Enticed by Pepper – Writing Exercise

I was going to shut myself away in a quiet room, but my wife’s making homemade chicken noodle soup and the enticing smell is irresistible. It’s the smell of home, but a nostalgic kind. A place where hungry people come in from a wintry outdoors and suddenly find themselves ravenous in a warm, aromatic kitchen.

And so, with no preparation, I sat down and wrote a little about it. I don’t know what this is. Just stream-of-consciousness stuff. I provide it as an unedited example of how easy it is to get writing momentum some days, especially when you’re not overly concerned with structure or other grammatical rules.

I’m writing at the kitchen table

with headphones in.

It keeps out the distractions of home life

Yet allows me to stay within my family’s presence.

I sit here so I can smell my wife’s homemade chicken noodle soup.

As it bubbles on the stove

Its pepper enticing, the rich broth,

the concoction of ingredients that dance merrily in a savory swirl

“Pepper makes me sneeze,” I said as a kid.

It no longer has the effect I pretended it had back then.

Now, it’s an enticement, I want to bask in its aroma

and be inspired by cauldron thoughts

and salivating mouths,

of cooking herbs found near the camp

fresh-picked and green,

their earth nourished by a nearby brook that delights in its passage.

I cannot hear the roiling water as it swirls upon the stove.

It waits for noodles, thick and grand, pleasures each to taste.

And so I type, I write.

I take white pages and darken them with hope.

With no planning save that which can be done in preparation to sit

and bask within a kitchen breeze

its peppered breath a kiss,

A promise,

An inspiration.

Perhaps it will be worth editing later, or pieces will be borrowed for something else. At the very least, it got my mind ready for the other writing I intended to complete. And it got me hungrier.

It’s time for a luncheon interruption.

Homemade chicken noodle soup with carrots, onions, celery, and big thick noodles.

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© Michael Wallevand, March 2020

Organic growth in your story

I’m spending a quiet Saturday afternoon writing and playing around with some scenes in Project Two. I was struck by how one thought led to another, and before I knew it, I had connections to two different scenes and to Tildy’s book (Project One).

Stephen King's On WritingIt reminded me of a section in Stephen King’s On Writing, which I’m reading for the fifteen time. In the first part, entitled C.V. (section 28 for those of you who own it), he talks about the genesis of Carrie. He wasn’t actively writing a story; he wasn’t even working on an idea. A memory led to a thought, which led to the recollection of a magazine article. “Pow!” he writes, “Two unrelated ideas, adolescent cruelty and telekinesis, came together, and I had an idea.”

The following example isn’t the lightning that Mr. King caught in a bottle for Carrie, but I think it’s a nice look at how organically this stuff happens sometimes. You’re not steering toward something; you’re just holding on to see what happens. Suddenly, you discover that two unconnected scenes have a common thread. It’s new to you, but it’s the kind of revelation that makes you feel like it already existed, you just finally uncovered it.

  1. Tildy celebrates her birthday in The Starfall Omen, so I have a similar scene with Samor, her brother and the hero of Project Two. Contrary to her experience, his is a disappointing day. He receives three gifts from his father: the first is books, and to contrast with Tildy, he isn’t happy. The other two gifts are TBD.
  2. Tildy has a scene in which she prepares to sneak out, and I describe the items she’s wearing and packing. Samor goes through the same, buckling a traveling belt that he’d received as a gift. At the time, he grumbles because he was never allowed to leave the castle.
  3. Pow! A convergence of scenes that are several thousand words apart. Gift + birthday = now I have a second disappointing gift for my birthday scene. Expanding upon it, both Samor and his father, the Steward of Empyrelia, realize that it will be some time before he can travel with it – they must keep the Steward’s son safe, after all.
  4. Finally, I go back to Samor’s dressing scene in which he’s preparing to sneak out. Instead of recalling his disappointment in the gift, he’s smug about being able to use the traveling belt much sooner than his father intended.

Part of this change happened because I set myself a mystery. Not a whodunit, just an unanswered detail (Samor’s birthday gifts) that I knew I’d fill in later. It sat their, lurking, until I remembered its presence when I had good use for it. If you’re counting along, you know there’s one last gift to discover. I can’t wait to learn what it is.

Enjoy what you just read? Leave a comment or like the post and we’ll ensure that you see more like this!

–Mike


© Michael Wallevand, February 2020

What else have you written? #1

Since I post regularly on social media about my writing, people often ask me variations of the question, “What else have you written?” Unbeknownst to most people who know me, I’ve tried my hands at a number of projects. As I was perusing some old files today, I came across a comic book I pitched to Marvel in 2007. Yes, that Marvel. And while it was rejected, I still love the concept. There might even be a theme or two that I loan to The Lost Royals…we’ll see.

The historical origins of this story are true. Fifteen hundred years ago, Attila the Hun was poised to ransack the unguarded city of Rome when he was met in Northern Italy by Pope Leo I. Catholic legend says the image of St. Peter threatened Attila, and the great Hun fled westward away from Rome.

The following memorandum from one of my main characters suggests otherwise. Without further ado…

BLACK MEMORANDUM:

For the eyes of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI.

Transcript of the audio diary of Jonathan Harper, Vatican Order of the Adherents. Demon Hunter.

Diary recovered in Vatican City, in the ruins of the Church of Santo Stefano degli Abissini, which was destroyed by demons and Hellfire escaping the lost Porta de Infernus.

The fifth century A.D. The once-great Roman Empire is divided in two and disintegrating. But with one great empire dying in Rome, another was rising to take its place.

The Church began to solidify its power under Pope Leo I. Halfway through his reign he would turn back one of the most fearsome conquerors Europe has ever seen. His name is Attila, leader of the Huns. Enemies and tribesmen alike name him ‘the Scourge of God’.

Pope Leo met the horde with a few advisors, some gold, and the Word of God.

The Pope pleaded with Attila, asking that the Huns spare Rome. And for some reason, they did. Church scribes say the spirit of St. Peter appeared to Attila. Fearing his holy blade, the Hun then turned his men westward and away from Rome.

But history is often recorded by those who can favorably rewrite it. My research indicates Attila first accompanied Leo to Rome where Leo revealed a dark and terrifying secret. A secret that frightened the fearless Hun. A secret that required the building of Vatican City to hide it.

And I am about to unlock this secret, though I know not what it is. Jonathan Harper, April 18.

End Transcript.

Cardinal Emanuel Esperanza

(EE / ff)


That’s the teaser I included with the script and query letter. Man, it takes me back. I had so much fun creating the story and bringing the characters of Jonathan Harper, Grace Chang, and their supporting cast to life. Not only did it combine two of my passions – history and writing, which were my college majors – it was a project that took full advantage of the comic book medium. I hope to get back to it one day.

I share it as an example of something a writer put their heart, blood, and sweat into, but hasn’t yet found additional life in publication. It happens, we’re crushed, we move on and live to write another day.


Enjoy what you just read? Leave a comment or like the post and we’ll ensure that you see more like this!

© Michael Wallevand, February 2020

Author’s Journal – 11-25-19

Journal Entry #3. The Muse is withholding all inspiration until I write another update.

It was a tough writing weekend. Not that I didn’t know what to write. I knew what I had to write; I just didn’t know which words to pick.

1. I spent time on Saturday and Sunday working on a query submission for a local agent. It requires a pitch, synopsis, and other pertinent info. The challenge is in the distilling of 188,000 words into a couple hundred. It’s a great exercise, tbh. It forces you to hone in on the core idea of your story. But…..it’s damn hard, perfectionist desires aside. I’ve spent my adult life editing, dabbled in the restrictive word count of flash fiction, and write with the “Murder your darlings” philosophy. And still I struggle to rein in the information overload.

It comes down to the old saying, “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote a long one.” Being succinct is tough, and I get why agents push for it.

Prince Super Bowl performance

2. Monday night, I tinkered with the finished manuscript, like a naughty author. Continue reading

Only Some Came Back – Writing Exercise

I find it easier to write when I’m speaking from the heart. As the son of a Vietnam veteran, I believe it’s important to acknowledge Veterans’ Day, so I always feel an obligation to say something meaningful.

This year, it started with a simple thought: “some came back”. It came to me while contemplating the difference between today and Memorial Day, but was also inspired by sentiments my father has shared.

As often happens, a simple idea blossomed into something greater, a working piece entitled, “Only Some Came Back”.


Some came back, wondering why they returned so all alone.
Some came back, their bodies hardly whole.
Some came back, prisoners lately freed.
Some came back, with so many healing needs.

Heroes all, whether wounded, captured, tortured, or flesh unscathed.
Heroes all, though they would never, ever think themselves as brave
Or worthy to have lived when so many others fell in foreign lands.
Or worthy to continue in a world that cannot understand.

Backs bent, carrying the weight of comrades lost, of life post-war.
Hearts pierced by steel, by loss, by unfathomable gore.
Minds burdened by nightmares, grief, and shattered innocence.
Souls broken upon the fields of demarked happenstance.

It’s not a day for politics
Or the whims of money’s end.
It’s a day for remembering veterans,
The women and the men.


 

This piece took about 30 minutes to write. While it’s a work-in-progress, I’ll let this one sit for a time. It’s more personal than it might seem, and there are current political things that cut deeper than I care to discuss.

I share it as an example of writing outside my manuscript. Sometimes the work can be a drag, and creating things that bring you joy can help you get past them. And sometimes, it’s cathartic, too.

Mike


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© Michael Wallevand, November 2019

Take Joy In Your Craft #1

I was recently re-familiarizing myself with the music of Velvet Underground, and “Run Run Run” on YouTube led me to “Run Boy Run” by Woodkid. I’d missed the song in 2013, which isn’t surprising since I was no longer in the music business and I don’t hear a lot of French artists on the radio.

From the tolling bell that opened the song, I knew I was going to like it. But after three-and-a-half minutes, I felt like I’d just watched a video of my childhood fantasies.

If there was any other kid, aside from Luke Skywalker, that I’d pretended to be, it was Max from Where The Wild Things Are. And so this video, showing a kid playing fantasy and running with monsters? Heck yeah – I’ve watched it ten times in the last week.

OK, that was mostly an aside, but the video is too fun not to share.

Anyway, my enjoyment led me to a live version of the song, and this brings me to the point of the post. Continue reading

Set Yourself Mysteries

epiphany

Epiphany

from Merriam-Webster

As happens to most of us, something profound occurred to me in the shower this morning. For me, I was thinking about my story. Not the first book I am writing, but the entire story. It was the kind of thought that made me end my shower, towel off quickly, and open my computer to write it down.

Here’s some context first, though I’ll be generic to prevent spoilers: I have a scene between two characters that is the genesis of their friendship. I like the scene because it imparts important information to both the reader and my protagonist, Tildy.

But there’s something else in the scene, a catalyst. It’s the thing that brings these two together, yet it also returns later with significant results. One of the characters even warns against it. Three books later, it fulfills this apparent destiny, devastating both Empyrelia and Tildy in the process.

How did I get there? Am I more architect than gardener, a writer who has a perfect plan in which all things are connected? No.

I set myself a mystery.

It wasn’t something I did consciously, yet I’m aware that I do it all the time. That was my epiphany: I had identified one key element of my writing style. I throw out interesting details, predictions, or other tidbits, which forces me to find a creative solution to explain why these things are important to the story. It also makes writing more fun because I love a good mystery.

I’m not talking about the main plot, however. This isn’t, Tildy needs to journey into the world, fight a heroic battle, and return triumphant – what does she fight? No, this is about smaller details, such as the witch wearing a pearl in her flyaway hair or Tildy not getting along with the birds in Dappledown (the first, I’ve solved, but not the second).

I’m certain this isn’t unique to me, though I can’t recall reading about other writers that do this. If this is new to you – cool! If you’ve read something similar elsewhere, I’d love to get a link to the story.

We can’t wait for inspiration, but if we put in enough time at the keyboard, I think we can find ways to summon it. If I can have fun doing it, too, then that’s a process that works for me. Hopefully, you can find those things that work for you.

Good luck with your writing!

–Mike

Postscript: What I also like about this epiphany is that it prepares me to give more satisfactory answers when people ask about my writing process. In my experience, “I just, uh, write?” is usually met with confusion or disappointment because people think I’ve discovered an ancient secret or something. I’ve just found some tools that work for me, and this is one of the better ones.


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© Michael Wallevand, August 2019