Four ideas to jump-start your fiction

ideaguy_127499723-800x718This week I’ve been teaching flash fiction to middle-grade students as part of a creative writing summer camp. Preparing lessons and listening to the work they did in class (they were really good writers) gave me some ideas to jump-start my own writing practice and exercise new creative muscles.

1. Try a writing prompt.
Choose one of these, set a timer, and free-write for 10 minutes. Like what you came up with? Continue it, revise it, add to it, or consider working it into an already in-progress piece.

• One morning you discover your grew a set of horns while you were sleeping.
• People live under water.
• You’re invited to go on tour with a band.
• You switch bodies with an animal.
• You go to a special school to learn a super power.

2. Work with genre.
Think: Fantasy, Sci-fi, Horror and Realism. Take a few minutes to choose a character and familiarize yourself with that character’s basic details (name, age, looks, likes, skills). Then write that character’s 300-word bio in each genre.

3. Take your cues from the art you love.
Choose a painting or a song title and write a 300-500 word story about it. It’s not important to stay true to the intent of the artist or songwriter — in fact, the farther away you get from the actual story, the better. Make “Blue Boy” into an emissary from an alien race, make “All Along the Watch Tower” about the midnight raid of a band of fairies.

4. Rewrite a classic.
Choose a well-known story — Cinderella, Romeo and Juliet, Great Expectations — and retell it in another genre. Give a fairy tale a sci-fi twist, turn a love story into horror fiction, set Charles Dickens’ characters in present day. Stick to the flash fiction limit of 1,000 or fewer words to start — you can always expand the idea if it’s working. And remember: Retellings are very popular, especially in YA.ideaguy_127499723-800x718

Christine Hale publishes a masterful memoir

Originally published by Mountain Xpress

Chris-Hale

Throughout her book A Piece of Sky, A Grain of Rice: A memoir in four meditations, Christine Hale recounts penning and reworking a novel. It’s a detail she returns to over and over. “I was a fiction writer [and] weirdly, given this book, I’m quite a private person,” she says. But following the deaths of her parents, Hale’s focus on fiction shifted and she was compelled to write not just about the passing of her mother and father, but their relationship and her own life growing up in Appalachia. “The memoir hijacked me,” she says.

“Working with a lot of memoir projects [over] the past 10 years, it’s not unusual for it to just come out and insist,” says Hale. She teaches writing in the Antioch University Los Angeles low-residency MFA program and the Great Smokies Writing Program at UNC Asheville.

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Free audiobook resources

I love audiobooks. While I don’t wish for listening to books to replace reading books, I’m a fan of books in all forms. Just like the ebook revolutionized travel with reading material, audiobooks mean we can tune into literature more often. I listen to books while walking, commuting to work, making dinner, and using the elliptical machine at the gym.

Here’s what I don’t like: How expensive audiobooks can be. That’s not to say I don’t support authors and their products (I am an author; I know how many sales it takes for the royalty check to amount to anything), but Amazon has turned Audible into quite the moneymaker. A membership is $14.95 for one book a month; an audiobook from Amazon without an Audible membership ranges from $18-$30 or so. Pricey.

listening-to-audiobooks

Image via diygenius.com

I’ve been tracking down ways to get free (and legal) audiobooks. They’re not the latest titles. Many are classics and so are in the public domain. But those books are still wonderful, still inspiring, and can take on a new life if narrated by a talented reader.

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My blood and stars and everything: Gregory Alan Isakov on writing

I recently interviewed singer-songwriter Gregory Alan Isakov for Mountain Xpress. He’s on tour for his new record, Gregory Alan Isakov with The Colorado Symphony. Read the full feature here. Greg is one of my favorite musicians because his songs tell stories of encapsulated worlds and moods. The poetry is fleet is graceful and surprising, the melodies are bittersweet and strangely reminiscent, like remembering a snippet of a dream that fades even as it’s called to mind.

The poignancy of his lyrics, and his process as a writer, seem applicable to all genres of writing, so I wanted to share some expanded quotes fro our talk that didn’t make into the article.

AE-gregory_alan_isakov-photo-credit-Blue-Caleel-1100x733

Photo by Blue Caleel

Can you talk about the new project you’re working on?

Gregory Alan Isakov: I’m just sketching a record now. I made a few EPs over this winter and last summer. They were kind of a collection — there were three or four different EPs. They were kind of complete works, and then I began working on a full-length.

Time has always been my biggest ally with writing and recording, which is why it takes me so long to put out [new work]. It’s usually no less than three years between records. I think a lot of that is letting things settle. Coming back to the recording and [asking myself], “Does this make me feel something still?” and “Is this still working?”

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Q+A with horror writer Grady Hendrix

This story was originally published at mountainx.com.

Grady Hendrix, author of Horrorstör (set in a haunted IKEA-type big-box store), returns with the 1980s-themed My Best Friend’s Exorcism. Of a recent author event he said, “I’m going to be talking about the Satanic Panic in the ’80s when everyone thought heavy metal music and backwards masking were sending kids straight to hell, Dungeons and Dragons was a doorway to evil, and Saturday morning cartoons were indoctrinating children into the occult.”

9781594748622The book — part humor and part horror — borrows a big from Hendrix’s own high school experience (as he explains below, in a Q&A with Xpress). Hendrix is also the author of Occupy Space and Satan Loves You, the co-author of the YA series The Magnolia League and the graphic cookbook Dirt Candy, co-founder of the New York Asian Film Festival, and a contributor to Slate, Village Voice and Variety, among others.

Alli Marshall: I suspect most people think their high school experience was, at least in part, a horror story. What was the idea for you that initially led to My Best Friend’s Exorcism?

Grady Hendrix: The title popped into my head first. Then I figured best friendships were most intense in high school, and my high school experience was in 1988, so that’s when it would be set. Then I wrote a first draft and showed it to my wife because I was feeling pretty studly … and she told me it was a dumpster fire of secondhand ideas and stolen characters. And she was right. I was just recycling John Hughes movies and other people’s ideas about high school. So I sat down with all my letters and diaries from high school (and all her letters and diaries from high school) and read them for about three weeks. And somewhere in there, I had a genuine, authentic memory about what it felt like to be in high school in the ’80s, then another, and then another, and then I was off and writing.

I love the high school yearbook design of My Best Friend’s Exorcism — are those photos from your yearbook by any chance?
My author photo is my senior portrait and I thought that was horrifying enough. The rest are from the staff at [boutique publisher Quirk Books], so there’s a heavy New Jersey/Philadelphia vibe to them. One thing I’d like to point out is that even though I wrote all the yearbook inscriptions on the inside covers, our designer, Tim O’Donnell, farmed out the actual handwriting of them to about 32 different teenaged girls, like a yearbook-signing sweatshop. Continue reading