Monday, August 30, 2010

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Last week, as I was writing on the train as usual, I had a real Ah-Ha! moment.

He escapes!  Duh!  Why didn't I think of that before?  It's so simple, so clear - undeniably the right road for my characters to follow.  It was the turn I needed to move the plot one step closer to the end of the first novel in my trilogy.  (Did I mention that I've decided my story needs to be a trilogy?  Yep, lots of work ahead of me.) 

I suddenly felt as if a tiny pin-prick of light had appeared before me in the dark tunnel that I've been imperceptibly moving through for the last...nine plus months (ouch). 

Don't get me wrong, I'm nowhere near finished.  I'm not even ready for serious critique yet.  I still have to get to the end of the story, and then I have oodles of edits waiting on the other side.  It's a pin-prick, not a beacon.  But the story has now opened up for me and I can clearly see the path ahead.  I've been muddling through the dark for so long, I'm actually anxious to get to the revision part.

I've learned a lot in 50,000 words, which will help with the revisions.  Hopefully I won't have to rewrite too much of the beginning, although I already know I need to start in a different place.  But now I'm getting ahead of myself, so I'll leave it there for the moment.  I need to get back to writing.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Butt in Chair

Last Friday, Jane Friedman quoted a bit of wisdom from writer and professor, Michael Martone:

Only 10% (if that) of writers keep at it, and because they do keep at it, they are successful and known—even if not talented.

This got me thinking: how many people get discouraged by criticism and stop writing?  I don't have the answer, but I can tell you that I was one of them.

It was my tenth grade English class that thwarted my own early creative writing.  We were given an assignment to write a short story for class.  Meanwhile, the twelfth grade creative writing students would edit and critique our work.  At the time, I had been reading a lot of fantasy, particularly epic fantasy, so I decided that I would write a story about elves.

Before you ask, I no longer have a copy of the story, nor do I remember what it was about.  All I remember was that there were elves and there was a fight scene.  I couldn't keep the word count down to a reasonable short story length, and in the end, I'm not sure that I really ever finished it.  The story just stopped.  It was BAD.  But I had to submit it for the class assignment.

The senior that read my long piece of you-know-what absolutely tore it to shreds.  I knew it was awful, but she nit-picked through the thing and sent me running home in tears.  Okay, not really, but still. 

I was absolutely mortified by the experience.  In retrospect, the senior was just fulfilling her class assignment as well, so I can hardly blame her for tearing it to bits, but nonetheless it caused me to believe that I was terrible at creative writing in general.  Since there were other things that filled my time that I was already good at, like softball and volleyball and piano lessons and jazz band and AP classes...I decided it wasn't worth the effort to get good, even though I'd had a lot of fun with the writing.

I didn't write any other creative works until I got the itch a couple of years ago.

What gave me the itch?  I think it was a lack of a creative outlet.  There were of course other outlets that I could have turned to -- like playing piano, in which my loving parents invested thousands of dollars from the ages of 6 through 18 -- but I wanted to tell stories.  I wanted to give a reader the escape and the enjoyment that I had always received from books.  I wanted to write.

So I tried again.  The difference is that now I'm choosing to write because it's fun, not some class assignment that's required of me.  I'm choosing to learn and develop my creativity.  I'm choosing to put in the practice time so that I can become a great writer.  Anyone that's read Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers can tell you it will take 10,000 hours of practice to master a complex skill.  Well, my butt is in my chair and I'm sticking with it.  Practice makes perfect and only time will tell if I'll ever be successful and known.

Of course, I hope to be successful, known and talented.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Chocolate Surprise

I know it's been awhile since my last post, but here's a little treat for you all...

Chocolate Surprise
by Megan P Haskell

     He approached from behind, sliding one hand along her long, exposed white neck. The skin beneath his fingers shivered as the tiny hairs on the back of her neck lifted. He loved the first seduction of the last fatal kiss.
     “Mmm, that feels nice,” she whispered, her sultry tone asking to be caressed.
     She had no idea what he really was. He had picked her up in an exclusive and expensive bar downtown.  She had eyed him from across the room, as they all were wont to do, but it was her neck that had made his final decision. He couldn't resist the translucent skin that gently pulsed in long blue lines beneath the surface. They had talked.  She was a business woman, far away from home, looking for a little adventure.  He had invited her home with him.  No woman had ever refused.
     “Would you like some dessert? I have some wonderful imported chocolates that would taste lovely with a little red wine,” he whispered into her ear. The chill that shivered down her spine was tantalizing. He almost took her then and there, but decided to make the evening last. At least a little while longer.
     “That would be lovely,” she replied turning into his arms.
     He let his hands slide down her shoulders, then quickly left the room, moving to the kitchen where he stored his bait. He had no real food, just dessert, liquor and wine. It was all he ever needed.

     He pulled the red box of chocolates from the cabinet, selecting a few choice pieces and arranging them artfully on a plate. He poured what was rumored to be a fantastic wine into his favorite crystal goblet.  It was thick and had a deep red color that looked remarkably like blood. He enjoyed the irony with every pour. He carried the bait back into the living room.
     “Here we are,” he said, offering the plate and the goblet.
     “Aren't you going to have any wine?” the woman inquired. “I hate to be the only one drinking.”
     “Never mind that,” he replied. “Try the wine with the chocolates. They're truly divine.”
     The woman took the plate from him and they sat on the burgundy couch, knees touching lightly. She picked up one of the dark brown morsels and placed it on her tongue. Her eyes closed in pleasure. He let his eyes trail down her light blue dress shirt and black pencil skirt. So proper on the outside, yet clearly so deviant on the inside.
     “Here, let me give you a piece,” she said, a chocolate held out toward him.
     “No, no. They are all for you, my dear.” 
      She frowned.  “Please, let me feed you.” She leaned forward, her blouse framing that lovely neck and opening wider across the bust. No matter how hard he tried to look away, his eyes were drawn back to that little pulse point. He was hungry. He closed his eyes, inhaling her scent but keeping his desires in check.
     “Don't worry. You'll feed me a little later, my darling.”
     “I don't think so.”
     His eyes flew open. Her voice had changed: no longer warm and sultry, it was cold and hard. But it was the wooden stake that rested between his ribs that was the real surprise. She had much better bait than he did.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


As some of you know, I'm taking a writing class through UCLA Extension this summer.  Today's post comes from a twenty minute exercise that we wrote at the beginning of class a few weeks ago.  After re-reading it a few days later, I thought to myself, "This is kinda good.  Maybe you should keep working on it."  I took my own advice, and here it is, an original short short story by Megan P Haskell!


By Megan P Haskell

    Mary opened the window in the front room.  A gentle breeze ruffled the sheer curtains and washed through the house as she finished preparing dinner.  The evening would be perfect.  Everything was planned down to the tiniest detail. 

    Earlier in the day, Mary had carefully unwrapped the small frozen wedding cake, unable to believe that an entire year had passed.  The sugar flowers still looked lovely.  The cake now sat proudly on display as the centerpiece of the table, her grandmother’s prized silver candlesticks framing it with perfect white tapers. 

    Jacob was due home from work at seven.  His favorite dinner was almost ready; the only thing missing was the garlic bread, which would be broiled at the last minute. 

    At 6:55 Mary lit the candles so that the flame would be big and beautiful, its light dancing on the lace tablecloth, and then returned to the kitchen to finish the last of the dishes before he arrived.  She didn't want anything to interrupt their evening. 

    At 7:02 all the dishes were done.  Mary stood looking out the window, hoping every pair of headlights belonged to Jacob’s big pickup truck.  She was disappointed each time they passed her by. 

    At 7:17 Mary paced the room, her little black dress flowing gently around her.  She had purchased the dress especially for this evening, spending more than she probably should have.  It was a special occasion; their first in what she hoped would be many.  Surely Jacob would be home soon.  The flash of light sent her running to the window, but it was just the neighbor's red Nissan.   

    At 7:23 Mary put the bread under the broiler.  A late husband was a hungry husband and she didn’t want to make Jacob wait. 

    At 7:26 the bread was finished, and Jacob still wasn't home.  Mary nibbled a small buttery slice while it was still warm before wrapping the rest in a cloth and placing it in the basket.  She set the basket on the table and sat, her knee jiggling. 

    At 7:38 Mary's stomach growled loudly and her arms were riddled with goosebumps.  She called the main office, but no one answered.  She called his cell.  It rang twice, then went to his voicemail.  The food was getting cold and Jacob was ignoring her calls.

    At 7:51 Mary ate a small serving of the perfect homemade lasagna, but put the rest away.  He was an hour late.  He hadn’t called.  She blew out the candles and put away the unused dishes.

    At 8:28 he still wasn't home.  Mary stood in the front room, staring at the empty street.  Cars no longer passed; all the husbands were home.  All but her own.  She felt like a peeping tom watching the shadows move behind the blinds of her neighbors' houses. 

    At 8:39 Mary tried calling his cell phone again.  There was still no answer.  She decided she might as well get out of her dress.  The store might let her return it since she hadn’t spilled anything.  She didn’t want to - it was a beautiful dress - but she couldn’t justify the cost.  There wouldn’t be another chance to wear it.

    At 9:03 Mary returned to the kitchen wearing her oldest and most comfortable pair of pajamas.  The beautiful cake taunted her from its seat on the table.  She succumbed to the temptation and cut a slice, carrying it with her to the couch.  Mary turned on the TV, flipping through the channels until she found a prime-time soap opera that wouldn’t require much thought.  

    At 9:07 Mary took a bite of the cake, but could barely swallow the small mouthful.  It tasted like cardboard and chalk, not the decadent vanilla and sweet butter cream that she remembered.  She set the plate on the coffee table, deciding to deal with the rest later.

    At 9:19 Mary heard a car approaching the house.  Her husband’s blue Ford was finally pulling up the drive.  She watched him open the truck door and stumble out onto the cold gray cement; his slurred curses echoed against the house.  Mary closed the window and went to bed, pausing only to throw the leftover cake in the trash.
I hope you liked it.  Please feel free to post comments.   I've also posted it up on Scribd, so if you're feeling generous and have the time, please rate it and post a comment there as well.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

False Truth

What is fiction? Well-crafted lies? Imagination run wild? Real-life condensed and amplified? Social or political commentary? Escape from reality?
I think it can be any or all of these, and sometimes all at once. My personal definition is that fiction is a "false truth".  The story is false - either entirely made up or exaggerated in some way - but there also has to be some truth to it.  
One of my favorite books of the last few years was One Second After, by William R Forstchen. Part of what made this book so fascinating was that it was based on a very real threat to the US: an electromagnetic pulse or EMP. In a nut shell, an EMP kills anything and everything electronic, sending the victim country back to the dark ages with no transportation, no power, and very few means of communicating. The characters in the story were imaginary, but their reactions to the threat and behaviors after it occurred were true. The story is made-up (false) but it's based on reality (truth).
But Megan, you write fantasy!  It's all made up, its only point is to provide an escape from reality, so it can't be real and it can't be true.
Just because fantasy isn't real doesn't mean it isn't true.  And just because it isn't real doesn't mean that there's no value in it except as an escape. Every great fantasy has truth and meaning.   
Aristotle went so far as to say that a 'probable impossibility' made a better story than an 'improbable possibility,' meaning that a skillful author can sell us glass mountains, UFOs, and hobbits, whereas a less skilled writer may not be able to convince us that Mary Lou has a crush on Sam.”
~ Writing Fiction, by Janet Burroway
The characters of the story might belong to a fictional race of elves, trolls, werewolves, vampires, hobbits, orcs, goblins, angels, get the idea...but their personalities have to be based on something or someone we know or can relate to in some way, even the bad guys.  Frodo was the boy next door, forced to step up to a responsibility he didn't really want and wasn't really ready for. And at the most basic level, Sauron was an evil dictator, living far away, that wanted to take over the world.  Remind you of anyone?
The key here is that though they weren't human, these characters had personalities, backgrounds, quirks, and pet peeves that defined them and were true to their stories.
Then there's the setting: depending on the subgenre, the setting can be both real and true, or just true. My novel is set in the mountains of Colorado. I've been there. It's real. Promise.
Oh, you want a published example? Look at the Sookie Stackhouse series (or True Blood for those that watch the show but haven't read the books) – Sookie lives in modern day Louisiana, it just so happens that the vampires have come out of the coffin and revealed their existence. So long as Charlaine Harris maintains the rules of her world (vampires allergic to silver, for example), the world she's created feels real.
However, even an epic fantasy adventure can take place on a non-Earth world and feel as real as the suburban neighborhood I live in, so long as the author follows his own rules and stays true to the characters. If the planet has a purple sky, it needs to stay that way (unless there's some kind of catastrophic event that changes the color of the sky for a reason...but I digress). If the protagonist is the daughter of a Duke living in a castle, she probably shouldn't be a weapons expert or inadvertently break the rules of etiquette.
Fantasy is definitely false, but it can also be true too.