Toby the Frog

I Read Aloud While Matt and Bob Listen

For those of you who didn’t get enough of me talking this weekend at Bubonicon, this Saturday, September 1, I will be giving a presentation for Southwest Writers.  My topic is “Work Habits for Successful Writers.”  It will be followed by a Q&A.  Bring your questions, the more difficult the better!

Some of my books, including my non-fiction Wanderings on Writing (which talks about writing the art, craft, and lifestyle) will be available for purchase.  I will also have copies of Asphodel, which sold out early in Bubonicon’s Dealer’s Room.

My talk is open to the public, and you can get details as to location here.  A small note: The meeting starts at 10:00 a.m., but I will not go on until sometime closer to 11:00.  There is a business meeting before.  You might enjoy attending the meeting as a window into an active writer’s group whose offerings include, among other things, lectures and conferences.

As I mentioned above, this past weekend I attended Bubonicon.  For the second year in a row, Bob Vardeman, Matt Reiten, and I offered ourselves as victims – oops, I meant “participating authors” – in the Snack Writes writing exercises panel, hosted by Josh Gentry.

How it works is like this.  Josh provides a short prompt, then we have five minutes to write what we can in that time.  Audience members are encouraged to do the same.  Then, after time is called, the panelists are required to read what they have managed to write in that time.  (That’s why we’re the victims.  We don’t get to bow out.)  Then audience members are given the choice to read what they have come up with.  Usually, several bravely take the option.

What amazes me about this exercise is how different the responses are.  Let me give one example.  For this one, Josh asked the audience to come up with a genre, a character, a setting, a prop, and a line that had to be used in the course of the story.

The audience gave us the following: medical mystery, Toby the Frog, library, candlestick, and “What the…”

When I started writing, my thought was that surely everyone’s pieces would be very similar.  Weren’t the choices obvious?  Well, about the only thing that recurred was that the library was dark, thereby requiring the use of a candle.  Otherwise, the little pieces were wildly different.

I’ve met a lot of would-be writers over the years who defeat themselves before they get started because they fear they have nothing unique to offer.  A group exercise like this one is very encouraging, since it shows just how different people’s life experiences shape how they will approach the same creative stimulus.

Here’s what I wrote:

“What the…”  Joe’s voice trailed off in barely concealed shock and disbelief.

The library was dark except for the light from a single candlestick that illuminated the body of Asby, the young and overly-eager medical student.  Toby the Frog stood over her, a long needle in one webbed foot, a scalpel in the other.  His wide mouth hung open and he was laughing maniacally.

“Toby!  What have you done?”

“Huh!  See how she likes being pithed!  Wait until I slash her open and examine each of her organs, commenting snidely on her dietary habits and the health of her liver.”  [Time called]

For me, the combination of medical mystery and Toby the Frog came together with a traumatic moment from high school biology.  Even as I was writing my piece, I’m thinking: “Everyone is going to do pithing a frog or dissection.  I mean, it’s the obvious link between ‘medical’ and a ‘frog.’”  Guess what.  No one else even came close.

So, just remember.  You’re a unique voice.  That’s becoming harder to value in this day and age when it’s considered smart to pitch your work by comparing it to someone else’s work.  If that’s what you want, fine.  But feel free to feel to present yourself as original, too.  After all, you are!

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5 Responses to “Toby the Frog”

  1. harriedharry Says:

    Very entertaining! I love it; you have done a great job of using “outside the box” thinking to create a very challenging start for a mystery. As a challenge for all of us, we each should add to the story. Three paragraphs in sequence for all who which to comment. (If someone doesn’t want to participate, then they can add a single sentence or so.
    I’m not a writer, but I have written a lot of mundane stuff.

  2. CBI Says:

    Very nice and upbeat post. I didn’t attend that session, making room for aspiring writers (one of which I am not), but it seems that I missed something very entertaining. (I instead attended guest artist Velhagen’s presentation, which I found educational. Like many conventions, one can’t see it all.) Thanks for sharing it in your blog.

  3. Andrew Says:

    Pity, i cannot be there, mrs Jane!

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