Musings

[Blog] Wonderment

I walked outside at dusk the other day, just in time to see a pair of bats swooping and flittering a little way from the house. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen bats. It wasn’t even the first time I’d seen them recently– they’re always around, eating bugs like the awesome pest controllers they are. But something about them just struck me this time.

Bats are really, really cool.

Think about it. They’re basically mice that fly. Sounds like something straight out of a fantasy world, right? But they’re real. As real as you or me. *

There’s so much about this world that’s fascinating like this. Like wind: sometimes the air just moves. Sometimes just a little, just enough to toss your hair or shake a few leaves; sometimes so much that it destroys everything in its path, an invisible force of destruction. That sounds pretty crazy too.

And then there’s the fact that we’re all spending our time walking around on the surface of a large (or small, depending on what you’re comparing it to) rocky sphere that’s going in circles around a huge ball of fire that is millions of miles away but also just so happens to be our main source of heat and light.

Or take gravity, the invisible force that is the only thing keeping us on the surface of the planet, along with everything else, including the atmosphere that we need to breathe. And that keeps the planets all orbiting around the sun. And our whole galaxy spinning around its center.

If you ask me, it’s all pretty amazing.

* Maybe that’s a blog post for another day. Ha!

Fiction (Excerpts)

T&M: deleted scene 1

(If you happened to read last week’s blog, this is one of those deleted scenes I mentioned. For the pace of the story, I spent way too much time here on characters and events that have no real impact on anything else, but I still enjoyed them. I’m cutting the vast majority of this out of the next draft, but I still like what I wrote. So I’m sharing it here.)

We reached the top of the track leading to Rockmouse in another half an hour as flat plains gave way to the first red Outland cliffs. The friendly transport hauler we’d paid to let us tag along dropped us at the edge of the road and continued on his own way, leaving us to go the rest of the way on foot with our gear— camping things, rations, scanners, and our weapons— slung over our shoulders.

Despite the fact that we couldn’t see the tiny mining town from the road, it was a short walk to get there, only five or ten minutes at the most. And while I wasn’t about to admit it to Tanner, I was pleased to find that my legs and feet adjusted to the uneven dirt faster than I’d expected. I could only hope that the hike up into the wilderness would treat me as kindly.

As far as towns went, Rockmouse was less than impressive. It boasted no more than a dozen buildings, the largest of which was the modified warehouse that functioned as a sort of community center. Another appeared to be a supply and equipment store, though I was surprised they saw enough business to be solvent. The rest were various bunkhouses and cabins and other small residences to house the working population.

“Not much to look at, is it?”

Tanner laughed softly. “No. It’s more a base camp than an actual settlement. Still nice enough, though.”

And it was. It was dusty and sparse and not particularly pretty, but I noticed a certain reckless camaraderie in the air here that I recognized and appreciated. If nothing else, it made for interesting stories, and the small knot of scruffy looking townsfolk lounging in front of the community center looked like they already had several each.

“Is that who we’re meeting?”

Tanner squinted and peered down the street before shaking his head. “I don’t think so. She’s probably inside.” He squinted again. “I think I owe that big guy money, though.”

I raised one eyebrow. “You owe money?”

He shrugged. “Ah, not much. Fifty credits or so. I borrowed his hovermule last time I was out here.”

I was about to ask whether he’d asked for permission before he commandeered the vehicle when the large man in question happened to look up the road and notice us. As soon as he recognized my brother, his face split in a grin I could see even across the thirty yards that separated us. Or if I couldn’t, the enthusiastic wave he sent in our direction was enough to fill in the gaps.

“Hey, freelancer! Wondered when you’d be back on this side of the colony! Good to see you!”

Tanner returned the greeting with at least as much animation, and they caught each other in an exuberant handshake as soon as they were within reach.

“Oh, you know, there’s always something bringing me out here. How’s the place?”

“Dusty! But better since you chased those gangboys out. We managed to open up that south branch of the mine again, and we think we hit a new vein. What’s got you out here, though? And,” the big man nodded in my direction, “who’s this?”

“My sister,” said Tanner. “Came out here to watch my back and keep me out of trouble.”

“Miranda Griff,” I said, extending my own hand and just barely stifling my surprise as his massive hand engulfed my own. I’m not a particularly large woman, but I’d always considered myself roughly average when it came to size. Just then, I found myself revising my estimate downwards.

“Good to meet you, Griff. Sam Sawyer. Your brother here’s a good guy. Helped us out a few months back. Glad he’s got someone out here to help him out. Means he might be a little less likely to catch a bullet in the back someday.”

My lips quirked in a lopsided grin. “My thoughts exactly. Though he can’t be that bad, I suppose. He’s been out here by himself for a couple of years and he’s still in one piece.”

Sam leaned back and let loose with a belly laugh that made me think he doubled as Santa at Christmas-time. I couldn’t help it; I grinned too.

“I’m glad you two have hit it off so well.” Tanner’s look of mock chagrin didn’t hold up well against the twinkle in his eye. “But happy as I am to see you, we’re actually looking for Hildy. Has she gotten out here yet?”

Sawyer nodded and jerked his thumb back over his shoulder, towards the community center. Though now that we were closer, I had to admit it looked a lot more like a saloon than anything else.

“In there. She’s probably been here less than half an hour, so you shouldn’t be in too much trouble.” He grinned.

“Technically, we’re still early. Unless you and the boys put her in a bad mood?”

Another of Sawyer’s belly laughs got loose. “We’d never.”

“Sure you wouldn’t. But just in case you’re getting ideas, here’s that fifty I owe you.”

Tanner dug into his pocket and pulled out a pair of coins, which he tossed to Sawyer.

“Oh, hey! I’d forgotten about that. Knew you were good for it, though!”

“Gotta make friends somehow, now, don’t I?”

Sawyer chortled again. “Good to see you, Tanner. And glad to meet you, Miranda.”

Musings

[Blog] Wordcounts and Wondering

In one of my recent searches for estimates and guidelines for how long drafts and novels tend to be, I found that some of the advice suggested that most rough/first drafts are significantly shorter than the finished product. Which surprised me. As I think about it more, it probably shouldn’t have, because I know how quickly I end up glossing over things when just trying to get words on the page, but there’s so many other times when I end up waxing eloquent on things that really don’t need an explanation, just to keep the words flowing.

Right now, for example, I’m working through one of the Tanner and Miranda stories, doing a pass that’s more or less a second draft (yay!). The thing is, the first draft got bogged down because I kept getting distracted and writing in scenes that murdered the pace and, while fun to write, did next to nothing for the actual story. Scenes that I will need to cut out wholesale this time through, which will probably halve the word count for this particular story.

Hence my confusion. Because this is what my writing always looks like in the early stages, leading me to believe that a completed first draft (one that doesn’t end up suffering from the end of NaNo I’m-running-out-of-steam-so-I’ll-just-do-glorified-summaries thing) would probably come in at almost double the size of a more polished draft.

Clearly, the answer to my question can only be found by finishing more drafts and then actually finishing the editing. You know. For evidence.

Those of you who write, what does your drafting process look like?

Musings

[Blog] Checking in ’22

Technically, this post is a little late. Not the most auspicious start to the new year, perhaps, but that’s okay. Now that we’re almost two weeks in to 2022, I can already say that my reading life, at least, is much more robust than it was last year. Also, apparently I’m on a Brandon Sanderson kick; I can’t believe it took me so long to finally get around to reading The Bands of Mourning, and the wait for the fourth Wax and Wayne book is going to be a bear. I guess I’ll just have to distract myself with more books.

As for writing, I’m still puttering along, doing definitely more than nothing and yet never enough. I’m still trying to beat out the general structure for Tanner and Miranda, which is going way slower than I’d like. Mostly because I have some decent ideas but not enough depth to them that they feel full and real.

More or less accidentally, I took several weeks off from planning and structuring both that and last November’s NaNo, which was actually rather needed. I was edging up on burnout. Oops. But I’m feeling refreshed and ready now, and once I kick off the faint accumulation of dust, I’m looking forward to digging in to both with new eyes and a fresh perspective. Which is what I’m off to do right now!

Musings

[Blog] Farewell, ’21

As I write this, there’s right around sixty-three hours remaining in the Year of our Lord 2021. I’m not quite sure how that happened, but here we are. For me, as for so many others, it has been A Year, and I’ll admit to being tired (though that’s also partially due to plain old sleepiness), though hopeful and a bit excited for the year to come and its changes and challenges both known and unknown.

To send out the year here on my blog, I want to share a few of my favorites from the past twelve months. Books, movies, songs, whatever it was that I enjoyed or that struck a chord with me and burrowed deep.


Favorite Book (fiction): Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian
Why? Because reading it was like taking a break from the twenty-first century to go hang out on a British navy ship. And sometimes that’s just what you need.

Favorite Book (non-fiction): Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
Why? Because it’s an incredibly important and intelligent take on something that we desperately need to be talking about. It’s a difficult read in places due to the nature of the beast (death, mortality, aging, etc.) but I can’t recommend it enough. Go read it.

Favorite Song: The Light Will Stay On by The Walkabouts
Why? Just click on the link and listen! Oh, more specifically? Well I found this song while hunting for musical inspiration for NaNo, and this one slotted in like it was written for my main character. But beyond that, the entire mood of it– the almost wistful, almost resigned yet still pushing on just resonated with me.

Favorite New Music Group: The Hound + The Fox
Why? There’s a ton of amazing cover-original-independent-whathaveyou musical artists on YouTube, but these two have to be my favorite. Their stuff is gorgeous, and they’ve got a great mix of originals, folk songs, and nerdy covers. I can (and have!) listen to them all day.

Favorite Video Game: Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Why? Because the storylines are ALL MAKING ME CRY. This game is unabashedly over the top epic in places, and I love it, in part because it’s driven by a huge cast of well developed characters to whom you will get thoroughly attached.

What about you guys? Any new favorites from the past year? Anything exciting coming up for you in 2022?

Musings

[Blog] Looks Like I’m a Planner

So! The first takeaway I have from the grand experiment that was me actually planning the project I worked on this past November is: I must be a planner after all. My friends. I cannot overstate just how much easier it was for me to write throughout the month. I didn’t get stuck. I didn’t waste time wondering where I needed to take the story next. It just didn’t happen, and that was weird and wonderful and I’m never going back.

That being said, it wasn’t without its hitches, which is why I’m not actually sitting here with a complete first draft of my new novel. In fact, if I’d had to go past 50k this past month, I almost certainly would have gotten stuck. And despite the wordcount I reached, I didn’t get all that far into the story. (That, at least, is normal: my first runs through new stories always run long as I figure out what I’m doing.) The difference being that I know why I got stuck. I didn’t have a clear vision of the weird, wacky world I was throwing my poor character into, which, naturally, made it difficult to write about.

And the other half of knowing why is knowing how to fix it. Roughly speaking. It’s meant that I made the decision to step back and return to the structuring/outlining phase, and I may or may not be able to repurpose the stuff I wrote during November, so in some ways I’m sure it doesn’t look all that different from previous years with regards to what I actually managed to take away from the event. But instead of having a huge mess of words and no clear idea of where to go with it, I have a huge mess of words and a much stronger idea of where my planning went wrong and what I need to do to fix it. If nothing else, I’d call that progress.

Additionally, it’s made it clear that all my other projects could benefit from the same treatment. Specifically, Tanner and Miranda. I’m not gonna like, I’m currently in the thrall of this shiny new plotting/planning thing, so there’s absolutely a huge part of me that wants to say that this is exactly what I needed in order to finally finish the darn thing. And who knows– maybe it is going to make all the difference, and I’m not just making like James Garner in Support Your Local Sheriff (I refuse to let this story become my own personal Australia).

In short, I’m excited. So excited. I write better when I plan like this, and reaching the “end” of a project seems like it’s within reach as opposed to just being some mystical, theoretical state of existence that my projects have no real hope of ever reaching. I suspect I’m going to have to learn how to balance some elements of both– half of the excitement of writing comes from the times the characters take over and decide to do their own thing (this November his name was Locksley and my sister got all kinds of texts of me complaining about his hijacking of the story)– but I think this is another one of those “you have to know the rules in order to know how to break them” cases. And it’s really, really cool to be getting a better handle on the rules of my craft.

Musings

[Blog] Hey look it’s December

Hey guys! Apparently it’s December now. 2021 is all but over. Weird.

Anyway! So, NaNo is over and I hit the 50k goal on the day before Thanksgiving (yay!) despite work busyness and such. The whole planning thing went remarkably well, to the point where I’m pretty sure it’s going to affect how I write novel-length things from here on out. More on that next week!

I hope all of you are well as we head into the holidays, and that you get to spend good time with friends and family. Merry Christmas!


((Technically, this is not something I wrote last month. However! It’s currently the first three paragraphs from that project, so I thought I’d share them here with you.))

Complexity Jones must have slept, because the soft green numbers on the bedside clock read 6:12 AM. It had been just after three-thirty the last time she had looked and given up hope of getting any rest, but maybe that had been what did it. Besides, these days two and a half hours was the best she could hope to get. Even so, her body ached. Whether that was because of the physical work she had thrown herself into the day before or just the wages of however many months of lost sleep she couldn’t say. And it didn’t matter. Either way, the result was the same.

On the other side of the bed, Kemp still slept, his breathing slow and even, a comfort in the quiet morning. She’d given up envying him for it. Better that one of them get a little rest than for both of them to exist in this miserable, exhausted haze. And she was used to it. The nightmares had started shortly after the Distortion had first appeared, and she hadn’t slept well since then. Five years, give or take. No wonder the dark circles under her eyes made it look like she’d lost a fist fight. No wonder her body rebelled when she had a day off and she spent twelve hours in dreamless blackout.

But this wasn’t her day off. And there was no reason to try to beg and borrow and steal another useless moment with her eyes shut and her mind spinning and awake when it wouldn’t do her any good. Better to start the process of coaxing her body back to something functional.

NaNo21

[NaNo21] Update 1

Here we are on Day 3! I’m a bit behind but not horribly so, and I can blame [most of] that on the act that my laptop ran into some difficulties. As in, the darn thing wouldn’t boot up. Turns out, the internal hard drive actually needs to be seated and connected for the computer to see it. Who knew?

As for writing, I’m getting into the groove and it’s so nice to be able to start putting the words down for this thing after working on the planning! Here’s an excerpt that I thought came out pretty well.


Faline narrowed her eyes again. The expression was less than playful this time. “Lex. You need rest. We need you.” She nodded toward the massed refugee housing. “I need your help.”

“I’m here, Faline.” She gave a faint shrug. “I’m here.”

“Are you?”

Lex spread her arms. “You see me, don’t you?”

“I see something. A husk, maybe. You know this matters, right? Everyone says the world is ending, and maybe it is. But even if it is, even if the Distortion breaks past the pylons tomorrow and swallows us all, this matters.”

“Of course it does. I never said it didn’t.” The words hissed through Complexity’s teeth. “I’m here, Faline. I’m here because these people shouldn’t have to spend their last days in any more agony than the rest of us. But me being and more or less sleep deprived isn’t going to change a thing.”

Faline scowled. “And what if these aren’t their last days? What if we survive this?”

Complexity laughed. It was a dark, angry sound. “We’re not going to survive this. No one wants to say it out loud, not yet. But everyone knows. All we can do is to try to make it as painless as we can before the end finally comes.”

For a moment, Faline didn’t say a thing. She stood there, emotion hanging from her like a cloak, but she didn’t say a word. When she finally did, the words came out quiet, so low that Lex was surprised she heard them.

“We’re still alive. We’re not done yet. You hear me, Jones? We’re not done yet.”

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.