Elves and Magpies: The Mysterious Ways Writers Tap Into Rich Veins of Inspiration

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the pods of people who support and sustain our lives. Pods of family members, pods of friends, and (in my case) pods of people who are obsessed with writing fiction. The writer group is made up of people that I know personally and others whose work I admire and who give me a greater understanding of the craft.

I turned to the writer pod recently to gather some thoughts about an enigma when it comes to fiction. It involves a question that writers get asked all the time but many of us find it hard to answer: Where do you get your ideas?

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The Comparison Trap: How to Get Back on Track When Others Succeed

There once was a belly dancer named Carmen. She wowed crowds from Coney Island to Cairo. Really hot men dropped at her feet when she did the Turkish Figure Eight. They didn’t call her Magic Hips for nothin’. Another dancer named Stardust won the International Belly Dance Championship, and Carmen was back a ways in the rankings. She just couldn’t curb her sense of despair and jealousy. She felt like calling the whole shimmy-thing off. Maybe she should just become a bookkeeper for her shady uncle’s dump truck biz like he always wanted.

My fictional Carmen just danced into a very particular circle of hell: comparing herself to someone with similar aspirations who scored a coveted victory.

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‘Where Then Is Paradise?’ — Reflections on Asteroids, Putin, Scarcity, and Love

You may have heard the news that scientists uncovered new understandings about the asteroid that hit planet Earth 66 million years ago, destroying three-quarters of all plant and animal species, including dinosaurs.

Two researchers from the University of Michigan initially reported the findings in NGU Advances. And a later report in The Washington Postdescribed the asteroid this way: “The researchers drew on previous research and assumed the meteor had a diameter of 8.7 miles and a density of about 165 pounds per cubic foot — roughly the weight of an average adult male crammed within a volume the size of a milk crate.”

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Dr. Killjoy, Or Why I Learned Not to Trust Doctors as Much as I Once Did

I call him Dr. Killjoy. My gastroenterologist had done all kinds of tests and had me on a strict diet that sapped some delight out of my life. But after months of diligently following his advice, continued bouts with a certain plumbing issue continued to dog me. Old Killjoy threw up his hands and told me he didn’t know what was causing my body to go haywire. I’d just have to watch and learn. (Photo by Online Marketing on Unsplash)

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It’s Horror Movie Season! Why Do We Love Scary Films So Much?

Get ready for terror. Streaming channels and movie theaters are about to unleash the annual October sack of ghoulish predators and monsters. At least eight new horror movies are coming out of their cages in October. For example, there’s “Hellraiser,” a mystery-horror-thriller reboot of the 1980s film; “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone,” based on a Stephen King novella; the final installment of the “Halloween” franchise; and “Terrifier 2,” which features a resurrected killer clown named Art.

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‘Crooked Lines’ — Holding on to Dreams Despite the Monsters on Our Paths

There’s a writer named Jenna Zark whose work I adore and who navigated through plenty of personal trials. While she was creating some of her early works of fiction, Jenna’s marriage to a Jewish cantor fell apart. And, she flailed about as she raised her young son, Josh. Her inspiring new book, “Crooked Lines,” chronicles her personal experiences and how they eventually led to smoother roads. Along the way she also explains how certain Jewish traditions and holidays have personal resonance.

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My Little Town: Celebrations and Moments of Nostalgia in Upstate New York

The first time I can recall feeling shocked at how a certain place can change, I was a teen in a tiny upstate New York village called Franklin. My school was burning down in the middle of the night. This happened a few hours after I sent up a fervent prayer to God, asking him to please save me from the humiliation of performing in a school play the next day. I hadn’t learned my lines.

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The Truth Might Send You Into a Frightful Frenzy, and Maybe Into Sleep

What stories send you off to dreamland? One of the kindest, most generous people I know likes TV series about real-life murder mysteries, no matter how grisly. (Love that about her.) For me, stories about trains taking me to exotic locations in distant times, or fantasy tales, are just the thing.

When it comes to fantasy, one the great masters to whom I bow down is Neil Gaiman. I was among the legion of fantasy and horror geeks who have highly anticipated the debut of his “The Sandman” TV series — adapted from Gaiman’s comic books.

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A Kiss Is Still a Kiss, But I’m Seeing ‘Casablanca’ Through a More Truthful Lens

It took some vintage films to make me see how my mind has shifted — in ways that put the movies in a new perspective that isn’t entirely flattering. This came to me while watching Bette Davis claw her way to a richer life in “The Little Foxes.” And then I watched Ingrid Bergman trapped in a life-or-death love triangle in “Casablanca.

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Struggling With the Feeling of Failure, 10,000 Times Along the Way

If you’re anything like me, then you were utterly gobsmacked by the astounding images that NASA released this last week. They are “the deepest infrared view of our universe that has ever been taken,” according to NASA administrator Bill Nelson. The odds we’d even get to see those images was amazing: there were 344 possible points of failure along the way, NASA said.

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A Free Read for You – THE JUICE’s First Chapter

What were you doing around this time a year ago? It was the best of times and worst of times for yours truly. On the negative end, my husband was a month away from dying of cancer. When I wasn’t helping him, I was desperately trying to find anti-COVID vaccines. On the positive end, David and I had an amazing group of friends and family supporting us. And while that was all going on, my novel, THE JUICE, was published.

Chances are, if you’ve drilled down to this blog on my site, you already know that the title of the book refers to a chemical substance that makes people extraordinarily charismatic. I threw in a lot of romance and suspense over the course of writing the novel. Because it’s also a commentary on the future of media and advertising, and dystopian in nature, I like to think follows in the footsteps of some sci-fi greats, like William Gibson. In honor of the book’s publication last February by Dragon Moon Press, the first chapter follows below. Many hopes you enjoy it.

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To My Beloved Dead Husband: Science Fiction Is Here Now

Dear David,

Now that you’ve been gone for nearly a year, I’ve developed a new theory that I want to tell you about. It has to do with science fiction — that passion of mine that you so encouraged.

Perhaps the sci-fi genre first came about when someone wanted to tell a dead loved one what has transpired since their passing — how fantastical it all might seem.

Wouldn’t your father have been startled to learn that millions of people, of all social classes, were felled by a virus? That people would be afraid to touch each other, breathe the same air?

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Can’t We Just Get Along? A New Path to Harmony (or Not)

There’s a simple solution to get rid of all the hatred, contempt, and distaste expressed across the great gulf that separates so many of us — Democrats vs. Republicans, vaccination proponents vs. anti-vaxxers — the factions go on and on. If only this solution to our growing antagonism was utilized, we’d all get along. No more gatherings with friends or family that are marred by arguments about differing beliefs and opinions.

As I sketched out plans for my sci-fi novel, THE JUICE, I saw an end to all that. I envisioned a time in the future when we’ll live much more harmonious lives, like we haven’t in years, maybe decades. It’s not that we’ll believe in exactly the same things. We’ll just agree with ideas or opinions that are complementary to each other, like red and yellow blossoms artfully arranged in a floral bouquet.

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A Carnation in My Attic: Inspiration From a Harlem Street Vendor

One of the most valuable sources for me as a creative writer is my own attic. By attic, I don’t mean a physical place where wasps buzz around in overheated spaces on summer afternoons when your mother demands that it’s finally time to get all those old boxes of Christmas decorations and your dad’s old military gear sorted out. Instead, I mean my mental attic.

As I wrote my sci-fi cyberpunk novel, THE JUICE, I tried to imagine New York several decades into the future by sifting through all my experiences living there, and the people I knew. Among those I conjured up were some executives at media companies, who who helped inspire the creation of my character Petra Cardinale, whom I wrote about here. Another treasure in my attic is a guy by the name of Carnation France. As I filtered through my memories, he popped out and gave me a big, fun-loving grin.

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CBD to the Rescue: Responsible Ways to Live Without Booze

By Janet Stilson / November 22, 2021 /

Do you ever wonder if there will come a time when humans will no longer need to swallow and smoke chemical substances to relieve their pain and relieve anxiety? As the relationship between humans and computers continues to evolve, maybe future generations will implant a chip in their bodies to counteract whatever whacked-out thing they’re…

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The Confessions of a Stick-in-the-Mud: Searching for Spontaneous Joy

By Janet Stilson / November 9, 2021 /

There’s a defect in my personality that I have only recently identified. Those of you who know me may immediately think, “Uh huh. Maybe Stilson is actually going to stop (fill in the blank). She drives me nuts.’” Whatever that might be, today, right now, the defect du jour that I’ve pinpointed is a lack…

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Cherishing the Small Stuff: Porting Into Lost Times, Distant People

By Janet Stilson / October 26, 2021 /

I once owned a locket of no particular value. It might have been made out of tin with gold plating on top. And it was a little dented. But it was something my grandmother had cherished. Inside were tiny little photos of her parents, a dairy farmer and his wife who raised her in a…

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The Woman Who Looked Like a Chicken, and Other Inspirations

By Janet Stilson / October 12, 2021 /

I once met a woman who reminded me of a chicken, and another one who often stored muffins between her breasts. At the time I met them, they were both well into their 70s, if not older. Though many, many years have passed since then, they were so memorable that I based two of my…

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A Dark, Steamy Movie and a New Isaac Asimov Series Splash Down

By Janet Stilson / September 28, 2021 /

  The new Apple TV+ series, FOUNDATION, based on Isaac Asimov’s landmark sci-fi novel series, is blowing my mind. Although I’m still trying to decide whether I like the gender switching and romantic frisson touches that weren’t in the original work. It’s not fair to deliver final judgement, because I’m still on episode 2, but…

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How Beauty Helps Me Look on the Bright Side of Life

By Janet Stilson / September 13, 2021 /

It’s almost like I’ve been in a science fiction story over the last week. I’ve inhabited a world in which all niggling and gargantuan points of tension lifted away. All I did was gaze at exquisite wildlife and scenery, breathed pungently healing air, listened to sweet bird cries. Nothing could crowd out those wonders; nothing…

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It’s All in Your Head: Feeling Future Happiness Today

By Janet Stilson / August 31, 2021 /

Do you know how WD-40 got its name? I recently discovered that the 40 refers to the number of versions of the formula that were created before its makers finally got a lubricant that worked just right. Chances are, you’ve used it to make cranky windows open more easily, or get rid of that squeak…

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Why I Love Ishiguro’s ‘Klara and the Sun’

By Janet Stilson / August 17, 2021 /

What if it were possible to walk into a store and buy a best friend with artificial intelligence – a humanoid robot able to love you and serve your best interests? That is the central premise behind a novel that rocketed up close to the top of my personal “favorite book” chart. And that was…

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Growing Up Like a Wild Bird in a Town Called Franklin

By Janet Stilson / August 3, 2021 /

Imagine a lottery system that runs across the entire universe. And each time someone is about to be born, a ga-zillion colored balls ping around, and as a select few are pulled out, your fate is sealed. Perhaps you will become Rusty Redsnore, and you are foisted off on an alcoholic old aunt in a…

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What Gets You Hot and Bothered During This Crazy Summer of Ours?

By Janet Stilson / July 20, 2021 /

Remember that old song: “Roll out those lazy hazy crazy days of summer — those days of soda and pretzels and beer”? At the time I first heard Nat King Cole croon it, I was a kid and enjoyed the romantic notion. Now I still love the summer. But when I consider my laziness, thoughts…

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