What is a Drabble?

What Is A DrabbleDrabbles are growing more and more popular. I’m seeing more and more drabble compilations, and I’m seeing more and more publisher calls for drabble-format fiction.

So what is a Drabble anyway?

A Drabble is a 100-word fiction story. Exactly one hundred words. No more. No less.

I’ve had several drabbles published over the last year:

[Read more…]

Reflections on AWP 2015

The ‘Largest Literary Conference in North America’ comes to Minneapolis

AWP Conference 2015The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (or AWP) holds a conference each year in a different city. Minneapolis, MN was lucky enough to be chosen this year to host the ‘largest literary conference in North America.’ Approximately 13,000 people attended.

What’s the AWP you ask? Good question. From their website: [Read more…]

(Never Slept With) Diablo Cody

In 2008, a coworker brought me a copy of the local newspaper and pointed to the cover story. Diablo Cody had just won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Juno. In the article, she said how she wrote most of the screenplay at a Starbucks in Crystal MN.

“Isn’t that right by your house?” my coworker asked.

It was. Not only was it right by my house, and not only had I been there many times, but I had actually seen Diablo Cody there many times. But I had no idea who she was until that very moment, when I saw her picture on the front page, and connected the name with the face.

“So did you ever talk to her?”

I laughed. “I saw her there a lot, but I didn’t sleep with her.”

The Song Soon To Be Formerly Known As Diablo

2008 was “The Year of the Spiral” and Jagged Spiral was at the height of its career. We were working on a jam with the temporary title of “Disco Spiral.” The jam had been around for a while but I hadn’t come up with any lyrics yet. That evening at practice, Colin asked me what I thought the song was about and something in my head just clicked.

“It’s about how I never slept with Diablo Cody.”

The song became known as “Diablo” and I used that concept to write some lyrics. We played the song out several times, and there’s a rough youtube video of us playing at Station 4 where I’m still trying to lock down the lyrics.

Unfortunately, the song was cursed. Every time we played Diablo, bad things would happen, usually equipment failures. While recording tracks for Diablo, a computer crash wiped out an entire evenings worth of recordings. We were loading gear into Colin’s car, and Colin said the song might be cursed, because every time we played it…. Just then, the strap on his gig bag broke and the bag holding his pedal board dropped to the concrete.

It was official. Colin and Josh demanded that we never mention the “D-word” again.

So I changed the lyrics. Muted the original lyric tracks in the recording and re-recorded the new lines. Diablo Cody became Diablo the Devil. I added some angels and sexual innuendos. Colin proclaimed the song was now called “Prophet”  and you’ll see it listed that way on the Fire And Dice album. I’m not displeased with the new lyrics, but to be honest, I missed the original lyrics.

The Return of Diablo

Prophet was released on the Fire and Dice album in Dec 2013. In January 2014, I started to poke around the project file. Deleted the new lyrics and unmuted the original vocal tracks. Touched up a couple lines, and even managed to add in references to her more current projects, United States of Tara, Young Adult and Paradise. Replaced the drum kit with MIDI drums. Cut out a boring section of the song that we had intended to cover with solo guitar later but never did. I mixed and mastered the track and decided that I would give it to Diablo Cody as a Christmas gift.

This song is not intended as any kind of jab or insult. I have nothing but respect for Diablo Cody and hope she continues to write awesome screenplays.

I don’t know Diablo Cody, but she seems like the kind of person who would appreciate the sense of humor in this song. I hope she likes it.

Spooky Halloween Drabble – My Boss Is Evil

Spooky Halloween Drabbles 2014 book coverWhen I learned about the opportunity to write a “drabble” for a Halloween-themed drabble anthololgy, I didn’t even know what a drabble was. I had to look it up.

According to wikipedia, a drabble is a 100-word fiction story. Exactly one hundred words. No more. No less.

As you can imagine, I was able to write one very quickly. It was more of a challenge than I thought to get exactly one hundred words. But in an evening, I’d written a spooky little drabble about someone having a bad day at the evil office performing evil tasks for their evil boss.

My drabble titled My Boss Is Evil was accepted for publication in the Spooky Halloween Drabbles 2014 anthology, and it is now available for just 99 cents on amazon.com:

Spooky Halloween Drabbles 2014

Warning! Drabbles are higly addictive! Each one just takes a few seconds to read, and once you start in on these spooky little fiction snacks, it’s like opening a tube of Girl Scout Thin Mint Cookies. It’s tough to stop!

For Fuck’s Sake! – The Art Of Swearing And Cursing In Fiction Writing

Swearing and Cursing in Fiction WritingGeorge Carlin said it best:

“There are no bad words. There are bad thoughts, bad intentions… and words.”

If you don’t believe that, then you should stop reading this post. Right fucking now. Because having been both an angry young man and served time in the military, I’ve grown and sharpened a fairly salacious tongue.  But even I know that there’s a time and a place for swearing, and it’s useful for authors to know when and where it’s OK to do so.

Whether you SHOULD swear or not is often obvious. Swearing probably isn’t a good idea if you’re writing for a children’s market, religious market, or for something that will be publicly read/displayed such as a newspaper or contest. Swearing at all  in these cases is like swearing at your boss during a performance review, so you might want to check out “Alternatives to Swearing” below.

But when writing fiction, it’s not a question of whether you can or can’t – it’s the art of HOW MUCH SWEARING IS TOO MUCH that gets writers in hot water and poor reviews.

One author’s ‘Realistically Portrayed Character’ is another reader’s ‘Pottymouth.’  [Click to Tweet This!]

Less is More

One of my beta readers for Evil Looks Good pointed out my overuse of swearing in my rough draft manuscript, which surprised me until I went back and read it again. The story involves characters who were members of a Minneapolis rock band, and they swore a fair amount.

I’ve been in bands for years, and hung out with plenty of musicians, both on and offstage. There’s all kinds of unacceptable backstage behavior, and swearing is the least of it. While writing Evil Looks Good, I wanted to bring that verisimilitude to the story. But one author’s verisimilitude is one beta reader’s ear-burning.  After re-reading the draft, I decided that she was right.

Overuse of swear words in fiction waters down their impact like using too many exclamation points. I fixed this by choosing only a few characters in the novel as “pottymouths” (or “blue” if you prefer.) This helped my story in two ways. First, limiting the swearing to certain characters made those characters “blue” instead of the entire book. Second, because only those particular characters swore, it give them a more distinct personality. In fact, I was able to remove some speaker attributions (“He said” or “she said”, etc.) which helped the dialog flow better.

If you’re telling an entire story in first-person and the first-person narrator is the swearer, this can be tricky, but it can still be done. Simply limit their swearing to certain situations. Perhaps they don’t like crowds, they get frustrated and irate, and their language becomes more crass. Or perhaps they only swear when they are with people they know and trust, letting their real feelings show. Perhaps they only swear when they are around people they don’t know and trust, keeping them distant on purpose. Perhaps they only swear when things aren’t going their way, something many of us can relate to.

The overuse of swear words in fiction waters down their impact, like using too many exclamation points. [Click to Tweet This!]

Ripley Quote from Aliens - Get Away From Her You Bitch!Cutting back on swearing makes it more powerful when it does occur. You can use this to your advantage. In the movie Aliens, the line “Get away from her, you bitch!” is used to awesome effect. It occurs at exactly the right time and place, and it’s one of the most recognizable and quotable lines from the movie. Less is more.

Be careful not to overdo this. I guess I mean ‘underdo’ this. If you write six books in a series without any swearing and then suddenly break out a curse word, audiences will get their feathers ruffled. Ask J.K. Rowling, because this is what she did in the Harry Potter series, which had NO swearing until the seventh book, when Mrs. Weasley says, “Not my daughter, you bitch!” To some readers, that’s like getting most of the way through a meal and then biting down on a jalapeno pepper. And while it brought J.K.Rowling a slew of media attention, much of it was negative.

Keep in mind that some people are very sensitive to swearing, and the more you use it, the less they will like your book. Here’s an area where knowing what your target market likes/doesn’t like can help guide your writing.

When To Swear, And When To Keep Your Fucking Mouth Shut

So we’ve established that “less is more” when it comes to swearing. But that doesn’t mean we have to cut it out completely. There are many cases where swearing can be a useful author’s tool:

Swearing to Set the Tone

If your novel is filled with horrific monsters, terrifying situations and /or tentacle porn, you might wanna set that “R” rating right on page one. One way to do that is by enlisting unsavory language. Those who are easily offended will  be offended, but you may be better off establishing that this is an adult book on page one, rather than letting them get to the part where the couple having sex in the woods are devoured by spider-leeches.

Swearing to Establish Character

A hard-boiled detective whose default curse word is “golly” is bound to get some laughs. If that’s what you’re after, fine. But if you want people to take your tough-as-nails characters seriously, you may have to give them some tough-as-nails language, especially when we first meet them. Similar to setting the tone of the novel, a first impression of a character swearing can help your audience to get a quick lock on the character’s personality.

Be careful with this tip. Some people think swearing is a sign of lack of intelligence. It’s reassuring to see someone else as baffled about this as I am.  But you can use this to your advantage, as well. Wanna make a character seem dumb? Make them swear like a sailor. Wanna make a character seem complex? Make them swear like a sailor, but reveal their occupation as an astrophysicist.

Swearing to Heighten Tension

Swear words can make a scene more dramatic. A normally docile person who breaks out a swear word can help the audience realize how upset that character is without ever dipping into their POV (point of view). A group of people disarming a bomb might start dropping swear words as their stress level increases.

Swearing to Break Tension

Sometimes, swearing can help transition tension to the breaking point, triggering a resolution.  This is used to great effect in many Hollywood movies. I’ve already mentioned Aliens. In the movie Jaws, just before Sheriff Brody pulls the trigger, he says, “Smile you son of a bitch!” And the Die-Hard franchise wouldn’t be what it is without the properly placed “Yippie Ki-Yay, Motherfucker!”  This would be the part in the movie where the audience cheers. Consider it the cherry on top, but it should be carefully placed and used in moderation.

Alternatives to Swearing

It never fails. As soon as society picks out a word that describes a negative aspect of a person, group, or situation, the word itself gets labeled as “bad” and using it becomes taboo. So we find another word, and the cycle continues. My philosophy is that writers use words, and can’t afford to be afraid of them. But if you’re writing under restrictions, or the editor or beta-readers ask you to kindly remove all the “assholes” from your story, then here are some alternatives to swearing that you can use in your fiction writing:

Create Your Own Swear Words

If you’re a writer, then hopefully you are creative enough to make up your own swear words. I really enjoy it when authors do this, because it adds a layer of depth to the story world.

In Joss Whedon’s series Firefly, slang Asian words were used as swear words. This lent a feel of futuristic, cultural blendedness to the show’s sci-fi mythos. In the Harry Potter series, you might run across a “Merlin’s Beard!” or the like. My favorite swearing is done by Spongebob Squarepants. “Tartar Sauce” and “Barnacles” get the point across and add humor at the same time. In my own short story, Homeward Through Darkness, the protagonist Cyan uses the curse word “Static!”

“Shut The F…ront Door!” – Implied Swearing

Flipping. Frigging. Frak. F-bomb. N-word. Anyone old enough to masturbate knows what these words really mean, but for many people, implied swearing or Curse-Lite is completely acceptable. This works great… around the swear-tip-jar in the office, or when the kids are within earshot. But in fiction writing, it often has a comedic effect. If that’s what you’re after, then flipping go for it, you Son Of A Sea Biscuit.

Show, Don’t Tell – Working Around The Word

The very best way to work around calling someone a “bitch” or an “asshole” is to SHOW, DON’T TELL. You’ve only heard that advice a billion times now, but here is one of the billion reasons why.

If Character 1 calls Character 2 a bitch, then that’s just their opinion, which may or may not be true. But, if you show us Character 2 doing bitchy things, then the audience will fill in the blank for you.

You can also encourage audience  participation by holding the blank out there for them:

“Oh you are such a…,” Character 2 turned and stormed out of the room.

This works better than swearing, because people will fill in the word this is most meaningful to them. Swearers will fill in the word “bitch” and non-swearers will fill in the word “crabby” (or whatever adjective non-swearers use to describe bitchy people). We all get the point, and no one is offended.

Lets Just Sum This Shit Up, Eh?

Art imitates life. And there is swearing in real life. Ergo, there will be swearing in art. Some people appreciate this, and some do not.

Think of swearing as a spice, like cilantro or cayenne. Not everyone likes it. Some people are allergic to it. So use swear words in moderation – not just when appropriate, but when no other word will fucking do.

Writing the Unwritable – The Art of Subtext by Charles Baxter

The Art of Subtext Book ReviewCharles Baxter recently gave a rousing speech to writers at The Loft Literary Center, where he discussed his book, The Art of Subtext.

The Art of Subtext (subtitled ‘Beyond Plot’) discusses that aspect of writing that… actually isn’t within the writing.

The Art of Subtext discusses and illustrates the hidden subtextual overtones and undertones in fictional works haunted by the unspoken, the suppressed, and the secreted. – https://www.graywolfpress.org/books/art-subtext

Subtext is the Loch Ness Monster of writing tools. [Read more…]

New Website Domain Name Extensions – What’s In It For Authors?

Author Domain NamesMost people are familiar with the domain name extension “.com” (dot com) that ends the majority of websites. “Com” was meant to be short for commerce, but it really gets used as a catch-all for things that don’t belong in other web extensions like .gov, .edu or .org.

Bar Chart of Domains as of 13 Apr 2014 http://www.domaintools.com/statistics/tld-counts/

Bar Chart of Domain Extensions as of 13 Apr 2014 http://www.domaintools.com/statistics/tld-counts/

As you can see from the report I pulled from domaintools, the extension “.com” is currently the undisputed king of website name endings.  But that may change soon.

Since November 2013, new extensions are being released each month:  .today, .tips, .photo, .sexy, .vip, .lgbt, .cool, .ninja, .social, .love, and many more are already  available,  and there are more coming out each month.

Of interest to authors – .blog, .guru, .diy, .bio, .events, .how, .reviews, .expert and more are already available. These are coming soon: .fans, .new, .buy, and .free. In Jan of 2015, the extension .you becomes available. That should be interesting. And I’m sure we could make all kinds of interesting sites out of the ending “.ing”.  And there are many more soon to come…

…including .author. [Read more…]

2014 Writing Process Blog Tour

Fellow Minnesota Author Michael Merriam asked if I’d participate in a virtual blog tour about writing process. Actually, he told me if I didn’t do it, “terrible misfortune was certain to come my way! Very soon!”  

Fortunately, I know Michael is a liar. The man makes up stuff all the time. Good stuff. Check out Michael Merriam on Goodreads  if you don’t believe me.

But it sounds like fun to participate. (And why take a chance, right? I mean “terrible misfortune”? Yikes!) So here is some info about my current work and writing process: [Read more…]

What Is A Birthday Ungift?

Purge

Photo Credit    – Rebecca Selah

In addition to all other inalienable Birthday rights, I hereby add – The Birthday Purge and the Birthday Ungift.

  • Birthday Ungift (noun) – Something you give up on your birthday that makes you happy to have it out of your life.
  • Birthday Purge (verb) – The act or process of choosing and removing Birthday Ungifts from your life.

In addition to receiving gifts on your birthday, you are allowed to get rid of a thing you no longer want, without question, regardless of the value or source. That thing that you are giving back to the world is your Birthday Ungift. The process of ungifting it is called a Birthday Purge. [Read more…]