Writing Prompt – Purpose of the Appendix

Gray’s Anatomy is an outstanding reference that every writer should own. When you’re regularly stabbing, shooting or otherwise maiming your characters, it makes your writing more realistic when you understand exactly what’s being damaged, the potential blood loss from such a wound, what muscles would be impaired, and so on. I bought a hardcover copy back when I was in college; it’s three inches thick and weighs about 5 lbs. But I recently found an edition for the iPad that has 3D versions of a lot of the images. This is great because you can rotate a picture of the heart and lungs and see what they look like from all sides.  That’s very handy when you’ve just shot your main character in the chest and need to know where the bullet would have to go to puncture a lung but not pierce the heart. I found a cool image of the intestines too, and that got me thinking about the appendix. The appendix is a completely useless organ that can cause a ton of trouble if it gets inflamed, but that’s about it. From what I’ve read, scientists agree that the appendix did something at one point, no one quite knows what that something was.

So let’s make something up. Write a story where the appendix’s purpose is explained. You can be benevolent (it’s an organ that generates luck or positive energy) or malicious (it’s a self-destruct button that can be triggered by hostile aliens).

Have fun, and happy writing!

Local Legend: The Dover Demon

When people think about the supernatural in New England, the Salem Witch trials and haunted houses are usually on the top of their list. (Those, and Stephen King.)  But there are a ton of other legends and oddities in New England that aren’t related to witchcraft. One of those is the Dover Demon.

The story goes that on the night of April 21, 1977, three teen boys were driving along when one of them saw a something sitting on a stone wall. When the car’s headlights hit the creature’s eyes, they glowed bright orange. At first, the driver thought the creature was a cat or a dog, but then it turned toward him. He saw that the creature had an egg-shaped head, and long, spindly arms and fingers. It had no hair, and no nose, mouth or ears from what the driver could see.

Around midnight that same evening, the creature was seen by another pair of boys walking home. Their description matches that of the boys in the car, and they said that the creature ran on two legs and fled into the nearby woods. They followed the creature, and found it standing with its fingers wrapped around a tree and its toes curled around a rock. One of the witnesses said that the creature stared at him with faintly glowing eyes and he had the impression that it was thinking to itself, or perhaps preparing to spring. They fled the woods in a panic.

The next night, the creature was seen by a teen boy and girl who were driving home. The girl claims she saw a creature like the one the boys described, perched on the side of the road. The only discrepancy here is that the girl claims the creature had glowing green eyes, not orange.

After that third sighting, the creature was never seen again.

All of the teens who saw the creature were asked to draw a picture of what they’d seen. Here’s what one of them came up with:

Dover Demon, courtesy of Wikipedia

Some people say that the teens were playing a prank, and that the Dover Demon is nothing but a hoax. Others say that the teens actually saw a young moose. Experts say that the Dover Demon bears a resemblance to gray aliens or other Native American mythological creatures, but they can’t do more than speculate. The police who took the teens’ statements say that we’ll probably never know what the Dover Demon really was.

But Vincent Corinthos and the Caulborn know. Check out IMPERIUM if you’d like to learn more.

Contest: Spread the Word About Imperium

UPDATE: The contest is now closed. Congratulations to Suzy Turner!

 

Hey there – how’d you like to win a $25 Amazon gift certificate? I’m trying to spread the word about my new urban fantasy novel, Imperium. You can help and maybe win a prize. Here are the rules:

If you tweet about Imperium and this contest, that gets you one entry.

If you blog about Imperium and this contest, that gets you one entry.

If you post about Imperium and this contest somewhere else, that also gets you one entry.

If you purchased Imperium, that gets you 3 entries.

These are cumulative, so you can have up to 6 chances to win a $25 Amazon gift cert.

Just post a link to each item you’re doing in the comments below so I know that you’ve entered. If you’ve purchased Imperium, you can send in a pic of your Kindle with Imperium shown on the home screen (make sure it’s legible), or you can send in your Amazon or Smashwords receipt. Send either of those things to CPG@nicholasolivo.com.

A winner will be drawn on July 12, 2011 at 9 p.m. Eastern time.

Good luck to all and thanks for your help!

 

 

Intro to the Caulborn

UPDATE: IMPERIUM is available from Amazon and Smashwords now!

 

If all goes well, IMPERIUM will be released later this week and I wanted to give some insight into the world that my main character, Vincent Corinthos, lives in.

Among other things, Vincent is a Caulborn operative. The Caulborn are a sort of supernatural CIA who keep the peace between paranormals and regular people. The primary requirement to becoming a Caulborn agent is that you need to have been born with a caul. From a biological perspective, this means that a child was born with the amniotic sac wrapped around its head like a veil. Many cultures around the world have legends about these children. Some say that the child will be beautiful, successful, wealthy and lucky. Others say the child can’t drown, or possesses psychic powers. Still others say that the child will rise as a sort of vampire after they die.
Caulborn Insignia
The requirement for a caul comes from this – many paranormal creatures have mental domination capabilities – for example, vampires can  hypnotize people, psychically inclined fae can compel humans into doing their bidding, etc. In Vincent’s world, a caul grants protection against that mental domination, thus enabling a Caulborn to think and act freely even when surrounded by hostile supernatural creatures.

Only 1 in 1,000 children is born with a caul, so agency staffing shortages are a common occurrence. To help with that, the agency also employs normal humans and friendly paranormals in administrative and support roles. In the Boston office where Vincent works, the medical staff are regular people, and the resident computer hacker is a gremlin.

The insignia on the cover of IMPERIUM symbolizes the protection granted by a caul. The Greek character psi represents the mind, and it’s emblazoned on a shield, thus giving you a mind shield. This insignia serves as the Caulborn’s official seal, and can be found on certain documents and artifacts.

If you’d like to learn more about what the Caulborn do in my version of Boston, check out IMPERIUM.

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Interview with Jon Mac

Jon Mac writes SF/Fantasy with a pulp spirit, something he calls “Mythik” fiction. He’s had jobs picking raspberries, babysitting Coyote pups, working in a recycling plant, directing live TV newscasts, and encoding HD video for Blu-Ray discs. He likes dancing and shopping. No, that’s not really true. He’s still waiting for flying cars and videophones to become popular. He lives in Los Angeles with his lovely wife and their wonder dog, Baxter.

So, you ask, what is all this “Mythik” stuff about, anyway? Well, “Mythik” tales are sci-fi and fantasy stories in the spirit of the old pulp magazines of the 30s and 40s, but with a modern twist. Kind of like Astounding Stories meets The Twilight Zone meets Pulp Fiction.

Jon was kind enough to answer some questions for me.

On your site you mention that Mythik Imagination was inspired by Amazing Stories and The Twilight Zone. Were there any stories/episodes that made a significant impact on you?

Jon Mac:
First I’d like to say thanks for this opportunity, Nick. I really appreciate it. I loved that post about Bounty and Twitter.

Now to answer your question: One of my favorites is a Twilight Zone episode called “Time Enough At Last.” Burgess Meredith plays a character who just wants to have time to read his beloved books. After a nuclear war, he gets his wish. But of course, it doesn’t quite turn out the way he expected. I love those ironic twists. I think that episode and “To Serve Man” really had a huge impact on me because it showed how things often aren’t what they seem. “It’s a cookbook!” Um. Sorry, I probably just ruined that episode for millions of people who haven’t seen it. Oh, and the one with William Shatner on the plane was fantastic. I’ll stop now.

 

You’ve hinted that many of the stories in the Mythik series will take place in a shared world. Any teasers you can share about that world?

Jon Mac:
I want to have a lot of wacky characters and strange situations, but at the same time also have a consistent internal logic and a common framework for the settings. So most of the stories will be part of this Mythik Universe, which is really a meta-universe. The idea is that multiple universes are all contained under one big umbrella, and they are sometimes able to interact with each other. Concepts behind this interaction are the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics and quantum entanglement. Another key concept is the Novikov self-consistency principle. This essentially means that it is impossible to create a paradox in time travel. If you try to do something that would “change” the past, you will always fail. When you combine many-worlds with Novikov, if you do change the past, then it is no longer your past, but somebody else’s. To you, it’s a new universe. But of course, the people in the new universe know they’ve always been there and consider you to be from some kind of alternate universe. Now I have a headache.

So anyway, as for the stories themselves, each setting is the “real world” as far as the characters in it are concerned. Certain entities are able to seemingly create and/or discover the different universes and time periods. They can also travel between them. All the stories will stand on their own, but they will have this “Mythik” framework, so are loosely connected. Some characters and even story lines may appear or be referenced in multiple stories. Even if a certain story doesn’t directly concern the overall arc of the mythology, it still exists in the framework. That’s the plan, anyway 😉

 

My favorite story in Mythik Imagination #1 was Ghosts of the Future. Can you talk a bit about what inspired that story?

Jon Mac:
It just came to me one day out of the blue. I jotted down an idea which was a short summary of the opening scene. I had no idea where the story would go. As I went along, I added a few other other ideas that had been rolling around in my head, and after a while, I had Ghosts of the Future. I used some ideas about time travel that I’ve had for a long time, and there are some things in this story that give hints about the overall Mythik world. Some of the characters and organizations will definitely play key roles in other stories.

 

What can readers expect from future installments of Mythik Imagination?

Jon Mac:
Mythik Imagination #2 will be a Weird West edition. I love the idea of taking certain Wild West myths and turning them around. The real old west wasn’t really anything like what we’ve usually seen from Hollywood, so I think it’ll be a lot of fun to create a new mythology. By coincidence, I recently went to a double feature of High Plains Drifter and Pale Rider. Clint Eastwood’s character is some sort of ghost in each of those movies. As crazy as it may seem, that provides a logical explanation for those otherwise somewhat tired gunslinger tropes. I like that kind of stuff.

Mythik Imagination #3 will be Strange Sea Stories. So I’ll get to have some fun with pirates and the age of fighting sail, which I’ve always been interested in. I’d also like to get feedback from readers and have a Mythik Readers’ Corner section at the end of each issue, just like the old pulp magazines did.

Hopefully by the end of the year, there will be a half dozen or so Mythik Imagination issues and then a Mythik Weird West novel. I’d like to also finish the first in a series of Sword & Sorcery novels I’ve been working on for a long time, but that might be pushing it.

 

Briefly describe your writing process, and any writing rituals that you have.

Jon Mac:
Well, I think of a lot of stories while I’m commuting on the freeway. I write a lot in my head. I work really long hours at my day job, so I have to find writing time whenever I can. That usually means in the car, or standing in line at the store, or waiting for an elevator, etc. When I was a kid, I made up this thing I called Dream-a-vision, where I’d imagine a movie before I fell asleep. So I sort of do that at random points in my day. Then I write down all my ideas. Sometimes they are pretty detailed, and sometimes they are just a few words or a title. Like, here’s a title: “The Elevator Thief.” I have no idea what that means, but at some point I’m going to turn it into a story.

Usually I’ll be working on several stories at once, in various stages of development. But at some magical moment, one or several will suddenly become more urgent, and then I concentrate on finishing those. Unfortunately, my schedule is a bit too chaotic for any real rituals. So my method is just “squeeze in the writing whenever possible.”

 

How do you cope with writer’s block?

Jon Mac:
If I’m stuck, I just write anyway. A lot of times it will end up being gibberish. But sometimes it turns out to be something I can actually use. Or it might give me a new idea and send the story in a different direction. If I’m still stuck, then I’ll work on a different story or do some research. And yes, playing with my dog or going to the pool is “research.”

 

A time-traveling DeLorean is parked outside your house. It has enough fuel to take you to one destination in time and back again. To what point in time do you travel and why?

Jon Mac:
Ha ha, this is a hard one. I had to think about it for a while. But I finally decided I would go about 200 years into the future. I would record everything I see and do there. After I came back from the future, I would eventually be known as the best and most accurate science fiction writer of all time 🙂

 

Thanks for stopping by, Jon!

You can learn more about Jon on his site, and you can follow him on Twitter. Mythik Imagination #1 is on sale at Amazon and Smashwords. Check it out, you won’t be disappointed.

 

 

 

On Following Paper Towels

Twitter’s been a great way for me to learn about new writers and their work. However, when I logged in the other night, I saw this in my “Who to Follow” section.

That’s right, Twitter wants me to follow Bounty paper towels.

I think Twitter’s a great way for companies to connect with their customers, but I’m having a hard time with this one. Twitter makes sense for a software company, because people can use Twitter as impromptu tech support. Twitter makes sense for products like Pepsi or Coke, because they use it to promote the concerts and other events they sponsor. Twitter even makes sense for things like WD-40, because they can use it to post tips on what you can do with the product.

But paper towels?

I can’t see a customer support situation there.

Customer: OH SWEET EVER LOVING GOD I SPILLED SOMETHING AND I CAN’T WORK THE BOUNTY!!

Bounty: Stay calm, sir. Now, grip the roll firmly and pull one paper towel off the roll.

Customer: CRAP, I RIPPED IT IN HALF! WHAT DO I DO???

 

I don’t see Bounty sponsoring anything, and if they’re planning a Bounty-palooza concert series, they’re being awfully quiet about it. (And if such a concert series does occur, I fully expect them to commission John Anealio to write them a theme song.)

 

As for tips? They’re. Freaking. Paper. Towels. You wipe stuff up with them, end of story.

So here are some things that I think Bounty could tweet about that would be fun:

  1. A video showing a person throwing rolls of Bounty into a swimming pool. The viewer who correctly guesses how many rolls will be needed to absorb the entire pool wins a year’s supply of Bounty products.
  2. A factoid telling us how long a roll of paper towels stretches if you unrolled it.
  3. In that same vein, how many rolls would you need to encircle the earth, or reach the moon?
  4. If lit on fire, how long would a roll of regular Bounty burn? What about the Extra Soft kind?
  5. How many rolls of Bounty would be needed to cushion the impact of a car hitting a brick wall, while traveling at 30 mph?
  6. How many rolls are needed to mop up all the blood in the human body? (Not asking for any particular reason, mind you.)

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Bounty.  I buy the stuff in bulk. But c’mon Twitter, unless they’re suddenly interested in printing my book on a roll of paper towels, I’m really not sure why you want me to follow them.

 

 

 

Combined Text View in Scrivener

When I write in Scrivener, I typically break chapters out into smaller scenes. When I want to see how these scenes flow together, I can roll them up into a single view via a feature called Combined Text. This lets you select a series of scenes and view them as if they were one continuous document. This short video shows that feature in action.
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