Musings

[Blog] New Steps

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I’d forgotten how much energy it takes to adjust to a new situation– which, given my recent travels, I find a little amusing. At the same time, everything I was doing in Armenia was something that I had done before in one form or another, and the fact that I was volunteering for a set and limited time definitely took some of the pressure off. With this new job, that’s not the case. I’m hoping that this job will be a first step towards a continuing career in the medical field, which means that I’m rather invested in it going well. Which it is!

That being said, there’s a thousand and one things to learn, a million tiny details to keep track of, and a faster pace than I’ve kept in the past, and I can feel myself growing as I’m pushed and stretched. And I’m loving it. I’m also a little scared by it when I have time to think, but I hear that’s perfectly normal. And I can’t help but be excited too.

Musings

[Blog] Resistance is Futile

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One of my favorite tropes for fantasy or sci-fi stories is when the big bad has a penchant for assimilating its enemies. Well. I say favorite, but it might be more accurate to say that I find it to be thoroughly compelling and a great way to raise the stakes– it being a fate worse than death, and all that. Something about collectives of cyborgs bent on galactic conquest or races of giant AI spaceships intent on harvesting all organic life just gets under my skin and does a great job of making me root for their ultimate demise.

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Resistance is futile.

Oddly enough, my feelings regarding zombies and vampires aren’t as strong, which leads me to suspect that what unsettles me the most is the fact that their victims end up helping them realize their schemes of total conquest, not so much the loss of humanity of each individual victim. Dying’s bad enough, but if I could avoid joining the dark side and trying to kill my friends and doom the world in the process, that would be much preferred.

And given how effective these sorts of villains can be, it’s probably no surprise that I’m trying to do the same thing with my villain for The Seven. The obvious problem with this being that I have a very distinct idea in my head of the feelings I want these creatures to evoke, and I don’t think I’m quite there yet. I want them to create a feeling of dread in the people that have to fight them, and I want that feeling to go beyond just fear for their own survival. And if I want that feeling in the characters to be believable, they need to evoke that feeling in the readers as well.

Forgive the musings of the author neck-deep in worldbuilding questions. Or, if it strikes your fancy, ask me more! It’s harder to stick with the silly ideas when I have to explain them out loud.

 

Musings

[Blog] Balancing

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It’s been one heck of a week in the best of ways: I started a new job, with my first full day being this past Monday. Which basically means that the past five days have been absolutely nuts, filled to the brim with a billion new things to learn, new responsibilities, and one ridiculously excited Faith. Unfortunately, what it hasn’t been filled with is disciplined writing time. And for this week, I’m okay with that. Mostly.

Because as far as excuses for not writing go, starting a new job and keeping an 8ish to 5ish schedule for the first time in… a while is a brilliant one. It’s also a really good way for writing to drop to a back burner, and I don’t want that to happen. Which mostly just means that I’m going to have to find a balance. The hours are there, after all. I just need to use them.

Fiction, Fiction (Short)

The Dog

WHISKEYHILL

“I want to keep her.”

I glanced across the room at Tanner and raised an eyebrow. We were still living in the one and only boarding house in town, and while I hadn’t heard if they had a pet policy or not, I somehow doubted that it would be favorable towards the canine my brother was holding on his lap. At least, that’s what I said. It was a lot easier than looking both Tanner and the dog in the face and saying that I didn’t want to have her around.

She looked like a mutt of sorts, and at the moment she was stuck in the awkward stage between puppy and full-grown, which mostly meant that her legs and her body had begun to lengthen and she had started to get bigger, but by the same fluke that hounded every dog, her paws had grown even faster and she wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. Judging by her look and her proclivity for nipping at things when Tanner wasn’t looking, I figured she was part shepherd of some sort, a guess that was borne out by her brown and black coloring.

“One night. And then we’ll discuss it in the morning.”

And you know, it’s not like she hadn’t already won then. I knew it. Tanner knew it. The puppy eyes made it look like she was completely innocent, but the dog knew it too. Or maybe she didn’t. But when we went to bed that night, she curled up by Tanner’s feet and started snoring.

I didn’t have to like the idea of having a dog to realize that she was cute.

I almost reconsidered even that conclusion when I woke up a couple hours later to her low growl. I was about to tell her to put a sock in it when I heard a scraping at the door, like someone was trying to coerce the lock into giving way. That was when the adrenaline hit like a ton of bricks, and I grabbed my sidearm and rolled out of bed.

My bare feet hit the rough floor without a sound, and I crept towards the door, stopping at Tanner’s bed just long enough to shake him awake and reach out a tentative hand to quiet the puppy. In retrospect, it was probably a dumb move, as she was just as likely to respond to my touch by barking or biting me as she was to actually quiet down, but by the grace of God, she did just that, shoving her cold, wet nose into my palm as I withdrew and continued towards the door.

Tanner joined me a few seconds later, just in time for both of us to hear the lock click and see the door swing open on hinges that sounded suspiciously like they’d been oiled.

At least the amateurs got one thing right. But just the one.

Tanner and I kept back behind the corner of the room’s sad little dresser, just in case the intruder was the sort to shoot when scared. All things considered equal, that seemed more likely than not, and the two of us did know what we were doing. Mostly.

“Is there a reason you didn’t knock?” I asked.

Our visitor made a noise halfway between a curse and a yelp, fired off a shot that shattered the room’s only window, and started scrambling away. He didn’t get very far. As soon as he turned around, Tanner jumped from our hiding place and tackled him to the ground, tossing the man’s weapon out of reach as soon as he could get his hands on it, and it was all over.

In the end, I’ve got to give the idiot points for bravery and initiative. He never did tell us who hired him or if the whole thing was his idea, even after the sheriff hauled him off to the jail. But that’s life. It’s not the first time someone’s come after us, and it won’t be the last. Probably won’t be the last one we don’t figure out, either.

As for the puppy, Tanner won. Or maybe the puppy won. Or maybe we all won. God only knows how much we could use an extra set of eyes and ears watching out for us. We named her Pup.

Musings

[Blog] Threads

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It’s funny how certain things can end up having such a great impact on our lives. I realized a little while back that if I had found my way into a job as an EMT before I went to Armenia, there’s every chance that I wouldn’t have gone at all. At least, not until later, and perhaps not for as long as I did. That in and of itself is interesting enough, but it goes so much farther than that. I got certified as an EMT more than three years ago with the intention of finding work with an ambulance company or in a hospital, but as I already had a steady job with wonderful people, I was less than motivated to move on. That job itself was the one I’d gotten straight out of college that I more or less fell into after working various jobs in the same department as a student, mostly (at first) because I knew they were hiring most any student looking for work, and that was exactly what I was doing.

So really, you could say that I went to Armenia in the fall of 2017 because I was a student worker in the custodial department of my college. And you wouldn’t be far off. There is, of course, a whole lot more to it than just that, and probably a thousand other factors that I don’t know and will likely never know, but the connection remains. And I find that absolutely fascinating.

Musings

[Blog] Overpromising

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Despite copious amounts of evidence, I haven’t wanted to admit it. I’ve bitten off more than I could chew. But another month has streaked on past, and I haven’t managed to finish the one short story I’ve been working on since March, let alone anything else, and even I’m starting to realize that trying to hold tighter to my ideal schedule as it slips away is going to end up backfiring in a spectacular way, because much as I wish it would, stubborn willpower doesn’t actually add more hours to the day.*

So! Instead of throwing my metaphorical back out by pushing against something that clearly isn’t moving, I’m going to try something a little different. Starting this month (May?!), I’ll just be aiming for a single short story, to be posted up on the 15th or whatever weekday is closest to that date and not a Friday. The rest of my writing time will be spent on my novel. Because the darn thing desperately needs to be written. I desperately need it to be written.

My hope is that the specific schedule will help me keep on track and make better progress, and that the drop from two (or zero, I know, I know…) to one story per month will help me stay better focused, which will in turn let me get more done without getting caught in the cycle of panic that I’m not getting enough done. Theoretically. We’ll see how it goes! And to those of you who have stuck with me, thank you so much. Your support means the world to me.

 

 

* Being more carefully disciplined would help me make the most of the hours I do have, but it’s still only a stop-gap measure. I think. I may just need to figure out how to better make time for writing during this migratory time of life.

Musings

[Blog] Green to Gold

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The mountains where I live are starting to fade. The last good spring rain was weeks ago, and while the hills haven’t yet grown brown and dry, they’re also not as bright and giddily green as they were at the beginning of the month. It changes the way I look at the landscape and reminds me that I do live in a desert of sorts.

It’s also part of why I know that the setting/weather can be an incredibly effective tool in writing. One that I’m usually really bad at using. Not so much in short stories (mine, at least) that take place over a shorter period of time, but when you get something novel-length, having the seasons or the climate change over the course of the story can add some awesome depth to the themes and conflict.

Think The Lion King and the way the Pridelands change. You might argue that it’s a bit heavy handed (not sure I could argue against that, per se) but it’s definitely effective. If I remember right, that particular example also works within the framework that used the state of the kingdom to reflect on its ruler; if the ruler was wicked or ill, the land itself would be sick and poor. Like I said: maybe a little heavy handed, but it certainly gets the point across.

All this is to say that I think I’m finally starting to understand what my high school English teachers were trying to say when they said that a good setting is like another character in the story. It’s got its own arc and it affects the story itself. And if you think about it, that not so far fetched. I dare any of you to tell me that you’ve never had things changed by the weather.

Musings

[Blog] Music to my Ears

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Sometimes, you run across a piece of music that makes you want to write something that does justice to the heroic deeds it invokes in your imagination. Perhaps it has something to with the decidedly epic music used in movie trailers, but that may be something of a chicken/egg problem– in some cases, I suspect the music does ninety percent of the work (and, I have to admit, it totally works on me). But that being said, it’s not like we haven’t been making music to move the soul for a long, long time.

Either way, like I said, sometimes you run across a piece that makes your fingers itch and your mind burn with ideas. For me, that’s usually something like Two Steps From Hell’s Empire of Angels or Last of the Wilds by Nightwish. The tricky part is that the pieces that really get me excited are almost invariably the ones that would match the climax of a story, and there’s a whole lot of work that still needs to go into getting me there.

That, or I’d need to write out of order, and I’ve never been any good at that.

I know some of you reading this are writers as well. What are some of your favorite writing soundtracks?

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!