Monday, January 30, 2012

Godzilla King of the Monsters

io9's Concept Art Writing Prompt
While my writing is going well, none of my longer pieces are submission ready, and the clock is ticking on January. So, to keep my Write 1 Sub 1 promise here is a flash piece I whipped up and posted to io9's Concept Art Writing Prompt

Godzilla King of the Monsters
I almost didn't recognize the old neighborhood when I came across it, stopping mid-stride and stepping back to avoid obliterating the neat, working-class houses, crushing something else instead. I crouched over the rooftops, the buildings snuged together on the street in what looked now like a pathetic show of solidarity. And there it was, my fiancée's house. My ex-fiancée. Fled from me, and wisely so.

I remember the first time we stepped out together. A picnic. She, a proper young lady in a cotton blouse, slacks and a belt cinched around her impossibly slender waist. Giving me her elbow, she smiled defiance at her disapproving father as her brother snapped a picture of us. Me with the pink parasol she insisted I carry. She knew how my skin burned even on a cloudy day.

It burns now as I rein death and destruction down upon Tokyo. I stand up, carefully step over her house, and put the days before the radiation out of my mind. I turn to the ocean to cool my skin. It's the sensible thing to do; it's what she would have suggested.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

In the Middle of It

The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch

 I'm in the middle of it in more ways than one. This week my word count(s) are way down due to a certain member of the clan...

Leo: back on his feet
All I'm gonna say is that abscesses are pretty disgusting and expensive, but we are all glad that Leo is feeling better even if he must bear the "cone of shame" for another week. Hopefully, we can all get back to our regularly scheduled programming now.

So, every day I'm in the middle of it making dental appointments, overseeing middle school applications, sitting in the vet's waiting room. Soon it will be time to get everyone signed up for summer camps and swim lessons. It's pretty much that middle panel of Bosch's triptych: everything all the time, perhaps with slightly less nakedness.

I am also in the middle of two stories. One is technically a revision. Formerly a thousand-word flash piece, I'm expanding it to a 5,000 to 6,000 word short story. The other is my "January" story. The first brand new one of the twelve I promised to write this year.

I usually have no problem beginning a story. I have all sorts of ideas, themes, characters, vignettes stored away in my journal, on sticky notes stuck to my journal, or just floating around in my head. I generally start out with a strong opening, interesting character or two, and at least some idea of where the story is headed. I do sketch out a soft outline with scenes and ideas for scenes to get me through the middle, but I really don't have the middles down to a science yet. Just like Dante:
In the middle of the journey of life, I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost. Ah, how hard it is to tell of that wood, savage and harsh and dense, the thought of which renews my fear.
~Dante Alighieri, The Inferno
 Getting through the middles of my stories usually looks a lot like Bosch's middle panel again. There are so many choices, so many ways things could play out. So many earthly delights of which to partake. I really like to keep a little play in the narrative as I'm working through a story in the hopes that I'll discover something wonderful, and sometimes I do. When I get the middle right (and by right I mean mostly right) the ending almost always clicks into place.

More often making my way through the middle feels like walking through a dark wood full of invisible creatures rustling around and calling to each other. Discussing in their animal language their plans to devour me.  I know if I just keep going, pausing to adjust my outline then moving on, I'll come out at the other end with a complete draft.

When Beat writer William Burroughs said, "Everything is permitted," it's easy to think he's simply talking about that middle panel alone, without the reward and punishment panels that flank it. But read some of Burroughs' work and it's clear that everything isn't as fun as it looks and it sure isn't easy.

I think Mr. Burroughs means that when so much is available to us, our lives and our stories are defined by the choices we make. The only way to confront the "everything" of everyday, of each story's middle, of that dark wood, is one choice at a time until you find you've made it safely through.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


Onward, to the future.
 I like the idea of resolutions, although I suspect it's just a subcategory of my love of lists. I've decided to take a little different tack this year. Here's a version of what I wrote in my Journal on January 1st.
  • I resolve to accomplish more this year than last year, BUT not astronomically more.
  • I resolve to stop dictating unreachable goals and impossible schedules to myself. You know the ones that only serve to discourage and scuttle any chance of accomplishing anything. (I think it is reasonable to write and submit one story a month this year which fits nicely with Write 1 Sub 1's monthly challenge.)
  • I resolve to LEARN my own habits by observing and recording my work patterns in a writing calendar. I'll do this in order to discover my own best method for bringing work from idea to draft, through revision and critique, and into to publishable form.
  • I resolve to stop saying, I will "FIND" time to write, and only say, I will "MAKE" time to write as I have NEVER found any time laying around.
  • I resolve to conquer that short but challenging walk to my work space: To say YES  to the work. 
  • I resolve to forgive myself for the days where writing doesn't happen, and to move on without guilt.
  • I resolve to to recognize my loving obligations to my family, and to use the time I DO make for writing well.
  • I resolve to always do my best work, and to make my writing better through practice.
  • I resolve to be more open and free, to cherish and grow new ideas by saying YES to the world even if saying yes makes me feel vunerable or awkward or means that I might risk embarrassment.
  • I will put my work out there by submitting at least 12 stories this year.
  • I resolve procrastinate LESS (not that I will no longer procrastinate, baby steps).
  • I resolve to reach out to my fellow travelers, specifically via this blog, and by regularly attending my local writers' group.
  • I resolve to look up and meet this curious world's gaze.
  • It's going to be a good year.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Listening to Stories

I listen to about as much material as I read if not more. With two kids and their lessons, a part-time job and a dog to walk, it's the only way I stay current at all.

Listening is different from reading with your eyeballs. But once you adjust to the aural attentiveness required to take in a spoken word piece its delightful to knit or scrub or walk while someone reaches across time and space to tell you a story.

With audio there are three people involved, you the writer and the reader. I great reader can really add dimension to whatever you are listening to, and a not so great reader can make a difficult slog of a great story. It's the price you pay for the extra company.

It feels both modern - with the technology that makes audio books and podcasting so accessible - and primal to listen to a story. Put in your earbuds and join those long gone people who sat around the fire listening to the Illiad, Gilgamesh and Beowulf (all of which you can get as audiobooks by the way).

Mostly, I get audiobooks from the library and load them onto my iPod, but my queue of novels and nonfiction is getting dusty since I discovered so many great podcasts this year. Turns out the Pod-o-sphere is chock full of fantastic genre stories, news and chat. To write great short stories you have to read lots of them. Thanks to these podcasts I've listened to more stories, and to a broader range of stories within the genre, than I could have possibly read this year.

Here's what I've been listening to. It's by no means a comprehensive list, but I still say it's awesome. It's made cleaning the house, running errands and walking the dog immeasurably more pleasant.


All kinds of fantasy stories from swords and socerey to slipstream.

Escape Pod
Great science fiction stories in all styles from new and established authors in the field.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies
This one specializes in literary adventure fantasy that takes place on secondary worlds.

This online magazine has won the Hugo for best semipro magazine two years running. The stories are fantastic and varied. The first thing I did when I got my Kindle for Christmas was subscribe to this and to Lightspeed Magazine.

A John Joseph Adams joint this magazine and podcast is combining with its sister magazine Fantasy for double the podcasts and stories.


Both the website and this podcast are a great source of news about goings on in the genre.

Coode Street Podcast
I really enjoy hearing these two friends chatting about all things science fiction and fantasy. Both Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Woolfe are award-winning anthologists and editors.

(File under inspiration. keeping the "science" in science fiction.)

Groks Science Radio Show
The production values are low but the two hosts are great interviewers and often have some big names in science on their show to discuss current science topics.


Samples of lectures from the Odyssey Writer's Workshop. They don't post very often, but I've listened through their entire catalog and there's a lot of great writing and genre advice. If you can't afford six weeks to attend this workshop, check out their podcast.

Writing Excuses
Fun and chatty with good advice too. Gotta love their motto: "Fifteen minutes long, because you're in a hurry, and we're not that smart."

I Should Be Writing
Another great genre focused podcast. Advice and interviews mixed with writerly commiseration.

So that's what's keeping my ears happy right now. I know there's lots more out there. Tell me about your favorites in the comments and I'll add them on. Enjoy!