Check out the new anthology by Distant Shore Publishing. It contains a story of mine, <i>Traditional Human Gifts</i>, about a world held hostage by a super-computers. It’s a fun twist on that tired idea. Pick up the anthology from Amazon! It has been described as a literary version of a season of The Twilight Zone.
The below was an April Fool’s post.
It’s been some time since I posted about what I am currently writing. So I thought it might be a good idea to show you one of the chapters of my new novel in progress.
The novel is a short horror tale about an old women, the last of a line of monster hunters, who has to take on a unlikely apprentice. Since the chapters are short and sweet, I’m going to share three of my favorite ones.
Hellish Beings in Foul Places
Chapter 7: The Will of Mighty Fists
Charlotte smacked the boy on the back of the legs. “No!” she screamed. “Do not open your eyes!”
“But Granny-na-ma, how can I possible strike out at my foes without seeing them?” little Boris replied.
The way the little boy spoke, all prim and proper, really irked Charlotte, but what was she to do? He was the one foretold to take on the banner of the Conflagration of Forces Against Dark and Insidious Beings. She sighed, and smacked him across the face with her ironwood switch in frustration. A bead of blood appeared on his pale boy-skin.
They were in one of her many homes, a small grotto on the shores of Lake George. She had previously cleared the lake of those darn aqua-specters, so she thought this would be a good place to train. Boris didn’t know how to teleport yet, so she spent two days organizing a training area while he travelled by train and bus from Oregon.
When he arrived she had cleared three tons for dirt from under the house, lined the hole with bricks and sea glass, and covered it with one of her special hexes, a classic worm-brain teeth-rotter.
At first, the boy was a bit trepidatious about jumping into the training room, which Charlotte had to admit looked more like a serial killer’s pit than anything else. So she pushed him in and jumped down after him, gliding on her house coats to land gently on the dirt floor next to his splayed and bruised body.
Charlotte immediately started the lessons. She summoned some of the local spirits, telling them to come dressed as Dark Beings. Sebastian the tree fairy quickly arrived wearing what looked like a pile of lake-weed over his tiny perfect body. Charlotte told Boris to close his eyes and attack Sebastian.
He tried, but he obviously had no idea how to control his fourth sight yet, so he ended up smacking into the wall. When she was ten like him, Charlotte could easily knock out a minor specter with her eyes close, her ears plugged, and her taste-buds numbed! Kids these days…
And now, Boris stood before her, a bead of blood rolling down his cheek, his face hard. At least he wasn’t crying. But Charlotte knew that to get him into shape a lot more whips of that ironwood switch would be in order. She whipped it back and forth in the air, the loose-skin around her elderly arm flapping back and forth. Part of her was going to enjoy this.
Chapter 18: Deepest Darkest Fuji
The mountain rose above them. Charlotte hoped she had given Boris enough training in the past few weeks because this was going to be difficult. She looked over at him, his eyes wide and full of wonder. Until she met him in that bodega, Boris had never even left his home town. Now he was in Japan, at the base of Mount Fuji, with a line of Dark Beings descending down the wooded trail towards him.
Charlotte smiled with pride, revealing her dentures to the night air. The boy wasn’t scared. The initial awe at the spectacle before them had turned to a hard determination. He unwrapped the woven hemp rope from his belt and tied the Blue Marionette’s loop she had taught him onto the end of it. He reached for his belt and picked up dried corn husk, ready to tie it to the loop, but he hesitated, looked at her first.
The Privateer’s Husk was one of their most powerful components, capable of leveling a force of Dark Insidiousness as well as, if used incorrectly, any number of members of the Conflagration of Forces Against Dark and Insidious Beings.
Charlotte looked at the husk, and back to the young boy. The dangerous power of the husk verse the hard set of Boris’s tiny boy face. Piercing black eyes, downy skin, girlish hands clasping the husk.
She looked back at the approaching line of specters and demons, Tramplers and No-faces, Skin-gods and Pearl-eyes. She shook her head at Boris. No, he was not ready for the husk. They would have to defeat these foes with lesser powers. The husk would be needed later on when they faced Shaighoul. That was, of course, if they survived this one.
With a scream, Charlotte leaped into the air and started running up the trail in her slippers, Boris followed close behind, tucking the Privateer’s Husk back into his belt.
Chapter 29: Picking up the Pieces
Charlotte strode through what was left of Rio de Janeiro. Her elderly body barely had the strength to pull her over the fallen pieces of Christ the Redeemer. Not a single favela was left standing after the battle. How was she supposed to find Boris’s body in these multi-colored piles of rubble?
The poor kid had obviously died. There was no way he would have survived the struggle against Shaighoul. He was out of his league. Charlotte thought back on the battle, remembered Boris behind her as she stepped between him and the great beast, King of the Dark, Queen of the Insidious, Prince of Dread, the Handmaiden to Evil: Shaighoul. A great and hulking mass of tentacles and gore and shadows and teeth and flesh and putrid essence. She was almost out of power, having used the last of it to destroy The Puppets, his trio of dark and insidious cohorts.
With a last gasp of energy she pushed forward with her wrinkly hands, expelling every part of her essence directly as Shaighoul. The air shimmered around her and a great sweep of energy flew out towards the foul beast. In an explosion of magic, Shaighoul, and what remained of the city, was destroyed. Charlotte collapsed and didn’t awake until what felt like several days later.
She awoke with the warm sunlight on her face and knew she had won. Boris was nowhere to be found, but he could not have survived that magical blast. A blast far stronger than anything Charlotte had been capable of before.
“Great enemies make heroes of us all.” She said to no one in particular.
That was when she stumbled upon Boris. Or part of him at least. And she didn’t really stumble. More like slip on the shiny insides that had poured out of part of his torso. It was unmistakably his. She could tell by the pale white skin and the t-shirt with a carrot on it.
She found a leg a few yards away stuck under a burnt palm tree. Then, his head perched atop a pile of rubble like a sick trophy. Charlotte gagged. Only the thought of a world without Shaighoul kept her gullet from rising completely.
Then, she saw his arm. It was lying right where she had last seen him. Close to the magical blast, behind where she had been standing. Clutched in this tiny boy-fist was a dried corn husk.
The Privateer Husk.
It was blown open, it’s front end looked like an empty banana peel. That’s when she knew. Charlotte could never have created a magical blast big enough to destroy Shaighoul. It was Boris and this husk!
He had wielded it! He had killed Shaighoul and avoided destroying Charlotte in the process! He had wielded it like a knight wields a sword! Deadly and accurate like an extension of his own body. Boris was the one that destroyed Shaighoul. Not her. Boris. The young boy. The newest and final member of The Conflagration of Forces Against Dark and Insidious Beings.
Charlotte fell to her knees and wept. Wept tears of joy for the destruction of Shaighoul, and wept tears of sadness for Boris: a young boy who found the courage to use a husk to save humanity from a monster.
I completed the last section of this challenge and made it out alive. Here you’ll find the last 3 challenges, as well as my thoughts on the whole exercise.
Day 12: Describe a first. Your first kiss, your first kitten, your first day of school, something like that.
What I wrote for this challenge constitutes an inside joke that only some old friends of mine would understand. So I won’t publish it or even include it here. But I will say that I tried something very similar to what I did for Challenge #7. And it only works if you know the situation. It was called Norman (402 words).
So, the bottom line: It was fun to write but the result was of no value. The value was only in the exercise itself. My writing brain felt good afterwards.
Day 13: Write a 600 word “conversation” in which no words are said. This exercise is meant to challenge you to work with gesture, body language, all the things we convey to each other without words.
This one was fun. I thought writing a conversation that was just body language would be boring. I also didn’t want to do anything serious because of the word limitation. Besides, my brain immediately went to one specific idea: a customer interacting with a cashier by using the products he purchases as his method of communication.
I like the premise and I like the result. I call it Swan and Phoenix, Beef and Ice Cream (657 words). And yes, I’ll be cleaning it up and attempting to publish it some day in the future.
Day 14: Write a story backwards.
The last challenge was pretty open ended. I wanted to stay away from something akin to film Memento, and try to put my own spin on this idea.
So I took some liberties and instead of a story I wrote a poem. I had this idea for a poem that I was kicking around for years. Something that I would think about in free moments and wonder how exactly to articulate it. This was a great opportunity to get a draft down on paper. So that’s exactly what I did. I call it “Ice Cream Music”.
I’m not usually a poet, but I really like the theme behind this one and the structure that the idea provides. This one you will hopefully see the light of day sooner rather than later.
That was the last challenge! So what did I think of this exercise?
Well, I finished and I have nearly a dozen works that I want to do something more with. By any measure that is a success. I would recommend anyone who is stuck for inspiration try something similar.
Most of these challenges came from readily available writing inspiration books:
- The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform Your Fiction
- 642 Things to Write About
- The Writer’s Lab: A Place to Experiment with Fiction
I’m sure, if you looked, that you would find something in these or others to inspire your own art in some way. My only issue, and its a small one, is that the results of these exercises need a little more tender loving care than my other writing, which I take more time with. That means more editing, more rewriting, and more time on each story. So it will take a significant amount of time to work through these, get them where I want them and start the submitting process.
But that’s at trade-off that may not be an issue for you. It wasn’t really for me. In my mind, anything that gets me putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), is worth it simply because it engages my creative brain. And creativity is the only thing that separates us from the beasts.
This was turning out to be an interesting activity. It was getting me in the mood to write more of my own stories, but I continued on with the challenge. Hopefully, the momentum I was building could be redirected elsewhere once the challenge was done.
Day 9: Find two ads in a magazine or online. Create a poem only using words from the two ads.
I typed “ad” into google image search and used the first two I found:
Not much to work with! I toyed around with a few ideas and ended up with two that I sort of liked.
Hey, the Rabbit King is back!
Rabbit King? What a whopper. The Rabbit King is 0% rabbit.
Is the Burg King burger?
$4 Burger: 100% beef
$9 Seattle Burger: 90% beef, 10% rabbit
$14 Rabbit Burger: 0% beef, 100% rabbit
$1 Burger King Whopper: 1% Beef, 0% rabbit, 99% WHAT?!?!?
I found the whole process very gamist. Meaning, it felt more like a logic puzzle than a creative exercise. It was fun, though.
Day 10: Write a 600-word first-person story in which you use the first person pronoun (“I” or “me” or “my”) only two times—but keep the “I” somehow important to the narrative you’re constructing.
This one was very tough for some reason. I had written a story many years ago that started like this, and I was toying with the idea of re-writing it for this challenge. I was planning to do that anyway. Still, I couldn’t get in the mindset and instead came up with the below.
I don’t like it. The idea holds no water and it never goes anywhere. I won’t be attempting to rewrite it, so you can read it as-is. It is unedited and contains all the errors you would associate with a raw first draft. I call it Birth (578 words… close enough to 600)
A body is just sacks of fluid. Some sacks within other sacks, like Russian nesting dolls. Some just floating around by themselves like oil in a lava lamp. But all have a purpose: Life. But before life, there was nothing. My organs just sat there, limp, desiccated and empty like deflated balloons. The sack of skin they were housed in hung flaccid on a hook like a wrinkled old suit. Then, there was a filling. The nerves weren’t yet working, but they twitched with the sensation of pressure, slowly coming to life.
With the introduction of fluid, the dried organic matter began to soak in nutrients like a parched desert, and then began to warm. Warmth! A sensation the nerves had never felt before but somehow knew was right. The body, growing now, was remembering. Not through electrical brain impulses, those were far off, but with something more base than that. Proteins and chemicals falling into their natural states like the keys of an ancient machine locking into place.
And like the memory of heat, they had memories or impressions of what was supposed to be. And the metal hook in the back of the neck was not supposed to be. Neither were the dozens of inorganic tubes connecting the insides to the outsides. They were not like the organic frame everything attached to. That felt like it belonged. Like the slowly inflating flesh was hugging a loved one. Hugging tighter and tighter as the filling continued. So tight that they were becoming one. Flesh and bone. Bone and flesh.
And they were both rejecting the sensation of the things that did not belong. Cold metal and plastic shoved in between the shelves of flesh. As if all at once the muscles soaked up enough of the fluid to spasm. The body twitched all over, as if testing its new-found ability. But the twitches were again automatic. A response of the flesh. A rejection of the not-flesh. The spasming continued, as the flow of fluid slowed down to a trickle and then to nothing at all.
The body was full. All the pieces were there. There was only the final leap from pile of organic material to something more. The spasming of the muscles continued, which strained the flesh where it attached the non-flesh. That straining of proteins and cells just born falling into death, caused sparks. The nerves, now in place, surrounded by pulsating muscles, warm and free and suddenly aware of something else happening. Those sparks of dying and injured cells.
The nerves came alive. They felt. They fired out commands, not knowing what or how. Just knowing that they had to react. And the flesh, it acted. And the nerves, they remembered. They remembered where to direct their tiny electrical charges. How to move the flesh. How to make it do what it wanted. Pieces started to fall into place. A machine of flesh. All those sacks of fluid, all those valves and pipes and hunks of stringy muscle had a purpose. And the nerves were giving the orders.
And right now, they gave the order to escape. The limbs of flesh reached and yanked. The body twisted and jerked and soon the thing was free. The nerves made the legs move. Tentative wobbly steps. It shambled forward, fluids leaking out of its wounds, feet slapping wetly on the floor. It was aware. It was alive.
That, little children, was the day I was born.
Day 11: Start a paragraph with, “I remember…” and let your memories dictate what you write.
Out of all the challenges in this post, I am most proud of this one. I had no idea what to write about, so I sat and wrote the first thing that came into my head that started with “I remember…”
I remember how it was before the water became too hot to walk through.
I know it isn’t based on my own memories, but I just ran with it anyway. It turned into a pretty interesting piece. By itself, there are a lot of blanks in the story, setting and characters. Someday I might expand it into a larger work that fills those in. So, yes, this is another one you won’t be able to read for awhile.
That is it for Part 3 of the 14 Day Writing Challenge. Stay tuned for the last 3 days of challenges and my thoughts on the whole experience.
Just because I didn’t post about it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen! The 14 Day Writing Challenge continued, but the writing about the writing challenge did not. So I’m correcting that now with this recap of Days 3 through 8.
Day 3: Write a fairly long, complicated phone conversation overheard by someone in the room. All three people—the listener in the room, the caller, and the person on the other end of the line—are involved with each other in some way (not necessarily romantically). Let us hear the other end of the conversation, without actually hearing it. This means you will be giving us only one side of a conversation. The listener in the room can guess what the person on the other end of the line is saying, but try to keep this guessing to a minimum, and make sure this guesswork is done with integrity—well after the unheard speaker has spoken.
Again, this exercise produced a story that I was very happy with: Chad’s Mustache (923 words). I tried to use the concept to show that getting half the picture isn’t always enough to know what is going on. You can read between the lines, but don’t jump to conclusions. I think it’s a funny story and I’ll polish it up and send it out for publication soon.
Day 4: Go sit in a public place and eavesdrop on a conversation. Turn what you hear into a short love story.
I chose to eavesdrop while at a local record store. Here is the snippet of conversation I heard:
“Oh, wait, are you closing now?”
“No, no no. I just wanted to get the light on because it was getting dark.”
I turned that into a small vignette between a clerk and a customer: The Navigator (839 words). Again, I quite like this one. It gave me the opportunity to make up fake band and albums names. Which is always fun. I won’t share this one yet because, as above, I’ll be polishing it and submitting it for publication.
Day 5: Open the dictionary to a random page. Find a word that you do not know how to define. Write an imaginary definition for it. Repeat 4 more times.
As you may know, I’m a big gamer and Balderdash is a great party game This challenge is basically what that game entails. Here are my definitions:
Maxixe: The portion of the sun that peaks over the horizon during a sunset.
Beglerbeglic: Imbued with a powerful scent of sand, stone or amber
Indurate: Disobeying authority by pretending to misunderstand the authority-holder.
Pooks: A game where one tries to throw Popsicle sticks into an empty tin can for nickels.
I like them.
Day 6: Select a book on your shelf and pick two chapters at random. Take the first line of one chapter and the last line of the other chapter and write a short story (no more than 1000 words) using those as bookends to your story.
I randomly picked a book off of my shelf with a random number generator, and did the same thing with page numbers to choose the chapters. The book was Ready Player One, and the two sentences were:
My avatar slowly materialized in front of the control panel in my stronghold’s command center, the same spot where I’d been sitting the night before, engaged in my evening ritual of staring blankly at the Quatrain until I drifted off to sleep and the system logged me out.
No matter how hard I tried to focus my mind kept drifting back to Art3mis.
My god! I thought I bit off more than I could chew. But it was kind of fun trying to get that first one to develop into a unique story and meander its way towards the second one. Again, amazingly, I was happy with the story and will attempt to publish it soon. It’s called Traditional Human Gifts (1,307 words) and it’s about a man who is forced to babysit an intelligent computer that has taken over the world.
Day 7: Write a story in which a character has an experience that causes her to recall a startlingly similar past experience. Juxtapose the two scenes, the present one and the past one, on top of each other, writing, for instance, two or three sentences of the present moment, then alternating back and forth between present and past that way. Show the reader the remembered scene by use of Italics.
This was another fun exercise that turned into a story I quite liked. It reminds me of one of those strange stories from Bentley Little that are just a litany of weird things happening. But that’s the fun of it. Once I came up with an idea that satisfied the challenge requirements, it just flowed. This is another one I won’t be sharing here. It’s called Q+A (752 words).
Day 8: Find a world map and blindly put your finger on a spot. Then pretend you’re a travel writer and write about a weird experience you had in that particular country.
I randomly pointed to the Pacific Ocean first, after that I pointed to somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Australia. I did some research and came up with a story I call A Traveller’s Guide to Thalanyji (599 words). It’s written in the style of a travel review for a remote village.
I like it so much I won’t post it here! Do you see a pattern? Maybe I am just too in love with myself to realize the faults of the work. Well, I know that’s not true. My work is full of faults. I recognize those faults, but I love my work enough to get rid of them.