Category Archives: Writing

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year — Again

nano

Of course I’m doing NaNoWriMo. Sorry I didn’t blog about it before this. Has it really been three weeks since my last confession, er, blog post?

I’ve just been totally wrapped up in the planning and the writing involved in NaNoWriMo. However, instead of writing a novel this month, I decided to write a bunch of stories. Or, to be more precise, to start a bunch of stories. I had ideas for three or four novels and many more short stories, and I thought I’d get to work on a few of them. Part of this came about because I keep hearing from published science fiction and fantasy writers that an important component of learning to write well is finishing your work.

It’s hard to finish a novel, even if you have a first draft. I’ve got one novel I care enough about to keep working on. I started during November of 2012. It’s still not done. So I thought, heck. If short stories are good enough for Ray Bradbury, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Aliette de Bodard, maybe there’s something there.

Then I learned about Ray Bradbury’s 52 Week Short Story Challenge. Hmmm. That might be just what I need.

After November, in which I’m writing (actually, starting) #30Stories30Days, I hope to have plenty of material to mine for the entire following year. Then I’ll finish a story a week. Even if I take a few of weeks of vacation and/or get caught up in whatever drama life chooses to present, I should still be able to finish 45-50 stories. As Ray Bradbury would say, they won’t all be bad. Unless of course, you really have to write all 52 stories to end up with one good one. Then I’m screwed.

Still, I think I’ll learn a lot. I’m looking forward to it.

A brief word from our sponsor – Voices from the Dark

As the days grow short and the nights ever longer, the season for enjoying chilling stories by your fireside creeps in. What luck, then, that a Writing Journey anthology is coming out to fulfill your needs!
Within each of us lies a darkness. A deep, unnerving essence that lurks at the fringes of our consciousness. Some hear it as a voice whispering secrets from the dark shadows. Others feel its presence as a cold chill sent tingling down the spine. However it makes itself known, the darkness is there. It’s real, and it wants to be freed.
VoicesFromTheDark_cvr

Voices from the Dark is to be released very soon; I’ll keep you posted through my various online presences as soon as it becomes available.

I have a story in it and have read many of the others, and I think this will be a good anthology.

If you’d like to get a taste of it ahead of time, you can do so here:

Storytelling Event: Once upon a Samhain
Sunday, November 1st 2015  from 6pm to 8pm
Atlantic Bar on 5062 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago IL 60625
(Will be held in the back room; mwa-ha-ha!)

Thirteen lines…what’s the gee-whiz?

1-mouse

Regular readers of this blog may remember that I’m following along with the Writing Excuses master class in fiction writing. Slowly. As in, I’m still working on assignments that were given back in April, but at least I’m working on them.

For the assignment I’m on right now, I’m supposed to share the first 13 lines of a story, and then ask alpha readers—that would be you, if you choose to accept the assignment—what they think the “gee-whiz” of the piece is. In other words, what is the reason for telling the story? Is it a certain interesting society, character, piece of tech, kind of magic, or what?

In that spirit, I’m sharing the first 13 lines of a story I’m writing, and asking for responses. Can you guess/predict the gee-whiz?

Kimberley savored a celebratory caramel macchiato in the coffee garden across from campus. Her eyes rested on a bed of pink tulips under a flowering crabapple tree as a light bubble of joy filled her chest. Her old implant pinged. Even before installing her upgrade, she was already thinking of her implant as the “old” one. Marco’s tone. She bit her lip. She’d hoped to tell her mother about her placement first. Mom would have the perfect reaction, but Kimberley’s ping to her had so far gone unanswered. She planned to tell Marco, too, though his response might dampen her mood.

As if anything could. He might not be as happy for her as she might wish, but they would both get over it. And she wanted to hear about his placement. She clicked her tongue to open a line, said, “Hey.”

“Did you find out yet?”

“Yes. How about you?”

“Skank! You first.”

There they are. The first 13 lines, at least in my web browser. Any impressions regarding genre, tone, conflict, story question or characters are welcome, but I’m particularly interested in what you think the “gee-whiz” might be.

In other news, Cookie, Sis, and I just got back from England and France. Photos and anecdotes coming soon…

I am a flying squirrel!

(Sorry if you get an ad before the video starts, but you should be able to click it away after a few seconds. Or who knows? Maybe it’s for something you want.)

I’ve been participating on the 750words.com web site for so long that I thought they ran out of badges for me to earn. Imagine my surprise and delight when I received a new one yesterday.

It looks like this:

flyingsquirrel750

Isn’t it adorable? I got it for a 1000-day writing streak. Whew! Maybe now I can take a break.

Writing Excuses 10.14 – Beginnings, part 3

Part 3 of 3

quill

Today’s post is my third 500-word beginning for the story outlined in my July 14  post.

Elise ran her hands along the cool, brushed nickel box, over its rounded corners. She closed her eyes, the better to focus on the sensations from her fingers, seeking the recessed snap opening that was discernible only by touch. The whole container was barely larger than her fist. So much more elegant than the big plastic box her University upgrade had been packaged in. Though at the time, four years ago, she remembered being excited by that, too, and the future it seemed to promise.

But this box, with its subtly raised FMI logo—this was truly what she’d been working for. What her mother had worked overtime and sacrificed to make possible. She wanted to wait for Mom, and she didn’t.

“Time?” she subvocalized to her implant. In the cool, well-bred tones she’d set it to use as soon as she entered the business college of [NAME] University, it informed her that it was nine-oh-six, . Normally Mom would have been home by now. On a night like tonight, she should have been home an hour ago, even if she had charts to finish. Why didn’t she answer Elise’s message?

Elise felt she might explode. She’d done all the busywork she could think of, filling the time preparing for tonight’s celebration. She’d stopped to buy bratwurst, the cheap pink bubbly wine her mother loved, and a fresh deck of playing cards. A salad was already made, the table set. All the poker supplies were on the wood laminate coffee table in front of their sagging couch. Mom would sit on the couch, hunched low over her cards, trash-talking Elise as they played. The worse her mother’s cards were, the more colorful her mock insults grew.

Where was she? Mom knew Elise was supposed to hear about her job placement today. Didn’t she want to be home, whether to comfort or to celebrate? Elise had expected her to message much earlier in the day, as soon as she got any kind of break at work, but there had been no communication of any sort, and no response to Elise’s message sent—how long ago was it now? Over half an hour.

Well, at least she could access the documentation she’d been sent with her offer. She kicked off her knockoff Feruccis and lay down on the couch. Closing her eyes, she said, “Open email for FMI offer details.”

“Read it out, or will you read?” her implant asked.

“‘l’ll read.” She’d listened to the details already, but she wanted to process the information visually. When she was jumpy like this, it sometimes settled her to read. Scrolling across her interior vision field, the details of the offer still delighted her. Two hundred K to start. That was twice what her mother made. Even if she didn’t get a salary bump at full employment, she would be able to pay her loans off in five years. And she would get that raise. She’d done her research. FMI kept interns at base pay for a year, then bumped it by at least ten percent. She’d heard of some rookies getting fifty percent after the first year, if they were real hotshots. She was just such a hotshot, and she knew it.

No one who started in [the projects] got into FMI, even if they had the grades for it. That is, no one but Elise.

Which of the three beginnings works best for you, making you want to read further? What do you expect to happen in this story?

Writing Excuses 10.14 – Beginnings, part 2

Part 2 of 3

Today’s post is my second 500-word attempt to begin the story outlined in my previous post.

Elise was enjoying a celebratory light caramel macchiato when her implant pinged with Marco’s tone. She swallowed, clicked her tongue to open the line, said, “Yes?”

“Did you find out yet?”

“Yes. How about you?”

“Skank! You first.”

“Okay.” Her joy threatened to bubble out every orifice in her body. She couldn’t have held out long anyway. “I’m in.”

“At FMI? Shut up.”

“Yes, at FMI. I already have all the docs, but I haven’t downloaded them yet.”

“What about your upgrade?”

“They’re messengering that to the apartment. Should be there in the next couple of hours.”

“Shit. You better get there before someone lifts it. You don’t want to miss your big chance to join our Uno overlords.”

Elise laughed. She’d learned about ten years earlier—courtesy of the business etiquette class her mother arranged for her when she was still in middle school—that none of the one-percenters ever referred to themselves as Unos. It was déclassé, and if she’d done it, she would either have betrayed her common origins or been seen as too irreverent to be taken seriously. But Marco could get away with it.

“Just finishing a coffee, then I’m on my way. You want to come?”

“Does [insert futuristic Pope Catholic thing here]? I want to see that implant.”

“Let’s meet up and take the bus back. Where are you?”

“Just picked up my own shiny new upgrade.”

Elise knew someone would hire Marco. From the sound of his voice he was happy about his offer, but he’d never said who he wanted to work for. He’d mentioned some private corps, the university, even a couple of non-profits, but he’d never given her any indication of his top pick. He was like that. He worked his ass off all four years—just like she had—but where Elise had only ever wanted to work at FMI after graduation, Marco had good things to say about several different paths.

“Spill. Who took you?”

“The Uni.”

“Oh.”

“Elise. It’s a good thing. We don’t all want to rule our inferiors.”

“That’s not what FMI is about.”

“I’m sure you’ll explain it all to me once you get through brainwashing—uh, orientation.”

“Let’s not fight about it, Marco. Can’t you be happy for me?”

“If you can be happy for me.”

“Of course I can.”

And suddenly he was across the metal table from her, his backpack making a hard thunk as it landed, causing her cup to shudder and jump. Thank god she’d left the lid on.

“Glad to hear it, ’Lise.” He grinned and picked up her cup, taking a large swig from it. “Are we going now, or what?”

She shook her head, stood, and settled her shoulder bag crossways on her body. She wrested the cup away from him. “We’d better. I don’t want any of the little delinquents or their more professional parents getting ideas about my package.”

An aubergine sedan with a silver FMI logo on the driver’s door was just pulling around the corner as they approached Elise’s building.

Back to the Writing Excuses – 10.14 – Beginnings

Part 1 of 3

I’m back to sharing some of the work I’m doing as part of the Writing Excuses Master Class in Fiction Writing. The episode that prompted this post (and the two following) can be heard here.

Here’s a basic outline of the story I’m working on:

In the near future, people use specialized implants to help them succeed at their jobs. Implants are given when children start preschool, and based on how the children respond and what they seem most suited to learning, their implants are updated/refined as they approach maturity.

Elise, 22,  lives with her mother in a bleak apartment, paid for from her mother’s salary as a nurse. Elise has always longed and worked for a better future. Finally her dreams seem to be coming true. She is about to graduate from the university, and has been selected for a training program at the prestigious [Financial Management Institute]. The company has delivered her new improved [implant]; once she replaces her student implant with the new one and accepted the Terms of Service, she will be contractually obligated to begin her new life. She has some problems with the tutorial and asks a friend to help. The friend disapproves of Elise’s plans; they fight and the friend leaves. Elise’s mother finally gets home from work, Elise can tell it was a rough day, but her mother won’t talk about it. Finally Mom asks Elise what’s up. Though Elise is surprised Mom doesn’t remember that today was the day the training program was choosing recruits, but she tells her Mom about her triumph. Far from being genuinely enthusiastic, Mom simply goes through the motions. Elise realizes this is because Mom still has work turned all the way up on her implant. She requests that Mom turn work down, which is how people are normally able to maintain genuine relationships. Mom either can’t or breaks down when she tries to.

A frightened Elise is left to decide whether she’s willing to forgo her personality in order to succeed in a demanding career.

  • Main story element from the MICE Quotient: Character
  • Number of characters: 3
  • Exciting parts/promises: 1- a fabulous new life of wealth after years of poverty and sacrifice, 2- the tech implants, 3- the fight with her friend, 4- the revelatory scene with her mom
  • Probable story length ~4000 words

And here’s my first 500-word attempt at letting the reader know what to expect from the story:

Elise looked both ways down the hall before setting her messenger bag on the floor. It was safer there than over her shoulder; she didn’t want to jostle her precious FMI package while she fiddled with the three locks they used to ensure their apartment’s safety. Once she started the new job, it wouldn’t be long before they could afford something better than this dump. Luckily the corridor was empty. Too late for the parents to be scooting their kids out the door to school and too early for the dealers to be trolling the halls for customers.

She and her mother had reported the broken vidcams in their own hall too many times for security to take them seriously. Never mind that they were telling the truth: the cams were actually broken. Security had only so much budget for these buildings. Keeping the halls safe wouldn’t become a priority unless and until some One-percenter got a bug up her ass about the less-privileged segments of society and came along to do good. That hadn’t happened in their neighborhood yet. If Elise had her way, she and her mother be long gone before anyone got around to it. It would probably take a few years for her to gain One-percent status. Maybe once she did, she’d become a do-gooder. If she remembered and still cared about anyone in this shithole. She was taking Mom with her, so she might not.

Her fingerprint applied to the last lock, she elbowed the door open and lifted her bag over the threshold, this time setting it carefully on the laminate table by the door. She locked everything again from the inside, kicked off her knock-off Feruccis, and hung her blazer on the peg next to the table.

The living room smelled of synthetic lemon, and she smiled. In spite of how exhausted Mom always was, she’d still cleaned the apartment before leaving for her hospital shift this morning. She had to be almost as excited as Elise, though she’d been asleep  when Elise left for school.

Neither of them could know if FMI would choose Elise for an internship, not for sure. Despite her stellar academics and extracurriculars, despite the years she and her mother had sacrificed a better home for the extra classes and social opps Elise would need in order to blend in with One-percenters.

Anyone could get into some kind of financial management slot if they had the grades and no criminal record. To get into a firm like FMI, one that raised their employees from nowhere to the heights—that took more. You needed to show you could be one of them. Elise had spent over eighteen years—ever since she got her first implant—doing what it took to fit in.

She couldn’t have anyone over to their drab apartment, of course, so she had to be better than the usual one-percenter at almost everything, including making people care about her. She’d done it, though. Finally.

The packet beckoned. She opened the clasps on her bag and pulled out a brushed-nickel box.

Based just on this beginning, what do you expect this story to be about? What would you read further to find out?