April 02, 2015

The Writer's Arena, Redux.

I have the extreme pleasure of regularly serving at one of the judges at the weekly one-on-one writing contest at TheWritersArena.com. Shortly after the site was founded, I also competed. A few weeks ago I was asked to compete again, this time against the formidable Joseph Devon.

Since I’m the sort of person who loves DVD extras, so in that spirit, I thought I’d offer a couple of thoughts on how I wrote my story “Rites of Spring.”

Unlike the first time I competed in The Writer’s Arena, this time I had worked before in the subgenre of the challenge. I had the following 100 word story (drabble) win an online contest:

The Deal
  Leaves rustle.
   “Most unusual.” Northrop touches the knot. “The sap looks like…blood.”
   The bark-covered pustule oozes, coating Northrop’s fingers. He can’t pull them away.
   “Denis, a little help.”
   The sap burns. The knot sucks down his hand to the wrist.
   “Sorry, professor. Had to get a shovel.”
   As Northrop turns, Denis bashes his head in. It takes him the rest of the afternoon to dismember the body and bury it at the base of the tree. He wipes his brow and looks up to the topmost branches.
   “One more and you let my brother go, right?”
   Leaves rustle.

I also have a carnivorous plant story that I am trying to get published. For a millisecond, I contemplated turning in that story. But of course that would be contrary to the spirit of the Arena. I would write something new in the allotted time.

But what? I’m a definite fan of the Carnivorous Plants subgenre. I first fell in love with the trope -- not counting learning about carnivorous plants in nature -- by reading H. G. Wells’s delightful “The Flowering of the Strange Orchid.” In my thinking about what to write, I also had John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids and Warren Fahey’s Fragment in the back of my mind. Also in my personal mix were things like the Tom Baker Doctor Who episode The Seeds of Doom and Alan Moore’s take on Swamp Thing.

As all this suggests, I had the problem of too many ideas! That’s when I hit upon the thought of using a series of quotations. I could incorporate several of these different ways of viewing carnivorous plants into a single story. The goal was to make the Sefer Etz Hayim a kind of botanical Necronomicon.

“Rites of Spring” is an example of haiku fiction in several ways. The title alludes to Stravinsky, and his musical treatment of pagan sacrifices. The quotes from the fictitious book are meant to do more than just set the tone; rather, they provide further information about the behind-the-scenes world of the story. My hope is that, by seeing events both from Stephen’s point of view and from Brit’s, the reader can triangulate a deeper understanding of the story.

Oh, and just for fun, I used the Medieval Alchemist Name Generator tweeted out by the Arena to come up with the name “Zacharias Glass.” I combined a couple of results to do so, but I did use the generator.

I alternated between writing the scenes with Brit and composing the passages from Stephen’s book until I had a complete draft. It took a while to wrestle the story into shape in my longhand draft. Then I typed up and printed out a copy of the story to work on the edits. A surprisingly fun ten days.

I hope that you enjoy the results!

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