Monday Challenge: Abominable Journey To Planet X!

Action! Adventure! Exploring space with a dust ruffle attached to your boobs!

It should come as a wild galloping shock to absolutely no one that I love pulp fiction. The genre, not the movie.* You can keep your poignant tales of ennui and evocative period dramas; give me the spacemen and cowboys, the monsters and robots, the gruff detective and the dumb-ass high school kids who go parking in the wrong place every fucking time.

While my lovely and intellectual grad school colleagues were going to see moving films about ballerinas in Chernobyl, I was burying myself in cheap paperbacks covered in intrepid explorers, destructive machines, and busty redheads with chain mail bikinis.

I’m not what one would describe as ‘tasteful’.

But, by Loki, I love those things. I love the unapologetic brashness**. And, with the advent of New Pulp and the rise of some very interesting authors, I get to see that shit come back in a big way. There’s even a new take on the quintessential chain-mail bikini heroine, Red Sonja.

Monday Challenge, hobgoblins: write the plot synopsis for one of these randomly generated*** pulp titles:

Assault Of The Titanic Bee-People

Cannibal Wednesday

The Chromatic Kid

Nuns Of Fear

Android Breaker: The Return

I Was An Atom-Age Caligula!

Go forth and write something that would have had parents of 1958 worried about the hearts and minds of their children.

*Though the movie’s not bad. Not great. but not bad.

**This also explains my love of hair metal, punk rock, giant robots, and Jack Daniels.

***This generator, along with other fine random generators, can be found at The Seventh Sanctum. The fan fiction generators are particularly recommended for those with neither qualms nor taste.

 

Monday Challenge: Playing Catch With The Dark Lord

If only it was this simple.

Last week, I read a kid’s book that was fun, interesting, and, strangely, morally challenging.

Not a usual description of a book meant for ages eight to twelve–and, let’s face it, not exactly a cover blurb that would appeal to the intended audience–but from the point of view of a well-read, slightly jaded adult, it made the book so much better. And, while they wouldn’t put it that way, I imagine it improves the story from a kid’s point of view, too. There’s so much in kid’s lit that’s safe and nice that it’s not a surprise more kids don’t read. If you think children can’t spot your condescension a mile off, you’re in for a very rude awakening.

Remember the stories you liked when you were a kid? Better yet, remember the ones you told yourself? How many of those were nice? I’m betting not a lot. Because kids, as a rule, aren’t nice. Not in the way that adults think of the word. They can be sweet and funny and amazing, but nice requires an emotional maturity that most kids don’t have yet. Developing that is part of becoming an adult.

Kids are like tiny barbarian warriors: everything they feel is bigger and stronger than adults, but there’s not a lot of subtlety. When they’re happy, it’s really fucking happy. When they’re sad, the world is ending. And when they’re angry…batten the fucking hatches, because a Category 3 Kid-icane is blowing through.

And all this stuff usually comes from the one kid.

The School For Good and Evil details a school where the descendants of fairy tale characters learn to be heroes and villains. Simple enough. But, because these are the children of famous characters, we see the stories from the other side. The Sheriff of Nottingham’s daughter whose dad was always away at work. The son of a slain werewolf, who’s just trying to make enough money to give his father a proper burial. The vain, greedy daughters of princesses who found their happy ending. The stupid, musclebound poser prince who was taught every day that looks and shoe size are the only things that matter when choosing a mate.

It’s a simple reminder: there’s more than one side to every story.

Monday Challenge time, children: write a popular story from the point of view of someone who cares for the antagonist. Everyone has someone: their parents, their children, their friends, that first grade teacher who still sees something worthwhile in them.

And maybe go read that book. It’s a good summer read, no matter how old you are.

Monday Challenge: No One Rides For Free

You can get a lift, but it’ll cost you.

Let’s talk about compromises.

Your characters, if they do anything interesting at all*, will sooner or later have to make deals with other characters. And those other characters will want things in return. Things that your character might not want to give. But, if an agreement is to be reached, they will. Or they won’t, and there’s no deal.

This is about cost. As the old saying goes, ass, gas, or grass: no one rides for free.

It’s especially true in fiction. If conflict is the essence of story, then why make things easy for your protagonist? Don’t give them a free ride. As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, anyone who gets things too easily is either boring or hated. Either way, not protagonist material.

What is your character willing to pay in order to get something? What kind of deal will they make? And with whom? Are they sure they can trust that person? And, if they’re not, then why are they making the deal?

Monday Challenge, kiddies: Write someone making a deal at great personal cost. What kind of deal, what kind of cost? Hey, that’s your call. You expect me to do everything around here?

Now, go write.

*And if they don’t, then, seriously, why are you writing about them?

Monday Challenge: Wrong Tool For The Job

WHIRRRRRRRR

Some mornings, the inspiration is thin on the ground. Sometimes it’s just one of those things. Other times, you might have missed all three of the cups of coffee you normally would have had by now and you’re pretty sure that some indispensable part of you brain is now misfiring.

….Guess which one today is.

But writing cannot depend on external stimuli, not even that which comes from the sweet, sweet black death I call coffee. So, despite the dangerously low caffeine levels, I must still get ‘er done today.

Doesn’t mean I can’t cheat outsource it get creative, though.

Remember my post last week about getting with other creative people? Aside from helping you solve those knotty plot problems, they can also be a target of whiny morning texts when you can’t think of anything to write about.

Remember, my little word-goblins: when things just aren’t coming, there’s no harm in calling in a little outside help.

Today’s Monday Challenge is brought to you courtesy of Krys C Wanders, who had the misfortune to still be awake when I started texting her for ideas this morning.

Somewhere between the meme pictures, slashfic suggestions, and gay sex allusions, she came up with this:

Monday Challenge: write a character using something in a way it’s not meant to be used.*

This can be successful or not. For everyone MacGyver-ing themselves an armoured car out of a riding lawnmower and a bucket, there’s someone hammering in a nail with a live mortar shell. For the chick using a guitar as a blunt instrument**, there’s some dude using a cat as a toupee.

Give me your screw ups and your amazing feats of ingenuity. Possibly performed by the same person.

I’m going to try to use this green tea like coffee.

*Come to think of it, this could be slashfic as well.

**Instrument. Get it? Eh?

Monday Challenge: Eye/Nose/Sensing Tentacle of the Beholder

The object of the game was to make the Beholder realize it was beautiful just the way it was.

Ever get weirdly thoughtful about how your cat sees you?

No, I’m not high.

I’ll back up a little.

I was doing some reading the other day on sensory perception. How it differs across species. And across time; we don’t see things the way our ancestors do, and I’m talking about more than having to put up with Bieber’s smug, punchable face sprayed across every magazine I pass. The Ancient Greeks saw colours differently than we do because of a difference in the eye’s ability to perceive; hence Homer’s description of the “wine-dark sea”.

Some scientists believe that it also differs across gender–women see more shades of colours than men, probably due to genetic selection for finding food–and, possibly, across individuals. There’s no guarantee that what I perceive is the same as what you do, even though we might put the same name on it.

It’s about this point that things start to devolve into the kind of thoughts one normally gets from the cataclysmically stoned.

However, for the sober writer*, the questions bear some interesting fruit. Especially for the speculative fiction writer, which usually has some kind of non-human being to deal with. How does that race of aliens see us? Do unicorns see into the magical spectrum? What does the sentient magical sword perceive? What does it think of this scabbard? Is it so last season?

Monday Challenge: write about beauty from the point of view of a non-human being. How would their perception differ from ours? What would they find attractive? A sentient crow, for example, would think more about air currents and thermal lift than we do, and less about traffic. To it, beauty might be movement. A plant-based being would perceive light more completely, so their idea of beauty would take into account spectrums for which we have no words. Metallic creatures might adjust to resonating frequencies, and read their environment in vibrations, leading to the development of the phrase, “Will you listen to the ass on that one?”

Try not to be lazy. If you use another humanoid character, try to make something very different. Infrared vision, extra senses, alien physiology. Stretch yourself. Expand your mind.

And remember that beauty is often in the tentacle of the beholder.

*Contradiction in terms, right? Right? (silence) …I’ll show myself out.

Monday Challenge: Unassailable Truths

“I’m beautiful, so I can do whatever I want. LOL.”

Aaaaand I’m back. Good things: Australia was awesome! I have a new tattoo! Peacocks are assholes! Bad things: Krys* wouldn’t fit in my luggage! I’m still so jet lagged I got confused by a fork!

You know one of the best things about vacation? Aside from the new places and new people and familiar people and food? It shakes you out of your routine. Me, I love my routine. I helps me get shit done. But that doesn’t mean a break from it isn’t a good idea now and then.

After coming back from a three week break from virtually everything that defines my days–home, writing**, blogging, art, exercise, gaming, continent–I find myself rejuvenated and refreshed. And a hell of a lot more creative. On vacation, it was actually getting weird at a certain point: I hadn’t written or painted for weeks, and I was starting to feel…full. Like if I could have juiced my brain, pure artistic endeavour would have come out. And maybe some lol cats.

I learned many things on vacation. Among them:

  • -Peacocks are assholes
  • -Lamb ribs are a big fucking deal
  • -Scrotums can appear unexpectedly***.

Anyway, if I’m back, you know what else is back: the Monday Challenge. Now updated in real time instead of scheduled weeks in advance!

Today’s Challenge: write me someone learning a fundamental truth about the world. Fire is hot. Things fall. Australian rules football makes no sense but is awesome. Someone somewhere has learned an inalienable truth about their world and must now incorporate it into their life.

Out. I got stuff to do.

(Housekeeping: I didn’t have much access to the blog whilst meandering around Melbourne, so some comments went unapproved until recently. If you submitted one but still haven’t seen it, let me know and I’ll check the spam filters. Sorry for the delay and thanks, as always, for the comments!)

*You might remember her from her blog, On The Road To Ithaca, or guest posts like this and this.

**Okay, I did some of this while I was away. But it was different stuff, all right?

***Related: if you have a wardrobe malfunction, you should just own it.

 

Monday Challenge: Superstition

Is it still good luck if it falls on your head?

I used to be a very superstitious kid.

Maybe it was growing up Catholic–”say this many Hail Marys and Acts of Contrition in this order, and all your sins are forgiven. Also, you might see a ghost appear in the bathroom mirror.”–or maybe it was growing up in province that held on to a lot of the old Irish superstitions, but there were rituals. I still remember my great aunt telling me to take an iron nail when I went out picking blueberries; otherwise the fairies would get me.* And to this day I can’t spill salt without tossing some over my left shoulder into the eye of the devil.**

And then there were the personal superstitions. When I was ten or so, I had a ‘bus summoning’ that would make the school bus arrive faster in the winter when I had to wait outside. There was a certain number of cars of a certain colour that I had to count***, and then a little dance I had to do. I’m pretty sure that it was just a way to pass the time and keep my internal organs from icing up, but I still did it. If nothing else, it served the dual purposes of warding off hypothermia and entertaining the neighbours.

Monday Challenge: write me what happens when a silly superstition turns out to be true. Satan really does hear if you don’t knock on wood; a horseshoe really does bring good luck. Or maybe those lucky underpants you wore when you first got laid really do make you irresistible.

*No cute Tinkerbells in our mythology. These were the stealing, fighting, fucking, murdering fairies. More fun, I think. And way more dangerous.

**Suck it, Lucifer.

***The colour varied by day of the week. Obviously.

 

Monday Challenge: Tech Gone Wild

Cleaning up after robot parties is the fucking WORST.

Hopefully, by the time this is live, my computer will have been resurrected from the dead shell of aluminum and silicon that it’s been for the last couple of weeks.* If not, then hopefully I will have managed to replace it with something. Maybe a brain implant.

Funny how even the near-complete failure of technology recently hasn’t turned me off from the idea of implantable computers. I mean, yeah, it’d probably be even more of a problem if the hard drive in my brain failed, but until then I’d be able to do research by thinking of it. And I could stream movies directly to my optic nerves.**

Until that slightly unsettling day, though, I’ll have to work with this stuff. On the upside, I’ve been learning even more about how my computer actually works, which will be a valuable skill when I someday have to troubleshoot my cerebral cortex.

If I’ve learned anything floating through forums and advice columns and tutorials, it’s that most people know jack shit about how their computers work. About technology in general, really. We use it every day–in some cases we depend on it–but we have no more understanding of it than my cat does of how the fridge works.

Just to be clear, I’m not slagging those who don’t know how to fix everything in their house. I have a theoretical understanding of how my car works, but I still take it to the garage. And I only started learning about computers a few years ago, when I had to. And then, trust me: my cat trying to figure out the fridge was an apt comparison.

She knows food comes from it; she knows you need hands to open it; she knows that if she’s cute, one of the Hand-Owning Giants will open it for her and extract food. Beyond that, she doesn’t really give a damn.

And why should she? It does what it has to, and she’s happy. Just like we are with our technological devices.

Until they fail.

Monday Challenge: write me the failure of technology. What do the characters do? Has it failed, or has it gained sentience? Can they survive without it, or do they need to attempt to fix it? What happens when they do?

I’m going to go back to fixing my hard drive.

*As of this writing. Man, prepping stuff in advance is hard. It’s like trying to figure out the right verb tenses for time travel.

**I wonder if they’re HD.

 

Monday Challenge: In Between

No airport I’ll be in will look this cool.

I’m probably in an airport right now. What airport, on what continent, I don’t know yet, since I can never remember the time zone conversions, but if you’re passing through one and you see a woman wearing a giant robot t-shirt sacked out in a departure lounge chair re-reading Harry Potter and the Something of Something for the millionth time, say hi. It might not be me, but she still sounds pretty cool.

Airports are weird places. They’re in between. A place you pass through on your way somewhere else. Which only makes it weirder when you have to spend time there. There’s the distinct impression that you should be moving on.

They’re not the only places like that. Waiting rooms, bus stations, other people’s guest rooms, hotels, highway rest stops…these are places that you inhabit only temporarily. No matter how welcoming, no matter how comfortable, you will leave. That’s the point. Unless you’re that guy from The Terminal.

Monday Challenge: write me an in between place. A place you’re not supposed to stay. What makes it that kind of space? What hints did the builders add in to make it perfectly clear that you have to go? Uncomfortable chairs? Awful paint scheme? Chorus of shrieking demons? And what’s it like when your character has to stay there?

I’m going on the hunt for a power outlet.

 

Monday Challenge: Springy

The worst power up ever.

Maybe it’s because my lawn is finally starting to look like something other than the Devil’s frozen asshole, but I feel…springy*.

I’ve been doing a lot of digital cleaning. Mostly because, when my hard drive took a long walk off a short pier, I had to restore everything from a backup. Which took forever. But, being the sunny natured optimist that I am, I found something good in it: I could now reorganize my hard drive. After all, I had to erase the whole damn thing. Since I have a clean slate, it seems like a good time to think about an organizational structure.

I likened it to renovating after a house fire: yeah, I probably could have lived with things as they were, but now that it’s been burned to the ground, I might as well fix the weirdly shaped kitchen, patch that crack that was always in the floor, and clean out the nest of sentient crab spiders that roosts in the attic and throws parties on Tuesday mornings. It’ll improve things in the long run, and it’s not that much extra work compared to the Herculean effort that was already going on.

The result is a digital workspace that is better, cleaner, and more efficient. So the whole ‘my computer shit itself’ week had at least one good outcome: the laptop feels brand new again. And with a fraction of the cost–though a thousand times the work–of actually buying a new computer.**

Monday Challenge: write about something old made new. Spring springing, phoenixes rising, old ladies stealing the bodies of children to continue their quest for immortality, galactic armadas siphoning the power of a young star system to breathe new life into their war machines.

I’ll be over here, digging through the remains of my hard drive like a renegade archeologist looking for the Holy Grail. Or at least some interesting porn.

*To paraphrase Scrubs, ‘springy’ like the season, not like the inside of a mattress.

**Though I wonder how much longer I’ll get out of this machine. Like a double agent that claims it’s really on my side, I no longer trust it.