IWSG: Surprises, Surprises

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!
The awesome co-hosts for the September 6 posting of the IWSG are Tyrean Martinson, Tara Tyler, Raimey Gallant, and Beverly Stowe McClure!

 

September 6 Question: Have you ever surprised yourself with your writing? For example, by trying a new genre you didn’t think you’d be comfortable in??

The biggest surprise I ever got with my fiction was when I switched from Mysteries & Thrillers to Science Fiction.

I wasn’t really looking to change genres… After all, I had finished manuscripts just waiting to revise, and I was getting fairly upbeat and positive rejections on the one I was sending out at the time.

But, NaNoWriMo was coming up, and I was pretty much stuck in one of my WIPs. (Well, come on… just exactly what is the response when someone throws a human hand through your front window?)

And the stories were getting darker.

I also had a bunch of friends who wrote Science Fiction and Fantasy waiting for me at NaNoWriMo, so when I realized I needed a break from the slicey-dicey stuff, I knew where I should go for that break. Take some time off, entertain a few friends… maybe a nice trip to Mars.

By the time I was finished with my first draft, I think I already knew that I wasn’t going back to the thriller end of the universe. At least, not full-time.

I’m a lot happier spending months and years debating how to populate a spaceship than I am thinking about how badly that murder in the news was messed up by the perpetrator, even if reading thrillers is…thrilling… for a week or two.

 

Tripping Over Gender in Ancillary Justice

I’m just starting in on Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. And, for those of you who don’t know… the main character used to be a troop carrier. (Not exactly a spoiler. That’s the beginning of Chapter 2.) And as a troop carrier, she refers to everybody as “she.” Everybody. Male and female alike. Which does kinda make sense… after all, ships are pretty much referred to as she. (Although I’m not sure how that works with a ship with a male name. You know… the Jeremiah O’Brien… she…)

A fairly good chunk of the first chapter is her–the troop carrier–debating whether people are male or female, and considering the implications of guessing wrong. (Her first language does not mark gender.) And how, exactly does a troop carrier figure out if humans are male or female? Yeah. Not easy.

And she spends a lot of time referring to the wounded (male) soldier she finds as “she.”

Let’s be quite honest, and say that I like her “remembering life as a troop carrier” voice a lot better at this point. It’s easier.

But that’s not really the point.

I could play with pronouns a long time before I got bored, but in some weird way–maybe because you’re just dropped into the middle of it–it’s a little confusing at this point in this book.

The change to pronouns that I’d make? Well, shoot. There are just so many options.

I could actually see one set of pronouns for people the speaker is sexually interested in, or whose gender makes a difference in some way. (Your surrogate is she, for instance.)

And a different set–or for that matter a different pronoun, singular–for people where gender does not matter to the speaker.

A lot of clarity in relationships, if your boyfriend is he, but your English teacher (technically male) or your gymnastics coach (technically female) are both just “os”–people whose gender is none of your business. And that guy you’re just not interested in? Os, os, os…

Clearly, there’d be a level of formality involved… That “os” is vous, and “he” is tu.

But I could see teenagers stressing out over whether their love interest would freak out over gendered address, or parents figuring out something was wrong, when they switch back to non-gendered.

Obviously, these are not real-world examples, or at least, they are not the current issue with real world pronoun issues. They both have more to do with the way the speaker perceives the other person’s gender (and its impact on their life) than with how the person they’re talking about wants to be perceived.

Which is, of course, also a marker of the society’s values. Who gets to choose? Who decides whether that guy is tu or vous? (I believe the story I heard in high school was that the girl is the person who can informalize the relationship, and as a lazy person, I always choose formal, because I can keep the verbs the same. Also, you get a higher quality of trouble by choosing a greater social distance.)

I might play with that in a short story, sometime.

The Past Tastes Better

The Past Tastes Better

Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, my job is nothing. Forty or fifty years, or in rare cases, seventy, but never much more. A quick nip in time, back to some church dinner or Bar Mitzvah to pick up gramma’s secret recipe—whatever it happened to be—and back to collect the check. Big checks, and bigger tips. Tipping assuages the guilt of asking someone to risk being atomized—and plenty of time to study.

MIT doesn’t let just anyone play with their toys, after all.

Not that they know.

If anybody asks, I’m a waiter.

I’d been a waiter for over a year before I got the other kind of request.

The woman looked at me for a long time before she said anything. Something not quite right about her clothes, as if she were trying to hid who she was, and where she came from. Her baggy t-shirt advertised a decade-old Golden Gophers victory, and her khakhi pants had a bargain-basement droop.

“I would like to buy two tacos,” she said. She enunciated each word, practiced, and vaguely reminiscent of the old Mid-Atlantic accent. I still didn’t know where she was from, but not Minnesota.

“Go away.” I turned another page in my nondescript magazine and smiled at a comic strip that wasn’t funny. “Can’t you see we’re closed?”

She stood firm. “Please? They’re for my pet parakeet. He’s dying.”

That was the code. I leaned over the counter to see if anyone was watching. “Oh. All right. Come around back.”

I waited until I heard a knock, and jerked the door open. “You know what I do?”

She nodded. “And?”

“I need you to go to twenty-seven forty-two.”

For just a second, I thought the numbers were coordinates. Then, I choked. “That’s in the future,” I said. “It’s–”

“Nearly six hundred years from now.” She watched my face, my arms, maybe even my legs. “You do … do that, don’t you?”

“Time travel.” I nodded.

“How much?”

“Every couple of weeks.” I really thought that was what she meant, and I really thought that was the stupidest thing I’d ever said in my life.

“How much money?” She asked.

“I can’t do it. The future–”

“The distant future,” she corrected me.

“It’s tricky. I can’t know where I’ll be in the future.”

“You’ll be dead.”

“Excuse me?”

“Six hundred years from now, you’ll be dead. It’s not like you’re going to run into your future self and ignite the atmosphere,” she said. “Just stay out of cemeteries, and you’ll be fine.”

I considered, as I always did, when that kind of an offer came up. A quick peek at the future news could pay off. “It’s complicated.”

“You believe it, don’t you?”

I sighed. Explaining the science to her wasn’t worth it, and she wouldn’t agree with me, regardless. Until you’ve seen it, you’ll never understand how vast and timeless a single grain of sand can be. “There isn’t enough money in the world to make me go to the future,” I said. “Too many variables.”

“The Grandfather Paradox?”

No, she didn’t understand what she was saying, but there it was. My out. I made my next nod an apology. “So, you understand,” I said.

She smiled back at me. “Of course, I do.” She shifted her weight, and got up. I was relieved. She wasn’t going to be a problem. “I’m sorry I wasted your time,” she said.

I shrugged it off. I didn’t need the job. I didn’t need any job. That made it easier to say no. “If you think of anything else you need,” I said. “If it’s within our parameters…”

“Oh, I’ll call you.” A wistful sigh, and I still felt guilty for saying no. She was out the door, and headed back to wherever she came from before I could say anything else.

I followed her into the rain, just to make sure she got back to her car alright. Nobody ever looks for a borrowed quantum distortion generator in a rough neighborhood, but I was uneasy about letting her walk alone. “Hey. Let me walk you to your car.”

She walked a little faster. “I don’t have a car.”

“You live near here? I’ll walk you home. It’s dark.”

She didn’t respond, and she didn’t look at me again. She got to the dead end of the road, and just stood there, with the wind and rain soaking her through.

“You mean, you’re homeless?” People did camp in that park. I hadn’t guessed. I hadn’t even offered her a sandwich. “What could you possibly want in twenty-seven forty-two? I mean–”

“Nothing.” She paced without looking at me. “I don’t want anything. I got what I came for.”

I debated how her mind was. Not good, if she was standing in that neighborhood, in the rain at night. But she got the pass code somewhere, and I tried again. “I’ll call some one. Want a sandwich? I’ll try not to burn the peanut butter.”

“It’s recursive,” she said.

Maybe she wasn’t talking to me. “I don’t understand,” I said. “Lets go somewhere warm.”

“It’s not a paradox. It’s recursive.” She was talking to me, and she wasn’t, and maybe she didn’t remember I was even there. She chewed her lower lip, and thought hard. “The whole thing. Time travel. The whole species. Maybe even the whole planet. It’s recursive.”

I gave her a stern smile. “You never told me what you wanted,” I said.

“It’s okay, Grandpa. I got what I came for.” She took something out of her pocket, and looked at it for just a second. “You get there, eventually.”

“I get where?”

She pressed a button, and disappeared into the blue crackle of distorted time.

Be sure you visit the other blogs on the hop for more short fiction.

You are Here—>The Past Tastes Better by Karen Lynn

Revealing Space by Barbara Lund

The Rose Tender by Raven O’Fiernan

The Last Sleeping Beauty by Tamara Ruth

Freeman byElizabeth McCleary

Hell’s Play by Juneta Key

The Token by Eli Winfield

Moshe by Chris Makowski

To The Moon And Beyond, by Fanni Sütő

Surprise, by Katharinia Gerlach

In A Picture by Erica Damon

Counting Down the Plot Cards

I got to work on my revision project for a while, and I wound up putting everything in order, or close to it. That makes the whole thing seem a lot more complete than it has in the past. (Previous Organization: Main Plot and Sub-Plot neatly separated so I can make sure everything’s there. Current Organization: Chronological.) It also makes me feel a whole lot closer to the word-count of doom. You know… that moment when you go over anything remotely resembling marketable, and you have to go back and fix it (again) before you can even think about selling it?

I have color-coded plot cards, and I’m moving into the word count warnings.

When I run out of cards entirely, I’ve hit too big and clumsy.

Right now, I’m envisioning virtually every card I have left going toward the development of the relationship between main characters and why the two planets cannot exist without each other.

Every time I start a new project, I am convinced that I’m going to plot in a neat, orderly way, and not write a whole bunch of material that I don’t really need. I’m convinced that I’m going to make out plot cards as I go along, and stay focused.

And it never seems to happen that way. Part of it is my mind skipping from place to place as I settle into a new story. Part of it is probably just laziness and disorganization. I don’t necessarily have a plot thought through at the beginning, but keeping track would sure be able to cut down on the revision time. And the writing time.

I think writing by hand tends to keep me a little more focused than writing on the computer. Or maybe, I just throw things away in a more expedient fashion when I’m writing by hand. Let’s just rip that out of our notebook and throw it away. It didn’t go anywhere. (And on a computer, I just press save.)

So, right now, I’m playing with a couple of ideas for my next project. One of them involves robots, and the other involves space ships, and long-term space travel. I only have a couple of characters, and maybe a scene or two for each one.

What do you think?

Reading From The List

I’ve made it to part 9/10 of the Sandman Comics. Progress is slow, at least in part because everybody is naked, so I can’t take the thing to work to read. (I want to quit, not get fired.)  I’m also squeezing in little chunks of my read all the Hugo AND Nebula–the ones who won both prizes– winners project, which you’d think would go a little faster.

There’s something about choosing reading materials off a list that more or less guarantees that 1.) You will broaden your horizons and 2.) You will have to force yourself through at least some of the material.

It’s not necessarily that I dislike the stuff I’m reading. Maybe it’s more a matter of my enthusiasm wearing off before I ever pick up the book. That initial… that sounds cool… is long gone from having been waiting around on a list for so long, and it’s replaced with something more like… well, what next?

And in some cases, Oh, look! A comic book!

I don’t remember that sense of trudging through a list when I as in school. Maybe the introduction to the book, and the actual reading of the book were too close together for that effect. Enough–hey, that does sound cool–excitement to carry you through.

So, I ordered Ringworld in paperback. It’s one of the ones that isn’t available on my e-reader, yet. Not in it’s original form, at any rate. There is a graphic novel version, which… well, I almost did buy a copy of. I mean… that counts, right?

And then, I wound up finding an e-book bargain for Dune. $1.99, and it’s even on the list.

And this month’s free book from the Tor book club is Old Man’s War (which isn’t on the list, but I am finishing up my last distraction book.) It’s available HERE until the 21st of June. if you want to read it, too.

In related project news, I’m pretty behind on my 52 stories in 52 weeks project. I’ll have to get a move on there.

The Doomsday Book Has Arrived

A couple days ago, my current selection from the reading list of things that have won both the Nebula and the Hugo arrived. It’s a mass market paperback, and it’s been a while since I read something that way instead of on an e-reader.  Oh, wow, it’s been a while.

The e-reader files show up pre-adjusted to my preferred font, and my preferred size, and they’re always purse-ready on my Kindle or my Nexus. I have gotten used to this. Ordering a paperback is…. at least in part… a political statement. A social statement, maybe. I ordered a book, because I want a book sitting on my bookshelf. I don’t always. My more recreational reading doesn’t have to sit anywhere in particular, but this… well, I want children to live in a world where they walk into peoples’ houses, and see good books. Where they’re allowed to pick up and read books, and not just realize in some hazy way that there are books on that device their family friend keeps in her purse.

Call me idealistic.

So, here I am, looking at a book in book form. It’s nearly six hundred pages of book, and it looks like nearly six hundred pages of book. The paper isn’t the greatest quality, sorta news print gray… and the print is small. Not insanely small, but if I were on my e-reader, I’d be bumping it up.

I might be having e-reader withdrawal.

So, anyway… I’m about to delve into Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. It smells like paper and ink, and I’m probably going to wind up breaking the spine at some point, but I’m getting started on that list.

If anyone wants to join me on the great quest to read all of the books that have won both the Hugo and the Nebula, the list is here.

People Leave So Many Ideas Lying Around!

I was at the movie theater this week, taking in the bargain-basement special. If you get up early enough, tickets cost less, and I’m always up pretty early, anyway. The movie wasn’t bad, or maybe even good.

Somewhere toward the beginning of the movie, my mind latched onto some little detail of the thing that appealed to my Muse. I’m not talking about something like “It should be about a girl who gets caught up in a tornado, and whisked away to a strange land, but instead of OZ, in my book, it’ll be Macy’s.” More like watching Gone With The Wind, and focusing in on “This is set in the south. What a cool idea. My next book’s gonna be set in the south.”

Except, you know… the south on a space-ship, ’cause that’s more my thing.

So, at that point, half my brain goes scooting out along a “Well, what if I did this?” track, while the other half is still sitting in the theater, keeping an eye on the movie and its plot.

It wasn’t a bad movie. It held enough of my attention, even though I’d found a bunny to chase, and maybe that actually makes it a good movie.

But it wasn’t my movie. It wasn’t my story. This other thing–the other train of thought–it was mine.

So, there I am… fiddling with one set of ideas while I’m watching a different set on the screen in front of me. No, I really don’t know how that’s possible.

I’ll tell you about the idea sometime. I’m still building it, right now. I’m about a million miles away from having a plot. Or, you know, characters, conflict, structure, or a name for my spaceship.

 

Military Culture, Universals, and Sentient Cephalopods

I was perusing the Pikes Peak Writers’ Conference’s website the other day. (Can’t decide whether I’m daydreaming or actually shopping) and I ran onto a seminar about writing military characters. (past conferences brochures, if you’re looking.)

Now, let’s be honest. Most days, that’s the kind of seminar I’d probably forego in favor of something else. Actually, basically anything else, because I’m not writing a war book, or even a book based on the Planet Earth. (I think we can all agree there are very few United States Marines in space.)

But I do have military characters.

More than one of them.

And they’re pretty major characters.

They’re not human. They’re not from my time period, or my planet, and you can’t look them up on Wikipedia and figure out what they did in the last twenty-seven battles.

I know who won, and who lost, and I know that the guy who lost hasn’t completely given up his cause. I know what the guy who won did in order to win.

But the specific details listed in the seminar aren’t things that would apply. The language is different. The uniforms are different. The weaponry is… well, definitely not current technology.

So, now I’m thinking about universals. The things that arise from function, rather than culture. The things that would be the same in 8th century Greece as in 20th century America. The things that stay the same, whether you’re two-legged foot soldiers or a fleet of talking space squids.

Are there universals? What commonalities do you see? What differences?

The Poisoner of Time

Story Time Blog Hop Logo

It was nearly midnight before the first fatal drops splattered from the rattling still.

The old woman checked the door, but she was alone. Her husband was long since in bed, the cat was locked safely in the cellar, and the most lethal poison in the world was gathering in the bottom of one of her grandmother’s rose tea cups. And her other self? The harried young woman she’d been all those years ago? She wouldn’t be there. That was certain. The old woman no longer remembered exactly where she had been that week, but somewhere else. A business trip, probably. There had been so many of those, and always, the promise was later… always, later…

The old woman scoffed, and adjusted the fire under the still.

Later. When? After she got pregnant, she’d worked even harder. A baby to support. A new house. A newer, safer car. They’d both worked harder, and they told each other they’d relax later. In time, when things would be better, and they’d all be secure. The baby was born, they hired a sitter, and kept working.

The baby grew, and changed, and said his first words. The sitter took video.

By then, she’d regretted all those days and nights she spent working.

The sitter went home. The baby got sick. The husband packed him into a warm car on a cold, winter night, and disappeared too fast down a too icy road.

And then, Time. Tick by tick, second by second, she moved further and further away from them. The love of her life—she’d always taken him for granted—and their child—more and more Time between them.

She learned to fight her way backward through time, like running the wrong way up an escalator. She could get close – now and then, she could see them on the other side of the years and decades.

And then, she slipped back. The currents carried her away again and again.

She was still young, when the first strange optimism entered her mind: Time separated them. Time, and only Time. And if Time could be destroyed… if she could end Time… or even just wound Him, there would be nothing left to keep them apart. She could be with her family again.

She plotted—how to reach Time, how to brew poison strong enough to kill Time, itself, how to sneak into the palaces of eternity unnoticed.

And after she made her plans, she’d waited longer. No one would suspect a gray old woman of carrying poison in her tea. No one would suspect a single thing.

She walked deliberately, so slowly, that at times, she believed she would die before she ever reached Time. Step by step, carefully… if she splashed—if she spilled a single drop–the poison that was brewed to kill an immortal could overcome a thousand, a million aging mortals like her.

She teetered down to the end of the corridor, pushed open the last door, and stepped inside the dimly lit room.

And then, there was Time.

He lay, half-exhausted on a feather bed. Slender, almost delicate, though the lithe muscles in his legs and back suggested a runner’s strength.

He looked—she thought, just for a moment—like her own baby might have looked at twenty or twenty-five, if he had lived long enough to grow so tall and strong.

She pushed the thought out of her mind. The poison trembled in her cup: another second longer, and her own strength might vanish; she could collapse and spill the poison on herself. She inhaled, lifted the cup, as if she were about to drink, and then flung the liquid, cup and all, across the empty space between them.

The poison splashed across Time’s back, and seared the flesh it touched; the cup bounced on the mattress, and then rolled over the edge. It fell fast, but, just before it should have hit the marble floor, it stopped falling. It stopped falling. Everything stopped.

In the motionless silence that followed, the old woman laughed; her enemy was dead. There wasn’t a second of Time between herself and… Her family, her husband, her baby… They were all in that one, single Now. Now was all… the teacup was floating in air. Not falling. There was no Time for anything to fall. Not anymore. Time was dead.

She laughed again.

Running footsteps on the floor behind her. A man or a god swept her out of the way. Before she could say anything, he rolled the corpse onto its back, and pounded on Time’s chest with his fists. He pressed his mouth to Time’s lips. A kiss, perhaps, or maybe resuscitation. She knew the effort wouldn’t work; the new god was already kneeling in her poison.

“Mortal, you fool!” He compressed Time’s chest again, and again, nothing. Nothing, and the teacup didn’t fall an inch. “You fool. Don’t you know what you’re made of? What they’re all made of?”

“Flimsy things, I know.” She took a step backward. “And yet, here you are. Take him, Death.”

“Death?” The god’s voice was thinner than before, and a cold sparkle In his eyes was already fading. He sank onto the pillows, and let his eyelids close. “No, woman. I wasn’t Death. I was Memory.”


The elegant room faded into white tile and florescent lights, and then, it slipped away all together.

She’d been somewhere else.

She knew she—

Somewhere… hadn’t she just been somewhere else?

She tried to get up. Tried to find someone she didn’t see. She couldn’t remember who.

And then, a bland young woman in a too-cheerful set of hospital scrubs was there beside her, coaxing her back into the chair she’d just left.

“That cup never broke,” the old woman said, and smiled. She knew that much, at least. That was the important part of the thing. “You know that old rose tea cup? The antique one? It–

“Your cup is perfectly safe,” the bland woman said, and patted her hand.

 

 

Be sure you visit the other writers in the StoryTime Blog Hop for more stories!

New Stork Inc. by Katharina Gerlach
The Thief & The Pocket Heart by Juneta Key
Hello Again! by J. Q. Rose
Reflected by Elizabeth McCleary
Veronica by Jessica Kruppa
Last Stop by Erica Damon
Jesse and Tyler by Bill Bush

Stepping Back to See the BIG Picture

After a month of NaNoWriMo, I’m finally getting back to my pre-existing revision. I don’t want to say I was getting bogged down, or anything, but the novel in question is one of the longest things (word-wise) I’ve ever written. Going from thriller-length thrillers to sci-fi length sci-fis is a culture shock. And I’ve been staring at the leaning tower of manuscript for much too long.

I’ve been working my way through an outline. Something like an outline, anyway. Whatever you call an outline that’s written to organize after you’ve already written.

And I’ve been working on a scene-to-scene level.

Not too bad, and I’ve been making progress, but I’ve been overwhelmed. The sheer number of scenes was dragging on me.

I have this thing–you know–and I’m not sure how many books it actually is. I was posting some of it here, for a while. I can tell you it’s a big thing, and that there’s at least one semi-well-thought-out companion thing.

So, today, instead of looking at scenes, I decided to sit down and look at parts. You know. Part One, Part Two, Part Three… Part 126.   I wasn’t really sure if I was looking for Part One or Book One, but I was taking a step back to think about what I actually have, and what I want it to be.

So, the part I’ve already pounded into shape is in the neighborhood of 37k. I’ll probably trim that down, some, but that’s the number I have, so we’ll work with that.

That leaves me 80–yes, I’m going to cut down–thousand words to play with. And due to some chunky outlining, I’m aware that my novel has three parts total. (No, I have no idea why I thought there would be more.) That would mean roughly thirty to forty thousand words per section. (I’ll be aiming in the neighborhood of 110k, but I did math with 120k.)

So, with some revision and a little bit of word-parsimony… drumroll… I have ONE book, and a companion-thing.

**faints from pure relief and exhaustion**