Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Patry Francis - Author of "The Liar's Diary"

(photo "Invisible City" by magic fly paula.)

Writer Patry Francis has a book coming out in paperback today. It's called The Liar's Diary. But she won't be able to promote it because she's busy being treated for an aggressive type of cancer.

Which is where her fellow writers come in. Patry is a member at Red Room, an online community for writers. When they heard about Patry's problem, one of them, Laura Benedict, came up with an idea to help her. Laura began recruiting other writers who blog to talk about Patty and her new book on their blogs today - the day her book comes out. Writers like Neil Gaiman and Khaled Hosseini have joined with institutions like Publisher's Weekly and Writers Digest to blog about Patry and her book today in hopes of publicizing it and showing their support to her as she struggles against cancer.

You can read Patry's own unsentimental account of what she's going through on her blog, Simply Wait. And you can check out her book here.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Beauty Inspires Creativity

Here's another shot of my favorite beach in the world, Bellows on the windward side of Oahu, about 3pm on a Friday afternoon in late December.

A visit to Kulak's Woodshed to listen to five different women singer/songwriters equally inspired me this past Friday.

For a $10 contribution, you can attend this "private club" on Laurel Canyon, close to Magnolia in the Valley, and be part of the audience of a vidcast. The night I went with a friend, we saw a round of four very talented women singer songwriters. Of special note were Tracy Newman (http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=72836967) and Michelle Mangione. Tracy was funny, witty, insightful. Michelle rocked out and told stories that felt true. In her one song, "Jupiter," (available on ITunes) she sang: "The hero and the villain are the same."

Now if that doesn't provoke story ideas, I don't know what does.

So go out there and look at something beautiful. Watch talented creative people do their creative thing. It'll nurture your own muse.

How to write a novel

Since I'm still in the process of writing my novel, I like looking around for expert advice. If you're inclined to write a novel, check out the advice of published author David Louis Edelman here in his blog Deep Genre.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Writing Exercise #3 - Luminiferous

Look at this cool, weird gun! I found this image on ffffound, and a dozen scenarios involving possible targets of this gun immediately sprang to mind.

Or perhaps it's not a gun, but an "exciter," which does something to the "aether"? I can't read the small print on this image. But in a way that makes it an even better stimulus for ideas.

This week's assignment is to write a scene featuring this device. It must be used at some point in the scene.

Extra points for using the word "luminiferous" in a way that makes the word's meaning clear without giving me a flat-out dictionary-type definition.

Update: Thanks to a perspicacious reader, I've identified this illustration as coming from Dr. Grordbort's Contrapulatonic Dingus Directory. You can find out more at the accompanying website Dr. Grordbort's Infallible Aether Oscillators and other Marvelous Contraptions, created by Greg Broadmore. Raygun lovers rejoice!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Isn't Nature Wonderful?

Need to bring your blood pressure down 15 points? Want a glimpse of heaven under water? Harbor any doubts that animals can be as intelligent, playful, and beautiful as humans? Watch this video.


Friday, January 18, 2008

Writing Exercise #2 - The Mascot

Even if you have no interest in writing exercises, keep on reading. The material below is fascinating - no thanks to me!

On January 16 I listened to an extradinary interview on NPR's show The World. Anchor Lisa Mullins did an interview with Alex Kurzen, a Jewish man now in his 70's who lives in Australia but who survived the Holocaust in an extradinary fashion. When he was about five years old, the Nazis slaughtered everyone in his Russian village, including every member of his family. He escaped, only to be saved and adopted by a group of Latvian soldiers in league with the Nazis. This tiny Jewish boy survived World War II acting as a sort of "mascot" for this group of mass murderers. He witnessed many horrors, even as they were kind to him. After the war, he moved to Australia and started a family, and he never spoke of his experiences. At the age of 72, he finally told his son Mark the story and asked him to verify it all for him. Even to Alex Kurzem, it all seemed like a dream.

That's just the start of this extraordinary tale. Listen to the interview here. Scroll down till you see the segment titled "Alex Kurzem - The Mascot" and listen to the interview. It's riveting. There are also links to photos, including some of Alex as a boy in an SS uniform, and to the book his son wrote about their search for the truth.

After perusing these materials, your writing exercise is to take a moment or two from this amazing story and write it from the point of view of the five-year-old Jewish boy who has been adopted by these Nazi-affiliated soldiers. It can be anything from a haiku to a full fledged short story.

Even if you have no interest in writing, I urge you to listen to this story. It'll move you.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Publish your Writing!

So I've just had a reader response to my post suggesting a writing exercise. (Scroll down or click here to read the exercise.)

A reader has started to write a story in response to this exercise! I'm so excited!

Someone actually reads my blog.
Someone followed one of my writing suggestions!
Someone contacted me about it!

Okay, so it's all the same "someone," but you get the idea.

Which has inspired me to add a feature to my blog...

I will post a writing exercise once a week. Readers who write a piece in response can send it to me at nina@ninaberry.com, and if it's good, I will post it on my blog.

A few rules:
1) So-called obscene words and situation ARE allowed. I don't mind the occasional "fuck" (if you know what I mean) or sex scene at all. But if your story indicates a psychopathic obsession with killing, say, or it makes me think you need psychiatric help, I probably won't post it. That said, I think writing should move the reader. So if it moves me to feel horror or sadness or something, that's all good.

2) All genres accepted. That includes humor, sci-fi, fantasy, poetry (all types - limericks, haiku, sonnets, free form), horror, erotica, "literary" (whatever that means) and so on. I'll read more abstract or experimental stuff, but that's not something I usually enjoy and so the cards are stacked against you if that's your style.

3) Pieces can be anywhere from one sentence to 2,000 words. Now 2,000 words is long, especially for reading on the web. So I suggest you keep it a lot shorter than that. This rule may be revised as I see how many really long posts I want to add here.

4) There's no absolute deadline for sending me pieces based on writing exercises. Say you write a piece based on an exercise I posted two months ago - I'll still publish it if I like it.

5) Decision on what to publish here is up to me, Nina Berry, and only me. No payment of any kind to the writer can or will be made. But you'll be able to say you were published in a webzine. Dude, how cool is that? On your website you'll be able to link to your story here and show that an outside party thought it worthy.

True, that outside party is little old me. But, believe it or not, I have a lot of editing experience. I've edited five published books. I've been paid to read and analyze film and television scripts by Playboy and Warner Bros. I made it to the semi-finals of the Nicholl Fellowships and to the finals of the Disney TV Writing Fellowships. I wrote an episode of the synidicated TV show Ghost Stories. If I think your story is good, then it probably is.

6) Rules may be added, deleted, or amended at any time and at my whim. If I get overwhelmed by responses (ha!) that may happen.

7) Pieces may be proofread and spelling problems fixed before I publish them.

8) But please try to send clearly typed pieces, sent in the body (not an attachment) of your email that have been thoroughly proofed and spellchecked. Pieces with egregious spelling and grammar issues will tire me out and not get serious consideration.

I already have a great photo to base the next exercise on. Not all exercises will include photos, but I think they're a great way to get a story going in your brain. Now that I think on it, my first exercise, with three crazy photos to tie together, is a tad challenging. Not all exercises will be so nutty. But some just might!

Feel free to send pieces based on that first exercise. Another one will come your way next week!

9) If I publish your piece, I only need first time publication rights. After it appears here, do with it what you will. But no pieces that have been published elsewhere. The pieces are meant to be based on writing exercises presented here, not on stuff you did before. The idea is to get your imagination working and your writing juices flowing, and other metaphors that imply activity and imagination.

10) If I don't publish your piece within two weeks, figure that it won't get published. I may or may not be able to respond with a yes or no to all your emails. So if two weeks go by and it ain't up here, then figure it's a "no, thanks," and move on.

More rules as I think of them. Happy writing!

Friday, January 11, 2008


Found (ha!) a cool new site called ffffound that features nothing but images.

From the eerily charming:

To the terrifying:

To that which raises a question in the mind:

A possible writing exercise - look at each of these photos and then write a story that incorporates elements of all three.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Universe is Sherwood Forest

So Yahoo news had this cool story about "rogue black holes" on the web today. Check it out here.

This is one of those instances when a phrase sends my imagination off into Neverland. Imagine, rogue black holes, roaming our galaxy in search of stars and planets to gobble up. Suddenly, our universe seems like a vast jungle where polite, civilized stars and planetary systems are quietly making their way down the path, minding their own business, when they are suddenly jumped by an outlaw black hole. Once inside that rogue's event horizon, you're doomed. Doomed, I tell you!

What if the black holes got together and ganged up on all the stars, nebulae, and planets, and quasars? Would they form one gigando black hole that sucked in all matter and obliterated the known universe?

What if one black hole turned Robin Hood and started spewing the stars he'd eaten back out into the dark space between galaxies, stealing from the matter-rich parts of the galaxy and giving back to the impoverished?

What if, like giant, light-sucking tigers, black holes stalked and pounced upon unsuspecting white dwarves and red giants?

I mean, seriously. The universe is just like some Tolkein rip-off fantasy novel.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Serve the Story

So I'm writing my novel the other day, and I get to a scene where the female protagonist has to re-enter a group of old friends, most of whom did not treat her well, and one of whom is her ex-boyfriend who has hooked up with someone else.

I wasn't sure what I needed from this scene as I wrote it. I knew the scene was somehow necessary and should be dramatic, but what was my heroine trying to accomplish here? What were the specific conflicts, and how should I use them to drive the story forward?

The suddenly I was writing down words I'd always wanted to say to one of my exes. The words poured out of my heroine's mouth with all the power and anger I didn't get the chance to express all those years ago. I wrote down the response of the Ex, which was the same sort of self-justification my ex offered up to me, and which can still make my blood boil. And my fingers flew over the keyboard, and I was all intense, focused on making a scene happen in my book that never got to happen in real life. It felt good to make blood drip from my pen (yeah, that's a metaphor).

That night, I was lying in bed, and I thought - hold on a second! Is my heroine's relationship with her ex REALLY just like my relationship with mine?

Uh, no.

And just exactly how does that scene serve the story and move the plot along?

Well, it's doesn't. Not really. But it's good! It flows. It's full of passion and fire. It's witty. It's fun.

So what? This isn't about you, it's about the characters you created. It's about serving this story, not your story. You wanna berate the bonehead who mistreated you in print? Then write a story about THAT. This is NOT that story. It's a better one.

Then I got all up in my own shit. I berated myself for still having anger, for not having completely let go of issues long dead. I thought I was done. I thought I didn't give a hoot. I thought I was happy and otherwise occupied. And even worse I thought - I've ruined my novel! I've derailed its focus! I'm a bad writer!

The next day I looked again at that scene and deleted - a page. That's all I'd written that was wrong. I hadn't derailed diddly squat. All I had to do was delete a page of stuff that didn't work, rethink what I wanted from the scene, and take a stab at it.

Then I forgave myself for my anger. And I wrote a damn good scene.

Lesson here? Sometimes it helps to write out the crazy stuff that's in your head. Being a writer is a bit of a power trip. You are the demiurge, the omnipotent Creator, and in your world, people do whatever you tell them. But don't mistake your issues for whatever your characters are going through. Don't let your own life take over your novel. Your own life is not nearly interesting or structured enough to be a novel. You are the creator, but you are also the servant of the story. Serve it well, then you will serve the reader too.

Monday, January 07, 2008

The Last Word

I got chills when I read this blog post today.

It's the last blog post ever from a soldier named Andrew Olmsted, a blogger for the Rocky Mountain News, who died in Iraq. He wrote his "last entry" to be posted in the event of his demise. And die he did. In the war.

According to this NY Times article he died January 3 in Sadiyah from small arms fire from insurgents.

What a strange, sad, yet oddly uplifting thing it is to read someone's final words.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Holy Wombat

Spirituality is pretty simple, when you think about it. Folks complicate it by saying "my belief system is better than yours," but really, it all comes down to what the Holy Wombat says here.

Happy New Year!