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Archive for the ‘Stories’ Category

Daily total:  2,555 words    Project total: 7,264 words

Barely hit my daily goal, but I got there. Wrote for about 3 1/4 hours today, in three different chunks of roughly 1 hour, a little less than 2 hours, and about 20 minutes. Definitely harder to sustain yesterday’s higher pace, but it worked out to a little more than 750 words an hour, with no real spikes or drop-offs.

As far as the quality, I felt like I wrote in a more modern style better suited to my current goals and that I did a better job of varying the pacing, alternating a bit more smoothly between stretches of narrative exposition and dialogue. And I wrote some dialogue that I enjoyed. Maybe I’ll still enjoy it tomorrow. 🙂 I’m about 2/3 of the way through the scenes that currently comprise the 2nd chapter. Once again I think I have a pretty good idea how I want the next scene to go, which will hopefully help me get a good start on things tomorrow.

One of the major steps I took today was using the Comment feature on Scrivener to enter a dozen or so suggestions in specific places in the text of how to revise, reorganize, or replace material that isn’t working in Chapter 1. I did this instead of actually rewriting the chapter, which would have taken much longer and been counter-productive at this stage of the drafting process. I also think I’ll be in a better position to make the changes once I’m a bit more removed from what I wrote. It was also a useful way to reestablish where I was in the story and get me ready to write.

At the same time, this process gave me some confidence that I can identify and fix problems, which gives me the mental freedom to be imperfect. A freedom I am taking full advantage of right now.

Looking forward to tomorrow.

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Daily total:  4,709 words    Project total: 4,709 words

After a few fits and starts, I finally got started writing today at around 9:30 am and knocked off a bit before 2:30 pm. I used a variation on the Pomodoro Technique to manage my time. Instead of taking 5 minute breaks every 30 minutes, I took a 10 minute break every hour, except one round in which I skipped the break because I was in the flow. During these breaks, I try to avoid looking at email or anything online. Instead I did some dishes, checked out the garden, ate a sandwich, and so on.

I don’t expect to sustain a rate of nearly 5,000 words a day, because I doubt I’ll have five hours to write, but I’m hopeful that I can achieve a steady pace of 750 to 1,000 words per hour and find time for a couple hours on most days.

In terms of the story, I completed all the scenes that currently comprise the first chapter and left myself with a pretty good sense of how the second chapter should start and a definite idea of how I want to write a major scene in it. So while I’ll have a lot on my plate before I can get started tomorrow, I feel pretty good about being able to hit the ground running.

As far as the quality of the writing goes, I feel that my current style is fairly stilted and comes across as rather old fashioned, despite the fact that I’m not having to think too much about what I’m writing. Here’s a sample from today’s output:

The trip to shore had been largely uneventful, for which he was grateful enough. The slaughter of the crew and passengers had attracted sharks and other opportunistic creatures that fed with equal glee upon floating carrion and swimmers drowning from their own panicked exhaustion. More worrisome were the darker scavengers that followed, waiting to devour unsanctified souls released from their waterlogged corpses. Rone had no intention of dying in his current, incomplete spiritual state, much less being consumed by some spectral jackal; as matters stood even proper rituals would not ensure his reincarnation until certain issues were resolved.
Though his route steered clear of that feeding frenzy, he was briefly set upon in a halfhearted fashion by a smallish shark that had apparently wandered away from its companions. He dismissed it with a few swift kicks to its sensitive nose. Otherwise his main burden, aside from being tired, wet, and materially poorer since the bulk of his belongings had found a watery resting place, was that the smell of charred wood and burning flesh was still in the back of his nostrils despite a healthy snorting of seawater. It was the sort of combination that, after a few hours adrift baking in the sun on an empty stomach, made you a bit peckish until you remembered just what the scent causing your mouth to water actually was, which in turn killed your appetite stone dead. Unless, he supposed, you were a Tilanese noble used to certain types of delicacies.

Not likely to be popular reading in this century, but part of this process is to hammer ahead and work through the flaws later during the revision process, once everything awkward and squalid has revealed itself.

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This morning, after my workout and before taking kids to school, I had a bit of a brainstorm in the shower. As a result, I’ve revised the opening “Act” of the storyline to try to introduce some key ideas and characters in what is hopefully a more interesting and naturalistic fashion. In particular, I think the new opening sequence will be more engaging right off the bat.

I made these revisions first by scrawling a few notes on index cards and then transferring those quickly into Scrivener before heading out the door. In the process, I also formalized the structure of my first batch of scenes by grouping them tentatively into chapters. Scrivener is a very handy tool for doing this sort of organizational work.

I work from home as a freelance writer and editor of K-12 educational materials, which means that I have my own writing workspace, which has its pros and cons. On the plus side, I can put all my needed materials within easy reach. On the con side, I do a different type of thinking and writing in this space, and I’ll have to see if I can switch gears and be a bit more creative while surrounded by the same environmental cues.

One final note: in the past I’ve found that talking about the story or the characters before actually writing about them seems to scratch the same creative itch in my mind, thus diverting my focus from getting the work done. So I’m going to try a fairly abstract approach to discussing the novel itself, focusing on the process in general terms.

Well, today I have time to get an early start that won’t be there tomorrow, so it’s time to get going.

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Writing Project

If all goes as planned, I’m about to embark upon a personal version of NaNoWriMo. For various reasons the default month of November has always seemed like a terrible choice from my perspective, due to multiple time conflicts. But the core concept of trying to write 50k words in 30 days feels like a sound idea, particularly for someone like me who struggles to finish anything.

I find myself with some unanticipated free time in my freelance work schedule, so I’m going to try to crank out as much of a novel manuscript as I can write from Sept. 4th through Oct. 4th, with the hope of continuing the process another 10 days through October 14th.

I have a lot of books on writing, as do many would-be writers, no doubt. For this project, I’ve decided to use Plot & Structure, by James Scott Bell, along with the advice in Finish Your Novel by Timothy Hallinan.

In addition to a large number of index cards, loose leaf notebook paper, and an assortment of colored pens, I’ve been preparing using the writing tool Scrivener, which is very nicely designed for the creation of a manuscript like this one.

On the eve of kicking off my project, I’ve prepared three decent character bios and written the equivalent of roughly 40 “scenes” (which might correlate roughly into chapters) out of a projected 45 total at this point, some on index cards but all currently translated into the virtual “corkboard” format on Scrivener.

The final section of the novel is the least complete at this stage. I had an ending in mind but the work I did today on the middle section changed that. So I imagine I’ll have to revise the whole portion if and when I get to it.

I’ll try to keep track of my progress here as I make my way through the project.

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If you find this, Ronnie Easton has the gold from the Beech Hill robbery and he left me to die in the dark. Ronnie, you bastard, if you find this may you rot in hell.

*

I forgot to say my name is Charlie Stark. Ronnie cut the rope and I can’t find a way out of this little cave. The glow sticks are dead and eventually the flashlight batteries will die.

Everything dies eventually. I just don’t want to do it alone and in the dark.

*

It went down like this.

It’s been 20 years since the Beech Hill gang got caught, but no one ever found the gold coins and cash from the job. Sam Kirkland’s old man did time upstate with one of the Beech Hill crew, a hard case named Reilly. Guy used to draw these sick little pictures of human sacrifices and stuff like you’d see on those old jungle temples in National Geographic. Said the money might as well be in Hell.

One day after I introduced them, Sam is telling this story to Ronnie for the first time when Ronnie gets excited. Starts asking about the pictures and talking about “the Hole.”

Ronnie is into all this weird shit he calls the secret history of the city. He says the Hole has been around since before the city was built, but that it gets lost. Ronnie swears he saw the Hole when he was a kid. A jock friend got some rope and climbed partway down with a flashlight. Came back shaking.

Sam asks why and Ronnie says, “The pictures drawn on the walls freaked him out.” He smiles and waits for us to catch on. So after a few beers we go looking for the Hole and damned if it wasn’t sitting in the basement of an old abandoned house, just like Ronnie said.

My lucky day.

*

It wasn’t until I was actually climbing down the Hole that I started to believe it was all real.

The Hole is crazy deep and has cold stone walls as smooth as skin. The paintings start out as stick people up top and get more lifelike as you go deeper. The people are doing terrible things to each other in the dark. Some are screaming, some are laughing. Some you can’t tell.

After a while the jellyfish creatures start to appear in the pictures. Mostly they seem to watch, but sometimes they join in.

Eventually I stopped looking at the walls. I stared down into the blackness and thought about how I would get rid of Sam and Ronnie if we found anything.

When I looked back at the pictures, the people seemed to nod at me.

*

Sam had the same idea.

We found this little cave at the bottom, with more pictures on the walls and ceiling. Along with a rusty locker that we busted open. It was like a pirate chest inside: gold coins, jewelry, and wads of cash.

Sam and I made one trip up with the heaviest stuff. I saw the look in Ronnie’s eyes and knew he would wait for the rest. He helped us back down, reeling out the rope.

I drew my knife while Sam stared at the drawings. Maybe he was working up his nerve. I never saw the gun until he turned around. By then it was too late.

For both of us.

Sam’s stray gunshot echoed so long and loud that I couldn’t hear what he said to me as he bled out.

The rope came hissing down a moment later. I backed up and watched it falling, coiling on Sam’s body like a snake. It took a long time.

But Ronnie will be back. I have the rest of the money.

*

When I ran out of food and water, the monsters came for Sam. They’re dog-sized and look like a hairy spider crossed with an octopus. And they glow pale blue. I watched them drag his body until one of them noticed me and charged. I shot the thing but it wasn’t until I turned on the light that the others shrieked and ran away.

Now the light is flickering while the dead spider-thing still glows.

*

I feel better.

I thought about what the pictures were telling me. Then I crawled to the dead spider-thing and I tasted it.

It was rubbery and juicy and sweet. I ate it all and I feel stronger. I smeared the glowing blood on the paper so I can see well to write.

I even found out where the spider-things came from. There’s a small tunnel that was blocked by rocks. They pushed a few aside. I don’t know what lured them out. Probably Sam’s smell.

The tunnel is small and I can’t see more than a few feet into it. I might be able to crawl  through but I wouldn’t be able to turn around.

*

I fell asleep and dreamed of a place where no one tells you what you can’t do. Anything goes. It’s just living and dying however you choose.

I woke up and heard this wailing sound from the tunnel. I think it’s the people in the paintings singing.

It’s beautiful.

*

I was in the tunnel when Ronnie came back. He was so busy grabbing the money that he never saw me slip up behind him.

I wonder what happens to your soul when you die here.

I left the rope hanging in the middle of the cave and went back to the tunnel. I’m going to the other side to find the people who are singing. I think they’ll understand the things that I’ve done. The things I’d like to do.

Being understood is worth more than money.

Besides, I think they’ve been lost for a long time. They might want to find the way back home.

Then we can get out of the Hole together.

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Story: Tinkertoy Genii

The voice was a dull, distant roar, rousing her from the depths. Light and sound overloaded her senses, her mind spinning wildly. A memory fitted here, a skill slotted there, an emotion relearned, a pattern recalled. Sounds forming words, words falling through holes in a net being spun furiously but still maddeningly incomplete. Until clarity came at last.

She was disappointed to discover her vision resolved in grainy black and white. Worse was the realization that not only could she not move, she lacked any physical sensation. Her body was simply gone, a void. Good grief, she thought, What kind of retrotech shell have they dumped me into?

The voice continued. “Refugee Valerie Shem, are you conscious and self-aware? This is your scheduled debriefing with the Talos Orbital Authority. Refugee Valerie Shem, are you conscious and self-aware? This is—”

“Yes, yes!” she interrupted. Her voice sounded tinny, tinged with static. Where was here? No, the voice had said that much. Focus! “In what form is my consciousness currently embodied?”

The recording paused. She studied the grainy image of an insectoid drone, sprouting metallic legs at crazy angles, an eyestalk wobbling in front of whatever camera was providing her narrow field of vision.

“Ah yes,” continued the drone. The operator was probably running half a dozen of these remotes, interrupting automated procedures as needed. “Greetings. You are currently being stored on a backup server in Talos Orbital spacedock.”

Backup server? Her sense of calm dissolved. “Backup” meant file compression, downtime, dormancy, which in turn spelled fragmentation and memory loss. Questions flooded her mind. Who had been her advisor at the Polytechnic? Where had she seen that glorious sunset on Ramses?
Holes. Like missing teeth, like itches she couldn’t scratch.

“What is my storage medium?” she shouted as loud as the damn box would let her.

“Ah,” said the drone, hesitating. “Nanotubes.”

“Tinkertoys!” cried Valerie. “You can’t preserve a recorded personality on a rod logic system! I demand an upload to a DNA matrix or a quantum computer. And I want a full-mobility cybershell or an android host!”

“Nanotubes are the most robust medium for long term storage,” came the flat reply.

“Who gives a damn about long-term storage! I need full mind emulation now, before I degrade any further. I can afford whatever your backwards Orbital can produce!”

“Your credit account has a negative balance, Valerie Shem,” replied the drone curtly. “The cost of transmitting and receiving your ghost through hyperspace was not met by the funds on reserve with us. You are currently a ward of the state until your debt can be repaid.”

She remembered enough to respond to that. “My homeworld was sterilized by a solar flare!” screamed Valerie. “Why else would I evacuate to some forsaken cluster of satellites orbiting a gas giant in the ass-end of the civilized universe?” She paused, struggling to piece together her memories.

There were fewer gaps than she had first thought, but she noted a pattern to the missing data that belied random errors. “I think someone has sabotaged my records,” she said incredulously. Her tone became more authoritative. “I request the opening of a formal investigation into the theft of my personal property and an assault upon my personal mind space.”

“Opening personal investigations requires a retainer to be deposited with Talos Orbital Security,” replied the drone.

Damn. She searched her memories frantically for some sense of who might have done this to her, hoping to find backup files hidden in her matrix. How clever had she been?

“Valerie Shem, I must inform you that you as an indigent ward of the Talos Orbital authority, your stored consciousness is scheduled for routine downtime to conserve energy and system resources.”

Bastards, she thought. She kept scanning herself.

There. A hidden memory file, with a recent time stamp. Accessing it, she found a sneaky piece of spyware, designed to record alterations to her cognitive structure. It told her nothing of her former life, potential enemies, or who had violated her mind. But it might hold the solution to her current dilemma.

“What is the standard protocol in place on Talos for copyright and personal mindspace protection?” she asked.

The drone froze. “Level 1.2 quantum encryption,” it replied. “I fail to see—”

“I had Level 1.5 quantum encryption on my personal data, and it was hacked,” said Valerie.

“Opening an investigation into such matters requires a retainer—”

“I have a detailed record of the assault, showing how it was done, though not by whom,” interrupted Valerie. “This information might be of value to Talos Orbital Security, don’t you agree? Particularly given that the party involved is likely inhabiting your infosphere along with the other digital refugees.”

After a long pause, Valerie continued. “I might add that I have a worm program installed that will delete this information if anyone were to attempt to remove it from me by force.”

“You would run the risk of irreparable damage to your consciousness,” replied the drone.

“Do you think I want to live in this toybox?” she shot back.

The drone began tapping its long, slender appendages for what seemed like an eternity. Then, with a shake of its eyestalk, it spoke. “Valerie Shem, I am authorized to investigate your memory loss and, if your claim proves truthful, negotiate the purchase of your data recording on behalf of Talos Orbital Security.”

Valerie smiled to herself. They were hooked. Time to push. “Of course, I can hardly take part in such a negotiation in my current crippled state. I will need a full mind emulation running at baseline Human-Plus 2 clock speed to assess all parameters, the cost of same to be deducted from my fee.”

“Agreed,” said the drone, extending a probe toward an unseen panel. “Prepare for transfer to mind emulation.”

Before everything went black again, Valerie envisioned baring her teeth. Someone had tried to screw her, but they were going to find that this genii would not stay in her bottle.

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