How a near death experience inspired a story…

I am positive that near death experiences have inspired countless works of fiction and non-fiction.  I just never thought this would happen to me.

In my case it started out innocently enough; I woke up one morning with pain in my abdomen, severe pain, but even at that I didn’t think too much of it because until then I had been fine.  I tried to go about my business as usual but the pain prevented me from doing this so, reluctantly, I went to the emergency room.  The doctors there were very concerned and immediately began a series of test.  It turned out that I had a severe case of pancreaticitis caused by a dysfunctional gall bladder.  They told me that if I had waited a few days, my pancreas would have ruptured and I would have died.  A sudden shock to my pancreas would have sufficed as well.

After being admitted to the hospital, I was told that I could not eat or drink anything until my pancreas was cleared of all the poison in it; to reduce my pain and allow me to get by without food or drink, they started me on a saline IV and Morphine drip.  Essentially I went on a 4 day stoner because that is how long it took my pancreas to become stable enough to let the doctor go in in remove my offending gall bladder.

During this time, I was in and out of dream states almost to the point of hallucinating.  It was during one of these sessions that the oddest thing happened; a vision of a car that I owned years ago came into my mind.  It was a car that I had totally forgotten about, or so I thought.  What is more, the car was parked outside my then residence like it was always parked and to make things even stranger, a series of memories of this car continued with different views of the car parked in that spot. Some views were from the side, some from the back and so on.  After I returned to full consciousness, I remember this event and began to wonder why I still remembered this car and where these images were stored in my brain.

It took me several weeks to fully recover from this illness and during that time I was haunted by this question.  My mind mulled over a lot of possibilities but not being a doctor, I had no clear explanation and maybe a doctor would not have one either.  Then several ideas struck me: What if the brain really was like a computer and what if the brain could get clogged up with “files” like these memories of my old car?  What if this overload lead to debilitating conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease?  What if we could go in and clean out these files like you do on your computer?  Would that make your brain function better like deleting files on your computer makes it run faster?

At that point I had written my first two Detective Anderson mysteries (outlined in my blog posts I’m sorry, what did you say? and When a friend drives a story, but is not the story), now I wondered how all of these questions could involved Anderson and his team?

Well, throw in a “mad” scientist scorned by the local academia who is killed in a mysterious car wreck and then toss in the sexy owner of the Miami Dolphins (circa 1970) who pays Anderson a fortune to find out what really happened to him, then you have a wild rambling mystery that borders on science fiction. The story also introduces the hugely successful Anderson Detective Agency and a partner for Anderson.

And though the title of the story is one word, Images, at 19,324 words, it is the longest story that I have written to date.

Here is the On Borrowed Time book trailer that hints at this mystery:

Writing contests

Before I get started let me state the following: I think most “writing contests” on the Internet are frauds.   I think people start these “contests” just to rip off writers, especially young writers.  Anyone can start one easy enough, I know I could.  All I would have to do is dream up a fake “panel of judges”, charge a contest entry fee, set up a deadline for entries several months down the road, mock up a web page, state the amount of prize money, then put out repeated calls for entries.  Once the contest deadline is reached, I would pick a “winner” using the eenie, meenie, miney, mo system then send them some cash while pocketing the rest.  Quality would be irrelevant–I would even bother to let the “panel” read them.

Now, let me state this: Not all writing contest are fraudulent, some are real and on two occasions I did write fiction stories with a contest in mind and both times I wrote in a new genre.  One even went on to publication in the prestigious national magazine the Writer’s Journal.  

The first story called The Powers of Love (soon to be added to my book Angel and the Bear) was a sword and sorcery story that I entered in a contest held by the now defunct Writer’s Club. Sword and sorcery was the theme for this contest.  I knew it was a legitimate contest because at the time I was a Judge for the club (I later went on to be the Contest Coordinator).  Of course, I did recuse myself as a Judge for this contest and then I wrote the story which I thought was a pretty good effort.  It was a story about a young man, a child, who falls in love with a full grown woman.  Using potions he learned of as a Sorcerer’s Apprentice he turned himself into a grown man then professed his love for his intended.  The ending has a surprise twist to it that I thought was pretty clever.  Anyway, I sent it in under a pseudonym and hoped for the best.  Unfortunately, the other Judges didn’t think as highly of it as I did so the story did not win any of prizes we offered.  That was fine with me because I enjoyed writing the story and it helped me expand my repertoire of genres.

I entered the second story in a contest that was in a place you would not normally expect a writing contest to be.  I entered it into my local county fair along with the pigs, cows, ducks, and other livestock that usually come under the scrutiny of judges in this type of event.  I discovered the contest accidentally as I was poring over a fair catalog that was sent to me in the mail.  Apparently, this was the first year that writing would be part of the proceedings.

One of the categories was Humor and it just so happened that I had an idea for a story called Myron? The Hero?  about a nerdy young mamma’s boy who saves one of his friends from a killer almost in spite of his actions.  This was the first humorous story I had ever written.  I guess it was pretty good because I won the Blue Ribbon!  Fresh off the glow of this success, I brashly sent it to Writer’s Journal where it was published in September of 1996.  It is now available for reading enjoyment in Angel and the Bear.

So go ahead and write for contests if that is what you want to do because, as you can see, it can lead to other opportunities, just be sure to thoroughly vet the contest before you lay your money down.  In both cases above, no entry fee was required.

Research: You have to love it

Unless you are an authority on a certain subject, you may have to do a lot of research to write a story or article.  Articles, of course, are usually nothing but the facts (though Opinion is allowable) but fiction can be written without them.  The problem with that, though, is that you can write a story full of nothing but fantasy and lose a reader because they have no real reference points.  I find that hard facts make a fiction story more real to a reader no matter what genre it is written in.  Take Jurassic Park as an example; what occurred in the story is highly unlikely to ever really happen but due to all the scientific facts used in the writing of it, the story certainly makes it seem like it could happen at any minute and make you feel that it is happening somewhere in our world.

In an earlier blog post, I told you about the creation of my story Woman In Black, which tell the adventures of a time-tripping better half of the Men In Black society.  In this story, Debra, our heroine, is sent back in time to deal with a pesky alien known to the masses as Jack the Ripper.  Her job is to eliminate this alien because his presence caused too many disruptions in the future—or so she is lead to believe.  The problem with this is that you cannot drop a beautiful blonde assassin, who is an expert fighter, a dead shot, and who can slice an alien up in a minute using her very non-regulation Stiletto, into the middle of the Whitechapel District of London in 1888 and not have her stick out like a strobe light in a darkened room.

So in Debra’s Assignment Package, there was suitable clothing and money for the period but there was something else that I put in there as well.  I thought about the time and place and realized that Debra’s pattern of speech would make her stand out just as much as anything else.  Jack the Ripper hunted his victims in a very poor part of London where criminals of all types roamed.  His victims were mostly poor prostitutes that sold their wares just so they could get a roof for the night.  As such, most of the denizens of the Whitechapel district spoke Cockney English.

So I inserted a copy of  “Hanson’s Cockney-to-English Dictionary” into her Assignment Package and gave her a few days to learn her new language.  Fortunately, Debra is as smart as she is sexy so by the time it was time to transport her to the Ripper’s hunting grounds, she was proficient in the verse, so much so that the following conversation took place as she roamed the streets hoping to trap Jack into an attempt on her life before he could get to poor Polly Nichols, who was his first known victim:

“Very nice, neck down, ya know.  The boat face is a problem, but then I don’t ‘ave to look a’ it I ‘spose.”

Whirling at the comment, the tawdry looking woman retorted, “‘oo you talkin’ ’bout, guvna?  Take a butchers at this.  These’ll knock yer mincers out.”

She then pulled down her neckline showing a wealth of cleavage.

“Ain’t neve’ said y’ ain’t got a bit of a body on ya; nice arse an’ all.   But a plain one y’are, I say.  Maybe a bit o’ color would dice you up.”

“Ain’t neve’ touched the stuff, an’ I ain’t gonna start fer the likes of you.”

“Oh I’d duck, ya right enough, you witch.  But I got ta get home to the trouble ‘n strife.  Maybe it’ll be I’d pass this way again.”

“Right, you get to yer troubles, she’s got yer by the barnacle bills, she ‘as.  Go on, get it on ‘ome, I got my bees knees to attend to.”

The man gave her an angry glance, she tensed, ready to act, but he only cursed at her, pulled the knot tighter around his leather apron, and faded into the fog.  Probably heading home for a warm meal and a dry bed; something Debra wished she could do at that moment.

The reference to the man’s leather apron is nod to the only real suspect the police had in this case.  Not only was a mysterious stranger called Leather Apron by terrified prostitutes in the area, a leather apron was the usual garb of butchers in that day and age.

While I was researching Cockney I discovered that it was more of a code language criminals used as a way to speak openly around Coppers who supposedly did not understand it.

I think the addition of these realities into a wide ranging science fiction story gave it some credence; who knows, maybe Jack the Ripper really was an alien.

If you want to learn Cockney and translate the conversation above, here is a link to a great site that will help you:  http://www.freelang.net/dictionary/docs/html_cockney_english.php

To read up on Leather Apron, go here:  http://www.jack-the-ripper-walk.com/leather-apron.htm

Never throw anything away–ever! (Part 3)

I remember it as if it were yesterday and not 1989.  I was working at a small software company and we were in the middle of a boring meeting that I was trying not to sleep through when someone said something that woke me up.  They asked if the leap year, next year, would affect our program (it was a tax program).  This resulted in the following conversation:

ME: Leap years only occur every four years so the next one is in 1992, not next year.

QUESTIONER: You seem to know a lot about leap years.

ME: Well that is the way I designed them.

EVERYONE: Hahahahahahahahahahaha

After becoming fully awake, I made a joke of my faux pas which made everyone laugh harder and the meeting went on from there.  Though I tried, I could not go back to sleep because some questions kept nagging at me:

  1. What if I had designed them that way?
  2. What if I really were God and had the power to do that?
  3. Most of all what if I were God and I decided I didn’t want to be God anymore?
  4. What if I was tired of taking all the credit and blame for everything?
  5. What if I was fed up with all the pleadings I hear every second of the day?
  6. What if I just wanted to be a man and live out my life then die like all mortals do?

After all these questions, all I could do was write a story about it called Return To Eden.  I got all of five pages written when I hit the wall.  I know this because I just pulled it out of the drawer and checked.

Now, flash forward 13 years! 

It is now 2002 and I am working at a large insurance company.  At the moment I am having one of my frequent lunches with my friend Debra.  As usual, she is dressed in skin tight black clothing and her blonde hair is frizzed out as if she had just gotten out of bed.  She looked beautiful as usual.  We are laughing about something as we always did when I say to her, “Debra, I am going to write a story about you.”  Which makes her laugh even more.

That night I went home and started working on Woman In Black, the title story in a collection of short stories that are not currently available for purchase (but will be again soon).  I decide that Debra will be one of the better halves of the Men In Black except that my lady will also be a time-traveler who goes back in time to deal with pesky aliens that caused the future to be disrupted in some way.  Her assignment this time is to go back and kill that alien known as Jack the Ripper.

The first 7,000 words flew out of my fingertips and I was really having fun writing this because my real friend Debra was such a character; that brought my fictional character more to life.  Then I hit a wall.  This was a problem because I had kept the real Debra up to date on the story and suddenly I had nothing to report.  Writer’s block was something she didn’t believe in and she thought maybe I just didn’t like her anymore.  Well, I convinced her otherwise of that and so she began to sympathize with my problem while promising not to keep asking me for updates since that only made matters worse.

Flash forward another year.  Debra has forgotten about the story and I had also nearly done the same.

Woman In Black is in the drawer communing with Return To Eden and I am no closer to finishing it than I was when I put it in there.  Then one morning, as I lay half awake just letting thoughts drift in and out of my mind, the answer came to me: Just combine the two stories with Return to Eden being the ending of it.  I will be making this collection available again soon so you see the results two dead stories becoming one live story packed with action, adventure, and danger for Debra.  The real Debra loved it, by the way.

This is why I tell writers to never throw anything away–ever.  What may seem like a bad idea now may seem like a great one later on after you’ve acquired more knowledge.  I don’t think there is such as thing as a bad story idea, I just think that some are better than others.

This is the last post I will write on this subject.  In my next blog I will reveal the one question that every person needs to ask if he or she is going to be a writer.

Why I write like I do…

Unlike some authors,  I do not write in just one genre.  I let the story idea dictate which category it fits into so that way I do not force a hard edge sci-fi story like Life In The Fast Lane into a detective story such as A Notary Public Is Missing!.   

The late author, Michael Chricton, wrote the same way.  For example, would the theme of Jurassic Park fit into the storyline of Exposure?  That would be doubtful.  More than likely he, like me, had ideas about stories and wrote them in the genre that served them best.

Unlike this great author, though, I only write short stories.  I have tried to write novels but no idea will stick in my brain long enough to complete one.  I have to get stories out of my fractured mind before I forget what I am writing about.

One other thing about my writing is that I frequently create my stories and characters out of real-life situations and real people that I know.  I only change their names to protect me from the innocent.

For instance, the latest victim of The Prime Cut Killer in my story Tat is based on a real-life bartender who is every bit as beautiful as described in the story. When I showed her the final work, her only objection to it was that she was dead.  When I told her that she would be the lead supporting actress, and possible co-star, if the story were made into a movie, she dropped her objection.  Hollywood is waiting.

Not only that, the story Tat is based on a real-life incident that occurred in the very same bar where she works.

In this blog, I will be going behind the scenes of my works to reveal what lead me to write a story. I have given talks on this matter and people are often surprised at how little an incident needs to be to get me going.  Sometimes it is just a word or a sporadic action that lights the fire and, believe it or not, I never know in advance what it will be.

I will also be talking about the art of writing.  Not so much how to do it but how and where to find inspiration to do it along with examples from my life.  I will offer advice to new authors as well.