Shots

“Welcome to the Underworld! My name is Eugene and I’ll be your guide this evening.”

Jack opened his eyes and blinked hard, trying to focus his eyes. He was lying on his side, his face pressed against a cold, slightly damp cement floor and he had a splitting headache, worse than he had ever had in his life. “What—“ he tried before being interrupted by the exceedingly cheery, accented voice.

“The Underworld. Yes, you did indeed hear me correctly.” Jack finally laid eyes on the man casually leaning against the wall in the small, empty room.  He was dressed in strangely old-fashioned clothes, one hand casually in the pockets of his trousers, the other holding a clipboard at his side. He had an obnoxiously large grin slapped on his face. Jack sat up, wincing as his head protested the movement, and tried to make sense of what the man above him was saying. “I’m here to settle you into your new afterlife and to answer any and all questions you have, though I always find that this all works best if you just wait until the end of the orientation.” Jack couldn’t make heads or tails of what the man was saying so he chose to ignore him in favor of taking in his surroundings. He was in a dank box of a room, nothing more than four cement walls, a metal door, and the hard, slightly damp floor that he was already well acquainted with. Suddenly there were fingers snapping in his face to grab his attention. “Now, if you would please stand up and give me your full and undivided attention, I have a few questions for you before we get started.”

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In which I find inspiration!

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the LA Times Festival of Books, and let’s just say, I found my muse. I haven’t felt inspiration to write like I did after that in quite some time.

I went to the festival for the sole purpose of going to see my new favorite author, Don Winslow, speak at a two of the “Conversations” that are held throughout. I just started reading his books in March at the behest of my father but I’ve already plowed through three of them. I can’t get enough.

Winslow was asked a question at one of the panels regarding the first sentence of his book Savages, which is “Fuck you.” That’s it. That’s the whole sentence. The whole first chapter really. He was asked about it and he said that one day he woke up angry, because sometimes you just wake up in a bad mood, and he wrote that down. “Fuck you.” But then he kept going. He thought about, well, who was saying that? Who said that and to whom did they say it? And then suddenly he was in the head of a 20 something year old Orange County girl.

Meeting Don Winslow! I died a little.

Sometimes you really do need to just write something like “fuck you” on a page because writing is frustrating. It’s incredibly hard and most of the time feels fruitless. But the fact that he wrote that down, not expecting anything of it, just writing the words down, but then pushed deeper into it is incredible.

We’re always told “just write down anything even if it’s “I don’t know what to write here” because writing that is better than writing nothing” but I always find that really hard to do. But then Don Winslow did that and wrote one of my favorite books ever.

Sunday I also had the pleasure of seeing Jason Segel speak at the festival. I haven’t read his book yet (though I did get a copy signed by him!), but I found what he said very inspirational. I’ve heard it before but it has been awhile, but he impressed the importance of not waiting for permission upon the audience. A lot of people, myself included, sometimes feel like the shouldn’t start writing, creating art, making movies, whatever, because no one has told them that they should, they haven’t been given permission to do it yet, so we feel like we shouldn’t, that we aren’t good enough to do it, whatever it is.

Jason Segel book signing! He was amazingly nice.

But really, WHY do we feel like we need to wait for permission? I’ve written things before, though not to completion (and don’t I just love having two unfinished novels looming over my head). And why don’t I ever finish them? I have a feeling that Jason was very right here. Perhaps I’m waiting for someone to tell me to finish them.

I’ve never really seriously considered becoming an author before. It seemed impossible to me for awhile. I started writing in November 2012 and I was doing it for myself. I started NaNoWriMo on a whim, shortly after breaking up with my ex, because I decided it was time to stop wallowing and to start doing things for myself, doing things just because I enjoyed them and wanted to dedicate more time to me. And that was a great way to look at my writing. For the time. But now I feel like that has passed and that I should consider taking it all more seriously. I’ve been thinking about it for the last few weeks how I think I really actually do want to try and write something and get it published.

For the past couple of blog posts here I’ve been essentially whining about how writing is hard and I don’t have time and it’s discouraging and blah blah blah. I sit there and write out those feelings here on this blog because it helps me process exactly what it is that I’m feeling but then I never actually do anything about it. I get the emotions out, get the words out, and then I sit back, look over it, press publish and push on. I don’t even think about it again until I let the frustration get to me and then I’m back here on this blog, writing it all out again, and then the cycle just continues.

Instead I need to actually write. Focus. Push through the frustration. Make time. Seriously. Make time to write. You love it. You love it even when you hate it. So really, maybe just write “Fuck you” and then continue the story on from there.

So, about this writing thing…

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Writing is hard.

It’s hard to get the right words out. It’s hard to motivate myself to do it. It’s especially hard because there’s the internet. There’s Netflix. Right there. Calling my name! I can’t resist their siren calls.

I’m writing about once a week these days, though it occasionally (and regrettably) gets skipped here and there because Thursday, my typical writing day, sometimes gets filled with other plans. I think (scratch that, I know) that one of my issues is that I am actually busy these days. For the first time in my life I find myself actually, well and truly, busy. Between the full time job, two different church groups, church itself, and dating someone for the first time in years, my schedule is packed. Thursdays I try to reserve for writing but, as I said before, sometimes it has to be skipped. Friday is really my only day where I make a real attempt to make zero plans. They’re my day off (I’ve logicked myself into thinking that Friday work days don’t actually count) and what am I going to do on my day off? A whole lot of nothing. What should I be doing with my day off? A whole lot of writing.

The April Camp Nanowrimo is coming up just next week and my plan is to write four short, flash fiction stories for it. Will I actually succeed? Unlikely (especially with that kind of negative thinking. I’m already setting myself up for failure). I know that the reason behind that thinking though is that the short story I’m currently working on, written for a flash fiction writing prompt, is taking me over a month to write. It should not take me this long to write flash fiction and yet here I am, slowly taking my time with it. Part of that is that I am enjoying writing this one a lot, but 2500 words is not a lot to show for a month’s work.

The other issue is that I find the Camp Nanos to be not very motivating at all. I don’t know, but they just don’t get me going the same way (or even close to the same way) that the November Nano does. That one is ultimate motivation. This one is just something I might do but probably not. But I am signed up, so that’s a step in the right direction.

I don’t know what I’m going to be writing for each week (yes, one story a week! Hopefully I will do it), though I have had some success with the writing challenges from terribleminds. They’re fun and creative prompts that are occasionally incredibly inspiring. I’ll try and rummage around his old prompts to find four, or maybe just try and go with the new weekly ones he posts through April. Who knows. Going into Nano without a plan is a silly thing to do, but whatever. I suppose that’s kind of the point of flash fiction though, right? Keep it short, write it quick, write it now.

So what is my plan of attack going forward?

Finish this goddamn short story that I’ve been working on for a month.

I might cheat and make this one count as my first story for Camp Nano. My first week of April is even more packed than usual, so I might not get to write much.

Which is terrible. I should try and make time. But I’m just not sure how to manage it that first week.

We’ll see how it goes.

In which I ramble and muse and try to figure out what is wrong with me

Needless to say, I failed last year. As it says in my About page, my New Year’s resolution was to write more and to periodically (and with the highest of futile hopes, regularly) update this blog.

Definitely didn’t happen.

I would periodically write, of course, because of my wonderful writing group I had back home. But then I moved and didn’t have an established writing group anymore and that made things much harder. I still kept my regular writing day of Saturday at Panera for a few hours, but I was not entirely productive and would get stuck listening my my music, texting (people from my former writing group), playing stupid games on my phone, making excuses that I can’t write while I eat my lunch, etc etc, until I felt like I put in my allotted time (I would always try to stay at Panera for at least two hours) and then give it up for a loss. It’s just not one of those days where the muse hits me, too much other stuff in my brain, I can’t focus properly right now, and other such bullshit.

Yep. Bullshit.

I found that really the only time that I can buckle down and focus is during NaNoWriMo. Something that should be known about me is that if I don’t have a deadline – a real deadline – I am just utterly useless. I can try and set myself arbitrary deadlines and those occasionally work, but more often than not, they just really don’t because I know that they’re not real. Tricking myself rarely works but it definitely does not work when it comes to writing. Hence the glories of NaNoWriMo! 30 days, 50,000 words, one frantic writer trying to figure out what comes next in the story.

Somehow I won this year (two in a row!!), even though about a week in I was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to make it. I hadn’t planned enough, I had no real idea where the story was going, personal shit got in the way, etc. But I realized after telling myself that I wasn’t going to make it after only a week’s worth of writing was the stupidest thing I could ever do to myself. Why would I get myself down like that? Yeah, I was going to keep on writing anyway but I wasn’t going to worry about getting the 50k because there was no way I was going to do that with this story, blah blah blah. NO! I had a new story that I was really excited about, a whole new world to discover and unfold, and I was already telling myself that I couldn’t do it, at least not the way that I wanted to. Needless to say, I got my shit together, buckled down, and wrote 50k words in 30 days.

The next part is the hardest though. Life after NaNoWriMo. NaNo really comes at the most inconvenient time of the year. With November comes Thanksgiving (the greatest of all holidays!!), lovely crisp fall air, and the desire to hibernate and never be productive ever again. And then follows lovely December, which brings chaos and presents and family and traveling and socializing and ribbons and wrapping paper and more chaos and stress and who the hell has time to write during December?

So here I sit, 3 minutes after midnight on January 11th doing my first bit of writing since November 30th (yes, I am counting this as writing because I am writing more words than needed in an instragram post).

So what have I learned?

Who knows.

Write more?

Yes. Obviously. That’s a given. I want to call myself a writer, but I don’t write. Not really. Not enough that I can justify calling myself that. But the ‘how’ of it is the question.

How do I motivate myself to sit down and write when it’s just so easy to click the “next episode” button on Netflix? How can I motivate myself to write when at the end of the work day I just want to turn off my brain for a while and wind down? How can I motivate myself to write when I read all of these other great works of literature whose stories and characters are just so alive and real and I can barely figure out basic plot in my own novel, let alone have the characters seem real enough that someone might potentially care about their joys and their pains enough to feel them too, the way that I do when I read other stories?

I know. I’m supposed to just sit down and write. Push through it. 10 words are better than no words. And yes, that’s true, but good lord that makes writing such a chore doesn’t it? Writing really is something that I truly love and enjoy. I do it for myself, not with the goal of ever getting published or becoming the next great American novelist, but purely because I love it. But forcing myself to sit down and write because I feel like I have to? That doesn’t make me love it.

The long and short of it though is, I do love it. Writing, when it’s working for me, when the muse is with me! is one of my favorite things I’ve ever done. As grueling as NaNoWriMo can be, I LOVE IT because it gives me real deadlines and makes me sit down and write and when I’m done I feel so great about myself. Even if what I wrote was utter shit (and, of course, anything written during NaNo is going to be shit), I still wrote it. 

And that really is a great thing.

Words to Write By

“Writers don’t write from experience, though many are resistant to admit that they don’t. I want to be clear about this. If you wrote from experience, you’d get maybe one book, maybe three poems. Writers write from empathy.”

— American activist, writer, educator and commentator, Nikki Giovanni

Horse Drawn Library

So a couple friends and I decided to have a little challenge among ourselves and all write a story titled “Horse Drawn Library.” We all came up with completely different stories and let’s just say… I took a rather dark approach to what sounds like such a happy-go-lucky title! I had so much fun writing it!

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A scattering of leaves blew down the dirty street in the cold wind as the first hints of dawn started stretching over the sky. The air was grey with fog, moist and heavy and looming over the empty Whitechapel street. Inky black horses attached to a carriage stamped their hooves, snorting out impatient breaths as they waited.

“Settle down,” the carriage driver soothed as he climbed down from the perch. He moved around to his horses and pet their long noses with gloved hands. “She’ll be along soon, don’t you worry.” People were beginning to make their ways back home to sleep through the morning after a long night of disreputable deeds.

Soon after a poor young woman came walking quickly out the park and down the street toward them, moving fast so as to get off the streets and home safely as soon as she could. As she drew nearer, he straightened his rust waistcoat under his jacket as he looked around nervously. He tipped his worn top hat when she drew level with him and said, “A ride, miss?”

“Oh no, thank you. I don’t have any money.” She pulled her threadbare wrap around her more tightly, brushing her long, tangled blonde hair behind her ear.

“Please don’t worry about that, my dear,” he said, laying a gentle hand on her shoulder, ducking his head down a little to meet her eyes. “No fee, I just want to see you home safely. There are still untrustworthy people about this early in the day. Anything could happen to you. I would hate to read about you in the papers, what with all those disappearances, and knowing that I could have done something to help you. I just couldn’t stand it.”

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Invisible Parasite

Written for Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge on Terrible Minds last week. I’m a day late, but hey. I still finished it! The idea was to “roll for the title.” I rolled 14 and 19 to come up with Invisible Parasite and challenged myself to do something new, which was to write science fiction for the first time! I talked about it in my post last week how I’ve never written any science fiction and had always felt daunted by it. But I pushed past that and came up with this. It was incredibly fun and the ~1000 word limit really helped me from getting too out of hand. It really made me focus the story down, to edit, to not let it get away from me too much. So yeah. Here’s my result!

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Invisible Parasite

“I don’t know how much longer I have,” Nora spoke into the camera set up before her. “There’s something here, we don’t know what. I don’t know what. I’m the only one left now.” There was a door behind her which she kept glancing at nervously, fearfully. “When we launched this expedition to Mars, we had no idea what would happen. Trying to colonize the planet turned out to be a mistake, and I hope that this video reaches you before it’s too late. I hope this serves as enough of a warning for you.”

“It is March 22nd, 2631 and my name is Nora Peters. I was born in Portsmouth, Virginia in 2598. We were here for eight months before we noticed anything. I’m not sure if the effects of the parasite are delayed, or if they just didn’t get into our system until then, but we eventually noticed. David Johnson was the first to be infected. Johnson started acting very uncharacteristically.” A noise sounded outside of the door, just loud enough to be heard through the heavy steel door.

“There’s really no hope for me at this point. It’ll get me soon, but I had to get this to you first. I have to keep you safe.”

An incessant banging sounded from the locked door behind her, someone desperate to get in. Someone desperate to get her.

“Nora!” a voice shouted through the door. “Nora, please help me. Please let me in!”

“That’ll be Laura. Dr. Laura Shepherd.” Nora’s eyes watered as she heard her friend pleading with her. “She became infected last week. Started displaying the early signs. I’m getting ahead of myself though.” Nora collected herself. Dr. Shepherd continued to cry for help outside of the door.

“Eight months ago when we landed on this planet, it was to set about colonizing it, as you know. We were the team selected to pioneer the migration from our overcrowded Earth. Mars was the obvious choice. We started terraforming it, growing our own food in the soil, collected water from deep under the earth, everything to begin making it habitable for humans on a larger scale.”

“Nora! Please, he’s going to hurt me, please you have to help me!” Dr. Shepherd continued to shout.

“The first stage of the infection was hard to identify as something out of the ordinary. It really just looked like a flu virus of some form. Fatigue, aching, fever, all the symptoms of a flu. We didn’t think much of it at the time, assuming that someone had just carried the virus with us from Earth. But then the mood swings came. He would be fine one moment and the next he would become violently angry for the littlest things. Laur— Dr. Shepherd, ran some blood tests on him and found nothing. We were all concerned, but she couldn’t find anything wrong with him physically.

“He soon became too violent. He attacked Simon Young, one of our scientists.” Nora scrubbed her hands over her face. “Simon was in a coma for a couple of days afterwards. We were lucky we got to them when we did or Johnson would have easily killed him. We sedated Johnson and rushed them both to the infirmary. When Simon finally came out of it, he had the same flu-like symptoms Johnson first displayed. Two others had gotten sick within those days.

“Dr. Shepherd performed a physical on Simon, to try and find anything that accounted for what was happening to our team. She found a small bite mark just behind his ear, concealed by his hair. It looked like a spider bite, but a bit bigger. He had no recollection of anything biting him. Dr. Shepherd checked the others and found they had the same marks on various places on their bodies. We aren’t sure what is here, but there’s something. Some creature that’s infecting us.

“Johnson died just a week after he got sick, two days before Simon woke up. He wasn’t himself though for all those days. I don’t know if he would have remembered what had happened to him if he hadn’t— I’m not sure if I should say that he was really alive those final days or if he died the moment he got the bite.”

The banging on the door was growing louder as Laura continued to shout for Nora. She was no longer pleading with her, but was angry and savage. Another voice had joined hers. The door began to give way to their efforts.

“We don’t know where this thing came from. From the soil, from the water, from the air. It could be anywhere. We’ve never seen a creature in our station. We scanned the station and I searched for it, along with Paul Llewellyn. That’s him outside the door with Laura. We never found anything though. When we finally gave up and returned to the infirmary to talk to Laura, I noticed he had a bite mark on his neck. Laura had one as well.

“We lived here for eight months without anything happening and then just three weeks ago this nightmare began. I found a bite on my shoulder three days ago. I could barely bring myself to get here to film this. I’m feeling a bit better now, but I know what comes next and I had to warn you.” The door behind her flew open, banging heavily on the wall. Laura and Paul ran forward, bent on attack, eyes dark and empty, as Nora frantically implored with the camera, shouting at it, “They aren’t human anymore. I don’t know what it is, but their eyes. They’re empty, dead. Just— Don’t come to Mars. Leave the planet alone, don’t com—”

And Now for Something Completely Different

Don’t mind my stolen title. Think of it as an allusion instead…

Writing my novel has become challenging post NaNoWriMo. I reached the 50K goal at the end of the November, clocking in my word count a full two hours before the deadline, and good lord was I relieved. I felt so accomplished and proud of myself for hitting that goal in only 30 days. It was the most writing I had ever accomplished on a single project and to have done it in only a month? Boy was I proud. The story wasn’t finished but I had written a large portion of the plot and had plans to keep on writing it.

Here comes the problem. I foolishly decided that I would allow myself two weeks off to recharge and then I would get back into it. With a friend coming to town right at the end of those two weeks who wanted to do some writing together, I thought sure. That sounds reasonable, right? Nope. Those two weeks killed any and all motivation I had to write my novel.  The friend came to town and we got together to write as planned and I found that I could do nothing. I stared at my novel for about two hours before I quit for the night. I changed around a few words, read some stuff, but could do nothing with it. I couldn’t write new content, I couldn’t edit what I had previously worked on, nothing. A few days later, I tried again, and still, nothing.

Then Christmas happened and god knows it’s impossible to do anything around the holidays, so writing altogether got put on the back burner until the new year.

Last week I decided that I should write something completely different while I still have the strong urge to throw my novel off a cliff. Terrible Minds has a flash fiction challenge of roughly 1000 words with a different theme/prompt/whatever every week so I decided, “Hey. That sounds reasonable. I could do 1000 word short stories for a little bit to get myself back into the groove of writing.”

So I started one last week, one of his older challenges from October and I have to say, it was really nice to be working on something that wasn’t my novel. I still haven’t finished the story I started then, but I will soon. I decided to start his newest challenge today because it stretched me to do something I’ve really never done before.

Science Fiction.

Science fiction is one of those things that I really enjoy, but have never felt confident enough to actually write myself because I find it so incredibly daunting. I read things like Ray Bradbury (his short story Dark They Were, and Golden Eyed is one of my favorite things I have ever read in my life) and watch things like Joss Whedon’s Firefly (whyyyyy is there only one season of that masterpiece?!) and I think “wow, I could never do something that great” and that thinking stops me from ever trying in the first place.

It’s exactly the same train of thought that kept me from writing fiction at all for years and years until I discovered NaNoWriMo in 2012. I had it in my head that I was not good at writing fiction, so I just never gave it any effort. Well, in 2012 I decided that that was so stupid of me and so I just decided to give it a go. If I don’t like it, oh well. At least I tried. I soon found out that not only was I enjoying the writing process, but I was enjoying what I was writing.

And now I discovered that that same thinking was keeping me from writing science fiction, a genre that I really enjoy! Well, today I decided that that is a horrible way of thinking and so I have delved into the world of science fiction! It’s an incredibly new experience for me and it is so vastly different from my novel (which may or may not be medieval(ish?) though really I can’t figure out when it takes place. There are medieval aspects to it, but I don’t picture it as medieval… Either way, it’s not science fiction at all.) that it’s become an exciting little break from the world of my novel altogether. I’m enjoying writing today and not dragging my heels back to my computer (or rather away from Netflix) to work on my novel.

It’s probably not the most unique thing ever written, but I am writing and not just saying that I’m going to write and that’s a step in the right direction! Speaking of, I should really get back to it. Look for it soon as I will be posting it here when I am finished with it!