Launch Announcement!

October 8th, 2016

Hi Friends! A quick note to let you know my new book, Don’t Kill the Canary: Simple Strategies to Protect You, your Clients, Customers and Community from the Health Hazards of Everyday Products is now on sale at Amazon.com. Check it out and let me know what you think!

Getting Ideas: Characterization

April 22nd, 2009

Regarding the source of fictional ideas for writers, science fiction author, Michael Moorcock, once wrote: “Terry Pratchett claimed that his came from a warehouse in Croydon, England, while Harlan Ellison would tell people that his arrived every month from a mysterious mail-order place in Peoria, Illinois.[1]” Kidding aside, sometimes it can feel like there’s no inspiration to be found. Right?

If you’re coming up short of ideas, why not start by creating a character? Don’t worry about what she/he is going to do, what’s going to happen, or even where s/he lives. Just make up a character. Just have fun.

First, let’s give him a name. How about Sam? Okay, Sam it is. Now, is there anything unusual about Sam? Maybe he has a Roman nose, or a big wart or hawkish eyes. Perhaps he has a dry sense of humor. Imagine Sam in your mind and just write some things down. Do you like Sam? Would others? Is he a good guy or a bad guy? Maybe he’s ambiguous, confused, or terribly ordinary. Put whatever qualities you want. Again, just have fun.

Now that you know a little about Sam, how about filling in some back story? Where did he grow up? Does he have any siblings? What was/is his father like? His mother? Was he a country boy or a city slicker? Did he live uptown or in the slums? What time period does he live in? What universe? Did he have a happy childhood, feeling loved and accepted, or did he have an abusive parent in whose eyes he couldn’t do anything right? Maybe he grew out of test tube and had no parents at all. All these things affect your character’s values, behavior and motivations. Now, let’s write about Sam, shall we?

Sam looked out the grimy window of his cramped office, his brown eyes peering over that unmistakable Jewish nose of his that always got him in trouble. His mother used to say he couldn’t keep his nose out of anything. And she was right. Perhaps it was this innate curiosity that led Sam into his field. And also made him the best. Sam had more solved cases on the books, in just five years, than any other New York City detective.

See how easy? I just made it up off the top of my head. If a story or setting doesn’t pop into your mind right away, never fear. Just keep writing about your character. For instance:

Sam, a 32 year old Jewish man, was the middle child between two sisters, one three years his elder, the other two years younger. As a middle child, he might have felt ignored, had it not been for the fact that he was the only son and the apple of his mother’s eye. His parents, Russian-Jewish emigrants and skilled craftsmen, ran a small jewelry store downstairs from the 2-bedroom flat in which he grew up in the Bronx. Much of the jewelry they sold was mere baubles — trinkets for the lower class to appease an angry girlfriend or a cheap gift for Mother’s Day. But his father, Boris, also made fine custom jewelry for which he was known all around Manhattan. Sometimes, a famous person would even drop by, ordering a special piece for a wedding or other special event. Those days were exciting for Sam, who would hide behind the counter, watching the rich and famous converse easily with his dad. In spite of a thick Russian accent, Boris was good natured and affable with clients; Sam liked to think he got his people skills from those days that he watched his father at work.

This isn’t for others to read, so don’t worry about the quality of your prose. This is just back-story to prime your pump. If you get to know character well enough, you just might find a story popping up around her. And, when you do get around to writing it, you’ll be enabled to bring much more consistency and depth to your characters because they’ll be like old friends who you know all too well.

Til next time, happy writing!

© Ashandra-Aah, 2009. No part of this article may be copied, reposted, or reprinted without the author’s express permission.


[1] Moorcock, Michael. The Eternal Champion. Forward. Revised edition. 1987.

Word Fun

January 14th, 2009

A friend of mine sent me this: the Washington Post’s Mensa Invitational, which asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. I found it so amusing I thought I’d repeat it here for my readers. Feel free to add you own in the comments section.

Here are the winners:

  1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.
  2. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.
  3. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.
  4. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
  5. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high
  6. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.
  7. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
  8. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)
  9. Karmageddon: It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like, a serious bummer.
  10. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you
  11. Glibido: All talk and no action.
  12. Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
  13. Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.
  14. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.
  15. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you’re eating.

Book 2: Preview

October 20th, 2008

The Sword of Galithonel

Chapter 1

A low tree limb slapped Elayna in the face as she ran through the cold, dark night; rocks and spurs and needles cutting and scraping and poking her bare feet. Her long, red hair, bouncing like silky flames, hungrily licked at her slender hips. She spurred herself onward, her legs aching with the effort. How long had she been running? She dared not stop. They’d find her. They’d catch her.

They had come to her room, the three of them. Grabbing her arms and legs to cart her right from her bed! She’d fought hard, jerking convulsively and kicking with all her might, until the man at her feet could no longer hold. She slipped from his sweaty grip, swinging her legs around to kick the men at her wrists until they were spewing the vilest curses, yelling at each other to grab her tighter. Hit her – stop her! But she jerked and writhed and kicked like a mule gone mad, pummeling them with blows from frantic feet, until they, too, let her slip through their fingers. She leapt through the window, running into the night without shoes or coat or underthings.

Elayna ran and ran, then ran some more; her breath making frightened puffs of steam in the air as she went. Her lungs burned, her ribs ached, her heart pounding so hard it nearly bursting from her chest. Still, she heard nothing. I’ve made it… Dared she hope? Had she actually gotten away? She slowed, then wound to a stop; hands braced on knees, panting, as she scanned the surrounds warily. She tried to walk, but taking even one more step seemed such an impossible burden. She hobbled off the trail, bracing against a tall pine as her breath slowed and, finally, her heart as well. She dropped to the ground and, leaning her head on the tree, drifted into troubled sleep.

The sky was gray, and lacy mist danced along the path like a lonely wraith when Elayna awoke two hours later. Muscles she hadn’t even known she had ached and, upon trying to stand, screamed their protest. She looked about, but saw nothing. Nor was there any sound, save the morning chirps and quiet scuffles of forest creatures rising to go about their feral day. She paused, listening for many a heartbeat. Then hope slipped gingerly into her breast, apparent by only the faintest of smiles touching her lips. She had made it! She was free! The smile widened.

But wait! What was that?

Thunder?

She gazed to the sky, seeking signs of impending storm, but saw only a depressing, dull gray blanket of low-hanging clouds. More fog than anything.

The sound grew, louder still, and the earth began to tremble beneath Elayna’s feet. She lowered her face from the sky, her eyes darting up the path from whence she’d come.

Then she saw them….

Copyright 2008 Ashandra-Aah

Everyday Objects as Lenses of Creativity

September 17th, 2008

Did you ever think that the objects all around you could spark your imagination?

Too often, we take for granted the ordinary world and the mundane objects that compose it. So accustomed to them do we become, in fact, that we just about cease to see them! Our eye passes over millions of objects a day but, unless we have a real need, our conscious mind doesn’t notice. Selective perception – or filtering — they call it in psychology. To be a writer, however, we need to broaden our perception, to learn to notice the details. It’s time to wake up; to begin to notice, once again, the objects all around us and what they all mean.  So let’s start simple in this exercise and work up from there.

This writing exercise can be done in five minutes or fifty, depending on how involved you get. You’ll need a computer, or pen and paper for writing, and any object from your home.

Now, sit down with the object in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed and hold the object in your hand. If it’s too large to hold, place it before you on a table. Run your fingers over the surface, feeling the texture, temperature… Does it reflect light, absorb heat; have a smell? Close your eyes and let your mind wander. What does the smell, the sound — the feel of it — remind you of? Does it trigger a memory; ignite a thought? Write it down NOW.

EXAMPLE: I’m holding the fine ceramic tea cup, with red roses on the side. The edge is gilded in gold. I imagine it used to have a saucer too, but it got broken somewhere along the line… My mind wanders into a story about an old grandmother who used the cup every afternoon. Grandma would sit in her rocker in the sunny place by the window, looking out at her roses which surrounded the house with glorious fragrance all summer long. It was from this cozy spot that grand-mama dispensed wisdom to all would listen. I used to go every Wednesday and visit, bringing her groceries and mail on my way. As we sat and had tea and cookies (I had milk), she shared with me the stories of her childhood, the depression…how her father would work for a dollar a day, and how excited she and her siblings would get when he came home with a quart of milk and potatoes to eat. Grandma had lived through a lot, and she knew a lot too. A consummate reader, grandma always…

See? That only took me a minute and I’m off and running with a potential story. And so it goes…

Any old object can be an inspiration. Do you have a spatula? How about how you got spanked by grandpa when you were just wee lad? Got a painting? How about the starving artist struggling to make it in the poor village in Mexico? Got a mp3 player? How about a story of a runaway teenager, her only possession the mp3 player her mom got her for Christmas last year? See what I mean. Now, you go and try it.  :-)

Copyright 2008 Ashandra-Aah

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