Writing Prompts

[Blog] Writing Prompts Round 3

HEADER

It’s been a week, and I’ve got responses to your prompts! Thanks to those of you who submitted! As promised, here’s some snippets from Tanner and Miranda’s adventures. I can’t confirm or deny if these are “cannon” per se… but they’re the sort of thing that might happen. We’ll see how many work their way into bigger pieces someday.

I was afraid to ask where Tanner had gotten the truck. The truck. The honest-to-goodness, Earth-made, antique, gas-burning, two-door, flatbed, ratting, rumbling hunk of metal that coughed and sputtered its way right out of the pages of history and down the street until it stopped right in front of the boarding house. I should have known I wouldn’t have to ask.

“I told you a few of these old beasts made it out to this end of the galaxy.” He sat in the driver’s seat, grinning ear to ear. I stood and stared at him and tried to figure out when and where he’d learned to drive stick.

When I finally found my tongue, I only managed one word: “Why?”

He cackled. “Because. Come on. Get in!” He leaned over and popped the door open with a rusty creak that would have sent any proper vehicle straight to the junkyard. And yet, I got in. And we spent the rest of the day cruising down the back roads of Halverston in a crazy, out of date contraption. And it was one of the most enjoyable things I’d done in years.

“I’m going to crash it.”

Those weren’t the sort of words you wanted to hear coming out of your copilot’s mouth. Not ever. But especially not when you were seconds away from being home safe. Not when you thought it was finally over.

Funny how they didn’t surprise me, though. It was the fact that I agreed with him that would have worried me if I’d had the time.

“Big explosion?” I asked. I was already reaching up to flip off the safeties and the dozen automated systems that would make our plan impossible. The cockpit shrieked in consternation.

“The biggest,” said Tanner. And he grinned.

“You’re sure it’ll work?”

“Nope. But I think it might, and that’s good enough for me.” He glanced over at me and winked. “Given the circumstances, you know.”

I snorted. “Fine. Good enough. Bail out in 3… 2… 1…”

“Please pass the salt.”

“I told you! I told you it was a terrible idea! I told you and you didn’t listen!”

We were running. People were shooting– at us. My carefully laid plan was strewn behind us in ruins, and somehow we’d managed to complete the job despite it all. All that was left now was getting out alive. And yelling at Tanner for getting us into this mess in the first place.

We skidded around a corner and crashed to a halt behind a couple of huge storage barrels. We panted. We gasped. We held our breath as our pursuers thundered by and didn’t see us.

I waited a good thirty seconds before laying into my brother again. Given that he was doubled over giggling, I don’t know how effective I was. I punched him in the shoulder in a vain attempt to make myself feel better.

“Since when do you put salt on anything!? You never do! That’s how you convinced me that freaking saying ‘please pass the salt’ was a good code phrase!”

He barely managed to get out his answer between bouts of hysterical laughter. “I know.” More laughter. “I know. I know. But–” And he started cackling so hard that I was sure he’d bust a rib. And it would serve him right. “But you wouldn’t believe how bland the food was.”

Writing Prompts

[Blog] Writing Prompts Open! (Round 3)

HEADER

I’m at it again! Send me your writing prompts, and I’ll respond this time next week with a short bit of fiction inspired by your lovely words, pictures, scraps of music, etc. But! This time I’ve got an added twist: your prompts have to be simple– one picture, one piece of music, one word or phrase… and I have to respond with something set in Tanner and Miranda’s world.

Sound good? Bonus points if it’s not something that looks like it should easily relate to the shenanigans of brother/sister bounty hunters on a newly colonized planet.

Also, if you’re looking for a little bit of a challenge of your own, here’s a prompt for you! Feel free to respond or not, with fiction, non fiction, poetry, or whatever floats your boat.

Musings

[Blog] The Middle Slog

HEADER

A friend of mine recently asked me why I like writing. Or rather, why I continue to write when I spend at least as much time actually putting pen to paper as I do moaning about the fact that I ought to be writing. And the answer to that is simple: despite evidence to the contrary, I enjoy writing, and there are stories in my head that demand to be let out.

This does raise a further question, though. If I enjoy wordcraft as much as I say I do, why do I complain about it so much? Part of it, of course, is that it takes discipline to write, and discipline is hard. But there’s more to it than that. The bigger part is that certain parts of the creative process are more enjoyable than others.

For me, writing is the most fun when I’m coming up with ideas for new stories or once I finally get caught up in the flow of the action on my way to the climax of the story. Those are the things that niggle in the back of my brain and demand I find a way to make the words on the page match the epic scenes I have playing out in my head. The problem is that neither of those take up the bulk of writing.

That spot would be taken up by the work of getting from point A to point B to point C in a believable and interesting fashion. Which, despite what it sounds like I just said, is often enjoyable in its own right– it’s just also hard, for me, at least, if not for writers in general. It requires good pacing, a (more or less) complete knowledge of the ins and outs of the story so as to avoid plot holes, and there’s also a whole lot of false starts as you figure out what’s really important and what doesn’t actually figure in to the story.

Or, put another way, it’s where the work of writing happens. And it’s hard work. Rewarding, certainly, as anyone who has ever finished a story will tell you, but hard all the same. And that, my friends, is why I grumble about it and why I’ll never give it up either.

Musings

[Blog] All the Different Stories

HEADER

As a self-professed introvert, it feels a little funny to say that one of my favorite things about my new job is all the different people I get to meet and all the different stories I get to hear about their lives. I get to interact and connect with all sorts of folks I’d likely never have run across otherwise, and I get to learn a little bit about the way they see the world. The same thing happened when I was driving for a rideshare service, too, so it’s not just limited to the medical field.

I, as I imagine most of us do, tend to gravitate towards certain groups of people– the sorts I get along with best, with whom we I the most in common. When something other than shared interests bring me together with someone, common interests may or may not be involved at all, at least not in the way they are when I meet people through something like a shared hobby. It’s a great thing for perspective. It makes it a lot easier to not caricature people on the “other” side of this or that divide.

Writing Prompts

[Blog] Writing Prompts Round 2

HEADER

Last week I asked for writing prompts and you guys delivered! Here’s the stories.

Is it supposed to make that sound?

Given that we lived on a border space station in the middle of nowhere, it was fitting that we opted for a robotic guard dog as opposed to the flesh and blood sort that put more of a drain on our limited resources. It wasn’t the cuddliest of options, but then, we didn’t need R-0ver to be cuddly. We just needed him to look fierce and help us scare off the occasional pirate gangs who assumed we’d be an easy target. We’d managed well enough on our own so far, but the last time had been a little closer than we’d wanted it to be, and when the traveling salesman came by with a discounted model, it seemed like a no-brainer.

At least, it did until 3am the next morning, when the eeriest squeaking filled our entire space station. And when your home is a tiny layer between you and the void, you are painfully aware of each and every weird noise it makes. So it was actually a sort of relief when the source of the metallic whine turned out to be our brand new R-0ver. We found him in a corner, looking sadder than it should have been possible for a robot to look, and the only way I can describe it is that he was crying. He perked up when he saw us, too. It was cute, sure, but I don’t think it’s quite the best sort of behavior for a guard automaton.

That’s it, I’m telling Mom about the dragon egg you have hidden in your closet!

“No! Wait! Jackie!”

Eight months of planning, and if I didn’t beat my sister to the stairs, it was all going to be for naught. But she was younger than me, smaller, and faster, and it was going to take something like a real miracle for me to get there before her. She was three yards from the bottom step, and my socks weren’t getting purchase on the linoleum. And she was opening up her mouth to yell.

“Mom! MOM!!”

And then my miracle happened. Dad came to the top of the stairs instead, and I knew it was going to be alright. Because I wouldn’t have had the surprise dragon egg for mom in the first place if he hadn’t snuck it in there with me at the start of all this.

Writing Prompts

[Blog] Writing Prompts Open! (Round 2)

HEADER

I think it’s time for another round of writing prompts! (She says, shamelessly levying everyone else’s imaginations for ideas.) Same deal as last time: all you lovely people give me prompts– a song, a word, a phrase, a whole darn premise, whatever comes to mind– and I respond with a bit of flash fiction (100-200 words). Post your prompts in the comments!

Also, as it’s the middle of the month I have a full(er) length short story due. It’s mostly written and on its way, and I should be posting it over the weekend, so keep an eye out!

Musings

[Blog] Just Add Dragons

HEADER

I’ve talked a bit in the past about the stories– books, movie, video games, et al– that have helped develop who I am today, but I haven’t said a lot about the books I’m currently reading. And in the hope that some of you might find it interesting (and also to give some well deserved plugs), I’d like to talk about the ones I’ve been enjoying recently!

Oddly enough, there’s been a bit of a Napoleonic Wars theme, between Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe’s Eagle and the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik. Sharpe’s Eagle is the first (by publication order) of a series of historical novels that follow the adventures of Richard Sharpe, a British soldier in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. With apologies to any history buffs reading this, I don’t know a whole lot about that era and the Napoleonic Wars, but my understanding is that the books are well researched and accurate to actual events. I’m about halfway through Eagle at the moment, and so far it’s been highly entertaining, if not the sort of thing I’ve read a whole lot of in the past. Given the snark and the audacity of the main character, I may well have to fix that in the future.

As for Temeraire, the series bears some similarities to the Sharpe series, in that it’s also well researched, follows the adventures of a soldier in the British military, and takes place during the Napoleonic Wars, with one addition. The fact that the addition is dragons just makes it even more fun. I’ve currently read the first four books of the nine book series, and I’ve enjoyed each new book more than the last and definitely plan to read the rest.

I’ve also been reading Luke R. Mitchell‘s The Harvesters Series. Starting with Red Gambit, these are post-apocalyptic high adventure, complete with monsters, mech suits, and magic, and they’re an absolute hoot. If you’re looking for something that’s full of action and just a whole lot of fun, I’d definitely recommend checking them out.

What about everyone else? Any books you’ve been enjoying lately?

Musings

[Blog] Threads

HEADER

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] Green to Gold

HEADER

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.

Writing Prompts

[Blog] Writing Prompts Round 1

HEADER

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!