Flash Fiction: Dunes and Antlers

Well, that little break from blogging lasted longer than I meant it to! I was only going to take a week off for a beach trip, but then I got caught up in a whirlwind of job applications, work schedule changes, and knitting projects… and that week turned into a month-plus-some. Sigh.

Oh well. Nothing I can do except start up my writing routine again.

So, here’s a shiny new short story for you! (Bonus points if you can guess which Bible story this piece is loosely based on.)


Desert 1

Dunes and Antlers

Burgo lay on his belly just behind the crest of the sand dune, energy rifle aimed at the herd of scab deer below. The animals were foraging among the scrub that clung to life along the dry riverbed cutting through this part of the desert.

The deer were well within range of his weapon, but Burgo didn’t fire. He wasn’t hunting meat today. He was looking for a particular beast—and he wanted to take it alive.

Sweat trickled along Burgo’s skin, running back and forth in the wrinkle channels on his forehead. It was only a half hour after dawn and already the sun was hard at work, baking the desert like flatbread. Burgo’s instincts urged him to seek shade and water. But he just pulled the hood of his cowl lower over his face.

Burgo was good at enduring the desert’s heat. The clan elders liked to say it was because he was full of water bubbling up from a well deep inside him—why else would his skin be such a dark, cool shade of blue?

But Burgo’s brother, Gozza, had condemned his strength as inflexibility.

Clinging to the old nomadic ways was hurting the clan, Gozza had said. Why keep on suffering harsh conditions and constant food shortages in the desert when there were gentler lands waiting just beyond the southern mountains? Lands filled with water and permanent houses and steam-powered machines and stable jobs.

Many of the ogres found Gozza persuasive. But Burgo didn’t want to leave the desert. To do so would have been to shun the land that birthed him, the place his fathers and mothers had called home for countless generations.

Burgo was not afraid of the sun.

But Gozza was. And so was half the clan.

The last words Gozza had said to Burgo before he and his faction split off from the clan echoed in Burgo’s ears as he lay atop the dune, sweating in the heat.

“One day, brother, the sun is going to burn you to ashes before you even realize what’s happening.”

Gozza had spoken those words fifteen years ago when he left the clan. Yet here was Burgo, alive and unburned. Gozza’s prediction had not come true. And Burgo was desperate to prove this fact to his brother.

Below Burgo, the scab deer stirred as the dominant buck appeared, stepping around a clump of bushes and into the open. The buck was bigger than all the other deer, red scab-like scales covering its legs and climbing halfway up its sides, large thorny antlers growing from its head like trees.

Burgo sighted the buck down the length of his rifle, barrel protruding over the top of the dune. His eyes lost focus for a moment as he imagined himself falling on his knees in the sand and presenting one of the buck’s antlers to Gozza. A gift of the desert, a proof of health, a sign of remorse, a plea for listening ears.

Then Burgo squeezed one eye shut, aimed, and fired.

A sizzling ribbon of energy shot from the barrel and hit the buck’s chest. The animal collapsed to the ground in shock. The herd squealed its alarm and bolted, hooves pounding away down the dry riverbed.

Burgo scrambled to his feet and half ran, half slid down the dune, sand flying, robe flapping behind him. Then he dashed across the cracked surface of the riverbed toward the deer. The effects of the rifle’s stun setting wouldn’t last long on such a big, heavy animal. He had to remove an antler before the buck came to. Burgo was as tall and brawny as any ogre, but even he would be no match for a furious 700-pound scab deer.

Skidding to a halt next to the unconscious animal, Burgo slung his rifle over his shoulder by the carrying strap and yanked a serrated hunting knife out of the sheath hanging on his belt. He set to work on the beast’s right antler, sawing as fast as he could without letting the blade slip. The antler would grow back eventually—but not if he accidentally cut the deer’s jugular.

As he worked the blade back and forth, Burgo’s breath came in quick pulses, driven equally by his labor and his racing thoughts.

Burgo hated the way he and his brother had parted fifteen years ago, kept from coming to blows over their disagreement only by the abruptness of their separation. If only Gozza and the others had waited. If only they had stayed long enough to see that the desert was no longer against them.

The clan had been thriving in recent years as more and more ogre nomads abandoned the desert. With fewer tribes squabbling over the land’s limited food and water, the overhunted scab deer had begun to increase in numbers again. And with more food came more children.

Yet as Burgo’s sons and daughters grew, so did his regret. Every time he saw his children playing together around the tents or foraging for sponge plants in the shadows of sand-blasted rock formations, he thought of his brother.

Burgo wished he could relive the days when he and Gozza were young, just two boys wrestling each other in the sand, two friends debating which ogre girls were the strongest, two brothers sharing food and weapons and lookout duties while out hunting scab deer.

Those were the best days—the days when he and Gozza shared the same rays of sun.

But Burgo couldn’t go back. The only paths left to him led into the future—and if Burgo were to meet his brother on one of those paths, he would need a gift to ease the tension between them.

Burgo didn’t know whether Gozza would accept the antler. His brother had, after all, rejected the old traditions when he left the clan. But he was sure Gozza would at least know what the gift meant. If nothing else, Burgo wanted his brother to know he was sorry—for the lost years they could have spent together, for the fact they were no longer brothers, but strangers.

The deer was beginning to stir. With a final swipe of his blade, the freshly severed antler fell into Burgo’s hands. Then he thrust the blade back into its sheath and fled, cradling the antler in his arms like a baby.

Burgo retreated downwind of the deer along the river channel. Then he cut through a dip between two dunes and circled back to the place where he’d left his ground-bird tethered in the shade of a lone rock formation. The robbed scab deer bellowed somewhere beyond the dunes, but Burgo knew the animal wouldn’t leave the riverbed since there was nothing green to eat out in the sand.

Burgo tied the antler to the ground-bird’s saddle, then mounted up and headed back toward camp.

As the deer’s indignant bawling melted into the hot air behind him, Burgo smiled.

It was a small smile. Barely enough to bend his cheeks.

He had found a suitable antler and harvested it without injury to himself or the deer. But until he found his brother, he would have no one to give it to—and his smile would remain as dry as the desert.


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I’m Still a Story Snob

For the past few weeks, I’ve been reading a lot of short stories, mostly of the speculative fiction variety. I’m researching, trying to find out what makes these stories steam along the tracks so I can put the same principles to use in my writing.

The only problem is, the more stories I read, the snobbier I get (as evidenced by the fact that I’ve written about this topic before).

I’m starting to get extremely picky about which stories I’m willing to call “good.” Lately, I’ve been sorting most of the pieces I read into the “decent” or “needs some tweaking” boxes.

Sometimes these classifications are justified, I think. I can take only so many flat characters, illogical plots, and pointless fight scenes before I get fed up and close the book. The English major in me is deathly allergic to bad and mediocre writing (unless it’s my own writing, cuz critiquing my own work is as hard as thinking up a creative metaphor).

Other times, my like or dislike of a story simply comes down to personal taste. In my old age (of not even a quarter century), I’m starting to enjoy speculative fiction that focuses more on detailed characterization and deep messages rather than pulpy sword/fist/laser-gun/werewolf action. There’s nothing wrong with the latter type of story, especially if it’s done well. It’s just not what I’m in to right now.

So where does all this leave me? Is it bad to be a story snob?

I would say yes and no.

Yes, because no one should waste their time reading a story that doesn’t pique their interest when there are hundreds of “better” books out there. Nobody has time to read all the stories in the world. (There’s a sad fact for you.) We readers, therefore, have to prioritize and sort and sift and be super picky in order to make sure we read as many awesome stories as possible before our journeys on Earth conclude.

But then, there’s always the danger of story snobs missing out on a really great book because they judged it by its cover, or read the first page and didn’t like it, or wouldn’t even try it because their annoying Aunt Busybody was the one who suggested they read it.

I don’t want to be that kind of snob.

That’s why I try to give a book a whole chapter (or two, or few) to grab me before I return it to the library. That’s why I usually finish a short story once I start it, even if it’s kind of lackluster.

I don’t want to risk missing any good stories.

Though of course, by “good,” I mean “personally appealing at the present moment.”

So, I guess it’s okay to keep being a story snob. I just have to be careful I don’t let my picky palette prevent me from scooping up and sampling all the strange but exciting new book flavors out there.

Okay, now I want ice cream.


Bonus content! Here’s a list of the short story anthologies I’ve been reading.

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
I’m not very far into this book yet, but the first few stories are original and engaging enough to make me excited about the rest.

The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Third Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois
This is a monster of an anthology, stuffed to bursting with seemingly endless sci-fi shenanigans. Some of the stories are confusing, most of them are dark, and a few are downright great.

Writers of the Future Vol. 32 by various authors
This anthology features all the quarterly winners of the 2015/16 Writers and Illustrators of the Future Contest. Most of these stories produced one of three possible reactions in me: 1) eye roll (because of clichés), 2) disgusted frown (because of gory violence), 3) satisfied smile (because of interesting concept / unique characters / twist ending).


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Flash Fiction: The Ardent Captain

Here’s a new story! Even though I’m calling it flash fiction, it’s really more of a very short short-story, since it’s over 1,000 words long.

As always, compliments and critiques are equally appreciated! 🙂


lava-jungle

The Ardent Captain

Captain Nathaniel Bennett stood on the bridge of the Ardent and stared down at the lava oozing from the top of the volcano far below. Though the air inside the bridge compartment was cool as it always was at this altitude, Bennett imagined he could feel the heat of the molten rock on his cheeks—like a blush.

Volcanoes are the Earth’s way of blushing, he thought. Then he berated himself inwardly for having such a ridiculous, romantic notion.

He reached up and straightened the collar of his blue and white captain’s coat, a gesture he couldn’t help but repeat whenever he felt his attention had deviated too far from his duties. If only he hadn’t opened Caroline’s letter that morning. Her notes always seemed to put him in a foggy, sentimental mood—highly inappropriate for an airship captain.

Bennett turned away from the brass-plated window network that afforded them an almost one hundred and eighty degree view of sky and land. The deck officers standing behind him snapped to attention under his gaze.

“Well, gentlemen,” Bennett said, “it appears the eruption was not as spectacular as predicted.”

The lava was merely trickling—and it was doing so away from the local villages.

“There is still the matter of fires set by the lava, sir,” the first officer said.

“Yes, but the locals should be able to take care of that with the help of their balloons.” Bennett pointed out the windows to where several round white shapes were already rising above the foothills. “Since we are no longer needed for evacuation, we may now return to Fleet Port.”

“Aye, sir,” the first officer said. He turned to the helmsman. “Set course for Fleet Port, half steam.” Then he repeated the instructions to the navigator and chief engineer via the speaking tubes.

Bennett let out his breath as he listened to the chorus of voices bouncing in and out of the tubes, confirming heading, wind speeds, lift gas density, steam pressure. His crew knew their work and they did it well, carrying out his orders with alacrity and aplomb. In the standard maneuvers that made up the bulk of the ship’s day-to-day work, the crew needed very little direct supervision from him.

His thoughts, on the other hand, required tight control.

Should unexpected circumstances arise or difficult assignments arrive from Fleet via messenger balloon, he must be ready to lead with wisdom. He couldn’t let emotions or irrelevant thoughts cloud his judgement.

And yet, no matter how hard he tried, he could never quite put Caroline out of his head once she had entered it.

The forested hills began to rotate far below Bennett’s feet as the airship turned, angling toward the east where Fleet Port lay, a bit less than twelve hours away. He waited until the ship was well underway, then retired to his cabin, leaving the bridge under the first officer’s command.

Caroline’s letter was waiting for Bennett on his desk, the corners of the tri-folded paper waving gently in one of the errant drafts that always ghosted about an airship’s interior. Bennett leaned against his closed door and stared at the letter. He had only read it once, but already he knew it by heart—if not the exact words, then the sentiments it expressed.

Caroline missed him terribly. His months-long assignments seemed interminable to her. She had plenty to keep her busy, writing articles for the Gazette, looking after her aging parents, and fixing up their even more rapidly aging house on Center Island. But for all her bustling activity, she was lonely, aching for close companionship and thought-provoking conversation. Bennett always made sure to buy her a new book on philosophy or politics whenever he set foot in a city and send it back to her via Air Express.

But Bennett knew that wasn’t enough—and he knew it without reading Caroline’s letters. In the privacy of his own cabin, without the pressure of command forcing him to keep his personal thoughts and feelings corked up, he could admit it.

He wanted to hear her voice again.

He wanted to sit with her by the fireplace, talking late into the moonlit night. He wanted to hear her humming like an angry bee as she yanked weeds out of the front lawn, hear her singing across the aisle from him in the neighborhood chapel, hear her reading her latest article aloud to her rheumy-eyed parents.

He wanted to see her again.

He wanted to see her sitting on the crumbling brick wall that separated her family’s garden from the river path that ran behind it, notebook and pen in her hands, trowel and pail of mortar and fresh red bricks forgotten at her feet. He wanted to see her jump off the wall and run to him much faster than most middle-aged women could.

He wanted to take her in his arms and press one hand to the small of her back and use the other to smooth back her flyaway hair and pull her under the willows where no one would see and kiss her perfect lips and…

The flush on Bennett’s cheeks was real this time.

He grabbed his collar with both hands and gave it a sharp tug, but he didn’t let go. Instead, his hands crept up and covered his face.

Oh good skies. No. He couldn’t touch Caroline like that. Not without giving her a ring. Not without abandoning his crew, his ship, his duty to protect the people of the Central Empire. Not without throwing overboard the airborne life he had lived for the last thirty-odd years.

Bennett dropped his hands to his sides and exhaled the breath he had been holding inside his lungs, afraid to release lest his eyes choose to issue tears along with it.

He had to write back to Caroline—had to tell her what she was doing to his mind and body, why he couldn’t let himself see or listen to her anymore.

It only took two of Bennett’s long strides to cross the cabin to his desk beneath the porthole window. Even on a huge carrier-class airship like the Ardent, space was limited for crew and captain alike.

Bennett sat down, pushed Caroline’s letter aside, pulled a fresh piece of paper from the desk drawer. The inkwell was cold in his fingers as he flipped open the top and filled his pen. His hand slowly moved the pen to the top left corner of the paper.

Bennett paused. His hand hovered, a miniscule bead of ink quivering on the end of the nib.

How did one address such a letter? His usual greeting, “Dear Caroline,” was far too familiar, far too tender to properly set up the difficult words that would follow. Yet writing nothing but her name would be too harsh. He didn’t want to hurt her. He would let himself break down and weep in front of his whole crew before he would hurt her.

The bead of ink dripped noiselessly onto the paper.

Bennett stared at the spot for a long moment.

The Ardent’s steel-reinforced timbers creaked in the wind. The ship’s engines droned low and steady somewhere beneath his boots. Footsteps passed outside in the corridor, carrying familiar, muffled voices along with them.

But neither of them were the voice he really wanted to hear.

Bennett reached up, undid the brass button under his throat, loosened his collar.

Then he wrote,
My Dearest Caroline…


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Flash Fiction: Float like a Pufferfish, Sing like a Siren

Hello, all! Here is another flash fiction piece for your reading pleasure. Like the last flash I posted, this piece is mostly unedited as far as story content goes. If you have constructive criticism to offer, please feel free to comment!


bubbles

Float like a Pufferfish, Sing like a Siren

At the first full dress rehearsal for Sea of Songs, I heard somebody say I looked more like a pufferfish than a mermaid. I was sitting on the edge of the huge glass tank that served as a backdrop for the stage, orange rubber prosthetic tail dangling in the chlorine-scented water. Unable to maneuver my legs very well, I twisted at the waist and glared over my shoulder at the stagehands checking lights and pulleys and whatever in the wings behind me.

I was comfortable with my weight, with the body God put me in. But I wanted to set those jerks straight about the damaging effects their comments would have on anyone with body insecurities.

Lucky for the stagehands, none of them made eye contact with me. If they had, the full force of my body positivity speech would have knocked their sorry butts all the way into 2020.

“One minute!” The director’s voice rebounded through the empty theater’s speakers and up into the upper wings where I sat. “Places, please!”

Way ahead of you. I’d been ready for dress rehearsal for weeks now, all my lines and songs memorized, all my beats, breaths, and kicks charted out. The stage crew and tank builders had just finished installing all the complicated set pieces this morning, three days behind schedule—so unprofessional!—and now we were finally ready to run through the whole play.

Opening night was tomorrow. So this had better be good. No, better than good. It had to be absolutely, undeniably excellent. People expected no less of Broadway.

I took a deep breath—not because I was nervous, but because it was time to start my breathing exercise, purging CO2 from my lungs and lowering my heartrate in preparation for my first performance dive fourteen-and-a-half minutes into Act 1. Most of my dives didn’t require me to hold my breath for more than a minute, but swimming in the prosthetic tail was strenuous, so I needed the breathing techniques to help my body be more efficient with its oxygen consumption.

Across the tank, I saw my fellow mermaids begin their breathing exercises, chests inflating slowly underneath the long strands of colorful hair glued in place over their breasts. There wasn’t a single fat roll or double chin among them. Some even had noticeable abs. Good for them. Seriously.

I had been cast as the token fluffy mermaid. I knew that coming in. But that only made me even more excited to be a part of this production. Not only was Sea of Songs pushing the limits on what was possible for set design—I mean, water wasn’t exactly friends with electronics and makeup—but the director was also making a conscious effort to represent more body types.

Opening night would be full of girls and women of every dress size, from zero to infinity. I wanted them all to see me—every cushy inch of me—looking pretty and confident in my mermaid getup, swimming right along with the others, a fabulous painted orca playing with her dolphin friends.

And besides, a relatively unknown actor like me will seize every opportunity she can to appear on Broadway. No questions asked.

The opening strains of the musical’s nautical-sounding theme song floated up from the orchestra pit far below. One by one, sailors danced onto the stage, which was set to look like an old-timey sailing ship. I kept breathing, ignoring their antics as best I could. I wanted to laugh when the captain shoved his annoying first mate into one of the lower tanks, but I managed to control the urge, exhaling just a little faster than usual.

The sailors finished their song and bantered back and forth a bit. Then the lights darkened and the music got more ominous—the beginning of the “storm” that would drive their ship off course, into the Siren Sea.

“Break a tail,” I whispered to the mermaids sitting next to me. They all grinned and one gave me a thumbs up.

Then we slid into the tank. The music disappeared in a watery rush. Then the bubbles cleared and I could hear the bass reverberating through the glass, into the water. Across the wide tank, I could see the colorful smudges of the other mermaids waiting at the top of the tank, just above the level of the stage’s curtain. We waited for the musical cue. Then we all dived, arms extended in front, tails swishing in back.

I concentrated on the maneuvers, dolphin-kicking my legs slowly and steadily, timing my movements with the other mermaids. Thirty seconds passed and we came up for air. Half of the mermaids immediately dived again. But the rest of us hurriedly hauled ourselves out of the water onto a small platform just offstage that lowered us thirty feet down to the tank on the main stage.

We dropped back into the water and swam out on stage. This time, our heads were out of the water. This time, we were singing.

The entrancing melody of our siren song floated up to the movable ship set piece on the other side of the stage. Slowly, the ship drifted toward us as the sailors fell under our spell—under my spell.

Tomorrow, I’d show the audience I was just as much mermaid material as anyone else, long lavender hair flowing around my shoulders, voice as sultry as a siren’s.

You know what? Let the stagehands make their snide comments, hiding up in the darkness of the wings. I’d be down here. Singing and swimming and swirling in the stage lights. A million rainbow bubbles dancing over my curves.


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Imagining Dad

My Dad is a very organized and thorough person—both by personality and in his work. If he has a free Saturday and doesn’t have plans to go spend it outdoors, he passes the day organizing the garage. Or vacuuming the entire house. Or cleaning out the cars. Or doing the family bookkeeping, meticulously going through every single credit card receipt from the past few weeks and matching them up with the latest statement.

For his job, Dad works in quality. He visits and corresponds with the suppliers that manufacture products for the company he works for, making sure they are following all the specs and meeting all the standards they should be. Essentially, Dad’s job is to keep cutting down on cut corners until everything is running smoothly.

If you were to talk to my Dad—about work, about life—it would be obvious that he’s intelligent, analytical, and passionate about his beliefs. But you wouldn’t expect him to be the kind of person who has a lot of imagination. At least, not the whimsical kind.

But he does.

His imagination just doesn’t show until he starts playing.

Back in the olden days when my younger sisters and I were kids, Dad would jump right into our imagination games like a swimmer diving into a pool. When we were really little, he’d get down on his hands and knees and give us “horsey rides” across the luscious green carpet grass in our living room. When we were a little older and discovered the sparkly pink magic of Barbies, he wasn’t afraid to pick up a doll and make her do the splits or call for Ken, the hilarious high-pitched voice coming from his mouth at odds with his manly mustache.

And then there were all the lets-play-pretend games (props optional). When he came home for lunch each day, he would sit at the table and cut up an apple or pear, putting a few slices on the very edge of the table—fodder for the mischievous “animals” hiding underneath. It was always a challenge for us animals to grab the fruit without being caught by the zookeeper.

Helped along by Dad’s imagination, car rides turned into airplane rides.

An old red wagon turned into a prairie schooner, complete with a rounded canvas cover.

The top level of our two-story playhouse (that Dad built!) became the Eagle’s Nest.

And bedtime turned into story time.

For a guy who has never been a big reader (at least, not until he discovered Clive Cussler’s books last year), Dad could sure tell a good story. Dad’s stories took us to fantastic worlds where anything could happen—from a family of elephants escaping hunters using secret underground tunnels, to assorted Mexican foods coming to life!

The Taco Brothers and Burrito Sisters made frequent appearances during that limbo time between putting on our pajamas and actually feeling sleepy enough to go to bed.

The Taco Brothers and Burrito Sisters were always on the run from Big Boy and his sidekick, Little Boy, the hungry villains who wanted nothing more than to devour our heroes. One time, Big Boy disguised himself as a giant container of sour cream in hopes of luring the anthropomorphic tacos and burritos to their doom. (It didn’t work—apparently, tacos are suspicious creatures.) Another time, the Taco Brothers and Burrito Sisters took a trip on the Enchilada Train. Everything was going well, but then Big Boy attacked, biting a huge chunk out of the train and our heroes barely escaped with their tortilla skins intact!

Things can get tense in Imagination Land.

Especially when ninjas show up to fight you as soon as you agree to star as The Bulk in your daughters’ knock-off Avengers home movie. Ah, good times.

All through my childhood and teen years, my Dad was there for me. Not only for the serious stuff like teaching me how to drive and helping me with my problems—but also for the fun, fanciful, frivolous stuff. The playful, the pretend. The imaginary. The kind of stuff that makes life truly wonderful, in the most literal sense of the word.

Thank you, Daddy, for playing with me.

Thank you for filling my life with wonder.

dad-in-silhouette


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How to Write When You Don’t Wanna

The biggest danger to a writer’s productivity isn’t writer’s block.

It’s an attitude of “I don’t wanna.”

Sometimes writers (especially nonprofessional ones like me) just don’t feel like writing. Our muse is missing. Inspiration is absent. Our brains sneeze at the thought of the effort involved in stamping words on screen or paper. And besides, there are dishes to wash and TV shows to watch! So many things other than writing that we should be or want to be doing.

But the reality is, if we don’t sit down and write regularly, we won’t get any better at our craft. And all those poetic, wise, funny, powerful, wonderful words bobbing around our heads will have no outlet.

First as an English major in college and now as a graduate trying to keep my writing alive, I’m always on the lookout for ways to help myself get some writing done. Here are the five strategies that have helped me the most over the last few months. Hopefully you’ll find them useful, too!

1) Think about your writing goalsgoal

When you’re feeling unmotivated, the best thing you can do is to get yourself excited about your writing again—remind yourself why you love writing and what you hope to accomplish by devoting so much of your time and energy to the written word.

What do you want to write? Why do you want to write it? With whom do you want to share it?

I have two main goals in my writing. First, I want to get better at writing fiction. I want my stories to be deep, interesting, and well thought out, striking a balance between pretty wordplay and clean, clear action and dialogue.

Second, I want to get more of my writing published. Unless it’s a diary entry or something, pieces of writing—especially stories—are meant to be shared. That’s why this blog exists. That’s also why I want to publish more of my work. I want to write stories built on a framework of truth that will be entertaining and thought-provoking to people of many different perspectives and life experiences.

If that sounds vague… well, that’s because it is. I haven’t quite figured out how I’m going to do any of this yet. Getting things published isn’t exactly easy. Neither is inserting my worldview into my work without bashing people over the head with a morality hammer.

But if I don’t keep on writing, even when I don’t wanna, I will never find out what does and doesn’t work, what gets me closer to success. If I want to experience the excitement of finally achieving my goals, I need to sit my butt down and write!

2) Read things similar to the things you want to writeread-similar

This is a great way to get inspiration, to see how other writers tackle challenges similar to the ones you face in your chosen genre.

I enjoy writing speculative fiction. Therefore, I read a lot of speculative fiction.

I’m currently reading a short story anthology called The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Third Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois. Some stories I’ve liked, others were “meh,” and some I didn’t finish. But they’ve all been useful in showing me how a successful (i.e. published) sci-fi story is constructed, from sci-fi concept or setting, to plot arcs, to character development.

Just reading through this book is getting my creative juices flowing and ideas are starting to develop in my head. I have one or two good ideas for short sci-fi/fantasy story settings. Now all I have to do is invent some characters and plots to play out inside them.

3) Start smallstart-small

If you don’t wanna write because the task of crafting an entire article or novel seems too daunting, break it into manageable chunks. Start by writing just one page—or even just a single paragraph. Whether you write a hundred words or a thousand words each day, you still get some writing done. You still have more words than you did before.

Granted, breaking up your writing sessions this way is not the fastest way to create a story, but it still helps you get the job done. And you can always increase your daily word count later, when the muse returns.

4) Use a writing promptdictionary-prompt

If starting small still seems daunting and the words just aren’t flowing, try a writing prompt. Google knows where to find them.

I used two prompts—one from the internet and one I made up myself—to help me write the flash fiction I posted last week.

Prompt 1 (from the web): Grab a dictionary, open it to a random page, and put your finger down on a random word. That word will be the title (or part of the title) of your fiction piece.

Prompt 2 (my own prompt): You must include in your story at least half of the words from the last game of Scrabble you played. You can get creative with how you use the words. For example, if one of the mandatory words is “sail,” you can include it as part of a compound word like “sailboat.” (For those interested, the list of Scrabble words I used is at the bottom of this post.)

For my flash fiction piece, my dictionary prompt word was “earthbound,” which immediately made me think of planet Earth and outer space (probably because of all the sci-fi stories I’ve been reading lately). From there, I zeroed in on the word “cousin” from my Scrabble list, and suddenly, I had a character: a woman whose beloved cousin died on the moon and has to be transported back to Earth for burial. From there, writing the flash was just a matter of filling in details, trying to include as many Scrabble words as possible. Using this prompt was challenging, fun, and productive all at the same time!

5) Give yourself a deadlinedeadline

Unfortunately, in college, I got conditioned to write only when I had a deadline coming up. After I graduated, this made it hard to keep writing. I suddenly had no due dates, no external motivation or pressure to make sure I got my stories done on time—because there was no longer any such thing as “on time.”

So, I’ve had to cook up some homemade deadlines.

This blog is the main way I’ve been keeping myself on task lately. One of my New Years resolutions is to write a post every week throughout 2017. Weekly deadline: Sunday, midnight. So far, it’s been going well and I haven’t missed a week (of course, this is only my third post of the year). Let’s hope the streak continues!

Last November, I also participated in NaNoWriMo and gave myself a one-month deadline to write a novel (or at least half of one). I didn’t make it all the way to NaNo’s 50k word-count goal, but I still got a lot of writing done—far, far more than I would have without that Nov. 30th deadline.

Ultimately, the strength and weakness of self-set deadlines is that they’re flexible. You can pick a deadline that works for you based on your availability to write and adjust it as needed when life gets busier or slower. You just have to be careful you don’t get too flexible—because then you’ll just keep pushing your deadline back and back until you become a full-time procrastinator.

And anyone who watched Spongebob as a kid will know what kind of havoc procrastination can wreak on your writing!


Scrabble Prompt

Note: When I wrote down these words, I simplified the verbs to their present tense and listed any plural nouns as singular.

  1. bug
  2. cousin
  3. dive
  4. dope
  5. driven
  6. duh
  7. fang
  8. fixer
  9. fret
  10. hail
  11. holt
  12. hut
  13. jeer
  14. jet
  15. ka
  16. label
  17. lace
  18. lin
  19. many
  20. move
  21. mow
  22. na
  23. nor
  24. oi
  25. page
  26. qat
  27. rail
  28. sob
  29. take
  30. tiny
  31. too
  32. twig
  33. war
  34. zin
Posted in Writing | 2 Comments

Flash Fiction: Earthbound

Instead of a typical blog post, I decided to write some flash fiction this week. Hooray! It’s been a while since I flexed my fiction muscles, so spending an afternoon on this piece was great practice for me, even if it’s only about a thousand words long.

I’d be interested to hear any comments you might have about this flash—whether positive or constructive—as I might try to publish it later. (I’ll have to research some flash fiction publications first.)

Now, without further ado, my mini story…


earthbound-flash-fic

Earthbound

The bodies in the back of the shuttle couldn’t see Earth rising to meet them, a bluish orb half buried in the dark loam of space. But Jan could. She stared at the planet on her view screen, afraid to blink. Her hands moved across the controls making adjustments, firing jets, nudging the shuttle into a gradual dive.

She should let the autopilot do this. The spontaneous dance of neurons and synapses in her head could never match the precision of computer calculations. Having a pilot aboard was just a precaution, anyway—a failsafe in case the computer took an unscheduled vacation.

But Jan didn’t care about that. The steering column gave her something to hold on to, something for her fingers to fret with. Distraction. Keep the shuttle on course. Look at the clouds, the oceans, the continents so many thousands of miles away.

Don’t think about the bodies in the back.

Don’t think about the label on the third and final bag. The label with her cousin’s name on it. Erica Warner. Cause of death: asphyxiation. At the bottom of an airless crater, a rover lying on its back like a dead bug beside her.

No. Don’t think about that.

Remember the pill bugs she and Erica used to kick back and forth with their pink-painted fingernails on Grandma’s back patio, a mini soccer game with a living ball. Remember going on a double date to the observatory, their bored boyfriends slumped on a bench while she and Erica jockeyed with other stargazers for precious telescope time. Remember the fixer-upper house, little more than a hut, that she and Erica lived in and worked on all through grad school, letting their academic frustrations flow out through a hammer, a paintbrush, a rake.

Selling the house to help finance their research projects until the next grant came in.

Getting twin phone calls from NASA, congratulating them both on their acceptance to the moon base program.

Holding a homesick Erica as she cried through her first night on the moon, a newlywed dealing with her first lengthy separation from her husband.

The memories glinted in Jan’s mind like stars. She stared at them wide-eyed, their light lancing through her mind, her heart, like cosmic rays. It hurt. But it was better than thinking about the alternative. The shuttle’s cargo. The sleepers that couldn’t be put to rest properly on the moon with no family to lay them down, no oxygen to help their bodies turn back to dust.

Family! Think about family.

Dad called her and Erica the Space Sisters.

Gemini.

Scientists with twin souls.

Curiosity and creativity.

Pioneers on the lunar frontier.

To the moon or bust.

Two Space Sisters made it there.

But only one was coming back.

Jan’s lungs shuddered in her chest as she swallowed a sob. She didn’t want her tears floating around the cockpit, bubbles of saltwater waiting to short out the controls.

Be strong. Think about the bottle of zin waiting for her in the cupboard in her apartment on Earth. The moon base was dry in more ways than one. The stakes were too high to risk a buzz, a mistake. A terminal accident.

The driver of the rover had dope in his system.

The base chief’s search of his bunkroom turned up a drug capsule and a vaporizer disguised as a pipette. The driver probably thought he was smuggling in a treat, a tiny reward for a hardworking scientist.

Now he was lying in bag number one, his two colleagues strapped down beside him.

One miscalculation. And over the rim of the crater they went.

Jan jabbed the autopilot button. The system beeped, confirming the computer’s grip on the controls. She unbuckled her harness, pushed herself into the air, scrambled over the back of her seat to the door. She didn’t open it. Just gripped the rail next to it as tightly as she could. She couldn’t trust herself to pilot the shuttle until she calmed down.

Breathe.

Breathe…

Earth was bigger now.

The hazy curve of the planet filled the bottom of the view screen. Weather systems swirled on the surface, patches of brown and green peeking through here and there. Somewhere on those patches lived nine billion people. How many would die and be buried by the time she landed an hour or so from now?

Jan didn’t know. And she didn’t care, except in the most abstract sense. She didn’t know those billions. She couldn’t do anything for them or their families.

But she could still do something for Erica. One last thing.

Jan took another deep breath, steady this time. Felt her scientist’s focus engage, laser straight. She had a task to complete.

She slipped back into her seat, buckled herself in. She disengaged the autopilot. Sent a comm to mission control letting them know she was beginning her final approach.

Jan wasn’t going to let her cousin’s last journey end in disaster, like the rover expedition had.

Erica’s final expedition would be this one. The one taken in a shuttle. The one Jan would guide safely, gently down to Earth.

Posted in Flash Fiction | 4 Comments