Sunday, March 22, 2015

Idea Garage Sale: Alien Adoption

So there's this adopted teen girl, a Type A personality, who's grown up with all the best adoption fantasies about her biological parents. She loves her adopted folks, of course, but they're so ordinary! And everyone agrees she's extraordinary. She's smart and not afraid to show it (or a know-it-all), she's a natural leader (or bossy, depending on your perspective), she's confident, she's defiant and talented and rebellious and Going Places, with her best friend trailing in her wake.

Her best friend, a quiet reflective type, is the one who overhears the alien secret agents talking in the marsh where they figure no humans will hear them. (She's in a bird blind, trying to see rails. Type A girl doesn't have the time or patience to hang out in bird blinds.) A female (more or less) alien secret agent had a liaison with a human, and Type A girl is the result. She put the baby up for adoption because her own lifestyle was too dangerous to be encumbered by her. Maybe the father died from getting mixed up with aliens? In accordance with the best adoption fantasy, the mother has kept an eye on her offspring.

Best Friend can't wait to tell Type A girl, who immediately sets out to make contact with her biological mother. The alien thing makes total sense and explains all kinds of things about her natural superiority to everybody else! It takes a bit of finagling, but the reunion is effected and Type A girl gets to go live in alien society.

Where she's not only nothing special, she's embarrassing and a bit shameful, though threats to her can be used as a lever when someone wants something from her mother...and she's not supposed to see Best Friend or her Adoptive Parents any more.

In fact the whole set-up blows chunks and she wants to go home. But she knows way too much about the aliens now...

Before you could even begin this story, of course, you'd have to know what's up with the aliens. Obviously there's factions involved, but what do these factions want? How and why are alien secret agents operating on earth?

And what do we mean by "aliens" here anyway? Extraterrestrials? Ultraterrestrials? Fay? Dimension-hoppers? Why should any of these be cross-fertile with humans?

How is Type A girl different from her parent stock, and how is she the same? What is the result of hybridization, and what does she do with that, once she gets past the showing-off stage?

For best results, this should be written by someone who grew up adopted.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Red Lady of the Painted Caves

A 19,000-year old burial in Iberia - a very special one, apparently. She was buried with red ocher and flowers, her grave was even marked - but she seems to have been dug up and chewed by dogs, and then reburied! How does all this fit together? The archeologists can only gather data, but no one at this date can say why.

That would be the storyteller's job!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Idea Garage Sale: Vampire Beach Baby

She was six years old when some stupid grown-up made her a vampire.

All she wanted to do was go to the beach with her best friend!

I hate vampires, and I hate the whole "evil child" trope. Possibly that's where this dream came from.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Death Sucks.

Sir Terry Pratchett died today. There's tributes all over tumblr. Lots of quotes. For a funny guy he gave us a lot of appropriate quotes about death. But then Death was one of his funniest characters.

This is as good a reason as any to reread Small Gods, I guess. A lot of people will be binge-reading Discworld. Maybe I'll be one.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Idea Garage Sale: The Bleeding Rolling Pin

I think that may be profanity in England, but I'm in Texas, so relax.

Last night I was making a quiche, with my nearly-brand-new rolling pin, only used once before, when it started bleeding all over the cloth and one corner of the crust I was rolling. For a moment I was positive I was in a horror movie!

A little experimentation demonstrated that an improbable amount of red-tinged water was trapped inside and leaking out around the handle. When it came trickling out it was obviously not bloody, at all - more probably traces of tomato paste and maybe some oxidation, if there's anything metal inside the pin; only the consistency of the dough and the cloth gave it the illusion of more body. So I put the pin by the sink to figure out how best to clean it properly later, changed cloths, tore off the contaminated part of the pie crust, finished rolling it out with a glass tumbler, and thought about the possibilities if it had been blood.

Many a cozy mystery has been born out of some similar mundane incident. Part of the appeal of the mystery genre is the way small details of daily life transform into vitally important signposts leading the world from chaos and mayhem back to justice and order. Similarly, part of the effect of horror is the incongruous intrusion of the bizarre and deadly into the familiar and secure. Like the family kitchen, presided over by the smiling cook who bakes love into every meal and so on.

Why would a rolling pin be bleeding?

Because it had battered someone to death and been imperfectly cleaned afterward? It'd take a lot of blunt-force trauma to make the average rolling pin into a murder weapon - but there is such a thing as a marble rolling pin, and that is plenty heavy enough for the job. The implication is of an unplanned, but meticulous, murder, by someone using a weapon of opportunity, with sufficient time to tidy up the evidence afterward, but insufficient experience of this rolling pin to anticipate the problem with cleaning it. Where, I wonder, did this person hide the body? If a body with a battered head had been found in the kitchen, presumably everything heavy in it would have been taken by the police to match to the wound.

If this is a horror story, though, the blood could well be revenge from beyond the grave - the rolling pin used to make the poisoned pie, or even the pie containing the Forbidden Ingredients that would poison only the allergic victim. The cook has misused the power of the kitchen; and the spirit of the dead haunts her through the kitchen which is her personal kingdom. Or perhaps the kitchen has a spirit of its own, a genius locii, that objects to being used in this way and will never let her cook in peace again. Who is the cook, and who the victim, and what is the relationship of the kitchen to either?

Or maybe only she can see the blood - if the story is one of psychological horror, if she's been kidding herself that she didn't mean to kill her neighbor by feeding her a pie with peanutbutter as the secret ingredient, but her conscience won't let her get away with that crap.

It is one of the great truths of life that two women may share a house, but not a kitchen. Kitchens are like ships - someone must be in charge, or no one can ever find anything.

And, as all the best horror and mystery writers know, that is exactly the kind of conflict from which the most savage hatreds spring.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Idea Garage Sale: A Day Late and a Dollar Short, or Farming Out

Yesterday was just One of Those Days, but there's still no shortage of ideas out there.

One thing that has struck me, doing market research for the short story project, is how specific many modern markets are, to the point that many don't seem to me worth writing for on spec, but only with a contract in hand. That, however, is the perspective of someone with a few publications under her belt and a sufficiency of her own projects to work on without undertaking somebody else's concept. For someone in need of credits, and perhaps a need for exterior motivation, these markets no doubt look much more reasonable.

Consider The Legacy Anthology. The publishers have a concept for an assemblage of individual stories creating a larger story. This cross between a "round robin story" and "shared world anthology" strikes me as problematic, but if they can find twelve different authors who can slot together well enough while retaining enough of their individuality to justify the extra labor, more power to them.

And then there's The First Line, which gives you the first line of the story, a deadline, and a flat-rate payment on acceptance; and you supply everything else, sink or swim. Well, the chance to get paid for doing writing exercises does have its appeal...

Or The Metaphysical Circus, which pays an attractive word rate, but requires that all submitters be signed up to their e-mail list; plus their guidelines include the statement: "At their heart, such stories contain an ontological dilemma..." I'm not sure I'm up for ontological dilemmas, and although "Thou Shalt Read the Magazine" is the number-one commandment for freelancers submitting to periodical markets, I personally am unwilling to join a club in the hope of getting paid. It's probably somebody's ideal environment, though.

In short, if you want to write for publication, you need to keep up with the markets; and if you can't find a market for what you've got, nothing whatever is wrong with writing something to fit. I have before now written such a story, not sold it to the original market, reworked it a bit, and resold it elsewhere. It's an old freelancer dodge.

But how, you ask, do you keep up with the markets?

Once upon a time I'd have told you about printed market guides; but in the world of online publishing these are always behind the times. It's part of your professional job to actively watch out for new publications, and keep up with changes in old ones; but no one can subscribe to every prospective market, much less read them all. Where there's a need, ideally, there's an entrepreneur, and paying for a service that keeps up with the kinds of markets you're comfortable writing for is a legitimate tax-deductible expense. (As are any subscriptions you maintain to markets to which you submit.) I'm subscribed to Market Maven, from which I've shaken loose those examples, and if it doesn't suit you, now you know such a thing exists, you can start looking for one better tailored to your needs.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Idea Garage Sale: The Fog of Lethargy

Something's come over the house today. Damon and I normally wake up at 7:40 for NPR's Sunday puzzle. I managed, thanks to the cat wanting his breakfast, to get up and turn the radio on, but Damon would not wake up to play it with me. And the next thing we knew it was a quarter to ten. Damon was up pretty late last night, but I wasn't, and here it is 11:30 and I'm still groggy, alternately staring at the screen, playing solitaire, or flipping through the Fortean Times I got yesterday thinking: "There's that; but no, I can't face all the ramifications of changeling murder, not this morning." It's as if some sort of magic, will-sucking fog lay over the house, maybe even the neighborhood - I haven't heard a car pass or a dog bark all morning, come to think of it the Presbyterian church hasn't rung its carillon -

Wait. There you go. There's a fog over a town, or a part of a town, draining the energy from the inhabitants. That implies that someone needs that energy? For what purpose? Hardly a benign one; or, if it started as benign (and few people set out to do evil) it has been corrupted by setting up the transfer using a pool of people who have been provided no information and given no consent. It must be something pretty big to need a whole Sunday morning's worth of personal energy.

The nature of the lethargy fog is hardly important. The technobabble explaining it can be spun however you like, depending on whether you're going for fantasy, science fiction, or magical realism. The important issues are who is creating it, and why. Answer those questions, and the rest of the story will start to gel. Is the protagonist the person setting up the fog, and what does this act do to his character arc? Is it someone from within the fog cloud, and how does she go about learning the truth and doing something about it, given the handicap of the fog's effects? As a person affected, I find I prefer that the hero not be some outsider, that the town and its denizens not be a mere abstract marker for how depraved the villain is, helplessly waiting for the hero to come to the rescue, but this is a perfectly valid thing to happen in, for instance, an episodic superhero comic.

I'm sorry; I'm too sleepy to work it out any further. You can take it from here.