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I Went to a Writing Group - October 9th, 2019

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Sometimes it seems like life is one giant obstacle.


The prompt was about facing obstacles.

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When telling any story, the main character's desire is crucial. This desire forms the backbone of the plot, as the obstacles that prevent your character from achieving what they want and how your character responds to these obstacles drives the story.

Write a story or scene in which your protagonist faces an obstacle. What is this obstacle? How does it stand in the way of your character and what they desire? How does your character respond to this obstacle?

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Notice the name that I use in this story. I was thinking of Robert the Bruce, who was a Scottish king at one time, and Lenny Bruce, who was a legendary American comedian. Also, just before we started writing someone mentioned a town called Eden. And I'm reading "A Child's Garden of Verses" by Robert Louis Stevenson right now. I think all of that combined a bit in this story.

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Leon…

Leading a Writing Group - Session 10

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I only had two students for the writing group, but it went well.


The idea that we covered was personification. That's when you take something that isn't a person and make it seem like a person. In kids' cartoons this might be a singing and dancing carrot. In poetry this might be a cloud that is described as happy or sad. It is used a lot, and it's great.

The prompt for the day was "big tree." We talked about the biggest trees that we've seen. Neither of the girls have seen the redwoods or the sequoias, which are amazing, but they have encountered other rather large oaks and pines.

The youngest wrote about a dragon that was in the top of a tree. A person climbed up to help the dragon, named it Tiny, and fed it a cow.

The oldest wrote about a palm tree that was all alone, but who eventually was able to find his own kind. The tree was personified.

Here's what I did.

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Seventy-five dollars. Bucky von Buckminster would make seventy-five dollars…

Haunted Tunnels Under an Insane Asylum

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In Traverse City, Michigan there is an old insane asylum called the Grand Traverse Commons. Under the Commons there are old tunnels that some people say are haunted. A friend of mine saw the pictures of me in these tunnels and asked if I could write something about them, because he runs a publishing firm in Russia called Horroscope Press, and he's launching a magazine in the near future. I've been trying to think of what exactly to write, and now I've decided.


I've been thinking about writing a poem about this for a few weeks. I think it's a cool idea. But, it's going to be translated into Russian, and sometimes poetry doesn't work great for that. Although, my favorite poet is Ovid, and he wrote in Latin.

Today I sat down with some earplugs in to shut out the world and wrote six stanzas. I like them. I'm going to use that, embedded in a little prose opener, followed by a little explanation. I think it will make a good piece for a magazine. Let's see…

My Interview for "Darker" Magazine

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"Darker" is a leading horror magazine in Russia. The "Horror Without Borders" anthology that I've been working on with Oleg is out. In English it's available as an ebook. Since the anthology is out "Darker" asked for an interview.


It's an odd interview that works well. Since I don't know Russian it makes sense to do it this way. They sent Oleg a series of questions that he passed on to me. I read them, let them percolate in the back of my mind for a few weeks, and then wrote these answers and sent the document back to Oleg. He might even be the one translating it.

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Interview for DARKER Magazine – with Jeffrey Alexander Martin of JeffThinks.com

1 - During the work on stories from around the globe, have you had a chance to push the borders of horror, for yourself? Have you come across such exotic views on the genre that struck you? If so, could you give an example?

Stories are how we make sense of the world. Horror stories deal …

I Went to a Writing Group Today - September 25th, 2019

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The librarian that normally runs the group was away today. She had a meeting of librarians to attend. A secret meeting. I know the meeting was secret because the room they used was directly next to the room that we write in, and they kept the door shut. Naturally, the conversation turned to what devious things they could be doing behind closed doors. Cooking the books was suggested. That wasn't the official prompt though. The official prompt was - getting away with it.


Cooking the books is an idiom that means forging and faking financial documents and records. But the image that the phrase brings to mind is a literal one for me. Here's how my story went.

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Little Timmy was trying to pay attention to the teacher, but he couldn't. All he could think about was the workbook. Three-hundred and seven pages. Three-hundred and seven pages of questions, of fill-in-the-blanks, of short answer, short essay, long essay, multiple-choice, true or false, matching, and other f…

Leading a Writing Group - Session 9

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I had two new students, so the total was five for this session. The first thing we covered was the metaphorical concept of morality and colors. White characters are the good heroes. Black characters are the bad villains. And grey characters, well, those get interesting. What if someone does a bad thing for a good reason? Or a good thing for a bad reason? It was an interesting introductory discussion. The famous fantasy writer George R. R. Martin is known for flipping these symbolic colors in a literal interpretation, i.e. he has the good guys wear black and the bad guys wear white, and everyone's really a grey character. After discussing that concept, I gave the prompt for the day - genie.


One of the new students was a bit reluctant and inquired into whether the subject was quite limited. He wanted to know the specific parameters. He was relieved to learn that there aren't any. Just try to make an interesting narrative. That's it. If you can use the prompt, then that's…

I Went to a Writing Group Today - September 10th, 2019

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A picture and an assignment concerning gnomes. That was our prompt for the day.


The picture had two similar looking gnomes. One had a green hat. The other had a blue hat and sunglasses, and was giving the peace sign. The prompt read:

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Good writers bring their story characters to life. Choose one of these gnomes and give a detailed character description. Include physical characteristics as well as character traits, and likes and dislikes. Use your senses and vivid adjectives to bring the character to life.

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One of the most important things in writing, as in any art, is to know you can break the rules. They're more like guidelines. In the picture of the gnomes there is another gnome slightly visible in the background of the picture. I took this to be the mother of the two gnomes. You'll see how that works out in my short glimpse of a story.

I recently read "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave", and it's a great b…

Leading a Writing Group - Session 8

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I had four cards, each with a single word: King, Queen, Prince, Princess. Each of the kids drew their card, and then I was left with... Princess. I didn't particularly want to write a princess story at that moment, so I made her a bit unique. But, before we did the writing we covered an important writing subject.


When writing there are two basic sets of tools that you can choose from. You can use narrative devices like flashbacks, foreshadowing, and framing. These are tools that help you to structure your story. You can also use rhetorical devices like rhyming, alliteration, and assonance. These are tools that help you to structure your sentences and paragraphs. The best writers are good at using both narrative devices and rhetorical devices.

Bella drew the Queen card. She wrote a story about a princess that was shortly going to become queen because the queen was passing her position and power on to her daughter. But, the princess's aunt wanted power and was seeking to make bo…

I Went to a Writing Group Today - August 28th, 2019

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The prompt today was to create a poem based on the idea "Where I'm From".


I did two poems. The first one is light, the second one is a bit darker.

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Stranger in a known land
far from home
estranged from my clan
apart from my tribal band.

Surrounded by the unknown
cement, glass, steel, and stone
longing for home.

Sun through the tree leaves
the smell of bark.

Home in a forest.

Easy to find if you're looking
but difficult to see.

Follow your nose
that's where we'll be
cooking nothing nutritious.

Come visit the fudge game
Kenny the Elf's my name
the art of delicious
that's where I'm from.

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I didn't use punctuation at the end of the lines because I was reading these out loud at the meeting so it didn't matter at the time, and I just left them.

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Return
to the land of the lost

Forgotten
in darkness

Abandoned
by their host

Hope
evaporated into mist

Dreams
disintegrated into dust

Wishes
reduced to nothing

Red …

Leading a Writing Group - Session 7

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A crazy conversation. That was our prompt for the day. I went over the idea of dialogue attribution, or dialogue tags. That's where you make sure the reader knows who is saying what.


Lexi took us on a tour of a garden full of personified flowers. The different types of flowers had different personality characteristics. It reminded me a little of Lewis Carroll.

Xavier became trapped in the confines of his own mind and stalled out. We had a talk about it afterward.

Bella wrote about a student trying to convince his master, Master Fufu, to go to war. But the master didn't want to.

And, here's what I did.

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"Just jump, dude! Come on!"

"No."

The cliff wasn't that high, but the space at the bottom was narrow. Maybe too narrow. Jack was understandably hesitant. "I think you should go first, and then I'll go," he said to Jill.

Jill gave him a look. A look that said she didn't believe him, that she wouldn't take no for an an…

Poetry Bubbles Up From Within

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Some people claim that they can generate poetry when they want. It doesn't work that way for me. Poems just spring into my mind from I know not where. And, if I don't write them down then they float away just as fast, like waking from a dream that has been carried to you on the wind, and just as quickly goes forth into new lands.


A little poem struck me while I happened to be near one of my notebooks last week.

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Time is a mold,
into which we pour,
our heart and soul.

To fill up space,
with our lethal loves,
or suffer disgrace.

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I had recently seen "Antony and Cleopatra" by Shakespeare in the Rose Theatre at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp. Maybe that's why another one hit me.

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'Tis possible to lead,
even in a life of strife.

To plant the seed,
even when we bleed,
nay because.

To take a zero,
and not by multiply,
or regenerate,
but to create,
life;
which grows,
therein are born,
heroes.

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I had a meeting to get to ab…

A Moment on the Lips with Lord Byron

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It was recently pointed out to me by a friend that there is a chocolate bar that has a poem inside of the wrapper. The poem that I took notice of was "To M" by Lord Byron. I decided to extend it just a bit.


First, this is from Lord Byron.

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Oh! did those eyes, instead of fire,
With bright, but mild affection shine:
Though they might kindle less desire,
Love, more than mortal, would be thine.

For thou art form'd so heavenly fair,
Howe'er those orbs may wildly beam,
We must admire, but still despair;
That fatal glance forbids esteem.

When Nature stamp'd thy beauteous birth,
So much perfection in thee shone,
She fear'd that, too divine for earth,
The skies might claim thee for their own.

Therefore, to guard her dearest work,
Lest angels might dispute the prize,
She bade a secret lightning lurk,
Within those once celestial eyes.

These might the boldest Sylph appall,
When gleaming with meridian blaze;
Thy beauty must enrapture all;
But who can dare thi…

I Went to a Writing Group Today - August 14th, 2019

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Analiese pulled the writing prompts out of a hat today. Each prompt was different. The hat was a glittery Irish hat, one of those festive ones for St. Patrick's Day. I made a few jokes about Leprechauns, that caught on, a few more people talked about Leprechauns, and then I couldn't get it out of my head. Yes, I mentioned the speech I gave about my family being descended from Leprechauns and winning the frog trophy.


Here's my entire prompt.

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What if...

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The three dots are an ellipsis. That's the important part of this prompt, it's where the mysteries and the possibilities lie.

I sat staring at my blank sheet of paper for a few minutes. I didn't want to write about Leprechauns because I thought someone else might because of our discussion, and... it was just too obvious. But, nothing else would come to mind, so I began.

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"Alright McDuffy, I see that you're upset, and maybe that's reasonable, but I think we can …

Leading a Writing Group - Session 6

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Our prompt went through three evolutions. First, I proposed the idea of interstitials. That's where a sentence has dialogue, then description, then dialogue again. I just think they're cool, and therefore feel like everyone would be interested in them. I also think it lets you see how much a single sentence can really do. Since it didn't seem popular I went to option number two, a scene where the hero and the villain meet for the first time. But, I was asked if the scene could be people other than the hero and the villain meeting. And, of course, I think artistic creativity must necessarily be flexible. Our prompt ended up being, a meeting of two characters.


Xavier did well. We had a small discussion last time about how I don't expect a certain thing to come out of the writing, I don't require anyone to follow the prompts, but I do expect effort. That turned out well. He came up with this story where the names were a mixture of crazy letters. I think that comes fro…

My Music List; Or, What I Listen to While I'm Writing

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I'd heard about people that listen to music while they're writing. I thought it was crazy.


I was taking a writing class from Shonda Rhimes a couple of years ago. She wrote the tv show "Grey's Anatomy", along with a number of other tv shows. She mentioned that she listens to music while writing. "How odd," I thought. It seems like you would need to focus, and you couldn't while music was blaring in your ears.

Maybe she listens to classical music or something. It seems like having words ringing through your head while you're trying to write would be difficult. Nope. Shonda Rhimes listens to heavy metal while she writes. Crazy. That is, until I tried it.

Probably around a year ago now I decided to listen to a few of my favorite songs while trying to write. Just as an experiment. I wrote faster and better. I was surprised. Now, I almost always listen to music while I write. I can write anywhere, any time, but I prefer to be standing in front of a co…

A Story for Henry

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I've told the school that I teach online for repeatedly that the book they have for Henry is too difficult. They won't change it, and I can't change it. It's a complete disservice for the student and the parent. So, I decided to fix it by writing my own story for Henry to read.


It's difficult to make a story on the spot that's exactly at the correct reading level for a student, but I came fairly close on this one, closer than the textbook that I was given. The ideal is to push the student's abilities, just a little. When I went through a course for a volunteer reading program in Muskegon they recommended to read at the level where the student is correct 90 percent of the time, and is stretching themselves 10 percent of the time. Fair enough.

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The cat saw a bird.

The bird was in a tree.

The cat wanted to get the bird.

So he climbed the tree.

When he got to the top, the bird flew away.

The cat looked down at the ground.

It was a long way down.

Th…

A Poem for Henry

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I was teaching Henry online. We had finished reading the book for the class. I asked what he wanted to do: write, ask questions, etc. He wanted to write. I asked if he wanted to write a story. He said that he wanted to write a poem.



Henry came up with this, with a little help.

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A fox
has blue and white,
socks.

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Since he likes foxes I decided to extend that theme and see what happens.

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The fox
trapped in a box
for all of seeming eternity.

Constrained and restrained
boxed within
finding no relief.

He seeks freedom
and finds a wall instead,
and so he struggles
before he goes to bed.

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There are some good insights into the zoological nature of insomnia based on the thoughts of Desmond Morris contained in that little poem.

Then we drew octopuses in the last two minutes of class.

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Read more of what Jeff deems worthy of attention at: http://www.JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com

I Went to a Writing Group Today - July 24th, 2019

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The official prompt for today was "bucket." But, there was some chaos at the meeting. In the next room there was a drawing class full of kids learning to draw knights and dragons. It looked pretty cool. We only had 3 small tables to work with, so the logistics were a little awkward. I jokingly suggested that the prompt might be "chaos." Analiese liked the idea and so the official prompt became "bucket and/or chaos."


I wanted to use the ideas of "knight, dragon, bucket, chaos" all in one. Here's how it went down.

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Hazing was officially against the university's policies. So this wasn't hazing. It was considered an initiation. Officially, it was recorded as "voluntary after-class extracurricular participation." The word voluntary was misleading.

There's no real reason to feed a dragon by hand. And Kaos wasn't a nice dragon. In the pamphlets given out to parents at visitations his personality was labeled as…

Leading a Writing Group - Session 5

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There are many ways to tell stories.


I wanted to introduce the idea of using fictional reference material in a story. So, the prompt was to use a letter in the story. I went over a few different ideas on how you could do this: a letter on a table, in the mail, nailed to a tree, on the ground, a text message, a whiteboard, etc. I also reminded everyone that I make the rules, but included in my rules is that you can break the rules. If something strikes you, write what you want. The important thing is to try hard, to write something down, to keep going.

I, myself, was surprised at the direction my story went. Here it is.

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John Carter of Manhatten was walking home from a movie premiere. The air was crisp and smelled of pollution, as cities do.

A light wind picked up and blew garbage from one sidewalk, across the road, and into the fence on the other side, like a city tumbleweed.

John Carter of Manhatten loved the city. The sights, the sounds, the people, the smell. He stoppe…

I Went to a Writing Group Two Weeks Ago - July 10th, 2019

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Why didn't I write this article two weeks ago? I don't know. I could say I've been busy, because I have been. I even officiated my third wedding this last Saturday. But, that's not the real reason. The real reason is that I fell into a more contemplative as opposed to productive mood. I do that sometimes, but we're not diving into that in this article. In this article there is a story to behold.


Analiese had a type of sentence stem this week. (This might really be more like a fill in the blank question, but I figured I'd include a reference to the work of psychologist Nathaniel Brandon anyway.) Here's the prompt she gave us.

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Complete the following sentence and write a scene or story that begins with it: "It's strange to think that I never would have known about ___________ if I hadn't taken that left turn."

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How do I get ideas? No one really knows the answer to that. Things just happen, then... ideas. One little …

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