Flash Fiction Friday – Memento Mori

Dear Sir/Madam,

I will be calling for you at 14:35 on Friday 9th September. To ensure your passing is handled in a swift and efficient manner, please make yourself available at your allotted time and present this card. Unfortunately, the details of your demise cannot be issued for security reasons. If you have any questions, or wish to reschedule this appointment, please contact me on the above number and quote your customer reference number.

Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

Mr T. G. Reaper, esq.

 


Memento Mori (Latin: remember that you will die)

I get little cards reminders through the post everyday: from the doctor, from the dentist, from utility companies wanting to read the meters. I can’t think of a better memento mori than an embossed ‘save the date’ card.

Chris Musgrave, Sept 2014

TTT – Writing Groups (Part Four)

Hello and welcome to the final part of the writing groups’ mini-series. This week, our sights are set firmly on the question: how do I start my own writing group? And, seen as we’ve already covered the reasons to join, their pros and cons, and the benefits they have on your writing, it seems like a logical end.

How do I start my own writing group?

The first question you have to ask yourself is WHY you want to start one rather than joining an already established group. There are a number of good reasons for starting your own, chief amongst them is that you already have a group of writers you interact with and just want to make it more formal.

The next question – do I want to meet physically or online? – will determine whether you will need to charge for membership or not. For the purposes of this post, and the fact that doing otherwise will open up a whole new can of worms, I will assume meeting online will suffice.

Online writing groups

The internet has spoiled us (in oh-so many ways). The age of instant messaging and online chatting is now well established; even Facebook has facilities to group chat with selected friends. This has been a real boon to writers’ groups and has allowed the creation of pan-global circles.

Group voice/video chat has added another dimension to online meetings. The growth of smartphone technology and cross-platform messaging applications means that no writer need be isolated (so long as they have an internet connection).

What tools are out there?

Facebook

The first writing group I was a part of utilised Facebook’s private group pages. We created and administered a private group which allowed members to share and critique each other’s work and generally chat about the world of publishing.

The benefit of the Facebook group was that it provided a secure area to share work that was only accessible by members. Any new membership requests had to be approved by all admins before access was granted.

However, chat functionality is limited and the majority of our chats were through comments.

Skype

Sarcastic Muse use Skype’s instant messaging, file sharing, video, and voice chat regularly (read, almost every night). This is the main way we share work, offer support to each other and provide that all important feedback.

The fact that Skype operates in the background whilst signed on to your machine, and even your smartphone, means that the feed is always on for anyone to contribute to the conversation. This is great for those of us operating across multiple time zones.

The voice and video functionality is ever getting better and, with the addition of free group video calling, continues to improve.

Google Hangouts

I’ve not had much luck with Google Hangouts myself but I’m hearing great things. There is a member of Sarcastic Muse, who shall remain nameless, that is pushing for us to upsticks from Skype and shuffle across to Google.

Google Hangouts is another free application which allows much the same functionality as Skype. They have made a number of improvements to its speed and call quality which has had many businesses flocking to use its conference call facilities. Definitely makes it one to consider for your writing group platform.

I have a group, now what?

Okay, you have your writers and chosen your platform, now what do you do? In truth, you can do whatever you like. You can make it as formal or as informal as suits your group but bear in mind that the key focus should be on writing and helping each other to improve in the craft.

If you’re the type who needs an agenda, set one up in advance and circulate it to the group. Less structured types may benefit from writing sprints and prompts to encourage work to be produced and shared. Why not discuss ideas you’re working on, or even problems you’ve encountered? Another writer may see a way of tackling a problem that you’d overlooked.

Above all else, have fun.


Has anyone out there started their own writing group? How was/is your experience of it?

The Truth about Horror

Originally posted on Amanda Headlee:

In all honestly, horror is only a different and grotesque view of reality.  It is based upon a person’s perception of a circumstance.  The human mind has a tendency to distort the reality of a situation — making something out to be more terrifying than what it really is.   What frightens humans the most are typically the most benign.  For example:

  • The ghostly movements of your living room curtains is really your cat playing behind the draperies with a toy mouse.
  • The silhouette of a man that can be seen through the kitchen window is actually a hedge that is in need of reshaping.
  • The blood curdling screams from the other side of your wall is only your apartment neighbor yelling at his TV when the Steelers lose.
  • The spider that crawls across the bottom of your tub — Oh my GOD! A spider! IT’S A SPIDER! Kill it!  Kill it quick with fire!!!

*Ahem*… sorry, where was…

View original 48 more words

Flash Fiction Friday – Late

Just after nine and already the day wasn’t going well. I was late; my boss had called three times to remind me. I could hear the agitated rapping of his pen on the desk. A clicking I’d assumed was a poor connection at first.

‘I don’t care what you do, just get your arse here now,’ he’d said as he terminated the connection. Shit.

I raced out of the house, a bundle of blueprints curled under my arm. They poked out at jaunty angles from behind my elbow. I jostled them as I dug through my jacket pockets for my keys. One caught on the doorframe, pulled them free from my grasp. I watched them roll away down the drive.

This time I cursed so loudly that the choir above me lost their beat. Wings ruffled and the hosannas paused momentarily. A million gazes fixed themselves upon me. I didn’t look up. A pair of angels nesting on the roof of my car took flight, leaving a trail of stars and three silver feathers in their wake. Great, it’ll take me a month of Sundays to get the stardust off the Honda’s paint.

I grumbled to myself. Snatching each of the plans from the floor, I threw them into the back seat. Of course, the last one, and only one my boss cared about, had rolled under the car, just out of reach. I knelt on the ground. Something damp soaking through the material of my pants. I didn’t want to know what it was. I used a drafting ruler to fish at the plan.

My phone buzzed. I answered though the Bluetooth earpiece.

‘Hello,’ I said.

‘Where are you?’ It was the boss. ‘He’s due in fifteen minutes.’

‘Almost there,’ I lied. The ruler snagged on a rock. Its end flicked out, swatting the plan and sending it spiralling out the back. Not what I’d planned, but it was free. ‘Got to go.’ I keyed off the phone before he could argue and ran around the car to retrieve it.

My fingers curled around the sodden paper and pulled. It didn’t move.

Something growled, low and guttural, in my ear. Sour breath warmed my cheek and I half-turned to find a lion’s head chewing the end of the plan. A second head, this one the soft, white dome of an eagle, eyed me suspiciously. I let out a sigh.

‘Nice, cherub. Good, cherub,’ I cooed, placing a hand on its mane and pushing gently. The cherub growled again. Its teeth bit deeper into the plan. I felt like killing someone.

My phone vibrated in my pocket. I jabbed at the answer key.

‘What?!’ I screamed.

‘Where are you, Saraqael?’ The voice coming through the earpiece was almost a whisper and yet it still sent a shiver through my wings. Not my boss this time; something much worse. ‘The CEO is waiting.’

TTT – Writing Groups (Part Three)

Wow! It’s week three already and we’re nearly at the end of this short series on writing groups. I hope what we’ve covered so far have been useful. If you haven’t seen them yet, here’s parts one and two.

Writing groups – huh, good God y’all – what are they good for? A lot it seems. A solid writing group is a great tool and platform from which you can develop and hone your writing craft. When done properly, they urge and promote both on a personal and a public growth, exposing you to new thoughts and ideas.

How do writing groups help writers develop?

1. Constructive criticism

I’ve mentioned this before but writing groups are the perfect source of peer reviews. Many groups encourage members to read and discuss their work in the public forum of the meeting. The very best don’t even let the author talk once the reading is over; they are to listen to the feedback and take notes. The odd question often is permitted where specific attention is needed i.e. character, realism etc., but these are to be asked before the reading. Constructive criticism is a learning exercise. Listening to what your peers think of your work and making any relevant changes allows you to tweak and polish that story/novel/screenplay into a masterpiece.

2. Find your voice

There is nothing like sitting in a group (or on an internet chat), listening to people you trust say things like “it doesn’t even sound like you” to give you a total sense of dread (or relief). For a writer, finding your unique voice feels like an uphill struggle. That struggle gets so much easier the more you write and almost a cake-walk when you get your friends and colleagues pointing out when you’re straying from the path.

3. Education

You thought the classroom was where you learned all you know about writing? The streets? Well, both are true to an extent but (voluntarily) sitting in a room full of likeminded people and discussing the finer points of past perfect tense (damned if I know, don’t ask me) is an education all of its own. The upside to a writers’ group setting is that we’re all…most of us are looking to improve our work (there are a few who think they know everything already. Feel free to ignore them. The rest of your group will be) and are often more than willing to help others struggling with difficult concepts. Sometimes all it takes is one person to explain a concept in a different way and, all of a sudden, it sticks.

Here are a few things you can pick up at a writing group:

  • Manuscript style and formatting tips
  • Technical aspects of writing
  • Word and sentence flow
  • New words
  • Grammar tips
  • Acronyms (thousands and thousands of acronyms)
  • Pit falls to avoid

4. Challenge

What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger right? A good writing group will always challenge its members. It should rip you out of your comfort zones and prise your white-knuckled fingers loose from the back of the chair you’ve been so desperately clinging to. Above all else, it should inspire and challenge you to write, and write often.

Flash Fiction Friday – Seeds

There was something stuck in the old book’s binding. At first glance, I thought it was just a mark – a printer’s stamp maybe, or a publisher’s brand. Only after closer inspection did I realise what it was. A single word, handwritten, in a vibrant emerald ink which glistened as though still wet. The word was “idea”.

It seemed odd that someone would write anything on a binding where no one could see it, more so that it was done with such care and in as ornate a style as this. I wouldn’t have seen it myself if I hadn’t dropped the volume – a treatise on the use of brainstorming to combat creative block – when retrieving it from my bookshelf. It’d fallen hard against the corner of my desk, cracking the spine, and spilling a handful of its dry, yellowing pages across the floor.

I gathered up the book and the fallen pages and set them on the desk beside my laptop. It was getting late and the light in the study wasn’t good. While examining the damage under the orange glow of an arched study lamp, I found it. I almost laughed when I read the word. If only finding an idea was that simple. Still, it was intriguing and before I knew it, my index finger was tracing the looping characters.

When I removed it, the finger came away wet. The skin at the tip was stained green. I cursed, checked the word for any smudging. Nothing. My relief caught in my throat. I decided that it was too late to attempt a repair on the book, so I switched off the light, closed the laptop and went to bed.

* * *

After breakfast, I sat down at my desk and inspected the book. The damage looked worse in the morning’s bright sun. Fractured lines appeared to radiate from the edges of its leather cover and along some of the loose pages. I tilting the book this way and that and the light caught in the cracks. Green ink, thick and wet, filled the valleys, drawing gossamer tendrils across the paper. I hadn’t noticed these before but couldn’t say with any confidence that they weren’t there before. Either way, it was beyond my abilities to repair and I set the book to one side with the intention of searching for a professional bookbinder. But before I could, the most wonderful idea struck me and I hurried to the laptop.

It wasn’t until mid-afternoon when I stopped writing. I sat back in the chair with a sense of achievement unlike anything I’d felt in a while. My fingers were sore and itching. I rubbed them absentmindedly on the cover of the book as I read the words on the screen.

Another idea popped into my head.

And then another. So many ideas, I could scarcely get them down on paper. I nudged the book during a bout of frantic scribbling. It fell open across the paper.

Green ink covered the pages. The fractal patterns had grown, shifted, looping themselves into more ornate words. They merged together, overwriting one another. Here and there I could make out a legible word: dark, contractor, harbour. I don’t know why but I reached up and touched one. A flash of imagery, a scene of a story, jolted through my head like lightning.

I recoiled with a shudder then tentatively touched a second and saw the crashing of waves, a seaside squall. All the ideas I could ever want or need were right at my fingertips, accessible through the gentlest of touches. What had I done to deserve such a gift?

I stared at my hands, at the green smudge still marring my index finger. It was no longer a smudge, but a word. The word was “idea”.

TTT – Writing Groups (Part Two)

Welcome back to the second part in this series on writing groups. Last week, we discussed the things to look out for when joining a writing group (for those of you who missed that, it can be found here). This week, it’s pros and cons.

I firmly believe that the only two things every writer needs are a good notebook and a writing group. The former seems to be a given, at least for most. The latter, on the other hand, has encountered more resistance. Trust me, you NEED a group. You don’t necessarily need to join an established group; one you set up with friends will do just fine.

So, let’s look at the pros and cons of writing groups.

Pros

1. Learning experience

A good writing group will challenge you to push your knowledge of the craft beyond what you may be used to. The other members can be a source of inspiration and offer a wealth of information on grammar, style, formatting, and even an insight into the publishing industry. The biggest thing you’ll learn is confidence: confidence in your writing, confidence to share your work with others, and confidence to listen to and give constructive criticism.

2. Find your voice

If there’s one thing a writing group does well it’s to encourage you to find your voice. Through critiques of your work, regular readings, and guidance from other members about what they like and don’t like, you will find your voice starting to show through in your work. We all know how hard it is to discover your writing voice but, with the help of a group, you will find that when it does bubble to the surface you will know.

3. Generation of ideas

Writing groups, especially those that encourage workshops and exercises, are great forums for idea generation. Even ones that don’t do anything formal are still a melting pot of ideas and discussion.

4. Beta-reader pool

What better place to find your next set of beta-readers than a writing group. At least they’ll know what you’re going through.

5. Support Network

A good group is like your best friend, always there when you need them. They’re the ones who’ll help you through your low points, act as sounding boards when you need to think through plot holes, and just tell you to stop being ridiculous when the doubts set in.

Cons

1. Criticism

We join writer’s groups for the constructive criticism they afford us but not all groups seem to grasp this. A few are more concerned with promoting their “star” writer’s work than functioning as a group. On the subject of constructive criticism, honesty is essential for it to be worth anyone’s time. Some groups have a real problem with been honest with a writer about their work. It may be done for the best of reasons (i.e. not wishing any offence) but it’s useless.

2. Commitment

A writing group is only useful if people attend. You need to be sure that you (and others) can afford the time commitment of a weekly/fortnightly/monthly meeting. The more infrequent the meetings, the limited involvement and benefit you’re going to get from it.

3. Interaction

For a group to function well, it needs its members to interact with each other. This may be a terrifying thought; we didn’t become writers to “deal with people”, most of us become writers because we are unable to do just that. The old adage that you only get out what you put in is key.

4. Expense

There are many writers’ groups that are free to join, most of these dwell in the realms of cyberspace. Others meet at a physical location and, because of dirty words like “room hire” and “entry fees”, charge. It’s up to you to decide if the charges are reasonable and ones that you want to pay out.

5. Attention

The size of a group could have you vying for attention with the other writers. Consider the size of the group you’re looking to join and how well organised it is. Do members have to shout over each other to be heard or does everyone have a say and a turn to read/comment?

Next time: Writing Groups and Development.


 

What are your experiences of writing groups? Have you any pros or cons you think should be added to the list? Answers on a postcard…or, better yet, put them in the comments.

Flash Fiction Friday – Faith

I put tulips under all the pillows. Tulips had always been her favourite. She found them so vibrant, so radiant – just as she’d been before the end.

There wasn’t a week that went by that I wouldn’t come home with a bouquet of those flowers. The house was filled with them. Their sweet fragrance greeted visitors, and there were so many visitors. All of them wanted to see her, to lay hands on her. They worshipped her, prayed to her but only I was granted her blessing. I worked harder than any to give tribute.

Soon it was too much and I had to begin turning them away. That was around the time the worst of the violence started. It started the way all things do with minor grumblings of annoyance and the odd hurtful word, directed first at me and then at those who made pilgrimage. The first stones were cast a few days later and, by the end of the week, those allowed to enter her rooms were being accosted by the ones turned away. They didn’t understand.

The police and other authorities told me they were powerless to intervene, told me that now may be the time to let her go. I couldn’t do that. She wouldn’t have wanted me to do that. I spoke to her every night as I dressed her and combed her hair. I asked her what I should do. She wouldn’t say –not at first.

Her instructions came through my dreams, hazy in the beginning and then fully-formed. She told me that she was pleased, that I was most blessed. She asked me for one last act of faith. I told her I would do anything she asked of me, but she already knew that.

The following days and weeks took their toll on her as the hatred and violence rose to a horrifying crescendo beneath her windows. The glow faded from her bright eyes, her bronzed skin grew waxy and dull. She wasn’t who I knew her to be, wasn’t what the world wanted her to be.

I was expecting it when the order came. She woke me from restless sleep and told me what to do. I was to give them what they wanted. The instant the words left her lips, I was filled with a serenity I’d never thought achievable in my meditations. All would be over soon. Everything would be alright once again.

I woke late that day. They were already at the door. Hundreds of them, more than I’d ever seen. As always, I put tulips under all the pillows, fixed a humbled smile upon my lips and unlocked the doors. They rushed inside, surging forward up the stairs. The mass of bodies held me against the wall. I couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. They soon passed. They weren’t here for me.

I waited, as she’d instructed, until every last one was inside then I stepped outside, locked the door securely and set fire to the house