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New site, new look, same fiction.

My web address is changing. Please bookmark armartinwriter.com to keep up with my fiction and thoughts on the writing process. Also, if you subscribe to updates, you’ll have to subscribe again. Sorry for the inconvenience. I was able to migrate all my followers (I think), so if you were following before, you still are.

bad advice, part 2

On Writing

BAD ADVICE: “The writing life is essentially one of solitary confinement – if you can’t deal with this you needn’t apply.”

— Will Self

I take serious issue with this perspective.

Okay, so there’s this cultural picture of the writer, holed up in her study, bent over her keyboard blinking away the need for sleep because her muse is on a roll. And yeah, sometimes that happens. But that is not ‘the writing life’, at least not in my (admittedly limited) experience, nor do I think it should be.

That’s something that happens sometimes. Scratch that. Something that happens rarely.

So rarely, in fact, that you crave those days. They’re some of the best writing days. You don’t bath. You forget to eat. You don’t even notice the sun setting…or coming up…because you’re too focused. The words flow from your fingertips like the nine original Greek muses are all right fucking there, feeding you line after golden line.

But most writing days are nothing like that. And, believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

To quote Auguste Rodin, “The main thing is to be moved, to love, to hope, to tremble, to live.”

A life lived in isolation is a life wasted. We’re here for connection. For relationship. It’s a basic component of how humanity is wired. How ironic and tragic that any artist should attempt to capture the human condition with paint, stone, word, or verse while failing to experience it for himself.

No, thank you. Not me.

I want my fiction to flow out of a full life. The day my art leads a coup, demanding that I sacrifice human connection for its sake, is the day I stop writing.

killing blow

Flash FictionThe story below is a great example of why I love 100-word flash fiction. There’s a lot happening in a very short amount of space. That’s the compelling challenge of it.

Can you tell a real, full story without saying much at all?

I’m not saying this is a prize-winning story. I mean, I think it’s good, but that’s hardly the point. What I like most is what you can’t see. What it was like to write it.

I didn’t really understand economy of words before I started writing flash fiction. I always felt like part of the challenge of writing was coming up with enough to say. Now I know the real challenge of writing is taking the story you want to tell and boiling it down to the barest essentials.

It’s not about cramming in more words, but assassinating the unnecessary ones. I know of no better way to learn that skill than by writing flash fiction.

The prompt for this one comes from The Prediction:

100 words maximum, excluding the title, of flash fiction or poetry using all of the three words above (‘bruise’, ‘benevolent’, and ‘margin’) in the genres of horror, fantasy or science fiction.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

killing blow

He won by a narrow margin. The crowd loved it.

It was different for him. His side hurt, bruised from armpit to waistline. There was a deep cut on his left forearm from the chainsaw. He was fairly sure his nose and two of his toes were broken.

But that wasn’t the worst of it.

They called him ‘the benevolent butcher’. Others took their time in the end, but he always went for the neck, quick and clean.

But it wasn’t benevolent for him.

He could still hear them begging for their lives. Every one of them. Every night.

bad advice, part 1

On WritingBad advice can impart wisdom just as easily as good advice. You know, provided you know it’s bad.

With that in mind, I’m going to spend a few weeks (I honestly don’t know how many yet) picking apart the bad advice of a few published writers.

But first, a side note/admission.

Yes, I know it’s nothing short of audacious (and maybe even borderline rude) to call out my peers (or betters, as the case may arguably be) for doling out less than stellar suggestions. My goal isn’t to tear people down or to deliver something sensational by going after big names.

Nope. My goal is to point out that not every writing tip is worth adopting.

The ultimate test is a simple one. Does it work for you? If it does, do it, and don’t let me or anyone else tell you otherwise. If not, ditch it and move on. The stuff I’ll cover in the next few posts is stuff that doesn’t work for me.

If it works for you, we can still be friends.

BAD ADVICE: “It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.”

— Jonathan Franzen

Franzen’s ruffled a few feathers since publishing his first novel. He had that feud with Oprah, thinks the ebook is a lesser literary vehicle, and doesn’t give a rat’s ass about your Tweets. Granted, he’s a published author who’s received his fair share of critical praise, but the advice above is pure nonsense.

Maybe internet access is a major distraction for him, but that doesn’t make it a major distraction for every writer. I use the internet during writing sessions with fairly consistent frequency. It’s particularly handy for quick, on-the-spot research. (And thesaurus.com. I know. I’m a philistine.)

When I’m in a writing frame of mind, it’s not really a struggle for me to avoid Facebook. I get lost in my own stories, and I tend to stay on track. While I could certainly be productive without an internet connection, I much prefer having one.

Franzen’s sweeping assessment takes what could be good advice too far. For some people, the internet is a very real distraction. That’s why there were approximately 249,976 articles written last year on ‘distraction-free writing’, and there are more minimalist writing programs than you would ever guess.

Note, however, that I did not use my internet connection to verify that number. I pulled it right out of my ass. Presumably, Franzen would be proud. Or disgusted.

Probably disgusted.

My point is, if your web browser makes it tough for you to maintain focus, isolate yourself from the interwebs when you’re working. If it doesn’t, don’t freak out. That doesn’t mean you’re writing bad fiction. It just means we don’t all struggle with the same thing.

bodies

Flash FictionYou know what I really like about 100-word flash fiction? The challenge of packing an entire scenario into such a small amount of space. If you can make 100 words feel like a whole story (or at least the intro to one), that’s a beautiful, artful economy.

It’s also really good practice.

Mark Twain said, “Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” And that’s true except for one small detail.

The wrong words are everywhere, constantly trying to sneak into the story. But when you only have 100 words, a crazy small number, you don’t have space for the wrong words. Or even words that are okay, but not great. Every word has to count. It teaches you to write in a unique and powerful way.

Oh, and it’s fun.

This week’s prompt is brought to you by The Prediction, and it goes a little something like this:

100 words maximum, excluding the title, of flash fiction or poetry using all of the three words above (‘Shakespeare’, ‘six’, and ‘pattern’) in the genres of horror, fantasy or science fiction.

Enjoy, and have a wonderful weekend.

bodies

It was fucked up. Is that okay to say? I dunno. I ain’t no Shakespeare, but you get the point.

Murray thought there was a pattern to the deaths, so we followed the trail.

Me? I wasn’t too worked up about six dead dogs, but I didn’t want no kids finding a severed head in the alley like this was The Godfather, you know? So we followed Murray’s pattern to this warehouse. That’s where we found the bodies.

Not dogs. People this time. A shit ton of ’em.

Jesus. Is that okay to say?

Fuck it. There was a lot.

you are

You Are

revelation

Flash FictionThis is a teaser, pure and simple. I don’t know where it’s going yet, but I like the beginning.

In case you’re wondering, the nightmares depicted below are my own. I’ve had those dreams. The analytical part of me suspects they mean something. The human part of me just hopes I don’t have them again.

I don’t just think it’s okay to use your own stuff in fiction–I think it’s what we’re supposed to do. Yeah, it’s a vulnerable move, throwing bits and pieces of yourself into your stories. I’ve talked about that so many times in the past that it’s not practical to link all the previous posts. There are just too many.

But I keep coming back to the idea of making your fiction personal for two reasons. One, because I’m always hesitant to put my own psyche on display, despite how often I encourage others to. It’s a struggle every damn time. It never stops being scary. Or rewarding.

And two, because I think this struggle is more or less universal. I think we’re all afraid of showing too much of ourselves. I could have come up with other nightmares, but I doubt something I made up would have the same bite. The nightmares below are real. I think it shows. The story is stronger for it, even if I had to push myself to include those details.

No risk, no reward. Add that to your list of trite cliches that are absolutely true.

Okie-doke, kids. On to the story.

revelation

Everything felt disjointed, like puzzle pieces that don’t fit. There were no lines. No corners or edges. It was all just crammed together, beaten into place to create an unsettling topography without dimension or meaning.

The nightmares were back. Then again, they always came back.

She had a friend who struggled with honest-to-God insomnia. It sounded like hell, those restless nights that ended with a sunrise that was neither triumphant nor inspiring. When he talked about the weeks that sometimes passed without decent sleep, she wondered who had it worse. He was reduced up a comatose zombie for days on end. At least she could sleep.

But the dreams.

She tried to talk to a therapist about them once, but they defied categorization. There wasn’t a recurring dream, or even a constant theme, apart from horror.

One night she dreamt of spiders. Everywhere. They pulsed in the walls and scurried across her skin. She tried to run from the house, her house except it didn’t look like her house, but outside the trees were white with webs. Webs dotted black with even more spiders. When she woke, screaming herself back to consciousness, she could still feel their legs shuffling all over her body.

The next night she was living with her parents again. It was Thanksgiving, and for no reason she could discern, she was somehow back in high school, even though her dream self remained 34 years old. When her dad emerged from the kitchen to carve the turkey, he leered at her and then lunged, the electric knife buzzing as he cackled. As she sprinted from the room, she heard her mom call out, “David, she’s going for the front door!”

She’d seen so many terrible things–ghosts, demons, mythical creatures, and plain-Jane betrayal. All of them were one hit wonders. When she thought the next couldn’t possibly be as bad as the last, she was repeatedly proven wrong.

The uncertainty made it worse. If the foes had been consistent, perhaps she could have developed a strategy or, at the very least, a tolerance. But no. Every night brought a new terror, when it was nightmare season, anyway.

Sometimes nightmare season lasted a few days. Sometimes weeks. When it ended, she still had dreams, but they were mostly nonsensical. She was talking to her cat about buying new blinds, or riding go carts with the lead singer of her favorite band. These were more often pleasant than not, but the threat of the nightmares’ return always loomed.

She thought of it as her curse. If she were a character in a Stephen King story, there would undoubtedly be a gypsy to blame. If Clive Barker were her biographer, a demon. Reality, however, was a shitty author, providing her with no discernible root cause. She was shadow boxing a spirit, the very nature of which she couldn’t name if her life depended on it.

Until the night it revealed itself.

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