Alycia Christine

Enchanting Tales, Intriguing Art

Tag: movie

What’s the Best Weapon against Writer’s Block? Find Out Now!

Rivulets_AC4x6Sometimes writing isn’t fun; sometimes it’s a real chore. I guarantee that you’ll have to trudge through episodes of writer’s block just as much as you’ll skip past easily-crafted scenes. But never fear because we authors have a few weapons in our arsenal to help us break down those ugly creative barriers to get to the beautiful prose on the other side.

One of my favorite personal siege engines against writer’s block is research. Now calm down before your collective groans start drowning out my sentences. Research can actually be a ton of fun because it helps satisfy our natural curiosity as human beings. The other reason research is fun is because it makes our jobs as writers much, much easier.

Imagine this: you are writing a scene where two characters are eating in the middle of a deli-style café, but you’ve never actually set foot inside a deli. It’s going to be very difficult to accurately describe what’s going on around your characters or even what they’re eating if you have no experience in a similar sort of setting, isn’t it?

We writers have words as our only essential tools for building a story, so we must describe everything to our readers. That is extremely difficult to do if we don’t understand how something works or the way an object or person looks. This is why research is so essential to writing and why it becomes one of our most important weapons against writer’s block.

There are essentially two types of research. One is what I call focused research and the other is called ambient research. Ambient research is a type of research that most people don’t even know they are doing when they do it. Ambient research usually happens while writers learn something new about a subject while they are doing something unrelated to an actual focused study of that subject. This could be anything from learning a piece of trivia while playing a game or experiencing a new place for the first time while on a vacation. Ambient research is very different from focused research.

When most people hear the word “research”, they immediately think of hours spent studying dusty volumes in the stacks of a local library. Library reading is part of what I call focused research and it is quite useful when authors need to answer specific questions in their writing. However, focused research is much more than simply wading through library bookshelves. Focused research also means that an author might need to interview a key expert in a particular field or participate in a certain activity in order to “really get a feel” for a specific aspect of his or her story such as its plot, setting, or characters. While focused research seems to happen more often for nonfiction writers, I promise that fiction writers will find it just as useful no matter their genre.

We’ll use me for an example dealing with the two types of research since I am an easy target. Like any good author, I write what I love. I am a fantasy author and I also love watching movies and reading books in the fantasy genre. I learn a lot from fellow speculative fiction authors, but I principally read their stuff because it’s highly entertaining. Keeping all of this in mind, let’s say that while I’m watching the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides movie for the thousandth time that I suddenly become interested in reading more about pirates. I pick up Tim Powers’ book On Stranger Tides, which loosely inspired a couple parts of the movie. After I read that book, I go on to Michael Crichton’s Pirate Latitudes novel because I’m still interested in reading more stories about 18th Century buccaneers—both real and fictitious. This is called ambient research because I have learned more about a particular subject through various forms of entertainment without doing a serious study of it. Some of what I have learned will be inaccurate because the information that I learned came from entertainers instead of scholars; however, some of my new knowledge—like the basic parts of a ship—will be accurate. However, if I suddenly decide that I want a deeper knowledge of the actual pirates who lived in the 1700s, my interest is now intently focused and so my research will be specifically directed toward nonfiction sources such as The Republic of Pirates by Colin Woodard with the specific goal of gaining a deep understanding of my subject. Hence my research will become focused research.

Because I write what I love, I don’t mind doing research of either type because the research that I do—whether ambient or focused—is about subjects that I find genuinely fascinating in the first place. I often like to approach writing a specific story by reading fiction and nonfiction books of a similar nature or subject-matter before, during, and after the writing process. This constant flow of focused research, ambient research, and general inspiration helps me more easily work around those writer’s blocks caused by a lack of knowledge. I also love to use photographs from my and other people’s travels as a guide to help me describe certain scenes more easily. I use focused research in the form of personal experience, expert interviews, scientific journals, and full-on, library-haunting study sessions for those more persistent blockades.

Whatever research you do, please remember that the key to getting the most out of research is to always make sure your stories reflect your personal interests. Making your stories personal and your subject matters interesting will help drive your passion toward them and your passion will help you ensure that your stories are written accurately. Accurate research is one of the best ways to create high quality writing that readers adore, so make it count. Your readers will pay attention to your story’s details and they will complain when something is incorrect. The last thing you want is to be remembered as a lazy writer, so get your details right before you share you work with the world.

For instance, if your story is set in downtown Chicago, make sure that you know what downtown Chicago looks, feels, and smells like. If your story is set in early 19th Century Montana where horses were the main form of transportation, then talk to cowboys about how they care for their steeds. Study horse anatomy, western-style riding, and tack terminology. Then give subtle hints of your new-found knowledge to build your story’s accuracy. Even if your characters set foot in a completely imaginary realm, you should do some research to find out what realistic place and time period most closely resemble the fantasy world you are trying to build. Remember, good writing drops the reader smack-dab into the middle of a story’s scene. Good research should do the same for the author.

Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better!

Alycia


The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with love, art, speculative fiction books, and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts about this particular post and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!

Updates: Of Business Consolidation and Dental Work

WeatheredHyperbolasACS4x6These past few weeks have, unfortunately, not gone well. While I have managed to accomplish many related-work projects, I have not been in the best of moods. Part of that is that my poor husband has had a horrible toothache since January 10th and won’t be able to see our dentist until tomorrow afternoon (hence why I’m posting the blog early today). Matt has been in special agony for most of the weekend and the only thing I’ve been able to do to ease his discomfort has been to cook him soft foods.

As with almost everything else, our trip to the dentist means a 170 mile round trip from Pecos to Odessa. It also means that we must take an entire weekday as a sick day just to go to a simple appointment. I get so tired of not being able to find all of the food, clothing, and supplies I need locally. I also get frustrated by the high prices and lack of variety when it comes to home, appliance, and car repairs.

Lately these aggravations of living in a small town have irked me more than usual. I think grief added onto the stress of trying to achieve my writing dreams is responsible for my being far more irritable than usual. Ever since the two-year anniversary of Bekah’s aneurysm, I’ve been far less joyful than normal. Last week was especially difficult. Consequently, I’ve decided to get some counseling so that I can talk out my feelings a bit more and hopefully resolve a few things. As far as other things are concerned, here are the main projects I’ve finished.

Since the last update, I have:

Consolidated my photography business and writing business under a new name: Purple Thorn Press and Photography. Over the next few months, I will build Purple Thorn Press into the true business that I want it to be, starting with its website. I will continue to use alyciachristine.com as my main personal website, while PurpleThornPress.com will act more as an official business website devoted to my writing products.

Continued my self-publishing research using The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing: Everything You Need to Know to Write, Publish, Promote and Sell Your Own Book and similar resources. This month’s lessons centered on ISBNs, Library of Congress catalogue numbers, and book trailers.

Watched a great seminar by Andrew Stanton of Pixar about storytelling for my story craft research. Thank you, Hugh Howey, for sharing it!

Finished personal edits on my short story “City of Twilight” and implementing beta readers’ critiques of the piece.

Finished writing my short story “The Soul Wrangler” and sent it to beta readers for their critiques.

Created my first newsletter in six months using new software. I’m so happy it worked!

Finally finished culling and reorganizing my photography website.

Created, labeled, and mailed over 60 Christmas photo cards to friends, family, and clients. These also arrived on time, which is a much better situation than last year.

Oversaw the repair of our home’s wayward fence. It looks almost new now!

Enjoyed two Christmas celebrations with family and friends. Thank you so much, everyone, for the phenomenal memories and gifts!

Watched the History Channel’s The Men Who Built America series. This is a must see series for any entrepreneur.

Watched Disney’s and Pixar’s Frozen with family at the theater. I can only describe the movie as all of the best aspects of Disney classic fairy tales woven into Pixar’s ingenious storytelling. The story is rife with dynamic characters, plot twists, magic, tension, laughs, and, yes, even singing. This is a must-see for all ages.

Read When Invisible Children Sing by Dr. Chi Huang. I found this book to be a heart-rending tale about homeless children in Bolivia. The children are portrayed as neither good nor bad, but simply real. If you ever want to truly understand how the fight for mere survival can psychologically and socially degrade human beings, this book is a graphic example. If you ever want to see how hope can bloom in the darkest of circumstances, this book is also a deep-touching example.

Read How to Train Your Dragon. Oddly enough, I like the movie better than the book. The movie’s plot is stronger and the characters feel far richer to me. Plus I’m not a huge fan of bathroom humor and the book has a ton of that. While I am definitely the wrong target audience for this book, little boys should love it!

Read the memoir We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, a Broken Down Zoo, and the 200 Wild Animals That Change Their Lives Forever by Benjamin Mee. I loved the movie and wanted to read the original book. Because I have worked in a zoo and in a pet store before, I was familiar with many of the situations described in the book. I found myself giggling (and in some cases grimacing) with the narrator as events unfolded.

Began reading Lisa Shearin’s The Grendel Affair: A SPI Files Novel. The book’s first four chapters are posted free on her website at http://www.lisashearin.com/sample-chapters-the-grendel-affair/?b=1&ch=1. I loved Lisa’s Raine Benaires series and I expect this new book will be just as good.

My goals for the next four weeks are to:

Add new content to PurpleThornPress.com. I want to complete copy for the Home page at least.

I am putting Dreamdrifter writing on hold until after I finish Musings. Once that project is finished, I will continue work on Chapter 19.

Finish organizing all of the book contents for Musings (including its front and back matter) and send the book to my editor for final critique.

Until our next meeting, may we each rewrite our world for the better!

🙂 Alycia


The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the desk of Alycia C. Cooke and/or Alycia Christine Sears with love, fiction books, and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts about this particular post and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!

SCRAWLS: Writing to a Beat

Flute_Keys_BW4x6ACI love music. I like listening to it and I love writing to it. Music is very powerful for me. It has the ability to quickly transport me from one emotional state to another. While sometimes annoying if I have no control over the music, this ability becomes a very useful tool when I can choose the music during my writing sessions.

While I have known other people who prefer to use popular lyrical music while they write, I do not. I actually prefer to write while listening to orchestral music. The reason for this is simple; lyrical music distracts me. Sometimes lyrical music is a great tool for brainstorming because thinking about the images conjured by a song’s lyrics can help me think up a scene. Red’s “Love Will Leave a Mark” is the most recent example of this. Most of the time, however, I find myself doing more singing along with the song lyrics than actually writing the story when I listen to a lyrical song.

When I write, my music of choice is movie and game soundtrack music. Despite the fact that most of the soundtrack music I use is actually created and recorded by a conducted orchestra, I pick soundtrack music over actual classical music because soundtrack music is written in such a way that it provokes a very specific emotional tone. Often times I will pick a particular soundtrack song and play it over and over again while I craft a certain scene so that the emotions prompted from the music bleed into every corner of my writing. This is a great shortcut that I can use to go where my characters are emotionally very quickly. Living the scene with my characters is very important to me because it helps me know how the characters would respond in a given situation. The right emotions can help a scene flow together with the rest of the story’s plot. The wrong emotions can derail a scene and crash the story headlong into writer’s block.

While I have several regular composer companions, the ones I recommend the most are: Jeremy Soule, Harry Gregson-Williams, John Williams, and Hans Zimmer. Jeremy Soule is responsible for composing the sweeping, epic music found in the “Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion” soundtrack and the “Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” soundtrack. I currently listen to his scores more than any other because of the wide range of mood music found in the two soundtracks (over 70 songs). As far as movie soundtracks are concerned, Harry Gregson-Williams’ “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe”, “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian”, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, “Enemy of the State”, and “Spy Game” soundtracks see a lot of play at my writing desk. To add magic and mystery to my scenes, I listen to the “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”, “Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban”, “Hook”, and “Memoirs of a Geisha” soundtracks by John Williams. Finally Hans Zimmer’s “Batman Begins”, “The Dark Knight”, “The Dark Knight Rises”, and “King Arthur” soundtracks help to shape some of my bleakest scenes while some of my lighter, high adventure scenes find voice through songs from “The Holiday”, and “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”.

My work also benefits from the occasional soundtrack influences of Nick Arundel’s “Arkham City”, Klaus Badelt and Hans Zimmer’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl”, Tyler Bates’ “300”, Greg Edmonson’s “Firefly”, George Fenton’s “Planet Earth”, Christopher Gordon’s “Master and Commander”, James Horner’s “Avatar”, Jan A.P. Kaczmarek’s “Finding Neverland”, Dario Marianelli’s “Pride and Prejudice”, Thomas Newman’s “Wall-E” and “Finding Nemo”, Martin O’Donnell’s and Michael Salvatori’s “Halo 2”, John Powell’s “How to Train Your Dragon”, Johan Skugge and Jukka Rintamaki “Battlefield 3”, and Alan Silvestri’s “Terminator Salvation”.

Not everyone benefits from writing while listening to soundtrack music, but I certainly do. What are your favorite writing tunes?


The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the desk of Alycia Christine Sears and/or Alycia C. Cooke with love and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts on this particular topic and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, email it to me. Thanks!

Ink Blots and Tea Stains: A New Virtual Home… (Archive)

BlueBenchACS4x6After some thought, I have decided to move my main virtual home from AlyciaCCooke.com to AlyciaChristineS.com. When I started AlyciaCCooke.com and alyciachristine.artistwebsites.com many moons ago, I had wanted to have one site dedicated solely to my fiction writing and another dedicated to my photography and art. But things change and I find myself more in need of a unified place where people can go to discover any and all of my mediums of art. So here it is: AlyciaChristineS.com. This site will continue the “Ink Blots and Tea Stains” blog as well as store its archives. It will also hold links to my Photography and Art stores. There is a Fiction page and a Nonfiction page chronicling all of my published writings as well as those stray pieces still needing find a publishing home. I have multiple links helpful to writers, photographers, and other artists on the Resources page. I will also post all sorts of writing extras dealing with my fiction worlds on my Art & Whimsey page. Even though I will be shutting down AlyciaCCooke.com in a few months, I have decided to keep my full photography website at http://alyciachristine.artistwebsites.com for everyone’s convenience. If you wish to contact me with questions or want to sign up for my newsletter, please go to the Contact page.

In regular news, I posted a new Flashes of Perspective blog entry on my photography website yesterday, which deals with the photography rule of Centering. You can read it at: http://alyciachristine.artistwebsites.com/blogs/flashes-of-perspective-in-a-bulls-eye.html.

Next week I will upload new photos onto the photography website from three separate shoots: a October 19 nature photography shoot near Fort Davis, Balmorhea, and Marfa, Texas, and two October 20 event photography shoots in Pecos, Texas, and Midland, Texas, respectively. For now, I have included a preview photo from my work on October 19 near Balmorhea, Texas, for your enjoyment. “Blue Bench” is not up on the website yet, but it will be by next Friday.

My work on Dreamdrifter continues with full rewrites completed on Chapters 1 through 9 and roughly 47 pages of new material (about 10,000 or 11,000 words) added to the book overall. I look forward to continuing work on Dreamdrifter during November’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) writing blitzkrieg. After last year’s absence (see the October 31, 2011 blog), I am so happy to be participating in the challenge this year!

Finally, let us move on to today’s Creature Profile.

Creature Profile: Brownie

Real or imagined: Both

In mythology:

The brownie is a legendary creature popular in folklore around Scotland and England said to be a small, industrious fairy believed to inhabit houses and barns. It is seems to be the Scottish and Northern English counterpart of the Scandinavian tomte, the Slavic domovoi and the German Heinzelmännchen. The brownie may also be related to the mythological hob found in the north and midlands of England. By many accounts, the brownie is helpful if mischievous character. He is rarely seen, but often blamed for cleaning and doing housework as well as sometimes disarranged rooms. Cream and milk are considered favorable gifts to leave him.

In literature and entertainment:

In 1883 author Palmer Cox introduced a series of children’s books depicting brownies with whimsical illustrations and poetry. The fanciful folk were inspired by Scottish folktales but reflected the sensibilities of 19th-century American children. The first of the Brownie books is called The Brownies: Their Book.

In the 1988 movie “Willow,” two brownies are part of a colorful cast of characters which rally around protecting a baby girl from a dangerous and powerful queen. In my own book of Skinshifter and its accompanying books in the Metamorphosis series, Brownies are nicknamed “Toadstool folk” because of their habits of making their homes and some of their clothing from different forms of fungi. Brownies are friendly but mischievous characters. Turned brownies (that is undead brownies) are called boggarts in my series.

In reality:

The term “brownie” often refers to a specific type of camera created by the Kodak camera company in 1900. Designed and marketed for children, the Brownie camera was named after the popular characters created by Palmer Cox. Frank A. Brownell designed and manufactured the first Brownie camera, which quickly became popular thanks in part to its inexpensiveness and ease of use. Today, there over 125 Brownie models.

The brownie, as a baked good, is one of my favorite deserts and is tied to many fond childhood memories. Since I was allergic to milk and all milk-based products until I was in my late teens, my mom made special milk-free brownies for me as a kid. Her lip-smacking recipe is as follows:

Mom’s Moist Brownies:

1 ½ cup flour
2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup oil
¼ cup water
4 eggs
2 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup cocoa
½ cup pecans (optional)

Mix all ingredients by hand until well blended and bake in large pyrex glass (9 x 13 ½ inches) pan on 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30-35 minutes. DO NOT OVER BAKE!

For more information about brownies, please see the following links:

The Brownie as a mythological creature: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brownie_%28folklore%29 and http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/81831/brownie

The Brownie in literature and entertainment: http://www.amazon.com/The-Brownies-Their-Childrens-Classics/dp/0486212653/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1351273356&sr=8-1&keywords=the+brownies and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0096446/

The Brownie as a desert: see above recipe

The Brownie as a camera: http://www.kodak.com/US/en/corp/features/brownieCam/ and http://www.brownie-camera.com/

Until we meet again, may your ink blots be liberal and your tea stains tiny.

[~]D Alycia

Today’s Slightly Cynical Sarcasm: Ancient Rome

There’s a sort of grandeur associated with being older than dirt. Take ancient Rome for example. Have you ever noticed that when people speak of it, they tend to get a soft look in their eyes? Never mind the fact that the Romans lived in a society where slavery was not only common, it was a status symbol among the wealthy. Nor should you worry about the atrocities committed toward prisoners and slaves in the grand Coliseum and other gladiator arenas. And certainly don’t remember the fact that doctors had no anesthesia so their patients were awake and alert during any and all operations. Little details like those are neatly glossed over in favor of nostalgic memories of Roman art, architecture and engineering advancement like aqueducts.

 

The Romans probably thought their lives just as humdrum as we do now. Even though today we have such little conveniences as electricity, automobiles, the gift of flight and movie magic, we still look fondly upon Rome and the other “ancient wonders.” The moral of this story? Cover a corpse or a brick up with enough dust-gathering time and it will start resembling a treasure.

On the flipside though, with America’s high rate of crime, drug abuse, and extra-marital sex and pregnancy, maybe we should start looking at other older societies’ strengths to help improve our own weaknesses. Funny that few people get moist eyes over the Puritans. 

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