The Serpent Wore Cute Earrings

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Alys seems to float over to me, passing by the other coffee shop patrons and leaving a wake of incredulous stares behind her. Her pentagram clinks gently against its chain as she settles into the overstuffed chair across from me, covering the pink and green floral print with the mass of her black ceremonial robes.
“You have questions for me?” She asks before I can even formally begin the interview.
I tell her that is why I am here, after all, and she merely steeples her fingers in response. For almost a full minute, she says nothing at all. Stuttering, I begin with the toughest question:
“People seem to believe you’re the head of a secret society that engages in blood sacrifice, orgies, dark magic, and… hmm… watching Jon Waters’ Pink Flamingos at dinner parties on weekends. What do you have to say about these vicious rumors?”
“All true.” She nods and leans back, her robe shifting slightly to reveal a blindingly pale ankle. “Except for the bit about the movie. Last weekend we watched Groundhog Day. It was a delightful romp of a film.”
“I see.” I don’t, actually, but it seems like the thing to say.
“So there is, in fact, blood sacrifice?”
“Of course. Just before refreshments and canapés.”
I feel my eyes go wide. “You begin the night with a death?”
“It’s only proper. Haven’t you ever read Melinda Blackhearth’s Guide to Hosting an Illuminati Gathering? It’s my bible.” She scowls for a moment, backpedaling. “If I had a bible that is. Down with the Bible. Boo, hiss, etcetera.”
Toying with her earrings (upside-down crosses, of course) as she thinks, I find I am horrified by her blatant disregard for that thing most of us do called Not Killing People During Secret Society Parties. She must have noticed my alarmed shudder as she looks up then and speaks again.
“You should come to one of my galas.” She says, glaring at me in a fashion that suggests that this is not so much an invitation as it is an order. I am strangely unsure if my curiosity will win out over my common sense and desire to live.
“That would be…” I hesitate, chanting to myself that I must refuse her invitation somehow. “…would be… lovely. Thank you.”
What have I done? I chug some burning hot coffee to try and hide my shock but only end up scalding my tongue and tearing up in both eyes for my trouble.
Alys Grimm leans back and smiles. It is cold and reptilian and I am strangely drawn to it.
“I think you will like this gathering. It will be special,” She winds a strand of her hair slowly, tightly, around her forefinger, “I am to be honored with the new role of High Priestess, after all. It will be such a celebration! People will just die to be a part of the ceremony.”
Dear god. What have I gotten myself into?

Hellsgate, New Mexico: Introduction

Daryl Wilcox died on March the 23rd, 1903 at 1:27pm. At about 3:00 that same day, he took his usual stool at Flack’s tavern and ordered himself a white whiskey. The hole blown through his gut made drinking a little messy but the barkeep was used to this kind of incident. Ralph toweled up the mess and then stuffed the soaked rag into Wilcox’s missing middle. He nodded his thanks to the barkeep and ordered up another drink. A double.

These things happen sometimes in the town of Hellsgate, New Mexico. The dead don’t always stay dead, the living don’t usually stay living, night and day never are too reliable, and folks who hear or see strange things most likely have the right of it. The massive pit outside of town leads straight to Hades, after all, so mind your horses and watch where you’re stepping. And don’t mind the howling of the damned at night – you get used to it.

Welcome to Hellsgate.

Tear It Down With Your Perfectly Manicured Robotic Hands

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Ladies, you have a little less than 4 weeks left in which to destroy Science Fiction. I wish you luck and only good hair days.

Check out Lightspeed Magazine‘s upcoming June double-issue called Women Destroy Science Fiction and consider submitting your own work. Let history remember you as someone who fought to tear down the long-beloved and (apparently) male owned and dominated genre known as sci-fi. Read the editor’s note about the issue and learn about the submission guidelines.

I’ll be submitting a Weird West tale called Widowmaker 1898, which I of course hope will be considered for publication. Won’t you join me in destroying science fiction?

Show Up. Shut Up. Put Up.

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(OR An Accidental Part 2 to Remind Your Brain Who’s Boss)

Having examined how the creative process works inside of the brain (at least briefly and from the standpoint of a severe laywoman), it’s time to figure out how better to train the creative mind to be more productive. As someone who writes as a profession, I really should be writing every day.

I’m not. Most days, sure. If I had my ‘druthers, I’d love to sit and write fairly consistently for 4-6 hours a day, every day. I don’t have that kind of time most days or, if we are being honest, maybe I don’t make that time. Between dealing with a chronic illness and pain, housework, and caring for our three parrots, I don’t have much quiet and uninterrupted down time to just focus on work.

If you are a writer who sits and works 6, 7, 8 hours a day most every day, I salute you. That’s fantastic. If you’re more like me, you might also be wondering how to improve those writing habits. And that’s what they are, aren’t they? Habits. Without an office job with regular hours and pay, it’s up to the individual to just plant his or her butt in a chair and write. With no absolute promise of pay more often than not, consistently working on a writing project can seem daunting.

Being creative is easy. Being consistent is what’s difficult.

I used to work in kitchens. I’m actually trained as a pastry chef! And if there is one line of work that requires consistency above all else (don’t let Food Network fool you with its pretty, well-lit home kitchens because those are a LIE), it’s the world of the restaurant kitchen. That was a low-paying job that required showing up 6 days a week for 10 or more hours of intense physical labor each day and you didn’t have room to mess around with being creative in the grind of daily work.

I developed a mantra for myself when I was having a tough time working through pain or fatigue or frustration and I think it works here, too. If the first part of this article duo was about the physical/chemical aspect of the creative brain, then this part is about the more physical part of writing consistently.

Show up. Shut up. Put up.

It looks simple, doesn’t it? It isn’t always or we would all do it merrily and constantly. Life gets in the way – trust me, I know – but forming habits that put life on pause to be productive is the key.

Show Up.

No, really. That’s it. His is probably the easiest step of all. My illness has kept me from holding down a 9-5 but I can write and work from home! Whatever Show Up means to you, it’s time to do it. No excuses. Get there.

Shut Up.

This is where it gets hard. In the kitchen, this was very literal – no back talk, no excuses, just keep your head down and work. In this case, the question is more about avoiding distraction. Close Facebook and twitter and tumblr and all of that good stuff and just work. Reward yourself every 30 or 45 minutes if you need to (I know I do) with some silly browsing, a snack, or just dancing around your kitchen like an idiot for a few minutes. Whatever works. But when it comes to work, it’s time to Shut Up.

Put Up.

Do the work. Do it. Make goals, work toward them, and (this is the most important bit) finish things. Publishers don’t want to accept 2/3 of your masterpiece brat American novel so you had better actually complete that manuscript. Start small if you need to. Write twitter posts on a professional account. Make blog posts (hint hint!). Write flash fiction or short stories or personal essays or creative non-fiction. Decide on something to do and dot it.

Show up. Shut up. Put up. Now lets see what you can do, Internet!

Remind Your Brain Who’s Boss

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Why do we always get our best ideas in the shower? While driving? Just before falling asleep at night?

It’s one of nature’s cruel jokes, I think, but it’s undeniable fact that the brain is more creative when loosened up a bit. Neuroscientists tell us that the three keys to a flow of creative ideas (even if we don’t consider ourselves a “creative” person): increased dopamine levels, distraction, and being in a relaxed state. It’s no wonder, then, that my natural habitat during creative writing usually involves a dark room, a snuggie (don’t you judge me), and a glass of wine. 

Brains are happiest and most likely to give us the good stuff when they’re happy, too. That means dopamine is being released, much like it would be when we’re exercising, having sex, listening to music, or taking a shower. Neurologist Alice Faherty even argues that some people are built to be more creative than others, depending on “activity levels of the dopamine pathways of the limbic system.” So remember: a happy brain makes a happy writer. 

Freeing up the subconscious from its usual tasks of problem-solving and stopping us from walking into walls gives it the opportunity to dig deep and find creative seeds it’s been burying all day. Something as simple as getting into the shower after a day at the office can trigger a big change in the way our brains work. With this “incubation period” for ideas in full swing, seeds of ideas can start to take root in the conscious mind instead of all of the usual worries of the day.

When our brains are jamming on alpha waves (when the brain is, or is in a state close to sleeping) we get a chance to focus internally instead of on the people and world around us. It’s not just sleep that can bring this state of deep relaxation on; soothing, familiar, repetitive tasks help us achieve this sort of mental quiet when we’re better in touch with our intuition. With the phone off and the responsibilities of the day just out of reach, we are able to better cultivate the creative ideas that have been looming just below the surface.

So. The keys to helping those creative juices flow are doing something that makes us feel good (dopamine), being distracted from the everyday (distraction/incubation), and being relaxed while doing something familiar or nothing at all (alpha waves). Whether that yields the next Great American Novel or not is no sure thing but let’s be honest here – at the worst, you’ll have just had a relaxing afternoon.

Now that’s for creative writing, might I remind you. When I’m editing or just slamming out articles, I work best in public, loaded with coffee, and jamming to some mindless music. I better crank up the EDM in my headphones since I’ve got about half of a fantasy novel left to edit and make line notes on. Bring it home, Zedd!

Articles Read, Referenced, and Otherwise Enjoyed for this Piece:

http://lifehacker.com/5987858/the-science-behind-creative-ideas

http://blog.bufferapp.com/why-we-have-our-best-ideas-in-the-shower-the-science-of-creativity

http://www.finerminds.com/mind-power/brain-waves/