Pre-NaNoWriMo Writing Prompts

The difficult thing about writing prompts is that they’re all a bunch of grandstanding liars. They try to pass themselves off as Must Do‘s:

If you’re using this prompt, you must follow me to the letter, using all seven words or using this whatever-phrase exactly somewhere within the text or whatever other random nitpicky rules.

In reality, prompts are at their best when they simply help get you thinking, and then that thinking takes on a natural life of its own, regardless of whether or not you actually do use those demanded seven random words.

Bearing this in mind, if you’re looking for something to help get you lost in your own brainstorm, consider these starting points:

  • Which childhood memory unlocks something for you and which one locks something away?
  • She’s about to leave the house when she spots a key on the hook that she’s never seen before.
  • Walking back, she could’ve sworn she heard the old oak tree sneeze.
  • The noise woke him up—something like a bee, though at once more menacing as well as more lovely.
  • The candles wouldn’t light. Match after desperate match was struck, but still the candles wouldn’t light.
  • The pine cones shivered off the tree in a startling chorus, running away from the only home they’d ever known.
  • Hot water popped out of the mug as the teabag burst open, revealing that much more than leaves had been left to steep.
  • The churchgoers (pious and otherwise) settled their cakes, casseroles, and bowls of fruit-dotted jello out along the table that was all too small.

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Some Literary Weird (and Cool)

Attic Office (2)
I may be glad to be with the family…but I sure am missing my Baltimore office!

I’m currently in Texas visiting the Mead side of my Mead-Brewer family. It’s always a joy, but it’s a particular joy right now since I got to catch the final performance of my mother’s production of To Kill a Mockingbird with Allen’s Community Theatre—she’s a fantastic actress, playwright, and director—and then discuss publication possibilities with my father—an equally fantastic biology teacher, adventurer, and photographer—who is currently thinking about writing a book on evolution (which couldn’t come at a more ideal time given his connection paleoanthropologist to Dr. Lee Burger and the recent Rising Star cave discovery in South Africa).

So! To celebrate the fun of having and getting to visit with such a weird and creative family, I wanted to share with you all just a few instances of Literary Weird (and Cool!) to brighten and strange-up your day:

Rose Eveleth’s Smithsonian article, “There Are Whales Alive Today Who Were Born Before Moby Dick Was Written

In Alaska’s North Slope, the population of bowhead whales seems to be recovering. But that’s really not the coolest part of this Alaska Dispatch story. Instead, it’s…

Krishnadev Calamur’s Atlantic article, “Reading It for the Articles: Playboy magazine will no longer carry nudes

Next March, Playboy magazine will reveal a new redesign. What the magazine will no longer be revealing: nudes.

It’s a change the company is attributing to the ease with which nudity and pornography are available online.

“That battle has been fought and won,” Scott Flanders, the company’s chief executive, told The New York Times, which reported the story Tuesday morning. “You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture.” …

Sue Thomas’ Orion article, “10 Words Technology Borrowed from Nature

1. Ecosystem. The internet is often described as an ecosystem (or a sky, or a park, or a jungle), and many of its parts are named after the natural world. …

Jillian Capewell’s Bustle article, “11 Short Story Collections For Your Inner Magical Weirdo, Which You Should Embrace Wholeheartedly

It’s easy to understand why some people idealize childhood. Kids are expected — nay, encouraged! — to use their growing brains to think up stories, create castles out of blocks and crayon masterpieces from blank paper, turn a pointed finger into a laser gun. Getting older generally means trading in those skills for a focus on practicality.

This is not without its benefits. Life is more manageable when you no longer believe there is an evil troll hungry for your eyeballs living beneath your bed — but it does lose some of its charm, doesn’t it? …

Victoria McNally’s MTV News article, “Celebs Shakespeare-ifying Pop Songs Is Your New Favorite Thing

These days you only ever encounter the works of William Shakespeare in high school English class (and every now and then, on the big screen), but while the Bard was clearly a genius, he wasn’t as stuffy and classical as your teacher would have you believe. …

Have a weird day!

Books for this Halloween

First things first…the finalists for this year’s National Book Awards!


Image from NPR, “Finalists Unveiled For This Year’s National Book Awards”

I can personally recommend from this list: Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap, Sy Montgomery’s Soul of an Octopus, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.

timthumbDeborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy is a terrific read. It’s got everything—witches, vampires, alchemists, murder plots, politics, dragons (well, wyverns, as Diana Bishop would correct me), the works. Harkness is a wonderful author, full of humor and action, but my favorite part of this series by far is its science history.

Anne Rice is always a classic when it comes to the creeps and crawlies, and her Mayfair series has everything you could want in a Halloween-time read.


Things Withered smSusie Moloney’s Things Withered is spooky-meets-subtlety, capturing the eeriness of—as the title suggests—withering, of things not going according to plan, of things gradually, gruesomely dying.

For a fresh and truly haunting ghost story, definitely check out Jennifer McMahon’s The Winter People.


Stories, Spirits, & Talismans

As some of you may know, I’ve recently finished writing (and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting) my debut novel, The Fire Eaters, and I am now onto the next novel project with Caldera (another feminist, near-future scifi).

I didn’t realize it until just the other day in working on Caldera, however, that a trend running through both novels—as well as a number of my short stories—is the presence of different talisman animals. The Fire Eaters, for example, is threaded with tons of references to and ghosts of monstrous javelinas.

The forest at night was a thing to be wary of, a thing best not to get distracted in. Packed full of snakes, skinny-jawed coyotes, and trees that twisted up like arms from a grave, the forest was not known for its hospitality. It even had its own special brand of particularly large, particularly nasty javelinas—teeth like knives and snouts big as Marine boot heels.

The Fire Eaters, Prologue, excerpted in Used Gravitrons

The Fire Eaters is a place notorious for its wilds, ghosts, and sharp-toothed javelinas.

Caldera, likewise, is haunted. While a variety of animals make cameo appearances here—being set in Yellowstone Park, it’d be hard to avoid them even if I wanted to—it’s the spider that stands out as the talisman for this novel. Makes sense, I suppose, what with my protagonist being an entomologist.

Having these animals threaded throughout my stories might’ve been unconsciously done, but, I’ve come to find, is also essential to the development of the stories’ worlds and characters both. And just as the javelinas in The Fire Eaters embody the wilder and more magical elements of the novel’s protagonist and setting, so the spiders speak to the deadly, the beautiful, and the otherworldly in Caldera.

stairway spider
“A noiseless patient spider…” —Walt Whitman

Do you find that the same goes for your own writing? Are there creatures, spirits, or talismans that haunt your works and lend them power? Are there any animals in particular that you find inspiring, even if they don’t always end up featuring in your work?

Art and photography by K.C. Mead-Brewer

New Publication!

Quick word of yet more good news! My short story “New Skin”—an odd tale about a flirtatious, middle-aged fortuneteller and her lonely, sunburned daughter—has just been accepted for publication with Menacing Hedge, a truly weird (and weirdly great!) fiction magazine. Look for it this January!


Here’s just a quick taste of the story to come…

New Skin

By K.C. Mead-Brewer

Mom spent her summers drinking lemonade-tea cocktails on the front porch, smiling provocatively at fathers hurrying off to work or coming home late, and telling other peoples’ fortunes. Madame Peachy, they called her. Only, she didn’t read palms or crystal balls or tea leaves the way other witches did. My mom only ever saw the cosmos spelled out in piles of peeled sunburn skins. …

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