The Twenty-Eighth Day of May

Two thousand six hundred two years ago, the Medes and the Lydians were enmeshed in all-out war. While the two sides had much to war over, what had finally brought the two sides to raise arms against each other was the murder of the Lydian prince. A group of Scythian hunters had been hired by King Cyaxares. When they returned from their hunt empty-handed, the king insulted them. The hunters killed his son and, as part of their revenge, served him up to the Medes as a meal.

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Don't You Love Your Mother?

Mother's Day has come and gone, but motherhood is forever. And forever is a long time. Long enough, surely, to drive some people crazy. Chances are your mother was pretty cool, generally speaking. Not everyone's so lucky. For us, celebrating Mother's Day with a list like this one is just what the counselor ordered. Here are...

The 5 Worst Mothers in Horror Film

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A Word About Blasphemy for Blasphemous Words

Today I want to talk about blasphemy.

As you may know, we're accepting submissions for a new anthology, the Book of Blasphemous Words. As chief editor of the anthology, I'm super excited about it. We've been planning it for quite some time, and I'm honored to be working on it.

We've received a ton of submissions for it, and that's super humbling. But I've noticed one thing in particular with several submissions.

Though they may be well-written, they're not blasphemous. They're stories of gods and men playing by the rules. There may be supernatural elements, but that's not blasphemy.

Maybe it's my fault. Fellow Murderer, Jack Burgos, wrote the copy text that's featured on the submission guidelines for me. He did an excellent job. But looking back over it, it leans one way. Each example in the third section references Abrahamic faith, which matches my own background. And a lot of the stories I'm talking about don't.

Maybe blasphemy has a cultural connotation we've overlooked of, "any religious beliefs not commonly seen in society." But that's not what we were hoping to see when we opened submissions.

Blasphemy is showing contempt or irreverence to sacred or inviolable beliefs. Praying to Apollo for prophecy, Atalanta for victory, Eros for love is piety. And, while I may not know anyone who genuinely keeps faith in them, it feels dismissive to consider them for an anthology about blasphemy.

We want stories of man's beliefs turning on them, or vice versa. Of the creations of faith and myth growing beyond control, consuming their former masters, body and soul. Conmen siphoning a god's power from believers for their own gain. A cult worshiping a deceitful demon to learn the meaning of life. A demigod of harmony that plots to bring the world to ruin.

Obviously, certainly stories lend themselves to blasphemy than others. The Cthulhu mythos (and other works inspired by Lovecraft) are notorious for being the domain of heretics and madmen. (Also, I very much enjoy reading those stories, so maybe submit more weird and eldritch horror.)

So, new submission guideline: make sure your piece is actually blasphemous. 

All Hallow's Read: Friday I'm in Love

I spent some time trying to give a Halloween rewrite to "A Few of my Favorite Things", but then I realized I wanted to get this done before midnight. It would have been awesome though. So, a few of our favorite things for Halloween:

Shannon

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

"When I was a kid, I watched this every year. The Headless Horseman scared the crap out of me."

Jack

I'll Be Waiting

"I love Reckless Tortuga. They've come out with a couple of short stories for the Halloween season. This is my favorite of them."

CJ

The Cthulu Mythos

"Not super surprising, I'm sure a lot of people who are at least a little familiar with it agree. Themes of futility, mankind being the side effect of much greater and more terrible things in the universe, and the closest thing to the "good guys" that exist in the stories couldn't care less about us. Even the dreams of some of the eldritch creatures are dangerous to us mere mortals, and to glimpse any of their true forms is enough to drive even the most steel-willed mad.

And what's not to like about that?"

Slenderman

"Yes, I am scared of the internet boogeyman. Kinda lame, but it's less the stories and such, and more just that he's basically an amalgamation of my fears. Powered by belief, enigmatic, impossible to perceive no matter where he may be, and absolutely unstoppable in his pursuit of... what, exactly? Nobody knows. I think that may be the worst part.

He's also taller than me, and that cannot be tolerated."

Haunted Houses

"Both the thing with the ghosts and the thing with the people paid to hide around corners to scare you. I love a good scare around Halloween, and while ghost hunting may technically be cheaper than paying for admission of a haunted house, I also don't want to be exposed to too many terrible things in the world. A good haunted house or haunted trail is part of what makes the Halloween season so fun, after all."

Candy

"Also, being within arms' reach of a pile of candy makes October officially one of the best months ever. I'm beginning to think I was born a month too late."

Ben

Weeping angels

Pumpkin Pie

Candy

Awesome costumes

Kaz

Francis

Adrean

Bedfellows

This is, like, my greatest fear. Ever.

Trick r Treat

I have a problem with misspellings in titles, so I didn't watch this for a long time. But this is the Halloweeniest of all Halloween movies. It's just fantastic fun.

Heads Will Roll

This video is just so... it's like a love letter to Thriller and it's so campy and glittery.

Motivational Monday: All Hallow's Read

Good evenin', everyone, and Happy Halloween Week! Here at Murder, this time of year is like our Christmas; there's candy and decorations, and we come together to check out haunted houses and enjoy an annual murder mystery among friends. And this year, we decided to share a little bit of excitement with all you wonderful people. First, like the title says, we're participating in All Hallow's Read, and are sharing our own horror stories with you. Our first group anthology, Happy Days Sweetheart, is free on Amazon's Kindle through Halloween! If you haven't picked it up yet, you have no excuse now!

Seriously, how good is this even?

The second bit of celebration is a promise, folks. Even though it's our Christmas, you guys get the gifts... of more us. Every day this week, we're promising a post every day, either with the day's scheduled content, or with some other spooky short stories, just for you.

Now, onto the actual post, as it's not technically late: Motivational Monday!

For those of you in the know, National Novel Writing Month is less than a week away, and it is pretty intimidating. For those who've never heard of it, the idea is that you write 50,000 words - the length of a short novel - starting November 1st and ending the 30th. It averages out to just under 1,700 words a day, and every day you hope you're a little ahead of where you need to be, which, in my experience, never happens.

I've attempted it every year since 2008, and have won (finished) once in that time, which is pretty impressive, I guess? But I'm a sore loser, and this year I won't settle for shame so easily. So this year, I'm plotting. I'm outlining and prewriting (in my head! I'm not a cheater!) and thinking long and hard on the words I want to put on the page, before I ever get that far. This is the first year I've actually sat long enough to think about it before it started, and it's given me this really good feeling, like it's not some unconquerable word mountain, but instead several smaller word chunks, like it's supposed to be.

And really, that's all it's taken for me to get excited about it. One good idea, and then following the advice that every writing teacher I ever had told me. I'll be the first to admit I've been in a long writing slump, and I'm not optimistic to think I'm all the way out of it yet, but, who knows.

So, readers (assuming you've made it this far), what about you? Interested in NaNo? How do you motivate yourself to start a daunting project? Are you like Adrean, do you have to trick yourself with treats?

Stay awesome, guys, and keep your eyes on the page for the rest of this week's updates. And, in case I don't write another post before then, Happy Halloween!

How To-sday: M.O.

Continuing our series on the Murder Method, today is all about the M.O. This part is both the most misunderstood and also the hardest. At this point, we are still not giving any opinions. For reference: o·pin·ion əˈpinyən noun

  1. a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.
    "I'm writing to voice my opinion on an issue of great importance"
    synonyms: belief, judgment, thought(s), (way of) thinking, mind, (point of) view,viewpoint, outlook, attitude, stance, position, perspective, persuasion,standpoint; More

    • the beliefs or views of a large number or majority of people about a particular thing.
      "the changing climate of opinion"
    • an estimation of the quality or worth of someone or something.
      "I had a higher opinion of myself than I deserved"

It can be incredibly hard to keep from giving an opinion. Just try to think of this as asking for clarification. You can ask about the writer's intentions.

Examples of questions that are okay to ask:

  • What purpose does Derrick serve in the story?
  • Why did you choose this title?
  • What do you want the reader to take away from this story?
  • Where was Jordan heading before he ran into Sophie and they went to lunch?

Questions that you should not ask:

  • Why is this fight scene so confusing?
  • Why did you make Ash so unlikeable?
  • Why did you include this useless character?
  • Why did you pick such a crappy title?

See the difference?

This is the first time during the process that the author is allowed to talk. Try to be brief, but answer as fully as you can. Also, pay attention to the questions asked. If your readers are asking questions about stuff that you thought was made clear in the text or that you wanted them to pick up on, maybe that's something that you should focus on in your editing.

Readers, don't force the questions. If you have nothing to ask, that's fine. There's no reason to make the process drag on longer than necessary. If you find that you have an opinion after a question is answered, jot it down and save it. That part comes next.

Motivational Monday: Trick or Treat

It often seems that the more I want to do something, the more my brain looks for ways to not do that thing. I'll just browse Reddit for five more minutes. Let me check Facebook one more time. I'm almost done with this season of that show I don't really care about, so might as well finish that. Then I'll get started. I swear. I could do that for days. Cloud and the Treat

Luckily for me, I also like stuff.  So, I trick myself. I set goals and I give myself rewards for meeting them. A thousand words is a small goal worth a small reward, like a trip to my favorite bakery. Five thousand is pretty great, so that gets me something bigger like fancy nail polish or whatever genius thing is currently on TeeFury. Ten thousand is a big milestone. I let myself get something big, like a Loot Crate. Or a Rice Krispie Treat bigger than my cat.

I like writing. Love it, in fact. But sometimes, especially when it comes to editing, it is hard work. And, sure, there are paychecks, but most of the time they aren't huge. Acceptance letters are hard to come by and rejection can really ruin your day.

I'm a gamer at heart. Keeping track of my words and rewards makes me happy. It feels like I've leveled up. It makes it a game, which makes me feel even more excited to finish (or get closer to finishing) a piece.

The whole point is to say that writing is hard. You don't always get recognition for it and it often goes unpaid. So, find your reward. Find the thing that's going to get you motivated and give yourself a little payday. You probably deserve it.

Sunday Funday: Give Your Characters a Vacation

Recently, I lost all motivation to write.  I had works in progress that were depending on me, but the desire I'd once had to see them completed had just gone away.  Completely. And then an amazing thing happened.  I remembered how much I enjoy writing, and how much it is a part of me.  It also helped--tremendously--that I had a group of people behind me encouraging me and letting me know that they believe in me.

With all of that in mind, I pulled up a piece that I haven't worked on in some time, and I fell in love all over again with the characters.  There were aspects of their lives that were remembered, but also many that felt fresh and new to me because I hadn't experienced them in so long.  They were still my characters, but it was almost like being introduced to them for the first time.

I think as writers that we become so bogged down in completing novels/stories/poems/whatever, that we lose sight of the most important reason why we do what we do.  We forget that writing is fun, fulfilling, inspirational, and more often than not--for me, at least--cathartic.  The rush of joy I have when I put the final period on a rough draft is something that only an author can appreciate.  It's almost like a parent seeing their child's first step.  This is mine.  I'm sending it out into the world for others to see, and I'm telling them how happy it makes me.

My characters took a vacation from editing.  They were given time to just exist and be in their world without me putting my stresses and self-induced worries onto them.  Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our pieces--tying in all of our real-world garbage--that our characters can suffer from it.  I think giving them space, giving them a vacation, is probably the best thing we can do.  It gives us time to get perspective on our lives so that we can give the characters the lives they deserve--even if it's the best end to their life.

Do you have characters that need a vacation?  Do you have characters that have been on vacation for a while?  Too long?  Why don't you check in on them and see how their doing?  Just remember, it's okay to let them stay on vacation for as long as they--and you!--need.  Even if that means forever.

Friday I'm in Love: Beginnings

This still feels a little weird. I never intended to be a writer. It was just something I picked up in high school, staying up late to creep downstairs to the desktop computer so I could write more posts in a forum roleplays, frantically hiding in the utility room any time I heard the stairs creak. Looking back, I remember thinking I wasn't very good at writing even then, that it was just a distraction from schoolwork and teenage drama (of which, I'm sort of proud to say, I had plenty of each and ignored both more often than not). But I was having fun, and I made friends, some of which I still talk to today. I love beginnings. Whether it's the first hour of a video game, the first chapter of a story, or the first time I meet someone, beginnings are these magical events that only happen the one time. No matter how slow a beginning, literally anything imaginable can happen afterwards, and I honestly can't wait to find out what happens next. Their the first of many crossroads that we each have to traverse, and the decisions we make at the start make the biggest impacts we have.

I have a folder on my desktop full of the first parts of stories, ranging from twenty words to ten chapters. I can't tell you how many games I've never finished, if only because I can't stop myself from resetting to replay the beginning. Hell, I've got a year and a half of college under my belt, with no idea when that'll ever get finished. It just wasn't as fun after the first semester!

That's part of why I write, I guess. I get to reimagine all the experiences that I've already had, wearing the masks of my characters, and see how much different it all could have been. If I had said this, if they had said that. Kind of my own way of reexamining my life, I guess (although I sincerely doubt I'm the first to have stumbled upon this idea). And it lets others see what's happening in my head, sometimes, and maybe, if I'm lucky, make them feel one way or the other about it.

This whole writing thing... It's still pretty new to me, in the long term. So it feels like a beginning of sorts, too. But it's time to move on past the beginning. To see where this story goes.

And you know what? I'm okay with that.

In fact, I think I love that, too.

Throwback Thursday: Fifteen and...

I still have a copy—the ONLY copy—of the first ‘novel’ I ever wrote.  I use the single quotes because, while it definitely has the length of a novel, the amount of work it would require to polish it up and actually let it see the light of day is astronomically huge.  Thousands of stars will be born and die before that happens. The idea of Throwback Thursday got me to thinking about that novel.  It was titled Belles and Beaux, and it was the attempt of a fifteen-year-old trapped in the middle of nowhere, without the ability to leave a small town of barely 600 people, to make sense of life and his place in it.

The protagonist was an adult me.  He was sure of himself.  He had a plan for life, he knew what he wanted, and he was well on his way to getting it.  I had always been told to write what I knew, and while I’m certain now that I didn’t know what that meant then, I went about doing just that.

We all know how the life of a teenager is constant turmoil.  High school is a nightmare if you’re not the popular kid.  Parents just don’t get it.  Siblings are so annoying—especially the youngest one who can cry on command and can twist words better than the greatest liar in the universe.  So, writing what I knew, they all went into the novel.  Family members became characters.  Situations I dealt with on a daily basis became situations that my protagonist dealt with.  Except, he did it on a much grander, more adult scale than I did.

The result of all of this was a nightmare ride that culminated in a body count that Arnold Schwarzenegger would be proud of.

Now that I’m an adult—honestly!—I still look at my characters the same way, but I have a better perspective on my own thoughts and feelings.  Relationships aren’t as volatile as they were before, and if they are, I can get away from them.  The monster youngest brother is now a good friend who comes to me for advice.  And now I get to be the adult who just doesn’t get it.

As authors, we must use that wealth of experience, thought, emotion, and imagination to bring to life characters that aren’t just angsty teens wrapped in the flesh of an adult.  Or, worse yet, a cardboard cutout of what a character should be.  Write a character you’d want to read about.  Write a character you want to meet.  And if you happen to throw just a little bit of yourself into the mix, where’s the harm in that?

Remember what you were experiencing when you were driving your parents insane?  Put those thoughts and feelings into the character.  Probably the most well-known example of this would be Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye.  He defined angsty teen for a generation—if not more.

Remember what it felt like to lose your first pet?  If not, how would you feel if the beloved pet you have now died RIGHT NOW?  What would you feel?  What would you think?  Could you get out of bed in the morning?  Would you be able to talk on the phone?  I have to admit that when I want to write emotional scenes, I imagine that my beloved dog, Dax, has died.  Let me tell you, that conjures up some emotion that can be poured into a scene, a character, and give it life.

In my novel Ride the Train, one of the main antagonists, Esau, does something unspeakable, something that I could never do in a million years.  The scene that serves as a turning point in his relationship with the protagonist, Alex, did not exist in the rough draft.  I skirted the issue as far as I could.  Why?  Because I could not imagine myself doing that to someone.  So, when I finally bit the bullet and followed the advice of my critique group, I imagined what I would feel if I was Alex, and I was experiencing that.  I thought about all the times I had been hurt in other ways.  The relationships that started one way but ended horribly because of one deed.  (Writing this, I can feel that emotion welling up inside me, and it’s been over a year since I wrote that scene.)

You owe it to your characters to make them complete.  One of the best ways to do this is to know them, to know yourself.  Give them life, like a mother birthing her child.  They are part of you, and you are part of them.  Listen to them and give them the benefit of your experiences, your wisdom, your emotions (good and bad).  If you do that, I guarantee that people will notice, and they will fall in love with your characters.

Finding Time to Write

This seemed like a fitting piece to do for today. I hear people ask authors all the time, "How to find the time to write?" Seriously, it's, like, the second most asked thing at conferences. I have an ugly, terrible truth to tell you. Are you ready for it? There is never time.

Seriously. Never.

Extra time is like extra money. You can tell yourself it will be there, but until you make it happen, it's just rain through a sieve. You can always find something else to fill your day with. The internet is deep and full of traps.

So, listen. There is no time. Maybe you're the type of person who can make a schedule and stick diligently to it. But I've never met a writer that could. Here's what I do instead. I make notes. Lots of notes. Evernote, Google Drive, and Dropbox are great for cross-platform sharing. I also do a lot of blogging from my phone. Like, a lot. If your phone has internet capabilities, this is a great way to spend your time in a check out line. Not really. It's not a barrel of laughs or anything, but it's the best I can do. And it sure beats checking Facebook.

That's the secret. There is no secret. There is only what you make time for.

Man, this seems like a short post, but that's the thing. You just fit in what you can when you can. That's all there is to it.

Rewriting and Writing and Writing and...

Without a doubt, rewriting is probably the hardest part of editing. You've got a scene, but maybe it didn't work for your beta readers. Maybe your computer spazzed and you lost a bunch of work. For whatever reason, at some point, you'll have to rewrite. It's inevitable. So, you can either look at as a chore or an exercise in being awesome. Recently, Jack unearthed his college thesis. It was a study of the immrama of days past. Something, something boats, ocean voyage, rite of passage. I should know more about the genre, he spent plenty of time telling me all of the ins and outs, but I'm a bad friend.

Anyway, he found it and realized he still loved the story he was telling. So, he's going through it, salvaging what he can and ditching the rest. College Jack was not nearly as good a writer as present Jack. What this amounts to is a lot of rewriting. And rewriting. And rewriting. And rewriting. Basically, none of his prose is usable. He had to cut four entire characters and rework their pertinent qualities into other characters. Every single time he's presented it to our group, we've asked him to completely redo something. And he's done it. Fantastically so. Each new iteration is better than the last. Shannon ran into the same issue with Ride the Train. There are several scenes that are nothing like they were in his original draft. And the overall story is so much better for it.

If you look for writing prompts, you'll almost certainly find some that pose the question of "what if that scene in your story had gone differently". It's easy to dismiss them. Why bother writing a scene that you won't use, right?

But just by writing it, you're using it. It's like rehearsal. It's practice.

I've done NaNoWriMo for years now. I've even actually met the goal a few times. Not a single one of the novels I've written has even turned into anything, but the characters and scenes have. I've cut and pasted them into new stories.

So, maybe go ahead and read that old trunk novel. See what parts of it you still like. Write that scene that you know isn't going in the book. Add these to your toolbox. When you need them, they'll be there. Ready to be remixed.

Edit: Just as I finished writing this, Jack realized that he'd written a character to be in two places at once. For an entire chapter. I would like to thank him for making my point so succinctly.

Write What You Know

Write what you know is, I'm pretty sure, the most commonly given advice to new writers. Even not so new writers. I've been hearing it for years now. And it seems so stupidly simple that there should be no explanation needed, right? You should write about the things you know and understand. Easy. But maybe not.

At least, I hope not. If we all just wrote what we knew, can you imagine the stories we wouldn't have? I've never actually encountered a zombie, Jack hasn't been hired to drive anyone to suicide, CJ's never been dead. Kaz hasn't met any faeries, Ben's never killed anyone, and Shannon's never been a teacher. At least, not that I know of. But we've all got, in my opinion, some pretty good stories about those things.

I think it might be better if people said, "Be inspired by what you know". I think that's closer to the truth anyway.

I was in workshop when someone asked (the entire class, not just me), "Do you think it's harder to write fiction or non-fiction?" We were talking about the truth at the time and how writing non-fiction meant admitting a lot of things that were maybe not so easy to admit. I said then, and I still believe, that when to take into account the confessional nature of writing, they're equally difficult. Even the most fantastical piece of fiction is littered with truths. Some of them are beautiful, some are horrible, but they're all rooted in truth.

So, please, when you're inevitably told to write what you know, don't let that limit you. Don't only write about female waitresses or shop girls. Don't only write about broody writers or middle-aged men looking for themselves. Don't only write about today. Don't only write about the place you're from or where you live. Write about them all, write about everything. Be inspired by what's in your head and let that knowledge make your worlds real.