Category Archives: Reading

Pages of Inspiration: Books for Writers

The creative well runs dry. The heart is as desiccated and desolate as a dusty Old West street, because you’re certain your Work in Progress is utter cowflop. You shout into the endless black void, listening mournfully for a few spurious, uncertain echoes. Where can writers go when they need to pour some fire back into their souls? The same place that got us into writing in the first place: Books.

At various points in your life, you’ll encounter books that are like a blessed bowl of warm chicken soup on a wintry day when your nose is crammed with snot and you ache in every bone. You’ll encounter books like the smooth, sweet burn of good whiskey that warms you from the inside. You’ll encounter books like a smart kick in the buttocks from that hot personal trainer.

Allow me to be so bold as to suggest some books for writers that have made an impact on me.

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury is a short, sweet blast of poetic inspiration. Bradbury was a consummate master storyteller, and being able play with techniques he’s used to cultivate the creative soul is incredibly valuable. This book is less a nuts-and-bolts how-to than techniques for cultivating the creative soul.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is a swift little kick in the pants. Each short chapter puts a finger directly onto the throbbing wounds of all the reasons we do not write, all the reasons we hold ourselves back from achieving our potential. The book provides a useful psychological framework for overcoming all of those excuses.

On Writing Horror by the Horror Writers Association is collection of essays from the luminaries of horror fiction. Stephen King, Jack Ketchum, Ramsey Campbell and many others tackle aspects of effective storytelling that go beyond writing horror. Much of this book is simply about writing good fiction, and I still reference various chapters.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is a great companion to Stephen King’s book below. Part how-to manual and part memoir, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, every chapter is spot-on. The chapter on first drafts is worth the cover price alone. In fact, I give that chapter to my English composition students as a lesson in how to get past the psychological blocks common to beginning writers.

Few writers can boast the impact that Stephen King has made on American fiction. On Writing is part memoir, part how-to. There are chapters on specific writing and revision techniques, but it’s also a memoir of his writing life. I found great inspiration in his writing life because he talks about the course of his career. Much of it is incredibly familiar, forming parts of every writer’s path. He had the skill, the drive, the support of a partner, caught a couple of lucky breaks, and his career exploded. And if he could do it, so can I. So can you.

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron was a life-changing experience for me. This book is a twelve-week program designed to reignite the sparks of a creative person’s soul, whether the person is a writer, graphic artist, musician, etc. It helps examine and reprogram all the ways our creative impulse is squelched–by our own fears, by our families, by the outside pressure of society. If you work through all twelve weeks of this program faithfully, you will experience a sea change in the way you approach writing, the way you approach life. I had already been writing for two decades when this book was given to me by a friend, and I found it so transformative that a few years later I went through all twelve weeks again. It was fascinating to see how much of it I had internalized. And also how far I still had to go. The Artist’s Way treats a creative life as a spiritual journey, making writing into your art, into a way of life, not something you try to do in between your day job, kids and soccer games, and your next session of World of Warcraft.

I hope someday to discover another gem and be as enlightened, invigorated, and inspired as I was when I discovered these books. Everybody needs a shot in the arm sometimes.

About the Author: Travis Heermann

Heermann-6Spirit_cover_smallTravis Heermann’s latest novel Spirit of the Ronin, was published in June, 2015.

Freelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, editor, poker player, poet, biker, roustabout, he is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of Death Wind, The Ronin Trilogy, The Wild Boys, and Rogues of the Black Fury, plus short fiction pieces in anthologies and magazines such as Perihelion SF, Fiction River, Historical Lovecraft, and Cemetery Dance’s Shivers VII. As a freelance writer, he has produced a metric ton of role-playing game work both in print and online, including content for the Firefly Roleplaying Game, Legend of Five Rings, d20 System, and EVE Online.

He lives in New Zealand with a couple of lovely ladies and a burning desire to claim Hobbiton as his own.

You can find him on…

Twitter
Facebook
Wattpad
Goodreads
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Website


Flashes of Halloween

As a token of appreciation for our readers and fans, we present a series of flash fiction stories to entertain and scare you. We hope you enjoy them, as does that ghostly figure reading this over your shoulder…


 

Steaks

Guy Anthony De Marco

Bob hated driving ‘cattle’ trucks. He liked the cargo, but the other drivers drove him mad. Soccer moms cutting him off on their way to the hairdressers and belligerent teenagers flipping him off all contributed to Bob’s loathing of city dwellers. He held his tongue for years, biding his time.

On Bob’s final run, the day he’d retire, he made a detour towards the old Quonset hut on his property. He would butcher and freeze this load to keep him in steaks for months, maybe years.

As he turned the crowded schoolbus into his driveway, he began to drool.


Once in a Lifetime Opportunity

Pamela K. Kinney

 

“Want a unique experience?” asked the woman in a tight mini dress and stiletto heels.

The man grinned. “What do you have in mind?”

“Something I know you never had done to you before and can only be done once.”

He followed her down an alley. They stopped beneath a sickly yellow light.

The man said, “I’ve done every sexual position you can imagine.”

“This is not about sex.”

The prostitute vanished, replaced by a monster. Before he could escape, it ate him.

Costumed as the human woman again, the monster patted her belly. “Now, you experienced being my meal.”


Troubles

Guy Anthony De Marco

 

“All right, you horrible jerk.”

The Mrs. is pissed off at me again. I rack my brain, trying to think of what she could have discovered. My mistress died suddenly, so she couldn’t have squealed about our affair. Nobody saw me hit the crippled guy with my car last year.

She’s not crying, so it has nothing to do with the jerk she was having an affair with while I was at work. I killed him too.

“Okay, I give. What did I do this time?”

She held up a severed, partially gnawed woman’s hand.

“I thought you were on a diet, dear?”


 Trick Or Treat

Frank Morin

He hated Halloween, with all those grasping, selfish children.

This year he prepared a special treat. The children would gobble them down, not even tasting the ricin. They’d die painfully in a few days, and no one could ever trace the source of the deadly toxin back to him.

Halloween night, he hosted a party of dear friends, but when he went to fetch the bowl of poisoned chocolate, he found it filled with different candy.

His wife called, “Give the brats the cheap stuff.”

“Where are my chocolates?”

“Gone,” she laughed. “They were the hit of the party.”


After the Crossroads

Mary Pletsch

I am sorry, my friend…but you are a mother too. You will understand—I couldn’t leave my daughter alone. You often said how you couldn’t comprehend what I was going through, watching my little girl wither away.

You would not have laughed at me if I had told you that in my desperation I had gone down to the crossroads with four black candles and a Club Pack of chicken breasts, $4.99 per pound on sale. You would not have made fun of my sacrifice. You would have known that even at that price, I would be skipping meals for the rest of the week.

You, if anyone, would have held my hand as I invoked Him. You would have reassured me. You would have told me there was no fault in trying.

The next morning my daughter drank from the bottle He gave me in exchange for the soul of the head of the house. My friend, I am so sorry… On my way to the hospital I walked past my own door and drew the mark on yours.

I will watch over your sons as you would have watched over my daughter, had the situation been reversed.


Vultures

Guy Anthony De Marco

The lines were longer than expected. It took a while to dock with the geosynchronous auction house, where robotic transports shuttled bidders to the main deck. The inner wall of the doughnut-shaped vessel displayed flashes of upcoming items; the outer gave the occupants a view of incoming ships.

Hun-Rey appreciated the attention to detail provided by the auctioneers. Disposable holo-vids of the major pieces, organic foods, and many intoxicating beverages — the house expected to pull in big numbers.

Most of the elite stopped by, pumping each other for inside information. Hun-Rey greeted each one, and divulged misinformation with a smile. He was a professional, a bidder with clairvoyance and charm.

A small bell tolled three times, and the auction began.

“Today we have a rarity. One certified dead world, with many antiquities intact. We will start with item one, a tubular underwater vehicle with all sixteen nuclear weapons unfired…”


Leftovers

Kristin Luna

The tabby strolled down the steps, weaving between the banisters. She hadn’t been fed for days, and her short hair began to suck to her body to display her ribs.

When she reached the ground level of her domicile, she peered into the kitchen and sat on her haunches. She stared at her owners sitting still in their chairs. She approached the youngest one that usually had bits of leftover breading from chicken fingers or cheese or cookie bits stuck to her fingers. She smelled the little fingers, but there was only the smell of acrid pickles. All the same, she rubbed against the little fingers and the rope end that dangled from the girl’s wrists.

She quickly passed by the one with the slick, black shoes that kicked her often and went straight for the one in the slippers and nightgown who poured her cat food every morning. She rubbed against the slippered feet, but again, was given no pats or rubs in return.

Demanding as she was, the feline jumped up to the table, as the action demanded attention in the past. But no one batted her away or placed her back down on the floor. Her presence unprotested, the cat sniffed a puddle of a strange liquid, and paused. She looked at the pool as if considering. But after a moment had passed, the tabby bent her head farther and drank from it anyway. At first slowly, the reddish brown coagulations catching on her tongue, and the sharp flavor different from water or milk. But the tabby was hungry, and this red milk would have to do.


Forty under Forty

Jace Killan

Delicious. His mouth watered. Hans had learned the craft in one of those diners along Route 66. It had been easier there. He had his pick of ingredients and spent years perfecting his recipes—like his delicious Boeuf Bourguignon that he now stirred. It was a customer favorite and had earned him the title of New York’s forty under forty.

Hans pulled the dinner rolls from the oven, their aroma filling the kitchen, meshing nicely with the simmering stew. He opened the walk-in, reached around the naked corpse missing its left buttocks and grabbed the butter and fresh parsley. Delicious indeed.

Need a Dark Fiction Fix?

Ah, October. Leaves turn different shades of death and fall to the earth. A sudden chill takes flight with the wind and cools down a scorched land. Families take out warm blankets and put away their shorts and tank tops. The night comes sooner, the morning later. All to set the mood for some spectacularly creepy fiction. Please allow me to recommend some of my favorites. Let me know your favorites in the comments, and if you picked up any of these recommendations!

Magazines

Nightmare Magazine: Horror & Dark Fantasy.

Editor John Joseph Adams sure knows how to pick the stand-out short stories and non-fiction pieces for this magazine, not to mention the spectacular and vivid art. It’s worth subscribing to this periodical, but you can also read it online for free: http://www.nightmare-magazine.com/.

The Dark Magazine.

A relatively newer magazine of two years old, The Dark focuses on dark, surreal, and speculative fiction instead of straight horror. I look forward to my copy every quarter. Again, a subscription is worth every penny, but you can also read parts of each issue on their website for free: http://thedarkmagazine.com/

Short Stories

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson.

Before there was Young Adult dystopian, there was this masterpiece by Shirley Jackson. If you enjoyed The Hunger Games, read it’s great grandmother: “The Lottery.”

“A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor

This classic will leave you uneasy, that’s for sure. You can find this short story in O’Connor’s popular short story collection The Complete Stories. All of them are worth your time, especially this one.

Creepy Presents: Bernie Wrightson

This is a fantastic compilation of short comics/short stories illustrated by the incomparable artist Bernie Wrightson. Read it for the art, stay for the creepy stories. Perfect for Halloween.

Books

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

Carnies. Need I say more? Okay, I will. This near-perfect novel by Katherine Dunn explores a world where being a freak is commonplace. Sibling rivalry and the question of what is beautiful are just a few themes rolled into the mix.

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King.

C’mon. What’s a list about creepy books without Stephen King? While it’s helpful to read The Shining prior to reading this book, it’s not absolutely necessary. But you should read The Shining anyway, because it’s fantastic. Doctor Sleep focuses on Dan Torrance as an adult, and while he escaped the Overlook Hotel all those years ago, demons of all sorts still haunt him.

Sunday Review: The Murderer’s Daughter

Caveat: This is the first Jonathan Kellerman novel I’ve read. It won’t be the last.

Kellerman breaks the mold of most thriller writers. He doesn’t rely on heavy plotting and endless bullets flying. Instead, he focuses on his protagonist, Grace Blades, generating genuine sympathy and concern for an intelligent child born into home of uncaring and abusive parents. Little Grace must find her own sources of food and comfort–the former consists of crumbs and trailer park hand outs; the latter she finds in books. While he has us concerned about poor little Grace, he brings us to her present day, where she is a skilled psychologist at the top of her game, with an eccentric side she keeps hidden.

Who Grace is and how she got there is what drives the reader through most of the book. That, and someone from her past who, under a false name, seeks her out. Someone from her childhood who has connections to an evil day that gives birth to the largest turning point in her life. Someone who is murdered after he leaves her office.

Kellerman weaves a dual timeline together masterfully, keeping the reader intrigued and anticipating what poor little Grace will have to face and how she will heal, while Dr. Blades seeks a killer from her past who is also seeking her. All the while, Kellerman keeps this about Grace Blades, entirely. It is about her actions, thoughts, reactions, planning, feelings, emptiness and sense of justice.

There is much a writer can learn from where he segues, and how he keeps the reader concerned about little Grace when we know she survives to be Dr. Blades. Kellerman manages to transcend his genre with character, while anchoring us with enough immediacy to turn the page and see what’s on the next.

In my opinion, the ending was cut too short. There were a couple of “false starts.” Once, it looked like Grace would be the subject of an investigation but the detective just disappears from the novel. Another time, the threat loomed larger than what it ended up as. Perhaps the worst was that hundreds of complications could’ve arisen, but none of them were explored. This novel succeeded on the journey, not the destination, but it kept me turning the pages until the end, and that is enough for me to read another.