Time to Carol the Bells with Another Flash Fiction Challenge!

Welcome back Bookbrainers! Glad to see you’re all here and fired up after a week off for me to rest my weary brain and take care of some light (read: Heavy) cleaning at home last week. I am feeling ready to jump back into things with another crack at the flash fiction challenge world!

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I’m feeling pretty excited about this since lately I’ve been feeling more geared up to write, but have been slacking hard in the writing department (more on that in a later post). So here we go all you fantastic people out there!

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For this month’s challenge, I’m going to be writing a Christmas themed story, but YOU get to choose the genre that I’ll be writing in! Below is a list of genres to choose from.

Crime/detective

Fan Fiction

Fantasy

Folklore/Myth/Tall Tale

Historical Fiction

Horror

Humor

Science Fiction

Suspense/thriller

Western

Comment either here on the blog, on the Facebook page, or on the Twitter page (where I’m also going to attempt to create a poll for the first time), and between all these places the genre that gets the most votes will be the one I’ll be writing a Christmas story in!

You can vote only ONCE per site for a total of three votes if you’re really feeling enthusiastic. I will close the voting at noon on Friday December 15th so you’ll have plenty of time to vote!

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Now get out there and vote!

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Looking Under the Hood

Happy weekend Bookbrainers! I hope all of you are doing well. I want to…*sniff* thank you for all the love and support I’ve gotten for the last flash fiction challenge I did. It was super fun to write and I really enjoyed it!  But this led to an interesting conversation. I was talking with a friend of mine about the story when he said…

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“What is your writing process?”

Now this was a great question that’s not easy to answer. The two main reasons this is hard to answer is because the process changes for the kind of writing I’m doing (short story, poem, a novel, etc.) and that the process is both visual and mental. So to answer this question I’m going to talk about short story writing specifically (though some does apply to novel writing) and mostly just the visual aspect of it, but also some of the mental.

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(Did that make sense? GOOD! Moving on then!)

Step One: To come up with a story there is no better way to describe it as casting my imagination out and seeing what I catch. Often I take something solid like a picture, or a topic, or a question and play with it in my head. And as I think and toss around ideas, eventually something clicks (almost audibly) and there it is. An outline of a story. But at this point it’s like looking at a forest from Google Maps. I can see the whole thing, but no details…yet.

Step Two: Now that I have an idea of a story, it’s time to zoom in on the forest and find the best path through it. At this point I sit down and bullet point out the entire story from start to finish. First A happens, then B, then C, then D, etc. until I reach the story’s end. During this phase I fill in all the gaps and mentally flesh out the characters and find out more about who they are and how they fit into their story.

Step Three: Take all my notes from Step Two and toss them aside.

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Step Four: Now that I’ve tossed my notes aside I sit down and write my story. While I write I have everything from my notes in my head, all the ideas, plots, characters, images, and I follow what I wanted for my story. The reason I toss the notes aside during the actual writing is because (for me at least) the words are a living thing. I have final say over them and I control them, but at the end of the day the story and its characters are a living breathing thing on the page. If I try and force it to fit into an outline that I created that just doesn’t feel right as my fingers dance around the keyboard, then all I’m doing is creating shit writing. A story needs room to organically grow and change as it needs to to become the best version of that story that I’m capable of telling.

Step Five: Revision. This is where I go back over the story and read it as a whole for the first time to myself. Here I’m not focused on anything other than things like, “Is that sentence worded well? Can it sound better?” or “Does this make sense? Will the reader follow and understand what I’m saying and what I mean?” After all that if there’s time (I’m looking at you flash fiction challenges!) then I actually pick through and make sure the editing is as clean as possible.

And there you have it Bookbrainers! That is honestly the best way I think I can describe how my brain processes and writes stories. Is there a LOT of other things that go into writing? OH HELL YES! But to be fair I’m not going to get into the depths of how to best use active sentences or how to establish characterization or techniques of imagery. That kind of skill with writing are things that for the most part I use reflexively on my first drafts and actively on all the others. If you want more on that depth of writing I’m sure I’ll touch on a lot of it eventually here, otherwise look into some good books on writing if you want a more, “How To,” guide. Or read a lot. Reading is awesome!!!

Flash Fiction Challenge 3! Nightmare Rocket Launch!

Happy Halloween Bookbrainers!!! As all of you get ready to enjoy a fun filled weekend of costumes, drinking, and trick or treating, take a minute to enjoy my Horror Flash Fiction Challenge!!!

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“Night Visitor”

Matthew’s eyes snapped open. He could feel the hair on the back of his neck rising as he laid in bed. He listened to Brittany’s breathing as she slept next to him and tried to figure out what had woken him. He had a vague memory of dreaming about when he was a kid and their dog had reached up onto the counter and pulled a whole roasted chicken to the floor and snapped and tore at it.

Matthew shook his head trying to clear away the sleep and to listen again for whatever it was that woke him. He knew that most likely it either Emma or Owen in their bedrooms deciding to play with their toys instead of sleeping, but had to be sure. Matthew listened again, but heard nothing other than Brittany’s breathing.

Matthew slowly pulled back the covers, and being sure to disturb Brittany as little as possible, he slipped out of bed and stood on the cold wood floor. There were no curtains yet on the windows and moonlight streamed in and lit the room. Matthew carefully stepped around the piles of boxes and the bed and walked into the kitchen. He could still smell the pizza from dinner as he walked into the living room and peaked into another door to the first bedroom.

Matthew looked in the room and saw Emma sleeping, mostly, in her bed as her left leg and arm hung free in the air. Matthew stepped around the dolls and books scattered over the floor and gently tucked her back under the covers. She made a quiet pouting noise in her sleep as he did this, then rolled over and began to snore like a bear.

Just like your mother, Matthew thought smiling at Emma and backing carefully out of the room.

Matthew then walked to the other door in the living room and looked in. Inside he could see Owen sleeping in his crib surrounded by an army of stuffed animals.

Soon he’ll need a new bed, Matthew thought turning back into the dark living room and heading for the kitchen.

As he walked quietly in the dark, Matthew couldn’t shake the feeling that something had woken him. The hair still stood up on the back of his neck and that feeling that lives in his gut that warns him of danger was churning.

The children are fine. Brittany is fine, Matthew told himself as he stood in the kitchen. Everything is

Matthew’s mind stopped. It was there. A faint sound coming from outside. He quickly went to the window and looked out into the back yard. The moonlight cast everything in silver shadows as he looked out. The leafless, short, apple trees along the driveway looked oddly menacing; the cornfield looked worse.

The house and yard were located on a corner at a, “T,” intersection of two roads in the middle of miles and miles of farmland in Duck County, Wisconsin. Matthew had loved the seclusion of it, knowing that the only neighbors for miles lived in the cemetery across the road. Looking out now past the rows of corn to the cemetery across the road on the opposite corner, Matthew was much less in love with his choice of neighbors.

At first Matthew couldn’t see anything in all the shadows. He could hear what sounded like low grunts and scraping of something against stone. Then he saw movement. It was faint, but Matthew knew that he could see someone in the cemetery kneeling next to a headstone.

A little late for grieving, Matthew thought watching the figure, probably drunk.

Wanting to get a better look, Matthew went to the back door and slowly turned the deadbolt back, turned the knob, and pulled the door open. The door made no noise as it opened. Matthew eased his left foot onto the back porch to peek around the door to the cemetery. As soon as he put his weight down though, a faint creaking of the wood filled the night like thunder.

Instantly the figure in the cemetery stopped all movement and Matthew could see their head snap up towards him. Matthew froze in place, hugging the doorframe to his chest and only half his face peeking out. He prayed that the shadows would hide him and that the moon wouldn’t give him away. Matthew watched as what must have been a bald man raise his head up and move it from side to side. The image of Matthew’s dog as a child before it snatched the chicken jumped to the front of his mind. Matthew clenched his eyes and forced the thought away. When he opened them he could see the man concentrating again on the grave before them.

Matthew felt his stomach fall away as he watched the man. He could see the man digging out the dirt with his bare hands and toss it behind him. He could hear the sound of the man scrapping away the stones and earth and realized that it was the sound that woke him.

What is wrong with this guy? Matthew thought to himself, trying to push his fear away. He must be on something. I should go see if he’s alright.

Matthew carefully moved fully onto the porch and then down the few steps onto the gravel driveway. Matthew moved with extreme care to avoid making noise, and was able to get onto the gravel without making a sound loud enough to distract the man again. Slowly Matthew made his way closer to the man, careful to pick his footing so as not to make too much noise on the gravel.

What are you doing? Matthew thought to himself, this is just some guy digging up a grave with his bare hands…okay so that’s pretty messed up, but I’m sure he’s just drunk or high or something. I don’t have to be this worried.

Matthew continued to walk closer and closer to the man, trying to get a better view of him and what he was trying to do. Matthew was about thirty yards away when he heard a sound that made him stop. The man had reached the coffin. He could hear the scrapping of the man’s nails on the lid as he scratched at it. A moment later Matthew saw the man’s arm reach back and thrust forward and with a crack the lid of the coffin broke. In the same motion the man drew back his arm holding the skeletal arm of the resident of the coffin. He then drew it across his face, seeming to savor the scent, then with both hand snapped the arm in two, drew it to his mouth, and began to suck on the shattered ends of the bones.

Matthew felt like he’d been shoved forcefully under the surface of a tub of ice water. Vomit burned his throat, but he held it down as his foot instinctually took a step back, crunching into the gravel. The man’s head snapped up again at the sound. He locked eyes with Matthew, his eyes appearing to glow faintly in the shadows.

Shit! Matthew thought, it was the only clear thing in his mind that had been thrown from the life it knew.

The man dropped the bones he was holding into the grave. Never taking his eyes off Matthew, he then stood up and slowly walked around the hole he had dug into the ground to the edge of the road. Here he was bathed in moonlight and Matthew could see him clearly for the first time. Matthew didn’t feel the warm urine soak his pants as he stared in horror.

The thing in front of Matthew could have been a man, but everything was wrong. His arms hung down too long and his hands, which ended in long clawed nails, came down to his knees which were bending backwards like a birds. Matthew could practically see the cords of dense muscle covering its thin frame under its gray parchment like skin. His eyes were hollow and sunken into a skeletal face contorted in a hungry evil grin. As Matthew watched the thing opened its mouth, its jaw extending down further than any human’s could, and exposed its sharp glistening fangs to the moonlight and licked them with a long, thin tongue that hung past its chin.

Matthew screamed wildly, feeling his throat tearing with the strain, as he turned to run back to the house. His legs twisted under him and he pitched forward landing hard onto the gravel and cutting his face. Matthew’s body scrambled to get up, his legs pumping mechanically to try and propel him forward. Just as Matthew started to find his feet and scramble up, he felt an iron vice clamp down on his ankle and drag him back. Matthew looked back as he screamed and saw that the thing had grabbed onto him and was pulling him towards it.

No! Matthew’s mind screamed, and he kicked out with his other foot landing it right in the thing’s face.

Matthew could feel the bottom of his foot cut open on the thing’s fangs as its head rocked backwards and it let go of Matthew’s other leg. Matthew immediately scrambled to his feet and ran across the gravel driveway, ignoring the searing pain in his foot. As he ran, Matthew could hear a guttural yowl behind him and the thing running after him. His chest hurt from the frantic pounding of his heart as Matthew reached the steps to the porch. Matthew could see that the back door was still open and there was Brittany standing there, her eyes wide in shock and terror.

“Run!” Matthew shouted as he charged towards her, practically feeling the thing’s hot breath on the back of his neck.

Brittany moved back just as Matthew came through the door and threw it shut behind him turning the locks. Matthew looked out through the window in the door to see if the creature was behind him, but there was nothing there. All Matthew could hear was the beating of his heart and this heavy breathing, but in the back of his mind he knew Brittany was shouting something.

Where is it? Matthew thought frantically.

“Matthew!” Brittany shouted, finally getting Matthew’s attention.

“Are the kids safe!” Matthew shouted moving to the window and looking out, still not seeing the creature.

“Yes, I just checked on them,” Brittany said, “Who was out there? What’s going on?”

Matthew could hear the children crying in their rooms and was starting to feel light headed from the blood seeping from his foot. His heart was still pumping madly, but he was calmer now and trying to figure out what had happened.

“I’m not sure,” Matthew said looking at Brittany, “There was a…a thing or maybe a man out there. It was dark. I’m not sure what I saw.”

“What happened?” Brittany asked turning a lamp on to give some light, her eyes then bulging to see the puddle of blood trailing from Matthew’s foot.

“There was…” Matthew started to say, but was interrupted by the shattering of glass as the window behind him exploded inward and two long gray arms reached in and grabbed Matthew, sinking their claws into his shoulders, and jerked him screaming into the night.

Matthew felt the pain in his shoulders and the motion backwards through the window, but when his head struck the ground outside everything became dim and distant. He could hear Brittany screaming from far away as he felt himself dragged over the ground into the cornfield. As the darkness swallowed him, Matthew thought about his dog again, so much so that he thought he could even hear the snapping and tearing.

Flash Fiction Winner!

It’s been a long week in our nation’s capital and now that I’m home I’m already getting ready to run out of the house to go to a wedding…but I needed to give all you fine Bookbrainers the answer to what you’ve been wanting…Where is the flash fiction horror story going to take place???

Answer?

In a house next to a cemetery and a corn field! A big thank you to our winner for this challenge, my badass sister, Jenna!

I’ll post the story next Friday! Until then stay spooky Bookbrainers!

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Flash Fiction Challenge 3: Nightmare Rocket Fuel

Welcome to the Thunderdome Bookbrainers! Where many flash fiction challenge votes enter but only one leaves! As you may have noticed from my last blog it’s October and with it Halloween! For this flash fiction challenge I’ll be writing a horror story with your help.

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(Not you Radioactive Janice! Nobody wants your help! Go sit down!)

For this challenge I want you to comment either here on the blog, on Facebook, or on Twitter with a location. The winning location will be where the horror story takes place.

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Rule 1: You can only post ONE suggestion! Make it a good one!

Rule 2: The location must be a real place someone can physically go in real life.

Rule 3: As long as it meets the requirements of Rule 2, then you can pick ANYWHERE! You can be as generic as, “Spot in the Woods,”

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(Isn’t it boootiful?)

to as specific as, 43°51’59.4″N 89°38’00.8″W (that’s longitude and latitude for those that have forgotten). Just keep in mind that if you pick a specific place that that isn’t famous and I haven’t been to it, then I probably won’t pick it. For example, I’ve never been to Times Square in New York City, but it’s famous enough where I wouldn’t ignore it. But when you say the Pomegranate Inn in Portland Maine or, “My neighbor Mrs. Darhansoffthen’s house,” I’ll probably pass since I’ve never been to either of them.

Rule 4: You will have until 6:00pm central time on Friday October 20th to submit your vote for what you want me to write. Now you may be wondering why such a late time? That’s a fair question Mr. Know-it-all sitting around eating Halloween candy and watching reruns of 90’s TV! I’ll actually be leaving on a trip for work this Sunday morning to Washington D.C. and won’t be home again until late on October 20th THEN I have to turn around and go to a friend’s wedding on the 21st. So I’m giving you a little extra time to think of a good location and a heads up that next week’s blog will be a little short. SORRY!!!

Rule 5: I will pick the winner to write about based solely on what I find interesting or feel like in the moment, just like with the other challenges. If you think that’s unfair, I did decide to check in once more with the official Bookbrain referee and…

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Yep, yep, still fair!

I’ll announce the winner in next week’s blog!

The short story will be an original piece of fiction that I’ll write myself with only one week to write it.

The short story will be posted on the blog on October 27th.

Now get thinking and have a great week!

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What’s in a name…besides letters?

Welcome back Bookbrainers! This week I’m going to talk about a part of writing that has always given me difficulty…names.

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When I write I always try and take naming my characters and places seriously. I try and put as much effort into their names as I will my own children. Now I know what you’re thinking, “Whoa there Spencer! Calm your shit it’s just fictional characters,” and to that I nay. See for as a writer I have hopes that someone will read my work someday who isn’t forced to by bonds of love, friendship, family, or ropes. In this off chance that someone I don’t know will take an interest in my work, I want them to feel connected to it the same way I feel towards my favorite characters, and a large part of that is in a name.

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Names carry more than a lot of people realize, unless you’ve had kids and sat around picking names based on how hard they are to work into an insult. (Children are heartless cretins and I can’t wait to have one.) Names do more than just give you something to call someone, they help define how you think of them before you even know them.

Example! Let’s say I have a single female friend who I’m trying to set up on a blind date. I tell her that the guy I’m setting her up with is good looking, smart, funny, adventurous, ambitious, has a great job where he makes lots of money, and loves animals. At this point, she’s probably thinking, “Jackpot!” …then I tell her his name is Bob. You can practically hear the mental breaks screeching to a halt. At this point she will go from thinking this is a great idea, to I’m messing with her. Why? Because of the name Bob. When you picture a, “Bob,” you don’t see the man I described above. You instantly picture something like a man in his 40’s or 50’s, balding on the front and top of his head, a thick 5 O’clock shadow on his face, a not so smart look on his face, smelling faintly of stale beer and pretzels, and an unbuttoned bowling shirt with an old stained white undershirt underneath that barely covers his large stomach.

Why do we have these pictures in our head? Personally I’m not sure, probably something to do with our shared cultural experience leading our perception of reality to a skewed outcome…or you know…aliens?

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Either way there are many more examples in our culture. Which we can test right now! Below I’m going to list a series of names. When you read each name I want you to picture that person in your head. When you do this try VERY HARD not to think of someone you specifically know, just a face you would naturally associate with that name.

Ready?

Sally

Steve

Jason

Bambi

Andrew

Susan

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Alright! Hope you thought hard about those names! I’m going to do a quick rundown of what I think when I hear these names.

Sally – Short with brown hair with a round face. Always smiling and a very nice person.

Steve – Tall and skinny. He most likely has brown hair, patchy short facial hair, nice guy but a little odd, and good with computers.

Jason – An asshole.

Bambi – Not super smart and probably a either a stripper or a spoiled rich girl.

Andrew – Muscular and very assertive.

Susan – Smart and nice, but a little shy.

So how did I do? Did I match up to what popped into your head? Whether I did or not my point is this, you have to always be aware of what you call your characters when writing. Vorkoth can be the name of a villain in a story who can eventually be someone who strikes fear into the hearts of the heroes and maybe even the readers…but if his name is Kyle…well, I’ll leave you with the words of a great man here explain that one to you.

Have a great week Bookbrainers!

I’ve Got the Music In Me

Time to grab your guitars and sober your drummers Bookbrainers! Today we’re talking about music and writing!

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Now what I want to talk about isn’t necessarily about how to write music into a story. If you’re interested in books that write about music so well you think you can hear it, I VERY much recommend Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind. You can check out Rothfuss’ blog and maybe look into getting one of his amazing books here!

No, what I want to talk about is something that happens to me every time I sit down and write. Whenever I’m writing a scene or think of one of my characters, I hear a soundtrack in my head for what’s going on.

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Now many of you may be thinking that there is nothing wrong with that, it could be used as inspiration for music if they ever make a show or movie from the book. Well…you see it is a problem. I’m not normal (as you may have noticed) and I don’t think of the typical epic music scores like you hear in The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars. Nope! I picture a character walking into a room and in my mind I see it in slow motion as “Name of the Game” by Crystal Method blares, “Listen all you mother…”

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(You know what movie scene I’m thinking of)

It’s the same with all the music that pops into my head! If my mind was in charge any movie of my books would have a soundtrack similar to the movie Suicide Squad! Now why do I feel this is a problem? Mostly because I’m the kind of person who daydreams about impossible things. I think about what would happen if I won $500 Million in the lottery tomorrow…

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(Eat shit gravity!)

So naturally I’m someone who does the very narcissistic thing of thinking about a movie version of my book someday. And I honestly have a hard time picturing it with a traditional movie score and not the badass soundtrack floating around the back of my mind. Soundtracks like my thoughts just aren’t done with movies like that and for good reason, it takes all form of seriousness away and reduces immersion. But hey! Maybe I’m wrong, maybe a fun soundtrack with Rolling Stone songs set in a fantasy world similar to medieval times would be fine!

Let me know what you guys think! Do fantasy movies have to have epic instrumental soundtracks, or would it be acceptable to have modern pop and rock hits? Comment here, on the Facebook page, or on my Twitter account. Let me know what you think!