A Strange Habit

writer's deskThere’s a story that Robert E. Howard used to envision the ghost of King Conan behind him, ready to lop off his head with an axe if he didn’t keep writing. Never mind that this is probably an apocryphal story. It’s still a great image, and whatever Howard was doing to get his stories written, it worked!

Work habits are a subject of endless conversation when it comes to the creative process of writers. Numerous books and excellent teachers suggest various methods of accomplishing the noble goal of putting words on a page, and offer plenty of encouragement along the way. The most consistent truth, however, is simply that writing is hard work and the methods for getting that work done vary from writer to writer.

I have a lot of tricks to keep me writing: new locations, graph paper, computer setup, a cup of tea, timed sessions, word counts, and so on. We develop habits, of course, particular to our individual sensibilities. Sometimes these habits become rituals, even obsessions. There’s plenty of room for eccentricities.

Hemingway wrote standing up. Nabokov wrote everything on notecards. Ibsen wrote in the presence of a giant oil painting of his greatest rival. Hugo wrote naked, and had his valet hide his clothes to ensure he wouldn’t go out. The ancient Greek writer Demosthenes accomplished the same thing by shaving one side of his head before beginning to write. The list goes on, from Balzac’s coffee and lucky monk’s robe, to Dickens’ ritualized desk arrangements, from Dumas’ fresh apples to Schiller’s rotten apples.

As it turns out, there’s even some neuroscience to explain why these weird rituals work. Like a Pavlov’s bell, rituals associated with writing may cue creativity and productivity. (See “Why Weird Writing Rituals Work” by Rosanne Bane)

Most of the habits of writers we will never know, because they are done in solitude. But the purpose of some seemingly strange behaviors is almost always the same, and that is to help one engage in the most important habit of all: actually writing.

*First published on ShadowSpinners, June 2013.

“Old Growth” eBook Available Now

ogA young botanist finds more than than he bargained for when he enters an ancient forest in search of a new species of tree. A horror awaits him in the heart of the old growth.

“Old Growth” is now available as a .99 cent Kindle eBook. First published in AlienSkin in 2009, this story links the Pacific Northwest with many of my other horror stories set in Auxerre, Wisconsin.

As I said in an earlier post, this story was inspired by a conversation I overheard. Two girls were talking about how they were afraid to go into the woods behind their house. They were really scared and it stuck with me. A couple of months later this story was born. There’s a lot of woods in Oregon, and some say deep in the old growth, are strange things still unknown to man.

Happy reading! Please share, post, and review if you get a chance.

A Legacy Dark and Strange

320px-FireFantasy, with all its weirdness and wonders, is the deep root of all fiction. Long before people began to write books, for 50,000 years they huddled around the light of fires, under starry skies, in deep forests, and in the shelter of caves to tell their stories. The impulse of fiction was already there, in the myths and legends that were born among them.

Imagine the kinds of stories they were telling. People knew little or nothing of what lay beyond the horizon. And at night, in the darkness, that circle of knowledge shrank to the dim glow of a campfire, if they were lucky enough to have one. The stars were a mystery, animals were otherworldly, and death was a great enigma. A man or a woman who ventured beyond the horizon, or out in the night, might never return. Those tales must have been dark and strange, filled with adventure, monsters, and magic.

There is an element of fantasy in all fiction, an attempt to imagine and understand something beyond ourselves: another person, another life, another world. Modern stories are born from that same original impulse, to weave tales, to entertain, to educate, to warn, and to find meaning in the world and in the often extraordinary experiences of our lives. I like to think my stories can be traced back to the mythic structures and weird tales that started it all, stories woven from the threads of an ancient dream.

Although our horizon has grown wider in a way, there is always an edge, without and within, beyond which dwell things unknown. The unknown is far greater than the known, and that is where horror lives. It lurks in the darkness beyond our meager campfires.

*First published on ShadowSpinners, May 2013.

“Old Growth” Ebook Coming Soon…

og“Old Growth” will soon be released as a short story ebook!

This story got its start when I overheard some girls talking once about how they were afraid to go into the woods out back behind their house. There’s a lot of woods in Oregon, and it struck me as odd that they would be so afraid of something in their own back yard. But the woods are deep and old, and weird tales are told about the old growth.

This horror story links the Pacific Northwest with my other stories centered around the strange town of Auxerre, Wisconsin. It was first published in Alien Skin. Looking forward to sharing it with more readers.

Stay tuned for more release information.

Geography for Worldbuilding and Fantasy Maps

crusoeWhether you’re creating a setting for a novel, story, or game, it’s a good idea to think about some basic geography, so things make sense … for the most part anyway. I consulted a geologist about some basic guidelines for the geography of imaginary worlds. Of course, there are always anomalies, and fantastical explanations for unusual features or even entire worlds, but if you want your world to be vaguely earth-like, these simple guidelines may help in your worldbuilding:

  1. Large mountains almost always occur in ranges.
  2. Rivers flow from mountains and hills down into bigger rivers or open bodies of water.
  3. Forest can occur almost anywhere there is sufficient water for trees.
  4. Grasslands and hills can occur almost anywhere.
  5. Swamps, marshes, and lakes occur in flat areas with a lot of water.
  6. Canyons are carved out by rivers or streams.
  7. Major deserts are a regional function of the trade winds, but small deserts often form inland, on the far side of mountain ranges.
  8. Springs and oases can occur almost anywhere.
  9. Volcanoes occur in chains or regions of vulcanism. This usually happens closer to coastlines or islands.
  10. Glaciers, like water, flow downhill, and glaciated areas tend to have broad U-shaped valleys.
  11. Towns and cities need a source of fresh water. Larger cities often occur on trade routes.
  12. If you’re looking at huge timescales and you want some billion year old ruins, the centers of continents tend to be the oldest geologic areas.

“By the Sword” to appear in Hyperpulp

HyperpulpEN

“By the Sword” will be published in Hyperpulp, the Brazilian bilingual magazine of fantastic literature and arts. I like the magazine’s literary take on genre fiction and am excited to reach new readers through a Portuguese translation. The story will appear in issue #5, due out at the end of December.

“By the Sword” is the first of several stories I wrote set the islands of Nara, a fantasy setting inspired by medieval Japan.

Isei must discover the true meaning of the sword when Hideo Yamashita returns to the Mizuhashi sword school. It’s a classic battle between good and evil, between the truth, and the tyranny of lies.

I’ll post more information when the issue become available.