This is a great resource for writers: A Novel Idea. It is an app that lets you brainstorm ideas, characters, chapters, scenes, and whatever else you may want to write. Try it out, or if you have already used it, tell me how you like it!
by Trista DiGiuseppi
Waking up in a bathtub of chilled water isn’t what Deidre considered a normal way to start the day. …Or was it night? Either way, she flew forward with a gasp, aspirating cold water particles mixed with the taste of stale bathroom air. Deidre heaved and choked, wildly scanning the room for a hint – a clue – as to where she was and what had happened to her. Looking down, she realized she was nude. Deidre screamed, mindlessly reaching for the shower curtain to hoist her weight from the tub. The curtain’s tension rod slipped away from the wall, crashing down on top of her head. Deidre madly shrieked with pain and confusion as she thrashed beneath the cold stickiness of a moldy, plastic curtain. Water splashed out of the tub, seeping along the cracked stone flooring that blanketed the interior of the mysterious bathroom. Pulling herself over the side of the tub, Deidre’s smooth, wet skin glided along the porcelain with ease. She collapsed to the stone floor, clutching her head, panting violently, fighting the sparkly dots in her vision that indicated a sudden rush of blood.
Where the hell am I?
Standing to her feet, Deidre convulsed and shook. Her skin was so cold that she couldn’t feel – everything went numb. She clutched her arms around her waist, sliding her feet along the dirty bathroom floor. Aside from herself, the tub, and a toilet with no seat– the room was relatively empty. She made her way toward the door. As Deidre approached the bathroom’s exit, she reached for the handle, half expecting it to be locked. To her delight, it turned and the door opened right up.
“Help!” she cried, turning down a long corridor. The hall was lined with the same skuzzy stone texture that collected mildew and grime. Fluorescent light fixtures hung haphazardly from the ceiling, flickering with a low, obnoxious buzz. “Somebody help me!” she screamed.
Deidre’s hair stuck to her neck in frozen strands. As she walked chilly droplets of water trickled from her hair to her spine. She began to warm up since she could feel the droplets. The sudden indication of heat nauseated her. Deidre couldn’t ascertain as to why.
“Help!” she repeated and continued walking, albeit awkwardly – like a clumsy drunk. As Deidre continued onward, she spat on the ground. Her saliva tasted odd, so she continued to spit. Deidre looked down at her spit – something about it caught her eye. It was bright green, as if she had recently eaten candy. But this certainly didn’t taste like candy. Something about Deidre’s spit tasted metallic and putrid. Disturbed by the green coloration, she forced herself to swallow it, unable to process reasons as to why the color would be anything but clear.
Moving forward, she spotted an iron ladder soldered to the wall. Craning her neck, Deidre realized it led to a hatch in the ceiling. Instinctively, she began to climb. As she reached the hatch, she pushed her hand flat against it, forcing the surface to break away from a weak suction that pinned it shut. With a soft pop and the creak of a hinge, the hatch flipped up, landing backwards against a flat surface above. Deidre saw no ceilings, broken toilets, or light fixtures. Above there was simply a blue sky with large, puffy clouds.
I’m out. I just need to find help.
She climbed above and crawled along the fresh grass. Her eyes mildly stung from the sudden shock of sunlight. Deidre looked around and called out – as loudly as she could – for help. No one came to her, and she noticed that everything around her seemed empty. She stood in the middle of a grassy park, surrounded by benches, trees, sidewalks, and buildings. But no people came to her. There was no one around.
She meandered a bit, stumbling and shivering as usual. Deidre couldn’t shake that awful taste from her mouth and decided to spit out the green stuff even if it was disconcerting. She spit in the grass. When it hit the ground, Deidre heard a sizzle. Looking down upon further inspection, she watched her saliva eat away at the blades of grass, literally burning right through it.
What in the hell…?
Suddenly, a noise startled her – something ripped through the air and smacked against the flimsy trunk of a small tree. Then the sound came again and hit the ground, popping a tiny chunk of soil up from the earth.
Deidre turned quickly, scanning across the streets, benches, buildings and trees. From far off, inside of a red, rusted out pickup truck, there was a man aiming a rifle at her. The gunshot came again, this time grazing Deidre’s thigh. She screamed and tumbled to the ground, clutching her leg. At that moment, something blistered inside of her, as if struggling to erupt. Then it diminished, and Deidre soon forgot the strange sensation. Her attention turned on the man with the gun. Who was he? Why was he trying to kill her?
Then, another person emerged from hiding – it was a woman, holding a rifle as well. She moved out from behind the foliage of the park, circling the area in which Deidre occupied. The woman kept her rifle pointed vigilantly, moving in closer and closer. Meanwhile, Deidre tended to her leg, noticing that the blood seeping from her shallow wound was not red… but green.
“Go on!” yelled the woman. “Get back under the street!”
“Who are you? What’s happening?” asked Deidre, confused.
“That’s close enough, Liza!” yelled the man from the truck. “Don’ get close to that thing…” The woman looked back at him and nodded.
Confused, Deidre stood, suddenly aware there was something …not right… about herself.
“Dragged my boy down there…” muttered the woman from behind her gun. “Dragged ‘im down and tore ‘im up…” She scowled at Deidre.
“Look I don’t know what you’re talking about-”
“Course not. Go through this every time – right b‘fore you kill somebody. Get back down there… back in the ground.”
Deidre peered at the woman. “Or else what? You’ll kill me?” Something about the woman’s body language indicated she feared Deidre even though she was the one with the gun.
“Liza, back away!” yelled the man. “Don’ piss it off! Let’s go!”
Taking cues from what she could, Deidre said, “Yeah… you don’t want to piss me off. How about you point me to a phone?”
Liza backed away slowly, pointing her gun at Deidre. “Ain’t no phones. You know that.”
“Apparently not,” said Deidre, walking toward Liza, unafraid that the weapon was pointed right at her. The sudden confidence was liberating, however confusing. Deidre had not yet understood from where it came.
“E’er since those things came…” said Liza, “E’er since they changed people, we gotta keep watch on you creatures below. My poor boy…” she trailed off. Then she muttered, “Only thing you bastards can’t stand is dry heat…”
“What actually happened to your boy?” asked Deidre, her voice suddenly clear and low. She asked the question, but a dark part of her already knew the answer.
“Already told you what happened!” yelled Liza as she furiously cocked back the gun, impulsively pulling the trigger. A bullet soared through the air, smacking Deidre’s chest with a bloody burst. She heaved painfully, looking down at her leg that had earlier been grazed by the same weapon. The wound on her thigh… it healed. Gone. It was just… gone.
“Liza goddammit! Get in the truck!” yelled the man. He started the engine and zipped along the street. Liza strapped the gun to her back and ran, sprinting for the truck as it rolled along the cement. Its passenger door popped open and Liza leaped in the vehicle as it tore off into the distance.
Deidre shook from the impact against her bleeding chest and something deep inside of her bubbled with ferocity. Green liquid oozed down her front, trailing its way past her knees and sizzling along the grass. Her bones and skin pulsated and grew, amassing into a fleshy concoction of alien appendages that weren’t part of her before. Deidre’s mind went numb and her vision expanded like a magnifying glass – to Deidre, or to what had become of her, everything in the city slowed to a cold, listless pause, painted in mutated colors that no human eye could see.
Liza and the man tore off down the street in the red pickup truck. A disturbing noise carried through the wind as the man checked his review mirror. What he saw compelled him to flatten the accelerator down to its furthest point.
…A massive, writhing creature emerged from between the trees of the city park.
There are many elements in “Nails Jane” to tackle, but the biggest question I get is: What is Versinon?
Here’s a little background info for those who haven’t read the book: The story begins on Earth in the midst of a slow, quiet devastation that has overrun the planet. Most of the humans on Earth are no longer human. They’ve either been taken or “changed over” into what I called “Humanoids.” Humanoids are… robotic, though partially organic. Think of the Borg, but they have their own sense of self-identity.
What is to blow the readers mind is that this has been going on for centuries. That mankind’s history – our actual history – has been shaped by this entity called “Versinon.” Shaped by these false humans who have kept the real ones pinned.
It begs the reader to question things like, “Why didn’t we invent such-and-such at an earlier period of history?”
Or… “Why was this group of people so oppressed for so long? It doesn’t make sense now, why did it make sense then? Who had a hand in that?”
The Humanoids (Noe especially) put a face on the otherwise faceless Versinon. Versinon is everything and Versinon is absolutely nothing. I want the reader to concoct what Versinon truly means to him as he reads further in Nails Jane. The novel isn’t intended to be taken too literally. I would say it reads like a very long parable. The text is riddled with allusions to a greater message. I wanted it to be a personal message, unique to every reader.
The best metaphor for Versinon is The Nothing, from The Neverending Story. What is The Nothing? If you can remember from the film adaptation, here is a movie clip that perfectly explains The Nothing. This explanation can also be applied to Nails Jane’s Versinon:
“Maybe… it’s already everywhere.”
And that is what Versinon is. Theoretically, Versinon represents the core of Nihilism. Despair where there once was hope. Emptiness where there once fulfillment. Oppression where there once was freedom. Mindlessness where there once was creative thought.
Humanoids where there once were humans…
There is a chapter featuring the character of Eva, and she drones on and on about her workplace. Her work life. Her colleagues. How everyone seemed scripted and mechanical. How they never spoke of anything other than work – she never saw them anywhere but work. She was the first to leave work, while the rest stayed behind, numbly toiling away as if it were their only purpose in life.
What is going on there is a subtle, but significant, representation of Versinon and how its impact across the world affects even the most unlikely of characters. A woman at work. Her coworkers have become robotic – going through the motions. Slipping away from humanity. And the one human left in the office (Eva) instinctively picks up on it. She starts to notice…
Or to quote the text from Nails Jane:
Another day. I wanted to punch the alarm clock but I knew that wouldn’t do me any good. Robert was already awake and dressed. He was halfway out the door. How did he do it?
“Are you up, Eva?” he called from the living room.
“Y-yeah…” I replied, tossing my sheets to the side. I stretched and groaned as I rubbed my head.
I couldn’t stand those Monday through Friday schedules. I never understood them. I never understood the hours and I never understood how anyone could work them day in and day out. They were exhausting. The weekends were nothing more than a tease. You call that time off? A measly 48 hours? Man. It gave me just enough time to catch up on sleep. I rarely slept. I couldn’t force my body down at night.
I heard Robert leave. I thought he said “goodbye” over his shoulder, but I was so dazed that I wasn’t exactly sure what I heard. Hours later, when my brain finally decided to wake up, I found myself sitting at work, behind my desk. I realized I had been there for almost 8 hours. This job was nothing important, just a desk job. I did customer service. Pretty high-end stuff, am I right?
It was something to tide me over until I found something better. I had a Business degree, but did that matter? Nowadays a four year degree has about as much validity as a high school diploma. I was up a shit-creek without my MBA. Seemed like all the other “drones” out there earned one. They pounded it into our heads for years that you needed to earn a degree to be successful. They never mentioned the fact that school loans would be astronomical compared to the peanuts you’d end up working for.
My coworkers seemed delighted to be at work. They stayed after and toiled until late hours. They acted quite happy about it. How could they keep up that daily facade? Didn’t they ever have bad days? Didn’t they ever get tired, stressed, or sad? It never seemed like it.
I rarely spoke to them anymore. I was social at first, when I began the job. It was awkward. One woman, in particular, was the poster child for the socially inept. I’d mention a book or a movie and her response gave no opinion on the matter. She always brought the topic back to the workplace. Didn’t she have any other interests? Didn’t she go out on the weekends? Has she ever seen a play or visited a museum? Was this woman aware that books and films and other forms of creativity even existed?
“Gotta stay on task,” she would say. That was about all she said.
That was about all any of them talked about. Work. What they were doing at work, what they planned to do for work, how they wanted to improve their work, and how to stay on task.
I watched the clock impatiently, wishing I could spin the hands forward. Several grueling minutes later I found myself clocking out, rushing toward the door. I had to pee – but I didn’t go back. The workplace was a Black Hole. If I went back in – would I come back out?
I settled into my car. My little Escape Pod.
Now, some would argue that the commute was worse than work. On certain days, I’d have to agree. Imagine multiple cadavers lined up in a row, attempting to be somewhere. But wait, they are cadavers. How can they even move? Now imagine yourself pinned in the middle, pushed up against their stiff flesh. Paralyzed. That was the rush hour commute. The dead waited on the highway, staring blankly into the Abyss. Each corpse clung to its Humanity, begging the same thing:
I just want to go home…
However, I realized my commute possibly included others who refused to stay after hours. They were just like me. They tried to get out. They tried to break free. They were people I had never met, never had drinks with, and yet I longed for their company. They were kindred spirits. We all wanted to return home; to get back to reality, back to life, back to that human beneath the business suit; that little, hairless ape, flawed and playful in its design. Wasn’t that all we really were? We didn’t want to push papers. But long did we cower beneath that 9 to 5 pendulum…
I sat in my car, staring off, reflecting on an overwhelming sense of loneliness.
Maybe it was the Depression, as the doctors told me. Maybe it was the Paranoia attributed to everything else. Or maybe it was the events that took place that day. But, as of that day I saw the world in a light that suddenly flicked on.
Everything seemed mechanical.
Pay close attention to what she briefly mentions about “the doctors.” In Nails Jane, the reader must question everything. It truly is an adventure through paranoid delusions that may actually be… true.
- Are Eva’s doctors even human?
- Are they medicating her because they really believe she is ill or because they are covering something up? Which is it?
- Are the doctors human, but their superiors are not? Are they simply “Following Orders” to medicate people who exhibit “those” symptoms?
Think about real life. How many people are medicated on psychotropic drugs? How many children? Was it always that way? When did it surge? What thoughts do these adults and children have that warrant heavy medicating?
(It’s a lot to chew on. That’s what makes “Nails Jane” unique.)
The Backsliders are like Atreyu and his friends – trying to fight against Versinon (The Nothing) but it’s too abstract to grapple with. It even has an unstoppable monster called The Ruin that remains its obedient slave. It hunts planets and will kill anything that stands between Versinon and its claim on cosmic dominion. (If you can remember in The Neverending Story, there is the character of G’mork who takes on the form of a dark wolf. His primary mission is to kill Atreyu.)
And each moment that passes, Versinon gains evil allies to help in its claim of not only Earth – but the entire Universe. Our heroine, Ati, watches, just as Bastian watches. She wants to fight. She wants to help. But she can’t. She is not on Earth anymore – and has been sent away by her enemies. The same enemies that have allowed Versinon to spread. She has to find a different way to salvage the Universe. She has to cross over into another realm – again just like Bastian. Ati must speak with a Guardian – just as Bastian speaks with the Childlike Empress.
A giant, white Luckdragon aids Atreyu. A giant, white wolf aids Ati. (Ati is a culmination of heroes.) There are many similarities between the two stories. Comparisons are easily made. Though, don’t get me wrong. Nails Jane is its own story altogether. My fans and readers know that for certain. It is unique in every way.
But to both those who have read it and those who are considering it – keep in mind these comparisons. Keep in mind topics such as Nihilism, Anthroposophy, and the abstract (fantasy) allusions to the tangible realities that we face. Our true history – in real life.
I heard someone tell me the other day, in the midst of explaining a minor extortion they had encountered with a bank:
“Trista – this is Versinon. It really is true.”
I told you so.
Here’s a treat! Paradoxal Pterodactyl is podcasting an excerpt from “Nails Jane” – read by the author herself!
Paradoxal Pterodactyl identifies itself as an eclectic mix of music, field recordings, found sounds, and conversations. Here you can listen to an excerpt from Trista DiGiuseppi’s “Nails Jane”. The recording also includes music by Kevin Macleod and Joe Pini.
The excerpt in question is a chapter titled “The Final Stomp”.
Take a listen and make sure to check out more of Paradoxal Pterodactyl’s podcasts. They have a wealth of content and much more to come!
This is a great resource for novelists. It is a collection of emails from 1997 – correspondence for what I can only assume is some sort of writing class or writer’s group. From what I gather, the source of these emails is one mbarker@MIT.EDU who goes by the moniker tink.
Now, tink’s exercises and input is very insightful, but he is drawing upon a text by one Ronald B. Tobias, whose book “20 Master Plots (And How to Build Them)” is the focus of these emails. The combination of Tobias’ text and tink’s reflections make for a wonderful document. I have a printed copy of these emails among my other writing resources, because when I find myself stuck, I can usually refer to these exercises to get my gears turning.
Here are the emails: http://www.mit.edu/~mbarker/exercises/plot.html
And here are the plot types:
Tobias and tink distinguish each from one another and talk about how starting points can turn into wonderful stories.
If you like tink’s emails, check out his other resources: http://www.mit.edu/~mbarker/
If you like the plot families, check out Tobias’ book: http://www.amazon.com/Master-Plots-How-Build-Them/dp/0898795958
Six Letter Press would like to make an announcement to our readers:
She has been an sLp writer since it launched into fruition last year.
by The Editor, JTP
Satire may be an avenue where comedy writing feels most at home. Because writing is full of conventions and rules and because it is used as a form of communication makes it perfect for the world of satire, which aims to tear down and ridicule all of those things. Take, for instance, famed publication The Onion. There are many satirical news sources out there but I use The Onion as an example because of its increased fame due to the internet. Now the internet is full of satirical humor (some better than others) and especially parody – but at its best, satire is topical.
In the world of writing comedy, satire may have come only now into its golden age because information is fast and abundant. News is more available than ever before – local, global, etc. This access to information requires wit to be faster, sharper, and more clever than past societies ever could allow. Any writer interested in topical satire should rest easy: your form of art is only increasing in popularity.
As far as fiction goes, satire does not stand well alone. My recommendation is to integrate your satire into the story and make it supplemental. For example, take the narrator’s asides in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. In this reader’s opinion, no fiction in recent history comes close.
As far as written humor is concerned, non-fiction may be “where it’s at”. Personal accounts allow for humor to be personal, visceral, and earnest – all things that good stand-up comedy should be, too. Comedy needs to be, above all else, relevant or at least believable. No, it must be so believable that it is unbelievable. It needs to blur that distinction between reality and exaggeration.
I could write you a story about a man who goes to the theater, is attacked, and has to file a police report and you would not laugh. I could tell you the same story actually happened, and that I was that man and when it happened I threw a large bag of popcorn at the assailant, got punched in the head by an angry teenager, then time slowed as I contemplated throwing a punch at the teenager and decided against it, knowing that it may prove to be more trouble than it’s worth. I could tell you the people in the theater clapped when the fight was over and I was never too disappointed that evening because the film was stupid. I could write the whole story out in a memoir and produce a work far more humorous than tragic because it really happened.
Sometimes our own internal dialogue adds that humor inherently. Memoirs are the way to go. Non-fiction comedy is perhaps the most postmodern form of writing that exists.
by The Editor, JTP
Comedy has often said to be more difficult a genre to pull off than most others. When it comes to writing, I certainly agree – comedy and horror are such… “personal” genres that they are seemingly impossible to make universal and thus impossible to make accessible. I do not claim to be an expert on comedy writing, but I wanted to offer some topics of discussion. Let’s highlight some essential things that comedy can have:
Does slapstick work in writing? I’m going to say no. Unless the piece you are writing is a script for film or stage performance, slapstick is hard to pull off because, well, it’s physical humor. It’s meant to be seen rather than read. True, the imagination can more than visualize physical comedy in written form but is it really that funny? Can it ever be hilarious? Better yet, can slapstick and physical humor really live up to its visual counterpart?
I’d wager it rarely does. But I slapstick was invented in physical performance. Translating it into a written medium just kills the joke. It would be like reading the play-by-play results of a football game without ever seeing it. Not as exciting. Slipping on banana peels is funny. Reading about banana peels, and the adjectives and verbs that come with slipping on it is not.
Farce works better than slapstick in written form. Physical comedy written in prose is by nature absurd, and thus perfect for farce. Improbable situations are always funny. Mistaken identities and near-misses make for the most entertaining of plot points. For a writer who wishes to write farce, the key objective should be creating something “unlikely”. Perhaps that is what is wrong with plain slapstick – it is far too likely or real. When it comes to books, a pie in the face doesn’t translate as well as a man pretending to be a woman.
(Check back for more on this topic later in the week. I’ll explore puns, satire, non-fiction, and more!) – JTP
a short story by the Editor, JTP
Once upon a time there was a man with one million dollars – Bruce Wayne! He lived in Gotham City. Nobody knew this, but he was a superhero named Batman. He would only dress up as Batman at nighttime. When he did he looked for bad guys.
Bad guys are easy to spot. They steal things from buildings and put them into their getaway vans. Sometimes they kill people. Sometimes they kidnap kids. Bad guys do this at night so no one sees them but Batman does because remember I said Bruce Wayne would dress up as Batman at night to look for bad guys.
And he found them! Sometimes the bad guys were really dangerous. They were easy to spot because they wore funny costumes or had funny names like The Joker who was a clown and The Penguin who was a penguin. When Batman found those bad guys he put them in a special jail called Arkham Asylum. The they would get out and Batman would find them again!
One night it was a nice night and Batman found two robbers, three murderers, and two drug users. He put them all in jail. Then there was a laugh behind him Batman turned around and he saw who it was. It was The Riddler. The Riddler told riddles to stop Batman like: What cheese is made backwards?
Batman could not go arrest The Riddler until he solved it! Batman thought about it. He knew this was a riddle and not a regular question so Batman thought literally. Was there a cheese called ‘eseehc’? That would be the word ‘cheese’ spelled backward. That did not make sense. Then he thought what if the word ‘made’ backwards was a type of cheese. He found a pencil and wrote it down: ‘edam’. That did make sense! Edam is a type of cheese!
He went and found The Riddler and said “I know the answer! It is edam cheese. It is ‘made’ backwards!” The Riddler got sad because he knew he had to go to jail. Then Batman brought him there.
Another exciting night come and gone for Batman. His life was not an easy one but he knew it was his duty to keep the city safe from criminals. He went home and took off his clothes that made him look like a bat and then he went to bed. He would need rest because tomorrow was his birthday.