Musings

[Blog] Nomadic

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There was a time that I wanted to be a truck driver for a living. If I remember correctly, I got the idea shortly after learning about sleeper cabs and finding out that a pair of drivers could switch back and forth on a long haul. I thought it sounded like a lot of fun, especially if you got along well with your partner. Actually, my specific thought was that it would be really cool to be a husband/wife team: we could support ourselves while traveling all over the place, and we wouldn’t have to be apart for a long time while we did it. It’s possible that I was a weird kid. It’s also possible that I’d already figured out that it was the closest I’d get to living on my own spaceship.

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Or maybe that’s just what it sounds like in retrospect. At the very least, though, I’d figured out that I enjoy long road trips. I don’t know that it played any real part in it, but it’s interesting to connect that old fantasy to the fact that I eventually got my license to drive small passenger buses: it’s not exactly the same, but it’s not so far off, either, and the idea of working by traveling long distances still appeals to me.

Well. Most of the time. Circumstances have me splitting my time between two different cities, so I’m sleeping on the couches of various friends (you are all incredible, wonderful people and I am forever in your dept) almost as often as I’m sleeping in my own bed, and there’s days that the idea of being so nomadic is a whole lot more appealing than the reality of it. But then, there’s also days when I realize that it’s still pretty cool. The drive between the two is unfailingly gorgeous, taking me past both mountains and the coast, for one thing. For another, it means I’ve got friends and connections in more than one place, and it’s a little easier to remember how big and small the world is all at once.

Writing Prompts

[Blog] Writing Prompts Round 1

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So, last week I asked you guys for writing prompts and promised flash fiction in return. You all rocked your side of the bargain; here’s the stories!

 

That can’t possibly be what it looks like…

“Nah, thank you. I’m just glad the old place is going to get some use.” Harold helped us load the last of our gear into the back of his pickup. My own car was good enough for city driving, but the roads up to the old cabin were a bit more rugged. I’d been willing to chance it, but the old man had just shook his head and tossed me the keys to the blue Ford. “You’ll find firewood under the porch, and the well’s out back. Also, don’t mind Ranger. He’s just up there to scare away the poachers, and he’s more bark than bite anyway. He’ll be fine once he recognizes the truck.”

That was all well and good, but it was the moments before he recognized it that were almost enough to make us give up on our weekend getaway. Because what we saw when we rounded the last bend and came up the drive towards the cabin was not the massive dog we assumed we’d find, but a huge, scaly monstrosity that had draped itself over the roof of the house and eyed us menacingly with a look that suggested we’d best apologize for interrupting its nap.

I swallowed once. “That’s funny,” I said. “I didn’t think dragons were real.”

But before we had a chance to ask anything of the mythological guardbeast, he appraised our vehicle, snorted once, and went back to sleep. Which was more than could be said for us.

Don’t worry, I’ve done this 100s of times.

Even the smallest of starships use the most sophisticated technology we’ve managed to develop. It’s all streamlined to the point that pretty much anyone can use it, but the fact that remains is this: most of us really don’t understand the first thing about the mechanisms keeping us alive and in one piece as we travel the vast, empty distances between the stars. So when you’re only halfway to the next star system and there’s a loud and ominous “CLUNK” from the rear of the ship, followed immediately by the distinctive sound of the failsafes kicking in and dropping you back down to sublight speeds, it’s understandable that you might feel a bit… anxious. Especially once you remember just how inefficient your life support systems are without the engine running and feeding them power. And double especially when every light on the HUD starts blinking red.

Now, imagine the scenario outlined above, and then add that you’re flying with a new mechanic. You know, the sort who’s still so young they’re wet behind the ears, giddy at the prospect of outer space, and completely, absolutely, one hundred percent unproven. If you’re starting to feel a little queasy and uncomfortable, congratulations, I did too. And it only got worse when Kosky (my aforementioned so-green-he-might-actually-be-a-tadpole flight mechanic) had the audacity to soothe my fears with the phrase “it’ll be fine”.

“Sure,” I said, “as long as someone answers our distress signal before we freeze or suffocate.”

“No, I can fix this,” he said. And he was already climbing out of his flight harness and slipping back towards the engine compartment.

I’m not a flight mechanic, but I’m good enough to take care of the easy fixes. I’m also good enough to know when it’s not going to be an easy fix. Like when the engine goes clunk and the HUD turns into a light show.

“Kosky…”

He was already in the back and fiddling and hammering at something. If I’d thought he could make the problem worse, I would’ve stopped him.

“Don’t worry! I’ve done this hundreds of times!”

“When!?”

“In the simulators! They ran us through worst case scenarios to see if we could figure them out. I was really good at it.”

And apparently, he was. Because my little simulator-trained tadpole had us back up and running again in about an hour, and we finished our run to the next system in record time.

Siblings, goats, dogs, sheep.

Most kids would have asked for a puppy. And one of mine did after that day in the park when we got to meet a lovely lab named Ravioli and her three young pups. And after making sure that it wouldn’t be an absolutely horrible idea to adopt a dog into the family, we answered an ad at a nearby farm for free puppies and went on a family excursion to bring one home with us.

What we failed to realize was that it wasn’t just baby dogs we’d find, but baby goats and sheep as well. And we also failed to realize that while my daughter was more than happy with a dog, my two sons found the lambs and kids far more interesting. I blame it on the fact that the farmer let them help him bottle feed them.

We didn’t go home with anything more than a puppy that day. We just ended up buying a farm of our own a year later.

A fox!

The first night I saw the fox, I didn’t think anything of it. I lived on the edge of town and take walks most evenings, so she was hardly the first one I’d ever seen, though perhaps her tail was a bit bushier and her coat a deeper shade of russet-red. It wasn’t until I realized that she was looking straight at me with a wily smirk that I began to consider the possibility that she was something more than the run-of-the-mill vulpine.

I saw her every night that week as I went out for my habitual stroll through my neighborhood, and every night she greeted me with the same placid, knowing smile. And before I knew it, I was looking forward to seeing her.

So perhaps you can understand why I decided to follow her down the path through the park instead of sticking to my usual route. And that was when it happened. The small, tame trees turned into centuries old oaks in an instant. The paved road beneath my feet turned became a dirt track. The air smelled thick with magic.

The only thing that remained the same was the fox herself. She sat a few yards away, still smirking, and as I stared at her she winked, then turned and dashed away. I hardly had a choice: I ran after her, following the flick of her tail and the twists of the wooded path until my chest heaved and my heart beat hard in my ears.

Just when I thought I could go no further, she vanished, leaving me well and truly lost and utterly alone. But before I could panic, a soft voice spoke from just behind me. I whirled, and she was there, sitting and waiting for me to notice her.

“You run well, my friend,” she said. “Thank you for playing my game.”

And then she grinned and all the world changed again, and I stood once more in the park at the edge of my neighborhood, quite astonished at what had just happened.

A meteorite has just crashed near a small town. The locals have since noticed strange lights in the forest at night. A couple of kids go out to investigate, against their parents’ commands.

We all assumed that Mom and Dad were just saying what all parents say: don’t take the shortcut through the bull’s pasture, don’t run with scissors, don’t go out in the middle of the night to look for the weird lights where the meteor hit. The bull wasn’t a problem if we put a pile of apples on the other side of the pasture, none of us had killed ourselves running with scissors yet, and we figured that our parents had more against us being out and unsupervised at two in the morning than the fact that we were looking for the meteor.

Of course, that was before me and my brother actually found it.

It wasn’t a meteor. Or I guess, it wasn’t just a random space rock burning up in our atmosphere. It was an alien spaceship that lost control trying to land. Also, it turns out that Mom and Dad are way more exciting than we gave them credit for. And that they got into way more trouble before settling down in this little nowhere town in Idaho than we ever thought possible. We figured that out after they rescued us from a couple of desperate alien criminals with too many eyes and not enough sense.

 

And that’s it for this round! Thanks again to everyone who submitted prompts!

Writing Prompts

[Blog] Best Laid Plans

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Some weeks, things just don’t go the way you want them to. In case the conspicuous lack of new stories hasn’t already given it away, this week was one of those weeks, mostly due to a nasty cold that took up residence in my throat and sinuses and completely sapped my energy. And, if I’m honest, it did a number on my motivation as well, so long story short (ha…) I’m afraid I don’t have any new full-length stories this month, for which I beg your forgiveness.

I also have an offer to make! In lieu of the longer stories that are still on their way, I’d like to write short (100-200 word) stories based off of writing prompts from all of you. What sort of writing prompts you ask? Pretty much anything! One word, a phrase, a scenario– whatever comes to mind. Just post it in the comments below and I’ll get respond with a story! I do reserve the right to refuse a prompt, but I’m not expecting that to be an issue. I can’t wait to hear from you guys!

Musings

[Blog] Freeway Interchanges and Cloudy Mountains

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Different landscapes have always made me want to write different sorts of stories. Show me a sweeping vista, full of dark forests spilling down the sides of jagged mountains and all half hidden beneath the shreds of cloud left behind by last night’s storm, and I’ll tell you that there are dragons there, coiled in lairs just out of sight. Catch me staring out the window while caught in traffic somewhere in LA, and I’ll be imagining what it would be like to wander the interchange on foot after something has rendered all cars immobile*. Let me watch the sun rise above the desert and paint the sagebrush golden and the mountains purple, and I will muse on what it would be like to ride a horse at a gallop there in the cool of morning, and why you might do such a thing.

Some of this, I am sure, can be attributed to growing up on The Lord of the Rings and the Peter Jackson adaptations. Between Tolkien’s descriptions and so many hours of footage filmed in New Zealand, it was bound to happen. But I don’t think it’s the only reason. I suspect most people find inspiration of one sort or another while looking at the world around them. Some of us will be driven to create with our hands or our words. Others will have our souls filled in different ways.

For me, I’m not sure if there’s a setting that doesn’t spark my imagination in this way. Mountains, cities, rolling hills: every place has its own sort of story. All we have to do is find them.

Speaking of stories, I apologize for the terrible lateness of the one that was supposed to go up last week. It’s on its way, but it’s coming slowly, Hopefully, I’ll be able to post it and the next Tanner and Miranda story next week.

 

* Well, more immobile than they already are at 5pm on a workday.

 

Musings

[Blog] It’s Mocking Me

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They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Sometimes, that picture is an animated gif. Like this one:

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Back when Facebook flair was still a thing, I had one that looked a lot like this that enjoyed a place of honor on my little virtual bulletin board. It just perfectly sums up what it feels like when the words refuse to come– which is probably why it ended up as a piece of flair in the first place*.

At the time I didn’t have a daily wordcount that I was trying to reach, so the impudent blinking of a few pixels on a blank screen usually had no trouble derailing me. And truth be told, it still succeeds more often than I’d like even now, with the only difference being that I’m a little better at pushing my train of thought back onto the tracks. Or at least better about coming back to it whether I want to or not.

As you may have begun to suspect, today is one of those days when the cursor seems to be winning, sitting intransigent about halfway down the page of my document with half-finished bits of story lying in shambles all around it. The joke’s on it, though, because while it’s busy over there, I’ll stay here and work on something else. I always knew there was a good reason to have a couple projects going at once!

 

 

* Oddly enough, I’ve had a heck of a time finding it since then, and were it not for someone’s old livejournal account (link), I might not have been able to at all.

Musings

[Blog] The Art of Crying at Commercials

Movies never used to make me cry. And if I’m being honest, that was something of a point of pride: other people might cry at movies, but not me. I was too strong for that. And while I don’t think I looked down on people who did, I do remember teasing my mom about it, especially when it was a commercial that would get her all choked up.

Normally, it wasn’t that hard for me to maintain control over my emotions. Sure, when I watched The Lion King and got to That Scene, I’d recognize it as really sad, but I’d never have to fight a lump back down my throat or try to keep my eyes from welling up while my nose started to tingle from the effort. That would happen every now and again, but I’d always assume that it had more to do with me being tired or sick or otherwise compromised. Oddly enough, I don’t remember ever considering it a sign of good writing, or if I did, I just saw it as a bigger challenge– “Even great stories don’t make me cry.”

But then I grew up. (Well. More or less…) I learned. I experienced. I met people who would teach me what Solomon meant when he said there are friends “who stick closer than a brother.” I grew closer to my parents. I traveled and came home again, and I saw how much had changed and what had stayed the same. I won, I lost, I tried again. In short, I lived.

And somewhere along the way, I started crying, too. Not all the time, and I still usually try to hold it back when I’m watching something with other people, but that scene where Simba finds Mufasa, instead of just making me sad, now leaves me with wet eyes and a distinct ache in my throat, because I’ve got a great relationship with my dad, and I can’t imagine the pain of losing him when I was just a kid.

That, I think, is the crux of it. I found it easier to keep from crying when I was younger, not because I was too strong to cry, but because I didn’t have the experience to understand the full meaning and implication of a sad scene. Or the really happy ones that do the same thing. (And no, I don’t now, either, but I’m a lot closer.) Now, I have some idea of the strength that can come from a deep relationship with a friend, and what it’s like when that friend comes through for you, or what it’s like when you have a chance to come through for someone else.

Now, it’s easier to put myself in the shoes of the characters I’m watching and to have some idea of what they’re feeling. Which is really cool, and also helpful for doing the same thing for the people you encounter in your day to day life. It also means that if I still wanted to tease my mom for crying at commercials (I don’t), I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. Because now I do it too.

 

Musings

[Blog] Seventy Days

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According to the calendar it’s been ten weeks since I left Armenia, and for the last several days, my thoughts have been wandering back there more and more frequently. I find myself missing Yerevan: the kebab and shawarma  stalls on almost every corner, the families coming out to enjoy all the parks and public places every evening, even the busy chaos that fills the streets. It’s all the surface level things that make up my memories, almost inconsequential in and of themselves, but part of a much greater whole.

In so many ways I’m still just processing, and those simple surface things are the useful handholds I can use to figure out what I found in the land of my heritage. Or rather, if that’s too melodramatic a turn of phrase (which I think it very well might be), they’re concrete examples that I can use to better understand what I found there and how I changed.

It would also be pretty cool if I figured out how to incorporate it into all those stories knocking around in my head. That might not be for a while, though. I can’t remember which of his essays I read it in*, but Ray Bradbury talked about how it took years for themes from his time in Mexico to start appearing in his stories, and he was a great deal more prolific than I am. Right now, I’ve just got ideas that I want to use, but I haven’t figured them out nearly well enough to be able to fit them into a piece of fiction without it sounding forced and cliched. Of course, the flip slide is that trying and failing to write about it the way I want to is the best way to get it figured out, so maybe that’s no excuse after all.

 

 

* If memory serves, it was one of the ones in his collection Zen in the Art of Writing. Even if not, I highly recommend that particular book to anyone interested in writing and Bradbury.

Musings

[Blog] Stretch Fingers, Write

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I’ve missed writing. I’ve missed chasing the words across the page and catching them on the tips of my fingers. I’ve missed building cities and starships and space stations, and imagining the conflicts and the stories that take place in them. I’ve missed the exploration– of themes, of characters, of imaginary places.

And it’s funny to say that, because it’s been years since I last took off an extended period from writing. I didn’t get half so much done while I was in Armenia (at least, not when it comes to fiction), but I didn’t stop either. All the same, though, now that I have a little more free time again, it’s like stretching muscles that haven’t had a chance to work hard for too long. It’s a little rough and rusty at first, but once it gets going, it feels like coming home.

I’m still surprised by how much practice it takes, and how little time it takes to fall back out of practice once you’ve gotten yourself into it. If writing is a method of recording your own thoughts, it almost seems that it should come more naturally. And yet there’s a divide between the things we imagine and the words we manage to put onto the page, and for most of us, it takes a lot of work to bridge that gap.

I can’t help but find it fascinating that language, even when it comes naturally and almost as quick as thought, can’t always express the ideas that build their homes in our heads. Things get even funnier when you realized that a particular language might not have the words you need to describe exactly what you want, and while another language might get closer, it’s still not perfect. And, funniest of all, that’s okay.

Because of its limitations, writing forces us to understand our own thoughts better in order to more fully express them with the words you have available. It would be one thing to be able to transfer a complete idea to another person’s mind, just as it exists in our own. It’s quite another to write as we actually do, knowing that each word we choose may evoke subtleties in the minds of our readers that we have no knowledge of.

But perhaps I’m rambling, letting the words take me where they will. I suspect it means that I haven’t thought all this through entirely, or at least not as completely as I thought I had. But that’s okay too. God knows I don’t have all this figured out. And besides, a little rambling now and then is healthy. How better to remind ourselves that there are a thousand things we don’t understand?

Musings

[Blog] Great Big Planetary Empires

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Across the planet today, there are around two hundred different countries, between three and eight thousand different languages, and more cultures (and subcultures?) than anyone could possibly count– if they could even find a reliable definition of culture in the first place. Or put another way, our Earth is both very big and very small.

This is the sort of thing that comes to mind after watching entirely too many episodes of Star Trek in a row. Or pretty much any science fiction TV show or movie or video game or book, for that matter. Compared to our own, all the biggest, grandest worlds that we’ve created are just so small, so limited.

And some of that is by necessity. Take the aforementioned episodes of Star Trek*, for example: if you only have a little less than an hour to tell a complete story, then you just don’t have time to develop a complete and complicated set of geopolitics for your strange, new world, and to try it would be to take away from the story you actually want to tell. When a bunch of humans, Klingons, and tribbles all end up on the same space station, we don’t need to know anything about the inner workings of Klingon geopolitics in order to enjoy the episode.

Even in the infinitely more complex Deep Space Nine that spent numerous episodes exploring the conflict between the Bajorans and the Cardassians, both species have only a single culture, and any hypothetical divisions among them are ignored. It seems there is no such thing as Northern Bajorans and Southern Bajorans, and even those separate groups that appear as the series progresses all stem from the same basic culture, only different in the way they react to their common history. And again, that’s not a bad thing. Even as simple as it is by real world standards, it’s plenty complex enough for the purposes of the story.

That being said, I’d love to see a story that plays a little more with the ramifications of multiple major powers on a single planet with the capability of interstellar travel. What would happen if American explorers made contact and formed an alliance with the Greys from the planet Heru at the same time that Russian explorers hit it off with the Purples on one of the same planet’s other continents? And what would happen if the Greys and the Purples didn’t get along?*

I’m inclined to think that that’s exactly the sort of question that science fiction was born to answer.

 

* It strikes me as I write this that I’m poorly enough read in science fiction that someone may have already written such a story, and I just don’t know about it. If you happen to know one, do mention it in the comments below, as like I said the idea fascinates me!

Musings

[Blog] A Good Reread

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I like books. If you’re here, I suspect you have at least a passing fancy for them as well, which means we’ve already got something in common. I imagine it also means you are familiar with the phrase “so many books, so little time”, and you may have even, in passing, considered having it engraved on your headstone. Or perhaps not.

What I mean to say is that we understand in our bones that we will never be able to read everything there is to read, because there’s just not enough hours in the day, days in the week, weeks in the month, etc. There’s not even enough time to read everything that you would enjoy reading, as evidenced by massive stacks of books and an outsized to-read list on Goodreads (or in your head or wherever you keep it).

And then, to add to the trouble, there’s the books you want read again. For me, those are the ones that get neglected the most, because when I start looking for my next book to read, I automatically go to the stacks of books I haven’t yet read.

I can’t speak to it’s efficacy, but I’ve tried to get around the problem by just reading more books at once. I used to try to stick to one or two at a time, one fiction and one non-fiction, just to keep things simple. I don’t remember exactly when I started breaking that rule, but once I started it’s been getting worse and worse, and right now there’s a stack of books almost a foot high on my bedside table.

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My bedside table.

The thing is, some books need to be reread. You’ll catch things you didn’t see the first time through, that you couldn’t have seen the first time through. Aspects of certain characters will suddenly make more sense. Foreshadowing will be that much more foreboding. Themes and symbolism will become that much clearer, and their arguments will be that much more potent.

Or, to put it another way, you’ll enjoy it even more the second time around.

All this is probably coming to mind right now thanks to the fact that I just finished my second read-through of Pierce Brown’s Red Rising (which if you haven’t read, I would highly recommend and suggest you follow it up with the rest of the series), and I noticed so many things that I didn’t see at all when I read it the first time. Heck, it even woke up my sleepy inner English major, and when I finished I had at least three ideas for short essays.

But I digress. Regardless of your feelings, if any, for the aforementioned book, the fact remains that there is great benefit in rereading. I don’t know about you, but that’s something I forget a little too often.