January 30th

Thank you 

Today I owe three bloggers a thank you.

Alissa Leonard – her blog.

Natalie Bowers – her blog.

Rebekah Postupak – her blog.

Why? Well, I decided to hijack their flash competitions to engage in an experiment. Could I write a single story, split up over three flash challenges. Now, very rudely, I did not ask these bloggers if they were willing to be used in such a way. Sorry.

I finished the challenge. I’m left with four not quite satisfactory flash stories – three shorter ones, and the final one. But that is fine. That longer one has a nice shape to work with. It also opened up a new direction for my steampunk(ish) city Sar-Chona. I’ve given it a revolution. That was not an anticipated thing. But now it has happened, I look forward to investigating it further.

There was something else nice that happened this week. Last year I feverishly wrote a story for submission to an anthology. It was another Sar-Chona story, and the editor rejected my submission. I was looking over it to submit elsewhere this week, after coincidentally reading an update on that anthology. Wow, did my story miss the anthology call! It wasn’t intentional. When the story started the initial idea would have been fine – then it morphed into something entirely different. I was so wrapped up in the story, and of course I was writing it for this ancho call, that I just lost how far off it ended up.

So, on realizing this, I dropped the editor a line to apologize for the egregious miss. Well knock me down, she went and re-read the submission and complimented me on the world-building. On top of that, I’m to drop her a line when I place it, and she’ll give a shout out. So, that’s lovely.

January 25th

A Challenge! I’m going to attempt to write three flash stories with a common thread that, at the end of next week, will be a single complete story.

Well, I’m guessing it’ll need some linking work, but that’s the challenge.

Three flash prompts – one united story.

Check back to see how that goes.

Come the Revolution

Part One

None of us really believed in the revolution until the night Baz-Baz Chinnelle went missing. He’d always said he and Gina would get out before it started. I’d picked up their mail direct from the station. Not a hardship, the freight-train from Yeginder got in just before I came off shift. A cold breeze blew up the Wyrnal Canal and down my neck and I looked forward to a cup of chai with, if I was lucky, some of Gina’s home-cured marhog bacon on a still-warm bap.

The first indication anything was wrong sat on their door-step.

“Hey, Carradine, what you doing sitting in the cold?” I bent and stroked the overweight tabby who viewed Baz-Baz and Gina as butler and maid. She meowed plaintively. I knocked the door. Carradine mewed again. I knocked louder. When it remained unanswered I leaned an ear to the wood. A faint tinkle of wind-chimes was the only sound from inside.

This was the first time I wondered if Baz-Baz’s revolution was going to happen. Gina never missed the weekly packet of mail from back home, never. And they both doted over the fat cat who rubbed against my leg.

“C’mon, Carradine.” I scooped the cat up and headed to my flat. Carradine didn’t seem impressed, but a few chicken scraps and some milk mollified her.

If the revolution was coming, it seemed sensible to prepare. My tiny garret flat began to look like a store-room. Boxes of tins, jars, and bottles were stacked everywhere. I put a new lock on the door, and installed a sliding barrier behind that. It was strange, though, I seemed to be the only one preparing. I said that none of us believed in the revolution until Baz-Baz and Gina disappeared. Afterwards it was only me that believed. The others wrote him off as an ex-cadet with memories of hope, but no future other than the castles built in his mind.

“Gina’s dragged him back to her hometown,” Jonas said.

The others agreed.

“But, the revolution—“

Carra interrupted me. “Sar-Chona’s always revolting.”

Even I laughed at that. But no one else believed change was coming. No one. There was an ingrained expectation that The Inspectorate, the city’s security arm, would be on top of any situation. They had a reputation for having spies everywhere, and were run by a woman whose name, Kelly Secnish, was a byword for ruthlessness. Doing a Kelly, or being Kelly’ed meant doing, or having done to you, very bad things.

Two weeks after Baz-Baz flew the coop things started with the unexpected death of Kelly in a shoot out. The city was quiet for two days before hell broke out. I holed up in my flat for nearly a week, watching the city burn, listening to murder and death from the street below, and wishing Baz-Baz and Gina well wherever they had escaped to.

Part Two

Everyone loses in a revolution. That’s my assessment.

When I eventually ventured outside, Sar-Chona was no longer Sar-Chona. I made my way through dark and quiet streets, assailed by putrefactions rankness. The water-pump still worked, something I’d worried about. Returning home safely was a relief.

Over the coming days my outside explorations lengthened. The factory I worked in was a charred ruin. Near the remains of a barricade I met Carra.

“Where’s Jonas?” I asked.

Her face was pale beneath the grime. She shook her head. The expected tears never came. She came home with me and, after eating greedily, curled onto the bed and slept. The cat snuggled against her in sympathy.

Two days later Carra could cry again. She told how Inspectorate forces cut Jonas down as he helped blockade the street, trying to keep back marauders and rioters.

“I never really believed there’d be a revolution,” she said. “I thought Baz-Baz was spinning yarns. He was full of them.”

“This one was no story.”

“No. Where do you think they are?”

“Somewhere safe, and warm.”

We sat in silence. Everyone loses in a revolution. I waited to find out what I’d lost.

Part Three

Normality returns slowly to a city after revolution, the inhabitants nervous to accept safety has returned. The streets were quiet when I checked Baz-Baz and Gina’s place.
The door was open.
I went in, hoping to find my friends, ready to attack looters.
“Who the hell are you?” Asked the stranger. He was as tall as Baz-Baz, and about the same age. And he had a shock-flail pointed at me. My knife suddenly felt inadequate.
“This is my friends house,” I said. “I’m watching it until they return.”
He shook his head. “They wont be.”
He put the gun down. In seconds he went from a looter I was ready to stab, to a sad-faced stranger with the demeanor of a lonely tree in a desert plain.
“What do you mean?”
“Their both dead.”
“What?”
He shook his head, like it didn’t matter.
“Tell me how,” I demanded. The knife wavered in my hand. I gripped it firmly. “And who the hell are you?”
Gina’s wind chimes tinkled softly.
“Does it matter. They’re gone, and so are the people responsible.”
I hadn’t believed there be a revolution. Though I didn’t want to, I believed this stranger who told me Baz-Baz was dead.

January 19th

In Praise of Flash Fiction Do you read Flash? If you read, then the answer is yes. When you read a short news item in the metro as you travel to work, that’s flash. when you sit in the doctor’s surgery and flick through three year old magazines, most of those are flash. Some of what you read will also be fiction (what, in a newspaper, gasp!). Generally viewed as being up to one thousand words, though some places take a more or less stringent view, Flash Fiction is a skill that all writers would do well to learn.

When there are limits on how many words you can use your skills are sharpened, your choice of word and phrase becomes critical. Choosing to wax lyrical about the sensuous texture of a garment, or the unctuousness of a bowl of dolmades, or the gentle interplay of light from the setting sun, well there just isn’t the time and space to do it.Taut prose is good prose. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for flowers and purpleness and curlicues. But not for a new writer, and not most of the time.

So how does one go about writing Flash Fiction? What’s the purpose, the point, who cares??? Well, my favorites are lined here. These are venues that provide a prompt and a timescale, so the writing is focused both in scope and time. Yet, consistently, there is a wealth of ideas on display when you read the various entries. So, reader or writer, come have a look. Flash fiction is like the delicious nougat nibble, or bar of Dairy Milk, or caviar blini, or a whole host of other tiny delicious bites. They won’t fill you up, but they will delight you, and give you something to think on for a while.

January 15th

How vital is research?

Having never visited the US some may view it as the move of a putz to embark on a cycle of stories set exclusively in that country.

meh!

Writers constantly write about places they’ve never been. Hence the term, fiction writer.

But this week made me really appreciate how vital (yes, the title isn’t really a question at all) research really is.

My good friend Megan Lewis was taking an initial look at the story I have set in Minnesota. It’s an alien invasion story with a non-traditional structure (in that it ends a place where you think ‘What, is that it? But, what… grrrr, lazy writer’). In researching the story I had spent much time on google earth scrolling up and down roads and suburbs south of Minneapolis, for that is where the setting is. On her first read through Megan picked me up on some line-of-sights descriptions being unworkable, and a route taken by characters making no sense to a resident of the area. She also picked up some rogue Britishisms and a few incorrectly used Americanisms.

So what? Well, for me, it is where factual and fictional intersect. I’m more than happy for this process to be undertaken. I want my tales to have reliable and identifiable roots, even where other events are ridiculous and fantastical. And taking the time to do my own research, and then having someone local to the area check that research, helps me to do that.

Other things from the week include a great opening class with Cat Rambo, and it was nice to (virtually) meet fellow classmates Frances, Elizabeth, and Mark. The next five weeks look to be fun, and challenging.

Yesterday WorldWeaverPress held #SFFLunch on twitter. Editors from the various imprints of WWP made themselves available and some interesting lines of chat sparked of. I admit my main interest was in picking up hints for another submission to Bascomb James Far Orbit: Apogee anthology. While declining my first submission he was very kind in advising me that it was ‘sooo close‘.

Over at Spark: A Creative Anthology I am slowly getting to grips with my role as a Senior First Reader, and the whole first reading team is working hard to reduce the submission backlog. Brian’s determination to provide feedback for every submitter is one of the things that drew me to volunteering as a first reader in the first place, and now that I am more heavily involved in the process I remain convinced that his vision for the submitters is worth the enormous effort. We can always use more first readers. Why not come and do a bit?

January 9th

I’ve signed up to a class.

Cat Rambo, amongst all her other activities, manages to run classes for aspiring writers – with a focus on short story SF.  Fortunately the time difference is enough that what for her is an early(ish) start, is for me an early evening. So for the next six Saturday evenings at 6pm I’ll be headphones on and into cyberspace.

After my last post I had a lovely response and already have three people who have said, ‘Yes, we’ll help with your short story collection.’ A couple of them have already signed into the Slack channel I’ve set up. I chose the ten stories that I want to be in this first volume. At present that is about 35k words. I know at least two of the stories need extensive revision, and possibly extending, so the final tally will probably be up near 40k.

As part of the project I’d like to include either photos, or art rendered from photos. I have someone who will be doing the graphic work for me, but I don’t have the photographs. I’ll put a list of what sort of thing I’m looking for below (and what states) if you feel that you can help, let me know. Any picture must be yours, and you must be willing to allow me to use it. Anyone who does this will be credited in the final publication.

Now, I’ve done a story for Flash! Friday (see also the dedicated page), and I have one underway for The First Line. #amwriting

These United States Volume One:

State & picture desired NB the picture must be taken in the state.

Alabama – Any small town street scene.

Arkansas – The Lumberyard, Eureka Springs – or a shot of a ‘Welcome to Eureka Springs’ sign.

California – San Diego. Somewhere around the 900’s on 1st Avenue.

Delaware – Open countryside, preferably with a river.

Iowa – The State Fair.

Kansas – Somewhere pretty in Topeka, or Milford Lake.

Maryland – The Letelier and Moffit memorial on Sheridan Circle, D.C.

Minnesotta – A shot of Minneapolis showing the Wells Fargo Center & Capella Tower.

Montana – A view of Missoula.

South Carolina – A cabin by a lake.

January 7th

In Search of a Posse

I got my laptop back today (I love my lil macair). Tomorrow I will back up all the writing I was worried about losing.

Part of the work I almost lost was thirteen complete, or near to complete, stories in a cycle I am writing – one story for each US state. I had hoped to have a first volume of ten stories released in 2014. That didn’t happen. Mainly because I realized how much I needed to learn about the art & skill of writing (I’m still learning, but much better – imo).

I fully intend to have that volume out by summer/autumn (fall?) 2015.

I need help.

Can you help? Would you like to know more? (points for knowing the Paul Verhoeven movie)

What help? Well, I have my graphic artist/cover designer sorted. But I need help with the writing. I need people willing to tell me what isn’t working, and why. I need people willing to do the final line edits and pick out where i failed to see its, instead of it’s. I need United State of America citizens to call me out for where I leave Britishisms in (I got the basics. Y’know, billfold, trunk, pants, etc).

What is in it for the volunteers, the posse? Because, I’ll be honest, I can’t pay. You can use it for your resumé. I will provide a mutually agreed endorsement for the platform of your choice. You will be listed in the book, alongside your role (and I’ll be paying for an ISBN). I’ll also provide you with a personal, and individually exquisite, gift (which is yet to be decided, or even formulated).

I’d love to do this whole thing by myself. But I can’t. I’m a terrible proof-reader. I get so stuck on what the story is inside my head, I have difficulty seeing it as a non-me reader. These are the roles that require a posse.

The intention is to have a common work-group site (I recently was introduced to Slack – it’s great for this). I’d put all the stories up in their current state, but choose one to work on at a time. I’ll be honest, the story styles are eclectic. There’s some speculative fiction, some historical, a suicide story, an alien invasion story, a fetus in a jar story, and one with faerie folk and vampires (that one’s unfinished atm).

I’d love to hear from you.

Come be part of a great project, come read some great stories, come help a schmuck. Please.

January 5th

The Grass Is Always Greener

A title for the post seems appropriate. I never write anything rooted in where I am. Never.

I have written about: 16th century immigrants who become almost immortal; people trapped in an elevator after an earthquake; a woman who lives in a far future indian state who discovers an ancient AI; an aggressively predatory energy based life-form that requires a physical host; a bird person that falls in love with an android; a 19th century anthropologist who discovers that ex-slaves are actually crows who knew Prometheus; an assassin who has the steampunk version of a nuclear bomb built into his mechanical legs; &etc.

No middle-aged Scottish men with a family full of health issues, and a nasty case of self-doubt and barely caged itinerancy. Why?

γνῶθι σεαυτόν was inscribed into Apollo’s temple in Delphi. I had a friend who spent some time in an institution. We discussed this very thought. To help him he was being advised that there were things he didn’t need to know about himself. There are things that it is okay to bury deep within our psyche and ignore- or at least avoid. It’s a view I ascribe too. Freud would have us believe that we are all driven by the monsters lurking within our id, that whatever rational course we take can be tracked back to being an irrational response to some formulative experience (generally sex related, hmmm). It’s not so.

For many writers their hinterland is the seam they mine, the vein they open and pour forth unto the page. Dare I suggest that people who are not white, male, able-bodied and straight are more likely to utilise these experiences? Especially where they aren’t middle-class/income in background. Not all, of course, but what struggle do those who are not in that group (that great swathe of published writers) really have to draw on? What systemic, systematic degradations and abuse are they going to insert into their writing? It has given us some of the most evocative writing ever produced, and such is the state of the world it will continue to do so for as long as producing stories remains a way to communicate.

The other form of writing is a direct refutation of the author’s own experience. They seek to reach out, beyond, the life they have experienced and know. It gives us our best escapism. Stories, worlds, into which we can sink and not worry about where reality impinges. We can especially delight when the author is delicate enough to not smash our faces with an orthodoxy we either already see, or that they wish to see.

But is the best writing a mix of the two? I am increasingly of the opinion that in the vast majority of things there is a wide range  that straddles the middle in which the best is found. We need outliers. We need the freaks and the straight-laced to show us where the edges lie, to allow the braver ones amongst us to edge outside the narrow boundaries we have been told are the limits. But mainly, we need writers to write about things they know, and don’t know. To give us insights into what makes us comfortable and what challenges us.

For me, I am challenged by what I don’t know, what I haven’t experienced, what I’ll never experience – but on some level desire to. For me, the grass is always greener on the other side. Maybe, I have to open a vein or two to let that grass flourish.

January 4th

Here starts a new blog.

New year, new blog.

…and what will be written in this new blog?

stuff I am writing, have written, intend to write.

I’ll complain a lot – because writing is hard.

I’ll announce breakthroughs that lead me to the next frustration.

Hopefully, I’ll mention an impending publication or two.

I think I’ll also reserve the right to sound of on other random topics. It is after all, my new blog.