One of the first questions a writer is asked is: where do you get your ideas?
For me, it can be a picture that inspires a quirky character who drives the narrative (as in The Department of Curiosities). For other stories it's a phrase that catches my imagination - as in 'An Eye for Detail' and Tomorrow, When I Die.
Documentaries seem to trigger ideas for many of my stories, tickling my imagination with 'what if'? I begin to formulate alternative explanations, especially if they can provide a mystery to intrigue the ever-curious Viola. Doctor Jack was one such story. What if Jack the Ripper was being organised by a secret society in their nefarious plot to take over the Empire? It almost wrote itself.
From the Depths was one such story. This time it was a documentary on the Loch Ness monster I had seen a few years ago. A story had been bubbling in the back of my brain, and Viola demanded she get her shot at it. After all, she'd need a holiday after her recent shenanigans. A holiday at the sea was the perfect tonic.
But what would happen if there was something lurking in the waters off St Andrew's beach? And the story was born.
"Viola needs a holiday. But even while on holiday at the beach … there are things afoot."
A Cog is Dead song inspired the title: From the Depths. Perfect.
The eBook of the novelette, From the Depths, should be available as eBook, later this week (barring electronic hiccups). Tomorrow, When I Die (also novelette) should be available as eBook the following week - just in time for it's launch at the Steampunk Festival on 19th August.
Each will be priced at $1.99 - as they are longer stories.
And here's an excerpt from From the Depths:A shriek pierced the air. Viola flinched. Brine filled her mouth and rushed up her nostrils. She spluttered, thrust her legs downward into the deep chilly water and kicked to keep her head above water.
Men shouted, their cries unintelligible through water-logged eardrums. The other bathing machine thundered into life. Chains rattled, the engine strained. Frenzied splashes of water accompanied its retreat.
The water trembled around her, pounding on her chest. Viola gasped for air. A new undercurrent tugged at her legs. She rubbed the salt from her eyes and searched the surrounding water. Nothing.v
Bubbles tickled her body and erupted on the surface. Something solid grazed her calf. Viola's heart jumped. The Lurker? Goosebumps crawled over her skin.
There's no such thing as monsters.Water rumbled and churned. Waves sloshed against her torso. She jerked her knees up to her chest, struggling to untangle her limbs from the snarl of the heavy woollen skirt of her bathing costume. There's no such thing as monsters. There's no such thing as monsters.
Viola shivered. She had drifted further from the bathing machine than she had thought; the candy-striped change box was nearly eighty yards away, the shore even more distant.
A crowd was gathering on the shoreline, waving their arms and shouting.
"Get out of the water!"
Two men swam toward her. Another bathing machine trundled in their wake. The sea hissed. Too close.
Spurts of water burst from the surface. A large shadow lurked beneath her.
Viola's heart raced, her breathing shallow. She wanted to run, to flee, to swim to the safety of the change box, but her arms refused to move.
There's no such thing as monsters.
The shadow turned and glided southward towards the headland. A trace of bubbles marked its course, fading as the shadow disappeared into deeper waters.
The two men splashed closer. Uncomfortably close. Their bare arms glowed white against the dark water.
"Get out of the water!"
Words and photos ©2017 Karen Carlisle. All rights reserved.
"What?" you ask. "How can you write through writers' block? Doesn't it mean you're stuck, and can't write?"
Well, yes... and no.
Here's how Cambridge dictionary defines writers block: the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.
I'm currently in the middle of writing the third (and last book) in the Adventures of Viola Stewart, The Illusioneer & Other Tales. The first story rolled onto the page. In From the Depths, Viola is in Scotland, recovering at a beach resort after her ordeals in Eye of the Beholder. Of course, she is swept up in a series of unexpected events. We meet a new character. This story ended up twice as long as previous shorts. I didn't want it to end.
I started on the next short story, Tomorrow, When I Die. This is a more convoluted story, requiring fiddling of ... (spoilers!) and some fun research on Victorian Christmas traditions. Then it happened. It crept up on me, taking me by surprise; the realisation that this was to be Viola's last set of (traditional) adventures.
("Gasp!" I hear you say.
Never fear, dear Reader, I have a few plans up my sleeve - but that's for another time, another blog.)
About this time, a late bout of dust-induced summer bronchitis hit. I felt like shite. Being ill is certainly not helpful when trying to build up the will-power to wade through the dreaded marshland I designate Writers' Block. I see it as a marshland as it is inconvenient, an impediment to moving forward and I must plan my way to proceed or sink further down.
First find the cause: why do I get writers' block?
I've thought about this in depth (perhaps way too much!). It seems to strike me at two different stages:
- When I'm staring at a blank page. I know the gist of the story. I can usually see the end scene in my head, the mood I want to create. But the words refuse to flow from my brain onto the screen. At this point, I am usually working pen on paper; words seem to flow better with a pen or pencil in my hand.
- when I am nearing the end of a story. I'm finally having fun. The characters are co-operating, even enjoying themselves. Then the penny drops; it has to end. I panic. I don't want it to end. I don't want to leave my characters behind. But I must. Perhaps if I don't write those final words...?
These are things I have to deal with. They are not new. In 2014, I had almost finished the first draft of what I thought would be my first novel, The Department of Curiosities. I had about four scenes to write. Crunch, the writers' block hit me. What was I to do? I started on a short story, (reviving) a character from An Eye to Detail, short listed the year before in Australian Literature Review's murder and mystery short story competition.
The block shifted. I kept writing Viola's s adventures with gusto (There were minor blocks but nothing as long-lasting as that with DOC.) I'm now ready - and can't wait - to return to The Department of Curiosity - my next project after The Illusioneer.
How do I Tackle Writers' Block?
I have a box of story ideas. I keep getting them. Not all are worthy of a full story, but they are there. I usually have at least three (sometimes four or five) stories on the go. When I hit the wall, I redirect my energies toward another story and let the original one bubble away in the background - ensuring I move forward, and not wallow.
This time I was side-tracked onto a story to submit to a (absent) Sherlock Holmes anthology: write a story in the Holmes mileaux, sans Sherlock himself.
Bang! The main character was there. Her enthusiasm was contagious. I could see, hear, smell the final scene. This short is now being polished with final edits and about to be submitted. Wish me luck. (And another series is born. I can't wait to write another story with my new detective and her soon-to-be-drafted side-kick. Though I need to finish The Illusioneer and the DOC first.)
Short stories are fantastic. They give me a brief holiday from my main project, just enough time to let the original story gurgle back up to the surface.
April is Camp NaNoWriMo and I'm ready to plunge Viola back into her adventures. I hope you'll join the ride.
Photo © 2017 Karen J Carlisle. All rights reserved.