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.

Read More on Medium

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.

Read More on Medium

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.

Read More on Medium

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.

Read More on Medium

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?

Read More on Medium

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.

Read More on Medium

‘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.”

Read More on Medium

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)

Read More on Medium

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.

Read More on Medium

‘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.

Read More on Medium

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.

Read More on Medium

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.

Read More on Medium

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.

Read More on Medium

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.

Read More on Medium

How Small Pebbles (And Paul Newman) Illuminate Gaps in My Heart

By Janet Stilson / July 6, 2021 /

It happened again – a trigger that jolts me into a memory when I least expect it. Last weekend, I watched an old Paul Newman movie, HARPER, with my friend Doris. Newman leads a cast that is pretty iconic: Shelley Winters, Lauren Bacall, Julie Harris, Janet Leigh, Robert Wagner – with a screenplayby William Goldman.…

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Miles Davis, Mysterious Birds and the Unstoppable Urge to Soar

By Janet Stilson / June 29, 2021 /

There’s a bird that sings outside my window almost every morning with the most haunting, flute-like melody. How can three notes, repeated over and over, be so captivating? Okay, I admit, Miles Davis’s tune “So What?” kind of made it clear that can be done in two notes – and it’s no wonder that Erykah…

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Ready, Set, Dive: Crossing a Mysteriously Thrilling New Ocean

By Janet Stilson / June 22, 2021 /

It’s an otherworldly experience, what happens to creative writers when they fall in love with bits and pieces of storylines and characters crowding their heads. They are teased by their own minds into discovering what’s there, summoning up old memories, old feelings and fantasies of bravery, evil machinations, breathtaking adventures – you get the picture.…

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Splendid Friendships, Transformed by Love and Loss

By Janet Stilson / June 8, 2021 /

If Alice of Wonderland ever grew up in the present day, she’d look like my friend Terri. I saw her for the first time in ages the weekend before last—she of the purple locks, John Fluevog fantasy-like footwear and a fairy tale dress that coordinated impeccably. At first blush, there’s no way to tell we’d…

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Book Review: Romantic Towns, a Stolen Rembrandt and a Deadly Dad

By Janet Stilson / June 1, 2021 /

If you’re looking for bookish relief from the problems that seem to surround us all these days, Dr. Stilson has a personal prescription: an un-put-down-able mystery novel, THE LAST PERDOUX, written by Larry Maness. Those of you who know my writing tendencies, and my novel THE JUICE in particular, may assume that this novel falls…

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A Few Skinny Seconds to Romance or Serenity

By Janet Stilson / May 25, 2021 /

I was standing before a Gustav Klimt painting when I felt him. A man I’d just met was right behind me. His hand had reached out, a half inch from my dark hair, searching for a connection and a true sense of me. Pretending not to notice, I gazed at the pale-skinned woman in the…

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Deeper Than Dreams, Or Don’t Listen to Your Mama

By Janet Stilson / May 18, 2021 /

When Wynton Marsalis was 17, he knew he had to leave home. His relationship with his mother was contentious. She didn’t want him to become a professional musician, and other people were urging him to find another path as well. Wynton asked his father, the great pianist Ellis Marsalis, for his opinion. “Do you love…

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Crashing Rain, Buried Truths and Growing Up

By Janet Stilson / May 4, 2021 /

On lazy summer days long ago, my mother, sister and I would tackle the attic, figuring out which of our possessions relegated to that deep memory space should be discarded or better organized. There were odd sticks of furniture, stacks of splashy picture magazines, my mother’s childhood ringlets in an old cigar box, and my…

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Disastrous Friends and Mesmerizing Sea Gods: A Book Review

By Janet Stilson / April 27, 2021 /

“A great main character is a character who’s fully committed to a terrible plan.” Marti Noxon, Writer, Showrunner Recently I listened to a podcast called THE SCREENWRITING LIFE that featured an interview with Marti Noxon. Her screenwriting credits include SHARP OBJECTS, FRIGHT NIGHT and BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. When she talked about great main characters…

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What’d He Miss? Magical Thinking Along My New Path in Life

By Janet Stilson / April 13, 2021 /

It was dumbfounding. There I was, trying to plug a power cord into my MacBookPro. And for the life of me, I couldn’t remember what slot to use. That happened a few days ago. Bear in mind, my laptop is like an extension of my body. There is an invisible umbilical cord between the machine…

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