The London Book Fair (#lbf16) starts tomorrow and I thought I’d mark the occasion with celebrating writers and the writing process, while at the same time paying homage to our most precious, most valued resource: readers!
Quite often we find ourselves staring at a blank piece of paper or a computer monitor, hard-pressed to create something meaningful. They call it writer’s block, but that’s a fallacy. Writers aren never blocked from writing, we just go through phases when the elements that feed our creative core fade. And to rectify that, we need to reboot our external conditions to find inspiration.
I often compare writing to eating. I only eat when I am hungry, and failing to follow that basic biological principle is always detrimental. No matter how busy I am or how impractical it is for me to just sit down and write, when the writing hunger strikes, I invariably find the time and create the necessary conditions to sit down and ‘eat’. Using the same analogy, when you are unable to write, it means you must figure out a way to work up an appetite.
To test this theory, I ran a little experiment on my Facebook page. I challenged my readers to come up with a name, age, profession and location of a fictitious character (or the equivalent of trying to work up an appetite when I was feeling quite full), and I promised them I would come up with a unique back story for each entry.
I wanted to test if I could write on demand if handed as motivation the most basic ingredients to flesh out a story.
The result was surprising, invigorating and empowering. Although sloppy and raw as it’s minimally edited, it’s part flash fiction, part character study, and 100 percent proof that as a writer, your most effective weapon is your imagination, but that you can’t wait for the world around you to fuel it.
Sure, it may feel like your writing engine is stalling a little when the raw ingredients of creativity are dry, but your ability to write is always there. If you must write, all you need to do is actively introduce fresh ingredients and do something to boost your creative hunger.
But never step away from the writing arena defeated, hoping that the block will resolve itself. It never does.
Enjoy, and much gratitude to my delightful readers for gifting me these characters!
A. M. Khalifa, Author replied:
For half his life Arnold has been a slave. Living with a woman he detested, making love to a body that repulsed him. Twenty-eight years ago when he first shunned her aggressive advances at the Buffet Bar and Crackpot, Arnold should have trusted his instinct and not gone back home with her. But he couldn’t score better that night, and figured what the hell, cover the face and…. He didn’t even bother to ask her name or what she did for a living. He woke up in her tiny apartment in Yuma with a throbbing headache, a foul taste in his mouth, and a new master. She hadn’t locked him up in a dungeon or chained him down. But he was all hers.
Swimming in his blood stream was a synthetic drug she had injected. An evil concoction of her making that would morph and transform into venom that would kill him in exactly twenty-eight days, if he didn’t come back for the antidote.
He didn’t believe her and ran away. But on the twenty-seventh day, he felt death was creeping closer. Arnold went back pleading for his life. As she flushed the life-saving liquid in his veins, she warned him never again to walk out on her, and explained why. The very antidote that she was administering to save his life, would itself morph into the poison in twenty-eight days.
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The Drugs are on Rae
A. M. Khalifa, Author replied:
No one knows Rachel Chang is a super hero. Not her friends, not her family, and certainly not her coworkers. Even the man she sleeps next to every night, her high school sweetheart and husband of seven years, Brad, is certifiably clueless about that aspect of her life.
As far as everyone is concerned, she’s just bubbly, vivacious, unassuming Rae. Doting mother of three-year-old Adrian. Drives a beat up Subaru that’s just gagging for the junkyard. Kicks ass in Sudoko. Buys all her clothes at the Dolphin outlet mall. Senior chemical engineer with Cristol Boven Pharmaceuticals. Loves her French toast and mimosas for Sunday brunch at the News Cafe of South Beach. Wears tight skirts and skimpy bikinis when she wants to, embracing and lovering the skin she’s in, all size 16 of it, in a town that has more than one world-famous diet named after it.
But when her phone dins in the dead of the night with incoming messages, she lies to Brad when she tells him she has to rush to work to attend to some urgent matter at the lab. Instead, it’s her super hero alter ego beckoning Rae to duty.
But Rae doesn’t battle with invading aliens or duel with evil villains. She doesn’t wear a cape and her Subaru certainly doesn’t transform into a high-tech crime fighting vehicle. All she does is drop off a box of contraband cancer fighting drugs to those who respond to her anonymous ads. Life-saving miracle medicines she cooks at home in her basement lab and donates to terminally ill patients. Game-changing futuristic nano pharmaceuticals she was responsible for inventing at work, but which her despicable employers are refusing to release to the public, until all the necessary patents have been approved, to ensure maximum profitability.
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It’s all about the Plumbing
Patricia Barbeyron wrote: Amanda, 48 but never admits to being a day over 35 (which, incidentally, was when she left her former self, Armando, behind for good). Born in Colombia, but now dividing her time between Zurich, New York and Panama City, she may indeed have forgotten her real age.
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A. M. Khalifa, Author replied:
As she ran on the tarmac away from the airplane, Amanda knew she would never again miss having a penis. There were many times after her sex reassignment surgery fourteen years ago, when Amanda regretted her decision. Not because she missed being a man—she never felt like one—it was just the convenience and the mechanical engineering of the male organ that she was nostalgic about. It made peeing a more intuitive, more practical experience. A delivery method that eliminated the need to squat or sit to do your business.
But who needs a damn penis if it can get you killed?
When she and the other women and the only child on the flight had been huddled to safety by the counterterrorism forces at the airport in Tocumen International Airport, Amanda thought hard of their deranged hijacker wearing a suicide vest, and what he would do to the men with penises he was holding hostage.
The Countess of Burlesque
Every Friday night when Lola walks her French Terrier by the Gambrinus Pub in Cluj-Napoca, she takes a peek at the troupe of three dancers performing inside. One of them in particular captivates her attention the most, Vika Vãduva. Once-upon-a-time Lola had a supple body that looked and moved just like that. Tight, silky, perky and buttery. More than her body, it was Vika’s face that Lola couldn’t stop looking at, furtively hidden behind a diamond encrusted mask.
Not that Lola herself looked anything less than spectacular. When they first met her, there weren’t many people in life who wouldn’t earnestly discount her age by at least a decade and a half.
But it wasn’t Lola’s years or body that had forced her to retire prematurely, change her name and leave behind the only life she knew—that of a Burlesque dancer perpetually on the road. These delectable young dancers were to blame, and her insatiable addiction to lying on top of them in bed. Whenever she found one she liked, Lola would quit the tour and stay behind in whatever city her object of desire happened to be living in. She’d mentor her and teach her the sort of tricks only years of experience can bequeath. Like a slow-simmering stew, she would earn the young dancer’s trust, and when the time was right, she’d make her move and invite her back home, ply her with expensive French wine and Russian vodka until she’d claim her delicious prize, hoping this one would be the one who would stay.
But none of them every did.
Each and every one of those bitches would suck her dry, have their token ‘woman-on-woman’ moment in life, before going back to their wretched boyfriends and insipid middle class dreams of marital bliss.
Until one day Lola couldn’t handle all the rejection and snapped.
In a fit of deranged lust, she sprang on Vika Vãduva in a dark alley of Timisoara and scorched her once-beautiful face with hydrochloric acid.
A. M. Khalifa, AuthorThere is only one thing in life Anhsteciny chose of her own volition. She didn’t ask for a genetic code that turned her immune system into her biggest enemy. Or that her mother, not some heartless bully at her all girls school in Lakemba, would decimate her self confidence and body image. She wouldn’t have picked a father too weak to stand up against her mother’s tyranny. Or her eyes. She hated her eyes.
Standing here, wearing this vest, her hand on the trigger button on a glorious day on Balmoral beach, surrounded by oblivious men, women and children, is the only path in life she got to handpick.
Music of the Devil
A. M. Khalifa, Author replied Kenji wasn’t even in Japan, let alone Fukushima, when a tsunami struck a nuclear plant there half a decade ago.
Thousands of miles across the world, at the time of impact, Kenji was at the swanky LA Studio in Hollywood, recording a haunting piano track for his maiden score of a major motion picture. At twenty-seven, he was prodigious back then, and the world was his for the grabbing if he wanted it. Five years later, the composer who was going to dethrone the biggest names in the business had self-imploded.
Something terrifying had transformed Kenji from a gifted musician and composer to a freak of nature. A change no less corporeal than the victims who lost their lives in the disaster, or the effects of radiation on the survivors in the worst affected areas. No, it wasn’t leukemia or thyroid cancer that destroyed his life. Kenji’s disease was that he could no longer read music. Instead of notes and time signature, all he can see when he looks at notation are three Japanese characters in endless repetition: 助けて.
Chantelle Jahara Pinto wrote: Judas, 41, Male, Camel ride attendant at country fair markets, Australia.
A. M. Khalifa, Author replied: Since 1975, Judas, the camel ride attendant at the Royal Melbourne Show, has been the star attraction. There was nothing special about his job. It was all rather trivial and automated. All Judas had to do was check the tickets were valid, make sure the kids were strapped safely to the camel, then towed the beast across and around the fair ground. The entire experience didn’t last longer than seven minutes, tops. Judas did not understand what all the commotion was about. He couldn’t quite fathom why the children and their parents were more intrigued by him than the beautiful camels. Why they wanted to touch his body all over, pull his hair, poke his eyes, and take pictures with him. But there were many things in life Judas didn’t understand. Including the word ‘robot’, and why everyone seemed to think it was his name. He was Judas, not Robot.