Oct 31, 2015

Terribleminds Challenge: A Scary Story In Three Sentences

Halloween fun on Terribleminds today. Here's my story, and you can check out the rest here.

The creature is here; I can smell its fetid stench, rotting meat and engine oil, hear the whisper of its claws on the plascrete. I slam the dermspray into my thigh, and poison burns through my veins like ice. Time for your last meal, you bastard.

Shoggoth Cake and Scary Strawberries

I had a Halloween party on Friday, and here are some of the treats I came up with.

The Shoggoth cake was inspired by Where's My Shoggoth by Ian Thomas

Here's a close-up. 

I saw Christine McConnell's screamberries on her flickr page, and I had to try to make some. They're not nearly as nice as hers, but they did make my pumpkin pie a bit more interesting. 

Christine McConnell is amazing. If you need Halloween food inspiration, check out her flickr. Seriously, there's some amazing stuff there. The woman made an alien face hugger from pastry dough. Respect. I just found out that she has a cookbook available! I'm definitely getting that. 

The savouries were a bit more conventional. I made mushroom-fennel pizza with paprika-fried pumpkin seeds and roasted beet, pine nut, and chèvre pizza. The red pizza crust has pureed beets in it.  Both turned out nicely.

Happy Halloween!

Oct 29, 2015

At the Botanical Gardens

My godmother had her sixtieth birthday party at the Botanical Gardens in Ruissalo, Turku. It's the one place in Finland where it's always summer. I love visiting it in the winter months, but it's very nice in the fall, too, especially before the trees have lost all their leaves. Here are some pics.

Oct 28, 2015

Etymology Expeditions: The Halloween Edition part 2

This week we'll continue with the creepier side of etymology. Last week we did (un)dead creatures, so let's see about some live ones for this week.

Demon, from Latin daemon, "spirit," from Greek daimon "deity, divine power, lesser/guiding spirit" from Proto Indo-European root da- "to divide," as in divider of destinies. The "god of the heathens" or "unclean spirit" meaning gave root to a fun synonym in Old English: hellcniht, "hell-knight."

Werewolf, from Old Englis werewulf, from wer "man, male person" and wulf "wolf." In a similar vein we have Middle Dutch weerwolf, Old High German werwolf, and the Swedish varulf. Fun fact: in the ancient Persian calendar, the eighth month (October-November) was called Varkazana, Month of the Wolf-Men.

Witch we've done before, but what about warlock? It's from Old English  wærloga, "traitor, liar, enemy, devil," from wær "faith, fidelity, a compact" and the second element is related to leogan, to lie.  The original meaning seems to have been "oath-breaker," which was used of giants and cannibals also. The "in league with the devil" meaning is only from the 1300s. The "male equivalent of witch"  thing is from Scotland in the 1560s.

Creature of course comes from Latin creatura "thing created," but it doesn't say by whom. On a related note, the word monster comes from Old French monstre, "monster, monstrosity"  and directly from Latin monstrum "divine omen, portent, sign; abormal shape, monster, monstrosity,"  figuratively "repulsive character, object of dread, awful deed, abomination," from root monere "to warn. " The omen thing might seem strange, but you have to remember that at the time abnormal animals were regarded as portents of evil. The meaning was extended to imaginary animals like griffins etc. in 14th century. Remember Grendel from Beowulf? He was called an aglæca, a word related to aglæc "calamity, terror, distress, oppression." 

Not a creature, but let's do jack-o-lantern as a bonus. It's from the 1660s, a local name for the will-o-the-wisp, Latin igneous fatuus, "foolish fire." The carved pumpkin thing only added 1834 by the American English. 

Have a creepy and glorious Halloween! 



Oct 27, 2015

How Writers Write Fiction Week 3: Plot

What did I learn about plot?

Well, the main thing that stuck was that literary writers are apparently really, really scared of it, and as the class is directed at literary writers, that was the main perspective that was offered. For them, plot seems to be a necessary evil and not something to strive for.

A quote that came up a lot was this:

“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
E.L. Doctorow   

So, basically only the pantser (writing by the seat of your pants) perspective was shown, not the plotter one, which I think is a shame. Particularly the advice to just write the whole story without planning anything and then do a bunch of drafts over years and years to dig out your plot seemed kind of ludicrous to me.

Okay, fine. You want to do it the hard way, go right ahead, but I prefer to have a roadmap before I start out, and I don't think that should be made to feel cheap or tawdry, "something only genre writers do." I'm a genre writer. Yes, I'm a bit offended by your tone. 

I think outlining and learning about structure can be a great tool for writers, even literary ones.

Maybe this is why I struggle with reading literary novels?

Oct 26, 2015

Spine-Tingling Halloween Movies

When it comes to scary movies, my taste veers more towards supernatural horror, fairy tales, and Victoriana. Subtle is good; you'll find no splatter or slasher flicks here. (Although, I do have a soft spot for Scream. It's a growing-up-in-the-nineties thing.)

My favourite Halloween movies are by Tim Burton, big surprise. The Nightmare Before Christmas is the ultimate Halloween movie, but the others work, too. I forgot to include Sleepy Hollow in the picture, but that's probably my favourite after Nightmare

For the more fairy-tale minded amongst you, Labyrinth might do the trick. It's got everything: goblins, weird creatures, talking door knockers, and David Bowie as the Goblin King. *swoon*

Who you gonna call? You can't go wrong with Ghostbusters.

I love Alien and Aliens. No matter how many times I watch these, they're still among the scariest movies I've ever seen, and the special effects have stood the test of time. These have an added nostalgia bonus for me, because when I was a kid I'd sneak down to watch these and then have nightmares for the next three nights. I'm sure my parents were delighted. 

Don't you love old 50s creature features? Here's a few of my faves. The old Hammer Horror films are fun too. 

What about you guys? Any movie recs?

Oct 24, 2015

Darth Maul Cookies

My nephew's having his birthday party tomorrow, and I promised to bring something. He's obsessed with Star Wars, and Darth Maul is his favorite, so Darth Maul cookies it is.

I used this cookie recipe and the GingerDead Men cookie cutter I got at the Paris catacombs gift shop. (It makes perfect skeletons, because the other side has a stamp on it. I like to do chocolate cookies and pipe in the bones with white chocolate.) 

Then comes the fun part: decorating them.

My husband got these liqurice sticks to use as lightsabers:

I used fondant for the details like his horns. 

Here's the finished product:

They're far from perfect, but hopefully he'll recognize them...

How Writers Write Fiction Week Two: Cast and Dialogue

For week two we continued working on character, but the focus was on how to handle a larger cast. A concept that came up was interiority, meaning how deeply we get to see into the character. For the main character, we can see his emotions and thought on a deeper level, while for secondary or tertiary characters we don't go that far. If we go into the POV of a tertiary character, we might only see thoughts that tell us something about the main character. The secondary character falls somewhere in between.

Another thing that I learned to use is degrees of conflict. The conflict for the secondary and tertiary characters shouldn't be as big or complicated as that of the main character's.

We also talked about dialogue and how to differentiate your characters from each other using word choice, speech patterns, accents, dialects, emotional reactions, and the content of their dialogue. It's harder than it sounds. The ideal thing would be that the reader can always tell who is speaking just from the dialogue. That's what I'm aiming for, but I'm afraid I don't always succeed. I usually try to stay away from phonetic spelling. A word here or there is fine, but if there's too much it just becomes a pain to read.

The assignment was fun; I got to play with lots of different voices.

I'm loving the course so far, even though it's mainly meant for literary writers.

Up next week: plot!

Oct 23, 2015

DIY Halloween Wreath

I was supposed to be writing today. But then...

Something's missing. Hmm. 

Jen on Epbot put a top hat on hers...

Voila! A top hat. 

What a productive Friday I'm having...

What Does a Wyvern Skeleton Look Like?

Like this. Isn't he cute? I got him from Mythic Articulations, an Etsy shop that does 3D-printed skeletons of mythical beasts. I kind of want one of each.

Here's a bonus pic of his little friend. My husband brought him back from Germany as a present for me. Flowers, pssht. Chocolate? Boring. Dragons are the way to this girl's heart. 

Oh yeah, one of my drabbles is up on SpeckLit today. Clickety click here if you want to read it. 

Oct 22, 2015

Frozen Fairy Tales is Coming!

Frozen Fairy Tales is an upcoming fairy tale anthology from World Weaver Press, a joint venture with Enchanted Conversations: A Fairy Tale Magazine, and I've got a story in it called "A Heart of Winter."

 The anthology's due to launch on November 10th. I'll post more info when I get it.

By the way, Enchanted Conversations also has a fun flash fiction contest coming up, check it out here, if you want to participate.

Oct 21, 2015

Etymology Expeditions: The Halloween Edition part 1

I adore Halloween, in case you haven't noticed, so this will be a two-parter. Yes, we love our creepy ghoulies here at Curiousthings.

Here we go.

Ghost, from Old English ghast "breath, spirit, angel, demon; man, person." In Biblical use "soul, spirit, life." It's interesting that most Indo-European words for ghost double with reference to supernatural spirits. Most have a base sense of appearance, like Greek phantasma, French spectre, Polish widmo, and Old Slavonic videti.  Then there's the concept of coming back from the otherworld, like the French revenant.

Let's continue with Ghoul. It comes from the Arabic ghul, a spirit that robs graves and feeds on the bodies, from ghala "he seized."

Skeleton comes from Latin sceleton, "bones of the body," from Greek skeleton soma "dried-up mummy, skeleton." So skeleton actually means dried up. Their got the meaning of "bare outline" from the 1600s, hence expressions like skeleton crew, skeleton key.

I think zombies will fit right in here. The word comes from West African zumbi "fetish" and nzambi "god." Originally it was the name of a snake god, later meaning "reanimated corpse" in the voodoo cult.

We've got room for one more dead dried-up thing: Mummy, from Medieval Latin mumia, from Arabic mumiyah, "embalmed body," from Persian mumiya, "asphalt, from mum, "wax."

I've done a whole post on vampires and witches were explored in the fairy tale edition, so click the links to explore those if you want.

See you next week for part two.


Oct 20, 2015

Five Storytelling Lessons I learned From Crimson Peak

I saw Crimson Peak last week. I had high hopes. Guillermo Del Toro, Victorian ghost story, what could go wrong? The movie was beautiful and the actors did a good job, but it just didn't work for me. Here's my attempt to learn from the experience.

1) Don't show your monster from the beginning. What we don't see is scarier than what we do. (I wasn't a fan of the red skeletons. They felt more splatter horror than classy Victoriana.)

2) Go easy on the melodrama. Sometimes the movie went too far, even for me. It can feel unintentionally comical at times.

3) Be subtle with your metaphors. The butterfly/moth thing felt a bit too obvious to me, for example.

4) If you're doing a Victorian ghost story, or something else that's been done many times, give it a little twist. Crimson Peak felt a bit too predictable to me at times.

5) Watch your tone. The over-the-top violence just felt like it belonged in a different movie.

So, that's my two coppers.

What did you think?  

Oct 19, 2015

Scary Books For Halloween

It's that time of year again, so I thought I'd share some of my favourite scary books to get you in the mood for Halloween.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman isn't actually that scary, as it's a children's book, but I love it. Almost anything by Gaiman works, really. 

Here's a classic. Still works.

Joe Hill knows what he's doing. This is my favourite one of his books. The short story collection, 20th Century Ghosts, is pretty spine-chilling, too.  

You can count on Jim Butcher to deliver the creepy ghoulies.  As you can see I love these books to pieces. Literally. Dres-DEN, Dres-DEN, Dres-DEN!

Or you can try the old Victorian tales. Bram Stoker's Dracula is also one of my faves, but my edition has a stupid cover on it, so I didn't take a picture of that one. 

What's your favourite scary book?

Oct 18, 2015

Terribleminds Challenge: X meets Y, The Horror Edition

It's time for another Terribleminds challenge. We're smooshing two randomly selected concepts together again, and I got Back to the Future meets The Shining. It's supposed to be horror, but mine turned out more science fiction-y. I was in a bit of a time crunch, so I incorporated my Novoed course plot assignment into this as well. For that, I'm supposed to have a source of interior and exterior force impacting the characters. It had to be under 1,500 words, so this is a bit on the short side for the Terribleminds one, but, oh well... Hope you like it:)

Time After Time

Wide-eyed people rush past me. Desperation drives them forward, even though there’s nowhere to run. A child clutches a toy bear with one button-eye missing. She holds my gaze for a moment, her liquid eyes dark and solemn. The air is filled with smoke and terror and the sound of screams.
Time to go.
I hurry past the couple necking like there’s no tomorrow. There isn’t, for them. A boy sits in the middle of broken glass in the display window of a sweets shop, eating bright fruit candies from the chocolate castle resting on clouds of cotton candy. I leave them all to burn. This isn’t my first apocalypse. I can’t save them. Or I could, but I might inadvertently destroy the entire history of the human race in the process. So I won’t.
Then my heart freezes. I see a familiar shape. A figure, right hand missing from below the elbow joint, face badly burnt. A sonic blade hangs from its hand. How does it always find me? This time I had three whole weeks before it turned up. I don’t know what it wants; only that I can’t let it catch me. I turn tail and run, just like all the others.
 I round a corner, looking for the rusty iron grate blocking the way to the alley where I left the Icarus.  I hear explosions behind me and jump the grate, fumbling for the entry sequence. I glance back, and the figure approaches, an island of calm in this fiery hell. 54-indigo-doom, I think. For a moment I’m afraid I’m in the wrong place, or that the ship has left me to die, but then a door shimmers into being on a nearby recycling unit. I dive in and it seals behind me.
My heart hammering, I fumble with the safety straps, break a nail and curse. After sealing the doors I pull the control helmet on, lean back on the couch and finally allow myself a small sigh of relief. It can’t get in. I’m safe. Well, at least from my shadow. The apocalypse outside is another matter. 
The command module feels like being in a womb. I like enclosed spaces. That’s probably why they chose me. The cooling systems whir into action, their hum comforting and familiar. I see the map on the MindsEye screen and pick a destination at random . Anywhere but here.
The hum turns into a high-pitched scream.
We fade.

We land on a nice pseudo 18th century beach on one of the Outer Colonies, Triton’s Bounty. I bury my toes into the sand and watch the sunset. It looks exactly like the fires on Iago. I dig a few derms from my pocket, slap on one marked ‘whiskey.’ It’s not the same as the real thing, but it might relax me enough so I can sleep. The image of my shadow intrudes, its amorphous, shiny burns and the sonic blade. The sour stink of terror and smoke.
I won’t be getting much sleep tonight.
I crawl back inside the Icarus and try, anyway.

The next morning I’m grumpy and hung-over. I activate the MindsEye, check my instructions. Daedalus wants me to return to Iago, find out why their sun flared like that. Fine.  I’ll do it, but not today. I’ve got a time machine, for gods’ sake. There’s no hurry.

My derms run out after a week. It takes me another one to kick the shakes, but I do. Then, and only then, I program the fade to Iago, one day before the flares and the flamestorm. I figure that’s my best chance of finding something. I watch a few vids via MindsEye as I wait for the Icarus to finish its scans. Everything looks fine. A healthy, yellow sun, barely a third into its lifespan. I decide to come back tomorrow.
I land in a different alley, this one in the equator region. I don’t want to run into myself, because that would be bad. I need more derms, and a shot of the real stuff, if I can find it.
The bar is on the sand, and I sip my drink as the sun sinks into the sea. The alcohol has a strange metallic tang to it, probably from the planet’s water.  It’s not whiskey, but close enough. I wish I could load the Icarus up with bottles, but they’re just too heavy.
I’m pretty drunk by the time the shadow turns up; it gets close enough that I can see its shiny burns. It smiles, a grimace that shows a flash of warped teeth. One of the women in the bar screams as it activates its sonic blade. I stumble out of my chair and stumble towards the door. The other patrons slow it down, and I make it outside.
I’m almost at the Icarus, but then I trip. The sand leaves a metallic taste in my mouth when I spit it out.  I turn. The shadow is upon me. I can smell the reek of its festering wounds. It mixes with the scent of roasting fish and lemon from a barbecue down the beach.
“Get away from me!” I scream and scramble backwards, the smooth sand not giving my feet purchase.
The shadow mumbles something, but I can’t make it out.
It lifts the sonic blade. I can hear its song. Again, the thing tries to speak, but I don’t understand.
I roll away as the blade hits, but I’m not fast enough. There’s a blinding pain in my arm, then it’s just not there anymore. It’s a good thing I’m wearing three derms; they help to kill the pain. I can still function. Screaming, I kick at the thing’s legs. It falls. I struggle to my feet, clutching the seared stump that’s left of my arm.
The shadow thing cries something. I’m almost inside the Icarus, but I pause.
I think it said ‘murderer.’

I seal myself inside the Icarus and activate the emergency medical station. As the ship patches me up I try to think. It gets easier when the painkillers kick in.  What did it mean? I haven’t killed anyone, not really. I’ve left some to die, though.
Who did I kill?
Then the Icarus shudders. The emergency klaxon blares.
Hull breach imminent.
This ship can withstand almost anything, but somehow the shadow is tearing it apart. I try to activate the fade sequence. Thank the gods for the MindsEye. The ship chirps and whirs to life.
But something’s wrong. It’s unstable. The chronocore is going to blow. I use the emergency override to open the door. I’d rather take my chances with the shadow than wait for the explosion. We’ll both die if it doesn’t take off, so I order the ship to return to the last set of coordinates. Then I roll out.
The shadow comes at me. Now there’s no escape. It raises its blade.
I close my eyes.
Sand scatters on my face, but the blow doesn’t come.
I open my eyes only to see the shadow throw itself into the Icarus.
A searing blast of coolant slams into me. It burns. I stagger up, away from the ship.
Then they’re both gone.
I remember the last coordinates, somewhere in the star’s orbit.
After a few minutes, the flares start.

The sonic blade lies in the sand before me. I pick it up with my good arm. It doesn’t take me long to understand that I’m looping. Tears sear like acid on the burns, but I can’t stop crying.

I find the time machine parked under some palm trees like ferns. It isn’t difficult; I’m the one who parked it there. First, I go back to Tritons Bounty. Then I make a list of all the times I saw the shadow. I’m not going to accept this. I’m not going to chase myself. How ridiculous! I’m sure I can come up with a better plan.  I refuse to think of the billions who died on Iago. It’s not real. I can stop it, I know I can. That’s probably why Daedalus gave me another ship. I haven’t contacted them, and I’m not going to.  Too many variables already. I’m going to talk some sense into myself, but first I have to find me. It’s easy. I know where I’ll be.

I wear a hat and prosthetic when I go into the bar, but when I get there, I realize I needn’t have bothered. I see myself, passed out in the corner booth. Perfect. I help the younger me up, and grab her purse. Fortunately the bar isn’t far from the apartment.
It’s morning when she wakes. I hand her a glass of juice and slap a derm on her arm.
She groans.
“I know how you feel. Don’t be afraid, I’m not going to hurt you. We just need to talk.”
Sipping her juice, she nods.



Oct 16, 2015

Vintage Robots

I love robots, and here's a couple from my collection. These guys are vintage, and both still work.

Have a great weekend!

Oct 15, 2015

What's Your Favorite Writing Quote?

Glossophilia did a post on writing quotes, and my favorite one made the list:

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
        - Mark Twain

Check out the rest here.

Oct 14, 2015

Etymology Expeditions: Spaced Out

In honour of the Far Orbit Apogee anthology, I thought we'd explore the final frontier today, or at least word associated with it.

Space as in "area, room" comes from Old French espace, meaning "period of time, distance, interval," from Latin spatium "room, area, distance of time." The astronomical term has existed only from the 1700s.

We all know the planets in our solar system are named after Roman gods, so I won't dig deeper into that one, but what about the word planet itself? It comes from Old English planete, from Old French planete from Late Latin planeta, from Greek asteres planetai,"wandering stars."

The word Moon comes from Old English mona, from photo-Germanic menon, meaning "moon, month." The Greek selene comes from selas "light, brightness (of heavenly bodies.)"

Star comes from Old English sterra meaning "star," from Proto-Germanic sterron. The root is from Proto-Indo-European ster- perhaps from "to stew, scatter," or maybe borrowing from Akkadian istar, meaning Venus.

What about aliens then? The word alien comes from Old French alien, "strange, foreign," from Latin alienus "of or belonging to another, foreign strange." The meaning "not of the Earth" was only recorded in 1920.

Apogee, the point when a celestial body is the farthest from the Earth, from French apogée, originally from Greek apo (far) + Gaion (Earth).  Perigee is almost the same, but peri means near.

Supernova, from Latin super (over, above) +  nova from Latin novus, new. Nova was used to describe a star previously unknown, so that's the logic behind the name.

That's all, folks. Happy star-gazing:)