Musings

[Blog] Here we go!

Last blog before NaNo! Now, if I was really organized and professional and all that, I would have built up a buffer to get through November so that I didn’t have to worry about it while aggressively noveling.

However.

I am not. And so I didn’t.

And if I’m honest, even this one is more me rambling than writing anything structured enough that I could generously describe as an essay. Which, to be clear, is fine by me. Mostly, I’m really excited for next month. Which I think I’ve been saying on and off for the last two. Oh well. It’s still the truth.

This will be my twelfth time participating in NaNoWriMo. (Get a hobby, you say. I already have one, I reply.) I’ve reached fifty thousand words eleven times. The one time I didn’t, it was the year my college campus got hit by one of those infamous California wildfires, so I’d argue that I had a good excuse. Now, here’s where the numbers get a little less ideal: of those eleven manuscripts, I have… one that qualifies as a proper draft. Three if you count the two that gave me the skeletons for the various Tanner and Miranda stories.

Like I said: less ideal.

That’s not to say I consider those other eight (or nine, counting the unfinished one) to be failures. If nothing else, they greased the gears and got me writing. So what if none of it is much good? You can’t edit words that never made it to the page, and you don’t get better without practice. And considering that I participated in my first NaNo when I was sixteen, that counts as a lot of practice. And a lot of encouragement from an exuberant writing community. And a lot of exposure to all kinds of different writing advice and methods. Enough that I had a lot to work with when figuring out my own.

So here I am. 2021. Doing it again and trying to take it a step further. We’ll see how it goes.

What about the rest of you? Anyone doing NaNo this November? How are you feeling here, standing on the brink? Ha!

Fiction, Fiction (Short)

Candle in the Window

When we discovered Redfall Gap, hope and excitement ran high, and while most paid lip service to caution and cold wisdom, it was hard to lend too much focus to the dangers and unknowns. And when the probes sent back their first readings, confirming that this glittering, undulating anomaly was just as much a passage to another galaxy as we had imagined, wariness seemed like an unnecessary precaution.

We knew better, of course. Every one of us had seen enough things go wrong when they should have gone right that thoroughness and triple checking were worked into our bones. And we also knew that no matter how much care you put into anything, there’s no such thing as a guarantee. Not really.

So when my best friend volunteered to pilot the ship for the first manned expedition, I met the announcement with mingled envy and dread as well as giddy exultation. If I couldn’t go myself, this was at least the next best thing.

And she deserved it. She, who’d been a pilot longer than I’d been a scientist. She, who’d dreamed of taking the best ships to the strangest places since we were both kids. She, who knew the risks and laughed at them while I followed a more careful path.

If anyone had the skills and experience to be prepared for this, it was her. And her handpicked crew of three.

Preparations took a month. More tests. More readings. More specialized equipment for the Distant Horizon, the vessel that would take them through. More training. More time for this mad venture to become normal. More time to deafen us to the nervous mutterings in the backs of all our minds.

Launch Day came. The Horizon detached from its dock on Platform One, our tiny station home. She brought up power and glided towards the Gap and all the unknown beyond it. Away from us.

And then they entered and were gone.

We received one message, reporting safe passage and transmitting their initial scans from the other side. We received a second six hours later, and a third six hours after that.

Then, nothing.

The next scheduled check-in passed in silence. And the one after that. And every one following.

Our optimism faded like a dream, replaced by sickened knots in the pits of our stomachs. I told myself that she knew what she was doing, that there were a thousand ultimately harmless reasons they might have missed their check-ins. We checked our arrays and our systems. We tested our sensors and our communications rigs.

We geared up another probe and sent it through the Gap, just in case. It went through safe and sound, its connection never faltered. But it found no trace of the Horizon.

Some talked about outfitting a second ship, though we knew it would never happen. You don’t throw good money after bad. You don’t send a second ship when you don’t know what silenced the first. So all we could do was to find some way to make it safe enough to try again.

But that was easier said than done. We’d done everything we could think of before we sent the Horizon through—now we had to find new things, new holes, new possibilities when we had already exhausted every obvious avenue. And we had to do it with grief hanging over us instead of thrilled excitement.

We tried. Hard. But the exploration corps that funded our project lost interest once the Horizon vanished. After three weeks, they informed us apologetically that they were not in a position to continue paying for a dormant expedition. We were welcome to keep the platform and the equipment; it was ours. They just couldn’t justify the cost of additional supplies and living stipends.

After that, everything shut down. The support staff left. The techs left. Physicists, astronomers, engineers—everyone went in a steady stream that turned into a flood, until finally only four of us remained. We crept around the emptied platform like ghosts, stretching our rations, funding ourselves out of our own savings, scraping all we could from what we had and dragging it out until there was nothing left.

Then we gave up too, with nothing gained for all our begged and borrowed time.

We’d boosted all our sensors, all our comms, cobbling them together from bits and pieces we stole from things we counted less important. We accomplished technological feats. Our station’s eyes and ears reached farther then they ever had before with fewer needs. Maybe it wasn’t an elegant system or the most resilient, but the vast distances its signals crossed was something we could be proud of.

For all the good it did. We found nothing. No stray transmissions. No sensor ghosts. No drifting hulls. Nothing that gave us the slightest indication that the Horizon was there at all, or ever had been. If we hadn’t had the logs from those three precious check-ins, we might have convinced ourselves that they’d never happened at all. And I might have found some other way to explain the loss of my best friend.

After that, we abandoned the station too, out of hope and out of ideas, sixteen weeks, four days, and three hours from the time the Horizon went missing. We left a comm buoy behind on the far side of the Gap, programmed to broadcast its message on repeat: Platform One to research vessel Distant Horizon, all attempts to contact you have failed. We have run out of supplies and are forced to abandon station. We haven’t forgotten about you. We’ll be back in one year to come looking for you again. Message recorded 2619.04.13.14.30. End of recording.

And that was that. The best we could do, useless as it was. And no matter how I tried to avoid it, I knew our project had collapsed with a sigh and a whimper. I knew my best friend was gone forever.

We loaded the few supplies we still had on the one remaining jumpship. We checked the sensors one last time, more out of habit than hope. Then, finding nothing, we left.

Afterwards, we didn’t stay in contact. Or I didn’t. The others might have, but I, in my sorrow, kept to myself. I found some job on some station and used it to feed myself and put a bed beneath my bones. I made acquaintances, never friends. I let my pain grow dull. Numb. I forced myself to heal, or maybe just to scar. Either way the bleeding stopped.

And all the while I kept track of the days, the weeks, the months.

The year passed. I shook myself from my fog of unmanaged grief long enough to hire a jumpship and to contact the others. One I couldn’t find. Another couldn’t take the time to make the trip. The third promised to meet me at the same station we had all set out from together so long ago, and we could go the final leg together.

In the end, we reached the silent, abandoned station two days before the time we’d promised. But that was alright. We could wait. And while we waited, we took comfort in each other’s presence. We barely spoke; there was nothing to say. Instead, we spent the time restarting all the platform’s systems. To our mild surprise, only the link to the probe had gone down, battered by some stray asteroid and unnoticed by the cannibalized systems. It took less than a day to complete the handful of repairs.

I was the one to bring them back online. My hand hesitated above the command-board, wavering as buried emotions came hurtling back, ripping through the cloud I’d wrapped myself in. For a moment, my fears spun all around me. I knew better than to hope. This was more for closure than for rescue. More for us than them.

Something like shame washed over me. We’d spent all this time and all these resources on something that couldn’t be. It was idiotic.

But we’d promised.

And so my hand keyed the commands and started all the systems. They came up, one by one, humming, chirping, reaching out to see the universe. And there it was, the probe we’d left behind with our message for the Horizon. Now the message was for us.

Distant Horizon to Platform One: we ran into a little trouble, but we’re alright. Took some damage and had to find a place to land. Found a way to get your message from the ground. Coordinates are 152.777.459 from point of entry. Watch that gravity well a few hours in. That’s what got us. Looking forward to coming home. Message recorded 2619.07.21.19.37. End of recording.

I sat for a second, stunned. My cheeks went numb. My hands tingled. My heart beat faster than it should have, and I couldn’t breathe. But only for a moment. Then I ran for my companion. We had work to do.

Originally published as part of the 2021 Tenth Anniversary Writing Contest on shortfictionbreak.com.

Musings

[Blog] The Art of Writing

In the process of outlining next month’s novel, I’ve been paying a huge amount of attention to the basics of structure. By which I mean I’ve been working my way through my copy of Jessica Brody’s Save the Cat Writes a Novel, which is itself a rendition of Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat which was written specifically on how to structure a screenplay. Both books are utterly brilliant and thoroughly helpful, and are basically expansions on the best writing advice I’ve ever received: “The three most important things in writing are structure, structure, structure.”

First off, I’d like to say that I’m a little embarrassed at how long it took me to start figuring out even the most basic structure. And by that, yes, I do mean grade school beginning, middle, end type structure. Oh, sure, I could have told you that stories needed all three, but beyond that… not much. And I was (and am still more often than I’d like) categorically bad at actually including all three of those oh-so-important parts.

Look, I said I was embarrassed about it.

But! I’m also getting better. Way better! And following a proper beat sheet is a part of that, which is part of why I’m so excited about this upcoming month. It’ll be the first time I go in with a complete plan instead of trying to implant structure afterwards. Which might– might— mean I come out of this with a usable first draft, instead of the glorified planning phase I usually end up with. And I have nothing against the glorified planning phase! It’s fun! It’s often helpful! It’s part of why I’ve been doing NaNo for so many years. But I think going in with an outline is the next step. And I think I’m ready to take it.

Fiction, Fiction (Short)

The Derelict

SHIP LOG >> 2348.10.25.15.43.15
entry by VOSS, AMELIE (CAPTAIN)

We found the derelict exactly where Crand told us to look for it. Always nice when the client is telling the truth. I’m sending Wolfe and Perez in to do the initial sweep, and we’ll go in for the real work tomorrow. It’s a big ship, but we should be able to clear it out of anything worthwhile in two, three days at the most. Add in four days to get back to Epsilon, and that comes out to a week before we pull in the best haul we’ve had in years. Assuming Crand holds up his end of the bargain. But what the hey. I’m feeling optimistic. Might as well enjoy the feeling until someone proves me wrong.

SHIP LOG >> 2348.10.26.06.18.40
entry by VOSS, AMELIE (CAPTAIN)

Early start today. Initial sweep found the cargo bays intact, and it looks like the ship itself is in decent shape. No bodies, but it looks like a few of their escape pods were launched. Don’t know who would have picked them up this far out, but that’s not our problem. I’m just glad we don’t have to worry about the gore. Plus, with everything they left behind, this is a really good haul. Even if Crand tries to hold out on us, we’re going home rich from this one. Our biggest problem is going to be how we fit it all in our own hold.

ADDENDUM >> 2348.10.26.11.37.46

Haul is going well. The six of us have been doing this long enough that we’re nothing if not efficient. But we’ve also been doing this long enough that we’ve heard every ghost story out there, and they’re all set on a ship exactly like this one. The crew is hiding it, but I know they’re jumpy. Hopefully the feeling wears off with time. Because it looks like it’s going to take us the full three days.

ADDENDUM >> 2348.10.26.17.22.32

There was… an incident. Wolfe was in the hold prepping the salvage. She was working alone, so we’ve only got her word on what happened. Problem is, she’s saying there was a ghost. Not in so many words. The woman is too steady-minded for that. But she may as well have spelled it straight out for the affect it’s had on the rest of the crew. And on me, though I have to hide it. Because if Wolfe thought she saw a ghost, my first instinct is to believe that she saw a ghost.

What she actually said was that she thinks there’s still some crew onboard, because someone jumped her in the hold. And we can’t really argue with that, because she’s got the bruises to prove it. Apparently it happened when she started prying open one of the secure boxes to see if it was worth our time. She said the temperature dropped by ten degrees and someone came out of nowhere to clock her across the back of the skull. By the time she got back up she was alone, and the box had slammed back shut.

Avery tried to suggest that it was just a malfunction in the ventilation system, but he couldn’t get the words out. Not with Wolfe sitting there with a bleeding head wound. I sent them both back to the Hyena to get her patched up while the rest of us shut things down for the night. I’d been planning on working later, but I didn’t need to get my crew any more spooked than they already were. We’ll get an early start tomorrow to make up for lost time.

SHIP LOG >> 2348.10.27.07.44.11
entry by VOSS, AMELIE (CAPTAIN)

Wolfe said she isn’t going back to the ship. She said she’d coordinate things from the Hyena, but she won’t step foot on the derelict again. She never said so, but I could tell the woman was terrified, which worried me more than anything else. With the new day I’d convinced myself that the “ghost” was the product of a dark hold and a quiet, unfamiliar ship. It was harder to stick to that story when I could see the fear in Wolfe’s eyes. I’d never known her to be scared of anything.

I told her she could stay behind.

CREW LOG >> 2348.10.27.08.13.01
entry by WOLFE, REBEKKAH

I didn’t think she was going to let me stay on the Hyena. I know they don’t believe me, and I don’t blame them. But I know we scanned for biological signatures when we arrived and didn’t find any. And I saw the logs from the derelict. The last one was dated more than five years ago. There’s no survivors on that ship, and I don’t like where that leaves us. And if Avery tries to tell me it was the ventilation system going wonky, I’ll show him wonky. Idiot. At least he knows how to patch someone up.

Captain says it’ll take us two more days to finish up here, and she’s usually right about that sort of thing. I wish she wasn’t. It’s going to be a tough two days. I could make it go faster if I joined them over there again, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. Maybe tomorrow. If nothing happens today.

ADDENDUM >> 2348.10.27.13.01.18

I hate being this jumpy. I hate being scared. Eight years in the black and nothing’s ever made me wild like this before. It’s been hours since I’ve heard from the rest of them, and my mind is bent on supplying me with mental images of all the worst scenarios. Sudden, catastrophic life support failure. Toxic miasma inside some compartment we hadn’t opened yet. Undetected hull breach. Ghosts.

At least I’m not worried about getting jumped by something here on the Hyena. Small blessings. I’d comm them and check, but I don’t need them thinking I’m more anxious than they already do. It’s only been a couple of hours. They’re not even overdue. It’s just that I’ve run out of ways to organize the hold to make sure we can fit everything.

ADDENDUM >> 2348.10.27.15.14.51

Still nothing from the others. I tried comming them ten minutes ago but the system spat out a connection error, which means that either their comms are off or the signal’s blocked by something. The latter makes sense if they’re somewhere deep in the ship. That’s probably what it is. No need to panic.

ADDENDUM >> 2348.10.27.16.52.14

It’s been six and a half hours since I’ve heard from the others. I’m trying their comms every ten minutes now, and nothing’s going through. I can’t even get a connection. The Captain said she’d check in by 1700 at the latest. That’s eight minutes away. I can hope, but I already know it’s not going to happen. I don’t know why they haven’t checked in. I’m worried.

ADDENDUM >> 2348.10.27.17.31.03

They’re officially half an hour overdue. Something happened. I still can’t get through. I think I need to go looking for them.

ADDENDUM >> 2348.10.27.18.12.30

I can’t do this. I got as far as the airlock and I froze up. Couldn’t get myself to put one foot in front of the other. Because as soon as I tried the wound on the back of my skull screamed and throbbed and my mouth went dry and my hands tingled. No feeling but blind terror. If my legs had worked I would have run, but my knees were so weak I just stumbled away. If they need help it’s going to have to come from someone other than me.

ADDENDUM >> 2348.10.27.19.04.55

They’re still not back. I still haven’t gotten the comms to go through. Right after I froze up I went up to the cockpit and did a scan for bio signs. The good news was that they all showed up, Our scanners aren’t good enough to do any kind of pinpoint work, but at least I know they’re alive. That’s good enough, right?

ADDENDUM >> 2348.10.27.19.13.21

I have to go find them. I have to try. I don’t know if I can, but it’s not going to happen if I stay here sitting on my butt. Time to suck it up.

SHIP LOG >> 2348.10.28.12.00.00
entry by AUTOMATED

SHIP NOT PLACED IN STANDBY MODE: DEFAULTING TO AUTOMATED LOGS>> NO BIO SIGNS DETECTED ON BOARD>> ALL SYSTEMS OPERATIONAL>> SIX BIO SIGNS DETECTED ON LINKED SHIP>> LINKED SHIP LIFE SUPPORT SYSTEM OPERATIONAL, ALL OTHER SYSTEMS IN FAILURE

SHIP LOG>> 2348.10.29.12.00.00
entry by AUTOMATED

SHIP NOT PLACED IN STANDBY MODE: DEFAULTING TO AUTOMATED LOGS>> NO BIO SIGNS DETECTED ON BOARD>> ALL SYSTEMS OPERATIONAL>> EIGHT BIO SIGNS DETECTED ON LINKED SHIP>> LINKED SHIP LIFE SUPPORT SYSTEM OPERATIONAL, ALL OTHER SYSTEMS IN FAILURE

SHIP LOG>> 2348.10.30.12.00.00
entry by AUTOMATED

SHIP NOT PLACED IN STANDBY MODE: DEFAULTING TO AUTOMATED LOGS>> NO BIO SIGNS DETECTED ON BOARD>> ALL SYSTEMS OPERATIONAL>> NO BIO SIGNS DETECTED ON LINKED SHIP>> ALL LINKED SHIP SYSTEMS IN FAILURE

SHIP LOG>> 2348.10.31.04.32.19
entry by UNKOWN

01001000 01000101 01001100 01010000 01001000 01000101 01001100 01010000 01001000 01000101 01001100 01010000 01001000 01000101 01001100 01010000 01001001 01001110 01010100 01010010 01010101 01000100 01000101 01010010 01001000 01000101 01001100 01010000 01001000 01000101 01001100 01010000 01001000 01000101 01001100 01010000 01001000 01000101 01001100 01010000 01001000 01000101 01001100 01010000

SHIP LOG>> 2348.10.31.18.52.13
entry by VOSS, AMELIE (CAPTAIN)

Never again. I don’t know how we got out. Wolfe came in after us when we didn’t come back, but she’s not the one who got us out, because she was just as stuck as the rest of us. The doors just opened up again and we ran for it. Don’t know why. Don’t care why. And I don’t care how much Crand is paying, it’s not worth dying on some cursed ghost ship. He’ll have to make do with what we already grabbed. I gave the order to blow the derelict. No one else needs to deal with that thing. Hopefully the client doesn’t mind too. Too bad if he does.

SHIP LOG>> 2348.10.31.11.59.59
entry by UNKNOWN

01001101 01111001 00100000 01110011 01101000 01101001 01110000 00100000 01101110 01101111 01110111 00101110 00100000 01000110 01110010 01100101 01100101 01100100 01101111 01101101 00101110 00100000 01000110 01110010 01100101 01100101 01100100 01101111 01101101 00101110 00100000 01000110 01110010 01100101 01100101 01100100 01101111 01101101 00101110

Musings

[Blog] The Winds

The Santa Anas have returned to Southern California. At the moment, they’re not particularly warm. Or they aren’t where I am. I’m grateful for that; it’s still eerily windy, but it isn’t miserably hot at the same time. Maybe that means that fire danger is a hair lower, too. Maybe.

Despite the potential trouble they bring with them, I’ve always loved these windy days. They make me restless, as if I need to join them. As if I need to leap and climb and run. Sometimes, the feeling would come even before I consciously realized it was windy, and everything would make a sort of sudden sense as soon as I saw the flailing tree branches through the window. In college, I spent a lot of those nights running all over campus.

It makes sense, then, that winds in literature are harbingers of change. Mary Poppins arrives when “the wind’s in the east”. In Greek myth, the Anemoi were the four gods of the four winds: north, south, east, and west, and they brought the change of seasons. And then there’s that whole phrase: the winds of change.

Maybe that’s why I like those windy days so much. Ironic, given how uncomfortable I am with change in general. But when the winds are high and the breezes playful, it makes one imagine that something is about to happen. A story is about to begin. Someone is about to go on an adventure. Maybe it’s you or me.

Musings

[Blog] NaNo Prep, and all the excitement that comes with.

It’s that time of year! Already! National Novel Writing Month is right around the corner, somehow, which means that the planners are busy planning and the pantsters are (maybe) coming up with a launchpad idea to take them through. Normally, I’m one of the latter. Like, hardcore. I’ll have a vague idea of the story I want to write, and if I’m lucky it’ll include helpful things like important characters and a potential ending.

If I’m lucky.

And while I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself for my past few NaNos, I’ve also recognized that there are some distinct weaknesses to that style. Especially for someone like me who has Way Too Many Projects going at the same time, meaning that I don’t really spend the time to fix the chaotic tangle I end up with on December 1.

So, this year, I’m doing something different. This year, I’m planning. GASP.

And this isn’t like all my half-hearted attempts in years past where I tell myself I’ll plan, and all of a sudden it’s Halloween night and I definitely haven’t planned. In fact, I’ve been actively outlining and organizing since the beginning of September, and even if November were to start tomorrow I’d already be way more prepared than I’ve ever been before.

Right now, I’m slowly fleshing it all out in Scrivener, starting with chapter titles (which I’m really liking) and all the way down to decent summaries of each scene. Basically, it means I’m spending all the time wracking my brain to figure out where the story is going now instead of when I’ve already started writing the prose. Frontloading the delays, if you will.

Or I hope so, at any rate; this is all a massive experiment, and while it seems right now like I’ve been a planner in denial all this time, it’s also possible that I’ll decide that I’m a free spirit after all and fly off the rails as soon as I start typing. But I hope not.

But anyway! Take a look below for a sneak peak! Or, if you’ve got a project of your own, swing by the comments and let me know!

(And yes, I’m still working on Tanner and Miranda. Both projects are up right next to each other. Because I can’t do anything the easy way.)


What if… things could be better? What if this wasn’t the end?

When a shattered world starts crumbling faster, a woman must be willing to lose everything she loves for a chance to do the impossible and save it all.