5 Months, 3 Days, 1 Story

In late December 2017, a friend directed me to The Book Smugglers ‘Awakenings’ Writing Contest. The idea behind the contest – a speculative fiction short story/novella based on the theme of “awakening” – intrigued me, so I kicked around some possible ideas before one particular concept clicked. Here’s the very first original sentence I wrote for it:

original first line for the story

At first, I thought I could pull it off before the December 31 deadline: a short story about agent Seven and his handsome young charge, navigating the adventures of first lay and first love. But, as so often happens when a character grabs my imagination, Seven’s story became larger, more complex, and demanded more words. And more time. The deadline passed, and I had written only a fraction of the story Seven wanted me to tell. A new character entered the mix. An existing character wanted a bigger role. The main supporting character had a change of heart. And everyone’s conflicts came to a joined head that put all of them in danger from a common enemy.

The things we do for love (of a story).

So, what happened? Well, I wrote it all: every character, every subplot, every conflict. I put it all down in my main document and kept pressing toward that goal of writing The End. Far longer than I’d originally intended – five months and three days, to be exact – I finished this story. It went through changes, updates, even some 180-degree turns. But, I love it.

I’ve always thought that stories are better when they’re shared, even the flawed ones. This one, no doubt, has its flaws, but in my experience, flaws are easier to see when you open them up to other eyes. So, I’m opening this story up to you, my friends and fellows. It didn’t succeed in its original purpose (that is, for submission to that Book Smugglers writing contest), but it did succeed in fulfilling my hopes for a new story.

~More than “Just a Job”~

My original thematic catchphrase for this story was “Just a Job”, and, if you decide to read it, you’ll probably see why. As the words – and weeks – went on, though, I decided that wasn’t the most descriptive title. In its place, I’m calling this one “Number Seven and the Life Left Behind”. (My other idea was “More Than the Sum”…but that titles was already taken by somebody on Goodreads. And if I ever decide to post this story there, I want it to stand out.)

Over the coming month, I’ll be posting each section/chapter of “Number Seven and the Life Left Behind” here on this website. Starting June 7, you can read a new section every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. If you’re on my subscriber list, I’ll be turning off email update notifications for the individual story posts. But, I’ll be linking to them in my various social media feeds. At the end of the updates, I will collect all sections into a single document suitable for download or reading on your e-device. (psst! There’s even a chance I’ll put it into real book form, for both your and my shelf!) As for the story itself, you can “Like” or comment or not; that is always your choice. I’m just interested in sharing Seven’s story.

 

“Like” It or Not

Recently, I took part in a flash fiction writing challenge, the #WriteFightGIFClub’s #PhotoStoryPrompt, from writer and Twitter user Radina Valova. Challengers are encouraged to use the photo to inspire a flash fiction piece while adhering to some very basic criteria. Here was this particular prompt:

When I see a flash fiction/writing prompt challenge, I give myself five minutes to find my idea. If I don’t hit on an idea within five minutes, I move on. I think prompts like this one can be great for kick-starting the story-writing process, but I’ve already got a few works-in-progress I’m working on! For this prompt, an idea did come immediately to mind:

Longtime followers should recognize Maggie and Rob from my “Finding Mister Wright” series of slice-of-life stories. If you enjoyed the story, maybe you’ll click “Like” at the end of this post. When you “like” something on a blog like this one, everyone else who comes to this page sees that you did. If you’re on Twitter, if you click “like” on (or “heart”) a Tweet, all of your followers see that you liked it in their own timeline. That’s kind of obnoxious, but I’ll show you a way to stop those “likes” from potentially cluttering up your timeline.

Let’s say you follow a lot of people on Twitter, and those people love to click “like”. What happens is that your own timeline starts to fill up with all of those different “likes”. That can be overwhelming, but here are some steps to keep it under control. Keep in mind that these steps will unilaterally disable likes from a person, so be careful for whom you use them.

Step 1: Click on the down-arrow to the far-right of the Twitter user’s handle/name. You’ll open a drop-down box that looks like this:

Select “I don’t like this Tweet”, to go to the next step.

Step 2: Click on the option that best fits your desire: either Show fewer likes from a user, or Show fewer Tweets from the person they “liked” or retweeted. I’ve blanked out the usernames from this example so I don’t make anybody feel bad. 🙂

Step 3: Once you decide on your choice, you should get the following notification in your timeline:

Remember, this basically turns off ALL likes from that particular user. So, if you want to keep abreast of some of their likes, you’re stuck with all of them. At least until I figure out the next step to share with you!

Did you like my post on Liking in Twitter? How about my flash fiction story? If you’d “like” to participate in the #PhotoStoryPrompt short fiction exercise, head over to Twitter and check it out. There’s a new one every Thursday!

“Buckle Up” [original FMW short story]

“Buckle Up” [original FMW short story]

I had not planned on writing a holiday story this year. Current events led me into a kind of lingering depression, where even writing my work-in-progress – a space opera of diverse and changing characters running for their lives, a story I love and want so badly to see to the finish line – had become difficult to do every day. I was putting down four, maybe five or six sentences a day on my commute. The spark had left me. Then I saw a throwback post to my Christmas story swap from 2014.

Kindling of a Tradition

For those of you who haven’t read my earlier blog posts about this and aren’t familiar, the Christmas story swap is a tradition my sister and I started when we were pre-teens. (Now, I guess they’d call us “YAers”.) We would each write our own stories – usually fanfiction based on the X-Men, Dark Crystal, Star Wars, or whatever had captured our fancy that season – in the days or weeks leading up to Christmas day, with the purpose of swapping them on Christmas morning. It was an idea designed to keep us busy in those wee hours waiting for our parents to wake up. I don’t even remember anymore who came up with it, just that we did it for a several years straight, and it became one of my favorite holiday traditions. Writing stories became a tradition for me.

The Rekindling

That tradition between us fell away as we grew older and moved away to university. I even forgot about it for a few years. Then, during a whirlwind bout of inspiration over the 2013 winter break, I wrote my not-exactly-romance, not-quite-coming-of-age novella “Finding Mister Wright.” Fifteen chapters over fifteen days, with the words flying from my brain to the page. I’d never before – and have never since – encountered characters whose voices and personalities have flowed so easily for me. Like Athena from Zeus’s crown, Marshall, Daniel, Rob, Paige, and the rest burst fully-formed from my brain. More than their easiness, though, I’ve loved how their lives and (non-)adventures have always brought me a simple but satisfying joy.

Finding Myself in Mister Wright

The original “Finding Mister Wright” novella takes place mostly over the winter Chicago holidays. Because of that, the cast of that story has always lived in a perpetual kind of winter wonderland, for me. I’ve written them through many different seasons and stages of life, but there’s something about the holidays that always bring out the best of them…and the best in me.

I love writing these characters in this holiday season. No matter how much they change – and they do – they always fill me with such love and a sense of family that is almost as good as having my real family around me. So, while I hadn’t planned on writing a Christmas story this year, when a little nugget of another “Finding Mister Wright” universe story idea struck me on my morning commute earlier this week, I had to run with it.

“Buckle Up”

I wrote this 2017 “Finding Mister Wright” holiday story over the course of the last three days, so it’s basically me falling in free-form. It’s about 3500 words and nearly a full twelve pages, double-spaced. It’s not as polished as it could be, but it’s something I made and that I’m proud to share, nicks, scratches, and all. You can click on the cover image at left if you’d like to read it. If not, that’s fine, too.

I wish you a lovely holiday season, wherever you may be!

Do you enjoy reading holiday stories? How about reading them? If you read my story this year, what did you think? I’d love to hear from you!

Metro 2033 Fanfiction: “Brotherhood of the Dead”

Logline:

When Artyom escaped from the Metro tunnels under irradiated Moscow, he thought he’d left the war, the mutants, and the horrors of the Metro’s fractured societies behind. But the dead don’t give up so easily.

 

The story behind the story:

In early 2017, a bundle sale of “Metro 2033: Redux” rekindled my interest in the “Metro 2033” games. I vaguely remembered them being based on a larger story. So I poked around the Internet about it, and I discovered the game was based on not just one book, but three books, all written by Dmitry Glukhovsky. I ordered and devoured all three books in the space of about 5 weeks. Even after I’d finished the books, my imagination was hungry for more. I read a few fanfiction stories, but very few of them followed the books, and none of those stories took the characters where I wanted to see them go. Of course, that meant I had to put my own version to paper.

“Brotherhood of the Dead” came to me in a dream of dark tunnels and monstrous shapes, and a young couple bound to each other yet struggling to connect. I wrote it in a little less than a month, during the early summer of 2017. It’s full of a different imagery and emotion than I’ve used before, as I tried to match Glukhovsky’s original style. Still, it commandeered my brain and my keyboard until I could get the whole thing down.

Here it is, for you to click on. Or not. Very few people read this story when I posted it at Archive Of Our Own and Fanfiction.Net. Fewer still are likely to read it here. But that’s okay. I enjoyed finding my!Artyom’s voice, and doing the research around the Metro stations underneath (modern-day) Moscow, old Russian folk tales, Eurasian geography, and subterranean hydroponics. And, isn’t the joy of it what truly matters?

Metro 2033: Brotherhood of the Dead
“Autumn Leaves” (original FMW short story)

“Autumn Leaves” (original FMW short story)

This is “Autumn Leaves”, the latest entry in my “Finding Mister Wright” series of stories. It follows Rob as he and Daniel take Paige off to college(!).

I tried to keep it from getting too sappy, but that often doesn’t work when it comes to these characters and the steps in their journeys. It has been fun watching Paige grow up from a sassy, somewhat bratty little girl, into the confident, still-a-bit-bratty teenager she’s become. It’s also been great to be with Rob through this particular adventure, too. He’s so used to being Paige’s knight-protector, seeing him have to let go of her as she matures has been both charming and heartbreaking for me. (Yes, I have shed tears for these characters over the years.) Click the title image if you’d like to read it.

I’m still sorting out the best way to present these stories. If you have a preference, why not let me know in the comments? In the meantime, happy reading!

White Wolf Hunt (Draft Process)

I’m one of the winners of 4amWriter’s “Save El Lobo Writing Competition”!

Head on over to Kate’s page and read her update, which includes all the winning entries. And, if you should be inspired to write your own wolf story, let me know. I’ll howl for you!

For those of you who are interested in how I approached this particular challenge, read on….

Whenever I set my mind to a writing challenge, the first thing I consider is what I can bring to it: style, scenarios, conflicts, maybe a plot twist for the ending. For Kate’s challenge – to write a short story or poem featuring wolves in a positive light – I knew I wanted to use description, to depict the beauty of a wolf in nature. After a few minutes of staring at the ceiling, letting my brain percolate, I came up with the not-very-subtle twist of a photographer using a sight and taking a “shot” much like a sniper might. The hunt of a photographer waiting for the perfect shot is much like waiting for the perfect moment when a target comes into the crosshairs. It would also allow me to tell a story in mostly-silent descriptive and action passages, a technique that’s been prevalent in my pleasure reading, of late.

Once I’ve got my scenario, I figure out who’s going to play my primary character. Given the plot I’d come up with, my PC needed to be a human. I’ve got a stable of go-to characters, but I wanted to do something a little bit different, this time. The main protagonist, Aksel, is a combination of bounty hunter Axton with a little bit of domestic dad Rob McAllister thrown in. Neither of those men can go anywhere without their respective partners, so I dropped in Aksel’s buddy Harald as something of a counterpoint to Aksel’s skill, and to give him someone to reveal his success to in the end.

Next, I just…start writing. Some images and descriptions flow fine, while other parts are obviously less polished. I even double-up on some phrases when I free-write, to play with the order of words and see how they fit. The picture below (click on it for the full-resolution version) shows my original draft in all its messy, stream-of-consciousness rawness. WWH-freewrite
As should be fairly clear, I don’t edit when I free-write; I just keep typing until I complete the idea. This free-write went on too long – almost 200 extra words too long – and it needed plenty of reworking. That doesn’t mean something good didn’t come out of it along the way, though.

This challenge’s tight word count confines – we were allowed 250 words max to tell the story – meant that I had to choose carefully what was worthwhile to the story as a whole. A lot of the setup and extraneous action had to go. For example, Aksel’s buddy Harald’s dump in the ice pond, as well as a slightly deeper explanation of the men’s relationship, neither of which did much for the main plot. I also really liked the idea of the protagonist facing down the white wolf alone.

The last bit – the reveal of the purpose of the photo quest – came about completely by accident, when I was typing out the men’s dialogue. I hadn’t even considered the relationship between Aksel and his father until those words came out from Harald’s mouth! I liked it a lot, though, even if it meant going back and figuring out a new lead-in for the story.

All in all, I like the final submitted version. It changed along the way, as stories tend to do. It even changed titles, from “White Wolf Hunt” to “Eyes of Gold Fire”. Since I’d already decided in my head that Aksel’s father had died, I could have had the primary character spend the entire story alone. But, I liked him having someone with whom he could share that tiny triumphant moment of the photo reveal. Because stories are better when they’re shared. Just like this one.

What’s your process for writing challenges? Have you submitted your writing to any contests lately? What did you think of my story of Aksel and the white wolf?

Log in here!