Tag Archives: spark

New Fiction in Ten Days

I had so much fun last quarter participating in Amy Souza’s SPARK project, that I volunteered again, despite a full work load of two accelerated online college courses and a draft novel in dire need of editing.

My artistic partner this time was the talented Christina Brockett, who uses a camera to capture the world around her in ways that I never could. I reworked an earlier piece for a more contemporary setting that I called “Dockside” and received the following snapshot to use as inspiration for my response:

Photo by Christina Brockett


Ten days – not much time to get an idea, flesh it out into a story with compelling characters and engaging theme, then polish it into a short story to share with the world. You know what I found out? Deadlines are a tremendous motivation.

  • I had my rough idea within the first five minutes of seeing the picture, but how do you turn strange etchings on a gold watch into a viable story?
  • I tried to imagine who would etch unrecognizable symbols on a watch – someone who didn’t want the words discovered by the wrong person, or maybe someone who didn’t have enough room to write everything they wanted. I also realized that a pocket watch is the kind of thing that gets passed down from one generation to another when someone dies.
  • Plot came next: some kids examine an inherited watch and discover strange writing (greek) on the inside lid. They translate the writing and find clues that lead to a website message from a dead parent. Cool.
  • As I wrote the story, minor flaws developed and I made changes like a good little writer. Boys became college students, the clues became plausible links, and the message was properly sad.

At the end of ten days, I had a finished story I wish was better, but it’s done. We exchanged works: my story “Time’s Cruel Sands“, and Christina send me this photograph that I feel really nailed the mood of “Dockside”:

Photo by Christina Brockett


Amy plans to have our works up on her site soon, and I highly recommend that you give it a look. There were 90 entrants this time and no doubt you will find some truly creative works much better than my own. Next quarter, I hope to do this exercise in madness again and maybe we’ll have a chance to work together. Ten days of hell that I find absolutely worth every second.

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How Do You Prepare to Read In Front of an Audience?

Microphone Icon (red)
Problem: I agreed to participate in the SPARK exhibit in Alexandria, VA with a reading/reception of work from Round 6 this Saturday, January 16th. I’ve never really read my stuff out loud to an audience, family and friends excluded. I’ve read before a local writing critique group, but each time I sounded like a lame teenager reading his summer essay before a snickering class.

Background: For those of you who aren’t familiar with the SPARK Project, it is a fantastic opportunity for pairs of writers and artists to collaborate on a project “sparked” by the creative work of their partner. I had the great fortune to work with a great impressionist painter named Marty McGihon and look forward to next round this spring.

Does anyone have advice to offer? How would you prepare yourself to read before an audience who will only remember you if your story is dynamite (or you totally crash and burn by freezing up/stammering/sweating profusely)? It’s only a short story, so shouldn’t take more than the allotted 7 minutes…

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The “Spark” of Creativity is Unleashed, Part One

Last post, I introduced the Spark Project, currently completing Round 6. I submitted a short story to my assigned partner, Marty McGihon with the understanding that I would take one of Marty’s paintings and write a story. I’ve jotted down a couple of notes to explain how I arrived at my final work, but you work differently that I (which is the point of the Spark Program – use what you’re good at and see how others do their thing.)

Life Isn't Always Easy

Painting by Marty McGihon

I started with Marty’s picture, “Life Isn’t Always Easy”, which I studied from every angle until I saw an image that I felt I could use. If you turn the picture so that the dark edge is across the top like I did, you may see a woman with a blue face wearing a red shawl on the left hand side. There appears to be a tall yellow cliff on the right with a red waterfall and some green brush in the center. Where the woman’s hands would be are two reddish orange circles that I imagined were her palms filled with magical fire.

A short amount of research (wikipedia) revealed Morgan Le Fay, a legendary Irish sorceress that would make an excellent subject to write about. The only problem was finding a unique setting. For that, I used the yellow cliff and saw the possibility of setting this story in the old West, where orange and red cliffs abound. More research revealed that there was a mass migration to the Americas in the late 1830s due to a potato famine, which I could use to explain why she would have left Ireland to come to the old west.

This project was quickly becoming too big for a mere 1500 words and I sought a reasonable way to cut it down a bit. I discovered that the primary entertainment of the time was the “dime novel” which serialized the exploits of the time. You can find real text from the old dime novels online (which I did courtesy of the Stanford University Libraries collection) and hopefully I’ve captured their essence in this tale.

One thing that I really enjoyed was trying to capture the dialogue and pacing of the dime novels, as well as incorporate Irish/Gaelic phrasing gleaned from a sampling of Celtic folklore. If there are any errors, they are due to my haste or deliberately placed to not anger supernatural entities that typically wander the internet looking for trouble. Without further ado, here is my finished story submission…

THE LA FEY SISTERS, or Eyewitness to a Sorcerous Showdown
Chapter One: High Magic on the High Plains

Before you ask, there is no Chapter 2 (yet). I suspect there will be more in the future and if I do write them, I will put them up right here for you to read.

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How to Unleash Your “Spark” of Creativity

Yesterday marked the beginning of Spark Round 6 and I’ve given permission for another soul to dig into one of my precious stories to find inspiration of a sort.

What’s this “spark” thingie, you ask? Where are my manners – the Spark Project is a volunteer collaboration between artists and writers to produce new works based on your partner’s contribution. Created by Amy Souza in 2008, this event is held once a quarter and is open to writers and visual artists of all kinds.

This is my first time participating, so it is still a bit early to say how much this will help get my writing juices flowing. I am definitely inspired to write and the 10 day deadline doesn’t leave much room for my usual time-wasting antics (this blog excluded.)

I’ve got my partner’s artwork, so I guess it is time to start getting creative. I can hear the ol’ inner monkey sharpening pencils even now. Wish me luck.

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