Fiction, Fiction (Short)

The Last Job

We knew Trevor Cossak was going to catch up with us eventually. We knew it, but I had been hoping it would be somewhere other than in this remote and utterly godforsaken corner of the Badlands. At least there was cover. I gripped my pistol and twisted just enough to look over the top of the massive boulder Tanner and I were both currently hiding behind.

CRACK!

I swore and slammed back down. Lafayette wasn’t missing much by way of his aim. And I still wasn’t sure exactly where he was.

“Okay, now what?” I hissed the words, exchanging a glance with my brother. I was all out of ideas this time around.

Tanner just shook his head. So much for that.

The sky above was clear and blue. The world around us was silent—ominously so. If I popped my head up again there would be another rifle shot, and I had the impression that Cossak wasn’t firing warning shots. If he got a clear bead on us, it was game over. And seeing as half-second stolen glances weren’t giving us any idea where he was actually hiding, they weren’t worth the risk.

“Well, we can’t just sit here and wait,” I said.

“We can’t really do anything else,” said Tanner. “Unless you’re trying to make his job easier.”

His job, because in one sense, the man was just trying to fulfill an obligation. Cut out the part about that obligation being handed to him by a certain colony mob boss, and you almost sympathized with him.

Almost.

“His job’s going to be plenty easy if we just sit here and wait for him to work out how to get closer,” I said. But while that was true, I knew Tanner had a point. Which meant we needed another option.

I turned and looked at our surroundings for the eighth time. And for the eighth time, I came away with the same impression: this particular little pocket in the canyon wall, situated as it was behind a decently sized boulder, provided both lovely cover and no way out. There was at least a couple dozen yards of open ground surrounding us, which would give Cossak some trouble getting closer to us, but that was only the thinnest of silver linings.

At least it wasn’t going to get that much worse.

That was the last thought I had before I heard a clatter of rocks on the steep slope above us and looked up just in time to see a couple of armed gangmen taking aim at us from above.

“Tanner!”

We both turned and fired, and both gangmen came tumbling down with his own mortal wound opened up in his chest. But the damage was done. The seconds we spent dealing with them were enough for Cossak himself to break from his own hiding place and cross the precious yards of no-man’s land we had hoped would protect us.

By the time we turned back around he had already flanked us. I fired three shots, each one hitting dead on. Each one falling short against a personal shield device that I had, up until this point, thought was mostly fantasy. Tanner shot him too, but the only effect the rifle shot had was that it caused the shield to flicker. Slightly.

“Don’t suppose you’re going to let us surrender, are you?”

Cossak’s face split in a nasty grin. “Nah.”

And then he shot us both.

Musings

[Blog] POV

Sometimes, I’ve noticed that certain stories demand a particular point of view in their telling. I can try to write them from a different viewpoint, but it doesn’t do any good; the words just won’t come. And it’s not just a matter of my being more comfortable with one over another, because despite the fact that I naturally tend to gravitate towards first-person-snarky, I’ve had an easy enough time writing stories in either first or third person. Some stories just need one or the other.

The example that most readily comes to mind is my modern urban (rural?) werewolf story that I’ve being toying around with to various degrees for years. I managed about 10,000 words on it, all in first person, but ended up getting stuck due to a lack of planning. So, I made it my NaNo project a few years back, but made the mistake of trying to switch it to third person. What followed was one of the most difficult NaNos of my life. The thing just would. not. write. To the point where I ended up burning out on the project, more or less.* Similarly, my rough draft fantasy novel from a few years ago, with its ensemble cast and epic stakes, was a better fit for a third person telling.

Now! Before someone goes for the torches and the pitchforks, let me state for the record that my saying that I can’t write a certain story from a certain point of view doesn’t mean that I think that it can’t be done. I have no doubt that someone can write a compelling epic fantasy from the first person (like The Black Company, for instance), I’m just not there myself. And besides, my epic fantasy is its own story, not the same one as The Black Company, so naturally, what works for one might not work for the other anyways. But that’s a subject for a different post.

It’s also interesting to note that, like its setting, a story’s point of view has a profound effect on the final story. Which explains why the wrong voice makes it so hard to write the story at all. The voice provides the overall atmosphere to the story, and if the atmosphere doesn’t match the content, the whole story is going to feel off. It’s like that scary recut of the Mary Poppins trailer (click here to see it); great for a one-off joke bit, but not an effective way to tell the original story.

Anyway! All that to say that I’ve found certain stories that I can’t tell with one point-of-view or another, and that it’s amazing how much easier it gets to write when you find the right voice for the tale. Which is why it’s so nice to write the Tanner and Miranda stories, because I know the voice that works for them, and I find it a fun one to use.

Speaking of, keep your eyes open for a new story (a Tanner and Miranda adventure!) going up tomorrow! Also, since I, heh, missed posting not one but two stories last month, you’ll get a couple of extras this month to make up for it. Until then, drop a comment below to share your own voice/writing related curiosities! **Edit: I lied! Not tomorrow– but check back on Saturday, March 7!

* Granted, there were other problems, too. Like the fact that I didn’t have a clear idea of the story I wanted to tell. You know, minor things.

Musings

[Blog] Regionalism

Way back in high school, we had a unit where we studied American literary regionalism. (Click here for the Wikipedia article, if you’re curious!) I remember it being interesting, and our teacher tied it in with the idea that the setting of a story, when properly done, can be as much a character as any of the ones walking around on two legs. At the time, I thought it was a fascinating idea, but didn’t quite get it– certainly not enough to be able to articulate it all that well.

If I’m honest, that might still be true today, though I’m certainly closer than I was. At the very least, I’m close enough to start coming up with some theories of my own. In particular, considering how it relates to the ubiquitous advice to “write what you know”.

Now, as you can imagine, us science fiction and fantasy authors have a harder time applying that advice in its most boring sense. I’ve never been a freelancer on a distant planet, but that’s not stopping me from writing about a couple of siblings who do, so some folks might suggest that I’m not taking that advice to heart. That being said, I am one of several siblings, and I can guarantee that I’ve got the sibling banter thing down pat, so in that sense I am writing what I know.

Now, imagine you’ve got a locale you’re particularly familiar with. For me, that could be the Palouse area of Idaho and Washington: farming country, with lots of hills and fertile soil and not so many people. Next, add in the fantasy, magic, and adventure that I particularly enjoy writing about. Combine the two, and and you’re going to get a modern fantasy story set in the hills I grew up in. Probably involving werewolves.

Or, for those of you who watch Angel, you’ve got the same sort of thing with Los Angeles. It’s definitely set in LA… there’s just vampires and demons as well.

Basically, using a region that you’re familiar with is a fantastic way to write what you know– because as poor as that advice is when applied badly, you can’t get around the fact that it does have some truth to it. If you know something, you’re going to be able to write about it better. If, like me, you’re more the type who likes writing science fiction and fantasy, that’s probably going to look more like writing about relationships between friends and family than the the mundane adventures of a twenty-something-year-old. But it can also mean setting those same stories about the relationships you know in the places you know. Because it’ll make the story that much more real.

Musings

[Blog] (More) Musings on Spacestations

It’s entirely possible that working in an actual, honest-to-goodness city has gotten inside my head. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been spending sizeable portions of every week actually in Los Angeles for the better part of a year: I still stare up at the buildings like the country girl I apparently still am. In case there’s any question, yes, I’m completely okay with that.

Now, nerd that I am, staring at the seemingly never-ending stretch of buildings inevitably leaves me considering the logistics of space stations. Well. Some of the logistics. I don’t mean things like creating gravity and making sure life support works (okay, so maybe now I am, in a purely theoretical sense) but more what it would be like to have a city’s worth of people living suspended in space.

Assuming for a moment that the fictional civilization in question figured out how to build and maintain a structure that could support millions of people, what would it be like to live there? How would someone move between the different places they need to go? LA has its chaotic mess of tangled freeways, but it’s hard to imagine that this:

would translate well to this:

If only because it’s going to be hard to find a place to put all the cars (or their 25th century equivalents). It’s just not the most efficient use of space. Plus, in our modern day cities, you’ve got to deal with miles and miles between the places people live and the places they work. Or play. Or run errands. And part of that is because there’s a limit, either cultural or physical, to how much we want to build up as opposed to out, and because we do, to one extent or another, have the space to build out. That’s not going to be a luxury the fictional inhabitants of a massive space station are going to have.

On the one hand, that’s going to mean that anyone living in that kind of orbital city is going to feel more or less like a sardine. On the other, there’s a certain convenience to being within walking distance of anywhere you need to go. Add in a few snazzy, high-tech elevators that can bus you from floor to floor or from section to section at remarkably high speeds, and things might be a little more reasonable.

And maybe people will continue to be more and more able to work remotely, cutting down on even more of the need to scramble from one place to another. Or maybe some sort of complicated shift system would exist, which would preempt any overwhelming surge of people at a particular time of day. Imagine that… a world without rush hour! Even so, I suspect it would take a certain sort of person to be able to thrive in orbit.

It’s all speculation, of course. But then, isn’t that why so many of us enjoy the science fiction genre? Hard or soft, there’s something about such speculative fiction that keeps us excited, engaged, and curious. Something that keeps us wondering about what might come…

… in the 24th and a half century!

Musings

[Blog] Too Many Hobbies, Not Enough Time

As a kid, I didn’t recognize time as a limited resource. Sure, there was only so much reading, playing, writing, etc. one could do before it was time to go to bed, and sure, I recognized that there was a point which, if passed, meant I would not finish my homework on time, but that’s about it. The idea that I could possibly not have enough time to do everything I wanted to was completely foreign.

Oh, shush. You can stop laughing any time now.

Anyway. That, in and of itself, is hardly an earth-shattering revelation. Figuring that out is part of growing up, part of maturing. It’s good and necessary, but not a sign of any special insight.

All this to say, no one ever warned me that I was going to reach a point where I was going to have to choose what interests to pursue. Or if they did, I was too young and foolish to listen. That’s a distinct possibility. Either way, the fact remains that I’m at a point where I have to balance the amount of time I spent reading, writing, having a social life, playing video games… and the list goes on.

I know. Poor me. Perhaps a better way of putting it is to say that I get to make that choice. After all, it’s silly to complain too seriously about having too many good options.

Musings

[Blog] Tanner and Miranda Status

Wow. So, here we are at the end of January, which means I’ve had almost two whole months to figure out what I want to do with the my tangled behemoth of a NaNo manuscript. The short answer, of course, is edit it and turn it into something presentable. The longer answer involves figuring out how I want to structure the thing so that it flows like a proper story.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, I’m sure you’ve heard me wax long on the subject before, so I’ll spare you one of my favorite rants (this time!) and just jump to some of the juicier details. First, unlike with far too many of my projects, I have a bunch of scenes in mind that I know I want to fit into the final project, and I know roughly where I want/need them to go.

These scenes include, but are not limited to: a showdown at high noon, at least one chase sequence, at least one explosion, and probably a scattering of carnivorous sheep. Because I can. We’ll see if that last one makes it through a proper set of edits.

Anyway! I’ll check back in next month with a Tanner and Miranda specific update, but until then, keep an eye out for other various ramblings and more new short stories– including one going up tomorrow!

Musings

[Blog] Structure and Stealth Recommendations

As someone with a propensity for writing and planning to write, it should come as no surprise that I also enjoy stories told by other people. Part of that is the same love of a good story that so many people share, of course. And a part of that is genuine awe for how some storytellers structure and build their stories, particularly the longer ones with oh-so-many moving parts.

Like, for example, the Harry Potter series.

I recently read through the entire series again for a second time (yeah, yeah, I know… only two times?!), and was utterly amazed at just how much was set up from the beginning. Or at least, how many things from the early books J.K. Rowling managed to work into the later books– and honestly, I’m not sure which is more impressive. Characters and tiny tidbits about their history that we find out when we are first introduced become, if not central to the entire plot, then at least salient plot points.

And most of it is stuff I’d never, ever have noticed if I only read through once. (So it’s definitely a good thing various friends recommended that I do it at least twice.)

I’ve also been re-reading/restarting Girl Genius, which has been so fun. For those of you unfamiliar, Girl Genius is a steampunk webcomic that’s been running online for over seventeen years. It’s absolute madness, and after successfully keeping up with it for years, it kinda got away from me a few years back. Mostly because it’s so very convoluted that I was getting thoroughly confused.

Funny thing is, though… it’s a whole lot easier to follow when you read it from the beginning. (The trouble with that, of course, is that it’s been updating three times a week for over a decade and a half, so it’s not exactly a quick read, per se.) Which brings me back to my earlier point about structure. Sort of. I’ve caught up almost to the point where I stopped reading earlier, and it already all makes so much more sense. Kinda like it’s actually a cohesive narrative or something. (Gasp!)

What I’m trying to get at is this: good writing requires structure, and that applies to any writing, be it novels or webcomics/graphic novels. Or video games. Or short stories. Or screenplays. Or…

You get the picture.

The other thing that I’m trying to get at is that good, solid structures is really cool. And sometimes can’t be seen until you take a step back, particularly with longer works. Then again, maybe I’m just looking for an excuse to lob reading recommendations at you. But is that such a bad thing?

Musings

[Blog] Happy New Year 2020!

Happy New Year! I hope everyone enjoyed their holidays, and that you’re all ready for the new year– as much as anyone ever can be!

Speaking of the new year, I’ve got a couple of announcements regarding my plans for this blog! First, weekly Wednesday posts are back on, so if you happen to be looking forward to those, you’re in luck! I’m also going to be playing around with actually writing posts ahead of time, in the hope that it means I actually update on time, and not at 11:55pm on Wednesday nights. Heh. With that in mind, if there happens to be a subject that you’d like to see written about by an unrepentantly nerdy amateur blogger, do let me know!

Second, it’s also high time for me to start posting regular stories to the blog, like I was when I first started this thing. They fell by the wayside for a number of reasons, but at this point, I have no good reason to not push myself to do them again, and a whole lot of good reasons to just go for it.

Honestly, it puts me in mind of one of my favorite Ray Bradbury quotes: “Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.” I’m not going for the one-story-a-week goal, but two a month isn’t bad, and with any luck, it’ll pull me out of the panicky over-editing loop I’ve gotten myself stuck in. Again. Oof.

And finally, I will of course continue plugging away at Tanner and Miranda. Expect a full update on what’s going on with them in the next couple of weeks!

How about for all of you? Any exciting new writing related goals? Any exciting new non-writing related goals? Let me know in the comments below!

Musings

[Blog] Another NaNo Come and Gone

I’m pretty sure the months are actually passing faster than they used to. It feels like this year’s NaNo event just started, and here we are several days into December. It’s madness, I tell you. Final wordcount for this year came in at right about 56K, which is not too shabby, though definitely not the 100K I was going for. Maybe next year!

Also, as is often the case, reaching the 50K goal doesn’t always equate to finishing the story. It certainly didn’t this year, so I’m still chipping away at it, and will hopefully have a completed pre-rough draft before the month’s up. And then! On to the editing!

Musings

[Blog] Homestretch!

As of five minutes ago, I reached the 50k goal for NaNo 2019! Which I’m super happy about. There was definitely a little while there, when my poor old laptop gave up the ghost, that I actually wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to finish this month. I’m very happy that wasn’t the case.

As for that 100k goal… I somehow don’t think I’m quite going to get there this year. I’m not done writing, and I still have three days, but that’s a pretty wild pace to keep to finish. We’ll see how far I get!

For all of you doing NaNo, how are your projects going? Are you ahead? Behind? Right on track? Keep on pushing! You’ve got this!