Canvas Blues – XCV: Present


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Vignettes Regarding the Artwork of Brendon Kotes

XCV: Present

Brendon drove to his studio, the morning humid and bright. The studio itself was cool though, the stone floor echoing softly underfoot as he straightened up the strewn papers and logs he’d been sifting through yesterday evening. Then he found himself sitting on one of his paint-splattered stools, sketchbook in front of him, like so many others before it.

There’d been four. Four pictures so many years ago. He sketched a rudimentary set of four rectangles offset from one another.

There’d been Dmitri’s painting, the one he’d given the man as a gift after a year’s worth of attempts to teach sports to an artist. That one had sat in the upper right, but slightly lower than its left counterpart. The trajectory of the ball had it going down, aimed at the bottom left painting. That one had been of Brendon’s mother.

And the other two, they’d been—

Twack. Plunck.

Brendon started, a black smear streaking across his sketchbook. But it was just his phone announcing a text message from one Orion Livesey, a hunter with a bow.

Did you change your mind?

Brendon typed back that he was at his studio, and only hesitated for a brief moment before pushing send.

Orion’s response came in seconds: “I’ll be right there to fetch you.”

Brendon looked again at the series of four rectangles he’d sketched. Then he closed the sketchbook and shoved it away. That didn’t stop the reminder of those paintings though. Didn’t stop them from staring back at him every time he closed his eyes.


Next Chapter Coming January 5th

Canvas Blues – XCIV: Present


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Vignettes Regarding the Artwork of Brendon Kotes

XCIV: Present

Orion was up and making coffee in the kitchen before Brendon opened his eyes. He could hear the light taps of ceramic against laminate countertop, the sizzle and drip of the machine. He squeezed his eyes closed tighter, then finally dragged himself up.

They took their coffee standing against the kitchen counters, both of them half-dressed, both of them not quite looking at one another. At least, Brendon didn’t much look up at Orion so he couldn’t be sure where Orion looked.

“I’ve got to head back to my hotel room to get changed,” started Orion. “Would you like me to pick you up after?”

Pick him up? Oh…

“You’re going to the Yert house this morning?”

“That’s the plan.” Orion sipped his coffee, his gaze never leaving Brendon.

“I have a lot of work to get done.”

“Then I’ll see you later.” And Orion was not asking, not with that tone, not with the heavy layer of intention underneath the words. He took another swallow of his coffee, then rinsed the mug out to leave sitting in the sink.

As he passed Brendon in the tight quarters, Orion’s palm grazed across Brendon’s bare stomach. “If you change your mind, you’ve got my number.”

Brendon lasted through Orion fetching his shirt. Through him pulling his shoes on. Through him giving a sly sideways smile as he tugged open the door.

And then he broke.

“I’ll go.”

Orion didn’t even have the decency to look surprised. He merely nodded, flipped his sunglasses down over his eyes, and left.


Next Chapter Coming December 29th

Coffee & Conversation: How to keep your plots/stories from being repetitive?


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How to keep your plots/stories from being repetitive?

So I’ve already discussed expanding your vocabulary in order to keep your sentence structures from stagnating and also how to keep your characters from feeling interchangeable and both of those will help make a story fresh. However, even if you use new vocabulary and make sure to differentiate the voices of your characters, there’s still a level in your story-writing that can make them seem similar to the point of rehashing the same-old same-old things. This is a mix of your setting and plot.

1) Integrate your conflict with your setting

If you took space out of Star Wars you’d get a very different story. So make sure that the placement of your story is integral to your plot. That you can’t tug it out and throw it away and stick a new one in. Even in contemporary stories, this is paramount. If your story is in New York, it better not be able to be thrown into Chicago. If your story is about a secondary world, then that world better not be able to be replaced by any other made-up world. Make the setting as much a character as your characters are.

If you are setting a series all in the same place, then you might only be able to alter the setting in minute ways, but I urge you to do your best here. To make the characters interact with the setting in a different manner than the last story. Maybe the last character was a tourist in a resort town and was seeing everything for the first time. Maybe the new character has lived there all their life and knows the secret places or the drama behind the sparkles of the place.

When crafting in secondary worlds, always keep your options open. Don’t slap down rules and guidelines that cover an entire world on your first go, leave some space for the world to grow and morph, for new types of people with new cultures and ideas and magical abilities to appear or to have their own pockets of space within this world. Don’t say the desert is devoid of people. Mention a people out there to give the impression that the world is bigger, to give yourself a new way to interact with the setting in the future. Don’t tell me that every island has the exact same creatures on it; give me the impression that each is dangerous in its own way.

2) Layer conflicts

If I crochet a chain, then all the chains I create will look pretty much the same, regardless whether they’re fatter, skinnier or made of different colored yarn. If I add layers to my project, then suddenly I have more options on where I can do tighter stitches, loopy holes or shapes. Same with stories. If you only have one single conflict, then it’s easy to see similarities between your story and others. On the other hand, if you layer multiple conflicts–an internal character-driven-one on top of multiple inter-personal ones, on top of a survivalist one on top of a magical, fantastical one–well, you’ve got something far more complicated that won’t feel much like anything else. At least not taken as a whole. Continue reading

Canvas Blues – XCIII: Yesteryears


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Vignettes Regarding the Artwork of Brendon Kotes

XCIII: Yesteryears

For Dmitri’s birthday (August 24th, nine days before Brendon called on Donna Pierceman), Brendon painted him on a mottled orange and green background, bright strands of Aunt Laurel’s shawls curling around like fleur de lis—or fiery threads—his arm reaching upward in a throwing motion and a waterfall of beads trailing in the wake of the ball’s trajectory.

It wasn’t his best, but Dmitri was appropriately enthused, which indirectly led to Aunt Laurel deciding the man could stick around as long as he didn’t end up becoming a leech like a few useless men she could name.

Dmitri did become a leech, but by that time Aunt Laurel was so used to him that she just put in the ramp and paid for his physical therapy bills and told him he was still perfect. Later, the jokes came quick about how he “didn’t need no cane in bed” and Brendon would pretend to cover his ears and duck before Aunt Laurel could swing her scarf at his face.

Even ten years on, Brendon was still picking beads out of the soles of his shoes and finding glittery strands on his clothes whenever he left their house, like their place hemorrhaged shiny things because they were so sweetly perfect for one another.


Next Chapter Coming December 22nd

Coffee & Conversation: How to critique someone else’s work?


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How to critique someone else’s work?

Critiquing is a specialized skill, one that takes empathy and understanding. There are many writers groups out there and so many of them are filled with beginning writers who think that their way of writing or their preferred way of reading is the only one. They will often have only a rudimentary understanding of story guidelines and yet speak as if they are far more knowledgeable then they are. So I urge you to be cautious when listening to other people’s critiques before you get to known them and their writing and their critiquing style.

1) Read the story fully before commenting at all. Nothing is more annoying than to have comments that read something: “What is this??” “Oh, I understand now.” So useless. So read the entire piece first. Or, in the case of chapters, read each chapter and leave comments at the end.

2) Interpret the writer’s intentions in terms of what they seem to be trying to say and what their goals are in the piece itself. Or, at least attempt to interpret this. You might end up being wrong, but at least you tried to figure out what the writer was trying to say so you could help them succeed in their goal.

3) Start with what you enjoyed when writing up your response. There are always good parts of someone’s writing, no matter how new they are or how young they are.

4) Do not suggest prescriptive ideas. In other words, comment on how you felt (you felt cheated/you were bored/you had negative feelings about a character), but never tell them how to FIX the problem unless you’re specifically phrasing it in a “If you were attempting to do X, then maybe consider doing Y.” That way, the writer can decide whether or not they agree that they were attempting to do X.

5) Never attempt to take over the story. You’re only there to help. Don’t critique by saying things such as “Hey, I don’t like romances, maybe you should write this as a thriller?” or “This story was incredibly introspective and I think it really needs to be more action-packed.” Those types of comments are not useful because now you’re attempting to guide the other writer’s story into a way YOU would have written it. Essentially, never attempt to force another writer’s story into your own style or writing.

6) Focus on different aspects. There are a lot of different moving parts to a story. Character, voice, writing style, POV, theme, plot, stakes, hook, descriptions, timeline, clarity, emotional resonance, etc., Most people tend to focus on the things they can do, or feel they can do, best. But it can be really helpful, to yourself as well, to focus on elements of story that maybe aren’t your specialty. It can also be helpful to approach your critique thinking about each of the different elements individually and organizing your thoughts for the person in this way.

7) Show gratitude. Thank the writers for sharing their words. Sharing words is a huge deal. It’s showing a great amount of trust. Acknowledging that trust, regardless of your overall opinion of the piece, is paramount.


Canvas Blues – XCII: Present


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Vignettes Regarding the Artwork of Brendon Kotes

XCII: Present

That night he dreamed of a macabre gallery where all his paintings gazed down at him.

They were countless. Crabs and carousals. Herons and homes. Forest and futurescapes. Insects and ice cream parlors. Graphic comics of half-finished panels of spiderlings. Boats cutting through the bay waves.

Dinosaurs from a younger age, where crayon and colored pencil had ruled and eyes were flattened on the same side of the reptilian faces.

And he could hear the Le Mans roaring, feel the heat of a fire lick against his heels, smoke filling his vision. Engine gunning for him.

Brendon struggled awake, sighing roughly against his pillow. For a moment he thought he couldn’t breathe, a pressure against his chest. Then Orion’s arm twitched, shifting the weight of it so it pressed more belly than lungs.

He sucked in a deep breath. Lifted slightly off the bed that he might see the shadow of the brown paper of Casey’s painting. Then he relaxed again with a shiver, the roaring of the Le Mans still singing in his ears as he fell back asleep.


Next Chapter Coming December 15th

Coffee & Conversation: What to do with your Nanowrimo novel?


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What to do with your Nanowrimo novel?

Or any other novel that you may have written in a short span of time.

No matter how well we write or how many hours we’ve spent on something, when we work on a project in a condensed period of time, we’re very liable to miss things. We’re simply too close. We know what words should be there. We know what the descriptions are trying to say. We understand what the dialogue is referring to. We know. Because it’s all in our heads and not just on the paper.

The best thing to do is set the story aside for a time. Put it in a drawer, label it draft one and give yourself a specific date when you can take it back out. I recommend something between 4 to 12 weeks. During that time, work on other projects, get your brain away, far away, from the project you just finished. That way, when you come back, you’ll be fresh.

Another really good piece of information to know is that agents and editors are often a little wary about the influx of stories they receive in December and January, thinking that these new novels/queries are messy Nanowrimo novels. So it’s best to give yourself a little time and space away from that bias.

Once you’ve come back to the story, do a thorough edit. You should have forgotten the words by this point and be reading things fresh, allowing you to catch descriptions that aren’t clear enough, words that could be read in two different ways, plot threads that end up not going anywhere, characters that switch personalities, etc.

After your edits, you can send out to your beta reader if you want, get a critique, do more edits, craft a pitch and a query, etc. Do all the things to liven up your novel and get it ready for submission (or publication).

One thing you don’t want to do is forget about your novel. Don’t let it sit forever. Make sure you have that date to go back to it. Make sure you open it back up knowing that it will need work, but that it isn’t awful and anything wrong can be fixed. That you do have something worthwhile in your hands. Don’t abandon it.


Canvas Blues – XCI: Present


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Vignettes Regarding the Artwork of Brendon Kotes

XCI: Present

Brendon lowered his head as he gasped and strained back against Orion. They fit in a mature, slow way. The sort of way that came of experience, of methodically working their bodies in ways they knew would pull the most pleasure, give them the most relief.

This was no fumbling fuck in the backseat of a Mustang.

This was sweet and slow, with Orion whispering in Brendon’s ear all throughout.

“How’s here? Going to keep it steady. No, don’t push. I got your rhythm. I got you.”

Brendon would respond with sighs that were meant to be “yeahs” and grunts that were meant to be directions. And somehow, Orion always understood. Shifted them just enough so that he’d slide in easier, rub against Brendon’s insides with a little more friction in all the right spots.

His hands were gentle, but very, very firm, when he pressed Brendon into position, held him there by the small of his back. His thrusts too, were as methodically blunt as he was, getting right to the point, pushing Brendon to the brink and keeping him riding there for long minutes, their thighs slapping together, the slight squelch of the lube matching the tap-tap-tap of the bed frame against the wall.

And all the while, as thrusts quickened incrementally, as Brendon’s breathing ramped up, becoming a huff that shoved from his lungs, Orion insisted on Brendon’s presence. On his engagement. Refusing to allow Brendon to fade, slink away, shudder with only pleasure abstracted from Orion himself. There would be no orgasm without Orion right here, his scent, his voice, his body overwhelming Brendon. Continue reading

Coffee & Conversation: How many times have you won Nanowrimo?


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How many times have you won Nanowrimo?

I’ve only won once. And it was with the first 82k or so words of Haunt of the Wilds.

I was actually supposed to be working on a different novel and Haunt was just going to be a quick practice to get the rust out of my brain. And then I just…kept going. No biggie.

It was also rather helpful to have my partner suspended for that month (tongue in cheek–it was a very stressful month) because it meant that I got a huge amount of time every day to write.

Every other year that I’ve attempted to write 50k in a month, I haven’t made it. I’m pretty sure a bunch of the reason is because of not having all that extra time to write. But also, I’m rarely excited going into November to work on something. I’m usually in the muddy middle, so really I’m just operating at writing as usual, same old habits, getting my typical amount done as I do every other month while I’m knee-deep in a project.

If I finish a project during November, that adds another sticking point, for it’s difficult to immediately jump from one project to the next (at least for me) without some form of reset. The beginning might be slow. I’m probably still heavily thinking about my last story instead of my new story. I may have a few things that have fallen by the wayside that need to be caught up on.

There’s also the possibility of interruption during the month and interruption is the key killer of motivation and advancement.

Either way, winning Nano isn’t the end goal for me. It’s about making sure I’m keeping up my habits and hopefully tweaking them to be better habits.

If you are doing Nanowrimo this year or are working on some other large project, I wish you all the luck and organization to keep yourself focused and moving forward on it!

And if you fail, you will be far further than you were, and that is a success in and of itself :)


Canvas Blues – XC: Yesteryears


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Vignettes Regarding the Artwork of Brendon Kotes

XC: Yesteryears

A different sort of heat hit Castlebrock the summer after high school graduation. Heat index souring, air conditioning units on the fritz, the elderly suffering from heat stroke, the young suffering from too many drunken-fueled car accidents.

Casey started drifting back down more often, sleeping at his father’s house now that his stepmom had decided to give the man another chance at redemption. His father had gotten a different job, taking him away from the dour memories at the electrical company where he’d been relegated to a gopher or a “charity case” as he called it.

The two of them would swim in the bay, tugging board shorts down under the pier where no one could see. They would drive the same neighborhood they’d used to bike, taking things fast, then faster. They would talk about the future, but only in an amorphous way, like it didn’t quite exist yet, like it wouldn’t quite exist until September, when school began in earnest…but without them.

The baggies disappeared from Casey’s Mustang. The strange stops during their drives faded away. Taylor L. became a distant memory, one that didn’t get a 5k Walk/Run named after him like Dylan had. Brendon suspected it was the overdosing—the Barry family not wanting to take on any more scrutiny than the local journalists had delivered at the time of death.

That summer—that June, that July, that August—turned idyllic. Brendon painted Casey at the shore, where the sand boasted so many bugs that Casey ended up drenching himself to rid the ants from his shorts. He painted Casey at the wharf, early, before the patrons of the restaurants were staring out the upstairs windows. He painted Casey going down Grant’s Lorry Road and sitting on fenceposts outside of Castlebrock where the farmland rolled and roiled.

That September, as life crept up and jobs loomed and Brendon began to wonder if he’d lost his chance at making something of his art, it was Casey who pushed again to make that phone call to Donna Pierceman. Continue reading