My Favorite Sources of Inspiration

Truth is, I could never write every idea that came into my head. My subconscious is literally a roiling sea of ideas, thoughts, characters, and story lines that I’ve never really been able to control.

Telling an author, “Oh, you should really write the story of …” or “Oh, you should write a story with a beagle with super crime-solving skills” is counterproductive (thanks Jim for that suggestion). It is like telling an auto mechanic that since they can turn a wrench they should just go out and start working on Boeing 747s. Those are both mechanics, but different animals entirely. A story has to be your own if you are going to write it successfully. At least this is true for me.

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Inspiration surrounds!

Ideas for new story lines generally don’t come from people, at least not their mouths. I do find inspiration from people’s actions. Every time I see a news flash with the words ‘gruesome murder’ or ‘scene of horror’ in the news, I stop and read the story. Just like everyone, I draw from real life and use those examples to inform what I am working on at the moment.

Ideas have to have three things to make them viable in my mind.

  1. I have to have a story that is real enough to be at least believable at some level. I am not saying it can’t be outlandish, but it has to come with the element of ‘being possible’. I can write a story about a man who trains his pet elephant to kill people and they plot out the deaths in his apartment in Manhattan. However, I can write story about a serial killer who preys on elephant handlers at the zoo. The first idea would never work because you’d never find an apartment in New York large enough to accommodate a pet elephant.
  2. I need to feel for the characters in my proposed story. A serial killer has to have a compelling enough backstory that I can work with. The characters he hunts need to illicit some sort of emotion from you. It can be any emotion, but it has to be there and it has to be genuine. In The Dramatic Dead, the main character actually has a backstory (it is in the epilogue). He is the way he is because of a tragedy in his life. I don’t want you to sympathize with him, just understand what drove him to the point of his madness.
  3. It needs to have an ending. I have a friend, who is a famous author and he loves to leave you hanging on a thread as to what happens to the characters, dangling in the literary abyss. I hate that. Love his work, but hate how he leaves me on that ledge. If I’m going to write a novel, I need an ending. Sometimes I want to make sure you know everything is all right. Other times I will leave you with other emotions, but all matters are settled to one degree of satisfaction or another.

I have tons more stories than I can use. They are all floating around in my head at any given time with wild abandon. I don’t write them all down, although sometimes I do. I do have an idea notebook I bring with me to scribble down notes.

What about you, oh dear friends? Do you have any ideas? How about this, if we were going to write the perfect story line, what would it be? E-mail me your ideas at bryanthewriter@bryannowak.com

-Your Humble Servant,

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Review: The Night Parade

The Night ParadeThe Night Parade by Ronald Malfi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To be fair, Ronald Malfi is an award-winning author, and I would expect anything he wrote to be excellent. I recently read the book, The Night Parade. And I have to say, it didn’t disappoint. However, I really feel that Ronald Malfi owes me a drink. Why? Simple, there I was 34,000 feet above the ground bawling my eyes out on an airplane. It’s embarrassing, but it’s also a mark of excellence which makes Ronald Malfi a truly excellent author.

The Night Parade, is about a father and a daughter (David and Ellie) thrust into an unusual set of circumstances. The father, being a loving father, chooses to run from what he views is a dangerous government element to save his daughter from the people he is convinced killed his wife. There is something special about mom and daughter that make them desirable to the people in power.
It’s safe to say that this book is definitely not truly post apocalyptic, or dystopian in nature. It is something else completely and that is what makes it special. It is a functional world undergoing a crisis of biblical proportions which seems to have no real solution. Certainly the world has changed, and not necessarily for the better. David works hard to keep Ellie safe. Ellie, as it turns out, is really the one keeping them all safe in the end.

Now, turning why I think Ronald Malfi owes me a drink. The Night Parade masterfully pulls at your heartstrings when everything is all said and done. I find myself generally captivated, concern for, and aching for the characters in this book. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, that is the mark of a truly great author. I cared about David and Ellie as if they were friends. This is exactly why I balled my eyes out at 34,000 feet.

I highly recommend The Night Parade, and have no problems recommending it to anyone looking for a truly great read.

-Your Humble Servant,

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A little about Bryan the Writer: Service is critical to … someone.

I know someone who legitimately would not lift a finger to help anyone, or so he says. In reality, I think he does many things to help people, but if you ask him, he will tell you he doesn’t do anything. I believe in service. Those of you who have talked with me know I am a proud veteran and spent seventeen years in the military. I really enjoyed it and sometimes I miss it. I am way too old, and fat, to do that kind of thing today.

What you probably don’t know is that I actually served on the Fire Department in our little town of Excelsior, Minnesota for three years. I was a fire fighter and basic life support provider. Lots of calls answered and I had a great time. Service is important to me.

I am a Christian and serve with my church in a couple of different capacities and I want to share one particular story with you that really had an impact on me recently.

One of the things I do is take communion to our shut-in members. It doesn’t take much time. We take a small communion kit (already prepped for us) to the nursing/retirement home where the shut-in is and give them communion. I am a Lutheran and we treat communion as one of the sacraments so it is really an important thing to us. But, that is not the point of this blog. It is what happened afterward.

Getting old is hard and I really feel sad when I see some of these retirement homes. People are essentially confined to a small world. Granted, they are surrounded by people their own age, but they really lose the freedom that comes with being able to take their cars out to the surrounding world or even move the way they want. So, getting a visit from someone is really a treat.

I always do the same thing, I sit with them and talk a little before getting down to communion. I let them talk about whatever they want. They tell me about their kids, their husbands or wives, and one lady proudly told me about their dogs. I tell them a little about me and why I am there.

After providing communion to one woman and finishing up with prayers, I put my kit together to leave and she said something that stopped me in my tracks.

“Thank you so much, I needed this.”

It was such a shocking thing to hear that I had to take time to process what she said. She ‘needed this’. I am not sure if she specifically meant communion, the visit, the prayers or all of it but to her it was something she ‘needed’.

We equate ‘needing’ to the idea of food and water, but not normally to other things. She wasn’t using the phrase the same way someone talks about needing to charge their cell phone or needing to take a shower. In her eyes, it was clear that she gave our visit the same valuation as the things you need to sustain human life. To her, that interaction was as necessary as breathing.

Upon leaving the little apartment she shared with another woman, she looked different to me. Less stressed, happier than when we came in. Who are we to say what is and what isn’t truly life sustaining? Again, I make no claim as to what it was that she needed, but she found something in us that day. There was something in our visit that provided exactly the thing she was in greatest need of. As if the visit itself breathed sustaining life into her.

Service can be anything from helping a neighbor to collecting food for the food pantry. The simplest of acts can lead to the biggest of rewards. Who was the recipient of the reward? I’ll let you judge for yourself.

-Your Humble Servant,

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Review: Death is Long Overdue

Death is Long Overdue (Phee Jefferson #1)Death is Long Overdue by Amy E. Lilly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are times when you want what I call an Airplane Book. This is the kind of read that is not emotionally so entangling you stress over reading it and you have to put it down on occasion because it weighs you down like a brick. I call them Airplane Books because they are the kind of book you want on a prolonged airline flight. Death is Long Overdue, by Amy E Lilly is definitely an Airplane Book.

Ophelia, Phee to her friends, is the quintessential librarian. She loves her books and the building built to house them. She loves reading, old movies, and her cat. Mostly, she likes her predictable life. A predictable life, which turns upside-down when she decides to break into the home of a patron who refuses to return his overdue library books. She discovers him dead.

Phee is joined by a host of likable characters, two of whom are potential suitors, in a quest to uncover who has undertaken a murder spree in her little town.

I found the writing to be good, the characters to be relatable, and the story line moved along at a good pace. I actually read the entire book in one day.

It is definitely a cozy mystery in every sense of the word. Low on violence and gore, there are a couple of adult references, but they were mild. The character does have sex, but wasn’t overly graphic and it is well done. I would have no problem handing this to a young adult to read.

I was entertained and that is one of the best compliments I can pay any author.

If there is one criticism (and it is minor), I felt like Amy was rolling out characters in too quick a succession for my mind to really grasp their relevance. But that’s it … literally the only thing I saw that could have been improved.

I can highly recommend Death is Long Overdue by Amy E. Lilly.

-Your Humble Servant,

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Review: The Elephants of Style

The Elephants of Style: A Trunkload of Tips on the Big Issues and Gray Areas of Contemporary American EnglishThe Elephants of Style: A Trunkload of Tips on the Big Issues and Gray Areas of Contemporary American English by Bill Walsh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am a fiction writer who loves the paranormal thriller genera. While I read widely in my own genera, sometimes I have to step out of my regular fare and read something else. I picked up “The Elephants of Style” because it was recommended in an article I was reading about editing.

Bill Walsh is a masterful, and humorously opinionated, writer/editor. He tells you where he is stating fact, opinion, and also his way of viewing things. It is fascinating how we take certain aspects of the English language for granted and then we come across a situation where suddenly what we thought was true really isn’t.

This book is well written and fun. There are a few places where the editor speak is way above my head (that is why I hire an editor), but I plunged through it till the bitter end.

For those interested reading more about the stylistic wold that is the English language, I highly recommend it. It is one of those books you can pick up and put down in between reading projects. I also thing it is one of those things worth tabbing at points and maybe adding a few of your own highlights here and there when you find things interesting.

Again, well worth the read for those who make a living on the written word.

-Bryan the Writer

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Review: Greetings From Sunny Aluna

Greetings From Sunny AlunaGreetings From Sunny Aluna by Eric Lahti

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I always like to point out if I am already an existing fan of the author and anyone who knows me already knows I am a big fan of Eric Lahti. Eric hooked me with his Henchmen series and I have read his book, The Clockman, so it was perfectly natural that I would pick up Greetings From Sunny Aluna.

First, you have to understand that Eric is a masterful world builder and Aluna is a place I wouldn’t mind going to see. He paints two equal and opposite views. One of a city incredibly dangerous to those uninitiated in the ways of the darker side of Aluna. In the world that exists for the main protagonist Crow, he not only loves it but also feels at home there.

Things seem to go sideways in Aluna when a young boy, his pet dog, and his pet dinosaur (yes I said dinosaur) get taken from Earth to Aluna for their own protection. For those of you familiar with The Clockman, you will recognize some favorite characters. I personally would love to meet Mrs. Chow and dive into a bowl of her delicious noodles.

Eric not only has a way with world building, but he also has the uncanny ability to get you to care about the characters in my humble opinion, this is the mark of a truly great author. Without spoiling too much, something bad happens to one of the aforementioned characters, and it just about tears your heart out.

As each character rips and plunges their way through the world, you get to see that world through their eyes. You hear their thoughts, feel what they feel, and partake in every moment of their lives. This genuinely invests you in the storyline of Greetings From Sunny Aluna.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in science fiction, action adventure, or fantasy. However, I would also argue that the story-line itself is so engaging that anyone who is looking for a good general fiction read will find something in this latest work from Eric Lahti that they will enjoy.

-Your Humble Servant,

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Review: Horror 101: The Way Forward

Horror 101: The Way ForwardHorror 101: The Way Forward by Jack Ketchum

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Writing is a tough gig in many respects. It can take a year or more to bring your work to the point where people can see it. There are times of horrifying depression and moments of incredible highs. However, there is nothing I would rather do than to write novels for my small but growing fan base. So, when a book comes along to help me out with tips and thoughts on the subject of writing in my genera, I tend to listen up. Enter “Horror 101: The Way Forward”, by Crystal Lake Publishing.

Hearing advice from the experts not only confirms that I am on the right track, but also that I am likely being too hard on myself when I want nothing more than to be a great author right then and there. Truth be known, it can take ten or more years to become a commercial success and this book does a good job reminding the reader of that.

Well written by professionals in the business and expertly edited by Joe Mynhardt and Emma Audsley, these bits of advice and tales range from the silly to the serious. This is a wonderful aspect of this book as it will bring a smile to your face and is not so heavy you will feel like it is constantly pulling you down.

For anyone who is going to be writing in the Horror/Thriller/Suspense genera, I would highly recommend reading this book. In addition to practical advice, it will keep you well grounded in reality and give you the spiritual fortitude you need to just keep writing.

-Your Humbler Servant,

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