SO, HOW IS MY NEW SCI-FI STORY COMING ALONG?
Anyone who follows me (and actually read my tweets) on Twitter has heard (er, seen) me lamenting about whichever story I'm writing that is driving me vrognorf! at any given moment. Some stories, I can't seem to finish. Others are dragging out too long and becoming too complex. Some, I LOVED at the beginning and now HATE.
Typical writer woes.
My latest is science fiction, and it was meant to be flash fiction, though it may now be a little long for that. It is, for all intents and purposes, DONE. Beginning, middle, end. What more could anyone ask for?
Well, a lot, obviously. But I am so happy with it. When I'm happy with me. You know the deal. Love it, hate me, love it, hate me...
But I will - WILL! - post it within a day. Or so. Maybe even tonight. Seriously, I need to post it now. I need to delve into a totally different fictional world and meet brand new just-made-them-up-in-my-head characters. I need to move on.
Which is kind of ironic, given that I started this story purely because I was tired of the complexities of my other story; a novella-to-be-serialized tale of kids surviving a zombie apocalypse. I desperately needed to put that aside (it had gotten to the point where I felt like that smiley screamer emoji) and dive into a completely different world. And I did.
So here I am, once again tired of the daily struggles of a new story. And desperate to dive back into my kids-kicking-zombie butt apocalypse.
The Gods of the Writers' World are such raging smart-asses, aren't they?
Anyway, I'm writing this blog post about my new sci-fi story today because I'm having one of those "I LOVE my new story!" days, and you have to grab them quickly, because they run their asses off like a cute little bunny and can disappear down a hole in the blink of an eye.
I love my story. All I need is a title. I think. And maybe one more go-through, just to be sure it's perfect.
But quickly, before I hate it instead.
Because, really, I love it. I don't for a minute delude myself that anyone else will love it. I wrote it to be something you can't quite put your finger on. Is the character THIS? Or is the character THAT? Is THIS happening? Or is it THAT? Or something completely different and unimaginable?
The reader can make up their own mind. Or have deep discussions with others who are wondering, themselves. To me, a story that makes you ponder possibilities is one that makes you use your imagination. As a reader, I sometimes enjoy that. Not every single story or book I read, hell no. But once in a while, challenge me to wonder.
Do other readers feel the same? Or does it just piss them off? I am clueless as to how other minds work. I can barely keep my own mind chugging along.
So. I wrote it. I will post it. Maybe actual readers will discover it and be curious enough give it a go. Maybe they'll like it. Maybe they'll love it. Maybe they'll just say, "Huh?"
Or maybe I'll be its audience of one.
Such is a writer's life. LOL
I wrote this in about ten minutes yesterday morning. Being creative is a refreshing way to start a day. So today I figured, what the hell, I'll post it on my blog. ;-)
The Mercurial DanaLee
By Nik Barnabee
I don't want to, she said silently in her head.
"I don't want to," she whispered aloud.
"I don't want to!" she shouted, amazingly loud for such a wee thing; shouted for all to hear. For the neighbors up and down the street who'd chosen this lovely spring day to open their windows and let in the fresh air; for the workers in hard hats, up on the girders of that new office building under construction three blocks away; for God him- or herself up in the heavens.
"Well, sheesh, DanaLee, nobody said you had to. In fact, no one even asked you to go. You're not even invited. Really. You're not coming!" insisted her older sister (she of the tweezed eyebrows, the appropriately-small-but-enhanced-with-wads-of-tissues boobs, the I'm-in-middle-school-now-so-you're-beneath-me attitude).
DanaLee's eyebrows wiggled upward. Her lip quivered.
Only a preschooler could stretch out a whine-alicious, angsty, chalk-screeching-on-a-blackboard tone with such precision.
The sisters' childless aunt, at the kitchen table having coffee with their mom, smiled as she thought to herself, "Thank god for birth control."
Over the weekend, I tried something that was suggested by one of my favorite authors, Ray Bradbury. The writing wasn't going well for me (wasn't going at all, actually), so I needed something to give my muse a kick in the a—...er, I mean something to stimulate my creativity.
I'd been in one of those "Why do I even bother writing this stuff?" moods for a while. I'd wrestle a new story into submission, post it here on my website, share the link, and wait. As do so many writers with websites.
Days would pass. A week. Two. And in the Comments section, there was only...the sound of crickets. Ok, the visual equivalent.
I know. I'm supposed to write for ME. And I do, at the beginning, when the story is shaping itself into something, like Play Doh that's taken on a life of its own. Then, in subsequent drafts, I battle with my bossy, know-it-all muse, until it's done. Really, totally done.
Sometimes it's something I think (hope) a friend or two might really like, and their reaction is exciting. And it nicely decorates that empty whiteness of the Comments section.
But mostly, all that's there is, well...crickety-crick, crickety-crick.
Anyway, I read a post about Ray Bradbury. I've admired him ever since I started reading his books and short stories back when I was eight years old. No, I didn't “get” a lot of it back then, but I learned to love science fiction, I learned to look up new words in the dictionary, and I tried like crazy to memorize an entire book, just like the characters in Fahrenheit 451. I don't even remember which novel it was, but it was a complete failure, since I didn't make it past the first page. But that made me admire the writers who write them even more.
Ray Bradbury's advice, regarding keeping those creative juices flowing...
His suggestion (and one that he said he did, himself) was to make lists of words. Word prompts. Just words that pop into your head, or images that do, or ideas. List the words. Then, question what they mean to you, one by one. Eventually one will speak to you. It'll create a scene in your head, or a character, or a mood. Work at that one. It's the beginning of a new book or short story.
So I gave it a shot.
My first attempt didn't pay off at first.
Manhole cover. Salad. Lighthouse. Flagpole. Scattered teeth. Old mine. Snowmen. The dark. Bugs.
I read through the list. Nothing. And again. Still nothing.
Then I closed my eyes for a few minutes, listened to my breathing, emptied my mind, leaned over to within a few inches of the list, and opened my eyes again.
I read the list. Slowly. Letting each word sink in. When I got to "the dark," something happened. I can't describe exactly what. Sort of like something flitted past, in a deep recess of my mind. A deep, dark recess.
I picked up the pen, and below the list, I started another list.
Wings. Dark wings. Flickers of light. Reflections on long, black feathers. Wind. Clouds. The moon. Obscured. Then free. Moonlight dances across dark branches tossed about in the air. Atop one, it is perched. Feathers. Beak. Eyes, so intense. On the creature, with each sweep of light, it glistens. The blood.
Far below. Knee-high grass. Jeans. Hoody. One shoe missing. Empty eye sockets staring upward. No longer bothered by the wind. Or the tiny droplets of rain. Nevermore.
Ok, I can work with that. ;-}
Copyright ©Nik Barnabee June 1, 2016
Yes, I actually did finish -- and post! -- the revenge/horror short story I rambled on about in my previous post. Only now it's urban fantasy, because I figured out that, yeah, that's basically what it is. So far as I can tell. I mean, if there's magic involved and it's modern day, here on earth, in a city-life atmosphere. Right?
As you can see, I even made a cover and a blurb to go along with it, and finished them, too!
Obviously, the title of the story is Shadows and Smoke. Should you want to read it, it's right up there on the menu.
It turned out darker than I'd originally imagined it. Not that the target of revenge was ever going to have a happy, happy time of it. But things happened. Bad things. I'm not sure if my muse is really sociopathic or if my brain is past the “best if used by” date.
But, what the hey, I'm SO happy with the way the story turned out. I may end up being the only person on the third rock from the sun to read it, but it's an accomplishment that exceeded my original expectations, and how often does that happen?
I hope some of you read it. And like it. Or you read it and say, “Oh my god, how could you...?!” What could be more satisfying for a writer than making their readers feel something?
I finished the story by the end of the year like I'd promised myself, and got it ready to post -- and posted it! -- in the first month of the new year. 2016 is off to a not-bad start.
By the way, if you leave a comment for Shadows and Smoke, I'll put in a good word for you with Santa. If you've read my story “Merry Disfunctional Christmas!” you know I have insider info on the overworked, philandering, sleigh-riding old geezer, so my connection at the North Pole must be good. And if you're not of the Christmas-y persuasion, I'll ... hmmm ... name a comet after you. Okay, sure, it won't be official, but we'll know, right?
Happy reading in 2016! There's a world of books out there, so enjoy! :-}
UPDATE ON THAT REVENGE/HORROR STORY I WAS WORKING ON ... or ... THE DAY MY MUSE HIJACKED MY STORY (and made it better, dammit!)
(Spoiler alert: If you've never seen the 20-some-year-old movie “Thelma & Louise” but plan to someday, don't read this post. You wouldn't want to learn the movie's ending. Shhh!)
Well, well, well.
When we last looked in on the cigarette-smoking guy (No, not THAT cigarette-smoking guy. He and Mulder and Scully have better things to do than hang around in my story), it seemed he had somehow re-formed his own personality, not giving a rosy rat's ass if I liked it or not.
It turns out, he had help.
The original plot was: obnoxious, misogynistic smoker torments woman writer/next-door-neighbor he knows has a severe sensitivity to cigarette smoke. She decides to get even. And thus the story began speeding down the Main Plot Highway.
But (some might say, luckily for me) my muse just flat-out hijacked it -- yes, changing some of the nasty neighbor's personality traits (Oh my god, he may be a jerk, but he's an animal-lover!) -- and speeding down an off-ramp, where she discovered the sleepy little town of What Happens When The Victim Becomes The Bully?
Not satisfied with that new plot point alone, she and her muse-y vehicle vroom-vrooomed their way down the road and stopped at the When You Release Power You Can't Control, Don't Be Surprised If It Does Things That Shock The Sh*t Out Of You rest stop.
From there, it Thelma and Louise-d itself through a guardrail and down into the You Won't BELIEVE What's Happened To The Characters Now! chasm.
At which point, my muse climbed out of the wreckage and shouted, “YES! This short story is now freakin' perfect!”
I love my muse. What would I do without her? More than once during one of those dreaded “writer's block” thingies, I pictured her sitting on my shoulder (she's quite elfin, with long, pointy ears, big, golden eyes, and curly-toed shoes) and that alone was enough to get the creative juices flowing.
But sometimes I have my creativity going just nicely, thank you, and she comes along with her own ideas and snatches it right out from under me.
If only she'd at least thank me for loaning her my fingers and my computer keys (especially the backspace key, for those oops! moments), which enabled her to get the whole thing into a text file.
I feel so used.
On the other hand, I fell in love with this story, done her way. And when it's completely finished & ready to post, I shall lay claim to it and stick my name on it. After all, she did use my brain cells (Yes, there are a few up there that she can rub together to start a fire) and fingers and such, and so I've decided it's mine, mine mine! (The image of Daffy Duck just popped into my head, in one of his greedier moments).
The first draft was hers, and I'm sure she had a blast doing it. But, as all writers know, the subsequent drafts are, well, just plain hard work. And there's nothing like the word “work” to make my muse instantly flit back up to my brain and hide out there. I suspect she is, at this very moment, lazing in a hammock, sipping a margarita.
Thus, I tackled the rewrites myself. And now the final draft is THISCLOSE. It just needs a few little tweaks here and there.
When it's posted [for your free(!!!) perusal], I'll let you know. Or my muse will. Whatever. Let's face it -- she runs things around here. ;-}
Dear fellow Twitter user:
I want to follow you back. I really do.
But the last thing I need in my Twitter stream is another collection of what is essentially ads, so I've become picky. I never did follow back absolutely everyone, but I used to be less particular (Persnickety. Fussy. Punctilious! Damn that Thesaurus). Back then, Twitter was full of back-and-forth conversations, and late night could feel like hanging out with friends (or at least friendly acquaintances) in a cool coffeehouse.
Now, it's buy my book! Buy my friend's book! Buy some etsy jewelry! Look — cute kitties! Most of it is RTs, and I do like that people are generous and helpful toward others. But for some, that's all there is.
To them, I say here, don't you ever feel like talking? With (or to) someone? A real, living (if in digital form) person? Even if you're shy, or a newbie who's not sure how to get started conversation-wise, there are places you could hop in. Cute kitty photo? Then why not at least say, Love the cute kitty!, and add a smiley face? Or if someone tweets, “I finally finished my book and typed THE END! Wheeeee!,” even if you don't know them, couldn't you just tweet, Congrats!? If someone tweets that they just came back from the ER with a cast on their arm, couldn't you say, So sorry to hear that. I hope you heal quickly?
It is, after all, called SOCIAL media.
It's not always easy. I know. I get it. Sometimes I feel invisible, too (especially recently, after being offline for a long while with DSL problems). Or I'm in a mood too dark to foist on others. Or my brain just can't seem to force any coherent thoughts through my fingers and into the keyboard. Or worse, sometimes I'm just freakin' boring. I do that sometimes. Tweet too much. I know. I ramble on (and on) at times. Especially early in the morning or late at night. So, yes indeedy, I have my own Twitter flaws (lots of them).
But even if I had a book to sell rather than just my freebie short stories on my website, I'd still want to do more than just try to grab buyers/readers.
I see Twitter as a place to hang out with people I enjoy. I love the (often, snarky) humor. I feel compassion for tweeps who are having a rough time. I'm excited when someone I know (even if only vaguely) has a book about to be published, or just signed with an agent, or went to ComicCon, or just baked an utterly cool and awesome birthday cake for their kid.
More often than not, I'm in awe that these cool people let me hang out with them.
You have your flaws, I have my flaws, we're all full of frakkin' flaws. Nobody's perfect.
Therefore, when you follow me, I not only check out your Twitter page, but if necessary, I scroll wayyyyyy down. Because, even if it's entirely full of RTs or famous-people-quotes or tons of #FF and #WW (very cool of you!) or a zillion photos of the Northern Lights, I don't judge anyone by their mood or actions on one day.
But if day after day that's all there is, and you never talk with anyone, or even talk “out loud” to yourself (and God knows I do that a lot), then it's not likely that I'll follow you back.
Oh, I do make exceptions sometimes. If you're very into something I'm very into, I'll say what the hell, and follow. Such as, if you're a Walking Dead fanatic (I am), a sci-fi or horror writer (I am), a science nerd (well, I'm probably not smart enough to truly be one, but I'm fascinated by science, technology, space exploration), an animal lover, a fan of Scooby Doo (well, who the hell isn't?), etc.
But mainly I hope you like to talk, at least a little bit. Now and then. If I don't follow right away, I may check back a few days later. Maybe you got chatty. ;-}
And yes, if you unfollow me and then follow me again, as if you reeeeally want me to follow you, I'll give you a second look, because, well, it's nice to be liked. LOL
So, for me to follow you, all you need to do is be a little social. Here on social media. Once in a while.
Hello there, fellow writer.
I'm in a curious mood this morning, so I figured I'd make a game of it. A big question for people whose fingers bleed words, whose minds create worlds, whose blood supply is somewhere around 50% coffee. Or tea. Or chocolate. We are nothing if not diverse.
So, how many Works In Progress (or WIPs, as we Twitterites prefer) do you have at the moment?
I don't mean ideas jotted down, or characters sitting lonely in a descriptive paragraph or two, waiting for you to give them a place to live.
I mean actual stories that have an excellent chance to reach the FINAL DRAFT finish line.
Wow, that many?
I'm not sure whether to say "Good for you!" or "You poor thing, you," because I know the emotions involved.
The elation when a new story pops out of your head, from that mystical, secret place that incubates such ideas.
The feverish typing/scribbling to get the words out when, at the beginning, they pour out faster than you can get them down.
The awe, when you realize this one's for real. This one is too good to toss aside just because you're too busy or it's too hard. This is THE ONE.
Okay, THE ONE of many THE ONEs. But still.
You know it when you see it, hear it, feel it, as you read the words back to yourself.
And yet, so many times such WIPs end up sitting there collecting dust, so to speak. The writing became difficult, the excitement petered out, and you became engulfed by all those little (and big) Real Life semi-catastrophes that had to get handled right now!
But after a while you handled the problems, life became calm again, and it was time to write.
How many WIPs are you actively working on? Not necessarily every day, because I know how that works — some days one of them is going so well, you go with it. You must. It demands it.
Other days, a couple of them take turns tugging you in opposite directions.
And then, sometimes you just have to let one sit for days, or even weeks. Let it ferment, like wine. And someday it will be ready for you to dive into it again. It will be intoxicating. Or maybe that'll be the result of the actual wine you're imbibing as you write. (guzzle, guzzle) What the hell. You earned it.
For a while now, I've had three major WIPs. One is a sequel to my soft sci-fi story, Poof! I had reached THE END, but it needed tweaking. You know how that is. But then one day last week I discovered THE ERROR. I had one major point completely wrong. Consequently, I have to do a helluva lot more than tweaking. I'll fix it. But, damn. So close.
My favorite WIP, though, is the urban fantasy/apocalypse novella that sometimes makes me feel all proud and writerly, and other times feels like its complexities have me in a choke hold. But it has so much promise, so many cool places to go before I type THE END. You know what that feels like, I'm sure. An awesome feeling.
But since it is a complex story, it won't be done soon. Matter of fact, the story itself keeps hinting — ok, nagging — that what it really needs is to be a full-length novel. Yeah, and every actor in a Viagra commercial thinks they deserve to star in an Oscar-worthy film. Dream on, Apocalypse Wow.
My third WIP, which I started only a short while ago ...
It was meant to be a very short, short story, but it keeps expanding. I started it for one reason, only. In the thin-walled city row home I live in, cigarette smoke from my next door neighbor (or at least the newest live-in boyfriend of the next-door neighbor) creeps into my house; my computer room, to be more precise. Ya know ... the place where I live. I write there. Eat there. Watch TV there.
Really, the rest of the house is just for the cats.
Anyway, I'm allergic to cigarette smoke, it kicks the sh*t out of my breathing, and so I started the story purely to vent. As writers sometimes do, I created a character who represents that smoke-spewing couch potato next door, and I planned to do very painful and horrendous things to him, before he dies a slowwwww death. Or gets eaten alive by something with very big teeth. After it plaits his intestines like pigtails.
You get the picture.
And I will do that. Eventually.
But in the meantime, a story happened, inside that story.
The cardboard cutout, cigarette-puffing asshat emerged, on his own, all 3-dimensional and interesting and human. He has feelings. He has a history. He has reasons why he does things. He has an admirable streak of snark to him.
Who the hell told him to do that?!
Isn't it strangely fascinating when your fictional characters decide they're not characters at all, but real damn people, and act like they're doing you a favor by allowing you to hang out with them? Do you ever wonder if they were always up there in your brain, maybe playing Pinochle with your muse, just waiting for their turn?
I read a quote recently, attributed to Stephen King (although I suspect that if he talked as much as quoters say he does, he wouldn't have had time to write all those novels). Anyway, he supposedly said that writers never ask other writers where they get their ideas because they know we don't know.
And that's the thing. I don't know where the hell this character came from. This craggy-faced, mysogynistic, air-polluting character created himself, when all he was originally designed to be was a target.
I will eventually do something dastardly to him, but to me he no longer represents my much-despised neighbor. Instead he's an individual, and a unique one at that.
Still, I am going to destroy his nasty self, in what I hope will be an exceptionally grotesque way.
I suspect it will feel magnificent.
Well, ya know ... for me. Not so much for him.
Copyright ©2015 Nik Barnabee. All Rights Reserved.
Image by Pearlmatic on Flickr Creative Commons
Recently, I lost my Internet connection, and it stayed down for almost two weeks.
I know, right?
You're wondering how I survived, why I didn't curl up in a ball and die.
Seriously. That's what I would have expected, too. Oh, I've been without it before, for even longer periods — twice, I couldn't go online for 5 weeks or so. But those times it was because my computer, then my monitor, each went kerblooey! (a quick and painless death, at least), and I didn't have the money to replace them right away.
The main difference is, back then I Just. Went. Nuts. It was beyond hard to deal with, and not just because of the length of time. I started jonesin' for an Internet fix by the second day.
But this time, not at all. It was strange, really. Instead of being stressed and lonely (OMG, no one to talk to at 3 a.m.!) and lost, I felt relaxed and peaceful and creative.
I kept the TV turned off and it was quiet.
I reconnected with a cool novella I'd started writing a year ago and had given up on because it was, well, too damn hard. Now it just seems too damn cool. Or, rather, just the perfect amount of cool.
Anyway, I wouldn't want to lose my Internet connection on a regular basis. I like to be in charge of me. And it would definitely get to me sooner or later, in a major way. But I did learn a lesson. Sometimes it's good to unplug. The creative mind needs less chaos and more tranquility. Not every minute of every day (God, no). But now and then. Ya know, recharge the ol' mental and emotional batteries. Cut out the cacophony of background voices and visual assault of flashing images (Do those bright, constantly moving web ads ever stop? Hell no.). Free the mind like an unleashed puppy romping in a meadow.
And then, after a while, immerse oneself in the cyberworld again, of course. Wouldn't want to risk going totally bat-sh*t crazy, right? ;-}
Copyright ©2015 Nik Barnabee. All Rights Reserved.
Image by Kirk Lau, at Flickr Commons. Title: internet down :(
_East-coaster, writer of horror, sci-fi, and other genres. I knew that creepy childhood would come in handy someday. These days, life is covered in cat fur. Contact me at: GargoylePhanNB@gmail.com
Zombie photo in header is by Randy Salgado. Check out his flickr page: https://www.flickr.com/photos/randychico/
Also, here is the Flickr license page.