The Idea Mill #19

I've got to be honest with you, these subjects are getting harder to find. Zite Magazine got absorbed by Flipboard, and they promised bigger, better, and faster. Flipboard honestly isn't half as useful as Zite was.

Flipboard doesn't learn as well as Zite did, and it really never finds any content I'm looking for.

Most of these things came from my RSS feed and were pushed to me from folks I follow. Still, I persevered, and the Idea Mill will keep grinding along. It just might not be as frequently as it used to be.

Our first story is about clay. Not just any old clay, this stuff is limited to a five acre basin in Brittish Columbia. Let that sink in, that's less than most city parks in the middle of a huge wilderness. Bonus points because it looks blue.

What's really cool about this stuff is it seems to kill 16 different strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Read the article at this link.

Need to wipe out the zombie plague, the bubonic plague, your girlfriend's warts. Have I got a quest for you. Face down grizzly bears, giant pacific octopi, and Bigfoot to get to this stuff. Best of all it's rare, and you can't dig it up in your back yard. It might even add a little zing to your potions, and it's based in reality. Maybe your hero has to race some big makeup producer to file a claim on the stuff.

Our next inspiration came from an 800 year old Native American pot. The pot had seeds that someone waited seven years to check out. (That's 807 years for you mathematicians in the crowd.) When they finally got around to seeing what they had, the seeds were still viable, and scientists were able to grow an extinct squash plant. I like the idea that the name they give it is a Native American term meaning “big old squash.” I couldn't have named it better myself. Here is the link to the story. (Okay, if the seeds were alive, it wasn't really extinct. You can say lost if you want.)

What if the seeds grew something else. Does your science fiction need some pod people? What if eating the “big old squash” changed people somehow and unleashed a CDC nightmare upon us? What if the seeds were from another planet, what could you do with it?

Lastly we have Lichtenberg Figures, meaning lightning flowers. It appears that being struck by lightning leaves a pretty cool scar. It reminds me of the moss shapes we used to find in opals out in the Great Basin. In fact, it has me wondering about whether those formations might have been caused by lightning striking near the rocks.

These things are some kind of leftover due to the electrical breakdown. I googled a little bit, but there isn't much as far as humans go. The scar in the article is pretty cool though. (I want one.) Read about Lightning Flowers here.

Need some way to show that your fantasy character is marked, chosen, foretold. Maybe she needs a lightning flower. Maybe she needs some electrical based power, and her scar gives her away. Maybe she can use her power, but every time leaves an additional scar until it's so debilitating she cannot function in her world. This could set up a save the innocents – give up living scenario quite nicely.

Part of my usual routine is to suggest a cheesy story based upon all the elements combined. I only do this to spark your own imaginations. Maybe one of these items will make it into a story you're writing. I'd love to hear about it. Here we go:

The old archeologist found a pot full of ancient seeds. When he died, they were uncataloged, and forgotten. When his grandson planted some of them in a creepy blue Canadian clay they grew. They became a crop of man eating “big old squash” that proved unstoppable.

Only the girl with the lightning scars could stop them. She squandered her powers making beautiful light shows, and selling out to rock bands for their performances. If she uses her powers one more time she is going to be in a coma at best, if not dead. What will she do??? Dun, dun dunnnnn.

How about it speculative fiction writers? What would you do with any of these ideas? It's always nice to have a small basis in reality, and maybe something here will spark your imagination. Share with the rest of us. Remember, The Idea Mill is a category in my sidebar now, so if you need more help yourselves.


Filed under The Idea Mill

Spotlight Author, Jan Hawke

I actually have a couple of Jan's book on my TBR list, Milele Safari and a compilation she put together called Dreamless Roads. I'm working in that direction, but you guys know how TBR lists get.

Jan is here today to tell us about Milele Safari.

Milele Safari – An Eternal Journey …twines around a single day, in an unremarkable border village that snuffs out the lives of four people and shatters many others, only to draw the survivors back to a different time and, perhaps, a hope of atonement and peace. Step out on the journey and discover an Africa that could have been, is and might one day come to be.

Sophie’s choices

My pivotal protagonist in Milele Safari is Sophie Taylor, whose fiancé Tom, dies in tragic circumstances during the central incident that all the other main character storylines revolve around.

I didn’t know everything about Sophie at first and, believe me, it took a while to find out what her backstory was. If I’d had the chance to interview her, this is probably how it would have gone…

JH – Victoria Falls… sorry, Mosi-Oa-Tunya, holds a lot of significance for you. When did you first go there?

ST – It was for my sister’s wedding. I was fourteen and Claire and Grant were living in Zimbabwe, so they booked The Victoria Falls Hotel for the ceremony and reception (Grant was earning mega-bucks working in the Tobacco Exchange back then). The hotel’s a gorgeous place, like stepping back into the Edwardian colonial era. My parents loved it there, so we always started or finished our visits to Claire at the hotel, and flew via Vic Falls International.

JH – And the time you went there with Tom?

ST – (colouring slightly) That was almost 5 years later. I’ve got so many lovely memories of the southern side of the falls in Zimbabwe. That’s why I couldn’t go there in 2007 – I didn’t want to see the hotel again, in case it tarnished my memories. The Zambian side is more interesting anyway, for me. Like walking out to the edge of the cascades – you can’t do that from the Zimbabwe shore.

JH – It certainly is one of the most impressive sights in the world. Going back to your time working in Zambia, was this a gap year thing?

ST – It was, but also a lead-in to my university courses, so it seemed like a good idea to do some teaching assistant work with Voluntary Services Overseas. That all changed of course, after Tom was murdered.

JH – That must have been terrible for you. But why the switch from wanting to be a teacher to going to medical school instead?

ST – It wasn’t a snap decision exactly… I was all over the place after I got back from Zambia, first recovering from the miscarriage and malaria, and then I just fell apart basically – wouldn’t admit I was severely depressed until I broke down completely. Going to uni just wasn’t on the agenda for nearly a year. When I had got my head together a little, I decided that I was interested in learning more about psychiatric conditions and tropical diseases.

JH – Still a bit of a leap though?

ST – Not so much, really. I’d been seeing a lot of Youssef (Jettou, Sophie’s surgeon mentor) as he’d been coming to see me during his sabbatical and we’d been talking about PTSD (1) after I started the EMDR (2) therapy. Plus, both my parents were in the Forces in surgical teams, and Claire was a nurse with CAMEO (3). I was the black sheep of the family for not wanting to go into a medical profession!

JH – Youssef was a big influence on you, I think?

ST – A huge one, yes. When I first met him he was still recovering from a massive burnout that prevented him from carrying on as a mobile-unit surgeon with CAMEO. In fact, he came back to England with me to go into re-hab for alcohol abuse. He could see the signs of what I was going through and how it would lead into that downward spiral. I had no place to hide from him, because he’d been through something similar. He’s a world expert in malaria and yellow fever, and he really helped me get things in perspective over what caused me to miscarry Tom’s baby.

JH – Why was that, Sophie?

ST – (another blush) At the time I was blaming everything that happened on Teresa. She’d suspected I had a dose of malaria and had wanted to test me, but… Well let’s put it this way – I was so antagonistic towards her, I completely ignored her attempts to discuss why I was having so many abdominal problems, before she left for Tanzania. If I’d listened to her, even a little, then there might have been a chance that malaria would have been diagnosed sooner, and the pregnancy might have stabilised.

JH – You blamed Dr. Olatunde for Tom’s death too?

ST – Initially, yes. And if she hadn’t reacted to the situation in the way she did, then perhaps Tom wouldn’t have tried to intervene on her behalf so catastrophically. I couldn’t forgive her for a long, long time afterwards, as she was the catalyst for her own and Tom’s murders. It wasn’t until I met Henry and Helga Zimmerman in London 10 years later, that I began to understand Teresa’s background better, and how that influenced her actions that day.

JH – You were never close to her while you were in Zambia then?

ST – Lord, no! I barely tolerated her because she and Tom were thick as thieves. He used to get really mad with me because I was so rude to her – told me over and over that she was like his big sister. I saw her as a threat because I was jealous of how close she was to Tom.

JH – Even though she was a nun?

ST – I’m not proud of it! I was a stupid kid – what can I say… Plain old green-eyed monster.

JH – Well, thanks for being so honest about it, Sophie – that’s explained a lot!

ST – We can’t like everyone we meet at work. I don’t think she thought much of me either, but then she had more provocation. Can we have a break for a bit, please – I think I need a beer!

JH – Me too! Very thirsty work these interviews…


1 PTSD – post-traumatic stress disorder

2 EMDR therapy – eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing. Developed in the late 1980’s, this type of therapy is commonly offered to people recovering from a violent experience and PTSD, particularly for war veterans, or victims of serious assault.

3 CAMEO – Co-ordinated Aid, Medicine and Education Organisation. An entirely fictional logistical umbrella group for several humanitarian organisations working all over the world.


Milele Safari – An Eternal Journey

Available on Amazon


Follow Jan Hawke on Social Media


Twitter handle: @JanHawke



Craig here. Jan is the Spotlight author at the Rave Reviews Book Club. This blog tour is one of her benefits. As a member, I get the benefit of hosting her and we both gain exposure. If this sounds like a club for you, please check them out at this link RRBC. Tell them I sent you.


Filed under Writing

Check another project off my list

I set my alarm clock for 4:00 AM and flew out to the writing cabin early. I intended to finish this short story by hook or by crook.

Lisa monitors my gyrocopter, and the lights were on at the cabin as I made my approach. I touched down and maneuvered onto the elevator that goes to the basement.

The smell of fresh coffee almost made me drool as I climbed the inside stairs. Lisa is the best assistant.

The rocket pack sat on the coffee table in my office, beside the fishbowl style helmet. My story couldn’t end until this thing flew one more time.

Clacking came downstairs from Lisa’s rooms. She wore her leather flight jacket, a body shirt, and a pair of thigh high boots that still needed zipped up. She leaned against the wingback chair and wrapped her hair into a bun.

She stomped each boot before zipping it up tight. “I think you’ve been stalling. This story doesn’t end until that rocket flys again.”

“It’s damaged, are you sure about this.”

She only gave one slow nod in answer, grabbed her helmet and balanced it on her hip.

“I’ll carry your rocket down.”

“No. You need to watch from the back porch. Take lots of notes. I’ll bring myself up on the elevator.”

I carried my coffee to the back porch. The freezing temperature made the fog rise from my cup. The first rays of sunlight punched through the trees and lit the runway in a surreal glow of fog and sun.

The machinery of the elevator engaged, and the door slid open revealing blackness in the basement. Tiny horizontal swirls of ground fog marked the moving of machinery. A mechanical clunk and the motor preceded her arrival.

I swear the moment required orchestral music and tympani. She looked so small on the flight elevator coming out of the darkness.

As she rose to the surface, the sun backlit her strawberry blonde hair. She put her helmet on, and clicked it into place. She already wore the rocket pack that would send her into the heavens.

She looked different somehow, more confident, stronger. No polka dots and pencil skirts, today Lisa was all business. I admit to having a tear in my eye, a combination of pride and concern.

“How you reading me, Boss?” I jumped at the hand radio she’d placed out ahead of time. Lisa thinks of everything.

“Five by Five.”

She snapped to the right and marched out onto the landing strip away from the elevator and cabin. The rising sun provided God’s own spotlight down to her knees. She gave me her best fist over the heart salute.

It’s been our thing since I wrote The Cock of the South. I returned the salute and she pointed at the sky with her right hand. When her arm came down, she hit the button on her crossed harnesses.

Fire lit up the meadow.

Smoke curled off the runway obscuring my vision. It rose higher than the cabin. Higher than the trees.

The noise of jet wash deafened me.

I looked frantically for the fire extinguisher. I couldn’t lose her after all we’ve been through.

Lisa rose on a pillar of flame against the blue black morning sky. Tears streamed down my face as she rose ever higher. At approximately two thousand feet, she trimmed her engine, and gained speed. Like a fiery arrow, she flashed across the morning sky until she faded out of sight.

I went to my knees, happy she didn’t explode, and dumbfounded by the sheer beauty of it all until I spilled coffee across my frozen wrist.

“This is Lisa Burton. Lisa to Writing Cabin, do you hear me?”

I keyed the radio. “I hear you. Are you alright?”

“I’m fabulous. You should see things from up here. It’s absolutely beautiful. I’ll try to bounce a signal off a satellite so you can stay with me.”

“Roger that. It looks like the repairs were a success.”

“Was there ever any doubt?”

“Yeah, a little.”

“Sometimes you have to launch anyway. Hey, you could use that for Yak Guy.”

“I’ll write the books around here. Better come home now.”

“No way. It’s weightless and beautiful up here. I’m making a couple of orbits while I have the chance. Since you write the books, why don’t you write the big launch scene just the way it looked this morning.”

“Roger that, and Lisa?”


“Enjoy yourself. You’ve earned it.”

Note: Lisa Burton is the most capable robotic assistant I know. I couldn’t have written this short story without her. I’m now calling it The Last Flight of the Rocket Men. Writing it in first person from the viewpoint of the rocket man was a bit of a challenge, but it’s now a complete draft.


Filed under Muse

The opposite of writer’s block

I've been seeing a lot of posts about writers block. Since joining Facebook, I've noticed a few over there too. I'm almost ashamed to say I've never experienced this before.

My critique group brought this up by asking, “Where do you get all these ideas from?” The short answer is my Muse, Lorelei. I believe in my Muse, and trust her. She throws things at me with the idea of seeing what sticks.

My mind looks something like this:

I have more ideas tugging at me than I can use. I've developed yet another living document for short stories. The rare one moves to a novel list. I refer to the list as soon as I finish one of my stories.

Is this a problem? It might be. I have story issues going through my head several stories ahead of where I'm typing. Some of these stories already have characters with traits and quirks. I might be better suited to develop tunnel vision and focus on the story on my iPad. It would probably speed the process up.

Right now, I'm writing a novel called The Yak Guy Project (for now). I'm also writing a retro science fiction story tentatively called Backwater Diner.

While all this is going on, I'm working out some great stuff that will see the return of Jason Fogg in another short story. I might let Jason go, but he's the best character to address a human condition that I want to talk about. His special condition lets him see a part of our makeup that others cannot. In order to do this he needs some fatal flaws to address himself, and I have some decent ideas on that front too.

I also have a great idea that involves a grown up Pete Rogers. Pete was a supporting character from Will O' the Wisp. Apparently all the scary stuff up Bergamot Holler hasn't been addressed yet.

My short story list has 26 items on it. I've already written some, and may never write them all. Newer items will hit the list, and maybe one of those is a better idea.

The plus side is that I can put out another Experimental Notebook eventually. I get to explore more conditions and situations than if I limited myself to novels. I'll need some Macabre Macaroni stories next October, and maybe some of these will fit that bill.

The down side is focus. It's hard to concentrate on Yak Guy and do his research when Jason Fogg is haunting my thoughts.

I'm glad I don't get writer's block, but my mind comes with its own special needs. Does anyone else have this problem, or am I the only one?


Filed under Writing

Story Length, again

I know I've written about this before, but it's been over a year. I spent a large part of my morning trying to knock one big item off my list. I'd like to finish the retro science fiction story.

I added thousands of words to this thing, and it still isn't finished. I'm a believer in making things as long as they need to be. Many of the rules regarding preferred story lengths went out the window with the arrival of the ebook.

The rules as I understand them are:

  • Micro-fiction = under 1000 words
  • Short story = 1000 to 10,000 words
  • Novella = 10,000 to 30,000 words
  • Novel = over 30,000, but preferred over 80,000 words.

(That leaves a grey area between 30,000 and 80,000 words. Is it a maxi-novella or a mini-novel?)

Does any of this matter these days? We still need to put a label on our work so shoppers know what we're selling. If I ask $3.99 for a piece of micro-fiction the shopper might be disappointed, even if it's really good.

I am firmly convinced that readers are moving toward shorter lengths. It isn't the price of the book, it's the time involved in reading it. I've even noticed it when asking for volunteers. Experimental Notebook got more volunteers than The Playground. Notebook is a book of micros and short stories, Playground is a novel.

So here I am with the retro science fiction story at 8600 words. I don't know if I can bring it in under 10,000. I made a mistake by having a character outline the big plan, then they execute the big plan. In a short story, outlining it should be deleted. In a novel, the big plan should fall apart and have to be modified on the fly. I will adjust accordingly. First I need to finish the damned thing. Edit later.

I already have the pregame shows on. I sliced up some cheese to have with salami and crackers, and ate a tin of smoked oysters along with the rest. I probably won't eat again today, but may have a brown ale nightcap after the game. Better for my digestion to eat early.

I never checked anything off the list, and I feel terrible. I really tried to finish this short story. I know I could if it weren't Super Bowl Sunday. I looked back at my list, and there is a reminder to have some fun along the way. I'm going to honor that part and watch the big game.

I posted another clever graphic and a plea on Twitter to market Notebook. Facebook vexes me. I went ahead and posted about Lisa's paper dolls, and it was barely noticed. I suppose I need more likes or friends, then maybe it will get more attention. I reserve the right to post about it again at a later date. Maybe they would be better received in one of the groups. I remain open to suggestions on the Facebook front.

I succeeded at messing with Facebook, and updating my blog a few more times. Those were on the list. Everything else still needs work, and I'm chocking this day up as a loser productively. It isn't the number of words, there were lots of words, it's the lack of completion.

Questions for you: Should I even care about titles for story lengths? Should I croak the retro science fiction story as part of another Experimental Notebook, because it's too long? Would it be better used as a permanently free novella? Would you skip the Super Bowl to work on your checklist if your team wasn't in it? (Keep in mind that I'm completely alone today, and have no distractions.) Should I bag the whole process and get back to my beta reading?



Filed under Writing

The working weekend, day one

Last night I made a list of projects, and scratched making a list off my list. Yeah, it was a cheat, but it's not like I'm being graded here. I also reminded myself to enjoy what I am doing. I turned off the computer and watched the return of Sleepy Hollow, then cleared Flash out of the DVR. While Sleepy Hollow aired, I recorded Last Man Standing, then I watched it.

The television hasn't been on yet today. Here's how it went.

I added words to The Yak Guy Project. It may have only been a thousand or so, but I'm struggling with world limitations here. This isn't science fiction where he can take a speeder halfway across the planet in one paragraph. He's riding around on a yak, for cripes sake. This takes time, and requires a bit more observation. Yak Guy Ted's journey is also a spiritual one, so there is a certain amount of thought and reflection required. The yak calls this rumination, and it's kind of a gag in the story. I need to write it this way, and may remove bits after the draft gets finished.

I added words to the retro science fiction piece, and it's getting closer. The characters had some sexy time and now my rocket boy needs to decide between duty and country, or riches and the girl. Yeah, I wrote a sexy time section, I've done it before.

I got the camper battery all charged up, and got through all my critiques.

I even managed to promote The Experimental Notebook on a Facebook group. One friend saw it, and shared it. No idea if it did any more good than that, I'm new to Facebook. Nobody freaked out and accused me of breaking the group rules, so I've got that going for me. I have a list of other groups, and need to join them too.

Reminder: You can follow Lisa the robot girl on Facebook, and there is an Entertaining Stories page too. In fact the widget in my sidebar will take you to the Entertaining Stories page.

I spent the afternoon with my beta reading project. In case you're reading this today, I'm at 61% according to the Kindle app. I should finish this by Monday with a little luck.

I did not attempt a blurb for The Playground and didn't attempt any guest posts for it. That will have to be on tomorrow's agenda somehow. It still takes a back seat to new words on my stories and the beta reading project.

I'm feeling pretty good about today. I'm working off a weekend long list, and not a one day list. I got some things scratched off, and others moved ahead. It's about 6:30 here now, and maybe I will see what's on television.

Then again, maybe I'll get started on that blurb.


Filed under Writing

First – Make a list

My wife is developing a tradition of going to Nevada and watching the Super Bowl with her brother. We both like football, but aren't fanatic about it. She doesn't get to see her family all that often, so I'm a bachelor once again.

The old pitbull needs someone who will give him his medicine, and I trust myself. So here I am, three days off and almost completely alone. Whatever shall I do?

I have a lot of things I want to get done. When it gets like this I make a list. So here it goes:

  • Make a list of projects. (It's always good to have something to check off the list.)
  • Get through my critiques and make any changes to The Yak Guy Project. (They liked it, by the way.)
  • Finish the retro science fiction short story.
  • Add words to The Yak Guy Project.
  • Recharge the camper battery. (It's been setting there all Winter.)
  • Read more of my beta reading project.
  • Write a dozen guest posts for The Playground. (Even if I don't use them all yet.)
  • Toy with a blurb for The Playground.
  • Mess around more with Facebook. Possibly join more groups. Get brave enough to mention that I have books available.
  • Update my blog a couple more times.
  • If I get lucky, start a new short story.
  • Remind myself that I'm doing this for fun. This will involve the return of Sleepy Hollow and the Super Bowl.

There's the list. I hope to get most of it accomplished. I don't have to get it all finished to feel content. Ready, set, go…


Filed under Writing