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rapture origin story, part 2

OK, so I wrote a short story about a junky sprouting wings, called it “Fix,” got it published, and got a pretty good reaction whenever I read it in public. Then what? Well, I got to thinking: what if I expanded the story by having the "wing thing" happen to more people? How would that change, well, everything? And so I started thinking about the implications, one of which was, whatever I came up with would probably have to be a novel. The only problem was, I really didn’t feel ready to write a whole novel. Short stories were what I had time for, and so I kept writing them and getting them rejected, all the while thinking that one of these days, I’d have to write that novel about people sprouting wings.

Fast forward to the New Years Eve just before the beginning of 1993. I was at a party with some friends, talking about what we’d like to do in the coming year. I decided to mention my idea for a novel about people sprouting wings and the folks around me freaked and started brainstorming all sorts of implications. It was clear that they like the idea. Luckily, two days later, I was on my way to my first-ever arts colony, called Ragdale, in Lake Forest, Illinois for a two week residency during which I intended to work on a collection of short stories. Except… well, at dinner that first night, as we were introducing ourselves and what we planned to work on, the other fiction writers all seemed to be working on novels. So, just making conversation, I mentioned the idea I’d had for a while about people sprouting… etc. And it was just like New Years Eve all over again: people – including published novelists – freaked, saying among other things that “a publisher would buy that in a heart beat.”

So, I went back to my room and thought, well, if I were to write this novel, how would I start? And the next morning, I started writing the first draft of what I called “The Angel Blues,” and which my publisher eventually called “Rapture.”

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rapture origin story, part 1

I’ve been asked to write about where the ideas for Rapture and Vamped came from, which is actually too long for a single blog post so I’ll do a couple over the next few days, starting with the idea for the short story that eventually evolved into Rapture, called “Fix.” I was living in Fairbanks, Alaska at the time, attending the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, working toward my Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. I was stranded on campus during the Christmas break, when anybody with any sense had left town, leaving me the only person living in an eight storey building, subsisting for a month on Snickers, tuna fish, and vodka.

I didn’t see or talk to anyone for about a month, and had a hard time telling day from night, especially since it was pitch dark by two, whether AM or PM. I’d begun reading junky literature at the time – Naked Lunch by William Burroughs, and The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll – and was trying to think of something to write for my thesis, a collection of short stories.

And that’s when I noticed a book lying on the floor of my dorm room, featuring the image of a naked, sylph-like woman with leonine blonde hair, surrounded by ribbons to hide her nipples and a large wing, censoring her anatomy somewhat further south. It was such a visual non-sequitur that I had to laugh:

“Why a wing?” I laughed. “Where’d that come from?”

And then I started thinking about wings just popping in out of the blue. I imagined a young woman, suddenly finding herself with a large pair of inconvenient wings on her back. I made her a junky because that’s what I’d been reading about, and decided to use the wings as a metaphor for addiction, with the main character being forced to give up heroin (she stood out to much while trying to score) only to become just as fatally addicted to flight. I called the story “Fix,” and it was published in the Fall-Winter 1986 edition of the Alaska Quarterly Review. After that, I began reading the story at public readings and whenever I did, it always got a great reaction, once even a standing ovation.

So, I knew I had something. The question for the next ten years was: what?

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ask away...

Hi folks. As sad as it is to admit for a writer, I'm having a hard time coming up with suitable things to blog about, though blog I know I must, to build a platform, blah, blah, blah. So I've decided to do what I do when I'm asked to speak to a bunch of students and don't know what to say; I'm opening the floor to questions. So: what's on your minds out there in the blogosphere? I promise to answer all questions that don't involve one or both of the following: 1) where are the bodies hidden and 2) what's your credit card number? Other than that, I'm pretty open. Do you wonder where I got a certain idea? Ask. Want to know how I got published? Ditto. Curious about the wonders of my hometown? So am I. But what the hell, ask, and I'll answer -- to the best of my ability. Let's have some fun, okay?
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Where do you get your ideas?

Happy fall!

To hear other writers on the topic, it’s easy to conclude that the single, most despised question an author can be asked is, “Where do you get your ideas?” Personally, I don’t know what the problem is. Either you can try a sincere answer, or, failing that, you can always shrug, mumble some rubbish about muses, or straight up mock the questioner by saying something like, “New Jersey.”

Me, I prefer the sincere approach. For specific works, there’s usually a specific inspiration, like a bit of a song lyric heard while driving to my day job at 5:30 in the morning, something I’ve heard a million times, but never really thought about until, one morning, I find myself mulling. That’s what a lot of inspiration comes down to in my case: mulling. I start taking an idea apart, looking at it from different angles, trying to unpack the clichés before inverting them to come up with something new. I do a lot of “what-iffing” while I’m mulling, like “What if…” people suddenly started growing wings? Or “What if…” vampires became the majority?

Or sometimes I just get mad at something I’ve seen or read. Anger is an excellent source of inspiration, particularly if it’s over a story you think was done wrong. “Well, that was just stupid,” I find myself thinking on a fairly regular basis. “What they should’ve done was…” and there I am, another story idea in the making.

So, how about you? Everybody has ideas, even if they don’t lead to stories. Where do you get your ideas? Is there anything you do, to increase the likelihood that inspiration will strike?
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To blog or not to blog...

Author glimpsed emerging from the shell of his former self

Hello and welcome to my first-ever blog post! Woo-hoo!

Now what?

I’ve never blogged before and have resisted it for much the same reason I’ve never been able to keep a diary – I’m not all that interesting to myself. Or really, because I’m lazy. The only daily writing routine I’ve ever been even modestly successful at has been when I’m in the midst of a novel and it’s going well. Those are the days when I can’t wait to get up and start writing. Those are the days – in fact – that I am awakened by the need to write. I’ll find myself bolt upright in bed, fumbling for my glasses, stumbling into my kitchen, turning on my word processor so I can jot down the brilliant solution to some novelistic corner I’ve backed myself into.

Those kinds of writing days are delirious, and marked by a sort of dominoes of ideas. I’ll jot one down, save, then go back to my morning routine only to stop and rush back, another juicy idea having popped into my head. If you’ve never jumped out of a shower to run still naked to your computer because something you’ve just thought MUST BE PRESERVED, well, then you’re probably a mentally stable and healthy individual, but you’ll never know the maddening joy that comes with being a writer.

Of course, most writing days aren’t like that. Most writing days are a long, tooth-pulling slog toward mediocrity. And when those writing days lack the forward momentum of a long narrative arc – when those writing days begin with another brand new project which you’ve yet to formulate – those are the kinds of writing days that make you wish you’d taken up carpentry.

So yeah. Blogging. I’m a little scared, but what the hell. It’s not like anything you put on the Internet hangs around forever. Oh, wait…

: )

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