly cut her leg on a sharp piece of debris.

Picture description:  a woman is calmly standing upside down on her kitchen ceiling. The table, appliances, and everything else in this room are obeying the laws of gravity like normal. 

This is what happens when you only pay part of your monthly gravity bill. Will she learn her lesson? Only time and a few wacky hijinks will tell for sure.

Picture description: a ghostly woman carrying a lantern while walking on a beach. She appears on both the right and left side of the photo. There is an old building in the background.

The fact that we can’t see the face of this “ghost” makes me think it’s a woman pretending to be a ghost with trick photography in order to draw attention to the building in the background. Maybe she owns a bed and breakfast there and thinks she’ll get more business if people think it’s haunted.

Something tells me that the actual ghosts who live there won’t be to happy with this, though.

Picture description:   a giant paw print on the edge of a concrete step. The paw has four sharp claws that extend over the lip of the step and onto the side of the next step. 

Monsters are real. Not only that, but some of them have learned how to thrive in our modern, urban world while only rarely leaving behind traces of their existence.

The construction workers wondered if something had been lurking around their worksite at night or when they went on their lunch break. It wasn’t until this paw print appeared that they were certain something was coexisting with them.

Since it never hurt anyone and since the concrete had hardened by the time they discovered the print, they decided to leave it as it was. Maybe the creature will come out of the shadows for good one day if he or she sees it.

Previous posts in this series:

10 Pictures That Are Begging to be Turned Into Stories

10 Pictures That Are Begging to be Turned Into Stories, Part Two

My Blog Won a Liebster Award

Thank you to Bread from Queer Little Family for nominating me for this award. Bread and I met on Twitter earlier this year. She lives with her wife and son in Wales, and she blogs about everything from the funny side of parenting to what life as a member of the LGBT community is like.… Read More

The Endless Summer of 2017: A Review

Title: The Summer That Refused to End: What Really Happened to Ontario in 2017 Author: Gaia Terra Publisher: Cosmos Release Date: June 21, 2017 End Date: Unknown Rating: 3 Earths out of 5 Review: Just when you thought summer had ended…it came back for more! The summer of 2017 definitely started out innocently enough. Without… Read More

Can a Blog Post Be Too Short?

I like to read short blogs so write short blogs, prob 300 words max. Do you think it can be too short? — Eliza Hope (@elizahope228) July 3, 2017 Eliza tweeted this to me last week in response to Why I Don’t Agree with Padding Out Blog Posts. I thought it would make a great… Read More

Why I Don’t Agree with Padding Out Blog Posts

As I promised last week, today I will be discussing why I’m so against the idea of padding out a blog post in order to reach a specific word count. One of the most widespread trends in the blogosphere these past few years has been to write incredibly long posts. Yes,  I know that this is… Read More

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