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Articles about writing by Ryan Sean O’Reilly

Epic bio for an epic band: Bury the Machines (conquering writer’s block)

A few weeks back I was tasked to write a bio for a new musical group called: Bury the Machines. I don’t usually do writing like this so I was a little hesitant and voiced my concern. However, I was assured they were familiar with my writing and all would go well. We’ll see, I thought. Though, the name alone was enticing enough to to peak my interest: Bury the Machines! What’s that about – what could it be about?

My friend John Bomher, the brainchild behind this duo (which includes Mark Serpico) sent me an early preview of their debut track, “Mutant Magnet.” He added that it was inspired about people going into the desert and building homes out of garbage called “Earth Ships“. Then he tossed the lyrics my way and touched on a few personal moments and influences to which I was familiar and said go to town.

Some of you will know that music is a big part of my writing process. When I write, it is almost exclusively while listening to a playlist over and over again. I also spent an earlier part of my life in the local music scene managing a Stoner Rock band (I Decline). John Bomher was a part of that scene, but has since moved out to Los Angeles. Bomher is a musician and all around sound guru who is also associated with Horse Drawn Productions. At some point Bomher had a collaboration project with my other long time friend John Doyle (I Decline). You might recall, that the two of them agreed to let me use music from their collaboration for the book trailer that was developed for “Curious Anomalies“.

When I donned my headphones to start my writing process for this project I began by perusing the lyrics Bomher had sent me for Mutant Magnet. The words strode out bold and defiant and filled my mind with desert images, old rusted out machines and these strange Earth Ships. As the sands blew about inside my head, I also thought back to my past with Bomher and some of the touchstones we shared. I let my mind wander. The music was heavy, filled with a dirge of emotion. The beats and melody came fast, the song cried out like voices lost in the wind. A wash of electronic sounds, pulsing beats and striving riffs. Definitely something I could sink my teeth into.

However, I had recently been struggling through a stretch of writer’s block. Words just hadn’t been coming lately and I was very rusty. I hoped this project would break me though that. I was worried that it wouldn’t.

At first I let my consciousness run wild and chased all the ideas I could grasp. They frittered about like loose kite strings flying free on a windy day. Words came–as they will do–and I occasionally grabbed hold of the strings and yanked the kites backward and upward. Yearning to bring them into proper place. Still, there were many kites and the wind kept changing directions. Writer’s block sometimes means that you sit at a computer (or pad of paper) and stare at nothing, other times you do actually write, but it’s hard-pressed crap. Not the usual self-doubting crap, where you’re just questioning the level of your talent but real blockage. You put words on paper, but they seem to mean nothing and refuse to go anywhere. Real blockage. Like trying to unclog a toilet by flushing again (sometimes it works, but sometimes it becomes a real mess).

Oftentimes, as a writer, it’s best to just let these things happen when you’re starting something new. Stream of consciousness writing can be fruitful for getting all your ideas out to see what you have and unblock the stopgaps. After you do this for a bit you hope that workable patterns and themes will form. This time, the useful parts didn’t come so easily. My mind seemed to be going in lots of directions at once. I pushed on. There were lots of false starts. Things got longer and longer. And seemingly less coherent.

I’m primarily a fiction writer and I wasn’t going to write a straight-forward bio. I wasn’t charged with that. So I searched over all the themes and events I had explored, trying to find a meaningful thread to pull them together.The process took longer than I expected (though I knew the recent bout of writer’s block would be a struggle), and I feared I wasn’t going to have anything useful. In the end I spoke to Bomher and set a deadline for myself. That seemed to help. I managed a first draft and sent it to Bomher who gave me some input and encouraged me forward.

Slowly the story pieces revealed themselves like rocks surfacing in the desert sands. The more I worked at it the bigger and more polished the stones became. In the end, I had the story. It’s part personal, part abstract. A little long too, but I think the voice comes through. So, if you’re interested in knowing more about this band, take a look at the bio I wrote.

Here’s a short teaser, but you can see the whole bio at the band’s website (www.burythemachines.com):

“Bury the Machines is born from the flames of a February tragedy. The proclivities of a mind gone to rot. Cold stirred ashes, reinvigorated from the burning remnants of life, destroyed in heinous depravity. Endings swallowing endings. A terrible and hopeless act of desperate violence. Unbearable waves of grief and unanswerable questions. John Bomher, in one phone call, found out that his long-time, road brother had put a decidedly definitive end to their friendship…”

The other awesome thing is that the band is releasing new tracks at scheduled intervals online. The first track is “Mutant Magnet” which Bomher let me listen to it while I wrote the bio. The Track is being released today so you should go check it out now!

 
 

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Are ghosts real? Do houses have personalities?

Have you ever seen a ghost? Really seen one? Me, I’m not so sure. Once when I was very very young I saw a dark furry shape with a face floating above my bed. I can remember it looking down on me. I stood on my bed and tried to touch it, but couldn’t reach. Then I ran to my parent’s bedroom. They told me not to worry about it and go back to bed. Eventually I did and whatever I had seen was gone (though I remember it was still there the first time I ventured back). Who knows? It wasn’t traumatic or anything, but I still remember the experience.

Preliminary Sketch

Preliminary Sketch

There was another time, also sort of innocuous. I was living in a house with some friends, but working a midnight shift at this job I had so I had to sleep during the day. At least once, I remember sort of being half-asleep and hearing these footsteps walking around above me. Previous to living in this house, I had stayed in my parent’s basement for a few years so I was used to hearing noises above me. However, when I eventually woke more fully, I realized that the house I was currently staying in had no upstairs — only an attic. It was a curious thing and one or two other people who lived there with me said they had also heard footsteps from rooms where nobody was.

When my friend bought the house it was filled with tons and tons of junk. Bags of clothes, lots of furniture and boxes and boxes of products. There were numerous collections of things in amounts that nobody could reasonably keep. I had never seen so much stuff piled into one place. Whenever you move into some old house, you can’t help but wonder about the lives of the people who lived there before you. It must be some innate human characteristic that makes us want to learn about the past. Perhaps it relates to our oral traditions and story telling and gives us a certain perspective on life. Anyway, all this seemed like good fodder to plant some seeds in my brain with, and see if I couldn’t develop a fictional story out of it.

I made one early attempt at this in a sort of flash fiction version which I submitted to a writing class. Then it sat on my computer and gathered electronic dust. However the notion stuck with me, as good ideas tend to do. Some writers keep an “idea” journal and write down story ideas they come up with in flashes of inspiration to save for a rainy day. I do that sometimes. However, I believe Stephen King (and others) said that good ideas, the really good ones, will stay with you. Your mind won’t let you forget those. In any case, the elements of setting from my real life experience did keep bouncing around in my head. So when I got back into writing I decided I would take those ideas out and really work through them to come up with a more full story.

I thought about living in a house owned by a hoarder. What stories did such a house have? Who had lived there before and what was their life like? How does a house get so full of junk? What happens when the owner is gone, but the stuff remains? Then if you start to add in questions about the spirit world, things get even more interesting. Do houses have personalities?  Do owner’s shape a house’s spirit? Are our lives tied in with our homes or are they just dead material vessels where we dwell for a certain period of time? What is the difference between a “house” and a “home”. That one is really interesting. The word “home” is a very special word and sacred word. It implies not only a physical place, but a state of being. The archetype of the home is really an early concept where life is imbued into something that is seemingly not alive.

All interesting and classic tropes. So i set to it and put together another novelette to tie all these things together and give my particular take on them. Like my other fictional works outside fantasy and science fiction, this story gets more into the psychological suspense genres. I find it interesting to get inside people’s minds and uncover their motives and beliefs and a crises of conscious is usually pretty good way to do that. Even when the point of view for a story is only from a single person you can still read motives and beliefs from other characters through their actions and what they say (even when they are lying). So my next release is going to be about this. It’s a completely fictional tale, but a fun one.

Soundtrack In My Head: When I wrote this story I listened exclusively to Pink Floyd. The specific songs were: One of These Days, A Pillow of Winds, Fearless, and Echoes all off the Meddle album. I also listened to Shine On You Crazy Diamond Pts 1 & 2 (Wish You Were Here) and Comfortably Numb (The Wall). Just the right mood for wiggling my fingers in between some loose boards I found separating the many plains of existence.

Talent: I’ve tapped into the old gang again. The compatriots in my writing group helped to vet this work (“The Southland Scribes) as they usually do. I also manged to get my ongoing cover artist Daniel Gracey (I’ve included a rough draft of the preliminary sketchwork for the cover above) to do some cover art, and Tammy Salyer for the editing. Lastly, Craig Knitt signed on once more to put together a promotional book trailer with John Doyle scoring a soundtrack. A professional group through and through. I’m very lucky to work with them.

Well, that’s all for now.

Stay tuned for more updates and the release of “Mildred” a tale of psychological suspense.

 

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2014 in Articles, Mildred, News

 

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Where do stories come from? (proper care and storage of ideas)

When I released my first science fiction story “The Energy Scavengers” I already knew there would be another. The world those characters came from begged to be explored. Much like the human-built rover Calvin was meant to do, I yearned to explore the vast, bleak canyon system of the Junk Valle. And like the strange Arkheion, I had many questions. I also knew, I was going to sit on that thought awhile, for I had other ideas to venture through and most of them had nothing to do with the planet 33 Pegasi ZZ.

Also, I was initially hesitant to put more time into the “robot world” because I was really not sure how people would receive it. There were no humans at all in that story. A decision I was adamant about, but one I wasn’t sure I could pull off successfully. Don’t get me wrong I was very proud of the work and thought it one of my best accomplishments thus far. The reviews on Amazon were encouraging and as of this writing the story holds 4 out of 5 stars. Even recently the work continues to pop back up in Amazon’s Top 100 Free Science Fiction Short Stories now and again. I’ve tried to keep it free to garner interest and the strategy seems to be working. It’s been over a year since the release, and after a thousand (free) downloads I sort of stopped keeping track.

Over all that time, there was one thought in my mind that remained perpetually stuck in that machine-world. A singular notion. A concept really. And a name. I wondered about all those robots abandoned by their creators. I worried for them. What happened when they roamed out a little too far from known power sources, when they wandered beyond the canyons? I also wondered if the nefarious collective known as “The Body” was the only game in town.

Then an idea popped into my head (probably while showering since that’s where the good ones seem to originate for some reason). When you have an idea, a solid idea — you know it. It strikes you in nearly the same way a favorite song might on that first occasion you hear it and find some deeper personal meaning behind the words and chords. I’ve heard and read other artists (actual successful ones) talk about this. When inspiration hits you like a lightning bolt and things just come together all at once. Musicians will talk about how they wrote and recorded a song in one session completely off the cuff and then how that song actually went on to be one of their greatest successes. Black Sabbath has said that one of their biggest hits, the song “Paranoid” was written this way.

Prelim Sketch

Prelim Sketch

So I had this singular idea, I imagined this benevolent sentient machine floating high in the thermals watching over the robot world. Its mesh-like wings made entirely of simple energy collecting material. The machine would fly around and occasionally drop down on waylaid robots and impart its blessing of free energy; without stealing or fighting or bargaining. A direct contrast to the savage scavenger economics playing out in the canyon system among the rogue robots. This was also certainly at odds with The Body’s philosophies. I got a name out of the idea too: “The One Who Turned Them On.” I knew pretty quickly this would be the title, and I worried that people might get the wrong idea, but decided they would know exactly what they were in for when they saw the cover.

That was it. Just the idea of a mysterious and benevolent giving robot and its name. That was all I had, but I knew it would be enough. When you get those rare moments of inspiration you can just feel the ends of threads dangling loosely inside your brain–waiting for you to tug on them and find out where they go. The idea just sort of builds on itself and you feel like you’re following along and uncovering a story rather than shaping it. This reminds me of the great sculptor, Michelangelo, who talked about “revealing” the characters hidden within the stones he carved. You can see evidence of this in some of his unfinished figures: The Prisoners.

However, what do you do when you have (or think you have) a great idea, but you’re not ready to explore it? Well, I kept it at bay. I tried to not let myself think about it too much, because I didn’t want to lose the heart behind it before I actually got around to writing it. At the time, I was involved in other ideas and stories so I didn’t want to constantly be dividing and subdividing my attention until my progress slowed to a stand still. So, I wrote down the idea and a few notes to go with it and saved it for later. If another idea crept up at an inopportune time I’d just go add the notion to my “idea file” and save it for later. It felt a little risky at the time, because I have some “idea files” that are years and years old that have never amounted to anything (as of yet).

However, it paid off. I saved the idea and wrote a bunch of short stories and some longer works. Then when the time was right, I returned to 33 Pegasi ZZ. I put on my headphones and punched up some Radiohead on itunes and found the old playlist that I used to write for the first The Energy Scavengers story: The Pyramid Song, A Punch Up At A Wedding (No No No No No No No No No), We Suck Young Blood (Your Time Is Up), The Gloaming (Soflty Open Our Mouths In The Cold) and a few other favorites off “Hail to the Thief” and “Amnesiac.” I had listened to that playlist on repeat (over and over again) the last time I wrote in that world and had basically tried to avoid it until I wrote there again. The strategy worked, for I’ve completed another story in that vein. A continuation in The Energy Scavengers series.

To assist me, I enlisted the help of my writing group “The Southland Scribes,” to vet the work. Then I rehired my ongoing cover artist Daniel Gracey and the editor from my last story Tammy Salyer. All of whom are very professional to work with and great at giving prompt attention to your needs (can’t recommend them enough). For a sneak preview of things to come, I’ve included a rough draft of the preliminary sketchwork for the cover. In working with all these great people and doing all the writing, editing, rewriting, and all the other non-writing stuff that comes with releasing your own material, I’m having a new appreciation for the help I get.

Well, that’s all for now. I’ll be providing more updates as I ready for the promotion and release stage.

Stay tuned for more updates on “The One Who Turned them On (The Energy Scavengers II).

The robots keep rolling, keep treading, keep digging, keep scavenging…..

 
 

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Catalyst for Passion: “Overtime in the Woods”

A couple years ago I was asked by my cousin (Michael T. O’Reilly), an aspiring independent film maker, to audition for a role in a short film he was making (Five Mile Road). He ended up giving me the part, which required that I spend two weekends filming in the deep woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We had a great time shooting the scenes and the movie turned out really cool. If he ever releases it on the web, I’ll try to get a link up for those curious.

Overtime in the Woods

(early colors)

While there, working with the cast and crew I felt a real camaraderie. The experience was great. I got an opportunity to express my creative side which had laid dormant for some time. I remember talking with everyone about making the film and the creative process. I hadn’t talked with people in that way for such a long time. Not since I was heavily involved with the management of the metal band: I Decline. I missed it. I missed sharing ideas and creating things from nothing. The experience was literally a breath of fresh air.

When I got home, I started thinking about doing another project. So I picked up my pen and outlined an idea for a story, with the thought of making it manageable for an indie film. Then I wrote that story. That was how my next story came about: “Overtime in the Woods.”

Once I finished the story, I decided to reconnect with my old writing group, The Southland Scribes, to get some feedback. That was the catalyst. The kick, I needed. I started coming up with ideas for another story, then another, and another. Now a couple years later I’m continuing to write at a pace I had never previously succeeded in maintaining. I’ve got a number of short stories under my belt and rough draft for a novel. When I look back, I’m surprised that I’ve been able to keep up such output. I guess that’s why they say, you never know what you can do until you try.

 
 

Inspirations for “Curious Anomalies”

Some years ago I wrote a science fiction story titled “Curious Anomalies.” The story has a sort of classic mad scientist scifi/horror feel.

Curious Anomalies - early lab layout

early lab layout

Synopsis: “Rick Silvano, an anxious young geneticist, has gotten himself entangled with a violent, South American, drug-lord named Diego Peres. Rick’s talents have been enlisted by Peres to create genetically enhanced watchdogs, by combining common moustache bats with Africanized honeybees. Everything has gone smoothly for the last three years until now, the night before Peres is due to inspect his investment. Clive Pinkerman, who hosts a late-night, radio conspiracy show, announces on-air that he is going to break into the genetic laboratory to uncover a massive alien conspiracy he believes is housed there. Suddenly, Rick must juggle his time between stopping Clive, and making sure the experiment works so that the temperamental Peres will not be displeased.”At the time I wrote this story I was employed doing delivery work for a medical laboratory. After reading a story about the future of genetics I got inspired to write something. The article mentioned making all these crazy hybrids, like crossing a silkworm with a goat so that silk production could take place in the goats milk sac at an increased rate. Real Interesting stuff. Well, that got my mind wandering.

I came up with the idea of crossing bees with bats. Why I decided on that combination I can’t remember. I have always had a fascination with nature, and bee keeping is something I’m always curious about. Bats are also interesting creatures. Brown bats are common where I grew up. At dusk you could throw wood chips in the air and watch the bats dive bomb them using their echo-location capabilities. Once, when I was young, I found a pair of young bats clinging to their recently deceased mother on the side of the road. I coaxed them onto a stick and took them home and kept them in a box. My siblings and I hid them from my parents, but unfortunately they died overnight…

In any case, I got the idea of having this “bat-bee” cross, but needed a story to explain why it existed. I centered the story around a laboratory hidden deep in the woods, which was being funded by an eccentric South American drug lord. I saw the drug lord as the patron of this scientist who created the bat-bees. He wanted them as an alternative to guard dogs which were no longer working out for him.

Another inspiration came from the radio. At some point I worked the midnight shift at my delivery job. I got to listening to talk radio and was turned on to Art Bell’s Coast to Coast AM show. If your familiar with the show then you know a lot of it centers around aliens, flying saucers and all things strange. So, while working on the story I added a similar style call-in show as an element to drive the tension.

All these things came together to form a sort of classic mad scientist science fiction/horror story. It’s a straight-forward sort of story but I think it delivers and does what I intended it to do. It also wraps up much more neatly than a lot of my other stories.

Since I wrote the story so long ago I can’t remember what music I was listening to at the time. That being said, I can say that while editing it recently I listened to the album “Hisingen Blues” by the band Graveyard. all the songs on that album are awesome. Some of my favorites are: “The Siren,” “Ain’t Fit to Live Here,” “Hsingen Blues,” “Longing,” and “Uncomfortably Numb.”

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2012 in Articles, Curious Anomalies

 

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Inspirations for “The Energy Scavengers”

When I set out to write the story of “The Energy Scavengers” I started out with an abstract concept. I was thinking about art in general and its place in my life. I considered how much I enjoyed discovering new masters and studying their works in hopes of inspiring my own work. Then I wondered about the purpose of my own art–was I creating merely to inspire others to make their own works. Was this the purpose of art, creating more art to influence others in hopes of creating more art? The whole thing began to appear as a sort of regurgitive cycle. There had to be some sort of outward benefit. And of course there is–art has many purposes.

Impaled Gnashers

Never-the-less, these thoughts brought a vision to my mind. I pictured these robots left behind on some futuristic planet setting. By their own technology they were able to sustain themselves with energy long after their creators had abandoned them. But what would they be doing after they were left behind? I saw them going about, fighting and exploiting each other for the capture of energy in an endless struggle to “stay on”. What was the point? Why did they bother? Something was driving them to continue to exist, even though they no longer served their original purposes. Yet, why did they not develop their own purposes? They were simply striving to exist just to strive to exist.

There was something oddly, humanistic in these questions. So I jaunted out into the galaxy to find these machines and discover answers. I found some answers and also some more questions, but that seems to be exactly what life is like.

MUSICAL INFLUENCE: To draw inspiration while writing the story I drew on music from the band Radiohead,  listening to songs off their albums: “Hail to the Thief” and “Amnesiac.” Oddly enough, and even though the story is almost entirely about robots, I did not listen to their album “Ok Computer” or the song “Paranoid Android”. Go figure.