Sunday, August 12, 2012

An Evening With Watson

"Do you have a belief in ghosts, John?" Sherlock was setting his newspaper down and looked at me inquisitively.

"I'll tell you this, I certainly believe in other peoples strong convictions of their existence." I sat back in my chair, reminiscing.

"Is there a story in that statement?" He began packing his pipe, seemingly settled that I was going to tell him a story.

"Are you familiar with the 'dumb supper'?"

"Only just. I know it's some form of superstition. Please, do impart on me your wisdom." He began puffing the pipe as he brought the flame to the end.

"It's a ritual performed on All Hallows' Eve. Young ladies prepare a meal that they set out for an unnamed guest. They are to wait in silence for half an hour. If successful, at the stroke of midnight, she will see the ghost of her future husband. He will set down upon the meal and then vanish."

Sherlock smiled as he seemed to envision this futile ritual.

"My first year out of school, I get a message from a dear friend. He was urgent that I come to his home immediately. His sister, he said, was in hysterics. I dashed off and arrived in the cloak of night." I paused and added, "Mind you - I had never heard of this dumb supper ritual." Sherlock nodded and bade him to continue.

"I entered their home and called out the ladies name to no reply. Upon walking in the dining area, I see a delicious meal with a placard in front that said 'For the Gentleman.'"

"What did you think of this scene?"

"Well, what was I *supposed* to think? I sat down to the meal as I figured it was prepared for me! I hadn't eaten that evening in my rush to their home. Imagine my surprise when, after my first bite, the young lady who had been spying by a nearby doorway fainted! My bosom pal came from around the corner, he had set the whole thing up!"

After we had a laugh, Sherlock pressed on with his inquisition.

"That doesn't tell me whether or not you have a belief in the supernatural."

"I have an underlying conviction that ghosts have no existence but in people's own imagination." Sherlock seemed disappointed at this response. "However... my resolution has been put to the test."

"Another story for the evening?" Sherlock raised an eyebrow. I nodded and at this, he rose from his chair pouring two snifters of brandy. He handed one glass to me and he returned to his seat.

"It was the first day of my apprenticeship when I received my first lesson in anatomy. The assistant took me to the garret at the top of the house where I studied. Here I was shown a skeleton, the several bones being connected by wires. It lay in a long case, something like an old clock case. It was likely the skeleton of a criminal, perhaps a murderer who had been hung, for at that period these afforded almost the only supply of skeletons. I was told that these bones were now mere dried inorganic matter. After quick examination, the lid of the box was then closed and fastened by a clasp."

I took a sip of the brandy, savoring the flavor and feeling the heat of it as it made its way to my stomach.

"I had a bedroom to myself in this place. Feeling lonely, I left the door open on going to bed, that I might feel more in company with the rest of the family. I could not sleep, and when the house was still and I at rest, I distinctly heard the rattling of bones up in the garret; for the door had been left open, and was just at the top of the stairs which led down to the landing close by my chamber door. I dare not get out of bed and lock the door, for I might meet the skeleton walking into my room in his bones!" I paused, recalling the evening with perfect clarity.

"The rattling continued, with short intermission, all night. I got no sleep, of course. As soon as the morning broke, and I heard the servants about, I resolved to go up and investigate - expecting at least to find the skeleton sitting up in his bones. However, the case was fastened down as we had left it. But upon opening the lid... half a dozen wild kittens, which had been bred unnoticed amongst the lumber, scampered out at one of the ends, which had been broken in. The whole mystery was solved!"

Sherlock nodded, as if he had wordlessly guessed the conclusion to my story.

"Why do you inquire as to my belief in the supernatural, Sherlock?" I finally came to ask.

"Why else, my dear Watson... because we have a case!"


The above is something I wrote yesterday as I've been reading a lot of Sherlock lately. I hope this entertained someone out there.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Brilliant Lights

Ryan Andrew Kinder
               I can’t see for darkness has consumed me whole. I think I can feel my body, but it aches in strange ways. Think! I can’t seem to recall much of anything. I feel my baser instincts trying to kick in. Survive, they scream. However, I find that I’m searching for what brought me into this inky blackness. I’m moving now, but I can’t tell you where to or what towards because it’s nothing in every direction. Panic is setting in. I’m trying to breathe, but that seems foreign to me. Remember…
               I remember something. A family. Mine? Yes, mine. These thoughts are slowly streaming back. Hazy, as if echoes. I’m concentrating, as if on the brink of losing this connection. The images in my mind are becoming slightly sharper. I can make out one boy, one girl… and my wife. Yes, that’s it. We’re in the family van and it’s night time. I’ve got these images, but it’s difficult for me to settle on them. The very last thing before the darkness I can remember is pain.
               A light! I can see a sliver of light! It feels like it’s a million miles away, but if I can somehow move these aching limbs I can escape this void. It’s as hard a task as remembering. The crash. As I move, I’m remembering: The bastard ran a stop sign. Everything seemed to move in slow motion. The crunch of the impact, our car in flight – the first roll, the second turn over and then succumbing to the darkness.
               The light is my way out. It’s my way back into the real world. I thirst for it and it’s growing. It has grown from a sliver to a giant crack. I can already feel the warmth from it and it is good. I hope my family is safe. They should be, the van won all sorts of safety awards. I’m still worrying, though, for them and myself. Once I emerge from this cocoon of nothingness, what state will I be in?
               I hope I’m not dead. The light is growing and it’s all the more appealing to me. The light at the end of the tunnel. Heaven. I don’t want to be dead. I don’t even believe in any of that religious crap, anyway. Oh God, if I am dying – please don’t take that seriously. I want to live, but if there is an afterlife, please don’t make me go to the other place just because I didn’t believe.
               I crawl just a little further, moving limb over limb. I can’t tell where my body begins and where my body ends, this process is numbing. That light – my god, it’s brilliant. The closer I get, the better I can see it. A light like I have never before seen in my life! I need to see even more of it. I can’t even think beyond this light.
               It’s like love, sex and pure joy. The colors, I can see so many colors in the light. A million glittering rainbows are cascading over me, wrapping me in a blanket of immeasurable warmth. I’ve never seen some of these colors before! Wait… I was trying to hold on to something, it’s right there… on the edge of my mind… but, oh! Is this light amazing, or what?
               I want to be with this light forever, have its awe inspiring hues rain down on me. I’m as close as I can possibly get now, here is where I will stay. I don’t want anything other than this magnificent feeling. I don’t care for any other existence. This must be heaven I –
               Pain. Familiar, excruciating. It washes over me, suddenly. I feel the light growing distant, once again. I can see little, out of one eye. I turn it round, trying to make out shapes. It’s a person. They’re… gigantic. I’ve never seen anyone even one millionth their size. I’m losing consciousness. The giant is moving his mouth and speaking:
               “Don’t worry, I’ve got it! The little bug is dead, so you can stop crying! Wasn’t even a threat to you. It probably would have crawled in the light fixture and died, anyway.”
               The whole world has faded away, now. I can’t see for darkness has consumed me whole.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Deconstructing The Greats

Writers will often wonder "what's next?" when they are writing. They will wonder how to get from Point A to Point B. It's really those "middle chapters" that nag at them the most. I say: Deconstruct The Greats! Confused? Well, think of your top three authors. Go ahead, I'll wait right here while you do it. You can write them down if that helps. In fact, a notebook will be helpful in this situation.
Next, start writing down the books you love most from those authors. For the sake of this exercise, I'm going to assume you already own the books you're thinking of. Next comes the deconstruction part. Write down each chapter number, leaving about five blank spaces between each new chapter number. Now comes the fun part: Re-read that book. At the end of each chapter, use that blank space to write bullet points for each chapter. Take, for example, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. If you were to write bullet points for the first chapter you might end up with:
- Introduction to the Dursley's
- Strange things happen to the Dursley's on that particular day
- A wizard (Dumbledor) appears at their house and has a conversation with another Wizard about events preceding the book
- Baby Harry is left with the Dursley's

So on and so forth. Now, if you do this for the entire book you've chosen, you begin to see the roadmap they took to tell a story. You have, essentially, their outline. The more books you do this for, the more you will understand fully how to cobble together an outline of your own. If the bullet points you make for a chapter for a book you are writing bore you, then writing the chapter out will likely bore you and, in turn, will bore the reader, too. Remember: It is your mission to make the experience as memorable as possible. You can do it!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

What We Can Learn From The Radio

Writers often wonder and ponder the best way to draw in a reader. What's the best hook? How do they suck someone into their world? This is a good thing to consider, but often they don't consider what they need to do to keep people there. Have them sit in their seats and be rapt the entire time. I feel a big lesson can be learned from another medium, the radio. Specifically, commercial talk radio.
You see, in commercial talk radio, it is very hard to have a successful show. Saying outrageous things can only get you so far. So, DJ's learn the art of "the tease." It's that moment where a commercial break is about to come up and they say "coming up after the break, we're going to have in the studio... a man who has a chunk of JFK's brain in a jar. We're going to ask him how he got it and what he's done with it." Well, people sitting in their cars might just stay tuned to that station, they don't want to miss a minute of hearing what that lunatic is doing with JFK's brain!
Teasing is done across all mediums, especially competitive reality TV. How many times have you heard something along the lines of: "...and after this quick commercial break, we're going to find out who gets cut from the show and who will advance to the next round." If you are invested in the characters of that show, you're going to want to stay tuned.
We've all had books we just could not put down. I feel that a lot of these books that people just have to read through in a few nights are from writers who have mastered the art of the tease. They treat the end of chapters as that upcoming commercial break. You can imagine in chapter 10 a major character dies mysteriously, an announcer pops into your mind and says: "Stay tuned until the next chapter where we find out why this character died!" It's one of those teases where, it's 1AM and you've stayed up way too late, but... you have to get through this commercial break just to find out that one small conclusion. It may not even be the main thrust of the book, but it's one of the books many little mysteries.
So, we can learn from the radio that you can hook people in by speaking your mind but a lot of books really need a tease with it... much like most radio shows. Now if you'll return to this blog tomorrow, I'll prove to you beyond a shadow of a doubt that we never landed on the moon!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

On tablets and writing

I could never do it. I see more and more tablets popping up in the world, I myself am a proud owner of an HP Touchpad (purchased at the bargain price of $100 - most of you may already know the tablet division got shut down at HP and they had a liquidation sale. I was one of the fortunate.) However, something I can't... nay, won't get into is writing on a tablet. The tablet sure is fun to take notes, jot off a quick e-mail, maybe make a fart joke status update on Facebook, but, serious writing could never be done on a tablet. Not be me, anyway.
There's something erotic about the sound of a keyboard. Some days, I find it hard to even begin writing. It can be a chore. I tell myself "just get going and the ideas will come rolling." They sure enough do. I think one of the driving forces behind that is once I put finger to key, the cheery clacking of the keys as I write faster and faster - it's intoxicating. It's like a mystery ingredient.
It's this ingredient, in fact, that touchscreens don't yet provide. However, many companies are close to perfecting it. It's this tactile feedback that has put off a lot of potential buyers. They can tinker all they want, but I'll keep my keyboard. Sure, you can get a bluetooth keyboard for your tablet, but they are notoriously wonky, difficult to set up and sometimes there is lag time in between pressing a button and something showing up on the screen. No, I'll stick with the immediacy of the keyboard and computer. Of course, I could be raging against the tide of progress. Like the writers before me who dare not throw away their typewriters. Or, as I'm sure happened before them, the writers who refused to ditch the quill and parchment paper. In the end, it's all what works best to you... just don't get between me and my keyboard. We've got something special.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Child Prodigy Complex

Allow me to tell you about an affliction that plagues most every artist when they start out. It's called "Child Prodigy Complex", or CPC for short.
Imagine, if you will, a five year old. Imagine those little snot factories running around and cheating at hide-and-go-seek. You're supposed to count to twenty, you dick. You only gave me five seconds to hide. I'm an adult and I'm smarter than you. Stop squealing with delight because you "found" me. I had to dive behind a door because I heard your little Reeboks scampering across the door as you flagrantly skipped past about, oh, every number between one and twenty. But, I digress...
Hopefully you have in your mind what the typical five year old is like. Now get into your mind Mozart. Five years old was when he started composing. Really? Five years old? Yes. It's sickening, isn't it? Of course, I try to soothe myself with the notion that in his time the favored pastime for a kid was dying. Seriously, five of his siblings died in infancy. That's a pretty good motivating factor to get in as much living as possible in a short amount of time.
So, why do I bring up Mozart? Well, because a lot of artists have it in their mind that they are Mozart. They expect that whatever branch of artistic endeavor they pick up, they will master. With little effort, too, mind you. It's this complex that leads to complete and utter failure. You've already built yourself up before you've begun. So, it is important to avoid this line of thinking.
You see, and I'm going to use writers as an example, nothing comes easy. You might assume you are going to be great right out of the box. This is why a lot of "authors" (and I'm using quotes here because to truly consider yourself an author, you ought to be someone who is sought after by at least one publisher) will shirk the idea of going to any seminars, classes or any higher education on the subject of writing. They feel they've got that part down. They don't need any improvement, so why waste time or money?
For people who suffer from CPC, the only thing separating them from the vast riches they so richly deserve is their surroundings. Sure, they'll sit down at the computer, hammer away at a paragraph or two... but then the story they set out to tell languishes. Sits in the writing folder for weeks, months, years. You see, because they are infected with CPC, they expect the story to come easily. If it doesn't, then it obviously must be too boring. The flip side is that they think the idea they've had will be far too complex or too much of an undertaking for the reader to possibly comprehend, so why move forward with it?
Do you suffer from CPC? Do you think everything should flow through your pen like water down a river? Well, it's time to get over yourself. As much as we'd all like to be Mozart (the five year old prodigy, not the financially destitute buried in an unmarked grave thirty-something guy) we can't. Hard work is what waits before you in anything you endeavor to do. If you work hard in every aspect of your life, you will be rewarded. Attend classes for the subject you love. Make it your mission to have at least a small amount of daily output towards what you desire to achieve. Write, draw, paint, sing, dance or do whatever your passion is... passionately. Obsessively. It is only in doing these things on a regular and consistent basis that you will improve.
So, please, if you or a loved one suffer from CPC, rail against it. Tell yourself you are only as good as your latest completed work. If you've not completed a thing in your life, now is the time. And if you're five years old and you've understood fully everything I just said above, I loathe you.