Guest Spot

No post today, check out a guest spot I did on Blue Ink Alchemy.


Dream Sequences

Little do we know that he is dreaming of world domination...and fish.

Many authors have used dream sequences in fiction to do some exposition without blatantly telling the reader what happened in the past.  Nancy Collins has done this in one of the best sequences I have ever read, showing the tormented, innocent past of her vampire Sonja Blue without making her explain it to someone else.  In fact, we are left guessing whether she ever tells anyone out right what happened to make her a vampire, except for the demon that did it to her.

The dream sequence its self is a fantastic writing device, if a little trite.  True, nobody wants a huge hunk of exposition in the middle of a moving story, but sometimes, it needs to be there.  The problem with a dream sequence is balance.

A writer might be tempted to spill out every single secret a character has in the middle of the dream sequence for one simple reason.  Nobody but the reader will know.  None of the other characters will realize that the main protagonist has been through a lifetime of abuse or was brutalized, making them the person they are now.  Everyone but the reader is left in the dark, to have such surprises come on them when it is most dramatic.

But what does that leave for the reader?  What kind of attachment can one have to a character who holds no intrigue?  While the argument could be made that a reader is more attached to a character after learning all of his or her secrets, it takes the tension out of the story.  Who would know whether Sonja had the strength to stop Morgan or not at the end of Midnight Blue if they had not seen what he had done to her?

The balance of putting in a dream sequence will be different for everyone.  Whether it is simple flashes of a mediocre past, or a chapter-long look into the character’s psyche, it is a writing device that while slightly clichéd, is also easy to use, and can be done in hundreds of creative ways.

So is the power of dreams.

Cake By Any Other Hands

I could do this. With some time, money, strawberries, cake, and Duff Goldman.

I rarely purchase bakery cake.

There are two reasons for this.  One is because bakery cake gets expensive, and two is because I think I can make pretty good cake on my own.  I’ve been told that my cake is life altering.  This got me thinking this morning as I stood in line for the bakery cake I had ordered and paid through the nose for, about writing and how it can be a lot like ordering cake, or making it yourself.

First there is convenience.  Starting with ideas that other people have come up with is convenient as hell.  Fanfiction is a prime example of this.  You are allowed to take a world that already has rules and characters, and make it into something that pleases you with a minimum of fuss.  Sure, you are sacrificing artistic integrity, but is it any worse than paying $32.99 for  cake a shade of chartreuse that you could not manage in your own kitchen?  It is also handy to know that you can always go back to the source work, and siphon off just a little more if need be.

On the other side of the convenience coin is satisfaction.  Does it satisfy you to work within someone else’s world and rules, just like it satisfies you to bring in a beautiful cake to work, say on the last day of your department’s long-suffering temp (so sorry Ashley) and then have to admit you got it at a bakery?  The spice of satisfaction, the essence of being able to claim something as your own is gone.  Nobody will ooh and ahh over your confectionary skills, because in the end, you did nothing but pay for the damn thing.  The same thing, in concept, can be said about writing using someone else’s source-work.

Now, I can hear you all saying:  “But Monica, what about things you have enjoyed, like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies“?  Okay, I admit I enjoyed it.  But I don’t have any respect for the author.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to remove the words peasants and townspeople and replace them with zombies, scourges, and the undead.  That’s what the fine and replace feature is for in Word.  The fact of the matter is, you can’t be as satisfied with such an endeavor.

Before I get any angry comments, I will admit, there is something satisfying about writing fanfiction or amalgams of a new idea and something already published.  You get to finish the story the way you would have preferred.  You no longer have to rely on your imaginary endings to make things go right.  And you get to see your favorite characters in adventures that the author may never have considered.  In the end, you could come up with something seriously clever and entertaining and even better, profitable.

But in the end, you have bakery cake.  You have someone else’s work with your name on it.  And that, my friends, smells like the stench of mediocrity that follows Lindsay Lohan around like a blind poodle.

Take some pride.  Write it yourself.  Bake your own cake.  And get the kudos you so desperately deserve.

These Boots Were Made For Walkin’

Walking in these shoes requires a bunion on the left first toe...


Sometimes, it just takes the right pair of shoes to get me into character.

I never feel as good in pretty flip flops as I do in a set of black leather boots complete with grommets and straps to pull them on with.  And as irreverent as it is, shoes are important for characters too.

Think of your most dainty, frilly character.  Now put him or her in a pair of steel-toed work boots and try to write him or her the same way.  The same goes for your toughest ass-kicking, name taking he-man of a she-woman.  Does it fit to have him or her in a pair of Buster Browns or Farragamo heels?  Even if for humor’s sake, I’m willing to bed that it makes those characters harder to write.

I wore my big black boots, certainly not my biggest pair, but big enough, to work today, and I felt like I could kick the ass of anyone in my way.  No, no; it has nothing to do with the endless frustration of working a menial desk job in an industry as cold and unfeeling as a speculum (life insurance).  Okay, maybe a little, but still, if I had been wearing flip flops, it would have never occurred to me to imagine what it would be like to kick the living shit out of the sycophantic little ass kisser in the customer service department.

Clothing and especially footwear can set the mood for your characters and your stories.  A moment of peril can be symbolized by torn clothing or missing shoes.  Great joy can come from beautiful costume frocks and slippers with roses as big as dahlias.  Black is the perpetual color of mourning and bad assery, while white is perfect for the innocent or the super evil.  Some authors fear about writing about clothing and shoes too much, but there is a happy medium out there.

I swear.  There is.

Three paragraphs for one person’s appearance?  Okay.

Three paragraphs for one person’s blue button up shirt?  Not okay.

Get the idea?

On the same topic, the clothing or shoes do not even have to be all that special.  One item of clothing might be acceptably unique, but wracking your brain to give every single person a special “look” is a task reserved for those who write crappy self-insert fanfiction and manga artists.  To me, a long black trench is trumped in sexiness any day by a simple black button down shirt and jeans.

Keep your uber special, ultra rare, made of a fiber only found in one country on the entire planet, non-replaceable coats and gowns of silver lace for the costume ball that I’m sure is in your story later on anyway, you closeted Labyrinth fan you.  Allow the umbra of plain clothing to envelope you in its cold, uncreative embrace.

And hear the world cheer in relief.

One of my characters wears biker boots, but only chapters after she was forced to run down streets in her stiletto heels.  Did it make for good fiction?  Yeah, but only because I wrote in how painful it was for her, and how her poor choice in shoes effected the outcome of what happened shortly afterwards, just as wearing uncomfortable shoes to work would keep you from being affective.  Keep it in mind, folks, that while your boots may be for walking, they might not be right for your character’s path.

Chocolate Is Good Eats

I got to see my favorite episode of Good Eats the other day.  I’ll be the first to tell you that I am desperately in love with Alton Brown.  He’s kind of geeky, super smart, and on top of it all can make a badass chocolate ganache.  If I weren’t married to the most wonderful man in the world, Alton would be number two on my list (the number one spot is reserved for Batman).  There is nothing sexier in food and in writing than chocolate.  Aside from being versatile, it just slides on your tongue and down your throat, coating your insides in a way that I don’t even have to try and make sound sexy.

Think about it for a minute.  We bring chocolates on dates, we write about pouring chocolate syrup on someone else’s naughty bits for a bit of kink, and we indulge in it at all times for all reasons without stopping to think that it might be dirty or taboo.  Chocolate is the perfect drug, the perfect plot device, the perfect seduction tool, and the perfect ingredient.  And we take it for granted.

Try to imagine a world without chocolate.  Would Anne in Anne of Green Gables been nearly as endearing if she had not attempted to share her chocolate drops with her bosom chum Diana?  Would we care nearly as much about Nigella Lawson if we could not watch her sink her teeth into a toothsome chocolate cupcake without shame?  Would anyone have gone to see that piece of shit werewolf movie Blood and Chocolate if the title had not been so provocative?

Even eating chocolate is sexy.  The act its self is sinful, the way you can’t help but take the first luscious big bite so that you can get the flavor of it in every corner of your mouth.  Then after all that, you find yourself licking your fingers to get every last drop, every crumb while doing something extremely sexually stimulating.  And to top it off, you can do it alone, with one other person, or in front of an entire group.  Chocolate touches on almost every fetish out there, if you really want to get into it.

I get that not everyone cares about chocolate the way I do.  Not every woman in the world is a “chocoholic” and not every man in the world dreams of pouring a stream of Hershey’s over his partner’s quivering form during a session of extended foreplay.  But the next time you’re baking something with cocoa in it, just slowly lick your fingers and think about how good it feels to do so.  Or the next time you are writing, add in someone eating a piece of expensive, fine chocolate and how it would make them act.

And then go take a cold shower.


The theme is simple.

Baking and writing are two things I desperately love in life.  You should find some way to combine them.

This advice comes from a very wise friend that did not mean that I should write a cook book.  I am pretty sure John was talking more about connecting my passion for baked goods and my passion for bloody modern fantasy fiction.  So of course the first thing that came to mind was a serial killer that killed people and then baked in their kitchens as their blood seeped into the carpeting and made a mess of the hardwood beneath.

My first attempt did not go so well.

In fact, I am pretty sure I dropped it after two paragraphs because I knew in my heart of hearts that I was doing something that would enrage the baking gods.  And I had a cake to finish that night.

So we come to Poached Prose. 

I am not a professional baker.  I am self-taught, mostly from being planted firmly in front of the Food Network since I was seventeen and two loving grandmothers and one loving mother as well as perusing my mother’s battered edition of the Betty Crocker Cookbook that she received as a wedding gift more than three decades ago.  I don’t even own a cookbook.  The advent of the Internet has made it possible for me to fulfill my passion for baked pears and giant cupcake cake.

I am a professional writer, but the professional part is somewhere in my muddled past when I was more focused on not selling out than I was on keeping food on the table.  So now I work freelance and spend my day time at a day job where I struggle to keep my brain from imploding.

Good food and smart fiction are things that can turn me on faster than seeing my husband willingly hang up his towel.  I hope to see if somehow, somewhere, I might combine them into something that leaves me as satisfied as watching my husband struggle to do things that keep me from being irrationally pissed off.  We’ll just have to see.

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