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—”

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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!

About that writing thing…

Remember that new years resolution I talked about? The one where I tell myself to just go write something even if I really don’t want to? Yeah. That plan has gone out the window this week. All week I’ve been telling myself “meh… I’m really not in the mood to write. I’d rather catch up on my tv shows!” My god is that the wrong attitude or what?!

So tomorrow (because even with this realization of mine, I know myself and I’m not going to write tonight because I discovered a new show (just what I needed, right?) and I’m very excited to watch it. Maybe writing this will make me fight against my lazy nature and prove myself wrong and I’ll write something), I’m taking the day off work (because why not?) to meet some friends for lunch and I will be taking my computer with me so that afterward I can camp out somewhere that is not my house (where it is truly impossible for me to write) and I will get at least a little bit of writing done.

Saturday is my usual writing day (something I have done for the past few months with a lot of consistency (not including December because who really has time for anything in December)) with a lovely group of people who participated in NaNoWriMo this year along with me, so I will get some writing done there as well. But I really need to step up my game and not let my laziness get the best of me.

So here’s to a newly resolved new years resolution.

Starting tomorrow.

Daily Prompt: Simply the Best – The Magical Power of Showers

Daily Prompt: Simply the Best.
When and where do you do your best thinking? In the bathroom? While running? Just before bed, or first thing in the morning? On the bus? Why do you think that is?

The place I do my best thinking is undoubtedly the shower, cliché as that may be. I have had many an epiphany about my novel while in the shower. Usually evening showers are the best for me, as that is when I am at my most creative (being a night owl). Showers are healing to me. I’m upset, I take a shower. I don’t feel well, I take a shower. I don’t know what it is about them, but they always make me feel good, and of course I’m going to do my best thinking when I’m feeling good and am warm and happy.

I don’t even really have to be actively thinking about my writing or whatnot, but suddenly a though can just pop into my head. It might not work out in the end, but still. Showers. They’re like magic.

Writing Advice by Chuck Palahniuk

This is undoubtedly some of the most useful advice from an author I’ve ever read. Though it is extremely difficult to follow sometimes (occasionally I want to take a page out of Jane Austen’s book (even though I typically loath her book) and just write what my characters are thinking), it is a great way to think about writing and to make it more interesting. So yes, here. Enjoy the brilliance that is Chuck Palahniuk.

“In six seconds, you’ll hate me.
But in six months, you’ll be a better writer.
From this point forward—at least for the next half year—you may not use “thought” verbs. These include: Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, and a hundred others you love to use.

The list should also include: Loves and Hates.
And it should include: Is and Has, but we’ll get to those later.

Until some time around Christmas, you can’t write: Kenny wondered if Monica didn’t like him going out at night…”

Instead, you’ll have to Un-pack that to something like: “The
mornings after Kenny had stayed out, beyond the last bus, until he’d had to bum a ride or pay for a cab and got home to find Monica faking sleep, faking because she never slept that quiet, those mornings, she’d only put her own cup of coffee in the microwave. Never his.”

Instead of characters knowing anything, you must now present the details that allow the reader to know them. Instead of a character wanting something, you must now describe the thing so that the reader wants it.

Instead of saying: “Adam knew Gwen liked him.” You’ll have to say: “Between classes, Gwen had always leaned on his locker when he’d go to open it. She’s roll her eyes and shove off with one foot, leaving a black-heel mark on the painted metal, but she also left the smell of her perfume. The combination lock would still be warm from her butt. And the next break, Gwen would be leaned there, again.”

In short, no more short-cuts. Only specific sensory detail: action, smell, taste, sound, and feeling.

Typically, writers use these “thought” verbs at the beginning of a paragraph (In this form, you can call them “Thesis Statements” and I’ll rail against those, later). In a way, they state the intention of the paragraph. And what follows, illustrates them.

For example:
“Brenda knew she’d never make the deadline. was backed up from the bridge, past the first eight or nine exits. Her cell phone battery was dead. At home, the dogs would need to go out, or there would be a mess to clean up. Plus, she’d promised to water the plants for her neighbor…”

Do you see how the opening “thesis statement” steals the thunder of what follows? Don’t do it.

If nothing else, cut the opening sentence and place it after all the others. Better yet, transplant it and change it to: Brenda would never make the deadline.

Thinking is abstract. Knowing and believing are intangible. Your story will always be stronger if you just show the physical actions and details of your characters and allow your reader to do the thinking and knowing. And loving and hating.

Don’t tell your reader: “Lisa hated Tom.”

Instead, make your case like a lawyer in court, detail by detail.

Present each piece of evidence. For example: “During roll call, in the breath after the teacher said Tom’s name, in that moment before he could answer, right then, Lisa would whisper-shout ‘Butt Wipe,’ just as Tom was saying, ‘Here’.”

One of the most-common mistakes that beginning writers make is leaving their characters alone. Writing, you may be alone. Reading, your audience may be alone. But your character should spend very, very little time alone. Because a solitary character starts thinking or worrying or wondering.

For example: Waiting for the bus, Mark started to worry about how long the trip would take…”

A better break-down might be: “The schedule said the bus would come by at noon, but Mark’s watch said it was already 11:57. You could see all the way down the road, as far as the Mall, and not see a bus. No doubt, the driver was parked at the turn-around, the far end of the line, taking a nap. The driver was kicked back, asleep, and Mark was going to be late. Or worse, the driver was drinking, and he’d pull up drunk and charge Mark seventy-five cents for death in a fiery traffic accident…”

A character alone must lapse into fantasy or memory, but even then you can’t use “thought” verbs or any of their abstract relatives.

Oh, and you can just forget about using the verbs forget and remember.

No more transitions such as: “Wanda remembered how Nelson used to brush her hair.”

Instead: “Back in their sophomore year, Nelson used to brush her hair with smooth, long strokes of his hand.”

Again, Un-pack. Don’t take short-cuts.

Better yet, get your character with another character, fast.
Get them together and get the action started. Let their actions and words show their thoughts. You—stay out of their heads.

And while you’re avoiding “thought” verbs, be very wary about using the bland verbs “is” and “have.”

For example:
“Ann’s eyes are blue.”

“Ann has blue eyes.”

Versus:

“Ann coughed and waved one hand past her face, clearing the cigarette smoke from her eyes, blue eyes, before she smiled…”

Instead of bland “is” and “has” statements, try burying your details of what a character has or is, in actions or gestures. At its most basic, this is showing your story instead of telling it.

And forever after, once you’ve learned to Un-pack your characters, you’ll hate the lazy writer who settles for: “Jim sat beside the telephone, wondering why Amanda didn’t call.”

Please. For now, hate me all you want, but don’t use thought verbs. After Christmas, go crazy, but I’d bet money you won’t.

(…)

For this month’s homework, pick through your writing and circle every “thought” verb. Then, find some way to eliminate it. Kill it by Un-packing it.

Then, pick through some published fiction and do the same thing. Be ruthless.

“Marty imagined fish, jumping in the moonlight…”

“Nancy recalled the way the wine tasted…”

“Larry knew he was a dead man…”

Find them. After that, find a way to re-write them. Make them stronger.” – Chuck Palahniuk

Well, here we go.

In what may be a feeble attempt (and likely more of a distraction than a help), I have created this blog to help me keep writing.

I have told myself that my resolution for the new year is to write, even if I don’t feel like it. Even getting down 50 words is better than no words. Even ten words is better than no words.

The only resolution I’ve ever been able to keep was to drink more water a few years ago. Which is pretty lame. And sadly, the only one I’ve ever remembered to do. So let’s see if I can break my horrible and forgetful habits, and make this one a reality.

So. This is where I might, on occasion, post some of my writing. Responses to various prompts I find on the internet, some snippets of my novel (maybe… Don’t get your hopes up on this one), but more like rantings of a writer refusing to write and complaining about needing to write and yet still digging her heels in in an effort to not do the writing she said she resolved to do.

So yes. Here we go. Let’s see what becomes of this.