Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Why I Write Science Fiction   Leave a comment

Tomorrow I’m going to a writers conference. I’m expecting the turnout to be a little low, mainly because of the awful weather we’ve been having.  Unless you’re planning to go skiing, two feet of snow with more expected tends to put people in a sour mood. That doesn’t mean the conference won’t be fantastic; it will. We have two huge NYT bestsellers as keynote speakers, a whole batch of editors and agents from big names will be taking pitches, fantastic workshops to take and panel discussions to watch, among other things. Besides, there’s going to be friends I hardly ever see in attendance too, so that means some serious catch-up time over a few, so we can discuss our works and lives.

I joined this well-respected group several years ago, under the influence of my sister Gwen. It’s called Liberty States Fiction Writers and it’s been around for longer than I care to admit. We’re in the process of making many changes, including the website, to accommodate our growing membership and genres represented. Most of our members are published, some by big names. There’s even New York Times bestselling novelists that are part of the team.

If anything, I’ve invested a lot of myself with LSFW, and in turn, they’ve given me the confidence to forge ahead, even when I’m sure I’m a failure. Even the most confident of writers need a bonk on the head occasionally, or a few words of encouragement at least, to get moving towards that computer and be creative. I never imagined I’d be able to write an entire book, and here I am well into the second.

Many writers I’m around are romance novelists. They’re all great at it. Come up with real tear-jerkers and tales of sorrowful gladness. Stories range from no-holds-barred sentimentality to BSDM. That’s fine. Even LGBT romances are on the upswing – good news.  One of the best LGBT writers I know is a fine, humorous man and an excellent teacher whose lessons I apply to my work.

Me, though, I’ve never been one for sentimentality. You might even call me a cynic. True love didn’t conquer me. It led me down a golden path and kept me hidden, until it gave me the boot. I’ve never had much success with romance, so anything I’d write regarding that subject might sound dismal, hopeless and anything but happy. No Hollywood endings for me, no siree!

Instead, I found solace in situations that simply didn’t exist here on Earth or in our timeline. Sure, the characters might inhabit a strange world, but it’s my world, dammit, and if I want my characters to explore the possibilities of atomic substructures in subspace, so be it. Scientists quibbling over launch trajectories in equatorial locations seemed so much more interesting than, let’s say, getting flowers from a handsome fella. Not knowing what lies within that abandoned research facility on the moon and worse, who – or what – attacked it is definitely more intriguing than what dress the bride’s going to wear. Genetic mutations, nanoscience, coded machinations set to manipulate and govern sure beat the heck out of will she or won’t he.

That’s not to say my characters don’t believe in romance. They do, they engage in it and it doesn’t turn out well for them, either…but they find themselves working on scientific issues and dodging conventions while building worlds using insane technologies and writing sick codes. They don’t have time for flowers and chocolate. They get right down to business, then figure out how to beat the enemy at his/her own game.

They say you write about with what you’re familiar. To me, that’s sci-fi. It’s been my best friend since post-toddlerhood, has never let me down (although I’ve been disappointed a few times) and keeps me on the level. And creative.

So that’s my story. What’s yours?

Many Happy Returns of the Day   Leave a comment

rocket-happy-birthday

A birthday cake of dubious function and flavor

Tomorrow is my birthday. Amazing how they creep up on you. It’s not like I wasn’t prepared or anything; February 16 seems to come every year, at least once. And sure, I’d like a cake like the one pictured above, although I think I’d stand a fair distance from it, should the attractive brunette choose to light it.

I’ve heard the expression, “Many happy returns of the day” said to me on my birthday. It sounds really nice, if you ask me. But what exactly is getting or being returned here? I did a little investigation, and here’s what I came up with:

  1. The Earth has gone around one time and arrived at approximately the same place as it did a year ago, so made a return.
  2. It’s the name of numerous television show episodes, films and songs.
  3. One’s birthday will be full of happiness and joy, necessitating a wonderful return on the “investment” of a birthday.
  4. As found in Wikipedia’s entry for the phrase:

    …by Lady Newdigate in a letter written in 1789 (and published in Newdigate-Newdegate Cheverels in 1898)[1]

    “Many happy returns of þe day to us my Dr Love”

    The letter was written in London on the 31st of May 1789 by Hester Margaretta, Lady Newdigate to her husband, Sir Roger Newdigate, 5th Baronet, and refers to a wish for their wedding day.

  5. Winnie-the-Pooh preferred using this greeting as he wished his friends a happy birthday.

Now, I’m not one of those who gets all teary-eyed when I’ve gained an extra year or two. I mean, I can’t help it, nor can anyone. I get more upset with circumstances surrounding my life than the actual years marking its passage.

But there is something I can do, and that’s celebrate. It’s an abbreviated vacation from all the woes, sufferings and stupidity that seem to fill my life these days, and it’s an excellent excuse to eat all of the things I shouldn’t be eating (except on Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween, National Potato Day, etc.). Plus, I get to hang with my friends and complain about things in general, all while overindulging.

So what will I do on my birthday? Get up, go to the gym, continue working on my second novel, eat, get dressed, go out, eat, have some fun, eat cake, drink and otherwise be merry.

Life is rough. Why make it any harder by not celebrating a birthday?

 

The Surreal Life   Leave a comment

sleep

I’ve been asleep at the wheel lately. Dali’s picture best describes how I’ve been feeling as of late: melted, propped up, in a barren landscape far from any civilization save for a remote outpost of questionable value.

Life isn’t always fair. It splays out an awful lot of unwanted changes, blitzkrieg-style. For the past year, I’ve been caught in that proverbial rock-in-a-hard-place spot that makes it hard to go forward. Seems like I’m forever exhausted. Depressed. Unmotivated and uninspired.

Last autumn, I shared these sentiments with a fellow writer friend. He’d been thrown a horrible loss – his father was killed – and said that writing was the best therapy to work through his grief.

Took me a long while to sink in, but yes, he’s right. Absolutely right. I have to force myself to lose myself in dreams, not to sleep, but to write.

It’s been so long that I’ve created anything meaningful that I nearly lost faith in my abilities. What if my words amount to drivel? Shapeless streams of verbiage? Worse, an over reliance of adverbs?

I sat down with my second manuscript, still uncompleted, and gave it a good, hard look. It’d been months since I added anything to it, plus I have about two-thirds more to write before it’s finished. Sure, there’s a lot of changes I need to make, stuff needs to be tightened up and fleshed out. But you know what? It’s not bad. It’s not even a real first draft yet.

As I read through it, I gathered the plot’s flow in my brain. The characters arose from their long rest and seemed refreshed to resume their roles in my imagination. They even gave me a few clues as to how they’d like to beef up their storylines and get that action rolling once more. After going through it a few times, misty sketches became solid outlines. And here’s something positive: once I got that manuscript back inside me, the holes in the plot that dogged me so much are now filling in. No more potholes, but real patches to sketchy patches that vexed me.

My sister Gwen’s been egging me on, too. Said I need to get on with it. Claim my talent back from the dead and stop crying zombie. Get on with it already. Of course, she’s right.

Perhaps the best words of wisdom I found was from a friend on Facebook, yet another writer. He posted this link from Cracked.com – “How To Be a Better Person.” It’s REALLY hard to admit to the truths in it, but the short of it is that if you want to be a success, you’re going to have to work your ass off, accept failure as a learning opportunity, and expect to keep working until you either give up or shrug off frustration, obstacles, naysayers, pests, pessimists, and your own laziness and limitations in order to succeed. See, the longer you work at something – and it doesn’t have to be writing – the better you become. That, and all the losers quit, therefore opening your field a little wider. And that, my friends, is where an opportunity might show up.

Now, I need to take my own advice. I’ve been out of the writing loop so long that it’s a little scary sticking my feet back in the icy pool. It’s going to take a few dips before I get used to the numbness, but after a while I’ll get used to it again. And I’ll swim.

Here’s to 2017. My year of literary triumph, and yours too.

 

 

Writer’s Blah   Leave a comment

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I think we can all agree that life sucks on occasion.

Right now, I’m feeling about as grey as the picture above, my inspiration gone out with the tide. For reasons I won’t go into, once again, I find myself in a situation I hadn’t expected. As Nora Ephram’s mother famously told her, “Everything is copy,” That only works if you can turn that situation into a script.

So far, no dice. I can’t seem to wrest any collection of words from my brain.

Is it writer’s block? Absolutely not. I’d say it’s more like writer’s blah. I just can’t get excited about writing these days. And it’s killing me.

But hey, I’m coming up with some words for this now, aren’t I?

The other day, a writer pal I hadn’t heard from in quite some time dropped me a line. Asked what’s up and all that. Without going into all the boring details, I recited a washed-over summary of the dreariness invading my mental turf.  Gave the Gloomy Gus routine. Then I was set straight. That pal’s father had been killed recently and attached a newspaper article regarding his death.

Words failed me, but this time it was out of shock, sadness for my friend…and perspective.

Pal said the best therapy lies in the ability to wash out the living world and replace it with the fresh canvas a writer creates. It’s a place one easily loses oneself, especially when life’s events spin out of control. Those words are who we choose to be. There’s good company in the characters, even if you’re spinning their plot. They do appreciate it and will reward you with a story, if you stick around long enough.

And it’s not like I haven’t tried. I entered two short stories in a flash fiction contest. I thought they were brilliant. The editors believed otherwise. I didn’t win. But as every writer knows, rejections are a badge of honor. No one’s legit unless they pile up a a moving van’s worth. Receiving those cheered me up some. Now I had something to talk about…but not write.

So this weekend my sister and I planned to sell boxes of ungifted gifts my late mother never seemed to give. That, and the millions of other doodads she felt too compelled to keep over the span of her eighty-four years. We’d do Saturday and Sunday at the busy flea market nearby. Went to bed early and rose to a nasty storm with gale-force winds. The prospect of expecting to sell anything, including the idea of getting dressed and hawking in that misery, evaporated.

My computer often accompanies me, though I don’t always use it. It’s like a security blanket, ready, willing and able to help me get on with my writing, should I be up for the mission. My sister knew those typing fingers of mine seemed stuck in neutral, unable to rev up to speed. Over breakfast, as she dug into her oatmeal, she said between munches, “Why don’t you write today? Can’t do much of anything else. Too miserable.”

Oh, sounds so pleasing, so simple, so…so…oh, what’s the word again?

I opened the laptop and scanned the pages of my second novel that’s well in the works. Been so long, though, since I mustered up the strength to write I pretty much forgot half the plot. Once I got into it, though, the characters shook off their dust, revived their motives and jumped back into action. Pretty soon, I changed a word here, tightened up a sentence there, and before you know it, I ended up at the end…of where I left off. The wind lashed at the window and howled like crazy, but none of that distracted me. I managed to squeeze out at least four good pages before dinner.

At the crack of black undawn, my sister and I threw ourselves into the car and headed out to the flea market. The storm passed, so we headed out. Managed to wrestle two splintered grey tables (just like my moods of late) and set up shop. A parade of plot lines passed by, any one of them the makings for good stories. Even the guy next to us told good copy. If nothing else, flea markets are fodder for inspiration. Literally one of everything strolls down the lanes. Between 7:30 – 8:30 am, a Native American chatted to the person’s table across from us, a corpulent sixty-ish woman with stringy long auburn hair and stars tattooed to her browline remarked over a crucifix we had for sale, a Jimi Hendrix lookalike wandered over with his entourage of equally interesting partners, several dogs in baby strollers pushed by “parents,” and a persistent Chinese woman insisting on paying $1 for a lead crystal vase selling for $10 (she didn’t get it). And more, of course, but you get the idea.

When I came home, I sat and opened my computer, intending to pick up where I left off. For some odd reason, none of the four pages I wrote saved. I dropped my head in my hands, cursing. I sighed, shook my head and laughed. Typical.

Once more, I began to write. And this time, it was good.

Gone – Flash Sci-Fi   Leave a comment

 

photo-10

I struggle to find the words as my chilled body shakes.

Alone.

Hardly a whisper filters through these naked trees, unless one counts the soft murmur of the rill snaking along the rocks. Yet I find myself beaten and stabbed, alone here, but not without reason or purpose.

If only I hadn’t.

Funny, now, how a small attempt at pleasure erupted into violence. She neither presented no indication nor imparted any suspicion of her true nature. Yet I submitted myself to her attentions. A flirt, a taste, a wisp was all it took.

And now, look at me.

Of course, I’m less than innocent. I knew what I wanted. How to get it. Didn’t take much. All I needed was the will. All else’d follow. I heard the siren call, the claim of fulfillment, no judgment, only satisfaction.

Promising.

I’d never known such happiness. Beauty. The world and all its charms. I had it all solved, all squared, done up in a bow and sealed with a kiss. Power and glory, all mine for real.

Until.

Until it wasn’t, and by that I mean there’s a price for all that goodness. Gets steeper by the week, day, minute. Doesn’t take long to discover the beauty you had’s now the the demon you dread.

Now.

Got to conquer the beast. Can’t let it get into my head. But wait. No, I said now. Can’t. Oh yes you can. You will. And if you can’t, then get gone.

Over.

So I watched, bided my time. Dove in the cold water, expecting to swim. Discovered it’s easier to drown. Over my head in a flash. Two counted my days until they ran out.

And done.

That short journey took forever. Still, my hopeful self denied it’d ever happen. If the flesh didn’t do it, then certainly the steel’s finishing the job. My time is over, folks. The chilled air’s getting thin, and the light of day’s faded.

Gone.

Owen McQueen – Flash Sci-Fi   Leave a comment

rembrandt_a-beggar-leaning-on-a-stick

 

My name is Owen McQueen, and I have the vast fortune to be poor. Dreadfully poor.

You see, it is my fate to have been born with an affliction that renders me useless in most forms of employ. Some call me idiot, insane. My shape is round, my eyes appear half-awake, my speech childlike, at best.

But my mind! Thoughts so rich and rewarding, trapped in a doomed cell from which escape is hopeless. Yet its optimism never eases. Even as I gaze at the mother who pulls her child to her breast as she passes before me, I smile. For my hope is not lost, merely tucked in a safe place, for that time when I dare retrieve it.

I hear the auctioneer speak my name. Folks gather around me, curious. One reaches over the chain to touch my vest as if to examine the fabric’s wear. Another notices several holes in my stockings and frowns. Two men stare at my face. “The devil surely rejected this one,” I hear. To this I laugh, causing the pair to recoil in surprise.

How did I come to be in such a position at this station of my life? For as long as God had placed me upon this Earth, I’ve been the ward of the Overseer. His duties of office require him to auction not only myself, but others who find themselves in this wretched state. Though fault of soul or circumstance, we chosen few are placed in his control.

Every April, paupers such as us are required to report to the Overseer, who then assesses our condition. He makes note of our general health, the condition of what few articles of clothing we possess, and anything else of note, such as lameness. A scribe carefully records these observations, as well as the value of our upkeep. We are then told to clean ourselves as though we were to attend Sunday services. If we present well, two slices of black bread and a slab of cheese are given us as a reward.

“Owen McQueen is a loyal soul, hardworking and docile. His clothing is in good repair. He’ll give you no trouble and the cost of his keep is merely four pounds per year,” said the auctioneer. “Who’ll take him?”

At first, no one answers his call. I show the crowd a hopeful face.

“Certainly someone treasures a bargain. There are none today cheaper,” offers the auctioneer.

“I’ll take him,” says a man with a grey beard. “He’s bound to be of use to an old man.”

The Overseer takes the money from grey-bearded man and I’m given a push towards him. I expect nothing. After 50 years of Aprils, each one spent at auction, my life has never been my own, and as a pauper, it never will.

 

 

 

 

The Stone Wall – A Short Attention Span Sci-Fi Story   1 comment

dry-stone-wall

It was generally considered good form by the people of the village to engage in proper manners, especially in public. Therefore, when Mrs. Cottilard accidentally trod upon Mrs. Heflig’s front garden lavender, she made it a point to walk the winding slate path to her front door, knock twice, and apologize.

“I’m quite sorry,” Mrs. Cottilard said to Mrs. Heflig, “but it seems I lost my footing on the way to the grocer’s and stepped on the lavender blooms. They appear quite crushed, but this happened without malice. I merely tripped and could not catch myself in time to stop. If I could erase the harm I caused to your garden, I will.” Her humble glance underscored her sincerity in the matter.

“Of course I forgive you,” said Mrs. Heflig. “After all, it was me who neglected to wish you a happy birthday last October.”

“True,” said Mrs. Cottilard. “And we are dear, dear friends.”

For this transgression, however innocent, her gesture was considered, duly noted…and forgiven.

On those occasions upon which a person committed an act that might cause offense, and did not offer either an apology or restitution, one was compelled to find a stone proportionate with the size of the offense. The offender would then inscribe the act on it and place upon the Great Girthing Wall, a long stone wall that ran the perimeter of the village. No name was required, but this offered a venue for admission without guilt.

After many years, the stone wall grew long and high. Activity varied. Of course, it depended upon workplace issues, marital happiness, friendships, good grades in school, heath, security and general welfare. During times of strife, the wall tended to grow at a rapid pace. When all went well, fewer stones contributed to the wall’s girth. It seemed a fine solution for those experiencing difficulties speaking their mind and clearing the air. At least one could come clean with his or her troubles and sins, and no one would be the wiser.

Of course, many were able to determine by the size of the rock and the freshness of the paint who did what to whom. Yet no one ever accused anybody of anything. Better to carry the pain than to make a clean breast of it.

So it came to be that on a Wednesday morning, well before dawn, Mr. West strolled out of his house and selected a rock. Round, grey, with a touch of lichen, he squatted down to lift it from its resting place near the swamp.

“This will suit me,” he said. “I upset someone close to me, but not sure exactly how I did it. I can tell they’re not happy. Perhaps they’ll see this rock. They’ll see it’s become a weight on my soul. Apart from that, what can I do?”

So he picked up the rock to tote it to the Great Girthing Wall surrounding the village. His arms grew weary. His fingers grew numb. Still, he traveled a good distance but noticed no wall.

“Surely I’ve been walking in the right direction,” he said, dropping the stone to rest his weary limbs. “Where did it go? Perhaps in the darkness I’ve lost my way. I’ll wait until the first rays break the darkness. Then I’ll see it.”

Before long, several rosy beams reached above the horizon, illuminating the sky. Mr. West smiled, relieved. “That wall ought to be very close,” he said.

It wasn’t.

Without warning, Mr. West felt his legs give way beneath him. The earth had disappeared and it was only at the last moment he caught himself from tumbling into the long, circular crevasse that replaced the spot where the Great Girthing Wall had formerly stood.

Several minutes passed as he caught his breath and collected his senses. His legs dangled over the edges as a few bits of earth crumbled into it. “My God,” he said, “Where did it disappear to? How can it simply vanish?”

An old crone bearing a rock soon came close and inspected the place where the Great Girthing Wall once ringed the village. “I see it finally happened,” said she.

“What?” said Mr. West

“Somebody admitted the truth.”

“What do you mean? People do that every day,” said Mr. West.

The old crone let out a crooked laugh. “How do you think the Great Girthing Wall came to be? Those rocks – all here to take away the guilt, shame or even intention of offenses. All lies and excuses, growing heavier with each passing day.”

“Yes, but that’s the wall’s intention,” Mr. West said.

“That wall held us prisoner,” said the old crone. “Now at last, we’ve been set free.”

Posted September 9, 2016 by seleneymoon in Sci-Fi, Short Story, Writing

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