So To Honor Him – a tale of the drummer boy

Garishly-dressed drummer boy with Italian Greyhound.

This is more than a bit ugly. And why does he come with a dog?

Maybe it’s always been there, but a few years ago I started noticing a curious trend of Drummer Boy figures in Nativity sets. Had the carol become so prominent in our Christmas traditions that we were now including the recent and wholly fictional character in depictions of the scene? And why were so many of them oddly inappropriate to the setting? I was simultaneously a little weirded out and a little intrigued.

I’d always liked “The Carol of the Drum” at least a bit. It’s simple and not terribly authentic, but it’s got a decent message (“your best is your gift”) and anyway it’s catchy, pa-rum-pum-pum-pum. It was only written in 1941, allegedly based on a similar Czech song but the original (according to Wikipedia, anyway) has never been found. It probably has more to do with the carol “Patapan.”

It became hugely popular after the Von Trapp family (of The Sound of Music fame) recorded it and Harry Simeone recorded it two or three times, renaming it “The Little Drummer Boy.”

K.K. Davis' "The Little Drummer Boy"...

K.K. Davis’ original “Carol of the Drum” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So I’d always enjoyed the song. But it bothered me. I mean really, who plays a drum for a baby? Most of my time around infants is filled with admonishments to make no noise, lest we wake the sleeping screamer. I know people who even travel with white noise machines for their young children. And how did the Wise Men happen across a renegade drummer from an anachronistic military band? Because that’s how the kid is usually depicted in illustrations. And where are his parents, anyway?

If you want skip ahead to the story, jump to the bottom of the page.
If you want to hear about the research, read on for a bit.

This has bothered me off and on for years. And then I found my brain starting to do something about it. Where did this kid with the drum come from? Continue reading

Something Wicked, or How I Got Kicked Out of Book Club

Cover of "Something Wicked This Way Comes...

Cover of Something Wicked This Way Comes (film)

So Monday night I attended for the first time our local library’s book club. It may also have been my last.

The club was discussing Something Wicked This Way Comes, the creepy seasonal novel by Ray Bradbury. I’ve always felt vaguely guilty about not liking this novel quite as much as it probably deserves, but after listening to everyone else give their impressions, I felt like a positive fangirl. Oh, sure, a few enjoyed it, but at least half the group hadn’t even finished the book.

That’s not what got me into trouble, though. No, this particular session of book club offered dinner and a movie, and we watched the film adaptation for further discussion.

I realized I was both dominating the conversation and sounding rather negative, both of which I figured were bad for a first-timer, so I squelched myself a bit. And thus a blog post was born! But the comparison really does offer a really spectacular example of what removing the stakes and changing motivations can do for a story. Continue reading

Feminism & Writing

So the “f-word” is getting a lot of chatter this week, as Emma Watson spoke to the UN on Monday about feminism. Of course some people immediately threatened a nude photo leak (or manufacture, since apparently no one has legit nude photos of Watson) to bully her into being quiet. [see update below]

Way to prove Watson’s point exactly, people.

There are two fundamental problems here, and I can personally contribute to fixing only one of them. But I’ll explain them both. (And yes, this is still about stories!) Continue reading

Story Ideas from Life

ghostly hands translucent over keyboardSo, where do story ideas come from? For many writers, it’s stuff like this.

I live in the middle of acreage, surrounded by fields. No one could possibly reach our wi-fi, but it’s encrypted anyway. A thunderstorm darkened the sky and knocked out the power, so in the dim light I turned on my phone’s mobile hotspot to quickly save the blog post I was working on.

Alone in my house, thunder rolling, I glanced down at the phone screen and saw, “Two connected users.”

SPOILER: I’m okay, and there was no internet ghost or wi-fi burglar in my house. It turned out the tablet I’d used for notes at the weekend’s conference was still powered on and open to wi-fi. But it’s a good start for a story, you think?

Sherlock Holmes: Books, Basil, Benedict

Arthur Conan Doyle Español: Arthur Conan Doyle...

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This weekend I attended a nerdy conference. (What? I like nerdy conferences. I like nerdy stuff. I even like documentaries — the old informative kind, not the useless new History Channel kind.) This was a Sherlock Holmes conference, From Gillette to Brett: Basil, Benedict, and Beyond, focusing specifically on film, television, and radio adaptations of the Holmes canon.

But it wasn’t all just sitting around and listening to lectures, though of course we had those.
Continue reading

Guest Post: How to Salvage a Bad Writing Day

They happen. Some days, you just can’t squeeze out a sentence.

Maybe you just don’t have a clue what to say or how to say it today.

Maybe your brain is fried. “It’s December first,” I heard a bunch of NaNoWriMo participants say during a quiet post-November meeting. “We’re all out of words!”

Or maybe life smacks you upside the head, and we react in different ways. A few months ago, when my dog Shakespeare was diagnosed and given weeks to live, I pounded out a short story that afternoon (and it promptly sold). Last month, when I learned my dog Laev was probably coming out of remission even before her final scheduled chemo treatment, my NaNoWriMo graph flat-lined for nearly a week. It’s hard to say how things will affect us or our writing.

Bryan Cohen Author of 1,000 Creative Writing PromptsBut we need to recover and write on. So today we have a guest post from Bryan Cohen, whose new book 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts, Volume 2: More Ideas for Blogs, Scripts, Stories and More is now available on Amazon (and yes, he had a Volume 1 of 1,000 other prompts). Also, there’s a writing contest with big money, details at the bottom. Continue reading

Kitsune-Mochi: A Trimming

Sometimes there’s a really great line which just doesn’t work.

In this case, the line (from Kitsune-Mochi) doesn’t work because there’s no one to have the conversation with, or at least not at this level of informality and honesty. And the voice is wholly wrong for the rest of the book. But this exchange which never happened captures the mood and motivation exactly. Continue reading

Where Do Plot Ideas Come From?

There’s a joke among fiction writers about people who offer, “Hey, I’ve got a great idea for a book. You write it and then we’ll split the profits.”

There are a few problems with this, but one of the most obvious is that the idea is the easiest bit. It’s the writing that actually takes time. Ideas are everywhere.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a walk and look for plot ideas. How about last week’s Country Living Fair in Columbus, Ohio? Continue reading

Why Does Writing a Book Take So Long?

sticky notes color-coded for organizing plot during revisions

Shard & Shield undergoing color-coded revisions. Spoilers probably available if your monitor is sufficiently awesome.

A friend joked about my copious free time. “I mean, what do you have to do, really? You’re self-employed, so you can totally slack off there. And you’re writing a book, and that can’t be hard. I mean, really, how long can that take?”

He was joking about all of it, of course, which is why he’s still breathing. But he put forth a question which many people do ask less ironically — how long can writing a book take, really? (Seriously, just look at fans complaining about George R. R. Martin or Patrick Rothfuss needing time.)

That’s the wrong question — as NaNoWriMo and the 8-Hour Book Challenge prove, writing a story may not take long at all. But writing a good story does. Continue reading

The 8-Hour Book Challenge

Oh gosh. Hold on a sec and let me catch my breath.

Okay, author J.A. Konrath wrote a post on (among other things) maintaining the joy of creating without fussing over commercialism or perfectionism, and he ended with a challenge to create an entire book in just 8 hours.

That’s the entire book project. Writing, revising, formatting, creating a cover, and publishing. Complete.

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED. Continue reading