Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"Collide-a-Scope" // Short Story Inspirations

For me, stories are living, breathing things.

I often come up with ideas after the collision of two seemingly random events or inspirations. They bash into each other somewhere in my head, then coalesce into something different from the simple sum of parts. And if the new view is unique or startling enough to me, I set about to work on the book or story -- because I simply must.

Many (though not all) of the notes below were written for the release of the twin anthologies “Black Light of Day” and "Nights Gone By" so the stories collected there have been written and edited for some time. I heard conflicting advice about whether to include notes in the anthologies themselves and, finally, opted not to. However, as I look back at their titles, I see such vivid imagery in my mind’s eye for each one. I can see where I was when each idea struck me, and I can see glimpses of the ‘movie’ each story told to me as they unfolded during the writing process.

This is like visiting old friends.

In 2011, I started giving myself writing prompts as a means for creative outlet while working on longer novels. What came out of these prompts blew me away so I tried it again a few more times. Consistently, I found that the stories and characters that grew from the prompts were fun to write and to read. And they arrived as nearly fully-formed stories that I simply had to put down.

Here are a few notes from the anthologies. They should be (relatively) spoiler-free. But be warned if you're like me and you want to read first, then learn about backdrop after.

Dangerous Intersection
One such prompt was “One man, one woman” and the idea would be that I’d build a story with only one female character and one male character. I thought it would be interesting to lean heavy on the female perspective after trying a few that lived up close and personal with the x chromosome. In the end, the man doesn’t actually appear in this story so I probably failed in following my own prompt, but I like this story nonetheless. It melded in with another idea that occurred to me while sitting at a red light and thinking about another life-changing left-hand turn – one that happens in the opening pages of my novel “On The Gathering Storm.”

Man with an Addiction
This is was actually the very first story that started with the prompt, “One man, one woman.” Mentally, I likened it, at least while I was writing it, to the shark in the original 1977 film JAWS. You don’t see the shark for the first two acts of the movie, only its fin cutting the surface of the water, plus the carnage it leaves behind on the beach and floating like chum. But the hint of what’s below the surface does way more damage because of the viewer’s imagination. My hope with “Addiction” is to hint at things in the same way without ever coming out and saying it.

Down the Line
My lineage intertwined with the railroad goes back several generations. We have station managers in the family tree and I grew up near a train track. Trains seem to figure into a number of my stories, including this one, the novella “Bled” and another short called “Remembering Train Car Six” that appears in an anthology called “Nights Gone By”. With “Down the Line” I wanted to create a straightforward moral dilemma and call attention to how the idea of following orders and a chain of command can fall down. It often does, and rarely as a result of those on the bottom links.

Road Markers
I was driving alone on a dark, single-lane highway winding around the curves and rocky faces of northern Vancouver Island. I was exhausted, on the way back from visiting a family friend in Nanaimo, and my mind started playing tricks on me. I could have sworn to anyone who would listen that the car in front of me simply drifted off the road and into the darkness of the ocean and sky beyond the edge of the blacktop. I got home and this story was born out of my depleted exhaustion and the madness of seeing those tail lights cross the median then sail into nothingness. I needed to write it down because I knew sleep wouldn’t come until I exorcised that image.

Through the Transom Light
This story was inspired by the amalgam of two things. One, the local disappearance of a young girl who, to date, has simply never been found. And two, my own sleepless nights after the birth of my daughter and how one’s mind can play dirty tricks when it’s simply starved for sleep.

If you're interested in any of these inspired shorts, you can find the two anthologies nearly everywhere:

BLACK LIGHT OF DAY | AmazonSmashwords | Barnes and Noble | iBookstore

NIGHTS GONE BY | AmazonSmashwords | Barnes and Noble | iBookstore


  1. Oooo... they all sound fabulous! I'm immediately drawn to Dangerous Intersection and Through the Transom Light sounds verrrry interesting... Having just finished On The Gathering Storm I can't wait to dive into some more of your writing ;)

    1. Awww, thanks, Morgan! "Transom Light" may be the most difficult-to-write tale I've ever penned. Let THAT intrigue you! :)

  2. Mark Paul JacobsMarch 6, 2012 at 9:09 PM

    Odd, but most of the time I don't recall the genesis of my ideas. I have a story "Watchers" inspired by watching a fly buzz my fishing partner's head. A few years ago during a daytime nap, I had a very vivid and colorful dream: I was on a distant world filled with gigantic and crumbling stone statues (miles high) covered with vegetation. Looking closer, i noticed small (humans?) climbing across the monument's face. Before waking, I heard the distinct words "Devourer of Suns". I wonder how many of our ideas are formed when we sleep.

    1. I don't remember how every one of them started, Mark. Only some occur this way. And some (like the novel THALO BLUE) started with wierd dreams too. I would bet that our subconscious guides us towards writing certain kinds of things just as it guides us to make decisions, marry certain people, take certain jobs or retain some friendships over others. *pop* Ooh. There's another story idea.

  3. Beautiful! I've had dreams that kept me from making huge mistakes...but nothing that sparked a fabulous novel or short story. Thanks, Jason. Im going to go re read everything now.
    Talk soon.


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