Tag Archives: Book

Make Your Story: Face the Shadow

1 May

Nyx, Goddess of Night; the Altar of Zeus ~200 BCE

Consider parts of your life-story that you never tell.

You don’t often think about your story when you tell it, because, really, why should you? If someone asks you your heritage, where your family is from, how many brothers and sisters you have, what your parents are like, who your grandparents were, those stories come spilling out fast-fast, without much thought. You tell it the same way with the same rhythms, the same half-smile on your face. And why not? You’ve told those stories the same way your whole life. It’s not like your story ever changes, and, anyway, it’s often a pleasure to relate such stories. Especially to writers like you.

But when people ask you about yourself, you deliberately avoid certain chapters, too. You have to. The person you didn’t marry. The career path you had to forego. A character from your past that you refuse to discuss. These parts of your story are “too much information,” you’ve learned. Offensive.

In this process, you are like Jehovah dividing the world into Night and Day, shedding your personal light on a very small number of scenes while relegating most of your life to night and shadow. When I say “shadow,” I’m talking about the moral need to bring order to one’s life, to deny unwanted aspects of yourself while “promoting” aspects you admire. Carl Jung called this part of ourselves “Shadow,” and he knew what he was talking about. It’s not a bad thing. One must make necessary, moral decisions when concocting a face for the civilized world.

And yet, that process is akin to lying. It’s a lie by omission like creating nothing but clean-white portraits in a clean-white space and spending your days airbrushing out blemishes. That might make a nifty business practice but artists consider the unconsidered. She’s willing to look at pain, her own, she shares it, doesn’t look away, and makes something beautiful from her hurt.

I can tell you as someone who has spent nearly my entire life eclipsed by one of my parents’ dense, dark Shadows that the process Jung describes is totally understandable, at times forgivable, all-too-human, and, yet, so bewildering it’s horrifying. It’s not easy or pleasant, but the Shadow is a human fact. And considering the undesirable , unwanted parts of being human is what writers and artists do.

So consider the shadows of your life while reading my posts in the “Make a Story” series. I challenge you to consider moments in your life that you believe don’t fit into your life-story.

Before jumping into the Writing Prompts below, come up with three stories/scenes from your life that might make good material but which you don’t usually tell about yourself. Give them three quick easy titles for easy reference. Don’t worry, I won’t make you write them out! But I will ask you to play with these scenes.

WRITING PROMPT #1: Without telling the actual stories themselves, write 500 words as fast as you can about what themes you see in these three scenes. What dynamics are similar in them? Do they match up with other themes in your life-story? How do you feel when you consider writing these scenes and how hard would it be to include them in your life-story? Write 500 words. Keep your hand/fingers moving. Don’t stop until the word count is met.

Writing Prompt #2: Choose one the three scenes. Pretend it’s a scene in an excellent movie and you are writing a review of it. Describe how the actor(s) nailed it. Describe how the cinematographer shot it to make it so sad, harrowing, or passionate. How was it edited to make such an effective sequence? Be inventive. Have fun with your imaginary movie. Do this for all three scenes, if you like. Write 500 words. Keep your hand/fingers moving. Don’t stop until the word count is met.

Writing Prompt 3: Choose a symbol for each scene. Choose three hard, bold images that appeal to you and write them down or find photos and place them on note cards. Pin the cards over your writing space. Maybe you won’t include the actual scenes, but perhaps these symbols will appear in your irresistible pages, resonating in your skeleton and bear cosmic meaning for you and you alone.

For now.

Make Your Story is a series of articles by novelist Barth Anderson about things you might consider when writing your life-story, autobiography, or when mining personal material for your art. 

In approaching your life story, consider that you might not know it as well as you think you do. Consider your own life the way you might consider a stranger’s. Consider it unknown territory. Consider what you’ve never considered before.

Make Your Story: Make Your Hero

29 Apr

Consider heroism.

Do you grasp your heroism already or are you writing in order to catch a glimpse of it? Either way is good. Just be aware which is you before you start writing.

Be aware that tracking a plot isn’t enough to describe a “hero’s journey,” and rising from nothing isn’t in itself heroic. Exemplary, yes. Brave. But heroism is a trait, not a journey, and I don’t think Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell are correct that killing the dragon is enough to be a hero. Many people, kindly grandfathers and selfish douchebags alike, can and should take rightful action to save their own skins.

It’s why someone kills a dragon that matters. Heroes act out of compassion. Heroes are generous. They give it all away to kill that dragon.

It’s important to point this out because the “lowest common denominator” approach to defining heroic status in the wake of Joseph Campbell’s and Carl Jung’s theories about heroism don’t serve narrative or memoir well. The Jungian formula is “You did a thing you were anxious about = You ARE Heroic.”

Now if that’s personally meaningful to you, I approve. That matters. To you.

But when it comes to telling a life-story, you must face the reality that you are opening such a claim to scrutiny. Some say self-sacrifice makes a hero, not just facing dragons. Some say audacious acts of bravery in the face of superior numbers make a hero. Don’t be surprised if many readers are skeptical or simply don’t agree that your story’s protagonist is heroic simply because you’re using the “hero’s journey” as a format.

So consider some questions before you begin.

Am I a hero or a protagonist in my own story? Am I willing to cast myself as “un-heroic”? Am I aiming for realism or heroism?

If you gave your hero a motto, what would it be? Is your heroic motto validated by the story’s end, or will the hero exchange it for another after the climax? Who “wins” in your story: the hero’s motto, the hero, or the world?

Arrange some of the stories/scenes that you want to relate in your life-story on note cards or on a spreadsheet. Divide them up in three piles/sections: SHOWS COMPASSION; SHOWS SELFISHNESS; HAS REVELATION. Does your protagonist seem heroic to you? What do your hero’s revelation/revelations consist of? What is this hero’s particular journey about? Is heroism a status that your character wishes to receive? Do you wish it for your character (who is you)? Why?

Why are you writing this story? Do you have something to give by telling it? Is it, in and of itself, an act of self-sacrifice? Is telling it a heroic act? A gift?

You are always the protagonist in your own story, but are you the real hero of it? Imagine for a minute, it’s not you. Who is the true hero? Who has acted so heroically that you would not be you without their generosity, bravery, audaciousness?

WRITING PROMPT. 500 words right now. Choose one. Or keep writing and use all three. (1) Describe a personal anecdote in which you came off as selfish, egotistical. (2) Describe a personal anecdote in which you showed generosity and were exceedingly selfless. (3) Describe a scene in which someone else acted “heroically” for you.

Make Your Story is a series of articles by novelist Barth Anderson about things you might consider when writing your life-story, autobiography, or when mining personal material for your art. 


Make Your Hero

Novel Progress on The Mad Queen’s Game

5 May

Queen Juana 1 of Castile

I had to make a big decision on the structure of The Mad Queen’s Game that cuts out a major plot line. It adds up to removing half the book.

This cut is a good decision — the two narratives don’t actually fit together, but I thought I could do it with sheer will power and creative force. Silly me. It turns out what I suspected from the beginning is correct, that the second narrative is actually redundant thematically. I pout in shame for not listening to that.

Of course, the material would make a terrific book in itself, a parallel story that’s more swashbuckling and adventurous in the same world. So it’s not lost time, really. I think the way to avoid this in the future is to:


Keep it Simpler, Anderson. Repetition without advancement of theme or mood might mean something needs to be cut. Watch for that early on next time.

2) Outline to Streamline

When in doubt, put the most effort into streamlining the plot. You’re just fine at complicating things later. No need to put more effort into that than you need to early on, Barth.

3) Breaking New Ground is Always Best

Sniff out the fun and new. That’ll allow you to see the plot more clearly earlier.

In other developments, I found a GIF of my main character from a 2001 Spanish movie called Juana la Loca.


Juana the Mad whapping Philippe the Handsome

My book, The Mad Queen’s Game, is about Juana of Castile (Spain) who is slapping her incredible prick of a hubby in this GIF. Yay!

My Juana is very different than the Juana in this movie but it’s still fun to see how she’s presented, especially in her homeland. My Juana is not a basket case for a man, as she turns out to be in this flick: My Juana is mentally ill (and in my opinion she suffered from severe depression if not something stronger) but she had to suffer a mind-blowing Greek Tragedy-level of grief that didn’t have much to do with this dweeb in the GIF.

That said, there’s a lot behind this slap. He deserves a hot one across the chops, and after two years of research, I wanna slap this incredible prick, too.

More: My “Mad Queen’s Game” Pinterest page where I keep images from research about characters and the period (turn of the Sixteenth Century) for inspiration, if you like spying on that sort of thing.

Lot 12A: “The Feast of the Dead” Manuscript (Fiction)

2 Mar


Original short fiction. Copyright Barth Anderson. Appeared originally in New Genre Magazine (2004). 

Lot 12A: “The Feast of the Dead” Manuscript

By Barth Anderson

Antiquary Auctions has enclosed all the information you need to bid on Lot 12A in this convenient brochure with state-of-the-art holo. Below, you will find a description of Lot 12A, pertinent documents from the War Crimes Tribunal (or WCT), and even a rare translation by its infamous founder. From the far reaches to your homeworld, Antiquary Auctions brings you the absolute strangest in alien artifacts.

Blink HERE to read about other lots in the Handrigan estate auction.

Blink HERE to bid.

Description: Lot 12A is easily the most fascinating item in this auction. This curio consists of four one-by-one-meter sheets of dark green, organic material (probably the skin of an extinct, indigenous fauna), and dazzling pictographs cover the surfaces, rendered in lustrous cyan ink. The “parchments” are in fair condition, though water damage renders some glyphs illegible. Each parchment sits in its own Icebox(TM) for customer satisfaction, integrity guaranteed by Cry-O-Matics.

Blink HERE to view holo of Lot 12A.

Blink HERE to bid.

History and Subject Matter: Outlaw archaeologist Dr. Ch’jij, whose barbaric crimes made famous her obsession with the Manuscript, excavated these parchments with her own hands (as it were!). Drawn from the Hearth Temple ruins, she dubbed her find “The Feast of the Dead” Manuscript. Dr. Ch’jij estimated that these parchments were created 1400-1800 years ago, during what the indigenous culture calls Yujich, the most violent epoch of Procyon Prima’s history. Few artifacts survived from this period, making Lot 12A an extraordinary purchase for any consumer on any world.

As you will see from the translation below, the ancient text appears to be an education manual of some kind. Its Narrator uses an ancient linguistic case, the second person parental, offering counsel in martial, matrimonial, and culinary etiquette. Gentlemen, let’s hope our brides don’t take up these customs!

Blink HERE for Rear Admiral Luther Handrigan’s account of first contact with Procyon Prima eighty years ago.

Blink HERE to bid.

Ownership: Antiquary Auctions must warn consumers that establishing ownership of Lot 12A has been problematic since two parties have claimed title to it. The original owner was, of course, Dr. Ch’jij. As a result, the notorious Moons University, where the doctor held tenure, makes claim to this lot. So does the Esteemed Estate of Field Marshall Diego Handrigan, commander of the orbit-to-surface campaign, whom Dr. Ch’jij brutally assassinated.

In its capacity over intersolar trade, The War Crimes Tribunal has named Diego Handrigan’s estate the proper owner of Lots 12A-12T. All funds earned from this auction will go to the Handrigan estate as restitution for the Field Marshall’s assassination and for the unspeakable savagery Dr. Ch’jij and her colleagues performed on his body after killing him.

Blink HERE to view Armada News coverage of Dr. Ch’jij’s murder trial. Blink HERE to read pertinent WCT articles.

Blink HERE to bid.

Translation: So consumers may better appreciate the ancient and mysterious oddity of Lot 12A, we have enclosed the only existing English translation of “The Feast of the Dead” Manuscript. Dr. Ch’jij herself completed it for offworld colleagues, shortly before the Armada’s siege of the M.U. guerrilla compound. Academic buyers may be interested in Lot 12G, a sample of which appears below.

Dr. Ch’jij’s Translation Notes, abridged from Lot 12G:

“We have never found anything like the Feast of the Dead Manuscript before. At a time when our children turn to outsider ways and prefer the infiltrator’s name, ‘Procyon Prima,’ to the proper Ul’jit, we now have an older, richer past than we ever dreamed.

“Translators have previously interpreted the Yujich picto-glyph ‘[chefs/women]’ as compound word ‘war-maidens’. But using a foreign idea such as war says more about modern, cultural pollution than it says about our Yujich ancestors.

“As this Manuscript reveals, the Yujich competed with rival, sentient predators whom they regarded as soulless. This might have the appearance of ‘war’ to offworlders, but to the Yujich women, their rivals were food first and foes second. Accordingly, I have emphasized the word chef in my translation.”

(Translated from the Hijese by Bombardier Rodrigo Toofay of the Armada’s High Atmosphere Wing; Baccalaureate, Xeno-linguistics.)

Opening bids on Lot 12A should immediately reflect its immense value to historians, linguists, and the discerning collector. Provost Marshall Beulah Handrigan hopes that the sale of Lots 12A-12T will raise funds for a second, successful orbit-to-surface campaign for Procyon Prima and draw investors back to this perfectly secure and well-defended planet.

Rest assured, the War Crimes Tribunal Article 21 protects the sale and resale of all items in this auction from future indigenous claims.

Bidding closes at Procyon Prima orbital time 1000:3:37:02, Handrigan Armada Local. All payments must be received in war dollars.

Blink HERE to bid.

“Feast of the Dead” Manuscript

Parchment One

(Extensive water damage blurs initial glyphs.)

. . . with [love/fury] in your third-stomach, hunt these dangerous [trophies/ingredients] to find the-twin-of-your-heart. For [chefs/women] in love are lucky hunters.


Your first trial and wedding-kill will —

(Water damaged glyphs)

— must seize your chosen prey at the base. If you disabled the stamen, the flower will not harm you. Pull. Allow your prey to retaliate, as it will, with muscle-roots wrapping — (Smeared glyph) — subdued by pinching the stem. Beware of the dinner-ending gas from burst stem-leaves. If you did not disable the stamen properly, the prey will now lunge for your [head/helmet]. Do not panic. Grasp the stalk like sad [?] on her mate-hunt, and bash the flower against the ground. This ruins the delicious pollen sac, which may cause you to-eat-your-own-vestigial-organs. But acting so will save your life.

A [nurse/man] will be yours if you cook the pollen sac for his children.

A [metaphysician/man] will be yours if you cook the pollen sac for his brood-mates.

[Strongholds/women] are lust-treasures, but hard for us to woo. They love our feasts, but don’t like sharing their hearths with [chefs/women]. I know what I say.



I cooked that flower for a [stronghold/woman].
But she would not wedding-feast with me.
I eat-last-at-my-own-dinner, for
Now that flower blooms in her litters’ eyes.

The [?] gland is located behind your prey’s eyes. You must kill your prey while keeping the [?] gland intact.

Do not break the prey’s spine or puncture the heart.

Do not cut the prey’s throat.

Use [?]’s maneuver to throw the prey face down and deliver the falling-axe-kick to the back of your prey’s skull.

If you honored your-beloved-ovens, you will kill the [big-eye/sentinel?] instantly. If not, Tribe will steal your entrails and inhale them in the smoking-ritual [laughter punctuation].

Now you may sever the head.

If you choose to wed a [nurse/man] who already cares for a litter, do not remove the [?] gland until you reach your-beloved-ovens. The fresh gland makes [strong/devious] babies.

[Metaphysicians/men] will eat anything with the [?] gland in it, especially ghost-brain-pie in a bread-purse.

If you are wooing a [stronghold/woman], do not make the [?] gland part of your [love/fury]-offering. She will [hit/discover] your future together and see only your quarrels. I know what I say.



I made ghost-brain-pie for a [stronghold/woman],
She dreamed a wedding-feast.
Did she see me bond-dancing her? No: Another.
Mate-hunting is a [mystery/torment].

Execute and read no further.

Parchment Three

For your first [outsider/infiltrator]-trial, the feast-markets and temple-steps of your-beloved-oven yield challenging prey. You are invited to hunt [outsiders/infiltrators], such as the hated butcher-in-the-cellars and the stranglers-who-breathe-water. Or you are invited to cannibalize [heretics/parasites]. Either —

(Water damaged glyphs)

— recommend hunting mask-makers. These liars hide among the sated-stomach-neighborhoods, usually among the temples, where the [metaphysicians/men] like to argue about constellations all day. The audacity of the mask-makers is without limit. They are known to misdirect the precious thoughts of [metaphysicians/men]. They are known to steal babies from [nurses/men].

Killing mask-makers requires strategy, for they are [strong/devious]. Here is a strategy your-ancient-teacher used: Your-ancient-teacher went to the temple-of-the-sacred-many and joined constellation-debates. Your-ancient-teacher did this over [time?] so that I, like the mask-makers, seemed part of debate-brood.

Your-ancient-teacher sought unfamiliar [metaphysicians/men] on temple-steps. I approached an old [star/savant] and called to him, “How are your people?”

The old stranger responded, “My people are [blessed/fed] by the sacred-many.” Because your-ancient-teacher was fat and beautiful, he called, “How burns your hearth, ravenous one?”

Your-ancient-teacher assured him that it burned with bounty. Then I locked-guts and called, “May we lie together on the mating-mat-of-your-brain, intelligent one?”

If the [star/savant] had covered his face, eating-his-own-vestigial-organs, your-ancient-teacher would know he was a real [metaphysician/man]. Your-ancient-teacher would have apologized and offered a feast for not permitting an elder to begin the mate-hunt.

But I knew this old stranger was a mask-maker!

My prey believed that I was [weak/easily tricked]. It responded like an unleashed-salivating-gaze-predator. It shed its camouflage as elder [star/savant]. It looked like a white-eyed water-strangler breaking the surface of a bog.

I was in-my-skin. Your-ancient-teacher attacked the mask-maker like-a-quadruped, startling it so that the mask-maker emitted [feces/clues]. Then I pinned it with high-claws and jaws.

I gutted my prey on the temple-steps as [?] gutted the moon-of-thieves, raking its abdomen with low-claws.

Execute and read no further.

Parchment Two

The purple-green prairies of [?] are bounty-turf for infiltration-hunt. Here a chef may test her skills against Tribe. These bipeds have the ghost-brain and will foresee your intentions —

(Water Damaged Glyphs)

— a delicious [?] gland that makes good wedding-feast when roasted with ocean-beast, hot-tuber, — (Smeared glyph) — and [extensive list of unknown vegetation]. This dish is precious-food during the constellation-debates of the [metaphysicians/men].

In preparing for a Tribe-hunt, do not make ghost-brain-technique. Your [contemplation?/affection/soul] will alert Tribe. Leave your trained-gaze-predator leashed at camp. Walk through the low-green-grass like-a-biped, so that you can gaze-hunt Tribe.

If the grass extends above your [head/helmet], you are in danger. High-purple-grass is where Tribe hunts thoughts of the fat-crazies-with-no-ghost-brain. In high-purple-grass, Tribe will [hit/foresee] you before you infiltrate.

Find the high ground and the lone individual serving as [big-eye/sentinel?] for Tribe. Seek high-purple-grass as soon as you identify your prey. Nose-hunt. Stalk the [big-eye/sentinel?] from behind like-a-quadruped. Your chef-tools of speed and stealth will be tested, but do not be too cautious. Individuals are [weak/easily tricked] when separated from Tribe.

I cut and removed the tongue, placing it in my satchel. I had three [metaphysicians/men] initiate-mate-hunt with me before the last sun set. But that one lust-treasure still tempted my memory so I refused all three.

Most [chefs/women] woo [metaphysicians/men]. Make the memory-perfume from mask-maker tongue. Cook this dish for your mate-prey’s important thinking.

Many [chefs/women] want a [nurse/man], so he may father while they hunt. Cook memory-perfume, and you will convince him.

Here is the secret to wooing a [stronghold/woman]: Do not cook better than she cooks. She must always be the more tempting one.

I know what I say.



Cook for your satisfaction,
Satiate your loved ones,
And make the manner of your wedding-kill
A digestive-aid for the sacred-many.

Execute and read no further.

Parchment Four

Your final wedding-kill is a ghost-brain-hunt. You must [locate/identify] your prey without following its [feces/clues], nose-hunting, or exposing its [den/confidence].

For this hunt, you must let a [heretic/parasite] make you her prey. Be in-your-skin. [Heretics/Parasites] are chef-trained, and while they no longer cook at the hearth of the sacred-many, they will use their chef-tools to end-your-dinner.

But don’t [worry/self-delude]. Ghost-brain-hunting [heretics/parasites] is as enjoyable as cannibalizing them. Use ghost-brain to locate a [heretic/parasite]. Lure her to your hearth with [strong/devious] hallucinations of beast-meat-smell and stewed-[fruit?]-fumes. [Heretics/Parasites] cannot resist free food.

When you see [heretics/parasites], you may feel [pity/scorn]. Remember that they are [strong/devious] challenges to [you-all/my-beloved-children]. They eat but never feed the people. They kill in order to take. They do not have [contemplation?/affection/soul].

You are law. [Guard/save] your people from [outsiders/infiltrators]. Pounce with rampant-heart, twenty-four-claws-unsheathed and scream like [?] did when she slew perpetrator-of-the-ransack.


Present a lung.

[Crush/Clap] the head before her corpse collapses.

Kill and cook. Grind the leg-bones for bread, [chef/woman]. The sacred-many will [bless/feed] you for placing an [outsider/infiltrator] in the funeral-urn of your stomach.


Read further only after executing.

Beloved-child, when you return from your final-kill, sing the songs of your greatest appetite! Spill [contemplation?/affection/soul] on the twin-of-your-heart, and the wedding-[stringed instrument?] will scream!

For now you have accomplished all four trials, and these dangerous [trophies/ingredients] have led you to your bond-dance. Your hearth will burn with bounty and every lazing-mat at every table will be [overflowing/heaped] with your satisfied people.

But remember this:

Your-ancient-teacher danced no bond-dances, nor did I wedding-feast. My mate-prey [fled/parried] me, but I have not eaten-my-own-vestigial-organs. [Utter-refusal/Zero/Futile-hunt]. I require no mate-mat, for I cook with bounty, too much for only two. Either my dinner will end while trailing delicious prey, or hearth-bricks will heat my fat corpse (laughter punctuation).

Until that end comes, I cook with [love/fury], a [chef/woman] serving the enemy to her people.


Blink HERE to bid.

Blink HERE to exit.

Copyright Barth Anderson

New Blog and The “Food Mystery”

30 Jun

I’m Barth Anderson, and welcome to my new blog Con Gusto.

Con gusto is a lovely junk drawer of a Spanish phrase that can mean anything from “to taste” (as in, adding a spice to meet one’s liking), to accomplishing tasks with pleasure, eagerness, relish. Comer con gusto means to eat with a lusty appetite.

Some of you know me from Fair Food Fight, where I write under the name “El Dragón.” Y’all know that I blog con gusto.

Unfortunately, it’s been a long time since I’ve blogged about writing and books, two of my great loves. I miss writing about writing and reading, so that’s what I’m going to hit here on Con Gusto.

Well, that and food politics. I’m pretty obsessed with that, whether I’m writing at Fair Food Fight or here. And I’ll still write about issues facing small farmers. Oh, movies, too. And, music, probably. And stuff that makes me laugh. There’s a lot that I do con gusto.

I’m also starting this blog because I’ve begun work on my third novel (you can read about the first two books here), and I’m hoping to have a first draft/treatment finished in the next six weeks. This book doesn’t have a title yet, but it’s about a murder that takes place on a dairy farm and the shock waves its discovery sends through the food world. Let’s call it food noir, with a jaded organic inspector, an emergent super-flu, a supertasting clairgustant, and dead bodies getting dredged up in manure lagoons.

These are a few of my favorite things.

So throw me on your blog-reader and you can track the growth of this book from seed to store. Bueno? Claro. Thanks for stopping by.